Wrote this intro when I was playing with different POVs for the novel. It’s narrated by Zarahemla Two Crows. Didn’t make it into the book, but I like it.
So, there I was, sitting in a small booth at Porter’s old place sipping my sarsaparilla, when a tall young woman slips into the bench across the table from me. This was back in Sixty-Seven. May, if I recall. I caught sight of the Army Colt belted around her waist right away. She’s willow thin, with a face covered with freckles like the stars in the sky. Strands of hair the color of a wheat field at sunset fall out under her battered Stetson. She just looks at me, with these green eyes flecked with gold, like she’s taking the measure of me.
“Are you the one they call Zarahemla Two Crows?” she asks.
The dress she’s wearing is simple and black and I notice a white band of skin on her left ring finger. A widow, I reckon, and a recent one at that.
“Yup,” I reply. “That’s what they call me.”
“You hunt…things…things that shouldn’t exist?”
“Reckon I do.”
“People think I’m crazy, but Mr. Bennett, he said I should talk to you.”
There’s a fear in her sharp green eyes. I’ve seen that look before, more times than I can recollect.
“Didn’t catch your name, Ma’am.”
“Mrs. Tom Henry—the late Tom Henry—but you can call me Mary Anne.”
“Where you from, Mrs. Henry?”
“Bit of a trek to Lehi,” I say. “You come all this way just to find me?”
“Yes, sir. Like I said, Mr. Bennett said you could help.”
“Something killing your livestock? Got a blight on your crops?”
“An Injun witch stole my son.”
That was a new one. Usually people came to me when chupacabras were bleeding their cattle dry.
“She flew away with him,” Mrs. Henry adds.
“She turned into a giant crow and took off with him. Like I said, people think I’m crazy. Can you find him? I have money.”
“Don’t need your money, Ma’am. I’m a Federal agent. Tell me more about this witch.”
“Navajo woman, I believe,” she says. “Older than me, but not by much. Very beautiful. She was naked as the day she was born, painted head to foot in black and white.”
That would be Ooljee. I had a history with that skin-walker. She led a coven of her kind, but she never left the territories. This was mighty peculiar.
“Her kind don’t tangle with white folk,” I say. “Is there something special about your child? Seventh son of a seventh son? Six fingers on his right hand?”
“Nothing special about him, he’s just a baby. Not yet a year old.”
“Reckon there’s got to be something special about him. Her kind don’t just go running off with white folk’s babies.”
Mrs. Henry folds her hands on the table, and drops her eyes and her voice.
“He—he isn’t the late Mr. Tom Henry’s son,” she says in almost a whisper.
“Who’s son is he?”
“Don’t know his name. Navajo fellow. Came to the house one night when my husband was away. I gave him food and shelter. He played music for me…”
Her eyes move upward, unfocused, remembering.
“…Such beautiful music. I was spellbound.”
Her eyes refocus, meeting mine. Daring me to judge her.
“I’m not a loose woman, Mr. Two Crows. Nothing like that’s ever happened, before or after. Something came over me.”
“Reckon it did, Mrs. Henry,” I say. “You was bewitched by Kokopelli. Never heard of him playing music to a white woman, but I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“Fertility god. Worshipped by many tribes around these parts. That might explain why that skin-walker was after your child. A son of Kokopelli would make good medicine.”
“Can you find him?”
“I reckon I know this particular skin-walker. Her name’s Ooljee. Reckon I can find her.”
Mrs. Henry sits up a bit straighter and there’s a flash in her eyes that means trouble.
“When do we leave?” she asks.
That’s what I was afraid of. People always want to tag along. My kind of work ain’t a spectator sport. It’s dangerous business.
“There ain’t no ‘we,’ here, Mrs. Henry. I work alone. You go on home; I’ll find your son.”
“I understand the danger,” she says. “My husband went after them and was found scalped and mutilated out in the desert. I’m not afraid.”
“You got other younglings, Ma’am?”
“Best tend to them. Don’t want to leave them orphans.”
“I can’t sit at home and fret,” she says, her eyes still locked with mine. “I’m coming with you.”
“Ma’am, I’ve seen hard men break down and go mad facing the critters I hunt. This ain’t no place for a woman. I can’t go after your son and protect you at the same time.”
“I can ride as good as any man, and shoot better than most. I’m not some frail creature. I don’t need protection.”
Her eyes are hard now, burning emeralds in a ruddy face that’s seen too many desert summers. She’s young, but I can see her soul through those eyes and it looks old.
“You’ll see things, Mrs. Henry, things that’ll make you think you’ve gone mad. Worse things than you can imagine.”
“Nothing is worse than the nightmares I have every night,” she says. “I’m not afraid. God is with me.”
“Let me sleep on it,” I say. “I’ll give you my decision in the morning.”
“Are you a praying man?” she asks.
“Reckon I am, Ma’am.”
“Then pray on it.”
“Reckon I will.”
“Then we leave in the morning.”
And then she got up and walked away without another word, leaving me to stew with my sarsaparilla.