Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 27 - Part II

Jason walked through the kitchen and into the living room. Everywhere he looked were dust-covered prehistoric artifacts. Jason was no archaeologist, but he knew an outstanding collection when he saw one, and this would have rivaled that of the finest museums. He picked up a spear point of dark pink chert and held it up to the lamp, marveling at its craftsmanship. The light shined through the thick stone blade, highlighting the natural fractures in the rock. The Anasazi who had made this hunting tool made not only a weapon for hunting, but also created a beautiful work of art; such dichotomy of purpose said a lot about the Anasazi. Jason carefully placed the spear point back on the coffee table and continued his search.

      A large wood stove dominated the cluttered room. It sat on a square slate of buff-colored sandstone to protect the wooden floor from fire. Jason noticed several petroglyphs pecked into the surface of the stone. Saunders must have found a panel of prehistoric rock art, and chiseled out a slab to put under the stove.

      There was an empty wood box to the left of the stove; attached to the corner was a lock which bolted the box to the floor. Jason nudged the lock with his foot. The other side of the box revealed rusty hinges on each corner.

      "What did you find?" asked Barry.

      Jason jumped at the sound of his voice. "Well, I think this box doubles as a door od some kind."

      "Say what?"

      "Have a look for yourself."

      Barry examined the locked box with curiosity. "Well, do you want to shoot off the lock, or do you want me to do it?"

      "I'll do it. You go out and tell the men what the shooting's all about. And bring back one of those large flashlights, just in case we need it down below."

      "Okay, Jason, but you just remember what happened the last time we messed with one of this fella's locked doors. This one's liable to blow you sky high."

      "That’s true, but it'll take us forever to get a bomb squad down here from Salt Lake City. In the meantime, this guy is on the loose. If we can find something that'll stop him, then I’d say it's worth the gamble."

      "That kind of thinking can get you killed." warned Barry as he turned and walked away; he knew he was wasting his breath on someone as dedicated and stubborn Jason Pratt. But he had no intention of dying for the cause. "You give me a call when you want me to come back in."

      Jason waited for Barry to leave the house and then fired from point-blank range to break the sturdy lock. The lock shattered. Jason holstered his gun and kicked the lock loose with the toe of his boot.

      Jason felt a tightness in his chest; risking his life was part of the job, but he had never had to deal with booby-traps before. He closed his eyes and cringed as he lifted the box up off the floor. His body tensed, waiting for the explosion, or another poisoned arrow, but nothing happened. Jason sighed with relief as he leaned the lid of the trap door against the wood stove.

      "ALL CLEAR!" he shouted.

      He stared down into a narrow shaft that led underneath the house. There was a rope ladder bolted to the floor boards.

      Barry re-entered the room, a wide grin on his face and flashlight in hand. "Well, I see you made it."

      "So far, so good. I'm going to need that light, Barry. There's a ladder, but I can't tell where it goes.

      Barry peered into the hole. If he wanted to get to his basement, why not just put in some goddamn steps?" 

      Jason climbed down the shaky ladder and was soon in almost total darkness. He smelled dirt and stale smoke.

      "I'm down,” said Jason from the eerie darkness below.

      "What do you see?"

      Jason turned in a slow circle, panning the powerful beam around the musty room.

      "Come down here and look for yourself, Barry."

      Fifty pounds overweight, Barry had trouble negotiating the unsteady rope ladder and puffed with exertion.

      "What have we got?" asked Barry as he stuffed his shirt back into his pants.

      "I'm not sure. There are some candles over here. You got a match?"

      Parry produced a Bic lighter and lit the two large black candles set inside alcoves hollowed out of the far wall. The light grew in intensity and the room gradually came into focus.

      "Holy shit! It's a goddamn ceremonial kiva!" marveled Barry.

      The walls were made of sandstone blocks mortared together to create the massive walls of a circular room. There were stone benches built into the walls; against one wall there was a circular pile of stones that looked like a fire ring, although the rocks were not blackened.

      Barry approached the fire ring. "What the fuck?" He reached up and touched what appeared to be a couple of feathers wrapped together with red parachute chord. "Bring that light over here, Jason."

      Jason came over and illuminated the strange object. "What do you make of it?"

      "This is the craziest damn thing I ever saw in my whole life," said Barry as he looked up at the roof to see where the line was attached. "Well I'll be a sonofabitch. The goddamn string is stuck to the roof with a hypodermic needle."

      Using a handkerchief to avoid smearing prints, Barry pulled the syringe from the earthen roof and handed the strange contraption to Jason.

      "Here, you tell me."

      Jason dangled it at eye level. "Well, we've got bird feathers, and what looks like human hair, all tied together in a nice little bundle like a fishing lure." He pressed the plunger on the hypo and deposited a small drop of milky liquid in the palm of his hand. He tasted the solution and nodded his head with certainty. "And we've got heroin in the needle, Barry."

      Heroin they expected to find, but why tie feathers to a syringe? Jason knew that local Indians were fond of hanging small bundles of what they called pahos from the rear-view mirrors of their trucks and around ceremonial shrines; it was meant to ward off evil spirits. The feathers were thought to link the owner with the Gods. They usually were bound together with thick, white cotton yarn, not red parachute chord. And Jason had never seen the Hopis use human hair in combination with the feathers.

      "What do you think it all means?" asked Barry

      "It means that we're not only dealing with a murderer, but also a religious fanatic," replied Jason.

      "You mean like devil worship?"

      "I don't know, Barry. But I'll betcha the black hair on this thing belonged to one of the Paiutes?"

      "This shit just gets crazier and crazier, Jason. If you're right, we've got a soldier of fortune who has already killed three people. He built a goddamn giant kiva in his basement so he could perform some sort of crazy Anasazi ceremony of the dead. And in his spare time, he loots prehistoric ruins on the Arizona Strip. What's this guy do for an encore?"

      "Well, he killed the professor so he could get to Linda Joyce. And you can bet he's going to kill her if he gets the chance."

      "Well, if he ain't here, where do you figure he is?"

      "My guess is he's cooking up something big, and it'll happen somewhere we least expect it."


      "I got a feeling in my gut that it'll be tomorrow, my friend. We're getting close and he's got to know he's running out of time."

      Barry nodded. “Well, it’s a full moon tonight and it’s the hunting moon, my friend.”

      Jason made a beeline for the rope ladder. He needed to warn Dwayne immediately.

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