In Love by Christmas Excerpt



The Magnificent Man

One-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three. Everyone in the amphitheater turned in the direction of the pounding noise. It came from outside the shallow crater where Will Duane sat—the Pit—to the northwest. Will craned his neck, but there were too many people between him and whatever it was to see.

A man’s head appeared over the crater’s edge, followed by a naked torso, and then a horse. The one-two-three was the sound of galloping hooves. As the animal grew closer, he could see the horse must have been running hard for a long time. Sweat covered it and dried foam collected around its neck and front legs. He could see the red interior of the animal’s nostrils flamed as it gasped for breath.

Will jerked at the sight, eyes widening. The pair hurtled toward the front of the Pit where the shaman sat. The crowd stood as he approached. To protect the old man? Will could see that the newcomer was broad-chested; his height was obvious even mounted on a horse. His face and body were painted in black stripes. His face was contorted, agonized. He had a rawhide quirt on his right wrist. Lashes scored his back and sides. The horse was as flamboyant as the man, its coat wildly patterned in brown and white.

“Who is it?” Will whispered.

Someone in the row behind him bent over and said, “That’s Leroy Watches, Grandfather’s grandson. I guess he’s upset on account of bein’ late.” The man chuckled. “He should be. If he was any later, he’d miss the whole Meeting.” Will heard the snicker spreading throughout the crowd. The guy kept talking, “It’s 1997. The retreat’s been happening for eleven years. He’s been late to every single one. Leroy beat his own record this year.”

The horse slid to a stop in front of the stage. The rider swung off, leapt to the stage and ran at the old man on the platform as though he intended to kill him. Just before running into the shaman, he threw himself down, laying his head on the man’s feet. Grandfather pulled him up and patted his forehead. “Leroy, Leroy, what is it, my grandson? What has happened?” Grandfather said with the weary air of one who’d heard it all before.

Leroy’s life force was so powerful that it slapped Will like a hand. He and everyone else in the Pit could see what had happened to Leroy in images playing above the stage.

Will didn’t get all of it; the man communicated his story in a Native language and pictures in the sky. His father had been hurt in a rodeo and Leroy was late because he’d saved him. The images showed blue beams coming from his eyes. It didn’t make any sense.

When Leroy’s communication centered upon him being pursued by the FBI, domestic Antiterrorism Force, cops and a bunch of cattlemen’s associations, Will came to attention. He hadn’t kept up with the news that week, being at the retreat in a bizarre geomagnetic site where nothing worked normally. Even his beyond-state-of-the-art satellite Internet connection didn’t always work.
“They chased you here?” he said, leaping toward the shaman from the front row seats he and his corporate people occupied. “Where are they now?”

“Well …” Leroy looked at Grandfather before replying to the stranger. The old man nodded. “They’re an hour behind me.”

“Oh, shit.” No matter what Will did in his business life—and it was an extensive life; he was the richest man in the world—he never messed with the feds. Any feds. All feds. They could take everything you had and demand change.

“This is reservation land. It’s a sovereign nation. That should stop them.”

“It never has before,” the fellow who’d told him who Leroy was said wryly.

“That’s true.” Will ran his hand through his short white hair. “We have to develop a plan that will explain why we’re here.” He was in trouble. He and his people could not be found on an Indian reservation in the middle of a presumed plot against the United States Government.

Before he left for the retreat, Will had been informed by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court that, because of his actions concerning a woman highly regarded by almost everyone at the higher levels of the government, the Attorney General’s office was likely to indict him for thirty years of business behavior that he didn’t think was so bad, but they might. They did, actually. Things were going to be bad enough once he got back to civilization without the FBI arresting him here.

He looked around the Pit, the shallow crater that had been their seminar room for almost a week. At the beginning of the retreat, more than four thousand people had jammed themselves into the amphitheater. Now only a third was there. All that remained looked like they’d gone through hell.

“OK. OK. I got it. I’m leading a Numenon management training seminar, a joint venture with Grandfather and the Nation.” The crowd had been attacked by demons on Wednesday. It was Friday night. Even those who remained at the retreat showed they’d survived a battle. Will surveyed their pinched faces and hollow eyes. People at Numenon management trainings often looked the same way.

“We’re having an employment fair. Gil,” he shouted at one of his executives, “get those applications out. The rest of you,” Will waved at his remaining staff, “get to work helping them fill them out. Make it real.”

“Always have a plan B, and C, and D,” Will had taught thousands of people at NumoFairs all over the globe. He implemented Plan B, dashing up the hill to their camp. He darted into the Cass, his multi-million dollar motor home. So many technological devices were incorporated into the vehicle that he could run his enterprises from it indefinitely. All he needed right now was a phone.

“Will Duane,” he told the operator. He was patched through instantly and began his spiel. “Bill, it was a crazy man’s delusion. No one can blow up a bull. That insane FBI agent Zemsky hallucinated the whole thing.”

“What are you talking about? Wait a second. Let me get out of the pool.”

“You’re in the pool?”

“Yes, the White House has a pool under it.” A slight pause. “Can you give us some privacy?” The down-home voice was directed at him again. “Had to get rid of the Secret Service. What are you talking about?”

Will convinced him that a crazy FBI agent hallucinated the whole story about an Indian blowing up a bull at a Las Vegas rodeo. “I’m here with the Indian now, on his reservation. These people are militant, Bill. If the FBI broke into a sovereign Indian nation, it could trigger the second Indian wars.

“Plus, I’m here with my staff. You remember Doug and Gil? And Melissa? A bunch of us are here on a spiritual retreat. We could get hurt. Who knows what our legal department would do …”

“You’re on a spiritual retreat? An Indian blew up a bull …” Bill sounded befuddled. “What do you want me to do, Will?”

“I’d like you to call off the FBI and ATF right away. A whacko agent caused the rumor.”

“Well, if you’re sure, I’ll see the problem is put to bed immediately.”

“That’s great, Bill. I’m glad you understand.

“Oh, say hi to Hillary and Chelsea for me …”

“Don’t worry, everyone. We’re fine. Bill called off the feds,” he called to the crowd.

“Who’s Bill?” echoed around.

The farewell dinner party was that night. So many things had happened at the retreat that Will found himself feeling exalted and pole-axed at the same time. Tomorrow, they’d pack up and go back to Palo Alto and the corporate headquarters. He would never be the same, and neither would Numenon, Inc.

As dusk deepened to night, he strolled around the camp watching Jon Walker, his chef; the three surviving drivers; and a few Indians prettying up the place. Will smiled at the transformation of their vehicles and encampment.

When they got there, the Numenon caravan had consisted of four matched motor homes and his rolling masterpiece, the Cass. They sported the corporate colors: pristine ivory, burgundy and gold. Their impact was tasteful and elegant. Jon had parked them in a circle like a wagon train, turning the central court into an outdoor living room.

Everything was different now. Two nights ago, demons had come screaming out of the earth and roared over the retreat site. They tore up everything, killing everyone they could. They painted pornographic graffiti on the Numenon RVs. The images were disgusting and insulting to his staff and him. And they couldn’t get them off.

Indian kids had appeared out of nowhere and painted over the demons’ porn with graffiti. Stampeding Day-Glo buffalo thundered across one side of the Cass. One of the RVs had the classic Japanese print of the wave by Hiroshige wrapped around the whole thing, with a crazy surfer using a Numenon Ranger laptop under the wave’s rip curl. Every vehicle had a wild, hip, and very amusing motif.

In hours, the kids created the new Numenon Inc., giving the corporation an image update the best advertising agency couldn’t pull off. The retreat remade Will’s soul and updated his corporation, all at once. He might be able to save things back in Palo Alto. Maybe.

He heard music behind the camp in the Pit, which was directly behind the Numenon camp, and went over to listen. Over the week, a crazy half-Indian, half-hippie music had evolved. The Indians had their own instruments: drums, rattles, and shakers. Some of them played guitars and wooden flutes. And used their voices: they yodeled and yelped like mad. His drivers surprised him by bringing a small, international ensemble: guitar, mandolin, and every kind of drum you can think of. Turned out Mark Kenna had a band in Santa Cruz. He’d worked for him all these years, and Will didn’t know.

The spectacular Leroy Watches was on the stage, straddling some kind of enormous wooden drum. Even seated, he looked tall. Broad back and shoulders, massive neck. Slim hips. Feathers bristled from the back of his neck. He looked like a throwback to a primitive age. When his huge hands hit the rawhide drumhead, the whole place seemed to shake. It wasn’t that loud; it was just Leroy’s playing. He played and all the other instruments seemed to fill in the cracks. Get vibrant. Come alive. Hold a beat.

He turned his head to his friends, smiling and laughing. Will could see his white teeth flash. Energy surged around him. The man was vividly alive. He was Grandfather’s blood grandson and it showed.

Will began to feel that the answer Grandfather had suggested would work. His worry—the biggest worry—let up. Maybe he was just dreaming. Maybe the crazy vibe of this place had him fantasizing that things could turn out right.

The evening was as enchanting as his sweetest dreams. The Numenon crew had set the tables with embroidered cloths and the Numenon china and crystal. Every table had a candelabra. He sat at the most prominent table, having a pre-banquet meeting with Grandfather, Elizabeth Bright Eagle, and Leroy. They commandeered the courtyard before the guests arrived for the meal. Leroy had to drag himself way from his drum, amid the protestations of the other musicians and the crowd.

Across the table from Will, Elizabeth Bright Eagle sat, erect and powerful as a mountain in a black silk blouse with matching fringes. A Native American squash blossom necklace ringed her neck and silver bracelets adorned her wrists.

Elizabeth was everything he’d ever wanted in a woman: a beautiful professional who was at least as smart as him and had more advanced degrees. Dr. Bright Eagle was an internationally renowned physician and philanthropist. She’d been People’s Woman of the Year.

Will would have married her in a heartbeat. She didn’t want him. His running around most of his life repulsed her. But maybe it was possible. Maybe all sorts of things were possible.

He had a sweat lodge ceremony with Grandfather the day before and the old man had spent a great deal of time with him afterward. What the purification ceremony didn’t drag out of him, being with the shaman did. Having shared the truth at long last liberated him.

Will told him of the things that hurt him most. His former wife had divorced him. Will deserved to be divorced; he’d stepped out on Kathryn from the first week they were married. He still loved her. He’d always loved her, but he couldn’t be faithful. And she couldn’t stay sober.

Enzo Donatore got her. The devil on Earth. Boy, did everyone at the retreat know who he was.

Donatore was the cause of the monsters that overran the retreat, killing so many. He got Kathryn and that was the end of the woman he had known. Donatore ruined his daughter too. Kathryn had taken Ashley on her “summer vacations” with the devil.

Kathryn had somehow escaped with Ashley. He didn’t know where either of them was. Kathryn seemed to have disappeared from the world. And Ashley was a nodded out junkie somewhere. A nodded out junkie who called herself Cass—from Cassandra, her middle name. Even she knew the sweet Ashley didn’t fit the person she’d become.

The shaman had said he’d help him find his daughter and restore her to health. He said his grandson could help. Leroy was single and his father could handle their ranch alone. He could leave immediately.

Sitting at the table with him, Will studied Leroy. “You certainly can drum, Leroy.”
He smiled shyly. “Thank you, sir. I been doin’ it a long time. My mama said I banged on pots and pans from when I could sit up.”

Leroy continued to listen carefully, making comments that showed he understood exactly what they were talking about. “You think we can get in and out without them knowin’ and save her? I’d be interested in hearin’ more about how you think you can do that.”

Once the shock of Leroy’s arrival diminished, Will found him to be a polite, soft-spoken and very nice young man. He was smart too, easily grasping their plans and their weak points.

As Will gazed at the stranger, a revelation burst upon him. It was like one of those explosive Native deities that kept popping out of the sky around Grandfather.

His daughter would love Leroy. Initially, she might love him because he was the opposite of every man he’d tried to set her up with—corporate suits, all of them. She might want Leroy because she thought a brown-skinned man would horrify her father. But she would love him for himself too.

Will was unable to keep his eyes off of the man. Leroy was Michelangelo’s David, if the statue had come to life and turned into a person of color. His high cheekbones and aquiline nose said he was a Native American. His wide lips and flared nostrils said African American. He had hazel-flecked light brown eyes. He’d seemed tall on the horse. In person, Leroy was taller than that. Perfectly formed and proportioned, the young man was almost slender, but for his shoulders and chest.

Leroy wore the spirit warriors’ obligatory black shirt and jeans. Half a dozen unmatched earrings were spread over both ears. The brown and white feathers fastened at the nape of his neck said, “I am an American Indian.”

Leroy had the same dignity and erect posture as Dr. Elizabeth Bright Eagle. Leroy was so presentable that his daughter would be able to go anywhere with him. Minus the feathers, in some places, but …

Stop it, Will! You do this all the time. You can’t push her; she’ll go the opposite direction. She has to see him, and then like him. He reined in his unrealistic thoughts. Plus, you don’t know where she is. Or if she’s alive.

But if Leroy found her and they married, I could have grandchildren. Will wanted grandkids as much as he had wanted his first billion dollars.

He forced himself to return to the conversation. Elizabeth was talking to Leroy, planning the rescue of the Indians’ wild horses and their transport to Will’s Montana ranch. Then she excused herself. Had her exodus been planned, Will wondered?

Grandfather coughed, and then said, “I told Leroy of your daughter, Will Duane. He wants to help her.”

Will’s eyes stung and swam with tears. The shaman was going to help him. Maybe it would be OK. “I worry about her every day. She’s a heroin addict, Leroy, a very bad one. Before that, she was an alcoholic.” His hands quivered.

“I don’t know where she is. I want to find her and get her into treatment.” His face tightened. “She’s been hospitalized before. A lot of times. Nothing worked. See if you can find her and get her someplace where she can be treated. I can’t say how much it would mean to me.”

Will jumped up and returned minutes later, his nose blown and eyes wiped, clutching an album. Will flipped through it. It was mostly horse show pictures and a few from ballet recitals. Leroy turned the page and stopped at the only informal one in the book: an eight by ten of Cass galloping a cow pony across a creek. Cass was laughing, mouth wide open, head back. She had dark hair and pale skin.
“She was almost fourteen, just a young girl.” Will’s eyes filled again.

Leroy studied the photo. Will could see he was smitten. He hadn’t breathed since he took the scrapbook. His eyes glistened as he picked the book up to examine the photo more closely.
Grandfather studied the photo and smiled. “You will find her, Leroy. No one else in the world can.” The young man looked uncertainly at his grandfather. “You’re soul mates, Leroy. I’m certain of it. The energy never lies. The Great One created you to be each other’s perfect mates.” He sat back with a satisfied grin.

“I’ll help you,” Leroy said. “When do you want me to start?”

“Right after dinner? I have a feeling that she’s in terrible danger. She’s in New York City somewhere. You’ll need help finding her and getting her free.”

“I can find her by myself.”

“You may be able to find her, but I’m not sure you’ll be able to get her away from whoever’s got her.” Will’s mouth tightened. “I give her money. I know what they’ll do to her if she can’t pay. I can’t stand thinking of that. She’s a golden goose to them—guaranteed income. That’s why they keep her alive and why they’ll fight to keep her. Enzo Donatore is behind her condition. Did your grandfather tell you about him?”

Leroy nodded. “He is the devil in human form. He caused the massacre here.”

“Never forget that. Donatore tried to kill me twice this week. Grandfather is the only reason I’m alive. Donatore wants to steal your soul and make you into his slave forever.” Will stopped talking, ran his hand through his hair, and looked around wildly.

“You need to get going. I have some people at home who will be valuable in extracting her, wherever she is. Hannah Herhrman is my chief of security. She’s a former Israeli commando. Hannah loves Cass. She was her unofficial babysitter. I’ll send her and some of her operatives to New York. You should also take Doug Saunders. He’s here at the Meeting. He has connections and knows how to get places you don’t. Can you leave right away?”

Leroy nodded.

One of the warriors approached cautiously and said, “Leroy, want to drum?”

Leroy looked at his grandfather.

“Go ahead, Leroy. For a few minutes.” Turning to Will, he said, “Leroy is the best drummer in all the Nations. He is the best drummer I have ever heard. Maybe the best in the world. Because of Leroy, we beat the Northern Salmon six years in a row.”

Will thought Grandfather was exaggerating. He had no idea what he was talking about with the salmon. But very soon, he noticed a change in the music coming from the Pit. It had cohesion; it had rhythm, and power. The sound Leroy created was magnetic. Will had absolutely no musical abilities. He couldn’t even clap in time. But he moved to Leroy’s beat. Leroy’s drumming was exciting, and that seemed to portend something changing in a good way.

Grandfather took the photo album Leroy had been examining, flipping a page. The shaman touched Will’s hand. Energy flowed between them, joining them.

“Do you think Leroy can help Cass?”

The old man looked at the photo of Cass on the horse. “If anyone can. They are soul mates.”
“He’ll be able to save her, won’t he?”

Grandfather shrugged and indicated the other side of the compound with his head. Elizabeth Bright Eagle chattered away with Larry Wolf and the other doctors. “Elizabeth is your soul mate. Both of you know it. But look at what she is doing. If they’re sane, he’ll be able to save her, but you never know.”

Will saw Elizabeth pull out a chair and sit between Larry and an intern. She’d moved the place card with her name on it from his table over to Larry Wolf’s.

Grandfather touched his hand again, “I know less as I get older, Will Duane. Leroy and your Cass, who knows?”