Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Flash. The Last American Artist

Last American Artist20 December 2012
50 km SE Basaseachic Falls, Chihuahua, MX

The crew unloaded the equipment –cameras, lights, reflectors, mounts, meters, each in an aluminum case — and stacked it on the dusty mesa. Zach, director of this  PBS Frontline project, had the men position the cameras at the edge of the precipice. They waited.

Henry Highcloud had called Zach Brezinski two days ago and Zach  pulled together money, crew, chartered flight, and visas in forty-eight hours. They now sat in canvas chairs, stenciled  with Brezinski Films in blue.  Zach had toyed with clever company names — Pay it Forward, Legal Terror —  but his disdain of cute or perhaps his too fragile ego left him only the obvious and barely palatable choice of his own name.

Below them a network of flats, canyons, and peaks scarred the Chihuahua landscape.   What would happen should happen soon, for  Zach did have faith in Henry Highcloud’s, “This will be momentous. This is my gift to you Zachary. Finally, something that can match your bounty.”

It was Zach Senior’s bounty to which Henry referred. Zach Jr’s father owned a Malachite/Lapis Lazuli vein that supplied jewelers in the Northeast. The mine bordered a Hopi reservation outside of Snowflake, AZ.   And Zach Sr., wanting to teach his son the obligations of privilege,  taught metallurgy gratis at the reservation school where Henry sat in Mr. Brezinski’s obligatory course and carved stone into magic enchantments.

Zach Sr. sensed Henry’s genius  and relied on connections in his native state to get Henry accepted to Rhode Island School of Design, and then funded Henry’s schooling for the four years.

Thirty years later, today,  Henry Highcloud was a celebrity, yet waited for this apparently propitious moment to payback the Brezinskis.

But on the cliff’s edge, three hours after setup, they still waited.  The crew mumbled the light would soon fade.   Where was Henry Highcloud?

The sun slipped from blinding white to a maize casting a gargantuan shadow of a Mantis or Locust, undulating across the broken red rock below. But rather than an atavistic visitor from prehistory, it was only Henry’s copter overhead.

Fearing the blades’ downdraft, they pulled back their chairs from the ledge. The copter bore down on them. They huddled, shielded their eyes, but then the chopper veered, tilted and began a slow spiral down towards the canyon floor, finally landing on a rock flat smoothed by waters that now were eons gone.

The men peered over and down. Two figures dashed out of the copter’s bay, dragged large black bags, rushed across the landscape, swallowed by outcrops, reappearing, disappearing, until the bags, empty, were stuffed back in the chopper and  they hopped in again.

Again the helicopter rose, straight-lined to another flat and landed. Men jumped out and repeated their odd dash across the inhuman terrain.

This ritual of man, machine, and scarred earth was repeated then repeated again until the sun,  a vermillion approaching deeper purple, threatened to dive and leave them in pitch black on danger’s edge.

They started to scramble to disassemble the cameras, when they heard the copter above them. Next, it landed on the road just beyond the rented truck that had brought Zach and his crew here.

Henry Highcloud ran towards Zach. Searching the sky, Henry said, “The heavens are perfect. Start your cameras.”

Zachary gave the orders. The four cameras, in unison, scanned the canyon below, digital signals from Zach’s laptop controlling their regular movement.

Henry Highcloud, satisfied,  pushed the button on the remote he held, and the earth was torn.

The air blast slammed into them. There was a moment of terror. They shrank back from the ledge.

Then the charm and magic of that glow pulsed upwards.  They shuffled forward, peeked over, collectively gasped.

Geysers of water followed fountains of flame.  Heaved earth settled topsy-turvy, its mineral depths–green and blue, gold and silver–painted a new land onto the desert’s barren canvas.

Then . . . unseen by Zach and his men in their wonder, the copter lifted Henry away.

Another button pushed. Below: flesh torn and melted from bone. Cameras tilted from mounts but whirred on, witness to a new Eden.

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