Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 5 - Part 1

Sheriff Jason Pratt and his deputies combed the dry wash of Jumpup for five grueling hours before finding the body. Jason had never doubted Linda Joyce's tale of murder; the pieces of her story fit together. There was the recently pothunted site. There were tracks on the ground, both at the cliff dwelling and at the Jumpup Overlook, that had obviously been made by helicopter landing skids. The human footprints showed that two men had recently walked to the ruin. There were even spent shell casings from a MAC-10 machine pistol found along the sagebrush flat above Jumpup Canyon. But the most telling evidence were the blood-pulp clots splattered here and there on the spot where Linda said the murder took place.

Part of the trail had been used by the local animal population the previous evening, so there was nothing more for the police to follow. The body could be buried anywhere.

Sheriff Jason Pratt was a local in his early forties. He had a stocky, muscular build, and a broad, weathered face. His blond hair was curly. Like most of the people in Fredonia, Jason smiled a lot, a happy-go-lucky guy with an easy disposition and an evenhanded philosophy about law enforcement that made him the most popular person in town. Pratt had grown up in a logging family and his arms were almost as thick as his legs. A devout Mormon, Jason believed he was put on the earth to make a positive difference by doing good for his family and friends. He was here to help, not because it was his job, but because he genuinely cared. To be trusted by his neighbors gave Jason's life meaning and joy. Jason was no mental giant, no super-cop, no master of criminal deduction; but he didn't really have to be. Murder on the Arizona Strip was rare, happening once every couple years, and usually involving an outsider. The biggest threat to the health and well-being of a local man or woman was the automobile, and as a result, Jason and his men spent the vast majority of their time patrolling Highway 89, the only link between Fredonia and the rest of the country. Jason was methodical when it came to investigative work. He ordered his men to flip over every rock on the floor of the canyon to see what was underneath.

Deputy Tom Mutz finally found the body of the missing Indian buried in a shallow grave concealed by broken slabs of Kaibab limestone. The process of recording the grave site, unearthing the body, and carrying it almost two miles up and out of Jumpup Canyon was an all-day affair.

Meanwhile, the Grand Canyon County Sheriff's Office was a madhouse of activity. The phones were ringing off the hook and the four deputies looked like they were participating in a television fundraiser. This had already been a very long day for the law enforcement officers of the Arizona Strip, and there was no letup in sight. The search of Jumpup Canyon had taken a lot out of everyone.

As the shadow of night settled over Fredonia, the jail was besieged by people sniffing out the story about this second brutal murder in three days. Everybody wanted to know what was happening in Color Country. No one wanted the answer to that question more than Sheriff Pratt. Both victims were Indians, perhaps Paiutes. The first had been killed by a professional hit man, his neck expertly snapped at the base of the cervical column. The county coroner was certain there was no way it could have been an accident. No one at the Buckskin Tavern had seen anything unusual. Jason and his men didn't even have a possible suspect.

The second killing was worse. This Indian knew his murderer; they had flown into Jumpup Canyon together. He had been shot in the back of the head by a 9mm handgun at close range. They had a John Doe whose head and face had been blown to smithereens. The body had been stripped naked prior to burial, so the only way to identify the deceased was to take fingerprints and hope they could be matched with government records.

With two dead Indians and no leads, Jason pondered the obvious question: were the killings related? He suspected they were, though he had no real evidence to support such a theory. These murders had the feel of contract killings, and they had to be tied together in some way. But how?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 4 - Part 3

"I have a routine inspection trip planned to the ASN uranium mine on Friday morning. As a part owner in the mine, I make it a point to receive bimonthly progress tours and it will provide the necessary cover for our transportation requirements. I'm scheduled to fly into Kanab at nine A.M. in my jet. The ASN people will have a helicopter waiting there for me to use. I will immediately proceed to the Paria. Expect my arrival at the dig site no later than ten. That should leave sufficient time to load the shipment on the chopper and allow me to fly on to the Shivwits Mine for my brief show-me tour." He wiped his mustache with his index finger, combing it into place. "Can you be ready to transport according to this time frame?"

"I don't see any problem," replied B.T. "We'll be ready to go by ten; whatever we have is whatever we have. If necessary, we'll haul the rest of the shit out by truck later."

"Then ten A.M. it is," the Judge said officiously. "Mr. McCracken will pay me on Monday for my generous contribution to the art world, and on Tuesday we will meet here at the marina again, at which time you will be paid for your services. I will make delivery of the cocaine this afternoon. You will spend three days on the Paria Plateau, plus the two additional days spent dealing with our two troublesome Indians. That comes to ten ounces of cocaine."

The Judge bent over and removed a nondescript package from beneath his seat and handed it across the table to his smiling partner. "You will find a full pound of uncut Colombian cocaine inside this box. My associates in Mexico assure me this is the finest quality cocaine available. I threw in a few extra ounces to sweeten the pot and show my appreciation."

"That's a helluva bonus, Judge. I can step on this shit three or four times and make a fucking killing."

"Undoubtedly," the Judge replied contemptuously.

B.T. rolled his eyes. "Look, Indian pots or drugs, it's all the fucking same, Judge. You might not like to believe that, but we're all grave-diggers in one way or another."

The Judge's face flushed with anger. He held up his hand like a stop sign. "Please spare me the philosophy lesson, Mr. Saunders. In business we are often forced to make unpleasant decisions. My concern over the cocaine is for your personal well-being. As for your customers, I have no pity whatsoever. My long experience on the Federal bench showed me the absurd pointlessness of all drug laws. Drug addicts are losers who care only about their pleasure. They either die from their addiction, or end up in jail, where I found you. So before you decide to teach, remember your own lessons."

"You know what we ought to do, Judge? When this thing's all over, we should grab us a couple of fine-looking young ladies and head out on to the lake in that big fucking houseboat of yours. Just stay gone for a week. Do some bottom-knocking, like in the old days. You remember Bangkok, Judge? Those little fifteen year old whores dressed in their pink mini-skirts? God, those were the days, weren't they?"

The Judge's rigid expression melted into a melancholy smile. "They were, indeed, Mr. Saunders. But I don't think it's wise to think about R & R until after we have accomplished our mission. Do you have anything else to discuss before I go?"

B.T. swallowed hard. This was the moment he had been dreading; he would have to let the Judge know about the loose end that he had left out at Jumpup Canyon. B.T. became all business. He related the specifics of the Willie Meeks assassination, including the mysterious vehicle parked at the Overlook.

The Judge listened intently, his face a blank mask. "You never saw anybody at all?"

B.T. shook his head. "Just the truck."

The Judge groomed the edges of his mustache as he considered this new piece of information. "You did get the license number, I assume?"

"Of course," said B.T., giving the number to the Judge.

"That's good, Mr. Saunders," replied the Judge with a humorless smile. "I have a contact in the police force who will run the number through N.C.I.C. and tell us with whom we are dealing. If it turns out that this person did, in fact, witness the murder, then you will be obliged to eliminate him or her, post haste. Understood?"

B.T. felt his pulse quicken at the thought of redemption. "I always clean up after myself, Judge. You know that."

"Be sure you do, Mr. Saunders, be sure you do. Tomorrow morning I will fax you a copy of the information I have received about the truck owner. In the meantime, I will be paying close attention to the local police reports, as should you."

B.T. knew that he was now walking a razor edge, because losers were expendable. Failure meant certain death. B.T. smiled dreamily as he remembered his deepest, darkest secret. The Ritual would help him save his skin; it could turn death back into life. And not even the Judge knew the Ritual.

B.T. felt his pulse quicken at the thought as he reached into his pocket and fingered the two plastic bags containing the hair of the two dead Paiute Indians he had murdered. Life and death. It was all the same.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 4 - Part 2

B.T. gave him a thumbs-up salute. "Now you're talking, Judge."

"On Saturday afternoon there will be a very special, one-of-a-kind auction at the Star Sign Gallery in Denver. We have dealt with the proprietor of that establishment before; Mr. McCracken is a trustworthy man and has lined up a large number of potential buyers from Germany and Japan. These patrons are solely interested in purchasing Anasazi merchandise, and they don't ask questions. McCracken intends for this auction to be the grandest private sale of this type ever held in the west. Our collection will be the largest of the Lot. I will, of course, handle all of the details involved with the actual sale of the artifacts, while you, Mr. Saunders, will be responsible for procuring the Anasazi artifacts."

The Judge took a sip of his drink. He used a cocktail napkin to dab lightly at his oily mustache and cleared his throat before continuing.

"We have four days to work with and we can not afford any deviations from the schedule. I want no loose ends. That is why I will expect you to personally handle all collection details." The Judge picked up his palm pilot and consulted his notes. "How many men will you need for this mission?"

"Three should cover it."

The Judge punched the information into the computer. "And whom do you plan on using?"

"Well, obviously we should go with Otis. He knows the area and he's as loyal as they come. Since he's a minority partner in the overall business, it only makes sense to include him in a dig that's right in his backyard."

"Agreed," replied the Judge. "I had already assumed that Mr. Stiles would be a member of the team. That leaves two."

"I've been thinking about this since we talked last week about the possibility of a big score. I think my biker buddies from the Verde Valley would be perfect for this job."

The Judge frowned. "Mutt and Jeff?"

"Look, I know you don't care too much for my friends, but they did us right on those Sycamore Canyon digs last June, and proved they know how to keep their mouths shut. As long as you watch over them and don't let 'em get too messed up on the drugs, John and Billy Ray are top hands. They work like fucking dogs. And that's really going to be the key with this dig. With only three days to put together a major shipment, we'll have to work around the clock. We're talking about back-breaking manual labor, and the only way a person can bust ass for three straight days without a break is with some artificial stimulation. I hate to tell you this, Judge, but you just can't find normal people to do this sort of dirty work." B.T. took a long pull on his Bud and stretched his legs out. "And hey, the price is right. These boys work cheap, Judge. We pay 'em $25 for every marketable artifact they uncover, plus they get a couple grams of coke for every day on the job. Christ, you get the blow from your Mexican friends for what? Fifteen thousand a pound? Shit, at that rate we're not even paying minimum wage. How much do you figure we can make off a shipment this large?"

"Well, using round figures, I'd say we can expect to get $10,000 a pot and $20,000 a basket. Of course, the price will undoubtedly go as high as $50,000 in some instances. How many items do you anticipate we could recover from the Paria digs, Mr. Saunders?"

"Ohhh, I'd say we'd probably find somewhere in the neighborhood of 200, or so. It'll be slow going with shovels. Shit, if we could hit these Paria sites with a bulldozer, we'd be rolling in pots. But that wouldn't work. We'd never get a dozer up on that plateau – the road's too goddamn sandy. Plus, the locals would notice something like that. They might not seem all that smart, but those Mormons don't miss much."

"Two hundred would do rather nicely," said the Judge. "When combined with the 200 items we have already recovered from the western ruins, that gives us at least 400 items for sale." He did some quick calculations. "The gross value of the entire Lot would be approximately six million dollars."

B.T. whistled. "And our cut?"

The Judge typed rapidly as he spoke. "The dealer will get his standard fee of 30%. That comes out to $1.8 million for Mr. McCracken. I will take my 40%, $2.4 million, and in return, I will finance all of the logistics, including the helicopter. You will receive your usual 25% – approximately $1.5 million, along with the two ounces of cocaine per day for you and your motorcycle colleagues. Of course, I will pay their actual salaries – that should come to no more than $5,000 apiece. Mr. Stiles will get his 5% share, which in this instance should net him about $300,000, undoubtedly more money than the man has ever seen. I do hope you will explain to him the importance of being discreet with such a vast sum of money."

"Don't worry, Judge, Otis will be careful how he spends his share. Being a convicted felon in southern Utah is like living under a goddamn microscope. His Mormon brothers and sisters like to keep a close eye on Otis. He's learned how to hide what he's thinking, what he's doing – everything."

"He'd better, my friend. He is, of course, your responsibility, as are the other two deviants."

"We're birds of a feather, Judge. And I'll make sure none of them touches or breathes on you," kidded B.T.

The Judge didn't see the humor. "Fine. Let's review the real particulars of this operation."

"Fire away," grinned B.T.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Anasazi Strip" - Chapter 4 - Part 1

An incredible Arizona sunset was in progress over the surreal expanses of Lake Powell as the two men sat quietly on the patio of the Wahweap Lodge, sipping their drinks and taking in the spectacular view. The setting sun had turned the whole world pink and a giant harvest moon rose over Navajo Mountain, a breathtaking gift from the gods.

The Judge used a red swizzle stick to stir his gin and tonic and smiled contentedly. He was in his mid-sixties and looked like a British general from the days of colonial expansion. He wore a bush jacket and matching khaki trousers. His face had a ruddy complexion and, though nearly bald, he sported a long, waxed mustache that curled up at both ends. He was in excellent shape for a man of his age, and his posture and mannerisms were militarily precise. He had the air of a leader, what he had always been. After graduating from West Point, he had taken his law degree from Arizona State. During the Vietnam War, he served as a full bird colonel in the Army; then as a mercenary commander under the direction of the C.I.A, in such hotspots as Angola and El Salvador; and finally, as a Federal Judge of the District Court, in Phoenix. He was now retired, and had investments in myriad money-making schemes which spanned the globe.

The other man nursed a beer as he watched the scarlet reflections ripple across the water of the lake. He lounged in the wicker deck chair that barely contained his massive frame. His long red hair was tied back in a ponytail and he was dressed in shorts and sandals.

The Judge took a sip of his drink and spoke with the deep, cultured voice of a patrician. "Let us hear your report, Mr. Saunders."

The bearded jaw tightened and the Killer's eyes hardened as he straightened, placing his beer on the glass-topped table. He didn't really care too much for the Judge's style, but after serving under him in Vietnam, and later, in the C.I.A., B.T. Saunders was used to it. He knew the Judge didn't mean to be a snotty asshole, it was just his way. Still, B.T. didn't like playing second fiddle to any person, and he definitely didn't like being talked to like a subordinate.

"Piece of cake, Judge," said B.T. as he lit a Camel with a Zippo lighter emblazoned with the Special Forces logo. "Our Paiute friends have been terminated. I popped Charlie in a honky-tonk dive called the Buckskin – no witnesses; the cops don't have a fucking clue. And Willie-boy is MIA; I buried him in a wash where he and Charlie had last been digging."

B.T. decided to let the little matter of a possible witness remain on the back burner for the time being. The Judge was in high spirits and there was no sense pissing him off right away. "Man, you talk about a fucking mess. Those idiots left piles of dirt all over the ruin. It was sloppy, Judge, real sloppy."

The Judge nodded in regret. "It was clearly a mistake to have hired them in the first place. Indians simply can't be trusted to work alone. They need close supervision. I would suggest to you that we can avoid this type of unpleasant situation in the future by keeping the entire operation in the family. I think it would be best if we avoided the western area of the Grand Canyon altogether for the time being. The digs have been quite profitable there, I grant you – we have collected a very nice assortment of artifacts – but all good things must one day come to an end. It is time we focused our attention elsewhere. Specifically, the Paria Plateau." The Judge pointed at the dark looming shape of Navajo Mountain and took a sip of his drink. "Go east, young man, go east."

"I hear you loud and clear, Judge. Enough of these little chickenshit cliff dwellings. It's time to hit the big pueblos. That's where the real loot's at. I've scouted some places over on the Paria with the chopper that are like little cities! Nobody lives on the plateau, so we don't have to worry about being seen. And these goddamn Anasazi houses are right on top of one another. Imagine the kind of shit we'll find there!"

The Judge removed a wallet-sized computer from his jacket pocket and began accessing information. He held the tiny device in the palm of his hand so that B.T. couldn't see what he was doing.

"I have taken the liberty of working up a tentative ops plan for this mission. You will undoubtedly wish to make your own modifications. But I think it would behoove us to consider all of our options and finalize the logistics while we are both together. Time is of the essence."

"Let's hear what you've got, Judge," agreed B.T. with a wave of his hand. "Let's see what that new little Jap toy of yours can do."

The Judge smiled condescendingly. He loved gadgets – the smaller the better. Saunders was a peasant, a very valuable tool when held in the right hands, but not a man of upbringing and taste. It was a shame, really, because the Judge genuinely cared for the big assassin.

"Let me preface this briefing by saying that this is going to be our most ambitious endeavor to date."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 3 - Part 3

"That's the damnedest story I've ever heard," Dwayne said as he tried to figure out what to do next.

Linda looked up with a start. "You do believe me, don't you, Dwayne?"

"Of course I do," replied Dwayne. He looked the haggard biologist directly in the eyes and tried to look upbeat.

Linda smiled with relief. "Thank God."

"You can thank him, too, if you like," grinned Dwayne.

"If the police are half as easy to talk with as you, Dwayne, then I just might make it through this thing with all my marbles."

Dwayne reached for the microphone from the portable radio on the dash. "We gotcha covered on that end, too, Linda. I'm a Forest Service police officer."

Linda's mouth opened with surprise. "You're kidding!"

Dwayne shook his head. "Well now, I s'pose kidding is my major claim to fame. But when I ain't kidding, I truly am one of Smokey's cops."

Dwayne cued the microphone and prayed he wasn’t in a dead zone. He heard the familiar click that told him his signal was hitting a repeater tower up on Timp Point to the north. Radio transmission in this part of the country was line of sight, and if you couldn’t hit a repeater, no one could hear you. “Three zero, this is Dwayne Johnson. Do you read me?”

Andy Zaballo, the forest dispatcher out of the Fredonia District Office answered the call. His voice, clear and unwavering.

“Andy, I need to speak to the District Ranger pronto.” Dwayne concentrated on keeping his voice calm, but his heart was racing. While he waited for his boss to come on the line he motioned to Linda to keep drinking water.

Linda took a swig from the orange canteen and thanked the lord that Dwayne had gotten through to the authorities in town. She was feeling much better, and Dwayne was like a godsend, but she would feel much better when she got back to town.

After a minute or so of silence, Ben Tissaw, the Kaibab District Ranger came on the line. “Dwayne, this is Three Zero. Come in. What’s up, Dwayne?”

Dwayne swallowed hard and began his crazy tale of a terrorized bird watcher, a flying pothunter, and a dead Indian. He knew it all sounded crazy, but when he got to the part about the murder in Jumpup Canyon, he had Ben’s undivided attention.

“Repeat that last bit, Dwayne. Did you say that someone was murdered in Jumpup?”

“That’s affirmative, Boss.” answered Dwayne. “I don’t know for sure what we’re dealing with yet. But the Grand Canyon County Sheriff's Office should be alerted. I'm gonna proceed to Jumpup Cabin so I can have a look at the young lady's truck. In the meantime, you tell Jason and the boys to get out there on the double. I'll be wanting some back-up before I go down into that canyon. And I think it'd be a good idea if you sent Jenny out here, too. The Forest Archaeologist should be in on this one right from the start. Oh yeah, and how 'bout giving Billy Mangum a call at home. Leave a message with his wife that I'm not gonna be able to meet with him like we planned."

"Ten-four, Dwayne," came the crackling response of the District Ranger. "I copy your transmission. I'll give him your message. You can expect some relief within the hour. So just sit tight and make sure you're prepared to defend yourself if this joker comes back before Jason gets up there. Understood?"

"I read you loud and clear, Ben. It's lock-and-load time." Dwayne signed off and replaced the microphone on its metal hook.

Linda wiped her face with the bandana as she leaned back in her seat, lost in thought and fear. It was all just too much to handle. Here she was with a stranger in the middle of nowhere and it sounded like they were now going to return to the place where she had narrowly escaped death. Would the Killer return again, she wondered? And would this down-home cowboy cop be able to protect her if he did? She just wanted to be as far away from this place as she could get.

Dwayne got out of the truck and unlocked the toolbox in the bed of the pickup where he retrieved a holstered pistol. It was loaded and the safety engaged.

The gun made Linda feel safer, but she still wasn’t enthused about heading back to Jumpup Point. Why couldn’t they just return to Fredonia? Who cared about her truck. It was broken. It could wait. Why tempt fate and the red-headed killer?

Dwayne adjusted his weather-beaten hat and smiled at Linda. "Let's go have a look at that truck of yours."

Linda nodded and tried her best not to scream. This was crazy.

Dwayne started the Ford and drove toward Jumpup Cabin. They headed down the dusty road in silence. Dwayne rehashed Linda's story in his mind, trying to imagine the ruthless killer she described. He sure didn't sound like anybody Dwayne had ever met, nor did it sound like the work of a local. Helicopters and machine guns were signs of industrial-strength pothunting. And that meant big-time money.

Linda fidgeted in her seat and kept looking up at the blue glass sky, expecting to see the return of the helicopter. Those heartless green eyes haunted her memory. They soon came to a washboard rutted two-track road that ended on the point. Dwayne stopped and surveyed the scene before continuing. The point looked empty except for Linda’s abandoned red truck and the sun-baked ruins of the abandoned cabin that had once been occupied by some reclusive miner in search of the big score.

Linda slid across the seat and gripped Dwayne's shoulder. She felt Dwayne’s holstered pistol press against her side and it made her feel better.

Dwayne pulled up next to the solitary vehicle at the edge of the rocky point and told Linda to sit tight. She was more than happy to oblige, never wanting to set foot in this part of Grand Canyon again.

It didn't take Dwayne long to figure out the problem with Linda's truck. The distributor cap had been removed from the engine. Dwayne closed the hood of the truck and put on his best face as he returned to his Forest Service rig. "You're in safe hands now, Linda. No one is gonna harm you. I promise you that."

"I feel safe with you, Dwayne," said Linda as she buttoned the denim jacket Dwayne had given her to wear over her soaking-wet shirt. “But I’d feel a helluva lot better if we could get out of here now. This place gives me the creeps.”

Dwayne tipped his cowboy hat back on his head and got back in the truck, scanning the point one last time for any clues. He saw nothing out of the ordinary. It was just another late summer day at the edge of America’s favorite playground.

He started the engine and gave Linda what he hoped was a reassuring smile, but his gut was telling him that he better be real goddamn careful. Because whoever this Indian killer was, he was a professional. By rights, Linda Joyce should have been dead.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 3 - Part 2

The road came up onto a wide flat bench of black sagebrush where the view went on forever. Dwayne adjusted his cowboy hat as he stared off into the distance, the Grand Staircasea series of Kodachrome-colored uplifted sandstone cliffs, marched northward from Arizona into Utah. The Chocolate Cliffs began in Fredonia, Arizona; followed by the Vermillion Cliffs which started their climb around Kanab, Utah; then rose through the White Cliffs of Navajo Sandstone near Carmel Junction; and up into the Grey Cliffs of the Carmel Formation around Hatch; and topped out at 9,000 feet in the Pink Cliffs of Bryce National Park about seventy miles away. In the mid-day sun the pink Morrison Sandstone glowed like the walls of some magic kingdom. The prehistoric Colorado river, along with volcanoes and earthquakes had exposed about 175 million years of geology, beginning about 65 million years ago at the top of the steps and getting older and older until you arrived at the Jumpup Road near the Grand Canyon where the rock was nearly 240 million years old.

A large raven at the top of a berry-laden juniper tree by the edge of the road caught Dwayne’s eye. Time was running out. Eco-freaks and hot-headed ranchers were a lethal combination. Dwayne knew there wasn't much he could do to help Billy out. By now the vandals were long gone; the only thing Dwayne would find would be a barbed-wire fence that had been cut. There might be footprints and tire tracks, but the Forest Service didn't have the resources to pursue a pointless investigation. Instead, they sent Dwayne out to soothe the ruffled feathers of the local yokels, to tell the ranchers that everything was going to be A-okay. But it wasn't.

The ranchers weren't dumb enough to believe that Dwayne Johnson could even begin to protect their herds roaming over a half a million acres of mostly desolate Forest Service land. The local cattlemen knew Dwayne understood the score; he ran about fifty-head of cattle of his own, down near Kanab Creek. And while good intentions were all fine and dandy, these cattlemen weren't about to sit by and watch their livelihood go down the drain. It was that simple.

Dwayne came around a slight bend in the road and was greeted by a strange sight. Someone was running up the road toward him. At first, he thought it might be some fool out for a jog, though for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why somebody would pick such a remote place to go running.

Dwayne pulled over at a nearby pullout and pushed his cowboy hat back on his head. “What the hell?”

As Dwayne neared, the runner's arms waved frantically. It was a young woman. Dwayne cut the engine and climbed out of the truck with the bow-legged stiffness that came from spending too many days in the saddle of a horse. Always the gentleman, he flashed his patented Dwayne Johnson smile and took off his cowboy hat. The woman ran into his arms, hugging him like a long, lost relative. She was soaking wet with sweat, her hair matted against her dust-smeared face like a tangled mop.

"Hold on there, little lady," said Dwayne in his high, nasally, country twang. "Everything's gonna be okay. De-wayne's here now." He patted her lightly on the back like he was burping a baby. Smelling bad fear on this woman, he pulled her closer.

When the words finally came from the panic-stricken woman, they poured out in a torrent.

"Oh God, I was so scared! I didn't think I'd ever get away alive. When I got back to my truck and found that he had done something to the engine, I really thought I was a goner. I knew then that my only hope was to get away from Jumpup Cabin as fast as I could. And it was a lucky thing, too. Because he did come back, just like I knew he would." Linda pulled herself away from the rugged cowboy and wiped her bangs from her dirty forehead. Her eyes darted as if she expected to be attacked at any second. "He was in the helicopter again, and he had a big light that he used to search the ground with. Twice he flew right over me! But I was a good little rabbit. I didn't bolt. He had a machine gun and he blew up everything that moved. That's why I didn't move. I couldn't. I had to stay alive, so I could tell what I saw him do. I'm the only one who knows!"

The woman’s words made no sense to Dwayne. "Why don't you try starting at the beginning, ma'am. Whaddaya say we get you some water and then find you a seat over here in the truck?"

Dwayne eased Linda toward the green Ford, handing her his blue bandana so she could mop the sweat out of her eyes. She took the rag and allowed herself to be led along like a child.

"I've been running down this road for what seems like forever. I feel like I ran a desert marathon. How far is it between here and Jumpup Point?”

Dwayne stared off to the west and shook his head. “I’d say it’s a good ten miles or more.”

Linda nodded her head and spit dryly into the red dirt. “I kept stopping every few minutes to listen and make sure no one was still chasing me, while praying that somebody would come along and help me. But I realized that if I did come across a truck, there’d be no way of telling whether it was him. That's why I couldn't believe my luck when I saw your Forest Service rig. There was no way in hell he could be driving one of those. You know?"

Dwayne retrieved a canteen from the bed of his pickup and handed it to Linda. She was calming down, but her story still sounded pretty crazy.

"Why don't you start with your name," said Dwayne with a smile that made Linda relax.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I guess I haven't been making a whole lot of sense, huh? Okay. Okay. My name is Linda Joyce, and I've been working for Game & Fish, doing a migratory bird study down in Jumpup Canyon. That's where I saw the murder."

The smile vanished from Dwayne's tan face. "Beg your pardon, ma'am. Did you say murder?"

Linda nodded and took a short swig on the canteen. She hadn't had a drink since she had left her disabled truck at the Jumpup Overlook over twelve hours before. Her mouth was so dry it hurt to drink, so she swished it around in her mouth before swallowing each time.

"Why don't you have a seat in the truck and we can get to the bottom of this thing."

After the terror-packed run, Linda’s brain was overloaded with a million different emotions. It was hard for her to know where to begin her story. She looked up into Dwayne's brown eyes as he opened the door and helped her to step in. There was a steadiness about this man that made Linda feel comfortable. "I can't thank you enough, Dwayne."

Dwayne blushed as he chuckled softly. "Hell, I ain't done much, Linda, 'cept give you some water and a seat in the truck here."

Linda reached out and squeezed the big cowboy’s muscled forearm as she shook her head. "You'll never know."

Linda explained what had led her to Jumpup Canyon, her encounter with the red-headed Indian killer who raided Anasazi ruins and made his getaway in a helicopter. She described the ordeal of running through the night, across the endless expanse of sagebrush flats, alone and scared. She cried as she told about the helicopter returning several times; of the searchlight and gunfire that erupted when the Killer fired into the darkness while she huddled under any cover she could find; of catching a quick nap near dawn and then rising with the sun to keep running toward – she had no idea what. The story ended with her stumbling onto Dwayne.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 3 - Part 1


The green Forest Service truck bounced and rattled its way down the washboard road, a funnel of brown dust mushrooming from the back. At the wheel was a cowboy. Dwayne (pronounced De-wayne) Johnson was in his early thirties with sandy-colored hair, like the rest of his Mormon brethren. He was tall and lanky and a dirty beige cowboy hat that had seen better days sat atop his head.  His blue eyes took in all the sun-bleached world around him as he drove along.

The fall had been a very dry one and the high desert was a baked plain of wildfire fuel. One careless match, and a million acres of winter forage would be lost. Cattle, deer, and antelope depended on the blue grama and galleta grasses for food during the heavy snow storms of winter. The Forest Service posted large fire prevention signs along the main roads, but one careless smoker was all it took to undo the delicate environmental balance of the Kaibab Plateau.

Dwayne down-shifted the pickup as the bumpy road steepened. A few minutes later he turned onto Jumpup Point Road, and the quality of the road immediately improved. The tan limestone road was used heavily by Billy Mangum, a local rancher who grazed five hundred head of cattle on a government allotment of ten thousand acres of public land. The Forest Service maintained the road with a grader twice a year, to provide easier access for the local cattleman. In return, Billy paid the government $1.97 for every cow and calf he grazed during each month.

A big part of Dwayne’s job with the Forest Service was overseeing the Kaibab’s grazing program. Foremost, he studied the different range allotments, determining how much grazing the land could stand. This was not an exact science by any means. The ranchers Dwayne dealt with were his neighbors and friends; he had grown up with the cattle bosses and sympathized with their predicament. The land that now comprised the Kaibab had been over-grazed in the late 1800s. The knee-high grasslands which were marveled at by the region’s first military surveyors had been beaten into a rocky, cactus-covered shell. Non-native species of plants, like Russian Thistle and buffalo grass, had invaded the hard pack, choking out the nutritious grasses that had once flourished. Today’s cattlemen paid for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers.

But it was in Dwayne's other capacity as a police officer that he was meeting with Billy Mangum today. Law enforcement didn't get a high priority with the Forest Service. There just wasn't a lot of crime to speak of, certainly not enough to keep Dwayne busy. The serious police work was handled by the Grand Canyon County Sheriff's Office. Dwayne wore the same weathered cowboy hat for both jobs, but his heart was with the cows. So his upcoming meeting with Billy had him troubled.

Anti-ranching sentiments were heating up and Dwayne found himself caught in the middle. Just the previous week, he had attended a rancorous meeting at the District Office where the public had been invited to comment on the Forest Service’s latest range management plan for the Kaibab. There had been harsh words leveled against the local ranchers by outsiders – mostly young folks from around Flagstaff – who came to the Grand Canyon area for the countless recreational opportunities and didn't like the over-grazing they saw. These backpackers and hikers saw no reason for the American taxpayers to subsidize the destruction of federal lands and they were pressuring the government to drastically reduce grazing on the Kaibab. The phrase "welfare ranchers" had popped up several times at the meeting, bringing the local cattlemen out of their seats and making Dwayne feel like the referee at a fight. "Get the ranchers off the Kaibab" was the battle cry of these angry visitors who called themselves environmentalists. But some of them were also terrorists. They cut range fences, they poisoned wells, and they destroyed cattle guards, waging war against the local ranchers, with the hope of driving them out of business.

The Kaibab ranchers were ready to start stringing up some hikers. “It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets killed,” said Billy Mangum when he called Dwayne that following Tuesday morning to tell him that his range fences along the Snake Gulch Wilderness Area had been cut. This was the fifth time since May that Billy's cattle had gotten loose. He had sworn this it would be the last. He warned Dwayne that he had a God-given right to defend his cattle and the land he leased from the Forest Service. “If the government can’t protect my interests, I sure as hell can.” Billy said he was camping out with his cattle, and he was prepared to shoot any stranger who came near the herd, “just like I'd blast a goddamn coyote.”

Friday, August 6, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 2 - Part 3

Five minutes went by before Linda dropped her arms to her sides and peeked through the hole in the rocks. The killer had strapped Willie's bloody body to an Army-issue litter carrier and was getting ready to haul him away. But first, the big redhead used his knife to hack away a hank of bloody hair from Willie's shattered head. He tucked the gruesome memento inside a plastic bag and stuck it in the pocket of his jacket. He stowed a folding shovel inside his backpack. As he stared around to get his bearings, he smiled like a man at peace with the world. His eyes stopped at the rock pile concealing Linda.

Linda froze. Those emerald eyes seemed so inhuman, the emotionless eyes of a hunting bird or prey. The probing eyes finally moved on. Linda exhaled softly in relief; she had been so scared, she had stopped breathing. The killer hadn't seen her. The man hefted his pack onto his back and took the handles on the litter, dragging the heavy body down canyon toward Jumpup Spring. He whistled as he went.

Linda lost sight of the killer within seconds. She leaned back against the cold stone and shivered with fear. Soaked with perspiration, her hands shook as if from a chill. She played back the events of the last few minutes. She was dead if the killer had seen her. She tried to think clearly, but was too scared to focus. Brain-freeze had set in. The killer had gone to bury the dead Indian. But how far away? What if he came back while she was making her escape? What if he was within sight right now? What if he had already seen her and was just playing some sort of crazy game? Eagles often did that when hunting: they would spot a victim and then fly past the target like they hadn't seen anything special. When the prey darted from cover, the eagle came in for the kill. Was she no smarter than a silly rabbit?

Linda crawled out from her rocky hiding spot and raised her head gradually. There was no one around. If she was going to make a break for it, now was the time to do it. Her truck was parked back at the old Jumpup Cabin, over a mile away. The faint sound of metal against rock stopped her dead in her tracks, her heart beating madly in her chest. She clenched her fists and tried to fight back the tears, but it was no good; they came anyway. She leaned her head against a smooth brown boulder, polished by thousands of years of flash flood water, and cried silently. She heard the sound of a raven. It reminded her of laughter. Then she heard whistling. He was coming back. She creeped back into her stone cubbyhole and peered again through the peephole.

There he was, smiling like a man out for a day hike in his favorite canyon. He opened the pilot-side door of the helicopter and deposited his gear, then removed a large shovel and headed over to the cliff dwelling. He threw the shovel up to the stone pueblo and climbed up to the ledge. In spite of his large size, the man scrambled up ten feet of sheer rock wall like he was on a ladder. He stood up in the small opening, surveying the inside of the littered ruin. He whistled with what sounded like admiration, or maybe surprise, then picked up his shovel and began digging.

Linda watched the murderer in fascination. First he killed a man like he was shooting a stray dog. Then he buried him like a bag of trash. And now he came right back to the scene of the murder and went pothunting. The only thing bothering this dangerous man was that he might leave behind any valuable Indian relics. It took every ounce of will-power to stop herself from screaming. She bit her lip and drew blood.

The killer dug through the Anasazi ruin for another hour. By then, the wind had picked up from the north and the sun was sinking. He had unearthed a collection of grey, plain ware pots and a few small, tan-colored baskets.

These artifacts would fetch an easy ten grand on the open market, but there was nothing special about any of them. The killer's own collection back at home, in Hurricane, contained nothing so ordinary. But the Germans and Japs would scarf this kind of shit up like it was priceless. He placed his loot in a mesh bag and lowered the booty to the ground with a rope. He climbed down from his perch and stowed his gear in the helicopter, then hopped aboard. The engines came on with a high-pitched whine, the over-sized, floppy rotor blades turning sluggishly. The turbos kicked in with an almost deafening roar and the chopper lifted off the canyon floor in a cloud of dust.

Linda stole a look skyward. She couldn't see anything, but could he? The chopper finally zoomed away, its sound drifting off to the east. Linda came out and watched its departure. Then it hit her. The chopper was heading toward the Overlook where her pickup truck was sitting out in the open. There was no way the pilot would miss it. The helicopter circled above something that she couldn't see, but had to be her truck. When the chopper landed at the trailhead, Linda screamed, "No, goddamnit! Leave me alone!" But there was nothing she could do to stop this man.

Fifteen minutes later, the chopper took off from Jumpup Overlook and came back down the canyon toward Linda, who scampered back to her rock shelter. He was hunting for her now. He knew she was out there somewhere. The search continued for the next thirty minutes, the chopper flying over Linda’s rocky sanctuary more than once. But he never landed. The killer finally banked west, heading off toward the setting sun.

When she could no longer hear the noise from the chopper, Linda came out. It was time to get away from this deadly place. As she ran up the canyon, Linda had no doubt that the Indian killer would be coming back for her.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 2 - Part 2

The beat of the helicopter grew louder until it sounded directly overhead. Its powerful engine reverberated in the confines of the canyon like thunder in a barrel. Linda cringed at the roar. She smelled dust and prayed that the chopper would go away. Instead, it came in delicately, like a space ship landing on a alien planet. The rocks strewn across the canyon floor made landing a difficult proposition. Whoever was at the controls was either a damn good pilot or a suicidal fool.

Linda bent forward to peer through a baseball-sized crack in the jumble of stones. She had an unobstructed view of the cliff dwelling and the area in front where shriveled moon flowers danced in the downdraft from the helicopter and dust clouds swirled around the canyon like stinging fog. The helicopter was landing right on the spot where she had been standing. She tried to steady her emotions. What the hell was going on here?

When the whining engine on the Bell helicopter stopped, a heavy silence settled over Jumpup Canyon. Two men climbed out. The pilot was a bear of a man with a thick beard and long red hair. The other was a dumpy, middle-aged Indian. The pilot pointed up at the prehistoric house and the Indian nodded. The two men stood beneath the site like inspectors on a construction project.

At first, Linda could only catch bits of their conversation, but from the sound of it, something was very wrong. The redhead yelled at the Indian. The Indian never raised his voice, but the other man's growling baritone kept rising and falling in anger, his speech punctuated by profanity. Evidently, the white man was angry at the dirt and rubble left on the canyon floor.

"Why don't you take a fucking ad out in the goddamn paper, telling everybody that you've been digging out here?" he screamed.

Linda couldn't hear what the Indian replied, but it sent the white man off like gunpowder.

"Pull your fucking head out of your ass, Willie!" the pilot yelled. "The Judge expects his people to be careful, not idiots who are too goddamn lazy to clean up their mess when they're finished. The Judge has rewarded you and Charlie real well over the past year, and this is how you repay him? You shit right in his face? Is that how friends treat friends?"

Scared, the Indian stared at the ground, avoiding the eyes of the menacing white man.

Then the big man blew up. "This isn't some kind of fucking game! This is business, for Christ's sake, serious business. The judge's ass is on the line, so is mine, and so is yours, Willy."

The Indian shrugged his shoulders, shuffling his feet nervously, and turned away from his antagonist. Like his former digging partner, Charlie Tizno, Willie Meeks never saw the death train come.

But Linda did. When she saw the white man pull a pistol out of his jacket pocket, she almost yelled out a warning to the poor Indian, catching herself at the last second. She gaped in horror as the pilot raised the gun, pointed it at the back of the unsuspecting Indian's head, and fired. The confines of the steep-walled canyon amplified the loud discharge, and Linda recoiled. The vision of Willie's head blown apart at point-blank range was almost enough to send Linda off the deep end. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself and squeezed, tears streaming down her dirt-streaked face as she rocked back and forth like an autistic child.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 2 - Part 1

The snow-white cumulus clouds drifted like lazy puffballs over western Grand Canyon as Linda Joyce hiked down the dry wash of Jumpup Canyon. This region of western Grand Canyon was the part the tourists never saw because there were no paved roads. There were no houses or signs of human life. Jumpup Canyon was several hundred feet deep and comprised of white, pockmarked Kaibab Limestone, the rocky skeletons of marine creatures which called this place home millions of years before, when this entire area had been a shallow inland sea. Gambel oak, their leaves turning a bright autumn orange and yellow, dotted the brown hillsides like tangled whiskers. Buffalo grass popped out of the sand in stunted clumps, it’s sharp burrs looking like little green nuts. This was not a place where survival came easy.

It was an unseasonably warm October day and Linda was loving every minute of it. She stripped off her nylon jacket and wore only a grape-colored tee shirt emblazoned with the picture of a soaring bald eagle. Linda was careful as she navigated the boulder-strewn, dry stream bed, sometimes scanning the western sky for aerial maneuvers. She could not afford to turn an ankle in such a isolated place.

A wildlife biologist, Linda had contracted to do a migratory bird study for the Arizona Game & Fish Department. This was the fourth day of that job, which was giving her a month-long field trip in the greater Grand Canyon area. She camped out for a week at a time on the North Kaibab Plateau, a six-hundred and fifty thousand acre expanse of Ponderosa pine and sagebrush flats, comprising the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Moving from one east to west across the Kaibab Plateau, Linda watched the skies for hawk, eagle, falcon. The western Grand Canyon region was a major flyway for bald eagles during and A G & F wanted to get some sort of handle on the ancient seasonal migration. Eagles summered in the western U.S., and wintered further south. The eagles, hawks and falcons were now beginning their trip to Mexico and beyond, stopping in Grand Canyon to fuel up on tasty rodents and soar on the up-currents rising out of North America’s largest canyon

Today had been a great day: Linda had spotted thirteen bald eagles and seven peregrine falcons. Both animals were on the Endangered Species List, so it was a pretty big deal. Large birds of prey, like eagles, were extremely difficult animals to track because they covered so much ground during migration, flying hundreds of miles in a single day. Spotters like Linda were one of the only ways that scientists could measure bird numbers. After many years of such observation, bird specialists had a pretty good statistical idea of how many eagles should be seen in a given part of the flyway at this time of year. Linda was seeing more than ever before, which just might mean the birds were increasing in numbers after many years of decline.

Linda had tied her shoulder-length blond hair in a bun, and a thin trickle of perspiration ran down her forehead and off the end of her nose. She wiped the sweat out of her brown eyes and stopped to catch her breath. Her leg muscles were feeling a bit cramped so she took a swig of water and rubbed her right thigh, trying to stay loose. God, it was hard to believe it could be so hot in the high desert this late in the year! That was the desert for you, always full of surprises.

Still, Jumpup Canyon was a wonderful place to hike this time of year because the cooler evenings kept the rock from getting too warm, like in the summer, when the temperatures reached well over a hundred and the enclosed canyon became a baking oven. The surrounding Kaibab limestone walls rose steeply on both sides of the narrow stream bed. The only route into the isolated canyon was via Forest Service Trail #41, the Jumpup Trail, which hugged the boundary between the Kaibab Forest and Grand Canyon National Park. Bushy green juniper trees dotted the ledges of the brown canyon walls like bright blotches of paint and Mexican jays cried out as they flew from tree to tree. There was no wind and the heated air smelled like some exotic spice.

Linda raised her binoculars from her neck and focused in on a golden eagle soaring above the rocky terrain. Goldens were not rare for this area and were year-round inhabitants. But to watch a bird that large, gliding effortlessly on the thermals that rose out of the heated canyons, was a sight of such spectacular beauty that it never failed to fill her with deep respect. Out of habit, Linda took out a small notebook and made a notation of time, place, and species, just in case the information might prove important in the future. She had another three miles to go before she could fill her canteens at the alkaline spring near Jumpup Divide and take a break for lunch. Hiking in the rocky canyons of the arid southwest was Linda's passion and her bird work afforded her the opportunity to combine the two.

Another fifteen minutes of walking brought Linda to a tight bend in the canyon, a place where there had once been a monumental boulder slide. Limestone blocks the size of trucks were piled on top of one another, creating a loose mountain of debris. Big sagebrush and cliffrose grew atop the stupendous obstacle, which meant this avalanche had taken place many, many years ago. Searching for a way around the rocky blockade and noticed a game trail on the north side of the canyon.

Ten feet above the canyon floor was a small alcove had been cut into the south-facing limestone wall by time's erosional forces. Inside the cave, people from around 400 A.D. had erected a four-walled structure of neatly piled and mortared native stone. It was an Anasazi Indian cliff dwelling, a fairly common sight in the dry washes and canyons of Grand Canyon. The Anasazis inhabited the Colorado Plateau region from before the time of Christ until around 1400, when they mysteriously vanished, and the rock ruins that housed this ancient civilization were the silent stuff of dreams. She felt a rush of excitement as she stared up at this tiny house that had once been home to a small band of prehistoric people.

But something that didn't look quite right. A fresh pile of rock and dirt littered the canyon bottom beneath the stone dwelling. Pothunters. Somebody had recently looted this ruin for the ancient relics that lay buried beneath the surface of the structure – artifacts like pots and baskets.

The Anasazi of the Basketmaker era tended to live in easily defensible structures where they could safely store their harvested foods. Items like pinyon nuts, juniper berries, Indian rice grass and wild potato were sealed inside rock walled granaries along the interior wall of the cliff dwelling in order to keep them away from rain and rodents. An extended family of as many as ten people might have occupied the Jumpup Canyon cliff dwelling. It would have been close quarters with no privacy and very little space that wasn’t taken up with food and household items. And when someone died, they were usually buried in a fur blanket or rush mat under the floor of one of the rooms. These graves were simple and included small items that were held dear by the departed, such as their finest yucca fiber sandals, a willow wood comb, or favorite drinking mug.

Linda's face flushed with anger as she surveyed the damage to the small pueblo. The grave robbers didn't care what they destroyed while digging for the buried riches.

Linda pinpointed her location on her topographic map of the area. She circled the spot with a red pen. When she returned to town on Saturday, she would stop in at the Forest Service District Office in Fredonia and tell the Forest Archaeologist about the damage. There wasn't much anybody could do about it. If the site had already been recorded by the Forest Service, they would catalogue the subsequent destruction; but finding the culprits was pretty much a hopeless cause.

There were, of course, strict laws to prevent this type of vandalism. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 imposed stiff penalties for damaging a prehistoric site, but the authorities had to catch the thieves in the act. With only twenty archaeologists to cover the vast expanses of the Arizona Strip and Grand Canyon, some five million acres of public lands, the pothunters had the run of the place. Fewer than ten people in the entire southwest had ever been prosecuted. Out of the several hundred ruins Linda had seen, not one had escaped the shovel of the ruin raider.

Suddenly, from far off in the west, came the sound of a helicopter. Linda squinted skyward and saw nothing. She raised her field glasses and scanned the horizon in search of the intruder. It first looked like nothing more than a bird, but as it flew across Buckhorn Point, making a beeline in her direction, it quickly grew. A chill ran down Linda’s back as she lowered her binos and scurried back to the rock pile. The colossal boulders would provide cover for her. Linda chided herself for her paranoia. Choppers were common sights in western Grand Canyon, it being a main flyway to one of the nation's grandest parks; but Linda had heard rumors that some pothunters liked to use choppers to get into the isolated canyons where they hunted for lost Indian treasures. Better safe than sorry, she thought. She crawled into a gap between three massive stones and huddled breathlessly, a rabbit hiding from the eyes of the eagle.