Cañon de Sangre de Cristo, Arizona Territory
March 20, 1884
Anna frowned at the dead man lying on her doorstep in the snow. The Navajo were always dragging hurt things to her, as if they thought her years spent with the curing woman had conferred upon her the same ability to heal.
Sometimes the dead woman's training did work. Last spring someone had left a skinny dog with a hugely swollen leg and less hair than it took to guess the creature's color. Against her better judgment Anna tended the dog and nursed it through what appeared to be a dose of rattler venom.
Notion, as Anna had named him, stepped out of the cabin and gave the man's corpse a thorough sniff. The dog, which had filled out and grown a thick gold coat, looked up expectantly and fanned a fringy tail.
"Not even a growl," Anna commented, surprised. Notion's deep bark usually alerted her whenever anyone came near either the cabin or corral. That service, in addition to his company, was worth the trouble of feeding the big mongrel.
Anna wrinkled her nose in distaste and stepped carefully around the pile of bloody rags that made up the prone man. She wished he hadn't been left there, for the task of digging even a shallow grave in the frozen soil was nearly impossible. First she'd have to build a cairn of stones to cover the fellow until the spring. Otherwise the coyotes or perhaps a bear would come to gnaw and scatter the remains.
Cursing softly, she stooped to drag her pail through the snow that had drifted up against the cabin's north side. After she melted it to make fresh coffee, she needed to saddle Canto and go check on Catalina and the infant daughter Anna had helped deliver two nights back. The child's cry had sounded weak, so Anna had brewed a tonic to enrich the mother's milk.
The strains of the infant's squalling sliced through Anna's memory. Nothing fragile about that. Anna shook her head in wonder. What made her think that Catalina's daughter's cries sounded different from any healthy newborn?s? By now she should have banished the specter of this place, should have refused to let it taint the present.
Yet she hadn?t, and something in that child's cries still troubled her. Just as they had in the last babe she'd delivered months before. And the child before that too. Both boys were fat and healthy the last time she had seen them.
Anna sighed, knowing that she'd have to ride out to check the infant or she wouldn't sleep that night. After all, it was a girl that she'd delivered.
She glanced to the east, toward a red cliff clothed only in juniper and desolation. Peering beneath a pall of silver, the rising sun limned the scraggly evergreens in gold. If she set out within the hour, she'd reach the Rodríguez rancho just past noon. After a short visit she could turn back and make it home before dark.
But if instead she stopped to cover up this stranger's body ...
She thought again about coyotes and black bears, about the burden they could spare her if she but dragged the carcass from her doorstep. But she wouldn't want to trip over any gnawed, dismembered parts, nor would she want to encourage predators who'd come back later to finish off the last survivors of November's chicken massacre.
As if he'd read her mind, Notion whined and pawed the dead man.
"Don't even think of eating that!" she warned the dog.
The dog lay down beside the corpse and rested his head on the man's shoulder. Anna couldn't be sure, but she thought Notion looked insulted.