MURDER. CORRUPTION. MISSING PERSON.
Being married to an Apache woman, Zach Miller now straddles two worlds: the challenges of mainstream America, and the politics and intrigue of the Mescalero Apache people. When he takes on the task of finding a missing celebrity in the Los Angeles side of his life, he has no idea that he’s stumbled into a task that is quite literally…impossible. Then, when murder and embezzlement of tribal funds is added to the mix, his obligations to his family and closest friends set his life on a journey where he’s challenged to discern where destiny ends and responsibility begins.
These three mysteries; missing person, murder and corruption, even if they all prove to be unrelated to each other, will tear at the heart of Zach’s loyalty, integrity and faith. When the answers finally emerge, Zach’s family will be reconstructed, and he’ll have the burden of carrying secrets that will follow him to his grave.
A Zach Miller Adventure: Book 3
by Dennis A Nehamen
Copyright © 2016 Dennis A Nehamen All Rights Reserved
Published by Golden Poppy Publications™ Los Angeles, CA
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from Golden Poppy Publications or Dennis A Nehamen, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
All images, logos, quotes, and trademarks included in this book are subject to use according to trademark and copyright laws of the United States of America.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016904523
Cover and Book Design by Nick Zelinger, NZGraphics.com
Nehamen, Dennis A Author
Dennis A Nehamen
Printed in the United States of America First Edition
This book is dedicated to the Mescalero Apache Indian people.
The richness of their culture and traditions inspired me from the inception of The Zach Miller Adventure Series to infuse their history and way of life into my stories. I am eternally grateful for all that I have learned through my study of this heroic tribe. I would only hope that my readers take to heart the important lessons I’ve outlined from these people, especially regarding harmonious transformation of values and beliefs, as well as honor and pride.
No work of art can be accomplished without the support of loved ones. For each and every moment of patience and tolerance, I thank my wife, Bernice.
THE STATE OF NEW Mexico hadn’t seen anything like it since it served host to the Manhattan Project and the development of the first atomic bomb. You might have thought Einstein had been reborn and was visiting. Instead, it was Stevie Green of LIVE.
For the past seven years, the iconic leader of his band had owned the world of music; he was the world of music. It was all about Stevie, as much a wonder as a new planet never before discovered. Then, to top it oﬀ, he was playing a one-night-only show in Albuquerque at Isotopes Park—he was an isotope, a divined element recently greeted into the periodic chart that had his fans dancing ecstatically to the magic and spirit defining the miracle.
This genius had literally branded a novel movement in sound. He borrowed from his training as a classical composer á la Beethoven, infused it with hip-hop, and then bestowed it with as revolutionary and energetic a pulse as Presley did for rock and roll.
Thanks for a father-in-law who was eager to babysit. My wife, Preeti, and I were enjoying a night out in heaven. It’s doubtful that one more seat could have been packed into the stadium. The stage had been temporarily constructed in the center of the area, what would normally be the territory of a deep-playing second baseman if the field were being used, as it typically was, for baseball—an actual theater in the round.
we were sitting high up in the bleachers above the right field line, which were ideal seats that a friend of mine had acquired by way of her special status at the University of New Mexico, where the park is located. All was going well and the group was halfway through what they usually perform as a twenty-minute piece, “You Can Do the Same Thing Too.”
Then, the unexpected happened. The forecast for the early spring evening had called for a few clouds with no rain, but the weatherman must have had plans to attend the concert and suﬀered from an unforgivable case of wishful thinking— it started to pour. Most everyone has been in a rainstorm, but this was a New Mexico deluge, a genus unique to the region. On this evening, the act featured an unthinkable array of luminosity.
Lightning bolts, so dense and thick they might have passed for brightened torpedoes, struck like warriors’ weapons on the sky’s breast. Gods hurled exploding light patterns mimicking upside-down trees pointed at the earth like spears. Then, dancing stick figures of persons and animals stepped on stage, replaced by broad panoramic views of a globe outlining the borders of continents and countries in white—all electrical activity showing oﬀ its immense power.
But that was not the main attraction. Rather, it was that the rainfall had a mind of its own, splitting the stadium laterally from just behind the infield such that it heavily soaked the half with the playing field and all the boxes, booths, and seats wrapping around from the first base line to home plate and to the third base side. sitting literally two seats from me getting drenched while my wife and I were dry as unused Pampers.
The band was facing home plate and Stevie was in front, receiving his full share of the rainfall while the musicians standing behind him could have been dying of thirst. Remarkably, the legion refused to acknowledge the unexpected act of nature and went on singing, sopping up water like a gutter. In fact, Stevie was entranced, seeming to be brought to an unimaginable outpouring of emotion and energy, as if the heavens above were breathing through him.
To make matters more bizarre, there was no wind and the storm idled for almost a half-hour in one spot. Then, just as Stevie was finishing another piece, “Boo Hoo Bitching,” the tempest exhausted itself, the beast packing up the show as if it had been waiting for its limousine.
Most of the concertgoers who had the misfortune of being seated in the downpour let to seek shelter. Their wet clothing and the coolness of the air precluded many from returning. The second portion of the program was viewed by about half of the beginning audience, but the star never mentioned a word about it.
While listening to the rest of the music, I couldn’t help thinking about the incident, especially how life has a way of randomly slicing and dicing, cutting and lacerating, severing and disjoining, slitting and splitting, fissuring, parting, abstracting, divorcing, segmenting, subdividing, and fracturing us along an infinite number of planes and angles.
The wrong side of the tracks, the right side of the law, the right side of an investment, the wrong side of bed; we wake to uncertainty, live it out every minute of the day, and go to sleep, never sure if we’re about to find ourselves on the wrong side of life when we rise the next morning.
A sick child, a spouse seeking love in the arms of a stranger, a lost job, an accident killing an innocent person crossing the street, a freak murdering for joy, a sad soul preferring suicide to facing another disappointment, winning a lottery, moving into a new dream home, making the basketball team, finding a new best friend, falling in love for the first time. Every second of every day we’re turned like flapjacks on a griddle…one side cooling while the other burns.
That night, I, Zacchaeus Miller, known as Zach to my friends, was on the right side of the stadium. I hadn’t always been as fortunate as on this concert night and wouldn’t always be in the future.
The worldwide following of this man of unparalleled musical greatness was going to be on the wrong side of the news the next morning. Stevie Green’s career slithered to a dead stop that evening and with it went the man himself— never to be seen or heard from again.
What happened? Well, that’s the question hundreds of millions of people were trying to answer. It’s also the mystery I was called on to investigate—and I begged not to take the job.
I will divulge that this adventure I’m about to scribe speaks to destiny’s mercurial trickery and how human will is contested by folly. It seems that things just don’t always turn out the way man plans. Some people get lucky and in the end find their way home safely. Some aren’t so fortunate, and the load of dung they leave along one of their past roads traveled turns up at the most unexpected time and place—and stinks worse than a busted sewer pipe. This story speaks to the magical and maddening power of fate; one of life’s inevitabilities that bullies you…more so if you try to toss it in the trash.
Welcome to Mescalero.
LIVE AND IN PERSON
HISTORY DOES HAVE A way of repeating itself. A few years earlier, it was my closest friend Preston who enthusiastically called me one cheery morning to suggest that I visit a boy named Jivin on a Mescalero Indian Reservation. He was supposed to be a mystic. I traveled seven hundred miles out of the way. Then I was sent on a journey to Israel that nearly cost me my life.
Since returning home from that harrowing experience, I’d married and had a child. Temporarily I’d put aside my career as a writer and was finding contentment running a restaurant called Kuruk that my wife had opened before we met. Now out of the blue, Preston calls with a hair-brained story about the Stevie Green band members believing that Stevie intentionally disappeared. Then he informs me that they want to employ me to find him.
It seems that Preston was hired by LIVE to handle their sound engineering. As he became better acquainted with the members of the group, he heard one theory after another being proposed about what happened to Stevie. Plus, not a day went by when the media didn’t report somebody swearing they’d seen him or knew where their beloved idol was hiding away or being held captive. The band members finally decided that they needed to conduct an independent investigation.
From the onset, I disputed Preston’s judgment to propose me as the man to locate the band’s leader. Even more, I questioned these musicians’ collective wisdom in allowing Preston to sell them on the idea that I could accomplish what no law enforcement team had come close to doing. Still, he was thrilled to break the news to me. Making my best eﬀort to quash his excitement, and willfully preclude the aphorism of historical repetition coming true, I hung up on him. I thought the firm action might punctuate the point that I was at peace with my dull life as a husband, father and small business owner. It didn’t.
“Zack, if this goes where I’m thinking it might…you’ll soon be writing the story of the century,” Preston cheered the next morning after flying into town to surprise me. “The boys say Stevie was very depressed before he disappeared…they’re absolutely sure he’s alive. He could be wandering in one of those fugue states—“
“Preston, what are you talking about?”
“A state…like when you lose your identity.”
“I know what a fugue state is,” I answered impatiently, “but for Christ sakes, has the world gone nuts? If Stevie Green couldn’t find his self, I promise you there would be about a billion people who would point it out for him in the time it takes to burp—the guy couldn’t walk out in public to buy a soda without being swarmed by fans.“
“Well, maybe that’s not the answer. But he’s alive. Now, I told them you’ll get to the bottom—“
I cut him oﬀ with a derisive chuckle. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“This is a short assignment, I promise.” He tightened his lips and nodded his head to assure me that his words were true, totally ignoring my objection. “I’ve already talked to Preeti and she’s excited for you.”
Preston pulled two airline tickets from his pocket, flashing them as if they were passports to heaven.
“Preeti has you packed and ready to go,” he laughed, taking me by the arm and leading me toward the house.
Two hours later, we were in the air and an hour after that we landed at the airport in Los Angeles. After exiting the plane we made a near one mile-long trek down the corridors of the terminal. At last, a suited man holding a white placard with black lettering that read “Zach and Preston” met us.
My friend stood by my side beaming. “Hold your horses, Zach, my man. The fun is about to start.”
We were taken by limousine, but not as I anticipated to the hotel. Rather, the driver used a side road out of the main section of the airport, and in moments we entered a zone I never knew existed. It was a small heliport. In an instant we, along with our travel bags, were hoisted into a waiting copter. It was just turning dark, and whirling east from the airport made my first ever ride in a whirlybird one of the coolest experiences I’d ever had.
It took no more than ten minutes before we descended onto a landing site on the roof of the Staples Center. Two men from the band’s security team greeted us. They escorted us through the interior arteries of the building. Gradually, I felt the floor rumbling and the ceiling vibrating. The noise increased with each step, breezing through the hallway like a chemical blast.
The concert was beginning. In a moment, we came to a door where another security oﬃcer was stationed. without a word spoken, we were taken to two seats on the floor directly in front of the performance. Preston looked at me with a signature mischievous smile as wide as a politician’s. He gently tapped me on the shoulder, leaning to yell in my ear over the deafening sound of the frenzied crowd.
“How’s that for VIP treatment? And the best is yet to come.”
I didn’t want to damage his delirium by telling him I wouldn’t be shacking up that night with one of the beautiful women he’d already promised me were as plentiful and diverse as jelly beans in the fan-world of music. I didn’t have to. My wife had cast a spell on me and Preston knew it. “The best is yet to come” was never designed to tempt my fidelity.
The concert was insane although I would be a lying-out-of-the-side-of-my-mouth fibber if I said the group was anywhere near what it had been with Stevie. No, it wasn’t so much the performance as it was being there front-stage-center with every one of the almost 20,000 seats filled with screaming fans that put me on a high. No wonder the guys comprising LIVE were smiling as if they were on drugs (remarkably, they weren’t). I imagined if I were singing to a maniacal crowd that size, I’d be ecstatic too.
When halftime arrived, the lights went on and I gazed about for the first time. I’m not going to be a name-dropper— and after spending time with presidents and ministers of countries in Israel I’m not impressed with stars—but within twenty feet of me were some of the biggest names in sports, music, and film.
Preston quickly grabbed my arm and led me back to the door from which we had entered. The guard now greeted Preston like a good friend, and they exchanged a couple of words before he took us through another entrance and into a large room. Just as we arrived, the rock group came in through a separate door.
This space was sparsely populated, obviously designed for the artists to relax and work out any last-minute kinks for the second half. we stood talking oﬀ to the side for a moment.
“How do you rate this kind of treatment, Preston?” I queried.
He looked at me as if he were about to disclose a top security matter of national concern.
“Cameron Wilky, the new guy stepping in for Stevie, what do you think?”
“He’s as close as you could get to looking like Stevie and he’s definitely able to mimic his style on stage,” I acknowledged, aware that I was hedging my position.
“Right. But his singing, what about that?”
I grinned, ready to admit a truth my close-up observation post permitted.
“Fair. It was the sound that carried the stand-in Stevie into the performance. His voice is—”
“Anyone ten rows back and further from the stage can’t tell and most of the people closer don’t care to think about it,” Preston asserted. Then proudly he added, “So you ask why I have the privilege of walking in here uncontested—“
“I didn’t ask,” I teased.
“Well, I’ll tell you anyway. It’s because I make Cameron sound like Stevie to millions of people. Zach, I’m the best at what I do.”
Preston wasn’t boasting. It wasn’t in his makeup. He was the best sound engineer, and LIVE was desperate for his talent. As we were talking, from across the room, one of the members I recognized, Arnie Manzano, waved to Preston and moved in our direction.
“Zach, you know who Arnie is, right?”
“Sure,” I responded. I knew the names of each member of the prestigious band.
Arnie was the keyboardist. He was also an arranger and composer. In the absence of Stevie, he had picked up much of the slack: in his own right he was an accomplished artist. He was using a towel to wipe himself, still sweating profusely. Drying his hands, he shook with Preston and then with me. “Zach Miller, right?” Arnie stated breathlessly, as if he’d just jumped oﬀ an elliptical machine.
“I am he. Good to meet you…” my mouth forming an “M” sound but freezing, not knowing what to call him.
“Call me Arnie, please. I think we’ll be getting to know one another quite well.”
“We’ll see. I fear my best friend here oversold me,” I responded humbly.
“Preston doesn’t make mistakes. He’s one of the few men I’ve met who knows when he’s right and won’t compromise when he does.” He turned respectfully toward Preston. “He and I have gone head-to-head a few times about getting Cameron’s sound squared away. Your friend here had it balls-on right.”
“His expertise is music, not investigations,” I said, intending to further depreciate my stock in a proposition I truthfully had no interest in pursuing.
Arnie laughed, treating me like a prankster.
“You’re not the only great man to refuse praise.” He let the comment float like a musical note. “Preston explained to me how close the two of you have been, but in case you didn’t recognize it, let me assure you your friend’s best expertise is neither music nor investigations…it’s people.” He nodded his sharp-pointed chin up and down like a hammer nailing a point. “If he told me my father had been Genghis Khan in a past life, I’d listen.”
“He is a fairly good judge of character,” I concurred. “Damn right he is. Anyway, I’m not going to make you uncomfortable prying into the details about what you did in Israel, but your credentials are impeccable to me and the rest of the group,” Arnie complimented. “If it’s agreeable with you, after the show we’ll all meet back at the hotel and talk out our business.”
In an instant, Arnie broke into a slow jog. The door he had entered opened to the undiﬀerentiated clamor of the awaiting audience. Immediately, he and the rest of the group made their way onto the stage to deliver Part Two.
The show ended and we hooked up again with the band. we were ushered into a limousine and shuttled away like dignitaries. The vehicle was surprisingly quiet. Except for a few depreciating comments about the performance, none of the boys talked. They seemed morose. By the response of the audience, they were a smash hit—I wondered if Roger Federer went into a slump each time he won wimbledon because he thought he could have played better.
They certainly couldn’t have been in a funk about the meager quarters they were going to have to settle for at the Ritz. They had taken a whole floor of nothing but suites. I deliberated: If Stevie were here, would they have cut to the chase and taken over the entire hotel?
we settled in Arnie’s suite. I noticed immediately that there were no drugs and no women. Preston had assured me none of the members used. It had been a strict code established by Stevie that nobody would be part of the group who employed substances or abused alcohol. He was serious about his craft and recognized the ingredients most likely to lead to trouble—shooting, snorting, and smoking were taboo. The rest of the group knew the rules.
Stevie had been an avid health enthusiast, but one would have never recognized it while sharing a meal with him; he ate heartily. Still, it appeared that if gaining weight had been his mission, he’d failed terribly. Furthermore, from the railframe figures composing his group, it was apparent that they were emulating him—and likely starving to do so—together they might have fit into one pair of my pants, and I’m not a heavyweight.
Women were another story. what the fellows were known to lack in appetite, they famously redeemed for themselves in the area of carnal lust. Stevie had no objection to his group members screwing their proverbial brains out as long as they were never late for a rehearsal or missed a performance because they were up too late or slept away for the evening. He, on the other hand, was known to abstain from woman. was he gay? There was no shortage of rumors speculating on his sexual preference but all it amounted to was grist for the media mill. Some less charitable ponderings suggested he was virginal.
On this evening, the ladies eagerly anticipating partying would have to wait for the esteemed guest of honor, Zach, to be prepped about his requested assignment by the group before performing their own service to the band. I would find out the next day when Preston discussed the festivities after I left that orgiastic celebrations included several of the stars I had witnessed sitting near us at the concert.
“Zach, you could have balled Brenda Verity. She was so stewed she would have whacked the bellman,” Preston shared excitedly.
“Not too flattering, Preston, if you’re telling me you nailed her,” I needled him.
“She’s beautiful,” he giggled like a high school kid celebrating his sperm count. “I’ll never forget it.”
“The question is, will she?” I couldn’t help ribbing him.
That evening, it was clear to me Arnie had established himself as the new leader of the fractured legendary band— he took the reins for my initial briefing. As he was about to begin, I surveyed the performers sitting around the room with me. I noticed the ordinariness each projected. On stage, their wardrobes suggested purchases from charity shops or vintage used clothing stores. Their hair was unkempt. They looked like…musicians.
But in the brief few moments they had before gathering in Arnie’s suite, they had put on pricey tops and pants and combed their hair. when they talked, there was no mistaking that they were finely educated. In all, they could have passed for members of the Board of Directors of IBM.
“You can forget all the nonsense you read about in the press. Most of it is bullshit. we’re all willing to bet a fortune that Stevie is alive…disappeared of his own volition.” He scanned the room of silent partners. “we’ve discussed this between ourselves and believe you’re the person we’ve been looking for to try and find him.”
“I still have to caution you—”
“We know all about it, you’re not admitting to being an investigator. That’s not what we need. You’ve had your life on the line, nearly died several times, right?”
“Yes, but I never intended it to happen,” I responded earnestly. “I’m not actually an adventurous man.”
“We know that too. But you don’t have fear like most of the people we’ve interviewed for this—in this case, the critical issue we’re concerned about is not danger but being bought oﬀ. we know you won’t compromise if you get close,” Arnie praised.
“The bottom line is it’s our belief that Stevie staged this…and he had help,” interrupted Sonny Boy Blue, the bass guitarist. “we know who assisted him and he’s as wily a son-of-a-bitch as you’ll come across.”
“I’m confused,” I interjected. “why would he want to do this in the first place?”
Collectively the group chuckled, as if the obvious answer was an inside secret.
“Surely you noticed how Stevie leaned toward dark skin,” Arnie pointed out. “He and I spent a lot of time together, but he wasn’t inclined to talk about his past. Still, occasionally he’d drop hints, and less frequently he would discuss his background in more detail. The story is that his parents were Sephardic Jews who came here from Israel not long before Stevie was born. He was an only child. By the time he was two, his mother had a life-altering stroke.
“The mother had worked as a pharmacist and his father was a physicist. It seems after the stroke, not only was she unemployable but also what was needed to care for her kept the family near the poverty level. From what he described, these were very religious people. Stevie was raised with a huge dose of guilt.
“No matter what happened, however, his education was the priority. At sixteen, he was sent to the Royal College of Music in London and then graduated from Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. It might impress you if I mentioned that Debussy and Bizet both went there.”
“I think he had it with all of us, to tell you the truth,” Rudy Dee, the group’s drummer broke in. I discerned his voice as dissenting. “None of us wanted to face it, but my analytic take is he transferred his shame to us. Hell, he knew he was carrying the group.” Rudy spoke matter-of-factly and without abasement. “Each of us is damn good at what we do—Stevie was extraordinary and needed to move forward on his own. Frankly, we were holding him down.”
“That’s your opinion, Rude,” countered Arnie, who clearly disagreed. “Stevie needed us as much as we needed him.”
“Then why was he so depressed?” Rudy shot back.
“All that started after his parents were killed. You know that,” Arnie retorted.
“No, I don’t. That’s what I mean about none of us being willing to face it. He was depressed long before, but he got worse after the tragedy, Arnie,” Rudy insisted.
“Come on, guys. This poor man might think our family needs a good therapist,” Sonny said, employing humor in an attempt to lighten the mood.
“What happened to his parents?” the budding investigator in me piped in.
“Believe it or not, neither his father nor mother had ever come to one of his concerts. They were disappointed that after all the training in classical music, he bonded to rock. ‘They were pissed’ would be a more apt description of how they felt,” Arnie explained. “Finally, he talked them into coming to Telluride, Colorado to see one of his shows. Stevie had hired a private jet…” Arnie stopped, angling a look of regret my way. “You get it.”
“When was that in relation to him disappearing?” I asked. “Two months later, we did Isotope in Albuquerque and,”
Arnie paused for a sigh, “you know the rest.”
“But you forgot to tell him, Arnie, that if what we believe is true, he had to be planning his escape long before that,” Rudy asserted, unwilling to let what he considered vital information escape me. “Mr. Miller, as close as you and Preston here have been throughout your lives, that’s how it was for Stevie and his attorney, Jay weiner—he’s the guy who knows the truth, but he’ll never talk.”
“Jay weiner is in Beverly Hills. He handled literally everything pertaining to Stevie’s aﬀairs and now he manages the trust under the conditions of the will—it’s very complex,” Arnie clued me in. “That’s where I’d start if I were you.”
“What am I supposed to do, just show up at his oﬃce? If he’s sworn to silence, he’ll refuse to see me,” I reasoned out loud.
“We have rights to much of the material he’s collected. It will be arranged by our counsel for you to have access to all the information that has to be shared with us,” Arnie guaranteed. “You understand that money is not an issue. we want to know the truth. Then, if Stevie wants out, as Rudy argues, we want to give him our blessing. Everything you need, we’ll provide. when you travel, you’ll be booked first class all the way—our staﬀ will arrange everything, or if you need to expend something on your own, we’ll reimburse you immediately.”
“You on board, Mr. Miller?” Sonny asked, as if tossing me the hot potato that nobody else wanted.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll give it two months,” I proposed. “If I come up empty, I’m finished. Is that a fair deal?”
“Good,” Sonny responded. “I want to add one other personal observation about Stevie. Especially within the last several months, I noticed that he made a radical transformation. He came to hate what he stood for and the glorification that had been heaped on him. Even more, he hated the fans and was disgusted that they could deprecate themselves by bowing to another mere mortal.”
“You know where he came up with the simple name LIVE?” Rudy tossed out. when I didn’t respond, he answered his own question. “Stevie loved playing with words. Just reverse the letters and see what you get.”
I did, quickly recognizing that L I V E became E V I L. “His success ended up being evil for him. It became increasingly more evident when he was on stage. we all noticed a drop oﬀ in energy. Then Isotope. He was more dynamic that evening than he had been in at least a year.” Now Sonny Boy, who had jumped into Rudy’s disclosure, paused and looked at his fellow band member. “I don’t proclaim to have an answer to all this, but Stevie was not killed and isn’t entertaining extraterrestrial creatures on one of our cousin planets. we’d all love some facts, Miller. Good luck.”
All I could do was turn to Preston, who had not said a word but sat by my side during the entire briefing.
“You’re one hell of a friend.”
“Just helping out the little dude by getting you a story,” he quipped. “That’s why I had to fly into town to bring you the news.”
Preston was referring to Jivin (my wife’s deceased son who was seen as a boy mystic by his people) on his deathbed promising me that future stories for me to write would arrive at Kuruk. By coming to my home, Preston reasoned that he was validating Jivin’s prophecy.
My friend was correct. I’m not sure it’s what Jivin had in mind but this time the tales were to come in a batch, three stories at once. I had my hands full, assigned the task of sorting out the twists and turns and then ultimately twining the separate cords into a single unified rope that I wondered along the way might in the end be used as a hangman’s noose.
BIFURCATION OF THE TRIBAL COUNCIL
I HAD SCHEDULED A return flight to Albuquerque the following afternoon and had reserved the morning to visit with my mother and her husband. when I arrived, the lady seemed the happiest I had ever seen her. why wouldn’t she be? She had recently married a man she loved, her son was safe and happy, she adored her daughter-in-law—and she was now a granny.
When I was ready to leave, I called for the town car and was taken to the airport. After setting down only fifty-five minutes late in Albuquerque, I grabbed a cab to Kuruk. The biyearly restoration of the dining room had been ongoing for several days and when I walked in to inspect it, I saw Preeti directing her crew.
She didn’t notice me entering. I stood for a moment observing my wife. Her beauty was calming. She may have had a pregnancy but her physique showed no signs of motherhood. She was as lovely to me as the day I first set eyes on her.
She had one pair of tan, white, and pastel-blue buﬀalo hide moccasins that were calf-high, and she wore them religiously, as she did a pair of old jeans with the bottoms tucked into the leather. with a white sleeveless summer top she was in uniform—her wardrobe fit into a closet sized for a water heater. If she thought her dress was going to bore me to indifference she was going to need more than the lifetime we were allotted together.
I adored her face. Often in the morning, I’d watch as she lit up her skin by applying a lotion she concocted from local plants. If she noticed me staring at her, she’d giggle the sweetest expression of bashfulness while she brushed her long brunette hair. She wore it straight down, and I marveled at its insistence to rest over the left shoulder and then drape her breast.
These images so forcefully dominated my senses as I watched her from near the front door, that I hardly noticed her turning around and running over to embrace me.
“Come on, darlin’” she smiled as she took my case and placed it on a table. “we have lots to do today.”
We spent the rest of the day at Kuruk. All the furniture, walls, and ceiling beams were being refinished. with the exception of rust-colored chair pads, the interior of the restaurant was comprised entirely of dark and light varieties of wood that required sanding, staining, and varnishing every few years. The job had been ongoing for several days, during which time we were closed.
The task should have been done during the winter but we had been too busy to take it on then. The only benefit of closing in the springtime was that the staﬀ loved having time oﬀ during one of the most beautiful periods in Mescalero. Each morning during this season of splendor the sun torrentially poured down indiscriminant and blinding rays of light— treetops, roofs, plants, and groundcover basked breathlessly like lazy vacationers indecisive about how to spend the rest of their day. The explosion of brightness burst indoors. They were like silent atomic pulses deafeningly louder than an alarm clock.
Although erupting with brilliance inside and out, springtime had a slightly diﬀerent eﬀect in our immediate home. At the first sign of dawn’s glorious light, Preeti would frequently open her almond eyes and smile sadly at me. It might have been nothing more than the dewy orbs glistening from the beams rushing into the room, but her tears were more plentiful the further into April and May we descended, more so than during the previous months. I’d ask her what was wrong, and while the sorrow would stream down her cheeks like tiny falls, she’d hug me but say nothing.
I knew it was Jivin. She could never get over his passing. Her son had been born with weak lungs. During childhood, he suﬀered consistently from episodes of shortness of breath and a hacking cough. Preeti assumed Jivin’s condition was some sort of asthma, and she treated it with a potion made from local plants. Applying it with a cloth over his mouth and nose seemed to do the trick—at least until his symptoms worsened. Later he was diagnosed with a rare respiratory illness, depriving the special child of even reaching preadolescence.
Spring had always been Jivin’s favorite season. It was a time of joyous anticipation for the boy wonder, knowing that the treasured tribal Puberty Ceremony would be coming in early summer. This annual event was considered the most sacred tradition for his people. It was the time when young girls assumed their esteemed position as women. The highlight of the festivities for Jivin was his dance. During his performance, Jivin was transported from a world of physical reality to a land of magic.
My wife’s early-morning sorrow would be curtailed after only a few moments, for we’d invariably hear Souche calling from her room. Preeti would then jump out of bed and skip down the short hallway, never pausing for the rest of the day to overtly memorialize her lost son. There was delight for both of us when the little one announced her awakening.
Preeti’s first tender words to our daughter were always the same. “Has my sweet white Painted woman brought the sun out for us today?” Then Souche would let out a giggly screeching response that would out-duel any past sorrows either of us faced upon waking. So it was most every morning.
The final coat of varnish was drying when Len Cloud, Preeti’s father, arrived. Preeti was an only child. As a passenger in her intoxicated cousin’s car, Preeti’s mother had been killed when the youth drove the vehicle oﬀ a cliﬀ. Alcoholism was and remained a big problem on the reservation, and Preeti was no doubt relieved that I rarely drank—and even then in moderation. Len had never remarried, opting to raise his daughter by himself. They had a very strong, but at times acrimonious, bond.
Len (I never got into the “dad” thing with him, and I think he was relieved I hadn’t, though he treated me with fondness in spite of the fact I was not an Apache) stood about my height but was broader and frankly more powerful than me. His face was firm and rarely openly joyous, but he always exuded a kindness and gentleness of demeanor.
Almost without exception, he wore a long-sleeved flannel shirt with the hem hanging out, hiding the waistline of his faded heavy blue jeans. He also was never seen without his brown boots. Even on hot afternoons, I’d gaze at him bundled up the same as on a cool winter day; observing not a bead of sweat on him put me in awe. His chest rose high and protruded a tad further than his barely extended belly. when I looked at Len—and even more so when I listened to him speak—the word “pride” always came to my mind.
His paid vocation was as a furniture maker. Len Cloud could recall the lathe, saws, and drills used to construct each and every chair at Kuruk—and if the conversation were to come up, he’d boast that there was not a single nail, screw, or drop of glue used to join the pieces.
“Zach went to see Stevie Green’s band members, yesterday,” she announced proudly to her father.
“Who’s that?” Len asked naively.
“Shitaa (father in Apache), stop acting dumb.”
“Your father never acts, you know that,” Len countered with what I thought was a grin. “I don’t know this Stevie fellow.”
If he was jesting with his daughter, there was no way to know. Len would have made an excellent poker player. It was as if his features had been chiseled out of stone. The form of his mouth, eyes, cheek, brows, and forehead were impervious to the normal muscle grimacing, squinting, and tautening that causes creases and lines in most people his age. Len Cloud’s face, old and wise, was still smooth enough to evoke envy in many women who glanced apprehensively into an unsympathetic mirror, reminding them that the forties had descended upon them.
“That’s because this tribe is your whole life. The world is bigger than Mescalero.” Preeti’s deferential tone couldn’t mask her annoyance.
“When your daughter becomes a woman you’ll be grateful I protected our traditions,” Len Cloud admonished his daughter with words and gesture, flicking his long, straight, and shiny silver-colored hair like a gown; it parted naturally down the center and then descended like a shawl, reposing confidently on his shoulders.
“Well, for your information, Stevie Green is probably the greatest musical artist to ever live,” Preeti instructed. “And Zach is going to look into why he disappeared.”
Reuben, our chef, by chance was standing next to Preeti. The down time afforded him an opportunity to organize his kitchen but he’d come out to survey what we wanted for dinner. It was strange how the man landed into our life. Just at the moment we needed a cook, Reuben had passed through Mescalero on his journey to . . . nowhere. He fell in love with the country, heard we had a position open, and has been with us ever since.
“Reuben, do you know who she’s talking about?” Len queried the cook whom he seemed to hold in high esteem for reasons we all assumed were related to his appreciation of Reuben’s culinary skills and fine manners.
“Of course. But greatest of all time…that may be overstating it a bit.”
“My daughter mocks me Reuben, but she was brought up a strong Apache woman. I know she will do the same for Souche.” Still addressing Reuben, and using the topic of Stevie Green to edify our cook regarding his tribal culture, Len continued. “Zach was brought into our life by Jivin. No, my son-in-law is not a Mescalero but he has the same courage as our ancestors. we have always been brave people, the greatest of warriors.”
“Father, we have a proud heritage but some people think of us as dishonorable raiders,” Preeti said with a comical shrug.
Len would have no part of the humor.
“That’s the coyote filling your tongue with foolishness. would you set my suitcase outside your door?”
I had heard the phrases and metaphors many times but was aware Reuben would be at a loss to interpret. I stepped in to clarify for him.
“For the Mescalero, women have most of the power. In past generations, all a woman had to do was place her husband’s goods outdoors and the man was out of her life.”
“Yes, dear Zach, there are some traditions that should never be compromised,” Preeti mischievously lobbed my way. “You taught me well. That’s why I refuse to possess a suitcase.”
“Perfect solution, my cowardly husband,” she teased.
“With the power of generations at your disposal, you still wouldn’t be able to get rid of me,” I promised her.
Secure that our bond was good for at least one lifetime, Preeti then turned to ease the tension with Len.
“Daddy, I love you. we come from diﬀerent generations but I am as Apache as any of my ancestors. Souche? She’s going to have a little bit of lots of cultures, but I promise my warrior father she will be OUR white Painted woman.”
Again, I perceived the need to enlighten Reuben.
“To the Mescalero Apache, Reuben, white Painted woman symbolizes the life spirit of The People. She circles eternally through the feminine side of the tribe so that the loss of one individual will never threaten the elasticity and viability of the group.”
A tad awkward being the teacher of Mescalero tradition, I eyed Len for approval.
“Zach is right. white Painted woman is the force that directs the elements necessary to secure the inherent balance and harmony of our existence. If she were to lose faith, disengage from her people, we would disappear with the swiftness of an owl taking his prey.” Len leaned over to kiss Preeti. “This is why the Puberty Ceremony is the most sacred tradition of our people. No devout Apache would dream of not having their daughter assume her womanly role.”
I had forgotten that a Tribal Meeting had been called for the next morning. After dinner, Preeti reminded me. Being married to Preeti qualified me to attend these formal gatherings that were called periodically by the Tribal Council, when a matter of concern to the full membership at large was at stake.
An issue had been brewing for months. On the surface, it appeared benign. The number of non-tribal people coming to Mescalero to witness the tribe’s sacred Puberty Ceremony had been increasing year after year. The festivities took place over the course of four days and coincided with the Fourth of July Independence Day celebration—some of the members of the tribe would not speak on the point to strangers but considered it thumbing their noses at the United States by encroaching on such an important holiday for Americans.
Each year, the props and attractions used to bring in tourists multiplied. The prior year, for example, enough bleachers had been installed so that one might have mistaken the aﬀair for a professional football game. Banners advertising everything from Google to Apple computers distracted from the dancing and singing as oﬀensively as promo campaigns at Dodger Stadium assault the fans’ senses away from baseball. Concessioners were granted rights to sell food items, memorabilia, and clothing with the tribal logo—it was a mob scene. But the more people who came to camp out and party, the more dollars that were stuﬀed into the tribe’s bank account.
The Mescalero Apache Indians were as clever in commerce as they had been defending themselves against foes. Now, however, there was a schism, a portion of the devout members were not only disgusted with the fanfare but genuinely worried that the very existence of the Mescalero tribe was in peril. Many of the young girls were abstaining from participating in the Puberty Ceremony either because their parents objected to the “prostitution” of the ritual or they themselves saw no purpose to the “public circus.”
The latest plan was to incorporate a huge fireworks show on the Fourth. The subject had edged its way into informal discussions between tribal members—often generating acrimony. The commercial success of the ceremony had butted up against tribal traditions, and for some, like tribe council member Len Cloud, it was time to declare war.
I had attended several of these large assemblies since marrying Preeti. The meetings were conducted in the sacred main hall, a rounded space with an enormous glass window facing north, inviting a view of the 12,000 foot-high Sierra Blanca mountain peak. My wife had educated me about the formal procedures I would observe and their significance. Each time I was impressed by the orderliness. There were designated procedures used to both express disagreement and resolve conflict—the latter typically by consensus.
Crucial to the Mescalero people, was the concept of Life’s Circle. The world was basically divided into four parts, since there are four seasons and four directions. The principle of the circularity of life was symbolically represented in almost everything pertaining to the life of the Mescalero people. For example, the arrangement of the auditorium dictated that the council members sit at the south side, with the general members across, facing the council, but in the north portion of the space.
The council is composed of ten members—the Mescalero believe that odd numbers inherently represent imbalance. Every two years the group-of-ten stands for re-election. Last year, I witnessed Walter, a man about my age, elected for the first time. It was actually Walter who had befriended Preston and taken him to Kuruk, where he first saw Jivin.
In fact, it was Len Cloud who spoke for Walter to be a council member and ved as his mentor. Both were seated as the tribe president, Bernard Platta, started the meeting by making a formal statement regarding the controversy that necessitated this gathering. As was the custom, a hierarchy dictated who spoke and in what order, commencing with the council oﬃcers, followed by the remaining council members, and then the audience at large.
There were fairly rigid rules determining who had priority within each category of membership and how long they might speak—elders were religiously and respectfully deferred to. what always intrigued me was the prescribed period of silence following any person’s speech. It’s a time of contemplation, soft voice consultation with fellow members, and hopefully perspective leading to closure.
This was to be the first meeting I witnessed that would end chaotically. It was also the first time that Preeti, or anyone else attending, had ever seen it end in the manner it did. It’s said that the natural direction of the circularity of life is east to south to west to north. Thus, a speaker would be expected to move directionally in that pattern when approaching a microphone to address the rest of the tribe.
When Walter—outraged by the acquiescence of passive members to the position advocated by Platta of endorsing fireworks—stood and deliberately strode west to east to scream into a microphone his opposition, his behavior abruptly ended the meeting. Collectively, the tribal members were nonplussed, as well as mortified. The reversal of a formal pattern heralded a certain disruption and instability—harmony and balance had been broken.
After Walter’s performance at the meeting, the tribe’s hope to restore the order he had single-handedly dismantled rested either through Jivin from his perch in the cosmos birthing a new uniformity out of chaos by invisibly dancing at The Puberty Ceremony or his backup white Painted woman stepping in to spiritually guide the people out from the frightful abyss. Sadly, both must have been on vacation.
As I was soon to learn, the enmity and divisiveness running through the tribe, like nuclear dye injected into the human venous system, was lethal. There was to be death by killing, not the most natural way of parting. As for my father-in-law, it was to be the trusted messenger, Mr. Owl rather than the trickster, Mr. Coyote, bringing him life-shattering news.
They were tidings that would put wrinkles on his youthful complexion.
JAY WEINER, ATTORNEY AT LAW
IT WAS SHORTLY AFTER meeting the band when I received a call from Gip Wilsey, the manager of LIVE. He had arranged with Jay Weiner’s oﬃce for me to begin my investigation into Stevie Green’s disappearance. I was in no hurry. I agreed to come back to Los Angeles in three days. wilsey assured me that he’d have me booked “to my satisfaction.” I refrained from mentioning to him my negative sentiments about flying, as well as suggesting that a private jet might improve my attitude. I had been treated once to a ride in one of those sleek rocket-like, rich-man crafts, and I’ll be the first to admit it’s the way to travel…when somebody else is paying. I didn’t have the nerve to mention it…and he didn’t oﬀer.
For the next couple days after the council proceedings, the daunting feeling within the tribe had not let up a notch. There were many informal gatherings. Kuruk was buzzing with worrisome gossip, especially during breakfast and lunch.
Thus, the three days until I returned to Los Angeles passed briskly. Before I knew it, I was again in flight.
My hometown was usually behind the curve getting summer off the ground. It was dewy and cool when I jumped into the cab. The driver spoke absolutely no English but was a master with the GPS hanging from his car’s sun visor.
“9701 Wilshire Boulevard,” I called out.
In forty-five minutes, there I was in front of a fancy Beverly Hills oﬃce building. If Stevie was alive, he was taking good care of his friend. This was as swanky a Beverly Hills law oﬃce as the swanky city had to oﬀer. Mr. Weiner had the whole penthouse floor. The secretary was prepared for my arrival.
She didn’t wait for me to confirm her suspicion, rising from her chair and personally walking me down an interior hallway to Mr. Weiner’s oﬃce—or should I say mansion. No wonder he needed the whole floor. He could have set up a volleyball court and still have had room to meet with the directors of Starbucks, Stevie’s main ex-sponsor.
I had gone to school with several Weiner-rich-kid types. You look at them and know in an instant that they’ve never in their life looked at the price of a menu item in a restaurant. Jay was about five nine and his hair was light brown, rich and healthy looking, but cut in a crew. He was in his mid-thirties. In the corner of his oﬃce were both a treadmill and stationary bike exercise machine. From his appearance, I’d bet he used them routinely—he epitomized a well-conditioned assassin.
He introduced himself in a patronizing manner, almost to the point of obsequiousness. But he failed to omit a note of condescension to make sure I would never forget that to him my assignment was a big joke.
“Anything you want,” he generously oﬀered. “My staﬀ is at your disposal.” His graciousness didn’t stop there. “And if I can help you in any way, let me know.”
Throughout my dealings with him, he adhered to all of his declarations. He never reneged on his word and provided anything that I requested. He was the consummate gentleman, and as I got to know him better I found him increasingly loathsome. For underneath the smooth, dandy veneer, I smelled a rat. But did he know what happened to Stevie Green? I guess my job was to find out whether my initial assessment that weiner had a stench was a bad first impression or a clue from which I might sniﬀ an answer.
“I received a call from LIVE’s people, as I’m sure you know,” Weiner informed me. “They wanted you to have everything and that’s what you’ll get.”
He then motioned for me to follow him. we went back past the reception area where I’d initially entered and into another short hallway. Then he led me only a few feet further to a door that he politely opened for me. we entered a large oﬃce, definitely twice the square footage of a good size hotel room. I noticed upon passing the threshold that through the only window, one covering almost the entire outfacing side of the rectangular space, there was a view of the Neiman Marcus department store. As I scanned the rest of the oﬃce, I saw boxes nearly piled up to the ceiling on the other three walls.
“May I call you Zach?” Weiner asked. Before I could answer the obvious, he oﬀered similar informality to me. “Just call me Jay, please.”
“What is all this?” I asked, arcing both of my hands tenuously in a semi-circle toward the cases.
“Everything. Every detail I have on Stevie’s disappearance.” I looked at him with a smirk, knowing this gag was on me. “what am I supposed to do with all this?” I questioned, murmuring more to myself than expecting an answer from him.
“Zach, these people who hired you are…” Jay swirled his right index finger around his ear, “just a bit wacko. I know they’re convinced that I know something about Stevie and I won’t disclose. They’ve had access to all of this before and can’t find a thing. Now it’s your turn to try.”
“I’m not the first person they hired?” I mumbled less as a question than an exclamation.
“I don’t know if they were paying the clown they sent in here several months ago. If there was anything to discover that I haven’t already disclosed, he was not the man for the job— he couldn’t have found himself in a mirror.” Weiner paused for a timeout, finally adding what I perceived as a disingenuous attempt to stir emotion into the subject. “Stevie was my best friend. They may have been his band mates, but I’ve known him since he was a boy.”
“I was told there were some unusual conditions in his will.”
“Just one,” Jay admitted, shaking his head in consternation.
“The boys will fill you with more aspersions about me than Lilly makes Prozac pills.”
“They just told me to ask you about the will.”
“There was one clause Stevie invented.” Jay laughed at what he labeled as an absurdity. “I’d never seen it used myself. It stipulated that in the event there was suspicion of wrongdoing toward him—if he went missing under dubious circumstances and his body could not be found—then his assets would be frozen for seventy-five years. By that time, if he were alive, Stevie would be well over a hundred.
“The legal complications to accomplish what he was requesting were overwhelmingly complex. In the end, Stevie had to agree to clauses that left numerous loopholes… I think it would take quite a bit of time for me to explain them and I doubt it would serve your assignment. Your employer doesn’t even understand most of it; unintentionally, all Stevie did was fuel their wild imaginations,” Jay said derisively.
“When did he draw up his…I guess, ‘living’ will?”
“The will was drafted initially a year after he started to generate income from his career. He might have modified it once or twice a year, but that condition I just mentioned was put in about two years ago.”
“Like he might have anticipated he’d drop oﬀ the face of the earth?” I flippantly queried.
“I asked him about that when he first presented the idea,” Jay said, moseying circularly as if inspecting the boxes I was soon to begin addressing. “All he said was that he recognized he was a renowned celebrity and wanted to account for any conceivable contingency. At the time he asked me, ‘what if someone kidnapped me and five years later, after I was assumed dead, I was discovered?’”
“I can see why the rest of the band would find that suspicious,” I affirmed.
“I can too,” Jay quickly agreed. “But that doesn’t mean I know if he is alive, and if he is, where.”
“This office is yours as long as you want it. The boxes are all numbered and follow in chronological order,” Jay mentioned as he exited, seeming to have lost interest in our conversation.
Later that afternoon, we talked further. He then mentioned that Stevie’s assets were being held in several institutions and allocated to innumerable investments. His estimated worth was in the hundreds of millions, “approaching a billion,” Jay mentioned matter-of-factly.
Weiner withdrew funds only for expenses but acknowledged they had several investments that were commingled. All of the financial transactions were being certified through the wells Fargo Bank Trust Division.
He also outlined more thoroughly the content of the cases it was my job to examine. Due to Stevie’s international status, it was considered to be appropriate that a full historical accounting of his aﬀairs, both before and after his disappearance, be collected. It was determined that these should be kept in anticipation of possible museum exhibits. All of the data composing that record, pertaining to the search for the missing icon, reportedly lined the perimeter walls of my new oﬃce. Also, since the star’s absence, literally thousands of reported sightings and explanations of his whereabouts had been submitted. Weiner assured me he had also archived that mass of speculation.