Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah has seen a lot of death in the decade since she returned to the Reservation, but nothing quite as bad as a series of violent murders of young Navajo. Something about the crime scene reminds Ella of her days in the FBI, and she calls on Agent Blalock for help. And that's not the only link to Ella's past-clues indicates that Ella's father may have tried to stop this killer before his own murder.
Working long hours, desperate to identify and stop the serial killer before he strikes again, Ella manages to squeeze in a few dates with Reverend Bilford Tome. Ella's father was a man of the cloth as well-is Ella following her mother's path, falling for a man whose faith she does not share?
About the Author
Aimée and David Thurlo are the authors of the Ella Clah series, the Lee Nez series of Navajo vampire mysteries, and the Sister Agatha novels. Their other works include Plant Them Deep, a novel featuring Rose Destea, the mother of Ella Clah, and The Spirit Line, a young adult novel.
David was raised on the Navajo Reservation and taught school there until his recent retirement. Aimée, a native of Cuba, has lived in the US for many years. They live in Corrales, New Mexico, and often make appearances at area bookstores.
Read an Excerpt
Special Investigator Ella Clah of the Navajo Tribal Police ignored the chill of the early April night breeze. Her heart felt too heavy for minor concerns like the vagaries of the weather. She missed her daughter Dawn with all her soul and the circumstances responsible for their separation would not be changing for weeks.
Years ago, the prospect of moving in with two other women — both police officers — would have seemed perfect. No one would complain about the crazy hours or the dreadful toll taken by the pressures of a law enforcement career. But those days were gone. Now, living away from Dawn, her eight-year-old daughter, made her throat tighten up and her chest feel constricted.
Dawn had chosen to stay with her father until the renovations on their home were completed. All in all, it was a very practical arrangement, but she still worried. It was part of being a mom. With luck, the next few weeks would fly by.
There had been a lot of changes in her life this past year. Rose, her mother, was now married to Herman Cloud. Rather than move into Herman's home, the new couple had decided to build an addition to Rose's home so their extended family could stay together. It made sense, but the more they tried to keep things the same, the more pronounced the changes seemed to become for all of them.
At least the situation at work was stable at the moment and there were no planned shifts in personnel. Ella's partner and second cousin, Justine Goodluck, would remain here where she was needed most.
The young, petite officer loved her work as a crime scene investigator and detective as much as Ella did hers. There had been a time when she'd been tempted to join another agency, one that could give her the opportunity to work crime scene investigations exclusively — and with the kind of budget she could only dream about here in Shiprock. Yet, despite the temptations, Justine had remained loyal to the tribe and had stayed on the Rez.
Like Ella herself, many Navajos left the reservation at one point or another, curious to see what life was like outside their borders. Yet the land between the sacred mountains never stopped calling its children. The simple truth of the matter was that this was home — the one place where a Navajo never had to explain what it meant to walk in beauty.
"Yo, partner?" Justine called as she half dragged and half pulled Ella's duffel bag out of the SUV. "What do you have in here — adobes?"
The duffel bag, an army surplus store purchase, was nearly as large as Justine. Emily Marquez, Justine's roommate, laughed. Emily, a San Juan county deputy who worked outside Rez borders, was tall, blonde, and had clear blue eyes. She was trim, and more important, fit. "Let me help you with that. With my build, I have a lot more leverage."
"Go for it." As Justine turned it over to her, Emily's hand and shoulder dropped abruptly. She barely managed to keep it from falling to the ground. "Ugh, Justine's right! You stealing cinder blocks from your mom's construction site?"
"Okay, let's double-team this one," Ella said, laughing as she grabbed hold of one of the handgrips and Emily took the other. The light from the front porch made crossing the flagstone walk a lot easier for them. It was late in the evening, and they'd kept the entrance closed to keep out the cool air. The last frost of the season was still a week or two away. "I've got half a library in there. I've been trying to read up on something."
"Near-death experiences?" Justine asked on a hunch, jogging ahead to open the door for them.
"Mostly," Ella answered as they manhandled the bag into the house. She'd been in a serious accident a few years ago, had died, clinically, and been revived. Her experiences in the world after this one continued to fill her mind with questions even after all this time. It wasn't a subject she liked discussing with anyone, but Justine was Christian and, unlike more traditional Navajos, her cuz didn't consider it dangerous to talk about death.
Before Emily and Justine could ask her more, Ella switched the conversation. "I'm really glad I was able to get you guys together as roommates. Things have worked out pretty good for you these past, what, two years?"
"That's about right," Emily answered with a nod, "and it has been great. I've got a little greenhouse in the back. When you take a break, go in and take a look around. With the days lengthening again, everything is coming into bloom."
"She's got orchids and gardenias, and some other tropical flowers I've never seen. It's really gorgeous," Justine said.
Emily smiled, pleased. "Although water's a luxury out in the desert, I think it's wrong to neglect things that make us happy. I remember my grandmother, who had her everyday china and her special china. The really pretty stuff never came out unless it was a holiday. I think she used it only a handful of times during her entire life. Had she treated herself to the fine china every day, she would have enjoyed it a lot more."
"That's not a bad philosophy, Em," Ella said.
Justine led the way to the third of the four bedrooms, the one Ella had used once before, and they set the bag of books down on the floor beneath the window. "I've turned this into a permanent guest room. At the far end of the hall is our office. We've got our computers and everything else you might think of in there. Feel free to use any or all of it, and, if you want, we can find room for the books on the shelves. There are fresh towels in the bathroom. You get blue, Emily gets green," Justine said.
One of the things that made her cousin so good at crime scene investigations was that she had an eye for details. "Thanks," Ella said and began unpacking the big suitcase she'd placed on the bed. The first thing she set out on the nightstand was Dawn's photo with Wind, her pony.
Emily picked up the photo and smiled at Ella. "She looks very confident on that horse."
"Too much so, almost cocky," Ella agreed. "Horses aren't always dependable. They can spook at the oddest things and without any warning. I worry about her, but I've got to admit, she's a natural."
"She's going to be staying with Kevin until you all move back in, right?" Justine asked.
Ella nodded. "Wind and Chieftain were already over there, away from the noise and confusion, so Dawn naturally wanted to be with them ... which sorta tells me where I fit in the scheme of things," she added with a rueful smile.
Although it was late, Justine and Ella had kept their pagers clipped onto their belts. As part of the special investigations team, they were usually on call. The department had a shortage of officers again after losing several experienced officers to other agencies. Pay, and the lure of other departments with more logistical support and better equipment, would remain an issue for the foreseeable future.
"Are you sure you only want to stay for two weeks?" Justine asked. "You're welcome to stay until all the construction's finished at your mom's place."
"I appreciate that, but Dawn's and my side of the house — the old part — isn't going to be impacted much longer. So, as soon as they finish the rest of the work, install the new heating and cooling unit, and replace part of the roof, my daughter and I will be able to move back in without any problems. Boots, our regular sitter, is attending the community college these days, so having Dawn's father watching her when Boots is in class makes it easier on everyone."
"You've sure had the babysitting aspect covered between your mom and Boots," Justine said.
"Yeah, but I've got to admit I miss the days when Mom was the only other person taking care of Dawn. Of course that's pretty selfish of me. Now that she's got her work with the Plant Watchers and a new husband, she's the happiest she's been since my father died. I can't believe it's been almost eleven years since ..."
Justine nodded, but didn't comment, and Emily smiled awkwardly.
Ella let the subject drop. She wasn't a traditionalist, but some subjects were better not discussed. It wasn't that she was worried about calling the chindi, the evil in a man that remained earthbound after death. With her, it was more a matter of not calling sadness into her life. Thoughts and words had more power than the bilagáana world, the white world, realized.
"It was a sad time but it brought you home," Justine said gently. "Now you're raising your daughter to know the land and The People."
Emily glanced at one, then the other. "You're both pretty lucky to have such a wonderful cultural heritage. People like me, who don't have a definable ethnic background, miss out on a lot."
"You may be right, but there's another side to that," Ella said, realizing how much she sounded like her brother Clifford, the hataalii, at the moment. The Navajo Way held that everything in life had two sides — like light and dark, good and evil. It was finding the balance between the two that led to harmony. "At least you didn't have pressure coming at you from two opposite directions when you were trying to find your own niche in life." Ella was about to say more when both Justine's pager and her own went off simultaneously.
"I'll get it." Ella called in, and then after a moment, hung up. "We've got to roll, partner. We've got a 10-72," she said, grabbing her jacket off the bed. Nodding to Emily, who'd already stepped back, Ella headed for the door. Justine followed.
"A road's being illegally blocked? What's the rest of the story?" Justine asked as she slipped behind the wheel of the unmarked tribal vehicle.
Ella gave her the details as they raced toward the highway. "Trouble's going down at the access road to the new power plant construction site. They were scheduled to move in heavy equipment to begin digging foundations for the main reactor building, but there's a group of diehards trying to block access to the site."
"I thought they'd called off all their protest demonstrations after their lawyers lost the legal battle. It's been pretty quiet the past few months," Justine said, not taking her eyes off the road.
"Yeah, it has been. The construction company didn't want to incite anything either, so that's why they waited until nine P.M. to move in their heavy equipment. But someone obviously tipped the group of protestors off."
"What's the sit-rep?" she asked, requesting a situation report. "Any details on what level of protest we're walking into?"
"The workers and their equipment are being blocked by numerous individuals, several pickups, and even a small trailer, according to a security guard's report to Dispatch. Apparently the protestors plan on keeping everyone out — or at least equipment and vehicles. Tempers are running short."
"Is there another way in?"
Ella shook her head. "Not unless the construction company put in another road we don't know about. I also remember from our earlier visits — before the courts threw out those restraining orders — that there's a fence on both sides. The place is pretty easy to seal off."
"Or seal in."
"That's the problem. And what the protestors haven't blocked with vehicles, they're covering with manpower. The construction crew doesn't have permission to take down the fence and try to drive around the protestors either, so they're stuck."
The small nuclear power plant, first proposed by a mostly Navajo consortium called NEED, had already cleared the years of paperwork and legal hurdles. But now that construction could finally get under way, tensions appeared to be escalating once more.
As they approached the turnoff, Ella saw that a fire had been set in the middle of the graveled road about fifty feet from the eastbound lanes of the highway. Beyond that fire, between the construction workers and their vehicles, were the protestors.
Justine pulled off the highway, emergency lights still flashing. Several construction workers moved aside, letting the SUV proceed down the shoulder of the access road past the construction vehicles to the main gate, which was closed. Beyond the gate was a small bonfire, fueled by firewood, it appeared.
"I don't see that many protestors, Justine," Ella said as they came to a stop. "And there are, what, four pickups and a homemade trailer full of firewood?"
"Not like the demonstrations when the site was first selected, that's for sure," Justine agreed. She turned off the lights and engine and they both stepped out of the unit.
Just beyond the chained and locked metal gate were four warmly dressed Navajo men holding signs whose messages she recognized from earlier incidents. PROTECT OUR HOLY PLACES, read one, and the other held big letters, NO NEED, which referred to the Navajos Opposed to the Navajo Electrical Energy Development project. Outside the gate were a half dozen workers, standing beside a loader, two dump trucks, and a big bladed Caterpillar atop its transport semi and trailer. Closest to the gate was a white pickup belonging to the construction firm, and beside it, a small Jeep that had the name of a security service on the door.
Ella immediately heard, as well as felt, the deep-throated pounding of drums somewhere up ahead. She saw two more protesters on their knees beside the fire, beating on the drums in a steady tattoo.
"Think I should take the shotgun?" Justine asked.
"No. It might just escalate things. Bring your nightstick and keep the Mace handy. This looks to be just a shadow of what we've seen before, but don't get complacent."
"You come at night like cowards," one of the protestors yelled. He was standing just out of reach, beyond the gate, moving back and forth and shouting through a bullhorn.
"That's Benjamin Harvey. He was arrested last time for disorderly conduct. He's trying to goad someone into starting a fight," Ella said quietly. "Call for backup. It'll make it easier on everyone if we can outnumber them."
Ella walked up to the heavy metal gate, her eyes alert for possible weapons among those across the fence. Standing at the edge of the glow from the fire, away from the other protesters, was a seventh Navajo in a low-billed cap aiming a camera, filming everything. She didn't recognize him as being from one of the local news services, and his camera wasn't high-end, but maybe he was freelance or working the propaganda angle for the demonstrators. When she reached the gate, he aimed the camera directly at her and Justine and continued filming, but didn't move any closer.
Ignoring him for now, Ella turned as someone from the construction company, wearing a gray company shirt, walked up to join her. The man, his name tag identified him as Stover, was a tall, light-skinned Anglo. His expression suggested he was barely restraining his temper. Ella moved back her jacket, showing him her badge, which was clipped to her belt. Her pistol was also there, holstered. "I'm Investigator Clah. My partner is Officer Goodluck."
"Sending in the big guns, huh? It's about time. We called the tribal police over a half hour ago. Security around here is a joke." He motioned with his thumb toward an overweight nineteen-year-old redhead in a brown security guard's uniform. The boy had a flashlight, a small can of pepper spray on the belt of his ill-fitting uniform, and a two-way radio in his pudgy hand. He looked more relieved than concerned at the moment.
"Bring me up to speed on what's gone down here so far," Ella said, not responding to his criticism.
"I chose this time to bring in our equipment because it would avoid traffic tie-ups on the main highway. I had also hoped to avoid any more protesters. With actual construction about to begin, I figured —"
Another tribal police unit pulled up, emergency lights on. Ella knew from the number on the patrol cruiser that it was Officer Michael Cloud, one of Herman Cloud's twin nephews. Her new stepfather was related to two of the best patrol officers in the department. Michael Cloud was an excellent officer with a cool head, just the person she wanted as backup.
As Michael got out of his unit, one of the construction workers used a pair of bolt cutters to snap the chain the protestors had used to lock the gate. The second it opened, another employee slipped through with a fire extinguisher and ran toward the fire. The drums stopped as the drummers hurried to block the way, but the man with the bolt cutters joined his ally, waving the heavy tool at the closest protestor, snapping the jaws. The workers outside the fence shouted their encouragement, and began moving toward the gate to join their more adventurous colleagues.
Excerpted from "Turquoise Girl"
Copyright © 2007 Aimée and David Thurlo.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I like the Ella Clah Series.
If you were a fan of Tony Hillerman this is as close as you will come to reading something like he would have written. These people actually lived on the Navajo reservation for several years.
Navaho Police Special Investigator Ella Clah feels down because her mother moved into her new husband¿s home while her place is being renovated and her daughter is staying with her father. She also has to live with her partner Justine and her roommate until the repairs are completed. Her professional life heats up when Ella prevents a riot from igniting as protestors try to halt construction of a nuclear plant. She notices a stranger wearing sunglasses on the site. An anonymous call leads Ella to the home of Valerie Tso, who was tortured with her body garbed in church clothing while she was ¿baptized¿ in the bathtub with a note from the bible nearby. Besides the gruesome crime scene the homicide further disturbs Ella who is not sure why until she remembers she worked a similar case while working as as an FBI agent in California. She quickly links her current case to two other women dying in a similar horrific way with their children executed. Ella finds a link involving her father¿s church years ago that also means she and her family are in jeopardy from an unknown adversary with a religious grudge. --- Aimee and David Thurlo has written some of the best contemporary Native American police procedurals on the market in recent years as readers over the course of the Clah series investigations obtain a taste of the Navaho culture while also being entertained. TURQUOISE GIRL lives up to those expectations with a strong whodunit and a look at the debate between the traditionalists and the modernization groups. Ella is at her best as her inquiries lead her moving deftly between the two opposing sectors when her case suddenly turns personal. --- Harriet Klausner