Chapter 2: Bee-dazzled and Bee-guiled

(buzz back in my blogs to read Chapter 1: Bee-leagued. . . in which Ryder County, AZ citizens and Peter Dan, co-owner of La Fonda del Sol ranch, are bee-witched, bothered, and bewildered by a string of mutilation murders of their lusty lads–occurring every full moon.)

Across the smoky room of the Easy Rider Saloon, the band began playing a soulful delta blues ballad. I knew the slide guitar player, he was a local, but not the harmonica player or the dark skinned sultry singer.  I’ve never been sure whether it was the song, the mission, the sway of her slender hips or the two boil makers I’d swallowed in rapid succession that gave me the nerve to approach the blond beauty I’d seen here back in January, the night the killings commenced. I’d spotted her around town several times too—but always across the street or in an elevator that closed before I could jump on. I began to feel meeting her just wasn’t meant to be.

              She was a looker. She wore navy blue suede boots and a matching body hugging polished rawhide skirt and vest deck out with copper and turquoise bling.  Her honey mead colored hair snaked down her back and was twisted into a thick, figure 8 braid. Her face was framed by loose wispy tendrils and large luminous eyes. She waved bye to Will, who had just reeled her round the dance floor, and disappeared into the crowd. I located her at a table where she sat sipping either the world’s largest martini or a glass of lemon ice water.

            “Hey there darling,” I said, hoping she’d look up and read my mind. I leaned my rough paw on the small cocktail table and gave her what I later determined was a big, stupid grin.

            “You do know what they say about hay cowboy,” she replied, rhetorically, in a clipped, accented voice, looking directly at me.  “But you’re misinformed. The name’s not darling, and I suspect your name isn’t cowboy.  Did I invite you over?”

            I was being dismissed and insulted. So I stammered, “Sorry, here let me introduce myself properly.  My name’s Peter Dan; I’m the acting sheriff. You’re not from around these parts.” I made a sound, half groan, half sigh and blundered on, “I didn’t mean nothing calling you darling. I was just being neighborly. Wanna dance?” The last sentence kind of came out all in one breath, followed by “I guaran-damn-tee you my feet work better than my mouth.” Which wasn’t saying much. I was a watcher, not a dancer.         

            Almost robotically, she scanned me from head to toe, took an elegant sip of whatever it was she was drinking, then said, “My pleasure Peter Dan.” She offered me her hand. It was cool and silky and it sent a charge through me that brought the proudest part of my anatomy to uncomfortable attention. I shoulda known something else was going on, but my manhood was doing all my thinking. They were playing one of them sultry songs; I found myself mesmerized, barely moving while she swayed and shimmied in perfect synchronization to the underlying rhythm. She smelled like one of those rare spring days when every fragrant flower is vying for attention.

            The music stopped; the band announced they were taking a break. I was still holding her in my arms until she firmly pushed me away. Her hand reached for a heavy, finely engraved silver ornament that hung from her neck on a silken black cord. Trying not to sound like a clichéd line from a Spillane novel, I spluttered out “You’ve pretty beautiful, I mean that dance was pretty awesome and you’re beautiful.”

It wasn’t exactly a smile she gave me then; it was more a wink she made with her mouth, punctuated by dimples that blinked, for a split second, on either cheek.” While the band’s on break, why don’t you tell me about yourself Peter Dan. Are you married? Engaged? What about your parents?” She said these words very precisely while tracing the engraving on the ornament.

            I stared at her creamy neck. Now this might surprise you, but I like all kinds of poetry. She reminded me of one I’ve read by that English dude Robert Browning. The title was something like My Last Duchess Painted on a Wall and there was a line that said paint should never be able to duplicate the faint, half blush of pink, which bleeds along her throat and into her gown, or some such fancy words.  

This lady made my name sound classy, made me feel she was revealing something I shouldn’t be knowing. “No; No; and they’re dead,” I replied. I felt like the cobra I’d once seen at a Tuscon bawdy club John Mack and I had visited. That snakes head was weaving like a drunk while the nearly naked dancer undulated and tootled her flute. I shook my head to clear it. She reached up and planted a cool, moist kiss on my cheek. It might as well have been my butt cheek, it felt than intimate. “Are you gonna make me guess your name like that Rumpelstiltskin character?

            “That would be rude, wouldn’t it? Call me Cerrie or Gwen if you like. You’re not drinking Peter. Allow me to buy you some refreshment, a pint of ale perhaps. Have you seen  . . .?” 

Her voice trailed off and her eyes darted, it seemed, from the walls behind me to the exit door at her 6:30. She tapped a long manicured nail on the table. “I shall return after visiting the cowgirl, rather the necessary room.” She added, “The moon’s lovely tonight, isn’t it, Peter Dan?”

            I was suddenly not in the mood for drinking after her reminder. The moon was waxing; it’d be full in a few days. I’d buried my brother a month ago. I bought a fancy bottle of water from the bartender, pulled out a ten, and told him to keep the change. He made one of those “gee, wow” faces and pocketed the change. What was I doing? It was on me to find the killer and here I was, killing time with the new girl in town. Or maybe not. I didn’t know anything about her. But damn, it wasn’t like me to not have asked her a bucket load of questions.

I scanned the large, smoky room, and noticed Cerrie’s table was now occupied by two weary looking middle-aged men wearing short sleeved western shirts and brand new boots. They were guzzling imported bottles of beer and shots of straight tequila, salt, and limes.

            I walked over and offered up a “Howdy gents” I mentioned I was looking for a woman with long blond hair who had been sitting at this table. I pointed to her half empty glass.

            “Well ain’t that sweet,” the pudgier of the two men said to the other.”Now me, I’m looking for the same thing; I’m just not as particular. She just needs to be ready, willing and not able to dismember me.” His buddy thought the remark extremely funny and chuckled. In the process, he dribbled a mouthful of beer onto the table top and another in my general direction.

            I flashed my badge and grabbed the man’s shirt front, half jerked him to his feet, then let go abruptly. Several snaps popped and revealed a hairless chest. He landed in his chair with a thud.

            “That’s no way to treat a tourist. You’re lucky to have us.” The other guy nodded, then bent his head.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a napkin folded under the glass she’d been drinking from. I picked it up and studied the doodles—half circles, half-moons, tiny winged creatures, and other strange symbols. I pocketed the napkin and muttered red-necked piss-ants under my breath.  Wouldn’t know a lady from a lamppost or a killer from a kleenex. “If the lady returns, let me know. I’ll be over there.”

            During the next hour I asked Lamar, the Dude Drop ranches foreman and. Easy Rider’s bouncer, and all the bartenders on duty if they’d seen the girl I described to them. Lamar remembered her, and thought she might have left just a few minutes earlier, alone. He asked me what I’d want with a skinny little filly like that. I told him she had definite enchantress potential and to let me know if she came back. I took out the napkin and studied it again and made a mental note to visit the library, as well as our local hotel and three or four motels at either end of our town the next day.

            I hung around till closing, chatting with my buddy Hal; he’d closed his section of the bar early, and like my former self, had a second job as a sworn officer of the law. Mostly, he provided security at the local court house. He hadn’t noticed her hanging around his end of the bar. He said “perhaps she was just a little tease out cheating on her husband. Or maybe she just didn’t like your manners Petey.”

As I got in my jeep, I wondered, maybe I wasn’t her type, blood type, dick size, non-cosmopolitan . . . I felt a chill that sultry June night amid mounting frustration.  The nearly full moon gazed down on a man going home with a bad attitude and a boner the size of a jumbo half smoke. I was on to something but I didn’t yet realize what.

As sure as I know there ain’t nothing worth stealing from a homeless person, I knew there’d be more killings. Sure enough, two nights later, we found victim number 6, an out of towner. In fact, it was the hairless chested pudgy man who had helped himself to Cerrie’s table. His name was Leo Wettig. It seems his buddy had hooked up with one of our local gals and went to do some moonlit haymaking. Leo was seen by Lamar leaving the saloon around 1:30am, alone, staggering his way towards the motel where the men were staying. One of my deputies saw him around 10 minutes later and offered him a ride. Much to Leo’s detriment, he declined.

His death was a game changer. Now someone was killing outsiders too. That wasn’t good for business and believe you me, the mayor and the good folk of Ryder County let it be known that if I couldn’t find this craven killer real soon, they’d bring someone in that could. There was talk of enacting a curfew the week around the next full moon, but that’s all it was, talk.

            Nearly a week elapsed before the furor died down and poor old Leo Wettig’s body was collected by his kin. We had some problems at the ranch too. One of my cattle had been killed, probably by some local four legged varmint. It happens, but not typically during summer months. A swarm of bees had taken up residence in the carcass and part of my herd was refusing to graze anywhere near it. We needed a bee expert. One of my ranch hands told me the specialist from the British Isles was back in town. This lady had been studying our Arizona bees, their migration patterns, and recent erratic behavior. He didn’t know where she was staying though, or how to contact her. Meanwhile, we opened up our south pasture, piped in some drinking water, and cordoned off the patch where the bees were empire building.

Finally I found some time to visit the grown up library two towns over. Turns out there was also a bookstore and coffee cafe a block away. I got one of them fancy foamed milk coffees and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich they guss’ied up by calling it a jambon fromage panini. Did ya ever? Then I wandered over to their New Age section and proceeded to waste the best part of an hour thumbing through books of no use what-so-ever. I had checked out a few bee books from the library but didn’t hold much hope I’d find answers or the meanings of those symbols carved into our lusty lads chests.

            On the way back to my jeep, I noticed a small sign flapping in the breeze, attached to metal railing. It pointed to a Rare and Used Book Store hiding out in the ample sized basement of the building that housed both a Freemason Lodge and an Odd Fellows Club, as well as a local branch of the Cattlemen & Livestock Association and a NY style deli. This bookstore didn’t have a New Age section; it had something better, an Occult Corner. My wallet was a might lighter when I left, eager to get back to the ranch to commence learning and burning the midnight oil.

            Wouldn’t you know it, a quarter to midnight was right about the time I cracked open the first book. No soon had I got back to the ranch but my newly promoted ranch foreman Rob Three Feathers told me there was a group of women from town protesting and chanting right outside and upwind of the cattle carcass/beehive. It seems they were having conniptions over something the Bee Expert was doing inside the perimeter.

            I threw gear in the jeep and we headed over there. Rob drove and I tried to thumb through one of the bee husbandry books between bumps and zig zags to avoid tree stumps and pot holes. It wasn’t telling me nothing I didn’t already know—worker bees far outnumber the drones; the ones born in the spring typically only live for about 6 weeks, then BAM, off to the honey hereafter. Some of the youngest worker bees get assigned construction jobs. They build or repair the hive.

            The queen bee is a horse of a different color. She can live 5-10 years and is fed a diet of royal jelly. She’s bigger and badder than the rest of her hive, and her stinger reloads after each use. She decides which eggs get fertilized and which potential gestating queens live. Rob parked the truck a few hundred yards from the cordoned off area and I jumped out, forgetting my protective gear.

            It was a warm day. I expected the smell to be much worse. A figure draped in a gauzy green cloak hunched over the carcass. Six local women, dressed in various shades of yellow and black, with arms raised skyward, were marching in place, like they needed a bathroom break, chanting something about the blasted bees. I tried to get them to stop, reminded them they were trespassing. They wouldn’t shut up.

            So I turned my attention to the person bent over my dead steer. Whoa, that wasn’t the remains I’d seen yesterday. This carcass was picked clean. The figure laid down what looked like a butterfly net and a long spatula like tool, then turned towards me and removed a lavender and silver threaded scarf. I saw a pair of slender, ungloved white arms.

“Peter Dan, how lovely to see you again. Did you know Egyptians believed honeybees came from Ra’s tears? Ancient pharaohs of lower Egypt called themselves per-bits, he of the bee. Are these women she’s of the bee, or part of your lost tribe?”

“My lost what? Cerrie? You’re the bee expert? Now look here, you best come out of there and tell me what you’ve doing. How’d you get these women so riled up?”

“I’ve no idea. I arrived mid-morning. I’ve been observing and counting this curious congregation of bees. These ladies arrived in the van over there, perhaps half an hour ago, and started waving and yelling immediately. They claimed to be part of the Deborah Ryder Hive, whatever that means. Fortunately, they had the good sense to stay behind the taped off area.” Cerrie glanced back at the swarming bees, then approached the edge of the perimeter, but didn’t cross it.

“I chose to ignore the ladies and before long, they started chanting ‘blessed bees, blessed bees’ and some other words in a tongue I’m not familiar with. Do make them leave. The bees are very sensitive to noise. You wouldn’t want those particular bees to sting them, I assure you. Although, I suspect half the bees won’t sting anyone. As far as I can tell, they’re Trigona Hymenoptera—South American Vulture bees. This is an extraordinary find. The other half…”

“What do you mean vulture bees? You best duck under the tape. I wouldn’t want you to get stung while you’re a guest at La Fonda del Sol.”

The women stopped chanting. In the quiet, I detected a peculiar kind of white noise, and determined it originated from the hive. One of the women approached me; the rest headed back to the van. I heard one of them yell something about Pam needing to pick Savannah up from school and Maria had to go to Trader Joe’s. The woman raised her left arm, “Hail, great Apis bull: I recognize your sacrifice for the bees. Blessed bee.”

“Is that you Mrs. Lawstein? That wasn’t an Apis; it was a Hereford.”

In reply, Mrs. Lawstein, wearing a yellow and black top and tight fitting black yoga pants, yellow socks and sneakers, and a black baseball cap made a face halfway between indigent and queasy, then turned and walked to the van without saying a word.

Cerrie crossed her milky white arms and nodded towards the van. “She wasn’t entirely wrong Peter Dan. Apis Mellifera is the Latin name for the honeybee. Is your Mrs. Lawstein’s first name Deborah?”

“I don’t know. I always called her Mrs. Lawstein; her husband’s a lawyer. Well, he was a lawyer. He retired a year or so ago.”

“In Hebrew, Deborah means bee. They made me laugh, dressed like common yellowjackets, which is part of the genus Vespa, and related to wasps, not bees. In fact, yellowjackets attack bees and their hives.”

The van made a U turn and one of the ladies stuck her grey haired head out the window as they passed us. “Beeee-ware foreigner. Leave our blessed bees alone. You beee-have sheriff; we’ll be watching; catch the monster killing our men.” The van farted, spit out a trail of black smoke, and disappeared over the hill.

Stay tuned for Chapter 3: Let It Bee. Comments and criticisms welcome on this work in progress!