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Authors: James D. Doss

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BOOK: The Night Visitor
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On the floor were two men, locked in a bitter embrace. One was Curtis Tavishuts. The other was a white man Moon didn't recognize.

They rolled, cursed, groaned, kicked like mustangs, swore like merchant seamen. Moon sized the thing up. Tavishuts had the weight advantage, maybe forty pounds over the skinny
matukach
with the fuzzy beard. But the absence of a left leg was a significant disadvantage to the Ute, so that the lighter man was on top almost as often as the cripple. Aside from a few scratches, neither seemed to be injured. And there was no sign of a knife.

Tillie materialized at Moon's side. “Hiya, Charlie. Whatcha doin' here?”

He didn't take his eyes off the scuffle. “Got a call from Dispatch. Somebody phoned in a report of a disturbance.”

“That must've been Gus.” Tillie glowered at the bald bartender, who was not to be counted among the spectators. He blushed and turned his attention to a glass that needed washing. “Gus Clapper,” she continued with a dreary sigh, “is an old woman when it comes to fights. Any little dispute, he calls in the cops.”

Moon pointed at the struggling mass with the tip of his boot. “I'll need to know who …”

“Oh, that's Curtis Tavishuts,” Tillie said. “He's a regular.”

“I recognize
him”
Moon said evenly. “We don't have all that many tribal members missing a leg.”

“Oh, you mean the other one.” She shrugged. “How'd I know? He looked old enough to buy a drink, so I didn't ask to look at his I.D.” She giggled and nudged the policeman with a knobby elbow.

“You never seen him before?”

She shook her head. “Nosiree. He just blew in with the tumbelin' tumblin' weed. And made a bet with the Indian.”

“So I guess Tavishuts lost the wager.” The one-legged Ute had always been a sore loser.

Tillie frowned thoughtfully at the men writhing on the floor. “As you can see, it ain't quite settled yet. The little skinny guy bet Tavishuts he could see what was in his coat pocket.”

Moon sighed. There
was
one born every minute. “And I expect he did.”

“Uh-huh.” She grinned, showing heavy pink gums lined with tiny, delicate teeth. “A 1996 nickel, made at the Denver mint. Couple of toothpicks. And a piece of peppermint candy.”

“And Tavishuts figured out the fellow had dropped the stuff in his pocket before he struck up a conversation?” It was surprising he had that much brains.

She nodded. “Yeah. But only because Tavishuts he don't eat no peppermint nor no other kinda candy—he's got the sugar diabetes. And because there was a fishin' license in his coat pocket the fella never mentioned. So your Indian, he grabbed the little white guy and tried to pull his head off.”

Moon nodded. There were one or two fights here every week. “Well,” he said wearily, “I'd best put a stop to this.”

She hugged him around the waist. “Charlie, honey, my customers is enjoyin' this little scuffle. And those fellas ain't hurtin' each other all that much. So if you could just wait a few minutes, till they're all tuckered out …”

Moon pretended to be astonished. “Your clientele are making wagers on the fight?”

She nodded. “First man who's on his feet and stays that way is the winner. And if you break it up, it'll ruin the afternoon for a lot of nice folks. You wanna make a bet? Hank Simms,” she nodded toward a grizzled truck driver, “is giving three to two on your one-legged Indian.”

“Tillie, I'm a sworn officer of the law.”

“The odds is the same for everybody,” she said with a righteous sniff. “You bein' a cop don't cut no ice—three to two is the best deal you can get.”

“What I meant,” he explained patiently, “is that it is considered unseemly for a tribal police officer to indulge in illegal gambling while on duty. Especially when the bet is on who'll come off worse in a bar brawl.” He'd have loved to put ten dollars on the skinny white man.

She snorted. “Whatever you say, Charlie. But if you don't like the odds, then at least leave 'em be till they're all give out.”

“It's my job to preserve the peace. I can't just stand by while they …”

She gave him a motherly look. “You look all out o' sorts. Like you ain't had your lunch. Could I fix you a double cheeseburger?” She batted her huge, false eyelashes at him. “With fries?”

His stomach heard this offer. And was interested. “I don't know …”

She grabbed him by the wrist, and used her two hundred and thirty pounds to advantage. Moon felt himself being led away from the spectacle, toward said grille of Tillie's Navajo Bar and Grille. “How about two quarter-pound patties of prime ground sirloin. Not cooked too done. And double cheese. Fresh-brewed coffee. It'll be on the house.”

He glanced doubtfully over his shoulder at the combatants. They
did
seem to be tiring… “Well… if it's not too much trouble.”

Tillie headed for the grille, and began to work her culinary wonders on huge patties of ground beef. She peppered and salted and worked in chopped onion. She slapped the pink disks on the griddle, where they popped and sizzled.

Moon's attention was divided. On one hand, there was the
wonderful aroma of burning animal fat. On another, the grunts and curses of the ineffectual wrestlers.

Tillie put on a fresh pot of Big Jim's Java.

Unexpectedly, a shrill shriek pierced the smoke-filled atmosphere of Tillie's Navajo Bar and Grille. “Aiiiieeeeeee!”

It was the white man who protested so loudly.

Curtis Tavishuts had managed to get the smaller man's right ear between his remaining teeth. And was chewing on it with evident relish. Almost immediately, there was a roar of pain from the Indian. The skinny white man had gouged a dirty thumb into the crippled Ute's eye, and popped the orb halfway out of its socket.

Within an instant, Moon was upon them, peeling the weary scufflers apart. It was no easy task. Tavishuts did not wish to loose his yellowed teeth from the chewed ear—he relented only when the Ute policeman twisted his nose. Once the combatants were disentangled, the big policemen lifted them like rag dolls. Because the skinny man was much lighter—and because Tavishuts' missing leg made him much harder to right—the bearded stranger was the first on his feet. Jubilant shouts went up from the apparent winners. There were loud cries of “foul” from those drunks who had backed Tavishuts—and heartfelt complaints that this was not a fair finish. If the cop had not interfered, the Indian would have chewed the man's ear off, and surely come out the winner. Not so, the others cried—a gouged-out eyeball was worth three or four chewed ears any day of the week. All turned to the proprietor to settle the dispute honorably. Tillie, with a Solomon-like solemnity, considered the case. And made her decision: the fight was a draw. All bets were off. There were dark mutterings here and there, but most were satisfied to break even in a fair contest that had been ruined by the meddling lawman.

Moon sat the miscreants in a pair of Tillie's uncomfortable straight-backed chairs, then straddled a similar piece of furniture. He assumed his professional expression of “sorrow at being a witness to this disgraceful conduct” and addressed the Ute first. “Curtis, you're an embarrassment to the People. What's the matter with you?”

The one-legged Indian rubbed at his injured eye and glared at the skinny white man with the one that worked. “This little blue-eyed devil cheated me on a bet—he put some stuff in my pocket when I wasn't lookin' and then he pretended to have X-ray vision—like Superman!” His injured expression appealed mutely to the police officer. Would a real human being do such an unspeakable thing?

“I never did no such thing,” Flye lied. “This whiner tried to welch on an honest bet. Where I come from, that's the
worstest
thing a man can do.” The stranger, who held a grimy handkerchief over his chewed ear, thrust a daggerlike finger at the one-legged Ute. “Welcher!”

Moon noticed that one digit was missing from the bloody hand. “You lose a finger in the fight?”

Flye shook his head.

“He claims a bear bit it off,” Curtis Tavishuts said with a sneer. “That fuzzy-faced bastard can't open his mouth without lyin'.”

Moon raised an eyebrow at the skinny, bearded man. “Just where do you come from?”

Chewed Ear puffed out his thin chest. “Arkansas.”

“Hah,” the Ute said. “Damn hillbilly from Dogpatch.”

Moon aimed a warning glance at Tavishuts, then returned his attention to the man from Arkansas. “What's your name?”

The white man spoke without taking his baleful gaze off the surly Ute. “Horace Flye.”

“Horsefly,” Tavishuts said derisively, and spat on the floor.

“Injun welcher,” the man from Arkansas responded, and also spat on the floor.

Tillie bellowed: “Either one of you dummies spits on the premises agin', you'll be cleaning it up with your tongue.”

“Blue-eyed devil,” the Ute muttered.

“One-legged cannybubble,” Horace hissed.

Moon sighed. A lot of children were walking around in men's bodies. “Now both of you keep quiet long enough to listen to what I've got to say.” He gave Curtis Tavishuts a hard look. “You know the routine. This disturbance occurred out of tribal jurisdiction but we've got an agreement with the Ignacio town police about arresting Native Americans. So I'll take
you over to SUPD and put you in the lockup till we can sort this out.”

Tavishuts grunted to show his indifference. The SUPD can was like a second home. And the meals were catered by Angel's Cafe.

The Southern Ute policeman addressed the out-of-towner. “Mr. Flye, as you are not an Indian, you'll be taken into custody by the Ignacio town police who… well, speak of the Devil …”

The timing was fortuitous. Moon looked out a greasy window to see the freshly waxed Ignacio town police cruiser come to a halt, its tall mast antenna oscillating with a whish-whish sound. A moment later, the bearish form of Sergeant Bill McCullough kicked the door open. He stood there, ten paces from the pair of bar-brawlers. Like an executioner relishing the bloody task before him. The town policeman was shorter than Charlie Moon, barely topping six feet even in his thick-heeled black boots. But he had shoulders a yard wide. A long bullet-shaped head which—because he had no discernible neck—sat directly on the yard-wide shoulders. He peered through nasty little black eyes, set on each side of a long, broken nose. This was a cruel face that might have adorned a recruiting poster for a neo-Nazi organization. But it was all deception. Underneath the fearsome shell was a warm heart, a generous nature. And a wry sense of humor.

Charlie Moon knew this.

Horace Flye, of course, did not.

McCullough's voice was deep, like the rumble of summer thunder. “H'lo, Charlie. You got one for me?”

The Ute policeman nodded. “Looks like we got a bad guy for both of us.”

McCullough's massive hand caressed the heavy black baton hanging on his gun belt. His thick lips twisted into a diabolic grin, exposing a row of square teeth such as are rumored to bite through seasoned two-by-fours like they were ripe bananas.

Flye sucked in a deep breath and turned to Moon with a desperate whisper. “Well, I guess you'll have to take
me
to that Injun jail too.”

Moon repeated his position with considerable patience. “Like I told you, the Southern Ute police only have jurisdiction over Indians. Everybody else is dealt with by the Ignacio town police.”

Horace nodded eagerly. “But I
am
an Injun.”

Moon suppressed a smile. The mere sight of Buffalo Bill McCullough had a sobering effect on the criminal element. “Funny… you don't
look
Indian.”

“Oh, but I am. On my mamma's side, bless her poor soul.”

“Oh? Which tribe?”

An unexpected question. There was the barest hesitation as crooked wheels spun in Horace's head. The word seemed to spring from nowhere. “Mugwump.”

The Ute policeman cocked a doubtful eyebrow. “Never heard of 'em.”

“Oh, that's 'cause they's a little bitty tribe. Almost wiped out a long time ago.” The traveler from Arkansas was warming to his task. “You never read that book—
The Last of the Mugwumps?”

“Can't say I have.”

McCullough, wiener-sized thumbs hooked in his gun belt, approached his quarry. Each heavy footstep brought a protesting groan from the oak floor. The buffalo-shouldered town policeman ignored the one-legged Indian. He looked crookedly down the bend of his nose at the hapless Arkansas man. His voice was a deep, resonant bass, seeming to rumble up from some internal volcano. “I s'pose this little pissant belongs to me.”

Horace Flye felt like an insect caught in the sticky web of a large, bullet-headed spider. He gazed at the Ute policeman with mute appeal.

“That's what I'd thought,” Moon said. “But now he claims to be Indian.”

McCullough snorted. “Injun my arse. Looks like a damn shanty Arshman to me.”

“Well, he could be
part
Irish.” Moon assumed a thoughtful look. “But even if he's only got a drop of Native American blood in his veins, he falls under SUPD jurisdiction.”

Relief and gratitude washed over Horace Flye's face.

Bill McCullough tilted his huge head and studied Horace. “What kinda Injun this pissant say he is?”

“Mugwump. On his mother's side.”

McCullough was genuinely puzzled. “I never heard a no Mugwumps. They must not be from around here.”

“They're from Arkansas,” Moon said. “They were almost wiped out a long time ago. There was a book wrote about 'em.”

McCullough scratched an ear the size and texture of a worm-eaten cabbage leaf. “Book?”

“Sure,” Moon said with feigned pity for the untutored town cop.
“The Last of the Mugwumps.”

BOOK: The Night Visitor
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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