They found Corey strapped to a chair in an earthen-walled cellar; the only light came from a dim shake-lamp hanging from a hook above the entry. He’d been bound so tightly that his hands were bloodless white. His face was red from trying to shout through his gag.
“Get him out of that chair, Edgar,” Lorna said.
“Don’t want him slipping away, Sherf,” said the hunched, wheezing old man who had led them down the steep dirt steps.
“Right now, or I’ll arrest you for human-rights violation. That’s sheer torture.”
The old man produced a knife and sliced through the clear plastic straps. Lorna undid the gag.
“I didn’t do nothing!” Corey spat. “Old geezer—I was just cutting through his property, that’s all.”
“Stealing prickly pears, he was!” old Runyon said. “I’ll beat the crap out of him if I see him round here again.
“Out,” Lorna said to Edgar. “Now.”
He grumbled, but retreated up the steps. The Rehydrator crouched down and helped work the blood back into Corey’s cold fingers. The boy gasped at the pain.
“Not too smart, Corey,” Lorna said. “I thought you had more sense.”
“I—I wasn’t stealing prickly pears.”
“I know. You were looking for Galvin.”
Corey started to protest, but he didn’t have the heart. His head sank forward, and he spoke in a lower tone. “I had to, Sheriff. He’s my uncle; he’s all I have left in the world—that’s what nobody seems to realize.”
“We understand, Corey, but you can’t go breaking into people’s privacy.”
“But if you ask to come in, they’ll just hide whatever they’ve got to hide!”
“Well, that’s their right. But the truth’ll come out, Corey; you have to believe that.”
“Why should I?”
“I know it’s frustrating, but . . . but did you see anything?”
He shook his head. “No. He grabbed me too fast. There was a big burlap sack of yucca roots in the corner over there, but he hauled them away.”
“Hm. I’ll just ask him about that sack. Make him think he’s under suspicion. See what we stir up.”
They came up out of the hard-baked earth and stood under the stars. Edgar Runyon was waiting for them with a shake-lamp fading in his hands. He shook it vigorously when they appeared, squeezing out the last bit of light. “They’re putting you away for a long time, boy!”
“Edgar,” Lorna said, “what’ve you been keeping in that cellar?”
“What business is it of yours?”
“I’m conducting a search of the neighborhood. I could come back with papers, if you like, and extend the search to the rest of your property.”
He looked around nervously, scuttling from foot to foot. “It’s a root cellar, Sherf. I keep roots down there when I have them.”
“Corey says he saw a bundle down there—something about as big as a man wrapped in burlap, which you dragged off.”
“That was yucca root, Sherf! I didn’t want him messing with it.”
“What could he have done, bound and gagged like that? Mind showing me the sack, Edgar?”
He didn’t answer for a moment.
“All right, all right.” Still grumbling, he walked away until he reached another flight of steps carved in the sun-pounded earth. When his head had vanished below the surface, Lorna started swinging her high-power flashlight over the Runyon place, picking out entrances to more burrows, mounds of rusting junk, the glinting mesh of plastic fencing, and beyond all that the rows of Runyon’s cactus crops, looming black giants with wicked, spiny arms.
“He is nervous about something,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s here.”
Edgar reappeared a moment later, dragging a huge sack. “Here you go.” He tossed it down at her feet.
Lorna scarcely glanced at it. “Thanks, Edgar. I shouldn’t have bothered you. We’ll be taking off now.”
“Well, you’re very welcome!” he shouted as they strode out the front gate onto the road. “You’d think I was the goddamn thief!”
Deputy Skelton was waiting for them on the road, at the wheel of the sheriff’s buggy. “Why don’t you stay here?” Lorna said. “Keep an eye on Edgar tonight. If he goes anywhere, I want to know.”
“How’ll you get back to town?” he asked.
“We’ll walk. It’s a nice night for it.”
They didn’t speak much on the way back. Near Town Hall, Lorna repeated her admonitions to Corey and said good night to Walter.
“Walter?” Corey said.
“That’s my name.”
“I was wondering.”
Corey and Walter walked on. Earl Taws waved from the front of the Miscellany Market, where he was out dusting the feather headdress of his wooden Indian. “My offer still stands on that dog of yours, sir! If he ever dries up again, that is.”
“He’s not mine to sell,” Walter replied. “Thanks anyway.”
A moment later they passed the Succulent Steak, and Corey ducked into the restaurant. Walter heard a man’s voice raised briefly in anger “Late again!”
He walked on alone. As he neared his truck, a shadow stepped out from behind it. A woman.
“That your dog in there?” she asked. “He sounds kind of sick.”
Walter ran up the steps, hearing a soft whimpering that was even now getting softer. He threw back the canvas flap and saw Fritzy.
Poor Fritzy. The dachshund lay on his side, squirming slowly, creaking with a sound like two pieces of wood rubbed together. His black eyes were dull. The lids closed partially and didn’t open again. The tongue was white and dry, receding into the mouth, and the pale gums were lusterless, lacking saliva. He patted the animal, horrified at the feeling—as if he were stroking a piece of scruffy driftwood. Even as he touched him, Fritzy stiffened and apparently died. The last appearance of moisture—the tears in Fritzy’s eyes—quickly evaporated.
“I’ll be damned,” the woman said, having climbed in behind him. It was Marlys Runyon. “If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t believe it now. You really must have the power to revive things—the lungfish things.”
He fell heavily onto his cot, his mind numb with shock.
“Temporary,” he muttered. “Only temporary.” He found himself squeezing the fat of his wrists for signs of dehydration, for flesh that peaked when pinched like overbeaten egg white.
“Don’t take it so hard,” Marlys said, settling next to him and putting a hand on his shoulder. “That poor little thing already lived his natural life. You should be glad you could give him even a few more days.”
But he wasn’t thinking of Fritzy. He was thinking of himself as he repeated the words, “Only temporary.”
“If you’re so upset, why not throw on some more of your chemicals and juice him up again?”
“Yes.” It was the obvious thing to do, but obvious things weren’t occurring to him right now. At any moment he himself might start to dehydrate, might go stiff and wooden like Fritzy—and who would be able to restore him?
He pulled the plastic tub out from under the cot; the black valise sat in it, along with the white plastic mask.
“Let me give you a hand,” Marlys said. She reached into the bag and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “Are these the instructions?”
He nodded, his fingers trembling as he took various vials from the valise. “Maybe you could read them to me. I don’t want to make any mistakes.”
She flattened out the instructions while he placed Fritzy in the tub, and read them out to him as he uncapped bottles and poured their contents over Fritzy. She turned away coughing when the fumes rolled up, and went out beating the canvas curtain to clear the air. When she came in again, Fritzy was alive, shivering under Walter’s fingers, whimpering. The dachshund jumped down and shook all over; going to the water bowl, he lapped it dry.
“Thank you,” Walter finally said, when his own shaking had subsided. “I—I didn’t know that could happen.”
“Doesn’t bode too well for Galvin Orlick, I guess, if you ever do revive him.” She shook her head sympathetically. “I’m only glad I was here to help out. Really, I just came to be neighborly. I know I made a bad impression. Corey, you see, he’s kind of prejudiced against me on account of his father and I got pretty close after his mother died.”
Walter nodded. “Well, he’s just a kid. Could I get you anything? Some water?”
“Oh no, no thanks. I’ve got plenty.” She started to back out of the truck. “You look like you might want to be left alone.”
“Really, I—I don’t mind company. It’s just, I don’t know many people here.”
“Have you eaten? We’ve got a good restaurant in town, if you’d like to go over.”
“I’d like that,” he said, kneeling down to pet Fritzy’s damp coat. He did feel grateful for her help. And he had a reason to gain her trust, if he could. She had seen how to use the revival chemicals, and that might be important if … if he started to hear his own limbs creaking, if his own eyes dried out. Maybe he could teach Corey and Lorna the process, but in the meantime, Marlys was his only potential savior.
Corey couldn’t believe it when Walter the Rehydrator came in with Marlys Runyon. They took a corner table. He wanted to rush up and yell at her to get out, but he didn’t have the right. Walter seemed simple, but he must know better than to trust her; he must be trying to get information out of her, taking advantage of being a stranger to pretend he didn’t know her reputation. All the same, Corey wished he’d warned Walter about her in certain terms, because a guy who walked around without pisspores and relieved himself in sterile dust couldn’t be all that smart.
Walter smiled at Corey and waved, but then Mr. Bell called him back into the kitchen. Mr. Bell was in a bad mood, sending him here, sending him there. By the time he next got out of the kitchen, they were already gone. Walter had hardly touched his green fried agave patties.
He was packing scraps of rind into the condenser, when he heard loud voices up front, and suddenly Walter burst into the kitchen. “Corey!”
“What is it? What happened?”
Mr. Bell pushed through the swinging door, glowering at them.
“Mr. Bell, can I—”
“You cannot. You came in late, and you’re not half through your shift.”
“Law says I still get a lunch break.”
“I saw you back here wolfing down prickly pears. If that doesn’t count, then—”
“I gotta help my friend.”
“Help him on your own time.”
“I am. I just quit.” Mr. Bell gaped at Corey as he grabbed Walter’s hand and hauled him back into the night. “It’s Marlys, isn’t it? I should’ve warned you away from her. I thought I had.”
“But she’s been with me the whole time.”
“What whole time?”
“While we were eating, someone broke into my truck and stole a bunch of water jugs.”
“The fact Marlys was with you makes it even more likely it was her doing. She just kept you distracted while her friends went about robbing you.”
“She said she—she didn’t need water.”
“Everybody needs it, Walter. She gets all she can drink from Bannister, who’s been sucking it out of my Uncle Orlick’s private reserve. But even Bannister’ll take more if he can get it.”
“Then it could have been anyone, if you’re all so damn thirsty.”
“Could have, but I know Marlys. She’s had you staked out since you first rolled into town, and no one else would dare get in her way. Except maybe me.”
They ran to the sheriff’s office in Town Hall. The office was empty, but Corey heard voices in the holding cells in back, and the door was ajar. He peered in and saw Deputy Skelton gazing into a cell where some red-faced old geezer was yelling for his lawyer.
“Is the sheriff here?” Corey asked.
Skelton strolled toward him, smiling, and shut the door behind him. “Mescal bum—out-of-towner. He doesn’t need a lawyer; he just needs to sleep it off.”
“Where is Lorna?” Walter asked.
“She’s in the field. What seems to be the matter?”
“Someone broke into my truck and stole some water.”
The deputy looked angry. “Now, who’d do a thing like that? Come on. I’ll have you fill out a report.”
“We know who did it,” Corey said. “Marlys set him up. Hey, why aren’t you still out there watching Edgar?”
Skelton puffed up with anger. “Are you my boss, kid?”
“We’ll fill out that report later,” Walter said, taking Corey by the arm before he could answer. “See you, Deputy.”
Out in the hall, Walter said, “Where does Lawrence Wing keep his office?”
“Good idea. He’s right upstairs.”
Wing was in his office, looking consternated. His face darkened further when Corey and Walter appeared. “Corey, I’ve got some troubling news. Fortunately there’s an order in place regarding information sharing, or I’d never learn a thing.”
“What is it?”
“According to the control devices in your uncle’s tomb, he wasn’t stolen from his container—he was actively revived. Whether it was a malfunction or the result of tampering, I have no way of knowing right now.”
“Revived? You mean he—he’s alive?”
“I mean he must’ve gotten up confused and walked right out of there himself, several days ago.”
Corey felt as if he’d been hit on the head. “Walked? Then he’s out there someplace!”
“My God.” Walter turned even paler than usual. “I know what it was like for me out there, with plenty of water. Can he still be alive?”
“Out in the dunes, wandering around with no water? There’s no way… no way.”
Corey’s throat choked up. Walter put a hand on his shoulder.
“Sheriff should know about this,” the lawyer said.
“Deputy Skelton wouldn’t tell us where she is,” Walter said.
“I can radio her direct.” Wing went into another room.
“Corey,” Walter said, “I want you to come with me before this search gets going. I want to teach you the lungfish remedy.”
“I need someone trustworthy to learn it. You see, I’m afraid I—I might dry out myself.”
Corey felt a double pang of grief. “You? You mean—”
Walter nodded. “Fritzy and I were dehydrated together by your uncle. I was revived only a few days ago, to come and help Galvin. And I won’t have a chance to do that unless I can stay wet. Why don’t you come with me and try to keep your hopes up, and I’ll tell you everything I know. Maybe Galvin found a cool hole to lie in. Maybe he’s got extra water with him. You never know.”
“You don’t have to cheer me, Walter. I never knew him anyway. If he really is dead, I won’t even know what I lost. I think I might just be glad to have all this trouble behind me. If he’s dead, I’d just like to know, so I can get on with my own life.”
Walter patted his shoulder. “Don’t be so gloomy, Corey. Come on.”