Old Money by David Walks-As-Bear by David Walks-As-Bear - Read Online

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1.) "... In David Walks-As-Bear's second Ely Stone novel, (Old Money) you will be plunged headlong into a wild ride. You may even think that Mickey Spillane has been whispering in Walks-As-Bear's ear... Ely Stone hits the pages hard with the very first paragraph and doesn't let up until the end... So join Ely Stone as he looks for the lost writing of Mark Twain that could be a treasure map to a fortune. Hang on for a wild ride from snowy Michigan to warm Hawaiian waters as Ely chases mystery and a few women along the way." --- Futures, Mystery & Anthology Magazine 2.) "...Inside the covers of this book (Old Money) you will find Tribal Officer Ely Stone, a man with a heart of gold and a life of mystery and adventure, one that is about to embark on another spiritual journey to right the wrongs of the past... full of history, mystery, mysticism, adventure, romance and has a just plain down-right great storyline that keeps you glued to the pages from chapter to chapter. This book is well worth your time, a top-of-the-notch read that will entertain you in every area a good book should. Highly recommended!" --- MidWest Book Review
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611603484
List price: $3.99
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Old Money - David Walks-As-Bear

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Page 1 of 1

lungs!

Chapter 1: Maggie

New Orleans, Louisiana.

An Apartment on Bourbon St.

Spring, Today.

I shoot up out of the bed into a sitting position, my arms and hands splayed out onto the mattress, a hoarse yelp escaping from my mouth! I suck in deep breaths and quickly look around the room shaking, feeling the perspiration beading on my face! I look side to side and see no bodies. Oh, man! Hotdamn. Whooo-boy. My eyes dart upward, seeking those two men, but they’re not there—just the meandering, ‘click, click, click’ of a ceiling fan, slowly twisting round and round. As my bulging eyes search the room more closely, I can hear the city sounds out the screened patio door. Okay. Okay. I’m here. Not there—in that shitty hole. Oh, thank you, sweet Jesus. Thank you. Ohhhh man, I hate that dream. Hot damn. I begin forcing myself to calm down. But it’s going to take a bit. There’s movement beside me and she rises on one elbow, her other hand reaching over and touching my back.

She murmurs to me, Are you okay, Cheah? What aes et, wouh? A bad dream?

I look at her in the darkness while my heart slows. Her voice is husky with sleep and, as I’d noticed before, her accent is more heavily pronounced in this condition. Her head is tilted in slight worry. I force a whispered smile and control my breathing and speech.

Yeah. Sorry Maggie. I reach across and touch her concerned face. Go back to sleep, okay. I’m fine. Just some old nightmares, is all. Go back to sleep now.

She looks at me in that little girl way that women have when their being is consumed with sleep. Even in the shadowed light, I can see her turquoise eyes shining luminescent. She searches my face momentarily. Ah’u shure, Cheah’ee?

It seems too hot in the room. The ceiling fan isn’t helping much, but then...it’s not its fault that I have these sweaty nighttime episodes. I nod and drop my hand. Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just gonna grab a smoke. You go back to sleep, okay?

She looks at me a moment longer and then nods and lays back down, eyes and heavy lashes closing as she stretches out. I guiltily look at her naked form for a second before shakily climbing off the bed and pulling on my underwear and jeans. With the movement, my head is throbbing an unwelcome melody of pain. Just too much beer and physical exertion last night. The pain is fighting for attention, along with remnants of the stupid-assed dream that’s buzzing around in my psyche like a deranged hummingbird.

While I’m no stranger to the brew and its residual effects...that particular kind of heart thumping phys-ed is something I haven’t done in a while. I put a pressed salute to my temple. My vision blurs. Then I drop the hand, and grab my cigarette case off the bed table before padding unsteadily over and sliding the screen open to step out onto the little deck. The tail end of the city’s night sounds greets me as I slide the door back into position.

I move over by the rail and shake out a hand-rolled to pop it into my mouth. My lips are jittering like it’s below zero out here and it’s a balmy seventy-five degrees, at least. It’s the dumb shakes. Well...spooky-assed dreams will do that to you.

The apartment fronts Bourbon Street, close to the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel. I’m not sure who it was at the Tribe that found and rented the place for my stay here, but I’ve enjoyed it. It’s still plenty dark out as I pull the old Zippo lighter out of my pants pocket and twist the flint wheel. The lighter fires off in that familiar sound that always reminds me a jet engine first starting up. I touch the flame to the cigarette and draw in a deep ragged breath, visions of the recent dream pop-flashing in my head. I blow out the smoke then whisper out loud, Nindizhaa!—I’m going crazy! Yeah...no joke. Man I have some bad dreams. Some really bad ones, but that pecker takes the cake. It actually scares me when I’m fully conscious. That thing is the epitome of terror for me.

Before taking the job of a Pukaskwa Indian Cop, I’d spent twenty years in the Coast Guard, most of it as an intelligence agent. I’d seen and done plenty there that gives me fodder for bad dreams. But, simultaneously with that job, I’d also belonged to a clandestine little outfit called the Trojan Team. It was made up of people from all five branches of the military. Trojan was a covert team, employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency and nobody knows or knew about it and our activities. Formed as a black operational unit in 1980, we operated right up until the DIA formed their ‘known-to-the-world’ team in 1992. My Trojan membership doesn’t show up in my military file and other than a few suspicious intelligence arms of various countries around the world, no one knows of its existence. I was known as 5th Rubber on the Team, rubbers being a codeword euphemism for the worldly game of Bridge and a play on the Trojan brand of condoms. From my time as a Trojan member, though, I have more than enough wicked scenes for nightmares, enough for me and maybe a couple of other guys, too.

The headache pain is settling to the back of my skull now, and thus, the dream jumps to the forefront. I hold up my left hand and watch it wobble. The shaking is already starting to subside when I squeeze my eyes shut. My lids open, and I lean against the railing still thinking of the creepy dream. Why I’m having it is a question I need answered. Usually, I try to figure out what a particular thing means, whether it’s a dream, a situation or anything else. And given time, the Great Good Spirit usually guides me to an answer. But not this time. Not with this deal. Not with this lurid little reverie.

I think that’s because in everything else, there’s always some basis, some puny iota of actual fact, something to grasp onto and unravel. The other dreams I have, well, I’ve usually been there before, in real life. But not here. Not with this one. In this nightmare it’s all new ground. I don’t have a clue about the horses and Indians in funny uniforms—any of that stuff. As the dream beckons for attention, I take a drag of smoke and blatantly ignore it to ponder my next big fret. And that’s what’s worrying me more right now. I’m beginning to think that Matchemoneto—the great evil spirit himself—is a player in this head game. It’s either that, or I’m going crazy. And frankly, either one of those prospects puts a heavy bother on feeble old me. I look down at the sidewalk and hang my head low while squeezing my eyes shut again. My dreams are always in color. From the deep greens of heavy jungle to the dull hues of desert tans to the crystal blue of ocean water, color is always there. That makes them realer than real sometimes, especially since the vivid red of arterial blood shows up so vibrantly. Yeah sheeeit.

The thing is the dreams usually have some kind of meaning to me. I’d had this dream the first time the night that I’d landed in the stupid stream back in Michigan after chasing some poachers on the Rez. I can still remember my fuzzy time in the emergency room. I remember that after the accident, I eventually woke up in the Hospital in Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. All of the people that I know well in the Tribe were there. They were all concerned about me, and that was nice. But I was so fuzzy-headed with the ins and outs that I wasn’t sure of anything then. I didn’t say anything about the dream or whatever it was. Not to anyone. They would’ve just transferred me to the psyche ward if I had. But I do remember old Amos Reddeer and Annette Cole, the girl that has me by the short emotional hairs, watching me closely.

Thinking of her calls up a whole different emotional anguish, and I mentally squash it, preferring to stay with what I have. My mind goes back to that night in the hospital. Nettie wiped tears from her eyes and rubbed my leg through the sheet. Old Tribal Cop Captain Alan Morse had looked on...just wishing that I was hooked up to a cord that he that could un-plug. He dislikes me a lot and he has a thing for Nettie. The nurse then said that they all had to leave the room. But Amos had stayed for a few moments, even as the nurse ushered people toward the door. I’d received a slight concussion in the accident and was having all of the headache and difficulty staying awake that I could want, not to mention a severe case of confusion. But I remember Amos. I distinctly remember him that night.

I can still see him now, leaning down and looking at me intently with those wizened old black eyes of his. He had searched my face even as I was slipping further from consciousness, fighting to keep my eyes open. Then he’d whispered with a curious voice, Where have you been, Raining Wolf? His bushy eyebrows had arched haughtily. Where have you been off to, eh?

I was too fuzzy and maybe too scared to answer then, but I remember trying to stay awake and focus on his words as he continued to peer closely. Then, I’d seen a look of resolve come over his features, and he’d straightened up to squeeze my arm. He’d said, It’s okay. You will tell me when you know, eh? Then he’d turned and walked out with the others, and I had drifted off. Raining Wolf is my Pukaskwa name and now I’m wondering...had he been talking about the accident or about the dream?

Did he mean, where had the accident happened, or...had he been asking something about the dream? Man...I never know with him. But I do know that he’d said those things—asked that question—where had I been? Old Amos knows stuff—stuff he shouldn’t know...stuff that he has no mortal way of knowing.

They’d released me from the hospital the next day, and for nights afterwards, I’d had the same dream. It is terrifying me, driving me nuts. I don’t know where it is coming from or what it means. I’ve tried to figure it out, and just can’t and I am about to go out of my mind. I even determined that I had to talk to Amos about the dream, but before I could...it stopped.

The dream quit coming. It had been bizarre, but at least it had left me. Okay, so maybe it’s me, I’d figured. Maybe I’m the one that’s nuts and the dream is just a symptom of that, eh? But damn, man. It was so real. So very real. After awhile, I’d forgotten about it—chalked it up to just something odd. That is, until now.

I’m guessing that it has something to do with that dumb old tree out there in Tangipahoa. My feeble brain tries to associate things through its hung-over pain and disrupted sleep, as I ponder this.

I work now as a Special Agent for the Pukaskwa Nation. The Black River Band of Pukaskwa is a newly recognized Indian Nation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m kind of a land investigator for the tribe, although our tribal shaman, Amos Reddeer, is convinced that I’m also the Band’s Ind-le-la Um-kho-keli—a Pukaskwa word meaning: ‘Way Leader’. Personally, I figure that I’m just an old used-up redskin. According to Amos, though, I’m supposed to be some kind of a spiritual warrior, whatever that means. All I know is that they usually send me out to check any new land or property that the Tribe’s thinking of buying. That’s how I came to be here in Louisiana.

I take another glance at my hand and see that it’s steady enough, and that’s good. I draw in a deep breath and exhale deeply just to help things along. I’m settling down, and that’s good. I mean, geeze man, it’s just a dream, right? Even as the question leaves one side of my mind, the answer comes bouncing immediately from the opposite—yeah well...maybe. But, then again...maybe not, too.

Crap! I flex my hand as I ponder how this may somehow be connected. The Band wanted to buy some land in Tangipahoa on Lake Pontchartrain. A sleeping moan comes through the door opening interrupting my thoughts and my eyes move up to look through the screen. Maggie has rolled over on her side, one naked leg now reposing provocatively atop the other. A feeling of shame streams through me, even though I know it’s not all-together warranted.

As I look at her delectable form on the bed, I shake my head to clear it. Then I turn my mind back to its previous thread, even as the recent dream knocks for attention on the inside of my forehead. I’d ended up recommending that we not purchase the land. Maggie helped me find out that it was full of old problems. Shortly after arrival, I’d turned up some peculiarities in the land topography and had hired a backhoe and operator to check it out. We’d dug-up some human bones and that had me contacting the local cops.

The bones turned out to be primarily Caucasian but there were Black and Native American in the mix as well. The kicker had been that they were all over one hundred and forty years old. The New Orleans P.D. Forensics people said there were no complete skeletons—just arms, legs, feet and hands. While the cops found this odd, they’d dropped their interest in the case figuring the bones didn’t belong to any recent homicides. They apparently had enough current ones without going back almost a century and a half.

But one of the detectives had suggested that I get in touch with Maggie. He’d heard the land had once been in her family and she was a professor at Tulane University. So, I’d done that, calling her and asking if we could meet. We’d hooked-up for lunch at Tulane where she’s a professor in the medical school. With my first look at her, I could think of nothing but, ‘Ikwe Aawi’—‘Mating Woman’ or words used by a Pukaskwa guy for a woman...perfect...to have sexual intercourse with. She’s sensual and carnal as well as ravishingly beautiful. Immediately after the thought, I’d been ‘agadenim,’ or ashamed. It wasn’t proper, and I knew it. I could see that she was wearing a wedding ring. But it’d been hard to look at her and not think that way and that’s a fact, too.

Over cafeteria catfish platters, I’d explained to her about the old bones we had unearthed on the land. In her Cajun accent, she’d become animated and had solved the little mystery in a heartbeat. She’d told me the land had once belonged to her great-uncle, Captain Pere Forgeron. Apparently her great-grandfather, Major Robert O’Brien, and the uncle had both been Confederate Army doctors. She’d said the bones we’d found were probably the amputated appendages of Confederate soldiers. Her uncle’s plantation home had once stood on the property and it had been converted to an army hospital during the Civil War. She even had old documents and photos of the place. She would loan them to me and I could make copies.

When our little business and lunch was done, she’d leaned across the table, smiled, maybe flirtatiously—maybe not, and asked if I was married. Surprise had invaded me, followed by images of Nettie, but I’d stuttered out, no. Then she’d merely nodded, looking at me with those beautiful bright blue eyes.

After that, we’d talked several times on the phone, and had met again for dinner when she gave me the photos and documents. The sexual chemistry between us had seemed strong to me. But she either ignored it or it had been a one-way deal. Or, so I thought, anyway, because that had been the extent of our relationship...until last night.

As I gaze in at her nude form through the screen door, I’m feeling ‘agadenim’ again. It’s because I’m not in love with her. I like her...a lot. Lord knows, I do. But I’m not in love with her. And so, somehow, this coupling seems unfair to her? Maybe unfair to Nettie? I throw a disgusted hand in the darkness. Hell, I don’t know...unfair to everybody, I guess. I sigh and look at the dark street below as I take another drag from the hand-rolled, letting sweet memories of last night’s passion momentarily press the dream to the side of my cranium. As I exhale smoke, I can certainly say that I know more about Maggie O’Brien now. She’s a thirty-seven-year-old French Creole/Cajun woman with thick luxurious hair the color of black cherries. I swear it’s got the same aura and the same reddish-black hues. It’s really attractive.

She has porcelain-white skin, and eyes the color of turquoise Caribbean water, and a body that is...oh man. A doctor who grew up in one of the swampy Cajun Parishes, she’s a modern-day Southern Belle who can trace her Acadian roots all the way back to Nova Scotia. She said last night that she can follow her Creole ancestry to Lafayette’s people. She belongs to a group called the Daughters of the Confederacy, and her brother is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans—the SCV. They have access to all kinds of old Civil War records—stuff from the old Confederacy that never got transferred over to the U.S. She got me a lot of information that helped in my little investigation.

After that dinner, I took the stuff that she provided and it gave me other trails to follow. In the end, I found that the funny-looking topography wasn’t just because of the old body parts. The property had later been used for illegal dumping of chemical wastes. It would cost a fortune to clean up. So, I’d advised the tribe to pass on this one. Then, with my little investigative duty all done, I’d let my weakness take over. And that weakness is Annette Cole...my self-inflicted ‘Ni-inimo-shen-yag’—my sweetheart. I met her after first taking the job as tribal special agent, and don’t ask me why...but I fell hard for her. For a while, her feelings for me had seemed mutual. And man...I was kinda liking that.

I don’t put much stock in the ‘Way Leader’ deal. But before taking this job, I retired from the military as an over-cooked intelligence spook. To say that I was burnt-out is like saying Dolly Pardon is moderately endowed—it’s an understatement. After I got out of the Coast Guard, I headed straight to the cabin in Michigan’s U.P. The cabin was left to me by my Uncle Mason, part of the original forty acre tracts deeded to the Pukaskwa by treaty in 1811. I would’ve been just fine there still...if the Creator hadn’t said that it was time that I reenter the world. So, I accepted the tribal cop job. I didn’t necessarily want to, but...if God tells you to do something, you just do it.

My first little assignment was to troubleshoot Muskrat Island. Right away the investigation went to the dogs. I got all wrapped up in craziness—mysterious stuff having to do with ‘Otherworld Spirits’. Yeah, man, Otherworld Spirits are a scary proposition for Indians...this Indian, anyway. I almost got myself killed over a bunch of junk having to do with Chinese spies, the U.S. Air Force, and an ominous little secret that they were keeping out on that lonely piece of rock.

I give a slight shake of my head. I ended up involved in the same kind of crap that I did for twenty years in the military—killing and trying to avoid being killed. I’d hoped that I was done with that, but it seems that maybe I was mistaken. And poor Nettie...she walked right into the middle of it, seeing me kill another man up close and personal...in what she said...was a barbaric way. Well...that tends to turn some women off. I squint my eyes then, because, personally, I figure that any kind of killing is barbaric. I shake my head sadly at nobody and think—go figure.

I survived the message of ‘The Murmurings’, and ultimately...lost Nettie in the process. She may still want to be with me, but she needs me to change. And well...I can’t. I feel my brows wrinkle as I continually dodge the dream’s urgings. Some of what Amos Reddeer tells me about myself causes me to wonder. The Muskrat Island deal was the first time I ever worked with the old Medicine Man. As bad as the ordeal was, sometimes what’s scarier...is that Amos knows a lot of what is going on...when he has absolutely no way of knowing...ya know? That spooks me to no end—it always does. I let my thoughts roam along that line for a spell.

Amos Reddeer is the tribal shaman and an old friend of my family’s. He knows a lot about the weirdness that sometimes happens to people, especially Indian folks—maybe too much about those kinds of things. I may have to ask him about this dream now that I’m having it again, but I’d really rather not. My fear is that he’ll put some Indian spiritual meaning to it. When I first took the job as the tribe’s special agent, he did that. He told me that I was the Band’s Way Leader, and I can just see him doing something similar with this bizarre happening.

Something snaps me out of this revelry. I blink down at a man below me on the sidewalk. I finish the hand-rolled and again ignore the dream that’s whining for attention as I watch the man below. Ah, he’s opening a musical instrument case of some kind. He’s one of the street players. I fold up my fingers and rub the knuckles into my eyes a moment before blinking down at the black face of my old diver’s watch. Well, there’s no sense in thinking of sleep again. That pricky dream is probably there waiting for me, eh. A low, sleeping sound echoes from the room. I lightly step over and look through the screen at the sleeping form on the bed.

Boy howdy, but she’s delicious. Maaan. I tilt my head in memory of last night. With my job done here, there had been nothing to keep my teeny little mind occupied and thoughts of Nettie had pervaded them. They always do unless I can get my head around something else. And I now had nothing else to do. It was Friday and I had the apartment through the weekend if I wanted. So, I figured that I’d just waste my ass into oblivion until time to head north. I bought a lot of Honey Brown beer because nothing goes with melancholy and heartbreak like beer. If you don’t believe me, just listen to a country song sometime. I remember thinking that it’d be just me, the Honey Browns and Nettie’s memory. I was looking forward to feeling sorry for myself.

And so it was that I was deep into a twelve pack when Maggie O’Brien stopped by, unannounced, to pick up her papers and photos. I was sitting out here last night with the stereo tuned to a local classic rock station when I saw her cab stop there on the street. In my stupor, I had mixed feelings about her arrival. That’s because contrary to perceived opinion...company is sometimes preferred to booze-soothed heartache. She paid the driver and then entered the building. I tried to make it to the door without breaking any furniture or bones in the process. When I let her in, she smiled shyly. And when I offered her a beer, she accepted. She was on her way home and had decided to stop by to pick the items up. She was just coming from a colleague’s retirement party at Tulane. She’d had a few drinks there. We started talking and were getting along well.

Margaret May O’Brien. ‘Maggie’ for short. I learned that she was widowed. Her husband had been caught in Hurricane Katrina and killed when that thing rampaged through the state. While she turned her wedding band over and over on her finger, she told me that she loved him and missed him still. She’d had a general medical practice in a small Parish called New Iberia, but found that the memories were too strong there. So, she accepted the teaching position at Tulane, closed her practice and moved to New Orleans.

After several more beers things got a little more in-depth for both of us. Alcohol is the WD-40 of human inhibitions and she asked if I had someone...special? What could I say? I answered, No, not really. She looked at me contemplatively with those gorgeous eyes. Then she relayed that though she’d been asked plenty, she hadn’t dated since her husband’s death. She said that she had a plethora of reasons—everything from fear of AIDS to a feeling of unfaithfulness in her regard to her late husband. I could sure relate to that. And looking in at her now, I’m doing so again. Without getting specific, I told her that there was someone that I knew too. But what she wanted from me...I couldn’t give. So, we were in similar boats—we had feelings for other people...people that we couldn’t have.

When she arrived, she was dressed for school in heels, a gray pleated skirt, a white blouse and matching gray dress coat. At some point, her self-consciousness had evaporated and her comfort zone had widened. Mine had, too. She told me that she’d felt an immediate attraction to me, and that this was unusual for her.

I went to the bathroom, partly to try and figure out where this was going and partly to decide if I was going with it. When I returned, she’d removed her coat. As I sat down she looked at me sincerely and said that she just felt like she just wanted to be around me—what did I think of that? As I tried to formulate an answer, she kicked her shoes off and folded her legs beneath her on the couch. The appearance of her nyloned legs folded-up, coupled with her open-necked blouse set off fire alarms in my physical being. As the Beatles sang Let It Be on the radio, I tried to process this through my Brown Beer haze. It was hard because I liked her...really liked her. But, if it’s not a good idea to drink and drive, then it’s sure not a good idea to start a relationship in that condition, either. I told her that I wasn’t staying, that I was leaving and wouldn’t be back. She sat back and looked at me with her rich turquoise eyes and I could see that she’d already considered that possibility.

Maybe that was her safety net—I didn’t and still don’t know. But I guess she figured that I was a safe bet. She was up and swaying to the music when I came back into the living room with a bowl of potato chips. Maggie May, the old Rod Stewart song, came on and she began dancing. She took the chips, set them down and started dancing with me. Then things got out of hand. Later, while we lay in tangled sheets on the bed, she, like every woman I’ve ever been with, traced her fingers over my old wound scars and the tattoo of a Trojan horse I have on my hip. Then later, she was lying beside me, sleeping the sleep of the sexual respite, and I drifted off, too. It was sometime after that that I fell into the dream.

So it is that I’m standing here now...feeling guilty. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t undo what we did. I just hope it doesn’t haunt her or me. I swallow as I peer into the darkened room. I ardently hope that it was the same for her to be with me. I know that it was probably wrong, but so help me...it was good for me emotionally, even if it was bad spiritually. Following that old Indian ‘Red Road’ for me, means that you don’t hurt anybody or anything unless you have to. Somebody like me already drags a ton of baggage with them wherever they go. If you’re not careful with that kind of weight, getting hurt is an easy thing to have happen.

So, as sad as it is, I can go without sex in order to oblige the concept. I can stick to the code. But it’s times like last night, with a woman like Maggie...that I have a really rough time with adhesion. I chew on the inside of my cheek and believe it. She’s so...sumptuous. Soooo incredibly edible. It helps draw my thoughts away from the nightmare as I cast my eyes back to her feminine form lying on the bed. I watch as Maggie’s chest rises and falls with her slumbering breath. As I do, visions of my recent night-fight with the dream rampages against my closed-door mind again. I try to push it away, but it’s already got through the opening.

I’m pretty sure the bizarre dream started again because of something that happened out at that property. Yesterday, I was walking over the place one final time. I had just leaned against an old pecan tree that faces the lake when the shinkakee exploded inside me like a cluster bomb. My pulse rate shot up and the hair on my neck stood at attention. I quickly twisted around the old tree, instinctively ducking low as my hand swung to my back where the holstered Glock rides. But there was nothing there. I looked everywhere and there was nothing. When I looked down, I could see where the foundations of the old hospital’s porch had once supported massive columns, a short distance from me and the old tree. But there was nothing else—only the shinkakee—and it was strong and flowing freely in my being.

And now I had the same dream again—the same one that started when I dove into that creek several months ago. The shinkakee had warned of its coming, I guess. Shinkakee was what my mother always called it. It’s just a sensation. It’s been a part of my world ever since I can remember. It’s a feeling of unusualness—something strange. Other times though, shinkakee is a distinct feeling of impending danger, dread, or maybe deja’vu. Those are the spookiest ones. It’ll manifest itself in a lot of ways. But over the years, I’ve learned to pay attention to it and the little things that often accompany its arrival in my fat little head. That’s because many times over my lifetime, it has saved my bacon. My military nickname was Ghost. It was a moniker applied to me because I seemed to walk away from a lot of situations where I shouldn’t have even been able to crawl, much less bipedal. So, I’m thinking that maybe...this stupid dream is something more than just an ordinary odd evening reverie. I light another hand-rolled and inhale deeply.

So, what started the dream back up again, anyway? Was it just because of that place—that old tree, that old hospital? I don’t know. But one thing’s for certain—I’m going back to check it out again, one more time before I head home. My head swings back and forth and I open my eyes. My eyes land on my bare feet close to the iron railing. I look up a bit and watch a bum digging out an aluminum can from a trash container down below on the sidewalk. I take another drag off the cigarette as I study the scrounger. The city is dark yet, and the night people are still out. Other than taxies, the occasional street sweeper and the fairly constant police cruisers, it’s just the bums.

Ah, crap. I hold the cigarette outward with my fingers and grind the heels of my palms into my eyes. I try to push thoughts of the dream out of my mind while trying to insert other things. I drop my hands and blink as I look around the city street below. It’s recovered well from the hurricane that all but obliterated it. Just a short time ago, it was chocked full of screaming and strangely dressed and undressed people; all involved in the Mardi Gras. Looking across the boulevard now, though, I can see that it really hasn’t changed much—only slowed down a bit. There are two people walking down the sidewalk over there, a man and a woman, with their faces painted as skulls. Hmm.

Dawn is close and I know that the musicians will soon be tuning up on the neighborhood sidewalks, up and down Bourbon Street. This town has more street musicians and minstrels than any other big city that I’ve ever been in. They’re everywhere and as you walk down the sidewalk, danged if most of them ain’t pretty good, too. I cup the hand rolled and take another long drag as I straighten up and stretch. Then mellow warmth touches the side of my face and makes me turn toward it. I move back to the railing as light and heat from the day’s dawning spatters lightly all about. The sun breaks full over the city’s horizon and floods over me on the small balcony.

I finger my piwaka and go through my morning prayers while facing the sun. Along the way of prayer, I finish the cigarette and pocket the paper. By the time I’ve completed my mental litany, the deck is awash in brightness. The sunlight reminds me that in the last half of that crazy dream, it was daylight, too. The memories of last night’s ecstasy intermixed with the sleepless turmoil begin cascading into my head again. Shit, man, I’m going nuts.

As I’m thinking this, I feel a hand slip around my waist and the smell of honeysuckle wafts to my nose. Her perfume. The dream fades quickly from the forefront of my mind as Maggie steps up close beside me. She’s wearing one of my old dark blue utility shirts, open with nothing underneath it. The letter tapes say ‘U.S. Coast Guard’ over her left breast and ‘Stone’ over her right. The extra-large size dwarfs her in feminine fashion and gives her an extremely desirable look. I look at her and see her peering curiously up and down Bourbon Street below us. Her wavy red-black hair falls in thick ringlets around her face, and I let my eyes travel down what’s clearly visible inside of the shirt. The bright sunshine radiates off her white skin and the tiny little hairs on her body stand out tantalizingly.

My quick appraisal runs down her whole body encased inside the shirt. She is about five feet three and has shapely legs. She possesses moderate sized feet and hands that have a pearl-white polish on the toes that match her fingernails. My eyes dart back up to go through it all again, but ...much slower this time. I let my gaze float over her firm breasts with large dark reddish-black nipples. Then I let it travel down her flat belly with just the hint of a roll and curve until I stop at her belly button. I take a breath and let my gaze move on to beneath her navel, all the way down to the thick and heavy bush shining gloriously in the bright sun. The sun’s rays highlight the reds and blacks in the mass of pubic fur that gives this angel hair the hue and color of black cherry. This mesmerizes me. Then she tilts her head up to me and quickly pecks my cheek with a kiss before speaking,

Mmmm. I smell ‘Elisa Indeahn smoke’, whoa.

She’s talking about the hand-rolled cigarette smoke that probably still lingers out here. I roll the cigarettes myself and use Velvet Pipe tobacco rather than regular cigarette leaves. If you like the smell of pipe smoke, it’s a pleasant enough odor. I smile as she looks up at me and speaks, pulling open the shirt to display a breast inside, her voice jesting.

I hope it was okay that I borrowed your shirt, whoa? I don’t seem to have any clothes here?

I nod goofily, so she smiles, pointing a finger at me. I may just steal this garment, Cheah...I like it so much. I feel like a Rouler le Membre De La Garde Royale. She sees my confused face so she rolls out a hand smiling, Coast Guardsman. I feel like a genuine Coast Guardsman in this shirt, Cheah. Her face turns serious, her eyes now contemplative. So, when do you leave, Elisa?

Elisa. She’d been calling me that since shortly after we’d met. I don’t know why. I guess it was just her Cajun/Creole nick-name for Ely. I swallow and smile crookedly while looking into those turquoise eyes resting mischievously under reddish-black brows. The bright rays of light accent every feature. The sun splashing off from her face dances in her eyes. Her eyelashes are long and thick and she has a dark brown mole high on her left cheek. My body reacts to her presence and I feel my desire. The pissy-assed dream tries one last time to touch my psyche, but it has no chance compared to her. I clear my throat before I speak.

I’ve got to drive back up to Tangipahoa to check one last thing on the property. Then, I’ll head north.

Her Cajun is so different from the other accents here. The New Orleans accent always reminds me of a Brooklyn one—it always has. Not hers though. It is smooth and exotic. It makes me think of swamps, deltas, Cyprus trees and water moccasins. Man, is she ever what the doctor ordered. She reaches up and strokes my lip with a fingertip, and then coyly takes my hand and leads me back into the sun-drenched room. My little dream companion is forced out of my head quickly now as I go willingly behind her. Heck man...what guy wouldn’t? As I follow the back of the shirt, Rod Stewart breaks-out loudly in my mind...You turned into a lover and mother what a lover...yooou wore me out!

Chapter 2: The Epitome of Terror

Stevens’ Antiques

Gibson City, Illinois.

Same Day –Same Time.

Stanley Stevens’ hand shook as he reached across the desk and dropped the phone back into its cradle. He had just been listening to his voice mail. It was from a lady at the State of Connecticut Archives Department. She had returned his call from yesterday. As he turned his head and looked at the old cracked leather covered trunk sitting atop his worktable, he realized that she had just verified what in his mind, he’d already known. His heart raced at an unbelievable rate. He ran a hand through his thinning pate and licked his lips as the rising sun leaked its rays though the windowpane.

He had bought the trunk at an estate sale in Baltimore almost two years ago. It had appeared in good shape and as with most trunks of its type, it would bring a modestly good price when cleaned up and presented for resale. But that was before Debbie had died. Back before he got involved in the affair. It was the affair that had pulled him into the underworld and turned his world upside down.

The trunk had been sitting and gathering dust in the storage building with many other pieces that he was now scrambling to clean, repair and sell for whatever he could get. Stan was in deep trouble—very deep trouble of the financial kind. And those he owed weren’t the kind to just take his home and business and be satisfied with his Chapter 13 bankruptcy. No, the people that he was indebted to would want more—much more than that. A sardonic smile rolled over Stevens’ face. Well, he thought, it looked like he was going to be able to pay in full, didn’t it?

Stan had been scurrying as fast as his fifty-six-year-old body could move, trying to liquidate everything that he owned. He was in hock to someone who took debt very seriously. These guys didn’t just take your house, car and everything that you owned. They took a pound of flesh, too—literally. It was when he had brought the trunk in and had began the methodical search that he’d found it. All good antique dealers always did a thorough search of items like the trunk, as they were supreme places to hide stuff. In the old days, trunks like this were a common piece and most people had them in their homes and used them for travel.

For an antique dealer, trunks were some of the best places to find items of value. The original owner, who always planned on retrieving the item, often hid these things long ago. But for whatever reason in life’s ever-changing rhythms, they never did. It was while Stan was feeling the fabric lining at the back of the lid that he’d found the treasure. After removing the item, he had read its contents with breath more baited with the turning of each page. Then he had begun the quest to verify the find.

While checking out the object’s authenticity, he had surmised that the great man had slipped the little black book into the lining and he had never told a soul about it. Then, for whatever reason, it had been forgotten. Who knew? But eventually, the man had died. Perhaps someone in the family got the trunk. Then, maybe it was sold at an estate auction later on, perhaps many times over the years, until finally Stan Stevens placed a high bid on it two years past. But Stevens was a professional antique man. He always searched an item such as the trunk, and this time, it had paid off big. Boy had it ever paid off big!

The woman in the Archives Department had said that yes, indeed, the Schuler Furniture Company had manufactured travel trunks. The model number that he had supplied did match a series of these items, listed in the state’s microfilmed history of the company. When added to the other information that Stan had garnered, that was the last tidbit he needed to authenticate the trunk and its original owner. He had already contacted the Twain home, the Bridgeport Connecticut Historical Society, and the Bridgeport County Museum.

From these and a few other sources, he’d learned that the Clemens’ did shop at Schuler’s Furniture. In fact, the Mark Twain Home still boasted a number of furniture pieces that were purchased at the Schuler store right in downtown Bridgeport during the late 1800s through the early turn of the century. His eyes came back to the small black, leather-bound book in front of him on the desk; he now knew for certain, that it was authentic.

His fingers trembled as he reached over and gently lifted the book to leaf through the faded old parchment pages. The richly flowing handwriting seemed almost whimsical to him. He allowed himself to read some of the words. Like all antique dealers, Stan loved history. Heck, he loved anything that was old. He was so excited that he felt like he might pee his pants. It was real and could be easily and fully certified. The book alone would bring a handsome sum but what it described inside its faded pages was priceless.

A find like this was every antique dealer’s dream. Oh, if only Debbie were here to see this, he thought. Well honey, he whispered as he smiled up at the ceiling, we did it, didn’t we? He wiped a tear from his eye and brought his watery eyes back to the book. It had fallen right into his lap. Yes, it had and yes, Stan Stevens loved being an antique dealer. But he loved the Roulette wheel, too. And it was his love affair with the ‘wheel’ that had gotten him into so much trouble.

His wife Debbie had died from cancer a little over a year ago. They had never had any children—just each other. The loneliness that had set upon him after her death was worse than he’d ever imagined it would be. He’d moped around the house and begun drinking alone in front of the TV. Then one day he began an affair. On a whim, while returning from an antique sale in Michigan, he stopped into an Indian casino just south of Traverse City. The place was just outside of the little town of Manistee. Stan had sulkily eaten a meal in the restaurant and then played some of the slots. But then he discovered the roulette wheel. It was love at first spin.

Before he knew it he was seeing a reason to live again. In the back of his mind he knew that he was only exchanging one misery for another, but for then, it didn’t matter. At least, he’d told himself, he wasn’t sitting in front of the TV, wasted on Kessler’s whiskey with a .357 Magnum in his hand. The wheel had helped him get over his grief, but he’d become addicted to it in the process. Debbie was still gone, and he had only found something else in this world that he couldn’t live without.

He began spending all of his free time at casinos. Sometimes he won big, but usually, he lost or broke even. Either way, he was hooked. Then while playing at Hannah’s Casino in Chicago, he hit a slope of bad luck that just wouldn’t subside. He went back the next three nights to try to catch up, but it only got worse. By then, he’d already emptied his budgeted monthly income trying to break even. But then, as often happens, he got hot. His numbers kept coming up, over and over again. So, on this night, when he was winning and just knew that he couldn’t lose, he had approached Michael Vale for a loan.

Vale was a connected guy from Chicago and everyone knew it. He passed out loans, but the pay-back was steep. That vig was a killer. But on that night, at that time, in that room, with that wheel...Stan just knew that he was golden. He’d borrowed five thousand dollars from Vale and had promptly lost it all in an hour. He’d gone back home to Gibson City a dejected man, but with plans to win it all back, as soon as possible. A few weeks later, he had wiped out his 401K and had taken out second loans on the house and shop, all just to keep playing the reds and blacks.

And now he was broke. He had about eight thousand dollars left, but with the vig and the late fees, he owed Vale close to two hundred grand and he had no way to pay. He couldn’t even turn over the house and business as he had mortgaged them to the hilt trying to get even. Until this morning, he had figured that he was screwed because these guys didn’t play around. They would kill him and he knew it.

They had already called and threatened him several times—the last call saying pay up or else. But now, he thought with a grin as he gently flipped the pages of the old black book, he would be free of that trouble. And possibly even rich, too. He just had to get moving on this. With any luck, he should be able to find a backer to cover his debt to the mob. And with the eight grand that he still had, he should be able to go out there and start looking for the prize that the famous man could not find all of those years ago.

He scratched his forehead and then snapped the fingers on his right hand. Peter Wilson! That’s the guy that’ll back him on this deal. He was another, much more affluent, antique dealer from Chicago, IL. Stan pushed the chair back and headed for the door. Wilson’s number was out in the shop office. He passed through the breezeway connected to the building that was situated on the main drag of Sagamon Street in downtown Gibson City. He entered the shop through the connecting door and quickly made his way to the back of the store where the office was located. The first thing he did upon entering was to switch the copy machine on to begin warming it up. He sat the book on the desk then moved his office chair away and pulled back the floor mat.

He opened a door and bent to a knee to begin spinning the combination on the floor safe. Once he had the lid flipped up he stood and moved over to the copier. It was ready so he set about the task of carefully photocopying pages in the old black book. He planned on showing the copies to Wilson or whoever he found to back him. Therefore, he was prudently omitting pages with some key information. He couldn’t take the chance on losing the opportunity that the book offered him.

The process was time consuming, whiting-out places discreetly here and there. He had just finished when he heard knocking at the shop’s front door. He glanced at the wall clock and was surprised to see how late it was. Even so, it was still too early for opening time. He stacked the copies into a neat pile and placed them on his desk. Then he gently placed the book in the floor safe, closed the lid and spun the lock. He dropped the door and pulled the mat back over before replacing the chair. The knocking had persisted, so he wiped the sweat off his brow and headed through the store to the front door. As he approached, he saw two men in brown Carhart jackets and jeans waiting outside. Local farmers, but he didn’t know them. He arrived at the door and smiled while pointing to his watch, speaking loudly.

Sorry fellas. We don’t open for another hour yet, he said through the door glass.

The bigger of them returned the smile and nodded his head. Yeah, I know Mr. Stevens. But look...me and Jesse here are go’n fish’n and I was hope’n that maybe you’d let me pick that lamp up there for my wife Shirley.

Stan’s eyes followed as he pointed to a Tiffany lamp in the window display case. The lamp was priced at three hundred and fifty dollars. Stan looked back the smiling men outside as the big one continued speaking. See, it’s like this Mr. Stevens. Shirley wants that lamp and today’s our anniversary. Me and Jesse won’t be back until after you’re closed so, I was hope’n that you’d let me just buy it now? He hunched his shoulders and applied a ‘please’ look to his face.

Stan felt his smile grow broader. Three hundred and fifty bucks was three hundred and fifty bucks. He nodded. Well, I think if you’re going fishing on your anniversary then you’d sure better have a nice gift for her then, huh? You’ll probably need it! He unlocked and opened the door then turned his back to them to begin walking over by the lamp. He said over his shoulder, So how long how long has it been for you and the wife then?

Suddenly, Stan felt a hand grab his shoulder, spin him around and in that fraction of a second, he saw the big man’s fist driving like the speed of light straight for his face! When it hit him, the force knocked him flat on his back, his flailing arm knocking over a rack of porcelain dishes which crashed all around him! He lay on the floor in terror and shock and looked up at the two men. Neither of them were smiling now, and the big one sent a heavy boot into his side while saying, "It’s been over six weeks asshole. That’s how long it’s been and Michael Vale wants his money you dickhead!

* * * *

Stan felt the car turn but he couldn’t tell which way. He had woken up in the trunk. At least he thought it was a car trunk. He was pretty sure of that, but it was dark. The blood was running into his eyes and his lips were badly swollen. He had swallowed a couple of teeth while they were beating him, and now...now he knew that they were going to kill him. He hurt everywhere. They had beaten him until he knew that they were going to beat him to death, right there in the shop. So, he told them everything—almost.

The two men dragged Stevens into the office and beat him badly. Finally, he gave them the photocopies, telling them that what the pages described was priceless. He said that Wilson had the book, and that they were partners. He would say anything to get them to stop hitting him. The two thugs had taken his address book and ripped Wilson’s number from it. He kept telling them over and over that he was the one that could find what the pages described, hoping that this would save him. But they just told him to shut-up and called their boss. The big man relayed almost word for word what Stan told them. Then he listened for a bit, eyeing Stan lying on the floor, before hanging up.

After the big man flipped the cell phone closed, he made a hand signal to his partner who stood behind Stan, and then, suddenly, the lights went out. He woke in this trunk being bumped off the hinges and the wheel wells. Stan knew his fate now. He had no weapon, no avenue of escape, no physical ability and...no hope. The beating had been horrendous. He was hurt badly, maybe dying already. He was getting weaker by the second, falling into despair. He knew that he was dead. He decided to just go back to that time when he and Debbie were young and she was wearing his class ring. He made up his mind to do this. It was a lot better than letting them kill him. He would just take matters into his own hands. So, he closed his eyes and faded off into oblivion.

* * * *

Fifteen minutes later, the car stopped and the trunk was opened. The old white Oldsmobile Cutlass was stopped on an access road lined by a heavy windbreak of poplar trees. A new model Buick pulled up behind it and stopped. When coupled with the heavily leaved trees, the tall brown corn rows effectively hid the two cars from any of the houses in the distance. The two men now stood looking down at the mangled body. The smaller of the two was called, Win Irwin. He looked at the bigger man named Terry O’Loughlin and raised his voice. Hey, Terry! He glanced back at the body. I think da fucker’s already dead. He ain’t breath’n."

The big man bent over and looked closely at the heavily bruised and bloody corpse. He then rose back up and looked around. They were deep in the middle of the large corn field. The corn was last year’s field and hadn’t been harvested—left to stand over winter. The sun danced brightly off the golden brown stalks. Across the way, an