You found Nizoni’s body in a barn outside Dead End, Arizona. She’d been beaten, raped, but she’d fought back. The band of men – a dozen or so in number – had stayed there for two days with their three captives.
The man at the trading post had traded with the men when they came through town. He knew of them, called them the Drowned Coyotes. Bandits. Ghost Rock smugglers out of Lost Angels. He said they were headed for Tombstone, though he wouldn’t say how he knew. But he drew you a picture, a coyote, drawn the old Anasazi way, he said they all have one tattooed on the backs of their hands.
Weeks later, you arrived in Tombstone, sick from bad water you were forced to drink in the desert. A Hopi man named Joe took you in and let you recover in the small house he shared with his aged grandfather whose name, as far as you could determine, was simply Grandfather.
You woke from a fever-dream one night to find Grandfather sitting quietly on the chair next to your bed. He laid a papery hand on your arm.
“You will not catch the ones you seek this way,” he mumbled in passable Navajo, “I have had a dream. Rest.”
For the next week as you recovered, Grandfather didn’t admit to the encounter, or, indeed, acknowledge your presence at all. It wasn’t until you rose the morning you planned to leave and found him waiting with Joe and a young Chinese man in the home’s kitchen.
“Ahiga,” Grandfather says, this time in barely passable English, “I have had a dream.”
Joe slides a mug of coffee over to you with an ever-so-slight roll of his eyes.
“You will go to Abilene. Raven has spoken to Lizard, who has spoken to Rat. A guide awaits you there. You will find what you seek. But you must beware the howling wind.”
“I’m sorry, Ate,” you say, “Abilene is so far, how could those I seek be there?”
“Grandfather-” Joe starts, but the old man bangs his tin cup on the table.
In the distance you hear a steam engine on the Bayou Vermillion line blow its whistle. Grandfather gives everyone a stern look with his blind, rheumy eyes.
“This man,” he points to the Chinaman, “has a destiny there as well. You will travel there together and face it. The men in town call him Chinese Ed.”
“Fwied wice.” says Chinese Ed quietly, but cheerfully.
“Why do they call him that, Grandfather?” you ask.
“Because he is Chinese. And his name is Ed.”
Unable to afford train fare, you and Chinese Ed head northeast through New Mexico. For months, the man’s only words to you in English are “Fwied Wice!”, but you rapidly work out a series of Chinese words and gestures to get through the days. You come to suspect, however, that he has a perfectly keen grasp of English. You don’t press the issue.
One snowy fall evening in the mountains, you’re set upon by a madman with a rifle, a psychotic cackle, and the benefit of high ground. Before you even have a chance to react, Chinese Ed vaults up the outstretched branches of the pines as a feather on the breeze and snaps the man’s neck with his bare hands.
He takes a long time to come back down the mountainside, during which you make camp and get a fire started. He comes to the fire quietly, almost unnaturally so, bearing an armload of mundane survival items he must’ve taken from the dead man above.
“Rifle dirty, broken.” he says quietly. You nod.
“People treat you like a fool, say things they don’t want you to hear, when they do not think you understand.”
“I understand,” you reply.
“Joe told me your story. You think your woman lives?”
He nods at that. “My master’s name was Gai Phan. Raised me like a son. One of Kwan’s Traid, a man named Johnny Wu killed him. Johnny Wu left Kwan and now is in Abilene, or so I hear.”
“All this for vengeance?” you ask.
“For vengeance,” he says, nodding.
Later, after you’ve tamped the fire and laid down to sleep and Chinese Ed has walked away from the light in order to better keep watch, you hear his voice from somewhere in the trees above you, “If your woman is dead, I will avenge her with you.”
It is the dead of winter as the two of you walk down a dirt trail through Kansas farmlands some miles outside of Abilene. A young girl, perhaps in her early teens bursts from the winter wheat and onto the road. She’s dirty, wearing boys clothes of a style found back east. She has a bit of slate on a rope around her neck, and a massive, mangy-looking rat clinging to her shoulder for dear life. She skids to a stop at your feet, looking from the rat at her shoulder to you with wide eyes.
She grabs up the slate, scribbles something on it with a piece of chalk, and holds it up to you.
“I’m sorry girl,” you say, “I do not read.”
The girl deflates slightly and holds the slate up to Chinese Ed.
“Fwied wice!” he says.
The girl turns red. She starts shaking slightly. Then, in a tiny, sweet, clear voice she screams “FUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!”
And then there’s the explosion.