Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sailing 101

Know Your Racing

The Volvo Ocean Race isn’t the only high-profile sailing event
The oldest yacht race in the world, The America’s Cup pits multi-million-dollar catamarans against one another.
The Volvo Ocean Race is an around-the-world marathon showcasing 70-foot high-tech sailing machines. Precise rules govern boat and sail design, making each boat similar. It takes the racers nine months to sail the globe, with extended stops in eight ports. The boats are sponsored by syndicates that hire the world’s finest sailors to ride these carbon-fiber, sail-powered rockets. It costs about $100 million to play that game. The winner gets a silver chalice that can easily hold a couple bottles of champagne.

The America’s Cup is arguably the best-known sailing race in the world. It started in 1851 as a throw-down between Britain and the United States, both sailing knife-like, 12-meter yachts. In the current incarnation, 72-foot catamarans from countries far and wide will be crewed by hired-gun sailors making six-figure salaries, competing in a round-robin series of matches, with the winner earning the right to take on Team Oracle, the current America’s Cup champion, in a best-of-seven series.
The race has recently been embroiled in legal challenges and petty billionaire backbiting, but in 2013, the America’s Cup will be hosted by the Golden Gate Yacht Club in shark-infested San Francisco Bay. The winner gets the oldest active trophy in international sport, a rather hideous-looking metal thing the size of a small child.

The America’s Cup World Series is a tune-up for the America’s Cup, with crews from the U.S., New Zealand, France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, China and Korea. They race specially designed 45-foot, carbon fiber, wing-sailed cats that can triple wind speed and hit 30-plus knots. In 2012, they will battle it out in Naples and Venice, Italy, and then Newport, Rhode Island, from June 23 to July 1. The winner at each venue gets a large silver plate.

The Velux 5 Oceans Race calls itself the Ultimate Solo Challenge. It covers 30,000 nautical miles, making it the longest single-handed sailing event in the world and the longest race for individuals in any sport. Every four years, a small handful of crazed challengers skipper standardized Eco 60s around the globe, starting in France with stopovers in South Africa, New Zealand, Uruguay and South Carolina. The last race was in 2010-’11. The winner received a glass trophy that looks like a little blue pancake boat.

The Clipper Round the World Yacht Race was conceived in 1995 by well-known yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and, for pay, gives amateur crew members the chance to sail around the world. The organizers put together a fleet of identical 68-foot yachts, each named for a specific place — usually a city — and provide qualified skippers to lead each 17-person team. The crews are comprised of people from all walks of life, who can either sign up for the whole race, at a cost of $68,335, or one or more legs, at $16,520 a pop.
The Clipper race follows the prevailing currents and winds. The 40,000-mile jaunt takes 11 months, has 15 stages and stops in eight ports. The race is currently underway. The boats just left Australia, heading for New Zealand. Maybe the Volvos will catch them.

The World Match Racing Tour is the only professional monohull series now that the America’s Cup has decided to go with the big cats. Nine World Championship events are held each year across the globe in on-the-water stadiums, following a match-race format, using one-design racing yachts that change for each event. The top point-getter receives a cool $500,000 and a silver chalice crowned with blue glass sails.

photo by Stan Schreyer
The feather-light Extreme 40s reach such high speeds they can go air-bound.

The Extreme Sailing Series started in 2007 as part of the in-port events surrounding the Volvo Ocean Race and is now in its fifth season.
This is the Formula 1 version of sailing, featuring Extreme 40s, feather-light, carbon multi-hulls that literally take to the air as they scream along at powerboat speeds. This is stadium sailing, taking place in harbors or along coastlines, where thousands of people can watch the flying hulls in action.
Some of the world’s top match racers battle it out on short triangle courses that guarantee spectacular crashes, barrel-roll flips and exploding boats. Each race takes 15 to 20 minutes, and about eight are run, with VIP hot seats where you can join the four-man crew and get launched like a pro. There’s big prize money for the winners. And this is probably the future of sailing.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Volvo Ocean Race 2011/2012 - Leg #1 - 6,500 Grueling Miles From Alicante, Spain to Capetown, South Africa

40,000 Miles of Heartbreak and Thrills

The Volvo Ocean Race is back on the water

The Volvo fleet leaves Alicante, Spain, at the start of Leg One.
The machines are scary sharp, the crews wear bright and sexy clothing and the thrills and spills will keep you coming back for your fear-factor fix.

That’s sailing we’re talking about, not Grand Prix auto racing.
While we await Christmas and winter, one of the biggest shows in the world is playing out. So take a break from holiday madness for a turn on the water.
Follow the racers round the world at and in Bay Weekly.

The Curse of Leg One

Presided over by a prince and princess — Felipe and Letizia of Asturias — the 11th Volvo Ocean Race began with fanfare and fireworks. It ended with a curse.
In Alicante, Spain, as in every port along the 39,270-nautical-mile course, the racers compete in an in-port race before taking to open waters.
According to Volvo lore, the boat that wins the first in-port race is doomed to a mechanical breakdown in Leg One.
The curse delivered.

Strike One

Englishman Ian Walker skippered Abu Dhabi from the United Arab Emirates — the first-ever entry from an Arab country — to a 12-minute victory in the in-port race.
photo by Paul Todd; Volvo Ocean Race
After winning the first in-port race, Abu Dhabi was knocked out when its mast splintered in rough waters.
The next day, the fleet barreled west out of the Mediterranean toward the tricky bottleneck at Gibraltar, battling a fierce gale and a nasty current. Just six hours and 84 miles into the 6,500-nautical-mile leg to Cape Town, they were crashing along in total darkness when their mast shattered into three pieces.
Crewman Wade Morgan bravely jumped into the sea to cut the rigging loose so they could retrieve the million-dollar mast. They motored back to Alicante, where they spent the next few days installing a new mast before jumping back into the race. After a day of getting thrashed in heavy weather, they withdrew. If they had broken their only remaining mast, they were out of the Volvo for good, and testing a new mast under stormy conditions was not the way to go. So scratch the Arabs in Leg One.

Strike Two

That same evening, Team Sanya — the first Chinese entry in Volvo history — was smashing along the southern coast of Spain when the boat started to take on water. The wind was blowing 43 knots with 35-foot waves when a long gash opened up along the starboard bow.
photo by Marc Bow; Volvo Ocean Race
On Leg One Sanya was knocked out of commission with a gash in the hull.
“We suddenly felt a very odd lurch, like dragging the keel through soft mud. We could hear the noise of water coming into the bow,” wrote the skipper, two-time Volvo winner Mike Sanderson. “For sure if the watertight doors had not been shut, we would have been sunk. We got the pumps going … our situation stabilized, and we suspended racing and headed to the nearest port.”
After much debate, the team decided to ship the boat to South Africa. Scratch the Chinese.

Strike Three

Volvo wisdom says that once you enter the Atlantic, you head west — away from your destination — catch the Trade Winds and tack south toward the mark off Brazil that all the boats must pass to port.
But Frank Cammas, skippering Groupama, France’s first Volvo entry in many a moon, decided to test fate and head due south, hugging the African Coast where a steady easterly was making for fast sailing. But the winds off Africa are fickle. When they spit you out at the point where it’s a straight shot southwest to Brazil, you are facing a vast windless zone known as the Diablo Triangle. Scratch the French.

Riding the Wind

Meanwhile, back west, the three remaining boats had finally hit the Trade Winds, had tacked south and were running at a 20-knot clip with Puma in a knock-down drag-out with Telefonica, while Camper clung to third about 100 miles back pinballing through the Doldrums.
With half the race over and 3,000 miles to go, Puma was first through the non-scoring gate at the island of Fernando de Noranha. As they crossed the equator, King Neptune handed out silly pills and the virgins on each boat were ceremoniously humiliated.
The big question when you’re racing to Cape Town is when to stop sailing south and start heading east. Standing between you and a frosty Castle Lager is another windless expanse of ocean the size of Texas called the St. Helena High, where hot air meets cold and mixes unpredictably in the South Atlantic Convergence Zone. That always spells trouble.
Telefonica pulled the trigger first and made a break to the east before Puma knew what hit her, taking the lead as the boats prepared to scoot around St. Helena’s bottom and hit the stormy cold-weather wall of wind that had produced the 24-hour world distance record for monohulls in the last Volvo Race (596.6 nautical miles for Ericsson 4 under Captain Torben Grael in 2009).
Media crewman Hamish Cooper, aboard Camper, wrote, “It’s like being on a low-flying aeroplane.’’

Strike Four

On day 17, 2,150 miles from Cape Town, Puma’s skipper, Ken Read, radioed in to Ocean Race headquarters. “We were beam reaching in 22 to 23 knots of breeze with eight to 10 foot waves … in the middle of freakin’ nowhere … when the mast failed.” Scratch the Americans.
photo by Armory Ross; Volvo Ocean Race
After a broken mast knocked Puma out of Leg One, it was loaded aboard the freighter Team Brenen and shipped to Cape Town.
To join the fleet for Leg Two, Puma faced a logistical nightmare.
Cooper described the first step: “We were dehydrated of diesel, sucking fumes. With each new jug pulled aboard, roped in hand-over-hand from the deck of the super-freighter Zim Monaco, came another pile of miles toward our mid-Atlantic salvation island of Tristan.”
Tristan Da Cunha, a speck of lava in the South Atlantic, is the world’s most remote settlement. A former British outpost known as the Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan is only seven miles wide with a population of 262, mostly lobstermen. After a few days of playing cow-pasture golf, hiking the volcanic peaks and scarfing down fresh lobster with cold lager, the crew motored over to the lee side of the island to meet its rescuers.
Their boat, Volvo-veteran Mar Mostro, was hoisted by crane onto the pitching deck of a cargo ship specially outfitted with a cradle so the Puma shore team could make repairs as they motored the 1,200 miles to Cape Town, where a new mast would be installed.

Telefonica Victorious

photo by Ian Roman; Volvo Ocean Race
After 21 days at sea, Telefonica sailed into Cape Town, more than 200 miles ahead of the next boat.
Meanwhile, Telefonica avoided breakdown and rode the Cape Doctor, the steady southeast breeze around Cape Town, to victory, finishing in a little over 21 days and beating Camper by 210 miles and Groupama by 830 miles.
After so much drama, the finish was almost anti-climactic. Leg One was more about survival than strategy, and the sailing wounded, Puma, Sanya and Abu Dhabi, still have much work ahead if they are going to make the in-port race on December 10.
Next stop: Abu Dhabi.

Leader Board After Leg One

The Volvo Ocean Race uses a high scoring system, with the overall winner the team with the most points at the end of the race. All legs count with no discards allowed.
For leg points, the winner is awarded the total of the number of entries (six) multiplied by five; i.e. 6 x 5 = 30 points for the winner. For in-port races, the ratio is six boats multiplied by one, accounting for approximately 20 percent of the total points on offer.

Meet the Volvo Teams

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (United Arab Emirates): Englishman Ian Walker, a double Olympic Medalist and 2008-’09 Volvo skipper, has recruited a mongrel crew of old hands to sail the black, falcon-crested boat called Azzam (Determination), a radically designed boat by Bruce Farr of Annapolis and built by Italy’s Persico Apa in Bergamo.

Camper (Spain and New Zealand): Spanish shoemaker Camper is teaming up with a seasoned crew of Kiwis led by three-time Volvo veteran Chris Nicholson aboard a Marcelino Botin-designed boat built by Cookson Boats in Auckland, New Zealand.

Groupama (France): French offshore-legend Franck Cammas competes in the first two legs of the race with a veteran French and Swedish crew. Cammas has only signed on for the first two legs. Then he will leave and a new, and at this point undisclosed, skipper will be hired to run the boat, designed by Argentinean Juan Kouyoumdjian, who already has two Volvo winners under his belt.

Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg (United States): American Ken Read returns at the helm after a strong showing in 2008-’09 aboard Mar Mostro, the Sea Monster, another Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed boat built at New England Boatworks in Newport, Rhode Island.

Team Sanya (China): China’s first Volvo entry flies the Phoenix bird and has a mostly veteran New Zealand crew led by two-time, Volvo-winning Kiwi skipper Mike Sanderson aboard the refitted
Telefonica Blue, a podium finisher in the 2008-’09 race.

Team Telefonica (Spain): Dual Olympic medalist Iker Martinez leads Team Telefonica on its third successive Volvo Ocean Race with a veteran Spanish and Brazilian crew sailing a third-generation Volvo 70 boat designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian and built at the King Marine shipyard in Valencia, Spain.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 37 - Part II

              It had taken Barry Smoot almost three hours to secure the warrant and drive down to Kanab from Cedar City. He had arrived with little time to spare.
“You wouldn’t happen to be Judge Keating, would you?” Barry asked the distinguished-looking, white-haired man standing in the hatchway of the plane.

The mustachioed gentleman glared down at the Sheriff. “I most certainly am. How may I assist you, Officer?”

Barry stopped beneath the older man and took off his hat to wipe his sweaty brow. “I’d like to ask you some questions, Judge. If you don’t mind.”

The Judge scowled. “Concerning?”

“Well, it’s about a murder case we’re working on. We have reason to believe that the helicopter you were flying in this morning might have been used by a fella named B.T. Saunders to commit several felonies. You wouldn’t happen to know Saunders, would you?”

The Judge took a sip of his beer before answering. “I believe he is a helicopter pilot for Arizona Strip Nuclear. I am a stockholder in that company and I have heard his name mentioned in the context of our mining operations.”

“Have you ever met him before?”

“It is entirely possible. What did you say your name was?”

“Sheriff Barry Smoot.”

“I may have met this Mr. Saunders before, Sheriff Smoot. I meet many people in my line of work. However, at my age, one tends to forget a large number of the names and faces.”

Barry smiled absent-mindedly; there was something about this man that he did not like. “You just getting back from the ASN mine?”

The Judge ran his right index finger along the rim of the beer bottle as he spoke. “That is correct. I try and stop in at the ASN mine every month or so, to see how the business is progressing. I met the head engineer at a new hole that is being drilled about thirty miles from the ASN office. I inspected the site with Mr. Todd Krieter for several hours, and then I flew back here to Kanab.”

“That’s a real nice plane you got there, Judge,” said Barry as he tucked in his shirttail.

“It is my pride and joy, Sheriff, replied the Judge as he caressed the side of the plane.

“Mind if I come aboard and have a look around?”

The Judge frowned.  “For what reason?”

“Well now, I noticed that you’ve got a lot of boxes inside there, and I was sort of wondering what you might be carrying?”

“Frankly, Sheriff, that is none of your business, growled the Judge.

Barry’s eyes raised with interest. “People around here are usually more than happy to help the police do their job – except, of course, when they got something to hide.”

“You can save that kind of insulting talk for the locals, Sheriff. In America, a man has the right to his privacy. I am well within my rights to refuse your request to inspect my airplane.”

“Suit yourself,” replied Barry as he pulled a letter from his back pocket. “Would you mind telling me what’s in the boxes?”

The Judge blushed with anger as he began yelling at the policemen. “I most definitely mind, Officer Coot!” thundered the Judge, purposely mispronouncing the Sheriff’s name. “Do you have trouble understanding the English language, or are you just dim-witted?”

Barry’s jaw muscles tightened as he struggled to control his temper. It had been a long time since anyone, other than maybe a drunk, had addressed him in that tone. “I just asked you a simple question. If you don’t want to be neighborly, that’s fine, but you don’t have to get rude about it.”

“I pump a great deal of money into the local economy through my very substantial investments in the ASN mine. It is my way of being neighborly. As a retired federal judge, I not only have an excellent understanding of how the law works, but I also have a profound respect for individual freedom. I take great exception to any law enforcement officer who uses his position of authority and trust to intimidate his fellow citizens. And if you persist with your present line of questioning, I will be forced to take up this matter with your superiors.”

“That’s your right, Judge,” said Barry with a tight-lipped smile. “But I’m still awful darn curious why a fellow like you – a retired federal judge, and all – would refuse to help a police officer with a murder investigation?”

The Judge dismissed the sheriff with a wave of his left hand. “I have said all I care to say to you, Sheriff. Now if you would be so kind as to move your vehicle, I have important business elsewhere and would like to depart from this little paradise.”

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 37 - Part I

The day-glow orange windsock at the Kanab Airport flapped violently in the breeze as the Judge set the Bell Ranger down on the paved section of the runway near the back of the maintenance shed. He had parked his Lear jet a few feet away to transfer the contents of the helicopter into the plane’s storage bay. The maintenance building shielded the aircraft from the main terminal, making it impossible for the air traffic controller to see what the Judge was doing. The mechanic on duty in the shop that morning had told the Judge that he was going rabbit hunting and would be gone all afternoon. The Judge figured it would take him about an hour to load the jet. He glanced down at his Rolex; it was 12:30.

The Judge shut down the engines and left the key in the ignition. He couldn’t afford to waste any time, but it was also very important that he not leave anything that might tie the helicopter to the raid on the Paria Plateau. As he climbed out of the cramped pilot’s seat, he looked around to make sure he was still alone. There were no incoming or outgoing planes, and no employees in sight. He opened the back hatch on the chopper and untied the straps holding down the boxes that filled the entire rear storage area. He removed his jacket, stowed it in the aft compartment, and got down to business.

An hour later, the Judge sat exhausted in the cargo door of his plane. The back of his shirt was soaked with perspiration and sweat dripped down his face. At his age, it was getting harder and harder to rebound from heavy physical exertion. The Judge sighed and wished he was still a smoker, so he could light up a cigarette after a job well done. He settled for a cold Heineken from the refrigerator on his jet. A quick peak at his watch told him what he already knew, that he should be working to get airborne, rather than just sitting there drinking beer. But his body told him he better rest a little while longer if he didn’t want to have a heart attack. As he leaned against the cargo bay, he mentally double-checked that he hadn’t forgotten anything incriminating on board the Ranger. He had wiped the entire interior with a rag so there weren’t any telltale fingerprints. After that, he had swept and vacuumed the floor. The cargo of illegal artifacts was safely aboard the jet, and nobody could prove they ever saw the boxes inside the chopper. He had cleaned up the broken windshield glass. And he had called Todd Krieter at the ASN mine and told him that if anyone asked, he was to confirm that the Judge had flown into the mine in the company chopper earlier that morning for a brief inspection tour of one of the new exploratory mines near the Kanab wilderness Area. Krieter was too scared to argue and agreed to do as he was instructed. The Judge’s alibi was now ironclad. The police really didn’t stand a chance.

The sudden sound of squealing tires came from the entrance road. The Judge turned to listen. The maintenance shed blocked his view, but he could tell the vehicle was getting closer. Either someone was out racing on the airport road, or the police were making their grand entrance. There were no sirens wailing, so the Judge guessed it was some local Mormon kids out for a joy ride. 

He guessed wrong.

A black and white Utah police car swerved around the corner of the building and screeched to a halt in front of the Lear jet, insuring that the plane stayed right where it was.

Sheriff Barry Smoot lumbered out of his police car and wiped his florid face with a red bandanna. It had been a wild and wooly morning. Ever since he had gotten the call from Sheriff Pratt’s office, warning him of the imminent arrival of B.T. Saunders’ accomplice at the Kanab Airport, Barry had been a very busy man. The only information he had was that a Judge Keating had flown into Kanab at nine that morning in his private jet and had taken the ASN helicopter for an inspection trip of the mine. Sheriff Jason Pratt’s dispatcher, Velma Jensen, said the Judge was suspected of being involved with Saunders and pothunting. The remaining details were sketchy. There were still three missing persons on the Paria, but one had radioed in to say she was fine. The Judge had been seen leaving in the direction of the Paria Plateau.

Velma ended with, “Sheriff Pratt suspects the Judge was flying to the Paria to meet Saunders, who was probably raiding Anasazi ruins up on the plateau.”

Barry pondered this riddle. If Jason was right, then when the Judge returned to Kanab later in the day, he would be carrying incriminating evidence, which might be anything from Indian artifacts to kidnap victims.

Velma’s disjointed alert made for an interesting story, but it was not exactly the stuff from which search warrants were made. But this was not the usual case by any stretch of the imagination. It involved multiple murders, drugs, weapons, and pothunting. Judge Cram had granted Jason’s original request for a warrant to search the Saunder’s home in Hurricane, and the hunt had proved right on target. Sheriff Pratt knew what he was doing. There was good reason to believe that the ASN helicopter had been previously used in the commission of multiple capital crimes. At present, the connection to Judge Keating was of a rather tenuous nature, but given Jason’s excellent track record with the investigation, Judge Cram was inclined to grant the warrant to search the Keating jet.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 36 - Part IV

The bullet entered through B.T.’s right nipple right and exited cleanly, just below his right shoulder blade. The jolt of the impact sent him flying sideways like a rag doll. As he hit the ground, he heard the echoing reverberation of a high-powered rifle. The only thing that registered was utter amazement. Blood flowed freely from the wound and a numbness began to spread across his upper body like an icy chill.

B.T. summoned all of his remaining strength and rolled over onto his back. He could hear the sound of a truck coming down the road, but he could not lift his head to look. He put his right hand over the seeping hole in his chest, and a sense of deja vu engulfed him like a wave. He saw himself back inside the dark Laotian cave, holding his guts in with his bare hands and listening to the old magician telling him about spirit-catching. Death had been so close that time he could taste it, and by all rights he should have died. But he hadn’t. And not only had B.T. miraculously survived, but he had gone on to become a master soul-provider for the gods. Was this how they rewarded his many sacrifices?

The truck stopped nearby and the engine went silent. B.T. listened as a door opened and closed. Someone began walking down the road toward him, but he still couldn’t see who it was. B.T. swallowed a bitter trickle of blood and blinked his green eyes furiously as he tried desperately to hang onto life.

A face came into view as a rifle barrel prodded his chest. It was the weather-beaten face of an old man, sporting several days growth of grey stubble. A non-filtered Camel cigarette hung from his chapped lips. B.T. had never seen the man before.

“If you were a goddamn deer, you’d be dead, Red,” chuckled the old man. “That’s a clean shoulder shot. Bet you didn’t even feel a thing, did ya?”

B.T. struggled to focus, his mind spinning in confusion. “Who the hell are you?”

“Billy Mangum’s the name. I run a couple hunnerd head of cattle out this way. And I promised a friend of mine that I was gonna blast the piss out of the next person I caught messing with my fences. Looks like you picked the wrong goddamn time to go shooting off locks, don’t it?”

“I was locked in,” said B.T. as he licked his lips, leaving a sheen of blood like lipstick. I was just trying to get out. I’m a – ”

Billy cut him off. “You’re a lying sack of shit is what you are. You’re the pothunting sonofabitch that killed those two Paiutes last week. I’ve heard a lot about you already, Mister, and I been praying I’d get a chance to meet up with you like this. And even though I aint what you might call a church-going man, I guess God don’t forget who his best shots are. When I saw you fly over my camp in that fancy helicopter of yours a little while back, I said to myself, ‘Billy-boy, there goes that red-haired asshole that Dwayne Johnson’s been trailing.’ So I high-tailed it down the road after you just as fast as I could, but hell’s bells, when the chopper took off and left, the last thing I thought I’d see was your sorry ass coming up the road toward me on that chopper.”

“Dwayne? The Forest Service cop?” asked B.T. as he coughed roughly and struggled for breath.

“Yep. The same. You know him?”

B.T. started to laugh-cough uncontrollably. “I sure feel like it, old timer. I tell you what. That boy sure as hell gets around.”

Billy scratched his chin and chuckled along with the dying man. “He does at that – even if he does work for the goddamn gov’ment.”

As B.T. lay helplessly in the dirt, feeling his life drain into the earth, the sound of heavenly laughter filled his ears. The gods had finally come to pay their last respects. But this time they were laughing at him, not with him; as if he were the butt of some elaborate practical joke. B.T. felt foolish and pitifully alone.

“You got any kin, or anybody you want me to get in touch with?” asked Billy as he stared intently at B.T.’s sucking chest wound.

B.T. shook his head. “No.” His heart began to flutter like a sputtering motor. “But you tell Dwayne that I would have made him immortal.”

Billy Mangum spit in the dirt. “Folks ‘round these parts call that murder.”

B.T. felt himself slipping away into cold darkness, and there was no one to catch him this time around. “I never killed a soul. They all lived forever.”

“That a fact?” chuckled Billy as he spit in the dirt. Sounds like a good trick, if you can get away with it. Too bad you didn’t, eh?”

“Yeah. Too bad,” agreed B.T. as his eyes rolled back in his head. 

The last thing B.T. Saunders saw was the lone golden eagle silhouetted against a sky so blue it seemed unreal.

The eagle had been watching the scene unfold a thousand feet below; even from such a great distance he could smell death on the wind. He dropped lower toward the ground and confirmed with his eyes what his beak had already told him. He soared back and forth over the body and watched as the living man returned to his truck. The eagle scanned the earth below for any signs of a hidden trap as the pickup turned around and headed slowly away from the dead man in the road.

The eagle waited until the truck was out of sight before he made his move. He descended from the sky in lazy circles, like he was dangling from an unseen rope, and landed squarely on B.T.’s bloody chest. He stared into the green eyes of the dead man and cried out triumphantly. Dinner was served.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 36 - Part III

The Judge beamed. “The situation is not as bad as I had first envisioned. We are still in an excellent position to accomplish all of the objectives of the mission, including several we had not intended. We no longer have any partners to worry about. The authorities have no one to question – with Linda Joyce out of the way, any evidence is circumstantial, at best.”

“As soon as I waste Joyce, I’m heading straight to Vegas, cutting the hair and beard, buying a nice silk suit, and catching a plane to Belize. I’ve got some friends down there in pirate country where I can hide out. And I’d recommend that you do the same. Leave the country and lay low until the goddamn dust settles. I don’t want to be seen anywhere near the Arizona Strip for the next couple of months – maybe longer. Fuck, I may never come back to the ol’ U.S. of A. It’s a big world out there, my friend.”

The Judge mulled over plans. “That sounds like a very good idea, Mr. Saunders. And extended trip to the Bahamas would allow me to deposit the money from Saturday’s auction in untraceable offshore bank accounts, while also avoiding the probing questions of the law. Yes indeed, I believe such a vacation is just what the doctor ordered.”

B.T. opened the passenger door and climbed out of the helicopter. “You better get going now. I’ll handle Joyce. You fence the artifacts. And we’ll meet in two weeks down at the Hilton, in Nassau, and get the money situation straightened-out.”

The Judge saluted his comrade. “I will have my secretary make the arrangements, Mr. Saunders. There will be a suite reserved in your name two weeks hence.”

“The first round’s on me, Judge,” replied B.T. as he returned his commander’s salute.  “Hey, it’s not like we’re dealing with the Viet Cong here. These people are fucking Mormons.”

The Judge laughed as he started up the engines on the Ranger. Good point, Mr. Saunders.”

“Wait until I make sure my bike is still there and starts, before you take off, Judge.”

The Judge raised his right thumb as B.T. jogged over to a thick clump of gambel oak and retrieved his Harley. A thin sheen of brown dust and yellowish oak pollen coated the chopper but the bike seemed untouched. B.T. climbed aboard the motorcycle and tried to kick-start the engine. The shotgun wound in his leg rebelled and brought tears of pain to his eyes. B.T. gritted his teeth and pumped the foot pedal again. On the fifth try, the roadster’s engine came alive in a blast of hot noise, so loud that it drowned out the sound of the helicopter. B.T. goosed the hand-throttle as black smoke poured out of the Harley’s chrome-plated exhaust pipe, and he waved to the Judge. 

The chopper rose effortlessly from the ground and flew off toward Kanab.

One of B.T.’s favorite pastimes was riding his Roadster on deserted forest roads.  Sometimes the dirt tracks got a little dusty, especially in the early fall, but it was still a great way to unwind. The roads seemed to go on forever. He had once heard that there were more miles of dirt road on the North Kaibab Forest than there were in the entire nationwide interstate highway system. That seemed a little hard to believe, but there was no denying that a man could ride for days and never see another human being, which was exactly what B.T. was hoping for today – smooth sailing and a trouble-free ride. His extensive knowledge of the forest’s transportation network was going to come in handy. He intended to stick to back roads all the way to Fredonia.

He cruised slowly up the bumpy road and did his best to avoid hitting the rocks and potholes. His wounded leg throbbed in agony every time he hit a rough spot. He could see the smoke rising from the lumber mill on the outskirts of Fredonia, perhaps fifty miles away. On a crystal clear day like this, it was easy to imagine that the Arizona Strip was the very center of the universe. B.T. chuckled at the thought. Only the Indians and local Mormons could really be at home with such a silly-ass notion.

Several hundred feet ahead was a cattle gate blocking the road. B.T. was surprised to see it closed; on his past trips, the gate had always been hanging open. Cattle gates were rarely, if ever locked on the forest.

B.T. gingerly climbed off the Harley, flipped down the kick-stand with the toe of his boot, and approached the rickety gate comprised of four strands of barbed wire strung across a rectangular frame of one-by-fours. A large brass padlock attached the flimsy fence to a metal post that had been driven deeply into the ground. The brown lock had a Forest Service insignia on its side. Why would the Forest Service close off Buckhorn Point? And how the hell was he going to get around the locked gate?

B.T. scanned right and left down the fence line, looking for a breach in the wire trap. Some sections looked like they had recently been re-strung. Lately, bad luck seemed to follow him wherever he went; it was hard for him to escape the thought that, for some inexplicable reason, the gods had turned against him.

The Mac-10 would make short work of the government padlock. B.T. fired a quick burst at the lock and watched it blow apart into small pieces of twisted metal. The gate slowly swung open. So much for government interference on the open range.

B.T. holstered his gun and glanced up at the turquoise sky. Above him soared a solitary golden eagle, gliding on the high-noon thermals that rose off the Grand Canyon. B.T. gazed admiringly at the great bird of prey and longed to soar above his worldly problems, to be rid of locked gates and nosey cops. Soon – by tomorrow at the latesthe would be flying high in a jumbo jet on his way to the islands. No one would be able to touch him there.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 36 - Part II

The Judge brushed a piece of the front windshield away from the console. “I have always prided myself on being an equitable man. And in light of the fact that we have lost all of our former partners, it may, in fact, be appropriate to re-evaluate our previous arrangements. What did you have in mind, Mr. Saunders?”

B.T. lightly fingered the trigger of his machine pistol. “I like the ring of fifty-fifty – at least with this mission. Shit, I’ve left bodies scattered all over the Arizona Strip for you – six of ‘em as of today. Seems to me like I’ve done all the dirty work; I’ve taken all the risks; and I’m getting all the goddamn blame. I mean, neither one of us ever thought this operation would get so out of hand – and Christ kill me – the killing still aint over yet. I still have to settle the score with our old friend Linda Joyce.”

The Judge’s bushy eyebrows raised with interest. “You have made several valid points.”

“You bet your ass I have, Judge. Six of ‘em.”

A smile formed around the edges of the Judge’s mouth. “Ah yes, but it is the seventh point which I find the most intriguing, Mr. Saunders. Assuming that you can eliminate the troublesome Miss Joyce, I see no reason why we can not have an equal split of the profits. The question in my mind is: can you fulfill your end of the bargain?”

“No sweat, Judge. The cops gotta think that we’re in the next state by now. It’ll be hours before they get back to Fredonia. Shit, it’ll be hours before anybody gets organized enough to really start looking for us; and when they do, they’ll be looking for two guys in a helicopter. They’ll contact the Kanab Airport and find out that a chopper that fits the general description left from there this morning and was returned in the early afternoon. By then, you’ll be on your merry way with the shipment to Denver in your private plane. So, who gives a shit? All they got is a whole lot of nothing.”

B.T. began fishing around on the metal floor of the helicopter while the Judge weighed the evidence. “The broken windshield ties this helicopter to the Paria Plateau and the rest.”

“Not without this, it doesn’t,” countered B.T. as he held the crumpled piece of lead from Dwayne’s 44-magnum between his thumb and forefinger. “Without this slug, they have a broken windshield – a curious coincidence, for sure – but nothing more. In the meantime, you’ve already cleaned out the chopper, loaded everything onto your jet, and have split for parts unknown. And on the way to Denver, you give that little jerk-off engineer Krieter at the mine a call and get him to say that you visited the ASN mine today, like you were supposed to. That way you have an airtight alibi.”

The Judge straightened his jacket and smiled. “I have already put the fear of God into Mr. Krieter, so he should present no problems. He will do as he is told.”

B.T. pocketed the slug and grinned confidently. “So the pigs give you a call sometime soon, and they ask you to explain what happened, because by that time they have heard from the folks at the airport that the windshield of the ASN chopper you were using was broken. You tell them you smacked into a bird. What can they say? That you didn’t? Any way you slice it, they’re gonna be way behind us, and that means they won’t have any hard evidence. As long as you get out of Kanab ahead of the local cops, you’re home free.

The Judge’s face began to glow with good humor. “Which leaves only you, Mr. Saunders.”

“That’s right, Judge.” B.T. licked at his lips. “And the last thing those cowboy cops are going to be looking for is a guy on a motorcycle. I’ll just tuck my hair up under my hat, stay off the main highway and drive into town on one of the Forest Service dirt roads, ditch the bike somewhere convenient in Fredonia, and then hang low until the Joyce woman shows up. The pigs will be expecting us to cut and run, not come looking for their star witness right where they live. I’m telling you, Judge, this is going to be the easiest hit of the bunch, ‘cause it’s you they’re going to be searching for, not me.”

“And what if they arrive at the Kanab Airport before I have loaded the jet and departed?”

B.T. shrugged. “Then just play your best role: Judge Keating, decorated war hero, retired federal judge, jet-set businessman, and all-around pillar of Arizona society. I don’t need to tell you how to browbeat people; you’ve been doing that for over thirty years. None of these shitkicker yokels will have the balls to stand up to you, Judge. Shit, I’ve seen generals call you sir. Remember that sorry-ass Major General – what was his mane? Masterson, or Kesterson, or some such horseshit – the one who ran the hospital at Can Tho? We had just come off a real hairy ops down in the Delta, and ol’ Hanibal Jones was shot up real bad; but the base hospital staff left him waiting out in the hall. You told the General to operate on Jonesy, or you were going to start shooting his surgeons. You walked right into the operating room and aimed your piece at the fucking doctors performing surgery. Christ, I thought that General was going to go cardiac red. Not only did he end up pulling his two best doctors away to work on Jonesy, but he fixed you up with one of his nurses later on that night. I remember because she had red hair.”

B.T. winked at the Judge, who nodded his head and squirmed in his seat. “She was a sweet thing. Her name was Claire.”

“Yeah. They all knew her as Cherry Eclaire.”

The Judge laughed in spite of himself. “Those were the days, Mr. Saunders.”

B.T pointed his index finger at the Judge. “You’re still the most intimidating sonofabitch in the whole world when you get going, Judge. So, if the cops show up in Kanab, you just read ‘em the riot act and warn ‘em to back off. You already have the papers to document that all these artifacts came off your ranches in Arizona and Utah, right?”

“Of course. I prepared the certificates myself, and I have listed my ranch in Tropic, Utah as the origin of each piece. Only a firsthand observer could prove otherwise.”

B.T. clapped his hands together. “Well, that’s what you tell them if they ask. And once you take off from Kanab, you take their whole fucking case with you. By tomorrow, the loot will have been sold to people from all over the goddamn planet. The pigs won’t even know what the hell they’re looking for.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 36 - Part I

The helicopter sailed over Saddle mountain and banked north toward Buckhorn Point.  The deep gorges of the Grand Canyon fanned out below like bright knife wounds in the earth’s crust. The colors swirled together to create a divine painting of seemingly infinite proportions. To stare into its shimmering depths was to look into the face of God Almighty.

B.T. Saunders and Judge Keating were not interested in spectacular views. The Judge had spent the last twenty minutes haranguing B.T. about the horrendous state of their affairs. 

B.T. sat back and weathered the verbal storm without saying a word. He could not change what had already happened. Eventually, the Judge grew tired of beating the dead horse, and flew the chopper in icy silence.

B.T. was left to ponder his precarious future, and one thing kept haunting his thoughts.  He hadn’t been able to get the hair from John and Billy Ray. The Ritual could not be performed. The spirits of the slain had been carelessly lost by the wayside. And the gods would be displeased. How could he satisfy them? How could he make things right again?

“We are at Buckhorn Point, Mr. Saunders. Where do you want me to put down?”

B.T. stared vacantly at the baked-brown landscape dotted with green pinyon and junipers, and struggled to focus. “Over there,” he pointed at a weathered old corral. “I stashed the motorcycle in the brush behind the corral.”

“Are you sure it’s still there?” the Judge asked skeptically.

“Well, it was there a couple of weeks ago when I was out here scouting for Indian ruins.   And it’s too damn big to do much with, unless you’ve got the key. I had a helluva time getting it in and out of my damn truck by myself. I’m sure it’s where I left it, Judge.”

“It better be,” concluded the Judge as he landed the helicopter on the sagebrush flat.

“The only sign of life I’ve ever seen out here before was a couple of cows. It’s the fucking middle of nowhere, Judge. Nobody in their right mind would come out here.”

“We did, Mr. Saunders.” replied the Judge.

“Well, there you go,” laughed B.T., trying to add a little levity to an unpleasantly tense situation.

The Judge smiled disdainfully as he turned off the Ranger’s engines. “I can assure you that I am firmly in control of all my faculties, Mr. Saunders, although I must admit that I am forced to question my own judgement in this unfortunate matter. It has become painfully obvious to me that I delegated far too much authority to you.”

B.T. blew up.  “Why don’t you climb down off that high horse of yours, Judge. You put up some of your easy money and you get to fly around in your helicopter, while the grunts down on the ground bust their balls for you, and then you piss and moan when things turn sour. I think you’ve forgotten what it’s like to put your ass on the line. Remember how it went in “Nam?  Sometimes a mission would click like clockwork, and other times it would blow up in your goddamn face. And not necessarily because you didn’t plan it right, either. Remember that time we went into Laos to blow those VC command bunkers. The Land Sat photos said the place was guarded by a company of light infantry. But remember what we found waiting for us? Tanks. A whole shitload of Russian tanks, and we lost half the unit. Whose fault was that, colonel?  Yours? It was your mission. You were in charge.”

The Judge’s face turned crimson. “ I had no way of knowing those tanks would be there.”

“No. And I had no way of knowing that everybody and their goddamn grandmother would suddenly show up on the Paria Plateau this week. It just happened. So you try your best to deal with it, and then you cut your losses. Three good men are dead, and we’re sitting on the considerable fruits of their labor. So, stop your goddamn bellyaching; you’ve got blood on your hands, just like me.”

The Judge toyed with his mustache. “I suppose you’re right, Mr. Saunders. Perhaps I have been a bit too harsh in my judgement.”

“Yeah, and I’m not forgetting that you tried to leave me back there on the Paria, either.  That was pretty cold-blooded, even for you, Judge.”

The Judge flashed an embarrassed smile. “I was just cutting my losses, Mr. Saunders.”

B.T. laughed loudly and aimed the muzzle of his Mac-10 at the middle of the Judge’s chest. Well now, if I can’t trust you, Judge, who can I trust? After all we’ve been through, it seems a damn shame to have to call it quits like this. But maybe it’s for the best.”

The Judge didn’t bat an eye at the deadly threat. “If you kill me, you will never be able to sell any of the priceless artifacts in this shipment. I am the only person with the necessary contacts to accomplish such a, shall we say, delicate transaction. I am the only person who can supply the proper authentication papers – McCracken would never deal with you. Surely, you must realize that.”

“All I know is that you were ready to shitcan me back there. That being the case, I think we should re-examine our partnership. What do you say to that?”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 35 - Part III

It took several seconds for Dwayne to realize the fighting was over. Saunders and his partner were fleeing the scene. Dwayne had won the battle, but as he watched the chopper grow smaller on the western horizon, he wondered whether he had lost the war.

“Dwayne? Are you there? Did they all leave?” cried Linda from behind the cover of the bullet-scarred pinnacle of red rock.

“Yeah, you can come on out, Linda. Saunders and the guy in the bush jacket got away.  But the rest of them are dead.”

Linda dropped her shotgun in the sand and ran to greet her friend. “Thank God you’re safe!”

Dwayne threw his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. “We made it.”

Linda hugged Dwayne tightly. “I couldn’t ever really see what you were doing. But when you started shooting, everything seemed to happen all at once. I was covering the two men by the chopper, but then I looked over and saw that Saunders was getting ready to fire in your direction. I was so surprised, I almost didn’t do anything. At the last second I got off a shot in his direction. But I didn’t really have time to aim, so I missed him. Once I fired at Saunders, they all knew where I was and they kept letting me have it. I got off a few shots and tried to stay flat against the rock – God, I was too afraid to even move a muscle. I knew I should do something, but I just couldn’t get up enough courage to fight back. They had me pinned down. And those machine-gun bullets blasting off the rock where I was hiding were the loudest things I ever heard in my life – I couldn’t think straight.  I just kept praying that you’d get them off my back. And you DID, Dwayne!”

Dwayne suddenly had a chilling thought. “Oh shit! I forgot all about Jenny.” He pulled himself away from Linda.

“They didn’t kill her?”

“No. They shot her full of drugs, but they didn’t kill her – yet. I left her behind the far wall of the pueblo, so she wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire.”

“You’re sure the other three men are dead?” asked Linda warily.

Dwayne nodded his head, almost as if he were ashamed of the truth. “When you hit somebody with a 44-magnum – with only a couple of feet between you and them – it makes a pretty damn big hole. They all looked dead to me, but I didn’t have any time to check.”

Dwayne decided to just leave it at that. There was no reason to go into the attempted rape, or the grisly details of each murder. Those were all images that Dwayne would rather not remember, much less relate. And surely Linda had already witnessed enough brutality for a lifetime.

“Well, let’s go make sure,” said Linda as she picked up the shotgun.

The smaller biker John lay spread-eagled on the ground, his mouth agape in a death mask of pain.  Dwayne crouched down and felt for a pulse. “Yeah, this one’s dead.”

“Good riddance,” said Linda coldly. “Let’s see how Jenny’s doing.”

As they came around the corner of the ruin, they were greeted by a smiling Jenny Hatch.  She had propped her back against the wall of the stone building and was softly humming an unintelligible song. Her head swayed from side to side. Her shirt and pants were ripped open and she was covered with red dirt. She looked like she had been to hell and back, and enjoyed the ride.

“Jenny!” cried Linda as she broke away from Dwayne and ran over to the archaeologist.

Jenny did not seem to take any notice of her new company, and continued to sing her song in a high, sweet, whispery voice.

Linda crouched down in front of the dazed woman and then she realized just how wrong things were. Dried spittle hung from the corner of Jenny’s chapped mouth and her eyes had the glazed glint of madness.

“What have they done to her?” screamed Linda to Dwayne.

He kneeled beside Jenny and took her left hand in his own. He checked her pulse and gazed down at his watch. “Her pulse is racing out of control. I don’t know what they shot her up with, she may be dying for all I know.”

Jenny stopped singing and stared directly at Dwayne. “Wrong hand, Cowboy.”

“Say what?” asked Dwayne.

“It’s in the other hand,” said Jenny with a wink as she opened her right hand. Resting in the palm of Jenny’s hand was the handle from a large Anasazi pot. It was several inches long and tan in color. Jenny smiled triumphantly as she gave Dwayne the handle.

“Here. The Magician says that you should have this. It will stop the pothunters.”

Dwayne did not have the heart to tell Jenny that Saunders had escaped. He stared at the ancient handle and tried to think of an appropriate response. “That’s the second time you’ve mentioned a fellow named the Magician. Who is he, Jenny?”

Jenny smiled as she closed her eyes and began to tell her story. “There’s an incredible kiva inside this pueblo. We found the Burial of the Magician under its floor. It was treasure. And the more we dug the grave, the more the Magician came to life.  God’s honest truth.”

Jenny’s eyes blinked open. “Look at me, Dwayne. You’ve gotta believe me!”

“I do, Jenny,”replied Dwayne. “But it looks to me like you’ve been through a helluva lot and I think we better try and get you to a doctor now.”

Jenny grabbed Dwayne by the shirt. “I tried to do what was right with the burial, and maybe I did. Who knows? But now it’s your turn. You gotta use that pot handle to nail those fuckers. And then we have to return all the stuff they stole; put it back in the kiva where it belongs. Otherwise, the Magician will not survive in his world.”

Jenny strained to take in air as she desperately squeezed Dwayne’s blue denim shirt.  Jenny let go and slumped against the wall. Her breath came in ragged gasps and her whole body began to shake uncontrollably. “Promise me, Dwayne!”

“I promise, Jenny,” said Dwayne as he fought back tears. “You know you can count on me.”

Jenny began to smile and cry at the same time. “You’re a top hand, Dwayne Johnson.”

Linda picked up one of the syringes from the ground. “Do you know what kind of dosage was in here, Jenny? Was Saunders trying to kill you with this?”

Jenny licked her lips. “I don’t know. We had been doing coke for the past couple of days – I lost track – so we could stay awake. But we had always inhaled it before. This last time, Saunders had us all inject it.

“Did he do any?” asked Linda.

Jenny shook her head. “I can’t remember. I’ve been pretty out of it lately.”

“Here, let me see that needle.” Dwayne squirted a drop of the milky liquid onto his finger and tasted it, then spit in the dirt. “That’s cocaine, alright.”

Dwayne stood up and walked toward the front of the pueblo, out of Jenny’s earshot. “I think we better try and find the keys to one of these boys’ trucks and get her back down to a doctor real quick.”

Linda wrapped the syringe in a red bandana and placed it in her jacket pocket. “Oh, god, Dwayne, if Saunders gave her an O.D., there’s no telling how long we’ve got until her heart and liver shuts down.”

Dwayne pocketed the old pot handle and dashed off toward the pothunters’ trucks. He prayed that he could find the looters’ keys.