Read an Excerpt
Book One of the Anasazi Mysteries
By Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1999 Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael
All rights reserved.
WILLIAM "DUSTY" STEWART LOOKED OUT OVER THE desert-worn hood of his battered Bronco. A thin layer of dust had sifted over the older, rain-pocked dirt that had been partially cemented to the seared blue paint.
How like this elemental land to claim everything for its own — to mark it, infiltrate it, and become one with it.
Behind his Bronco, a convoy of vehicles threaded across the picturesque New Mexican terrain. A land of colored earth surrounded them, dotted with turquoise sagebrush, vibrant green rabbitbrush, and a pale scattering of chamisa.
Stewart rubbed his jawline with a callused right hand, feeling the stubble. He'd had trouble remembering to shave all of his life. This morning had been worse than usual. Today marked the beginning of a lifelong dream. Today he'd sink his first shovel into Chaco.
Six feet tall, blond and muscular, he wore faded Levi's, a pair of worn Nacono boots, and an oversize T-shirt emblazoned with a Mimbres lizard and the logo for the Casa Malpais site over in Springerville, Arizona. The desert had punished his fair complexion. His oval face with its straight nose and blunt chin had a weathered look. Eventually he would have to pay for those years of sun, wind, chill, and dust. Crow's-feet already etched the corners of his blue eyes. Not good for a man in his mid-thirties. He'd overheard women say he was too damned good-looking. A blond Adonis. Not that good looks had ever gotten him anywhere with women.
A familiar unease crept around just under his consciousness. Don't even consider it. Open that door to the past, and you'll spend all day dwelling on it.
Funny how something that happened long ago could stick with a man, screw up his whole life.
At the crest of a low ridge, Dusty glanced back through the dust boiling up behind the Bronco. The land could not be escaped, not here. Grains of sand infiltrated clothes, homes, and machinery. Its tan, gritty texture eventually came to permeate everything.
The vehicles that followed his were strung out across the sage-speckled desert like gleaming beads, a quarter mile apart, linked by fading plumes of dust. To follow any closer meant clogged air filters, jammed cassette players — critical equipment in a land of only two distant radio stations — or stuck doorlocks, or automatic windows. Any other mechanical thing that liked to function in a clean, lubricated environment existed at its own peril.
Automotive engineers in Flint, Dearborn, or wherever these trucks were designed, didn't quite understand what "off-road" really meant in the West. Over the years, and with the development of the "Sport Utility" class, something had been lost in the translation. Suburban mothers braving three inches of slush in Peoria as they carried four kids to basketball practice wasn't quite the same challenge as being buried up to the fenders in slimy brown Kayenta mud fifty miles from the nearest pavement.
As Dusty's Bronco rocked and jolted along the rutted dirt road, he glanced out the side window at the gnarly cactus and yellow-tufted rabbitbrush. Here and there the buff-colored sand had collected in small dunes — called sand shadows by the geomorphologists. In other places bare outcrops of sandstone concentrated the sun's heat, ironic reminders of the ancient ocean that had once covered New Mexico and Arizona tens of millions of years past.
In another time, a mere thousand years ago, this same desert stretch had grown Ponderosa pine, juniper, and lots of grass. But that was before the Anasazi had come with their stone axes, before the frenzied building of the "Great Houses," when over two hundred and fifty thousand trees had been cut for construction alone, not to mention the wood needed to light the giant pueblos, fire the exquisite pottery, cook their meals, and heat their homes. That was before the Anasazi population had burgeoned, and they had planted every arable hectare in corn, beans, and squash.
By the end of the eleventh century these eroded ridges had been denuded. Violent monsoon rains had washed away the topsoil, exposed the slick rock, and carved deep arroyos into the flood plains. Each centimeter had lowered the critical water tables. After the exhausted soil finally dried out, most of the people left.
Dusty crossed the cattle guard that separated Chaco Culture National Monument from the surrounding Navajo lands, and sighed as his all-terrain tires hummed on the irregular pavement. He waved at the stone-and-wood Park Service entry sign, its white letters looking so crisp on the brown background.
To his right lay Pueblo Alto, the nexus of the fabulous Anasazi road system that radiated out to the north, east, west, and south. The ruined pueblo stood hunched and broken against the western horizon. Incongruously, the cell phone chimed. Dusty rounded the curve that led into Mockingbird Canyon, blew the thin coating of dust from the gray plastic, and punched the "Send" button. "Stewart here. It's your nickel."
"You're dating yourself, Stewart," Maggie Walking Hawk Taylor's familiar voice chided. "It's like a dollar a minute out here, when you can get any reception at all."
"I like dating myself." Stewart smiled, his left hand resting on the use-polished steering wheel. "It's cheaper, and I don't have to impress myself with a forty-dollar bottle of wine."
"No wonder no woman will have you for more than two months. You're also late. Where are you?"
He ignored the comment about women. He'd just avoided falling into that funk, and he'd be damned if he'd let Maggie edge him into the abyss. "Just dropping down into the canyon. We got held up in Albuquerque. Had a major disaster. The usual place, the one that carries Guinness, was out of stock. We had to convoy across half the city, including a stop at Page One Bookstore —"
"You had to go to the bookstore to find Guinness?"
"I wish. Anyway, I'll be at the Park Service headquarters building in five minutes."
"Great, but I'm out at the site. Like I said, you're late. Knowing how you play fast and loose with the rules, I thought maybe you'd decided to screw the paperwork and gone straight to the dig."
"I always obey the rules. Oh, and it's not a dig until we get a shovel into the ground. Technicalities, you know, Maggie?"
"If you weren't such a brilliant archaeologist, I'd nail you, Stewart." He heard the smile in her voice. "Anyway, I wanted to get out of the office. You know, away from the phone. I've got all of the paperwork here: excavation permit, a list of ten thousand park rules, the special camping permit, tons of safety requirements, and all the other bureaucratic horse pucky they pay me to enforce." A pause. "Oh, by the way, you're not packing that big pistol around, are you? No, firearms —"
"I left my pistol at home, Maggie," Dusty interrupted and used his heel to jam his Model 57 Smith & Wesson back under the seat out of sight. "See you there in about fifteen."
"I'll be waiting."
He punched the "End" button and dropped the phone onto his seat. During the conversation, he had followed the serpentine blacktop through sheer-walled Mockingbird Canyon and out into the flat bottom of Chaco Canyon. At the stop sign, the Park Service sign pointed the way to various ruins, the campground, and visitor center. To his left, up Chaco Wash, he could see Fajada Butte, home of the Sun Dagger astronomical site, place of legend, where Spider Woman descended to earth. All across the sere landscape he could feel the Power.
Chaco called to him, beyond the centuries, across the bridge of cultures, peoples, and worlds. Only the soul-dead left Chaco Canyon unaffected.
He took the right and glanced into the rearview mirror. Sylvia's Jeep, Michall's Durango, Steve Sander's ratty old Toyota Land Cruiser, and the University Suburban accelerated behind him.
At the end of summer most of the field crew returned home to prepare for next semester. The students he had left were true diehards, the stuff great archaeologists were made of. Even then, two of them would be gone in a few days. Michall Jefferson, a short woman with red hair, would be leaving for the University of Colorado, and Steve Sanders, a tall black man, for the University of Arizona.
Dusty drove west past the Visitor's Center, and gazed out at the weathered sandstone cliffs, and the rubble of thousand-year-old pueblos that hemmed the canyon.
Chetro Ketl, its massive columns like blunt teeth stood with its straight-walled back to the cliff. The second-story hanging balcony had allowed the Anasazi to enjoy the shade during the midday heat.
Then came Pueblo Bonito, the largest Anasazi ruin in the world. In its heyday it had stood five stories tall, with over eight hundred rooms; the walls had been plastered in white clay. The place still ruled the canyon. He couldn't help but cast sidelong glances at the stunning walls. They threw crisp shadows over the empty, ruined rooms. Where once thousands of people had walked in the light of a hundred torches, now only ghosts slipped across the courtyards.
The loop road passed Pueblo del Arroyo, then Kin Kletso, and curved southward; there, just before the road crossed Chaco Wash, a brown steel-pole barrier had been opened, the little wooden sign beside it proclaiming AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Dusty slowed and turned off the pavement. After passing Casa Chiquita, the road narrowed to an overgrown two track. Behind him, his caravan followed like a weaving mamba line, each vehicle swaying over the ruts. Sunlight reflected from chrome and glass. Greasewood made squealing sounds as it scratched the sides of his Bronco.
A single puke-green Park Service truck had been parked off to one side. No more than thirty meters beyond it, a woman stood on what looked like a rocky outcrop, the stones studded with brush. Another two hundred meters beyond her, the sheer sandstone canyon wall rose against the pale blue New Mexico sky.
Maggie Walking Hawk Taylor turned, hands propped on her hips. She stood five feet six inches tall. Her round face betrayed her Indian ancestry. The faint breeze teased unruly strands of her short black hair around her dark eyes, and broad cheekbones. She wore a Park Service uniform and tan boots on her feet. The belted brown pants hugged a trim waist. She cocked her head and smiled.
Dusty nudged his Bronco past her pickup and into a flagged area that would be the field crew's parking lot. He set the brake and turned off the ignition. Then he fiddled through the clutter of notebooks on the passenger seat and retrieved an aluminum clipboard that held a fieldwork authorization and a site map.
Dusty opened the door and walked over to where Maggie waited on the pile of cracked rock. Her large brown eyes reflected amusement and excitement. During the excavation she would be the "Authorized Officer," meaning the Park Service person in charge, since the government didn't speak real English.
"Good to see you again, Maggie." Dusty extended his hand, and she shook it.
He looked out over the rubble. In the background he could hear the slamming of truck doors and the chatter of the field crew as they began unloading the vehicles.
"You ready for this?" Maggie asked, looking out at the section of desert. Six yellow stakes, each made of freshly sawed lath and topped with blaze-orange flagging tape, created a long rectangle in the greasewood. The stakes marked the future location of a weather monitoring site for NOAA. A tower would stand on a huge concrete slab, and solar powered antennae would beam satellite information back and forth. In all, over three thousand square meters of desert would be disturbed during construction.
"I've been waiting all of my life for the chance to dig here." He opened the metal clipboard and produced his excavation permit with a flourish. "Here you go. All signed, sealed, delivered, and official." Then he added wryly. "Just what a good, rule-bound boy like me would do."
She took the paper, scanned it quickly, and said, "You and Dr. Robertson are listed as Co-principal Investigators. Sylvia Rhone will be the Crew Chief. Is Sylvia here?"
As if on command, Sylvia appeared, trooping through the sagebrush with a transit and tripod slung over her shoulder. Beneath a ball cap that proclaimed: "Member, Chinle Yacht Club," her shoulder-length brown hair had been tied into a pony tail. A sleeveless red T-shirt exposed muscular, tanned arms, and she wore her faded-blue Levi's tucked into scuffed hiking boots.
"Hey there, Magpie," Sylvia called "Maggie" by her real name: Magpie Walking Hawk Taylor. "Long time no see. How's life as a tourist herder?"
"Hi, Sylvia. Same old thing. The tourists still want the thirty miles of road between here and the highway paved. People keep picking up bits of pottery and stuffing them into their pockets. A couple of the rock art panels on the canyon wall were vandalized last week. We've had to restrict more of the park to protect what's left."
"People suck." Sylvia settled the tripod's pointed feet onto the dirt. "Imagine how they'd trash it if that thirty-mile stretch was paved." She looked around, her green eyes narrowing as if sighting a rifle. "It's better like this. A private and peaceful jewel." She paused. "Uh, we got a datum here anyplace?"
"Datum?" Maggie asked.
"The reference point we use to lay out the excavation grid," Dusty told her. "Come on, let's go see."
As he walked, he pulled out the survey map Dale had drawn months ago when he first came to inspect the construction site for archaeology. The site had been given the Smithsonian number 29SJ10003. Twenty-nine for the state of New Mexico, SJ for San Juan county, and ten thousand and three for the number of sites in the county.
The pile of rocks where they stood — actually a small collapsed Anasazi pueblo — was clearly labeled. Dusty glanced around, oriented himself to the west, and paced out from the edge of the tumbled rock for six long paces. "According to the map, X marks the spot. Look around."
"Got it," Maggie cried, pointing down. "29SJ10003."
Sylvia settled the heavy tripod over the aluminum cap. "Mama, we're home." She immediately began extending the legs and leveling the instrument.
Leaving her to fiddle with the transit, Dusty walked out into the middle of the lath-marked rectangle. Maggie paced silently beside him.
Hot wind tugged at his blond hair, and whispered softly through the brush. In the distance, a red-tailed hawk shrieked. Shadows had lengthened on the canyon wall. If he just loosened the bonds of reality, he could step back, hear that hawk's call eight hundred years ago, and feel this same hot breeze.
A clatter erupted as Michall Jefferson dropped a bundle of wooden stakes by the transit and asked Sylvia if she needed help.
"Hey, you still here?" Maggie asked from Dusty's left elbow.
"Huh?" He glanced at her, this world coming into focus again.
Maggie studied him through serious brown eyes. "I've seen eyes like that before. You were looking back, weren't you?" "You bet."
"Grandma Slumber used to get that look. My aunts still do. But they're of the people, White Eyes."
"Of the people," Dusty mused. He bent down, clutching a handful of the silty sand. "I'm about to uncover artifacts that haven't been touched in over eight hundred years, Maggie. Trust me, when you do that, it makes a bridge. I can feel them. We both touch the same bit of stone, see the colors, feel the flaking on the sharp edge."
"You're different, then."
"Yeah, most archaeologists I know just see the science. That and the damned statistical proofs."
"Yeah, well," he said, and let the sand trickle through his fingers.
"There are two kinds of archaeologists, the kind who dig for theories, and the kind who dig for people. Each site is a special miracle that lets me touch those people. If only for a tiny sliver of time. I've wanted to touch the Chaco Anasazi all of my life, Maggie."
Maggie's eyes had grown larger, seeming to swell in her round brown face. "Just be careful, Dusty. The old ones will be watching you." She paused. "Will they find you worthy?"
Excerpted from The Visitant by Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear. Copyright © 1999 Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.