Chapter 1: The Reunion
Santa Fe, New Mexico, Monday afternoon, 6 August 1990
Charles Slater stopped running when he reached the Sandia Hotel. He wiped sweat from his brow and scanned the street behind him for any sign of the two men who’d been following him. When he saw only tourists strolling and window shopping through downtown Santa Fe, he stepped into the hotel lobby. A huge banner above the reception area bade welcome to New Mexico’s archaeologists. Late for the presentation he wanted to attend, he hurried to the meeting rooms. A sign on the door to the Santa Clara Room announced a lecture about the Pueblo Indian Revolts. Slater entered.
Even though the burnt-orange carpet muffled his steps to the nearest aisle chair, a few people in the back row turned. He sized up the room—seven rows of less than ten chairs each, no middle aisle, two rear exits. Not good, unless there was another way out. He relaxed a little when he spotted an exit sign above a small side door in front.
The lecturer, his gray hair and thick lenses barely protruding above the lectern, read from prepared notes in a stultifying monotone to an audience clearly fighting boredom. Slater was anything but bored. He kept glancing at the rear exits. Just when he thought he’d lost his pursuers, a stocky man entered through the left rear door and lingered there. Slater checked the other side. His stomach knotted at the sight of a bald-headed man in jeans guarding the right rear door.
He’d seen the two of them earlier at the Santa Fe Plaza among the throng of tourists perusing the wares of the Indian jewelry vendors. They’d crossed his path several times, and when they reappeared on a side street off the Plaza, he realized they were following him. Their presence at both rear exits dispelled any notion of happenstance. Who were these guys and what did they know?
Slater resisted the impulse to make a dash for the front exit forty feet away. To curtail rising panic, he took a deep breath, then another. He wiped perspiration off his forehead and rose. He approached the podium. Engrossed in reading from his notes, the professor kept up his monotone until the audience’s murmur caught his attention. When he looked up, Slater raised his hand.
The professor waved him off. “I’ll take questions at the end, please.”
Ten feet to the unguarded exit. Slater ran to the door, pressed on the steel bar and pushed. In his peripheral vision he caught a commotion at the rear of the room. He charged through the doorway and crashed into the far wall in the hallway. The door slammed shut with a clang that reverberated throughout the hall. Flakes of plaster rained down on him. He stumbled to his feet and bumped into a table and chairs propped along the wall. Straining, he pushed the heavy table in front of the door, grabbed a chair and wedged it between the table and the opposite wall. Just then the door sprang open a crack, smashing into the barricade.
Slater heard two angry male voices. He had a minute at most before his pursuers came around through the rear exits. He fled down the hall, which spilled into the lobby bar. Its wide-open space offered no hiding place. He sprinted across the lobby, past a row of telephones and the hotel restaurant, toward a door at the far end of another hallway. That had to be an exit. He depressed the handle. Nothing happened. He threw his shoulder against the steel door. It didn’t budge.
He couldn’t risk returning to the lobby. The restaurant was his only hope. A few quick steps carried him to a glass door, inscribed Chez Paul in sweeping white letters. He opened the door and stepped inside. Patrons enjoying a late lunch occupied most of the tables. At other times Slater would have found the cozy atmosphere appealing and the hushed conversations soothing, but not today.
A hostess approached. “Do you have a reservation, sir?”
“Uh . . . no. I’m meeting a friend. Do you mind if I look?”
“Go right ahead.”
Pretending to search for someone, he moved around the tables. On his way to the street exit, he passed a door to a side room. It might lead to a safe hiding place while his pursuers ran through the restaurant and checked in the street. Following his impulse, he opened the opaque glass door.
An attractive young woman, long dark hair falling over a red blouse, put down her fork. When her companion turned around, Slater stared at him in disbelief. Though his hair was now more brown than blond and he’d grown a mustache since law school, Slater instantly recognized Rolf Keller, the man who had cost him his diploma. Stunned, he stepped inside and shut the door behind him.
♫ ♫ ♫
Rolf eyed the intruder—lean, dressed in baggy cargo pants and a navy sports shirt. A sun-tanned face had replaced the pallid complexion from law school. Could it really be Charles Slater, his former classmate who’d been expelled weeks before graduation?
Slater’s breathless voice interrupted Rolf’s musings. “I’ll be damned if it isn’t Rolf Keller, my old chum from law school.”
Still the same smart-ass, Rolf thought while fighting to regain his composure. “What are you doing here?”
Sylvia shot him a quizzical look. Was she annoyed at the interruption or at his failure to introduce the intruder?
Slater took a chair facing the door and turned toward Sylvia. “I’m Charles Slater.”
“What brings you to Santa Fe?” Slater asked.
“Sylvia performs at the opera,” Rolf said. “What about you? Did you know I was here?”
“No. Sheer coincidence . . . but I’m glad I stumbled in here. I’m in a bit of a tight spot, and you might be just the person I need.”
Sylvia stared at both of them. “You want to tell me what’s going on? What’s between you two?”
“The law journal board accused me of plagiarizing my article and Rolf was the editor-in-chief. They got me kicked out of Brandenburg Law School.”
“That’s not what happened, and you know it.”
Slater put up a hand. “You can tell her your version later. You know I got the shaft. Only two weeks to graduation and they canned me for something I didn’t do.” He pointed to their plates. “You two go ahead.”
Sylvia eyed her salmon filet but made no move to pick up her silverware. Rolf ignored his rare filet mignon. His appetite gone, he put down his knife and fork. So much for the intimate tryst he’d planned for this reunion with Sylvia.
Thinking that he might as well make the best of an awkward situation, he asked, “So what field did you go into?”
“I’m an . . .” Slater stared past him.
Rolf turned. A waitress stood in the doorway, looking at Slater. “Would you like to see a menu, sir?”
“No, thank you.”
The waitress shrugged and drew the door shut behind her.
Slater took a deep breath. “I’m a professor of archaeology in the anthropology department at the university in Albuquerque. But I live up here between semesters.” He looked at Rolf. “I really do need to talk to you.” He hesitated, glancing at Sylvia.
When Rolf didn’t react, Slater continued, “I’ve never put much stock in the Pueblo Indian tales of lost treasure from Spanish colonial days, but something happened last weekend that completely changed my mind.”
Rolf set down his glass hard.
Slater glanced at him, then at Sylvia, then around the room. Rolf caught Sylvia’s questioning gaze. Recalling Slater’s shifty demeanor during law school, Rolf felt rising skepticism.
Slater leaned forward. “I’ve made a find . . . well, let me just say the kind of find I wouldn’t have thought possible.”
“I’m a lawyer, Sylvia is a singer, and you’re the expert. Why are you telling us?”
“Because I’m in trouble. I came in here to shake two rough-looking guys who’ve been following me.”
“Who’s after you and why?”
Slater did not seem to have heard his question. He stared over Rolf’s shoulder at the door, then his eyes darted frantically about the room. Rolf turned and through the opaque glass glimpsed the blurry outline of three figures approaching from the restaurant.
He turned back and saw Slater freeze in his chair. “Quick. Under the table.”
Slater ducked beneath the white tablecloth that hung halfway to the floor. Rolf motioned Sylvia to move closer. The door opened. The hostess stood at the threshold with two men.
Feigning embarrassment, Rolf withdrew his hand from Sylvia’s shoulder. “Do you think you could knock before you come barging in?”
“I’m sorry, sir. These gentlemen are looking for someone. They say it’s urgent.”
The two men—one stout with blond hair, the other muscular and bald—did not strike Rolf as gentlemen.
The blond one spoke. “A man in his mid-thirties, skinny, wearing khakis, navy shirt. Have you seen him?”
Rolf shook his head. “No, we haven’t. As you can see, we’re not in need of company.”
The hostess looked confused, but if the waitress had told her about their visitor, she did not let on. “Sorry to have bothered you.”
She moved to close the door but the bald one blocked it, and scrutinized the room. Rolf could hear Slater’s breathing. Just when he thought the others had heard it as well, they stepped back from the door, and the three of them left.
A red-faced Slater emerged from under the table. He steadied himself by grabbing a table leg and in the process snagged the tablecloth. The glasses danced and spilled water onto the table. Slater returned to his chair, but kept an eye on the door.
He exhaled. “That was close. Thanks.”
Sylvia blotted a water spot in the tablecloth with her napkin. Rolf ignored the wet spot spreading in front of him. “They looked like bad guys to me. Why don’t you go to the police?”
“Maybe I should.” He paused a moment, then added, “Rolf, how long do you plan on being in New Mexico? I’m serious about needing some help.”
“If you’re looking for legal advice on archaeology, you’ve got the wrong person. That’s an area I know nothing about.”
“That’s not it. Someone must have gotten wind that I’m on to something big and sent the tough guys after me. Look Rolf, normally you’d be the last person I’d turn to, but there must be a reason I ran into you here. I’m desperate and I’m asking: help me out here. At least think about it. I’d forgive and forget what happened back in law school—wipe the slate completely clean.”
“There’s nothing to forgive,” Rolf snapped, but he couldn’t help noticing how quickly the man had regained his composure after his narrow escape, and despite himself, he felt respect growing for this new Slater. Besides, given Sylvia’s busy rehearsal schedule, he’d have time on his hands for something as intriguing as this sounded.
Rolf felt his trial lawyer’s curiosity kick in as he heard himself say, “But I’m willing to listen.”
“Not here.” Slater glanced at his watch. “It’s two o’clock now. Can you meet me at my bank at four? I must show you something.” He produced a pen and wrote on a paper napkin, which he handed to Rolf. “Here’s the address.”
“I’ll think about it,” Rolf said.
Slater walked to the door, opened it a crack, and peered out. Then he turned around. “See you at four.” He glanced at Sylvia. “Both of you.”
He pulled the door closed behind him with an eerie swish. Fitting for a ghost from the past, Rolf thought.
Chapter 2: Amends
Santa Fe, Monday afternoon, 6 August 1990
After closing the door on Sylvia and Rolf, Slater scrutinized the restaurant. From his observation spot behind a potted ficus, he noticed several empty tables. Lunch hour was nearing its end. Nothing seemed off kilter. He stepped around the tree and headed for the street exit but slowed when he saw the hostess approaching.
She stared at him. “Two men were looking for you earlier. I thought you had left, sir.”
“Thank you for your . . . discretion.”
“You didn’t happen to notice which way they went?”
She hesitated, clearly weighing what to tell him. Finally, she said, “One went back to the lobby. The other ran out to the street.”
With both exits covered, how could he leave here undetected? He reached for his wallet and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill.
An almost imperceptible smile played in her eyes as she took the money. “This way.”
He followed her through large swinging doors into the kitchen. They dodged cooks bustling about, walked through steam rising from black pots as the aroma of garlic and onion assailed his nostrils. No one paid the two of them any attention. She pushed open a door, and he stepped past her into a blind alley cramped with two huge Dumpsters. Careful not to slip on the food scraps littering the asphalt, he turned to thank her but found himself facing a closed door.
Apprehensive about being trapped in the dead end, he hurried toward the only exit. He stopped just short of the sidewalk and peered up and down the street. Sure enough, across the way the bald guy was trying to fade into the shadows of an alcove facing the restaurant.
Slater waited for a group of pedestrians approaching. Careful not to startle them, he nodded at the couple in front and stepped out. He used them as a shield, keeping a few steps ahead. When he rounded the next corner, Slater ducked into a shop entrance and watched the street. A wait of a few minutes allayed his concern about being followed.
He struck up a brisk pace to reach the bank in time to make the necessary arrangements before Rolf and Sylvia arrived. The more he thought about his pursuers and whom they might be working for, the more he became convinced that he needed to do some planning.
Crossing paths with Rolf today after all these years could be an omen. Over the last nine years, Slater grudgingly had to admit that he shouldn’t have so casually used sources in his law journal article without attribution. Still, he didn’t think it was a level of plagiarism that justified his dismissal just weeks before graduation. And he never doubted that Rolf, as editor-in-chief, could have kept the matter from reaching the dean’s desk.
Slater was still ruminating when he stepped into the bank lobby and put his name on a list to see Herbert Stanford. He sank into a soft armchair, wondering whether Rolf and Sylvia would show. Slater sensed that Rolf was remorseful about his role in the plagiarism matter, but would that be enough to get him to help?
Before he could finish the thought, Herbert Stanford came down the hallway, and Slater’s focus shifted to the arrangements he needed to make.
♫ ♫ ♫
Sylvia watched Rolf shake his head in apparent disbelief at the bizarre interruption of their lunch. She decided teasing might pull him out of his glum mood. “Who would have guessed? A straight-laced lawyer with an interesting past. Did you really get your fellow law student expelled?”
It worked. Rolf’s face relaxed a little. “No. The dean did.”
“But Slater blamed you?”
“Yes. I was the editor-in-chief, and he felt I could have stopped the referral of his case to the dean. And perhaps I could have.”
“But the dean found him guilty and expelled him?”
Rolf nodded. “A foregone conclusion. The dean couldn’t abide him.”
“And still you feel bad?” Sylvia touched his arm.
“I guess I do. Slater submitted an article that had passages from various sources which he failed to cite. I thought it was more carelessness than intentional plagiarism, but still I voted with the other editors to send the matter to the dean. Even though I didn’t like him, in retrospect I wish I hadn’t gone along with the others. In any case, he swore revenge against me.”
“Do you think he meant it?”
“Maybe he did back then, but I thought he’d forgotten about it over the years. I’ve sure tried to.” He squeezed her hand. “But let’s talk about something more pleasant. You started to tell me about your rehearsal when Slater burst in.”
She returned his squeeze. “You won’t believe this. There’s a chance I’ll be singing Tosca,” she gushed.
Rolf’s mouth fell open. “The title role?”
“Yes, Floria Tosca.”
“But I don’t understand. They engaged you for Micaëla in Carmen.”
“They are looking to replace a soprano from New York who canceled. It’s all hush-hush, but I hear she’s developed voice problems.”
“Have you performed Tosca before?”
“No, but I know it well. I studied the role at the Stuttgart opera school, and I was an understudy at several German opera houses, but never got the chance to step in.” She sought his eyes. “Rolf, do you know what this could mean for my career? If they give me the part and I pull it off, that is.”
“Stardom.” He smiled. “What about Micaëla? You’re not singing in both operas?”
She shook her head. “No, of course not. If they give me Tosca, they’ll probably have a recent graduate from their apprentice program sing Micaëla.”
He slipped his arms around her shoulders and gently pulled her closer. “Congratulations, my diva,” he whispered and nuzzled her ear with a kiss.
For a moment, Sylvia relaxed into him, then pulled away. “Don’t jinx me. It’s too early for congratulations.”
“When will you know?”
“Probably after tomorrow morning’s rehearsal with the assistant conductor. He wants to meet for dinner this evening. I told him about your passion for opera, and he said for you to come along.”
“I won’t be in the way?”
“No, I think he just wants to get acquainted. The real test comes during tomorrow’s rehearsal.” She hesitated as she searched for the right words. “Rolf, you realize what this does to the romantic time in Santa Fe we had planned. If I get the part, I’ll have to spend every available moment in rehearsals, and they’ll be intense. Tosca is so much more demanding than Micaëla.”
“But surely you can still make time for us, can’t you?”
The naked disappointment in his face startled her. “Rolf, there hasn’t been a day during these last few months when I didn’t think about seeing you again.” She kissed him on the cheek. “No matter what, I’ll find some way to make the time.”
“Good.” He held her tight for a moment. “I know you have to give it your all. This is what you’ve been working for.”
“I hoped you’d understand.”
A faint smile played at the corners of his mouth. “Besides, my old law school buddy and his problems might keep me busy. I’m dying to learn about his find. It sounds huge.”
“You can’t be serious. I don’t trust him, and I thought you didn’t either.”
Rolf shook his head. “I don’t believe in coincidence. With all the lunch places in Santa Fe, Slater had to stumble in here. What are the chances?”
She studied him. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying there’s got be a reason we’ve met up after all these years. AA teaches me that when I’m ready to do the ninth step, my higher power will provide the opportunity.”
“Are you talking about making amends?”
Rolf nodded. “I had the chance to make amends to you when we were thrown together in East Germany. My boss sending me over there last year was no fluke. Nor is my running into Slater here.”
“Could be, but I have a bad feeling about this. I don’t think you should go to the bank.”
“Sylvia, listen to me. To work my AA program, I have to make things right. If I don’t, they tell me I might drink again.”
Rolf’s fervor convinced her. “I guess I can’t argue with that, but if you go, I’m going with you.”
She held his gaze. “Yes, I am.”
He looked at his watch. “Well then, we’d better get back to the room.”
She was about to point out they had a couple of hours when Rolf reached for her hand and said, “After all, Slater is not the reason we’re in Santa Fe.”
Sylvia teased, “You mean my singing at the opera?”
Before Rolf could continue the banter, the waitress walked in with the check. While he paid, Sylvia’s thoughts returned to their appointment with Slater, and she considered changing her mind about coming along. Yet the man’s explicit request for her presence intrigued her. She pushed those thoughts aside as she interlaced her fingers with Rolf’s on the way to their room.
♫ ♫ ♫
Sylvia found High Desert National Bank’s façade of glass and steel a stark contrast to the ambience of the Plaza and its traditional surroundings. Too modern and not in keeping with Santa Fe’s character, she thought. Rolf stepped under the sensor, and the automatic glass door glided open.
Slater greeted them as soon as they entered the bank. “This way.”
They followed him to an office across the lobby. A sign on the open door read “Herbert Stanford, Vice President.” Slater gave a half-hearted knock and walked in. A middle-aged man in a navy suit rose from his chair, walked around the sizable wooden desk and extended his hand.
Introductions and handshakes out of the way, Stanford addressed Sylvia, “I understand you’re an opera singer. Are you in town to perform at the Santa Fe Opera?”
After a slight hesitation, she said, “I’ll know tomorrow.”
“Really? I thought they engaged singers months or years ahead. Doesn’t leave much time for rehearsal, does it?”
Sylvia didn’t quite know how to respond. She didn’t want to jinx herself by talking about Tosca since it was by no means certain she’d get the part.
Slater’s voice filled the gap in conversation. “If you’re ready, Herbert, let’s get my safe deposit box.” His tone carried a note of impatience.
“Of course.” Stanford led them out of his office through the lobby to a tall steel door. He stepped to a small metal desk, which held an open logbook. He grabbed a pen, made an entry, and had Slater sign. The formalities completed, Stanford opened the steel door, shielding the combination lock from view. They followed him past a huge locked vault to a long room of safe deposit boxes. He selected a key from his ring and inserted it into one of the larger boxes, bearing the number 72.
After Slater opened the box with his key, Stanford withdrew the master key. “If you need me, I’ll be in my office.” He turned and left.
Slater pointed to the chairs surrounding a metal table in the center of the room. “Have a seat.”
Rolf pulled out a chair for Sylvia and took one for himself. She shifted her body, seeking to find comfort on the hard metal seat. “They don’t encourage their customers to linger, do they?”
If Slater had heard, he gave no indication as he was preoccupied with pulling the gray metal box from its bay. He stopped when it was halfway out and reached inside. As best as Sylvia could tell from her vantage point, the box was crammed full. He pulled out a metal shelf, deposited several items on it and kept rummaging. She thought she saw him shuffle a piece of paper, but she couldn’t be sure. Whatever it was, he put it back. He carried several small bags and leather pouches to the table.
Rolf stood. “Can I help you with some of these?”
Slater motioned for him to sit. “No. I just want to show you a few things, so you know I’m not blowing smoke about my find.” He returned to the shelf and took off the strings from the velour wrappings that covered articles of various sizes. Two of the strings had tags, which Slater laid upside down, but not before Sylvia caught a fleeting image of something written in bold black marker on one of them. She could only make out the letters HP.
After he’d transferred everything from the shelf to the table, Slater unwrapped several articles and carefully placed them side by side. Before Sylvia could finish her quick perusal of the objects—she recognized potsherds, spearpoints, and feathers—Slater pointed to the pieces spread across the table. “This might look like a bunch of bones and feathers and broken pottery to you, but trust me, it’s much more.”
He held up a small bone. “This is an eagle bone whistle used for centuries by Native shamans in their most sacred ceremonies.” He laid the bone down. “And these scraps of material? Look closely and you’ll see that they were once very fine, supple buckskin. They are embroidered with quills and traditional bone beads rarely used after the Europeans introduced glass beads.”
Slater turned the material back and forth for them to see. “Not only that, but the quality and design indicate these are remnants of very special regalia, probably a robe used in the most important rituals kept secret from Spanish eyes. Fine buckskin rots easily, even in the desert air. I’ve never seen anything like these before.”
His voice had risen as his enthusiasm grew. Then, he seemed to regain control. “Well, that’s enough. You get the idea.”
Rolf perused the articles on the table. “How old are these?”
“I think they go back at least to the early Spanish colonial period.”
Slater started to gather up the items when Rolf touched a deer-hide pouch. “What’s in here?”
“That’s a medicine bundle.” Slater opened it, reached inside and produced several articles. “These are the things Natives carried as good medicine in hunts and war parties. You’re looking at fetishes, a ceremonial knife, and some semiprecious stones.”
“Fetishes?” Rolf asked.
“Stone or wood carvings of different animals.” Slater picked up a small stone carving. “A bear.” He pointed to the other one on the table. “That one is a cougar.”
While Rolf asked Slater about the knife, a small semiprecious stone that looked like a crystal caught Sylvia’s attention. Milky, almost grayish, it was translucent and adorned with curved, colored bands.
“Striking, huh?” Slater said.
Sylvia nodded. “What is it?”
“An agate.” Slater must have seen her puzzlement. “Microcrystalline quartz, also known as chalcedony,” he said. “We find them in many medicine bundles along with the turquoise and obsidian you see over there.” He made a sweeping motion toward the other stones on the table, but Sylvia kept admiring the agate.
“Where did you find all of this?” she asked.
Slater pulled out a chair and sat. He picked up one of the spearpoints and turned it between his fingers as if he hadn’t heard the question. Finally, he put the object back on the table and looked at her. “Many pueblos from the Spanish colonial days no longer exist. I spent countless summers searching for a particular one, and last weekend I located the place where I believe this lost pueblo once stood. That’s where these articles came from.” After a pause, he added, “And there is a lot more.”
“Which pueblo and where is it, or what’s left of it?” Rolf asked.
“I’d rather not say.” Slater looked at both of them. “It’s not in any guidebook or map that you can buy. But should the need arise, I’ll make sure you’ll be able to find it.”
His words brought the image of the guys who’d barged in on them during lunch to Sylvia’s mind.
“Isn’t it illegal to dig up artifacts like these?” Rolf asked.
Slater held Rolf’s gaze. “As you lawyers like to say, it depends.”
Sylvia could tell he was about to say more, but apparently thought better of it.
Rolf pointed to the small leather pouches Slater had not opened. “What’s in these?”
“That’s enough for now. I just wanted to give you an idea.”
She exchanged glances with Rolf while Slater rewrapped the items and returned them to the safe deposit box, which he slid back into the bay. After it clicked shut, Slater stepped to the empty table and took a chair.
“I’ve only shown you a small sample. I want you to see a couple of larger items at my ranch, and tell you more about their discovery. How about coming to dinner this evening?”
“I’m sorry, but we already have dinner plans,” Sylvia said before Rolf could answer. She wasn’t sure he remembered they were meeting the assistant conductor.
“You can’t change your plans? This is really important.” Slater stared at both of them.
“No, it has to do with my performance at the opera.”
“I see.” Slater rubbed his chin. “What time is your dinner and where are you going?”
Though she thought it none of his business, Sylvia answered him. “Six o’clock at Gabriel’s in Tesuque.”
“My ranch is only a few minutes from the restaurant. Why don’t you stop by after dinner?” He produced a card from a pants pocket and handed it to Rolf. “Here’s my address. Try to make it before sunset.”
Although neither Rolf nor she had expressly agreed, Sylvia realized they were stuck with having to go to his ranch this evening. She hoped it wouldn’t crowd their time with the assistant conductor.
“Is it safe for you to go home?” Rolf asked.
Slater shrugged. “I don’t have much choice.” He clenched his jaw. “I’ve got things to take care of. I’ll expect you around eight then.”
Without waiting for a response, Slater stood and led them out of the room. Once outside the bank, he peered up and down the street, then turned toward them. “One more thing. I’ve arranged for you to have access to my safe deposit box if something should happen to me. In that case, see Stanford right away.”
“If this is so dangerous, why don’t you go to the police?” Rolf said.
“I can’t, but I’ll take precautions. You’re a lawyer. You understand about precautions.” Before Rolf could respond, Slater walked off, saying over his shoulder, “Till this evening then.”
Chapter 3: Dinner with Rico
Tesuque, Monday evening, 6 August 1990
Rolf took one hand off the steering wheel to point toward Santa Fe Opera’s free-flowing roof structure, which dominated the New Mexico hills on the west side of the four-lane highway. “There it is, Sylvia, the site of your American debut. Your German performances in Carmen were fabulous. But singing Tosca here? The Met and the rest of the world’s great opera houses will come knocking.”
Sylvia squeezed his arm. “I’ll have less than a week to learn this production if they give me the part. Good thing I already know the role or I’d never make it.”
“Don’t doubt yourself. You’ll captivate the audience and the critics.”
He studied her profile—Mediterranean complexion, dark hair, open-collared lavender shirt tucked into tight fitting jeans. He found her even more attractive than he had during their college romance in Berlin, but his feelings went far beyond physical attraction. The months they had spent apart seemed only to have strengthened them. Their narrow escape from the East German Stasi last fall had created a bond, cemented a deeper relationship.
Sylvia’s teasing voice brought him back. “How about keeping your eyes on the road?”
“If you insist.” He exaggerated his stare straight ahead. When she laughed, he glanced over. “What do you know about this assistant conductor?”
“His name is Rico Ghostbear, and he’s not your typical opera conductor.”
“Yes. From Tesuque Pueblo.” Sylvia peered ahead. “We may have just passed our exit.”
Rolf looked for road signs but all he saw were the Sangre de Cristo Mountains glowing in the evening sun. The restaurant was located a few miles north of the opera on the other side of the highway, just past Tesuque.
She studied the road map on her lap. “Never mind. This is our exit coming up.”
Steering the car onto the exit road, he said, “I wonder what this Rico knows about Indian artifacts.”
“I knew you didn’t trust Slater.”
“It couldn’t hurt to run his story by a Native American.”
They found the restaurant without difficulty. The hostess led them to a table on the patio. When a burly man rose, Rolf had to agree with Sylvia’s earlier assessment that Rico defied all opera conductor stereotypes. A red rubber band held his black hair in a ponytail, and a turquoise necklace adorned his chest. Powerful biceps protruded from the short sleeves of his sports shirt worn over jeans. Allowing for the fact that Native Americans tended to look younger than their age, Rolf judged him to be in his early forties, just a few years his senior.
After the introductions, Rico ordered guacamole for the table while recommending several main dishes. No sooner had they placed their orders than a short, dark-haired waiter rolled a cart next to their table. He expertly cut avocados, dropped the pulp into a large wood bowl, squeezed juice from a lime, added minced onion, chilies, salt, pepper, and a few more spices. After a vigorous stir, the waiter dished the guacamole into three small bowls, distributed them, and wheeled away the serving cart with a parting, “Enjoy.”
Rico scooped a generous amount of the lumpy, green mixture onto a tortilla chip and put it in his mouth. The blissful expression on his face confirmed his love of food, which from the looks of his biceps seemed to put muscle on his burly frame rather than fat.
Rolf sampled the concoction and declared it delicious to a skeptical Sylvia. He knew she’d not tasted it before. She took a tentative bite of a chip holding a tiny glob of guacamole, and after a brief hesitation, gave an approving nod.
Rico beamed. “Delicious?”
She lifted her glass of red wine and nodded once more. Rolf was glad she felt free to drink wine with dinner, knowing that he could not. He and Rico had ordered water.
While they ate the sumptuous appetizer, Rico said to Sylvia, “I understand you had great success with your portrayal of Micaëla in Europe.”
When he saw Sylvia hesitate, Rolf said, “The public and the critics loved her—even the Berliner Tag’s Hans Brummer gave her a favorable review, and God knows that old codger is hard to please.”
Sylvia touched his arm, as if embarrassed.
Rico swallowed his last bite of guacamole. “The reports from Europe certainly impressed our general manager, who at that time was still looking to cast Micaëla.” Rico smiled. “And now we’re trying to switch you to Tosca—a tough task at such short notice.”
Rolf caught a hint of anxiousness creeping into Sylvia’s voice as she said, “It’s a demanding role. I will do my best to meet your expectations.”
Rico looked at her. “You do realize the enormous opportunity this presents?”
“You bet I do.”
Rico drank some water. “Before we can clear you for the role, we’ll need to go over the score tomorrow morning, and then we’ll see. But let’s not spend the entire evening talking about Tosca.”
The conversation ceased while the waiter served the entrees: chicken in poblano mole sauce for Sylvia and Rico and a sampler platter for Rolf.
Rolf turned to Rico. “Sylvia tells me you’re from the Tesuque Pueblo.”
“Yes, that’s where I grew up.”
“How did you come to a career in opera?”
“It’s a long story. I’ve been involved in music since childhood. I sang and played several instruments. My mother put me in a boys’ choir at school that sang every type of music—folk songs, ballads, Broadway, light classical. One day the director told my mom about a voice teacher in Santa Fe and offered to recommend me as a pupil. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but Mom didn’t even ask me. When she drove me to the first lesson, she told me two things: this was my chance to better myself and make it in the outside world, and not to tell my father. As far as he knew, she was taking me to choir practice.”
While Rico stopped to eat, Rolf gazed across the large patio, past the tables nestled between fountains, to the New Mexican landscape beyond, hills silhouetted in the early evening sun.
“To this day I don’t know how she paid for the lessons,” Rico continued his story. “The teacher turned out to be a retired opera singer. When he exposed me to opera, something magical happened. It’s hard to explain. It was as if opera had been burned into my soul.”
“That’s what happened to me too,” Sylvia burst out.
Rolf could relate as well but remained quiet, thinking it presumptuous as a nonprofessional to voice his passion for opera. No one spoke while they finished eating.
Rico pushed back his plate. “To make a long story short, I had a good enough tenor voice to be admitted to the Santa Fe Opera apprentice program in my late teens. But I didn’t finish.”
He cupped his glass of water and took a drink. Rolf could tell he was struggling to find the right words. After a long moment, Rico looked up. “I got into some trouble. At the time I blamed it on the pressure, the stress. When I managed to straighten myself out a few years later, I’d missed my chance to make it as a tenor.”
Rolf had an inkling what the problem might have been, but he held his tongue. Instead, he said, “I’m curious about your Italian first name.”
“I have to thank my mom for that.” His face brightened. “She loved to listen to Enrico Caruso, who was called ‘Rico’ by his wife.” He turned pensive. “I suppose she had high hopes for me as a singer. But being an opera conductor isn’t so bad either.”
“So how did you end up as a conductor?” Sylvia asked.
“Let me just say, through a series of fortuitous circumstances I received the schooling I needed, and someone at Santa Fe Opera took a chance on me.” He smiled. “And here I am.”
Rolf decided to follow his intuition. “Are you a friend of Bill W.?”
Rico stared at him, obviously startled at being asked whether he was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, the twelve-step recovery program cofounded by Bill Wilson. Then a faint smile crossed his face. “Yes, are you?”
Rolf nodded. He hardly registered Sylvia’s muttered, “I’ll be damned.”
Their relationship was on a new footing, encompassing the bond that existed between members of AA.
As the waiter cleared the table, Rolf once more took in the atmosphere: the murmured conversations from neighboring tables on the patio, the distant mountain range in the golden light of the western sun.
Sylvia’s voice interrupted his reverie. “Rolf and I were wondering whether you could put us in touch with someone knowledgeable about Indian artifacts.”
“From what period?”
“We’re not sure.” She shot Rolf a questioning look, apparently wondering how much to reveal.
After a moment’s hesitation, Rolf said, “Probably early Spanish colonial period. We just need someone who can answer some basic questions.”
“Depending on what it is, I might be able to help you.”
The waiter interrupted to deliver a dramatic description of the desserts. Rico and Sylvia shook their heads and Rolf was about to do the same, then thought better of it. “If you’re not in a hurry, let’s order some dessert and talk a little bit more.”
Obviously intrigued, Rico agreed. After the waiter disappeared with their orders, Rico spoke. “I don’t know what you have, but you should be aware that many Native American artifacts that end up in the hands of collectors or museums have been acquired illegally. They rightfully belong to the Indian tribes.” He looked at Rolf. “You’re a lawyer. I’m sure you’re familiar with the various protective federal statutes.”
“I know there are such laws, though that’s not my area of expertise.”
The waiter brought their coffees and flan. Rolf stirred sugar and cream in his coffee. How much should he tell Rico? Sylvia’s faint head shake told him to be careful. He sipped the hot brew, still undecided what to say.
Rico spoke up. “I lived on the pueblo until I was twenty, when I dropped out of the opera apprentice program and started my serious drinking. I knew something about sacred ceremonial items, and many times I’ve heard the elders’ stories of our forebears, going back hundreds of years to the ancients. A long way of saying I can probably answer your questions.”
“I happened to run into a former classmate today. He’s an archaeologist, and he showed us several items that he claimed were extremely rare and valuable.” Rolf stopped speaking when Rico put up a hand.
“What kinds of things?”
To buy a little time, Rolf raised his cup once more. Slater probably wanted them to keep his discovery a secret, though for whatever reason he had not expressly said so. He surely would when they saw him at his ranch. Rolf decided to stick to generalities. “I can’t tell you any specifics, but there are some sacred ceremonial implements of the kind the Spaniards destroyed whenever they found them.”
“Why did this friend show them to you? Does he need legal advice?”
“He’s not really a friend. I haven’t seen him since law school. And I told him I have no legal expertise in this area.”
Rico asked, “Did this archaeologist tell you where he found these things?”
“At the site of a pueblo deemed lost after the colonial period. He claimed he located it after many years of searching.”
Rico sat up. “Did he give the name of the pueblo?”
Rolf shook his head.
“Well, it could be any of several pueblos that vanished.” Rico leaned back into his chair, seemingly deflated. “Without a name—”
“I saw a tag,” Sylvia interrupted. “But I’m not sure if it has anything to do with—”
“What did it say?” Rico asked.
Rolf stared at her. She touched his hand. “Sorry, Rolf, I forgot to mention it.”
“You could read the tag?” Rico’s voice carried impatience tinged with anticipation.
“I’m not sure we should be telling you this,” Sylvia said.
Rolf covered her hand with his. “I think it’s okay. Slater didn’t swear us to secrecy.”
“I guess not.” She hesitated, then said, “The tag had two letters.”
“What were they?” Rico asked.
Rico thrust himself forward so abruptly that his chair shot backwards and almost tipped over. He caught it before it could clatter onto the stone patio floor. Still, the commotion caused a few patrons to stare. Rico sat down hard. “I don’t believe it.”
“You know what it means?” Sylvia asked.
“I can think of only one pueblo: Honovi.” Rico gazed into the evening sky. “We have a general idea where it once stood, but no one’s actually located the site.”
“What’s so astonishing about this pueblo?” Sylvia asked.
“Honovi Pueblo has a special place in our folklore,” Rico said. “It plays a key part in a traditional tale that goes back to the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680.”
Rolf had no idea what he was referring to and Sylvia’s quizzical expression signaled she didn’t either.
Rico gazed from Sylvia to Rolf. “You’ve not heard of the revolt? Well, I understand. It’s not something that’s taught in the white man’s schools. This Friday, August 10, there will be celebrations in many of the pueblos commemorating the 310th anniversary of the revolt. Back then, the Spaniards had occupied New Mexico for more than eighty years, exploiting the land, and subjugating our people. They demanded slave labor, imprisoned our leaders, raided our kivas, prohibited Native ceremonies, and abused our women.”
Sylvia grasped Rolf’s arm. Rico cut a sliver of flan with his spoon, let it dissolve in his mouth, and sipped coffee. “Should I go on?”
“Please do,” Sylvia urged.
Rico nodded. “I recall a story handed down by our elders of a lecherous friar, a lost treasure, and the part a thirteen-year-old girl from Honovi Pueblo played in the revolt. She was a shaman’s daughter, and her name was Teya, which means ‘precious.’ Imagine that we are sitting around an open fire with one of the grandfathers of my tribe. I’ll try to tell you just as the story was told to me.”
He repeated his deliberate ritual with the flan and coffee—whether to gather his thoughts or to foster their curiosity, Rolf wasn’t sure. After a long moment, Rico set his cup down, leaned back, and gazed into the distance. “A very long time ago our ancestors made a plan to rise up against the Spanish invaders. It was a good plan, bringing all the pueblos together in a great effort that forced the foreigners from our lands. A large number of our people died for this cause, but we did not see the invaders again for many years.”
The rhythmic cadence of Rico’s voice was hypnotic, and Rolf could almost picture a campfire setting with Rico drinking in the words as a wizened elder recounted enthralling folklore to wide-eyed children, the sky darkening into desert night.
Rico continued, “As you can appreciate, the revolt didn’t just happen overnight. One of the leaders who’d been beaten and imprisoned by the Spaniards was a chief priest named Popé from the San Juan Pueblo. After his release from prison, he spent the next five years planning the uprising. It was supposed to occur on Sunday, August 11.”
Rico wiped his brow. “But I’m getting ahead of myself.” He took a deep breath. “First, let’s imagine life at Honovi Pueblo a few days before the revolt.”
Chapter 4: Kiva
Honovi Pueblo, Tuesday afternoon, 6 August 1680
Teya shields her eyes against the afternoon sun and gazes up the winding dirt track, past the mesquites, the prickly pear cacti, the junipers quivering in the breeze. A sudden gust lifts her manta. She presses the wrap to her body to keep it from unfolding.
“Do you see her yet?” Her father’s voice drifts down from their second-story living quarters.
She dreads the thought of her parents quarreling again, or perhaps worse, icy silence during the family meal. She turns and looks up the ladder at Honokan’s stern face. He too stares into the distance.
Why is he asking me when he can see better from up there? she thinks. She says, “No, Father.”
“Your mother is going to make me late for the kiva.” He draws back from the ladder.
Teya resumes her watch, focusing on the bend in the path around which Nashota must appear. Nothing makes sense any more. She longs for the days when her parents treated each other with love and respect. All that changed after Honokan’s hunting accident when Nashota had to start going to Father Francisco Morales’ mission for food. Was bison meat worth the strife? Why does her father resent Mother for that? And why has he been going to daily meetings at the kiva?
The sight of the slight figure appearing around the curve stops her endless questions. “Mother is coming,” she yells up the ladder leaning against the adobe wall.
Just when she thinks she hasn’t been loud enough, her younger brother’s high voice repeats the message to her father. Mother approaches in a hurry, her hair twisted behind her head in a chongo that does not look as tidy as it did when she left for the mission. Her eyes are cast downward and her normally placid features are distorted as if in distress.
“Is the fire going?” Nashota asks as she climbs the ladder, a bundle slung over her shoulder.
“Yes, Mother.” Teya follows her up the steps. “And I’ve prepared the corn, as you asked.”
Teya’s father and brother are huddled in the corner of the room, away from the hot fire.
“It’s deer today,” Nashota announces.
“Hurry up, or I’ll be late for the meeting,” is Honokan’s response. He does not look at his wife, nor she at him.
The thin strips of meat cook fast, and they eat in silence. Teya remembers when family meals were filled with conversation and laughter. No longer. Her father finishes and gets up to leave.
“Why are you meeting at the kiva every day?” her mother asks. “What is going on?”
“Don’t ask, woman. You know I can’t tell you.” He slips a braided headband over his black hair and climbs awkwardly down the ladder, leading with his bad leg, one rung at a time.
Nashota shrugs, then picks up the bowls. Ohanko pesters her to let him play with his friends, something not usually allowed after the last meal of the day. To Teya’s surprise, her mother gives him permission.
Nashota waits until Ohanko has left before she asks, “When your father teaches you the shaman ways, does he say anything about the kiva meetings?”
“No, he doesn’t.” Seeing her mother’s doubtful look, Teya adds, “You know they keep their meetings secret.”
Nashota nods. “Yes, but I have a bad feeling. I’m worried, Daughter.” She hesitates. “If you hear anything, promise you will tell me.”
“I promise, Mother.”
Teya shares her mother’s sense of foreboding about these meetings. Yet how can she find out what the men are planning when women are not allowed in the kiva? On an impulse, she grabs a jar and tells her mother she’s going to the stream to fetch water.
She crosses the plaza and walks toward the river, but keeps her eyes on the entrance to the underground kiva across the way. There is no one in sight. The men must be assembled already. She scans the surroundings but sees only her brother and his friends running in a distant field. When she is sure no one is observing her, Teya walks toward a manzanita bush that spreads near the kiva’s vent, from which a thin line of smoke escapes. She parts the branches and crawls into a hollow in the center, a favorite hiding place.
One evening she became trapped by the men arriving for a ceremony. Lying flat to stay concealed, she discovered that she could hear the voices from the kiva below. She only caught a few words. They did not interest her then, and she paid no attention. But now she’s eager to learn the reason for these secret kiva meetings. Any guilt she feels about eavesdropping melts away when the braves’ low voices reach her ear. They are too soft for her to make out the words.
As the darkness deepens, the edges of the vent glow faintly from the light of the torches below. When the discussion grows more heated, she begins to catch words and phrases in the night air. She presses her face closer to the earth to hear more. The wind shifts, blowing smoke in her face. Her eyes sting. She suppresses a cough.
An angry voice rises. “The friars force us to work their fields like slaves.”
Another cries, “They plunder our kivas and destroy all we hold sacred.”
Teya hears her father shout, “And they take our women.”
A bright light shoots up the vent, as if the flames in the kiva fire pit have grown agitated as well. Then the low torch glow returns.
Her arm goes numb from clutching a thick branch too tightly. As she lets go, her father speaks again. “The plan is made. Soon we shall rise up against the foreigners and be free again.”
Shocked, Teya loses her balance. She hardly notices the bush’s bark scraping her arm, her mind filled with the realization that the braves are planning to revolt against the Spaniards.
She begins to perspire despite the cool evening breeze. What if those among the tribes who are friendly with the foreigners alert them to the revolt? What will happen to her people if the uprising fails? Teya wipes her brow and steels herself to learn as much as she can. She crawls back to the center of the bush.
Her father is still speaking. “Runners from Tesuque Pueblo will bring Popé’s counting rope. Then we will know the day to take up our weapons.”
His words are greeted with approving cries.
She’s heard of the mysterious priest from San Juan Pueblo. It is said he had his daughter’s husband stoned to death for spying for the Spaniards. What plan does this Popé have? Can it defeat the Spanish soldiers and drive the friars and settlers off her people’s lands for good? Of one thing she is certain: many will die.
The voices subside. She can’t take the chance of staying. The meeting will be over soon.
She’s about to crawl out when she hears her father’s outburst. “Leave Friar Morales to me. I will restore my family’s honor.”
Her stomach clenches at his anguish. She bolts from the bush and knocks over the water jar she’d brought, shattering it. She staggers to her feet and stares at the black-striped fragments, all that’s left of her favorite jar, the one she’d made with Mother as her teacher. But she must leave now, before the men emerge from the kiva. She kicks the pieces into a small depression under the manzanita and runs toward home, unsure what to say to her mother.
Chapter 5: Dessert
Tesuque, Monday evening, 6 August 1990
In the fading light of the low western sun, Sylvia watched Rico’s distant gaze fade. He grasped his plate, causing the leftover flan to wiggle, and devoured the dessert with a couple of bites, as if recounting Teya’s story had left him famished. Sylvia drew several rapid breaths, like an emerging diver starved for oxygen. She looked at Rolf, wondering whether the tale had affected him as deeply as it had her.
No one spoke, the coffee cups clinking on saucers the only sound. Rolf broke the spell when he waved the waiter over and handed him a credit card. Rico put up a mild protest, but Rolf insisted.
The waiter was halfway across the patio when Rico called him back. “Do you happen to have a New Mexico map?”
The man shook his head. “Sorry.”
After he’d left, Sylvia said to Rico, “We have an area map in the car.”
“If you’ll bring it, I can point out the general area where Honovi Pueblo was thought to be.