Excerpt: Crow Mary
It was dark and hot at the back of the big barn as I rolled aside a heavy wagon wheel that leaned against the entry to the storage room. A slam behind me made me jump, heart hammering even more, but it was only a stall door caught by the wind.
Careful of the bottle of whiskey that sat at my feet, I worked a key in the rusty lock. Finally, it clicked and the log door moaned open. This room had been built with one high, small window so none of the ranch hands, drunk or daring, would be tempted to break in, and I squinted into the dim light.
A fine dust covered everything, though the air smelled clean enough. A wood floor had been put in to keep the pelts dry, and the chinking along the logs had kept out the wet ice of our brutal Montana winters and the worst of our hot sun. Leftover goods from our fur-trading post were scattered on the pine shelves. A comb, a few bars of soap, and even an old can of sardines lay next to a mouse-nibbled red blanket and the remainder of one last buffalo hide. But there—there in the corner on the second-highest shelf, two tiny blue bottles shone in the pale yellow light.
Mice scurried when I pushed aside empty liquor barrels to get to the shelf, and as I reached up, my hand trembled. The tiny bottle was no heavier than a pinecone, but the enormity of what it held almost put me on the floor. With great care, I set it next to the liquor, unplugging first the whiskey bottle; then, before I could hesitate, I picked up the strychnine and held it to the light. How much did I need to kill a man? Just a small amount of this would take down any number of animals.
I shrugged and tipped the entire contents of the blue bottle into the whiskey. “Dead is dead,” I told myself. “You can’t overkill him.”
As I was locking up again, I heard the horses circling the corral, answering a whinny that had come up from the direction of my tipi. Was he early? Was he already waiting? My legs went weak, and I leaned against the wall. I was no match for him. I was as good as dead. But then I remembered what he had done to Song Woman, and what would happen to Ella, and rage straightened me.
I gave the whiskey bottle a last shake. “Awe alaxáashih! Hold firm,” I said to myself, and then I went out to greet him.