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.

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