Authors: Jimmy Fox
He apologized to Brianne for being so late—it was after midnight now. He touched the thin silver chain and small cross around his neck; she’d given it to him for their twentieth wedding anniversary. He glanced up: the blade of the old moon shone dully through a thick haze of fugitive clouds. Chief Claude had talked and talked, Tommy told his wife; the old man had seemed almost as thrilled about the Katogoula finally receiving federal tribal recognition as Tommy himself.
“The chief treated me to the biggest, best steak I ever had,” a last surge of excitement stirring his words through exhaustion. “You ought to see that place, Brianne. We can do it, just like them. We can bring our tribe back to life. Like I was saying this afternoon.”
“Dear, you said a whole lot that didn’t make much sense to me,” Brianne said, with characteristic patience.
“No, honey. Listen. I haven’t had a beer since I left. I know what I’m saying now. More than I ever have. I’m talking about our jackpot blood. We’re going to win, Brianne,
tribe’s finally going to win, just by being who we are!”
He didn’t have the energy to go into the details of his meeting with the highly respected Chitiko-Tiloasha leader, but he briefly explained that Chief Rafe Claude had urged him to hire a genealogist. The chief recommended a good one from New Orleans, who’d done competent work for the Chitiko-Tiloashas.
Tommy looked down at a business card in his hand: “Jonathan Nicholas Herald, Certified Genealogist, Ph.D. No charge for initial consultation.”
Brianne listened and spoke at just the right moments to encourage Tommy, while cautioning him to control his emotions, at least for the long drive home. It had all happened so fast: they’d soared from crisis to elation in the space of one day. Her vague unease came through the line.
Executives from four casinos had each called several times; functionaries in the offices of State Senator Augustus Bayles and State Representative Rufus Girn were also trying to get in touch with Tommy.
“Word’s spread like the chicken pox,” she said. “Everybody around here from Luevenia to Odeal’s looking for you. We haven’t had a moment’s peace since all this started this afternoon. The baby can’t sleep, what with the phone ringing. Are you sure tribal recognition is a good idea, dear? I don’t know why, but I feel like I do when a hurricane’s heading our way.”
He assured her that everything would settle down eventually, in a few months, at the most. She told him she’d not yet looked for the box of records and then begged him again to drive carefully. He swore on the Bible that he hadn’t been drinking. She loved him, she said as they hung up.
Tommy bought a large coffee. Blearily pondering the long, dark road ahead through swirls of bracing coffee mist, he hoped his old truck would make it all the way back to Cutpine.
The Shawe family had always done a little better than the rest; it was said that leadership ran in the family. Tommy was soft-spoken, steady, and polite. His twin brother, Carl, was far from identical in either body or personality. Carl was raucous, hotheaded, and rude. Marital bliss had made Tommy look younger than his thirty-six years; substance abuse and a tendency toward petty crime and bad women had made Carl into a wild, unkempt hermit. Tommy was thirty pounds heavier than his stringy, tattooed brother—the result of Brianne’s excellent cooking. Both men were shy of six feet and had straight medium-blond hair;
Tommy favored a clean-cut look; Carl emerged from the woods with a scraggly beard and shoulder-length, matted locks.
The Shawe brothers and most of the other Katogoula living in and around Cutpine weren’t stock Indian characters from Remington’s paintings or Hollywood films. The Katogoula had less of a white-reaction problem in the skin-tone and facial features department. A stranger probably would see the Katogoula as ordinary Louisiana rural poor with few modern skills and a muddled lineage nobody cared enough about to mention.
But they did mention it, at least among themselves. The injustice of it all was often a topic at the Three Sisters Pantry, where Luevenia Silsby presided. The whites had destroyed their tribal life because they
Indians, and then refused to grant tribal recognition because they claimed the Katogoula
Indians anymore. Too much dilution of the bloodline, the Bureau of Indian Affairs seemed to allege without actually spelling it out, for the decades that their application had been pending. Sort of left a bitter taste of illegitimacy on the tongues of the tribe members.
But that frustrating situation had changed today—yesterday, now, Tommy realized, in the midst of a big yawn. The coffee was long gone.
Bouncing over potholes that shook his truck, he wanted to stretch out the momentous day, so important would it be to the future of the Katogoula. In a hundred years, maybe a future generation would enshrine Brianne and him and their kids in a new Katogoula sacred story. They would be called saviors of the tribe.
Oncoming headlights momentarily revived him. The Shawe family’s characteristic deep blue circles under his tired eyes stood out in the light. The car sped by, and Tommy’s truck rattled down the road, solitary again, at the rip-roaring speed of 45 mph.
What an incredible day! He could compare the roller coaster ride of emotion only to the mingled fear and elation he’d felt during the birth of his three children.
The jerking steering wheel and the thumping of his flat right-front tire saved Tommy from falling completely asleep and running off the road.
He stopped the truck on the weedy shoulder, amid bottles and cans and a dead possum. You had to be awful stupid to get hit by a car around here, he was thinking; hardly any traffic at this time of night. He found a flashlight; it gave off a dim amber glow.
The tire had five nails in the nearly smooth rubber; the back right had at least three, and was slowly deflating. Tommy used the fading beam to search behind the truck, just to see what else was left from the fool who must have driven by earlier with an untarped load of construction debris or plain junk.
Cursing the careless driver—probably someone he knew—he stepped down further into the weeds. He saw a splintered two-by-four, about three feet long, studded with nails that hadn’t stuck in his tires.
At that moment, the flashlight gave out.
He activated his hazard lights, knowing that these wouldn’t last long; his truck battery had dead cells.
He began walking the way he’d come. For half an hour, only his footsteps, the freshening northwesterly breeze, the occasional cry of an owl, and the pulsing of cricket and frog calls competed with his thoughts. His only visible companions were several freshly exploded road-kill carcasses, unidentifiable in the cloud-blocked moonlight. Dog? Coyote? Possum? Skunk? No telling.
Three miles back, in his truck, he’d passed Three Sisters Pantry, and that is where he was now walking. The store was closed, but there was a pay phone outside. Luevenia and Royce lived in a trailer in back; they’d let him sleep there or borrow their truck, if he asked, but he didn’t want to bother them. Tommy figured, now that he was so important to the tribe, he’d better shell out for a cell phone. He’d never needed one before, and couldn’t afford it; nothing much ever happened around here.
Headlights. Somebody coming. Good
Brianne was probably a nervous wreck. He could call her soon.
His attacker saved Tommy the price of that call.
s Tommy Shawe, fighting fatigue, was driving unwittingly into ambush on the lonely highway home, three figures, only a few miles away, toiled in the dense darkness that held Tchekalaya Forest hostage.
Wooten Tadbull IV was one of these men. Usually he trusted the night, gratefully accepting its blindfold of depthless shadows and its gag of heavy, humid stillness. Nighttime had long been his partner, his best friend, his brother. Tonight was different. He wondered what ransom of pain or death would be due before sunrise.
Through sheer will he held back a building compulsion to pull out his pistol and start shooting into the living danger he sensed. Instead he continued hefting cardboard box after box of neatly shrink-wrapped marijuana bricks. Street value of tonight’s load: around three million.
The last-quarter sickle moon had risen through the pines but couldn’t slash a hole in the thick shroud covering central Louisiana. In this pocket of the Deep South, the transition from summer to fall was violent and unpredictable. Even in October the thermometer could read ninety degrees one day, twenty the next. Storms packing brute cyclonic force could just as easily rampage up from the warm moist Gulf as rip across Texas with an arctic blast and winds that could drive splintered pine limbs right through a human body.
Wooty felt some violent change was very close now, and it wouldn’t be merely a shift in the temperature.
His two friends helping him unload the customized van—a family vehicle, he reflected, with a twinge of guilt—didn’t seem to understand their utter vulnerability; he didn’t expect them to. Nice guys, Mancel and Travis. He’d known them for twenty years, since junior high, maybe even before that. They were going to live and die unnoticed, unnoticing, never having gone anywhere or been anybody special.
A cold front was moving in quickly. Wind hissed through countless pine needles; sudden gusts made stout limbs groan. Was that why the sweat chilled on his skin? His heart wasn’t racing and pounding because of physical exertion. He was in great shape, and Mancel and Travis were doing the hard work at the moment.
The Katogoula—back when there was a tribe to speak of—used to call this month The Moon of Rains. They understood Nature, but they miscalculated the evil and power of their fellow man. Wooty didn’t plan to repeat their fatal mistake; and he wasn’t going to be a nobody, like Mancel and Travis. Ambition, more powerful than any earthly storm, raged in his unsatisfied soul. And ambition required that he stay alive.
For a moment he watched the menacing sky, trying to discern the amorphous outlines of the murky clouds he knew were there. Hit men in black trench coats, hiding in a crowd, he thought. The sky winced with electric-blue flashes. Distant rumbling, almost too faint to hear, sounded like feral growls. It would let loose pretty soon; he could smell it already, a violent tempest galloping in from the Texas plains and before that from Canada and the top of the globe.
“How many more you got, hoss?” Mancel asked Travis, who was shifting boxes inside the van with his customary bottomless strength and stamina. Mancel straightened up, stretched his slight shoulders, and wiped his face with a handkerchief.
“You dumb coonass pip-squeak,” Travis said, laughing, from inside the van. “I’m in this pitch black oven sweating like a damn pig and you asking me ‘How many?’ Shitfire, boy, I don’t got no idea. God didn’t give you the sense he gave a gnat. Ask our college graduate out there. He always was good with numbers back in high school, ain’t that right, Wooty? Four, thirty-two, seventeen—
A heavy box of Mexican weed came flying out of the van just as the sky quivered with indistinct lightning deep within the storm clouds. Mancel had to use his flashlight to find the box on the road, fifteen feet away. Travis thought this was the greatest joke in the world.