It was a friend in Phoenix who told me about Charlotte Devere, a professor. It was bar chatter about her collection, not her academic work, that made me very alert. It was about the same time there’d been that thing about the Irish tourist woman hiking up in the Chiricahua mountains who ended up dead and mutilated.
Charlotte taught history at Pima College, just west of where I was working, so first chance I drove over. She wasn’t hard to find once I had her description, standing almost six feet tall with shoulders broad as a lumberjack. But handsome, with the tanned hide of an outdoorswoman.
“Yep, I run three four miles a day,” she said nonchalantly when I picked her out and chatted her up over breakfast in Tucson. “Plus all kinds of outdoor sports.”
“Well, that’s my idea of fun too,” I said. “I hike a lot. Poked around in the Dakota hills last year and found a few Indian pottery shards.”
She brightened like a full moon. “You like Indian relics? I have a pretty good collection myself.”
I knew it, but I kept my mouth shut for great granny’s sake.
* * *
Charlotte’s house looked like a museum filled with Indian stuff. “Sioux?” I asked about the clay pots on her bookcase.
“Some,” she said putting a glass of bourbon in my hand. “Mostly they’re Hopi and Navajo.”
“What’s that hairy thing?” I pointed to the dream catcher frame hanging on her wall. Sioux women wove magical dream catcher webs, using willow hoops to filter out bad dreams and allow only good thoughts to enter their children’s minds.
“My little joke? It’s actually a scalp. A white woman from Wyoming who got waylaid by the Sioux in about 1895. Might be the last scalp taken before the Seventh Cavalry caught up with them. It’s a helluva haircut, isn’t it?” She laughed.
“You don’t say.” I drank some of her excellent whiskey and repeated myself.
* * *
We talked long into the afternoon, Charlotte and me. I’m pretty fit, and I could see her eyeing my backside as I went to the can to relieve myself. Knew that was the moment to ask her out.
“You ever go up in the hills off roading? Fresh air, wind in your teeth?”
Her smile showed me all her pearly whites. “I have a Honda ATV and try to get out regularly.”
My face lit up too. “I got a Kawasaki back home. Best little quad I’ve ever had. What say we do a little riding come Saturday?”
And that was it. I had two days to get things together, find a place to rent a quad, and check the trail. Sure, Charlotte and I saw each other the next day. And night. She was one tough woman, all tangled up in the sheets. If I’d known they made professors like her I might’ve stayed in college.
“That scalp thing,” I asked as we lay in her bed. “Why’d you keep it?”
“Cute,” she said, lying back on the sheets. “It’s a conversation starter at cocktail parties. Now it’s just a giggle. I think I have a redheaded scalp here somewhere.”
“Pretty grisly joke.” I thought of the Irish tourist. The TV reporter said she’d been a redhead.
“Life’s grisly. Get over it. Native Americans were getting kicked out of their homes, massacred by the whites. That woman was just collateral damage. They always are.”
* * *
Charlotte was a good rider. I watched her big ass bumping on the seat ahead of me as we did the Chiricahua trails at 30 miles an hour. We were out about half an hour when the wire hit her. Caught her right at the neck. Her quad shot ahead and into a tree. Her body hung on, but her head snapped off and rolled down an arroyo.
I clambered down and saw the look of surprise on her face. Of course she was dead, but her eyes hadn’t comprehended the fact.
“Thing is,” I explained to her head, “that was my great grandmother’s hairpiece decorating your wall. She died in that 1895 raid. We all die, but we don’t claim bragging rights over other people’s body parts.”
I took Charlotte’s key, went back to her house and removed great granny’s scalp from the wall. Next chance I got, I’d go up to the graveyard where she’s buried and give it back to her. I also found a redheaded scalp that would likely match up to the Irish tourist when some anonymous citizen tipped off the police.
Bio: Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance. His work has appeared in print and online in over a score of publications. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online booksellers. He's also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.
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