Read The Eagle Catcher Online

Authors: Margaret Coel

The Eagle Catcher (5 page)

“All I know is Harvey changed his mind.” Rita leaned against the opposite wall. “He was gonna make a big presentation to the business council next Tuesday. Charlie Taylor was backing him. He always went along with Harvey.”
Father John hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his blue jeans. Maybe this was what Harvey had wanted to talk to him about, but he doubted it. He and Harvey rarely discussed matters before the business council. Anyway, if Harvey had changed his mind about the Cooley ranch, it probably had more to do with finances than with anything the elders had said.
“Maybe Cooley wants too much money,” Father John suggested.
“Five million? That's too much all right. But we could've done it. We got oil money.”
Father John didn't want to argue with her. There were oil wells across the reservation, all owned by the two tribes. Part of the royalties were paid out to the people, in what they called their per capitas. The per capitas gave Arapaho and Shoshone families a modest income, which they relied upon. But some royalties were reserved to buy back the old lands. Those, he knew, were already committed to certain lands. Maybe there wasn't enough left for a major purchase like the Cooley ranch. After a moment he asked, “Where's Anthony now?”
Rita was staring down the hall, and he realized she had been expecting her son. “I thought for sure he'd come home last night, but he never showed up,” she said. “Mom and I were here all night—Mom's too old for campin' out, and I'd just as soon sleep in my own bed. But Harvey loved the camp life. Part of him was living in the Old Time, you know.”
She dabbed at her eyes again before hurrying on, her voice rising. “When Anthony didn't come home, I figured he must've gone back to the powwow grounds to fix things up with Harvey. I was gettin' ready to take Mom out there this morning when the grandmothers and Will Standing Bear and a couple policemen came drivin' up, and they told us what happened ...”
Rita lowered her face into her hands and began sobbing. Father John stepped across the hall and put his arms around her. “I'm so sorry,” he said, feeling his own grief and anger wash over him like a hot breeze, trying to comfort himself as well as her with the words.
After a moment she pulled away and, leaning against the wall again, let out a long breath. “I'm scared the police are gonna think Anthony—” She stopped a moment. “Anthony would never hurt Harvey. I mean, Harvey was the only father he'd ever had, you know.” There was a question in her voice, as if she were wondering if he did know.
“I understand,” he said. A look of relief crossed Rita's face. She had never told him about it, but Harvey had. How Rita had run off with some Indian who had been passing through the reservation. How he had left her in Denver, pregnant and scared out of her wits. And how Harvey had gone to Denver and brought her home. It was right after his divorce, he'd said, and he'd been happy to help his sister raise her child.
“The police aren't going to blame Anthony, not without witnesses, or some evidence that Anthony was in the tipi at the time Harvey was killed,” Father John said, hoping to allay her fears and, at the same time, reassure himself. “They need hard evidence that would stand up in court, like fingerprints or hair samples or—”
“The knife,” Rita interrupted. She was twisting the tissue into a rope, and her hands were shaking. “The grandmothers said he was knifed.”
“That's what it looks like,” Father John said softly. There was no telling what gossip the grandmothers had passed on.
“Oh, my God,” Rita said, dropping her face into her hands. Just as he was about to put his arms around her again, the screen door slammed, and heavy footsteps bounded up the stairs.
“Anthony!” Rita screamed, flinging herself past Father John and rushing down the hallway.
“Who killed him?” Anthony said, demanding an instant answer, an explanation that would make sense out of the senseless. His voice was low and hoarse. Close to six feet tall, muscular and lanky at the same time, he seemed to fill up the landing at the top of the stairs. Except for his yellow T-shirt and ragged blue jeans slit open at the knees, he could have been a warrior in the Old Time, with eyes as black and determined as slate, a hooked, defiant nose, prominent cheekbones, and blue-black hair that fell over his forehead with its own insistency. He scanned the elders and grandmothers in the living room, the women crowding around the kitchen doorway, before fixing his eyes on his mother.
Rita stopped and stood still, as if to take him in and make sure he was really there. Then she ran forward again, stretched out her arms and gathered him to her, cradling him like a little boy. Her head and shoulders were shaking, and Father John knew she was sobbing silently.
“I stopped for gas up at Ethete,” Anthony said, pulling slightly away from his mother's grasp while still patting her shoulder, “and Jake Littlehorse told me ...” He stopped abruptly. The words refused to be uttered.
After a moment, he said, “I'm gonna get whoever did this, Mom, no matter what I have to do.” The house had gone quiet except for the faint clack-clack-clack of the screen door knocking in the wind.
ATHER JOHN DESCENDED the stairs and retrieved his cowboy hat from the bench. He had promised to come back later. Now Anthony needed to be with his family. In any case, Father John didn't know what he would say. He didn't understand why Harvey had been murdered in his tipi. He didn't have the answers. Just platitudes, that's all he had, about being sorry, about Harvey being a good man, a damn good man. Harvey and his family deserved more than platitudes.
He squinted into the fiery sunlight as he stepped outside onto the concrete stoop, setting the screen door firmly in place behind him. The sky had turned sapphire blue with wisps of white clouds floating and banking against one another, like sailboats skimming the surface of the sea. The afternoon sun spilled its heat over the stoop, and a hot, steady breeze rustled the leaves of the lone cottonwood tree in the front yard and swept across the small patch of grass.
The grandmothers still clucked over Harvey's patch of grass. Father John had often overheard them as they stitched patterns of beads onto shirts and moccasins at the St. Francis meeting hall. The idea of pouring water onto something that didn't belong here and didn't want to grow here! He thought of what Harvey had told him: how he'd planted grass around the cottonwood so Anthony could have a cool, shady place to play when he was little, until he got tall enough to ride the horses out on the ranch.
Father John made his way down the concrete steps and along the driveway, his boots scrunching against the gravel. Anthony's jeep blocked the driveway, like a marker hugging its place on a Monopoly board. Arapahos were still milling about, although the crowd seemed smaller and the line of pickups shorter out along Little Wind River Bottom Road. His throat felt as dry as the little puffs of dust he was kicking up, and as scratchy as a tumbleweed He needed a drink. He wished he'd helped himself to a cup of coffee in the kitchen.
A few years back he would have had the answers, and they would have tripped off his tongue as easily as the sunlight glinted off the pebbles in the driveway. Smooth and glib he'd been, full of the certainty and clarity of fifteen years of Jesuit training. Shored up with all the arguments of the great philosophers from Aristotle to Aquinas, Kant to Kierkegaard. Tested in monographs and disputations, in endless discussions over dinner in the refectory every evening. He could have expounded at length on how God was First Mover and Creator, how all created things acted according to their natures, how free will defined the nature of human beings. He could have explained philosophically how someone, acting with free will, had chosen to murder Harvey.
So what? Harvey was dead—that was the fact of the matter, and no philosophical theory on how murder comes into the world would have comforted Harvey's family. It didn't even comfort him. He'd learned a lot about faith since he'd been at Wind River Reservation, mostly about how it was something other than an intellectual exercise. There were no words, no lofty concepts, that could take away the pain. Faith was living with the pain.
He was about to get into the Toyota pickup out on the side of Little Wind River Bottom Road when a BIA patrol car slowed alongside him. Its red brake lights flashed on and off as the car turned in to the driveway and rocked to a stop. The jeep he'd seen this morning at the powwow grounds pulled in behind, its rear bumper hanging into the road. Doors flung open, and Art Banner lifted himself from the patrol car as the FBI agent, Jeff Miller, jumped from the jeep,
The two agents of law and order walked back onto the road toward him, their arms swinging like martinets: Miller in dark suit with jacket open and red tie hanging dead center; the police chief in light-blue shirt and navy-blue slacks wrinkled with sweat, as if he'd been wearing them for days.
“Anthony Castle inside?” The agent threw his head back toward the ranch house.
Father John felt his muscles tense, the way they had on the pitcher's mound, when everything depended on the next throw of the ball. All his senses shifted into high gear as he gripped the rim of the opened door on the Toyota. “Anthony's with his family.” He drew out the words, giving himself time to assess the situation.
“We've got some questions. It's best he comes to Lander,” Miller said, squaring his shoulders and looking steadily at Father John.
“Why Lander?”
Banner wedged himself between the fed and Father John. “We just need some questions answered, that's all. No sense disturbing the family.”
“Anthony doesn't know anything about his uncle's murder.” Father John stepped out from the door and slammed it hard, deliberately punctuating his words. He walked to the front of the pickup, eyes locked on Miller. It was this FBI agent who needed convincing. “Anthony wasn't even around.”
Miller folded his arms across his middle. “Oh, he was around all right. No doubt you know all about that big fight he and his uncle got into last night. Twenty, thirty witnesses saw it. Big coincidence, wouldn't you say, that Harvey got stabbed afterward? Coroner estimates time of death sometime between midnight and six this morning.”
“Anthony left the powwow grounds,” Father John said, keeping his voice steady, reasonable.
“We think he came back,” said the agent.
Some of the Arapaho men who had been standing in the driveway walked out onto the road and lined up like bodyguards behind Banner and Father John.
Miller ignored them. “We got the murder weapon. BIA police found a hunting knife out on the grounds behind Harvey's tipi. Hidden in some sagebrush.”
“We think it might be the murder weapon.” Banner jumped in. “We won't know for sure 'til the lab tests it.”
“Maybe Anthony can identify it,” Miller said, his voice thick with sarcasm. “It's got his initials on the handle.”
A strong dislike for this white man rose like bile in Father John's throat. He heard the Arapahos behind him gulping in air, and he hoped everybody stayed calm. “Could be a coincidence,” he said hurriedly.
“Yeah. Coincidences all over the place.” Miller kept his eyes locked on Father John's.
“Will you do us a favor and tell Anthony we wanna talk to him?” Banner took another step in front of the fed, almost blocking him altogether.
Father John switched his gaze to the police chief. He understood what the Indian was about. Banner didn't want to insult Harvey's family by coming into their home with some cockamamie suggestion that Anthony had something to do with the murder. And there was no way he wanted to deal with the wrath of Anthony's grandmother. Arapaho grandmothers would put a she-wolf to shame when it came to protecting their young.
“Okay,” Father John said almost under his breath. There was only one reason he would do this: maybe he could soften the blow a little for Anthony, explain the situation to Maria and Rita. He didn't want the family upset any further.
“There's an explanation for all this,” he said, starting toward the driveway. He said it for the fed's benefit.
Father John took the stairs two at a time. From the landing he spotted Anthony sitting cross-legged on the living room carpet next to Maria's rocker. Catching the young man's eye, he motioned to him.
Anthony sprang upward like a whipcord unknotting itself. He strode across the living room, his eyes on Father John. “What?” he asked.
Father John turned and walked halfway down the hallway to where he and Rita had stood a few minutes ago. Then he faced the young man. Keeping his voice low, he said, “Banner and the new FBI agent want you to come to Lander for questioning.”
Anthony blinked and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “They think I had something to do with Harvey's murder?”
Father John placed a hand on the Indian's shoulder to steady him for what he had to say next. “They found a hunting knife with your initials on it.”
“No.” Anthony rocked backward as if he'd been hit by a strong gust of wind. Shaking off Father John's hand, he whirled around and drove one fist against the wall. Several women poked their heads through the kitchen door, eyes wide with surprise and fear.
“Take it easy,” Father John said, gripping the young man's shoulder again. He could feel the tenseness there.
Anthony's breath came fast and hard. “Give me a couple more minutes with grandmother,” he said.
“What's going on?” Rita asked. Father John could hear her puffing as she followed him down the stairs. He stepped back and pushed open the screen door for her. He saw the fear in her eyes as they stepped out onto the concrete stoop.

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