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Navajo reservation, thirty-four years earlier
Behind the blue Ouachita Mountains, the sunset bathed the reservation in cool shadows. Cross-legged on the ground of the sacred cave, the one with sienna drawings of coyotes and rattlesnakes on the walls, Maria faced the warm circle of rocks. The light of the flames caressed the copper skin of her bare breasts and her flowing black hair as she swayed to the rhythm of her monotone chant. Tonight, the young girl braved the spirits alone with only White Eagle's talisman for protection. The arrowhead on a leather thong around her neck prevented evil intrusion from the Great Snake. Hopefully, the Great Spirit would grant her secret wish.
After sprinkling dry cedar twigs among the embers of the central fire, Maria poured water from a calabash onto the fiery rocks. Steam hissed and billowed, filling the cave. Mellowed by the peyote pipe, Maria surveyed the clouds that changed shape and color with the incantation. She expected a vision.
There, yes, there... A gentle spirit had come. His blue radiance filled her with serene rapture, as she felt enveloped by the song of angels. When the vapors condensed, Maria welcomed the loving presence and closed her eyes, heavy with peaceful oblivion... Losing track of the ritual, she surrendered to the blue light, sinking deeper into nothingness, well being, love... Ever so gratefully...
"Eh Blondie, two more pitchers!" a tall customer yelled over the music, slurring the words, while the three heavyweights at his table nodded approval.
At the bar, Michael Tanner nursed his bourbon, observing the room through the smoke. "You have to be bad just to have a good time," blared the country song in the background, though he could hardly hear the lyrics above the din. The young waitress in cut-off jeans and western boots smiled at him and he smiled back. Michael knew her by sight only. The girl was new, just a kid. In a few years, his own daughter would be old enough to wait tables. A frightening thought.
"Coming right up!" The girl loaded the tray and wove her way around the tables, straight and sassy, flaunting firm breasts through a white peasant blouse.
The big man watched her every move. Holding the tray high above her head, she pushed the ashtray aside, but he seized her wrist and pinned it to the table. "I bet you don't wear a bra under that flimsy shirt," he snarled.
The young girl blushed. "Let me do my work," she pleaded, struggling to free her hand while balancing the heavy tray on the other.
Michael didn't like the big Yankee who'd sneered at his southern drawl earlier. He couldn't let that cur bother an innocent girl, so he started toward the table.
"You can't fight me, Blondie!" The man leered. "Don't look for the bouncer, he went to take a leak. Why don't you show us your tits?" The Yankee grabbed her waist.
The girl dropped the tray with a cry. It crashed to the floor, glass and beer scattering the sawdust on the concrete. The man's paw on the girl's breast closed and ripped her blouse. She screamed.
Michael pushed himself between the girl and the man. "You need a lesson in good manners!"
"No ignorant Southerner will teach me anything!" The Yankee aimed a fist at Michael's face.
Michael stepped aside, avoiding the impact. When three heavyweights joined the fight, the bouncer tried to intervene, only to find himself buried in chaos. A punch missed Michael's left ear. Applying a ju-jitsu move, he sent his opponent to the floor, into broken glass, sawdust, ashtrays, and cigarette butts. The bartender reached for the phone while the waitress, disheveled, rather nude and pale in her torn blouse and cutoffs, cowered against the bar, protecting her small breasts.
Through the orange light, a booted foot flew to Michael's face. He caught it in mid air. A sharp twist to the right and his opponent's shoulder smashed a table, breaking it in two. A beer bottle sailed through thick haze and shattered on the heavy wall mirror, cracking it.
The kaleidoscope of jeans, cowboy hats, silver buckles, spurs, back kicks, sweat, and blood, made Michael's adrenalin pump faster. He felt happy as a fish in cool water among the toppled tables and chairs, in the smell of whisky and stale cigar. Although past thirty, tonight he felt eighteen, as wild and passionate as ever.
When Michael leapt onto the bar to get a better view, his long hair caught the breeze from the ceiling fan. A smoky reflection in the cracked mirror revealed his tall stature, chestnut hair, good shoulders, strong jaw, high cheekbones, and strikingly blue eyes... A hard body from packing lumber and driving nails all day.
His balance, he'd acquired from walking on catwalks, scaffolding and ladders, and a few beers and bourbon on the rocks didn't upset his timing by much. That son-of-a-bitch stepfather, who taught him martial arts as a kid, would be proud.
There was the muscular Yankee. Michael jumped down and headed in that direction. Blocking a strike, he dodged a chair, kicked another out of the way then leapt over a table. The man had cleaned up one side of the room and stood, waiting.
Michael felt the Indian half of his blood stir. He feinted to the right then threw a left punch to the chin. The target moved just in time to avoid the blow and sneered back. Mad as hell, Michael nevertheless controlled his anger. He turned as if to walk away. Another feint. In a blur, he kicked high and hard, left heel connecting with the man's face. A jawbone cracked. The Yankee tumbled down and slid all the way back through the open front door.
The lights went out. A cold draft chilled the place as an eerie silence fell. Michael stopped moving and listened. Darkness hovered like a disquieting presence. A shadow reflected in the mirror, and his heart stopped for a second. When he looked around, dim light returned and the bar came back to life. Michael tasted blood. It was dribbling from his brow, although he felt no pain and did not remember being hit. Front row, an oblivious drunk stared through the smoke screen in a daze.
A siren sounded in the distance. Michael had to get out before the police arrived. He could ill-afford getting caught, even in a simple brawl. Too many similar incidents already tainted his record. Who'd take care of his family if he went to jail? He headed for the restrooms, discreetly exiting through the back door. He needed a drink.
Ignoring the nip in the air, Michael ran up the dark alley and headed for the white Ford van with ladders and lumber on top. Sirens blaring, a flashing red and blue motorcycle entered the passageway.
"Damn cop!" At the brink of panic, Michael heard a loud whisper.
"To your left!"
To the left, he glimpsed a narrow opening between two buildings. Michael dove into it and flattened himself against the wall, hardly daring to breathe. Sweat chilled his hands. The police motorcycle drove by without slowing down. Michael let out a sigh of relief.
A strange music startled him. He turned to meet blinding blue light... Blinking, Michael protecting his eyes with one hand while his vision adjusted. In the blue halo, he faintly distinguished a frail silhouette. His jaw fell open.
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