Prologue: The Visit
The Pukaskwa Nation.
Michigan's Upper Peninsula,
February, this year.
The snow is blinding as I race through the woods trying hard not to fall again. I've already fallen twice and can't afford to again. I don't have time. I snap a look over my shoulder and can hear the truck rumbling up the old logging road to my left. I twist my head back and just miss running head-on into a huge maple. My legs and lungs are burning as I suck in freezing breaths--too much smoking and way too damn much cold air. Tree branches snap my face as I trudge through the whiteness like a wildman on the clumsy snowshoes.
I can make out my patrol jeep up ahead now. I might just make it. A minute later I slam into the Jeep's side and quickly unlatch the snowshoes from my boots. I'm tossing them into the backseat as the truck goes roaring past in a monstrous cloud of dusty white snow. Crap! I pile in behind the wheel and jam the key into the ignition. A half second later, I pull out, fishtailing, onto the road behind him and kick the Jeep in the butt!
I reach down and flip on the overhead flashers, wig-wags and siren as I get the Jeep under control and put my foot to the floor. The snow is falling so thick that it looks like one massive white-frosted wedding cake, everywhere. For a flickering moment, I wonder what the hell I'm doing out here? In two days, I'm supposed to leave and go to New Orleans on another tribal junket. Stuff like this could really screw up those plans. The headlights turn the falling snow into a solid cottony blanket of white and the flashers make it even worse. I have to leave them on though. I don't want these bad boys to contest the fleeing and eluding charge by saying in court that they misunderstood my intentions.
The sheer white with blue-red blur provided by the flashers reminds me of those fake Christmas trees that they had when I was a kid. They were white fake plastic or aluminum and had little revolving blue, red and yellow lights that shone all over on them. They were ugly and so is this stuff. Those boys know that I'm back here, but other folks may not. I've gotta close the distance and notify dispatch. As the wipers snap back in forth on the snow-crusted windshield, I settle into a pursuit mode.
I can just make out brief glimpses of the truck's taillights up ahead. I'll have to close the distance or run the risk of losing him. The siren is blaring outside the window and I'm coming up on the truck now. Time to get some help. Keeping my left hand on the wheel, I snap the microphone off the clip and get it up to my jaw. "Dispatch...Two-Oh-One."
A few seconds pass, and then a female voice answers. "Ely? What on earth are you doing out tonight? Hey...do you have your siren on?"
I key the mic again. "Yeah, Marge. Listen, I'm in pursuit...eastbound on Pear Road. I'm about a mile east of Drexler, behind a big four-by-four pick-up truck of some kind. No plate, no make, no color."
She was right back, now, and all professional. "10-4. I had Barry at Kreeker Road about five minutes ago...break...One-Oh-Three, 10-20?"
Barry Catseye is a good man, but he's still a reservation cop. Pursuits are few and far between up here. His voice is excited as it comes over the radio. "One-Oh-Three is clear-direct and heading that way. I'll, uh...I'll swing up Bovine and cut across to intercept on Pear!"
Marge repeats what the other officer says as I get closer to the truck. Barry is ahead of us, and, with luck, he'll be able to cut-off my pals in the four by four. Marge asks me if I copy and I acknowledge. I think of something else and key the mic again.
"Dispatch...Two-Oh-One. Marge, would you contact Captain Collins and tell'em that I have his elk poachers out here?"
"10-4. We'll give him a call right now, Ely. Be advised, I also have two county units and one state car saying that they're available to back you if you need 'em."
I acknowledge and tell her to have them come ahead. The tribe is still working on a mutual jurisdiction with other departments and as it stands, they can't come on the reservation unless they're asked. But, shoot man, in this weather, the more the merrier. Margie is a fifty-year-old night sergeant with the Pukaskwa Tribal Police. She's good at her job, and that, on a night like tonight, is very comforting.
The three guys in the truck are poachers. Last fall, the Band bought thirty elk from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. They were brought here from downstate to try and re-establish a herd on the reservation. Three weeks ago, someone killed a bull and quartered it out of the valley where the elk were wintering. I knew that whoever had taken the animal hadn't done it to feed their family. They'd done it for money and that...ticked me off.
The tribe was just now setting up a conservation division, and Lester Collins is the new Conservation Officer Captain. He's in the process of hiring his officers and has no one in the field yet. I work as a special agent for the Band in a 'who-knows-what-all' capacity. Usually, it's being sent to check on some property that the Band is thinking of buying. That's what the up-coming trip to Louisiana is about. There's some land down there the tribe is thinking of buying. So, I told Les that I'd keep an eye on the elk until I left or until he gets some people on board.
In the past week, I had spoken with two U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents that were working a poaching ring that stretched from Michigan's Upper Peninsula all the way through Wisconsin and into Minnesota. They didn't think our poached elk was connected, but I did.
Something's poking my back. Not a good idea, but I have to do it. I quickly take a hand off the wheel to reach behind me and feel around back there. I get my hand on the problem and pull my piwaka from where it's lodged between my back and the seat. It probably worked its way around my belt as I ran through the woods. The piwaka is my medicine bag--my personal protection, as it were. My hand goes back to the wheel as the truck looms into view again, filling my icy windshield then vanishes once more into the whiteness.
I add more gas pedal as my mind wanders, my eyes catching flitting pictures of the truck's taillights up ahead. Caaarap. This is nuts. One of us is going to lose it out here. You don't drive this fast in this kind of weather, man. I'm out here chasing these guys because work is the only option for me now. The alternative means staying at home and getting drunk again. As I near the red taillights in front of me once more, I know that I'm through with that selection. Time to move on. It's over.
I apply the brake as the red lights flash ahead and then jam my foot back down on the accelerator. Yep. I'm out here tonight because Annette and I argued again. But this time, in the heat of the verbal discourse...she'd let slip what I assume she's believed all along. She called me a monster. She said that I'd acted as if I were a barbarian, killing that man as if he were some animal. As I maintain physical concentration on the pursuit, my mind plays that whole scene over again in my head. I see her immediately trying to take the words back, doing everything she could to pretend that she hadn't seen me kill another man in what, she'd said, was a barbaric way. But, by then, it was too late.
I shake my head and squint at the blinding snow. I think any kind of killing is uncivilized. Necessary sometimes but not cultivated. I walked out her door as she began crying and I haven't talked to her much since. It hurts more than I can stand, but heck if I'm going to drink myself to death over this. It's over between us, and it sucks. It really sucks. I finally find a woman that I want to be with and she...wants me to be somebody that doesn't exist.
She wants me to be something that I'm not. Shit man, as far as that goes...something I haven't ever been. I grip the wheel tighter as the realization arrives that here I am, in a high-speed pursuit on dangerous roads, and what am I doing? I'm fretting like a lovesick puppy. My head swings back and forth in wonder.
Ain't the human mind a marvel? Shows you how screwed-up I am. That's a fact. My thought drifts back to her again as I speed down the road chasing these idiots. No matter how you look at it, this scenario between us is not going to work unless one of us gives up. And while I'd give up just about anything for her...this is one that I just don't have the ability to part with...Wooow! The jeep swings all over the road as I manhandle the wheel trying to recover control. I'd hit a big dip in the road and the slippery snow whipped the vehicle everywhere for a second or two. But I have her back now, somewhat under my rule. Up ahead, the truck's taillights have disappeared again. As I mash my foot to the floor to catch up to them, my mind falls back into the girl problem. Don't ask me why.
Nettie Cole is the Tribal Secretary, and I see her officially in the job. Even when I don't see her in person, I often see her in my mind, because the long and sad short of this deal is...I'm in love with her. That last little swivel in the road convinces me that I'd better get my head around what I'm doing here. I mentally chastise myself for being stupid. I could end-up dead out here if I ain't careful. And while that may not be a major loss, the bastards I'm chasing would get away. And that would constitute a major deficit. Naw. Screw that. I add more pedal pressure to the gas and set my concentration back on the 4x4 in front of me.
It's just as well that I'm out here chasing poachers. If I sat at home, I'd just drink a lot of beer trying to drown sorrow that can and does swim. So what the hell. I figured that this heavy snow would be a natural blind for the poachers, if they were coming back. Apparently they figured the same thing. I'd driven down Pear Road to where the feeding road accessed it. About that time, the snow came in hard and heavy, but sure enough, I'd seen fresh tire tracks leading back in. So, I'd backed into a snowplow turn-around and walked back in to where I saw the men loading a quartered elk cow into the pick-up that I am chasing now. I'd pulled my weapon, and, keeping it at my side, began walking down toward them. That's when they'd fired a shot at me.
I now believe that they weren't trying to hit me--just scare me. And it had worked pretty damn well too. How do I get myself into messes like this? Hell if I know. But one thing's certain. These guys are professional, they ain't just good old Yooper boys out for a little mischief and illegal elk shoot'n. In that light, in this snow, there's no way they could've known who I was. The first thing they did on seeing someone walking up on them...was to take a shot at them? Nope. I don't think so. These guys are serious.
I glance out the side window. Outside, the dense blanket of snow deadens the siren's noise. My eyes come back to the windshield and there, I again see taillights looming large in front of me. I'm too close to them now. Shit! But there's no other choice. In this snow, they could swing off a side road and I'd lose them. If they're as good as I think they are we wouldn't find them again either. The snow is just too dense and thick. The Jeep's nose climbs up on the truck's bumper, red and blue lights flashing over the tarp that is whipping up from pick-up box through the whiteness. I squint into the ghostly sheet of white as the wipers beat themselves silly. I can barely see them. No hope of getting a license plate. The back of the truck is one big snow cake. In my headlights' glare, I see a long leg and hoof sticking out through the tarp on the truck. I feel anger swelling up in my throat again. Then the guy hits his brakes.
My foot jams on the brake pedal in response, but I'm too close and the road's too slippery. I slide into the back of the truck and feel the Jeep's push-bar impact with the truck's back bumper. I fishtail and almost take the Jeep into a slide as the truck accelerates ahead again. I gain control of the Jeep and look up at the fast disappearing taillights, adrenaline flowing much more freely in my system. Sonavabitch! Okay. Then we'll play it your way, prick. I mash down on the gas and soon I'm back up to the truck. I kick the accelerator down and ram the rear-end of the pick-up.
It is a dumb idea. He's got a ton on me in weight plus five-hundred pounds of elk in the back. He never even feels the hit, and I should've known better. But now the bastard is riding his brakes, the bright red lights sending warning flashes through my psyche. He's playing me and there's nothing I can do about it. He's actually applying the brakes every now and then. He's trying to either shake me or kill me, and it's effective. At least the prick knows how to drive, I gotta give him that.
Suddenly, it comes over me. Even with my hands squeezing the steering wheel and the adrenaline flowing freely, I recognize the added feeling of shinkakee that rolls over my being. White folks sometimes call it deja'vu. Whatever it is, I've learned to respect it and sometimes fear it, too. That's all I need.
The radio traffic is picking up. It pulls my thoughts away as I have to advise on my location to keep the rest of the converging net informed. I mumble our approximate location, hook the microphone back up, and look ahead as the brake lights flutter on again. They don't go off though. Aw crap! Now he's gonna ride the brakes. That makes it a lot harder...all of sudden the truck's sliding sideways in front of me and flipping onto its side. What the hell...Oh shit!
That hairpin curve by the bridge! I didn't realize that we were this close to it. The curve leaps up quickly before me as I see the truck tipping. It rolls on its side and I crank the wheel hard to the left trying to avoid it. Now I'm flying over the guardrail and down the bank, smashing small trees with the siren screaming in the white-soaked darkness! I see the creek racing up to me in the flashing headlights. Then the Jeep dives into it head-on. Something hits me hard in the chest followed by a blow to the forehead. Then it all goes black!
I drift upward in layers. I feel water washing all over my left side. It's cold. Something is squeezing against my upper body. My eyes flutter open and I see the red and blue flashers twisting all over the place, even under the water that's all around me. The flashers are tinted darkly by the water, and through the windshield it looks like some bizarre aquarium out there. Freezing water is coming into the Jeep and flowing into my mouth. I try to raise my head to spit it out, but the world takes off a-swimming when I do that. It's dark in here, but I think the airbag is what's pushing against my chest. I can see bizarre red and blue reflections whipping over it with every sweep of the submerged flashers.
The Jeep must be lying on its side in the creek--driver's side down. If I stay here...I'm going to die. Maybe drown. The shock will get me if nothing else, right? Yeah...I think that's right. I'm not sure. I'm getting sleepy though. Maybe I'll just close my eyes for a few seconds then I'll get out. Yeah. No. I don't know. I can't close my eyes...can I? It feels so good when I close my eyes. It's okay. That's a good idea. I let my eyes drop and blackness swallows me again.
A Mounted Cavalry Skirmish Line,
The Long Past--1864.
The world swarms every which way. Colors flash about me as I fall. My eyes keep fluttering, and I'm drifting in this sea of warmth. What...what happened to the cold? Finally, I come to a stop. I can hear guns firing--big guns, but they're funny sounding. I open my eyes, and it's daylight. A dark overcast day, probably dusk, but still daylight. Where am...I? Where's the snow? I blink at the surroundings. I feel myself start to fall and look quickly around. What...where...what is this? What is that? That's a horse's head! Right in front of me! I'm sitting on a horse. I instinctively squeeze my legs into its sides, and I feel my mouth drop open as the smell of horse hair and animal sweat reaches my nostrils.
Where...where am I? Where's my patrol Jeep? What's going on? I look around while squeezing the leather reins I hold in my left hand. I drop my head down, and as I do, I see very long hair that falls down and partially blocks my view. But through it, I can see my feet in suede moccasin boots, slipped through a stirrup. I move my right hand over and there's a long blade of some kind in it. It's a sword...no...? What's...what's...how'd I get here?
I can see that I have on gray pants with a thick yellow stripe running down the outside of each leg and some kind of leather buckskin shirt and boots. I have a leather belt around my waist and some a huge revolver in a holster, too. The horse steps in place, and I almost fall off again. Somebody speaks next to me on the right, and I snap my head toward the voice. As I do, I notice that I have a long braided piece of hair that flips over. There's another man on a horse there, and another next to him, and still more in a parallel line abreast, all the way down. Everyone is waiting. Waiting for what?
I look again at the man on my right. Sonavabitch! He looks just like the guy in that old '70s movie, Billy Jack, except he has long hair! He even has the same black hat with a feather stuck in it. What the...? He has the same pants as me, though. They all do, but some of them are wearing different shirts, fringed leather vests, hats or jackets. What is this? Am I in some weird cowboy movie or what?
My head turns back to the gunfire that I now see is coming from below. Way down in front of us I can see blue-clad figures swabbing and firing old-time cannons with large wooden wheels. They're firing quickly and reloading as fast as they can. How do I get out of here? I look back at the man next to me and decide that I have to ask him, but then I notice something else.
The man closest to me has his long black hair in braids like an old-time Indian. So do all of the others down the line. The man's holding a long sword too. No wait. It's not a knife, that's a saber! I glance down at the one that I hold and then look back at the man. He has large upside-down yellow sergeant stripes like the British Army on his gray shirtsleeves. Are these guys some kind of British honor guard or cavalry outfit? But wait. They can't be. Their uniforms are mismatched and dirty. Well, whoever they are...what are they doing here and why am I with them? The man's looking past me when he speaks again in a deep southern drawl.
"Wail, looky like the old man's a fix'n ta go."
I turn my head and follow his gaze. There are other cavalrymen lined up on my left, and a funny looking flag, flapping from a pole held by one of the riders. It looks almost like the original American colonial flag with the stars circled in the blue field. But it's got thicker red and white stripes--it's odd. A little ahead and out in front, is what I guess...is an officer. He's looking at a pocket watch. I can see him close it and put it neatly away into his gray jacket pocket. Then he draws his saber from its scabbard. I'm scared. Where am I? What's going on here? This is nuts. My heart is about to blow out of my chest. This is too crazy! My attention is drawn back to the man on my right when he speaks again. I turn unceremoniously on the saddle to look at him. He spits a stream of brown tobacco juice at the ground and winks at me.
"Ya ready ta go kill some Yanks, Davey?" Then he smiles and faces front as a bugle blows.
My horse takes off running along with everyone else's. I'm almost thrown off in this sudden take-off! I hang on for dear life as the horse gallops down the hill, thrown up and down in the hard saddle! The men beside me are screaming and yelping, waving their sabers over their heads as the line of cavalry angles toward the glade where the cannons are firing. I'm just trying to stay on the damn horse. Everyone has their saber swirling above their head as we charge the artillery! My vision is being jogged and jostled by the horse's running, but I can see the blue-suited men aiming rifles at us as we come down the slope at them. Puffs of smoke are wafting up from their guns as we get closer, and through jerky vision, I see some to the men in our line falling from their mounts! Sweet Jesus what is this? Where am I? Please, Lord! Help me! This is scary!
Then we're almost to them. The blue-coated men are shooting as fast as they can, and I can see the fear on their faces and we thunder toward them. There's a small swale and a pond that the horses ahead of me jump as we come riding down. Through my jostled sight, I think I see a man pointing a pistol at me...right at me...a man with a funny-looking little blue fatigue cap. The gun puffs smoke, and then something hits me solidly in the middle of the forehead.
I feel myself being knocked backwards off the horse! I see my hat flying off my head, and I'm being twisted sideways, pushed off the mount. The saber drops from my hand and I feel my other fingers fly loose from the horse's reins. Then the grass is rushing up to me. I hit the ground hard on my side, everything in my body is being slammed and smashed as I roll over and over and over again, finally coming to a stop with a splash in the pond. I take a breath and inhale water!
I begin coughing and try to struggle free of the water's death grip, but I'm so tired, so weak. I'm holding my head up out of the water, but my neck is getting tired, too. My head feels so strange, and the water's so cold. I weasel my hand up to finger and feel around my forehead. There's something funny there, but no matter. The gunfire goes on and on, but it's growing more distant in my ears. My head is pounding, and my vision swims to and fro. I feel faint. I want to just lie still. But I know that if I do...I'll die. No matter. No matter. I just want to rest. I close my eyes as men scream and holler all around me. Gunfire echoes everywhere. Everywhere I hear the screams of the wounded and the dying. Wha...what war is this? But it's all growing fainter, darker, and then...it's gone.
That evening, long after the battle ends, two men uniformed in gray drag a cavalryman from the pond and flip him over onto his back. Another soldier wearing yellow corporal stripes on his gray jacket sleeves stands up above the two men working below. He holds a flat piece of wood that he's pressed a paper onto. He looks down.
"That'un gotta name own'eem?"
One of the men bent over the freshly hauled-in cavalryman. The dead man's long wet hair covers his face. The gray uniformed man fingers a shabby wet paper that is safety pinned to the dead man's shirt. He squints at it, and while it is hard to see, he reads the soaked pencil printed name on the paper. He nods his head and glances up.
"Uh, huh, Corp. Sez here thet he's David Davis uh, Comp'ny D."
Up above, the corporal wets the lead in his mouth and then scratches the name onto the paper with a stubby little pencil. He looks down at the burial detail. "Okay. Reckon ya'all better get'em own over at the grave diggers then." With that, he turns and walks over to another pair of men performing the same task with yet another dead cavalryman.
One of the soldiers at the pond is still looking at the dead man laying half in the water. He asks his partner, "What'chu think he died uh George? I don't see no bullet holes ner cuts ner nuthin own'eem...do you?" He looks at the other soldier who was now gazing down at the fallen man in the fading light. He watches as the other man shrugs his shoulders and kneels down, pulling the wet hair from the dead man's face.
"Wahl, mabee he got it in the head." As soon as the horse soldier's face is revealed, the soldier quickly sits back on his haunches and looks up to his partner.
"By Gee! Ah'll be dogged! Looky et thet, Sam!"
The other man leans down, too and looks closely at the cavalryman's forehead in the descending darkness. He lets out a low whistle. "By gracious...I ain't never seed nothin' like that afore."
Both men stare down at the dead horse soldier who has a lead pistol ball wedged into his forehead. There is no blood, only swelling around the jammed-in piece of metal. The surprised man reaches over and pries the lead ball loose. He rolls it around in his fingers and whispers in an almost hallowed reverence.
"Looks like'a Colt .36. The ball must'a almost been spent when it hit'eem." He shook his head and looks down at closed eyes of the cavalryman. He pulls loose the dead man's shirt pocket and drops the lead ball into it, patting it and shaking his head once more.
"It's a frightful shame. Too dad gummed bad fer you, young feller. Just too dad gummed bad."
Then he motions to his partner who moves around the body and takes one of the horse soldier's arms. Then he reaches over and takes the man's other arm and they both begin hauling him up the hill. They drag the body over to a large open grave where there are already many dead bodies laid. Then they make ready to toss the dead cavalryman into the hole.
Somewhere in Limbo
I feel someone pulling my arms and I command my eyes to open, but they won't. I can feel myself being picked up. What the...What's happening? I tell my eyes to open. They begin to, but very, very slowly. After an eternity, I feel my eyes flutter and when they do open, it's dark and only the light of the red and blue flashers refract off the Jeep's interior. I see someone with a knife cutting the air bag off from me. He's talking to me, telling me I'm going to be all right.
I know him. It's Ray Onehorse. He's one of the tribal EMT firemen. I try to talk, to just say 'hi', but no words come. He's working feverishly to cut the air bag away while somebody else that I can't see pulls on my arms. What's Ray saying? "Don't you worry, Ely. You're gonna be okay, buddy. A little visit to the hospital and you'll be good as new. Just hang in there." He talks in a calm voice as he works quickly. Visit? Visit where? Where did he say? But my eyes are getting heavy again, and I let them fall with the weight of the ages.
Almost as soon as my eyelids hit bottom, I feel myself falling again. I can't see anything, but I can feel myself sailing through space. I land with solid 'whup!' The wind rushes from my lungs then I suck in a deep breath of air. My eyes pop open and I look around. There are dead men and bloody appendages everywhere and I'm lying with them. On top of them. Beside them. Everywhere! We're in a big hole and something lands heavily on my legs. I look up to see a guy up there on the side who's shoveling dirt onto us. My eyes move and there're two other gray suited men standing directly up above, looking down at me with their eyes bulging and their mouths open. Man, I don't want to be here! Not even for a visit! Before I can even give myself the command...I start screaming at the top of my lungs!