A Fernando Lopez Santa Fe Mystery

Ghost Canyon
      Based on the novel by James C. Wilson
      Copyright 2021 by James C. Wilson
      Contact: James Clois Smith Jr., Sunstone Press / (505) 988-4418
      LOGLINE: A Park Ranger is murdered by looters digging in the ancient Native American ruins at Chaco Canyon. The next day the grandson of Richard Wetherill, the first amateur archaeologist to excavate at Chaco, is found murdered in Santa Fe. Rumors of a map of looted artifacts send Detective Fernando Lopez and F.B.I. Agent Patricia Begay to Chaco Canyon, where they find themselves embroiled in a violent world of greed and murder. Their jobs are made more difficult by ancient superstitions and mysterious sightings in the canyon. In order to solve the case Lopez and Begay must steer a course between modern science and a 1,200-year-old world of ghosts.
      OPENING CREDITS, VISUAL: A lone Park Ranger moves slowly into a dark, 1,200-year-old stone ruin at Chaco Canyon. He moves toward a faint light in the rear of the ruin. Suddenly a dark shadow appears in the moonlight. Before he can react the ranger is struck from behind and plunges into the darkness. Title Card: The haunting of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
      ACT 1: Shadows in the Ruin
      At dusk Chaco Canyon Park Ranger Pete Chavez drives off in the staff jeep on the evening security check. His assignment is to lock both the entrance and exit gates on the eight-mile one-way loop through the canyon. Approaching Pueblo Bonito, the largest ruin in the canyon at 600 rooms, he notices a faint light coming from the rear of the ruin. He parks his jeep in the adjoining parking lot and walks into the dark ruin to check on the light. When his flashlight fails, he moves through the dark rooms guided only by moonlight. Suddenly he sees a mysterious, shadowy figure of a man wearing a long duster and a wide-brimmed hat, but as he moves forward to investigate he is struck from behind and plunges into darkness.
      ACT 2: Santa Fe
      Next morning Santa Fe Police Detective Fernando Lopez is assigned to investigate the murder of an old, eccentric Santa Fean by the name of Tom Flynn who happens to be the grandson of Richard Wetherill, the first amateur archaeologist to excavate in Chaco Canyon. Looking for a motive, Lopez finds a page torn out of a journal Wetherill kept while excavating at Chaco that mentions the location of a cache of valuable artifacts Wetherill buried near Pueblo Bonito. Lopez interviews Clint Jackson, a friend of Flynn’s who lives in his guesthouse, as well as Flynn’s housekeeper and her son. Jackson is uncooperative, but Lopez finds a letter in his guesthouse from Four Corners Enterprises, an oil and fracking company near Chaco, denying his disability claim for a back injury.
      The housekeeper calls Lopez back that night saying she saw lights moving around in Flynn’s house. When Lopez goes to the house to investigate he’s attacked and knocked unconscious. He wakes up only to find the words DEAD MAN scratched on the side of his car. The following morning Lopez is sent to Chaco Canyon to investigate the murder of Pete Chavez, a former SFPD officer. He teams up with F.B.I. Agent Patricia Begay, who is sent to investigate illegal digging in the canyon, a violation of the federal Antiquities Act.
      ACT 3: Chaco Canyon, Day 1
      Soon after Lopez and Begay arrive at Chaco Canyon they discover that the son of Flynn’s housekeeper has been caught and detained in an off-limits area of the canyon. They release Luis Lujan after they find no evidence of looting, even though he has a shovel in the rear of his SUV. Later that night they accompany head Park Ranger Jim Murphy on the nightly security check. On their way around the Chaco loop they spot lights in the Casa Rinconada ruin. They race to the adjoining parking lot and hike to the ruin, where they find a fire in one of the ruin’s fire-pits. They extinguish the fire and then notice someone with a flashlight hiking up a trail to South Mesa, overlooking the ruin. They pursue but do not catch the looter. Later they discover that the fire was a diversion to keep them away from Pueblo Bonito, where the looters were digging.
      ACT 4: Chaco Canyon, Day 2
      Lopez sleeps at Murphy’s unit in the staff barracks, while Begay stays at Park Ranger Betty Madsen’s unit. Next morning Murphy gives them a tour of Chaco Canyon, including all the Great Houses, and shows them where Pete Chavez was murdered in Pueblo Bonito, near the recent digging. The digging is where Wetherill’s artifacts were supposedly buried. Murphy gives them a short history of Chaco Canyon. Begay, a Navajo, explains that the Navajo have a different view of Chaco Canyon as a place where bad things happened, now inhabited by ghosts.
      Later Lopez and Begay go off by themselves to explore the canyon. Looking for places where looters could enter the canyon, they climb up an old wagon road leading into the canyon from the north, where they find a camp littered with trash that might be used by looters. The camp is outside the park limits and owned by Ben Yazzie, a Navajo, who tells them about the ‘bad’ people who camp there.
      That night Lopez and Begay ride with Murphy on his nightly security check. When they get to the first gate they discover that looters have padlocked the gate shut with a heavy gauge chain. Murphy panics, knowing the looters will be digging undetected. To prevent that, they return to staff barracks. Murphy and Lopez decide to take bicycles. As they pedal toward Pueblo Bonito, Lopez falls behind. As he approaches the ruin he hears the sound of a crash and someone crying out. When he arrives at the ruin, he finds Murphy’s bicycle but no sign of its rider. Lopez looks for Murphy in the dark ruin, seeing a shadowy figure wearing what appears to be a duster and wide-brimmed hat, but no Jim Murphy. He pedals back to the staff barracks and reports the kidnapping.
      ACT 5: Chaco Canyon, Day 3
      The next day the rangers can’t open the park because both gates are still chained and locked. While they wait for a tow truck with an industrial chain cutter, angry hikers and campers fill the parking lot outside the visitors center. After the gates are finally open, Lopez and Begay accompany Ranger Leroy Roybal on a trip up West Mesa, looking for Murphy. They come back empty handed and discover that the kidnappers have left a message on the park website’s Contact Us page: “Your friend is bound and gagged and exposed to the elements in one of the ruins on top of the mesa. If you want to see him alive, then keep out of the canyon tonight and tomorrow night. If you don’t, your friend is a dead man.”
      ACT 6: Chaco Canyon, Day 4
      The next morning Begay accompanies Roybal on a hike up South Mesa, looking for any sign of Murphy. They find nothing. Meanwhile, Lopez drives out of the canyon and visits some of the fracking companies surrounding Chaco, searching for a suspect named Earl Skinner who had come to the campground yesterday and asked Madsen about digging in the canyon. She reported he was driving a red Ford pickup. This turns out to be a wild goose chase.
      ACT 7: Chaco Canyon, Day 5
      Next morning Lopez and Begay accompany Roybal on a hike up North Mesa, the only mesa they haven’t yet searched. On the mesa they encounter two young hikers who come screaming down the trail, claiming to have seen a dead body up at the Rabbit Run ruin. They hurry up the trail and find a seriously injured and dehydrated Murphy. In order to get him down off the mesa, they call for a medevac to take the injured man to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.
      That night, determined to find the looters, Lopez and Begay borrow the staff jeep and stake out Pueblo Bonito, hiding behind the Pueblo del Arroyo ruin. At 2:30 a.m. they see an ATV approach from the west on the old wagon road. They wait until the two looters start digging in Pueblo Bonito, and then they roar out from behind Pueblo del Arroyo. One of the looters, a Navajo youth, takes off running in Chaco Wash. Begay follows the youth. Lopez confronts the other looter, Earl Skinner. Lopez notices the baseball cap Earl Skinner is wearing reads “Four Corners Enterprises,” the name of the company that denied Jackson’s disability claim. Lopez realizes Skinner and Jackson are in cahoots.
      Suddenly Skinner throws a shovel full of dirt in Lopez’s face and runs to his ATV. Lopez runs to the staff jeep and follows the ATV on the wagon road heading west, where he finds Begay waiting on the roadside. The Navajo youth has escaped, she tells Lopez. They pursue Skinner to the end of the road and up North Mesa, where their jeep crashes in a deep arroyo on Navajo land. Seeing their accident, Skinner comes back to kill them, but after a scuffle Skinner is shot and killed by Ben Yazzie, the Navajo man they had encountered earlier.
      ACT 8: UNM Hospital
      Lopez and Begay end up in the Emergency Room at UNM Hospital in Albuquerque, Lopez with cracked ribs and Begay with a broken cheek bone. Lopez can leave, but Begay’s cheek will require surgery. Lopez finds Murphy in the hospital. Both are released late in the afternoon. Lopez returns to Santa Fe, while Murphy heads back to Chaco. Before parting, Murphy asks Lopez if he saw Wetherill’s ghost last night. Lopez lies and says no. He asks Murphy the same question. Murphy says, “Well … maybe I imagined it.”
      ACT 9: Santa Fe
      The next day Lopez finds that there has been another homicide near Flynn’s house on usually quiet East Alameda Street. He has no idea who has been murdered until he drives over and sees Luis Lujan’s car riddled with bullet holes and his mother weeping alongside the car. Lopez discovers that Lujan had been enlisted to transfer the loot Earl Skinner dug up to Clint Jackson, who would sell the artifacts to galleries in Santa Fe.
      Lopez picks up Sgt. Antonio Blake at the Washington Avenue Station and proceeds to Jackson’s guesthouse. Lopez finds Jackson armed and barricaded in his bedroom. It becomes clear to Lopez that Jackson killed Lujan because he thought the youngster was holding out on him. The irony was that Skinner had uncovered nothing for Lujan to deliver.
      When a SWAT team arrives, Clint Jackson shoots himself. After the SWAT team and forensics leave, Lopez stays a while to reflect on events.
      ACT 10: Patricia Begay
      Several days later Lopez arrives at his office to find a visitor waiting for him: Patricia Begay. Begay says she has taken six week off to mend and will return to Crownpoint to be with her own people and explore some Navajo medicine. She tells Lopez that she wants to tell him something and ask him a question. She tells him that she saw Wetherill’s ghost the night she was chasing the Navajo youth in Chaco Wash and asks if he had seen it. He says he saw something, a shadow, a ghostly presence, whatever. They discuss why Wetherill’s ghost would be haunting Chaco. Each has their own theory.
      AUTHOR’S NOTE: Opening credits, Visual: a lone Park Ranger moves slowly into a dark, 1,200-year-old stone ruin at Chaco Canyon. He moves toward a faint light in the rear of the ruin. Suddenly a dark shadow appears in the moonlight. Before he can react the ranger is struck from behind and plunges into the darkness. Title Card: the haunting of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.