“Brilliant book, brilliant series. I cannot recommend this series highly enough!”
Navajo reservation near the Grand Canyon in Arizona
Bidziil stepped from the darkness swallowing miles of empty land in every direction and into the faint light cast by a single bulb outside the lone trailer.
He called out, “Nascha?”
No one appeared at the door. No lights shined inside.
Frustrated, he shouted, “Nascha!”
Everyone came to Bidziil to fix their problems.
Where was someone when he needed help?
Sonny’s corpse continuously flashed through Bidziil’s mind. Bile rushed up his throat, but he had nothing else to throw up. Tears leaked down his face.
Sonny had been a twenty-two-year-old rising star. No, he’d been so much more, a young man Bidziil would’ve been proud to call a son.
Bidziil had to find Nascha. He staggered to his left, feeling every one of his fifty-eight years with each heavy step.
Sonny’s mangled face demanded he not stop.
“I won’t, Sonny,” Bidziil promised. He would notsleep until he got answers. If Sonny had died naturally or by accident, he could at least understand it, but what he saw tonight defied description.
Once he passed the old trailer and entered the quiet land beyond, he caught a whiff of smoke. He closed the distance to where a lone figure squatted in front of a campfire.
Feeling a surge of energy, he took off again. His last stride brought him to the opposite side of the fire. Forcing his voice to calm, he said, “Nascha.”
Burned herbs and singed wood scents filled the air.
Nascha lifted a dark gaze to pin him. Eyes once brown were black pits of anger. Flickering light glowed over wrinkles carved into the sixty-one-year-old weathered face. Nascha’s leather vest and a long-sleeved shirt fell loose over his jeans, still dressing as he had when they were both boys.
Nascha grunted up at him. “You come with questions, but you do not hear truth.”
Bidziil’s brain would explode if the crotchety old guy started that crap tonight. In a raw voice, he warned, “No riddles. You claim to be a powerful medicine man. We lost Sonny tonight. His face ...” Bidziil’s voice fell off. He couldn’t get the words out.
Glaring back, Nascha bit out, “I know of Sonny’s death.”
“Okay, then. Do you know how?” Bidziil held his breath, fearing Nascha would say Sonny had taken drugs or done something equally sickening. Bidziil would need proof before he could accept Sonny hadn’t been the squeaky-clean kid he’d watched grow up.
Nascha lifted his lip in disgust. “His death not natural.”
“I. Know. That. Tell me something I don’t know, dammit.”
Nascha moved no muscle, his hard gaze accusing Bidziil of all the wrongs in their clan.
Bidziil didn’t blink. He stared right back with determination born of pain so deep it had found a permanent place in his soul.
With a grunt of dismissal, Nascha broke away first.
Words backed up in Bidziil’s tight throat. He prided himself on maintaining his calm when others didn’t, but his chest vibrated with anger he needed to release. He gave the medicine man one more chance. “What do you think could’ve caused Sonny to claw his face off? I have someone running a test for drugs—”
“You think Sonny took drugs?” Nascha accused.
“No! I’m just trying to find a reason for something I can’t comprehend,” Bidziil shouted. He’d mentally searched for any reason, even an unwelcome one, but when the medical examiner suggested the possibility of drugs, Bidziil had lashed out at the poor guy.
With no other explanation, he was being forced to consider the unimaginable.
Nascha crossed his arms and lifted his eyebrows in challenge. “Dark spirits walk among us.”
Bidziil drew in a deep breath, willing himself to stand here until he got information. “Are you saying something like a demon got inside Sonny?” Bidziil believed in the power of men such as his brother, Sani, who should have been their medicine man, and Nascha, but he’d never dealt with a demonic problem.
Nascha made a sound of disgust. “You look for simple answer. Some deaths have many layers.”
“That’s not helpful at all,” Bidziil ground out. He spent time with business people who gave him straight answers and that’s all he wanted now.
Nascha crossed his arms. “I am healer, not one who is supposedto see problem.” His tone of dismissal said as much as him lowering his gaze to the fire did. “Come to me when you know what to heal.”
Fisting his fingers to keep from strangling Nascha, Bidziil caught himself. He couldn’t lose his control now. Everyone looked to him to be strong, even when his guts felt ripped out.
He stomped back to his sport-utility vehicle a quarter mile away where he’d parked it because he’d dented the rim driving to this trailer the last time.
His next stop would be even more difficult, which was why he’d gone to Nascha first.
Another fifteen minutes down the paved road, Bidziil pulled off to think about his options. He could either call the casino office and wait for an ATV to be delivered or take his chances driving two miles off road to reach the seer’s place.
Haloke refused to move to the trailer with running water and utilities Bidziil had provided for her.
She lived in a primitive hogan, a dome-shaped structure covered in mud and positioned near the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon.
Asking for an ATV in the middle of a Friday night would set tongues wagging when Bidziil had to keep this contained until he had a clear indication of how Sonny’s death occurred. The minute word got out without an acceptable cause, law enforcement from outside the reservation would flood in.
That never went well.
He’d done everything in his power to protect his clan’s sense of independence. One look at Sonny and the US government would get involved. Then this would turn into a media zoo.
Everyone would forget what mattered most—finding the truth of how Sonny died.
Bidziil needed to know for Sonny’s benefit and to shield his people from whatever caused this. Bringing in outsiders would shut down any chance at gaining local information.
Sonny would have been the first to offer help if this happened to someone else. He’d been exceptional as a person and an employee.
Bidziil tried not to regret encouraging him to push hard to get ahead. No one knew Sonny’s life would be cut short.
Grumbling to himself, Bidziil engaged the four-wheel drive on the Tahoe just to have it ready and pulled off the road, heading across the rough terrain.
Haloke claimed the negative energy and electronics near the rest of the community interfered with her ability to reach beyond this world for answers.
Some rolled their eyes at her claim.
Haloke lacked Nascha’s level of power, but she did her best, giving credit to Sani for encouraging her to use her gifts to aid their people. She pinpointed health issues for some as physical or emotional problems, yet missed the mark for others, but not everyone believed in spiritual healing.
Belief was everything.
Bidziil believed in every clan’s seers and healers, even Haloke, but no one had a magic wand.
He wished Sani had believed in his plan for the tribe and stayed to help. Instead, Sani took his gifts thousands of miles away to a tribe in South America where he showed them how to preserve their culture while surviving.
Sani died far from his own people.
Bidziil pushed those thoughts aside. He could only deal with one death at a time.
When he reached Haloke’s hogan, he found it empty, too.
“Damn.” He had much farther to walk this time. With temps in the eighties at night in June, he shed the jacket to his business suit and replaced his wingtips with boots he kept for rough terrain.
Rolling up the sleeves of his white shirt, he began a three-hundred-yard hike to the seer’s private spot for visions.
Even with the partial moon offering some light, the glow of Haloke’s fire stood out against a dark backdrop.
Bidziil carried around an extra fifteen pounds, but he also stayed in shape just to deal with the contrary members of their clan who lived off the main roads.
Two to be specific.
By the time he reached the wilting fire where a tendril of smoke swirled from hot coals, his anger had settled into a painful punch in his chest.
Haloke’s arms were outstretched and her head bent back. She murmured words that drifted away as they touched the air.
He wanted to show respect for whatever she was doing and not interrupt, but he couldn’t stand here all night.
After all, she should have been expecting him.
As he opened his mouth to call out to her, a loud screech from above cut him off. He looked up to see a large bird’s silhouette glide across the moon.
Looking over her shoulder, Haloke said, “Come.”
He tamped down on his anger at being ordered. He’d known Haloke since they were kids when she’d gone by a different name. She’d been bossy as a teen and hadn’t changed much over the years. Many called her Bird Woman due to her repairing wings and healing any sick bird.
Regardless of how she’d acquired her name, he would always be her friend for many reasons. One had been how she’d supported him when Sani left.
Bidziil asked, “Do you know why I’m here?”
“Sonny no longer walks with us,” she said in a grim voice, more emotion than he’d gotten from Nascha. “He suffered greatly.”
Wait ... how did Haloke know?
He understood about Nascha, because the old guy’s majik allowed him to see spirits who would have informed him. He’d shared experiences Bidziil considered hair-raising, but the medicine man took it all in stride.
That’s why he’d expected to get information from Nascha first.
Haloke had shocked him enough he had to regroup. Taking care how he spoke, he said, “I’ve kept Sonny’s death quiet tonight. Who told you?”
She sighed as if he’d disappointed her with the question. “The eagle brought me news.”
But if a bird told her what he needed, he’d bring her a year’s supply of food for her winged sanctuary.
Two hours had passed since he’d first walked up to Sonny’s disfigured body. Grief, anger, and confusion had whittled Bidziil down to this moment where he had nowhere else to go.
He admitted, “I have skilled people going over the body, but we don’t even have a starting point of murder, suicide, or natural occurrence.”
Nodding solemnly, she remained in one spot, wearing her faded skirt made of two woven rugs and full-sleeved blouse adorned with a beaded necklace. She wore no makeup, but at fifty she still had a striking profile. Silver threads ran through the single black braid hanging over her shoulder.
Pretty, but perpetually sad the past two years.
Losing a child would do that.
Bidziil understood her grief more deeply now.
Looking away into the dark night, Haloke said, “Tell me of this death, Bid. What troubles you about it?”
Those had been the first consoling words he’d heard.
He heaved a deep sigh. “Losing any member of the tribe bothers me, but you know how much I cared for Sonny. The time I spent helping him with studies and the plans we’d made for his future ... he had so much life ahead of him.”
She gave him her signature grunt in reply.
Taking that as a sign to keep going, Bidziil said, “Nothing about this death makes sense. No sign of a murder weapon. There was nothing natural about dying that way, which leaves suicide. The medical examiner said that would only happen if Sonny bled to death from clawing his face, but his body lost little blood.” Bidzill scrubbed a hand over his swollen eyes.
“He had claws?” she asked suspiciously.
“No, but his nails were really long.” Bidziil shuddered at standing close enough to see those thick fingernails dug into Sonny’s skin. “I can’t say if they were normal or not, Haloke. Sonny had gloves on most of the time because he worked alongside the laborers.”
Bidziil couldn’t believe Sonny would not show up grinning and ready for a new day at work tomorrow. The young man’s gloves had shown the kind of wear that earned respect from the others.
Focus on his death, not the hole left in my chest.Bidziil cleared his throat. “Sonny was a decent and kind person, a hard working tribal member who didn’t deserve to die that way.”
He’d mentored Sonny from the age of twelve when the boy’s mother died of poor health from living in squalid conditions. Moving him and his father to a better location improved the young man’s life, but his father couldn’t be cured of alcoholism, a disease fought across many tribal communities.
His father died right after Sonny reached nineteen. Bidziil had been the one standing with Sonny during the burial, just as he had stepped into the paternal role when Sonny needed guidance or to show pride when he won an award at school.
Only last week, Sonny had been excited to show Bidziil a new idea for the warehouse. Seeing that kid happy after all he’d been through had been a proud moment.
Now ... Sonny was dead.
How was that fair? Why him?
Bidziil’s vision blurred then cleared.
He glanced over to see Haloke’s intense gaze locked on him.
Lifting a trembling hand to wipe his mouth, he said, “I’m trying to figure out what happened. That kid didn’t do drugs. I have nothing, nowhere to look.”
She shook her head slowly, agreeing.
Haloke hissed at hearing the medicine man’s name.
He ground his back teeth, tired and short on patience, then plowed ahead. “Nascha says dark spirits walk among us.”
She narrowed her eyes in sullen silence.
Squeezing words from a cactus had to be easier. “What about you, Haloke? Why do you think Sonny did that?”
She spoke with the authority of schooling a child. “You said he clawed his own face off. I do not see how he would do that even with a gun pointed at his head.”
Bidziil had already come to the same conclusion. He’d gone to Nascha for spiritual help and walked away with nothing.
Now he had to ask Haloke to go one step further.
“What do you want from me, Bid?” she asked in a taut voice that brought him up short.
Maybe she sensed his hesitation to ask a new question, but he sucked up his courage and got to it.
“Would you reach out to the spirits and find an answer or even a clue for how Sonny died? I’m desperate to figure this out using our people. I don’t want to bring in outsiders unless I have no other option.”
She drew up straight and stabbed a withering look at him.
He held firm during her silent wrath.
She ordered, “You must notbring in strangers. Outsiders will point fingers at our people for fast solutions. That will not deliver justice.”
“Agreed, but I still need help.” He waited for her decision.
Staring up at the sky, Haloke muttered too softly for him to hear her words clearly. When she finally lowered her head and faced him, she said, “I will ask the Holy People about this death, but Sonny’s wind could not have been in balance for this to have happened. To ask about such a death carries risk. They may show mercy and give aid, or they may refuse to respond.”
She paused then added, “Or they could choose to take another action.”
Even as an adult, he shuddered at contacting those spirits. He’d grown up hearing how the Holy People, sometimes called the Holy Wind, could play nice ... or not.
“Are you in danger if you do this, Haloke?”
The hint of a smile lifted one corner of her lips, but it disappeared just as quickly. “They have no quarrel with me.”
Did that mean the Holy People might have a bone to pick with Bidziil? Or Sonny?
She angled her head at him in question.
He said, “I understand your warning. Please, find out what you can.”
She ordered, “Move back twenty steps.”
Once he reached the distance she’d indicated to allow her a private area, she began singing in their native tongue.
Bidziil caught some words and phrases, but to his detriment he’d become rusty. No one in his inner circle spoke it often, but he should know his tribe’s language.
The seer tossed invisible crystals into the fire, sparking tiny bursts of light.
He stood there for a half hour, maybe more, but he couldn’t come asking for help and disrespect her by leaving before she spoke to him. To be honest, he had no idea where else to turn at this point without allowing an autopsy.
Authorizing that would result in an uproar.
His people believed the spirit had to be allowed to leave the body naturally four days after death. He might not believe as deeply as he should, but he did hold with not cutting a body open and trapping a spirit. He couldn’t leave Sonny’s locked in that grotesque body.
Haloke quieted, drawing his attention. He started to move forward, then stopped.
When another long minute had passed, she lifted a hand in his direction, waving him over.
He hurried back, noting the sweat pouring from her face. Standing over even a small fire in this warm temperature had to be tough.
“What did you find out, Haloke?”
The gaze she turned on him was swollen and red as if she’d been bawling the whole time, but she hadn’t so much as sniffled. She spoke in a hoarse voice. “The Holy People are not happy with our clan. They will not share how Sonny died.”
Bidziil slapped his head. “Another dead end.”
“No. There is a path to the truth.”
His heart clutched. “Are they willing to give us clues?”
She frowned. “They are not servants to do your bidding.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Lifting a hand to silence him, she said, “Did Nascha give you answers?”
“Did he send you to me?”
“Nooo,” he said, drawing out the word to indicate he did notwant to waste time on their conflict, which had been ongoing for years.
“Humph.” She lifted her chin. “The Holy People sent a message. They advise that one of our blood will bring justice.”
Screw it. Bidziil would endure Haloke’s criticism of Nascha with no complaint if he left with the name of someone who could help him solve Sonny’s death.
Give Sonny a burial he deserved.
Bidziil swallowed at the thought.
Using his most respectful voice, he changed his approach for information. “Thank you, Haloke. Did the spirits offer anything more specific?”
She closed her eyes, but her lids twitched with movement. “Sonny did not take his life, not of his own doing. They warn of more deaths until a wrong is made right.”
“Moredeaths?” Bidziil asked, appalled.
Ignoring his outburst, Haloke continued speaking as if she’d fallen into a trance. “The deaths will not end until the old one’s child comes to this land.” She hesitated and frowned, then continued slowly as if confused. “The Holy People say this child is of your blood. He will bring balance back where the wind is no longer at peace.”
Haloke opened her eyes and started shaking her head. “That is not possible. Old one’s child ... of your blood.” She looked sharply at Bidziil. “That can only be Sani, but he is dead. He had a son?”
Bidziil’s breath caught at what she said. He quickly explained, “You’re talking about Storm, Sani’s only child.” Bidziil cut off his next thought before he said too much.
Storm had been born a Skinwalker in South America, something Bidziil’s people considered a demon.
Bidziil had met him once.
Storm would not come and Bidziil would not ask him.
If the Holy People thought Storm could solve how Sonny died, then why couldn’t Nascha and Haloke work together to do the same?
Haloke gasped. “You knowof his son?” Then she pushed past her surprise and demanded, “You must bring him here.”
“I’ll be honest with you,” Bidziil said. “Storm does not want to get involved. Don’t ask me how I know, but I do.”
The smooth skin of her forehead scrunched in disbelief. “After Sani abandoned us, you would protect his son and not your people?”
Bidziil’s gut twisted at that accusation, but he stated in a firm voice, “I will do all in my power to protect them andStorm, as he is my brother’s child. But expecting him to come out here is a wasted phone call.”
She stood over the fire, staring down into it and speaking in a dead tone. “You may not have a choice, Bid.”
“I warned you about asking the Holy People for anything. Sani’s son can refuse them. That does not mean they will accept no from him.”