Jackpot Blood: A Nick Herald Genealogical Mystery (7 page)

BOOK: Jackpot Blood: A Nick Herald Genealogical Mystery
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Carl went out of his way to appear slightly crazy, but he knew he wasn’t. It suited him that most people walked to the other side of the street when they saw him coming. Yet he was sane enough to know that truth doesn’t always speak with a human voice.

He crafted his own bows and arrows, too, using the old methods, and arrowheads that were all over the forest floor, like fruit ripe for the picking—though the archaeologists raised hell with him for disturbing sites. Hell, everywhere was a site around here! Sometimes he did make his own arrowheads, patiently chipping away at a native stone or a piece of obsidian he’d stolen from some shop or flea market, until it was sharp enough to cut paper. That was tough work, but he felt good about it afterward, somehow complete and cleansed.

Carl couldn’t help feeling, in spite of his determined skepticism, that a spirit directed his movements. He couldn’t explain what happened if he wanted to.

The bow beside him today was his favorite, made from Osage orange, what most local Indian tribes preferred in their heyday. The outside of it he’d covered in baby alligator hide. He’d sold a few bows to the fat cats to put on their walls, but that was too much like real work for his taste, too close to being a pitiful living anthropological display. You’d never catch
him
demonstrating Katogoula handicrafts at malls for sentimental, condescending city housewives and their bratty kids.

Boy, could he use some hot coffee! The cold front that had just passed through without dropping much rain had dropped the temperature to forty-five degrees. Carl was shivering now, even under his quilted, ragged camouflage hunting coat.

Aw, quit your whining. You sound like one of them old men hanging around Three Sisters Pantry
.

He started thinking about the deer again. It had looked like a fresh bed up there in the woods, in that tangle of honeysuckle and briars,
the grass pressed down, the droppings. All the right signs. But maybe he was wrong; maybe this deer wasn’t coming back after a night of feeding.

Towering over him, moss-draped cypress trees caught the coppery blaze of the sun, which was still a few minutes below the horizon. With the first really good extended cold snap, those cypresses would turn rusty red.

His mind began to wander now. Maybe he was dreaming. He wasn’t sure.
You’re thirty-six, Carl
, he thought,
through drooping eyelids; a real no-count in this white man’s world. You were born a few centuries too late
.

But hell, he wasn’t such a bad guy. At least he wasn’t into killing human beings, like those Mexican and Mafia badasses who ran drugs up and down the pitted parish roads to avoid the interstates. He’d hidden in the woods many a time, watching them transfer the stuff to little Cessnas and Pipers that had put down like big dragonflies on makeshift airstrips in Tchekalaya Forest.

Oh, yes, he knew lots of things he shouldn’t. He knew for a fact Wooty Tadbull was in on it. Wooty had gotten a big head, nowadays thought he was better than everybody else, what with his fancy clothes, fast women and faster cars, and Tadbull money—though people said they didn’t have as much of that as they used to. Carl and his twin brother, Tommy, had been pretty close to Wooty years ago. But damn, whatever you thought about him, that Wooty could sure hold his own in the woods, for a white boy.

Carl himself didn’t mess with drugs anymore. Budweiser and bourbon were all he needed now; cheaper, too. He sighed groggily at the absence of those two liquids, as well.

He really didn’t give a damn what people said about him, he’d long ago decided. Just let him hunt whenever and however he pleased, scrounge up enough cash for food and booze and a piece of ass now and
again with a favorite whore, and they could say whatever the hell they wanted. Even Tommy, his brother.

Now, Tommy . . . there was a real chump! Worked hard all his life and what does he get? Kicked out of the only job he ever had, thrown out on his butt without so much as a “sorry” by them Tadbulls. Serves the self-satisfied bastard right. He and Tommy might look alike—Carl never did agree that they did, and everyone called him the “crazy twin,” with his long pony-tail, scraggly beard, and bloodshot blue eyes an old biker-bar girlfriend had dubbed “raper’s eyes”—they might look alike, slightly, but they were world’s away in attitude.

Carl wasn’t into this tribal thing. Just play-acting, in his opinion, those meetings the “tribe” held in the spring and fall at Three Sisters Pantry. Family reunions, is what they were; and the “business” transacted there was mostly gossip. He didn’t bother to attend.

He’d heard about the federal tribal recognition; everybody had by nightfall. Another big joke. He didn’t believe for a moment that the powers-that-be had all of a sudden turned benevolent. Somebody was going to get screwed. The fat cats would triumph in the end, at the expense of chumps like his brother, Tommy. The past was dead and buried; everything had changed and there was no changing things back.

But at this moment, as his heavy eyelids slid down, the past
was
alive for Carl. . . .

It was nighttime, many years before. He and Tommy were with their mother’s father at the brush arbor they used on their summer hunting trips. The twins were still in Katogoula grade school, just a spare room in a teacher’s house, because they weren’t allowed in the white public schools—this was before anybody in Louisiana had to pay
serious attention to
Brown vs. Board of Education
. Fortunately, Katogoula kids had never been considered Indian enough to be shipped off to some government Indian boarding school, where the guiding principle was traditionally “kill the Indian, save the man.” They couldn’t afford Catholic private schooling. Their grandfather, at least, was happy with this muddled state of educational affairs. He didn’t want his grandchildren learning the ways of the white man first. It was he who celebrated with the boys when each killed his first deer, smearing their faces with the deer’s hot blood dripping from the arrowhead.

On this night Grandfather was telling a story. He told wonderful stories. Carl and Tommy—at this point in their lives looking very much alike—lay on blankets around a small fire. Grandfather began to tell them about the Sacred Cougar, in more detail than they’d ever heard before.

The tribe had come here, Grandfather related, from what the whites call today Alabama and Mississippi, after being uprooted by a more powerful tribe, centuries before the Europeans arrived. They had even forgotten their tribe’s name and language, so long had their wanderings been. But the stories the tellers told kept the essential memories alive.

They had roamed aimlessly for decades through alien lands, until they came to a beautiful calm lake that reminded them of their lost homeland. Their chief and his best warriors went ahead to scout out the lake and the land around it.

And then the advance party saw an unusually large cougar on the far shore, walking toward them from the rising sun. The cougar had just killed a big deer, a buck, and seemed to be dragging it somewhere to eat. The cat walked onto the surface of the dark glassy lake. Yes! He walked across the lake and did not sink into the water. And then he dropped the deer at the feet of the astonished scouting party, turned, and walked back the way he had come.

The chief declared that this was a place of plenty, blessed by the Sacred Cougar, which had, through its offering, and by not killing them as it had the deer, invited the wanderers to make a new home here. And in a new language that sprouted at that moment, all at once in their minds like corn from sacred seeds, the tribe began to call itself the Katogoula, or “people of the sacred big cat.”

Carl had dozed off, his back to a cypress knee, facing the woods. He awoke now, stiff and hungry. A cold northwesterly wind had blown up countless small crests on the lake, changing its color from black to pewter.

“Kapasa yako netak,” he muttered. Then he laughed. “It’s cold today,” he had said. It surprised him that he remembered so much of the old language, enough to originate a thought in it, without translation first from English. He must still mentally be with his grandfather, under that brush arbor, so many years ago. “Too damn cold for me,” he said, in English.

To hell with that deer! He’d probably missed it anyway while he slept; if not, this weather’s got him too spooked to leave the safety of the heavy brush. He reached for his bow and deerskin quiver and started to get up.

At his back, something came between him and the sun, between him and the lake. Had the deer sneaked behind him? He felt its presence before he saw the branching shadow on the muddy clay in front of him. For an instant he thought it was the huge rack of antlers atop the monster buck’s head.

But something else cast that branching shadow, something Carl struggled to remember from his childhood.

Pivoting on his left arm, he got his legs under him in a squat and turned toward the lake, feeling another cypress knee behind him. He brought his right hand up to blot out the blinding early morning sun that now streamed through his inadequate shield of fingers.

He froze in fear. Silhouetted by the inferno of the sun, the Sacred Cougar of Katogoula legend loomed over him, not benevolent, not welcoming, angry and hungry for vengeance, ready to pounce!

Carl jerked his right hand down to the handle of the hunting knife in the scabbard on his belt, but sharp death plunged into his neck before he had a fighting chance.

CHAPTER 6

The Twins of the Forest

A Katogoula Sacred Story

A Maiden journeyed from the Sleeping Moon to the Land of the People of the Sacred Cougar. Her hair was a great black river with shining white rapids; her teeth were oyster pearls; and her eyes shone like stars in the winter night. She was naked and beautiful and unafraid, for strife and shame were not known yet. There was no cold and no hunger, no pain and no sorrow
.

      
A handsome Warrior appeared from the smoke of the sky. His eyes were like falling hail in hot summer, his sweet breath like the morning wind through the Golden Trace at the Awakening Sun, his speech like distant thunder, his speed a sailing, sharp spear from the atlatl
.

      
The woman and the man lay together in the Forest. And from the place where the pine straw cushioned them sprang two twin plants, in the shape of men: The Twins of the Forest

      
The Twins of the Forest sang to all the animals, beckoning them to gather and to eat of their arms and legs and heads
.

      
But only two raccoons ate of the plants, and then there was no more. And by eating, one raccoon learned the secrets of healing and of birth and of making dance for the gods and of planting the Three Sisters; this one lives in the daylight. The other raccoon learned to kill; this one hides in the trees of darkness. Both were unhappy with their knowledge, envying the other. When one sleeps, the other tries to steal his stripes
.

      
And if they meet when awake, the Chief of the People must slay one of them
.

      
Thus came Life and Peace, and Death and War into the World, from the Twins of the Forest
.

CHAPTER 7

“I
won! I won!” exclaimed the woman who had ridden a sleek deluxe tour bus from Texas to gamble at Bayou Luck Casino in Grosse Jambe, Louisiana.

She set her drink down and clasped her trembling hands together.

“Thank you, Lord, I won!” she said, to some indefinite point in space above her. Then she raised her arms and did a little circular tap dance as she shouted, “Sue Ann!
Sue Ann! I won!

Her friend, nine slot machines away, leaned out of the row of gamblers’ hunched backs, waved, and gave a thumbs-up sign, but soon returned her undivided attention to the mesmerizing mechanism before her.

“I’m so excited I hope I don’t wet my pants!” the woman tearfully confided to a man slumped on the chair beside her.

The wrinkled, cadaverous man gave her a cockeyed leer through the smoke streaming up from a cigarette stuck in his colorless, thin lips. Without comment he grimly returned to pumping the arm of his own stingy machine.

BOOK: Jackpot Blood: A Nick Herald Genealogical Mystery
4.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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