The Hadley Directive
“What would happen if history could be rewritten as casually as erasing a blackboard? Our past would be like the shifting sands at the seashore, constantly blown this way or that by the slightest breeze.”—Michio Kaku
“What would happen if history could be rewritten as casually as erasing a blackboard? Our past would be like the shifting sands at the seashore, constantly blown this way or that by the slightest breeze.”—Michio Kaku
“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.”—Stephen Hawking
“These parallel universes are not ghost worlds with an ephemeral existence; within each universe, we have the appearance of solid objects and concreate events as real and objective as any.”—Michio Kaku
“Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.”—Stephen Hawking
Arizona Territory 1867—In one of infinite parallel universes
It was hotter than Hell’s furnace. No cooling breeze whipped swirling clouds of dust along the town’s one and only street, which in the rainy season became a muddy quagmire but now, in late summer, was hard-packed and furrowed by the wheels of freight wagons and buckboards. That morning, as most mornings in Devil’s Bucket, the good clean scents of creosote and sage from the nearby desert mingled with the fetid smells of rotted garbage and horse droppings hanging in the hot dry air. Like all towns in the Arizona Territory in 1867, Devil’s Bucket didn’t have a sewer or a waste disposal system. Piles of garbage and human excrement marched along the street where they’d been dumped. A mongrel’s carcass still lay in the broiling sun, half a dozen feet from the Cantina’s ramada, three days after being shot by a drunken cowboy. Cholera and typhus outbreaks were not uncommon in Devil’s Bucket. The bell in the square white tower rising from an adobe church began its dolorous toll, dark notes to summon the faithful to Sunday mass.
Six vaqueros from a nearby hacienda relaxed in the shade of the cantina’s ramada while one of them strummed a guitar. A bottle of sweet golden tequila passed from hand to hand although it was just twenty past seven. None of the Vaqueros dared to challenge the tall lanky gringo who strode past them, a small Mexican boy at his side. Among them were two or three pistoleros—men with quick gun hands and quicker tempers but they recognized a dangerous man when they saw one. They knew better than to challenge a pistolero blessed with superior abilities, especially this one, with his rattlesnake stare and lightning fast gun hand. Moreover, this gringo was a former Gray Rider, one of the mounted caballeros who had struck fear into Yankee hearts during the recent Gringo war. The guerillas had a reputation for ferocity and Indian-like cunning, well known throughout the Arizona Territory. None deserved this reputation more than the blonde guerrillero who now called Devil’s Bucket his home.
Marshal Cade Harper paused to let a small group of black clad men, women, and children file by on their way to the small church. Cade withdrew a cheroot from his vest pocket, then struck a match with his thumb, and lit up. He stared at the churchgoers through a haze of smoke. The women wore black mantillas, lace shawls that covered the face and head down to the shoulders, their hands clutched worn Bibles and somber rosaries. The solemn men and children were in their Sunday finest. Apart from two or three señíoritas, who whispered until silenced by a severe look from their señora de compañía, the churchgoers avoided staring openly at the lanky gringo in the brown leather vest and gray flat brimmed hat. Cade felt their furtive glances, curiosity mingled with sharp disapproval. When the last of them had passed by, he moved on.
Cade’s boots crunched on the unpaved street as he headed for the corral at the end of the street. The split rail enclosure sat between Bixby’s Dry Goods store and a livery stable, also owned by the prosperous Fred Bixby, formerly of Chattanooga.
“Why ain’t you in church, boy?” Cade asked, as he scanned the street.
“Church is for sissies,” Miguel replied.
Cade said nothing but a faint smile came and went on his stubbled face. The mop-headed boy was always underfoot, offering to do favors and importuning Cade for stories about gunfights. Cade turned a deaf ear to the request but after he’d discovered a bandit killed Miguel’s father three years earlier, he gave him errands to run and sometimes let him tag along to observe non-lethal arrests. Cade permitted Miguel to watch, provided he was quiet, while he shot bottles off the adobe wall that enclosed the graveyard on the low rise over Devil’s Bucket. If Cade was in a good mood, he’d ask Miguel to throw empty bottles into the air. The boy would squeal in delight when the lawman blasted them into sparkling shards in midair. In a tacit expression of gratitude, Miguel’s mother sometimes showed up at Cade’s room with a bowl of her homemade frijoles and a basket of warm corn tortillas wrapped in a towel. Last Christmas she’d sent Miguel with a pot of beef tamales and a steaming bowl of menudo soup. Cade thought the kid was all right, albeit a minor nuisance—high praise coming from the taciturn Virginian—and he didn’t mind the occasional homemade meal either.
Earlier in the year Cade discovered Enrique Castro, the man who’d killed the boy’s father, worked as a ranch hand at Jake Willis’ Big O Ranch, three miles west of Devil’s Bucket. At first, Cade had a little trouble convincing Jake and the other ranch hands to release Enrique into his tender care. When half a dozen of them lay dead, Jake dropped his objections. Cade took Enrique into custody and brought him down to Tucson, bruised and battered, where he was tried and convicted of murder. He was hanged a month later while Miguel and his mother looked on. To Cade’s mild annoyance, neither Miguel nor his mother let him forget about it.
Cade strode past Morton’s General Store. A bespectacled shopkeeper arranged cans in the window and paused to watch the marshal go by, his mouth agape. A couple of bosomy whores blew kisses at him from the second-floor balcony of Missy’s bordello.
Cade touched the brim of his hat, as his eyes flickered over the balcony to make sure some peckerwood with a long gun wasn’t hidden behind the women. He cast a sideways glance at the boy walking beside him. “You better get outta here.”
“He isn’t alone, señor.”
“Another man is with him.”
“Is that a fact?” Cade’s hand dropped to the big Colt 1860 Army in his holster and pulled it out in one fluid motion. He thumbed the hammer back to half cock, spun the engraved cylinder and checked the brass percussion caps, then pushed the wedge on the barrel out one click, just enough to make sure the cylinder wouldn’t bind from black powder fouling. He eased the hammer down, then shoved the pistol back into its holster. Territorial lawmen often faced long odds. Being fast with a gun wasn’t enough. A lawman had to be a thinker to survive in a brutal unpredictable environment. He needed a well-honed ability to sift the loud-mouthed cowards who betrayed themselves with frightened eyes from the men with crazy eyes, who might go for their pistols the moment they saw you. The deadliest men were the true pistoleros, men with the icy stare of a remorseless killer and a fast gun hand. Lawmen who were themselves true pistoleros were a rare breed. Without exception such men made sure they always had an edge when facing gunfighters. Some would draw and fire while the other fellow was in mid-sentence. Some wore a pistol at each hip and carried two in a shoulder rig to make sure they didn’t run out of bullets or had another pistol handy in case of misfire. Some lawmen favored double-barreled scatterguns. Cade carried one Colt 1860 Army revolver, low on his left hip with the holster’s lower end tied to his thigh. He had modified the Colt himself so he could fire it by slapping the hammer with the edge of his right hand. The modified Colt wasn’t his edge though. Whenever possible Cade kept the sun at his back when going against another gunfighter. Depending on the time of day and the weather, his opponent would have a hard time seeing him. Cade would see just fine.
Miguel’s eyes widened. “They’re muey malo hombres, señor.”
“They always are,” Cade said. “You run along now. There’s going to be some killing.”
“Si, Señor.” Miguel stopped but his eyes followed the lawman before he turned and ran as fast as he could between two adobe houses.
All Cade’s senses were alert as he approached the corral wedged between the dry goods store and its livery stable. A chunky stable boy with fat cheeks leaned against the corral gate. When he saw Cade, he scrambled for the safety of the dry goods store. Fred Bixby’s kid was slow-witted, but he wasn’t stupid. A flying bullet didn’t care if you were an innocent bystander caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, a fact not lost on the doltish scion of the nascent Bixby dynasty.
Through the window, Cade saw him pluck at his father’s gartered sleeve and gesticulate wildly. In his haste to remove himself from the probable route of crisscrossing bullets, the stable boy had left the gate unlatched and now it swung open.
Cade stepped into the corral with the bright morning sunlight spilling down all around him, his hand already falling to the pistol. Two men emerged from the shadows of the livery stable leading their horses. They wore long tan dusters and battered slouch hats pulled low, but Cade recognized one of them. A wanted poster with his picture was in Cade’s inside vest pocket.
“Tom Benson!” Cade yelled. “You’re wanted for the murder of a sheriff in Abilene!” Rattlesnake fast, the Colt came out of the holster and Cade fanned its hammer. The pistol bucked and roared, filling the air with a swirling cloud of acrid blue smoke.
Still gripping a scattergun, Benson pitched backwards against his horse, which screamed and reared on its hind legs. A heartbeat later, the big Colt spat again, and the other man died, fumbling with his holster flap to get at his Spiller and Burr pistol.
His heart pounded and his ears rang. Cade probed the shadows inside the livery stable and detected a faint movement inside. He tracked it with his pistol.
“Come out. Make it slow and show me empty hands.”
“It’s me, Señor. Don’t shoot.” Miguel emerged from the shadows.
“I thought I told you to go home, boy.”
“Don’t you remember? My family’s house is behind the stables.”
“I ought to take a switch to you for disobeying me.”
The boy grinned. “You’d never be able to catch me, Señor.”
“I reckon not.” Cade holstered his pistol. “Find Mister Rosales and tell him I said he needs to come down here and fetch these two and get them ready for burial.”
Miguel stared bug-eyed at the dead men. “Madre de Dios, you killed both of them. Just like that! I saw the whole thing.”
“Never you mind. Get moving.”
Miguel scampered off but not without a last quick glance at the dead men.
That night Cade rode out of town. Miguel rode his donkey next to him. Cade made camp in the desert. Ever since his days as a Confederate guerilla, Cade felt more at home in the countryside than in any town, even a place as dangerous as this desert where attack by Indian or marauding bandits was a real possibility.
A small fire lit their faces. Cade leaned against his saddle, on the ground, with his long legs crossed, smoked a cheroot and took an occasional sip from a silver hip flask. Miguel crouched to trace designs in the earth with a stick.
“You need to get yourself some schooling, boy,” Cade said.
Miguel gave a careless shrug. “I don’t need no schooling.”
“That’s what you think?”
“When I’m growed up, I’m gonna to be just like you.” Miguel’s dark eyes glowed with admiration.
“When you’re grown up, you pipsqueak, there won’t be a need for men like me.”
“The hell you say!”
“Watch your mouth boy,” Cade said, then added in a thoughtful voice, “By the time you’re grown up, there won’t be a need for men with fast gun hands. Times will change and people will change too. Now, that’s not a bad thing. People will be wiser about settling their differences. Take the war between the States…”
“I wish your side had won,” Miguel interjected in a show of solidarity.
“It was a good thing we lost,” Cade said. “That damn war was fought for all the wrong reasons. Owning another human being is seven kinds of wrong. Our cause was unjust that’s why we lost. White, brown, red, or black, we’re all the same and want the same things out of life. No one has any business lording it over anyone else.”
“Why’d you fight, then?” Miguel asked, his face squinched with puzzlement.
“I had my reasons,” Cade said and fell silent. He looked up at the stars to think about all the good men who never got to go home so a few plantation owners could maintain their over-privileged lives. He hadn’t fought for them, though.
He thrust his dark thoughts from his mind and studied an especially bright star in the West. Funny, he hadn’t seen that one before. The star brightened then began to move slowly and deliberately across the night sky.
Cade blinked. Stars didn’t move like that. Least ways not so you’d be able to notice, like a locomotive’s headlamp heralding a train’s passage across a level flat plain. Then it stopped. Cade stiffened. Stars also didn’t stop, and they didn’t do what this one did next. A bright blue light shot down from the star, what else could he call it, to the ground not far off. A religious man might have taken this for a sign from God. An angel come down to Earth, perhaps, with glad tidings but Cade wasn’t a religious man. Not after what he’d seen during five years of hard fighting. He sat up. Miguel gazed at the phantasmagorical apparition too, for once at a loss for words. The pulsating column of light was straight as an Enfield musket’s ramrod and growing brighter by the moment.
A short while later, Cade and Miguel cantered toward the strange light.
When they got close to it the light abruptly ceased. Cade, with his finely honed guerilla sense had a good idea where it had touched the land. Cade and Miguel dismounted when they got to the spot. Cade cut some dry brush and made a torch and lit it with a match. A ripple of fear raced up his spine and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up straight. The sandy ground was melted into a perfect circle of black glass and looked as smooth as a fine china dinner plate. “You wait here,” Cade said.
“I want to see too,” Miguel protested.
“Do as I say,” Cade ordered in a tone that meant there was no other option.
Miguel stayed with their mounts while Cade approached. Wisps of smoke rose from the melted sandy ground. “What the hell is this?” Cade murmured. He stared up into the sky. The star was moving away due west. Cade got down on one knee at the edge of the blackened earth and studied it. He hadn’t imagined anything like this was possible. Nothing about it made any rational sense. Close up the black disk looked even smoother. Cade had heard of falling stars but those left holes in the ground like the bomb craters he’d seen in the war. Cade picked up a small stone and tossed it onto the black disk. It landed with a distinctive chink like a fork dropped on a plate. Here was something that defied explanation, but Cade would’ve wagered a month’s pay it had nothing to do with falling stars or angelic visitations. He rose and returned to Miguel.
“Come on,” he said and swung up into his saddle, “I’m taking you home.”
On the ride back to town, he pondered what he’d seen, but by morning had put it out of his mind. An important visitor was due to arrive on the Butterfield stage that day.
Cade saddled up and set off the next morning. He took an old Spanish road, only slightly wider than an Indian trail. It ran south over several rises then dipped into a dry arroyo before rising into scrubland. Cade heard raucous voices up ahead. When he reached the crest of a hill, he paused a moment to slip the leather thong from his pistol’s hammer. Standing beneath a tree growing a few feet from the left side of the road were three white men passing around a bottle. An old Apache stood with his hands tied behind his back and a noose around his thin neck. One of the men said something to the others and nodded.
All three looked at Cade as he rode slowly toward them.
The old Apache stared ahead, silent.
When he reached them, Cade quirked his mouth and touched the brim of his hat with two fingers. “How’re you gentlemen doing this fine morning?”
“This ain’t none of your fucking business, Marshal,” said the ringleader of the early morning festivity. He stared at the badge on Cade’s thick leather vest. “Asides, killing Apaches ain’t agin the law.”
“I don’t give a shit about some damn Indian,” Cade replied, his cheroot waggling from a corner of his mouth, “but you fellows don’t mind if I stop to take a piss, do you?”
Ringleader made an expansive gestured with a half empty bottle. “Why, hell no, Marshall. Tell you what. If you want, we’ll hold this here old savage down on the ground so you can take a piss right on his face.” The three men laughed.
“No, thanks. I’ve no time today for messing around with Indians.” Cade swung a long leg across the saddle, dismounted, and walked over to a patch of cactus, unbuttoned his fly and let loose with a stream of piss that struck a scorpion square on its back. As soon as the bright yellow liquid struck its carapace, the insect skittered out of the way.
Behind Cade, the men were occupied with their little game, their malevolence fueled by liquor although it was only eight o’clock.
“Why won’t you say sumthin,’ you dirty old sonuvabitch?” One of the men slapped the old man’s face hard. Cade buttoned up his fly and turned around.
“Maybe someone cut out his tongue,” opined another.
“I’ll stick him with my knife. That’ll make him squeal,” the ringleader said.
“You sheep fuckers would squeal like bitches and run for your lives if you ever came face to face with real Apache warriors,” Cade said.
Ringleader turned around slowly. “What the fuck did you say?”
Cade stood with the sun blazing above his left shoulder. “Hard of hearing, you yellow bellied son of a bitch?”
Ringleader’s hand swept for his pistol. Cade’s shot caught the man square in the chest and flung him off his feet. The others drew and fired without much effort to aim. Cade slapped the big revolver’s hammer twice more. Acrid blue smoke hung in the hot morning air, and three white men lay dead at the Apache’s feet.
Cade holstered his pistol and went toward the Apache. The old man was attired in a loose white cotton tunic and trousers and knee-high moccasins. His deeply lined face was framed by a heavy fall of silver hair held in place by a beaded headband. His eyes were bright and intelligent. Cade slid a knife from his boot and moved behind the Apache. The old man remained motionless and silent but his eyes followed the lanky white man. Cade cut the rope binding the Apache’s arms and lifted the noose from his neck. “Are you all right, old man?”
The Apache’s English was fairly good. “Better than them.”
Cade’s mouth twisted up into a half smile. “That’s not saying much.”
“But still true.” The Apache bent over and picked up a tall staff from the ground and inspected it. Three eagle feathers jutted from the top. It was a head taller than the old man who didn’t top five feet. He squinted at Cade. “Why’d you help me?”
Cade fished two cheroots from his pocket, held one out, which the old man took, and stuck the other in his mouth. He struck a match with his thumb and lit the Apache’s cheroot, then his own. “I don’t care for bullies,” Cade answered. “Perhaps you’d have done the same thing for me.”
The old man shrugged. “Twenty years ago, I would’ve killed all of them and you, too.” He drew deeply on his cheroot and gave Cade a sad, slow smile. “But I have learned much since then. Today, had the moccasin been on the other foot, I would’ve saved you.”
Cade grinned. “Fair enough, old man.” He nodded toward the three horses tied to nearby shrubs. “Looks like you have three new horses and plenty of supplies to get yourself home.” He studied the old Indian through a blue haze of smoke.
The Apache shook his head. “I don’t need anything.”
“Suit yourself.” Cade headed back to his horse.
The old Indian called after him. “Wait. I want to give you a gift.”
“Not necessary,” Cade said with a dismissive gesture of his hand.
“It’s necessary to me.”
Cade stopped in his tracks and looked over his shoulder.
The old man spread his hands. “It’s the least I can do for my benefactor.”
A few moments later, a hatless Cade was seated on a low boulder. The Apache shuffled around him, his staff held before him as he chanted in his mysterious language. Cade sat ramrod straight with his eyes closed as he had been told to do. The chanting ceased, and the Apache stood before Cade. He extended his staff and traced a shape in the center of Cade’s forehead with the tip of the three eagle feathers. “You can open your eyes.”
Cade did so and saw the Apache grin. His front teeth were missing. “You now bear the ineradicable mark of a sorcerer’s apprentice—no Apache of good character will ever dare to harm you.”
Cade picked up his flat brimmed hat from the ground and put it on. “What about Apaches of bad character?”
The old man shrugged. “You’re on your own with them.” He pointed to the East. “My wikiup is just over there. You will be my guest for dinner.”
Cade stood. “Wish I could but I have business to attend to.”
“Your business can wait. Besides, you may hear something of interest.”
It was on Cade’s lips to bid the man farewell and be on his way, but he found himself following a faint track through stands of manzanita shrubs and saltbush. How this had happened Cade was at a loss to explain. Every minute he delayed hunting for the Baxters increased the possibility of their trail going cold. Cade walked beside Zephyr, leading a string of the three now ownerless horses. The elderly Apache walked ahead, singing a song in his tongue. ‘Over there’ turned out to be several miles. They stopped at midday and ate lunch in the shade of a wide spreading sycamore, then resumed their trek through the scrubland. Cade learned during their trek that the old man’s name was Nahkahyen and he was a medicine man. “A Diablero more properly,” Nahkahyen had said with pride. “Diableros are to medicine men what eagles are to hawks. One is good but the other is better.” Cade nodded and said nothing. Medicine men and Diableros were all the same to him. Judge Backus would throw a fit if he knew Cade delayed pursuit of the Baxter gang and the stolen Gatling guns to visit with an Apache. He’d probably have my badge, Cade thought.
A blazing sun wakened Cade to a living nightmare. He was staked to the ground, spread-eagled, with his wrists and ankles bound tight with leather cords. His face was puffy and one eye was swollen shut. Although it was still early, the sun was already cooking him. When Cade tried to yank the stakes free, bolts of pain rocketed through his torso. The Baxters had given him a pretty good beating, all right. Cade thought one or two of his ribs might be broken since the slightest movement hurt like hell. His heart labored mightily in his chest. The pain in his wrists and ankles was near intolerable and his hands were purple and swollen.
The Baxters were gone but they’d left Cade’s canteen a few inches from his face where he’d be sure to see it. He looked at it, then gritted his teeth, counted to three, and pulled at the stakes but they wouldn’t budge. The pain as he strained against the cords nearly made him pass out.
A buzzard showed up and cut lazy loops directly overhead. It made a low pass, then rose again when it saw him move. Cade never imagined this would be how he died. Until now, his luck had always held. He’d made it through one tough spot after another, often just barely, sometimes wounded, but he’d somehow survived. Now he was staring the Grim Reaper in the face and didn’t like what he saw. The broiling heat and pain sapped his strength, but he had to free himself before he succumbed to heatstroke, or something worse. His life scrolled past him in the sky directly above. He saw his mother’s sad sweet smile, Daniel’s head bowed over a book beside the fireplace, Sarah skipped rope under the elm behind the house, Colonel Mosby promoted him to Captain for leading the raid at Fairfax Courthouse in which Union General Edwin Stoughton was captured while asleep. It was harder to breathe now, confirming Cade’s suspicion about fractured ribs.
The Baxter brothers and Ramon Rodriguez would pay, Cade promised himself. Even if it meant he had to claw his way up from Hell, he’d find those motherfuckers and take his sweet time killing them. Elijah would be the last to die. Where Cade came from the code of the blood feud was a way of life. Killing a fellow fair and square was one thing—sometimes an insult called for redress—but to do what they’d done, that called for a special kind of vengeance.
Cade intended to deliver it in spades.
He was hungry, with sharp pangs convulsing his stomach.
In the hours that followed, Cade summoned what little strength he had and renewed his attempts to free himself, although it was agony to move. He worked on one stake at a time but that resulted in nothing but more pain. It was as if the stakes had been driven into bedrock. Exhausted by his fruitless exertions, Cade let his body go slack and tried to come up with an escape plan but none presented itself. In his despair, he began to dream of a dip in a cool clear stream and a pleasant rest in the shade of a wide spreading tree. The heat increased by the moment as the sun neared its zenith. Salt and sand caked Cade’s face and hair. In late summer the temperatures soared in the desert, often past one hundred and twenty degrees. No one survived long without water. Cade gave himself another day at most, perhaps not even that long. His throat burned with thirst and his mouth was dry as the sand beneath him. What he wouldn’t do for a mouthful of water, he thought. The heat roasted his brain in his skull.
By midday, Cade raved like a madman, flailed his body against the leather cords, tried to get free, until sheer exhaustion made him go limp.
The kindly. old cavalryman who’d befriended Cade after he’d joined Mosby’s Raiders stopped by for a visit. He squatted on his haunches, cut a plug of chaw with that old ox bone handled knife of his. Cade stared bug-eyed at the blue sky, visible through a bullet hole in the old man’s furrowed, gray forehead. The cavalryman put the plug of chaw in his mouth between a toothless crimson gum and cheek. “You ain’t getting’ outta this one boy. Didn’t I teach you no better than to let some shit-eating Yankees sneak up on you? Now look at what you gone and done. What you got to say fer yerself?” He didn’t seem to notice the maggot that crawled from one of his nostrils.
Cade croaked one word. “Water.”
The old cavalryman shook his head. “Can’t do that, boy.” A heartbeat later, he was on his feet, looking down at Cade and smiling through a ragged gray beard full of writhing maggots. “Better make peace with yer maker while you can. There’s a low card on your chest.” He dissolved into nothingness.
As a boy, Cade had gone with his family to Sunday services at Good Shepard Baptist where he sat on a wooden pew and half listened, fidgeted in his stiff Sunday clothing, while the preacher banged the pulpit with a meaty fist and warned his congregation about the endless torments they’d suffer in Hell unless they truly and sincerely repented and turned aside from their sinful paths. The preacher’s thunderous admonishments had meant little to a thirteen-year-old boy. Now Cade thought he had a very good idea of what awaited unrepentant sinners.
The arroyo was the doorway of Hell.
The flies bothered Cade as much as the heat. They buzzed around his head and crawled over his face. He’d shake his head and they would fly away only to return a moment later. Sores erupted on his lips and his face was one big blister. Cade squeezed his eyes tight against the sun’s glare, but it poked fiery fingers through his eyelids. His fear mounted by the moment as he realized the hopelessness of his situation. Short of a miracle he wasn’t going anywhere. By now, his wrists were bleeding and throbbing with pain. Rivulets of perspiration ran down his face and stung his eyes.
Cade stared at a jagged canyon rim in the distance. Summer rainstorms sometimes rolled in from the South to drench the land. Cade prayed for rain, but the sky was high and blue without even a wisp of cloud. Cade remembered what happened when wet leather was exposed to heat. It would contract to pull his limbs from their sockets. A severe rainstorm could send a wall of roiling water down the arroyo to drown Cade before he could free himself. Perhaps it would rain just enough to soften the ground, he thought.
More buzzards appeared overhead.
They looked hopeful, too.
Cade stared up at them. Sooner or later, they would descend to feast, pluck his eyes from their sockets, and rip his flesh from his living body. Fights would erupt over the choicer pieces. Cade would be reduced to disjointed bones with bits of flesh. Coyotes would pick at the scraps of meat and gnaw the bones until they got to the marrow. What a miserable way to die, Cade thought. If the heat or buzzards didn’t kill him, there was a real possibility an Apache war party would stumble upon him. They’d scalp him alive then peel the flesh from his face and torso, as they often did to captives. Cade of course, had no faith in Nahkahyen’s Indian magic. He’d just humored an old man.
The sun vanished below the horizon and the stars came out. The temperature fell. Cade’s lanky frame quaked as if he had a fever. The cold was almost as bad as the heat. It felt as if a thousand razor blades sliced into his flesh. He wondered what Judge Backus would do when he failed to return. Would the Yankee send out search parties to currycomb the countryside? Not likely, Cade thought. The judge would assume Indians or bandits had killed him. No one would ever find him, dead or alive.
Cade’s belly felt hollow and ached. He drifted off to a fitful sleep. His squadron was bivouacked in a spruce and fir forest on the Blue Ridge Mountains. Cade stood alone in a heavy downpour with his hands at his side, a letter clenched in one fist. There was no way to soften the blow of his younger brother’s death. His heart twisted into knots, his eyes red rimmed, he stared into the night’s shadows. He’d always been close to Daniel, especially after their Pa fell from the barn roof and broke his neck. Cade had forbidden Daniel, a sickly, bookish youth, from joining the army because someone had to look out for Ma and Sarah. He’d been conscripted, issued a uniform and musket, then marched to Charleston where grapeshot from a Union Napoleon cannon removed half of his blonde head.