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?

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