July at the Shiprock flea market meant hot, even when you came early. Bernie watched Mama stroll from vendor to vendor, examining the merchandise as carefully as if she were actually going to buy something. Two years ago here, Mama had bought the big pot she used for stew after the old one cracked. That was her most recent purchase, but that didn't mean she couldn't look. Mama loved this Saturday ritual.
Bernie had volunteered to make dessert that evening if Chee cooked dinner. She had found what she needed half an hour ago: sweet local peaches, the largest perhaps the size of a tennis ball. They were ripe, soft, and ready to put into a piecrust once she cut out the bird pecks. But Mama enjoyed chatting with the sellers, hearing about their families. Bernie noted with happiness that Mama felt so much stronger and also with a tinge of frustration. She held the fruit in a recycled plastic bag from Bashas' and felt the sweat on her face as the Saturday morning grew warmer. She daydreamed about being someplace cool, like the shady bottom of Canyon de Chelly.
"Daughter. Daughter!" Mama stood next to a man with his gray hair in braids and a red bandana around his forehead. "This is Mr. Natachi. He used to help me find the right sheep for the colors when I was weaving. His sister is our neighbor."
Bernie moved closer to the pair. The old man smiled at her. "I met you when you were a girl."
"Oh, yes. I remember." He had been Mama's neighbor, too, until about ten years ago when he moved away to live with a daughter. "It makes me happy to see you again, sir. They say you live in Chinle now. I was just thinking about Canyon de Chelly."
"My granddaughter works for senior services there. I help her when I can. She says an old man is a good thing to keep around until I start giving her too much advice." He chuckled. "Now her boyfriend has left her, so she and I drove down here for a while." He grew more serious. "Your mother tells me you are a police officer."
"Well then, you see this bolo?" He raised his hand to his throat and touched the turquoise stone set in silver on the braided black leather cord finished with sterling tips. "Someone came into my house last month and made off with it." Mr. Natachi filled in the details, unfolding the story of how his bolo tie disappeared with the unhurried pace of a person watching the morning turn to afternoon. "This is a good day. I found my tie just now at a booth over there, the one with the man in the straw hat."
Bernie knew that wasn't the end of the story. She felt a line of sweat move down her neck and between her shoulder blades.
"I told the man it was mine, that my uncle made it for me forty years ago. I told him someone took it from my bedroom. He wanted to argue, but I explained it would have the jeweler's mark, a 'Y' with a line at the bottom. I showed him the mark on the back, and then I asked him why he stole it. He said he didn't steal it. He said he bought it from a man outside the Walmart in Gallup and that he didn't know it was stolen." Mr. Natachi paused. "I asked him who was that man? What did he look like?" When Mr. Natachi shrugged his shoulders, his braids moved. "The guy in the hat didn't want to talk to me anymore. He told me to take my bolo. I think he was ashamed."
"Where is the booth that had it?"
"Down the next row in the middle, over by the lady selling sage and medicine."
"What did the man look like?" Bernie knew "man in a straw hat" would not work as a defining description for a player in an operation fencing stolen property.
"Oh, he's young, about your age. Not too fat. About as tall as me. The man had a round face." Mr. Natachi rubbed his chin. "Like a guy from Zuni or Hopi or somewhere like that."
She placed the seller's height around six feet, age as early thirties. Possibly a Pueblo Indian. "What was he wearing besides the hat?"
"Jeans, a red T-shirt with cigarettes in the front pocket, sneakers." Mr. Natachi tapped the middle finger on his left hand. "A big ring here. It looked like Sleeping Beauty turquoise."
Bernie knew that flea markets could be places where people came to sell stolen property. She'd seen reports of a rash of break-ins in the Chinle area. If a thief wanted to dispose of hot items, moving away from the neighborhood where they had been stolen made sense. "I want to talk to this man."
"He was over that way," Mr. Natachi pointed with his lips. "Next to the woman with the sage smudge sticks."
"I'll take you," Mama said. "I know right where that is."
Mr. Natachi shook his head. "That man is gone. I scared him away. He's probably in Farmington by now. Or just set up along the road somewhere." He put his hand up to his neck. "I am happy to have it."
"Please wait here, Mama. I'll be right back." Bernie trotted off in the direction Mr. Natachi indicated and found the herb lady and, next to her, an empty vending space. She talked to the woman and to the vendors on either side, and they confirmed that their flea market neighbor had packed up quickly. One said she thought his name was Eric; the other vendor referred to him as Steven.
This excerpt ends on page 21 of the hardcover edition.