Jason smelled a rat the size of a helicopter. There was no way both of the victims’ families would confuse uranium mining with the digging of a gravel pit. The local Indians had been conned during the fifties into allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to dump uranium tailings on the Navajo and Paiute Reservations. Many Indian children had subsequently died from contamination after growing up playing in the piles of supposedly harmless radioactive dirt in their back yards, and there wasn’t a Paiute living on the Arizona Strip who wasn’t intimately familiar with the shiny, gray-colored rock known as Chinle.
ASN was somehow involved in the Jumpup murder case. Jason nodded his head, smiling like a hayseed sheriff. The double-talking engineer was hiding something.
“As long as I’m out this way, I’d appreciate it if you’d give me a rundown on how your helicopter operation works. Todd.”
Tod scowled. “I do hope you aren’t accusing ASN of pothunting, Sheriff. We will no longer allow ourselves to be viciously slandered by people who have a hidden agenda when it comes to uranium mining near Grand Canyon.”
“Slow down, Todd. I don’t have a hidden agenda, and I’m not singling you out. I’ve got my people checking every outfit that flies helicopters in the area. Nobody’s accusing you of anything. Seems to me you’re pretty testy today, Todd. If I thought you folks had anything to do with this murder, then I would have demanded that you come down to the station for a formal interview. Frankly, I had no idea that you were going to get so defensive about a few innocent questions.”
Todd Krieter realized he had pushed too hard. “I’m sorry, Sheriff, but there’s a lot of money riding on this operation. And our investors get very nervous when they pick up their newspapers, or turn on their TV’s, and hear about their company raping and looting the land. It’s my job to make sure that terrible things like that do not happen. And that’s why I won’t stand for even the slightest suggestion that we do anything other than run a first class mining operation out here. ASN will, of course, do everything possible to help the police solve these brutal crimes. But I want you to realize that we are very concerned about any negative publicity that might come out as a result of this investigation. Unfortunately, we live in a world of appearances. I do hope you can appreciate our sensitive position, Sheriff. And, please keep this in mind if our name does come up with the press. That’s really all that I am asking.”
“Say no more, Todd,” nodded the Sheriff. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason why your name should ever come up.”
“I guess that’s probably all we can ask for,” said Todd with an awkward smile.
“I’m glad we got that straight,” said the Sheriff. “Why don’t you just give me a quick description of how many choppers you have, who operates them, where they go when they leave the mine, that sort of thing.”
Todd opened another filing cabinet drawer and removed a manilla folder. He silently leafed through the contents for several minutes without saying a word, then closed the file officiously.
“Arizona Strip Nuclear owns two helicopters. They are both Bell Rangers with a weight capacity of three thousand pounds. We can fit seven passengers and a pilot aboard each one as long as they do not have a lot of gear. We used them for recon operations during the early exploratory phase, but now that the actual mining is going full bore, they are used primarily to ferry supplies and personnel back and forth from the mine to Fredonia – just expensive busses really.”
“Do they have a set route they travel?” asked the Sheriff.
Todd frowned. “They don’t follow a road or anything like that. But hell, our pilots are no different than anyone else, and sometimes they stray a bit off course and take a little scenic cruise.”
“Have you been using your helicopters lately.”
“Well, one has been doing three shuttles a day between Fredonia and the mine. It runs in the early morning, at noon, and then around dusk. The other went on the fritz this past Monday and was taken into the maintenance shop at the Kanab airport for servicing.”
“Do you have a list of all your pilots?”
Todd opened the folder. “Of course we do. Would you like me to Xerox you a copy of the names?”
Jason smiled a big friendly smile. “That would be great, if you don’t mind.”
“My pleasure,” replied Todd as he removed a single sheet from the folder walked over to the copy machine.
Jason now had everything he was going to get from Todd Krieter. If he kept pressing, there was a good chance the engineer would go on the defensive again. It was time to leave.
As the Sheriff climbed into his truck, he glanced at the pilot’s list. Todd had scribbled a note on the top of the page: “Some of our owners have pilot’s licenses, and use the choppers during V.I.P. visits to the mine. But none of them have been here within the past month.”
There were nine pilots listed on the sheet. B.T. Saunders was the last mane.