Today's Reading

He realized that he had turned off his cell phone for the conversation with Mrs. Pinto. Even though he was well enough to drive again, Louisa worried if he was out longer than she'd expected. He turned it on to call her and discovered two messages— neither from her. The first was Mrs. Pinto informing him that the information person had called in sick. She'd have to mind the desk until the replacement showed up, she said, but he should come anyway. He erased it, wishing he had listened sooner and saved himself a frustrating morning.

The second was from Jake, a therapist he had been working with to improve his spoken English. He fast-forwarded to the end and deleted it.

He sat at the kitchen table and re-opened the envelope from Mrs. Pinto. It contained three pieces of white paper: a typed letter and two copies of a contract. He read the letter first.

'Dear Joe Leaphorn,

Thank you for considering this case. As the director of the Navajo Nation Museum, I have two problems I would like your help in solving. The museum recently received an anonymous box with some donations. The reason I am requesting your assistance is that the most valuable item on the list that came with the donations either was not included or has disappeared. Because of the sensitive nature of this problem, I prefer not to tell you any more until you have agreed to offer your assistance as a consultant investigator.

If you will help, I have copies of the paperwork we received with the donation shipment.

Before we contacted you, my assistant worked to track down the sender without success.

If you agree to work with me, my assignments for you are:

Find out if the missing item was in fact included in the shipment.

If it was not included, we would very much like to obtain it, which involves making contact with this secret donor.

My assistant has also called to my attention that the donor's inventory listed a bracelet, necklace, and earring set. Only the necklace and earrings seem to have been included. If you could track down the bracelet, your help will be appreciated, but it is not as important as the first missing piece.'

The letter went on to detail Leaphorn's reimbursement for time and expenses and the fact that Mrs. Pinto needed the matter resolved before she started her retirement next month. He was thankful that the brain injury had not affected his comprehension of English.

Leaphorn put the letter down, glanced at the enclosed contract, and stood. He had left about a cup of coffee in the pot from that morning. He lifted his mug off the drain rack, poured in the cold liquid, and placed it in the microwave. Louisa said reheated coffee smelled like burning leaves. He didn't mind it, and he had learned long ago not to waste anything.

He pondered Mrs. Pinto's request as he waited for the coffee to warm. What could the missing item be? Perhaps something associated with a ceremony, he thought, something that the collector shouldn't have had in the first place. The fact that the items arrived anonymously also raised the question of their legitimacy. Had they been removed illegally from Indian land? Perhaps they were all stolen merchandise.

He hadn't heard the cat return to the kitchen, but he noticed it looking up at him now, joining him to wait for the ding that indicated the little oven had done its work.

Mrs. Pinto, he thought, had some shrewdness to her. She'd given him just enough information to prompt him to call and set up an appointment to learn more. How had the box been shipped? Why was the gift a secret?

The microwave beeped, and he carried the warm cup to the table. He took a sip of coffee, put on his glasses, and read the letter again. He thought about the questions Mrs. Pinto raised and came up with three plausible possibilities: the missing items, as she stated, were never included; the items were stolen en route to the museum; or the items were removed from the shipment after it arrived.

He jotted a note to ask her if she herself had opened the box. And if Mrs. Pinto hadn't opened it, who had?

If the anonymous package had come through the mail, he had a friend who was a postal inspector who might be of help. He made another note. Leaphorn smiled to himself. Mrs. Pinto's tactic had worked. The case seemed interesting enough to warrant his time.

When he left the police department and decided to do a little freelance investigation for private clients, Leaphorn had told himself that he wouldn't accept cases that didn't challenge him or that required dealing with difficult people. He'd dealt with enough misfits as a cop. From what he'd seen, Mrs. Pinto was smart, organized, and demanding, but he remembered her concern for the young woman in the parking lot. He would talk to her again, this time in a focused setting, and if he thought they could work together, he'd take the case.


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