“Tiana pulled her new truck up to the front of her gallery, and just sat there as she felt herself get first hot and then cold. After a few seconds she leaned her head against the steering wheel. Damn.

She sat there for several minutes just controlling her breathing and then pulled her cell phone out of her purse. It rang once before being picked up.

“Waters Investigative Agency.” A perky voice answered. Tiana nearly rolled her eyes, she liked the teenager that James had hired to be the receptionist for his Kamiah office, but still it was eight o’clock in the morning and she’d only had one cup of coffee so far.

“Hi Dawn, this is Tiana. Can I speak to James, please.”

“Oh, hi Tiana. Sure, he just walked in a few minutes ago, I’ll transfer you.”

Powwow music played on the line briefly and then the reassuring sound of her intended’s voice came across the line.

“Hi babe, what’s up?”

“Honestly, I wish I wasn’t.” Tiana knew her voice sounded odd, but with seeing the terrible vision in front of her she just couldn’t work anything else into it.

“What’s wrong?”

"What isn’t?”

“Honey, what’s happened? You sound like you did when your grandmother was in the hospital.”

“Yeah, well this is almost as bad.”

“Where are you?”

“My gallery.” Tiana sighed and then rubbed her eyes tiredly with her other hand. “It’s toast, James.”

She heard a thump, and then James’ breath accelerated. “Someone burned it down?”

“No, but they might as well have. The front window is busted out, the door is hanging on one hinge, and from what I can see through the window, any and all stock I had is completely destroyed. Anything that was breakable is smashed. I can’t see the glass case that I locked the beadwork in but it’s probably been destroyed as well.”

“Stay right there. Don’t get out of your truck, you are in your truck right?”

“Of course.”

“Stay there, and lock yourself in. Whoever did this could still be around, and I don’t want you getting hurt.”

“I know that James, I’m not a complete idiot.” Tiana growled.

“Sorry babe, can’t help it. I just found you again, and I have no intention of losing you the way we did Grandmother. Have you called the police yet?”

At the mention of her grandmother’s death the year before, Tiana’s heart clenched tightly before she took a deep breath and released the tension.

“You’re kidding right? After what happened last year, I think it’s going to be a long time before I trust a tribal cop again.” Tiana’s voice turned sour.

Tiana heard James take a deep breath. “Tiana, you can’t blame what happened with Starla on the entire tribal police force. Most of them are good people, she was just one bad apple in the barrel.”

“Want to bet?” Tiana muttered beneath her breath. No way was she trusting anyone but James from now on. He might not be a cop, but she would trust him with her life. He would never betray her, she knew that with complete certainty.

“Tiana.” James’ voice wasn’t scolding precisely, but it got his point across none the less.

“Yeah, yeah. I know, one bad apple in the barrel. I still trust you more than I’ll ever trust a tribal cop again. Call them if you want to, but I’m not going to.”

“Well now, if that’s not a declaration of love, I don’t know what is. Be still my beating heart.” James teased, a mechanism he frequently applied when worried.

“Yeah, well it might be another year before you hear it again, babe.” Tiana emphasized the last word, teasing him right back.

“Is that a challenge?”

“Nah, just stating a fact.” She replied nonchalantly.

Tiana heard an engine start up. “I’m on my way, just stay put. I’m going to hang up for a minute so I can call the tribal police, but then I’m calling you right back.”

“Thanks.” Tiana smiled. James was getting into what she called, his “fed mode.” It was cute really, unless it was annoying, which unfortunately most of the time it was.

“Love you.” Tiana’s heart melted.

“Love you too. Hurry up!”

Tiana closed her flip phone and set it on the seat within easy reach while she studied the destroyed remains of her gallery. Thank God they didn’t torch it or something. At least this appeared to just be a clean up job. Still she knew it was going to be one hell of a clean up job. Her insurance company would handle the destruction of the stock, and probably the building itself, but the gallery would be out of commission for a month at least from the look of it. She was going to have to have the front windows, and door replaced. She couldn’t see the back of the shop but she new in all likelihood the perpetrator had got to the service entrance door as well.

Glass littered the sidewalk in front of the gallery. The sunlight caught something in the glass and flashed gold. What could that be?

The temptation to get out of the truck and go dig through the glass was strong. It’s probably nothing.

But what if it was something? What if it was a clue? There wasn’t much foot traffic this time of morning, but it was possible someone could come along and pick it up, or step on it and crush it.

Tiana put her hand on the door handle. James is going to kill me. Twisted the handle and pushed the door open. She carefully shut the door not closing it all the way in case she needed to get back in the truck in a hurry.

She stepped up on the sidewalk and when she felt shards of glass crunch under her feet, she inwardly sighed with relief that she was wearing the boots James had bought her for her birthday. Their soles were tough enough that the glass wouldn’t tear them up, and also wouldn’t poke through to her tender feet.

Tiana bent over trying to get a closer look at the object when she heard a throat clear. She winced. She would know that sound anywhere.

“I thought I told you to stay in the truck, Tiana.”

“Yeah, well I saw something in the glass here.” She pointed to the item and the sunlight caught it again.

“I see it. Here.” James handed her a small plastic baggie and gave her a chiding look. “You know better than to tamper with evidence.” He scolded.

Tiana rolled her eyes. “I wasn’t going to pick it up, James.”

“Okay, but you know that even you walking in the glass here could destroy a clue to who did this, right?” James pulled on a pair of latex gloves and then bent down and carefully picked up the item, holding it up so Tiana could see it.

Tiana stepped closer to James. “It’s a gold earring.” She said, disappointed. “I thought maybe it was a clue, but someone probably just dropped it before the gallery was vandalized.”

James tsked. “Not necessarily, the perpetrator could have been wearing this earring and it fell out when he or she was doing the vandalizing.”

“I suppose so, but what are the chances of us finding the owner of this earring. It’s not like a woman is going to walk around with one earring in.”

“It could also be a guy. You know it’s not that uncommon, even here on the rez for a guy to have an earring.”

“Maybe, but that one looks more like something a woman would wear.”

“Perhaps, but look at this.”

Tiana bent closer to see what James was pointing at without touching the earring. “What is that?”

(c) 2008 by Regina Paul. All Rights Reserved.