DEATH AT LA OSA
A Pueblo Tribal Police Mystery Novel
Death at La Osa
A Pueblo Tribal Police Mystery
Based on the novel by Jack Matthews
Copyright 2019 by Jack Matthews
Contact: James Clois Smith Jr., Sunstone Press (505) 988-4418
LOGLINE: In northern New Mexico, a Pueblo tribal policeman investigates the murder of an unidentified man on the reservation who is wearing a rare turquoise belt buckle which leads to a prehistoric mine, the killer, and a romantic relationship with a Forest Service woman while Pueblo mysticism penetrates normality.
Two men looking for camp sites for the fall hunting season discover an outwash of turquoise stones high on the mountain. Following the outwash into the cliffside, ANDREAS SALTWATER and ROBERT DIHYJA find a prehistoric turquoise mine with rare dendrite turquoise stones, ancient mauls, chisels, and petroglyphs.
Two years pass and Tulona Puebloan BEN LOVATO rides on horseback from a ceremony at Earth Cloud Lake. He comes upon JASON TAYLOR whose pickup has become stuck in a rut. Ben helps Jason, but chastises him for being on reservation during ceremonial times. Tribal policeman RICHARD TAFOYA intercepts Jason on reservation road, detaining him at stationhouse. He lectures him sternly and lets him go.
U.S. Forest Service officer JANET RAEL is driving on unpaved forest road and comes across a horse, Buck, who has become entangled in fence wire. Janet frees Buck as LUIS ORTEGA drives up and trailers the horse away.
ARMANDO and LORETTA ORTEGA, parents of Luis, herd sheep in the mountains. New Mexico Game and Fish officers encounter Armando and Loretta, checking grazing permits. They argue about sheep chasing elk off. The Ortegas continue on to San Miguel. A neighbor runs over to the Ortegas and says a dead body has been discovered on Tulona Reservation.
Tafoya and his sergeant perform a wellness check on a father and son on the reservation. Tafoya enters the home and finds father and son sick with the flu. Tafoya advises they go to the clinic. Tafoya’s radio comm goes off with an urgent message. A body has been found on the reservation beside La Osa Road.
A Tulona warchief patrols the fence line boundary of the reservation. He finds a body intentionally positioned facing the home and long lot of SANTIAGO MAJERUS, a Navajo medicine man. Warchief calls Tulona police department. Tafoya and law enforcement converge on scene. No ID found. They call the victim, RED FEATHER BOOT MAN. Majerus walks across road to fence line, but is ordered back by troopers. Tafoya notices placement of body toward Majerus’ long lot.
Tafoya and F.B.I. go to medical examiner’s office. M.E. says victim killed elsewhere with chisel-like tool. Tafoya will take turquoise belt buckle to silversmith for evaluation. F.B.I. Special Agent DIANE PARKER is frustrated with the silversmith closed on Saturday. Three questions loom: Who is the victim? Where was he killed? Who is the murderer?
Tafoya goes to the U.S. Forest Service headquarters where the evidence room is located. Meets Janet and is smitten with her. Tafoya has caustic interchange with F.B.I. agent over buckle’s chain of custody. Tafoya goes to RODARTE, the silversmith, who identifies the buckle as a work of YAZZIE at Sheep Springs on the Navajo Reservation. In a phone call to Yazzie, he only remembers the first name of the victim: Robert.
G. ARMSTRONG COE, owner of a bookshop in Ojo Verde, receives a mysterious phone call with Native American singing and drumming while he opens up his shop. The music fades in and out, like old-time radio broadcasts. He is perplexed, but not scared.
Janet returns from a wildlife survey near Tres Piedras. Stops for coffee at café. Encounters Andreas briefly. Notices his pickup with Culebra Mine logo. He follows her back to the yellow blinking light intersection in Ojo Verde. Janet is alarmed.
At the yellow blinking light intersection, Andreas turns north toward Questa; Janet turns south toward her apartment near the reservation. She is relieved.
Puebloan Ben Lovato is anxious at the approaching birth of his first child and the health of his wife, QUAIL LOOKS AWAY. He asks Cacique BUSTAMENTE to come to his home and give a prayer to the Creator for a good outcome. Bustamente gives prayer, throws cornmeal in air that falls down like golden glitter.
Tafoya returns to scene of Robert Red Feather boot man. He carefully examines the ground and looks at nearby homes on reservation. He brings up photos of position of body toward a trailer house. He notices a man, sitting on his porch, looking at him. Majerus stands up and walks toward Tafoya.
Coe is stocking shelves in his bookshop. Andreas comes in looking for books on turquoise. He is intent, unsmiling. Picks out book by Rodarte, the silversmith in Ojo Verde. He pays in cash. Coe notices he drives away in old pickup with new tires. The Culebra Mine logo has been painted over.
Tafoya climbs through fence, recognizing Majerus. They go to the trailer house for coffee. Tafoya decides to ask questions. Is Majerus a Sleep Maker, a witch? Tafoya asks if he has enemies that may wish to do him harm because Robert Red Feather boot man was facing him. Yes, he may have an enemy that stems from his learning the Red Antway ceremony from his teacher on the Navajo Reservation. He starts to tell his story.
In a flashback, Majerus is helping his teacher, the Navajo medicine man, NIESMITH SALTWATER. Saltwater’s son confronts Majerus and ridicules Niesmith, his own father. Niesmith would not teach him the Red Antway because he was disrespectful to the horse people. He spits on Majerus’s boots, walks away. A grandson, ANDREAS SALTWATER, must carry the grudge of his father.
LION WALKS NIGHT comes into Coe’s Bookshop for books on horses and farriering. Coe receives another drumming and singing phone call. Lion recognizes music. They go to Bustamente to find source of song recording. He identifies the song and knows teenagers were pranking Coe. They apologize to Coe.
Luis drives to Pueblo to give Lion a lesson on farriering. Lion takes Luis, wearing chaps, to Ben’s house to meet DEZBA, the newborn. Quail and Ben put Dezba on Luis’s lap, so she can learn the scent of horses, leather, the world. Luis meets FLOWERS DANCING and is enchanted. Jason comes to Pueblo, sees horses, Luis, Lion, and another world of work. He is desiring an entry into Pueblo life, but it cannot be.
Tafoya goes to Forest Service headquarters to get maps and see Janet. He shows her red aspens in the mountains and says when he returns from seeing Yazzie on Navajo reservation, he wants to take her to dinner. He tells her the F.B.I. questioning of Yazzie was inadequate.
Tafoya arrives at Yazzie’s in Sheep Springs. Yazzie says his wife remembers that Robert is from the Two Rocks-Sit clan and the letters “B” and “L” are carved on the back of the turquoise, standing for Blue Lady. Tafoya finds a Two Rocks-Sit clan family in Sheep Springs to interview.
The Two-Rocks-Sit family identify Robert Dihyja as their nephew. Robert has worked at Culebra Mine Company in southern Colorado with an unknown friend. A priest in called in to console the family. Tafoya drives back at night to Tulona Pueblo.
Tafoya takes the belt buckle back to Rodarte. He levers the turquoise out of the bezel and verifies the “B” and “L” letters. Mysteriously, the numbers “915” and “893” are also carved under the letters. Rodarte says a man came into his shop to have his book signed and asked about turquoise in the La Osa Caves.
Tafoya investigates the La Osa Caves and finds the kill site of Robert Dihyja. Forensics and the F.B.I. comes in, and Agent Parker applauds his resourcefulness, desiring a full report with a powerpoint. Tafoya hates powerpoints.
Tafoya visits Culebra Mine Company, just over the border in Colorado. Manager gives him the name of Andreas Saltwater who roomed and worked with Robert Dihyja. Tafoya stops in Questa to check out last POB address. Andreas had closed POB two weeks before.
Majerus shops at mini-mart in Arroyo Hondo for groceries. Andreas Saltwater confronts him, angry and guilt-ridden. When Andreas steps toward Majerus, Majerus repels him with a power stance. Andreas retreats, leaves in pickup. Tafoya arrives too late to catch him.
A tip comes in that Andreas and Robert rented house on Old Taos Trail, south of Questa. An early-morning raid is planned.
Tafoya enters house. Andreas has fled. A cache of dendrite turquoise is uncovered behind the house.
Tafoya goes to BLM headquarters in Ojo Verde to investigate for a Blue Lady Mine claim. None is found, but a logbook indicates several months before Andreas and Robert had come in to file, but did not file because claiming fees were too expensive.
At Feast Day at Tulona Pueblo, Tafoya and police keep eyes open for Andreas. Races occur and Ben Lovato and Lion Walks Night run side by side in front of Pueblo homes. Andreas is invited for lunch inside Quail and Ben’s home. From a Pueblo rooftop, Tafoya thinks he sees Andreas, but loses him. Pole climbing takes place after lunch. A young man successfully climbs the pole. He descends and is carried around by his comrades. He has a vision. Coe is asked by a Hopi of Second Mesa, who will win, Nature or the Machine? Someone spots Andreas, but Tafoya and law enforcement fail to pick him up.
After ceremonies, Tafoya invites Janet and her BLM friend to the stationhouse for coffee. While discussing the case, Tafoya realizes the “915” and “893” represent map coordinates. They agree to meet the next day and find the map and the location of the Blue Lady Mine.
Tafoya, Janet, and the BLM officer find the proper map. Blue Lady is on Burned Mountain near Tres Piedras. Tafoya and Janet drive to the site, high up in the mountains. They walk up the cliffside and split up. Janet discovers the cave. They enter and find mining tools, turquoise, ancient mauls, a Plumed Serpent petroglyph, and a satchel of dynamite. Janet walks back to van.
Andreas is at the van. Janet converses with him. When she starts to leave, Andreas says that something is wrong with van. She gets out and inspects. Tafoya approaches and tells Andreas to hold fast. Andreas grabs Janet and pulls a pistol, making Tafoya throw his pistol to the ground.
Luis Ortega is across the road in a meadow, checking on pasture for sheep grazing. The horse, Buck, and Zeke the border collie are with Luis. With binoculars, he sees trouble. He arms himself and rides across to the trouble. Buck, who recognizes the danger to Janet, gallops over Andreas who scrambles up to the mine. Tafoya, Janet, and Luis follow. At the mine, Andreas is cornered, admitting the murder. He loses his mind, puts two pieces of turquoise in his mouth, and blows the mine up, the cliffside collapsing.
The F.B.I. and officials come in. Tafoya and Janet leave. He promises a powerpoint, but will probably not compose one. Tafoya says to Janet as they drive back to Ojo Verde, “Today, like your ancestors before you, you were brave in the face of your enemies!” A Mescalero saying.