Authors: David Thurlo
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To Sergio and Lourdes Rodriguez for their friendship and unflagging support. Friends like you two come once in a lifetime. And to Poupée, who watches from a better place.
Special Investigator Ella Clah of the Navajo Tribal Police ignored the chill of the early April night breeze. Her heart felt too heavy for minor concerns like the vagaries of the weather. She missed her daughter Dawn with all her soul and the circumstances responsible for their separation would not be changing for weeks.
Years ago, the prospect of moving in with two other women—both police officers—would have seemed perfect. No one would complain about the crazy hours or the dreadful toll taken by the pressures of a law enforcement career. But those days were gone. Now, living away from Dawn, her eight-year-old daughter, made her throat tighten up and her chest feel constricted.
Dawn had chosen to stay with her
father until the renovations on their home were completed. All in all, it was a very practical arrangement, but she still worried. It was part of being a mom. With luck, the next few weeks would fly by.
There had been a lot of changes in her life this past year. Rose, her mother, was now married to Herman Cloud. Rather than move into Herman’s home, the new couple had decided to build an addition
to Rose’s home so their extended family could stay together. It made sense, but the more they tried to keep things the same, the more pronounced the changes seemed to become for all of them.
At least the situation at work was stable at the moment and there were no planned shifts in personnel. Ella’s partner and second cousin, Justine Goodluck, would remain here where she was needed most.
young, petite officer loved her work as a crime scene investigator and detective as much as Ella did hers. There had been a time when she’d been tempted to join another agency, one that could give her the opportunity to work crime scene investigations exclusively—and with the kind of budget she could only dream about here in Shiprock. Yet, despite the temptations, Justine had remained loyal to the
tribe and had stayed on the Rez.
Like Ella herself, many Navajos left the reservation at one point or another, curious to see what life was like outside their borders. Yet the land between the sacred mountains never stopped calling its children. The simple truth of the matter was that this was home—the one place where a Navajo never had to explain what it meant to walk in beauty.
Justine called as she half dragged and half pulled Ella’s duffel bag out of the SUV. “What do you have in here—adobes?”
The duffel bag, an army surplus store purchase, was nearly as large as Justine. Emily Marquez, Justine’s roommate, laughed. Emily, a San Juan county deputy who worked outside Rez borders, was tall, blonde, and had clear blue eyes. She was trim, and more important, fit. “Let
me help you with that. With my build, I have a lot more leverage.”
“Go for it.” As Justine turned it over to her, Emily’s hand and shoulder dropped abruptly. She barely managed to keep it from falling to the ground. “Ugh, Justine’s right! You stealing cinder blocks from your mom’s construction site?”
“Okay, let’s double-team this one,” Ella said, laughing as she grabbed hold of one of the handgrips
and Emily took the other. The light from the front porch made crossing the flagstone walk a lot easier for them. It was late in the evening, and they’d kept the entrance closed to keep out the cool air. The last frost of the season was still a week or two away. “I’ve got half a library in there. I’ve been trying to read up on something.”
“Near-death experiences?” Justine asked on a hunch, jogging
ahead to open the door for them.
“Mostly,” Ella answered as they manhandled the bag into the house. She’d been in a serious accident a few years ago, had died, clinically, and been revived. Her experiences in the world after this one continued to fill her mind with questions even after all this time. It wasn’t a subject she liked discussing with anyone, but Justine was Christian and, unlike more
traditional Navajos, her cuz didn’t consider it dangerous to talk about death.
Before Emily and Justine could ask her more, Ella switched the conversation. “I’m really glad I was able to get you guys together as roommates. Things have worked out pretty good for you these past, what, two years?”
“That’s about right,” Emily answered with a nod, “and it has been great. I’ve got a little greenhouse
in the back. When you take a break, go in and take a look around. With the days lengthening again, everything is coming into bloom.”
“She’s got orchids and gardenias, and some other tropical flowers I’ve never seen. It’s really gorgeous,” Justine said.
Emily smiled, pleased. “Although water’s a luxury out in the desert, I think it’s wrong to neglect things that make us happy. I remember my grandmother,
who had her everyday china and her
china. The really pretty stuff never came out unless it was a holiday. I think she used it only a handful of times during her entire life. Had she treated herself to the fine china every day, she would have enjoyed it a lot more.”
“That’s not a bad philosophy, Em,” Ella said.
Justine led the way to the third of the four bedrooms, the one Ella had used
once before, and they set the bag of books down on the floor beneath the window. “I’ve turned this into a permanent guest room. At the far end of the hall is our office. We’ve got our computers and everything else you might think of in there. Feel free to use any or all of it, and, if you want, we can find room for the books on the shelves. There are fresh towels in the bathroom. You get blue,
Emily gets green,” Justine said.
One of the things that made her cousin so good at crime scene investigations was that she had an eye for details. “Thanks,” Ella said and began unpacking the big suitcase she’d placed on the bed. The first thing she set out on the nightstand was Dawn’s photo with Wind, her pony.
Emily picked up the photo and smiled at Ella. “She looks very confident on that horse.”
“Too much so, almost cocky,” Ella agreed. “Horses aren’t always dependable. They can spook at the oddest things and without any warning. I worry about her, but I’ve got to admit, she’s a natural.”
“She’s going to be staying with Kevin until you all move back in, right?” Justine asked.
Ella nodded. “Wind and Chieftain were already over there, away from the noise and confusion, so Dawn naturally
wanted to be with them…which sorta tells me where I fit in the scheme of things,” she added with a rueful smile.
Although it was late, Justine and Ella had kept their pagers clipped onto their belts. As part of the special investigations team, they were usually on call. The department had a shortage of officers again after losing several experienced officers to other agencies. Pay, and the lure
of other departments with more logistical support and better equipment, would remain an issue for the foreseeable future.
“Are you sure you only want to stay for two weeks?” Justine asked. “You’re welcome to stay until all the construction’s finished at your mom’s place.”
“I appreciate that, but Dawn’s and my side of the house—the old part—isn’t going to be impacted much longer. So, as soon
as they finish the rest of the work, install the new heating and cooling unit, and replace part of the roof, my daughter and I will be able to move back in without any problems. Boots, our regular sitter, is attending the community college these days, so having Dawn’s father watching her when Boots is in class makes it easier on everyone.”
“You’ve sure had the babysitting aspect covered between
your mom and Boots,” Justine said.
“Yeah, but I’ve got to admit I miss the days when Mom was the only other person taking care of Dawn. Of course that’s pretty selfish of me. Now that she’s got her work with the Plant Watchers
a new husband, she’s the happiest she’s been since my father died. I can’t believe it’s been almost eleven years since…”
Justine nodded, but didn’t comment, and Emily
Ella let the subject drop. She wasn’t a traditionalist, but some subjects were better not discussed. It wasn’t that she was worried about calling the
the evil in a man that remained earthbound after death. With her, it was more a matter of not calling sadness into her life. Thoughts and words had more power than the
world, the white world, realized.
a sad time but it brought you home,” Justine said gently. “Now you’re raising your daughter to know the land and The People.”
Emily glanced at one, then the other. “You’re both pretty lucky to have such a wonderful cultural heritage. People like me, who don’t have a definable ethnic background, miss out on a lot.”
“You may be right, but there’s another side to that,” Ella said, realizing how
much she sounded like her brother Clifford, the
at the moment. The Navajo Way held that everything in life had two sides—like light and dark, good and evil. It was finding the balance between the two that led to harmony. “At least you didn’t have pressure coming at you from two opposite directions when you were trying to find your own niche in life.” Ella was about to say more when both
Justine’s pager and her own went off simultaneously.
“I’ll get it.” Ella called in, and then after a moment, hung up. “We’ve got to roll, partner. We’ve got a 10-72,” she said, grabbing her jacket off the bed. Nodding to Emily, who’d already stepped back, Ella headed for the door. Justine followed.
“A road’s being illegally blocked? What’s the rest of the story?” Justine asked as she slipped
behind the wheel of the unmarked tribal vehicle.
Ella gave her the details as they raced toward the highway. “Trouble’s going down at the access road to the new power plant construction site. They were scheduled to move in heavy equipment to begin digging foundations for the main reactor building, but there’s a group of diehards trying to block access to the site.”
“I thought they’d called off
all their protest demonstrations after their lawyers lost the legal battle. It’s been pretty quiet the past few months,” Justine said, not taking her eyes off the road.
“Yeah, it has been. The construction company didn’t want to incite anything either, so that’s why they waited until nine
. to move in their heavy equipment. But someone obviously tipped the group of protestors off.”
the sit-rep?” she asked, requesting a situation report. “Any details on what level of protest we’re walking into?”
“The workers and their equipment are being blocked by numerous individuals, several pickups, and even a small trailer, according to a security guard’s report to Dispatch. Apparently the protestors plan on keeping everyone out—or at least equipment and vehicles. Tempers are running
“Is there another way in?”
Ella shook her head. “Not unless the construction company put in another road we don’t know about. I also remember from our earlier visits—before the courts threw out those restraining orders—that there’s a fence on both sides. The place is pretty easy to seal off.”
“Or seal in.”
“That’s the problem. And what the protestors haven’t blocked with vehicles,
they’re covering with manpower. The construction crew doesn’t have permission to take down the fence and try to drive around the protestors either, so they’re stuck.”
The small nuclear power plant, first proposed by a mostly Navajo consortium called NEED, had already cleared the years of paperwork and legal hurdles. But now that construction could finally get under way, tensions appeared to be
escalating once more.
As they approached the turnoff, Ella saw that a fire had been set in the middle of the graveled road about fifty feet from the eastbound lanes of the highway. Beyond that fire, between the construction workers and their vehicles, were the protestors.
Justine pulled off the highway, emergency lights still flashing. Several construction workers moved aside, letting the SUV
proceed down the shoulder of the access road past the construction vehicles to the main gate, which was closed. Beyond the gate was a small bonfire, fueled by firewood, it appeared.
“I don’t see that many protestors, Justine,” Ella said as they came to a stop. “And there are, what, four pickups and a homemade trailer full of firewood?”
“Not like the demonstrations when the site was first selected,
that’s for sure,” Justine agreed. She turned off the lights and engine and they both stepped out of the unit.
Just beyond the chained and locked metal gate were four warmly dressed Navajo men holding signs whose messages she recognized from earlier incidents.
PROTECT OUR HOLY PLACES
, read one, and the other held big letters,
, which referred to the Navajos Opposed to the Navajo Electrical
Energy Development project. Outside the gate were a half dozen workers, standing beside a loader, two dump trucks, and a big bladed Caterpillar atop its transport semi and trailer. Closest to the gate was a white pickup belonging to the construction firm, and beside it, a small Jeep that had the name of a security service on the door.
Ella immediately heard, as well as felt, the deep-throated
pounding of drums somewhere up ahead. She saw two more protesters on their knees beside the fire, beating on the drums in a steady tattoo.
“Think I should take the shotgun?” Justine asked.
“No. It might just escalate things. Bring your nightstick and keep the Mace handy. This looks to be just a shadow of what we’ve seen before, but don’t get complacent.”
“You come at night like cowards,” one
of the protestors yelled. He was standing just out of reach, beyond the gate, moving back and forth and shouting through a bullhorn.
“That’s Benjamin Harvey. He was arrested last time for disorderly conduct. He’s trying to goad someone into starting a fight,” Ella said quietly. “Call for backup. It’ll make it easier on everyone if we can outnumber them.”
Ella walked up to the heavy metal gate,
her eyes alert for possible weapons among those across the fence. Standing at the edge of the glow from the fire, away from the other protesters, was a seventh Navajo in a low-billed cap aiming a camera, filming everything. She didn’t recognize him as being from one of the local news services, and his camera wasn’t high-end, but maybe he was freelance or working the propaganda angle for the demonstrators.
When she reached the gate, he aimed the camera directly at her and Justine and continued filming, but didn’t move any closer.