I was flying home from a case in Georgia and not enjoying myself in the least. Not only does the forced inactivity of long plane rides drive me a little crazy, but a storm was either following us or had engulfed the entire route.
I had just decided that sleep was the best defense against the turbulence when the captain announced that, due to the weather, we’d be making an unscheduled layover in New Mexico.
Great. More waiting.
I was waiting for my luggage and grumpily eyeing the line at the telephone. I wasn’t calculating very good odds of getting a hotel room at this point, and I wondered what I was going to do for the night. Just then a Native American teenager walked up and introduced himself as Joseph. His grandfather, he claimed, was expecting me.
I told him he must have the wrong guy, but he knew I was a detective, he knew what city I lived in and most shockingly—he knew my name. My birth name, which I haven’t used since I was eight.
I didn’t trust this kid, his name was Joseph Dryflower, but I was intrigued. Also, the line at the phone was getting longer and my chances of booking a room smaller. Not to mention I still had a case of the nerves from the flight and I could use a bit of a mystery to help me unwind.
Joseph was very polite and carried my suitcase to the old rusted out car he drove, and he pointed out landmarks along the route to his grandfather’s place.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Joseph let me into a small ramshackle house. The inside smelled musty, like wet dog and old newspaper. When he turned on a light, I saw an old blind man sitting in a wingback chair.
Joseph left the room so we could talk, and the old man, Joseph’s grandfather, introduced himself simply as Coyote. Not _a_ coyote, mind you, but Coyote. The one and only. The Native American trickster spirit. I tried to turn my laugh into a cough, but there was no getting one over on the old man.
“You think I’m crazy?” he asked. “I was there when you found the blue thread that led you to your friend’s son in Greece. I was on the beach when you figured out how to help build your uncle-in-law’s wall. I ate with you when you figured out how to keep the monkey from stealing the golden apples. I showed you the rabbit’s trail just yesterday.”
I was floored. Flabbergasted, even. But all I could think to say was, “He’s not my uncle-in-law.” Now it was Coyote’s turn to laugh.
“Not yet,” he said.
I asked if he was the dog on my dentist’s steps too. “No,” he replied, “that was just a dog.”
The old man explained that he’d seen all these things because he’d been “sending out his eyes.” He said it was a trick Raven had taught him years ago. Only this time he’d sent out his eyes too far and too often and now he’d gone blind.
He’d was glad I’d shown up when I did because now I could help him get his eyes back.
Joseph came back into the room and volunteered to show me where I’d be sleeping. As he gave me the five cent tour, he filled me in a bit about his grandfather. It seems the old guy’s brain had turned left a couple of days ago when his son, Joseph’s father, had been accused of helping some cattle rustlers steal livestock from a ranch where he was employed.
It was a story that made more sense, but it didn’t explain how he knew so much about my past cases.
I asked Joseph if he thought his father was guilty and he emphatically swore that he wasn’t. A lot of people in town thought he must be because his father, Jake, had run off when the rancher accused him of the crime. Having heard stories of how some law enforcement officials dealt with Native Americans, I couldn’t say I blamed him.
I told Joseph we’d go out to the ranch in the morning to take a look around. Then I went to bed and had some very odd dreams.
I got up early and Joseph, who was already up, drove me out to his dad’s one time place of employment and scene of the crime—the Watson Ranch.
The ranch was one of those solid, no-frills operations you find in an economically depressed area. Everything looked well used and painstakingly repaired. Well everything aside from the brand new sports car parked out front, that is.
The rancher, who introduced himself using only his last name was nice enough, if a bit taciturn. He had nothing but good things to say about Jake and his work ethic, adding only, “Don’t know what makes some men go bad and others not.”
I complemented him on his choice of new car and he spat in the dust. Turns out the car belonged to his son who showed up with it a week or so back. I asked how he could afford it and Watson muttered something about borrowing against his dad’s good name.
Something didn’t feel right about that new car and I asked Joseph to drop me off in town for a bit, saying I wanted to stretch my legs. He left me with his phone number scrawled on a piece of paper so I could call and get a lift when I was done.
The first place I stopped off at was the bank.
The town was small enough that there was only one banker—Ms. Edith. Ms. Edith was a widow who decided to open the bank when her husband died some fifty years ago. I learned that within the first three minutes of talking to her and the rest of the conversation proved equally enlightening.
I pretended to be in the market for a sizable loan and got her to chatting about her fellow residents.
I learned who wasn’t terribly faithful, who was dying of cancer, and who was hopelessly in debt. All the dirty secrets of the town were mine for the taking. Except for the Watson family secrets, if they had any. I got the feeling widow Edith might have had a bit of a crush on widower Watson.
The son, William Watson II no less, had borrowed enough money to buy a new car lock stock and barrel. But he was a “good boy” who “liked to drive” and that was that.
My next stop was the car dealership where I pretended to be interested in the same car I saw at the Watson ranch. The dealer, without divulging names, let slip that I could probably expect to see one back on the lot when the current owner, a kid, realized his dad wasn’t going to pick up the payments for him.
Payments? Sure enough, the kid had traded in his old car and gotten a loan to cover the difference. The dealer had arranged the loan with a bank in Oregon.
I took a look at the old car and asked about the low mileage on the odometer. The dealer told me it’d been to Vegas and back more times than he could count and probably rolled the mileage at least once. I was beginning to get the picture. Junior had a gambling problem and was struggling to make ends meet.
I wondered how much he owed and how much the rustlers were paying him. I figured the loan amount from Edith answered the first and the car payment amount answered the second.
I made a phone call and Joseph came to pick me up. I took him out to lunch and talked about what I’d learned… and what I’d guessed.
I asked to borrow the car for the afternoon, but he insisted on driving me. Warning him that I might put him in danger only strengthened his resolve.
We drove out to a spot in the desert where we could watch the Watson ranch. If Junior went anywhere, I wanted to know about it. Joseph turned out to be an excellent stake-out partner. I took advantage of this quiet attentiveness to let my mind wander and take in the beauty of the desert.
With breathtaking landscapes like this around me, I could almost believe that the old man really was Coyote. Joseph touched my arm and pointed—Junior was on the move.
We followed his trail of dust at a distance, passing close to the town heading south. Jospeh told me there was an abandoned drive-in theater out that way and not much else. We took a quick detour through town and Joseph made a phone call.
By the time we got to the drive-in, it was all over.
The local police and state troopers had arrived in time to see three known cattle rustlers handing a big bag of money to Watson Jr. The rustlers had taken off and the troopers were in pursuit. The town sherriff had the boy in custody.
All that remained was to get word to Jake that it was safe to come home.
I needn’t have worried—I think Joseph knew how to get ahold of his father the whole time and Jake was home in time for dinner. I’ve never seen three men show so much emotion at a reunion, all the while trying to be gruff and stoic of course.
They insisted I stay for dinner and then that I stay the night, catching a flight in the morning. No one said anything about trickster spirits all night, but I swear I could feel the grandfather staring at me when I wasn’t looking.
Jake and his father said goodbye to me in the morning, as Joseph loaded up my suitcase in the trunk of the car. The old man gave me a big wink as he shook my hand and I swear I could see a sparkle in his eyes that were clouded the day before. “Be seeing you around detective,” he said.
As Joseph drove me to the airport in silence, I kept getting the feeling I was being watched. When I looked around, however, all I could see was a big black raven… laughing in the wind.