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An American MYSTERY! Special
Skinwalkers Coyote Waits A Thief of Time Navajoland Discussion
Cast and CrewNovel to FilmStory SynopsisHillerman Challenge
Novel to Film

 Compare and contrast scenes the film as directed by Chris Eyre, Alice Arlen's screenplay adaptation, and Tony Hillerman's novel. How has the story changed in the translation?

To view the film clips you will need either QuickTime or RealPlayer
   Leaphorn's Memory
Novel | Script | Film
   Slick Nakai's Revival
Novel | Script | Film

Slick Nakai's Revival
From A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
Excerpted from Chapter 4

Full darkness came late on this dry autumn Saturday. The sun was far below the western horizon but a layer of high, thin cirrus clouds still received the slanting light and reflected it, red now, down upon the ocean of sagebrush north of Nageezi Trading Post. It tinted the patched canvas of Slick Nakai's revival tent from faded tan to a doubtful rose and the complexion of Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn from dark brown to dark red.

From a lifetime of habit, Leaphorn had parked his pickup a little away from the cluster of vehicles at the tent and with its nose pointing outward, ready for whatever circumstances and duty might require of it. But Leaphorn was not on duty. He would never be on duty again. He was in the last two weeks of a thirty-day "terminal leave." When it ended, his application to retire from the Navajo Tribal Police would be automatically accepted. In fact he was already retired. He felt retired. He felt as if it were all far, far behind him. Faded in the distance. Another life in another world, nothing to do with the man now standing under this red October sunset, waiting for the sounds coming from the True Gospel revival tent to signal a break in the preaching.

He had come to Slick Nakai's revival to begin his hunt. Where had that hyphenated woman gone? Why had she abandoned a meal so carefully prepared, an evening so obviously anticipated? It didn't matter, and yet it did. In a way he couldn't really understand, it would say good-by to Emma. She would have prepared such a meal in anticipation of a treasured guest. Often had done so. Leaphorn couldn't explain it, but his mind made a sort of nebulous connection between Emma's character and that of a woman who probably was quite different. And so he would use the final days of his final leave to find that woman. That had brought him here. That, and boredom, and his old problem of curiosity, and the need for a reason to get away from their house in Window Rock and all its memories.

Whatever had moved him, he was here, on the very eastern fringe of the Navajo Reservation-more than a hundred miles from home. When circumstances allowed, he would talk to a man whose very existence annoyed him. He would ask questions the man might not answer and which might mean nothing if he did. The alternative was sitting in their living room, the television on for background noise, trying to read. But Emma's absence always intruded. When he raised his eyes, he saw the R. C. German print she'd hung over the fireplace. They'd argued about it. She liked it, he didn't. The words would sound in his ears again. And Emma's laughter. It was the same everywhere he looked. He should sell that house, or burn it. It was in the tradition of the Dineh. Abandon the house contaminated by the dead, lest the ghost sickness infect you, and you died. Wise were the elders of his people, and the Holy People who taught them the Navajo Way. But instead, he would play this pointless game. He would find a woman. If alive, she wouldn't want to be found. If dead, it wouldn't matter.

Abruptly, it became slightly more interesting. He had been leaning on the door of his pickup, studying the tent, listening to the sounds coming from it, examining the grounds (another matter of habit). He recognized a pickup, parked like his own behind the cluster of vehicles. It was the truck of another tribal policeman. Jim Chee's truck. Chee's private truck, which meant Chee was also here unofficially. Becoming a born-again Christian? That hardly seemed likely. As Leaphorn remembered it, Chee was the antithesis of Slick Nakai. Chee was a hatathali. A singer. Or would be one as soon as people started hiring him to conduct their curing ceremonials. Leaphorn looked at the pickup, curious. Was someone sitting in it? Hard to tell in the failing light. What would Chee be doing here?

The sound of music came from the tent. A surprising amount of music, as if a band were playing. Over that an amplified male voice leading a hymn. Time to go in.

The band proved to be two men. Slick Nakai, standing behind what seemed to be a black plastic keyboard, and a thin guitarist in a blue checked shirt and a gray felt hat. Nakai was singing, his mouth a quarter-inch from a stand-mounted microphone, his hands maintaining a heavy rhythm on the keyboard. The audience sang with him, with much swaying and clapping of hands.

"Jesus loves us," Nakai sang. "That we know. Jesus loves us. Everywhere."

Nakai's eyes were on him, examining him, sorting him out. The guitarist was looking at him, too. The hat looked familiar. So did the man. Leaphorn had a good memory for faces, and for just about everything else.

"We didn't earn it," Nakai sang. "But He don't care. His love is with us. Everywhere."

Nakai emphasized this with a flourish at the keyboard, shifting his attention now from Leaphorn to an elderly woman wearing wire-rimmed glasses who was sway-dancing, eyes closed, too caught up with emotion to be aware she had danced into the tangle of electrical cables linking Nakai's sound system to a generator outside the tent. A tall man with a thin mustache standing by the speaker's podium noticed Nakai's concern. He moved quickly, steering the woman clear of the cables. Third member of the team, Leaphorn guessed.

When the music stopped, Nakai introduced him as "Reverend Tafoya."

"He's Apache. I tell you that right out," Nakai said. "Mescalero. But that's all right. God made the Apaches, and the belagana, and the blacks, and the Hopis, and us Dineh and everybody else just the same. And he inspired this Apache here to learn about Jesus. And he's going to tell you about that."

Nakai surrendered the microphone to Tafoya. Then he poured water from a thermos into a Styrofoam cup and carried it back toward where Leaphorn was standing. He was a short man, sturdily built, neat and tidy, with small, round hands, small feet in neat cowboy boots, a round, intelligent face. He walked with the easy grace of a man who walks a lot.

"I haven't seen you here before," Nakai said. "If you came to hear about Jesus you're welcome. If you didn't come for that you're welcome anyway." He laughed, showing teeth that conflicted with the symphony of neatness. Two were missing, one was broken, one was black and twisted. Poor people's teeth, Leaphorn thought. Navajo teeth.

"Because that's about all you hear around me anyway . . . Jesus talk," Nakai said.

"I came to see if you can help me with something," Leaphorn said. They exchanged the soft, barely touching handshake of the Navajo-the compromise of the Dineh between modern convention and the need to be careful with strangers who might, after all, be witches. "But it can wait until you're through with your revival. I'd like to talk to you then."

At the podium, Reverend Tafoya was talking about the Mountain Spirits of the Apaches. "Something like your yet, like your Holy People. But some different, too. That's who my daddy worshiped, and my mother, and my grandparents. And I did too, until I got this cancer. I don't have to tell you people here about cancer. ..."

"The Reverend will take care of it for a while," Nakai said. "What do you need to know? What can I tell you?"

"We have a woman missing," Leaphorn said. He showed Nakai his identification and told him about Dr. Eleanor Friedman-Bernal. "You know her?"

"Sure," Nakai said. "For maybe three years, or four." He written it down in her notebook. But she asked it all again. Who I'd got it from. Everything he'd said about where he'd found it. That sort of stuff."

"Where was it? I mean where you met. And what did this notebook look like?"

"At Ganado," Nakai said. "I got a place there. I got home from a revival over by Cameron and I had a note from her asking me to call, saying it was important. I called her there at Chaco Canyon. She wasn't home so I left a message when I'd be back at Ganado again. And when I got back, there she was, waiting for me."

He paused. "And the notebook. Let's see now. Little leather-covered thing. Small enough to go in your shirt pocket. In fact that's where she carried it."

"And she just wanted to talk to you about the pot?"

"Mostly where it came from."

"Where was that?"

"Fella's ranch between Bluff and Mexican Hat."

"Private land," Leaphorn said, his voice neutral.

"Legal," Nakai agreed.

"Very short visit then," Leaphorn said. "Just repeating what you had already told her."

"Not really. She had a lot of questions. Did I know where she could find the person who had brought it? Could he have gotten it from the south side of the San Juan instead of the north side? And she had me look at the design on it. Wanted to know if I'd seen any like it."

Leaphorn had discovered that he was liking Nakai a little, which surprised him. "And you told her he couldn't have found it south of the San Juan because that would be on the Navajo Reservation, and digging up a pot there would be illegal?" He was smiling when he said it and Nakai was smiling when he answered.

"Didn't have to tell Friedman something like that," Nakai said. "That sort of thing, she knew."

"What was special about this pot?"

"It was the kind she was working on, I guess. Anasazi pot, I understand. They look pretty much alike to me, but I remember this one had a pattern. You know, sort of abstract shapes painted onto its surface. That seemed to be what she was interested in. And it had a sort of mixed color. That's what she always had me watching out for. That pattern. It was sort of an impression of Kokopelli, tiny, repeated and repeated and repeated."

Nakai looked at Leaphorn quizzically. Leaphorn nodded. Yes, he knew about kokopelli, the Humpbacked Flute Player, the Watersprinkler, the fertility symbol. Whatever you called him, he was a frequent figure in strange pictographs the Anasazi had painted on cliffs across the Colorado Plateau.

"Anytime anyone brought one in like that-even a little piece of the pot with that pattern on it-then I was to save it for her and she'd pay a minimum of fifty dollars."

"Who found that pot?"

Nakai hesitated, studied Leaphorn.

"I'm not out hunting pot hunters," Leaphorn said. "I'm trying to find this woman."

"It was a Paiute Clan man they call Amos Whistler," Nakai said. "Lives out there near south of Bluff. North of Mexican Water."

Suddenly Reverend Tafoya was shouting "Hallelujah," his voice loud and hoarse, and the crowd was joining him, and the thin man with the hat was doing something with the guitar.

"Anything else? I can talk to you later," Nakai said. "I need to help out now."

"Was that the last time you saw her? The last contact?"

"Yeah," Nakai said. He started toward the speaker's platform, then turned back. "One other contact," he said. "More or less. A man who works with her came by when I was preaching over at the Hogback there by Shiprock. Fella named ..." Nakai couldn't come up with the name. "Anyway he was a belagana. An Anglo. He said he wanted to pick up a pot I had for her. I didn't have any. He said he understood I had one, or maybe it was some, from over on the San Juan, around Bluff. I said no." Nakai turned again.

"Was it a tall man? Blond. Youngish. Named Elliot?"

'That's him," Nakai said.

Leaphorn watched the rest of it. He unfolded a chair at the back of the tent and sat, studied Nakai's techniques, and sorted out what he had learned, which wasn't much.

Slick Nakai's Revival
From the screenplay by Alice Arlen


Come Inside for Miracles 24-7!
Slick Nakai's Traveling Jesus Lives Assembly! Music! Nageezi Road, Tonight through Tuesday!

Amplified gospel music.

Way out in the middle of nowhere. Slick Nakai has unloaded his tent and portable electric organ and sound system from a four-wheel trailer truck and set up shop.

The patched canvas of the tent is tinted red, and so is Leaphorn's face as he gets out of his vehicle. Gospel music and coyotes yapping blend oddly well.


Leaphorn makes his way into the tent and surveys the scene.

Slick Nakai looks up but does not stop his music. He's a short, sturdy, neat and tidy man with small round hands, small feet in cowboy boots and a round intelligent yet somehow sinister face. He's crooning into a mike:

Here's why to come to Jesus. Because when you die in the Old Ways they put your body on the rocks and nobody speaks the name of the dead because there's nothing left of them but chindi waiting to make you sick...the Dineh say the Monster Slayer corners Death in the pit house and lets death live. Jesus didn't let Death live. Hallelujah!

He is playing on a black plastic keyboard and now he breaks into song, his mouth a quarter inch from a stand-mounted microphone, his hands maintaining a heavy rhythm on the keyboard.

NAKAI (singing):
Jesus loves us/ That we know/ Jesus loves us/ Everywhere/ We didn't earn it/ But He don't care/ His love is with us/ Everywhere.

The audience sings along, swaying and clapping hands. Nakai emphasizes the love with a flourish of the keyboard. Leaphorn's attention, however, is on Nakai's accompanist on the guitar, the thin guy in a blue checked shirt and a grey felt hat that he recognizes from Maxie's dig. He approaches Pete Etcitty and says into his ear:

When is the last time you saw her?

Etcitty motions that he can't talk and play at the same time.

LEAPHORN (frowns and repeats):
When is that last time you saw Dr. Eleanor Friedman-Bernal?

ETCITTY (while strumming):
What's everybody hassling me for? Because I'm Christian?

Who else hassled you?

I don't damn for sure know and this is a religious service, okay?

Etcitty exchanges a glance with Nakai.

Just tell me where the Doctor's gone. Settle down, I'm not after you.

Etcitty shrugs and seems to be sweating from the questioning when Nakai saves nodding in the direction of an elderly woman wearing wire-rimmed glasses who is sway-dancing with her eyes closed...right into a tangle of electrical cables linking the sound system to the generator outside the tent.

Taking his way out, turning his back on Leaphorn, Etcitty reaches to steer the woman away from the cables, as Slick Nakai announces:

Reverend Etcitty, folks. He's half Apache. But that's all right. God made the Apaches and the belagana whites and the blacks and everybody. Tell them like it is, Reverend Etcitty!

Nakai hands the mike to Etcitty, who begins to preach and dance:

Jesus doesn't believe in ghosts, praise the Lord, Jesus killed death. Hallelujah, Jesus rescued us from the chindi and the Valley of Death, Praise the Lord....

Nakai pours water from a thermos into a Styrofoam cup and steers Leaphorn, away from Etcitty and the noise, out under a tent flap.


Did your wife's sickness bring you to Jesus, Joe Leaphorn?


If you didn't come to talk about Jesus, you're welcome anyway.

You know a white woman called Dr. Eleanor Friedman-Bernal?

Sure. (a beat) But never made a Christian out of her either.
(then, guardedly) She give you my name?

Leaphorn half-smiles.

You're a pot dealer. Slick.

NAKAI (shaking head):
Clean and sober Christian.

I mean a dealer in pottery.

When the Lord provides. I just trade what they bring me. Digging on Indian land's illegal without a permit, I do none of that. (a beat) I don't get much of what Dr. Ellie's looking for, wish I did, it goes for a lot.

What's she looking for?


When's the last time you saw her?

Last month. Nothing illegal, came off private land from a fella's ranch up in San Juan country.

I don't want to have to take you in to the station. Slick. Interrupt your fine services.

Listen, the pot come off white land, legal land. Doctor Ellie, she didn't believe me neither, said it had to come from the rez, because of the design on it. I don't know about that. Honest, Joe.

What was special about the design?

Flute player design, bunch of little kokopellis in a row, I'd never seen 'em before that way. Very artistic.

The sound of a microphone disturbance on a garbled guitar comes out of the tent.

Listen to that! My accompanists needs me in there, will you excuse me?

Give 'em hell.

Slick Nakai's Revival
From the film A Thief of Time, directed by Chris Eyre: Watch the Clip
In this section: Cast and Crew | Novel to Film | Story Synopsis | Hillerman Challenge

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