Powwow in Paris — excerpt

Chapter 1

Wednesday, May 23, 2018, Washington, DC

“One hundred and five?” Alan White River asked. “I don’t feel a day over a hundred and four. Why, last year, I was thought to be only 99-plus.”

“I’m just telling you what your epigenetic clock says, Mr. White River,” Dr. Caroline Laney said.

The physician was young and more than a little amused by her venerable patient.

“C’mon, Doctor,” White River said as he sat on the examination table. “You just got your microscope out and looked at the number of rings in a strand of my hair, didn’t you? Maybe you miscounted.”

The doctor laughed. So did John Tall Wolf who stood behind her in the examination room.

“What do you think, Grandson?” White River asked. “Could I really be that old?”

Alan White River declined the use of the word great as a noun of direct address for both himself and his great-grandson.

“We’ll keep the awful truth from Ms. Lipman,” John said.

Barbara Lipman was a cellist emeritus, late of the National Symphony Orchestra. A comparatively young octogenarian, she lived one flight up in the Washington townhouse where John and his great-grandfather also lodged. She was Alan White River’s lady friend. He joked that he was her groupie.

The reason for the visit to the doctor was neither illness nor injury. John and White River were going on a trip. John thought it wise to get an informed opinion as to how well great-grandfather would hold up on a trans-Atlantic flight. That and see if he would still be eligible for a traveler’s health insurance policy. The cutoff age, unfortunately, was 100.

John had thought that age limit to be remarkably benevolent, even if the premium was astronomical, but now it turned out to be insufficient. With the European public health care systems accepting neither Medicare nor Blue Cross Blue Shield, White River would have to pay his own tab if he fell ill or stumbled on uneven pavement.

The comforting fact here was the heroic old Indian who’d masterminded the theft of the Super Chief had earned more than a million dollars net on the lecture circuit in the past year, and John had persuaded him to keep a quarter of his earnings.

White River had given the rest to causes he considered worthy.

Ironically, his generosity had provided him with good publicity and raised the speaking fees he was offered.

Dr. Laney told White River, “We gave up the ring-counting method a long time ago. We use DNA methylation these days. That’s why we took your saliva and blood samples, Mr. White River. But you need to remember, there’s chronological age and then there’s biological age: how well your cells are functioning and how much spring you have in your step. You’re a good 10-to-15 years younger than a calendar reckoning would say.”

White River beamed and stood up with surprising fluidity for someone his age.

He extended a hand to Dr. Laney. “May I have this dance, young lady?”

“There’s no music playing,” she said.

White River began to hum.

Recognizing the melody, Dr. Laney grinned. “The Blue Danube Waltz. That’s my grandfather’s favorite. He taught me the steps.”

The two of them danced around the examination room for a minute, as White River continued to hum and John stood back and marveled.

White River told the doctor, “If I didn’t already have a girlfriend, I’d take you on my trip with me.”

Dr. Laney said, “You know, I never heard where you’ll be going.”

Producing another broad smile, he told her, “Paris.”

Friday, May 25, 2018, Washington Dulles International Airport

The control tower gave the flight crew of Freddie Strait Arrow’s new Gulfstream 650ER permission to take off, and the captain relayed the news to his passengers. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re on our way to Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport. Expected flying time is just under six hours. Please make sure that your seatbelts are securely fastened.”

For a centenarian, Alan White River looked as excited as a small boy. He looked to his left and told John, “I love this part, Grandson. It makes me think I am on my way to see Awinita.”

He turned to look out the window for the spirit of his late wife.

The sudden thrust of the plane’s two Rolls-Royce engines also made John Tall Wolf think they might be launched toward heaven and possibly the afterlife. The plane gobbled up its 6,300 feet takeoff distance in the seeming blink of an eye, and then they were climbing into the sky at a rate commercial airliners never approached. Their cruising speed would cut almost two hours off the standard flight time to the French capital.

Seated to John’s left, also staring out a window and watching the earth fall away below, John’s wife, Rebecca Bramley, was herself excited to the point of shivering.

“Are you okay?” John asked.

She turned to look at him with a smile. “Okay? I’m ecstatic. I’m with the man I love, going to the City of Light, flying in what has to be one of the most luxurious planes in the world, and … why haven’t we gotten our glasses of champagne already?”

“I believe the flight crew is also buckled in at the moment,” John said.

The people keeping them airborne, alive and pampered were the pilot, the co-pilot, the relief (i.e., emergency) pilot and the two cabin attendants, male and female. The other passengers aboard were Freddie Strait Arrow, the aircraft’s owner, and his translator/language instructor, a tall, stunning female member of the Osage tribe named Nijon, who looked like she might have stepped off the cover of Vogue’s latest issue.

John had whispered a joke to Rebecca earlier: “She’s teaching him to talk dirty in French.”

“And why not?” she’d replied. “You like it when we do it.”

Rebecca had grown up bilingual in Canada. John had learned French in college, which was to say his fluency was functional but not subtle. He enjoyed refining his command of the language with his wife — when they had the time to spend together.

John worked in Washington; Rebecca toiled in L.A.

A situation they agreed that couldn’t go on much longer.

At the moment, though, Rebecca was more than happy that she could lean to her right and give her husband a kiss. She asked, “Your great-grandfather will be busy with his counterparts from around the world, won’t he?”

Alan White River was the guest of honor and the featured speaker at that year’s convention of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, CAP for short. The gatherings happened on a biennial basis in the capitals of former colonial powers. Each meeting began with a historical review, always educational and often embarrassing to the host nation, of how it had treated the people of the territories over which it had assumed dominion.

The political elites of the host countries often suffered red-faced embarrassment when their sins were paraded before the world’s mass media. The citizenries, however, were often educated and indignant about cruelties that had been perpetrated in their names and were now determined to see that such behavior would never again be committed by their politicians.

Alan White River was expected to inform his fellow native peoples from around the world of the many sufferings Native Americans had experienced. To her credit, President Jean Morrissey had promised to listen closely to White River’s speech and voiced her full support to implement as many of the reforms he suggested as she might ram through Congress.

Rebecca had asked John if his great-grandfather’s speech would be televised and streamed around the world.

He’d said, “I don’t know the full media plan, but I’m sure it will get wide distribution.”

As Freddie’s luxury aircraft reached cruising altitude, John whispered a secret to his beloved. “We should have a fair amount of time to ourselves in Paris, but shortly after we arrive, we’ll be going to the Élysée Palace.”

“What?” Rebecca’s response was loud enough to draw a few looks.

White River glanced at Tall Wolf and his wife. “Everything okay?”

“We’re fine,” John told him.

He gestured to the male cabin attendant that his help wasn’t required.

After everyone calmed down, Rebecca whispered, “We’re going to meet the French president? I’m not dressed for something like that.”

“You look wonderful, as usual, and our attendance is not strictly required.”

“But I’d like to meet him. I hear he’s charming.”

“Then you’ll have to suck it up as a proud Canadienne and go as you are.”

Rebecca nodded, and then she frowned. Dropping her voice to the softest of whispers, she told John, “You knew about this. You could have given me a heads-up.”

“Grandfather wanted to surprise you. I probably shouldn’t have said anything at all.”

Rebecca tried to cling to her indignation, but couldn’t. The pilot announced that the passengers could now move about the cabin if they so wished. The female cabin attendant appeared and asked if John and Rebecca would care for anything to drink.

Rebecca asked for the champagne she’d thought of earlier.

John requested a Perrier.

Opposite them, they saw that Alan White River was now dozing. He wore a smile on his weathered face. The male cabin attendant gently wrapped a fleece blanket around him.

Freddie Strait Arrow and Nijon were tucked away in a private compartment aft.

Looking at his great-grandfather, John told Rebecca in a quiet voice. “Dreaming of Awinita.”

She nodded. “What a sweetheart he is.”

“When he’s not out stealing trains,” John said.

“Yeah.” Rebecca took John’s arm in hers. “So you have any more surprises in store for me?”

“Me, personally? No.”

“You mean someone else might?”

John said, “Who can tell? It’s a crazy old world.”

Having expressed that thought, John wondered what Marlene Flower Moon was doing.

She was supposed to find her way to Paris, too.

Maybe she was already there. Or she might arrive at the last minute.

Wildflower Drive — Santa Fe, New Mexico

Serafina Wolf y Padilla opened the gate in the stucco wall that gave access to her home’s garden and looked coolly at Marlene Flower Moon as if a fight in any of several planes of existence might break out between them momentarily. Marlene was very near the same flashpoint herself. Despite the peace that John Tall Wolf had brokered between Marlene and his parents the previous year, the three of them were natural enemies.

“What do you want?” Serafina asked.

“Only what is mine.”

For the beat of a heart, Serafina thought her nemesis meant John, and the fight was almost on. Then a large, pacifying hand fell gently on Serafina’s right shoulder. Haden Wolf had arrived, not only to reinforce his wife but to calm her.

“I think she means our new guest, dear,” Haden Wolf said. Turning to Marlene, he asked, “Don’t you?”

The question carried the implication that Haden had better be right or the fight was on.

Marlene looked for just a moment as if that was the way she’d like things. Storming in and showing Tall Wolf’s parents who among them held decisive power. Only she’d all but made peace with Tall Wolf. He’d even said she could dine on his corpse.

Also, the elder Wolfs had promised to curse Marlene throughout the ages if she went to war with them. It was a threat Marlene felt sure they would be able to carry out, even if they were no longer physically alive to see and enjoy the torments Marlene would suffer.

Given that she would be hurt in any fight with the Wolfs, Marlene turned to her wiles.

“The creature you shelter shot me,” she said.

That cut no ice with Serafina, but Haden said, “She has a point. Let’s continue this discussion out of public view.”

He put a hand on his wife’s waist and eased her aside, saying to Marlene, “Please step into our garden.”

Careful that she wasn’t being played and might set foot in some unseen snare, Marlene edged into the garden. Her eyes grew large, and her ears became pointed. Nonetheless, she was unable to perceive any imminent danger. Other than the Wolfs themselves.

She lifted her nose to the breeze and sniffed. She nodded.

Marlene said, “Bodaway is here. The stink of his fear grows stronger with each passing moment, as it should.”

Satisfied that she understood her surroundings now, Marlene let her features resume their human appearance.

Showing that he and his wife were not the least bit intimidated, Haden said, “I brought out some cool green tea. Would you like to join my wife and me, Ms. Flower Moon? We can talk and see if we have any room for understanding one another.”

He inclined his head toward a circular table with four chairs resting on a patio.

Marlene understood now where Tall Wolf had learned his unflappable demeanor.

It certainly hadn’t come from his mother.

“Yes, thank you,” Marlene said in an even tone, thinking now was the time to assess her circumstances and make whatever plans the situation demanded. She crossed the garden to the patio and took a chair facing the house.

In an upstairs window, she saw Bodaway, aka Thomas Bilbray, peeking down at her.

He ducked out of sight as soon as he saw he’d been spotted. The act of cowardice reassured Marlene. Despite having found sanctuary with the Wolfs, Bodaway still feared her. As well he should. The three parties who would decide the wretch’s future sat around the table at which they would parley.

The Wolfs sat shoulder to shoulder opposite Marlene. Three glasses and a transparent pitcher sat in the middle of the table. The vessel held a liquid that was mint green with a hint of gold to it. Haden filled his wife’s glass, and she took a sip.

“Delightful,” she said.

He smiled and held the pitcher over another glass. “Ms. Flower Moon?”

Marlene inhaled silently but deeply. She smelled every plant and flower in the garden, as well as the contents of the pitcher. The tea smelled of mint, clover, and honey. There was no hint of a toxin.

She nodded. “Yes, please.”

Haden filled her glass and then poured a measure for himself.

Despite what her nose had told her, Marlene let Haden take a long pull at his glass before she sampled her tea. The small sip was enough to assure her that no treachery was in the offing. The tea was safe and delicious. That didn’t keep another point from being made.

The truth was, Marlene had never tasted a drink quite so pleasing, both tart and sweet, and entirely refreshing. The mix was a bold statement of what a master herbalist Haden Wolf was. If he had wanted to poison her, he wouldn’t have been able to kill Marlene, but he might have made her feel pain such as she’d never known.

Not that she would ever admit that.

“Very nice,” she told Haden.

That was the end of any pleasantries, as far as Serafina was concerned.

She told Marlene, “You’ve come for our guest, but you can’t have him.”

Had the two women been the only ones present, Marlene thought, there would have been a fight, regardless of the damage they might have done to each other.

“Your guest shot me,” Marlene said.

“Not fatally,” Serafina said, a note of regret clear in her voice.

Marlene replied, “With anyone else, there would have been no recovery.”

Haden nodded. “He never should have done that, but he is family to our son, John’s cousin.”

Having no way to relate personally to a direct line of kinship, Marlene couldn’t grasp the importance of family emotionally, but she understood well the idea of vengeance.

She told the Wolfs, “Before and after Bodaway shot me, he tried to kill Tall Wolf. Neither of you would have shown him mercy if he’d succeeded.”

The look in Serafina’s eyes told Marlene she had that exactly right.

Marlene also saw that Haden just might have been forgiving. That surprised her, and also gave her an opening to sow a bit of discord between the Wolfs. Smiling now, she asked Haden, “Did you know that your wife risked a young woman’s life to save your son?”

Aware that he was dealing with Coyote, the Trickster, Haden Wolf suspected he’d just heard a lie and didn’t reply immediately. But in the moment of silence that followed, he couldn’t help but wonder if a hidden truth had just been revealed.

Marlene saw the suspicion and exploited it.

“Tall Wolf talks to me far more than he did at first. Perhaps he’s grateful that I saved his life in Omaha.” Marlene didn’t point out that the Wolfs should also owe her a debt of gratitude; she didn’t have to. That knowledge was clear in their eyes. At the moment, though, Marlene’s task was to put Serafina on the defensive in any discussion the Wolfs would have after Marlene had departed. “Tall Wolf told me that his colleague, a woman named Maj Olson, was behind him on the chase up the mountain to catch Bodaway. She overtook Tall Wolf only by jumping her motorcycle over a bend in the road.”

Marlene saw Haden was stunned by the news.

Serafina, on the other hand, knew all about it. She’d caused it to happen.

Marlene said, “If Ms. Olson had flown her motorcycle just a few feet less, she would have plunged off the mountain to her death. I have no doubt who gave the young woman the idea to take that death-defying risk.”

Haden glanced at his wife but said nothing.

“As for me,” Marlene said, “I got shot saving the life of Alan White River, your son’s great-grandfather. Maybe you should also take that family connection into consideration.”

Marlene took another sip of her honied tea and told Haden, “This is quite good, thank you.”

She got up and started toward the garden gate but stopped.

She looked back at the Wolfs.

“Bodaway is my creature, and one way or another, I will have him. He may have come to you begging for redemption and shelter. He might even have confessed that he tried to kill your son, but he shot me. He’s mine.”

Marlene smiled, and her teeth became the slashing fangs of Coyote.

Then her mood changed, and she resumed the appearance of a beautiful woman.

“Oh, I know what to do,” she told John’s parents with a gleeful smile. “I’ll tell Tall Wolf what you’re doing. Ask him what he thinks should be done with Bodaway.”