The Tale Teller - Anne Hillerman


For the past twenty minutes, Joe Leaphorn, former Navajo police lieutenant turned private investigator when the job suited him, had focused on not losing his temper. He should have stayed retired. Maybe bought a camping trailer and traveled around, taken up bridge, given golf another chance.

And it was all Louisa’s fault.

“Just drive over there and see her today,” his housemate had prodded him again during breakfast. “You’re going to the library anyway. If you don’t want to help Daisy, at least you can listen and refer her somewhere else. You still know everybody in law enforcement. From what she’s told me, this case might be interesting.”

Over the years, he’d learned that Louisa was as tenacious as a badger. It simplified his life to go along with her ideas when they were reasonable, which they usually were. So when he went to the tribal library to return the borrowed books, he made sure he brought his little notebook in case whatever Mrs. Daisy Pinto wanted to talk to him about actually led to a case worth investigating. As of now, he had spent half an hour with her standing in the large lobby between the museum and the library. For most of that time, Mrs. Pinto had been dealing with the public and hadn’t made the opportunity to discuss his potential assignment.

“Here.” She gave him a sealed envelope. “The museum complex is shorthanded today, so I need to work the information counter until the summer intern gets here. I summarized what I’d like you to do in the letter, and I want to talk to you about it, too. Stay here and we’ll chat.”

It was a busy afternoon for information seekers, and Mrs. Pinto gave them top priority. The questions were varied:

“Can you tell me how to get an appointment with Miss Navajo?”

“Ma’am, do you know who I should talk to about carrying this T-shirt I designed in the gift shop?”

“Pardon me, but can I get a job here?”

And, more than once, “Excuse me, but where is the restroom?”

Mrs. Pinto represented the Navajo Nation with respect and courtesy to these people who didn’t seem to realize they were intruding on the start of a business meeting. Leaphorn’s irritation rose as the string of distractions continued. Each interruption made him grouchier.

While she was explaining to a family of sunburned tourists how to get to Tsegi Canyon and the sandstone cliff-dwelling villages of Betatakin, Keet Seel, and Inscription House, he sat down, opened the envelope, and saw that it contained a long, singled-spaced typed letter. He put on his glasses and glanced at it, then stored the thing in his sport coat pocket. Time to go home. As soon as he had ten seconds of her attention, he would tell Mrs. Pinto that if he decided he wanted to help, she needed to schedule a meeting at a time when she could focus on him.

After the tourists headed off, Mrs. Pinto shifted her attention back to Leaphorn before he had a chance to complain. “Louisa mentioned that you do some work as a private investigator. I want to hire you to help me on a case that’s rather sensitive. The museum received some unsolicited anonymous donations. My assistant, Tiffany Benally, had been working on this, but she’s been ill and the clock is ticking. I spelled out the basics in the letter. I’m hoping you—”

A young man wearing a gimme cap backwards came through the big doors, heading straight for Mrs. Pinto, sweat glistening on his deep brown skin. “We need help outside.” Leaphorn smelled the adrenaline and fear. “There’s a lady who fainted or something. She’s by the skate park. I hope she’s not dead.”

“We have a guard who is an EMT. I’ll get him.” Mrs. Pinto rushed off.

The young man hurried back outside, and Leaphorn followed through the door into the July heat. A few youngsters standing in a circle around the body parted for them.

The Navajo woman was young by Leaphorn’s standards, thirty-something. He leaned over her supine body. Her eyes were closed, but he could see her chest rise and fall underneath her striped blouse. Her russet skin shone with sweat, her mouth slack. She was thin. She didn’t smell of beer, and he didn’t see any bleeding or obvious physical damage. He spoke to her. “Ma’am? Ma’am? Help is coming.” Her eyelids fluttered but stayed closed. A blue cord, a lanyard like those people use for ID cards, hung loosely against her neck. The end, where there might be