The next day passed in another long, dusty ride across the desert. The occasional dry arroyo slashed across the otherwise featureless landscape and stunted cacti were the only life in sight. Ben and I discussed our plan as we rode and Jimmy tried to listen in, though we made no particular effort to include him. The sun burned down on us like advanced punishment from on high for our plans to deceive and steal from God's holy daughters.
The sun was sinking, and the infernal temperatures along with it, when we rode through the last pass which overlooked the nunnery. It was a simple affair, as one would expect, a handful of tan stuccoed buildings that seemed to blend with the dull landscape. Over the other buildings, the spire of the chapel could be seen, its silver cross glinting crimson in the dying light. The complex was situated a polite distance from the twinkling lights of a tiny town farther down the road, surrounded by a low adobe wall furnished with an iron gate.
We cantered up to the gate and slid off of our horses. Ben pulled the bell while I helped Jimmy off his horse. The journey had quite tuckered him out, though this was perhaps just as well for us as it lent to the illusion that he was indeed an injured youth not too far from death's door. As I helped him set down on a rock, I winked at him, then went to join Ben at the gate.
Someone was crossing the rocky patio, a guttering lantern in hand. By the lantern's feeble glow and the last vestiges of sunlight that barely illuminated the sky, I could see that she was wearing a nun's habit, though her face was hidden in the shadow of her veil. Ben reached into his pocket for a cigar but then seemed to think better of it, crossing his arms awkwardly over his chest instead. I leaned against El Fuego's neck and wiggled my toes inside my boots in tempo with the nun's nearing footsteps.
Moments later, the nun reached the gate and squinted at us through the bars. She had a pretty face with dark eyes and long, slanting eyebrows. She raised her lantern and the shivering light flickered across our faces. Her eyes widened with recognition.
"Why hello there, Suzie," said Ben grinning.
"What —? You —?" she stammered. Then she scowled. "That's not my name anymore. I'm Sister Anne now."
"Sure you are." Ben continued to grin.
"What are you doing here?" she hissed.
"You gonna let us in first?" Ben asked.
"We only wanted to stay here a night or two before moving on," said Ben. "Mayhaps you could give us a tour of this here fine —"
"Nunnery," Suzie finished for him. "Do you realize what problems there could be in letting two scruffy men such as yourselves stay, particularly if — God forbid — it got out that I knew you?"
"Come off it, we're not that scruffy," Ben protested.
"That's not really the point I was trying to make."
"So you're not gonna let us in?" I asked.
"But ma'am, we're really in need of your goodness and altruism," I said. "You wouldn't leave a wounded man to die outside your gate, would you?"
"If you're talking about your addled brains, I'll let you know that I hardly consider that a wound," said the nun acidly. I winced.
"We're not talking about us, your holiness," said Ben. "There's a boy with us who's been stabbed something nasty."
"Where?" Suzie lifted her lamp and peered into the darkness. Its beam fell across Jimmy who was slumped against the rock in a very convincing display of pain. It occurred to me that he might not be acting.
Suzie unlatched the gate without a word and hastened to his side. She lifted his shirt gingerly and examined the jagged red cut underneath.
"It's not too terrible," she said, though her face held some concern.
"Still, it'd be a shame to see him die of infection and dehydration out here," said Ben. Suzie scowled. "And don't pretend you're not curious as to why we rode out all this way to visit you."
"We'll put you up for one night," said Suzie reluctantly. "Shouldn't take longer than that to get this one cleaned and patched up. After that you can all head down to the town and stay at the inn there."
She stood up.
"Come on," she said, leading the way through the gate.
I helped Jimmy to his feet while Ben took care of the horses and together we entered the nunnery.