Zeke and Ned, Page 1Larry McMurtry
Praise for Zeke and Ned
“Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana have written a novel as unruly and exuberant and headlong as a colt that hasn’t yet learned to reckon with its own legs.”
—Susan Dodd, The Washington Post Book World
“[Zeke and Ned] captivates the reader as it moves through vivid, dramatic, and violent episodes. Dickensian (will we ultimately say McMurtryesque?) characters fill the novel and provide an abundance of comic, tragic, vicious, pathetic, and colorful accents.”
—Phil Montgomery, The Dallas Morning News
“The storytelling is pure McMurtry, fast-paced, witty, and filled with offbeat characters, crisp dialogue, and dramatic reversals of fate.”
—Gene Lyons, Entertainment Weekly
“Zeke and Ned has the tone of a yarn spun over a campfire with plenty of whiskey on hand and nobody in a rush to get anyplace. . . . An enjoyable, richly entertaining reading experience . . . As the wagon bounces along . . . you simply enjoy the ride.”
—Joyce Maynard, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Captain Call and Gus McCrae of Lonesome Dove must now make room for Zeke Proctor and Ned Christie of the Cherokee Nation. With Diana Ossana, Larry McMurtry has created another cyclorama in words of his own richly colored West.”
—Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
“A grand-scale tragedy . . . recounted with a conversational authenticity and understated humor that is a McMurtry trademark . . . The authors know how to sustain a drama played out over a plate of corn and vinegar cobbler, and they do it well.”
—Joyce Maynard, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Tender, well-written . . . A colorful and often poignant dramatization of historical events and figures. If this isn’t the way things happened and the people actually were, it’s the way they should have been. . . . Perhaps one of McMurtry’s best novels.”
—Clay Reynolds, Houston Chronicle
“The novel’s pleasure is in the details: the fleshy present, the interiority that turns textbook footnotes into characters.”
—Laurie Stone, The Village Voice
“The women . . . [make] this novel a heartbreaker.”
—Susan Dodd, The Washington Post Book World
“McMurtry [is] perhaps a legend himself in the Wild West genre as king of the Lonesome Dove series. . . . This is a gritty, dust-filled . . . entertaining history lesson.”
—Billie Rae Bates, The Detroit News
BY LARRY MCMURTRY
The Colonel and Little Missie
Folly and Glory
By Sorrow’s River
The Wandering Hill
Roads: Driving America’s Greatest Highways
Still Wild: Short Fiction of the American West 1950 to the Present
Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen
Dead Man’s Walk
The Late Child
Streets of Laredo
The Evening Star
Some Can Whistle
Anything for Billy
Film Flam: Essays on Hollywood
The Desert Rose
Terms of Endearment
All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers
The Last Picture Show
In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas
Horseman, Pass By
BY LARRY MCMURTRY AND DIANA OSSANA
Pretty Boy Floyd
Zeke and Ned
SIMON & SCHUSTER PAPERBACKS
NEW YORK LONDON TORONTO SYDNEY
SIMON & SCHUSTER PAPERBACKS
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 1997 by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
SIMON & SCHUSTER PAPERBACKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-800-456-6798 or [email protected]
Designed by Colin Joh
Map by Anita Karl and James Kemp
Manufactured in the United States of America
3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
Zeke and Ned : a novel / by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.
1. Proctor, Ezekiel, 1831-1907—Fiction. 2. Frontier and pioneer life—Ozark
Mountains Region—Fiction. 3. Indians of North America—Ozark Mountains
Region—Fiction. 4. Christie, Ned, 1852-1892—Fiction. 5. Cherokee
Indians—Fiction. I. Ossana, Diana. II. Title.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-3017-9 (Pbk.)
ISBN-10: 0-7432-3017-5 (Pbk.)
For Violet Nadine, Uldine LaVern, and Marian Yvonne . . . the Anyan girls
When the Pilgrim fathers reached the shores of America, they fell on their knees. Then they fell on the Indians.
QUOTED BY H. L. MENCKEN
They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.
CHIEF, OGLALA SIOUX
If folly were grief, every house would weep.
Going Snake District
“ZEKE’S PROBABLY GOT THE ONLY DOG IN THE WORLD THAT CAN WALK sideways,” Ned remarked to Tuxie Miller as they sat astride their horses, watching the cautious Zeke Proctor and his short, fat, black dog, Pete, sidestepping along in front of the dry goods store.
Zeke’s preference was to walk sideways, with a wall at his back, when in Tahlequah or any other place where his enemies might gather in strength. Pete, his constant companion, was as mean as a coon, but fatter than all but the fattest coons.
“It’s too muddy here, let’s go on home,” Tuxie said, though he did not expect to get his way, or even to get an answer. Ned Christie liked town life; whenever he got a little ahead on his farming, he was bound for Tahlequah.
“I guess my dog could walk sideways if she practiced,” Tuxie added. He had a blue bitch named Thistle who was, in his view, at least as smart as any dog Zeke Proctor had ever owned.
About the time Zeke and Pete slithered around a corner, Tuxie happened to notice Bill Pigeon’s horse. The horse, a gaunt sorrel, was tied in front of Old Mandy Springston’s house.
“There’s Bill Pigeon’s horse, he don’t like me,”
Tuxie said. “That’s another reason for getting on home.”
“I didn’t know Bill Pigeon’s horse didn’t like you,” Ned replied. “I guess that’s news to me.”
Ned knew perfectly well it was Bill Pigeon, not his horse, that did not like Tuxie Miller, but it amused him to befuddle his friend by taking every word his friend uttered literally. It was a useful tactic, particularly if Tuxie was drunk or otherwise out of his head. The slightest criticism of how he put things would cause Tuxie to give up on human language entirely—he had been known to maintain a noble, slightly offended silence for upwards of a week. If addressed persistently, Tuxie might caw like a crow, or snuff like an angry armadillo; sometimes, at night, he would frighten the household with a perfect imitation of a rattlesnake’s rattle—but he would not speak a syllable of Cherokee, much less English.
On this occasion, however, he chose to ignore Ned’s remark. It was a drizzly June morning, and the wide main street of Tahlequah had an abandoned wagon sitting in it, bogged to its hubs in the thick, gummy mud.
“If fish could live in mud, we could go fishing right here in the street,” Tuxie remarked.
Tuxie looked up and frowned. Across the street from where Zeke had been slinking along stood three reasons why the man kept his back to the wall.
“There’s the Squirrel brothers, they don’t like me, neither,” Tuxie said. “We could have gone to Dog Town—most people like me in Dog Town. We could even have gone over to Siloam Springs. I’ve never even had a fistfight in Siloam Springs. You would have to bring me to the one town where nobody likes me—and it’s too muddy to get down off my horse, besides.”
Before Tuxie Miller could list any more reasons why they ought to get out of Tahlequah, they spotted Zeke Proctor again. This time, he was sidling along beside the meeting hall, the long building where the Cherokee Senate convened. Though the Cherokee Nation considered themselves separate from the rest of America, their laws, courts, and jury system were modeled after those of the whites. Lawlessness in the Cherokee Districts had been on the upswing ever since the Civil War, when desperadoes from the North and South sought to take advantage of murky law enforcement along the border between Arkansas and Indian Territory. Tuxie himself had an aversion to controversy, and was not a force in tribal government; but Ned Christie was a respected member of the Cherokee Senate, and a scrupulous one at that.
“I wonder why Zeke’s so suspicious all the time,” Ned asked. “There ain’t many people as suspicious as Zeke Proctor.”
“Why wouldn’t he be suspicious?” Tuxie inquired. “The Becks don’t like him, the Squirrels don’t like him, and neither does Bear Grimmet.”
Zeke was short but hefty, and the coal black Pete was fat. The sight of the short, hefty man and his fat dog sidling along the wall of the meetinghouse amused Ned Christie.
“I get tickled every time I look at Zeke Proctor,” he said.
He waved at Zeke, who waved back; Pete barked. Tuxie saw that Ned had a gleam in his eye, the gleam he was apt to get just before he got drunk, or fell in love. Since little Lacy, Ned’s sweet young wife, had died of cholera the year before, Ned had been mighty moody. Tuxie had a feeling that Ned was nearly ready for a new wife.
“If we had a bottle of whiskey, Zeke might invite us home,” Ned said. “He looks like he’s thirsty for some good whiskey, to me.
“Old Mandy sells the best whiskey,” he added—a pointless remark, in Tuxie’s view. Old Mandy sold the only whiskey, at least the only whiskey available in Tahlequah. An occasional white whiskeyseller would wander through the District, peddling rotgut. But Zeke and Ned, and even the mild Tuxie, knew better than to purchase bad whiskey from a white man. Bad whiskey was known to make a man blind for days; and sometimes, for life.
“Go see if you can talk her out of a bottle,” Ned said. “I ain’t got no cash on me, but she knows I’m good for it.”
“I ain’t goin’ in there while Bill Pigeon’s horse is tied outside,” Tuxie protested. “Bill Pigeon’s been known to shoot at people for no reason at all, ’specially if he’s drunk.”
Ned trotted off toward the meeting hall without so much as a reply. Ned was casual about danger, particularly dangers that might only apply to Tuxie. It was partly because Ned was so handsome, Tuxie felt. Ned Christie was the handsomest man in the Cherokee Nation— women just dropped in Ned’s lap, heavy and sweet as dewberries in June.
Also, Ned was a dead shot with rifle or pistol. He would often blow squirrels out of the very top of some elm tree or sycamore, and he would not spoil the meat, either. He would just shoot the limb right beside where the squirrel was resting, and the squirrel would come sailing down. Ned would pick it up while the squirrel was still stunned from the fall, and whack it against a stump a time or two to finish it off.
Tuxie himself would rarely even see the squirrel until it hit the ground. He did not like to be tilting his head up toward the sky, if he could avoid it. His Aunt Keta, who had often taken him skunk hunting when he was a boy, told him his brains would run out his ears if he tilted his head up too often. Later on, people tried to persuade him that his brains were not really that runny, but his Aunt Keta’s warning had a power over him. He preferred to leave squirrel hunting to people like Ned Christie. Ned had no fear of runny brains, or of anything else that lived on Shady Mountain, where he made his home.
While Tuxie was wondering what to do about the whiskey he was expected to purchase, Pete took a sudden run at Ned’s big grey horse.
Pete came skipping through the mud, snarling and spitting like a badger. He ran right up behind the grey, and was able to jump high enough to get a good grip on his tail.
That horse ain’t going to appreciate a thing like that, Tuxie thought; and sure enough, he was right. Ned did not seem to notice the fat, black dog hanging on to his horse’s tail—but the horse noticed. The big grey let Pete hang for a moment, and then kicked him about ten feet into the air. Pete got right up and leaped for the tail again. This time, the grey kicked him sideways, into a bunch of speckled chickens who were pecking around in the mud, hoping for a wet worm. The chickens squawked and flapped their wings, running back toward Old Mandy’s chicken house, feathers flying.
Zeke whistled at Pete, who trotted over to his side, as bold as if he had not been kicked twice by an animal a hundred times his size.
Tuxie dismounted, and followed the speckled chickens. It occurred to him that Old Mandy might be hiding some of her whiskey in the chicken house.
Just about the time Ned caught up with Zeke Proctor, he noticed the Squirrel brothers heading up the street. They were well spread out—Rat Squirrel rode on the west side of the street; Jim Squirrel was on the east side of the street; and Moses Squirrel was right in the middle of the street, where the mud was deepest.
Zeke Proctor did not manifest the slightest interest in the Squirrel brothers.
“You ought to train that horse better,” he said to Ned. “A well-trained mount would know better than to be kicking at Pete.”
“If you had a tail and Pete was hanging from it, I guess you’d kick him, too,” Ned said mildly, as he dismounted.
Zeke had a wispy moustache and goatee, though his shoulder-length hair was thick and black. He wore a big floppy hat, to avoid the necessity of squinting in the powerful June sunlight. He had three pistols and a large knife stuck in his belt, and carried a rifle.
Pete rolled on his back, hoping his master would tickle his belly, but Zeke’s mind was not on tickling dogs.
Ned had a notion there was bad blood between Zeke and the Squirrel brothers, but he could not remember offhand what the bad blood was about. His deceased wife, little Lacy, had been a Squirrel herself—he did not particularly want to be shooting down one of her brothers, if he could avoid it—but here they came, plodding silently through the mud.
Zeke and Ned were both members of the Keetoowah Society, a conservative group whose main purpose was to see that the Cherokee people kept to the old ways. Their lead
ers believed it was important to try and work at a kind of peaceful, live-and-let-live existence with white men when possible, but not at the expense of Cherokee tradition and independence. The forcible removal of over seventeen thousand Cherokees from their native land was too fresh a memory, and the Keetoowah aimed to see that history did not repeat itself.
Zeke Proctor’s father, a white man by the name of William Proctor, had married Zeke’s full-blood Cherokee mother back in New Echota, Georgia. Zeke himself had come up the Trail of Tears with his mother’s people when he was only seven years old. Watching many of his own people suffer and die on the long journey to Oklahoma wedded Zeke Proctor to the Cherokee way forever.
Ned Christie was a full-blood, born and raised in the Cherokee Nation. The Keetoowah Society strongly supported Cherokee governmental authority and favored their own law enforcement, especially after unscrupulous whites began crowding into the Cherokee Nation after the Civil War.
The Squirrel brothers were not members themselves, and if they were on their way down the street to kill Zeke Proctor, Ned would have to fight along with his Keetoowah brother. He did find it irksome though, that hostilities seemed to be brewing before he had even been in town long enough to procure a drink of whiskey.
He had not come to Tahlequah to fight; in fact, he had come with courting on his mind, and the object of his affections was Jewel Sixkiller Proctor, Zeke’s own daughter. Young though she was, Jewel stood out as the beauty of the whole valley—tall and long stemmed like a lily flower, with huge almond eyes, blue-black hair cascading to her waist, and a comely figure beyond her years. Ned had made up his mind that he wanted to marry Jewel, and he meant to concentrate his energies on persuading Zeke to let him court her: that was why he promptly sent Tuxie off to get whiskey. Zeke had a mighty thirst, and would undoubtedly be more amenable to marrying off his daughter after he had imbibed a bottle of Old Mandy’s fine whiskey.
So, under the circumstances, the Squirrel brothers were a vexation, at best. Ned felt his temper rising at the mere sight of the bothersome trio.
“Are them Squirrels out of sorts with you?” he asked Zeke after he had dismounted. “They act to me like they’re out of sorts.”