The young people fanned out across the field, parting the sweet-smelling gramma grass with their poles.
“I don’t know why we have to practice this at noon,” Will said. “Can’t get good shadows.”
Diana stooped to peer at a displaced rock. “That’s the point."
“Well, I think this is stupid,” Coyote said from a few feet away. He stopped pretending to look for footprints and swung his pole in an arc. “I can tell you where the tracks are and where they end up.”
“Like you knew where the fish would be biting the other night?” Will said. “Next time I want beans and cactus for supper, I’ll be sure to ask you where to bait my lines.”
“Okay, so sometimes I get it wrong. But today—”
“Found one!” Diana dropped to her knees, laid her pole alongside the boot print and began adjusting the leather rings. “Most likely male. Walking, not running. Might be carrying something.” She angled her pole outward from the track, searching for the next one.
“He’s definitely carrying something,” Coyote said. “Want to know what it is?”
Diana sat back on her heels. “Will you let us figure it out from the tracks, please?”
Will jerked his head in agreement. “Yeah, man. I ain’t missing lunch just so you can practice talking to your imaginary friends.”
“They’re not imaginary, and I don’t—”
“Here it is!” Diana had found the next track. She moved another ring to get the measure of the stride, making mental note of the angle. “Are you guys going to help or argue?”
Will squatted beside her and adjusted the rings on his pole, but noticed Coyote hadn’t moved and was looking around, sniffing the air. “What a weirdo,” he muttered. “How’d we get stuck with him?”
“Just help me find the next track. Aguilero’s team is probably halfway done already.”
For the next few minutes they searched for tracks using their poles to measure where the next one must be. Soon they had a feel for where to look and simply walked, poking and peering at the ground as they went, sometimes stopping to examine a rock or tuft of trampled grass, sometimes using their poles to measure where a missing track should’ve been.
They lost the tracks on a broad flat rock but found them again several feet away. When they lost their trail again in loose gravel, they circled outward from their last known sign, but this time it seemed their quarry had vanished. Diana leaned on her pole and sighed, gazing across the field to where the other teams were still moving forward. “We’re going to lose.”
Coyote, who had been swiping at rocks with his pole to see how far he could hit them, said, “That’s because you won’t let me tell you anything.” He hit another rock and sent it into an ant bed.
“That would be dishonest,” Diana said.
“In real life, any way you get your man is honest. It’s us against them.”
“That’s true,” Will said. “So okay, show us where the trail picks up.”
“But not where it ends,” Diana added.
With a pleased little grin, Coyote began leading them in a completely unexpected direction. When Diana made to question him, he waved a hand for silence and pointed with his pole. There in the dry, sandy earth was the unmistakable print of a shoe.
Diana bent to measure the print against the rings on her pole. “It’s not the right one,” she said. “It’s too small.”
“Just follow them.”
Diana stood up. “Look, I’m glad you’ve got your little voices to tell you things, but these aren’t our tracks. Who knows where they lead? They sure won't take us to Harley's note telling us where to find our lunch."
Will crouched to get a better look at the print in question. "She's right. Even I can tell this isn't the right one. This is someone else."
"So come on," Diana said. "Show us where the real tracks are so we don't embarrass ourselves by finishing last."
Coyote twirled his pole, still with that maddening smile. "Just follow them," he said again. "Don't you trust me?"
"Not on your life," Will said, but he jerked his head at Diana, indicating they should follow the tracks for now.
Diana scowled at Coyote from under the brim of her hat. "This better be good."
"It is." He followed with poorly concealed excitement as Diana picked up the trail.
"Whoever it is, they were running."
"Yes," Coyote said.
"And carrying something." Diana marked the depth of a print with her pole.
"Yes, you've got it now!" Coyote thrust his canteen into Will's hands. "Give her this when you find her. I'll go get the donkey cart."
Before they could ask what he was talking about, Coyote was gone, dashing through the waving grasses.
"I'm telling Harley not to put me on a team with crazy people any more," Will said.
"But you're the only guy who doesn't harass him."
"Maybe I should start."
They returned to the trail and followed the tracks toward an arroyo. The signs were easy to spot now, stones displaced and grasses trampled. At the edge of the arroyo they paused where a skid of displaced earth and rocks led into the ditch. At the bottom lay a young woman, motionless and clutching something to her chest.
Cursing, Will bounded into the arroyo with Diana slipping and scrabbling for purchase as she followed. The woman's skin was dry and flushed. As Will splashed water on her and Diana tried to find a pulse, the woman's arms fell open and a wail emerged from the bundle she had been holding.
Diana grabbed the baby and checked it for injuries while Will raised the woman to a sitting position and held his canteen to her lips. She was conscious now, blinking and confused.
The baby cried again and the woman reached for it, but Will held her back and tried to make her drink some more.
"The baby's fine," Diana said, although she wasn't at all sure.
"We've got somebody coming with a cart," Will added. "You're safe."
The woman nodded and lay listlessly in his arms while Diana frowned at the baby, trying to figure out how best to hold it. Finally she laid it on her lap and fanned it with her hat. "You know," she said, "If Coyote hadn't—”
"I wonder why he didn't tell us from the beginning."
Will shrugged. "I think he bluffs a lot. He knows but he doesn't know."
"Hm." Diana stopped fanning and peered into the baby's dimpled face. Unimpressed, she began waving the hat over it again. "Well, if he ever got good at understanding those voices he hears, he'd be the best friend in the world to have."
Will looked at her sharply. "What are you trying to say?"
Diana gave him a sly smile. "Just that we're done with this tracking exercise, and I think we won."