Hillerman, Tony - [Leaphorn & Chee 13]

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butte. He was in three or four weeks back to
get some stuff and telling me another skinwalker story. I think it's a kind of
hobby of his. Collects them. Thinks they're funny."
    "Who's he get 'em from?" Leaphorn asked. It was a rare Navajo
who'd pass along a skinwalker report to anyone he didn't know pretty well.
    McGinnis obviously knew exactly what Leaphorn was thinking.
    "Oh, he's been coming out here for years. Long enough to speak good
Navajo. Comes and goes. Hires local folks to collect rodent information for
him. Friendly guy."
    "And he told you a fresh skinwalker story? Something that happened out
near Yells Back?"
    "I don't know how fresh it was," McGinnis said. "He said Old
Man Saltman told him about seeing a skinwalker standing by a bunch of boulders
at the bottom of the butte a little bit after sundown, and then disappearing
behind them, and when he came out he turned into an owl and went flopping away
like he had a broken wing."
    "Turned from what into an owl?"
    McGinnis looked surprised by the question. "Why, from a man. You know
how it goes. Hosteen Saltman said the owl kept flopping around as if he wanted
to be followed."
    "Yeah," Leaphorn said. "And he didn't follow, of course.
That's how the story usually goes."
    McGinnis laughed. "I remember about the first or second time I saw you,
I asked if you believed in skin-walkers, and you said you just believed in
people who believed in 'em, and all the trouble that caused. Is that still the
case?"
    "Pretty much," Leaphorn said.
    "Well then, let me tell you one I'll bet you haven't heard before.
There's an old woman who comes in here after shearing time every spring to sell
me three or four sacks of wool. Sometimes they call her Grandma Charlie, I
think it is, but I believe her name is Old Lady Notah. She was in here just
yesterday telling me about seeing a skinwalker."
    McGinnis raised his glass in a toast to Leaphorn. "Now listen to this
one. She said she was out looking after a bunch of goats she has over by Black
Mesa—right on the edge of the Hopi Reservation—and she notices somebody down
the slope messing around with something on the ground. Like hunting for
something. Anyway, this fella disappears behind the junipers for a minute or
two and then emerges, and now he's different. Now he's bigger, and all white
with a big round head, and when he turned her way, his whole face
flashed."
    "Flashed?"
    "She said like the flash thing on her daughter's little camera."
    "What did the man look like when he quit being a witch?"
    "She didn't stick around to see," McGinnis said. "But wait a
minute. You ain't heard all of it yet. She said when this skinwalker turned
around he looked like he had an elephant's trunk coming out of his back. Now
how about that?"
    "You're right," Leaphorn said. "That's a new one."
    "And come to think of it, you can add that one to your Yells Back Butte
stories. That's about where Old Lady Notah has her grazing lease."
    "Well, now," Leaphorn said, "I think I might want to talk to
her about that. I'd like to hear some more details."
    "Me, too," McGinnis said, and laughed. "She said the
skinwalker looked like a snowman."

Chapter Seven
    Contents - Prev / Next
    THEY'D AGREED TO MEET FOR BREAKFAST, early because Janet had to drive south
to Phoenix and Chee had to go about as far north to Tuba City. "Let's make
it seven on the dot, and not by Navajo time," Janet had said.
    There he was, a little before seven, waiting for her at a table in the hotel
coffee shop, thinking about the night he'd walked into her apartment in Gallup.
He'd been carrying flowers, a videotape of a traditional Navajo wedding and the
notion that she could explain away the way she had used him, and—
    He didn't want to think about that. Not now and not ever. What could change
that she'd gotten information from him and tipped off the law professor, the
man she'd told Chee she hated?
    Before he'd finally slept, he decided he would simply ask her if they were
still engaged.

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