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 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
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.
seen this girl?” he asked. “The hair might
be different. Look at the eyes and the mouth. And the
the bartender grunted, drying his hands with a bar towel.
Raszer held a beat, hoping for some elaboration of the
that mean you recognize her?” he asked. “Her
she in trouble?” the bartender asked with a grin.
“Wouldn’t surprise me, with that mouth. You
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.”
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
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.
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?”
a private eye,” answered the bartender. “But
he is from Hollyweird.”
done somethin’ wrong?” asked Sage. “I
sure hope so. Us local girls got enough competition around
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.”
wouldn’t happen to know his name,” said Raszer.
“There could be a lot of trailers out there.”
I do,” said Sage. “For another refill.”
Raszer nodded to the bartender.
Angel,” she said. “Ong-hell. Angel Davidos.”
said Raszer, handing the girl her drink. “And good
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
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.
for a showdown, cowboy?” she asked, when he’d
come within fifty feet.
Looking for a girl.”
don’t look like you’d need to look hard,”
be surprised,” he said, moving closer. “Were
you expecting me?”
was expecting somebody,” she answered. “But
not you. Fat, sweaty, and bald, I guess. Like most private
dicks really look.”
wearing wingtips and a worsted wool suit in summer, right?”
“Somethin’ like that.”
bartender from the Cantina call you? Or was it the Indian
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.
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.”
guess so,” he said. “Nice to have a friend
on the force.”
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
you do with your hair? I’d have figured you for
a natural redhead.”
any more natural than this,” she said, pulling at
a strand. “I forget what color my real hair is.”
it’s red, according to your California driver’s
Raszer laughed. “Mind if I have a cigarette?”
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.
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.”
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.
who hired you?” she asked. “My father?”
Raszer replied. “It was the last thing he did, Ruthie.”
last thing he did before what?”
didn’t get word up here?”
She shook her head and gently bit her lip.
father passed away, Ruthie. A stroke, or something like
that. He died in my backyard after telling me the story.
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.”
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.”
ever looked out for me but me,” she said.
even Henry?” Raszer asked.
Ruthie looked away, brushing the hair from her eyes.
are you doin’ here, anyway, mister?” she said,
bitter. “I don’t know anything. I told the
FBI that already.”
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?”
didn’t.” He offered his hand. “Stephan
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
know it well,” said Raszer. “Good choice.”
said Raszer. “I’ll see you there.”
she said. “Or maybe I’ll send a friend.”
2006 by A.W. Hill