Friday, September 10, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 6 - Part 1

The Judge sipped a brandy and stared out at the monolithic Lone Rock, a 400-foot tall wall of Navajo sandstone towering above his chic houseboat. The boat was sixty feet long and was named "TET", after the successful, yet often maligned, American offensive in Vietnam. The Judge liked nothing better than relaxing aboard his home on the lake; it was the perfect place to conduct business in private. He was alone, no servants on board, free to wheel and deal. Business was the name of the evening's game.

As soon as Saunders had departed, the Judge put in a call to one of his many well-placed police contacts. He asked his friend in the Department of Public Safety to track down the owner of the truck. The Judge emphasized that it really wasn't very important; it had something to do with a minor hit-and-run accident. The police officer was more than happy to help an old friend and said it would only take an hour or so to run a check on the tag number.

Next, the Judge turned his attention to the Star Sign Gallery and its proprietor, Derek McCracken. Now that everything was finalized with Saunders, the Judge wanted to make sure that McCracken wasn't getting cold feet. The man was a whiny homosexual, scared of his own shadow. The Judge worried that he might become a problem unless he was properly encouraged. Their conversation had turned into a little pep talk, with the Judge playing the role of the head cheerleader. "This will make your gallery famous the world 'round," he predicted.

"I do wonder if we aren't perhaps taking too much of a risk with such a large shipment," said the gallery owner. "The authorities are liable to get curious when they see how many items we are auctioning off, you know?"

The Judge wanted to pull the stupid twit right through the phone receiver, but he remained dignified and courteous. "Oh nonsense, Mr. McCracken. We needn't worry about the federal government in this matter. The antiquities laws state that one can not remove artifacts from the public lands, however, there is nothing to preclude us from collecting on private land. I own a great deal of private land around the state of Arizona and Utah. And if I say that all of these artifacts you will be selling have been dug from my property – and I supply the written provenance as the federal law requires – then where does the risk lie?"

"As long as we are careful to authenticate each piece's origin as being from your private property, then I suppose we're golden," agreed McCracken.

"To say the least, Mr. McCracken," chuckled the Judge. "We are about to make each other very, very golden. Using conservative estimates, your cut should net you close to two million dollars. How does that sound to you?"

"Unbelievable!" McCracken exclaimed. "As I told you last week, I already have all the buyers lined up. Most of them will be bidding anonymously over the phone, or will have designated representatives at the auction – ninety percent of our buyers are from Germany and Japan. Many of them have dealt with me before, and I've never had a drop of trouble with any of my clients. As long as the article is genuine, they go away happy."

"I can assure you that the origin of all the artifacts in this consignment are either Grand Canyon, Kayenta, or Virgin River Anasazi. You should get ready to receive my shipment no later than Friday evening at seven."

"Oh, that's marvelous, that will leave me plenty of time to prepare the artifacts for Saturday's auction."

The Judge hung up and watched the changing play of moonlight upon the silvery waters of the lake. He felt the rush of power that always accompanied the planning of a complicated and highly dangerous mission. It was in his blood, like a drug. While serving in the military, he had become addicted to the intoxicating flavor of the high-risk, life-and-death gamble, and this pothunting business allowed him to continue the high.

He walked to a large glass case which held a collection of Anasazi pots and baskets. These were some of his most prized possessions. His home in Scotsdale housed a veritable museum of Anasazi, Sinagua and Hohokam relics, but this cabinet on the houseboat held the finest and most well-preserved pieces of the lot.

He had ventured into the pothunting trade late in life, by chance, really. It was Saunders who had originally gotten him interested in this illegal pastime. The Judge had helped get his old war buddy an early parole from a drug conviction, and in return, Saunders had proposed that the two of them form a partnership dedicated to the looting of archaeological ruins. Saunders had met Otis Stiles while at The Point, the maximum security prison in Salt Lake City. Stiles was from southern Utah and claimed to know where there were thousands of sites just ripe for the picking. That had been three years ago.

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