“Where the bee sucks, there suck I In the cow-slip’s bell I lie There I couch when owls do cry” Shakespeare, The Tempest
Like I said, it was near midnight before I got round to skimming, annotating, and bookmarking the books that pretty near emptied my wallet. There were noisy cows to milk, critters to feed, and a pile of police paperwork to attend to. I hoped milking was all those cows needed and they’d stop sounding like badly played tubas. The parents of Jesse Miller, our resident 15 going on 30 delinquent, decided he’d spent enough time cooling his heels in jail, and paid his fine. For the time being, our jail was empty.
Mrs. Ramos brought me a mighty fine dinner from her cantina: a bowl of carnitas topped with chicarron. That’s fried pork belly, plus she added a dollop of guac and fixings, with extra cotija cheese, and a squeeze of lime. I sopped it up with her feather light tortillas. For dessert, I was hoping for a slice of her world famous five layer Mexican choco-loaded tarta. Instead, I got a not too shabby bag of melt in your mouth Polvorones, some Leche Frita, and cinnamon Churros with buttery caramel dipping sauce. I was in hog heaven and made a note to thank her with a side of prime ranch beef for her next Barbacoa.
It was 10’something when I left the station and made the rounds downtown, serpentin’ing through outlying neighborhoods. I talked with Rob Three Feathers and a few hired hands about volunteering for patrol duty the next full moon and did a quick shower and shave before hitting the books. This was my new nighttime routine since I’ve had to haul myself out of bed as early as 4 am to investigate domestic altercations, local break-ins, or our now infamous monthly murders.
Top item on my list was bringing our resident bee expert Cerrie to the station for a nice, long chat. I was within my rights to check her passport and get the address where she was staying. With any luck, I’d find her at the cordoned off carcass. But it wasn’t to be. So I went back to the borrowed bee books from the library and filled several legal pad pages with notes. I made a list of scavenger insects, including the blowfly, flying cockroach, and deathhead moth for my own edification. I had another list of three of the six Deborah Ryder beehive ladies I’d recognized and question marks for the other three bumbling bees. My third list was the victims to date, a few personal details about them, and the name for the full moons each of those months. I consulted my Farmer’s Almanac and wrote down info on the July to December full moons and dates. Maisie, our night-time dispatcher and crime scene photographer, would type up my chicken scratch vic notes and distribute it to Ryder’s deputies.
My research took off in a different direction when I came across anecdotes from European witch trials. It made me wonder—if Ryder had a human hive, could it also have a coven I didn’t know about? Some Spanish monks recorded that accused witches caught eating what they assumed was a queen bee right before being arrested and chained to a dank cold wall, could withstand any and all torture, and remain silent throughout their interrogations. They were summarily executed without ever confessing their crimes. Unfortunately, this curious alleged fact aided the Inquisition. They used it as an excuse for condemning witches to death—whether they admitted to bewitching, bothering, or bedeviling or not.
Several of the books I bought from the 2nd hand shop I hesitated to open. They were about phallic worship and gods like Fascinus, Pan, and Priapus. Slavic folks had an entire pantheon of phallic deities. The most important Egyptian myth was all about a lost love and butchered man parts. Much to my surprise, there were and are a slew of festivals and temples devoted to man’s favorite pull toy (so to speak). There’s Kanamara Matsuri, the festival of the steel phallus, in April in Japan. There’s a museum in Husavik, Iceland boasting the largest collection of penis specimens, and in Mongolia, a penis shaped rock reminds its monks to maintain their celibacy. Ouch. Don’t get me started on Indian artwork or their illustrated lust ledger the Karma Sutra. It goes on and on about desire and fulfillment, although I reckon the subject’s more about resolve and control than passion and pleasure. I could be wrong.
I always had a hankering to visit England to see Big Ben, Hadrian’s Wall, the Tower of London, and the modern, cylindrical edifice one of the royals called the grand gherkin. London, from what I’ve read, has plenty of phallic symbols. Some were left behind by the graffiti and carve happy Romans. Obelisks were imported from as far away as Egypt. Even common items, like swords, snakes, and May Poles are nothing more than representations of a man’s joystick. In Dorset, you can see a giant chalk geoglyph of a fully erect pagan warrior with a club. The counterpart to all that manliness was something called a Shelia na Gig, a somewhat obscene looking pagan woman found carved above stone doorways and inside old churches and such. Her mouth was wide open, except it weren’t the mouth on her head, but the other mouth on a woman’s body.
But hey, you don’t have to go abroad to find phallic reminders. Our cities have 1000s of skyscraper’s impregnating the clouds. We got intercontinental ballistic missiles, fire engine poles, and women and men sliding and gyrating on metal rods in night clubs. We also have a passel of cylindrical monuments and obelisks, including a few purloined from Egypt. We don’t have any Shelia’s carved into the stone over old doorways, though. Come to think of it, we don’t have many old stone doorways period. I did identify a few of the symbols carved into our bawdy boys’ chests. One was the symbol for the planet Venus; it also represented a woman. Then there was a double axe symbol that also could mean a bee or bee goddess, at least to the Minoans. Old King Minos had a son named Glaucus that drowned in a vat of honey. Legend has it he was somehow revived.
When I read how some ancient Egyptian folks presumed a May Day sacrifice of an Apis bull created 1000 Bees, my scalp prickled. My Hereford was killed in mid-June. But with Travis dying in May, I hadn’t exactly been enny meany minie moe counting the livestock. I rang Rob Three Feathers and left him a message to take an inventory, and went back to reading. Ancient bees turned those Apis bull carcasses into hives; occasionally the bull itself regenerated, thanks to some spell cast by Ptah, the Egyptian God of Reincarnation. Somehow, the bees morphed into resurrected souls, that is, once the great Goddess Nut okay’ed it. In their language, ‘apis’ meant ‘bee.’
Go figure, that night I got barely five hours of sleep; two of those hours I suspect were spent dreaming, not about bulls, bees, and phallic symbols, but about cows and moons with antlers and July’s upcoming buck moon. The increasingly mysterious Ms. Cerrie Gwen—or whatever her last name was–didn’t return to the carcass or the saloon, and didn’t seem to be staying at any of our modest or upscale temporary accommodations. About a week later, the meat eating bees disappeared altogether. I felt mighty dumb letting her get away, twice.
The list I started for Cerrie was pitifully sparse of info. A gal I knew at Smitty’s groceria thought she’d seen her or rather a person resembling the sketch I’d drawn of her. She remembered her because of what she’d bought: seven jars of locally produced honey and three bags of granulated sugar; colorful pots of blue allium, oriental poppy, and lobelia; and nearly $60 worth of sirloin steak. Sam, my local insurance agent, was sure he’d seen her pumping gas into one of those off brand foreign land yachts a few days after the last murder. He thought the cruck (that’s a fancy way of saying car-truck) was green or charcoal grey with a lighter shaded roof.
I had a brief chat with Mrs. Lawstein, whose first name was Miriam, and learned the names of the other three women, but very little about what their beehive was all about. It seems the group formed last autumn when Mrs. Lawstein’s 25 year old daughter Deborah died suddenly after a short battle with an aggressive cancer. She refused chemo and radiation and was being successfully treated, according to Mrs. Lawstein, with a bee venom serum at a hospital in Phoenix. Mr. and Mrs. Lawstein received a call late one night last October. Deborah had died during the night. No cause was determined, other than the cancer got her before the serum was able to reverse all its effects. Because they were Jewish, no autopsy was performed.
With Travis gone, and Rob Three Feathers still learning the proverbial ropes of our ranch, not to mention all the sheriff due diligence duties I had to do, there was little time to plot how to catch the killer of our bawdy boys and men (plus one out of towner). I found the folder Sheriff Rohrer had created. It contained a bunch of office forms, a perp sheet, crime scene notes and photos, and a sticky about where to find related documents online. There were also several hand scrawled cardboard warning signs that likely were left on the windshield of the sheriff’s patrol car. One said, in block letters, LET WHAT HAS BEGUN BE DONE. The other said BEWARE MY STING IF YOU INTERFERE.
At the town council meeting the end of June, I managed to convince the mayor and most of the rest of city council that bringing in outsiders would only make it worse. They’d be in everybody’s business, not to mention we didn’t have the budget to pay or house them in a manner they would likely require for long. The council agreed. I gave in to putting a 9pm curfew in place the week surrounding July’s full moon, despite pushback from our hotel, restaurant, and honkey tonk owners.
I was burning my wick at both ends–my other wick might as well have been a sour lemon popsicle; at least it was still attached to yours truly. End of the second week in July, I stopped by Easy Ryder for a tall, cold bottle of brew and a chat with Hal. He’d taken a few CSI courses beyond the required basics, and I wanted to run some ideas by him. I’d also sketched out the symbols Cerrie’d drawn on her napkin and the ones the killer had left on our vic’s chests.
My serial killer profile was as piss poor as the evidence. No perp blood or a trace of anyone else’s DNA, except for the Tuxedo Tails guest that lost his breakfast near Jon Mack’s body. Six grown men with smiles on their faces. Six full moons and not a drop of rain on or around any of them, so no muddy footprints, tire tracks, or signage in the dust. That meant we couldn’t estimate the killer’s height, weight, or zodiac sign. Not one damn witness saw the perp. My leads so far were a group of six women with figurative bees in their bonnets, and a woman that’s been spotted several times since January, during the week of our full moons, who was also a bee expert and an enigma. “That about right Hal?”
“Yepper, Petey. Hey, you wanna borrow my extra jock shield so’s you can gird your loins?
“I already am, you son of a … Heck, what was it your daddy did?”
“Best as I could tell, he was a Government flunky; worked at Benunix Labs and did soil and seed testing. He wasn’t home much; never was the let’s go toss a ball type. But he took care of us. He left me enough money to pay for college, and mom’s still living comfortably off his pension and stocks. She moved to Lake Havisu; likes it there. Heck, your dad talked to me more than mine ever did. Guess I’m the son of none now.”
I extended my arm across the bar and made a fist. “I guess we both are. Give me a knuckle bump, right there.” His knuckles left a sticky residue on mine and I asked him for a wet rag before continuing. “I’ve looked at photo’s Maisie took, and read the autopsy reports so many times I can recite it like I was back in old Mrs. Fiore’s class giving an oral report on Grimm’s grimmest tales. You would not believe the paperwork I had to fill out to get extra funding from the Feds for the forensic part of these investigations, serology, blood splatter…”
“Don’t it all come down to motive? Let’s see here, there’s revenge, jealousy, debt due and monetary or property gain, physical threat, blood lust, altruism.” Hal tugged on his ear and attended to customers wanting drafts and long necks.
“I’m going with insane psychopath, with a sexual obsession and lack of impulse control. Take a look at these symbols Hal. Remind you of anything? Say, you hear about my dead steer?”
“Yeah I did.” Hal barely glanced at the shapes and symbols that filled an entire page and handed it back to me with a shoulder shrug. “Damn Petey, if it weren’t for bad luck… Why don’t you go see Mama Ramos’ daughter Marisol. Get her to make you a kick ass good luck mojo bag? Here, let me buy you another beer.”
I had some luck identifying a few of the other symbols. The moon shapes, crescent and full, date back to Sumer and the moon god Sin. Though it’s generally a benevolent symbol of wholeness and perfection, it has its dark aspects as well. The moon’s been accused of causing madness, breeding werewolves, and inciting violence. Psychologically, it’s linked to dreams, intuition, and hidden emotions.
When I applied my cursory knowledge of symbols to my profile, I got zilch results. I reckoned it was someone local, either to Ryder County or to Arizona. He or she (I didn’t eliminate it being a woman because of what Travis had said to me) was well organized, good with surgical weapons or knives, and damn near invisible. It’s possible there was more than one perp because Doc Grayson said two of the mutilations were likely made by someone who was left handed. The killer was likely a devious loner, but could be someone every one of our vic’s knew since no one seemed to have put up a fight.
What was happening was happening right under our very noses. After Rob Three Feather gave me the latest inventory report, it was clear I was missing another steer. One of our newest ranch hands, AJ Strand, found part of the ribcage and skull half buried in a hollow just beyond the modest orchard pa planted when we first moved here. Half the bones had been carried off, presumably by critters. The remaining bones had gnaw marks. Flesh and hide was long gone. I asked my deputies to contact other ranchers—to warn them and inquire if they had also lost any stock.
My bee research beyond its agri aspects led me into a world of myth and fantasy. I hadn’t thought about these pesky wing flappers since freshman college year when I wrote a sexually explicit term paper on bee pollination. It was clear why Sex Ed was subtitled All About the Birds n Bees. I included a diagram showing stamens—aka the flower’s male reproductive organ—sticking to tiny hairs on the bee’s legs, and described how some of it rubs off onto the stigma, the tip of the pistil, aka the female reproductive organ of the flower, and wham—fertilization. I also got sidelined for a bit pondering on something called semasiography—symbols that carry special information, like musical notes, the transmission button on one of those old Corvair cars, or road signs.
People in my little town were up in arms, bearing arms, and setting off alarms. Two of my deputies had guns pointed at them (initially) when they stopped a few of our bawdy boys for speeding. The only folks not allowed to carry a gun in these parts are felons and minors. Now you want to talk about myths and guns, America’s got a few hundred. I’ve attended a dozen or more highly animated town hall meetings where Ryder citizens debated the pros and cons of owning, pointing, and shooting guns. Pa taught Travis and I how to take care of our gun when we were little scrapers. From then to now, I’d killed a dozen or so critters and three rattlers, and wounded two criminals in the line of duty.
That Indiana Jones scene gets mentioned when someone, usually a tourist, brings up gun control. You know the movie scene, where the skilled Egyptian swordsman, garbed in a black robe, with a scarlet scarf wrapped round his waist, waves his saber menacingly. Jones considers using his trusty bullwhip, but instead takes out his sidearm and shoots the man. Come to think of it, when Roher was sheriff, he ran a guy out of town trying to sell a few modified machine guns, hidden Desperado style, in guitar cases. Drugs hadn’t been too much a problem in our county. I suspect our long time locals had something to do with keeping gangs and cartels out of Ryder. Heck, we loved our tourists, but didn’t even encourage returning guests to settle here. We liked it just the way it was—that is until our bees and cattle started dying, and our bawdy boys became some craven killer’s bull’s eye target.
I like to think Pa would have been proud of what we did with the insurance money. La Fonda del Sol was a cattle ranch; we also did some farming. We grew melons, beans, potatoes (white & sweet) and oilseeds, and hay. We had half a dozen milk cows & twice that many hens, 8-10 horses, a few goats, two burros, and Pa planted a holiday pine lot below the ponderosa pines that lined the NW corner of our acres. At the opposite end of our 1,400+ acres, there was a modest grove of fruit trees, not to mention other useful plants and trees—pinon, mesquite, juniper, grama grass, galleta…. Two of our ranch hands tended to the crops and trees, and I let them keep and sell most of what they grew, except for what we used to feed our crew and a few of their families that lived in cabins or pre-fabs on the property. Same deal with the milk cows. We also traded surplus with the other ranches.
Water was always a concern. We got about 12-16 inches of rainfall, with half of it falling during the summer months. Travis liked to say I grew air and electricity. I installed solar panels on the roofs of various buildings on our property and set up a geothermal exchange system. We had two large, spring fed ponds (one you could almost call a lake), and access to city water as well. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, though I hankered to do some traveling abroad one of these days.
Three nights before July’s full buck moon, I paired every deputy on the force with a temporarily deputized, able bodied Ryder citizen or ranch hand from one of our five big ranches, including our premier dude ranch Tuxedo Tails, where business wasn’t exactly booming; our up and coming resort ranch, the Dude Drop; our largest farm ranch Jiminez Hacienda, and my modest ranch. Surprisingly, business was booming at Dude Drop, where its newest owner, Jack Gilbertson, was offering helicopter rides and overnight jeep tours to the canyon. He said he couldn’t spare but one or two wranglers right now, but I should check back next month. Tuxedo Tails was leaning into Ryder’s unfortunate circumstances, hosting Calypso themed week-end getaways, with free rum drinks in suggestively phallic shaped glasses, and a Captain Winkie award for whoever slunk the lowest under their big bamboo.
The only bit of good news, if you could call it that, was the town hall report issued on the robust return of Ryder’s honey bees to their orchards and field hives. The crops had been adequately pollinated. Worried citizens could calm down. In fact, some beekeepers had already harvested honey from box hives scattered around the county. And in a screwy sort of homage, our turn of the century, velvet draped movie theatre was running scary bee movies from the 70s-90s all month. I wondered if the Deborah’s had anything to do with the selection of films.
The shadowy, secretive Cerrie and I never crossed paths in July. Not for lack of effort on my part. However, several of the local shops were giving out free samples of a hand balm for hard working hands. It boasted all natural ingredients, including beeswax, propolis, glycerin, and soothing, locally grown herbs. Shopkeepers couldn’t restock their shelves fast enough. The manufacturer of the butter colored magical hand balm was listed as DerriWenc, a Scottish highlands based boutique producer. What was most interesting was the description they gave of the lady marketing the product. She was a dead ringer for Cerrie. My guess was Cerrie was either Scottish or Welsh. It had to be her.
A sample of the balm had been left on my desk, which I tried. It worked like magic; soaked right in, filled cracks, and bleached discolored areas. It even lightened freckle marks and made my hands feel soft as the underbelly of ma’s smiling Staffordshire bull dog Nellie. I bought the very last jar in the county from our boho artist, Leja Landry, aka the artist known as LeLa. The jar held about 4 ounces of balm. It didn’t have much of a scent, but if you stuck your nose over the rim, you could catch of whiff of ripe banana. DerriWenc—now why did that name sound familiar?
LeLa so happened to be the lady that discovered Travis’ body, in May, in the wild flower strewn meadow behind her studio/shop. She’d covered his barely clothed body with a clean drop cloth and plucked a bunch of spring flowers, which she laid criss-cross over the tarp. She closed up her shop, and high tailed it over to sheriff central. Doc Grayson arrived as one of our all hands meeting was breaking up.
That infamous day, the two of them ushered me into my new office and closed the door. It still had pictures of Burt Rohrer and his family hanging on the wall, and attaboy plaques Sheriff Rohrer had received over the years. LeLa broke the news to me in the gentlest possible way. Back in high school, she’d dated my brother Travis. Her newest series of paintings had been featured last month in the posh Sunday section of The Arizona Republic. She called the blown up series of canvases allegedly showcasing bee anatomy Let It Be Bees.
Buzz on back for Chapter 4 next month: Bee-sieged & Bee-holden