“Uncle Dawson, can I go with you to pick out Chet’s headstone?”
I looked across the great dining room table at the boy. “Don’t see why not, Henry. Penny, you mind if I pick Henry up when school gets out tomorrow?”
“Not at all.” The redhead smiled at her eldest son. “It’ll be good experience for him.”
The seven year old jist nodded, serious acceptance of his responsibility. Chet Barnes had apparently been closer to the seven year old than I’d realized. Either that, or shopping fer gravestones sounded jist too cool fer words to his juvenile mind.
After supper, once most of the men had retired to the bunkhouse and the dishes were cleared, it was time fer Clan Council. The topic: Six year old Reggie Tamson’s recurring nightmares. It mighta been a better situation if his Mom weren’t in the room, she being purty hardcore Christian and all, but one thing about Penny Tamson: Any chance to help a kid in trouble come ahead of her Bible thumping tendencies.
“So,” Wolf spoke to the boy, man to man, “these kinda sorta Indians with funny looking knives are after you, right?”
“They sure are.” The little boy didn’t come across as no little boy; we’d long noticed that about Henry’s younger brother. “And they’re mean.”
“Reggie, I kind of figure anybody coming after me with a knife is mean. That’s not nice!”
“No,” he replied, dead serious, “it’s not.”
“Okay, then we should make them stop chasing you, shouldn’t we?”
“We sure should!”
“It’s going to be easy.”
“Really.” The Heyókȟa smiled reassuringly at his wide-eyed young client (he refused to use the word patient). Then he placed a list on the table.
Yes, a list. This man had not grown up around his fabled father, Tam the tall tale teller aka Crazy Rifle, yet he’d acquired the same penchant fer list-making. Maybe he got that from Believer; I never had asked any who knew the old mountain man if he’d done that. A Heyókȟa Cheyenne–well, half Cheyenne–who made white man style lists. Who’da thunk it.
“You know these men who’re after you, Reggie?”
The boy thought a moment. “Kinda sorta. But not really. It’s like I only know they got power, and if they catch me, I’m a dead duck.”
“Ah. That fits. I’m going to just read you this list now. It says what I believe is going on and what we can do about it. If you hear me say anything that sounds right, just keep listening, okay? But if you hear me say anything that sounds wrong, you raise your hand like in school. Got it?”
“Got it,” he nodded solemnly.
“Okay then. Here we go. The list.”
Reggie Tamson: What’s Happening and What to Do About It
1. These people chasing Reggie are Inca priests. They have tamil knives.
2. Reggie Tamson lived a lifetime as an Inca child.
3. He was sacrificed to the Inca gods. Sacrifcied means killed, just because the priests thought it was right.
4. Reggie’s sort-of memory of that lifetime makes him scared.
5. The old Incas feel his fear; it lets them chase him on the inner planes in his dreams.
6. Those old Incas need to get a life
Reggie busted out laughing at that. “They really do need to get a life!”
Wolf set the list aside. “Nothing sounded wrong about that so far?”
“Nuh-uh. Sounded exactly true!”
“Well then, we don’t need to look at the rest of the list, the part that says what to do about it. All you need to do, Reggie, is wear this when you go to sleep at night.”
When Uncle Wolf fished in his pocket fer the amulet, I figured all Hell was gonna break loose with Penny…but I’d underestimated Cougar’s brother. I knew the object he handed over to the boy was a protective amulet, but he’d disguised the thing–in the form of a silver cross.
Reggie went wide-eyed at the sight of it and said, “Ooohh!” Or maybe that was his religious-minded Mom who made the sound; I was never quite sure. Three inches tall, with flaring ends to the limbs of it, the cross had a little loop at the top through which ran a silver chain long enough to go around the boy’s neck and leave the cross itself centered squarely on his upper chest–until he turned on his side and half-strangled himself, of course.
I had to admire the Heyókȟa. Penny’s formal education had been limited, and she wasn’t one to do much reading outside of the Bible. Clearly, she had no idea that the silver symbol she was already helping her son chain to his neck–he wasn’t about to wait for bedtime to wear it–was actually an Ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol of Life.
Tam got it, though. He and I exchanged a glance, and I could see he was fighting one of them ear-to-jug-ear grins of his.
“What this will do, Reggie,” Wolf was explaining, “is tell the mean old Incas they can’t have you. Okay?”
“You bet okay, Uncle Wolf. Thank you!” He got down from his seat, ran around the table, and laid a big ol’ hug on his benefactor.
What? Did it work? Yep. The next morning, the boy reported he’d gone to his usual dream place where the night was black but the sky was blue. “I start there a lot,” he explained, “and that’s always where they come after me. But not this time! I had the cross on in my dream, too; I put my hand on it to be sure. There was nothing but black and blue. And I feel great!!”
Later that morning, jist before heading out to Walsenburg on Joker, I got a chance to ask the young miracle healer a question I’d been burning to ask.
“Wolf, how come you used an Egyptian symbol to counter Inca bad guys?”
He shrugged. “Only ’cause I felt the Ankh would work. Oh…and because I don’t know one danged thing about Inca symbology.”
As Joker and I headed out the ranch gate, I could tell Wolf Tamson already felt right at home at Flywheel Ranch. I could hear him whistling.
We didn’t all gather at the river–so to speak–when the headstone Dawson picked fer Chet’s grave was set in place, but I made time to go visit the grave the following weekend. Laughing Brook went with me, as did Elly Franzen–me and my two women, which I got a kick out of, flaunting ’em in front of the town without the town having a clue.
As far as Walsenburg knew, Mrs. Franzen was along to pick up a few things fer her paraplegic gem cutter husband at the Mercantile.
At the last minute, Henry asked if he could ride along. His chores were done fer the day except fer topping off the firewood boxes by supper time, so why not? Having the voluntary company of our eldest grandson was always a pleasure.
He had a surprise for us when we got to the gravesite, though.
The stone was solid, gray granite, beautifully shaped by the stonecutter. Nothing fancy, unless you counted the wavy curves along the top, but it gave a sense of solidity, Permanence, if you will. Not that being permanently planted in the ground was my idea of a good time, but….
The engraving was interesting.
July 14, 1822–April 21, 1878
……HERE LIES A HAND……
He’d been closing in on fifty-six? “I didn’t know his birthdate,” I admitted, standing with my arm around Brook at one side of the grave.
Henry explained, “I did. That’s how Dawson knew what to tell the stonecutter.”
“Hunh. You knew Chet pretty well, grandson? Better than us old men?”
“You’re not old, Grandpa!”
“Old enough to know better, too young to care. Whoa!” The inscription below the dates had finally caught my eye. “That’s different!”
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you will be
So prepare for death
And follow me
“He always told me that one.”
“Henry,” Brook asked softly, ‘we’re impressed that you knew Chet so well. We all knew he was a good man, a top hand. He helped Dawson and Marie in Denver, and he’d once graduated from law school. But I don’t think many of us grownups knew these little personal things about him. How is it that you did?”
The boy looked up at his Cheyenne grandmother, went eye to eye as he explained. “Remember when I was sick in March? Couldn’t get outa bed? I missed a whole week of school.”
“Yes, honey. I remember.”
I didn’t, but I wasn’t about to admit it.
“Well…when I was sick, Chet came to visit me in my room one time.”
“Uh-huh. And he gave me a toy. I think he musta got it from the Mercantile, rode all the way to town jist to buy it for me. It’s a little black cat made of little wooden pieces with strings running all through ’em. The strings run down through a red board shaped sorta like a bone, then they end up in rings you can put your fingers in. When you pull the strings jist right, you can make the kitty stand straight up, or droop its tail, or bow, or kinda buckle the legs. All that.”
Brook and I stared at each other briefly. Who knew?
“Henry,” I asked, “Out of all of the Flywheel clan, owners or hired hands, did anybody else give you a toy when you were sick?”
“Nuh-uh. He was the only one.”
“We never know, do we?” Laughing Brook and I lay wrapped in each other’s arms, deep in the night. Everything always boiled down to this in the end: Me and Brook, my Laughing Brook Over Stones, doing the right thing fer twenty-one years till we could be together forever. We’d fully belonged to each other fer four and a half years now.
Eternity wouldn’t be long enough.
“Know what, my warrior?”
“Other people’s lives. Nobody else even noticed the deep friendship between Henry and Chet Barnes. Not us, not his parents, not even his brothers and sisters. Nobody.”
“This is normal, is it not?” Her smile could be felt in the darkness.
“Yep. It is. Which is what I’m saying. Henry made me think back to my own childhood, to my silent sainted mother never talking about her quarter Comanche heritage and my Banking Bastard father never caring about much of anything except money. Neither one of ’em ever knew the depth of me, not a tenth of it. From what I heard, my running away when I was twelve caught ’em both flat-footed.”
“And this troubles you, beloved?”
“…Not…exactly. But it has got me to thinking. We’ve all been thinking our kids would take over this ranch someday. The ranch, and all the other enterprises we’re getting going along the way. But what if that ain’t the way of it? What if Henry, say, decides this ain’t fer him and he takes off to sail the Seven Seas or some such?”
“Then, Crazy Rifle, that is how it will be.” My wife’s hand gently stroked my stubbled cheek, her work-calloused hand as soft as velvet brushing across my skin. “If there is one thing the Tamsons and Trasks teach those who come after, it is to be independent, to think and act for themselves. It is most assuredly possible we will not like their paths in life…but we will equip them to survive those paths as best we know how.”
“True enough,” I sighed. “There is that.”
So saying, we drifted off to sleep.