Big Medicine — excerpt

Big Medicine book coverChapter 1

Monday, January 23, 2017,  Washington, DC

Immediately after receiving the first official phone call from newly inaugurated President Jean Morrissey and fumbling for an answer to the question she’d posed to him, John Tall Wolf wondered if James J. McGill was still hiring.

The President had asked John, “How would you feel about being nominated to be my new Secretary of the Interior? I think having a Native American continuing to hold that position is a good idea, don’t you?”

Marlene Flower Moon had been the first such person to have that honor.

She’d tendered her resignation at the end of the Grant Administration.

Then she’d promptly disappeared. John had been unable to find her anywhere.

Not wanting an awkward silence to drag on too long, John had replied, “Yes, ma’am … generically speaking, I agree.”

“Generically, huh? Are you also thinking of leaving government service, Director Tall Wolf?”

“I’m not exactly certain what my plans are, ma’am. Like you, I’m a newlywed. My wife, Rebecca, has taken a job in Los Angeles, as you might have heard, and we’re trying to work out a … modus vivendi, I’d guess you’d call it.”

The President laughed. “Byron keeps asking me if I can run the government from Santa Barbara. So I can empathize with you.”

“Thank you, ma’am. There’s also the fact that I’m trained as an investigator, not an administrator.”

The President laughed again, this time with a skeptical note.

“Byron also tells me you have a great gift for collaboration with others that produces excellent results. Something I’ve also noticed personally.”

Byron DeWitt was the former deputy director of the FBI — besides being the President’s husband — and someone with whom John had brought two cases to successful conclusions.

“That was more a matter of having the right people to help me, ma’am.”

“So you’re good at recruiting, too,” the President said. “Or at least spotting talent.”

Those were two gifts John had, but he wasn’t going to admit it.

“More luck than anything else, ma’am.”

“That’s also good. I like lucky people.”

John was stuck for a response on that point, but the President let him off the hook.

She said, “I can tell a White House cabinet position is not a long cherished dream of yours, Mr. Director, but I’d like you, please, to at least consider the possibility while I go about filling other slots in my administration. Will you do that for me?”

“Yes, ma’am, I will, and please say hello to Byron for me. I hope his recovery continues to go well.”

“Thank you, John, for keeping an open mind and for your good wishes. Perhaps I’ll have Byron give you a call before too long.”

Then she said goodbye, leaving John to stare at the phone in his hand for a moment before putting it down.

The idea passed fleetingly through his mind that he might see if he could have his office phone number changed … but with the nation’s full range of intelligence agencies at the President’s command she could undoubtedly track down the new one. Or simply show up at his office one morning, wave an admonitory finger and conscript him.

He doubted that even the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, barring involuntary servitude, would stand in her way if he made it a contest of wills.

If he signed on with McGill Investigations International, though, that might give him the cover he needed. Let him continue to do the work he preferred as well. Not that his original plan in life was to become a federal officer, someone tasked with nabbing bad guys.

Marlene Flower Moon had lured him into that line of work.

John had taken the bait because he’d sensed from the beginning that Marlene was really Coyote, the Trickster of Native American lore, and quite possibly the particular beast that had tried to consume him as an infant — and would have succeeded if his adoptive parents Hayden Wolf and Serafina Wolf y Padilla hadn’t arrived at the last minute to save his life.

As a vital young man, however, John had relished the chance of confronting his nemesis directly. Through the years of testing himself against Marlene, he’d more than held his own. More than that, by maintaining a more or less direct relationship with Marlene he was able to keep an eye on her. Not let her slip from the top of his consciousness. Be ready for any scheme the Trickster might conjure for him.

Only, now, things had changed.

Marlene’s resignation as Secretary of the Interior had left the Cabinet seat open for John to fill. It wouldn’t have been hard for Marlene to guess that Jean Morrissey would nominate him. Having John take the post might well be just one step in whatever game the Trickster was playing.

Of course, if John declined the nomination and felt compelled to leave government work, that might lead him to put a foot in another snare Marlene had set out for him. When a chess player found himself in a position where he was going to lose an important piece no matter what move he made, he was said to be in a fork. Given the appetites John suspected Marlene of having, the metaphor was particularly unwelcome.

He was going to have to work harder and smarter, whatever choice he made, and figure out where Marlene had gone and what her plans were. At least insofar as they concerned him.

His rumination was interrupted when his secretary, Johanna Green Eyes, buzzed him.

She said, “There’s a big old Indian out here to see you, boss.”

Johanna was seven-eighths Comanche and one-eighth Scot. The Scottish ancestor had survived his introduction to the Wild West of 19th century America and, given the absence of any bonnie lasses from back home, had married into the native population, who had given up trying to kill him after several years of making their best efforts.

At least that was the family legend Johanna had shared with John.

Considering how smart, tough and determined she was, and the color of her eyes, he was inclined to believe it.

He asked, “Did the big old Indian introduce himself by name?”

After a pause, she replied, “He says he’s your great-grandpa. Does look quite a bit like you. Or what I imagine you’ll look like if you make it that far.”

John had gotten to his feet by the time Johanna added, “He says his name’s Alan White River, and they let him out of jail early. Says you’re supposed to make sure he doesn’t steal any more trains.”

John opened the door to his office and smiled at Alan White River. The two men embraced.

Stepping back, White River said, “They let me go from Club Fed early because my tennis game got too good for all the other over-60 inmates.”

White River, himself, was well into in his 90’s, and possibly older.

“Yeah, that and a presidential nudge from Patricia Grant,” John replied. “They processed your release faster than I expected.”

John turned to look at the striking woman — several decades younger than his great-grandfather — who stood next to White River. It was no accident that Johanna Green Eyes hadn’t mentioned her. Comanches could have a sly sense of humor.

Before she could introduce herself, White River said, “My prison pen-pal, Dr. Yvette Lisle.”

The French name notwithstanding, John could see the doctor was Native American. Mostly. She did have a Gallic nose. He shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, Doctor.”

She nodded and said, “You, also.”

“Evie needs your help, grandson,” White River told John.

He looked at the old man. “With?”

White River shrugged and said, “You know how it is. If white people aren’t stealing from Indians, we’re stealing from each other.”

“That’s a real old story,” Johanna said. “Usually involves land.”

John gave her a brief look before turning to Dr. Lisle. “You’ve been robbed, Doctor?”

“I have.”

“And this isn’t a matter for your local police?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. The theft involves my work. I’m a medical researcher. My project was funded in part by the federal government.”

And just like that, John saw deliverance. He had a new investigation to pursue, the kind of task he loved to do. It was also a legitimate reason, i.e. excuse, for putting off a decision on President Morrissey’s request. If that resulted in his being told the federal government no longer required his services in any capacity, he felt sure he’d be allowed to complete one last case for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

At least, he hoped so.

He told Dr. Lisle, “You’ve come to the right place.”

He ushered the doctor and Alan White River into his office.