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Chapter One

“I’ll tell you the truth, Mr. Woolley,” Rex Whittle said. The farmer stood with his hands in the pockets of his denim overalls, nut-brown face streaming sweat under the late June sun. “I can’t afford to pay you anything.”

“Don’t give it a second thought, Mr. Whittle.” Hiram Woolley tossed aside the last peelings of hazel bark. For finding water, he liked the twenty-third Psalm. A well should have still waters, and he liked the idea of a feast with God. He hummed a few notes experimentally, trying to find the old melody Grandma Hettie had taught him for the Psalm. Hiram, his son, and a knot of men stood on hard red earth, southeast of Moab in Spanish Valley. The La Sal Mountains were green with pine trees, but those pines drank the melt-off and left everything below them yellowed by summer. Stretches of gray slickrock broke up the red dirt of the desolate place.

To the west of them and lower in elevation, the small town of Moab lay stretched along the Colorado River and the highway. Upriver, north and east of the town, the Colorado cut through the canyons, one branch of the highway following it while the other climbed through red rock north and west, toward Helper and Price, and beyond that, Provo and Lehi, Hiram’s home. Due north of Moab, between the two arms of the highway, lay the strange badlands of the Monument, full of stone arches and spires and surreal canyons.

Like Whittle, Hiram wore battered denim overalls and a long-sleeved shirt that had once been white, but had been washed into a mottled gray. The long sleeves meant he didn’t feel the infrequent breezes with as much pleasure, but it also kept him from getting sunburned. His high-crowned fedora had a brim wide enough to help keep the sun off Hiram’s neck, without fully preventing his skin from darkening into a color his dead wife Elmina had once described as “vermilion.”

Whittle shifted from one foot to the other. “I heard about you from a cousin of mine that works the Latuda mine up in Helper. You’re famous, least among the coal miners. The stories I heard about you…”

Ernie Smothers, a bug-eyed, unshaven man in a straw hat, knocked his friend, Don Pout, with an elbow. Pout had a tiny nose, a freckled little button that would have looked more at home in the face of a child, and unusually long eyelashes. “Told you.”

Pout grinned, his eyelashes fluttering.

Uh oh. The last thing Hiram wanted was fame. Fame might interfere with his work as a cunning man, and it would definitely get him in trouble with the church. His friend John Wells could only run interference for him so much. “Don’t give it a third thought, either.” He carved several crosses into the hazel with his clasp knife.

Hiram’s son Michael stood in the small group surrounding Hiram. This was the first time Michael had watched Hiram dowse for a client, and he was paying close attention, eyes drinking in every detail of what Hiram did and said, but also closely observing the others present. Michael wore jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, too, but his sleeves were pushed up and he wore no hat. The complexion he’d inherited from his Navajo blood parents offered him a potent protection against the sun that baked Hiram like a fish on hot coals.

“To tell you the truth,” Rex Whittle said, “my cousin told me you refused payment. He said you did what you did up there for free, to help the poor. So I thought I could afford you. But I feel bad, seeing as you drove all the way down here from Lehi.” The farmer chuckled uneasily. “To tell you the truth, I might have gone to the widow Artemis, but she charges too much.”

Gudmund Gudmundson clapped a hand on Whittle’s shoulder. Gudmundson was a handyman, and had the big muscles, callused hands, and patched pants to show it. He also had a broad face with a strong chin, and seemed to be perpetually smiling. As he raised his hand to touch Whittle, Hiram saw a knife hilt and sheath hanging from his belt. It was a brief flash, but the metal of the knife looked like silver, and had Hiram seen Hebrew letters on the crosspiece? Was that some kind of Masonic dagger? “As your bishop, Rex,” Gudmundson said, “I’m going to ask you to stop telling the truth right now.”

That drew a chuckle from the others standing and watching: Pout and Smothers, Lloyd Preece the rancher, who was Gudmundson’s counselor, and the burnt-faced ranch hand whose only name, apparently, was Clem.

“Why?” Rex asked. “Because she’s a fallen woman? I wasn’t saying I’d pay her for that.”

“It’s Brother Woolley’s calling,” Gudmundson said, “isn’t it? He’s an assistant to the Presiding Bishopric. He travels around the state, helping out. Sometimes he helps with his truck…sometimes he helps with his Mosaical Rod.”

“That’s basically it,” Hiram said, “only it’s not that official. I just…try to help out, is all.”

Whittle shrugged. “I bet the widow could dowse, though. Told my Cherellen’s horoscope pretty clear, and I hear she cured Orville Peterson’s falling sickness.”

Hiram’s ears perked up. “Falling sickness?”

Whittle nodded. “The widow gave him what looked like a silver cross, and from the moment he started carrying it in his pocket, the seizures stopped.”

Hiram suffered from the falling sickness; from time to time, it caused him to pass out completely. That was one of the reasons he had Michael along—his son drove, so Hiram didn’t risk falling asleep at the wheel. Hiram had a verbal charm against the malady that was reasonably effective. If he could reinforce that, or even replace his chant about Rupert and Giles with the passive craft of an amulet, it would make his life easier. Even better would be a permanent cure.

He resolved to find this widow Artemis, once he’d dowsed Mr. Whittle’s water.

“Now, Rex,” Lloyd Preece said. He was tall and portly, and stood with a lodgepole-straight spine. He wore a flannel shirt buttoned to the wrists despite the heat, and a broad-brimmed hat. “Diana might not want you telling stories out of school about her.”

Michael snickered, but then caught himself. “Diana Artemis. Really?”

Rex wrinkled his nose. “I figured it was just her business, you know, like what Mr. Woolley does.”

“Maybe,” Preece countered, “but some folks aren’t as open-minded as you and I. We don’t know if Mr. Woolley believes in all that hocus pocus.”

“They are here dowsing,” Gudmundson pointed out.

“We both are firm believers in the hocus part,” Michael said instantly, “but I’m only fifty-fifty on the pocus.”

Preece snorted. “And I’m partial to the pocus myself.” He gave Michael a wink. Then to Rex, “Let’s not talk about Mr. Woolley’s competition. If you want him to place your well, you’re going to have to give him time. And don’t you worry about Mr. Woolley’s driving, we paid for his gasoline.”

Preece had given Hiram forty dollars, enough for gas and food and two days in a hotel and still some to spare. Hiram had resisted, but eventually yielded when Preece had threatened to slip sixty dollars into Hiram’s truck if Hiram wouldn’t take forty from his hand. The truth was that Hiram could always use the extra cash.

Forty dollars was a lot of money.

Rather than spend any of the cash on a hotel room, Hiram had asked if he and Michael could camp on Preece’s land, just up the river from Moab. The rancher had allowed it with a nod and a firm shake of the hand.

“Lucky you,” Rex Whittle said. “I wish I’d been the one to find that stolen silver.”

Lloyd Preece chuckled and shook his head. “That’s a good one.”

“You been listening too much to them vagrants you hire.” Clem spat tobacco onto the crumbling red earth. “Weren’t no silver.”

“I was here in 1923,” Whittle said defensively. “The bank was robbed. Someone found that silver.”

“The bank found it.” Preece smiled. “What I found was good watering holes for my cattle, in canyons the coyotes can’t get to.”

“Lucky either way, I guess,” Whittle said. Gudmundson clapped him across the shoulders again. “Since you got a cunning man out here, maybe you could get him to deal with that ghost on your land.”

“It’s not on my land,” Preece said. “It’s on the Monument. Up in the wash right underneath the Schoolmarm’s Bloomers, is what I heard. That might be the Wolfe Ranch, I guess.”

“Nobody calls it that no more.” Clem grunted. “Turnbows live there now.”

“Ghost?” Hiram asked.

Preece nodded. “Moab is a small town in a big wilderness, Mr. Woolley. Of course, we have our ghosts.”

Hiram nodded and began to sing.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He finished out the short Psalm with Grandma Hettie’s melody, making eye contact with Michael as he did so. Later, he’d remind his son of the melody and they’d practice together. Michael might not need the practice, in any case—not only was he much smarter than Hiram, he was also musical.

Of course, what Michael usually sang was boisterous blues songs, and not the ancient modal tunes by which Grandma Hettie had turned the Psalms into incantations.

Then Hiram began to swing the rod.

The four men from Moab stepped back. They didn’t need to give Hiram room for the charm to succeed, but many people liked to keep a distance between themselves and a hex being worked. Michael, by contrast, stepped closer. He was staring at Hiram’s hands. Hiram held the forked end of the rod loosely with his palms, so that he could feel its action when it moved.

A Mosaical Rod could do many things. If Hiram were dowsing to find a person or a specific object, he’d have had to prepare the rod to that end, carving into it signs identifying the person or thing sought, and maybe even wrapping objects around the rod that were connected to the object. The rod would dip whenever Hiram swung it in the direction he needed to go. A rod was also a divination tool that could answer yes or no questions, in which case the tip of the rod dipped to signify yes.

But today, Hiram was looking for water. The rod would dip when it passed over an underground water source.

Hiram paced across the property. This was poor land, not close enough to the Colorado River to water by means of irrigation ditches, and not possessing any obvious springs. Rex Whittle wouldn’t get enough water out of any well that Hiram placed to farm big acreage, but he might get enough to keep himself, his family, some small livestock, and an acre or two watered. Which was what Whittle said he wanted.

“I ain’t sure there’s a ghost at all,” Hiram heard Clem say to Rex Whittle as the men watched Hiram work. “Might just be that crazy feller.”

Lloyd Preece laughed. “Which one? The one digging for moon rocks, or the hobo who thinks the end of the world is coming?”

Clem spat. “It ain’t moon rocks. It’s Uranus.”

“Uranium,” Gudmundson said.

Clem nodded. “And he might be crazy, but you can sell that stuff. Howard Balsley used to ship a box of rocks off to Germany once a month, and he got paid.”

“France, I heard,” the bishop said. “But speaking of the Reverend Majestic Earl Bill Clay…you’re not churching in that dugout he has, are you, Rex?”

Hiram felt a tug on the rod and stopped. He swung the rod back and forth several times experimentally, and felt a pull each time.

But the tug was weak, suggesting little water, or water that was far away.

“Did you find it, Pap?” Michael asked.

Hiram tracked an X in the dry earth with the toe of his Redwing Harvester. “There’s water there. Might not be much. I’ll see if I can find better. You want to try?”

Michael shook his head. “Maybe not this time.”

“Ain’t exactly a dugout,” Clem observed. “More of a hole in the rock.”

“I church with you, bishop,” Whittle said. “If you haven’t seen me as much as you’d like, it’s just that I’ve been putting up fenceposts.”

“My son-in-law has time to help, if you’re looking for a hand,” Preece offered.

Clem chuckled and spat.

“To tell the truth,” Whittle said, “I don’t think I have any more time for Guy Tunstall than you do, Mr. Preece. But Addy’s a hard worker, and if she had time to dig postholes, I’d be grateful for the help.”

“My daughter’s busy with her three children.” Preece’s response sounded mechanical, and a little distant.

“Did you find water there, Mr. Woolley?” Gudmundson asked.

“Maybe.” Hiram continued his pacing, swinging the Mosaical Rod back and forth.

“There might be a scientific explanation,” Michael said softly, walking at Hiram’s shoulder. Hiram would have sworn Michael had grown an inch so far this year—at seventeen, he was already taller than his adopted father, and might have years left to grow. Michael’s biological father, Yas Yazzie, had been a big, strong man.

“For the dowsing rod?”

Michael nodded. “You know, some plants turn toward the sun as the sun moves. Maybe some plants sense and turn toward water, too. So they know where to send their roots. Didn’t you tell me that the hazel rod has to be fresh?”

“As fresh as possible,” Hiram agreed. “But what does your scientific explanation say about why I have to sing a Psalm before I dowse?”

“I guess in my scientific hypothesis, you wouldn’t have to sing a Psalm. Or cut crosses.” Michael pondered, and for a brief time all Hiram heard was the crunch of their boots on the earth and the distant whistle of wind coming down from the La Sals. “I could devise a scientific experiment to test that.”

“Hmm.” Hiram had dowsed far too many impossible answers out of Mosaical Rods, and far too many secret doors and buried treasure, to give any credence to Michael’s hypothesis. But he also didn’t want to discourage Michael’s interest in science—for all that Michael had learned about Hiram’s traditional practices and was starting to master them, they both still expected that the day would come, and soon, when Michael would go to college to study chemistry or geology.

Other than driving, Michael was with Hiram to learn Grandma Hettie’s lore. This was a recent development. Until February of that year, Hiram had kept secret from his son the fact that he used the same charms, hexes, and lore that his grandma had. But in order to defeat a demon in a cavern beneath a coal mine, Hiram had had to reveal his craft to his son. Michael had accepted the news surprisingly well, and asked to learn it himself.

But the young man still struggled to believe that it was real.

“You worried about coyotes, Rex?” Pout asked. The men from Moab drifted slowly behind Hiram, and within earshot. “That why you’re putting up fence?”

“I’m going to have goats,” Whittle answered. “I don’t want them to run off, so I want a fence. And yeah, coyotes or wolves or whatever. You know some hunters up in the La Sals saw tracks of Three Toe as recently as just this spring. Jeff Webb was with them, he told me himself Three Toe had taken down an elk. Alone.”

“That’s one way you know Three Toe ain’t real,” Clem said. “Wolves hunt in packs. There’s no solitary ghost wolf missing a toe who runs around killing bears and elk. And didn’t folks already kill him?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Smothers said. “But there have been reports of his tracks in Colorado and Wyoming and Montana, so if he’s not real, he sure leaves his mark.”

I worry about Three Toe,” Preece said, “as well as about normal wolves. But predators are one of the risks you run when you take on ranching.”

Hiram felt a second tug on the rod. This one was stronger, but still not as distinct as he’d like. He wasn’t doing Rex Whittle much of a service if he placed a weak well for the man. Hiram looked around and realized, also, that he had drifted far from the plank cabin and its low chicken coop. Ideally, a well would be right beside the house.

He didn’t bother marking the ground, but turned his course toward the house.

“I thought I saw the rod dip,” Michael said.

“Yeah,” Hiram agreed. “But remember, we’re not out here looking for water like…scientists, I guess. We’re not disinterested researchers. We’re not just making a map. We’re looking for water that’s good for that man’s family. That means we need to find enough, and in a good location.”

“Ah,” Michael said. “This water is too far from the house.”

They walked a few moments in silence, drawing closer to the cabin as they pivoted around the watching men.

“I like being out here with you,” Michael said. “I like that we help the poor and the unfortunate. A lot of people have opinions galore, but we actually provide a service.”

Hiram cracked a grin. “You’re saying you’re not quite as excited about planting sugar beets?”

As he said the word beets, the rod dipped again. This time the dip was abrupt and violent, and the tip of the rod slammed into the earth. It was dramatic enough that the watching men could see it. Clem cursed.

Hiram looked up—he was within an easy stone’s throw of the cabin. He swung the rod several more times, and each time the tip of the hazel branch plunged, striking the earth in the same location each time.

Hiram marked out the spot with his foot. “Come feel this,” he said to his son.

With a deep breath, Michael took the rod in his hands.

“Don’t grip the rod,” Hiram suggested. “Curl your fingers, and let it lie loose in there. You want it to be able to move. Take a step away and swing the rod gently back and forth. Yeah, just like that. Now step toward the spot I marked, still letting the rod swing. Good job.”

The rod swung over Hiram’s X, and the tip plunged right into the letter’s center.

“Holy…” Michael said. “Sh…cr…”

Hiram patted his son on the back. “Good job not cussing.”

“You hit water?” Rex Whittle called.

“This will make a good well,” Hiram told him. “We’ll walk the property and see if we can find any that are even better, but in the meantime, why don’t you mark this spot with a rock cairn?” A summer rain or even a strong wind might obliterate Hiram’s X.

“Good work,” Gudmund Gudmundson said cheerfully. “Rex, I’ve got six men lined up to come back on Monday and dig her out for you.”

Rex Whittle looked suddenly bashful. “To tell you the truth, I…thanks, Bishop.”

The men from Moab piled up rocks on the spot Hiram indicated. Hiram and Michael quickly paced out the circle of land that was closer to the cabin. The rod tugged twice more, but they were faint motions, and Hiram didn’t bother to mention them to Rex Whittle.

When they had finished, Hiram put the rod into the cab of his Model AA Ford truck. A dowsing rod wasn’t a sacred thing, exactly, but it was close to being sacred. Hiram preferred to burn a used rod rather than merely cast it aside.

Rex Whittle thanked Hiram and Michael both. “You won’t take money, but I’d be pleased if you’d take some pie.”

“It’s good to be married to a woman who can bake.” Hiram smiled.

Whittle snorted. “My wife can’t cook for sweet goddamn. That woman would burn water. But I bake the best peach pie in Grand County.”

“We’d love pie,” Michael said.

Whittle jogged up to the cabin. Gudmundson waved goodbye and Clem spat affably, and then both men climbed into the bishop’s blue-green Buick Series 40 and rattled away toward town. Smothers and Pout drove away in a Model T that seemed to lean sideways at a forty-five-degree angle.

Lloyd Preece shook Hiram’s and Michael’s hands.

“You looked interested when you heard mention of the ghost,” the rancher said.

Hiram shrugged. “I guess. A ghost is generally someone who died with unfinished business, maybe betrayed or terrified. A ghost is someone who needs help.”

The rancher raised his eyebrows. “You planning to help the ghost?”

“Maybe,” Hiram allowed.

“That seems a little bit out of the purview of the Presiding Bishop.”

Hiram chuckled. “Jesus helps everyone. I guess I can try to do the same.”

Preece nodded. “Well, if you do, come by the house and tell me how it went.”

“You connected with that ghost?” Hiram asked.

Preece nodded. “It’s on my land! Or rather, it’s close. If you take the cable car near where you’re camped across the river, there’s a path that cuts into the Monument and eventually connects with the road. That road takes you to the Schoolmarm’s Bloomers, and that’s where people say they saw the ghost. The wash beneath the arch. You can drive, but it’ll take you longer—you have to go in on the west side of the Monument.”

“This ghost been around a long time?” Hiram asked.

“I only heard of it recently.”

“Do you know a name?” Hiram continued.

The rancher shrugged.

“And the bloomers,” Michael said, “just how racy are they? My Pap here is awkward around women, and I’d hate for him to feel uncomfortable.”

Lloyd Preece laughed. “Lonely cowboys. They get out away from women, and every rock formation they see is named nipple or crotch.”

“And who can blame them?” Michael said.

Hiram chuckled, feeling slightly uneasy.

“If you don’t find me at home,” Preece said, “come into town and try the Maxwell House Hotel. I’m a widower, you know, and sometimes I go out. There’s a group of us—an informal gathering, ranchers, bankers, good people—who like to meet at the watering hole there on evenings. Especially at the weekend.”

“Share tips on branding?” Michael asked. “Compare balance sheets?”

“Yes.” Preece smiled, and he reached down to roll up the cuff of one pant leg. From the top of a tall boot, he pulled a knife in its sheath. The hilt was definitely silver, and there was writing on the crosspiece. Hiram wished he knew Hebrew—or anything beyond mere English—but in the moment in which he saw the letters, before Preece wrapped his hand around the hilt, he wouldn’t have been able to read anything. That dagger seemed to be a twin to the one Gudmund wore on his hip. Were they some kind of lodge brothers? “We discuss business. And also, we are vain, and like to be seen as successful. You’d be surprised how much time a man like me spends looking into the mirror.”

Preece laughed at his own joke, then climbed into his truck, a newer and shinier Model AA, and drove away.

“It wasn’t just the ghost that got your attention,” Michael said. “You perked right up at the mention of that woman who can cure the falling sickness.”

“I did,” Hiram agreed. “But that’s me being selfish.”

“So we’ll go see her after we see to the ghost?”

“You’re learning.”

Rex Whittle returned with a peach pie and two forks. Hiram and Michael ate it in the truck; Hiram managed two of the six thick wedges before he felt he would burst. Michael ate the rest.

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