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.”

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