River Marked Chapter 7

PICTOGRAMS ARE PAINT ON SOME SURFACE, ANY surface. Gang graffiti are pictograms, but usually the term refers to paints done by ancient man. Petroglyphs are carved into the rock. A lot more effort goes into them, and they take a lot longer to create. Like the displays in the museum, the petroglyphs at Horsethief Lake were on big chunks of rock that had clearly been cut from larger rocks. Unlike the ones in the museum, these were fenced off--look but don't touch.

The first petroglyph I saw at Horsethief Lake looked like a pineapple.

Calvin didn't quite hide his grin when I told him so. "Before the Columbia was dammed in 1959, the river was narrow and deep here, not the wide and tamed thing she is now. There were falls. Celilo Falls. We have photos."

The young man stared out at the river. "You know, I wasn't born then. My mother wasn't even born back then. Some of the old ones still mourn the old river as if she were a living being who died."

"Change is hard," said Adam. "And it doesn't much matter whether it is change for good or ill."

The young man looked at him. "All right. Some of the change was good, some of it not so good. There used to be a canyon. Some people said that there were more petroglyphs on the canyon walls than any other location in the world. I don't know, but there were a lot of them. When it became clear that the dam was going in, an effort was made to save as many as possible. These were displayed at the dam for decades before they were brought here. There are others in the museum and a lot, I suppose, in private collections--the tribes asked people to go in and take what they could as long as they would care for them. The ones left in the canyon are underwater, and I suppose they will be there forever."

We were walking as he talked. Like the drawings on the rock, the carving was primitive. Some of it, like the pineapple person, were like trying to guess what a kindergartner had drawn. Some of them were extraordinary despite the stylization. I could have stayed looking at the eagle for an hour or so. But it was a rock that held a row of mountain sheep that clued me into something.

"I'll be darned," I said. "That's why he sent us to look at the baskets."

The men looked at me.

"Well, maybe not," I conceded, thinking of the woman who'd stared at us in the museum, then followed us to the pictograms. "But those animals look like the ones woven on the baskets. If the only art you ever saw was on baskets and woven blankets, when you decided to carve something, you'd make it look like the baskets."

"When we're through here, you can write to the anthropological journals and tell them your theories," said Adam.

I narrowed my eyes at him. "Stuff that. I'll write a doctoral thesis. Then I can go do what most of the other people with doctoral degrees in anthropology do."

"What's that?" asked Calvin.

"You don't need to encourage her," said Adam seriously, but his eyes laughed at me.

"The same thing that people with degrees in history do," I said. "Fix cars or serve french fries and bad hamburgers."

"This one is the one my uncle told me to point out to you," Calvin said.

The rock had been broken, but the two pieces had been fit together carefully. The creature's face looked a little like a fox--a mutant fox with very big teeth and tentacles. Its body was snakelike. It was like a cross between a Chinese dragon and a fox with the teeth of a wolf eel.

"We don't know as much about these as we do the pictographs," Calvin said. "They could have been carved ten thousand years ago by the first people, or a hundred years ago. We don't know what this one was meant to represent, but we have a name for it. We call it the river devil."

Its eyes were eager, intelligent, and hungry.

I'd seen them before. Bright green eyes in the water that I'd seen in my dream. I blinked, and the eyes were just eyes. No matter how avid they appeared, they were just carved in the stone. But I knew what I had seen.

"Now," Calvin said cheerfully, while Adam watched me out of feral eyes, "there's a Coyote story about a monster who lived in the Columbia in the time of the first people, before we humans were here."

I tried a reassuring smile at Adam, who must have sensed my sudden recognition of the monster on the rock. I mouthed, "Later." He nodded.

It had been a dream, I reminded myself fiercely. Just a dream.

Calvin missed all the byplay, which was fine. "This monster," he said, "ate all of the first people who lived in the river. It ate up all the first people who fished in the river. Eventually, no one was willing to go near the river at all, so they asked the Great Spirit for help. He sent Coyote to see what was to be done.

"Coyote went down to the river and saw that nothing lived near the river. While he was watching, he saw a great monster lift out of the water. `Ah,' it cried, `I am so hungry. Why don't you come down so I can eat you.'

"That did not sound like a good idea to Coyote. So he went up into the hills where he could think. `Hee, hee,' said his sisters, who were berries in his stomach."

"They were what?" I asked, surprised out of my panic over a pair of hungry green eyes in a stupid dream.

"This is the polite version," Calvin told me. "You can ask around if you want to find out the rude version. It is also rude to interrupt the storyteller."

"Sorry." I tried to figure out how berries who were sisters in Coyote's stomach could have a rude version.

"`Why are you laughing?' asked Coyote.

"`We know what you should do,' his sisters said. `But we won't tell you because you'll just take all the credit like you always do.'

"But they were his sisters, and Coyote was very persuasive. He promised that this time he would tell everyone who was responsible for such a clever plan. At last they told him what to do. Following their advice, he took nine flint knives, a pouch of jerky, a rock, a torch, and some sagebrush and walked down to the river.

"`Come eat me,' he told the monster.

"And it did. As soon as it had swallowed him, he used the flint and stone to light his torch. Inside the monster were all of the first people it had eaten. They were very hungry, having not had food since they had been eaten by the monster. They were also cold because the monster was as chill inside as the river was outside.

"Coyote lit the sagebrush and shared out his jerky among them. He told the first people that he was going to kill the monster. Then, he told them, they would have to find their way out as best they could.

"So he took his first flint knife and started carving his way through to the monster's heart. He hadn't worked very long on the tough flesh before his first knife broke, and he had to bring out his second. The second knife broke, the third, and the fourth. Until at last he was down to his very last knife. But that one cut into the heart of the monster.

" `Run!' he told the trapped people. `Get out.' And they did, escaping the dying monster any way they could. Out its mouth, out its gills, and out its bottom."

"I thought this wasn't the rude version," I said.

Calvin grinned but kept going. "Beaver was the last to leave. He just barely escaped out the beast's sphincter--and that is why the beaver's tail is flat and has no hair."

I groaned.

"At last it was only Coyote and the monster in the river, and Coyote had the upper hand.

"`I will let you live,' said Coyote, `only if you promise never to eat anyone ever again.' The monster promised, and Coyote let it live. The beaten river monster sank to the bottom of the Columbia and never was heard from again. The grateful people threw a feast for Coyote, and he ate twice as much as anyone else.

"` Tell us,' the people said. `How did you come up with such a clever plan?'

"And Coyote forgot the promises he made because he is vain and forgetful. He claimed all the credit for rescuing the people."

Finished with his story, Calvin turned to look at the river devil hovering on the rock. "There's no saying that the river devil and the monster in the Coyote story are the same beast, but I was told to tell you the story after you saw the rock."

"And about Benny," Adam reminded him.

"He's going to be okay," Calvin said. "Physically. The police are giving him a little bit of a bad time because he told them he doesn't remember what happened or where his sister is, and the doctors are having trouble with figuring out what happened to his foot. But Benny's not talking to them because it is none of their business, and they wouldn't understand anyway."

Calvin leaned against the fence that protected the petroglyphs. He looked at us. "I don't see what this has to do with you. Why my uncle and my grandfather think it has anything to do with you. I mean, I understand why he thinks you won't run away from the crazies when we start talking river monsters that eat people. But why is it your business?"

"Good question," I agreed. "I'd be happy if someone had some answers."

"Tell us about Benny," said Adam, who was used to taking responsibility for the world on his broad shoulders. If there was a problem, and he thought he could help, he would.

Calvin looked at him as if he were seeing him for the first time. Maybe he heard Adam's willingness to put his life on the line for a bunch of people he didn't know, too. After an awkwardly long moment, he said, "Benny told my uncle that he and Faith were out fishing, like they do a couple of times a month in the summer. They'd caught a couple of fish yesterday and were about ready to pack it in when something hit Faith's line hard enough that she thought they'd snagged some garbage. She could have just cut the line, but she and Benny, they're good folk. They don't like leaving hooks and line in the river if they don't have to."

A truck was pulling into the parking lot next to Adam's. It was battered and sported three colors in addition to the bright orange primer, and its motor purred like a happy lion.

"My uncle," said Calvin unnecessarily, since we could all see him getting out of the truck. "So maybe all of us will get some answers."

Adam glanced over his shoulder, then looked at Calvin. "So what did Faith do?"

Calvin, like most people, obeyed Adam's tone of voice without even thinking about it and continued the story as his uncle approached. "She reeled it in, and the line kept coming. She leaned over the boat. Benny, he was leaning the other way to keep the boat from tipping, so he couldn't see what she did. But she said--"

"`There's something funny on the line, Benny. It looks like tentacles. What do you suppose . . .'" Jim let his voice trail off, and then he said matter- of-factly, "And the next thing Benny knows, Faith is in the water. He jumps in after her, and something bumps his leg--he figures that was when his foot went. The water started frothing, and he got the impression that there was something really big in the water. Faith came up to the surface, and he grabbed her in one arm and grabbed a gunnel of the boat in the other. She opened her eyes, and says to him, `It's so peaceful here,' then her eyes go fixed. Benny, he's seen people die before, so he knows she's gone. About that time, he realizes that there isn't any of her below her rib cage. So he makes the smart decision and drops her body so he can vault into the boat. He lies down on the bottom and feels something that bumps and bobs his boat all over the place. He's gone shark fishing in the ocean, and he said it felt like when there's a fish out there a lot bigger than your boat. At some point he passed out and woke up here and there until you found him."

Jim paused and looked at Adam and me. "After I heard his story, I called in Gordon Seeker because he knows more about this kind of stuff than anyone I know. He listened to Benny's story and decided nothing would do but that he go down to that new campground and check out the werewolf. Whatever he found in your trailer made him believe that you are right in the middle of it. Part of it seems to be that you"--he centered his gaze on me--"are river marked now. Whatever that means."

He didn't sound nearly as friendly as he had last night. But that seemed only natural. For all that he was human, and his cheerful manner was out there for all to see, Jim Alvin had all the hallmarks of an alpha, and we were intruders in his territory.

"So," he said heavily, "now you know what we know. What do you know?"

"We told Calvin a few things," said Adam. "Why don't you give Mercy and me a little time to sort out what we know, and we'll do the same. We have food enough for an army. Get Gordon and whoever else you think might need to know and come down to our campsite in two hours. We'll feed you and talk."

WHEN WE WERE DRIVING BACK TO CAMP, ADAM SAID, "Did I read you wrong, or do you know more than I do about this?"

"I think knowing more might be a misnomer," I said. "Maybe I have a better handle on the scope of the questions?"

He made a noise halfway between a grunt and a growl.

For thirty-odd years, I'd been alone. For a season, I belonged to Adam and he to me. Sometimes the relief of it was almost more than I could bear.

"The woman I saw at the museum and at Horsethief Lake, I suspect is Faith, Benny's sister. She could, I suppose, be a random ghost, but she seems too interested in us not to be connected to us in some fashion. Benny's sister is the best candidate. I'll ask for a description of her before I tell them--if you think I ought. The only thing knowing who she is might do for them is confirm that she is dead, but I think Benny's story is clear enough."

"I agree," Adam said. "Probably, if she doesn't reappear, there's no reason to bring her up."

"Besides," I said, looking out of the truck at the small orchard we were passing because I didn't want Adam to see my face, "if they have a walker, he'll be able to see her just fine, and she can talk to him."

But Adam knew me, and he put a hand on my knee. "Gordon is probably a walker."

"Right," I agreed.

"And he knew about you before he came into our camp. He just didn't know that you were going to be with me until he saw you."

"Yep," I agreed. The river had a scattering of fishing boats that were dwarfed by a pair of barges traveling upstream.

"They left you to be raised by a wolf pack," he said. "Their loss. Would you rather have had them, or Bran and his pack?"

He wore the pair of dark sunglasses that he sometimes did while driving. He used to wear them more often when the wolves were still trying to hide what they were. And his face was as bland as his voice.

"You have an irritating way of pointing out the obvious," I told him, touching his arm to let him know I was teasing. One of my favorite things about being mated and now married was that I got to touch him whenever I wanted to--and the more I touched, the more I wanted to.

"Good that you find it obvious," he said. "Maybe Gordon and the other walkers had their reasons for staying away, but it doesn't matter anymore. Who do you think is the second walker, the hawk? Is it Jim?"

"Could be," I said, thinking hard. "But I don't have any medicine-magic, almost the opposite, because magic doesn't work on me like it does everyone else. I suppose he could be two things at once. It could also be someone we haven't met as a human yet."

"What bothered you so much about the river- devil petroglyph?" He made the turn into the campground and swiped the card on the box that opened the gate. "All I caught was your shock. I couldn't pick up anything else."

"Remember that nightmare I had on the way to Horsethief Lake?" I said. "I saw something that could have inspired a drawing like that." And I told him what I remembered of the dream. By the time I'd finished, we were at our campsite. Adam didn't say anything for a while, and I helped him set up to feed an unknown number of people.

"Do you often have dreams like that? About people you don't know?"

"No," I told him. "Usually the people I do know are sufficient to spawn any number of nightmares without inventing any."

He stopped what he was doing and pulled out his magic phone.

Okay, the phone isn't magic, but it does things my computer struggles with.

"Good," he said. "We have a signal. What was your teacher's name? Do you remember?"

"Janice Lynne Morrison," I said.

He glanced at me, a little surprised by my ready answer. I had trouble remembering the names of people I should know. An unfortunate number of my customers were known to Zee and me as Yellow-Spotted Bug or Blue Bus. I've had to check my paperwork to make certain of the names of people I'd known for years.

I shrugged. "Horror has a way of making things stick."

He tapped into his magic phone for a while. If I had a phone that complicated, I'd have to bring Jesse along to run the damned thing.

"There's a Janice Lynne Morrison who teaches third grade at a school in Tigard, one of the Portland suburbs," Adam said with a frown. He turned the phone so I could see its screen. The face that looked back at me was grainy and too formal.

"That's her," I said, my heart sinking to my feet. "What am I doing dreaming about real people, Adam? What am I doing dreaming about their deaths?" I gripped his wrist because I needed to hold on to something solid. "Is it a true dream? I don't do true dreaming. Did I see the future, so I should warn her somehow?" I knew I was babbling, but this was Adam I was babbling to. He didn't mind and wouldn't think I actually expected him to have an answer.

He tucked his phone away with his free hand and let me hold on as tightly as I needed to.

"I don't know," he said. "But we'll find out. Warning her without more information won't help, either. People don't tend to take warnings about monsters who are going to eat them very seriously. Especially when they come from total strangers."

"This is true," said Gordon heavily as he walked around the end of the trailer. "It is why those who know things must sound mysterious. It is like fishing. The mystery the bait, the truth the hook-- which is why it sometimes hurts."

"The fish ends up dead," I said dryly. "Not the ending we are hoping for," Gordon said with a sigh. "But always a possibility." Today he wore jeans and a Dresden Dolls T-shirt.

He looked at me. "Who was your father, Mercedes Thompson?"

"Hauptman," said Adam coolly. "Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman."

"Joe Old Coyote," I said, leaning against Adam a little and relaxing my grip on his arm, both signals that I was okay, and he needed to ease up the protection deal, as much as I appreciated it.

"Ayah," said Gordon. "Killed by a car wreck and finished off by vampires. I told him he drove that thing too fast, but he seldom listened to good advice. Do you know who your father was?"

"Just hit me on the head and put me in your basket with the rest of the dead trout," I told him. "Get to the point."

He smiled at me.

"Some people like fishing," said Adam dryly. "Necessary or not."

Gordon laughed. He had a good laugh. "I do. That I do. Still, sometimes in the struggle much is gained that would not be otherwise." Then the amusement faded out of his face. "Sometimes the fish gets hurt. I will tell you a story while you get ready to feed the people who are coming. There will be just three more in addition to those of us who are here." He smiled at my frown. "I am an old man. And old men get to act mysterious. I talked to Jim about ten minutes ago. He and the Owens brothers are coming. Calvin has been set to watch at the hospital, where Benny is showing signs of not being as well as they previously thought. He keeps trying to get out of bed, and they have had to restrain him."

I thought of the way Janice Morrison, whom I would never meet, had walked willingly into the river with her struggling children.

"What do you know of how those who are like you came to be, Mercy?" Gordon asked.

"I don't, much."

Adam encompassed us both with a single sharp look, then went to the campsite grill and stuffed newspaper and charcoal into the charcoal chimney. He granted us the illusion of privacy because Gordon obviously wanted to talk to me-- but he would listen.

It made me itch, that protective streak of his. But one of the things the past few months had taught me was that it ran both ways. Anyone who tried to hurt my wolf had me to deal with. I might be a thirty-five-pound coyote, but I played dirty.

Gordon grunted in approval. "One time before this, Coyote came upon a village where the chief had a beautiful daughter. Coyote disguised himself as a handsome young hunter. He killed a deer, slung it over his shoulders, and took it to the chief as a gift. `Chief,' he said, `let me court your daughter for my wife.' "

"Is this the polite version?" I asked dryly.

Gordon displayed his missing front tooth but didn't slow down his retelling. "The chief didn't know it was Coyote who looked at his daughter. `Hunter,' said the chief, `you can court her, but my daughter chooses her own husband.'

"So Coyote began to court the chief's daughter. He brought her fresh meat, tanned hides, and beautiful flowers. She thanked him for each of his gifts. Finally, Coyote went to her father, and said, `What gift can I bring her that would impress her enough to take me as her husband?'

"`Ask my daughter,' said the chief.

"So Coyote the Hunter went to the daughter and asked her what gift she wanted most of all.

"`I would most like a pool of quiet water where I could bathe in private,' she told him.

"So Coyote, he went out to a quiet place in the woods, and he built her a pool at the base of a waterfall. He perted a stream so that it flowed down the fall and into the pool. When the chief's daughter saw the pool, she agreed to marry Coyote--still in his guise as a hunter. She welcomed him to her pool, and they laughed and played in it until the woods rang with their happiness." The old man paused. "I think that is enough of the story. It ends tragically, as it usually does when two such different people love each other." There was a sharpness to his tone as he said the last sentence that made it obvious he wasn't just talking about Coyote and the chief's daughter.

I frowned at him. "Lots of people who have more influence over both of us than you do have made that observation. We didn't listen to them, either."

"Is it the werewolf or the Anglo that bothers you?" asked Adam, bringing a bag of premade hamburger patties out of the trailer. Other than his question, he didn't pay any attention to us as he passed by on the way to the grill.

"Wolves eat coyotes," Gordon said, but from his body language, I could tell that our marriage really didn't bother him one way or the other; he just enjoyed stirring the pot.

If he weren't an old man, I had some rude things I could have said to that.

"Yes," observed Adam blandly. "I do."

Yep. That was the one that came to mind. And he didn't even blush when he said it. Maybe Gordon would miss the double entendre. But he grinned cheerfully at Adam.

"Do you know," I said casually, "that the Blackfeet tell Old Man stories and not Coyote stories? The Lakota's trickster is Iktomi--the spider--though he tends to land more on the side of evil than simple chaos."

The old man smiled slyly. "That's because Coyote goes in many guises. And"--he shook a hand at me--"chaos is never simple unless you are Coyote."

"So what did the story have to do with me?" I asked, not really expecting an answer.

"The chief's daughter, who was, for a while, Coyote's wife, had a daughter--and she could walk as coyote or human, as could her sons."

"So I am descended from Coyote--and that red- tailed hawk we saw at Horsethief Lake"--I somehow didn't doubt that Gordon knew about it --"is descended from Hawk."

"Ayah," he said. "A walker"--he gave a studied emphasis on the only term I knew for what I was; "avatar" sounded like something that should be running around an Internet multiplayer game or covered with blue paint and CGI'd into a movie --"is descended from one of these matings of mortal to immortal. But it has been a long time since they walked so freely among us, and for many years now the only way one is born is for both parents to be descended from such a coupling."

"Which is why Calvin was so certain I couldn't be a walker," I said. "My mother, as far as I know, is Western European--mostly German and Irish in descent." "Ayah," agreed Gordon. "I do not doubt it. Which is why I ask you, do you know who your father was?"

I heard what he wanted me to. I didn't know why he'd decided to play games with me, but I was done. My father had nothing to do with whatever it was that had attacked poor Benny and his sister. Gordon Seeker, whatever he was, was nothing to me.

"He was a rodeo cowboy," I said. If I'd been in coyote form, I'd have had my ears pinned back. "He rode bulls and was moderately good at it. My mother was riding her friend's horse and trying to win enough money to survive. He gave her a place to stay for a while. He was killed in a car wreck before my mother even knew she was pregnant with me."

Adam watched from the grill. His eyes rested on the old man with cool yellow dispassion. I sucked in a breath and tried not to get mad--or let this stranger hurt me with a story older than I was. Emotions seemed to pass easier through the mating ties than words or thoughts. I was learning to control myself a little more now that Adam could feel them, too.

"Yes," said Gordon gently. "I am sure that you are right, of course. Joe Old Coyote died thirty- three years ago on a stretch of highway in eastern Montana." He looked up. "Ah, here they are." I got the keycard out of the truck. "I'll let them in," I said, and escaped at a jog.

What the old man implied was wrong. If I was tempted for a moment to believe--to believe that my father might still be alive because Coyote died all the time only to be reborn the next morning-- then I had only to remember that I had seen his ghost dance for me. My father was dead. I stretched out and turned my jog into a flat-out run, letting the speed clear my head.

I opened the gate for Jim, who did indeed have Fred and Hank Owens sitting next to him.

"Hop in the back," suggested Jim, once the truck was on the campground side of the gate. "I'll give you a ride on down."

I hadn't ridden in the back of a pickup since I was a kid, and it was still fun. I jumped out before he stopped, just to see if I still could. I landed on my feet but let the momentum roll me backward and carry me back onto my feet again. It was a matter of timing. My foster father had taught me how to do that after he caught me trying to imitate him.

"Teaching her how to do it right, so she doesn't break her fool neck," he'd growled, while my foster mother, Evelyn, fussed, "is likely to be less fatal than forbidding her to do it, because that doesn't work at all."

He had been awesome. So what if an old Indian thought my father was Coyote? My father had really been Bryan, the man who'd raised me. He'd been there for me when I needed him, until Evelyn died and he hadn't been able to survive the loss. After that, I'd had Bran.

If Bran and Coyote battled it out, I'd put my money on Bran. The thought restored my usual cheery outlook.

I dusted off my backside, and Adam rolled his eyes at me, looking remarkably like his daughter when he did so. "I bet Bran yelled at you for doing stuff like that," he said, but he didn't sound too upset.

"I haven't done it in a long time," I admitted. "Does it still look cool?"

He laughed, ruffled my hair, and welcomed our guests.

We ate hamburgers, chips, and macaroni salad. We made small talk about the weather, the river, living in Washington, living in Montana, living in the military, and thereby gaining a little bit of a fix on the character of people who had been strangers a few hours ago. Eating has been a ritual between allies for nearly as long as there have been people, and all of us were well aware of the subtext.

Gordon Seeker, I noticed, didn't talk much. Just leaned back on a camp chair and watched with an avid gaze that reminded me a little of the river devil. He caught me looking and smiled like the Cheshire cat.

"I think," said Jim finally as he dumped his empty paper plate in the garbage can, "we should introduce ourselves again. To know our allies is a good thing. I am Jim Alvin of the Yakama Nation. My mother was Wish-ram, my father Yakama, and I possess a little magic of the people." He took his seat on the picnic-table bench where he'd eaten and turned to the Owens brothers.

"Fred Owens," said Fred, though his brother was the one who sat next to Jim. "USMC retired." He glanced at Adam and smiled. "Red-tailed hawk when it suits me. Rancher."

"Hank Owens," his brother said. "USMC retired. Rancher. Welder. Red-tailed hawk when it suits him." He tilted his head at his brother. Evidently it was a family joke because his brother smiled a little. "It was Fred who couldn't let Calvin handle the job on his own."

"We left Calvin--" Jim began to explain, but Gordon interrupted him.

"--at the hospital. I told them."

There was a little strain between Jim and Gordon that reminded me of when there were two Alphas in the room. They might be allies, even friends, but they were waiting for the slightest sign of weakness or aggression.

"Adam Hauptman," said my husband, who was sitting in the second of our camp chairs. "Alpha of the Columbia Basin Pack. Army, honorably discharged 1973. Mate and husband of Mercedes Thompson Hauptman. In my spare time, I run a security firm."

Jim gave him a startled look. I was surprised myself. Werewolves might be out, but the public doesn't know everything. And one of the things that Bran was not telling the public about werewolves was that they were immortal.

"Long time ago," observed Fred.

"Vietnam," said Hank. "You were a ranger in Vietnam."

From my observation post on the ice chest, I watched Adam's face. He'd offered the chair--but I hate the camp chairs. Ten minutes, and my feet are falling asleep.

What was he up to? If Bran found out, he wouldn't be pleased. But Adam always had a reason for what he did. I usually figured it out about five years after the fact. He seemed to be watching Gordon. Maybe it was something as simple as acknowledging that we were all going to be sharing secrets before this was over.

"Nasty time," said Jim.

Adam tipped his water bottle toward Jim, then brought it up to tip his imaginary hat. He looked at me.

"Mercedes Thompson Hauptman," I said, obedient to the look that told me he wanted to move things along. "VW mechanic. Coyote walker mated to Adam Hauptman."

"Gordon Seeker," said Gordon. "But Indian names change from time to time. I have had others. I work a little healing, a little magic, a little of this and that. When I was young, I was a mighty hunter, but it has been a long time since I was young." He eyed Adam. "Maybe even longer ago than when this one was as young as he looks."

"All right," said Adam, when it became obvious that the old man had said all he intended to. "Jim and Calvin told us a few things this afternoon. Namely that we have a monster in the river that has killed at least one person--though the tally is unlikely to stop with Benny's sister. Let me tell you some things you don't know--some of which might not have anything to do with our current problem at all." He told them about the faes' redirection of our honeymoon, including Yo-yo Girl Edythe's prophecy and the otterkin who had been relocated to the Columbia.

Fred frowned and glanced at Jim. "I told you those otters we saw looked odd. Their heads are the wrong shape."

"I have seen them," said Gordon, his voice dismissing their importance. "Prophecy is a weak crutch to lean on."

"Have you met Edythe?" I asked in an interested voice. "Short. Usually looks about ten?"

Gordon raised his eyebrows, and I thought that the answer might have been yes.

I smiled cheerfully at him. "Fae are deceptive. The weaker and more harmless they appear, the more dangerous they are likely to be. Edythe is probably the scariest monster in a raft of scary monsters. I'm not inclined to discount anything she said. And I'm not sure relegating the otterkin to harmless--even though our contact with the fae seemed to be doing it--is very smart."

"They aren't eating people," observed Fred.

"That you know of," I said at the same time that Adam said, "Yet."

He smiled at me. "I'll admit that they don't appear to be part of this--but I don't like that they are here. They were watching Mercy when she pulled Benny out of the water."

"I have a few more things to add," I said. And just then the wind picked up a little, and Benny's sister, Faith, sat down beside me on the edge of the ice chest. I looked at the others--at Fred, Hank, and Gordon, who were supposed to be like me--expecting . . . I don't know. Some sort of recognition, I suppose. But no one jumped up and exclaimed the dead woman's name--or even seemed to see her. Not even Gordon Seeker.

"It wants him," she said. She wasn't looking at me; she was looking at Hank.

"Him who?" I asked.

"Benny." She sighed. "Stupid. I know better than to lean out over the water like that. But he was stupid, too. I can swim. He should have stayed in the boat. But now . . . it's like the crocodile in Peter Pan. It's had a bite of him and wants the whole meal."

"We'll keep him safe," I told her.

Everyone was watching us--or me at least. Adam had stood and was holding up his hand, keeping the others from interrupting. It might not be important--sometimes ghosts could be incredibly stubborn. But sometimes a loud noise or a sudden move, and they disappeared like rabbits.

"I don't know if you can keep him safe," she said sadly. "You know, in the story, all the first people the river monster ate came back to life after it was dead."

"I thought Coyote left it alive?"

She turned toward me, finally, and smiled. It didn't look like a smile that should be on the face of a dead woman. She had a good smile. "There are several versions of that story. When he was a little boy, Calvin always did like the ones in which everyone lived."

She stood up and wandered over to the grill, her fingers passing through the grating, and pressed on the coals beyond.

"Be careful," she told me, her gaze on the coal. "When it marks someone, they belong to it." She looked at Hank again.

"It was always him for me, you know? Ever since high school. But he never had eyes for me." She turned to me in sudden alarm. "Don't tell him that. He doesn't deserve to feel guilty."

"I won't," I assured her.

"And don't believe Jim's mysterious-Indian schtick, either. He's got a Ph.D. in psychology and taught over at UW in Seattle until he retired last year."

She put her hands back on the grill, but this time she didn't go through the grating but kept them on top of the hot metal, tapping her fingers lightly on the grill as if it fascinated her that she could do that without burning herself. I wanted to go and pull them off, even though I knew it couldn't hurt her anymore.

She glanced at the Owens brothers. "And Fred trains cuttin' horses. He's starting to make a name for himself. Hank works with him on the business side, then does welding to help balance the books."

"Why are you telling me all this?" I asked.

"So I remember," she whispered. "Tell them not to call my name. I don't want to stay here like this. Tell Benny I'm okay. Tell him to pick a flower for me and put it on Mama's grave this year for me."

I had never dealt with a ghost quite this coherent before. Usually, they don't even notice me. The few that do don't really seem to be aware that they are dead.

"I'll tell them," I promised, helpless to do anything to make this easier on anyone.

She looked up and met my eyes--and in hers I could see a flicker of violent green, the color of the river devil's eyes. "See that you do."

And she was gone.

Adam, watching me, dropped his hand when I met his eyes.

"Thanks," I told him.

"What the hell is that?" growled Hank. "Who were you talking to?"

"I thought that all walkers could see the dead," I said. "It's why the vampires don't like us."

"Vampires?" said Fred. "There are vampires?"

Jim laughed. "Not all walkers are alike, Mercy. No more than two men wear the same shirt at the same time."

I looked at Gordon.

"That is not my burden," Gordon told me. "Besides, I'm not a walker. Who did you see?"

Calvin had said that Gordon could take animal form, and he hadn't been lying. Still, there were other people who could shift shapes in the Native American stories I'd read. Instead of pursuing what he was, I answered his question.

"She didn't want you to use her name, but could you give me a description of Benny's sister? Before I tell you what she told me, I'd like to make sure I'm talking about the right person."

"No," said Jim coolly. "You tell us what she looked like, and we'll tell you if you get it right."

Okay. I could deal with that. "She's a little shorter than I am and she has muscle. Not casual muscle but the kind that comes from some sort of hard work or sport. She has a little scar just in front of her left ear." I put my finger where the scar was.

"She has a Web site," said Hank hostilely. "Her photo is up on it."

"This," Adam said abruptly, "isn't going to work that way. If you don't believe Mercy saw Benny's sister, nothing she tells you is going to convince you."

"She told Calvin that there was a woman following them at Horsethief Lake." Jim scuffed his boot in the dirt. "She told him that the woman was wearing a dark blue shirt with a pair of macaws on the back before he told her that Benny's sister had been with him on the boat. Beyond that, I don't see what pretending she could see Fai--" He stuttered a little as he switched words. "Benny's sister gains her at this point." "She loved that shirt," Hank muttered. "Got herself a new sewing machine, one that could do fancy embroidery. That shirt was the first thing she made on it."

"Benny gave her a bad time about the damned parrots," said Fred. "White cockatoos." He laughed and shook his head.

I thought I would have liked Faith if I'd known her while she was alive.

"What did she say?" Adam asked.

"She said that it had a taste of Benny and wanted the rest. I told her that we could keep him safe, but she wasn't convinced of it." I glanced at the men sitting on the bench of the picnic table. "Other than that it was just a few things--and a message to Benny. She wants him to know she's okay, and she wants him to put a flower on her mother's grave for her this year."

I rolled up my pant leg to show everyone the mark I had on my leg. The blood and pus were gone, but it still was a dark brown scab circling my leg. It itched mildly, but I didn't touch it.

"River marked, you said," I told Gordon. "What does it mean?"

He crossed one scarlet boot over his opposite knee and pursed his lips. But before he could say anything, there was the sharp crack of a pistol, and, beside me, Adam jerked.

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