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Penny Flame

Penny Flame


Book excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Dr. Israel Galvan was just about to enter the shutdown command on his PC when he was irritated by the knock on the door. It was 2 PM on Good Thursday and he was certain the college faculty building was nearly deserted. He regretted having to stop by on the way to the airport to catch his flight but there was overdue paperwork he had to submit. He was hoping to sneak in and out undetected but found his prayer would go unanswered.

“Dr. Galvan? I’m so sorry to be coming by at the last minute, but I wanted to have a word.”

“No problem,” Galvan’s eyes softened. “C’mon in, have a seat.” Moneen Murphy laid her black leather Gucci carrying case on the

floor next to the chair facing Galvan’s large oak desk in his austere office at UMKC. It afforded a beautiful view of the grounds outside the College of Social Studies where he held a position instructing students pursuing their doctorate in American History.

“I’ve decided on my thesis, but wasn’t quite sure how to present it and I thought you might be able to give me some advice,” she proposed.

“You’re not really going to lock yourself in for the Easter holiday to work on your paper,” Galvan squinted through his gold-rimmed glasses. He was a stately, rotund man with thick gray hair and beard, sporting a hound’s tooth sport coat and dark sweater in the Missouri spring.

“Actually I was thinking of killing two birds with one stone,” she smiled sweetly. She was a beautiful girl of Irish heritage with thick red hair, emerald eyes and a small nose, a cream complexion and slim figure complemented by long shapely legs and a generous bosom. “I came across that article in the Star about that military investigation of that regiment in Arizona, and it dawned on me that my Mom’s people were from the region. I started doing some research into my family background and found out I had a great-great grandmother who lived near the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. I’m figuring I can tie in the investigation into the historical background of the indigenous people and come up with some pretty good stuff.”

“Hmm,” Galvan leaned back in his swivel chair, staring at his bookcase by the far wall. “That’s the one where they’re planning to withdraw the honors given to the 1/9 pending investigation of war crimes against the Indian Nation in the 1800’s. Meaty stuff. So your paper would theoretically be an analysis of the military investigation reinforced by your own research. I think it’d fly. You’d just have to be careful to tie up all the loose ends and not let the story end up too big to wrap.”

“You’ve taught me that lesson rather well, sir,” she smiled ruefully. “You’re one of the best research students I’ve had, Mony,” Galvan admitted. “You throw yourself into assignments and fill your heart and mind with the subject matter. The results I’ve seen at times are as close to works of art as it gets. You’ve got something here that can earn your doctorate. Give it all you got, and let me take a look at what you bring back so I can help you piece it together.”

“Thanks for your advice, sir.”

“Just a minute,” he flipped through his Rolodex. “I have a card here with the number of an old acquaintance who lives in Phoenix. He’s a freelance reporter named Robert Mendoza. Give him a buzz, tell him I sent you. I’m sure he’ll be of help.”

Mony thanked Galvan profusely before going on her way. She trotted down the marbled steps of the prestigious old building, heading out the door and down the narrow path along the campus to where Tommy’s car awaited.

“Hey, baby,” Mony opened the passenger door of his cream-colored Lexus. “Looks like we’re going to be taking that plane trip to Phoenix after all.” 

“Cool beans,” Tommy O’Hara smiled broadly. “I’ve never been west of Colorado.”

Tommy O’Hara was a third-generation Irishman who graduated from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC before opening his own private investigation company. He met Mony at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan last year and they kept close contact ever since. He drove out to Kansas City every chance he got and mailed plane tickets to her whenever convenient. He was pricing office space in the Plaza area and was planning to relocate early next year.

Mony was a native New Yorker who relocated to Missouri to pursue her teaching degree and her doctorate in American History. Her parents were from the West and most of her relatives were scattered across Colorado and Arizona. When her Mom and Dad passed away, she moved to KC for its mid-size Midwest ambiance and affordability but remained curious about the homeland of her parents. Her studies in American history focused around the Old West and she grew very interested in Native American society and culture. She found that the migrating Irish of the era formed a loose bond with blacks and Indians back in the day due to their lower-class status. It made her very aware of civil rights issues which she defended rigorously as a social activist.

Undecided about her topic for her upcoming thesis assignment, the recent series of articles about the military investigation in Arizona came as a burst of inspiration. Getting the green light from Galvan was all she needed, and her getaway vacation plans with Tommy were becoming a reality.

“This is going to be so great, Tommy,” Mony gushed as they zipped down Oak Street towards the Country Club Plaza in Midtown. “Your skills as an investigator will be such a help out there. Plus we’ll see so many wonderful sights, I know you’ll love it.”

“You don’t have to sell me, girl,” he glanced over at her, her titian tresses flowing in the spring breeze. “I just love every minute being with you.”

They parked near Brush Creek and walked over to Granfalloon, a popular bistro across from the promenade. They ordered shrimp cocktails and margaritas before lazing back in the padded benches at their booth.

“Okay, so,” Tommy sifted through her notes, “let’s see what we got here. A bunch of Indian activists from the University of Arizona filing a petition in Federal Court to have a platoon from the Ninth Cavalry dishonored for their actions at Superstition Mountain almost two centuries ago. President Johnson and the US Army awarded the platoon full honors after its suicidal battle against a renegade Apache tribe that led to a long period of peaceful coexistence with the Indians throughout the Arizona Territory. The students claim that the operation was an act of genocide against the Apache that put the neighboring Pima in a state of servitude under the white settlers for almost two decades afterward. I don’t think either side’s going to find a lot of witnesses.”

“Here’s the kicker,” Mony was eager. “There’s a number of native Pima Indians in the vicinity whose great-grandparents lived through that period. Indians are a lot like the ancient Hebrews in that their oral traditions are preserved as meticulously as their written history. They’ve got tribal elders who are designated storytellers that pass the clan history on from generation to generation. Can you imagine getting these narratives second-hand from people who memorized them from those who were actually there?”

“You know, I love when you get excited like this,” Tommy grinned. “It just brings out so much of your spirit. I love seeing you so alive and vibrant.”

“Well, wait until we get a room out by the pool near the desert, see how lively I get,” she smiled impishly.

“I love that about you too,” he chuckled. “So you think your great-great-grandma may have had something to do with the Pima out that way?”

“My Mom used to tell me stories about her life back on the ranch with her Mom and Dad in Tucson all the time when I was a little girl,” she reminisced. “She didn’t know too much about her great-grandma on her Mom’s side other than the fact she was very religious and ministered as an evangelist and teacher to the Pima in Phoenix. It had to be right around that time period. It’s going to be such an experience, to explore my family roots while doing this research.”

“I’m going to be so glad to be there with you.”

“I can’t think of anyone else I’d want to be with,” she reached across the table to hold his hands.

They enjoyed their meal before returning to her apartment in Westport for a long session of lovemaking during which they both satisfied and exhausted one another. They recharged their batteries with a bedside snack before she left him to watch basketball on TV to rummage through her scrapbooks.

She had brought two scrapbooks back from NYC after her mother’s death, one belonging to each of her parents. They were old and faded, containing pictures of her ancestors though limited details of who was who. Mony’s genealogical research allowed her to trace her family roots back to the antebellum West, where many of her relatives were listed as charter members and founders of various civil and social organizations back in the day. She was able to match names and faces in time and found that the Murphys and the Flames had played essential roles in civilizing the new frontier.

Her great-great-grandma, Penelope Flame, was of particular interest. She was born in 1860 to an itinerant preacher and his wife, who came up from Tennessee after the Civil War to claim land and start a family. They settled in Arizona and eked out a living as traders with the local settlers, bringing supplies down from New Mexico while spreading the Gospel across the land. After her parents were killed in an Indian raid, Penelope was raised in foster homes among people in the local congregation until she was old enough to begin her own ministry.

It was hard to understand what compelled a woman like Penelope. Being orphaned in her childhood, watching both her parents killed, left alone in the care of strangers out in the wilderness, and still having a vision of ministering to the Indians. Was it a compulsion, an obsession, or some kind of Divine guidance? Mony had a cursory knowledge of Scripture and a normal belief in Christ, but was unable to fathom the deeper mysteries of faith that motivated people like Penelope Flame.

It was part of the family folklore that Penelope went into Superstition Mountain and never returned, and that her story became part of the Pima traditions as a result. She left behind her husband and small children, one of which was Mony’s great-grandma. They lived in a small town outside of Phoenix, and owned a ranch that helped the family survive and prosper. What would have made her risk and lose everything, even her very life, to take a hand among the people who had killed her parents?

Tommy appeared to be totally engrossed in the Celtics’ game, so she saw no problem in accessing the Internet for a bit. She began researching the 1/9 and determined that they had been brought in to end the depredation of the settlements throughout the Arizona Territory by a band of Apache renegades. The climax of the operation came when one platoon pursued the remnant of the Apache band into Superstition Mountain where no one was seen to have returned. The regiment was decorated with the highest honors and special tribute was paid to those who fell on the Mountain.

The motion before the Court was filed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of the Pima Nation charging that one Captain Michael Marion was assigned by the Defense Department to take control of an Apache stronghold in the mountain and conduct clandestine operations against the Indian Nation. It was alleged that Marion’s right-hand man, Lt. John Malagant, had helped him convert the platoon into a guerrilla unit that initiated a reign of terror in the area exceeding that of the renegade Apaches.

“Say, what’s up with the Web jones?” Tommy chided her upon entering the room. “We don’t have to watch the game, there’re some good movies on.”

“C’mon, bring your sexy butt over here,” she extended her slippered foot and pulled a chair over by her PC station. “This is a big pissing contest, just like the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Both sides are accusing the other of being the bad guy. The Pima students are saying that the Army authorized one of the 1/9 platoons to conduct terrorist operations from the mountain. It went on for about ten years after the Cavalry wiped out the Apache tribe. That would have been about the time my great-great-grandma disappeared.”

“The plot thickens,” his eyebrows arched. “Maybe it had something to do with the lost platoon. You know, if we can prove any of this, your great-great-grandma may go down in history.”

“I don’t know if I’m going to be very excited to find out my great-great-granny got murdered by the Army,” she replied softly.

“C’mon, Mony, that’s not what I meant,” he put his arm around her. “Look, nobody knows what happened to Penelope. This is back in the days after the Civil War, the country had just prevented an insurrection and went straight into an Indian uprising. There was no Geneva Convention, no civil rights movement. The Army answered to no one, one of their generals was President of the United States. They might’ve told Penelope to leave the Territory, or else they’d go after her family.”

“Yeah, sure. A woman like her.”

“It sure seems like strong women run in your family,” he hugged her shoulders.

“Flattery’ll get you nowhere, boyo,” she elbowed him gently. “All right, well, suppose they killed her. She had to be a well-known figure among the Pima, she would’ve been missed. Plus my great-great-grandpa would’ve demanded an investigation, they would’ve sent in a US Marshal. That means there’s a paper trail somewhere if we know where to look.”

“That’s where I come in,” he assured her. “There’d have to be Federal archives where we could trace this stuff. It’d put us where we need to be to match up the Pima side of the story.”

“Okay, try this on for size,” she mused. “I’m smelling a cover-up. How in heck would my family accept the explanation that she disappeared in the mountain? Somebody would’ve investigated, and someone else told them to back off. The trail went cold for two centuries, and now, all of a sudden, those Pima students came up with new evidence.”

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