Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Furnace Creek Inn Encounter, Death Valley, California

     Cannon Raspberry’s heart skipped a beat when she came out of the cabin. Their eyes locked and she halted, watching him as he passed. She was medium height, slender, with short grey hair, bangs over her intense brown eyes, wearing jeans and a denim shirt, a black vest for the morning chill. She stared at him. Cannon knew her. But who was she? How did they know each other? Cannon started to turn, but a man came out of the cabin, tall, bulky. The man spoke to her and she turned away.
     He hurried on and headed for the dining room, famous for the Inn’s ambiance and food. The pert waitress seated him at a table for two and he ordered coffee, plus the “Miner’s Special”, eggs and sausage with hash browns. As he sipped his coffee, the couple came in. The waitress seated them in front of him at a table for four. Her partner’s back was to Cannon, but she was facing him, partially blocked by her male companion.
    He was careful not to stare at her, but Cannon stole glances, racking his brain: where and when? An odd sense of dread seeped through him. At one point the man excused himself and left the table. Cannon and the woman were left facing each other. She studiously avoided looking at him, staring down at a Death Valley Pamphlet. But then she looked up and their eyes locked. It was there, a communication, unspoken, yet passing between them. In that brief interlude, the possibilities flashed: oh, but for our missed chance. Please, once more.
     Then her companion lumbered back and broke the trance. Cannon returned to his eggs and sausage. She did not look his way again. They finished first and left the dining room. Cannon felt uneasy, certain he knew her. She was someone from a long time ago. How odd they would meet at the exclusive Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley.
     Cannon went back to this room and out on the balcony, staring at the magnificent view, stunning with the black rock, the yellow sand, the green sprinkles of desert holly and the salt flats resembling fresh fallen snow. The Valley was discovered by the unfortunate “49’s” from Salt Lake City, seeking a winter short cut to California. Their trek was a disaster and they named the area Death Valley.
    Now Cannon was on the way to San Francisco to sign the sale of his shares and pick up his buyout check, having sold his interest in the financial software company for fifty million dollars. But the strange encounter with the mysterious woman disrupted his mood; she was like a black bird perched nearby.
     He shrugged his unease away and gathered his belongings for his day outing: the loop hike at Gower Gulch, a visit to the Harmony 20-Mule Team Borax Factory and then to the Nevada silver-mining ghost town of Rhyolite.
      Later that afternoon, Cannon arrived in Rhyolite and climbed through the broken side fence to explore the shadows of the abandoned Hotel and Casino. He settled in the large dining room, standing at the end of the bar, savoring the ghosts of the intrepid silver miners and their camp followers. Cannon started as he heard a car approach on the gravel road and he looked out to see a Land Rover SUV stop in the desert twilight.
     The woman from the Inn got out wearing the same adventure clothes. She took off her cap, shook out her gray hair and it was a flash from a dream. He recognized her, the high school valedictorian, Suzie Sands. Cannon shrank back and his heart skipped a beat. On a dare from the Boys, his gang, he had courted her, dated her, and then swooned her, culminating in the back seat of his Chevy at a drive-in, replete with a six pack of beer and popcorn. Though crude, it had been otherworldly, ending in the metaphysical touching of their finger tips.
     But that was it. Cannon had the Boys to worry about. She was a scholar. Occasionally their eyes would meet in the cafeteria, questioning. But nothing said. Now, almost 40 years later, she was here in Death Valley. And she was stalking him.
     The man stayed in the car as she walked toward the hotel. Cannon shrank back from the window, suddenly fearful, a chill as her footsteps faded. Cannon stood by the window and looked for her, but she was out of sight. He stood rigid in the fading light. Then she was there in the doorway, looking at him. She raised her eyebrows in recognition, but did not speak. Cannon gave a wave of hi, as she pulled out a long-nosed revolver; pffft, and she shot him in the shoulder knocking him back against the window. He slid down onto the floor, his back against the wall. She walked over.
     “What are you doing? All these years, your husband…” Cannon asked.
     “He’s not my husband.” She said, speaking for the first time. The last time he heard her voice she had whispered…”please, be gentle.”
     She went on. “I took the road less traveled. I am an assassin. The guy is my partner. And this has nothing to do with you and me, what happened a long time ago. It’s the Boys; they don’t want you to sell your shares. Better that you have a misfortune.”
     “Johnny Lang,” Cannon guessed. “My shares go to him if something happens to me.”
     She nodded as she stood over him, the silenced revolver at her side. “They think the company is worth a billion, so why settle for a hundred million? Your pals, Johnny, Wayne, Gene and Jimmy are greedy. You get mugged and shot in Death Valley. Problem solved.”
     It all fell into place, made sense, the Boys… He looked up at her. “What could I do back then? It was a game. But I never got over it, never married, never settled down. You were always here.” And Cannon put his hand to his heart.
     Suzie leaned over and raised the gun, setting the silencer barrel against his temple.
     She smiled.


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