Escape from Five Shadows
Karla hesitated in the doorway of the adobe, then pushed open the screen door and came out into the sunlight as she heard again the faint, faraway sound of the wagon; and now she looked off toward the stand of willows that formed a windbreak along the north side of the yard, her eyes half closed in the sun glare and not moving from the motionless line of trees.
She waited for the wagon to appear-a girl not yet twenty, with clear dark eyes, a clean-lined delicately featured face that was brown from the sun, and black hair that suggested Spanish-Indian blood, though her hair was cut short, almost boyishly short, and brushed back from her temples; a girl wearing a man’s blue chambray shirt tucked into a gray skirt that fell almost to her rope-soled sandals.
Now she could hear the horses splashing over the creek that passed through the willows. The team and wagon appeared but the girl waited until the two riders who trailed the wagon came into view before she turned to the adobe.
“They’re coming now.”
Her father, John Demery, appeared in the doorway thumbing a suspender strap over his shoulder, up over long-sleeved woolen underwear. And now his face creased to an expression of almost pain as he looked off into the yellow-white sun glare. The willow trees added color to the scene and beyond them, towering, sloping out of the distance, the foothills of the Pinaleno Mountains were striped with the black shadow lines of barrancas and pine stands; but here on the flat land, looking straight out from the adobe east, then sweeping south, there was an unvarying sameness of mesquite and sun glare and the thin faint line of distant mountains was part of another world.
Demery’s long adobe, his corral and outbuildings, were here of necessity. On the Hatch & Hodges Stage Line map his place was indicated at Station #3 on the Central Mail run. Locally, it was the Pinaleno station-thirteen miles southeast of Fuegos, the nearest town; and six miles almost due south of the convict camp at Five Shadows.
The wagon now approaching the station was from the convict camp. Karla was certain of this from the moment she’d heard the first faint creaking sound from the willows. She kept her eyes on the wagon, watching the driver gradually turning the team to come in broadside to the adobe.
Now one of the riders, a shotgun across his pommel, spurred to swing in on the near side. As he did, Karla said, “Mr. Renda himself.”
Demery half turned from the door. “I’ll get the voucher. The sooner they’re out of here the better.” But he hesitated, looking out toward the wagon again. “Is your friend along?”
“I don’t know,” Karla answered, not looking around, her gaze still going out across the yard. “He could be one of those two in back. But I can’t see their faces yet.”
“Or their numbers,” Demery said. He turned back into the dimness of the adobe.
Frank Renda, with the shotgun, was coming directly toward her; but the second rider crossed the yard diagonally and remained on the far side of the wagon. He carried a Winchester straight up, the stock resting on his thigh and his hand gripping it through the lever.
The two men whom Karla could not yet see, who sat in the back of the empty wagon with their legs hanging over the end gate, and the driver, looked toward the adobe as they drew nearer. They wore curl-brimmed, preshaped straw hats. Their shirts and Levi’s were faded and sweat-stained and a number was stenciled on the right thigh of each of the three men’s Levi’s. The same number was stenciled in back, below the beltline. The driver wore number 22; the men on the end gate, 17 and 18.
Frank Renda dismounted. He let his reins trail and came toward Karla carrying the shotgun under his arm-a man about her father’s age, in his mid-forties, but heavier than her father, thicker through chest and shoulders, and wearing a mustache, a full, untrimmed tobacco-stained mustache that almost completely covered the firm line of his mouth.
He stopped in front of Karla, blocking her view of the men in the wagon. He stood close to her, the shotgun barrel touching her skirt, but she didn’t move, not even her eyes, and she returned his gaze.
“Where’s my stuff, Karla?” He smiled saying this, but the smile was not in the sound of his voice.
“In the shed,” Karla answered.
Renda motioned toward the open shed that extended out from the east wall of the adobe. Karla saw the rider who was still mounted walk his horse toward it, his Winchester across his pommel now. Then, as the wagon moved on, passing close to her, she glanced at the two convicts on the end gate.
For a moment her eyes held on the man wearing number 18. She looked away then, quickly, her gaze going to the shed: feeling an unexpected excitement in seeing him and suddenly afraid it would show on her face.
She did not try to explain the feeling, for it was not something that could be reasonably explained, even to herself. This was the ninth time she had seen him. She was sure of that. Eight times in the past month, delivering mail to the convict camp, she had taken the trail down through the canyon and passed him on the new road. Riding along the stretch of road construction, passing the convicts and the guards, then seeing him, watching him until it would be obvious that she was watching and then she would look away.
Eight times this way and always with the feeling that she knew what he was thinking, knowing that he was watching the guards, following their moves and trying to locate the ten or twelve Apache trackers who were always mounted and always somewhere above the canyon but seldom in sight.
Each time she had wanted to say to him, “Please don’t try it. Please.” Again for a reason she did not even attempt to understand, though she wondered if others sensed his wanting to escape as strongly as she did.
That was part of it: the knowing what he was thinking. That and the feeling that she had known him a long time; as if he were a boy she had gone to school with in Willcox and had been close to and had seen every day and was now seeing again after a lapse of six or seven years. But, she had never laid eyes on him before a month ago and even now she did not know his name. This was the first time he had been brought to Pinaleno with the supply detail.
Now she watched Renda walking off after the wagon, seeing, beyond him, the wagon pulling up in front of the open shed.
She could feel the rider with the Winchester looking at her, but she did not raise her eyes to him. Her father had said that his name was Brazil-Renda’s head guard. And her father had said he was a gunman; a man paid purely and simply for his gun and probably deserved to be wearing a straw hat and numbered pants as much as any convict in the camp.
The driver was standing in the wagon bed now, his head even with the shed roof. He would stoop under it, into the straight-line shade of it to take the sacks of flour and dried beans and salt that the two men who had been on the end gate handed up to him. He would drag the sacks to the front of the wagon and stack them, taking his time, as if trying to make this last as long as possible. Now and again he would glance at Karla.
She noticed this, but most of the time her eyes remained on the convict wearing number 18.
His sleeves were cut off at the shoulders and she had never seen a man’s arms burned such a deep brown. Black copper, she thought. And in the shadow of his hatbrim his face seemed even darker. It went through the girl’s mind that with shoulder-length hair and features that were coarse he could pass for a San Carlos Apache. Still, even though she had never seen him without the straw hat, she knew his hair was sand colored, just as she knew his eyes would be blue.
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