Coyote blue, p.1
Life Will Find You
Santa Barbara, California
While magic powder was sprinkled on the sidewalk outside, Samuel Hunter moved around his office like a machine, firing out phone calls, checking computer printouts, and barking orders to his secretary. It was how he began every business day: running in machine mode until he left for his first sales appointment and put on the right persona for the prospect.
People who knew Sam found him hardworking, intelligent, and even likable, which is exactly what he wanted them to find. He was confident and successful in business, but he wore his success with a humility that put people at ease. He was tall, lean, and quick with a smile, and people said he was as comfortable in a Savile Row suit before a boardroom of businessmen as he was lounging in jeans at Santa Barbara's wharf, trading stories and lies with the fishermen. In fact, the apparent ease with which Sam mastered his environment was the single disturbing quality people noticed in him. How was it that a guy could play so many roles so well, and never seem uncomfortable or out of place? Something was missing. It wasn't that he was a bad guy, it was just that you could never get close to him, you never got a feel for who he really was, which is exactly how Sam wanted it. He thought a show of desire, of passion, of anger even, would give him away, so he suppressed these emotions until he no longer felt them. His life was steady, level, and safe.
So it happened that on an autumn-soft sunny day, not two weeks after his thirty-fifth birthday, some twenty years after he had run away from home, Samuel Hunter stepped out of his office onto the sidewalk and was poleaxed by desire.
He saw a girl loading groceries into an old Datsun Z that was parked at the curb, and to the core of his being, Sam wanted her.
Later he would recall the details of her appearance - a line of muscle on a tan thigh, cutoff jeans, the undercurve of a breast showing below the half shirt, yellow hair tied up haphazardly, tendrils escaping to brush high cheekbones and wide brown eyes - but her effect on him now was like a long, oily saxophone note that started somewhere in that lizard part of the brain where the libido resides and resonated down his body to the tendons in his groin and back into his stomach to form a knot that nearly doubled him over.
"You want her?" The question came from beside him, a man's voice that startled him a bit, but not enough for him to tear his eyes from the girl.
The question came again. "You want her?"
Already off balance, Sam turned toward the voice, then stepped back in surprise. A young Indian man dressed in black buckskins fringed with red feathers sat on the sidewalk by the office door. While Sam tried to regain mental ground, the Indian dazzled a grin and pulled a long dagger from his belt.
"If you want her, go get her," he said. Then he flipped the dagger across the sidewalk into the front tire of the girl's car. There was a thud and a high squealing hiss as the air escaped the tire.
"What was that?" the girl said. She slammed the hatchback and moved to the front of the car.
Sam, in a panic, looked for the Indian, who had disappeared, and then for the knife, which had vanished as well. He turned and looked through the glass door into his outer office, but the Indian wasn't there either.
"I can't believe I manifested this," the girl said, staring at the flattened tire. "I've done it again. I've manifested failure. "
Sam's confusion blossomed. "What are you talking about?"
The girl turned and looked at him for the first time, studied him for a second, then said, "Every time I get a job I manifest some kind of tragedy that ruins my chances of keeping it. "
"But it's just a flat tire. You can't manifest a flat tire. I saw the guy that did this. It was. . . " Sam stopped himself. The Indian in black had triggered his fears of being found out, of going to prison. He didn't want to relive the shock. "It was probably some glass you picked up. You can't avoid that sort of thing. "
"Why would I manifest glass in my tire?" The question was in earnest; she searched Sam's face for an answer. If he had one, he lost it in her eyes. He couldn't get a grip on how to react to any of this.
He said, "The Indian-"
"Do you have a phone?" she interrupted. "I have to call work and tell them I'll be late. I don't have a spare. "
"I can give you a ride," Sam said, feeling stupidly proud of himself for being able to speak at all. "I was just leaving for an appointment. My car's around the corner. "
"Would you do that? I have to go all the way to upper State Street. "
Sam looked at his watch, out of habit only; he'd have driven her to Alaska if she had asked. "No problem," he said. "Follow me. "
The girl grabbed a bundle of clothes from the Datsun and Sam led her around the corner to his Mercedes. He opened the door for her and tried not to watch her get in. Whenever he looked at her his mind went blank and he had to thrash around looking for what to do next. As he got in the car he caught a glimpse of her brown legs against the black leather seat and forgot for a moment where the ignition slot was. He stared at the dashboard and tried to calm himself, even as he was thinking, This is an accident waiting to happen.
The girl said, "Do you think that the Germans make such good cars to atone for the Holocaust?"
"What?" He started to look at her, but instead turned his attention to the road. "No, I don't think so. Why do you ask?"
"It doesn't matter, I guess. I just thought it might bother them. I have a leather jacket that I can't wear anymore because when I have it on I have to drive miles out of my way to avoid going by cow pastures. Not that the cows would want it back - zippers are hard for them - but they have such beautiful eyes, it makes me feel bad. These seats are leather, aren't they?"
"Vinyl," Sam said. "A new kind of vinyl. " He could smell her scent, a mix of jasmine and citrus, and it was making driving as difficult as following her conversation. He turned the air-conditioning on full and concentrated on timing the lights.
"I wish I had calf eyes - those long lashes. " She pulled down the visor and looked in the vanity mirror, then bent over until her head was almost at the steering wheel and looked at Sam. He glanced at her and felt his breath catch in his throat as she smiled.
She said, "You have golden eyes. That's unusual for someone with such dark skin. Are you an Arab?"
"No, I'm. . . I don't know. I'm a mongrel, I guess. "
"I never met a Mongrel before. I hear they were great horsemen, though. My mother used to read me that poem: 'In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome decree. . . . I don't remember the rest. Someone told me that the Mongrels were like the bikers of their time. "
"Who told you that?"
"This person who's a biker. "
"Person?" Sam knew there was some reality to grab on to somewhere, a position from which he could regain control, if only he could get a straight answer.
"Do you know where the Tangerine Tree Cafe is on upper State? That's where I work. "
"Just tell me a block or so before we get to it. "
Even after twenty years Sam found it impossible to distinguish one area of Santa Barbara from another. Everything was the same: white stucco with red tile roofs. The city had been partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1925, and since then the city planners had required all commercial buildings to be built in the Spanish-Moorish style - they even dictated the shade of white that buildings were painted. The result was a beautifully consistent city with almost no distinctive landmarks. Sam usually spotted his destination just as he passed it.
Sam pulled the car to the curb. "I'll go around the block. "
She opened the car door. "That's okay, I can jump out here. "
"No! I don't mind, really. " He didn't want her to go. Not yet. But she was out of the car in an instant. She bent back in and offered her hand to shake.
"Thanks a lot. I work until four. I'll need a ride back to my car. See ya. " And she was gone, leaving Sam with his hand still extended and the image of her cleavage burned onto his retinas.
He sat for a moment, trying to catch his breath, feeling disoriented, grateful, and a little relieved, as if he had looked up just in time to slam on the brakes and avoid a collision. He took his cigarettes from his jacket and shook one out of the pack, but when he reached for the lighter he noticed the bundle of clothes still lying on the seat. He grabbed the clothes, got out of the car, and headed down the street to the cafe.
The doors to the cafe were the big, heavy, hand-carved, pseudo-Spanish iron-banded variety common to almost all Santa Barbara restaurants, but once through them the decor was strictly Fifties Diner. Sam approached a gray-haired woman in a waitress uniform who was manning the cash register at the head of the long counter. He didn't see the girl.
"Excuse me," he said. "The girl that just came in here - the blonde - she left these in my car. "
The woman looked him up and down and seemed surprised at his appearance. "Calliope?" she said, incredulously. Sam checked his tie for spots, his fly for altitude.
"I don't know her name. I just gave her a ride to work. She had a flat tire. "
"Oh. " The woman seemed relieved. "You didn't look like her type. She went to the back to change. I guess she won't get far without these. " The woman took the clothes from him. "Did you want to speak to her?" she asked.
"No, I guess not. I guess I'll let her get to work. "
"It's no problem, that other guy is waiting for her too. " The woman nodded down the counter. Sam followed her gaze to where the Indian was sitting, smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke in four directions with each drag. He looked up at Sam and grinned. Sam backed away from the counter and through the doors, tripping on the step down to the sidewalk, almost falling, but catching himself on the wrought-iron railing.
He leaned on the railing feeling as if he had just taken a hard shot to the jaw. He shook his head and tried to find some sort of order to what was happening. It could be some kind of setup; the girl and the Indian in it together. But how could they know who he was? How did the Indian get to the cafe so fast? And if it was blackmail, if they knew about the killing, then why be so sneaky about it?
As he climbed back into the Mercedes he tried to shake off the feeling of foreboding that was creeping over him like a night fog. He'd just met the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and shortly he would see her again. He had come to her rescue; what better first impression? Even if he hadn't planned it. The Indian was a coincidence. Life was good, right?
He started the car and put it into gear only to realize that he couldn't remember where he was going. There had been an appointment when he left the office. He drove several blocks trying to remember the appointment and who he was going to be when he got there. Finally he gave up and pressed the autodialer on his cellular phone. As the phone beeped through the numbers to his office it hit him: the source of his discomfort. The Indian had had golden eyes.
In the time it took for his secretary to answer, twenty years of his life, of denial and deception, was pulled away in a stinging black undertow, leaving him feeling helpless and afraid.
Montana Medicine Drunk
Crow Country, Montana
Black Cloud Follows thundered across the dawn silence of a frost-glazed Little Bighorn basin, out of Crow Agency, under Highway 90, and into the gravel parking lot of Wiley's Food and Gas. A 77 ocher-colored Olds Cutlass rattletrap diesel, Black Cloud Follows stopped, coughed, belched, and engulfed itself in a greasy black cloud of exhaust. When the cloud moved on, wafting like a portable eclipse through the golden poplar and ash trees on the Little Bighorn's banks, Adeline Eats stood by the Cutlass twisting the baling wire that held the driver's door shut.
Adeline's blue-black hair was layered large and lacquered into a flip. A hot-pink parka over her flannel shirt and overalls added a Michelin Man concentric-circle symmetry to her oval shape. As the Cutlass chugged and bucked - the thing that refused to die - Adeline lit a Salem 100, took a deep drag, then delivered a vicious red Reebok kick to Black Cloud Follows's fender. "Stop it," she said.
Obediently, the car fell silent and Adeline gave the fender an affectionate pat. This old car had been indirectly responsible for getting her a husband, six children, and a job. She couldn't bring herself to be mean to it for long.
Walking around to unlock the back door, she noticed something lying in a tuft of frost-covered buffalo grass: something also frost covered, that looked very much like a body. If he's dead, she reasoned, he can wait until I've made some coffee. If he ain't, he'll probably want some.
She let herself into the store and waddled around turning on lights and unlocking doors, then started the coffee and went out to unlock the laundromat, another of the cinder-block buildings in the Wiley's Food and Gas complex, which also included an eight-room motel. Crunching back through the grass, she looked at the body again, which hadn't moved. But for the frost, Old Man Wiley would have been out at dawn setting gopher traps all over the grounds and would have taken care of the body problem. He would have also given Adeline no end of shit about Black Cloud Follows, which he had been doing for fifteen years.
It had been Wiley, a white man, who had named the car in the first place. It was not the Crow way to name cars or animals, but Wiley missed no chance to get in a dig at the people from whom he made his living. Maybe, Adeline thought, a morning of peace was worth dealing with a body.
When the coffee was finished, she filled two large Styrofoam cups (one for her and one for the body) and poured a generous amount of sugar in each. The body had long braids, so she assumed he was Crow and would probably take sugar if he was alive. If he was dead Adeline would drink his, and she definitely wanted sugar.
Back in the buffalo days, the Cheyenne prophet Sweet Medicine had seen a vision of men with hair on their faces who would come bringing a white sand that was poison to Indians. The prophecy had come true, the white sand was sugar, and Adeline blamed the white man for poisoning her right up to two hundred pounds.
She took the coffee, butt-bumped through the back door, and crunched through the grass to where the body lay. He was facedown and his Levi jacket and jeans were crystalline blue with frost. Adeline nudged him in the ribs with her foot. "You froze?" she asked.
"Nope," the body said into the ground; a little dust came up with the steam.
"Nope. " More dust.
"You want coffee?" Adeline sat one of the cups by his head. The body - she was still thinking of him as the body - rolled over and she recognized him as Pokey Medicine Wing, the liar.
Creaking, Pokey sat up and tried to pick up the coffee, but couldn't seem to get his frozen hand to work. Adeline picked up the cup and handed it to him.
"I thought you was dead, Pokey. "
"I might have been. Just had me a medicine dream. " As he raised the cup to his lips the shakes set in and he had to bite the edge of the cup to steady it. "I died twice before, you know. . . . "
Adeline ignored the lie and pointed to one of his braids, which had fallen into his coffee cup.
Pokey pulled the braid out and wiped the beaded band around it on his jacket. "Good coffee," he said.
Adeline shook a Salem out of her pack and offered it to him.
"Thanks," he said. "You got
Adeline lit his cigarette with a Bic lighter. "I'm a Christian now," she said. She really hoped he wouldn't use the cigarette to carry a prayer. She'd only been a Christian for a few weeks and the old ways made her a little uncomfortable. Besides, Pokey was probably lying through his tooth - he had only one - about the medicine dream.
Pokey squinted up at her and grinned, but did not pray. "I saw my brother Frank's boy, the one with the yellow eyes who threw that cop off the dam. You remember?"
Adeline nodded. She really didn't want to hear this. "Maybe you should tell a medicine man. "
"I am a medicine man," Pokey said. "Just no one believes me. I don't need no one else to tell me about my visions. I saw that boy with Old Man Coyote, and there was a shade with 'em that looked like Death. "
"I got to go to work now," Adeline said.
"I need to find that boy and warn him," Pokey said.
"That boy's been gone for twenty years. He's probably dead. You was just dreaming. " Pokey was a liar and Adeline knew that there was no reason that she should let his ravings bother her, but they did. "If you're okay, I got to go to work. "
"You don't believe in medicine, then?"
"Mr. Wiley will be coming in soon. I got to open the store," Adeline said. She turned and started back toward the store.
"Is that a screech owl?" Pokey shouted after her.
Adeline dropped her coffee, fell into a crouch, and scanned the sky in a panic. In the old tradition the screech owl was the worst of omens; vengeful ghosts lived in screech owls; seeing or hearing one was like hearing the sound of your own death. Adeline was terrified.
Pokey grinned at her. "I guess not. It must just be a hawk. "
Adeline recovered and stomped into the store, praying to Jesus to forgive Pokey for his sins, but adding to her prayer a request for Jesus to beat the shit out of Pokey if He had the time.
Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore / Fantasy / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes