Read The Eagle Catcher Online

Authors: Margaret Coel

The Eagle Catcher (3 page)

“It wasn't history Harvey wanted to talk about,” Father John said after a moment. “He was worried about something. I think it was something going on now, not something that happened in the past.”
The chief nodded slowly, lost in thought, as a tan jeep wheeled across the grounds, threading its way among the Indians breaking camp. It stopped behind the white BIA patrol cars in the access road, and a man about six feet tall jumped out. He had on tan slacks and a navy blazer that swung open as he strode across the road. A red tie was knotted at the collar of his white shirt. Without missing a step, he hurdled the yellow plastic tape and ducked into Harvey's tipi.
“There goes the Lone Ranger,” Banner said. “Jeff Miller, new FBI man in these parts. You met him yet?”
“Not yet.”
“He used to be down on the Big Reservation,” Banner went on. “Then last spring, some Navajo told him all about how he was gonna shoot some other Navajo. Miller said the guy was a blowhard, so he didn't take it seriously. What d‘ya know, the guy went out and did just like he said. So the powers that be sent Miller up here to Central Wyoming. Exiled, he calls it. How d'ya like that? Exiled up here with us!”
Father John nodded. He'd felt exiled, too, six years ago.
Banner drew in a long breath, then said, “Well, this is gonna be fed business, that's for sure. But Miller's gonna have himself a partner whether he likes it or not. Harvey was my friend. Screw the rules.”
Father John understood the police chief was talking about the wavy line between tribal and federal jurisdictions on Indian reservations. The Bureau of Indian Affairs police handled the everyday, run-of-the-mill stuff, but major crimes, like murder, went to the FBI. This was one murder case Banner was going to be involved in, probably up to his eyeballs.
“Better stick around,” the chief said. ‘The Lone Ranger's gonna want to talk to you.”
“Murder happen around here very often?” Father Brad Jansen was sipping a Coke and leaning against the counter of the brush shade where Father John had waited to meet Harvey earlier.
“This isn't Chicago,” Father John said, immediately regretting the edginess in his voice. He felt a full-blown headache coming on, and his heart was racing. That was no reason to take it out on this young priest.
“Want a Coke, Father?” Alva White Bull was still inside the shade, only now she was stacking plastic bags of hamburger buns into cardboard boxes scattered around the dirt floor.
“Sounds good, Grandmother.” He stopped himself from saying “Hurry” as the old woman stooped over, lifted up the lid on a cooler, and fished out a Coke from the cans wedged among melting cubes of ice.
Father John popped the tab and took a long gulp. The cold, syrupy liquid slid down his throat. He was thirsty, that was all. The shock of finding a friend murdered would make anyone thirsty. And it had gotten so damn hot all of a sudden. That was the whole of it, except he knew it was only a small part. The big part was that every day, no matter what happened, he wanted a drink.
“Well, maybe it's not Chicago.” Father Brad's voice droned on. “But it looks like you've got a professional hit here.”
“What are you talking about?” Father Brad had his full attention now.
The younger priest crossed one leg over the other and dug the toe of a wing tip into the ground. “People are saying the tipi looks like Harvey had just tucked himself in for the night. It's not as if some thief came sneaking in to steal his wallet.”
“You're saying somebody set this up? Planned to ...”
“Hit him,” Brad said.
“On the first night of the powwow weekend with a couple hundred people camped here, any one of whom could have seen him or her—whoever this professional murderer is? Why not plant a bomb in Harvey's pickup or pick him off with a rifle out on his ranch? Isn't that how it's done on TV?
The young Jesuit slumped against the counter of the brush shade. “I watch the same TV as you.”
“I watch the Red Sox,” said Father John. He could feel his anger at full boil beneath the surface.
“Harvey was the tribal chairman, wasn't he?” Father Brad went on, squaring his shoulders. “There's oil here, right? I'd be willing to bet that Harvey isn't the first tribal chairman murdered for oil.” The young priest held up his empty Coke can and sighted the trash barrel. Bull's-eye.
It was hard to stomach, this new assistant's confidence, the earnest confidence of the immature. He'd been on the reservation a total of two weeks, and he had everything figured out Just what we need, thought Father John. Somebody with all the answers.
Father John turned away. Harvey's tipi was the only one still standing. The FBI agent had stationed himself just outside the yellow tape and was talking to Leon Wolf and a couple of other Arapaho men. Several BIA policemen were talking to the few other Indians still milling about.
“Does that mean Anthony's not gonna get into trouble?” Alva White Bull asked.
Slowly Father John looked back toward the old woman. The idea that Anthony was somehow connected to his uncle's murder was even more outrageous than Father Brad's hit-man theory. “What are you getting at, Grandmother?”
The old woman looked as if she was biting back tears. “I been awful worried ever since I heard about poor Harvey ‘cause of that big fight him and Anthony got into last night,” she said. “But I been thinkin', well ...”
She hesitated, and Father John waited for her to go on. It was polite to be patient until the elders felt like continuing their stories. That had been the hardest thing for him to learn in the six years he'd been at St. Francis Mission. Patience had never been one of his virtues.
Finally Alva White Bull said, “I been thinkin' that it's a good thing Vicky Holden's come back. She's one of them lawyers now, and she can help Anthony if he went and done anything crazy.”
Father John drew in a long breath. He hadn't seen Vicky Holden this morning either, and now it struck him as odd she wasn't here. He'd been so preoccupied looking for Harvey he hadn't realized a lot of other people weren't around, that this wasn't the usual powwow weekend, not usual at all. Now this elderly Arapaho woman was suggesting that Anthony was going to need Vicky's help.
Father Brad leaned on the counter, obviously intrigued by the old woman's developing story. He plunged ahead. “So what about the fight last night?”
Alva White Bull hesitated, then lowered her voice and turned to Father John, as if to tell him alone. “Everybody was settin' up camp, and Harvey was poundin' in the stakes for his tipi,” she began. “All of a sudden, Anthony comes speedin' in the campground in that jeep of his. He jumps out and starts shoutin' at Harvey. Well, Rita got real upset. Tried to calm him down, but Anthony don't pay no attention to his mother or anybody else. He forgot all about respect since he went off to college, you ask me. Acts just like a white man. No offense, Father John,” she said, still ignoring the younger priest.
“Next thing you know, Anthony gets back into his jeep and takes off same way he drove in. Crazy, I call it.” The Indian woman made a little clicking noise with her tongue.
Father John felt as if he'd been hit with a bucket of cold water. He stepped back from the brush shade, instinctively wanting to put some space between himself and the old woman's suspicions. Anthony Castle was one of the sharpest kids he had ever met, white or brown or any other color. He was set to start medical school in Denver in the fall, after he finished up at the University of Wyoming. All he talked about was becoming a pediatrician and helping his people on the reservation. But he was a hothead, Anthony. He was such a damn hothead.
After a moment Father John said, “Anthony didn't have anything to do with his uncle's murder, Grandmother. I'm sure of it.” He heard the hesitation in his own voice and wondered whom he was trying to convince.
ATHER JOHN POUNDED one fist against the steering wheel of the old red Toyota pickup. Jesus, Harvey Castle was a good man. Why did this have to happen to a good man? What possible motive could anyone have for murdering a man like Harvey? Nothing made any sense.
Ahead the gray asphalt of Little Wind River Bottom Road shimmered in the afternoon sun. The rounded foothills of the Wind River Mountains loomed to the west, but in every other direction the golden plains rolled into the distance as far as he could see. Here and there an oil pump appeared on the horizon, like a great black hawk pecking the earth.
Keeping his eyes on the road. Father John opened the glove compartment and pulled out an opera tape. He set the tape into the portable player wedged in the middle of the front seat and pushed a button. The plaintive swells of La
filled the cab and drowned out the sound of the wind crashing over the half-opened windows. He allowed the music to spread through the spaces of his mind, hoping it might hold the anger and sorrow at bay for a little while.
It had been past noon before he and Father Brad had left the powwow grounds and headed back along Seventeen-Mile Road to St. Francis Mission on the eastern edge of Wind River Reservation. He had made an effort to be more patient with his new assistant. Not that long ago he'd been cocksure and full of himself, too, and that image of himself that he glimpsed in the younger priest—that was what grated on him. Father John had spent an hour answering the telephone in the priests' residence. Yes, Harvey Castle was dead. Yes, it looked like murder. No, he didn't know anything else. After nibbling on part of a sandwich and finishing another cup of coffee, he'd left Father Brad to man the phone and had set out for Harvey's ranch.
He couldn't get Father Brad's hit-man theory out of his mind. It would have been ridiculous, if only the logical conclusion weren't so terrible. What if Harvey had been working on something important—there was that word again—on the tribal council—the business council, as Arapahos called it. And what if someone had hired a hit man to stop him? Wouldn't that mean the other five tribal councilmen were also in danger? Wouldn't that mean there could be more murders on the reservation? Oh, the relentless logic of the Jesuit system—once locked onto your thought processes, it never released its grip. Sometimes he wished he could think in another way, forget about logic.
Easing down on the accelerator, Father John glanced at the speedometer needle jumping at sixty-five. The Toyota shivered and balked, but he didn't let up. He liked the sense of hurtling down the road, the illusion of outracing whatever demons might be in pursuit. His new assistant was right about one thing, and that bothered him, kept him from dismissing the theory altogether. There was oil on Wind River Reservation. The irony never failed to amaze him. A hundred years ago nobody had wanted this desolate piece of real estate, windblown and sun-scorched all summer, adrift in freezing snow all winter. So the federal government had sent the Shoshones to live here first, and then the Arapahos.
Shoshones had settled up north around Burris and Crow-heart, while Arapahos lived in the south around the fork of the Wind River and the Little Wind River. The Middle Earth, Arapahos called the land. Sacred space where human beings could be. A gift of
the Shining Man Above. Then somebody had hit a gusher, and ever since, whites had cast greedy eyes on the reservation.
Lucky they couldn't get their hands on it, Father John thought, or they'd have it. True, Arapahos had sold large portions just to keep from starving to death, before laws prohibited such sales. But in recent years, they'd bought back some of the original lands with royalties from tribal oil wells.
Now it was mostly Arapaho land as far as Father John could see, across the plains and into the foothills, except for the 100,000-acre Cooley ranch that butted against the southwestern edge of the reservation. Mathias Cooley, the first government agent, had bought it from Chief Black Night more than a hundred years ago. Rumor on the moccasin telegraph was that Ned Cooley, the agent's great-grandson, intended to sell the ranch, now that he had his sights set on the statehouse.
“Damn,” Father John said out loud, hitting the rim of the steering wheel again. He'd forgotten about the annual pig roast at the Cooley ranch tonight. He'd only attended once, his first summer at St. Francis. White-only events around here weren't for him. But his new assistant had pounced on the invitation when it arrived last week, and Father John had agreed to go.
He'd rationalized it, he had to admit. Ned Cooley would be announcing his candidacy to a lot of important people from Lander, and Riverton, and Father Brad might have better luck than he'd ever had in getting important people to contribute to St. Francis Mission once in a while. “The chance of a rookie pitching a no-hitter.” Father John was used to talking to himself out loud in the Toyota. “Brad can go if he wants. I'm counting myself out.”
Little Wind River Bottom Road bent to the east like a broken arrow, and as Father John slowed the Toyota into the turn, he thought about his interview with the FBI agent. He'd told him everything he knew. Well, almost everything. He hadn't mentioned Alva White Bull's story about Anthony and Harvey quarreling last night. But he hadn't witnessed the quarrel himself, and the fed hadn't asked about it, so it wasn't as if he'd lied. What was that old Jesuit maxim? A wise man never has to lie, Thinking about it made him smile.
He felt calmer now, with the notes of “Di Provenza il mar” filling the cab. The open spaces always calmed him. He never minded spending a large part of every day in the Toyota, awash in the music of
La Traviata
La Bohème
Don Giovanni,
crisscrossing the reservation, fifty miles here, thirty miles there, twenty-five over there. Arapahos lived on ranches miles from their nearest neighbors.

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