The Judge had nothing but disdain for people like Todd Krieter. He had dealt with them his whole life. In Vietnam, they had been the military leaders who demanded victory but warned against committing atrocities. During covert C.I.A. operations, they were the ones who wanted to overthrow unfriendly governments but didn’t want to violate any laws in the process. The Judge had learned that the best approach to take with these spineless bastards was to avoid the truth and simply tell them what they wanted to hear.
“Saunders had nothing to do with the murder of the Paiute Indian. He was doing some freelance exploratory field work for me. And I think it best that we just leave it at that.”
Todd’s voice took on a whine. “I still think it would be better if you and your friends avoided using our company helicopters.”
“Need I remind you, Mr. Krieter, that the company helicopters you refer to were purchased with my money?”
For the second time that day, Todd knew that he had pushed too hard.
“That’s undoubtedly true, Judge. And we all certainly appreciate the contributions you have made so that this mine could go on-line according to schedule.”
“And I have asked very little in return, Mr. Krieter. That is why your superiors in Laramie have bent over backwards to make sure I remain a happy man. I have pumped a million dollars of my hard-earned money into a mine that is at least several years away from showing a profit. Now, why do you suppose that I have shown such generosity towards you and your people?”
“Because you have a deep and abiding affection for nuclear energy, right?” said Todd sarcastically.
Both men burst into laughter. The Judge momentarily reconsidered his appraisal of the dull engineer.
“I see you have a sense of humor, Mr. Krieter. I like that in the people whom I trust with my money and my secrets.”
“I have always tried to protect your interests, Judge.”
“As well you should. Those old Anasazi pots enable me to bankroll your interests. So, the next time you have a talk with the Sheriff, please make sure you have your priorities straight. I hope that I am making myself perfectly clear?”
“I just pray you know what you’re doing, Judge. I’d hate to see a lot of innocent people get hurt because of your carelessness.”
“Or yours,” said the Judge icily.
Todd swallowed hard. This was not the way he had envisioned this conversation would go. He had expected the Judge to quickly back down in the face of trouble. Instead, Todd found he was walking on shaky ground. But what could he do? ASN was his life, and he had always been a faithful follower. And if he didn’t know what was going on, then wasn’t that proof that he was without guilt?
“You concern has been duly noted, Mr. Krieter. All you need to worry about is making sure there is a helicopter waiting for me at the Kanab Airport when I arrive on Friday morning.”
“That’s already been taken care of, Judge. We sent the blue chopper in on Tuesday for a maintenance check, and it will stay there until you pick it up. The mechanic promised it would be ready to go by Friday morning.”
“Good thinking, Mr. Krieter. Safety first. Safety should always be our primary concern.”
The irony of the Judge’s words was not lost on the troubled mine manager. Todd realized that he was even more frightened of the Judge than he was of Sheriff Pratt. The Judge could aim that madman Saunders at him. And that was the last thing in the world that Todd Krieter ever wanted to happen to him.
“What time should we be expecting you, Judge?”
“I should be there by noon.” The Judge suddenly had a brainstorm. “You know, the more I think about what you said, the more I concur with your position that we need to maintain a low profile. So I will land the helicopter at the test pad area where you hope to be drilling next year. It is near the mine, but no one will be able to see my arrival because the view will be blocked by Bullet Butte. You can drive out there and pick me up, and no one will be the wiser. I’ll radio you when I am on my approach. See you on Friday, Mr. Krieter. I will be looking forward to seeing you again.”
Todd Krieter hung up the phone and he felt a cold chill run up his back as a cold wind whistled outside and rattled the sides of the office trailer.