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 stolen."
"Why didn't you get the license number from the guy reporting it?"
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 passenger-side door.
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 a little.
Sleeping one off, thought... The Wailing Wind. Copyright © by Tony Hillerman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.