For S-wegi A’an, Red Feather
About the Author
Also by J. A. Jance
About the Publisher
SOZA CANYON, ARIZONA
AMOS WARREN WALKED WITH HIS shoulders stooped and with his eyes and mind focused on the uneven ground beneath his feet. The winter rains had been more than generous and this part of the Sonoran Desert, Soza Canyon on the far eastern edge of the Rincon Mountains, was alive with flowers. Scrawny, suntanned, and weathered, Amos was more than middle-aged but still remarkably fit. Even so, the sixty or seventy pounds he carried in the sturdy pack on his shoulders weighed him down and had him feeling his sixty-plus years.
He had started the day by picking up several top-notch arrowheads. He slipped them into the pockets of his jeans rather than risk damaging them as the load in the pack increased over the course of the day. The one he considered to be the best of the lot he hid away inside his wallet, congratulating himself on the fact that his day was off to such a great start. Over the course of the morning, he located several geodes. The best of those was a bowling-ball-sized treasure that would fetch a pretty penny once it joined the growing collection of goods that he and his foster son, John Lassiter, would offer for sale at the next available gem and mineral show.
Assuming, of course, that John ever spoke to him again, Amos thought ruefully. The knock-down, drag-out fight the two men had gotten into the night before had been a doozy, and recalling it had cast a pall over Amos’s entire day. He had known John Lassiter for decades, and this was the first time he had ever raised a hand to the younger man. The fact that they had duked it out over a girl, of all things, only added to Amos’s chagrin.
Ava Martin, Amos thought, what a conniving little whore! She was good-looking and knew it. She was a tiny blond bombshell type with just the right curves where they counted. Amos didn’t trust the bitch any further than he could throw her.
His next thought was all about John. The poor guy was crazy about Ava—absolutely crazy. As far as John was concerned, Ava was the greatest thing since sliced bread. In fact, he was even talking about buying an engagement ring, for God’s sake!
As for Amos? He knew exactly who Ava was and what she was all about. She wasn’t anything close to decent marriage material. He had noticed the wicked little two-timer batting her eyes and flirting with John’s best friend, Ken—all behind John’s back, of course. And two days ago, when John had been out of town, she’d gone so far as to come by his house—forty-five minutes from town—where she had tried putting the moves on Amos.
That was the last straw. Amos was decades older than Ava. He had no illusions about his being physically attractive to her. No, she wasn’t looking to get laid; Ava was after the main chance.
She knew John and Amos were partners who split everything fifty-fifty. She probably understood that, for the most part, Amos was the brains of the outfit while John was the brawn. Amos was the one who knew where to go seeking to find the hidden treasures the unyielding desert would reveal to only the most persistent of searchers. He knew what was worth taking home and what wasn’t. John was the packhorse who carried the stuff and loaded it into the back of the truck and who carried it into the storage unit.
When it came to selling their finds, Amos had years’ worth of contacts at his disposal, all of them listed in his little black book. He had amassed a whole catalog of gem, mineral, and artifact dealers, some aboveboard and others not so much. He also knew which of those might be interested in which items. Amos did the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing while John handled direct sales at booths in the various venues. John was a good-looking young hunk, which was always a good bet when it came to face-to-face interactions.
Amos suspected that John had gotten into his cups and talked too much about what they did and how much money they brought in, something Amos regarded as nobody’s business but their own. He was convinced that was what Ava Martin was really after—the shortest route to the money. Amos had sent the little witch packing, and he’d had no intention of telling John about it, but Ava had gotten the drop on him. She had told John all about their little set-to. The problem was, in Ava’s version of the story, Amos had been the one putting the make on her. With predictable results.
The previous evening, Amos had gone to El Barrio, a run-down bar on Speedway on the east side of I-10. Years earlier, El Barrio had been within walking distance of the house where he had lived. When developers came through and bought up that whole block of houses, Amos had taken his wad of money and paid cash for a five-acre place up in Golder Canyon, on the far back side of Catalina. The house was a tin-roofed adobe affair that had started out long ago as a stage stop. In town, John and Amos had been roommates. The “cabin,” as Amos liked to call it, was strictly a one-man show, so John had chosen to stay on in town—closer to the action—and had rented a place in the old neighborhood.
When Amos had gone to El Barrio that night, he had done so deliberately, knowing it was most likely still John’s favorite hangout. Amos’s mind was made up. He went there for no other reason than to have it out with John. Either Ava went or John did. Amos had been sitting at the bar, tucked in among the other twenty or so happy-hour regulars and sipping his way through that evening’s boilermaker, when John had stormed in through the front door.
“You bastard!” the younger man muttered under his breath as he slid uninvited onto an empty stool next to Amos.
John was hot tempered, and Amos knew he was spoiling for a fight—something Amos preferred to avoid. He had come here hoping to talk things out rather than duking them out.
He took a careful sip of his drink. “Good afternoon to you, too,” he responded calmly. “Care for a beer?”
“I don’t want a beer from you, or anything else, either. You keep telling me that Ava’s bad news and claiming she’s not good enough for me, but the first time my back is turned, you try getting her into the sack!”
“That what Ava told you?” Amos asked.
“It’s not just what she told me,” John declared, his voice rising. “It’s what happened.”
“What if I told you Ava was a liar?”
“In that case, how about we step outside so I can beat the crap out of you?” John demanded, rising to his feet.
Looking in the mirror behind the bar, Amos saw the reflection of John as he was now—a beefy man seven inches taller than Amos, thirty pounds heavier, and three decades younger, with a well-deserved reputation as a brawler and an equally well-deserved moniker, Big Bad John. Amos’s problem was that, at the same time he saw that image, he was remembering another one as well—one of a much younger kid, freckle faced and missing his two front teeth. That was how John—Johnny back then—had looked when Amos had first laid eyes on him.