Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 26

Linda was bone tired. She had spent the day hiking the cliffs around the Kodachrome Basin, searching out migrating birds. It had been another stellar day for conducting her research; she had walked nearly ten miles and spotted over a hundred eagles, hawks, and falcons. When she arrived back at her camp, the sun was setting over the Kaibab Plateau. The sky was cloudless and she hurried to start a fire; it was going to be another chilly evening. The previous night had been spent tossing and turning, and she had ended up rising with the morning sun.

She had been troubled by the nagging suspicion that something had happened to Jenny Hatch. She didn't know Jenny that well, so there was no way for her to be sure how reliable the forest archaeologist normally was, but Jenny had seemed like a woman of her word. So why hadn't she shown up at Bighorn Buttes? She had no radio and she was in the middle of nowhere. Linda toyed with the idea of driving back to Fredonia and alert Dwayne, but that would have screwed-up her whole work schedule; and if it turned out that Jenny was just busy doing her own field work, then Linda was going to look foolish. So, she did nothing.

Linda laid her bedroll and sleeping bag out on the ground near the glowing fire and climbed inside the goose-down bag without taking off her clothes. Within a few minutes, she was asleep.

Several hours later, Linda opened her eyes to the dying fire and wailed in terror. Sitting across from her, twirling a tail feather from a bald eagle, was the Killer.

"YOU!" cried Linda as she rose up on her elbow.

"Have we met before?" he asked innocently.

"Oh God, how did you find me?"

B.T. laughed with amusement. "Your boyfriend was nice enough to give me directions."

"He wouldn't! Ken would die before he'd give you the time of day."

"You'd be surprised at the power of suggestion. Kenny-boy and I had a nice chat, and he told me you were working here in House Rock Valley.

"What did you do to him?"

B.T. rubbed the large feather across his eyebrows. "I'm afraid that Kenny is no longer with us. The professor would've called the cops as soon as I was gone, and then we would've never gotten a chance to formally meet one another like this."

"You killed him?!"

"I did it very humanely. I know I made a very bad impression on you the other day by blowing that silly Indian's head off and all, but I don't normally make such a mess. I used pure heroin to send Kenny off, and believe me, he loved it."

Linda struggled not to cry at the news of Ken's death. It was all her fault. If she hadn't called him, he'd still be alive.

"How did you find him?"

"Amber helped me."

"Amber? Did you kill her, too?"

B.T Chuckled. "Amber and I only talked over the phone. She is perfectly safe."

Linda sighed with relief. "And how about me?"

He pointed the white tail feather feather at Linda. "You are, without a doubt, the unluckiest person in the whole fucking world. You defy statistics. I mean, what do you have, radar? I can understand the first time, that was just dumb chance, you stumbling into the same canyon that we were pothunting. But then we move clear across the mountain and who do we find? You again. What the hell are you doing out here, anyway?"

"I'm doing a field survey for Arizona Game & Fish, covering the Grand Canyon flyway."

His eyes narrowed with interest. "I had heard you were a birdwatcher. What kind of birds do you study?"

"The kind that made that feather, damn you! Did you kill a bald eagle, too? Let me guess. You were killing an Indian when the eagle accidentally flew over you and saw your face, so you had to shoot it?"

"Bald Eagles are endangered,” replied B.T. “I would never kill one– for any reason."

"Right," said Linda scornfully, "Save all the eagles, but get rid of the humans."

B.T. nodded his head in agreement. "In most cases, I'd go along with that idea. Humans have become weak. They lack true spirituality and have institutionalized killing so it is hardly noticed by the ignorant members of our civilized society. Shit, we drop nuclear bombs on the Mormons, we turn our cities into combat zones and death traps, we poison our water and our airnon-stop. But then when somebody like me comes along, all the sanctimonious pinheads like yourself immediately get all bent out of shape and start screaming. You post rules in the charnel house and then get mad at life's injustices. You're a victim, lady. Christ, I've watched hundreds of people take their last breath, and when the time comes, all anyone really cares about is filling their goddamn lungs just one more time."

Linda's face flushed in anger. "What do you believe in that makes you so damn special?"

He smoothed the edges of the feather with his fingers as he considered his words. "I believe in power. Birds of prey think only of their own survival. They feed off weakness and show no mercy. They never kill by accident or for sport. We could all learn a lot from watching an eagle do its thing."

"It's my business, remember?"

The Killer smiled ruefully. "But what have you really learned?"

"I learned enough to spot one when I saw it take the form of a man."

"I'm afraid that flattery will get you nowhere. Oh, by the way, Jenny told me to give you her best."

"You saw Jenny?"

"Small world, huh? She stumbled onto our dig site up on Pinnacle Ridge the other day and we decided to let her join the team. She's been teaching us all how to be professional archaeologists. That woman is something special. All it took was the right motivation, and after that she was pretty much running the whole goddamn show."

"Is she still alive?"

"For now. I left her in charge while I came down here to pay you a little visit."

"Jenny wouldn't help you raid a prehistoric site," countered Linda angrily. "I know that for sure."

"You don't know jack shit, lady. If you saw the site we're digging up on the plateau, you might change your mind. Red says it's the best in the whole Southwest. I don't know about that, but it's definitely bigger than anything I've ever found before. The entire shipment's gonna come out of one single grave! And the key to our success was your friend Jenny."

"I can't believe that."

"Do you believe that the spirits of the dead can live eternally?"

"I have no idea. What difference does it make?"

"It makes all the difference in the world. Are you familiar with the Hopi belief that the spirits of hawks and eagles can sometimes serve as messengers for the Gods who inhabit the sacred mountains?"

Linda pursed her lips with distaste. "Sure, I've seen the Home Dance, and I've seen the Hopis kill nearly a hundred redtails and golden eagles in the course of one summer afternoon."

B.T. frowned. "The Hopis would argue that they don't kill anything, but rather, help make the spirits of those birds immortal."

Linda didn't want to debate with her captor, but arguing was better than dying. "I don't begrudge them the right to perform their religion as they have done for many centuries. But you can't convince me that those birds weren't killed. They were captured from their nests, and tethered to the top of a pueblo where they were fed, and bathed, and treated as members of the family. But then during the Niman Dance, they are ritually smothered with a blanket so they can soar to the San Francisco Peaks and live happily ever after with the blessed Kachinas. Yeah, I'm familiar with that fairy tale. But from my perspective, it's nothing more than a criminal act of folly. I mourn for those poor birds who had to die in the name of another one of man's crazy religious notions. They are no longer free to fly above their ancestral homes, and as a species, they are brought that much closer to the brink of extinction. Now, you can call it whatever you want, Mister, but I call it murder."

B.T. was clearly shocked by Linda’s blasphemy. He crushed the eagle feather in his hand and looked like he might strike out in a blind rage.

"Catching a soul is never easy." He stood up and prepared himself again for the challenge.

"Is that what you call it?" asked Linda.

She began to slowly crawl out of her sleeping bag as B.T. removed a length of cotton rope from his jacket pocket and wrapped the ends around each hand. The stillness of the night was suddenly broken by the sound of a truck coming down the dead end road which led to Bighorn Buttes.

Linda stared into the dark night. A rocky knoll completely obscured the road from view, but the sound of the engine grew louder and the lights of the approaching vehicle danced eerily across the back walls of the box canyon.

In the pitch-black darkness there was no way to tell who was coming, but B.T. was taking no chances. He could kill the girl right now, but he had waited this long and he wanted to fuck her while he snuffed out her last breath; to watch her give up her sex as she lost her precious life. In his dreams, she had even liked it. He grabbed Linda by the back of her shirt and threw her face-down on the ground. She was still half-in the sleeping bag. He encircled her hands with the rope and knotted it tightly. He grabbed her blonde hair and yanked her up. Linda let loose with a shriek that could have broken glass; as she screamed for help, B.T. jammed a bandana in her mouth and secured it by knotting another one around her head. He dropped the birdwatcher in the dirt and turned to face the unknown danger.

The truck stopped just out of sight. The driver cut the lights. And the world went dead silent.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Anasazi Strip - chapter 25 - Part II

Jason guessed that Saunders was a soldier of fortune, a professional killer, and able to get his hands on machine guns.

"Looks like we're not the only ones with trouble around here anymore, Sheriff." It was Deputy Mutz standing in the doorway.

Jason looked up from the notes he had taken over the course of the last several hours. "Oh yeah? What's up?"

"I just talked to a friend of mine on the Cedar City police force, and he said they have a homicide up there that's got 'em really scratching their heads."

"What happened?"

Tom was a tall, bearded man who always seemed to know the latest gossip. "My buddy was too busy to tell me very much about it. He just said it was a strange one – maybe a murder. They’re not sure yet. Do you want me to call Caleb back and try and get some more details?"

Jason shook his head. "Nah, that's okay, Tom. I'll check it out myself. I need to talk to Sheriff Smoot anyway."

"Sure, Sheriff, you can probably find out more than I can anyway."

"Cedar City reminds me. Where's that number we got this morning for Linda's boyfriend?"

"I've got it in on my desk. You want it?"

"If you don't mind," said Jason impatiently.

He dialed Professor Jarvis’ number. The phone rang eight times before being picked up by a man who sounded out of breath. "Jarvis residence, may I help you?"

"Yes, I'd like to speak to Professor Jarvis, please."

"Who's calling?"

"This is Sheriff Pratt, from Fredonia."


"Yeah? Who's this?”

“It’s Barry Smoot. What the hell are you calling this number for?”

Jason was already kicking himself in the ass for not having called the number sooner, because it was now obvious to him that Professor Ken Jarvis was dead.

"Well, it's kind of a wild story, Barry. But the long and short of it is, I'm calling because I thought I should talk to the Professor about the murders we had down here this past week."

"I see," replied Sheriff Smoot in a tone of voice that made it clear he didn't. "What did Jarvis have to do with your two dead Paiutes?"

"We have a secret witness to the second murder, but I'm afraid we blew it. It looks like the killer somehow got hold of the license number on her truck and then used it to get her phone number. He called the woman's house yesterday and talked to her roommate. He made up some cock-and-bull story about how he worked with the lady. The roommate had no reason to suspect that he wasn't on the up-and-up, so she gave him the number of the woman's boyfriend."

"Professor Ken Jarvis," said Sheriff Smoot.

"You got it."

"Well, I'll be damned. So that means we're looking at a homicide, and not a suicide. To be honest with you, we weren't sure what the hell we had."

"Why's that, Barry?"

"Jarvis didn't show up for his classes yesterday, and he didn't answer his phone, either. No one thought too much about it until today, when he still didn't make it to his classes. Someone from the Earth Sciences Department went over to his house, and when no one answered the door, he got in touch with the landlord, who came by with a key to the place. They went inside and found Professor Jarvis sitting stone cold dead at his desk. He had died from an overdose of heroin."

"Heroin?" exclaimed Jason.

"That's right. We found a small vial by the body, along with a used needle. There was no sign of struggle, nothing had been stolen, and everything appeared to be normal. The only fingerprints belonged to the victim. We figured it had to be a suicide, but there was no note, so maybe the guy accidentally overdosed. That seemed reasonable enough until we started talking to his friends. They all swore that Jarvis didn't do drugs of any kind. So that left us with the possibility that he had fooled all of his friends into believing that he was straight, or, he was murdered and the killer hoped to trick us into believing that Jarvis had killed himself. Up until you called, we had absolutely no motive for any of this."

"The murderer was using the professor to get at our witness."

"You sure of this, Jason?"

"I'm gonna be honest with you, Barry. A lot of this is speculation. But it adds up. If I'm right, then we're both looking for the same man. And I also know our suspect's name."

"Really? Who is he, Jason?"

"A former American mercenary by the name of B.T. Saunders, who now lives in Hurricane. Give NCIC a call and check out his file. It makes for real interesting reading. He served time at The Point a couple years back on a felony count."

"Something to do with drugs?" asked the Utah Sheriff.

"You got it. They popped him with a kilo of heroin. This guy is a professional killer, and the Indians were pothunting for him. Maybe they were double-crossing him. Or maybe it was the other way around. But either way, he murdered them both. The first time, he killed at a crowded bar on a Friday night, and nobody saw a thing. In the second case, he choppered into an isolated canyon with the victim, and then blew his head off in front of a pothunted site. That's the one our our witness saw. And now her boyfriend turns up dead from an overdose of heroin. So what do you think, Barry, are we dealing with coincidence here? Or are we both working on the same case?"

"It sounds to me like were in this thing together, old buddy."

"I was planning on paying a visit to Saunders' house in Hurricane later tonight."

"You figuring he'll be there?"

"I don't know, Barry. But before I go over there I want to get a search warrant so we can have a look around. I'll see Judge Cram in a few minutes. And as soon as I get the warrant, I'm rolling, Barry. I want this guy so bad I can taste him."

"I want to be with you when you go after this sonofabitch. And it is out of your jurisdiction, being Utah and all."

"The more firepower we have, the better I'll feel. I plan to take a whole SWAT team with me when I go, 'cause this could get real dangerous, real fast, Barry."

"Technically, since the house is in Utah, I should be running the show, but this is really your baby, Jason, and it would take me hours to get a warrant and mobilize my men. So, I’m gonna let you lead. This kind of crap might go on in the big cities, but it'll be a cold day in hell before I sit back and watch it spread into my community. It ends right here."

"What say we meet at the Hurricane City Park in three hours? I'll be responsible for the backup, you just bring yourself."

"I'll be there at nine, Jason."

Jason hung up the phone and spoke out loud. "How about you, Saunders? Where are you going to be?"

Before leaving for Hurricane, Jason picked up the phone and called Dwayne to warn him that Linda Joyce's whereabouts might no longer be a secret.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 25 - Part 1

"The folks over at Game & Fish told me they don't have anyone working for them named B.J.," said Tom Mutz as he deposited a stack of forensic reports on Jason's desk. "They also said that Linda Joyce is doing a private contract survey for them and she works unassisted, so nobody from their office would be meeting her in the field."

"Thanks, Tom. How 'bout checking the gas stations and convenience stores around here to see if they have any charge tickets for B.T. Saunders. Let's see if we can find a paper trail on this guy. I'm going to run a records check and see what comes up."

Jason spent the rest of the afternoon at his computer terminal. He started his search with the Arizona Department of Public Safety database in Phoenix. They would have a record of all traffic violations in the state over the past three years. He typed in the name B.T. SAUNDERS, and waited while the system searched for any traffic offenses. Jason was sure that Saunders would show up somewhere in the various inter-agency police records. He was bound to have broken the law before. The Arizona state records check drew a blank.

"Darn!" exclaimed Jason. "Okay, let's try Utah." He connected with the National Computer Information Center. NCIC was used by the country's highway patrolmen when they pulled over a vehicle. The network kept a nationwide log of all stolen vehicles, outstanding warrants for arrest, missing persons, and convicted felons. When Jason punched in the name B.T. Saunders, he scored a direct hit. The NCIC computer immediately red-flagged the name, the code for a prior felony conviction.

"I knew it!" cried Jason as he slapped the top of the desk.

He keyed into the file. The first part consisted of his vital statistics: six feet four, 240 pounds, red hair, green eyes, several distinguishing scars incurred during military service. Saunders lived in Hurricane, forty miles west. Until four years ago, he had served abroad in the Army. Jason made a note to run a check on Saunders' Department of Defense records. After returning to the states, Saunders immediately ran afoul of the law. He was arrested in Salt Lake City for trafficking in illegal narcotics, busted for trying to sell a kilo of heroin to an undercover cop. Saunders eventually plead guilty to a felony charge of possession, and was given a sentence of four years at the maximum security prison. The Utah parole board granted his release two years early. He had followed all the conditions of his parole. Saunders had listed his occupation as a freelance pilot, however, none of his employers were mentioned in the file. All signs indicated that he had been a model citizen since getting out of prison, and as far as the state of Utah was concerned, B.T. Saunders was free to come and go as he pleased. He had three vehicles registered to his name, a 1980 Chevy Firebird, a 1987 GMC pickup truck, and a 1976 Harley Davidson Roadster. He had a valid Utah drivers license and was also a registered pilot, cleared to fly helicopters as well as airplanes. There was no indication that he had ever been involved in pothunting. Nor was there anything which linked him to any violent behavior, other than his military record.

It was a bit more difficult to access the Department of Defense personnel files. Jason started by calling a DOD personnel number in San Francisco and after identifying himself as the Grand County Sheriff, requested access to information regarding a former soldier named B.T. Saunders. He immediately hit a stone wall of silence. Military service records were not available to the public, even law enforcement. The problem with this inherently secretive system was that Jason had to already know what he was looking for before he called the DOD. The obvious place to start was whether Saunders had ever served time in the brig for drugs or assault.

It was early evening before Jason connected with someone in authority in the DOD. By now, he had been shuffled all the way to a facility in Virginia. The officer he spoke with was nice enough, once he confirmed that the Sheriff was who he claimed to be, but as soon as the Captain found Saunders' file, the conversation came to an immediate halt.

"I'm sorry, Sheriff, that file is classified."

"Well, can you tell me whether he had an arrest record while in the service?"

"I'm sorry, Sheriff, I'm not at liberty to discuss his military record."

Jason was persistent. "Listen, this involves two homicides in Arizona that may have been committed by this guy. It's extremely important."

The Captain didn't miss a beat. "I'm sorry, Sheriff, but I can't help you."

Jason lost his cool. "Listen, Captain, we're talking about murder here. How would you feel if a member of your family was gunned down, and the military protected the man who did the killing?"

There was silence on the other end of the line. "I could really get my butt in a sling if I talk to you about this file. All I can tell you is that the man has a very long and distinguished military record. He was Special Forces during the Vietnam War. After that, he served around the world in – uhmm – various capacities. I'm sorry, but that's all I can tell you, Sheriff."

"He was CIA, or doing some sort of secret spook work, wasn't he?"

"You didn't hear that from me, Sheriff."

Jason laughed without humor. "No. All I got from you, Captain, was that B.T. Saunders served his country with distinction." Jason angrily hung up.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 24 - Part II

The Magician looked around the Kiva until his eyes settled on a large, ornate water vase. Using a stone knife from an animal hide belt around his waist, he broke off one of the curved handles. He held the six inch piece of buff-colored pottery in his hand and looked up with a wistful smile on his dark face.

"I remember the day my wife made this water vase. It was my favorite. I used to say that the water it held tasted sweeter than any other. I always liked these handles. They have finger grooves. Here, feel for yourself."

Jenny reached out and took the handle from the Magician. She could immediately tell what he meant. His wife had gripped the handle while the pottery was still soft, leaving the indentations of her fingers. When the pot hardened, the grooves remained, making it easier to grip the handle when lifting the vase. This kind of personal touch made every piece of prehistoric pottery truly one of a kind. No pot was ever absolutely identical to another.

"Yeah, I see what you mean," said Jenny with genuine appreciation. "But why did you break it off like that?"

The Magician pointed at the handle. "You keep that with you all the time. Hide it safely on your person somewhere."

"But why?"

"It will stop these people from succeeding with their plans, so you must not let them find it. Trust me. I will let you know when the time is right to use it." The Magician walked around the excavated burial, examining the destruction. "If the thieves were stopped, what then would become of my possessions?"

Jenny looked confused. "Uhhmmm, well, I guess the authorities would hold everything for trial, and when that was over, they'd turn it all over to some museum – probably the Museum of Northern Arizona."

"And what would they do with it?"

"They'd study everything."

"And when they finished?"

"Well, they would probably display some of the finer items, and the rest would be carefully stored away for future investigation."

Jenny felt oddly uncomfortable explaining to the Magician how his most prized possessions would be dissected by the scientific community. Until now, Jenny had never looked at articles unearthed from a prehistoric Indian burial as anything other than the valid property of professional archaeologists. Then again, she had never had to explain the system to someone whose grave had actually been dug up. Standing there before the Magician, it was hard to escape the conclusion that grave-robbing was grave-robbing, no matter who ended up with the remains, no matter the purpose.

"Could these people be convinced to give my gifts back?"

Jenny pondered the curious question. "Are you talking about putting everything back in the grave and filling in the hole?"

"That is my wish."

"It would take somebody pretty damn important to get that done."

"Are you such a person?" asked the Magician.

Jenny finally saw where the Magician had been patiently leading her. "Yeah, I suppose I am."

The Magician nodded solemnly. "If you hold on to that handle until I tell you, then these men will not win. I swear to you as a Warrior that my words are true. Can you promise me that you will do everything in your power to see that all that has been stolen from me is returned?"

"I promise," replied Jenny with a solemn resolve.

The Magician smiled, showing a full set of worn yellowed teeth. "Then I thank you, Warrior Woman. It is done."

With that final pronouncement, the Magician was once again an inert skeleton.

Jenny quickly slid the pot handle into her boot as she heard someone descending the ladder. She looked up to see B.T.

"How goes it, Red?"

Jenny was still so flustered by the events of the past few minutes that she could only shake her head and shrug.

B.T. walked over and picked up her notebook. "I told the boys to hang out up top for awhile so we could talk in private." B.T. flipped through all the pages in the book. "Doesn't look like you got very much written down."

"What the hell's the point?"

"You're probably right, Red. Who would believe all this shit, huh?" B.T. tossed the notebook in the dirt and crouched down to face the weary archaeologist. "We couldn't have done this without you, Red. You were the key that unlocked the magical door. I want you to know that."

Jenny couldn't help but laugh. "I didn't do it for you."

"You're one tough bitch, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I'm a real warrior."

B.T. laughed with amusement. "Whatever you say. How much longer before we're finished digging this kiva?"

"Oh, I'd say another six or seven hours to do it right."

"That's what I figured," replied B.T. as he sifted dirt through his fingers and did some mental calculations. "I won't be here the whole time. There's some unfinished business I need to take care of over at Bighorn Buttes."

Jenny remembered Linda Joyce and visibly shuddered.

"The boys got a little wigged-out this morning when they realized I had left them alone – Christ, the way Otis was yelling, I thought we were under attack. I just had a long talk with 'em and we got the ground rules set. I guarantee nobody'll mess with you while I'm gone."

"I feel better already," said Jenny sarcastically.

"You know what you need, Red? You need to do a couple more lines of coke. You're starting to come down. That's why you're so cranky."

Jenny didn't bother to argue with Saunders. She knew she was going to need something stronger than adrenalin to stay awake. She was running on empty and her whole body was screaming for some relief. She focused intently on the skeleton of the Magician, propped up on the edge of the burial like a sick joke, and she felt a calmness immediately settle over her nerves. She had her own unfinished business to handle.

"I'll do whatever it takes to make this thing right," said Jenny. “I promise."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 24 - Part I

Jenny sat in the excavated kiva and stared at the completely exposed skeleton of the Magician. The men had gone outside to drink beer and watch the sun go down, leaving her alone to mull over the contents of the incredible burial.

As they had unearthed each prehistoric item, Jenny had tried to explain its purpose; before long, she had drawn the Magician into these conversations as a silent third part, asking him to confirm her explanations. At some point along the way, Jenny had started hearing the Magician's answers to her rhetorical questions. Doing cocaine for days without food or sleep, can cause one to see and hear some pretty crazy shit.

As the day drew to a close, B.T. had announced a break and had granted Jenny's request for thirty minutes to compile some notes on the dig, in the cause of science. Jenny now sat cross-legged in the dirt, facing the Magician, transcribing her analysis of the excavation. She was wired, her tired brain speeding at a hundred miles a minute.

Who was the Magician? He was obviously a man of great power, otherwise, he wouldn't have been buried with all of this marvelous treasure. They had already uncovered over six hundred burial offerings inside the grave, including turquoise from New Mexico; argillite from central Arizona; sea shells from the California coast, the Sea of Cortes, and the Gulf of Mexico; and feathers and bird effigies from mainland Mexico. The scope of the artifacts discovered so far was truly mind-boggling: decorated ceramic vessels, hand-woven baskets, a beargrass burial mat, large obsidian blades, projectile points, and small stone ornaments. This last group included pendants, nose plugs, necklace beads, a beaded skull cap, seashell fishhooks, and chisels and awls made of animal bone.

There were also several strange offerings that made little sense: rattles made from the nests of trapdoor spiders, a cottonwood root painted with red and blue symmetrical designs, and several ornamental mountain lion claws and teeth. There were wooden tubes and gourds, along with several small plates filled with different minerals: green malachite, blue azurite, and crystals of red cinnabar. In addition, there were wooden cups and bowls, tiny bows and arrows, and small pendants depicting various birds and insects.

The most spectacular find so far had been the nine perfectly preserved sword-swallowing wands. They had been arranged in three sets of three wands each, and grouped in a small-medium-large sequence. The wands in the smallest set were about ten inches long, and each had a differently colored deer hoof carved on one end, while the other end was serrated to a dull point. The ones in the second set were a foot long, and decorated on the top end with intricately carved human hands of green, red, and blue. The wands in the final set were about fifteen inches long, and had been carved in the shape of deer horns covered with wafer-thin pieces of turquoise. They were not only the finest articles in the burial, they were also the only items which shed conclusive light on the true identity of the Magician.

The modern Hopis of Northern Arizona spoke of an ancient ceremony called the "Motswimi", or Sword-Swallowing Ritual. It was thought to be associated with witchcraft, and up until the early 1900s had been practiced by some of the Tewa warrior clans who lived atop the Hopi mesas. According to the Hopis, it was supposed to strengthen the spirit of the participant and was conducted by a "Qaletaqa", or "strong man" of the Warrior Society. During the ceremony, the priest swallowed decorated wands of varying lengths and invoked the protection of predatory animals like bears and mountain lions. The nine wooden wands had been made sometime in the early 1100s, but clearly linked the Magician to the Hopis of the 20th century.

Jenny estimated the length of the skeleton at about six feet, which meant he was much taller than his fellow inhabitants of the Paria Plateau, who rarely grew to more than five feet tall. Like his contemporaries, he had a square-set jaw, high cheekbones, and a very pronounced forehead. He would have looked very much like a modern Pueblo Indian.

In the blink of an eye, the Magician came to life. He stood over the dirty, sweat-soaked archaeologist, whose mouth quivered as she blinked her eyes in amazement. Towering over her was the Magician, now wearing all the funeral finery they had unearthed from the burial. He looked like a God.

"Rise, Redhair, and behold the answers to your questions."

Jenny rose on shaky legs and reached out to touch the face of the regal Indian. "You're real!"

The Magician chuckled softly. "I have never doubted my existence. Have you?"

Jenny wiped her matted hair out of her eyes and made a conscious effort to stand straight. "Dead men normally stay in the ground."

The Magician looked amused. "Even after they've been dug up and their bones scattered to the four sacred winds?"

"I apologize," stammered Jenny, clearly at a loss for words. "Are you a ghost?"

The Magician frowned. "The word means nothing to me. I am a Warrior whose body has slept peacefully for many ages. I have watched in horror as you pulled my bed apart so you could steal my possessions. Do you not realize I need these gifts in the next world? Without my spear points, how will I hunt? Without my bowls, how will I drink? Without my plates, how will I eat? Without my rattles, how will I make my music? Without my paints, how will I create beauty? What could make you want to steal from the dead, White-Skinned Girl?"

Jenny looked embarrassed. "Believe me, it wasn't my idea. I am the prisoner of some men who have forced me to do this."

The Magician shook his head. "I do not understand."

"These men are murdering thieves and they plan to get rich off your inheritance. They captured me and I agreed to help them dig the grave so they wouldn't destroy most of your personal effects. They're greedy fools, who have no idea what they're doing."

The Magician's eyebrows raised in dismay. "And you do?"

Jenny felt foolish and tiny. "I have studied ancient Indian cultures. It is my life's work. I try to make some sense of your time."

"By stealing from us?"

"Look, what do you want from me?" cried Jenny. "Do you want your pots and baskets back? Well, I can't give them to you! They're history. They'll be sold to people all around the world. And believe me, the world's a whole lot bigger than it was in your day."

The Magician smiled as he shook his head in disagreement. "Then we must find a way to defeat them."

Jenny laughed. "Do you have some guns with you? 'Cause that's what it's going to take to bring these men down. They don't screw around."

The Magician pursed his lips. "You have many tools at your disposal. Use them."

"Yeah, like what?"

Monday, March 14, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 23 - Part II

A few minutes later, Jason and Dwayne were on their way to the Kanab Airport. Jason briefed Dwayne about the call from Linda's roommate, and they both agreed that the call from B.J. was curious and moved pilot B.T. Saunders to the top of the suspects list.

"Did Jenny call in this morning, Dwayne?"

"Ten-Four. Right on time, too – eight o'clock sharp. She said everything was going fine out there on the east end."

Jason nodded his head thoughtfully. "Did you get a chance to talk to Linda?"

Dwayne frowned as he turned left on to the airport entrance road. "Naw, she was busy doing something else. Jenny said they haven't seen a soul out there since they started work and they're both okay."

"Did she say when they were coming back to town?"

"Yep, Friday afternoon."

"That's good, Dwayne. I'll feel a lot better when they're both back here safe and sound."

"You and me both, pardner."

While Dwayne headed for the airport Manager's Office, Jason went to the hanger to see Art Shaw. In addition to his regular job as head mechanic, Art was also the Mormon Bishop of the Kanab Stake. He was a tall, blond man with the build of an athlete; and while he had filled out from his high school days, he was still in excellent shape.

"How goes it, Sheriff?" Art smiled as he wiped off his hands on a blue rag.

"Oh, I've been better," said Jason as he shook Art's beefy hand.

Art nodded his head as if he understood completely. "The Lord works in mysterious ways, Brother Pratt."

"That he does, Bishop Shaw."

Art motioned for Dwayne to take a seat in one of the lawn chairs by the front of the service bay. "Let's sit and jaw a bit, and maybe we can figure out what the creator has been up to lately. I can't say I'm surprised to see you, Jason. I thought you might get around to paying me a visit sooner or later."

"Why's that, Art?"

Art turned and looked his friend straight in the eye. "Well, the word around Fredonia and Kanab is that the person who killed Willie Meeks used a chopper to get in and out of Jumpup Canyon. Rumor also has it that someone was using those poor unfortunate Indians as pothunters, and then ended up killing them in the bargain."

Jason shook his head in amazement. "Kinda hard to keep a secret around here, isn't it?"

"Impossible, Jason. But from the sounds of it, you can use all the help you can get."

"This is one tough nut to crack, but you're right about the chopper. We know the killer was using one, at least for the second murder, but we don't have any kind of positive ID on it."

"And you were hoping that I might be able to narrow it down a little for you, eh?"

"That's the general idea. But there's more to it, Art. What I'm about to say to you is just between the two of us. I mean absolutely without question. Okay?"

"Whatever you say, Sheriff."

"I understand that ASN recently brought one of their choppers in here for some maintenance work. Is that true?"

"I had a feeling that's where this thing was leading."

"Why's that?"

"Well, it's no big secret that some people have accused ASN of using their choppers to raid old Indian sites."

"I'm not accusing ASN of anything, Art. But I went out to the ASN mine yesterday and I got the big runaround from the head honcho out there, and that makes me suspicious. So I want you to tell me everything you know about the ASN flight operations, starting with the chopper they brought in here the other day."

"Well, they have a Bell Ranger in here for some general maintenance work. It's scheduled to fly out on Friday. Some bigwig from their home office is flying his jet in here Friday morning, and then ferrying the chopper back to the mine."

"What's this fella's name?"

"I don't know. They have a lot of important folks who fly in here periodically to inspect the mine – owners and company reps. They're in and out real fast, and they're not very sociable. They rarely talk to me."

"When did the chopper get dropped off here?"

"It was first thing Monday morning."

"I heard it was Monday evening."

"Nope. I remember that it was Monday morning because the pilot was waiting for me when I came in to work at seven."

"Anything odd about the chopper?"

"Like what?"

"Like blood stains, or bullet casings on the floor?"

"Nope. It was clean as a whistle. That's it over there." Art pointed at a blue and white helicopter parked between two turbo-prop airplanes. "You're welcome to give it the once-over if you like."

"I'd need a warrant for that, Art. Tell me about the pilot."

"Well, it wasn't John Davenport, the paramedic from over in St. George. He's the regular service pilot. ASN has their own fuel depot, so there's no reason for them to stop over here unless they have a breakdown. Seems like most of their fliers are out of Laramie and Denver. John is the guy who always brings their choppers in for servicing. Don't ask me why, but that's the way they like to do it."

"I know John," said Jason. "He and I worked together on a real bad car accident over by Virgin a couple months back."

"Yeah, he's a good man. Well anyway, the guy who showed up this time was new. I had never seen him before. He said he was just filling in temporarily for John."

"Do you remember this fella's name?"

"Not off the top of my head. But I can look it up for you on the manifest. I remember it was just some initials."

"B.T. Saunders?"

"Yeah, that's it."

"What did he look like?"

"Well, let's see. He's real big – well over six foot. He's got long red hair and a bushy beard to match."

Jason could barely contain himself. "You're absolutely positive about the color?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."

"Think back carefully, Art, and tell me everything that Saunders said to you. Everything."

"Well let's see, like I said before, he was waiting for me when I came to work. I don't know how long he had been here. He told me the chopper was due for its regular inspection. When I asked him where John was, he said he didn't know. Then he told me the chopper had to be ready by Friday morning – by nine o'clock. He kept stressing that point. But heck, that gave me plenty of time to work on it, so I told him there would be no problem getting it finished by then. He said there was some big shot flying in here on Friday to pick up the chopper and take it to the Shivwits Mine. Then he left."

"You're sure that's all he said?"

"Yeah, that's the extent of it. The guy wasn't exactly the friendliest fella I ever met – you know, not a big talker. He seemed like he was sort of in a hurry."

"How did he leave?"

"Someone from ASN picked him up in one of their vans."

"You're sure you've never seen this guy before?"

"Absolutely. I would definitely remember a fella like that. Believe me, he stands out."

"That's what I hear," said Jason as he pocketed his note pad and got out of his chair. "I'm gonna try my best to get a search warrant from Judge Cram, so we can go over that chopper with a fine-tooth comb. You didn't vacuum it out, did you?"

"I'm a master mechanic, Jason, not a maid."

Jason smiled. "Well, keep up the good work. And don't be surprised if some forensic investigators show up here later on today. Okay?"

"I'll be expecting them."

"One last thing. Are you planning on being here on Friday morning?"

"I have to come in to turn over the keys and maintenance logs to the guy who's picking up the chopper, but then I'll scoot home. I promised to take my boy Earnest rabbit-hunting out by the Coral Pink Sand Dunes on Friday."

"That's a great spot; I like to go there myself. But listen, when this guy flies in for the chopper, I want you to give my office a call to alert us that he's here. I'd also like you to ask him to show you some ID when he signs the paper work – preferably a driver's license. Take down his address and license number for me. That won't be a problem, will it?"

"Nope, not at all. In fact, that's standard operating procedure. We never hand over an aircraft to a stranger without verifying who they are."

"That's what I figured. Well, I gotta get going. I came over here with Dwayne Johnson. He's in the office talking to Dave about tracking choppers with radar."

Art shook his head from side to side. "I can answer that question real easy. Radar works on line of sight, and if there's anything in the way, then it can't be seen. The terrain around here, with all the cliffs and hills and mesas, makes radar a pretty useless tool, except from up in the air. We could track a chopper for a couple of miles from the airport, but then we'd lose it."

Jason frowned. "Yeah, I figured that stuff only worked in the James Bond movies. Well, it was worth a shot. Hey look, you keep in touch, Art. You hear?"

"You do the same, Jason. You know, I'd like to see more of you and the family at church."

"Yeah, I know. I've just been real busy lately, Bishop."

"Well, that's fine, just be sure you don't get too busy to protect your own skin, Brother Pratt. I do not want to have to deliver a funeral speech in your honor."

Jason was momentarily taken aback by his friend's concern. "God forbid," replied Jason uneasily. He turned and headed back to the main building, feeling like a man who had just seen a ghost.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 23 - Part 1

"Hey, boss, we got a wild one on the line this time. She says she's the roommate of Ms. Joyce, and she wants to talk to whoever's in charge of the murder investigation."

Irritable at the frequent interruptions, Jason picked up the phone and reminded himself to be nice. "Sheriff Pratt here. How can I help you?"

"My name is Amber Slofkosky, and I share a house with Linda Joyce, in Flagstaff. I was listening to the radio this morning and I heard the news about the murders in Fredonia and – well, I know this'll sound a little crazy – but I wanted to make sure Linda was alright. See, she's doing some sort of bird study up there for the Arizona Game & Fish Department, and the thing is, like, she usually calls me every couple days to sort of check in – you know, just say "hi", that kinda thing. But I haven't heard from her in a while, and like, well, you know, I was just worried about her and all. You haven't seen her, have you, Sheriff?"

"Why would you think that your friend had anything to do with the murders of our two Paiutes?"

"It's just that I got bad vibes when I heard about the murders, you know, with Linda working up there all alone. See, I got this call yesterday morning from this guy who said he was one of Linda's bird-watching friends. I never heard his name before, and Linda talks about all the people she works with – especially the guys, you know?"

"I know exactly what you mean, Amber. What did this fella say his name was?"

"Well, I'm not exactly sure. See, I was late for work, and you know, at the time I didn't think too much about it. But like, there was just something about him that makes me wonder now. I'm sure he said his first name was Bobby, but I'm not so positive about the last name – James, I think. I know it was something like two first names. He said they called him B.J. I'm pretty sure about that. And he told me he worked for Arizona Game & Fish people, I do remember that. Otherwise I wouldn't have, you know, talked to him, or anything."

Those initials sounded familiar, but from where? "What did this fella say he wanted, Amber?"

"He said he was supposed to meet Linda at some place near the Grand Canyon and she hadn't showed up. So, he was trying to find her. He asked if she had called home, and I told him no, and that I didn't know how to get ahold of her."

"Was there anything else?" prodded Jason.

There was silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds. "Well, there is one other thing. I gave B.J. the name of Linda's boyfriend. Now I'm thinking that maybe that wasn't such a good idea. You know? I was just trying to help. I guess I really wasn't thinking; he caught me by surprise. I didn't have any clothes on – you know, from just getting out of the shower. And anyway, I was in a big hurry 'cause I was late for work – as usual – and I just gave him Ken's number so I could, like, get rid of him. You know?"

"Look, I wouldn't worry about this, Amber. But why don't you give me the boyfriend's name and number, just in case."

"God, I hope I did right, Sheriff. I mean, I wouldn't want to get anybody else in trouble, or hurt. That'd be so uncool."

Jason tapped the pencil on the desk top impatiently. "Yeah, I'm sure it would, Amber, but don't attach too much significance to this one phone call. Now, if you could just give me the name and number of Ms. Joyce's boyfriend, then I can let you go."

"Oh sure, I understand, you're probably real busy, right?" said Amber with obvious embarrassment. "His name is Ken Jarvis, and he's a geology professor up at Southern Utah State College, in Cedar City. His phone number is 643-2273."

"Well, thank you, Amber, we always appreciate any help we can get from the public. As the news reports pointed out, the recent killings up here have been confined to our local Indian population. No Anglos have been involved, as far as we know. I'm sure everything is okay with your roommate, and you'll probably be hearing from her soon."

"Yeah, maybe," sighed Amber. "Boy, I know I'll feel a lot better when I hear her voice again. Right about now I'm really starting to freak out. You know?"

Jason hung up the phone and exhaled loudly. "Geez, what an airhead."

Deputy Mutz walked into the office with a can of Pepsi in his hand. "What was that all about, Sheriff? Another nut case?"

"She said she got a call from some strange man, asking if Linda Joyce was around. That would have been the day after the murder in Jumpup Canyon. The guy went by the name of B.J. and said he works for the folks over at Arizona Game & Fish. Ring any bells?"

Tom shook his head. "Nope, but then, I don't know most of their people – other than the locals, that is." Tom turned to leave when a thought struck him. "Say, wasn't there a B.J. on the pilot list you got from ASN?"

Jason felt like he had just been stuck with a pin. He fumbled in his pocket for his note pad. He scanned the names of the nine pilots.

"You're close, Tom. There's a B.T. Saunders."

"Do you think it could be the same guy who called the roommate?"

"It's probably a coincidence, my friend. But as soon as I get back from the airport, I intend to find out who's who. In the meantime, you give Game & Fish a call and find out if they have someone named B.J. who's working this area."

Friday, March 4, 2011


We took advantage of the Presidents Day holiday and headed south to wonderful Tallahassee, Florida to stay with my old friends Larry & Teri for a week of fun & sun.

We left on a Friday the 18th, after work. Big fucking mistake! Northern Virginia is beyond the pale when it comes to traffic. THE WORST!!! It took us 5 hours to get from Annapolis to Fredericksburg – and there were no accidents to explain the parking lot nature of the Alexandria/Dumfries region.
I don’t do sitting in traffic very well and I began whining relentlessly. I wanted to kill myself, or turn around and go back home. And to add insult to injury, they have nearly-empty HOV3 lanes that parallel the I-95 parking lot. It is failed social engineering at it’s most absurd. If you have three people in a car, the taxpayers provide you with an empty three lane highway. Maryland does HOV2 and that would have made all the difference in the world. But NO! Virginia is for lovers & fools and they make you sit and rot in the name of global warming.

So, the start to our little excursion was not very fun. But once we got beyond Richmond, it was clear sailing down busy I-95. We had hoped to make Lumberton, NC, or maybe even Florence, SC, that first night, but settled on a nice motel run by the friendly Patels (Why do Indians own most of America’s aging motels?) in that garden spot, Rocky Mount, NC.
We got up the next morning and were greeted by several very inviting program changes. It was warm, and sunny, and everything was in bloom. And THAT’s what I’m talking about! And the further South we went, the better & hotter it got.

Our timing was perfect for the trip. Florida had been cold and rainy for weeks and we hit it just when the weather broke. We had sun and temps in the high 70s and low 80s pretty much the whole time.

We pushed south, with a brief (and totally misguided) detour to see the hellhole called Florence, South Carolina. Downtown Florence is like looking at one of those joke postcards “Wish You Weren’t Here!”
We quickly bailed and got back on I-95.

We decided to break up the drive around 2, and stretch our legs in Savannah. There were two major festivals underway (book & Irish) and the place was totally rocking out. We took the Old Savannah Trolley tour, which proved to be a terrible blunder. The trolley could barely get around the log-jammed streets and you couldn’t really see much inside the hot, cramped confines of the tin can on wheels. We ended up bailing after the third stop and just walked the sultry streets on our own. Savannah is very cool and people
were walking around with beers in their hands like it was giant block party. Savannah is home to the Savannah School of Design (the largest design school in the country) in the heart of the old city and the students are creatively renovating many of the historic structures. The city founder, Governor Oglethorpe, was a visionary who laid out the city grid so that it was interspersed with small, tree-lined rectangular parks on almost every block surrounded by splendid houses, shops, and churches dating back to Colonial times.
And on every block, there’s a tall tale from long ago. We wanted to stay longer, but the sun was going down and it was time to get back on the road.

We finally got off of I-95 and took I-10 in Jacksonville, and arrived in Tallahassee at 10 o’clock on Saturday night. At that point we were in a state of suspended animation after the 15 hour marathon drive. We felt like we were still bouncing along in the car even when we were sitting on Larry & TC’s lovely back porch. After many Newcastle beers and glasses of red wine, we finally fell into dreamland.

On Sunday we arose to Spring in all of its glory. The trees were in bloom and the whole place smelled like honey. Larry & TC have a really nice house in a Stepford Wives community just north of Tallahassee. Larry recently retired from the Forest Service, while Teri is the Deputy Supervisor for all of the National Forests in Florida. She is temporarily running the three forests in Alabama and works during the week in Montgomery, Alabama, staying in a hotel and then coming back home on the weekends.

We spent our first day kayaking down the Wakulla River, starting in the Wakulla Springs. Most of the rivers in the panhandle of Florida are fed by spectacular Category 1 underground springs, meaning the water is unbelievably clear. And Wakulla Springs is the largest and deepest fresh water spring in the world.
The “Tarzan” movies were filmed there, along with “Creature From the Black Lagoon”. Inna & I rented kayaks from a place called Wilderness World and Larry & TC guided us through 7 miles of pure heaven, filled with gators, manatees, water moccasins, turtles, otters, egrets, herons, bald eagles, vultures, osprey, ibis, limpkin, anhinga, wood ducks, and pelicans (my favorite). We finished up our little paddle near the Gulf of Mexico, where the Wakulla meets the St. Marks River, in a funky oasis filled with biker oyster bars.
Here’s the thing: If you are looking for the old Florida, you need look no further than the area around Tallahassee. It’s dirt roads, shitkickers and trailers, cinderblock liquor stores, dollar stores, seafood stands in the backs of pickup trucks, simple churches in the woods, and goofy roadside attractions galore. It’s my kind of place. And while the people may be a bit rough around the edges, they are amazingly friendly. Everywhere we went, the folks couldn’t have been nicer.
We loaded up the boats and stopped at this amazing dive called the Riverside Café, literally hanging out over the St. Marks River. A local band of hoodlums were playing swamp rock from an outdoor stage and drunken redneck men & women lurched in the sand like fish out of water. It was endlessly amusing.
Birds flew through the restaurant and everyone was having a goddamn ball, pounding cheap beer and eating fresh seafood.

Monday was the holiday, but Larry had a master gardener class in the morning, so Inna & I went for a long hike with Teri in the very nice Brinkley-Glenn city park where a network of trails ran through a long-leaf pine forest interspersed with shady swamps and frog-happy wetlands.
Tallahassee has some really outstanding parks and they are all free and very well maintained.

After our morning walk we hooked up with Larry and loaded up our bikes for a 20-mile ride along the St. Marks Railroad Trail, starting at the south end and riding north from the Riverside Café.
The trail follows the old railroad line that brought cotton to the the Gulf and slaves into the interior to work the plantations. The recently repaved trail was completely empty and took us through old horse and cattle farms and strange enclaves of rundown houses amidst palm trees and sandy roads to nowhere.
Larry had a Green Guides class that night at the Crawfordville Community College, so we didn’t have time for dinner after our bike ride. Instead, Larry led us down to an amazing spot in an eerily-empty golf cart condoland community called Shell Point, overlooking Apalachee Bay.
This is oyster country and reminded me of the Chesapeake Bay, except it’s the ocean.
Larry left for his class as the sun went down and we drove back to Tallahassee, stopping at Fresh Market for some tasty organic foods. We made a great salad and hung out with TC on the back porch, basking in the warm night air. I called home and Momu said it had snowed, sleeted and was miserably cold & windy. We downed another rum drunk in honor of our good fortune. It felt great to be away from winter time in Annapolis.

TC left for Alabama on Tuesday morning. It was hot and sunny, so we decided to head for the water. We took Larry’s three kayaks and went exploring on the Wasissa River, yet another spring-fed river teeming with an amazing assortment of wildlife.
We paddled aimlessly for several hours and then took a meandering slough that led us to the Blue Hole where a giant spring bubbled out of an underwater cave. We went swimming in the crystal clear water filled with colorful fish and I managed to lose my cellphone as I was putting my vest back on in the tippy kayak. Screw it. I never liked the goddamn thing anyhow. Not sure why I even took it with me in the first place.
After our little adventure on the river, we drove over to the nearby Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park. It is one of the state’s most significant Native American ceremonial sites, featuring
Florida’s tallest Indian ceremonial mound - 46 feet tall (the Indian version of a pyramid). The people who built the mound are believed to have been members of the Weedon Island Culture, a group of Native Americans who lived in North Florida between 200 and 800 A.D.
We came back home after touring the trippy Indian mounds and just kicked back and read while Larry puttered around his garden before his next Green Guide class. It was nice just chilling without a plan, and the perfect weather made it feel like Eden.

On Wednesday it was time to head into Tallahassee for an urban walk. We drove to city center and parked in a parking garage before heading off on our walk. Tallahassee is the state capitol, but not very large and easily accessible by foot. Tallahassee is a Creek Indian word meaning “old fields”. It was chosen as the state capital in 1824 because it sits equal distance from Pensacola and St. Augustine, the original seats of power. It’s an odd little town. It seems almost brand new and there are very few tall or historic buildings. The architecture is modern and uniformly white – no doubt because the summers are so friggin hot.
They have a street called Park Avenue which runs for many blocks, bisected by major streets, and is essentially a series of wonderful parks covered in large live oaks, dripping Spanish moss (which isn’t Spanish, or a moss, but rather, a member of the pineapple family).
We cruised through park after park eventually stopping at the spooky National Cemetery that looked like something straight out of a vampire movie – even at high noon.
At the end of Park Avenue sits the sprawling campus of Florida State University. It’s a very nice college comprised mostly of stately brick buildings like the University of Maryland. They were playing the Terps in B’ball later that night in College Park and there were spirit banners all around - “Go Seminoles!”
We hung out for some people watching by a large fountain in the main quad and were treated to many entertaining sights. The school appears to have a lot more women than men – young girls scantily attired and bouncing along like happy puppies. Why the hell didn’t I go there when I was younger? The fraternities and sororities line College Avenue and they are immaculately maintained. I’ve never seen a college so squared away.
We walked back toward the downtown area and stopped to check out a new urban pedestrian mall area with an IMAX theater, outdoor cafes, and performing arts stages before stopping for a yummy lunch at a sushi placed called the Jasmine Café.
After lunch, we headed over to the Museum of Florida History. The museum is free and tells the whole story of Florida from prehistoric mastodons and giant armadillos, through the Indians, Spanish, English, Colonials, Indian Wars, Civil War, Reconstruction, tourism, oranges, and right up to today.
They also had an extensive exhibit featuring original Audubon bird prints. It was amazing how much they packed into such a small museum and we learned a lot in a very short time.
After the museum we walked around the mostly empty streets lined with lawyers offices and lobbying firms, but very few commercial businesses. Without any stores and shops, there really wasn’t much to look at. The legislature wouldn’t be in session until the following week, so the whole place seemed like a ghost town.
We walked over to the historic State House, a lovely old white building circa the 1820s, featuring very cool red and white striped awnings hanging over each window. The old State House is no longer in use but they offer free tours. We walked through many interesting exhibits, exploring Florida’s rough & tumble political history.
One room was set up like it had been for the one of the first Governors. Another featured all of the political buttons, signs, and paraphernalia that colored many of the past elections. Another room told the story of the “hanging chads”. Tallahassee was where W stole the presidential election from Gore. They even had one of the voting machines with a sample ballot. How quickly we forget.
After touring the old Capitol building, we walked out the back door and into a modern plaza in front of Tallahassee’s tallest (and ugliest) high rise building where the legislature does it’s business. We took the elevator to the 22nd floor where there is an observation deck looking out over the city.
The air was so humid, and there were controlled burns going on in the surrounding forests, so it was hard to see very far. But you could easily tell how the city had been laid out atop seven small hills, making it seem much less flat and uniform that the rest of the state.
By this time, our heads were ready to burst and our feet were sore, so we drove back to the Lesko-Cleeland hotel and got happy, grilling steaks and eating a salad filled with assorted greens from Larry’s garden.
On Thursday, we headed for the beach, following the scenic Highway 98 along the Gulf Coast, stopping for the best breakfast I’ve ever had at a rundown dive called 2 Al's,
and then pushing on to historic Apalachicola where we picked up some authentic Florida junk at a wild antique barn called the Tin Shop.
You wouldn’t believe the incredible assortment of crap in this place. They had old diving suits, plastic flamingos, life-sized pirates armed with swords, alligator heads, carved birds, glass balls in nets, seashells, shark teeth, weird yard signs, old coins & doubloons, and oh so much more. It made our heads spin.
We continued on to St. George Island. Half the island is developed like Any Beach Town, USA and the other half of the island is a completely undeveloped state park. We spent the rest of the day walking the empty beach, collecting shells and just chilling by the blue ocean.
The beaches of the Gulf are my favorite. The day was a little cool and quite foggy, so we didn’t go swimming. But we stayed until late afternoon and then did the 1.5-hour drive back home, stopping at the one-of-a-kind “Bird’s Aphrodisiac Oyster Shack” for some fresh Apalachicola oysters and 420 beer. We came back home and packed our gear so we could get an early start the following morning.

After a final meal with Larry, we said our tearful goodbyes and were on the road by 9, heading for Jekyll Island, Georgia. The forecast was for scattered showers all day. We didn’t get wet until we arrived on Jekyll, and even then, it was really nothing more than a mist most of the time. We ate lunch in the historic and very ritzy Jekyll Island Club, all white linen and how do you do.
After lunch, we got on our bikes and rode around the north end of the island. We ended up doing about 12 miles, checking out the historic winter “cottages” of the filthy rich (Vanderbilt, Goodyear, Pulitzer) who once hung out on the island at the turn of the last century.
Jekyll is one of my favorite places. Inna & I may end up having our wedding there. It’s a little slice of heaven, for sure.

We had originally planned to stay the night on Jekyll, but the weather was iffy and we wanted to get back to Annapolis so we could have Sunday to regroup and get ready for the impending daily grind. So we left paradise and headed north through lovely Brunswick and back onto I-95, stopping in the early evening in Walterboro, South Carolina where we ate at a steak house and got a room at the Princess Motel.

We got up the next morning and stopped at the Fireworks Supermarket where I picked up some serious ordinance.

And then it was back onto I-95. Inna drove most of the way until we got to Fredericksburg and then I took over. The northern Virginia traffic jam was in full swing but we managed to get through fairly easily and arrived back in Annapolis at 5.

All in all, it was an ideal vacation. We found sun and warmth. We got away from Annapolis and all of it’s petty village conflicts. We visited old friends. Saw some amazing sights. Played outside in some unbelievably stoner spots. And it was a pretty cheap date. Gas was the biggest expense and it only took six tanks of gas for the entire 2,100 mile excursion. Gas prices were wild. They went up dramatically after Libya caught fire, and ranged from $2.83 – $3.79 a gallon. But we can’t wait to visit Larry & TC again – maybe this fall.

In the meantime it’s back to work and we are left with but fleeting pictures that turn into fuzzy memories ...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 22 - Part II

Once again, he was a fresh-faced teen soldier from Waco, Texas, gut-shot by a fragmentation grenade while on maneuvers in Laos. Somehow, he had managed to crawl inside the protective cover of a dark cave. The rest of the men in his unit were nowhere to be seen. He could hear someone softly whistling like the wind as he struggled to focus through the mind-wrenching pain. Kneeling near him was a decrepit Oriental man stirring some sweet-smelling mixture over a small fire. The old man looked up from his cooking pot and his eyes twinkled like crystals. He smiled devilishly and licked the edges of his long, white mustache.

"You are almost dead, warrior boy. Would you like to live again?"

B.T. felt a rush of intense nausea roll over him like an ocean breaker. "Who are you? Are you a doctor?"

The old man cackled with amusement as he waved a large, black feather back and forth in front of his face like a fan. "A doctor could not save you. You are beyond that now."

"Well, what are you, then?" asked B.T. as he felt his insides oozing from the hole in his chest. He gagged as he covered his chest with his hands and began to sob.

"I am a spirit-catcher. I can give you back your life."

"How can you do that?"

The old man looked skyward and seemed to consider his words very carefully. "I know the Ritual of the Feathers and the Fur, a powerful secret in hands of one unafraid to use it. The Gods will blow the fire back into your soul and make you one of their very own."

"What do I have to do?"

The shaman smiled and pointed the feather at the wounded soldier. "Live, my young stranger, and I will do the rest. You need to drink some of this opium tea." He began feeding B.T. the bubbling brew. "We will need a fire ring to signify the Dragon eating its tail." He carefully laid the stones next to one another on the floor of the cave. "Next, we will need the tail feather of a scavenger bird. I like to use the vulture because he's so damn ugly." The old man giggled like a child as he dropped the feather into the circle of stone. "And the wing feather from a bird of prey. You're going to need a lot of power, so I think we will use a sea eagle. They are very, very strong."

The old Asian brushed the feather across B.T.'s forehead and then let it fall into the circle. From a leather sheath on his hip, he pulled a long, shiny hunting knife. "And now, I'll need some of your hair."

The next thing B.T. clearly remembered was waking up in a base hospital in Saigon. The doctor told him he was one lucky S.O.B. to be alive. He had been found by a group of Hmong tribesmen who had carried him back to the American lines near the DMZ. From there he had been choppered south to Saigon. No one knew anything about a little old sorcerer in a cave.

Several months later, B.T. returned to the scene of the ambush, but he never found the cave and the locals claimed to know nothing of an elderly medicine man who caught souls. The trail was a dead-end, as if the events which he so vividly recalled had happened in another life.

B.T.'s search did not end there. He became a student of Laotian religions, and he discovered that some Asian people believed that the spirits of the dead went right on living. These spirits were the messengers of the Gods, and they could be found in rocks, in trees, and often in birds. There were animistic cultures all over the earth who believed in the eternal nature of the spirit world. On the Horn of Africa, along the Amazon River in Brazil, atop the mesas of the American Southwest, there lived countless people who believed that life was an eternal circle.

B.T. developed his own personal variation of the Ritual of the Feathers and the Fur, one which fit the odd particulars of his strange existence. Professor Ken Jarvis was just another in a long list of losers and winners. The dragon was always hungry.

As he returned from the heroin fog, he stared out at the rising sun, and the powerful rush of godhead coursed through him like some magical elixir. He had done it again! All was right with the world, the harmony restored. Ken Jarvis’ spirit would now live forever with the gods, just like the two Paiutes he had slain, and whose spirits he had captured from within the kiva in his home.

B.T. stepped out of the cave and into the warmth of the sun. The morning stillness was suddenly broken by the sound of Otis urgently yelling B.T.'s name across the echoing expanse of Pinnacle Ridge. B.T. quickly shouldered his day pack and took off on the dead run toward the Big Boy Pueblo.