Authors: Elizabeth Horton-Newton
Copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Newton
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without by monetary gain, is investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or publisher.
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All rights reserved.
Cover Art: Rachel Bostwick
Edited by: Neil D. Newton & K. Broggy
Dedicated to my father, Dewey Jack Horton, Jr.
my mother Honor Donahue Horton
They gave me my love of books
For all the little ones stolen from their homes.
For all the families who lost their babies.
Special thanks to Eric Schweig
Actor, Artisan, Activist
He opened my eyes to the issues
It is difficult for me to believe a child could be removed from his family and culture without repercussions in the 20
century. However this has, in fact, happened. Most horrifying it happened in the United States of America, “land of the free, home of the brave”.
Prior to 1978 and the enactment of something called the
Indian Child Welfare Act
(ICWA) aboriginal children were removed from their families and put into foster care or adopted to non-native families with the mistaken belief this would improve their lives. If this had happened to any other group of people the hue and cry raised would have been resounding. Instead it was encouraged.
In the past Native American children were removed from their homes and families by the thousands. Away from their tribes they became rootless, forgetting their cultures and traditions. Many of these children were placed in boarding schools operated by non-native groups. Instead of improving their lives hundreds were abused. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was often responsible for the removals. Some religious groups also stepped up to “save” these children and provide them with better lives. By the 1970’s in the US about five thousand aboriginal children were living in Mormon homes. Deemed by social workers to be “in the best interest of the child” these removals were carried out with state approval.
In 1978 Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. This was supposed to keep native families intact, or at least keep them with some relative or in their tribe. As recently as 2011 up to thirty-two states were not complying with the law and aboriginal children were taken from homes citing such circumstances as neglect. Placed in situations where they may be physically or even sexually abused they lose touch with their roots possibly even feeling abandoned.
Needless to say, Congress was ineffective in stemming the tide of legalized abduction. Native children placed in white homes and communities do not assimilate easily nor should they have to. With family and tribal members willing and able to care for and raise the children the injustice to the aboriginal communities is egregious.
While this book is a romantic thriller there is something to be learned from Kort Eriksen’s experiences. Based on the stories I’ve heard from those who were “lost” children, children ripped from families and communities, I built Kort’s world. As you read this book I hope you will think about the system that works against aboriginal youth in America. Every child has the right to know where he comes from. If a responsible and caring family member or community member is available to take on the responsibility of raising the child every effort should be made to see that solution realized.
Kort gazed out the bus window as the countryside sped by. Seven years, seven months, and seven days and things looked the same. Turning away from the window he tried to stretch his long legs in the cramped space allotted to passengers of all shapes and sizes. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a young boy, maybe nine or ten, staring at him. A child's cowboy hat sat crookedly on the boy’s head. Suddenly the boy lifted his hand and squinted his eyes like a sheriff in a wild west adventure; he pretended to shoot at Kort. Kort did not react. He didn't blink, he didn't smile, he didn't frown. A woman peered over the top of the seat and catching sight of Kort's impassive stare she pulled the child back, out of Kort's line of vision.
"But Mom he's an Indian." the child protested rather loudly.
Over the tops of the seats Kort could see some heads turn as the mother shushed the child, admonishing him to lower his voice and stay in his seat.
The bus grew still again but after a few minutes the small head peeked back at Kort and the boy stuck out his tongue. He was swiftly pulled back and the sound of a soft slap followed by whimpering once again broke the silence.
Kort leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Seven years, seven months, and seven days and nothing had really changed. He was older, taller, and leaner. He had earned his high school diploma and put a Bachelor of Science degree on his almost bare resume. His hair had grown long; he'd grown a beard and shaved it off. But his skin still carried the bronze of his heritage.
He felt the bus turning and opening his eyes he saw they were coming into town. There was a new gas station at the highway exit, bigger and shinier than any he could recall. Several more businesses had popped up on the road. As the bus wove its way more deeply into town he saw the high school. The football team was practicing, the cheerleaders jumping up and down, their short red skirts flapping in the cool autumn air. He saw one girl, her blonde ponytail bouncing with each hop, and felt a pang remembering Desiree.
He closed his eyes again and for a moment he was seventeen with the future stretched out before him and all the promise of life yet to live. No point going there. He was no longer seventeen. He was a grown man of twenty-six with a criminal record. He was a convicted killer and no one would see him as anything else.
As the bus slowed he opened his eyes. No one would be waiting for him. His adoptive father had died while he was in prison. His adoptive mother blamed him saying the stress of his crime was too much for her husband to bear. She conveniently ignored the fact that the man was almost seventy years old, had smoked since he was a teenager, drank beer like water, and consumed straight single malt that smelled like tar. He was at least fifty pounds overweight. That had no impact on his demise. It was Kort's fault.
The bus stopped and the mother slipped out of the seat past her son, gathering the few belongings they carried with them. As she led the boy off the bus he turned back to look at Kort and gave him a conspiratorial wink. Perhaps some things had changed.
Surprised, Kort watched as they waited at the side of the bus for their luggage to be unloaded. Then standing up slowly, careful not to bump his head, he pulled on his denim jacket and made his way off the bus. The rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to break through the clouds. As he removed his small suitcase from the bus driver’s hand he heard a woman's voice call out his name. His stomach tightened as he turned to see Norma standing on the walkway. He recognized her immediately although her dark hair was cut short now and she had filled out to a more womanly shape during his stay away. But her nose still turned up slightly and her dark eyes still glittered like deep pools under a glowing moon. Norma moved toward him, her step slightly hesitant. He noticed she wore a white uniform.
"Norma." He tried to keep the surprise out of his voice but it crept through.
She looked up at him and he thought she was a lot shorter than he remembered.
"You've gotten so tall," she whispered before standing on her tiptoes to place a light kiss on his chin.
Of course she wasn't shorter, he was taller.
"How did you know..." he began, but she cut him off.
"Everyone knows. You're the talk of the town." Norma took hold of his hand and led him toward the parking lot beside the depot. "Let's get out of here before someone comes along and tries to start trouble."
"How did you know what bus I'd be on?" Kort asked as she used her key fob to unlock a small black car.
"I called and asked your mother if I could come down to meet you with her," she responded, popping open her truck so he could stow his bag. "When she told me she wasn't coming I knew I had to be here. Welcome home Kort. I missed you." Norma smiled up at him and for a moment it was as though no time had passed and they were just standing outside Doc's Apothecary and Fountain.
But that moment passed quickly when a voice called out, "Be careful there Norma or you might end up down by the river with your brains bashed in."
They turned to see a young man in greasy coveralls walking away. He cast one glance back at them before turning the corner and disappearing inside the station.
Norma laid her hand lightly on Kort's arm. "Don't pay any attention. Some people just don't know how to let go of the past."
Still staring in the direction the man had gone Kort asked, "Who the hell was that?"
Norma opened the passenger side door, "Doug Sutton."
Kort folded his body into the front seat. Doug Sutton; running back on the high school football team. One of the jocks. One of the angry boys who had testified against him at trial. An angry boy who apparently had grown into an angry man. Norma slipped into the driver’s seat and put on her seat belt. "Put your seat belt on Kort."
"Some things never change," he thought as he pulled the strap across his chest.
Neither of them noticed the uniformed officer leaning against the counter in the post office across the street.
"So, you want a quick tour of the new and improved Riddle?" Norma turned onto Main Street headed toward the downtown area of Riddle.
Kort smiled wryly, "I don't know. Is it safe?'
Laughing, Norma said, "Don't worry. I'll protect you." Then she pointed out the window, "There's the hospital where I work."
`The building was much larger than he remembered and it was apparent it was still growing. Construction crews moved around the side, the sound of active building filling the air. The sun was fully out now giving the day a golden glow and the bustling activity made Kort think of a beehive.
Looking back at Norma, Kort asked, "So you're a nurse?"
Her cheeks turned a bright pink and she nodded as she responded softly, “Yes. I actually did something with my life after all.” Norma had not been the best student or the nicest girl in high school. She looked at Kort from the corner of her eye. “I guess I decided I could do better helping people than pushing them around. It was this or a police officer where I could do both. I left police work to Butch.”
Kort tensed at the mention of Butch’s name. “Butch is a police officer?” Then a frown creased his brow. “You and Butch aren’t…”
Norma laughed heartily. “No way! Butch is actually assistant chief of police. Youngest ever in Riddle. Marry Butch? I’d sooner throw myself in the river.” She stopped and bit her lip nervously. “I’m sorry. That was stupid.”
“No problem,” Kort shook his head. “It’s all good.” The truth was her remark about the river immediately brought an image of the spot where Desiree’s body had been found to the front of his mind. He shoved the picture back into the recesses of his memory. “Things must be busy if Riddle needs a hospital that big.”
Norma nodded. “There’s actually a research wing dedicated to neurological disorders, a full gym for employees, a health center for the community with exercise and weight management classes. I go to the gym every day and it doesn’t cost me a penny. It’s one of the perks of my job.”
Kort looked over her body quickly and noted she looked in good shape. “It was one of the perks where I was too.” She glanced at him quickly, then looked away uncertain how to respond. Realizing he had made her uncomfortable he added, “I may have to look into working out there.”
All discomfort faded with the possibility she could spend time with him. “You can come with me and check it out. I can bring a guest so if you want to we can work out at the same time. We have a wonderful weight room.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. I need to get settled in first.”
They pulled up in front of the house where he had grown up and from which he had been led those many years ago. It was no longer that odd maize yellow color but was now a soft gray with a navy blue front door and shutters painted to match.
“She did it after your father died. She bought a new car and went on vacation. He must have had good insurance.”
“It seems so.” Kort sighed. “Well hopefully she’s home or I’ll be sitting on the front porch until she gets here.” As soon as the words left his lips they saw the white lace curtains at the front window move ever so slightly.
“I guess that answers that.” Norma got out and went to the trunk, popping it open so Kort could retrieve his bag.
“I appreciate the ride Norma.” He stood awkwardly.
Suddenly she stood on tiptoe again and pecked him on the cheek, dangerously close to his lips. “Anything you need Kort, you call me. I mean that. If you want I can make you dinner tonight…”
Stepping back slightly he replied, “I appreciate that Norma. Not tonight, but maybe another soon.”
She nodded her head but a shadow flickered across her eyes and he wondered if he had hurt her feelings. Impulsively he gave her a hug before turning to go to the front door and whatever lay behind it. As he raised his finger to ring the bell the door swung open and his mother stood before him. Only she too seemed shorter and her hair was completely gray now, the lines on her face had grown deeper. He glanced back quickly to wave at Norma and saw she was still standing outside the car staring after him. He offered a half hearted wave before following his mother into the house.
Agnes Eriksen stood in the entry hall, arms crossed over her chest. Kort’s eyes flicked around the downstairs noting the outside of the house was not all that had changed. The wood paneling that had made the downstairs dark and forbidding had been replaced by a sunny pale yellow, framed floral prints decorating the walls. He looked back at the woman he called “Mother” and realized she also looked different. Her hair was no longer pulled back in a tight bun but was cut short, silvery grey, and obviously professionally styled. He briefly wondered if she had a new man in her life but shook the idea off.
“Hello Mother.” It was amazing that this tiny woman could still make him feel like a small child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“Kort.” She made no move to embrace him and there was no warm welcome in her steely grey eyes. He had not expected any. She looked him up and down. Finally her eyes settled on his. “You can have your old room. Once you start working I expect you to pay room and board. There are no free rides Kort. You keep up with your parole officer. I want no problems with the law. You’re responsible for doing your own laundry and preparing your own meals, that includes cleaning up after yourself. I am not a maid. No girls in this house. And no alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes in this house either. I won’t insist you go to church with me on Sundays but it would do you good to get right with God. Still it’s not my place.” Her eyes darted over him once more. “I imagine your old clothes won’t fit you anymore. Do you have sufficient attire to start work? If not I can loan you enough to get something decent with the condition you pay me back.”
A small smile tickled the corners of Kort’s mouth. Some things would never change. “Yes ma’am. I have some clothes. I can buy what I need.”
She nodded. “I imagine you need a vehicle. My late husband’s pickup truck is in the garage. It still runs and I have had it filled with gas. You may use it until you can afford something else or I can sell it to you for a fair amount.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” He waited for her to dismiss him so he could escape upstairs. It was almost amusing to think he still felt this way after so many years. It was more amusing that she referred to his adoptive father as her “late husband” reaffirming Kort’s place as an outsider with the family.
“Well.” She took a deep breath. “Since this is your first evening back I can make you dinner this evening. We eat promptly at seven if you are inclined to eat at home.” She glanced back over her shoulder at the stairs. Returning her eyes to his she continued, “You may go and freshen up. I’ll see you at seven.” Then she strode off toward the kitchen.
Kort watched her straight back as she walked away. There was no invitation to see the changes in the house although he could see beyond the hall to the dining room which was brighter and newly furnished. Taking a deep breath he mounted the stairs wondering what other changes he would find upstairs.