The Ties that Bind Excerpt

Chapter One
From The Ties that Bind (Regal Crest Enterprises, 2009)
© 2009, Andi Marquette

“Body found on Navajo Reservation near Shiprock.”

THE HEADLINE CAUGHT my eye as I skimmed through the local news round-up in the Albuquerque Journal waiting for the coffee to brew. I read the brief paragraph, shifting into research mode. An unidentified white male, possibly mid-late fifties, found dead about ten miles outside the reservation town of Shiprock. Authorities speculated that he’d been dead for a few days and that he’d been hit by a car. He was wearing blue jeans and a red flannel shirt and he carried no identification. Anyone with any information was encouraged to contact Navajo Tribal Police or the Farmington Police Department.

White guy. I puzzled over that for a bit as I leaned on the counter, coffeemaker gurgling next to me. Not to suggest that white guys weren’t allowed on the Navajo Reservation. It just struck me as odd that this guy was out there. Even that close to Farmington, the Navajo Reservation had few roads, fewer people, and a lot of lonely space. What was a white guy doing walking around on the Rez in such a state that he was hit by a car and left to die?

I wondered who he was and the logical part of my brain clicked through a myriad of possibilities. Most likely he got himself into a bit of trouble with local rednecks who roughed him up a bit, drove him to the Rez, took his wallet, and rolled him out of a battered pickup along with several cans of beer. Maybe he was drunk and might have tried to get help but instead got the front end of either that truck or a different one. Regardless, whoever hit him kept going.

Nice. What pleasant pre-breakfast thoughts. I placed the newspaper on the kitchen counter, making a mental note to check for more information on this case. It was just the kind of thing I was looking for to include in my lesson plan for one of the courses I was teaching, the Sociology of Crime. I ran a hand through my hair, reminding myself again that it was just three weeks before fall classes started at the University of New Mexico. Where the hell does the time go?

I glanced at the coffeemaker. Almost done. I stirred the eggs and turned the sausages over in the frying pan and adjusted the burner heat while I thought some more about the unidentified man. Whoever he was, I didn’t envy the investigators charged with the task of trying to uncover his identity. Because he was white, he’d be autopsied. Because he was found on Indian land, his journey to the medical examiner’s table in Albuquerque might take a while. A dead white guy on Indian land made for bad press for the Navajo, especially if more than just stupidity and callousness was involved here. Like, say, if a Navajo had taken him there and dumped him. Or hit him and kept going. Plus, the traditional tensions between tribal and non-tribal law enforcement sometimes hamstrung investigations of crimes committed on Indian land. Unless the guy was killed elsewhere and just dumped on the Rez.

I turned my full attention to the coffeemaker as it finished and poured coffee into the two cups I’d set on the counter, half-and-half already in them. I skimmed the rest of the headlines but nothing grabbed me or demanded my anal retentive research streak so I tossed it onto the counter just as Sage entered the kitchen. Before I turned around, she slid her arms around my waist and rested her head against my back.

“Hi,” she murmured. “Aren’t you up bright and early on a Saturday morning, solving the world’s problems,” she teased. She knew how stuff in the newspaper sent me down paths of conjecture.

I turned around to hug her. “Nope. It gave me time to make you breakfast.” I kissed her on the forehead and buried my face in her hair, breathing in her scent, lavender and cloves, and losing myself in the moment with her.

“Not that I’m complaining,” she said as she nuzzled my neck, “after last night,” she added with a little nip at my throat. Sparks zipped up and down my spine and I ran my hands down her back. She was wearing one of my t-shirts and it struggled—without success—to cover her bare ass.

“Jesus,” I whispered. “Two years and I still can’t get enough of you.” I’ll never get enough. I looked down into her eyes, soft brown edged with fire.

“Good.” She kissed me, then pulled away, grinning impishly. “My evil plan is working.”

“And how.” I released her so she could reach around me and pick up a cup of coffee.

She took a sip. “Perfect.” She winked. “Be right back.”

I watched as she padded out of the kitchen, hem of my tee brushing her ass, brown hair falling around her shoulders, and the athletic lines of her calves and thighs set my heart pounding again. I turned back to the scrambled eggs and sausage, glad I’d turned the heat down on that, at least. I moved the eggs around with a spatula and added more green chile.

“Oh, K.C.,” Sage called from the bedroom in a cute little sing-song voice.

“Yeah?” I flipped the sausage over.

“What did I do with my zoom lenses?”

I grinned. “By the front door,” I called back. A little flush of heat suffused my stomach. By the door, where she’d managed to set the bag last night with one hand while unbuttoning my shirt with the other even as I was trying to shut the door and undo her jeans.

She reappeared in the doorway, smiling. “You know, if this teaching and research gig doesn’t work out for you, I could always use a professional assistant of your caliber.”

I looked over at her. “My caliber, huh?” I furrowed my brow, pretending to consider her offer. “You don’t think I’d be out of your price range?”

She quirked an eyebrow, a gesture that always made me weak. I made a “somebody help me” face. “Hell, if you’d look at me like that once a day, I’d lug your equipment over the Rocky Mountains barefoot for you,” I teased. Except I wasn’t really teasing. I’d do it. Naked, even.

She blew me a kiss and left the doorway, no doubt on her way back to the bedroom, leaving me with another spectacular view of her backside. I sighed happily and left the food for a bit so I could take a drink of coffee. I read a few of the headlines in the front section of the Journal. Same ol’ political crap and local pronouncements about how poorly New Mexico ranked in terms of education and poverty, nuts doing nutty things, and politicians behaving badly. And that’s news. . . how?

I focused on breakfast again and filled two plates with food then took them out into the large front room that served as both our dining and living rooms, and set the plates next to the orange juice glasses on the table. I crossed the room to the Mexican-style sideboard that held the stereo and selected CD six, closing the cabinet door on the trastero as Ella Fitzgerald started her groove through the speakers. Sage emerged from the small hallway that delineated our bathroom and two bedrooms, wearing one of my baseball caps along with a pair of shorts and my tee. She looked cute as hell. I stared at her, blown away yet again. She sat down and caught my gaze, the look in her eyes reminiscent of the first time we’d met, right here in this house, at a barbecue.

I had been staying in the small cottage out back, once inhabited by my ex, Melissa’s, younger half-sister, who had gotten herself in a bit of trouble with a neo-Nazi boyfriend. I’d returned to Albuquerque from Texas to try to help track Megan down, since white supremacist movements were my area of research expertise. Sage and her then-roommate Jeff Abeyta lived here in the big house, and Jeff invited me over. But Sage already knew who I was. She knew a lot of things about me through Megan, and through her secret Sage-way of knowing things. I tried not to fall in love with her. Really tried. And I failed miserably. Thank God. I exhaled and sat down next to her. In a nice twist, Jeff was still in the family, in a way. He now lived in the cottage out back.

Sage looked at me and took a bite, nodding and smiling. “This is so good.”

I grinned. “High praise, coming from you.” I took a bite as well. Huh. Not bad at all. Though Sage remained by far the more gifted chef of the two of us.

“Have you heard from Kara?” She asked between bites, shifting topics in typical Sage fashion.

I rolled my eyes. “Not since Wednesday. She’s threatening to show up sometime next week. But you know how she is.”

Sage smiled.

“Oh, hell. Forgot the bagels.” I pushed away from the table and returned to the kitchen. Sage didn’t like hers toasted, but I did, so I put half of one in the toaster and held the other while I rummaged in the fridge for the cream cheese. I brought both to the table, setting the bagel half on Sage’s plate and the cream cheese next to her. The toaster popped and I went to retrieve my bounty. I returned and took my seat again.

“Thanks, hon.” She glanced at me. “So we should expect her to get here any time between Monday and Friday,” she continued as she slathered cream cheese on her bagel.

I watched, wondering how the hell it was possible to find something like cream cheese on a bagel so damn sexy. Maybe it was her fingers. “Who?”

“Kara.” Sage looked up at me, and her expression told me I was busted in my reverie about her. “Your younger sister? In California?”

I grinned sheepishly. “Oh, yeah. Her.”

Sage raised her eyebrows in amusement.

“I’ll try to get her narrowed down to a thirty-six-hour window. But you know how she is.” I sighed and took the last bite of my eggs.

She smiled again. “I do. But you know you love her.”

I shrugged.

“Let’s see. . .what did your mom call her. . .Ah. A ‘free spirit.’ I seem to recall she said the same thing about someone else in your life. Now who could that possibly be?” A little smile danced at the corners of her mouth. She took a bite of her bagel.

“You’re different,” I said, reaching for the cream cheese.

Sage regarded me, waiting for me to remove my foot from my mouth.

“Kara’s my sister. I’m supposed to express long-suffering frustration about her freaky tree-hugging self. Sibling rivalry and all that.” I spread cream cheese on my own bagel.

“ ‘Freaky? Tree-hugging’?” Sage giggled. “This from Miss Where’s-the-free-trade-coffee?”

I shrugged, trying not to laugh as I took a bite of my bagel.

“Miss ‘honey, don’t throw that away, you can recycle it’?”

I swallowed and flashed a grin at her. “But at least I’m not living in a redwood.”

“I thought Kara finished that campaign.”

“She did. But still.” I picked my up my coffee cup. “Don’t worry,” I said, catching Sage’s eye. “I’ll call her and find out when she’ll be breezing into town.”

Sage air-kissed me.

“Hey,” I said, changing the subject, “does that artist friend of yours still live up near Farmington? The Navajo woman?”

“That narrows it down in that part of the state,” Sage responded, eyes twinkling. “And yes, she does.”

“You think she’d be willing to talk to me about something completely unrelated to art?” I set my cup down on the table and Sage looked at me, waiting for me to drop whatever nutty idea I had into her lap. “No, nothing crazy,” I assured her. “I just don’t know that much about Navajo beliefs surrounding death and I was thinking about incorporating some stuff about the Navajo Rez and jurisdiction over violent crime into one of my classes this fall.”

“What the hell did you read in the paper this morning?” she teased, bumping my leg under the table with her foot.

“The usual. Destruction. Mayhem. And that’s just politics.” I grinned at her.

“I had to fall for an academic,” Sage said in an exaggerated stage whisper. “How did that happen?”

“I’m sort of charming.” I batted my eyelashes at her.

“True. And fucking sexy,” she said in a tone of voice that always made my insides melt.

I blushed and she laughed. “Ellen Tsosie,” she pronounced. “I’m sure she’ll enjoy enlightening you. Bilagaana provide her with endless amusement.” She took a sip of her coffee. “I’ll get her e-mail address for you.”

“So us white folk make her laugh but she doesn’t mind helping us out? Cool.” I reached for my bagel. “And she’s not on the Rez?” Most of the Navajo Reservation had little access to electricity, let alone computers.

“A lot of her family still is. She lives in town, though.” Sage finished her coffee and stood. “Thanks for breakfast, honey. It was great.” She leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. I blushed again and Sage laughed as she took our empty plates into the kitchen.

“Don’t worry about it,” I called after her. “I’ll clean up. Go get your stuff ready.” I stood and picked up our cups.

Sage appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. “Thanks, sweets. You’re the best.” She moved to the table and pulled me down into a long, lingering kiss that left me weak in the knees. I let my breath out when she released me.

“Damn,” I muttered.

“Indeed.” She pecked me on the cheek and headed for the guest room, which we used as office space and a place to store all her photography gear. I finished cleaning off the table then washed dishes and wiped down the stove. The Journal rested on the counter, like it was waiting for me to do something with it. I wiped my hands off with a towel and opened it to the article about the dead man on the reservation. I carefully tore it out and took it to my desk in the guest room, where I taped it to the edge of my computer monitor as a reminder. I heard Sage in the shower and debated going online and seeing what I could find about Navajo jurisdiction in cases like this when my cell phone rang. I checked the ID and grinned.

“Hey, Detective Rock Star,” I answered. “What’s up? Your taskmaster boss got you working another icky murder case? And on Sage’s art opening day?”

“Hola, esa,” Chris said with her customary Nuevomexicana greeting. “Damn, you’re psychic. How did I not know that my best friend is psychic after all these years? Jerry did call and I do have to go in to work for a few—love that on a Saturday—but we should still make Sage’s opening. We might be a little late, though. Sorry.” She sounded frustrated.

“No problem. Not like police work ever goes on vacation. Or Jerry, for that matter. Your boss is way scarier than mine, mujer.”

“Not as scary as some of the pendejos I have to deal with outside the police department. Don’t get me started on this, chica.”

I cleared my throat. “If it’s any consolation, you get a lot of them off the street. And you of all people know how slowly the wheels of justice turn.”

“I’ll be retired before some of these cases go to trial,” she grumbled.

“And you and Dayna can hang out on the porch with me and Sage. We’ll all have our own personal rockers.”

She chuckled. “That’d be a sight. So when are you going up?”

“Soon. We’ll leave in about an hour. Sage has a meeting in Santa Fe so she’ll drop me off at the gallery and I’ll finish getting things set up.” I sat down in my desk chair and spun around.

“Sounds good. I’ll call you if it looks like we’re running late.”

“Call the gallery if you can’t get through to me or Sage. Cell phone service is iffy up there.” I pushed with my feet and rolled on the hardwood floor along the edge of the Turkish rug and ended up near the doorway to the hall, feet propped on the arm of the futon-couch we kept in there for guests.

“Jackson’s, right?” Chris double-checked. I heard her moving papers around. “Okay. Dame el número, por favor.”

I gave her the number as Sage walked in, wrapped in a towel. She looked at me, expression questioning. I mouthed “Chris” to her and she smiled and reached for the phone.
“Somebody wants to talk to you,” I said to Chris before I handed the phone to Sage.

“Officer Gutierrez,” Sage said, “I need a favor. Can you bring a couple of bottles of that wine we like? We’re not going to have time to get it and I’d like a wider assortment of New Mexico alcohol.” She paused, listening, then started laughing. “That’s a hard bargain. I’m sure K.C. won’t mind if we have another dinner party over here, though.” She looked at me and smiled then finished up with Chris. “That’d be great. Thanks. See you later.” She handed the phone back to me and left the room.

“You’ve been Saged,” I said, grinning.

“Damn, esa. Nobody can refuse your girlfriend,” Chris replied, laughing.

“I know.” I pretended a long-suffering air. “If she asked you to hold up a bank, the only thing you’d want to know is when and where.” I pushed my chair back across the floor toward my desk, skimming along the edge of the rug again. “Hey, does Dayna want to come up with us, since Jerry’s making you go to work?”

“She’s at the office today, too. She’s got a few big cases coming up and she gets to be the main prosecutor, so she’s making sure she knows her shit.”

“Like there’s any doubt.” I rolled my chair across the floor again, this time toward Sage’s desk.

“True.”

I heard Chris’s smile through the phone. “You are so in love,” I crowed. “Totally. Big, bad cop chick falls for hard-edged but groovy lawyer. That could be a new program on Showtime. Hot lezzie police detective refuses to believe anyone will ever want her because of the weird hours and nasty shit she has to deal with. Enter hot lezzie attorney with a great laugh who thinks her job is her life. Their eyes meet at a conference and—I see it now. ‘Law and Disorder.’ ”

Chris started laughing again. “I knew there was a reason I’ve kept you around the last twelve years. Your damn jokes.”

“My undying loyalty as your best friend in the whole world isn’t it?” I tried to sound hurt.

“Well, there’s that.”

“Duh!” I laughed as well and rolled back to my desk. My gaze fell on the article I’d taped to the computer. “Okay, quick jurisdiction question.”

“Jesus, Kase. What’d you do?”

“Nothing, yet. I’m preparing, should that come to pass. You know how I am about research.”

“Sadly, I do. What’s up?”

I pulled the article off the computer. “Dead white guy on the Navajo Rez. Who handles the investigation?”

“Depends. Since he’s white—has the medical examiner established that yet?”

“Don’t know. I assume so, since it says in the paper that he is.” I scanned the text again.

“Okay, so operating under that assumption,” Chris continued, “how did he die?”

“They don’t know. The article says ‘authorities speculate the man was hit by a car.’ So I’m guessing lots of blunt force trauma and injuries consistent with that.”

Chris made a sound in the affirmative. “That’s not much info. But here’s where it could get sticky. If he was killed on the reservation—and if he was killed by someone who’s Navajo—then the tribal police are major players in the investigation. However, since it’s a murder on Indian land, the feds could get involved if they feel it’s warranted. Serious crimes like that –if a crime was perpetrated—in Indian country mean the feds can follow up, but ultimately, jurisdiction depends on the circumstances of the case. I’m sure the feds will at least check it out. The vic is white—any info on the perp?”

“No. Just speculation based on his injuries. And he was out there for a few days before somebody found him. Isolated road and all. He might have died some other way.” I studied the article. Whatever it was, it wasn’t “natural.”

“Shit. It’s hot out there. Decomposition probably didn’t help matters any,” Chris mused.
“It’s been dry, though. Monsoons ended three weeks ago.” I was thinking aloud, spinning around in my chair.

“Anybody know how he got out there?”

“No. Ten miles outside Shiprock. No car. No ID. I thought maybe some locals rolled him. I’d argue he was from Farmington.”

“Most likely,” Chris said, though she didn’t sound convinced. “Still, they might have just been screwing around and took him out there then left him there as a joke and somebody else came along later and killed him. And that person might have been Navajo. And it might have been an accident. Maybe whoever hit him didn’t see him. Just hit a bump, didn’t think anything of it. Since people aren’t wandering around out there for the most part, why would whoever hit the guy—if that’s what happened—think he’d hit a person?”

I loved bouncing ideas around with Chris. She approached police work the way I approached my own research. She didn’t buy into any one explanation unless the evidence led her there. I posed another question. “So since the guy was white, the feds could have jurisdiction over his body. But since they won’t know for sure what killed him until after an autopsy, the investigation is either on hold or being handled by tribal police and feds?”

“Since he was white, yes,” Chris concurred. “The feds probably get to deal with the body. But this investigation might be problematic if a Navajo killed him. And since the vic is white, Navajo authorities may have already released the body for autopsy.”

“But it fucks up the investigation regardless, because the longer you wait—”

“The colder the trail gets. And you know how things are between tribal police forces and federal law agencies. No love lost there. So what’s up with this?” She asked, interested.

“I thought it’d make a good case study for my sociology of crime class. How race and the sovereignty of Indian nations can affect how a crime is approached and how it’s handled and, hopefully, solved. I like to do ‘ripped from the headlines’ shit. And since it’s a local case, the kiddies might resonate with it.”

“I love it when you sound all smart like that,” Chris said, laughing. “It does sound interesting. Maybe I’ll poke around in that one. I’ll see if I know anybody at the Farmington department.”

“That’d be awesome, mujer. I might turn this into a semester-long ‘see how this shit can affect people today’ project thingie.”

Chris chuckled. “Nice use of technical terms. Anyway, I’ve gotta jet, esa.”

“Okay, go save the world and all that. We’ll see you when we see you.” I stuck the article back on my computer monitor.

“Gracias. Hasta.”

“Yep. Later, gator.” We hung up and I was about to put my phone on my desk when I remembered to call Kara. One ring. Two. Three. . .voicemail. I sighed.

“Hi, it’s Kara. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you soon. Breathe, reflect, and have a lovely day!”

“Hey, it’s me,” I said. “Sage and I need to know when you’ll be coming. Give me a buzz when you get a chance. Thanks. Hope you’re all right. Later.” And you have yourself a super groovy ultra-peaceful day! I hung up and set the phone on my desk, thinking about Kara, who somehow got stuck in the sixties though she was born in 1973.

Nobody on either side of our family knew where Kara’s sensibilities came from. My dad’s side—the Italian half—gave up on her when she entered high school and proclaimed herself a vegan and started wearing tie-dye shirts she found in second-hand clothing stores. My mom’s side—from staid New England stock, some of whom ended up in Texas—wondered what the hell the Italian side did to her while she was growing up. My older sister Joely, who taught literature at a private liberal arts college back East, considered Kara an amusing anomaly and wrote short stories with hippie characters based on her. For my part, I just hoped Kara wouldn’t get herself involved in some freaky underground eco-cult that I’d have to infiltrate. I stood and stretched, sighing. I’d done my sibling duty and left a message.

Sage’s phone rang in the bedroom and I heard her pick up on the second ring. Thinking I’d save us some time, I started loading her framed photographs—each wrapped in foam and bubble wrap—into the trunk of her Toyota Camry. A few I had to position carefully on the back seat. Twenty-five photos later, I locked the car and went inside. Sage was still talking on the phone, so I headed into the bathroom for a shower. I finished and as I was toweling off on the rug next to the tub, Sage appeared in the open doorway. A troubled expression shadowed her face.

“What’s up?” I asked, stopping my drying.

“That was River.”

“Is he okay?” I searched Sage’s eyes. “No run-ins with Montana wildlife on guide trips?” Sage’s brother sometimes had to deal with that when he took hunters out into the wilderness for the company that employed him.

“He’s fine. But he got a letter from Dad.” Sage still held her phone and she tapped it rhythmically against her thigh.

“A letter? Your dad hasn’t contacted either of you in years.” I stated the obvious.

“He read it to me. It’s really strange.” Her eyes clouded.

As I waited for her to continue, I finished drying off and hung the towel on one of the hooks we’d installed.

“He—Dad—said he was sorry to bother River, but he just wanted him to know that even though he’d been a bad father, he hoped that River and I didn’t carry that around and let it mess us up.”
I leaned against the sink, watching her face. Sage hadn’t addressed her baggage with her dad much over the two years we’d been together. “Which was fucked up enough. But then he said that there was something going on where he works, something that’s not right and it could hurt a lot of people and he was thinking about telling someone about it.”

“Where’s he working?”

“Ridge Star Drilling. And you’ll love this. In Farmington.” She shook her head, obvious distaste on her elegant features.

I stared at her. “Your dad’s in New Mexico? How long?”

“Don’t know. It wasn’t in the letter.”

“Okay, wait. So he writes to River to apologize for being a shitty father and to talk about something bad at a place he works?” I frowned, puzzled.

“I know. But it gets freakier. He said that if anything happened to him, chances are it was because of what’s going on at work.”

I ran a hand through my damp hair. “Is he suggesting that someone’s going to whack him for whistle-blowing?” My thoughts jumped to the article I’d cut out of the paper that morning. Body on the Rez. White guy—hell, no. Just a coincidence. I pushed that thought way to the back of my mind.

Sage’s eyebrows raised, lips curved in a wry smile. “Apparently so, Ms. Corleone.” She closed the distance between us and pecked me on the cheek. “I just love it when your Italian side shows itself.”

“Sorry, honey. I’m not trying to make light of this. It’s just—”

“Bizarre.”

“Good word. So did he say what’s going on at Ridge Star?” Like it’s something we need to worry about. Or can do anything about.

Sage pulled away and motioned me toward the door. “I’ll tell you more while you get dressed. We’re running a little late.”

I padded into the bedroom and dressed in my usual summer outfit. Cargo shorts, tee, and Birkenstocks
while Sage talked.

“He said that Ridge Star was covering up safety violations and that there have been a few injuries and two deaths at the site in the last three months and the company covered up the cause, which my father seems to think was the result of bad management and faulty equipment that Ridge Star didn’t want to pay to have fixed.”

“But most everybody knows the oil and gas industry isn’t the safest job on the block,” I said. “I mean, some of those companies are very bad about safety. And the nature of the jobs themselves—it’s a wonder more guys aren’t killed or maimed. It’s like mining.” I put a pair of jeans and a white button-down shirt in a duffle bag, positioning them over my black cowboy boots. My outfit for the evening.

“True. But he seems to think that this is a conspiracy, beyond just the usual shit in the quest for a profit,” she said dryly.

“So what the hell are you and River supposed to do about it?” I picked up the duffle bag, irritated that this asshole from my girlfriend’s past was putting this heavy trip on her.

“I don’t know. He said that he’s sorry for laying this on us, but he wanted somebody to know in case something happened to him and he doesn’t trust anyone else.”

“He put that in the letter?” There’s an irony for you. He doesn’t trust anyone.

Sage nodded and turned toward the doorway. I picked up her duffle bag from the bed and followed her to the front door. “River said he sent pictures,” she said, voice strained.

“Of what?”

Sage opened the heavy inner front door then the security door. I preceded her onto the porch. “One of himself and—this is fucked up—one of each of his arms.”

I watched as she locked up. “His arms?” What the hell?

She regarded me, an uneasiness in her eyes. “On one, he’s got River’s name tattooed and on the other, mine.”

“Holy shit. Why the hell did he want you to know that? Proof that he’s loved you, even though he’s been an abusive drunk and an absent father most of your lives?”

Sage didn’t reply right away and instead she headed down the porch steps to the walk and then to her car, parked on the street. She unlocked it with her key fob and I positioned the duffle bags on top of the framed photographs on the back seat, protecting them further from shifting around. We were in and buckled up before she said anything. She smoothed the dark blue sari she was wearing as a skirt.

“He told River that if something happened to him, chances are that whoever messed him up would try to make him harder to identify.” Her tone was brittle as she started the engine and pulled away from the curb.

I reached over and squeezed her thigh. I didn’t know what to say to that. She covered my hand with hers briefly, before she had to shift. I watched her, knowing she was thinking about this, sorting through the various emotions that her father triggered.

“It’s not fair of him,” she muttered as she turned left onto Carlisle. “Putting this responsibility on us. He’s never acted like we were family. Now he puts this obligation on us.”

I left my hand on her thigh, letting her know I was listening and giving her the space to vent. She exited onto eastbound I-40 and accelerated, glancing over her left shoulder. She settled into her seat and flashed a smile at me. “Time enough to think about it later.” She reached over and squeezed my shoulder. “We have an exhibit to put together and a reception to enjoy.” She turned on her car stereo and the gritty but soft voice of Robbie Robertson emanated from the speakers, doing his mellow, Native American-tinged rock.

“Damn right,” I agreed. I took her hand and we spent the rest of the drive singing along to the CD and talking about the gallery layout and Sage’s meeting in Santa Fe that afternoon. By the time we got to Madrid, the strange letter had faded into the background of my mind.

End of Chapter One!

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