“I’m called Cortez.”
A loud voice calling Renita’s name caused Maia to move closer to her and hug her arm.
“In here, Sarge,” shouted Cortez. “It’s okay, they’re friends,” she assured Maia.
Mike Brackett appeared in the door of the hut and Maia shrank in closer to Cortez. She wrapped her arm around Maia and patted the young girl’s shoulder.
“Well, what have we here?” asked Brackett.
“Sarge, this is Maia,” said Cortez. “ Maia, this is Sergeant Mike.”
“Hi, Sergeant Mike,” said Maia, peeking around Cortez.
“Where’d you find her?” asked Brackett.
Cortez pointed to the open trap door. “They were hiding her from something.”
Brackett slung his rifle on his shoulder rifle barrel down and squatted next to Cortez. “What happened to the rest of your village, Maia?”
She looked up at Cortez and then at Brackett. “Mukmows,” she said.
“What the hell is a Mukmow?” said Billy Gilroy, huddled in the doorway between Doc Hunnicutt and Charlie Two Sons.
“They’re little,” said Maia, stretching her hand out, palm down, about 3 feet off the floor.
“Do they have bushy hair?” asked Doc, holding his hands out around his head.
Maia nodded. “And very mean,” she added, trying to make a mean looking face.
“I knew it,” said Doc, “that’s what I saw out there and you all thought I was heat struck.”
Billy looked at Doc and growled, showing his teeth. “You’re stupid,” said Doc and shoved Billy into Charlie.
“I’m going to tie you both together and give you up as a peace offering,” said Charlie Two Sons.
Doc Hunnicutt frowned at the big Indian. “Don’t even joke about that, Charlie.”
Billy growled at Doc again and got jostled in return.
“They came at night,” continued Maia. “My mother put me in the hole, just before they took her. I was scared to come out until you found me.”
Cortez gave Maia a squeeze. “You’re safe now.”
Brackett rose from his squat and unslung the rifle from his shoulder. “Well, you found her, she’s your responsibility now.”
He turned to the three men in the doorway. “Billy, before it gets dark, you and Doc build a fire away from the village. We’ll huddle up there for the night. We’re not going to run the risk of getting caught separated in the huts. Charlie, you’re with me.”
He turned to Cortez. “You got nanny duty.” Renita Cortez looked down at Maia and gave her another hug.