Follow me and buzz through a sticky wicket of converging conundrums—dying bees, mutilated young men, a besieged sheriff, and a deserted dude ranch. There’s also a new girl in town and a killer to catch before the body count reaches a dirty dozen. Gird your loins and gild your lilies…tables are turned in this gruesome first draft groan of a tale.

“The queen bee’s story is the power & glory of women who have ruled alone…in conclusion it’s an optical illusion if you think we’re the weaker race.” Queen Bee

Prologue: Bee-gun is Half Done

Bees have always been ruled by a queen and are a sacred feminine symbol. Dismiss ancient beliefs deeply imbedded in the psyche of humans and find yourself dismissed. Thousands of years prior to the legends of the fearless, fierce Amazons, bee cults thrived because of the might of their queens, keepers of esoteric knowledge and rumored secrets of immortality.

These highly evolved queens were goddesses of intoxication and sexual prowess. They ensured fertility so no human went hungry or unrequited. Their exploits were told round campfires and committed to pen and ink by scribes. Interestingly, these queens weren’t specifically linked to the secret bee societies they ruled. No one knew for sure what their connection was—or the extent of the power they wielded.

The knowledge these queens shared was hidden from mortal men when they began to lie. Men said they provided the seed and women were only soil in which their seed grew. The bee queens demanded retraction of the lie men told and retribution. Instead, the lies and boasts grew. Men sought power and domination, and tried to destroy the fruitful earth. They invented ‘thou shall not’ laws and elaborate systems to codify and enforce their rules. When their systems failed or were proven wrong, their lies and deceptions grew more outrageous. They turned their iron weapons on those that would not comply.

The bee queens retaliated and then withdrew. Famine and drought plagued the continents. In punishing men, women and children also suffered. So the queens restored fertility by mating with the land. But their rage was not appeased.  When the lies of men grew higher than the tallest mountains, the occasional sacrifice demanded was no longer enough. To punish men, and ensure the immortality of their queen and the land’s fecundity, the bee queens demanded yearly the life blood and dismemberment of 13 carefully chosen men. That is, until the day a truthful man wept honeyed tears of sorrow and survived the queen’s loving sting. Trust me, legends don’t lie.

Chapter 1: Bee-leagued

What happened to the men of Ryder County, Arizona last year was no accident, and as gruesome as the mutilations and deaths were, it wasn’t the work of a psychopath. I can barely stomach writing about the deaths of Ryder’s lusty young men. As the brother of one of the victims, my job’s to get this writ—to put it out on the airways as a warning—an amber alert for us boys that love our one eyed god, our happy organ, our heat seeking love missile.

            The human body count stood at eight in August of last year.  By November, it has risen to eleven. I might have been the thirteenth, the canonical final victim.  But I wasn’t.  No matter, the killing’s stopped. Order is restored and Ryder’s ‘bawdy boys,’ that is, what’s left of them, are carousing and carrying-on again.  Human nature being what it is, habits and tastes haven’t changed much, in spite of those terrible times.

            You see, someone was slaughtering our lusty young men. Worse, someone was mutilating our lads before killing them. Our honey bees were dying too. The Agi’s estimated a nearly 30% loss this past year; they said if we didn’t find out why and fix it, there’d be a complete colony collapse a year down the road.

            The good folks of Ryder always had healthy appetites.  For example, my friend Jon Mack could eat a 30 ounce steak, a couple pounds of home fries, a heaping of greasy greens, and a dozen buttered biscuits, sucked down with several pails of our states finest brew and a pitcher of lemonade. For dessert, he’d polish off one of his mom’s cherry rhubarb pies and walk away from the table like he’d just swallowed a lady-sized wedge of angel food cake. Jon Mack was the first victim.  It was January of last year; we’d been cruising chicks at the Easy Rider Saloon. I had my eye on this blond beauty, (the type that make men’s third eye salivate). I watched her float round the dance floor, always with a different partner. It coulda been wishful thinking, but I sensed she had her eye on me too.  I didn’t get to find out because an old girlfriend sat down beside me and proceeded to small talk me into a profound stupor. 

            When I looked around again, the blond had disappeared, and as I ain’t much of a drinker or dancer, I told Jon Mack so long and headed for the home forty. My brother Travis Dan (he’s 2 ½ years older than me) and I owned the Fonda del Sol cattle ranch; I also worked part-time as Ryder’s deputy sheriff. We was branding a new batch of four leggers in the morning, which meant I’d have to be up early, so I was sawing logs before midnight. If only I’d of hung with him, if only I’d of known then what I know now. It’s still hard to talk about.

            Like I said, the body count stood at eight dead in August, but it got real personal way back in May because Travis was the fifth victim. By default, I’d also been appointed sheriff since victim #4 was Sheriff Burt Roher. All the victims bore similar mutilation marks—half circles and curious symbols carved into their chests, and though these caused some pitiful bleeding, the marks weren’t the cause of death. We determined, however, the symbols were carved on their chests when they were still alive.

            Even now, my throat seizes up and I want ta gag when I think of the other mutilation, the one that caused their deaths.  So I’ll just say it once for the record—their manhoods had been severed as well as their balls, and their femoral arteries were also cut. Doc Grayson said they’d been wacked off with surgical precision. He said the killer might be someone with medical training, most likely a strong man with a powerful hatred for his own kind.  Doc was a smart man, but he didn’t have all the facts.

            Now there’ve been records of intentional castrations going back more than 10,000 years, all the way to ol Sumeria. Who knew why those Sumer folks did it—to keep their high octave voices, protect the priestesses from their formerly testosterone laden selves, or assimilate them to the other sex or prevailing goddess? Two thousand years ago there about, the cult of Cybele was all the rage in the Roman Empire. These Romans claimed Trojan roots, and adopted the Trojans powerful goddess as their own. The irony ain’t lost on me neither that a popular condom brand is called Trojan! They brought Cybele’s sacred black meteor stone to Rome and her eunuch priests. Before long, these men’s red blood was fertilizing Rome’s parched earth, and harvest baskets were overflowing. Some folks whispered they’d come across a grove of gnarled trees hung with withered penises. Don’t believe me—go check out the Tree of Fecundity mural in Massa Marittima.

            No sir, those prancing, testosterone loving Roman men had no idea what they were embracing when one of their oracles told them to worship Magna Mater, aka great mother Cybele. Some sources think Cybele was an androgynous being, a goddess with a vigorous appetite for both sexes. And straight outta an altered version of Robert Towne’s Chinatown screenplay, Cybele gave birth to a son named Attis. Later, he became her lover. But when he tried to marry someone that wasn’t a blood relative, Cybele had Attis castrated. After that, they say 100s of men lined up voluntarily to be emasculated. Go figure. They were known as the Castritti, the sacred priests of Cybele. She granted some of them the gift of prophecy. Yepper, there were times last year when I wished I had that gift, despite the downside.

              My buddy Jon Mack, that is, his body was discovered by some weekend cowboys staying at Ryder’s one and only dude ranch Tuxedo Tails. Feeling confident about their newly acquired horse riding skill, two guests saddled some mounts while the wranglers were busy clearing up the breakfast buffet. They headed for the gold and red clay hills due east of the Jiminez Hacienda.  Before long, these men were drawn towards a flock of scavenger birds excitedly circling north of those clay hills. When they got close enough to see what was interesting these birds, one of the guy promptly lost his Hefty Man breakfast. As soon as he finished emptying his guts onto a sun baked flat rock, he bolted back the direction he came. The other guy tried to kick his horses’ gearshift into third gear and was unceremoniously dismounted. His riderless horse arrived back at the Tuxedo Tails lathered and skittish. Lamar, the ranch foreman, grabbed his first aid kit and drove his jeep into the clouds of dust the horse had stirred up. 

            We originally thought Jon Mack’s death was an isolated murder. Knowing how much he liked women, we figured he’d really pissed off some little chickie’s boyfriend who’d gone el loco weed-o, then dumped the body where he thought no one would find it until it was just another pile of bleached bones.  But his body was discovered less than 24 hours after he’d been killed. No one could figure out why those symbols had been carved into his chest though. And when other bodies began turning up with identical mutilations, we were even more puzzled. There was one other similarity with all the victims I forgot to mention—they all died wearing smiles, clown like smiles on their faces, smiles as patently obvious as the bloody symbols carved into their chests were enigmatic.

            In May, when the body count stood at four with the sheriff’s passing, Travis and I had a serious talk about the events that were striking fear and cutting down on the sexual proclivities of our bawdy boys.  “Someone’s killing our finest specimens of manhood,” I told him. “That means you and I are probably both on some wacko’s list.  Who do you think the killer is?”

            I remember Travis looked off in the distance. He took a deep drawl on his hand rolled cigarette, then flicked it over the porch railing. Before he spoke, he rolled and lit another. I wanted to say something about cutting down on this nasty habit, how it was enough that lung cancer had claimed pa, but I just sat still and waited for him to compose his thoughts.

            “I tell you what, Petey, your killer is a woman, a lying, fornicating, castrating bitch of a woman—no probably about it. I’m definitely on her list.  But you—that’s a stretch.  And I tell you what else, I’ll smell her teasing cunt before she gets within fifty feet of me. It wouldn’t surprise me none if your killer ain’t one of them amazon bitches with one breast hacked off so she can wield her weapons. That’s who you should be looking for. I’ll be ready for her; I got my Bowie honed and my pecker tucked in tight.  You best do the same, just in case, since it looks like you’re the new sheriff.” 

            Like a true born in the wild west cowboy, Travis didn’t have much use for fancy words. But he coulda been projecting a might. He recently had a bad breakup with a lady he’d been dating since high school. When our pa died a few years back, wore out from fighting for every breath, and mama followed him six months later after a cold turned into pneumonia, they left us a chunk of insurance money. We modernized the ranch and Travis insisted I use part of the money to finish Ag School. I figured I knew all I needed to about growing stuff, and got a degree in Law Enforcement instead. I returned home to the best working ranch in the county. Travis had the cattle business down pat and I managed the books and grew a few seed, cotton, hemp, and grain crops. I also worked part-time as one of Ryder’s deputy sheriffs. I got the education, but Travis had the smarts, or so I thought. 

            In May, when one of the town’s resident artists found my brother’s body in the wild flower field out behind her gallery, my life changed drastically. When I saw his lifeless body, something snapped. I became obsessed about finding this depraved mutilator of men. I’d been appointed temporary sheriff last month on account of Sheriff Roher’s sudden death. I told my deputies I’d use whatever means were necessary. 

            We had precious few clues or leads, just the knowledge that these murders were happening once a month, on the night of the full moon or thereabouts. Now these killings might seem howlingly hilarious to readers of one of them popular horror comics. But this was happening to us, to Ryder’s best and brightest. A killer was ritualistically slicing and dicing us and I didn’t know how to stop this killer or where the next slaughtering would take place or who would be next. The situation was grave.

So let me back track. The night he was killed, Jon Mack was seen leaving the Easy Rider at about 1 a.m., alone, walking towards his truck. No one else saw him until those two cowboys found his body. Ray Jennings, victim number three, was seen leaving Ryder’s largest automotive repair store, alone, about nine p.m. on what was the last night of his life. His body, at least parts of it, weren’t found for another two weeks, after a pack of wolves or coyotes had strewn the remains round the canyon floor at the foot of Begger’s Mountain. Ray was a real good man, not the type who’d cheat on his wife or hang around bars late at night. He did have one vice, though. He spent all his spare time up in the hills, searching for veins of ‘magic metal’ as he liked to call them. That’s probably where and how he met our killer, while pursuing some imagined lode of precious ore his metal detector had sniffed out.  But that didn’t explain the raw look of pleasure on the man’s face, baked in and preserved by the sun.

            Victim number seven was the Episcopal churches’ minister, Harlin Adams, a modest, god fearing man. On the night he disappeared, we reckoned the cleaning lady was the next to the last person to see him alive. After the weekly bingo game, Harlin carefully counted the churches earnings while she swept and mopped the floor. After he’d locked the money in the safe, he helped her empty trash cans, fold up banquet tables and stack the chairs in the storage closet. When the room was returned to its former pristine condition, he turned off the lights and let her out the front door. As she walked down the front steps, she turned to wave good-night and saw Harlin polishing the door’s big brass knocker. She chuckled and hurried to catch the 9:40 pm bus two blocks away.

            The only link we knew about was that all these men lived in Ryder County and knew each other, either through school, church, work or on some social level. And, judging by the satiated look on their faces, we hoped they’d all died oblivious to their cause of their death.  No drugs were found in their bodies, though four of the twelve men had a considerable amount of alcohol in their system. Doc noticed they’d all been stung by a bee recently, but we didn’t make anything of it. Our bees had been going wacko for months. 

We were as perplexed as a one legged man at a butt kicking contest. The men of Ryder County continued to drop like a bumper crop of acorns. But these men weren’t nuts. They were our good old boys. They were being knocked off by some psychotic nutcase or hell, maybe it was a team of killers. Or maybe, like Travis said, it was a crazy, man hating woman. Lucy Nolan, the town’s resident old maid, didn’t much care for men, but she was 70 something, arthritic, and must have weighed all of 100 pounds soaking wet.

Since I had no other leads, I began frequenting Ryder’s dozen or so bars. I looked for out of towners, and there generally were 100s of tourists enjoying our sunny weather, vast canyons, cactus filled deserts, and mysterious wall carvings and murals. I looked for a man with a daddy fixation or a man who wanted to be a woman or maybe a woman who wanted to be a man. Heck, I even looked for one breasted Amazons with the merest glint of animosity in their eyes.

Sometimes that proved to just be astigmatism; sometimes I stared a might too hard and got slapped. I looked at the type of lady my brother liked, someone pretty and clever enough to trick my brother into following her to his death. As the Frenchie’s say: Cherche la femme. I wasn’t leaving out nobody. I was chercher l’homme too. The killer was at large in Ryder and had one powerful enemy—yours truly.

to be continued…bee looking for Chapter 2 next month