Monday, June 27, 2011

The Outlaw Inn, Laramie, Wyoming

Cannon read the brief restaurant history on the back of the menu, which explained the  eating spot had originally been called, Bucket of Blood Saloon. In the late 1800s, the prior owner and his two brothers were lynched in front of the saloon for various misdeeds. Laramie justice. 
            A bulky, young man and a teen-aged girl came into the Outlaw, taking the next booth. The man sat facing Cannon glowering, then swept the dining room with his angry glare.
Suddenly, the man started to rise from his bench, as to leave, run away. He did not want to be there, not at the Outlaw Inn. Cannon watched as the young girl moved from her seat and joined the nervous man. She sat beside him, speaking softly to calm him, patting his arm.
Cannon was shocked to see that the girl was Red, the young girl who had come to his apartment in Boise, Idaho, seeking donations for piano lessons. She glanced over catching his eye and signaling Cannon not to interfere. Red leaned toward the unhappy man and spoke, almost whispering in his ear, then patting him again to reassure him, “you can do this”.
The angry man looked at the other diners, a few were now watching. HIs face was red, his dark eyes wide, as if he were terrorized. The young girl returned to her side of the booth, her back to Cannon.
            The man twitched and squirmed, as bound in a too-tight jacket. Then he jumped up, sweeping the dining room with a malevolent look that instantly dimed the hum of conversation.
            “I’m Johnny Lang.” He boomed, as if introducing himself to give a speech. “I killed Amber Delay.”
            A stunned hush fell over the restaurant; the waitresses all stopped where they were. Those setting down plates hesitated, not taking their eyes off the swaying Johnny Lang. A dark cloud descended over the room.
 Amber Delay had vanished 18 months ago and her parents had been frantic, assembling search parties, distributing posters, and offering a $100,000 reward for Amber’s safe return.
 “I saw Amber in an alley, taking a short-cut to high school. I stopped and told her to get in the car, showing her my knife and telling her I had a gun and that I would shoot her if she tried to run. She got in the car.”
            The restaurant was dead quiet. Not a soul stirred, no one drew a breath.
            “Amber got in and asked for music. She wanted some music as we drove. Then she pleaded with me, saying I did not have to do this, that I should let her go, just stop and let her out. She was a good girl and would never tell anyone.
I drove her out to the old fort and that treed area behind the stockade, and…I don’t know why…I stabbed Amber, slit her throat. I buried her there at the fort."
            Red looked over her shoulder at Cannon. Her eyes were wide and she shook her head, telling him to stay still.
            Johnny Lang was wearing jeans and a maroon sweat shirt; he reached behind his back under his shirt and pulled out a wicked-looking hunting knife. He waved it at the diners, who recoiled. But no one moved, no one dared get up. Cannon noticed an older woman out of Johnny Lang’s sight who was talking on her cell phone.
            “This is for Amber Delay.” Johnny yelled. Then he put his left hand on the table and with a whack cut off his first finger. He turned and waved his bloody left hand in the air.
 “Amber Delay” he shouted.
            There were gasps.
            The patrons stared wide-eyed. The woman on the phone had her hand to her mouth; an older woman in a wheel chair wobbled and her chin fell forward on her chest.
            Johnny Lang surveyed his mesmerized audience, holding up his four-digit left hand, while waving his vicious knife in the air. He dared anyone to move, the show was not over.
            “I also killed Cherry Lee. That was six months ago. You all remember Cherry Lee, don’t you?” It was a taunt, as Cherry Lee was loved by all.
“I caught her on the jogging path along the Laramie River at twilight, your track star, a hero to the community. Everyone loved Cherry Lee.
 I could not help it, could not stop. She wept. No music for Cherry Lee, who fought…fought like a tiger.  I thought to let her go. But I had to strangle her. Then I buried her out there in the brush, beneath the bridge, the one that connects Main Street to the I-80.”
            Folks could still not completely comprehend what Johnny Lang was telling them.  Amber Delay and Cherry Lee were two teenage girls that had gone missing. The town and state had mobilized each time to search. It was Laramie’s nagging, unsolved mystery. Amber was 17 and perhaps she had run away because of her step dad. But Cherry was only 14, a budding track star.
            “This one is for Cherry Lee.” Johnny boomed, then turned and put his left hand on the table and sliced off his second finger. He raised his left hand with the two stubs and waved it around.
            “I’m out on parole. And I won’t stop. I will kill again. I won’t be stopped. This little darling with me, my red ponytail,” Johnny said, pointing his knife at the teen in the booth, "she will be next. I swear it. Unless…”
            And with that, Johnny took the knife and cut his throat, the blood spurting, galvanizing the nearby patrons, who leapt up screaming to avoid the splash.
            The young girl in the booth turned to look at Cannon, staring at him with her serious hazel eyes. Johnny’s blood had splashed her front. “Sit still and do not say anything.” She said to Cannon in a low voice. “I am making things right.”
            Pandemonium descended on the dining room. A few diners on the other side bolted into the kitchen. Others backed away from the prostrate, bleeding Johnny Lang.
Cannon sat riveted, watching as Red stood up to avoid the pooling blood that was flowing toward the booth. She stepped away from Johnny’s body and looked at Cannon. At that moment, the dining room hostess, an older white-haired lady in shiny black slacks with a lime green shirt, came out of nowhere and put her arm around Red, turning her and heading for the rest room. “We’ve got to get you washed up, young lady.” She said and the older woman steered the girl down the hall.
The hostess returned and stood by Cannon, who looked at her. “She’s okay?” Cannon asked, referring to Red.
“Remarkably calm, especially after that brute announced she was next. Oh Lord, makes me shutter just to think. What a horrible person. There on my floor lies true evil.” The hostess said, looking down at the still Johnny Lang, and then she turned back toward the rest room.
Suddenly the police and the EMS were there, telling everyone to stay in their seats. The emergency personnel knelt down and attended to the sprawled man, checking his vital signs. But Johnny Lang was dead.
Cannon looked up and saw the hostess returning with a concerned look, but Red was not with her.
“Did you see the girl?” The hostess asked in a panic, as if Red were her daughter. “Did she come this way? She’s not in the rest room. Where is she? Where could she have gone?”
 Cannon shook his head. He had no idea where Red had gone. But he knew he would see her again.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Love Nest Tragedy, North Platte, Nebraska

Norman, tall and balding, came in and gave Emily Lour a quick pat on the shoulder. Lou noticed there was no kiss. Norman poured himself a glass of ice tea and sat across from Lou at the kitchen table, asking her about her upcoming Colorado trip and schedule. He mentioned that she would love the Stanley, a famous old Hotel outside of Boulder, and he urged her to take the ninety-minute Stanley History and Ghost Tour that he had noticed on the hotel website.
            They chatted comfortably with each other. Once teenage sweethearts, they had been married for twenty-five years, a good life with financial security due especially to Lou’s hard work and the money she brought in with her regional sales job. She continued making notes for her trip as Norman began to drone on about his job and his day.
            “But I am happy.” Norman was saying.  “I’m so happy. Something wonderful has happened. I’ve fallen in love with my summer intern, Betty Jo. So while you are away, I will be moving out. I won’t be here when you return from your Colorado meeting.”
             Lou paused with pen on paper. It took a few seconds to record what Norman had said. She looked up and blinked. “What did you say?”
             “I’ve fallen in love with Betty Jo and I am moving out.” Norman replied with a giddy, idiotic grin on his face, driving an ice pick in her chest. Yet, she still could not believe. Out of the blue came to mind.
             “…sell the house. I know the market is still off. But this is such a great house. Maybe some of the new people at the Resort would be interested…” Norman continued to babble on about his happiness and how they must split up their possessions.
             Lou put Norman on mute. She watched his lips moving, but tuned him out. Was this happening? Was it a cruel joke? She looked around the kitchen in bewilderment. Was there someone in the dining room? Would the neighbors pop in and yell, “Surprise”. What did the kids call it? Punked, that was it. The kids nowadays like to punk each other. Was Norman punking her?
              “…of course it is against company rules. You cannot imagine how hard it is when Betty Jo and I see each other, pass in the hall, or sit in meetings together. We can hardly keep our hands off each other. Betty Jo wants to leap into my arms, drag me into a closet, hee, hee.”
              Lou recoiled at Norman’s salacious chuckle. Maybe he was deranged; the pressure for the job was too much. Or perhaps, this was a flight of fancy. In the morning, he would not recall any of it, just an aberration.  Norman would be himself in the morning.
             “…I think it was love at first sight…” Norman waxed on. “We shook hands the first time we met and electricity coursed through my body. “My Lord, the real thing…”
              Lou cocked her head and studied Norman. He seemed oblivious of her, as if he was telling his pals, explaining his euphoria. He and Betty Jo had found true love; they were soul mates. Emily Lou blinked. Where was the sanity? Would he never stand up and yell, “Not!' Tell Lou the joke was on her and their life would, of course, go on as before?
             “Well, I’ve had a hectic day.” Norman said. “All the politicking by the others to take the top job away from me! Have they no decency? I am the only qualified person for replacing Stu. I will be the resort manager. I have been loyal and honest, for twenty years a most productive company employee, an outstanding executive member of the team. I,,, No we, have worked so hard for this. It is mine! I mean the job is ours, Lou.”
             Emily Lou was incredulous. We? Ours?
  She could vaguely recall meeting this year’s summer intern at the Springtime Dogwood Function. Betty Jo was athletic, short haired, dark eyed. Not unattractive, Lou grudgingly acknowledged. But this young woman was going off with Norman, who could be her father. She was stealing Lou’s husband of twenty-five years. Betty Jo was destroying their marriage and also destroying Norman’s career, once the word was out. What was happening here?
   “I know this is out of the blue, dear. I’ll leave you with your coffee. Maybe a second cup will help.” And Norman gratuitously got up and gave her a refill of the afternoon coffee. “Let me get a shower, then we can talk some more. But I need to get comfy first. Maybe you make a list of the things you want. Needless to say, tonight I will move into the guest room, use that bathroom at the end of the hall. I’m sure you’ll want your space.”
  And Norman got up and went up the stairs. He was humming a song from long ago. But Lou could not place it. If he did not shut up, he would drive her mad.
  Lou looked down at her pad and the notes she had made to share with her friend, Cannon, over drinks at the Stanley Hotel. She stared at what she had jotted about her last sales overnight in Mitchell, South Dakota. An odd young man had sat with her at breakfast in the Comfort Inn, whispering to her about a Washington, D. C. conspiracy: there were no political parties, no wars, the U.S. Government was a hoax, a ponzi scheme. And only he knew, and they were after him. To read her notes made Lou smile, the story was amusing, but that morning  the young man had scared Emily Lou. Cannon would love this one.
  Lou slowly got up and blew her nose. How long had they been there at the table? How long had Norman rattled on about his new happiness? It seemed to be getting dark, definitely twilight time. There was only one thing to do.
  She went into the cellar and poked around in Norman’s things. Finally, she found what she was looking for in a trunk. Then she needed something else and found that in the tall cabinet beside his work bench.
 Preparing herself, she went back to the kitchen and listened. Lou could hear the shower in the guest bathroom. Norman was singing. Lou went up the stairs and took the chair from the side table. She set it at the far end so she was looking down the hall at the guest bathroom, some thirty feet or so from where she sat.
  “Only you, only you can…” and again Norman’s voice trailed away, followed by the insane humming. Then the water shut off and Lou could hear him moving around in the bathroom. Finally, the door opened and there was Norman in the doorway, resplendent in his gold-trimmed, navy blue robe. He blinked at her, his mouth open in protest.
  Lou steadied herself and pulled both triggers. The shotgun barked, shook, and spat, shredding Norman’s robe. The shots blew him back into the bathroom where he smacked against the hot water radiator, and then Norman slid to a sitting position, his mouth agape, and his eyes wide in surprise.
 She got up and put the shotgun on the hall table, dragging the chair back to where it belonged. She went into their bedroom, now her room, and searched in the bathroom cabinet, taking two aspirin, which she shook out of the bottle and flushed down with a drink of water.
 Lou then looked at her roller suit case, which was sitting on the bed. She prided herself on packing compactly, taking just the essentials. She had always told the kids, “you pack it, you carry it."  She glanced at the phone on the end table, but hesitated. No need to dial 911, not yet. Let Norman sit tight in the bathroom. He would not ruin her Colorado trip. Besides, she so wanted to hear Cannon’s story that he hinted at in his email, the one about the Nevada motel that he claimed turned into a flying saucer. And all her colleagues were waiting. The show must go on.
 Such is life.