Powerful Medicine [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Gwynn Morgan
eBook Category: Romance
eBook Description: Ms. Walton takes us through some very private ceremonial rituals of the Native American Culture and lets us experience it with her characters Fran and Ben. This isn't an ordinary romance, but borders on genius on how well it penetrates our hearts and minds. Powerful Medicine will enlighten, entertain, and bewitch you with its Native customs and its unusually told love story. Everything from the mystical old Medicine man, Willie, to the wise sage Maude will delight your hunger for characterization. A must read by all means.
eBook Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books, Published: 2001
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2001
Chapter 1 Fran Jonas hesitated in the doorway. She looked up and down the corridor before she slipped from the private hospital room. With a glance at the 'No Visitors' sign on the door, she twitched her lips in a grim smile before she began creeping stiffly away. Neither sign nor privacy would keep her safe much longer, anyway.
5 Reader Ratings:
Her heart fluttered, as if seeking release from the cramp of her tightly taped ribs. Sweat moistened her cold hands. Now I know how a prisoner feels, trying to escape.
Her skin shrank from contact with her clothes. The dirty, disheveled jeans and sweater still bore traces of grime and blood. Her blood. Given a choice, she would never have put them on again, but she had to. She had no other clothes and no one she dared call to bring her any.
Lying in that hospital bed for three days, recovering from the brutal beating, she'd realized she had no friends. Plenty of acquaintances, but no friends. True, as Francesca, often prefaced by 'super model,' she'd worked with other models and many photographers. She had an agent, several men who squired her to various events, and others she'd met in New York who she'd casually described as "friends." But not one of them was someone you'd call when you were in desperate need of help. That's what a real friend was--and she didn't have a single one.
Mercy Hospital's evening visiting hours were nearly over. A few people still came and went, but the nurses hadn't yet begun their bedtime checks. If she could walk steadily enough, perhaps she'd draw no undue attention. Although she hadn't ventured as far as the lobby since her admission, she made it. Her legs felt wobblier than hospital Jello, but she made it.
A cab waited, right outside the door. Pure luck. She eased into the seat, breathing in careful little pants that didn't strain her bound ribs.
"Where to, Lady?"
After debating with herself a moment, Fran acknowledged she was too weak to walk any more. She'd have to risk going straight to her apartment. "River Front Towers, please."
"River Front and Seventy-Ninth, right?"
If the cabbie wondered why someone so unkempt wanted to go to that swank address, he didn't show it, didn't even look at her. He'd probably seen it all, she reasoned, and no longer cared.
"Yes. Make it the East door."
Trembling with strain and the exertion she hadn't healed enough to handle, Fran shut her eyes a moment and leaned her head back against the cracked vinyl seat. Even the cloying odor which permeated the cab, cigar smoke mixed with stale perfume, didn't rouse her. The trip took too little time.
"Here y'are. That'll be $7.75."
When the driver spoke, Fran's eyes snapped open. She didn't respond immediately. This time he turned around.
"Lady, are you all right?"
She gathered her wits by sheer dint of will. I can't let him get too curious. "Yes, I'm okay. I just visited a really sick friend." She struggled to force the words out.
Her hands shook as she drew out the oversized wallet, which had been jammed in one pocket of her jeans. Was that ten still hidden behind the note pad? It was.
After they roughed her up, Salvatore Gambruzzi's thugs had taken her obvious money, about $110.00 as she recalled, enough to make it look like a typical mugging and robbery. Was she the only person in the world who knew it wasn't? The evening news had reported the attack, said the police had no leads, and thankfully had not named the hospital to which she'd been taken. So at least the press had not descended in full force ... yet.
She tugged out the bill, handed it to the cab driver. Although it felt awkward, she took pains to keep her head down, shadowing her face. At least they'd left her face alone.
"Keep the change." Her voice sounded raw, rough-edged, even to her. Her throat was still sore, too. An instant flashback of one thug's hands, tightening around her neck, made her gasp.
She scrambled from the cab, turning away as quickly as she could. The doorman glowered at her, doubt clear in his expression. After she showed her key, he let her in, but with clear reluctance. She felt sure he didn't recognized her. She seldom used that door, anyway, and never appeared in public less than perfectly groomed. * * * * Some four hours later, near midnight, Fran slipped back out of the building. Again, she tried to be sure no one noticed her. Beneath a drab raincoat, she wore her oldest, faded jeans and a plain gray sweatshirt, but they were clean, at least. She'd twisted up her trademark, hip-length ebony hair, and carried only an old gym bag and her largest purse. Makeup, applied with artful clumsiness, made her look older and plainer.
She used a service door from the basement to emerge into the shadowed alley. If Sal did have a watch on the place, they wouldn't be likely to guard this out-of-the-way exit. Francesca would never use a service door. She limped painfully for two blocks before she dared hail another cab. By then she felt so shaky and weak she could barely stand unsupported, let alone continue walking.
If only neither cab driver would recall her, much less connected her with the mysterious disappearance of Francesca from Mercy Hospital. That event would no doubt make all the papers and newscasts tomorrow, but by then she'd be far away.
Adopting the slouch she'd forgotten years ago, she visualized herself simply another weary, anonymous woman, traveling alone. She took comfort in knowing that pale and drawn as she now was, she hardly resembled her glamorous alter-ego.
The cab left her at La Guardia. Before the hospital painkillers wore off completely, she made her way to the gate for the earliest departing flight.
Moments later, she dropped into seat 22-A on the red-eye to Atlanta. She released her breath in a ragged sigh as her aching, weary body seemed to sink through the upholstery. She wasn't sure where she'd get the strength, but from Atlanta, she'd take another plane to Des Moines or Baton Rouge or Houston. Then on to El Paso or Orange County or Salem, Oregon, and eventually home. For the first time in years, she thought of the InDinay Reservation in Arizona as home, a refuge rather than a miserable trap from which to flee.
Weariness, pain and relief blended, leaving her feeling slightly giddy. This is like an absurd hopscotch game--but it's not fun and I don't dare step on the lines. * * * * "Whadda ya mean she ain't here?" Sal Gambruzzi leaned forward, resting his bulk on the nurse's station counter. Behind it, the pale young nun cowered, clinging to a lower shelf as if for support.
Her lips moved for a moment before any sound emerged. "Ms. Jonas checked out--er, last night. I mean she must have, but there's been a mix-up, the records ... one of the doctors ... I'm sorry, sir, but she's really not here."
"What kinda joint you runnin' here that people can just walk out? What about the bill?"
"I ... you'll have to go to the financial office about that, sir. I can't access that information from this computer."
Sal swung around and stalked away, swearing to himself as he went. He wrinkled his brow, digesting what he had just heard. This couldn't be happening. Francie was too weak, too cowed to walk out on her own. She'd seen what they did to Margie, the cocktail waitress who got caught pulling change. Dumb broad oughta know she'd got off easy--this time.
This half-assed hospital--first they put up that damn 'No Visitors' sign and watched so he wasn't able to get in and talk to her and now they'd let her disappear. One of her pansy boyfriends must 'a come and got her. Well, they could be made to regret it, too. Damn, she couldn't be gone. Had to be a mistake, like maybe they moved her to a different room.
Twenty minutes later, Sal had to acknowledge the unpalatable truth. Francie Jonas--Francesca--whatever you chose to call her, was well and truly gone. She'd slipped out and even left the bill for him to pay. Stalking to the door, he glared up and down the parking lot.
There was his car, halfway down the lot. Why'd the stupid kid have to park a block away? Well, he wasn't about to walk. A man had to keep some dignity, and his had suffered enough for one day. Wait 'til he caught up with that sneaking bitch. This time he'd slap her around himself, for a start.
He whistled sharply. His driver, jumping guiltily at the sound, glanced around. The kid hastily backed the old Lincoln out and came around to where Sal waited. As Sal watched impassively, the younger man hopped out and held the door, clearly trying to ignore his boss's grim expression.
"Drive over to River Side," Sal growled, as the youth slid behind the wheel. "Maybe she just went home."
But she wasn't there either. A quick look through the apartment didn't tell him much. Her clothes still filled the closets. A purse sat on the marble-topped foyer table by the door, still jammed with her credit cards and makeup. What kind of crazy broad would leave all that behind?
A shiver passed through him. What if Lefty and Joe had gotten her first? They were trying to win favor with The Man, too. Had he bragged too much about how he was going to use her famous face and gorgeous body as his final step into the big time? A sick cramping pain bit at his gut.
He grabbed a delicate vase from the foyer table and slammed it to the floor. The porcelain shattered into a million bright slivers. He'd rather do that to her, damn bitch. Where had she gone?
A man held onto what was his. That was the code. No stupid slut could outsmart Sal Gambruzzi. He'd find her, and when he did, she'd be real sorry.
Pulling that virgin act on him, as if she was too good to sleep with the ward boss or the lieutenant over at Precinct Headquarters, like he wanted her to. Everybody knew models were no better than hookers, showing off their bodies for money, getting their pictures taken in next-to-nothing. If he hadn't helped things along for her, she'd never have gotten anywhere. She owed him more than she could ever repay and so did that wimp kid of Angela's. A sister married to a kike; what a thing to have to live down. And a pansy nephew. Angela's kid was dead now, but the girl wasn't, Francie. So she'd pay for it all, one way or another. * * * * Some forty-plus hours later, Fran's sixth flight since leaving New York circled over the bright fingers of Anasazi Lake. The calm water reflected the parfait of sunset colors. Fran pressed her face to the small window, eager to see it all. Although she'd managed a few naps on the various planes, and grabbed an occasional coffee or a bite to eat, exhaustion and pain still dogged her. Yet the sight of so much forgotten beauty briefly energized her.
Along the lake's south shore, the town of Plateau straggled, a town much larger than the Plateau she recalled from childhood. Ten years could bring many changes.
The plane wove a route among the towering thunderheads to make its way down to the airport where it settled lightly to the ground. In a dim corner of her thoughts, Fran recognized the landing as the smoothest of her long journey.
The other six passengers were on their feet and shuffling impatiently as soon as the plane halted beside the terminal. Fran waited, too exhausted to jostle and rush. Finally, when everyone else had disappeared through the cabin door, she dragged herself to her feet and tottered up the short aisle.
The pilot and the flight attendant waited near the door. She glanced at them with a nod, barely registering the once familiar cast of their InDinay features. At the top of the stairs, she paused.
Home! Awareness sang through her, momentarily eclipsing all else. Emerging from the sterile interior of the plane, she drew a deep breath of cool, damp air, redolent of juniper, sage and afternoon rain. Her gritty eyes absorbed the stark outlines of bluff and butte silhouetted against the blazing sky. In the comfortably familiar scene, she found a moment's respite from the drugging constancy of pain and fear.
She'd stayed away much too long. If any place in the world held safety and healing for her, she'd find them here, in the stark, harsh simplicity she had once so eagerly fled.
Before she could fully enjoy the sensations, she sensed someone approaching, coming up close behind her. Logic told her it had to be the pilot, but her weary mind succumbed to imagination. A chill danced along her spine as she hurried down the short stairs from the plane, but the tribal pride Grandma Jonas had instilled in her years ago still remained.
"You must never let the enemy see your fear," the old medicine woman always said. Now, as in the past, Fran trusted her grandmother's wisdom. Although she both wanted and dreaded to look back, she drew her tired body up straight and walked evenly. The other passengers had already vanished, leaving her alone in the deepening dusk. Except for the unseen someone behind her. She felt exposed and vulnerable, as if she stood out, radiating fear like a beacon, with 'victim' tattooed on her brow. * * * * Although Ben Yazzie could no longer count the times he'd landed, everything from the first Piper Cub to the Harrier on the U.S.S. Contender, he never ceased to feel a thrill of accomplishment in a completed flight. To be not only a professional pilot but a founding partner of the fledgling Fifth Corner Airline still seemed a miracle. Now, if he could only make it grow, expand into a real regional airline, that would prove an Indian could be more than another drunken failure.
Twelve years ago, he'd graduated from Red Gap High School, a thin notch above the bottom of the class. At that point, no one would have voted him "most likely" to be anything but another drink-sodden bum lying in a Flagstaff or Gallup gutter. Still, after a tough drill instructor and a couple of good Marine officers pointed the way, he'd managed to fulfill the potential no one had previously recognized. His success amazed everyone, him most of all.
Deep in thought, Ben moved out of the cockpit, stooping to accommodate the low overhead. He paused, waiting as his passengers disembarked. Only seven today. Maybe that was why his attention settled on the last one.
The slender woman looked tall, not much under his own six foot one. Her faded jeans hung rather than clung, barely hinting at her well-shaped bottom. Her bulky sweater, in colors and patterns that brought to mind the traditional hand woven rugs his grandmother used to make, hid most of her body. Caught back in a silver clip, straight, thick hair fell past her waist. Hair blacker than a spill of oil on a clean hangar floor, with the same iridescent highlights.
At first glance, he saw little to distinguish her from the local girls who'd gone off to college. His second look hinted her story was different. She moved with wary caution. A furtive, fearful intensity molded her features--like his uncle and other InDinay Marines who'd come home from Vietnam with key pieces of themselves missing. The wounds weren't always physical, but that didn't make them any less real.
She stopped just outside the plane at the top of the stairway. When she straightened her shoulders as she raised her head, her hair shifted and shimmered in the fading light. He saw something familiar in her profile, but full recognition teased and evaded him.
He waited and watched, appreciated, wondered. Her grace and striking, distinctive beauty contrasted with the wounded air surrounding her. Although he didn't want to notice or intend to care, something about her refused to be ignored. She presented him with a living paradox, an intriguing mystery.
When she moved on, he ducked out and followed her across the asphalt to the terminal. He stood aside to observe, driven by curiosity. Although she seemed naturally graceful, she moved as if every step pained her. Approaching the ticket clerk, she spoke with peculiar hesitancy.
"Excuse me. Can I catch a taxi here to go into town? I don't have a reservation, but I suppose there'll be some vacancies in the motels in the middle of the week, won't there?"
Her low, soft-toned voice pleasantly tickled Ben's ears, although it carried a hint of an unfamiliar accent. He paused, waiting to see what would happen next. Kerry Begay, the clerk, didn't impress him as a good ambassador for either the airline or the area, but maybe she was learning.
Kerry looked up from her magazine. "Reservations for the Reservation, huh? That's a laugh. Yeah, there's rooms in town, but no taxi. Last one we had went outta business two months ago. Tourists usually rent a car in advance, and local folks have someone meet them. This is the Rez, you know, not Phoenix or Santa Fe."
"No taxi? Oh dear, that presents a problem."
"Well, there's the shuttle bus, but the last one left a few minutes ago, so it's walk or hitch, I 'spose. It's only a mile to town. I walk it all the time since my brother wrecked the truck." The clerk snapped her gum and closed the conversation by turning away.
Irritation flashed through Ben. He'd have to speak to the terminal manager about that girl. She had no call to be rude to customers, even if they weren't familiar with the local scene.
Dismay etching her face, the strange woman stared at the girl. "A mile? In ... in the dark?" Her unsteady voice held shock, near horror.
Before he quite realized what he was going to do, Ben approached her. "I can give you a lift to town, ma'am."
She whirled around. When she came face to face with him, she backed sharply away. Her dark eyes widened. He could see the pulse pounding in her throat.
He smiled, trying to ease her obvious fear. "You trusted my flying. My pickup's no taxi, but the idea's the same. Can't you trust my driving?"
She drew a breath and let it out slowly, catching her full lower lip between even white teeth. He saw in her eyes the moment she recognized his uniform.
"Yeah," Kerry put in. "You hardly ever bite, do you, Mr. Yazzie?"
Ben darted a chastening glare at the pert girl, but didn't reply. Finally the woman nodded.
"I guess--er--of course. Thank you."
"Wait right here and I'll bring my truck around. Do you have any bags?"
She shook her head, hefting a gym bag in one hand. "Just this. I'm traveling light these days." Her attempt at flippancy sounded brittle. As he walked back outside, he felt her troubled gaze follow him.
She didn't step out of the flagged entry until he drove into the pool of light beyond the door. He jumped down and circled the truck, reaching to help her into the four wheel drive's high cab, but she twisted away to scramble up unaided. When they started off, she pressed tightly against the passenger door, hands knotted in her lap.
Hoping to put her at ease, Ben tried to draw her into a conversation.
"You live around here?"
"Been away in school for awhile?"
Her single-syllable answers held no willingness to confide; no warmth, barely even courtesy.
"Maybe on vacation?"
With a glance, he took in her pale, drawn face and the weariness etched in every line of her body. He noted she still held herself defensively erect.
"Lady, what is your problem? Are you in some kind of trouble?" When a hint of irritation crept into his tone, he tried to soften his approach with humor. "Am I risking arrest for aiding a fugitive or something?"
She looked at him sharply, then shook her head, indignation lending brief animation to her face. "No, I'm not a fugitive! I haven't done anything wrong."
"Well, you could've fooled me. I'm usually pretty good at reading people." He took his attention off the road long enough to flash her another quick, intent glance. "Or is it that you need help?"
She shook her head even more vehemently. "No! Everything's fine. I just needed--a break, a little time away."
Ben eased down on the brake. As the truck rolled to a stop at the junction of the airport road and the highway, the engine sputtered once and died. He turned the key twice but it wouldn't fire again. Great way to end the day. He muttered a curse under his breath. Perfect timing.
"It's that damn distributor. Cap's cracked. Knew I needed to change it, but thought it'd wait 'til tomorrow."
Sensing her tense up even more, Ben turned to his passenger. "No big deal--I can change it in five minutes. Got the new one in the glove box."
He reached across, jabbing the button to open the box. While he pulled out a small cardboard box, a screwdriver, and a flashlight, she shrank back as if to insure he wouldn't touch her by accident.
"If you'd get out and hold the light, it'd help a lot."
She hesitated a moment, perhaps weighing her options. "All right," she said finally. She slid down and circled the truck to stand beside him, poised and wary. Before he raised the hood, he handed her the light. She took it in a wobbly hand, jerking back as if the touch of his fingers would burn her.
The wind picked up suddenly, whipping a few strands of her hair across his face. Hair that felt like silk, sending a streak of lightning-bright heat slashing through him. Even carrying the stale, recycled air and dust of her travels, it held a faint sweet floral scent. He brushed at the tickling wisps impatiently, but they clung like cobwebs, teasing him. For a moment, he visualized burying his face in that silky hair while he...
No! He wasn't going to fall prey to this spooky woman, even if she was undoubtedly gorgeous when she wasn't sick, tired or whatever was wrong. And sexy as hell. Women only brought him trouble, and the gorgeous, sexy ones were the worst.
Struggling with his irritation, he reached out and steadied her hand, directing the flashlight's beam where he needed it. When their shoulders brushed, he heard her gasp. Tamping down his temper, he tried to speak calmly. "I don't know how to convince you, but I swear I won't hurt you. My name's Ben Yazzie. I've lived here in Plateau for six years, since I left the Marines. Everyone knows I've got too much at stake to do anything as stupid as attack a woman I just met."
In the flashlight's reflected glow, he saw her turn slightly toward him. Her pale face still looked strangely familiar. She smiled slightly before she spoke, both actions catching him by surprise.
"I'm Fran, uh, Fran Jonas. Since I used to come here with relatives years ago, it seemed like a good place to come--for a visit. I'm not really afraid, just tired. It's been a long trip, and I've been ill."
She spoke so softly he had to lean towards her to under-stand, but at least she spoke, something beyond monosyllables. That had to be progress.
"Cold? You're shaking like an aspen. The wind is kinda brisk. I'll have this fixed in a minute and we'll be on our way." He worked fast. Loosening the clips, he pulled the old cap off and set the new one in its place, inserting in order the wires from each of the eight spark plugs. She didn't flinch when he took the light back, and this time she let him help her into the truck. As he circled the vehicle to get in, he grinned.
"If the motel's out of your way, I'll be glad to pay you."
When Fran spoke, Ben jumped.
"No." His frustration slipped again, sharpening the one short word.
"No, it's not out of your way or no, you don't want my money?"
"No both. Out here we call it being neighborly, but it's not out of my way."
As he spoke, Ben turned off the highway and pulled in at the Lake View Motel, the newest and nicest in Plateau. A neon vacancy sign blinked beside the office door.
Ben glanced across at his passenger. She sat hunched and silent, withdrawn like a desert tortoise into its protective shell. Every instinct told him something was wrong, and he trusted his instincts completely. In spite of himself, he was still curious, more than casually interested. He could never resist a puzzle, and she was certainly that.
Her features and tall, slender build hinted at InDinay blood, but her voice and mannerisms denied it. The nagging sense of familiarity taunted him. Could she be someone he'd met, maybe in California? Surely, he'd remember.
She had fine, classic, Native American features, chiseled with perfect delicacy, high cheekbones, square jaw line, a narrow, high-bridged nose, almond shaped eyes of clear, dark amber with just a hint of 'tilt, and full but finely shaped lips. Her face, with its strange mixture of defiance and vulnerability, piqued his interest. No, he wouldn't have forgotten her.
In contrast to her appearance, her tension and clipped speech were all city, perhaps Boston or New York. He didn't know much about the eastern tribes. She might belong to one of them. Yet the desert seemed to enfold her comfortably, as if it recognized and accepted her.
He couldn't let this riddle alone. Who was she? What was she running from?