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?