by J.S. Kierland
Willy Two Horse had been elected as the Tupai Tribe's President its Board
Meetings kept getting closer and closer to the designated starting time
of two o'clock. The latest meeting got underway at 2:37 PM, less than
an hour late and the closest it had ever been to starting on time. Only
the tribal Secretary, Willy's niece, seemed to notice this growing achievement
and she gave her Uncle a big smile as he brought down the gavel to start
another Wednesday Board Meeting. "Lots of business to cover today,"
Willy stated. "If needed, we will discuss and vote on old business
after the Secretary reads the minutes from our last meeting."
Viola smiled attentively and began reading her notes in a clear and resonant
voice; "The last meeting opened with a short discussion on designated
parking for Board Members and was tabled for future discussion by President
Two Horse. The next order of business was raising the Board's salaries.
The President tabled that as well. Estimated costs for soil testing at
the new casino site were asked for but the study was not completed. There
was no new business," Viola said, smiling at her Uncle and putting
the shorthand pad down on the table and placing her pen neatly over it.
Willy nodded his approval and with a sharp crack of his new gavel, he
announced, "Old business is open for discussion."
Suzie blurted, "I'd like to discuss all this stuff in the papers
about the Lee Boys, Sir."
It was the first time anyone in the room had referred to Willy as 'Sir,'
and it brought about an immediate silence rather than the usual argument
over the motion itself. All eyes looked to Willy, and he said, "That's
not old business, Suzie."
"But it is, Sir. You were the one that mentioned we should be ready
for those guys to come and ask for a loan."
Willy nodded and said, "That's a good point, Suzie. Have you anything
Willy's agreeable answer caught Suzie by surprise and she looked around
the room at the faces staring back at her before saying, with an uncertain
shrug, "I just wondered if anyone knew what was going on with them?"
"I'd like to know that myself," Nelson added.
"Aren't they your friends?" Suzie asked.
"I don't think so," Nelson replied defensively.
"I noticed your picture in the Courier, Sir," Tanya said. "You
were at Mr. Lee's funeral."
"Jim was my friend. We worked together many years."
They waited expectantly for Willy to continue and explain the entire situation
in detail, which was the one thing he was trying to avoid. He stared back
at them and said, "All I know is that Mr. Lee was very ill."
"The guys down at the barber shop-"
"Be careful what you say here, Nelson," Willy warned. "Everything
in this room is legally binding and we don't want to involve the Tribe
in any way, do we?" Viola wrote furiously in her shorthand and Willy
said, "I think you better leave all this out of the minutes, Dear,"
and Nelson sat back in his chair satisfied with Willy's suggestion of
avoiding the subject.
"Are they coming for a loan, or not?" Suzie asked.
"I don't know," Willy told her, but could see they were expecting
a lot more because he was the only one in the room who'd actually been
at Jim Lee's funeral. "I really don't know anymore than you do about
this," he went on, looking into each face around the table. "And
I don't want to know anymore than you do," he added. A chorus of
grunts and groans followed and Willy searched their expectant faces, looking
to see if any of them actually believed what he'd just told them. Only
the Doubting Nelson looked like he hadn't quite accepted it, but that
was usual with Nelson so Willy let it ride and said, "The next old
business is the soil testing results and cost estimates for the proposed
"I have that, Sir," Tanya said, waving a batch of papers in
her hand and offering them to Willy.
"You can present it," Willy said with a smile.
His quick comment surprised Tanya, and she cleared her throat, faced the
table, and said, "Well, the only thing in this report that really
matters is that the soil at the proposed building site can not hold up
a large building. In fact, it really can't hold up much at all,"
she said, checking her notes. "Maybe a gas station if it doesn't
get too busy," she mumbled, looked around the table at the shocked
faces, and said, "In other words, if we wanted to build on that spot
we'd have to reinforce the soil and that would cost an extra fifty million,
at least," she said, checking her notes again.
"Dollars?" Suzie piped, and Tanya nodded.
"And that's just for starters," Nelson said.
"A new hotel and casino would cost much more than that," Tanya
grunted, and sat back down in the deafening silence.
"Are there any other suggestions?" Willy asked.
"It was a dumb idea anyway," Nelson grunted.
The women's hands went up and Willy said quickly, "We won't get anywhere
arguing over the facts. We either vote to "fix" the site or
drop it." The hands began to wave. "I suggest we think long
and hard about this before making any kind of a decision. I'll have the
Architecture Firm present their findings in person, and explain the entire
situation in detail before you vote on it."
"Thank you, Sir," Tanya said, and the hands went down.
"Any new business?"
"Can we talk about the new casino?" Suzie squeaked.
"The new casino is now old business," Willy said, glancing around
the room. No one moved. "I have an announcement," he said. "I'm
going on short exploratory trips to other tribes in the area, and might
miss some meetings, but Nelson can handle things here."
The women in the room made quick, uncertain glances to each other and
Nelson asked, "How long will you be gone?"
"I don't know but you can always get me on the phone or the computer
if you need a tie breaking vote," Willy said, and a muttered agreement
went around the table. "Are there any new motions?" Silence.
"Motion to end the meeting?" Mrs. Buford raised her hand, Nelson
seconded, chairs scraped, and the Board Members headed for the door.
"Will you be gone long?" Viola asked, gathering her notepad
"A few short trips, but there's something I'd like to discuss with
you before I go. Let's talk in my office," he said, and they moved
out into the hall behind the others.
"I'll make some fresh coffee," Viola piped.
"I'm trying to cut back," Willy muttered.
"Oh, then I'll just take what's left."
Willy went into the office and sat behind the old desk, and tried to formulate
what he would say to her and how he would say it. He'd been close to Viola,
particularly after his brother's sudden death. They had actually taken
Viola in like a third daughter after his brother's accident. Viola and
her brother celebrated birthdays with them and knew their secrets and
problems as if his brother was still there with them. The adjustment had
been harder for Viola's mother, but after years of mourning she'd become
part of the extended family too, and more and more dependent on his advice
and guidance. They'd all become close and Willy had been careful not to
mention this new situation to anyone, not even his wife, and wondered
what his brother would have done if he were alive.
Willy heard Viola's heels clicking toward him, grabbed the tissue box
out of the bottom drawer, and just as he was placing it up on the desk
Viola came in and put her teddy bear coffee mug down next to it.
"Do you have a cold, Uncle Willy?" she asked.
"Just some allergies," he lied. "Maybe you better close
the door." Viola hesitated, closed the door and sat down. "I
don't have much time, and wanted to clear up a few things before I leave
tomorrow," he lied again.
"You're going to fire me, aren't you?" she asked, reaching for
a tissue. "I knew it was coming," she sobbed. "I just don't
understand why they jumble all those letters on the keyboard? It makes
spelling harder. Why don't they just put them in the right order?"
she blurted, blowing her nose and snapping out another set of tissues
with her long flaming red fingernails. "I know you try to help me-"
"No one is going to fire you," Willy said.
"They all say I'm not very good."
"You've been Secretary for so many Chiefs-"
"That's true, but none of them were smart like you."
"I'm not firing you!" he said, raising his voice.
By then her eye makeup smeared and she gave him a half-smile from behind
the tissues, and said, "You're not?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Because I can't-"
"There's something else...much more serious."
"More serious than getting fired?" she asked in astonishment
and grabbed another tissue.
This wasn't the way he'd planned. He was off to a bad start and began
to realize there was no easy way to bring a subject like this to the surface,
especially with someone young and fragile like Viola.
"I hope you haven't told anyone else about it," she interrupted
from behind the tissues.
"No, I'd never do that. I'm just concerned-"
"That dumb bird told you, didn't he? The one they call, Coco...Coocoo...or
whatever his name is."
"Coocochee...you know him?"
"Know him? Every time I look up...he's there." She started sobbing
again and Willy pushed the box of tissues closer and she snapped up several
in a row.
Willy had expected tears but not this. He started to say, "Things
are going to be all right," but couldn't move his mouth and he just
sat there trying not to notice the distress Viola had fallen into. He
finally got up, went around the desk, knelt down next to her, and said,
"You've got to break it off with him," and she began to cry
even harder and louder. "I'm only trying to help," he pleaded.
"We can do this together. The others don't have to know."
"You're making it worse," she said, peeking out from behind
the tissues. "I thought you were going to fire me because I can't
type," she said. "But this?" Her dark wet eyes grew larger
and she stared back at him. "You've been spying on me with that damn
Willy hesitated, tried to get up and Viola rose in the chair and stepped
away from him. "I just don't want it to become serious," he
said, looking up at her. "I'm sure your Mom doesn't either. You're
just a young girl-"
"No one knows about it," she said. "Except you!" Willy
grabbed the arm of the chair and tried to raise him self up. "It's
all because some Coocoo bird saw us through the window," she snapped.
"It's nobody's business!"
"You're having an affair with a Tribal Board Member!"
"I don't care what he is. You just tell that bird to stop flying
around and peeking in windows!"
"No, I meant the vice-President, Nelson...he's the vice-President
and he's married."
"What's that got to do with me?"
"What about his wife?"
"That's her problem...not mine! She doesn't care. She's into drugs!"
"Did Nelson tell you that?"
"That's none of your business."
Willy staggered back behind his desk, stretched his cramped leg, and blurted,
"Nelson's wife is sick and takes medicines."
"Bullshit! She buys her pills from my brother."
"Rudy sells drugs?"
"She's such a good customer he gives her a discount!"
"But Rudy's still in High School!"
"How old do you have to be to sell drugs in this country?" she
snapped, grabbing another handful of tissues. "Rudy's been selling
drugs for years. That's what he does, like the kids in the Hood."
"Baltimore and LA...y'know, those guys with cell phones. Don't you
Willy shook his head. "Winona watches it," he mumbled.
"An she talks to birds too...right?"
"Not anymore," Willy snapped.
Viola kept throwing her wet tissues on the far side of the desk and the
pile kept growing like an approaching iceberg.
"Sit down so we can discuss this."
"I don't want to," she said, and began sobbing again.
"You can't have an affair with a Board Member!"
"I don't care!" she sobbed. "That bird is driving me crazy,"
she snapped, and ran to the window. "He's probably out there right
now!" she insisted. Willy got up and hobbled to the window after
her. "He must have heard me telling you about him 'cause he's gone."
Willy looked out the window at the empty parking lot and saw the building's
shadow in the late afternoon sun. The image of a large bird moved back
and forth on the building's straight-lined edge just over him. Viola was
right. If it was Coocochee he had probably heard everything. Willy slammed
the window shut and the large raven above him flew off.
"I'll tell him to stop following you," he said.
"I'll end it when I want to," she said, and the door slammed
and she was gone.
Her high-heeled clicks faded and it got quiet again. The only thing left
of her being there was the pile of wet tissues to remind him of the generational
chainsaw he had just walked into. His attempt at resolving the "high
crimes and misdemeanors" within his Tribe had failed miserably, and
he hadn't the slightest idea what he was going to do next. What had become
evident was that somehow the younger generation around him seemed to think
that getting fired for bad typing was worse than having an affair with
an older married man who was a board member. Today had replaced yesterday,
but there wasn't a tomorrow in sight. Gratification seemed to be all that
mattered to them and a lot more of his people had drifted backwards since
Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and Cochise were in charge. The fact was that no
one seemed to be in charge anymore, and hadn't been for a long time.
It was a challenge...unexpected.