Shirley Anne was not a lesbian, this she knew, although there had been several incidents in which women had figured in her elaborate sexual escapades. But she loved men, she did, and that was the reality of the situation. Women were fine, she told herself, as long as you used them to get men excited. And actually, when Shirley Anne thought about it, maybe she had best not fool around with that kind of sex stuff any more anyway because Chief Smoattle might start babbling about it the way he had veered off into the secrets of life with Chester just before the divorce, nearly ruining everything. She didn’t – honest, really – know what Smooey was going to do once she was in her blacked-out trance and she had no control over him no matter what anyone said and she believed that about herself even though it was obvious to every one who knew her well that she was just faking it and making the whole thing up. It was the Beaverteeth town joke, practically.
She was always taking notes and planning Smooey’s clever sayings and his money-making agenda, oblivious to the common-sense view down in town that it was insane that a two million year old Ancient Prophet spoke through Shirley Anne Petersen, who was from a family so poor that marrying Chester Honeyacre had been a major step up in life. Besides, everyone in town knew that it was Chester who had coached her and set up the business of conducting expensive individual counseling sessions and then had invented the Product Line and, most of all, had organized the publicity campaign that had put her adorable self and the Chief in every tabloid and on every TV show in North America. There were even some down in town who had noticed that Chief Smoattle began to channel himself into her admired body just after she and Chester had gone into Seattle to see a road show of “The King and I.”
Shirley Anne, however, no longer thought of any of it as faked and indeed, had little recollection of what The Chief said in the trances and privately thought she might be getting a little weird, entering perhaps into some memory-loss phase of her life. She had cancelled several trance sessions lately and had lost some of her confidence at being able to go on. Smoeey didn’t seem to arise into her as easily as he once had. Something was wrong, she thought. At any rate, the DVD’s and the live-in seminars and the website and the audio tapes and booklets and books and private consultation fees from wealthy devotees and highly-paid lecture tours and the profits from the sale of land in the Silver Circle were raking in money like leaves gathered up in the Fall and, thanks to A. Aaron Baxter, divorce lawyer extraordinaire, virtually none of it had to be shared with Chester. It worried her that she had failed to produce the Chief lately, but she blamed herself for this and not him. If anyone were to know he didn’t exist, she would be that one. She controlled the situation, anyway, and she had to, because there was so much at stake. Although she had no control at all over The Chief. Today, for instance, this very day, a day in which two Hollywood producers had bought ranches in the Silver Circle and the famous Rosie Everlasting had agreed to be in her movie – a day already filled with successes, in other words – had come the confirmation that one of the Chief’s most devoted followers, the famous Old Man Petersunn, had died and left the Chief two hundred million dollars. You can’t get any better than that, she thought and waggled her head from side to side in a cute manner and tapped her glass expectantly and then finished off her second martini. Actually, when she thought about it, she had enough money that she really didn’t need to produce Smooey anymore. He was a drag anyway.
“Two hundred million. Wow. Here’s to you, baby,” said her husband Towhead Beech. “I guess you’ve had quite a day of it. Sweetie, do you want to actually ride on the float in the Midden Parade?” He opened another bottle of wine. When Shannon had brought it in from the cellar he had almost patted her on the ass and when she left, he winked at Shirley Anne.
“I’ll bet she gets to thinking about the real world every once in a while, whaddya say, babe?” He lowered his voice, barely able to contain the laughter in it.
“What is the real world, Towie?”
“She wants it, pardon me sweetie, but a man can tell. Now you put some lipstick on that young girl and high heels and you can bet that some young stud would be happy to … well, you know.”
“Fuck her?” snarled Shirley Anne. His head snapped up. He was a prude, it turned out. “For God’s sake, you are a fool about this subject. Mr. Baxter says the same thing.”
“Did the little bastard check in? Another package with your script in it was returned from that asshole Christianstein’s office down in L.A. today. Jesus, with two hundred mil on the way you ought to be able to buy and sell these Hollywood scumbags.”
“You can’t even make a halfway good movie for two hundred million these days. And it’ll be half that when the taxes are through with us. Grow up. Mr. Baxter is in Hollywood right now. He called up and said he had Jim Rook with him and he was going right to Mitchell Honeyacre, in other words, right to the top.”
“I thought Charlie Christianstein was the top.”
“Mitchell is the most famous director in the world. That’s more toward the top.”
“Jim Rook, did you say? No kidding.”
There was a silence as he thought to himself that Jim Rook, well, Jim Rook had meant a lot to him. He told Shirley Anne that that was the best news he’d heard about the movie, really wonderful news.
“You men are so stupid about sports,” whined Shirley Anne. “I’m not so sure. I like the idea of Klaut Heft and I understand I can afford him. Indians are trouble anyway.”
“Well, that’s for sure,” he said. Out in the kitchen, there was a sudden crash of metal and glass.
“Oh, God. Do you think she heard me?”
“What do you think?” he whispered sarcastically.
Right or wrong, however, Shirley Anne certainly echoed the sentiments of most of the non-Native population of the Puget Sound. The Squilimuk Nation, the Salish, the Twana, the Snohomish, the Squaxin, the Nisqually, the Puyallups, the Samish – you name ‘em – were one big pain in the ass, that’s what everyone thought. Ever since the early seventies when old Mr. Patterson and the Quilt twins and that Madison woman from Squalto had got everyone crazy over fishing rights and now that the Indians had most of what salmon were left out on the Sound and up the river and controlled things with their own hatcheries and now that they were building themselves a huge gambling casino on reservation land at Gorgeville and had the rights to pull clams and oysters off everyones’ beaches and now that Jim Rook had become so famous and now that their long-haired artists were exhibited in New York, you couldn’t hardly stand them because they were so puffed up with themselves. In the grumbled opinions of the non-Native population of Beaverteeth and Midden, these New Indians were just the same old damn Squilimuks who let junk cars pile up around their houses and who periodically liked to remind everyone that the Interstate was built on their land without their permission and whose nut cases lurked around the little taverns down at the end of Pacific Avenue over in Tacoma, or Orient Boulevard in Midden or the Pike Street Market in Seattle, frightening tourists and committing God knows what crimes of dark insobriety. However, if you were a Squilimuk, chances were that you figured things were pretty much status quo between the Squilimuks and their white neighbors, or – as Jim Quilt used to say in his hippie days – the occupying forces of treachery and subjugation. His kid Ernie Quilt, (an uncle of Shannon’s on her mother’s side) who was thinking of taking on a traditional Squilimuk name if one came to him, would ponder The Problem as he stood up and whipped his aluminum boat with its big Merc outboard around the low beaches on the north side of Mystery Island while tending his long nets during the brief seasons of the salmon. He could see into the windows of the expensive homes built above the beaches where his great-grandparents and theirs had dug clams and gathered tubers and fished the salmon three times a year. He had perfected a peripheral vision that allowed him to stare straight ahead, a cigarette clenched between his teeth and the rain hitting him full on, his long hair flying out behind him in its ponytail, his bright yellow rainwear marking him in the mist as if he himself were a lure for invisible salmons who might live in the thickened air. Thus he could watch with dignity the goings-on in the shore peoples’ houses.
The Problem was this: it seemed to him that life was as if the Squilimuk Nation were dreaming a strange dream and that these houses that he looked at sideways, with their acres of plate glass and hundred-foot piers for docks and their great green lawns and their sailboats bobbing off their floats, were part of this ancestral dream, not a waking from it. If this were so, then the Squilimuk people – the dreamers – were alone responsible for these houses and these white people. He wrestled with this problem and this dream and sometimes he thought he was winning and sometimes the dream won but at least it was a Squilimuk dream and therefore life was in the hands of his people, could they but figure out how the dream and these other things were exactly connected. Emmet Two Crows, his cousin, would help him pull in the nets on most days of the season and together they would search for salable fish along what were supposed to be their traditional fishing grounds but which the dream liked to see as the docks and beaches and tidelands and playthings of white doctors and judges and lawyers and orthodontists, all of whom tended to fear the Indians and harbor secret thoughts of stealing salmon from their nets when they had disappeared out into the fog of Hello Passage. It was a confusing dream. The Problem did not get any easier as Ernie grew older. Earlier in the morning, down at the marina, he had got a cellphone call from a guy up the Valley who said that Annie Bob had told someone, before she died, that they had better try to withdraw the spirit of Smoattle from that blonde dame’s control with some old medicine guy’s kit that Mrs. Charles found in her attic and some new songs that had come around from some Paiute guys over in Nevada and maybe that would stop the Mountain from blowing up, but he didn’t think it was that great an idea. He wasn’t all that sure that Smoattle was even marginally real to begin with and he remembered from somewhere that kidnapping was a Federal offense and there was a limited season for chum salmon on at the moment and he was busy.
The salmon had diminished in Ernie Quilt’s lifetime and the dream was not giving an inch on the supply. Outside his view, but vivid in his imagination, the great death ships of the Pacific Rim sucked up and slaughtered the fish people in numbers unimagined by his father and grandfather. Inshore, the streams burped chemicals and the mud held on to the deep, cold poisons of the dream, which did not wash away but sank to dwell beneath the tides themselves. The dream was considerably powerful and he knew no way to change a dream other than to dream. He had recently had a dream about kidnapping Shirley Anne Honeyacre and holding her for ransom, but he was unsure if this was all that good an idea.
In the dream, this potentially foolish idea had been proposed to him by two large animals – they looked like beavers, one had a hat that dangled skulls – and much of what they said seemed crazy. He had asked a couple of the older men about the significance of beavers. He had been looked at strangely and he knew why. He was not a good Indian, helpful at potlatches, dance troupe kind of a guy, not part of any inner cultural circle, not much family, probably way too much white blood. But after awhile, Mr. Charles, before he died, had fixed him with that half-away old-people look, after he brought over some smoked ling cod and a cold six-pack of Alaskan Amber, and told him that beaver was not to be mentioned, especially to white people, that Beaver changed the weather. It didn’t make much sense to him, but the weather thing was interesting. Change was interesting to Ernie Quilt and weather was all-important in the fishing business.
“Baxter says that Smoattle says that the Indians are the Messengers of the Plant Brain,” said Towie, loudly. “Isn’t that right?”
“I don’t know everything he says. Did he say that? It sounds right. I haven’t reviewed all the videotapes lately. Mr. Baxter was supposed to hire someone to start doing that,” she snarled at him.
“I’ll have a talk with him.”
“You do that.”
He didn’t trust the little lawyer. Oddly, A. Aaron Baxter was a believer in Chief Smoattle, much to his own surprise, he had once told Towhead Beech. He loved to attend sessions (free) and watch the old man take over Shirley Anne, he said. (Privately, Baxter had thought about what it would be like to make love to Shirley Anne while Smoattle was in control of her voluptuous body and the thought of it gave him the cold chills, especially one late night after he had watched a movie on TV with Yul Brynner about seven guys with thin black gloves or something.)
Towie looked at Shirley Anne at the end of the table, with her feet perched up on the rungs of the chair like a child. He wondered about her and Baxter. He had seen the look in Baxter’s eye and it was a look that had heard the rumors about Shirley Anne and sex.
Of course, Shirley Anne wanted to ride in the parade. And of course the City of Midden would like to claim her as its own. She chattered on about the design of the float, how it would be all made out of flowers and vegetables and a big smiling, spiritual face would be seen as if the vegetables were all one really and the big face would be the Plant Brain in his serene innocence and all-knowingness. Towhead Beech, when he thought about it, liked the Plant Brain part of Shirley Anne’s religion best. It made the most sense to him. He privately thought Chief Smoattle was just an excellent money-making device and he would – for that reason alone – never criticise, but the Plant Brain gave him pause. In Smoattle’s defense, Shirley Anne might point out that it was through the Chief that the Plant Brain first revealed itself. It was Smooey who began rambling on in one session years ago about the odd fact that all the plants of the world might be connected because their roots traveled long distances underground and so each plant could touch all other plants through this secret web under the surface of the Earth. It made sense, better than God, for instance, someone of whom Towhead Beech could see no earthly indication. With the Plant Brain, you could actually see the aboveground hint of what lay under the surface. When you thought about it, he thought, there were plants of one kind or another everywhere you looked, even down south in the Mojave or out on the steppes of Eastern Washington, there was some plant somewhere and its roots could be infinitely long and virtually invisible. So the Plant Brain was composed of this weblike touching of roots and Chief Smoattle revealed that it was alive and sentient and concerned with getting its message across. It had chosen Chief Smoattle to do this because of his ancient wisdom, of course, and because in all his incarnations across two thousand years, he had always been a vegetarian.
Shirley Anne and Towhead Beech were not vegetarians and they plowed through the fat steaks in lieu of the sex which seemed to have left their lives lately. Shannon served them grumpily, which was nothing new. Thick french fries came with the meal and they were done to perfection in fresh peanut oil. Privately, even though she was pretty sure that she had invented it, Shirley Anne thought it was weird that the Plant Brain liked someone who ate parts of itself, because that’s what a vegetarian does; eats plants, eats the Plant Brain itself. It was as if Jesus had chosen a cannibal to spread His message. Probably, she thought, the Plant Brain had contempt for its aboveground members in the same way that humans had contempt for dreams and things they could not see of themselves. Yes, that was it. She would get Smooey to set that down on a DVD and it could actually be a whole series called something like “Eat Your Dreams.” A couple of smart-ass clients had noticed the vegetarian inconsistency of late and she would be glad to close down the argument for good. Shirley Anne always had a notebook near and she jotted these thoughts down. She loved the Plant Brain because it was all hers. Chester had nothing to do with it and he needn’t be so smug anyway, acting like he invented Chief Smoattle. There was a note at the top of the page already. It reminded her to never forgive Chester Honeyacre for anything. She carefully copied it over to the next page so that she might never forget it.
The chief thing she would never forgive Chester for was his public disbelief in Chief Smoattle’s existence. His lawyer’s allegations – in court, during the divorce proceedings – that Smoeey was a fake had made headlines not just in the Northwest, but all around the Tabloid Nation. And Baxter had been right. He thought that Chester’s stupid lawyer had ruined his own case with that one. That, and the fact that Chester never showed up in court. No judge, it turned out, was going to award someone a big part of The Chief’s money if that someone didn’t believe in where the money came from. It hadn’t hurt that the judge was someone who came to consult Shirley Anne privately, actually she went to his house, and they had to be very careful that no one knew about it, particularly Chester’s lawyer. The spiritual life superseded the legal, said Judge Onsky, but he said it to Shirley Anne in confidence.
“I think I should wear some off-the-shoulder number and I should have a big straw hat and a shepherd’s crook and a huge skirt – oh, Towie! – we could have some llamas on the float, couldn’t we? Oh, they could pull the float, couldn’t they?”
God, she’s so adorable, thought Towhead Beech. She’s so round and small and perfect and delicate, like an innocent blonde child. He hadn’t really figured out what was wrong lately, why he hadn’t been able to get it up to fuck her lately. It seemed to him that she didn’t want it anymore and when they’d first had their affair one of the things he just couldn’t believe was how much she’d wanted it and in what amazing ways she’d wanted it. Some nights early on, she’d have him do it to her right backstage at Smoattle sessions, in the house, with Chester right out in the audience as the visitation audience discussed the exciting manifestation of the Chief they’d just witnessed. She liked to watch through the curtain and come at the same time, it seemed. This just killed him, it was the sexiest thing he’d ever done. She would lift her skirt up and she wouldn’t have panties on at all and she would let him have her from behind so she could, at the same time, stare out the little private holes in the curtain and watch Chester rake in the dough from the satisfied customers. He found himself more than once wondering if The Chief ever noticed that she – he – they – didn’t have panties on.
But lately, she didn’t really seem to like him at all. Typical, he thought sourly, just like his kids and his ex-wife. To know Towhead Beech was eventually to hate him, he thought. He wondered how in the hell he would ever have the guts to be unfaithful to Shirley Anne because – he assumed that she was now, or soon would be, unfaithful to him – he knew that he would have to revenge himself on her someday.
As she chattered on about the parade he noticed that she was beginning to exude the old message, that she liked him now, that he was a great guy. Yeah, he thought, because now she’s getting what she wants, mostly that money from the old bastard who liked those spiritual (only spiritual, he hoped) blowjobs. I’d like to see her get what I want, he thought. I’d like to see her on her knees, he thought, as his teeth chewed meat and his head nodded in agreement with whatever it was she was saying. I’d like to see her down on her knees in front of one of those movie stars, or even Shannon, he thought. Yeah, her and that sexy little Amber Bernstein and Shannon, that was an interesting combination. He let his secret mind arrange the girl dolls the way he liked them and at the same time he nodded and chewed. She’d be naked except for those very high spike heels and black stockings and her breasts would be pushed up with one of those push-up black bras and she would be kneading, pulling at her own erect nipples and with that wicked little smile and that wonderful laugh she would lick Shannon right between the legs and Shannon – who, while tough and mean, excited Towhead Beech because she had purple hair and could really cook and was blunt and direct and was a forbidden Indian – would smile like the devil herself and take the world-renowned big breasts of Amber Bernstein into her savage mouth and pull Shirley Anne’s innocent blonde head to her and press it right into her deep self and he, Towhead Beech – erect, husband, man – would be welcome to play at sex with them because, although they did not like men very much, he was an exception because of all the men he knew, he was the one who knew the most about women and the one besides who had an extremely large cock for one so small.
He was a man who appreciated and loved women in the aggregate, was Towhead Beech. Individual women were another problem entirely.
“Are you listening to me, Towie?”
“Are you kidding? It sounds great.” He nodded and nodded again and chewed beef.
Shirley Anne looked at him carefully. Something was different. She was surprised that he was home this early. Towhead Beech lately seemed mostly concerned with the boring ins and outs of Towhead Beech Honda over in Puyallup, well into the night. Shirley Anne suspected that the main reason for his businesslike concern was a girl who worked the late shift in customer service, a plucky young blonde with two kids at home and no husband anymore who stood outside in a windbreaker with the ends of her long hair tightly curled, rain or shine, with a clipboard and a big smile, to help the hapless idiots who brought their cars in after work to Towhead Beech Honda’s Service Center, which was a living nightmare of sloppy work and bad advice. Shirley Anne had certainly never been a jealous person and had never cared what Chester, for instance, had done with other women. (He hadn’t done anything, it turned out, which seemed odd to her because in those days, just the fact of being able to have sex with anyone you wanted to with no health consequences was reason enough to announce a New Age, and it was practically non-spiritual not to take advantage of it.) But these were new times and since she was getting really tired of Towhead Beech, she was looking for him to make a kind of Old Age mistake of infidelity so as to relieve her of this marriage as cleanly as possible. She didn’t want to give him one dime of the two hundred mil, for instance. As Mr. A. Aaron Baxter – who had nicely put a tail on Towhead Beech for her – pointed out, nothing had happened yet. She wondered if Mr. Baxter wanted something to happen, and indeed, if he had just made the whole thing up about the girl in customer service so he would have a shot at Shirley Anne himself. This did not seem a bad thing to her. In fact, Shirley Anne liked men to have a reasonable shot at her. She liked being the center of attention, that was for sure. Mr. Baxter was little and funny-looking and overweight, but he was a killer, she thought. There was something deadly about him in court and she had often thought about climbing into the sack with him, especially on those long nights when they were writing the screenplay for “I Am The Drifter!” He had written most of it anyway, and all she really had to do was listen to him read to her. He had a way with words, did Mr. Baxter. She loved to listen to him talk. She had thought about it and she had thought that she was beginning to like him quite a lot and when Shirley Anne thought about something, it wasn’t long before she just did it.