Ever since 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 to add?”
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.
“Are 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 new casino.”
“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 and pen.
“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 fingernail, “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’m concerned- “
“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 Raven! “
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 watch TV?”
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 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.
J.S. Kierland is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the Yale Drama School. He was writer-in-residence at New York's Lincoln Center and Lab Theatre, Brandeis University, and Los Angeles Actor's Theatre. He's written two Hollywood films and rewritten several others. Over 100 publications of his short stories have been published around the country.