CJ had to bite his cheek to keep from swearing under his breath. He spat out the stalk of stiff desert grass with a sour look, then remembered he was in polite company and gave an apologetic nod to the site guard and the archaeologist.
“That’s my cue to leave you be, I suppose. Thank you both … oh, and Ms. Fr-”
“Lyla.” The stolid site guard cut him off with a subtle smirk.
“Lyla.” CJ responded. “Get well soon. We may just fix this thing yet.”
Lyla grunted in pain and had to lean on Dr. Hewett while she staved off some vertigo when she stood up. She silently returned CJ’s nod, then turned to Hewett who guided her over to the dig site’s jeep. Dr. Hewett murmured to her the whole way, soothing her with “You did a good job. Don’t worry, you did good.”
Finally, the PI took the long way back along the edge of the site so he could pluck another piece of stiff desert grass. He rolled it between his fingers as he approached Glenn, who was holding the satellite phone receiver with a snarky grin. “It’s for you.” He chuckled.
CJ scowled and took the receiver. He took a deep breath, then raised the receiver to his ear.
“Hello.” He kept his voice steady, even if his hands weren’t.
“Well, howdy sheriff!” Said the Sheriff Banks from the other side of the line. CJ began to pace, walking the length of the site and back again as he replied. “You of all people know better than to call me that now.” He said with only a touch of animosity slipping past the grass stalk now being ground between his teeth.
“Hey, I mean it with all sincerity,” Banks replied, his voice thick with generous and compassionate airs, “and hey, I bring good news along with it. I’ve got information for you. You’re out taking a look at the archaeology project, yeah? The one Peter Glenn is managing?”
“I am.” CJ replied flatly.
“Good! I knew they’d put you on that job. Between the reservation and the university, there’s no way I’m going to be able to get any guys out there by the time the trail goes totally cold. I’m sure you understand, you’ve been where I am, you know how the red tape works. Sometimes I wish I could go rogue and dive into the freelance romance of the private sector myself - but hey, somebody’s gotta keep all these guys at the office in line, right?”
CJ had made two full laps of the site’s diameter. He bit off the stem between his teeth.
“Banks. The lead.” The PI urged.
“Right, right.” The Sheriff said. The dismissive handwave he surely offered was practically audible in his voice. “So, I got a statement from the university to sign, something about confirming that the issue was being adequately investigated. I told them I’ve got my best guy on it - that’s you, of course, keep it up - but they attached something I’m not sure they meant to attach, and they CC’d in somebody I’m not sure they meant to CC. Get this, Sheriff - that dig? It was a last chance of sorts for the university extension in this area. Their archaeological and cultural research center is what funds and justifies all their operations in the area. Hewett’s job and Glenn’s contract are riding on it of course, but it’s more than that. If - or rather, when now - this dig goes bad? It nukes more than just the one dig and the people involved. It nukes--”
“The whole of university operations in the area. It all stops.” CJ said thoughtfully as he looked south toward the protest camp, which had quieted significantly in the past hour.
“Yup. Kaboom.” Sheriff Banks said, just short of gleefully. “Now as to who got this little confirmation of cessation of operation - it came to me, naturally. It got sent to Glenn, naturally. It got sent to the university extension, naturally, you should talk to them about it too, they’ve got the details. But get this - for some reason, they included Maxwell.”
The name got CJ’s attention, just as Banks had expected it to. Brian Maxwell; the head of the Eternal Heritage Organization, a local conservationist and historical activist group - the very same Maxwell and the very same group that was currently breaking camp on its protest at the edge of this very dig site.
“Glenn was right…” CJ murmured around the grass. “Why would they include Maxwell in that sort of report? He clearly has a stake, but why would the university people provide that sort of info to the group directly opposing their research?”
“Search me, Sheriff.” Banks said on the other side; CJ had forgotten he was there.
“Don’t.” The PI offered something between a growl and a sigh.
“Anyway.” Banks went on. “I thought you’d want to know. I defer to your superior veterancy, of course, but if I were you I’d go break down some doors at the university’s extension office and see why they’re giving intel to the enemy. Maybe Glenn knows something too - he’s a good friend, I’m sure he’ll be open and cooperative.”
CJ took a deep breath and reviewed the information. “Thank you, Sheriff Banks. This is certainly something to work with.”
“Anything for my old boss!” Banks said elatedly. “You know, this place just isn’t the same without you. I don’t think we’ve been the same ever since internal affairs-”
CJ hung up the phone. Knowing Banks, it’d be ten minutes before he even realized the call had ended. The PI went to give the receiver back to Glenn, whom he found chewing his nails and looking at his university issued Jeep.
“They slashed my tires, Cal.” Between the sorrow and grief in his voice and the nails bit down to the quick, Glenn was clearly in mourning. “The university folks comp me a nice vehicle, they didn’t need to do that. And these animals go and slash my tires.”
CJ gave his old friend a pat on the back before crouching down to take a look at the extent of the damage. Indeed, all four tires were opened up and flat as pancakes - somebody had really taken it to them, each tire had more than one gash in the rubber. Whoever had done it was both strong and excitable, perhaps the same person that had left just such a gash on the back of Lyla’s head.
“You’re stranded, friend.” The PI said. He stood back up and brushed off his jeans.
“Take me back to town?” Glenn requested just a little pitifully.
“I’ll get you a coke.” CJ nodded and gestured back toward his truck. “Although, we may not want to scurry off yet … I’ve got some questions, and now may be my last chance to ask ‘em.”
Where should CJ investigate next?
A. Talk to the protestors! The dig is done, they’re going to move on soon. Hurry to catch whomever we can before they’re all gone.
B. Go knock on Maxwell’s door. He’s obviously instigating this whole thing - after all, if this dig fails, his organization wins not only this battle, but the whole war.
C. Go talk to the people at the university extension. There’s more to this than just the dig and the protest.