‘The Tape’ Chapter 4 – Oh, Where the Trap Door Leads!

For those who have joined us recently, you can find previous chapters of ‘The Tape’ in our ‘Archives’ as follows: Chap 1 (Jan 6), Chap 2 (Jan 20), Chap 3 (May 5).

by Bob Sparrow

trap door

The Trap Door

The Chief took the first few steps down into the cellar and turned back to looked at me with an expression that said,   ‘Are you coming?’  I was still frozen in place across the room and reluctantly inched my way toward the opening in the floor and wondered why I was doing this, what was I going to find down there and what if the Chief was really an axe murderer? One thing I didn’t wonder about was whether anyone would ever find my body if in fact he was. No frickin’ way. Let me end the suspense, the Chief didn’t own an axe, heck he didn’t even own a tomahawk.


Stone walls & archway

The stairs down were longer than I expected so when we finally reached the stone floor at the bottom we were down about 20 feet. Chief’s kerosene lantern cast an uneven light against the cool, dank surroundings. I was not prepared for what I saw before me – the floor, walls and archways, were all lined with brick and stone; someone had put a lot of work into creating this place, whatever it was. As the chief held the lantern in his outstretched arm, we moved toward the main archway. At first I couldn’t make out what I was looking at and then as we got closer, I was stunned. Prison cells had been carved out on both sides of this cave; rusty cell doors hung open in rows as far as the lantern would allow us to see. A chill came over me as I realized I was in a real live dungeon.

(Don: “I’m getting a little claustrophobic, how about we all go up and get some fresh air?”)

The Chief was in deep thought as he looked around this underground prison. He walked over to a nearby cell and squeaked open the rusted door and stood motionless as he stared inside. I kept my distance, as I was pretty sure I didn’t want to see whatever was inside that cell. I asked, “So what is this? What the heck went on down here?”

(Don: “And why are we still down here?”)


dungeon cell

The Chief remained silent as the light from the lantern made eerie shadows play on his face.  He looked down the long row of cells lost in thought. He finally turned to me and said, “Let’s go back up.”

(Don: “Whew! How can I thank you?”)

I followed the Chief up the stairs, out of the house and to the top of a near-by ridge next to the house; from there the entire Coachella Valley lay before us. The sun had just slipped behind Mt. San Jacinto as the Chief sat down on a boulder and watched the evening shadows stretch across the valley floor.

overlooking coachella

Coachella Valley

I sat down a few feet away and asked, “That was pretty spooky; so what was that place?”


To Be Continued . . .


Update: ‘Murder on the Road to Hana’  For those regulars who read/subscribe to our blog, I wanted to provide an up-date on a earlier story published on March 3rd.  Nothing earth-shattering, but the Maui police have reclassified the case  of missing Carley Scott from a ‘missing person’ to a ‘homicide’.  Additionally they have found something in the waters just off the Hana coast that they believe can help them solve this mystery.  Ex-boyfriend, Steven Capobianco remains a ‘person of interest’.

The Tape Chapter 3 – A Visit with Chief Chuckwalla

(If you have not been following the story of ‘The Tape’ or need a refresher, you can read Chapters 1-2 by going into our archives and looking under ‘January 2014’.)

by Bob Sparrow

While at our timeshare at the Marriott Desert Springs a few weeks back, I decided to take advantage of being near the home of the Cahuilla Indian tribe and follow up on the information given to me by Matt at Chapman University and pay a visit to the tribe. I had contacted Chief Chuckwalla and made arrangements to meet him in a coffee shop in Palm Springs. With The Tape in my hand and Don in my head, I walked into the coffee shop looking for the Chief. I stood at the entrance surveying the small, sparsely populated room when a voice came from my left saying, “Are you looking for a guy in a headdress and war paint?”


Chief Chuckwalla

Embarrassed that I probably was, I turned to meet Chief Chuckwalla, who was wearing a plaid sports coat.

“Good morning, I’m Bob, we talked on the phone”

“Yes, I’m Chuck”

“Oh, so it’s Chief Walla, your first name is Chuck?

“No, my first name is Mark.”

“So it’s Mark Chuckwalla?”

“No, I just use Chuckwalla because it’s the last remaining Inviatim word left in the English language, so I’m holding on to it. You can call me Chief.”

“So are you the current chief of the Cahuilla tribe?”


I felt like I was part of the Abbott and Costello Who’s On First routine.

Nonplused, I decided I would try to impress the chief with the fact that I’d done my homework on his tribe, by using a Cahuilla greeting. I smiled and said, “Yee-Makh-weh”

He stared at me just long enough to make it uncomfortable and said, “I think you mean Mee-Yakh-weh, which is how the Inviatim Indian would greet a friend. You, on the other hand, just called me a grapefruit!”

“Sorry.” I guess I never was much good with homework.

I continued, “I notice you use the word Inviatim rather than Cahuilla when you talk about your tribe, why is that?

“Cahuilla is the name that the Spanish gave to our tribe; it would be like calling the Italians ‘Wops’ or the Puerto Ricans ‘Spicks’.

(Don echoed in my head: “How’s this going for you so far, you’ve screwed up his name and now you’ve insulted his entire tribe?”)

I doggedly pressed on, “I don’t know how much Matt told you, but I have a tape that a dear friend sent me years ago in a language or various languages that I’m trying to translate, Matt believed part of it was in the Cahuilla, er Ivia language.”

(Don: “I was wondering when you were going to bring me into the conversation, are you going to tell him that I’m dead?”)

Chief: “Matt has done much to help the Inviatim cause. What is this tape?”

The Tape

The Tape

I held up it up and the chief stared at it

Chief: “Why did your friend send it to you?”

I told him I wasn’t sure.

Chief: “What does your friend say it says?”

(Don: “See I told you you should have told him I was dead!”)

“I actually got the tape in ’95 or ‘96, but when I asked him about it at the time and on several occasions after that, I couldn’t get a straight answer from him, so I just forgot about it. When he passed away a couple of years ago my curiosity was raised again.”

(Don: A couple of years ago, gosh, it just seems like yesterday – where does the time go?”)

The Chief and I sat down in a corner booth where it was relatively quiet and I pulled out my cassette player and popped in The Tape.   We both fell silent as I watched the Chief listen. His expression changed from dutiful to curious to interested, to visibly shaken when he stopped the tape and stared at me trying to decide what to do next.

Finally he stood up from the table and said, “You need to see something.”


Entrance to ‘Sec-he’

I followed him outside and got into his dusty Jeep Wrangler and we headed for the nearby foothills. After a few miles we left the main road for a seldom-traveled dirt road which, after a few more miles, turned into no road at all, until we were deep in the Santa Rosa Mountains. After about twenty minutes, we came to a narrow opening which revealed a boarded up, washed out ranch-style dwelling tucked in the back of a canyon behind an outcropping of granite boulders. As we neared the structure, we passed under a weathered wooden archway entry gate with a name carved in it that was barely legible; as we passed under it I read it aloud: “Sec-he”.

I asked Chief what it meant.

“Sec-he is the name the Inviatim gave to this whole desert area, it means ‘boiling water’; when the Spanish took over they changed the name to ‘Agua Caliente’, meaning ‘hot water’. Then the white man came and decided that neither of those names would help them sell memberships to private golf clubs or luxury homes for celebrities, so they changed the name to Palm Springs”.

Chief drove under the archway and parked the car in the shade of a Palo Verde tree in front of the gray wooden structure. He slowly pushes open the shack2front door that had neither locks nor hardware. The wooden floor creakes beneath our feet as I followed the chief to a small room off the main living area that had only a crude wooden desk and chair sitting on a dingy brown rug. Chief moves the desk and chair off the rug and slides the rug over several feet revealing a trap door. The hinges squeak as he slowly opened it. There is a narrow wooden staircase that leads into darkness. I notice for the first time, a kerosene lantern hanging on the wall next to the trap door, as the Chief pulls it down, lights it and heads down the stairs motioning me to follow.

To be continued  

Chap. 2 The Tape – Searching for Xoon

(Writer’s note: if you missed Chapter 1 you can find it in our archives at the right.  Our free subscription will send our blog to your email every Monday morning.)

by Bob Sparrow

shell     With my thumb and forefinger I fished the shell casing out from the bottom of my shirt pocket and held it in the sunlight coming through my windshield as I sped down Interstate 5 on my way home.  It was the last tangible reminder of my now deceased best friend, given to me after the service by his sister.  The crack of the military rifles still echoed in my ear – a resounding period at the end of his life sentence.

“God dammit Don, why didn’t you take better care of yourself?”

He answered, “Didn’t we always say that ‘life was too long’?”

“It was just a joke!”

“Was it?”

I drove in silence for the next three hours, although it wasn’t exactly silent, in fact my mind was filled with a thousand memories – it was actually quite noisy in there.  I shouldn’t call classical music ‘noise’, but he loved the song Nessun Dorma, we listened to it together as the hair on our arms would stand on end.  Now, as I drive in the vast openness of central California, that melody was haunting me as an ear worm.

Being a rather unsophisticated fan of opera, I would later learn that the song is from the opera, Turandot, by Puccini, Pavarottiwhich ironically, or not, is about solving riddles.  It features an unknown prince, a bitchy princess as well as some torture and beheadings.  Pretty much like operas today, only now they’re prefaced with ‘soap’.  While Nesun Dorma sounds like a beautifully majestic love song, the lyrics and the storyline in the opera are actually quite menacing.  For those not familiar with the song, and even those who are and enjoy a good aria, I’ve attached a link to the 3-minute video of Pavarotti’s offering in 1994 – you may have to copy and paste it into your browser – it’s worth it!


     I wondered what all this had to do with anything (as you may be wondering yourself!).  The Tape was already in the car’s cassette player so I just punched ‘Play’.  No longer trying to figure out what was being said, I listened more broadly to the rhythm, the pulse of it.  What I heard for the first time was what clearly sounded like changes in the language being used.  It was still all  unintelligible, but it now seemed clear that the language being used was changing several time throughout the 90-minute tape.

I heard a number of words and phrases repeated throughout the first several minutes.  One such phrase was Eviatem non Cawhoea. I’m sure the spelling here isn’t correct as I just wrote it down phonetically . . . while I was driving.  Of course it meant nothing to me, but I thought about a colleague, Matt, with whom I used to teach and who now was a professor of language at nearby Chapman University, who just might be able to help.

Matt tilted his head towards the cassette player in his office, narrowed his eyes and was motionless as he listened to The Tape.  As the cassette wheels spun I watched his eyes furtively shift, widen then frown.  I silently pointed to the tape, as if to make him listen harder when the Eviatem non Cawhoea part was coming up for the second time.  After it was spoken I clicked off the tape.

“Those words are repeated several times in the first few minutes” I told him, “Any idea what it is?”

“Maybe”, he responded as he turned to the bookshelf behind him and ran his index finger along a row of old books until he found what he was looking for.  He pulled it from the shelf and gingerly laid it on his desk and turned to the page as noted in the Table of Contents.

Pointing at the page he said, “Yes, here it is right here, it is in fact . . . gibberish.”

“Oh thank you esteemed professor of language, I knew you could solve this mystery.  Seriously, does any of it make any sense to you?”

“Actually some of it does.  The phrase, Iviatim non Cahuilla, which is repeated several time probably refers to the Iviatim or Ivia language of an ancient Indian tribe, related to the Aztecs; they’re actually indigenous to the deserts here in Southern California.  Cahuilla, (pronounced kah-wee-ah) was the name for Iviatim that was used by the missionaries and ranchero owners.  It was the Spanish first, then the Mexicans that took over their land.”

“Why did they change the name?  Can you translate any more of it; do you think it tells us why they changed the name?

“Hold on with the questions for a minute.  I’m afraid I can’t translate anything more, that language is nearly extinct; there are probably less than 50 people in the world that can still speak it.  Fortunately for you most of them are out in the Palm Springs area.  Someone out there may be able to answer your questions.”

“Thanks Matt, any ideas on how I would go about finding any of the 50 people that still speak this language?”

“Well, you’re probably not going to find them sitting around the pool at the Marriott sipping a Pina Colada, but I think I can point you in the right direction.”

I would learn later that Matt actually knew exactly where to send me, and he knew why the name was changed, but he had his reasons for not being the one to give me the answers.