From the top the Paria Plateau, the view of the landscape below was a swirling montage of colors: red rocks, brown grasses, and the occasional stunted green tree. The visibility was at least a hundred miles in every direction and the sky was so blue that it was psychedelic. Otis Stiles finished his cigarette and flicked it over the edge of the cliff. He wasn’t interested in the pretty view or the breathtaking scenery. Otis Stiles was pissed off.
Otis had been the first person in the group to arrive on the Paria around one o-clock. Not being sure where they would be digging, Otis had stopped at the point where the Buffalo Spring Road crested the top of the plateau. He figured he’s just wait there because everyone would have to go past him to get to the interior of the Paria.
The biker boys had arrived about an hour later. They were half-drunk and the three of them shared a pint of Jim Beam while they waited for the boss to show up.
B.T. arrived at three, wired as usual. Otis didn’t like the narcotics aspect of this arrangement, but he kept his mouth shut. It wasn’t any of his business, anyway. Cocaine didn’t seem to hinder B.T.’s ability to function effectively, in fact, if anything, it seemed to enhance it. But drugs and needles still gave Otis the creeps.
Otis Stiles was a Jack Mormon from Escalante, Utah. His nickname was Blondie, because of his scraggly blond hair. He was tan and wiry like a sun-baked piece of juniper. He wore a perpetual three-day beard, and his hair was never combed. His clothes were ratty and covered with dirt and grease. The left side of his mouth turned down in a constant scowl and there was usually an unfiltered Camel hanging from his chapped lips. Otis Stiles was actually worse than he looked. He had four wives and fifteen children scattered across southeastern Utah. He was thirty-five years old, had dropped out of high school when he was fifteen, and he had spent the last ten years of his life going back and forth between part-time jobs and jail.
Otis had met B.T. Saunders while both of them were incarcerated at The Point, the maximum security prison outside Salt Lake City. Both hard cases, they formed a violent alliance which intimidated their cellblock. Otis was serving time for trafficking in illegal feathers, feathers of birds which were on the endangered species list, mostly hawk and eagle, but also exotic Central and South American birds, like macaws. This was not Otis’ first brush with the law. He had been busted three times for drunk driving, and once for pothunting a prehistoric site in Capital Reef National Park. The feather bust netted him two years at The Point, of which he served nine months. B.T. was serving a sentence for intent to distribute cocaine.
Right from the start, Otis knew B.T. was one of those people who had gotten badly wigged-out by Vietnam. He had all sorts of weird ideas about reincarnation, and he was always talking about death. Otis didn’t give a damn one way or the other. He had beaten the draft by having so many dependents and had gone through life without ever considering the implications of anything he did. For Otis, there was no future, there was only the present. And when you died? Who fucking knew? B.T. maintained that certain birds were the appointed messengers of the gods. He said the Hopis who lived on the nearby mesas believed this to be true, and there were mountain tribes in Laos and jungle tribes in Brazil who thought the same thing. The way B.T. told it, the gods just liked to hang out in the mountain tops where they lived and send the spirits of the predatory birds to keep an eye on man to make sure he wasn’t screwing up. Otis figured the birds must be loafing on the job because the whole damn world was going to hell in a hand-basket.
Otis had been the one who first got B.T. interested in the raiding of Indian ruins. B.T. had never heard of the activity before, but it appealed to his odd religious fascination with Indians and spirits. Digging through prehistoric ruins sounded sexy and mystical, but the real kicker was that it could be extremely lucrative. Otis knew of isolated areas where there were ruins just ripe for the picking. He had grown up surrounded by the stone houses of the Anasazi, and eventually he had tried his hand at selling relics in Salt Lake City, where there would be a larger market and the items would be more of a novelty. He was arrested in a bar out by the airport by an undercover agent from the Bureau of Land Management, posing as a buyer, and he did seven months for violating the Archaeological Resource Protection Act. After that, Otis had decided that pothunting really wasn’t worth the trouble. Otis explained to B.T. that the market for cultural antiquities had become a booming business but he didn’t know a safe place to unload the Indian loot. B.T. told him that he might be able to help him out with the buyers; he had some contacts in high places. At first, Otis was skeptical, but this initial discussion eventually bloomed into a sweet partnership with the Judge.
Otis didn’t care much for the Judge. The stuffy old geezer was another one of those military assholes who thought he was still fighting some war, always acting like he was in charge. But the beauty of their arrangement was that the big shot, know-it-all was hardly ever around, and Otis didn’t care what the old fart thought, anyhow. The Judge had proven to be an excellent fence for their stolen merchandise, and the money they received in return was always more than fair. Otis had no idea where the Judge was selling the loot, but whoever was buying the relics had a lot of money, that was for sure.
Otis took great stock in the fact that this whole venture had been his idea. It was the best damn idea he had ever had in his whole screwed-up life. And on top of that, Otis was the man who located most of the sites to be excavated, so he usually had the role of guide, which made him feel important. Early on, B.T. and the Judge had rightfully concluded that Otis was much more than a simple field hand, and they made him a partner – albeit a minor one a five percent, but a partner, nevertheless.
And that was why Otis was steaming mad at this point. B.T. had left Otis behind to be lookout, spooked by the fact that his last murder had been witnessed by a passer-by. This time B.T. was leaving nothing to chance. There was only one road up onto the plateau, which Otis was ordered to monitor.
B.T. had seemed nervous and the last thing he said to Otis before he left with the others for the dig site had been almost frightening. “Don’t fuck-up, Otis. All of our asses are on the line this time.”