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BOOK: Hillerman, Tony - [Leaphorn & Chee 07]
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Chee gave her the number at Window Rock. "And if he's not in, call the substation at Piñon. Tell 'em I said we need a policeman out here right away." Chee tried to think of who was stationed at Piñon now, and drew a blank. He was conscious only that his eyes were buzzing and that his head hurt in at least seven places.

"You know that number?"

Chee shook his head.

The nurse went out the door, leaving the tray. "Here he comes now," she said.

Leaphorn, Chee thought. Great!

Dr. Yellowhorse came through the door, moving fast.

Chee opened his mouth, began a yell, and found Yellowhorse's hand clamped across his jaws, cutting off all sound.

"Keep quiet," Yellowhorse said. With his other hand he was pressing something hard against Chee's throat. It was another source of pain—but no competition for the back of his head.

"Struggle and I cut your throat," Yellowhorse said.

Chee tried to relax. Impossible.

Yellowhorse's hand came off his mouth. Chee heard it fumbling in the tray.

"I don't want to kill you," Yellowhorse said. "I'm going to give you this shot so you'll get some sleep. And remember, you can't yell with your windpipe cut."

Chee tried to think. Whatever was pressing against his throat was pressing too hard to make yelling practical. Almost instantly he added the feel of the needle going into his shoulder to the battery of other pains. And then Yellowhorse's hand was over his mouth again.

"I hate to do this," Yellowhorse said, and his expression said he meant it. "It was that damned Onesalt woman. But in the long run, it more than balances out."

Chee's expression, as much as Yellowhorse could see of it around his smothering hand, must have seemed skeptical.

"It balances way out in favor of saving the clinic," Yellowhorse said, voice insistent. "Four lives. Three of them were men past their prime and one of them was dying fast anyway. And on the balance against that, I know for sure we've saved dozens of lives already, and we'll save dozens more. And better than that, we're stopping birth defects, and catching diabetes cases early." Yellowhorse paused, looking into Chee's eyes.

"And glaucoma," he said. "I know we've caught a dozen cases of that early enough to save good vision. That Onesalt bitch was going to put an end to all that."

Chee, who was in no position to talk, didn't.

"You feeling sleepy?" Yellowhorse said. "You should be by now."

Chee was feeling—despite an intense effort of will—very sleepy. There was no question at all that Yellowhorse was going to kill him. If there were any other possibility, Yellowhorse would not be telling him all this, making this apology. Chee tried to gather his strength, tense his muscles for a lunge against the knife. All he had to muster was a terrible weakness. Yellowhorse felt even that and tightened his grip.

"Don't try it," he said. "It won't work."

It wouldn't. Chee admitted it to himself. Time was his only hope, if he had a hope. Stay awake. He made a questioning sound against Yellowhorse's palm. He would ask him why Onesalt and the rest had to be killed. It was to cover up something at the clinic, clearly, but what?

Yellowhorse eased the grip on Chee's mouth.

"What?" he said. "Keep it low."

"What did Onesalt know?" he asked.

The hand gripped again. Yellowhorse looked surprised. "I thought you had guessed," he said. "That day when you came and got the wrong Begay. Onesalt guessed. I figured you would. Or she would tell you."

Chee mumbled against the palm. "You gave us the wrong Begay. I wondered what had happened to the right one. But I didn't guess you were keeping him on your records."

"Well, I thought you were guessing," Yellowhorse said. "I always knew you would guess sooner or later. And once you did, it would take time but it would be inevitable. You would find out."

"Overcharging?" Chee asked. "For patients who weren't here?"

"Getting the government to pay its share," Yellowhorse said. "Have you ever read the treaty? The one we signed at Fort Sumner. Promises. One schoolteacher for every thirty children, everything else. The government never kept any promises."

"Charging for people after they were dead?" Chee mumbled. He simply could not keep his eyes open any longer. When they closed, Yellowhorse would kill him. Not immediately, but soon enough. When his eyes closed they would never open again. Yellowhorse would keep him asleep until he could find a way to make it look normal and natural. Chee knew that. He must keep his eyes open.

"Getting sleepy?" Yellowhorse asked, his voice benign.

Chee's eyes closed. He went to sleep, a troubled sleep, dreaming that something was hurting the back of his head.

Chapter 24

leaphorn parked right at the door
, violating the blue handicapped-only zone, and trotted into the clinic. He'd made his habitual instant eyeball inventory of the vehicles present. A dozen were there, including an Oldsmobile sedan with the medical symbol on its license plate, which might be Yellowhorse's car, and three well-worn pickup trucks, which might include the one driven by the woman determined to kill Chee. Leaphorn hurried through the front door. The receptionist was standing behind her half-round desk screaming something. A tall woman in a nurse's uniform was standing across the desk, hands in her hair, apparently terrified. Both were looking down the hallway that led to Leaphorn's right, down a corridor of patients' rooms.

Leaphorn's trot turned into a run.

"She has a gun," the receptionist shouted. "A gun."

The woman stood in the doorway four rooms down, and she did, indeed, have a gun. Leaphorn could see only her back, a traditional dark blue blouse of velvet, the flowing light blue skirt which came to the top of her squaw boots, her dark hair tied in a careful bun at the back of her head, and the butt of the shotgun protruding from under her arm.

"Hold it," Leaphorn shouted, digging with his left hand for his pistol.

Aimed as the shotgun was into the room and away from him, the sound it made was muted. A boom, a yell, the sound of someone falling, glass breaking. With the sound, the woman disappeared into the room. Leaphorn was at the door two seconds later, his pistol drawn.

"The skinwalker is dead," the woman said. She stood over Yellowhorse, the shotgun dangling from her right hand. "This time I killed him."

"Put down the gun," Leaphorn said. The woman ignored him. She was looking down at the doctor, who sprawled face-up beside Jim Chee's bed. Chee seemed to be sleeping. Leaphorn shifted his pistol to the fingers that protruded from his cast and lifted the shotgun from the woman's hand. She made no effort to keep it. Yellowhorse was still breathing, unevenly and raggedly. A man in a pale blue hospital smock appeared at the door—the same Chinese-looking doctor who had been on duty when they delivered Chee. He muttered something that sounded like an expletive in some language strange to Leaphorn.

"Why did you shoot him?" he asked Leaphorn.

"I didn't," Leaphorn said. "See if you can save him."

The doctor knelt beside Yellowhorse, feeling for a pulse, examining the place where the shotgun blast had struck Yellowhorse's neck at point-blank range. He shook his head.

"Dead?" the woman asked. "Is the skinwalker dead? Then I want to bring in my baby. I have him in my truck. Maybe now he is alive again."

But he wasn't, of course.

It took Jim Chee almost four hours to awaken and he did so reluctantly—his subconscious dreading what he would awaken to. But when he came awake he found himself alone in the room. Sunset lit the foot of his bed. His head still hurt and his shoulder and side ached, but he felt warm again. He removed his left hand from under the covers, flexed the fingers. A good strong hand. He moved his toes, his feet, bent his knees. Everything worked. The right arm was another matter. It was heavily bandaged elbow to shoulder and immobilized with tape.

Where was Yellowhorse? Chee considered that. Obviously he had guessed wrong about the doctor. The man hadn't killed him, as common sense said he should have. Apparently Yellowhorse had run for it, or turned himself in, or went to talk to a lawyer, or something. It seemed totally unlikely that Yellowhorse would come back now to finish off Chee. But just in case, he decided he would get up, put on his clothes, and go somewhere else. Call Leaphorn first. Tell him about all this.

Just about then it also occurred to Chee how he would solve the problem of the cat. He would put the cat in the forty-dollar case, and take it to the Farmington airport and send it off to Mary Landon. But first he would write her and explain it all—explain how this
belagana
cat simply wasn't going to make it as a Navajo cat. It would starve, or be eaten by the coyote, or something like that. Mary was a very smart person. Mary would understand that perfectly. Probably better than Chee.

Carefully, slowly, he turned himself onto his good side, swung his feet off the bed, pushed himself upright. Almost upright. Before he completed the move, weakness and faintness overcame him. He was on his side again, the back of his head throbbing, and a metal tray he'd tumbled from the bedside stand still clattering on the floor.

"I see you're awake," a female voice said. "Tell the lieutenant that Officer Chee is awake."

Lieutenant Leaphorn's expression, when he came through the door behind the nurse, could best be described as blank. He sat on the chair beside Chee's bed, resting his cast gingerly on the cover.

"Do you know her name? The woman who shot you?"

"No idea," Chee said. "Where is she? Where's Yellowhorse? Do you know—"

"She shot Yellowhorse," Leaphorn said. "Right here. Did a better job on him than she did on you. We have her in custody, but she won't tell us her name. Anything else, for that matter. Just wants to talk about her baby."

"What's wrong with it?"

"It's dead," Leaphorn said. "The doctors say it's been dead for a couple of days." Leaphorn shifted his cast, which was generally grimy and had a streak of dried blue-black mud on its bottom side.

"She thought it was witched," Chee said. "That's why she wanted to kill me. She thought I was the witch and she could turn the witching around."

Leaphorn looked disapproving. "It had something they call Werdnig-Hoffmann disease," Leaphorn said. "Born with it. The brain never develops properly. Muscles never develop. They live a little while and then they die."

"Well," Chee said. "She didn't understand that."

"No cure for it," Leaphorn said. "Not even by killing skinwalkers like you."

"Do you know why Yellowhorse was doing all this?" Chee asked. "He told me he was trying to get the government to pay its share, or something like that, and Onesalt found out about it, or was finding out, and he figured sooner or later I would understand it too, because of what I knew." Chee paused, slightly abashed by the admission he would be making. "I guess he figured I'm smarter than I am. I guess I was supposed to figure out that he was turning in hospitalization claims on patients after they were dead. I guess that's why Onesalt was looking for those death dates."

"About right," Leaphorn said. "After they died, or long after they'd checked out and gone home. Dilly Streib is in the business office now. They're going through the billing records."

"I began to see how he was doing it," Chee said. "I couldn't see why. Wasn't he using a lot of his own money to run this place?"

"Yeah," Leaphorn said. "Mostly his own money. Through his foundation. And he had other private foundation money. And some tribe support. Medicare. Medicaid. Guess it wasn't enough. Not even with hiring immigrant doctors."

"I understand how he killed Endocheeney and Wilson Sam. How about why?"

"Streib thinks he's going to find they were out of here for months before Yellowhorse stopped billing for them," Leaphorn said. "I guess there were a lot of them like that. But they were the only two on Onesalt's list. After he shot Onesalt, it took the pressure off. No rush anymore. But I guess he figured that since you were with Onesalt, you'd know about the list and sooner or later you'd just naturally find out about it. Or if you didn't, somebody else would. So he decided to get rid of Sam and Endocheeney, and you too."

"He told me it balanced out," Chee said. "Onesalt was going to put an end to the clinic and it was saving more lives than those he had to kill."

Leaphorn had nothing to say to that. He raised his cast off the bed, grimaced, put it down again. "
Anti'll
," he said sourly, using the Navajo word for witchcraft.

Jim Chee just nodded.

"Pretty smart, really," Leaphorn added. "No hurry, so he could pick his people carefully. From desperate people. Like Bistie, who was dying. Or the woman he sent after you. People won't talk about witches, so there wasn't much risk of tracking anything back here."

"I guess he sent two after Endocheeney. Maybe Bistie was too slow and he thought he wasn't going to do it."

"Apparently," Leaphorn said. "And then he found out we'd arrested Bistie, so he had to kill him—just in case we did trick him into talking."

"I guess we could find them now," Chee said. "The one who killed Endocheeney. The one who killed Wilson Sam. Just work down through the records of the caseload here, looking at them the way Yellowhorse would have looked."

"I guess we could," Leaphorn said.

Chee considered that answer awhile. It was, after all, a federal problem.

"You think Streib will think of it?"

"I doubt it," Leaphorn said. He laughed a humorless laugh. "People say I hate witchcraft. Dilly, he hates to even think about witches."

"Doesn't matter, anyway," Chee said. "It's finished."

∞-∞-∞

TONY HlLLERMAN is past president of the Mystery Writers of America and has received their Edgar and Grand Master Awards. Among his other honors are the Center for the American Indian's Ambassador Award, the Silver Spur Award for best novel set in the West, and the Navajo Tribe's Special Friend Award. His many bestselling novels include Finding Moon, Sacred Clowns, Coyote Waits, Talking God, A Thief of Time, and
Dance Hall of the Dead
. He lives with his wife, Marie, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

BOOK: Hillerman, Tony - [Leaphorn & Chee 07]
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