I made it to thirty before he asked "but you don't have a license now, correct?"
"No, I don't."
"See, that's what we technically call a 'crime' little lady, and you appear to have committed it. Besides, you were damn sure going faster than fifty-five and that's a crime too. I'm sure I could find a few more, if I looked hard enough."
"Hey mister," Daddy said to him as he turned to go back to his cruiser, "It was my fault. I let her drive, and I knew she didn't have a license."
"Yes," he said spinning on his heels, "and I'll sure note that on the citiation."
"Daddy," Robbie cried out from the back seat. "I need to go pee."
"Not now, Robbie. Please don't interrupt. Can't you hold it?"
"NO," my brother said in anguish. "I drank three bottles of pop at the Phillip's 66."
"Sorry," Daddy told the cop. "But he's really got to go. He can't hold it anymore."
The policeman squared up to the car and spoke in a voice that sounded like a megaphone.
"Get out of the car, young man."
Robbie did so, looking scared of the big red man but even more desperate in his toilet needs.
"Go over there, behind that bush. Do you business there, and come right back. Do you understand?"
Robbie nodded and dashed off toward the roadside potty.
"Now you two stay here. I'm going back to my car, to radio this in. You're not gonna pull a runner on me are you?"
"No," Daddy and I both said at the same time.
"Are you sure? Maybe I should take your keys, just in case."
"No, officer," Daddy said. "That's not necessary. How much trouble are we in, anyway? I don't know much about the laws in Oklahoma."
"You're not in any trouble with the state. I caught your little girl doing seventy-five in a fifty-five without no license in the Choctaw Nation. You could be in a lot of trouble, but that depends on the results of my radio call. But if you do a runner, I will catch you and you will both go to jail."
"Look, sir," Daddy tried again, exasperated, "She just went to take her driving test and they wouldn't let her, not because of anything except obstinance in her case and fat-headed prejudice on the part of her testing officer."
"You might want to reel that trout-line in a little, son; 'fore you catch yourself a fish you can't land. A White man could talk himself into a bushel-and-a-peck full of trouble in Indian Territory.
"I'm not trying to do that, believe me; I'm just trying to point out that this is a minor infraction."
The officer raised his eyebrows and put back on his hat.
"Maybe not minor but not so major as jail-time. I admit Dani was a little lead-footed going around that corner, but she's just learning. She knows how to drive."
"She's like twelve."
"No, she's sixteen, God's honest truth sir. You can ask my wife. In fact, we are just coming back from an extended visit to the hospital and I'm sure Billie Jean has the kids' birth certificates in the car. Will you believe an Official State of Missouri Birth Certificate? It's notarized."
"What good would that do? I saw two girls in your car, both about the same age. How am I supposed to tell which one belongs to which girl?"
"I guess you got me there. Look, officer, I'm telling the truth. You're a cop; can't you tell?"
"Of course," the man chuckled and grinned, showing teeth. "But I'm an Injin, so you na hollo all look guilty to us, innit?"
"Hey mister," Robbie said loudly, coming back from the direction of the cop's car.
"What is it by," he asked over his shoulder.
"You are a real police officer?"
"Then why do you have a Code Talker sticker on your bumper?"
He turned toward Robbie and squatted on his heels again and beckoned my brother hither. He looked perfectly comfortable in that position.
"Come here boy," he said when Robbie hesitated a distance he judged safe. "I won't hurt you."
Robbie came closer.
"What do you know about the Code Talkers?"
"The Choctaw were the first ones, first in America that is. But the Army got the idea in the Philippines, During the Eleven Years' War. They got lots of languages there too, like the Indians. Nobody could ever figure them out, except other Code Talkers."
"That's right. Did you know that we served in the Great War, in the Atlantic Ocean and against the Japanese in the Pacific. The Germans hated us especially, I'm told."
"So why do you have the sticker?"
"I'm a Code Talker."
"Really? But you're a cop."
"Once a Code Talker, aways a Code Talker."
"So when were you in? And where?"
"I served in the South Pacific, the Philippines. We fought the Japs there too. Joined up at eighteen—lots of folk around here serve—and went to sea in '39. Served a year and a bit and was recalled when the Shit happened."
"Wow, so you were there?"
"Certainly. Was in the Civil War too, the new one. I served in a balloon for five years, talking code and eventually running the switchboard room."
"Cool. I have a boy in my class who's from Oklahoma. He's a Chickisaw, and wants to be a Code Talker when he grows up. He had a tape about it that he played for me on his daddy's Nack. I got one too, but it's broken."
They talked for another minute or two and the mood lightened. Mother got out quietly and talked to Daddy, then went back and looked through her handbag.
There was a light breeze kicking up when she came back a few minutes later, bare-foot and on tip-toes.
The police officer heard her over his own mellow bass and Robbie's piping tenor.
"Are those the children's birth certificates," he asked her when she was about three feet away.
"You know I told your husband I can't be sure they are what you say they are."
"Yes," she said, clasping them to her chest with a dramatic thump. The pages rustled in the breeze.
"But it is true, no matter what you think. I give you my word as a God-fearing woman. I would swear it on a Bible, if you want me to."
"No ma'am," he said, standing up and glancing sideways at her. "That won't be necessary. I can see you're just as you say—a family out about your business. If you say you're daughter is sixteen, then that's good enough for me.
"I'm Officer Oklahombi, by the way. I was telling your son about my service in the Pacific Theater. He's a good boy. Next time you pass this way, drop in Atoka ways and look me up. First name's Lester."
"What about the ticket," Daddy asked him, unsure what was happening.
Dad gave him a shrug.
"Would you say driving's a skill?"
"And you are licensed, are you not?"
"And how long have you been driving, Mr. Heywood."
"Almost twenty years."
"Are you any good at it? Even had an accident?"
"No. What is the point?"
"The point is, Mr. Heywood, that it seems to me you are a master craftsman, teaching his apprentice a necessary skill."
"And that apprentice is fourteen years old or older, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is."
"And she is your ward...you are responsible for her upkeep, well-being, and education, yes?"
"Of course. She's my daughter."
"Well then, Mr. Heywood, it seems to me what's going on here is legal, according to the laws of the Choctaw Nation."
"I don't follow you."
Officer Oklahombi shook his head but his smile remained.
"A Master craftsman may teach vital skills to his apprentices. Or, if you don't like that, a parent can teach his children to ride a horse."
"But I'm not a master driver, and that isn't a horse."
"Boy you are just thick as molasses in this chilly weather."
He pointed to our car.
"How many horses do you have under that hood? Or would you rather take you of to jail?"
Daddy finally got the point Officer Oklahombi was driving in with a shop hammer.
"Okay," he said, the tension falling away like water from a burst dam. "We'll just be on our way now, if that's all right."
He nodded and Daddy backed away. He reached out his hands for the keys.
"I'll drive," he said, looking back and forth between me and the officer. "All the way back."
"Good idea," Oklahombi said, and turned on his heels. He was still making his way to his patrol car when we drove off.
Nobody said a word the entire trip home.