Eighty-odd miles away to the south, Nathan Seven Elks tightened the knot that held the buckskin legging to the cord of his breachclout. The air up here in the mountains chilled patches of exposed skin, but he knew that would soon wear off as soon as he got moving - just as he knew the self consciousness and feeling of slight absurdity would fly as soon as his pick-up was out of sight. When he was surrounded only by nature and far away from the products of technology, then he would feel at peace, then he would feel happy and proud to be clothed even as his ancestors had been.
The afternoon sun glinted off his badge as he turned it over in his hand. A cop must always carry his badge. Well, he couldn't leave it in the pick-up. As remote as this mountain track was, and even though he had thrown a camo-net over the pick-up, crime's arm was at least as long as the law's and it's eye was as keen. There would be hell to pay if someone stole his badge. He paced out a line to some rocks carrying the offending piece of tin and his .38 wrapped in a plastic bag. Buried! Out of the way! A great big load off his shoulders. Then he threw in the pick-up's keys for good measure. Carefully replacing the rock, he took one last look at his vehicle, slapped the tomahawk at his side, and set off along the trail that no wheels could follow.
For the first twenty minutes it was a hard slog up hill. Nathan leaned on a tree to get his breath and looked at his round belly. Out o' condition, he told himself. He always did at this stage. Get up, get in the car, pull my uniform on and cruise round 'til it's time to go home. No wonder I'm thickening round the middle. He would take up jogging again - if he could stand the boredom of it. Maybe he would swim every morning like he had before Jay left the family home. The same lines, every time. But then he would crest the ridge and head down into his own personal lost valley and all at once he would catch his second wind.
Nathan's breathing settled as he snapped a couple of squares off a Hershey bar - the one icon of modern living he allowed on his mountain retreats. He thought of Jay as a three-year-old, his face covered over with melted chocolate. Nathan missed that face; he missed the little boy who thought Daddy was King of the Universe. He also missed the face of the eighteen-year-old who constantly reminded his father that he was a fool with one foot in legends of the past who supported a 'corrupt government by serving with the executive arm...' and all that other sixties crap. The stand-up rows it had caused were numerous, but from a distance, Nathan could smile at all that.
In fact, everything that soured life back home was blown into perspective by the mountain breeze. Jay would grow out of his bloody-minded cantankerousness, Nathan would finish his term and leave the department, and Annette would cease her nagging. Who knows; a miracle might even descend to earth so that Annette and Jay would quit rowing.
Those two, when they got to it, blew his head apart. Bicker, bicker, snipe, snipe. You wouldn't think a mother and son could lock horns so bitterly. It came, or so Nathan believed, of Annette's short temper and Jay's stubborn streak and it started just about as soon as Jay leaned how to talk. Parents must show a united front they all say, so in those early days he always sided with Mom. Sometimes he had to step in and quite often it was left to him to dish out the punishment. And when he was smacking Jay, he often thought he should be smacking Annette instead - for starting the whole row with her bad-tempered rebuke, for not being able to cope with a little boy, for dragging him into it all for Christ's sake!
The number of times he had finished a hard day's work and driven home, all the while looking forward to the peace of the family home, only to find World War Three raging when he got there was beyond count and... When he got to thinking like this, he knew it was time to hit the hills.
He savored a second chunk of chocolate. Guilt? Hell no; who invented the damn stuff, eh? The Aztecs is who. Even the word 'chocolate' was from the Aztec, and who were the Aztecs if not ancient brothers.
Poor Annette. Stuck at home, day after day performing chore after chore while a feisty little boy zipped around, constantly calling for attention and getting under her feet. No wonder her temper had worn thin. Perhaps, now that Jay was grown and living away from home, things would ease up. No more living on a knife-edge; take it easy; step back from the precipice.
Nathan breathed deep, drawing on the life giving substances that infused the air. A contentment filled him and a second breath changed the contentment into joy. The mountains healed. Next time, he'd bring Annette with him - there would be no excuse now, no chores that couldn't wait, couldn't be shared on their return.
He thought of his first time in these mountains, guided not by his father or an elder of the tribe, but by a simple down-to-earth white man who knew much but said little, giving credence to the premise 'The more you know the less you show'. And then, of their own, Nathan's thoughts turned to Mike Waters. A trip up here would do him good. Perhaps... No; Mike would get the wrong idea. But if Nathan couldn't bring him to the mountains, maybe Jay could, or Johnny. Somehow it didn't even cross his mind that his son could be in danger of corruption. He had a confidence in Jay and Johnny. If influence was going to rub off, it would be on - not from - Mike.