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Morning brought no clarity with it. Deke awoke late and came downstairs to find Miz Blaumer in the kitchen of the boarding house, carrying on a one-sided conversation with Porfirio.
“Morning, Miz Blaumer.” He nodded to Porfirio. “Morning.”
“Morning, Deke!” Miz Blaumer chirped in response, setting a bowl of porridge in front of him. Porfirio simply stared at him, blinking slowly, before finally nodding back.
“How was your walk with Father McCaig yesterday?”
“Unprofitable, ma’am.” Deke spooned porridge into his mouth, thinking about the spreads of foods that usually graced the table of the boarding house. Time was not on their side.
“That’s a shame.” Despite her words, Miz Blaumer did not seem overly bothered by the news. “I’m sure we’ll figure this out soon.”
“I can’t imagine you and Will have much left in the way of supplies, keeping a town fed and watered. Even a small town.”
“Will?” asked Miz Blaumer.
“Yeah, Will Long. Bartender over at the saloon?”
“Of course! Sorry, I was just—” Her brow knitted, confusion clear on her face. “I misheard you, sorry. Well, we’ll make do. Won’t be the first time we’ve had lean times because the wagon was late.”
“But it’s—” Deke stopped himself. Miz Blaumer knew the situation. If telling herself that the wagon was simply late was how she was dealing with it, then so be it. “I believe I’ll head out to set some snares today, see what I can do to supplement our supplies.”
“Is your arm up to that?”
“Just about healed, ma’am.”
“Oh, good. Taylor will be excited to have you up at the mine.”
“Pardon?” Something in her turn of phrase made Deke’s neck prickle.
“Well, I’m sure you’re as keen as everyone else about getting your share of the silver!”
“I tell you, when that road opens up, I may sell my shares and skedaddle.”
Miz Blaumer tsked her tongue. “I think your boy’s got the fever. You may not be able to take him away from the mine.”
“Maybe I’ll sell my shares to him, then. Be like getting his inheritance early.”
“An inheritance that he has to pay for?”
“We all pay for our inheritances one way or another, Miz Blaumer.”
She laughed. “I suppose we do at that, Deke.”
Deke stood up from the bar and stretched briefly. “Lovely as it is chit-chatting with you, those rabbits ain’t gonna catch themselves. And though I have no complaints about your porridge, I’m not disposed to have it for three meals a day.”
“Things aren’t as bad as all that.”
“Glad to hear it, ma’am. I’ll do my part to keep them that way.”
Deke retreated to his room and packed his knapsack with rope, spade, pegs and other trapmaking supplies. He felt an urge to bring the blank book along with him as well, but could think of no reason why he might need it.
Obey pulsed briefly in his mind, and Deke shook his head vigorously, like a dog drying off.
“See, and this is exactly why I ain’t bringing the book,” he told the empty room. “I got a strong suspicion that I ain’t the one doing the wanting here.”
He turned his back on the room and resolutely tromped down the stairs, stopping uncertainly near the bottom when he saw Porfirio standing motionless by the front door.
“Everything okay?” Deke asked. “Uh, que pasa?”
Porfirio gave no response, merely continued to wait.
“All right. Well, I’m out to set snares. Meat? Carne?” Deke made motions toward his mouth with an invisible fork, then stopped, feeling ridiculous. “Well, you’ll get it when you see it tonight.”
He reached past Porfirio to open the door. As soon as the door was open, Porfirio lumbered out onto the porch, ducking his head to avoid the doorframe on the way. Once on the porch, he stopped again, waiting for Deke to catch up. He and Deke walked down the porch stairs together, setting off down the road in sync.
“Oh, you’re coming along?” Deke asked. “Glad for the company, I suppose.”
Porfirio said nothing, and Deke added, “Such as it is.”
The two traveled in silence to the outskirts of town, where Deke knelt to set his first snare. No sooner had he unslung his knapsack, though, then he felt a large hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Porfirio shaking his head.
“No?” Deke asked.
In response, Porfirio pointed, stretching his hand out into the desert.
“Sure, you may know something I don’t,” Deke said. “Let’s try it your way.”
They set off again, Porfirio slightly in the lead. Though there was no visible path or trail, something had been this way before. Deke noted broken branches on the scrub, torn clumps of grass where something heavy had uprooted them.
It wasn’t until he saw the rust-colored smear on a white, flat rock that Deke realized what path they were following.
“Hell, is this where you took the mule? No thanks. I like my meat a fair sight fresher than that.”
Deke turned to head back to town, but as he did Porfirio’s hand wrapped around his wrist. Deke attempted to tug free, but it was like trying to move the mountain itself. Porfirio simply waited, implacable, until Deke gave up.
“So we’re going to see Ol’ Sal, huh? Guess I don’t get a whole lotta say in the matter.”
Porfirio released his wrist once Deke was moving in the correct direction again. Deke thought about bolting for freedom, but didn’t fancy the idea of being tackled by the giant if Porfirio decided to give chase. Deke had his knife on one hip and his gun on the other, of course, but so far the most threatening thing Porfirio had done was hold him in place. Hardly a killing offense.
So the two men trudged out into the desert, following the trail of a dead mule. The sun beat down on them and made the sands dance with waves of heat. The landscape seemed to ripple, giving their trek an otherworldly quality.
After walking for at least an hour, Deke spotted something rising out of the sands ahead of them. It was some sort of rock formation, but the heat distortion made it impossible to make out clearly.
“Is this it? Is this what you wanted me to see?”
Porfirio continued walking, not even acknowledging the question. Deke shrugged and kept pace. The rock formation was still a quarter-mile away or more. He assumed that things would become clearer as they approached.
A half-mile later, Deke realized that the formation was much larger than he had at first thought. It towered above the surrounding landscape, its details still wavering in the baking heat put off by the ground. Deke thought that they might still have as much as another quarter-mile to go, too, though he was no longer certain of his ability to judge the distance to the monolith.
Eventually, the two men stood at its base, staring up at the incredible structure. It was not in any way natural. It had clearly been intentionally built, not naturally formed. Even though Deke was close enough to reach out and touch it, its details still somehow eluded him, skittering across the surface of his mind like cakes on a greased griddle.
“What is this?” he asked, his voice hushed and reverent.
Porfirio opened his mouth, his throat twisting around strange syllables. “Know.”