An unidentified man is found dead along the railroad tracks near Gallup, New Mexico. There is a note in one pocket of his suit referring to Agnes Tsotsie and a Yeibichai or Night Chant ceremony. FBI agent Kennedy calls on Lt. Leaphorn to aid in finding footprints near the body. There are no footprints to follow, but the note sends him to interview Agnes Tsotsie, who shows him the letter from Henry Highhawk, who will attend her Night Chant.
Always curious, Leaphorn learns that an Amtrak train made an emergency stop in the desert, the likely explanation for the body found near the railroad tracks with no footprints around him. The man's left-behind luggage is now stored in Washington D.C. Leaphorn takes his vacation in Washington D.C. to follow up on Pointed Shoes. Leaphorn talks with Roland Dockery and Peres of Amtrak, who show him the luggage, which holds a useful notebook. Peres saw the man now known to be the killer of Pointed Toes. The notebook includes the name and prescription number for a medicine he took, revealing both the name and address of Elogio Santillanes.
Leaphorn proceeds to inform the next of kin, who are rather quiet in receiving the news. He then notices that their next door neighbor matches the description of the killer. As Santillanes was tortured, Leaphorn suspects the family home might be bugged, so leaves them with the sad news. Leaphorn calls Kennedy to match fingerprints under the victim's proper name. Leaphorn calls the NTP, learning that Chee was arresting officer for Highhawk and is now in D.C.
An arrest warrant is issued for Henry Highhawk, who stole human remains from a New England cemetery and then crossed state lines. Highhawk is attending a Night Chant ceremony on the Navajo Reservation, where Jim Chee arrests him with aid from his friend Cowboy Dashee, for the FBI. Chee sees the masks that are integral to the last day of the ceremony. Chee gets a letter from Mary Landon, his longtime love, saying he should not come to Wisconsin; they cannot resolve the cultural barrier between them. Minutes later, his friend Janet Pete calls him from Washington, D.C. Her newest client is Henry Highhawk, and she is afraid on several counts. Chee leaves to visit her, meeting Highhawk and Rudolfo Gomez on his first night in town. Pete points out the man she thinks is following her. Chee confronts him and he drives off. Chee visits Highhawk at his office in the museum, seeing the accurate detail of an upcoming exhibit on Masked Gods of the Americas, including the Navajo Talking God mask. Highhawk takes a phone call, telling Chee he will be back shortly. Chee leaves when Highhawk does not return, walking out past an unguarded exit.
The next morning, Leaphorn goes to Chee's hotel, updating each other on why they came to Washington. They realize that both Gomez and Santelleros were tortured in Chile, must be leftists in exile, and are still hunted. Leaphorn calls his friend Captain Rodney, who joins them. Rodney knows Chee's name as having signed into the museum the night before, but not out. Rodney tells them of the murder of Mrs. Yokum, the guard. The three men find Highhawk's body in a museum storage bin, after Chee has maintenance look for something out of place as the guide to the emptied bin. They find Highhawk's tape recorder wired to his watch, and a replica Talking God mask. Leaphorn and Chee figure out why Gomez /Santerro sought a connection with Highhawk, and the danger of the proximity of Highhawk's exhibit to the Incan exhibit.
The Chileans will not pay Leroy Fleck, their hired assassin, because the victim is identified. Fleck's revenge is to kill as many Chileans as he can, trailing them to the exhibit of Incan masks in the Natural History Museum with a high ranking general from the present rightist government, the same goal that brings Santerro. The Inca exhibit draws media coverage when the Chileans arrive. The Chilean leftists want to kill the rightists in Washington, and used Highhawk to set up the explosives. Tensions mount as Chee pulls apart the exhibit to find the plastic explosives packed under the mask, and Leaphorn kicks apart the remote detonator that falls from Santerro's hands. Fleck is shot twice by the Chilean body guard in the museum, after he kills the general and The Client with his shank, a very sharp tool.
Leaphorn heads right back to Window Rock. The police tell Chee that Highhawk was found dead, killed by Santerro, who escaped. Chee finds a Tano Pueblo fetish in the trunk of Highhawk's car, and gives it to Janet Pete to return it to the Tano people, who are connected to her law firm. Mary Landon calls Chee, glad to hear him alive, but they end their relationship. Chee heads home.