Saturday, November 24th,2001, 2:31 pm (pandemo)
Without knocking, Alberto bursts into Paul Peter's hovel.
Not only does he NOT knock, he SHOUTS. Raising himself on one elbow, Paul Peter tentatively opens one eye, then, wincing, closes it and drops back onto his pallet. "Alberto, no es tiempo de levantar. El sol no está en el cielo."
Gritando, muy agitado, Alberto dice, "Dónde está mi maestra?"
Paul Peter leans on one elbow, facing toward the sound of Alberto's voice. Both eyes are shut. He is wincing. "¿Su maestra? ¿La profesora?"
Paul Peter's shaky Spanish leads him to check for understanding before taking the message seriously enough to react to it.
"¡Por supuesto! No está en su casa."
"Not in her hovel, huh? Is she walking in the desert?" When Alberto doesn't respond, he tries Spanish. "¿Está andando por el desierto?"
Wincing again, Paul Peter repeats, "¿No? ¿De veras?"
"¡No! Yo la acompaño todos los días."
"You go with her when she walks in the desert every morning?" Mumbling to himself, he says, "Leave it to Despina to find another early bird." Again addressing Alberto, he thinks aloud of other destinations she might have had, ¿Quiza se va a Broken Lance?"
"¡No! Su camion está aquí todavía. Ella nunca anda tan lejos."
Climbing to his feet by stages, Paul Peter staggers as he steps into his jeans. "No stone unturned, eh, Kid? You're right. If her truck is still here, she is not in Broken Lance. She's learned better than to try to walk that far."
"Por favor, señor, ¿dónde está?"
"Where's your teacher? No sé, Alberto."
He looks so close to tears that Paul Peter ruffles his hair and promises to look for the wayward Despina more to calm the distraught child down than out of any real concern for her whereabouts. It is way too early in the morning for curiosity to take hold.
Wandering inconspicuously toward her hovel as though looking for a place to relieve himself, he muses, Come to think of it, I haven't seen Cu lately, either.
Motioning Alberto back into his hovel, he slips into hers, hoping to go unobserved. "I've no hankering to anger my boss, or give him any reason to see me as competition," he mumbles. Pausing inside to allow his eyes to adjust to the dimness, he looks around. The hiking boots she'd borrowed the money to purchase are gone. So is her floppy sombrero.
Suddenly finding Alberto beside him, he says, "Well, Kid, I think you're just out of luck. This escape is planned, not a kidnapping." Taking Alberto's hand, they slip out.
She stays gone for nearly a week, but nobody but Alberto notices it.
Finally María sets Paul Peter straight in her typically blunt manner. Even blind, she sees more deeply than most. "Nobody bothers those on spirit journeys."
Paul Peter stands, staring at her, transfixed. "Despina has undertaken a vision quest?" His eyes glow with excitement, but he swallows twice before he can speak.
Without thinking, Paul Peter blurts out, "I thought you did those alone."
María hisses at him, turning her back.
When Despina eventually wanders into the campfire one night, nobody comments on her reappearance at first. Finally Paul Peter can't stand it any longer.
"So, what's your totem?" he prods.
He always has shown a willingness to venture where mere angels fear to tread.
She plays dumb. "Totem?"
"Most people undertake a vision quest to find their totem animal."
Doggedly, he continues. "They don't return until they've killed, or at least seen, their totem animal."
"No, they don't."
"Not usually," he admits, then hastily adds, "But it is not unheard of," not wanting to give her any out.
"Well, if that is what I was doing, I guess mine would have to be a rattle snake."
He flinches. "You killed a rattle snake?"
"I sure couldn't catch and kill anything larger without a weapon." Pausing, she grows reflective, then continues, "Or even with one, truth to tell. I'd probably need a weapon of mass destruction, considering my skill level with bow, lance, or knife."
Coming up in time to overhear this exchange, the sheriff chuckles softly, "Only hand weapons allowed, eh, knives, spears... granades... I thought you did vision quests alone, not accompanied by a brave described to me as armed and dangerous. Have you seen Cu? I need to talk to him."
"Not recently. By the way, you were right. He's a horrid hunter. He was armed, albeit lightly, but every still living animal anywhere on that mountainside bears mute testimony to the inaccuracy of calling him dangerous. I captured and killed whatever we ate."
Disconcerted, Paul Peter echoes, "We? You weren't alone?"
"I promised not to wander around in the desert out of sight of the village or the road after the arroyo incident."
"Why'd Cu restrict YOU more than they restrict their own children?"
"Cu? I didn't promise Cu."
Chuckling again, the sheriff said, "She promised ME. Good teachers are hard to come by. I didn't want to have to write more letters trying to replace her. Foolish young women are hard to find."
"A rattlesnake?" Paul Peter squeaks, still hung up on her totem. "You KILLED a rattlesnake?"
"A rattlesnake? Not exactly. More accurately, I decimated the entire population in that area."
"Wouldn't it have been more humane to just AVOID them? Why'd you KILL them?"
"I was hungry."
"You ATE rattlesnakes?"
"They really do taste sort of like chicken, once you get them cooked. Got any good recipies I can try?"
Paul Peter squints his eyes, "Yeah, right. You cooked and ate rattlesnake meat the entire time."
Casually, Despina flips a clumsily stitched rabbit skin pouch and thong from around her neck, tossing them in Paul Peter's direction. When it hits, it clatters.
Opening it, he spills out an impressive collection of rattles, some impressively LARGE. The significance of the fact that SHE's wearing the pouch is not lost on him. Tipping the rattles back in with the toe of his boot, he slides the sack carefully toward her.
"They won't bite you now, PP," she teases.
"Handling someone's medicine pouch in not a good idea," he says, carefully picking his words to hide his squeamishness.
"Handling an Indian's medicine pouch would be unthinkable," she corrects gently.
"Handling anyone's won in an Indian manner is not a risk I care to indulge in. Angry gods do powerfully angry things."
Rolling her eyes, Despina replaces the pouch.
"Where'd you last see him?" the sheriff picks up the conversation.
"I could take you there in daylight, I'm pretty sure."
"I really need to see him sooner than that."
Her eyes widen. "Officially? As, in connection with that armed and dangerous description?"
"I'm not at liberty to say."
"It took me half a day to walk this far. When did this armed and dangerous incident allegedly occur? Before that, or afterward?"
Smiling broadly, the sheriff inquires, "Would you be willing to testify to that?"
"How long was I gone?"
"You don't know?" bursts in Paul Peter.
"You know what they say, 'Time's fun when you're having flies,' er, rattlesnakes."
"Five days," supplies Bruno solemnly.
"I can testify to his continuous presence for that long, minus my walking back time."
Drawing an audible breath, "Continuous, Despina? As in, all night?" Paul Peter prods, eyes wide.
"You have a dirty mind, PP."
"Thank you." He gives her a Cheshire cat grin. "If you were asleep, how would you know?" he continues in his best barrister-spinning-his-trap-to-ensnare-t
"I'm a light sleeper. It would have disturbed my beauty rest."
"Ah, I think I can use my imagination from there. Sufficiently documented to stand up in court, sheriff?" he inquires droll-ly.
"I'll need to take you in and file a formal deposition," he informs her, embarrassed.
"Can I shower first?" she inquires, heading toward the parked patrol car. Lifting her arm, she sniffs, then staggers.
Appreciative laughter breaks the tension.
Once they are to the car, the sheriff opens the passenger door for her, emphasizing that she is 1) going voluntarily, 2) not a prisoner or suspect.
After he shuts his door, she turns serious. "Fallout from the death of his wife?"
"Possibly. He won't follow you to town, will he?"
"I don't think he's clairvoyant. I doubt a soul other than his mother knows where he is at present, and she's pretty fussy who she'll talk to."
Last updated 7/4/04.