Thursday, March 21, 2024

Bearclaw Summons (A Serialized Story) blog post #646

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So Willy Spurs is in trouble with the white man’s law. Can a white lawyer get him out of it? Should he trust the Apache shaman who advises him to stay clear of all the whites? Or should he heed his uncle Big Jack Bearclaw and his friend, the mixed-blood Bart Shortlance and put his trust in a white lawyer called Mark Charles?


I know these posts are far longer than usual, but I do hope the story is interesting enough to keep you reading.




Willy Spurs laid aside the sable brush and absently rubbed at a smear of cobalt blue on the underside of his forearm. His life was in shambles. The good things that he’d tasted proved fleeting and insubstantial. Normally, that would not have mattered, but now he required things that he had not needed before; not only he, but his wife as well. She loved the small television set that would have to go back to the store in Terreon.

The thing he would miss most, however, was the truck. Never in all his life had he owned anything like the truck. It was little short of having the great, feathered wings of an eagle. The freedom it provided was almost more than he could take in. He could get from the high mountain aspen to the gnarled desert junipers in a matter of hours in total comfort rather than the long tiresome trip by horseback. Perhaps he could find a way to hang onto the vehicle, although merely paying for gas for the truck and paint for his art was already a problem.

Willy muttered a few of the white man’s cuss words and watched the roiling froth of Wild Water Shoals, which he was unsuccessfully striving to capture on canvas. It was no good. Shit! He hadn’t been able to paint a damned thing since this trouble started. After he and Mr. Charles talked to that air force colonel and the FBI man, matters had got bad. They called him downtown three times to answer a bunch of questions, mostly the same ones over and over again. First one team had asked them and then another and then another. Always the same questions. He thought it would never end!

Then they had come for him, not the way Mr. Charles had told them to, but in a car to the reservation with their steel handcuffs. His grandfather and his mother and his wife had watched as they trussed him up and loaded him into the car. It was all he could do to keep hot tears of shame from rolling down his cheeks to mortify him further. Everything seemed to dim after that. The grass was not as green nor the sky as blue nor the clouds as white nor life so bright. Mr. Charles was at the jailhouse in Terreon when they had arrived, shouting and arguing in his behalf, but they took Willy’s fingerprints and his picture and made him feel like a man who lived on the wrong side of life.

He was not in that terrible place long. His lawyer got him out somehow, but they acted like he was going to run away as soon as they let him outside. Even Mr. Charles had warned two or three times that he had to come back whenever they wanted him. Once would have been enough. Mr. Charles was a good man for an Indah, but sometimes he acted like a schoolteacher dealing with a dull student. Willy, you can’t run away, you can’t run away, you can’t run away....

He glanced north to the great white mountain in the distance and murmured an involuntary entreaty. “Oh, Esdzanadeha! White‑Painted‑Woman! Mother! Why has this happened? What have I done that this should happen to me?”

Immediately, he bit off his prayer. He knew why. He had turned into a white man...going to work in a white man’s place and buying a TV like a white man and living for paydays and holidays like a white man. Hell, he even painted like a white man! He wiped a dark palm over the canvas, smearing the fresh paint into an ugly mess. There had been a time when he made his own paints from the breast of Mother Earth and applied them with a purity of color and line that any of his forbearers would have admired.

Now he bought them in stores and mixed them into subtle shades as murky and muddy as an Indah’s soul! No more! From now on, when he drew a mesa or a deer or a warrior, it would be something the old ones would have recognized from a tipi or a buffalo robe, something with the clarity and symmetry as when the Ancients had stalked these very mountains.

He cast aside the ruined canvas and replaced it with a clean one, quickly sketching the basic outlines of the bend in the Rio Chacon with charcoal. Within two hours, the picture was built, constructed of stark browns and blues and blacks and whites of powerful and primitive intensity. He stood back and allowed his spirit to be moved… despite the fact the painting was made with store-bought oils.

Willy had learned something today. The long, painful lesson had come home to him. He had white man’s troubles because he had begun to think and live like a white man. He was not a white man! All of this was to teach him that lesson. Well, he had learned it! And he would never again forget. He would die if he did.

The sun was going so Willy packed away his things. Reluctant to leave, he stayed overlong, driving back to his camp by the light of his headlamps. Once again, the vibrant power of the pickup claimed his soul. It was the only thing of the white man’s world that was of any real value. His thoughts—somehow blasphemous—filled him with disquiet.

As was his custom, he laid his canvas on the table for everyone to see. His grandfather studied it longer than usual, and although he said nothing, Willy knew the old man appreciated the painting more than most of his work. His mother, a shy, retiring woman, cast a glance at the painting and sought out her son’s gaze. Love and pride washed over him in a mighty torrent. His wife, two years younger than his own twenty years, glanced at it, smiled, and went to fetch their year‑old son. Willy accepted the child, holding him to his chest, drawing warmth from this small piece of his own spirit.

Willy heard Big Jack’s mule team while the women were still cleaning up after the evening meal. The sound filled him with dread. Big Jack seldom came any more except to relay messages from the lawyer sent to him through the white Apache, Bart Shortlance. His uncle, for whom he once had great respect, was becoming an unwelcome visitor.

As usual, the fat man was too polite to come right to the point. He accepted a morsel to eat from the women and talked of all the things that had happened on the reservation recently. Like many others before him, Willy wondered how a man who moved about so little knew so much about so many. It was a good hour later before Jack spoke of what had brought him.

“Mr. Charles sent word that you have to be in his office tomorrow by nine‑thirty… white man’s time.”

Willy sat in the dim yellow light of a shaded bulb without moving. The older man must have sensed his new mood.

“You hear me, Willy? They want you again tomorrow.” A small silence followed these words, but Big Jack held onto his tongue.

“Amadeo was right, Uncle,” Willy finally replied.

“Amadeo ain’t right, son! The white man’s got his hooks in you, and we gotta get them out. Once we do that, you can take the old bastard for the gospel if you want. But first, we got to get you loose from them. And to do that, we got to do it by the white man’s rules.”

“I know why I’m in this fix. I figured it out today.”

“Shit, Willy, that ain’t no mystery. You’re a red man living in a white man’s world. That’s why you’re in trouble.”

“I got to thinking I was a white man.”

“No, you got to thinking you was as good as a white man, and you was right.”

“No. I thought I was a white man, and I ain’t. That won’t happen no more.”

“Maybe not, but you remember one thing. You may be a redskin, but the white man makes the rules, and he’s got the power. We got us a white man who knows the rules and who’s got a piece of that power to help us outa this trouble. You do like he tells you until it’s fixed, then you can be a reservation Injun if you want. But not till then, you understand?”

“Makes sense, I guess.”

“And another thing. You don’t do nothing unless Mr. Charles says it’s all right. Not nothing, you hear?”

“All right,” Willy nodded.

“Good. Bart’s gonna be here to pick you up about nine.”

Willy rebelled. “How come? Why’s that white Indian gotta haul me around? Hell, I can get there by myself. I’m a grown man.”

Willy thought his uncle was going to burst a blood vessel right on their old couch. The big man turned a dark mahogany. A vein in his temple pulsed ominously. “You watch your filthy mouth!” The voice was deep and dangerous. “That man took his own time and used up his friendship to get you what help you’ve got. He did that because he’s Tinneh and you’re Tinneh and I’m an old friend. He did it because he’s a good man... a better man than some smart‑mouthed kid who don’t know his place. He’s done more living than you’ll do the next fifty years!” Jack calmed down somewhat. “Anyway, them two men, Avila and Burke, they was arrested today. Mr. Charles says you’re the only one who can keep them on the hot seat. He don’t want you taking no chances. He don’t want you by yourself. Might be a good idea if you stay close to the house and don’t go out painting till this is all over.”

“If they’re in jail, what do I have to worry about?”

“Hell, they got lawyers, too. They already out on bond just like you are.”

“Might as well be back in the jailhouse,” Willy grumbled.

“Maybe. Might be safer. Anyhow, Tall Rider will be here to go with you tomorrow.”

Willy shrugged. “Saves on gas money.”

Big Jack’s eyes moved to the new painting on the table, and Willy saw the horse trader in him get the upper hand. “You want me to take this and see if I can sell it? Ought to raise some eating money.”

“No. I’m gonna keep it for the boy.” Willy pointed with his lower lip to his son’s crib in the corner.

Jack sighed in disappointment and took his leave. The tiny house always seemed larger after one of Big Jack’s visits. Willy’s grandfather went to bed on a pallet near the baby’s crib while his mother retired to the one other room in the house that served as her bedroom. The young couple pulled out a bed hidden in the old couch. As his wife settled against him, his manhood reacted. She felt him stir and reached for him. Even as he entered her, Willy hoped they didn’t make another baby. Surely, the fear inside him would poison his seed and deform an infant.


Willy slept fitfully that night and rose early the next morning. He filled the time until Bart arrived by making a charcoal sketch of his son. He had intended to rough in the features to transfer them to canvas for a painting, but his hands would not stop their work. Before he put down the paper, the infant had been detailed in all his childish innocence.

On the way into Terreon, Willy spoke little and observed much. Out of the corner of his eye, he studied the man behind the wheel of the jeep. He saw a face clearly touched by the Tinneh but holding something else as well. He observed a strong frame which was more slender and longer than most Apache. He could not decide whether he felt contempt or awe at the sight of this familiar‑foreign face. The man wasn’t much older than he was, yet he’d killed to save the Charles boy, the very one who was now Willy’s lawyer, and again, in a face‑to‑face, hand‑to‑hand fight to save the whole family, including Bart’s own son... or at least that was the reservation scuttlebutt.

Willy chewed on this for a while, and by the time they arrived downtown, had decided that he would no longer call the other man a white Apache. Tall Rider deserved more respect than that... for his friendship with Big Jack if for no other reason. Deep down inside, Willy sensed there was more to it than just that.

Mr. Charles only wanted the answers to a couple of questions before going over to see the judge to make a motion or something like that. Willy decided against going with Bart to the feed store, opting instead to wait in the small grass park near Mr. Charles’s office. He was still there when Bart returned and entered the building. He would like to paint the man someday, but not as Bart Shortlance, but as the warrior Tall Rider astride his beautiful horse. Should he paint him with a rifle or a lance?

Willy was thinking about going in search of pencil and paper to start some preliminary sketches when he heard a voice behind him.

“Hello, Willy. Haven’t seen you lately. How come you ain’t been at work?”

Willy whirled. James Avila leaned against the corner of the building so that he was hidden from the view of passersby.

“What you want?” Willy asked, his voice flat.

“What do I want? I want out from under all this trouble. I want some peace and quiet. How about you?”

“I... sure. That’s what I want too. How come you got me mixed up in it?”

“It wasn’t me, Willy boy. It was that whitey, Burke! He tricked me into it just like he done you.”

“You mean it was him? Wasn’t you?”

“Shit no! What you take me for, a goddamned thief? It was Harlan Burke got us both in trouble. Drug us in like a fisherman with a net. Liable to get away with it too. Why not? Hell, he picked us out pretty good. A dumb Mex and a no account Indian.”

“Hey, man! I don’t like that kinda talk.”

“Who does? But that’s how he thinks of us.”

“My lawyer’s in this building. Why don’t—”

“Your lawyer? Hell, you sound like a white man. No lawyer’s gonna get us outta this one. Burke’s too smart, or at least he thinks he has. But I got an ace or two up my sleeve. I just might have a way out of this for both of us.”

“How? “

“Not here. Don’t want nobody to see us talking. It gets back to Burke, he’s liable to figure out what I’m up to and close the barn door. He can do it too.”

“Go to a phone and call Mr. Charles‑‑”

“Come off it! Call a white man to get out from under a white man? You’re crazy. No white man’s gonna give us a damned thing. You’re a fucking fool if you think so. You’n me, that’s who’s gonna get us outa this jam. Nobody else!”

“What... what you want me to do?”

“Meet me somewhere we can talk. I need your help pulling it off.”


“Whenever you say, just so’s we can talk private.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I know this. We’re as good as in the pen for a long stretch if we don’t do something about it.”

“I can*t go now. I gotta go back in to see Mr. Charles. We’re going over to the courthouse in a few minutes.”

“Well, how about tonight sometime?”

“I guess so. What time?”

“Eight maybe. That okay?”

“I guess so. Where?”

“Someplace off the highway.”

Willy thought for a second. “There’s an old logging road near Snowflake.”

“Yeah. I know the one. There’s a meadow about a mile up the road. Meet you there.”


“And, kid, you keep it to yourself, you hear? If the judge hears about it, he’ll think we’re trying to put something over on him, and he’ll throw the book at us. If your lawyer knows, he’ll try to keep us apart‑‑”

“Mr. Charles ain’t not like that,” Willy protested.

“Don’t kid yourself. If you tell your Indian friend about it, he’ll tell the lawyer. What I got in mind is chancey. We pull it off, old Burke goes to the federal pen where he belongs, and we’re in the clear. We don’t pull it off, we’re going in his place. If anybody knows about it, we ain’t likely to pull it off.”

“It doesn’t sound right. You sure we won’t just get in more trouble?”

“Listen, you wanta go to jail for fifteen or twenty years?”

“N... no.”

“Then you better take a chance, friend. You don’t that’s exactly what’s gonna happen to you, and that white ass Burke’s gonna go free. He’ll be outside laughing, and we’ll be inside rotting. If my way works, we’ll be right back on the job making a good living.”

“We can have our jobs back?” Willy pounced on the idea despite swearing he wanted nothing more to do with the whites. His truck! He could hang onto his truck.

“Course we can if we get outa this jam. The feds can’t take your job away from you if you ain’t done nothing.”

“Okay,” Willy agreed. “Eight o’clock tonight at the meadow.”

Resisting all temptation, Willy kept silent about his rendezvous for that evening. In fact, he kept silent about everything, content to daydream about going back to work at the warehouse and keeping up the payments on the truck. He would be able to paint every weekend. Someday, he would make his living just by selling his pictures.

No one questioned Willy that night when he climbed into the cab of his pickup and left the family camp. Keeping faith with the Mexican, he told no one about the meeting, not even members of his family. He turned off the highway near the summit of Snowflake Pass, but long before he came to the meadow where he was to meet Avila, his way was blocked by a car turned sideways across the road.

Willy threw the truck into reverse and backed up just as another car came up fast behind him. He hit the brakes hard to avoid ramming the other vehicle. He was in trouble; but he couldn’t bear to put a dent in the truck.

Dear God, he’d been right. He’d thought like a white man... and now he was gonna die for it.


Is Willy right? Did acting like a white man once again cost him his life? We’ll see next week.

 Until then, stay safe and stay strong.

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See you next Thursday.


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