Ora Mae Foreman relaxed on the balcony of the Cascade with her thermos of coffee, a bag of chocolate-coated doughnut holes, and the morning paper, and waited for the sun to light up the eastern face of the Rockies.
"A million-dollar view," Sterling Noseworthy told all the agents. "That's what you're selling."
It was baloney, of course, the kind that Sterling liked to slice and serve when he was trying to be motivational. To be sure, the views at Buffalo Mountain Resort were spectacular -- the mountains almost in your living room, the heavy forest of pine and spruce, the river racing down White Goat Canyon and leaping over the edge of the Bozeman Fault, and the vast expanse of prairies stretching out forever under the towering sky.
But the views aside, Ora Mae knew what Buffalo Mountain Resort was really selling -- the illusion that you had escaped the rush of the city for the sanctuary of the wilderness, the knowledge that you were among the elite in the vacation retreat game, and the security of the guard at the front gate.
There was wilderness out there, all right. Places to get lost. Cliffs to fall off. Bears. Moose. Maybe even a pack of wolves to brighten your day. But the condominium and casino complex was about as wild as Banff or Lake Tahoe or wherever the rich gathered for an outdoor adventure.
Ora Mae wasn't sure that the Indians had done the right thing, building the complex. Claire Merchant had made Buffalo Mountain the main issue in the tribal election, and Claire had come away with enough votes to carry the day. But not without splitting the council, dividing families, and destroying old alliances. Ironically, the most visible casualty was Claire herself, for her son, Stanley -- or Stick, as he was known to everyone except his mother -- disagreed with her vision of economic independence, formed a mildly militant organization called the Red Hawk Society, and began picketing the project. The protests had interrupted construction from time to time, but aside from the one day someone had bounced a bullet off an idle dump truck and sent everyone scrambling for cover, there hadn't been any real violence. Just hurt feelings and sore voices. And the bitter taste of having to choose sides.
But that was Indian business and none of Ora Mae's concern. When the complex opened in another week, her job was to move the units as fast as she could.
"Get a feel for the place," Sterling told everyone. "Walk through the models. Stand on the balconies. Imagine what it would be like to own a place like this."
Not that anyone in the office could afford one of the units. Even the cheap one-bedrooms on the north side, where the view included the top of the casino and the parking lot, were going for over a quarter of a million dollars.
Ora Mae was in the middle of the obituaries and working on the last of the doughnut holes when her cell phone went off. When Sterling first passed the phones out to all the agents, Ora Mae thought having a cell phone was the cream on the shortcake. For the first couple of weeks, every time it rang, she couldn't get it out of her purse fast enough. But it didn't take her long to realize that while the phone was cute, even useful, it was also a tether. The longer she dragged it around, the more it reminded her of her sister in Salt Lake City and her four kids. They were cute, too.
Now she hated the damn thing, and every time it rang, she would wait a little longer before she answered it. Most of the time, Sterling was on the other end, and Ora Mae didn't mind making him wait until the pond froze and the geese went south.
"Where are you?"
The man had all the social graces of shag carpet. Ora Mae licked her fingers slowly. They still tasted of warm chocolate.
"At the complex."
"Is everything okay?"
Ever since the models had been furnished and loaded up with all the goodies that rich people required, Sterling had worried about the place being vandalized. So, for the past two weeks, someone from the office had had to drive from Chinook to the complex each day, just to settle Sterling's mind that all of the models still had their potpourri and none of the expensive toys had gone missing.
"Have you seen Clarence?"
Clarence Fellows was Sterling's nephew, a young, muscular man just out of community college who thought of himself as a sports car. Especially when it came to women. When it came to work, however, Clarence was more an old bus with four flat tires and a dead battery.
"He was supposed to check the models yesterday."
"But I didn't hear from him."
"You try his cell phone?"
"Responsibility," said Sterling, his voice wading through warm custard. "The first imperative of a good agent is responsibility."
Ora Mae generally tried to steer clear of other people's business. "Don't worry, Sterling, everything's fine."
"Trouble" was Sterling's noun for anything gone wrong. An unhappy client was trouble. A bounced check was trouble. Floods, forest fires, terminal diseases, high interest rates, loose fan belts, tooth decay. Bad haircuts. Sterling liked things that were predictable and organized. Just what he was doing in the real estate business was a mystery.
"Not a drop."
"Because we don't want trouble, do we?"
It was a rhetorical question, and Ora Mae had given up answering that kind of question even before she left home and headed West to see the sights and make her fortune. That was twenty years ago, and all in all, the sights had been worth it.
"Don't forget to check all the units."
"Maybe Clarence is putting a big deal together." Ora Mae could hear the smile in her voice and wondered whether Sterling could hear it, too. Probably not, she thought. The only voice Sterling ever listened to was his own.
"And call me back."
Buffalo Mountain Resort had been designed by Douglas Cardinal and had already won several awards for the innovative way Cardinal had combined the demands of an upscale resort with traditional Native motifs and concerns. The most prominent building, the one you saw first as you came off the prairie floor and headed into the foothills, was the casino, a huge copper-plated geodesic dome that glowed and shimmered in the light.
The condominium complex itself was to the south and west of the casino. It was taller than the casino, but the gray concrete walls and the tinted windows made the building all but disappear into the face of the mountains.
Sterling had had an aerial photograph taken of the area and had tacked it to the wall behind his desk. You couldn't see the pattern from the ground, but looking at the buildings from above, it was clear that Cardinal had been both creative and literal. What the cluster of buildings most resembled, if you used your imagination a little, was a buffalo warming itself in the high plains sun.
Ora Mae reluctantly stood up and brushed the crumbs off the patio table. She folded the doughnut bag neatly, slipped it into her purse along with the thermos, and checked her shoes to make sure she wasn't tracking anything across the pale wool rug.
For just a moment, she thought about calling Sterling and telling him that a toilet had backed up and overflowed onto the carpet,
or that a large bird had flown into one of the windows and shattered the glass, or that a small electrical fire had damaged a kitchen. She took a moment's pleasure in imagining Sterling's face, but she didn't even think about opening her purse. That was one thing she and Sterling Noseworthy the Fourth or Fifth, whichever he was, had in common. She didn't like trouble any better than he did.
Trouble, Ora Mae's mother had told her and her sisters, was like a man, never in short supply, never too far away.
The Cataract was the smallest of the models, a long, narrow one-bedroom with a kitchen at one end and a living room at the other. Ora Mae had spent some time trying to find a good adjective for it, something she could use as a selling point. The closest she had come was "cozy." "Cozy" was almost the right size, but "cozy" also suggested good light and a warm, homey feel.
"Place is so small," she had heard Clarence tell Sterling, "a man can stand at the front door and piss in the toilet with his eyes closed."
It was male grunting. Ora Mae had heard it all before, and she was sure that the attempt wouldn't be worth the watching. If the bathroom at the office was any indicator, Clarence standing across the room from the toilet with his eyes shut wasn't going to be any better or worse than Clarence standing next to the toilet with his eyes open.
When Ora Mae opened the door to the Cataract, she had the distinct feeling that she was not alone. "Clarence?"
She knew about Clarence and Celia Brothers. It was supposed to be a secret, but probably the only two people who didn't know that Clarence and Celia had been touring the motels in the immediate area were Clarence's wife, Barbara, and Sterling. Ora Mae suspected that Barbara did know, in fact, and was just waiting for the right moment to cut Clarence's heart out.
"Clarence! You here?"
Ora Mae stood in the doorway and tested the air. It was heavy and stale. But above the formaldehyde off-gassing from the carpet and particleboard furniture, and the sharp stink of new paint, was an unfamiliar smell, acrid and sweet. An unpleasant smell. A smell that made her anxious and grumpy.
Word was Clarence had run out of motels in the area and had been bringing Celia out to the resort. But the one-bedroom unit? God! The man had no more romance than a Kleenex.
"Give it up, Clarence."
The bedroom was empty, and the bed had not been slept in. Thank God she didn't have to deal with Clarence and Celia naked and hiding in the closet. Ora Mae walked to the living room and looked out the window. Below, the top of the casino was bright gold and red, and all around it, the asphalt parking lot spread out like a lava flow, eating its way through the rocks and the trees and the thick prairie grass. She stood in the light and tried to imagine what she was going to say to prospective buyers to get them to pony up a quarter of a million dollars for a hallway with a designer toilet. Probably something about investment.
It wasn't until she turned around and started for the door that she saw the man.
He was slumped in a large wing-back chair facing the window. He looked comfortable enough, and if it hadn't been for the way his eyes stared at nothing in particular, Ora Mae might have thought he was relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet that came with owning a piece of Buffalo Mountain Resort.
As she stood looking at the man, she realized she hadn't taken a breath in the last little while. When she did, it was a long, deep breath, and as she pulled it in, she willed her shoulders to drop and her hands to relax. She had seen bodies before, and it had been a long time since she had let a man, alive or dead, scare her.
Ora Mae walked back to the Cascade. When she got there, she sat down, took the thermos out of her purse, and finished off the last of the coffee. The sun was up now, and as she watched Buffalo Mountain come to life, she realized that she hadn't really noticed the man's face. She didn't think he was anyone she knew, but she was sorry now that she hadn't looked at him more closely or checked for a wallet or a credit card, something that would give the man a name.
Ora Mae dialed Sterling's number first. She didn't want anyone else to give him the good news. Trouble. Ora Mae smiled to herself. That boy didn't know what trouble was.
Then she called the sheriff.
Then she called Thumps DreadfulWater.
Copyright © 2003 by Dead Dog Café Productions
DreadfulWater Shows Up
With his cop life officially behind him, Thumps now makes his living as a fine-arts photographer in Chinook -- a western town snuggled up against a reservation that's struggling for economic independence via investment in a glitzy new resort and casino complex called Buffalo Mountain. It's a slow-paced, good life for Thumps and his eccentric cat, Freeway. Most of the time. But when a dead body turns up in one of the just-completed luxury condos, things change fast -- and not for the better. Photographing corpses is not part of Thumps's master plan.
He can't help getting involved, especially when he realizes that the number one suspect is Stanley "Stick" Merchant, anticondo protestor and wayward son of Claire Merchant, head of the tribal council and Thumps's onetime love. If it affects Claire, it affects Thumps.
It seems that Stick disappeared just about the time of the murder. Coincidence? Or just bad timing? Thumps knows that the police often shoot smart-ass teenagers first and ask questions later. He doesn't want that to happen to Stick. But can Thumps find Stick in time? And can Thumps find a killer before a killer finds Thumps?
DreadfulWater Shows Up marks the arrival of a detective with a difference. With energy and verve and a very special voice, Thomas King and Hartley GoodWeather create an engaging and original page-turner that zings with memorable characters and biting social commentary.