Officer Bernadette Manuelito had been having a busy day,
enjoying most of it, and no longer feeling like the
greenest rookie of the Navajo Tribal Police. She had
served the warrant to Desmond Nakai at the Cudai Chapter
House, following her policy of getting the most unpleasant
jobs out of the way first. Nakai had actually been at the
chapter house, obviating the hunt for him she'd expected,
and -- contrary to predictions of Captain Largo -- he had
been pleasant about it.
She had dropped down to the Beclabito Day School to
investigate a reported break-in there. That was nothing
much. A temp maintenance employee had overdone his weekend
drinking, couldn't wait until Monday to get a jacket he'd
left behind, broke a window, climbed in and retrieved it.
He agreed to pay for the damages. The dispatcher then
contacted her and canceled her long drive to the
Sweetwater Chapter House. That made Red Valley next on her
list of stops.
"And Bernie," the dispatcher said, "when you're done at
Red Valley, here's another one for you. Fellow called in
and said there's a vehicle abandoned up a gulch off that
dirt road that runs over to the Cove school. Paleblue king-
cab pickup truck. Check the plates. We'll see if it's
"Why didn't you get the license number from the guy
Because, the dispatcher explained, the report was from an
El Paso Natural Gas pilot who had noticed it while flying
yesterday afternoon and again this morning. Too high to
read the plates.
"But not too high to tell it was abandoned?"
"Come on, Bernie," the dispatcher said. "Who leaves a car
parked in an arroyo overnight unless he stole it for a
joyride?" With that he gave her a little better
description of the probable location and said he was sorry
to be loading her up.
"Sure," said Bernie, "and I'm sorry I sounded so grouchy."
The dispatcher was Rudolph Nez, an old-timer who had been
the first to accept her, a female, as a fellow cop. A real
friend, and she had a feeling he was parceling her out
more work to show her he looked on her as a full-fledged
officer. Besides, this new assignment gave her a reason to
drive up to Roof Butte, about as close as you could drive
to ten thousand feet on the Navajo Reservation. The
abandoned truck could wait while she took her break there.
She sat on a sandstone slab in a mixed growth of aspen and
spruce, eating her sack lunch, thinking of Sergeant Jim
Chee, and facing north to take advantage of the view.
Pastora Peak and the Carrizo Mountains blocked off the
Colorado Rockies, and the Lukachukai Forest around her
closed off Utah's peaks. But an infinity of New Mexico's
empty corner spread below her, and to the left lay the
northern half of Arizona. This immensity, dappled with
cloud shadows and punctuated with assorted mountain peaks,
was enough to lift the human spirit. At least it did for
Bernie. So did remembering the day when she was a brand-
new rookie recruit in the Navajo Tribal Police and Jim
Chee had stopped here to show her his favorite view of the
Navajo Nation. That day a thunderstorm was building its
cloud towers over Chaco Mesa miles to the northeast and
another was taking shape near Tsoodzil, the Turquoise
Mountain of the East. But the rolling grassland below them
was bright under the afternoon sun. Chee had pointed to a
little gray column of dirt and debris moving erratically
over the fields across Highway 66. "Dust devil," she had
said, and it was then she had her first glimpse behind
Chee's police badge.
"Dust devil," he repeated, thoughtfully. "Yes. We have the
same idea. I was taught to see in those nasty little
twisters the Hard Flint Boys struggling with the Wind
Children. The good yei bringing us cool breezes and
pushing the rain over grazing land. The bad yei putting
evil into the wind."
She finished her thermos of coffee, trying to decide what
to do about Chee. If anything. She still hadn't come to
any conclusions, but her mother seemed to have deemed him
acceptable. "This Mr. Chee," she'd said. "I heard he's
born to the Slow Talking Dineh, and his daddy was a Bitter
Water." That remark had come apropos of absolutely
nothing, and her mother hadn't expanded on it. Nor did she
need to. It meant her mother had been asking around, and
had satisfied herself that since Bernie was born to the
Ashjjhi Dineh, and for Bead People, none of the Navajo
incest taboos were at risk if Bernie smiled at Chee.
Smiling was as far as it had gone, and maybe as far as she
wanted it to go. Jim Chee was proving hard to understand.
But she was still thinking about him when she pulled her
patrol car up the third little wash north of Cove and saw
the sun glinting off the back window of a truck-pale blue
as described and blocking the narrow track up the bottom
of the dry wash.
New Mexico plates. Bernie jotted down the numbers. She
stepped out of her car, walked up the wash, noticing the
vehicle's windows were open. And stopped. A rifle was in
the rack across the back window. Who would walk off and
leave that to be stolen?
"Hello," Bernie shouted, and waited.
"Hey. Anyone home?" And waited again.
No answer. She unsnapped the flap on her holster, touched
the butt of the pistol, and moved silently to the
A man wearing jeans and a jean jacket was lying on his
side on the front seat, head against the driver-side door,
a red gimme cap covering most of his face, knees drawn up
Sleeping one off, thought...