The Ghost Walker

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9780425159613: The Ghost Walker

Father John O'Malley comes across the corpse lying in a ditch beside the highway. When he returns with the police, it is gone. The Arapahos of the Wind River Reservation speak of Ghost Walkers tormented souls caught between the earth and the spirit world, who are capable of anything.

Then, within days, a young man disappears from the Reservation without a trace. A young woman is found brutally murdered. And as Father John and Arapaho lawyer Vicky Holden investigate these crimes, someoneor somethingbegins following them.

Together, Vicky and Father John must draw upon ancient Arapaho traditions to stop a killer, explain the inexplicable, and put a ghost to rest...

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L'autore:

Margaret Coel is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Thunder Keeper, The Spirit Woman, The Lost Bird, The Story Teller, The Dream Stalker, The Ghost Walker, The Eagle Catcher, and several works of nonfiction. She has also authored many articles on the people and places of the American West. Her work has won national and regional awards. Her first John O'Malley mystery, The Eagle Catcher, was a national bestseller, garnering excellent reviews from the Denver Post, Tony Hillerman, Jean Hager, Loren D. Estleman, Stephen White, Earlene Fowler, Ann Ripley and other top writers in the field. A native of Colorado, she resides in Boulder.

Estratto. © Riproduzione autorizzata. Diritti riservati.:

1

Snow had fallen all day, and now the open spaces of Wind River Reservation lay under deep powder. Father John Aloysius O’Malley gripped the wheel of the Toyota pickup and peered through the half-moon the wiper carved across the windshield. He tried to follow the depressions of the tire tracks running ahead, all that hinted at the boundaries of Rendezvous Road—tire tracks and an occasional scrub brush or dried stalk of goldenrod poking through the snow in the ditches. It was the second Sunday in January, the First Moon in the Arapaho Way of marking time: the Moon When the Snow Blows Like Spirits in the Wind.

A blast of frigid air filled the cab, and Father John glanced at the dashboard. The heater lever still rode on high, but the Arctic itself had begun to stream through the vents. The tiny needle on the temperature gauge danced in the red zone.

He felt the engine start to miss as he pumped the gas pedal. “Come on,” he coaxed, startled at the sound of his own voice in the vacant cold. The Toyota slid to a stop. He flipped off the headlights, still pumping the pedal. Nothing. The engine was as lifeless as a block of granite.

He was already late for the meeting, which was why he’d taken the shortcut to Lander. Rendezvous Road angled across the eastern edge of the reservation and joined Highway 789 near the southern boundary. Now he wouldn’t make the meeting at all, and how would he explain it to the bishop’s personal representative, Clifford Keating, who had driven into a Wyoming blizzard to meet with the local pastors?

Father John opened the glove compartment, fished through a stack of opera tapes, two maps, a couple of pencils, and a spiral tablet and pulled out his earmuffs. His fingers felt stiff inside his fur-lined gloves as he removed his brown cowboy hat and adjusted the earmuffs on his head. Replacing the hat, he snapped the ends of his collar together, then yanked the flashlight from beneath the seat and swung out into the storm.

Cold seeped through his parka, past his flannel shirt and blue jeans, into his skin. The wind drove the snow slantwise, pricking his face with hard pieces of ice. He squinted as he groped for the metal catch and threw open the hood. A cloud of steam rose, and he jumped back, even though the warmth had felt good. He shone the flashlight over the engine, spotting the broken radiator hose still dripping water. The coffers at St. Francis Mission had enough last month for a tune-up and new hoses or for two recapped rear tires. He had bought the tires. Bad choice.

He slammed down the hood and, pushing back the cuff of his parka, turned the flashlight onto his watch. Seven-fifteen P.M. The meeting had started. Highway 789 lay a mile ahead. He might be able to catch a ride there to Jake Littlehorse’s garage, another two miles west. It was hard to imagine any other fools out tonight, except for priests summoned by the bishop’s delegate.

Swearing under his breath for not carrying a roll of duct tape and a jug of antifreeze, he pushed the flashlight into the pocket of his parka and struck out for the highway, snow crunching under his boots. He guessed the temperature to be at twenty below with the wind-chill factor. His feet were beginning to feel like ingots. Wyoming blizzards had it all over the storms he had known in Boston. You could freeze to death here.

He had probably come half a mile, but there was no sign of the highway. What was there to see? One white road flowing into another. Just ahead, it looked as if the snow had been churned by a tractor, with tire tracks crisscrossing one another. Somebody had started down Rendezvous Road and turned back. Smart, thought Father John. Whoever it was had probably decided to head home to a warm fire.

As he got closer, he could distinguish the tracks of two vehicles. He couldn’t have missed them by more than ten or fifteen minutes judging by the deep, wave-like marks. They made a wide turn across the road and stopped at a dark, smudged area next to the ditch. Father John angled toward it. He saw the boot prints, the trampled slope of the ditch, the broken scrub brush. Four or five feet below the road lay a dark object, a log. Only logs didn’t wear boots. The wind bore through Father John’s parka, sending shivers along his spine.

He started down, his boots sliding in the snow. One boot hit something flat and sharp—a boulder—and he drove his foot against it, steadying himself while he extracted the flashlight. It flickered a moment, then went out. He pounded the plastic tube into his glove until a narrow, eerie beam burst over the loglike figure: the boots, the patterns in the black soles, the tops of gray socks. The figure was wrapped in a brown tarp, but hanging from the side was a strip of blue fabric with white stars and red and yellow stripes: the Arapaho star quilt. He recognized the stillness of death. He was looking at a corpse. “Dear God,” he prayed out loud, “have mercy on his soul.”

Jamming the flashlight back into his pocket, Father John climbed to the road and started for the highway. He was running now, gulping in icy air that punctured his lungs like a thousand sharp needles. He sensed he had passed from cold to numbness, the beginning of hypothermia, but his thoughts were focused on the poor dead soul wrapped in a star quilt and tarp and thrown into a ditch. “God help him,” he prayed silently over and over, the words matching the rhythm of his boots against the snow.

He ran past the stop sign and turned west on the highway. There were no headlights, no signs of life, nothing but the blowing snow and the white earth slipping into the gray sky. Strips of icy asphalt crept through the snow in places. He felt his boots slipping. He nearly fell. Catching himself, he slowed to a walk, breathing hard, clapping his gloves together for warmth.

Just before he heard the motor, faint in the distance, he sensed the slight tremble in the highway and swung around. White pinpricks of light glowed in the darkness. He started running back along his own boot prints. As he ran, he pulled the flashlight from his pocket and waved it back and forth before realizing it wasn’t working.

Jiggling the switch, he ran on. The flashlight sprang to life as he came into the far reaches of the headlights. He circled the plastic tube in front, shouting, “Stop, stop!” With a kind of shock, he realized the truck was not stopping. He jumped out of the way.

A gray Chevy pickup lumbered by, its wheels throwing clods of snow over him. He hollered after it, scarcely believing anybody would pass a man in a blizzard. Then suddenly the brake lights came on, and the pickup ground to a stop. Father John ran after it and grabbed the tailgate. Half expecting the driver to take off, he lunged around the side for the door handle and hoisted himself onto the passenger seat as the truck started moving.

“Thanks,” he managed through clenched teeth, swallowing the swear words he usually forgot he knew.

In the dim light of the dashboard, the driver looked to be in his twenties. The beginning stubble of a blond beard covered his chin and he wore a dark cap with ear flaps pulled down. He sat square-shouldered behind the wheel. “Didn’t see ya,” he said. “No car anywhere.”

Pounding his gloves together to work the circulation back into his fingers, Father John said, “I broke down on Rendezvous Road.” It was an effort to keep his tone civil. “I’d appreciate a ride to Jake Littlehorse’s place.” Then he added, “I’m Father John O’Malley, pastor at St. Francis Mission. You from around here?”

He knew the answer. Nobody from around here would think of leaving another human being out in a blizzard in subzero temperatures. Not unless he wanted the person dead.

“Yeah. From around here,” the driver said.

Father John wondered why his companion was lying; what difference did it make? He shrugged it off. The cab was warm; the heat rising around his legs made his skin tingle; he was grateful for the ride. You didn’t have to like the guy who gave you the ride.

He turned his eyes on the frozen landscape sliding by his window. The snow seemed lighter, gentler, like cotton billowing downward. Less than an hour ago, he’d been driving down Rendezvous Road, late for a meeting called by the bishop. The meeting was probably half over by now, and he could imagine the excuses Father George and Father Edward and the other priests from Lander and Riverton had laid out for him. “Always late. Probably forgot. You know the Jesuits.” And they’d all have a good laugh, except for Clifford Keating, who wouldn’t be laughing. Jesuits. They were always trouble.

“So you broke down on Rendezvous Road?”

The question startled Father John. His new companion hadn’t seemed very talkative, which was fine with him. He was in no mood himself for a friendly chat. He decided to keep the conversation light. No mention of the body in the ditch. He drew in a long breath before explaining he’d been on his way to a meeting when his pickup had popped a radiator hose. He’d walked to the highway to catch a ride.

The driver was quiet, and after a moment Father John said, “Jake Littlehorse’s is just around the curve up ahead.”

“Gotcha.”

If the man were a local, Father John thought, he wouldn’t have to be told. The truck banked around the curve, turned into a snow-crusted driveway, and stopped in front of two squat frame buildings nestled among some cottonwoods. The buildings were dark. The headlights illuminated the black letters on the plate glass of one: JAKE’S GARAGE. Father John knew Jake lived in a couple of rooms tacked onto the back. He could be there. “Mind hanging around a minute?” he asked, stepping out.

The driver reached across the seat and grabbed the door handle. As the door slammed shut, the truck started backing up, its wheels grinding through the snow. Metal screeched against metal as the gears shifted. Then the truck took off down the highway.

Father John watched the red glow of the taillights a moment before hunching his shoulders against the cold and starting down the driveway, kicking up little clouds of just-fallen snow. It swirled around his blue jeans, sifted down into his boots. In the back, the driveway widened into a kind of court. At the edge of the court stood an old truck chassis and a pile of hoods and doors and wheels, half covered with snow. Calling Jake’s name, he banged on the back door. No answer. The tow truck wasn’t around. The garage man could be out on an emergency.

Father John made his way back along the driveway, cold slipping over him like a sheet of ice. The nearest ranch house was at least a mile farther. On an impulse, he veered toward the front door and pounded into the silence. Then he grasped the metal knob. To his surprise, it turned in his glove. The door swung open, its hinges shrieking like owls in the night. A wave of warmth tinged with the faint odor of grease hit him as he stepped inside. He closed the door and leaned against it. He wasn’t going to end up like that poor, frozen corpse in the ditch.

He knocked the flashlight into his glove until the bulb spurted enough light to make out Jake’s office: the glass-topped counter with a cash register and phone on top, a couple of hubcaps and a calendar on the wall behind, and a metal chair next to the door that led to Jake’s living quarters. He set the flashlight on the counter, pulled off his gloves, hat, and earmuffs, and scooted the phone into the beam of light.

He had just begun dialing 911 when he felt a hard object shoved against his parka into the small of his back. There was the sound of a rifle being cocked, then a male voice: “You move, and I’ll blow you to kingdom come.”

2

Jake Littlehorse was a nervous man.

Father John could hear the Arapaho gulping in air as he jammed the rifle harder against Father John’s back. The buzzing noise in the phone seemed a long way off. One wrong move, and he wouldn’t hear the noise that followed.

In a steady voice, he said, “Jake, it’s me. Father John.”

The pressure lifted from his back. “Jesus, Father.” Jake’s voice quivered. “You tryin’ to get yourself killed? How’d you get in here, anyways?”

Father John turned around, catching the glint of the flashlight off the blue-gray rifle barrel. Slowly he replaced the receiver as Jake, still pointing the gun, backed to the wall and flipped a switch. White fluorescent light flooded the small office, which had gone hot and stuffy. Father John yanked open the front of his parka, keeping his eyes on the Indian, who leaned the rifle into the corner. He looked half asleep, black hair sprouting upward like a feathered headdress, eyes narrow slits in a fleshy brown face. He had on a rumpled green sweatshirt and blue jeans that hung below a cliff of stomach flesh. His stockinged feet were planted wide apart on the linoleum floor.

Father John said, “I thought you’d been called out. The tow truck’s not around. The front door was unlocked, so I came in.”

“Truck’s in the garage,” Jake said, nodding sideways. “Guess I might’ve dozed off watchin’ TV. I thought I’d locked up and you was some burglar. I got lots of valuable things here them Indians are always after.” A whine seeped into his voice.

“The Toyota popped a radiator hose on Rendezvous Road,” Father John said.

“Hell, how come you didn’t say so?” Jake raised his head and squared his shoulders, a man about to enter familiar territory. “Hang on ’til I get my boots and coat.”

The Arapaho disappeared through the door as quietly as he’d come in, and Father John grabbed the phone and dialed 911. He counted four rings before the operator’s voice sounded. After giving his name, he explained he’d spotted a body in the ditch along Rendezvous Road about a half mile north of Highway 789.

“Hang on,” said the operator. After a minute she was back. A patrol car and ambulance were on the way.

Father John knew the body would be hard to spot. If it hadn’t been for the tracks and boot prints, he would have missed it. By morning it would have been buried in snow. It might have stayed hidden until spring. He told the operator he was at Jake Littlehorse’s place, but would meet the police on Rendezvous Road.

As he replaced the receiver, he sensed a presence in the room and whirled around. Jake stood so close, Father John wondered he hadn’t felt the Indian’s breath on his neck. He had silently entered the office a second time, like a warrior stalking the buffalo.

“You didn’t say nothin’ about no body.” The Arapaho’s brown eyes widened into a stare. He kept his arms close to his sides, looking as frozen and stiff as the poor soul in the ditch.

Father John explained he’d seen what he thought was a body. It was up to the police to investigate.

“I ain’t goin’ out there.” Jake shook his head. “I ain’t goin’ nowheres near. The ghost’s gonna be walkin’ around.”

Father John felt a flush of impatience. “A few minutes ago you were about to blow me into kingdom come. Then my ghost would’ve been walking around here. Did you think about that?”

“You been a burglar, I might’ve pulled the trigger,” Jake said. “I wouldn’t’ve liked it none.” Stepping behind the counter, he stooped over and began ...

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Margaret Coel
Editore: Penguin Putnam Inc, United States (1997)
ISBN 10: 0425159612 ISBN 13: 9780425159613
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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 1997. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reissue. 170 x 104 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Father John O Malley comes across the corpse lying in a ditch beside the highway. When he returns with the police, it is gone. The Arapahos of the Wind River Reservation speak of Ghost Walkerstormented souls caught between the earth and the spirit world, who are capable of anything.Then, within days, a young man disappears from the Reservation without a trace. A young woman is found brutally murdered. And as Father John and Arapaho lawyer Vicky Holden investigate these crimes, someoneor somethingbegins following them.Together, Vicky and Father John must draw upon ancient Arapaho traditions to stop a killer, explain the inexplicable, and put a ghost to rest. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780425159613

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Margaret Coel
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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 1997. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reissue. 170 x 104 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Father John O Malley comes across the corpse lying in a ditch beside the highway. When he returns with the police, it is gone. The Arapahos of the Wind River Reservation speak of Ghost Walkerstormented souls caught between the earth and the spirit world, who are capable of anything.Then, within days, a young man disappears from the Reservation without a trace. A young woman is found brutally murdered. And as Father John and Arapaho lawyer Vicky Holden investigate these crimes, someoneor somethingbegins following them.Together, Vicky and Father John must draw upon ancient Arapaho traditions to stop a killer, explain the inexplicable, and put a ghost to rest. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780425159613

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