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Dan stepped to the body and squatted, pulling on a pair of gloves and zipping open the duffel, and Crane closed his eyes against the series of camera flashes, then watched while Dan bagged the hands and examined the bullet wound in the head, finally standing away.

“I’m not going to be able to tell you a whole lot out here.”

“I didn’t expect you to.”

“I thought they were cooking most of this shit in Mexico now and trucking it in. The skin that’s not fried on this poor bastard’s too pale for a Mexican national.”

Crane held up the wallet. “He’s from over in Sheridan.”

“You know him?”

“I know his parents, though now I wish I didn’t. He was only nineteen.”

Dan looked back at the body as if it appeared younger to him. “That’s just getting started.”

“That’s all it is.”

“When I was a kid the most I could get my hands on was Coors beer and weak-ass reefer.” He zipped the duffel shut and lifted it up.

“It’s not like that anymore. We’ve gone miles past that.”

Dan just nodded, still staring down at the body. “Something like this, you might never find out who else was in here.”

Crane struggled out of the couch and walked to the kitchen, taking the last beer from the refrigerator. He lined the second empty next to the other on the counter. “Contaminated evidence,” he explained.

“You all right?”

“No, I’m not.” He leaned against the counter. “Whoever shot this boy’s ruined his own goddamn life too. That’s what I’m thinking.” He sipped the beer. “Whether I find him or not, this here isn’t something you just forget you did.”

“I don’t think I could.” Dan called to the two paramedics standing beside the ambulance and they pulled a gurney from the back, righting it in the gravel. A body bag was folded on top. He took a step into the kitchen so they wouldn’t have to go around him. “You sure you don’t want to keep him out here so the investigation team can have a look?”

“They can look at the pictures.” They watched the men start toward the trailer with the gurney. “I need to come in and see you next week if you’ve got a spot.”

Dan turned back to him. “You think something’s wrong with you?”

Crane extended his left arm, drawing the hand into a loose fist. “I’ve got no grip left.”

“That could be a lot of things.”

“Well, it feels like something’s broke, that’s for damn sure, and this here”-he pointed at the dead boy with the hand that held the beer bottle-“is just the kind of thing that can get to a man’s heart.”


AFTER SHE DID the breakfast dishes and Einar said he might soak in the tub, she slipped out past the barn to her studio, thankful to have an hour just to herself. She wedged four mounds of clay onto the worktable and kneaded it to the consistency she preferred, wrapping it in plastic so it wouldn’t dry out. She knew it might be a day or two before she had the time to get back to it.

She was returning to the house, wiping her hands on a scrap of rag, when Paul turned the Rocking M one-ton into the yard. McEban rode with him, filling the passenger side of the cab so completely that it appeared they’d bought the truck a size too small. His arm hung out the window with the hand spread against the door panel, holding himself, as best he could, away from Kenneth, who sat squeezed between the two men. They were pulling a four-horse gooseneck trailer and parked in the shade of the cottonwoods.

She watched from the porch as they stepped the saddled horses out, tying their leadropes off to the trailer, the last of them a rangy bay wearing a packsaddle. The air was grainy with pollen and insects and the settling dust.

“Who’s here?” Einar called from the dining room.

“My fencing crew.”

Kenneth moved among the horses with the seriousness of a newly hired man, careful not to get kicked or cause an accident, but when McEban started toward the house the boy came apart, jostling a shoulder against McEban’s hip and bouncing away, turning back into just an unbullied and sweet-natured kid who’d gotten a good night’s sleep.

Paul stayed with the horses, and when McEban was close enough she called, “Coffee’s still hot.”

He stopped short of the steps, thumbing his hat back from his face, Kenneth doing the same with the bill of his cap. They both were smiling. “I’m all coffeed up,” he said.

“How about you, Kenneth? Would you like a glass of milk?”

“I’m all milked up.”

He was grinning clownishly, and she had to ask him to repeat himself because he’d become so tickled he hadn’t gotten the words out clearly on the first try. Then she said, “I’ll be ready in a flash.”

“You can take your time if you want.” McEban checked his watch. “It’s early yet.”

Einar stepped through the screen door behind her carrying the sack lunches she’d packed and left on the counter. His shirt was neatly buttoned at his throat and he wore his town hat, walking more assuredly, less stooped, than when it was just the two of them. He thrust his jaw toward McEban. “I see you’re still about as thick as a skinned ox.”

“Hey yourself, you old bastard.” McEban plucked a can of Copenhagen from his shirt pocket and pinched out a dab. “You operating a catering business now in your dotage?”

Einar held the bags out to Griff, who took them in both hands. “I’m her silent partner,” he said, lowering himself into a porch chair. “My part of the deal here is to keep quiet and watch her get the work done.”

McEban settled the tobacco behind his lip, brushing his fingers against his pants while Kenneth worked his tongue around his bottom front teeth like he was adjusting a chew of his own.

“That must be Mr. Kenneth you’ve brought with you.”

McEban stared down at the boy as though surprised to find him there. “Why, yes sir, it seems like it must be.”

“Say something so I know McEban’s not lying.”

The boy stepped up onto the worn timber of the lowest step. “We got a new colt at the sale barn in Sheridan last week,” he announced. “If he works out he’s going to be mine and nobody else’s.”

He looked back at McEban, making sure the statement wasn’t inflated, and Griff started toward the horses, pinching the boy’s arm as she passed, feeling lucky to have always enjoyed the company of men.

McEban dragged a chair next to Einar’s and Kenneth sat up on the railing, straight-backed and attentive, swinging his legs.

“She ask you about coffee?” Einar asked.

“I guess I’m over the coffee part of the day.”

The early light made their hands and faces appear glassy and little used, and Einar strained over his lap to have a better look at the boy, finally relaxing back into the chair, pulling his glasses off and holding them against his leg. The kid’s image held clearly in his mind and he wished Mitch was sitting here with him, with his better eyesight and easy humor, and then he felt embarrassed that this good morning wasn’t enough for him without summoning the dead. He closed his eyes, trying to remember anything of what it was like to have been a boy, and what came to him was how each day had emerged as though freshly coined, and endless. He remembered the safety he’d felt under the care of his parents, and the cowboys who’d worked for them, primarily Simon Samuelson, but also Karl Tibbetts and J. L. Manz. He remembered the hours spent studying those hired men, listening to damn near everything they cared to say, supposing the example of their lives would offer up a blueprint for what it might take for him to become a man. He still missed every one of them but had no expectation of joining their number. It was his belief that those who were gone convened in the minds of the living as merely flashes of familiar light. He didn’t imagine heaven anything like his mother had, as some potluck in the basement of a Lutheran church, but he maintained specific memories of those he cared for and expected Griff to remember him. If she did, he thought that might prove sufficient in terms of an afterlife.