Warmth radiated throughout Elizabeth’s body. With a dismissive nod to her husband, she carried the boy back toward the wagon. Horatio pulled his slouch hat off and plowed his fingers through his hair. He tugged at his beard. His heart beat with a weighted sluggishness.
It was then that another man spoke. “Feller, if you knowed what’s good for you and your woman, you’d turn the boy over to the army, pronto.”
Grimacing, Horatio nodded his head in reluctant agreement.
He said, “I know this ain’t no good.” Rubbing the back of his neck, he then crossed his arms. He blew out a held breath. “Lizzy’s done an buried three babies. There ain’t no way any man and his army’s gonna separate her from that child now.” He set his jaw. The men shuffled back, shaking their heads. A crowd gathered and milled around forgetting their business—throwing sidelong glances—grumbling.
A blustery man wearing a star pinned to his dusty, colorless shirt and wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat on the back of his head, dragged an old, town Indian forward. Of an undetermined age, leathered features rose from bottomless creases running through his face. His eyes, sunken and yellowed from drink, flashed and then darted to the ground. His iron gray hair, cut at his shoulders, fell forward as if to hide him from prying eyes.
“Come on, Zoo-Nee,” the man with the star on his shirt said, “Speak up. What do you make of this?”
The old, town Indian grunted, shrugged his boney shoulders. Pursing his lips into a deeply eroded pucker, he shook his head.
“Come on, now, speak up. There’s some fire-water in it for you.”
The old, town Indian sighed.
“What do you reckon that boy is?”
Men shifted in their stance, their skin tingling as they tugged at their hats as if to brace for a sudden dust storm.
“What is he?” the man with the star on his shirt said with a snort, his face rosy, and his eyebrows raised showing off for the crowd. “What did that boy just say to that woman there?”
The old, town Indian, still looking at his toes, spoke from under his vail of greasy gray hair. His voice high, coarsened from years and drink. He said, “Ishkiini da ndee.”
The men rumbled.
“What did he just say?” Horatio said. Emptiness settled into his stomach and his eye twitched.
Scratching his whiskers, the man with the star on his shirt frowned and then said, “. . . Said that boy ain’t Apache.”