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Ghost Moon

9781554698806_0005_001

1

“It is time for you to go, Busca. The ghost moon is full.”

It’s morning, and Wellington and I are sitting on the ledge outside his cave eating a breakfast of tortillas and beans. A light breeze is sending tiny whirlwinds of dust across the flat ledge before us. “What’s a ghost moon?” I ask my old friend.

Wellington waves his arm in the direction of the pale, silver globe hanging in the washed-out blue sky above the dark brown hills to the east. “La luna,” he says. “The moon is the poor cousin of the sun. Her job is to brighten the night, but she’s jealous of her relative who gives so much light and warmth in the day. Every month, the moon tries as hard as she can to be as bright as her cousin. She almost succeeds, but the effort is too much and she fades away, only to try once more the next month.

“Sometimes, when the moon is full, she thinks that this time she will become as bright as her cousin. When she is arrogant like this, the sun decides to teach her a lesson and invites her to a competition during the daylight. Of course, the poor moon always loses this competition, as you see.” Wellington indicates the moon once more. “La luna del fantasma, the ghost moon.”

“It does look as if you can see through it,” I agree.

“It is well to know one’s place in the world, Busca. The moon has no place in the day.”

I’ve enjoyed my days with Wellington and Perdido, the mummified conquistador who sits in my friend’s cave, telling the story of my adventures at Casas Grandes and listening to his stories of scouting with the army and escorting English hunters. But he’s right, ghost moon or not, it’s time for me to move on.

After Casas Grandes, I returned to Esqueda, where I spent Christmas with Santiago having my broken ribs tended to by his mad wife, Maria. It was a wonderfully relaxing time with no danger and nothing to do but write letters to my mother back in Yale and read Moby Dick. However, by the third week of January, I was becoming restless. It was time to head up to Lincoln and find work, and, on the way, keep my promise to Wellington to return and tell him how my story turned out. I saddled Coronado, and we retraced our route north to Wellington and Perdido’s cave.

“It is time for me to go,” I agree with Wellington.

My friend nods. “You are a seeker, Busca. Now that you have discovered your father, what do you seek next?”

“I’ll head over to Lincoln County. I’ve heard there’s work there and money to be made.”

Wellington snorts disparagingly. “In my experience, Busca, wherever there is money to be made, apuro, trouble always follows close behind.”

“I don’t mind,” I say with a shrug. “I want to learn about the world and have adventures.”

“I envy you your youth and enthusiasm, but remember this, Busca: to learn from your adventures, you must first survive them. You were lucky on the trail to Esqueda. Next time it might not be Nah-kee-tats-an who finds you. My people are restless. Many prefer the hardships of living free in the mountains to accepting food from the government on the reservations. I should be sad to see your scalp hanging from a warrior’s lance.”

I begin to protest that I’ll be fine, but Wellington holds up his hand to stop me. “Do not argue with me,” he says with a smile. “I know you will do what you must. Just as Perdido and I did when we were young men. Just as Nah-kee-tats-an does today.”

Wellington falls silent and stares at the moon. I am about to collect my bedroll and go and find Coronado, when he stirs. “Did you read the book I gave you about the great white whale?”

I’m a little bit taken aback by the question and hesitate for a moment before answering. “I read it in Esqueda,” I say. “It’s a good story.”

“It’s a long story. I think your story is like that. It is not finished yet.”

I have no idea where Wellington is going with this, but I know him well enough to know he has some point to make. I sit in silence and eventually he continues. “I have been having many dreams lately. You are in them, and so is Nah-kee-tats-an. I think the spirits are telling me that your futures are intertwined.”

I can’t imagine how they might be. The last time I saw Nah-kee-tats-an, he was heading east to join Victorio. I doubt very much if he’ll come to Lincoln.

“But perhaps that is not what my dreams mean,” Wellington goes on. “I am in these dreams as well. I sit with Perdido in our cave. He tells me that times are changing and that the world does not need old men like us anymore. He says we must leave this place and go our own ways. Then he gets up and goes out of the cave. I follow him, but he dissolves to dust in the sunlight. I turn back, but my cave is gone, replaced by a wide plain. On the plain are a lake and a large building of stone. I think it is a castle like the ones that the Englishman, Lord Alfred George Cambrey Sommerville, Earl of Canterbury, told me about, but it is a ruin. There is a battle raging over the ruins, but I cannot see who is fighting. There are many bodies on the ground and much blood. A voice in my head tells me I must leave this place, but where am I to go? I walk away.”

“What does it mean?”

Wellington shrugs. “No sé. I do not know, but I am certain that I must leave my cave. Am I to accompany you to Lincoln?”

“I don’t think so,” I say too hurriedly. I’ve been looking forward to being on my own again. Fond as I am of Wellington, I can’t see me arriving in Lincoln looking for work with an aged Apache in tow.

Wellington surprises me by laughing. “Your face is like the page of a book, Busca. Youth does not wish to be tethered to age. I shall leave here, but not with you. Perhaps I am to go and fight with Nah-kee-tats-an. Did you know that he is my son?”

“I guessed from talking with him. But you’re too old to fight,” I blurt out rudely.

Again Wellington laughs. “Youth thinks life ends when the first wrinkle appears on the skin or the first ache troubles a joint. You do not know Kas-tziden, known to you white men as Nana?”

I shake my head.

“You would have called him old when he fought with Mangas Coloradas and Cochise, and was married to Geronimo’s sister. Now he is older even than me. Some say he has seen more than eighty winters. Yet he fights alongside the young warriors in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Youth is not everything.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I did not mean to insult you.”

“You do not insult me,” Wellington says, the smile still on his face. “But you cannot help me interpret my dreams. Do not worry. I shall not trouble you with my company. And I shall not run to the hills to fight. Not yet. I shall dream and sit by my cave, discussing the world and what it means with Perdido, until things become clear. You must follow your story and find your adventures. But take care. These are troubled times, and there are many traps set out to snare us. This is a land of many legends. You are making your own legends, but you cannot escape those around you, both the legends of the past and the ones others make. We do not always have control over our stories, and they do not always take us where we would like or intend to go. I wish you luck, Busca.”

“I hope you find the answer to your dreams,” I say, standing.

Wellington nods distractedly. He has finished saying what he needs to and gazes over the landscape, contemplating other things. I gather my belongings, leave what is left of the sacks of flour and beans I brought up with me and bid farewell to Perdido. Wellington doesn’t even look up as I set off down the hillside to where Coronado waits for me. Despite what Wellington has said about these being troubled times, I am happy, excited to be on the trail once more and thrilled by what the future might hold.

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2

“Ghost moon,” the kid repeats. “That’s a good name. Sure ain’t the bright ball that gave me enough light to build a fire, brew coffee and pack up this morning afore dawn. My ma used to call the full moon in daylight a lace moon, ’cause it looks just like one of those round pieces of lace you set on the table when company’s coming.”

It’s three days since I left Wellington’s cave. I broke camp early this morning, figuring that if I got a good start on the trail, I could make Lincoln in enough time to look for work in the short February daylight. I ran into the kid almost immediately, heading up from the south. I kept my hand on my revolver as he approached, but he didn’t seem to be any kind of a threat, waving a greeting and shouting hello when he was still some distance away.

He introduced himself as Bill Bonney, but said that everyone just calls him Kid because he’s only eighteen. That makes him two years older than me, but he’s smooth-cheeked and lightly built and could pass for younger. I think back to the other Kid I’ve met—the man I killed last year. But Bill is different. I’ve immediately taken a liking to him. He’s cheerful and has a fresh, open face and a ready gap-toothed smile. His eyes are a striking hazel color, and he wears his light brown hair long and carefully groomed.

“Lace moon,” I say. “That’s a good name for it too. Where’s your ma now?”

“Who knows. Where d’you reckon we go after we die?”

“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling my face flush with embarassment.

Bill shrugs. “No need. It weren’t no surprise. The white plague, consumption some call it, kills slow. That’s why we moved out west to Colorado and then down here to New Mexico. The dry air’s good for the lungs. Not good enough though. Ma’s been dead four years.”

“Your dad still alive?” I ask, thinking about all I discovered about my father and the mysterious life he led.

“My da,” the kid says, a touch of Irish brogue appearing in his voice. “Which da d’you mean? I’ve had a couple.” Before I can think of a response, the kid continues. “My real da, Michael McCarty, came over from Ireland on the coffin ships after the famine. So did my ma, Catherine, though they didn’t meet till they were both in New York. That’s where I was born, me and my brother Joe. I don’t remember much of them days. My da was killed in the New York draft riots in ’63. I were but a nipper, no more’n four years old. Can’t say as I remember him much.

“Ma said that his death were a godsend, that Da was getting into a lot of bad stuff, drinking, fighting, hanging out with the Dead Rabbits Gang around Five Points.”

“Dead Rabbits Gang?” I ask.

Bill laughs. “Sounds funny, don’t it, but they weren’t. And they had little to do with rabbits, except when they went into a fight with another gang. Then they carried a dead rabbit on a pole like a battle flag. Rabbit were from an Irish word, ráibéad. It means someone to be frightened of, and dead means very. So, a dead rabbit was someone to be greatly feared.” Bill suddenly throws his head back and bursts into song:

“They had a dreadful fight, upon last Saturday night,
The papers gave the news accordin’;
Guns, pistols, clubs and sticks, hot water and
  old bricks,
Which drove them on the other side of Jordan.

Then pull off the coat and roll up the sleeve,
For Bayard is a hard street to travel;
So pull off the coat and roll up the sleeve,
The Bloody Sixth is a hard ward to travel, I believe.”

Bill’s voice is deeper than I expect from his skinny frame, and he can hold a tune well. He finishes singing and grins broadly at me. “That’s all my da left me, a song about a street fight in New York.” His face becomes serious. “Ma said that if my da hadn’t been killed, he would’ve dragged me and Joe down with him.

“As it were, Ma moved us out to Indianapolis, where she met and married William Henry Harrison Antrim. Mouthful of a name, eh?”

“It is,” I agree, “but if your real father was called McCarty and your stepfather was called Antrim, why are you called Bonney?”

Bill laughs. “And why am I called Bill when I were christened Henry? Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, Kid, Kid Antrim, I been ’em all. William’s my second given name, and Bonney’s just the latest surname. You read much?”

“Some,” I say, surprised by the question.

“Dime novels?”

“Sure, I’ve read a lot of dime novels, about Kit Carson, Davy Crockett, the Alamo.”

“‘The valley of the Mississippi River, from its earliest settlement, has been more infested with reckless and bloodstained men than any other part of the country.’”

“I know that,” I say as realization dawns. “It’s the beginning of Murderer’s Doom by Edward Bonney. You took a dime novelist’s name.”

“Why not?” Bill says. “Name don’t mean nothing. Just a flag by which folks know you, and sometimes”— he winks broadly at me—“it pays to change what folks know you as.”

I don’t agree with Bill, or whatever he’s called. Names have been very important to some of the people I’ve met. To Wellington and Nah-kee-tats-an, and to me, James Doolen, or Busca, in my search for my father. But my companion’s laugh is infectious, and I can’t help smiling along with him. “Where’s your second dad now?” I ask. “Is he still alive?”

“He’s alive all right. Prospecting over by the Arizona Territory border, around Silver City. That’s where I been, visiting my da.”

Bill’s brow furrows at the memory. “You got no right to ask all them questions and go prying into a fella’s past.” The sudden anger in his voice startles me. But before I can respond, he spurs his horse ahead, leaving me to reflect.

For a while I stare at Bill’s back, confused by his abrupt change in mood. He’s wearing a faded blue army jacket over a collarless shirt and a heavy wool vest. There’s a battered Mexican sombrero on his head and a fine-looking gray horse beneath him. He carries a Winchester ’73 rifle in a scabbard by his saddle and a revolver that I don’t recognize in a holster on his right hip. Bill has told me he works on a ranch outside Lincoln. But he’s not dressed like a cowboy and carries no lariat. I wonder what kind of work he does.

We are riding a narrow trail over bare scrub hills. There’s a chill in the desert air, and I’m wearing a thick poncho that Santiago gave me. It doubles as a blanket at night. Lincoln can’t be far ahead, and I wonder what I’ll find there. Work and adventure, I hope. And perhaps a letter from my mother in Yale, although I doubt she’s had time to reply to my letters from Esqueda yet.

All of a sudden, Bill reins in and turns to face me. He’s smiling again and his mood has swung back to jovial companionability as quickly as it descended into anger. “There she is,” he says, waving an arm over the valley below.

I draw up beside him and look down. The valley is narrow between the dry hills, and a meandering line of trees marks the course of the Rio Bonita. A two-story adobe building dominates the town and dwarfs the handful of other stores and houses scattered along the single street. Five or six small homesteads are scattered farther off over the valley floor.

“That’s Lincoln?” I ask, astonished at its small size.

Bill laughs out loud. “Impressive, ain’t it? But don’t be fooled. See that large building surrounded by the fence?” I nod. “That’s the Murphy House. From the parlor in there, Jimmy Dolan controls most of this entire county. Lawrence Murphy’s his partner, but he’s a drooling, drunken idiot. Won’t live the year out, I reckon.

“Dolan’s the power in the whole county. His store supplies everyone from the smallest homesteader to the army post up the river at Fort Stanton, and from the poorest Apache on the reservation at Tularosa to the richest cattle rancher. And he ain’t afraid to charge top dollar, neither.”

Bill stops and stares hard at me. “You ain’t related to Dolan, are you?”

It takes me a moment to work out what he means. “No,” I say. “My name’s Doolen. It sounds a bit the same, but I’m not related to anyone called Dolan.”

Bill nods, apparently satisfied.

“This Dolan”—I emphasize the o to make sure Bill can’t confuse it with the oo in my name—“he has no competition?” I ask.

“Ah, now,” Bill replies, his Irish lilt returning, “there’s the question. You see that stone tower on Main Street?” He points down into the valley. If I squint, I can make out a round tower down the street from the Murphy House. “That’s the torreón, built for refuge when the wild Apache’s attacked. Farther along, that low building with the veranda over the boardwalk out front. That’s John Tunstall’s store. He runs it with Alex McSween. Beside it, the house shaped like a U, that’s McSween’s house.”

“That’s Dolan’s competition?” I ask.

“Sure is, and they’ll be your new bosses if you want to work.”

“I do.”

Bill nods, turns his horse’s head and trots off along the crest of the ridge. “Aren’t we going into town?” I shout after him.

“Wouldn’t want to do that,” the kid replies over his shoulder. “Unless you want to work for Mr. Dolan.” I shake my head. “Then John Tunstall’s spread is some thirty miles southeast on the Rio Feliz. That’s where the work is.”

With a last look at Lincoln, I turn and follow Bill, who has begun whistling a jaunty dance tune. As I stare at his back, I wonder who my new friend is. He’s charming, no doubt, and clever and entertaining. But he reminds me of one of those African lizards I’ve read about. The ones that can change color to blend in with their environment. Bill’s like that—one minute cheerful and singing, the next sullen and angry. In one breath he sounds like a happy Irish layabout. In the next, he’s a rough cowboy. Who is he, and where is he leading me?

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