Monday, April 22, 2013

The Fountain-of-Youth Lotions and Potions, Little America, Wyoming

Albino, Fountain of Youth, Little America, Wyoming

 The thin man in the powder-blue suit with the purple eyes was hawking his lotions and potions. Sondra Lee Bradford paused at the hotel’s gift shop as he smiled at her.
        “This is for you.” He said, holding up a lotion tube and a green jar of capsules. “Fountain of Youth. I guarantee it.”
        Sondra looked imperiously at the odd salesman and continued to the registration desk where Roberto anxiously awaited her. He had seen Sondra drive up in a burgundy Porsche Cayenne. He had gaped as the elegant woman in her early sixties stepped out of the SUV. She was dressed in black boots, form-fitting jeans and a mahogany leather coat with a lavender scarf at her slender neck.
         The spring snowstorm had closed I-80 and forced Sondra to stop at Little America in Western Wyoming. She had been eager to push on to Sun Valley, Idaho for her reunion, but there were no parallel side roads and the sprawling complex loomed as the yellow lights flashed, saying I-80 was closed.
         Greeting Sondra with a warm smile, Roberto quickly arranged accommodations close to the office and restaurant. He was solicitous, recognizing serious money: her Porsche, clothing, and aristocratic features, the tilt of her head with eyes wide and nose in the air.
         Roberto loved the way the truly wealthy carried themselves. He called Maria, his daughter, from the restaurant to take the desk, personally escorting Sondra to room 107, a suite across from the registration office.
         As they passed the gift shop, Sondra paused. She had a nose for business, having tripled her family’s wealth. The albino in the powder-blue suit smiled unctuously and they exchanged words. Sondra bought a tube of lotion and a bottle of capsules, handing the salesman a fifty-dollar bill. She then turned to follow Roberto out the door and called sarcastically, “Fountain of Youth, who knew?”
         “You have no idea.” The salesman replied.
         Sondra settled quickly in the room, took a hot shower, and then paused at the mirror with her lotion and capsules. The albino had said to take one capsule, but she was tired from the long drive in the snow and took two capsules. Wary of a skin reaction, Sondra cautiously applied the lotion to the right side of her face, massaging the cinnamon-smelling ointment into her budding ageing spots, as well as under the dark circle beneath her right eye, and then touched the wrinkles at her neck.
        She looked at herself in the mirror. She was still a classic beauty with sandy hair and deep, brown eyes. But time was getting its claws into her. Sondra sighed and turned to the bed, relishing a nap before dinner.
         Sondra awoke with a start as a large tractor-trailer truck went past her window. It was dark and the lights were on outside, revealing a steady snow falling as night took hold. 
          She went into the bathroom to splash her face and looked in the mirror. Her eyes went wide and her mouth fell open. The right side of her face was the look of a twenty-something woman. The left side was an attractive woman in her sixties.
          Sondra’s mind raced. Her initial thought was to call her personal physician, Dr. Nelson. Instead, she took the curious lotion and once again smelled it, catching the attractive cinnamon scent. She squeezed out a small amount and carefully massaged the left side of her face. Sondra enjoyed her fine wine in the evening, and on the left side of her nose were spider-like veins that she artfully concealed with makeup. She rubbed them vigorously with the albino’s lotion.
          Returning to the bed, Sondra lay back, crossing her hands over her chest, assuming the dead-man’s meditation pose, slowing her breathing and clearing her mind. 
          Almost thirty minutes had passed when Sondra sat up and went to the bathroom. Anxiously, she peered in the mirror at her face, which was now clear and youthful. Even the nose veins had vanished.
          Sondra pushed back from the sink and her mind spun.  She could make millions and had to chat with the albino about an investment in his lotion. When she met her friends in Sun Valley, they would be astonished at her youthful appearance. Sondra would wave them away, saying it was diet and exercise. She would keep the albino to herself.
          Feeling ecstatic, Sondra’s agile mind spun with the opportunities. But suddenly an icy fear struck Sondra. She looked hard at the mirror and now saw the face of a teenager with the body of a slender girl yet to blossom. Confused, Sondra made her way back to bed.
         The next morning Roberto waited at the registration desk. He had been keenly disappointed when Sondra did not show for dinner. Now he looked forward to conversing with her at breakfast. But so far, Sondra was a no show.
          At nine, Roberto took his passkey and went to 107, tapping lightly and calling out. But no response, and cautiously Roberto opened the door, again calling. What if she were in the shower?
          Roberto listened carefully, but no running water. Instead, he heard a gurgling sound, a classic “goo-goo”. He stepped into the room and was astonished to see a baby on the wide bed. The toddler was on her back, arms waving in the air. The face was turned toward Roberto and big, brown eyes watched him, giving him a wide smile, as if recognizing him. 
          Cautiously entering the room, Roberto checked the bathroom and the closet. But Sondra was gone. Had the baby been with her in the Porsche? Had she gone back to the SUV after Roberto left? Roberto grabbed the phone and called the desk, ordering Maria to come to the room. 
          His obedient daughter was quickly by his side and Roberto told Maria to watch the baby, perhaps get a bottle of milk from the kitchen. He would start a search of the extensive grounds, being discreet as he knew the missing woman valued her privacy. Had Sondra gone for a walk and gotten lost in the snow, or had she hooked up with a truck driver? Roberto shuddered at the thought. 
          Racing back to the desk, he bundled up, ran outside and checked on her Porsche, but it was in place. He jumped on the all-terrain and drove to the western edge of the property, methodically working north to south. In an hour he had scoured the entire area, but no sign of Sondra Lee Bradford. 
          Now worried that someone had abducted Sondra, Roberto returned to the room to check on Maria and the baby. When he entered the room, Roberto was astonished to find only Maria who had fallen asleep. The little baby had vanished. Had the woman returned, grabbed the baby and gone? But Roberto saw from the window that the Porsche was still parked by the office. What was going on?
Three months later, Roberto and Maria sat at the picnic table beneath the large “Little America” sign. The police had come and gone. The Bradford family’s lawyer with private investigators had descended, then left puzzled. There was no trace of Sondra Lee, or the baby.
          As Roberto daydreamed in the summer twilight, Maria took his hand. “I’m pregnant.” She said.
          Her father stiffened and Maria shook her head. “No, no, it’s not the new chef, nor the groundskeeper. This is different.” She said. “Trust me.”
          Before her father could react, Maria smiled and whispered. “You are going to have a lovely, baby girl.”
         “Another daughter?”  Roberto asked his eyes wide.
         And this daughter will make you rich.” Maria responded.

Monday, April 15, 2013

An Accidental Murder at Chase Lodge, Lake Leech, Walker, Minnesota

Brandy suggested rat poison to kill her venomous stepmother. But Lou had a better idea, an accidental murder. The plan dawned on him as Lou studied the front of the rustic house set on a stone foundation.
          Brandy's stepmother,Martha Ann Manning, had her bedroom  next to the garage for her convenience. What had been a library in the “lodge” had been turned into a master suite, easy access for the cane-ridden Martha.
          Lou sat with Brandy in the upstairs back bedroom and detailed his scheme that would begin with an extra sleeping pill in Martha Ann's wine, then carbon monoxide from the adjacent garage. All quick and painless, apparently an unfortunate accident.  Brandy was disappointed; she wanted her custodian to suffer.
          But sacrifices had to be made.
          The objective was to get control of the Manning multi-million dollar trust that was designated for Martha Ann and Brandy in joint custody. When one of them passed, the survivor would gain control of the fortune. Brandy promised Lou $3 million if he could dispose on her meddlesome stepmother.
          Lou watched Brandy think about his plan. She was an eighteen year old coquette, a honey blond, with blue eyes and shapely in tight jeans and a purple sweater. When she had control of the trust, she said she would travel a year, then return and go to University, Brandy’s plan.
          “I want my stepmother to suffer.” Brandy pouted and then added. “But nothing is perfect.”
          Lou returned downstairs where Martha Ann was by the fire, listening to her classical music, a Mozart concerto, which Lou found depressing as the music echoed through the lodge. Martha motioned him over and pointed at the wine decanter. Lou nodded, fetched the wine and sat across from the elderly woman in black who was bone thin, with translucent skin, a pinched face, and watery blue eyes with tightly coiled gray hair.
          Lou poured them a glass of the fine burgundy, raising a toast to Martha. It was late afternoon and Lou hated to drink before dinner. Alcohol had been the root of his problems when he lived in Minneapolis where he orchestrated a high social life as an estate lawyer and wealth advisor. Drink had cost Lou his job and family.
           After the breakdown, Lou went to rehabilitation in Walker, a small town on Lake Leech, one of Minnesota's largest. After rehab, he joined an upkeep company, maintaining the large area estates. When the elderly owner died, Lou took over and the company began to prosper as the widows liked Lou, a rugged, a good looking man in his early 50s.
          “We should do it when as spring warms up.” Martha Ann said interrupting Lou’s daydreaming.
          “My stepdaughter loves the lake, so that will be the perfect setting. Go sailing with Brandy and take the helm. Brandy can handle the jib. Pick a windy day with whitecaps and jibe into the wind, letting the boat tip over. Grab the paddle as you go in. Brandy should be in the water under the sail, so you hit her hard and stun her. In that cold water, she will sink like a stone.”
          Lou stared at Martha Ann. It was good that he was paid well and also that he had no soul, no compunctions. His drinking days had drained him.
          “How about it?” Martha asked. “Sound good?” 
          “I like it.” Lou agreed.
          The lonely woman tried to coax Lou into another glass of wine, but he worked free of her web. Driving around the lake back to his Walker office, Lou felt good. His spirits surged. Brandy approved his plan and she had agreed on his payment of $3 million, which would set Lou free. Martha Ann, tightfisted and out of touch, had offered him $200,000 to kill Brandy.
          That night Lou returned to the house, parking on the isolated lake road where he could see Brandy’s bedroom with a light on. After a restless hour of waiting in the car, Lou saw the bedroom light blink twice, a sign that Brandy’s stepmother was in her room and asleep. Martha Ann had perfected her sleep formula: two or three glasses of wine and a sleeping pill.
          Lou left the car, walked to the estate’s drive and went to the stone foundation to the right of the garage. He had already dug a passage between the stones and shone his flashlight, seeing the aluminum heat duct inside. With a battery-run drill, he quickly opened a hole in the duct slightly more than an inch in diameter. He knew from the lodge drawings that the heating vent led to Martha’s bedroom, which was just to the right on his drilled hole. 
          Lou sat on the ground in the chill air going over the plan. He was almost ready. On the designated night, Brandy would arrange to be out, having planned a sleepover with a friend. Lou‘s alibi was the movie complex out on Route 34. He had already seen the movie, but he would buy a ticket and sit near the front, then sneak out a few minutes after the feature started.
A few nights later Lou returned to the lodge and attached a garden hose to his car’s exhaust and then ran the hose though the foundations stone into the heating duct. He got inside his car and stepped on the gas, the exhaust traveled into the duct,exiting into Martha’s bedroom. After fifteen minutes, Lou entered the garage and into the hall. He slipped into Martha’s bedroom on the left, checked the old lady, and then took the car keys from her purse. He went to the garage and started the engine on her old Cadillac. He had left Martha’s bedroom and the garage hallway doors open, but closed the hall door to the living room.
         Lou exited the garage, leaving the car’s engine running, which would fill the garage with exhausts that would drift into Martha Ann’s bedroom.
         Let the experts figure it out, Lou smirked.
         The next day Lou went to the lodge at ten for his usual morning chores. He was surprised to find the lodge silent. The plan was Brandy would return early from her overnight and sound the alarm, presumably finding her stepmother dead in her bedroom. Lou had expected flashing red lights and the EMS on the scene , police scouring the house.
          Lou entered the downstairs and was overcome with the stench of auto exhaust. Covering his nose, he went to Martha’s bedroom and found the old woman on the bed, stone still, her face blue. Lou backed into the hall and checked the open door in the garage, but the Cadillac was quiet, probably out of gas.
          Next Lou yelled up the stairs for Brandy, but no response. He hesitated, but suddenly felt woozy. Not wanting to fall prey to the fumes, he ran outside and called 911 from his mobile.
          It wasn’t long before the city police and the EMS were on the scene. Lou asked one of the paramedics to look for Brandy on the second floor. An unmarked car pulled into the drive and Lou recognized Dr. Peterson, Martha Ann’s personal physician, who the police escorted into the house.
          After the discovery had been made and the house searched and cleared, Martha Ann’s body was taken away. Lou stood in the drive with the two policemen explaining his role, how he took care of the ground floor and did the lawn work. Dr. Peterson, tall and patrician, came over. Lou asked about Brandy, Martha’s stepdaughter.
          The policemen started and looked at Lou suspiciously. Dr. Peterson appeared confused, then cleared his throat and said.”Brandy drowned two years ago in a sailing accident.”
          Lou was stunned and realized he had drawn attention to himself. He quickly explained that Martha always talked about the girl, but he had never actually seen her.
          All three men shuffled their feet and looked around. Finally, Dr. Peterson came to Lou’s rescue by explaining that Martha Ann had never accepted Brandy’s drowning, as the girl’s body was never found in the lake.
         “Martha began to slip after Brandy drowned.” The doctor said solemnly. “I recall her talking about Bandy being upstairs which spooked the former maid who had been with the family for ten years. On one of my visits, the maid told me she had to leave as the old lady unnerved her. Fortunately, Lou came along and they did okay.”
         Lou nodded, acknowledging his role in the household.
         “Ironically, Martha Ann had been improving, but now this tragic accident: looks like she left the car running in the garage.” The doctor concluded.
          “So you never saw Brandy?” The lead policeman asked, looking at Lou who shook his head.  “No, I just heard Mrs. Manning talk about her stepdaughter.”
          The two policemen stood, considering.
          “I was usually only around in the morning to do the dishes and clean downstairs. Once every two weeks I did the grounds, cut the grass and so forth.” 
          The questioning and scene examination took all morning. Lou had plugged the cement hole he had made near Martha’s bedroom. But no one thought to go behind the shrubs and look at the stone foundation.
          Lou finally got home to his two-bedroom lakeside cottage at twilight. It had been an exhausting day. The tragic accident at the Manning’s had consumed his energies. He had a light meal, a hot shower, a glass of wine, and then fell into bed, immediately falling asleep.
          After midnight, Lou awoke with a start. He was on his left side and could see the curtains fluttering at the open window. A pale moonlight reflected silver on the dark lake. Lou was rigid, frozen in place, and held his breath. Someone was in bed next to him.
          Slowly turning on his back, Lou found Brandy raised on her elbow and staring down. Her blond hairs cascaded to her shoulders and her blue eyes were curious, her left eyebrow arched. There was a slight smile on her lips.
          “Where‘s my money?” She asked.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Killing and the Green-Eyed Girl, Des Moines, Iowa

messiah, Eureka Springs, AK. Green-eyed girl, killing, Des Moines, IA
 Eureka Springs, Arkansas, tolerated the Psychic Center run by Ella Mae Quicksilver with its dribble of visitors. But as the trickle became a flow and people talked of a “Movement”, the forbearance became a misgiving. When the Center flourished, local churches became alarmed. Some wags whispered the green-eyed daughter, Averil Jean, was an apostle, a prophet, or perhaps a messiah… maybe worse. The town wise men gathered, muttering and nodding; something had to be done.
            Early one Monday morning in the dark of night, Averil woke her mother.  She said the townspeople would come for them that evening and it was time to go. They were always packed for flight and as the quirky town slept, the mother and daughter stole away. Ella asked about a sign, a star? But Averil shook her head. They would head north.

Hunter Farnham with his smooth, confident presentation was awarded the contract to manage DigitalCoin’s money. Hunter suspected the nerd company was a hacker operation, stealing money from all over the world.  He had control of $500 million that he managed for the company. Thinking the geeks did not scrutinize his trades, Hunter slowly skimmed a little here and a little there. Small amounts that could easily be explained. A peanut here, a peanut there and after awhile… a jar of peanuts.
Taking his stash, Hunter bet it all on an improbable Sweet Sixteen basketball game. He heard via a source that the University of Florida was going to lay down for Florida Gulf Coast University, a no-body upstart from Fort Meyers, Florida. The odds were 100 to one. When FGCU won, Vegas would take the hit from the Sweet Sixteen historic upset and Hunter could retire.
But the Gators did not lie down and Hunter lost big. Fortunately, he kept a reserve and he fled his Boston office. He reinvented himself as a farmer in Iowa, buying a rambling farm house outside of Des Moines, the old Boynton farm. He grew a beard and became a recluse, but he did need a maid as he hated housework and cooking.
Thinking of placing an ad on Craig’s List, Hunter was startled one morning when two women appeared at his isolated spread. On inspection, it was a mother and daughter. The mother was dark, attractive, and perhaps Native American. The daughter shyly kept her head down as the mother explained they were looking for work, preferably live-in. She could clean, wash, and cook with help from her daughter, who was home schooled.
As there was a large, empty addition on the back of the original farmhouse, Hunter agreed and welcomed the Quicksilvers. The two looked harmless enough. The 13-year old girl was quiet and the mother clean and respectful.
A month later on his birthday, Hunter befriended Ella Mae and Averil Jean with wine and cheese, and then invited them to join him at his dinner table. When it got dark Hunter produced a cake and for the first time he scrutinized Averil, taking note of the six-fingers on each hand. He was startled by her jade, green eyes and felt a sizzle as Averil gazed at him; a shock ran up and down his spine, touching his soul. Who was the young girl?
As spring came, Hunter took on a brother and sister, Ben and Inez, to help with the plowing and planting. He put them in the small guest house set behind the farmhouse. Ella Mae was immediately taken by the brother, a large strapping man in his late twenties. But Averil sensed evil, divining that the supposed brother and sister were at Hunter’s farm for more than spring planting. She told her mother they must leave the farm. This time Ella Mae, who yearned for male companionship, protested when Averil warned of danger.
“Perhaps there is another way.” Averil replied. 

The expanded family fell into an easy routine with Ben and Inez preparing for planting and Ella and Averil taking care of the house and meals. Hunter took note that in the evenings, Averil would stand by an old Elm tree watching the sun go down. As darkness fell, Hunter discerned a faint aura around the young girl. The sight stirred Hunter, yet made the hairs on the back of his neck stand, sending shivers down his spine.
            One night Ben got his call from Boston. The geeks had drained Hunter’s Des Moines Bank account. “Time to take care of business.” The voice said cryptically.
            Ben got out of bed. He dressed in his blacks and took his snout-silencer revolver.
“Don’t mess it up.” Inez said acidly from bed. “And do the half-breed and her weird daughter.”
Leaving the cottage, Ben went to the main house, entering through the kitchen. Hunter slept in a downstairs suite to the left. Ben stopped in the hallway, startled by a presence at the other end of the hall that was bathed in the pale moonlight. It was Averil in a translucent gown, her black hair loose and her green eyes glittering in the dim light with a golden aura about her head. Averil’s arms were extended as if she were an angel, her hands splayed, welcoming the errant Ben.
            Ben aimed the silenced gun, but felt a shock and fell to his knees, then gasped as a spirit gripped his soul, the pistol falling to the floor. Averil came forward and put her arms around Ben, pulling him close. She helped him to his feet and led him outside, directing Ben to kneel by the Elm tree, facing east to wait sunrise.
            Averil then went around the house to the cottage and opened the door. Inez looked up in astonishment as Averil entered. She quickly moved to the bed and took Ben’s pillow, hovering over Inez. Startled, then amused, the muscular Inez looked with disdain at the frail, young girl, who smiled down at her.
            Without a word, Averil put the pillow over Inez’s face, who suddenly found herself pinned to the bed. She struggled to scream, to fight, but could only manage a whine. In a few minutes, Inez was still.
            Averil looked down at the prostrate woman.
            There were many worth saving, but also those not worth saving.