Stealing Fire by Win and Meridith Blevins is a thriller of psychology, Navajo mysticism, and murder (Available June 21, 2016).
When Navajo detective Yazzie Goldman sees a hood hassling an old man, he has no idea what a long fall into trouble it heralds.
The old man turns out to be none other than the most famous architect in the world, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright e is carrying the sketches for his most important building, the Guggenheim Museum. Some bad people are after him: A Chicago gangster wants Wright to pay back money he's borrowed. One of Wright's apprentices wants to steal the drawings and sell them. So does the son of the gangster.
Yazzie agrees to protect Wright. In the process he brings the architect into his Santa Fe home, endangering his family. John Ford is shooting a movie in Monument Valley, and luckily, the star of the movie, John Wayne, helps Yazzie ride against the bad guys.
We were waiting for the Super Chief in Chicago’s Dearborn Station and dressed to the nines. You’ve got to live up to the train, to the entire experience. For me, a lot of that is about the rhythm, the jostling, the wheels clacking steady as a drum. It’s also about looking good and eating well.
I love the electricity that juices up a city, and we’d had a terrific vacation, but I was ready to go home.
The place I was raised is as different from Chicago as can be imagined. Navajoland feels like a Stone Age bowl. Rimmed by varnished mesas and four sacred mountains, the bowl holds every thought and scent, whisper and cry that has rolled through the Southwest since the first dawn. Year after season, all those things have gathered beneath our land, forming freshwater springs. And below those springs? It is said there’s an underground pool, wriggling with wind-blasting, wild creation spirits. I don’t know if I believe that or not. In Chicago, wild spirits quiver on every corner. I prefer them underground.
Railroad adventures begin with a buzz circling the passengers. It’s the anxious hum of people ready for the train to depart. After World War II, trains were no longer worn-out cars with faded carpets, carrying soldiers to their death or high-flying heroics. Trains took on an air of luxury, especially the Super Chief. Iris and I were waiting, no different than anyone else, heading to Santa Fe in style.
After a few days in the family’s Santa Fe home, I’d take off and Iris would get back to her painting. I would go with my grandfather to check out our trading post, the place I was raised. We had been too long gone, and I was looking forward to the trip. Mostly looking forward to time alone with my grandfather Mose.
Iris and I had traveled to Chicago during my time off so she could visit art museums and I could enjoy her happiness. We had been married one year. Not every day was a honeymoon, but it was pretty close. She was not only my partner and lover, she was my best friend—a best friend is harder to come by than a wife. We two had the entire package. I was a lucky man, and I knew it.
She wore a sage green suit, sewn of light wool, that cost more than she’d earned on the sales at her last gallery showing, and I wore a suit that really fit. Brand-new, custom tailored, from a swanky shop in Chicago. Iris, petite and exotic and covered with turquoise. Me, well over six feet tall, every inch up one side Navajo, and every inch down the other a desert Jewish trader. I have to say, we got plenty of looks. It embarrassed me, but Iris ate it up.
We were sitting on a bench, reading, when we heard voices rise up behind us in the depot. Some commotion going on that was starting to bubble over the pot.
Iris turned her head. “Oh, my God. Yazzie, look!”
I did look. What I saw was two men having a disagreement that was getting large and loud. Iris saved my place on the bench, and I walked toward them. A detective hired by the railroad, it’s my job to handle trouble. This was a pleasure trip, but anytime we rode, I was ready. I moved my hand to my backside, a reflex, and there she was, my .45.
One man, elderly but with the energy of a mountain lion, was roaring. The other man was ugly, and his face was misshapen—I knew his type. They were scattered around Chicago, Las Vegas, New York, some parts of L.A. Other places, too. I looked to Iris. She was getting off the bench and starting toward me. I gently motioned for her to stay where she was and hold our place. I didn’t want my wife anywhere near trouble. Although telling her that usually doesn’t work, which is part of the reason I love her.
I got up close, and the two men were so locked in conversation that they didn’t notice me hovering nearby.
The ugly one said, “You borrowed it, and you’ve gotta pay it back.”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“Jake Fine, you remember?” said Ugly. “Owns his own private little Wall Street? I work for him.”
I didn’t know what this old man had gotten into, but Fine was a name familiar to many. A hard man to pin down, but he seemed to have rough people working for him in every corner of the country.
The old man turned whiter than I thought a human could get.
“Okay, I see you do remember him.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “The money, with interest, is past due, Mr. Wright.”
“Oh, go talk to Wes. He handles my money.” And he whisked the air in front of the man as if he were a fly. Bad move.
Mr. Fine’s employee turned red. “Mr. Wright, you have just met Mr. Wrong.”
A lot of times, those gangsters at the lower end do sound like a dime novel. Still, they’re to be taken seriously. I moved in closer. The old man was kind of kooky looking. His hair was too long … some eccentric who’d gotten mixed up with an artsy crew.
“Problem here?” I said to them.
Two words, but suddenly I was visible. It was time to head this off. No one rides on the Super Chief to be in the middle of a hood pressuring an old man.
“Let’s move back from the passengers,” I said. “Give us all a little privacy.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” That was the guy who worked for Fine.
“And I do not intend to be bullied into missing my train.” Mr. Wright lifted his chin in defiance.
Sometimes you’ve got to make yourself more visible than you might like. I opened my jacket and they both saw the .45. They both looked up at me. They both moved over to a corner of the station. A woman on the nearest bench smiled at me for a moment, snapping her gum and showing off her pretty knees.
“Sir,” I said to the elderly man, “why don’t you get back on the platform? The train will be here soon.”
“I refuse to be pushed around.”
God, he was stubborn.
“Listen to me, and listen good,” said Ugly to him in a low voice. “The world may think it owes you a living. Mr. Fine disagrees.”
The little man pulled out some uneasy charm. “I understand, calm down—it’s just money. I have a large commission check that will be waiting for me at Taliesin West. I’ll send you the full amount owed as soon as I get down there.”
“With interest, that’s twenty-five grand.”
“Not a problem.”
“I hope not. We can find you pretty easy.”
“I’ll have Wes write you a check.”
“Make it a cashier’s check.”
“Yes, yes, yes. Are we finished here?”
Fine’s man looked like he had something more to say, but he couldn’t figure out how to put the words together.
The old man turned his back on us and started toward the train. I held the goon, but I couldn’t keep him from yelling. “You’re gonna have many Mr. Wrongs infesting your desert home if you don’t come through. Think of us like scorpions—we can get in anywhere.”
I pushed Ugly back. “Be quiet and leave.”
“I’ve got a job to do for a man who has a genuine beef with that guy.”
“Understood. Handle it somewhere that’s not in the realm of the Super Chief.”
I put a heavy arm around his shoulder, walked him over, hand inside my jacket, and handed him off to Ferguson. He was security for the train at the station. Retired cop.
“Fergie, would you get this guy out of here?”
“Hey, you got no right,” said Fine’s man.
I looked down at him. “No right? I could have you arrested on a number of charges. This isn’t the place for a civics lesson, but I’m giving you a break. Take it.”
“Civics? What’s a red nigger know about civics?”
His voice was loud enough that it carried halfway across the station, causing plenty of turned heads. I was going to have to start keeping a roll of tape in my left pocket to quiet down stupid people. The guy was really getting to be a pain.
“I learned about rights and decency during World War II. I was fighting for you,” I said, “while you were fighting for a crooked buck. Don’t push.”
He didn’t. Ferguson walked him out.
Actually, I’d been stationed on Shore Patrol in San Diego during World War II, but I do know all about being called a red nigger. I had just become Jake Fine’s personal Mr. Wrong.
Copyright © 2016 Win and Meridith Blevins.
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Win Blevins is an authority on the Plains Indians and fur-trade era of the West, is author of Give Your Heart to the Hawks, Stone Song, his prize-winning novel of the life of Crazy Horse, plus Charbonneau, Rock Child, RavenShadow, and others.
MEREDITH BLEVINS has been a creative arts therapist, an award-winning travel writer, and has published several books. The Blevinses live in the Utah Canyonlands.