Saturday, November 19, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 37 - Part I

The day-glow orange windsock at the Kanab Airport flapped violently in the breeze as the Judge set the Bell Ranger down on the paved section of the runway near the back of the maintenance shed. He had parked his Lear jet a few feet away to transfer the contents of the helicopter into the plane’s storage bay. The maintenance building shielded the aircraft from the main terminal, making it impossible for the air traffic controller to see what the Judge was doing. The mechanic on duty in the shop that morning had told the Judge that he was going rabbit hunting and would be gone all afternoon. The Judge figured it would take him about an hour to load the jet. He glanced down at his Rolex; it was 12:30.

The Judge shut down the engines and left the key in the ignition. He couldn’t afford to waste any time, but it was also very important that he not leave anything that might tie the helicopter to the raid on the Paria Plateau. As he climbed out of the cramped pilot’s seat, he looked around to make sure he was still alone. There were no incoming or outgoing planes, and no employees in sight. He opened the back hatch on the chopper and untied the straps holding down the boxes that filled the entire rear storage area. He removed his jacket, stowed it in the aft compartment, and got down to business.

An hour later, the Judge sat exhausted in the cargo door of his plane. The back of his shirt was soaked with perspiration and sweat dripped down his face. At his age, it was getting harder and harder to rebound from heavy physical exertion. The Judge sighed and wished he was still a smoker, so he could light up a cigarette after a job well done. He settled for a cold Heineken from the refrigerator on his jet. A quick peak at his watch told him what he already knew, that he should be working to get airborne, rather than just sitting there drinking beer. But his body told him he better rest a little while longer if he didn’t want to have a heart attack. As he leaned against the cargo bay, he mentally double-checked that he hadn’t forgotten anything incriminating on board the Ranger. He had wiped the entire interior with a rag so there weren’t any telltale fingerprints. After that, he had swept and vacuumed the floor. The cargo of illegal artifacts was safely aboard the jet, and nobody could prove they ever saw the boxes inside the chopper. He had cleaned up the broken windshield glass. And he had called Todd Krieter at the ASN mine and told him that if anyone asked, he was to confirm that the Judge had flown into the mine in the company chopper earlier that morning for a brief inspection tour of one of the new exploratory mines near the Kanab wilderness Area. Krieter was too scared to argue and agreed to do as he was instructed. The Judge’s alibi was now ironclad. The police really didn’t stand a chance.

The sudden sound of squealing tires came from the entrance road. The Judge turned to listen. The maintenance shed blocked his view, but he could tell the vehicle was getting closer. Either someone was out racing on the airport road, or the police were making their grand entrance. There were no sirens wailing, so the Judge guessed it was some local Mormon kids out for a joy ride. 

He guessed wrong.

A black and white Utah police car swerved around the corner of the building and screeched to a halt in front of the Lear jet, insuring that the plane stayed right where it was.

Sheriff Barry Smoot lumbered out of his police car and wiped his florid face with a red bandanna. It had been a wild and wooly morning. Ever since he had gotten the call from Sheriff Pratt’s office, warning him of the imminent arrival of B.T. Saunders’ accomplice at the Kanab Airport, Barry had been a very busy man. The only information he had was that a Judge Keating had flown into Kanab at nine that morning in his private jet and had taken the ASN helicopter for an inspection trip of the mine. Sheriff Jason Pratt’s dispatcher, Velma Jensen, said the Judge was suspected of being involved with Saunders and pothunting. The remaining details were sketchy. There were still three missing persons on the Paria, but one had radioed in to say she was fine. The Judge had been seen leaving in the direction of the Paria Plateau.

Velma ended with, “Sheriff Pratt suspects the Judge was flying to the Paria to meet Saunders, who was probably raiding Anasazi ruins up on the plateau.”

Barry pondered this riddle. If Jason was right, then when the Judge returned to Kanab later in the day, he would be carrying incriminating evidence, which might be anything from Indian artifacts to kidnap victims.

Velma’s disjointed alert made for an interesting story, but it was not exactly the stuff from which search warrants were made. But this was not the usual case by any stretch of the imagination. It involved multiple murders, drugs, weapons, and pothunting. Judge Cram had granted Jason’s original request for a warrant to search the Saunder’s home in Hurricane, and the hunt had proved right on target. Sheriff Pratt knew what he was doing. There was good reason to believe that the ASN helicopter had been previously used in the commission of multiple capital crimes. At present, the connection to Judge Keating was of a rather tenuous nature, but given Jason’s excellent track record with the investigation, Judge Cram was inclined to grant the warrant to search the Keating jet.