Authors: Aimée & David Thurlo
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To the Taylor staff, past and present, for their support and encouragement from the very beginning
With special thanks to D. R. Garcia for his help and expertise in the field of law enforcement.
The rituals described herein have been abbreviated and altered slightly out of respect for the Navajo People.
The psychiatric facility in this work is solely a product of our imagination.
Kee Dodge looked toward the east as the sun rose above a distant plateau, casting a sunflower glow off the rocks of Red Flint Pass. At this early hour he could still feel the trace of humidity that lingered in the air cooling his skin. In another few hours, it would be gone and only the heat would remain.
He took a deep breath, enjoying the rich scent of piñon that filled the air around
him. His class would be meeting here again in the Chuska Mountains, one of the sacred homes of the
—the Navajo People. It was a particularly good site for today’s lessons of the past. Here an Anglo named Washington and his cavalry had killed several Navajo warriors, and until recently the mapmakers had named the pass for him. But the worm was slowly turning to the advantage of the People.
Navajo students had petitioned those in positions of so-called authority, and the place was now to be called Narbona Pass, after the Navajo leader killed there at the hands of Washington’s troops.
Though he wasn’t in agreement with their insistence on naming the pass after a Navajo who’d died, he was supportive of the sentiments behind it. In another twenty years when people bought new maps,
they would at least know the truth.
Dodge took out the prayer sticks, clubs, and the handmade bow and arrows he’d brought, arranging them carefully on a blanket he’d spread on the ground. Attendance in his classes remained high, counter to the skepticism the college faculty had expressed at first. This new generation of college kids was much more eager to learn than any he’d taught in the past.
It was as if they’d suddenly become aware of the incalculable value of their heritage.
For so many years it had been different. Young people had been determined to be just like those outside the
the People’s Land. It was good to see this long overdue change.
Dodge emptied the worn cardboard box he’d hauled up the piñon-covered slope. He checked his watch, disliking the concession
to Anglo ways that required everything to be ruled by the clock, then started back down to the road. He’d need to review his lesson plans soon in preparation for class, but he’d left his notebook on the seat of his pickup. The morning air was brisk, and a slight breeze blew up the mountain as he made his way carefully downhill.
Kee Dodge reached his truck just as a lone hiker appeared from around
the curve of the gravel road. Although it was not unusual for the
to walk great distances, this man didn’t look like an ordinary hiker, or someone out looking for a missing lamb. His jeans and shirt were too clean and neat, and even his white cross-trainers gleamed with newness.
Dodge exhaled softly, thinking how many times his own truck had broken down on this long stretch. It was almost
impossible most times of the year to find anyone to help. Invariably it meant a long walk back to the main highway or on to Lukachukai.
“Pickup broke down, right?” Dodge asked with a rueful smile, disregarding the scowl on the young man’s face. “Don’t worry, nephew, I’ve got some tools here. Let’s see what we can do.”
As Kee Dodge reached over the side of the pickup bed for his toolbox, he heard
the young man step up behind him. Before he could turn around, something crashed against his skull. Dodge’s world became a bright white flash of pain that quickly faded into a warm black of night. With the taste of betrayal and defeat, Kee Dodge’s wind breath left his body forever.
Special Investigator Ella Clah stood in the doorway to her living room, nibbling on a slice of honeydew melon from her brother’s garden. It was still early in the morning, but her mother was already helping Valerie Yazzie finish the velveteen wedding outfit Valerie’s daughter would wear on her wedding day in less than a week.
Ella’s mother looked up and smiled at her. Rose Destea was, like
her daughter, taller than most Navajo women, and only a dozen or so pounds heavier than Ella. “Take a break from all that paperwork you brought from the police department and have a decent breakfast. That’s not the way to start a morning you’re supposed to have off.”
Ella shrugged. “There’s a lot of work to get done. We’ve had some major changes in the department. Our new police chief wants things
way. He’s determined to recapture the faith people had in us once.”
Valerie Yazzie shook her head. The middle-aged Navajo woman wore a perpetual frown that had, through the years, become ingrained in her features. “There were so many we trusted we shouldn’t have. It’s hard to forget how they betrayed the tribe.”
“But the department is clean now, and Big Ed Atcitty is going to make sure
it stays that way. He’s an excellent leader, and tough, but fair.” Ella bit off another piece of the juicy melon and swallowed. “We’re just having to do a lot of work fast to put the changes he wants into effect.”
“What you find difficult, daughter, is doing things someone else’s way,” Rose said with a smile. “You’ve always had definite opinions on how things should be handled.”
grudgingly. “Well, I suppose that’s true.”
Rose turned her attention back to the hem she was pinning. “This is going to be such a lovely wedding dress!”
“You’ll be making one for your own daughter before too long,” Valerie commented mischievously, nodding toward Ella. “She will want to trade in her gun belt for a cradle board sooner or later.”
Ella choked on the piece of melon and reached to
the kitchen counter for a napkin. “Don’t count on it.”
Rose sighed and looked at Valerie. “See how she is? I’ve just about given up hope.” She paused, then with a tiny smile added, “but not quite.”
As the telephone rang and interrupted them, Ella gave the phone company a mental high-five. She’d been literally saved by the bell. “I’ll take that.”
“You might as well,” Rose muttered. “It’s probably
for you. They won’t leave you alone, even on your morning off. I never get any calls in my own home anymore.”
Ella chose not to comment. It was an old argument. Her mother couldn’t understand her dedication to police work and the incredible sense of purpose it gave her. In truth, she found it difficult to explain to anyone. Only another cop could understand that addiction to the incredible highs
and lows of the work; the need to restore order to a world that resisted at every turn. Ella walked down the hall to her room, closed the door, and answered the phone.
“Hold for Police Chief Atcitty, please,” said the crisp voice of Big Ed’s secretary.
Ella sat on the edge of her bed, waiting. More than eight months had passed since she’d resigned from the FBI and moved back to the Rez to stay
with her widowed mother. She gazed around her room, lost in memories. Most of what was around her was less than a year old. The fire, months back, had spared the house but ruined everything she’d left behind from her youth. All traces of the girl she’d once been were gone now, and she had more than a decade’s worth of new memories and new mementos to replace them. She stared pensively at her framed
FBI diploma and gilded marksmanship trophies on the shelf. Last in line was a recent photo showing her being sworn in as a tribal police officer.
Ella was hard pressed to say which of her career achievements filled her with the most un-Navajo-like pride, but she was definitely proud of her new job. It had been created especially for her, here on the Navajo Rez, and it required her own special
skills. She was special investigator for the Navajo Police, and answered only to Big Ed. The job gave her the autonomy she’d dreamed of throughout her career, though on the downside, the paperwork load was pretty incredible.
“Shorty, you there?” a familiar gravelly voice asked.
“Yes, Big Ed. What’s going down?” Ella was getting used to the nickname Big Ed had given her, although she stood a
head taller than her boss and most other Navajo men as well.
Big Ed had been given his nickname because he was shaped like a barrel with arms. Stories around the station claimed Big Ed had never been knocked off his feet by a perp. She believed them.
“I need you to drive over to what we’ve always called Red Flint Pass, though it’s getting yet another name now. Maybe you know it as Washington
Pass. A college history class was supposed to meet there. Seems someone murdered Kee Dodge out there before his students arrived.”
“Kee Dodge, the historian?”
“Yeah. His students showed up this morning for class and, from what I hear, stumbled upon the body. Get over there and take up the case. I’d like a preliminary report before lunch. I’ve called the M.E. She’ll meet you there along with
our crime-scene team. We have a patrol officer in the area already. He’ll give you whatever backup you need.”
“I’m out the door, Big Ed.”
Ella reached for her gun belt and adjusted the pancake holster so that it lay flat against her waist. Beneath a jacket, her weapon barely showed, and that was great for plainclothes work. Fitting her .22 backup pistol inside her custom-made boot strap, she
strode out of her room.
“I have to be going now. I’m not sure when I’ll be back,” Ella called out to her mother, waving to Valerie as she passed through the living room.
“So, what else is new?” Rose said with a sigh. “Just be careful.”
Ella went to her navy blue unmarked Jeep. It was the perfect vehicle for the kind of rough terrain that comprised most of the Navajo nation. She took
the map from the glove compartment and checked the route. It would be a fifty-minute ride at posted speeds, but she could knock a good ten minutes off that in a hurry. She opted for the hurry, knowing that a fresh crime scene would yield the most information.
The drive south on Highway 666 was almost a straight line, but once she turned west at Sheep Springs, Ella had to slow down a bit. Soon
the road turned to gravel, and her Jeep left a long, serpentine dust trail as it climbed the mountain road.