A Chapter from “Ancestors of Star”

Bill Gaius is one of my favorite authors.  He writes blockbuster mysteries and action packed novels.  He’s also a good friend and one of the most generous of men in critting works by new writers.

I love reading Bill’s work, in part because it’s always a good story and he’s a polished writer.  He writes insightful and believable characters, even when he throws a bit of mysticism into the works.

Lady Nyo

Excerpt from William Gaius’ ‘The Ancestors of Star’.

Tim Hyatt has been outraged and embarrassed when Lucy White Eyes is apparently kidnapped from his care by armed members of a reservation drug gang. From a number of tiny clues, he thinks he’s guessed where the ‘kidnappers’ took Lucy White Eyes. On a cold November Saturday, Tim decides to check out his guess by hiking into the sacred canyon of the ancestors to try to find Lucy White Eyes and her fugitive boyfriend, Michael Talking Deer. City-bred, he has no idea what he’s getting himself into.

* * *

[from the previous chapter:]

Should I run the distance to the shrubbery on the other side, or move slowly? Should I crawl or stay on my feet? I scanned the cliffs, riddled with caves and erosion troughs, to see if someone had spotted me. There was nothing. I moved slowly across the open space, one careful step at a time, looking about as I moved.

hurtled forward into the sand. I couldn’t inhale. The breath had been knocked out of me. Pain slowly rose through my back and left side where a boot had hit me. I lay paralyzed, face down. Before I had time to panic, my ability to draw breath slowly returned in painful, wheezing gasps. I turned my head so I wouldn’t inhale sand. A knee settled into the small of my back and a large hand pressed my head firmly against the ground.

He didn’t say anything at first, but wrapped my left wrist with thick cord. My other wrist was pulled back and tied to the left one.

“He’s alone, I’m sure of it.” The voice was Lucy White Eyes’. “You didn’t have to kick him so hard, Michael. You might have broken his back.”

“He’s fine,” came a man’s soft, sing-song Lagalero accent. “Get up, white boy.”

I slowly stood up, which is not easy to do with hands tied, wearing a backpack, and punished by a sharp pain running from back to chest. Talking Deer helped, in his own way, yanking on my tied hands until my shoulders screamed with pain. Lucy stood in front of me, a rifle dangling from her hand, looking worried. I still couldn’t draw a full breath, and rocked forward and back on my feet, working to pull air noisily into my lungs. The canyon walls spun, and seemed to be falling in on me.

Talking Deer gripped my bound wrists and pushed me along the bank of the stream. Pain shot up my side and I gasped for breath each time I stumbled. After another hundred yards, we broke into a sheltered clearing in front of a broad, shallow cave. Under the rock overhang, a tent had been erected and a little corral had been built of slender poles bound with rope. It housed two horses.

He gestured to a boulder. “Sit down.”

I balanced myself on the flat-topped stone, trying to minimize the agony in my ribs. “You don’t need to do this. I came up here to see you.”

“Shut up.”

Lucy tugged at Talking Deer’s arm, and whispered in his ear.

“Don’t move.” He pulled an automatic pistol from behind his back and made sure I saw it. He took Lucy some distance away, where they spoke together for a few moments. The conversation grew louder and more heated, until Lucy put her fists on her hips and he threw up his hands in surrender. He shoved the gun into his belt and came back to where I sat watching.

“Luce tells me you’re smart,” he said, “So I’m going to take a chance with you. You have to promise to be a courteous guest, and not fight with the host.”

“That was a hell of a welcome.” It hurt to talk. “I won’t be fighting anyone for a while.”

“It could have been worse. I had you in my sights five minutes before you set off my little alarm. You were making more fucking racket than a herd of buffalo. I decided it would be safer to knife you than risk the sound of a shot. But Luce, here, convinced me I should find out what you’re doing up here first.”

“I want her to come back to the rez and make good on her promise to Metal Head.”

“You’re fucking stupid. You could be dead now.” He moved beside me and loosened the ropes. He smelled of sweat and wood smoke. “Welcome to Mike and Lucy’s Place,” he said, as I shook the ropes loose and rubbed the circulation back into my hands.

“It looks like you have regular housekeeping set up here,” I said. “And I’m guessing you can’t be seen from the air?”

“Not even with one of those heat-seeking cameras. All they’ll see is rocks. We can hold out here forever.”

“What about me? I know where you are now. You can’t let me go, can you?”

“I can. In fact, I have to. Our people go missing in these mountains all the time, but Lucy says a biliga’ana boy missing on the rez is going to bring a lot of attention. Search parties and everything. I guess she’s right. Anyway, you probably told Star where you were going. I hear you can’t take a piss without her say-so.”

I felt my face flush. “Yeah, I did tell her,” I lied.

Lucy said, “Tim, you’ve got to go back without me. But first, you have to stay for lunch, and listen to some things.”

“Come back with me, Lucy. You’re important to your people now. No one else can take up Metal Head’s job.”

“And she’s a witness, too, against me and my friends,” grumbled Talking Deer.

Another lie wouldn’t hurt. “The Feds don’t need her any more. They’ve got lots of evidence without her. Let her work with Metal Head. Let her go.”

He chuckled. “You’ve got it backwards. I don’t tell Luce to do anything. She can walk out of here anytime she wants. But she tells me she doesn’t want.”

“But how long do you think you can stay here? Someone will come for you sooner or later.”
“How did you know I was here?”

”A lucky guess,” I said. “I mean, I saw the tracks leading in here and took it from there. But you can’t stay here forever, can you?”

“You don’t understand us much, do you?” he said. “Half the rez probably knows we’re up here. My three friends brought Lucy here. They’ll check on us once in a while, and I’d never count on them to keep their mouths shut. Anyway, our people have been here a hundred years. Luce and I aren’t the only ones that know about this place.”

“Then why haven’t they hunted you down already?”

“Because they don’t want to.” Talking Deer stood up. “Come here and I’ll show you something.” I followed him into the cave, past the horses, to where the roof sloped down to meet the floor. An ancient mud-brick wall closed off a cramped space the size of a closet. He produced a flashlight from somewhere, and snapped it on.

“Ah!” I jumped back, startled. The last thing I expected to see was another face grinning back at me. A skeleton was curled up in there, its empty eye sockets staring in my general direction. A shiver rippled down my spine and lodged in my crotch.

“Luce calls him Buddy.”

My involuntary reaction had hurt my ribs again. I wheezed, “Is that one of the original people? The ones who built the ruins?”

He shook his head. “Buddy’s a Lagalero. His hair is done in a Lagalero braid, and his jewellery is Lagalero. He’s been there no more than a hundred years, I’m sure of it.”

“Was he buried here?”

“He died right there where you see him. Our custom is to bury our dead in a secret place for a couple of years, and then put the bones into a pit with the rest of our clan. There’s no pit around here, just this one poor old guy. Nobody buried him.”

“So why did you show him to me?”

“Not because I need the practice speaking English,” he said. “I’m trying to show you something.”

He squatted and kept the flashlight beam on the bony face. “I think Buddy was running away from something, maybe the soldiers, or an enemy, and he came up here. He lived a long time, too. This cave was a mess, with deer bones, corn, and yucca scraps all over. I’m thinking he survived here on his own for years.”

“…and you can stay here, too?” Against my better judgment, I was beginning to like this guy. I had to remind myself that he was at least partially responsible for Blue Antelope’s death.

“You’re quick,” he said. “Buddy knew that this place would be easy to defend. I found his bow and two dozen worn-out arrows, and a Winchester saddle ring carbine at least a hundred years old. There’s empty 30-06 cartridges all over the canyon. But it looks like he died of natural causes. He crawled into this old room and piled up some rocks to keep the animals out, and just died.”

“That’s interesting. So what are you trying to show me?”

“What I’m saying is that if anyone comes up here to get me, I’ll get some of them. They can only kill one of me. I’d rather die up here like Buddy than burn out my life in a jail cell.”

“I get your point. Everyone knows you’re here, but no one’s saying anything. If I go back and make a public issue of it, they’ll have no choice but to come and get you, and if they do, some people will get killed.”

“Luce said you were smart.”

“What about Hunter? Wouldn’t he know about this place?”

“Sure as shit he knows. But while I’m up here, no one’s getting hurt, right? You said it yourself. He’s off the hook as long as nobody says anything out loud. Between the drug charges and the manslaughter, I’m looking at twenty years minimum, with good behavior and all that. When I get out, I’ll be in my forties, and most of my life will be over. I won’t be taken out of here in cuffs. I’ll either leave in a bag or I’ll end up like Buddy.” He jerked his thumb towards the little tomb.

I said, “But if you stay up here, won’t it be just like you’re in jail?”

“This isn’t jail,” he said. “Here, I can live like my ancestors. They’re all around this place. You can feel them, and at night, you can even hear them. I can hunt my own meat and grow my corn and defend this land. Down in the town, they’ll forget about me. And Lucy…Lucy will be with me, if she wants…”

“I want, Mike.”

I said, “Lucy, I don’t know much about the desert, but think of what it’ll be like, living up here. Having to gather enough food for winter, plant crops, gather firewood, no medical help. You’re going to be cold and hungry. You’ll have to get feed for the horses, too, won’t you?”

“I don’t care what happens to me, if I can be with Mike.” Her dark almond eyes were as hot and determined as Star’s had ever been.

“Let’s have something to eat,” said Talking Deer. I followed them to the front of the cave, where a small fire burned within a wall of rocks. A steel cooking pot was near the flames to keep the contents warm.

“Mike’s proud of me,” said Lucy. “He brought back his first deer two days ago, and I butchered it myself, even if the coyotes got some of it. And I dug up a couple of yucca hearts, and found some herbs to flavor it all. This is our first meal eating off the land, now that our store-bought food’s getting low.”

Lucy didn’t look like a sixteen-year-old flirt now. She was a busy housewife, bringing worn Melmac plates and utensils to a flat rock that served as a dining table. Using a worn kitchen glove, she brought over the stew pot and ladled a portion onto each plate.

Talking Deer spooned some stew from his plate, but Lucy said, “Wait, Mike.” He held the spoon in front of his mouth, blowing on it, while she threw a little out the door with the ladle, saying something in Lagalero. She explained to me, “Always a little for the Holy Ones. Then they’ll keep us safe and supplied with everything we need.”

The stew was actually very tasty, and I accepted seconds. If she could make meals like this from the things they found in the canyon, she and Mike could actually live well up here. But soon, there would be snow. The rocks would be slippery, and the stream would freeze, and the wind would howl down the canyon.

I had one question left, and I debated with myself a minute before asking. “What exactly happened to Mary Jackson and the others?”

“None of your fucking business,” said Talking Deer.

“Mike, don’t be rude,” said Lucy. “I’ll tell you, Tim.”

She came and sat next to me. “After the deal was finished, Mike came looking for me, and drove up and down the road. He didn’t want me left out on the desert all night, he said. While he was doing that, Curtis and Mannie and Mary all went off to hide the stash.”

“Shut up, Luce,” warned Talking Deer.

“I guess they must have kept some back after they hid it, and started smoking. Mary had never done meth before. Anyway, Mike caught up with them and they were so sick, he drove them into town and dumped them in front of someone’s house and blew the horn.”

“Mary was alive when I left them,” said Talking Deer sullenly.

I said, “Was it worth it? The meth, I mean.”

“Don’t preach to me, biliga’ana,” Mike spat. “You won’t ever have to live like us. Everyone has to make money somehow. And people want the stuff. They really want it. But that’s done now. There’s just three of the boys left, the ones you met on the road. They never wanted us selling meth in the first place, and they’re really scared after Curtis and Mary died.”

I wasn’t going to push the argument while I was in his kingdom. It wouldn’t help anyway.

“Do you keep the meth up here?”

“No. Luce won’t allow it. She says I won’t be able to hunt and we won’t be able to grow crops, and we’ll just die. She’s right, I guess.”

“Well, the meth you guys brought in is still down there somewhere. Do you really want it to get into circulation among the other Marys and Curtises?”

Lucy tugged at Talking Deer’s arm. “Mike, this is your chance. Money’s no good to us up here anyway. Let Tim get rid of it now.”

He looked out of the cave mouth for a moment, and nodded regretfully. I got out a piece of paper, and he drew a detailed map to the stash. “Remember, don’t handle it with your bare hands, or you’ll end up where Curtis and Mary are.”

When the meal was finished, I said, “When can I leave?” I looked at my watch. “It’s going to be dark in a couple of hours, and I left my flashlight in the car.”

“We’ll take you to your car now. We’ve got to sweep our tracks away, anyway.”

From inside the cave, I hadn’t noticed that a steady rain had been falling for some time. The walk back to my car was wet and cold, and dark was coming on fast. I had to walk quickly in the soft sand, which aggravated the pain in my side and made it harder to breathe properly. Talking Deer apologized for kicking me so hard, but his words didn’t help. By the time we reached the car, the sky was almost dark and there was neither moon nor stars. His flashlight was our only guide.

When I was about to get in my car, Lucy came over and kissed me on the cheek. “You won’t be telling anyone, will you?”

“No, Lucy, I won’t.”

“And will you apologize to Metal Head for me?”

“He can’t, Luce,” said Talking Deer. “Metal Head, and everyone else, would know that Tim knows where we are.”

In truth, I hadn’t made up my mind what to do.

Driving in the rain and darkness down to Stone Giant Road, I turned left and found the narrow, unnamed track that passed an abandoned hogan.

I looked inside the hogan, poking the flashlight beam around. It was a filthy mess of beer bottles, food wrappers, discarded clothing, and condoms. Trickles of water leaked through the roof and glittered in the flashlight beam. A rusty stove stood in the center of the floor, its bent chimney pipe leading up through the hogan’s smoke hole. A low wall of mortared stones surrounded the stove. In a few minutes, my freezing fingers found and dislodged the loose stone inside the wall. I thought, this hiding place is a cliché. If no one had found it, it was because no one had looked.

Behind the stone, some paper had been pushed in to fill the space. I pulled it out, and a plastic bag the size of a basketball rolled heavily into the wet fireplace ashes. Many smaller bags were inside, each containing slivers of shattered glass, the smoke-able form of methamphetamine.

I held it in one hand and examined it with the flashlight. The drugs in this package had killed Blue Antelope and Curtis Marks, might soon put four men in prison, and condemned Michael Talking Deer and Lucy White Eyes to living in heroic squalor in the mountains. It also indirectly created the real possibility that the tribal patrimony of the Lagalero might be lost forever.

The meth was pure evil. Its purpose was only to kill and spread misery.

It was also evidence, and I was about to commit a felony and destroy it. Without it, the four Redskin Rangers in custody might go free. On the other hand, if I turned it in, I’d have to reveal the whereabouts of Talking Deer. And I’d made a promise to Lucy and didn’t want to break it. I looked at the stove and considered burning the meth. But it was possible some passing car might spot the fire or smoke.

A narrow wash ran with water a few yards from the hogan. I crouched with my back to the wind and began to empty the bags into the rapid flow. I rinsed my hands every few minutes to avoid absorbing the chemical through my skin. There were hundreds of the little bags, and dumping the whole stash took almost an hour. Finally, shivering violently, I climbed into my car, turned on the heat, and headed back to town.

Taped to the door of my room, I found a sealed envelope, rather than just the usual page torn from Star’s square notepad. I opened it and read, ‘As time goes by? Feel like dancing tonight?’ Her little scrawled signature, the five-pointed star, was at the bottom.

It was some hours later that she saw the huge bruise on my ribs. I said I’d fallen while hiking. She warned me not to go into the mountains alone again.

NOTE: ‘The Ancestors of Star’ is available for sale as trade paper ($14.95) or download ($4.95) at Lulu:

http://www.lulu.com/content/2196691

Bill Gaius’ current work in progress is on view at

http://www.williamgaius.com/

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5 Responses to “A Chapter from “Ancestors of Star””

  1. Margie Says:

    This excerpt has totally sucked me in. This is a book I’ll definitely be purchasing. Thanks Jane for sharing this – a wonderful writer – with all of us!

    Like

  2. ladynyo Says:

    Yes, he sucks you in!!! LOL!.

    And he’s a wonderful writer….Thank you, Margie for reading Bill’s chapter and for taking the time to write and encourage!

    Hugs…

    Like

  3. Malcolm Says:

    I want to read all of this story. Thanks for giving us a taste.

    Like

  4. ladynyo Says:

    You are welcome. I posted the addy where it can be bought on lulu.com.

    Cheers!

    Like

  5. Bill Gaius Says:

    What can I say? Thank you for the kind words!

    Like

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