To underwrite the cost of a herd of Holsteins, Ute tribal policeman-turned-rancher Charlie Moon hires on as a private investigator looking into special projects for the reservation—a job that puts him on Ghost Wolf Mesa when a little Zuni girl finds an ancient petroglyph. Prof. Axton and Dr. Perkins, rival experts, differ over its meaning, and archaeologist Amanda Silk disagrees with them both, insisting the pictogram, apparently of anasazi vintage, is a recent fake. Still, somebody believes it holds the secret to ancient treasure, and after whip-smart student April Tavishuts explores it one midnight, she’s dead by morning—and the young Ute’s Navajo stepfather, Alvah Yazzi, appears to be a case of spontaneous human combustion. Meanwhile, Charlie’s aunt Daisy is once more communing with her favorite pitukupf in the Canyon of the Spirits, leaving him hero-size sandwiches and a thermos full of coffee, then secretly scurrying over to Charlie’s ranch for unfathomable reasons. FBI agents George and Stanley, along with Charlie’s best pal, white cop Scott Parris, are busy going in circles while Daisy utters dire predictions, four-legged critters pop up everywhere, and Charlie is knocked senseless. When he comes to, there’s been another death, his sometime girlfriend has ditched him, the petroglyph’s secrets are revealed—and his Holsteins have arrived.
Barely enough plot here for a short story, but Doss (Grandmother Spider, 2001, etc.) shows his mastery in the wry dialogue and in Aunt Daisy, the most irascible shaman in the Southwest.