Coyote Blue Chapter 30~31
They heard the bikers before they saw them: raucous laughter and Lynyrd Skynyrd from a boom box. They followed the road around a long, gradual curve that descended into a valley, stepping carefully to avoid the deep puddles. The trees were thinning out now and Sam could make out the light of a huge bonfire below them in the valley, and figures moving around the fire, a lot of them.
or any similar topic only for you
Someone fired a pistol into the air and the report echoed around the valley.
“Do they have sentries or something?” Sam whispered to Calliope.
“I don’t remember. I was pretty drunk when I was here before.”
“Well, we can’t just walk in.”
“This way,” Coyote said, pointing to a path that led away from the road. They followed the trickster up the path, through thick undergrowth, and up onto a ridge that looked down on the clearing.
From the top of the ridge they could see the entire camp. The fire was burning in the center of the camp with perhaps a hundred bikers and women gathered around it, drinking and dancing. The bikes were parked by the road leading in. There was a stand of tents and smaller campfires on the opposite side of the camp, with two pickup trucks parked nearby. Lynyrd Skynyrd sang “Gimme Back My Bullets.”
“I don’t see Grubb,” Calliope said.
“Or the woman,” Coyote said.
“Wait,” Calliope said. “Listen.” Amid the din of rock and roll, laughter, shouts, screams, and gunfire, they heard the sound of a baby crying.
“It’s coming from the tents,” Coyote said. “Follow me.”
Coyote led them further down the ridge until they were about fifty yards from the tents and could see four women sitting around a campfire drinking and talking. One of them was holding Grubb.
“There he is,” Calliope said. She started down the ridge and Sam caught her arm.
“If you go down there that woman will call for Lonnie and the others.”
“What can I do? We have to get him.”
“Take off your clothes,” Coyote said.
Sam sneered at the trickster, “I don’t think so.”
“Here, take this,” Coyote said, handing something to Sam. Sam couldn’t make out what it was in the dark, but it felt warm and soft. He recoiled and dropped it.
“Ouch,” Coyote said, his voice soft now, feminine. “Is that any way to treat a lady?”
Sam looked, moved closer to the trickster, and saw that he was no longer a he. Still in his black buckskins, he had changed into a woman.
“I don’t believe it,” Sam said.
“You’re lovely,” Calliope said.
“Thanks,” Coyote said. “Give me your clothes. These don’t fit me now.” He started undressing.
In the dim moonlight that filtered through the trees, Sam watched the women undress. Calliope was right, the trickster was gorgeous, a perfect female mirror of the male Coyote, an Indian goddess. Sam felt a little sick at the thought and looked away.
Coyote said, “I’ll go down and get the child. Be ready to run. And pick that up, I’ll need it.” He pointed to the ground where Sam had dropped his penis. Sam picked up the member in two fingers and held it out as if it would bite him.
“I’m not comfortable with this.”
“I’ll hold it,” Calliope said, now dressed in the black buckskins.
“No you won’t!” Sam said.
“Well.” She cocked a hip and waited for him to make a decision.
Sam put the penis in his jacket pocket. “I’m not comfortable with this, I want you to know.”
“Men are such babies,” Coyote said. He hugged Calliope, girl to girl, and made his way down the hill.
Sam watched the trickster move away from them toward the fire. Unable to look away, he became nervous with his own thoughts. Calliope patted his shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said. “In my jeans he really does have a great ass.”
Tinker lay in the bed of the pickup sulking, listening to the nearby women going on about how badly they were treated by their men and how cute the baby was. The little bastard had been crying for an hour. What the fuck had Lonnie been thinking, bringing a crumb-snatcher to a rally? From time to time Tinker sat up and looked over the edge of the pickup to pick out which of the women he would fantasize about getting a blow job from. Fat chance, stuck here in the truck. Fucking Bonner and his military discipline.
“This is a business trip,” Bonner had said. “A business trip we wouldn’t be taking if Tinker would have taken care of business. So Tink, you guard the truck. No partying.”
What was the point rallying with your bros if you couldn’t get fucked up and start a few fights? Fuck this action. At least it had stopped raining.
Tinker peeked over the edge of the truck to see a new chick coming up to the fire. What a piece she was! Right out of Penthouse or something. She looked Indian, long blue-black hair. What a fucking body. He watched her fawn over the baby and touch Cheryl’s face. Lonnie had fucked her up, bad. Tink wondered what it was like to hit a chick. He was getting hard thinking about it.
The Indian chick was holding the baby now, walking around the fire rocking it. She walked behind one of the tents, then ducked down. Tinker saw her shoot out the other side in a crouch, headed up the hill with the baby. Two people were coming down to meet her.
“Hey, bitch!” Cheryl yelled. The other women were on their feet, yelling – going after the Indian chick. Tinker jumped out of the truck and started to circle around and up the hill to head off the Indian chick. As he ran he drew his Magnum from his shoulder holster. He slipped, fell to one knee, and drew down on the Indian chick. No, fuck it. If he hit the rug-rat Bonner would have his ass.
He climbed to his feet and lumbered across the hill, watching the Indian chick hand the rug-rat to a blond chick. They were on the path at the top of the ridge. Gotcha! He’d take the lower path and be waiting for them. They had to come out at the road.
As Tinker made his way up the dark path he heard scooters firing up below him. Good. Bonner would get there and he would already have it handled. He’d be out of the doghouse. He reached the spot where the two paths intersected and stopped. He could hear them coming up the path, the baby still crying. He leveled his Magnum down the path and waited. If the dude showed first he’d waste him without a word.
He saw a shadow, then a foot. Tinker cocked the Magnum, put the sight where the chest would appear. A rush went through him, waiting, waiting. Now!
A vise clamped down over the gun and he felt it wrenched out of his hand, taking skin with it. Another clamp locked down on his neck and he looked up into the eyes of his deepest fear. He felt his face come down on something hard and the bones of his nose crush. His head was wrenched back and slammed down again, then it went dark.
“Shade!” Coyote said.
Minty Fresh threw Tinker’s unconscious body aside and looked up at the Indian woman. “Who are you?”
Sam said, “M.F., what are you doing here?”
“The name is Minty Fresh.” He held Tinker’s Magnum out to Sam, then let it drop. “I’m learning how to sneak up on people.” He saw the baby and smiled. “You got him.”
“It was a fine trick,” Coyote said.
“Who are you?” Minty insisted.
“It’s your old buddy Coyote.” Coyote cupped his breasts.
Minty stepped back from the woman to get a better look. “Something’s different, right? Haircut?”
“We have to go,” Calliope said.
“To where?” Minty said.
Calliope looked at Sam, panicked, confused. Sam had no answer.
Coyote said, “Montana. The Crow res. Come with us, shade. It’ll be fun.”
Minty turned to the roar of bikes behind him. “They’re coming up the road,” he said. “I’ll block them as long as I can with the limo.”
They made their way down the path to where the Z was parked. The limo was parked in front.
“I’ll drive,” Sam instructed. “Cal, you and Grubb in the back.” They got in the car as lights from the Harleys broke through the woods. Minty got in the limo, started it, and pulled it forward to make way for the Z.
Sam pulled the Z into the road, careful not to spin the wheels in the mud. You guys okay?” he said to Calliope, who had curled herself around Grubb.
“Go,” she said.
The bikers broke into view, Lonnie Ray in front. Minty hit the brights on the limo, hoping to blind them. He checked the mirror to see the Z pulling away, then started to back the limo up, careful to keep it in the middle of the road to block the bikes.
As Lonnie approached the limo he drew a pistol from his jacket and leveled it at Minty through the windshield. Minty ducked and hit the gas. The limo revved and stopped, the back wheels of the heavy car buried in the mud. Lonnie jumped off his bike onto the hood of the limo and braced himself on the roof as he aimed and fired at the Z.
At the sound of the shot Minty looked up to see the barrel of Lonnie’s pistol pointing at him through the windshield. The other bikers, unable to get past, moved up around the limo.
“You’re finished, spook,” Lonnie hissed. He cocked the pistol. “Move the car out of the road.”
“I don’t think so,” Minty said.
Lonnie jumped off the hood of the Lincoln and stuck the pistol through the window into Minty’s temple. “I said move it.”
“You move it,” Minty said. He pushed the limo door open, knocking Lonnie to the ground. Two bikers yanked him from the car and rode him to the ground. Minty felt a boot in his kidney, then a fist in the stomach, then the blows fell on him like rain.
He heard Calliope’s Z downshifting in the distance and smiled.
Sam pulled the Z back onto the pavement and floored it. “Everyone okay?” Grubb was still crying. Sam shouted, “Calliope, are you okay?”
Coyote turned in the passenger seat and reached back. “She’s hit. There’s blood.”
“Oh fuck, is she-“
“She’s dead, Sam,” Coyote said.
Coyote Hears His Heart
It is an old story, from the time of the animal people. Coyote was in his canoe, and had paddled all day and all night, only to find that he didn’t know where he wanted to go. He sat in his canoe, drifting for a while, thinking that something was wrong. He wanted to do something, but he didn’t know what it was, so he made some mountains and gave them names. But that didn’t make him happy. He tried to think, but he wasn’t very good at it, and he kept hearing a thumping noise that bothered him.
“Where should I go? What should I do? How can I think with all this noise?”
Coyote was becoming sad because he could not think, so he called out to the Old Mother, who was the Earth. “Old Mother,” he said. “Can you stop this thumping noise so I can figure out where I am supposed to be?”
Old Mother heard Coyote and laughed at him. “Silly Coyote,” she said. “That thumping noise is the sound of your own heart beating. Listen to it. It is the sound of the drums. When you hear your heart you must think of the drums – the sound of home.”
“I knew that,” Coyote said.
There Are No Orphans Among the Crow
It was five hours from Sturgis to Crow Agency, and Coyote, back in his black buckskins, drove the whole way. Sam sat in the passenger seat, dazed, staring but seeing nothing, holding Grubb, rocking the baby in a rhythm to a pulsing emptiness in his chest and trying not to look at Calliope’s lifeless body in the back. Mercifully, there was no thinking or remembering – his mind had shut down to protect him. Coyote was quiet.
As they drove through town an old warning sounded deep in Sam’s mind and he mumbled, “I shouldn’t be here. I’m in trouble.”
“You have to go home,” Coyote said.
“Okay,” Sam said. He thought he should protest but he couldn’t think clearly enough to remember why. “When we get there, no tricks, okay? Act human for a while, please.”
“For a while,” Coyote said.
A mile out of town Coyote pulled the Z into the muddy driveway of the Hunts Alone house. “Stay here,” Coyote said. He got out of the car and went up the cement steps to the door. Sam looked around, seeing the house like a memory. It hadn’t changed much. The house had been painted and peeled a couple of times and there were two horses, a paint and a buckskin, in the back field. An old Airstream trailer was parked by the sweat lodge and there were a couple more abandoned cars rusting in the side lot.
It all felt wrong, to have run so long to end up back where he had started – the danger that he had run from was still here, and now, with Calliope dead, he felt even weaker than the fifteen-year-old who had left so many years ago. As frightening as it had been to leave, it had been a beginning, full of hope and possibility. This felt like the end.
Coyote knocked on the door and waited. A Crow woman in jeans and a sweatshirt, about thirty, answered. She was holding a baby. “Yes?”
Coyote said, “I’ve brought your cousin home. We need help.”
“Come in,” she said. Coyote went into the house and came back to the car a few minutes later. He opened the door, startling Sam.
“Let’s go inside,” Coyote said. “I told the woman inside what happened.” He helped Sam out of the car and pointed him to the door where the woman waited. Sam walked stiffly up the steps and past the woman into the house. He stood in the center of the living room, rocking Grubb. Coyote came in the door behind him. “Can I bring her in?” he asked the woman.
The woman looked horrified at the thought of a dead body in the house.
Sam turned suddenly. “No, not in the house. No.”
Coyote waited. The woman looked uncomfortable. “You could put her in the trailer out back.”
Coyote went back out. The woman came to Sam and pulled the blanket away from Grubb’s face. “Has he eaten?”
“I?CI don’t know. Not for a while.”
“He needs a change. C’mon, give.” She put her own baby on the couch and coaxed Grubb out of Sam’s arms. She spread the blanket on the coffee table and laid Grubb down on his back.
“I’ve heard about you,” she said. “I’m Cindy. Festus is my husband.”
Sam didn’t answer. She took Grubb’s dirty diaper off him and set it aside. “He’s at work now, with his dad. They have their own shop in Hardin. Harry works with them too.”
“Grandma?” Sam said.
She looked up and shook her head. “Years ago, before I met Festus.” She brightened, trying to change the subject and the mood. “We have three other kids. Two other boys and a girl. They’re in school – the little one in Head Start.”
Sam stared over her head at the elkhorn hat rack hung with baseball caps, an old Stetson, and a ceremonial headdress. An obsidian-point buffalo lance hung beside it, next to an old Winchester and a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar.
“He’s a strong baby,” Cindy said, grabbing Grubb’s fidgeting fists.
Sam looked back at her. “Pokey?” He looked down and away, a wave of grief washing over him. He walked to the kitchen doorway and stared at the ceiling, the first tears stinging as they welled up.
“Pokey’s okay,” Cindy said. “He went into the clinic last week. He almost – He was real sick. They wanted to move him to the hospital in Billings but Harlan wouldn’t let them.”
Cindy finished diapering Grubb and propped him up on the couch next to her own baby. “I’ll fix him a bottle.” She walked past Sam into the kitchen. He turned away from her as she went by. “Do you want some food? Coffee?”
Sam turned to her. “She never hurt anybody. She just wanted her baby back.” He covered his face. Cindy moved to him and put her arms around him.
Coyote came in the front door. “Sam, we have to go.”
Sam took Cindy by the shoulders and gently pushed her away, then turned and looked at Grubb, who was dozing on the couch. “He’ll be okay,” Cindy said. “I’ll watch him.” Sam didn’t move.
“Sam,” Coyote said, “let’s go see Pokey.”
Heading back through Crow Agency to the clinic, Sam noticed the new, modern tribal building and the new stadium behind it. Wiley’s Food and Gas was still across the highway, just as it had been before. Kids were still hanging around outside the burger stand. Two old men shared a bottle outside the tobacco store. A mother led a pack of kids out of the general store, each carrying a bag of groceries.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Sam said. Coyote ignored him and kept driving.
The clinic was housed in an old two-story house at the far end of town. A line of people – mostly women and kids – waited outside. Coyote pulled into the muddy parking lot next to a rusted-out Buick. They crawled out of the car and walked up to the door. Some of the kids whispered and giggled, pointing at Coyote. An old man who was wheeling an oxygen cylinder behind him said, “Crow Fair ain’t ’til next summer, boy. Why you dressed for a powwow?”
“Be cool,” Sam said to Coyote. “Don’t scare him.”
Coyote shrugged and followed Sam into the waiting room, a ten-by-ten parlor with a checked linoleum floor and mint-green walls hung with racks of pamphlets. Twenty people sat in folding chairs along the walls, reading old copies of People or just staring at their shoes. Sam approached a window where a Crow woman was absorbed in scribbling on index cards, intent on not looking at those who waited.
“Excuse me,” Sam said.
The woman didn’t look up. “Fill this out.” She handed a form and a stick pen over the counter. “When you hand it in – with the pen – I’ll give you a number.”
“I’m not here for treatment,” Sam said, and the woman looked up for the first time. “I’m here to see Pokey Medicine Wing.”
The woman seemed annoyed. “Just a minute.” She got up and walked through the door into the back. In a moment a door into the waiting room opened and everyone looked up. A young, white doctor poked his head out, spotted Sam and Coyote, and signaled for them to come in. Everyone in the waiting room looked back down.
Inside the door the doctor looked them up and down, Sam in his dirty windbreaker and slacks, Coyote in his buckskins. “Are you family?”
“He’s my clan uncle,” Sam said.
The doctor nodded to Coyote. “And you?”
“Just a friend,” Sam said.
“You’ll have to wait outside,” the doctor said.
Sam looked at Coyote. “Keep it under control, okay?”
“I said I would.” The trickster went back into the waiting room.
“He should be in a real hospital,” the doctor said. “He was technically dead, twice. We brought him back with the defibrillator. He’s stable now, but we don’t have the staff here to watch him. He should be in an ICU.”
Sam hadn’t heard a word of it. “Can I see him?”
“Follow me.” The doctor turned and led Sam down a narrow hallway and up a flight of steps. “He was severely dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia. I think he’d been drinking even before he went on the fast. It leached all the fluids out of his body. His liver is shot and his heart sustained some damage.”
The doctor stopped and opened a door. “Just a few minutes. He’s very weak.”
The doctor went in with Sam. Pokey was lying in a hospital bed, tubes and wires connecting him to bottles and machines. His skin was a brown-gray color. “Mr. Medicine Wing,” the doctor said softly, “someone is here to see you.”
Pokey’s eyes opened slowly. “Hey, Samson,” he said. He smiled and Sam noticed that he still hadn’t gotten false teeth.
“Hey, Pokey,” Sam said.
“You got bigger.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. Seeing Pokey was breaking through his fog, and he was starting to hurt again.
“You look like shit,” Pokey said.
“So do you.”
“Must run in the family.” Pokey grinned. “You got a smoke?”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. I hear you’re still drinking.”
“Yeah. I went to some meetings. They said I needed to get a higher power if I wanted to quit. I told them that a higher power was why I was drinking in the first place.”
“He’s outside now. Waiting.”
Pokey nodded and closed his eyes. “I had a couple of visions about you meeting up with him. All those years he’s quiet, then I get a bunch of visions. I thought you was dead until I had the first one.”
“I couldn’t come home. I shouldn’t have….”
Pokey dismissed the thought with a weak wave of his hand. “You had to go. Enos would’ve killed you. He checked on us for years, lookin’ in our mailbox for letters, watching the house. He drove himself plumb crazy. He give up on you when Grandma died and you didn’t come home.”
Sam had listened to the last part of the speech sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to Pokey. His knees had given out at the news that Enos was alive. He stared at the door. “I don’t feel anything,” he said.
“You okay?” Pokey said, trying to grab his nephew’s arm.
“There’s nothing. I’m not even afraid.”
Sam looked over his shoulder at Pokey. “I thought I killed him.”
“You busted him up real good. Broke both his legs and an arm sliding down the face of the dam. Tub a lard didn’t even have the manners to drown.”
“I been running for nothing. I…”
“I should of never give you that Coyote medicine,” Pokey said. His breath was starting to come in rasping gasps. “I thought if I got rid of it I wouldn’t be crazy no more.”
“It’s okay.” Sam patted Pokey’s arm. “I don’t think you had a choice.”
Pokey continued to breathe heavily. “I saw a shadow that said you were going where there was death. I didn’t know where to find you. I told Old Man Coyote. He said he knew.” Pokey gripped Sam’s arm. “He said he knew, Samson. You got to get away from him.”
“Calm down, Pokey.” Sam stood and put his hands on Pokey’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Pokey. It wasn’t my death. Do you want the doctor?”
Pokey shook his head. His breathing started to calm. Sam took a pitcher of water from the bedside table and poured some into a paper cup. He held it while Pokey drank, then helped the old man lie back. “Whose death?” Pokey asked.
Sam put the cup down. “A girl.” He looked away.
“You loved her?”
Sam nodded, still looking away. “She had a baby. Cindy’s watching him.”
“When did it happen?”
“Was Old Man Coyote with you when it happened?”
“Ask him to bring her back. He owes you that.”
“She’s dead, Pokey. She’s gone.”
“I been dead twice in the last two days. I ain’t gone.”
“She was shot, Pokey. A bullet went through her spine.”
“Samson, look at me.” Pokey pulled himself up on the bed so he could look Sam in the eye. “He owes you. There’s a story that Old Man Coyote invented death so there wouldn’t be too many people. There’s another story that his wife was killed and he went into the Underworld to get her. There was a shade there that let her go as long as Coyote promised not to look at her until he got back to the world, but he looked, so now no one can come back.”
“Pokey, I can’t do this right now. I can’t listen to this.”
“He stole your life, Samson.”
Sam shook his head violently. “This just happened to me. I didn’t make any of it happen.”
“Then make it happen now!” Pokey shouted. Sam stopped. “In the buffalo days they said that a warrior who had counted coup and had an arrow bundle could move in and out of the Underworld. He could hide there from his enemies. Go, Samson. Old Man Coyote can help you find your girl.”
“She’s dead, Pokey. The Underworld is just old superstition.”
“Mumbo jumbo?” Pokey said.
“Like Coyote medicine?”
Sam didn’t answer. He was gritting his teeth, glaring at his uncle.
Pokey smiled. “You still hate it when I talk about the old ways. Try it, Samson. What do you have to lose?”
“Nothing,” Sam said. “There’s nothing at all.”
The doctor opened the door and said, “That’s enough. He needs to rest.”
“Fuck off, paleface,” Pokey said.
Sam said, “Just one more minute, please.”
“One minute,” the doctor said, holding up his finger as he backed out of the room.
Sam looked at Pokey. “‘Fuck off, paleface’?” He laughed. It felt good.
“Be nice, Squats Behind the Bush. I’m sick.” Sam felt something moving through him as he grinned at Pokey – something warm, like hope. “Now, quick, before you die again, you old fuck. Where do I get an arrow bundle?”
Sam came striding out of the clinic and grabbed Coyote by the arm, pulling him away from a group of kids he was lying to. What had been a paralyzing grief had changed to purpose. Sam felt incredibly alive.
“Let’s go. Give me the keys.”
“What’s going on?” Coyote said. “Why the hurry? Did the old man die?”
Sam climbed into the Z and fired it up. “I’ve got to get to a phone, and I’ve got to get some clothes.”
“What happened in there?”
“You knew she was going to be killed, didn’t you?”
“I knew someone would.”
“Pokey says that you can go in and out of the land of the dead?”
“I can? Oh, the Underworld! Yeah, I can. I don’t like to, though.”
“It’s depressing. You won’t like it.”
“Pokey thinks you can bring Calliope back.”
“I tried that once; it didn’t work. It’s not up to me.”
“Then we’re going to talk to whoever it’s up to.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“I’m a little past that.”
“Why do you need clothes?”
“We’re going to Billings first, to get something.”
“It’s depressing. You won’t like it. There’s a big cliff in Billings that was a buffalo jump, but our people never drove the herds over it. The buffalo used to go up to the edge and say, ‘Oh, no, it’s Billings, then they’d just jump over out of depression. Nope, you don’t want to go to Billings.”
Sam pulled into the Hunts Alone driveway, shut off the car, and turned to Coyote. “What’s in the Underworld? What are you so afraid of?”