Sunrise Song

Sunrise Song

Kathleen Eagle

December 2013 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-3-733

Two love stories, separated by years, intertwined by blood and history.

Our PriceUS$15.95
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Blurb


Spring 1973

Zane Lone Bull is tired of fighting for lost causes. From the front lines in Vietnam to the home front in defense of his Lakota people, Zane has seen his share of bloodshed. He’s determined to put his past behind him, to build his horse business, take care of his family, and steer clear of trouble. But the murder of his brother forces Zane to take up what might be one more lost cause. Uncovering the facts about his brother’s death leads Zane to one discovery after another, including a beautiful woman seeking a truth of her own.

Michelle Benedict has inherited property across the road from a cemetery where patients from a nearly forgotten insane asylum are buried. Her fate, the truth about the man who’d married her favorite aunt, and her future are tied to Zane Lone Bull, his brother, and a decades-old mystery about a young boy.

Secrets long buried will shatter everything Zane knows about his past as he and Michelle piece together the dark history of the facility and the people who were committed there—many for reasons other than insanity.

Unless Michelle can convince Zane that love is worth every risk, the past may destroy him.


Coming soon!




Canton, South Dakota

Spring 1973

FROM THE UPSTAIRS bedroom window in her Aunt Cora’s house, Michelle Benedict watched another old duffer step up to the fourth tee of the nine-hole golf course across the road, crouch over his club, and do that funny little golfer’s dance as he lined up his shot.

She decided to watch him blow it.

For blow it he surely would. The ghosts from the cemetery were working on him. She could tell by the way he hesitated, focus straying as he adjusted his green cap, then started over with his golf dance.

From her vantage point she could see the four flag fluttering in the warm prairie wind. It looked like an easy shot, but from where she stood, all nine of the course’s holes looked easy. Not that she was much of a golfer, but Hiawatha Golf Club’s flat layout contained only one real trap, and that was the Indian cemetery between the fourth and fifth fairways.

"Damn, I landed on ‘sacred ground’ again,” she’d heard more than one golfer say. Some cursed it; others joked about it. But ever since she’d inherited her aunt’s house, Michelle had taken a serious interest in the old cemetery. She had some strong feelings about it. Strange feelings. Defensive feelings, even though she didn’t know a soul who was buried there. It just didn’t seem right to build a golf course around a cemetery. Especially not this cemetery.

The old duffer finally swung his club back and took a whack at the tee. The ball sailed into the clear blue sky like a pop fly. The golfer touched the bill of his cap and watched the white dot travel. Michelle knew exactly where it was going. She could feel it. She could almost hear the wail of those ghost singers in her ear. The west wind would have its way, and the ball would land on one of more than a hundred unmarked graves behind the screen of shrubs.

According to club rules, the golfer wasn’t supposed to drive his cart into the scraggly enclosure or play the ball out or otherwise disturb the ghosts. He was supposed to take a two-club-length drop.

Some golfers did. Some didn’t. To most of them, the sunken plots probably just looked like big divots, and it wasn’t as though any of the town fathers were buried there. Just a bunch of crazy Indians planted for all eternity right in the middle of Hiawatha Golf Club. Crazy Indians who had once lived under the watchful care of Dr. Tim Hubble, Aunt Cora’s husband. The asylum, along with Dr. Tim and Aunt Cora, were gone now. Only the cemetery remained, along with a house full of fussy furniture and boxes of Dr. Tim’s papers.

And there was Michelle, of course, full of fond memories of her aunt and funny feelings about what lay across the road. Forty years had passed since the last grave had been dug over there, but still...

There must be some family members somewhere, she thought. Maybe they’d be interested in Dr. Tim’s records. Maybe they didn’t know about the golf course. Maybe they’d agree with her that this just didn’t seem right.

The wind nudged the ball, sliding through the zenith of its arc, toward the hedge. Michelle smiled. The ghosts were in the game today. Another golfer was about to visit the Indian cemetery, sure enough. The old duffer shook his head and rammed the club into his bag as the ball dropped out of sight.

Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation, South Dakota

Summer 1928

A PALE GRAY owl appeared suddenly, startling a young vision seeker out of his prayerful reverie. It dropped from the night sky, like one of those rockets the boy’s brother had seen in battle during the Great War, and it fell on a mouse, the hunter snatching in silence, the prey crying out its distress. A few quick wing flaps lifted the two back into night’s dark bosom, leaving the boy to ponder in his hilltop seclusion.

It was a sign, the boy decided, for he was named for the small owl whose rarely heard call heralded spring. Pagla, the boy’s grandfather called him, and even though it was not the name that was recorded for him on the Indian Bureau’s rolls or in the boarding school teacher’s book, Pagla was who he truly was. So his grandfather had said, and so it was. When he left the hill he would tell the old man about the owl. It was one thing he must be sure to report.

It was his grandfather who kept the vigil for him on the flat below his hill and tended the fire that would burn until Pagla returned. His grandfather was a holy man, much respected by those among the Oglala people who still kept the old ways. He had prepared the boy for this, his first hanble ceya, which he had chosen to do on his twelfth birthday. It was his decision, Grandfather had said, and one not to be taken lightly. Together they had made prayers in the sweat lodge, and Pagla had fasted, carefully preparing himself. He knew the risks they both took in making this vision quest, for the spiritual practices of the Lakota had been banned by the government in Washington, and many people, like his brother, Adam, had forsaken them.

The Lakota were dreamers, Adam had told him. Maybe in times past, a warrior could be a dreamer, but no more. A dreamer might fill his lungs with gas and die without ever seeing the face of his enemy. The white man’s wars were not won by counting coups. Those days were over, Adam said. Nothing to be gained by taking risks. No one sang a man’s praises when he died in battle so far from home. They would not even know what name to sing, for he would be only one among the thousands. And no one would care for his widow and orphans. Not these days. It was time to stop dreaming, start facing reality, Adam said. Forget the pipe, forget the songs. They’ll only get you into trouble.

Pagla dreaded trouble. He’d seen enough of it already. There was trouble at school when he and his friends just barely shared a little joke in Lakota, some story they’d learned from their parents or grandparents. There was trouble when he couldn’t explain himself in English. There was also trouble at home with not enough food to go around, not enough blankets, never any money, and everyone getting sick all the time. And there was trouble with Adam, who’d been searching for this thing he called reality in the bootleg whiskey he’d acquired a taste for in the army.

After three days alone on his hill, Pagla had accustomed himself to hot afternoons and bone-chilling nights. Hunger was nothing new, and patience had been instilled in him long ago. But the mysteries that surrounded him were more formidable in darkness than they were in daylight. Each morning the light came as reassurance, and he told himself that he was a man now, and he could see that he was the equal of all that lay before him. He would not worry the next time the sun went down.

But he did. The time between sunset and moonrise was the worst. He had to pull his blanket over his head to keep the gnats from worrying his face and the mosquitoes from driving him to his feet. He prayed for the night breeze, but when it came it rattled the grass, and the sound sometimes fooled him into thinking that something was coming toward him. He would pop out of his blanket and peek over his shoulder, then scold himself and duck back under cover, where he’d feel something crawling on his neck. Then he’d shiver. And he’d shake. And he’d shoo the creature away and try to get back to his prayer for his brother, who couldn’t stop drinking sometimes; for his grandfather, who couldn’t stop coughing sometimes; and for moonrise. Come on, moonrise.

In darkness the familiar voices of the prairie confused him with their new secrets. They reminded him that he, too, had secrets. The government agent had warned his grandfather about keeping secrets, and some of his own relations echoed the warning. "Give it up,” they said. "If you don’t listen, they will send you away.” But his grandfather said that hanble ceya would give a man strength and wisdom in the face of these threats. You can never tell what the white man might do next, Grandfather had said. Nothing was unthinkable anymore.

Even so, too much thinking could drive a man crazy the way things were now. A man must still the noise in his head, calm his heart, open his ears in the darkness, and listen. Just listen. Strength and wisdom, Pagla reminded himself as he listened to the prairie voices. The harmless night wind rustled the grass. The friendly crickets sang their song. All that moved was one with the night, even the fire that burned on the flat below his hill.

The prairie voices transported the boy in a dreamlike state. He did not anticipate human intrusion. He heard nothing amiss, sensed no danger until a loop was suddenly dropped over his shoulders, slack jerked, ground yanked away. He responded with the lethargy of one awakened from a deep sleep, momentarily unable to find his arms or legs. But it was too late for his arms. He managed one kick before his ankles, too, were tied together. A man’s voice pronounced him "heathen bastard,” and a burlap sack was pulled over his face.

Weakened from fasting, terrified, desperate for air, Pagla lost consciousness.




Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, South Dakota

Spring 1973

ZANE LONE BULL woke up scared.

It took him a moment to catch his breath, get his bearings, and realize that the eerie moaning coming from the back room was just Uncle Martin having another one of his dream fits. Zane rolled to his side and sat up on the tattered sofa, planting his bare feet on the hard-packed dirt floor of the two-room cabin he shared with his uncle. The pre-dawn moaning was enough to give a person a bad case of the quivers. The old man sounded like some tortured soul calling out from the grave.

The dog barked outside the door. Zane dropped his chin to his bare chest and raked his hair back with splayed fingers. He had enough nightmares of his own to contend with, but he figured poor old Uncle Martin’s monster had to be a real beaut. That thought merged with the predawn chill, blanketing his body with invigorating goose bumps. Countless miserable, sweaty nights had given rise to his appreciation of nip-in-the-air goose bumps. He snapped his jeans and reached past the cold wood stove for the shirt he’d left hanging on the back of a kitchen chair. It was still dark, but he knew where everything in the cabin was. There wasn’t much to keep track of. He fished a cigarette and matches out of his shirt pocket, lit up, and headed for the back room.

"Uncle, wake up.” Zane dropped into a squat beside the bed. He couldn’t see a damn thing, but his hand homed in on the warmth of the old man’s shoulder. "You’re okay, now. Nobody’s gonna hurt you.”

Martin made a pitiful sound that might have come from a small child. In a way, Zane realized, it did.

"Yeah, I know. I know how it is.” But when the old man reached for him, Zane instinctively ducked away. He’d do the comforting on his own terms, and ending up in one of Uncle Martin’s desperate headlocks was not among them. "I don’t know who it is or what it is, but I knowhow it is. Whatcha gotta do is put that ol’ gigi on the run.”

Parking his cigarette in the corner of his mouth, Zane flipped the switch on the big flashlight he’d put beside Martin’s bed and beamed the light into the shadowy corners of the tiny room, one by one. "Is he gone already? Must be one chickenshit gigi if he took off that quick. Maybe we better try smokin’ him out.”

But the offer of a drag on Zane’s cigarette was lost on the old man, whose eyes were still wide with fear.

"Yeah, you’re right.” Zane studied the lengthening ash. "This ain’t good for you. I never used to smoke much before I went to ’Nam. Now I can’t quit. Not that I’ve tried all that hard.”

Still wide-eyed, Martin watched Zane savor the lungful of smoke he’d been offered. Almost as good as a cup of coffee, and equally necessary. But Martin never indulged himself in either of Zane’s morning rituals. He only watched.

"What are you thinkin’ about, old man? What’s goin’ on inside that head of yours?”

Martin sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Summer or winter, the old man slept in long johns and socks. Always kept his boots close to the bed at night. Wouldn’t go to sleep unless he knew they were there.

"I envy you sometimes, you know? You don’t ask no questions, nobody tells you no lies. Just keep to yourself.” Zane’s knees cracked as he rose from the floor. "I’m learnin’ from you, Uncle. Always did learn the hard way, but at least it’s some kinda way, huh?”

Martin leaned down to put his boots on, his gray braids dangling over his knees.

"Just keep to yourself,” Zane repeated absently, watching his uncle go through his predictable motions. He headed for the front door in his droopy underwear, snatching his frayed straw hat off a nail on the way out. Zane had to chuckle. Martin wouldn’t even make a trip to the outhouse without that hat.

Pale daylight had begun to define shapes in the front room—the bronc saddle in the far corner, the water cooler on the little kitchen table, a 1971 calendar on the clay-chinked wall. Zane didn’t mind doing that year over again. This time he wasn’t spending it behind bars.

Martin’s nasal whine, an innocently warped version of a Lakota acappella, soon rose beyond the door. He was singing up the sun. Wordless, toneless, it was still a reassuring sound. It reminded Zane that he was home, finally. Nothing fancy, but he didn’t need fancy. He needed freedom, safety, and some peace of mind. With those requirements satisfied, he could make do.

"Let’s go over the hill and get us some breakfast,” Zane suggested when Martin came back inside. He didn’t know how much the old man understood, but he knew his uncle would follow him whenever he got ready to go. Nevertheless it pleased him to carry on this one-sided conversation, to have someone of his own to talk to first thing in the morning.

"You think they’re up yet over there?” Zane stuffed his pickup keys into his front pocket and grabbed his shirt off the chair. "I’ll be takin’ a run down to Rapid today. Takin’ that hot-blooded Arab back to the owner. I put a nice handle on him now, gave him the full thirty-day Lone Bull training program. How long do you think it’ll take that Hausauer to ruin him?”

Martin was choosing a threadbare plaid shirt from a plastic basket full of folded laundry. He rubbed the saggy seat of his long johns over his butt cheek, scratching.

Zane laughed. "Yeah, that’s what I say. Drugstore cowboy, that one. Don’t know why he bothers with the horses. All he needs is the snakeskin boots and the turquoise jewelry. But, hell, he pays good. Long as we get our money, we don’t care whether he rides that gelding or cooks him up for dinner.”

Martin was concentrating on a stubborn shirt snap.

"I’ve seen people eat worse stuff than that. I ain’t lyin’. There’s no limit when it comes to turning the human crank. You name it, there’s somebody somewhere...” Who’ll eat it.Wants to eat it. Has to eat it. Has one item on the menu, and whatever it is, it’s more than there was the day before. Zane had been there himself, and so had his uncle. He had to think that only one of them remembered.

"So you don’t have to worry about any of that, and neither do I anymore. Live our own lives, mind our own business, same-old-same-old, no trouble, no sweat. No blood, either. And no tears.” Another clever allusion lost on a man who didn’t know rock and roll from church music, but that was part of the beauty of it. When Zane laughed, Martin laughed. He clapped one hand on the old man’s back, opened the door, and saluted the greening prairie, the growing intensity of blue in the sky, and the brown dog lolling his tongue at him. "This is paradise, right, Soup?”

The rest of Zane’s family lived in a little frame house about half a mile south of the cabin. Way back in the shadow time of his early life, Beatrice Lone Bull, the woman he called Unci, Grandmother, had taken him in. He had some vague memories of a different house and a different place, but Unci had always been there along with her mute son. She’d answered few questions about the other place, but he knew there were family connections to Rosebud and Pine Ridge Reservations. Beatrice had brought her two boys to Standing Rock and moved them all in with the Tusks, her sister Cecilia’s family. The only unusual part was that they never went back, not even to visit.

The cabin he shared with Uncle Martin was the first home he remembered clearly. It had housed a lot of people in those early years before they’d built the frame house. Eventually the numbers had thinned out. Zane had joined the army. Cecilia’s husband and one of her daughters had died, and two daughters had left home. But son Randy had a habit of bouncing in and out of the nest, and two grandchildren had taken up residence. Meanwhile, Cecilia and Beatrice stood their ground like two solid tent poles. The family depended on them as surely as they did the allotment of land and the two little houses they’d built on it. But the two women were long past aging. One was old, the other ancient.

"Ain’t that right, Uncle?” Zane said as they crested the rise that separated the two houses. "They’re old as the hills, but they still make a damn good pot of cowboy coffee. Hey, looks like Randy’s back.”

Randy Tusk was like a turtle, the way he towed his shelter around. He was the proud owner of a dinky trailer, easy to move with his ’55 Ford pickup whenever he felt like taking up residence in town. The little propane heater wasn’t too reliable, which often put a crimp in his claim on independence, especially in the winter. Lately he’d taken up the political causes that Zane had championed for a brief, futile time after he’d gotten his discharge. Zane was tired of fighting for lost causes.

The door on the side of the trailer swung open, and Randy tumbled out. He offered Martin a sleepy smile. "How’s it goin’, Uncle?” Then he turned, and his slender hand was engulfed in Zane’s brawnier one. "Hey, Z.”

"What’ve you been up to, little brother?”

Randy’s fingers went to work trying to tame his night-wild hair. It had been at least a month since he’d refused Zane’s offer of a haircut, saying he was going in for braids, like old Martin. He squinted into the morning sun. "You heard about the latest at Wounded Knee?”

"Nope.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. It had been almost a week since Zane had scanned the front page of the Rapid City Journal. "I did my time. I got nothing to show for it. You carry a gun for somebody else, I don’t care who it is, sooner or later you end up with their spit on your face.” He rubbed his chin against his shoulder as if to rid himself of the insult. "I don’t much care for the way it tastes.”

"There’s ways, Z. There’s other ways.”

"I don’t wanna hear about ’em before coffee.” The three men headed for the house, where the smoke rising from the chimney signaled warm promise. "I’m goin’ down to Rapid, take back that Arab,” Zane told Randy. "Wanna come along?”

"Haven’t you heard? They don’t like Indians down there very much these days.”

"First thing I did when I got out of the pen, I took the RED POWER bumper sticker off my pickup.”

Randy grinned. Obviously Zane had noticed the new FRYBREAD POWER proclamation pasted on the side of his trailer. "Did that make a difference?”

"Haven’t had my tires slashed since.”

"Good for you.” Randy got the door, and they both stood aside in deference to their elder uncle. "The answer’s in the courts, Z.”

"Yeah, right.” Zane’s hand on Randy’s thin shoulder forestalled him from following Martin inside. He wanted to let Randy go his own way. He really did. But Randy had mentioned the wrong word. "I’ve been to court,” Zane reminded him quietly. "What could I say but, ‘Sure, I busted that asshole’s face.’ Didn’t give a damn about him being a deputy sheriff. He was using Indians for target practice.”

Randy grabbed Zane’s shirtsleeve. "There are other courts, Z. Other judges.”

"That one gave me two years, and I did all but two months of it. I get out, I take a look around, and not one goddamn thing has changed. Jesse’s still dead, and nothing we said, nothing we did made any difference. The courts don’t work for us. The cops, the feds, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, none of it works for us. The war over in Vietnam made more sense to me. At least there you know why people are shootin’ at you. It’s because you don’t belong there.” He jerked his chin in the direction of the square-topped buttes on the eastern horizon. "I belong here. I ain’t messin’ with nobody anymore, and nobody’s messin’ with me.”

Randy looked up, his face inches from the one he’d been looking up to all his life. "This is a shithole, Z. All we got left is a shithole, but you wait. If somebody decides there’s money to be made in shit, they’ll be lookin’ for a way to take this, too. All I want you to do is talk to Cedric. Listen to what he has to say about challenging some of these real estate titles. Before all these old people die off, if we can just find some—”

"Somebody ought to show you a real shithole.” Zane sighed, avoiding his brother’s eyes. He knew the kind of invitation he’d see there, the enduring willingness to follow him anywhere. "Ah, maybe not.” He laughed and waggled Randy’s shoulder like a rubber bone. "But will you come down out of the clouds once, hey? They’ll be callin’ you Hits His Head On The Sky.”

The two men laughed. Handing out advice made Zane uncomfortable, and they both knew it. What little he gave went to the man he called his brother, and it was always the same. "You could go to college yourself, Randy. You always liked school. You’d do real good.” He smirked and wagged his head. "Cedric barely made it through a year of law school, and he thinks he knows it all.”

"I think he’s on the right track. I’ve been checking some of the agency enrollment records, the BIA rolls. Going back a ways, it gets real interesting.”

"Not to me. I ain’t listed on no BIA rolls. No state records, nothing. Far as I know, I was never actually born.” A grin crept slowly into his eyes. "Hatched, maybe. Like a damn rattlesnake.”

"But you never really checked, did you?”

Zane imitated a warning rattle, his eyes glowing with mischief.

Randy shook his head. Family was important to him, but so were ancestors and origins, words Zane brushed off like corral dust from the seat of his pants. "Maybe you ought to.”

Zane shook his head. "Like ol’ Beatrice always says, it’s no good asking too many questions. So I stopped asking a long time ago.”

"You boys get in here and shut the door,” Cecilia called out from the kitchen. "You’ll be gettin’ this ol’ grandma’s cough started up again.”

"What is Auntie Beatrice to you, Z?” Randy asked as he ducked through the doorway. "You ever ask yourself who—”

"We’ve got the same last name, and she’s the only woman who didn’t end up throwin’ me out on my ear after I’d been around her a while.” Zane followed Randy into the dim interior, where the air was heavy with wood smoke and the smell of coffee and two layers of lard—the ghost of last’s week’s frying and the promise of this morning’s.

He grinned at the withered woman who sat by the stove, painstakingly peeling potatoes. Beatrice reminded him of the everlasting pile of rummage in the church basement, wrinkles in a hundred shades of brown and gray. "Ain’t that right, Old Woman?” he asked her vacant eyes good-naturedly as he adjusted her sweater over her shoulder. "You stuck by me. Guess I can do the same for you.” He glanced at Randy. "It’s like talking to Uncle Martin. I don’t know if I’m gettin’ through to either one of them anymore.”

Randy shrugged. "I knew my dad’s background because he was from here, but I went down to Pine Ridge—”

"Jesus, Randy.” Zane shook his head. "It’s hotter than hell down there now, and I ain’t talkin’ about the weather. They’ve got Wounded Knee surrounded by weekend warriors just itchin’ for combat ribbons.”

Randy shrugged off the warning and strode into the kitchen, sidestepping the mattress in the corner of the front room where the two grandchildren were peacefully nestled under a pile of star quilts. He greeted Cecilia, who paused in her preparation of unleavened skillet bread to give her son a prune-lipped peck. He was more interested in the big white enamel pot of coffee on the stove.

He handed Zane the first cup. "I went to the agency, not to Wounded Knee. Couldn’t get in, anyway. They’ve got that whole area blocked off. But I heard that some of your old friends are there, holed up behind some kind of makeshift barricade.”

"Yeah, well I wish them luck.” The good kind, he added mentally, if there was any around for those who stuck their heads up in the air when they heard gunfire. He’d stood his ground, shoulder to shoulder with some of the people he figured to be at the Knee. He’d gone to Southeast Asia to defend everybody’s so-called inalienable rights. He’d come home to South Dakota, tried to defend the same rights, and found out what it meant to be alienated. He tapped a fist on Randy’s shoulder. "But more than that, I wish you’d stay out of it.”

Randy sipped noisily at his coffee. "You ever wonder why that woman has no land?” He nodded in Beatrice’s direction. She was just sitting there, hunched over a half-red, half-white potato. "No lease checks coming in. Nothing.”

"She sold it, long time ago,” Cecilia put in as she turned the slab of heavy bread in the big, black skillet.

"Uncle Martin doesn’t seem to have any, either,” Randy persisted. "His father must’ve died pretty young, and he was from Pine Ridge, right? You’d think Uncle would be getting lease checks from Pine Ridge.”

"Before the Indian Reorganization Act, they used to be able to sell allotted land outright. They needed money, sold the land.” Zane cocked a reproving eyebrow. "You ever heard of the Depression, Randy? The Dirty Thirties? Everybody was poor then. Even white people. The ol’ lady did what she had to do, whatever that was. Right, Auntie?”

Cecilia moved the skillet off the stove.

"If he got land from his dad, you think she could have sold it? You think they’d let her?” Randy asked.

"Don’t give him any of that.” Zane favored his aunt with a conspiratorial wink as she handed him a plate for his breakfast. "He needs a lesson in what it means to go hungry. You really spoiled him bad, Auntie.”

Cecilia giggled like a young girl.

Randy took the pancake turner out of his mother’s hand and filled his own plate. "I’ve been checkin’ some of this stuff out, hey. I think some of those sales weren’t really sales at all. And I’m thinkin’ if the right kind of lawyer gets hold of the right kind of records...”

"I don’t even wanna hear about it,” Zane said. Randy glared, affronted, and Zane responded with an upraised palm. "Hey, I’ve done my time. I deserve a life, for crissake.”

"Who doesn’t?”

"Nobody.” Zane took a stab at conciliation. "Everybody deserves to do a little livin’ once in a while. So let’s you and me go down to Rapid and kick up our heels tonight.”

"You can have Rapid. I’ve got places to go, people to see.”

Zane shrugged as he carved up his skillet bread, trying to remember a time when he might have said the same thing. He understood the feeling of discontent, the need to be on the move, the readiness to fight, but Randy was probably more particular about his battleground than Zane had been, and he probably had a better idea of who his enemies really were. Zane hadn’t always been too fussy.

"If I can come up with the kind of records I’m talkin’ about, some kind of proof...” Randy set his plate on the table and stood next to his chair, waiting for Zane to glance up from his food. "If I do, will you even look at it? Just take a look?” He dragged the folding chair away from the little Formica table and sat down, pressing his face close to Zane’s, like an unrelenting pup. "Just take me seriously for once.”

Take me with you, Randy had pleaded once when Zane was home on leave. Tell them I’m old enough. They’ll believe you.

"Take a look for what?”

Randy shrugged. "For the hell of it.”

"The hell of it is”—Zane used his fork to drive his point in Randy’s direction— "it won’t matter. Get that through your head; you’ll save yourself a whole lot of trouble.”

"Can’t.” Randy scooted his chair over, lining himself up with his plate. "I gotta pick up where you left off. We’re warriors, remember?”

"I hung up my guns, little brother. Ain’t feedin’ you no more fairy tales, no more pipe dreams. This is it.” He poured a dollop of corn syrup on his blue plate and dipped a forkful of bread into it. "I’ve seen worse. Believe me.”

"I never thought they’d kick the fight out of Zane Lone Bull.”

"Don’t give me that hangdog look.” Zane laughed. "All right, then, go on. Bring me your paper dragon, misunka,he said, addressing him indulgently as his younger brother. "I’ll tear off its wings for you.”

"Nah, you’d rather go down to Rapid and get yourself laid. Or screwed.” Randy gestured for the surrender of the syrup. "Which is it?”

Zane slid the bottle across the table, his cold glance warning the younger man off the subject. There were certain aspects of his life that were not open for discussion, not even to Randy. Military life had taught him to value his privacy. Prison life had driven him to guard it like a hellhound.

"Just kidding,” Randy mumbled. "I’ll be staying around for a while. Maybe I’ll have something to show you when you get back.”

HEAD HELD HIGH, the leggy gray gelding circled the corral as if he were practicing for a performance. Zane watched him in the side mirror as he backed the trailer up to the gate. He preferred a horse with more chest, but he liked the Arab’s style. He didn’t mind riding a good horse for somebody else, but he planned to be training his own registered stock someday.

At the top of the big mirror, the reflection of Zane’s would-be helpers appeared on the hill. Nine-year-old Sissy and her seven-year-old brother Jojo would add a few minutes to his departure time, but what the hell? Zane was back to living on Indian time. His little niece and nephew were already tumbling down the well-worn path, racing to see who could get to him first. He’d have to find a task for each of them, or he’d have a fight on his hands.

Randy’s sister, Chickie, had dumped the kids off on their grandmother shortly after Zane had been released from the pen, which was over a year ago. She’d promised to come back and get them before school started. They’d only seen her twice since then, and both times her parting comments had started with "Next time I come back...”

Zane wondered if Chickie knew what she was missing. Maybe she really believed her own bullshit. To some extent he supposed everybody did. But it wasn’t right to feed it to the kids.

He took the halter and lead rope off the pickup seat and greeted the pair with a broad grin as they came running to him. "You guys wanna help me load this big, bad broomtail into the trailer? He’s goin’ home today.”

They jostled for position, but Sissy managed to outreach her brother for the halter. Jojo grabbed her arm with one hand and a handful of her black ponytail with the other.

Zane pulled them apart. "Leave her alone, Jojo. I told her not to be fightin’ you, and that goes both ways.”

"I wanna put the halter on,” the boy whined.

"You can lead him over to the trailer.” He flipped the lid on the toolbox he’d built in the back of his pickup and produced a wooden brush. "I want him to look real nice when his owner sees him. Somebody could brush him for me.”

"I will!”

"I will!”

"Lucky thing I’ve got two brushes, and the horse has two sides.”

The gelding had come to Zane broke to ride but bad-mannered, like some rich man’s kid. Zane looked the animal in the eye as he approached. From the first, he’d respected the Arab’s intelligence, and in one month the horse had learned to trust Zane’s soft-spoken commands and his big, gentle hands. The horse stood quietly, allowing its trainer to claim mastery by hooking an arm around its sleek, arched neck.

"I could comb his tail out, Uncle Zane,” Sissy offered as she slipped the halter over the gray’s ears.

"Be sure and watch out he doesn’t kick you.”

Zane lit a cigarette and stepped back to let the two children show him what they’d learned. He was learning, too. The part of his life he’d spent in the army and in prison had been devoid of children. It was like fourteen years of winter. The worst part was, a guy got used to it. He supposed it was like any other rut. Sterile as it was, the routine became treacherously comfortable.

"Get his belly, too, but watch his ears.”

"If he lays them back, he’s gettin’ mad,” Sissy recounted dutifully.

"’Atta girl.”

They went by their mother’s last name. Footloose Chickie had never been married and didn’t want to be. Cecilia and her brood were all Tusks. Zane was a Lone Bull only because Beatrice had taken him in. She wouldn’t talk about his father, although he suspected she knew who he was. She’d shown him a picture of his mother once, a long time ago, and then she’d secreted the moldy old photograph away, which meant it was probably lost. The old woman couldn’t remember much of anything anymore.

He remembered the little spots on the woman’s face in the sepia-tone portrait. "Silver tears,” Beatrice had said. Woman-talk, Zane judged. Even then—he figured he’d been about Jojo’s age—he’d known it was nothing that fancy, just mildew. What had happened to her? Did she run away? Did she die? What?

The old woman had offered him no more clues. Only the curling photograph of a white woman. She’d looked white, at least in the picture. He figured she’d gotten herself knocked up by an Indian guy and didn’t want anyone to know. Getting into a fix like that was probably a whole lot worse back in the Dirty Thirties than it was in the Age of Aquarius. The guy was probably related to Beatrice somehow, or maybe he was some kind of dissident or criminal. A bloodline that wasn’t worth claiming.

Or maybe Beatrice really didn’t know. As far as she was concerned she had two sons, the younger one an abandoned half-breed who called her grandmother, the older one a retarded mute who couldn’t call her anything. "It’s no good asking too many questions,” this woman who’d raised him had often said. "They might take you away. They can do that any time they want. Got to be real careful.”

And she had been. Whatever secrets she’d once known were long since forgotten. Zane had decided it was better that way. There was no changing the past. No use bucking history. Since time had a way of transforming a schemer into a visionary, one generation’s deeds and misdeeds easily became the next generation’s treasured legacy. Who needed the sordid truth? Not Zane Lone Bull, not anymore.

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.

Good advice. He’d learned it at the knee of a woman who was already old and wise when she took him in, and now he’d lived long enough to understand what damn good advice it truly was. The past was a load of crap. Nightmares and regrets. He’d committed enough of his own misdeeds. What little past he had was plenty.

And the future? Hell, that was whatever went down between daybreak and nightfall. It was what Uncle Martin greeted with his song. Over in ’Nam, guys had it down to so many days and a wake-up. In the joint, guys did so many calendars. Zane didn’t own a watch, and he didn’t use a calendar. He used his head. If he’d managed to stay alive and hang on to his sanity from daybreak to nightfall, he figured he was doing okay.

Nowadays, he was doing better than okay. He was free to go. He could walk as far as he wanted in any direction. He could get on a horse and ride, hop in his pickup and drive. Just go whenever he wanted to go. Do whatever he wanted to do. The only thing he’d ever been much good at besides shooting off his mouth or his gun and generally raising hell was breaking and training horses. He’d taken up beading and leatherwork when he was in the pen, and people said he was pretty good at that, too.

Making a living with such talents hadn’t struck him as a likely prospect when he’d finally been handed his parole, but with the help of Rapid City western wear shop owner Marla Ferrell he was doing just that. She’d introduced him to the kind of people who paid him real cash money to teach their spoiled horses some manners. Her store was a good outlet for his belts, jewelry, and beaded tack, and when he felt like hanging out in town for a night or two, she was willing to share her bed. She asked him no questions, he told her no lies. It worked out fine.

The Hausauer place was just north of Rapid City, a picturesque spot with a view of the Black Hills, which formed a jagged blue-black buttress for the southwestern sky. It had once been a cattle ranch, but there wasn’t a cow in sight along the two miles of gravel road that led to the brand-new two-story house. Zane passed the driveway and swung around the house toward the pristine outbuildings, which included an indoor arena. Zane envied the Hausauers their facilities, thinking it was a shame they were going to waste. The big white barn was the only one serving any apparent function. Two horses stood in one of the corrals outside. Zane had just backed the trailer close to the steel corral gate when he saw the old man emerge from the house.

The Hausauer patriarch was the only real cowboy in the family. He was still shaped for the saddle, but the way the joints were rusted in the old man’s hips and bowed legs, Zane figured Butch would need a crane to get him seated.

"My son ain’t here,” Butch reported as he watched Zane back the gelding out of the trailer, smooth as silk. "Was he expecting you today?”

"I don’t know. The deal was thirty days’ training, and that’s what it’s been.”

Butch shoved his gnarled hands into the pockets of his quilted jacket and peered past the brim of his brown Stetson. "Did he pay you up front?”


"I’ll take care of the rest if you want to show me what he can do now. This one’s all looks and no brains if you ask me.”

Zane nodded and handed Butch the lead rope. "He’s touchy.” He hauled his saddle out of the back of the pickup. "Head shy for some reason. He’ll take the bit, but you gotta go real easy with the headstall.”

"Bill hasn’t got much patience. He wants to be able to put a key in the ignition and take off. You and me, we know it don’t work that way.”

Zane nodded again. As long as the old man was willing to pay him, it was just as well Bill Jr. wasn’t around. He’d rather deal with someone who had the experience to appreciate what he’d accomplished. He saddled up the gray, rode him into an empty pen, and put him through his paces, moving him easily through his gaits, reining him through tight turns, backing him from one end of the pen to the other, all for the old rancher’s amusement.

"I’m a quarter horse man myself,” Zane said as he brought the gelding to an abrupt stop a foot short of the old man’s well-worn boots. Butch didn’t budge. "But this guy’s sure fast, and he won’t play out on you.”

"He’s never handled that good, I’ll tell you.”

"You’ve got that right.” Zane swung down from the saddle and offered the reins. "Like to give him a try?”

"My arthritis is actin’ up again. Could mean rain. We could use a nice spring rain.” Butch rubbed his elbow absently ashe scanned the cloudless blue sky. "Old cattleman’s habit, I guess. Wishing for rain. My boys don’t have much of a taste for it.”


"Ranching. The spread I started out with is down southeast of here. Down around Pine Ridge and Rosebud.” Butch squinted up at Zane, studying him for something. "I ’spose you know that country pretty well.”

Zane glanced toward the Hills and gave a noncommittal shrug. "I’m from Standing Rock.”

"I was thinking there were some Lone Bulls down where we’re from.”

"I suppose you’d find a lone bull injust about any pasture you wanted to visit this time of year. All kinds of bulls around here, huh?” Zane smiled, thinking it was too bad Randy hadn’t come along. He would have offered the old man a more serious response.

But Zane’s joke was lost on Butch, who, like Randy, wanted to nail down those connections. "Lone Bull rings a bell. ’Course, I know a lot of them people down there. Have for years. Good cowboys there.” He handed Zane several twenty dollar bills. "Like you. Indians always did make damn good cowboys.”

Zane pocketed the money without looking at it. The old man wasn’t likely to try to shortchange him. "You tell Bill to let me know if he wants me to take on any more. Can’t take too many at a time, and I’ve got quite a few lined up.”

"Blooded horses are about the only livestock he’s interested in these days. Keeps talkin’ about land deals and mineral rights.” Butch shook his head, surveying the grounds as though taking inventory. "You build something solid, you turn it over to your kids when you think you’ve been workin’ hard long enough and it’s time to take it easy, you’d think they’d appreciate it and hang on to it at least.” He gave a disgusted snort. "But, hell, they don’t know the value. They don’t understand the sacrifices you’ve made.”

"Kids these days, huh?” Zane dumped his saddle back in the pickup bed. "That’s too bad.”

"Maybe you’d be interested in coming to work for us.”

The old man made it sound like a genuine offer, but Zane knew better. Bill Jr. was running the show these days. "I don’t think so. Sounds like your operation’s pretty much up in the air.” Zane offered a handshake. "Besides, I got a family to look after, and this is too far from home.”

ZANE PARKED HIS pickup and trailer in the alley behind Boots and Saddles, Marla Ferrell’s upscale Western shop, and dragged half a dozen beaded breast collars off the bench seat. Four of them were on order, which meant he’d be leaving town pretty cashy this trip.

Marla squealed like a pig headed for mud the minute he walked into the shop. Anticipating her next play, he filled her arms with his beadwork. He’d let her put her hands on him later.

She smiled, disconcerted only momentarily. "Didn’t you bring me any belts? I sold the last one to a woman from Denver. She called and wants four more.”

"I got tired of making belts.”

"The temperamental craftsman,” she cooed, tapping his chest with a long pink fingernail. "So difficult.” She flashed him a coy smile as she set the breast collars on the shelf behind the display case full of silver trophy buckles. "Such a turn-on.”

He knew his engaging wink would go a long way.

She directed his attention to a tall glass case containing some of his work. He’d found ways to make strings of beads look like cascades of water. Plenty of time to experiment with stuff like that in the joint. Marla called it an art, and she’d had a sign made using a facsimile of his blocky signature, as if he were some kind of celebrity.

"See, I put your picture in the display. The one I took that time we rode to the top of Harney Peak. That deliciously dark look of yours says it all. Brooding artist who sees through the eyes into the soul.” She opened a drawer and produced an envelope, handing it to him with a flourish. "And I raised the prices, which is reflected in the amount of your check. Most of your buyers are women, you know.”

He shrugged as he tucked the envelope into his shirt pocket. "Most of the waist sizes haven’t sounded too promising.”

"Gifts for their husbands, crafted by someone they want to fantasize about. Supper’s on me.” She headed for the front of the shop, casting him a Mae West look over her shoulder. "After that I have a fantasy of my own I’d like to try out on you.”

He chuckled. "Did you find a black-and-white pinto yet?” She was always talking about the TV Westerns she’d followed. Bonanza was her favorite. Zane hadn’t seen much TV. His cowboy heroes rode the big silver screen.

"Not one with the exact same markings as Little Joe’s. These things must be done right.” She flipped the red CLOSED sign that hung in the window and then turned to him, smiling. "But there’s no end to my fantasies, and they all involve getting you naked.”

"God, you’re shameless, Marla.”

"I have nothing to be ashamed of.” She locked the door. "I’m going to Albuquerque early next week on a buying trip. Wanna ride shotgun?”

Bracing his elbows on the display case, he watched her put her shop to bed a little early, clearing counters and straightening displays, rising on booted tiptoe to return a hat to its peg, angling for a quick assessment of her short, dark hair and her bright makeup as she passed a full-length mirror. She was attractive in a hard-edged way, the same way he was. There was a chiseled leanness about her that was more than physical and that struck him as a female version of his own sum and substance, with no soft parts of any kind. If she’d been born a few years earlier they could have been twins, maybe.

It was an irrational notion, but it disgusted him.

Abruptly he pushed away from the glass box. "That picture is the closest you’ll ever come to showing me off to your business friends again. I feel like shark bait around those people.”

"They think you’re refreshingly straightforward, exotic, and”—she gave him that licentious smile again—"a little dangerous, which is very exciting.”

"Why do you get such a kick out of telling people I’m an ex-con?”

"Because I know it doesn’t embarrass you, and it’s such a wonderful conversation starter.”

"How do you know it doesn’t embarrass me?”

"Nothing embarrasses you. You don’t care what anyone thinks. That, among other things, is what I like about you.”

Neither her complacency nor the fact that she missed the point of his question surprised him, but he had to work at distancing himself from a vague feeling of displeasure, a troublesome aversion to the cool impudence in her eyes.

She slipped her arms around his waist and looked up at him invitingly. "What do you like about me?”

He offered a sardonic smile. "Your sensitivity.”

"Don’t you mean my honesty? We both want the same thing, so why play games?”

"You’re right. That’s what I like about you.” He was too old for games. "If supper’s on you, I’m havin’ steak.”

"I know just the place.” She slid her hands over the back pockets of his jeans. "I’m easy, but never cheap.”

They went to a reputable steak house and had to wait in the bar for a table. Zane hadn’t eaten since breakfast. The aroma of grilled meat expanded the hollowness in his gut. He laid claim to a bowl of peanuts. He didn’t drink much anymore, but he was on his second beer and feeling fairly mellow when Bill Hausauer appeared at their table and magnanimously claimed that the next round was on him.

"The ol’ man says you really did a nice job with that gelding. I’m anxious to try him out.” Bill hooked his thumbs in his belt and took a wide, territorial stance. An easy smile brightened his baby-pink face. He had the look of a man who spent a lot of money he’d done nothing to earn. Chunky jewelry, spotless white Stetson, western-cut clothes that no real cowboy would wear. His hands reminded Zane of soft white bread dough. "He paid you what you needed?”

"And then some. You got yourself a real nice colt.”

"If he handles good, I can probably throw some more work your way. I’ll put in a good word for you with some people I know. How would that be?”

"Tell them to get in touch with Marla. My schedule’s gettin’ pretty tight.” Zane tipped the neck of the brown bottle and let a long draught slide down his throat.

"Oh, yeah?” Hausauer chuckled. "Well, that’s real good. Keeps you busy, and staying busy keeps a guy out of trouble. Too bad those bucks down at Wounded Knee haven’t got nothin’ better to do than take over some little church and insult the American flag by turning it upside down.”

"That’s not an insult,” Zane said quietly. The surrounding bar talk bubbling over the steel guitars was beginning to get to him. "It’s a distress signal.”

"Looks like an insult to me. What do you mean, distress signal? They started the trouble themselves.”

"An upside down flag is a military distress signal. You look healthy enough, Bill. Did our Selective Service pass you up?” Bill dismissed the notion with a guffaw. Zane figured old Butch had a friend on the draft board. "Well, even if you’d been a Boy Scout...”

"I don’t really give a damn what they do down there. They’re only hurting their own people. I know lots of good Indian people who don’t want nothin’ to do with that AIM bunch. I get along with Indians just fine.”

"Zane was over in Vietnam,” Marla put in.

"Fought for your country,” Bill observed almost appreciatively.

Zane wished the man would either sit down or move on. He didn’t like having people stand over him.

Bill elevated himself on the balls of his feet.

Zane glanced down at the unscarred alligator wing tips on the man’s cowboy boots.

Bill’s heels sank back to the floor. "I went to high school with some Indian boys who went over there. Couple of ’em didn’t come back. Those are the guys they dishonor when they show disrespect for the flag. Guys like you.” He noticed a waitress dressed in a little cheerleader skirt and gave her an imperious high sign. "Hey, bring this table another round, honey. This man is a goddamn war hero.” He wagged a pale, chunky finger under Zane’s nose. "I’ll be sending you some more horses for sure.”

Zane ignored Hausauer’s friendly parting gesture as he drained the last of his beer. He set it down with a resolute thunk. "Let’s get out of here.”

"But what about—”

Zane smiled as he scraped the floor with his chair legs. "I’ll show you what I can do with a good fire and anything that’s raw.”

Marla’s eyes brightened. "The mind boggles.”

ZANE WOKE UP in the early morning hours. Rain splattered on the pavement outside the bedroom window, but he realized that it was the noise Marla made in her sleep that woke him. It was halfway between purring and snoring, a grating sound that pushed him closer to the window and the patter of the rain. He decided he’d sooner wake up to poor old Martin’s tortured moans than this woman’s snooze tune. He wasn’t sure why.

Business had been good, food tasty, sex adequate, all thanks to Marla. But since he’d slept all he could, he was ready to leave. And she was easy to leave, which was the only part that bothered him. He really wanted to want to stay, to feel some regret as he eased himself from her bed, not, he realized, out of consideration for her peaceful state, but out of a lack of need for any parting words. Or touches. She’d touched him all he wanted her to. He carefully claimed his clothes from a mixed pile, shaking hers away without handling them. He got dressed in the bathroom and left the apartment with hat in hand. He wanted to feel the cold, cleansing rain on his face.

He liked cold water. It woke him up, made him feel alive and alert. It felt good to leave the lights of the city behind, roll the pickup window down, and smell the infusion of rain and South Dakota clay. Back roads were the only roads here, threading the way between huge pieces of prairie like a quilter’s running stitch. Zane found comfort in the vastness of it, a sense of infinite privacy. If he turned on the radio, he’d find only static. It was either too late or too early, and he was beyond the reach of most signals. Quiet sounded good. He was almost home.

Gray dawn drifted reluctantly over the jagged horizon. A light drizzle gathered on the windshield. Zane slowed down when he saw the light at the side of the road. The headlights looked like bewildered eyes cocked askew on the slope of the ditch. It didn’t surprise him when he got close enough to recognize Randy’s pickup. Zane had offered a loan toward the purchase of tires with a little more tread. Randy had said he was working on a trade with somebody, but he’d obviously pushed those baldies beyond the limit.

Zane parked on the gravel shoulder, stretched his back as he emerged from the pickup, adjusted his hat to shed the drizzle, and headed across the road. He wasn’t eager to find his brother passed out on the front seat. Not that he hadn’t been there himself a time or two, but once the party was over, so were the laughs. The passenger door hung open on the far side, but he didn’t see anybody in the cab. Johnny Cash was singing "Folsom Prison Blues” for a pair of wet crows perched on the right-of-way fence. If Randy was working on a remedy, he was sure trying to top off his blowout with a dead battery.

"Where’s the owner of this piece of junk?” Zane demanded officiously. "The wrecker’s here, so get your ass in gear.” He reached through the open window on the driver’s side, hit the lights, and shut off the radio. Then he noticed the keys in the ignition. Then the blood on the split vinyl seat. His skin tightened at the back of his neck as if somebody had opened a door behind him and walked out, abandoning him to the cold. He stared at the blood, then followed its trail slowly, moving only his eyes. Zane knew blood when he saw it, blood from a wound, a bad one. He knew death when he smelled it. In the shadowy grass beyond the open door a scuffed boot toe pointed skyward.


Zane’s throat sealed up like a zipper. Morning shadows narrowed his field of vision. All he could see was the boot. His first thought was that it was past time his little brother had a new pair. The sole was almost worn through.

He pushed away from the closed door and headed for the open one, absently wondering whose legs were carrying him. In his head he called on God, but he couldn’t open his mouth, couldn’t say his brother’s name until he saw his lifeless face.


Please review these other products:

The Last Good Man

Kathleen Eagle

March 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-092-3


Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

You Never Can Tell
Kathleen Eagle

June 2012 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-136-4

She tracks him until he catches her...  Some say Native American activist Kole Kills Crow is an outlaw; others say he's a hero.
Our Price: US$13.95

click to see more

Night Falls Like Silk
Kathleen Eagle

August 2012 $13.95

ISBN: 978-1-61194-161-6

"Edge-of-the-seat suspense...Her scene setting is convincing and her pacing flawless...Eagle enriches the romance genre." -- Publisher's Weekly

His gift is a rare talent; his art celebrates an important American legacy. But it's born from a torment that might make him as dangerous as he is irresistible.

Our Price: US$13.95

click to see more

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 Price: US$15.95

click to see more

What the Heart Knows

Kathleen Eagle

April 2013 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-258-3

A secret son. A lost love. A dangerous job. A frightening risk.

A second chance at the happiness their hearts were once afraid to share.

Our Price: US$15.95

click to see more

Reason to Believe

Kathleen Eagle

July 2013 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-300-0

Can their marriage survive the ultimate betrayal?

Our Price: US$15.95

click to see more