They Walk Among Us, Chapter 97: Raised Hackles and Porn Sites

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Diamond Paws didn’t show up for another full week, but when he did, he seemed fully healed and full of quiet energy. When Carolyn West explained what we needed, the big digger was enthusiastic.

“Ah,” he said, using a voice that sounded a bit like James Earl Jones. “Intrigue! Believe it or not, I’ve missed the playing of politics. Consider me Johnny on the job!”

On occasion, we’d noticed, his impressive grasp of the English language remained something less than perfect. It was still a gazillion times better than our grasp of the Umthnn language, of course, so we offered our corrections gently.

“It’s usually Johnny on the spot,” I pointed out carefully, “though most likely Johnny could be on the job as well.”

“Johnny on the spot it is, then. Consider me sanitized.”

That one stumped us for a moment. I’d come over to meet with the Umthnn in Jack Hill’s kitchen. Sissy and Judi were absent, preferring to pore over the blueprints for the home I’d be constructing momentarily, but Jack, Wayne, and Carolyn were all there. Diamond certainly wouldn’t fit any of the chairs, but he swore he was comfortable sitting on the floor. Why not? He was still as tall that way as any of us chair sitters.

Carolyn was the one who figured it out. “Diamond, I think maybe you meant to say, consider me deputized.”

“Deputized, sanitized, what’s the difference?”

What’s the diff–oh. “You’re kidding, right? That’s a joke? I didn’t know the Umthnn had a sense of humor.” Then it dawned on me he might be really offended by my statement, but he didn’t appear to be.

“We have a sense of humor,” he stated firmly. “Or at least, some of us do. How else could we survive all those centuries underground? If our people couldn’t laugh at our predicament, our living beneath the surface of the Earth while homo sapiens and the rest walked on our heads, our population decline would have taken us down to zero a long time ago.”

I thought he probably meant we humans walked overhead, not on their heads, but I’d crossed the line enough for one day. Diamond seemed to be lightening up with me; I’d like to see that trend continue.

Soren Kirk was in residence on his newly purchased property full time now, living in a relatively small shed on skids while he gathered the equipment he’d need to put together a truly hidden redoubt. True, he was gone a fair bit, supply runs to Missoula, sheer boredom meal runs to Drummond and Lincoln, but more hours of the day than not, he was home alone.

Diamond went to work. “I’ll surprise you,” he promised. “Give me one of your cycles–a week, you call it? Give me that much time, and I’ll report back here.”

That sounded good. The report would be oral, we knew, since the Umthnn did not write. Carolyn was beginning to suspect that lack of writing had more to do with Council caution and prohibition than it did with native potential. “He’s got two opposable thumbs on each hand. There’s no way he couldn’t write if he got a bit of training for it.”

I wasn’t so sure about that. The brain connections necessary to facilitate writing might not be there in this species. Then again, I wouldn’t want to bet against Carolyn, either. Either way, though, the report would be oral. The Umthnn had lived through literally millions of years, more than enough time to perfect the art of oral history. I suspected the entire species might be equipped with eidetic memory or something close to it.

On the Rodeo Iron corporate front, things were looking better and better. My uncle B.J., despite being gone on the road much of the time, was now overseeing 99 percent of the sales side of our operation. Judi had our headquarters office humming right along, Sissy reported no major security problems, and I decided it was time for me to throttle back a notch. That was kind of hilarious when I thought about it, just getting ready to turn twenty-seven and throttling back, but the temptation was too powerful to resist. When the new Mahindra backhoe loader came in, I cut back to a four day work week–on call for emergencies, of course–and started prepping our new homesite. Jack would gladly help as needed, as would Wayne Bruce and the girls, but most of the Treemin Jackson domicile would be built by Treemin Jackson himself.

The spring snowmelt was finished at our elevation except for an occasional patch in deep shadow. It was a fine, sunny Friday afternoon, temperature in the seventies. I’d only had to clear half a dozen trees from the area, dropping them with my new Stihl chainsaw. There’d been one close call, the tree deciding to (a) pinch the saw blade and then (b) fall the wrong way when it finally toppled. Missed the mobile home by a good six, maybe seven inches. No harm, no foul. I counted myself extremely lucky on that one, having limbed the tree, bucked it into logs, and moved the lot out of the way with the backhoe before Jack got home that day to witness my idiocy.

He grinned when he saw the damning evidence, of course, bark bits and other tree debris scattered everywhere.

That bit of learning curve was ancient history already, though. Today, I was using the Mahindra to get the stumps out. The timing was excellent, the powerful little backhoe pulling about half of the stumps free of the still soft earth without requiring any digging at all. It was also pure dee fun.

Something told me I’d never become truly comfortable operating a chainsaw; that spooky-sharp chain slinging around that little track in the bar at nineteen gazillion revolutions per millisecond kept me nervous the entire time I was using it. It gave me a ton of respect for professional loggers, not to mention those guys who sculpt wood with a chainsaw, but it wasn’t for me. Not long term. I didn’t admit that to anyone, of course. A guy’s gotta protect his macho image. The backhoe, thankfully, was an entirely different kettle of fish. I was just beginning to learn the machine, but I was hooked. If this welding thing didn’t work out for me, I could see making a living with a backhoe.

I was working on the next to last stump, digging around the roots, when Big Jude Hennessey pulled up in front of the mobile home. His vintage Hudson looked as good as ever. So did the big man, 300 rock hard pounds of six foot eight uncle. He hadn’t yet figured out how to attract women who weren’t toxic, but that was the only flaw he possessed, at least in my eyes.

“Yo, Tree!” His voice boomed out over the dying Mahindra engine as I turned off the key. “Wrapped up early today, decided to see how your Builder Bob project was going!”

He grinned at me and I grinned back, gesturing at the mostly cleared site. “It’s going gangbusters. We’re almost all the way down to dirt already!”

His grin suddenly froze in place. If he’d had wolf hackles, they would have bristled sky-high. His eyes no longer twinkled; they glared.

I looked over my shoulder to see Diamond Paws equally frozen in the act of emerging from the timber, his single forward eye projecting every bit as much hate toward B.J. as B.J. was projecting toward him. The eight foot tall Umthnn did have hackles and they were bristling sky-high.

One more glance back toward my uncle, another toward Diamond, and I summed up the situation neatly in just two words. “Oh, shit.”

These things happen. I know they do, know it from personal experience. More than once, I’ve walked into a room, locked eyes with a total stranger, known instantly that the two of us were eternal enemies. It’s something that can’t be faked, can’t be ignored, can’t even be explained unless one considers reincarnation in the equation. I liked Diamond Paws. Despite my killing of his former husband, I dared to think he probably liked me, too. I loved my uncle and vice versa. But if I didn’t keep these two apart, somebody was going to die. Maybe two somebodies. Both had killed before. Both knew how to fight. Diamond was born with deadly, razor sharp claws. B.J. packed heat.

But…what to do? To say? It was obvious I had to do something…it had to be bold. In their faces…. “If you two murder each other,” I said quietly but firmly, “I will have one hell of a time explaining it to my mother.”

Where that came from, I had no idea. It worked, though. Sort of. My Mom being B.J.’s sister…no, he wouldn’t want me having to explain things to his baby sis. As for Diamond, despite having killed some of his own former sister-wives and rebelling against his entire culture’s taboo system when he decided to contact humans, he remained as family oriented as they come.

“You’ve got a point, Tree.” B.J.’s tone was stiff. He didn’t take his eyes from the eight limbed Umthnn. His expression did not change.

Diamond took it from there. “This would be your uncle, Treemin,” he said. “Family is important. I will leave for now, return later.”

With that, the digger melted back into the trees. B.J. held position for several long seconds, getting hold of himself. Finally, expelling a great breath, he remarked, “Sumbitch talks like freaking John Wayne?”

“Sometimes. Guess that must be his stress go-to voice. He can mimic any human he’s ever heard.”

My beloved uncle didn’t stay long. He pretended to have pressing business elsewhere, which might have been partly true. There was a woman in Deer Lodge he was courting, all white and reportedly fascinated by his huge blackness as much as by his business success and his ’36 Hudson. He’d laughed fondly when he’d first told me about her, Jane or Janet or Janice or something like that. “She told me right out, Tree. Told me, Dude, I like the look of you, and I don’t care of you are a damn coon!”

Romance cemented by racial slur. What the heck; B.J. had tried about everything else. Maybe he was on the right track. You never know about these things. I do believe that if you go black, you’ll never go back.

But mostly, I knew he wasn’t that busy. I had an idea he’d be staying far away from Ovando as much as possible in the days to come. Not a good thing, that. Would he share his attitude with ranch owner Jennifer Trace, poison her already jumpy psyche? I didn’t know. Not that there was much I could do about it if he did, at least not until he did it.

Man, I thought, I feel like a guy caught between two jealous lovers, each ready to take the other out on the slightest pretext. I’d been spoiled in recent years, I suddenly realized. Sure, welders had come and gone. Enemies of various stripes had tested my mettle. But our inner circle had never before been breached; there had been nothing but trust and good will between all nine of us. Jennifer and her adoring tracker, old Howard Tamblyn. Jack, Wayne, and Carolyn. Sissy, Judi, and me. And of course, B.J….

There wasn’t an easy way out of this one. Not that I could see, there wasn’t. Unless Deer Lodge Racist Woman led my uncle back off on another tangent as so many females had done before, there wasn’t.

Crap.

“Tree?” Diamond’s voice interrupted my churning thoughts. He was using his common voice now, the low-stress baritone amalgam that we’d come to expect. He stood within the clearing, hesitant, clearly unsure.

I gathered myself. “Pull up a stump, Diamond. We won’t be interrupted.”

“I hope my presence will not be a problem for you?”

“Hunh! Nah, don’t worry about that. You and my uncle have a hate-on-sight thing going, obviously, but that doesn’t mean I have to choose sides.”

“In Umthnn society, it would mean exactly that.” The big furry fellow sounded nervous. I marveled at his ability to convey his emotions in any language he chose.

“It would in most human families, too, I think. But we’re not most families. Much as you are your own Umthnn, making your own decisions, I am my own human. Nobody decides these things for me but me.”

Diamond fell silent for a moment, thinking. “It would seem you and I may have that in common.”

“Yep.”

“I have my first surveillance report on Soren Kirk ready. Would you like to hear it now, or should the others be gathered first?”

“Let’s gather ’em in. Jack Hill’s kitchen table is big enough. Join us all for supper?”

“I suppose I could talk while you eat. I just had the most delectable pitch pine knot for lunch. I’m stuffed. Besides, I wouldn’t want to get sawdust on Jack’s kitchen floor.”

“Fair enough. I’ll go hit the sat phone, make the arrangements.”

At 6:00 p.m. sharp, we were all present and accounted for. Diamond Paws sat directly on the floor rather than on a chair, not that any chair designed for human anatomy would have worked for him. This put his height roughly level with ours.

“Go for it,” Jack advised, shoveling mashed potatoes onto his plate. “We’ll chew and listen.”

The Umthnn’s basketball shaped head bobbed in agreement. Seated across the table but somewhat to his left, I couldn’t tell which great eye was watching me the most closely. I suspected at least two of them were sharing the chore.

“I have learned much about your new neighbor,” he began. “It’s a good thing I had checked out a number of other humans before deciding to approach you. There are things this man does that would have thrown me otherwise.

“First of all, he is a hard worker. He has a machine much like your backhoe loader, Tree, with which he digs a lot. He’s excavating a great hole between two little mounds or hillocks or whatever you call them. The hole is close to his cabin shed, but not so close that it would fall in.

“When he is running the machine, he seems focused on that and nothing else, except that he stops sometimes, shuts the machine off, and climbs a tree to look around. Scouting, I think, wanting to know if anything or anybody is sneaking up on him.”

Diamond paused. (Heh! Diamond Paws…Diamond paused…heh.) He seemed to be considering how to put the next part. “I believe he can sense my presence.”

That alarmed me. “Has he seen you? Heard you? Smelled you?”

“No, no. Not that. It’s what you call….”

“Sixth sense?” Carolyn volunteered. “ESP? Psychic awareness? A sensitive?”

“I’m not sure. Something warns him. There have been times when he’s looked right at me, times when I knew no mortal eyes could pick me out. There’s a certainty about him. I doubt he knows what he’s sensing, but I’m pretty sure he knows he’s sensing something, some presence. I would not want to try to sneak up on this man with ill intent.”

“That fits,” Jack said. “In Missoula at the Half Castle, he acted like he didn’t even know Breach was there, but he had him scoped out all the way.”

“After he’s done working for the day, when the light fails,” Diamond continued, “he has a routine. First, he picks up a…I think it’s called a guitar. For some minutes, he plays a religious chant kind of thing, sort of a prayer maybe. Pardon me now while I sing.”

I bless the need-to-build-the-hideout-right situation
In the name of the Isness, the name of the Isness,
The name of the Isness
And I bless the need-to-build-the-hideout-right situation
In the name of the Isness, in the name of the Is-isness

“That’s interesting.” I passed the meatloaf down to Judi, but I was thinking about the song. Diamond had sounded like Johnny Cash when he sang it. “He does that every day after he quits work?”

“Yes. Not always blessing his hideout, but always that format. Sometimes it’s blessing his ex-wife’s situation, sometimes other things. But it’s always blessing.”

“Interesting indeed.” I caught Jack’s eye. A guy who sang songs blessing his ex-wife didn’t sound to me like much of a candidate for evil. Hill just shrugged; he was still reserving judgment. “So, after he sings, then what?”

“He, ah, surfs the Internet, I think you would say?”

“And have you been able to see what he’s surfing?”

“Yes. There’s a little window he keeps partly open even when it’s cold outside. Likes the fresh air. From outside in the dark, I can see his computer screen well enough.”

“Hm. He can sense you, yet he leaves that window open behind him?”

“I said he was interesting,” Diamond pointed out. “I didn’t say he was smart.”

“Smart enough to invent the Super Screw,” Jack muttered around a mouthful, but we all knew book smarts and street smarts didn’t always equate.

“So, what does he surf?”

“Sometimes, things to help him build. Mostly, the most hours, porn sites.”

“Porn, eh?” Sissy chuckled, deeply amused. “Big shocker for a divorced guy, right there.”

“Why a shocker?”

“That was sarcasm, Diamond.”

“Oh. Okay. Um, he does spend some time working on Super Screw business. I couldn’t tell much about that. Some emails, I think they’re called, but I don’t really read English, you know. But that doesn’t take him more than a few minutes at any one time. There is one other thing he seems to study.”

The Umthnn didn’t speak for a time. Carolyn finally urged him to come out with it; whatever he was holding back, we needed to hear. “Like I said, I can’t really read English, but I know pictures when I see them. He has quite a file on you, Treemin. Others at Rodeo Iron, too, those franchise owners and such, and your uncle. Also Jennifer Trace, from her rodeo bronc and bull sales mostly.”

Jack put his fork down. “Diamond,” he said softly, “compared to the time he spends on porn sites, how much time does he spend on us?”

He had the answer ready. “About half as much. Two parts porn, one part you all.”

Jack shifted his gaze, looked me in the eye. I looked back. I may have been right, his look said. Any new neighbor who spends that much time compiling a dossier on us is worth worrying about.

For the first time, blessing songs or no, I had to agree.

26 thoughts on “They Walk Among Us, Chapter 97: Raised Hackles and Porn Sites

  1. If someone is compiling a folder on you at all, it is something to worry about. I would just look someone up out of curiosity and let it go. He is evidently very interested. Good chapter, and happy to see you are far enough along with getting ready to go north, to stop and write a bit more often. Missed you while you were busy.

  2. I, too, have missed you, Ghost, and the chapter is excellent. A Dossier on Treemin… disappearances that could also be explained by an deep cover intelligence activity (for whom?) – lets not forget that some government officials probably have Treemin on their hit list.
    Another idea, is that the Umthnn might have been declining after Columbus’ arrival simply because our western civilization’s aggressiveness might be affecting the mind reading Umthnn, their fetuses and newborns, too, in a highly destructive fashion. As I remember, most native americans respected nature and animals. This could also explain why the Umthnn are not present in the Happy Bleepin’ Birthday series…. or are they going to be? (No, I will not ask when you will continue writing that series – I am too much of a gentleman to make such a delicate question) HA!
    Well dear friend, enough of my bad jokes and suggestions.
    Thank you for your writing and your surprises.

    Manny

    As for the Umm

  3. Becky: Yeah, preparations are almost complete for the next Utah run. The truck that’ll be going has a new set of universal joints, two windshield chips repaired by the Chip Doctor, the works. Even a new in-bed toolbox (Pam will have plenty of Honey Do projects in her new apartment) that Zach will be bolting down to the bed floor tomorrow. I may tackle one more chapter before I pull out, but no guarantees.

    As for Soren Kirk, yes, he certainly appears to have some sort of agenda….
    —————————-
    Manny: You may be right. Neither Tree nor Jack would ever be surprised by any government plot or conspiracy.

    Hm. Yes, the sheer population pressures generated by the ever-expanding numbers of humans could certainly have something to do with the Umthnn’s problem(s). If you were a species depending on invisibility for survival, having hundreds of millions of people running all over the place (in the USA) vs. no more than a million or two….

    I don’t dare get back to Happy Bleeping Birthday until this book (They Walk Among Us) is complete at 120 chapters. So, 23 chapters to go. Why don’t I dare? Because I REALLY enjoy writing Happy Bleeping. If I go there now, I may never finish this.

    Now, about the Umthnn. I honestly don’t know if they’re in the Happy Bleeping Birthday series or not. Much of the time, right up until the answers leap from my fingers to the keyboard, THEY DON’T TELL ME! My sense of it (at the moment) is that they are not in that series. Wing Holder of Rimlanders is definitely the man Harrison Polson of Happy Bleeping will become in another 100,000 years, but he is also definitely NOT Jack Hill. Jack was born in the 1840’s, Harrison in the year 2000. The Umthnn COULD pop up in Happy Bleeping, but it seems more likely they’ll lay low.

    Or maybe not. Only the muse knows for sure….

  4. Good stuff , I just wish there wasn’t so much time between you posting chapters and my pay as I go smart phone allowing me to see them. I think I’m up to date on all the stories you have on this web site. I just wish I didn’t have time to read 4-6 books by others between chapters. Lol patience I know patience is a virtue I’m a little short of when it comes to a good read.

  5. Mary, I do understand. If I didn’t have so much on my plate right now, the gap between chapters would be much less. My preference is to write every night, or nearly every night, but currently I’m lucky if I can squeeze in a few hours a week. I fall asleep in my desk char a lot.

    I’m impressed that you’re up to date, though. 🙂

  6. I understand you’ve got a lot going on, comment my phone adding another day or 2 before I could see the post that irks me. I check the dates and times. Lol. I know…well I suspect you’re as human as the rest of us. My being caught up isn’t that impressive, I followed you from the hub pages. It took me a while to find you. I had read some from hub pages and found new stuff to read, then new stories were caught up on between posts as I became aware of them as you wrote. Going from one story to another and then figuring out what was happening was the trick. Lol I was puzzled there for a while.

  7. Heck, Mary, I was sometimes puzzled during my migration from HubPages, too! Earlier, it had taken me most of six years to come up with a web host that was workable for me. Then, although I had this site set up in 2012, I didn’t dare use it extensively due to getting slammed all the time with comment spam. Then in August of 2013, attending the first ever DreamHost user conference in Los Angeles, I was able to pin down what I needed to do to counter that (spam).

    The fix (Akismet plugin) worked, and by mid-September of 2013, I was in “migration mode”–but didn’t dare email most of my most valued readers, figuring HP would get irritated and maybe retaliate before I got my best stuff out–especially since I started cleaning house from the bottom up, leaving the best for last.

    For roughly 3 weeks, I was copying and pasting and drinking coffee nonstop, sleeping very little. 🙂

  8. I’m not really wanting to do any writing at this moment in time, hub pages was just too frustrating the last time I tried. Too many can’t do.. Blah blah blah. I’m probably going to have to polish my writing skills before venturing back into it, but there’s gotta be a more forgiving venue.
    I can understand why you removed your posts as fast as you could too. No telling what people will do.
    The thing is if anyone cared to find you its actually pretty easy or was for me, google search found you.

  9. I certainly understand the HP-inspired frustration. I had a fair bit of that by the end. As for a “more forgiving venue”, I eventually came to the conclusion that if it was to be, it was up to me. That is, that having my own website was the only way freedom of speech was ever going to happen.

    I’ve always felt I was “not that hard to find”, either, thanks to keeping the Ghost32 pen name. A search with that term plus any “logical” topic brings something right up on Google. Others have figured that out, too; every so often another “HubPages graduate” pops here to say hello.

  10. Aha! I was afraid Kirk was up to something. I wonder what the big hole is for? And why is he studying Tree and gang? Will he ever come face to face with Diamond?

    Great chapter, Ghost!

  11. Thanks, Sha. Wish I had more time to write. May be out of touch (on this site) for a couple of weeks, starting soon. 🙂

  12. Ghost, I shudder to think of having to go cold turkey for a few weeks… but I also hope you can get things back in balance soon. Have a great trip, enjoy the adventures, and come back soon! 🙂

  13. Manny, most excellent, at least in one sense. I’ve already made the trip and am back home—uh, with Pam in tow. Her living arrangement elsewhere didn’t work out. Long story (and quite a good one, actually).

    So, hopefully I’ll be able to get something cranked out during the coming weekend. 🙂

  14. Thanks. I definitely have missed her. Judging by their enthusiastic greeting when she walked in the door at the Border Fort, so have the cats. 🙂

  15. I’m sorry the arrangements for Pam didn’t work out. I think it would have been heartbreaking to be that far apart. Better to have to make new plans before things disintegrated beyond the possibility of other options .

  16. Ghost, I’m glad you and Pam are together again. It’s in the cards. Something will present itself to give her what she needs. One thing is clear: you need to be together. Hugs to you both.

  17. Mary: Thanks, but no need to be sorry. You’re right about it being better to have it figured out now rather than later, but there are some outstanding, even stunning benefits from Pam’s month with her daughter’s family. A few of them:

    1. Both Pam and her daughter know each other considerably better than they did prior to the experience.

    2. Pam finally managed to quit smoking (permanently) while she was there, an achievement that had previously eluded her throughout 43 years of the habit and at least a dozen serious tries during our 18 years together to date. She’s pretty amazed at the benefits she’s seeing already, and the relief I feel is indescribable.

    3. Pam now has a crucially important contact in her daughter’s home town, that being the Nurse Practitioner there who is more than willing to take her back on as a patient if we get a place in Montana and commute–which we are planning to do, hopefully this year.
    ———-
    Sha: Thanks for the Hugs, back atcha on that, and you are 100% correct: It’s in the cards, us being together. I haven’t written much if anything about her prior efforts, but this was actually her fourth try at living apart from me. (All for good reason, long stories, details not important, but the point is, the rubber band that ties us together seems to stretch only so far before snapping back into its proper place. 🙂

  18. Not a total loss by a long shot, Mary. Financially, sure, that was a negative, but when it comes to personal growth, Pammie just broke the sound barrier.

  19. Personal growth is a definite plus. She looked very good when you brought her by yesterday. You looked ecstatic to have her back and were beaming the whole time you were here.

  20. Huh! See, I didn’t realize I was beaming like that. Glad to have her back, yes, I did know that, but I didn’t know it was that obvious. Now I’m grinning ear to ear as I’m typing this–and yes, Pam is seated right here next to me at the moment. 🙂

  21. Wow! Stop checking the website for a couple of days and discover a whole ‘nother story unfolding. All I can say, Ghost (and Pam) is that I am glad you realized the need to get back together while there was still a harmonious solution available. 🙂
    Glad you are back together!

    Manny

  22. There you go, Manny–ALWAYS “a whole ‘nother story unfolding” with us! I’m strongly suspicious that the “never boring” factor has a lot to do with the resounding success of our relationship. 🙂

    P.S. I’ve been trying (Honest!) to get back to writing. Still putting out brushfires, but hopefully soon….

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