Garret had taken about as much watching Derek Lefeaux fall apart as he could stand. The man was shaking and grey-faced, with both dangling, shot-up arms soaked elbow-to-wrist in dried blood. He’d seen men die of shock and blood loss a time or two-hundred during the war, and Lefeaux looked like he was a good candidate to be the next one. Although the man had shown a remarkable ability to spring back from the dead.
“Lefeaux, lie down and put your legs up,” he said. He turned to Carter. “Go fetch Hezekiah, I don’t care what he says, this man needs medical help and he knows a damn sight more about that kind of thing than I do. And tell Marcus about the blacksmith. Seth, give me the keys.”
It was as natural as breathing to fall back on command skills he hadn’t used since people had called him Lieutenant, but Deputy was at least as good a title, and with the odd way Marcus had been acting, and the obvious deterioration of law and order here, he didn’t find he had much choice.
Carter gave him a measuring look, then went to do his bidding. Seth looked altogether weary, showing all the years he usually hid in the gaunt hollows under his eyes. “It’s your call, Deputy.”
Garret nodded, took the keys, and opened Lefeaux’s cell. “Go get me a basin of hot water and some clean rags. And a change of shirt for Lefeaux.”
“That might take a bit of doing—” Seth started, and Garret’s patience was at an end.
“Did I sound like I was just making suggestions?”
“There’s no call to get your ornery up, Deputy. I’m going.” Seth hauled himself to his feet and shuffled out the door.
Garret went in to steady the man. Lefeaux flinched hard when Garret laid a hand on his shoulder. A broken-sounding laugh shivered out of Lefeaux’s clenched teeth. “Watch your hands, Deputy. They’re rules about manhandling prisoners.”
“I ain’t here to hurt you,” Garret said. “Though I have to say it’s a funny thing you appealing to the rule of law about how a prisoner ought to be treated. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t know what the hell happened while I was off to Dead End, but you’re back from what I figure was your second death in a week, and I don’t aim to let you go to your third because other folks couldn’t be bothered to see to your wounds.”
Derek raised a pale, sweat-sheened face and narrowed light grey eyes like he was having trouble focusing. He licked his lips once. “I’m touched,” he told Garret with a tone that suggested he was anything but. A note of strangled hysteria crept into his voice when he added, “To the bottom of my heart.” Then he folded over himself, choking on a breathless lunatic’s laugh.
Garret crouched down and put both hands on Derek’s shoulders, restraining and bracing at the same time. It was a calculated movement, and if Derek had been faking those injuries and been of a mind to grab Garret’s gun, Garret might have been a dead man.
It spoke volumes that he wasn’t.
“Lefeaux. Take a breath. Breathe, real slow. Deep breath. Alright? I’m gonna lie you down on this bench.”
Derek took a deeper, steadier, breath, then another, laughter washing itself out, and managed to meet Garret’s gaze. “Really rather stay upright, Deputy, if it’s all the same,” he said. He flinched subtly, twitching his chin towards one of Garret’s hands. “You’re grabbing again.”
“You looked like you were about to pitch over,” Garret said. He turned loose but didn’t move away, instead reaching for his hip flask. “Here, have a swig of bourbon.” He started to hand Lefeaux the flask, realized how helpless Lefeaux really was with both arms shot up, and uncapped it and held it to Lefeaux’s lips. “Go on, take a drink or two. It’ll take the edge off.”
“That’d take more than two,” Derek replied, dry as a temperance meeting, but he tipped his head back and let Garret give him the drink, knocking it back like a man who’d spent his whole life in a bar. Garret gave him three generous swallows, and was relieved to see a little steadiness creep into Derek’s expression, a little healthier color flush his cheeks. He licked his lips again as Garret recapped his flask, focusing more easily on Garret’s face. “Any more bright ideas?”
“Prayerful healing if Hezikiah will lay hands on you, and laudanum and some splints if he won’t,” Garret answered. “How ‘bout I start with getting that shirt and coat off you and see how bad you’re hurt. You said Carter shot you, and Carter said he did so ‘cause you shot Doc Knuckles, is that about right? That why they locked you up?”
“Something like that,” Derek agreed. “Preacher ordered me held, and the Law stepped right up.” He sounded almost amused, in a wry, painful sort of way. “But seeing as Doc tried to kill me first, I figure we’re square. He’s not dead, by the way.” He paused, tracking Garret’s gaze to the other occupied cell where Doc Knuckles looked (and smelled) as much like a day-old corpse as any Garret had ever run across. “Well, he is dead,” Derek amended, “but no more dead than he was yesterday. Takes a headshot to knock out a manitou, and I didn’t give him one.”
“Well he sure seems dead,” Garret said. He yawned and scrubbed a hand over a stubbly jaw. ”So you blew that hole in his chest there, and it what? Knocked the manitou thing loopy? Is he gonna just up and wake up any minute now?”
A slight shrug of Derek’s shoulders turned quickly into a wince. “Probably. First time I haven’t finished the job. But I know it takes a headshot to put them down for good, so he’s got more of a chance than he gave me.” His thin lips quirked in a humorless smile. “Fair deal.”
Seth came back with a basin of water, some slender sticks of kindling to use for splints, and several strips of clean flannel bandage. “You need any help with that?” he asked when he gave them to Garret.
“I got it,” Garret told him.
Seth gave him a skeptical look. “You alright there, McEwan? You look like you ain’t slept in a week.”
Garret yawned again, cracked his spine, and took a deep breath to clear his head. “I’ll get some sleep after I sort this out. I got this.” When Seth hesitated, Garret met his eyes. “You don’t look like you’ve seen a bed recently yourself. Get some rest now, while you can, Seth. We’ve got worse coming down the pike.”
“Hm. I believe I will,” Seth said, but there was steel in his expression. Steel Garret was glad of.
Garret took the basin and bandages, set them on the cot next to Lefeaux, then dragged a wooden stool into the cell and sat facing Derek. “Alright, let’s get your coat and shirt off so I can at least dress your wounds.” He helped Lefeaux strip down, whistling softly at the damage Carter Burwell’s guns had done to the man’s arms. The bullet scar dead center of the man’s sternum was impressive, too, but it looked long healed. Something to ask about when they weren’t so pressed for time.
Derek blanched white when Garret pulled his arms free of his sleeves, and Garret gave him another swig of drink as soon as he’d finished.
“So I want to make sure I have your side of this story straight,” Garret said. “When we were in that mine, you told us Doc was harrowed, which from all I’ve seen, I believe. And what makes a man harrowed is a manitou, which is the same sort of abomination that’s controlling JA. Something that ain’t from heaven or hell, but someplace else.”
Derek nodded, wincing as Garret set to work cleaning the blood from his skin.
“And right after you told us that, you and Doc went over the side of that pit in the mine,” Garret continued, “and that’s when he pushed you off your rope?”
Derek opened his mouth to speak, stilled, closed it again, and looked at Garret with hard-edged eyes like a defiant schoolboy caught without his homework. “Look, I can’t be a genius all the time.”
Garret surprised himself, snorting on a laugh. Whatever his many brushes with death had done to him, at least some of the essence of Derek Lefeaux had survived. “Well, guess you learned yourself a lesson that time, anyway. So how in hell did you end up not dead at the bottom of that pit?”
“Big snake,” Derek said, like there was nothing unusual about it.
“Ben said the snake was one of his people’s gods, so I guess maybe it could have come from Totchnini or such like, seeing as Navajo gods intervened for us before. Not, that I’m saying those are gods, mind you. More like the Lord’s angels, I figure, but going in the guise of Indian gods. Or I don’t even know, really.” Garret looked up at LeFeaux with a shrug. “Don’t really know the things I learned in Sunday School hold much water these days. All this talk of angels and devils and Indian gods and interlopers.”
Derek’s eyebrows arched slightly. “Deputy,” he said, summer drought crisp, “are you having a crisis of faith?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Garret said, surprised at himself for admitting it. “At least I’m a free man this time around.”
Derek looked up, paying proper attention for the first time since the conversation had started. He studied Garret’s face with a puzzled frown. “You saying you were a criminal, Dep? Because that kind of knocks the moral and holy ground right out from under you— Ah, no, wait. I get it.” His expression cleared as understanding dawned. “Prisoner of war. Am I right?”
“Rock Island, Illinois,” Garret agreed. “I escaped, eventually.” It looked like the bullets Carter Burwell had put into Derek’s arms had passed cleanly through, and the bleeding was almost stopped. He wrapped them both carefully with the bandages Seth had brought. “Left one might be broke. I’ll splint it for now. Hoping Kiah can fix it, but even if he can’t I think you’ll be okay if you don’t get fever.”
“I’m not—” Derek started, interrupting himself with a pained hiss when Garret pulled the bandage tight. “—sure ‘okay’ is the word,” he continued. “But it’s nice that you’re optimistic.” When Garret was finished with the bandaging and had helped him into the clean shirt Seth had procured, he leaned wearily back against the wall, looking at Garret through half-closed eyes. Sweat sheened his pale face, and lines etched exhaustion around his eyes and mouth, but he surprised Garret when he said, “Rock Island. Not many survivors from there.”
“I was lucky,” Garret agreed quietly. “Just like you. Devil’s own luck, some folks say.” He watched Derek’s face carefully. “So you got swallowed up by the snake—and I ain’t making judgments, but seems to me the Bible has a thing or two to say about serpents—which saved you dying of the fall, and somehow getting et didn’t do you in.”
Derek sighed very quietly. “If you’re going to make Devil-jabs, Deputy, can you get them over with? I’m about used up on them.”
“If I’m understanding this situation right, your former employer Mister Barker there is Old Scratch’s own personal concierge.”
“Kiss-ass,” Derek corrected, poker-faced.
Garret chuckled. “Well, I guess I know how you feel about him.”
Every last trace of humor and reserve washed out of Derek’s face in an instant. He leaned forward, almost threatening. “You have no idea how I feel about Jonathan Barker,” he said, in a low voice so full of cold, hard fury it gave Garret a chill.
“No,” Garret said slowly, “I don’t guess I do. But I expect it’s a little like how I feel about General WT Sherman, except not quite so personal.” He waited until Derek was looking him in the eye. “But he turned you loose just now. You ain’t the Devil’s prisoner of war no more. We make it through what’s coming with JA, and you’re a free man, right?”
For an instant something like doubt flickered in Derek’s eyes before he answered, “Guess that depends on you, Dep. Planning to let me out of here any time soon?”
“If you’re fit to fight and I can have your word as your parole, I’m considering it,” Garret said. “It’ll be a hard sell. Carter Burwell’s convinced you’re as much the Devil’s handyman as Barker is, though I’m getting a pretty certain idea that wasn’t by your choice. I don’t know where Marcus stands in all this, but I’d sure as hell like to have you on our side when we face down JA.”
Derek tipped his head to search Garret’s face, like he was looking for assurance Garret was speaking his heart. “I’ll fight with you," he said at length, flat and truthful. “I’ve been doing that since day one, and I haven’t sold you up the river yet. But afterwards, if we’re both still standing, then what? Intending to yank me back in here and turn me over to a judge? Because that’s not giving me much incentive to wear your leash any more than Barker’s.”
“That’s what a parole means,” Garret said. “If your shooting of Doc Knuckles was justified, then it was justified, and if the man springs back to life like you say he’s gonna, even if it wasn’t justified, it ain’t a hanging offense, since he won’t be dead. Well, won’t be your bullet killed him, anyway. It ain’t even attempted murder, really, since you said from the outset you weren’t aiming to kill. For public fighting and disturbing the peace you’d get a day or two in the pokey which you’ve already done some of, and a ten buck fine.”
Derek lifted his unbroken arm, jaw tensing at the pain, and flicked his fingers at the new scar across his throat. “I’d call this justified,” he said grimly. He glanced into the other occupied cell, then back to Garret, looking much more thoughtful. “S’that mean that if Doc wakes up, you’re gonna charge him with attempted murder?”
“That’s a distinct possibility,” Garret said. “Problem is, it’s your word against his, so it’s all gonna come down to circumstantials. I mean, if he was trying to finish what he started when he pushed you off, that’d explain why when he did his ghosty trick and went into the snake, he put that new necklace on you.” He raised a hand and drew a line across his own neck, mirroring Derek’s newly healed throat slash. “And why he lied when he came out and said you weren’t in there. But even according to you he wasn’t in his right mind, if that manitou thing had hold of him. If I had to hang a man for attempting murder when he wasn’t in control of his faculties, I’d be right back around to you from when that skinjacket had you trying to kill me and Ben and Marcus.” He looked Derek steadily in the eye. “And that’s not my intention.”
The corner of Derek’s mouth twitched up in half a wry smile. “One minor flaw with that, Dep. I shucked the skin-jacket, and I’m still breathing. Doc’s dead, and he’s still wearing his Joker.”
“Yeah…” Garret sighed. “The Law’s a complicated thing when it comes to the Harrowed. But if good deeds count in a man’s favor, I can tell you Doc Knuckles did the right thing by us in the end, when we were facing down JA in that mine. It can’t excuse him attempting your murder, but I don’t think the man’s soul is all black any more than yours is. I’ve been turning a blind eye to more than a few shady dealings when it comes to you and him, and it doesn’t give me an easy conscience, but both of you have kept to the right side of the Law more than the wrong, so far as I’ve seen.”
Derek sighed and turned sideways on the bench, finally kicking his legs up and lying down. He shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them half-lidded again, watching Garret. “Question for you, Dep. If we’re going up against JA, who’s working for the interlopers, wouldn’t it suit his purposes to put a Harrowed man in the center of your group, and make him seem trustworthy?”
Garret nodded. “That’s about what I was thinking myself,” he said. “But the Doc isn’t doing much more than decomposing at the moment, even if he was walking around back in the mines. I’ll tell you straight, I don’t aim to let him out of that jail cell even if he does wake up before JA gets here. And I know Marcus will back me up on that one. He’s got a particular horror of the Harrowed.”
“Dead sister. I heard,” said Derek.
“Then you know.” Garret glanced towards the door, but there was no sign of Carter or Hezekiah yet. “Is there anything else I ought to know? I’ve been gone a day and a night, had to ride out to Dead End and fetch back the preacher’s wife who came in on a train and got held up when the stages stopped running. She’s JA’s own mother, and JA was asking after her in that mine, so I’m hoping she can turn aside his wrath when he comes back. He sounded like he was maybe afraid of what he was going to come back as. Like maybe some part of his departed soul doesn’t want to be in thrall to the interlopers.”
For a long moment there was silence, and Garret wondered if Derek had fallen asleep, but then he flicked his eyes over with a thoughtful, “Huh.” He chewed the corner of his lip, evidently deep in thought. “Well,” he said, “Momma issues might give you some leverage. But if he’s scared of manitous, I’d’ve expected them to eat him by now. They like fear.”
“You don’t eat the whole box of salt at once,” Garret said, considering that. “Maybe JA’s like seasoning. Cause he sure as shit scares me, and a whole lot of everyone else. If they’re sucking down fear, they get a lot more to feast on if they leverage it.”
“Huh,” Derek said again. He lifted his head and really focused on Garret. “You’re smarter than you look, Dep.”
Garret grinned. “Yep, and you thought you only liked me for my looks.”
Derek laughed almost silently, laying his head back down on the cot and wincing when the movement jarred his bandaged arms. “Thought that was the Navajo,” he said.
“Ben?” Garret hesitated, then uncapped his flask, took a short swig himself, and offered another mouthful to Derek. “He’s… got his own opinions on the matter.”
Derek turned his head away, lips closed, evidently not in so much pain he wanted any more anesthetic. Or maybe feeling so poorly he didn’t trust his stomach with more alcohol, given how pale he still was. But then he looked at Garret with that same I-can-see-right-through-you look Miss Rosie had given him when she’d brought up Ben Tsosie. “Like he’s got his own gods? Amazing you two get along at all.”
“We… Have plenty other things in common,” Garret said. “And like I said, I figure his gods are really Angels of the Lord or something like.”
“Or something,” Derek murmured. He closed his eyes, evidently done pursuing that line just short of actually inquiring about Garret’s particulars.
Garret straightened, gathered up the bandaging supplies and the basin of blood-fouled water. “Alright. I’ll go see what’s keeping the preacher. And have a word with Marcus.” He studied Derek for a moment, eying bandages and the weary cast of the man’s features. If this was all the good shape he was going to be in, there wasn’t much point in paroling him. But maybe if Kiah could help…
“Anyway,” he said through a yawn of his own, “I guess it’s perdition coming down on us one way or another. Got to hope the Lord God—whatever name he chooses to go by, is on our side when JA gets here. If you think of anything we can do to turn this coming battle to our favor, I’d be glad to hear it.”
Derek inhaled, then opened his eyes again. “Keep Barker’s pocket watch,” he said. “It’s… Actually, I have no idea what it is. But he said to open it and point it at JA if I got the chance, so I’m guessing it’s something JA won’t like much.”
“Barker’s pocket watch? The one in the safe that Seth took off you?”
“Gold star” Derek let his head fall back and closed his eyes again. “If Barker wanted it back, it probably still does something. You should take a look at it with the angel glasses.”
“I’ll do that.” Garret left the cell, taking the stool and basin with him. He hesitated for a moment, then relocked the door. “I’ll make sure you get some vittles and some laudanum, even if Hezekiah can’t heal you,” he said. He opened the safe and extracted a simple, heavy gold pocket watch, the only one inside. Either Doc Knuckles didn’t carry one, or Seth and the others hadn’t bothered to relieve him of his effects, perhaps on the grounds that he seemed unlikely to attempt either escape or suicide in his current condition.
He was just about to release the latch when Derek said sharply, “Don’t open it.”
Garret froze, looked harder at the closed watch, but could see nothing interesting about it. “All right,” he said. “Only open it if I can get close to JA? It’s not a bomb, is it? I don’t actually want to blow myself up to take him down if I don’t have to.”
“You miss the part where I said I didn’t know?” Derek’s eyes were still closed. “Point it at JA, don’t open it beforehand. That’s all I got told. Don’t put your face in front of it was mostly implied.”
“All right then,” Garret said. He turned the heavy watch over once, then put it carefully in his pocket. “Thank you, Derek.”
There was a long, long moment of silence. Garret turned to go. Then, like it was almost a question, Derek said quietly, “You’re welcome?”
Garret glanced back, smiled, and touched his hat with a nod. “I’ll be back in two shakes,” he said. Then he went to find the others.