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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Chapter One

Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, retired, had been explaining how the complicated happening below the Salt Woman Shrine illustrated his Navajo belief in universal connections. The cause leads to inevitable effect. The entire cosmos being an infinitely complicated machine all working together. His companions, taking their mid-morning coffee break at the Navajo Inn, didn't interrupt him. But they didn't seem impressed.

"I'll admit the half-century gap between the day all those people were killed here and Billy Tuve trying to pawn that diamond for twenty dollars is a problem," Leaphorn said. "But when you really think about it, trace it all back, you see how one thing kept leading to another. The chain's there."

Captain Pinto, who now occupied Joe Leaphorn's preretirement office in the Navajo Tribal Police Headquarters, put down his cup. He signaled a refill to the waitress who was listening to this conversation, and waited a polite moment for Leaphorn to explain this if he wished. Leaphorn had nothing to add. He just nodded, sort of agreeing with himself.

"Come on, Joe," Pinto said. "I know how that theory works and I buy it. Hard, hot wind blowing gets the birds tired of flying. One too many birds lands on a limb. Limb breaks off, falls into a stream, diverts water flow, undercuts the stream bank, causes a landslide, blocks the stream, floods the valley, changes the flora and that changes the fauna, and the folks who were living off of hunting the deer have to migrate. When you think back you could blame it all on that wind."

Pinto stopped, got polite, attentive silence from his fellow coffee drinkers, and decided to add a footnote.

"However, you have to do a lot of complicated thinking to work in that Joanna Craig woman. Coming all the way out from New York just because a brain-damaged Hopi tries to pawn a valuable diamond for twenty bucks."

Captain Largo, who had driven down from his Shiprock office to attend a conference on the drunk-driving problem, entered the discussion. "Trouble is, Joe, the time gap is just too big to make you a good case. You say it started when the young man with the camera on the United Airlines plane was sort of like the last bird on Pinto's fictional tree limb, so to speak. He mentioned to the stewardess he'd like to get some shots down into the Grand Canyon when they were flying over it. Isn't that the theory? The stewardess mentions that to the pilot, and so he does a little turn out of the cloud they're flying through, and cuts right through the TWA airplane. That was June 30, 1956. All right. I'll buy that much of it. Passenger asks a favor, pilot grants it. Boom. Everybody dead. End of incident. Then this spring, about five decades later, this Hopi fella, Billy Tuve, shows up in a Gallup pawnshop and tries to pawn a twenty-thousand-dollar diamond for twenty bucks. That touches off another series of events, sort of a whole different business. I say it's not just another chapter, it's like a whole new book. Hell, Tuve hadn't even been born yet when that collision happened. Right? And neither had the Craig woman."

"Right," said Pinto. "You have a huge gap in that cause-and-effect chain, Joe. And we're just guessing the kid with the camera asked the pilot to turn. Nobody knows why the pilot did that."

Leaphorn sighed. "You're thinking about the gap you see in one single connecting chain. I'm thinking of a bunch of different chains which all seem to get drawn together."

Largo looked skeptical, shook his head, grinned at Leaphorn. "If you had one of your famous maps here, could you chart that out for us?"

"It would look like a spiderweb," Pinto said.

Leaphorn ignored that. "Take Joanna Craig's role in this. The fact she wasn't born yet is part of the connection. The crash killed her daddy. From what Craig said, that caused her mama to become a bitter woman and that caused Craig to be bitter, too. Jim Chee told me she wasn't really after those damned diamonds when she came to the canyon. She just wanted to find them so she could get revenge."

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

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