Dragoon Mountains: April, 1888
The smell of the mares was on the wind, but the stud did not seem to like this graze as a place to breed. He lowered his head, giving the signal, and the mares and the stallions skitting around them followed after as the lead mare moved off.
Seven days Dana Moon had been tracking this herd, gradually, patiently moving the wild horses toward a barranca they'd fenced off with brush; a week of watching, getting to know them, Moon thinking on and off: If you were the stud, which one would you pick to mount first?
It would be hard. There were some good-looking mares in that bunch. But each time he wondered about it Moon found his gaze cutting out the palomino, the golden-haired girl, from the rest of the mares. She attracted the most overtures from the stallions who'd come sniffing her flanks. Moon would watch the palomino jump gracefully and give the boys a ladylike kick in the muzzle-saving it for the stud.
Out here a week tracking with his six Mimbre riders, former members of the Apache Police at San Carlos, now mustangers working for the Dana Moon Remount & Stage Team Supply Company-if anyone were to ask who he was and what he did.
Though it was not the answer he gave the fool who came riding upwind out of the sun haze. There he was, a speck of sound and smell and the herd was gone, like it would run forever, the Mimbres gathering and chasing off through the dust to keep them located. The fool, two black specks now, came clopping across the scrub waste, clop clop clop clop, leading a pack animal, not even knowing what a goddamn fool he was.
Yet he appeared to be a rider himself, sweat-dirty Stetson down on his eyes, someone who should know better.
A little bell rang inside Moon's head.
“Are you Dana Moon?”
An official tone. A policeman verifying the name before saying you're under arrest. Or a messenger boy from somewhere.
“You just wiped out a week of tracking,” Moon said. “You know it?”
“I guess it ain't your day,” the man said and drew a pistol and immediately began firing at Moon, shooting him in the thigh, just above his right knee, shooting his horse through the neck and withers, the horse screaming and throwing its head as Moon drew his Colt's and shot the man twice through the chest.
He was a fool after all, not as real as he appeared. But who was he?
One of Moon's Mimbre riders, who was called Red, came back to find his boss sitting on the ground twisting his polka-dot scarf around his leg. The leg looked a mess, the entire thigh bleeding where the bullet had dug its way through Moon's flesh to come out just below his hip bone.
“I never even saw him before,” Moon said. “See if he's got a wallet or something.” He knew the man lying by his horse was dead; he didn't have to ask that.
There were seventeen dollars in a wallet and a folded soiled letter addressed to Asa Maddox, c/o Maricopa Cattle Company, Bisbee, Arizona Territory. The tablet-paper letter said:
That was good news you sent that you have finally got him located. If you do not want to wait for us I cannot stop you, but then we will not wait for you either and will proceed with our plan to get the other one. I think you are wrong in doing this alone instead of with us, but as I have mentioned I cannot stop you nor do I blame you much for your eagerness.
Moon said, “Who is Asa Maddox? Who in the hell is J.A. McWilliams?”
Red, hunkered down next to Moon, looked at him but did not say anything.
“Well, shit,” Moon said. “I guess I'm going to Benson a week early.”