An excerpt from Michael A. Black’s story “Seven Ravens” appearing in the anthology Horns and Halos, edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, funding now on Kickstarter.

It was one hell of a hole. I stepped over to what was left of the rear wall of the trailer to survey the crime scene. The smell of blood and death was pervasive. Broken plywood and torn aluminum littered the concrete slab upon which the trailer rested. I turned and looked for any discernible tire tracks in the dirt leading up to the slab and saw none. But on the cement itself there was something: a bloody stain that resembled the shape of a massive footprint. My first reaction was that the killer was also a graffiti artist. The footprint was much too large to have been real.

Inside, the bodies of three men lay in a twisted pile. Each man had been decapitated and their heads strewn about the room, which was a mess. Or rather, an explosion of murderous rage. Papers were scattered over the floor, a computer monitor was smashed, a desk was overturned, and the walls, once painted a light beige, were now splattered with blood. The rest of the furniture, six chairs and a couple of metal filing cabinets, had been smashed. The center of each cabinet was crushed. It looked as if the killer had jumped up and down on it.

“To do this kind of damage,” I said pointing toward the demolished wall, “he must’ve had some heavy equipment. It looks like it was pulled outward.” I turned and looked back at the bodies. “And this looks like it was done with an axe.”

Warren, one of the FBI agents on the scene, looked at me, smirked, and spoke with a condescending lilt to his voice: “Three tribal council members all decapitated and pretty much dismembered…What else could it have been, sheriff?”

Howard Redpath, the Tribal Police Chief, glanced at me with wary, dark brown eyes. He said nothing. I knew he didn’t like the idea of the feds being here anymore than I did. But we both knew they were going to take over handling things. They were the FBI.

“You got the State ET’s coming in?” I asked. “Or do you want me to call my people?”

“Either or,” Agent Warren said. “We’ve already got a strong suspect.”

“Care to enlighten me?”

The FBI man rolled his eyes, like I was a moocher asking to borrow twenty bucks and pulled a small tablet from his shirt pocket. Flipping up the fine leather cover, he said, “Charlie Whitefeather.”

“You’re saying that Charlie Whitefeather did all this?”

“He was seen lingering around the area of the lodge earlier,” Special Agent Warren said.

“And he’s also on record as having made threats against members of the council,” Agent Vickers, Warren’s partner, added. “Allegedly, for their failure to allocate any casino money to buy out some mining company, which he also threatened.”

I was familiar with Charlie’s comments, but put it off to the rantings of a drunk. “Ward Ellis’s company,” I said.

“Right.” Warren raised an eyebrow. “I take it you’ve heard of him?”

I looked at Redpath, whose face remained as stoic as ever.

“Everybody around here has,” I said.

Ward Ellis was a big, boisterous man in his mid-fifties, and his appearance was often compared to John Wayne back in his heyday. His company had moved in quietly about four months ago, buying an old, abandoned missionary school near the northern edge of the Rez. The school had once housed and educated Native American children but had been closed for over twenty-five years. Ironically, one of those children who’d been forced to attend the “mainstream cultural assimilation education” at the school was Charlie Whitefeather.

Nobody paid much attention to the situation until Ellis started moving in a lot of heavy equipment in the last few weeks. Then he announced his plan to start excavating the land adjacent to the Reservation. The Deer River was the dividing boundary line, and when the Tribe protested that his plans would pollute the river and devastate the land, Ward Ellis responded with his middle finger. He’d purchased the mineral rights to the area, he told them, and intended to start work in a few weeks.

The news media immediately seized upon the story and its environmental impact, but the boorish owner responded in kind: “What are you all complaining about? It’ll bring jobs to the area, for Christ’s sake, and give those Indians more money to spend at their casino.”

The Tribe and a lot of the local sportsmen didn’t see it that way. They took Ellis to court but found out there was little they could do. As a last-ditch effort, the tribal council was approached to make a buy-out offer to Ellis, to purchase the land and thus stop the excavation. This seemed to be a feasible plan and had been used in the past, but when it came to a vote, three of the five members voted not to allocate the funds.

Naturally, the disenchantment was palpable, and rumors of Ellis making under-the-table payoffs ran rampant, spread most notably by Charlie Whitefeather.

“Whatever,” Warren said, taking in a deep breath. “We don’t normally get involved in local disputes, but since these murders happened on the Reservation, it became a Bureau case. This one seems pretty open and closed, though.”

“If we can go pick up the Whitehorse fellow,” Agent Vickers said. “Maybe we can get back to Madison by nightfall.”

They were both dressed according to standard FBI protocol: immaculate medium blue suits, white shirts with ties, and black Oxfords so shiny that you would have thought they were patent leather. And maybe they were, but I wasn’t about to kneel down and check.

“Making threats is a far cry from doing something like this,” I said. “And it’s Whitefeather.”

“All the more appropriate,” Warren said. “The white feather’s a traditional sign of a coward.”

“Charlie Whitefeather’s no coward,” Redpath said.

Warren waved his hand dismissively. “Whatever. He’s disappeared from the area, right, Chief?”

There was a condescending lilt to the way he said “Chief.” The trace of a smirk remained on the Fed’s face as he turned to address Redpath. If the Chief caught it, he didn’t show any emotion, but that was typical of him.

I remembered thinking these two FBI guys had a lot to learn about Fulton County, the indigenous personnel, and homicide investigations as well.

Redpath turned to me. “Jim, I have no jurisdiction outside of the Rez. I’d like for you to handle things on this one.”

“Just a minute, Chief,” Warren said. “This crime occurred on federal land. It’s a serious felony, and therefore falls under the Bureau’s purview. We know how to handle these things.”

Redpath turned toward the FBI agent, his somber face still showing no more emotion than if was watching a horse fly landing on a pile of dung.

“Yeah, Mr. FBI,” he said. “You know how to handle things, but do you know how to handle Indians?” He turned back to me. If he saw the smile on my face he again didn’t show it.

“Any idea where Charlie’s at?” I asked.

Redpath shook his head. “I sent my deputy over to his house.”

“At my direction,” Warren said.

“His truck’s gone,” Redpath said.

“We figure he’s headed up to get Ellis,” Warren said. “The Chief here was telling me that Ellis lives in some kind of facility up there?”

“He does,” I said. “It used to be one of those old cultural assimilation schools. It’s pretty large.”

“This is all fitting together like the pieces of a puzzle,” Warren said. “I take it this Whitefeather guy’s a militant Native American environmentalist?”

“No,” Redpath said. “He’s an Indian.”

The FBI man’s face tightened into a frown, and I figured, despite my glee at Redpath’s retort, it was time for me to step in.

“So you think that’s where he might be headed next?” I asked. “After Ellis?”

Redpath nodded. “Be my guess.”

“Well, it’s safe to operate under that assumption,” Agent Warren said. “You know where it’s at, I assume?”

“I do,” I said. “We’ll need to alert the state police, too,” I said. “Put out a BOLO. They’ve got a pretty good air patrol.”

“Better tell them to hurry,” Redpath said. “Fog’s moving in.”

“Fog?” Warren said. “My weather app says it’s going to be as clear as a bell.”

“That another one of those glass balls you can see through?” Redpath asked.

Warren frowned.

“In any case,” Vickers said. “You need to start assembling some of your deputies.”

“If he’s headed north toward Ellis,” I said, “we’ll need a guide. That area’s pretty dense.”

“I have none of my people to lend you,” Redpath said, “with Dave Wolf being off sick, but I can give Tom Blackbear a call.”

Agent Warren’s brow furrowed. “Who’s that? Another reservation cop?”

“No,” I said, smiling. “He’s sort of an unofficial game warden.”

“Huh?” Warren said. “I’m not too keen on having some non-law enforcement, civilian slowing us down.”

“He won’t,” I said. “But if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll deputize him.”

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