wanted nothing more than to be out of the public eye so he could own some land on which he could grow both a crop and a family.
But getting out from under Coonts’s thumb might prove even more difficult than getting in.
Six months later, after a hundred more vaudeville shows and a dozen privately arranged rain-making ceremonies in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, Hank’s black hair had gone completely white. The teardrop stain on his shoulder had become darker and larger, so much so that Nadya worried that it was infected. His taut cheeks became weathered, pinched at the corners of his mouth and eyes. He had the countenance of a much older man when he was not even thirty.
But Hank understood his power now. He knew what he could do and how to control it. He had learned how to call up the lightning and thunder, how to make a gentle rain or even a downpour if he so desired. And more amazing still, he had twice conjured up a beast of a storm, full of such fury that the wind spun in funnels, stirring black clouds that kicked up plumes of dirt where they touched the earth.
Had his grandfather been able to summon the spirits in such a way? Or were Hank’s powers even stronger? Perhaps his gift was greater than he knew.
“You can’t do this much longer. Your body can’t take it,” Nadya said one day, confessing her concern for him. “This isn’t normal, Hank. Who knows what could happen to you?”
Hank didn’t have an answer. Anything could happen. Nothing could happen. All he knew was that each ceremony took something from him that he never regained: a mix of his strength and energy, even his youth. Every rainmaking drained him beyond reason, and he would collapse afterward, falling into a weary stupor, sometimes for hours but often for days. The past few times when he’d awakened, he couldn’t remember where he was or who he was. Even if Nadya reminded him, it was often an hour or more before the missing pieces returned, falling back into place. He understood all too well how much that worried the woman he loved. He had to admit that it worried him, too.
“Just a few more, and we’ll be set,” Hank assured Nadya and took her hand, squeezing. “I’m doing this for us, remember? For our future.”
But she looked like she didn’t believe him. “If you don’t stop soon, I’m afraid it will kill you. There is nothing else to prove, is there? And we have enough money to leave. We don’t need much to live on besides.”
Hank knew she was right. These days, he hardly recognized himself in the mirror. He seemed to have turned into an old man overnight. And what did he have to prove at this point? He had become a big draw in the world of vaudeville, so much so that Coonts began dropping hints about giving Hank a show of his own, a Wild West troupe of which he’d be the star. But Hank wasn’t about to sell any more of his soul, not even for buckets of money. It was more about getting his due and then getting out. He’d had stories written about him in small-town newspapers, had received telegrams from women he hadn’t met proposing marriage, and had been presented with enough livestock that he could have populated his own farm. Instead, he’d sold each and every goat, pig, duck, hen, and burro, tucking away the cash in a leather belt he wore around his waist and rarely took off.
Inside the money belt, he kept something else as important: the deed to land in Walnut Ridge, Missouri, given to him by a grateful farmer whose crops he’d saved with a good hard drenching. “It’s a parcel I inherited from a cousin, but I can’t do nothing with it. I’m stretched enough as it is,” the man had told him. “Besides, it’s all I have that’s worth something.”
It was more than enough as far as Hank was concerned. It gave him the chance to make plans, real plans, which didn’t include going back to the reservation. He had never fit in with his people; he’d always dreamed of leaving for somewhere