Some of my friends have been asking me to put a whole story on my blog, so I hunted for my shortest one - SOMETIMES YOU DON'T :
Her eyes. They were the color of the burned-out ends of lonely days. It seemed I had tried to forget them my whole life. Right at the moment they were giving me a look that probably would have set driftwood on fire. Luckily I was more dense than driftwood. And yes, that was a joke. At my expense. Like most of my life.
The dark quiet of her office trembled like the grasp of dying fingers. “You’re a fraud.”
“You mean me being a red man in a white man's world or the Psychic Reader sign on my door?”
Her voice was a velvet sneer. “Psychic? Puh-lease, you don’t believe in the supernatural any more than I do.”
I shrugged. “My clients do. That’s all that counts.”
“Clients. You mean marks, don’t you?”
“Clients. They hurt. I help as best I can.”
She studied me as if I were a bad purchase she had made. “You don’t remember, do you?”
I arched my right eyebrow in a question. It wasn’t exactly a lie. It just wasn’t the truth.
Her eyes sifted me like flour. “First, you were in all my elective classes in high school. Then there you were in all my classes at the University of Houston. Harvard was the same story. I thought you were following me.”
“I was following the money.”
Her eyes became nearly as sharp as the memories I was trying to keep from my face.
“Like all the other men in my life.”
“Not you. The scholarships.”
The breath bled from her in a sigh. “But then you stayed in Boston. And I -- I had family obligations.”
When she had said family she meant family in two ways. Blood. And crime. And yes, that was another joke. A deadly one. At everyone's expense.
The “family” she now ruled dealt in both blood and crime. She just dealt it out with more elegance than had her father -- as she had for nearly a decade and a half.
She had been the fantasy of every male in high school, student and teacher alike. In college she had been a vision. Even now Victoria was a striking woman. There was an almost tangible stillness to her of deep mountain lakes and silent shadows.
Her words were so soft I had to strain to hear them. “When we are young, what we want is so simple. We want it all.”
Her face suddenly became a map of her past life which told me nothing I wanted to hear. “And in trying for it all, we lose what is right before our eyes.”
Her wet eyes suddenly saw me again. “What all did you want, Mr. Winters?”
“Very little. Not to be alone. To be loved. To finally belong.”
Her lips curled. “And you did not get even that.”
“No. No, I didn’t.”
For some reason she couldn’t meet my eyes, and as is so often the case when the pain is too close, she distanced it by intellectualizing. “We awaken at dawn, hungry for the far horizons of freedom and the power to do what we want. Forever out of reach, they mock us until we find ourselves yearning for a path back to dawn … to start again with wiser heads.”
Her words hit me somewhere beyond memory and below the level of speech. But her obvious pain begged me to try and relieve it with clumsy words anyway. Still I had no faith in my own and instead used those of Lord Byron.
“I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on either side.”
I received the usual response I got when I tried to help. “What the hell was that?”
I fought my own sigh. There were times when I felt like a mime and the whole damned world was blind. Like now.
When you find yourself in a hole, a good rule of thumb is to stop digging. But one look at her face killed that notion. Her eyes. Damn, her eyes. Born of strange sins, they yearned for more than loneliness, yet seemed to expect nothing less. For them I had to try one more time.
“You have to learn to let the wind blow through you.”
“Have you been doing drugs?”
I shook my head. “You can’t forget the consequences of your choices any more than you can stop feeling the wind blowing upon you.”
“Is this leading anywhere?”
“Depends upon your resolve.”
Her face hardened. “I have filled graveyards with my resolve.”
There was nothing for me in her words so I let them hang there in the near darkness of her office. “If you learn to let the wind blow through you, you will take away its power to knock you down.”
Her eyes hollowed even more, and her voice was little more than a husk. “How do I do that?”
“If you let the memories of your mistakes blow through you without letting them catch on your anger or your pride, you will not feel them. You will learn from them. And learning from them, you will break the cycle of repeating them.”
I smiled sad. “Perhaps you might even start down a new path toward a better tomorrow.”
It hardly seemed possible, but her voice became even huskier. “Tomorrow? How many of those do I have left, fortune teller?”
She thrust out her hand palm up. I had spent long years counseling the dying. I knew the pallor to the skin, the shadow to the eyes. Victoria was just beginning to show the signs.
I couldn’t resist doing what I had dreamed of doing for long years. I took her hand gently in mine. It trembled in my fingers. I traced her long, long lifeline and fought to keep the pain of the irony from my face.
“Victoria, the doctors have already told you the answer to that question.”
She stiffened and tried for a smile, almost making it. “But you have a better bedside manner.”
She sniffed, gently pulling her hand from mine. “I am throwing a party of sorts at the Country Club tonight.”
Her smile flashed like a knife from the shadows. “Repaying old debts as it were.”
It became almost human as she looked deep into my eyes. “Luke, my car will pick you up this evening. Eight O’ Clock sharp.”
Her own right eyebrow arched. “You do still have a decent tuxedo from your days as a respected Boston psychologist, don’t you?”
“I was never respected, only tolerated. The token Native American on the staff.”
She nodded. “Yet you still insisted on acting like the hero of some Frank Capra movie. I hear it finally did you in.”
I smiled sadder. Did me in? It had brought me back to the town of my birth to hold the hand of the woman I had loved all my life and could never have.
“I’ll be ready.”
Her eyes went to the shadows and within her fears. “Are any of us ever ready?”
“We Frank Capra heroes are.”
I walked away, her eyes looking at me with something I couldn’t quite pin down.
Two minutes after eight found me in the back of a limo that was so spacious I was surprised my voice didn’t cast echoes. The driver looked puzzled at me. His face was creased in the hard lines of a sneer that didn’t match the uncertainty of his eyes.
“You an Indian, ain’t you?”
“Oh, yeah, them. They won the Little BigHorn, didn’t they?”
“Yes and look where it got us.”
I looked up through the window and whispered, “The sky takes off her clothes and cries in stars.”
He looked at me odd. “You went to Harvard just like the boss, huh?”
“It shows. Most of the time I don’t understand half the stuff she spouts. Just like you now.”
He shook his head. “I’d die for her. But hell if I understand her.”
“She’s lucky to have you.”
His shoulders straightened. “That’s what she says.”
As a young Lakota I had neither the blue blood nor the new money to be allowed on the grounds of the Country Club. A modest little monument to the greed and prejudice of the White Man only a little less large than a football field. As the limo drove down the winding road which led to its mausoleum of a parking lot, I fought down a shiver.
The black mists curled and creamed in the night air like an unspoken fear trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness. A trick of the polluted air, the moon of blood leered down upon its reflection on the black waters of the bordering lake. Ripples of long bloody fingers cascaded from the sides of a large boat heading to the beach.
I had seen it in Victoria’s eyes when she had spoken of unpaid debts. I shook my head. The present sum of our lives was always the result of a past equation of someone’s subtraction, another’s addition, and the division of our own efforts. Not all of the equation was our doing. But what we did with the sum was.
Hate was like taking poison and hoping the person who offended you died of it. Maybe I could persuade Victoria of that before things got ugly. I shook my head. And maybe I did live my life as a Frank Capra hero. I shrugged. There were worse paths to walk.
The driver dropped me off, rolling away into the night mists. A waiter, stiff and disapproving, led me into a modest drawing room the size of Missouri. Rubies and diamonds sparkled on ivory throats and wrists like drippings from the sea. The low rumble of the latest pop music was muffled by the rise and fall of empty conversation and brittle laughter.
I looked around at the ebb and tide of desire upon wealth, greed upon opportunity. The social elite milling through the room seemed to be talking against a darkness that pressed in on them or pressed to escape from within them.
I was suddenly caught up in a sense of unreality as if the world of harsh sun, cold mountain, and hot desert had slipped out of reach somehow. It wasn’t the first time. Fact was I had lived most of my years in Boston in that twilight world.
My years. A long trail of disconnected moments that had failed to add up to a life.
A voice, that had it been a face would have cried out to be hit, suddenly sneered beside me.
“It is only the superficial qualities that entice. Man’s deeper nature always is rancid in some fashion. Isn’t that right, Dr. Winters? Oh, I forgot. You lost your license, didn’t you?”
I turned slowly. Dr. Winwood, the city’s leading psychologist. His block chin jutted out at me like a blunt instrument.
His steady smile was a mask he wore, behind which his calculating mind peered out, weighing and sifting the blush here, the furtive glance there. His smug face said he knew the number of the hairs on my head, the sins of my past, and the bills in my mailbox. Obviously, he had too much free time.
“And still his success rate is higher than yours, Winwood.”
I turned to my left. Victoria, elegant in a retro-Titanic gown that was suddenly all the rage, one arm tucked behind her back. As always the sight of her hit me like a physical blow.
Her body was as slim and slight as the branch of a birch. Her shoulders were the white of mountain peaks. Her long, sparkling gown blazed under the bright lights as if spun from fresh-shed blood. And her face? Her face. It was beautiful and terrible beyond any singing of it. I found myself holding my breath.
She was one of those haunted-eyed women you attached your own hidden wounds and silent sorrows to. I tried not to lose myself in her green eyes in whose depths the monsters swam. The monsters that drive us or haunt us or both.
Most found those eyes frighteningly cold. But that was just a polished front to hide the fact that they’d lost their way a long time ago. Perhaps my own eyes looked the same.
Winwood’s face closed up like a fist. “That is Doctor Winwood, Miss Ruach.”
Victoria brought her hidden arm out from behind her. Her hand held a rolled newspaper. It still smelled of wet ink, fresh paper. She smiled with her lips only and smacked him in the chest with it.
“Tomorrow’s newspaper. I promised you bitter tears, Winwood. I keep my promises.”
He hurriedly unfolded the paper. It started to tremble in his fingers. I read the headline : WINWOOD DISCREDITED.
The beauty receded from her face, leaving only the terrible. “The mayor’s wife? Really, Winwood. You hated him, and you’ve just insured his re-election.”
I watched Winwood deflate, his face crumbling under the weight of tomorrow. I turned to Victoria. She was drinking in the sight of the crushed man like fine wine.
“Don’t do this to yourself, Victoria. Let the others go. Tomorrow --”
“May not come for me if a certain rival has his way.”
Her smile became that of a wolf. “But tonight? Tonight is mine!”
And it was. Her slender arm looped in mine, Victoria walked elegantly among the guests, dispensing cruel, poetic justice. Hushed whispers echoed from the terrified men and women before us. Whimpers of anguish, soft sobbing haunted me in our wake.
“Please, Victoria, not for their sakes but for your own, stop this.”
Her eyes were hot pools of near madness. “Where were the pleas for mercy when the wolves closed in on you in Boston?”
“They didn’t take anything of real value from me.”
“Your license. Your way of making a living!”
“I make a living now.”
“You call what you do a living?”
“I still help people. Funny. My success rate is higher as a psychic reader than it ever was when I was a psychologist. Guess people trust the supernatural more than science.”
“You live in a hovel.”
“I live simple maybe. But that’s good. Keeps me centered.”
“You perhaps. But I am not the saint you seem to need to be. I need more. My life, being what it is, has been spent mostly in dreams of revenge. Now they become the nightmares of those who so well deserve them.”
Her eyes became as hard and flat as polished jade. And on she went. Her face was glowing with a joy that was almost pain. I know it was painful for me to see.
The limo driver walked hurriedly over to us just as a state senator fell backwards into his seat, his hand clutched to his chest. “Miss Ruach, Hamartolos is here.”
Victoria smiled like a cat spoting a lame mouse. “I told you he’d come tonight. He couldn’t resist springing his trap in the midst of my own. Are the grounds unguarded?”
“Yes, ma’am. Don’t you want us to put up a little fight?”
Her face darkened. “Not one of my men dies tonight. You understand? Keep them off the grounds.”
Her face became a mask of ice. “Is the launch hidden that brought her?”
“Are you protecting her?”
“Hell, who’s gonna protect us from her?”
She patted his seamed face gently. “You only have to abide her for a few more moments, Eddie.”
“Yes, Miss Ruach.”
He walked away a few steps. He stopped, rubbing the back of his neck. Slowly he turned around.
“I - I been with you since you were a little one. And -- and --”
Victoria’s eyes grew deeper, colder. “And?”
“And I hate to see you this way. That’s all. It’ll come to no good.”
Her icy face thawed a bit. “Luke has been telling me the same thing.”
He flicked a glance my way. “Knew I liked him for some reason.”
Victoria made a shooing motion with a slender hand. “Go, Eddie. You won’t like at all what is to happen next.”
He went. But he didn’t like it. I couldn’t say I cared much for what had been hinted at.
Who was this mysterious Hamartolos? Was he the rival Victoria mentioned? I caught my first sight of him as a woman bank president sat sobbing in her chair, the proof of her embezzelment scattered about her designer shoes.
Escorted by five men whose eyes were holes into nothingness, he strolled lazily through the pale guests like a happy lion. He was almost as pretty as his smirk crowed to the world. Tall, muscular, he was a bronze Apollo, garbed in a tuxedo.
He gestured to the guests. “So you’ve managed to humble the mighty have you? Cattle. The lot of them.”
I sighed, and he turned to me. “Oh, the defrocked psychologist. Well, saint, what do you see when you look at them if not cattle?”
“Unique souls. Each one a story of hope and loss that would fill a book. Each one an island of promise and worth.”
He spat on the polished floor. “You’re a hoot, you know that?”
Victoria seemed all eyes as she turned to me. “You really believe that?”
She looked sick. “Some men are too gentle to live among wolves.”
Hamartolos’ lips pulled up in a smile that would have looked natural only on a shark. “Oh, neither he or you are going to live that much longer, babe. The boys upstate aren’t too crazy that you’re checking out with Aids. They won’t squawk much if I hurry the process along and sweep up your territory at the same time.”
I was surprised his teeth weren’t needled as he laughed. “Quick, clean. They like that. No headlines. No law. Only one little lady drowned in the lake.”
He shook his carefully groomed head. “Your boys even knew the score. They’ve split and left the way wide open for us.”
Victoria smiled, and the blood went cold within me. “Oh, the way is certainly wide open.”
Hamartolos’ men pulled their guns, aiming them straight at him. “What the hell?”
Victoria smiled wider. “Simple economics. Why should they kill for you when if they kill for me, they each will receive enough money to live like a king abroad?”
“Even you ain’t got that kind of money!”
“I see fear does wonders for your grammar. No, seeing how Aids is robbing me of my wealth, I decided to use it all while I had it.”
“You’re gonna kill me? Here? In front of all these witnesses?”
“To save themselves from ruin they will gladly become blind.”
The last had come, not from Victoria, but from another blonde. Her face belonging on a movie screen, she moved with the grace of a swan right up to a dumbstruck Hamartolos.
“Gloria! Your face. It’s -- it’s --”
The blonde vision, looking oddly innocent in her simple dress, slowly held up a slim automatic. “Just like it was before you threw acid on it.”
She frowned in mock concentration. “What was that you said? Oh, yes. No doc in the world will fix this face. Ever!”
Victoria laughed, and it was a sound I never thought her throat could make. “But times change, medical science advances. True, the operations are illegal here in the states, what with the use of the flesh of fetuses. But in Amsterdam? All sorts of operations are legal there. Isn’t that right, Gloria?”
And death was on the air like the taste of ashes as Gloria husked, “Yes. Even those operations that turn studs into fillies.”
Hamartolos went pale. “You wouldn’t! You couldn’t!”
Gloria stiffened. “Those were my exact words when you accused me of cheating on you, remember?”
She jerked her automatic at the dead-faced men. “Take him to the launch, boys. We got ourselves a long flight to Amsterdam.”
He struggled, for all the good it did him. I felt dead inside. Too much had happened. I couldn’t process it all.
Victoria turned to her guests. “Scoot. It appears I won’t be needing your blindness after all. Go home and wait for those ill-fated chickens. They’re coming home to roost. Go! Scat!”
They just stood there. “Leave while I’m still in a good mood.”
She turned to me. “Only one left to punish.”
I nodded, though I didn’t understand my sin, and said low, "For each man kills the thing he loves.”
Victoria drew in a ragged breath at my words. Her hollow eyes seemed to sink into her face. Slowly she pulled an ornate dagger from her waistband, walked to within an inch of me, and proved she, too, knew Wilde’s poem.
“Some kill their love when they are young.
And some when they are old.
Some strangle with the hands of lust,
Some use the hands of gold;
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.”
Her lips were but a layer of skin from mine. “I would rather do this upon my bed. I have living quarters here.”
All that I had seen had made my mind a frozen lake. I knew this was madness but the knowledge couldn’t seem to break through the cold surface of my shock. I let her lead me from the room, down winding halls, up carpeted stairs, down darkened hallways until we were in her private quarters.
I went even colder. I barely saw the furnishings, only that they were elegant and expensive. The walls. My God, the walls.
There were newspaper clippings in frames all over them. Of me. All my quixotic crusades. All my victories. All my awards. My final failure to beat the proud and the callous. All of me.
The point of the dagger traced a line along the left side of my throat. “I loved you, Luke. From high school I loved you.”
Her face became ice. “Father knew it. He sent me away from you over and over again.”
Her eyes grew remote. “Eddie killed him for me.”
“Yes. Luke, he was a monster, wanting me for himself.”
Her face screwed up in self-loathing. “Himself!”
She pressed her body up against mine. “But I loved you. Always. Why do you think you won all those scholarships to the very schools Father sent me to?”
She blinked back tears. “But I was too smart for myself. With Father’s death, I was dragged back here to the family “business.” Here! While you stayed in Boston where I had lured you.”
The point of the dagger stopped and pressed hard into my neck. “You never married. Why?”
I tried for a smile and almost made it. “Don’t you know?”
“No! Then why did you never come back?”
“You never showed me a sign that you cared.”
“My enemies would have killed you if I had.”
I nodded slow. “At least it would have been a fast death. I’ve been dying a slow one for a long time now.”
I flicked my eyes to the knife at my throat. “It’s only fitting that yours be the hand to finally end it for me.”
She stopped fighting the tears. “You don’t understand.”
Her head sank until I only saw the top of her blonde hair. “The Frank Capra hero only wins in the movies.”
She raised hollow eyes to me. “I won your victories over the wolves in Boston over and over again. Me!”
“You?” And my mysterious winning all those years finally made sense.
I frowned. “Until last year.”
“Yes. Until last year.”
She sucked in a ragged breath. “These past years desire became a disease or a madness. Or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every action makes or unmakes you.”
“You contracted Aids.”
“Yes. And there you were in Boston, living the life of the hero that I had purchased for you. Me! And I was dying, and you were so alive. So -- so I stopped.”
She pulled me down to her soft bed and sat so close her perfume filled my head. “I regretted it the moment I saw how you took it, with dignity and grace. Where I had stooped to lashing out at an innocent.”
“I’m not that innocent.”
“Only you would say that of yourself.”
She flipped the dagger expertly, handing it to me. “Eddie will take care of my body. End it quickly for me. It is your revenge to take.”
Once again my expectations had been suddenly tossed on their heads. My mind felt thick with cotton. And my lungs seemed to have forgotten how to draw in a breath.
Revenge. I looked down at the blade. It felt heavy in my hand. I studied it for long seconds. Sharp, cold, unyielding. Like revenge.
Was this how I wanted the night to end? Was it?
Victoria gently closed her fingers around mine and whispered, "Do it. Do it! Please don't leave me to waste away. Let me die quick, clean ... in the arms of the man I love."
In the arms of the man she loved.
"Please," she husked.
I slowly raised the knife towards her heart. Her lips pulled up into what seemed more a raw wound than a smile. She managed two words.
I managed a few more words than two. “Remember what Wilde said of revenge? That the best revenge ...”
Using the sharp point of her knife, I made my own zipper. The sound of the parting fabric actually sounded like one. I carefully cut her gown from the high neck, between her breasts, down her firm stomach.
"... is to live well."
Her voice became a taunt whisper. “What are you doing?”
“What I’ve dreamed of doing all my life.”
“Are you insane? I’m infectious!”
“I’ve been infected with you my whole life.”
“But before that, you and I will have lived.”
Her lips were all I had dreamed they would be, then she pulled back slightly, her voice a husk. “I thought in Frank Capra movies you lived happily ever after.”
With her in my arms, the world finally made sense. “Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you just live for the first time.”
Well, there's an entire story. Hope you enjoyed it, everyone. And while on the subject of Native Americans, I believe Luke Winters would enjoy the painting "Arapaho Moon" by David C. Behrens. Check out his website. He has prints of it for sale even. I would have posted the picture here, but it is copyrighted. Luke would even ask you to look : www.davidbehrens.com/am.html You won't be disappointed. You might even mention I sent you there.
And if you're wondering how it turned out for Luke, here Josh Groban's voicing Luke Winter's future thoughts ;