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.


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