“Well then,” said Father McCaig. “‘Tis once more upon the creaky floors of good lady Blaumer’s establishment, and I’ll be on me way. Farewell, Deke! May you do well and live proper.”
“Don’t go blessin’ me out just yet. Taylor and I’ll help ya load up Ol’ Sal, and we’ll see ya to the edge of town, at least.”
Father McCaig glanced down the short street, his eyes twinkling. “Well, I wouldn’t want to be putting you out any.”
“I think we can just about manage it, padre. Tell you what: we’ll even go with you to the pass proper.”
“Well, now that is a parade indeed!”
“A full quarter of the town to see you off, padre. How many can say that?”
“Saints, martyrs and thieves. Those that people can’t believe are leaving, and those who they want to make sure won’t come back. So which am I to you, Deke?”
“I’d be lying if’n I said it weren’t a bit of both, padre,” Deke laughed. “You’re a good man and I’m fortunate to have someone like you t’care about my soul, but it’ll be good to sleep in on a Sunday morning again.”
“Well, I’ll take your honesty so long as it comes with a strong pair of arms to load up Ol’ Sal. I never can get her to hold still during the process.”
“She’s an ornery old cuss,” Deke agreed, “but I reckon she sees a kindred spirit in me. Taylor ‘n me’ll get you set.”
“What d’ye figure them trunks weigh, Deke?” Taylor asked reflectively as they watched Father McCaig disappear slowly down the winding mountain path.
Deke shot him a look, and Taylor sighed. “What d’ye figure them trunks weigh, Pa?”
“Sixty all told?” Deke shrugged. “No big fuss to pick up. Why?”
“To pick up, sure, but say you’re Ol’ Sal there. Pile on the padre there, and you’ve got to be talkin’ near half her weight.”
“Nothin’ you or me couldn’t carry. Half our weight, I mean.”
“Lift, maybe, but carry? For ten, twenty miles at a go?”
“She’s a mule. S’what she does.”
“Sure, but I’ve seen a mule’s bones. They’re no different’n ours.”
“What’s your point, Taylor?”
“No point, really. Just ruminating. It’s funny what you can build with the same parts, is all.”
The two men stood in silence for a moment, the hot sun beating down on their backs.
“So what’s yer bluster, Pa?”
Deke turned to regard Taylor curiously. “How d’ye mean?”
“Well, you made sure I came out here with you to see the padre off, which means you were looking for an excuse to get me alone away from the town’s ears. And you got irritated when I didn’t call you Pa, which means you’re feeling on edge. Combine that with the way you were pressin’ me with questions last night, and it seems pretty clear you got something on your mind.”
Deke shook his head slowly. “I heard of people getting knocked stupid by a hit on the head. I ain’t never heard of no one getting knocked smart before.”
“C’mon, Deke,” Taylor grinned. “You wouldn’ta picked no one dumb to partner up with.”
I wouldn’ta picked no one smart, neither, Deke thought. He regarded the young man before him for a moment. Washed up and dressed in clean clothes, he didn’t seem much the worse for wear from yesterday’s adventures. Aside from a few scrapes on his face and the bandages on his forearms, he appeared totally unscathed.
But Deke knew that beneath those bandages, long slashes criss-crossed Taylor’s arms. He’d put them there himself, knocking the boy’s guard aside so that he could bury his knife in Taylor’s heart. It wasn’t anything he’d wanted to do, but it had had to be done, and so he’d done it. And Deke wasn’t in the habit of doing a job badly. Bad jobs left loose ends, and those could come back to trip you up at inconvenient times.
Taylor standing before him now, a day after he’d been dead and buried, was one hell of a loose end.
“Gimme the straight answers, Taylor,” Deke said, lowering his voice. “No one to hear us now. What’s yer plan?”
Taylor furrowed his brow. “Same as it’s always been. Show ‘em the silver, let the world know, sell our stake and head for the hills. It’s your plan, Deke. Why are you asking?”
Deke sighed. “Taylor, you’re telling me you don’t remember nothing of Friday night?”
“Drinking away our bad luck, same as usual. Maybe more’n usual, since next I can recollect I was groaning in a mine with a load of rocks on my noggin, and it turns out that was Saturday night. I figure that was probably more the boulders than the bourbon, though. I had the seed stuff with me, so once I dug out I figured it was as good a time as any to get things going.
“You’re telling me you didn’t know nothing about this?”
“Taylor,” Deke started, then stopped. He sighed again. “Hell, boy. If we’re doing it, let’s do it. That cave-in what trapped you makes good sense of why no one saw this vein before, and the padre leaving when he did might get us an early start on the rumors of new life in the mine. So you’re right, let’s do this.”
“You’re holding something back, Deke.”
Deke squinted at Taylor, staring into his eyes. If the boy was pulling one over on him, Deke couldn’t see it in his face. He spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully, sticking to the truth wherever he could to give his words the ring of sincerity.
“Here’s why I’ve been hounding you, boy. Friday night, you got drunk. And you got impatient. ‘Bout the time we shoulda been retiring to our room, I was out in the desert halfway to the mine, having a hollerin’ match with you. You said we was wastin’ our time, and we needed to get started. You wanted to go plant it then and there, I think, and middle of the night be damned. And you told me that if I wouldn’t help you, then you’d do it yourself.
“I reasoned with you. I argued with you. And when you turned to go anyway, I knocked your daylights out.”
Taylor snorted a laugh. “And then what?”
“And then I dragged your snoring carcass back to the damn boarding house, that’s what! I had to sneak y’upstairs like some damn Lothario to avoid answering any questions from Miz Blaumer or anyone else who mighta been awake. I chucked your sorry ass into bed, draped a blanket over ye and thought we was done with it. So when I woke up yesterday morning to find you gone, I cursed you for a fool and got ready to deal with the fallout.”
Deke liked to think of himself not as a liar, but rather as someone who told the truth as it should have been. In a good world, a fair world, that would have been how it happened. Taylor never would have pulled a knife on Deke, standing there swaying in the desert as he threatened to cut Deke open and see if he had any guts. He never would have sworn to kill Deke if he got in his way. And so Deke never would have had to pull his own knife and make sure that Taylor’s threats never came to fruition. He should have just slept it off and come to his senses in the morning. It would have been a better way for life to be. And it certainly would make a lot more sense out of how Taylor was standing here now.
Taylor slowly shook his head in bemusement. “I don’t remember a bit of this, Deke. Not the fight, not going to the mine, nothing. I don’t even remember getting the seed silver to plant.”
“Well, and that’s the funny thing. Y’didn’t.”
“But I had it in my bag!”
“You had some kind of silver in your bag, sure. But I checked the trunk after you came back, and every one of our chunks is still there. I was wondering how you’d managed to get the key off of me, but seems the answer is you never did.”
“So hold on. You’re saying that rock I found ain’t the seed silver?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’ve still got every piece we brought.”
“Then…this is actually from the mine?”
“Looks like, son.”
Taylor broke into a grin. “Well, don’t that beat all. You got a contingency plan for this one, old man?”
“I’ll tell you straight,” Deke said, returning the grin. “I do not.”
“Well, hell! We came out here to sell a dream, and damned if we didn’t find it was true after all. We still gonna sell?”
“I reckon so. Make our profit, split our shares and go our separate ways. Never try to ride the game past the ending.”
“So what’s next for us after that?”
Deke raised an eyebrow at him. “Nothing’s next for ‘us.’ We go our separate ways, like I said.”
“I thought that was only the plan for when they might be lookin’ for a father-and-son duo.”
“The plan was good when there wasn’t silver. It’ll be good if there is silver. Stick to the plan.”
Besides, Deke didn’t add, I ain’t keen on being around if you suddenly remember some of them cuts didn’t come from the cave-in. He still wasn’t sure how Taylor was up at all. But Father McCaig had spoken about stranger happenings just about every Sunday, so Deke allowed how it was possible.
Miracles or not, though, he knew one thing was true: stick to the plan. Talk up the silver mine, sell the land in the boom, get out of town. If there was actual silver, that just lowered the odds of anyone coming looking for him later. And if the mine was bringing people back from the dead, Deke was just fine leaving that for someone else to handle.