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BOOK: Hillerman, Tony - [Leaphorn & Chee 07]
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Or when you get stabbed to death, Chee thought. Violent death always seemed to provoke witch talk.

"If everybody around here liked him," Chee said, "then whoever killed him must have come from someplace else. Like Bistie. Did he know anybody anywhere else?"

"I don't think so," Iron Woman said. "Long as I been here, he only got one letter."

Chee felt a stir of excitement. Something at last. "You remember anything about it? Who it was from?" Of course she would remember. The arrival of any mail on this isolated outpost would be something to talk about, especially a letter to a man who never received letters and who couldn't read them if he did. It would lie in the little shoebox marked MAIL on the shelf above Iron Woman's cash register, the subject of conjecture and speculation until Endocheeney came in, or a relative showed up who might be trusted to deliver it to him.

"Wasn't from anybody," Iron Woman said. "It was from the tribe. There in Window Rock."

The excitement evaporated. "One of the tribal offices?"

"Social Services, I think it was. One of those that are always messing around with people."

"How about his pawn?" Chee asked. "Anything unusual in that?"

Iron Woman led him behind the counter, fished a key out of the folds of her voluminous reservation skirt, and unlocked the glass-topped cabinet where she kept the pawn.

The Endocheeney possessions held hostage for credit included one belt of heavy, crudely hammered conchas, old-fashioned and heavily tarnished; a small sack containing nine old Mexican twenty-peso coins, their silver as tarnished as the belt; two sand-cast rings; and a belt buckle of sand-cast silver. The buckle was beautiful, a simple geometric pattern that Chee favored, with a single perfect turquoise gem set in its center. He turned it in his hand, admiring it.

"And this," Iron Woman said. She thumped a small deerskin pouch on the countertop and poured out a cluster of unset turquoise nuggets and fragments. "The old man made some jewelry now and then. Or he used to. Guess he got too old for it after the old woman died."

There was nothing remarkable about the turquoise. It was worth maybe two hundred dollars. Add another two hundred for the belt and maybe one hundred for the buckle and probably fifteen or twenty dollars each for the old pesos. They were once standard raw material for belt conchas on the reservation, and cheap enough, but Mexico had long since stopped making them, and the price of silver had soared. Nothing remarkable about any of this, except the beauty of the buckle. He wondered if Endocheeney had cast it himself. And he wondered why some of his kin had not claimed these belongings. Once, tradition would have demanded that such personal stuff be disposed of with the body. But that tradition was now often ignored. Or perhaps Endocheeney's relatives didn't know about this pawn. Or perhaps they didn't have the cash to redeem it.

"How much do you have on the old man's bill?" Chee asked.

Iron Woman didn't have to look it up. "One hundred eighteen dollars," she said. "And some cents."

Not much, Chee thought. Far less than the stuff was worth. Someone without any cash could raise that much by selling a few goats.

"And then there's them," Iron Woman said. She tilted her head toward a corner behind the counter. There stood a posthole digger, two axes, a pair of crutches, a hand-turned ice cream freezer, and what seemed to be an old car axle converted into a wrecking bar.

Chee looked puzzled.

"The crutches," Iron Woman said impatiently. "He wanted to pawn them too, but hell, who wants crutches? They loan 'em to you free, up there at the Badwater Clinic, so I didn't want to get stuck with 'em as pawn. Anyway, he just left 'em there. Said give him half if I could sell 'em."

"Was he hurt?" Chee asked, thinking as he did that he could have found a smarter way to ask the question.

Iron Woman seemed to think so too. "Broke his leg. Fell off of something and they had to put a cast on it over at the clinic and he came back with the crutches."

"And then he climbed right back on the roof," Chee said. "Sounds like he was a slow learner."

"No, no," Iron Woman said. "Broke his leg way last autumn doing something else. Think he fell off of a rail fence. Leg caught." Iron Woman broke an imaginary stick with her fingers. "Snap," she said.

Chee was thinking of relatives who didn't come in and collect pawn. "Who buried the old man?" he asked.

"They got a man that works on those old well pumps out there." Iron Woman made a sweeping gesture with both hands to take in the entire plateau. "White man. He does that sometimes for people. Doesn't mind about corpses."

"This witch talk. You hear that a long time or just now?"

Iron Woman looked uneasy. From what Chee had heard about her, she had gone to school over at Ganado, at the College of Ganado, a good school. And she was a Jew, more or less, raised in that religion. But she was also a Navajo, a member of the Halgai Dinee, the People of the Valley Clan. She didn't like talking about witches in any specific way with a stranger.

"I heard about it just now," she said. "Since the killing."

"Was it just the usual stuff? What you'd expect when somebody gets killed?"

Iron Woman licked her lips, caught the lower lip between her teeth, looked at Chee carefully. She shifted her weight and in the silence the creak of the floorboard plank under her shoe was a loud groaning sound. But her voice was so faint when she finally spoke that, even in the silence, he had to strain to hear.

"They say that when they found him, they found a bone in the wound—where the knife had gone in."

"A bone?" Chee asked, not sure that he'd heard it—Iron Woman held her thumb and forefinger—an eighth of an inch apart. "Little corpse bone," she said.

She didn't need to explain it more than that. Chee was remembering the bone bead he'd found in his trailer.

Chapter 7

dr. randall jenks held
a sheet of paper in his fist. Presumably it was the laboratory report on the bead, since Jenks's office had called Leaphorn to tell him the report was ready. But Jenks gave no sign he was ready to hand it over.

"Have a seat," Dr. Jenks said, and sat down himself beside the long table in the meeting room. He wore a headband of red fabric into which the Navajo symbol of Corn Beetle had been woven. His blond hair was shoulder length and under his blue laboratory jacket Leaphorn could see the uniform—a frayed denim jacket. Leaphorn, who resented those who stereotyped Navajos, struggled not to stereotype others. But Dr. Jenks fell into Leaphorn's category of Indian Lover. That meant he irritated Leaphorn even when he was doing him favors. Now Leaphorn was in a hurry. But he sat down.

Jenks looked at him over his glasses. "The bead is made out of bone," he said, checking for reaction.

Leaphorn was not in the mood to pretend surprise. "I thought it might be," he said.

"Bovine," Jenks said. "Modern but not new, if you know what I mean. Dead long enough to be totally dehydrated. Maybe twenty years, maybe a hundred—more or less."

"Thanks for the trouble. Appreciate it," Leaphorn said. He got up, put on his hat.

"Did you expect it to be human?" Jenks asked. "Human bone?"

Leaphorn hesitated. He had work to do back at Window Rock—a rodeo that would probably be causing problems by now and a meeting of the Tribal Council that certainly would. Getting that many politicians together always caused some sort of problem. He wanted to confirm Emma's appointment before he left the hospital, and talk to the neurologist about her if he could. And then there were his three homicides. Three and a half if you counted Officer Chee. Besides, he wanted to think about what he had just learned—that the bone wasn't human. And what he had expected was none of Jenks's business. Jenks's business was public health, more specifically public health of the Navajos, Zunis, Acomas, Lagunas, and Hopis served by the U.S. Indian Service hospital at Gallup. Jenks's business, specifically, was pathology—a science that Lieutenant Leaphorn often wished he knew more about so he wouldn't be asking favors of Jenks.

"I thought it might be human," Leaphorn said.

"Any connection with Irma Onesalt?"

The question startled Leaphorn. "No," he said. "Did you know her?"

Jenks laughed. "Not exactly. Not socially. She was in here a time or two. Wanting information."

"About pathology?" Why would the Onesalt woman want information from a pathologist?

"About when a bunch of people died," Jenks said. "She had a list of names."

"Who?"

"I just glanced at it," Jenks said. "Looked like Navajo names, but I didn't really study it."

Leaphorn took off his hat and sat down.

"Tell me about it," he said. "When she came in, everything you can remember. And tell me why this bone bead business made you think of Onesalt."

Dr. Jenks told him, looking pleased.

Irma Onesalt had come in one morning about two months earlier. Maybe a little longer. If it was important, maybe he could pin down the date. He had known her a little bit before. She had come to see him way back when the semiconductor plant was still operating at Shiprock—wanting to know if that kind of work was bad for the health. And he had looked stuff up for her a couple of times since.

Jenks paused, getting his thoughts in order.

"What kind of stuff?" Leaphorn asked.

Jenks's long, pale face looked slightly embarrassed. "Well, one time she wanted some details about a couple of diseases, how they are treated, if hospitalization is needed, how long, so forth. And one time she wanted to know if an alcohol death we had in here might have been beaten."

Jenks didn't say beaten by whom. He didn't need to say. Irma Onesalt would have been interested, Leaphorn suspected, only if police, and preferably Navajo Tribal Police, had been the guilty party. Irma Onesalt did not like police, particularly Navajo Police. She called them Cossacks. She called them oppressors of The People.

"This time she had a sheet of paper with her—just names typed on it. She wanted to know if I could go back through my records and come up with the date each one had died."

"Could you?" Leaphorn asked.

"A few of them, maybe. Only if they had died in this hospital, or if we did the postmortem workup for some reason. But you know how that works. Most Navajo families won't allow an autopsy and usually they can stop it on religious grounds. I'd have a record of it only if they died here, and then only if there was some good reason—like suspicious causes, or the FBI was interested, or something like that."

"She wanted to know cause of death?"

"I don't think so. All she seemed to want was dates. I told her the only place I could think of she could get them all was the vital statistics offices in the state health departments. In Santa Fe and Phoenix and Salt Lake City."

"Dates," Leaphorn said. "Dates of their death." He frowned. That seemed odd. "She say why?"

Jenks shook his head, causing the long blond hair to sway. "I asked her. She said she was just curious about something." Jenks laughed. "She didn't say what, but that little bone bead of yours made me think of her because she was talking about witchcraft. She said something about the problem with singers and the health situation. People getting scared by the singers into thinking a skinwalker has witched them, and then getting the wrong medical treatment, or treatment they don't need because they're not really sick. So when I saw your little bead I made the connection." He studied Leaphorn to see if Leaphorn understood. "You know. Witches blowing a little piece of bone into somebody to give 'em the corpse sickness. But she never said that had anything to do with her list of names and what she was curious about. She said it was too early. She shouldn't talk about it yet—not then, she meant—and she said if anything came of it she would let me know."

"But she didn't come back?"

"She came back," Jenks said. He looked thoughtful, running the tip of his thumb under the headband, adjusting it. "Must have been a couple of weeks before she got killed. This time she wanted to know what sort of treatment would be indicated for two or three diseases, and how long you'd be hospitalized. Things like that."

"What diseases?" Leaphorn asked, although when he asked it he couldn't imagine what the answer would mean to him.

"One was TB," Jenks said. "I remember that. And I think one was some sort of liver pathology." He shrugged. "Nothing unusual. Sort of routine ailments we deal with around here, I remember that."

"And did she tell you then? I mean tell you why she wanted the dates those people died?" He was thinking of Roosevelt Bistie—the man who tried to kill Endocheeney—the man they had locked up at Shiprock, with not much reason to keep him, according to Kennedy's report. Roosevelt Bistie had something wrong with his liver. But so did a lot of people. And what the hell could that mean, anyway?

"I was in a hurry," Jenks said. "Two of our staff were on vacation and I was covering for one of them and I was trying to get my own operation caught up so I could go on vacation myself. So I didn't ask any questions. Just told her what she wanted to know and got rid of her."

"Did she ever explain it to you? In any way at all?"

"When I got back from vacation—couple of weeks after that—somebody told me somebody had shot her."

"Yeah," Leaphorn said. Shot her and left Leaphorn to guess why, since nobody else seemed to care a lot. And here might be the motive—this further example of Irma Onesalt in the role of busybody, to use the
belagana
term for it. His mother would have called her, in Navajo, a "one who tells sheep which weed to eat." Onesalt's job in the Navajo Office of Social Services, obviously, had no more to do with death statistics than it did with the occupational hazards of the semiconductor plant or, to get closer to Leaphorn's own emotional scar tissue, with punishing bad judgment in the Navajo Tribal Police.

"Do you think what she was working on had anything to do with why…" Jenks didn't complete the sentence.

"Who knows," Leaphorn said. "FBI handles homicides on Indian reservations." He heard himself saying it, his voice curt and unfriendly, and felt a twinge of self-disgust. Why this animus against Jenks? It wasn't just that he felt Jenks's attitude was patronizing. It was part of a resentment against all doctors. They seemed to know so much, but when he gave them Emma, the only thing that mattered, they would know absolutely nothing. That was the principal source of this resentment. And it wasn't fair to Jenks, or to any of them. Jenks had come to the Big Reservation, as many of the Indian Health Service doctors did, because the federal loans that had financed his education required two years in the military or the Indian Health Service. But Jenks had stayed beyond the two-year obligation, as some other IHS doctors did—delaying the Mercedes, the country club membership, the three-day work week, and the winters in the Bahamas—to help Navajos fight the battle of diabetes, dysentery, bubonic plague, and all those ailments that follow poor diets, bad water, and isolation. He shouldn't resent Jenks. Not only wasn't it fair; showing it would hurt his chances of learning everything Jenks could tell him.

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