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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  • First Published:
    Nov 2004, 241 pages
    Jan 2006, 368 pages

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That produced no comment.

"You see how that works," Leaphorn said. "And that's what drew that Bradford Chandler fellow into the case. The skip tracer. He may have been purely after money, but his job was blocking Craig from getting what she was after. That's what sent him down into the canyon. And Cowboy Dashee was down there doing family duty. For Chee, the pull was friendship. And -- " Leaphorn stopped, sentence unfinished.

Pinto chuckled. "Go on, Joe," he said. "How about Bernie Manuelito? What pulled little Bernie into it?"

"It was fun for Bernie," Leaphorn said. "Or love."

"You know," said Largo. "I can't get over our little Bernie. I mean, how she managed to get herself out of that mess without getting killed. And another thing that's hard to figure is how you managed to butt in. You're supposed to be retired."

"Pinto gets the blame for that," Leaphorn said. "Telling me old Shorty McGinnis had died. See? That's another of the chain I was talking about."

"I was just doing you a favor, Joe," Pinto said. "I knew you were getting bored with retirement. Just wanted to give you an excuse to try your hand at detecting again."

"Saved your budget some travel money, too," Leaphorn said, grinning. He was remembering that day, remembering how totally out-it-all he'd felt, how happy he'd been driving north in search of the McGinnis diamond -- which he'd never thought had actually existed. Now he was thinking about how a disaster buried under a lifetime of dust had risen again and the divergent emotions it had stirred. Greed, obviously, and hatred, plus family duty, a debt owed to a friend. And perhaps, in Bernie Manuelito's case, even love.

Captain Pinto pushed back his chair, got up.

"Stick around," Leaphorn said. "I want to tell you how this all came out with Bernie and Jim Chee."

"Going to get some doughnuts," Pinto said. "I’ll be right back. I want to hear that."

Chapter Two

As Leaphorn remembered it, the August day he’d been pulled into the Skeleton Man affair had been a total downer moodwise. He’d never felt more absolutely retired in the years he’d been practicing it. The young man across the desk from him, Captain Samuel Pinto, had interrupted jotting something into a notebook when Leaphorn tapped at his door. He’d glanced up with that irritated look interruptions produce, gestured Leaphorn into a chair, put aside the notebook, fished through a stack of folders, pulled two out, and looked at them.

"Ah, yes," said Captain Pinto, "here we are."

Just a few minutes earlier Leaphorn had been hit with the day’s first reminder of how unimportant retirees become. At the reception desk below he’d stood, hat in hand, until the young woman in charge looked up from sorting something. He informed her that Captain Pinto was expecting him. She punched a number into the switchboard and glanced up.

"Do you have an appointment?"

Leaphorn had nodded.

She peered at her desk calendar, looked up again at the once-legendary lieutenant, and said, "And you are . . . ?"

A knife-to-the-heart question when delivered in a building where one has worked most of one’s adult life, given orders, hired people, and become modestly famous for a mile or two in every direction.

"Joe Leaphorn," Leaphorn said, and saw the name drew not a glimmer of recognition. "I used to work here," he added, but the young lady was already back on the telephone. "Long time ago, I guess," talking to himself.

"The captain said to send you up," she said, and waved him toward the stairway.

Now, in the office marked Special Investigations, where Leaphorn used to keep his stuff and do his worrying, Captain Pinto motioned him to a chair.

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

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