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(Arizona Territory, 1880)

Laying his six-shooter down on the dirt and standing back up, Derek spread open his hands, palms up. A slight breeze rustled the trees around them. After a moment, a short, lean Indian emerged from behind a large juniper, eyes earnest, hand gripping the hilt of the knife in his belt. Barely resisting the urge to dive for his pistol, the big scout’s hand twitched slightly. The warrior…no…a woman dressed as a warrior walked up to Fallon until she faced her squarely. Nose flat, nostrils to each side, the weathered face of the petite Apache exuded the air of command. Other braves began emerging from various points around and above them, rifle butts near their cheeks, barrels trained on Derek. A feeling of rage rose in his chest as the warriors inched closer.

Speaking something to Fallon, the woman stepped around and came near to the big scout. Looking up into his face, as if searching for something, she stared for a long while. Derek felt he was an open book to her, but he didn’t move or break her gaze. Finally, seeming satisfied, she lifted her hand, signaling the men to hold their advance. Then her right hand moved toward her mouth, gesturing with her index finger pointing out away from her lips, then pointing up. Derek knew the sign; honest man.

The women spoke in what he assumed to be Apache, and he felt the stress in Fallon’s voice. She seemed unable to find the words quickly enough, finally breaking into hand talking. The way her fingers and the Indian woman’s hands moved swiftly, Derek saw that his friend asked, then pleaded for passage through the mountains, but the Indian woman gave no grace. Signaling rapidly, both of them sometimes pointing to the sky making hand talk for bird, the Apache woman finally gave an abrupt signal, palm thrusting out vertically meaning, go. As the woman backed away, braves lowered their weapons, and, without a sound, faded back into the landscape.

She knows these people. Derek realized that Fallon didn’t live with them as a slave, but as an equal. They made her one of them!

Seeing the last Apache disappear, Derek knew they’d be watched from a distance. When the danger had apparently passed, he looked over at Fallon, who’s head hung down as her shoulders sagged in resignation. After a long while, she turned around toward him, obviously shaken, muttering, “They’re gonna let us live.”

“What’s the squaw say?”

“Her name’s Lozen. She’s the one who rescued me at the river. She protected me. The warriors didn’t attack us just now because of her word.” Grief welling up in her eyes, she shook, “Derek, she said I can never come back to the tribe. I’m an outcast. She said I am a danger to her people. We may go in peace back down the mountain, but we will have no safe passage through their land.”

“Well, that just beats all,” Derek said, “that’s just where we needs to go! Damn it to hell, there’s a cavalry regiment comin’, and the posse. Even if we’s was in open country, we’d can’ts lose ’em both.”

Fallon wiped her eyes and looked up at Derek. “She said something else, too, strange-like. She said the earth shook and she heard thunder as a great bird appeared in the sky. The bird said that her people must leave this place and stopped up this spring as a sign. It is an bad omen for her people. She’s right, I noticed that the water has almost stopped flowing, not like when I saw it before.”

Looking back down the mountain, Derek said, “Fill all the canteens, we’s better gets a move on.” In his mind he knew, though, that their option for a clean getaway just vanished. Five men, yes, that was doable, but a cavalry regiment? They’d be pinned down in the hills or run down in the open desert. As Fallon busied getting water, against everything in his heart, his head knew that breaking off and leading the posse and soldiers away from his new friend was the only way to save her life. Of course, he’d be shot or hanged, but at least there was a chance she might live.

Checking his saddle, mounting his horse, Derek shook his head. I can’ts.

Derek watched Fallon strap two canteens of cold spring water across either side of her horse’s withers. His heart struggled, and Fallon looked hard at him, seeming to guess his intent. Walking over, she stood and looked up at the mounted scout. “In case you’re thinkin’ it mister, you’re not leavin’ me. We’re stickin’ together no matter what.”

Staring down for a moment, surprised, Derek steadied his horse. “How’s you knows?” Then he looked away, feeling his emotions slosh inside him like water in a pail carried too fast. Not meeting her eyes, he said, “You knows its the only way. I’s ‘fraid’s you and I are out of trail, you knows whats will happen if’s they catch us.”

Voice decidedly firm, Fallon said, “In that whorehouse you found me in I was out of trail, too, but you were different than I expected. Don’t know how He’ll do it, but the good Lord didn’t save me from that hell hole just to let us to die in this one. You said I had a place with you as long as I want. Well, I’m outcast in both worlds now. I’m tellin’ you true, Derek, I ain’t quittin’ you for nothin’!”

As if a rusty door creaked opened in his heart, he nodded in admiration as he looked in her eyes. “I’s hears you, Miss Fallon.”

Fallon became quiet and looked back up the mountain. “There’s somethin’ else….”

Taking his hat off, wiping the sweat from his brow, Derek said, “Now what?”

“Lozen said, ‘Thunderbird has come. Wait for her.'”

“What’s that Indian myth go to do with anythin’?” Derek sighed.


Sniffing the wind, thoroughly enjoying herself, Gloria yapped at everything that moved, real or perceived. Shirley smiled, happy that his little pup was having fun. A young man who hadn’t said much since town, rode up beside the big Swede. “I like your dog, sir. She just a pup or full grown?”

Removing his hat from shading the little poodle and putting it back on his sunburned head, Shirley said, “Barely six months old. She was the runt of the litter, but she’s doing fine now. What your name, son?”

“Dale, sir.”

“First time on a posse?”

Yes sir, first time on anything like this.”

“What you going to do with your 20 dollars?” Gloria’s master asked.

Looking bashful, the young man said, “I’m just a poor ranch hand, but I aims to buy my sweetheart a store-bought ring, just like the folks do back east. I’m going to ask Bessy to marry me when I get back to Tombstone.”

Shirley smiled, “Well, that’s about the finest reason I ever heard to come on a posse. Just don’t get shot!”


An uneasy feeling encroached on Derek’s mind like an annoying fly as he rode. What’d she mean, ‘Thunderbird’? What’s that crazy Injun warnin’ us about? That spirit world stuffs makes me edgy. He finally asked Fallon, “What do you think that squaw meant?”

“She’s not a squaw, she is a great Medicine Woman. When she speaks it means a lot, Derek. And I don’t know what she meant. To the Indians the thunderbird protects people. She was so excited. I’ve never seen her like that before. The Apache believe that birds are good; they are the ones who made war to bring the light. After a long battle they won. From then on, birds were symbols of power, justice, and great wisdom.”

Further down the mountain, a bird’s call echoed off the sides of the canyon, and Derek noted it with a chill. A presence seemed to fall about them. Ah, tarnation, that’s just a coincidence.

Fallon looked up at the rocks, “Sounds like an eagle.”

Derek, listening a moment longer said, “No, it’s not an eagle, but I can’ts place it.” Continuing between the high, smooth rock faces, some precariously placed on top of each other, Derek and his companion wound their way down around squat trees on a meager trail barely bigger than a foot path. Like marbles left scattered by a giant’s child, huge boulders cast welcome shade as they rode around them.


A long, repeating call bounced around the canyon as a great bird took to flight to the right of them. Looking up, Derek exclaimed, “Look at that!” Huge violet-tinged wings flapped as the large bird soared over the rocks and out of sight.

Fallon gasped in wonder. “It’s so big! Let’s follow it, Derek!”

Just then, Fallon heard a gun shot, ricocheting off a big boulder near Derek’s horse, then another hit wide again on the stone, chipping it. Derek’s horse reared, casting him sideways, hat crumpling as his head crashed against the smooth tan stone of a boulder, felling him to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Fallon screamed, “Derek!” Jumping off her horse and rushing to his side, she squatted near where he lay dazed, blood flowing freely from a gash on his temple as his eyes rolled up. The big man tried to get up, then fell, then tried to rise again. I’ve got to stop the bleeding. She took the bottom of her dress between her hands, pulling in opposite directions, ripping it until she had a strip. Placing the torn cloth to his scalp, she pressed down, saying, “Derek, you’ve got to hold still. Please.”

Stopping his struggle, Derek lifted his hand to head, then fumbled for his gun. “No, Derek, be still, wait until the bleedin’ stops.” Behind her, though, spurs jingled, making her whip around, as a man, gun drawn, approached. The stranger, a slight smile on his thin lips, took spectacles out of his pocket with one hand, placing them carefully on his face, then adjusted his hat. “Get away,” Fallon yelled, putting herself between Derek and the stranger.

The gunfighter moved part of his poncho aside, revealing a tin star. “Move away, little Missy. Your beau’s about to make me very famous.”