A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis of faith when a killer lures him into the twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
'The Elder had not gone one step before a sound, similar to a distant train approaching, caused him to cock his head in puzzlement. The sound mounted in intensity, and he felt as if a horde of crazed bees probed for a way to get into his skull. He fell back in the chair, gripping his head in agony.
'Raising one palm to the table's surface, Tony fought to make his fingers inch forward until they reached the mound of blessed sage. He squeezed the sage and tried to speak, but his mouth was paralyzed. Summoning every bit of his strength, he commanded with his inner voice, 'Iyena Ekta... Iyena Ekta... '
It seemed to take forever for the din to fade, and finally, disappear. Stunned, the old man closed his eyes and breathed rhythmically until the pain in his ears receded.'
Tony Buday had a great deal on his mind. His walking stick scraping the cold earth beneath shriveled leaves and the snuffling of his old coon dog kept his thoughts company. A wind blew through from Canada overnight, turning the forest path hazardous with patches of black ice.The medicine man kept his eyes on the ground and his steps slow, but was less successful with his thoughts.
He worried about the safety of his niece, Jana Burke. She was hip deep in the murder investigation of Debra Padget. Like the good cop she was, she would rely on reason to guide her. Tony felt, to his core, an otherworldly evil was behind the murder. Reason, alone, rendered a person blind to such forces.
A sleek red squirrel eyed the approach of his walking stick. The creature twitched with nervous tension as it waited to see if the object had the power to conjure food. When it realized that attached to the stick was a very large creature, it bounded off to the safety of a nearby maple tree. Tony watched the squirrel, a flash of red on gray, race up the tree with surety and grace, marveling at Great Spirit's free gifts.
"Picaya, wopila-kiye (Well done, one who makes glad)," he said.
At the sound of his master's voice, the coon dog trotted to his side. Tony reached into his pocket for a treat. He held his hand open and a large tongue retrieved it, leaving his hand shiny with saliva. With the tip of his stick, Tony rubbed Wasu's belly and chuckled at the way the dog rolled onto his back and groaned with pleasure.
"We're a fine pair, Wasu," Tony said. "A back rub and a tasty meal by a fire is all we need to be content."
Soon the dog returned to his hunting, and Tony's thoughts moved to consider the effect a parishioner's murder was having on his friend, Father Brian.
The two men had an unlikely friendship given the fact Tony's own nephew was one of the young men abused by the pastor's predecessor. But Father Brian's genuine desire to find a common ground among all faiths led Tony to open the door to a world that many Native Americans his age deeply mistrusted.
The previous night's spiritual attack left Tony with the prescient notion that he and Father Brian were the targets of an energy more dreadful than anything he'd encountered as a Sioux medicine man. He was often called upon to clear dark energies oppressing the people of his tribe. What he'd felt in his kitchen was an evil of unparalleled vigor. It stirred dark emotions he'd thought mastered.
Once before he'd been tempted to use his powers to punish rather than heal. Tony sometimes regretted his decision to wait and see. Abeya (scattering of family) and wicate tonskaya (death of a nephew) had been the price.
Although he knew his nephew's spirit had been stolen from him by a waka-sica (devil), he failed to heal the boy in time. Events quickly spiraled out of control beginning with the confrontation between Tony's brother-in-law and the priest he believed raped his son. The Monsignor scorned the idea his Bishop would believe anything an 'Indian' said. Police warned him to let them handle it.
They'd been gathering evidence and arrested the Monsignor shortly afterwards. With the possibility of having to testify at a trial, Tony's nephew Billy, took his own life. In his suicide note, he pleaded for his parents to understand and forgive him. He feared the repercussions of testifying and could see no other way to prevent further shame.
Adding to his family's pain was the insinuation among some of the tribal members the tragedy was punishment for abandoning the Old Ways. The family withdrew further when friends and relatives, following Sioux custom, avoided talking directly with them about how they were coping. The manner of the boy's death was never openly acknowledged and his name was avoided by the members of the tribe.
Michael Longacre, his brother-in-law and the boy's father, left the reservation a year after the trial. Since his wife, Agnes, refused to leave her reservation family behind, they divorced. Tony had immediately taken over seeing to his sister's needs. She'd renounced the Catholic church and gone back to the Old Ways. In the decade since her son's death, she pursued a purposeful path as healer, ministering to women in crisis.
So intense was his concentration, he did not notice his dog had slipped from sight. The sound of Wasu's baying startled him. It was a joyful sound letting him know whoever approached was known to them both.
"Hau, Tiblo-Ya (greetings, older brother)," a beautiful silver-haired woman hailed as she approached.
"Hau, Milan (greetings, younger sister)," he responded, feeling warmth fill his heart at the sight of her.
She was dressed in a hand-woven traditional skirt and blouse. A thick vest was cinched at the waist with a belt set off by a fist-sized pure silver buckle, and she wore a headband which served the dual purpose of restraining her long hair and keeping her ears warm.
Agnes quickly reached his side and linked her arm with his. Ablak-hingla (a peaceful quiet) settled between them as they covered the last quarter mile to Tony's house.
His sister spoke of trivial matters as he set about preparing lunch for them. Removing a tin of cinnamon tea leaves from the cupboard, he measured a large spoonful and tipped them into the tea strainer. He poured boiling water over the leaves and placed a lid on the pot. When the stew was warmed through, Tony dished it into two bowls, poured tea into mugs, and sat. He and Agnes ate without speaking.
Indian time was a mystery to the white man. But for his people, it was an acknowledgement that some things should never be forced. He trusted Agnes would tell him the real reason for her visit when the time was right.
While Tony washed and put away the lunch dishes, Agnes moved to the blue and green plaid rocking chair in the seating area just off the dinette. After putting away the last plate, Tony seated himself across from her.
"Acaga (the freeze) brings stiffness to my knees," she said by way of opening the conversation.
"I've just made a fresh batch of poultice for arthritis. Be sure to take some home."
Agnes tilted her head and gazed on her brother with deep affection. "Oi-ahokipa, Tibla-Ya (you take good care of me, elder brother)."
'Forgive my impertinence, Agnes," he tried to keep the concern from his voice, "Is there something troubling you?"
Agnes rubbed the pads of her fingers over the mug's design. She kept her eyes averted and Tony did the same.
"I've come to ask for your advice. I've had a vision of my son three times."
Tony inwardly shuddered. He was glad his culture considered direct eye contact to be a sign of disrespect for at that moment he could not have hidden his fear.
The rocking chair creaked a steady cadence.
"I could not make out his face. Mahpiya Wan Akahpeya (a cloud covered him), but I know my son's voice. He stood at the end of my bed. Too far away for me to touch." Her voice shook in a rare display of emotion.
"The first two times, I didn't understand," she continued. "But last night, his words were plain. He ce na, Ina (it keeps happening, Mother)," he said. "Leksi (Uncle) Tony, he jan jan, waka sica (must stop the devil)."
Agnes turned eyes bright with anger in his direction. "Is this related to the white woman's murder?"
"Is this related to the reason for my son's death?"
"Yes, I believe so." Tony watched for her reaction to this news.
"The waka sica (devil) visited you," she stated with certainty.
Tony touched together his fingertips as gesture of confirmation.
"You are a strong man, Tiblo-Ya, but you are no longer young. You need my help to finish this."
Agnes set down her mug and stood up. "Yuncan (I'm not afraid), let us together atakuniSniyan waka sica (banish the devil)."
Sheriff Oleson entered the Eisner residence to oversee the removal of any material pertinent to the murder investigation. Since they had the permission of Stanley's only legal representative, there was no need for a search warrant.
Jim Duffy had proven to be a man of his word. In short order, they opened Stanley's safe and retrieved all its contents, including a letter sealed in a pouch. While the CSI, Dave Morgan, properly tagged and secured the contents of the safe, Derek performed a cursory search of the house.
Dishes had been left to dry in one side of the double sink. The small kitchen was spotless and orderly, befitting a long-time bachelor. According to Jim, Stanley had never been married. After his retirement from St. Matilde's Catholic School, he'd devoted his time to charitable activities.
A quilt lay coiled on the couch, and there were signs that furniture had been moved around to accommodate the Emergency Response Team. Officer Poole cleared his throat behind him, pulling Derek from his concentration. He turned.
"Sir, I've made a careful examination of the doors and windows. Except for the obvious damage to the front door where the detectives kicked it in, the rest of the windows and entrances show no signs of forced entry."
"Well done, Officer Poole." The young man worked to suppress a grin. "Escort Jim Duffy back to his car before heading to the station to make your report."
Derek watched the young man move off with a new confidence to his step. The senior detective was genuinely pleased with the young officer's poise. He made a mental note to place a commendation into Tod Poole's personnel file.
"Any other areas you want me to process, Sheriff?" Derek was in Stanley Eisner's bedroom when the CSI appeared in the doorway.
Stanley was killed by his heart, not a murderous intruder. Coming here seals that for me.
"No, you can take off, Dave."
Turning back to the room, he tried to get a feel for the kind of man Stanley Eisner was. The bedroom, like the rest of the house had an impersonal feel to it with its sparse decorations and absence of family photographs. Looking around, Derek had the eerie sense a stranger in his own home might come away with the same feeling.
He exited the house and had just reached the door of his patrol car when his phone went off.
"You need to come down to the Station right away, Sheriff. Another member of St. Matilde's is reported missing."
"I'm on my way, Jana."