The custodian appeared nervous. He fingered the hat he was holding with both hands while shifting his weight from one foot to the other. It was a well-known belief among Navajos that bad luck would follow anyone who found a dead man, especially a bilagaana, a white. Afterwards, he thought he had been cursed with “ghost sickness” and went to a medicine man for a cure. “Mr. Whitlock’s evil spirit wants to take me,” Joe had lamented.
“Sit down Joe, Relax.” Knowing that the way to turn a Navajo off was to ask a lot of questions, she started with friendly conversation. When he appeared more relaxed, Emily casually asked, “By the way, Joe, you remember seeing anyone else go in or out of Mr. Whitlock’s room that afternoon, someone you might have forgotten to mention earlier?”
He started shaking his head before she finished the question. “No. The first time I started to clean, Albert George was still there, so I left.”
“What was going on?”
“Mr. Whitlock yelling and banging his cane on the desk like he always does, Albert standing there, taking it, not saying anything.”
A few minutes later Emily asked,” When you came back and found Mr. Whitlock, did you see a black wallet, Joe?”
The big Navajo shook his head, looked at the floor, and fidgeted even more with his hat. “You know it’s bad luck to touch a dead man’s stuff, Emily.”
“Yes, I know.” Emily felt pretty sure Joe Curley wouldn’t kill anyone, but he might take a wallet or the cash out of it, despite his fears of ghosts. Joe was always broke because he gave everything away. After a few more questions she thanked him, and said to give her regards to his family. Then, “One more thing, Joe. If you find that black wallet, you’ll let me know, right?”
“Sure, Emily,” the custodian stammered, and ducked out the door.
Evie Martinez, vivacious, gregarious, and gossipy, the complete opposite of Joe Curly, didn’t wait for any niceties or even questions, just started talking the moment she wiggled in the door. “That man, I’m sorry to say it, Emily, but he had it coming.” Evie was Hispanic, married to a half-Navajo, and knew everyone. She made a quick sign of the cross, and continued. “May God forgive me, but he was evil.”
“Evie, tell me about the argument you had with Mr. Whitlock.”
“Oh, I’ve had so many.” She swished her red-tinted hair.
“The last one, the day he died.”
“Well, it was just before the final bell and the kids were getting ready to go. Mr. Whitlock started banging on the wall with that cane of his. When I went over there to see what was going on, he was nearly blue in the face from yelling at poor Albert George. Then, he turned on me. Told me to mind my own business—get out of his room.” Evie sat down and leaned over the desk toward Emily. “He was crazy, couldn’t stand anyone who didn’t follow his rules—no talking, no laughing, no enjoying life. Know what I mean? So, I just let him know what I thought of him.”
Emily appeared noncommittal, though she knew exactly what Evie meant. “You said you and Mr. Whitlock argued often.”
“Oh yes, every day there was something. I wasn’t about to let that old know-it-all tell me how to do my job. But, Emily, I didn’t kill him. I admit there were a few times I wanted to—it would have served him right, but I didn’t.”
Evie left, and while Emily waited for her final interview, she thought about the deceased. Mr. Whitlock lived by himself in Farmington. He had never married, and the neighbors couldn’t remember ever seeing visitors come to his house. He was an old curmudgeon, wasting away his life in bitterness and scorn. Still, why kill him now, after all this time. Something must have pushed someone over the edge.
Evie left without closing the door, and Emily watched as gangly Albert George slouched into the office. She beckoned for him to come in, and he slid into a chair without looking her way.