In The Wind
Nora Lou Wilson
Rebecca S. Smithey
Note to the reader: This is our take on what happened when the season finale was over.
"Hang on, Branch," I said as I lifted him up and across my shoulder. "I'm gonna get you outta here."
I could feel his blood seeping through the back of my shirt, but I could also feel his shallow breathing. Where there's breathing, there's hope… I stumbled once on the loose rock, and he moaned. "I'm sorry, Branch," I whispered, and I wasn't sure if I meant to apologize for the misstep or for everything that had happened recently. "Just hang on, son."
I got to the Bullet, laid Branch in the back as carefully as I could and covered him with a blanket I kept there. He was unconscious so I felt for a pulse. It was weak, but it was there.
I headed for the hospital, driving like a bat outta hell. If I waited for the Res police or the EMTs, Branch might die. It was quicker to move him myself.
I must have broken the land-speed record getting back to town and Durant Memorial. I had radioed ahead to the hospital, mainly because there was no one at the station. Detective Fales had seen to that – not to mention my wrecking the place. I had made so much noise destroying my office that I had probably run the basement mice out of town.
The doctors and nurses took Branch off my hands and put him on a gurney. I stood there, stunned and kicked to the curb by the day's events. I felt like my entire world was unraveling in my hands. The only silver lining to this bleak, black day was the rush of activity around Branch. If he had died en route, they would have just pronounced him and sent his body to the morgue for an autopsy. Instead, they went into hyper-drive, and the doctor in charge started firing off orders as they moved toward the surgical suite further down the hall. I managed to corral one of the nurses and told her to take Branch's personal effects to Doc Bloomfield for testing. They had already found a small evidence bag in the pocket of his pants that (I hoped) contained DNA from the site where David Ridges body was supposedly buried. Until there was proof otherwise, I was going on the assumption that David's "suicide" had been staged to throw us off the trail…I just wondered where the trail was going to lead.
Suddenly, after all the flurry of activity, everything was eerily quiet. I stood in the hallway, forcing my breathing to return to normal. There were a dozen things or more that I needed to do right at that moment. I needed to see Henry…I needed to get my office cleaned up before Ruby saw it and had a stroke…but first, I needed to call Barlow Connally and tell him his son had been shot and then go shower and change clothes. I was still covered in Branch's blood and I really didn't want Cady to see it, so I went back to the jail to shower and grab some clean clothes before seeing anyone else.
The walk across the street from where I parked the Bullet was surreal. You could just tell by looking that the only topics of conversation on everyone's lips was Branch being shot and Henry being arrested. The news of Branch's shooting (and the search warrants being executed) had already gone through town like wildfire. I knew that everyone had questions for me, but I had to have a little time to get my act together before having to answer a lot of questions – particularly about Martha and Denver. I hurried inside before anyone had a chance to corral me.
I had a clean change of clothes there for just such an occasion and nope, a troop of brownies hadn't dropped by and cleaned up the mess made by Fales and his cohorts… and made worse by me. I was going to have to get back here and take care of this. Ruby was going to skin me alive.
A couple of hours later, after a quick return to the hospital, I turned the Bullet toward the Res. Branch had survived the surgery, and the doctors were (in their words) "guardedly optimistic". He'd been badly injured, but by all accounts, he was also incredibly lucky. The first bullet had broken his collarbone, and the second had perforated his liver and nicked a kidney, but his youth and general great health would help in his recovery. When I left, Barlow and Lucian were sitting in a hallway, holding cups of coffee that neither of them drank from.
I had called Cady from the phone in the E.R., but she said she would come by later. I understood her unspoken words. We were not on Barlow's friends list. I wasn't sure what Barlow's problem with my daughter was, but I did know it had something to do with me. Barlow Connally had hated me since we were much younger men, and Martha had chosen me (a ne'er-do-well son of a farrier) over the more mature, more popular and very wealthy Barlow. He had always been great at holding a grudge.
With Branch's recent run against me, I had to admit that it was a legitimate news story. Still, I had left the hospital through the back to avoid the reporters from the local stations parked out front. I was in no mood to speak, on or off the record.
Mathias was standing outside the Reservation police station when I pulled up, and I could not help but think that he was waiting for me. "You need to know that this was nothing personal," he said. "I was only doing my job."
I wanted to punch him right in his smug, self-righteous face. You're enjoying this way the hell too much I thought, but all I said was "I need to see Henry."
"Make it brief," he said. "You can have fifteen minutes." I looked back at him as I stepped through the door, and he shrugged. "You could have thirty – if you were his lawyer…you're not his lawyer, are you?"
Henry was sitting on the bunk in a holding cell near the back in the small station, a manila envelope sitting next to him. He stood up when he saw me. Mathias unlocked the cell, and I stepped inside. We sat side by side on the bunk. Mathias stood on the other side of the bars, his back to us. That was the extent of the privacy he was going to give us.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"I am fine." He looked at me. "You?"
"I'm okay…Branch got shot on the Res earlier today, though." I looked up at Mathias' back. "You might want to start an investigation into that, Chief," I said to the black-shirted back. He moved off and started a conversation with one of his deputies, who then left. He came back to stand across the room from us.
"Is Branch dead?" Henry asked.
He nodded. "Good – While I do not particularly like him, I do not wish him ill." He picked up the envelope. "I am not sure when they will extradite me to Denver, so I need to say something." He took a document from the envelope, and I could tell that it had been notarized. "Some time ago, when all of…this," he motioned around the cell, "got started, I took steps to…protect myself." He handed me the document. "This gives Cady ownership – temporarily I hope – of the Red Pony. I have a good crew there. They will help her."
"Henry, I don't – "
"Let me finish, please." He looked at me, and I could see a mixture of emotions on his face: concern, anxiety; maybe even a little fear. I realized he was just trying to maintain a little control over all the chaos around us. "The other documents give you…" I started to protest, because I had a horrible feeling I knew what was coming next, but he held up his hand. I stayed silent. "These give you ownership of the rest of my property…my house…horses...car…the Rezdawg…along with power of attorney…"
"Henry, we don't have to…I can't…"
He shook his head. "Yes, we do have to do this…in the worst case scenario, I will need a lot of money for my defense…you may have to sell…things…You have to do this…for me…my brother…"
My hands were shaking as I took the papers from him. "I will get to the bottom of this, Henry…I swear to God."
At that precise moment, Detective Fales walked into the station. I shook Henry's hand, and he pulled me into a quick embrace. "I know you will, Walt," Henry said, looking at Fales. "Just do it quickly."
My mind was still reeling when I got back to the office. I called the hospital, and learned that Branch's condition had been upgraded to stable. That was the only bright spot in the entire day.
I hoped that I would still find the office deserted, courtesy of Detective Fales, but no such luck. Vic and Ferg were both at their desks. Ruby's chair was empty, but her purse was on the desk, and her sweater was draped across the back of her chair. I had a bad feeling about where she might be.
Ferg got to his feet. "How's Branch?"
He's gonna make it," I said.
Vic didn't say anything, but her eyes were wide. A slight inclination of her head toward the other room spoke volumes.
I walked into my office and stepped into the full glare of Ruby's bright blue, lie-detector, no bullshit eyes. "What happened in here? Walter?'
I looked around at the wreckage. When I'm pressured, I sometimes think I'm funny. "Termites?"
If looks could kill…
"I lost my temper, Ruby," I said. "I'm sorry."
She closed the door. "We need to talk." She moved over to one of the only pieces of furniture I had not destroyed – the couch – and sat down. I watched her for a moment longer then came over to sit next to her. I pulled my hat off and set it – brim up – on my other side.
I had known Ruby for more years than either of us wanted to think about and we were close, but she rarely showed affection to anyone except her husband. She did now, reaching over to take my left hand in her right and squeezed.
"Why didn't you tell me…about Martha being murdered?"
So there it was…the one secret I hoped would never see the light of day, and now everyone in town knew I had lied to them. I felt the tightness in my chest and heat behind my eyes. I took a deep breath, and even I could hear how ragged it was. I waited a moment longer to try and control the emotions raging inside me.
"It was.." I cleared my throat and started over. "It was what she wanted."
"I don't understand."
"When…when she was stabbed…" I felt Ruby's fingers tighten on my hand, but I was somewhere else in my mind. "When I got to the hospital, Martha was still alive…I was able to talk to her…" I could smell the hospital disinfectant, and hear the beeping of the heart monitor that was counting down the last few beats of my wife's heart. "She begged…she begged me not to tell Cady – or anyone else. She knew what murder did to me…that it turned me inside out. She didn't want that for anyone else. She wanted people to remember her…for something better than that." Suddenly, the tears were there as I remembered holding her and hearing the last of it. "She said…she said…I love you, you big goof…and then…she…died…"
Ruby was crying too, and for a minute we just sat there in our shared grief. She was able to get a grip on herself before I could, as she wiped her eyes and got to her feet. "We need to get this mess cleaned up. I'll go get the broom." She stopped at the door and looked around. "I never liked that bookcase anyway."
By the time Ruby and I finished cleaning up my office, the sun had set. Vic and Ferg were gone; probably both to the hospital. I needed to go by there, but I also needed a few hours' sleep more than anything else. Before I crashed, I touched base with Cady, who was still staying with me while she recovered from her accident. We made plans to go together to the hospital first thing in the AM.
I stretched out on a cot in the holding cell and put my hat over my eyes. I fell into a deep sleep, but I was rudely awakened a couple of hours later when someone kicked my boot.
I pushed my hat up and looked up at Lucian. "Rise and shine, troop," he growled.
"Is it Branch?" I asked.
"No – my nephew is going to be up, around and chasing skirts in no time…I think he was making eyes at a nurse in the recovery room," Lucian said. "I actually came to talk to you."
I got to my feet and walked into my office, Lucian at my heels. He took a quick look around the office. "What happened to the bookcase?"
I ignored him, rubbed my hands over my gritty eyes and tried to focus. "What do you need, Lucian? It's not chess night already."
"I heard Ladies Wear got himself arrested?"
"Yep." I never could get used to his warping of names. "Henry Standing Bear will probably be extradited to Denver within the next 24 hours, to face charges of murder."
"Paper said he's been arrested for conspiring to kill the asshole that stabbed Martha…is that true?" He sat on the sofa and stared at me. I knew there would be another conversation at another time about keeping the truth from him, but for now he focused on the problem at hand.
"So, what are we doing to get him off?"
"WE…are working on it." I said the words, but I wasn't really sure how I was going to actually carry it out, despite my promise to Henry.
"Sounds like he's gonna need a good lawyer."
"That'll cost a bundle."
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a slip of paper and handed it to me. "Maybe this will help."
The paper turned out to be a six-figure check. "Defense fund" was scrawled in the note field. "Lucian – how the…" My voice trailed off because I couldn't get the words out around my shock.
"Did you think my brother was the only white guy in the county with money? Barlow and I earned our cash the old-fashioned way…we inherited it…"
"Why would you want to do something like this?"
"Henry is your best friend, right?"
"Yes." It didn't escape me that he suddenly called him by his first name.
"Then, he's my friend too, and I always help my friends."
"Thank you, Lucian." I put the check in my desk. "I'll pay you back…somehow."
"Just get Henry out of jail, find out who really killed the sonofabitch that killed Martha, and pin a medal on the guy."
I drove out to my cabin after Lucian's visit. I took a shower, put on clean clothes and grabbed a quick breakfast with Cady. While we were eating, Mathias called to say that Henry was already on his way to Denver, and would most likely be arraigned tomorrow morning. My heart sank as I hung up the phone. Detective Fales was moving fast!
"He's going to need a good attorney," Cady said.
I told her about the check from Lucian as we drove toward the hospital, and her eyes widened. "Makes me wish I was a criminal lawyer."
"You're too close. You'd just have to recuse yourself."
"There is that." She looked thoughtful for a moment. "I'll make some calls. A few of my friends owe me favors."
At the hospital, I stayed out in the hallway while Cady went in to see Branch. A few seconds later, Barlow Connally stepped out of the room and into the hall. "I thought I'd give the kids a little privacy," he said. "Let's go get a cup of coffee, Walt. I need to talk to you."
We got coffee from the dispenser in the hallway and I followed him out the pneumatic doors. We stood in the sunshine for a moment. I could tell Barlow had something on his mind, but his first words surprised me.
"I want…no, need to thank you, Walt."
"Branch told me you saved his life out there on the Res." Barlow studied his boots and struggled to speak. "When he was shot…he called you, not me...not me…" He held out his hand. "Thank you…for the life of my son…"
The next couple of days were a blur of phone calls, visits with attorneys and trips to the bank. As we expected, Henry was arraigned on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder, and his bail was set at one million dollars. With the money from Lucian, my county credit union account and a new mortgage on my cabin – along with a jar full of bills from the Red Pony – Cady was able to hire a criminal defense attorney from Gillette with a sterling reputation and a record of never having lost a case. He had credentials in Colorado, so we drove to Denver together. That drive turned out to be one of the longest of my life.
"How do you know my daughter, Mr. Darius?" I asked the tall, black man in the Armani suit and Italian leather loafers.
"She helped me through a course on property law," he said. "Without her tutoring me, I might have flunked out of law school. "And my name is Bobby, by the way."
"Okay, Bobby, I'm Walt."
He adjusted his seat belt. "I owe Cady big time!"
"Taking Henry's case may just square things," I replied.
"Maybe so." I could feel his eyes on me as I drove under the overpass, turned right onto the interstate ramp and turned the vehicle south. "Sheriff, you do need to know something about me," he said. "I don't cut myself any slack, and I won't do that for anyone else. I don't plan on starting now. You may be Cady's father, but I won't extend special courtesies because of that."
"I don't expect any," I told him, but I could hear the defensiveness in my voice. I took a deep breath. "We appreciate your taking the case."
"You can thank me when the case is won," he replied.
I asked the one question I almost dreaded hearing the answer to. "What are the odds of that?"
To my surprise, he smiled. "If I were a betting man, I'd say the odds are very good - very good indeed." Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the smile faded. "Make no mistake – proving Henry's innocence won't be easy, but I would not have taken the case it I thought it was hopeless…Still, I am going to need all the help I can get."
"I'll do whatever I can," I vowed.
"I'm glad to hear you say that," he told me, "Because right now, I need you to tell me what happened in Denver. Leave nothing out – not one, tiny detail." He fished a small recorder out of the breast pocket of his suit jacket and turned it on.
With Henry on the hook, I had no choice. I started to talk, and I held nothing back. By the time we reached Denver, he had everything I knew, and everything we both had done, including Hector's part in this unholy mess.
The next morning, I tagged along with Bobby when he went to make his first visit with Henry. The jail where they were holding Henry was a modern facility, advertised as a state of the art building, but despite all the hype, it was still just that – a jail, and the last place Henry deserved to be.
We signed in, I surrendered my weapon, and then they buzzed us into the visitor's reception area. I had been expecting Plexiglas cubicles, but instead there were several metal tables and chairs set up throughout the room. The walls were concrete block, and the only windows in the place were small and covered in wire mesh. There were several drink and snack machines situated around the room, but no one was buying.
We found seats and momentarily two guards brought Henry through a set of double metal doors at the back of the room. He was handcuffed and his feet were manacled, but he still moved with an easy grace that I had come to know well and envied. He even made the orange DOC jumpsuit look good.
He sat down and the guards cuffed him to the table and moved away, but not very far. This was certainly not going to be considered a confidential conversation.
I introduced him to his new attorney, and then asked, "How are you?"
He shook his head. "Other than an endless craving for a REALLY good cheeseburger, I am fine."
"How are they treating you?"
"Do not worry about me, Walt. Murderers – even suspected murderers – carry a certain…panache…in here. Besides, I have not been integrated into the general population yet, and won't be – until after the trial, that is."
"I am hoping it won't come to that, Mr. Standing Bear."
"Henry," he corrected the attorney.
"Henry," Darius said, "and my name is Bobby. I am going to spend the next few days getting up to speed on your situation. As your attorney of record, the DA's office and the police are required by law to give me access to all the information and evidence they have. Once I am thoroughly briefed, I will request a hearing with the judge. Your bail should also be arranged by then."
Henry looked stunned, and I realized he had already prepared himself for the worst possible scenario - that he would spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.
We spent the rest of the visit bringing him the news from Durant. I told him that Cady was trying to learn the ropes at the Red Pony. All too soon, out time was up. After promising to come back as soon as possible, we left. I turned back and watched the guards take Henry away, and I felt like a little piece of me stayed behind.
After we left Henry, we went over to the police station- where I sat in the Bullet while Bobby went in to see Detective Fales. Given my recent history with the man (and my feeling that he was still trying to get to me through Henry) Bobby thought it might be best if I kept a very low profile around the Denver Police Department.
I pulled a used paperback from my coat pocket and tried to lose myself in the world of David Copperfield. I had been reading just long enough to finish a chapter when a couple of uniformed officers approached the Bullet. They were pushing a hand-truck loaded down with boxes that I recognized. They were the files that had been confiscated from the office during their search. Apparently, Detective Fales had found nothing incriminating in the gripping, day-to-day paperwork of the Absaroka County Sheriff's Department, and our attorney had obviously convinced him to release them. Now, if they would only return what they had taken from my house – including my daughter's self-assurance. That had been shattered by the search. I was beginning to think that the search of my house would leave more scars than her accident.
I helped the patrol officers load the boxes into the back of the Bullet, and then tried to resume reading, but it was a lost cause. Dickens was one of my favorite writers, but the sun shining through the windows made me drowsy. I leaned against the driver's side door, covered my eyes with my hat and let the accumulated fatigue get the best of me.
I woke up some time later to Bobby Darius climbing into the passenger side. "Have a nice nap?" he quipped as he placed a large box on the bench seat between us. "While you were out here catching some Z's, I was having a very interesting talk with your favorite Denver homicide detective."
I shook my head. "I can imagine how that went."
"You might be surprised."
I turned the key, listened to the engine kick into life and headed off to our next destination – the office of the district attorney. "You gonna tell me how it went in there?"
"Detective Fales was…cooperative…almost too cooperative, if that's possible." He shook his head. "I'm pretty good at reading people, and I think he might have opened up to me because I'm a 'brotha'. He had the idea that I had taken the case to get Henry off the hook and put you there instead…I didn't bother to correct him." He pointed to the box sitting between us. "There are copies of everything Fales has…and after talking to him, I think there is a lot more to this story."
"I've told you all of it."
"I believe you - but I can't help wondering what else that detective knows that he isn't saying…Just because he was obliging and a 'brotha' doesn't mean I trust him."
As we drove down the street outside the police station, Bobby suddenly said, "We need to make a stop before I talk to the D.A."
I had a sudden fear that I knew what he wanted to do, and he confirmed my fear. "I need to see where your wife was attacked."
A few minutes later, we stood in a cluttered alleyway behind a small bistro where Martha had stopped to get a cup of tea. I had been given a copy of the initial police reports, and I had made several trips to this place in the first few months after Martha's death. Each time I came here, I was overwhelmed by what my imagination could conjure up about that evening. Over the flood of emotions, I struggled to fill the attorney in on how my wife's death had unfolded.
"She came down to Denver for a new round of chemo treatments," I said. "I drove her down here, but she made me wait for her at the hotel."
"She said…she said I hovered…" I admitted. "And that I made everybody nervous.." Once again, I remembered the knock on the hotel door, and the police officer who came to take me to the hospital. I also felt the pangs of guilt. "If I had insisted on going with her, none of this would have happened."
"That may not be true."
I looked at him, but I could tell he was thinking the same thing I had been for months now. He looked around the cluttered, smelly alley and shook his head. "This was just a very convenient spot. I think someone targeted your wife, followed her to Denver and murdered her…this was not a mugging that went south."
A few hours later, after a quick dinner at a McDonald's near the interstate, I turned the Bullet north for the return trip to Durant. My vehicle was full of boxes and evidence bags from the police and D.A.
It had been a long day, and both of us were quiet on the drive back, temporarily "talked out". He helped me unload the files for the office, and I helped him put the evidence into the cargo space of his late-model Lexus.
As we shook hands outside my office, he said "I'll spend the next day or so going through everything. This case is my primary concern right now, so I will be spending most of my time in Denver."
"Anything I can do, just call me,'
"There's only one thing you have to do."
Early that next morning, I dropped Cady off at the hospital to visit Branch, and then headed out to the Res. If I was going to find Hector again, I was going to need all the help I could get. My usual conduit to Hector was floundering in a Denver jail cell, and the last time I had seen Hector, he was on horseback and disappearing into the heart of the Bighorns. Still, I was counting on his commitment to justice and his devotion to his people. I had to believe that when he heard what had happened to Henry, he would show up. I just had to get the word out.
"It is a bad thing that has happened to Henry…Um, hmm, yes, it is so…"
"It is." I sat in Lonnie Little Bird's kitchen, drinking coffee with a chief of the Northern Cheyenne nation.
"He did not do this thing - this crime he is accused of." It was a statement of fact.
"Lonnie…it's a little complicated." Slowly, I laid out the whole mess for him. He listened, shook his head, and then sipped at his coffee. "What can I do to help Henry?"
"I need to find Hector."
"That is all?"
"He has disappeared."
"He always comes to his people when an injustice is being done. And Henry is the victim of an injustice, um…hmm…yes it is so…"
By the time I got to the office, Ruby was already emptying the boxes I had brought back from Denver. With Ferg's help, she and Vic were actually getting the office back into shape.
As I started toward my office, Ruby held out one of the smaller boxes. "This one isn't ours," she said. "It's police reports, but it's all from the Denver Police Department."
"It probably just got mixed up with the boxes Bobby needs," I told her as I took the box out of her hands. "I'll call him before he goes back to Denver." I walked into my office. But that doesn't mean I won't read through it first…
For the next several hours, I sat at my desk and went through the material from the box. Most of it was out-dated: background checks, financial reports and arrest records on Miller Beck dating back to his teen years, long before my wife crossed his path. In the very bottom of the box, however, were two documents that made me sit up, take notice, and call Bobby Darius. He listened, and then said he would meet me at the Busy Bee for breakfast.
I was bone weary and would have gone to sleep in a holding cell, but I did not want to leave Cady alone for another night. She had spent most of the day with Branch, who was recovering well, and then had gotten a ride to my house from Vic.
I stopped at the hospital on my way through town. Visiting hours were long over, but no one stopped me as I walked down the hallway. Branch had been moved into a private room, and as I eased the door open, I could tell that he was sleeping. The monitors all seemed to be showing normal rates…if I had them figured out correctly. The room was dimly lit, and lying there like that he looked less like my grown-up deputy and more like a kid. I watched him sleep for a few minutes and then quietly turned to go.
"Walt?" When I looked back, he was watching me.
"Sorry to wake you," I said. I moved closer and sat in the metal chair next to his bed. I listened to it creak under my weight. "How you doin' troop?"
"I'm gonna be okay," he replied. "Thanks to you."
"I'm just glad you're all right," I said. "Hurry up and get outta here. We need you back at work."
He smiled for a moment, then his face became intense. "Walt, you gotta let me…"
I cut him off. His recovery was all the thanks I was ever going to need or want. "Don't worry about it, troop."
Cady was asleep in my bedroom when I got home, curled under an Indian blanket Henry had given her Mom. I knew it was her way of trying to stay close to her godfather. I missed Henry, too…but if things went our way, Henry would be coming home very soon.
A bright yellow Post-It note was stuck on the entry into the kitchen. Daddy: Your dinner is in the fridge! EAT! It was signed with Cady's personal logo: a smiley face with its tongue stuck out.
Inside the fridge I found an awesome looking sub sandwich, along with a jar of pickles and two cans of ice tea. I sat at the kitchen table, eating while I read over the file I had brought from the office. I was willing to bet that Detective Fales had no idea we had this information, and I was looking forward to shoving it in his face, if not down his throat.
Eventually, I stretched out on the couch and flipped through the channels of the satellite TV Cady had bought for me some time ago. I started watching a classic football game on one of the ESPN channels, but it wasn't long before I fell asleep.
I woke up some time later with ESPN still on and Hector standing in my living room. "Jesus, Hector!" I snapped as I jumped up. "You scared the hell outta me! I could have shot you!"
"Your gun belt is on the table across the room," he said, unfazed. "And do not yell, you will wake your daughter."
I glanced back toward my bedroom, but there was no sound. If I had awakened her, then she was giving us the privacy this conversation was going to need. Good girl…
"Your daughter is…recovering…from her injuries?"
"Yes, she is. Thank you."
"You know that her accident…was no accident," he said.
"And your wife's death was not an accident, either," he whispered.
"I'm beginning to…" I stared at him. "What do you know about that?"
"I know nothing for certain…I hear things…and I have doubts…" He looked at me, and I felt a quick chill go through me. "Did you know that I met your wife once?"
"No, I didn't." But I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation!
"She was…worried… about how the casino was going to hurt the people of the Reservation. Someone sent me to…talk to her…ask her to back off…"
My stomach twisted. "Did you hurt her?" I whispered, but I thought I already knew the answer to that.
"No…She told me that she had found out the casino was being built on sacred ground, and that it would hurt the Res, not help, if it was built."
"How did she know that?" I had a feeling I knew how Martha had gotten that information, but I could not confirm it. I knew she had talked to the "psychic" Cassandra just after she was diagnosed with cancer. Could she have gotten that data from her? Martha had closer ties to the Res than I did – could someone else have told her? I would never know for sure…
"I do not know. After we talked, I knew that what she was trying to do was an honorable thing. I went back and told the man who wanted me to stop her that I could not do what he asked me to do." He smiled then, a little sad smile. "I really liked your wife. She made me laugh."
"She made me laugh too, Hector…All the time... Who asked you to talk to my wife?"
He shook his head. "I cannot say."
"Was it Jacob Nighthorse?"
He did not move, he did not speak, but his eyes widened a bit, and I had my answer.
He looked up as I glanced at my watch. "Are you going to arrest me again?"
"Nope. I wanna buy you breakfast. There's a guy you need to talk to."
It was still early morning, so The Busy Bee was quiet when Hector and I walked in. Bobby Darius sat at a table off to one side away from the other customers.
"Mornin' Walt…" Dorothy stopped when she saw who I had with me. "…the usual?"
"Sure… Hector, what'll you have? Breakfast is on me."
"The usual will be fine, Lawman."
I pointed to where our lawyer sat. "Bring it all to Bobby's table, and yell if you need help."
"HA! The day I need help serving food from you, Walt Longmire, is the day I take up sheriffin'!"
"I could always use another deputy," I told her.
"Then who'd keep this county fed?"
"The usual" turned out to be Dorothy's famous biscuits and spicy gravy. At first, Bobby eyed the platter suspiciously, but after a bite or two, he was hooked. Hector dove right in, and I expected him to ask for seconds…if not thirds…
While we ate, I gave Bobby the two reports I had found in the bottom of the police department box. He glanced through them, then looked up at me. "Can you believe Detective Fales let us have this?"
"I'd be willing to bet that he doesn't know." I took a sip of my coffee. "If I need a file pulled together, I turn that over to Ruby. We can probably thank a police department clerk for this…They probably just pulled everything about him."
Hector paused in his eating just long enough to look up. "There is good news in this report?"
"Yep," I said. "On the night you…saw…Miller Beck," – his eyes were questioning – "the man who killed my wife, two Denver police officers found him and called an ambulance to take him to Denver General Hospital. He was badly beaten…two missing teeth…but very much alive."
Bobby looked up from the paperwork. "There's no medical report attached."
"Check the last page. After the EMT's got him to the ER, the cops went in to interview him so they could file their report. But, Miller Beck had simply…disappeared." I took another sip of my coffee. "Even as badly as he was hurt, he had to know that the hospital would do blood tests, and that's the last thing a meth-head wants. I bet he called one of the druggies he shared that house with to come pick him up, but we'll never really know for sure how he got out of that hospital."
"I need to get this to the grand jury in Denver."
"Do you think it is enough to get Henry released?" I asked. I knew how perverse courts could be, and I did not want to get any of this wrong.
Bobby was looking at the second document, and his face turned scarlet with anger. "Detective Fales should have told you and Henry about this piece of evidence from the beginning."
"I thought so, too."
Bobby waited to speak again until after Dorothy refilled our cups and moved off, then he read from the report. "Along with DNA belonging to Martha Longmire, there was also trace amounts of DNA from one other blood sample, unidentified at the present time." He shook his head. "How did Fales even get warrants in the first place?
"I'd like to ask him that myself."
"To make our case, I'll need to get DNA swabs from Henry - and you, too, Hector," Bobby told him. "Just to eliminate you." When Hector frowned, Bobby asked, "Will that be a problem?"
It was as if I could read his mind. "I think Hector is concerned about his…legal exposure…we try and keep Hector off the grid and out of the system."
"I think we have a very good chance of getting Henry out on bail," Bobby told me. " I am also going to try and get the charges dismissed, in light of evidence that Miller Beck was not killed on the night in question. I'll call you from Denver, as soon as I have information."
In spite of Hector's refusal to give a DNA sample, Bobby still seemed hyped as we left the diner.
"I know Henry will be back soon, Lawman, do not look so concerned."
"How do you know, Hector?"
"I heard it in the wind on my way to your house."
I looked at him and wondered if I could ever be as connected to this earth the way the Cheyenne seemed to be. Nah, wasn't ever gonna happen…I enjoyed using contractions too much. And that's when it hit me. I knew Henry would be back soon, too. Hector wasn't telling me anything I didn't know already.
"Can I give you a lift back to the Res?"
"No, thank you. I have a ride."
"But, I thought you walked when you came to my house."
"Yes, but I left my ride in town…the wind told me to do this as well."
Curious, I watched as Hector walked down the street and turned into a narrow alleyway. A few seconds later he rode out on the horse Henry had given him to facilitate his escape only days before. As he rode by, I heard him softly say, "Tell Henry Standing Bear that I thank him for the horse. She is a very good horse."
I called in a favor. I actually knew someone in the FBI…Cliff Cly of the FBI. I had saved his life once and his butt (and career) on another case. He owed me, so I sent DNA samples to him for a thorough testing. He promised to rush them through the labs, so now we were just waiting for the results. I had sent him ashes from the evidence bag the nurses had found in Branch's pocket, along with hair and a toothbrush from David Ridges' house for comparison. I had expected flak from Mathias about getting back into David's house, but he was being very co-operative. Branch had told him the he recognized the Indian who shot him as David, and Jacob Nighthorse was stonewalling his investigation of the shooting. I tried to be sympathetic to the jam Mathias was in, but it just wasn't in me to be that generous.
Now it was just a matter of hurry up and wait. With luck, the DNA from the unknown donor would match up to someone in the federal system, or maybe just someone in another state. Just because the DNA did not match anyone in the Denver database did not mean it would not match someone in Wyoming or Idaho or Timbuktu for that matter. Cliff promised to run it through as many databases as he could.
Bobby was calling me every day to see if I had heard anything, because the judge would not release Henry on bail without some definitive answers on the DNA that could be presented to the grand jury. I started thinking about hiring Hector for a special job, but I couldn't decide which one to send him after – Bobby for calling too much, or Cliff Cly for not calling at all.
Finally, after about ten days, Ruby interrupted my morning of report writing to tell me Cliff Cly was holding on line one. As I punched the button, my entire staff came in and stood expectantly around my desk. I put the phone on speaker.
"Tell me you have good news for me, Cliff," I said.
"Is this some kind of friggin' joke, Walt?" Cliff answered.
"I don't follow you."
"We got a match on the hair and toothbrush fibers,along with the DNA strand info you sent me," Cliff said. "The hair and toothbrush matched the DNA strand but not those crap ashes you sent. The samples of ash contain a lot of sand, debris, and deer hide, but absolutely no human remains. And, the match came outta the Bureau of Indian Affairs database."
"Yeah..Walt, are you trying to pull my leg?"
"Did you tell Mathias you had samples from where the body was cremated?"
"No, but I did tell the local tribal police know that the ashes were crap and not this David Ridges guy."
:Thanks, Cliff - you may have just saved a man's life."
"Of course, that's what we do in the bureau. This is Cliff Cly of the FBI, signing off."
He hung up, and I got busy. I left for Denver as soon as Cliff faxed copies of everything to the office.
Very early the next morning, Bobby Darius and I sat in a Denver courthouse, waiting for a chance to speak with the grand jury. Apparently, there were a lot of cases on their docket this morning, because the wood paneled, marble-floored hallway outside the grand jury room was packed. Several people dressed in DOC orange jumpsuits were led in and seated in a holding area nearby. I was able to recognize Henry in the midst of the group by the long, shining black hair that flowed down his back.
I'd made several trips to Denver over the last few days; each time I had come away with a renewed belief in Henry's strength of character. Physically, he lost a little weight, but his outlook had not changed. He hoped for the best, but was prepared for the worst.
Bobby and I had managed a quick visit with Henry the night before, after seeing the judge and grand jury foreman and giving them copies of the evidence we had. When we told Henry there was a good chance he'd be released, I finally saw the light come back to his eyes.
It was hard for me to gauge which way the grand jury would go. The judge was quiet while Bobby ran through the accumulated evidence, but he'd finally acknowledged the elephant in the room.
"During a routine search of his place of business, wasn't your client found in possession of two teeth belonging to the murder victim?"
"He was, yes. We are willing to admit that my client acquired that evidence from an acquaintance who has admitted assaulting Mr. Beck, but denies killing him. The police report from that night makes it clear that Mr. Beck survived the assault. My client has a solid alibi for the time before, during and after the assault."
"Did he in any way conspire with or influence his acquaintance to assault Mr. Beck?"
Bobby did not flinch. "The assault did not result in the death of , as the police reports show. My client had nothing whatsoever to do with Mr. Beck's death, and whether or not he conspired with or influenced his acquaintance to assault Mr. Beck is something you would have to ask the other man."
"And just where is this individual?"
"That is unknown at this time."
So, here we were…
I thought we had a really good shot at an acquittal or an outright dismissal. The meth-head who had identified me to Det. Fales was unable to testify about my involvement – or anything else - due to death. He'd overdosed a few weeks back. Thank God we all had alibis for that one!
Hector was – officially- nowhere to be found. Without him and the testimony, the chances of charging Henry with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault was off the table. The only charge left was the big one…murder.
We had been going through the evidence most of the afternoon. The people on the grand jury were beginning to look tired. I was really hoping they were still paying attention.
Det. Fales' head certainly came up when Bobby produced the police report about finding Miller Beck beaten but alive. He thought he had that piece of evidence buried! I knew David Ridges had something to do with killing Beck, but I just didn't know why.
Bobby was presenting our case, with the DA objecting every chance he got. I was watching the people on the jury; the people who would decide Henry's fate.
About two hours into the grand jury presentation, someone entered the court room from the judge's chambers. She walked over and laid a piece of paper in front of the judge. He read the note and looked at her.
"Yes, Your Honor."
"With this man?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
Gentlemen, in my chambers, please."
We all rose as the judge left the room, Bobby and the DA following Judge Holt into his chambers. Henry turned and looked at me, but I just shrugged. I had no clue what was going on. I glanced at Fales but he seemed to have lost some of his bravado. He looked genuinely concerned, which made me feel a little bit better.
It felt like they were gone for hours, but it wasn't more than twenty-five minutes by my watch. Stupid lying watch. As they all walked back into the room, I could have sworn I saw Mathias looking out over Bobby's shoulder.
Everyone got to their feet as the judge re-entered the room. He sat and looked at the DA. "Do you wish to make a motion for this court?"
"Yes, Your Honor. Given the new evidence, the state wishes to dismiss all the charges against Mr. Standing Bear."
The judge nodded. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this case is dismissed. Thank you for your service. Bailiff, Mr. Standing Bear is to be released immediately."
"NO!" Fales jumped to his feet. "Your Honor, I don't know what this man's friends are trying to pull. I know this man is guilty."
"Detective Fales, another outburst like that in my courtroom, and I will cite you for contempt."
"But, your Honor…"
"No, Detective Fales. Sit down and be quiet or leave the room."
"Mr. Standing Bear, in spite of the teeth found in your possession, it appears you had nothing to do with the death of Miller Beck. Bailiff, please expedite Mr. Standing Bear's release and see that his personal belongings are returned to him. Mr. Standing Bear, you are free to go."
I looked at Henry. His arms were propped on the desk, and his head lay on his arms. Then I looked at Fales. He appeared in shock. I was almost hoping he would yell out again so the judge would throw him in jail.
The officers who had brought Henry into the courtroom now released him from the handcuffs. The bailiff came and led him through another door. I turned to ask Bobby what was going on, but he was following Henry from the courtroom. Damn it all, SOMEBODY better tell me what the hell is going on.
I turned to one of the officers still standing around. "Can you tell me where I can pick my friends up?"
He gave me directions and. I took the Bullet around to the side of a nearby building. By the time I had maneuvered around and through the traffic – especially the press – Bobby and the Cheyenne Nation were coming out of the building at the loading dock. Henry was back in his own clothes, and he was carrying a paper bag with the rest of his personal belongings.
They saw me at the corner, came over and got in. I drove a little way down the street. Bobby and Henry were silent. Something was definitely wrong here.
"Okay, which of you is going to tell me what's going on?"
"I am getting ready to pull this vehicle over and beat the ever-lovin' crap out of both of you if someone doesn't tell me what just happened back there. Did I see Mathias in the judge's chambers?"
"Yes." Bobby finally spoke up from the back seat. "Walt, we need to go somewhere we can talk."
Oh, God! This can't be good.
I drove us as quickly as I could. There was no way I was waiting on this story until we got back to Durant. I wheeled into the parking lot of the same McDonald's where Bobby and I ate the first time we came to Denver. I pulled the Bullet under the shade of a tree, cut the engine, released my seat belt and turned in the seat to look at both of my passengers. "Okay, spill it!"
Henry got out of the car. "Before we talk, I need a really good cheeseburger…or three…but I suppose the golden arches will have to do."
He walked inside. I looked at Bobby, but he shook his head. "We'll talk when he gets back."
A few minutes later, Henry came back with enough food to feed a platoon. He handed both of us a large drink, a burger and fries, then began working his way through the rest.
"My mother taught me to never talk with my mouth full," I said, "but in this case, I'll make an exception – START TALKING!"
"After your deputy was shot," Bobby said, "What's his name?"
"Branch," Henry and I answered in unison.
"Right. Well, Mathias took Branch's statement – that he'd been shot by a dead man – and believed him…the DNA match from the FBI helped with that, I'm sure. Branch told Mathias about all the suspicious activity surrounding David Ridges, so he began a search for the man."
"Good luck with that," I scoffed, and Henry cut a look at me. "What?"
"Mathias found him 48 hours ago in a sweat lodge on the edge of the Res," Bobby told me, and I think my jaw dropped to the floorboard. I knew David was alive, but I honestly didn't think Mathias had the skills (or the balls) to go after him.
Bobby continued, "David might have been in a sweat, but he was also armed. Mathias wounded him, but knew we needed him alive for his testimony. David knew he was facing serious time, so he cut a deal. In exchange for a sentence where the death penalty was taken off the table, David is going to flip on the man who hired him to kill Miller Beck, and before that…your wife…"
I felt the heat behind my eyes and the familiar tightness in my chest. "Jacob Nighthorse."
Bobby nodded. "Jacob sent David to Denver at the same time you and Martha headed down there. He had instructions to pay someone to stalk and kill Martha. After you started asking questions and then Hector got to Beck, Jacob got nervous that Beck would talk. He sent David down there to clean up that loose end."
"Jacob…killed…Martha." I whispered it, but I was only putting into words a belief I'd had for a little while now.
"David told the judge that Jacob was concerned that Martha had information that would halt the casino."
"My wife…" I took a deep breath. "Martha died because of that damned casino!" I smacked the steering wheel. "DAMN!"I pummeled the steering wheel again and again until my fingers ached. I didn't damage the wheel, and I might have broken my pinkie, but it still made me feel better. I stopped when Henry out one hand on my shoulder. I wanna do the same thing to Jacob Nighthorse's face!
Henry and Bobby waited until my breathing came back to normal. Finally I started the engine and steered the Bullet north. Henry watched the scenery on the interstate roll past; then I felt his eyes on me.
"Jacob will be punished for this."
We fell silent for a few more miles.
Can we stop someplace? I am still hungry."
Henry spoke too soon about Nighthorse's coming judgment. Two hours north of Denver, we stopped to fill up the Bullet and take a bathroom break. As I pumped the gas, I saw Bobby answer his cell phone. His eyes grew wide and he shook his head in disbelief.
"Bad news?" I asked as I took the credit card receipt from the cashier. Henry swallowed the last of a Hershey's bar and came over.
"You could say that." He took a deep breath. "David Ridges was shot and killed by a sniper during a custody transfer."
"How did someone…" Henry stammered, but I interrupted.
"How did Nighthorse get to him so quickly?
Bobby ran a hand over his face. "I don't know. All hell is breaking loose in Denver right now, so it'll be awhile before more details are known." He shook his head again. "The really important thing is that – this time – he's really dead…before they could get his statement on the record."
That set me back on my heels. Jacob Nighthorse was going to slither away again, just like the snake I knew him to be. I hate snakes…
Henry's welcome home party was about to start but before I joined in the ruckus I had one stop to make.
I paid a surprise visit to Jacob's office at the edge of the Res. I took one look at the miniature layout of the casino which occupied a prominent place in the center of the room. Martha was killed because of this…one quick move from me and it lay shattered on the floor.
When no one rushed in to check on the noise I'd made, I walked further back into the building. I found Jacob and his secretary involved in a little extracurricular office work.
As hard as he tried, he didn't look intimidating at all with his pants down around his ankles. He attempted to move toward his desk and the pistol he kept there, but my weapon was already drawn and leveled between his eyes.
"I know what you did to my wife, Nighthorse," I said, resisting the urge to pull him to his feet by the short and curlies. "I don't know how yet, but I will prove it, and I will take you down…My promise to God."
Henry's homecoming celebration started at my office; then the continual soiree moved to the Red Pony. It promised to be the social event of the year and lasted two days and nights…It took me about that same amount of time to recover from it…Henry is still not walking straight.