Sunday, February 27, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 22 - Part I

B.T. wound through the moonscape terrain of smashed and crumbling rock with sure-footed grace, the surrounding pinnacles of sandstone glowing like giant luminarios. The moon was sinking in the west as a sliver of sun pierced the eastern horizon. He stopped in front of a small rocky overhang. This looked like a place where the soul magic would run deep. He took a deep breath and got a whiff of the morning wind, a powerful smell laced with cedar and dust and a million dead spirits all rolled into one. Yes, this was the spot where the Ritual must be performed.

B.T. faced the outline of an ancient rock wall. Flat sandstone blocks had been carefully arranged along the outside edge of the natural shelter. Some of the Ancient Ones had once called this home, and their power would still be here, just waiting to be tapped. About a mile away, the rising sun outlined the fortress-like walls of the pueblo where his team was excavating the Burial of the Magician after the strangest of nights.

The cocaine had turned them all into the diggers from hell, but Jenny Hatch had become a woman possessed. She assumed the air of a drill instructor, screaming like a banshee when they damaged an item in their haste. As more and more of the Magician was unearthed, Jenny had become increasingly obsessed with "Digging this thing right!" Before long, she was carrying on a heated discussion with the yellowed skeleton of the Magician, and it was clear she believed the Magic Man was telling her things she needed to know. She sat down in the dirt and caressed his cracked skull as if he were some lover from her past. It was creepy in a compelling sort of way; after a while, B.T. and the boys became curious about what the Magician thought of their digging style. Jenny said he wasn’t too thrilled.

For ten hours they had peeled back each layer of the Magician's grave, uncovering more Indian loot than B.T. had ever seen in one place. In the Magician's nose they found two plugs of dark red argillite with buttons of bright blue turquoise glued to each end. Encircling his neck was a fantastic necklace inlaid with pieces of purple chert and green obsidian, depicting an abstract bird, perhaps an eagle. B.T. had snagged that one immediately for his own special collection. Around the Magician’s right wrist, they discovered a bracelet decorated with red-tinted rabbits' teeth and quartz crystals. Hell, they could have filled a museum with what they had already found, and the digging was only half complete!

Jenny was a natural teacher; she commanded a respect that inspired the men to do whatever was necessary. B.T. had left the dig without saying a word and no one even noticed as he climbed the ladder.

The early morning walk across Pinnacle Ridge had given B.T. his first opportunity to sort out the events of the previous day, a day which had begun with the murder of professor Ken Jarvis, then the capture of Jenny Hatch, and finally ended with the excavation of the most elaborate burial ever discovered in the whole Southwest. His team had performed well under pressure and he figured the Judge would be proud of the way he had handled the details of this mission. But there was still some unfinished business: Linda Joyce. Tonight, when the moon was blood-red full, B.T. would pay her a visit.

But the soul of Ken Jarvis still hung in the balance. B.T. felt a cold shiver run up the back of his neck as he stepped over the dilapidated wall of the rock shelter. He grasped his leather bag tightly to his chest, and tried to calm his racing heart. The Gods would be watching his every move. One screw-up, and his own spirit would be forfeited. He knelt down to face the back wall of the rock cave. He laid his knapsack in the dirt and removed the tools of his soul-catcher's trade: red parachute chord, hypodermic needle, heroin, the feather from an eagle, the feather from a raven, and the hair from the victim. B.T. carefully placed each item on the top of a flat, weathered slab of sandstone. He could feel a slight trembling in his hands and he willed the fear away. The Gods respected only strength. He made a circle of rocks on the floor of the cave, but it would be up to the Gods to light the fire.

He removed Ken Jarvis' hair from the bag and separated a single hair from the clump. Placing it horizontally on the rock table, he vertically aligned the two gleaming, Bald Eagle feathers, one black and one white, along with the remaining hair. Once he had them arranged together, he tied the entire collection together like a fly fisherman's lure, using the tiny human hair as the binding string. B.T.'s fingers were large, but he tied the knot with the agility of a craftsman. He made a loop on the end of the parachute chord; slipping the feathered bundle inside the noose, he pulled the knot tight. It looked very much like the pahos, or prayer feathers, waved by the Pueblo Indians during their ceremonial dances.

The time for salvation was at hand. B.T. rolled up his right sleeve, using a piece of surgical hosing to wrap a tourniquet just above his elbow. He opened and closed his hand rapidly and fought to keep his breathing regular as the hushed whispers of the Gods swirled around him like a ghostly mist. The heroin solution was milky brown and thick as plant sap. The dosage was moderate, enough to give the big man a dreamy buzz. He took a deep breath and then slowly inserted the cold steel needle into his arm. He felt an intense exhilaration, and the muted voices of the Gods quickly turned to laughter. A world of infinite possibilities swirled before his eyes and B.T. smiled as the heroin warmed his blood with the fire of sweet redemption. He withdrew the needle after injecting only half of the solution – the rest was for the Gods. B.T. stuck the syringe through the top of the parachute chord and into the roof of the cave, directly over the center of the rock circle on the floor. He watched as the spirit bundle spun lazy circles over the fire ring, and he slowly drifted off into a world long forgotten ...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 21 - Part III

John and Billy Ray were just climbing out of the kiva as they returned.

"The moon's moved from over the hole and it was getting dark down there in the kiva again, so we lit the lanterns so's you could see," said John proudly. He liked to advertise it anytime he showed a little initiative, and he lived to be stroked.

"Good thinking, John," said B.T. like an approving master. "I appreciate that."

"Yeah, I might be tired, but I ain't so stupid," said John as he laughed loudly and slapped five with his trusty sidekick.

"No, you certainly aren't." B.T. pulled a leather pouch from his jacket pocket. "And I think I can help you with the fatigue factor, my little compadre." He removed a small vial containing white powder.

"Is that what I think it is?" asked John hungrily as he sniffed.

"It's uncut blow," replied B.T. as he produced a small spoon and offered the grinning troll the welcome surprise.

"Now you're talking, boss," said John excitedly.

John expertly snorted the cocaine up his left nostril. He squinted as his eyes teared and passed it on to his lumbering friend who stared expectantly with big eyes and an open mouth.

Billy Ray clumsily repeated the process and then the two men went into a dance that involved hopping around and grunting like fiends. Snorting pure coke was like inhaling a combination of Drano and fire ants. It fogged one’s vision and instantly tripled the heart rate. By the time the burn subsided and the user could focus clearly again, he was zooming at the speed of light and anything was possible. The feeling would last for an hour, when the drug-ravaged body would feel fatigued, and the process would have to be repeated.

"That should do me," said John. "I better get going now."

"Here's a couple grams to get you through the night," said B.T. before turning to Jenny. "This will help you do the dig, Red."

Jenny declined graciously. "No, thank you. I don't do drugs."

B.T. laughed. "No, I'm sure you don't. But you see, we don't sleep. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. We have until Friday morning to get this shipment ready and we won't have time for anything more than short rests like the one we just had. There's no way you can stay with the program unless you're coked out like the rest of us. It keeps you wide awake for as long as you keep firing up. I went a fucking week in the jungle without sleep once when I was doing counter-intelligence north of the D.M.Z. It makes you feel superhuman, and superhuman is what this operation demands. So do a couple of lines, like a good little girl, and we'll get back to work."

Jenny shook her head. "No. I really don't want any. I can keep going without it."

B.T.'s eyes went dark as he narrowed his gaze. "I'm not asking you, Red. I'm telling you."

"Maybe later," replied Jenny as she retied her tangled hair in a tight bun.

"Billy Ray?" said B.T. as he rolled his eyes at the stubborn lady.

The hulking biker got the message. He grabbed both of the Jenny's arms and turned her around to face B.T. It was pointless to thrash. She raised her head and stared into the cold green eyes of her tormentor, ignoring the roaming hands of the deviant who held her captive.

B.T. could not get over how noble this woman was. "Hold her tight. But you don't have to milk her."

"If you have to rape me with your drugs, then just do it. But don't pretend you care about me. Okay?"

B.T. closed his eyes for several seconds, then nodded his head. "You're probably right, Red. But so am I. I need you to be hitting on all cylinders for the next forty-eight hours. So snort the fucking coke and save yourself the discomfort of having it forced into you."

"Tell him to let go of me and I'll do what you want."

"You heard her, asshole," hollered B.T. "Let her go!"

Billy Ray dropped his hands to his sides like he was giving up a valuable prize. He stepped back from the woman and stared at the ground, his nose dripping from the strong cocaine he had just snorted.

The archaeologist took the vial and spoon and sniffed a large dose up her left nostril. B.T. had failed to show her how to do it and she had taken too much. Billy Ray howled with laughter when she threw her hands up to her nose in shocked pain and screamed. The two men slapped five as they watched Jenny slowly slump to her knees, rubbing her nose in a struggle to keep breathing. She leaned her head back as stars of agony danced inside her head. Her eyes shut tightly and she clawed at her nose like a bear who'd gone sniffing in a beehive. After thirty seconds, the burning sensation in her head gave way to a metabolic power surge that almost burst her heart. A shocked cry escaped her lips as she fell forward onto all fours like a pilgrim at the gates of Mecca. She desperately fought for air, causing herself to hyperventilate.

As she started to black out, her mind suddenly flashed a picture of the smiling Magician. In that brief instant, Jenny had a premonition that she was going to die. The last thing Jenny heard was the sound of men laughing loudly. It reminded her of ravens at play.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 21 - Part II

Jenny drank her beer in silence and thought about the Magician. Who was he? Why had the Anasazi buried him so royally? Several times during the excavation, Jenny had caught herself looking into the eye sockets of the Magician and sensing life. It was almost like he was studying their work...and smiling in amusement.

B.T. hitched his thumb toward Otis' truck. "Get on with it, John. If you have any problem, give me a holler on the radio. It doesn't cost anything, so don't be afraid to use it."

"Don't worry, B.T. you'll be the first to know if there's any trouble out there," said John as he patted Billy Ray on the back. "Come on, Shit-fer-brains. Give me a hand loading up the truck."

Billy Ray followed his friend over to their beat-up old GMC truck. "Sure, John. We going somewhere?"

John laughed loudly and slapped his friend roughly on the shoulder. "I'll 'splain it to you while we pack up my shit."

B.T. shook his head. He liked John and Billy Ray. They were sort of like two hunting dogs from the same litter, except that hunting dogs were probably a bit smarter. With the right supervision, they were perfect for a job like this. They didn't notice much, they never asked questions, and they did what they were told, especially the big one, and he was too stupid to ever complain. Billy Ray followed John's lead in everything, and John got off on being superior to a man who could crush him like a beer can. They made a very interesting pair indeed.

B.T. turned to Jenny, who was starting to doze while standing up. "So tell me, Red, how often are you supposed to call in on that truck radio of yours?"

It took a few seconds for his words to sink into Jenny's scrambled brain, but once they did she was wide-awake. "Oh, it's just there for emergencies," Jenny lied as casually as possible.

B.T. snickered. "Well, what would you call this?"

Jenny looked at the fanatical killer in confusion. Surely he wasn't suggesting that she call in to tell the authorities what was happening up here on the Paria, was he?

He opened the cooler and got two more beers. "See, it's like this, Red. I was in the military off and on for over ten years, so I have a pretty good idea how the government works. And I can't believe they'd let you come up here all by yourself and not expect you to check in at the end of the day. I mean, Christ kill me, there was a fucking murder on the forest, girl. Remember? Things aren't safe around here for man or beast. So let's cut the bullshit. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you. You folks have a dispatcher, or what?"

Jenny's heart sank as she nodded her head. "Yeah. There's a dispatcher out of the headquarters in Williams during the day; at night people take turns monitoring their own districts."

"Isn't that nice. What do you say we give them a call and let them know that everything's just fine and dandy up here on the ol' Paria?"

Jenny shrugged her shoulders and said nothing. Her chance of escape was slipping away from her like a lost dream, and she couldn't think fast enough to figure out what her next move should be. The smiling face of the Magician danced across her thoughts and melded with that of B.T.'s, until Jenny wasn't sure which was which.

"Here, I thought you might like this back," said B.T. as he handed Jenny the now empty .22 that had been sitting in her truck. Jenny groaned as B.T. laughed in her face. "What the hell did you think you'd do with that little piece of shit? Man, you kill me, Red." B.T. turned on the Forest Service radio and held the microphone. "Don't get cute, Red. This could get ugly real fast if you try and play the hero. Just tell them everything's cool and then sign off." He turned toward Jenny with a smirk that went skeletal in the wink on an eye. "Otherwise, I'll let Mutt and Jeff take turns on you before I give you one of my own special lessons in pain – the kind of pain that leaves you begging for death. Don't make me do that to you, Red. You want to see what else we can find down there in the Magician's hole, don't you?" He handed the microphone over to her.

Jenny closed her eyes and tried to gather her thoughts. She was pretty sure that it would be Dwayne answering her call. How could she alert him to her predicament without getting herself brutally murdered? Her hands trembled as she held the microphone.

"Three-Zero, this is Jenny Hatch. Over."

Dwayne's twangy soprano, now amplified comically by the short-wave radio, came on immediately in response. "Hatch, this is Three-Zero. Go ahead. Over."

Jenny was riveted to B.T's eyes as she considered what she was going to say next. She turned slightly to her left so she didn't have to look at him while she talked. B.T. reached out quickly and spun her back so she was staring him directly in the face. He pointed his index fingers at his eyes which seemed to absorb the light of the moon. Jenny knew that she couldn't lie around this man. He would know. And then it would be over. All of it. Her life, the dig, everything.

"Sorry I'm a little late calling in, but things have been pretty hectic out here with work. But everything is okay on our end. Over."

"I copy. I was getting worried about you, Jenny. How's Linda? Over."

"She's fine, Dwayne. She working on dinner right now. Over."

"I copy. Y'all take care of yourselves, and be sure to call in the morning. This time, try doing it on time. Okay? Over."

Jenny smiled at Dwayne's concern. She was going to miss the goofy Mormon cowboy.

"You're a good mother hen, Dwayne. And I promise I'll call in at eight o'clock sharp tomorrow. Over and out."

B.T. switched off the radio and took the microphone from the rattled woman. "You're the champ, Red. Undisputed. That performance will definitely get you back into the amusement park." He pointed at the pueblo, now lit up like a Halloween funhouse by the moon. "But before we get back to work, I want to hear more about Linda."

Jenny cringed. "Oh, I don't really know her very well. I just met her for the first time this morning."

B.T. nodded his head thoughtfully. "Sounded to me like he thought the two of you were camping together."

Jenny said nothing and looked away.

"So where's my girl Linda tonight? And don't tell me you don't know, 'cause that's bullshit. And don't try and steer me wrong, 'cause I don't have time to waste on any wild goose chases. I already know she's moved over to House Rock Valley and your radio conversation just confirmed it. So tell me where she is and we can get on with the dig."

Jenny stared intently at the ground as she tried to figure out how to save her own skin without giving Linda to this maniac.

B.T. seemed to read her thoughts. "If you try and lie to me, I'll feed you to the boys, Red – right fucking now!"

Jenny was too tired to fight anymore. "She's camped over at Bighorn Buttes."

B.T. grinned. "That's not very far from here. Will she still be there tomorrow night?"

"I think so," whispered Jenny softly.

B.T. smacked his hands together. "That's great! I'll just have to drop in on her tomorrow night and see how she's doing. But in the meantime, let's see what else we can find in that burial."

Jenny felt her blood race as her bladder did a bank turn. "I need to go to the bathroom first."

"I feel the call myself," said B.T. "Let's go water the junipers."

Jenny didn't bother looking to see whether he was watching her or not. He obviously wasn't going to give her the opportunity to run away. She wasn't worried about him ogling her body; it was her soul that she didn't want him looking at. They walked back to the ruin in silence. Nervous anticipation took hold of Jenny's imagination. What secrets would the Magician give up this time around?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 21 - Part 1

The moon danced crazy circles round the Burial of the Magician while the diggers worked with the rapaciousness of lions at a fresh kill. John and Billy Ray had arranged Coleman lanterns around the ever-widening pit in the kiva floor, but once the moon came into view, they turned them off and basked in the glowing weirdness of the subterranean scene.

Under Jenny's guidance, they had carefully uncovered the first two feet of the Magician. He had been buried in a sitting position, his head leering at them while they worked; the dirt in front of his cracked and broken skull bore hundreds of tiny turquoise and argillite ornaments. Most were the size of small stones, and B.T. and his men hadn't even noticed them at first, but Jenny spotted them right away. Now, the men hooted and howled when they found another one, holding it up to the moon to see if they could figure out what the thing was supposed to be. Jenny recognized ear bobs, pendants, and nose plugs, but some of the pieces were a mystery, and when she couldn't tell them what they were looking at, the men simply made up their own interpretations.

Five hours of excavating had proven to B.T. that Jenny Hatch was true to her word. She had already made them a million dollars richer, and they were just getting started. B.T. could have kicked himself in the ass for not getting a professional archaeologist for the digs earlier. God, what a difference it made! The Judge was going to be amazed when he saw the loot they were coming up with. Pots and baskets were the least of it. They were finding stuff like inlaid sea shells, turquoise bracelets, and beaded skull caps. Rare and exquisite artifacts like these could turn the pre-Colombian art world on its ear. The Judge could set his own price, and the collectors would have to meet it.

B.T. was so pleased with the way things were going, he decided to give everyone a short break. They all certainly had earned it. "It's Miller time, ladies and gents. If you drink beer, Red, I'm buying."

Jenny pushed her matted hair off of her forehead with the back of her hand and stood up straight for the first time in hours. "Ohhh, man, my back feels like a question mark." She leaned back and slowly stretched out her tired muscles. "A beer sounds good."

B.T. led her to the aluminum ladder they had dropped down into the kiva. "Let's go out to the trucks and get some fresh air."

He went up first and then stood at the top, holding the ladder. As Jenny climbed up the ladder, she felt someone grab her by the ass and squeeze it. She didn't look back to see who it was. What difference did it make?

B.T. hooked his arm in hers and they walked away from the pueblo like they were out for a little stroll in the moonlight. The others followed.

"You did real good back there, Red."

Jenny said nothing. The man's words barely registered.

B.T. opened the top on an ice chest in the bed of his pickup truck and grabbed four cold beers. "The bar is officially open." He passed out the longnecks, opening Jenny's for her before handing it over. "Let's drink to our new teacher. She just made us all a potful of fucking money, boys."

John and Billy Ray giggled like fools and slapped five, their favorite way of expressing joy and pleasure. "Let's do some lines then!" hooted John.

"All in good time, my friend," replied B.T.

Even though Jenny was so tired she could barely stand, she already missed the dig. She wanted to be back in the grave of this important man from beyond recorded history. He had so much to tell her, and there was so little time.

B.T. looked at John and the little man instantly froze. "You need to relieve Otis at the lookout post. When I called him at sunset, I told him we'd have someone there by eight or nine. If you leave right now, you can even be on time, John-boy."

John nodded his head and threw his half-empty beer on the ground. "Billy Ray ain't gonna like me going and all, but you can probably keep him in line."

"I imagine so," agreed B.T. with a wide grin. "Be sure you bring some cold beers for Otis. He's pissed-off about being left out there so long without anything to eat or drink, but he'll calm down once he gets a few cold ones in his gut. And take your sleeping bag and camping stuff along, because you're going to be spending the night out there."

John spit in the dirt. "That's fine by me, boss. Hell, I'd rather sit on my ass watching for cars than fuck around with this grave any day. This here's hard work, and I don't much care for digging up dead people, anyway. Y'all might like it, but I can live without this kinda shit." He cackled at his own joke. "Yes sir. I can goddamn well live without it."

B.T. smiled sadly, as if he felt sorry for the shorter man. "Take enough food to last you through tomorrow. And stay on the ball, John."

"It's tough to miss a truck going by in a bumfuck place like this, B.T."

"It is indeed, amigo. That's why I wouldn't even listen to your excuse if you did. I'd have to have Billy Ray kill you, and you know damn well that would drive the boy nuts."

Billy Ray looked confused, like he was having difficulty understanding the way this conversation was heading. "I wouldn't kill John."

"Course you wouldn't, Billy Ray,” cackled Billy Ray. “ B.T. was just making a joke. Weren't you B.T.?"

B.T. grinned and said nothing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 20

Linda's camp at Bighorn Buttes would have made a nice postcard. She had chosen the area because it was screened from the House Rock Valley Road by two towering pinnacles of brown rock. Behind Camel Rocks was a circular alcove abutting the edge of the northern extreme of the Paria Plateau. The looming cliffs gave Linda the impression that she was sitting in the bottom of a deep canyon.

There were signs that this particular spot had been used for camping many times before. Sun-baked trash was trapped under the branches of sagebrush bushes, tire tracks led in rambling circles across the sandy floor of the valley, and rings of piled rock abounded like the offerings of some fire-mad culture. Linda had never been able to figure out why people found it necessary to make their own fire rings, rather than use the ones already there. The black-eyed rings scarred the landscape like cauterized wounds.

Linda built her fire in a rocky pit that sat on a flat knoll of solid sandstone. She was in the mood for a large, white woman's fire, so she piled on the seasoned pieces of juniper she had gathered on her way to camp. Stepping back from the fire, she watched the crackling light show, breathing deeply of the smoky air. Linda loved camping out in the canyonlands of the Southwest, cooking cowboy-style and feeling more free and alive than she did anywhere else on the planet. She positioned her lawn chair so she could watch the fire while using the tailgate of her truck as a table. She opened the top on a wine cooler and looked up at the starry sky. It would be another thirty minutes before the fire was ready for cooking. Linda was in high spirits.

The bird-watching in House Rock Valley had been truly exceptional. Even though she hadn't arrived there until well after two o'clock, she still managed to spot more endangered birds than she would usually see on a full day of field work. The spot where she set up her observation post sat astride a north-south running ridge called the Cockscomb, a geologic monocline where the fault line edges of the earth had pushed up into a narrow, crumbling pile of mountainous boulders. From this perch she could view the narrow cut between the plateaus; it was a popular rest area along a vast interstate aerial highway, heavily traveled this time of year by large predatory birds. The afternoon had become mildly breezy and with the arrival of the wind came the hawks and eagles, eager to perform their aerial ballets on the shifting air currents and thermals. At one point, there had been five bald eagles dancing across the ocean-blue sky like they were bobbing to celestial music. They rose and fell with a grace that made Linda wish she had wings. At times like this, Linda often remembered a phrase from some poet: "And even the gods were jealous."

All in all, Linda had identified over thirty predatory birds in less than three hours of viewing. That was a record for her. There had even been two peregrine falcons, the last of a dying breed. Linda had almost started to cry when the sun began setting over the Kaibab Mountain. She wanted to keep watching the bird show, so she stayed atop the Cockscomb until it was nearly dark and the birds were just hazy silhouettes in a bruised-black sky. Tomorrow she would have to move to a location further to the south so she didn't have an overlap in the bird populations. She would head over to the Kodachrome Basin, but she knew that no matter where she went, it would be hard to top today's grand showing.

Linda took a drink of her wine cooler, mulling over the fact that she hadn't seen another human since she turned onto the House Rock Valley Road. Jenny Hatch had promised to rendezvous with her here at Bighorn Buttes by sunset, and that was long past. Linda wondered what had happened to her new friend.

Linda knew that the best-laid plans often went astray when confronted with the unpredictable realities of isolated field work. Jenny could have had truck problems; trucks had an uncanny habit of breaking down whenever they were in the middle of nowhere. More likely, Jenny had gotten wrapped up in her archaeology survey after getting a late start and had decided not to drive down from the plateau in the dark. The access road was pretty dangerous even in the full light of day. Linda was not as troubled by the absence of the district archaeologist as she was disappointed. Jenny had seemed like such an interesting person and Linda had been looking forward to some good female companionship.

The moon, nearly full, was rising above the rim of the Paria Plateau. At this stage, she could only see the top of the incandescent globe and it reminded her of an inverted smiley-face. As the moon grew from a curved sliver into a ball of glowing white light, it was like watching a time-lapse film with a week's worth of growth in five minutes – about how long it took the moon to rise into clear view above the plateau. Linda felt like she had just witnessed the birth of a star. She had been invigorated by the day's events, and now she had been blessed by the night. The Killer and the murder in Jumpup Canyon seemed a million miles away. She now had her work to take her mind off what had happened and she had even managed to make some new friends. About the only thing she didn't have was a radio with which to contact the authorities back in Fredonia. That bothered her a bit, but it couldn't be helped, Jenny had the only radio.

Linda stood up and zipped her jacket against the chilly breeze that began to blow through the moon-lit valley. She stepped closer to the fire as a great- horned owl called mournfully from its rocky perch in the cliffs above camp.

Where the hell was Jenny Hatch, anyway?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Anasazi Strip - chapter 19 - Part II

The two men ate in silence for the next few minutes. The chicken fajitas were delicious. When they finished, Dwayne ordered a cup of coffee.

"So what do we do now, Jason?"

"We ought to stake out the ASN mine. If one of the names on that list turns out to be a hot one, then we should think about getting a search warrant. Beyond that, I don't know. You got any ideas?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact. You ought to go over and check out the Kanab Airport. Art Shaw works on all the planes and choppers that come in there and he probably knows all the ASN pilots. It sure would be interesting to know who brought that chopper in on Monday night, wouldn't it? You might also ask Art about whether he can track a chopper on the airport radar. If they can, we could have 'em keep a close eye on ASN for us."

Jason wrote a reminder to himself on the back of the pilot list. "That's brilliant, Dwayne."

"I don't know about that, Jason, but they do it in the movies all the time."

Mary brought Dwayne his coffee. "The dinner's on the house, boys. Nedra appreciates all you're doing to catch the bastard who killed Willie and Charlie. The whole town feels the same way. You know, Willie Meeks used to haul stuff to the dump for us. And he helped build the addition on the back of this place. He had it tough, and he weren't perfect, but he was a good man. As far as we're concerned, whoever killed him deserves the same."

Dwayne and Jason started to protest.

"Don't argue about paying for your dinner because Nedra already went home, so save your breath. I can't overrule the owner. She's my mother. But feel free to leave a big tip." Mary winked playfully and headed for the kitchen.

Dwayne picked up his Stetson and stood up. "I almost feel sort of ashamed of myself."

"Why's that?" asked Jason as he deposited a tip for the two of them.

"Well, here we are, living high off the hog. We ain't no closer to cracking this case, and meanwhile, Jenny and Linda are all by their lonesome, out in the cold."

Jason patted Dwanye on the back as they headed for the door. "I wouldn't worry about those ladies, my friend. They got what they wanted and they're probably having a great time camping out together."

"I hope so, Brother Pratt," said Dwayne as he held the door open for the Sheriff. "I surely do hope so.”

But deep down, Dwayne had a bad feeling that gnawed at his gut. Things were spinning out of control and he sensed they had not seen the last of the red-headed stranger who had murdered their neighbors. As he said goodnight to Jason and walked back to his truck, he watched a large cloud slide slowly over the moon and the world went dark. Dwayne pushed his battered cowboy hat down firmly on his head against the chilly wind and suddenly had a strong urge to see Linda Joyce and Jenny Hatch.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 19 - Part I

The only location in Fredonia where you could purchase a hot meal was a small, family-run Mexican-American restaurant called Nedra's Cafe. Along with Judd Auto, it was the nerve center of the town. Nedra and her daughters were noted for serving generous helpings of good food sprinkled with down-home hospitality; the kind of place that was usually full but never felt crowded.

Jason and Dwayne met at Nedra's to compare notes. The sun was a fireball on the western horizon and they were finally off work after another grueling day, looking like a pair of sleepy-eyed basset hounds. They took a corner table by the window, ignoring the stares and hushed whispers of their curious neighbors.

"So, how did it go out at the ASN mine today, Jason? Any luck?"

Jason nodded his head as he stirred his iced tea. "I had a very interesting talk with Todd Krieter – you know, the manager of the mine. He said he had never heard of Willie and Charlie. Claimed they never worked for ASN, but thought maybe they were working for Ray Schmoot's gravel operation."

Dwayne choked on his food and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. "GRAVEL?!"

"It looks to me like this lie is just the tip of the iceberg. Todd got real riled-up by just about every question I asked him. If I hadn't already figured that Charlie and Willie worked for his company, his defensiveness would have alerted me that something was wrong over there. And I mean from the first second we met, Dwayne. The guy was rattled to the bone."

"Did you ask him about the choppers?"

"It took an unbelievably long time to get him to say anything about the ASN helicopters. He said he was touchy about the subject because of the previous accusations leveled against the company for pothunting from the air."

"Uh-huh. Sure," Dwayne with contempt. "So how many choppers do they have?"

"Two. One of them broke down Monday evening. They took it to the Kanab Airport to get it repaired."

"How about their flight plans?"

"They don't file 'em. The pilots are pretty much free to go wherever they please."

"That's convenient," said Dwayne as he took a sip of Coke.

Jason removed a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket and tossed it over to Dwayne. "I also got the list of all of their helicopter pilots. Any of those names sound familiar to you?"

Dwayne took his time scanning the list. "Nah, I never heard of any of these fellas. But it wouldn't hurt to run a background check on them and see what the computer comes up with."

"I think somebody on that list is the man we're looking for, Dwayne. I'm not convinced that Todd Krieter is the one who's running the show here – but he definitely knows the folks who are. For some reason, he's letting those people use the mine as a cover, and the company choppers for looting."

Dwayne put down his fork and stared directly at the Sheriff. "It's interesting that you would say that, Jason, because you're the second person who's told me that today. Billy Mangum claims that the ASN choppers have been buzzing around the west end of the forest like a bunch of flies since late spring."

"Is he sure?"

"You know Billy. He's sure about pretty much everything, but he's so sure about this that he almost punched me out when I asked him the very same question."

Jason nodded thoughtfully. "Well, Billy has a real short fuse, but as far as I know there's nothing wrong with his eyes. And he's not the kind to go looking for trouble. He'll give it to you in spades if you mess with him, sure. But it's hard to imagine him saying something like that if he wasn't certain of the facts. So who exactly did Billy Mangum see?"

"Well now, he ain't sure who's doing the flying. He just knows they're ASN helicopters. He said that he heard a chopper flying back and forth for about an hour or so on Monday. He remembered it as being sometime around sunset, and he placed it out near Jumpup."

"And he's prepared to testify that it was an ASN helicopter?"

"No. He didn't actually see the helicopter because Big Saddle Mountain was blocking the way. But he's willing to bet it was the same chopper he's seen flying around out there all season."

"Betting isn't the same as seeing, Dwayne. You know that."

"That's true enough. But it's still worth something, ain't it?" I mean, Todd's lying ain't the same as confessing, either, but it tells us where we need to be looking. By my count, that's the third shot aimed at ASN today."

Dwayne picked silently at his meal before speaking. "Billy also told me he's had it with vandals cutting his range fences. He says that he and his boys are gonna stay with the cows until they take 'em off the mountain, and he intends to shoot anyone who he catches messing with the herd. I tried talking sense to him, but it didn't do any good. He says we can't protect his property, so he's gonna do it himself. About all we can hope for is that whoever's been cutting his fences goes away. Otherwise, I'm afraid somebody's gonna get his ass shot off."

Jason closed his eyes and shook his head in disappointment. "Professional hit men in choppers, and now vigilante ranchers. What's next?"