Excerpt from Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Skeleton Man

By Tony Hillerman

Skeleton Man
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2004,
    241 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2006,
    368 pages.

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"I hear Sergeant Chee is finally getting married," Pinto said, without looking up from the paperwork.

"What’da you think of that?"

"High time," Leaphorn said. "She’s a good girl, Bernie. I think she’ll make Chee grow up."

"So we hope," Pinto said, and handed the two folders to Leaphorn. "Take a look at these, Joe. Tell me what you think. Top one’s the FBI file on that robbery-homicide down at Zuni. Bunch of jewelry taken and the store operator shot, remember that one? Few days later a Hopi, a fellow named Billy Tuve, tried to pawn an unset diamond at Gallup. He wanted twenty dollars. Manager saw it was worth thousands. He asked Tuve to stick around while he got an appraisal. Called the police. They took Tuve in. He said an old shaman down in the Grand Canyon gave it to him years ago. Didn’t know the shaman’s name. McKinley County Sheriff’s Office had that jewelry store robbery on its mind. They held him until they could do some checking. Some witnesses they rounded up had reported seeing a Hopi hanging around the jewelry store before the shooting. Then they got an identification on Tuve, found his fingerprints here and there in the store. So they booked him on suspicion."

With all that rattled off, Pinto peered at Leaphorn, awaiting a question. None came. The sound of a Willie Nelson song drifted up from the first floor, a song of lamentation. A piñon jay flew past the window. Beyond the glass Leaphorn saw the landscape that had been his view of the world for half his life. Leaphorn sighed. It all sounded so comfortably familiar. He started reading through the newer folder. On the second page he ran into something that stirred his interest and probably explained why Pinto had wanted to see him. But Leaphorn asked no questions. He’d leave the first questions for Pinto. As a felony committed at Zuni, thus on a federal reservation, this was officially an FBI case. But at the moment it was Pinto’s job, doing the legwork, and Leaphorn’s old office was now Pinto’s office and Leaphorn was merely a summoned visitor.

He finished his study of the new folder, put it carefully on Pinto’s desk, and picked up the old one. It was dusty, bedraggled, and very fat.

Pinto waited about five minutes until Leaphorn looked up from his reading and nodded.

"Have you noticed where this Zuni homicide maybe crosses the path of an old burglary case of yours?" Pinto asked. "It’s a very cold case out at Short Mountain. You remember it?"

"Sure," Leaphorn said. "But what brought that one out of the icebox?"

"Maybe it’s not actually out," Pinto said. "We just wanted to ask you. See if you could think of any connection between this current case here"—Pinto tapped the new folder—"and this old burglary of yours."

Leaphorn chuckled. "You’re thinking of Shorty McGinnis’s diamond?"

Pinto nodded.

Leaphorn smiled, shook his head, picked up the new file, and opened it. "I must have misread that. I thought the diamond the Hopi fella tried to pawn was valued at . . ." He turned to the second page. "Here it is: ‘Current market value of gem estimated at approximately twenty thousand dollars.’"

"That’s the figure the appraiser gave the FBI. Said it was three-point-eight carats. The fed jewelry man called it a ‘brilliant white with a memory of the sky in it’ and said it was ‘a special Ascher version of the Emerald Cut,’ whatever that means. It’s all in that report there."

Leaphorn shook his head again, still grinning. "And mention is made in that new federal file of an expensive unset diamond taken in that old burglary of the Short Mountain Trading Post. I’ll bet the FBI man who wrote that is new out here. Can you imagine an expensive diamond at the Short Mountain Trading Post? Or McGinnis actually having one?"

From Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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