"An insightful take on life in the Southwest." Gene Hackman
Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Joe Evers still mourns the death of his wife and, after a bungled investigation, faces a forced early retirement. What he needs is a new career, not another case. But when Congressman Arlen Edgerton's bullet-riddled Lincoln turns up on the Navajo reservationtwenty years after he disappeared during a corruption probeJoe must resurrect his failing career to solve the mysterious cold case.
Joe partners with Navajo tribal officer Randall Bluehorse, his investigation antagonizes potential suspects, including a wealthy art collector, a former president of the Navajo Nation, a powerful U.S. senator, and Edgerton's widow, who is now the front-runner in the New Mexico governor's race. An unexpected romance further complicates both the investigation and Joe's troubled relationship with his daughter, forcing him to confront his emotional demons while on the trail of a ruthless killer.
Joe uncovers a murderous conspiracy that leads him from ancient Anasazi burial grounds on the Navajo Nation to backroom deals in Washington, D.C. Along the way, he delves into the dangerous world of black market trade in Native American artifacts. Can he unravel the mystery and bring the true criminal to justice, or will he become another silenced victim?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
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By John Fortunato
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 John Fortunato
All rights reserved.
Thursday, 6:35 A.M.
Sky City Casino, Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico
When Joe Evers arrived, his squad was already donning their vests and checking their weapons. He was late and had missed the briefing.
"You're with us," Stretch said. "Sadi and I have the rear. You have outbuildings and vehicles." He handed Joe a picture of the subject, Roy Manygoats.
Cordelli was the case agent and had designated the casino's rear parking lot as the staging area. From here, they would go to Manygoats's residence to make the arrest. If he wasn't there, they would go mobile, trying to track him down as quickly as possible.
Standing beside his vehicle, Cordelli spotted Joe. He shook his head and said something to Dale, who glanced at Joe and laughed.
"Let's hurry up," Dale said. He wore his vest high over his rather generous gut, the large, yellow BIA letters sitting just below his chin.
"What are you doing here?" Joe asked.
Dale walked away, ignoring his question. He rarely went on operations, not since becoming squad supervisor six years earlier, which coincided with his outgrowing his tactical vest. Too much desk time, he'd said. Too many tacos, the squad had said.
Stretch charged his M4 carbine. "He thought you would be a no-show." The assault rifle appeared petite in front of his six-foot-seven frame.
Perhaps it was guilt, but Joe thought his friend and former partner was going to add again. He put on his vest and started for the passenger door of Stretch's unmarked Suburban.
"Don't even think about it," Sadi said, and reached past him for the handle. She jogged a thumb toward the backseat.
They traveled in convoy, three vehicles, into the heart of Acoma, which was located off I-40, west of Albuquerque. This was Indian Country. Reservation land. Rural, desolate, and hard.
Four dirt roads later, they arrived at a trailer a little more than a mile from an adobe village that sat atop a plateau and was known as Sky City. As they pulled up, a couple of scrawny rez dogs came from behind the building, both mutts, both starving. Stretch drove to the rear, stopping ten feet from the back door. They climbed out, guns drawn.
The other half of the team was at the front door, making entry.
A few hundred feet behind the trailer were the remnants of a corral, two abandoned vehicles, and an outhouse.
Cordelli's voice came through the radio. "His mother's saying he's not here."
Joe checked the vehicles. Empty. He made his way to the dilapidated corral and searched behind a pile of car tires. The land here was devoid of trees, only scrub grass and a few scraggly bushes, no place for a person to hide.
He moved on to the outhouse, a plywood special in need of paint. From twenty or so feet away, the air was already redolent with the smell of human waste. Tasking him with the outhouse was punishment. He was the senior agent, but he'd been put on the perimeter. He'd been put on shit duty.
A dog barked.
Sadi and Stretch were by the back door of the trailer, which was now open. Cordelli stood in the entryway. One of the mutts challenged them from the building's corner.
A sound emanated from the outhouse, a soft creaking. Joe raised his Glock.
"Police! Come out!" he said, not sure if there was someone inside, but not wanting that person to hear his uncertainty.
The door burst open and a skinny kid in a blue T-shirt came running out, away from Joe, into the open field beyond.
Joe cursed and holstered his weapon, then took off after him. It wasn't a kid, but a teenager. He called for the teen to stop.
The runner ignored him, heading toward an arroyo some two hundred yards beyond. The ground was rocky and dotted with flat cacti and mesquite brush, but the teen proved agile. Joe knew he was too old and too out of shape to chase this guy far. All he could do was try for an all-out sprint and get him quickly, or else let him go. He took longer strides and focused on his breathing. The gap between them closed. The teen turned.
It was Manygoats. All nineteen years of him. He had the look of a rabbit chased by a dog — an old dog.
Joe reached out and grabbed for his shirt. Fabric ripped. The effort threw Joe off balance and he stumbled forward, taking long, erratic bounds to stay upright. But he was going too fast. He fell to the ground, dragging the teen with him. They rolled. Joe lost hold of the shirt. They both came up on a knee. Manygoats's eyes revealed the terror of a man facing a lifetime in prison.
"Don't make it worse," Joe said between breaths.
Manygoats tried to get to his feet.
Joe lunged and slammed him to the ground. They wrestled. Joe felt movement by his right hip, his holster. Manygoats had the Glock halfway out. Joe clamped his right elbow down over his weapon and the young hand, then raked it backward with all his strength, knocking the weapon away. He seized the teen's arm and wrenched it behind his back. Manygoats shifted and tried for the gun with his free hand, but he didn't have the reach, and before Joe could retrieve it, a boot came down on the grip.
Cordelli stood above him.
Joe cuffed Manygoats, then dusted himself off.
Stretch grinned as he handed the weapon back to Joe. "Maybe I should hold on to that for you, seeing how much trouble you're having with it?"
The rest of the squad gathered around them.
Dale wanted to know what had happened. Joe told him, leaving out the part about losing his weapon.
"Good work," Dale said.
"Tell him about your gun, cowboy," Cordelli said. Half Italian and half Ute, Cordelli had the face and body of Michelangelo's David, with a mouth that spat arrowheads. Joe carried a few scars.
Stretch came to stand next to Joe. "Why don't you shut up, Cordelli."
"What about it?" Dale asked.
"Nothing. The punk tried to grab for it when I put him on the ground. I had it under control."
"You're just lucky I came along." Cordelli pointed a finger gun at Joe. "You might've been retiring in a box."
Stretch pulled Joe toward his vehicle.
"Write it up, Joe," Dale said. "Get it to Cordelli before the detention hearing."
A report would be embarrassing, but Joe didn't argue. He had only three months left. At least things couldn't get any worse.
Thursday, 11:42 A.M.
Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Investigations, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Joe and Stretch stood in the middle of the squad room, looking up at the television suspended from the ceiling. The news ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen announced breaking news. Authorities had found Congressman Arlen Edgerton's vehicle on the Navajo reservation.
What the ticker did not tell viewers was that the congressman, two of his staff, and the vehicle they'd been traveling in had gone missing more than twenty years earlier. But soon the news anchor, a young, attractive brunette who looked strikingly similar to every other brunette news anchor, reported the full story, punctuating the facts with provocative questions that rivaled the skills of the most accomplished true-crime writer: Did the corruption probe prove Edgerton was taking money? Why, after a two-year-long investigation, did the independent counsel find only one suspicious transaction involving Edgerton?
"They'll be spinning it by noon," Stretch said.
"His wife. Her campaign. She's dirty, just like he was."
Joe nodded, not really caring. He knew his friend, knew he enjoyed passing judgment, everything black and white, never a shade of gray, never a faded edge.
On the screen, superimposed over the background to the assembly-line brunette, was a picture of Congressman Edgerton and his secretary, Faye Hannaway, he in a conservative dark gray suit, she in a red look-at-me dress. The photo appeared to have been taken at a campaign party. A banner in the background read Arlen Edgerton for Change. It seemed only the candidates got swapped out, never the slogans.
"Joe!" Dale called from the doorway to his office. "Get in here."
When Joe entered, Dale waved him to a seat in front of his desk. He ripped a sheet of paper from his notepad and handed it to Joe.
"That's the number for the officer who found Edgerton's vehicle."
Joe stared at the paper, confused. On it was written "Randall Bluehorse," below that a phone number.
"What's this for?"
"You're catching it. The FBI's letting us run with it. We handled the disappearance back in '88."
"And I'm handling it? Bullshit. I'm out of here in three months."
"Clear it and you go out big."
"Is this because of this morning?"
"No. It's because you're still my senior agent."
Dale didn't say best agent. He wouldn't say that. Not anymore. Joe tossed the paper to Dale. It landed atop a red '76 Datsun 510, part of Dale's model-car collection, a replica of the car Paul Newman had driven to win several of his first professional races.
"Get Stretch. Or your wonder boy Cordelli."
"You refusing the assignment?" Dale leaned back in his chair. "If so, I can put you out right now. You're the one with a kid in college, not me."
Joe lowered his gaze, not because he was hurt or beaten, but because he knew if he stared at that puffed-up face any longer, he might launch himself across the desk.
"You're an asshole." He snatched up the paper and stormed out.
He marched past Stretch to his own cubicle, where he flung down the officer's number.
What the hell was Dale's game? He'd already won, had already gotten the board to force through Joe's retirement, had already ruined his life. In the end, they had agreed that if Joe didn't fight the review board's decision, he could use his remaining time to wrap up cases and find a job. Now it seemed that deal was off.
He opened his center desk drawer and grabbed for his bottle of aspirin, what he thought of as his morning-after pill. He fumbled with the lid, his fingers jittery. It had nothing to do with his need for a drink. He wanted to punch Dale in his smug, fat face, not fiddle with the childproof dot and arrow.
He threw the bottle at his computer. The lid popped. White tablets sprayed over the papers and folders and a crumpled burrito wrapper on his desk.
He picked up two pills. Chewed them. Their chalky texture coated his mouth, not quite overpowering the bitter taste Dale's words had left.
"What'd he want?" Stretch asked.
"He wants me to work the Edgerton case."
"The vehicle? It's FBI. What's he want you to do with it?"
Joe picked up the paper with Bluehorse's phone number.
"I guess he wants me to find Edgerton."
Thursday, 10:42 P.M.
Othmann Estate, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Arthur Othmann unfolded the clear plastic painter's tarp and spread it over the bone white carpet in his study. He stepped back to appraise his handiwork and then repositioned it so the sides were parallel to the display cabinets that ran the length of the room.
"Perfect," he said to no one.
Muted voices carried from another part of the house.
He checked his watch, then smiled up at the oil portrait of his father, Alexander Othmann, founder of the once Great Pacific Mining Company, now both defunct. "They're right on time, Pops."
The portrait's massive gold-leaf wood frame, ornately carved, clashed with the Native American artifacts displayed in the cabinets along the walls. Its shimmering trim and grotesque size gave it an otherworldly quality, a doorway to the spirit world, what the Navajo might call Xajiinai. According to their creation story, the Navajo emerged through Xajiinai, a hole in the La Plata Mountains of southwestern Colorado that allowed them to ascend from the underworld. Othmann knew all about Navajo history. It was, after all, their past that fed his passion for the arts. His father had never shared that passion. In fact, he hated that his only son, the last male carrier of the Othmann bloodline, was interested in the arts and was "a little light in his goddamn pants!" Toward the end of his life, his father would growl those words through wrinkled brown lips wrapped around a Padrón cigar, which looked like a shovel handle sticking out of the old man's face. The son didn't care about understanding his father, only outliving him. Not hard, considering the old bastard had been in his seventies when Arthur finished college. And during those seven years after his return from Stanford, where he'd studied art history, they had lived together in the house, with only a maid and a nurse (his mother had died his first year away — not a great loss), and it was during those seven years that the son had often fantasized about that shovel handle.
Once, after acquiring a rather spectacular ninth-century Anasazi watering bowl, he had shared his thoughts of the portrait with his bodyguard, David "Books" Drud, over a glass of celebratory scotch. "I like to think it's a portal to the afterlife, and my father visits from time to time to see how I'm spending his money. And I get to kill the old bastard all over again." Books gave a respectful chuckle and sipped the five-thousand-dollar-a-bottle whisky. But Othmann had not been joking.
The voices were in the hallway now.
He strode over to the stone mantel behind his desk. Atop it sat a wood carving of a rug-weaving loom. The tiny weaver's seat had been hollowed out and a miniature camera installed. In a darkened room ten feet below the study, a twenty-five-terabyte digital recorder captured every moment on Othmann's estate. He never skimped on security.
The door opened.
A middle-aged Navajo man stumbled in. Strands of long, black hair stuck to his face. His dirty clothes and the black patch over his left eye gave him the appearance of a down-on-his-luck desert pirate. At one time, this had been Othmann's prized silversmith, whose work had been shown at the Smithsonian and sold in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré district in Paris. But when the Navajo silversmith had lost his eye in a drunken brawl four years earlier, he also lost his talent. Now he was just Eddie Begay, the snitch.
Books stepped behind Eddie, his imposing figure clogging the doorway. He shoved the skinny man forward. Eddie's feet failed to keep up, and he fell to his knees onto the plastic tarp.
Eddie had grown comfortable groveling these past few years; alcohol seemed to lubricate his humility. Kneeling on the floor, he actually looked somewhat at ease.
"You doing some remodeling, Mr. O?" Eddie said.
Books moved to stand behind their guest.
"I thought we were friends, Eddie," Othmann said, his voice soft, with just a touch of hurt.
"We are. You're my bil naa'aash."
"Cousin-brother. I like that. Yes, I suppose we are brothers of a sort. Brothers in art."
Eddie must have put up a fight because Books's right trouser leg was muddied and torn. Othmann was curious.
"His dog didn't like it when I put Eddie in the car," Books said, his voice slow, tired, as though his words had traveled a long way before passing his lips.
"He killed my dog, Mr. O. He slammed her head in the car door."
"It was practically dead anyway," Books said. "Nothing but skin and bones. You people don't take care of your dogs."
"Fuck you, man."
Books was fast. Othmann almost missed it. He heard a slap, and then Eddie's head snapped forward.
"Eddie," Othmann said. "Look at me, Eddie. A little birdie told me you got caught diddling a kid."
"I never done nothing like that. I got a woman. I don't touch kids. If anyone told you that, they're just trying to mess up our business arrangement."
"That's exactly what I wanted to talk to you about, our business arrangement."
Eddie squinted. "I thought you were happy with the carving."
"Oh, I'm very happy with it. And I have it on good authority it's authentic."
The carving was a chunk of stone with a thousand-year-old petroglyph of a spiral-beaked bird that Eddie had chiseled from a cliff at Chaco Canyon. It now sat below them as part of Othmann's very private and very illegal collection in an environmentally controlled vault. And in that same vault was the recorder that was, at that very moment, capturing Eddie Begay's every word.
Othmann continued. "Why don't you tell us what the police are accusing you of, Eddie?"
"This is bullshit. I'm not telling you any —"
Books drove a knee to the back of his head. Eddie did a face plant on the tarp. He didn't move.
"I hope you didn't kill him."
Eddie let out a sound somewhere between a whimper and a groan and struggled back to his knees. His eye patch had shifted, granting Othmann an unwanted view of a black sunken hole. Was that what Xajiinai was? Black and bottomless? Not like his father's portrait at all. Maybe Eddie was the portal to communicate with the dead, to communicate with good ol' Pops.
"What did they say you did?" Othmann asked.
Eddie took several deep breaths. His good eye seemed unable to focus. "They said ... they said I touched my sister's boy. But I didn't."
Othmann walked around to the front of his desk, careful not to block the camera's view. "And what did you tell the FBI about me?"
Excerpted from Dark Reservations by John Fortunato. Copyright © 2015 John Fortunato. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Excellent police procedural set in New Mexico - this is a first novel and the winner of the Hillerman Prize - and is an excellent start to what I hope will be a series. Please keep them coming, John Fortunato!