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Horses, God love them, they were a pain in the butt. Beautiful, graceful, spirited, necessary animals. But a pain in the butt, nonetheless. If Dan Brady had only known how much trouble a few horses could be, he might have thought about some other way to make a living. Lying in the tangled undergrowth at The Wilderness, minié balls clipping the leaves over his head like crazy locusts, he had kept his head down, and on, by planning the rest of his life. It had been crazy to think there would be a rest of his life, but he knew he had to think about anything but the war if he wanted to survive it.
He had seen too many zealots, and too many fools, take the war seriously. He had seen most of them buried, too, and the raw earth looked so much the same waiting for them, he wasn't sure there was a damn bit of difference between the two types. Now, trying to make ends meet and keep a roof over his family's head, he understood what had driven those men. He had been a zealot of another kind, and now he felt like such a fool he knew there was no difference.
And building a corral was no picnic, either. He tossed his hammer onto the stack of raw lumber intended for the fence he wondered if he'd ever finish. Stepping back to measure the distance with his eye, he realized he was less than half finished and had just run out of nails. It was just as well, too, he thought. He was so tired he doubted he could lift the hammer again, let alone drive anything into the stubborn timber. His eyes stung with sweat, and the flies were driving him crazy. Reaching for his canteen, he cursed at its lack of heft, unscrewed the cap, and tilted his head for the last few drops of water. It was now as empty as the nail keg. He threw it onto the boards, and it rattled and bumped all the way down the stack, an old drunk falling downstairs.
"Dan, why don't you take a break, honey? You've been at it all morning."
When he turned, Molly was standing right behind him, her smile a bit strained. He hadn't heard her coming, and her voice had startled him.
"Can't afford to. If I don't get this damn fence built, we'll be chasing horses up and down the valley for a month. It was tough enough rounding them up once. I don't want to do it again."
"You look exhausted."
Brady grunted, then flopped on the ground next to the pile of wood. He looked up at his wife, but with the bright sun behind her and the sweat in his eyes, he could barely see her. He patted the dry grass to his left, but Molly shook her head.
"I can't stay. I just wanted to know when you'd be ready for dinner."
"I'm ready now, I guess. But I'm too damn tired to eat anything. And I have to go into Nogales."
"Need some more nails. Wes Fraser told me I didn't buy enough, but I wouldn't listen. Now I got to make another trip. And listen to him say I told you so without really sayin' it."
"Can't you go tomorrow?"
"Nope, I can't. I can't waste a whole afternoon when I'm not half done with this corral. And I got to work on the barn some, too."
"At least eat something before you go."
Brady didn't say anything. He knew Molly was right, and he was hungry. But there was so much to do, it seemed as if he could work around the clock the rest of his life and still not be finished. He nodded, and she took it, rightly, to mean he would eat before he went into town. He didn't feel like it, and he didn't feel like hitching the team, and most of all he didn't feel like listening to the squeak of the wagon all the way into Nogales and all the way back.
He looked back up at Molly, but she was gone, had left as silently as she had come. He wiped his hands on the seat of his pants as he rose, then checked his palms for new blisters.
Molly was already inside as he crossed the yard, kicking idly at clumps of dusty grass. He couldn't understand how she kept her spirit in so damn dry, and godforsaken, a place. Horses, hell! He'd be better off back East, working for somebody else. At least he wouldn't have to worry about paying his bills. He'd draw a wage, and spend what he made. This was too damn risky. But maybe it would get better when the corral was finished, and he could add to the small spread. Maybe, but he wouldn't count on it.
As it was, he knew Fraser had been right. He shouldn't have planned on nailing the corral together in the first place, but if he was going to do it, he should have listened and bought more nails, like the storekeeper had told him. He had a lot to learn. He was already learning there were better ways of doing things out here than he was used to. But that was cold comfort. He scraped his boots on the rough-bristled brush nailed alongside the sill, and pushed open the door, waving away a few flies that tried to slip in with him.
"Where is everybody today?"
His wife answered without turning, buttering two thick slabs of dark, heavy bread, and carving several thin slices of chicken to finish a sandwich for him ...Brady's Law. Copyright © by Bill Dugan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.