Thursday, February 29, 2024

Bearclaw Summons (A Serialized Story) blog post #643

 Image Courtesy of Pinterest:


Did the first installment grab your attention. If you have any interest in multicultural tales, I suspect it did.


Here’s the second part of the story.




“He’ll come in the morning.”

“Maybe it’s not smart for him to miss work. Might put them on guard. He loses his job, those two will see the rifles are discovered missing, and he’ll get the blame.”

“That might be, but anybody can be sick one or two days. He’ll come see you tomorrow.”

“All right. I’ll be at Snakehead at noon.”

“Thank you, nephew. Uh ... Willy’s the only one in his family working. He ain’t got much money. You have any idea what it’ll cost?”

Again Bart was silent for a few seconds. “You say he paints?”

The man and his wife both nodded. “Nora,” Big Jack said quietly. The woman went into the other room and returned with two framed canvases.

One was an Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer, masked and wearing a headdress. The second was a view of the Sacred White Mountain from the south. The dancer was done in a primitive style, in stark, vibrant colors. The landscape was different; it had depth and perspective and light and shadow. Bart’s eyes shifted back and forth between the two oils.

He sighed. “It’s going to be expensive. Lawyers cost money. I’m afraid it will take both of them.”

Big Jack and his wife resumed breathing. They were satisfied. Their nephew would pay his own way without swiping food from the family table.

“But understand, Jack, I have to feel good about this before I go to my friend. Willy has to talk straight to me, and I’ll have to test his words. You’re a good judge of men, Big Jack Bearclaw, but in some matters, a man’s gotta take his own measure.”

“That’s fair. Willy’s words will sound right to you because they are right. I don’t doubt it, or I wouldn’t put a strain on our friendship.”


Bart ’fessed up to his foreman and wrangled a couple of days off. He arrived at his old camp at Snakehead Spring precisely at noon. A motor died somewhere beyond the trees. A door slammed. Moments later, a short young man scratched on Bart’s wickiup. The face was familiar from around the fringes of Big Jack’s camp.

They greeted one another warily, almost like adversaries entering an arena. Bart ignored his camp chairs and sank to the rug on the floor he’d dusted a few minutes earlier. They spoke awhile of people they both knew. Because he was needed for branding, Bart acted like a white man and cut the polite conversation to a minimum. Willy’s story was almost identical to the one Big Jack had related the night before except Willy provided two names, Burke and Avila.

“How long have you been working there?” Bart asked when the other had finished.

“Three months next week.”

“When did they ask you to do them the favor the first time?”

“First week I was there.”

“Next time?”

“Couple of weeks later.”

“Why did you do it?”

Willy Saltbush shrugged eloquently. The young man wore his hair short. His nose and lips were fleshy, the rest of him plain and dark. The eyes were bright, however. Bright and constantly roving. It took some time to understand that it was the artist in the man examining light and shadow and structure. Even when his gaze was on Bart’s shoulder—never on his eyes—Willy’s pupils flickered as he studied plane and tone. This was a man who both saw much more and much less than most. He would spot a highlight others would miss, understand the darkness of a deep cavity, but he would be less curious about the motives of another human. Others had seen this in him and used it to advantage.

Abruptly, Bart stood. “You’ll have to tell all of this to Mr. Charles. He’s an Indah, but he’s a good man. He won’t know how to behave like you, so you’ll have to behave like him. Open up to him. When he talks to you, look him in the eye. That’s not the way you were taught, but it has to be. The whites think you’re not being honest if you can’t look at them when you talk. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the way they are. Speak up and don’t mumble. If you have to think about an answer, that’s okay, but when you’re ready to give it, be clear and firm.” He saw Willy’s Adam’s apple bob a couple of times.


“Tomorrow. Meet me in front of the Mission Church at nine in the morning. Bring the two pictures you painted with you.”

“Can’t you do it for me?” There was a plaintive note in the young man’s voice.

“No. If you don’t talk to him face to face, how can he tell what kind of man you are? Besides, he’ll have questions that I can’t answer.

“Will you be there with me?”

“If you want. But you’ll have to answer him yourself.”

Willy gave a short, choppy nod. His footsteps as he left seemed heavy.


Bart waited in the church parking lot until ten before admitting that it was not merely a matter of “Indian time”, Willy was not going to show. He went to Mark Charles’ office and claimed a chair.

“He chickened out.”

“Maybe he just needs more time to screw up his courage,” the lawyer suggested. “You didn’t give me much when you called. Tell me all you know about it.” Bart complied. Mark whistled. “You better get your man in here pronto. That’s a federal rap he’s playing with. He’s not going to be able to shrug it off and hope it goes away. This Burke and Avila are going to lay the dark deed right on his doorstep when they’re found out.”

“Uh ... by the way,” Bart said warily. “This one comes under the heading of gaining experience.”

“You mean it’s a freebie.”

“Not exactly. The kid’s an artist. You’re bartering for your fee. Two paintings. They’re good. I’ve seen them.”

“Oh, well. The place needs a dab of color. You hogtie him, and I’ll see if I can still lay a brand.”

Bart detoured through the reservation, hoping to find Big Jack without having to drive clear up to Bigrock and encountered the fat man working his way out of the front door of the trading post outside of White Pine where he’d been trying to phone him at Mark’s office.

“Just found out he didn’t show up an hour ago. Tried to catch you at the Charles boy’s place, but you was gone. Glad you come by.”

Bart followed the fat man around to the shady side of the building where the mules hauling Big Jake’s wagon eyed them like they were following the conversation.

“Willy’s mamma went to old Amadeo yesterday, and that one told her to keep Willy away from the whites... all of them.” Jack’s tone let it be known that he considered the shaman to be a fake, but he didn’t voice the words.

“Willy was scared, and them’s the words he wanted to hear. He lit out for the high country. His brother went out to find him this morning.”

“They’ll come for him, Jake. The FBI’ll come right in and flush him out no matter how high up he goes. This is serious.”

“So what are you going to do about it, nephew?”

“Me? Hell, how’d it get to be my problem?”

“By way of knowing more about the outside than most of us, I guess. Can you just walk away knowing what’s gonna happen to him?”

“Shit, Jack, don’t lay that on me! This is branding season.  I’m up to my ass in slicks and hot irons.”

“I guess so,” the fat man wheezed, “but this is one of the People.”

“All right,” he sighed. “Send word to me when his brother gets back. I’ll go up early tomorrow if I hear from you. Is he armed?”

“Yeah, with a handful of paint brushes.”


The call didn’t come until after eight o’clock that night. Bart picked up the receiver in the bunkhouse, heard a wheeze, and knew that it was Big Jack. The man did not like telephones, so he started right in without preamble.

“Willy’s brother didn’t get back till late, and I had to pry the information out of the son of a bitch. Damned if he don’t act like I’m in cahoots with the white eyes.” Indignation oozed over the wire. “Anyhow, he’s at the high end of Lead Scout Canyon. They’s a balsam—”

Yeah, I know where it is. Why would he hide out in a box canyon where anybody can trap him?”

“Damn fool’s been wanting to paint something up there for a long time. Figgers, this is his chance, I guess. Hell, I don’t know! Must be some Navajo blood in the kid somewhere.”

“That’s not as far up or as hard a trip as I thought. I’ll ride up tomorrow and drag him back.”

“Just swipe his paintbrushes, and he’ll follow you all the way back,” Jack said dryly.

“Okay, I’ll head out at first light. Should be back by noon. I’ll take an extra horse.”

"No need. He'll be on his old paint. Thank you, nephew. I’ll be in your debt.”


If Willy ever ends up in the white man’s court, I wonder if the Judge will understand that a shaman’s advice might cause a young man to simply paint pictures rather than attend legal matters? Doubt it, don’t you?

 See you next week.

My Mantra: Kee on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say... so say it!

Check out my BJ Vinson murder mystery series published by Dreamspinner Press. The books are a good read... but then, I'm prejudiced.

My personal links:



X: @dontravis3

See you next Thursday:


New posts every Thursday at 6:00 a.m., US Mountain time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive