Abie was shaking her head slowly. “I do not trust it.”
Plant nodded. “I thought it might be a problem for you, so we have also provided oars.” He indicated the bar they were standing on, and just behind him were four wide wooden oars stuck into the sand.
“I can handle it,” Kateri waved her aside. “I grew up on a ranch and distillery. I understand how it works.”
As the four women climbed carefully into their watercrafts, Plant handed them their oars. “We look forward to your report,” he said. “Godspeed.”
They set their sterns downriver and floated out to the middle of the water where the current swiftly caught the canoes and pulled them away. The parched landscape swept past, seemingly bereft of life save a furiously scurrying lizard or smoothly undulating copperhead. The blazing Arizona sun climbed the eastern sky quickly, proving to be too much for even these denizens of the desert as they sought shelter from the approaching midday.
Overhead the piercing blue sky seemed to reflect both light and heat; the women could scarcely look at it. The current continued deep and cold, a fact which did not escape Marion, Kateri, Rose, or Abie. Around the time the sun hit its zenith, they beached their canoes beneath some low-hanging trees to escape the hottest time of day. They ate some simple rations and spoke cheerfully, then enjoyed a cooling swim before getting dressed again and paddling back into the swifter part of the river. The sun eventually began its descent behind them.
“Taking bets on what the mysterious cause of this town’s sudden good behavior will be,” Marion grinned slyly and adjusted her gamblers’ sleeves.
“I do not gamble,” Abie said sternly.
“You’ve got more self-control than me, Ab,” Rose said. “I’d put in five dinero on a new sheriff, someone with an iron will.”
“Why does the Agency want an investigation though?” Abie questioned. “Surely the government has its own way of dealing with a town full of lawbreakers or an inefficient sheriff.”
“The Agency is interested in the method,” Kateri reminded them. “That is what Agent Plant said.”
“Well put on your Pinkertons, ladies, because I think we’re here,” Marion pointed downriver.
Ahead, just on the horizon, a town on the bank of the Cimarron was just coming into view. “Let’s not get too close,” Abie suggested. “If we are not welcome here, I’d like to be able to get out clean.”
They carefully hid their canoes on the water a short distance from the townsite. Abie put her skills as a tracker to good use as she advised on how best to disguise them from view.
“Someone is going to need to check on the coal and steam every so often,” Kateri said. “Or getting the hell out won’t be an option. One of us can come out later.”
The four grabbed their rucksacks and began the walk into town.
The first sign they encountered was about one hundred yards from the front edge of the townsite. DOLAN SPRINGS it ran in large, carven and blackened letters. The sign seemed fairly new, showing no signs of weathering.
Next came the bodies.
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