THE NEXT MORNING I WOKE EARLY, FEELING COLD AND EMPTY but unsure why. It came to me in a thick, dreadful wave.
Primrose was dead.
The combined agonies of loss and guilt were almost paralyzing, and I lay still a long time, wanting nothing to do with the world.
Then Boyd nuzzled my hip. I rolled over and scratched his ear.
“You're right, boy. Self-pity does no one any good.”
I rose, threw on clothes, and sneaked Boyd out to his run. During my absence a note appeared on the door to Magnolia. Ryan would be spending another day with McMahon and wouldn't need his car. The keys I'd left on his bureau were now on mine.
When I turned on my phone, I had five messages. Four journalists and P & T. I called the repair shop, dumped the rest.
The job was taking longer than anticipated. The car should be ready by tomorrow.
We'd gone from “could” to “should.” I was encouraged.
But what now?
An idea rose from deep in my past. The favorite refuge of a worried or restless little girl. It couldn't hurt, and I might uncover something useful.
And for a few hours, at least I would be anonymous and inaccessible.
Following toast and Frosted Flakes, I drove to the Marianna Black Public Library, a one-story redbrick box at the corner of Everett and Academy. Cardboard skeletons flanked the entrance, each with a book held in its hands.
A tall, spindly black man displaying several gold teeth occupied a counter at the main entrance. An older woman worked beside him, securing a chain of orange pumpkins above their heads. Both turned when I entered.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Good morning.” The man showed a mile of precious metal. His lilac-haired companion eyed me suspiciously.
“I'd like to look at back issues of the local paper.” I smiled disarmingly.
“The Smoky Mountain Times?” asked Mrs. Librarian, laying down her staple gun.
“How far back?”
“Do you have material from the thirties and forties?”
Her frown deepened. “The collection begins in 1895. It was the Bryson City Times back then. A weekly. The older publications are on microfilm, of course. You can't view the originals.”
“Microfilm will be fine.”
Mr. Librarian began opening and stacking books. I noticed that his nails were buffed, his clothes immaculate.
“The viewer is in the overflow room, beside the genealogy section. You may only have one box at a time.”
Mrs. Librarian opened one of two metal cabinets behind the counter and withdrew a small gray box. “I'd better explain the machine.”
“Please, you mustn't bother. I'll be fine. I'm familiar with micro-film viewers.”
I read her expression as she handed me the microfilm. A civilian loose in the stacks. It was her worst nightmare.
Settling at the machine, I checked the box's label: 1931–1937.
An image of Primrose flashed into my mind, and tears blurred my vision.
Stop. No grieving.
But why was I here? What was my objective? Did I have one, or was I merely hiding out?
No. I had a goal.
I was still convinced that the courtyard property lay at the center of my problems, and wanted to learn more about who had been associated with it. Arthur had told me he'd sold his land to one Prentice Dashwood. But beyond that, and the names on McMahon's fax, I was unsure what I was looking for.
In truth, I held little hope of finding anything helpful but had run out of ideas. And I had to do something about the charges against me. I couldn't return to Charlotte until my car was repaired, and I was barred from any other form of inquiry. What the hell. History should teach something.
A poster had decorated Pete's office during his stint in uniform, guiding words embraced by JAG attorneys uncommitted to the military system: Indecision Is the Key to Flexibility.
If the maxim was good enough for officer-lawyers of the United States Marine Corps, it seemed good enough for me. I'd look for everything.
I inserted the film and wound it through the viewer. The machine was a hand-crank model, probably manufactured before the Wright brothers went flying at Kitty Hawk. Text and pictures swam in and out of focus. Within minutes I felt a headache begin to organize.
I flicked through spool after spool, making trip after trip to the front desk. By the late 1940s, Mrs. Librarian relented and allowed me a half dozen boxes at a time.
I skimmed over charity events, car washes, church socials, and local dramas. The crime was mostly petty, involving traffic offenses, drunk and disorderly, missing property, and vandalism. Births, deaths, and weddings were announced, garage and barn sales advertised.
The war had claimed a large number from Swain County. From '42 to '45 the pages were filled with their names and photos. Each death was a feature story.
Some citizens did manage to die in their beds. In December of 1943, the passing of Henry Arlen Preston was front-page news. Preston had been a lifelong resident of Swain County, an attorney, a judge, and part-time journalist. His career was recounted in radiant detail, the highlights being a term in Raleigh as a state senator, and the publication of a two-volume work on the birds of western North Carolina. Preston died at the age of eighty-nine, leaving behind a widow, four children, fourteen grandchildren, and twenty-three great-grandchildren.
The week following Preston's death, the Times reported the disappearance of Tucker Adams. Two column inches on page six. No photo.
The obscure little notice touched something in me. Had Adams enlisted secretly, then died overseas as one of our many unknowns? Had he returned, surprised his neighbors with tales of Italy or France, then gone on to live his life? Had he fallen from a cliff? Run off to Hollywood? Though I searched for a follow-up, nothing more on Adams's disappearance was reported.
The rugged terrain had also claimed its victims. In 1939 a woman named Hilda Miner left home to deliver a strawberry pie to her granddaughter. She never arrived, and the pie tin was discovered beside the swollen Tuckasegee River. Hilda was presumed drowned, though her body was not located. A decade later the same waters took Dr. Sheldon Brodie, a biologist at Appalachian State University. A day after the professor's body washed up, Edna Farrell was thought to have fallen into the river. Like Miner, Farrell's remains were never found.
I leaned back and rubbed my eyes. What had the old man said about Farrell? They should have done better by her. Who were “they”? Done better in what way? Was he referring to the fact that Farrell's body wasn't recovered? Or was he unhappy with the quality of Thaddeus Bowman's memorial service?
In 1959 the fauna claimed a seventy-four-year-old Cherokee named Charlie Wayne Tramper. Two weeks after his disappearance, Charlie Wayne's rifle turned up in a remote valley on the reservation. Bear tracks and spoor suggested the cause of death. The old man was buried with full tribal ceremony.
I'd worked on victims of bear attacks, and knew what had remained of Charlie Wayne. I shook the image from my mind.
The list of environmental hazards courtesy of Mother Nature went on. In 1972 a four-year-old girl wandered from a campground in Maggie Valley. The little body was dragged from a lake the following day. The next winter two cross-country skiers froze to death when caught in a sudden blizzard. In 1986 an apple farmer named Albert Odell went searching for morels and never returned.
I found no reference to Prentice Dashwood, to the Arthur property, or to the officers of the H&F Investment Group. The closest I came was a May 1959 spread on a fiery crash on Highway 19. Six hurt, four killed. Pictures showed tangled wreckage. Dr. Anthony Allen Birkby, sixty-eight, from Cullowhee, died three days later of multiple injuries. I took note. Though the name was not uncommon, one C. A. Birkby was listed on McMahon's fax.
By noon, my head pulsed and my blood sugar had dropped to a level incapable of sustaining life. I slipped a granola bar from my purse, did a stealthy peel, and munched quietly as I cranked my zillionth spool through the viewer.
Issues from recent years were not yet on microfilm, and by midafternoon I was able to switch to hard copy. But the headache had already escalated from a minor disturbance to major pain that swirled across my frontal, temporal, and occipital lobes and pulsed at an epicenter behind my right eye.
Final stretch. The tough get going. Bring it home. Remember the Gipper.
I was flipping through papers from the current year, scanning headlines and photographs, when a name caught my eye. George Adair. The missing fisherman.
The coverage of Adair's disappearance was detailed, giving the exact time and place of the fatal fishing trip, a description of the victim, and an itemized account of what he was wearing, right down to his high school ring and St. Blaise medal.
Another childhood flashback. The parish priest. The blessing of throats on St. Blaise Day. What was the story? Blaise was reputed to have saved a child from choking on a fish bone. The medal made sense. Crowe said Adair complained of throat problems.
Adair's companion was interviewed, as were his wife, friends, former employer, and priest. A grainy picture was printed beside the story, the pendant clearly visible around his neck.
Who was Crowe's other missing person? I searched my pounding brain. Jeremiah Mitchell. February. I moved back almost eight months and began a more careful perusal. Small things began to connect.
Jeremiah Mitchell's disappearance was reported in one short paragraph. On February 15 a seventy-two-year-old black male left the Mighty High Tap and walked into oblivion. Anyone having information blah, blah, blah.
Old ways die hard, I thought, feeling a prickle of anger. White man goes missing: feature story. Black man goes missing: blurb on page seventeen. Or maybe it was station in life. George Adair had a job, friends, family. Jeremiah Mitchell was an unemployed alcoholic who lived alone.
But Mitchell had once had kin. A follow-up appeared in early March, again a single paragraph, seeking information and citing the name of his maternal grandmother, Martha Rose Gist. I stared. How far back had I seen that name?
I returned to the boxes, jumping the microfilm weeks at a turn. The obituary appeared on May 16, 1952, along with six inches in the arts column. Martha Rose Gist had been a potter of local fame. The article included a picture of a beautifully decorated ceramic bowl, but none of the artist.
Checking to be sure the overflow room was empty, I clicked on my cell. Six messages. Ignoring them, I dialed Crowe's number, muffling the beeps with my jacket.
I didn't bother announcing myself.
“Are you familiar with Sequoyah?” I asked in a loud whisper.
“Are you in church?”
“The Bryson City library.”
“Iris catches you, she'll rip off your lips and feed them to her shredder.”
I assumed Iris was the lilac-haired dragon I'd met at the entrance.
“Sequoyah invented an alphabet for the Cherokee language. Hang around long enough and someone will buy you an ashtray decorated with the symbols,” she said.
“What was Sequoyah's family name?”
“You want my final answer?”
“This is important,” I hissed.
“His name was Guess. Or Gist, depending on the transliteration. Why?”
“Jeremiah Mitchell's maternal grandmother was Martha Rose Gist.”
“I'll be damned.”
“You know what that means?”
I didn't wait for her answer.
“Mitchell was part Cherokee.”
“This is a library!”
Iris's words scorched the side of my face.
I held up a finger.
“Hang up instantly!” She spoke as loud as a human can without using the vocal cords.
“Is there a newspaper printed on the reservation?”
“The Cherokee One Feather. And I think there's a tribal photo archive at the museum.”
“Gotta go.” I disconnected and shut off the power.
“I'm going to have to ask you to leave.” Iris stood with hands on hips, the gestapo protectress of the printed word.
“Shall I return the boxes?”
“That will not be necessary.”
It took three stops to find what I needed. A trip to the offices of the Cherokee One Feather, located in the Tribal Council Center, revealed that the paper had only been in print since 1966. While there had been a predecessor publication years before, The Cherokee Phoenix, the current staff had no photos or back issues in their possession.
The Cherokee Historical Association had pictures, but most had been taken as promotional shots for the outdoor theatrical production Unto These Hills.
I hit pay dirt at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, directly across the street. When I repeated my request, I was taken to a second-floor office, issued cotton gloves, and allowed to graze through their photo and newspaper archives.
Within an hour I had confirmation.
Martha Rose Standingdeer was born in 1889 on the Qualla Boundary. She wed John Patrick Gist in 1908 and gave birth to a daughter, Willow Lynette, the following year.
At the age of seventeen, Willow married Jonas Mitchell at the AME Zion Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Their wedding portrait shows a delicate girl in a cloche veil and Empire gown, a bouquet of daisies in her hands. At her side stands a man with skin much darker than that of his bride.
I studied the picture. Though rawboned and homely, Jonas Mitchell was appealing in a strange sort of way. Today, he might have modeled for Benetton ads.
Willow Mitchell gave birth to Jeremiah in 1929, died of tuberculosis the following winter. I found no mention of Jonas or his son after that date.
I sat back, processing what I'd learned.
Jeremiah Mitchell was at least one half Native American. He was seventy-two years old when he disappeared. The foot must surely be his.
My deductive centers logged in immediately. The dates didn't correlate.
Mitchell went missing in February. The VFA profile gives a postmortem interval of six to seven weeks, placing the death in late August or early September.
Maybe Mitchell survived the night of the Mighty High Tap. Maybe he ventured off, then returned and died of exposure six months later.
On a trip.
A seventy-two-year-old alcoholic with no car or money?
Uh-huh. Died of exposure in the summer?
I sat, stumped and frustrated by a million facts I couldn't integrate.
Hoping pictures would be more headache friendly, I switched to the photo archives.
Again, small things caught my attention.
I'd gone through fifty or sixty folders when an eight-by-ten black-and-white aroused my interest. Flower-draped casket. Mourners, some in broad-shouldered baggy suits, others in traditional Cherokee dress. I flipped to the back. A yellowed label identified the event in faded ink: Charlie Wayne Tramper Funeral. May 17, 1959. The old man who had gone missing and been killed by a bear.
My gaze roved over the faces, then froze on one of two young men standing apart from the crowd. I was so surprised I gasped.
Though forty years younger, there was no mistaking that face. He would have been in his late twenties in 1959, newly arrived from England. A professor of archaeology at Duke. An academic superstar about to fade.
Why was Simon Midkiff at Charlie Wayne Tramper's funeral?
My eyes slid right, and this time the gasp was audible. Simon Midkiff was standing shoulder to shoulder with a man who would later rise to the office of lieutenant governor.
Or was it? I stared at the features. Yes. No. This man was much younger, thinner.
I hesitated, looked around. No one had poked through this file for half a century. It wasn't stealing. I would return the print in a few days, no damage done.
I slipped the photo into my purse, returned the folder to its drawer, and bolted.
Outside, I dialed Raleigh Information, requested a number for the Department of Cultural Resources, then waited while the connection was made. When a voice answered I asked for Carol Burke. She came on in less than ten seconds.
“Carol, this is Tempe Brennan.”
“Good timing. I was just about to close it up for the day. Are you planning to dig up another graveyard?”
Among its many duties, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources is responsible for heritage preservation. When development involving state or federal moneys, permits, licenses, or lands is proposed, Carol and her colleagues order surveys and excavations to determine if prehistoric or historic sites will be threatened. Highway projects, airport work, sewer lines—without their clearance, no ground is broken.
Carol and I met in the days when archaeology was my main focus. Twice Charlotte developers had retained me to help relocate historic cemeteries. Carol had overseen both projects.
“Not this time. I'd like information.”
“I'll do my best.”
“I'm curious about the site Simon Midkiff is digging for you.”
“He's not doing anything for us at the moment. At least nothing of which I'm aware.”
“Isn't he excavating in Swain County?”
“I don't think so. Hold on.”
By the time she returned, I'd walked to Ryan's car and opened the door.
“Nope. Midkiff hasn't worked for us in over two years and isn't likely to any time soon because he still owes us a site report from his last contract.”
“I wish all my requests were this simple.”
I'd barely put down the phone when it rang again. A journalist from the Charlotte Observer. A reminder of my continuing notoriety. I clicked off without comment.
A thousand cranial vessels pulsed in my skull. Nothing made sense. Why had Midkiff lied? Why had he and Davenport attended the Tramper funeral? Did they know each other back then?
I needed aspirin. I needed lunch. I needed an objective listener.
After popping two Bayers, I collected the chow, and we set forth. Boyd rode with his head out the passenger window, nose to the air, twisting and turning to suck in every discernible odor. Watching him at the Burger King drive-through, I thought of the squirrel, then the wall at the courtyard house. Just what had his former owner trained him to find?
Suddenly, I had an idea. A place to picnic and check out names.
The Bryson City Cemetery is located on Schoolhouse Hill, overlooking Veterans Boulevard on one side, a mountain valley on the other. The drive took seven minutes. Boyd did not understand the delay and kept prodding and licking the food bag. By the time I pulled into the cemetery, the cardboard tray was so soggy I had to carry it with two hands.
Boyd dragged me from stone to stone, peeing on several, then kicking back divots with his hind feet. Finally, he stopped at a pink granite column, turned, and yipped.
Entered this world January 12, 1945. Left this world April 20, 1968.
Taken too early in the spring of her life.
Sixty-eight was a rough year for all of us, Sylvia.
Certain she would enjoy the company, I settled at the base of a large oak shading Sylvia's grave and ordered Boyd to sit beside me. He complied, his eyes fixed on the tray in my hands.
When I withdrew a burger, Boyd sprang to his feet.
He sat. I peeled off the paper and gave him the burger. He rose, separated it into components, then ate the meat, bun, and lettucetomato garnish sequentially. Finished, he focused on my Whopper, muzzle spotted with ketchup.
He sat. I spread fries on the grass and he began picking them delicately off the surface so they wouldn't sink between the blades. I unwrapped my Whopper and slipped a straw into my drink.
“Now here's the deal.”
Boyd glanced up, went back to the fries.
“Why would Simon Midkiff have gone to the funeral of a seventy-four-year-old Cherokee killed by a bear in 1959?”
We both ate and thought about that.
“Midkiff is an archaeologist. He might have been researching the Eastern Band Cherokee. Maybe Tramper was his guide and historian.”
Boyd's attention shifted to my burger. I replenished his potatoes.
“O.K. I'll buy that.”
I took a bite, chewed, swallowed.
“Why was Parker Davenport there?”
Boyd looked at me without raising his head from the fries.
“Davenport grew up near here. He probably knew Tramper.”
Boyd's ears flicked forward, back again. He finished the last of his fries and stared at mine. I flipped him a few.
“Perhaps Tramper and Davenport had mutual friends on the reservation. Or maybe Davenport was already building a political base in those days.”
I threw out another half dozen fries. Boyd reengaged.
“How about this? Did Davenport and Midkiff know each other back then?”
Boyd's head came up. His eyebrows spun and his tongue dropped.
“If so, how?”
He cocked his head and watched as I finished my burger. I tossed him the rest of my fries, and he ate them as I sipped my Diet Coke.
“Here's the big one, Boyd.”
I gathered wrappers and bunched them with the remains of the tray. Seeing no more food, Boyd flopped onto his side, sighed loudly, and closed his eyes.
“Midkiff lied to me. Davenport wants my head on a spike. Is there a link?”
Boyd had no answer.
I sat with my back to the oak, absorbing warmth and light. The grass smelled freshly mown, the leaves dry and sun-baked. At one point Boyd rose, turned four times, then resettled at my side.
A short time later a man came over the crest of the hill, leading a collie on a length of rope. Boyd sat up and barked at the dog but didn't make an aggressive move. The late-afternoon sunshine was mellowing woman and beast. Reeling him in, I got to my feet.
As dusk gathered, we strolled among the gravestones. Though I spotted no one from the H&F list, and no Dashwoods, I did find markers with familiar names. Thaddeus Bowman. Victor Livingstone and his daughter, Sarah Masham Livingstone. Enoch McCready.
I remembered Luke Bowman's words, and wondered what had caused the death of Ruby's husband in 1986. Instead of answers, I was finding more questions.
But one mystery was solved. One missing person found. Turning to go, I stumbled across an unadorned slab in the cemetery's southernmost corner. Its face was inscribed with a simple message.