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Looking for Smoke by K. A. Cobell

A compassionate debut thriller that casts a light on the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women

Content Warning: Child Death

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Chapter 3

Brody Clark 

Thursday, July 11, 8:40 p.m. 

The wild look in her eyes has my hair standing on end. Samantha’s mom hasn’t seen her daughter since the Giveaway and she’s not answering her phone. She’s trying not to worry, but why wouldn’t she? When this whole town has been wondering what happened to Rayanne Arnoux.

“She’s gotta be around here somewhere,” I say. What I don’t say is that Samantha likes to get around. We all know it. I wouldn’t be shocked to see her with Detective Youngbull, batting her eyes. Asking if he’s packing heat. 

First Kill grabs Cherie’s hand and pulls her along as we follow Loren and Samantha’s mom out of the arbor. Mara strides next to me, and I can’t think of a reason to tell her to leave. 

At least not one funny enough to cut through the group’s combined tension. 

Youngbull is still standing at the back of the bleachers, so I bet Samantha is with some city Indian from the drum circuit right now.

Loren takes us to the deserted trailers and halts. “Right here.” We stand in the same place we did two hours ago, a smaller group and without the horses. 

“This is where we took the picture,” I confirm. Samantha’s mom nods and looks around. The rows of vendor tents down the way are less crowded, and the rows of horse trailers next to us are now smothered in dusk shadows. 

Mara spins in a slow circle. 

I run my hand through my hair, trying not to laugh through the tense awkwardness like I usually would. “I didn’t see where she went after that. Maybe out for a snag, yeah?” 

First Kill punches my arm, wiping the smile off my face before Samantha’s mom can see it, but the corner of his mouth jolts. He’d be the one to know something about Samantha’s tendencies anyway. Not me. She’s always interested in anyone but me. 

Her loss. 

Loren marches deeper into the row of horse trailers, and without a word, we all follow. Something tells me I should stop her, like there’s something else we should be doing instead. But I don’t. 

Samantha’s mom walks shoulder to shoulder with Loren as they scan between horse trailers. I wanna yell Samantha’s name. Isn’t that what you should do when you’re looking for someone? But her own mother is deathly silent, so I try to be too. 

She’s gotta be off with some guy. Don’t they realize that? 

“This is silly,” I finally say, but it comes out as a question. 

We turn a corner, and Samantha’s mom runs her hands along a trailer, her fingers thrumming against every hole in the metal. “Maybe,” she says. “But she missed her Fancy Shawl Dance category.”

We round another corner, and Loren stops cold. A trailer’s door hangs ajar. The shadows inside are darker than the blue-tinged dusk light. 

Samantha’s mom steps forward. Isn’t this when we holler at her to stop? Loren’s only a beat behind her. 

My gut drops, like it did when Mom threw her bags into the back of her truck. Like the moment Dad clutched his chest, knees buckling. It’s like my body knew before my head did that things were about to change for good. Like something was happening I couldn’t walk back from. 

Like when I saw Loren’s blank face the day after Rayanne disappeared and suddenly our friend group splintered apart like a tree struck by lightning. 

Samantha’s mom heaves open the door. The black shadows retreat further into the cave of the trailer as the door swings on its hinges, and the bruising light illuminates geometrical beadwork in the shapes of flowers. 

My ears flood with water, like I’ve jumped into a freezing lake. I’m distantly aware that someone is screaming, but my eyes are glued to the beadwork flowers made of white and yellow trapezoids. 

How long did it take to hand stitch each bead on the legs of those moccasins? How much money did it cost? I follow the beadwork up to the slash of blue fabric across the metal flooring, and the scream finally cuts into my muted thoughts. 

It’s blood-curdling, and everything hits at once. 

Loren stumbles backward, her lips peeling back into a horrifying, gaping shape. Samantha’s mom scrambles up the step, shaking the lifeless legs attached to the magnificently beaded moccasins. 

Excerpt from Looking for Smoke, Copyright © 2024 by K. A. Cobell. All rights reserved.

Looking for Smoke hits shelves on June 4, 2024.
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Looking for Smoke by K. A. Cobell

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