Cady looked at me but didn’t say anything.
It had been like this for the last week. We’d reached a plateau, and she was satisfied with the progress she’d made. I wasn’t. The physical therapist at University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia had warned me that this might happen. It wasn’t that my daughter was weak or lazy; it was far worse than that—she was bored.
“I heard you. . . .” She plucked at her shorts and avoided my eyes. “Your voice; it carries.”
I placed an elbow on my knee, chin on fist, sat farther back on the sit-up bench, and glanced around. We weren’t alone. There was a kid in a Durant Quarterback Club T-shirt who was trying to bulk up his 145-pound frame at one of the Universal machines. I’m not sure why he was up here—there were no televisions, and it wasn’t as fancy as the main gym downstairs. I understood all the machines up here—you didn’t have to plug any of them in—but I wondered about him; it could be that he was here because of Cady.
The kid snickered, and I looked at him. I glanced back at my daughter. This was good; anger sometimes got her to finish up, even if it cost me the luxury of conversation for the rest of the evening. It didn’t matter tonight; she had a dinner date and then had to be home for an important phone call. I had zip. I had all the time in the world.
She had cut her auburn hair short to match the spot where they had made the U-shaped incision that had allowed her swelling brain to survive. Only a small scar was visible at the hairline. She was beautiful, and the pain in the ass was that she knew it.
It got her pretty much whatever she wanted. Beauty was life’s E-ZPass. I was lucky I got to ride on the shoulder.
She picked up her water bottle and squeezed out a gulp, leveling the cool eyes back on me. We sat there looking at each other, both of us dressed in gray. She stretched a finger out and pulled the band of my T-shirt down, grazing a fingernail on my exposed collarbone. “That one?”
Just because she was beautiful didn’t mean she wasn’t smart. Diversion was another of her tactics. I had enough scars to divert the entire First Division. She had known this scar and had seen it on numerous occasions. Her question was a symptom of the memory loss that Dr. Rissman had mentioned.
She continued to poke my shoulder with the finger. “That one.”
Cady never gave up.
It was a family trait, and in our tiny family, stories were the coinage of choice, a bartering in the aesthetic of information and the athletics of emotion, so I answered her. “Tet.”
She set her water bottle down on the rubber-padded floor. “When?”
“Before you were born.”
She lowered her head and looked at me through her lashes, one cheek pulled up in a half smile. “Things happened before I was born?”
“Well, nothing really important.”
She took a deep breath, gripped the sides of the bench, and put all her effort into straightening the lever action of thirty pounds at her legs. Slowly, the weights lifted to the limit of the movement and then, just as slowly, dropped back. After a moment, she caught her breath. “Marine inspector, right?”
I nodded. “Yep.”
“It was Vietnam, and I was gonna be drafted, so it was a choice.” I was consistently amazed at what her damaged brain chose to remember.
“What was Vietnam like?”
“Confusing, but I got to meet Martha Raye.”
Unsatisfied with my response, she continued to study my scar. “You don’t have any tattoos.”
“No.” I sighed, just to let her know that her tactics weren’t working.
“I have a tattoo.”
“You have two.” I cleared my throat in an attempt to end the conversation. She pulled up the cap sleeve of her Philadelphia City Sports T-shirt, exposing the faded, Cheyenne turtle totem on her shoulder. She was probably unaware that she’d been having treatments to have it removed; it had been the exboyfriend’s idea, all before the accident. “The other one’s on your butt, but we don’t have to look for it now.”
The kid snickered again. I turned and stared at him with a little more emphasis this time.
“Bear was in Vietnam with you, right?”
She was smiling as I turned back to her. All the women in my life smiled when they talked about Henry Standing Bear. It was a bit annoying, but Henry was my best and lifelong friend, so I got over it. He owned the Red Pony, a bar on the edge of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, only a mile from my cabin, and he was the one who was taking Cady to dinner. I wasn’t invited. He and my daughter were in cahoots. They had pretty much been in cahoots since she had been born.
“Henry was in-country, Special Operations Group; we didn’t serve together.”
“What was he like back then?”
I thought about it. “He’s mellowed, a little.” It was a frightening thought. “Two more?”
Her gray eyes flashed. “One more.”
I smiled. “One more.”
Cady’s slender hands returned to the sides of the bench, and I watched as the toned legs once again levitated and lowered the thirty pounds. I waited a moment, then lumbered up and placed a kiss at the horseshoe-shaped scar and helped her stand. The physical progress was moving ahead swimmingly, mostly due to the advantages of her stellar conditioning and youth, but the afternoon workouts took their toll, and she was usually a little unsteady by the time we finished.
I held her hand and picked up her water and tried not to concentrate on the fact that my daughter had been a fast-track, hotshot lawyer back in Philly only two months earlier and that now she was here in Wyoming and was trying to remember that she had tattoos and how to walk without assistance.
We made our way toward the stairwell and the downstairs showers. As we passed the kid at the machine, he looked at Cady admiringly and then at me. “Hey, Sheriff ?”
I paused for a moment and steadied Cady on my arm. “Yep?”
“J.P. said you once bench-pressed six plates.”
I continued looking down at him. “What?”
He gestured toward the steel plates on the rack at the wall. “Jerry Pilch? The football coach? He said senior year, before you went to USC, you bench-pressed six plates.” He continued to stare at me. “That’s over three hundred pounds.”
“Yep, well.” I winked. “Jerry’s always had a tendency to exaggerate.”
“I thought so.”
I nodded to the kid and helped Cady down the steps. It’d been eight plates, actually, but that had been a long time ago.
My shower was less complicated than Cady’s, so I usually got out before her and waited on the bench beside the Clear Creek bridge. I placed my summer-wear palm-leaf hat on my head, slipped on my ten-year-old Ray-Bans, and shrugged the workout bag’s strap farther onto my shoulder so that it didn’t press my Absaroka County sheriff’s star into my chest. I pushed open the glass door and stepped into the perfect fading glory of a high-plains summer afternoon. It was vacation season, creeping up on rodeo weekend, and the streets were full of people from somewhere else.
I took a left and started toward the bridge and the bench. I sat next to the large man with the ponytail and placed the gym bag between us. “How come I wasn’t invited to dinner?”
The Cheyenne Nation kept his head tilted back, eyes closed, taking in the last warmth of the afternoon sun. “We have discussed this.”
“It’s Saturday night, and I don’t have anything to do.”
“You will find something.” He took a deep breath, the only sign that he wasn’t made of wood and selling cigars. “Where is Vic?”
“Firearms recertification in Douglas.”
I thought about my scary undersheriff from Philadelphia; how she could outshoot, outdrink, and outswear every cop I knew, and how she was now representing the county at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. I was unsure if that was a positive thing. “Yep, not a safe weekend to be in Douglas.”
He nodded, almost imperceptibly. “How is all that going?”
I took a moment to discern what “all that” might mean. “I’m not really sure.” He raised an eyelid and studied me in a myopic fashion. “We seem to be having a problem getting in sync.” The eyelid closed, and we sat there as a silence passed. “Where are you going to dinner?”
“I am not going to tell you.”
His face remained impassive. “We have discussed this.”
We had—it was true. The Bear had expressed the opinion that for both of our mental healths, it might be best if Cady and I didn’t spend every waking hour in each other’s company. It was difficult, but I was going to have to let her out of my sight sometime. “In town or over in Sheridan?”
“I am not going to tell you.”
I was disconcerted by the flash of a camera and turned to see a woman from somewhere else smile and continue down the sidewalk toward the Busy Bee Café, where I would likely be having my dinner, alone. I turned to look at Henry Standing Bear’s striking profile. “You should sit with me more often; I’m photogenic.”
“They were taking photographs with a greater frequency before you arrived.”
I ignored him. “She’s allergic to plums.”
“I’m not sure if she’ll remember that.”
I thought about that advisory and came clean. “I let her have a glass of red wine last weekend.”
I turned and looked at him. “She told you?”
Cahoots. I had a jealous inkling that the Bear was making more progress in drawing all of Cady back to us than I was.
I stretched my legs and crossed my boots; they were still badly in need of a little attention. I adjusted my gun belt so that the hammer of my .45 wasn’t digging into my side. “We still on for the Rotary thing on Friday?”
Rotary was sponsoring a debate between me and prosecuting attorney Kyle Straub; we were the two candidates for the position of Absaroka County sheriff. After five elections and twenty-four sworn years, I usually did pretty well at debates but felt a little hometown support might be handy, so I had asked Henry to come. “Think of it as a public service—most Rotarians have never even met a Native American.”
That finally got the one eye to open again, and he turned toward me. “Would you like me to wear a feather?”
“No, I’ll just introduce you as an Injun.”
Cady placed her hand on my shoulder and leaned over to allow the Cheyenne Nation to bestow a kiss on her cheek. She was wearing blue jeans and a tank top with, I was pleased to see, the fringed, concho-studded leather jacket I’d bought for her years ago. It could still turn brisk on July nights along the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains.
She jostled the hat on my head and dropped her gym bag on top of mine. She turned to Henry. “Ready?”
He opened his other eye. “Ready.”
He rose effortlessly, and I thought if I got it in quick that maybe I’d get an answer. “Where you going?”
She smiled as the Bear came around the back of the bench and took her elbow. “I’m not allowed to tell you.”
Cady’s current love interest, Vic’s younger brother, was supposed to be flying in from Philadelphia on Tuesday for a Wild West vacation. I still hadn’t gotten a straight answer as to with whom he was staying. “Don’t forget that Michael is calling.”
She shook her head as they walked past me, pausing to lift my hat and plant a kiss on the crown of my head. “I know when he’s calling, Daddy. I’ll be home long before then.” She shoved my hat down, hard.
I readjusted and watched as they crossed the sidewalk, where Henry helped her into Lola, his powder-blue ’59 T-Bird convertible. The damage I’d done to the classic automobile was completely invisible due to the craftsmanship of the body men in South Philly, and I watched as the Wyoming sun glistened on the Thunderbird’s flanks. I had a moment of hope that they wouldn’t get going when the starter continued to grind, but the aged Y-Block caught and blew a slight fantail of carbon into the street. He slipped her into gear, and they were gone.
As usual, I got the gym bags, and he got the girl.
I considered my options. There was the plastic-wrapped burrito at the Kum-and-Go, the stuffed peppers at the Durant Home for Assisted Living, a potpie from the kitchenette back at the jail, or the Busy Bee Café. I gathered up my collection of bags and hustled across the bridge over Clear Creek before Dorothy Caldwell changed her mind and turned the sign, written in cursive, hanging on her door.
“Not the usual?”
She poured my iced tea and looked at me, fist on hip. “You didn’t like it last time?”
I struggled to remember but gave up. “I don’t remember what it was last time.”
“Is Cady’s condition contagious?”
I ignored the comment and tried to decide what to order. “I’m feeling experimental. Are you still offering your Weekend Cuisines of the World?” It was an attempt on her part to broaden the culinary experience of our little corner of the high plains.
“Where, in the world, are we?”
It didn’t take me long to respond. “I’ll pass.”
“It’s really good.”
I weaved my fingers and rested my elbows on the counter. “What is it?”
“Chicken with lemongrass.” She continued to look at me.
“That’s where I got the recipe.”
I withered under her continued gaze. “All right.”
She busied herself in the preparation of the entree, and I sipped my tea. I glanced around at the five other people in the homey café but didn’t recognize anyone. I must have been thirsty from watching Cady work out, because a third of the glass was gone in two gulps. I set it back on the Formica, and Dorothy refilled it immediately. “You don’t talk about it much.”
I nodded as she put the tan plastic pitcher on the counter next to me. I turned my glass in the circular imprint of its condensation. “It’s funny, but it came up earlier this afternoon.” I met her eyes under the silver hair. “Cady asked about the scar on my collarbone, the one from Tet.”
She nodded slightly. “Surely she’s seen that before?”
Dorothy took a deep breath. “It’s okay, she’s doing better every day.” She reached out and squeezed my shoulder just at said scar. “But, be careful. . . .” She looked concerned.
I looked up at her. “Why?”
“Visitations like those tend to come in threes.”
I watched as she took the tea and refilled some of the other customers. I thought about Vietnam, thought about the smell, the heat, and the dead.