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The Windwalker

Story ID:11345
Written by:Ronnie Eugene Jones (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Douglas Arizona USA
Person:Depty Hatcher
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This story may be a little long for some people. Word count is 4,529.

Sergeant Benjamin Hatcher of the U.S. Marines had come home and was now Deputy Hatcher of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department in the South East corner of Arizona, but most remembered him as just plain Ben unless he got caught doing something he shouldn’t, then his mom always used Benjamin with emphases on the min.

He slowed his truck down before pulling into the Two-Squalls Trading Post. His passenger had an apprehensive look on her face like she couldn’t wait for the starting gate to open. He offered earlier to pull over, but she said she was fine after he told her to watch for scorpions and rattlesnakes. He’d really wanted to stretch his legs back then. Out here there was no quick way of getting from point A to point B, so he would tuff it out and watch her white knuckle her purse.

Half a dozen traditional teepees flanked each side of the Trading Post. They didn’t represent the Navaho way of life; more the plains tribes, but it was what the tourist expected and Billy Redwing didn’t disappoint them. But everyone within fifty miles called Billy Redwing ‘Billy Two-Squalls’ because of an incident at the beginning of his second marriage. His new wife had found him passed out drunk and began to beat Billy with a broom and after squalling twice he took off running, but he couldn’t outrun the new name the ladies of the community bestowed upon him. Realizing he was going to be forever stuck with this, he capitalized on this and made a good living at it, better than most.

He eased the truck to a stop in an empty spot in front of the ice machine. It was early in the day and already the lot was full of a lot of different trucks and cars, some pulling campers; most with out of state license tags. Carrol Wright was out of the truck and through the front door of the store before he could tell her where the bathrooms were.

He spotted a few people he knew and nodded as they passed by; glad they hadn’t stopped to chat. He hated lying to his friends, but that went with the mission and his CO said Sheriff Cheery needed his help and his cover was already in place. Cheery said there was already a Federal person here in deep cover. He had no idea who it was. He’d wondered about that himself and went through the possibilities and checked most of them off over the last six months, whoever it was, they were good. His own story of coming back from Afghanistan after a second tour was holding up and people could understand he preferred the piece and quite, and the open space, but mostly he was away from people you were constantly second guessing and not having to worry about IEDs’ planted in the road. Cheery kept his assignments low key with a lot of unimportant stuff so it appeared he was low man on the totem pole just paying his dues like everybody else had done before him.

So today he was playing chauffeur to a reporter, even though she’s insisted she was on a fact-finding mission for WTCM a christen TV network, but the person he’d talked to didn’t remember her. He guessed she could be, after listening to her. She was one sharp cookie about religions of the world or the best liar he had ever run across and she wasn’t too bad to look at when she took off those big black framed glasses; now if she would undo that bun and just let her hair down, he just might have to upgrade her status.

He glanced passed the fuel pumps and hanger that housed Billy’s double wing biplane, which he said he used for crop dusting. A new and larger lite was on top of the limp windsock that sat at the beginning of a row of lights going out across the field. Behind that was the Swisshelm mountain range that seemed so close, but in reality, it was a good hundred miles away. He’d been out that way yesterday to pacify or at least make an appearance for Mrs. Sandhill. She was convinced there were Windwalkers crossing her property. Her grandson had come to stay with her a few days and recorded the sounds on his phone; that was about all he could do with it out there. He’d listened to the recording ruling out the wind and airplanes, maybe a dirt bike or a four-wheeler, but it still didn’t sound right. But the sound reminded him of something. He just couldn’t remember what, until he went out toward the mountains looking for a bike or four-wheeler tracks and put his drone in the air to check out a ravine he didn’t want to climb down into. The sound was almost identical, which meant someone would have to have been awful close to her Hogan for her to hear it. Which, didn’t fit as this was the middle of nowhere; maybe someone was trying to scare the old lady, but why? He dropped the drone down into the ravine since he was already there. That’s when he found the man and woman. Sometimes modern technocracy had other uses than his hobby of taking pictures, none the less he suspected a higher power was in play here as the couple had drunk their last water two days before. He’d meant to go back today because when he’d went over the pictures last night he’d found something that didn’t look right. He’d get to it later it wasn’t going anywhere. Anyway, all the commotion of finding the couple took the Windwalkers’ off of Mrs. Sandhill’s mind. Sheriff Cheery hoped it stayed that way as he wasn’t sure if a Cleansing Ceremony would remove the Windwalker spirits.

He watched Kate, Billy’s stepdaughter show a lady at the gas pump how to pump gas. Billy never got around to getting new pumps, said his gas pumps were fine, but if you weren’t from around here you wouldn’t know to flip the lever on the side of the pump to turn it on. Kate motioned for him to come over.

She gave him a smile. He remembered they were about the same age and after graduating from school he had lost track of her; other than he knew she’d went on to college, gotten her degree and now had a job promised when the schools started again. For now, she was helping her dad. He’d heard through the grapevine she might be available for a call from him after she heard he was coming home for good. He’d tried to keep his distance as he knew they were watching this place closely as it sat right at the crossroads of a drug corridor and it seemed Billy had a lot more money at times than what people thought the store should be bringing in, still the body in those tight jeans and white cotton blouse and that inviting smile of hers was making it hard to backpedal every time they met. Even in school, he had always been intimated by her and never got up the courage to ask her out.

“I heard the sheriff is putting a gold star on your file”.

“For what?”

“You know, finding those people.”

“Just doing my job, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, wasn’t really looking for them and they're missing again.”

“What do you mean their missing?”

“This morning they weren’t in the hospital, they never checked out, just sorta disappeared in the night.”

“I hadn’t heard that. That’s weird; do you know who they were?”

“No, they didn’t have any I.D. on them. They were Hispanic, in their twenties; could be they were afraid they were going to be hit with a bill and ran. That’s what Sheriff Cheery thinks.”

“Maybe so, but that was pretty smart thinking to use the drone. I bet there’s not another one in two hundred miles of this place.”

“There’s likely to be some more, the sheriff is trying to get a couple for the department,” he let his sentence drag out as Kate was looking past him with a frown on her face. He turned; Carrol was walking towards them with a drink in one hand, a bag in the other, and her purse over her shoulder. She’d freshened her face and let her hair down.

Ben made the interdictions, “Carrols’ doing research for WTCM, she thought she might find some material at the Powwow.”

“Sort of early for the Powwow isn’t it?”

“Yes it is, so right now we’re going up to Bear Paw Ridge on the mountain, she wants to get some pictures and there are some old Indian mounds up there, great place to get some pictures.”

“It can be dangerous up there, but she’s dressed for a Safari, so I guess you ’al be ok up there.” With that, she took the money from the lady that had filled up her gas tank and stomped off. (A damn thirty-year-old Christen cougar, I don’t need this.)

Ben rubbed the back of his neck walking back to the truck. (Now, what is bugging her?)

Carrol sat the bag on the seat and slide over closer than she had before, “I got you a drink and a couple of sandwiches. I think this is the last watering hole until you cross the mountains isn’t it?” as she spread out a map on her knees and began tracing a route.

“Yep, this is the last stop. I always load the cooler down with water and ice before I leave the station. I never know where I’m going to wind up before the day is over.”

Kate was watching Ben’s truck through the window of the store. He was headed in the direction of Bear Paw. She looked at the hundred dollar bill the lady had given to Billy. Yep, the bill was hot. She picked up the phone and dialed a number from memory.

“So tell me about your day, yesterday Deputy Hatcher, somebody in the store said you found some people.”

“Oh, it wasn’t much, just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

“You go out hunting for people with a drone?”

“No, I just happen to have it with me.”

“Why, way out there? Is that part of your patrol?”
“No, we really don’t have the manpower; I was answering a call about a Windwalker.”

“I never heard of that, what is it?”

Ben shifted down a gear. “This will cut off ten miles,” and he turned onto a side road that looked like it went to nowhere. “I guess you could say it’s part of our beliefs, but you don’t hear of it too much until someone finds some old bones not buried properly, all by their self. Usually, it turns out to be from some old tribe that passed through long ago and they didn’t want to stop for a proper ceremony, so they buried them quick and kept moving on. They say a Windwalker’s spirit walks the sky, mostly when a thunderhead is crossing or in the winter it rides the winds to bring attention to its bones so a proper ceremony can be performed and the spirit can be released to the afterlife. Shouldn’t you be taking notes or something?” he said with a curious look on his face.

“Right, I just got so engrossed in your story it slipped my mind. I’ll remember it anyway; I have a very good memory. Do you believe all that, I mean the story?”

“It’s not important whether I do or not. Some people do,” he gave her a quick smile and was about to tell her another story when he heard the music.

Carrol picked up her purse, “My phone, please stop a minute."

“You won’t get a signal out here,” as he stopped the truck.

“It’s a satellite phone,” she replied as she got out of the truck.

(Must be nice), as he watched her in the mirror as she walked to the back of the truck, then the music stopped as she pushed a key.

She walked back to the truck door, opened it and reached into her purse and pointed the pistol at Ben, “The picture chip from the drone is not at your house, just where is it?”

“It’s safe, the sheriff has it. I had to enlarge the picture last night, thought at first glance it was a sheet of tin that maybe had blown off somebody’s house or barn, but I guess you know what it is as you showing up kept me from going out there today. “He didn’t mention the other pictures because he wasn’t sure of the face, until now. That might buy him some time.

“That’s a lie, (she had seen the drone. It had been easy enough to find out who it belonged to.) Or he would have kept me this morning, now just where is it?”

“In my boot.”

“Ok, open the door, keep your hands above you head and get out,” she said as she moved around the front of the vehicle while keeping the gun on him, “Ok, undo your belt with one hand and let your holster drop and move over there,” she directed with the pistol.

“My pants won’t stay up,” he said trying to think up a plan. He should have been more alert. The call to the TV station while he was filling up the truck this morning should have been a huge red flag. A small TV station and they couldn’t say for sure.

“Alright sit down and take off your boots, but slide the knife out real slow and throw it towards me, real easy.”

He pitched the knife in front of her, (we’ll there went plan B.) “Now the boots and the chip,” she picked up the knife and looked at it, “Nice,” then she threw it into a patch of cactus.

He pitched the chip to her, there wasn’t a lot else he could do right now. She caught it and moved further back and took out her phone. His mind was trying to put together possibilities. The picture showed her hooking up a battery bank to a solar panel partially hid by an old brush arbor. His first plan scenario was, she was the lead person to find newly discovered burial mounds as her features weren’t Indian or white American, more oriental and authentic undamaged artifacts brought a premium price in other countries and her drawing on the map indicated she was familiar with the area. It was a slim hope, but he hoped Kate picked up on this; no Navaho would take a non-native to view an undocumented Indian mound.
She put the phone away and walked over, took his handcuffs off his belt and pitched them at his feet. “Snap one on one wrist slide it under your leg and cuff the other wrist.”

He did as he was told. (Damn, where did she learn this, your hands were where she could see them and you sure as hell weren’t going to run. What the hell had he fallen into?)

He looked at her trying to get a read on her facial features. (It was the same look he got from a lot of check-out girls, she was looking straight through him,) “So, what is it drugs or human trafficking?”

“Neither, I’m responsible for logistics.”

“Logistics?” He repeated. (If I can get my boots back on, got to keep her talking.)

“Yes, transportation for right now, that’s why I’m here. They lost one of my drones, and leave your boots alone. I like you barefooted.”

“So, what was in it diamonds or information?” He leaned back against a boulder and surveyed the surroundings. They were a good six miles from the main road on a dirt road hardly ever traveled. It reminded him of Afghanistan in a way, just not so desolate. Here and there were Barrel cactuses and clumps of Yucca bushes scatter about and a few Ironwood trees hidden behind a defensive fence of Creosote bushes, then he caught himself looking for sniper positions.

”For a deputy, you’re pretty sharp. They are great for moving diamonds. It was fun for a while until the mine owners got wise and started shooting everything that flew in the jungle.”

She looked off as if hearing something. He heard it too but managed to move the boot a little closer. (If I can just get the spare key.) “We’re in the middle of nowhere, you looking for something.”

“Yes, but it’s early yet.”

“You still haven’t told me what your drone was carrying.”

“Money, a lot of money.”

“You mean this is all about a few thousand dollars?”

“You think too small, just like everybody else. You never expand your minds. You have to think big if you’re going to make it and my cut on moving five million dollars across the border will allow me to take a long overdue vacation.”

The sun was nearly straight up. He rubbed his forehead on his upraised knee. “Could I have some water, looks like we might be here awhile?”

She retrieved two bottles of water from the ice cooler and pitched one where it landed between his legs, “Thanks”, he said and, (watching another plan bit the dust. She was not going to come within arm’s reach, even if he could get his arms up, but a one leg kick in the gut might have given him an advantage.)

He took a long drink holding the bottle between his knees. A reflection high up caught his eye, then it was gone. He focused on what looked like a red bird on crutches riding the air currents climbing higher and higher then it veered off to the left and out of sight. Just maybe, that was Mrs. Sandhill’s Windwalker and possibly hope.

Carrol turned around. She had been looking in the same direction he had but gave no indication of seeing anything. She took another drink of water and said, “You’re snooping around created a problem, now I have to move my relay station. That’s what you saw in the picture, a solar charging battery pack. A drone the size of the one I use uses a lot of power to carry a hundred and ten-pound payload. That’s what five million dollars weights. I bet that didn’t know a million dollars in hundred dollar bills weighs twenty-two pounds.”

“No, I didn’t know that. Who does the money belong to anyway?”

“I don’t know, I just move it.”

“Why not sent a wire transfer, looks like that would be easier.”

“It used to be, but not anymore. They've too good at tracking money.”

“Don’t you need somebody nearby to work the controls?”

“You're full of questions, aren’t you, but it doesn’t matter, you won’t be telling anyone anything. The drone flies on an autopilot we installed and lands at a GPS preprogrammed destination. We change out the battery pack and it’s ready for another jump.”

“Looks like people would see it and maybe take a shot at it,” he said while searching the sky.

“I’m sure they would, that’s why we make the runs at night.” She seemed pleased with giving out that bit of information.

“We’ll just how did you lose your drone, somebody override the signal?”

“No, that’s its only Achilles heel; a damn duck brought it down. We found it this morning. It should be here shortly and you can inspect it before you say goodbye to the world.”

She moved over to the truck and got the bag of food. “I’d offer you some, but it looks like you’re all tied up.” She took out a pen and small scratch pad wrapped in a cellophane envelope, Two Squalls Trading Post was on the scratch pad. She tore it open and tried out the pen. You Americans are so rich you give away pens, in my country; I could sell this for five dollars. The ink kept flowing from the pen and she threw it down, breaking it next to the truck. Her expression changed as she looked at the tiny red blinking lite attached to a thin cylinder.

Ben smiled to himself. (Now how did that get in there, it had to be Billy. He was the Fed.) He watched her quickly push some buttons on the phone while walking in a circle scanning the area. She walked out of hearing range. She put the phone way a few minutes later.

“There’s been a change in plans. You won’t get to inspect the drone. Our meeting place has been changed and I’m afraid you can’t tag alone.” She raised the pistol.

“They’ll be looking for me.”

“You’re just a lowly deputy they won’t look long.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but how about a CID agent, they won’t quit until they find you?”

“You, lie.”

“No, look in the ice cooler, my creds are in a waterproof pouch.”

She ripped the dripping pouch open an unfolded the leather case. Her expression changed to hate as she brought the pistol up. He heard two shots almost at the same time, he felt the burn, then blood started to drip down over his left eye. The pistol had exploded from Carrol’s hand as a bullet ripped down her arm. She dropped his creds and fell to her knees trying to stay the flow of blood with her good hand while disbelieve crossed her face. He hopped over to where the gun lay and grabbed it and his creds and got behind the boulder. He wasn’t sure who was out there. Maybe someone had decided to keep the five million for them self’s and came back to finish them off.
He heard the crunch of boots running on the gravel, wondering if this was his benefactor or not. Then Kate appeared, a nine mm was in her hand. She dropped the rifle from her other hand. “You ok, Ben?"

He rose up as best he could, “Just grazed, I think. I’m ok.” He watched her check on Carrol, then use his belt as a tourniquet on her arm.

“The rest of the troops will be here shortly, takes a few minutes to get a shopper from Fort Huachuca, they’ll intercept the rest of her crew fist, they don’t want to take a chance on them getting across the border.”

“Kate there’s a first aid kit behind the seat, better tourniquet in it.”

“Thanks, I want to keep this one alive, Homeland Security wants to talk to her, the money was going to Syria.”

“You're shitting me, are you the Fed that was working this?”

She pulled the trauma kit from behind the seat, gave him a funny look and bandaged Carrol's arm, she’d probably never use it again. The bullet had entered the arm at the elbow and traveled the arm exploding out her fingers. Kate’s phone went off, he heard her say ok, then watched her punch in some numbers and say, “Border one is tied up and their running for the border,” then she said, “I need an Air Evac for one, I want to keep her alive.”

Ben looked over at Kate. “Would you get my boots there’s a key in one and get me out of these things,” he said.

“In a minute you’re not going to bleed to death,” she started taking pictures. He looked right at the camera, “Please don’t, I’ll never hear the last of this.”

“Evidence, I have never seen anyone hogtied like this before.” She replied.

She quit taking pictures. Checked on Carrol again and then opened a gauze pack, soaked it in disinfect and checked Bens' head. “You’ll live. Now how did you get involved in this?”

“Would you believe a picture from my drone?”

“Sure,” she let that draw out, pointing at the trauma back. “And that’s standard issue?”

“Can’t it's classified, and how did you manage to show up in the nick of time.”

“Sorry, that’s classified too.”

“It seems were at an impasse,” he said and, “I tell you what. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

He saw her smiling, “The badges, what did you think I meant?”

Later at the sheriff’s office after separate debriefings. “So this school teacher bit was all a cover and you are really a DEA agent on loan to the border patrol?

“Yes, is that so hard to believe, look at you, who would have thought you’d turn out to be a CID agent.”

“Yeah, life is strange sometimes, but now that we can compare notes, what spooked you into rescuing me and just how did you find me and get there. I didn’t hear a truck?”

“That hundred dollar bill that Carrol used at the store, it was radioactive. When I ran the Giger counter over it, it went off. We’d incepted some money being moved before and NASA exposed it to Thorium 232 and put it back in their system, it has half-life of 14 billion years, so they’ll be able to track it for a very long time, but don’t worry about it hurting you unless you sleep on a mattress filled with those hundred dollar bills for a year. Just about every bank and some border 7’11’s have a small device in place and they notify us if a bill comes in, then we go back to the severance tapes. Dad dropped the homing device in her bag when the bill showed hot and I followed it in my ultralight, though it’s a little more updated than that, then there are some small computerized instruments, a wind whisper engine, which NASA installed along with the night vision goggles and heat sensing equipment that I need to patrol the border at night.”

“So the lights in the field and the spot lite were for you at night and not your dad?”
“Ben, that’s almost funny, my dad moving drugs. Mom would have broken a dozen brooms across his head if she thought that was possible. No, they were for me, dad knew what I was doing and a couple times I might not have made it back if it hadn’t been for that spotlight.”

The sheriff came out, “Ben your CO’s on the phone. “

“Ok, just a minute. Kate how about I pick you up later for the Powwow and we can finish this?”

“Sure, I could use a bath and some clean clothes.”
That night Ben and Kate climbed the bleachers at the Central High football field and found a seat at the top away from the load speakers.

“I talked to Joe Cheery and he said there was no point in trying to convince Mrs. Sandhill that her Windwalker was either the drug runners drone or your ultralight making that eerie noise, so he decided they would do a ‘Purification and Cleansing Ceremony’ for her; being as so much stuff had happened out there and he figures if he doesn't, every time Mrs. Sandhill hears something, he’s going to be sending someone out there anyway. I didn’t know your dad did Sandpainting. I thought I knew everything about everyone here?”

“Not quite, and you never did ask me to the prom, even after I got up the courage to send you a note.”

He slid his hand over hers. “I know, one of the dumbest things I ever did. It might be a bit late, but how about I take you to the Paris of
Scottsdale in Phoenix for dinner and dancing.”

“Why I’d love to Mr. Benjamin Hatcher, it took you long enough.” She turned her hand over and interlaced her fingers in his.

“Something else, my CO wanted to know how I felt about a joint venture with the border patrol, the drugs are still out there and it might take a while to get a handle on the situation, what do you think.?”

“If you don’t do it, I’ll send another Windwalker after you”.

They both laughed and moved closer together, watching the colorful dressed Indians on the field perform another dance around a large campfire.