Friday, January 23, 2015








Kachina Roulette is the second book in the Jenny Hatch mystery series, following on the heels of the very popular “Anasazi Strip”. It is a fascinating tale of greed, environmental justice, lost legends, and playing with fire as powerful forces come together near the Black Butte mine, each trying to pull the Kachina trigger without getting killed.

An old Hopi medicine man is brutally murdered during a pilgrimage to a secret shrine near the Grand Canyon. The gruesome murder is investigated by Jenny Hatch, the Forest archaeologist and law enforcement officer, and all of the clues to the mystery seem to lead back to ancient Hopi legends and beliefs. The suspects include: a belligerent uranium mine owner; a renegade leader of a violent American Indian Movement splinter group called the Ghost Shirters; the flamboyant spiritual leader of a New Age environmental group called the Crystal Heads; a rebel Hopi politician who is running for Tribal Chairman; the deadly powerful Kachina Masaw; and even the victim. Throw in a long lost map, and you have all the ingredients for the wondrous return of Masaw


It was the fourth day of the new moon ... the Hawk Moon.  A tiny sliver of crescent moon rose over the Kaibab Plateau like a shining scimitar under black glass and Albert Numkena obediently followed the glowing star light through the forest.

Albert adjusted the small leather pack on his back and looked up into the neon November night sky.  There were no clouds and the heavens glistened like water.  He took a deep breath and smelled the aroma of sage, a smell that made him feel much older than his 67 years, and he wondered how many more pilgrimages he would be making to Pota Ve Taka.  Albert shook his head and tried to ignore such melancholy thoughts.

Looking down at the rocky terrain he could see the faint trace of a trail through the darkness.  After so many trips to this place he knew the way by heart but he never remembered there being a path.  Perhaps the local elk and deer had been forced by the new uranium mine to move further into the forest.  Albert frowned and continued walking slowly toward his goal.  He must not let anger cloud his mind.  Tonight required clean thoughts.

A coyote called out in the distance, perhaps a mile to the north, and a chorus of yips and howls filled the silent night with song.

Albert was a Hopi spiritual leader and he answered his brothers' call with the song of the First World His voice was hoarse but the words sounded sweet and sad.  It was the timeless legend of paradise lost.

The coyotes stopped their singing to listen and Albert quickened his step as he walked amongst the bushy pinyon pine trees that dotted the landscape.  He sang of the Sun God Taiowa who created the first fire of life and how Spider Woman and the Hero Twins crafted the earth, the people, and all the animals, using dirt and their own spit and the magical Song of Creation.  The story filled Albert’s spirit with great joy and wonder.

Albert carefully climbed a small hill, almost losing his balance as he neared the top.  His heart raced and the legend was stopped short for lack of breath.  Cresting the hill Albert bent over and fought for air, his heart pounding inside his chest like a loud drum.  He was getting too old for this.  Soon, maybe next year, some younger member of his clan would have to claim these lands for his people, but for now the heavy responsibility was his.

Albert felt a great exhilaration as he faced north.  Black Butte rose like a dark sentinel, a lone mountain of basalt, the remnant of a long extinct volcano that had once turned the land around it into a fiery cauldron, only to be swallowed over millennia by a vast inland sea.  According to Hopi mythology, Black Butte was the navel of the earth and the northwestern boundary of Hopiland.  And beneath its near-vertical stone walls lay the secret shrine.

There were eight major Hopi shrines marking the boundaries of traditional Hopi country.  One was to the east at Tokonave, or Black Mountain (the whites called it Navajo Mountain).  One was to the northeast at Kawestima, near Kayenta There were two shrines on the southwest flank; the first one, near Williams, was Tesaktumo, meaning Grass Hill, and another was on the Apache Trail along the Mogollon Rim.  Probably the most sacred shrine was up on the San Francisco Peaks, the home of the all-powerful Kachinas.  Two shrines defined the southeast limit; one was located on WoodruffMountain south of Holbrook, and the other at a place called Namite near Lupton.  Albert’s destination, Pota Ve Taka, marked the northwest limit and was hidden in a nondescript spot along the rarely visited Supai Trail east of Grand Canyon Village. The boundary shrines marked the lands claimed by the Hopis, a circle of high and dry desert redrock taking up about a fifth of what is known today as the Grand Canyon state of Arizona.

Albert resumed his journey, following the ridge line that ran toward the solitary peak.  The old man's thoughts rambled from his childhood, to his fields of short-eared corn that lined the terraces above Oraibi Wash, of the women of his clan who had helped to guide him down the right path, and how he had ascended the ranks of the spiritual ladder to become a revered member of his clan and tribe.

This last thought was troubling.  It was the trap of false pride, like bragging or pretending you were something special when you really were not, and it was not the way to peace and salvation.  Over the course of long time, such thoughts had nearly destroyed the Hopi people and the first three worlds they had once inhabited.  Wisdom, harmony, and respect for the Guardians were all that really mattered in this, the Fourth World.  Everything else merely clouded the Kachina Way.

The Kachinas guided the spiritual journey of life for the Ancestral Puebloans of the American Southwest, which included the Hopi, Zuni, Tewa Village, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo and Isleta, covering a big chunk of northern Arizona and New Mexico.  Kachinas referred to the spirits that represented all sorts of things in the real world – the sun and moon, the wind, food, ancestors, animals, thunderstorms, significant events, and important locations like boundary shrines.  The Hopi recognized almost 500 different Kachinas and the Kachina spirits were known by their distinctive costume – sort of like super heroes.  Some of the Kachinas were similar to their human counterparts; they had families and lived their lives in a parallel universe inhabited by spirits.  Kachinas were not worshipped like gods, but each held a certain power and was not to be trifled with.  Some were very powerful, but regardless of where a Kachina might happen to fall in the pecking order of authority, they were all treated with great honor.  By paying the proper respect to the Kachinas, the Hopi world would be enriched – a family would be blessed with a healthy child, or much-needed rain would be delivered to the dry desert. 

The Hopi personified the Kachinas in two very interesting ways.  First, there were the ceremonial dances where the participants dressed ornately like particular Kachinas and danced in reverent obedience to the Kachina Way.  The second manifestation of this peculiar cosmological world order were the Kachina dolls, tiny wooden figures representing specific Kachinas which were given as gifts to children.  Kachina dolls carved by some of the famous Hopi masters were also sold in the world’s finest art galleries and fetched handsome sums of money.  It was impossible for a Hopi to separate their life from the magical world of the Kachinas.  It was in their DNA.

Albert reached into a small deerskin pouch that hung from his belt and pulled out a pinch of yellow corn meal.  As he walked through the chilly Arizona night he sprinkled the corn meal on the ground in front of him and spit loudly into the air, trying to remove the impurities from his jumbled mind.

To his right, Albert could just make out the faint outline of the crumbling walls of an Anasazi pit house.  He smiled.  The Hopi road of life had passed this way many, many years in the past, when Albert's ancestors had first arrived in this world.  The Ancient Ones had lived atop this ridge around 900AD, overlooking the place of their emergence, and they had practiced spiritual harmony together.  And today their children, the Hopi, followed the same weathered course on their three mesas to the southeast.  For the past thirteen hundred years his people had been retracing their migration path to Pota Ve Taka At this exact time every year, on the fourth day of the Hawk Moon, the ceremonial leader of the Fire Clan brought the humble offerings of a thankful people.

How would the gods receive him tonight?

Every year Albert wondered this same thought as he neared the shrine.  For the past thirteen years he had waited anxiously for a sign that the Guardians took notice of his people's allegiance to the creator's plan.  But they never answered his call.

“Why should they?” Albert chided himself.

Was not faith the whole point of this endeavor?  Was not the need for proof yet another example of Albert's unworthiness?

Albert sprinkled his corn meal on the ground in front of where he was walking and spit again in disgust. The evil in each man ran so deep it was hard to separate the good from the bad.

The terrain became rockier as he neared the looming mountain.

Albert focused intently on the ground and prayed he did not fall.  Faith was the key.  He would not stumble because he knew the right path.

Nearing a grove of wind-bent juniper trees, Albert stopped and surveyed the scene.  Junipers symbolized the holiest plant of this, the Fourth World.

Albert approached a misshapen old tree that reminded him of himself.  The tree had stood atop this mesa for several hundred years.  Lightning had recently grazed its side, leaving a sap-filled scar.  Albert caressed the wound and tried to soothe his brother's pain.

“You are old like me, my friend.  Our time is short.  Soon we will return to the dirt where we belong.  But tonight I need your help.  I need a small piece of your arm to give to old Masaw, so that he will know we still love him like a father and are following the true ways.”

A gust of wind came from the west and rustled the branches of the junipers.  The sound was musical, like water trickling over pebbles in a stream.  The smell of cedar filled the air like incense.

As was the Hopi custom, Albert would never take an offering from the first tree he asked.  That would have been disrespectful.  After all, the juniper was being asked to give up a part of itself, and one did not make such a request without truly feeling the pain that would come from such a noble sacrifice.

Albert moved on to a younger and healthier tree that was sheltered from the direct force of the wind.

Again, Albert asked permission of the tree before cutting a small branch with his pocket knife.  A tear ran down his leathery cheek as he gathered the offering and placed it in his weathered old pack.

“Thank you, little one. You are generous beyond your years.  And your sacrifice will light the fires for another long year.”

At the edge of the juniper forest the flat ridge ended and there was a gentle drop-off to a dry wash below.  Albert traversed the gravel slope like he was skiing down a hill and when he reached the bottom of the rocky hill his momentum sent him crashing through the underbrush and up the other side of the wash.  He felt childlike and out of control.

He did not see the stick until he had already tripped over it.  It sent him tumbling to the ground like a bag of old bones.  Albert struggled to his knees and glared at his mystery assailant.

“What is this thing?” he muttered out loud.

Albert reached out to touch the odd wooden object.

Bahana!” growled Albert as he yanked the survey stake out of the ground and angrily flung it into the bushes.

Bahana was a derogatory Hopi word for the white man, and Albert's wrath was directed at the uranium miners who had recently desecrated this hallowed ground with their greedy land claims.

Albert stood up and brushed himself off.  His legs were wobbly and his left side felt like it had been stuck with a hot knife.

The nighttime silence was suddenly broken by the piercing snarl of a mountain lion.  Albert's eyes widened with alarm and wonder.  The mountain lion was one of the guardian spirits of the Fourth World and to hear its call was a sign of great significance.  The hunter was afoot and something was about to die.

Would the lion come for him?

The thought brought laughter.  He would not make much of a meal but it would be an honor to perish at the claws and teeth of Toho, the great cat.

Five minutes passed and nothing happened, so Albert continued his solemn midnight trek.  The first moon was now higher in the eastern sky but it seemed like it was darker than it had been when he first began his walk.  The pinyon pine trees that covered the hill seemed to close in on him and drown out all of the light.  Albert squinted as he wound his way through the towering trees.

Pota Ve Taka was one of the most important shrines in all of Hopi culture, but in comparison to the important places of worship in the Western World it was hardly noticeable, nothing more than a circular pile of rocks with a small opening facing to the east and the rising sun.

Albert laid his pack on the ground and went to work.  He reached into the leather satchel and retrieved four Pahos These consisted of the feathers from a golden eagle, wild turkey, and mountain bluebird that had been bound into individual bundles, using yarn spun from native Hopi cotton.

Albert walked up to the nearest pinyon tree and hung one of the Pahos from a low branch.  As he did this he softly sang the Song of Emergence, the story of the Hopis escape by raft from the Third World during the great flood.  Albert's head bobbed rhythmically up and down as he went about his task of tying the prayer feathers to the branches of the surrounding trees.  His bony, arthritic fingers were stiff from the cold but Albert felt no discomfort.  His heart swelled with great joy as his frail voice rose into the night with all of the power and the glory he could summon.

When he had finished this task he turned to face the shrine.  Inside the circle of stones there lay three round balls of black obsidian representing the first three worlds which the Hopis had once inhabited.

Albert embraced the juniper branch and stiffly dropped to his knees.  He grimaced in pain as he planted the shaggy green branch in the center of the circle and then sprinkled some corn meal over the offering.

He had now come to the part of the song where the Hopis made landfall and encountered Masaw Masaw had been the God of Death in the Third World, and he greeted them with the news that he was the caretaker of this wonderful world of light and fresh air they had just discovered.  He told them that they were free to live above ground in the Fourth World as long as they treated their new home with respect.  And then he warned them that they would meet an ugly fate if they resumed their old ways.  Before departing for the Underworld, Masaw promised his wayward children that he would always be watching their every move to make sure they lived up to their end of the bargain.

From the darkness to Albert’s left there came the sudden sound of a branch breaking underfoot.  Albert turned to face what was approaching, half-expecting to see a mountain lion come bounding out of the trees.  What greeted him was not animal, but rather, something from an ancient dream.

Vaguely human, the creature approached with great care.  It glanced from left to right, its eyes bulging in their sockets as if they might explode.  Its head and face were colored an ashen gray and crowned with a headdress of black vulture feathers.  The mouth formed a large circle, the bright red lips covering three sharp teeth – two on the top and one on the bottom.  From deep in its throat there came a low growl.  The body of the beast resembled a man, the upper part adorned with bands of exotic seashells and the skulls of small animals like chipmunks and field mice.

MASAW!” cried Albert as he pointed a trembling finger at the fearsome Kachina.

The monster's teeth clicked together as it lurched forward.  From behind its back Masaw produced a long, black obsidian blade that seemed to shine in the faint moonlight.  A sound like hollow laughter filled the air.

“I knew that you would come one day,” said Albert as he kissed the ground in divine worship.

Masaw towered over the prostrate medicine man and slowly raised the blade to the sky.  It hung there for a brief instant before slashing down with deadly accuracy.

The blow was aimed perfectly at the Hopis' wrinkled neck and the results were almost surgical, severing head from shoulders in one clean cut.

Albert's head landed inside Pota Ve Taka's ancient ring of rocks and came to rest with his black eyes staring up at the stars.  A small trickle of blood ran down his chin and his mouth was framed with a tired smile.







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