The Blue Fox bar, just outside the res from Flagstaff, where Wilson lived, was perfect. Like all the Ukiah dives Danny had spent time in, it was populated with pot growers and some over-the-hill hippies. Music choices ranged from Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to Emilou Harris, the old ones. Seeing as they were in Arizona, it was also dotted with bikers and people just passing through. The legendary Route 66.
He and Wilson parted without him saying much at all about the revelation Wilson had made. Wilson threw the keys at Danny and took off. Danny grabbed a motel room and went searching to drown the spirits that wouldn’t stop their chatter.
A few local guys he knew from his childhood sat at dark tables in the corner, playing cards. As usual, they wore black, high crown felt hats; the same he used to watch White Owl make as he sat on his grandfather’s knee. Grandfather risked the ire of Danny’s mother by bringing him here starting as a boy of six; when he was old enough to not get into trouble. That was a long time ago.
He stalked over to the bartender, his cowboy boots knocking familiarly on the old plank floor that hadn’t been washed in a month. Returning to his roots required a couple doses of courage to smother the voices in his head. The singing way of his people was lilting up to the skies, no doubt announcing the arrival of Grandfather. He also heard the collective songs of his ancestors in celebratory response. It used to terrify him as a young boy, and it still did today. Especially today.
The place smelled of old piss and even older spilled beer. He’d forgotten how familiar the smells were, from a time when the world was simple, when all he worried about was making sure his balls didn’t get pinched because his skinny butt was perched on his grandfather’s thigh. It had been nearly thirteen years since he’d set foot in the Blue Fox, and yet it was like stepping back in time. Nothing had changed. Maybe that’s what terrified him most.
Scenes from his childhood tickled and danced all around him. White Owl would tell the stories, and Grandfather would request the music be turned down and would fill in the blanks, often correcting him. Grandfather was the keeper of the legends. He didn’t like embellishments or modern details.
“The old way is still the best. Been the best for hundreds of man-years. We honor those who came before to tell it to the young ones the way it was told to them. And then they can choose for themselves.”
White Owl told him in secret one day Grandfather had it in for him because White Owl got the girl Grandfather wanted to marry. But then his grandfather met Jenny, his grandmother, and all debts were forgotten. Not forgiven, just forgotten.
Music flooded the tiny, dark bar. The same twangy country tunes that hadn’t been played on the AM channels for thirty years and never on the XM, except for quaint oldies specials. These tunes debuted on eight-track tapes or LPs. Probably hadn’t been changed out of the jukebox since before he was born.
His grandfather had a whole collection of oldies in his garage. Danny and Wilson had tossed those precious records like flying saucers one afternoon, destroying the bulk of them. The two boys couldn’t sit down for nearly three days from the whipping they both got from Danny’s aunt, Wilson’s mother. They’d have gotten another one too if Grandfather had not been at a tribal meeting in Washington D.C. Something official was in the air that summer, and he spent a lot of it gone from the res.
Tonight, Danny was grateful for the fact that the music was loud. It competed with the shrill voices in his head which roared up in a near panic again when he tilted his forehead to the corner where the card players were. They answered him back with stoic indifference. They knew who he was. He wasn’t really coming back. They knew why, knew Grandfather and everyone else on the res, and distrusted him because of it. They probably thought he was being Native American when it suited him, when he could show it off. A fair-weather Indian, they called it.
The crying wind and whispering voices died down as he approached the bar.
He knew there was not much choice. He was served two Route 66 Specials, a brewery owned by an old friend of his father’s. The signal probably hadn’t changed in over twenty years: if you ordered one drink and the house gave you two, you only had to pay for one.
An exotic scent drifted his way. Turning in that direction, he imagined some Asian or Parisian hooker on his right. But her skin was like the way he drank his chai latte, a light caramel brown. Her high cheekbones contrasted with her shiny obsidian black hair, which was held with a large clip made of polished turquoise and silver—a classic Navajo beauty. She could have been the ghost of his dead sister.
It was usually hard for him to look at Navajo women and find them attractive, because all he could see was Natomi’s lifeless face staring back up at him, her warm brown skin a chalkish purple. He told himself over and over that he preferred women with hair the colors of the fall back in California or the color of spun gold like in his dreams.
She glanced at his beer and ordered the same without looking at him, but he knew she’d taken stock of him and had probably selected the stool next to him on purpose. Something at the base of his skull buzzed and his ears started to get red. It was a sign he was too familiar with and meant one of two things. She turned him on big time or there was impending danger. Maybe both. Many times he couldn’t tell the difference. Most of the time there was no difference.
The large mirror over the bar was cracked, but he saw her cool smile, one full lip with its edge upturned, revealing an old thin scar. Her dark eyes pulled at him and he knew her instantly to be a sucker of souls.
“You’re new,” she said to the mirror.
He could feel her breathing, imagined what her flesh would feel like if he smoothed his fingers down her thigh. “Actually, I’m not here at all.”
She turned on the stool, grabbing her beer, and took a sip while she examined him. She was still smiling when she was done.
“You look pretty fuckin’ here, Dine kind. But then, maybe I’m a ghost, too, and maybe I see dead people.”
That deserved his attention, so he allowed his body to turn, facing her, knees touching hers. Through the stiff denim of his jeans, he could feel her body vibrate like the inner workings of an expensive Swiss timepiece.
“I’m Danny Begay. My mother is Miwok. My father’s side is from the Corn Pollen Clan. Chester Begay is my grandfather. I believe he will die tonight.” He watched it sink in, and wondered if his traditional side made a difference to her. She bit her lip just below the slight scar that slashed her upper lip, probably from an old injury. It made her look dangerous and sexy as hell. A slight worry line creased her right eye with just a touch of a twitch.
She turned back to the counter, staring down as if examining the head on her beer, allowing her unpolished nail on her left forefinger to dip into the sudsy froth and draw a figure eight. “Then it sucks to be you.”
He had to agree with her. It sucked he’d never made much of himself, and now his Grandfather was going to die knowing that too. He wasn’t sure of his potential for spiritual growth anytime soon either. His cousin had just scared the liver out of him. That sucked, too.
That left only one option for this evening. To get drunk. Maybe get her so drunk she’d go back with him to the motel. He glanced around the room and didn’t see any white boys, so figured he’d have a chance with her. With any luck, neither one would remember a thing in the morning. He’d get the call Grandfather was gone. He could pay his respects, stay for the ceremony, and then get his butt out of Arizona and back to Northern California. Forget this sandy hellhole for as long as the drink lasted.
“I am Luci Tohe of the Where Two Waters Meet Clan,” she whispered.
He noted she was not a clan cousin. “So why are you here?” he started. “Cheaper to drink at home, and a whole lot less dangerous, the drive, I mean.” He was surprised by his own words.
She answered the mirror again. “I know what you meant, Dine kind. I teach at the school.”
“Ah. First choice or last choice?” He knew it was a risk to ask, but he couldn’t help himself.
She almost spit her beer out. “Gawd, it must be true. That old fart gave you some of those visions.”
He turned and tilted his head, wondering what she meant. She addressed him this time by angling slightly so her knees wouldn’t touch his again. Her face in partial profile was masked. She was trying to hide something. “I’m not a do-gooder. Not one of those. I get to hide in plain sight. But I do carry a gun.”
“Running from something?”
“Nope.” She licked her lips, her tongue lingering there a little long, her eyes again focused down on the counter. “I am the sole breadwinner and protector of my little tribe. My mother and my little sister.”
“Except you drink too much.” He knew she’d not like that comment.
“As do you. I can smell an alcoholic a mile away.” Then she gave him the sultry look he was waiting for. “I seem to be drawn to them, like a string of bad pennies, little babbling storytellers. Can’t help it. My nature, I guess.”
Well, she’d already said twice as many words as he normally liked in a woman, and hadn’t given him nearly enough “looks,” but he was game.
“Humor me. What makes you drawn to me?”
Her full focus on his face almost made him blush. Her power and nature were strong, her soul deep. She did not possess the need to smile from nervousness or to hide the spirit that ran wild inside her. For him, right here and right now, she allowed him to absorb and be warmed by it. Her dark eyes peered back at him honestly.
“I like your jet black hair, Dine man, and the blackness of your eyes all the way through. The bottomless eyes of the tribal kind. But you weren’t raised here, so maybe you got away, maybe not. In any case, I gotta hurry if I’m going to meet you, because I think tomorrow you’ll be gone.”
“True.” She had him down to the color of his buttons.
“I like your stare, your full lips, and your frankness. I think you like to screw a lot, and I do, too. But that could just be a lie, but ask me if I care?”
“Why would I do that?”
She gave him a gracious smile, showing all her straight white teeth. As if sloughing off an old happy memory, she shrugged and finished her beer. “I’m ready for another, if you’re buying.”
“Oh, I’m buying, but my tab comes with strings,” he said, watching the graceful lines of her profile, all the way down her long neck to the top of her shirt with her breasts pushing up like smooth rounded stones he’d find in an ancient streambed.
Her eyes didn’t peer into his, but stayed focused on his lips. “I prefer rope.”