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Secrets and Lies
Warning: Part 7 contains graphic descriptions of child abuse and references to molestation.
The night falls gentle upon the earth but hard within the heart of a terror-filled child. There is no peace this night but a sentry-like awareness of every noise, every movement within the house.
A silent prayer is taken upon the wings of the mourning dove who waters the ground below with its tears watching puddles form where each drop lands forming a new ocean of sorrow. There is no peace this night.
The tender child draws itself into a tiny ball as if to disappear …footsteps are heard in the hall "please no" is whispered, "please go" is prayed as the doorknob quietly turns. There is no peace this night.
The dove soars higher, shaking sobs within its breast penetrating clouds, gliding on wind seeking its source looking for the light knowing there will be no peace this night. The shadow falls across clenched fists, tousled curls, drawn up limbs, eyes squeezed shut against the scene about to unfold scarcely breathing, knowing there is no peace this night.
Feverishly winging toward the rainbow of light and celestial destination, the dove contracts and gasps with the pain of its little charges' spirit and delivers the message To the being of Light & Beauty who swoops down to grasp the hand of the child and deliver its pain to another dimension to be stored until the child is stronger and able to face the reality of evil on the earth.
The angel cradles her charge, gently rocking, while tears stream down her face...mixing with the silent tears of the child. The dove quietly sings its grievous song of mourning for the lost innocence of this precious tot. There is no peace this night… There is no peace.... by Pamela Prentiss-Harrison
Kate’s funeral was held the next day. There had been a great deal of fighting over her final resting place before the council had backed up Joseph…Red Moon had chosen to leave her people and marry a white man. She should be buried in a white man’s cemetery.
Sun Walker’s eyes had narrowed dangerously and he’d walked out. Joseph swallowed heavily, knowing that kowtowing to his wife’s demands had possibly just cost him dearly. The last thing he wanted was an enemy in his father in law.
John on the other hand was oblivious to it all…The grayness had crowded in almost immediately after his mother’s passing. He blindly followed his grandfather to the ceremony at the lodge, wearing traditional buckskins.
He’d been gently guided by his grandparents to the gravesite and urged to throw a handful of dirt on the casket by the minister as was the white custom but his mind was focused on nothing. The dark eyes were blank and vague and a slow rock accompanied every waking moment as he settled into that place where nothing hurt.
The men from station 28 stood at the entrance to the apparatus bay as the procession had passed. They held their hats in hand over their hearts as they went by but their eyes were on one small boy. Tears of sorrow rolled uninhibitedly down their cheeks. Why did life have to be so damn unfair sometimes?
“Poor kid,” Hailey murmured sadly.
“I’ll try to catch him before they go back…Let him know he can always come here,” Rigsby said quietly.
They waited patiently until the service was over and the group began to leave the cemetery. Rigsby stepped out to stop Daniel and John.
“Sun Walker,” he greeted the man softly. “Johnny?” The boy didn’t look up and Rigsby noted the look in the dark eyes. The boy was in shock…The man’s heart broke at the sight. “I am sorry for your loss.”
“You knew my daughter…My grandson?” He questioned as his eyes narrowed.
“Yes sir…Johnny came here regularly after school when his mom was at work.” Daniel’s eyes dropped to his grandson…They’d both kept that little secret but this was something he could correct…Right now.
“He will not be back.”
“Well…That’s what I wanted to talk to you about…I just wanted the boy to know that he was still welcome here anytime.”
“You misunderstand…John will not be back. He will be forbidden to come here as he was before but this time Red Moon will not be here to encourage his foolish dreams of being a fireman.”
“They weren’t foolish sir,” Rigsby said angrily. “John is a natural…He’d be a fine fire fighter some day.”
“I said he is forbidden…He will be raised as he should have been before…Indian. He will work the ranch as I do… as the rest of his people do. Do not encourage him.” Sun Walker gave John a push and the boy stumbled away briefly before regaining his balance. He shuffled ahead of his grandfather without even looking up.
The other’s gathered around their captain. “What are we gonna do Cap?” Spencer asked despairingly.
Rigsby shook his head sadly. “There’s nothing we can do boys. The grandfather’s his guardian now.”
“This just isn’t right,” Hailey muttered. The rest agreed but there was nothing they could do but watch them walk away and pray that the spirit they’d seen in the boy wouldn’t be crushed forever by these people.
Consciousness seeped back into John’s mind and while John was always aware of the presence of people and things around him when he was away he seldom responded to them unless it was a threat to his existence in his safe place…Then it was simply to push them away.
He was never able to remember the events during that time but he almost always remembered what sent him there. Color and sound returned as he lifted his head and looked around the room…Finally recognizing his surroundings.
He was in his mother’s bedroom…His dark eyes flew to the place where his mother usually slept. The bed was empty. Tears welled in his eyes and racking sobs erupted from deep within.
She was gone…It wasn’t just some horrible nightmare…It had been real. She’d left him behind just as his father had…Oh God…What was he gonna do? He had no one…At least no one who loved him.
“Stop that crying,” a harsh voice demanded. He glanced up into the annoyed face of his Uncle Joseph and his Aunt Lacee. “Weakling child,” he slurred drunkenly as he leaned against the door frame. “What are we supposed to do with such a useless boy,” he sneered as he swayed into the room.
John desperately tried to stop the flow of tears, wiping them away with the back of his hand. “I’m not weak and useless,” he sniffled out.
Joseph’s eyes narrowed dangerously as he swaggered toward him. John slowly pushed himself to his feet to face him. The man’s hand lashed out backhanding the boy across the face. John’s head reeled…staggered from the blow. His slight frame connected with the wall.
His hand flew to his face in shocked horror. No one had ever hit him like that, not even his Aunt Lacee had been that brutal.
“DO NOT EVER contradict me again Ó’xevé’ho’e,” he barked angrily. Blood trickled from John’s lip as he stared at the man in mute disbelief. “If you ever talk back to me again, you will be living in the street…Understand.” John nodded fearfully. “Things have changed now boy,” he growled.
“Red Moon is dead and we are now stuck with you,” Lacee added, coming up behind her husband. “It would have been better if you had died in her place.” John flinched at the hateful words but at the moment he actually agreed with the woman. “It is your fault she is dead,” Lacee sneered in the distraught child’s face.
“This was her punishment for marrying a white man and bringing her half breed weakling into the world,” Joseph accused.
John’s mouth trembled under the onslaught of hate filled words being hurled at him from his mother’s sister.
“Do not ever forget what we are doing for you…We owe you nothing,” she finished scathingly.
John shook his head in mute agreement as his cousin Thomas entered the room. “Is John awake?” He began…His mouth dropped open in shocked surprise at the reddened hand print and the trickle of blood on the face of his frightened, newly orphaned cousin.
He ran to his side and wrapped the child in his arms…John went rigid instantly and for a moment Thomas was afraid he’d slip away once again but then John seemed to recover and huddled against the young man who seemed to be the only friend he now had.
Thomas shot a glare at his parents. “Mother…Father…He has just lost his mother. Can you not let him alone?” He demanded angrily.
“Do not defend him…He is disrespectful and rude. He needs to learn his place here,” Joseph growled.
“His place here? He is your nephew not a dog.”
“He is no nephew to me,” Lacee sneered back. “He is a burden left behind for us to deal with…He must learn to be grateful.”
Thomas’ shocked eyes stared back at them in horror. He’d never known his parents were capable of this kind of hatefulness.
“How can you say such things about your sister’s only child,” he asked in stunned disbelief.
“He is a half breed…Not a true member of the people. He has been nothing but trouble to Red Moon since the day he was born and now he is our problem to deal with. He is fortunate that we will allow him to stay because father demands it…Besides, no one else will have him. Even his father’s family did not want him.”
Thomas shook his head in disgust at his parents. “I would take him if I could,” he replied angrily, knowing it was impossible at the moment. He would soon be married and would be living with his in laws for at least a year. He couldn’t bring John with him.
“I’m sure Wind in the Grass would appreciate that,” Lacee taunted her son. “You are lucky her parents accepted you as a son in law because of him.”
“They never mentioned it mother…It is only his own family that cannot see beyond it. Come John…I will take you to namêšéme.”
“Do not trouble father with him…He has enough grief to deal with over Red Moon’s death as well as the lies told to him by both of them.” Lacee’s hand shot out to grip the boy’s arm in a bruising hold as she yanked him toward her.
John’s eyes widened fearfully as she leaned down close to his face. “Do not ever go back to that fire house again…Do you understand?” She demanded, giving him a shake.
John stared defiantly back, remembering his promise to his mother not to let them steal his dream. Her hand drew back at his silence. John ducked away, throwing his hands over his face in terror at the blows he knew would follow.
Her hands began to rain punishing slaps to whatever parts of his body were unprotected until John finally cried out. “I will not go there,” he whimpered in defeat. He may have yielded but he had no intention of staying away. His promise to his mother came first. They couldn’t steal his dream.
Thomas had stood in dumbstruck, disbelieving silence at the fury his mother had just unleashed on a defenseless child. How could she be so cruel?
“Come John,” he muttered trying to help the boy to his feet but John pulled away fearfully…His eyes watching his aunt warily.
“Do not look at me with those insolent eyes,” she warned, pointing a finger at his face. John flinched in fright and lowered his eyes obediently. She stood up with a satisfied smirk that she’d successfully brought the boy to heel. She landed one final blow. “There will be no ‘Right of Passage’ for you either.”
“MOTHER?” Thomas gasped. “It is his right…”
John’s mouth trembled and he lifted tear filled eyes to his aunt. “He is not a true Indian my son…”
“And we will not have embarrass us with his nonsense about becoming a fire man either,” Joseph added.
John sniffed back the threatening tears…Is this what would be left to him…To live with this hate? His aunt’s words came back to him and at that moment he wished she’d been correct. He wished he was dead.
John knew his parents would frown in disapproval at the thought and reached up and wiped the tears and blood from his face. Lacee might be able to strip his dignity from him but he wouldn’t yield his dream…She just didn’t know it yet.
Thomas took John to Little Fox, afraid that his grandfather might not be sympathetic. John and his mother had kept the fact that he was going to the Fire Station in Lame Deer regularly a secret and Sun Walker was still pretty angry.
Thomas understood why they’d done it but grandfather was angry with them both and with Red Moon gone, John was the only one he could vent it on. None of that mattered to Thomas right now…The boy had just lost his only remaining parent and he needed to be cuddled and soothed not beaten and humiliated.
Little Fox proved to be a good choice. Her eyes widened in horror before narrowing once again in anger. She pulled the child into her arms. John was tense and obviously still frightened but he allowed the woman to hold him against her in fear that any resistance would be punished but he stoically refused to shed a tear.
His small mouth was set firmly…None of these people would ever call him weak again. He would never let them make him cry just so they could berate him for it. He shoved the hurt and the pain down deep inside where he couldn’t feel it.
“My strong little warrior,” she murmured as she laid her cheek against his sable hair.
“I’m not a warrior and I am not strong…I am a weak and useless child,” he whispered, barely audible.
Thomas stood with his arms folded in disgust at his parent’s action as he watched the woman soothe the boy. “My parents beat him and told him he was weak for crying,” Thomas muttered softly.
She nodded her head as her gnarled, old fingers cradled the boy’s chin. She lifted his face but the dark eyes wouldn’t meet hers. “You are a warrior my precious one…Proud and strong as your father was. Full of honor and gentle as was Red Moon. Do not let them take that from you.”
She gave the boy a sorrowful look. “This will not be the last time you will see these trials and hurts…I see many of them before you though some are clouded…But I also see you victorious. You hold on to that John. Your life will not always be this way. There will be someone…Someone very special who will change your life…I promise you.”
John nodded and laid his head back against her but he still hadn’t met her eyes. She shook her head in sorrow at the defeated look in the young boys face. “Oh Spirit…What have they done to you?” She whispered sorrowfully.
John fought valiantly and managed to hold back the threatening tears. His breaths hitched but the burn behind his eyes finally eased. Pain was washing over him now and the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caught up to him.
His dark eyes finally slid closed and he let sleep claim him.
John was shaken awake several hours later. His eyes fluttered briefly before snapping open to look up into Sun Walker’s angry eyes. John cringed fearfully, his hands flying up to cover his face…Fully expecting the assault on him to continue from his grandfather now that his mother wasn’t here to protect him.
Sun Walkers face darkened even more as he glanced at Little Fox, who stood a short distance away with her arms folded over her chest. Her raised eyebrow was all he needed to hear the ‘I told you so’ she was directing at him.
The bruises on the boy’s face were enough evidence that the old woman and Thomas had been telling the truth.
He reached down to push John’s hands away from his face. “Hová’âháne,” he whispered. “E’áhanόhéneve,”(Don’t hit me).
“I will not hit you John,” he assured the child quietly. It was the first time that Little Fox or John had ever heard him use that gentle tone. “Come…I will take you home.”
“No,” John pleaded fearfully.
“It’s alright…I will talk to Lacee and Joseph. This will not happen again.
John wanted desperately to believe that but he knew how badly Lacee and Joseph despised him. Yet he couldn’t refuse his grandfather either. He had nowhere to go and he was at their mercy now.
He tossed a glance toward Little Fox who looked back sadly but he knew she could do no more for him. He slowly pulled himself to his feet.
Sun Walker saw the pain filled movements and reached out to lift John’s shirt, scowling as the boy flinched. A multitude of bruises decorated the boys back and shoulders. “Come…,” he snarled as his anger grew.
He took the boys arm and half dragged him from the house. John was terrified that he was angry at him but he had no choice but stumble along beside him.
The door to Joseph and Lacee’s house was thrown open sometime later. It rebounded off the wall, startling the couple within. Sun Walker pulled John through the now open doorway behind him.
Lacee’s eyes widened at the rage on her father’s face as he shoved John toward her. “What call was there for this?” He snarled angrily as he gripped the boys chin and jerked his head up so they could see the bruises they’d left behind.
John’s eyes met Lacee’s for a moment and he saw the bitterness and hate reflected there. “He is insolent and argumentative. He thinks because he is half white that he is better than us," she sneered, voicing her own insecurities and not the boys. "He needed to be taught a lesson.”
Sun Walker’s eyes narrowed as she offered her explanation. “There are less violent ways of teaching daughter,” he shot back.
“He is in my home and I will not tolerate his arrogance father.”
“Then find another way,” he replied warningly. His eyes shifted to Joseph as the man squirmed in his seat nervously...His bloodshot eyes looking bleary and unfocused. “Do not lay another hand on my grandson,” he cautioned the younger man.
Joseph barely managed a frightened nod as Lacee bristled at the threatening tone of her father’s voice but she didn’t dare argue with him. Sun Walker could ruin Joseph on the council and Lacee was well aware of what their lives would be like without that prestigious position.
Her father threw a triumphant nod in their direction at the silence that greeted his words. Thinking he’d commanded their obedience, he gave John a push toward the couple as he turned and left.
Lacee’s furious eyes turned to the boy. John backed away. “How dare you run to Sun Walker and tell him your lies.”
“I didn’t,” he whispered in denial as the woman advanced toward him.
Her hand flashed to slap John’s cheek. He recoiled, throwing his hand up as he retreated from her. “If you ever tell him again I will not allow you to live here. You have no one else boy…Do not forget that. You will be in the street…Understand?”
“Yes,” he whimpered as she lashed out again to catch him on his shoulder, being careful not to leave anything visible for Sun Walker to see. She smiled at the boy’s submission as he cringed away and lowered his eyes. Maybe he was teachable after all.
John sat huddled in the corner for most of the night, afraid to move for fear he’d draw their attention …He knew at some point he must have nodded off but he didn’t stay asleep. Nightmares of his mother’s death and the beating he’d taken last night plagued his slumber, snapping him awake repeatedly.
Why had she left him…? Why couldn’t it have been him instead? He heard the hurtful words his aunt had flung at him echo through his brain. ‘It should have been you…You will never be anything but trouble.’ At the moment John whole heartedly agreed…He wished for death.
‘Do not think that way,’ flared in his mind. ‘Do not let them steal your dream.’ His mother’s voice whispered softly.
‘You’re stronger than any of them…Don’t disappoint me son,’ his father’s voice boomed. ‘You will be a fireman and you will save lives…Promise me you will live.’
“I promise,” the boy murmured softly to himself.
He finally fled the house before dawn and made his way to the ranch. Joseph and Lacee seldom went there and they certainly wouldn’t dare hurt him in front of his grandfather.
John ached all over and the bruises on his back and shoulders were colorful reminders of the day before. He knew the men would soon arrive to ride out to the herds. He knew that despite the pain he was in, his grandfather would still expect him to work, besides if he didn’t go on… Sun Walker might discover the new injuries and confront his aunt and uncle. All that would do was earn him another beating.
He set about his morning chores of grooming and saddling the horses, moving a bit slowly and painfully but still getting it done. He knew the other boy’s would soon be arriving to help. Just another week and a half and he’d be riding with the men, at least when he wasn’t in school that is.
He heard the voices of several other’s approaching and turned his face away so they wouldn’t see the bruises. He knew he couldn’t hide them forever but he was hoping to keep them out of sight at least until Sun Walker or one of the other adults arrived.
“Look who is here already,” his Cousin Ben’s voice sneered. “Already hard at work like a good little servant…”
John groaned in despair. Why did it have to be him and his friends?
“Aaa…bout ttt…time,” the other taunted, mimicking John’s occasional stutter. “After three ddd…days of being out of his mind,” he finished.
John’s face flushed in embarrassment. Everyone always referred to his ‘crazy spells’ and those lost moments and days but why couldn’t he remember them? What happened to him during those times?
“My náháa’e Lacee told my mother that he will not even get his momáhtáhévo’eétahe éšeeotse (Rite of Passage. Celebration of growing up)
John visibly flinched at the humiliating taunt but he still didn’t turn to face them. He almost sighed in defeat when he heard the stall door creak open behind him, knowing they were coming in. Sure enough, John felt a hard push, gasping in pain as the hands made contact with his already bruised back.
“What is the matter Ó’xevé’ho’e? We are talking to you…Look at us,” Ben demanded.
“Leave me alone,” John muttered quietly without turning around.
A hand closed painfully over his shoulder and he was spun around. Both of his tormentors gasped in shock before Ben grinned in delight at the black eye and puffy lip along with the vivid purplish bruise that ran along the high cheekbone.
“Náháa’e Lacee said she taught you a lesson,” he crowed. “I guess she meant it.”
John stood in silent defeat, knowing to fight back would only get him a further beating from these two and he knew his already battered body couldn’t take much more.
The sound of a loud thwack and a startled yelp from Ben stopped the torment. John’s dark eyes rose to see Sun Walker standing there, looking like a thunder cloud. “I see one of my grandsons is trying to get his work done…Why is the other standing about and doing nothing?”
“I…I…Mother said náháa’e Lacee taught….I mean…,” he finally sputtered to a halt, knowing anything he said at this point would only get him, his mother or his aunt in trouble.
“She beat a grieving child…No more,” Daniel snarled. “Get to work and leave him be.”
The two boys fled. John’s eyes shifted to his grandfather. “Néá’eše namêšéme,” (Thank you grandfather) he murmured.
“You did well not to show fear or to cry John,” he stated. “Never show your feelings to anyone or they can use them against you…They can break you and make you weak.”
“Héehe’e namêšéme,” he agreed. “Namêšéme…?” He began hesitantly. Sun Walker looked at him curiously. “Will I really not be allowed my momáhtáhévo’eétahe éšeeotse?” He questioned guardedly.
Sun Walker’s face hardened. “You and your mother lied to me…You were going to that fire house behind my back.” John opened his mouth to protest that they simply hadn’t told them…No one had ever really asked him. He hadn’t lied but Sun Walker’s look stopped him cold. “You will put that foolishness behind you and set your mind on what is here. The ranch will be your life now…Perhaps when you can accept it we will allow your momáhtáhévo’eétahe éšeeotse to take place.”
“It is my right to choose,” John protested.
“And it is now my right to refuse your childish choice,” he replied. “Drop it now and go back to work.”
Hurt spread across the young face looking up at him but John knew he’d lost the fight. “Héehe’e namêšéme,” he whispered in defeat.
John worked the rest of the day though his grandfather kept him close and watched him carefully to be sure no further injuries were inflicted on him. He left as the sun began to set. He was hungry and tired as he made his way toward his aunt’s home…It would never be his.
He pushed the door open and stepped inside. His grandfather was there with Lacee and Joseph. John hesitated in the doorway as their conversation stopped. They looked at him and while his grandfather’s eyes held a hint of sympathy, Lacee’s glittered maliciously.
John’s eyes fell on the object in his grandfather’s hands…The fire helmet that had been given to him by Hailey. Joseph held the fire truck his father had given him on his fifth birthday. Lacee held his mother’s turquoise and silver jewelry.
“What are you doing?” John asked with a worried frown.
“We are getting rid of these reminders of your foolishness,” Daniel replied.
“THOSE ARE MINE,” John shouted, moving to try and take them from their hands. “My daddy gave me that,” he protested. “Those are my mom’s.”
“Stop it John,” his grandfather growled, reaching out to grab the boy as he tried to snatch the truck from Joseph’s hands. John’s feet kicked out furiously as he fought for his freedom. His dark eyes watching in horror as the older man walked purposefully toward the fire place where the flames were dancing hungrily.
“NOOOO,” John wailed as he threw the truck in. The paint quickly began blacken as the metal twisted in the flames. John lashed out at his grandfather, earning a cuff on the back of his head for his trouble but it didn’t stop him as Joseph returned to take the helmet from Sun Walker as well.
“See what I mean father,” Lacee sneered. “The boy is spoiled and insolent,” she pointed out as John continued to fight. “This is payment for taking care of you,” she taunted, waving the jewelry in front of John’s face.
“No…,” He screamed.
“He’koom,” (Be Still) his grandfather snapped as the helmet joined the truck, which was now a twisted mass of blackened metal and melted rubber.
Tears of anguish poured down the child’s face as the only things he had left but the clothes in one drawer burned in the fire. He finally wilted in defeat as he realized they were beyond saving. They would leave him nothing.
John’s eyes were pools of sorrow as he looked up at his grandfather. “You will not keep me from my destiny,” he whispered. “Little Fox and my parents said so,” the defiant words slipped from his lips.
“You will stop speaking of this,” Sun Walker demanded. John shook his head stubbornly. They’d have to kill him first. The older man’s hand connected with the boys face in anger. John’s head reeled to the right and he stumbled away.
“You see father,” Lacee said gleefully. “He is proud and insolent… A wicked and disobedient child.”
Sun Walked moved toward him, his hand rose to strike again before he remembered doing the same thing to Red Moon thirteen years ago as she defiantly told him she would marry the white man. She’d run away and done that very thing that night. He looked down at her son as the child cringed in terror, shaking his head and still stubbornly refused to yield. He was all that was left of Red Moon and he didn’t want to lose John too which is why he didn’t want the boy to leave to follow his dream but he couldn’t tell the child that.
He lowered his hand and pulled the child to his feet. “You will obey me John,” he said calmly.
“I hate you,” the words muttered from the bleeding mouth. “I HATE YOU ALL…” John wept as he turned and ran from the house.
The words tore at Daniel’s soul…What had he just done? “JOHN,” he shouted after the fleeing child but he never stopped running.
John ran on, never slowing until he was miles from home. He finally stopped and rested his hands on his knee’s gasping painfully as he tried to draw breath.
He wanted to keep going but had to face the reality that his aunt so cheerfully reminded him of. He had nowhere to go. The weather was already turning cold and he had no money and nothing to eat and no way to get what he needed to even live off the land at this point.
Tears still streaked his cheeks and dried blood smeared his chin. The cut still oozed from where his grandfather’s hand had driven his teeth into his lip.
He had no one now…Even his grandfather had turned into a viper right before his eyes. How could he have let them do this? Even helped them…? Those things were all he’d had to remember his parents and his dream. His fingers reached into his pocket…Well…He did still have his father’s lucky green pen.
John sat on a large rock and propped his chin on his hand. What was he gonna do? Where could he go? He heaved a sigh of defeat, realizing that he had to go back eventually but not tonight.
He finally glanced around him and noticed where he was. Halfway to town…He’d avoided the road, running a path through the woods in case they’d come after him. None of the adults could outrun him and definitely not through the low slung branches and obstacles of the forest.
John finally climbed painfully to his feet and trudged on…He passed the caves he and his dad had explored a long time ago and though John wasn’t afraid of the dark, he really didn’t want to try and navigate his way through the cavern’s in blackness.
He finally approached the outskirts of town…It was dark and the only light was from the bright moon that shone overhead.
John kept going…He stopped briefly at the gates of the church and considered going inside to his mother’s grave but he didn’t know where it was and he’d never find it in the dark besides, he needed shelter from the cold.
His eyes settled on the fire station. Were his friends on duty tonight? He didn’t know and even if they were…Would they help him?
John moved stealthily toward it…Watching for any sign that his grandfather or Joseph and Lacee would have come to town looking for him. He tried to see in the window of the dayroom but it was frosted from the cold night air. The lights within beckoned warmly.
He tried the door but it was locked. He stood huddled outside, his arms hugging himself to try and stay warm. He finally slid down the wall and laid his head on his drawn up knees. Should he knock? What if it wasn’t B shift? Would they call the police on him? Tears burned behind his eyes but he blinked them away…John’s eyes were growing heavy as he shivered in the cold night air…Maybe he’d just freeze to death…At least he’d be with his parents and no one would hurt him anymore…John pushed the hurt and the memories of what they’d done to him down deep and let his dark eyes drift closed.
Captain Rigsby poured himself a new cup of coffee as his men sat around the Television they had all pitched in to buy. There was a rather silly show on about a talking horse and he shook his head as his crew chuckled at the inanity of it.
“Kids,” he muttered drily. He opened the back door and stood in stunned surprise as a small boy almost tumbled through it. The huddled and shivering child wore nothing but a stained shirt and jeans. He didn’t even have a sweater. “Hailey,” he bellowed setting the mug down and scooped the boy into his arms. The child’s head fell back as he lifted him and only then did the Captain recognize the boy. “Johnny,” he gasped.
Hailey, Spencer and the other’s came running. “Oh my God Cap…What happened to him?” Spence muttered, taking in the bruised and battered features of their young friend.
“Someone’s sure beat the hell out him,” Rigsby growled. “Get me a couple of blankets. Hailey…Make some hot chocolate or something…We need to warm him up…NOW.”
Blake ran to grab some blankets from the dorm while Evan got the stove started. Spencer came back with a damp rag to clean the blood from the boys face.
John stirred in Rigsby’s lap as the man held him against him. Blake returned with the blankets and they wrapped the boy snugly within them. The brown eyes fluttered open and looked about him fearfully…Finally relaxing as he realized where he was. He looked up into concerned gray eyes.
“It’s okay Johnny…You’re alright now. We’ll take care of you,” he assured the boy as he held him closer.
His men exchanged glances. Anger was prevalent that someone would hurt their little friend like this but they were also touched by their gruff Captains tenderness toward the child. He took the cloth from Spence and began to wipe the child’s face.
“Can you tell me what happened Johnny?” He asked softly. John shook his head fearfully. “Do you remember who hurt you?” Again the dark head shook in a negative. Rigsby didn’t know if he couldn’t remember or was simply too afraid to tell him the truth.
“What do we do Cap,” Hailey asked worriedly, his eyes glued to the child.
“Go get the sheriff,” Spencer suggested.
“NO,” John gasped. “Ccc…can’t go bbb…back…I can’t ggg…go back,” he whimpered.
“Why Johnny…? Why can’t you? Did your grandfather do this?” Rigsby asked.
John nodded... “My náháa’e and Hešeho too,” he whispered forlornly.
Cap looked at the others questioningly. “I think it means his aunt and uncle,” Fisher explained.
“Wicked, useless child,” he murmured. “Insolent half breed…”
Rigsby’s temper soared. “Bastards,” he mumbled half to himself. How could they hurt a child…any child but this one in particular was a sore point. They’d all grown very fond of the boy.
The others looked equally as horrified. “Here Cap,” Evan said, handing him the hot cocoa.
“Johnny…I want you to try and drink this okay…It’ll help warm you up.” He held the steaming mug to John’s lips and let the boy sip it. John drank it gratefully. He was so cold…He missed the warm California climate that he’d learned to love. It was never this cold there.
The shivering eased but Rigsby continued to hold the child tightly. “Tell me what happened.”
“They burned them?” John whimpered forlornly.
Captain Rigsby threw back the covers and took John’s hands, turning them over carefully. They looked alright. He lifted the child’s shirt and gasped in fury at the bruises on the boy but his eyes still scanned the thin body for any sign of burns. Finding nothing, he breathed a sigh of relief though anger still raged that he’d been beaten so badly.
He flipped the cover around the boy. “What did they burn Johnny?” He questioned gently.
“My fire truck my daddy gave me…My helmet. She took my mom’s jewelry that my daddy gave her,” he sniffed. Rigsby closed his eyes sympathetically and hugged the boy tighter.
“God Cap…What kind of people are they?” Hailey muttered. Who’d take the only things the boy had to remind him of his parents?
“Evil ones,” he snapped angrily. “Okay Johnny. I think what you need right now is a warm bath and a nice soft bed to sleep in…Sound good?”
John nodded. “I’m hungry,” he whispered.
“While you’re in the shower, Dave will make you a sandwich okay?”
The boy nodded and didn’t protest as Rigsby stood up and carried him into the latrine before setting him gently on his feet. He adjusted the water and helped the child remove his clothes, grimacing as the bruises were completely revealed. “In you go son,” he said as he urged the boy under the soothing stream of hot water.
He left the locker room and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. “Fisher…You got a twelve year old right?”
The man nodded. “He’s a lot bigger than John though.”
Rigsby nodded. “Go to the store huh…See if you can find the boy a pair of warm pajamas.”
“You gonna let him stay Cap?” Hailey asked hopefully.
“Yeah…For the night… I’ll have to get word to his family that he’s here but not until morning. The kid needs a good night’s rest and I need to think about what I plan to say to them.”
“Maybe it’ll do them some good to worry over where he is all night,” Blake said with a scowl. The others nodded their agreement.
Rigsby returned to the locker room as John stepped from the shower. He stood wet and shivering as the older man wrapped him in a towel, drying the child’s long, dark hair gently. Fisher returned a short time later and handed the man a bag.
“Thanks,” he replied as he pulled the brand new Pajama’s from the bag and help the boy get dressed. John was still moving painfully and Rigsby scooped the child into his arms, vowing silently to put the fear of God into the boy’s family in the morning.
“Let’s get some food into you and get you to bed okay?” John nodded.
The crew sat around him as he wolfed the sandwich down and sipped at the milk they set before him. The child acted as though he were starving. None of them realized he’d been over forty eight hours without food.
Afterward…John sat comfortably ensconced between Hailey and Spencer as they watched the television. John had seen films in the movie house before but his family had never had a TV, even in California and he was fascinated by it but still…It wasn’t long before the exhausted child slipped into sleep.
Rigsby smiled as he lifted the boy in his arms and carried him into the dormitory and laid him on one of the bunks before pulling the cover’s over him. John stirred briefly and he sat on the edge of the bed until the child drifted back into sleep.
The others came in soon after. Cap was still there and they had to smile at his choice of bunks for the boy…The one right next to his own. They all fell into a troubled sleep.
Sun Walker rousted half the men of the reservation including both of his sons in laws to search for John. They’d seen the boy run into the woods but so far none of them had found him and the old man was getting worried.
The boy had only been wearing a light chambray shirt and cotton trousers. He had to be freezing wherever he was. Sun Walker remembered John’s episode’s of pneumonia and mentally kicked himself for the impulsive act of allowing his daughter and Joseph to burn the only things the boy owned that held any meaning for him. It had been a cold and heartless thing to do and he deeply regretted being a part of it but there was no help for it now…It was already done.
He had at least taken the jewelry from Lacee and thrust it into his jacket pocket. Someday when John was older, he would return it to him along with the photographs Kate had kept of John. It was his by right and he wouldn’t allow his oldest daughter to hurt him by stealing it from him again. They’d all hurt the boy enough.
George on the other hand was gleefully hoping to find the boy himself. Out here alone where there would be no one to help him…He chuckled wickedly at the thought of the boy cold and shivering in his arms. He’d warm him quickly enough.
He heard the voices of Three Rivers, Four Feathers and even Blue Eagle as they prowled through the darkened forest calling the boys name without success.
Joseph cursed as he drunkenly tripped over another clump of dead brush. “Just wait’ll I get my hands on you boy,” he muttered angrily. “I’ll beat you till you glow in the dark,” he muttered, almost hoping the boy had fallen somewhere or had been killed by some wild animal. At least he wouldn’t be stuck with the brat.
“JOHN,” Sun Walker’s voice called…There was no reply.
The older man felt a hand rest on his shoulder and looked up into the face of Three Rivers. “It is too dark Sun Walker…,” he said solemnly, as he pointed toward the moon that was disappearing behind a bank of clouds. “I can no longer see the boy’s tracks. We will try again in the morning.”
“By morning my grandson could be dead,” he growled, trying to hide the fear that the last thing he had of Red Moon might well now be gone forever as well.
“I am sorry…We are turning back but I promise you…We will come back tomorrow at sunrise…We will find him.”
Sun Walker sighed in defeat. “Very well,” he yielded to the others. He sent up a silent plea that wherever John was he was safe.
Blue Eagle saw the look on the older man’s face. “For all that the boy is half white…He is bright…you have taught him well Sun Walker. He has most likely found a safe place for the night. He knows these woods as well as the rest of us.”
The old man nodded but he only half believed him. The others had no idea what had happened and just how distraught the boy had been when he’d run from the house or that he’d been badly beaten the previous night…Though Daniel himself didn’t know about the second one he’d been given.
The boy had worked the whole day…He must be exhausted…Hungry, in pain both physical and emotional. Would the boy do something stupid…Would he hurt himself? Daniel didn’t know but the thought frightened him.
White Owl looked at him as he came inside. “Did you find him?” She asked, looking for the first time as if she really did care.
“No…,” he said simply as he pulled his daughter’s jewelry from his pocket. “Put this somewhere safe for John. It was Red Moon’s. Lacee would have stolen it from him,” he snarled in disgust as he laid the necklace, wedding ring and bracelet’s along with the matching earrings on the table. They’d been an anniversary gift from Roderick and had been treasured by his daughter.
“What happened Daniel…?”
He sat at the table and hung his head in despair. “I allowed them to burn the toy truck that his father gave him and the fire man’s helmet. He was upset by it.”
His wife looked at him in shock. She’d never been her grandson’s biggest supporter but those items had been the only thing the child had to hold on to...He’d just lost his mother… How could he have let them take them from him? “Why Daniel…?” She asked, looking upset now herself.
He slammed his hand on the table. “Because all he thinks of is becoming a fire man…Of leaving us as his mother did.” She bit her lip understandingly but shook her head. “I wanted him to forget those thoughts…To stay here where he should be.”
“And we drove our daughter away by refusing to listen to her heart. You would do the same to John?”
He hung his head. “He told me he hated me,” he murmured. “I slapped him.”
She bit her lip at the pain in her husband’s face. “Do you blame him?”
For only the second time in White Owl’s life she saw tears in her husband’s eyes. “No.”
Into the Fire
Bright orange lit the sky as the sun rose the next morning. Captain Rigsby rolled out of his bed and went to stand next to the boy who slept fitfully in the bunk beside his own. He reached out sweep the tangled dark hair from the child’s face, hating what he was about to do.
He had to call the boys family and deliver the poor little lamb to the wolves but he had no choice. The boy wasn’t his to keep no matter how much he’d tried to come up with a way to do so. He knew Sun Walker‘s reputation well enough to know that he’d never give the child up without a fight.
He heaved a sigh of despair and headed for the phone on his desk. Several of the men rose from their own bunks and moved to stand next to him as he picked up the handset. “You gonna call his family Cap?” Hailey asked worriedly.
“I don’t have a choice Evan,” the older man answered quietly. “We can’t keep him.”
“What about the sheriff?”
“What’ll he do?” He sneered angrily “He’ll turn it over to the tribal police who’ll do nothing. He’s a half breed.”
The others bristled at the term but nodded in understanding, knowing he was right. They wouldn’t win this fight…The bigotry was still to prevalent in this little town.
They listened with downcast expressions as he spoke to Spotted Hawk …Blue Eagle’s father. “Yes Spotted Hawk. We found him last night but it was very late,” he hedged. “We got him warmed up and into a bed. What the boy need was sleep so we let him stay the night.” There was silence as he listened to the Chief for a moment. “He’s fine…Please let his grandfather know he can pick him up here…I need to speak to him anyway,” he warned.
A moment later he hung up the phone. “What did he say?”
“Well…He wasn’t too happy that we didn’t call last night but he said he’d send his guardian for him.”
“Guess we better wake him up huh?” Spencer added unhappily.
“Yeah…Get him dressed and get him something to eat before we send him back to that hell he’s living in,” Rigsby muttered miserably.
Hailey sat next to the boy and shook him lightly. Johnny’s eyes snapped open at his touch and a cry of fear slipped from his lips as his hands flew up to cover his face. “No…Don’t,” he cried.
“Shhh Johnny, it’s me kiddo. It’s Evan and Captain Rigsby and Spence.”
The boy shook visibly as he lowered his hands to look around him warily. “E…Evan,” he whispered.
“Yeah kiddo… Come on. Let’s get you dressed and get you something to eat,” he suggested without warning the boy that his family was already on their way.
Sun Walker and the others were up at dawn and had found the place where they’d lost the boys tracks the night before. Three Rivers quickly picked up the faint impressions and they once again began to follow the trail. They passed the caves and for a moment, Sun Walker feared John might have ventured inside to find shelter within the treacherous cavern but his grandson by marriage shook his head.
“He stopped here for a moment but he continued on,” the younger man told him pointing at the light scuff marks the child had left behind. “He was tiring but he kept going,” he said indicating the marks that showed that John’s feet were now shuffling in exhaustion. “He’s heading toward town.”
Spotted Hawk sent a message to Joseph and Lacee. The young man sent to deliver it frowned in disgust at the smell of alcohol on the man’s breath even this early in the morning as Joseph answered the door. “wha do you wan…,” he slurred.
“Spotted Hawk sent me to tell you that John has been found. He is at the fire station in Lame Deer and he is alright. They just need someone to come for him.”
The man nodded his head but almost lost his balance doing so. “I will get him alrigh…,” he muttered fuzzily as he closed the door. He grabbed his keys as he threw a glance at his wife. “I will teach him…A…A lesson…He will not for…forge,” he said indistinctly. He staggered for the door. Lacee watched in revulsion as her husband staggered out the door to her car.
How she hated her husband and her life here…Why couldn’t she have found a strong and handsome man as Red Moon had? One that adored her as Roderick Gage had adored Red Moon. She hated her sister all the more and the product of that love bore all that enmity…She couldn’t wait for John to get home.
John got dressed slowly as the crew from the next shift began to arrive. They looked curiously at the B shift crew who explained in whispers what had happened the night before. There were a few indifferent shrugs that raised the ire of John’s friends but mostly there were looks of sympathy and disgust at the bruises on the boys face.
Rigsby wasn’t looking forward to telling the poor kid that he had to send him back to the reservation so he waited until the child had at least eaten. “Johnny…I uh…I need to tell you something.” The boy looked at him curiously. “I called Spotted Hawk and told him where you were this morning.”
John’s dark eyes widened in fright. “No…,” he whispered. “No…I cannot go back…,” he protested as he tried to bolt from the chair.
Rigsby grabbed him and pulled him toward him. “Whoa son…You’re not goin anywhere.”
John struggled briefly against the older man’s grip before he finally gave up, knowing he couldn’t win free. “I thought you were my friend,” he moaned plaintively.
“I am Johnny…I promise you…If there was any other way…”
Tears welled in the chocolate brown eyes but John blinked them away in resignation. No one wanted him. His Aunt was right…No one would ever want him. He pushed the ache in his chest away. He’d thought his friends here would protect him but they didn’t want him either. He couldn’t trust anyone…Not ever.
Rigsby’s gaze caught the forlorn looks in his men’s eyes as he held the boy. He sighed as he pulled the unhappy child into his arms. His heart ached as he felt John go rigid and knew that he’d lost the boys trust but what could he do? He had no right to keep him, however much he might want to.
It was only a moment later when Joseph arrived. He staggered into the dayroom. His bleary eyes taking in the men and the slim boy the older man held in his arms.
“JOHN,” he barked angrily as he swaggered forward.
John whirled and looked at the fury in his uncle’s eyes. He began to shake in fear and tried to back away but the man’s hand snaked out to grip his arm, jerking the boy toward him. A moan of terror slipped from his lips as the man’s hand drew back but it didn’t make contact.
Joseph felt his arm grabbed and looked into the blazing gray eyes of the Captain. For the first time, it occurred to Joseph that these men were friends of the child and wouldn’t take kindly to his abusing him. His own brown eyes widened in fear.
“Don’t you ever put your hands on that child like that again,” Rigsby growled in rage. He shoved the man backward not particularly caring at the moment that he was a civil servant or that he could lose his job for this. “So help me…If I ever see bruises on this boy again I’ll have the sheriff down on you so fast…”
“The sheriff will do nothing,” Joseph countered. “I am a member of the council and my word…”
“Then I’ll bring in the state police…,” Rigsby snarled back, cutting him off as John pressed against him in fear.
“That will not be necessary,” a deep voice came from behind them.
They looked toward the door to see Sun Walker and Three Rivers standing there. “Sun Walker,” Rigsby greeted coolly.
“Captain…,” he replied without expression. “John…Come here to me.”
John looked up into Rigsby’s face fearfully. “Go ahead John,” the captain urged, giving the boy a light push.
John made a wide berth around his uncle as he shuffled toward his grandfather. The older man squatted to face the boy. His hands gripped the thin arms. “Do you have any idea how…,” Sun Walker stopped. He’d been about to say how worried and afraid he’d been but he couldn’t admit that to the child. It might have made a world of difference. “How much trouble you have caused?” He said finally.
John stood with downcast eyes and nodded his head. He wanted to turn and run and never stop but he had nowhere left to go. “Ne’ševátamáhtsétanό namêšéme,” (I’m sorry grandfather) he murmured in defeat.
Sun Walker looked regretful at the lifeless and beaten look in the boy’s eyes. He wanted John’s obedience but he’d never intended to kill the child’s wild and free spirit…To crush the boy’s strength. “I should not have allowed them to burn your things John,” he said simply, as close as he could come to apologizing. John nodded, as close as he could come to accepting the words his grandfather had spoken. They were still gone and he had nothing left.
Rigsby stepped forward as Sun Walker stood up. “Can I assume that whatever happened to Johnny won’t be repeated?” He questioned the older man.
“I thank you for keeping my grandson safe last night but the boy is not your concern,” he replied as he gripped John’s shoulder tightly. John seemed to shrink a little under that vice like grip.
“The boy is my concern…His mother and father were both friends of mine and I’m an emergency responder for the state of Montana. “Please Sun Walker…I need some assurance that the boy will be safe if I let him go with you.” Rigsby’s eyes flickered toward Joseph.
Sun Walker’s eyes narrowed but he knew the man could cause a lot of problems if he refused to answer. He might refuse to let John leave with him. “My grandson will be safe Captain…I merely lost my temper when he wouldn’t accept that being a fireman is not acceptable.”
“I beg to differ with you sir…John is bright and eager and he already knows how to drag a line and hook a coupling amongst other things. He’ll make a great fire fighter some day.”
“My people do not become firemen.”
“Then perhaps it’s time one did,” Rigsby countered. Sun Walker’s mouth set in an angry line. “What about him,” he said with a nod toward Joseph who stood cowed by the crew of fire fighters between him and Johnny.
“He will not harm the boy,” Sun Walker assured him.
“He’d better not…I promise you… I will call the police if I ever see this happen again…They’ll take him away.”
“And you think living in a white man’s orphanage would be better for my grandson than his own people?” Daniel sneered angrily.
“If this is what he has ahead of him…Then yes! Besides…I never said anything about an orphanage.”
Sun Walker’s eyes met his…He knew the man would take John in a heartbeat if he could but he wouldn’t have it…John belonged with his own family…He would not be raised as the white men. “Come John,” he snapped giving the boy a sharp pull.
John pulled back and looked up at Rigsby. The frightened brown eyes tore at the man’s soul. “I wanna stay with you,” he whispered.
Captain Rigsby’s hand cupped the small chin. “I’d keep you if I could Johnny but I’m a single man and you have a family…No one would ever allow it…You need to go with them but you can come see me anytime.” There it was…He truly didn’t want him.
Sun Walker understood the implication even if John didn’t. ‘So I can check up on you,’ steal his grandson away was what he meant.
“Come John,” Sun Walker snapped again, pulling the boy past the crew of forlorn fireman that wanted to rip the child away from him and protect him from these cold, awful people who could never love this boy as he deserved.
John followed…The dark eyes rose to meet theirs briefly as he passed, afraid it would be the last time he’d ever see his friends.
They watched from the open bay doors as John was pushed into Joseph’s car. The other’s climbed in and they drove away.
Rigsby retreated to his office in despair…Afraid this wouldn’t be the last time this child would be hurt and knowing that there wasn’t much he could do about it.
“You are never to see those people again John…Do I make myself understood?” Sun Walker demanded as the car pulled away…Angry that his own grandson had begged to stay with a stranger…A white stranger.
John’s small face lifted to his. He’d known the edict would come but then Rigsby didn’t want him either…The dark eyes dropped in submission. “Héehe’e,” he whispered.
John looked up and caught Joseph’s eyes on him in the rearview. He bit his lip, knowing what would come when they got home as well. His stomach churned at the thought of the beating he would take as soon as his grandfather left. He just wanted to die.
The next few days seemed like hell for John. It had begun just moments after they’d arrived back at Joseph and Lacee’s. Sun Walker was still smoldering over John’s plea to stay with the Captain as well as the man’s threat to have the boy taken from him.
He pulled John into the house. The boy stumbled along beside the long strides of the older man. Daniel turned him to face him. “There will be no more of this childish behavior John. You will stay here and do as Lacee and Joseph tell you and cause no more problems. I will not have that man threatening to take my flesh and blood from me again. Do you understand?” He demanded giving the boy a shake.
John nodded dismally. “Héehe’e,” he mumbled as he bit his lip against the pain while his grandfather’s fingers dug into his bruised flesh.
Sun Walker’s eyes turned to the couple. “You will give that man no reason to threaten to take my grandson from me again,” he said succinctly. The tone didn’t lend to discussion.
“Of course father,” Lacee murmured demurely.
The door had barely closed behind the older man before John felt his Uncle’s hand twist a fistful of dark hair. The boy cried out as his head was jerked back, forcing the dark eyes to meet theirs. The stench of whiskey on the man’s breath almost made him gag.
John threw his hands up protectively as the first blow landed…He tried to get away. He reached up to pull Joseph’s hands from his hair but only succeeded in angering the man even more. Another blow followed the first. John felt his lip split and his head spun dizzily. He whimpered at the brutal blow. The man grasped his hand and twisted John’s fingers in a crushing grip. The boy screamed as bone snapped.
Joseph hurled him away from him and he slammed into the wall…He slowly slid down to the floor, afraid to move…His injured hand held protectively against him. John’s eyes rose to meet his aunt as she advanced on him. “You bring this punishment upon yourself John Gage. You are a wicked and disobedient child but you will learn to obey. If you ever breathe a word to your grandfather or the vé’ho’é’s again…Those fingers will never be able to hold a hose or anything else…” She let the threat hang as John stared up at her warily…The blows were physical and painful but the words were permanent and cut to the soul. “How I hate being stuck with you…You are nothing but trouble to me…To your mother…To all of us.” John shook his head but quickly realized his mistake as her eyes narrowed once again. “Do not turn those defiant eyes on me you miserable little brat,” she sneered as she raised her hand to strike.
John curled in a ball and covered his head...The gray walls were crashing down but John didn’t care…He welcomed them …
Pain assailed his senses a long while later… He hurt so bad. He groaned weakly as he pulled himself to his feet…The dark eyes glancing about him fearfully. Nausea welled up and John was terrified that he would throw up and anger them even more.
John wondered if he’d slipped away or actually passed out. His broken finger throbbed miserably and tears of pain burned behind his eyes. There was a coppery taste in his mouth and John knew his lip was still oozing blood.
John’s eyes flitted toward the door. Should he leave? Where could he go? He had no money…No one who would help him. He thought of the men at station 28 and his heart ached…He couldn’t even go there anymore.
“Do not even think of it,” a voice growled. John cringed in terror at the sound of his aunt’s voice. “Come here.”
John thought of bolting for the door but knew he’d never make it out before they’d get too him. He sighed in resignation and shuffled hesitantly toward them. A strong hand grasped his arm drawing a gasp of pain from his lips.
“Be more careful in the future Joseph…We will not be able to hide this from father.”
“He will not be able to tell old from new by tomorrow…If he questions the injuries we will tell him he fell and so will John,” he said giving the boy a shake.
John nodded fearfully, hoping his acquiescence would gain him his freedom. It did… but more because of Lacee’s fear that she wouldn’t be able to explain any more injuries and she knew her father would be livid as it was. She couldn’t risk Joseph’s position…Not even to take out her bitter vengeance on her sister’s brat.
There was a momentary twinge of guilt…The child had never really done anything to her. She pushed the soft hearted thought away…He was the epitome of everything she hated. His white father…The very type that had looked down their arrogant noses and treated her like trash her whole young life and her sister...? Her sister had outdone her in everything. She was beautiful, intelligent, well loved by those who knew her…Even the white’s who’d taunted her had liked Red Moon. Men fought for her attention and she’d always been father’s favorite. She’d won the most handsome man and had he lived they’d probably still be living in their dream world in California…Well they were gone now and their brat would feel her wrath…He’d pay for every slur and hurt they’d inflicted on her… Red Moon and her vé’ho’é would roll in their graves.
The next morning John fled to the ranch. His whole body ached and abused muscles screamed in protest at every move. He held his hand awkwardly to avoid irritating the broken finger and he prayed fervently that Ben and his friends would stay away this morning and leave him alone. He didn’t think he could take much more.
The creaking of the stall door brought a wave of fear through him but a moment later a sigh of relief slipped from his lips at the sound of Thomas’ voice. “What happened to your hand John?”
John glanced at the swollen hand and slightly misshapen finger on his left hand. He didn’t look at his cousin. “I…Um…I…Fell,” he stuttered.
“Let me see.”
“I’ll be fine,” John murmured, trying to distract the young man.
“Did my parents do that to you?” He demanded.
John bit his lip…He hated all this lying but he was afraid not to. “Nnn…No,” he stammered but the hesitation and the refusal of the child’s eyes to meet his was enough to tell Thomas the truth.
“Damn it,” he muttered angrily. “I will talk to grandfather.”
“NO,” John almost shouted. He finally spun around to face his cousin. It was Thomas’ turn to gasp. Shock gave way to anger.
“Did they do this to you?”
John nodded quickly. “But I was bad…I ran away. I…Grandfather already knows about it,” he hedged lamely. “He has already spoken to them. Please Thomas…Please say nothing,” he begged, knowing what would happen if they thought he’d gone to Sun Walker again.
Thomas’ eyes narrowed. The boy was terrified and he resolved to talk to his parents himself but in the meantime he needed to calm the boy down. “Alright John…I won’t tell grandfather.”
“Tell me what?” A gruff voice questioned.
John shot a pleading glance at his cousin. “Nothing serious namêšéme …John merely didn’t want me to tell you that he fell and hurt his hand.”
“Let me see.” John crept forward. His swollen hand cradled against his chest. He wouldn’t meet his grandfather’s eyes as he reluctantly held his hand out. Sun Walker carefully inspected the finger. His eyebrow lifted questioningly. “You did this in a fall?” He questioned suspiciously.
John’s face colored at the lie he was about to tell…Again. “Héehe’e namêšéme,” he whispered guiltily.
“Come…I will splint it. You cannot work this way.”
Thomas watched in dismay…Is that all he could worry about? John finally nodded and followed the elder out, throwing a grateful look at Thomas as they passed. The young man shook his head I dismay…He knew the boy hadn’t fallen and this wouldn’t be the last time this happened… This was so unfair.
Things didn’t get any better over the next few months. John got into frequent fights at school and he spoke even less than he had before and when he did speak, it was usually with a stutter. He refused to meet the eyes of those he interacted with and withdrew more and more often, infuriating his aunt and uncle who were forced to come and pick him up.
The strange seizures and vague withdrawals were an embarrassment that more often than not simply earned him another beating. Lacee and Joseph were careful to leave no obvious evidence of their abuse but John’s fearful flinch at every rapid or unexpected movement made it plain.
His grandfather’s questioning of his injuries produced only a standard response of “I fell’ or ‘I got in a fight at school.’ His grandfather often watched him suspiciously. John had never been this clumsy before.
Sun Walker almost took the child home with him but White Owl had not been well and wasn’t up to keeping up with a twelve year old boy.
A few of John’s teacher’s became very concerned that the boy who had been so bright and full of promise was now withdrawing into himself and failing in every class but the child refused to tell them anything…Others blew it off as a troubled child who’d just lost his only remaining parent while the majority shrugged it off as another Indian destined for failure and simply passed him through.
Those who suspected that there was more going on than the boy would admit but the only answers they received were the same stammered lies that he told his grandfather.
John wanted desperately to tell them but fear that they couldn’t or wouldn’t help him kept him silent. Telling would only bring more punishment. The dark eyes took on a lost and hopeless look that broke the hearts of those who did care but they couldn’t do anything without proof that the child was in trouble.
The dark eyes drifted to the fire station often as the bus passed by but he didn’t dare go there anymore besides…They didn’t want him either.
Joseph’s drinking had become worse over the months. Chief Spotted Hawk and the other council members had had enough. They’d warned him time and time again, Joseph now often explained his drunken condition on his nephew’s crazy behavior and the problems the boy’s presence had brought to his house but the others knew better.
Joseph had been a drunk long before John had ever been born much less come into his home. He’d been allowed to stay on the council in deference to Sun Walker’s relationship but now…Even he wanted him gone.
He was useless in business matters and usually just went along with whatever would get him out of the meeting the fastest. He never offered anything that might help the people to survive day to day.
Lacee would be angry but she’d have to get over it, especially since she was half of George’s problem anyway. Her nagging and demanding ways would drive any man to the bottle.
George Walking Wolf’s name had been brought up as a possible replacement but Daniel was against it. His second son in law was arrogant and he had a brutish temper, not to mention that he often turned to the bottle himself to escape the day to day misery of his life.
Sun Walker had no idea of George’s predilection for young men and boys but there was definitely something about him that disturbed the older man.
Blue Eagle wasn’t fond of him either but his father, Fire Crow and Elk Hunter out voted them.
Sun Walker shook his head in disgust as Joseph broke down and wept like a baby when he was told that he was done.
He staggered from the lodge. What was he going to do now? He couldn’t work the ranch. The huge animals terrified him…The idea of roping them and sliding from his horse to wrestle the beasts down for tagging left him sweating in fear and the smell of those wretched sheep made him nauseas.
His hackles rose as he thought of watching John do it…The child made it look easy and that infuriated him even more. His wife would be enraged but why should she be angry with him? Joseph was quick to shift the blame. If her stupid sister hadn’t married the vé’ho’é in the first place, he wouldn’t be in this mess.
That was the problem…It was John’s fault and he’d make him pay for it.
Inside the lodge, Sun Walker and the others had no idea of what they’d just set into motion for the boy and what horrors would follow…John might have been better off where he was.
Joseph was waiting for John when school ended. He climbed from the car, leaning heavily upon it as the children ran toward the buses.
John lagged far behind the rest. His body still ached from the last beating he’d received from his Uncle Joseph and Lacee. His shoulder was still stiff from where his Uncle had dragged him from the house in a rage.
John had forgotten to close the gate on the small garden patch in the back yard and the rabbits had had a field day. “Távonoo’e néso,” (Stupid Child) he bellowed throwing the boy down in the dirt. “Can you do nothing right?”
“Ne’ševátamáhtsétanό,” (I’m sorry) John whispered repeatedly as he cringed away from every blow that followed, while he plucked each damaged plant from the ground. “Másemetanό tό’háomό’seh’ve,” (please don’t hurt me) he pleaded, feeling like a coward as he practically begged him to stop.
It was becoming harder and harder to hide the bruises and the painful movements from his grandfather and he knew a couple of teachers had seen them. He’d seen the skeptical looks and wasn’t sure if he’d convinced them that they were the results of a fight at school or a fall. His grandfather knew the boy wasn’t that clumsy. John was almost graceful when he rode…His balance was exceptional considering his other problems. He prayed they believed him or he’d pay the price for it.
They told him it was his fault…That he was bad. John always tried to be good but it never seemed to be enough. They always found something to punish him for.
“JOHN…” an angry voice bellowed. The boy almost cringed in terror at the sound of it. He slowly shuffled toward the car and Joseph. Wary dark eyes watched the older man carefully. The enraged look on the man’s face warned him that his uncle was very angry and whether the offense was real or imagined didn’t matter…He was in for another beating.
“Héehe’e Hhh…hešeho,” he questioned with a frightened stammer.
His uncle made an awkward attempt at a vicious slap to his nephews face but John saw it coming and ducked… The alcohol having slowed the man’s reflexes …The hand only made fleeting contact. The fact that he’d even tried right out in the open terrified the boy. His uncle had to be raging mad to risk Sun Walker finding out what he’d just done.
“COME HERE TO ME,” the man growled in a rage.
John shook his head in fright and backed away. The man came after him…Whiskey bottle still in hand.
The other children and a couple of teachers watched worriedly as the scene unfolded…Several teachers started toward them as the man approached the boy but it was the words that frightened them more than anything. “I WILL KILL YOU THIS TIME HOTAMÉTANEO’O.” (DOG)
John’s eyes widened in terror… He didn’t wait for his uncle to get any closer. He turned and fled.
Joseph took off after him. John ran…Putting a good distance between them. He darted across the road…Tires squealed as an oncoming car braked to avoid him. John stumbled, falling and giving Joseph time to catch up a bit. He staggered to his feet. The teachers were trying to catch the man before he could reach John and kill the poor child.
“I lost my place on the council today because of you boy,” he shrieked.
John’s stomach turned a flip. Joseph and his aunt would kill him for sure over this. John knew what prestige Lacee took at her husband’s place on the council. If she blamed him as well…? If they didn’t kill him…They’d throw him out in the street…He had nowhere to go. Would his grandfather take him or would he be angry as well?
John looked over his shoulder as the man hurled the whiskey bottle. It was only dumb luck that it actually found its mark, thudding off the boy’s already injured arm. John cried out but it was cut off as he ran smack into something solid. He would have fallen except for the arms that reached out to catch him.
John gasped…Half in fright and half in pain as the hands closed around his bruised flesh. “E’énanené,” (Let me go) he cried breathlessly as he tried to pull away. He heard the pounding of Joseph’s feet as he came up behind him.
Terror gripped his heart as he felt the man’s hand twist in his long sable hair, sucking in his breath in pain as his head was jerked backward. Involuntary tears welled in his eyes but a moment later he almost wept in relief.
“Get your hands off the boy,” and angry voice growled. John looked up into the gray eyes of Captain Rigsby. The rest of the crew gathered around him.
“Stay out of this vé’ho’é ,” Joseph snarled as the man’s hand closed around his wrist like a steel vice. “I am the boy’s guardian and he belongs to me.”
“He doesn’t ‘belong to anyone…He’s a child not a slave or a dog,” Rigsby snapped back, finally freeing the boy’s hair from the man’s grip. He shoved the child into the waiting arms of David Spencer and Evan Hailey who held him against them protectively.
“He is a dog…Half breed mongrel.” He sneered.
The teachers who had finally arrived on the scene gasped in shock at the hateful words. Dear God…Is this what the child had been subjected to all this time…? No small wonder he was troubled.
“You lay one hand on that child and you’ll draw back a bloody stump,” Rigsby threatened, uncaring if it cost him his job.
Joseph finally glanced about him and noted that he had an audience…They were all looking at him as if he were a monster. He wouldn’t have cared except that they obviously intended to protect the little brat. He tried to stand erect but swayed from the effects of the whiskey. “You cannot keep him from me. I will call your sheriff,” he threatened. “He is Indian…Not your problem.”
“He’s also half white…I’ll remind him of that if I need to. Now turn around mister and go home. I’ll bring Johnny home after I speak to his grandfather.”
Joseph’s face paled a bit…He’d forgotten Sun Walker in his rage. Stupid old man would protect that miserable half breed…He always did.
He stood in indecision but Rigsby stared him down. He finally turned and stumbled away…He’d get John later when there was no one to protect him.
Rigsby scooped the boy into his arms…John gasped painfully, drawing a frown from the fire captain as he carried him into the day room. He set the child down. “Okay kiddo…Let me take a look,” he said gently.
John tried to stop him as he lifted his shirt. “Nnnn…o,” he whimpered, with a frightened shake of his head.
Rigsby’s compassionate gray eyes caught and held John’s. “It’s alright Johnny. I already know he hurt you…I just need to see how badly.”
John dropped his hand, knowing he wouldn’t win. He let the man lift his shirt, blushing in embarrassment at the shocked gasps from the men. Red, black, blue, yellow and purple bruises in various states of healing decorated the child’s torso.
Rage colored Rigsby’s face while his men looked pale and sick to their stomach. “That son of a bitch,” he muttered as he stood and headed for the phone. John listened in terror as Rigsby’s voice snarled in rage at whoever was on the other end. “This child has been brutalized…You tell Sun Walker that I warned him about this…You tell him that I’m calling the sheriff in unless I get something more than empty assurances that John will be safe if I let him go home…Because if I don’t…There will be a court case. I promise you.”
John didn’t understand the implication…That Rigsby would fight to keep him away from his family but his men did and so did Spotted Hawk. He knew Sun Walker would never give the boy up without one hell of a fight. The reservation didn’t need this kind of trouble. He needed Daniel to get the boy away from Lacee and Joseph. What a problem John was turning out to be for all of them.
“You gonna let them have him back Cap?” Hailey asked worriedly.
Rigsby nodded. “I don’t have a choice son but not without Sun Walker’s promise that he won’t send John back into that man’s hands.”
Sun Walker showed up a half hour later. “Come to me John,” he said softly as he realized that the boy had borne the brunt of their decision to remove his son in law from the council. The terror and pain in the dark eyes was plain.
“I am sorry this happened Captain…My son in law was removed from our council this morning…He took his anger out on the boy.”
“No Sun Walker. This isn’t a one time thing…,” he snapped spinning the boy around and tugging the shirt up.
John didn’t even have time to protest…He gasped in surprised shock as his back was bared for his grandfather to see. The old man’s eyes narrowed angrily.
“Did Joseph do that to you?” He barked.
John shook his head fearfully. Joseph would kill him for sure. “I…I…Fff…fell,” he whispered lamely.
Daniel’s eyes shot to Rigsby. “You see…”
“He did not fall…Can’t you see that. Tell him the truth son,” he said to John gently.
The dark head shook again. “He’ll kkk….kill me,” he mumbled.
Daniel’s eyes widened as his mouth compressed into a thin line. “I will not send John back to him,” he promised the captain. “I will be sure he is safe.”
The two men’s eyes met…Neither would yield. “John better not be hurt again,” Rigsby warned as he gave the boy a gentle push toward his grandfather.
John’s heart sank…He didn’t want to go but once again the captain had made it clear…He didn’t want him. John wished with all his heart that someone did. The boy shuffled toward his grandfather…A look of fear and misery on his face but he knew his grandfather would have no sympathy and shoved the fear away…Down deep and hid it there.
The old man gripped his shoulder. “You should have told me the truth,” he said angrily.
“He was afraid,” Rigsby explained in annoyance. “Can’t you see that?”
“John was not raised to be afraid. He needs to become a man.”
“When he is one you can expect that…Right now he’s still a boy and he needs to be kept safe and protected.”
Sun Walker scowled but had no intention of arguing with the white man any further…It was obvious that he didn’t understand their ways. He would raise his grandson how he saw fit and no one would tell him otherwise. John understood as well…There would be no one to protect him when he got home…He needed to keep his mouth shut and do what he was told or else.
Daniel turned and gave John’s arm a pull. The boy stumbled along beside him before regaining his balance. He threw his friends a despairing look before his eyes dropped to the floor and he followed his grandfather obediently from the room. The crew watched them go looking almost as despondent as the boy.
The door to Joseph and Lacee’s home slammed open causing both of the people inside to jump. Lacee shot to her feet as John was pushed inside. “Father…,” she gasped in shock as he stormed in behind the boy.
Before John knew what was happening, he was spun around and his shirt was raised for the couple to see the vivid discolorations that adorned the boys flesh. Daniel’s dark eyes were bright with rage. “You beat my grandson,” he snapped angrily, pushing John away from him. The boy stumbled…Putting out his hands to keep from falling.
“He uh…gets into fights in school father,” she explained lamely.
“This was not caused by any fight,” he growled back.
“I…I…We…He is difficult…,” Lacee stuttered fearfully.
“He nee’s a fir…firm hand,” Joseph hiccupped drunkenly.
“But that is not what caused this today is it…Today it was because you were removed from the council,” he barked.
Lacee gasped in horror…He hadn’t told her. “WHAT?” She shrieked in outrage.
“It was his fault Lacee,” Joseph whined looking toward the boy.
Her eyes shot to John…The look promised retribution. “What did you do Ó’xevé’ho’e?” She snarled.
John cringed against the wall like a trapped rabbit. He shook his head fearfully, knowing what was coming. “I…I ddd…didn’t…I….I,” he stuttered…Walls of gray were closing in around him but his grandfather moved quickly between his daughter and his grandson.
“DO NOT TOUCH HIM,” he barked. “What happened today was not his fault. The boy has done nothing to anyone. This was caused by your drinking,” Sun Walker snapped in disgust. “And you are so pathetic, you would lay this on the boy? You have been warned over and over about this White Bear. What happened today was your fault…Not John’s.”
The couple stood in despair…What were they to do now? Their hate filled eyes looked to the boy…Just wait until Sun Walker left. His next words destroyed that outlet for their anger.
“John…Go get your things…You will not stay in this house any longer.”
A look of relief entered the frightened dark eyes. John made a wide berth around his Aunt and Uncle as he slipped into his room. He re-emerged a few minutes later with the few things he still possessed. It wasn’t much. He edged closer to Sun Walker as their eyes bore into him.
“Come with me John,” the old man snapped as he pushed the boy toward the door. John left without a backward glance.
His relief was short lived. He’d thought he was going to his grandfather’s home but Sun Walker turned the other way. Where were they going? Would his grandfather leave him in the street? Had he become too much of a problem for him and the others…? What would he do if that happened? Where could he go?
The men at the fire station didn’t want him. His father’s family didn’t want him. It was obvious Lacee and Joseph and now his grandfather didn’t want him either. Now this…What was he going to do?
John followed the old man and his heart began to pound fearfully as he recognized the direction they were taking. John stopped…No…No he couldn’t leave him there…God…What had he done that was so bad?
Daniel turned to see why the boy had stopped. “Come along John,” he snapped.
“Ccc…can I ggg…go with you?” He pleaded.
“No…You know your grandmother is not well…She is not able to deal with you and the problems you cause.”
John’s mouth trembled at that. What had he done? They all felt that way so it must be his fault but he didn’t understand exactly what IT was that had caused them all to hate him so much…To want to hurt him. He lowered his eyes so his grandfather wouldn’t see the pain and began to follow.
Sun Walker knocked on the door…It opened a moment later and Mase smiled at her father. It faded slowly as she noticed her nephew standing beside him holding what little he owned.
“Father…?” She questioned curiously.
“John can no longer stay with Lacee and Joseph. I want you to take him,” he said pushing the boy toward her.
“But Father…I…We do not want…”
“Come in Sun Walker,” George’s voice interrupted… His black eyes lingering on the boy for a long moment. “What happened?” He questioned quietly.
“Joseph was removed from the council this morning…” Mase’s eyes lit up before shooting hopefully toward her husband. Maybe it was Walking Wolf’s chance to receive that honor. “He chose to take his anger out on John…It is apparently not the first time either. I want you to take him.”
“Why can you not take him father,” Mase ground out with an angry glare at the boy. Why should he become her problem? Just when things were starting to look like they might go her way. She looked into his eyes so heartbreakingly soulful and gritted her teeth. They were his mother’s eyes and every time she looked at him she saw Red Moon and remembered that her husband hadn’t wanted her…He’d wanted her sister and her resentment grew.
“Your mother is ill. I cannot have the boy causing her any trouble.”
“It is alright Daniel,” George said with a smile that sent chills up John’s spine. “We will be more than happy to take the boy,” he said agreeably. Mase looked at him in surprise.
“Where will he sleep?”
“In Ben’s room.”
“Ben will not like that…”
“Ben will do as he is told…He can sleep with his sister in her room.”
Daniel nodded his approval at Walking Wolf’s apparent acceptance of the situation. He would take the boy without any trouble. “Come John,” George said as he reached out give the boy a gentle push in the direction of the bedroom. “You can put your things in here.”
Sun Walker turned to leave. “By the way Walking Wolf…The council has asked me to offer you Joseph’s position…Will you accept it?” Mase squealed joyfully.
George smiled… “Of course Sun Walker…I would be honored.” The fates were indeed smiling on him today…First being offered a position on the council and then having John handed to him. Sun Walker had delivered the lamb to the wolf. He was going to like this arrangement. The old man nodded before turning and walking away. John’s heart sank.
George tugged the boy toward the bedroom and pushed the door open. Ben looked up at him. His eyes widened as he saw his cousin standing behind his father holding his possessions. “What is it father? Why is HE here?”
“John will be living with us from now on.”
“WHAT?” Ben asked in surprise.
Walking Wolf grinned…It wasn’t a pleasant smile and John shivered as he glanced up at his uncle. He bit his lip worriedly. “You will need to move into your sister’s room with her tomorrow. John cannot sleep in the same room with her.”
Ben stared at his father in outrage. “This is MY room.”
“You will do as I say,” he replied in low tones. Ben recognized them and blanched. He didn’t dare argue further but John would pay for this. George smiled as his son nodded. He wanted John to have a place of his own…Where George could later visit without anyone being the wiser. Yes…This was definitely a good day…Well, at least for him.
For the next few days things seemed to get better, though Mase and Ben remained resentful. Walking Wolf on the other hand seemed to be taking the boy under his wing and Sun Walker seemed confident that John would be alright there.
John remained wary of the big man however, especially after the improper way he’d touched him in the past. John was well aware of just how fast the man’s mood could change. The boy took great pains to be sure he stayed close to Mase or Amy or even Ben when he was at home and he was always careful as he made his way from home to ranch to school.
Almost a week had passed without any untoward behavior and John began to relax. Perhaps what had happened was because Uncle George had been drinking those days. Having been placed in Joseph’s spot on the council, he was making a special effort to remain sober…Well at least less drunk than usual. John was about to learn that that was a mistake.
He’d taken a particularly bad fall at the ranch and Ben had gloatingly regaled his parents with the tale, neglecting to tell them that despite it, John had remounted and successfully brought the animal under control in less than an hour.
Ben scowled at the memory of the proud look his grandfather had thrown at the other men who’d shaken their heads in amazement.
George’s black eyes turned to John. “Were you hurt?”
“Hová’âháne Hhhh…hešeho,” he replied with a slight grimace. “Jjj…just a few bbb…bruises.”
“Go and get cleaned up…I will check for myself if you are alright.”
John’s eyes narrowed warily at that but George hadn’t hurt him since he’d been here and Náháa’e Mase and Ben were right there. He nodded his head and left the room.
He bathed quickly and dried himself off, slipping into his pajamas… He stepped into the living room but George was nowhere in sight. Neither were his cousins, both of them having gone to their room. Mase threw the boy an irritated frown. “Hešeho is waiting for you,” she informed him with a jerk of her head toward the bedroom.
John worried his lower lip hesitantly. He didn’t want to be alone with him. The dark eyes rested fearfully on his aunt.
“What are you waiting for?” She snapped as she gathered her sewing to go to her own room.
“Nnn…Noth…ing,” he stuttered nervously. Should he tell her of his fears? And what George had done that day at the festival? Would she believe him…Help him if she did? George hadn’t actually come near him in over a year other than family gatherings…And he’d kept his hands off.
John licked his suddenly dry lips and shuffled toward his room…Casting a worried glance back at his aunt. As she had told him…George was waiting for him. He sat on the edge of the bed… his black eyes gave the boy an uncomfortable feeling as he entered. “Come here John,” he ordered softly.
John hesitated briefly…His hand on the knob. Should he run? Would he chase him? What would he do if he caught him? He moved slowly toward the man but his eyes flicked toward the doorway repeatedly as if to make sure it was still open.
“Take off your shirt,” George commanded.
John lifted it partway. “But Hešeho…It is nnn…not that bbb…bad…really…,” he began to protest, letting him see the dark bruise along the ribcage. The boy had such little flesh on his bones…He looked half starved and George wondered if Lacee and Joseph hadn’t fed the child…He wouldn’t doubt it.
He licked his lips as he reached out to grip the boys arm and pull him closer. John tried to shake him off, hating to be touched on his best days but George didn’t let go. “He’koom,” (Be still) he ordered, giving the child a light shake.
The twelve year old boy stood motionless in indecision as the man’s hands worked the buttons free and tugged the shirt from his body. His teeth clenched and he tried to pull back as the heavy, rough hands began to move over his ribs. “Do not move,” George growled.
John stood rigid, praying he’d just finish his inspection and let him go but he didn’t. The hands traveled over the boy’s chest and down his stomach. “Hová’âháne,“ he whispered fearfully as George turned him around.
“Relax John…You will like this…Let me teach you.”
“Hová’âháne,” he insisted. “Hhhh…ová’âháne nnn…névé’néhešéve,” (No …Don’t do that) he pleaded as the hands moved over his back and shoulders. John felt his hair swept aside and stiffened in terror he felt his uncle’s lips caress his neck.
The dark eyes widened in shocked horror. He tried to bolt but the hand twisted in his hair dragging him back against the older man. His cry of terror was cut off as the other hand closed forcefully over his mouth. “Émoohtó’ané,” (Be quiet) the man growled in his ear.
John didn’t know what to do…George was strong and four times bigger than his slender nephew. The man’s mouth moved over his neck and tears welled in John’s eyes. ..He didn’t understand exactly what was happening but he knew this wasn’t right… John could hardly breathe and his body shook all over. His fingers dragged desperately at the hand locked over his mouth.
A squeal of protest was all he could manage as he felt the man’s hand slide between his legs.
For a moment George released the pressure over John’s mouth as he lost himself in the moment…It was all the child needed. John jerked his head back catching the older man square in the face …His teeth bit down on Walking Wolf’s hand drawing a grunt of pain from George.
Blood flowed from His uncle’s nose. He spun the child to face him and lashed out, catching him square across the high cheekbone. John gasped in pain as he half stumbled away from him and fell to the floor.
John looked up into the furious eyes of his uncle as he came toward him…He’d seen that same look in Joseph and Lacee’s eyes too many times not to know what would come next. “Hhhh…hová’âháne e’hoháehve, (No…Don’t hurt me), he cried covering his head and curling into a ball as the first enraged blow fell.
Gray waves seemed to crash in on John and he didn’t fight them…He let his mind drift away. He didn’t hear Mase’s voice or notice when the blows ceased.
“What is going on in here?” Mase questioned as she pushed the door open. She sucked in her breath in shock at the sight of her nephew curled on the floor. His body quivering as George stood over him with clenched fists. The chocolate brown eyes were blank and vague.
Blood trickled from the man’s nose but there was fear in his eyes as well as he watched the crazy behavior. George was a superstitious man…And the boy’s insane actions frightened him.
“What did you do?” She questioned worriedly. Her father would be furious.
“He fought me when I tried to check his injuries…He did that…,” he nodded at the shaking child. “I had to try to hold him so he would not hurt himself,” he said in disgust as he nodded at the prone form.
Mase raised doubtful brown eyes to him but she didn’t dare argue…This certainly didn’t look as if he’d been merely trying to hold the boy… Her nephew was sporting a vivid bruise across his cheek and deepening red blotches along his ribs.
She tried to touch him but John pushed frantically at her hands as he cringed away. She gripped his wrists as she’d seen Kate do on many occasions when this happened. John’s feet lashed out as his back arched over…Frightened, meaningless sounds slipped from between clenched teeth.
She let him go and shook her head not knowing what to do… “Just leave him be…He will come out of it on his own I think,” she said quietly as she backed away. John pulled himself up against the wall, still locked inside his own head…He began to rock. The couple left the room to go and clean George’s injuries.
The older man was furious…He’d been thwarted by a twelve year old but next time…Next time he’d have him.
Pain finally seeped its way into John’s consciousness before dawn. He woke stiff and aching. His ribs throbbed and he wondered if George had broken them when he’d hit him. He didn’t remember after the first punch to his rib cage and guessed he’d passed out…What George had done to him after that he didn’t know.
His face hurt horribly and he could hardly open his left eye. He pulled himself painfully to his feet and crept through the darkened house to the tiny bathroom. The cracked mirror over the sink reflected the tale.
His eye was black and puffy…His cheek swollen. His flushed in humiliation as he remembered the events that had led up to this. He gagged at the memory of his uncle’s hands on his body…Touching him where no one should. What would he tell his grandfather? He might believe that the bruising around his ribs was from the fall but what about his face?
A reflection suddenly appeared in the mirror behind him and John gasped in terror as his uncle stepped into the small room and closed the door. John backed away with a small whimper of fear.
George’s hand shot out grip the boy around the throat. The bite mark on his hand was red and inflamed. John gasped and pushed desperately at his uncle’s hand, trying to draw a breath.
“If you tell Sun Walker what happened last night I will kill you…Do you understand?” John nodded frantically and the hand loosened enough for him to breath. He wheezed several painful breaths past his bruised windpipe.
The big man pressed the boy back against the wall as he leaned down…His face just inches from John’s. One hand came up to toy with the sable hair that hung on the boy’s shoulders before moving to touch his lips. John felt bile rise in throat but swallowed hard…Afraid if he got sick that his uncle would only hurt him again. “Nnn…no Hešeho… másemetanό tό’háomό’seh’ve,” (Please don’t hurt me) John pleaded in a whisper, unable to meet his eyes.
George’s thumb and forefinger pinched the boys chin, forcing his head up. “If you did not fight me I would not hurt you but if you tell anyone how I touched you…I will tell them you asked me to. I will tell them what a wicked boy you really are. They will be disgusted by you not me. Sun Walker will send you away for good.” John’s face paled as George’s mouth caressed his neck before he kissed him.
The boy reacted without thinking. His fist lashed out landing a solid blow to his uncle’s face…The dark eyes widened in horror at what he’d just done but he was scared. He pulled back, cringing in fear. “I….I…am…I,” he stuttered as the man’s black eyes narrowed dangerously. George raised his clenched fist… He’d teach the boy to obey or kill him.
“George…Are you in there?” His wife’s voice called from the other side of the door. “Is John with you?”
George almost groaned in frustration. “Héehe’e,” he barked. “The boy is with me…He wasn’t feeling well.” He finished, as he turned back to John. His hand twisted in the dark hair bringing another gasp of pain. “Ne’ve’eoxoheve,” (Do not say anything) he hissed in John’s ear.
The boy nodded fearfully. “I www…won’t,” he whispered.
“You had better not.” The boy shook his head. George left the tiny room and John breathed a sigh of relief but it only lasted a moment before he finally lost it. He turned and vomited into the toilet.
He finally finished and turned to rinse his mouth, scrubbing at his neck and his lips over and over as if to wash the memory of the man’s mouth on his away. John gagged again but swallowed hard. What was he going to do? God…Why had his parents left him? Maybe it was true…This was happening because he was an evil child…He just wanted to die.
Sun Walker’s eyes narrowed dangerously when he saw John’s face. “What happened to you?” He growled angrily. John’s dark eyes shot to Walking Wolf for a moment before dropping to the ground…Unable to look his grandfather in the eyes.
“I do nnn…not remember namêšéme…I…I think I…,” he stuttered.
“He had one of his crazy fits,” George told his father in law, looking disgusted. I tried to hold him as his mother did but he hit his face on the table,” George explained calmly.
“Is that the truth?” Daniel asked the boy. George bristled indignantly at the questioning of his word but the fear he’d placed in the child had set well.
John’s eyes remained fixed on the ground. “I ddd…don’t remember…,” he answered just above a whisper.
Sun Walker looked to George…Things had been going well the last few days. George and John hadn’t had any issues and it was possible the boy hurt himself during a struggle. He didn’t want John hurt as he had been with Joseph and Lacee but if his grandson couldn’t remember and couldn’t tell him He’d have to take George’s word for it. It never occurred to him to ask why John had withdrawn in the first place.
He’d take the boy home himself but White Owl had been so ill the last few months…Still he didn’t want to lose his grandson and he had no doubt that the school and that nosey fire captain would stir up trouble if they saw the boy’s injuries. Daniel’s mouth tightened and he scowled at George but it wouldn’t do to coddle the boy…John needed to learn to be strong and face what came his way…Such would be the lot of his half breed grandson his whole life. “Be more careful from now on.”
“Can you ride John?” Sun Walker asked reaching out to grip his grandson’s arm.
“Yes grandfather,” he whispered hiding a painful wince. He felt his ribs shift as he mounted and knew for certain that they were broken…He gritted his teeth against the pain, knowing his grandfather had checked him over after the fall yesterday…He’d never believe he’d broken them then and he couldn’t tell him George had done it without telling him everything.
Would his uncle carry through with his threat to kill him? Would he tell everyone what he’d done to him and blame John for it? His face flushed in humiliation. How could he bear the disgusted looks and the disparaging words if he did? What if they threw him out? Where could he go?
He didn’t know what to do…He thought about going to Captain Rigsby but he’d made it clear that although he liked the boy well enough…He didn’t want him either. John remembered Little Foxes words and wished that there would be someone who would come into his life and make this all go away but she was just a crazy old woman…That’s what his uncle said and his grandfather said.
He closed his eyes against the pain and rode off.
John had thought he’d known fear and pain when he’d lived with Joseph and Lacee but he quickly learned that he hadn’t known the meaning of the words until now. Over the next few months he learned to fear every creak of the floorboards in the night.
He lay awake until exhaustion claimed him, only to snap awake at the slightest sound or whisper of a breeze through the open window…Shaking in terror until he was certain it wasn’t his uncle or praying for the grayness of his safe place when it was. “Please no,” whispering from lips that were rigid and tense with fright.
Fighting to swallow back the bile as the man’s hands touched his back…His chest or stomach, sliding downward until awareness seeped away from him and he felt nothing. John often had to nurse the bruises inflicted on him from his Uncle’s rage at his thwarted attempts to do more than touch but not
only did he need to contend with boys crazy retreat into his own mind but it seemed as if someone or something always stood in his way…It was almost as though a divine spirit watched over the boy and George would lash out in a fury.
John frequently found himself locked in the tiny broom closet when he woke…Not knowing what had happened after he went away or of the superstitious fears that his symptoms of AS raised. George would feel his skin crawl at the empty eyed gaze and the rocking of the thin body.
His uncle had even tried to tie him up a couple of times but John had gone into such a panic that he’d dislocated his own shoulder trying to get free and another time his Uncle had broken his arm trying to hold onto him while he fought the bonds.
An emptiness of heart and soul began to sweep over him as time passed and he shut himself off from the world as he pushed the loneliness and the hurt of being an outcast deep down into himself where he couldn’t feel it anymore.
He’d contemplated taking his own life on several occasions now but always…Always was the voice of his father that seemed to ring in his ears. ‘Promise me you will be a firefighter…That you will save lives.’
“I promise daddy,” he vowed. How could he fail him or his mother who’d made him promise not to let them steal his dream? God he just wanted to die.
He walked with his eyes downcast, blocking out the world around him and the pain it caused…Hoping that he’d just be ignored if they saw no spark of life…No challenge in his eyes. Hope had been brutally murdered in the teenage boy and there was just existing.
Little Fox’s old eyes often followed the boy in despair as she watched the life leave his soul but she was as helpless to stop it as John was. No one of her people would lift a hand to help the boy if his own family wouldn’t.
His grandfather might have noticed all of this but John’s grandmother was ill and failing. Sun Walker was completely immersed in his own worries and oblivious to John and the misery and fear the boy was living with and when he did notice, John hid the pain deep down...Covering the shame and humiliation of what was happening with lies and excuses, afraid that Sun Walker would blame him for what was happening and send him into the streets to starve.
John spent as much time at the ranch as he could, hoping that as long as he stayed around other people his uncle would leave him be. He ignored the curious looks of his people at the bruises that marred his thin body, making excuses that it was his own clumsiness that had caused them and hating the lies that tripped from his tongue. His mother had taught him to be truthful and John had always been so…Often brutally. He had no idea that it was his condition that made him that way. He learned to hide the pain of his injuries so he wouldn’t have to explain them.
The annual festival was coming up and it was a time John hated. It just gave the people in town a chance to come out and gawk at the savages…The white children that came with their families to laugh at the poor little half breed and his own people who sided with them against him.
It was always strange to John that the whites only saw him as Indian and the Indian’s only saw him as white. Why couldn’t someone just see him for who he was as his parents had? As Little Fox did.
He was brushing down the horses that were up for sale. He took pride in their appearance, knowing that he was responsible for how well they looked in the sale ring and the price that would increase because of it.
The day was unusually warm and he was grateful that he worked alone. He removed his shirt as he toiled. Sweat trickled down his back and chest over the fading bruises from his last beating.
He suddenly sensed a change in the air around him as his grandfather had taught him. Even with the milling of the horses and the noise of the crowd, he suddenly knew he was no longer alone. He glanced around and his stomach turned a flip. His heart pounded in fear as he saw the leering black eyes of his uncle as he approached him.
The man’s eyes raked over the slender form of his nephew and John’s skin crawled. He snatched his shirt from the railing but his uncle’s hand shot out to grip his wrist. “Aagh,” John cried at the vicious grip the man had on him. “Tό’háomό’seh’ve,” (Don’t hurt me) he whimpered as he struggled to get free.
The grip twisted painfully, “Émoohtó’ané,” (be quiet) the older man snarled as he pulled the boy toward him.
“E’énanené,” (Let me go) John pleaded as he fought to free himself.
His uncle shook him viciously. “He’kotoo’êstse… Né-ho’tovahe óvohe” (Be silent…You are weak... a baby) he snarled. “I will teach you to please me. I can be kind,” he promised as his hand swiped the sweat from John’s chest. His head lowered toward the boy and John knew what was about to happen. The smell of whiskey on the man’s breath was overpowering…He had to be drunk to attack him like this in the open. John gagged at the smell as he began to fight in earnest.
Any pretense at gentleness vanished as the man brutally twisted the boys arm to bring him under control…The fragile bone snapped and John’s scream of pain reverberated across the open meadow. His uncle’s fist landed hard against his ribs, knocking the air from him.
John lashed out with his foot, catching the man in the knee. George’s grip loosened momentarily and John jerked free. He cried out in pain once more as he pulled his broken limb from the man’s hand. John hit the ground hard. He scrambled to regain his feet as his uncle rubbed his knee and shot the boy a hateful look.
“You will pay for that,” he threatened as he moved toward him.
John’s world was turning gray around the edges. “What’s going on here?” A man’s voice questioned angrily.
Walking Wolf spun around as John’s frightened dark eyes lifted to see Captain Rigsby, along with Spenser and Hailey. “Nothing that concerns you vé’ho’é,” George snarled.
“If it concerns the boy then it concerns me…Get away from him,” he growled as they slipped under the rails. John cringed against the fence as they approached him. The fire that had once been in the dark eyes was gone and all that was left was fear and hopelessness.
Rigsby’s first thought was that he was stalking a trapped and wounded animal. “Johnny…Come here son.” He shook his head fearfully as he cradled his broken arm…His dark eyes shot toward George, who glared back warningly. “Tell me what happened?”
“What ddd…do you ccc…care?” He whispered despondently.
Rigsby’s gray eyes filled with despair. “I want to help you.”
“As yyy…you have bbb…before,” John mumbled. “You sss…sent me back.”
“What happened here?” The voice of Sun Walker interrupted. His brown eyes narrowed angrily at the sight of the three white men and George standing around his obviously injured grandson.
“We heard him scream Sun Walker,” Rigsby explained. “We came to see what was happening and found him standing over the boy,” he said nodding toward George.
Sun Walker looked toward his son in law. “One of the horses kicked him Sun Walker,” he lied casually, his dark eyes looked to John, daring him to deny it.
“Is that what happened John?” He questioned suspiciously...John had worked with all of these horses and none had ever hurt him.
The boy looked away, unable to meet the eyes of the men gathered about him. “Héehe’e nnn…namêšéme…It is sss…so,” he whispered yet another lie.
Rigsby’s mouth tightened at the obvious falsehood. “Johnny,” he began.
“My grandson said it was an accident Captain…Please leave so that I can see to him.”
The three men looked at the boy sadly…They wanted desperately to do something but what? If the child wouldn’t tell them the truth but then again he had on several occasions and as he’d pointed out…He’d sent him back into the violence and hate that had become his existence…Why should he trust him again?
Sun Walker led the injured boy past him. “Johnny…If you need me…,” he trailed off.
The hopeless dark eyes lifted to meet his briefly. “I nnn…need no one vé’ho’é…I am already ddd…dead,” he whispered in defeat.
Tears burned behind the older man’s eyes. He had to try and find a way to get this child out of here but how? The system most certainly wouldn’t help him…The boy was a half Indian and he knew they’d just wash their hands of him as most others had.
“What are we gonna do Cap?” Spenser asked despairingly.
He shook his head. “I’m going to make some phone calls on Monday but there isn’t a lot we can do if Johnny won’t talk and the state won’t help.”
Several weeks had passed and John’s fourteenth birthday came and went. His naming ceremony wasn’t offered though he hadn’t really expected it but he still couldn’t ease the hurt from the shame of having no name among his people.
His grandmother’s condition continued to deteriorate and Sun Walker grew more and more despondent as it did and he seldom left her side.
John had no one to turn to at all now and his only refuge was to run or to disappear into the woods whenever he could…
Rigsby had tried to get the state involved but as he’d feared…Without the boy’s cooperation or at the very least a witness to the abuse there was little they were willing to do…Perhaps the tribal police could do something they offered.
The captain knew better than to even ask. He saw John several times…The blackened, downcast eyes, the bruised face and battered body along with the frightened flinch at every movement tore at his heart but the boy wouldn’t talk to him anymore. He wouldn’t even look at him. The one person he’d turned to hadn’t been able to stop the hurt and the child had lost his trust in him as well. Who could blame him?
John was exhausted. He’d worked hard at the ranch today as the roundup of new calves had begun. He’d been feeling a little sick as well and since his uncle was away…He felt safe enough going to bed early and in his own room.
His aunt Mase had noticed the flush on his cheeks when he’d come home and had no objections to him going on to bed. She planned to take her own two children to Lacee’s for the evening and John would be fine alone.
She knew George wouldn’t be home until tomorrow night and that seemed to be when John had the most trouble with those crazy seizures though she didn’t understand why…She often suspected that there was more to it than the excuses her husband gave her that he was merely trying to hold the boy and keep him from hurting himself. The niggling suspicions were pushed aside…Why would George hurt the boy on purpose?
She shook her head at how many times she’d had to try to explain it to the school and state officials when that interfering fire captain called them because the boy was battered or sporting another brace on his arm from the struggles.
She looked in on him before she left. He was sleeping peacefully. She closed the door quietly and headed for her sisters.
Walking Wolf stumbled from the bar in Lame Deer...He punched the railing in a rage. He’d been sent by the council to Ashford to make a deal on several dozen head of cattle. He’d expected to be there for at least the night but the deal had gone quickly…Too quickly. He’d sat down with the men and they’d pulled out a bottle of fine whiskey and offered him a drink.
George knew he should have refused it until the deal was made but he hadn’t. He slugged it back as he usually did and set the glass on the table. They’d refilled it and refilled it again…And again. He didn’t notice the smirks on the faces of the white ranchers.
He’d driven back to Lame Deer in a smug fog, thinking he’d won the best of that deal. It wasn’t until he was in the bar celebrating that Jimmy Two Moons had looked at the contract he’d proudly tossed on the bar.
“Two hundred dollars Walking Wolf?” He questioned worriedly.
“What…? No…Two thousand Two Moons…Look again.”
The younger man read the contract and his worried brown eyes lifted to his friend. He shook his head. “It reads only two hundred,” he said hesitantly.
Walking Wolf’s eyes narrowed and he’d snatched the page from the other man. His eyes scanned the words and the final dollar amount that he’d agreed to and signed for. His heart had pounded in fear until rage climbed into its place. He’d been cheated…He’d signed the contract for the tribe…Forty eight of their prime beef cattle for almost nothing. How could he explain this to the council?
He should go back…Go back and kill them for this. How could he face Sun Walker and the rest of the council? What could he tell them…? That he’d been drunk? He’d trusted them and they’d made a fool of him.
He slid into the ranches truck and headed back to the reservation. His head was pounding but there was no help for it…He would have to face the council and tell them the truth. His rage continued to mount as he drove toward home.
He pulled into the dirt driveway of the house and staggered up the walk. It was still early in the evening but the house was dark…Well that was good…There was no one home. At least he wouldn’t have to deal with that cow he’d married. He felt a familiar ache in his loins as his eyes fell on John’s window.
Was the boy home or had Mase taken him with her or had he disappeared into the night as he often did. George had tried to find whatever hole the boy crawled into but John was good and he covered his tracks well.
He stumbled into the house and turned the lights on. The door to John’s room was closed…Did that mean he was in there? A drunken leer spread across George’s lips. There was no one here to hear his screams tonight.
Tonight he would have the boy…Even if he had to endure his crazy spells. No more playing games and after this…The boy would know his place and he wouldn’t dare run from him again or tell anyone or fight him anymore…George cracked the door open and smiled an evil grin.
John lay sleeping…A light coating of sweat beaded the boys face as the light from the living room played in shadows over his skin. George stepped inside and moved to the bed. He sat on the edge…The boy stirred restlessly. As he sensed even in his sleep that he wasn’t alone.
The dark eyes fluttered and George’s stomach tightened in anticipation of what would come. John’s left arm was over his head and it only took George a moment to grip the right and raise it up to join it…Holding both of the thin arms and rendering the boy helpless.
The other gripped the pajama shirt and ripped downward.
John was feeling sick and he knew he was running a fever. He’d gone to bed immediately when he’d come home. He felt the bed dip and for a moment, thought his aunt had returned to check on him.
John’s eyes flew open as he felt a large hand wrap around his wrist but before he could twist away, his arm was lifted and both wrists were locked in a vise like grip that the slender youth had no hope of breaking.
He felt the hand that gripped his shirt and the worn material parted easily under the man’s strength.
John’s body bucked frantically and his feet lashed out. “Hová’âháne,” he screamed in terror.
A vicious slap reeled his head around and John tasted blood. He felt the calloused hand of his uncle caress the exposed flesh of his chest and his feet kicked out again but George wasn’t about to be thwarted…Not this time.
He threw his leg over John’s hip, straddling the boy’s body and pinning his legs…Keeping him from kicking out. John’s breath was coming in frightened gasps as he struggled beneath him but the frantic wiggling only excited the man even more.
He leaned toward him…His breath hot in the child’s ear. “There is no one to hear you my rabbit,” he taunted. “Go ahead and scream,” he urged.
John’s eyes widened in fear as the man’s hand slipped lower tugging at the loose waistband of his pajama bottoms. A moan of anguish slipped from the boy’s lips and then a cry of terror followed as George’s hand slid downward beneath the garment to touch him intimately.
Tears rolled from the dark eyes as the boy continued to struggle against the man’s greater strength. He prayed for the grayness to come and claim him as it usually did but his uncle saw the vagueness of the eyes and shook him until he thought his neck would break but it was enough to snap him back from his retreat.
John realized that his hands were now free and he swung with everything he had but the drunken man on top of him barely felt it. He slapped the boy once more, making his head pound from the blow as his hands tugged the bottoms of his pajamas down to his knees.
He straddled the boy again and caught the swinging hands in his own as John fought to free himself from what he knew was coming. The man’s hands twisted his arms and John felt the bone crack in his wrist.
A scream of pain erupted from his lips and gasping sobs that only inflamed the man’s lust even more. His hand slid between his nephews legs as his mouth caught and covered John’s.
He smiled triumphantly as the struggles ceased and he thought he’d won. He eased up enough to try and roll the boy to his stomach but his triumph was short lived.
John had already been ill and fear combined with the reek of his Uncle’s breath in his nostrils as well as his frantic struggles was too much. Vomit erupted from his mouth and George’s eyes clouded with rage as it continued to spew. The teenager heaved repeatedly.
This wasn’t happening…He couldn’t believe it and it was too much for the enraged and disbelieving man to handle. His fist lashed out to land a stunning blow to the boy’s cheek. The fragile bone cracked under the onslaught.
John felt the thwack but he couldn’t stop the spasms that racked his thin body as he prayed for death to take him. His uncle’s fist slammed into his ribs and John felt them cave beneath the force of the blow. His uncle rolled off of him wiping at the mess that John had thrown up all over him.
He snatched his nephew’s naked body from the bed. John put up only a token resistance as the man’s huge fists slammed into him again and again until he hung limp and unconscious.
George was too angry and too drunk to realize what he’d just done. He dropped the teenager on the floor and staggered from the room.
He changed and left the house…He needed another drink and perhaps a visit to the young teen in town that he’d been grooming for some time. It was still early and Mase would normally be gone for hours when she went to her sisters. He’d come back later and finish with John. By then…The boy should be awake and scared enough to do what he was told.
Mase left her sister’s earlier than usual. Joseph was drunk as usual but when the both of them had begun to spew their hatred toward Sun Walker and George for Joseph’s removal from the council for what seemed the hundredth time…Mase had decided it was time to leave.
She noticed the light on in the open living area and glanced around curiously. Maybe George had come home but she didn’t see the truck. That didn’t mean anything though…He could have left it at the ranch. She frowned at the thought that John was at home alone with George.
She knew the boy seemed to suffer from his crazy spells whenever her husband was around and she hoped he was alright. She was too tired to deal with the boy tonight. She pushed the door open and her own two children preceded her inside.
“George…?” She called out. But there was no answer. Perhaps John had gotten up to get a drink and merely forgot to turn the light off. The boy wasn’t always too quick to remember little things like that. He’d looked feverish when she’d left and she heaved a sigh. She’d better check on him before she went to bed. The last thing she wanted was her father angry with them for not taking care of the little brat…Especially since she hoped George would return with a great deal for the reservation on these cattle.
She pushed the door open to John’s room and gasped in horror. The boy lay naked and bleeding on the floor. Dark bruises decorated his body and his breath was coming in short, shallow pants and he appeared to be unconscious.
“BEN…,” She screamed as she yanked the blanket from the bed and covered the teenager with it.
Her son ran inside. His eyes widened in shock for a moment at the sight of his cousin. “What happened?” He asked calmly as his sister joined him in the room.
“I do not know…Run and get Sun Walker…Hurry Ben…He is hurt bad,” she warned urgently. Ben turned and sauntered toward the door with a smug expression… “RUN,” Mase barked. The young man heeded the urgency in his mother’s voice and finally picked up the pace and ran.
Amy came to her mother’s side. “What has happened mother?”
Mase shook her head worriedly. John’s face was bruised and bleeding…His cheek and eyes were swollen and puffy. Bruises covered his chest and side and his right wrist was twisted at an odd angle. Who had done this? It wasn’t Joseph…He’d been at home…Her breath caught. George? Had he come home? What would she do if it was? Sun Walker would have him thrown off the council for this.
“Amy…Get me a pan of water and a cloth,” she told her twelve year old daughter. She left to do as she’d been told.
Despite his age and height, John was thin to a fault and Mase managed to lift the boy onto the bed. Amy returned quickly and the older woman began to clean the blood and vomit from the boy’s face and neck.
Sun Walker arrived at a run, Ben followed closely. “What has happened to him?” He barked as he knelt next to the boy.
Mase shook her head, wringing her hands anxiously. “I do not know father…I returned home and found him this way.”
Daniel peeled the blanket back and sucked in his breath at the battered body that was revealed beneath it. When he found out who’d done this he’d beat them within an inch of their life he promised himself.
“Ben…Run to Spotted Hawk and tell him I need to borrow his car. I have to take John to a doctor,” he said, realizing that the boy’s injuries were beyond what any of them could do for him here. Ben turned and fled the house.
He returned with the tribal elder and his car a short time later. Spotted Hawk entered the house and stood looking down at the battered body of the teenager and his mouth tightened in anger. What had happened here? What kind of monster would hurt a boy this way? Even this one?
“Come Sun Walker…I will take you into town,” he offered as Daniel bent to lift the unconscious youth into his arms.
Daniel led the way and they laid John in the back seat of the car and headed for Lame Deer. Sun Walker cast anxious glances over his shoulder as they drove…Willing the boy to open his eyes but they remained stubbornly closed.
They pulled up in front of the doctor’s office that Kate had brought the boy to when he’d been ill with pneumonia but the door was locked. The sign read that the doctor was in Sheridan today and office hours would resume tomorrow.
They went to the only other doctor in town. The nurse glanced up as they carried the injured boy inside. She frowned at the sight of the two large Indian men and the blanket wrapped form that one of them carried.
“I’m Daniel Sun Walker,” the older man informed her. “This is my grandson John…He needs a doctor…He has been beaten,” he said without preamble.
The woman nodded her head…The doctor didn’t normally treat the Indians from the reservation. They usually handled their sicknesses themselves or when they were very ill, they sometimes saw Dr. Carlton but she knew he was at the Hospital today.
She disappeared into the back and a moment later she waved them inside. Daniel laid John on the table and stepped back as the doctor came in. The man took one look at John and shooed both Sun Walker and Blue Eagle from the room.
He peeled the blanket back and sucked in his breath sharply at the injuries that boy displayed. The young teenager was unconscious though soft moans whispered from between his lips as the man’s hands moved over him.
He moved down the battered torso and his eyes widened as he pulled the blanket lower. “Dear God…What had been done to this boy? Even Dr. Smith with all his dislike for the Indians felt a welling of compassion. No child should have to suffer through something like this.
He completed his examination and rolled the bulky X-Ray machine into place. By the time he was done he was shaking his head in disbelief that the youngster was still breathing.
He waved his nurse over. “Get a gown on this boy and then bring his grandfather in here.” She nodded and a short time later Daniel came inside.
He looked at his grandson who was still unconscious on the table. An oxygen mask covered the lower half of his face and an IV dripped fluids into his arm. A stark white cast covered his hand and wrist and X Ray images were tucked into the light panel that covered half the wall.
The older doctor stood with his arms folded over his chest as the man entered the room. “What is it? What have you found?” Daniel asked without making any small talk.
“Your grandson was nearly beaten to death,” he growled as he pointed toward the light panel. “He has three broken ribs and how they managed not to puncture a lung is beyond my explanation,” he added. “He has a serious concussion from repeated blows to his head. His cheekbone is fractured,” he said angrily as he snapped the torso shot clear to slap the skull shot in place.
He pointed to the next one over. “His right wrist is broken as well…He has severe bruising to his stomach and kidneys and he was molested,” he barked angrily.
Sun Walkers eyes widened in shock at the last words. “What do you mean? That is not possible…”
The doctor spun on his heel and lifted the sheet, raising the gown to John’s waist. He very gently parted the thin legs for the man to see the bruising that traveled clear up to the boy’s groin. “He’s been molested Mr. Sun Walker,” he said gently, seeing the look of horror that was spreading over the old man’s face.
Daniel felt sick. How could he have let this happen to his grandson? How had he not seen it before? The fear…The withdrawals…George…It had to be George Walking Wolf. How could he have believed the lies that they’d been injuries caused by John’s fits? This whole time he’d been abusing the child and far worse than Joseph and Lacee had ever done.
And John…He’d hidden the terror and the pain and the injuries. He had taught him not to be weak…Not to show his emotions or fear and the boy had learned the lessons too well. He’d failed Red Moon and his grandson. John didn’t deserve this…No child did.
“D…Did he rape my grandson,” he asked point blank, tripping over the words as his rage grew.
The doctor shook his head. “Whatever he started here…He didn’t finish.”
Sun Walker let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding. He’d make sure the bastard never touched John again. “Can I take him home?”
The doctor shook his head. “I’d like to keep him for a couple of days…He’s in pretty bad shape. My nurse will spend the night with him and call me if she needs me.” He didn’t add that the sheriff and child welfare would have to be called.
Sun Walker nodded. It was just as well…He wouldn’t have to stay with John while he hunted for Walking Wolf…The man would pay for this.
Captain Rigsby was sipping his coffee as he leaned against the wall beside the bay doors. He saw the older model car as it rolled to a halt outside the doctor’s office. He watched curiously as the two men climbed out.
He squinted into the darkness and could just make out the features of Daniel Sun Walker as he lifted a blanket wrapped bundle from the back seat.
Rigsby’s stomach turned a flip. “Johnny? Was it the boy Sun Walker cradled so gently? He wanted desperately to find out. He set the cup aside and ran toward the doctor’s office. He pushed the door open but Sun Walker was nowhere in sight.
His eyes rested on the other man who sat in a chair, staring silently at the floor. The old man looked up as he entered. “Excuse me…,” Rigsby began. “Can you tell me if that was Sun Walker who just came in?” The man threw him a brief, wary nod. “Was it his grandson…Was it Johnny,” he clarified, “That he brought in?”
“What is it to you vé’ho’é?” Spotted Hawk asked suspiciously.
“I need to know if the boy is alright?”
The desperation in the man’s voice broke the older man’s resolve to tell him nothing. Spotted Hawk’s frown and small shake of the head was enough. “He was badly beaten…,” he began. He stopped as the door opened.
John’s dark eyes fluttered as he felt a sheet being spread over his bare legs. Pain rolled in waves through his body. “Mmmm,” the whimper of sound slipped from between swollen lips.
His grandfather and a man he didn’t recognize suddenly swam into focus. “John?” Sun Walker called his name softly.
His eyes swiveled toward him blearily. He tried to talk but his lips felt stiff and he hurt too much. He felt something over his face and tried to lift his hand but it felt heavy and clumsy. He looked down at the cast that encased his wrist and part of his hand.
Memory flooded over him and tears burned behind his eyes but he blinked hard to keep them from falling lest his grandfather think that he was weak. God…What had Uncle George done to him…The painful memory of his hand groping between his legs brought a wave of nausea.
John gagged and the stranger quickly pulled the mask clear and half rolled the boy to his side, holding a metal basin beneath his cheek as bile erupted from the teenager’s mouth. The spasms finally eased and the man rolled him onto his back.
“John…Was it Walking Wolf that did this to you?” Sun Walker asked…His voice was deadly soft. John squeezed his eyes shut as the leering black eyes of his uncle swam before him.
“Ddd…Doan rrr…rem…mem…ber.” He whispered, shoving the memory down deep…Blocking out the sight of the man and his triumphant smirk.
Had he finished what he’d started? John couldn’t remember…But oh God…What if he had? He felt filthy and violated just by what he could remember. He shook in shock.
Shame…Fear…Humiliation all warred within the fourteen year olds mind. What would his parents think of him if they could see him now…? What about anyone else? Would they blame him as his Uncle had told him? Would they think he was the wicked and evil child his Aunt Lacee had called him? He’d never be able to look anyone in the eyes again, he felt so small and dirty. He must have done something to deserve this…They all said he did but right now he couldn’t think of what. Guilt…Guilt washed through him. It was his fault…His fault. That’s what they always said and he was being punished. Would it ever end?
“John…I need you to tell me…”
“Ccc…Can’t…K…Kill me…Doan mem…mem…ber,” he whispered with a hitched breath as he tried to turn away. He sucked in his breath as pain washed over him. His ribs hurt and so did his face. His wrist was sending shooting stabs of pain up his arm and then lower down in his groin…John clenched his eyes shut. It hurt to even move his legs.
“Okay Sun Walker…That’s enough. The boy needs to sleep now,” the other man told him softly.
Sleep? John would never be able to close his eyes and sleep again. Every time he closed them the face of his uncle swam before him. The leering brown eyes and the smirk of victory made his stomach roll again.
He turned his head away so they couldn’t see the pain and the fear reflected in them. John wanted to die…Why couldn’t it have been him instead of his mother? He could feel the man’s hands touching him…His stomach…his chest…Touching him there. He whimpered softly.
Someone touched his arm and he jumped. A cold feeling suddenly spread into his veins. His eyes began to close and John fought it…He didn’t want to sleep…No…No…He was there in his nightmares before this had ever happened, how much more now…? The drug finally won and the dark eyes closed. “Nnnnooo,” whispered from his lips.
“Sa’naootseotse ná’ néso,” (Go to sleep my child) Daniel soothed. As soon as he was sure the boy was asleep a cold look of steel entered the brown eyes. He knew George was responsible and it would never happen again.
Daniel stepped from the examination room to find Spotted Hawk in conversation with Rigsby. “What is it you want Captain?” He growled at the man.
“I saw you bring the boy in…I wanted to know if he was okay?”
“He will be…”
“I warned you if this happened again…”
“It will be handled,” Daniel assured him.
“That’s what you said the last time,” Rigsby said angrily.
Sun Walker’s mouth tightened at the words as guilt rolled over him in waves. The man was right…He’d been so intent on teaching the boy to be strong that he hadn’t seen the terrors his own family were inflicting on his grandchild. How could he have been such a blind fool? “It will not happen again.”
“Can I see him?”
Daniel shook his head. “The doctor has sedated him…He was in much pain.”
Rigsby’s eyes took on the hardness of flint and Daniel recognized it as the same look that dwelled in his own. “Tomorrow Captain…I will let you see him tomorrow,” he said, giving in to the worry the man was feeling but by then he hoped the problem would be resolved.
George returned home with the intent to finish what he’d started with the boy but as soon as he entered the house he knew his plans had been thwarted yet again. His wife and children had returned. He wondered idly if they’d even seen John.
Mase looked up as he came inside. “What did you do to John?” She hissed through clenched teeth.
His hand lashed out to slap her across the face at the tone she’d dared to take with him. Her hand flew to cover the reddening skin.
“Do not dare to take me to task like that again,” he snarled. “I was kind enough to take in the little half breed whelp your whore of a sister left behind,” he finished with a sneer. “I was merely trying to hold onto the boy…He fell against the table.”
She looked at him in disbelief…Did he really think she’d believe that? “He was naked and bleeding…You beat him,” she accused. “My father was…”
“Your father…You called Sun Walker?” He growled.
“Of course I called father…John might have died otherwise.”
George sobered up quickly and his heart pounded rapidly in fear. Spirits…What had the foolish woman done to him? “COW,” He spat angrily. “Would you see me stripped from the council because your crazy nephew lost control again?”
She stared at him incredulously. “If you did no more than hold him than you had nothing to fear in the telling,” she challenged. His hand rose again and Mase cringed away from the wrath she saw in his eyes.
“You will tell him the truth my wife…You will tell him of the crazy fits and the screaming and kicking and rocking…”
Mase nodded quickly at the rage in her husband’s eyes. It was true after all…John did all those things and it was possible that he’d hurt himself in a struggle. “Yes George,” she replied meekly.
George turned and stalked from the house. Mase glanced up in time to see Ben and Amy retreat to their bedroom…Tears flooded her eyes and rolled down her bruised cheek in shame.
Spotted Hawk stopped the car in front of Sun Walkers house. “Let me know when you are ready and I will drive you into Lame Deer to see John tomorrow,” he said softly.
Sun Walker nodded. “Thank you Spotted Hawk,” he replied. “And please…Keep what you saw to yourself. There is no need for the whole people to know what was done to him.”
The old man nodded his agreement and drove away. Daniel disappeared inside long enough to check on White Owl. She was sleeping peacefully and he pulled the worn blanket closer about her chin. He pulled open the dresser drawer and grabbed the object he’d been looking for.
George Walking Wolf would not die tonight…But Sun Walker had every intention of making sure he knew that that was exactly what would happen if he ever laid his hands on his grandson again.
Walking Wolf had walked to the river to try and clear his head. He needed to think…What would he tell the council tomorrow about the contract he’d signed? How could he tell them he’d been tricked into signing it because he’d been drunk? He remembered all too well Joseph’s fate because of his drinking.
It was all John’s fault…He’d been drinking more heavily again since John had come into the house. Having the boy under his nose was a huge temptation and to be stopped at every turn by his wife or his children or Sun Walker not to mention the boy’s insane behavior was frustrating.
He couldn’t believe it…He’d been so close to taking the boy tonight only to have the brat vomit all over him. He’d been so disgusted he’d lost control. How would he explain that?
George was so caught up in his thoughts that he failed to hear the whisper soft steps of his father in law until the ten inch blade of Sun Walkers hunting knife suddenly rested against his throat.
Walking Wolf almost finished himself off as he sucked in his breath in terror. His cold, black eyes shifted sideways to meet the blazing, enraged eyes of the second chief.
“S…Sun W…Walk…er,” he managed to whisper hoarsely. He knew that blade was razor sharp and a single wrong move could cut his throat in a heartbeat.
“You almost killed John tonight,” he snarled close to his ear. “You put your hands on my grandson in the vilest of ways…I should slit your throat like the pig you are for what you did.”
George was drooling now, afraid to swallow as the knife blade pressed closer, drawing blood as he breathed shallowly through his nose.
“He…he fough me..,” he tried to explain without inhaling or expelling air.
The old man’s fist landed with unerring accuracy even in this darkness and George stumbled backward. The old man followed and another blow doubled him over, the third stood him up and the fourth knocked him down. He ended up flat on his back…His nose broken and bleeding…His stomach aching and his ribs bruised. “Do not lie to me…I saw the evidence of what you did. George heard the telltale whisper of sound as the blade struck the ground between his legs…Mere centimeters from his groin.
His eyes widened in horror…”I…I do not…” He stammered lamely.
“Bastard…,” Daniel interrupted harshly. “I should geld you as I would a rogue bull but then I would have to explain what you did and that would only shame my grandson further but I warn you Walking Wolf…Touch the boy again and what you treasure most will rival the youngest of our maidens.”
George swallowed back his fear and nodded his acquiescence but the old man had given him the leverage he’d needed…His concern for John and not letting the boy bear the humiliation of what had happened.
Sun Walker plucked the knife free, drawing another nervous breath from Walking Wolf until he backed away. The younger man climbed to his feet warily. “I will not harm John again,” he promised, though he had no intention of keeping his word.
The boy was cunning and slippery…He just needed to get him alone as he’d been tonight. Somewhere off the reservation…The boy had already learned to fear him and what humiliation was…He’d never dare to open his mouth to anyone when he was done.
Daniel saw the gleam of lust in the black eyes and wondered how he’d missed this viper within his own family. He understood Red Moon’s fear of the man and for the first time wished he’d been more understanding of her marriage to the man Gage.
She’d seen the serpent’s heart where he’d only seen the outward appearance and the color of his skin…Red like his own. He’d been a blind fool and John had had to pay for that. He could only hope that the boy wouldn’t be scarred for life or even permanently crippled from the attack.
“You will never get another chance to hurt John,” he sneered, dashing the man’s musings. “He will be living with me when he is well.” Sun Walker turned and walked away.
George kicked at the ground in rage and frustration…Once again the boy would be beyond his reach…For a fleeting moment his hand rested on his own knife…He could resolve the problem right here and now while the old man’s back was turned but he thought better of it…He’d be the first one they’d suspect. His eyes narrowed angrily as he watched the old man walk away.
Pain flared in John’s mind as consciousness finally washed back into his brain. His face felt stiff and his mouth hurt from where his teeth had been driven into his lip.
His eyes fluttered, trying to open but his mind was trying desperately to tell them to close…To let consciousness fade...To never wake up. Memory’s flooded through his brain and gray crowded around the edges.
How would he ever get past this last assault? This wasn’t just a beating…John’s face flushed scarlet at the memory of his uncle’s panting breath and his hands touching him…There…His calloused and sweating hands caressing his skin. He wanted to run…Run and never stop but he couldn’t move…He hurt so badly. He prayed for death to take him as it had his parents but it wasn’t to be. He gagged once more as the shame of what had happened washed through him and the guilt that it was somehow his fault.
He jumped as he felt gentle hands turn his head. “It’s alright sweetie…You can throw up if you need to,” a soft voice assured him.
John didn’t have much choice. His body heaved repeatedly until sheer exhaustion over rode the physical and emotional pain. He sank back into the bed as the nurse rearranged his blankets and got him resettled.
She reached out to smooth the dark hair back but John recoiled violently. “NO DON’T,” he cried throwing his hands up to protect his face.
The woman pulled back…Her heart aching at his terror stricken reaction. “Poor baby,” she mumbled softly. No child should have to suffer what this one had. She gently shot a sedative into his IV port and the frightened child quickly drifted into unconsciousness.
Sun Walker pushed the door to the doctor’s office open and stopped at the sight of the three men waiting for him inside.
Rigsby looked up and climbed to his feet as he recognized John’s grandfather. The other two followed suit. One was easily recognized by him uniform and badge as the town’s Chief of Police but the other brought a questioning rise of Daniel’s eyebrow.
“Sun Walker…This is Police Chief Edwards and this is gentleman is from Children’s Services…Albert Donovan.” Daniel’s eyes narrowed warily.
“Why are they here?” He barked angrily.
“Mr. Sun Walker,” Donavan began. “I’m afraid I’m here because the sheriff was told that your grandson was badly beaten last night. Captain Rigsby has informed me that this is not the first time that it’s happened.”
The dark brown eyes shifted to Rigsby. “I warned you Sun Walker. I told you if it happened again I’d call the police in.”
“I’d like to see the boy Sun Walker…,” Chief Edwards drawled softly. “I’d like to ask him some questions.”
“This is a tribal matter…It is not the white man’s problem.”
“John Gage is half white as Captain Rigsby had pointed out…Besides this isn’t a minor offense Sun Walker…It’s child abuse.”
Daniel wanted to refuse but as much as the words were phrased as a request, he sensed that a negative response would gain him nothing. “Very well,” he said shortly.
Dr. Smith came from the back and waved the four men inside. “He’s still badly shaken…I’ve got him mildly sedated but I don’t think you’re going to get too much even if he wasn’t,” he warned the Sheriff. “He won’t talk.”
“I will make him talk if that is all you need before I take him home,” Sun Walker said with certainty.
“Mr. Sun Walker…The boy’s suffered a serious trauma…Both emotional and physical. I don’t recommend pushing him into talking about it until he’s ready and a bit more stable.”
Sun Walker frowned. “Stable?” He questioned. “John is strong…He is afraid now but he will recover,” he assured them.
The others looked at him in dumbstruck silence. How could the man think the boy would simply ‘get over’ this? He hadn’t been simply spanked a little too hard…He’d been beaten near to death…Molested and traumatized.
Smith frowned in disbelief…If he’d had no use for these people before…His opinion had just dropped a bit lower…Unfair to judge by one perhaps but this one was beyond comprehension. He was unaware of Sun Walkers fear that if the boy was too badly injured…They’d take him from him permanently and he couldn’t bear that.
“Why don’t we let them talk to John,” Smith said crisply as he spun on his heel without waiting for an answer. The others cast one final look of incredulity and followed.
John was still asleep as they came into the room. The nurse tossed them a grimace, knowing that they wanted to speak to the young teenager and knowing that this poor boy wasn’t ready to tell them what had happened. He hadn’t spoken a word since his frightened outcry last night.
“How is he?” The doctor questioned his assistant.
She shook her head. “He woke for a minute last night…Long enough to throw up,” she told them somberly. He was still pretty scared so I sedated him as you told me to. He woke up a little while ago but went right back to sleep.”
“Did he say anything?”
She shook her head. “Not the last time…The first time he just told me ‘no don’t’ when I tried to touch his face.”
The sheriff and the case worker stepped in close to the bed…The shock at the boys battered and swollen face was evident. “I need to see the rest of his injuries,” Donovan said quietly.
John was sleeping restlessly…He’d begun to waken at the sound of their voices but came awake with a jerk as he felt the blankets pulled down and the gown hiked up to his chest without warning. His cry of terror made them all flinch as he pushed the nurse’s hands away.
He backed into the corner of the bed fighting a threatening whimper of fear and pain as his injuries reawakened but he didn’t care…Who were these people? He recognized his grandfather and Rigsby but who were the others and why were they looking at him like this? Pain washed through him in waves as his broken ribs shifted and his arm throbbed.
“John behave!” Sun Walker barked at the frightened boy.
The dark eyes flitted from one to another as he huddled into himself…The memory of Georges hands flooded back and he shook his head fearfully. Tears burned behind the chocolate colored orbs but he blinked them away.
He wouldn’t cry and show weakness to these strangers…He wouldn’t let them hurt him too. Sun Walker stepped forward and gripped the boys arm before the others could stop him.
John stiffened at his touch and shook his head frantically as his grandfather tried to drag him back to the center of the bed. He gave him a light shake but John still resisted.
“Be careful,” Smith snapped at the way the old man was man handling the injured boy.
“Dear God man…Can’t you see he’s scared to death?” Rigsby snapped as he moved to the other side of the bed. Sun Walker scowled as the fire captain turned to the boy. “Johnny? It’s okay son…This is the Sheriff and Mr. Donovan. Johnny…They need to find out what happened to you. Can you tell them?”
Wary dark eyes turned to the two men before they flicked toward his grandfather. John knew Sun Walker wouldn’t want him to embarrass their people by telling them what had happened to him…Not to mention that George had promised to kill if him he did besides, what if his Uncle was right and they thought it was his fault. He shook his head.
“You can’t tell them or you won’t?” Rigsby pushed.
John looked down at his hands in shame but he said nothing…His face twisted as he fought the urge to throw himself into Rigsby’s arms weeping and tell him everything but he couldn’t…How could he bear to see the disgust on the man’s face?
Dr. Smith stepped closer to the bed. “Okay John…I know it’s a bit embarrassing but you have to let these men see what your injuries are,” he said gently as he reached for the boy.
John fended off his hands with a wordless cry of fear and a frantic shake of his shaggy sable hair. The doctor heaved a sigh. As much as he hated doing this, he couldn’t risk John further injuring himself or reinjuring the broken bones he’d so carefully set the night before besides, they had to see in order to figure out what was best for the boy. He looked to his nurse… “Diazepam,” he said quietly.
She nodded and returned a moment later. John saw the needle and his reaction was instant. He inched back away from the doctor with a negative shake of his head. “Hold him,” Smith directed.
Rigsby reached out to take hold of his arms as the Sheriff caught the boy’s kicking feet…Between the three of them, they managed to hold him down long enough for the doctor to inject the sedative. John continued to struggle for several long moments before the drug finally won. The dark eyes threw a single betrayed look at the fire captain as they finally slid closed.
Smith laid the teenager back against the pillows before reluctantly pulling the gown away. Rigsby, Edwards and Donovan sucked in their breaths collectively at the black and blue bruising across the boys belly and rib cage. Their eyes dropped lower and their mouth tightened in anger.
“Mr. Sun Walker,” Donovan began. “I…I can’t believe the boy survived a beating of this magnitude,” he stammered in horror. “Whoever did this should be in jail.”
Sun Walker folded his arms across his chest. “He has already been dealt with…It was our problem…Not yours,” he said simply. “This will not happen again.”
“That’s what you said the last time,” Rigsby growled, “and the time before that. Was it the same man…His Uncle?” He snarled angrily.
“No…But I promise you…”
“You can’t let him take the boy home,” Captain Rigsby interrupted. “I could take him…”
“You will not take my grandson from me.”
“I can’t return him into the hands of an abuser,” Sheriff Edwards drawled.
Rigsby smiled in relief. No one else wanted the boy…He’d be more than happy to take him if they refused to allow the tribal elder to take him home.
“He will not return to his abuser. I will take him into my home and keep him myself,” he promised them.
Rigsby’s heart sank a bit as he saw the exchange of glances between the two officials. “You can’t let him…He’s promised to watch out for him three times now and look at this,” he waved toward the boy.
“This will be the final warning Sun Walker and I will be out to check on him and be sure he’s okay,” the child welfare officer warned.
“He will be well,” he promised.
“He’d better be or I’ll take him away permanently.”
“But…,” Rigsby began.
“Captain…The boy should be with his own kind,” Sheriff Edwards said softly.
“HIS OWN KIND…,” he bellowed. John shifted restlessly in his sleep. “They're the one's that did this to him...You can't just give them back to them...He’s a child not a dog,” he finished, a bit more softly.
“An Indian child.”
“And no white relatives that want him…Unless of course you can produce one?”
Rigsby shook his head in defeat. “No…,” he muttered. He wanted to add…Except me and seven other guys at a fire station but that would never fly and he knew it. He smoothed the tangle of dark hair from the sleeping boy’s face. “I’m sorry Johnny.” He whispered softly. “I really tried.” He turned to the others. “If something happens to this boy again…It’s on your heads,” he snapped as he turned and left the room.
“Remember what I said Sun Walker…One more time and I’ll take him into state custody.”
John’s eyes drifted open several hours later. His grandfather sat in a chair across the room…His deep brown eyes crinkling around the edges. John didn’t remember him looking so old before. John suddenly remembered the men that had been here earlier and his eyes darted about the room fearfully but there was no one else about.
His face flushed in humiliation as he remembered them looking at his naked body…What had they done while he’d been asleep? He didn’t know but a whimper of shame slipped from between bruised lips.
His grandfather’s head turned toward him and he climbed tiredly to his feet. John cringed away as he reached to touch him and Sun Walker frowned. “Are you alright?”
John looked away. How could he even ask him such a thing? He’d never be alright again…Ever. How could he face his people after this? The other children of the reservation… School…? What if they found out?
“Answer me…,” Sun Walker demanded at the boy’s silence.
Tears welled in John’s eyes to spill over and streak his cheeks but reached up to brush them away. “III…Aaa…Am Ffff…fine,” he barely got out, past the stutter.
“Then I will take you home.”
John’s head snapped up… “Nnnn….No,” he gasped in terror. George would kill him.
Sun Walker realized that John had misunderstood. “Not to Walking Wolf John…You will live with me from now on.”
John didn’t care…It was too close to that man. He shook his head. “Ppp…please ggg…grandfather,” he begged desperately.
“That is enough…Walking Wolf has been warned and he will not touch you again,” he snarled in exasperation.
Dr. Smith stood in the doorway, listening in disbelief. How could this man be so cold? Didn’t he understand the trauma the boy had been through? The psychological and emotional damage could be permanent and devastating if the boy wasn’t treated by a professional.
“Sun Walker,” he said as he entered the room. “The boy is badly injured and emotionally scarred. I’d think seriously about getting him some help from a psychologist soon.”
John does not need any more white doctors. He will be alright once I get him home.”
“Under the nose of his abuser…? What the hell’s the matter with you mister?” He muttered in disgust. “Do you understand what he’s been through?”
“He is strong…Not weak like your white children are taught to be. John will be fine.”
The doctor shook his head…He couldn’t believe this. “I can’t keep you from taking the boy…Unfortunately but you need to pay attention to what I’m telling you. He’s in bad shape with a lot of broken bones…His wrist…Three ribs, his right index finger and his cheekbone. He’s to be on COMPLETE bed rest for the next two weeks…Do you understand?”
“We do not coddle…,” he began but the doctor interrupted threateningly.
“Anything less will be considered abuse and I’ll call Donovan and the Sheriff back in. They’ll take the boy into custody.”
John didn’t like the sound of that…What had he done wrong? Would he be arrested for what Walking Wolf had done to him?
Sun Walker scowled angrily at the warning but finally nodded his head, certain that Smith would carry out the threat. “He will rest,” he assured him. “Come John.”
John eased his aching and battered body from the bed, shaking off his grandfather’s attempt to help him. He didn’t want to be touched. He’d never let anyone touch him again. He allowed Sun Walker to help him get dressed but only because he had too. He had only one hand after all.
They returned to the ranch where John was safely tucked away in his mother’s old bedroom and in the bed she’d slept in as a child. His grandfather pulled the blankets over him and headed for the door. He stopped and looked back at the boy who’d said nothing all the way home. “I am sorry this happened to you John but you should have told me what Walking Wolf was doing to you,” he said, casting the blame on the boy.
John nodded…He glanced over at his grandfather wanting desperately for him or someone else to care enough to hold him…Comfort him…Tell him he wasn’t at fault but he was. Even his grandfather blamed him for this so he must have done something to make George think he’d welcome his attentions. He must be an evil child after all.
Sun Walker entered the lodge where the council was waiting. His eyes swept over his son in law in aversion. How could he ever be civil to this animal again?
The others had no idea of the animosity between the two except for one and though curious at the battered look of the tall man, they wouldn’t think to question it…Most of them were afraid of him and his temper but still…They were eager to hear about the deal that George had made on their behalf in Ashford but had been waiting for Daniel to arrive.
Spotted Hawk’s eyes moved over the other man’s bruised face in disgust. He was the only other person in the room who knew what Walking Wolf had done and he was disgusted by him. It wasn’t that he cared that much for the young half breed personally but still…It was a vile act he’d attempted to enact and the old man had no use for him and he’d do everything in his power to get him off the council.
Sun Walker took his place next to Spotted Hawk and glanced at George expectantly. “Tell us what happened in Ashford yesterday?” He demanded without beating around the bush with the niceties…
George swallowed worriedly. He knew this was going to be ugly. “I presented the bloodlines to the vé’ho’é’s…They were very interested. I told them I wanted two thousand for the animals.”
The others murmured their appreciation at the boldness but Sun Walker’s eyes narrowed. If he’d pulled it off he’d have to admit to being impressed but the fact that the man wasn’t swaggering with arrogance forewarned him that he probably hadn’t closed the deal for that.
George licked his swollen and bruised lips… “They agreed to that amount but…,” he hesitated and the smiles that had begun to break out on their faces faded. “They tricked me…When they wrote the contract…They only wrote two hundred…I…I did not notice….I…” He stopped unable to admit he’d been drunk.
There was a collective gasp of shock from the group. “Forty eight of our best stock…,” Sun Walker bellowed angrily as he climbed to his feet. “You sold some of our best animals for two hundred dollars? How could you have been so stupid?”
George’s face was turning scarlet with rage and shame at Sun Walkers furious outburst…Knowing that it was even more fueled by what he’d done to John. “They…They tricked me,” he stammered.
“Were you DRUNK?” Spotted Hawk sneered in disgust. George didn’t answer and they all guessed that the old man had hit it on the head.
George knew it would only be a moment before Sun Walker called for his removal from the council. Spotted Hawk would back him. “I would speak to you alone Sun Walker,” he said warningly.
Daniel scowled angrily but followed him out the door. “What words could save you from what you deserve?” He barked as the younger man turned to face him.
“I am sorry for having been drunk and for making such a costly mistake but it was a mistake.”
“It was an act of a fool…A drunken, arrogant fool.”
“Nevertheless…I want you to speak on my behalf.”
“Why? Why would you believe I would do that…Especially after what you did to my grandson?”
George smiled coolly, wincing slightly as his mouth twinged painfully. “If I am removed from the council, than I have nothing to lose in telling them all what happened last night. What would they think of John if I tell them all that the boy enticed me…? Begged me to take him and that I beat him near to death for doing it.”
Sun Walker’s fist clenched in rage. The boy would be shunned even more than before. Even if Daniel told them the truth…There would always be those who would believe the worst and the rest of his family would be on the receiving end of that shame as well. Walking Wolf had him over a barrel and he knew it.
“I will defend you this time Walking Wolf but if you ever speak of what you did to anyone…I will not have to worry about you speaking your lies…I will cut out your tongue. If you ever touch John again…I will cut your throat.”
George blanched…He knew the old man meant every word. He nodded his compliance. The two men returned inside where the others were murmuring in anger and disgust. Daniel held up his hand and they all turned their attention to him.
“I have spoken to my son in law and he deeply regrets being tricked by the whites. He will work extra hard at the ranch to make up for this error and will no longer be allowed to speak for us on any deal.” Spotted Hawk’s eyebrow rose questioningly at his words and Daniel threw him a pleading glance. The old man knew his old friend would tell him what trick Walking Wolf had used to persuade him later.
George just glared at him but knew better than to push his luck. “I ask you to put this behind us and learn never to trust the white’s again.”
The others murmured among themselves. They’d all had run ins with the whites in town before and while they were still furious with George…Sun Walker was respected and they would never go against him. They nodded in agreement and George blew out a sigh of relief as they all left the building, shaking their heads in disappointment at the money lost. Their people would have to work even harder to make that up.
Spotted Hawk stopped next to his friend. “He threatened to tell what happened to my grandson,” Daniel said simply.
The elder nodded. “I will keep the secret also Daniel…For your sake.”
The Beginning of the End
Over the next few weeks the teenage boy recovered at his grandfathers…At least physically. Emotionally…It would take a very long time. John withdrew from everyone and everything. He wouldn’t allow anyone to touch him.
He barely spoke and only when it was demanded of him…He cringed in terror at every sudden movement and the sight of Walking Wolf would bring the gray walls crashing down around him…The rocking would begin and the eyes would grow distant and vague. Sun Walker feared that the boy was truly going insane.
When he returned to school, he sat in the back of the room and refused to participate. Everyone there wondered at what had happened but John gave them no answers to their concerned questions.
Rigsby had even tried to talk to him but John had stiffened at his hand upon his shoulder…His dark eyes fixed on the man’s feet, refusing to meet his eyes and the crimson stain of humiliation colored his cheeks. He’d stood mute until Rigsby had finally given up and allowed him to go on.
The man’s heart was broken at the defeat and hopelessness that was reflected in the once vibrant child that he’d come to know over the years. They’d killed the boy’s spirit and prayed that someone someday would rekindle it in the young man.
John was at his grandfather’s for three months and was starting to improve somewhat…He would at least speak to his grandparents when he had to. His grandmother had been kind to him when Daniel brought him home and John had tried to respond…Even managing an occasional smile for the old woman as time passed.
He’d just begun to come around and his grades had once again begun to come up when tragedy struck again… His grandmother White Owl suffered a stroke…She hadn’t been well as it was and it was a final devastating blow…She only lived for three days.
John had attended another funeral but at least this one hadn’t sent him spiraling into himself as his mother and father’s death had. He’d watched stoically…Standing and sitting where it was expected. Even moving his mouth with the chants and singing though he didn’t actually say the words aloud.
His grandfather was devastated. He’d sat with White Owl for forty eight years and his whole world had just crashed around him…It was the first time John had ever seen him weep or show a softer side…He hadn’t known he had one, he’d wondered to himself.
John glanced at him but he felt nothing himself anymore…Not pity or sorrow, hurt, pain, joy or sadness…He just existed. He’d shoved those things down deep inside along with the rest…It was easier that way. He wondered when his grandfather would blame him for her loss as they had when his mother had died.
He turned back to the service without a hint of emotion, wondering idly when his grandfather would either leave him or send him away…Everyone else did.
He didn't have long to wait...Sun Walker seemed lost over the next few weeks. He ate little and spent the nights pacing the house aimlessly. His health began to deteriorate rapidly despite his daughter’s pleadings that he take better care of himself. He simply had no desire to live.
George gloated and his black eyes swept over the teenage boy that seemed more like a ghost hovering silently in the background than a live person. He planned to take the boy back as soon as the old man died and this time…There would be no one to help him.
Daniel was despondent and in his grief…He left the boy to his own devices…If he was hungry, he would eat what he could find in the house which wasn’t always much lately…Daniel just couldn’t seem to be bothered.
Daniel realized even through his despair that he wasn’t caring for John the way he should. He finally decided to send the boy to his granddaughter Chloe and her husband Three Rivers to take care of and John had simply nodded in acceptance and packed his few things before leaving the house. He didn’t look back.
His cousin wasn’t happy at all with the boy’s presence in her house. Three Rivers looked at him almost with pity at the dull look of defeat in the boys once expressive eyes. His withdrawal from the world was now even in existence even when he wasn’t having one of those crazy fits…It was permanent.
Once again…He’d been sent away…Unwanted, unloved and nothing more than a burden to be shuffled off on someone else. John simply stopped caring one way or another and spent a lot of time in his safe place.
Sun Walker was dying and he knew it. His broken heart and spirit just couldn’t seem to find the will to live without his beloved White Owl. He knew it would only be a matter of time now but he had one last commitment.
He’d promised Red Moon that he would take care of John. How could he face her in the afterlife knowing he’d failed her in that promise?
He’d seen the lust filled looks George had given the handsome boy and he feared for him when he was gone. He pulled out a box that he’d kept hidden for a very long time. In it were the letters that the white man Gage’s sister had sent to Red Moon for the last couple of years.
He’d kept them hidden in the fear that his daughter would tell her how badly she and John had been treated and that she would offer them a home with her and then after Kate had died, he hadn’t returned them or let her know that Kate was dead…Worried that she would come and take the boy away but now…Well… John had another family…His aunt and a set of grandparents…He’d make the offer to them first. Beg them to come and take him somewhere safe…They had that right. He didn’t know what he’d do if they refused. The Fire Chief perhaps…He’d take the boy in a heartbeat most likely but the grandparents were the first choice.
Thirty nine year old Rosemary Gage Hughes finished the letter she’d written to her sister in law Kate. It had been more than two years since she’d heard from her despite her repeated attempts to reach her through the mail.
She loved Kate and wanted desperately to see her nephew…He’d be fourteen now and she could almost imagine how he’d look. The boxes of photographs she’d stored away for Kate were sitting in the attic but John had only been eight the last time and still retained much of the babyish features of a young child. Now he was almost a man.
She’d seriously considered flying out to Montana to visit but her husband Geoffrey had been so ill the last few months. He’d had a series of heart attacks and hadn’t really fully recovered. She was also afraid that Kate might have remarried now that Rod was out of her life but she honestly didn’t believe that would happen.
The two had been hopelessly in love and she doubted there would ever be another person that either of them could ever have loved as much as they had each other.
She’d been visiting with her parents this week while Geoffrey had been in the hospital here in Santa Barbara and she was anxious to get back to their home in San Gabrielle where her own two children, Joshua and Tiffany were going to school.
She went into her father’s study to find an envelope for her letter. She pulled open several drawers before spotting a pile and pulled them free of the drawer. She frowned in disappointment. These were all used.
She turned them over in her hand and her attention was caught by the post mark on the top…LAME DEER MONTANA. Curiosity flooded through her and she glanced toward the door before she opened it and pulled the letter out.
Her eyes filled with tears as she began to read the words.
To the Gage family
My name is Daniel Sun Walker of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Your son Roderick was married to my daughter Red Moon who joined your son in death almost two years ago.
“Katie’s dead,” she whispered in grief. What about John? She wondered as she continued to read.
“I am ill now myself and have very little time left to me. Your grandson John will be left with no one to care for him. I am asking you to come and take him back to California to raise. John is a bright and gifted young man who will one day make you proud but he is not of the people and is not accepted as Indian and will not fare well alone among them. There is not much time left and I would see the boy safely in your care before I join my wife and daughter. Write to me at the reservation or call me to make arrangements to take the boy as soon as possible. Daniel Sun Walker.
His address and a phone number were listed below. She glanced at the date…Almost three weeks ago.
She sat in the chair and let the tears flow. Katie was dead and she hadn’t even known…How could she tell…? Well…That wouldn’t ever happen. She cut off that line of thought as a new one began. Her parents hadn’t even mentioned this to her.
They’d known Kate was dead and that John would need a home and they’d said nothing. She glanced at the other letters banded behind the first and gasped in shock as her own name leaped from the envelope. She set the first letter aside and pulled out the second.
Tears rolled once again as she read Kate’s plea for her to come and take John home to raise as her own. Rage built as she realized that her parents had deliberately kept this from her. She snatched up the rest of the letters and stalked from the room.
Jonathan and Lenora Gage were in their sitting room sipping an after dinner brandy. Both of them started violently as the door was flung open and their irate daughter stormed into the room.
Rosemary’s father opened his mouth to issue an indignant rebuke but flinched as several letters were flung into his lap. “How dare you keep those letters from me?” She snarled angrily.
Jonathan’s face paled as he glanced down and realized what she’d seen. “You were snooping through my desk?” He growled.
“That’s hardly the issue here is it father but no…I was looking for an envelope and imagine my surprise to find seven letters addressed to me that I never saw.”
“I uh…I meant to give them to you…To forward them on but um…I forgot,” he tried to explain but the words sounded just as phony to his own ears as they did to Rosemary’s.
“You kept Kate’s death from me…She was my friend,” she wept bitterly. “Your son’s wife and the mother of your beautiful grandson… How could you? She died thinking that I didn’t care about her or John.”
Her father’s mouth tightened at the words and Lenora’s eyes flooded with tears of her own. She’d wanted to tell her but Jonathan didn’t want his half breed grandson embarrassing them all. Sure that he’d be nothing but an ignorant little savage.
“I wanted to tell you…,” her mother began but Rose cut her off.
“But you didn’t want me to bring John here did you? You were afraid of what your precious hoity toity friends would think. Well Rod means more to me than what other people think and he should to you…He’s your son and John is your flesh and blood too.”
“Only half,” her father muttered.
She looked at him in horror and she shook her head in dismay at these people she thought she knew but were strangers. “That child needed me…They needed me and I let them down because of you. I don’t think I know you anymore. You’re not my parents. My parents loved their children. I just wish I’d seen it sooner but I lied to myself that it was just hurt pride that Rod defied you but…You never really loved him at all…”
“That’s not true,” Lenora wept but Rose shook her head in disbelief.
“Are you going to send for John?”
“Of course not,” her father replied.
“Then I will…I’m going to Montana in the morning and get him but don’t worry…I won’t bring him here…I wouldn’t want to embarrass you.”
“I won’t have it,” her father barked as he shot to his feet.
“What are you going to do father…Disown me too…You’re running out of heirs but feel free if that’s what you want. I’d rather have Rod’s son than your money.” She turned back as she reached the door. “I don’t know that I can ever forgive you for this. Katie died thinking I didn’t care about her and my nephew…I’m just really ashamed of both of you right now.” She turned and left.
True to her word, Rose was on a plane the next morning. Her flight landed in Billings and a short while later she’d rented a car and was on her way to Lame Deer. She’d frowned at the odd look she’d received when she asked for directions but didn’t ask what was bothering the man she’d asked.
Rose was in for a shock to learn that it wasn’t just her own parents who couldn’t see anyone in any other color but white.
She drove into Lame Deer and stopped at small café for a cup of coffee. The place was busy and the waitress was a bit harried. “Coffee please,” Rose stated. “And can you tell me where the Northern Cheyenne Reservation is?” She asked.
“You’re on it ma’am,” she replied politely, seeing the expensive clothes and the nice car she’d parked out front. “But they don’t fancy whites out there unless you’re looking to buy horses or cattle...,” she let the statement hang.
“No…I’m looking for my nephew.”
“On the reservation…?” She asked in disbelief.
“Yes…His name is John…John Gage.”
Several people looked at her in shock and one man in a uniform stood and came toward her while the rest mumbled or stared in surprise. She glanced around her curiously at their reaction before turning her attention to him. “Robert Rigsby ma’am,” he introduced himself. “Did I hear you right? You’re Johnny’s aunt?”
“Yes…His father Roderick is…was my brother,” she corrected. “Do you know John?”
The gray eyes swept over her assessingly. This woman would be in for a rude surprise at the way her nephew lived but he prayed she’d come to take him out of this hell hole. “Yes I know John and I knew your brother. He was a good man…He used to bring Johnny to the fire station frequently...The boy wanted to be a fireman. I’m the Captain there. Kate used to let him come there as well but after she died…”
Rosemary’s eyes took on a sorrowful look. “Yes…I just heard that she’d passed. I came to take John back to California.” There was another rumbling of surprised murmurs from the crowded restaurant.
She frowned at the look of first sadness and then relief. “She was a nice lady and a good mom and I’ll miss the boy ma’am but I can’t tell you how relieved I am to hear you say you’re going to take him…Poor things been through hell…Beg pardon ma’am,” he apologized with a blush.
“It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard the word Captain,” she said in amusement.
“Yes ma’am…Look…Shelly’s right,” he said nodding to the waitress. “They’re not real fond of white’s out there…You sure you want to go alone?”
She smiled. “I was invited by a Mr. Sun Walker,” she said looking at the letter. “He’s John’s grandfather.”
“I know him ma’am…We’ve had a few discussions about the boy. They’re not real good to him being he’s only half Indian and all.”
She frowned at that. “I see…,” though Rigsby doubted seriously that she really did but she would. She’d be in for one hell of a shock when she met the boy…He shook his head remembering the last time he’d seen John.
His dark eyes that had danced with dreams of becoming a fireman only a couple of years ago were old…Old, tired and defeated. The smile that had so enchanted him and his crew was gone and the vibrancy that had permeated his life had been replaced with hopelessness and emptiness …It had radiated from his soul and Rigsby’s heart had been broken at the sight of him.
“Well…If you need help with anything or they give you any trouble…Please come and get me. I’d be glad to help.”
“Ma’am…Uh…If it wouldn’t be too much trouble…Could you bring the boy by the station on your way out of town…My crew would love to say goodbye to him.”
“I’ll do that,” she promised with a small smile. It didn’t reach her eyes…The man’s earlier warning had worried her greatly…Just what had her nephew been subjected too?
Rigsby watched her drive away with a mixture of emotions. She looked pretty well off. If the lady had cared about her sister in law, which she obviously had and she saw what he did in the boy then John would be loved and cared for and he could only hope that it wasn’t too little too late but on the other hand…His hopes to take the boy in himself were now crushed but the teenager would be much better off in California than in this narrow minded little town.
Rose drove along the road toward the reservation and her eyes were drawn to the run down looking homes along the way. Dear Heaven’s…Is this how Kate and John had been living? The poverty was obvious…Why hadn’t she asked for help?
“Pride,” she murmured. Katie would never have begged Rod’s family for help after the way they’d treated her and then when she’d become ill and had no choice…Her parents had hidden the letter. “I would have helped you Kate…God I hope you know that wherever you are. I would have helped you both,” she whispered softly.
She pulled into the center of the town and stopped the car. Heads turned in surprise as she climbed out and glanced around. There were people all about but none of them seemed inclined to want to come and talk to her…In fact one man’s black eyes made her heart thump a little harder in fear.
Finally one old woman made her way from the small gathering place where children sat about her and slowly approached Rose. “Can I help you find your way young lady?” She questioned.
“Yes please…I’m looking for a man named Sun Walker…I’m Rosemary Gage…”
“Gage…You are related to John?”
“Yes…I’m his Aunt. Sun Walker wrote to ask my family to take John back to California.”
Kate hadn’t been sure what to expect but the woman’s reaction had been almost the same as the Fire Captains…First sorrow and then relief. “Thank the spirit,” she murmured. “I will miss the boy but I am glad you have come.”
“Can you tell me where he is?”
The old woman pointed up the street. The third house is Sun Walkers…The boy is at his Cousins now…Sun Walker is failing and not able to keep him.
“I see…Well thank you uh…”
“Little Fox,” she replied.
“Thank you Little Fox.” Rosemary got back in the car and drove away.
Little Fox heard the sound of footsteps and turned to look at Walking Wolf as he came up beside her. “Who is she?” He demanded.
“John’s Aunt from California,” the old woman replied smugly shooting a toothless grin at the man. She had no idea exactly what George Walking Wolf had done to John but she knew he’d beaten him on several occasions...This last time near to death. Now John would be forever out of his reach and she rejoiced in that.
She saw a look of abject rage cross the man’s face. No…No…No…The old man couldn’t do this to him. He’d had plans to take the boy…Sun Walker wouldn’t last another month but the wily old man had outsmarted him after all. He’d send the boy out of his reach.
Little Fox chuckled with glee as Walking Wolf punched the railing on the sidewalk. She knew her ‘seeing’ for John’s future was about to begin and George Walking Wolf wouldn’t be able to stop the boys destiny…No one would. The next time she met John Gage…It would be in triumph.
Rose drove the short distance and stopped in front of the old house and got out. She knocked on the door a minute later.
A man answered and looked at Rosemary with red, tired eyes. “What do you want?” He asked shortly.
She held out the letter. She looked at him a bit shocked at the curt greeting he’d just given her. “I’m Rosemary Gage…You wrote to my parents…I’ve come for John.”
Sun Walker looked her over and finally nodded. “I wrote almost a month ago…I never heard from you …I thought you would not come.”
“Yes well…I just received that letter yesterday…I flew out immediately.”
The man nodded. “Wait here for a moment and then I will take you to him,” he said as he shuffled inside…He returned a few minutes later with a small box in his hand and moved slowly past her and down the stairs.
They drove for a mile or so before Rose glanced over at the hunched older man. “I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner…I had no idea that Katie had passed away…I’m so sorry for your loss Mr. Sun Walker,” she said quietly. “I loved Kate like a sister.”
He glanced at her in disbelief. “She was of the people and you are white.”
“So?” She questioned with a frown. “Katie was a lovely, sweet woman and she made my brother happy. Why wouldn’t I love her? Her being Indian didn’t matter to me.”
Sun Walker frowned. “You will care for my grandson?” He questioned worriedly.
“I will love him as if he’s my own…I promise you.”
That seemed to satisfy him. The old man nodded looking relieved. “It is here,” he said pointing to another run down looking home.
She pulled over and they walked up the drive. Sun Walker didn’t knock…Just pushed the door open and stepped inside. “JOHN,” he yelled, coughing harshly for a moment after.
Rose sucked in her breath as a young man stepped from a back room. Tears welled and spilled down her cheeks as she looked at him. He was the spitting image of her brother at fourteen…Well…except for the ugly bruise that decorated his cheek.
Her green eyes swept over the boy. His hair was sable like Rod's but hung below his shoulders. He was thin to a fault and his clothes were threadbare in places and he was barefoot. His head was bowed and his eyes were lowered but she didn’t have to see them to know that they were a chocolate brown like Kate’s had been.
“John…Come here,” the old man ordered. The boy shuffled toward him. His eyes flicked in the direction of the white woman standing near his grandfather curiously, biting his lip in a painfully familiar gesture to Rose…Roderick did…had done it often. Sun Walker didn’t mince any words… “This woman is your father’s sister.”
The shaggy sable head snapped up and she smiled at him gently. “I’m your Aunt Rosemary John,” she said quietly.
The dark eyes looked her over warily before shooting toward his grandfather questioningly. “We both know that I will die soon and I can not look after you any more John and you will not be safe when I am gone …I asked her to come. She is going to take you with her. “
“Hová’âháne,’ he gasped fearfully. “Másemetanό… Tό’aseeneenáh’ vé,” (No…Please don’t send me away). John was terrified…He didn’t know this woman. How could he send him away with a total stranger?
Rose glanced at the older man worriedly. “What did he say?” She questioned. This could be a problem if the boy didn’t speak English. The first thing she’d need to do was hire a tutor.
“He doesn’t want to go with you,” he replied curtly. “It is not a request John…You will get your things and go with your aunt…Now.”
John looked at him in shock. This wasn’t happening again. John couldn’t believe it…He was being sent away and this time it wasn’t even with his own people. They would send him to live with the whites…People...Family he didn’t even know and that hated him more than his own people did.
“I was told by your dad that you liked California. Won’t you come with me John? I’d really like to get to know you.”
Gray was edging in…His breath coming in short pants. The boy backed away but Sun Walker recognized the warning signs…He reached out to grab him by the arm. His hand landed a stinging cuff to the boys head and John flinched away fearfully but it still snapped him back to reality at least for the moment.
Kate gasped in horror at the violence he’d just inflicted on the teenager. “Do as you are told,” he said gruffly. “Get your things and go with this woman…I would know that you are safe from Walking Wolf before I leave this earth.”
John had no choice. He was being sent away… Again…Did he belong nowhere? “Héehe’e namêšéme,” he whispered forlornly. He turned and left.
“There was no need for that,” she said angrily.
“The boy is stubborn and rebellious and he needs a strong hand.”
“Yes…I can see that it’s been liberally applied,” she growled in response. “Does John speak English?” She questioned.
“Of course…He is not an ignorant savage,” he replied sarcastically. He looked the woman over once more. “I want you to know that I would not let you take him from me if there were another way…I know I will not be here to protect him from his family.”
“Protect him?” She almost squeaked. “I’d hate to see what you’d do if you wanted to hurt him,” she bit out scathingly. What did he need to protect him from and from whom? His own Family? Just what the hell had they done to Rod’s son?
Sun Walker frowned in confusion at her attitude. “My grandson will be a strong man…I did not raise him to be weak. He has learned his place here and he must learn it with you as well. You must be strong with him if he is to be strong.”
She shook her head in disbelief. She wouldn’t stand here and argue with a dying man but really. “His place will be in my home as a cherished member of my family. He’s my brother’s only child and I’ll love him.”
Sun Walker scowled…She’d make the boy weak but there was no help for it…He no longer had an option. John reappeared a moment later with a small bag containing the meager possession’s he still owned...A handmade blanket his mother had given him, a few clothes and his father’s green pen was the sum total.
Sun Walker handed her the box and her eyes filled with tears when she opened it. The silver and turquoise jewelry that Roderick had presented to his wife for their anniversary when John was just an infant winked up at her. “This belonged to John’s mother,” he said with a shrug. “It is yours to do with as you see fit...Payment to take the boy. ”
John looked terrified and despairing as the only thing that he still had of his mother was being given away yet again. She saw the sensitive mouth tremble and the fear in his eyes and held it out to him. “Would like to hold onto this John?” She asked gently.
He reached out timidly, as if fearing that it would be snatched away but she didn’t. He took the box and stuffed it in his bag before he lowered his eyes once more. “I guess we should be leaving now…We have a plane to catch and some shopping to do before that,” she said eyeing the ragged clothes and the long, thick hair that hung past his shoulders.
That would have to go…She waved the young man to precede her. He threw a final glance at his grandfather before he moved past them and down the stairs. Rose opened the front passenger door. “Climb in John.” The boy sat in the front seat.
“I wish you well John,” Sun Walker said quietly.
“Goodbye grandfather,” he replied without looking at the man who no longer wanted him.
“I hope you get better Sun Walker but rest assured…John will be well cared for,” Rose said as she climbed in her seat and started the engine. She pulled away from the curb and drove away.
Many eyes watched the boy as they left the town. Some with relief, some with joy that he was finally out of their lives and off their hands…A few watched in sadness and one watched in rage.
John never looked back. If he had he might have seen his grandfather weep for the second time in his life.
Kate kept her promise and pulled up in front of the Fire Station. John’s eyes flicked to her hesitantly, Unsure of why they were here but he obediently climbed from the car to follow her inside.
Rigsby smiled in relief at the sight of them though his heart broke at the despair that seemed to smother the young man. “I see you got him alright…”
“Yes…I had no idea that he was living in such poor conditions. I wish I’d known…I would have come much sooner.”
“Yes ma’am…Johnny?” The dark eyes flitted toward him before they returned to the floor. “The crew and I just wanted to say goodbye and to wish you all the best in your new home.”
The boy never looked up. He knew better…There was never a 'best' for him … just varying degrees of bad to worse. He nodded without lifting his head. Hailey came and knelt next to the boy. He held a helmet in his hands. “I know they burned the one I gave you the first time…But you told us you wanted to be one of us someday Johnny and you promised your mom and dad that you would be and well…Every real fireman needs a helmet.” He offered it to the boy.
John hesitated at first but finally reached out to take it. Hailey tried to touch his arm in a gesture of farewell but John recoiled fearfully…Flinching away.
"No...," he whispered.
“God…What did those people do to him Cap?” Spencer muttered.
Rigsby knew but he wouldn’t tell them…John didn’t need them to know about that…It was obvious that it still preyed on the boys mind and soul. After several minutes of well wishes, Rose directed John back to the car. “Goodbye gentlemen. Thank you for being so nice to my nephew and rest assured if it really is his dream to be a fireman…I’ll see to it that he gets that chance.”
Johnny’s eyes darted warily toward the woman. Did she mean it or was it just another lie meant to break his spirit even more. The men smiled in relief…Maybe something good would finally happen to the boy.
Rose drove out of town…She glanced at the silent boy sitting next to her. His beautiful dark eyes scanned the landscape as they put Lame Deer behind them. “Are you hungry John?” She questioned finally at the rumble of the boys stomach.
John flushed in embarrassment at the noise and cast her a sideways glance. He was always hungry…He’d gone without food too many times in the last couple of years but he didn’t answer.
She caught the wary look and smiled. “Don’t worry sweetie…I’ll stop and get you something before we go to the airport.”
Airport? John’s eyes widened, looking a little nervous. He’d never been on a airplane before.
She looked over at him and saw the trepidation as he chewed his lip. “It’ll be okay John…I promise. If you’re anything like your dad…You’ll love it.” She looked at the hair that hung over the boy’s shoulders. “You know John…The boys in California don’t wear their hair as long as you do sweetie.” John reached up to finger the dark, wavy locks. “Would it be okay if we had it cut…?”
John cast her another furtive glance. He didn’t want to cut it but he knew better than to argue. That would only bring him another beating. He shrugged.
“You don’t have to,” she said catching the sudden frightened look.
He didn’t believe her…Sure she was just daring him to be defiant so she could hurt him like Lacee did. He huddled a little closer to the door.
She drove into Billings and found a small strip of stores and other little shops. “Come on sweetie…,” she said, climbing from the car. “Let’s get you fed and then dressed properly. You look like you need everything from the skin out.”
John flinched at the words...Skin...Walking Wolf's hands on his body...Touching him. John pushed the terrifying thought away.
Rose saw the fearful twitch but she didn’t understand it. She led him into a restaurant and John’s stomach rumbled loudly at the smells that emanated from the place. Several patrons frowned at the boy and his threadbare appearance and long hair but they said nothing as they assumed the well dressed, elegant woman he accompanied was obviously helping some local down on his luck street urchin.
She sat down as the waiter held her chair and John slid self consciously into his own. His eyes casting furtive glances at the people seated around them…White people. He was the only Indian here and he could feel their eyes boring into him. He slumped in his seat, hoping to go unnoticed.
Rose’s anger grew. “Sit up John…You have nothing to be ashamed of,” she said casting a challenging glance around the room until the others grew uncomfortable under the frosty green eyed stare and turned away. She held the menu out as John sat up a bit straighter. “Can you tell me what you want?”
John looked at the menu and the pictures of food on it made his mouth water. He was so hungry but he didn’t want her to be angry if he picked the wrong thing. He found the cheapest thing on the menu and pointed at it.
She smiled at him. “That grilled cheese sandwich is not going to fill up a growing boy John Gage…What do YOU WANT?” She stressed.
The dark eyes scanned the menu once again while he tugged anxiously at his lip. He finally pointed at a picture and Rose nodded her head. She glanced up at the waiter. “My nephew would like a double cheese burger and French fried potatoes. I’d like the Caesar Salad and could we have milk please.”
The man nodded and left. John almost cracked a smile…He loved milk but it was expensive and his family couldn’t afford it. He usually drank water with his meals. Rose saw the tiny flicker and grinned. She could reach this boy. It would take some time and a lot of love and patience but she would win her brothers son back from the hellish existence he’d been forced to endure.
The waiter returned with the food and John’s eyes grew like saucers at the amount of food on the plate. Would she ask him to share it? She didn’t seem interested as she began to eat her salad. She glanced up and saw the anxious look. “Well go ahead sweetheart…That’s yours,” she assured him.
A wary crooked smile appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye and Rosemary stifled a grin. It faded as John began to wolf the food down as if it would be snatched away…She wondered if perhaps it had been. “Slow down sweetie,” she said quietly. “No one will take it away,” she promised.
John froze. Was she angry? She didn’t seem to be but you couldn't always tell…Would she take it away? Rose sighed. “It’s okay to eat it my darling…Just a little more slowly.”
John frowned. ‘My darling’, she’d called him. ‘Sweetheart’ She’d even introduced him as her nephew instead of just ‘the boy,’ as if he were a stranger the way his family used to. ‘Don’t trust her’ flitted through his mind… “No one wants you…No one will ever want you...Especially when they find out what a wicked boy you really are,” the voice in his head growled. “You are trouble…A problem…A burden.” She’d turn on him to eventually…They all did. He pulled into himself a little and began to eat slowly. Perhaps if he were extra good she wouldn’t cast him out until they got back to California. At least it was warm there.
After dinner Rose took him shopping but John seemed to have pulled back into himself again. He watched her warily as she pulled clothes from the hangers, holding them against him until she found the right size.He'd jerked back fearfully several times at her touch but she hadn't seemed to notice.
Rosemary had noticed but she said nothing that would embarrass the young man even more than he already was and it was a sure bet he wasn't ready to tell her what they'd done to him..
The mountain of clothes continued to grow. Slacks and shirts… Blue Jeans, pajamas, socks and underwear filled the cart…Uncomfortable looking dress shoes and sneakers. He eyed the growing mound uncertainly...Surely these weren't all for him. He'd never owned that many clothes in his whole life.
He decided she must have sons of her own. These must be for them...EIther that or it was a cruel taunt. Dangle them before him just to snatch them away. That wouldn't be a first either. He sighed as she picked up two large suitcases and handed them to him. “Here sweetie…You carry those.”
John dutifully followed her through the store and waited patiently while she paid for it all. The salesgirl looked him over disdainfully before dismissing him as a servant that the pretty lady had brought along to help her. John looked away, well used to those withering glances and flushed in embarrassment. Rose’s eyes narrowed in annoyance at the look.
“Excuse me…you don’t need to bag that all up. We’re going to put my nephew’s things in these suitcases before we leave…Oh and here sweetheart,” she said, handing the boy several new items she’d just purchased. “Go change into these while I pack.”
The salesgirl’s eyes widened in shock but she hurriedly complied…Helping the pretty lady to put everything neatly in the cases. John returned a few minutes later, tugging at the stiff collar of the new white dress shirt and Rosemary had to stifle a giggle at the uncomfortable gesture.
“Don’t worry my darling…It will soften up,” she teased. John nodded. “Let’s go,” she said, grabbing one of the cases "You can bring the other," she said over her shoulder as she left the store.
John followed her to the car where she promptly dumped his old clothes on the seat. She retrieved the box with his mother’s jewelry and almost wept at the sight of her brothers green pen. “Was this your fathers?” She asked through her tears.
John nodded warily, afraid she’d take it from him. She reached out to touch him but he cringed away. “No,” he cried.The first word he'd spoken to her and it was out of fear. She wanted to weep.
“Oh little one,” she said, using the endearment she’d often heard Kate and Rod use. “What did they do to you?”
John looked up at her fearfully. “Na’háhketa,” he murmured, a bit surprised that she knew that special term.
“What? Na’ha…?” She questioned hesitantly.
“Na’háhketa,” he whispered again. “Little one," he tranlsated.
Rose understood. “Na’háhketa,” she repeated, with a smile. She set the pen in the case before snapping it shut. She put them and the blanket and helmet he’d been given in the trunk and threw the rest of the things away. He’d never be dressed in rags again.
John watched it all with trepidation. He somehow sensed his life was about to change in a big way but he had no idea whether for the better or worse or for how long before he became a burden on her too. He couldn’t let down his guard…He could trust no one. He’d learned that lesson well.
Rose had one last stop to make. They pulled up in front of a small shop. “Come on John,” she said with a smile. He followed her inside.
The barbers eyes widened in surprise…The Indian’s rarely cut their hair. “Can I help you?”
“My nephew needs a haircut.”
“More than one I’d say,” he said with a small laugh.
John backed away and looked at Rose. “It’s okay Na’háhketa…He won’t hurt you.”
John wanted to say no but he didn’t dare. He didn’t want her slapping him down here in front of this man and the others who were watching them curiously. He eased into the chair and lowered his eyes in resignation…His teeth tugged at his lower lip anxiously, flinching at every snip of the scissors and lock of hair that dropped into his lap.
The barber smiled at him when he was done. “There you go boy,” he said spinning the chair around. “Now you look like a man instead of a girl,” he teased.
John’s eyes widened in horror… It was so short…Surely every boy in California would be laughing at him. His eyes filled with tears but he fought them back. He wouldn’t cry…
Rose paid the man and waved John out of the chair. “Come on sweetheart…My goodness you look just like your father,” she said gently. “You’re so handsome.”
John looked at her in disbelief…Sure he’d been almost scalped. He looked ridiculous…His eyes lowered once more, looking utterly humiliated and Rose sighed. She had a lot of work to do. They arrived at the airport without much time to spare but that might be for the best…Given too much time, she might not get the boy on board.
John’s eyes were wide and nervous as he watched the huge airplanes taxi about the runway. They shifted toward her… “It’s okay my sweetheart,” she assured him. “I’ll be with you.”
Well…If she was actually going too it must be safe enough…At least he hoped so. Twenty minutes later John sucked in his breath in terror as the plane lifted into the sky. He gritted his teeth to keep from crying out in fear as the plane jetted toward a new start and a new life.
To be continued Part 8 San Gabriel
Published to site 11/23/11
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