Excerpt: STARMEN by Francis Hamit: Support the Kickstarter

Today is  Francis Hamit’s Birthday.  (Happy Birthday, Francis!)  He also informs us that the Kickstarter for his forthcoming “genre experiment” novel – STARMEN – closes on October 10th.  As his Birthday gift to all of our readers, he wants to make sure that you know that EVERYONE contributing to the project will be able to purchase the E-book edition of this 190,000  word epic for just one  dollar ($1.00).

That Kickstarter Project can be found right HERE.

As an additional  present for Amazing Stories readers, Francis and his editor have selected the following excerpt from STARMEN for your reading pleasure.  (Francis has also offered some future excerpts as well.  Keep an eye out for their announcement.)

But before we get to the genre  goodness, lets learn a little bit more about the author –  Francis Hamit:

FRANCIS HAMIT is the son of a US Army surgeon and his wife, a nurse.  He was exposed to the Scientific Method at an early age, grew up mostly on and around military bases, and became a science fiction fan and avid reader in Seventh Grade.  He attended middle school at Georgetown Day in Washington, DC, and graduated from Tamalpais High School in the Bay Area in 1963, where he studied Theatre.  He continued those studies in college, along with Business Administration.  He attended the University of Iowa’s Drama Department where his extracurricular activities included public service as an undercover police operative gathering intelligence about drug dealers.  A course in Playwriting changed the direction of his life and he became a writer.  His undercover work exposed, he took a sabbatical in the U.S. Army Security Agency for four years.  He served in Vietnam and West Germany, where he became an Army journalist.  Returning to Iowa City, he joined the Iowa Writers Workshop and supported himself by working as a professional photographer and then as an industrial/commercial real estate broker while getting a MFA in Fiction.  He moved to Chicago, where he worked in Industrial Security and as a freelance journalist.  His work for the Encyclopaedia Britannica exposed him to some great spy stories.  One of them was about the poet, playwright and spy Christopher Marlowe, and another was about Confederate spy Belle Boyd.  He developed these ideas into screenplays and novels while also writing hundreds of articles for trade magazines and other publications.  He worked in hotel security, where he found Fandom at a WindyCon.  It was the first of 113 conventions for him.  He moved to Los Angeles to be closer to the Entertainment Industry, and joined LASFS   It was there that he met Leigh Strother-Vien. She has been his roommate, best friend, editor and business partner for 34 years.   The past few years have been spent with ill health caused by his military service, but he has continued to write and publish.  He has also initiated film productions and published novels, short stories and articles.  He is at times a consultant.   At 79 his life is still a work in progress. You can find his Amazon Author Account here

There is presently additional coverage of Starmen’s impending release over on File 770, where you can read more about the run-up to its release and the author’s process.

Of his novel, the author has the following to say:

My mixed genre novel STARMEN is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to excerpts.  It’s about 190,000 words long and incorporates alternative post Civil War history, quantum mechanics, Apache Indian myths and some rather nasty Aliens.  It begins in 1875 El Paso, Texas at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.  Some of the detectives are witches.  So are some of the Apaches.  There are also some romance elements. And politics. 

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An Excerpt from STARMEN by Francis Hamit –

Scottish anthropologist James George Frazer has joined an Apache tribe to record their legends and customs but must relate some stories of his own. This is in 1875 near El Paso, Texas

Frazer said, “I can tell you the legend of Finn McCool and his son Ossian.”

Lone Eagle tilted his head and said, “That sounds more like an Irishman than a Scot.”

“Ah, yes. Well, long ago in the distant reaches of time the Irish and the Scots were part of a larger tribe called the Celts, and they were also a powerful tribe of warriors who fought the Romans.”

“Romans? As in the Roman Catholic Church?” Lone Eagle spit on the ground. “Any who took those bastards on is worthy of consideration. You can tell us later.” Lone Eagle looked at Jesus severely. “First we must make camp. You can help my son gather wood for the fire.”

Frazer decided this was not the time to explicate the complicated relationship between Rome and its most prominent surviving cultural institution. He trudged off with Jesus and discovered what the term “tenderfoot” really meant. And discovered as well a species of plant that seemed to be composed of very sharp knife blades. Feeling the eyes of the Apaches watching his every move, he made no complaint. He focused on the task at hand and did as he was told. The arrangements were not that much different than those his uncles made in the Scottish Highlands. A meal was served in a large common earthernware bowl with everyone dipping with tortillas to claim a portion of a savory stew of antelope meat and corn. He was enormously hungry, but careful not to take too much.

As the evening became darker he found himself seated at Lone Eagle’s right hand. A place of honor without doubt. Everyone was watching him with rapt attention.

“Ah, yes. Finn McCool, or as he was known in his time ‘Fionn mac Cumhain’.”

Lone Eagle held up his hand. “How would I say that in Spanish?”

“Finn of the Cumhain tribe?”

Lone Eagle pursed his lips and shook his head and Frazer tried a bit of his own Castilian Spanish. Lone Eagle laughed. “Between the Scottish burr of your English and that old tongue used by the Conquistadors I can barely make it out. Perhaps we should use Latin?”

“I read it well, but don’t really speak it. The Anglican church discarded it some time ago.” Frazer was perplexed. Latin? An Apache who spoke Latin?

“It was beaten into me for six years by the Holy Jesuit Fathers who tried to ‘civilize’ some of us. A lamentable failure in my case, as you can see.” Lone Eagle repeated what he had said in Spanish and there was the sound of quiet laughter from the other braves.

“Everyone here speaks Spanish?” Frazer looked around the circle. There were murmurs of agreement and a chorus of, “Si, señor.”

Frazer shrugged. “Let us adventure together,” he said to Lone Eagle; “I will speak, and if you don’t understand, I will say it again and you can tell me the way you would like to hear it. That way I can learn the proper way to say it. And I can also tell my stories to your satisfaction.”

One of the older braves, Kicking Horse by name, challenged him, “You do not say your way is best? What kind of White man are you?”

“One who seeks knowledge. I am here to listen to the Apache, but if you want to know my truth I will tell it to you, and the legends of my people.”

There was a loud murmuring sound around the circle and Frazer watched the flickering light from the flames of the fire dance across the features of the Apaches. What he had said had to be repeated several times by Lone Eagle in Spanish and the Apache tongue. Eventually they were all looking at him again.

“We have decided to give you a name in Apache,” Lone Eagle said. “‘He who speaks strangely’.”

But true, I hope, Frazer thought. He was beginning to feel less a stranger and more a companion now. Not yet a true member of the tribe, but his path had begun. He raised his hands and began again.

“Finn McCool was a mighty warrior and hunter who lived eight hundred years ago. His son, Ossian, was a poet who left a written record of his tribes’ deeds. Ossian’s mother was Maurine MacCaine, the daughter of the chief of a rival clan, er, tribe, and the granddaughter of a high priest or Druid, what you would call a Brujo. Finn wanted to marry Maurine but her father refused. So he abducted her…”

“With her help, I bet…,” said Kicking Horse. Everyone laughed. It was an old story. Some of them had wives who’d come to them just that way.

Frazer, comfortable now, got back to his tale. “The father appealed to the High King; the chief of all chiefs, and Finn was made an outlaw and gathered his tribe around him and went into the wilderness….”

“They ate it up,” Frazer told Blake Tilman a few days later as they sat having real English tea at a new establishment called Mildred’s Tea and Crumpets. “When I got to the part about the son, Ossian, meeting his love while hunting they were open-mouthed with amazement.”

Tilman smiled as he poured them each a second cup. “Why was that?”

“Well, the young lady had been turned into a deer by a Druid, or, if you will, Brujo, because she had refused to marry him, and placed in the forest to be killed or savaged by the hunting dogs, but what Ossian did not know was that his hounds were also bewitched, men who’d offended another Druid, and they placed themselves in front to keep Ossian from killing her. When he realized what she was, he took her in his arms and she became this beautiful young woman. In gratitude, she married him instead. The Apaches agreed that this was a bad business and that a powerful Brujo should not act so badly. Then Ossian was called by the High King to defend the country against a rival clan, and while he was away, that evil dark druid, came to her and turned her back into a deer. She disappeared. Ossian spent many years looking for her, but never found her again.”

“Ah,” said Tilman “A lost love. Always a romantic theme.”

Frazer smiled. “You read romances?”

“I read everything.” Blake leaned forward, “I was named after William Blake, the poet. My mother was very taken with his verse. And my father had literary ambitions. They were involved in the Transcendentalist Movement. Emerson, Thoreau and that crowd. My father taught school in a Maine fishing village and sent poetry to The Dial. ”

“My father is also a teacher,” Frazer said. “So you’re a transcendentalist detective?”

Tilman laughed and shook his head. “Not really. I am an individualist, but I never studied religion and have no opinion about God beyond that there may be something to it, but I have no idea what.”

“A Deist, then?”

“If you like. Tell me more about your adventure with the Apaches.” Tilman thought that Frazer was holding something back. What it was, he had no idea. Harry McLean was suddenly quite interested in Fraser’s work. He suspected the charming young man had a hidden agenda. He’d tasked Tilman with finding it.

Tilman was starved for intelligent conversation, and here was a Cambridge University don who could feed that hunger. His mind was never far from his New England intellectual roots. He looked the young Scot over carefully. A few weeks in the wild had dramatically changed him. He’d acquired a deep tan that made him look much less like a White man, and had shaved his beard as well. Apache men did not usually have facial hair. There was a stillness and strength about him that had not been there before. And he had an open collar now and wore the white emblem with its fierce red god openly.

Frazer deflected his gaze for a moment and looked around the room. It was well appointed with homey touches such as lace doilies, linen napkins, fine china bread plates with pastries. They were the only men in the room and the subject of covert glances and whispered conversation among the women seated at half a dozen other tables, being served by two large, handsome Negro women in their forties.

“Why come here?” Frazer asked.

“My landlady recommended it. Perhaps as a joke. I’m Temperance and complained about people always trying to force alcohol on me. They serve none here.” Tilman laughed. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “The church ladies have come to El Paso to shellac a thin veneer of Western Civilization upon its pagan past. This is their own ‘den of iniquity’ where they can whisper to each other their shocked disapproval. We had them in Maine. My mother crossed swords with them more than once, for refusing to teach the Bible and telling the girls they need not be subservient to men and could find their own way. She had the lower grades. They also suspected her of being part of a circle of women who danced naked by the light of the full moon from time to time.”

“And was she?”

“She never said and I never asked,” Tilman replied.

Frazer blinked and changed the subject.

“I have to say, while I enjoy a good single malt, I had nothing of that kind offered me by my Apache friends. I didn’t miss it much.”

“So what else did you tell them?”

“Scottish creation myths. How the terrible giant hag gathered rocks and earth from the sea and heaped it up to make the hills and deep valleys of the Highlands. I had to act that out. Took a blanket, pretended to fill it and dump it. They drummed and chanted as I did it, so I may have tapped into some religious ceremony of their own. And I told them about the terrible winter hag, Beira, who always fights the coming of spring with storms and snow and cold rain coming down in sheets. She sends her eight powerful disciples in all directions to resist the coming season, but the sun and the moon overrule her and Bridee, the beautiful maiden who brings the world back to life is born, flowers to womanhood and marries Angus, the Summer King, who comes riding in on a silver steed. The land prospers, the harvest comes and then Bridee and Angus ride away to prepare for the next rebirth and Beira begins to sneak back in.”

“Interesting. There are festivals, I suppose. We had some of that back in Maine. Very toned down because of the Calvinist and Puritan influences. Sinful. Transcendentalism was a reaction to that. ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ ”

Frazer was still following his own line of thought. “The Apaches have a similar myth. The Old Woman Who Does Not Die and who brings forth the Corn Maiden. Think of that! Thousand of miles and thousands of years apart and the basic theme is the same. Almost the same religious aspects. Reverence for nature and a keen appreciation of the moon and the stars. They do not measure things the same way White men do. Not miles, but the number of days needed to ride somewhere. And measure time not with a watch but by where the sun is in the sky. Maps are foreign to them, as are writing and numbers.”

“Emerson commented on that in his essay about Nature,” Tilman interjected.

Frazer nodded and continued on.

“White men are a malevolent force of nature sent by enemies from the other world.”

“The other world? Like heaven and hell?”

“Somewhat, but different. It is hidden knowledge, both sacred and secret. Brujos can travel there, albeit with great difficulty. But they want the knowledge preserved. Written down, which is why they are showing me such tolerance and regard. They know what the Conquistadors did to the Maya.”

Tilman looked surprised. “Speaking of years and miles apart.”

“You know the story?”

“A little. Burned their archives?”

“Put everything in a room, declared it all the work of the Devil and burned every manuscript and religious idol they could find. Wiped out their entire history. Gave them a clean slate for teaching the new religion.”

“No Gods before me. This is why I’m not a Christian.”

“Reading that book you lent me gave me some perspective. The author has a grudging respect for the Apaches and describes them in great detail along with the other tribes. He is an honest broker and pinpoints the folly of trying to ‘civilize’ them. It boils down to ‘do it our way’ or die.”

Tilman nodded. “God save us from True Believers. That’s a Unitarian prayer from my youth. But we had our own True Believers. Very keen about Abolition and freeing the slaves and willing to ignore an evil law like the Fugitive Slave Act. We created the Underground Railroad, you know.”

Frazer stared at him a moment, very surprised. “I always thought of Transcendentalists as a literary movement rather than a political one.”

“It was political up to its collective necks. Free the slaves, let women vote, free and open education for all, that was us. And Mister Emerson was wealthy and willing to put his money where his mouth was. My brothers and I bought a fishing boat with money he provided. If you lived in that village and wished not to be considered idle and useless you learned to fish, not with a pole but with nets to harvest cod. The nobility of labor was preached to us by our parents, but it was hard, dirty, dangerous work. No one thought anything about it when the three of us got our own boat. They admired our enterprise and found us all wives. Our true purpose was hidden. We took fugitive slaves to Nova Scotia, sometimes as many as twenty at a time, concealed in the hold where we put the fish we caught. That could be dangerous as hell. Most of them had never seen the sea much less been on a boat, and if we encountered rough weather could become quite alarmed. Panic could sink us. My brothers and I all carried Colt’s revolvers and tried to keep them calm. Failing that, we told them to stay below and if they did not, we would shoot them and throw them into the sea.”

Frazer was taken aback. “And did you?”

“Only once. Never had to do it again. Word traveled fast. Harriet Tubman used a similar threat to keep people in line when she was bringing them North.”

“I am a stranger in a strange land,” Frazer said. “I had no idea that idealists could be so brutal. You are a bit of a contradiction.”

Tilman nodded. “As Walt Whitman said, ‘do I contradict myself? I contradict myself and contain multitudes.’ My work requires me to start ever day anew, without prejudice or reference to what has gone before. I float as light as a feather and as heavy as a boulder.”

He looked over Frazer carefully, thinking that that sentiment might end up in his notebook. Was he brave, foolhardy or simply insane? Who could tell?

“You are still intent on the vision quest?”

“I feel that I must try if I am to truly understand them. I must go deep into the Apache mind to truly write their stories.”

Tilman drank the last of his tea and considered his next words carefully. “Don’t go so deep that you can’t come back. They have a word for that here.”

Frazer’s head came up like an animal suddenly alert to a danger unforseen.

“And that is?”

“Renegade. Outlaw.”

“Oh.”

Tilman added helpfully, “Pinkerton’s does not abide outlaws. We catch them or kill them.”

Frazer nodded slowly. “I will be careful.”

“You should read Mister Cremony’s book again. In the first part of it he is quite a young man, full of vigor, like you, and armed to the teeth as part of a group sent to determine the new boundary between the United States and Mexico. And the first Apache he meets has one question.”

“What are you doing on our land?”

“Precisely. The treaties that established the boundary commission are something they had no part of. Had not even been invited to because they were savages and therefore dismissed as lesser men. The result was desolation and terror for decades. They and the other tribes hold their land to be theirs and theirs alone: a vast expanse that includes much of Northern Mexico where they already terrify the locals. Turn the proposition around and you have a people whose land and culture have been invaded and who are fighting a rear guard action with every means at their disposal. They were not consulted because they are demeaned as savages. Ignorant people try to elevate them to ‘civilization’, which is anything but civilized in its application, and excuses all sorts of crimes against them. We need a new ontology to understand them by looking at it from their point of view. When a leader of the country says things like ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’ then we have failed to properly apprehend the Apache mind. They are a proud people who merely wanted to be left alone. The White man is seen as an existential threat. They will not yield, and will go down fighting. Cremony never said it that plainly, but it’s there in every line of that book.” Tilman became uncharacteristically excited as he said this.

Frazer was impressed by his passion. He became aware that other people in the room were staring at them. “That’s quite a radical viewpoint for someone who does what you do.”

“Which is why I ask that you keep this between us. Harry McLean would not be pleased and would have questions. Questions I have not yet decided myself.”

“Does a Transcendentalist have any business being a detective?”

Tilman sighed. “The essence of being a detective is to have an open mind. Pinkerton’s is a big agency now, and Allan’s sons are taking over. As they should. But they forget our roots. Harry and Allan were Chartists back in Scotland, in the Low Country, and exiled for it, and they were as radical as Emerson and Thoreau in the John Brown era. Also part of the Underground Railroad, and provided detectives who protected Frederick Douglass and kept the slave catchers from bothering him on his lecture tours. I was one of them. Anything to get away from the stink of cod.” Tilman laughed again. “We do not enforce the law, except for clients. We are not from the Government. Our clients are larger than it. And sometimes opposed to it in their zeal for power and profit. I liked the business better when we still had a moral center and wanted to do good. Now we seem to be losing that. Money can trump honor sometimes.”

Frazer stared at him trying to take it all in. “Have you killed many men?”

Tilman stopped, stared at him, suddenly red with anger.

“That is a very rude and juvenile question, Jim. I am a soldier. I was at Gettysburg and killed more on those three days than I could count. In the service of the cause that John Brown started, to end Slavery. A noble cause most say, but they were not there and can’t grasp the horror of it. Now, my work sometimes requires me to kill a very bad man under the color of law. ‘Dead or alive’ is on the warrant. So, yes, I am a killer, but I prefer to think of it as being a hunter. You might say that to your Apache friends so they understand that our quarrels are not with them. In fact, there are times we would welcome their assistance and pay handsomely for it.”

“Money does not interest them. I made that mistake myself.” Frazer watched Tilman signal for the bill. “I hope I have not offended you. I humbly apologize if I have.”

Tilman shrugged. “De nada. We’re still friends, and it’s partly my fault for having brought the matter up. Read the Cremony book again. As prejudiced as it is, there is a lot of good information in it.”

One of the Negro hostesses approached, a pot of hot water in one hand and a look of concern on her face.

“Will you gentlemen require anything else?”

Tilman smiled at her. “I think we’re about done. Jim?”

“Certainly. Thanks for the tea. It was a touch of home.”

The hostess leaned over and spoke softly.

“Do you really know Frederick Douglass?”

“I had the honor of attending to his safety before the War, along with others from my agency. I would not say I actually know him.”

“Well, bless you, sir. We try to discourage political talk here, since we are new and need all the custom we can get, even from rough men like yourself, but those ladies come every afternoon to gossip and drink tea by the gallon, so next time, please restrain yourself.”

“I will,” Tilman said. “I apologize for the disturbance.”

The hostess turned to Frazer. “And you, sir, please put that heathen icon away and do not show it again. We are Christians here, even if you are not.”

Frazer tucked the medallion into his shirt. “I also apologize. I did not mean to offend. This is part of the ethnographic study I am engaged in. An older god.”

“Call it what you may, sir, I know the Devil when I see him.”

Outside the tea shop they shook hands to reaffirm their friendship and parted. Frazer walked back to clear out his room at his hotel and decided to place his White man goods in safe keeping with Harry McLean at the Pinkerton office. Then he would ride away, clean shaven and in buckskins to begin his vision quest with Lone Eagle and other shamans.

Later at the Pinkerton office, Frazer was slightly surprised to see Jesus, now in the more respectable guise of a White youth, wearing a collarless shirt, black broadcloth trousers held up by suspenders, and brogans, going over a hand-drawn floor plan with Harry McLean and Blake Tilman. They were absorbed in planning an operation, so he simply dropped his gear in a corner and bid them goodbye. In the street below, Lone Eagle and Kicking Horse waited with an extra horse for him. He mounted easily and they rode away, with Frazer thinking of a character from Apache myth he had recently learned of: Coyote, the trickster god.

Harry McLean regretted not having give Jim Frazer more than a cursory wave as he left. Against his better judgement he had grown fond of the boy and wished him well, but the transformation after a few weeks with the Apaches was startling, to say the least. He was a completely different person now, a hazard not unknown in the Ethnographic Survey: falling in love with the subject of your research and ‘going native’.

During his own service before the war, McLean himself became an ardent Abolitionist, despite the fact that he found most Blacks strange and unknowable. Their plight as “property” aroused his indignation when he saw one poor Black man whipped to death in public “to encourage the others”. It was not just that nothing could be done, but that this was accepted as right by otherwise charming and decent people.

Very smart Black people saved their money and resisted the temptations of cheap liquor, candy and ready-made suits sold at special slave stores. Over time they accumulated enough to buy themselves free and were able to keep all the money they earned. McLean, always the thrifty Scot, admired that. But Negroes were a people to themselves. They kept a distance from other races even when free. The ones that worked in the big houses had impeccable manners and were the biggest snobs of all, far from shy of bragging about the wealth and position their owners possessed.

Some enjoyed fooling the White Man and it was among these that Allan Pinkerton found some of his best detectives. White people simply did not see them. They were invisible. For McLean and the other White detectives, especially if they were immigrants and had felt the sting of prejudice themselves, such Negroes were in a different class. Not that you would ever invite one home for dinner. McLean, having risen in the ranks to Branch Manager, became color-blind. The older he got, the more Liberal he became and the more open to simply judging those under his control by their merits.

John Scoville, the first Black detective Pinkerton hired, was still a close friend. They’d worked many cases together. That was the essence of being a detective: standing apart from your own emotions and considering each case with cold objectivity. And it was this he wanted to apply to Frazer, who’d transformed himself so radically. Scientist or spy? Who could tell?

A few days before, just after the big balloon had flown away, a troop of cavalry came thundering into the square. Forty seasoned troopers of the Ninth. All Black except for their leader. He was short, blonde-haired, sunburned, and, at the age of twenty-two, already a Captain, proving that, unlike most graduates of West Point, he had no reservations handling Negro troops.

The soldiers dismounted and refreshed themselves from the offerings in the market stalls, being careful to pay for everything they took as their leader made inquiries. Soon he was walking at a brisk pace towards the Pinkerton office where Harry McLean and Blake Tilman were sorting the day’s mail. His First Sergeant went with him – a very tall muscular man of forty with a stern face that befitted his office and kept the more rambunctious troopers in line. He had a deep powerful voice to match. But he stood silent and two paces behind as the young Captain pulled off his thick leather riding glove and offered his hand.

“John Pershing, Sir. I’ve been sent to find some people in a hot air balloon. Some sort of circus performers? The telegram from Washington was not very clear. People in the marketplace said you might know something about it? Are you Mister McLean?”

“I am,” McLean replied, and stepped forward to shake his hand. “I had no idea that the response would come so quickly. I only wrote to my old friend Elmer Washburn last week. I’m afraid that they have moved on. Flew away just hours ago.”

Captain Pershing frowned. “I’m not sure I understand the urgency here. How much of a threat can some circus performers in a hot air balloon be?”

“Well,” McLean drawled, “When the performers all have new Winchester rifles and Colt’s revolvers, and are very intent on keeping people away, it’s interesting. The fact that their pilot is Sir Percy Wyndham is even more interesting, as is the fact that Rose Greenhow’s daughter, who now resides in Liverpool, is the star performer and also seems to be giving the orders. That young woman is no friend of the United States.” McLean turned to Tilman. “Have I left anything out?”

“The Gatling guns. You didn’t mention them.”

Pershing’s head turned as if he had heard a rifle shot. He looked back over his shoulder at the huge Black First Sergeant. “What do you think?”

“That it was a hard ride and that the men need to rest and eat, Captain. And that Gatling guns change the tactical situation.” His deep melodious voice filled the room like a hymn in church and gave everyone a moment for reflection.

“Yes,” said Captain Pershing after a moment. “Go see to that while I collect further intelligence.” The First Sergeant saluted, turned and went out the door and down the stairs. The loose, noisy one groaned, as if it might break under his weight. Pershing turned back and asked, “What else can you tell me?”

This put Harry McLean in a bit of a fix because he did not want to betray the confidences of Jim Frazer, who was now a Pinkerton client, nor mention that he had placed an agent of unknown and dubious reliability aboard in the person of Jesus Martinez.

“Well, we did not actually see any Gatling guns,” Harry McLean said, as he motioned for Perishing to take a chair and poured him a cup of coffee. Tilman went back to sorting the mail while listening carefully to every word.

In the end, Captain Pershing decided to wait a few days for further reports of the balloon and its location. This would give him time to rest his men. He took his troop a few miles outside of town and bivouacked them there.

After he left, McLean turned and looked at Tilman, who was deciding which Wanted posters would be placed on the corkboard near the door.

“What did you think?”

“They seem very capable. That officer is no political hack to be here, working with Blacks, and to have attained that rank so young. Not given to displays of pride and he listens to his Sergeant who is also very professional. Of course I was a Sergeant myself, so I have a bias.”

“Anything interesting in the mail?”

Tilman looked for and found a gray envelope, which he handed to McLean.

“There is this.”

McLean looked at it, turned it over in his hands looking for a return address and found none, saw that it had been slit open with Tilman’s pen knife and pulled out the contents. There was a wad of new greenbacks and a note.

“Gentlemen: Please contact Captain Pershing and no one else at Fort Bliss should you need assistance. A Retainer for secret service is enclosed. E. Washburn.”

McLean looked at it unhappily.

“Seems we will be sucking on the Government teat once more.”

“You do not seem pleased.”

“The U.S. Government is the client from Hell. Very demanding and slow to pay. We let them go after the War. It’s usually not honest work. Very political. The last job we did for them was to snatch La Fayette Baker’s briefcase during President Johnson’s impeachment trial.”

“What was in it?”

“Enough evidence to sink him and maybe even get him hung. Johnson was immoral and corrupt, and had the bad taste to let a woman of the town do her business with him on Dolly Madison’s furniture, but that’s not a high crime or misdemeanor. Baker had proof of dealings during the war involving him in smuggling cotton from Southern ports to England. He secretly invested in blockade runners. The price was sky-high and fortunes were made. The South used that money to keep the war going after Gettysburg and sold millions of pounds of so-called ‘cotton bonds’ to speculators in England and France. Those would only be good if the South won. Without that money, they would have gone under in sixty-three after Gettysburg.”

Tilman, never one to express his emotions, looked angry and disturbed.

“That’s treason. Why not bring the matter forward?”

“Because Johnson was not the only one in the plot. Several Senators and former Senators were involved, all pigs at the trough. One of them was Judah Benjamin, who could corrupt a saint. Before the war he was the junior senator from Louisiana. He knew them all, and all their dirty little secrets and sins. And from his safe place in England, where he is now a leading barrister, he manipulated the other side to push for the impeachment. Baker was a hard man and no fool, and a half-way decent detective, but he was also a fanatic about fraud and corruption.”

“I know. I served with him.”

“Did you now? Were you there for that debacle?”

“By that time I was working at a coal mine in Pennsylvania, looking for radicals. I only know what I read in the newspapers.”

“Ah. Well, Allan took on this mess with great reluctance. Several of our railroad clients ‘suggested’ it. Said if it got out, it would bring down the government.”

“And land several of them in prison?”

“I have no doubt. Anyway, the briefcase was snatched out from right under Baker’s table as he was about to testify, and he was left gibbering like a fool, ‘I have it not about me, I have it not about me, Where did it go?’ It was pathetic. He was in tears.”

“Where did it go?”

“Into a big bonfire outside. We made sure of that.”

“ ‘We?’ So you were there?”

McLean looked at him coolly. He and Tilman had never worked together before. Pinkerton’s was now like the Army. Too large and diverse. It was impossible to know everyone in a way that automatically inspired trust. Tilman had left New York under some kind of cloud whose details William Pinkerton had not bothered to confide. This aggravated McLean, who as Branch Manager, was responsible for the conduct of the men under him. The two stared at each other for a moment.

McLean’s face took on an unhealthy pink color. He leaned back in his chair, sipped his cold coffee and said, “I’m not saying that. If I did, I would be admitting to the crime of destroying evidence and of interfering in a Congressional investigation. And a Pinkerton agent would never do anything so vile. It would be against everything we stand for.”

“It would. We would never do that.” Tilman’s tone was very dry. A slight smile came to his lips. McLean found reassurance there. He sipped his coffee again, looking at Tilman carefully. Who are you? he asked himself. What did you do in New York that got you exiled here? He sighed, “Of course, we seldom walk with the angels,” McLean said. “Baker had his flaws. He was hard on whores and Washington was full of them. Real and political. He would go on crusades against vice and raid those houses, shutting them down.”

“A labor worthy of Hercules,” Tilman commented.

“Yes, when a thousand red lights burned every night in Washington and any housewife could join the throng by putting one in her window. And did. The money was that good, and the source anonymous with so many troops passing in and out. It was a bacchanal.”

“I assume these were the same women who went to church, prayed aloud to defeat the shameful spread of vice everywhere and urged that Annie Jones and her sisters in the demimonde be driven out of town?” Tilman’s tone was even more ironic.

“Of course,” McLean replied. “With their own men away, they got lonely. Where was the harm, really and who would know with every grass widow within a mile doing likewise?

Eliminating the competition allowed them to raise the price.”

“Basic Capitalism. Except they did not have the skills of the girls from the demimonde. Didn’t know anything about how to be a whore and considered such things degradation and sin. Not that it mattered.”

“Why not?” McLean grinned. He was tickled by Tilman’s didactic style of speech. It was like that of a college professor or touring lecturer.

“The enlisted men could not afford the likes of Annie Jones. The parlor alone intimidated them. They were not of her class and knew it. The housewives were like a visit home. Simple and easy to love. They could stay the night if they paid extra.”

McLean fiddled with his pipe, looking upward, trying to remember something. Suddenly he laughed.

“He thought he could break Belle Boyd, Antonia Ford and Rose Greenhow by holding them in prison in miserable circumstances. They were very tough, willing to die for the cause, and be whores themselves if they had to. What he did to Rose Greenhow and her daughter was beyond decency. A little girl, only eight years old. Held in the midst of the Negro prisoners, men and women together, who were very free in their affections for each other. People told him it was too much, but he was determined to succeed where we had failed. Baker would not relent. No wonder that little girl hates us and is here to do us harm. I am sure of it. The apple does not fall far from the tree. She has ‘spy’ written all over her. And then he had his own downfall.”

“Loreta Janeta Velazquez,” Tilman said.

“So you know about that?”

“I was there. She was working from Annie Jones’ house, but never available to the ordinary clientele. General officers and high Government officials only. Very attractive Cuban minx. Sometimes passed herself off as a man to get information. A top Confederate operative. Baker tried to turn her, but she turned him instead. Not to the South’s cause but to her bed. She fooled him completely.”

“As she did so many. She’s working for England now. We’ll have to keep an eye out for her. If she shows up, we’ll know England is once more interfering here.”

“There is a Presidential election next year. It’s a matter for further investigation,” Tilman said, and turned back to the wanted posters.

McLean cracked up. “You should take this talk on the road. You sound like a college professor.”

Tilman looked skyward, then shook his head, and smiled. “Were it not for the War, I might have been. Joshua Chamberlain offered me a post at Bowdoin. I’m a Doctor of Philosophy.”

McLean stared at him, trying to find the lie and saw none.

“Good lord, man, what are you doing here in this grubby trade?”

“I like it. It is more real. I like the puzzles and the danger. When I took the job, I made Mister Pinkerton promise not to hold it against me. And not to promote it. Most detectives, even ours, are brutal and stupid men. Hiding it gives me an advantage because it allows me to see what others cannot. And teaching has no appeal. I do envy your friend Frazer, whose government will support his research without promise of results.”

“I was part of that service before the War,” McLean confessed. “It’s how Allan and I became Abolitionists. We were sent to help, saw the right of it, and did our best.”

“My family was also Abolitionist,” Tilman said, but did not elaborate.

McLean suddenly reminded of his own pretty, much younger, wife in Denver and three daughters that he missed very much. He made a sudden decision and said, “Say can you take over the Branch while I go back to Denver and take care of some business?”

“How long?”

“A week or two. My wife has been complaining about how much she misses me. If that’s the case, then she and the children will have to move here, where my work is. I can stop living in that dreadful hotel and find a proper house.”

“I don’t want to be stuck with it,” Tilman said. “Administration is not my strong suit.”

“No. If you worked for L.C. Baker at the end of the War, I can see how you caught the action bug.”

“More like it caught me. I was part of the posse that arrested John Wilkes Booth. I discovered something unpleasant about my character.”

“What was that?”

“I don’t mind killing a bad man. I do not enjoy it, mind. I’m not that depraved, but I will put a murderer down like mad dog without hesitation.”

“Hell, son. That’s part of what we do. We re society’s trash collectors. As long as you don’t grow to like it, that’s fine. Then you become a mad dog.” McLean grinned.

Tilman’s expression changed. He was suddenly less cheerful.

“Harry, I’ve got to get back in the field soon.”

“With a partner who can watch your back. I won’t send a man out alone. We’ve lost too many that way. And it has to be the right sort of man. A soldier like yourself. William would send his son Billy, pardon me, Bill now, to get some experience. But he’s just married. I like his wife, and don’t want to make her a widow. Young Bill is eager to prove himself to his father and grandfather and he grew up in the business, but he don’t know the hard parts.”

“Such as what it feels like to kill a man or what it takes to summon that will?”

“Precisely. Go slow, I told his father. His day will come.”

They were silent for a time.

“Anything from Mister Frazer?”

“A note arrived this morning, carried by hand. Alive and well as of six days ago. Learning many things and making new friends.”

“I will pray for him,” said Tilman.

“As will I.”

Jim Frazer was in conference with Lone Eagle, Kicking Horse, and other elders of the tribe in a place far below ground. It was dark, lit only by a small fire, yet the air was not overwhelmed with smoke. The men passed a pipe around and Frazer took his turn, drawing that smoke deep into his lungs and exhaling slowly, as the others did. There was silence and then murmured conversation and at one point, Frazer’s head turned at something he heard. Lone Eagle and Kicking Horse stopped and stared at him and the others did as well.

“How much of our tongue do you understand?”

He said this in Apache, not Spanish.

Frazer hesitated. “Enough” he admitted.

“How is this possible?” Lone Eagle demanded. “You have only been here a short time and were innocent of it before.”

“By ‘deductive reasoning’,” Frazer said. “I see what things are and what they are called and have learned many other languages before. Adding another is not that hard.”

The other men sat silently, considering this carefully. “This is true,” Lone Eagle said at last. “In the Jesuit school I was taught Latin, French and Spanish. These were easy because they are much alike. English was harder. The language of the yellow-skinned men, the Chinese, I do not make out at all.”

“They sing it rather than speak it,” complained another brave.

“They are not from Europe, but the other end of the Earth across the great water to the West,” Frazer said, helpfully.

“How do you know this? Have you seen this ‘great water’ or been to China?”

“No. Not yet. Perhaps someday I will go,” Frazier said.

“Then how can you know what you say is true?”

“It is the received wisdom of my tribe. I have seen photographs and maps. More importantly, the yellow-skinned men are here. They must have come from somewhere.”

All of the men nodded. “Why not from the other world?” asked one.

“The other world?” Frazer felt himself relaxing. “There is another world?”

“Many more,” said Kicking Horse, “But crossing over to them not easy and usually paid for with a death. The spirit must leave the body. For the body to also go requires secret knowledge. Knowledge that has been lost to us because the Conquistadors burned our books and idols. The ceremonies are incomplete now and it is not given to all men to be admitted to these mysteries.”

Frazer felt sudden excitement. Here was an Apache theology or cosmology previously unknown to the scholarly world he came from. He started to speak. Lone Eagle held up his hand.

“Speaks Strangely, take a mouthful of water and hold it.”

This was something that the Apaches did to prepare young men for the harshness of the desert they lived in and to make them tougher. They were told to do this and then run to the top of a nearby mountain. They could not swallow and could not spit it out until they returned. This forced them to breath only through their nose. Frazer had been made to do this twice, running behind Horse Woman’s 13-year-old son, Little Bear. The boy, in kindness, set a moderate pace, and Frazer had been give moccasins to replace his stiff boots, but, still, it had been extremely difficult. He’d gotten into the rhythm of it at last, and his body, fueled by antelope, corn, and potatoes, adjusted and pumped new strength into him. He embraced the pain and made it go away, and completed the run which took several hours, only spitting out the water when told to do so. It was a test, and now he was facing another, his mind eager and thirsty for the new knowledge it would bring him.

“I require this of you, Speaks Strangely, because you often talk when you should listen. You have too many questions, and you jump ahead. You have learned many things, some so quickly that it is hard to credit that you’d never done them before. But let us say that you speak true – let us review. You can answer with a nod or shake of your head. You were part of the antelope hunt yesterday?”

Frazer nodded.

“And took two of them with a bow and arrows you made with your own hand?”

Frazer nodded again.

“On a horse you caught and tamed yourself. Horse Woman said you were awkward at first but learned quickly.”

“Perhaps we should change his name to ‘Learns Quickly’ ”, said Kicking Horse.

All of the men nodded and passed the pipe around again, skipping Frazer who still had his mouth full of water and was inhaling the smoke all around that made him dizzy. The hunt had been exciting, but routine, as twenty riders, some of them women, encircled a herd of antelope in the tall grass and took about half of them, letting the rest escape. Like the rest, including the women, he was naked except for his breechclout and moccasins, controlling his new horse with his knees as Horse Woman taught him. She’d also taught him the hunting walk, how to move stealthily on the trail and leave no trace of his passing. The bow and arrow was not that hard to comprehend. He merely had to see one to discern its mysteries. Simple geometry and physics: force and motion at the proper angle drove his arrows home. He was still clumsy with the quiver and had only managed to take two antelope. There had been a lot of war whooping which he was allowed to join in. He had helped skin and butcher the take, noting how almost every part of an animal was useful to the tribe for some purpose. It had its own political economy and was a complete system. That gave him insight. He saw now why the Apache resisted the White man’s incursions and only took from them what was useful. Their written language, strange clothes and other artifacts were not useful. A new Winchester rifle was useful, but not really needed except for times of war…and they had been at war for more than fifty years. An ugly no-holds-barred kind of war, whose first tactic was deception and stealth, and in which any outrage including rape, murder, and kidnapping was excused. We were here first, the Apache said. You were not invited and this is our land, our home, our domain. He felt great sympathy for them. Who would not love it here and want to keep it as it was, with all of its simplicity, with the clear air unmolested by the White Man’s industrial stinks, and the quiet purposes of just living according to the traditions handed down for centuries? What was ‘progress’ but a disruption of how things had ever been and would always be?

But what now?

Lone Eagle spoke again. “To make a vision quest, one must have a vision, a dream to be interpreted. Has one come to you yet?”

Frazer shook his head slowly.

Lone Eagle added straw to the fire, which caused it to flare up, illuminating the entire cave. He pointed upwards.”Perhaps you will find one there.”

Frazer looked upward and was hard put not to spit out or swallow the water in his mouth. Lone Eagle took pity on him.

“You may swallow.” he said.

Frazer did so, still staring at the wonderful, intricate painting above him. His mouth was now open in astonishment. Mindful of Lone Eagle’s previous command, he did not speak.

“We do not know much about it ourselves,” Lone Eagle said. “Just what has been passed down. It is thousands of years old, and tells the story of the Starmen who came to help the Apache in a difficult time. Taught some of us to grow crops, and those became the Navajo whose language we still share. But the real Apache, the warriors, are what we are now. We have not been defeated and driven to the Reservation like the rest. We fight on, knowing the White Man will prevail through sheer weight of numbers unless the Starmen return to help us. The Starmen could fly and had huge star wagons that threw lightning at their enemies. Look there, and there, and you will see them and see the Starmen also flying alone. That big hot air balloon you were part of in El Paso looks like a starwagon to us. Is it? Are you from the stars, Mister Frazer?”

Frazer shook his head. “Actually I’m from Glasgow. And before they hired me as an advance man, had never seen them. Perhaps you should ask them?”

Kicking Horse said. “We have looked for them. Their actions at the cliff painting alarmed us; measuring the land, disturbing the Old Ones. But we cannot find them. They have disappeared. They may have slipped into the Other World.”

“Which cannot be done without upsetting the balance of things. We must find them and bring them back. You must help us look.”

“How am I do that?” Frazer asked.

“Perhaps your Vision Quest will take you there. You are an unusual man with strange powers. The Starmen also had the gift of tongues. When you are ready, we will guide you.”

No pressure there, Frazer thought. It’s desperate and impossible. But that night as he lay in Horse Woman’s arms, he had a dream. Horse Woman was a complete surprise. Lean, lithe and treated by other members of the tribe as if she were a man. She was a warrior woman, one of several in the tribe, but the only one without a husband. This was accepted without notice or critique because she was the best horse breaker and trainer by far, and the best horse thief. This allowed her to do as she pleased and to sleep with whomever she pleased. She often initiated sex with young men coming of age to instruct them in the proper ways of lovemaking so that their inexperienced brides would not be disappointed during the honeymoon and reject them. No Apache was truly married, not in the Christian way. Some men had many wives and some stuck to one, as had been the tradition many years ago. Kicking Horse, of that generation, had only one and held her in high esteem. He wanted no other. Younger men took multiple wives.

“These fools think they have struck gold, and don’t realize that they have to feed them all, and buy them things and fuck them regularly to keep them happy. The first wives command the others who share work. All have an easier life and never stray. As long as their brave satisfies them. Our women are noted for their chastity, but all that means is that they never do anything with someone outside the tribe. Wives are traded all the time.”

Kicking Horse stopped to consider his words. “Of course,” he said at last, “We lose many men in battle and on raids. Some are hunted like animals by White Men. So there are always more wives now than men to love and care for them. Otherwise, they might marry outside the tribe. They are prized for their beauty. But what then? They are no longer Apache, but Mexican or White, and we also lose the children they would give us. Someone has to take on that burden.” He chuckled. “Better them than me.”

Horse Woman had very little to say on the matter. After the antelope were slaughtered and butchered and packed, the entire hunting party, covered with blood that attracted vicious flies that bit, went to a pool under a small waterfall and took turns washing themselves, completely nude. As Horse Woman stood under the falling water he admired how beautiful she was, with long hair and a strong shapely body that could almost be a sculpture. During the evening meal, the hunt was retold, with younger braves acting out the choice parts. His kills were acknowledged, and no one seemed to think it worthy of comment when Horse Woman led him to her teepee.

Now here he was, deep in thought as she took him deep into her loins and his seed shot into her. It was a tender moment but she would make no claim on him afterwards. That was not her way. She sought only to preserve his essence for the tribe, where there were no longer enough men and it was thought he might be a Brujo or a Starman himself and not know it. His Celtic forefathers might have descended from that ancient adventure displayed on the hidden cave ceiling. He had flown in the air, hadn’t he? For her, that was proof enough and worth the trouble of another child. She hoped for a son but only the Great Spirit could decide that. Her mumbled prayers were mistaken for love talk, and he tried to kiss her, but she shoved him away. Only Whites did that. She was forever an Apache.

Falling asleep in the afterglow of their coupling, Frazer did have a dream about Rose Green. He saw her seated on a dais, almost completely nude. Below her was a throng of people, also mostly nude, staring at her with an adoration which she took as her due. She was the Queen of this place. Next to her on either side, stood Wyndham and the other men of the crew. Wyndham, ever the soldier, stood proudly erect, a formidable presence. He wore a crested military helmet made of gold and copper. It shone brightly, as did the ones on the crew of acrobats and jugglers who’d flown with them on the balloon. All also almost naked except for the knee high boots, breechclouts and gunbelts with their Colt’s revolvers. They were ranked behind Rose and her executives. Each held a Winchester rifle at port arms.

Pizarro had taken over an empire with a few men on horseback. What could Rose and her crew accomplish with a dozen Winchesters? None of it seemed familiar, except that it must be very hot and no place in this world and therefore in the other. Unless Rose Green and her companions had landed in Hell itself.

When he told this to Kicking Horse and the other shamans, they whispered together, shaking their heads. “It may mean nothing,” Kicking Horse said at last. “It may mean everything. You must try to find them. Direct your attention to her, your lover, and the rest should follow. Embrace the Great Spirit. Tonight your vision quest begins.”

That night there was a feast, with much antelope put before him to eat, and a drink called pulque which made him feel relaxed and happy. That night Horse Woman once more took him into her arms. In the morning, his head pounding from the after effects of pulque, he once more ran to the top of a mountain and returned, his mouth still full of water, but breathing regularly. He was given another drink to purge his bowels and once that was accomplished, taken to the sacred place reserved to such ceremonies and sat cross-legged, naked, and exposed to the elements. He tried to pray but found no words. Shamans kept up a constant drumming and chanting, and Little Bear and other young boys were nearby, tasked with seeing to his safety but enjoined from approaching him or saying anything. They hid themselves under the grass. This went on for three days under the sun, rain and stars. He broiled under the sun and was washed by cold rains. On the morning of the fourth day, not having had a drop of water, he was given a long draught of pulque infused with herbs. It was poured down his throat until he could drink no more.

Gradually he felt himself become transparent. Looking down, he could see past his skin to the organs and muscles underneath, and then to the veins and arteries where his blood flowed, and beyond that to smaller things he had no name for. And saw below himself into the Earth itself. To the dirt that caressed the roots of trees and smaller plants, and the small animals and creatures that lived there. He felt something fill him and lift him up, although his body had not moved. He looked around and saw that he was among the stars and that there more than could ever be counted and that they went on and on and on beyond the ability of any man to see, but he could now see them all because he was becoming more than a man – more like a god. Rather than make him proud, the thought humbled him, because he knew he was not worthy of such power. No mere man was. He examined it all again from the things too small for a man to see to the vastness of the stars, saw that it was all connected and sought his place in it. Who was he, and where did he belong? The Great Spirit enfolded him, and he realized that, at that moment, he was exactly where he was meant to be, but that he would soon move on. He could no more be an Apache than he could be a Detective. He was a collector and teller of tales. A bard. A poet. A keeper of such truths as might come his way. He comprehended then the minor spirits that were part of every living thing and some that did not live but simply were. And then directed his attention to the task Kicking Horse had given him: to find Rose Green and her companions.

She was nowhere in this world. That he knew from his dream. Finding the other world baffled him, for there was more than one. Multitudes beyond counting, each a little different. But they had traveled in a vessel that was unique and by focusing on that he found her, and it was as he had dreamed. She was the Queen of that place, and High Priestess as well, her sexuality radiating her power over all. She had become immortal. There was no hope of pulling her back to this world. The cosmic imbalance must be addressed in other ways beyond his ken. And his own path also became clear. He must return to Cambridge and continue his work there. That was his place and that was his purpose, and so he would.

But first he spent time, as those who survived a vision quest were wont do, simply sitting alone and contemplating the peace that lay upon that great desert and feeling the spirits of every being within. He had attained, briefly, a cosmic, almost Godlike, comprehension of the universe and its components, and seen the underlying structures that held it all together. It scared the Hell out of him. What was he to do with such knowledge? How would he tell it and be believed, rather than taken for a madman and put away? Little Bear brought him food and drink so he did not perish, and Horse Woman continued to welcome him into her arms, but she was growing indifferent to him now, already feeling the child quickening within her and ready to return to her task of initiating young Braves into the mysteries of sex. To that end she passed him on to a younger woman so that he could teach what she had taught him and learn kindness. Frazer had read the Kama Sutra but reading and knowing were two different things. Now he knew the subtle pleasures of the flesh.

Sensing his departure before he did, Horse Woman made him a fine set of buckskins. When he went to consult Kicking Horse, the old man said simply, “You have done well, Learns Quickly, but this is not your place. It is time for you to go.”

Some in the tribe grumbled. Everyone enjoyed his tales of Scottish warriors and their valor, even as he dipped into tales of King Arthur and the Round Table, and wondered when that cheat would be discovered. He was respected as a poet, a bard, a teller of tales, and now considered a wise man.

And so he returned to El Paso, wearing his new finery and moderate war paint that helped keep the sun from his eyes, two feathers of rank in his headband, riding with Lone Eagle and three other Braves as a guard of honor.

At the bottom of the stairs to the Pinkerton office he bade them goodbye and started to climb the stairs using the hunting walk. His boyish intent was to surprise and amaze his friends.

A loud argument was in progress, and he opened the door to see Hiram Johnson, drunk again , about to attack Harry McLean with a hammer. Upon that moment, he notched an arrow to the string of the bow in his hands and sent it flying next to Johnson’s head and into the wall beyond.

“I have another!” he announced loudly. Johnson,, frozen, confused, and frightened out of what wits he still possessed, turned and stared. Frazer drew the string again, pointing another arrow at the drunk.

“Put it down,” Frazer said, indicating the hammer. Johnson slowly did so, kneeling carefully. Frazer, keeping the bow drawn and the arrow pointed at his heart, said, “Now get out.” He moved into the room, allowing Johnson to pass and stumble down the stairs.

McLean, slightly amazed, said, “Is that you, Jim?”

Frazer turned and smiled.

“Oh, Harry, who else would it be? I told you I’d be back.”

McLean laughed for several minutes, coming close to tears. Finally he drew breath.

“You fooled me completely. Such a fine joke! You made a perfect impersonation of those savages. You sure scared Johnson. And saved his life. I was going to have to shoot him, Pinkertons don’t miss their marks.” McLean revealed the little five shot Colt’s revolver he kept in his desk.

“I think he heard me well enough. He must be very drunk to look so confused.”

“Well,” drawled McLean, “You did speak in Apache.”

“Did I?” Frazer shook his head. He had ‘gone native’.

“No matter. Your meaning was clear enough.” McLean walked over, looking him over. “So are you one of them now?”

Frazer shook his head. “I declined the honor and I was running out of new stories to tell.”

“Did you make a vision quest?”

Blake Tilman came tromping up the stairs and entered just in time to hear this.

He stopped at the door, all attention. “Did you?”

Frazer looked at both of their eager faces, hesitated, and then said. “I did. Not sure what I can say about it.”

“Well, get out of those clothes and into your regular duds and get that paint off your face. We’ll go have a drink so you can tell us about it.”

Frazer foresaw another gentle but persistent Pinkerton interrogation in the wind.

“Actually,” he said, “What I would like most is a good cup of strong tea.”

“I can not tell you everything, but I will tell you what I can,” Jim Frazer said to Blake Tilman as their tea arrived, carried by one of the Negro hostesses, who regarded Frazer, still attired in buckskins and other Apache regalia with ill-concealed concern.

She looked at the bow and quiver of arrows hanging from the back of his chair, pursed her lips and said, “Would you like me to check those items for you, sir?”

“Please do not trouble yourself,” Frazer said. “They are fine as they are.”

The woman nodded, glanced at Tilman’s Colt’s revolver in its cross draw holster, and nodded. “As you wish, sir.”

These were Hard Men she saw, and not to be trifled with. She moved away slowly.

The appearance of a red-haired Apache Brave accompanied by a Pinkerton detective sent the female customers of Mildred’s Tea Room into a mild tizzy, with whispered conversations rising to a cicada-like buzzing. Two women rose and bolted for the door, but the rest, twenty or so, ordered more tea and sweet things to eat, promising Mildred’s its best day ever. The women did not stare openly – that would be rude – but did continue to observe and comment to one another.

Tilman looked ironically at Frazer who was savoring the Irish blend in his cup. “You were saying?”

“Oh, yes. Well, my trip here is sponsored by the Ethnographic Survey, and there is the matter of the Transactions of the Royal Society, where I am enjoined to publish first. That will assure my place at Trinity College.”

“You could make quite a bit from American newspapers,” Tilman said. “In fact, you could do a lecture tour in that get-up, and make a small fortune.”

Frazer shook his head. “That I will never do. It would be the end of my academic reputation. I would be seen as a grasping money-grubbing showboat, rather than a true scholar. I do not need a small fortune nor, for that matter, a large one. To be successful, I would be required to distort the Apache and their society to serve the White Man’s narrative that they are savages, rather than one of the most civilized races on the American continent.”

Tilman smiled. “There is that ‘renegade’ thing I warned you about. You have gone over to their side. Some would call that treason.”

“How? I am not an American, but a Scot from Glasgow, who lectures and teaches at Cambridge in Natural Philosophy, or, as it is called now, ‘Science’. I have pledged no allegiance save to Queen and Country.”

“Precisely our difficulty,” Tilman said. “You are here, and have been among them, an infiltration no Pinkerton detective has ever done.”

“Exactly. I know where my loyalties lie. This is why I refused your firm’s many generous offers of employment. No man can serve two masters, save for an evil and corrupt purpose.”

“Or to bring an evil-doer to justice,” Tilman sounded slightly defensive. “At least that’s what we tell ourselves.”

”It’s more than that, isn’t it?”

Tilman nodded slowly, looking into his own tea. “There’s the game. The satisfaction of detection and the chase: the thrill of the hunt.”

“Having participated in hunting antelope, I now understand that better. Working together for the good of the tribe. Seeing your arrows strike home and true.”

“By God, sir, we are going to miss you,” Tilman smiled.

“And I you. It has been a singular adventure. I was tempted to stay and become one of them. Take on a wife or two and live a simple life with no clocks or calendars beyond the seasons. But Kicking Horse, this old shaman, said it was time for me to go. He may be the same man mentioned in Cremony’s book.”

“Really? He would be very old.”

“He is. It’s a perfect society in many ways. No kings or wealthy people, and everyone takes only what he needs. Thoreau barely scratched the surface in ‘Walden Pond’ about becoming one with nature.”

“So Cremony got it wrong?”

Frazer shrugged. “He got much of it right about the customs and such. Very good as a work of Anthropology, if you take away the White Man’s prejudice. But if you did that, you would have to admit what has been done to the Apache and other tribes is nothing less than a great crime far more barbaric than any they ever conceived.”

Tilman was silent for a long moment as he mulled this over.

“Will that be in your articles for the Transactions?”

Frazer smiled and shook his head. “In theory a member of the Royal Society can put anything he wants there. I once found an excellent recipe for mulberry wine. But there are editors, and it will be impolitic to say so. Simply providing accurate descriptions of ceremonies and customs will be quite enough, and should be well received. Grants will be received for other projects, and I will shift my focus elsewhere trying to determine why societies so far apart all have the same myths.”

Tilman was startled. “Do they?”

“The old Scottish tales match those of the Apache in several respects.”

Frazer was looking for a way to change the subject. Tilman was a very skilled interrogator, and he was being led by degrees to that that he did not wish to discuss: his vision quest. How would he explain that, without sounding like a lunatic? Dare he even write down notes of that singular experience that he found beyond understanding? He must, of course, while memory was still green. But Starmen in huge flying wagons coming from some other world? Where was his proof save in that sacred cave no White man before him had penetrated? And it was a secret. The history of Europeans in search of wealth when it came to such was not an encouraging one. They would profane it by making it an attraction; a mockery.

His rescue appeared at the door in the form of Harry McLean shepherding his wife and daughters into the room. He spotted Frazer and Tilman and waved. Tilman returned a slightly ironic salute and they came over, taking the empty table next to his. Harry’s wife was a mature beauty with Italian features, and the daughters, three in number, ranged in age from twelve to eighteen and were also very pretty. Tilman was bemused as the wife presented her hand and, recalling his manners from another life, stood and graced it with a brief kiss. She accepted this as her due and favored him with a brief smile. Harry McLean got them all situated and said, “My wife Sophia, and my daughters Faith, Hope and Charity.”

“Oh, Daddy, please!” said the oldest. She smiled at Frazer, taking his measure; not unlike a cat regarding a bowl of cream. “My name is Molly. That’s Emily and the brat on the end is Katherine or, as we call her, Kate. She has about as much charity as a brick.”

Kate stuck out her tongue at her eldest sister and turned to Frazer, smiling. “Pay her no attention. She’s not real kind herself. Daddy said that you’d gone rogue, so I had to come along to see for myself. Is that a real Apache bow and arrows?”

Frazer smiled. He felt charmed by them. “It is,” he said.

“How did you get them?”

“In the usual way. I made them.”

All three girls laughed, and then saw he was perfectly serious. Then they were open-mouthed in astonishment.

“How?” asked Emily, the middle daughter.

“I was taught how. I suppose it was part of my initiation to the tribe. I later used it on an antelope hunt quite successfully.”

“You ate antelope?”

“Among other things. It takes quite a bit of strength to live that way. You eat meat every day just to survive. White men have killed most of the buffalo, so antelope is the next best choice.”

“How does it taste?”

“It’s delicious. Like venison back in England.”

The girls all looked at each other, unsure now. Harry McLean beamed at them with pride and their mother smiled indulgently as she consulted the bill of fare. Kate looked him over.

“Are you going to wear that get-up all the time now?”

Frazer looked down and uttered a short barking laugh. “I think not. I like to be an observer, not part of the parade. It’s part of the accepted method of observation when examining another culture. Submerge and listen, rather than make yourself known. Learn everything you can that way. “

”And what did you learn?” asked Molly, very serious now.

“A great deal. It will be in the papers I present to the Royal Society.”

“So you are leaving?” Emily’s disappointment was obvious.

“Well, I have to. I have lectures to give and students to tutor in the Fall. But I will stay a little time to organize my notes and write some first drafts. I also need some new clothes.”

“What happened to your old ones?”

“They no longer fit. My time with the Apaches has changed my body. I am much bigger now. Thicker arms and legs, a much larger chest, and I seem to be taller.”

“That’s true,” Tilman said. “We kept them at the office for him. He could barely get into them. Quite a transformation. We hardly recognized him.”

“So what will you do?” Emily said.

“I don’t know. Is there a good English tailor in El Paso?”

Tilman and McLean looked at each other.

“The matter has never come up, “ Tilman said.

“It’s a matter for further investigation,” McLean added, puzzled now. “Of course, you can buy a ready-made at any dry goods store.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Why not?”

Frazer leaned back, thinking for a moment. “Well, it is also anthropology. You may have heard the expression ‘clothes make the man’?”

Everyone else nodded.

“That is never more true than in England, where a well-tailored, bespoke suit defines your caste and position in life. And that goes back to Queen Elizabeth’s time, when there were laws about it. I think you will find that true almost everywhere.”

“See,” Sophia said in an aside to her husband. “Now stop complaining about the expense of new dresses. We must make a good appearance or it will bring shame on the family.”

Harry McLean rolled his eyes. “See what you’ve done?” he said to Frazer.

Frazer chuckled. “I apologize. I was simply saying that my position, if I wish to hold it, requires me to ‘look right’.” He made little quote marks with his fingers.

“When you leave, may I have your bow and arrows?’ Kate asked suddenly.

Frazer shook his head. “I may still need them.”

“In England?” Kate looked skeptical.

“We have deer there. Some Lord of the Manor may invite me to hunt. It’s a popular sport there.” He saw the disappointment on her face. “How about this? I will teach you how to make your own. Then it will be yours forever.”

Kate’s face lit up. “That would be super! Are those hunting clothes?”

Frazer blushed. “I must confess that when you hunt the Apache way, from horseback, you are almost naked. Hunting is a rehearsal for battle and that is the way Apache fight.”

Everyone at the table stared at him. Frazer hastened to explain. “It’s better tactics. Clothing slows you down and might give an enemy a hold on you that can be used to drag you from your horse. It’s very close quarters at times. And if you fall, your enemy has a better chance of killing you.”

The women were shocked. It showed on their faces. Except for Emily. She merely smiled slightly and looked at Tilman, taking his measure.

“Could you not surrender?” Sophia asked after a moment.

“Surrender is worse than death. You would never escape the shame of it. Better to die than to be a coward and have to leave the tribe.” Frazer looked skyward. “I think that is the reason I was never invited to go on a raid. They knew, being a Scot, I would do as they do, for the honor of my tribe, Clan Lovat.”

Here Frazer was indulging in the lie polite. He had done so. It was one of the requirements to become an Apache warrior. It had been an exhilarating experience but mindful of Tilman’s previous advice about renegades, not one he ever planned to share.

Looking at the avid look on his daughters’ faces, McLean did not like the turn the conversation was taking. They read novels and had too much imagination as it was.

“Almost naked?” Molly looked at him and licked her lips; seeming to imagine him that way. She was transfixed, blushing at the idea.

“Just a breechclout and some war paint,” Frazer admitted.

“The women, too?” Tilman asked.

“Oh, yes,” Frazer said; “But people in the tribe often appear in public in a state of nature. They have no sense of shame about this. That’s a Christian strategy used to repress them. Shame. You might call it indecent, but they will not understand what you are talking about. They ride that way, no saddles, to show they are not afraid, to show their power. I must say it’s a very comfortable way to ride.”

“The women, too? Like the warriors?” Emily suddenly spoke up.

“Some women are warriors. Among the best.”

“Do not the men resent it? Taking their role?” Emily was very serious now, and Tilman saw a budding advocate for the rights of women. So serious.

Frazer again shook his head. “No. And for the same reason that the men have several wives. There are not enough of them now. White men have killed them off. It’s all one. Survival. The same reason they made me welcome to hear their stories and study them. So that it’s all written down and will survive, even if they don’t.”

That sobered everyone for a moment.

“I never thought I’d find sympathy for those murdering savages,” McLean said; “But that is a sad tale, indeed.”

“Well, how will you proceed?” Tilman asked.

“I need to find a place where I can think and write. Someplace quiet. Just for a week or so. There is so much to sort out and to write down.”

“You will refute Cremony’s book?” Tilman asked.

“Only in part. Most of it is good. The politics are bad.”

“Well, keep that to yourself… ,” McLean said.

“You could stay with us!” Emily said suddenly.

Everyone stared at her.

“Well, why not? It’s a big house. All those extra rooms, and it’s almost in the countryside. Plenty of space and plenty of quiet.”

McLean, to his horror, saw his other daughters and his wife warm to the idea. And what could he say after having praised Frazer in letters and talk for so long? He was trapped by his own enthusiasm for the lad.

And so it was that McLean, a thrifty Scot who’d hoped to defray the cost of his new house with a few roomers, came to be, briefly, landlord to James George Frazer, Fellow of the Royal Society and Lecturer of Trinity College at Cambridge University. Jim to his friends.

Once he settled in, assigned a room far from the girls’, with an attached parlor that held a large table, Frazer set to work. Piles of notes were written and assembled into folders. Drawings were made. Frazer also spent a lot of time staring into some middle distance just remembering everything he had seen or heard.

A tailor was found: a former slave named Moses Gridley who had made dozens of fine suits for the Gentry in Virginia and Washington before moving West, and who now found customers not just in El Paso, where his name was known to former Confederates, but across the border as well. Frazer was measured, found two styles he admired from Gridley’s catalog, and soon had two new suits and something more casual for everyday wear. He wanted to fit in. He did not quibble about the price. The work was first rate, as good as anything from Savile Row in London. His old suit was sold to a used clothing shop.

And there was one other thing. Deets, the photographer, was engaged to take a portrait of Frazer in his Apache persona, on horseback. Molly and Emily were stunned when they saw him, all new muscles and not a bit of body fat, like living sculpture. It made them weak in the knees and sent impure thoughts to their minds. But Frazer in one of his new suits brought them back to reality. He was leaving and they were good Catholic girls.

Or so they pretended. Actually both were vetted Pinkerton detectives. They had worked cases in Denver that brought them unwelcome notoriety, and were glad to get out of town and start fresh. Each owned a badge and a small Colt’s lady’s revolver but, for the moment, kept them out of sight. Molly had a dagger strapped to her thigh. One had to be prepared, they told him, lest she might be taken unawares.

Frazer was secretly amused when he learned this, and was careful to maintain his distance. Rose Green and Horse Woman were both fresh memories, and these girls could not compare. He was a guest. He valued Harry McLean’s friendship. Nothing improper would happen. Emily’s longing looks went for naught.

Frazer found he could only apply about four hours of a day to academic work, and would ride into town in the afternoons to visit the Pinkerton office and perhaps have tea and discuss philosophy with Tilman. He wondered if the editors of The Transactions might accept an article entitled “Among The Detectives.” When he broached the idea to Harry McLean, the detective said, “Already been done, Laddie,” and handed him a copy of the book Allan Pinkerton had published the year before about the agency’s “Greatest Cases”.

Frazer read that, and then the book La Fayette Baker had published about his time with the Union’s secret service. Much of that was about pure detective work against frauds on the Government.

“Take that one with a grain of salt,” Tilman advised. “Baker was not one eager to share credit for those arrests. He did not do everything alone. Far from. His cousin Luther led the posse that arrested John Wilkes Booth.”

“Really? How did you learn that?”

“I was there. A Sergeant in the First District Cavalry.”

Frazer looked at him for a long moment. What an unusual man, he thought. He looks so ordinary, yet has been on the cusp of history more than once. And he never brags, but throws out these episodes casually, as if anyone might have done likewise.

Frazer was also disturbed when he learned that Emily had taken a part-time position under the name. “Emily McGraw” at a big dry goods emporium in the center of El Paso. Just another floor person among many, there to assist customers and to discover which of the others was stealing fabric and money. It wasn’t hard. When Frazer expressed some shock that McLean would use his own young daughter in a case, McLean shrugged. “She was the perfect person for that job. Too young to be suspected. And very quiet, so the information flowed to her. She wasn’t there for the arrests, so is still not suspected of being a detective. It is the family business,”

Sophia added, “How do you think Harry and I met? It was on a case.” She smiled, and served him more of the delicious pasta she had made for the evening meal.

“It was interesting,” Emily said. “I will do it again.”

“But it sounds very dangerous… ”

“Not as much as you living with the Apaches. Surely having consorted with warrior women, you will not tell me that I am too weak and frail for such work?”

Frazer shook his head. “I suppose not.”

“I am named after the greatest Pinkerton detective that ever lived,” Kate said “Kate Warne. And she was very tough.” Kate stared at Frazer a moment. “When are you going to teach me about the bow and arrow?”

Frazer held up his hands in mock surrender. “Tomorrow afternoon work for you?”

Kate concealed her excitement. “I don’t know. I’ll have to check my schedule.”

Recognizing his own limitations, Frazer asked Jesus Martinez to join them.

“The Mexican boy from Daddy’s office? “ Kate objected. “What would he know about it?” She looked quite put out.

“You’ll be surprised,” Frazer promised. “Boys that age know a lot.”

Kate came dressed in boy’s clothes. And rode her horse like one. Frazer noticed she had a large knife on her belt and a small pistol. A two-barreled Derringer.

“What’s that for?”

Kate shrugged. “Daddy gave it to me on my twelfth birthday. Said sometimes you get into dangerous situations through no fault of your own. Denver’s a rough town. So is El Paso.”

“I see.”

“He told me that if I ever have to use it, to aim low for the nads and fire both barrels.”

Before Frazer could answer, Jesus rode up on a beautiful pony, wearing buckskins and a headband. “How are you, Learns Quickly?” he said in Apache.

“I am well, Little Crow.” Frazer replied in the same tongue.

Kate looked from one to the other, her mouth open in astonishment.

“You tricked me,” she said to Frazer.

“How did I do that? I said you would be surprised. Are you?”

Kate nodded. “I had no idea you are an Apache,” she said to Jesus.

“Not something Harry wants advertised. I do better as a Mexican.”

“I see.”

“I am Coyote, the trickster god,” Jesus said, his face serious.

I think I already knew that, Frazer thought.

***

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