Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 34 - Part 1

      B.T. led the procession, with John following closely, and Jenny and Billy Ray bringing up the rear. Jenny felt like her legs were made of rubber and she stumbled several times, only to be caught by Billy Ray.

      "You don't walk so good, Jenny," he said. "You need to do some more drugs."

      B.T. turned around, grinning like a cartoon fox. "Don't worry, boys, we're gonna get you all fixed up real soon. I got some shit here that'll really knock your dicks in the dirt."

      Billy Ray and John hooted with excitement and Jenny tried to clear the cobwebs from her head. She was so tired, she felt like someone had stuck a giant hypodermic needle into her body and drained her of all willpower; just thinking took every ounce of her energy. She took several quick breaths and looked up at the crumbling walls of the massive Anasazi pueblo. The regal Magician was standing just outside the narrow doorway, wearing the colorful funery robes of his forgotten time; his hair braided in a tight, black bun that sprouted the blue and orange tailfeathers of a jungle macaw; around his neck hung a necklace of shiny white cougar claws. He stood as straight as an arrow and smiled with a radiance that warmed Jenny's soul and lifted her spirits.  She instantly felt like she was on top of the world.

      "So you came back, huh?" laughed Jenny as she waved her hand in greeting. "I thought maybe I had imagined you."

      B.T. instinctively pulled his Mac-10 machine pistol from his shoulder holster and spun around to fire on whomever Jenny was talking to. 

      John recoiled in fear, thinking that B.T. had flipped-out and was going to gun him down.

      Billy Ray's eyes widened with alarm and he raised his arms above his head in surrender.  "Hey, what gives?"

      Jenny ignored the rest of the group and walked past B.T. as if he weren't there. "I got them all together for you, Mr. Magician. Now show 'em your stuff." Jenny giggled with giddy anticipation.

      B.T. grabbed her by the forearm and yanked her around. "Who the fuck are you talking to?!"

      It took Jenny a few seconds to straighten up; she finally put her fingers over her mouth to keep from laughing.

      B.T. let go of Jenny's arm when he realized there was no imminent threat. He rubbed his hand over the front of his face nervously. "You trying to get yourself killed, Red, or what?"  B.T. put his gun back in its holster and glanced over at John and Billy Ray who were trying to figure out why the talk of getting high had inexplicably turned so violent. "It's okay, boys. I thought we had some company." B.T. flashed his men a sour look and returned his attention to Jenny, who kept eyeing the door of the pueblo as if it held some wondrous treasure. "What are you looking at, Red?"

      Jenny playfully poked B.T. in the chest. "You can't see him, can you?"

      B.T. frowned. "See who?"

      "The Magician, silly."

      The bikers started laughing and slapping five. "The girl's fucked up, B.T.," explained John. "Now she's seeing the stiff she was talking to all the while we were digging out that goddamn grave. Just pump her up with some coke, and then me and Billy Ray'll pump her up where it really counts." John gripped his crotch and thrust his hips.

      B.T. laughed, knowing full well that they were going to be dead in another half hour. 

      Jenny walked over to the pueblo and began carrying on a spirited conversation with the stone wall.

      "You're hallucinating, Red,” said B.T. That's what happens after you don't sleep for a couple days. When you come down from the coke buzz, you start seeing things that aren't there.  But don't worry, we'll get you all fixed up right now."

      The bikers suspected nothing was amiss; as far as they were concerned, the job was over and it was time to get down and party. B.T. had promised them a special surprise. 

     The chopper was loaded up and almost ready to go. Otis and the Judge were strapping down the last few boxes while B.T. handled the problem. Jenny had been told that she was going to get a dose of coke to get her back on her feet and it didn't look like she was going to offer much resistance to the needle, or anything else. Things were working out quite well, better than B.T. had ever imagined.

      Meanwhile, Jenny and the Magician were concocting their own game plan. The Magician pointed a bony finger at Jenny. "It is time, Redhair. The battle is near. You must ready yourself for the final struggle. When the fighting begins, you hold the pot handle I gave you tightly in your right hand. Remember: Everything depends on you. Whatever happens, don't let go! The Magician seemed to hover just off the ground, his feet hidden by the folds of his full-length leather skirt, and he spoke in a musical cadence. "When I lived in your world, I was a man to be feared.  I sent many men to their graves, and I watched even more die. As a Warrior I was always prepared to die. And as the strong man of my clan, I could summon the hunting spirit of the mountain lion. To swallow my wands, was to dance inside the body of a great cat. Can you imagine?"

      B.T. handed a loaded syringe to nearly-slobbering John, and began prepping a second. “I’ve put together my special brew for the two hardest working men in show business.”

      The Magician's face hardened with anger. "When you have been dug from the earth, like a plant whose roots have been torn from their bed, you are caught between worlds. When all of your most valued possessions have been stolen from you by strangers from beyond your time, you are left with nothing but the hope that someone can understand the depths of your loss. Was I wrong to trust you, Redhair?"

      Jenny looked embarrassed and her eyes went teary. "I promised to help, and I will."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 33

   Jason's Ramcharger careened around a blind turn on the narrow dirt road and almost went into a ditch.

      Tom held on to the strap above his door and closed his eyes in fear as they fishtailed. "You're lucky there aren't any trees in this stretch, Sheriff."

      Jason gunned out of the loose sand and veered back onto the washboard road. "Yeah, and it's a good thing we're police officers, otherwise we'd get ticketed for reckless driving."

      "We're pretty near Bighorn Buttes, aren't we, Sheriff?"

      Jason concentrated intently on the road. "Those are the Buttes dead ahead. We'll be there in a few minutes. Try to raise Dwayne on the radio again."

      Tom keyed the mike. "Dwayne Johnson, this is Mutz. Do you read me? Over." He repeated the transmission twice more before giving up. "Doesn't sound like there's anybody home, Sheriff. You want me to keep trying?"

      Jason swerved to avoid a large rock on the right edge of the road. "No, if Dwayne doesn't answer his radio, it's because he can't. You better get the shotgun ready. If Saunders is there, it'll be your job to keep him pinned down."

      The Ramcharger bounced its way up a small hill, two giant rock columns loomed a quarter of a mile away. "We're almost there. I'm going to really – "

      Jason slammed his foot on the brakes to avoid hitting a green Forest Service truck that was sitting in the middle of the road a hundred feet ahead.

      "LOOK OUT!" screamed Tom as he braced his whole body for the impending collision.

      Jason could feel the Ramcharger starting to power-slide out of control. He savagely jerked the wheel left, then right, as he pumped the brakes. The truck spun 180 degrees and came to a stop in a cloud of dust, inches from the other vehicle. Jason held the steering wheel in a death grip and let his head fall back against the vinyl head-rest as he thanked God they had managed to stop in time.

      Tom opened his door and jumped out, his shotgun held at the ready. Whatever danger was afoot could not possibly compete with the scare he had just had inside the truck.

       Jason drew his pistol and followed. "That looks like Dwayne's truck to me." His eyes settled on the message scribbled across the back window of the Ford. "Pinnacle Ridge? Now what do you suppose that's supposed to mean?"

      Tom opened the driver's side door of the Ford and scanned the interior. He noticed a lunch cooler sitting on the floor of the cab, and picked it up. Scrawled atop the plastic handle in black Magic Marker was the name DWAYNE JOHNSON.

      "You're right, Sheriff. Here's his gut bucket."

      Jason nervously eyed the surrounding hills. "See anything else?"

      "Well, somebody shot his radio transmitter. But I don't see any blood or anything like that."

      "Let's split up and search the area, Tom. You go up the road and I'll circle around to the left.  Go slow, and be careful. I don't want any heroics."

      Tom smiled. "I still haven't paid off the house yet, Sheriff. So, don't worry about me. I'm here for the duration."

      Jason grinned and headed off for the left side of the Camel Rocks. He tried to remember where Pinnacle Ridge was located. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but he just couldn't place it. Ten minutes later, he and Tom met at Linda's abandoned truck without having seen anything out of the ordinary.

      Jason surveyed the battered Datsun. "It looks to me like Linda left here in a real big hurry. There are clothes scattered all over the inside of the cab, along with food, and a bunch of other junk; but there's nothing that indicates a struggle of any kind. Except, of course, that all the tires have been slashed."

      Tom pressed the metal latch and raised the hood. "Yep, and the distributor cap is also missing, Sheriff. "

      Jason walked around the side of the truck and stared in at the engine. "That's the same thing that happened to her truck when she left it out at Jumpup the day Willie Meeks was murdered. This has got Saunders' name written all over it. The question is: did he kill Dwayne and Linda, or did they somehow escape? Pinnacle Ridge! I remember now. It's on the eastern edge of the Paria Plateau." He pointed beyond Bighorn Buttes. "Dwayne wrote that inscription on his window to let us know that's where he was going."

      Tom looked confused. "But why, Sheriff?"

      "Beats me. But it's the only thing that makes any sense. Linda's sleeping bag is all balled-up over there by the fire, and her gear is still here. She was probably camped for the night when Saunders showed up. The point is: Dwayne's gone to Pinnacle Ridge."

      "Don't you think we oughta make sure they still aren't here, Sheriff? Maybe we should honk the horn or something. You know, see if they answer. Tom started beeping the Datsun's tinny horn. "And what about Jenny Hatch?"

      "I don't see her truck, or any of her camping gear. Maybe she's at Pinnacle Ridge." He started walking back to his truck and waved at his deputy to join him. "Come on, Tom. That's enough of the horn. Nobody's going to answer you."

      Tom struggled to keep up with the Sheriff. "Do you think they're still alive?"

      "That's a good question, Tom. Dwayne obviously left here alive, because he told us where to look. And we know that Jenny was alive at eight this morning, because she called in on the radio. Beyond that, I’m not sure. What I want to do right now is bring in some of our deputies from town and some more from Page, and get both ends of the House Rock Valley Road closed off. Saunders had to have driven in here, because the chopper has been in the shop until this morning. The next thing I want to do is alert Sheriff Smoot to what's happening. He can get a team together to cover the Kanab airport. The judge who picked up the chopper has his Lear Jet sitting back on the runway in Kanab, so we know he's got to return there sooner or later. And I want Barry Smoot to be waiting there with a warrant to search his helicopter and jet when he does."

      Tom removed his hat and scratched his head. "How far is it to Pinnacle Ridge, Sheriff?"

      "Thirty minutes if we drive like we did coming in. As I remember, the road gets pretty bad up on top of the Paria Plateau. And once you turn onto Pinnacle Ridge, the whole place turns to sand."

      Tom clapped Jason on the back and smiled confidently. "Well then cheer up, Sheriff. If we made it out here in one piece, we can do it again."

      Jason increased his step and looked back with anxiety at his young deputy. "Yeah, but don't forget, this is the second time today we've been late for a date with Saunders. First, at his house, and now out here at Bighorn Buttes. And I've got a bad feeling that from here on out, we're going to start finding bodies."  

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 32 - Part II

       The Judge brushed at the edges of his mustache with the tips of his fingers. "I think you have been without sleep for too long yourself, Mr. Saunders. Consider the full implications of such an unprecedented action. The killing of a Forest Service archaeologist will be headline news, and the manhunt that ensues will be formidable indeed. Now imagine if you will, what it would be like if they thought she had been kidnaped and was still alive. Every law enforcement agency imaginable would be brought in to help with the investigation. To keep this woman would be tantamount to signing our own death warrants. Is that what you honestly propose?"

      B.T. looked momentarily flustered. "Look, Judge, all I'm telling you is that this woman knows her shit. She made us a fucking potful of money. And if she did it once, she could do it again. Just look at all this loot, Judge." 

      B.T. walked over to the large collection of carefully boxed artifacts.

      The Judge noticed for the first time that Saunders was limping slightly. "What did you do to your leg, Mr. Saunders?"

      "That's the other thing we need to talk about, Judge. That girl Linda Joyce – you know, the one who was down in Jumpup Canyon the day I killed Willie? – well, believe it or not, she popped up again, this time out here. By late last night, I knew we were going to make our deadline, so I thought I'd better pay her a little visit while I had the chance to get her alone and silence her for good."

      "I trust you ended her following days."

      B.T. smiled nervously as he prepared to dance around the truth. "Well, yes and no. I went down to her camp. And she was there all right. But she had some company. A Forest Service cop, I think."

      The Judge frowned. "So you had to kill him, too. Is that what you're saying?"

      "Not exactly. See, it was dark, and I wasn't familiar with the area, and I didn't really expect him to show up out of the blue like he did."

      The Judge stiffened with apprehension. "I hope you aren't going to tell me you let them both get away, Mr. Saunders. In light of your past oversights in this matter, that would not sit well with me at all."

      B.T. knew there was no longer any way to avoid the whole truth. Things just happened too fast."

      The Judge interrupted brusquely. "I assume that is how you hurt your leg?"

      B.T. looked down at the ground in embarrassment. "Yeah, the guy had a shotgun and nailed me with some buckshot. But I’m okay."

      "How bad is it?"

      "It was just a lucky shot, Judge. It didn't do much damage, just slowed me down a little."

      The Judge looked like he was going to explode with rage; his face reddened and his jaw tightened. "And where do you suppose we might presently find Ms. Joyce and her friend?"

      "I crippled both of their trucks, so they'd be walking if they tried to get out. I'd guess they're either heading for the highway, or laying low until somebody from the Forest Service comes looking for them."

      The Judge's anger turned to nervous agitation. "And when do you anticipate such help might arrive?"

      "I had Jenny call in to her office this morning – you know, like she does every day. She told the head ranger that everything was going okay. The ranger asked to speak to some guy named Dwayne – he must be the asshole who shot me – and he also wanted to talk to Linda Joyce. Jenny dodged the request by telling him that they had already left for work and she didn't know where they were."

      "And he believed that?"

      "It's hard to say, Judge. He seemed to.  I mean, they're all fucking shitkickers, so who the fuck knows?” But I broke the radio in this fella Dwayne's truck, so they aren't going to get any answers that way. It'll take 'em a couple hours to get organized and drive out to House Rock Valley; see, that's where they think everybody is. They're not going to come up here on the Paria – at least, not right away. And by the time they figure out what's going on, we'll be history."

      "You have left us with many imponderables to deal with, Mr. Saunders."

      "Perhaps. But the situation is basically the same as it was three days ago – except for the fact that we're a helluva lot richer than we ever expected. I didn't plan to kill the Joyce woman until after this dig was over, anyway. But the opportunity presented itself, and I tried my best to terminate her while she was close. Things didn't work out the way we wanted, but it ain't the end of the fucking world."

      The Judge looked unswayed by B.T.'s analysis of the overall situation. "And how do you and your men intend to get out of the area, Mr. Saunders?"

      "The same way we got in. Drive."

      "And if the police have blocked the road? How will you and your men manage to avoid the police roadblocks?"

      "They won't be there yet."

      The Judge brought his index finger to his left temple. "Obviously, your brains are so badly scrambled from prolonged drug abuse that you are incapable of thinking clearly any longer."

      B.T. stiffened with indignation. "Hey, wait a minute now. You try and dig one of these goddamn pueblos for three straight days and nights and see how together you feel. And then take a load of buckshot in the leg. It ain't my fault that Linda Joyce keeps following us around like a fucking shadow!"

      The Judge wagged his finger back and forth in the air. "That is no longer the point, Mr. Saunders. The question is how to cut our losses and remove ourselves from this plateau without being caught by the authorities."

      B.T. rubbed his wounded leg and tried to focus on the problem. "Hell, I don't know, Judge.  You’re the fucking brains. So, you tell me."

      The Judge shook his head in disappointment. "In my opinion, departing by truck no longer seems a viable option. I, of course, will be flying out as planned; which leaves us with several interesting courses of action. We can simply leave the shipment here, and all fly out together. Or second, we can load the shipment on board and then allow space considerations to dictate who goes and who stays. How much would you estimate the entire load weighs?"

      B.T. had already made such a mental calculation. "Oh, I'd say close to eight hundred pounds."
      The Judge nodded thoughtfully.  "That means I have room for you and one other person. But whoever remains must be permanently silenced as well. So, which of your friends will you kill, Mr. Saunders?"