Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 17 - Part 1

The telephone startled the Judge, who was doing a New York Times crossword puzzle on the aft patio of his houseboat. He grumbled as he headed over to an elaborate end-table where the streamline portable phone was lying under a copy of the Arizona Republic.

“Judge Keating here.”

“Judge, this is Todd Krieter, from ASN. I hate to bother you like this but I think we need to have a talk. The Grand Canyon County Sheriff was just here asking some very sticky questions.”

The judge winced. “Such as?”

“Well, he wanted to know about those two Paiutes that were murdered. Their wives told him that the men had been working for us. So Sheriff Pratt came to the mine to find out what their jobs were.”

“And what did you tell him?”

“I told him the truth. ASN never hired those Indians. But the point is: Sheriff Pratt is on to the fact that the Indians were working for somebody around here.”

“That’s of little concern,” replied the Judge impatiently. “Those Indians were always paid in cash. There is nothing on paper. Any information the police have would be hearsay.”

“Hearsya or not, the Sheriff knows more about this whole affair than just who those boys were working for. He knows that the person who killed the second Indian was using a chopper to get in and out of the area.”

“He told you that?”

“Yes he did.”

“Why in the world would he give you information like that, Mr. Krieter?”

“Because at the same time he was asking me to explain how we ran our helicopter operation.”

“I hope you told him it was none of his goddamn business,” growled the Judge.

“I couldn’t do that without drawing even more attention to this company. You can’t act uncooperative like that to the people around here – especially the police. But I did emphasize in no uncertain terms that ASN would not stand by and be accused of using our choppers for any type of illegal activity. I laid it on real thick – maybe too thick, in fact. He was pretty persistent and wanted to know stuff like whether or not the choppers stick to a particular travel route. And he was very curious about who had access to them. I told him that the pilots are free to go where they like, within reason. I also ended up giving him a list of the pilots.”

“You gave him my name?” asked the Judge incredulously.

“No, of course not. I told him that some of the owners are permitted to fly our choppers when they come in for inspection tours, but he seemed to be concentrating his attention on the regular pilots. Your friend Saunders in on that list.”

“That is indeed unfortunate, Mr. Krieter.”

“Yes. I didn’t think you’d be too pleased with the news.”

“I would have preferred otherwise, but sometimes it is better to give the police something to nibble on when they are hungry. I will discuss this matter with Saunders when I see him.”

“You’re still planning on coming here to the mine on Friday?”

“Why certainly. Nothing has changed.”

“Look, Judge, this is really not my business, but I don’t think either you or Sanders should be using the company’s helicopters while things are so hot with the police.”

“Nonsense, Mr. Krieter. I see no reason whatsoever to alter our plans.”

“Your plans, Judge,” corrected the manager. “I mine for uranium. I don’t know what it is you do.”

“You don’t?” asked the Judge with amusement.

“Yeah, well, I do what I’m told. But I’m not a pothunter.”

“Who said anything about pothunting?”

“That isn’t chipped beef you and Saunders have been running through the mine, Judge.”

The Judge snorted. “Looks can be deceiving.”

“Ahh, come on, Judge. I know an Anasazi pot when I see one.”

“But you do not know where those artifacts came from. Do you, Mr. Krieter?”

“Well, no, that’s true.”

“For all you know I may have purchased them at an auction, or dug them up on my own private land. Isn’t that true?”

“You tell me,” said the young engineer. He was tired of being toyed with.

“You are the one who is making the accusations, Mr. Krieter.”

“All I’m doing is telling you that I’m not taking the fall for you or Saunders when it comes down to something which I had nothing to do with. The police are curious about this matter, and it looks to me like they’re focusing in on ASN. Frankly, Judge, I’m worried.”

“Rest assured that the police would have demanded your presence at their headquarters if they had any evidence that could tie ASN to a capital crime. That’s the way the police do business. But when they come to you, they are merely fishing. They talk to as many people as possible and try to trick each person into saying something that might be incriminating. However, from what you have told me, they have gained very little from their little meeting with you.”

“They got Saunders’ name.”

“I assume the police are requesting pilot lists from all of the outfits who fly in this region.”

“Yes. Sheriff Pratt said they were asking everyone.”

“So Mr. Saunders name will now be added to an already long list.”

“But Saunders was flying one of our choppers on the day the second Paiute was murdered.”

“The police don’t know that.”

“No. But I do.”

“Are you making a point, Mr. Krieter?”

Todd Krieter chose his words very carefully. “I don’t know what Saunders was doing with our helicopter that day.”

The Judge interrupted the man abruptly. “Do you want to know?”

There was silence on the other end of the line. “God, I just hope he didn’t kill that goddamn Indian, Judge.”

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