Thursday, December 19, 2013

The 100-Year Boulder Flood, Boulder County, Colorado

 I arrived mid-afternoon at the Boulder Residence Inn, home of the University of Colorado. Sitting in the breakfast room with a cup of coffee, I went through the Hamilton file. Embry had vanished seven years ago and Louse Hamilton had hired me to take one last look before officially declaring her wealthy husband dead.
          The search had taken me to Las Vegas where Embry had gone to visit a friend, then vanished. Now the search had brought me to Boulder where years ago, Embry had a dalliance with Becky Sue, a southern transplant who had started a herbal drink shop, now a thriving health enterprise. Louise asked me to visit Becky and ask if she knew the whereabouts of Embry. It was a stretch, but I agreed as Boulder is an interesting college town.
          I called the herbal office and arranged a visit with Becky Sue who was the enterprise’s CEO. She agreed to meet me at four. I returned to my room and studied the painted tin that a hitchhiking girl on I-80 in Wyoming had given me, a gift in exchange for the lift to Laramie. I opened the metal box and poked at the speckled beans inside. Ariel, the hitchhiker, had intimated the beans were magical, telling me to “use them sparingly”.
          It was past three, so I concealed the tin in my overnight bag and then departed, driving over to Pearl Street where the herbal company had its flagship store. I parked and found the store and upon entering was immediately hit with an enticing array of aromas, which included teas and spices, the appealing scent of clove and cinnamon. Apparently, the staff had been alerted for my arrival, as a young man dressed in khakis and a white shirt asked me if I had an appointment with Sister Becky. I gave him my card and he nodded. We wound our way to the back and I noticed all the men were dressed like my escort, while the women were modestly attired in long, prairie dresses, an eccentric, missionary touch.
          We went upstairs and I was shown into a large, office with a wooden desk set diagonally in one corner. My guide closed the door and I was startled when a slender woman in the uniform long dress glided to me. She introduced herself as Becky Sue, motioning me to a leather couch that faced the windows. The day was darkening as the sun slipped to the mountains in the west.
          Becky Sue was angelic, a heart-shaped face with startling blue eyes, a cupid mouth and long, blond hair that cascaded down her shoulders. Before I could explain myself she gave me a beatific smile. “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you shall find.
Mathew 7”, Becky added softly, as if reading my mind.
          I introduced myself and explained my brief, then summarized my efforts to date, the trip to Las Vegas where Embry had gone seven years ago and vanished. I noted that I had no idea what happened to Embry, that I had intended to submit my report, ending my search, but Louise Hamilton asked me to visit Boulder as a final effort.
          Becky stared at me with steady sky-blue, no expression, not curiosity nor disapproval. Finally, she sighed and nodded, accepting my explanation of what had brought me to Boulder.
          “Embry came to see me in August seeking redemption, as he had done a terrible thing.” Becky said. She went on to explain she had counseled Embry to seek forgiveness and redemption, supplying him a soothing potion, then arranged seclusion for him in a foothills canyon.
          We looked at each other, and then she added: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out”, the Sister intoned.
          “What had Embry done?” I asked. “Why was he seeking redemption?”
Sighing Becky sat back, “The darkness”, she said simply.
I pressed her for Embry’s transgressions, and then asked where in the foothills Embry was, but she shook her head, saying I was too late, that in September the 100-year rains had come and a raging flood swept through the canyon. Embry was gone, swept away.
          Nodding silently, I changed course and chatted with her about the company, but flattery got me nowhere and Becky looked at her watch.
 Somehow the young man got the message and he opened the door, looking at me with a bland smile. I thanked Sister for her time and information, then left. As my guide led me downstairs, he looked back at me, holding out his hand passing me a folded note, which I slipped into my pocket.
          We came down to the main floor and I noticed a back room that was softly lit; over the arched doorway was the inscription, “Inequities”. I broke away from my guide and went in, seeing immediately that it was a presentation of various plants such as tobacco, marijuana, hemp, and others. At the back was a pedestal which held a small plate and a glass cover. To my surprise, it was a plate of speckled beans, exactly like the ones that Ariel, my hitchhiker, had given me with her warning.
          “Inequities and woes.” The young man whispered, waving his hand at the assorted presentations, implying the botanical plants were evil. He took my arm and steered me back to the main room.
          I waited until I got into my car and was heading back to the Inn before I took out the paper and unfolded it. It was a hand-drawn map starting at North Boulder and winding up into the foothills. Half way up was a large X to the left of the road. Was this Embry’s retreat? And why was the young man helping me? Or had Sister Becky directed him to pass me the map?
          When I got back to the Inn I paused at my door with my no service sign. I went in and a chill ran down my spine, the hairs standing on the back of my neck. On the coffee table my ornate, blue tin was sitting open and empty. My speckled beans were gone.

The next morning I took the crude map to the lady at the desk. She was a Boulder native and confirmed the starting area as fashionable North Boulder. The narrow road wound into the foothills towards Jamestown, a small settlement devastated by the flood. The site with the X appeared to be a lone house beside the stream that had flooded. She nodded; saying said she had heard a house had miraculously survived when the water raged down the canyon. There had been deaths, but she was not sure if it was the occupant of the house, or from other parts of Jamestown.
          I left and followed her directions, driving the steep, winding road into the mountains until I came to a pull off on the left where I parked. About 30 feet below I saw the small house on the bank of the stream. There was noticeable flood damage to the house, but it was remarkable the house was still standing.
          Suddenly, a tall, thin man in ragged clothes and broad-brimmed hat came down the hill road and eyed me sourly. He leaned on a carved staff and gazed at the house. I smiled pleasantly at him, thinking he was a local and might know about the occupant.
          “I had a friend renting that house. Any idea what happened to him?” I asked the itinerant stranger.
          The man’s horse face softened and he shrugged, and then shook his head. “The water came at night and swept down the stream and around the house, isolating it. Most folks say the occupant was swept away as he tried to escape. His body is lodged under a rock downstream somewhere. They’ll find him this summer in the low water.”
          I nodded, thinking I had closure. Embry was dead, having come to this lone house for solitude to seek atonement and salvation. What had Embry done? Becky had cryptically said the darkness. What did that mean…the Devil?
          “But the recluse” says different,” the man continued, interrupting my thoughts. He pointed his staff at the dense evergreen forest on the other side of the stream. “The recluse who lives yonder swears he saw someone try to cross the raging stream and tumble in the water. A few seconds later that person emerged downstream among the rocks and managed to crawl out. The recluse says the man vanished among the trees on the other side.”
          I followed the point of the man’s staff where there was a line of rocks which could catch Embry if he were tumbling in the flood, then possibly allow him to crawl out of the white water. As I turned back, the wanderer nodded at me and moved down the road. “Of course, everyone knows the recluse is crazy.” He called.
 I studied the deserted house. Was this Embry’s last stop before getting caught in the 100-year flood? Or had, as the recluse reported, Embry managed to struggle to the other side and vanish among the evergreens.
          If so, where was Embry Hamilton?


Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Magic Beans, Albany County, Laramie, Wyoming

 The ghost appeared out of the dark and stood in my headlights, her right thumb extended… a hitchhiker. I stopped and peered at the young woman dressed in a white, high-collar prairie dress. She had short blond hair that cupped her heart-shaped face, big cupid lips and wide brown eyes.
          I was leaving the truck parking area where I had paused to gather myself after Tasha spooked me at the Little America Motel. Slowly pulling forward, I rolled the passenger window down and leaned over as the girl came to the window.
          “I need a ride.” She said with a smile.
          Explaining I was going as far as Laramie for the night, she nodded and without pause clutched the door handle. I clicked the doors open and was startled when a young man dressed in an army field jacket appeared, opened the rear door, threw in two back packs and then climbed in. He was medium height and thin, with a long face and a stringy van dyke beard. The young man stared straight ahead mechanically, not speaking or moving.
          “My keeper.” The girl said motioning toward the back as she climbed in, putting her arms to her chest and shivering. I paused, were they dangerous? Could they be connected to Tasha and my search for Embry Hamilton? Or was the conspiracy just my imagination?
          “You’ll be fine.” She laughed, as if reading my mind. “We’re just on the road.”
          We exchanged names and she told me her name was Ariel, no last name, just Ariel. We chatted about the cold weather, upcoming Thanksgiving, and I subtlety tried to find out more about them, but she avoided direct answers. It was another two hundred miles to Laramie and I planned to find an economy motel on the north side of town. My two hitchhikers looked tired, so I offered to get them a room at the motel, but Ariel demurred, saying they would get out on the Laramie outskirts.
          After a quick two hours Ariel pointed at a looming Pilot truck stop, so I exited the interstate and pulled into the sprawling complex. At 3 in the morning, the place was still functioning, a haven for the night truckers. I stopped and watched as Ariel’s companion unloaded their back packs and stood waiting rigidly. Ariel looked at me, touched my cheek, and handed me a small, rectangular tin.
          “Use them sparingly.” She said and then got out, joining her friend. I pulled ahead to the exit and took a left turn, then looked over, expecting to see them trudging toward the main building. But they were gone.

Later I settled into an economy motel room, away from the interstate. I sipped a bottle of Deschutes River Ale, thinking about the hitchhikers, and then I recalled my trip to Vegas and the girl I dropped off a few days ago on the Nevada extraterrestrial highway. She had told me about parallel universes and travelers. Were Ariel and her keeper travelers?
          I remembered the tin she had given me and took it from my shirt pocket. It was quite elaborate, painted a midnight blue and festooned with stars. An unpainted line divided the top in halves, a similar night sky on the right side, but different. Did the cover represent similar, but different universes?
          I opened the tin and gawked in surprise. I gently spilled the contents out on a kitchenette plate and poked them with my finger. They were kidney shaped, an odd brown and white speckle, perhaps a quarter of an inch in length.
          “Use them sparingly.” Ariel had ominously directed
          Were they magic beans?

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Little America Encounter, Sweetwater County, Interstate 80, Wyoming

The riddle nagged me. Where was Embry Hamilton? Two psychics had “seen” Embry, one said he was killed and buried in the Humboldt-Toynbee Wilderness, the other that he was abducted near Area 51. After my visit to the Bellagio in Vegas, I had visited the Alamo Inn in Nevada where Embry had stayed and sent an email.
          Dennis, the current Alamo Inn manager, said the previous owners were dead. The husband killed his wife when she crashed his beloved Mustang, then shot himself. There was no record or memory of Embry staying at the Alamo.
          When I got back to Boise I typed up my report, reluctantly concluding I did not know what had happened to Embry who had vanished seven years ago
          I made an appointment to see Louise Hamilton, deliver my report, and receive my final check for services and expenses. I arrived at the Warm Springs Victorian and the Latina maid informed me Madam, Louise Hamilton, was unavailable. The maid took my report, handing me a manila envelope and motioned for me to open it.
          Inside I found a hefty check, plus a neat handwritten note directing me to go to Boulder, Colorado and check on the owner of the Boulder Herbal Company. Apparently years ago Embry had a dalliance with the young entrepreneur who had started the now successful health beverage operation.
          I had friends in Boulder so I agreed to drive over, an 800 mile trip through southern Idaho, into Utah, then across Wyoming and down through northern Colorado to Boulder. 
          Leaving early the next morning, I got as far as Little America in western Wyoming. The hotel-truck stop complex on I-80 was an oasis on the cold November afternoon, a welcome break in the bleak, undulating prairie hills. After checking in and showering, I headed for the main-building restaurant. As I entered, a woman appeared out of the gift shop. Studying a road map, she collided with me.
          Fashionably dressed in jeans, a white sweater and boots, she was medium height.  I pulled back and she looked angrily at me, her brow furrowed. Then she composed herself and gave me a weak smile, apologizing.
          We stood appraising each other. She had a heart-shaped face, wide spaced, hazel eyes and strawberry blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. Waving the map, she explained she was on the way to Boulder Colorado and was looking for back roads. We introduced ourselves and she told me her name was Tasha. I suggested we eat together, promising to study her map.  Noting I was on the way to Boulder for business, I offered to show her a less traveled route south from Laramie, through Fort Collins and on to Boulder.
We took a table by the stone fireplace and ordered glasses of Merlot; Tasha went for a salad, while I ordered the featured prime rib. I spread the map and pointed to Laramie and US 287, which snaked south into northern Colorado, explaining the road was a byway through interesting topography, especially the badlands border area between Wyoming and Colorado.
Tasha nodded, saying she would follow me. I agreed, pleased at the convoy idea. Our food came and we ate engaging in small talk, touching the economy, the Washington mess, and then settling on college football as Tasha was a rabid Oregon Duck fan.
I offered to pay for the meal, but Tasha insisted of picking up the tab, her gratitude for my travel assistance. We left the dining room and paused at the motel, a line of single story rooms that stretched along the large parking lot. We agreed to meet at 7 the next morning. To my surprise she gave me a hug and a curious smile, then headed off to her room which was two doors down from mine.
I went in my room, and then hesitated. I thought about the Little America waffles, deciding to suggest to Tasha that we meet at 6:30 and have a quick breakfast. I went outside and heard a voice. Tasha was standing at her room door with her back to me talking on her phone.
“…it’s him.” I heard her say. I slipped into the shadows of the next room doorway, the hairs on my neck tingling, a cold chill down my spine.
“…yes, we’ll take 287 south. Just over the Colorado line, there is a scenic pull off; it’s a lonely place, a perfect site.”
A perfect site?
I shrank back to my room and went inside, closing the door softly. Without hesitation, I gathered my belongings and grabbed my overnight bag. I opened my door and peeked out, but Tasha had gone inside. I stood there until her light went off, then stole outside to my car which was parked a few spaces away.
Getting in, I waited until a truck rumbled by going west and then started my engine and slowly pulled away from the motel. I got on I-80 and sped east. I gripped the steering wheel and peered into the night. When Tasha realized I had vanished she would know I suspected them. Would they look for me on the I-25 or the US 287 back road?
I sipped the coffee I’d made in my room. Tasha had bumped into me by design, but why? Because of my search for Embry Hamilton? Or was it my planned visit to Boulder Herbal? Suddenly, I shuddered and felt my stomach churn.
I pulled into a darkened truck parking area and got out. Above me the Wyoming sky was resplendent with twinkling stars. I drew a breath suspecting a conspiracy, a plot against me. Did they plan to kill me?
But then the cold, night wind hit me and I hesitated, trying to clear my head, to recollect. Had Tasha really been on the phone or fumbling for her key card? Had she been talking to someone, or was it the prairie wind?  Was Tasha even there, or was this like my prior encounters?
Other voices, other rooms?


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Alamo Inn, Great Basin Highway, Alamo, Nevada

I left Vegas late morning under a cloudless, pale-blue sky and planned to retrace my route back to Boise, Idaho. To my surprise, the Bellagio concierge had been helpful. Cande, a bouncy Latina new on the job and eager to impress, listened intently as I outlined my search for Embry Hamilton who had vanished seven years ago on a road trip to Vegas from Boise. Embry had reservations at the Bellagio, but had never shown up. Cande informed me she had a degree in hospitality with a minor in computer sciences and would do some research in her records.
The next morning while eating breakfast in a booth at the fountain in the hanger-like lobby, Cande slid in across from me with a broad smile. She informed me she had found an email sent to the concierge desk seven years ago with a request to pass to Embry’s friend.
In the email, Embry noted he was tired and stopping for the night at the Alamo Inn on US 93 in Nevada. He said he was in room 30 and gave the Inn’s phone number. I sat back recalling there was no record of any email to the Bellagio. Embry’s friend claimed he never showed. Perhaps the email was not passed. Cande shrugged when I asked her if the email had been forwarded. She informed me seven years ago the management information system was not so well developed.
“Back then it was hit or miss.” She said, looking at me.
Cande commented that at least the email showed that Embry had made it as far as the Alamo Inn, about 150 hundred miles from Vegas. We looked at each other and I could tell that Cande was intrigued with the mystery.  What happened to Embry Hamilton?
By early afternoon, I was turning into the Alamo Inn, an L-shaped collection of 50’s-style cinder block rooms. There were a few vehicles in the parking lot, but no one about. I parked and followed the numbers down the inverted L, turning right at the extension and stopped at room 29. There was no room 30.
Instead I found a concrete foundation for a room next to 29, indicating that room 30 might have been torn down. As I pondered the situation under a gray sky and stiff breeze, I heard the gravel crunch and looked to see a large man coming toward me. He had a round, red face, was dressed in a white sweat shirt and baggy khakis, a large stomach sagged over his belt.
He gave me a friendly smile and asked if I wanted a room, introducing himself as Dennis. We shook hands and I quickly filled him in on my search. “Seven years ago Embry claimed to have stayed here in room 30, but there is no room 30.” I concluded.
 Dennis informed me he had owned the Alamo for six years. That the former owners, Bob and Bess Bradford, had a problem and room 30 suffered as a result.
          “What happened?”
          “It’s complicated.” Dennis replied.
          He then went on to explain that the former owner Bob had yearned to drive in the September Nevada Silver Classic, the 90 mile road race on State Route 318, which closes for the occasion. On an impulse, Bob took the couple’s life savings of $75,000 and bought a Ford Shelby Mustang GT 500 to participate in the race.
“When Bess found out what he had done she was irate and went crazy.”  Dennis said with a laugh. He explained that Bess grabbed the car keys, ran out into the parking lot and jumped in the Mustang intending to drive it into the Pahranagat Wildlife Refuge behind the motel.
Dennis paused and stared at the spot where room 30 had stood. He looked at me, saying that Bess lost control of the muscle car as it smoked across the parking lot and ran it into number 30, demolishing the room completely.
We stood in silence, huddling in the chill. It occurred to me the race was run at the time Embry was in the area. Possibly Embry had been in the room when Bess went berserk. I suggested my thought to Dennis who shook his head, dismissing the idea.
“Bob and Bess said room 30 was empty at the time.” The heavy man replied and then shrugged. “On the other hand…”
Dennis let the unfinished sentence hang and I asked what he thought the couple would do if Embry had been in the room. The current owner gave a sigh, saying the couple would have taken the remains into the refuge and buried Embry in the Pahranagat Foothills.
Was it possible that this bizarre incident at the Alamo was the answer to the riddle of Embry Hamilton’s 7-year disappearance? Was it that simple?
Or was there something else?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Girl on the Extraterrestrial Highway

I left Boise early on a Monday morning, taking I-84 to Twin Falls, then headed south on US-93 which bisects Nevada’s Great Basin. The two-lane blacktop snakes through the desolate scrub brush and wild rye, rising deceptively to the cold high desert.
          There was little traffic and the isolation was eerie. To the west were the mountains of the Jarbridge Wilderness, Shoshone land in the Humboldt National Forest with its Wild Horse Park. That was the area where Embry Hamilton supposedly had been killed and buried.
          After three hours I stopped at Wells, Nevada pulling into a Love’s truck stop that hosted a McDonald's.  According to the psychic this was where two men and a woman had abducted Embry. I got a cup of steaming coffee and huddled outside in the late September chill as gray clouds scudded across the sky.
          I sensed the young woman before I saw her. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw her studying me. She was slender, tallish with shoulder-length blond hair, and high cheekbones, possibly Scandinavian. But her hard, dark eyes gave me pause. Perhaps she was something else.
          “I need a ride.” She said with a thin smile.
          We chatted and she told me her name was Vika, that she was on her way to Highway 375, the extraterrestrial highway, almost three hundred miles south. Letting down my guard, I agreed to take her. I knew the map and could take Nevada 318 south from Ely and drop her where the road intersected 375. She assured me she was to meet friends coming north from Vegas.
          Vika asked about my trip and I told her about my case, that seven years ago a man had driven from Boise, Idaho to Las Vegas for a weekend with friends. He never arrived. Before the family declared him legally dead, they wanted me to retrace his steps for their peace of mind. Take a last look.
          “Do you think you’ll find him?” She asked.
          I shrugged and then to my surprise Vika launched into a lecture on missing persons, noting that last year 700,000 persons were lost in the States. Eventually most of those were found, either dead or alive. But a cumulative 85,158 persons were unaccounted for and she said the person I was looking for was one of those.
          We chatted about the missing, how some folks vanished to start a new life. Others were killed and their bodies secreted away. Then there were those untoward accidents yet to be found: a car down an embankment, or in a lake. Many would eventually be located. Others would go undiscovered.
          “Of course, there are those who pass over, the travelers.” Vika commented.
          I looked at her and she explained that some people find a portal and slip into a parallel universe.     “Do you know there is a fissure on 375, just beyond the extraterrestrial highway sign? Perhaps your missing man found a portal.”
          I glanced over, but she wasn’t joking. Before I could comment Vika treated me to a summary of the quantum mechanics theory of parallel universes.  I nodded as we pulled into Ely, Nevada, once a thriving silver mining town now down at the heel. She asked me to stop and I pulled into a Shell station and fueled the car as she went to freshen up.
          I filled my SUV and was tempted to get in and drive away. As I hesitated, Vika reappeared with a smile and some snacks she had purchased in the station store. We left Ely munching and drinking sodas, taking Route 6 to Nevada 318, which then would take us down to Nevada 375 and Area 51.
          Two hours later we reached the intersection and Vika motioned for me to pull over as she pointed at a highway sign identifying Route 375 as the extraterrestrial highway.  It was a small area set with picnic tables. Vika got out and looked at me through the open window. I started to protest that I did not want to leave her alone in the high desert. Before she could reply we heard the screech of brakes and a crunch. To the left two cars turning off of US 93 had collided at the 375 intersection. The drivers got out and the collision looked like a fender bender with no one injured.
          I turned back but could not see Vika. Getting out, I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the sun that was touching the faraway White Mountains to the west, casting a golden haze. I was worried about leaving her alone and I wanted to offer to sit awhile. I walked past the highway sign and scanned the desolate area. I then went slowly down 375, but the two-lane blacktop running west was empty. My hitchhiker was gone.
          Vika was a traveler.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Strange Disappearance of Embry Hamilton in the Nevada High-Desert Basin, Alamo, Nevada

Embry Hamilton vanished while on a late September trip through Nevada’s High Desert from Boise to Las Vegas. Embry had been missing for seven years and the family hired me to take one last look before they declared him legally dead.
          On a rainy fall afternoon, I visited the Hamilton home, a white Victorian replete with gables and a turret which was set on tony Warm Springs Avenue in Boise. I knocked on the door and a demure Latina greeted me, leading me into a dark living room. A mature woman in black sat stoically in an overstuffed chair, beckoning me forward. After introductions and labored talk, Louise Hamilton suddenly waved her hand dismissing me, saying in a low voice: “Embry’s gone.”
          As I left, the Latina passed me a large, manila envelope containing the state police summary. When I got home I scanned the file, learning that Embry and driven to Vegas to meet an old friend. He had planned to take a two-day drive via US-93 through Nevada’s great basin desert to Vegas.
          Curiously, there were two separate reports by mystics that the family had hired. There were also pictures of the supposed seers. The first was an older man with a white pony tail. He claimed two men and a woman who had attended the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock had kidnapped Embry at Wells, where I-80 crosses 93 in Nevada. The trio, high on drugs, had taken Embry into the Humboldt-Toiyabe, National Forest and killed him, burying him deep in the Santa Rosa-Paradise Peak Wilderness. Authorities organized a massive search with law enforcement, volunteers, and corpse dogs, but no trace of Embry was found in the Nevada rough country.
          The second mystic, a slender woman in her 30s, claimed she saw Embry further south at the intersection of US-93 and Route 375, the extraterrestrial highway which skirts Area 51. The gifted woman claimed to see a large silver sphere hovering over Embry’s car and his vehicle slowly levitated up into the belly of the orb. The mystic described a blinding light, a sharp bang and then the object was gone, taking Embry with it. There was a memo attached noting that Ms Freeman, the noted psychic, had committed suicide by hanging a month after describing Embry’s abduction to the Hamilton family.
          After reading the file and talking to a friend who was a retired Idaho State Trooper, I decided to retrace Embry’s steps. Supposedly, his first day would have taken him as far as Crystal Springs, Nevada where the extraterrestrial highway ends at US 93. I was on my patio by the river and felt a sudden chill as a gust of wind swept down from the north. I thought of Mrs. Hamilton sitting in her darkened living room. Once Embry was formally pronounced dead, Louise would inherit the bulk of the 100 million dollar estate.
          What had happened to Embry Hamilton?

To be continued.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Annette Bosworth Incident, Old Library Restaurant, Olean, New York

Travis saw ghosts everywhere as he drove slowly through Olean. He passed the drug store where he had sipped ice cream sodas and paused at the old movie theatre. He heard whispers and thought of Annette.
                As it was late afternoon, he debated whether to stop in Olean, a New York town set in the western foothills of the Enchanted Mountains. He could do another hundred miles, but something tugged at him and he found a room in the Olean Hampton Inn.
                Later when he was fresh he asked for a dinner recommendation and the girl at the desk suggested the Old Library Restaurant. Travis knew the structure, having long ago used the reading rooms and reference materials for his high school study.
                After parking in front and mounting the stairs, he was greeted by a smiling man dressed in black pants, a white shirt and a black vest, the man strangely familiar. The greeter’s earnestness reminded Travis of a middle-aged Mormon Missionary. He was led into the main reading room and seated at a table for two by a window that looked out on a creek, a nice setting.
                Travis studied the menu as the waiter scurried off, after identifying himself as Larry. Aware of a new presence, Travis looked up to find a thin, elegant woman staring at him from the doorway.  He knew he cut a dashing figure being tall, lean, and silver haired. He was a retired investment banker, but often taken for a doctor, or a lawyer.
                The woman disappeared from the doorway and Travis was left wondering.  The waiter returned and Travis ordered a bottle of wine, wanting something from the Finger Lakes. Larry recommended the Fox Run New York pinot noir. Travis agreed, having driven five hundred miles that day and with only another 300 miles to his Vermont lake house, he would indulge himself.
                Larry arrived and with panache opened the bottle and nodded for Travis to sample the ruby-red wine, which Travis approved.  He relaxed and tilted his glass, staring out of the window and thinking about his life in Olean many years ago.
                Suddenly the woman was there, smartly dressed in a black skirt and white blouse, a name tag announcing her as Anna. She was tallish, a long neck with a heart shaped face, a small mouth, but large dark eyes. Her gray hair was stylishly pulled back in a pony tail. Travis gauged her to be somewhere in her late forties, maybe older but obviously aging well.
                The woman introduced herself, saying she was the owner. Her husband had died a few years ago, so running the restaurant and maintaining the standard was her preoccupation. Her son, Larry, was her helper. She announced crispy duck as the special and Travis agreed.
 As she left to place his order, Travis called out, “I know this place.”
“Yes,” was all she said, and then disappeared into the kitchen.
Before long the waiter was back with the crispy duck, which along with rice and a house salad made for a delightful meal after the long drive. When finished, Travis pushed away his plate and swirled the wine. His bottle was half finished and he was feeling mellow as he gazed at the evening dusk.
Anna returned and put her hands on the back of the chair facing him. She looked down with a smile and asked about the meal. He complimented her, and then offered her a glass of wine, but she shook her head.
“I spent my junior year in high school here.” Travis told her. “I was an Olean Husky, played sports, was even the junior class king along with my girl friend, Annette Bosworth.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“Almost forty years ago, Annette and I, but it ended.” Travis said with melancholy.
Anna asked what happened and Travis told her of young love, a six-month courtship. The junior dance was a triumph for the two of them, dancing in the spotlight to Moonlight Serenade.  Then there was the Friday night picnic along the banks of the Allegheny River.
“It was idyllic.” Travis said. “But…”
“Unspoken promises, too much too soon.” Anna surmised.
Travis was suddenly quiet and his shoulders slumped as he poured himself more wine. His elegant demeanor evaporated as he explained that his father was an engineer with Dresser Rand and something went wrong at work for his father. That weekend the family had to pick up and move south for a job with GE, who needed mechanical engineers to work on a new jet engine. Travis’s father jumped at the opportunity and they left immediately.
“I didn't have a chance to say goodbye, or to explain.” Travis said, looking up at Anna. “We just up and vanished.”
“But surely you wrote.” Anna said.
Travis moved in his chair, furrowing his brow; he ran his hand over his silver hair. He shook his head, saying it was turmoil, making the change, living in a new place, meeting new friends.
“And someone else came along?” Anna coaxed.
Travis waved his hand, but ignored the question, saying years later he ran into an Olean teammate who told Travis that Annette had taken it badly, that she had been sent away. Annette had spent a year at the Upstate Institute.
Anna listened wide eyed, then shook her head and excused herself, going upstairs and into her storage room where she rooted through an old trunk until she found what she was seeking.
She returned wearing a blue blazer for the evening chill and this time sat across from Travis, accepting a glass of the Fox Run wine.
For the first time, Travis gazed into Anna’s dark eyes and was startled. Larry returned, breaking the spell and put down a cup of crème brule for Travis.
“Better served cold.” Anna said, leaning forward.
“The desert?” Travis asked.
“Revenge.” Anna answered.
They stared at each other, absorbing the forty years that had passed since their fateful night by the river. Travis glanced at Larry hovering in the doorway and Travis understood.
 Anna reached into her blazer pocket to grip the old Webley .32/200 pocket revolver. She took it out, pointing the pistol under the table at Travis.
“Please, let me tell you, tell the both of you.” Travis said. “It was so complicated.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” The woman replied. 

And then Annette pulled the trigger.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The House Across the Street, Ely, White Pine, Nevada

Cooper awoke to a frantic scream, a yell of terror. He glanced over at the motel clock and saw it was dead of night, three in the morning. Sitting up groggily, Cooper cocked his head, but now silence. The high desert town of Ely, Nevada seemed fast asleep. No heavy trucks thundered down Route 93, which ran through Nevada’s Great Basin settlement.
          Then he heard a scrapping sound, as if a sack of potatoes was being dragged down the street. Cooper got out of bed and went to his window. It was still dark, but in the road he saw little people, no more than three feet tall, reminding Cooper of mythical beings. A handful of them were hauling a bound girl up the walk of the mansion that was across from the Prospector Inn where he was staying the night.
          He rubbed his eyes and gaped as the small figures levered the struggling young woman through the door of the rundown house that was set back among the cottonwood and popular trees.
          Suddenly, one of the small men turned and peered at the motel, causing Cooper to jerk back from the window. Instinctively he reached for his iPhone, pressing the phone awake, his thumb hovering. He hesitated to call 911. What would he say? He’d just seen trolls abducting a woman, secreting her in an abandoned house on the edge of town? That he was calling from Ely, Nevada, northeast of Area 51. Cooper knew if he made a call like that, they would probably commit him again.
          Instead, Cooper put his phone down and returned to the king bed. It was only three thirty and he needed more sleep. The restaurant was open at six, so he would have a quick meal, then leave Ely.
          Cooper managed to sleep fitfully with strange dreams. He awoke to what he thought was light tapping at his door. He listened attentively, but all was quiet. It was now five-thirty, so he showered, dressed, quickly gathering his laptop and clothes. At six, he went down the hall to the restaurant where he was surprised to see the same tall, slender blond girl who had waited on him the night before.
          Her name was Jane and she greeted Cooper with a warm smile and ushered him to a window seat that looked east at the rising sun on the high desert. Jane was charming and in her day probably a high school queen, but now she was thin. Her pretty face was narrow with sunken cheeks and she gazed at him with muddy brown eyes, pouring him a coffee. She stood by his table; her pencil poised awaiting his order.
          When Cooper’s eggs and bacon with toast were served, Jane came back and sat across from him as the breakfast room was quiet. Asking if it was okay, she lit a cigarette, exhaling the smoke to the side.
          Jane asked where he was going and Cooper said he was returning to Boise, but would leave in a couple of weeks for Vermont where he had a lake cabin. She tapped her cigarette in an ash tray she had produced and looked at him longingly.
          “Take me with you.” She said.
          Cooper laughed and nodded, glancing at Jane and wondering what had happened, where she had gone wrong. Perhaps it was the scourge of methamphetamine or too many boozy nights at the local saloon.
          He leaned forward and whispered to her. “I woke at three this morning and saw something…something really odd, trolls.”
          Jane’s face went ashen and her eyes widened. She stared intently at Cooper, took a puff of her cigarette, and then slowly shook her head.
          “You didn’t see anything.” She said with a thin smile. “You had a nightmare. That’s all.”
          The two of them looked at each other. Jane’s eyes told the tale. Cooper had an odd dream. And now it was time to get out of town. He took a few bites of his meal, then took the check and put some bills on it, pushing it to Jane who crushed out her cigarette.
          Cooper smiled, increasing taken with Jane. “Come with me.” He said. “We’ll go to Boise, and then spend the summer in Vermont. You can swim and fish.”
          Jane ran her tongue against her thin cheeks then over her lips. She took a deep breath and sighed dreamily. Her bony hand crept across the table like a pale spider and pressed his.
“Don’t I wish. I love to swim. Could I swim your lake?”
Cooper appraised her, probably mid-twenties, still time for remediation. Jane was an innately intelligent girl, worth salvaging.
“Sure, I will row over while you swim across, then you row back and I can swim…every evening, a swim across the lake.”
There was silence as the two of them gazed at each other, savoring their few seconds of the getaway. Then Jane burst the bubble, shaking her head wistfully.
“It’s too late for me. They would never let me leave.”
          Cooper started to speak, but Jane put her finger to his lips, smiling sorrowfully at him.
          “You have to go. Get away from here. And don’t look back.”
          Cooper returned to his room, grabbed his overnight bag and computer.  Hurrying to his car, he threw his things in the trunk, and got behind the wheel. He looked around, but the street was empty, not even RV traffic.
          Carefully obeying the traffic signs, Cooper breathed easier as he was able to accelerate from 25 to 35, and then started to relax as he saw the 45 speed limit. He peered through the windshield; the morning sun shimmered on the black, ribbon road that cut through the Great Basin, the rugged White Mountains to the west, and the mystical Creek Range to the east.
          He raised his eyebrows as ahead he saw a line of cars and something overturned blocking the highway, perhaps a tractor trailer. Cooper slowed and checked the rear view mirror for following traffic. He saw them and fear clouded his eyes as his heart thudded and his blood ran cold.

          There were two small people in the back seat.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Pied Piper at the Green Gables Inn, Newport, Oregon

David was forever haunted by his night at the Green Gables Inn. He had chanced upon the Victorian B&B during his evening walk and decided on an early dinner. He was attracted by the irresistible smell of bread baking and walked down the driveway into a garage converted into a small bar and eating space. In the back was a kitchen.
          As he entered the cozy cafe nestled close to the windy beach in Newport, he saw to his right a guitar-playing duo, a man is his early fifties and a blond woman in her mid-twenties, both strumming Gibson guitars. The young woman was stunning, reminding David of that mythical goddess on a white horse, her long, blond hair flowing down her front.
          A harried waitress came forward and led David to a side room which had been remodeled into a small dining area and seated him at a table for two. He sat with his back to the wall and could see the musicians in the bar mirror. Occasionally, the girl caught David’s eye and he noted her intense blue eyes. There was something about her.
          David studied the menu and when the waitress returned he pointed to a glass of the Chianti, a salad, and the cannelloni. A young man brought his wine and David sipped it, wondering about the two traveling troubadours. He supposed they played for tips, probably also hawking a CD.
Looking around he saw there were two couples at one table; at another table were three older women out of an evening of Italian food. As David settled in, relaxing and enjoying the ambiance of the Green Gables, he noted that the blond woman suddenly put her guitar aside and picked up a flute, a rare Mendini golden flute. She began to play and David noticed that the other diners appeared to go rigid, as if the music transfixed them.
In the bar mirror, David saw the man put down his guitar and motion to the diners in the main room to stand. Then the man stepped into David’s room and raised his arms for them to stand. David watched puzzled as the people at the two tables stiffly stood.
          Trying to make sense of the situation, David glanced in the mirror and saw the blond watching him with intense blue eyes. Intuition told David he should also stand, not draw attention to himself. He slowly stood and the young woman looked away.
          As he stood motionless, David watched as the man moved and opened the door. The woman rose from her stool playing her flute and slowly led the people in the front out the door and up the driveway. As the diners in David’s room began to shuffle forward, he got in line as if to follow, but at the room’s door David peeled off to the left, hiding behind a coat rack. As he huddled out of sight, he saw the man look in the room, presumably checking to see that everyone had left.
          David waited until he felt a slight tremor, perhaps the restaurant’s door shutting. He carefully peeked out and saw two black vans pull away from the front. David went to the phone on the counter and dialed 911. He then grabbed a yellow, legal pad and pen from the counter and began to write.

Officer Joe Finley was the first to arrive at the restaurant. He had quickly called in his findings and asked for backup. Joe was surprised when an unmarked cruiser pulled up and the Captain got out.
          Noting Joe’s surprise, the Captain explained there had been a similar incident up the coast in Long Beach, Washington State. It appeared five customers and three staff had vanished from the Lightship, a small beach cafe. In that case there were no witnesses.
          “At least we have an observer.” The officer explained.
          “He’s deaf and dumb?” The Captain asked.
          “Hearing impaired and unable to speak,” Joe corrected. “But he has written the episode out in detail.” And Joe handed the Captain the yellow pad.
          “There’s this.” The Captain nodded. “But a shame he isn't normal.”
          “If he was normal, we wouldn't have anyone.”
          The Captain raised his eyebrows.
          “Our witness would have followed the pied piper into the night.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Dark Side and the Missing Sally Ride, Florence, Oregon

Alice Ride vanished in 2003. Alice, a graduate student at the University of Oregon, had rented a coastal cottage north of Florence, Oregon to finalize her thesis. Judd Reynolds had dated Alice off and on at the University. He had been a “person of interest” when Alice went missing and he often thought of Alice, wondering.
          Judd awoke one early morning and heard Alice whispering to him. He got out of bed and went to the window. It was raining hard, but near a street light, Judd saw a figure out of the corner of his eye. When he took a second look, the person was gone. Judd believed the whispers and sighting as an omen. Perhaps he should retrace Alice’s steps the day she disappeared ten years ago.
          The months after Alice dropped out of sight were rough on Judd. Whenever he went to the sports bar and stepped into that raucous atmosphere, someone in the back would shout, “Where’s Alice”? Judd had been in Eugene when Alice went to the coast and his alibi was flimsy as he had been preparing his dissertation proposal, spending time alone. Here and there people recalled seeing him, but according to the police there was a window when he could have made it to the coast and back.
          Ten years ago authorities had scrutinized Judd, even checking his time and mileage. It was 120 miles round trip to Florence from Eugene and, as Oregon is a state where an attendant has to pump the gas, it was easy to verify his gas station visits. Judd had filled up the day before Alice vanished, then again a week later, but topping off with only 3 gallons. If Judd had gone to Florence and back, he would need at least 6 gallons to fill up.
          As the investigators sifted clues for the missing Alice, an I-5 copycat killed his third Oregon victim and the authorities shifted their attention. The perpetrator, who might have taken Alice, seemed to be mimicking Randy Woodfield who had committed a string of killings and abductions along 1-5 during the late 70s. Woodfield was finally apprehended in 1981.
          Time passed and close friends of Alice moved on, Judd was able to focus on his studies, finishing up with a PhD in economics, landing an assistant professor position at the University of Oregon and putting Alice behind him. That is, until the recent whispers and sighting gave him nightmares. Judd decided he should drive to Florence, spend the night, and visit the isolated cottage where Alice had gone missing.
          Judd left Eugene one Tuesday at noon and drove the scenic road to the beach. Along the way he saw a poster tacked to a tree and stopped. It was a notice, Alice Ride Missing. There was a picture showing an attractive brunette with dark, intense eyes. Below the picture, the call letters for the missing student: Where’s Alice? For a second the hairs on Judd’s neck stood as he noted the poster was new, not weathered.
          After checking in at the Driftwood Shores Resort, Judd walked the beach north. In the distance, he saw the cottage Alice had rented. It was set in evergreen overgrowth, looking forlorn and unattended. Judd sat on the rickety stairs of the ocean-facing porch and reflected. Alice had been captivating and attractive. She was intelligent, a fun person as a companion. It was unfortunate and inexplicable that she had gone to the dark side.
          Listening to the breakers Judd saw on his right the winding trail that paralleled the beach. He got up, but moved to his left through dense brush and closely spaced cypress trees, coming to a sprawling cypress and walked to the back of the tree, spying a group of cobbles. They were the smooth, black beach stones and neatly arrayed in a reverse Celtic cross, a circle with a cross inside. Stretching out from the headstone was an indentation perhaps three feet wide and six feet long.
          He sat with his back to the tree and stared at the sunken plot. An ancient Greek proverb came to mind…”The Gods’ mills grind slowly, but exceedingly small.”
           Judd smiled. If the Gods’ retribution was night whispers and apparitions, then he would be fine. Rubbing his hand over the cobbles he drew a breath and paused, noting a slight flutter.
          Sitting up, Judd looked around, and then pressed his hand into the dirt. There it was, barely perceptible, but unmistakable.
          A faint heartbeat.



Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Abduction Copycats, Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho

The mystery was why Stuart went along. The young woman had grabbed his wrist as he started to get in his SUV. “Help me!” She whispered fiercely. “We've been kidnapped.”
                Stuart looked at her in amazement, a pretty blond with an oval face and serious blue eyes.
                “I’m Esmeralda and we have to go while he is away. Free the others, my friends.”
                Shaking loose, Stuart took out his phone, saying he would call 911. But the girl pushed the phone away, there was no time. Stuart, an ex-athlete and over six feet, was not worried about safety, but sensed a prank. Yet no one else was around in the early evening, just a few cars in the mall lot.
                “We have to act before he returns. After we free the others you can call 911 and be a hero!” The girl enthused.
                Stuart paused and put the phone away. He was a substitute television anchor in the Pacific Northwest, covering Idaho, Oregon and Washing ton. He filled in for absent reporters doing the news, sports, business, and even the weather, hitting singles. But Stuart needed a home run…maybe this was his opportunity.
                He got into the SUV and motioned the girl to the passenger side. If he called 911 and it was nothing, Stuart would look foolish. On the other hand, if the girl was telling the truth and he could free the other captives, then he would be the center of attention. Interview the captives, maybe a book. The girls would owe him. What was there to lose?
                Following instructions, Stuart drove to the east side of Lake Payette, an isolated area near the state park. Esmeralda directed him to turn left off the two-lane blacktop and they wound through the evergreens. She directed him to stop in front on an aged, sprawling, log house, an ideal spot to hold someone.  Behind the structure, Stuart caught a glimpse of the lake.
                “Park here.” Emeralds said anxiously. “We will be in and out, and then you can call 911.”
                Stuart surveyed the scene and then joined the nervous girl at the front door. She cautiously opened it, poking her head inside and listening. The hairs on the back of Stuart’s neck stood up as a gust of wind blew through the trees. Somewhere a dog howled and Stuart almost balked. But Esmeralda looked back and nodded, so Stuart followed her into the dim hallway.
                As he stepped into the entry, Stuart saw a sudden movement to his right. He turned and was greeted with a cascade of bright stars and then darkness.
Hearing a voice calling, Stuart slowly opened his eyes, putting a hand to the back of his throbbing head. He was sitting on a concrete floor in a dim light. Again he heard a voice, then someone laughing, more of a cackle. Trying to sit up, Stuart heard the rattle of a chain when he moved his legs. He blinked, stunned and disbelieving as he saw there was a collar around his right leg with a chain leading to the wall.  As his eyes focused, Stuart realized he was in a square room which must be in the basement of the house. There were three other men chained to the opposite walls.
Across from Stuart was an elf-like man with knee-length pants and whiskers, wearing a hat. There were also two men chained to the other walls, one to his left, the other to his right. Both men were tall with long hair, beards, and thin, almost emaciated.
The small man started humming and hopping, as if doing a jig. “Hey,” he called. “I’m Paddy and who be you?”
Stuart introduced himself and Paddy named the other two men as Travis to Stuart’s right and Carlos to the left. Paddy went on to explain he was the “Dean” of the cellar prison, the longest serving, so Stuart had to mind him.
“But not to worry.” Paddy called. “Your arrival means it‘s time for me night swim.”
“You just had a bad spell.” Travis said to Paddy. “Once you’re right, you’ll be upstairs again.”
Paddy laughed, saying when he started hearing the voices and seeing visions he knew it was only a matter of time.
“Pray,” intoned Carlos, who was darkly handsome and dressed in a white robe. With his long hair, the chained man resembled a Messiah.
A gloom settled over the room and Stuart questioned Travis, then Carlos about where they were and why they were chained in the windowless room. Behind each man was a small cubby with a bed, sink and toilet. Carlos seemed to be in semi-trance and Travis with his surfer looks appeared tired and dispirited, not interested in the newcomer’s inquiries.
Nodding upstairs, Paddy said, “Do what they say and make them laugh. I used to make them laugh and had free reign.”
Stuart motioned to Paddy, encouraging him to continue.
“That’s when I saw a night swim. Chills me to think of it…” And Paddy’s voice trailed off.
 Paddy began speaking again with a faraway look on his face. He said three guests in the basement was the norm. When they added Carlos a year ago that made four and Howard, an intellectual who never fit in, was plucked for a night swim.
“A night swim?” Stuart queried.
Paddy smiled, telling Stuart he had been upstairs with a room off the basement door and he saw them bring Howard up, who appeared drugged. They wrapped Howard with his ten foot chain, and then wound him tight with heavy electric tape, a mummy in black. Then they walked Howard out to the lake behind the house, put him in a rowboat on a moonlight night and rowed to the center of the lake. A hooded figure set the oars, took a paddle, and shoved Howard in the chest, toppling him into the black water. There was a slight splash, as if a bass had jumped.
Stuart held his breath as Paddy described the scene. Who or what was upstairs?
Paddy leaned forward and smiled at Stuart.
“Try to fit in.” The elf-like man advised.