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"You the BIA guy from Phoenix?"
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, United States Department of the Interior. In the last century, the same inflection would have been reserved for the cavalry. Emmett Parker had just locked up his government sedan and was studying the crudely painted sign at the trailhead on Hualapai Hilltop:
ENTERING THE SOVEREIGN NATION OF THE HAVASUPAI
"You Investigator Parker?"
Still silent, Emmett glanced skyward.
The snow was coming down harder than it had in Prescott, where he'd grabbed a late breakfast while having his tires chained up. A soft, wet snow was falling all over northern Arizona. Lowering his gaze, he studied the vehicle tracks, not his own, that showed a U-turn in the slush. Boot prints were evident too, two sets. One was small enough to belong to a juvenile. On the way in along Indian Route 18, he'd noted the passing of only three other vehicles. A power company repair van. Then a Forest Service truck. The female employee driving it looked slight enough to have left the smaller prints. And finally, about ten miles back, a 1981 Ford station wagon with two figures seated up front. Their ages and sex had been obscured by the snowmelt the wagon's tires had thrown against Emmett's windshield.
Turning, he finally examined the Havasupai tribal cop. In his early twenties, the man had a scraggly beard. His straight black hair had been painstakingly coaxed into dreadlocks, and pinned to his khaki uniform shirt was a cameo of Haile Selassie. Pai youth turning to Rastafarianism. Emmett decided not to ask the young cop about it for the moment. He was back on Indian time again: Everything revealed in its own season. "Yeah, I'm Parker."
"Billy Topocoba. Ready for this?"
"Sure," Emmett said, flipping his parka hood up over his own raven-colored hair. He still had it cut boarding-school stylescalp showing through the stubbled sides of his head.
"Just my evidence kit." Emmett slid the battered aluminum case from the car trunk.
Topocoba had tethered a string of two horses and a mule to a pinon pine beside the tumbling cliff that marked the end of the Coconino Plateau and the beginning of the lower Grand Canyon. The abyss was lost in swirling white. He walked a tired-looking gelding over to Emmett, averting his eyes as he offered him the reins. "You some kind of Apache?"
"No, Comanche," Emmett said. He brushed off the saddle before climbing into it.
"Don't recall meetin' a Comanche before."
"Never was many of us. Like you Havasupai, I suppose." Emmett paused, then asked, "You just bring somebody up the trail with you?"
"What about those footprints?"
"Forest Service made a pass-through while I was waitin' for you."
Emmett asked, "He or she?"
"She." That much was the truth.
"She get out of her truck to chat?"
"Yeah." Topocoba shoved Parker's evidence kit into a wicker pannier on the mule. He went on avoiding eye contact, which made Emmett want to check and see if his own horse's girth strap was tightly fastened. It was too early to get paranoid, even though Topocoba was possibly lying: The smaller of the boot-sole sets appeared to begin where the mule and Topocoba's horse were waiting. But, in all fairness, the prints had already melted out enough to confuse the heel and toe impressions; it was difficult to tell which direction the walker had headed.
"Anybody come off the reservation in the last day?"
"Nope." Mounting, the young cop started down the trail, leading the mule on a handwoven rope. Not a store-bought one. A poor peoplethe Havasupai, the Eastern Pai. Too far from any beaten track to profit from the Indian gambling boom. Emmett saw a blessing in that. His opposition to gaming, the criminal element it often brought into Indian Country, had made him a pariah with several tribal councils. But he remained convinced the boom would one day go bust.
Clucking his tongue to get the gelding going, he followed Topocoba.
He always disliked descending into the canyon. The soaring walls and narrow sky made him claustrophobic.
Six miles and two thousand vertical feet below lay tiny Supai, the only real village on the Havasupai Reservation. Maybe the toughest Indian settlement outside Alaska to reach, a nearly impregnable sanctuary for a fugitive as long as he could appease the clannish Pai. A place where the unspeakable could be done with only the cliffs for witnesses.
Emmett's office had arranged to hire a helicopter for him in Williams, but then the storm had swept in a day earlier than expected. Just like mid-December. But secretly Emmett preferred going in on horseback. He had grown up around horses. He missed them, living in the city, missed the freedom of taking a mount out into the sea of grass. His people had been the Mongols of the Southwest plains, measuring wealth and prestige by ponies. The rhythmic sway of haunches and creak of old leather could almost persuade him that this was a journey without something grisly at its end. It hadn't felt like that in his car on the race up State Route 89, the whine of the windshield wipers reminding him of a pathologist's bone saw. The worst part of witnessing a postmortemthe sound that saw made.
The rocks were slick under the slushy snow, and Emmett tried not to think about the plunging cliff that lined the trail. "Who found it?" he asked.
Topocoba twisted around in the saddle to face him. "Misty was lookin' for one of her lambs. And there it was up this cleft. Came home at a dead run. Grandma said she'd caught the spirit sickness and put her to bed right away. . . ." He gave an uncertain smile. Either he doubted such things or wanted Emmett's opinion.
Parker said nothing.
It was too soon to trust a man who, in the closed world of the Pai, claimed to know nothing about the gruesome discovery other than what his cousin had told him. And a man who might be able to lie with no apparent difficulty. "I'd like to talk to Misty."
"Can't," Topocoba said.
"She's away at the Kotex hut."
Menstrual isolation. Emmett hadn't realized that the Havasupai observed the custom. "So Misty found it yesterday, and you called my office right away."
"Either you called or you didn't."
"I radioed," Topocoba said irritably. "The phone line went in a big rockfall. We got just a shortwave in the village now. Coconino sheriff phoned you for me."
Emmett's receptionist had said nothing about the call being relayed in this way. He glanced up again. The sky had darkened; they'd come down out of the snowfall into a steady rain. It popped against Topocoba's green nylon police jacket. The overcast had gone from a blank white to a curdled gray; the surface of the trail shimmered with rivulets of mud.
Emmett noticed that Topocoba's hands kept flexing on the reins. And the man looked all around each time the trail zigzagged.
"Any strangers come down to Supai lately?" Emmett asked.
"Just the usual."
"What's the usual?"
"Tree huggers. Sierra Clubbers." Then he added cryptically, "Babylon."
But someone or something else had been in the canyon. Perhaps it was still lurking nearby. A presence Topocoba found troubling.