Arnside washed the trail dust from his hands and face at a watering trough, beat the dirt from his clothes with his hat, and strode into Molly's Cafe with hunger tearing at his belly like cats in a sack.
"I'll have whatever's ready," he told the plump, smiling waitress, "and a pitcher of water, please."
She took one look at his red, chapped skin and peelings lips and hustled off, returning moments later with a large blue ewer and a tin tumbler. Walt filled the tumbler with shaking hands, drank deeply, and sighed.
"Appears like you haven't drunk nothin' in a month of Sundays, mister."
"Feels like it, too, darling. Are you Molly?"
"She's the owner, cook, and my ma. I'm Gretchen. I'll fetch that food now. I hope stew's okay."
Before Walt could answer she scurried away and was back in two shakes with a large bowl of steaming mulligan, napkin and utensils, and basket of bread.
"Anything interesting happen in these parts?" he asked around a mouthful of stew. The juice burned the roof of his mouth but after what he'd been through a little heat was like an old friend.
"Interesting? Our marshal got his head busted and had to get shipped off to a home for the feeble-minded, our undertaker had a bunch of fingers broke, and an old prospector was in earlier swearin' he saw The Magi riding across the desert. Says it means the Second Coming is nigh and we'd all best prepare our souls."
Walt grinned at the girl's recitation and tucked back into his meal. When he finished he left a half dollar on the table, twice what the meal cost, and strode out to find a quiet saloon. A whiskey would satisfy right handsome about now, he allowed.
He took three steps down the boardwalk when the import of the girl's story slammed him like the board that sent Marshal Stryker to the drool academy. He ran back into Molly's and grabbed Gretchen by her shoulders.
"That sourdough, where can I find him?"
"Stop it, you're hurting me."
Walt loosened his grip. "Sorry, Gretchen. I need to find that prospector, right away."
She thought for a moment, tongue out. "He has a shack behind the saddle shop. If he ain't there try The Silver Palace saloon."
Arnside raced off.
He found the shack where Gretchen said it would be, but no one answered his knock. Should have tried the saloon first, he chided himself.
Walt stood at the bat wings of The Silver Palace and scanned the room before entering. Wouldn't pay to have some of Zack Roden's men inside. His glance fell on a table at the center of the room where a shabby old cuss was regaling the room with a story, much to their amusement.
"I tell ya', I seen 'em with my own eyes. Long-legged critters with necks long as stovepipes and backs like anthills, just a-lumbering across the sands like they owned the desert. I seen a picture once of the three magi when they come calling on baby Jesus and they was riding the same critters. If that don't prove it, I don't know what does."
"Sure, Gabe, sure. Have another drink. Maybe you'll tell us about seeing the Noah's Ark next."
The crowd burst out laughing. Gabe jumped to his feet and pushed through the men having a laugh at his expense. He nearly plowed Walt Arnside down as he crashed out of the saloon.
"Whoa, there, old timer. What the rush?"
"Dang-blasted fools. Wouldn't know the truth if it crawled up their dumb asses."
Walt laid a comforting arm on old Gabe's shoulder. "Why not tell me your story? I'm the believing kind."
"Can't talk on a dry throat, pardner. Let's mosey up the street and find a joint where we can dip a bill in peace."
With a bottle between them and each man holding a full shot glass, Gabe proposed a toast.
"Now, about the magi. . ." Arnside prompted.
"Yesterday, I was coming back from digging in the Mohawk Mountains when I seen a passel of riders out in the Yuma Desert. Makes no sense. Nothin' there but sand and snakes. No water for a hundred miles. Even the A-patch go 'round it."
Gabe refilled his glass and continued. "They was maybe six or seven on horses, but the others were ridin' those Bible animals like I seen in the picture. Four of them, they was."
"Was one a woman?"
"Too far to tell, even with my spyglass."
"Nope. Like I said, the A-patch got more sense than to go out there."
"Can you tell me how to find this place, Gabe?"
"Sure. Might as well. The world'll end soon enough anyway."
Armed with a detailed description of how to find the last place Roden, Lola and the others had been spotted--assuming Bourbon allowed them to live--Arnside stepped from the saloon and aimed himself toward the stable.
"You!" a voice cried. "You do this!"
He turned to see Choo How pointing at Walt with his bandaged hand. Behind the Chinaman, a crowd began to grow.