Dead Heat Page 79

Max laughed. “Sixteen works,” he said.

First Anna’s phone rang and then Charles’s.

“McDermit was a fetch,” said Leslie as soon as Anna answered the phone. “I’m looking at a pile of sticks sitting in the chair where he was sitting not ten minutes ago.”

Charles, his attention caught by Leslie’s conversation, answered his own phone, and though Anna could hear the voice on the other side, she couldn’t understand a word he said.

“English,” said Charles. “My Navajo was never that good and I’ve hardly spoken it for twenty years.”

“The fae,” said Joseph, “the fae can look like anyone. She’s here.”

“I’ll get back to you,” Anna told Leslie, and ended the call.

CHAPTER

14

Joseph Sani woke up feeling as though he were eighteen again. Nothing hurt. He sat up in his bed and wondered if he had died and this was what happened afterward. But his body looked like the body of an old man, and his breath was still too short.

He got up gingerly, expecting at any moment to feel as he had sitting trapped and helpless in the car. Aging, he knew, was part of living—a part of living that he’d chosen over the arguments of his father and his wife. That didn’t make the frustration of being dependent easier, he’d found.

But on his feet, his body was still obeying him as it had not in years. Not only didn’t it hurt, but he picked up a heavy potted plant that was set on the ground near the window; he had most of his old strength back.

There’s something you need to do, Charles had said, or words almost like that.

Joseph wasn’t a particularly spiritual man. Not like Charles, his brother-by-choice, and mostly he’d been grateful for that. Men who saw the spirits had to listen to them—though Charles only listened to them when he wanted to.

But even a man who wasn’t spiritual could tell that something was up when the wear and tear of eighty-odd years of life were lifted from him: it must be time for him to do that something. Too bad he had no idea what that was.

Still, a man who was doing something ought to do it with clothes on. And an old cowboy who ought to do something would do it with his boots on. So he pulled out a pair of new jeans … and set them aside for a faded and broken-in pair. He took out a good shirt, though, that snapped up the front like any shirt that belonged to a cowboy ought to. Cowboying was hard on the hands. Any cowboy who handled ropes for very long soon had knuckles that didn’t like fussing with tiny little buttons.

After a moment’s thought, he didn’t put on a hat. This didn’t feel like something a hat would help with. He took a good look at himself in the mirror in his bathroom.

“You are old,” he told his reflection. But he didn’t feel that way. Not at all. He tightened his right hand in a fist.

He could still see the crooked finger that he’d broken when that four-year-old stallion decided to get the old Indian off his back. He hadn’t stayed off and hadn’t realized his finger was broken until twenty minutes later, when the adrenaline had worn off.

That finger had hurt for ten years, but it didn’t hurt now.

He turned away from the mirror and met the bright blue eyes of a little red-haired boy.

“The fae can look like anyone,” the boy said. “He’s coming.”

“Who are you?” Joseph asked—but the boy, who had been standing in the doorway of the bathroom, was gone.

“Chindi,” said Joseph—though the boy hadn’t felt evil. Maybe he’d been imagining things. But he still was careful to twist around so he didn’t go through the space where the boy had stood as he walked through the doorway back into his bedroom.

He decided to go downstairs and find Charles. Charles would know … the right questions to ask, maybe. He could at least expect that Charles would believe him.

He stopped as he passed his chest of drawers and opened up the small drawer on the upper left side. And there was the old knife Charles had given him after rescuing him from a bar fight. It was a very good knife, six inches of pattern-welded steel. How good, he hadn’t realized until four or five years later when someone had tried to buy it from him for four hundred dollars. That had been at least sixty years ago. He had no idea what it might be worth now. But it was an old friend. Until very recently, he’d carried it every day of his life since the day Charles had given it to a skinny Indian kid with a chip on his shoulder.

It took him a minute to find the sheath and belt. Dressed properly, he opened his bedroom door and started down the hall. Mackie and Maggie were playing Candy Land. He could tell because Maggie exclaimed, “I get to go to Gumdrop Mountain!” while Mackie cheered her on.

That Mackie did not care whether she won or lost was not a fault of the game. Joseph thought that twenty years from now, when it was Mackie and not Kage competing in the rarefied atmosphere of the best equestrians of their generation, Mackie would still cheer on her opponents.

For a moment Joseph was deeply saddened by the thought that he would never get to witness that. But his time here was nearly past, and he really did not regret it. So much had changed, and so much had not. He was ready to go on to—how did Peter Pan put it? An awfully big adventure.

“I wanted to stay with you, Grandma,” Mackie was saying. “But I’m worried about Michael. Nix is too tired to ride and Michael is very little. Who do you think he’s riding today?”

“I don’t know,” Maggie said. “Max knows the horses who will be good for Michael. One purple. Your turn.”

“Orange,” said Mackie. “Do you think Anna will buy Merrylegs? I like Merrylegs.”

Evidently Max had taken his brother, Charles, and Anna out riding, Joseph thought.

“I hope she buys Hephzibah,” said Maggie. Joseph, unseen, still in the hall above the stairs, grinned. Mackie might not care about winning or losing, but her grandmother certainly did. If Anna had been what she had at first appeared, a too-young, too-innocent weakling, Maggie would have pitied her. But she would have taken her under her wing, too, and tried to teach her how to deal with strong-minded men.

But Anna was, in her own way, as strong-minded as Maggie. The two of them would never have been able to be friends. Maggie would always view her as competition. That Anna had Mackie’s appreciation of competition, except where Charles was concerned, didn’t make Maggie like her any better.

“Hephzibah is pretty,” said Mackie in a doubtful voice. “But Daddy calls her Hellbitch. I don’t think Anna should buy a horse called Hellbitch, do you? It’s okay, though. Max will help Anna find the right horse. Two reds. It’s your turn.”

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