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Authors: Margaret Coel

Winter's Child

BOOK: Winter's Child
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Berkley Prime Crime titles by Margaret Coel

Catherine McLeod Mysteries

BLOOD MEMORY

THE PERFECT SUSPECT

Wind River Mysteries

THE EAGLE CATCHER

THE GHOST WALKER

THE DREAM STALKER

THE STORY TELLER

THE LOST BIRD

THE SPIRIT WOMAN

THE THUNDER KEEPER

THE SHADOW DANCER

KILLING RAVEN

WIFE OF MOON

EYE OF THE WOLF

THE DROWNING MAN

THE GIRL WITH BRAIDED HAIR

THE SILENT SPIRIT

THE SPIDER'S WEB

BUFFALO BILL'S DEAD NOW

KILLING CUSTER

NIGHT OF THE WHITE BUFFALO

THE MAN WHO FELL FROM THE SKY

WINTER'S CHILD

Anthologies

WATCHING EAGLES SOAR

BERKLEY PRIME CRIME

Published by Berkley

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Margaret Coel

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY is a registered trademark and BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the B colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Coel, Margaret, 1937–author.

Title: Winter's child / Margaret Coel.

Description: First edition. | New York : Berkley Prime Crime, 2016. | Series:

A Wind River mystery ; 20

Identifiers: LCCN 2016011310 (print) | LCCN 2016017539 (ebook) | ISBN

9780425280324 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780698191297 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Holden, Vicky (Fictitious character)—Fiction. | O'Malley,

John (Fictitious character)—Fiction. | Women lawyers—Fiction. | Arapaho

Indians—Fiction. | Wind River Indian Reservation (Wyo.)—Fiction. |

BISAC: FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths. | FICTION / Mystery

& Detective / General. | GSAFD: Mystery fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3553.O347 W56 2016 (print) | LCC PS3553.O347 (ebook) |

DDC 813/.54—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016011310

Cover art by Tony Greco & Associates Inc

Cover design by Lesley Worrell

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For my friend and mentor Virginia Sutter, who,
for many years, has guided me in the Arapaho
Way.

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

My heartfelt gratitude to the late Virginia Cole Trenholm, who first told me the story of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fletcher Brokenhorn, and to Jeff Broome, Ph.D., who generously shared with me his extensive research on Lizzie and her family, as well as his enthusiasm for Lizzie's story.

Many thanks to those who shared their expertise and took the time to advise me on various aspects of this novel, and to those who read parts or all of the manuscript and made superb suggestions that brought the story and characters into sharper focus: Karen Gilleland, Carl Schneider, Virginia Sutter, Jim Sutter, Sheila Carrigan, Bev Carrigan, Veronica Reed and, of course, my husband, George
Coel.

It wasn't what I expected.

What a surprise

When it came to me.

And then I chose it.

—Margaret
Coel

1

Snow had fallen
all day, dense cotton fluff that cocooned the brick bungalow in a white world and obscured the small sign: Vicky Holden, Attorney at Law. Now the snow dissolved into a white dusk as Vicky drove through the side streets of Lander, tires thumping over ruts and ridges. The heater kicked into gear, and warm air streamed into the frosty cold that gripped the Ford. She hunched over the steering wheel. She was late.

The monthly meeting of the Fremont County Bar Association would probably end early. Always a speaker, followed by a little socializing, catching up, exchanging gossip, which she suspected was the real purpose of the meetings; but with the blizzard, everyone would be eager to head home.

The call with Jim Peters, Fremont County prosecuting attorney, had lasted longer than she'd anticipated. She had almost given up hope of convincing him to allow her to turn over her client, Vince
White Hawk, to the sheriff at a prearranged time tomorrow. Five o'clock, say. Earlier, Peters had said. Vince could take it into his head to disappear. She hadn't argued, just kept insisting. The last thing she wanted was the police at his mother's house, a SWAT team swarming the place. Vince would panic and pull out whatever weapons he had stashed away. Somebody would be shot, probably Vince, and maybe an innocent bystander. And for what? Attempted robbery at an ATM? Granted, the woman Vince had threatened—he had not had a weapon on him, she had pointed out, and Vince claimed he was only panhandling—had been scared, thrown her purse at him, and bolted for her car. Not so scared that she hadn't managed to get Vince's license number as he tore out of the parking lot. Now he faced a felony charge.

“Come on,” Vicky had pleaded. “You have my word Vince will turn himself in tomorrow afternoon.” In return, Peters would recommend to the court that Vince be released on bond and sent to rehab. Vince White Hawk needed rehab.

Finally, a long, weary sigh had come over the line and the prosecutor had agreed. But—always a warning—if she failed to deliver, every cop in the county and on the reservation would be on Vince's trail. A hollow feeling had invaded her chest as she hung up. She had to find Vince and convince him.

She had called Betty White Hawk, Vince's mother. Yes, he was there, Betty said. Sleeping it off. The woman sounded beaten down, as if the weight of worrying about her son had pushed her into the ground.

“Tell him I've worked out an arrangement for him to turn himself in. He'll be free on bond and sent to rehab. It's his chance.” She tried to disguise any hint of her own worry that Vince would run. “I'll pick him up tomorrow afternoon.”

*   *   *

Now Vicky pulled
a slow turn onto Main Street, wishing she hadn't promised Clint Hopkins she'd attend the meeting when he called this afternoon. Clint had a one-man practice in Riverton devoted to family law, DUIs, and minor assaults, similar to her own practice, but Clint specialized in adoptions. If you had a difficult adoption case in Fremont County, Clint was the attorney. She had consulted with him herself on a couple of cases. It had surprised her that
he
wanted her to join him as cocounsel on a case. A complicated case, he'd said, involving an Arapaho couple on the rez.

“Complicated? Most adoptions on the rez tend to be pretty straightforward,” she had told him. It wasn't unusual for grandparents, aunts, or uncles to step in and raise children abandoned by alcoholic or drug-addled parents. His request had caused her to draw in her breath, press the receiver against her ear, and concentrate hard.

“Nothing's straightforward about this case,” Clint had said, a tight, anxious note in his voice. He hadn't wanted to discuss it on the phone, and they had made an appointment for ten o'clock in the morning. But he wanted her to have his notes before then. He would bring them to the meeting tonight. She would be there, wouldn't she? The whole conversation, with its sense of urgency and secrecy, had left her unsettled.

The vehicles in the parking lot that bordered the Sagebrush Motel and Restaurant looked as if a giant crane had dropped them at random angles. She circled twice before she slid to a stop and waited for a sedan with red beams of light sweeping over the snow to back out. She turned into the vacated space and, wrapping her scarf about her head and clutching her coat, made her way past the
parked vehicles to the sidewalk. A narrow path had been cleared, leaving a sheaf of ice littered with blue deicing crystals that popped under her boots. Through the fogged plate glass window, she saw people milling about with bottles of beer and glasses of wine. Her breath floated ahead in the cold air.

Vicky let herself through the heavy front door into the aroma of beer, coffee, and grilled meat that drifted across the restaurant. People moved from group to group, mired in the buzz of conversation and the crack of laughter. No one looked familiar, and yet everyone looked familiar—faces she had seen in court, chatted with at other meetings, nodded to on the street. Other lawyers practicing in Lander or Riverton or in one of the other small towns flung about the county. But not friends, merely acquaintances moving around the same track she was on. She ducked into the coatroom on the right, hung her coat and scarf among the piles of coats already occupying the hooks, and went back into the reception. Nodding and smiling, she worked her way to the table propped under the window and was about to pour herself a glass of sparkling water.

“Allow me.” A tall man materialized beside her and took the bottle. He wore a navy blue blazer over a white shirt opened at the collar and blue jeans. A silver watchband studded with turquoise flashed beneath his cuff as he twisted off the cap and filled the glass almost to the brim.

“You must be the bartender,” she said.

“Nowhere near as important, I'm afraid.” He was smiling as he handed her the glass. “Rick Masterson. I would remember if I had seen you in the audience.”

“My apologies for coming late.” She recognized the name. Rick Masterson, this evening's speaker. A lawyer from Cheyenne, known across Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado for teaching
other lawyers how to seat the most sympathetic juries for whatever case they were trying. “Rules for Reading Jurors” was the title of the speech on the flyer the bar association had e-mailed about the program. He was holding out his hand, and she slipped her hand into his. “I'm Vicky—”

“Holden, Arapaho lawyer. You practice in Lander.”

“You know every lawyer in the state?”

“Pretty much in the Rocky Mountain region. It's my job.” He was still smiling. “Hang on a moment,” he said, backing away. Then he turned and plunged into the crowd.

Vicky sipped at the water and headed into the crowd herself, searching the faces for Clint Hopkins. A few people brushed past on their way toward the coats. The reception was starting to break up. Finally, she spotted the sandy-haired man with the quarter-sized circle of freckled scalp on the crown of his head seated at a table, bent in conversation with two other men. She veered diagonally in his direction.

Clint glanced around, then jumped to his feet with surprising agility for a man in his fifties with the stiff, bowlegged look of a rodeo rider. He had a slim build with narrow shoulders and a long, sun-blotched neck that stretched out of the collar of his plaid shirt. A bolo tie hung down the front. He looked more like a rancher than a lawyer. The weather lines at the edges of his eyes crinkled as he grasped her hand between both of his. “I had about given up.”

She found herself apologizing: A conference call that ran late. His hands were rough and strong.

“You're here now.” Clint released her and gave a little wave. The vertical worry line between his eyes set him apart from the other lawyers standing about, drinking beer, tossing their heads back in laughter. He lifted a briefcase from the floor and guided her to a
corner near the doorway to the motel reception area. She could feel the slight tremble in the hand he placed on her back.

“We can talk over here.” He threw a dismissive glance at the crowded room. “I appreciate your willingness to cocounsel,” he said, slipping an envelope from inside the briefcase. He held the envelope close for a moment, as if he were reconsidering, then handed it to her.

“I can't make any promises until I know what the case is about.” Vicky let her glance run around the room. “This place is filled with lawyers who have handled adoptions. It makes me wonder why you called me.”

“This isn't about family members adopting a child whose parents can't raise her.” He leaned in close and lowered his voice. “This is about an Arapaho couple and a white child.”

Vicky sank against the wall, aware of the roughened plaster snagging her spine. White people wanting to adopt an Arapaho child from the Wind River Reservation—that she understood. A tribal matter. Only if tribal officials allowed the adoption would it proceed. Lawyers for the white people always portrayed them as good—saintly, even—God-fearing folks who would give the Arapaho child every advantage. One day the child would come to forget she was Arapaho, that she had ever been part of something bigger and richer than all the advantages. Or she would begin to wonder who she was, where she had come from, where she belonged.

Clint looked down at the envelope Vicky held in her hand. “Myra and Eldon Little Shield in Ethete. I assume you know them.”

Vicky shook her head. Close to twelve thousand people lived on the reservation, nine thousand of them Arapaho. The rest Shoshone. She couldn't know all of them, but outsiders labored under the belief that every Arapaho knew every other Arapaho in the world.

Names were another matter. Names had history; names came trailing their own stories. Shadowed and contoured by people from the past: the old chiefs, the warriors, the medicine men. People had something to live up to, to aspire to, in names. Something glorious and admirable and never forgotten, passed down in stories of the Old Time. She had heard so many stories while sitting cross-legged around the fire in Grandfather's tipi when she was growing up—the tipi was where stories were passed down, not in the small frame house where her grandparents lived—that the people from the Old Time seemed real to her, as if they still walked the earth and might, at any moment, drop in for a visit. Their names were recognizable. If she had run into a couple named Little Shield in New York City, she would know they were Arapaho.

“Little Shield signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie.” She lost him with that. She could tell by the distant look in his eyes, as if a snow cloud had passed between them. She pushed on: “An important treaty that made it possible for the people to come to the Wind River Reservation. He was much admired for his foresight.”

“You're saying you don't know Eldon Little Shield or his wife.”

Vicky shook her head. The crowd was dissipating. Every now and then a blast of cold air funneled into the room as the front door opened. The men Clint had been talking with at the table had left. She had the sense that they were alone, off in the corner.

Clint shifted his gaze to the envelope. “Read the notes. I'll fill you in on the rest tomorrow. I've been dealing with this case exclusively for a couple of weeks. Nothing about it is routine, and I worry about the consequences of pursuing the adoption.” He looked up, eyes shining with the anxiety she had sensed during their phone conversation.

“Consequences?”

“You'll understand.” He scanned the room. “Looks like the meeting's over. Come on. I'll walk you to your car.”

Vicky slid the envelope into her bag as they crossed to the coatroom, where a few coats still clung to the hooks. Clint helped her with hers, then pulled on a dark, bulky jacket while she searched for her scarf. She found it draped under another coat, and she headed toward the entrance, Clint's boots clacking behind her. Through the window, the night was filled with snow.

She was aware of the pressure of Clint's hand on the small of her back, the briefcase swinging in his other hand. Great billowing flakes floated against the black sky and blanketed the trucks and cars in the parking lot. “I'm parked across the street,” Clint said. “Where's your car?”

“Vicky!” A man shouted behind them just as she was about to gesture toward the Ford. They stopped in unison, she and Clint, and looked back. Coming through the front door and slamming it behind him was a man in a dark cowboy hat and a sheepskin jacket with the collar pulled up around his ears. She blinked against the snow that splashed her cheeks and eyes. The man started toward them, and through the glow of light in the window she saw that it was Rick Masterson. He held out a package.

She turned to Clint. “Go ahead. I'll see you tomorrow.”

He divided his glance between her and the man hurrying through the snow and nodded. Wiping a gloved hand across his face, he turned, stepped off the curb between the dark hulks of parked vehicles and started across the street.

Vicky looked back at Rick Masterson. The package in his hand was the size of a book. “When I got back to give you this, you'd been whisked off into a corner by a very intent Clint Hopkins. I didn't like to interrupt, but I did want to give you this.” He held out the brown package, an offering.

Vicky peeled back the bag far enough to read the top line of the title:
Rules for Reading Jurors.
“Thank you.” She dusted off flakes of snow and folded the bag back into place. “I'm sure I'll be able to use it.”

“Anytime you'd like to get together and talk about . . .” He stopped, lifted his face into the snow a moment as if a miraculous event were taking place around them. “I'd like to see you again. Dinner, lunch, whatever time you might have. I'm in the area consulting for a few days. How about it? You're not involved with anyone at the moment, are you?”

In the way he said it, the way he tilted his head and stared at her, daring her to disagree, she knew he had done his homework. Check out the background on the juror would be the first rule in the book.

BOOK: Winter's Child
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