Driving in Stygian black of a moonless high desert night looking for any sign of pursuit. Asphalt soaking headlight beams like hell devouring all of god’s grace. She switches to high beams and it helps a little but she is so preoccupied with Max’s irrational hostility that she forgets to dim the lights. A driver in a vindictive mood approaching her from the front waits until he is very close and turns his brights right in her face. She barely regains her sight in time to get control back and keep from going off the road and rolling the car.
The trading post is on the edge of the reservation by the side of a washboard desert back road off the highway. The lighting is feeble and strongly yellowish and the store looks like a native american version of a Cracker Barrel. When she gets out of the car insects drawn by the ghost of her headlights swarm and a big moth nearly gets into her mouth.
Up the steps and onto a porch where a big dog lies on its side looking more dead than asleep. Liz pretends to look at a display of junk jewelry while she tries to think of how to play this.
A black haired girl notices her and sidles up and offers her something hammered out of tin and painted bronze and festooned with colored rocks.
A beautiful bracelet for a beautiful lady, the girl says.
Oh! It really is lovely but i was looking for something like this, Liz says, showing her the stone on the pendant. I was just wondering if you’ve seen this symbol before. If U know what it means.
It means ‘tree of knowledge.’
U sound like a gypsy fortune teller, Liz says.
Actually i have no idea what it means. But it sure looks old. Really old.
Right, yeah, Liz says. She does not even sense the tall old indian behind her until he grabs her and spins her around roughly. His eyes never leave the pendant.
Liz says, Uh, do you know what…
His buckeye eyes burrow into hers but he says nothing. Then he turns and leaves without a word. He’s terrifying. He looks just like an old picture of Sitting Bull but his eyes are more Yaqui than Lakota. Bottomless and black and utterly without pity.
Who was that? Liz says to the girl.
Stay away from him, she says.
Liz is spooked by now and has become a little lost looking for the car in the desultory, eldritch light. A chorus of coyotes yips like hyenas and suddenly falls silent. An owl cries overhead, sounding as if it’s moving away. Or maybe that’s to fool the mice in the field where it’s hunting.
As Liz puts her hand on the door handle of the car a big rough hand closes over hers and she almost screams. Give me that! The indian says.
Who RU? She whispers.
Please, he says.
She hands him the pendant and he takes it from her. Where did you get this? He says.
We just found it.
No. I found it.
Who else knows? How many know? Tell me!
No one else knows, Liz says.
How did you know to come here? Were you followed?
No, i wasnt. I was really careful. I…what does this mean 2U? Please tell me.
This is very dangerous, he says with deadly gravity. It brings death. Possibly many deaths.
Next day at the Crashdown Liz goes over to wait on a native american boy with the same frightening eyes as the old man.
May i help U? She says, rattled.
He regards her with contempt before he says, I think i’ll try the Redskin Basket.
Oh, yeah, she says with penultimate embarrassment. I’ve been trying to get that off the menu for months.
Thanks for the effort, he says with venom. My people are indebted. My name’s Coyote.
Is it really?
No. Just a pet name. But it’s good enough for y…for now.
I’m Liz, she says.
I have a message from River Dog, he says. He hands her a jagged fragment of a flat stone and she immediately recognizes it. When she fits the jagged edge to the pendant stone it fits perfectly.
He’ll meet you at ten PM tonight, Coyote says.
Tonight, she echoes.
To the Reservation of course. Someone will meet you.
He gets up and turns and leaves without a look back.