Chapter 8: Bee-cause of You

The only food still perfectly edible after 2000 years is honey in a jar

Because of you I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me, Kelly Clarkson song

“I’m like a bear stumbling into a cache of honey: …it’s delicious and horrible, awkward…and inevitable.” Leonard Cohen commenting on his writing process

As colossally eerie as it is to fathom the type of person who can commit atrocities over and over, it’s worse, times three red hot branding irons, to realize I couldn’t catch this serial murderer, nor could a gaggle of FBI agents, combined efforts of Ryder and Phoenix crime stoppers, and a boatload of well-intentioned busybodies and grieving kin.  Needless to say, even after the FBI pulled the bulk of its staff, I spent too much of my time fielding questions and providing empty status updates to the Phoenix folks all 140+ AZ law enforcement agencies answer to, as well as to our tribal counterparts.

Speaking of which, my Navaho buddy Osa Ten Horse, may have found our first solid piece of evidence. He saw or rather deciphered what others couldn’t, myself included. Osa reckons the Navaho (Dine) have inhabited these here parts neigh on 25,000 years. They lived in relative peace with 20 or so other native tribes, the Hopi, Zuni, Tohono O’Odham, and Apache. They fought each other from time to time, then united to fight Spanish intruders and relentless invasions by foreign settlers. Those missionaries were the worst.

It got real scary around the time the men in blue were fighting the men in grey. A scorched earth policy wiped out countless homesteads and Navaho people were forced to march 100s of miles from their homes. They returned around 1868 when a new treaty and reservation boundary lines was conjured up. The nefarious Dawes Act messed with the Navaho again under the guise of allotting land to assimilate America’s first people. This didn’t stop the government, in later years, from raping Navaho land of its natural resources either—coal, uranium, copper, silver, oil, and natural gas.

In the mid 1900s, Arizona won a long, drawn out battle with California for water rights. The Supreme Court affirmed AZ’s right to siphon some 2.8 million acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado, and the entire flow from the Gila. Statehood came late to AZ, not until 1912, and only after it developed a reputation as the place of 5 C’s: copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, and climate. I couldn’t think about our limited water supply and our five finite assets without thinking about another ‘c’ word: consequences.

Halloween seemed to spill over into November. Tabloids and semi reputable rags alike sported various versions of headlines that implied or blatantly stated these vicious murders were carried out by a witch or witch coven, which was unfortunate. That term’s been whipped out whenever someone wanted to justify their actions in thwarting women who thumbed their noses at conventional society or loudly protested the machinations of the ruling patriarchy. What seems to have prompted these latest headlines was the rediscovery of some curious petroglyphs on several cliffs along the Gila River.

If memory serves, Gila (hahquahssael) is a Yuma word meaning salty water running. Archaeologists weighed in long ago and declared the ‘hen scratching’ had been left by primitive natives and was perhaps 500 years old. Other investigators said the carvings were left by a group of Moors or Mongols that lived here a few thousand years ago. Ain’t that always pretty much the way it goes, one group battling another to establish legitimacy, or prove existing claims about migrations, invasions, and upheavals caused by climate change or meteors were false or shortsighted?

What caused this particular uproar was a series of petroglyphs chiseled into the rock with prominent tally marks that totaled 12, an arrow pointing southward (in the direction of Ryder County), some stick figures lying horizontally (members intact), a full moon, and what everyone was saying must be the figure of a witch queen wielding a sickle. Nearby were crude petroglyphs of stick fingers dancing round a fire while coyotes and snakes looked on and a long mural in faded ochre with images of native shamans. The only thing missing was a swarm of bees.

Because of what Osa Ten Horse discovered, we were able to translate not only the message carved into Lamar’s flesh, but into the chest of victim #1, my best friend Jon Mack. Osa said the symbols on Lamar’s chest foretold a recurring event. The spider next to the bee meant Lamar’s fate had been decided when bees started dying. Great spirit heard the call for help and asked for a sacrifice. This was represented by a runelike symbol that resembled an open ended triangularly shaped figure 8 with a 3 pronged line running vertically from bottom to top of the image. What appeared to be deer tracks indicated the return of abundance to the land after the sacrifice was completed.

The symbols carved on Jon Mack’s chest told a different story. There was a full moon and a lightning bolt, which indicated a taboo, something that would bring sickness or bad luck. The symbol for the planet Venus (or a woman) in the right quadrant, located above the moon, meant it was a major influence. The broken lines of the water symbol, bottom left quadrant, indicated imbalance in the land, and the three joined triangles was a symbol for fate. The only image Osa wasn’t sure about was something that resembled the Greek Omega symbol, except it was inverted. What was also peculiar was Osa’s recognition of these symbols as native to his and other SW tribes. These same symbols were carved into rocks and petrified posts in far away places, the UK, Denmark, Portugal, the Balkans…Their translation was similar or identical in nearly all the places these symbols were found.

As I had been put on desk duty, with a bird eye’s view, so to speak, of everyone running round like headless chickens, I hit the books again. The omega symbol, resembling a gateway or tunnel entrance, is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. It also represents the number 800. In the Periodic Chart, something like an Omega symbol stands for element #18, Oxygen. In wolf packs, omega refers to its lowest ranked members. Inverted, as it was on Jon Mack’s chest, it could be a horseshoe holding in one’s luck, though that certainly wasn’t the case here. Or it could represent the 20th letter of the Greek alphabet, Upsilon, which had a value of 400, and was a derivative of an earlier Phoenician symbol for the letter Y.

I was getting nowhere fast. What the symbol really reminded me of was a cauldron, the old fashioned kind where soap, dirty clothes, or food was stirred over an open fire, the kind folks once danced around. Maybe there was something to the rumors about the petroglyph carved into cliffs above the Gila. Maybe it was a witch or witches, like the three old cackling crones in MacBeth, or the hooded figure a stoned Booker Foxgrove claimed he saw the night AJ was murdered. One of the persons most commonly associated with a cauldron was triple goddess Cerridwen. Our ever disappearing Cerrie shared her name. As I fanned through a book, a loose page escaped and floated to the floor. It was the page on which I’d scratched notes about Cerrie’s surname Latrommi.

It’d proved to be a false name; there was no Cerridwen Latrommi listed in Passport records entering the US, Canada, or Mexico in the past year. My attention was drawn to a note I’d circled “Cerridwen is also known as immortal guardian of the cauldron.” With a black sharpie, below that I drew the image and wrote Omega inverted is a cauldron—of inspiration, immortality. I kept staring at the words. Then it hit me like a two ton pickup: Latrommi in reverse was Immortal. The elusive Cerrie was an immortal? Huh?  

To the Celts, the cauldron’s a symbol of the underworld, the womb, rebirth, and replenishment. I scanned the story of Colchis born sorceress-witch Medea, linked to fallen Greek hero Jason, a descendent of Hermes. She used a cauldron to restore the old to their youthful form, though in the case of Pelias, king of Iolcos, Medea purposefully left out a few key ingredients. The body Medea urged Pelias’ daughters to chop into pieces and boil in the cauldron stayed dead. More than anything else, the cauldron was a symbol of transformation.

My research was interrupted by a summons to Phoenix. The ride there was one of my more uncomfortable journeys. The Phoenix Municipal Court building is a might strange looking. It’s a tall reddish rectangle with a smaller rectangle, bowed inward, carved out of its center, which features a rotunda like piece of architecture, if you can call it that, which juts out, with a kind of hat brim around it. I haven’t a clue who the architect was. They kept me waiting in a hallway round the corner from the courtroom. I stared at polished floors and oversized doors for nearly an hour before I was ushered through another door.

Nobody was more surprised than me to see half of Ryder County had turned out for the hearing. Long and short of it was the law powers that be in Phoenix cleared me. Rather, two of my junior ranch hands did. They stated under oath they saw Lamar drop me off at La Fonda a few hours before his body was found. It was lucky for me my ranch hands decided the way I staggered out of Lamar’s truck towards the house was pretty darn hilarious. One of them filmed me with their smart phone, weaving to my door like someone who’d been blindfolded and spun around too many times. They shared the 5 second clip with others in the bunk house that night. They swore under oath that about a half hour later, they checked the stock in the corral and the horses in the barn. None were missing. The law concluded that without my jeep, there was no way I could have gone nearly 10 miles on foot to kill Lamar, then made it back to La Fonda by sunrise. I didn’t disagree or mention there were three other trucks parked on the property that night, two with keys in the ignition.

Now I was more motivated than ever to find the killer, before any more bawdy boys lost their life. It was time to set a trap, even if that meant I’d be the bait. By early November, when the full moon was waxing, we were as prepared as we could be when you don’t know exactly what or whom you’re up against. Rather, you think you know who you’re up against, but don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of finding this killer until she finds you—or her next victim.

Yes, she. I was convinced our killer was the elusive, evasive Cerrie, aka the immortal Ceridwen. I speculated she might have had some help from one or more of the Deborah’s or whomever it was keeping her hid. I was as pissed as a buzzard tied a few feet from a wagon load of dead bodies that she couldn’t be found. On top of that, business in Ryder County was down and the mood was dire. I even thought about selling the ranch and getting the hell out of dodge, but I owed it to the folks of Ryder, and to Travis, Jon Mack, and the rest of the bawdy boys to capture and destroy this mutilating monster.

When I could, I added to my notes on cauldrons and the enigmatic Cerridwen of legend. Because of her lasting influence, 20th century feminists had written that while nearly everything’s been taken from women at one time or another, men never tried to take away a women’s indispensable cauldron. For many millennium, it remained their secret that this innocuous object could perform magic and alchemy. That is, it was their secret until man discovered its true value. There’s a Nordic tale about how Odin tricks this giantess hag that guarded this old bloody womb cauldron of life. He commanded a flock of raven to fly overhead. While the giantess gazed skyward, Odin stole a wee dram of its contents and acquired mastery of many things. It’s reminiscent of the Welsh tale of Cerridwen and Gwion, the lad entrusted to stir her cauldron.

Over the centuries, and under man’s dominion, stories about cauldrons took on new forms. It became the grail, a source of regeneration; a horn of plenty; and a passageway to the underworld. The giantess, in her fury over what men had taken, slaughtered countless of them. For a time, to appease her, they sacrificed their ruling kings to her. These kings were elevated to hero level. Deference was demanded. Male children were taken from their mother’s and their homes and raised by men. Women were told their role as a giver of life was not nearly as important as man’s role of seed dispenser. Men only societies formed that encouraged and demanded other kinds of sacrifices, the branding and tattooing of flesh, mutilations, and deprivations… Damn, it’s a wonder anyone ever survived the wars between women and men.

I had a straw bale bundle of useless info to sift through as well, like angels have no genitalia, and a totally unnecessary list of penis puns (what do you get when you mix a penis with a potato and a big boat—a dick-tator-ship). The White Goddess that Robert Graves and others wrote about was a fierce, highly feared corpse eating deity, who shapeshifted into sow, serpent, mare, and owl forms. One White Goddess cult provided a recipe for immortality—brew the menstrual blood of a virgin with the semen of a corrupted man, add a few dozen herbs, and subsist on nothing else but mushrooms, honey, human flesh, and pig’s blood. The blood had to be collected at full moon. The ceremony must be repeated once every 100 years. Did Cerrie belong to a similar cult that required the sacrifice of men’s genitalia? Ridiculous, and yet…

A few area fires had occasioned the need to staff about 10 lady lookout posts with local volunteers during a long, dry spell in September and October. Kerouac wrote about these lonely posts after spending nearly two months at one. Fire alert season typically runs til end of October, but because of lack of rain and a few lightning strikes, our team of lady fire watchers were still there in November. Earlier in the 20th century there were 5,000+ stations across the US. Many were manned (or womaned) by folks that liked their quiet time. During WWI and II, most of the stations used female volunteers. Today, thanks to satellite technology, strategically placed live feed cameras, and drones, there are less than 500 stations in use across the US. There’s also a few thousand abandoned towers in various stages of disrepair. Ryder (and nearby counties) hilly areas had three active towers and half a dozen derelict towers, plus one that had been turned into a pricy ‘treetop’ vacation rental. We Arizonians realized the most effective way to prevent fires was to employ both high tech and human observers. Planes can’t fly during lightning storms, so trained observers using binocs and fire finding tools are the best fire deterrent. 

Our lady lookouts were savvy loners that cherished their solitude and were mighty fond of our wild woods. One of the Deborah’s even volunteered. She spent a lot of time staring at the wilderness through her binocs while munching on honey coated trail mix. It was a Deborah, in fact, that found a 9” battered silver beaker in one of the derelict towers while making a reconnoiter bout a week before our November full moon. It turns out the symbols and script were in Iranian Linear Elamite, a language 4,000 years old, give or take. But I’m sprinting ahead of this here story. Those very same symbols also appeared on some of our bawdy boys chests.

It fell to me to investigate. Someone had been camping out in the lookout tower, and it wasn’t Goldilocks. There wasn’t much up there besides a bright, boho covered bedroll; a biscuit tin containing matches, taper candles, a long length of twine, a few sage and lavender smudge sticks, and a squat earthenware cup; and a few mason jars. One was filled with honeycomb, another with dried, shriveled woodsy items.  

I was paying close attention to the wobbly soundness of the old ladder, which had nails protruding and cracks in the wood. I didn’t see her until I was all the way down, with a tack hammer in my hand, and fresh nails in my mouth. She emerged from besides a Ponderosa Pine, almost as if she’d been inside it a second earlier. Cerrie was draped in a green skirt and long sleeve top embroidered with gold dodads that sparkled in the fading sunlight. A black shawl was draped over her shoulders. Her hair hung long and loose; it framed her face. The nails dropped from my mouth.

“Hello Peter Dan, I had to stay away; you see, don’t you? Because of you, I’m not completely myself. Because of you, I struggle to complete my mission here. Which I must because I must.”

“Yeah, well because of you, 11 of Ryder’s bawdy boys are dead. Though I suppose, because of, or in spite of you, our bees are back, healthy and producing AZ’s best ever honey. How is it you can always find me, but I can never find you, Cerridwen the Immortal whatever you are?”

“Would you believe me if I said it’s a simple thing to locate a man? The male penis leaves a faint, unique trace detectable by discerning noses, not to mention a snail trail when it contracts after ejaculation. Few realize the penis is an object that disappears entirely into a woman.”

“Seriously? You know I have to take you in?”

“Most of your kind don’t take women seriously, Peter Dan. You might be the exception; I haven’t quite decided. Most men want to exploit and dominate. They make little distinction between using women and bees as objects. Did you know there are men experimenting with training bees like they use dogs, to locate toxins and explosives? Your kind will never learn, never stop abusing us until they…” She inched forward.

“Until you stop them, is that what you were going to say?”

As the sun sunk into the tree line, we seemed to cross a line as well, meeting in the middle. She tilted her face towards mine and kissed me. Despite my head telling my pecker to cease and desist, I wanted to wrap myself within the folds of her clothes. No, I wanted to rip off her clothes, and might have if it wasn’t for the hammer I still held in my hand. When it brushed her hip, she backed away, shaking or shivering.

Cerrie flung a corner of her shawl over her shoulder and smoothed her hair. She didn’t miss a beat. “No, perhaps once, I would have said that. Because of you, I would like to say men will never stop until they see us as equals, as beings worthy of mutual respect. You are a rare man, Peter Dan, who seeks balance and understanding. That’s why I’ve come to warn you. Now I must leave.”

“If you’re going to warn me about another death, don’t. Just tell me why, what is it I’m not seeing?” My other hand groped for my handcuffs.

“Bees also have excellent eyesight. They can discern one face from another, good faces from bad. They’re the literal social butterflies of the insect world. You might even say their hive mind follows a democratic decision making model when, for example, they search for a new hive. Don’t blame the bees when they swarm again, and they will. Blame one of your own. Find the bull roarer bloke and you’ll discover who set the hive on a rampage Peter Dan.”

“Bull roarer, the thing we used to summon cattle once upon a time?”

“It’s been called many things and is easy to fashion. The difficulty is in getting it to vibrate at the right level. I think you call it hertz. It requires a long piece of slightly elliptically shaped bone or hard wood about this big. Twist and wrap a strong cord, or a length of sinew round it. Hold it like this and swing it round in a circle. It will elicit a noise a bit like one of your early rotary planes. Soon you too will begin to vibrate at a higher frequency. Master the bull roarer and you can lead a swarm anywhere. Goodbye Peter Dan.”

Half the lustful thoughts I was thinking materialized in front of me. My feet felt rooted in place as I watched her shed her garments as she retreated, until she was naked, or rather nude. Next thing I saw was a silvery horned owl with an enormous wing span glid from behind a tree and soar into the twilight sky. I should have been madder than a one legged man at a butt kicking contest. Instead, all I could think of was a few lines from a Robert Graves poem, ‘lovers without reproach gaze on bodies naked and ablaze…naked shines the goddess, while the nude are sly and bold…’

Chapter 9: Don’t Stop Bee-lieving