Leaphorn imagined Eleanor Friedman-Bernal hurrying through the sauerbraten process, getting all those things now shriveled and spoiled lined up on the refrigerator shelves so that fixing dinner for Lehman could be quickly done. But she hadn't come back to fix that dinner. Why not? Had she gone to see Harrison Houk about a pot? Leaphorn found himself remembering the first, and only, time he'd encountered the man. Years ago. He'd been what? Officer Leaphorn working out of the Kayenta substation, obliquely involved in helping the FBI with the manhunt across San Juan.
The Houk killings, they had called them. Leaphorn, who forgot little, remembered the names. Delia Houk, the mother. Elmore Houk, the brother. Dessie Houk, the sister. Brigham Houk, the killer. Harrison Houk, the father. Harrison Houk had been the survivor. The mourner. Leaphorn remembered him standing on the porch of a stone house, listening intently while the sheriff talked, remembered him climbing up from the river, staggering with fatigue, when it was no longer light enough to search along the bank for Brigham Houk. Or, almost certainly even then, Brigham Houk's drowned body.
..."By God," [Houk] said. "I don't remember your name, but you're the Navajo policeman who found my boy's hat." Houk stopped. "Yes I do. It was Leaphorn."
It was Leaphorn's turn for surprise. Almost twenty years since he'd been involved in the hunt for Houk's boy. He had talked to Houk only two or three times, and only briefly. Giving him the wet blue felt hat, soggy with San Juan River water. Standing beside him under the alcove in the cliff that tense moment when the state police captain decided they had Brigham Houk cornered. And finally, on this very porch when it was all over and no hope remained, listening to the man examine his conscience, finding in his own flaws the blame for his boy's murderous rage. Three meeting, and a long, long time ago.
EXT. DUMONT HOUSE - DAY
Joe walks down the elegant driveway, uncharacteristically lost in thought.
TWENTY YEARS EARLIER:
EXT. HOUK HOUSE - COURTYARD - DAY
The sign above the gate says "Houk Land & Cattle".
The pink stone of the prosperous old Mormon ranch house gleams with pride. But, in contrast, the surrounding scene is a tragic one of a triple homicide. Joe Leaphorn, twenty years younger, is the only Navajo among bunches of cops milling around the colonnaded porch. On the porch, Harrison Houk sobs fiercely as he guards the dead bodies of his wife and two small children. As Leaphorn, with a group of other police, set out to find the killer, Houk yells out at them:
Please don't kill my boy...He's not well...schizophrenic!
Leaphorn turns as he passes the porch and locks eyes with Houk.
My boy's all I got left!
BACK TO PRESENT:
INT/EXT. LEAPHORN'S CAR (MOVING)
Joe has been driving for miles through the desert. He glances at his hand on the steering wheel. There is a big scar between his thumb and forefinger. He frowns, remembering.
EXT. SAN JUAN RIVER - DAY
The police have made their way upriver and reached a canyon. Leaphorn sees a PATROL OFFICER ordering his men to prepare to shoot.
We got ya cornered, Brigham. Come out quiet or we're coming for you.
Leaphorn pushes past the Officer.
Watch your ass, Tonto, he's a stone killer.
But Leaphorn keeps going. As he makes his way up river, Leaphorn hears gunfire from behind, cuts his hand as he ducks into the brush, stands up yelling back:
Hold your damn fire!
He sees something...hears something... A hat comes floating down the river. Leaphorn gets the hat. He looks up, very troubled.
EXT. HOUK HOUSE - COURTYARD - DAY
Harrison Houk stands still guarding his dead bodies.
(out of his mind with grief)
He's just a wild animal! He didn't mean it!
A still wet Joe Leaphorn pushes his way past the angry eyes of the Patrol Officer and his men.
(producing sweat-stained soaked cowboy hat from inside his jacket)
Found this in the river, sir. He must be dead.
Houk clasps the hat to him.
Oh God, he went to Jesus in the river. He couldn't swim.
Houk is led away sobbing. The Patrol Officer glares at Leaphorn.
Leaphorn pushes past him, his face anguished.
CUT FORWARD TO:
EXT. LAVENDER FIELD - DAY
Troubled again, Leaphorn drives his truck on a rutted driveway, neglect evident by a growth of tumbleweeds.
He goes through the rusty old iron gate and, as he gets out to close it, he glances over to the front of the shabby square-cut-stone Mormon farm house, rabbit fence sagging, garden a tangle of dry country weeds, porch pillars peeling, and even the old barn sagging nearby. Then he looks in the direction of the river and the leafy tamarisks waving beside it. Leaphorn, walking up Houk's driveway, changes his troubled expression to a smile as he approaches Harrison Houk, aged far more than twenty years, coming out of his house to greet him.