June 8, Friday
When Charlie got home from the impound he hung his hat on the dust-ridden elk antlers over the mantle, then collapsed in his recliner. He gritted his teeth and snarled like a cornered wolf. In reality he felt more like that dead raccoon on the side of the road.
Trash-bandits were smart, clever, and aggressive. Yet their fate as road waffles was a common sight.
Did he likewise set up his own demise?
Exhaustion, anger, and suspicion pressured his senses like an approaching storm front. He fumed further when the classic phrase White man speak with forked tongue came to mind.
Since when did Bryan's wreck become a crime scene?
That alone spoke volumes.
Obviously, he wasn't the only one who knew he been murdered.
Furthermore, how could what he'd done be considered damaging when the pickup was beyond totaled? All he'd found was that little electronic component.
He got up and took it out of his hat, then returned to his chair to examine it more closely. Between the humiliation of getting bailed out and picking up his truck, he'd completely forgotten to tell Sara what he'd found.
What was it?
His last cell phone had something like that. That's what it looked like, alright, a memory card. But to what? The truck was a 2008, so had limited electronics. Bryan used the GPS on his phone, so it wasn't from a navigation unit. His camera, maybe? Or more accurately, Sara's? Maybe it contained the pictures she wondered about.
His phone chirped—a text from Sara. It was good for her to get away. He liked her father and knew Bryan had, too. Should he tell her what he found?
No. It could wait. They'd both had enough for one day.
The guilt at having to ask her for help raged. He had to pay her back as soon as possible. She was right, Bryan wouldn't have thought a thing about it. Neither would he, if it were reversed.
But this was different.
Taking money from a woman—any woman—grated against him like sand in his boots. He should be protecting her, not the other way around.
His savings were just about gone and paying her back would wipe it out. He had to find a job, and fast. Since it was well into tourist season, he needed to leave his number as a guide with the store, local motels, bait shops, and any other businesses in the immediate area.
It was time to get out of this self-imposed cave of grief-stricken exile and find work. This was totally unacceptable warrior behavior. He could almost feel Eaglefeathers's glare.
The leaky tap in the sink reminded him what Sara said about the water. Actually, he ought to get serious and apply for a job at one of those water labs, even though it would mean a substantial commute. If there was one in Belton, that wouldn't be so bad.
Maybe if he had a real job again he'd get more respect.
In spite of his bachelor's degree in Environmental Management and minor in chemistry from the University of Colorado, he had the feeling he was still viewed as another stupid Indian. Other than those years with the Forest Service, he never had dependable employment.
As fate would have it, when he got furloughed, it turned and stung him like a scorpion. His child support was calculated on his previous salary. Thus, that obligation, of which he was only paying half, consumed his savings at an alarming rate.
His thoughts gravitated to his two daughters. He missed them. A lot. They talked at least once a week. It tore him up the last time. Both were crying because they couldn't come see him. And it was his own fault.
Between his survival skills and being comfortable with his primitive living conditions, his lack of income hadn't concerned him. There were too many back on the reservation who got by with far less. His humble home was more than enough.
But an ancient one-room cabin with no bathroom door was not suitable for two young girls. Carla was ten, Charlene, thirteen. Summer visitation this year wasn't going to happen. Other years since the divorce he'd gone down to see them in New Mexico and stayed in a motel. In addition to his ailing finances, his ex nixed that idea, saying it was inappropriate. They needed their own room.
He hated to admit it, but she was right.
Which gave him even more incentive to find work.
He looked back at the electronic component. Where was a safe place to keep it? He eyed the stone fireplace. Above it hung a bow and quiver of arrows that belonged to his great-grandfather and the rack from his first elk hunt.
Below them on the rough-hewn mantle stood a small whitewashed clay jar decorated with the Diné orange and turquoise zig-zag design. A handmade gift from his maternal grandmother—his amasani—when he was a child. Where he kept small treasures he found, like turquoise chips left over from those who fashioned jewelry.
He got up and gently lifted its lid, smiling to see its former contents still in place. He placed the memory card among them, then cradled it in his hands and offered a prayer of protection upon it. Then set it back in place, still wondering at the memory card's contents.
When Sara got back, they'd figure it out.
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