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The Federal Witness Protection Program sends a convicted felon into the Navajo Big Reservation without notifying Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, and a wave of murder follows
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Tony Hillerman (1925–2008), an Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident since 1963, was the author of 29 books, including the popular 18-book mystery series featuring Navajo police officers Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, two non-series novels, two children’s books, and nonfiction works. He had received every major honor for mystery fiction; awards ranging from the Navajo Tribal Council's commendation to France 's esteemed Grand prix de litterature policiere. Western Writers of America honored him with the Wister Award for Lifetime achievement in 2008. He served as president of the prestigious Mystery Writers of America, and was honored with that group’s Edgar Award and as one of mystery fiction’s Grand Masters. In 2001, his memoir, Seldom Disappointed, won both the Anthony and Agatha Awards for best nonfiction.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Hosteen Joseph Joe remembered it like this.
He'd noticed the green car just as he came out of the Shiprock Economy Wash-O-Mat. The red light of sundown reflected from its windshield. Above the line of yellow cottonwoods along the San Juan River the shape of Shiprock was blueblack and ragged against the glow. The car looked brand new and it was rolling slowly across the gravel, the driver leaning out the window just a little. The driver had yelled at Joseph Joe.
"Hey!" he'd yelled. "Come here a minute."
Joseph Joe remembered that very clearly. The driver looked like a Navajo, but yelling at him like that was not a Navajo thing to do because Joseph Joe was eighty-one years old, and the people around Shiprock and up in the Chuska Mountains called him Hosteen, which means "old man" and is a term of great respect.
Joseph Joe had put his laundry sack into the back of his daughter's pickup truck and walked over to the car. He noticed its plates weren't yellow, like New Mexico's, or white, like Arizona's. They were blue.
"I'm looking for a man named Gorman," the driver had said. "Leroy Gorman. A Navajo. Moved here little while ago."
"I don't know him," Joseph Joe had said. He had said it in Navajo, because when he got close he saw he had been right. The man was a Navajo. But the driver just frowned at him.
"You speak English?" the driver asked.
"I don't know Leroy Gorman." Hosteen Joe said it in English this time.
"He's been around here several weeks," the driver said. "Young fellow. Little older than me. Medium-sized. Hell, small as this place is, I'd think you'd have seen him."
"I don't know him," Joseph Joe repeated, "I don't live in this town. I live at my daughter's place. Out there near the Shiprock." Joseph Joe had gestured toward the Arizona border and the old volcano core outlined by the sunset. "Don't live in here with all these people," he explained.
"I'll bet you've seen him," the driver said. He took out his billfold and fished a photograph out of it. "This is him," the driver said and handed the photograph to Hosteen Joe.
Joseph Joe looked at it carefully, as courtesy demanded. It was a Polaroid photograph, like the ones his granddaughter took. There was something written on the back of it, and an address. The front was a picture of a man standing by the door of a house trailer, which was partly shaded by a cottonwood tree. Hosteen Joe took off his glasses and wiped them off carefully on his sleeve and looked a long time at the young man's face. He didn't recognize him, and that's what he said when he handed the driver his photograph. After that, he didn't remember the rest of it quite as clearly because just then it all began to happen.
The driver was saying something to him about the trailer, maybe about Gorman living in it or trying to sell it or something, and then there was the sound of a car braking on the highway, tires squealing a little, and the car backing up and whipping around and driving into the Wash-O-Mat parking lot. This car was new too. A Ford sedan.
It stopped just in front of the driver's car. A man wearing a plaid coat got out of it and walked toward them and then stopped suddenly, apparently noticing Joseph Joe for the first time. Plaid Coat said something to the driver. As Joseph Joe remembered, it was "Hello, Albert," but the driver didn't say anything. Then Plaid Coat said, "You forgot to do what you were told. You've got to come along with me. You're not supposed to be here." Or something like that. And then he had looked at Joseph Joe and said, "We've got business, old man. You go away now."
Hosteen Joe had turned then and walked back toward his daughter's truck. Behind him he heard the sound of a car door opening. Then closing. A yell. The sharp clap of a pistol shot. And then another shot, and another, and another. When he turned he saw Plaid Coat on the gravel and the driver holding himself up by clinging to the door of his car. Then the driver got in and drove away. When the car got to the asphalt, it turned toward the river and toward the junction, which would either take it west toward Teec Nos Pos or south toward Gallup.
People were running out of the Wash-O-Mat by then, yelling questions. But Hosteen Joe just looked at Plaid Coat, sprawled on his side on the gravel with a pistol on the ground beside him and blood running out his mouth. Then he got into his daughter's truck.
The driver was Navajo, but this was white man's business.
"Funny how a premonition works," the deputy said. "I been in this business almost thirty years, and I never had one before."
Jim Chee said nothing. He was trying to recreate precisely and exactly the moment when he had known everything was going wrong with Mary Landon. He didn't want to think about the deputy's premonitions. He'd said something to Mary about his house trailer being too small for both of them, and she'd said, "Hey, wait a minute, Jim Chee, what have you done about that application with the FBI?" and he'd told her that he'd decided not to mail it. And Mary had just sat there in the Crownpoint Café, not looking at him or saying anything, and finally she'd sighed and shook her head and said, "Why should you be any different from everybody else?" and laughed a laugh with absolutely no humor in it.
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