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Murder in Mixteca - Prolog

Murder in Mixteca It is evening and the summer sun's red disc drops behind the Big Hole Mountains as the coming night slips the pink light up and off the face of the Grand Teton mountain. Then the bright summit gutters out like a candle and the day is dead.

Anyone watching the light fail on the mountains would know from the left-tilt of the Grand that they were observing it not from the Jackson Hole side on the east but from the Alta, Wyoming side. on the west.

Summer nights are cool in Wyoming and the night sky stutters with stars except whenll, as now, the full moon pours its light down heavy as cream from a pitcher. The smells of fresh mown hay and the acidic smell of cottonwood that crowd nearby Teton Creek sing of summer to someone who just might be standing in front of this huge log home whose lights blaze against the fresh night.

And if that person has, by chance, chosen to stand on the east side of the house they would surely admire the expensive furnishings, including large antique Navajo chiefs' blankets, antique guns and swords, in one corner an ornately silver-dressed antique Mexican vaquero saddle on a stand, all Molesworth furniture around a big stone fireplace that was some mason's masterpiece. Above the mantelpiece is a black fossil garfish at least six feet long and a foot wide, half liberated from the sandstone matrix where it had been captive for 100 million years and more.

And people. Our voyeur would see three people. Two small men and a small woman with olive skin, the men speaking earnestly to the woman who is sitting on the edge of the couch.

The woman excuses herself and leaves, only to return with a tray set with cups and a coffee server. After serving them she walks to an adjoining room and can be seen descending some stairs with the tray in her hands.

If our observer had drawn close enough they might have been able to hear through a window opened for ventilation that the two men were speaking a strange language unlike the European languages often heard in Jackson Hole . They appear to be, perhaps, Mexicans but the language is certainly not Spanish.

The woman reappears from below and excitedly engages the men in conversation. Startled, they leap from the couch and hurry down the stairs. The woman follows, but cautiously, and her face is frightened as she reaches the balustrade and pears down the stairwell.

Our silent witness presses his face very near the window because now he hears an unintelligible argument growing in volume as three voices clash passionately. Soon there are shouts and cursing, then the cry of a man in great pain.

Suddenly, the same two men reappear, each of them holding something in their arms. They pause for a moment, as if trying to reorient themselves and a tall white man leaps up from the stairwell and grabs at a large leather bound book held in the grasp of one of the men.

The man lies down with the book in his arms and wraps himself around it in order to fend off the much larger man. But the attacker falls to his knees and begins to pry the book from the little dark man's grasp.

The woman who has fled to the kitchen returns just as the second man swings a piece of cordwood from the fireplace with all his might and knocks the white man to the floor. She screams and rushes to the downed man's side then apparently tells one of the small men to go to the kitchen for a wet towel for he is back in moments and the woman nurses the big man back to consciousness. But it only takes a moment for him thrust her aside and, shouting, attack the man who hit him.

Now it is a melee for the other small man jumps on the tall man's back and wraps his arms around his throat.

The tall man swings his shoulders and pulls at his attacker's arms which causes the much smaller man to swing in large arcs, back and forth, until the grip is broken and the small man flung across the room.

The white man staggers to the book and falls weakly to his knees to retrieve it. But the other little man has retrieved the piece of firewood and, raising his hands high, brings it down on the wounded man's head a second time.

The victim is bleeding and his legs are twitching so that any observer would surely know that his brain has been damaged. The woman is crying softly with her hands over her mouth then she begins to staunch the blood from his head with the towel. She can be heard praying, this time in Spanish the prayer language of the Catholic church in much of the world.

The two men check their own injuries then begin to converse in their native language, occasionally gesturing out the window past our observer, and they seem to be talking about the great mountain that rears up against the starlight like a black cutout against the sky.

The woman appears to be arguing and stands to confront them. She walks to them and contends with them vociferously for minutes. Then, suddenly, the injured man scrambles to his feet and staggers to the next room where, instead of descending the stairs, turns left and flees outside through a side door. The two Indians run across the great room, one of them stopping to retrieve the bloody club.

Our man now moves to the side of the house to follow the action but he is too late. The big man is down again and this time it appears he will never rise again.

One of the Indians checks the pulse in the victim's neck as the other man reaches inside the house to douse the light over the rear door.

The watcher stops to calm his racing pulse, taking deep breaths. And as he pauses there in the dark he notices another observer like himself. She is small, holding a scarf over her head and she appears to also have witnessed what has taken place.

He watches her suddenly turn and hurry from the property to cross the Targhee road to the neighboring house set next to rush Teton Creek.

The three Indians are now kneeling and praying to the enormous mountains that rear above the valley, bathed in moonlight. Our observer might be puzzled by the fact that the small people cross themselves in the fashion of Catholics after their prayers. But few know how native beliefs have wedded themselves to Catholicism and the three have dedicated the man and his death to the mountain at whose foot they will bury the white man to spare themselves any possible retribution from the gods.

The night is vibrant with the natural sound of the rapid water, the canyon breeze in the towering cottonwoods, and the sudden swish of of night wings—perhaps an owl or nighthawk or, perhaps, the sound of a soul's escape from the mortuary of its days to heaven. Or to hell.

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Jon Horton

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