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Dan Greely limped slowly eastward, along the old highway. The empty bed of the Columbia River dropped away on his right, a huge gash of cracked clay and weathered gray rock. The Pipeline gleamed dull silver, half buried in the middle of the riverbed in this stretch. The Drylands lay at his back, The Dalles ahead, down the riverbed, hidden by the high walls of the Columbia Gorge. A semi roared past, a single rig, maybe a local making up with a convoy. Not much traffic. Dan wiped sweat and grit from his face, shaded his eyes against the glare of the setting sun. Those were the old falls, up ahead. Already. He lowered his head and limped on. It had been a long time since he had been back here.

Those ledges of stone looked the same, as if the heat had dried up time in this place, preserved it, like the shriveled carcass of a coyote he’d found out in the Dry once, a year old or a dozen years. He sneaked a glance at the dusty ledges of the long-dead falls.

Someone stood on the edge, where the rocks jutted out over the deepest part of the riverbed. Dan caught his breath, thought he saw the flutter of black hair on the hot wind.

Amy was dead. Long dead. The figure was gone, had been nothing but a shimmer of heat, he told himself, a trick of mind and memory and heat. He wrenched his eyes away from the falls and his foot turned as a rock rolled beneath it. His pack pulled him off balance and he hissed through his teeth as his weight came down on his bad knee. The sudden searing pain caught him by surprise, kicked his feet out from under him. Tires blurred by in a rush of motion, inches from his face as he sprawled onto the crumbling asphalt.

Brakes screeched and doors slammed. “Hey, you all right?” Footsteps scraped on sandy asphalt. “I damn near ran over you.”

“My knee.” Dan breathed shallowly, sweating.

“Let’s see.” A man squatted beside him, lean and weathered brown. “Jesse, come take a look, will you? You got the touch for this sort of thing.”

A woman joined him, older, with a lined, sun-dried face and a thick braid of gray hair.

“I twisted it some days back. Just now . . . stepped wrong. Or something.” He sucked in a breath as the woman squatted beside him and began to prod and twist his knee gently. “That hurts.”

“Might be just a sprain.” She didn’t relent with her probing. “Might be you finally tore something. Can’t tell with joints.” Her faded shirt flapped in the wind as she shrugged and rocked back on her heels. “A splint’s the best you can do. Get off it and give it some rest. It’ll get better or it won’t.” She said it resentfully, as if Dan had asked her for a handout.

Well, he hadn’t asked her for anything. “Could you folks give me a ride into town?” he said through clenched teeth. Although what he’d do there if he couldn’t stand or walk, he didn’t have a clue.

“You heard Jesse.” The man shook his head, slapped dust from his faded jeans as he stood. “You can’t walk around like that. You stay a couple of days with us, rest that knee up, and I’ll give you a ride into town come market day. Maria won’t mind.”

“Hell she won’t, Sam.” The woman tossed her braid back over her shoulder. “Maria has enough trouble feeding you all as it is. He can stay with me, since you’re going to be stubborn. Renny just left with a convoy and won’t be back ’till next weekend. I’ve got space.”

She was speaking over Dan’s head as if he was deaf or a car-hit dog. “Thanks, Ma’am,” Dan said and he made his voice humble and polite. He didn’t feel polite. The weight of that pain scared him. What if he had torn something? What then? “I appreciate it,” he said, and he did, never mind her attitude. You took what was offered and said thank you. Or you died.

He took the man’s offered hand, and he needed it to get up, even without his pack. As soon as he started to put weight on his knee it buckled. His belly sour with fear, he leaned on the man, made it to the cab of the truck and onto the patched seat. They squeezed in beside him, smelling of sweat and dust. He didn’t want to be stuck here, so close to the falls and the past.

“I’m Sam Montoya,” the man said. “This here is Jesse Warren.” He chuckled. “She barks but she don’t bite.”

“I’m Dan Greely. From La Grande.” Not recently, but it was a name to give.

Dan braced himself against the dash, trying to spare his knee, as the truck lurched down off the highway, onto a dirt track. He clenched his teeth against the pain as they bounced and jolted up out of the Gorge. Vertical ridges of gray rock rose on their left. On their right, the Columbia bed looked like a dry wound in the earth’s crust. With a groan of gears, the truck heaved itself over the rim and out onto rolling land.

“Darn ethanol don’t got no oomph,” Montoya grumbled.

Jesse didn’t say anything.

Dan stared out at dusty soaker-hose fields, recognizing the leaves of the ultra-engineered soybeans pretty much everyone was growing now. If they weren’t growing biomass bushes. Dead, dun land separated the rows of beans, dotted with sparse clumps of tough grass. A dustdevil twisted across a rocky draw, stirring the tumbleweed skeletons. Water for crops meant you had something. If you didn’t have it, you found something that the people with water wanted.

No one gave anything away. Not anymore.

So what did this man want? He would want something. Dizzy and a little sick from the truck’s jolting, Dan closed his eyes. He didn’t like not knowing the price in advance.

The truck turned off on a narrow track that led back toward the riverbed, stopped finally in front of a small, weathered house at the very edge of the Gorge. Rows of soybeans surrounded it, and a gray barn sagged behind a tumble-down pole corral. Dan slid cautiously down from the truck cab. The steel cube of a Corps water meter jutted up beside the porch.

The Corps of Engineers controlled all the water now. There were no more private wells, not since the Groundwater Mining Act had passed. Here, it came from the enormous, buried Pipeline that protected all that was left of the Columbia River. Dan let Montoya help him up the sagging steps. It felt almost cool inside the house. The main room was small — a table, a few wooden chairs, and a wood stove made up the furniture.

Montoya pulled out a chair. “Sit down and I’ll bring your pack in.”

It felt really good to sit still. Dan looked around. This was an old house — almost a shack — cobbled together out of dried-out, gray wood and warped, ancient sheets of plasterboard. Two lean-to bedrooms opened into the main room. That was it. Dan eased his leg up onto a second chair.

“This’ll help with the swelling. I’ll wrap it later.” Jesse draped a wet cloth across his knee.

Dan’s skin twitched at the cold wetness soaked through his jeans. He leaned forward to fold it across his kneecap. It had been some time since he’d been in a house with water from a tap. Out in the Dry, in a land without water meters, they cleaned dishes with sand, watered plants one at a time, with a bucket and dipper. The magic tricks and stories he had to offer, the gossip from the last settlement, earned him a mug of water, some food if there was any to spare, and a bed.

It was a risk to come back here, but he’d run out of choices. It was getting worse out there. He touched the sodden cloth on his knee, watched a crystal drop fall to the wood floor. He’d make out all right here, he told himself fiercely. His knee would get better.

“Water?” Jesse plunked an orange plastic pitcher and three glasses down on the table.

You got used to being thirsty, didn’t think about it. Until someone offered you water. “Thanks.” Dan took the glass she handed him, made himself drink it slowly. Politely.

“You headed for The Dalles?” Montoya thumped his pack down on the floor, and picked up a glass.

“I don’t think the Corps is hiring.” Jesse refilled his glass. “No other jobs.”

“I’m not looking for a job.” Not with the Corps, that was for sure. This time, it was easier to drink slowly. Pipeline water. He drank it anyway. “I’m a magician. And a storyteller. I was on my way into town to try a show.”

Screened by the table top, he’d pulled the handkerchief out of his pocket, folded into a tiny, tight roll, and had tucked it between his palm and thumb while they were looking at the water being poured. Time to start paying for his stay here. He let them notice his empty palms as he gestured, waved his hand over the pitcher, and shook out the handkerchief with a flourish, as if he’d just pulled it from the spout.

It was smooth. Montoya whistled.

Jesse grunted. “You had that rag in your hand.”

“You ought to do pretty good in town. Not too many can afford wireless service. Costs too much.” Montoya set his glass down, winked at Dan. “I’d part with some dried pears or a bag of beans for a show like that. A lot of folks would.”

“If you’ve got any pears to part with.” Jesse scowled at him, tugged on her braid. “Water bill’s due this week, remember? You got to pay that, first.”

“We can cover it. We did okay with the early beet crop.” Montoya touched her arm lightly. “Take care of our friend here, Jesse. Maria’s gonna be mad if I’m not back by dark.”

“She’ll be scared, is what she’ll be.” Jesse watched him leave. “Sam’s always too ready to help.” She threw Dan a hard look. “Maria’s got another little one, and they barely got by before that.”

Dan sipped water, his pain turning into anger again, dry and bitter as the dust on his skin. “Out in the Dry, people don’t have too many kids,” he said softly. “Not for long anyway.”

Jesse stared at him for a moment, her face still, empty of expression. “I’ve got to weed, now that it’s cooled off some.” Her chair scraped on the floor as she stood.

That had been stupid. Dan listened to the screen door bang behind her, his lips tight. She could throw him out. He stuffed the handkerchief back into his pocket. Montoya had even brought in his stick. Dan bent for it, listened, heard nothing but wind and the distant croak of a crow. What if his knee didn’t get better? He fought the pain as he made his way across the floor. Yeah, he could get around if he had to. Barely. The dizziness caught up with him again, and he leaned against the doorframe of one of the bedrooms, sweat crawling slowly down his face.

A dresser and a double bed took up most of the small room. Paintings had been pinned to the plasterboard walls. Watercolors? Dan risked a limping step into the room. A river twined across a dozen sheets of paper, full of graygreen water. The Columbia? The painted banks were a blur of greens and soft browns. Had it really looked like that once?

A glint of gold caught Dan’s eye. A necklace hung from the corner of a picture frame on the dresser. Dan picked up the chain, twined it around his fingers. It felt like real gold. A thick amber bead hung from the fine links, a tiny fly embedded in its golden depths. Dan looked at the picture. A woman stared up at him through a windblown tangle of dark hair. She was smiling, but her eyes looked reserved. Private.

She looked a little like a younger Jesse.


Dan’s hand twitched and the necklace fell with a tiny clatter.

“I though your knee hurt.” Jesse stood behind him, hip cocked against the doorframe.

“It does.” Dan tried to control his flush. “I was looking at your paintings.”

“Uh huh.” Jesse’s eyes measured him. “That’s Renny,” she said. “My daughter.” She held out a couple of newly split and peeled twigs. “I’ll put a splint on that knee for you.” She bent to retrieve the necklace. “Stay out of my room.”

“Yes, ma’am.”


Montoya showed up next morning. Dan was sitting at the table, polishing a tricky double-lift and little-finger-break combination for a sandwiched ace trick.

“How’s the knee?” Montoya set a plastic jug down on the table.

“Better.” Dan touched the bandage Jesse had made from what looked like a torn sheet. The stick splints helped. “Take a card.” He offered Montoya the pack, then dealt the two black aces face-up onto the table top. “Five of diamonds.” He slipped Montoya’s five openly between the aces. With a flourish, he picked up the three cards, placed them on top of the pack and tapped it square. “Now, sir, your five of diamonds has vanished.” He spread the top two cards.

Only the black aces stared up at them, and Dan heard Montoya grunt. “Let’s see if I can find them for you.” Solemnly, he spread the pack face-down across the table. The two red aces winked face-up from the middle of the spread, a single card sandwiched between them. Without a word, Dan reached for it, flipped it over.

“My five.” Montoya picked up the card, turned it over his thick fingers. “Pretty neat.” He gave Dan a slow smile. “You do that good, magician.”

“It’s just a trick, Sam.” Jesse stood in the doorway, skinny arms crossed, brown dirt staining her hands.

“You’re right.” Dan gathered up the cards. “It takes two little maneuvers that I don’t let you notice, and I set the pack up first.”

“We must seem awful stupid.” Montoya tapped the deck of cards. “Gawking like we do. Thick-headed.”

“You got a better idea?” Dan shrugged and tucked the cards away, knowing he should keep his mouth shut. “It’s an honest trade. I take the time to learn how to make it look good, you get to be impressed for a minute or two.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Montoya said mildly. He cleared his throat. “You get your bill from the Corps yet?” he asked Jesse.

“Nope. I can’t pay it until Renny gets in, anyway. I’m short.” Jesse scowled at the plastic jug on the table. “How come you’ve got milk to waste?”

“I wasn’t plannin’ on wasting it. I thought we’d drink it, if you’ll get us some cups. We got our bill yesterday.” He leaned his arms on the table. “We got a foreclosure notice.”

“Foreclosure?” Jesse scowled, spilled drops of milk. “You’re not that far behind, Sam.”

“We are now.” Montoya’s smile vanished. “The Corps hiked the rate again. Re-tro-ac-tive.” He dragged the syllables out. “The Columbia Association is behind it. That means we’re gonna owe more for the last six months. The beans ain’t gonna cover that, no matter how good the crop comes in.”

“They’ll cut you off if you don’t pay.” She handed round the cups of milk, frowning. “Renny can lend you the scrip to pay off the hike.”

Montoya shook his head, frowning. “Sara Dorner showed up this morning, all upset. It’s not just me. They’re doing it to everybody between The Dalles and the Deschutes bed.”

“You sound like you think there’s something we can do about it.” Jesse put her cup down.

“We can stick together and stand up to the Association!” Montoya stared into his cup. “If we don’t, if we don’t hang on, we’ll dry up and blow away like the dirt, blow right on out into the Drylands. Or into the camps.” He stood up. “I got to get going. Think about it, Jesse.”

“You can’t fight them,” Jesse yelled after him. “Why don’t you listen to Maria and take care of your own family for a change?” She whipped around to glare down at Dan. “Why didn’t you tell him that it’s no use?” she snapped.

Dan shrugged. The milk was warm as blood, rich and goaty. How long since he’d tasted milk? Out in the Dry, people didn’t have too many milking animals. What you coaxed out of the ground, you mostly ate yourself. When they had it, they didn’t trade it for card tricks. He shifted his weight, stretched his leg tentatively. He could walk, even if it hurt. If he took it slow, he could get around. Another day, he thought. And he’d move on.

Through the window, you could see clear down into the old riverbed and the falls. He hadn’t noticed it yesterday, but it had been getting dusk. Dan sucked in a breath as he spied a tiny figure standing on the worn lip of the cliff, just like yesterday. A kid, he told himself. Playing. He jumped as Jesse leaned over his shoulder.

“That’s old Celilo Falls,” she said. “My grandmother grew up on the Warm Springs Reservation. She used to tell me stories about the falls. All the tribes used to fish here.” She stared down at the dry ledges. “She talked like she’d been there herself, watching the men spear salmon from the platforms. She couldn’t have been that old.” She laughed shortly. “Hell, maybe she was. I don’t know.”

Jesse turned away. “They drowned it all, you know. Way back in the old days. When they built The Dalles dam. She said the Salmon People kept it safe. When I was little, she told me that one day, the water would go down and it would all be there, just like in the old days.” Jesse laughed.

“When the reservoir started going down and they finished the Trench Reservoir and started the Pipeline, I used to sit here and watch the rocks show a little more every week. That was when I was pregnant and not sure just how I ended up that way. Sometimes I thought I could almost see them — up there on the platforms, stabbing the fish with their long spears. I was just hungry, I guess, and a little crazy. Hadn’t been any salmon in that river for years.” Jesse plunked a heavy pot down on the table. “There’s nothing out there but dust. Here’s the rest of last night’s beans, if you’re hungry.”

She sounded angry, like she was sorry she’d said so much. Dan looked out the window again, but the figure had vanished from the ledge. Jesse was old enough to remember water in the riverbed. Dan couldn’t do it, couldn’t imagine that enormous ditch all full of clear water, millions of gallons of it.

Amy had been able to see it. This place remembers, she had said, the first time she’d gone out on a patch crew. The super had let her bring him along, little though he was. You can see how the river used to be when you stand up here, she had said. Amy would have recognized Jesse’s watercolors.

“I know what the Association is up to,” he said.

Jesse turned and looked back at him, the empty milk jug in her hand.

“They want your land,” Dan said harshly. “They’re in bed with the Corps. They can bring in crew labor from the Portland camps, make more money farming beans and wheat than they can get from selling you water.”

“That seems like a lot of trouble for the Corps, when all they have to do is send out bills right now.” She frowned.

“It’s getting more expensive to mine water. And protect it.” Dan shrugged. “I bet the Association gives the Corps a kickback, once they take over here. Gang labor’s cheap and permanent. They’re using it in the Willamette Valley. The Association owns a lot of land it got back on water-foreclosure. You got to buy everything from the boss when you work on a gang, and pretty soon, they own you.”

Amy had signed them on. He had been ten, and Amy had been desperate, scared by how close they’d come to dying as they hitched north from California. He remembered that — how she was always scared.

“Profit.” Dan looked out at the dead falls. “They’ve got the water. They can farm the dirt cheap.”

“You worked on a gang,” Jesse said.

“Right here. The Association provided contract grunt labor for the Pipe. When I was a kid.” The silver glitter of the Pipe down in the dusty bed hurt his eyes.

What’s going to happen to you? Amy had cried, when she had started getting sick and couldn’t work her shift anymore. I told Mom I’d take care of you.

“You’re not going to beat the Association,” he said.

“I’m not planning to try.” Jesse turned her back on him.


Jesse was in the field, cleaning silt out of the feeder tubing, when Montoya drove up next afternoon. Dan sat on the porch, shelling dry beans for market and counting the crop rows, figuring yields. The dry pods crackled between his palms. Jesse didn’t have enough land under hoses to get by. Good thing that she had a trucker daughter to bring in scrip. The necklace was back hanging on the picture. It would be worth a lot in, say, Portland. If he wanted to do that again. Steal. He tossed a handful of pale, pebble-hard beans into the pan. He needed to get out of here. Now. Too many ghosts.

Dan nodded to Montoya as he climbed out of the truck. Maybe he could talk Montoya into giving him a ride into town. He could get a hitch there.

“Lo, Sam.” Jesse came around the corner, wiping sweat and dust from her face.

“Sara Dorner came over this morning,” Montoya said, without preamble. “A couple of Association people came out to make an offer on their land. They offered Matt and Sara a job, too.”

“Let me guess.” Jesse tossed her tube-brush onto the porch. “Matt shot ’em.”

“Nope.” Montoya sighed. “But I guess he did cut up rough, threw a few punches. They took off before he could get around to using the rifle. Sara’s pretty upset, afraid they’ll be back to arrest him.”

“Matt’s a short-tempered fool.” Hands on her hips, Jesse glared at Montoya. “I bet Maria’s real happy about you being in the middle of all this.”

“They’ll get around to us pretty soon, so I guess we’d better talk to the Association folks. Jesse?” Montoya spread his hands. “They got to see we’re all together on this. Otherwise they’re gonna pick us off one at a time.”

Jesse glared at him, gave Dan a quick, hostile look. “All right.” Her shoulders sagged suddenly. “I’ll come be a warm body for you, Sam, but it’s not going to work.”

“It will if we make it work. You got to believe that.” Montoya touched her arm. “That’s all we got.”

Jesse shook her head without answering.

“How about you?” Montoya turned to Dan. “Like Jesse says, we could use warm bodies. After market, I’ll give you a ride west as far as Chenowen.”

As if he’d been reading Dan’s mind. “All right,” he said.


Dan met the man’s dark eyes. “You know, if you make this work, if you bring everybody together . . .” He paused. “They’ll just shoot you.”

Montoya said nothing and his eyes didn’t waver.

“I’ll get my stick.” Dan turned away.


The Dorner place was way south, at the fringe of the irrigated land. A trailer house sat crookedly on the concrete blocks, surrounded by fields of genetically engineered sugar beets, destined for the ethanol stills. The dark green beet tops drooped in the heat, revealing the black-and-gray network of soaker hose and feeder lines between the neat rows.

“They’re shut off,” Jesse said.

“Looks like it.” Montoya stared at the beet rows and shook his head.

The Association didn’t have to come out personally to shut off water. The Corps controlled the meters from The Dalles. All of them. Dan braced himself as the truck bounced through sun-hardened ruts. The hot wind whipped the dust away from the tires, riffled the drying tops of the beets. Once they went down, beets didn’t come back. The dark roots looked too small to be worth much. By tomorrow, the Dorners would lose the crop.

Montoya pulled the truck up beside a flatbed and a scatter of battered pickups. Tethered to a decrepit wagon, a bony Appaloosa swished its tail at flies. Twenty or thirty men and women milled in front of a sagging wire gate. The wind snatched at their clothes, fluttering shirttails like faded flags.

“Hey, Sam,” someone called out.

“Carl’s just finishin’ up the pipe,” a small, round-faced woman said.

Dan followed the looks. A crooked line of old, galvanized irrigation pipe led from a pile of freshly dug dirt down the slope and out of sight. Someone had the tools and technical skills to cut into one of the Corps’ big feeder lines, then. As he watched, water bubbled out of a joint in the old pipe, darkening the ocher soil like spilled blood. Someone cheered, and, in a moment, everyone was cheering.

They really didn’t know the Association very well. The pipes belonged to the Corps. They’d just stand back and let the Corps deal with it. Dan leaned against the fender of the flatbed. Jesse stood on the far side of the crowd, arms crossed, watching the celebration. She looked up suddenly and their eyes met. Her lips crooked into a faint smile, sardonic and intimate at the same time.

Dan looked away, flushing.

“Here they come.” A lanky kid perched on the flatbed’s cab, pointed.

“They must’ve been waiting for us to do something,” a woman said.

Someone had tipped them off about this little demonstration, Dan thought. Men and women sidled together, bunching up as a van growled toward them, raising a flaring tail of dust. Columbia River Association glared from the sides in red letters.

“Where’s Matt?” someone called out.

“Safe. Sara’s with him. And Tom.”

Dan watched the guns come out — old hunting rifles, some shotguns, and a few pistols. The van pulled up in a swirl of dust. Three men got out, wearing the Association’s short-sleeved khaki uniforms. Not one of them carried a weapon.

Dan watched the crowd notice that. He watched the rifle barrels waver and the pistols disappear into pockets again. Folks thought they were the first ever to stand up to them. The Association would send people who knew how to handle a crowd. They always did.

“I’d like to talk to Matthew Robert Dorner.” The shortest of the three stepped forward. His tone was friendly, like he’d just dropped by to chat.

“He’s not here!” someone yelled belligerently, and the crowd murmured, closing in more tightly.

“Look, folks, I’m not here to pick a fight with you.” The short man sounded tired. “We’re down here to oversee water distribution for the Corps, that’s all. They’ve got enough on their plate keeping the Pipeline in operation.” He took his cap off, wiped his face on his sleeve. “You know how far the water table in the Columbia Aquifer’s dropped in the last twelve months? In about five more years, we won’t be able to pump from it at all. Every drop you use will have to come from the Trench Reservoir and the Pipe. The price of water is going to go up fast, starting now.” He turned slowly, his eyes moving from one dusty face to another. “Most of you are hardworking folk. Don’t cut your own throats for the sake of the ones who aren’t. There’s only so much water, folks. That’s it. Beginning, middle, and end of story.”

The wind rustled through the wilted beet tops. Men and women traded sidelong looks, shuffled their feet in the dust.

The Association man cleared his throat. “Water piracy is a big-time felony. You draw a lot of federal years.” He looked over their heads, up into the hard blue sky. “You can get the death penalty, depending on how much you hurt folk down-flow. I know you folks are upset. It’s tough, watching someone you know go under. I suppose, since I didn’t actually see anyone hole that pipe, I could just patch it, write it up as a materials failure.”

Slick. Dan stretched his aching knee gently. The man was putting himself on their side, just one of the thirsty, fighting the drought like everyone else. Underneath his smile, he was letting them know they couldn’t win. He’d do a smooth card trick, Dan thought sourly.

He watched the eyes shift some more, feet scuff up more dust. They were listening to the ugly echoes of felony and death sentence, deciding they could meet the rate hike somehow, and that Matt was a reckless fool, not worth risking the family for. Nobody took risks for anyone else anymore. You had enough risks of your own. Dan leaned against the hot metal, waiting to see who’d sneak away first.

“We could maybe understand your rate hike.” Montoya stepped out of the crowd, thumbs tucked into his belt. “We know it costs a lot to feed all those Corps people while they keep the Pipe flowing. And we gotta pay Canada for the water that feeds the Rocky Mountain Trench. We know all that. It’s this retroactive bit that’s hard to swallow.” His smile looked weathered, as old as the cliffs. “We’ve given you whatever you asked for, worked ourselves ’till we drop to pay off your water. Matt ’n Sara ain’t no lazy bums. They work as hard as any of us, and they could make the hike. They can’t make the hike you laid on the last six months of water. None of us can.” He tilted his head, his eyes on the Association man. “Seems kind of . . . well . . . coincidental, you offerin’ to buy ’em out like that. You in the land business now?”

“That was charity.” The Association man’s voice had lost a bit of its smooth tone.

“Was it?” Montoya frowned, appearing to consider. “Seems like you could’a waived the retroactive hike for charity. Matt ’n Sara work as hard as any of us. If they go down, I figure we’re all gonna go down. Where are we gonna go? Since I don’t think we have any good options, I guess we’d better figure something out.”

Dan heard the responsive murmur, even though Montoya’s tone had been quiet and reasonable. The bodies shifted again, edging closer now. They were a crowd again, not just a bunch of tired, worried men and women ready to slink away and take what they could get.

The Association man felt it, too, and threw Sam a quick, hard glance, before his face smoothed out. “Hell, I told you I’m not here to start a fight.” He gave them a rueful smile, like he was sorry they couldn’t be friends. “If you don’t pay your fees, or if you cut into the pipes, the Association’s gonna come down on you hard and legal. Backed up by the Corps.”

“Fine,” someone hollered from the back of the crowd. “We’d rather deal with the Corps. They don’t want our land.”

“Have it your way.” The man shrugged, turned his back on them.

His two silent watch dogs followed him, their backs stiff. Someone cheered as the van lurched down the slope. That started them all cheering again, milling around, slapping backs and hugging, like they’d really backed the Association down.

Montoya was in the center of it all, but as if he felt Dan’s attention, he looked up and their eyes met. His were bleak in spite of his smile. He knew what was coming. Dan turned away and headed for the pickup, leaning hard on his stick. As he rounded the front of the flatbed, he stopped. Jesse stood on the far side, talking to a thickset, bearded man with the pale skin and tattooed left arm of a convoy trucker.

“. . . she picked up a ride east, figures she’ll get herself into a long-haul convoy back there,” the man was saying. “She says she’s got enough saved for a down-payment on her own truck. I don’t know why she didn’t come tell you herself.” His tone was a shade too jovial. “Just short on time, I guess.”

“That isn’t any reason.” Jesse’s face was stone.

“Hey, come on, now.” The trucker scuffed his feet in the dust, trying hard to keep his cheerful tone. “I hate to lose my partner, but you know she’s always wanted her own rig, her own routes. I figure she’ll be back, Jesse. Come spring, maybe. You’ll see.”

“We both know Renny’s not coming back, but thanks, Jim. Thanks for telling me.” Jesse turned away, walked past Dan as if he wasn’t there.

Her face looked faded and slack, as if all the life had drained out of it. Dan watched her start down the dirt track, stumbling a little, moving stiffly, like an old woman. The reset of the crowd was catching up now, still wound up and full of themselves. They climbed onto the flatbed and the parked trucks. Jesse was still in view, but no one asked what was wrong, no one ran after her. Dust puffed up from under her feet, whirled away on the dry wind.

Montoya asked, when he finally made it back to the truck.

“She started walking home.” Dan stared through the window at the reviving beets. “Your wife didn’t come along.”

“Nope.” Montoya started the engine.

“What’s she going to do, after the Association puts you in prison or kills you if they can’t?”

“I told her it wouldn’t make no difference, if they were gonna kick us off the land anyway.” He gripped the wheel. “We make it together or we don’t make it. I don’t think the Corps’ in on this. We got to get them to look at what the Association’s up to. We’re all scared, but we’ll stick together on this.”

“You think so?” The truck lurched down the track, shrouded in dust. Dan caught glimpses of the riverbed up ahead, and the dry scar of the falls. “People don’t risk what they got. Not anymore. They don’t give anything away. My sister and I begged our way up from California. I wasn’t so little that I don’t know how she paid for what they gave us. This togetherness stuff is a dream. They’ll walk away and leave you for the Association, soon as they get pushed hard.”

“I’m sorry,” Montoya said heavily. “About your sister. And you.” He gave Dan a brief look. “But I think you’re wrong. You gotta believe in something.”

Dan looked away, a fist of pain clenched in his chest. “I stopped believing a long time ago.”

“I know. You could try again,” Montoya said quietly. “Not everyone is like the folk you met.”

Dan kept his eyes on the dun land passing. “I can’t.” A vulture turned in the dry vault of the sky and he wondered what had died. “I . . . did some things I’m not proud of. If I stay around here . . . I’ll probably end up in prison.”

Montoya was quiet for a long time. “I thought card tricks was a tough way to make a living out in the Dry.” He looked sideways at Dan. “Better than what you were doing?”

Dan shrugged, his lips tight.

“Some day, you’re gonna have to stop running, son.”

“From prison?”

“From yourself.”

Dan kept his eyes on the patient vulture and Montoya didn’t say another word during the trip.


Dan woke to darkness and the sound of wind. It took him a minute to get his bearings, to remember the feel of the narrow bed in Jesse’s house. The east wind was booming down the Gorge. Sand and dust rasped against the walls. Dan rolled onto his back. Something had awakened him. A dream? His chest ached and he kicked the sweaty sheets aside.

A board squeaked, and light glimmered in the main room. Jesse? Dan raised himself on one elbow. She had come in just before dark, dusty and silent, and had vanished into her room without speaking to him.

The bedroom door creaked, and Jesse walked into his room, a small, solar lamp in her hand. The dim yellow glow streaked the room with shadows. She wore nothing but an oversized T-shirt, and her hair cascaded down her back and over her shoulders, coarse and gray, standing out from her head as if charged with static. Here eys looked enormous, full of shadows.

“Are you okay?” Dan sat up, gooseflesh prickling his arms. She looked like a ghost.

Jesse set the lamp down on the table without answering, stripped the shirt off over her head, and dropped it onto the floor. Her skin was brown, lighter where her clothes had covered her, and her flesh looked lean, tough, dried onto her bones. The soft light outlined the flat ridges of muscle in her abdomen, pooled shadow between her drooping breasts, made her cheekbones stand out sharply.

She leaned across the bed and ran her hands lightly down Dan’s sides.

“What is it?” Dan asked, his mouth dry.

She shook her head once, and the ancient bedframe creaked with her weight as she slid one leg across his thighs. Aroused and uneasy at the same time, Dan put his hands on her hips, felt her shiver.

She leaned forward, kissed him hard. Her teeth bruised his lips and Dan pulled her down against him, desire flaring inside him like a flame. We are both lost, he thought. They made love fiercely, silently, flesh straining against flesh. Her eyes were dark and opaque in the dim light, focused inward even as she clutched him.

Her answer to Renny.

Afterward, she slid off him and knelt on the edge of the bed, face turned to the black rectangle of the window. “I knew it was going to happen,” she said softly. “I knew she was just going to walk away from me one day.”

Dan searched for words that would have some kind of meaning, found nothing. He touched her arm, but she pulled away from him, shook her head.

“I drove her away. I could have taken off, on my own. Gotten by all right. But I had a kid. A daughter. I sweated every water bill. I loved my daughter. And I . . . hated her, too. A little.” She stood, shadows streaking her face.

He reached for her hand, but she slipped away from him, out into the darkness of the main room. He heard her door close softly and firmly. He turned off the fading lamp, got up and limped to the window, drafts tickling his bare chest.

Outside, the sky was black, starless. Dan listened to the wind roaring down the Gorge. Out in the Drylands, it would be whipping up dust, sending sheet lightning shuddering across the sky. You died in the dust storms. If you couldn’t find shelter.

Dan didn’t go back to sleep. The wind kept him awake and he could feel Amy out there on the lips of the falls. I hated her, too. A little. Had Amy felt that? Tied to a little brother? Dan sat on the rumpled bed, listening to the wind, waiting for the night to end. This place was full of ghosts and yesterday. If he didn’t leave now, they’d trap him here. And he’d never escape.

As soon as it was light enough to get around without stumbling over things, Dan fixed his pack. He filled his jug from the kitchen tap, trying not to think about how soon they’d shut off her water, now that she couldn’t pay. He slung the pack over his shoulder, water from the jug trickling coldly down his arm. His knee hurt, but he could manage.

The sun was coming up. The door to Jesse’s room stood open and harsh light streamed across the neatly made bed. The threadbare T-shirt lay in a heap on the unrumpled quilt. “Jesse?” Wind rattled a loose shingle. “Jesse, you in here?” Renny’s picture had vanished, but a glitter caught his eye. The gold necklace glittered on the floor in a scatter of bright gold. He picked it up, started to put it on the dresser.

His hand hesitated. Never again. He had made that promise years back. Payback for the gift of his life. Slowly his hand closed over the gold and he thrust it savagely into his pocket.

And now you can’t come back here, a small voice whispered in his head. He ignored it as he limped out of the house.


The pack weighed a ton, and the rough track down to the highway made his knee hurt. Not much traffic this early. He limped along, leaning hard on his stick. Sooner or later, someone would come along. Ten miles to The Dalles. He could catch a ride to Portland, maybe, at the truck plaza there.

Thin clouds had moved in from the west, turning the sky a cheating gray. The hot wind whipped dust in his eyes, tugged at his clothes. Dan heard an engine and stuck out his thumb. This one stopped and Dan smothered his reaction as he recognized Montoya.

“Leaving?” He leaned out the window.

“Yeah.” Dan felt the hot, heavy weight of the necklace in his pocket.

Montoya got out, leaned against the fender. “The Association didn’t waste any time,” he said. “They started showing up last night, quiet-like, offering folks jobs. Supervisors. Gang foremen. Good-paying jobs, I hear. They arrested Matt Dorner.” He looked up at the weathered of the Gorge. “I guess you were right.”

He looked . . . defeated. “What job did they offer you?” Dan asked harshly.


They wouldn’t. They knew who their opposition was here. Dan looked away. If Amy had knocked on this man’s door, they might have made it. Both of them. It hadn’t happened that way, but it could have. “There’s another way,” he said. “Go to the Corps headquarters, down in Bonneville.”

Montoya just looked at him.

“The Corps was supposed to run the whole Pipeline project — they run all the federal projects.” Dan shrugged. “The Association started out as a civilian contractor working for the Corps, but they had enough political clout to finally edge the Corps out. Not that the Corps is likely to be any better than what you’ve got,” he said bitterly. “But they don’t want your land. The general there . . . Hastings . . . he got the Association rammed down his throat. I don’t think this retroactive stuff is legal.” He shrugged again. “If it’s not . . . General Hastings might help you out. Just to cut the ground out from under the Association.”

“General Hastings.” Montoya said the name slowly. “How do you know this?”

“I . . . worked for the Corps. After . . . my sister died.” He couldn’t make himself meet Montoya’s eyes. “I was a surveyor’s assistant. You go talk to Hastings.”

“I tried that.” Montoya shook his head. “Back when I first heard rumors about a rate hike. No one would talk to me.”

Maybe not. Hastings didn’t like hicks much.

“Come down there with me.” Montoya’s eyes glittered, hard as obsidian. “You know this man. Talk to him. Tell him to listen to me.”

“I can’t do it.”

“You told me. I’m asking you for this, Dan. I’m asking you to do it.”

No one had ever asked him for help. Dan turned his back on Montoya, stared out at the dry, dead falls. No ghost today.

“What do you see?”

Dan flinched at Montoya’s hand on his arm. “Nothing.” He shook off Montoya’s hand. “You can’t really change anything. Not today, not tomorrow, not yesterday. The Corps laid off all their civilian employees a few years back. Including me. I took some things with me when I left Bonneville, valuable stuff. I stole it, because I wasn’t going to beg any more. I went around in the Dry pretending to survey for wells that were going to go in. I tricked people.” He stared at Montoya, feeling dry and utterly empty inside. “So don’t ask me to be a hero for you.”

“So that’s it.” Montoya stared up at the Gorge rim, his face etched like the rocks. “You weren’t surveyin’ when I picked you up.”

“Yeah, well, I got my mind changed. By a kid.” Dan looked away. “I figure he’s dead now.”

“An honest trade, you told me. Entertainment for you knowin’ how.”

“I’m not staying.” He hoisted his pack. “If you care about your wife, your family, you need to stay out of this.”

“I’m in the middle of this because I do care about them,” Montoya said quietly.

A big semi came growling around the bend, heading into The Dalles. It slowed with a hiss of brakes. “Yo, Sam.” The bearded trucker who had delivered Renny’s message stuck his head out of the cab. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Montoya called out. “You going to Portland? He needs a lift.”

He didn’t sound angry, he just sounded tired. “I’ll get my pack,” Dan said. He shook off a dull sense of regret. “Thanks.” He grabbed it, then had to look out at the falls, one more time. He wasn’t coming back here. Not ever. So he could look.

And she was there. Amy. Up above, staring down at him.

Celilo Falls, eddy in time, coyote-corpse of yesterday. Dan stared at her, sweating. She was real, like when that kid with magic in his hands had summoned her. If he looked down the bed would he see a patch crew working on the Pipe? Maybe see a skinny kid with black hair standing down there, looking up into the sun, looking up to see what his sister was doing up there?

The road ran almost level with the top of the old falls along here. It was a mirage, he told himself. A crazy trick of light and memory. On the ledge, Amy leaned out over the drop that had bruised her face purple and broken her neck.

The cheating, cloudy light made the stones glow and her black hair streamed over her shoulders.

“Hey,” the trucker called. “You comin’ or not?”

A rock rattled down the cliff face.

“Amy!” Dan yelled, but the wind snatched the words from his mouth. He scrambled over the cement barrier, heard Montoya shout something behind him. He stumbled and skidding down into the riverbed. The wind was worse down here, full of grit, filling his eyes with tears.

Panting, groping for handholds, Dan scrambled up the ledges that made up the falls. Amy was right above him, so close, so real. Could you hear a ghost’s shirt flap in the wind? Dan’s fingers slipped, his skin shredding on the gritty stone. He wasn’t close enough. In a moment, she would fall past him, arms spread, like she was trying to fly.

Above him, she took the last step, poised at the edge, body starting to can t outward . . . “Don’t!” he screamed. “Goddamn you, don’t!” He got his feet under him, lunged, pain spiking up his leg. His fingers touched cloth, clenched tight, and he fell hard, knees scraping on the rock, heard a cry, felt her sprawl beneath him — no ghost, no ghost — warm under his hand, against his face. Alive.

Thunder boomed overhead, dry and hollow. Dan lay flat on the stone, panting, face buried against a cotton shirt, arms clasped around warm flesh, hard ribs.

“Dan? What . . . the hell?”

Dan’s heart lurched and he raised his head slowly. The hair was gray, not black. The wind tangled it across her face, and she pushed it out of her eyes with a faltering hand. “Jesse,” Dan said numbly. “You were going to jump.”

“No.” She looked away. “I don’t know.”

Her eyes held the same dun emptiness that filled the Drylands.

“Don’t do it,” he whispered.

“What do you care?”

He fumbled in his pocket, still breathing hard, sweating with the throbbing pain in his knee. Thunder boomed like cannon over his head as he pulled out the necklace, held it out. “I stole this.”

“Keep it.” Her loose hair stuck to her face, veiling her empty eyes.

“I watched my sister jump off this ledge,” he said thickly. “I think she hated me a little, too. Because she got stuck with me.” He saw her flinch and look down at the rocks below.

“Don’t do that to Renny,” he said.

The trucker had left. Sam Montoya leaned against the fender of his pickup, watching them.

“If you let me stay on.” He laid the necklace beside her knee. “I figure I can make enough with the card tricks in town or down in Bonneville to make up the pay hike.” He started to climb down, careful of his knee.

At the bottom, he leaned his forehead against the face of the cliffs, waiting for the pain to ease off some. Jesse was climbing down after him. Something stung his cheek, cold and wet. Water? Dan saw a thin, dark streak on the rock face. Another drop stung his face. Water was seeping over the falls. Had it actually rained upstream somewhere, or was the Pipe leaking? Dan looked up.

Amy knelt on the edge. It was her, this time, not Jesse. Her lips moved, shaping silent words.

I’m sorry?

Dan felt another drop on his face, like a tear. “I love you,” he whispered.

She faded and vanished as Jesse reached the bottom.

“You can stay if you want.” Her smile was crooked and frail. “I’ve got a lot of space.” She pulled the necklace from her pocket, stared at it for a moment, then fastened it around her neck. “Looks like Sam’s waiting.” She shaded her eyes. “I bet he’ll give us a ride back up to the house.”

“Yeah, he probably will.” Dan found his stick where he had dropped it sliding down from the highway, and straightened. “He probably will.” Dan looked up at the ledge once more but it was empty. He knew it would be empty. Step by painful step, he climbed back up to the highway with Jesse.

* * *

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