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.