Saturday, November 24, 2012

Going Over the Fiscal Cliff, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah

The fiscal cliff was looming and the world held its breath. The Assembly was deadlocked, frozen, and nothing was getting done. In a few days, the country was going over the edge… into the abyss.
           The two major sides battled hopelessly.  The Republicans wanted to reduce taxes, claiming this would stimulate innovation and output, a rising tide raises all boats.
           The Leader, who had just been re-elected, demanded a tax increase. The polls told him that 60% agreed with his policy. Without majority support, the Congress could not act.
           Gridlock.
           No matter how much the citizens demanded action, the representatives postured and fulminated. The moment of reckoning came when they announced another extended holiday in order to touch base with the folks back home.
           Out of the blue came the citizens, they captured the representatives and loaded them on buses. They drove to a remote, high plateau in the Southwest where there were two curious rock formations facing each other, sacred Anasazi ceremonial table rocks with precipitous fall offs. Here the ancient tribes would sacrifice their most able to appease the spirits in the hope of good tidings.
            There in the twilight, the people loaded the members into cars, four to a car, a procession of 133 cars. They ran the cars over the sheer face of the larger rock formation.The representatives were outraged, banging on the car windows and even vowing to change their positions, compromise.
             One by one the cars went over, sailing into the empty void. They pounded on the car windows in panic. The more resolute held firm: taxes must go up. Some suggested alternative ways to increase revenues…..the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.
             In one car, a window was lowered and a pink-face socialist representative sputtered furiously. The onlookers only caught his words, “…millionaires and billionaires.” in the chill night.                
             Another captive was able to lower his window, waving his arms frantically as his car went over the rim. He was a rising star, one of the so called young guns and he shouted, “I am not a wack job”, as his car plummeted into the darkness.
             Next a patrician woman with an unctuous smile pushed a thick, heavy document out of the window and shouted: “Here’s the deal, but we have to pass it before we know what’s in it.”
             But there was no reprieve, no amnesty and each car went down the runway, out over the cliff. The parade lasted through the night until the process was over, leaving a pile of twisted debris at the rocky bottom.
             To everyone’s amazement, the earth did not stand still. The world did breathe again and the citizens convened a more congenial group.  A deal was quickly struck.
             Today the country is a model of sustainable economic growth and the contentious period just a bad memory.
             Table Rock in the remote national park is now a hallowed place of pilgrimage. Families come from far and wide to gaze in awe and reverence at that most holy of holies, the Fiscal Cliff.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Myrtles Plantation, Alexandria, Louisiana




The Myrtles Plantation was their destination as Ella Mae and her gifted daughter drove along Route 40, a two-lane black top rutted by recent rains. They arrived early afternoon in the sleepy city of Alexandria and Averil Jean directed her mother to the imposing Myrtles Manor, a structure of antebellum architecture, featuring a 100 foot white-columned portico and set among towering oak trees that lined the drive.
            Ella Mae stopped the car and put her hand to her throat, never having seen such a beautiful structure. She dutifully followed the signs to the service entrance and told Averil to stay in the car while she went to the door.
            Ringing the bell, Ella waited with fluttering in her stomach. What were they doing in such a grand setting? She asked herself.
            Fortunately, the handsome estate manager, Beau Raspberry, opened the door, his eyes widening as he saw the comely Ella Mae. There was something about the woman before him. She was obviously of Indian descent, graceful with flowing black hair, a chiseled face, aquiline nose, and dark eyes that telegraphed intelligence.
            Beau’s mind raced as the woman told him she was looking for work. There was the Myrtles Thanksgiving open house in a week and his assistant had taken ill. He was in desperate need of an intelligent helper and the alluring Ella seemed to fit the bill.
Ella and Averil were quickly settled in the back section of the house, formerly the head butler’s quarters. Beau put Ella to work on the party preparations, while Averil attended the plantation school.
One evening while Beau was directing a practice run, Averil wandered behind the house, coming to rest at the dock that overlooked the slow moving Cane River. She sat and closed her eyes, suddenly hearing music, a slow tempo waltz that drifted on the crisp fall evening. To her amazement, the dining room French doors flew open and two people emerged, a portly gentleman carrying a picnic basket, accompanied by a lovely, blond lady in white.
Averil watched as they walked to the beach beside the pier and climbed into a teak rowboat, casting off and moving upriver, then drifting with the languid current. The woman sat in the back and bent over to pour champagne and serve canap├ęs when the man suddenly grabbed her feet and flung her backwards over the stern. He then stood, taking an oar and swatting the struggling woman who was tangled in her elaborate gown. In a few seconds, the woman in white sank.
The man than rocked the boat until it flipped over and he tumbled into the water. He surfaced and laboriously swam to shore where he pulled himself up on the beach, then collapsed. Moments later a servant appeared on the porch, scanned the river for the couple, and saw the man prostrate in the sand, quickly sounding sounded the alarm.
Averil opened her eyes and understood all…the woman was Alice Lacount and her husband, Sam Bradford, had murdered her, feigning the boat tragedy. Alice was the woman in white, the woman crying out for justice that she had met at the Hanna School. Averil now knew it would soon be time to move on and find the nefarious Sam Bradford.
Back in the mansion, after the practice and Beau Raspberry had gone to his quarters, Mae retreated to the kitchen with Chloe, who led the kitchen brigade. She and Ella had become friends and Chloe had confided that at one time she had been close to Beau. Chloe had rebelled when Beau took up with a younger servant, but Beau put her in her place by slicing off her right ear, which explained the head wrap she wore. It was Beau’s retaliation for Chloe listening at the door when he was dallying with his new desire.
Once alone in the kitchen, Chloe revealed that she was a mixture, a blend of Hoodoo and Voodoo royalty. Not only did she worship the Grand Zombie, the snake god, but she also had the ability to conjure. As such, she recognized the royalty in Ella Mae, but was puzzled by Averil Jean, Ella Mae’s daughter who cast an aura and had six fingers on each hand.
Ella explained that she was descended from a Yavapai-Apache princess, and that Averil‘s father came from far, far away and Ella motioned to the night stars, recalling the dark stranger who had wooed her when she lived in Roswell, New Mexico.
The two women agreed that Beau was evil and they must rein him in. Chloe said she was biding her time, but would soon extract sweet revenge.  Ella told Chloe to be patient, that she would arrange a setting for the lascivious Beau Raspberry after the annual affair.
Two weeks after the successful open house, Beau Raspberry made his move, always a feint to disarm the new quarry. He invited Ella Mae to join him at the caretaker’s small house located in the woods, a brisk walk from the manor. The pretense was to consider refurbishing. Ella eagerly agreed and that evening they walked to the cottage, pausing at the front door, which Beau unlocked.  Anticipation ran through Beau to his bones, but when he looked down at Ella’s shining face, he suddenly felt a chill and doubt.
“Maybe now is not the right time.” The hesitant Beau said.
“This is the perfect time.” Ella replied and pushed him into the dark cottage. 

Later that night when all was quiet and clouds were scudding across the three-quarter moon, Ella took Chloe to the caretaker’s cottage. The two of them paused as Ella turned the key and opened the door. Chloe gasped as she saw in the faint light Beau tied to a chair in the middle of the room, his clothes neatly piled on the floor. Ella handed Chloe a Bartlow hunter’s knife with a gleaming 6” blade and a honey stag bone handle, just right for gutting.
As Ella walked away the clouds obscured the moon and the night creatures were silent. Even the old owl in the oaks was quiet. That was when the shrill screaming started and Ella knew it was time to move on.
Averil had been importuning her mother to travel to New Orleans where there was someone who needed to be called to account.
The two left early the next morning.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Kidnapping, Ruby Mountains, Great Basin, Elko, Nevada



Cherry Lee saw the boy walking along the Great Basin Highway just outside of Wells, Nevada and she smelled money. Cherry told Carl to stop and he pulled the black Escalade onto the shoulder. Ray in the passenger seat looked back questioning, his long, deadpan face puzzled.
         Ignoring her two partners, Cherry jumped out of the SUV, standing akimbo, her shoulder length, blond hair whipping across her face as the boy, head down, trudged along the lonely, two-lane blacktop that snaked through the high desert.
         He was about 13 and dressed in mahogany loafers, gray wool slacks, a white shirt and a navy blue, brass-buttoned blazer. He was fitted out as if coming from church; more likely, the country club. Cherry’s mind raced. They could grab him, hold him and ask six figures for his return. Easy money.
         The boy with a cherub’s face and mop haircut paused about 5 feet from Cherry and looked up. His dark eyes appraised the young, beautiful, blue-eyed woman standing in front of him. She was stylish in a powder blue sweater and a black, pleated skirt. The two stared at each other, both figures incongruous on the empty road in Nevada’s Eastern Great Basin.
         “Need a ride?” Cherry asked, breaking the impasse.
         The boy cocked his head and smiled. “I’m on the way to the Bellagio in Las Vegas."
         Cherry said that they were headed that direction and could give him a ride. They’d be happy to drop him, as they were going past the large casino-hotel on the Strip.
         The boy nodded, following Cherry and happily climbed into the back seat of the high-riding Escalade. He nodded to the two men in front who eyed him suspiciously. Cherry told her partners the boy was on the way to Vegas and wanted to be dropped at the Bellagio. The two men looked at each other, but shrugged as they trusted Cherry’s instincts.
         The four them settled in and resumed the drive through the high desert. There was little traffic and the day was cold and cloudy. A brisk wind blew, creating dust swirls and sending the tumbleweed rolling across the empty plain. Ray’s mind roiled as he began to devise a plan: a place to stay, the phone call, the drop off, and then the kid.
         “I’m Cherry Lee, and that’s Carl driving and Ray in the passenger seat. And you are?”
         The boy reached in his jacket and pulled out a fine, leather wallet and handed it to Cherry, who raised her eyebrows, taking the wallet and flipping it open. On the right was an identification card.
         “Our new friend is Alexander Bier Hammond.” Cherry said. “And he lives on Lake Shore Drive in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.” The two men grunted.
         Cherry flipped through the pictures on the left side of the wallet, pausing to study the large, gray-stone mansion on the lake. She knew the area well, a place where the wealthy lived on the lake. The others lived outside of the artsy town in modest ranch-style homes, or in trailer parks. Alex Hammond reeked of old Idaho money.
         They drove in silence, coming upon a rest stop on the right and Alex indicated he needed to stop. Carl pulled in and the boy jumped out, running to the rest room. The three partners exited the SUV, lit cigarettes and leaned against the Escalade.
         “What’s he doing in the middle of nowhere?” Ray, always the wary one, asked.
         “Not our problem.” Cherry replied. “We need a spot to hold him, and then Carl can run to Vegas and phone the family, arrange the drop.
         “Something’s not right about the kid.” Carl offered.
         Alex returned wiping his hands on a handkerchief, which he then stuffed into his jacket’s breast pocket.
         “Sure glad I met you nice people.” He said with a smile.
 
If Carl or Ray had survived the trip, neither one could explain why Carl took a right off the highway onto a dirt road that wound up into the Ruby Mountains. Cherry leaned forward when they turned off, but Alex put his hand on her leg and she sat back.
        They climbed for an hour and then pulled into a parking area for a historical site. Cherry and Alex got out, walking over to the bronze marker.
         Carl put down the windows and the two men lit cigarettes. Ray looked at Carl and asked. “Why’d you come up here?”
          “No idea.” Carl replied.
         “That boy’s not normal.” Ray said.
         Alex and Cherry stood in front of the faded plaque. The first paragraph noted that early explorers named the mountains for the garnets that they found in the narrow cuts between the slopes. A second paragraph explained that the area was a Shoshone Sanctuary, a spiritual place where the tribe gathered at the change of seasons and sacrificed young braves in the hope the High Spirits would bless the new season. The chosen ones were thrown from this scenic spot.
          Cherry read the marker aloud, and then shuddered as she and Alex stood at the edge of the cliff looking down to the jagged rocks below. Alex looked back at the SUV as Carl and Ray exited the vehicle and walked slowly over to the marker. Without a word, Carl climbed over the low railing and stood at the edge. Cherry gasped, but Alex restrained her.
          Carl held the railing with his left hand then leaned out over the cliff, flinging  his right hand out in a salute to invisible watchers. And then Carl let go and plunged down. Before Cherry could react, Ray climbed over the railing and followed Carl’s example, but executed his salute with flair, a theatrical twist of his wrist. Then Carl let go, falling silently.
         Without a word, Alex walked back to the Escalade and climbed into the passenger seat. Cherry put her hand to her throat and peeked over the edge. But her two partners had vanished into the gathering mists that now shrouded the rocks below.
         Cherry returned to the SUV and drove back down to the main road. She paused at the intersection, glancing over at Alex who directed her.
         “We’ll get a suite at the Bellagio and I’ll show you which slots to play. Then we’ll move on to the tables. You take a seat and close your eyes. Listen and you will hear me; I’ll tell you the cards to play. We’ll spend a week in Vegas gathering our stake. After that, we will see.”
         Cherry nodded numbly and turned right heading south on the Great Basin Highway.
         Who was kidnapping who?

 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Last Station, Shard Villa, Middlebury, Vermont



The radio died and the motor conked out when Ted and Jan came around the corner on the Vermont country road. The SUV drifted to a stop beside the long driveway that led to a gray, stone, tower-topped manor. Jan felt goose bumps as she stared at the imposing structure, which appeared to have eyes, a nose, and a gaping mouth; a smaller fifth eye was in the widow’s watch.
           They got out never having seen such an odd structure in the rolling farm country of Western Vermont. Ted looked at his phone and cursed as there was no service. Jan held her phone and shook her head. Ted tried the engine again, but the battery was dead.
           The couple went up the drive and saw a man come out of the front doors and wait for them on the doorstep. The man was tall, dressed in white with silver hair slicked back, a narrow pink face and, as they approached, they noticed his sky blue eyes.
           Ted explained they had car trouble and needed to call for service.“I’ll have Max call the garage at Salisbury. They’re nearby.” The man said in a deep voice.
           He invited them in, offering ice tea while they waited. As they entered the dim foyer a woman appeared who could have been the man’s twin. He turned his back and spoke to her, Ted and Jan not catching his words.
           The man ushered them into the sitting room with the large windows facing the extended lawn. Jan paused as their host led the way with Ted following. She looked to her left down the hall and was startled to see an older woman in black clutching a clown doll wearing a green beret festooned with silver stars. She was mouthing, “help me”. Jan started to speak, but the woman shook her head and put her finger to her lips.
            Jan shakily joined Ted on the couch as he introduced them and the man nodded, saying he was Dr. Burns. The woman in white returned and set out ice tea for the three of them, replete with slices of lemon. Jan took the glass smiling, while being overcome with uneasiness, a queasy feeling. Her antenna was going up. Who was that old woman and why had she signaled to Jan?
            She tuned back in as Ted rambled on about their cottage on Lake Hortonia and how they had been exploring the back roads when the car died.
            Dr. Burns explained that the Shard Villa was a care facility for the sunset years and it was managed by his company on behalf of the U.S. Government. Jan’s ears perked up as she was a Washington, D.C. reporter covering Health and Human Services and she recalled hushed discussions about the new 3,000 page Health Care Bill. There were rumors of a Sunset Provision that was radical, an experiment to deal with the ever mounting costs of the terminally ill elderly, 85% of health care expenses. Some cynics whispered “Final Care”. In other words, the last station.
             “…exciting, still experimental, very new.” Dr. Burns explained. “If we are successful, this will save the President’s health care system and care will be viable if our approach is applied on a country-wide basis.”
             “You’re a contractor? Where are you from?” Ted asked.
              Dr. Burns laughed. “We are from far away.”
              Ted cocked his head. “You mean Europe?”
             “Far, far away.” The doctor added, then changed the subject and asked about the sailing at Lake Hortonia.
              Jan felt the hair on her neck stand up as her mind raced. She recalled other rumors, absurd stories, wild bar talk about secret contact, discovering a marvelous technology, a painless ray that vaporized matter. Jan always shrugged these stories offf…the second bottle of wine talking.  Still, the President had been touting his new cost-effective approach to deal with the elderly. To be unveiled at a later date, of course.
             “You’re quiet.” Dr. Burns said, looking intensely at Jan with his blue eyes, his eyebrows raised questioningly, as if he could read her mind. Jan blushed and lamely said she was thinking about her new assignment on the health-care beat.
            Ted was settling back, but Jan stood and said they ought to call the garage again. Dr. Burns  agreed, but urged them to try the car another time. Maybe just an unexplained quirk. Jan smiled and led Ted out of the Villa while Ted thanked the doctor and shrugged, indicating that his wife was eccentric at times.
            They headed down the drive and Jan looked at her phone, 5 bars. Ted looked at his and scratched his head. They reached the car, got in and Ted turned the key, surprised when the engine started. Jan tensed as a leafy fragment floated onto the windshield. She reached out of the window and grabbed it, feeling that it was a small piece of green cloth and seeing the point of a silver star. Ted was saying they should drive by the villa and signal they were fine. Jan shook her head and insisted they leave. She chewed on her fingers. Something wasn’t right about Dr. Burns and his Shard Villa.
            The next day Jan convinced Penny, her local friend, who was a deputy sheriff to return with them to Shard Villa. Penny protested as the location was out of her jurisdiction, but reluctantly agreed to go in mufti as it was her day off.
            Ted described the previous day in glowing terms, the charming Dr. Burns and the fascinating stone villa. Ted was convinced that important research was being done and Vermont was lucky to host such a project.
            Penny started to protest but Jan shushed her as they turned onto Swamp Road and headed along the winding two-lane blacktop.
           “You’ll see for yourself.” Jan said.
           They rounded the familiar curve and Ted stopped at the foot of the great lawn, an open space.
           Penny was puzzled and shook her head. Ted and Jan gaped.
           The Shard Villa was gone.      

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, Jerome, Arizona


Max Bueler and Evening Star, a woman of American Yavapai-Apache Indian descent, lived on a mesa outside of Dead Horse, Arizona.
         Max prospected, but they survived on nuggets that Evening Star brought from her ancestral yellow mine. The location known only to her and Max.
          One evening Max stopped at the Mile High Saloon, washing down a few with Lilly, the piano player, who was curious about Max's gold nuggets.
          Later in the week, Evening Star rode to the mine and saw two horses tied to a Pinon Pine, hearing familiar voices and laughter from the mine.
         Enraged, Evning Star took a tree limb, clamored up the mine slope and pried loose a large boulder, sending it crashing down the slope to seal the entrance.
          In the dead of night, Evening Star packed her essentials and her nuggets and left Dead Horse. She rode east along the Mogollon Rim to start a new life.



Friday, June 8, 2012

The Virtuous Circle, Frisco, Utah



The storm troopers were at the door. Fred and Nora Byrnes cowered inside their cabin under the ancient cottonwood in the Great Basin Desert. Was this visit an incident, or a settlement? Vince, a powerfully built man in his 50s, along with his comely, blond partner were at the door. Kristine knocked once again, harder this time.
           “Leave us alone!” A shrill woman’s voice echoed from the cabin, then after a brief wait a white-haired, stooped man opened the door. The old man stepped back with a sigh of resignation and let the troopers enter the cozy cabin, which was more comfortable than it appeared from the outside.
           The elderly couple retreated to the couch and sat down, holding hands, looking apprehensively at Vince. Fred glanced at Kristine, who stood akimbo.
           “You are out of the circle.” Vince began, and then launched into one last incident speech about the common good and how Fred and Nora had to return to the circle where they could be monitored. Vince droned on about government health care services, recreation, entertainment and cultural events, to name just a few of New Forward’s cradle-to-grave offerings in the circle, including thought scanning that could avoid untoward events.
           Fred snorted and Nora looked up sharply. “We hate New Forward.” She spat. “Why can’t they leave us alone, let us live in peace? Like the old days.”
            Kristen cast a sideways glance at Vince. What was wrong with these old fools?
            “You have a place in the circle.” Kris tried. “Everyone is equal; there is no discrimination, no more inequality, and no poor people.”
            “And no more wealthy people either!” Nora snorted.
            Vince took a breath. He understood why he and Kris had come for a settlement. An incident was a  planned reasoning process. A settlement was final resolution.         
            “Who misses the wealthy?” Vince asked. “The wealthy who didn’t understand the New Forward philosophy were sent to re-education posts and later settled in the circle. Those who resisted, well…” And Vince let the sentence hang.
            “Even overweight people and smokers. Our friend Carl.” Fred protested.
            “It’s for the greater good.” A fit and slender Kris explained that anyone with a body mass greater than 25% was shipped to a Training and Nutrition Program for exercise and proper eating. Most went cheerfully, she noted.
            “But our friend Carl never returned from the program.” Nora hissed.
            There was a silence while Vince and Kris exchanged a look.
             “And you put smokers in a reservation, just like the Indians.” Nora said.
             Vince sighed and explained that smokers were sent to the corral, not a reservation and it was temporary once they demonstrated they had given up the vile smoking habit, which cost society billions each year.
            Changing the subject, Kris asked. “Why didn’t you apply to the Board for approval to visit in the desert? They might have granted you a couple of weeks at your Great Basin cabin.”
             Kris went on to explain that the Government Board was open to reviewing deviations and travel requests.
            Fred shook his head, muttering to himself.
            “Those half-wits?” Nora asked fiercely. “I wouldn’t dignify the Board’s existence by asking them to go pee.”
            “How did this happen?” Fred moaned, putting his head in his hands.
            “It was the election. We went to sleep and woke up with the New Forward.” Nora answered.
            Vince took a step back. Clearly, Fred and Nora were beyond redemption. So a settlement was in order. And it would be Kris’s first. Was Kris up to it? She certainly seemed the part: at times cajoling, other times bullying, but always tough.
            Holding up his hand for silence, Vince noted that he and Kris would call the Board. Perhaps something could be arranged. He politely told the couple that he and Kris would step outside.
            Fred’s eyes widened and relief flooded over his face. But Nora’s eyes narrowed and she bit her lip, suspicious.
            Vince looked around. It was lovely in the late afternoon. The cabin faced east and the declining sun bathed Utah's San Francisco Mountains in a soft light. Occasionally, there was a glimmer as the sun touched a tin roof in Frisco, the old mining town.
            “You ready for your first settlement?” Vince asked Kris who was staring fixedly at the cabin.
            Kris nodded, took a breath and walked back to the front door. She squared her shoulders, undid the flap of her weapon and went inside.
            Minutes passed and Vince could hear voices. Suddenly, Fred’s voice was loud, a shrill scream from Nora.
            Two heavy shots boomed across the empty desert.
            Vince let out a breath and dug at the sand with his foot. He looked up as Kris came out, her gun hanging in her right hand, which was shaking. He was startled to see tears streaming down Kristine’s cheeks.
            “We can’t just leave them like that.” Kris said, her voice shaking.
            Vince frowned. “Don’t fret; the cleaning crew will be here tomorrow morning.
            “All night?” Kris protested. “It’s not right.”
            “The crew is union. No work after six in the evening.”
             Kristine sniffled and put her hands to her face. Vince watched and shook his head. She was not as tough as she appeared. This was Kristine’s first and last settlement. She would never go further than an Incident Team.
            Today Fred and Nora are buried in two simple graves facing east, which allow a glimpse of the fabled Frisco mining town in the setting sun. The cabin by the cottonwood tree is ramshackle and empty.
  After all, the place is outside the circle.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Clutter Family Neighbor, Holcomb, Kansas


The boys parked by the mailbox and got the shotgun. They walked up to the modest farmhouse and slipped into the kitchen. They surprised Fred and Nora Ward on that cold November evening sitting snug by the fireplace. Perry motioned for Dick to look upstairs as there were kids in the house.
            Perry looked down at Nora as he prepared to gag her.
           The slight gray haired woman watched as the second intruder padded up the stairs holding the shotgun tightly.
            “You’ll be sorry.” Nora whispered, looking up at Perry with muddy eyes.
            At that moment Perry had doubts, his enthusiasm seeped away as air out of a balloon. Maybe they should cut and run. Call it off.
           Perry hesitated and stepped back. What did the old lady mean?
           Sorry…sorry for what? For the invasion, the robbery? Or was there something upstairs?
           Dick paused at the head of the stairs and crept into the main bedroom. There in the dim light sitting in a corner was a teenage girl in a simple navy dress. She had long black hair that framed her narrow, alabaster face and was alluring. Perhaps there was time for a dalliance. As Dick approached the silent girl and started to speak she looked at him with startling yellow eyes that bored into Dick’s soul.
           She put finger to her lips. “Shhh.”
           Dick wanted to explain, to wave the slide shotgun, but he seemed frozen. The girl rose and slipped around him and led Dick back downstairs. Perry was startled as they stood in the hall.
           Nora Ward murmured behind her gag, “I told you so”.
           Neither man spoke. They followed the girl out of the house and back to their car by the mailbox.
           “I am Eleanor and I will take you to the house you seek.” She said and climbed in the backseat.
           Dick drove and he followed directions to the nearby, prosperous looking farm.  Eleanor knew what they needed. Dick parked on the dirt road and the girl popped out of the back and boldly led them up the walk to the porch.
            Fluffy the cat was asleep on the welcome mat and looked lazily at the approaching figures. Fluff saw dark Eleanor staring at her with her yellow eyes and the cat leaped up hissing, back arched, and then flew off the porch. The party of three went through the front door. No one locked front doors in Holcomb.
             “No witnesses.” Eleanor said as they entered the still house. “Hair on the the wall."                 
             There was dead silence, even the wind paused and the windmill out back creaked to a halt. Then two blasts, a few minutes of silence, and then two more blasts.
             The shots rolled across the desolate Kansas prairie. Fred and Nora looked at each other, acknowledging retribution for the social slights. Nora smiled.
             When it was over the family of four was dead. But there was no safe, no money. The boys drove Eleanor back to her home. She exited from the back and the boys drove off, heading for Vegas.
              The killers were quickly apprehended in Las Vegas, returned to Kansas for trial and found guilty, condemned to hang. A writer who befriended Dick and Perry recorded their motives and feelings. In one interview, the writer sat across from Perry at a table. Sunlight streamed in through the cell bars, capturing dust motes. Perry stared intently at the strange, yellow afternoon light and it reminded him of Eleanor. He thought back when he gagged the old woman, the moment he wanted out, had doubts about the plan. The old woman had said, -You’ll be sorry.
               Perry banged forward in his chair. Yes, the old woman had been right. At that moment he wanted to call it off. But when Dick came down the stairs with Eleanor and she looked at him with those yellow eyes, his doubts vanished and his spirits soared.
               “It was the girl…” Perry blurted.
              The writer lunged across the table. Something new! Perhaps a tidbit, a girl involved! A new angle! The plot thickens!
              But Perry never mentioned the girl again and the boys were hanged on a dismal December day. The evening of the hanging the Ward family got in their black Oldsmobile and headed west. To California, of course.
             Today the ramshackle Ward farmhouse is for sale, but no buyers.  Even the town party kids steer clear. No one knows why, but the house sits empty.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Antebellum Waverly Mansion Incident, West Point, Mississippi


Jeanne Louise awoke to find a woman in a white cotton gown beside her bed. She was holding a brass holder with a flickering candle. Jeanne eyed her angular face and the black hair that cascaded down to her shoulders.
            Was Jeanne Louise dreaming?
            The woman put her finger to her lips, motioning for silence. “No need for alarm.” The figure said softly. “This is the Wavery midnight mansion tour.”
            Slipping into her navy robe and dutifully followed the woman out of the bedroom. The lady in white looked back and whispered that Jeanne was getting the special one-person plantation tour, reserved only for Van Doran related guests.
            Jeanne hurried to keep up with the strange woman, but felt a thrill. It was so theatrical!  And Jeanne Louise was connected to the ill-fated Van Doran family, as her mother could trace her roots back to the oldest of the five Van Doran daughters. Even more intriguing was the mystery that cloaked General Earl Van Doran’s wife, an olive-skinned woman from the bayous of Louisiana.    Some said the wife was a mystic, or worse.
             They went silently down the grand stair case and into the library that was off to the left of the landing of the antebellum manor. Jeanne Louise had many questions, but the guide shook her head and led them into the shadowy room, lit only by a dim lamp. They paused by the old desk that looked out on the grand lawn bordered with two sentinel lines of stately oak trees.
            “The General was shot at his desk while he signed a pass through the Confederate lines for his friend, Doctor Pater.”  The woman intoned, setting the candle down she dramatically slipped behind the desk chair and raised her finger as a revolver.
            “Pow!” She said softly.
            Jeanne Louise recalled whispers of the murder, but in her family it was taboo, a tragedy unspoken, too racy to retell to children.
            “But why/” Jeanne was able to ask before the guide hushed her.
            They moved to the sitting area and Jeanne took a seat on the couch. The woman sat across from her, black hair falling over her eyes so Jeanne could not see her distinctly.
            “Earl Van Doran was a womanizer, dallying with Dr. Pater’s wife, so Pater shot the General.”
            Jeanne’s eyes went wide at the intrigue, an affair of the heart, leading to a tragic shooting.
            The woman leaned forward, telling Jeanne Louise that Earl’s wife, Annette LeClaire was from Southern Louisiana and of mixed Creole-Gypsy blood. Annette had charmed the General into marriage. But Earl’s flirtation with Pater’s wife was the last straw for Annette, who was rumored to trade in spells and hexes. It was whispered that Annette put a trance on Dr. Pater, inducing him to kill the General in his study. Annette had tolerated enough of her husband’s wandering eye. And there was Annette’s friend, a dashing Confederate Calvary Colonel.
            Listening to the story, Jeanne riveted to hear this version in the mustiness of the manor’s library. She stared in awe at the very desk where Earl Van Doran was shot. When the guide paused, Jeanne asked what happened to Annette.
            Jeanne Louise told her guide that family the stories about Annette were murky. One version was that Annette had taken to bed where she stayed until her death at an early age. Another version was that Annette had up and vanished, perhaps following a cavalry officer down to Vicksburg where the two of them perished in the infamous siege.
            The woman with the candle sat back and smiled at Jeanne. “Nothing so romantic, but more tragic.”
             And she went on to say how Dr. Pater’s friends and neighbors had long suspected that Annette practiced the black arts, that she had hexed the good doctor into shooting Van Doran.
             The mob came one night after Prater shot the General and took Annette out to the Willow Walk. There they selected a sturdy tree and hanged Annette LeClaire. The war was not going well and there was no tolerance for a mystery woman from the Louisiana Bayou putting a spell on their beloved doctor.
            Jeanne Louise put her hand to her neck and her brown eyes misted. She had never heard this version, a hot-headed mob lynching Annette LeClaire, her mother’s great-grandmother.
            The two women sat in silence. Jeanne sat back and saw on the far wall a regal portrait of Earl Van Doran, resplendent in his Confederate Cavalry uniform with a rakish feathered hat. Jeanne then looked to her right, the wall facing the library windows, and took a breath. There hung a portrait of a beautiful, black-haired young woman in white, staring intently out at the long drive, as if regally awaiting guests. It was a portrait of a younger version of her late-night guide.
            “Her loyal daughters, led by the oldest Louise, cut their mother down and buried her in secret under the garden gazebo on the river.”
            The guide explained that Annette was restless, unhappy and yearned to be disinterred from her hidden grave and moved to the Van Dorn mausoleum. Annette regretted her jealousy and now longed to be with her beloved husband.
            “Then Annette can sleep peacefully.” The guide said. 
           
Jeanne Louise stood by the ornate mausoleum on the corner of the estate, the resting place of the Confederate General Earl Van Doran. It had all been arranged quietly, and she laid a bouquet of gladiolas by the bronze door, with a simple note addressed to Earl and Annette. Then she stepped back and murmured a prayer.
            There would be no more midnight mansion tours at the Wavery Plantation in West Point, Mississippi.



           

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Killing, Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington


The killing still haunted Mason. That fatal evening on the lake, caught in the storm. He was lucky to be alive. Everyone said it was an accident, but Mason knew better.
          Pausing outside, he eyed the large, gray house set on the shore of Lake Washington. It was a dreary, wet evening. His instructions were to enter the house from the side entrance which would be open. This was Mara’s house, the Winsted Lake House. Delores, Mara’s step-mother, had sent a note that there was news, a development in Mara’s death that might help them find resolution.
          Mason went up the side steps and into the kitchen. He called out, but there was no response. Delores said she had turned her ankle and that she would be in the living room. Mason paused, feeling uneasy in the silent, old house which creaked in the wind.
           He recalled the sailing accident, the sudden storm, the unexpected leak with the small Comet filling rapidly, and then tipping as the storm hit the lake. He and Mara struggled in the icy water, his wife slipping out of her life jacket. Mason tried to hold her, but Mara slipped away in the choppy water. Her face was pale, her dark eyes fearful, accusing, and then glazed. She sank like a stone.
          Mason’s eyes watered, as he thought about his dead wife and their sailing. She had been his faithful sailing partner, his “jib-mate” Mara used to laugh. Mason ached when he thought of her. Such a loss.
           Hearing a noise in the house, Mason shook off the haunting memories. He went through the dining room to the spacious living room. Delores’s chair by the fireplace was empty. Feeling annoyed, he hesitated. His intuition told him to leave, but Delores’s hint that someone had sabotaged the sailboat tugged. What did Delores know, or suspect?
           A hiker with a dog had spotted him struggling in the water and alerted authorities. Delores was supposed to keep an eye on them, but she had unexpected guests and lost track of the small boat, or so Delores said.
          Mason went into the hall and looked up the wide staircase. Mara’s father Ralph had tumbled down these stairs and broken his neck five years previously, leaving Delores the doyenne of the wealthy family. Outside,the distant rumble of thunder. Cocking his head, Mason listened, hearing muffled voices upstairs. He called again and then slowly started up. Delores should be in the house along with her two step-children, Ron and Avery. The servants were gone for the day. 
           Perhaps they were all upstairs in the game room, which overlooked the water. Mason reached the top of the stairs and listened.  But all was quiet. He turned right and padded down the hall, stopping at the game-room door and knocking. He opened the door and peeked in. There on the couch he saw Ron and Avery with their heads back, their mouths open, blood trickling down the front of their faces, a bullet hole in their foreheads.
            Mason felt the hairs at the nape of his neck stand up. He stiffened as the wind blew and a branch scraped the side of the house. He reached for his phone, but remembered it was in the car. He went out into the hall and again heard a low murmuring. He paused at the master bedroom, where Delores slept. He listened at the door and heard an indistinct voice. Perhaps it was Delores. His thought was to retreat, but instead he slowly turned the knob and pushed open the door.
            Delores was lying on the bed, propped up with pillows and she smiled as Mason entered the room. His eyes went hard as she tugged a sawed-off shotgun from under the sheet and pointed it at him.
            “I want it all.” Delores said tartly.
            Mason gaped, and then felt a shove that threw him to his right. Then a blast and stinging in his left shoulder. A rapid pop, pop of an automatic.
           When Mason awoke he was lying on the downstairs couch with a paramedic bandaging his left shoulder. A man hovered behind dressed in a sports coat with a police badge hanging around his neck. He introduced himself as Detective Haynes, saying how lucky Mason was the police team got there in time.
            The detective had shoved Mason out of the line of fire and shot Delores who had fired at them.  Apparently, Delores had killed her two step-children and had planned to shoot Mason, and then she would put a revolver in Mason’s hand. It would appear as if Mason had broken in and killed the step-children then gone to kill her. Delores would plead she had killed Mason in self defense.
             “Now you are all that is left of this star-crossed family.” Haynes concluded. 
             “But why did you come? How did you know?”  Mason asked.
             The detective explained he got a call from a young woman who said there were killings underway at the old house. He and a team had arrived as Mason went into the bedroom. 
             “But who called you?” Mason asked Haynes.
             “The caller said she was a friend of yours. That you and she used to sail together, that she was your jib mate.” 
             At that moment the paramedics brought down a body bag. The detective told Manson it was Delores Winsted and he nodded solemnly toward the procession.  Mason slowly rose and noticed that Haynes came to attention, tilting his head in respect.
            Haynes was right, he was the only one left in the wealthy family. Mason bowed his head…and smiled.

             

           


Friday, April 20, 2012

The Bernie Madoff Ploy, Lake Bemidji, Minnesota


It was the perfect crime. The victim vanished from the face of the earth, as if snatched by aliens. The neighbors all came to the party, never suspecting. Good fun.
        Billy-Ray Burke stood in the driveway of the estate house that overlooked Lake Bemidji in Northwest Minnesota. This was the big one and Billy-Ray, known on the edge of legerdemain finance as Winston Farnham, was dressed for the kill in a navy blazer, ecru shirt and smart khakis. His black hair was slicked back, his angular face clean shaven and his sky blue eyes, which few women could resist, focused on the lake-side retreat. This was his ticket to Portland, Oregon and the winery he coveted.
        Winston marched to the door and in a few seconds, Luella Anne Kellogg greeted him, looking younger and fresher than Winston recalled her in the super market. She was neatly attired in a smart, black dress with a white, v-neck collar. Her face was lightly rouged and she wore a pale lipstick. Her brown eyes sparkled with intelligence, which gave Winston pause.
         Luella smiled radiantly and ushered Winston into the large hallway with its oak floors. She directed Winston to an elaborate, ebony leather chair, while she took a seat on the couch in the opulent living room.
        On cue, a large Latino dressed in tan slacks and a white shirt entered with two drinks and snacks on a platter.
        “It’s after two and I feel naughty.” Luella said, as the man set the drinks and canapes down.
         Miguel nodded a solemn greeting, and then backed out of the room. Luella took her glass and raised it to toast Winston, saying she hoped he could be helpful. Winston smiled and took his drink, noting the two olives on the toothpick, guessing he was having afternoon martinis.
         They sipped in silence and then Luella apologized for banging into Winston’s shopping cart at the Lueken’s Village Food Market. She noted again she was distracted by the death of her long-time investment advisor who had keeled over a few days before. Luella felt adrift in the world of finance and was delighted when Winston offered his card, noting he was a certified financial planner, summering in Bemidji at the Ruttgers Inn. Unfortunately his firm Golden Eagle was closed to new clients, but he had offered to discuss investment options with Luella and she had invited him to a late lunch.
          “I did talk to my partners.” Winston said after a decent interval. “We might have an opening in our private-client group, our most prestigious investors.”
         Luella perked up at this news and set her drink down. She titled her patrician head and her brown eyes opened wide in hopeful expectation.
          “There is a minimum investment.” Winston intoned… a warning note.
           The dowager put her hand to her throat, as if bad news was on the way. Winston tilted his head, and then looked at her seriously with his Lothario blue eyes. His approach was to set the minimum at one million. If she balked, he would posture a bit, then take pity on her. He would excuse himself and pretend to make a call to his phantom partners. After much back and forth, presumably arguing for Luella, Winston would return and say they could make an exception and reduce her initial investment to a half a million.
          As they sat sipping their drinks, Luella gripped her hands, asking how much was the initial investment. When she heard a million dollars, she sat back. Her brown eyes fluttered and she looked away, as if calculating.
          Winston held his breath, sat straight and sipped his drink. Finally, Luella leaned forward conspiratorially and asked in a hushed tone. “Could I invest two million?”
          Taking a breath, Winston feigned a reflective look. He nodded his head, telling Luella that would be acceptable.
          “Robert had me in Treasuries and some gold. What is you approach?”
          Winston explained that Golden Eagle had prime notes, which were special short-term credits for reputable corporations, the Fortune 500. Emergency cash flow to tide companies over. Luella could expect a yield no less than 12%.
          The older woman puckered her lips, not bad. She passed the canapes to Winston who took one and nibbled.
           “At 12% a year, your money doubles in 6 years.” Winston added, driving in the nail.
           Winston finished his snack and looked at Luella, who suddenly was double, two of her sitting side by side. He blinked his eyes and felt very sleepy. He tried to rise, but was helpless.
           His new client smiled, “too good to be true.”
           When Winston awoke he was strapped down on a table, a bright light shining down on him. He could not move; looking to his right he could see Luella grinning down at him. Behind her was Miguel wearing a hair net and a white butcher’s apron and sharpening a nasty cleaver.
          Luella looked back at Miguel. “I think ribeyes.”
          “Si, Senora.”


Weeks later Adele and Arthur Fairhaven were sitting on the lawn by the lake. Arthur looked up from his chair and sniffed the air. “Luella must be grilling.  My guess is steak.”
         Adele looked over. “She’s having her summer kickoff next week. We must go as she is featuring an eclectic menu.”
         Her husband chuckled. “Martinis and grinders.”
         Adele sniffed and looked down her nose. “What is a grinder?”