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Authors: Margaret Coel

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13

SOMETHING ABOUT THE
sound of the front door opening, the scuff of footsteps on the wood floor, made Vicky glance away from the computer monitor. Beyond the beveled glass of the French doors was the tall figure of Adam Lone Eagle. The black hair smoothed back, blurring into the collar of his dark coat. She felt a jab of annoyance. Here he was, when she'd decided he'd probably never call again. Just walk away after a half-dozen dinners, the way you'd walk away from an acquaintance you ran into every time you went to the grocery story. The muffled sound of Adam's voice floated through the doors. Then Annie's, giggling and nervous.

Adam had a way of making women nervous, Vicky thought, just like he had a way of appearing at inopportune moments. She was about to leave for the reservation. She'd gotten to the office early and spent the morning finishing up some work—a lease for a client renting out an office in Lander, a threatening letter to an insurance company that refused to pay another client's claim—after spending most
of the night pacing her apartment, her thoughts running in a continuous loop over the meeting in Gianelli's office. Always circling back to the beginning: T.J. was innocent. Somewhere in the night, with the green iridescent numbers on the clock blinking 3:10, she'd decided to check out T.J.'s alibi herself. One witness who had seen T.J. at the office Monday night, and Gianelli would have to look elsewhere for the killer.

Vicky got up and yanked open the French doors just as Adam was reaching for the knobs. “Got a minute?” he asked, his eyes traveling over her before coming back to rest on hers. He was smiling, as if he were pleased with the image he'd taken in.

“That's all I have,” Vicky said, moving back toward the desk, annoyed at the way he made her stomach flutter with the way he looked at her, the most ordinary question he asked. The man always took her by surprise, as if there were things about him she'd forgotten since the last time she'd seen him. The determination in the way he carried himself: head high, shoulders square inside the black leather jacket. There was determination, too, in the set of his jaw, the sharp cheekbones and finely shaped nose with the hump at the top, the eyes like black stones that absorbed everything and revealed nothing. He might have been a warrior who'd stepped out of one of the old photographs.

He was still smiling at her. “It's been too long since I've seen you.”

She gripped the edge of the desk. Dinner ten days ago, then nothing. “We're both busy,” she said.

“Come on.” He leaned close. The smell of aftershave on his skin mixed with the faint odor of leather. “You didn't miss me a little?”

“Adam, I'm very busy.”

He held up one hand, palm outward in the sign of peace. “How about tonight? We can have dinner over at Hudson. There's something I want to talk over with you. Seven o'clock.”

“You don't give a woman a chance to say anything, Adam.”

“Say yes. I'll pick you up at your place.”

Vicky drew in a long breath. “I'll meet you at the restaurant,” she said finally.

Adam reached out and ran a finger along the curve of her chin, a light touch that sent a jolt of electricity through her. “See you tonight.” Then he was gone, striding through the outer office, letting himself through the front door.

Vicky gathered up the papers scattered over her desk and slipped them inside a folder. She was about to file the folder in one of the desk drawers when she realized that Annie was standing between the French doors, holding onto the knobs. She
was
young. Twenty-three years old, half of Vicky's age, the age of her own kids, Lucas and Susan, with an “I've seen it all” look on her face.

“That Lakota sure knows how to get what he wants,” Annie said.

Vicky set the folder in place and slammed the drawer. She had no intention of discussing Adam with her secretary. She told her that a client would be stopping by to pick up the rental lease this afternoon, and the letter to the insurance company had to make today's mail.

“People been talking about . . .”

Vicky cut in. “I don't want to hear the gossip, Annie.”

The woman's head snapped back as if she'd been struck. “I thought you'd want to know.”

Vicky took her coat from the coat tree and shrugged into the soft gray wool. Oh, she could guess the gossip on the moccasin telegraph. Adam Lone Eagle, lawyer from Casper. Lakota. Handsome. They'd been seen together in restaurants, holding hands, and walking down Main Street. But there were days and weeks with no phone calls, when she wondered if she'd ever hear from him again, and she'd told herself it didn't matter. She wasn't sure whether she was attracted to him, or whether she'd talked herself into the idea because. . . because, at times, the man seemed so attracted to her and because he was available.

“I'll check in later,” Vicky said, fixing the strap of her black bag
over one shoulder and brushing past the secretary. She hurried across the office and let herself outdoors, pulling the door shut against the secretary's gaze.

She drove north on Highway 287, stomping on the accelerator to pass the old pickups lumbering down the middle of the asphalt. Clumps of brush floated past the window like bales of sunshine. She passed Plunkett Road and turned onto Blue Sky Highway. After several miles, another right into the graveled parking lot that wrapped around the squat, redbrick tribal headquarters building. She left the Jeep in a vacant space at the end of a row of vehicles and walked back to the entrance through the warmth of the sunshine washing over the sidewalk.

Across the tiled floor of the lobby, a wave toward the receptionist behind the desk, then down the hallway on the right past a procession of closed doors with panels of pebbly glass. Savi Crowthorpe's door was open. The councilman was curled over the papers spread across his desk. He was a slim man with muscular shoulders, a hawklike nose, and straight, black hair that hugged the curve of his neck. The capable, long fingers of the basketball player he'd been at Wyoming Indian High flipped through the papers. Glancing up, he waved Vicky inside with his eyes.

“Gotta make this short,” he said, skipping the polite preliminaries. “I have a meeting in ten minutes. Take a seat.”

Vicky sat down on the metal-framed chair halfway between the door and the desk. The office was stuffy, hot air angling like a blowtorch out of the overhead vent. She unbuttoned her coat. “I'm here about T.J.,” she said.

“You and the fed.” The councilman squared the edges of the stacked papers. “Gianelli was waiting in the lobby when I got to work yesterday. Wanted to know what time T.J. left the office on Monday. I'm gonna tell you the same thing I told him. After the council meeting, T.J. and I worked late on Senator Evans's visit next week. How we're gonna handle the crowds at Fort Washakie; how much food we gotta serve, 'cause people aren't coming out if they don't get
fed; and how we're gonna end the program so the senator can get over to St. Francis Mission. Finished up about six-thirty, and I went home. It was the wife's birthday, so she wasn't real keen on me working late. Kept calling wanting to know when I was coming home.”

“What about T.J.?”

“Still in the office when I left. Said he was gonna work on the comments he was gonna make at Fort Washakie about the importance of getting another environmental study before we start polluting the reservation. His exact words, as I remember. Like I told the fed, if T.J. says he worked late, that's what he did. Works all the time, that man. He's the one who discovered how the BIA was trying to push a weak environmental analysis on us that was done by a consulting firm hired by the oil companies, so the companies could start their drilling.”

“Anybody else here?”

“At six-thirty?” The councilman gave her a crooked smile. “The place was a tomb.”

Vicky shifted her gaze to the window. She could feel her heart pounding. T.J. had no alibi.

The phone had started to ring, and the councilman stretched out his long fingers and lifted the receiver. “Don't start without me,” he said, jumping to his feet. He dropped the receiver back into place. “Sorry, Vicky. Gotta go.”

“Thanks for your time, Savi.” Vicky stood up and turned toward the door.

“He didn't kill his wife, you know,” the councilman said. “Woman gets shot, the husband's the first one they're gonna suspect. Maybe T.J. isn't perfect, but he doesn't have killing in him. You gotta help him, Vicky.”

“Look, Savi,” she began. “If you think of anybody who might have seen T.J. here on Monday night . . .”

“Patrol car,” he cut in.

“What?”

“Police patrol comes around during the night, checks to make sure the building's locked up, everything's okay.”

“Thanks.” Vicky gave the man a wave and started down the hall, pulling her cell phone out of her bag. She stopped at the front door and tapped out a number, then stepped outdoors and retraced her steps to the Jeep, moving between the crisp cold of the shadows and the warmth of the sunshine, the phone pressed against her ear.

“Wind River Police.” A woman's voice came on the other end.

“Let me talk to Chief Banner.” Vicky got in behind the wheel and pulled the door shut. “It's Vicky Holden.”

“Hold on. I'll see if the chief's available.”

“It's important.”

“I'm sure.”

A couple of minutes passed. The Jeep came alive—engine running, cool air pouring from the vents. Finally the chief's voice: “Vicky? What's going on?”

“I'd like to talk to the patrolman on duty Monday night, the one checking the tribal headquarters.”

“This about T.J.?” There was a clicking noise at the other end, as if the man was tapping a pencil against the phone.

“T.J. was working late. He needs a witness.”

The tapping stopped. “Looks like my boy was on duty in Ethete that night. Patrick's real conscientious about checking on the tribal buildings.”

“Can you connect me to him?”

“Doesn't come on duty until . . .” Tap. Tap. Tap. “He clocks in at five. Where you gonna be?”

She told him that she was on her way to Vera Wilson's place. Then back to Lander.

“Patrick'll find you. Take it easy, Vicky.”

“Wait, Banner,” she said. “There's something else.”

“Shoot.”

Vicky took in a gulp of cold air. “Were there any disturbance calls
to T.J.'s house? Any records of domestic abuse?” Gianelli would ask, and she had to know what Gianelli knew.

A loud guffaw burst down the line. “A tribal councilman? If that'd happened, it would've been all over the rez. Next time he ran for election, people would've thrown his ass off the council. Look, I'll check the records for you, but I'm telling you, there's not gonna be anything there.”

Vicky felt her muscles begin to relax. She thanked the chief, hit the end button, and slipped the phone back into her bag. Then she backed into the lot and lurched forward out onto the highway. She had to talk to T.J.

14

VERA STOOD IN
the doorway, blinking with disappointment. Then she stepped sideways, her eyes running across the yard where Vicky had left the Jeep between two pickups. A cold gust of wind blew a cloud of dust across the stoop, and Vera lifted one hand and absentmindedly brushed at the front of her red blouse.

“Is T.J. around?” Vicky asked.

“I was hoping you was T.J.,” Vera said, stepping back into the house. “Come on in.”

Vicky followed the woman into the living room, warm and thick with the smells of fresh coffee and fry bread. There was nobody in the room, but Vicky could see three women seated at the kitchen table in back, a scattering of coffee mugs and plates in front of them. There was a sense of interruption, as if conversation had stopped in mid-sentence. The women were staring into the living room.

“I have to talk to T.J.,” Vicky said. “Where is he?”

Vera threw a glance toward the kitchen, then took hold of Vicky's
arm and steered her into the hall on the right. The woman's fingers dug through her coat sleeve and into her skin a moment before she let go and hurried ahead.

Vicky followed her into a small bedroom and shut the door as Vera perched on the edge of a narrow bed, next to a table covered with snapshots in plastic frames. Pictures of Vera with her husband, who'd died five or six years ago; Vera with two children, grown now and living someplace else. A snapshot of T.J., about eighteen, posing in black cap and gown, the wind sweeping the skirt of the gown back against his legs. A memory went off in her mind like a flashbulb. A June day, the sun beating down on the field where the graduation had taken place, her gown as hot and heavy as a blanket.

T.J. again, in an army uniform, taller, more confidant looking, a man standing in front of an old pickup. And T.J. and Denise hugging on a door stoop. It was as if the moments had been stopped in time, the light and shadows and feel of the air, the angle of shoulders and arms, the hopeful expressions forever fixed in the image.

She realized that Vera was crying. “What is it?” she asked, sitting down on the bed beside her.

“I been so worried.” Vera ran the palms of her hands over her cheeks. “T.J. went into the mountains this morning. Said he was gonna go crazy if he didn't get off by himself so he could mourn for Denise in the old way. He already chopped off his hair and he's gonna be crying and praying, all alone out there, blaming himself.”

“Whoever shot Denise would have shot T.J. if he'd been there,” Vicky said. It was just as T.J. had told Gianelli yesterday. Councilmen got threats all the time. T.J. had just never expected anybody to carry them out, but Monday night, that's what had happened.

Vera drew in a long breath that whistled in her teeth. “There's something else,” she said. “The fed's gonna put Denise's murder on T.J., and the thing is . . .” She hesitated.

“What? What are you trying to tell me?” Vicky tried to keep the impatience out of her own voice.

The other woman shifted around until she was facing her. She closed her eyes a moment and took in another gulp of air. “Denise was gonna divorce him, Vicky.”

Vicky didn't say anything. So that was what Denise had on her mind when she'd stopped her in the grocery store.

“T.J. told me Denise wanted to call it quits, but that's not what he wanted,” Vera went on. “Said he'd made a mistake, but he wanted to work things out.” The woman shrugged and looked away.

“Mistake? What kind of a mistake? Another woman?”

“It was over, Vicky. Didn't mean anything.”

Vicky got up and went to the window. It was edging toward dusk, and the moon shone white against the silver sky. In the shadows, clumps of wild grasses turned blood red. T.J.'s alibi was as transparent as air. Unless somebody saw him at the tribal offices Monday evening, he had the opportunity to kill his wife. And now this—God, T.J. hadn't said anything about an affair. Opportunity and motive. Gianelli would have enough to get the grand jury to indict T.J. for murder.

“Who is she?” Vicky turned back to the woman hunched over on the bed, one hand clamped over her mouth.

“I never asked. I didn't want to know. She was nothing but trouble, you ask me.”

“What about the gossip?” Vicky gestured with her head in the direction of the kitchen.

The other woman took a moment, clasping and unclasping her hands in her lap now. “Nobody says anything to me. I'm pretty sure she wasn't from the rez. T.J. was real careful, being on the business council. He had his reputation to think about. She called today.”

“The woman called here?”

“Wanting to talk to T.J. Sounded real upset. I said he wasn't here, and she hung up. I knew it was her.”

“Listen, Vera,” Vicky began, trying for a confidence she didn't feel. A sense of unease was working through her, as if T.J. had become someone else, not the image of the man she remembered. She stepped
over and set her hand on the other woman's shoulder. “If she calls again, ask her to call me. Tell her I'm trying to help T.J. And as soon as T.J. gets back, tell him I have to talk to him.”

It was a moment before they started back down the hallway. Shadows bunched against the walls. Ahead, a thin stream of light flowed out of the kitchen and across the living room. The house was quiet, and Vicky wondered if the other women had left. But they were still there, as still as mannequins at the table. Vera hurried ahead and yanked the front door open.

“Any news about T.J.?” a woman in a pink sweatshirt called out.

“Not yet,” Vera shouted, beckoning Vicky through the door with her eyes.

“Try not to worry,” Vicky said, stepping past the woman onto the stoop. The words hung between them a moment, limp and inadequate.

Vera mouthed a silent thank you, then shut the door.

The temperature must have dropped ten degrees, the moonlight swallowing the hint of warmth that had come with the sunshine. Hugging her coat around her, Vicky hurried for the Jeep. She was about to shut her door when the woman in the pink sweatshirt emerged from the house and ran over.

“You don't remember me,” she said, opening the passenger door and leaning inside. Her long black braids dangled over the seat.

Vicky studied the woman's face in the glow of the dashboard lights. High forehead, prominent nose, and tight, determined mouth. “Nancy?” she said.

“Nancy Thomas. Used to be Whiteplume.”

“I remember you.” It was starting to come back now. They'd gone to high school together, and the woman was connected to T.J. Probably a cousin.

“I told Vera I needed cigarettes out of my pickup,” the woman was saying. “I wanted to talk to you. You're defending T.J., right?”

Defending wasn't exactly right, Vicky wanted to say. T.J. hadn't been charged with anything. “He's my client,” she said.

“Whatever. He's in a big load of shit, you ask me, and Vera's in total denial. She can't believe her important brother could be a bastard. He's been cheating on Denise for a year.”

“Vera said it was over,” Vicky said. She wondered if the woman knew how long the affair had been going on.

“Maybe you oughtta ask his girlfriend if it's over.”

“Who is she?”

“I hear the gossip. Tall blond, a lot younger than T.J. That surprise you?” She gave a little laugh and pulled at the pink sleeves. “I hear she works for Great Plains Insurance over in Riverton. I figure T.J. didn't tell you about her 'cause he thinks it's some big secret.”

“Thanks,” Vicky said.

“Look, I love Vera. We been through a lot of shit together, and I'm gonna be here for her no matter what happens. I think T.J.'s gonna get his ass charged with murder, and that's gonna be real hard on Vera. Maybe he did it, I don't know, but for Vera's sake, I hope you make sure he gets a fair trial or whatever.” The woman backed away, closing the door as she went.

Vicky turned the key in the ignition and listened for a moment to the engine coming to life in the quiet. By the time she'd turned the Jeep around in the yard, the pink sweatshirt had disappeared into the house.

 

VICKY WAS HEADING
south on 287, close to the boundary of the reservation, the yellow cone of headlights sweeping into the dusk, when she realized that blue and red lights were flashing in the rearview mirror. She eased on the brakes and guided the Jeep to the side, watching the lights pull in behind her. She waited until the policeman in a dark uniform had crawled out of the patrol car and walked up to her door, then she rolled down the window and looked up into the sculpted face of Patrick Banner.

“Dad said you want to talk to me,” he said. “Mind coming back to the patrol car?”

Vicky turned off the engine and followed Chief Banner's son. He opened his door and waited until she'd slid into the passenger seat before he settled himself behind the steering wheel. “I take it this is about T.J.,” he said, turning toward her. His dark blue jacket folded over the rim of the wheel. “What's going on?”

“He's out there”—Vicky waved toward the dark expanse of foothills rising outside her window—“grieving for his wife. He's not himself. He hasn't been thinking straight.”

Patrick tapped the rim with a gloved finger. It made a rhythmic, muffled noise. In the glow of the dashboard lights, he looked like a younger version of his father: the same long face and hooked nose, the hooded eyes settling on her. “Some guys like to go up to Moccasin Lake,” he said. “I'll radio the sheriff up in Arapaho County. If T.J.'s in the vicinity, they'll check on him. That all you wanted?”

Vicky shook her head. “The chief said you were on patrol in Ethete Monday night,” she began. “Did you see anybody at the tribal headquarters after six-thirty?”

Patrick stared out the windshield a moment, as if he were calling to mind the building and the parking lot. “Nope,” he said finally. “Nobody around. Excuse me.” He reached across her, opened the glove compartment, and drew out a black notebook. “Monday night,” he said, thumbing through the pages. “Here it is.” He shoved the notebook into the dashboard light. “Checked on the building at seven, nine, eleven, one
A
.
M
. Doors locked, lights off, and nobody around.”

“What about the parking lot?”

“Like I said, nobody was around. So what's this all about? T.J. say he was at the office when his wife got shot?” He blew out a long breath. “They put me on the witness stand, I'm gonna have to swear that nobody was in the building that evening. Sure hope T.J. can come up with a better alibi. Maybe he'd better rethink where he might have been.”

Vicky opened the door and started to get out. “Thanks, Patrick,” she said.

Before she could close the door, he leaned across the seat. “Be careful, Vicky,” he said. “A guy like T.J. has made enemies. If one of them killed his wife, the killer could still be looking for T.J. And if he doesn't find him, he could come looking for his lawyer.”

Vicky shut the door and made her way back to the Jeep through the mixture of moonlight and headlights frozen in the cold air. She had pulled back into the lane and gone several hundred feet when she saw the headlights in the rearview mirror carve through a U-turn across the highway, leaving only the flickering red taillights that grew fainter and fainter until they disappeared into the reservation.

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