Saturday, December 25, 2010

"The Canyon Chronicles" is HERE!

Winter is here and the malls are filled with weary shoppers looking for that perfect gift.

Well now, if you, or someone you know, like reading about the Canyonlands of the Southwest, starting with Grand Canyon, the mother of all canyons, I have just the thing for you.
I worked for fifteen years (1980-1994) on the Kaibab National Forest which wraps around the north and south rims of Grand Canyon. I worked seasonally as an engineering, timber & archaeological surveyor during the Raygun Years, and those were some wild & heady times indeed. Follow me as I unravel the mysteries of life, love & death in a world where time stands still.


While working as a surveyor for the Forest Service on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon during the rape and pillage years of President Ronald Reagan, Steve Carr, a young man from back east learns surreal survival lessons as he journeys into some of America's most phantasmagorical lands and national parks where he encounters greedy loggers, federal land barons drunk on power, brain-dead cowboys, clueless tourists, strange Mormon polygamists, crazed firefighters, amazing Anasazi ruins, mysterious Indians, canyon loonies, lady travelers looking for fun and excitement, environmental terrorists, menacing wild animals, and the outlandish characters who live at the bottom of the earth. Each stand alone story is laced with lurid flashes of forgotten Southwest history and sprinkled with a heavy dose of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll as the reader is transported into a magical world where flash floods, broiling canyons, freak snow storms, hallucinogenic visions, and bone-crushing rapids come alive with all the power and the glory. Each struggle leads Steve closer to a final confrontation with the Forest Service over the future the Kaibab Forest and the essence of the Kachina Way.

You can purchase the book conveniently through my publisher at:



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Friday, December 24, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 16 - Part 2

Otis understood he was being put on sentry duty because Billy Ray and John Lee, the two bikers from the Verde Valley in Arizona, were inseparable; B.T. had used the chopper to scout the pueblo they would be digging, so he was the only one of the group who knew where the site was situated. That left only Otis to guard the entrance road. But knowing the reason didn’t lessen the hurt. Otis felt like low man on the totem pole. After all, he knew more about digging Anasazi ruins than both of the motorcycle morons put together. It just wasn’t fair.

Otis was lounging in a ten-room pueblo that sat astride the dirt road like a crumbling fort. This site had been pothunted many years ago by locals. In fact, some enterprising person had actually brought a small backhoe up to the ruin and had excavated the whole area from top to bottom. Very little of the original structure was left standing, but one could still see the rock outline of the outside perimeter, and the wall which faced House rock Valley was still pretty much intact.

Otis sat in a folding lawn chair, gazing out through a large hole in the rear wall, less than ten feet from the lofty edge of the plateau. He was not a hard worker by nature, and the sitting part of this assignment was easy enough to get used to. But he still though that taking this type of precaution was a waste of time. Nobody lived on the Paria. The tourists were on their way to the Grand Canyon or the national parks of Southern Utah and didn’t even know this place existed. And all of the cattle had been moved off the plateau a few weeks back, with the coming of winter. Now that the cowboys were out of the way, there was no one else to worry about. It wasn’t on the way to anywhere. The roads were sandy and mostly impassable. The only source of water was an alkaline pond which the cattle used. There were no services; there were no hiking trails; nothing except cactus, stone, and the long-abandoned rock houses of the Anasazi.

Otis stood up. He was thirsty for a beer, but the others had taken his truck. There was no good place to stash a vehicle near the lookout post, so Billy Ray drove it to the dig site. They would relieve Otis at sunset. Until then, he would have to make do with only a gallon canteen of water. He spit over the wall of the pueblo and looked down into the valley below. He couldn’t believe his eyes. There was a green Forest Service truck coming slowly up the road to the top of the plateau. The truck was still at least a mile away, just beginning the long steep climb up the switchback mountain road, but it would pass by his position in less than fifteen minutes. He stared apprehensively at the government truck and fidgeted with the gun on his hip.

Otis stashed his lawn chair behind a large pile of rubble and got out his binoculars. He hunched down behind the broken wall of the pueblo and focused intently on the Forest Service rig. It was still pretty hard to make anything out, but when it rounded a turn, he could see the driver was a woman with bright red hair. Otis chuckled. This might be interesting.

Otis turned on the walkie-talkie and called the boss.

“B.T., this is Blondie. Do you read me? Over.”

He repeated the message at ten-second intervals as he marked the progress of the approaching government truck.

After about a minute, B.T. responded. “Go ahead, Blondie.”

“We got company, B.T.”

“Give me a description.”

“Well, it’s a Forest Service bitch in a truck. She’s alone. And she’s definitely coming all the way up on top. Over.”

“Good eyes, my friend,” answered B.T. “Lay low. Don’t let her see you. If she does, hold her there and give me a call right away.”

“I’ve got you covered on this end, B.T.”

“Use your head, Blondie. Let he go right on by. If she takes the turn to Pinnacle Ridge, we’ll have a nice reception waiting for her here at the dig. But if she doesn’t come by in the next fifteen minutes or so, then we’ll know she went over to Poverty Flat, and we’ll go looking for her later.”

“I hear what you’re saying, B.T.,” replied Otis with excitement.

“Then hear it ALL, my friend. Under no circumstances do I want that truck to leave this plateau. Is that understood?”

“She comes in, but she don’t go out.”

“That’s a big ten-four on that, Blondie. We’re counting on you, buddy.”

Otis glowed with pride as the radio went silent. He un-holstered his gun and crouched down out of sight. The sound of the Forest Service truck grew louder as it neared the crest of the Paria Plateau as Otis licked his lips. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 16 - Part 1

From the top the Paria Plateau, the view of the landscape below was a swirling montage of colors: red rocks, brown grasses, and the occasional stunted green tree. The visibility was at least a hundred miles in every direction and the sky was so blue that it was psychedelic. Otis Stiles finished his cigarette and flicked it over the edge of the cliff. He wasn’t interested in the pretty view or the breathtaking scenery. Otis Stiles was pissed off.

Otis had been the first person in the group to arrive on the Paria around one o-clock. Not being sure where they would be digging, Otis had stopped at the point where the Buffalo Spring Road crested the top of the plateau. He figured he’s just wait there because everyone would have to go past him to get to the interior of the Paria.

The biker boys had arrived about an hour later. They were half-drunk and the three of them shared a pint of Jim Beam while they waited for the boss to show up.

B.T. arrived at three, wired as usual. Otis didn’t like the narcotics aspect of this arrangement, but he kept his mouth shut. It wasn’t any of his business, anyway. Cocaine didn’t seem to hinder B.T.’s ability to function effectively, in fact, if anything, it seemed to enhance it. But drugs and needles still gave Otis the creeps.

Otis Stiles was a Jack Mormon from Escalante, Utah. His nickname was Blondie, because of his scraggly blond hair. He was tan and wiry like a sun-baked piece of juniper. He wore a perpetual three-day beard, and his hair was never combed. His clothes were ratty and covered with dirt and grease. The left side of his mouth turned down in a constant scowl and there was usually an unfiltered Camel hanging from his chapped lips. Otis Stiles was actually worse than he looked. He had four wives and fifteen children scattered across southeastern Utah. He was thirty-five years old, had dropped out of high school when he was fifteen, and he had spent the last ten years of his life going back and forth between part-time jobs and jail.

Otis had met B.T. Saunders while both of them were incarcerated at The Point, the maximum security prison outside Salt Lake City. Both hard cases, they formed a violent alliance which intimidated their cellblock. Otis was serving time for trafficking in illegal feathers, feathers of birds which were on the endangered species list, mostly hawk and eagle, but also exotic Central and South American birds, like macaws. This was not Otis’ first brush with the law. He had been busted three times for drunk driving, and once for pothunting a prehistoric site in Capital Reef National Park. The feather bust netted him two years at The Point, of which he served nine months. B.T. was serving a sentence for intent to distribute cocaine.

Right from the start, Otis knew B.T. was one of those people who had gotten badly wigged-out by Vietnam. He had all sorts of weird ideas about reincarnation, and he was always talking about death. Otis didn’t give a damn one way or the other. He had beaten the draft by having so many dependents and had gone through life without ever considering the implications of anything he did. For Otis, there was no future, there was only the present. And when you died? Who fucking knew? B.T. maintained that certain birds were the appointed messengers of the gods. He said the Hopis who lived on the nearby mesas believed this to be true, and there were mountain tribes in Laos and jungle tribes in Brazil who thought the same thing. The way B.T. told it, the gods just liked to hang out in the mountain tops where they lived and send the spirits of the predatory birds to keep an eye on man to make sure he wasn’t screwing up. Otis figured the birds must be loafing on the job because the whole damn world was going to hell in a hand-basket.

Otis had been the one who first got B.T. interested in the raiding of Indian ruins. B.T. had never heard of the activity before, but it appealed to his odd religious fascination with Indians and spirits. Digging through prehistoric ruins sounded sexy and mystical, but the real kicker was that it could be extremely lucrative. Otis knew of isolated areas where there were ruins just ripe for the picking. He had grown up surrounded by the stone houses of the Anasazi, and eventually he had tried his hand at selling relics in Salt Lake City, where there would be a larger market and the items would be more of a novelty. He was arrested in a bar out by the airport by an undercover agent from the Bureau of Land Management, posing as a buyer, and he did seven months for violating the Archaeological Resource Protection Act. After that, Otis had decided that pothunting really wasn’t worth the trouble. Otis explained to B.T. that the market for cultural antiquities had become a booming business but he didn’t know a safe place to unload the Indian loot. B.T. told him that he might be able to help him out with the buyers; he had some contacts in high places. At first, Otis was skeptical, but this initial discussion eventually bloomed into a sweet partnership with the Judge.

Otis didn’t care much for the Judge. The stuffy old geezer was another one of those military assholes who thought he was still fighting some war, always acting like he was in charge. But the beauty of their arrangement was that the big shot, know-it-all was hardly ever around, and Otis didn’t care what the old fart thought, anyhow. The Judge had proven to be an excellent fence for their stolen merchandise, and the money they received in return was always more than fair. Otis had no idea where the Judge was selling the loot, but whoever was buying the relics had a lot of money, that was for sure.

Otis took great stock in the fact that this whole venture had been his idea. It was the best damn idea he had ever had in his whole screwed-up life. And on top of that, Otis was the man who located most of the sites to be excavated, so he usually had the role of guide, which made him feel important. Early on, B.T. and the Judge had rightfully concluded that Otis was much more than a simple field hand, and they made him a partner – albeit a minor one a five percent, but a partner, nevertheless.

And that was why Otis was steaming mad at this point. B.T. had left Otis behind to be lookout, spooked by the fact that his last murder had been witnessed by a passer-by. This time B.T. was leaving nothing to chance. There was only one road up onto the plateau, which Otis was ordered to monitor.

B.T. had seemed nervous and the last thing he said to Otis before he left with the others for the dig site had been almost frightening. “Don’t fuck-up, Otis. All of our asses are on the line this time.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 15 - Part 2

The road ahead dropped gradually into a lateral, dry wash and Jenny pumped the brakes to slow the Ford down. The dust cloud following the truck caught up to her and blew past like a smoky storm. Jenny quickly rolled up her window and steered around several large boulders jutting out from the bottom of the drainage. She down-shifted as the truck slowly climbed up the far side of the wash.

Parrot Rock looked like nothing more than a gargantuan pile of oxblood-colored boulders. Many of them had flat smooth faces, and a closer inspection showed the petroglyph scratching and pictograph paintings of the Anasazi artists. Parrot Rock was a magnificent collection of prehistoric rock art, deriving its curious name from the many figures depicting jungle birds from Latin America. Macaw feathers had been unearthed at some of the excavated sites in the area, and the archaeologists had concluded that the Anasazi had established trade routes at least as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico.

Jenny hadn’t planned on stopping at Parrot Rock, but when she looked over at the precariously-balanced rocks, she saw a new addition that made her brake as if a small child had just darted in front of the truck. She rolled down the window and stared indignantly at the word METALLICA, which had been spray-painted in giant red letters across one of the nicer panels in the group.

Vandalism of cultural antiquities came in many shades and colors, but the destruction of rock art panels was probably the most common form of destruction. Many people just could not control themselves when they saw what appeared to be prehistoric graffiti. They generally used a small rock to scratch alongside the rapidly deteriorating drawings of the Anasazi. Such mindless disregard for past culture was enough to tear at Jenny’s heart, but after years of watching every rock art site she knew of get trashed in this way, she realized the protection of these sacred places was impossible.

Jenny climbed out of her pickup and walked over to the boulder slide. This particular rock art site represented several different prehistoric time periods.

The original Archaic drawings were petroglyphs, carved into the surface of the stone slab with a sharp tool, like a hammer stone. These early Anasazi artists had evidently been intrigued by concentric circle patterns; most of their pictures were comprised of these swirling symbols, the meaning of which was lost. They had also pecked in drawings of bighorn sheep and deer, a reference to the excellent hunting. There were countless theories regarding the petroglyph rock art, but most was pure speculation at best.

The next generation of Anasazi to draw were Pueblo Indians, circa 1000 A.D. They preferred to paint their symbols on the rock, using red pigment that was made from crushing locally-mined hematite into dust; to give the paint its liquid consistency, they added their own urine and animal blood to the mixture. Dark red figures of people, gods, clouds, the sun, trees, and animals like frogs and parrots – whatever caught their fancy – ended up on the stone paintings.

After the Anasazi vanished, the occasional Paiute or Navajo had contributed to the panels as they passed through the valley. Their drawings were often done in charcoal and usually depicted people riding horses, undoubtedly the Spanish explorers of the late 1700s

The Mormons who settled the area in the 1860s weren’t much for drawing clever pictures, but chose instead to simply write their names and the date of their passage, and leave it at that. The children of these brave pioneers followed their parents’ lead and used the panel as a kind of log book while traveling the Honeymoon Trail, which led couples to the Mormon temple at St. George, Utah where they could be officially married.

Parrot Rock represented over two thousand years of human dreams.

With the twentieth century came the vandals. The modern Mormons merely signed their names across the panels. White trash losers just liked to take out their knives and try to deface what was already there. But this latest entry was perhaps the saddest type of all, at least as far as Jenny was concerned. The person who had recently spray-painted this site had been a young Indian boy, and it wasn’t the first time that teenage Navajos and Paiutes had desecrated this prehistoric shrine. METALLICA joined an already long list of heavy-metal bands: GUNS’N’ROSES, POISON, WHITE SNAKE, BON JOVI, KISS, AEROSMITH and DEF LEPPARD. Long-haired musical head-pounders were the newest gods of Northern Arizona’s Indian braves, who were drawn more to the outlandish costumes of the rockers than the ear-splitting music. To paint the name of a rebellious rock band on a 2,000 year old rock art panel was an act of open defiance.

Jenny closed her eyes and sighed. It was bad enough that white people thought so little of the ancient Indian art work, but for other Indians to show the same sort of callous indifference was indeed disheartening. But there was nothing Jenny Hatch could do other than catalogue the damage and move on.

Jenny looked down at her watch. It was already three-fifteen; the day was almost shot. Getting packed for this camping trip had taken a lot longer than she expected and she would have to push it if she was going to get any survey work done before the sun went down. The murder in Jumpup Canyon had the Forest Service running around in circles. Because it was connected to pothunting, she had been drawn into the crisis; everyone had consulted her opinion on the matter. The only way she had finally been able to escape the office was to print out a brief synopsis of the case as it applied to cultural resources and post the message on the bulletin board outside her office door.

Jenny pulled a note pad from her jacket pocket and wrote down a short description of the vandalism to the rock art panel. She felt numb from the strain of this crazy day, and would be glad when it was over.

The only route up on to the Paria Plateau was via the winding Buffalo Spring Road. Before turning left on to the sandy trail, she stopped to lock the front wheels into 4-wheel drive. Jenny felt a tinge of excitement as she gazed toward her project area atop the towering Navajo sandstone cliffs. Working in the field was the best part of this job, and for an archaeologist, surveying on the Paria Plateau was like playing in a candy store. For the next two days she would be alone on the plateau, where it was hard to walk anywhere and not encounter some Anasazi relic.

Jenny suddenly remembered that she was supposed to meet Linda Joyce by dusk. In the rush of getting out to the Paria, she had forgotten all about their appointment. She had driven right by the pinnacled hills of Bighorn Buttes and had not noticed Linda’s yellow truck. But that didn’t mean the bird watcher wasn’t there; she could have just missed her in the jumble of rock piles. Jenny would get in a couple of hours of survey work on the Paria, and then she would drive back down to the Buttes for dinner.

Linda had seemed nice – a little self-absorbed perhaps – but she had been through a terrible experience and was probably just gun-shy. Some soothing talk around a roaring camp fire and a few sips off the bottle of peach brandy Jenny had stowed away in her backpack, and Linda would be good as new.

Jenny smiled as she imagined the evening ahead. Camping with Linda would be fun. There were a ton of questions that Jenny wanted to ask the wildlife biologist about her work with predatory birds; but most of all, she wanted to know about the pothunting killer.

Looking up at the sky, Jenny noticed a golden eagle circling lazily on the thermals rising from the valley floor. The eagle never flapped its wings as it glided silently over the plateau like the shadow of death. How could you tell when an eagle was hunting and when it was just cruising? Now there was a good question for Linda.

Jenny laughed deeply. She was going to learn so much in the next few days.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 15 - Part 1

Jenny Hatch accelerated the green government truck to 50 mph and the Ford half-ton leveled off on the washboard road, a trick known to all dirt road pros. Once the vehicle got going fast enough, the tires skimmed so quickly along the surface that they didn’t have time to bounce off the peaks and valleys, making for a fairly smooth ride. She knew she didn’t have to worry about somebody coming along in the other direction. Forest Road #66 was primarily a straight, north/south road, about 30- feet-wide, and a driver could see for miles. Jenny glanced in her rear view mirror and the dust spume reminded her of the smoke machine that was rigged to the rear of James Bond’s Austin Martin in the movie “Goldfinger”. She gripped the steering wheel tightly and howled like a wild dog as her long red hair danced in wind rushing past the open window of the truck. Goddamn, it was great to be a government employee!

House Rock Valley was the only way a person could drive north or south across the Arizona Strip without getting blocked by a mountain, a line of imposing cliffs, or the cavernous Colorado River gorge. Within hundreds of miles there was only this one, mile-wide valley cut, carved by the run-off from receding glaciers 10,000 years before. This drainage channel between the Kaibab Mountain and the Paria Plateau had been dry as a bone – except during the occasional rain storm – for the past 500 years. The Indians had used this pass as a travel route between the plateaus for at least 4,000 years before the Spanish started combing the Southwest for gold and stumbled upon it during the American Revolution. When the Mormons took over in the 1870s, they also used thevalley to travel between the Arizona and Utah Territories. In the early 1900s, the highway builders cut a steep, switchback road across the eastern end of the Kaibab Mountain, and the House Rock Valley Trail slowly faded from use and memory. Cowboys were the only modern people who could find any commercial purpose for this sun-baked no-man’s land. They used the dirt road to drive their herds into Marble Canyon and up onto the Paria Plateau.

Jenny was traveling through a spectacular world of rock. Paralleling the road to the left, The Paria Plateau rose sixteen hundred feet into the air, vermillion walls standing like a fortress in the clouds. Imposing, sheer-walled cliffs of Kayenta sandstone blocked access to the plateau. Gigantic chunks of red stone littered the floor of the canyon like mountainous building blocks. Some were bigger than a house. And some creative folk had occasionally even carved out cramped openings between a pile of immense boulders and called it home, hence the name House Rock Valley.

Jenny Hatch was one of the few people on earth who really knew the history of this remote and desolate valley. Most local knowledge was full of hearsay and inconsistencies, but Jenny had spent her whole life collecting every piece of written and oral history about the area she could find. She had interviewed many of the old Mormon pioneers, and recorded their memories. An old cowboy named Hualapai Johnny and the Mackelprang family had run their cows through the valley since the early 1900s, and they were ripe with old tales of adventure and loss. And some of the surviving Mormon widows were always happy to share their husbands’ harrowing stories of mining the Vermilion Cliffs. Few other cultural anthropologists or historians found the House Rock Valley and Paria Plateau of very much interest. But to Jenny Hatch, this area played the most intriguing part in the Arizona Strip’s rich and colorful story.

Nomadic Indians of the San Pedro Desert Culture had used the area seasonally, starting around 4000 B.C. By the time of Christ, there were Basketmaker Indians living atop the Paria in small rock overhang shelters and pithouses. Around 900 A.D., at the same time the people of Europe were coming out of the Dark Ages and starting to build small villages, the Paria Plateau underwent an incredible population explosion of almost urban proportions. Nearly fifty thousand Anasazi Indians constructed pueblo villages all over the top of the plateau. There weren’t that many people living in all of Southwestern Utah and the Arizona Strip today. Somehow, the Anasazi had been able to flourish in an arid land comprised of little more than rock. Archaeologists had barely scraped the surface of this prehistoric miracle, and Jenny was prepared to spend her entire life delving into the wonderful mysteries.

The first inhabitants had been roving bands of hunters who preyed upon the plateau’s thriving deer, rabbit, and squirrel population. The only traces of them were the stubby obsidian arrowheads which dotted the landscape like black flowers. The plateau had been a reliable source of meat for these people, but not home. Much later, the Anasazi had used House Rock Valley as farmland where they grew corn, squash, beans and rice grass. The structures along the valley floor appeared to have been used for storage, rather than habitation. It was on the plateau where the Anasazi built their houses, primarily rectangular-shaped, masonry-walled pueblos with anywhere from ten to fifty rooms. For three hundred years, these hardy people lived on top of the plateau in numbers which boggled the mind. Around 1300, there was a mass exodus and the entire plateau was abandoned, never ro be re-occupied again. No one knew why the Anasazi left so suddenly. Perhaps there was a plague, or they were conquered by marauding nomads. The prevailing opinion of the experts was that a combination of drier climate and environmental degradation was the key to the mystery.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 14 - Part 2

Jason smelled a rat the size of a helicopter. There was no way both of the victims’ families would confuse uranium mining with the digging of a gravel pit. The local Indians had been conned during the fifties into allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to dump uranium tailings on the Navajo and Paiute Reservations. Many Indian children had subsequently died from contamination after growing up playing in the piles of supposedly harmless radioactive dirt in their back yards, and there wasn’t a Paiute living on the Arizona Strip who wasn’t intimately familiar with the shiny, gray-colored rock known as Chinle.

ASN was somehow involved in the Jumpup murder case. Jason nodded his head, smiling like a hayseed sheriff. The double-talking engineer was hiding something.

“As long as I’m out this way, I’d appreciate it if you’d give me a rundown on how your helicopter operation works. Todd.”

Tod scowled. “I do hope you aren’t accusing ASN of pothunting, Sheriff. We will no longer allow ourselves to be viciously slandered by people who have a hidden agenda when it comes to uranium mining near Grand Canyon.”

“Slow down, Todd. I don’t have a hidden agenda, and I’m not singling you out. I’ve got my people checking every outfit that flies helicopters in the area. Nobody’s accusing you of anything. Seems to me you’re pretty testy today, Todd. If I thought you folks had anything to do with this murder, then I would have demanded that you come down to the station for a formal interview. Frankly, I had no idea that you were going to get so defensive about a few innocent questions.”

Todd Krieter realized he had pushed too hard. “I’m sorry, Sheriff, but there’s a lot of money riding on this operation. And our investors get very nervous when they pick up their newspapers, or turn on their TV’s, and hear about their company raping and looting the land. It’s my job to make sure that terrible things like that do not happen. And that’s why I won’t stand for even the slightest suggestion that we do anything other than run a first class mining operation out here. ASN will, of course, do everything possible to help the police solve these brutal crimes. But I want you to realize that we are very concerned about any negative publicity that might come out as a result of this investigation. Unfortunately, we live in a world of appearances. I do hope you can appreciate our sensitive position, Sheriff. And, please keep this in mind if our name does come up with the press. That’s really all that I am asking.”

“Say no more, Todd,” nodded the Sheriff. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason why your name should ever come up.”

“I guess that’s probably all we can ask for,” said Todd with an awkward smile.

“I’m glad we got that straight,” said the Sheriff. “Why don’t you just give me a quick description of how many choppers you have, who operates them, where they go when they leave the mine, that sort of thing.”

Todd opened another filing cabinet drawer and removed a manilla folder. He silently leafed through the contents for several minutes without saying a word, then closed the file officiously.

“Arizona Strip Nuclear owns two helicopters. They are both Bell Rangers with a weight capacity of three thousand pounds. We can fit seven passengers and a pilot aboard each one as long as they do not have a lot of gear. We used them for recon operations during the early exploratory phase, but now that the actual mining is going full bore, they are used primarily to ferry supplies and personnel back and forth from the mine to Fredonia – just expensive busses really.”

“Do they have a set route they travel?” asked the Sheriff.

Todd frowned. “They don’t follow a road or anything like that. But hell, our pilots are no different than anyone else, and sometimes they stray a bit off course and take a little scenic cruise.”

“Have you been using your helicopters lately.”

“Well, one has been doing three shuttles a day between Fredonia and the mine. It runs in the early morning, at noon, and then around dusk. The other went on the fritz this past Monday and was taken into the maintenance shop at the Kanab airport for servicing.”

“Do you have a list of all your pilots?”

Todd opened the folder. “Of course we do. Would you like me to Xerox you a copy of the names?”

Jason smiled a big friendly smile. “That would be great, if you don’t mind.”

“My pleasure,” replied Todd as he removed a single sheet from the folder walked over to the copy machine.

Jason now had everything he was going to get from Todd Krieter. If he kept pressing, there was a good chance the engineer would go on the defensive again. It was time to leave.

As the Sheriff climbed into his truck, he glanced at the pilot’s list. Todd had scribbled a note on the top of the page: “Some of our owners have pilot’s licenses, and use the choppers during V.I.P. visits to the mine. But none of them have been here within the past month.”

There were nine pilots listed on the sheet. B.T. Saunders was the last mane.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 14 - Part 1

Jason pulled into the ASN mine above Shivwits Canyon. The drive had been a dusty, bumpy bounce-along trip through land that dared you to get out of your car.

It was not Jason’s first trip to the uranium mine. Ever since ASN had set up shop, there had been problem. Environmentalists tried to sabotage the operation because it was so close to Grand Canyon. Miners from ASN had gotten into trouble while partying a bit too hard down in Fredonia. And then there were the accusations from several sketchy sources that the company engaged in illegal pothunting.

ASN was part of a conglomerate owned by a cartel of investors who used intermediaries to handle the actual operations. Anyone trying to track down the real owners of the company would end up with the French and Swiss governments, Japanese sugar companies, German banks, Wyoming cattle outfits, San Francisco industrialists, and private speculators like the Judge.

Jason had never been able to prove ASN was raiding archaeological sites on the Arizona Strip. On four separate occasions, hikers had witnessed ASN helicopters in close proximity to recently vandalized sites. In one case, there were even fresh helicopter skid marks in front of the looted site. But no one had ever caught an ASN employee in the act of pothunting. The general consensus among the local population was that maybe some ASN employees pothunted, but not most of them. Jason had never gotten too worked up over the pothunting angle – that was better left to the Feds to handle – but when murder became a part of the equation, that was a whole different matter. Jason was now very interested in ASN’s possible connection to the recent murders.

He had called ahead and so was not surprised when he saw the mine manager, Todd Krieter, come bounding out of his office to greet him before the Sheriff had a chance to turn off the engine of his Ramcharger. Jason hadn’t explained the purpose of his visit, but the miner had sounded a bit apprehensive on the telephone.

Todd Krieter was in his early thirties. He had a clipboard in his hand and had the polished air of the efficient superintendent. The isolation of the mine site demanded certain sacrifices, but the financial rewards more than made up for the lonely nights. Todd was a corporate yes-man, the kind of guy who always had the smarmy answer.

“Good to see you again, Sheriff. I hope this isn’t about what I think it’s about.”

“What’s that?” asked Jason as he climbed stiffly out of his truck and closed the door.

“That murder down in Jumpup Canyon. I heard about it on the news. And some of the men who just came on-shift from town mentioned that the word going around Fredonia is that it had something to do with pothunting and helicopters. Ever since those damn environmentalists started slandering us by saying we were pothunting with our choppers, we’ve had to defend ourselves every time somebody finds a raided Indian site.”

“Well now, I don’t think it’s that bad, Todd,” said Jason as he stretched his back.

Todd led the way back to the double-wide trailer that served as the mine’s main office. They walked up the wooden porch steps into the bland office filled with color-coded maps, survey plats, and geological cross-sections. On previous visits, Jason had seen a few secretaries and junior engineers working inside the office, but they had evidently been given other duties today so the two men could be alone. Several of the computers still had documents on their screens and the desks were littered with partially-filled coffee cups.

Jason laid his Stetson on a long table. “The main reason that I came out here, Todd, was to get some information from your personnel records concerning the two murdered Paiutes you mentioned.”

Todd mad a sour face. “Why would you think we could help you in that department?”

“Because I’ve been told they were working for you.”

“That’s nonsense, Sheriff. I’m sure I would have recognized their names if they were our employees. What were they again?”

“Charles Tizno and Willie Meeks.”

“Nope, I don’t recall ever hearing those names before. Who told you they worked for us?”

“Their families,” said Jason as he looked the clean-cut manager squarely in the eyes.

“They told you the men were employed by Arizona Strip Nuclear?”

“They said their husbands had been hired by uranium miners working near the Kanab Creek Wilderness Area, and since your’s is the only outfit that fits that description, I assumed they had to be some of your boys.”

“I’m afraid that someone has made a mistake, Sheriff. I can tell you right now that neither of those Indians were ever employed by this company in any capacity.”

Todd walked over to a wall of gray metal filing cabinets and opened a drawer marked A-M. “How do you spell Meeks?” Jason told him and he rifled through the files and came up empty. He moved over to the drawer marked N-Z, and repeated the process.

“Nope. Like I said, neither of them was employed by ASN. If they had ever worked for us, then they would be in these files. Whoever told you they were working for uranium miners in the Kanab Creek area didn’t know what they were talking about. Are you sure it was uranium? You know, there’s a small sand and gravel operation that’s set up out near Kanab Canyon. Maybe they were working for those folks.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 13 - Part 2

B.T. walked over to the far wall and rapped on it lightly with his knuckles to test its thickness. He grinned happily, the wall had been well-constructed and was nearly soundproof. If the professor tried to make a commotion, it would do him little good. B.T. picked up a framed photograph and held it in front of the pale professor. "Is this the lovely Miss Linda Joyce?"

"Yes, that's her."

B.T. whistled with lusty appreciation. "You did pretty well for yourself there, Kenny. She looks like she could give you a real good workout in the rack. Does she moan and groan, or does she like to hold it all in until she explodes all over your ass?"

Ken dropped his chin and closed his eyes. Whatever happened to him at the hands of this madman, he knew it was going to be much worse for Linda. B.T. kicked the professor in the left shin with the pointed toe of his cowboy boot. The pain sent shock waves up Ken's leg and he cried out.

"I asked you a fucking question, Kenny."

Tears rolled down Jarvis' face. He cleared his throat and spit at his inquisitor's bearded face.

"You can go fuck yourself!"

B.T. smiled a lunatic grin and let the spittle dribble down his left cheek. "There you go, Kenny. Show 'em that you got a pair of balls. Yes siree. Go down swinging, that's what I always say. I bet you're learning a lot about yourself today, aren't you?" B.T. patted the professor on the shoulder. "Well, I've enjoyed our little talk, Kenny. I really have. But now it's time for me to go. I have lots of work to do."

B.T. reached over and grabbed the teacher's right ear lobe and squeezed it between his fingernails. When Ken opened his mouth to scream out in pain, B.T. jammed it full of wadded-up bandana. Ken desperately tried to work the cloth rag out of his mouth with his tongue, but B.T. quickly wrapped another bandana around the man's head, securing the gag in place. He held a syringe in the palm of his hand and looked at it lovingly.

"What we have here, Kenny, is some uncut heroin – enough to kill a goddamn horse. Just remember your words of defiance. That was Ken Jarvis at his best, and anything else you said would just be anticlimactic."

Ken's eyes pleaded for mercy as tears streamed down his face. When he felt the stinging touch of the needle on his inner arm, he jerked backward and pissed himself; his recoil so powerful that he almost knocked the chair over. But the needle slid home like an icy splinter. Within seconds he could feel the first hot flash rushes of the morphine mainline; after that, Ken Jarvis ceased to care any more. The world became one of sensual sensation, and conscious thought was just a minor background noise in the sweet symphony of pleasure.

B.T. watched analytically; to die from heroin was to die from too much pleasure. It made for great theater. The victim knew he was dying, but it felt so damn good that it really didn't matter. B.T. almost cried when he saw Ken smile. It was like the professor was thanking him for the gift of eternity.

"You're welcome, Teach." He stroked the soft grey hair of the dying man, took out his small switchblade, and flicked it open. He gingerly cut off a hank of hair and then pocketed the key to The Ritual. B.T. spread his hand on the top of Ken's head and squeezed lightly. He could feel the blood racing through Ken's overloaded brain like liquid electricity. Ken's eyes rolled back in his head as he looked up at B.T. like a grateful dog, and at that instant his heart went red-line. He was dead at forty-six, another casualty of the drug war.

B.T. unhooked the handcuffs. He removed the bandanas and arranged the body so that it looked like Professor Jarvis was just taking a little nap. He deposited an empty heroin ampule next to the dead man's hand. He took in his handiwork, making sure he had left nothing unplanned for the police to discover, and looked at his watch. It was 12:45. He would probably be a little late, but the stop in Cedar City had been worth the time. Now that he knew the girl's whereabouts, he didn't have to bother with poking around Fredonia. House Rock Valley Road was on his way to the Paria; he might just get lucky and run right into her. Now he knew what she looked like; the next time they met, he was going to ring her pretty little neck – slowly. They were going to be neighbors. Maybe he'd see if she wanted to go out on a hot date. Yeah. That would be a lot of fun. After all, she was a lover of predatory birds, so she'd be just crazy about The Ritual.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 13 - Part 1

Ken Jarvis loved Tuesdays. He instructed a senior-level geology course that didn't begin until eleven, giving him the morning to sleep in. The students in the class were all geology majors fully committed to the program; it was always a treat to teach people who were actually interested in the subject. Ken's second lecture period was the exact opposite of his first. The afternoon program was entry-level geology to the members of the football and basketball teams. The class was affectionately known as "Rocks for Jocks", and it was a guaranteed C for all who attended class.

Jarvis was a slight man in his late forties, with greying hair but a lean body that came from constant exercise. Ken jogged a three-mile circuit around the college every day and prided himself on his flat chest and athletic appearance.

Ken hurried home for lunch, anxious to see if the government grant he was trying for had finally been approved. He had expected to hear from the government bureaucrats by the previous Friday, and he was sure it would be there when he got home. It just had to be. The shaded street was empty of people, a typical weekday morning in a sleepy little college town. As Ken neared his home, he noticed a large man with a bushy beard and long red hair walking quickly down the sidewalk toward him. Ken flashed the vacant smile face that he used when walking by students on campus. The stranger smiled a toothy smile and waved. Ken nodded hello and turned down his front walk. He opened up the top on the black aluminum box and reached a shaky hand inside for his mail. There were only two letters in the box, both of them bills. "Shit!" How long were these government slugs going to keep stringing him along?

As he inserted his door key into the lock, he felt the hard metal barrel of a gun jabbed against his back.

"I need a little tutoring, Professor."

"You can have anything that's mine, just don't shoot. Okay?" pleaded Ken, starting to turn.

B.T. Saunders hated whiners. He planted his left knee on the man's backside and pushed him forward. "Just shut up, Teach, and get in the goddamn house. It's time for class to come to order." They entered the living room.

B.T. raised the sleek, black 9mm handgun and aimed it between the eyes of the terrified teacher. "Rule Number One, Kenny: I ask the questions, and you give the answers. You ask me one question and I'm going to put a large hole through your goddamn forehead. Got it?"

Ken nodded his head up and down as he chewed on his lower lip. "I understand."

"That's great," smiled B.T. as he scanned the contents of the living room. "I just knew you'd be a fast learner. Have a seat in that chair by the desk."

Ken had no idea what this man wanted from him, but he sensed that he was in real danger. He did not want to do anything to aggravate this psychopath.

B.T. replaced the 9mm in a leather shoulder holster, donned a pair of work gloves, and then removed a pair of fur-lined handcuffs from the back pocket of his jeans. He walked over to the seated geologist. "Put your hands behind the back of the chair."

"Look, I told you I'd give you anything you want. There's some money upstairs in my bedroom dresser."

B.T. chuckled. "I don't want any of your stinking money, Teach. Hell, if I was a robber, I wouldn't pick a college professor to rob. What do they pay you? Thirty thousand a year? Fifty? Shit, I can make that much in a month, Kenny." B.T. handcuffed the shaking professor's hands to the wooden slats on the back of the chair. He liked to use the fur-lined cuffs he had bought in a Vegas porno shop, because they left no marks on the victim's wrists. They were sort of kinky, too.

"I'll tell you whatever you want to know," said Ken as he looked nervously over his shoulder at the intruder.

"Oh, I hope so, Kenny, cause I got another rule: I can tell when a person is lying to me, so if you try and bullshit me, you're going to feel more pain than you ever thought was possible. Torture is my middle name." B.T.'s green eyes blazed with excitement and the friendly smile never left his face as he spoke. "You wouldn't even believe what a sharp pencil inserted in the ear feels like, Kenny. And, trust me, you don't want to know."

A frightened whimper escaped from the professor as B.T. picked up a freshly sharpened Number 2 pencil from the nearby desk. He twirled it in his right hand like a baton and laughed.

"Tell me about Linda Joyce."

Jarvis instantly knew what this was all about. "You're the man she saw kill the Indian!"

"Well, I see that my reputation precedes me. When did she call?"

Ken's eyes darted madly around the room, but he knew there was no way out. "This morning. She called to tell me about the murder this morning."

"How nice. What else did she have to say?"

"She said she was worried, that it had been a terrible ordeal. She said you almost caught her when she was down in the canyon."

"Yeah, I bet I did. What else did she have to say?"

"Nothing, I swear to God. We just talked about personal stuff – things that wouldn't interest you."

"Everything interests me, Kenny. And it's been my experience that whenever people start swearing to God, they're lying."

B.T. ran the pencil in ticklish circles along the edge of the professor's ear lobe. Ken tried to pull his head to the side, but wherever he moved, the pointed pencil followed.

"She said she was going back to work!"

"Did she say anything about police protection?"

"No," cried the horror-stricken teacher, "I'm pretty sure she said she was going to be alone."

"Where is she planning on working?"

Ken Jarvis was so scared that he didn't think to protect Linda. All he cared about was his own survival. "She said she would be at House Rock Valley."

B.T.'s eyes widened. "Do you mean the House Rock Valley that's just to the west of the Paria Plateau?"

Ken swallowed hard. "That's the one. It's located on the eastern edge of the Kaibab Mountain."

B.T. tossed the pencil back on the table. Now he had everything he needed from this worm. It was time to get down to serious business. The air seemed to crackle like it was electrically charged, and the smell of death came to him like a heavenly perfume. He could faintly hear the voices of the gods whispering behind his back. All eyes were now upon him. And Ken Jarvis' spirit hung in the balance.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 12 - Part 3

"I'm just tired of listening to my friends and neighbors telling me it's okay if they piss on the past like it was their own. 'Cause it ain't. The Anasazi weren't your people, and you got no right to steal their history and then pretend like it was nothing more than a shiny penny you happened to stumble upon on the street."
"Well, when you frame it like that, I guess I don't," said Billy as he crushed his sandwich wrap into a tight ball. "But I ain't the one in the chopper. And I ain't killed no Indians, neither. But I'll tell you what. This chopper business leaves a real bad taste in my mouth. These people are looters, for Christ's sake. They fly in here in their fancy helicopters and steal the local culture. And then they fly back out to some big city shithole and sell the whole load to some Japanese sonofabitch. I saw a thing on the TV the other night about how these goddamn vandals have been raiding old Indian sites all over the San Juan River drainage for the past couple years, and they end up shipping everything out of the country; most of the stuff winds up in Japan or Europe."
Billy put his trash into his lunch box and slammed the lid shut. "And that ain't right. I mean, when a local takes something home, it stays in the area at least. But when these pots are sold to someone out of the country, you know damn well that they ain't never gonna be seen here again."
"It's unlikely," agreed Dwayne as he finished his soda and tossed the can into the truck bed.
"But now here's the thing, Dwayne. I've been seeing a lot of goddamn helicopters flying around here lately. Since we brought the cows up here in the spring, I've seen more of the damn things than I can shake a stick at. My boy Ethan remarked the other day that it sounded like a goddamn airport around here."
"What day was that?"
"Oh hell, it'd have to have been Sunday, I guess. But that don't do you no good, does it? I thought you had all the trouble yesterday morning?"
"That's when we first learned about it. But it happened on Sunday."
"Well, on Sunday we were stringing fence and we heard this one helicopter for a solid hour – must have been late in the afternoon, on towards sunset. Never saw it, but you could hear it real clear, off to the northwest – out by Jumpup. And I’ll tell you something else. I know who owns the two I've been seeing around here all summer, and that's ASN."
"The uranium miners?"
"That's them."
"Billy, are you sure about this?"
"A hunnerd percent. I seen their choppers at the Fall Carnival the past couple of years. That's how I know it's them."
"They have any markings on them, anything that says it's from ASN?"
"Not that I recall."
"Well, how the hell can you be certain then?"
Billy coughed as he gave Dwayne a dirty look. "Like I said, I seen the sonsabitches parked out behind the goddamn grade school at last year's fair, and I know they're the same ones that have been flying all over here and back. If you're so fucking smart, then where do you think they come from?"
"I don’t know. But you go accusing people, Billy, you better be sure. That's all I'm saying."
"I'm sure," said Billy with an icy stare.
"Then that's good enough for me," said Dwayne with a nod.
Billy stood up stiffly and faced the seated ranger. "Well, I guess I outghta be gettin' back to work now. I've jawed with you long enough."
Dwayne rose slowly and adjusted his cowboy hat. "Wouldn't want to slow you down on such a fine day as this." Dwayne closed the Ford's tailgate. "Now about this fence-cutting. Billy, promise me you won't do anything stupid."
"If somebody messes with the cattle, or I see that big redheaded sonofabitch in the chopper, they're gonna get a real big taste of frontier justice."
Dwayne shook his head with sad resignation. "Talking to you, Billy, is like talking to the goddamn wall."
"Ah yep, save your breath, lad."
"Well then, let me leave you with this little piece of advice, and I'll deny ever having said it, so don't even think about using it on me, if you get your ass in a sling. If you're gonna play the fool, then you better make sure you kill whoever you shoot. That way you can tell your side of the story and there ain't no one to contradict you. You know what I'm saying?"
Billy laughed. "Well now, I think I got it. You want me to aim low, shoot high, and take no prisoners, right?"
Dwayne looked up at the cloud-draped, high noon sun and shuddered with the realization that his home was fast becoming a bonafide war zone, and all he could seem to do was issue a bunch of half-assed warnings.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 12 - Part 2

Dwayne took a sip off his Coke and shook his head. "Now Billy, you know I can't tell you that it's okay for you to take the law into your own hands like that."

"Nope, and you can't spend all day and night protecting my cows, neither. I can appreciate that, Dwayne. And you know that I don't hold you personally responsible for the damage. Look, we've had this conversation already if I recall, and I say we just leave it as is. There ain't a jury in this state that's gonna convict me for standing up for what's rightfully mine. And if they do, then they can just kiss my fucking ass."

"I hear you, Billy. And all I can tell you is that you better shoot low, 'cause if you kill somebody, you're gonna be in real hot water."

"Been there before," said Billy as he stomped out his cigarette in the dust and belched loudly. "Goddamn heartburn. Half the time, it feels like I got a fire in my gut."

"That's what being such an ornery cuss'll do to you," replied Dwayne.

Billy laughed and belched again. "What the hell went on down in Jumpup yesterday? Christ, the whole town's talking about it."

Dwayne shook his head and exhaled loudly. "Willie Meeks, you know, from up at the Paiute Reservation? Well, he took a round in the back of the head at close range."

"How come?"

"You got me, Billy. Looks like he might have been working as a pothunter and got double-crossed by his partner."

"A pothunter, huh? Any idea who pulled the trigger?"

Dwayne looked down at the ground as he spoke. "It was some real big white guy with long red hair and a thick beard."

"Shit, that's a big club."

"Tell me about it," complained Dwayne. "Mining the Anasazi's big business these days."

Billy nudged the dirt with the toe of his boot as he considered his next words. "I probably shouldn't say this, you being an officer of the law and all. But it ain't no secret that most of us around here have picked up an arrowhead, or maybe a pot or two, in our travels. Hell, the old timers used to dig into sites until they found themselves a nice collection of pots, and then they'd drop 'em off a ledge just to watch 'em bust apart."

"I hope you ain't bragging, Billy," said Dwayne with contempt, "'cause that kinda shit really burns my ass. It ain't harmless fun. It's STUPID!"

Billy held up his hand as if signaling for a stop. "I ain't never done that sort of thing. And I ain't telling you nothing you don't already know, Dwayne. The point is: most every local I know – myself included – usually look at the stuff left behind by the Anasazi as being pretty much finders-keepers."

"Well it AIN'T, Billy!" said Dwayne as he slapped his cowboy hat against his knee in anger. "Indian artifacts are protected by the federal government."

"Ah yep, just like my fucking cows are, right?" Billy winked. "Look, why don't you pull the burr out of your saddle and listen to what I got to say. You might even learn something, lad. What I'm trying to tell you is that I've never paid much attention to the laws that said you couldn't pick up what you found on the ground. I don't give a shit whether you call it federal land or not. And personally, I don't see how your paid archaeologists are any better than me. I find an arrowhead and I take it home and polish it up and it ends up being displayed on a shelf in my house. Your people would pick up the same damn arrowhead and take it back to the office and store it away in a goddamn box in some warehouse. Now, you can justify that in the name of the public good, or science, or even some highfalutin' standard of morality, if you want to. But the way I see it, that goddamn arrowhead is still gone, no matter how you try and slice it."

"If you think that archaeologists are no different than yourself, then you're dumber than I thought," Dwayne replied. "You wouldn't let some idiot off the street tell you anything about running cows, so what gives you the right to pretend you have any idea what you're talking about when it comes to cultural resources? You're a goddamn thief if you pick up an artifact and take it home. You might just as well smash it right there where you find it, 'cause once you remove it from where it was found, it's meaningless. It might as well have come from the goddamn moon."

"Calm down, little pardner," replied Billy with genuine concern. "I had no idea that you felt so strongly about this shit, Dwayne."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Richmond Rocks!

Richmond Rocks!

I hadn’t been back there since 1973, when I went to summer school at the University of Richmond after getting discharged from the Navy.

Inna and I left a little before noon on a gloriously sunny and warm Veterans Day and took the long way, a scenic drive through South County and US 301, with a stop at Captain Billy’s on Pope’s Creek, for the worst fried food EVER. It’s a scenic spot along the Potomac, but the greasy food stayed with us for the rest of the day, and not in a good way.

We drove over the Governor Nice Bridge and into Virginia with its bright red cardinal welcome sign, past Dahlgren and Fort A.P. Hill, a land still pretty much like it was 30 years ago – mostly forests and fields. We stopped in Ashland for a brief walk around my old alma mater Randolph-Macon College. Inna thought it was cute, and not much has changed – the big fountain, the motel dorms a bit upgraded, Moreland Hall where I once lived, fraternity row, everything tidy and in it’s proper place. It made me want to light a joint and take a nap.

We pushed on for Richmond and went directly to the Visitors Center on Third Street, where a gracious old Colonial Dame broke out maps and told us the best places to visit while warning us that there was going to be a marathon on Saturday and the town would be impossible to get around in. Run away! She was very helpful but she should have been wearing a button that read “Richmond Sucks!”

We headed over to Monument Street and checked out the giant statuary of the Confederacy’s fallen heros. We walked along the wide grass median where rebel champs arose into the blue sky every few blocks. There was J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maurey on stone horses, with Jefferson Davis in the middle giving a speech. Ornate and immaculate houses lined the stately boulevard with its maples, ginkos and willow oaks turning the world a fiery yellow and red. The fall colors were at their peak and the residential streets were like glowing tunnels. The ginkos, in particular throbbed a golden yellow like underwater coral.

When the sun went down, we drove west to the Days Inn on Dickens Road. We unpacked, loaded up on drink and spice, and then headed back into town to Shocktoe Bottom, Richmond’s version of Baltimore’s Fell’s Point, where the former industrial bottomland is being transformed into trendy restaurants, jumping juke joints, and upscale townhouses. Inna had cashed in some of her credit card miles for restaurant discounts and we headed over to a place called Posh which was not open. We hit the very nice SUMOSAN restaurant on Cary Street for some Sapporo beer and fresh fish. Inna gave the dining certificate to our waitress as a tip.

The next day we grabbed a barely edible – but free – breakfast at the hotel before starting into town. The grey-haired docent at the Visitors Center had given me what turned out to be a gold mine map from a 6-mile charity walk called the “Anthem Stride Through Time” around the historic core, starting at the American Civil War Center Visitor Center at Tredegar on the James River, where the Park Service and others have preserved the five main areas where the industrial might of the south was put to the ultimate test.

We started our trek on the Canal Walk along the river on a sunny day with temperatures in the low 60's, past gleaming bank skyscrapers and the historic flood wall that protected the downtown core from the James River.

After about a mile, we left the waterfront and headed past the somewhat inexplicable Holocaust Museum and back into Shockoe Bottom, and then up to Church Hill to the white-framed St. John’s Church, where the rabble-rousing rebel Patrick Henry delivered his infamous “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech against King George and the British. The views of the city from the east end of Church Hill reminded me of Glasgow and Richmond lay before us like a shiny carnival ride.

We bushwacked down a hill back into Shockoe Bottom, past the Edgar Allan Poe House (Richmond’s oldest house) and had a tasty lunch at LuLu’s, right next to the historic 17th Street Farmers Market which was bustling with activity as the African-American vendors hawked their produce to the sounds of soul music oldies.

We started a long walk along East Main, up the big hill back into city center, stopping at the red, brick and sandstone Gothic Main Street train station and the Reconciliation Statue which was erected in recognition of the city’s dark connection to slavery. At the top of the hill stood the magnificent, gleaming white Georgian state capital building and Governor’s mansion. On the back side of the Capital there was a peaceful lawn much like the national capital in Washington, where statues to the African-American struggle for freedom and the Founding Fathers lined the grassy, tree-lined park and the gothic Old City Hall towered above us like a Scottish castle.

We continued north, past St. Paul’s Church, the Library of Virginia, the glass and steel new City Hall, Monumental Church, and the VCU School of Medicine. We had covered over four miles at this point and we needed to give our feet a break, so we grabbed an empty table next to the fountain behind the Valentine Richmond House. Inna took off her shoes and we basked in the warmth of the sun.

The café patio closed at 2 and we continued our urban walk past the Georgian-styled John Marshall House, Abady Festival Park, the Arabesque Carpenter Theater, Richmond Coliseum, and the Richmond Region Visitor Center where we had mapped out our visit the previous day.

It was beer-thirty, so we stopped at the Marriot for a cold brew on the outdoor patio, across from the Richmond Center Stage on East Broad Street. There was a nice electric fire place and we people watched while we drank our IPA’s and remarked how nice everyone seemed and how clean and attractive Richmond was – unlike Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg which we had visited a few months before. The residents have a real sense of happiness and pride and the city is a treat to explore.

We headed back down the hill on Fifth Street to the Tredegar Iron Works and hopped in the car. On the way back to the hotel, we scouted out a biker Jazz bar on West Broad Street known as Emilio’s. We had been told it was a great place to hear jazz but the place looked a bit sketchy and the Hell’s Angels book signing sign in the window didn’t exactly ring our bell. Back in our hotel room, we rested at the hotel and regrouped for the evening. After out 6-mile hike over much of Richmond, our heads were spinning and our feet were hurting.

We finally summoned the strength to dress for dinner and then drove down to 301 Franklin where Inna had yet another restaurant discount coupon. We had a yummy dinner and then took a walk around the neighborhood, taking in the Victorian houses on a beautiful fall evening. We took a side trip around the very urban and attractive VCU Monroe campus and then over to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart which lit the night like a huge white flower.

The next day was the Richmond Marathon, so our plan was to steer clear of downtown until noon when the streets would no longer be closed for the runners.

We headed about five miles north of town to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. They wanted $10 to tour a garden that was hardly in bloom, so we ate brunch in the empty café, overlooking the glass-domed botanical garden. If it had been $5, we would have stayed, but $10 for a dormant garden was too much to pay.

Still wanting to avoid the Marathon, we stayed on the southwest side of the City and visited some of the historic mansions overlooking the James River, stopping first at the red-bricked Wilton House, which was moved fourteen miles upriver from its original location to make way for a factory that never materialized and which is now being run by the Colonial Dames of Richmond, who charge $10 for a tour. We once again declined.

We headed a few miles east to the Agecroft and Virginia House mansions that sit side-by-side on tree-lined bluffs above the James River.

Agecroft is a giant Tudor mansion that looks out of place in the Antebellum world of Richmond. It dates back to the 16th Century England and the windows, roofing tiles, beams and furniture were brought to Richmond in the 1930's when the tobacco baron industrialist T.C. Williams purchased Windsor Farm and decided to build a Tudor village. The depression nixed that plan and other than Virginia House, a 15th Century castle that was transported from England to it’s current location, the neighborhood is comprised of million dollar Georgian mansions built in the 1960's. We walked around the ornate gardens of Agecroft and Virginia House and marveled at the tranquil beauty of these recreated gems.

Around noon, we drove through new-money communities on the west end of town where smiling families played in giant leaf piles and waved as we drove past. We parked just off of Monument Street and walked around The Fan, a residential mix of diversely-designed houses lined by magnificent street trees that were in the peak fall glory. We walked for about an hour around The Fan, and once again, we were struck by the tidy nature and genial hospitality of everyone we met. Whenever we stopped to look at a map, someone – blacks and whites – came up and asked if they could help us find what we were looking for.

We walked over to Carytown where head shops, consignment shops, and trendy stores were bustling with activity. Well-dressed hipsters ambled along the flag-draped boulevard and we stopped at a sushi restaurant for some $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons and raw fish. After lunch, we walked along Cary Street, stopping to check out the funky stores.

As the sun began to set, we hopped back in the car and hopped onto I-95, heading north to Annapolis. Two hours later, we were home.

Richmond is a wonderful weekend getaway and a place where history and the present come together with both grace and style. The people are unbelievably friendly and the city is clean, safe, and chock full of interesting places to play. We are definitely going back.

To see our trip photos check out

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 12 - Part 1

By the time Dwayne located Billy Mangum and his fencing crew, it was almost noon. High, wispy cirrus clouds were smeared across the sky like thin white paint. The weather didn't seem to know what it wanted to do. For weeks, Northern Arizona had been on the edge of several fast-moving fronts, bringing little precipitation and highs in the middle seventies and lows in the high thirties. All in all, a summerlike October, with winter staying two hundred miles north, near Salt Lake City. Dwayne honked his horn at the four cowboys just breaking for lunch. They all waved back, their faces streaked with sweat and dirt. Each one wore a battered Stetson. A stoop-shouldered man in his early fifties broke away from the group, lunch pail in hand. He shuffled along the dirt road with a bowlegged stiffness that looked almost painful.

Dwayne steered his Ford Ranger into a wide pullout and shut it off. He was suddenly glad he had decided to stop on his way out of town to pick up a ham & cheese sandwich. He was famished after no breakfast. He got out of his truck and hailed the approaching rancher. "How goes it, Billy? I see you got the boys there working their asses off."

"Ain't nothing but an honest day's work, lad. Course, to a pampered government pup like yourself, it probably looks like something special," replied Billy as he spit in the dirt.

Billy Mangum smiled a gap-toothed smile and placed his lunch box in the bed of Dwayne's truck. He took off his hat and wiped his brow with a blue bandana. His snow white hair was cut military-short and his forehead was deeply creased. He was the last of a dying breed. Billy had spent his entire life running cattle on the Arizona Strip, as his daddy had done before him. He didn't know any other kind of life. He had never held another job. Billy knew how to fix any engine ever built. He could construct a ranch house big enough to hold a Mormon family of twenty and had a deep contempt for book learning. He had barely gotten out of high school. Billy thought he knew everything that was important to know. He was king of his world, and he loved to let everyone else know what was wrong with theirs, and usually in the foulest of terms.

Billy Mangum was what known as a Jack Mormon. He liked to drink liquor, smoke cigarettes, and swear like the devil himself. Jack Mormons comprised about a third of any small Mormon town. If pressed, they'd admit to believing in the Mormon gods and general principles, but they never went to church and they thought their neighbors were nothing more than simple-minded hypocrites. The average Jack was indifferent to religion or politics. But some of them – Billy's Uncle Loomis for instance – had been so cocky and inspired, they splintered apart from their orthodox cousins and founded their own towns. They declared themselves prophets and practiced polygamy. Jacks were the black sheep of the close-knit Mormon family, but they were tolerated oddities, like some genetic mutation in the pure racial strain in which the Mormons ultimately believed. Jack Mormons had one thing in common with one another: they didn't give a damn what anybody else thought. A very little bit of Billy Mangum could go a long, long way.

"Let's eat some lunch, old timer, and you can tell me all about your fence problems." Dwayne flipped down the tailgate of his truck and took a seat.

Billy stuck an unfiltered Camel in his mouth and struck a kitchen match off his zipper. He blew a thick cloud of smoke up at the sky and joined Dwayne on the tailgate.

"Sheee-it, there ain't much to tell, Dwayne. It's the same as the time before, and all the times before that. The bastards cut the fence and then hightailed it out of here like chickenshits – probably some of them environmental assholes who get their kicks sticking it to a rancher."

Billy unwrapped the tin foil around a large roast beef sandwich and began to eat hungrily, staring off at the brightly colored plateaus rising in the north.

"Were there any tracks?"

"Oh, you bet your ass," chuckled Billy. "Tracks on top of tracks on top of tracks. Hell, these folks ain't dumb. The place where they decided to cut the fence was right next to the goddamn road and there's been plenty of traffic since then. So there ain't nothing to go on. You gotta catch the sonsabitches doing it, Dwayne. And there ain't much chance of that unless you camp out here with the cows. I mean, they don't just slice some fence to slice some fence. They purposely want to set the cows free."

"Well it wouldn't be any fun if the cows weren't there, Billy."

"Ah, yep, if they want to play the game that way, then that's the way we'll play it. Either me or one of my boys is gonna be camped out here with the herd until we move 'em off the mountain in another three weeks or so. And if we see somebody fucking around with our cattle, they're gonna find out that the way we play it is with a 30-06 slug right up the ass."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sanity Rule (one day)

Lordy, Lordy, you should have seen the Rally to Restore Sanity & Keep Fear Alive hosted by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It was a sight to behold. I've been to many of the big events in D.C. – the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, every presidential inauguration, Folk Life Festivals, and Indian Pow Wow's – but the Rally for Sanity was the mother of all events ever held on the Washington Mall. No contest.

Many of my friends from Annapolis were on the road before the sun in hopes of finding a parking place somewhere near the monuments. No one wanted to try Metro because it broke when the two trains collided last year and no one has figured out how to put it back together.

We got a late start and drove in via Kenilworth Avenue and East Capital Street, past all of the busses that were parked at RFK. There was no traffic and we snagged a free parking place on C Street right next to a neighborhood market where we bought snacks and sandwiches. Then we walked down the west side of Capital Hill to the Mall as people of all colors, ages, shapes and sizes poured out of Union Station. When we finally got a clear view of the spectacle below, we could see the entire Mall was filled from the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument.

It was beautiful fall day. The large Japanese Pagoda trees and oaks ringing Capital Hill were turning golden and a piercing blue sky tinged with cathedral light made the white Capital Dome seem almost mythical in its majesty. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Everyone we encountered from beginning to end was smiling. These were not angry teabaggers, looking for a fight. The vibe was laid-back and totally chill.

It looked and felt like Woodstock and the signs of freedom were everywhere.

Americans For ... Oh Look, It's A Puppy
Discourse then Intercourse
Reality Has a Well-Known Liberal Bias
Relax, People, I Think We’ll Be OK
Kittens Scare Me - Kittens Are Taking Over Our Government - Kittens Are EVERYWHERE - RUN!
Team Sanity
Leave Scary to Halloween Not Politics
[Citation needed]
I Can See Sanity From My House
Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Stop Being Afraid of Other Americans, Religions, Classes, Nations, Ideas. You’re Americans - Act Like It!
Things Are Pretty OK
Yes We Can ... but
I Think We Still Could
I Think I’m Right ... but
I Love Being Right So Much I Change My Mind When I’m Wrong
Separation of Corporation and State
Keep It Sane Stupid
I Hate Pointless Signs
THEY Took Our Jobs!
I Was Told There Would Be Cake
I Support Signs
Don't Be A FOXhole
FOX News - Keep Fear Alive
Jesus Died 4 Our Signs
Palin/Chaney 2012 - The Mayan Prophecy Fulfilled
Libraries are Prisons for Books
Bacon is Good For Me!
America – Let's Take it Down A Notch
Death To All Fanatics!
This Sign is Too Damn Big.

We couldn't get near the stage area and there were fences to herd the crowd into the Mall at 7th Street. People sat atop every porto-potty and perched in the trees to get a better look at the stage – it was a total free-for-all zoo.

We couldn't stop laughing. Everywhere we looked was something amusing. It was like the zany creative spirit of America had been unleashed upon Washington for a mind-blowing throw-down party.

Halloween was the next day, so many people were in costumes. There were the usual political masks, werewolves, vampires, and other grisly ghouls, but some people really pulled out all the stops.

There was a toaster carrying a sign that read Toasters United Against Teabaggers.

A Flying Spaghetti Monster kept letting people rub their heads on her springy foam pasta while a nearby human vacuum cleaner with flood lights guarded one of the food tents.

Space aliens surrounded a giant walking Statue of Liberty.

An old man in a tweed suit stood silently with a sign that read Retired CIA Analysts for Sensible Drug Policy and at his feet was a huge St. Bernard, sporting a Canines for Cannabis sign with a whiskey barrel around its neck covered in pot leaf decals.

There were jugglers, unicyclists, colonial patriots, and various comic book super heros,

There was a woman in Colonial garb with a sign that read Party Like It's 1776 standing next to a red-lipped zombie in Colonial dress with a sign saying I Can't Die - I'm Different Than You.

There were lots & lots of animals: bears, dogs, cats, big pink PETA pigs, chickens, ducks, and chipmunks.

Pot was very popular, both in signage and substance. We especially liked the fellow with the Nixon mask covered in cannabis leaves carrying a sign that said Cannabis Causes Violence, Deafness, Blindness and Absence of Taste.

A real show stopper was the a huge walking head of the Iranian President, sporting a sign that said I’m GAY for the USA and there was woman leading him along carrying a sign that read Do We Look Brown? Should We Show You Our ID’s?

One guy hung out the entire time, walking up and down the steps of the National Gallery with a bulging pair of pants and carrying a sign saying I Have a Pre-Existing Condition In My Pants. We figured he was just trying to get laid.

We liked the Roman gladiator who was waving his sword and sporting a ballistic missile coming out of his forehead like a unicorn.

Several American Indians carried signs saying Take Back America?

There was a person dressed like a yellow-headed, smiley-face robot and on his chest plate it read FCK H8

There were Guantonomo prisoners in orange jumpsuits parading back & forth in chains. They were at the Obama party on January.

One of the more amusing sights was a couple standing next to one another. The guy held a sign that read Aimee Will You Marry Me? And she stood there proudly with a big engagement ring on her finger.

There was a crowd of people being lectured to by a guy dressed like a master chef, and one of the onlookers was wearing a jacket draped in chains and penises.

There was a happy couple in full-on Islam garb, sitting in lawn chairs and carrying a sign that read Where Are the Moderate Muslims? (with an arrow pointing down at their heads).

The Blue Men were there.

We spotted lots of people dressed like Jesus and priests –- maybe they were the real deal. Who could say for sure?

And one guy in particular weirded us out. He had fashioned a costume after a Southpark episode and had a snarling baby zombie coming out of the right side of his head. He carried a brightly-colored sign that read This Is Not A Good Sign.

Interestingly enough, there were very few police and the ones that were there were either on horses or segways. They seemed to be having a ball and everyone wanted to get their pictures snapped standing next to them, which they gladly obliged.

Most folks were using their phones as cameras and the cell phone network shut down well before the show began because everyone was trying to send photos to their friends, tweeting, texting, or just trying to find their lost compadres. It was very easy to get separated.

We walked over to the National Gallery where the steps were filled with happy people, packed in like spectators at a wondrous stadium. When we got to the top of the museum, we walked out onto the edge of a flat platform on the wings of the ornate building where we had a panoramic view of the Mall. The scene before us literally took our breath away. The costumed crowd was packed like sardines on the grassy interior of the Mall, a seemingly-endless mass of comical patriots, watching the Jumbotrons and hooting it up. People danced and pranced below us on the street and it was a never-ending freak show.

We did the Wave across the entire length of the Mall, arms stretched to the sky and rippling like human corn. We practiced animal noises and jumped up and down in a synchronized move like there was an earthquake.

The official show began promptly at noon. We could hear it, but the stage was out of sight. It didn’t really matter that we weren’t plugged into Stewart, Colbert and the various bands – The Roots, Kid Rock, Cat Stevens, Ozzy Osborne, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples, and Tony Bennett. The real show were the people, and they paraded below us like a non-stop carnival. Several times I found myself on the verge of tears – proud, glad to be an American, tears.

The creepiest sight I saw was a guy carrying a big black & white American flag. It took me a second to realize what it was. At first, I thought the sun was playing tricks with my eyes. But when I realized what it was, a chill went right up my back. It sent a very strange and compelling message indeed.

Several things jumped out at me during our travels. The first was how happy people were. There was no anger of hostility. People were there to have a good time and blow off some steam in these times of great tribulation. And people had come from all around the globe. We met folks from almost every state and country, carrying their home flags.

The crowd was mostly white and young. But there were plenty of grey hairs like myself, along with grizzled Vietnam Vets, straight-looking geezers, and grannies on motorized wheelchairs. It was like every kind of American had eaten a hippie pill and were high on life.

The prime time show ended at three, but the fun and games continued for many hours as people roamed around the Mall, taking in the sights and sounds. No one wanted to break the magic spell by leaving. One guy took off his clothes and went skinny dipping in the frigid Reflecting Pool. Many people picnicked in the grass or basked in the warm sun like lazy lizards. Many people openly smoked pot. It was an irregular hootenany.

As the sun began to set, we decided to head over to Eastern Market to grab a beer and some food. At the Japanese Memorial, we picked up a sign that was in a garbage can. It read: Blame Canada, with pictures of Nickelback, Celine Dionne, and Justin Bieber. Inna and I took turns carrying the sign the rest of the day and wherever we went –even into stores and restaurants – it was a huge hit. Everyone got it.

And I think that’s the key. You either understand that America has made some really bad mistakes, but is still the best place on earth to live, and that we will only get out of this mess if we can come together and embrace our diversity and ingenuity; otherwise, we’re all doomed to be forever pissed off at dark-skinned people and everyone who isn’t Christian, conservative, and homophobic.

My feelings about the rally can best be summed up by the fellow who was carrying a sign that read Can’t We All Just Smoke A Bowl? He was standing next to a Park Police car, with his arm around the cop who was flashing the peace sign.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 11 - Part 3

Jason cleared his throat. "Mrs. Meeks, I noticed you have a new truck and the house looks like you've been sprucing it up real nice. I was wondering where you got all the money? Did it come from the job your husband was working on with Charlie Tizno?"

Ruth sniffled and nodded her head.

"And who did he say they were working for?"

"Miners," said Ruth softly.

"Which miners?" asked Jason.

"Uranium, I think. Willie didn't talk about it. He just said the miners needed him and Charlie because they knew the land real good."

"And they only worked part-time? Is that right?"

Ruth blew her nose loudly. "Yes. Maybe two, maybe three days a munt'."

Three young children crept into the living room and sat down on the floor to listen quietly. There were two cute little girls with long black braids, and the shy boy who had first answered the door.

"Your husband seems to have been paid real well for part-time labor," said Jason.

"That's because they found what the miners were looking for," replied Ruth as she rubbed the hanky under her nose.

Both Jason and Dwayne knew enough about uranium mining to know that the business didn't work that way. Drill rigs located ore deposits, and the field hands who worked on a rig made no more than ten dollars an hour, tops. Whatever Willie and Charlie were doing for the miners couldn't have had anything to do with uranium. If they were being employed to loot prehistoric Indian sites, that would explain the high wages.

All three children seemed to be enthralled with Dwayne and his rumpled cowboy hat. Dwayne didn't seem to be paying any attention to the conversation. He was mugging at the kids.

"Can you ever remember seeing your husband with a large white man who had long red hair and a bushy beard?" Jason asked.

Ruth shook her head. "No. My husband didn't like white men. He said they were all crazy. Him and Charlie always went to work alone."

"Did Willie ever bring back any old pots or baskets he might have found while he was out digging for the miners? You know, Anasazi stuff?"

"Never," said Ruth without hesitation. "I know what you think. You think my Willie was robbing graves. Well, that's not true. He knew that the spirits would get him if he bothered the dead. Willie was no fool. He was just a man trying to put food on his family's table. That's no crime."

"Nobody has accused your husband of doing anything wrong. All we're trying to do is find out who killed him. Personally, I don't care what he was doing before he was murdered, unless it can help me find his murderer. What we have here is cold-blooded murder, ma'am, and I promise you that I'm going to nail the person who fired that gun."

Dwayne spoke for the first time since entering the house, his question directed at Willie's son. "Is that your helicopter?"

Dwayne pointed at a new model helicopter sitting on a rickety end-table. He recognized it immediately as a Chinook. In Vietnam, Dwayne had flown in many such choppers.

The Paiute boy nodded his head up and down.

Dwayne smiled. "Did you put that baby together all by yourself?"

The boy rose to his feet and walked over to the toy model. "My dad bought it for me at K-Mart and I put it together in a week."

"Did you really?" drawled Dwayne. "Ain't that something! You did all that in just a week? That's pretty good, son."

The boy smiled proudly and fingered the model's floppy rotor blades.

"Have you ever been for a ride in a helicopter?" asked Dwayne.

The corners of the boy's mouth sagged. "Not me. But my daddy used to go for rides all the time. He told me that I could go with him when I got older."

Jason thanked Ruth Meeks for her trouble and told her how sorry he was that she had lost her husband. Ruth took no notice of his words; her grief went deeper than the sympathy and promises of a white policeman.

Ten minutes later, Jason and Dwayne were heading back to Fredonia, their spirits buoyed by their first real break in the case.

"You know damn well that those two Indians had to have been working for Arizona Strip Nuclear," said Dwayne as if he was stating some immutable scientific law.

"Pretty safe bet," agreed Jason.

"So what're you gonna do about it?"

"I'm gonna drop you back at your office, and then I'll pay a visit to ASN and see what they have to say for themselves."

Dwayne nodded as he adjusted his cowboy hat. "I've gotta go out and tie in with Billy Mangum. That's where I was heading yesterday when I ran into Linda. Seems ol' Billy had some more of his range fences cut and he's as pissed as I've ever heard him get. Says he's gonna start shooting anybody he sees on his grazing allotment from here on out."

"That's all we need right now, Brother Johnson," moaned Jason. "A range war on top of murdering pothunters. My god, what's next? "

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 11 - Part 2

They drove down a wide dirt road that was cluttered with run-down houses, their doors wide open. Each home seemed crowded with young children, most of whom sat in the dust like unattended plants. Jason was struck by the contrast between Fredonia and Paiuteville on its doorstep. It troubled him greatly. He knew there were a million reasons for the sub-standard quality of life on the Reservation. But the bottom line was: they had no pride, not as individuals, and not as a people. The Mormons had proven that you could rise from the dirt with nothing, and end up in Zion, if you had a sense of pride. Jason wondered how the Paiutes lost their pride.

They pulled up in front of a dilapidated double-wide trailer. There was a large black satellite dish in the front yard that looked so out of place that it made Dwayne laugh. Four small children rolled in the dirt with a litter of mongrel puppies. A new Ford truck was parked only inches from the front steps. The front door of the trailer had been removed from its hinges and lay smashed on the barren ground. A blaring TV could be heard from inside the living room and a woman's voice hollered in anger. Dwayne noticed a shiny new bass boat on a trailer behind some rusty trash barrels.

"New car, new boat, new dish, looks like Charlie's been getting paid real well lately," observed Dwayne.

"Sure does," said Jason as he scanned the surroundings.

A heavyset woman in her early thirties appeared in the doorway with a baby in her arms. Her eyes were swollen and she had the look of an angry pitbull. As they neared, Jason realized that the woman's face was bruised and scratched, the victim of a recent beating. Jason felt pain at the brutal conditions of this poor woman's life.

"Cops, and more cops," screamed the Paiute mother as she shifted her baby to her other beefy shoulder. "When Charlie beat my ass, I don't see no one! Cops busy. None of their business. Then he dies and you over here like flies. I told you what I know. Charlie got what he deserved. You ought to pin a goddamn medal on the white man who killed him. I won't help you find him. And I got nothing more to say." Mrs. Tizno turned around and walked back into the house.

Joe Taylor laughed. "Maybe we should just leave it be, boys. Willie's wife ain't nearly this bad, and I've already told you everything of value that this one had to say, anyway. So screw it. Let's move on."

Jason and Dwayne looked at one another and nodded in agreement.

When they pulled up in front of the Meeks homestead, the scene was a little better. An attempt at home improvement had been made there. Five scraggly cottonwood trees had been planted around the small, cinderblock house, which had a fresh coat of turquoise paint. A large clay flowerpot full of petunias had been placed by the doorstep. There was a new Ford Bronco in the driveway.

A boy answered the door, his eyes widening in fear when he saw the uniforms and guns. "Mama, it's the police again," yelled the boy as he stepped back from the open door.

A short woman with long jet-black hair appeared. Her eyes were puffy from crying. She motioned to the men to enter.

The men took off their hats and sat down in the small living room, dark as a cave. The curtains had been drawn and there were no lights on. It took a moment for the men to adjust their eyes.

Joe Taylor took the lead. "Ruth, these men are investigating the murder of your husband and they'd like to ask you some questions, if you don't mind."

Ruth pulled a Kleenex from her pants pocket and shrugged her shoulders.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 11 - Part 1

As they drove to Paiuteville in Jason's Ramcharger wagon, Dwayne filled Jason in on Jenny's report, confirming the pothunters were pros, and explained the camping arrangement between Jenny and Linda.

Jason wasn’t happy to hear that their star witness was heading back into the field, but he knew Jenny Hatch, and she was one tough cookie. It sounded like Linda would be safe. And what was the chance that the killer would find them on the other side of the mountain in the middle of nowhere?

The Paiute Indian Reservation was a 200 square-mile rectangle of high desert land – land which nobody else ever wanted. The Paiutes occupied only a very small amount of the total acreage; they preferred, instead, to crowd themselves into large subdivisions of gaudily painted prefab houses. There were no trees, no grass, just dusty sagebrush flats littered with trash and abandoned machines. Like most American Indians, the Paiutes had been herded together on land that was marginally habitable and given a monthly survival check by the federal government. More than half of the villagers didn't work because there were no jobs. The tribe operated a campground and general store, the sole commercial business venture on the entire reservation. A tiny handful of families ran cattle and sheep on land which had been over-grazed by the turn of the century. The vast majority of those who lived on the Reservation had no past, no present, and no future. They spent most of their days and nights watching television and slowly killing themselves with sugar and alcohol. The Paiutes of Northern Arizona were a hopeless case that would one day simply vanish. Sadly enough, most had already given up.

They were met by the head of the Tribal Police, Joe Taylor, a short, stocky Paiute with a very dark brown complexion and an almost permanent scowl. Joe had already visited Charlie and Willie's families, and had unearthed some intriguing information. The two dead men had been working together for the past year. Their wives didn't know details of the arrangement, but were certain that their husbands had been digging for a uranium mining company; they weren't sure which one. They knew the general vicinity where their men had been working, out near the Kanab Creek Wilderness Area. The job had only been part-time, a couple of days a week at the most. As for a large Anglo with a red beard and long hair, the women said they had never seen such a man with their husbands.

Taylor chewed tobacco and he spit a black stream of juice onto the hard-baked ground in front of his patrol car. "If you want to know what I think, they were bone-diggers for those goddamn miners. They didn't know any better. And they got what happens to everybody who goes messing with the dead. I say, good riddance."

Dwayne and Jason were surprised by the Indian's callous indifference to death. They knew Joe Taylor to be a hard man, but one who cared about the plight of his people.

"The gods, or the spirits of the dead, didn't kill Charlie and Willie," said Dwayne as he wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead. "What we have here, Joe, is murder. I don't give a shit whether they were robbing banks with this white man. The fact is, the sonofabitch killed 'em like they were nothing more than dogs."

"Maybe he knew 'em better than you," said Joe caustically. "Maybe he knew that grave-diggers are worse than dogs."

"You're being pretty tough on your own kind, Joe," observed Jason. "Sometimes life deals you some hard choices."

Joe squinted up at the sun and chuckled sadly. "My kind, eh? Hard choices, you say? Shit. You open up a man's grave, scatter his bones across the ground like garbage, you're asking for more trouble than you can even begin to understand. That's what my people believe, and there ain't any hard choices involved. So go ask your questions, and track down your red-haired white man. But it don't matter, 'cause before long, this guy is gonna end up just as dead as Charlie and Willie." Joe Taylor winked as he let fly with his tobacco juice. "Death deals out its own share of hard choices."

Taylor got into his patrol car and leaned out the window. "If you boys want to follow me, we'll start with Charlie Tizno's family." He didn't wait for an answer but simply started the engine of his battered truck and backed up in a cloud of dust.