Moses looks out over the horizon, the sky diffuse with brilliant umber.
It’s already dawn, he says close to the man’s ear.
Fuck you, you literal prick.
Now Moses can see Ignatius and the other congregants carefully peeking over the edge of the wall, watching the exchange with solemn interest.
Moses backs away, dragging Fletcher with him.
I’m taking my brother and the girl, Moses says loud enough for everyone to hear. That’s our Chevy in the front. We’re taking it. Understand?
Fletcher’s men look uneasy about what to do, so Fletcher gives them commands.
Let’s just hold off on takin action at the moment, he tells them. Let’s all just wait till I don’t got this goddamn pistol on my brain. How’s that sound? This ass**le can’t keep huggin me all day.
Moses pulls Fletcher back to where his brother sits on the ground.
Can you stand? Moses says.
Just barely, Abraham says.
Lean on the girl, he says. Then he says to the Vestal Amata, Help him up.
So the four of them hobble their way around to the front of the mission, Fletcher’s men following at a respectful distance. But when they turn the last corner to the front gate, there are more of Fletcher’s crew waiting. A caravan of eight or ten trucks and vans, lined up in a neat row, and figures posed around each with rifles and pistols aimed at Moses and his small, stumbling group.
Now what, smokey joe? Fletcher says to Moses. You gotta let go of me at some point.
Yeah, Moses says. About ten miles up the road.
The f**k you are.
Moses moves them to the Chevy and then calls out to Fletcher’s crew surrounding them.
Now look here, he says. We’re gettin in this car. First the girl and my brother. Then your bossman. He’s gonna sit in the front seat with me. I’m driving away, but my brother’s gonna have a gun pointed at his head the whole time.
He hesitates. The snarling faces of the men suggest that he is relying too heavily on their love of Fletcher. He wonders if they would mow them all down where they stand if it weren’t for the loss of profit from the girl herself.
I’ll tell you like you told the padre and the people inside, Moses calls out. I got no truck with you or with your boss. You stay back, you let us get out of here – and if I don’t see you behind me, I’ll drop him by the side of the road ten miles down the freeway. Then you can chase us down all you want if you got the time and inclination.
How do I know you’ll let me go? Fletcher says.
I don’t like lookin at you, Moses says. And I won’t kill you cause I ain’t a killer of wretched things.
There are about thirty of them, the caravan’s crew, and they all wait on Fletcher’s word. For a moment, the little scabbed man is silent. His sombrero is tilted to the side in goofy asymmetry so Moses can fit under it too.
Everything is quiet, and Moses can hear the metallic thudding of the slugs inside the caravan trucks – no doubt moving back and forth in their miniature black cells.
All right, goddamnit, Fletcher finally says to his people. Wait fifteen minutes and then come after me. I don’t wanna be sitting by the side of the road all goddamn day.
Watch your hands, Abraham says to Fletcher, pushing the barrel of the pistol against the back of the man’s head.
But Fletcher isn’t going for any weapon – he’s just reaching up to pick nervously at the scabs on his neck and the side of his face.
Ugh, Abraham says. Why don’t you just leave yourself alone?
Fletcher ignores him and speaks instead to the girl.
Who’s your friends, Tillie?
You won’t let him harm me, will you? the Vestal says to the brothers.
Listen at her talkin now! Fletcher says, laughing heartily. Ain’t we graced to carry a little princess in our motor carriage!
Hush up, Moses says to the man.
But Fletcher doesn’t hush.
She was my hire and salary, he says to Moses. And she was took from me unlawful. You want to pay for her release, we can talk terms. I ain’t an unreasonable man. But she was my main event, so she don’t come cheap, and she certainly don’t come free.
I ain’t payin you, Moses says. I got nothing to pay you with.
Fletcher looks around the car, sneering.
No, he says. I don’t guess you do. This is sure enough a sorry little band of rescuers. You realize we’re gonna kill you, right? And we’re gonna kill you sloppy.
Hush up, Moses says again.
They drive west along the highway, Moses glancing every few seconds into the rearview mirror. No one is following them yet. One of the advantages of desert travel – you can see miles of where you’re going and miles of where you’ve been.
She’s more fuss than she’s worth, you know, Fletcher continues. Trouble with a capital T. But I guess you ain’t seen that side of her yet. I don’t know what kind of show they had her doing there at the mission, but she was never dressed in no white robes for our performances. Seems like she picked up some airs these past couple weeks.
Moses can see the girl in the rearview mirror. Her head is turned sharply away from Fletcher, and she is gazing out the window as though pretending not to be present at all. But Moses can see her jaw shut tight, the muscles in her face clenched rock-like.
When they have been driving fifteen minutes, Moses pulls the car to the side of the road at the base of a stony outcropping. He leaves the motor running and gets out and goes around to the passenger side where he opens the door.
Get out, he says to Fletcher.
Happily, Fletcher says. It’s a lovely day for a nice sit.
The greasy man climbs out of the car and leans down to say farewell to the girl.
See you soon, fancy lady.
Come on, Moses says and leads him away to the shaded base of the outcropping where he tells him to sit.
Now you listen up, Moses says. We’re takin the girl. She ain’t part of your show any more. She don’t belong to you. You understand that?
You think she belongs to you? Fletcher says.
She don’t belong to anybody.
You got that part right, at least. Hell, take her. She can make you some money, but she’s bad business in the long run. I mean, Jesus, even the dead don’t want her. It’s a bad sign when those that’ll eat anything won’t even take a nibble from you. She’s a curse I’m glad to be got rid of.
Moses is staring at the man, considering these words, when he hears the car door open and close behind him. Then the girl herself is at his shoulder, and they both gaze down at the ridiculous oily man in the sombrero.