This Time Forever

This Time Forever

Kathleen Eagle

December 2012 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-2439

She'd helped convict him of a crime he didn't commit.

Now she wants his help adopting the son he never knew he had.

Our PriceUS$15.95
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RITA Award Winner for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel

She’d helped convict him of a crime he didn’t commit

Now she wants his help adopting the son he never knew he had.

Seeking refuge in a world not her own, Susan Ellison follows her conscience to the reservation of the Lakota Sioux, hoping to heal the wounds of her ravaged heart.

Sentenced to life in prison, former rodeo champion Cleve Black Horse seeks freedom and justice.

Two lonely outcasts separated by culture, stubborn pride and prison bars, their destinies are joined by a shared duty to a helpless child — and by the blossoming of a bold and magnificent love that a cruel, intolerant society forbids.

Bestselling author Kathleen Eagle retired from a seventeen-year teaching career on a North Dakota Indian reservation to become a full-time novelist. The Lakota Sioux heritage of her husband and their three children has inspired many of her stories. Among her honors, she has received a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times, the Midwest Fiction Writer of the Year Award, and Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA Award. Kathleen takes great pleasure in reading letters from readers who tell her that her books have tugged at their heartstrings, entertained, inspired, and even enlightened them. Visit her


"This RITA winning romance from 1992 has some serious meat on its bones, and as always, Eagle manages to make hard, complicated themes utterly enthralling to read… a vivid, compelling story…the writing is honest and unsparing." -- Willa Hunt, Karen Knows Best



THE OWL’S CALL stirred Cleve Black Horse toward the brink of awareness. Above the crackling radio static and over the idling hum of the pickup’s motor came the haunting, cool night echo. He eased his shoulders up the vinyl backrest.

Somebody must have died.

The thought cracked his sleepy consciousness like a predawn glow. It came from a store of visceral knowledge, which, as was his practice, he was quick to reason away before it had him doing some crazy thing like turning lights on to drive the ghosts away. Only old Indians and kids got spooked by owls. But Cleve clicked off the radio and listened until the call came again. The back of his neck felt prickly. Through the bug-spattered windshield he saw treetops etched like ink blots against a sliding wisp of bright clouds. The stringed tone of crickets cheered him. They were the best night singers. Only a half-shot Indian would keep telling himself that, somewhere in those trees, an owl waited, watching.

Don’t go out there, Sonny. The gigi man is out there.

Cleve rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. Gigi man. Christ, where had that come from? A few beers and a couple of aspirin for his wounded head, and he had ghosts dancing in his dreams.

He rubbed the back of his neck and took a look around the cab. This wasn’t his pickup. This was a late model club cab Silverado with a super deluxe interior and options and trim up the ozeki.

It must have been that damn owl that had him thinking like an Indian. He was an Indian—he didn’t mind saying it—born and raised on Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, which straddled the North and South Dakota state line. But Cleve hadn’t been a reservation Indian in years. He didn’t talk Indian. He tried not to think Indian. But he’d only been back in North Dakota for a few hours, and already he was thinking gigi and ozeki—words he used as a joke, maybe, when a rodeo buddy called him "Chief” or "Geronimo.”

He joked about it more easily now, but still on his own terms. In the old days, it was nothing to joke about. Ever. His name was Black Horse, and his skin was brown, and any redneck cowboy who wanted to make something of it was likely to get his face bashed in. Making it big on the rodeo circuit had changed a few things for Cleve, though. People talked to him differently when he was up there winning. He’d driven some good pickups, stayed in nice places, bought new boots whenever he’d felt like it.

Right now, of course, he wasn’t riding so high, and, like it or not, he was driving an Indian pickup. He had to admit the blue Ford he’d left a few miles back below the shoulder of I-94 was a pretty sorry outfit, especially now that it had a blowout and a busted radiator.

So what the hell, his back wasn’t bothering him for a change, and his arm would hold out if he taped it up good. He’d take first in saddle bronc and bulls tomorrow and buy himself another pickup, and maybe a nice hat. The one on the seat next to him belonged to a prefab farm building salesman named Arnie Bertram. So did the pickup. Bertram had come along and offered Cleve a ride after he’d slammed the old Ford into the ditch. He’d been lucky. Hitching was still beneath his dignity, and it would have been one hell of a long walk from just this side of Montana clear to Mandan, which was in the south central part of the state.

At least he knew where he was. He was back in North Dakota.

But this ride was turning into a big social event with a bunch of duds. Arnie Bertram talked too much. He was the kind of guy who liked to let everybody know he was around. He’d insisted on stopping at every little hole-in-the-wall along the way and telling the locals that he was giving the Cleve Black Horse a lift to Mandan for the rodeo. Arnie was a longtime rodeo fan, so he remembered the name. Most people didn’t. Actually, it had been ten years since Cleve’s position in the standings meant anything to anyone but him.

So now they’d stopped at a hole-in-the-ground next to the highway. Cleve chuckled to himself. Two holes in the ground. A two-holer with porch lights and signs. MEN and WOMEN.

It was a no-moon night. The pickup windows were down, and Cleve was feeling the chill. He couldn’t complain too much about the delay, since he remembered that he was the one who had asked Arnie to pull over. Jeez, how long ago was that? He’d gone into the can first, and Arnie had followed along a few minutes later with that hitchhiker, Ray Smith. They’d picked Smith up along the highway after they’d left that first beer joint.

If those two were still in there, Cleve figured he must have dozed off just for a minute. He reached under the steering wheel and shut off the engine. The smell of the exhaust was making him sick. He felt as though he’d been kicked in the head by a bull. Thinking about the spider web crack his head had left in the windshield of his pickup, he realized he probably had a concussion, which had to be the cause of his problem. The fuzz was on his brain instead of his tongue, so it wasn’t the beer. Cleve was a cowboy. He could hold his beer.

Cleve stared at the sign that said MEN. Come on, for Chrissake. They may have been doing something weird in there, in which case he wished they’d just hurry it up. He didn’t care what other people did in the john as long as they weren’t bothering him, but he wanted to get to Mandan sometime tonight. Tomorrow—or today, whichever it was—would be the Fourth of July, and Cleve had two events going in one show. Probably rip his arm all to hell, but he’d been in worse shape and come through okay.

You can do it, Sonny. You’re a cowboy.

The ultimate endorsement for an Indian kid was always, "You’re a cowboy.” It meant you didn’t balk or complain or cry or ask too many questions. The old man, his grandfather, had heaped that expectation on him before he was out of plastic pants, and he’d been a cowboy ever since. The old man should have lived to see how Cleve had stuck it out. Thirty-seven years was a long time to keep dusting off your ass and climbing back into the saddle.

And however long he’d been sitting out there was too long for two guys to be taking a leak. Cleve wasn’t too eager to go back inside, but he didn’t want to spend the rest of the night at some damn rest stop, either. If his head hadn’t been ripe for busting open, he’d have taken his gear out and started walking. Hell, if he’d had a few more beers, he wouldn’t think twice about taking the pickup and leaving those two to set up housekeeping in the john.

There was a phone booth here. Maybe he’d call somebody.

Who would he call? He didn’t have any phone numbers. Most people he knew didn’t have phones. The old lady never had one, never would. He’d offered to pay the deposit and hookup fee, which was a considerable chunk of change, but she’d told him to save his money. The phone company would just be taking it out once people started coming over and running up her bill. That was why he hadn’t been in touch with her in God knew how long. You couldn’t call somebody who lived in a godforsaken sinkhole and didn’t have a phone. He hoped she hadn’t gone and died on him in the meantime.

She hadn’t, though. Cleve set his jaw as he watched the men’s room door. No chance. The tribe would have tracked him down if his grandmother had died. Indians always made damn sure everybody was there for a funeral. She was still okay.

Hooo. Hoo—oo—ooo.

Somebody must have died.

The hell. Cleve flung open the pickup door, hopped past the running board, and slammed it shut again. He wanted to give that damn owl a scare more than anything, but he figured he’d let the two jerks in the john know he was coming. And then he was leaving, with or without them.

He squinted against the shock of bright light and started to announce his presence. Then he saw the man on the floor. His first thought was that Arnie looked like an overgrown kid curled up under the sink with his back to the door. Then he saw the wine-red puddle on the gray floor. Nearby lay a black leather billfold.

Jesus Christ!

Cleve pushed against the metal door on the toilet stall. The water ran noisily inside a faulty tank, but of course, the stall was empty. It was the only hiding place in the room. The hitchhiker was gone, and poor old Arnie had gotten himself beaten up and rolled.

"Arnie?” Cleve knelt beside him and pulled the short, stocky man over by his shoulder. Arnie’s head flopped back like the lid on a cigar box and presented Cleve with a fresh dribble of blood and a fish-eyed stare. His throat had been cut.

Only the owl gave an answer.



Part I

An eagle I considered myself.

But the owl is hooting,

And the night I fear.

—Lakota Song



Chapter 1

SUSAN ELLISON HAD worked overtime the night before she was called for jury duty. It wasn’t easy to switch gears from treating a child for smoke inhalation and third-degree burns to answering the prosecutor’s questions about where she’d taken her nurse’s training. The child’s pain was still immediate. Susan could still see the little girl writhing against the stark white sheet and hear her screaming whenever anyone touched her. She heard the prosecutor’s questions, too, but even as she answered them, she had a sense that she wasn’t really the character she was playing in this bare, yellow box of a courtroom. She was the nurse tending the child who persisted in her head.

Martin Ness was trying too hard to put Susan at ease. She wished he’d just make up his mind about her. She assumed his questions were designed to help him decide whether she was perceptive enough to see things the State’s way in a murder case, but he propped himself against the jury box rail as though they were just two people visiting over the backyard fence, while he asked about her move from Minneapolis to Mandan, how she liked North Dakota, and what ties she had here. Under other circumstances, Susan might have found him pleasant. But she was tired, and not interested in chatting. If she had to serve, so be it, but she didn’t see what her religious affiliations had to do with anything.

Ness was more skilled than defense attorney Carter Frick. While Ness approached each juror with the easy smile of a good car salesman, Frick stood at attention and read from a legal pad in a grating tone of voice. He asked her whether she read the local newspapers. Sometimes, she said. She knew what he was looking for, and she was feeling perverse. She told him she preferred the Minneapolis Star Tribune for real news.

"Would you say that the murder of Arnold Bertram was real news, Ms. Ellison?”

Frick’s lips twitched as he waited for her answer.

"I read about the murder,” Susan informed him.

"Do you have an opinion as to who did it?”

"I hadn’t given it much thought. The name of the man who was arrested didn’t mean anything to me, and obviously he hasn’t been tried yet.”

Frick made a note on his pad. "Has the media coverage led you to draw any conclusions about the murder?”

"Only that a man was killed at a rest stop.” She hadn’t thought about the possibility of ending up on the jury when she’d read about the crime a couple of months ago. She had been on the list for twenty-one months, long enough to forget to worry about being called. At the end of two years, she would have been off the hook with the selection of a new jury pool. Deep in the pit of her stomach, she had queasy feelings about taking part in a murder trial.

"Has anyone close to you ever been victimized by a homicide, Miss... Ms. Ellison? Do you prefer Ms?”

Susan stared at Frick’s stiff-lipped smile. He was about her age, and he was talking down to her. If she’d felt more energetic, she would have laughed.

"Ms. is fine, and no, I’ve never really known anyone who was murdered.”

"As a nurse, you must have treated patients who were victims of violent crimes.”


"And how did you feel about that?”

If she told him she was outraged, and she always felt like killing the bastard who’d caused the pain, she knew she could get out of this. But she didn’t like the idea of being dismissed by Mr. Frick.

Susan answered quietly. "The same way I feel about patients who are victims of illness. I want to help them if I can.”

"Ms. Ellison is acceptable to the defense, Your Honor.”

COURT CONVENED AT 9:00, and at 8:50 the following morning Susan parked her gray Honda sedan beneath the yellowing leaves of a tall cottonwood that shaded the corner of the parking lot. Not too early—she didn’t want to sit around waiting for the proceedings to get started—but never late. She worked at a hospital in Bismarck, but she lived just across the Missouri River in the smaller town of Mandan. Her apartment was only a few blocks away, but she’d brought her car so that she could run some errands at lunchtime.

The sound of her high heels clicking against the pavement made Susan straighten her shoulders and lift her chin a little higher. She sounded official. She felt official. She’d had a good night’s sleep after working out in her aerobics class. It had felt good to move around after sitting through the jury selection process, which had taken the better part of the day. Thirteen names had been chosen because the judge wanted one alternate in this case. After her exercise class, she’d called her supervisor on the three-to-eleven shift to say that she had been selected for the jury, and the judge had said it would be hard to guess how long the trial would take. Susan’s friend, Callie, had gotten the word and called her later.

"I’ll bet it’s going to be fascinating, listening to all the grisly details,” Callie said. "What’s the killer look like? I’ve heard he’s supposed to be pretty good-looking.”

"I’m not supposed to talk about it. Besides, I didn’t notice.” It wasn’t exactly true, but it was the easiest way to answer. Pointing out that the man couldn’t be called a killer at this point might provoke more comments that Susan wasn’t allowed to discuss, now that she was a juror.

"I know. I was on a jury once. You don’t want to look at them at first. Kind of awkward, under the circumstances. Listen, enjoy it. It’s like time off, and how many murder trials do we get around here, you know? Not too many.”

"No, not too many.”

Susan could see Callie attending a hanging a hundred years ago. A murder in this state was, indeed, big news. A trial could bump the pictures of local children raking leaves from the front page. In the three years since she’d moved from Minnesota’s twin cities to North Dakota’s more bucolic version, Susan had had to adjust to Bismarck-Mandan’s largely unsophisticated character. She’d decided that sophistication was relative, and that the more rural area had everything she needed. The people were friendly, and she felt safe. Most important, she was needed.

Susan was an achiever, a woman people could count on to get the job done. She hadn’t asked for this new responsibility, but she’d been chosen for it. She touched her lapel to reassure herself that she’d remembered the blue-and-yellow juror’s badge. She was an official of the court. She would have hated being excused once they’d gotten her in there and asked her all those personal questions. Having been entrusted with the job, she would take it seriously. She would decide, or help to decide, whether that man—the dark, silent figure who’d sat at the counsel table, all but ignored—was a murderer.

She thought of him as she entered the big brick building. During the selection process, no one really talked about him or the details of what he was supposed to have done. He was present, but he was like a bystander, watching and waiting. People eyed him askance, as though they were afraid of what he might do if they actually looked at him. Susan knew that she had behaved no differently from the rest. It was only after both attorneys had claimed to be satisfied with the jury that Susan had stolen a good look at him.

He didn’t look scared. He should have been, Susan thought. In his shoes she would have been terrified, but he didn’t even seem to be uncomfortable. He sat there doodling on a yellow pad and nursing a glass of ice water. At the announcement that the jury was complete, he dropped the pencil on the pad and raised the glass, glancing over the rim and directly at Susan as he drank. There was no hesitation. He’d singled her out, and he was telling her she was in this with him now. He knew the truth, and before this was over, she would be expected to know it, too. It was a challenge.

The jury had been sworn in before court adjourned the previous day. They’d been told not to discuss the case with anyone, not even each other, and to assemble in the jury room before nine in the morning. Susan was one of the last to arrive. She didn’t know any of the others, and she was not one to make the initial overtures.

The attorneys and the defendant were already seated at the counsel tables when the jury was led down the aisle to the jury box. Susan was seated in the center of the five-chair front row. Good spot, she thought. She could blend in with the other twelve, but she had a good view of the witness chair, the counsel tables, and the bench.

"All rise.”

The black-robed judge’s entrance claimed everyone’s attention. The bailiff proclaimed that the Morton County South Central Judicial District Court was in session with Judge William Carmichael presiding. Old and wise, Susan thought. Each attorney had a side to represent, but she could look to Judge Carmichael for model objectivity. An overhead light shone down on him as he bent his balding head and adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses to peruse some papers.

"The State of North Dakota versus Cleveland W. Black Horse.”

Susan looked at the defendant again. She was going to have to look at him openly and often, and she might as well get used to it. She was part of the State of North Dakota. She had no apologies to make. He was charged with first-degree murder, and she couldn’t worry about whether her staring at him might embarrass him. He knew the truth about what had happened, and she might be able to see it in his eyes.

The whole state, six hundred thousand people, versus one man. Already Susan didn’t like the odds. But as she listened to the prosecutor making dramatic use of his deep, commanding voice as he read the grand jury’s indictment, she told herself she would get used to the odds, too. If this one man were, indeed, a murderer, then it was he who threatened and offended the six hundred thousand.

". . . did deliberately and with premeditation and malice aforethought commit an act of homicide upon one Arnold Clifford Bertram, contrary to the laws of North Dakota and the peace of this State.”

The grand jury had indicted him, Susan thought. She had actually read little about the case. She seldom saw the 6:00 news on television, because she was usually working then. But the man had been indicted on a first-degree murder charge, and there must have been good reason.

". . . discovered in the men’s bathroom at a rest stop on I-94, only about forty miles west of us, ladies and gentlemen, with a stab wound the nature of which only a cold-blooded killer could inflict upon a fellow human being.”

Susan had seen every kind of stab wound the prosecutor could describe. She had been a triage nurse in the emergency room at Metro Med Center in Minneapolis before she took the position at Bismarck’s Med Center One, where the emergency room was blessedly quieter. There were farm accidents, highway accidents, household accidents, and victims of violence—yes, all that—but the numbers were smaller. She never had stretchers lined up in the hallways anymore. And she saw fewer gunshot wounds and stab wounds "the nature of which only a cold-blooded killer could inflict upon a fellow human being.” Susan figured she might be the one juror the prosecutor couldn’t shock with talk of gore.

". . . then stole the victim’s pickup and fled. A senseless crime, perpetrated in a drunken rage. The State will prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Cleveland Black Horse took advantage of Arnold Bertram’s trust, his generosity in offering a ride to a stranger—something not many of us are willing to do these days—and then took Mr. Bertram’s property and his life.”

The defendant didn’t appear to be listening to Prosecutor Ness’s opening statement, but he wasn’t doodling this time. With shoulders squared and only his eyes downcast, he sat motionless and stared at the table in front of him. Susan wondered what he was thinking. Was he remembering the events as the prosecutor recounted them? Or was the very idea that someone had done this thing as repugnant to him as it was to everyone else in the courtroom?

Callie had been right. Cleveland Black Horse was a handsome man. Susan guessed that he was not a full-blooded Sioux, for his skin and his hair were not dark enough. But there was no mistaking the dominance of his Indian features: the chiseled structure of his face, the hooded eyes, and the aquiline nose. Susan didn’t know much about Indians, other than when they came into the ER their blood ran the same color as anybody else’s. Generally, they didn’t complain much about the pain that was part of bleeding.

She didn’t know much about rodeo cowboys, either, but she knew that to be the defendant’s profession. He was dressed in the same navy suit, white shirt, and striped tie he’d worn the day before, a suit he probably would not have chosen for himself if he could see himself in a full-length mirror. Susan thought of the Minneapolis businessmen who had worn Urban Cowboy clothes years ago. Cleveland Black Horse in a navy blue suit and striped tie was the flip side of that coin. She watched him shove two fingers inside his collar, trying to make space for his Adam’s apple.

Black Horse turned to watch his attorney gather some papers and move toward the jurors without offering his client so much as a reassuring glance. Frick stood stiffly near the jury box rail and launched his opening statement in a voice that followed the prosecutor’s like a piccolo echoing a tuba. He said that the prosecution had a flimsy case against his client, based on circumstantial evidence, and that Cleveland Black Horse, who was well known among the rodeo fans of North Dakota, must be presumed innocent until the State could prove him guilty of this crime. He asked the jurors not to make up their minds about the case until they had heard both sides.

The prosecution’s first witness was Daryl Anders, a dispatcher at the Mandan Law Enforcement Center. Martin Ness produced his first exhibit, the center’s logbook, and handed it to the judge. The book was entered into evidence by the clerk.

"Were you on duty between 11:00 P.M. on July third and 7:00 A.M. July fourth?”

"Yes, sir, I was.”

"And did you receive a report that a body was discovered at a rest stop on I-94 in this county?”

"Yes, I did.”

"Who placed the call?”

"The caller didn’t give me his name. He just said he’d found a dead man in the john.”

"What time did you receive the call?”

Anders referred to the logbook. "It was 1:42 A.M.”

"The caller reported that he’d found a dead man at the rest stop, and then he hung up,” Ness summarized.

"That’s right.”

"What did you do after you took the call?”

"Well, I told Sergeant Kramer about it—he was on duty with me that night—and then I called the Highway Patrol.”

"Thank you. Your witness, Mr. Frick.”

Frick took up his yellow legal pad and approached the witness. "What exactly did the caller report, Mr. Anders? That he saw a body?”

"That there was a body.” Anders punched a finger in the air as though it helped him get each word right. "He said, ‘There’s a dead man at a rest stop about forty miles west of Mandan. It’s awful,’ he says. ‘Blood all over the floor of the john.’”

"That was it?”

"That was all he said. Then he hung up.”

"You say he. It sounded like a man’s voice?”

"Oh, yeah, it was a man’s voice.”

"No further questions.”

Ness called the patrolman who’d arrived on the scene at 2:15 A.M., followed by the county sheriff at 2:35, who had investigated and taken photographs.

"On your way to the rest stop, were you in radio contact with the Highway Patrol, Sheriff?”

"Yes, I was. Patrolman Richard Bateman encountered an abandoned vehicle at about 2:00 A.M. and picked up the driver, who was proceeding east along the highway on foot. He was advised to detain the driver. I passed the patrol car and the pickup. They were in the eastbound lane, and I was westbound. Meanwhile, Patrolman Todd Seizer reported discovering the body.” The sheriff nodded toward the row of uniformed witnesses. "Like he just testified.”

"Exactly what did you find at the rest stop, Sheriff?”

"The victim, Arnold Bertram, was lying there under the sink in a pool of blood. His throat had been cut.”

"With a knife?”

"We never found the weapon. Searched up and down the highway, but we never found it.”

"What else did you find in the men’s room?”

"His billfold was lying there, too. You can see it all in the pictures, just what we found.”

Ness took another folder from the box containing his physical evidence. "Your Honor, I submit the Sheriff’s Department photographs.”

Frick slid his chair back, speaking as he stood. "Objection, Your Honor, on the grounds that these photographs are likely to be inordinately inflammatory. The defense does not deny that a man was brutally murdered.”

The judge asked that the jury be taken to the jury room while counsel approached the bench. "Help yourself to coffee,” the bailiff said, nodding toward the tall urn as he closed the door. Nobody moved toward the pot. Instead, the jurors eyed one another.

"We can’t say anything about what’s going on, huh?”

Susan turned to the smiling young man with red hair. She supposed she ought to start thinking of herself and these people as a team. She smiled back. "No, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk. I’m Susan Ellison.”

"Dale Larsen.” He stuck his hands in his back pockets and cocked his hip. "So why do you think they sent us out?”

"I guess they don’t want us to hear what they have to say about those pictures.”

"They’re deciding whether we can see them,” said Margaret Whalen, who was, Susan recalled from the jury interviews, a retired teacher. She was probably the oldest person on the jury. "I’ve been on a jury before.”

"They sure as hell better let us see them,” Wayne Tidball, the pawnshop owner, put in. "We need to see just what happened.”

Susan shook her head as she reached for a Styrofoam cup. "We’ll see a corpse. I don’t think those pictures can tell us what happened.”

The bailiff appeared at the door, and Susan let the cup fall back on the stack. "You can come back in now.”

"That was quick,” somebody muttered as they filed through the door.

"How much you wanna bet we don’t get to see the pictures?”

There were fourteen eight-by-ten color photographs. The glossy finish enhanced the corpse’s glassy stare and made the pool of blood shine like dark red wine. The carotid arteries had been severed, along with the windpipe. This was no pocket knife job, Susan realized. The murderer had practically cut the man’s head off. As the photographs were passed down the row, she heard gasps and clucks of the tongue. She told herself not to look at the defendant just now, but when the last photograph came into her hands, the need to look became compelling. Her fair mind said, No, Susan, don’t as she raised her chin slowly and stole a glance.

He was expecting it. He stared right back at her, his eyes smoldering defiantly. There was no apology in them, nor was there denial. Susan didn’t ask herself why he watched her and not the others at this moment, because there was another question that burned too deeply. She glanced at the photograph, then back at Cleveland Black Horse.

Are you the man who did this?

Figure it out. That’s what you’re here for.

The photographs were handed to the clerk, and Ness continued to question the sheriff.

"What did you find in the billfold?”

"Driver’s license, credit cards, family pictures.”

"No money?”

"No money.”

"And what did you find on the billfold?”

"Bertram’s fingerprints. Some smeared prints that weren’t readable, but there was one good thumbprint that wasn’t Bertram’s.”

"Have you identified the thumbprint?”

"Yes, sir.” The sheriff slid a satisfied look in the direction of the defense counsel table. "It belongs to Cleveland Black Horse.”

"One more question, Sheriff. Was the victim wearing any jewelry?”

"There was a nice big turquoise and silver buckle on his belt. You could see it in the pictures.”

"No rings, no watch, no bolo tie?”

"No, just the belt buckle.”

The fingerprint report was admitted as evidence. Then the medical examiner testified that Arnold Bertram’s throat had been cut and that there was a high level of alcohol in his blood.

"Shouldn’t have been driving,” one of the jurors behind Susan muttered. Susan had to restrain herself from turning around to see if the woman was serious.

Three witnesses from the Buckhorn Bar were sworn in and questioned. All three identified Cleveland Black Horse in court and Arnold Bertram from a photograph, and said that they had come into the bar together that night. The bartender, a man with a lean face and raccoon eyes, was the third witness.

"Tell the jury what you remember about the two men, Mr. Leingang.”

"The Indian asked if I had a pay phone, so I told him where that was, and I guess he made a call.”

"The Indian,” Ness repeated. "You mean the defendant, Cleveland Black Horse?”

"Yeah, him. The guy I just identified. Anyway, the other guy, Bertram, bought all the beer. Three rounds, as I recall.”

"Was there anything notable about the way Mr. Bertram was dressed?”

"Yeah, he was all decked out.” Leingang made a circle with his thumb and forefinger beneath his own jowly chin. "Big turquoise bolo tie. He wore one o’ them chunky gold rings on his left hand and a fancy watch, the kind with the gold and silver watch band.”

"A Rolex watch?”

"I don’t know much about watches, but you see those gold and silver watch bands once in a while.”

"The expensive-looking kind?” Ness persisted as he searched through his box of evidence.

"Looked like a nice one to me. Showy, you know.”

"Could this be the bolo tie?” Ness held up a flashy string tie, studded with silver and turquoise.

"Yeah. I really admired that. I’m sure it’s the one.”

The prosecutor dropped the bolo tie back in the box and came up with another exhibit. "Would this be the ring?”

"Sure looks like it.”

More exhibits were entered into evidence.

"Mr. Leingang, did you observe an argument between Mr. Bertram and Mr. Black Horse?”

"I was down at the other end of the bar, so I didn’t hear what they were talking about, but I saw the Indian—Black Horse, there—grab Bertram’s wrist and kind of slam it down against the bar. So I got nervous and moved on back down the bar in case there was trouble. You know, you get them Indians in there drinking, and you never know...”

"What happened then, Mr. Leingang?”

"Well, Black Horse let go, but he said he wanted a ride to Mandan. ‘You got it, Cleve,’ Bertram said. Then Bertram ordered another round.”

"And Bertram paid for the drinks?”

"Yeah, he kinda made a production of it. You could see he had a wad of bills in his billfold. He asked me could I change a hundred dollar bill, and I told him that might leave me short on change. Then he found a ten.”

"What time did they leave?”

"Geez, I wouldn’t know for sure. It wasn’t real late, though.”

Ness returned to his table and set the box down carefully, as though he had a great deal of regard for the remaining contents. Frick had not questioned many of the witnesses, but he took a stab at the bartender.

"Mr. Leingang, did you hear any actual arguing between Mr. Bertram and Mr. Black Horse?”

"Well, I saw Black Horse grab—”

"I asked whether you heard an argument. Did they raise their voices? Did they exchange words?”

"I didn’t hear what they said.”

"Then they didn’t raise their voices.”


"What made you think they were arguing?”

Leingang shrugged. "Because of the way Black Horse held Bertram by the wrist.”

"Was Bertram reaching for something?”

"I didn’t see nothing... except maybe a little change on the bar.”

"One more question. When they left your establishment, did either of the men seem intoxicated to you?”

"Not really, no.” Leingang straightened in his chair and glanced at the judge. "I’d’ve stopped serving ’em if I thought they wouldn’t be safe on the road.”

By the time court recessed for lunch, Susan had forgotten about her errands. She went home, turned on the public radio station for the afternoon classics, and made herself a tuna sandwich. She sat on a tall stool at the island counter that separated her tiny kitchen from the living room and imagined the Buckhorn Bar on I-94.

She’d never been there, but she knew what it was like. She had seen the dark colors through dim light and heard the country music. She imagined the two men sitting at the bar, drinking beer together. Even as they talked, one of them might well have been thinking of how he would kill the other and take his money. Or maybe he hadn’t thought of it yet. Maybe he needed a few more drinks. Maybe he hadn’t thought of it at all; maybe one thing led to another: the drinking, the deserted rest stop, the knife, the money, maybe a struggle. What were the chances, as the two men sat there drinking together, that fate was about to plunge them into a nightmare that both men would have said could only happen to other people in other places?

Susan glanced at her bookcase. Not a murder mystery on the shelf. She didn’t like this business. She’d rather be at the hospital where she knew exactly what she was doing. The doctors would make the decisions, and she would follow their orders quickly, efficiently and compassionately. Maybe she hadn’t handled other aspects of her life very well, but she was an excellent nurse. She knew how to respond when someone was hurting physically. She was not trained for this courtroom thing, and she’d begun to worry in advance, just as she always did, about doing the right thing.

After the recess, Ness called the owner of an off-sale liquor store that was located about twenty miles east of the Buckhorn Bar. Terry Mund identified the victim from a photograph and testified that Bertram had purchased a twelve-pack of beer before 10:00 P.M. He closed at 10:00. While he was making change for a hundred dollar bill—he distinctly remembered the hundred—he had glanced out the window and noticed a passenger waiting in the pickup. He couldn’t make out the face, but there was only one passenger.

"Were you watching the pickup the whole time it was parked in front of your store, Mr. Mund?” Frick asked in his cross-examination.

"Well, no. The guy—Bertram there, the one in the picture—he asked to use the toilet, and I told him where it was, and then I got ready to lock up. I didn’t hardly notice when he left.”

"Someone else could have gotten in and out of the pickup when you weren’t looking, then?”

"Yeah, I ’spose.”

"Where is your rest room located, Mr. Mund?”

"Back in the storeroom.”

Frick looked disappointed. "No further questions.”

The State called Patrolman Richard Bateman.

"What did you do when you saw the pickup parked on the shoulder of the highway?” Ness asked.

"I pulled up behind it and looked for a driver. When I saw that it was abandoned, I called in the license plate numbers. While I’m waiting for the check, the call comes in about the reported homicide, and I’m only about ten miles from the scene. And I’ve got this abandoned pickup with the motor still warm, and the keys are in the ignition.” Eager to tell his story, young Bateman braced his elbows on the cushioned arm rests of the witness chair and leaned forward. "Seizer is on his way to the rest stop already, and the sheriff’s been called, so I secure the abandoned vehicle and go looking for the driver, figuring he might be walking.”

"And you found him?”

"Yes, sir. I found him about three-quarters of a mile east of where the pickup was parked.”

"Can you identify the man?”

"That’s him, right there.” Bateman pointed his finger. "Cleveland Black Horse. He was carrying a saddle and a duffel bag when I caught up to him.”

"So what did you do?”

"I flashed my lights, got on the horn and told him to stop, drop his gear, and put his hands up over his head.”

"Did he comply?”

"Not right away. He seemed kinda dazed. Just turned around and squinted into the light. I got out of the car and drew my service revolver, and then he tossed his stuff on the ground. I searched him down; didn’t find nothing on him. Then I asked him if he’d left that pickup back there. He came back with, ‘Which one?’ I told him not to get smart with me, so then he straightened out and started answering my questions. He said he’d been driving the blue Silverado. He said he ran out of gas, and he admitted it wasn’t his pickup.”

"Did you ask him about Bertram?”

"I didn’t know much about the murder at that point, and I didn’t want to jump the gun on anything, so I just said I was waiting on a license plate check. Then Black Horse said the owner of the pickup was at a rest stop about ten miles back and that he’d been murdered. I told him I was holding him for questioning, and I read him his rights.”

"What condition was Mr. Black Horse in? Was he drunk?”

"I could sure smell the beer on him, but I didn’t catch him driving or even sitting in the pickup, so I just cuffed him and put him in the car.”

"Cuffed him?”

"Put handcuffs on him,” Bateman clarified.

"What did you observe about Mr. Black Horse’s clothing?”

"He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and blue jeans. I didn’t notice right off—I have to say, it was dark out there—but when we booked him, I noticed stains on his sleeves and his pants.”

"And were you not also the officer who searched the Bertram pickup? The blue club cab Silverado?”

"Yes, sir, I was.”

"And what did you find?”

"Seven unopened cans of beer...”

"Inside the glove compartment, Officer Bateman?”

Officer Bateman turned to the jury as though he’d been called upon to deliver a great punch line. "Besides the pickup registration, a turquoise and silver bolo tie.” He paused and looked back at Ness, who was waiting for more. "And a ring,” Bateman added. "A big gold ring.”

"Are these the items?”

Bateman took the two pieces of jewelry in his hands. "Yes, sir. I tagged them myself.”

"Did you find a watch?”

"No, sir. No watch.”

"As the arresting officer, you would have accounted for Mr. Black Horse’s personal effects, would you not?”

"Yes, sir.”

"Did he have any money?”

"There was sixty-four dollars in his billfold.”

"Did you dust the pickup for fingerprints?”

"Yes, sir.”

"And what did you find?”

"We identified Bertram’s and Black Horse’s prints. Nothing else we could match up with anything.”

"Was there anything else?”

"Empty beer cans. Bertram’s prints were on three of the cans, and Black Horse’s prints were on all five.”

"Your witness, Mr. Frick.”

Frick glanced at his client before he stood to cross-examine the witness. It was a disgusted, I-told-you-so look, the kind a child might get from a parent who was more embarrassed by the consequences than the crime. Susan knew then that Cleveland Black Horse’s own attorney thought he was guilty.

"Officer Bateman, did you find a watch anywhere on Cleveland Black Horse’s person or in his bag?”

"No. We never found the watch.”

"And you never found the murder weapon, did you?”

"No, sir, we didn’t.”

"One more question, Officer Bateman. Did my client try to run or resist arrest in any way?”

"No, sir, he didn’t.”

The State’s expert witnesses testified last. The autopsy report placed the time of Arnold Bertram’s death at between 12:30 and 1:30 A.M. on July 4. Finally, Ness exhibited the blue chambray shirt and jeans Black Horse had been wearing when he was arrested. A forensic chemist identified the stains as blood, type B on the pants, types O and B on the shirt. The defendant’s blood type was O, and the victim’s was B. Frick had no questions for the chemist.

"Your Honor...” Ness scanned the jury during a dramatic pause. "The State rests its case.”

"I want to caution the jury to avoid all media reports and any discussion of the matters we are considering here.” The judge rapped his gavel. "Court stands recessed until nine o’clock tomorrow morning, at which time the defense will present its case.”



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