“Well, I guess we won,” Pete Corelli said.
“What do you mean?” Arly asked.
“Nobody’s gonna be digging for old bones here,” Pete said, “not now, regardless of the Court’s ruling.”
“No,” Arly agreed.
“Not the way I would have wanted to win it, though.”
Pete and Arly stood a little ways back and away from the crowd. There were police vehicles and news vans parked here and there, which surprised Arly, the fact that they’d been able to get them down in the hollow at all. The dig site lay nestled in a cleft between two tall hills, a good mile from the nearest road. The authorities were still cutting down trees to make new ways in; the smell of pine sap and the growl of chainsaws filled the morning air. A fluctuating breeze soughed through the woods, rattling the yellow crime scene tape strung along the chain-link that surrounded the site. It wasn’t the fence or the ribbon, though, that kept out the crowd of reporters (and the occasional concerned civilian), rather a troop of uniformed policemen.
Everybody loves a good horror show, Arly said to herself.
The bodies were gone by now. The police had collected the pieces. All the blood had soaked into the blanket of pine needles covering the ground. Out of the fourteen team members who had been present at the time of the attack two days ago, ten had been located, all males.
Of the ten bodies, none had been found intact.
THE MONSTER TORE THEM LIMB FROM LIMB! one of the more lurid headlines had proclaimed.
THE REVENGE OF BIGFOOT!? read another.
LITTLE DETAILS KNOWN IN MASS KILLING read one of the more conservative pieces.
“Arly?” Pete had this strained expression on his face. He wasn’t looking at her but out over the scene. “Do you think people did this?”
She stared at his face.
“I mean, how could they? Like, over there, where that bulldozer’s flipped over onto its side. Human beings couldn’t have done that, not unless there were, shit, how many people would it take to pick up a bulldozer, anyway? Or rip a chain-link fence apart?”
The temporary fencing, the kind used at construction sites, had been erected to keep out trespassers (and everybody would have been considered a trespasser) within the first days after the discovery. Most of it was still standing.
“I don’t know,” Arly said.
“Either a whole lot of people were involved in this,” Pete said, “and they made it look like it was something else, or…”
“Or it really was something else,” Arly finished for him.
“Let’s take option number one first, okay? Who would have wanted to do this? Nobody outside the Tribe would have had a motive, and I know none of them did it.”
Arly knew it, too. The Indians wanted the hollow left in peace; they feared disturbing it. They would never have resorted to bloodshed to accomplish it, adding to the “bad medicine” of the place.
“But if not them, who?” Pete said. “Or what?” He turned to face her. “Do you believe it’s possible, what they’re saying?”
“Excuse me!” A woman, trailed by a cameraman, came hurrying towards them.
“Shit,” Pete said.
“You’re both with Paulson and Finch, right?” The woman, a brunette with glasses, stuck her microphone in their faces. “Wendy Malone, WCHZ. Remind us of your names, please.”
“Pete Corelli,” Pete said with a sigh.
“You’re both lawyers, right? With Paulson and Finch?”
“He’s the lawyer,” Arly said, nodding at Pete. “I haven’t taken the bar yet.”
“But you’re the Indian!” the newswoman chirped. “The Cherokee!”
“I’m a member of the Tribe, yes,” Arly said.
“You have a personal stake in this, then. Will the Tribe drop its lawsuit in the wake of the murders, Ms. Youngblood, and now that the disputed remains have disappeared?”
“You know as much as we do at this point, ma’am,” Pete said.
The reporter ignored him. “Would you say this is a case of divine recompense, Ms. Youngblood? Did the people here get what they deserved for disturbing a sacred burial ground?”
Arly put on her false face and smiled for the camera. “I feel confident in speaking for our clients when I say we extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims of this tragedy, and we continue to pray for those missing.”
The reporter, the back of her head to the camera, smirked. “Yes, I’m sure. But the pertinent question here, Ms. Youngblood, remains: Did Rev. Jed Patterson and his crew unearth the remains of a genuine Bigfoot? And was it a Bigfoot that killed Patterson and the others?”
Arly cleared her throat. “I’m afraid I can’t claim any special knowledge as to the existence of Bigfoot just because I’m Native American,” she said, straight-faced. “But in the event I encounter one, I’ll be sure to offer your station the first interview.”
Pete burst out laughing.
“Thanks for your time,” the woman said, shuffling off.
“Cow,” Arly muttered.
“Even though she did basically ask the same question I just asked,” Pete said.
“Let’s get out of here before we have to give any more soundbites,” Arly said.
They walked back to Pete’s SUV, where he’d left it parked in a bed of wild ferns. Arly got inside, pulled down the sun visor and checked her appearance. (She had just been on TV, after all.) Her dark red hair didn’t look too messy, considering the breeze; it always had that wind-blown look anyway. She had her glasses on this morning and just a light dusting of makeup. Her skin followed more after her mother’s—pure Caucasian—
than her father’s coppery hue, but she had the high cheekbones prominent among the clans and the almond-shaped Cherokee eyes.
All in all, not too bad, she thought, although she wondered if the camera would add those legendary ten pounds to her face.
Pete looked great, as usual, without even trying. (He was the most non-self-conscious man Arly had ever known.) With his shaggy black hair and beard, he looked like he’d just stepped out of the 1970s, but that didn’t hide his natural good looks. He didn’t wear glasses because he didn’t need them. Perfect vision. (Pete had three young children. She hadn’t envied him having to explain to them about the massacre. That’s what everybody was calling it now, “the massacre.”)
Pete cranked the engine and started up the hillside, putting the SUV in four-wheel drive. “Wonder how it would’ve turned out,” he said.
“The Court’s ruling. Would the bones have ended up re-interred, or on display in Patterson’s Creationist museum out in Texas?”
Arly didn’t answer.
Jed Patterson, television evangelist and amateur archaeologist, had spent the last three decades searching for relics from Noah’s Flood, evidence of humans and dinosaurs coexisting, pretty much anything to support hardline Creationism and Biblical inerrancy.
Arly pictured the man’s face the last time she’d seen it, all red and sweaty, on the evening news two days before his death.
“Evolution is a lie!” he’d bleated in his down-home twang. “Geology is a lie! At last, by the grace of Almighty God, we have proof—incontrovertible proof—that the book of Genesis is literal fact! Genesis says that there were giants in the earth, and now we have unearthed the remains of one, right here in Georgia! The skeleton of a man who would have stood over ten feet tall!”
When a local woman, a devotee of Patterson’s televised sermons, had stumbled across the skeletal remains in the hollow down below her house—(The Cherokee had long maintained the area was the site of a terrible battle, thus the name of the nearby town, “Battleground.”)—she had contacted Patterson, and he and his team had descended on the woods above the town like locusts.
The Indians did not want the site disturbed. But as the bones were found not on Tribal lands but private property, and the owner of that property was in full agreement with Patterson, and the preacher’s paperwork was all official and in order…
“I mean, I’m an educated man,” Pete said, forcing the shaking SUV up out of the woods, its tires slinging mud. “Makes me wonder, though. Maybe they did go and disturb something. Something in these woods that shouldn’t have been disturbed.” He cocked an eyebrow at Arly. “What do you think?”
She didn’t look at him. “I know what it was,” she said.
“What what was?”
“The thing that killed Patterson and his people. It wasn’t Bigfoot.”
“Its name is Makah’kahu,” Arly said. She took a breath. “And I’ve seen it.”