A WHISPER IN THE WIND
THE BLACK HILLS 1876
The Black Hills - a land of fragrant pines and vast blue skies, a sacred land inhabited by the buffalo, the bear, the hawk and the eagle. An untamed land where the Cheyenne still roamed free
Accustomed to the ways of the white man, Michael Wolf agreed to seek a vision to fulfill the dying wish of his Cheyenne grandfather. Through a twist in time, Michael found himself in the past, in the last golden days before the battle of the Little Big Horn. Here, in the land of the spotted eagle, he would find the woman of his dreams.
Elayna had been raised to fear the Indians who roamed the land, but all that changed when she was kidnapped by the Cheyenne warrior now known as Wolf. In time, her disdain would change to desire as love blossomed between them, and with it a growing fear that their time together was little more than a whisper in the wind....
Yellow Spotted Wolf is dying. Please come home as soon as you can.
Michael Wolf frowned as he read the telegram a second time, and then a third. His great-grandfather was dying, and he couldn’t have picked a worse time to do it.
Michael swore softly as he tossed the crumpled telegram into the wastebasket beside his desk. Death and taxes, he mused ruefully, there was never a convenient time for either one.
Well, he’d have to go. He was all the family the old man had left.
Two hours later he was on his way to the Los Angeles airport. His secretary, Donna Miller, had taken care of his flight reservations, canceled his appointments for the rest of the week, and made sure that a car would be waiting for him when he arrived at the airport in Billings, Montana.
At the airport, he checked his luggage and boarded the plane with the ease of a man accustomed to travel.
Settling back in his seat, he closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. He hadn’t been back to the reservation since his mother died almost ten years ago. He’d left home the day after the funeral and never looked back.
Had it really been ten years ago? He’d only been a kid then, just turned sixteen. He’d hitched a ride to L.A. and after two weeks of living in back alleys and hustling handouts from strangers on the street, he’d found a job busing tables at the Brown Derby restaurant. It hadn’t taken him long to realize he needed to finish high school if he ever wanted to amount to anything, so he’d worked days and gone to school nights. It was shortly after he graduated from night school that he met the man who gave him his big break.
Gerald Walsh had been a regular customer at the Derby. He owned one of the biggest Cadillac agencies in Hollywood and was always looking for new blood, people who were unique in one way or another. Walsh had taken one look at Michael’s athletic build and swarthy good looks and the wheels had started turning. Wolf was tall, broad-shouldered, and handsome enough to be a movie star. From experience, Walsh knew it was usually the men who paid for the cars, but the women who picked them out. A good-looking salesman, one who had a certain blend of charm and charisma, could help a prospective buyer reach the right decision, and that decision was Cadillac.
Michael grinned as he recalled the sales pitch Gerald Walsh had dished out, dangling the lure of easy money and fast cars before Michael like bait before a hungry fish. It had been the best decision Michael had ever made. Walsh taught him how to dress, how to pick suits that emphasized his broad shoulders and long legs, what colors complemented his dark hair and eyes. He taught Michael all the tricks of the trade and then turned him loose. In less than six months, Michael Wolf was the number-one salesman on the lot. Women were fascinated by his rugged good looks, captivated by his natural charm and lazy smile; the men valued his knowledge of cars, his quick wit, his low-key sales pitch.
Michael had worked hard. He lived in an inexpensive bachelor apartment off Sunset Boulevard, drove a company car, and saved his money. He knew that, by going to work for a white man, he had become what the Cheyenne called a “rotten apple”, someone who was red on the outside and white on the inside. But he didn’t care. He was out to make a place for himself in the world, and that place would not be on the reservation in Montana.
No one had ever gotten rich living at Lame Deer. Most of the Indians didn’t have regular jobs. They just sat back and waited for their welfare checks to arrive on the first of the month. A few of the women did bead work, making jewelry and moccasins and trinkets to be sold to the tourists at the annual powwows. Many of them worked at keeping the Cheyenne culture alive, but there was no money in that, and Michael saw no value in hanging onto the old ways, the old beliefs. Times had changed. The world didn’t need great warriors anymore; it needed carpenters and plumbers, repairmen and mechanics, office workers and garbage men, doctors and lawyers. And car salesmen.
True, a few of the Indians held down regular jobs, working as teachers’ aides at the Indian school at Lame Deer or at the private school in Busby. Some worked in the school cafeteria, serving and preparing meals; some were janitors. But Michael hadn’t wanted a life like that. He had wanted out, and Gerald Walsh had been the key.
Michael had been a salesman for Walsh Cadillac for the last eight years, working six days a week, Sundays and holidays if necessary, and when Walsh started looking around for a new Vice President in Charge of Sales, Michael’s name had been at the top of the list. He was earning good money now. He lived in a swank two-bedroom apartment in the Hollywood Hills. He drove a new Caddy. He wore expensive, tailor-made suits and hand-tooled leather boots. He drank the best Kentucky bourbon, smoked the most expensive Havana cigars, dated some of the most beautiful women in the city, including an occasional movie star. He was going places, all right. There were already rumors circulating that when Gerald Walsh retired, Michael Wolf would be the new president of the company.
He dozed, his thoughts filled with dreams of power, and when he woke, the plane had landed.
Forty minutes later he slid behind the wheel of a new Lincoln convertible and headed for the reservation.
Memories rode with him as he traveled down the highway, memories of his mother, weeping quietly night after night while his father went to Jim Town to buy the liquor that was forbidden on the reservation. Jim Town was a joke, Michael thought bitterly. It was located only a few feet across the reservation boundary line, making beer and wine and whiskey readily available to the Indians. His father had been on his way home from Jim Town late one Saturday night, dead drunk on the white man’s firewater, when he fell headlong into a ravine and broke his neck. Michael’s mother had died six months later. The doctor hadn’t been able to find anything wrong with her, but Michael knew she had died of shame and a broken heart. And now only Yellow Spotted Wolf remained, an old man with iron gray hair, sharp black eyes, and skin the color of old saddle leather.
Michael grinned as he loosened his tie. Yellow Spotted Wolf had been a formidable warrior in his day. He had fought with Crazy Horse and Two Moons against Custer at the Little Bighorn. He had been at Standing Rock during the Ghost Dance. He had been one of the first to hear of Sitting Bull’s death.
Michael grimaced as he passed the Crow Reservation. The Crow and the Cheyenne were ancient enemies, and it seemed ironic that the white man had chosen to put their agencies side by side. Formerly, the Crow had been scorned by the Cheyenne for their allegiance to the whites, but it had paid off, Michael thought wryly. Of the two reservations, the Crow’s was larger, the land more hospitable.
A few miles down the road he passed the Custer battlefield. It was hard to believe that Yellow Spotted Wolf had fought with Crazy Horse at the Greasy Grass; it had all happened so long ago.
Michael goosed the Lincoln up to sixty. Yellow Spotted Wolf was almost ninety-six years old. If he hoped to see the old man alive, he’d better hurry.
The reservation was as he remembered it, flat, colorless, arid. The white man had never been generous where the Indian was concerned, Michael thought bitterly, and felt an old anger stir deep within him as he drove down the heavily rutted road toward his great-grandfather’s house. He passed “The Clinic”, which was the reservation infirmary, “Our Pump”, which was the single gas station, and ‘The Trading Post”, which was a store owned by a white man. Some of the Indians played bingo there on Monday nights. It was one of the few diversions available on the reservation.
Michael let out a long sigh as he parked the convertible beside his great-grandfather’s house. Nothing had changed. The house was still the same sun-bleached brown. There were no curtains at the windows, only sheets that had once been blue but were now almost white.
Reluctant to go inside, he stepped out of the car and gazed around. The reservation looked the same as it had the day he left. The dogs still ran in packs; the horses still ran wild. He saw a half-dozen sunflowers growing beside the house next door, together with a few limp tomato plants and a dozen rows of scraggly cornstalks.
He felt a sense of dread as he opened the door to his old home and stepped inside. The house was just as he remembered it. The same sagging blue-green sofa and worn leather chair occupied the same corner in the living room; the same dime-store print hung on the wall. The clock over the fireplace still said five o’clock.
“In here, Michael.”
He recognized the voice of old Mrs. Two Bulls and wondered if she’d ever forgiven him for riding his pony through her vegetable garden.
With purposeful strides, he crossed the bare floorboards and went into his great-grandfather’s bedroom. It, too, was the same as he remembered it. There was a double bed against the far wall, a three-drawer chest opposite the bed, a faded blue sheet at the window.
Mrs. Two Bulls stood up when Michael entered the room. “It was good of you to come so quickly.”
Michael nodded. “How is he?”
“He grows weaker with the passing of each sun,” she answered softly. “I think he waits only to see you again before he goes to meet the Creator.” She smoothed her apron over her long calico skirt. “You must be hungry after your long journey. I’ll go prepare supper.”
Michael stared at his great-grandfather, hardly aware that the woman had left the room as memories came flooding back.
“Come, Ho-nehe, let us go fishing.”
“Come, Ho-nehe, let us go hunting.”
“See, Ho-nehe, this is the mark of the wolf, and this is his brother, the coyote.”
Moving quietly, Michael sat down in the rickety ladder-back chair beside the bed. The old man’s hair was white now, his cheeks sunken, his hands gnarled with age.
Michael had never loved anyone the way he loved this man. Once, winning the approval of his great-grandfather had been the most important thing in the world.
It had been Yellow Spotted Wolf who had taught Michael to ride, to hunt, to fish. Even now Michael could recall how proud of him the old man had been, how he had basked in his great-grandfather’s praise. Yellow Spotted Wolf had been the most important man in Michael’s life back then. Michael’s father had never had time to go hunting or fishing or to go exploring in the wooded hills. His father had never had time for anything but whiskey. But Yellow Spotted Wolf had nothing but time. He had told Michael wonderful tales of the good old days, the days before the white man came, the days when the People were free. Michael had listened in awe as Yellow Spotted Wolf talked of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, of Gall and American Horse, of Two Moons and Dull Knife, of Little Wolf and Tall Bull…
Michael smiled faintly. No one had called him Wolf in a long time. “I’m here, Grandfather.”
“I knew you would come.” The old man’s voice was low and weak. “Come closer so I can see you.”
Michael pulled his chair closer to the bed, a sudden ache welling in his chest as he gazed into his great-grandfather’s eyes. Death was there, quietly waiting.
Yellow Spotted Wolf reached for Michael’s hand. “I want to go home.”
“You are home, Grandfather.”
The old man shook his head. “No. Home,” he said emphatically.
“To Mo’ohta-vo’honaaeva,” Michael murmured. “To the Black Hills.”
Yellow Spotted Wolf nodded. “Home.” The word was a sigh on his lips.
“Yes, Grandfather, when you’re better, I’ll take you home, I promise.”
“Now,” the old warrior said. “I do not want to die here, on the white man’s reservation. I do not want to die in this soft bed, or be buried on this land. I want to go home to the land where I was born.”
“Perhaps next week, when you’re stronger,” Michael hedged.
“It must be now,” Yellow Spotted Wolf insisted. “Next week will be too late.”
Michael swore under his breath. He’d planned to spend a night, maybe two, and then head back to L.A. There wasn’t any room in his schedule for a quick trip to the Black Hills. And yet, it was his great-grandfather’s dying wish. How could he refuse?
“All right, Grandfather,” Michael agreed. “We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
The old man smiled faintly as he squeezed Michael’s hand, then his eyelids fluttered down and he was asleep.
Michael sat there for a long time, wondering what the hell he’d gotten himself into.