Monday, December 25, 2006

Tin Soldier - Book One, Chapter Five

It was a pleasure to crest the hill and wind down the valley road, the little farm growing larger amid the scrub and fallow fields, the narrow ribbon of the creek shining silver in the afternoon light. Goneril and Regan seemed to know they were almost home and held their heads high, sniffing the air and pulling the cart with such enthusiasm that Amalia had to keep a firm hand on the reins to prevent them from breaking into an eager trot.

The party pulled into the driveway as Carina, who must have been watching all day, dashed from the barn to greet them. Grandma Peterson poked her head out the kitchen door and tottered her way into the group, grinning. She sent Diana to fetch her bags and climbed up onto the buckboard with surprising agility.

Gonzales and the Petersons didn't stay long, in spite of Carina's friendly offer of tea and a snack.

"No, mi hijita," Peterson said. "We need to go see how things are getting along at the ranch. We hired two of the Torres brood to mind the place, and they’ve probably let the bees escape and the sheep wander into the arroyo by now."

"And my mamá is waiting, bless her heart," Gonzales chimed in. "She still thinks I'm a boy who can't hardly take care of himself. At her age, there's no point in trying to tell her different."

As the party trailed away in a cloud of dust, Carina rubbed the jennets' noses, and an uncertain look passed between her and her sister. "We might as well," Carina said.

Amalia pressed her lips together and started taking things out of the wagon. Donovan stepped forward to help. "Why don't you unload and let us carry the things inside?" Amalia told him.

If this arrangement struck Donovan as odd, he gave no sign, and began staging coffee, flour, oats, lard, and canned goods near the kitchen door. When everything was out of the wagon and still no sign of Amalia and Carina, he paused. It was clear they were nervous about something and Donovan guessed they didn't want him knowing the location of the secret storeroom he knew they must have. With an innocent air, he loaded his arms with tins of baking soda and sacks of salt and headed inside.

He found no one in the kitchen and his footsteps clattered on the linoleum. Somewhere he heard a faint murmur of feminine voices, but couldn't make out the source. Since he knew the house well by this point, the only place their storeroom could be was a basement of some kind. The question was how one got to it. Silently, he moved to the kitchen table and set his items down. He waited again, straining for a sound.

There it was.

He stepped into the hallway and saw that the door to the linen closet was open. Inside was a dark hole where the floor should have been. He crouched and listened. He couldn't make out the words, but Amalia's angry tone and Carina's soothing murmurs made him wonder if they were talking about him. He went back outside and brought in a few more foodstuffs, making sure to stomp loudly on the kitchen floor, but only as far as the table and then back out again. That should put an end to their worries that he would raid their stash. There would be time enough to find out what they had.

When Carina came outside again, she found him pulling woolen pelts out of the cart. "Those go in the barn."

Donovan slid the wool back into the cart. "Good. They stink."

"That's why we don't bring them in the house until we've washed them." She tugged on Goneril's bridle. "Why don't you come out to the barn and help me finish unloading? Then we can curry these big babies and let them in the pasture with their little goat friends." She looked Goneril in the eye. "Do you miss your friends? Are you glad to be home?"

"They sure moved like they were glad to be coming home once we were back in the valley.”

"They can smell when they're almost home. They rely on all their senses, unlike us."

"They know a good thing when they've got it," Donovan agreed.

"Also unlike us." Carina gave him a serious look. "You do know when you've got things pretty good, right?"

"Yes." He ducked his head. Her meaning was obvious.

"Then I guess we don't have to say any more about it." Carina rubbed the jenny's nose as if Donovan's foibles in town were already forgotten. "I'm sure glad to have my sweet babies home. You've had quite an adventure, haven't you?"

* * *

If Carina was happy with Amalia and Donovan's trades, she was even happier to have her jennets home. For several days after their return, she could be found in the paddock or the barn, talking to her animals, inspecting hooves and ears, checking coats for ticks and sores, oiling the harness and making liberal use of the currycomb. "What would you have done if I'd brought you the alpaca you keep asking for?" Amalia teased.

"You wouldn't see me at all, which would leave you to do your own cooking," Carina answered. "But at least the cooking is easy right now, with all the goodies you brought from town. You did really well."

They were in the barn and Amalia pretended great interest in the condition of a harness hook.

Her shift in mood wasn't lost on Carina. "Donovan is pretty good at trading."

"Yes. He's quite the charmer."

Carina rubbed vigorously at a stiff patch of leather. "We shouldn't send him anywhere with Gonzales any more. He needs a more steady influence. He's pretty young."

"That's true, even if it's not exactly what I meant."

"There's more?"

Amalia sighed. "Just that he's quite the charmer."

Suddenly everything was clear. "He's got a good heart. I doubt he would ever mean to hurt anyone or lead them on."

"Of course not. But those grasshopper types who never think about the consequences of their behavior. . ."

"It's a problem, isn't it?"


Carina put down her rag. "As long as we don't take him too seriously," she said, "I don’t think we have to stop enjoying his company. He works hard and he means no harm."

Amalia blushed and turned away. "That's not what I meant at all. I just don't want him causing trouble for any of our friends or trading partners. He's going to pull a trick on the wrong person some day and get shot for it, and I won't be the least bit sorry."

Carina smiled to herself as Amalia walked outside, then she picked up her rag and returned to her work.

* * *

The brisk blue skies and golden poplars of November worked their magic on Donovan. After his adventures in Macrina, the simplicity of plants, wells, fences and animals was invigorating. He found himself humming old tunes as he went about his work cleaning milking equipment, drying fall herbs and vegetables, mending fences and checking the traps. What had he ever liked about urban life? Sometimes he and Carina would hitch one of the jennies to a cart and trade with the valley neighbors, exchanging squashes, beans and different types of hay. Who could've guessed there could be so many varieties of all these things? But no, an acorn squash was not a pumpkin, a pinto bean was not a black bean and alfalfa was too rich for daily feed and must be traded for brome and timothy.

It was all new and surprisingly interesting.

Under Amalia's direction, he re-plastered one of the low adobe walls on the property. He trapped a rabbit for Carina to make into a stew. He refurbished an old truck wheel for one of the carts. He helped wash raw wool and learned how to keep it from felting in hot water. One afternoon he built a hammock in the garden with some rope he found in a shed. The sisters had a grand time trying to find a way they could both enjoy it without being tipped into the fallow cabbage bed. In the evenings when Carina turned on the electric light so Amalia could read to them, he struggled with his knitting, trying to extend his ramshackle scarf into an even more questionable afghan. Well, it didn't have to look good to keep him warm. When he needed a break from counting stitches, he enjoyed the peaceful domestic scene— the two women, one reading from a novel called Vanity Fair, the other mending a shirt or working the drop spindle while the tabby dozed in a nearby chair or a friendly lap. It was all very cozy and comforting.

* * *

"So," Carina said one morning over cornmeal pancakes flavored with some of the Petersons' honey, "What are we going to do about Thanksgiving?"

"What do you mean, what are we going to do about it?" Amalia asked. "It'll come, regardless."

"You know what I mean."

"I don't see why we have to do anything different from any other day. If we're not thankful the rest of the year, we're not going to make up for it with just one dinner."

"That's not the point, and you know it." Carina pondered. "What can we do this year? Cornmeal stuffing, obviously, but. . . oh, I hate to kill one of the chickens, and no one around here raises turkeys."

"Will quail do?" Donovan asked. "I'm not so good with a bow and arrow, but if you've got enough ammo, I can shoot some. I see coveys out there all the time."
Carina nodded. "Yes, I think quail would do. And there's that can of cranberries you got in Macrina. . ."

"I'm curious to try those. I didn't know what they were but Diana said I should take them."

"Diana is a clever girl. She'll make someone a terrific wife one day."

"That's if she wants to marry at all," Amalia said. "She'd probably be better off if she didn't, given her prospects around here. But then, she did express an interest in Donovan."

"Oh did she?" Carina gave him a wicked smile. "When's the date?"

"Sometime after she reaches puberty, I would think.”

"Speaking of the Petersons," Amalia cut in, "Do you want to invite them? They've done us several favors this year."

Carina brightened. "That's a good idea." She turned to Donovan. "How good are you with a shotgun? We'll need a lot of those quail if we're going to invite your little girlfriend and her family."

"I can get as many as you need. They're all over the place. Nothing's too good for my girlfriend."

Amalia rolled her eyes. "I'll see if I can get us some potatoes," she said, changing the subject. "We had no luck in town, which was odd, but the McKnights usually have some."

"I haven't had a potato in awhile," Carina said. "I wonder how their animals are doing?"

"I’m sure they wouldn't mind a friendly house call." Amalia stood up. "I guess that settles it. I'll go to the Peterson's tomorrow and invite them."

* * *

"Have you ever hunted quail?" Amalia asked, watching as Donovan inspected the shotgun.

"I've hunted game before."

"But have you hunted quail? And without a dog?"

Carina was nearby, sorting through her father's hunting gear. "Gonzales has a good pointer," she said. "Maybe we—"

"No." Amalia's voice was firm.

Donovan sighed. "I haven't ever hunted quail, with or without a dog."

Carina had found what she was looking for— a canvas bag that would hold as many as a dozen birds. She looked at Amalia. "Maybe you should go with him. He won't get as many, and he might even lose some, if he tries to do it alone."

"He can throw rocks to flush them out," Amalia said. "He'll just have to make sure he finds them if he hits them."

"Maybe we should just kill a couple chickens."

Donovan took the bag out of Carina's hands and looked it over. "I shouldn't have much trouble finding the dead quail," he said. "There's not so much ground cover as all that."

"And where do you think your going to find them, if not where the ground cover is thickest?" Amalia wanted to know.

"I've seen them. I know where they hang out."

Carina put a hand on Amalia's arm before she could say more. "Let him see how he does. If he can't get enough quail, we'll go with chicken. It won’t be the end of the world."

* * *

Donovan went out at dawn the next day and by noon had only managed to kill one bird and it was so full of shot that it was useless as food. Although he knew that the proper technique was to shoot the bird’s head off, so as to not get shot in the meat, it was easier said than done when a cloud of quail rose unexpectedly before him and he had to get off a shot as best he could. Discouraged and embarrassed, he sought out Carina in the kitchen, where she was stirring a pot of curds.

"It's okay," she reassured him. "They really are hard to get without a dog."

"It isn't that I'm not a good shot, but by the time you find them, flush them out and aim. . ."

"I know."

"And there were at least two others I'm pretty sure I hit, but I couldn't find them once they dropped."

"I know."

"I guess that's why they say to use a dog."

Seeing that his hands were empty, Carina handed him a strainer lined with a clean cloth. "Hold this over the empty pan. More experienced hunters than you have needed a dog to hunt quail. We'll have Amalia kill a chicken or two."

"I hate for us to have to do that." He watched as Carina poured the remaining curds into the strainer, the whey streaming through to the pot below. "Is there no place we can get a turkey? I haven't had one in years and I'd be happy to pay for it."

"The only people I know who raise any sort of birds besides chickens are the weirdos at the God's Candidates compound. We don't have any dealings with them and you in particular wouldn't be welcome."

"Why not? Everyone wants money and mine is as good as anyone else's."

"Not to them." Carina picked up the ends of the cloth and began twisting it, squeezing out the whey. "They're Aryan supremacists and would shoot you on sight."

Donovan laughed. "White supremacists? Out here in Mexican and Indian territory?"

"We didn't always have people like that out here. They turned that way when the economy went bad and they felt like they had to blame someone." Carina set the tightly wrapped cloth of curds on a plate and tied it with twine. "They're totally self-sufficient, as far as anyone has been able to figure out. They're also overrun with kids, since breeding seems to be part of their plan. They probably think they can supplant the native population with their own home-grown one. They're absolutely nuts, and that's why we don't have any dealings with them, even though Amalia and I could probably trade with them if we wanted to."

"They're the only ones you know of who raise turkeys?"

"I'm afraid so."

"So where are they, if you don't mind my asking."

Carina looked at him sharply. "Why do you care? I'm telling you, they're crazy. Dangerous-crazy. You don't want to go there."

"How can I avoid them if I don't know where they are?"

"You won't run into them if you stay around here. Were you planning on going somewhere?"

Their eyes met, and Donovan looked away first. He handed Carina the empty strainer.

"I was just curious."

* * *

That afternoon Donovan went out again with the shotgun, but had no luck and was gone until almost dusk. He came in as Amalia and Carina were sitting down to dinner and slid into his spot at the table as though his late arrival was unremarkable.

The women looked at each other, eyebrows raised. Amalia was the first to speak. "I could've used your help this afternoon. We were going to work on the door to the big box stable."

"I must've forgotten." He ladled sweet corn onto his plate.

"Did you get any more quail?" Carina asked.

He shook his head and reached for the beans. "I might head out again in the morning. I think I'm close to getting the hang of it."

Carina and Amalia looked at each other again, but it was Amalia who had words at the ready. "I think you'd do better to spend your time helping around here instead of wasting another day trying to figure out how to kill small birds that aren't worth the trouble."

"She's right," Carina said. "Your skill will get better over time. It would make more sense to practice over the course of the year and plan on having quail next Thanksgiving."

"Well, maybe I'll get a rabbit or two. I still want to head out early, before the sun's up."

"I guess that's reasonable. . ." Carina began.

"Oh, please. That's not reasonable at all." Amalia turned on him. "Are you up to something? All of a sudden you've got the hunting bug and it looks pretty strange to me."

"I'm not up to anything," he said, stirring his corn into his beans before reaching for a tortilla. "I don't see why you’re so suspicious just because I want to provide my friends with a nice Thanksgiving dinner."

"A rabbit dinner?" Amalia looked skeptical.

"Why not, since I'm having such bad luck with the quail? It'll save you having to kill any of your chickens, won't it?"

Amalia sat back in her chair, arms folded across her chest.

Carina frowned. "I guess you can give it a try. I don't think rabbit is very traditional, but—"

"I want to help. It's not like I'm any good with cooking or decorating. This is what I can do. Isn't Thanksgiving about being thankful for what you have? We can be grateful for rabbits, can't we?"

"I guess I don't need any help with anything in the morning. . ."

"Well, I do," Amalia said, but the look of quiet resignation on Carina's face checked her. "Fine. Get some rabbits. But that's it. After lunch, you're helping me with that box stall."

* * *

Donovan was out the door early. Even Carina, who rarely slept long enough to wake by the palest streak of sunlight, found him gone when she padded into the kitchen to stir up the fire and set a pot of coffee to boil. She began gathering a few things to make breakfast, only to find that the remaining tortillas from dinner were gone. She had planned to scramble them with eggs and chiles, but now they were missing. So was half a pan of cornbread, and the hard-boiled eggs and dried apples. She immediately suspected Donovan, but it was too much food for someone who only planned to be out hunting until lunchtime. He had taken enough food for a whole day or even two days, but that was ridiculous, wasn't it?

Uncertain what to do, she paced the floor, occasionally peering out the window. Thinking maybe things would seem different in a little while, she heated the skillet, added a bit of oil and broke some eggs. As she prepared breakfast, she pondered what to say to her sister. Had Donovan gone somewhere? He hadn't left for good, had he? Surely not. Where would he go? A Guard deserter with a weak leg and only a day's worth of food couldn't get far, could he? Then she remembered the gun and the money he had supposedly won in the poker game. How much money did he have? She wasn't sure, but he wouldn't get far on foot. Not unless. . .

She dropped the spatula. She had the presence of mind to move the skillet onto a cool spot on the stove, then ran out the door, grabbing a poncho off a peg on her way out.

The moon was still up and the sun was just starting to cast a glow over the horizon, so she didn't need a lantern. She ran unimpeded, house shoes flapping against her heels, all the way to the paddock where she threw herself against a fence rail and peered into the gloom. The goats trotted over right away, but she wasn't worried about them. A shadow in the middle distance raised its head, big ears pointed skyward as if picking out morning stars.

Where were the others?

She ducked between the fence railings and pushed her way through the herd, soiling her slippers but scarcely noticing as she scanned the paddock. There she was, over at the far end of the field, tugging at a weed.

But there was no sign of Cordelia. Carina's heart raced in panic. Then she remembered that she had put her in the barn for the night because the bad hoof had been bothering her again. Not even troubling to rub a kid's ears in passing, she hurried to the barn, cold and nearly frantic. She swung the heavy door open and ducked inside, glad to be out of the wind, except that here inside the barn everything was dark. There was a lantern on a peg near the unused stall, and matches somewhere nearby if she could find them. She should've brought a light with her.

She felt her way toward where she knew the barn lantern should be. The dark was oppressive, pressing against her like a physical thing. Where was that lantern? A sharp crack suddenly echoed across the room like a gunshot. Startled, Carina whirled about, but could see nothing. She held her breath, straining her senses to isolate the sound. Everything seemed strange with the darkness close upon her like this.

The sound rang out again and Carina's shoulders slumped in relief. It was only the stamp of a hoof, followed by a noisy exhalation and jangle of halter rings. Carina smiled. Cuing off the sound, she shuffled her way toward it in the dark. "Hey, baby," she said, finding the animal by warmth and scent. She patted the jenny's neck. "You scared me. I bet I scared you too, coming in all alone without a light. Shame on me."

She cooed and patted Cordelia for a few minutes, then with a sigh, leaned her whole body against the sturdy little animal. "So what do you think? Where could he have gone? He'll come back, won't he?"

* * *

Carina avoided her sister at lunchtime in the hope Donovan would return in time for dinner and keep her from having to endure Amalia's speculation on the matter. Dinner couldn't be put off forever, though, and as the sun went down, she fed and watered the stock, put the Cordelia back in the barn after being allowed the run of the paddock for the afternoon, then washed and went inside.

She was startled to find Amalia in the kitchen, tending a pot of beans that had been simmering most of the day. "Where've you been?" she asked. "You and Donovan both made yourselves pretty scarce, for all that talk about being willing to help me today."

"I'm sorry." Carina peered into the pot. Maybe if she didn't offer an explanation, she could put off the moment when she would be asked for one. "How about you sit down and rest?"

"Where is Donovan? And where were you?"

"I was around." She added a bit of dried chile to the soup. "The goats kept me busy, and I'm trying a new poultice on Cordelia. I made it using that turmeric we found when we were in the cellar putting the market goods away. It's probably too old to still be much good, but I figured it couldn't do any harm, and. . ."

"Where's Donovan?"

Carina hesitated. "I don't know." She stirred the soup in slow figure eights.

"What do you mean you don't know? Is he still out hunting rabbits?" Amalia looked toward the kitchen window, frowning. "It's almost dark, and he never takes this long."

"I don't think he went rabbit hunting.”

"What makes you say that?"

Carina told her about the missing food. "He packed enough for a day or so, but the odd thing is he left on foot. All the animals are here. He knows he can't get to town on foot, carrying all that food and water, too."

Amalia flung herself into a chair. "Did he take one of the guns? He can stretch his food by hunting, and he can buy or steal an animal to ride."

This hadn't occurred to Carina. "Should we ask the neighbors?"

Amalia shook her head. "If he'd done something like that here in the valley, we'd have heard about it by now."

"Horse thieves are always news, aren't they?"

"If we went asking around and then it turned out he was innocent. . ."

"We'd feel bad for giving him a reputation he didn't deserve." Carina went to the cabinet, took out two bowls and ladled the soup without bothering to taste it. She handed a bowl to her sister, remembered they had no spoons, retrieved some from a kitchen drawer and sat down. Instead of eating, though, she stirred her bowl of beans and broth, watching the steam rising from it. "I don't suppose there's a chance he planned on coming back at dinnertime and managed to hurt himself out there? Maybe he was just extra hungry this morning. Or maybe he wanted the cornbread to bait a snare."

"Doesn't sound likely to me," Amalia said. "But I know how we can find out. Let's see if he took his money with him."

"I hate to snoop."

"We'll do it anyway." Amalia stood up, dinner forgotten, and headed down the hallway.

Donovan hadn't done much to make the room his own. It was the same clean, spare room he had recuperated in, the only changes being the clothes hanging on pegs on the wall, his attempt at knitting draped over a chair, and an extra pair of boots lying in the middle of the floor.

"Seems like he would've taken some of these extra clothes, or at least the boots if he wasn't coming back," Carina mused.

Together they searched the room, but didn't turn up any coins. "If he left any money behind," Amalia finally said, "It's not in here."

The two women stared at each other, uncertain what to do next. Finally Amalia shrugged in a show of unconcern that didn't fool Carina for a minute. "He'll either come back, or he won't. We still have to eat and run this place." She pushed past her sister and returned to the kitchen. She sat down at the table, confronted once again by the bowl of soup. This time, she forced herself to taste it.

Carina sat across from her and resumed stirring. "How is it?"

"Cold. Not enough salt."

"The soup on the stove is still hot. We could—"

"It doesn't matter."

* * *

Carina awoke in the pre-dawn hour and couldn't go back to sleep. She got up and went into the kitchen where she was startled to find Amalia at the kitchen table, reading by the light of an oil lamp. She looked up when Carina entered the room, the fine lines around her eyes unusually distinct in the uncertain light.

"You're up early," Carina said.

"No, I'm up late."

Carina filled the coffee pot. "He won't come home just because you're waiting up all night for him."

"That's not why I'm doing it." Amalia shut the heavy book. "I was worried he might've sent someone to raid us. I couldn't sleep, not knowing if we were safe."

"Of course.” Carina stole a glance around the room but saw no evidence of the binoculars or a gun. What she did see though, was a glass on the table, still almost a quarter full of tea-colored whiskey.

"I don't see how you were able to sleep," Amalia went on. "Knowing that we might be in danger, knowing that something could've happened—"

"Well, I figured you were probably handling things," Carina lied. "It's not like I slept well. I kept waking up and finally decided there wasn't much point to keep on trying." She reached into the cupboard. "Will you want some coffee?"

"Sure. Were you going to make breakfast, too?"

Carina shrugged.

"It's okay if you're not hungry," Amalia said. "Maybe I'll just have some more of that soup from last night."

"I can make us a proper breakfast," Carina said without enthusiasm.

"A proper breakfast is whatever we say it is."

"In that case, how about I make us some cornbread to go with it?"

"If you insist." Amalia opened her book again. A few minutes later, Carina was still standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, staring out the window. Amalia sighed and went over to her. "Honestly, love," she said, putting an arm around her sister's shoulders. "The cornbread doesn't matter."

* * *

Later in the day, the women sat on the porch listlessly hulling pecans from a batch they had traded for from a neighbor along the creek. It was tedious work, made more so by the chill November air that stiffened their fingers, but the house seemed stifling today. They cracked the dark wooden shells and tossed the meats into a bowl, keeping an eye out for any change to the horizon. Toward mid-afternoon, Amalia's eyes fixed on a distant point and she paused in her work. "Looks like a little bit of dust toward the mountain road.”

Carina squinted into the distance. "Could be anything."

"I guess it could."

They went back to their work. The dust cloud grew larger.

"Should we be worried?" Carina asked.

"I don't think so. Seems to be only one person and raiders usually travel in groups." Nevertheless, Amalia went inside and got a shotgun.

"Why don't you get the binoculars, too?"

"Haven't seen them."

"Maybe Donovan took them."

"Maybe." Amalia settled back in her chair but didn't resume shelling nuts. Instead she watched the dust cloud, moving to the edge of the porch to get a better view.

"It's got to be him,” Carina said.

"Where would he have gotten a horse?"

"He could've gotten it anywhere, but I'm sure it's him."

The two women hurried down the path to the road. To be on the safe side, Amalia kept the shotgun with her, but kept the safety on.

As soon as the rider noticed the two figures standing at the gate, he kicked the horse into a canter. Hollering and holding on for dear life, Donovan swooped the Peterson's little mare between the gateposts and down the garden path, pulling up sharply by the kitchen door. He turned around in the saddle, breathless and excited as the women ran up to him.

"Donovan! We're so glad—"

"Where the hell have you been?"

Donovan dismounted and stood before them, dusty and beaming. "I had to run an errand." While the women sputtered and asked questions, he pulled a heavy pack off his saddle and held it out to Carina.

"What is it?"

"Open it up and look."

Amalia scowled. "Why don't you just tell us what it is?"

Donovan rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. "It's your Thanksgiving turkey."

* * *

That evening as Donovan slept, the women whispered in Carina's room.

"That's some story he told," Amalia said. "I don't believe it for a minute."

"I'm sure the part about Diana lending him the mare is true."

"I didn't mean that. I hope the poor girl doesn't get in trouble over it."

"I checked the horse good and sent it back with a bag of oats. I believe Donovan paid some money, too. That should smooth things over."

"I don't know why you would try to cover for him."

"I was covering for Diana, but like it or not, Donovan is family, and we have to start thinking of him that way."

"I'm not used to having family members who steal."

Carina sighed. "The turkey.”

"Yes, that damn turkey. I don't care what his convoluted story is, there's no way he paid money for it."

"Well, I know it's wrong of me, and if he stole it from anyone else I'd be angry, but look at who he got it from. Those God's Candidates folks are scary."

"That doesn't make it right to steal from them."

"They shot that Indian boy a few years back, remember? All he wanted was a drink of water and directions to the main road."

"So they're mean, evil people. Two wrongs—"

"Stop your moralizing. I didn't say I felt good about it."

"But you'll cook that turkey anyway."

"I can't let it go to waste." Carina fixed her sister with a sly smile. "If I suggested we throw it on the compost pile, you'd pitch a fit. You don't like waste any more than I do. What's your real issue? Maybe you're just disappointed he's not what you thought he might be?"

"What do you mean?"

"He told me about the fun you two had at the restaurant in Macrina. I think it turned your head a little."

"Don't be silly. He's what, fifteen years younger than me?"

"So? It's been a long time. Maybe you should have a little fun. It doesn't have to be serious."

Amalia stood up. "I can see this conversation is going nowhere."

"Okay. Just don't give him a hard time about the turkey. It's a good one, no matter how he got it."

Amalia started toward her room, then on a whim peeked in on Donovan. He lay sprawled across the bed, still in his dusty clothes, looking like nothing could wake him.

She folded her arms and leaned against the door frame. He was so impossibly young. How could someone who looked so innocent be a thief? Could one even trust a face like that? She stepped into the room and pulled a quilt over him.

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