My detour took me in the direction of the flatlands inhabited by native people for 700 years. The tiny San Ildefonso Pueblo sits here in the watershed of Acid Canyon, named for the chemicals washing downhill from the high mesas of Los Alamos. In recent years, the local potters began dipping into their tribal memories to recreate the startling black finishes for which their crockery was famed. A man I will call Gomez the Potter molded his works into the most sought after pots in the region. He was also head of Human Resources at the labs.
I had the full briefing on him.
Gomez the Potter was a Navajo whose family died off slowly and painfully from the cancers that spread out of the dust blown from Arizona’s open pit uranium mines. That made him an angry man and vindictive man. I learned from my handlers at Power Analytics that he supplied the Atomic Energy Commission with information about the wrongdoings of the Edder company, which managed the labs, before The Detonation.
So I came well armed when I first met with him in the gray light of his dingy little store on the Pueblo. I found him drunk, droopy-eyed, long wisps of gray facial hair dangling from individual pores here and there on his smooth clay-colored cheeks. Tall and wide as a four-by-eight sheet of plywood, he projected hostility.
“Why have you come?”
You’re the enemy.
I looked into his foggy eyes and then down at his display case. I pointed randomly at a small swarm of black pots on display. “I’d like to buy that one.”
He could have no idea which pot I referred to. I know I didn’t. I just wanted to test his interest. Would he ask me to be a little more specific?
“Four-hundred-fifty dollars,” he said, without looking down. He offered a weak smile that said, Topped you sucker.
“I actually wanted the more expensive one,” I told him.
Neither of us had any idea which pot I meant.
He lit a cigarette. “That one’s not for sale.” He never took his eyes off me. “But I’ll give it to you for seven-fifty.”
“Seven-hundred-and-fifty dollars?” I asked and sniffed as if I had an allergy.
He never looked down into the display case. “You drive a fancy Mercedes,” he said.
I nodded. He must have seen me pull up.
“You work up on the Hill?”
“I don’t take credit cards,” he added. Turning and shuffling slowly around, he reached for a sign on a shelf at his back that said, “No credit.” He lifted his head and is mouth hung open. He didn’t have to pronounce the words, fuck you.
I reached into my jeans and took out forty fifty-dollar bills, fanning them over the top of the display case, hiding the pots under discussion from view.
“I’ll take both,” I said. A moment passed. “And then we’ll have a drink of Jack Daniels.”
It was his favored bourbon, I knew. He knew that I knew. People don’t say things like that.
His head rolled slightly as his cheeks squeezed against his gums in a look of disdain. He took one of the fifty dollar bills, folded it in half, and shoved it in the shabby pocket of his dirty slacks. In the same motion, he turned and walked through the shop door into his dark office space. He had a second thought. “Take your money,” he said. “I’m not for sale.”
“You took one of my fifties.” I could see where this was going.
“You took my time.” With that, he disappeared back into the darkened room.
I called after him. “Then at least give me another moment. We can talk by the turquois table you made by hand. The one that hangs beneath the retablo of St. Cecilia.”
I knew the layout of his office.
“There’s an extra chair,” he said, his voice disconnected by the darkness.
I found Jack Daniels on the table next to a small, fading candle. He used his open palm of his outstretched arm to gesture at the seat across from him. “Tell me a story,” he said.
“Have you heard the one about the seven dwarfs?” I took my seat.
He shoved his empty glass in my direction and poured me three fingers. “That will cost you the rest of your fifties.”
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