The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid
J. Michael Orenduff
Whit Fletcher was born in Tucumcari in 1960. After graduating from Tucumcari High school where he made second team all-state as a defensive tackle, he joined the Army and trained as an MP at Fort Leonard Wood. He received an honorable discharge in 1981 and enrolled in the New Mexico Police Academy. He joined the APD in 1982, eventually working his way up to Detective First Grade in 1996.
So what have you been doing since the last big case?
Mostly trying to bust the drug dealers, but I’m getting to the point of wondering why we bother. If they ain’t back on the street in forty-eight hours, some other punk takes their place, and business continues as usual. Almost make me wish I was back in uniform.
How did you become involved in this case?
I usually get involved with Hubert Schuze when he gets into hot water because of his pot stealing, but this time he actually called me.
Tell us about this case.
Hubert told me a guy he knew was looking for old pots and accidentally dug up a body. And not an old mummy. This here was someone recently died. Or was killed. I say to him, “So you was out digging for pots and found a fresh corpse.”
“It wasn’t me,” he says.
“Right,” I say.
“It was a guy you know.”
“What’s his name?”
“See, that’s the problem. He told me about finding the dead guy because he wanted the
police to know. But he doesn’t want to get involved because he wasn’t supposed to be digging in a prehistoric site. So I can’t give you his name.”
“Okay, Hubert, I’ll play along. Where did this guy find the stiff?”
“I can’t tell you that, either.”
Well, we went round like that for a few minutes, and I agreed to nose around and see if there was a missing person that might be the body Hubert claims he didn’t find. And because there could have been some valuable pots in that site, I figured maybe there would be a few bucks in it for me being helpful.
Was there ever a time during this case that you doubted those that you normally trust?
Nah. I knew Hubert was lying to me right off, but he’s done that before, and it don’t stop me from trusting him. He’s so bad at lying that it never fooled no one. And every time he and I scratch each other’s backs, money seems to end up in my pocket.
How dangerous was it to solve this case?
He’s put me in a few tight places before, but this time the risk was all his. All I did was run down all the missing persons from the area he’s been digging in and match one up with the facts as we knew them. It was Hubert who figured out what happened to the dead guy. Then he pulled another one of his stunts and decided to check on the murderer to collect evidence. Damn near ended up in the grave where he had found the body.
Did working on this case affect you emotionally?
I guess you could say I was depressed for a while. I was hoping for half the money from one of them old Anasazi pots, but the bad guy who nearly killed Hubert had already picked the site clean. All Hubert could find was one lousy shard. That’s what they call a piece of one of them pots. Even a piece sold for a thousand bucks.
How did this case affect your personal life?
Well, I’m a big fan on University of New Mexico football. And my half of the shard money was enough to get one of those flat screen TV’s, although the way the Lobos have been playing, I can hardly stand to watch ‘em.
Just to wrap things up, what happened to the guy who killed the person Hubert found?
Well they couldn’t make a murder charge stick because the dead guy was one of those nuts who beat themselves with whips and even volunteer to haul a cross and be tied on it. Sometimes they even get their hands nailed to it. Someone dies under those circumstances, you can’t really say they were murdered. When I told Hubert that he said, “Maybe most of them are nuts, but some could be saints. Before you criticize a man, you should walk a mile in his moccasins.”
“That’s good advice,” I told him.
“It is?” he said. He seemed surprised that I liked his advice because he knows I don’t go in much for corny sayings like that.
“Sure,” I said. “It’s good advice because if he don’t like your criticism, there ain’t much he can do about it because you’re a mile away from him and he’s barefooted.”
But they did get the guy for kidnapping Hubert, so he’s in the State Pen.
Mike Orenduﬀ grew up in a house so close to the Rio Grande that he could Frisbee a tortilla into Mexico. While in graduate school at the University of New Mexico, he worked during the summer as a volunteer teacher at one of the nearby pueblos. After
receiving his M.A. at New Mexico and his Ph.D. at Tulane, he became a university professor. He went on to serve as President of New Mexico State University. He took early retirement from higher education to write his award-winning Pot Thief murder mysteries which combine archaeology and philosophy with humor and mystery. Among his many awards are the “Lefty” national award for best humorous mystery, two“Eppies” for the best eBook mysteries and the New Mexico Book of the Year Award. His books have been described by The Baltimore Sun as “funny at a very high intellectual level and deliciously delightful” and by The El Paso Timesas “the perfect fusion of murder, mayhem and margaritas.”