Authors: Aimée Thurlo
Also by Aimée & David Thurlo
Ella Clah Novels
Plant Them Deep
Lee Nez Novels
Sister Agatha Novels
Thief in Retreat
for a Miracle
The Bad Samaritan
AN ELLA CLAH NOVEL
AIMÉE & DAVID THURLO
A Tom Doherty Associates Book
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2009 by Aimée and David Thurlo
All rights reserved.
A Forge Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Earthway : an Ella Clah novel / Aimée Thurlo and David
“A Tom Doherty Associates book.”
1. Clah, Ella (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Police—New Mexico—Fiction. 3. Navajo Indians—Fiction. 4. New Mexico—Fiction.
I. Thurlo, David. II. Title.
First Edition: November 2009
Printed in the United States of America
0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To Jan E.,
who was with us from the very beginning
With special thanks to Detective Ryan Tafoya of the BCSD Violent Crimes Unit for all his help and patience answering our questions.
The Earthway: Sing that counteracts bad dreams involving the land.
oday was one of those days when “Indian Time” just wasn’t good enough. Special Investigator Ella Clah of the Navajo Tribal Police checked her watch for the second time in five minutes. One way or another, she wasn’t going to be late. Reverend Bilford Tome, “Ford” to his friends, was giving a special talk at the Navajo Community College this afternoon and Ella
had promised to be there.
She glanced at the file folders and forms stacked in five piles on top of her desk. Not much had happened lately that involved her Special Investigations Unit. Perhaps because of it, she had an incredible amount of paperwork to catch up on—a bureaucratic snoozefest that she’d ordinarily brush aside for more important work.
Although she might have normally welcomed some
slow moments like these, nothing was normal about her life right now. Her eleven-year-old daughter, Dawn, was spending the last of her summer vacation with her dad, Kevin, in Washington, D.C., and Ella missed her terribly. Her mother, Rose, active with Plant Watchers committees, was almost always gone until evening and Herman Cloud, Rose’s husband, was spending more and more time watching TV in
the new addition they’d built onto the house they all shared. He still made those beautiful piñon lamps once in a while, in the garage, but lately he’d slowed down a lot.
Their normally active home seemed uncomfortably quiet these days, particularly after suppertime. It was then that Ella felt Dawn’s absence the most. During those hours, the only sound disturbing the silence would come from Two,
the old family mutt, who’d be on his rug in the kitchen, snoring away.
Spending time with Ford—the Navajo minister at the Good Shepherd Church—had become her way of staying sane. All too often during quiet moments, memories of past cases haunted her. Police work always took its toll. Like most seasoned officers, Ella lived with a darkness in her soul—the cost of dealing with criminals day in
and day out—that touched all other aspects of her life.
When Dawn left town, as she did from time to time to be with her father, Ella could visualize dangers that would be unknown to most moms outside the PD. That ever-present dread tempted Ella to fight hard to keep Dawn close to her, but overprotecting her daughter was wrong and Ella knew it. Dawn deserved freedom as well as the right to try
out her own wings.
After a quick drive down the streets of downtown Shiprock, Ella arrived at the visitors’ lot of the community college—a mixture of hogan-style structures and more conventional modern buildings. There were few trees on campus, most of them small, drought-resistant Navajo willows that granted welcome circles of shade. The campus had been xeriscaped with various tints of gravel,
rocks, and native plants selected for the desert climate. Lawns were for water-rich regions, Ella knew, not the Navajo Nation, where farmers and ranchers struggled against nature for every drop of irrigation water.
Following the narrow, reddish orange-tinted sidewalk,
she strode quickly toward Edmond Hall, a boxy, modern building where the lecture would be held. Ella enjoyed reading the faces
of the students she passed, each with unique agendas and goals. Unlike high school, nobody came here except by choice, and that positive viewpoint often led to success. These young people, and some of them not-so-young, were the future of the
They’d bring hope and skills to the tribe through education and training.
Ella’s pace quickened naturally when three young women rushed past her,
probably on their way to a class. The darkhaired students were carrying book bags, and two were discussing an upcoming test. The third, lagging behind a few steps, was distracted with her cell phone, chattering away in Navajo, her voice light and happy.
The community college vibrated with life, and that kind of enthusiasm was contagious. For a moment, remembering the freedom of thought and action
of her own college days, Ella wished she were back in school.
As she stepped into the foyer of the cinder block-walled building, a stand-alone structure that had once been an office, Ella glanced at the clock on the wall—three-fifty. Ford wasn’t scheduled to speak for another ten minutes. The realization that she’d actually arrived early surprised her. Talk about standing “Indian time” on its
The lecture hall was filled to capacity—at least a hundred people. Ella spotted Ford at the front, by the podium, getting things ready.
He smiled and motioned for her to join him. “You’re either early, or I’m running way behind schedule,” he said only half-joking.
“Believe it or not, I’m actually early. Can I help with anything?”
“Thanks, but I’m almost ready.” He gestured toward the
green chalkboard, which held a brief outline of his presentation, all written in his neat, precise handwriting.
“Professor Begay is supposed to be joining us shortly to make the introduction. Now where did I put my notes?” He looked back toward the instructor’s desk, several feet away and closer to the chalkboard.
Ella spotted a nylon book bag on the lectern’s shelf. “Maybe they’re still in
“My what?” Following her gaze, he shook his head. “That’s not mine. I’m an old school nerd, I carry a leather briefcase. There it is, on the chair,” he added, gesturing with his chin.
“So who does the book bag belong to, then?” she asked.
“I have no idea,” he answered, getting his notes. “Maybe one of the instructors found it after the last class and put it there for safekeeping.”
Ella looked at a clear plastic storage container on the floor against the wall by the door. It was labeled “Lost and Found” and inside was a textbook. “Or maybe not,” she muttered.
Glancing back at the black-and-red nylon bag, Ella felt a prickling at the base of her spine. As a detective, she’d never liked the unexplained—things that didn’t belong or were out of place. Even if it turned out
to be nothing more than books some student or professor had left behind that hadn’t been placed in the lost and found bin, she felt compelled to take a look . . . just to make sure.
Ella brought out the bag carefully by one of its shoulder straps. It felt heavy, yet the contents rolled—not what one would expect from books. She was undoubtedly being overly cautious, yet her skin was prickling
and the badger fetish she always wore around her neck felt uncomfortably warm—an almost sure sign of trouble.
Careful not to jiggle the bag, she pulled it closer and lifted the flap, held down by self-sticking fabric. A paperback dictionary was at the top, resting on some kind of round contraption.
Ella raised the dictionary slightly, and immediately recognized the device below it. Nails were
duct taped to the outside of an eight-inch piece of galvanized steel pipe. One end had a metal cap, and at the other was a taped piece of green circuit board, wires, and what looked like a battery. The rest of the bomb was hidden beneath the tape. Ella remained as still as possible, not even daring to set down the dictionary she’d lifted to see inside. If it touched the wrong thing—