It was late July and the rainy season had come to Arizona. Anyone with any sense had taken whatever shelter the
mountains and deserts could provide. And so Flan Emory tied up beneath the porch overhang outside a saloon in a
cluster of buildings someone with a wry sense of humor had named Agua Bendita, Holy Water.
Emory didn't know the place existed, even though he'd tracked a handful of of bank robbers through this part of
Arizona Territory two years before as a deputy United States Marshall out of Mesilla County in New Mexico. But
that part of his life had washed away like any semblance of a road or trail he could find in this lightning torrent.
Dropping his saddle and shaking off his hat and slicker on the porch, Emory looked through the swinging doors and
saw only the bartender inside. He was a thin man with a handlebar mustache so grand it looked like it wore him
instead of the other way around. Emory took a deep breath and pushed through the doors into the golden lamplight
and the aroma of tobacco smoke and beer-soaked floor timbers.
The bartender glanced up from a dog-eared book lying flat on the bar top, eying his new customer with a mixture of
nonchalance and mild surprise, for only a fool would be caught out in the monsoon-swept desert that extended forty
miles in all directions around Agua Bendita.
"Evenin'," Emory said, chasing the weariness from his face with a crooked grin. "Ain't a fit night out there for man
nor . . . "
"A beast would have the sense to find shelter hours ago, Bub. You ain't no beast. Lucky for you we don't serve no
beasts nor fish here. So what can I get you?" the bartender said, pushing his book aside.
"I do believe I would like a beer, You got anything to eat in this establishment, Mister . . . ?
"Quinn, just Quinn," the bartender said as he began pulling a draught into a hazy mug.
"I'll be damned," Emory said, "It's as quiet as a church here."
Quinn shot him a dark look and nodded his head to a corner table in the otherwise empty room.
"Mind your language, friend. There's a special lady present," he hissed and slid the now amber filled mug toward
Emory on its dripping snowy foam. It slid a few feet past Emory, who had turned to see what was so special about
an idle whore in an empty saloon.
But in the corner table he did not find a fallen dove, but a bird of a different color—black.
"Her name's Sister Mary Elizabeth. Says she's one of them Sisters of St. Joseph out of Tucson. Told me she's heading
to start a mission school with them Sand Pimas south of the Gila," Quinn said, puffing out his mustache.
"Damn, she's walkin' all the way?" Emory said.
"Naw, she has a mule and a donkey tethered out back. She's just another traveler like you who had to come out of that
blessed damn rain. Oh, 'scuse me, Sister."
"No offense taken, Mr. Quinn. I know I should expect to hear some coarse language in an establishment such as yours
where men gather to . . . be men," Sister Mary Elizabeth said.
"Well, I should know better, ma'am. As you can see, I am a man of letters," Quinn said, lifting the threadbare covers
of his copy of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
"It's so heartening to see a man so devoted to the written word out here, Mr. Quinn," she said and dropped her attention
to her hands and the rosary on her lap she was praying to bead-by-bead.
"Nice lady. Come in here about two hours ago. All she wants is a glass of water. I'd make her a pot of tea if I had any,
Mister . . . ? Sorry, didn't catch your name, Bub," Quinn said, turning back to Emory.
"Didn't give it. Don't matter much. I'm headed out of here as soon as this here cloudburst lets up some," Emory said. He
walked to the doorway, tucked behind one side of the jamb, and peeked at the sky as lightning flashed and illuminated a
stable, mercantile and two small houses across the muddy river of what passed for the street in Agua Bendita. He then
took off his drooping wet hat and snuck a quick look up and down the street when the lightning flashed again.
"You looking for someone, Bub?" Quinn asked.
"No, who else but we poor wandering souls would be out on a night like tonight?" Emory said. Almost instinctively, he
rested his right hand on the butt of the Peacemaker belted to his hip.
"Would you join me, young man? I do believe Mr. Quinn is quite as tired of seeing me sit here praying as I am of listening
to nothing but the rain drumming on the metal roof above us," the sister said.
Emory crossed the room and pulled out a chair from under the round table. He spun it so its back was in front of him and sat
straddling the seat as he smiled at the little nun in her white wimple and black dress and veil.
"Thank you for the company, young man. I can appreciate the need to leave here as soon as possible," she said.
"Yes'm, I'd hope to be a hell of a—oh, pardon me, ma'am—heck of a lot further west by now, but this storm is putting me in
mind of taking a boat and lining up critters two at a time and float there."
"Where is there, Mister . . . "
"Flan, ma'am. You can call me Flan like my mama did," Emory said.
"And where did you come from, Flan?"
"Oh, Texas, New Mexico, the Territories. I been around, ma'am. It's the nature of my work."
"Mine too, I guess you could say," Sister Elizabeth said with a deep laugh.
Emory, out of habit, adjusted his gun belt so the mouth of his holster opened upward, rather than toward the wall behind him,
should he ever need to clear leather at a table.
"And what is that business, Flan?" Sister Elizabeth said.
"Oh, this and that. Been a lawman, cowboy, tried ranching on my own—that was a mistake—bounty hunter, gambled some.
My problem's always been not having sense enough to walk away from a stacked deck. Always figure I can beat 'em if I keep my
wits about me."
"Have you beaten that stacked deck, Flan?"
"Once or twice, Sister. Once or twice. And what is it you do, ma'am?" Emory said with that lopsided grin.
"Oh, I do this and that, too, Flan. Teach children how to read, write and about our Savior, so you could say I preach a little,"
"Quinn says you're one of the Sisters who run the hospital in Tucson. I been there," Emory said.
"Have you? I can't say I recall seeing you. When was that?" Sister Elizabeth said, pulling her satchel closer to her chair, as
if she was afraid Emory was going to steal it.
"Oh, that was a few years ago, when I was a Deputy Marshall. Found one of the fellas I was chasing there after one of my bullets
was pulled out of his hip. All you sisters do a mighty fine job of tending to the sick, hurt, and dying. I couldn't do it."
"Well, it's what our order does, Flan. It's who we are, in Jesus' name."
"Yes'm, and a lot of folks are thankful for that. They consider you all angels from heaven, sent to this swatch of desert hell,
despite the current weather, to help keep body and soul moving to a better place," Emory said.
"Thank you, Flan. In my weaker moments, when the sin of pride takes hold of me, I like to think that's what I do best, help people
along on their way to heaven. It's a shameful thing, pride. What is it they say? It goeth . . . "
"Before a fall. Yes'm, I've found that to be the case time and again," Emory said, just as another flash of lightning lit the saloon
doorway, followed quickly by a boom of thunder. It startled both he and Sister Elizabeth, as both quickly turned to look out the doorway.
"My, that was a close one," Sister Elizabeth said, adjusting her wimple, which exposed only that portion of her face from her brow line,
around her cheeks, and beneath her chin. Emory wondered how the sisters managed to wear such a constricting garment in the heat of the
Sonora. He noticed Sister Elizabeth had loosened hers a bit beneath her chin, no doubt in a semi-sinful effort to get some air to combat
the everyday heat and now the stifling humidity from the rain.
"It seems you know where I'm going, Flan. You didn't say where you're headed," Sister Elizabeth said.
"Right now, just west. Maybe California. Always wanted to see the ocean. Want to put some distance between me and goddamn . . . gosh
darn I mean . . . desert. Though I could just as easily point ol' Major out there north tomorrow and see what life holds for us up
in Wyoming or even Montana."
"You really are footloose aren't you, Flan? In such a hurry, it seems, to be going nowhere in particular."
"Let's say I have my reasons, Sister. And we'll leave it at that," Emory said.
"Oh my, you have a tear in your shirt. Let me mend that for you. And is that blood? Are you injured? I just can't stand the sight of
blood," Sister Elizabeth placed her hand over her mouth.
"It's all right, ma'am. Really. I'll be getting a new shirt when I get where I'm going," Emory said.
"No, Flan, I insist. I have my sewing notions right here in my bag," she said while ducking down to reach into the small carpet bag next to her chair.
As her head came up, Emory already had his pistol in his hand and shot the nun in the forehead from point-blank. She pitched back in her chair
and fell face-up, her white wimple bearing a .45 caliber dot of red growing wider by the second.
"What the hell have you done?" Quinn shouted from behind Emory, instinctively pulling out the sawed off shotgun he kept under the bar.
Emory spun and aimed his re-cocked Colt at the bartender.
"Easy there, Quinn. Put down that scattergun and come over here and I'll show you," Emory said. "Slowly and with both hands showin'."
"All right, mister. Keep calm, I'm coming. Whatever you say. You've got the gun," Quinn said. The bartender gingerly stepped to the
table where he had just witnessed the cold-blooded murder of a woman of God.
"Come closer, Quinn. Look at the notion she pulled out of her bag," Emory said. The bartender looked down at the nun's limp body,
her eyes open under the now-bloody wimple, and saw a .32 caliber Colt Lightning dangling by its trigger guard from her right index finger.
Quinn let out a low whistle and said, "What in the hell?"
Emory pulled aside the table and tore the bloody veil and wimple off, which caused Quinn to gasp again.
"She . . . she's bald," he said.
"No, Quinn, he's bald. Sister Elizabeth here looks to be Little Billy Travis, a hairless little back-shooting desert rat I hear
works for Luka Mendez down in El Paso. Mendez's son, Manolito and I had a bit of a scrape a couple of weeks ago in Mesilla. I walked
away with a knife slash, he didn't. I heard the old man wanted vengeance, so I lit out of El Paso pretty quick like. Shoulda turned
north sooner, I guess," Emory said.
"How'd you know? I had no idea," Quinn said.
"Two things. The topper was when Sister Elizabeth here said she got all queasy at the sight of blood. Like she said, those Sisters of St.
Joseph run a hospital in Tucson. Doubt a nurse would get so ill as Billy here acted over a little blood on my shirt."
"Really? What else?"
"When he leaned over to pull the bag closer, after that last close lightning strike, and then again when he went to fetch his piece, this
here nun get-up slipped down his neck and I saw something no nun I ever heard of had."
"What was that, Bub?" Quinn said.
"A big ol' Adam's apple . . . Bub."