Finding Ruthie

by A.W. Hill

[ShatterColors is honored to present a preview from the novel, THE LEFT HAND OF GOD: A STEPHAN RASZER INVESTIGATION]

The cloud shadows creep up the slopes of the Sangre de Cristo like blood seeping from a mortal wound, defying gravity, staining the pink rock and pine in shades of royal purple and midnight blue. In the shaman art of the Chimayo Valley, the mountains are always defined by the shadows that fall on them. The color of the shadows changes throughout the day, but it is always some variant of blue. The mesas surrounding Albuquerque are muted, striated pastels: baked colors, and Santa Fe’s red clay glows at sundown, but Taos is blue and blue is the color of the mystic, the color of blood seen through the bridal veil of skin.

It never surprised Raszer that places of spiritual pilgrimage had become what they were. It wasn’t the churches or temples or New Age dude ranches built on their soil: it was the places thermselves. No one had to tell this to the Pueblo Indians, of course. They were the longest-running residents of Taos, still harvesting the blue sky in a settlement north of town with no indoor plumbing, content to live and dance and perform all bodily functions in the embrace of their god. And no one, Raszer guessed, had had to tell D.H. Lawrence or C.G. Jung when they’d paid homage to Taos in the mid-1920’s. People came to Taos for visions. Even agnostic painters came for vision and called it “the quality of light.” Whatever you chose to call it, the place had it, and Raszer conceded that as much as he was here to grill Ruthie Endicott, he was here for the clarity of sight without which his mission would fail.

He’d taken the main highway north from Santa Fe and then detoured into the Chimayo Hills just past the turn-off for Los Alamos, where six decades earlier J. Robert Oppenheimer had midwifed the atom bomb and declared, “I am become Shiva, destroyer of worlds.” The old coach road that was now Highway 76 cut through high country occupied by ten generations of weavers, and was still the route of choice for art hounds. But Raszer wasn’t buying art today. He was making a pilgrimage of his own, to a place pilgrims had come at Eastertime for nearly two centuries, an adobe chapel known as the Santuario de Chimayo, where the soil healed and visitors were encouraged to sift it through their fingers and cake it on their wounds. It was ritual, yes; superstition, probably, but Raszer, who undertook each rescue mission with the awareness that he might not come home, was not beyond either of these placebos. If the soil of Chimayo healed, so much the better. He’d need all the psychic armor he could carry.

The Santuario’s builder had cut a well into the chapel floor, through which pilgrims could touch the soil below. It was dark inside, even in midafternoon, and as Raszer stepped in, he was only vaguely aware of another presence. A girl -- more precisely, a young women, lying prone before the hole in the floor, face to the ground, arms spread in apparent supplication. Her hair was black -- or seemed so -- and fell around her head. She wore a simple sun dress, pale blue, and its skirts had ridden to the top of her brown thighs in the effort of positioning herself. Suddenly, she thrust her hands down into the soil, then rose to her knees, scrubbing her face with the red soil. Only then did she see Raszer, who was pierced by the whiteness of the eyes behind the mask of dirt. She fled like a coyote. There it was. Taos. Penitential and erotic. The Spanish legacy, the El Greco langour, and the native shaman-sense that things weren’t as they seemed. No wonder D.H. Lawrence had asked that his ashes be brought here.

Raszer went to the well and dropped to a squat, inhaling her after-scent along with the mineral perfume from below. The scent lingered, but her image became less distinct with each second. It was hard to know for certain if he’d seen what he’d seen: hard in the reborn stillness and darkness of the place; hard after ten years in the liminal zones; hard when hers was the same face and form he saw in oblique reflections from shop windows, and in his dreams. Nothing is retrieved by the eyes without first having been cast by the mind on the tabula rasa of mean existence. Scent was a more accurate gauge of reality than sight, which was probably why animals survived by it.

It wasn’t that he’d imagined her. Raszer did not believe that reality could be thought into being, which put him at odds with the heralds of the New Age. Ask any fieldmouse: snakes do exist. But the endowment of an object with value, whether beauty or ugliness, goodness or evil: this was subject to all sorts of mental trickery. It took a keen eye to see true gods and devils. Raszer had once read that the Druids were the only order of priests ever to be capable of perceiving magic without sentiment; to see the morning dew and the woodsprite as equally wondrous and equally natural.

The need to calibrate his perceptions before engaging the adversary was one reason Raszer almost always found a reason to book a preliminary stop en route to wherever the evidence suggested his stray had ended up. It established a kind of sen-sory staging area for his mission. Once he was in the hot zone, he’d need to be able to toggle his perception between daemonic and quotidian reality in an instant. His life might be saved by the awareness that the gnarled form of a tree disguised a killer, or by noticing the gnawed-off nail on an assassin’s trigger finger.

Highway 68 into Taos was like all access roads to all places of pilgrimage. The camp followers of commerce -- fast food outlets, insurance offices, beauty salons, liquor stores -- had found their way there and planted flimsy foundations. Taos had preserved the village proper for the more refined emporiums, but couldn’t keep Burger King off the Paseo de Pueblo Sur. Even so, the steep boulevard promised haven, if only because there was nothing beyond the village but the blue mountains and the Rio Grande.

Raszer dropped his bags at the Adobe & Pines Inn, the most native of the more modestly priced places on the strip. It was a low-slung, tile-roofed hacienda of 1832 vintage, surrounded by orchards and fronted by an eighty foot Grand Portal that ran the length of the inn and gave each room a piece of the bright days and perfumed nights. The beds were as sturdy as galleons, the decor tastefully rustic, the breakfast advertised as home-cooked. He took an approving look around, and headed into town.

Special Agent Djapper had given Raszer the last known address for Constance and Ruthie Endicott, estranged wife and elder daughter of the late Silas. It was a tiny, windblasted cracker box of a house on farm property along the Camino del Medio, probably built to shelter a ranch hand’s family and now rented by the month to Taos transients. The screen door was half-off its hinges, the porch sagged with dry rot, and it was clear the place was presently unoccupied, but through a pane glazed over with red dust, Raszer spotted an empty half-pint of Cuervo and a cat curled on a stained pillow. He figured that the cat probably came with the house, the Cuervo with Ruthie.

He stepped off the porch, feeling temporarily adrift. He’d purposely not warned Ruthie of his coming for fear she’d bolt, and because both Djapper and the elders of the church had assured him that mother and daughter were still in Taos, but people did blow in and out of this town like tumbleweed. And where would they have blown? Phoenix? Durango? The wind rippled across a swath of blue columbine and carried the delicate scent to his nostrils. Spring in the high country. He thought of the girl in the church, of the dress she wore, and he determined to start from scratch, beginning with the local phonebook, then the local Witnesses, and then the local taverns.

After two hours of leaving calling cards, Raszer had circled back to Taos Plaza, dead center as in all old Spanish towns. He parked himself on the steps of the band-stand and surveyed the tiled plaza and the little shops that bordered it. The natives were inside the shops, the tourists squinting through the glass at turquoise and silver and glazed pottery, squinting because the storefronts all mirrored the low sun. There were barely two hours of daylight left, and he was no closer to finding her. In the window of a New Age trinket store, he spotted the reflection of a crew of townie kids headed off in a huddle. It took him a moment to orient himself to their direction of travel. They had just about vanished when he saw a fringed pant leg rounding a bend into a narrow lane off the northwest corner of the plaza.

At the end of the lane, wedged into a cul-de-sac, was the Alley Cantina. The door was open and a Steve Earl song slapped off the surrounding adobe. The kids had gone inside, as the air was turning cool, and Raszer followed them into the dim, moderately crowded barroom. It smelled of hops and tortillas, and he realized he had a taste for both after the drive. He found a stool, ordered a Carta Blanca, and finished a basket of nachos before taking Ruthie’s picture out and calling the bartender over. It wasn’t difficult to command his attention. Raszer was easily fifteen years older than the next oldest person in the room. Beyond that, he had a twenty dollar bill on the bar.

“Ever seen this girl?” he asked. “The hair might be different. Look at the eyes and the mouth. And the attitude.”

“Uh-huh,” the bartender grunted, drying his hands with a bar towel.

Raszer held a beat, hoping for some elaboration of the grunt.

“Does that mean you recognize her?” he asked. “Her name’s Ruthie.”

“Is she in trouble?” the bartender asked with a grin. “Wouldn’t surprise me, with that mouth. You a cop?”

“Nope,” said Raszer. “Private investigator. It’s actually her little sister I’m look-ing for. She was abducted over a year ago in L.A. I just want to talk to Ruthie.”

“Right, well ... I’m not positive, but she looks familiar. Cat’s eyes. You see those even in the dark. Lemme call Sage over. She’s half Tiwa. Knows everybody who rolls into town.” The bartender summoned a heavyset, brown-skinned young woman who smelled of her namessake and had been drinking in the darkest corner. The Tiwa were the Indians of the Taos Pueblo, but this girl looked to be a renegade. Raszer introduced himself and refreshed her seven-seven.

“Know this young lady, Sage?” the bartender asked her. “Isn’t she the one --”

Sage spun the spark wheel on her Zippo and held the photo near the flame.

“The one who rode off on Bobby T’s Indian last Saturday,” Sage affirmed. “Hell, you ought to know her. Your drink orders double when she comes in. All the boys scrambling to get ‘er lubricated.” The Tiwa girl turned to Raszer. “Are you a bounty hunter, mister, or a Hollywood casting agent?”

“He’s a private eye,” answered the bartender. “But he is from Hollyweird.”

“She done somethin’ wrong?” asked Sage. “I sure hope so. Us local girls got enough competition around here.”

“Not that I know of,” said Raszer. “But I will try to sideline her for a few days.”

Sage smiled and tipped her glass to Raszer’s. “She ‘n her mom live out by the tin works on outbound Highway 64. There’s a trailer park called Reynaldo’s. Not too trashy. The mother’s got a man. It’s his trailer. He’s a holy roller. At least on Sundays.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know his name,” said Raszer. “There could be a lot of trailers out there.”

“Sure, I do,” said Sage. “For another refill.”

Raszer nodded to the bartender.

“It’s Angel,” she said. “Ong-hell. Angel Davidos.”

“Thanks,” said Raszer, handing the girl her drink. “And good man hunting.”

The wind comes up with the approach of sunset in the mountain southwest, and for at least a few minutes, modern man walks in the same spirit world as his ancestors. Raszer felt it rising on his back, finding the dampness in his shirt, in the furrows that ran along his spine. It was as if the massive red ball of the sun was displacing an ocean of air as it sank between the peaks, or exhaling a solar sigh on retiring for the day. It was also a harbinger of night’s coming, and of the wolves. Enough to give anyone a chill.

The turn-off to Reynaldo’s RV Park was as advertised, just north of the Taos Tin Works, through a broken gate that led to a graded dirt road through an empty pasture and a grove of cottonwoods. On the far side of the grove, across a little stream, a wooden fence bounded an acre of flat, rocky land that was home to a transitory com-munity of about three-hundred souls. There were campers up on cinder blocks that looked to be there for keeps, forty year-old trailers with hulls as encrusted as ships in dry dock, and a few late-models of the Winnebago type. The turf occupied by long-term residents had a sunken-in look and an accretion of mostly outused junk that was probably kept in place to mark the imaginary property lines.

Having the name of Angel Davidos was no help. There was no directory at the front gate, and no landlord on site. And so, Raszer began at an outside corner and wandered up and down the ill-defined paths between the trailers, the sad streets of this ersatz neighborhood. The residents, many of them Hispanic or mixed race, seemed to be either in the act of preparing the evening meal (griddle smoke drifted from tiny, louvered kitchen windows) or out in their “yards” enjoying the sunset and cocktail hour. The smell of beer and marijuana smoke hung in the air as if suspended like a net between the branches of the cottonwoods. There could, he supposed, be worse ways and far worse places to live.

Some of the owners had buttressed the front steps of their homes with narrow wooden decks constructed from plywood and two-by-fours, just wide enough to ac-comodate a couple of beach chairs and a barbecue. A few of these had flower boxes, American flags, and a coat of paint, enough to create the semblance of a front porch. On one of them, painted saffron yellow and located at the far end of a diagonal thorough-fare running from corner to corner of the lot, he spotted a girl in a blue dress, waiting.

There was no question she was waiting. Her elbows were propped on the deck railing and her chin was in her palm. Her feet were bare and the skirts of her columbine blue sundress billowed around her legs like lace curtains in a storm. Raszer approached from a hundred yards distance with the sun at his back and his shadow thrown long in front of him. At one instance, he instinctively lifted his arm in greeting and she did the same. He doubted immediately that what he saw was what it appeared to be.

He doubted it because the hair spilling messily around her heart-shaped face was long and auburn, like Katy’s. Her oval mouth was a natural dark pink, like Katy’s. The tilt of the head and the game little smile seemed to be Katy’s, too, based on the photos. The blue dress -- belonged to the girl in the Santuario de Chimayo. Up to a point, Raszer enjoyed having his mind fucked with. It was part of the learning curve, always instructive, and visions no longer unsettled him. In fact, he chased after them. But this was different. The girl on the deck was not the girl from the Santuario de Chimayo, yet she appeared to know of her. She was not Katy Endicott either -- not unless things were really upside-down. She seemed to want to suggest that possibility to Raszer. Why? Nothing about the vision on the yellow deck said Ruthie except for the cat’s eyes and the guile, but those were enough. As Raszer drew closer, she toyed with him, shuf-fling personas like playing cards, all of them some variation on the theme of bruised innocence. Finally, she leaned into the railing and just let the wind blow back her hair.

“Lookin’ for a showdown, cowboy?” she asked, when he’d come within fifty feet.

“Nope. Looking for a girl.”

“You don’t look like you’d need to look hard,” she replied.

“You’d be surprised,” he said, moving closer. “Were you expecting me?”

“I was expecting somebody,” she answered. “But not you. Fat, sweaty, and bald, I guess. Like most private dicks really look.”

“And wearing wingtips and a worsted wool suit in summer, right?”

“Somethin’ like that.”

“The bartender from the Cantina call you? Or was it the Indian girl?”

He stood beneath her now. Her face was in the shadow of her hair, but her eyes, which on closer inspection were emerald green, had him fixed.

“Neither one,” she answered. “Matter of fact, it was Lupe down at the police station. Ex sister-in-law of my mother’s hombre. Hispanic people stay close.”

“I guess so,” he said. “Nice to have a friend on the force.”

“She’s only a dispatcher, but Lupe knows what’s what.” She cocked her head, exposing one side of her face to the dying sun. “But thanks for telling me how you found me. Pays to know who’ll sell you out for a drink.”

“What’d you do with your hair? I’d have figured you for a natural redhead.”

“Wasn’t any more natural than this,” she said, pulling at a strand. “I forget what color my real hair is.”

“Well, it’s red, according to your California driver’s license.”

“Which one?”

Raszer laughed. “Mind if I have a cigarette?”

“Not if you give me one.”

He shook an American Spirit from the pack and held it up for her to withdraw. He lit it, carefully navigating between the hanging curtains of hair, and she touched her palm to the back of his hand to steady the lighter. A learned gesture. Movies, probably. Then he lit his own and stepped back to exhale the smoke. Also a learned gesture.

“You and your sister,” he said. “You were pretty good at trading identities, right? From the looks of it, you decided that the world needed Katy more than Ruthie.”

“That ain’t exactly rocket science,” she said, blowing smoke toward the foothills. “Katy’s a good girl. The world likes them, but they don’t get to party much. You sure she didn’t take my place?”

Raszer squinted. “I guess that’s a possibility, isn’t it?” He took a step in and wrapped his hands around the lower railing. “But I don’t think so, Ruthie. You’ve got the same bone structure -- amazingly so -- but the eyes are all your own.”

She scooped up a handful of skirt and squatted down to his level, placing her hand next to his on the 1x4 railing. She had a tangy smell, like citrus and musk. It occurred to him that she might be wearing a wig.

“So who hired you?” she asked. “My father?”

“Yes,” Raszer replied. “It was the last thing he did, Ruthie.”

“The last thing he did before what?”

“You didn’t get word up here?”

She shook her head and gently bit her lip.

“Your father passed away, Ruthie. A stroke, or something like that. He died in my backyard after telling me the story. I’m sorry.”

She tossed the cigarette onto the dust and stood back up. “Don’t be,” she said. “He’s with his little flock up in heaven. We’re still down here in hell.”

“That may be,” said Raszer. “But I am sorry for your loss. No matter how you get along with your old man, he’s the one sent to protect you. When he’s gone, you’re on your own.”

“Nobody ever looked out for me but me,” she said.

“Not even Henry?” Raszer asked.

Ruthie looked away, brushing the hair from her eyes.

“What are you doin’ here, anyway, mister?” she said, bitter. “I don’t know anything. I told the FBI that already.”

“You know a whole lot more than I do, Ruthie. Three boys are dead who didn’t have to be. A fourth one’s half-crazy and won’t come out of his bedroom. A fifth one’s probably on his way to Gitmo. And there are two corpses in the L.A. morgue with their tongues torn out. All because the men who abducted your sister are still at large. Any-thing ... I mean anything you can tell me about Johnny Horn and Henry Lee will help.”

She looked at him sideways. “Yeah, well. I don’t wanna talk here. My mother’ll be home soon. Shit, I’ll have to tell her about Silas. What’d you say your name was?”

“I didn’t.” He offered his hand. “Stephan Raszer.”

She took his hand lightly, then gave it the slightest squeeze. “The La Fonda has a private bar with good margaritas. It’s dark in there. You know where it is?”

“I know it well,” said Raszer. “Good choice.”

“About eight okay?”

“Perfect,” said Raszer. “I’ll see you there.”

“Maybe,” she said. “Or maybe I’ll send a friend.”

Finding Ruthie
© 2006 by A.W. Hill



About the Author

A.W. Hill is the author of ENOCH'S PORTAL (Champion Press 2002), a spiritual thriller optioned by Paramount for film development, as well as two screenplays (Tesla, Little Red Book) and numerous short stories. He has written feature stories on esoteric religion and physics for the L.A. Weekly. His erotica for and has been widely reprinted in the U.K., and was featured in The Best American Erotica 2004. He currently makes his home in Hollywood, and is represented by the Reece Halsey Agency.

Visit A.W. Hill online at:


All content copyright © 2006-12 by ShatterColors, unless otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of material, in whole or in part, from any ShatterColors Literary Review
pages without written permission of the copyright owners is strictly prohibited.
Site designed and built by Robert Scott Leyse, with input and logo by Granville Papillon,
and wallpaper by Edward Haven from two of his paintings.