Stealing Moccasins

This story was published in Ibis in 1996.


1

MoccasinsCedric Young Deer, one of her best students, hovered on the bottom step of the basements stairs. She was teaching English at the Porcupine College Center. He leaned forward and surveyed the classroom, then caught her eye.

“Come on in, Cedric. What brings you?”

He was handsome in the tribal uniform, complete with pistol. She’d written him an excellent recommendation for the tribal police academy. He hesitated, so she walked over to the stairs.

His six-foot solid body hovered over her, his head grazing the pipes on the ceiling.

He looked embarrassed. “I’ve got a warrant.”

“Oh.” Some student was in trouble again. Which one had partied too hard, and then shot out windows of the day school or stolen morphine from the clinic? “Can it wait until class is over?”

He wasn’t looking at the class. “It’s for you, Dr. Black Fox.” His voice was almost inaudible.

The classroom was silent.

“I’m sorry. I had to serve it–it’s on my shift.” He looked down, hesitated, then handed her the paper.

“You have to do your duty. Just as I do mine, making everybody study their native heritage,” she replied, raising her voice at the end to address the class full of curious faces.

When she glanced at the paper, she laughed. Cedric backed up a step and bumped his head on the door frame. Little ripples snuck out of her throat. She tried to stifled them, but ended up snorting. Nervous titters echoed around the room.

“My future ex-husband.” She might as well tell the class. It would be spread all over by nightfall anyway. “He’s at it again. Won’t leave me alone.”

They laughed. Cedric didn’t laugh. He shuffled on the next step. “I have to search your car.”

“What for?” She read the tribal warrant. Moccasins! She didn’t have any moccasins, and her husband didn’t either. He’d hocked all his beadwork. Gone long before the stalled divorce proceedings.

“Stolen moccasins.” He cringed.

“I see. If he can’t have me, he wants me in jail. Pretty jealous.” She laughed again. “Go right ahead! My car’s unlocked.” Everyone knew her little blue Fiat. No other Fiat on the reservation. “Nothing in there except hay from hauling square bales.”

His shoulders hunched as he went back up the narrow stairs. “I know,” he turned and said from the top, “but I’m ordered to search.”

“Good luck!” she called. “If you find any, let me know. I could use a good pair.”

What could that wily husband of hers be up to now? He’d gotten that warrant today and taken it directly to the Porcupine substation. Was he was still around, hovering outside the College Center?

Her students were standing on chairs, peering out the high casement windows facing the parking lot. Chokecherry bushes blocked the view.

“Okay, back to work. We’ve had our laugh for the day.”

“Yeah? Wait’ll he comes back down and takes you in.” She ignored Melvin the Wise Guy and continued their discussion of The Theft of the Great Sioux Nation.

What stolen moccasins? She’d given hers away long ago to honor some foreign visitor with size six feet. The only moccasins around had been the ones her sister-in-law Edna had been repairing for the tribal historian.

But now Edna was in the Winner Nursing Home a hundred miles away. After the diabetic attack, all hell had broken loose out in the country, everybody drinking, nobody with the keys.

The class froze. Steps on the stairs. Cedric hovered on the bottom one again, leaning into the room.

“I have to take you in.”

“Why? Did you find anything?”

“No. Regulations. I have to take you in.”

How much could her husband pull? How many relatives owed him a favor? “Now, in the middle of class?” She shuffled papers into her briefcase._

She knew, he knew, the class knew, the whole res knew who stole and who didn’t. Her reputation had been made years ago. She sighed. It was the paperwork. If he let her go and she drove off-res to her next class in Martin, he’d be in trouble.

“Okay, okay. Handcuffs?” She thrust her wrists out dramatically.

“No, no, just as you are.” He backed away. “But I’ll have to put you in the back of the cop car.”

“No, do it right. Don’t worry, we’ll still be friends.” She turned, “Class, I want you to witness that he arrested me properly.”

The handcuffs clicked shut. Outside waited the Oglala Sioux Tribal police car with the logo, “Protect and Serve.” He opened the rear door, moved his papers and thermos aside.

In I go, behind the wire, like criminals and drunks.” She waved to her students. “Class dismissed. See you in class Thursday. And don’t dream of cutting, thinking I might be sitting in Pine Ridge jail.”

There was a growing crowd at the College Center door, including the Director, Duane Red Hand. She yelled to him, “Call Martin and cancel my evening class. Tell them I can’t make it.” He would tell them why, too, arrested for stealing moccasins.

2

Cedric pulled up before the new Tribal Law and Order building on the outskirts of Kyle. He pressed a button to release the locked glass doors. “Young Deer from Porcupine, bringing in a suspect.”

The doors buzzed. He escorted her past the pop machines and pay phone directly to the judge’s chambers. There sat Verona Iron Hail, the newly- appointed judge. She was the College President’s daughter, also from Porcupine, and related to the Young Deer family.

Verona smiled. Underneath her loose black robe she wore a dark pink pantsuit. “Sit down. What’s this all about, Cedric?”

“Warrant for search and arrest, Judge Iron Hail,” he replied. “I searched the suspect’s car, found nothing, and brought said suspect in for questioning before release.”

“Un-handcuff her, Cedric. No need for that.”

“She insisted.”

“Yes, I insisted. I wanted to be arrested properly.”

“Ah, yes, the missing moccasins.” Verona shifted papers on her crowded desk. “I heard about them earlier today, before the Law and Order meeting. Cedric, you’ve been very prompt.”

So that’s where her husband had been. He was on the Police Review Board. No wonder everybody was jumping to serve his warrant. No cop would cross a Police Review Board member.

“Sit down, Dr. Black Fox. What’s your story?” She listened attentively while Cedric stood stiffly by the door.

“I don’t have any moccasins. Edna was fixing some blue and yellow ones with orange in the design, but she couldn’t find any orange beads to match.” The small office was stuffy. “Now with no one in charge of her house, who knows what happened to them.”

“Well, your husband, out there,” Verona waved toward the nearly empty courtroom, “says otherwise. Says Edna gave them to you to return. The owner says he never got them. And they say there’s nothing at the bars and hock shops.”

“But Edna wasn’t finished.” She frowned. It would be her word against her husband’s. Edna was in a coma.

She peeked through the open side door. Yes, there he sat, dressed in leather vest and jeans, cowboy boots and hat. Next to him sat a small woman, the one from Taos, a pixie with dark hair held back by a beaded headband. She wore beaded earrings, beaded medallion, beaded watchband, but on her feet only plain leather boots.

The woman she’d found in her living room a month earlier, the woman who’d taken over her husband. Why wasn’t he just off in Taos with her, now that it was getting cold?

Suddenly she realized why. He wanted to be flanked by two women, one on each side like the old treaty chiefs. He’d been furious at her attempts to get a divorce, had evaded all attempts to serve him with the State papers.

On-reservation he was safe, a matter of tribal jurisdiction. Now he was getting even, serving papers on her. He wanted a confrontation, and many tribal officials would relish this marital row played out in public.

His black eyes were riveted on her. From across the courtroom his words came at her like arrows, “You stole those moccasins from my sister and I will make you give them back.”

“Wait till the hearing, Mr. Black Fox.” Verona reached over and closed the door.

“Thank you, Judge Iron Hail.” She’d almost been hooked, about to taunt him that he hadn’t even visited his sister yet. “If you release me on a Personal Recognizance bond, I think I can track down those moccasins.”

Verona signed the release form.

Cedric took it and escorted her out. “Dr. Black Fox, it’s my dinner break. I can give you a ride back to your car.”

“Let’s visit your uncle the tribal historian instead. He’ll feed us, and we can continue the investigation.” Cedric wasn’t an investigating officer, just a rookie cop. But if he brought back the stolen goods, it would look good on his record.

3

His uncle’s house was a white Bureau of Indian Affairs house known as an igloo. World War II vintage, long and skinny. Cedric in uniform loomed behind her as she knocked on the unpainted door.

A white-haired man, the tribal historian, sat at the table. He’d been one of the speakers in her English class, telling about Wounded Knee. She introduced herself the traditional way as her husband’s wife.

He remembered her and smiled. Then he looked at his nephew. “Sit down and eat.” He motioned to the pot of stew.

After they both started eating, he turned to her. “How is your sister-in-law Edna?” Traditionals always began with relations.

She told about her last visit to the nursing home, Edna fed by nose tube, but how she had gotten her to respond by squeezing her hand.

“Those moccasins, you didn’t bring them yet.”

“She never finished them, couldn’t find the right shade of orange beads. But they’ve been in your family a long time. Would you pay what you owe Edna for a reward?”

The old man considered. “You want money without them being fixed?”

“Not me. I’ll just see they get returned.”

“They shook the old man’s hand and left. He rose to escort them to the door. Courtly, old style.

4

She headed north in her Fiat, past Sharp’s Corners to Scenic Bar, a hole in the wall just off the reservation. Once it had been a tourist spot, famous for its double sign above the door: “No Indians Allowed” in English, and underneath, in Lakota, “Indians Welcome.”_

Part of the bar was a store–the reservation hock shop. A collector’s fantasy come true. From the Badlands, petrified turtles and turtle eggs, oreodont teeth, mastodon bones. Wedding dresses, prom gowns, ribbon shirts, leather vests, sacred pipes lining the wall._

Chain saws, engine hoists, car jacks, fence stretchers, radios, CBs, tape decks. All hockable items. The history of a people lay before her, their most precious possessions.

Merle, an old-timer ran both bar and store. A Santa-Claus figure in red suspenders with a cigar poking through his streaked gray beard. Not fatherly but miserly.

She looked at the glass cases of beadwork. Pipe bags, vests and belts covered with geometric designs, mainly in white and red, but some in dark green, blue, and yellow._

Moccasins laid out in pairs, some turned over so the beading on the bottom would show. Burial moccasins. Either never used, or stolen from the grave. Hocked goods weren’t ever in plain sight. Merle was careful. Could be stolen goods.

She walked over to his cash register. “My nephew, Sam Black Fox, says he’ll be over tomorrow to get those moccasins he hocked.”

He humphed, noncommittal. Merle could sell them at twice, three times what he had loaned.

“Says to keep ’em cause one is all tore up, beads ripped off, half-finished repair. No good to sell ’em, only to a one-legged man.”

A flicker of interest. “Send him by.” Ah. They were here.

As she left, door clanged from cow bells hung on its frame.

5

Back in the Kyle housing, she found her nephew with his arm around his current girl friend, watching LA Cops. Sam Black Fox was tall, proud of his long braids, his rodeo belt buckle, and his savvy with women.

In the kitchen she poured herself a mug of coffee and waited. He stretched, came in and poured himself a cup, too.

“What can I do ya for, Auntie?” He sat backwards in the straight kitchen chair, all elbows and knees. After Edna’s coma, he’d left the country and gone on a drunk for a whole week.

“You’re Edna’s favorite nephew. When you go to Winner rodeo this weekend, you must ride to win. She’ll be proud of you. Show her your trophy when you visit.”

“No entry fee.” He flexed his fingers.

“Last time I was there, she squeezed my hand. They say she’ll come out of it yet.”

“That’s good.” He shifted, changed subject. “You gonna divorce your old man?”

“Can’t catch him off-res to serve the papers.”

They both laughed.

“I saw you eyeing his new woman. I hear she’s looking for beadwork.”

He laughed, looked towards the living room, then shifted again. “Yeah, but she’s stingy as hell.”

“Tomorrow, take her over to Scenic Bar. Pair of blue and yellow moccasins hocked there real cheap.”

He stiffened, coffee mug in midair, and stared.

“If I did that,” he paused and looked down, “my uncle’d be all over my guts.”

“Yeah, he’d be madder’n hell. He’d drive right over there to fight you.” She stared at him. “Somebody should tell him–” she glanced towards the living room, “just around noon, after his Law and Order meeting.”

He frowned.

“With your rep, you can sweet-talk any woman. There’s a reward out, no questions asked. Enough to cover that entry fee. Owner just wants his family heirloom back.”

“Auntie, you puttin’ me on?”

“Remember the time I locked my keys in the airtight Fiat and you got them out without breaking a window?” She was ignoring the weekend Sam had ‘borrowed’ her pickup. “I owe you one.”

“Ah.” He smiled.

6

The state warrant officer parked behind the Scenic Bar next to her Fiat. It was noon, and hot for autumn. Not much activity inside. Just an orange VW campervan parked in front of the store, and a couple inside.

She shook his hand. “My husband ‘ll be tearing up any moment now,” she said, pointing eastward, “in a beat-up brown pickup with a white stock rack. Good luck.”

The bar’s back door opened. Brown packet under his arm, Sam slid into her front seat. “Ho, got it, Auntie.” They were off, across the railroad tracks and around the bend into the Land of Red Cloud, across the res line. He looked out the window, craning his neck.

“See anything?”

“Yeah, cloud of dust in front of the bar. Somethin’ just pulled up, chunky like a pickup.”

“Have any trouble?”

“Nah,” he said. “I showed her some of the Badlands to kill time, hit it just right. Made her buy me some pop, too.” He grinned. “Told her I had to pee.”

“Here’s your next ride.” She pulled up to the waiting cop car. Cedric was on duty again.

“What? You double-crossin’ me?” His hand had already opened the door, one cowboy boot on the ground.

“No, nephew, you ride in front. He knows the owner.” She waved as he got in. “Ride like hell in Winner, and be sure to show that new belt buckle to your other auntie. You just might bring her out of that coma.”

Cedric would get the credit, mystery solved, case closed. Knowing Cedric, he’d refuse to split the reward.

Time to make a pair of moccasins. Traditional colors, red, white and dark blue. If she worked fast, they’d be ready just in time to wear to the divorce hearing.

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