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.