Death Walker (Ella Clah Novels)

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9780312856519: Death Walker (Ella Clah Novels)

Former FBI agent Ella Clah, now a Special Investigator with the tribal police on the Navajo Reservation, is astonished when one of the Navajo's "living treasures"--people who hold and teach the culture and religious wisdom of the tribe--is murdered. Ella has barely begun to investigate when two more old wise ones are found dead. Is the work of Navajo witches--or something else?

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About the Author:

Aimée and David Thurlo have been married for more than thirty years and have been writing novels together for nearly that long, in a variety of genres including romance, young adult, and mystery. They have three ongoing mystery series, the Sister Agatha series, starring a cloistered nun, the Lee Nez series, featuring a Navajo vampire who teams up with a female FBI agent to fight crimes that have elements of the supernatural, and their flagship series, the critically-acclaimed Ella Clah novels. Several Ella Clah novels, including Tracking Bear, Red Mesa, and Shooting Chant, have received starred reviews from Booklist.

David Thurlo was raised on the Navajo Indian Reservation and later taught school in Shiprock, also on the Rez. Aimée, a native of Havana, Cuba, has lived in New Mexico for more than thirty years. The Thurlos share their home with dogs, horses, and various pet rodents. They have written more than fifty novels which have been published in more than twenty countries.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE
 
 
Special Investigator Ella Clah stood in the doorway to her living room, nibbling on a slice of honeydew melon from her brother's garden. It was still early in the morning, but her mother was already helping Valerie Yazzie finish the velveteen wedding outfit Valerie's daughter would wear on her wedding day in less than a week.
Ella's mother looked up and smiled at her. Rose Destea was, like her daughter, taller than most Navajo women, and only a dozen or so pounds heavier than Ella. "Take a break from all that paperwork you brought from the police department and have a decent breakfast. That's not the way to start a morning you're supposed to have off."
Ella shrugged. "There's a lot of work to get done. We've had some major changes in the department. Our new police chief wants things done his way. He's determined to recapture the faith people had in us once."
Valerie Yazzie shook her head. The middle-aged Navajo woman wore a perpetual frown that had, through the years, become ingrained in her features. "There were so many we trusted we shouldn't have. It's hard to forget how they betrayed the tribe."
"But the department is clean now, and Big Ed Atcitty is going to make sure it stays that way. He's an excellent leader, and tough, but fair." Ella bit off another piece of the juicy melon and swallowed. "We're just having to do a lot of work fast to put the changes he wants into effect."
"What you find difficult, daughter, is doing things someone else's way," Rose said with a smile. "You've always had definite opinions on how things should be handled."
Ella smiled grudgingly. "Well, I suppose that's true."
Rose turned her attention back to the hem she was pinning. "This is going to be such a lovely wedding dress!"
"You'll be making one for your own daughter before too long," Valerie commented mischievously, nodding toward Ella. "She will want to trade in her gun belt for a cradle board sooner or later."
Ella choked on the piece of melon and reached to the kitchen counter for a napkin. "Don't count on it."
Rose sighed and looked at Valerie. "See how she is? I've just about given up hope." She paused, then with a tiny smile added, "but not quite."
As the telephone rang and interrupted them, Ella gave the phone company a mental high-five. She'd been literally saved by the bell. "I'll take that."
"You might as well," Rose muttered. "It's probably for you. They won't leave you alone, even on your morning off. I never get any calls in my own home anymore."
Ella chose not to comment. It was an old argument. Her mother couldn't understand her dedication to police work and the incredible sense of purpose it gave her. In truth, she found it difficult to explain to anyone. Only another cop could understand that addiction to the incredible highs and lows of the work; the need to restore order to a world that resisted at every turn. Ella walked down the hall to her room, closed the door, and answered the phone.
"Hold for Police Chief Atcitty, please," said the crisp voice of Big Ed's secretary.
Ella sat on the edge of her bed, waiting. More than eight months had passed since she'd resigned from the FBI and moved back to the Rez to stay with her widowed mother. She gazed around her room, lost in memories. Most of what was around her was less than a year old. The fire, months back, had spared the house but ruined everything she'd left behind from her youth. All traces of the girl she'd once been were gone now, and she had more than a decade's worth of new memories and new mementos to replace them. She stared pensively at her framed FBI diploma and gilded marksmanship trophies on the shelf. Last in line was a recent photo showing her being sworn in as a tribal police officer.
Ella was hard pressed to say which of her career achievements filled her with the most un-Navajo-like pride, but she was definitely proud of her new job. It had been created especially for her, here on the Navajo Rez, and it required her own special skills. She was special investigator for the Navajo Police, and answered only to Big Ed. The job gave her the autonomy she'd dreamed of throughout her career, though on the downside, the paperwork load was pretty incredible.
"Shorty, you there?" a familiar gravelly voice asked.
"Yes, Big Ed. What's going down?" Ella was getting used to the nickname Big Ed had given her, although she stood a head taller than her boss and most other Navajo men as well.
Big Ed had been given his nickname because he was shaped like a barrel with arms. Stories around the station claimed Big Ed had never been knocked off his feet by a perp. She believed them.
"I need you to drive over to what we've always called Red Flint Pass, though it's getting yet another name now. Maybe you know it as Washington Pass. A college history class was supposed to meet there. Seems someone murdered Kee Dodge out there before his students arrived."
"Kee Dodge, the historian?"
"Yeah. His students showed up this morning for class and, from what I hear, stumbled upon the body. Get over there and take up the case. I'd like a preliminary report before lunch. I've called the M.E. She'll meet you there along with our crime-scene team. We have a patrol officer in the area already. He'll give you whatever backup you need."
"I'm out the door, Big Ed."
Ella reached for her gun belt and adjusted the pancake holster so that it lay flat against her waist. Beneath a jacket, her weapon barely showed, and that was great for plainclothes work. Fitting her .22 backup pistol inside her custom-made boot strap, she strode out of her room.
"I have to be going now. I'm not sure when I'll be back," Ella called out to her mother, waving to Valerie as she passed through the living room.
"So, what else is new?" Rose said with a sigh. "Just be careful."
"Always."
Ella went to her navy blue unmarked Jeep. It was the perfect vehicle for the kind of rough terrain that comprised most of the Navajo nation. She took the map from the glove compartment and checked the route. It would be a fifty-minute ride at posted speeds, but she could knock a good ten minutes off that in a hurry. She opted for the hurry, knowing that a fresh crime scene would yield the most information.
The drive south on Highway 666 was almost a straight line, but once she turned west at Sheep Springs, Ella had to slow down a bit. Soon the road turned to gravel, and her Jeep left a long, serpentine dust trail as it climbed the mountain road.
When Ella arrived, several vehicles were already parked on both sides of the road. Jimmy Frank, a young but experienced patrolman, was questioning one student. Her gaze then shifted to the half-dozen young adults some distance away, silently awaiting their turn to be questioned. They were dressed casually in jeans, like college students anywhere. Jimmy was going with established procedures, not letting the words of one witness shape another's.
She studied the officer for a moment. Jimmy was in his early thirties, yet he looked so different from the way he had at sixteen, except for the slight belly that pushed against his shirt, hinting at what would come with middle age.
As Ella approached the crime scene, she noted the body was facedown next to the driver's side of a pickup parked about fifteen feet off the road. The students and patrolman were staying as far away from it as possible, although Officer Frank had positioned himself facing the scene so he could ask relevant questions while keeping the crime scene under observation. Logic and cultural beliefs were destined to continue clashing inside them for another generation at least. Ella knew that she would not be the last to have to try and live in two overlapping worlds. Even among the new generation of Navajos, fear of the chindi remained, though most would outwardly deny it.
Ella nodded to Jimmy, who continued his interview, keeping the witnesses away from the scene. Walking in a slow, inward spiral around the pickup, Ella studied the ground around the crime scene, making a visual search for evidence. Carefully selecting where she stepped, she finally arrived at the body. There were no recognizable tracks here on the hard ground so close to the road.
As Ella got her first close-up look at the corpse, bile rose to the back of her throat. Blood had begun to cake the gravelly earth beneath the head and neck of the body. The victim's skull had been bludgeoned, and the soft, pulpy matter from within the wound mingled with sharp pieces of bone, giving it the appearance of carelessly ground beef.
Ella forced herself to gulp several deep lungfuls of air, grateful that her sense of smell was the least stimulated by what she saw. She crouched next to the body, forcing herself to think clearly and calmly, relying on her training and the memory that this was not the worst corpse she'd ever seen. Kee lay chest down. From what she could see, he'd been strangled with leather shoelaces, probably after being hit on the head with some kind of tool or club. From the look of the head wound, the strangling had probably been a waste of time.
Although Dodge's back was to her, his face was turned to the right. She noted that his right eye was being held open by an object that had been imbedded in it. It was a piece of something hard and white, discolored at the entry point by blood and aqueous fluid. She leaned closer, trying to figure out what it was, suppressing a shudder.
Ella stared at the object, moving to within a foot of the face. Though she heard the gasp that came from the students who had turned to watch her, she never looked up. Her gaze was fastened on the object she was now certain was a piece of bone. That was a trademark of skinwalkers, yet something didn't feel right about this. Bone ammunition was their signature, true, but this was too garish. It was almost too flagrant a warning sign.
Relying instinctively on her training to make sense of what she was seeing, Ella mentally categorized the crime as "staged." The killer had spent time trying to leave an obvious impression in the mind of the investiga...

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