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The Final Six-Pack
Nominations for the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma Book for 2007


Read an excerpt from

Dance of the Thunder Dogs
Courtesy of Berkley Prime Crime


2
 
People. All the people.

Vehicles filled the parking lot of the Comanche Nation Complex along Interstate 44. Emmett Quanah Parker took the tribal" get-off" in his mother's thirty-year-old Dodge Aspen. Time to start thinking in Oklahoma idioms again. Get-off meant turn off. A glance in his side mirror reminded him that he was leading a convoy of three Parker family pickups, all with right-hand signals blinking through the twilight. They were driven by young relatives he'd scarcely recognized after his long absence. He was a stranger to much of his own family, and his hospital stay until six weeks ago had further distanced him from them. The doctors had feared infection to his damaged left lung–white doctors who didn't understand that you can't catch things from your own kin, only outsiders.

The outside world is infectious. Outsiders brought infection.

His mother rolled down her window on the .evening heat of early June. It felt thick after all the years he'd lived in dry Phoenix. But there was also a vague comfort in its soft and familiar heaviness, the liquid warmth of the womb. I'm home. I'm not dreaming about home. I'm actually here. She held out her hand into the slipstream as if testing for a promise of coolness. Celia Ann Parker's fingers were curved and her knuckles swollen with arthritis. Her back was hunched. Age seemed to be making her tinier by the day. Still, she
was full of life. Did her unbroken connection to home give her that?

Emmett led the convoy of family vehicles onto the small tribal holding, not a reservation but a few acres held in trust by the government. And of all the buffalo that had once roamed this vast quarter of the southern plains used by the Comanche, only a hundred or so remained. Some of these now placidly grazed in a fenced pasture across the road from the tribal headquarters building, oblivious to the lost way of life they represented. Only
human beings were given to nostalgia, and the Comanche less so than other people.

"Where we going to park?" his mother asked. The lot was full.

"Jerome left a message he'd save us a place." Emmett slowed for the river of people streaming down the road toward the arena, an expanse of trampled grass shining greenly under floodlights. Not just Comanches, but members of at least a dozen tribes Emmett recognized by dress. Not dress, he reminded himself. The right word was regalia: fabric, beads, and feathers distinctive to each people who'd been removed from their homelands to Oklahoma, a Choctaw term that meant Place of the Red People. He himself
wore nothing elaborately Comanche, just black cowboy boots, Levi's, and a linen shirt with ribbons the tribal colors of red, yellow, and blue. He had every reason to dress to the nines, but hadn't felt up to it. He hadn't wanted an honor dance and would've declined if his mother hadn't been so pleased with the invitation. She'd had so little pleasure in her life. This morning at the Wal-Mart in Lawton, it'd been good to see her with her sisters, their
daughters, and their granddaughters, filling plastic laundry baskets with foodstuffs and household items for the giveaway at tonight's dance. Everything was reciprocal in Comanche life, and even if offered something as intangible as honor, you were expected to return the kindness with cans of Spam, boxes of Ritz crackers, and rolls of paper towels.

I'm home. Why don't I feel like it?

More law enforcement than usual was on hand for a Thursday night
dance, even if it was the kickoff for a weekend powwow. The tribal cops were reinforced by the Comanche County Sheriff's Department, and they by deputies from adjoining Caddo and Kiowa counties.

"There's Jerome," Celia said. "Oh my, he's gotten so heavy."

A jowly, grinning Jerome Crowe had stepped out into the Dodge's headlights and was pointing at several parking slots he'd staked out for the arrival of Emmett's entourage. He was the same age as Emmett, forty-one, but three times his girth. He wore a fringed fawn-skin jacket that was too warm for the night; his neck and forehead glistened with sweat. Hard to believe he'd been a sprinter on the track team at the mission.

Emmett shut off the engine and stepped out of the car. Gingerly. Waiting for the sharp edges of his mending ribs to give him pain. They did, but less so than they had yesterday, or the day before.

Jerome looked him over. "Hell, Pabi-you're still skinny. What's your secret?"

His secret was a chest wound he'd gotten that winter while on assignment in upstate New York. He was thirty pounds lighter than he'd been at Christmas. "Kima, Pabi." Come, Brother. Emmett widened his arms to enclose him. "I haven't been able to stuff myself with mama's fry bread until lately."

He wanted the years to melt away. He wanted the feelings they'd shared at the Indian mission near Anadarko. Although they both eventually went to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, they'd seldom seen each other in the intervening years: Jerome had gone on to Yale Law School and served at the Washington, D.C., headquarters.

But the old feelings wouldn't come.

He barely knew this portly stranger, who said with emotion, "It's been too long, Emmett. We can't let this happen again." A minute passed before Emmett could disengage himself from the man's fleshy embrace and open his mother's door for her. But she looked delighted that, already, her son was being so warmly received.

Jerome, who, like Emmett, was a few inches taller than six feet, bent over to hug the little woman. "Good to see you, Mother Parker." He hugged her again. The Comanche were big on hugs.

She asked, "What brings you home from Washington?"

"Your son's dance. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"You heard about this all the way in Washington?"

"You bet. The whole government keeps track of Emmett."

Celia took this in with a satisfied nod. Parker's face had been bolstered. The Comanche were as big on face as they were on hugs.

Emmett's sons and daughters were sifting forward from the pickups to await his instructions. Technically, they were his nephews and nieces, but these were white kinship terms. In the closely knit world of the traditional band, all persons were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, or brothers or sisters. Even unrelated persons were often addressed as such. Emmett had
seen these younger relatives so infrequently through the years that most of their names escaped him. Thankfully, his mother began organizing the transfer of goods from the beds of the pickups to the arena. The spaces Jerome had saved for them were next to the emcee's stand and the host club area–in this case, the Thunder Dogs, a warrior society that had taken its name from the original Comanche term for horse. Emerging from the mountains of Wyoming onto the northern plains four hundred years ago, the Shoshonean ancestors of the Comanche had been astonished to see
these massive animals whose hooves shook the ground like thunder.

His mother asked Emmett to look after the blankets, and Jerome followed him to the rear of the old Dodge. "This your car, Em?"

"No, mine's in storage in Phoenix." Sometime soon, he'd have to fly back and pick it up. And perhaps close down his apartment. But that'd be the final admission his career was over. An admission he wasn't prepared to make. As much as he loved being home with his family, he couldn't imagine anything here that could fill his time. He'd begun to wonder if he'd adapted too well to the outside world. "How are things going for you in D.C.?" he asked Jerome.

"Not so good."

Emmett paused in the midst of opening the trunk to look at his boyhood friend. "How's that?"

"Let's save it for later. Here, let me help you with those..."

Inside the trunk were blankets and a dance shawl purchased yesterday at the Eagle Trading Company in Anadarko. Most of the blankets had been modestly priced Mexican knockoffs with generic Indian designs. But four of them were the genuine trade articles, Pendleton blankets from Oregon, predominantly red, the color of protection. They had been three hundred dollars each. And the shawl had cost two hundred.

Comanche honor didn't come cheap.

They joined the file of Parkers who looked like porters on safari, bearing the laundry baskets of foodstuffs and boxes of oranges and apples. But before they could spread the gifts on a tarp near the drum group at the center of the arena, a law-enforcement type in a blazer delayed them to wave an electronic detector over their clothes and the blankets. "Who are you?" Emmett asked.

Jerome quickly intervened: "A couple VIPs might show later. You're not carrying your service weapon, are you?"

"No."

Jerome moved Emmett along as soon as they'd both been scanned.

The head drummer was setting up while trying to ignore the bomb-
sniffing dog wandering among his group, twenty men with drums, and at least that many women singers, who were unfolding their chairs around their leader.

Emmett asked, "Mind telling me what's going on, Jerome?"

"You'll see," he said cryptically. But enjoying himself.

Emmett didn't like surprises, and last thing he wanted this evening was a big to-do.

But then the head man began beating his drum, and the hair stood on the back of Emmett's neck. He hadn't heard that sound in a long time. He squinted up into the artificial sun of one of the floodlights, listening with his belly to the beat. The sound seemed to penetrate his navel and travel along his bones.

I'm home. ..aren't I?

When he looked down again, Jerome and the arena director–a kind of event manager–were standing on his right, and two sons, twin nephews, had lined up on his left. He struggled to attach names to their faces, which had matured far beyond those fat baby faces in the photos his mother had mailed him. Home was filling his head with so many sensations he found it hard to concentrate on any one thing. Home was overwhelming him, but he wasn't sure he wanted to be here. That he belonged here. He visualized himself alone in his Phoenix apartment at this hour—if not content, at least sedated by the weariness of one more day on the job.

He glanced back at his mother, hunched in her white beaded dress, yet smiling. She waited at the middle of a second rank, this one composed of five elder Parker women. Behind them, more ranks of relatives, a phalanx of kin, lined up behind Emmett and his honor men.

Bobbie and Billie.

Emmett exhaled with relief. He'd just recalled the names of the twins, who were undertaking this obligation with somber expressions that both touched and amused him. Jerome was still grinning at Emmett as if he'd eaten the canary, brimming with the surprise he obviously itched to spring on Emmett. Strictly speaking, Crowe wasn't a relation. But brotherhood was too valued to be measured by blood alone, and their bond had been forged in the confines of an Indian mission run by the Order of St. Benedict,
who invented the Christian monastic life. Pray and work. Jerome had submitted to the Benedictine way of life, finding solace and identity in it. Emmett had remained like many Comanche—–insurgently acculturated.

"Udah for coming, folks," the emcee said over the loud-speakers. Emmett looked to the man up on the stand whose face was half-hidden by the shadow of his Stetson. Then, as was the custom at all powwows, the emcee translated for the sake of nonmembers of the tribe, "Thanks for coming. Welcome to the start of our powwow. This year, to get things rolling, we'd like to honor a son of the Nuhmuhnuh, as we Comanche call ourselves, the People, who's been gone too long from home. Do you have the song?" he asked the head drummer, who replied in the affirmative by striking his big drum once.

The males of the group began beating out a steady rhythm. Emmett had heard it likened to a mother's heartbeat her baby hears from the womb.

He started his family around the drums. It was a step dance, and the pace couldn't be too swift. This was a chance for people from the crowd to either approach Emmett and press crumpled currency into his hand or leave the money with the arena director, who'd doffed his hat for the offerings. The bills were wadded up so no one but the giver would know the denomination of the bill. He was confronted by person after person he hadn't seen for years. Young faces had turned old, and old faces had turned older. Each made an offering, then joined the rear of the shuffling column.

Thankfully, Emmett did not have to say anything at this point.

The head drummer fell into the honor song. There were songs for most occasions, and new ones were composed all the time in a continuation of the tradition, but the familiarity of this one sent a chill up Emmett's spine. He knew this song well. It was about his own family. How the warrior Peta Nocona, He Who Travels Alone and Returns, took Naudah, She Who Carries Herself with Dignity and Grace, as his wife. She'd been born Cynthia Ann Parker to Texas pioneers. In 1836, at age nine, she'd been captured by a Co-
manche raiding parry. After a rigorous period of initiation endured by all captives, she was welcomed as a full member into the Quahada branch of the tribe.

So blood alone did not make you Comanche.

The drum women took up the story with shrill vibrato and made it soar through the sultry air: How, like all Comanche boys of that era, Quanah, the son of Peta Nocona and Naudah, had been pressed early into warrior service for his people. Quanah had barely been out of his teens when he led a war party against the U.S. Cavalry. His face painted black and riding a black horse, he charged the soldiers and shot one dead. Alone.

That is what the song emphasized. Alone he charged under the admiring gazes of his men. Alone he courted death.

Emmett looked over his shoulder at his mother.

Had she suggested this song to the head drummer ? Her expression was blank as she planted each rhythmic step. But Emmett knew that she sensed his ambivalence about coming home—weakened by his wound and by a failed love as well. What was she trying to say with this song? That above all, courage and good cheer were required of a Nuhmuhnuh? That these were the things that made you Comanche? Had he lapsed, somehow ?

I'm home in body, but has my spirit actually forgotten the way home?

The singers went on: How at the Battle of Adobe Walls, the last great fight against the buffalo hunters who were starving the People with their wanton slaughter of the herds, Quanah galloped through a withering fire from the big-bore guns of the hunters, leaned over, and grabbed a wounded comrade named Howea off the ground, carrying him to safety, although he himself was shot in the leg within minutes of the dramatic rescue.

The song ended on that high note. Of self-sacrifice.

The emcee descended from his stand and halted the column that was now fifty yards long. Hundreds of well-wishers had fallen in behind the Parkers in ranks of fours or fives, and Emmett's hands were filled with wads of cash. The arena director extended his hat to Emmett, who deposited the money in it. A thousand dollars, at least. It wasn't for the Parkers. All would be portioned out to the drum group and those who had helped put on the dance.

"Folks," the emcee broadcast, "Jerome Crowe will speak for Emmett Quanah Parker."

Jerome took the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, draping his arm across Emmett's shoulders, "this is my brother. I'm going to speak for him. Afterward, he'll keep to the old ways and give to those who honor him. So bear with me while I take you back..." Jerome paused, his round, sweat-damp face going still for a moment. "I'm of the Kotsotekas band, 'The Buffalo Eaters.' There are several bands of the Nuhmuhnuh and all of them are indebted to the Quahada, 'The Antelope Eaters.' From them came Quanah..." Jerome smiled fondly as he repeated the name: "Mothers, you remember the smell of your new babies?" The women, especially the older ones, nodded. "Well, Quanah means fragrance, and it was with that fresh smell of the newborn in mind that Naudah named her son. He became a fine man, strong and tall like Emmett here. When the Nuhmuhnuh were forced to fight to protect the buffalo on which their survival depended, Quanah rose to war chief. He fought in all the last great battles. When the war was done and the old nomadic life gone, he served us in another way. He took his mother's maiden name as a sign that we had to learn a new kind of living. We had to change. He taught us to adapt. He taught us to prosper, not just survive. And so the Parkers have always been counted among our protectors, all the way down to my dear brother and son here..." Jerome gave Emmett's neck a tender squeeze.

Emmett tried to smile but couldn't. He felt sadly out of step with this heroic past. And the humid heat was pressing on his body, making him want
to sit down. The full weight of the past was on him, like a boulder.

But Jerome was just hitting his stride, and it was an insult to make an honor speech too brief. "I call him my brother because we shared our youth together at the mission near Anadarko. I also call him my son now and again because I taught him everything he knows...”

As the laughter swelled around him, Emmett gave a flicker of a smile for the first time. But then he was distracted by tribal workers setting up wooden barricades behind the emcee and Jerome.

"After getting his bachelor's degree in criminology and anthropology at Oklahoma State University," Jerome went on, "Emmett served five years with the Oklahoma City Police Department, first in patrol and then as a detective with the homicide bureau..."

Two failed marriages during that tenure, Emmett recalled to himself. Long hours of work, punctuated by a haze of bars, parties, speeding drunk down the turnpikes late at night, driven by desire. Times the old people called 'roughing it out.' Nights that now shamed him for his lack of self-control. Quanah had been a master of self-control, finding balance and dignity in a world that had turned upside-down on him.

Am I Comanche only when I'm out in the white world?

"Three times, Emmett was decorated by the Oklahoma attorney general for valor in the line of duty. Incidentally, that A.G. went on to become governor and now occupies the highest office in the land..." There was polite applause, a couple of boos for the current president. "Fourteen years ago, Emmett's talents and deeds as an investigator came to the attention of the Secretary of the Interior, who personally asked him to come on board the law enforcement division of the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a criminal investigator. Fortunately for Indian Country, Emmett agreed, serving initially
at the Anadarko area office..."

His third and last marriage ended his first year with the BIA. Actually, he hadn't started in Anadarko. He'd started with an undercover assignment in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, although that stint didn't appear on his resume because it was still politically controversial.

". ..and then with the Phoenix area office, where he continues to
be posted, serving throughout the country as needed. Twice he has been named the Native American Law Enforcement Association's Officer of the Year…"

He'd missed the second presentation while in alcohol rehab. After that, he hadn't considered marriage again–until assigned on detail two years ago with Anna Turnipseed, an FBI agent of Modoc ancestry. That, too, was now finished. Of late, she wasn't even returning his calls. All in all, a smashing life capped by something he swore he'd never do–come home with his tail between his legs.

The crowd had gone quiet, and Emmett realized that Jerome had finished speaking and was offering the microphone to him. Taking it, he quietly thanked everyone for coming. Not much was expected of him after his spokesman had extolled his virtues. As was the custom, Emmett promptly returned the mike to Crowe and whispered to his old friend the name of the first recipient. Jerome nodded and announced, "Emmett Quanah Parker calls for our vice chairwoman." The tribal chairman was away on tribal business and had already sent his apologies. Emmett enfolded the vice chairwoman in the fringed shawl he had brought. Shawls for women and blankets for men.

Again, Emmett whispered to Jerome, who announced, "Emmett Quanah Parker calls for the Keeper of the Pipe of the Thunder Dogs."

A short but powerfully built man approached in the prescribed way,
clockwise around the drum circle. Unsmiling, Michael Mangas extended his hand, and Emmett accepted it. They shook. In the formal silence that followed, Emmett presented him with one of Pendleton blankets. Mangas was now the FBI's head resident agent in Lawton, although Emmett and he had first met as boys while attending the BIA school just outside of town. Emmett had been expelled and went on to the Catholic Indian mission, but the
two had met again as rookie patrolmen in Oklahoma City. He embraced Mangas. "Thank you for this honor. I thank all the Thunder Dogs for their consideration to me and my family. We won't forget this."

The agent kept a poker face, but it was apparent by a tiny frown that he'd picked up Emmett's intimation that the two of them weren't family. He and Emmett were related, although in a way most whites would find exotic. Quanah Parker had had seven wives. Emmett was a descendent of the first daughter of his first wife. Michael's line sprang from another of Quanah's wives–with an Apache twist. That branch had intermarried with Geronimo's band of Chiricahua, who had been detained at Ft. Sill after being run
to ground by the U.S. Army. Despite his Comanche blood, Mangas had Geronimo's hard-bitten scrawl of a mouth, although Michael wasn't his direct descendant. Quanah and Geronimo had never cared for each other. Neither had Emmett and Mangas. But, given tonight's public occasion, the agent and pipe keeper thanked Emmett for the fine blanket and embraced him in turn, stiffly. Mangas had lost his son in the bombing of the Murrah
Building. Emmett had not seen the man since that morning in 1995, but now was not the moment to offer his condolences. He'd do so at the first opportunity.

Emmett gave a Mexican blanket to some he had Jerome summon forward, a laundry basket of foodstuffs and household items to others. Making these choices was beyond him, but his mother stood slightly behind him, prompting in whispers even softer than his own, calmly telling him who should receive what.

They were down to the last few baskets when a bull buffalo lowed anxiously from the adjoining pasture.

Another sound swelled out of the northwest–the rotors of a large
helicopter in approach. Everyone craned for a look as the aircraft swooped down into the glare of the floodlights. The white-over-olive-green U.S. Marine Corps helicopter dipped out of sight behind the grandstands.

Emmett found himself flanked by two Secret Service agents. They were marked by their lapel pins and the radio wires snaking up out of the blazers and into their ears. "Please step this way, Mr. Parker," one of them requested, indicating a gap in the barricades that led to a podium that had materialized there. It bore the presidential seal. News people were ushered before it. Camera crews were the first to notice the army staff car borrowed from nearby Ft. Sill, pulling into the arena.

Emmett's mouth went dry as he realized that he now had a very big to-do on his hands.

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