This story is by Jodi Elderton and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Darcy glanced at her watch. Late again. Go figure. Always ruminating on the details and forgetting the big picture as time sped past her unchecked. That’s what made her a great detective, but she got wrapped up in minutia solving a case. Still, she kept enough clients to pay the bills. Besides, she lived for this. The case. The story. The big thrill of wrapping it up and catching the bad guy.
She put her unruly dark hair up in a haphazard ponytail and threw on jeans and her favorite t-shirt. Grabbing her laptop, she almost tripped over her dog, Spirit, who had thrown himself on the floor for a last-minute belly rub. Once inside her car, she instinctively felt for her gun tucked neatly in a holster concealed in her waistband. “Don’t leave home without it,” she could almost audibly hear her fiancée say in his most serious cop voice. Eli was gone, but she felt his constant presence as she went through her day. After moments like this, her heart ached with each beat until the activity of the day anesthetized the pain.
Hoping she wouldn’t get pulled over, she sped to her office. She had already used up her courtesy cards the Chief gave her, but counted on name recognition to get her off. How many Native American PI’s have the last name O’Connell?
Eli and Darcy had been an item since her days at the Academy. She couldn’t believe six months had passed. The investigators told her a truck missed a turn and T-boned his motorcycle. Another high-speed chase gone wrong that ended in an explosion. She had to give them his dental records to ID him. Her mouth became dry and a sick knot formed in her stomach. I can’t think about this right now. Focus.
Darcy ran up the steps of her office, as a gust of Oklahoma wind chilled her. It was late October and it had finally cooled off. The leaves had started to change and she hoped they would take their time so she could enjoy the blaze of color. Summer had been a long, sweaty endurance contest. Entering the building, she noticed a diminutive woman perched on the edge of a bench in the hallway. She nervously twirled strands of her long blond hair around her index finger.
Before Darcy had a chance to answer, the woman leapt to her feet, clip clopping towards her. The heels didn’t slow her down and they were perfectly matched to her stylish burnt orange suit. She looked like Autumn incarnate.
“Darcy. You can call me Darcy.”
“You can call me Ms. Martin, “she said, smiling tightly. Botox obviously, was a close friend. Darcy wondered why Ms. Fashion plate came to this part of town. Why not hire someone more her style?
As if Ms. M had read her mind, she replied, “I need to be discreet. I’m looking for a man.”
Chase him away, did you sweetie? Darcy thought. “What kind of case are we talking about? Infidelity? Workman’s Comp? You’re not a lawyer, are you?”
“Heavens no. I have plenty of those on retainer. It’s my son. I haven’t heard from him in two weeks. He’s supposed to be back by now, though his friends aren’t worried yet. He often goes off on his own. His name is Yona Ahnigilo.”
“Your son?” Darcy translated the name from the Cherokee. Bear Long Hair? Quite a mouthful.
“He’s adopted, “Ms. M shot back.
After interviewing Yona’s friends, Darcy set out for Southeastern Oklahoma. According to them, he planned to go to a sweat lodge ceremony. She decided to take Spirit along. It was easy to get lost in the Kiamichi Mountains and she could use the company. If she didn’t find this Yona guy, maybe she’d get a picture of Bigfoot to sell. The thought made her laugh out loud. The brilliant oranges and yellows of the Fall trees framed the view of the winding country roads.
The rustic cabin sat atop a sloping incline with a small river flowing at the bottom. Darcy took a deep breath and unlocked the front door. She and Eli had made this place their sanctuary from the craziness of the city. Inside, there was a handwritten note and a single rose. “Enjoy your stay Salali.” It seemed odd the innkeeper would use Eli’s pet name for her, “Squirrel.” Her fiancée never passed up an opportunity to teach her Cherokee. When the stars came out, she went out on the deck and stared up into the sparkling night sky. They would both pull their long dark hair back before getting into the hot tub. She often teased him about having longer hair. For a moment, she felt the firmness of his embrace.
The sun awakened her and by force of habit she reached over to the other side of the bed. “You’re supposed to be here, Dammit! Why aren’t you?” She kept telling herself she was not a crier, but the hot, wet moisture on her face betrayed her. Her thoughts were interrupted by Spirit sounding the alarm at the window.
She jumped out of bed, grabbed her .38, and opened the door. Spirit squeezed past her and both raced to the brush near the river. Loud, grunting noises were coming from the bushes.
“Spirit come NOW!” Heart pounding, she carefully backed up. To her relief, the dog followed and an enormous tusked pig squealed in the opposite direction.
“Buddy, that could have been bad for both of us,” as Darcy reflected on the stopping power of a .38 against the swine.
Yona’s friends narrowed the sweat lodge search down for her. Finding anything in this neck of the woods challenged her. Cell phone service was spotty and people gave directions by landmarks. On top of that, it’s Halloween, although she didn’t believe in any superstitious stuff. Native or White. Still, she felt uneasy. After changing into a loose- fitting skirt and tank top, she grabbed a large oversized towel and headed out. Doing her fire arms check, she wondered how hot the .38 would feel in the sweat lodge, as she tucked it back into the concealed holster.
“Congratulations, you found us! I’m Walking Eagle.” His face softened into a welcoming smile. He tipped his black felt hat, revealing silver hair.
The area was thickly wooded, with the shadows of the nearby mountains emerging, as the sun crept lower. Several cars pulled into the gravel parking lot, while other people emerged from the woods on foot. She knew Yona had gone with someone else, but didn’t have a vehicle description.
“That’s great for a newcomer. They usually get lost the first time. What brings you here?”
Darcy was ready to show him a photo of Yona. He reminded her of Eli. Proud, smiling and strong. She paused and her eyes told Walking Eagle what words couldn’t. She tucked the picture back in her waistband and followed him in.
Pulling back tent flap, Walking Eagle guided her to her place.
“I feel you need a healing.” He pointed to a spot. “Tradition says the western part of the circle is for those concerned with death and rebirth. It’s the hottest spot. Let me know if it gets to be too much.”
“Okay.” It was unusual for Darcy to be at loss for words. She wondered how she was going to find Yona in the darkness.
As each round of the ceremony progressed, it became pitch black. More rocks called “Grandfathers” were brought in. Walking Eagle poured water on the rocks, creating steam.
An older woman next to Walking Eagle, intermittently threw ground herbs on the fire, which provided brief flashes of light and filled the lodge with a pleasant aroma. The sight reminded her of a verse Eli often quoted, ‘Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame.’
Darcy slipped out of detective mode and felt nothing but intense heat and loss. Her tears mingled with the sweat pouring off her body. She felt dizzy and her mind melted into dreams of Eli. The pain of the last six months overwhelmed her, as her gasps grew into sobbing.
Darcy tried to take a deep breath, but couldn’t. Confused, she sprang up and stumbled out of the lodge. Tripping on a tree branch, she crashed into a tall, muscular body. He wrapped his arms around her. She struggled for a moment until she recognized the familiar touch.
“It can’t be. You’re dead! Am I hallucinating? Are you… Yona?”
“Very much alive. Bear Long Hair, in the flesh. I had to pull a lot of strings with the Feds to get here. I told them if they wanted me to testify, you’re part of the deal. If you don’t want to go, I understand. So sorry for all the pain I caused.”
Darcy buried her face into his chest. “Now who’s the squirrel? You’re not getting rid of me ever.”