The southwest wind picked up turbulence around the San Francisco Peaks, howled across the emptiness of the Moenkopi plateau, and made a thousand strange sounds in windows of the old Hopi villages at Shongopovi and Second Mesa. Two hundred vacant miles to the north and east, it sandblasted the stone sculptures of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and whistled eastward across the maze of canyons on the Utah-Arizona border. Over the and immensity of the Nokaito Bench it filled the blank blue sky with a rushing sound. At the hogan of Hosteen Tso, at 3:17 P.M., it gusted and eddied, and formed a dust devil, which crossed the wagon track and raced with a swirling roar across Margaret Cigaret's old Dodge pickup truck and past the Tso brush arbor. The three people under the arbor huddled against the driven dust. Tso covered his eyes with his hands and leaned forward in his rocking chair as the sand stung his naked shoulders. Anna Atcitty turned her back to the wind and put her hands over her hair because when this business was finished and she got Margaret Cigaret home again, she would meet the new boy from the Short Mountain Trading Post. And Mrs. Margaret Cigaret, who was also called Blind Eyes, and Listening Woman, threw her shawl over the magic odds and ends arrayed on the arbor table. She held down the edges of the shawl.
"Damn dirty wind," she said. "Dirty son-a-bitch."
"It's the Blue Flint boys playing tricks with it," Hosteen Tso said in his old man's voice. He wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands and looked after the whirlwind. "That's what my mother's father told me. The Blue Flint boys make the wind do that when theyplay one of their games."
Listening Woman put the shawl back around her shoulders, felt carefully among the assortment of bottles, brushes and fetishes on the table, selected a clear plastic prescription vial, and uncapped it.
"Don't think about that," she said. "Think about what we're doing. Think about how you got this trouble in your body." She poured a measure of yellow corn pollen from the vial and swiveled her blind face toward where the girl was standing. "You pay attention now, daughter-of-my-sister. We're going to bless this man with this pollen. You remember how we do that?"
"You sing the song of the Talking God," Anna Atcitty said. "The one about Born of Water and the Monster Slayer." She was a pretty girl, perhaps sixteen. The legends GANADO HIGH SCHOOL and TIGER PEP were printed across the front of her T-shirt.
Listening Woman sprinkled the pollen carefully over the shoulders of Hosteen Tso, chanting in low, melodic Navajo. From the cheekbone to the scalp, the left side of the old man's face was painted blue-black. Another patch of blackness covered his bony rib cage over his heart. Above that, the colorful curved stick figure of the Rainbow Man arched over Tso's chest from nipple to nipple--painted by Anna Atcitty in the ritual tints of blue, yellow, green and gray. He held his wiry body straight in the chair, his face stiff with sickness, patience and suppressed pain. Listening Woman's chant rose abruptly in volume. "In beauty it is finished," she sang. "In beauty it is finished."
"Okay," she said. "Now I will go and listen for the earth to tell me what makes you sick." She felt carefully across the plank table, collecting the fetishes and amulets of her profession, and then found her walking cane. She was a large woman, handsome once, dressed in the traditional voluminous skirt and blue velvet blouse of the People. She put the last of the vials in her black plastic purse, snapped it shut, and turned her sightless eyes toward Tso. "Think about it now, before I go. When you dream, you dream of your son who is dead and of that place you call the painted cave? You don't have any witch in that dream?" She paused, giving Tso a chance to answer.
"No," he said. "No witches."
"No dogs? No wolves? Nothing about Navajo Wolves?"
"Nothing about witches," Tso said. "I dream about the cave."
"You been with the whores over at Flagstaff? You been laying with any kinfolks?"
"Too old," Tso said. He smiled slightly.
"Been burning any wood struck by lightning?"
Listening Woman stood, face stern, staring past him with her blind eyes. "Listen,
Old Man," she said, "I think you better tell me more about how these sand paintings got messed up. If you're worried about people knowing about it, Anna here can go away behind the hogan. Then nobody knows but you and me. And I don't tell secrets."
Hosteen Tso smiled, very slightly. "Now nobody knows but me," he said, "and I don't tell secrets either."
"Maybe it will help tell why you're sick," Listening Woman said. "It sounds like witchery to me. Sand paintings getting messed up. If there was more than one sand painting at a time, then that would be doing the ceremonial wrong. That would be turning the blessing around. That would be witch business. If you been fooling around with the Navajo Wolves, then you're going to need a different kind of cure."
Tso's face was stubborn now. "Understand this, woman. A long time ago I made a promise. Some things I can't talk about."
The silence stretched, Listening Woman looking at whatever vision the blind see inside their skulls, Hosteen Tso staring out across the mesa, and Anna Atcitty, her face expressionless, waiting for the outcome of this contest.
"I forgotto tell you," Tso said. "On the same day the sand paintings got ruined, I killed a frog." Listening Woman
. Copyright © by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.