First in the Blackfeet Mystery Series
Raymond Two Teeth drove the Tribal Police Ford Explorer as if he didn’t have a care in the world, which, at the moment, was true. He’d spent the night with Mary Anderson, whom he’d known since high school and had a crush on ever since. In spite of how long they’d known one another, their present relationship was new. Mary’s husband, Double Runner, had wiped himself out on Heart Butte road four months ago during an unexpected June snowstorm. Raymond was on duty when the call came in and he was the one who identified Double Runner. The body was sprawled in the road, the snow settling softly on him like a downy white blanket. Raymond knew by the awkward angle of Double Runner’s neck that he must have broken it when he was ejected from his car. Except for that, there wasn’t a mark on him. One other thing caught Raymond’s attention. Double Runner’s fly was open, his sex hanging out enveloped in a shroud of snow.
The tree Double Runner hit had cleaved the front of his old Chevy, leaving the twisted remnants of the hood wrapped in a metallic embrace around the pine’s trunk. Pieces of glass from the windshield and headlights crunched beneath Raymond’s boots as he plodded through the snow around the wreck. His flashlight beam danced ahead of him and settled on a second victim. Raymond recognized the woman hanging out of the partially open passenger door, her long black hair draped on the snow. Hell, every man in Browning knew LuAnn Starshine. Most of them had slept with her. Her pretty face wasn’t so pretty anymore. Shards of windshield glass were embedded in the skin and there was a dark blue depression on one side of her forehead. Her eyes were open and staring, but they weren’t seeing anything. She must have been giving Double Runner head when they hit the tree, Raymond thought. That was one hell of a climax.
The car stank of whiskey. Raymond spotted the bottle on the floor in front of LuAnn’s feet. Seagram’s, and there was enough left for a decent swallow. Raymond, tempted, sniffed at it before tossing the bottle back on the floor. He’d been dry for almost a year. No sense spoiling things now.
“Ambulance ought to be here any minute,” said a voice behind him.
Dewey Wilson’s tow truck sat idling on the other side of the road. Raymond figured it was Dewey who had called in the accident to the Tribal Police dispatcher. He’d been so intent on studying the wreck he hadn’t heard Dewey come up behind him.
“Ambulance won’t do them much good. Did you see it happen?”
“No, but I heard it. I got here less than a minute later. They were both dead.”
“Shitty night to be out on these roads.”
“Tell me about it. Well, at least Double Runner died happy.”
“How do you--oh, yeah,” Raymond said, realizing Dewey had seen the unzipped fly.
“You gonna tell his wife?”
“I’ll have to. It’s the part of the job I hate.”
Raymond helped load the bodies onto the ambulance. It drove away without its flashing light or siren. Speed wasn’t going to help Double Runner and LuAnn. The falling snow obscured the ambulance’s tail lights in a matter of seconds. Raymond climbed into his cruiser. It was time to head to the Anderson place to break the news to Mary.
“Drive carefully,” Dewey Wilson called to him. “I don’t want to have to come out again tonight.”
The house Mary lived in had belonged to her parents when they were still alive. Mary’s old man had built the place with his own hands. Its handsome wood construction set it apart from the neighboring houses, the prefabs and double-wides that dominated reservation architecture. The dull glow of a lamp was visible through the curtained living room windows. It was past two in the morning. Mary, fully dressed, opened the door moments after he knocked. She blinked in confusion.
“Oh, hi, Raymond. What time is it? I was waiting for my husband to get home and must have fallen asleep on the sofa.”
“It’s late. Can I come in, Mary.”
She was wide awake now. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
Raymond nodded. “He hit a tree on Heart Butte Road. The roads are bad. Four inches of snow down already.”
“Was he drunk?”
Raymond shrugged. “There was a bottle in the car. Almost empty.”
She studied Raymond. “What else?”
Raymond’s tongue flicked across his fleshy lips. “He must have been killed instantly. His neck was broken.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What do you mean?”
“Was anyone with him?”
“Let me guess, that whore, LuAnn.”
“How did you know?”
“I’m not stupid. Is she dead, too?”
“I wish I could say I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“Do you want me to break the news to your daughter?”
“Delia’s spending the night at her girlfriend’s house. She doesn’t have to know until tomorrow. Besides, she gave up on her father a long time ago.”
Raymond figured Mary had given up on Double Runner a long time ago, too. What puzzled him was why she had married him in the first place. Like everyone else in town, Mary knew he was always sniffing after every female and couldn’t keep a job because of his drinking. If she had given Raymond the time of day back then, he probably would have married her. Instead he ended up with Erica, and that had been a disaster. Well, that was all in the past.
Raymond was glad Mary wasn’t one for pretence. She must have figured three months was more than enough to give the semblance of mourning. She was the one who called him for their first date, dinner at her house. They’d been seeing one another once or twice a week since. Raymond had been divorced for three years. He missed having regular sex and a woman to cook for him, but he was in no hurry to tie himself down again. The arrangement with Mary suited him just fine, and now that he was off night shift for all of October, it worked out even better.
Working days was a hell of a lot easier, Raymond thought as he drove past Blackfeet Tribal Headquarters. Less chance of bloody car wrecks involving drunken kids, alcohol-fueled bar fights, and domestic violence. Well, that last wasn’t strictly true. With eighty percent unemployment on the reservation, some guys seemed to think beating up on the old lady was the only way to pass the day. Raymond’s lips twisted into a smile. Yeah, for the most part the demons came out at night. At some point, his turn for nights would come up again in the work rotation schedule. But no sense worrying about that now.
It had been a fairly quiet day and in another hour his work day and work week would end. Mary had called and asked him to come by for dinner and spend the night again since Delia was sleeping over at her friend’s house.
“That’s the best invitation I’ve had since last night,” he’d told her. “But I promised Standing Bear and Leonard Nye I’d go hunting with them tomorrow.”
“So you’ll get up early and meet them.”
“You know how hard it is for me to get out of bed when I have you next to me.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll kick you out.”
She didn’t have to ask a second time.
“I’ll stop at home to pick up my bow on the way here,” he told her.
The dusting of snow that covered the fields around Browning earlier that day had pretty much disappeared, blown away by afternoon winds sweeping off the front range of the Rockies. North-slope patches that weren’t blown away were quickly melted by the sun, which broke through the clouds in mid-afternoon. Black clouds had hugged the mountain ridges the entire morning, but now the peaks were framed against a turquoise sky. As he drove past the Blackfeet Stampede Park, Browning’s new rodeo ground, the Sweetgrass Hills, the same hills where he’d be hunting the next morning, glistened in the distance.
It hadn’t been much of a day and that was fine with him. Two kids shoplifting at the Ben Franklin in Tepee Village. He’d apprehended them both. They were no more than ten or eleven years old and Raymond knew their families. Knowing what they’d face at home if Raymond told their fathers, they swore up and down they’d never do it again. Raymond acted as if he couldn’t hear a word they were saying, but he never had any intention of making things tough for them. He let them sweat for a while, then told them that against his better judgment he’d let them go this time. He’d no sooner sorted out the kids than he got a call from the commodities building. The store had run out of bulk cooking oil, which made some of the women unhappy enough to take it out on the clerk, Sammy Redtail. Poor Sammy. It was all Raymond could do not to laugh when he let Sammy out of the storeroom where’d he’d barricaded himself. His last call had been a woman having a seizure outside the Senior Citizen Center, where the old folks went for their free meal in the afternoon. He had dropped her off at the hospital. Since then it had been quiet.
He made a final swing past the deserted pencil factory. When he was a kid that factory had three shifts going. The tribe shipped pencils all over the country. Well, that was then and this was now. Most businesses had pulled out of Browning in the sixties and seventies. Now there wasn’t much work for anyone, especially in the winter. Things got a little better in the summer thanks to Montana’s fire season. There was always a place for Blackfeet on the fire lines.
A flock of squabbling magpies caught his eye. They clustered on the ground along one of the metal sheds on the pencil factory’s grounds. More birds screamed at them from the roof. Must be a dead animal, Raymond thought. He drove through the wide-open entrance gate toward the shed. The birds lifted off the ground as the car approached.
Raymond eased his big frame out of the driver’s seat. He was two inches over six feet. Up until a year ago he’d worked out with weights fairly regularly and bulked up. It was strange, but when he stopped drinking he didn’t feel like pumping iron anymore. During the past year he’d gotten himself a paunch that was starting to show. He wasn’t happy about it. Both of his parents had been obese and diabetic. He’d seen his father lose his toes, then his legs, before he died. And his mother had died of a stroke brought on by her diabetes. What the hell are you thinking about that now for? he fumed. Reaching back into the car he slammed the plastic lid down on the open can of cashews he’d been nibbling from.
The birds pecked at a pile of rags strewn against the wall of the shed. Why the
hell would the birds be interested in that? he wondered. He walked closer. “Jesus!” he said softly. The rags were clothes--a sweater, a blouse and a long skirt--and they were on the body of a young woman. She was barefoot, lying face down. Raymond didn’t know if he was imagining it but he thought he heard her moan softly as he approached. He knelt down next to her and placed his hand on her shoulder. He heard the sound again, like the soft mewing of a cat. Gently, Raymond rolled her onto her back. He recoiled immediately and crossed himself. He hadn’t been to church in years but making the sign of the cross was instinctive. “What the fuck,” he whispered to himself. She was young and blond, no more than a child, fourteen at most. Her face was bruised and swollen, as if someone had beaten her with his fists. Her lips were caked with blood and tracks of crusted blood ran down her cheeks. She didn’t look at him. She couldn’t. She had no eyes. Someone had gouged out her eyes. Clotted blood and torn eye muscles clung to the inside of each socket.
“Can you hear me?” Raymond asked, his fingers touching her face. Her skin was cold, its color as gray as death in the shadows of the shed.
Her head moved slightly. He wasn’t sure if she was trying to nod. With her empty sockets, she reminded him more of a skeleton than a living being. As her lips parted, Raymond again heard the plaintive mewing sound. He stared in horror at the girl’s gaping mouth. Her tongue was gone, sliced off near the base. Raymond staggered to his feet and yanked the rear door of his car open. He grabbed the two army surplus blankets he kept folded on the back seat and spread them out to cover her, then got on his radio and called for an ambulance. While he waited, listening for the wail of the siren, he squatted next to the girl. “Who did this to you?” he asked, taking her hand in his. “Can you print the letters of his name on my palm with your finger?” She made no sign of having heard him. He rested his fingers on her neck. She still had a pulse. He wanted to comfort her but didn’t know how. What words could he say to a child like this?