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.