LIAM SLOWLY PUSHED aside a branch of the juniper tree that concealed him and peered down Burro Canyon in the direction from which he’d just hiked. He was nearly sick from worrying. His great fear was that someone would follow him to the cave. No one but Liam knew of its existence or the valuable treasures it contained. It was just above him, a hundred feet up the rocky talus slope to the canyon wall, and behind the boulder that concealed its opening. As he waited and watched, he fought back a nagging fear, a fear that he was in way over his head. He was just a simple ranch hand engaged in what seemed to be an overly complicated endeavor. But if he did everything just right, he would soon be a rich man.
He lingered for a few more minutes just to be certain. Then, seeing no one, he emerged from behind the juniper and scampered to the top of the talus. He took one final glance up and down the canyon to make sure he was alone. Then he squeezed his lanky frame through the small opening behind the boulder and entered Josh’s private cave. Inside, he paused and allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness. All was quiet. The air was stale and musty but its coolness against his sweaty skin was a welcome relief from the heat in the canyon. He struck a wooden match on the rock wall, located Josh’s kerosene lantern, and ignited it. He found a clear place on the floor and sat down, placing the lantern on top of a nearby rock. As the flame grew and the cave brightened, Liam could see the dozens of Indian pots, bowls, and plates his friend Josh had stored there over the years. Ancient ceramic treasures from the Anasazi, Fremont, and Mogollon peoples, as well as more recent works of art from various Pueblo tribes. Strange-looking figurines of Mayan origin were interspersed among the other artifacts.
Liam reached out and picked up an eight-hundred-year-old Anasazi bowl, cradled it in his calloused hands, and stared at it, wondering what it was worth. He was surprised at how little it weighed. As he gently returned it to its resting place, the enormity of the problem facing him began to sink in. How could he convert all the pots into cash without tipping his hand? First of all, the cave was on private property. It was located in a remote area on the back end of the Rutherford Ranch, up Cottonwood Canyon and into a tributary called Burro Canyon. Josh had told him that ranch personnel rarely came up here because the grazing was so poor, but one still had to be on the lookout. Certainly, coming in here in a vehicle or on horseback was out of the question. That meant transporting the pots two or three at a time in a backpack. He would have to leave his horse on the public lands on top of the mesa and hike the three miles down to the cave and back. Secondly, when he returned to Moab with the pots, he would have to keep them concealed and sell them in secrecy. Maybe he could entrust Billy McKnight, his friend in Monticello who was a part-time artifact dealer. But so many trips to the cave would be required. How could he pull it off without people becoming suspicious and following him back to the cave?
Liam surveyed his surroundings. The ceramic treasures were everywhere, the large ones on the floor along the walls of the cave, the smaller ones in natural nooks and recesses up higher. Josh had placed each one on a protective bed of straw. As Liam’s eyes surveyed the collection, his appreciation of his deceased friend grew. The artifacts were worth a small fortune, especially by Liam’s ranch-hand standards. And now they were his.
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