Thursday, March 28, 2024

Bearclaw Summons (A Serialized Story) blog post #647

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It’s pretty clear that Willy Spurs is dead, murdered by the gun runners Burke and Avila. What remains is clearing the kid’s name and bringing his killers to justice. Let’s see if it happens.




Two days passed before Big Jack Bearclaw notified Bart that Willy was gone. Two days during which all of Jack’s considerable family vainly combed the countryside for the missing man. Bart phoned Mark the minute he heard the news, realizing what the others did not, Mark had posted bond himself and stood to lose a considerable amount of money if Willy turned fugitive.

Another three days passed before a state Fish and Wildlife employee chanced across Willy’s pickup half‑submerged in a remote part of the Rio Chacon. Another week elapsed before the authorities gave up the search for a body. The following day Big Jack squeezed his bulk into Bart’s DeSoto convertible, and they went into Terreon for a conference with Mark Charles.

“Don’t think he run,” Jack announced when they were seated. The big man filled the small couch in the outer office, an experience from which the ancient piece of furniture would likely never recover. From time to time, it emitted distressed noises. “For one thing, he’d of said something to his wife. For another, he’d just made a drawing of his baby. That would of gone with him. But the thing that clinches it is that he didn’t take his paints and brushes. Not a one.”

“Any clothing missing? Personal belongings?”

“None. And he didn’t have nothing more personal than his paint.”

“That’s right, Mark,” Bart confirmed. “When I went up Dead Scout Canyon looking for him, he wouldn’t come down until I took his paints and canvas. Then he followed along behind me like a dog trained to heel.”

Mark was unconvinced. “He can always get more paint and brushes.”

You know how much money the kid’s got tied up in them? It’ll take a long time to collect them again, especially if he’s on the run,” Bart argued.

“Excuse me, Mr. Charles,” Big Jack rumbled, “but he’s not a man who plans things out, but if he was running, he’d know that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t draw and paint pictures no matter where he was. He’d need them, so he’d take them. That’s his way.”

“What do you think happened?”

Big Jack looked at Bart uneasily. “Looks to me like those other two got to him.”

“Got to him? Exactly what do you mean?”

“Well, you said he was the only one going to put them away, didn’t you? I guess they got him out of the way.”

“Are you suggesting that they did away with him? Killed him?”

The fat man shrugged his massive shoulders. The couch protested. “Why not? He was just a rez Indian. Family says he was resting a bit more easy. Sometime after supper, he got in his truck and drove off. Nobody seen him again.”

Bart picked up the tale. “I rode horseback the whole way up that washed‑out road to where the truck went in the water, and I hiked it once. Didn’t find a thing to help us. But whoever took the truck up there didn’t give a damn about it. That old road doesn’t even exist anymore. The truck was banged up and scratched up something awful.”

“He didn’t drive that truck up there, Mr. Charles,” Big Jack said. “If he was gonna run, he’d have took his paints and his brushes and his canvas. And likely his family too. He’d have hit the highway or he’d have made for high ground on the reservation.”

“So you’re saying the same thing.”

Big Jack nodded. “He’s dead.”

“That’s quite a conclusion,” Mark said. “I can think of another. If Avila and Burke wanted to get rid of the kid, they’d give him some money and take him to Mexico. Hell, Willy could be sitting on the other side of the border right now painting up a storm with new brushes and paints and a pocket full of pesos.”

“He’d get in touch with his family,” Big Jack insisted. “And he’d of left them his truck. No way he’d bash it up and leave it in the river.

“He left it for Avila and Burke to take care of. He might show up in a few days or next week or next month.”

“Is that what you really think?” asked Bart.

“I don’t know. I’d have bet he wouldn’t run. Hell, I did bet! I put up his bond. But there aren’t too many men around who’d kill a person as easily as that.” Mark walked to the window and looked across at the blank wall of the building next door. Finally, he turned.

“They got to him somehow, and probably not by buying him off. You know why not? Because they’ve both been around here a long time, and they know that sooner or later ninety percent of the Apache who leave the reservation come back. Those aren’t very good odds when your freedom depends on them. By God, I think you’re right! I believe he’s dead.”


Lena Boggs’ youngest grandson, Freddie, told his uncle about a pickup that went up Blue Meadow road just south of Snowflake Pass after dark the night Willy Spurs disappeared. The boy had been planning to park on the meadow with his girl until another vehicle turned off ahead of him. A few days later, the uncle repeated the story to his wife’s father who told his older brother.

August Wingfield, a cautious man, drove over to see Big Jack Bearclaw. After discussing the outrageous price of horse fodder and the state of health of his large and energetic brood for almost an hour, August, elaborately discounting in advance the value of what he had come to say, repeated what he had been told without comment or speculation. Big Jack thanked the head of the Wingfield family for taking his valuable time, saw his guest out of sight, and then yelled for his eldest son to hitch up the mules. Jack drove to a cousin’s house and bartered for a ride to the J‑Bar‑C.

Late that afternoon, he finally located Bart in one of the pastures north of the highway. Bart heard him out, dropped everything, and went to phone Mark Charles.


Early the next morning, Bart parked the J‑Bar‑C Jeep at the juncture of NM35 and Blue Meadow Road and began hiking. He was not hopeful because the old logging Road was miles from where the truck had been found and at no point met up with the old, abandoned roadway the Spurs vehicle had to travel to meet its end in the Rio Chacon. Nonetheless, he was by nature careful and meticulous. He had gone only about six‑tenths of a mile up the Road when he found signs that raised his interest. He searched the general area briefly, squatted on his haunches to think, and then backtracked to where a small spring crossed the Road. He invested a little more time looking around there. Satisfied with what he had seen, he dog‑trotted back to the Jeep and half an hour later was sitting in Mark’s outer office waiting for his friend to finish with a paying client. Mark joined him as soon as Miss Gertrude Meister, one of Mark’s grade school teachers, departed.

“Can you imagine? The old girl wanted me to do her will. Hell, fourth grade teachers don’t die... do they?”

“Them too,” Bart assured him.

“Find anything?” Mark wanted to know.

“Yes, but I’m not certain what. About half a mile off the highway, I found where a car had turned sideways blocking the Road. Another vehicle had come to a pretty fast stop. Left some rubber on the gravel. One of the cars, or maybe a third one, had pulled off the road into the bushes. It’s been two weeks and the tracks are disappearing fast. There’ve been two or three cars up there since they were made, but there’s still sign of them. I think you ought to get somebody up there. It’s on the reservation, so I guess it’ll have to be the FBI.”

“I’ve already called that agent… Hill. He’s flying down from Albuquerque. Be here tomorrow morning.”

“Okay, but you better get the rez cops to stop the traffic up there. Many more cars go up, there won’t be anything left to see. There’s a spring down the road apiece, and there are some pretty clear tire prints around there. Hope it doesn’t rain tonight.”

“Can you go up tomorrow and show Hill what you found? Bart, I want to nail those bastards.”

“You don’t want it any more than I do. What did the judge say about Willy disappearing?”

“Nothing very good.”

“Did he take the bond money?”

“It’s not forfeit yet. But you know what really pisses me? Everybody’s going to assume the kid’s guilty as sin. He didn’t show up, so he did it. Even if he’s gone, I’m going to do what I can to clear his name.”

“Will the judge let you do that?”

“He’ll declare Willy a fugitive, but he can’t stop me from trying to find the truth. What worries me is that they might very well drop the charges against the other two. Without Willy, I’m not sure they can make a case against them.”


The next morning, Bart met the FBI agent in Mark’s office and drove him to Blue Meadow Road. The reservation police had heeded Mark’s call and blocked the entrance to the logging road with a bright yellow tape. A hundred feet short of the spring, Bart halted the Jeep. The two men walked to where the water crossed the road in a shallow trench of its own making. Bart stood back and allowed the federal agent to make his own discoveries.

By noon, the rez cops were out in force, measuring, marking, and searching a wide area all under Hill’s watchful eye. Bart was dismissed and given to understand that he should depart. He did so, but not before he understood the reason for the agent’s deep interest. The man had discovered what looked to be a considerable amount of dried blood on a rock and some leaves near where one vehicle had blocked the Road. As Bart walked back to the Jeep, some officers worked at making molds of the tire tracks near the spring.

Bart drove into White Pine and phoned Mark. The lawyer met him at the junction in record time. Together they drove up the Road in the Jeep. Hill met them at a brand-new barricade, this one a little more substantial than the previous portable signs.

“Sorry, Mr. Charles,” the agent said. “You can’t come any farther. There’s an investigation going on.”

“An investigation that involves my client.”

“Don’t know that yet. Might or might not have anything to do with Mr. Spurs. We’ll have a better idea soon. Anyway, you can’t come up.”

“I understand you found some blood.”

“We’ll test it. Of course, it could be animal blood. Probably is.”

“All right,” Mark turned conciliatory. “I’ll just ask one thing. You’re taking casts of tire tracks,” he nodded up the Road at a team of deputies, “so I assume you’re planning on asking Burke and Avila whether they’ve been up here lately. Within an hour everyone in the county will know what’s up. Don’t you think you’d better ask that question before all this is common knowledge?”

“You’ve got a point, Counselor. Only thing is, I can’t leave here right now. Not till this is wrapped up.”

“Then you better keep everyone else up here and off the radio. Even that might not be enough. Half the population already knows something’s going on.”

The FBI man quickly scribbled a note that he folded and handed to Mark. “If you’ll give this to the federal magistrate’s clerk in Terreon, he’ll call Burke’s and Avila’s attorney and set up a meeting. I... well, I might be just a little late for it.”

“Am I invited?”

“Personal invitation.”

“Thanks.” Mark and Bart returned to the Jeep. “Bart, how far to Big Jack’s place?”

“Thirty minutes.”

“Can you go get him? And I need to know Willy’s blood type. Do you suppose they have it on file at the PSC hospital in White Pine?”

“I’ll check.”

Big Jack came willingly even though he had not finished his dessert, an Indian bread pudding Noreen had stuffed with piñon nuts and berries. The two men swung by PSC where they learned Willy Spurs’ blood type. Mark was still in the meeting at the courthouse when they arrived. Bart could have sworn the couch began groaning in protest the minute Big Jack waddled into the office.

Upon returning from the meeting with the magistrate, Mark filled them in. “Too bad their lawyer was there,” he said irreverently. “I believe Hill would have done the whole job. Even so, he did all right. Avila’s scared. Denies he’s ever been up Blue Meadow Road. He got that out before the lawyer could stop him. Of course, it’s not under oath so it doesn’t mean much, but still he denied it. Burke never said a word. He’s the cool one. We’ll never shake him.”

“So what do we do now?” Bart asked.

“Well, Avila’s the one who interests me. Worried sick. Frightened men sometimes crack.”

“If you can see he’s worried,” Big Jack observed, “then so can this Burke fellow.”

“And that’s exactly what we want. If we’re right about what happened to Willy, then Avila knows he could be next. If he gets worried enough, he might look for protection. By the way, I told them we have Willy’s blood type. Do we?”

“Yep. It’s O Negative.”

“Well, that’s not the AB I was praying for, but O Negative’s pretty rare. If it turns out to be blood and it’s human and it’s O Negative, and the tire casts turn out to match Burke’s and/or Avila’s vehicles... well, then the pressure’s on.”


Okay, the Reservation Police, the FBI, and probably the State Police are all involved now. But it looks like it’s up to Bart Shortlance and Mark Charles to prove what really happened. I’m betting on them… are you? Because they have Big Jack Bearclaw on their side.

 Until next week, stay safe and stay strong.

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say... so say it!

Please check out my BJ Vinson murder mystery series, starting with The Zozobra Incident and ending with The Cutie Pie Murders. 

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See you next Thursday.


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