“Mary, listen. The way the owl hunts, he sits in a piñon and he hoots. He can’t see the rabbits, and they can’t see him. And that’s the problem for the rabbits. He hoots. And he waits a little to let them think about it, and he hoots again. And the rabbits think. And one of them will think too much. He thinks the owl is getting closer and closer. He thinks the owl has found him. So he makes a run for it, and the owl has her meal for the night.”
Mary moved his hand from her leg. “Okay, wise guy,” she whispered. “I get your point.”
I could picture Petra’s face, the self-mocking pout she puts on when she knows she’s being a brat. The trouble was, of course, I would come to her rescue. And she was banking on that. Growing up the way I did, my mother dying when I was in high school, my father forced to turn the house and meals over to me, I felt as though I’d been born old. I was tired of my own knee-jerk reaction. You’re in trouble? Say no more. V.I., the grumpy cousin, will bail you out! I wished I knew how to turn off that particular switch. I wondered for a moment if my whole detective practice was built on my private history of being an adolescent caretaker.
The bouncer was inspecting people’s bags and backpacks before letting them in. That was the only sign that something unusual had happened. No one protested—we’re all inured these days to being searched. Pretty soon, we’ll have to get undressed before we walk into our apartment buildings at night, and we’ll probably submit to that without a murmur.
The chair in which Jim Chee sat was covered with a stiff green plastic. He felt the chill of it through his uniform shirt. The house was the “summer hogan” of the Kinlicheenies. There was no heating stove in it. In a while, when the high country frost arrived full force, the family would shift its belongings into the old earth-and-stone “winter hogan” and abandon this poorly insulated structure to the cold. Until then, the problem of the chilly margin between the seasons was solved by wearing more layers of clothing. Fannie Kinlicheenie looked about eight layers deep. Chee wished he had worn his jacket in from the patrol car.
Seen in profile, his face was ageless. But his eyes had spent more than forty years looking at drunks, at knife fighters, at victims, at what happened when pickup trucks hit culverts at eighty. They were old eyes.
The third door down the hall bore the legend LAWRENCE SENA, SHERIFF. VALENCIA COUNTY. WALK IN. The capitalized LAW, Chee had heard, represented Sena’s effort to replace “Gordo” with a less insulting nickname. It hadn’t worked.
“Don’t think a man don’t care about one goat because he’s got a thousand of ’em,” Hosteen Nakai would say. “He’s got a thousand because he cares more about goats than he cares about his relatives.” In other words, don’t expect the rich to be generous.