Saturday, February 12, 2011

THE MUSIC BOX (An Excerpt)

Navajo policeman Ben Toomey was out of his element and knee-deep in something worse than Window Rock's usual chaos. Wealthy Eden Trevoy, the little visitor he'd once adored, was back on the reservation, all grown-up—and tangled in secrets about her lost heritage. She needed Ben's help, and somehow he just couldn't turn her away.

But Ben's People said the outsider would never fit into his world, and Eden had her own doubts about her newfound heritage. Yet as Eden learned more about where she came from, she discovered where she truly belonged…with Ben.

Excerpt: © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

IT took him the better part of a day to find the way into the arroyo. He had only been there once, when he was a boy, and while the terrain hadn't changed all that much, he had. All those years ago, he had navigated the narrow slit between the great rocks easily, but now he could barely fit himself into the small crevice that led to the place where he thought Edna Trevoy would be. He was reasonably certain that he had finally found the actual entrance, but the daylight was rapidly fading, and he decided that the path was too treacherous to attempt alone in the dark. He tried calling out to her, knowing that if she had indeed gone to the ledge and the wall where the spiral petroglyphs were, the sound of his voice would likely never penetrate the rocky overhang.

In spite of his sense of urgency, there was nothing to do but wait for somebody to catch up with him. As it was, he would have a lot of explaining to do. The entire time he'd been looking for this place, he had gone over and over in his mind how he would justify his being out here to the lieutenant. He had decided that he would say first that he'd gone on alone because he hadn't wanted to waste any more time. He would say that the whole situation was crazy, that he hadn't seen Professor Trevoy in years. He would say that there had to be some serious reason why she would tell people she was going to this almost inaccessible place in the big canyon and that the only other person who knew the way in was Navajo tribal police officer, Ben Toomey. She'd apparently been very specific about that part, leaving her colleagues to think that he had gone with her.

They'd been so certain that, when she didn't return after two days, they'd called the tribal police to find out if said officer had given anyone a specific itinerary.

He had been happily minding his own business when the call came in—no, actually, he'd been minding the business of a beautiful clerk-typist named Angelina, who had just been assigned to the station to help catch up on a records backlog. At first, he had been amused by the obvious mistake concerning his whereabouts. Here he was standing around drinking coffee and being relentlessly witty and cute for the new personnel, and these people thought he was off on some kind of expedition with an archaeo-astronomy professor his father had worked for when Toomey was a boy. Very funny.

Except that the professor wasn't a practical joke kind of woman, and after a moment or two, he remembered that. She was precise, exacting and no-nonsense. Her long interest in the Anasazi ruins had been in the Old Ones' use of astronomy and their possible observatories, rather than their trash heaps and potsherds. She had wanted to know how they marked time and the summer and winter solstices. He'd once seen her uncover the mathematical precision of a ruined building by the positions of its seemingly random tiny windows. He'd seen her locate nearly the exact center of a ruin simply by snapping her fingers and listening to the echoes. She had that kind of mind, the kind that wouldn't do anything so out of character as to pointedly mention a certain Navajo police officer and then disappear.

Crazy, he thought again.

He walked back to the police utility vehicle to call in to the dispatcher. He had made a point of giving his position as exactly as he could all along the way. It was the only thing he could think of that might temper Lieutenant Singer's anticipated aggravation with him. Regardless of the fact that he was the logical person to come out here, Toomey hadn't waited to be officially assigned. He had taken matters into his own hands, because Lucas Singer had been out of the building and unavailable when the call came in. It was not a wise decision for anyone as far down in the pecking order as Toomey was. And the lieutenant wouldn't cut him any slack, because Toomey had been entirely too helpful in getting Captain Johnny Becenti—whose job it was to tell both of them what to do—married to Lucas's sister, Lillian. It was Toomey's understanding—now—that Becenti and Lucas Singer had barely tolerated each other for years—which explained why Lucas was still somewhat less than thrilled with the marriage and the junior officer who had done his part to bring it about.

Toomey sighed. Well, perhaps he hadn't done all that much. Mostly, he'd just kept his mouth shut about what he knew and when he knew it. It was almost impossible not to tell anyone—a couple as unlikely and mismatched as Becenti and Lucas's too-good-for-the-rez lawyer sister was big news. In fact, the People were still talking about it. But Toomey had managed to stay silent, even under the onslaught of questions from longtime tribal police dispatcher and resident busybody, Mary Skeets. And he had learned a thing or two in the process. How to stand up under Mary Skeets's intense interrogation, for one thing, and how totally unpredictable male-female relationships could be, for another. It didn't seem to matter how indifferent and unreceptive a man thought he was to becoming involved with a particular woman. If she was the right woman, she could still turn him completely around. The problem was whether or not the man could survive the turning.

Toomey sighed again. He had decided all the things he would tell the lieutenant about his one-man quest to locate Edna Trevoy, but there was one thing he wouldn't tell him. He wouldn't say how uneasy all this business with Dr. Trevoy had made him. He was still uneasy, out of harmony, caught knee-deep in something that was not in keeping with the usual chaos of his life and something that he didn't begin to understand. He didn't like surprises, and he was increasingly certain he was about to get one.

He waited what seemed a long time for the dispatcher to respond. He kept hoping that he hadn't gotten into one of those ever-changing pockets of interference that wreaked havoc with radio communications on the rez.

The dispatcher—Mary Skeets—finally answered him. The professor was still lost, she said—unless he had found her. Her tone of voice suggested that his current situation would be much improved if he had.

"No, Mary," he said. "I think I've located the entrance into the arroyo, but I can't be absolutely sure in the dark. I'm going to wait until the others get here before I go in. Does the lieutenant want to talk to me?"

"Oh, yeah," she assured him, and it was clear to him that he might as well accept the fact that he was always going to be in trouble with Lucas Singer. And it wasn't that Toomey did it deliberately—well, today he had done it deliberately, but there were mitigating circumstances.

"Okay," he said. "Put him on."

"My information is that the lieutenant is on his way out to where you are," Mary advised him, and he closed his eyes and cringed. Being lectured via the radio and having half the tribal police force hear it was one thing. Facing Lucas Singer in person was something else again.

"Okay," he said again, because there was a chance Lucas was hearing the transmission even now—but he didn't mean it. He signed off and got out of the utility vehicle, looking back down the dirt track in the direction he had come for headlights. He didn't see anything yet.

What if this isn't the way in?

The thought presented itself with great authority and led to a host of other notions that were equally unsettling. What if the lieutenant couldn't find him. What if the lieutenant did find him? He had no idea which would be worse. What if he'd gone off by himself like this, dragged Lucas Singer all the way out here, and it wasn't the right place? If so, he was pretty sure he could kiss town life goodbye. The lieutenant would have him shipped off to some tribal police outpost so fast he wouldn't know what hit him. It would be months before he'd be able to have any kind of social life again. No flirting with Angelina around the coffeepot, no hope of taking her out dancing, no nothing.

He checked his flashlight to make sure it was still working, then walked back to the slit in the rocks. If Edna Trevoy had gone in there, then why? It was true that the two of them were likely the only people who knew that the wall with the petroglyphs existed; she'd called it her "ace in the hole" and sworn him to secrecy. He had happened upon it when his father was working as a guide and gofer for her. Young Ben Toomey had been allowed to come along on this particular trek because he was interested in the search for ruined watchtowers and faded glyphs and because he knew how to stay out of the way and not cause trouble—a trait he earnestly wished had followed him into his adulthood. Even so, he had been a boy with time on his hands that day, and he had gone into the slit between the huge rocks simply because it was there and he could. He had realized immediately that there was more to the place than first met the eye. He had kept going, following the narrow, winding path, knowing instinctively that he was perhaps the first human to do so in nearly a thousand years.

He finally came out at the big overhang with the decorated rock wall beneath it. The pictograph was clearly visible. Four spirals and a handprint. And some kind of mark above them he couldn't recognize. The professor was particularly interested in spirals, and he knew she would be interested in this. It had taken some doing to tell her about it, because she had been more than a little annoyed by his abrupt disappearance.

Eventually, she had listened long enough to understand that he had found something for her, and she had let him lead her in. Incredibly, she had wept at the sight of it. She kept moving from glyph to glyph, wiping her eyes on her shirtsleeve, so overcome with emotion that she would have actually placed her hand exactly on the ancient handprint if he hadn't stopped her. He had believed in the evil that came from the dead then, and he'd tried to protect her from it, surprising himself and her with his audacity. But she had seemed…touched, he supposed ...


Liz Flaherty said...

I'm anxious to get The Music Box, but wanted to tell you...I went into a new used book store near here yesterday and was wandering around. Found one of yours from--I think--1988. Crime of the Heart? I had never read it, and I'm having a really good time!

Cheryl said...

I'm glad, Liz. I hope it "holds up." I don't think I've read it since I did the galleys. Come to think of it, aside from the historicals, COTH is probably my only out-of-print book not likely to suffer from the dearth of cell phones.

Liz Flaherty said...

Oh, I hear you on that one. It seems to be holding up. I like reading about the Amish, although I'm learning they have as many differences between communities as we do.