Karen Charboneau is a respected and, by most standards, successful ceramics artist who is Chippewa and lives on the Red Cliff Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. Born and raised there, she is at least as well regarded on the Rez for her superior woodsman skills and is known to one and all as Tracker. Most of the tracking she does, however, involves tourists who've wandered off the paths and gotten lost - people who want desperately to be found.
But the normally quiet Red Cliff Rez is currently rocked by an ever-widening scandal - the widely disliked tribal attorney Judah Boiseneau has been found murdered in his office. Everyone is sure that the man responsible is his cousin, Benny Pelican. But Benny has disappeared into the reservation - and as someone who knows the land, he won't be easy to find. With the Tribal Chairman leaning on him to resolve the case quickly, the local B.I.A. agent and the Bayfield County Sheriff department breathing down his neck, reservation Police Chief David Lameraux has to turn to the only person he's sure can find the missing suspect - Tracker.
Nothing is as simple as it appears, however, and it's going to take all of the combined skill, knowledge and luck of Lameraux and Tracker if they are to have any chance of resolving this perplexing murder.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||218 KB|
About the Author
Mardi Oakley Medawar is an Indian activist, a consultant for HONOR (Honor Our Neighbors Origins and Rights) as well as being the Red Cliff Representative for TRIAD (Team Response: Indians Against Defamation). She speaks at reservation schools and colleges. She is the author of several novels and lives on the Red Cliff Reservation in Northern Wisconsin.
Mardi Oakley Medawar is the author of three previous mysteries featuring Tay-bodal (Murder at Medicine Lodge, Witch of the Palo Duro, and Death at Rainy Mountain) as well as other novels. She is Eastern Band Cherokee and lives with her family in Lizard Lick, North Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
Murder on the Red Cliff Rez
Tuesday, May 4, 1999, 7 A.M.
Irene Girard liked to walk her dog. It was a stupid dog, as big and as ugly as an inescapable nightmare, but it loved her to pieces and she loved it right back, so she walked it on a chain leash mornings and late afternoons without fail, come peaceful sunrise or raging blizzard. Irene and her dog were walking down the center of the dirt track that passed the fancy new house belonging to the tribal attorney when she heard and saw something terribly disturbing. She went right home and told her husband Ned, who lost no time clambering inside his rattling truck and speeding off to Buffalo Bay Store. He'd told his wife they needed milk. The Girards didn't take milk, not even in their spoon-dissolving coffee. Ned had been in the store almost an hour talking to a group of men when Benny Peliquin, who did buy milk, came in. With Benny's appearance, Ned began retelling Irene's story all over again, the early morning crowd of regulars still quietly attentive. Well, why not? Ned's storywas far more interesting than the current news that Ricky Dehue was moving his trailer house.
"Irene's dog, you know, Brutus, eh?" Ned pulled a face. "I hate that dog. It shits everywhere. Puts out turds as big as an elephant's." Ned's face cleared. "Anyhow, Irene was a'walking Brutus and they was going on down the road so's Brutus could leave elephant turds on other folks' yards when she hears a big ruckus comin' outta your cousin's new house."
From all outward appearances, Benny Peliquin, a tall reedy man with a weathered face who spoke in Lake Superior commercial fisherman's mumble, was only mildly interested. Benny's expression was impassive as he counted the change lying in the callused palm of his hand. He felt Myra Chigog intently watching him as she leaned across the countertop, resting the upper part of her body on folded arms. The milk Benny was in the process of buying stood near her arms, condensation trickling down the plastic container, creating puddles on the counter's Formica. He also felt the steady gaze of the half-dozen men forming a semicircle around him as they sipped their coffee from white Styrofoam cups.
"That was a dollar twenty-five, you said, eh?"
"Twenty-six," Myra corrected.
Benny placed the exact change on the counter, picked up the drippy container by its side handle. Turning, he bumped chests with Ned Girard. The older man was determined to say what he obviously felt Benny needed to hear.
But as Ned was champing at the bit to tell tales about Benny's family members, Benny issued a warning. "Ned,I'm figuring you're just about to step where you don't belong. That's dangerous ground, chum."
Ned Girard audibly gulped. Benny was getting him all wrong. Sure, everybody knew ... but that wasn't what he was getting at. No, sir, that wasn't what he was meaning at all. To smooth over a rough moment, Ned spilled the beans.
"Like I was tryin' to tell you. My Irene came home sayin' she'd heard screaming over at your cousin's. She said she was just standing in the road wonderin' what in the world, when she seen them two little kids come runnin' outta the side of that house. They went straight for the trees. She couldn't see no path or nothing, but she said them kids looked to her like they knew just where they were a-goin' because once they hit the woods, they just disappeared. Then the yellin' started up again. This time it was so bad that it scared Brutus an' that damn dog took off, pullin' Irene right off her legs. Once that dog gets to runnin' the fool don't know when to quit. Hell, Irene was flappin' like a flag behind him when Brutus came gallopin' into our yard."
Ned crossed his arms over his chest, his expression grave. "Now, Benny, I know I don't have to tell you that this ain't the first time yellin' has been heard comin' outta that house."
Complete silence descended, Buffalo Bay Store's early morning audience holding its collective breath. Ned and Benny continued to stare at each other. They held the stare for so long that the morning regulars were on the verge of keeling over from lack of oxygen. Still not saying a word, Benny finally turned on his heel, taking himself and the container of milk out of the store. Through the glass doorsthe crowd gawked as Benny ambled toward his truck and climbed in. Seconds later the truck roared out of the parking lot.
Ned Girard offered another opinion. "Fellas, purty quick a few things around here are gonna get real bad."
Behind him the Chippewa version of a Greek chorus promptly sounded: "Enh-enh!"
Tuesday, May 4, 8 P.M.
In Ashland, a forty-minute drive from the rez, and inside the BIA's Great Lakes Agency located on the second floor of the Ashland Post Office, C. Clarence Begay paced, gnawing the knuckle of his right hand, his mind working as furiously as his teeth. C. Clarence had been with the bureau for twenty years. He was Irish-Navajo, very proud of the Irish bit, even though other than a pug nose poised incongruously on a wide, heavy face, the man displayed no trace of his Celtic ancestry. A short-limbed, thickset man (the thickness due to an almost religious commitment to green chili and hot buttered corn tortillas), C. Clarence was consistently thought to be a decade above his actual forty-three years.
C. Clarence hated Wisconsin. In his opinion, the northernmost state was equivalent to hell on earth. For one thing, the Chippewas had an overabundance of French blood oozing through their veins. For another, they talked too fast and sounded Canadian: for example, everything they said habitually ended with eh. They also called everybody chum. C. Clarence did not like being called chum. It made him feel like something about to be fed to sharks. During his first foray into the Lanes, the Red Cliff watering hole, the chums and ehs were flying so thick and fast that he hadn't been able to enjoy a simple beer.
Wisconsin had too many trees, tall suckers growing just too damn close together for someone who had been raised in an endless desert, a land so unobstructed that tomorrow was a visible haze on the horizon. In Wisconsin, C. Clarence couldn't see squat because there was always a jackass tree in the way. And he was secretly terrified of becoming hopelessly lost inside all that greenery. After a year, most of it spent suffering through the most appalling winter of his life, C. Clarence realized that he was a raging claustrophobic.
But he wasn't thinking about any of that as he paced and mindlessly chewed his knuckle. He was thinking of the way he'd been used, duped, pulled into something that filled him with absolute panic. He wasn't a criminal. He was simply a sucker. But no judge on earth would ever believe him. And the Chippewas ...
His hands covering his face, C. Clarence groaned. He indulged his fear for a moment before steadying his resolve. Then, with effort, he forced his hands away, lifting his chin in a determined fashion. He had to do something to save himself. He knew he would never make it through a stint in Leavenworth.
Tuesday, May 4, 10:30 P.M.
"Daddy!" Imogen whisper-screamed into the telephone. It's one thing to be hysterical with fear, quite another to wake the kids with it.
"Jeanie?" the sleepy male voice croaked in response. She heard a tiny squeaking sound and realized her father was forcing his eyes open. A little more awake now, her father yawned and asked, "What's the matter, baby?"
Imogen said hurriedly, "I have to come home, Daddy."A trembling hand swiped tears from the exquisite face that once belonged to Miss Cherokee Nation Princess, 1989. For the last decade an edgy woman with a nervous smile and hollow laugh had been posing as the former beauty queen. The doppelgänger even had the nerve to wear Imogen's clothing as it frivolously signed her name to credit card receipts. Both entities called themselves Imogen Boiseneau.
A great long distance away, in the town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Imogen's father had come wide awake. Her saying that she needed to come home had even propelled him out of bed. His wife, Brenda, Imogen's mother, switched on the bedside light, watching bleary-eyed as her husband paced, stretching the telephone cord as far as it would go while he ran a hand through his steel-gray buzz cut. Brenda sat up, stuffing pillows between her back and the bed's headboard. By the time she finished this simple task, her husband had turned and was pacing back toward her end of the bed.
Retired Chief Justice of the Cherokee Nation Warren Otis was a devoted parent. Imogen was his only child. His ability to protect his daughter ended the day he'd handed her over in marriage to Judah Boiseneau. Since that day, Justice Otis blamed himself for his daughter's descent into marital hell. For over ten years he'd choked on the guilt.
"I want you to listen to"
He was cut off by his daughter's earsplitting shriek. A second later his daughter spoke hurriedly into the phone, and what she was saying hit him with such a brutal force, his face drained. Brenda Otis noticed that her husband now stood rooted to the floor, his ruddy coloring becoming chalky. The man known for being unflappable under anycircumstances (and in Cherokee politics this was the stuff of legend) now looked white as a corpse. Terror seizing her, Brenda clutched the front of her nightdress. She screamed, "For God's sake, what's wrong?"
Warren Otis raised his eyes, and for a second or two looked at his wife of over thirty years as if he didn't know her. Then his color came back in a rush. Impatiently he waved Brenda into silence as he listened to their daughter. Then Warren Otis commenced to yell.
"Jeanie, get the hell out of that house. Don't bother to pack. Put the kids in the car and drive to Duluth. By the time you get to the airport, tickets will be waiting. Do you understand?"
Imogen, the real Imogen, as the alter ego she'd relied on for years had suddenly done a bunk, sat folded in a wing chair, forehead resting on her knees. "Daddy"
Warren Otis bellowed, "I asked, Do you understand?" Without waiting for Imogen's response, he slammed the phone down and grabbed the telephone book off the nightstand's lower shelf, almost ripping each page apart in his hurried search for Northwest's 1-800 number.
"Yes," Imogen whispered to no one. She tried to cradle the receiver. Trouble was, she couldn't make her hand let go. Looking down at the back of her hand, she saw that her knuckles were shining through the skin like a row of tiny white skulls. As quickly as the thought formed, a spasm wracked her entire body.
Wednesday, May 5, 4:15 A.M.
Little Sand Bay on the Red Cliff Reservation jutts out into Lake Superior. Deep in the woods, about a half mile back from Lake Superior, heavy rains beat against a solitarylog cabin, wind rattling the surrounding tree limbs. Amid this noise, Tracker, like a drowning victim, came violently awake: upper body arched, mouth opened, face aimed toward the rafters as she sucked in a load of air. The storm had nothing to do with her blast into wakefulness. Or with the fact that she was shaking as hard as the leaves on the wind-lashed trees. This was purely the effect of the dream that still held her in its relentless grip as she sat in the bed, legs bent, heart hammering inside her chest.
It took time and concentration to obliterate the face she had seen in her dream. Finally it faded, then was gone. Able to breathe a bit more easily, she slowly curled backward until she was again resting against the pillows. Lying very still, eyes straining against the darkness, she listened to the winds howl and the rain tick against the bedroom windows.
And then Cher commenced to sing inside her skull. "Do you believe in love after love?" Cher's song got caught in a merciless loop (echo effect included). In order to break free of it, Tracker yelled, "Hell no!" at the ceiling.
Startled awake by his mistress, Animush (Dog) stirred on the pallet at the foot of the bed, then yawned a loud doggy yawn. AnimushMushy, for shortrose; toenails clicking against the floor, the huge brown cur moved toward the side of the bed. Mushy was used to his mistress's nocturnal misery. This had been happening night after night for about six months now, and Mushy had learned just what to do to rouse his mistress. Nudging a wide cold nose against her even colder hand, the big dog flipped that hand until it partially settled on the broad space just above two concerned dark eyes. After a minute or so, that seeminglylifeless hand began to stroke Mushy's rough fur. This was a good sign. A minute more of petting, and the woman he knew and slavishly loved spoke in a near-normal tone.
"Hey? Who's up for coffee?"
Mushy barked as Tracker threw back the heavy quilts. On a nice day the cabin's lone human occupant enjoyed a view of Sand Island. This morning the view was obliterated by cloud cover. The light inside the cabin's workroom came by way of overhead fluorescent tubes running the length of the ceiling in a utilitarian-stark room of unfinished sheet rock covering insulation that covered log walls. The bluish lights reflected off rough plank floorboards liberally splattered with layers of rock-hard clay blobs. In the far left corner a Franklin wood-burning stove set up off the floor on a pallet of bricks did its best to quash the morning chill. Even though it was technically spring, May in Wisconsin was more often than not monkey-butt-ugly cold.
The first thing Karen Charboneauknown to family and friends as Trackerdid after climbing out of bed was feed splits to the living room stove and then the workroom stove. Within minutes both stoves were glowing cherry red but the cabin remained cold, which was why Tracker hadn't bothered to change out of the long johns and thick socks she'd slept in. Standing at the work counter, coffee mug in hand, she thoughtfully studied the green-ware firing schedule while the toe of her right foot scratched at the ankle of her left leg. The workroom radio, tuned to FM 88.9, emitted Muddy Waters's throaty warbling. A rez station, WOJB did its best to hit every level of musical taste. Absolute bite-ya-in-the-ass blues was aired only during the wee hours.
Tracker's favorite time and music.
In the corner behind her was a mammoth foot-powered potter's wheel. Two of the room's walls were covered with floor-to-ceiling shelves, each shelf crowded with green pots of various sizes. Hence the need for a firing schedule. Tracker's studio was the largest and most used section of the cabin. In truth, Tracker was so focused on the needs of her studio that she'd had to be goaded by her father into making the remainder of the cabin habitable.
She was the only girl in a family of men, and at age six she'd realized that her best weapon, a technique guaranteed to drive her father and brothers nuts, was to be stubborn. She was twenty-five now, stood five feet five and weighed one hundred and nine pounds, five of those pounds from her waist-length hair. Every inch and pound of her was stubborn. For months she'd been stubborn about her cabin. But this time George Charboneau lost patience with his daughter. After the spring walleye spearing season, George marshaled his four sons, and over Tracker's protests interior walls went up, making the bathroom and bedroom areas private. The remainder of the cabin, the living room and kitchen, were left open. A door off the kitchen led into the workroom. George and sons went on to wall off a section of the workroom, creating a tiny mudroom with its own step-up porch. The mudroom was little more than a windowless cell with a bare lightbulb and a bench. Not only did the new addition keep excess snow and mud from being tromped in, it stopped precious heat from being sucked out whenever Tracker opened the door.
The front door, at the center of the cabin's front wall and sheltered by a covered porch, was used only by visitors. The bedroom and bathroom were heated by freestanding electric heaters and the kitchen stove ran off propane. Withthe advent of the mudroom, those splits were stacked against the little porch and covered with a tarp to keep the wood dry. There wasn't anything on the front porch now but a pair of rustic hand-hewn rocking chairs. As of last spring, the cabin had its own well and septic system. Fifty feet behind the cabin, there was yet another tarp covering firewood, and close to that a kiln, which looked all the world like a huge Hopi bread oven. Tracker used the kiln from the late spring until the first frost. Long winters were spent working the potter's wheel or sculpting at the work counter.
Right after she finished her studies at the Minneapolis Art Institute her father began nagging her to come home. George Charboneau didn't want his only daughter living in a big city all on her own. He'd stayed on the subject for weeks, calling her at all hours of the day and night. Still, for reasons of her own, Tracker hesitated. Then the matter was taken out of her hands when her landlord raised her rent out of her range. Still stubborn about returning to Red Cliff, she began looking for another apartment. The best places she could find at the price she could pay weren't half as comfortable as the apartment she was being forced to leave, and the neighborhoods felt risky. The deciding factor came when she sat down with a pencil and paper and did the math. Any way she figured it, living back on the rez cut her expenses by more than half.
Financially defeated, Tracker went home.
The first few months of being home in Red Cliff were right up there with living in a fishbowl, she being the queen guppy. Too many people knew far too much about her life, which was discussed in full detail in the three gossip meccas: Buffalo Bay Store, Peterson's Groceries, and (God saveus) the Lanes. The last was so called because it had begun life as a bowling alley, then evolved into a bar/pool hall/ restaurant attached to the Isle Vista Casino. The evolution had everything to do with the fact that the waiabishkiwedjig (white tourists), eager to pour quarters into the casino slots, felt nonplussed about doing that when just next doorliterally, as there is only a doorway between the casino and the Lanesbeerdrinking Shinabes could be seen walking around, every last man jack armed with a bowling ball. While such a scene was hardly Custer's last view, nervousness being what it is and the lifeblood of the casino threatened, the Council voted and the Lanes was forever changed from a bowling alley into a bar/pool hall/restaurant.
What the Council could not do, nor indeed any power on earth, was do away with the infamous Mug Row, the stretch of bar under the overhang that sported privately owned beer mugs. Mug Row has always been, will always be, the official side of the bar for the commercial fishermen from around three P.M. until last call, making Mug Row the source for gossip and even for one or two insurrections. The last uprising, about a month prior to Tracker's return, concerned a dummy Chippewa placed on a bench to advertise an antique shop in the suburb of Superior known as Alleouz.
Oooh, Mug Row really went into a flap over that one, the bar talk coming thick and hard, clearer heads coming up with the plan to picket the shop while carrying placards reading FREE THE FAUX SKIN. But by then Tracker had come home, and as watching her trying to ignore the fact that David Lameraux still lived and breathed was even more interesting, the dummy was forgotten.
While Tracker's life may have kept Mug Row amused, for her it was becoming so intolerable that the cabin her father and brothers were building for her on her land assignment was nothing more than walls and plastic sheeting over the windows when she moved in bags and potter's wheel. She hadn't cared that she'd have to wait for electricity, a well, and a septic tank. All she cared about was that the cabin was hidden away from the public eye. Ah, baby, that was bliss. But bliss invariably dissipated whenever she had to venture back into the mainstream.
On days like today.
"Damn!" She slammed the coffee mug down, tepid coffee sloshing onto the counter. Tracker didn't notice. She was too busy battling her fears of seeing David as she pulled a packing container out from beneath the workbench. Mushy, stretched snoozing on the floor, raised his shaggy head. The dog watched her with the same big brown eyes that had once gazed so forlornly from the halfstarved puppy sitting shivering by the side of the road. Tracker had stopped the truck, got out, and called the poor little thing to her. Hesitantly it came, sides all caved in from hunger, thick coat matted with mud and jumping with fleas. She took the puppy home, fed it, and bathed it. The puppy who had once fit neatly inside her hands had grown up to be as big as a deer. He was also one smart dogclever enough to recognize a Town Day. He knew to submit to the occasion with a whipped-dog whine and a submissive thumping of meaty tail against the floor.
Looking back over her shoulder Tracker frowned in irritation, her brows forming a V at the bridge of her nose. For some unknown reason, something else to annoy the breath out of her, Mushy was in full wretch mode. "What the hell's the matter with you?"
Mushy's tail immediately stopped. As his mistress stomped away, crescent rings of white showed beneath the sad eyes that followed her. Oh, this was a Town Day, all right. And until Town Day was over, there was precious little Mushy could do but flatten out on the floor and hang on like a stubborn drunk.
The Chicken Coop, a neighborhood in Red Cliff, earned its nickname after every house in the subdivision was churned out as a two-story cube with a clerestory. The repeated design was the brainchild of an architect hired by the HUD housing people. The architect had been young and cursed with the taste of pasteand not the good kind kindergartners love to eat by the handful. In one of the houses on Bear Paw Lane, David Lameraux, half asleep, rolled toward the bedside table, his hand flailing about until it located the small alarm clock. A final slap put an end to the offensive buzzing. Prying one eye open, he read the time: 6 A.M.
David had been living in the house for two years. He'd gotten it back in the good ole days when he'd thought he was going to be married. The engagement ended the day his beloved had gotten all hot about something, and when he asked her what was wrong, she'd said the most loathsome thing a woman can ever say to a man: "You know exactly what you did!"
No, he didn't. He hadn't then (which is why he'd asked), and he certainly didn't now. Unwrapping himself from the tangle of sheets and electric blanket, David Lameraux staggered out of the bedroom, which other than the bed was furnished with cardboard boxes and a sheet covering the window. He clumped down the bare wood stairs andthrough the living room, which was decorated in Early Male: a big-screen TV, the latest sound system, wall-to-wall beige carpeting with wide brown footpaths, a Salvation Army couch, three deck chairs, an unfinished-plank-and-cinder-block bookshelf crammed with paperbacks (Elmer Kelton westerns and Stephen King thrillers), and more sheets posing as curtains on the windows.
Taking the brown pathway that cut a left through an open portal, David arrived in the kitchen. Yawning, he turned on the overhead light only to quickly blink against the sudden brightness. The sky outside the window over the sink was still as black as midnight and the rain hopping against the windowpane sent a chill that raised goose bumps all over his lean body, all six foot two inches of it. In an effort to bring a little warmth into his immediate world, he turned on the electric oven, rolling the temperature setting to 500 degrees. Next, he poured gummy sludge out of the Mr. Coffee pot into the sink, and from the swing basket he threw away some nasty-looking old grounds. The subsequent task involved rinsing and filling the pot with tap water and putting a new paper filter in the basket. He was scooping Maxwell House French Roast into the newly prepared basket when he began to smell something funny.
Not funny ha-ha. Funny God-awful.
His eyes flashed wide as he remembered (too late) that he'd stashed an extra large pizza in the oven, what? Three, four days ago? He dropped the coffee scoop, dry grounds creating more chaos on the already cluttered counter, and dashed for the oven. Opening the oven door was a big mistake. Huge. The stink of baking cardboard and old pizza pervaded every corner of the small kitchen before he had time to slam the door again.
David was someone meant to be married because on his own, the boy was pitiful. His whole trouble was, the woman he wanted to be married to wouldn't even speak to him except during the three times she'd had to work for him, helping locate idiot tourist deer hunters who'd gotten themselves lost. She'd had to talk to him then, oh yes indeedy, because he was the chief of the rez police. As a tracker paid by the Council, she'd had to take orders directly from him. David could be a malicious little sod when he wanted to be, and to get back at her for that "You know exactly what you did!" he'd been as insufferable as he could possibly be. But did any of this petty revenge heal his wounded pride?
MURDER ON THE RED CLIFF REZ. Copyright © 2002 by Mardi Oakley Medawar. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Really enjoyed book. Just liked the cast and story. Good stuff.