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? "

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