Read Wife of Moon Online

Authors: Margaret Coel

Wife of Moon (18 page)

Vicky was jotting down the miles as he worked. After a moment, he jerked the first map out from beneath the other file and went back to sliding the ruler around and calling out the miles. Vicky kept taking notes. The miles were almost exactly the same. It would take a legal description of the Evans Ranch to verify that Carston Evans had inherited his wife's lands. What she had was close enough, though. Close enough to know the truth.

“What's this prove?” Foxworthy asked. “There's any number of ways that Evans could have accumulated the land. He could have purchased land from the Sharp Nose family,” he went on, his voice growing fainter, as if he realized the weakness of his own argument.

“He could have killed his wife,” Vicky said. “Tell me, Louis. How many other Arapaho women were killed for their land? You have the records.”

“What difference would it make? Nobody's going to be getting any lands back after a century. Nobody cares, Vicky.”

“I think Senator Evans cares.”

The superintendent dipped his head into one hand and rubbed at his eyes. “Jesus, Vicky. You know what kind of dynamite you could be setting off here? Evans is a powerful man. There's no telling what he might do if he thought you were going to expose something like this.”

“There's no telling what the man has done already,” she said.

27

HE WAS RUNNING
, chasing after the figure that ran ahead, disappearing as soon as he caught up. A specter dissolving away from him, like an image dissolving from a photograph.

Father John sat up in bed. Startled, only half awake. It must be mid-morning. Sunlight streamed past the curtains, and the bedroom felt warm and stuffy. He was a man obsessed, he thought. Obsessed by a woman in shock and grief—alone outside the house of a murdered man, a woman he couldn't comfort.

He'd driven over to Vera's and stayed with her until daylight had begun to glow in the windows and the sky beyond had turned pink and gold. Vera, sobbing on the sofa, and he, trying to find words of comfort, finally letting the stillness settle in, more comforting than words. Gradually relatives and friends had arrived until the living room was crowded with people standing about, occupying every chair. He'd driven back to the mission, the moon still faintly visible in
a sky that had changed into milky blue, and fallen into an exhausted half-sleep, the unwanted dreams crashing over him.

He got out of bed, showered, and shaved. In the kitchen, he made himself a couple of pieces of toast, aware of the washing machine rumbling in the basement and Elena scurrying about with a dust mop. She'd make him some oatmeal, she said, reminding him that breakfast was three hours earlier. He waved away the offer, and washed the toast down with strong, lukewarm coffee.

Ten minutes later, he was in the administration building, passing the door to his own office, on his way down the corridor to Father Damien's office. The other priest was at the desk, head bent sideways into a phone call. Father John swung a wood chair around and straddled it backward. He waited until the call ended and Damien hung up.

“You've heard about T.J.?” Father John nodded at the phone. The moccasin telegraph had probably been working for hours.

Damien raked his fingers across his thinning hair—a gesture of discouragement. “First his wife. Now the poor man himself. It's terrible, John. T.J. was a dedicated councilman. He struck me as someone with a far-reaching vision, and he had the courage to stand up against his own people, not to mention a powerful man like Senator Evans, over the methane controversy. The senator's campaign people are making noises about canceling the senator's visit.” The other priest had the pained look of a man watching the barn he'd been constructing start to collapse.

“What do they say?” Father John gestured with his head toward the phone.

“A lot of mumbo jumbo about the senator's busy schedule and pressing demands. A fool can read between the lines. Quinn is convinced that the senator could be in danger. Did I think that the murders of a councilman and his wife were coincidence when the councilman had been helping to plan the senator's visit? I explained
that the murders, as tragic as they are, don't have anything to do with the mission. I told him that even if he decides that the senator shouldn't go to Fort Washakie, there's no reason to cancel the visit here. Catherine's already lined up dozens of people. The TV cameras will be here. Finally Quinn agreed to stop by this afternoon and take another look. Okay, I admit . . .” Damien shrugged. “It took another phone call from Dad. Frankly, the murders aren't the only thing Quinn's worried about. He keeps asking me if we've had any word on Christine. What have you heard?”

Father John shook his head. Then he said, “Tell me, Damien. Did Christine go to any of the meetings with T.J. at the tribal offices?”

“You think there's a connection?” The other priest jerked backward, as if he'd gotten an electrical shock. “Look, John,” he said, patting the side of his head now. “We had two meetings, both unsuccessful. T.J. and the other councilman, Savi Crowthorpe, kept insisting there wouldn't be enough time for the senator to visit schools and tribal offices and still get over to St. Francis. So I asked Christine to come along for another meeting. You know how excited she was . . . is.” He corrected himself. “. . . about the Curtis exhibit. I figured she could convince the councilmen that the senator would enjoy the photographs.”

“That was it? One meeting?”

“It went pretty well,” Damien said, nodding and glancing about the office. “I was going over some details with Savi afterward, and Christine and T.J. walked out together. They were still talking in the parking lot when I came out. I'm sure that the councilmen suggested the mission to the senator's people, even though nothing happened. Not until Dad called the senator himself.”

Father John stood up and turned the chair back into place, only half aware of the phone ringing and the other priest picking up. He had the connection now, Father John was thinking. He could imagine the scenario: Christine and T.J. talking in the parking lot. She saying that she was looking for Sharp Nose descendants, and T.J. telling her
about Denise, a woman who loved history and who most likely had some old photographs. His theory was correct. He felt a heaviness coming over him, like a weight pressing down.

“For you.” Damien pointed the receiver in his direction.

“I'll take it in my office,” Father John said.

 

THE WOMAN'S VOICE
coming down the line was high-pitched and stiff. “Linda Novak, returning your call,” she said. It was a half-second before Father John recognized the name of the Curtis expert at the West Wind Gallery in Denver.

“How is the exhibit going?” she asked, after he'd thanked her for getting back to him.

He told her the exhibit had brought in a lot of visitors, and the woman went on—a softer tone now, obviously settling into a familiar rhythm—about how the prints had been pulled from original copper plates etched a hundred years ago at a studio in Boston. How they were almost indistinguishable from the first prints made, except, of course, with the latest technology, they were even more beautiful.

Father John waited for a break, then told her that the curator had been missing since last Monday and that the police and FBI were investigating her disappearance.

“Missing!” She shouted the word. “I hope Eric isn't involved. I'm sure you know, Father, that Christine is married to a brilliant man who is very controlling.” She hesitated, as if she were considering whether to go on. A couple of beats passed before she said, “Christine told me that she'd left Eric again. Oh, I didn't take it seriously. She's left him before, but she's always gone back. Of course I promised not to tell Eric where she was if he called the gallery, which he did about a day later. I figured she needed some time to sort things out. Shall I send someone to dismount the exhibit after Senator Evans's visit?”

The question took Father John by surprise. “How did you know about the visit?” he asked.

“It's all Christine talked about the last time she called,” the woman said. “It was an opportunity to show the Curtis photographs to the next president of the United States. There would be media attention, which will only increase the demand for Curtis's work. Naturally, I was very pleased at the prospect of new customers for the gallery.”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Father John began, “how valuable an original Curtis photograph might be.”

“Original? As I said, Father, the photos in the exhibit were printed from the original copper . . .”

“Vintage Curtis photographs,” he said.

“Well, that would depend.” A keyboard clacked on the other end. “Curtis shot forty thousand images, which have been copied and reproduced for years. That doesn't mean the earlier prints are necessarily the most valuable. The price is pegged to the subject. Show me a vintage print of Chief Joseph or Geronimo or the Canyon de Chelly, and I could get you twenty thousand dollars. But an unknown subject, well . . .” The clacking stopped. “Anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand. Naturally, buyers would want proof that the photographs dated from Curtis's own time.”

“Did Christine mention finding any vintage photographs on the reservation?” Father John asked.

Another pause before the woman said, “I'm sure if she had made any such find, she would have told me. I suppose it's always possible that Curtis left prints with Indian people. They'd be of historic interest, even if they weren't particularly valuable. Of course, a real find would be the original glass plate negatives that Curtis exposed. Hardly likely that he left any of those behind. He always carried the exposed plates out of the field. Unfortunately, the plates were later destroyed. Smashed, I'm afraid.”

“What are we talking about?” Father John said. “How valuable would a glass plate be?”

The clacking resumed again. After a moment, the woman said, “It
would be a rare find indeed. Collectors are willing to pay a great deal of money for unusual items of historic and artistic interest. At the very least, an exposed plate would show the exact image that Curtis had captured. Depending upon the image, a glass plate might command thousands of dollars. The more significant the image, the more valuable the plate would be. None of the details would have been changed or manipulated, which can happen in the developing process. Are you saying that you've come across Curtis plates? We'd certainly be interested in representing you, if you wish to sell.”

“I'm afraid they're not mine to sell,” Father John said. Then he added, “If they exist.” He thanked the woman, hung up, and stared at the phone. Dear Lord. What had Christine stumbled into? Tracking vintage photographs, coming upon exposed glass plates? Where? In T.J.'s and Denise's shed? Stored for a century?

And all the time running from Eric Loftus, a man who owned an art gallery. A man who would know the value of glass plates exposed by Edward S. Curtis.

From outside came the hum of an engine, the sound of gravel crunching under tires. The engine cut off. A moment later, cool air swooshed across the office and the front door slammed shut. There was the tap of footsteps on the floor. Father John looked up as Vicky walked into the office.

28


WHAT HAVE YOU
found?” Father John asked, nodding toward the brown envelope in Vicky's hand.

She pulled out a thin stack of papers and arranged them in some kind of order. “Take a look,” she said, laying one sheet on the desk in front of him.

Father John took in the words at the top of the page:
Allotment of Bashful Woman.

“Read the legal description,” Vicky said with so much urgency in her voice that he lifted his eyes and looked at her a moment before he skimmed through the lines of black text.

“Here's a legal description of the adjacent forty acres that Sharp Nose left to his daughter. He left more land to his daughter than to his sons because, he said, a woman would need it more.” Vicky set another sheet on top of the first. “I got the first description from the agency. And I got the legal description of the Evans Ranch from the county clerk's office. The descriptions are identical.”

Father John was still reading through the text, comparing one to the other. A perfect match. After a moment, he glanced up. “You think Evans was responsible for his wife's death?”

“I think that two hundred acres of the best ranchland in the area is a very big motive.”

“He was already running a successful ranch on her land, Vicky. Why would he want her dead?”

“He married a white woman after Bashful's death, didn't he? He went on to establish a prominent Wyoming family—a white family. His grandson is a United States senator who intends to become the next president. Do you think Carston Evans could have made that possible with an Indian wife? She would have held him back at every step. What doors do you think would have opened to half-breed children?”

Vicky had crossed her arms and was hugging herself. He could see that beneath her tan jacket, she was trembling. “Carston Evans saw his chance, John. Curtis was on the reservation, taking photographs, trying to capture the old ways, such as enemy warriors attacking an Arapaho village. The only problem was, there weren't any more enemy warriors. And there weren't any more villages. Curtis created the warriors, the village, and the attack. The perfect opportunity for Bashful to die, except that he knew there wasn't enough money to pay an Arapaho to kill a chief's daughter. Evans had to do it himself, then he testified against Thunder and the others.” Vicky threw her head back and appealed to the ceiling. “The word of a white man against the word of three Indians? Who do you think the magistrate believed?”

She walked over to the window and back, then retraced her steps. He followed her with his eyes. Outside, the cottonwoods, lined in frost, were dancing in the breeze.

“He probably killed their child,” Vicky said, facing him again. “What did the newspapers say about the child?”

Father John shook his head.

“A half-breed child.” Vicky traced the circle again. “Anything might have happened to the child on the ranch, and no one would have known. Carston Evans committed murder and got away with it.” She shook her head in wonder. “He's still getting away with it.”

Father John walked around the desk and perched on the edge. “Maybe not,” he said, trying to fit the jumble of disconnected pieces into a coherent, logical sequence.

“What are you saying?”

It was clear now, the images chasing through his mind. “The three warriors rode toward the village, and Curtis snapped a picture. The warriors swooped down into the village, and Curtis took another picture, then another as fast as he could insert new plates. He had an assistant, which means he probably worked pretty fast. He could have taken several pictures in a few seconds. But the only photo that survived is ‘Before the Attack.' What happened to the others?”

Vicky was staring at him, her lips parted as if she'd exhaled her last breath and couldn't take another.

“Curtis left after the attack,” Father John hurried on. “Suppose he only took the first plates he'd exposed and left the others behind as evidence of what had really happened. Suppose the Sharp Nose family found the other plates.”

Vicky shook her head. “If that were true, they would have taken them to the magistrate. The warriors wouldn't have been hanged.”

She had a point. Father John kneaded his fingers into his forehead. “Okay,” he said. “What if the family didn't find the negatives in time to save the warriors?”

“They would have killed Evans themselves,” Vicky said. “They would have avenged Bashful's death.”

“Maybe they chose not to seek revenge, Vicky. Maybe there was some reason they chose to let the man get away with murder.”

Father John waited a moment, giving her time to absorb this new idea before he said, “Christine could have found a glass plate with the image of Carston Evans shooting his wife.”

“What difference would it make?” Vicky asked, not taking her eyes from his. “The past is dead, John. It's forgotten.”

“Look,” he began, and he told her what he'd learned from the Curtis expert at the West Wind Gallery. “Any Curtis glass plate negative might be valuable,” he said, “but a Curtis negative that captured the image of a senator's grandfather shooting his Arapaho wife would be very valuable. Christine would know the value. So would Eric Loftus.” He paused, another image forming in his mind. “Loftus might have found his wife here and seen her with T.J. He might have figured out that she'd located vintage photos. Maybe he even talked to Denise or T.J. and found out about the negatives.”

“You're saying that the man might have killed his own wife? Just like Evans?” Vicky gave a little laugh, edged with bitterness. “Wife has something that husband wants. Wife has to die.”

“No,” Father John heard himself say. That wasn't it. “I think Christine is still running.” He could still see the hunter's gleam in Loftus's eyes. “Loftus is looking for her,” he said.

Vicky swung around and started pacing again. “It makes sense that the glass plates were passed down to Denise,” she said. Pacing, glancing back at him over one shoulder. “Denise loved history. The shed in back of the house was crammed with old things. The glass plates could have been in the shed. T.J. said he knew who had killed his wife. He said
they
had killed her. It all makes sense, except . . .”

“Except?”

Vicky was looking beyond him, as if she were trying to pluck something out of her memory. “He said he didn't have the evidence. That means the plates were no longer in the shed. Loftus and whatever goon he had brought with him must have taken them when they killed Denise.”

Father John got to his feet and came around the desk. He punched one fist into the palm of his other hand. “No,” he said. “If Loftus had the plates, he wouldn't have gone to Christine's place and torn everything apart. No,” he said again, willing the pieces to fit into a
coherent image in his head. “He could've gone to T.J.'s intending to find the plates, but instead he found Denise at home, and Denise would have done anything to protect the images of the ancestors.”

“She would have died . . .” Vicky said, her voice low, trailing off into a whisper.

“Somehow she must have managed to convince Loftus that T.J. had put the plates in a safe place. Maybe she even showed him the vacant spot in the shed where the plates had been stored. Whatever happened, he believed her. He could have forced her into the bedroom and shot her, making it look like suicide. Then he would have gone to Christine's, figuring that T.J. had given the plates to the curator.”

Vicky had stopped pacing. She was staring at him again. “My God, John. Suppose you're right. Suppose T.J. did give the plates to Christine, but she didn't keep them at the house. She kept them with her.”

Other images now: Christine picking up the briefcase at the mission, holding it close, as if whatever it contained was precious. And Loftus, determined to find his wife, willing to do anything, even torture and kill a man, to find her.

“If Christine has the plates,” he said, “she's in serious danger. Loftus won't stop until he finds her.”

Vicky began gathering up the sheets of paper and stuffing them back into the envelope. “I have to take this to Gianelli,” she said.

“Call me after you talk to him,” Father John said, but she was already across the office and through the door, her footsteps receding in the corridor.

Other books

Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker
The Tale-Teller by Susan Glickman
The New Noah by Gerald Durrell
Butting In by Zenina Masters