Thief of Time, A
The moon had risen just above the cliff behind her. Out on the packed sand of the wash bottom the shadow of the walker made a strange elongated shape. Sometimes it suggested a heron, sometimes one of those stick-figure forms of an Anasazi pictograph. An animated pictograph, its arms moving rhythmically as the moon shadow drifted across the sand. Sometimes, when the goat trail bent and put the walker's profile against the moon, the shadow became Kokopelli himself. The backpack formed the spirit's grotesque hump, the walking stick Kokopelli's crooked flute. Seen from above, the shadow would have made a Navajo believe that the great yei northern clans called Watersprinkler had taken visible form. If an Anasazi had risen from his thousand-year grave in the trash heap under the cliff ruins here, he would have seen the Humpbacked Flute Player, the rowdy god of fertility of his lost people. But the shadow was only the shape of Dr. Eleanor Friedman-Bernal blocking out the light of an October moon.
Dr. Friedman-Bernal rested now, sitting on a convenient rock, removing her backpack, rubbing her shoulders, letting the cold, high desert air evaporate the sweat that had soaked her shirt, reconsidering a long day.
No one could have seen her. Of course, they had seen her driving away from Chaco. The children were up in the gray dawn to catch their school bus. And the children would chat about it to their parents. In that tiny, isolated Park Service society of a dozen adults and two children, everyone knew everything about everybody. There was absolutely no possibility of privacy. But she had done everything right. She had madethe rounds of the permanent housing and checked with everyone on the digging team. She was driving into Farmington, she'd said. She'd collected the outgoing mail to be dropped off at the Blanco Trading Post. She had jotted down the list of supplies people needed. She'd told Maxie she had the Chaco feverneeded to get away, see a movie, have a restaurant dinner, smell exhaust fumes, hear a different set of voices, make phone calls back to civilization on a telephone that would actually work. She would spend a night where she could hear the sounds of civilization, something besides the endless Chaco silence. Maxie was sympathetic. If Maxie suspected anything, she suspected Dr. Eleanor Friedman-Bernal was meeting Lehman. That would have been fine with Eleanor Friedman-Bernal.
The handle of the folding shovel she had strapped to her pack was pressing against her back. She stopped, shifted the weight, and adjusted the pack straps. Somewhere in the darkness up the canyon she could hear the odd screeching call of a saw-whet owl, hunting nocturnal rodents. She glanced at her watch: 10:11, changing to 10:12 as she watched. Time enough.
No one had seen her in Bluff. She was sure of that. She had called from Shiprock, just to make doubly sure that no one was using Bo Arnold's old house out on the highway. No one had answered. The house was dark when she'd arrived, and she'd left it that way, finding the key under the flower box where Bo always left it. She'd done her borrowing carefully, disturbing nothing. When she put it back, Bo would never guess it had been missing. Not that it would matter. Bo was a biologist, scraping out a living as a part-timer with the Bureau of Land Management while he finished his dissertation on desert lichens, or whatever it was he was studying. He hadn't given a damn about anything else when she'd known him at Madison, and he didn't now.
She yawned, stretched, reached for her backpack, decided to rest a moment longer. She'd been up about nineteen hours. She had maybe two more to go before she reached the site. Then she'd roll out the sleeping bag and not get out of it until she was rested. No hurry now. She thought about Lehman. Big. Ugly. Smart. Gray. Sexy. Lehman was coming. She'd wine him and dine him and show him what she had. And he would have to be impressed. He'd have to agree she'd proved her case. That wasn't necessary for publicationhis approval. But for some reason, it was necessary to her. And that irrationality made her think of Maxie. Maxie and Elliot.
She smiled, and rubbed her face. It was quiet here, just a few insects making their nocturnal sounds. Windless. The cold air settling into the canyon. She shivered, picked up the backpack, and struggled into it. A coyote was barking somewhere over on Comb Wash far behind her. She could hear another across the wash, very distant, yipping in celebration of the moonlight. She walked rapidly up the packed sand, lifting her legs high to stretch them, not thinking of what she would do tonight. She had thought long enough of that. Perhaps too long. Instead she thought of Maxie and Elliot. Brains, both. But nuts. The Blueblood and the Poorjane. The Man Who Could Do Anything obsessed by the woman who said nothing he did counted. Poor Elliot! He could never win.
A flash of lightning on the eastern horizonmuch too distant to hear the thunder and the wrong direction to threaten any rain. A last gasp of summer, she thought. The moon was higher now, its light muting the colors of the canyon into shades of gray. Her thermal underwear and the walking kept her body warm but her hands were like ice. She studied them. No hands for a lady. Nails blunt and broken. The skin tough, scarred, callused. Anthropology skin, they'd called it when she was an undergraduate. The skin of people who are always out under the sun, working in the dirt.Thief of Time, A
. Copyright © by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.