Authors: jpg] Skinwalkers (v1) [html
"He's back with us now," Chee said. "But he was loaned out to Chinle back in June. Vacation relief. He was that guy who was walking out in the parking lot with me at noon. Gorman and Benaly. Gorman is the sort of fat one."
"Was the killer a Navajo?" Leaphorn asked.
Chee hesitated, surprised. "Yes," he said. "Navajo."
"You sound sure," Leaphorn said. "Why Navajo?"
"Funny. I knew he was Navajo. But I didn't think about why," Chee said. He counted it off on his fingers. "He didn't step over the body, which could have just happened that way. But when he walked down the arroyo, he took care not to walk where the water had run. And on the way back to the road, a snake had been across there, and when he crossed its path he shuffled his feet." Chee paused. "Or do white men do that too?"
"I doubt it," Leaphorn said. The don't-step-over-people business grew out of families living in one-room hogans, sleeping on the floor. A matter of respect. And the desert herders' respect for rain must have produced the taboo against stepping in water's footprints. Snakes? Leaphorn tried to remember. His grandmother had told him that if you walk across a snake's trail without erasing it by shuffling your feet, the snake would follow you home. But then his grandmother had also told him it was taboo for a child to keep secrets from grandmothers, and that watching a dog urinate would cause insanity. "How about the killer at Endocheeney's place? Another Navajo? Could it have been the same person?"
"Not many tracks there," Chee said. "Body was about a hundred yards from the hogan, with the whole family milling around after he was found. And we hadn't had the rain there. Everything dry."
"But what do you think? Another Navajo?" Chee thought. "I don't know," he said. "Couldn't be absolutely sure. But when we eliminated what everybody who lived there was wearing, I think it was a boot with a flat rubber heel. And probably a smallish hole worn in the right sole."
"Different suspect, then," Leaphorn said. "Or different shoes." In fact, three different suspects. In fact, maybe four different suspects, counting Onesalt. He shook his head, thinking of the implausible, irrational insanity of it. Then he thought of Chee. An impressive young man. But why didn't he have at least an inkling of who had tried to kill him? Or why? Could he possibly not know? Leaphorn's back hurt. Sitting too long always did it these days. Easing himself out of the chair, he walked to the window over the sink and looked out. He felt something gritty under his boot sole, leaned down, and found it. The round lead pellet from a shotgun shell. He showed it to Chee. "This one of them?"
"I guess so," Chee said. "I swept up, but when they went through the bedclothes, they bounced around. Got into everything."
Into everything except Jim Chee, Leaphorn thought. Too bad he had so much trouble learning to believe in luck. "Did you see anything at all that would connect the Endocheeney and Sam things? Anything at all? Anything to connect either one of them to this?" Leaphorn gestured at the three patched shotgun holes.
"I've thought about that," Chee said. "Nothing."
"Did the name Irma Onesalt turn up either place?"
"Onesalt? The woman somebody shot down near Window Rock? No."
"I'm going to ask Largo to take you off of everything else and have you rework everything about Endocheeney and Sam," Leaphorn said. "You willing? I mean talk to everybody about everything. Who people talked to. Who people saw. Try to get a fix on whatever the killers were driving. Just try to find out every damn thing. Work on it day after day after day until we get some feeling for what the hell went on. All right?"
"Sure," Chee said. "Fine."
"Anything else about this shooting of your own here that didn't seem to fit on the FBI report?"
Chee thought about it. His lips twitched in a gesture of doubt or deprecation.
"I don't know," he said. "Just this morning, I found this. Might not have anything to do with anything. Probably doesn't." He pulled out his wallet again and extracted from it something small and roundish and ivory-colored. He handed it to Leaphorn. It was a bead formed, apparently, from bone.
"Where was it?"
"On the floor under the bunk. Maybe it fell out when I changed the bedding."
"What do you think?" Leaphorn asked.
"I think I never had anything that had beads like that on it, or knew anybody who did. And I wonder how it got here."
"Or why?" Leaphorn asked.
"Yes. Or why."
If you believed in witches, Leaphorn thought, as Chee probably did, you would have to think of a bone bead as a way witches killed—the bone being human, and the fatal illness being "corpse sickness." And if you loaded your own shotgun shells, or even if you didn't, you would know how simple it would be to remove the little plug from the end, and the wadding, and add a bone bead to the lead pellets.
the wind blew out of the southwest
, hot and dry, whipping sand across the rutted track in front of Jim Chee's patrol car. Chee had backed the car a hundred yards up the gravel road that led to Badwater Wash Trading Post. He'd parked it under the gnarled limbs of a one-seed juniper—a place that gave him a little shade and a long view back down the road he had traveled. Now he simply sat, waiting and watching. If anyone was following, Chee intended to know it.
"I'm going to go along with the lieutenant," Captain Largo had told him. "Leaphorn wants me to rearrange things and let you work on our killings." As usual when he talked, Captain Largo's hands were living their separate life, sorting through papers on the captain's desk, rearranging whatever the captain kept in the top drawer, trying to reshape a crease in the captain's hat. "I think he's wrong," Largo said. "I think we ought to leave those cases to the FBI. The FBI's not going to break them, and neither are we, but the FBI's getting paid for it, and nobody's going to do any good on them until we have some luck—and taking you off your regular work isn't going to make us lucky. Is it?"
"No, sir," Chee had said. He wasn't sure Largo expected an answer, or wanted one, but being agreeable seemed a good policy. He didn't want the captain to change his mind.
"I think that Leaphorn thinks you getting shot is connected with one or the other of those killings, or maybe both of them. He didn't say so, but that's what I think he thinks. I can't see any connection. How about it?"
Chee shrugged. "I don't see how there could be."
"No," Largo agreed. His expression, as he looked at Chee, was skeptical. "Unless you're not telling me something." The tone of the statement included a question mark.
"I'm not not telling you anything," Chee said.
"Sometimes you haven't," Largo said. But he didn't pursue it. "Real reason I'm going along with this is I want you to stay alive. Just getting shot at is bad enough." Largo pointed to the folder on his desk. "Look at that, and it's not finished yet. If somebody kills you, think how it would be." Largo threw out his arms in a gesture encompassing mountains of forms. "When we had that man killed over in the Crownpoint sub-agency back in the sixties, they were doing reports on that for two years."
"Okay," Chee said. "That's okay with me."
"What I mean is, poke around on Endocheeney and Wilson Sam and see what you can hear, but mostly I want you out where it would be hard for anybody to get a shot at you. In case they're still trying. Let 'em cool off. Be careful."
"Good," Chee had said, meaning it.
And while he was out there, Largo had added, he might as well get some useful work done. For instance, the people at the refinery over at Montezuma Creek were sore because somebody was stealing drip gasoline out of the collector pipeline. And somebody seemed to be hanging out around the tourist parking places at the Goosenecks, and other such places, and stealing stuff out of the cars. And so forth. The litany had been fairly long, indicating that the decline of human nature on the Utah part of the reservation was about the same as it was in Chee's usual New Mexico jurisdiction. "I'll get you the paperwork," Largo said, shuffling papers out of various files into a single folder. "Xerox copies. I wish we could put a stop to this getting into people's cars," he added. "People raise hell about it, and it gets to the chairman's office and then he raises hell. Be careful. And get some work done."
And now, parked here out of sight watching his back trail, Chee was being careful, exactly as instructed. If the man (or the woman) with the shotgun was following, it would have to be down this road. The only other way to get to the trading post at Badwater Wash was to float down the San Juan River, and then take one of the tracks that connected it to the hogans scattered where terrain allowed along the river. Badwater wasn't a place one passed through by accident en route to anywhere else.
And now the only dust on the Badwater road was wind dust. The afternoon clouds had formed over Black Mesa, far to the south, producing lightning and air turbulence. As far as Chee could estimate from thirty miles away, no rain was falling. He studied the cloud, enjoying the range of blues and grays, its shapes and its movement. But he was thinking of more somber things. The hours of thinking he had done about who would want to kill him had depressing effects. His imagination had produced an image in his mind—himself standing at the face of a great cliff of smooth stone, as blank as a mirror, feeling hopelessly for fingerholds that didn't exist. There was a second unpleasant effect. This persistent hunt for malice, for ill will, for hatred—examining relationships with friends and associates with cynical skepticism—had left him gloomy. And then there was Lieutenant Leaphorn. He'd gotten what he wanted from the man—more than he'd expected. But the lieutenant hadn't trusted him when they'd met, and he hadn't trusted him when they'd parted. Leaphorn hadn't liked the bone bead. When Chee had handed it to him, the lieutenant's face had changed, expressing distaste and what might have been contempt. In the small universe of the Navajo Police, total membership perhaps less than 120 sworn officers, Lieutenant Leaphorn was a Fairly Important Person, and somewhat of a legend. Everybody knew he hated bootleggers. Chee shared that sentiment. Everybody also knew Leaphorn had no tolerance for witchcraft or anything about it—for those who believed in witches, or for stories about skinwalkers, corpse sickness, the cures for same, and everything connected with the Navajo Wolves. There were two stories about how Leaphorn had acquired this obsession. It was said that when he was new on the force in the older days he had guessed wrong about some skinwalker rumors on the Checkerboard. He hadn't acted on what he'd heard, and a fellow had killed three witches and got a life term for murder and then committed suicide. That was supposed to be why the lieutenant didn't like witchcraft, which was a good enough reason. The other story was that he was a descendant of the great Chee Dodge and had inherited Dodge's determination that belief in skinwalkers had no part in the Navajo culture, that the tribe had been infected with the notion while it was held captive down at Fort Sumner. Chee suspected both stories were true.
Still, Leaphorn had kept the bone bead.
"I'll see about it," he'd said. "Send it to the lab. Find out if it is bone, and what kind of bone." He'd torn a page from his notebook, wrapped the bead in it, and placed it in the coin compartment of his billfold. Then he'd looked at Chee for a moment in silence. "Any idea how it got in here?"
"Sounds strange," Chee had said. "But you know you could pry out the end of a shotgun shell and pull out the wadding and stick a bead like this in with the pellets."
Leaphorn's expression became almost a smile. Was it contempt? "Like a witch shooting in the bone?" he asked. "They're supposed to do that through a little tube." He made a puffing shape with his lips.
Chee had nodded, flushing just a little.
Now, remembering it, he was angry again. Well, to hell with Leaphorn. Let him believe whatever he wanted to believe. The origin story of the Navajos explained witchcraft clearly enough, and it was a logical part of the philosophy on which the Dinee had founded their culture. If there was good, and harmony, and beauty on the east side of reality, then there must be evil, chaos, and ugliness to the west. Like a nonfundamentalist Christian, Chee believed in the poetic metaphor of the Navajo story of human genesis. Without believing in the specific Adam's rib, or the size of the reed through which the Holy People emerged to the Earth Surface World, he believed in the lessons such imagery was intended to teach. To hell with Leaphorn and what he didn't believe. Chee started the engine and jolted back down the slope to the road. He wanted to get to Badwater Wash before noon.
But he couldn't quite get Leaphorn out of his mind. Leaphorn posed a problem. "One more thing," the lieutenant had said. "We've got a complaint about you." And he'd told Chee what the doctor at the Badwater Clinic had said about him. "Yellowhorse claims you've been interfering with his practice of his religion," Leaphorn said. And while the lieutenant's expression said he didn't take the complaint as anything critically important, the very fact that he'd mentioned it implied that Chee should desist.
"I have been telling people that Yellowhorse is a fake," Chee said stiffly. "I have told people every chance I get that the doctor pretends to be a crystal gazer just to get them into his clinic."
"I hope you're not doing that on company time," Leaphorn said. "Not while you're on duty."
"I probably have," Chee said. "Why not?"
"Because it violates regulations," Leaphorn said, his expression no longer even mildly amused.
"I think you can see how," Leaphorn had said. "We don't have any way to license our shamans, no more than the federal government can license preachers. If Yellowhorse says he's a medicine man, or a hand trembler, or a road chief of the Native American Church, or the Pope, it is no business of the Navajo Tribal Police. No rule against it. No law."
"I'm a Navajo," Chee said. "I see somebody cynically using our religion… somebody who doesn't believe in our religion using it in that cynical way…"