Monday, December 1, 2014

The McDowell-Sonoran Preserve Blue Cone, McDowell Mountains, Scottsdale, Arizona

Chandler watched as the woman leaned into the blue light, levitated slowly, then poof, vaporized. He shook his head, thrust his hands into his jeans and stepped back from the glowing cone in the Arizona desert. Time to rethink.
          An attractive woman to his left watched with a frown. The man was having second thoughts, perhaps a hesitant? She stepped forward and coughed, causing Chandler to turn.
          “I’m confused.” She said, timidly. “Do I step into the blue circle, or just let myself fall into the cone? By the way, I ‘m Magdalena.”
          He smiled, “Of the Bible? New Mexico?”
          “Call me Maggie.” The dark-haired woman with the angular face and large green eyes replied lightly.
          Chandler explained that the brochure recommended stepping into the circle, though one could just lean forward. There were those who turned their backs and let themselves topple rearward into the cone, and then elevated twenty or thirty feet in the blue light before vanishing. They traveled to a parallel universe, or so the literature claimed.
          Maggie nodded and looked at the blue light, a large circle one hundred yards in diameter that gently sloped upwards about thirty feet before fading into the night sky. The inverted cone was set against the McDowell Mountains and a gateway that transported one to a higher dimension where new life was transcendent with unbridled happiness.
           As Chandler stared at Maggie, he had second thoughts about taking the journey. Rachel had left him and the stock market had gone south, leading to drink and an oxycodone dependency. But standing there in the cool desert air with this attractive woman he felt a flicker of hope.
          “You know,” Maggie said, interrupting his musing. “I bought a French Burgundy to toast my visit to Blue Cone and my ascension. But I couldn't drink alone.”
          He nodded and smiled.
          “Since we have time, why don’t we share a glass of wine or two? We can return here later. The gateway isn’t going anywhere.” She added lightly.
          Divine intervention, Chandler thought to himself. He needed to sit on her patio, study the desert night, sip wine and then reconsider his decision to travel the Blue Cone.
          “Great idea, “Chandler responded. “ I have a corkscrew on my Swiss army knife.”
          He followed her through the chilly desert night, winding around the eerie saguaro cacti. The intimate complex was northeast of the Scottsdale McDowell-Sonoran Preserve. For the affluent, rental casitas were within walking distance of the blue cone that glowed in the night sky, appearing as a vessel from a far away system. He felt revived as he saw Maggie’s neat, white adobe dwelling set among the desert scrub.

Chandler awoke with a slight buzz from too much wine, but felt reincarnated, alive and ready to forgo traveling to the parallel universe. He turned over in the bed and flung out an arm for Maggie. He heard a door open and sat up on his elbows as she exited the bathroom in a white terry-cloth robe, her left hand held a towel to her black hair. She smiled, and then reached into the pocket of her robe, pulled out a snub-nose .38 and shot Chandler in the chest. He fell back with his eyes wide and his mouth working. Maggie came to the bed and shot him again in the forehead. The room was quiet as the gun smoke floated in the cozy room. She sat on the bed, working her wet hair with both hands.
          That evening Maggie emerged from the room and she paused on the stone walk as the cleaning crew arrived. “Don’t forget the letter.” She called. “Send his relatives the usual… ‘He went happily into the Blue Cone to a new life of success and bliss.’”
          Later as Maggie prowled the base of the cone, she spotted a man ahead of her in slacks and a sports coat who muttered, and then took a step back, shaking his head at the blue light. She noticed with a pang that this was where she had met Chandler, but she quickly shook off the remorse. There could be no undecided, no dropouts; there was no going back, no refunds or the Blue Cone Enterprise would collapse.
          The wavering man looked around and spied Maggie.
          “Excuse me, “she asked shyly, “Does one lean in to the blue cone, or are you supposed to step in boldly?”
          The man let out a breath and gave her a smile. “Let’s compare notes.”
She mentioned her French Burgundy and the man accepted a glass of wine with pleasure.
          Maggie smiled. There was work to be done.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Neighbors, Normandie Villas, North Secret Springs Drive, Tuscon, Arizona

The scream in the dead of night woke Vickery, his introduction to the neighbors. It was dark with a half moon as he got up and cautiously went into the living room, creeping to the sliding glass doors that looked out on his entry patio.
To his surprise, the outside patio door was open. Had he locked it? Usually he came in through the garage, rarely using the door to the patio. The trees rustled as a night wind swept through the development.
          Vickery slipped through the sliding glass doors, went to the ajar patio entry and stepped outside into the complex’s cul-de-sac. He was startled to see his neighbor standing in her drive across from him. She had introduced herself as Annabelle when he had moved it a few days ago. Staring at him, she called softly, “Must be the wind.”
          Vickery wondered if his neighbor meant the scream or the opening of his patio door. He was about to ask when he saw movement to his right and a tall, slender man appeared and called to Annabelle, saying: “There are leftovers if you’re hungry.”
          But Annabelle waved her hand back and forth indicating she was not interested in a snack. Vickery recalled it was almost three when he got out of bed. Was it a late night party and the noise just a shrill laugh at hilarity, someone dancing with a lampshade on his head? He raised a hand to Annabelle and nodded at the man to his right, then went to bed curious about his neighbors.
          The next evening Vickery again awoke at three in the morning, still not adjusted to the time change of three hours from the east coast. He was determined to go back to sleep when he heard something and sat up. It was low murmuring, like the soft buzz of a cocktail party.
          Getting out of bed, Vickery went into the living room and slowly drew the curtains on the sliding door. He stepped back with his mouth open as he saw his patio was full of people, maybe twenty bodies jammed into the small space. With their hands to the glass were Annabelle and the man from next door.
          The hairs on Vickory’s arms stood up and he wanted to draw back, but a magnetism pulled him forward and he slowly opened the glass door, and then stepped out into the milling crowed.
Vickery’s screams bounced off the patio walls and into the night.

Melba Rae, a tall, professional southern blonde, scanned the lease, tuning out the manager who was droning on: “…convenient, great location. You can even walk to Flo’s Chinese and AJ’s Market.”
          Melba held up her hand, cutting off the spiel as she looked around at the adobe, red-tiled roofed units with a Mediterranean flare. The complex was only 10 minutes from the Tucson Aeropark where she was the new public relations person. “And the other tenants?” She asked the hovering man.
          He bobbed his head. “Professionals, upscale, very quiet. Trust me,” he added with smarmy smile, “you’ll love the neighbors.”


Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Mormon Benefactress, Beehive Restaurant, Logan, Utah

Maylene’s nose twitched and she wet her lips when the silver-haired man entered the Beehive Restaurant. The dining room was full with a pleasant hum in the eating area that faced the Wasatch Mountains. The waiter guided the single man to a table for two by the windows, taking his order for a glass of Pinot noir. The wine came and Lamont sipped, relaxing after the long drive from Boulder, Colorado.
          The slender waiter in the white shirt and black tie reappeared, bending down and saying in a low voice, “The lady behind me has offered to pay for your dinner.”
Lamont was startled and glanced up at the young man, who rolled his eyes to the right. Behind the waiter was an attractive blonde in her twenties sitting with five other people. She was talking to a man across the table and Lamont eyed her. She had an oval face, striking sky-blue eyes, and a cupid mouth.
“If you decline she’ll understand.” The waiter added.
“Who is she?” Lamont asked.
“Maylene,” the waiter whispered, noting she was wealthy and from a prominent Logan family. Taking the menu and studying the entrees, Lamont was suddenly aware that a hush had fallen over the dining area. He raised his head and was startled to see that everyone in the big room gazing at him, apprehension and fear on their faces.
          In an instant the diners looked away and a low buzz once again filled the room. Shifting in his seat, Lamont looked back at the offerings. What was that about, he wondered. Was this gifting a local custom? Or something else?
          The waiter returned with pad and pencil and Lamont nodded, acknowledging he accepted the young woman’s generosity. He ordered the special, a prime rib rare with the house salad. As the waiter hurried away, Lamont saw the group with his benefactress was leaving. They rose quietly and filed past his booth. This time the blonde glanced his way and he quietly thanked her with a nod of his head and a smile.
          After finishing his dinner, the waiter confirmed that it was paid for, including the two glasses of wine. Lamont drove back to the hillside B&B, a yellow, many-gabled farmhouse that was flanked by two towering cottonwood trees. His bedroom had a bay window that overlooked the sleepy college town of Logan.
          The house was quiet as he went up the stairs. He swiped his key card and went into the room, having left a light on by the windows. As he entered Lamont was startled to see a figure on the bed. He stepped back, but saw it was the blonde from the restaurant. He took a breath as she stood and smiled thinly, her sky-blue eyes glittering.
          “There is no free lunch.” Maylene said

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Beaverhead Point-of-Rocks Mystic, Gallatin Valley, Bozeman, Montana

Clay buried the girl in the far corner of the backyard, setting the old birdbath over the grave. He stood bowed and asked forgiveness for the killing, noting it wasn't his fault.
          As he walked back to the house, Clay recalled the backpacker knocking on his door, saying she’d lost her cell and wanted to use his phone. She was medium height, slender with black hair pulled back, a sharp nose and a jutting chin; a conical hat would suit her. Surveying him with black eyes, she smiled saying she thought the old farm house was deserted. She rambled on that the rundown building appeared abandoned and then she saw the light, so she knocked and was pleased when the door opened. She introduced herself as Loredana and Clay invited her in. Seeing she was hungry looking, he ushered her to the kitchen for his homemade soup.
          As they moved from the hall, Clay prickled at her remarks. He spent most of his time keeping up the family farmhouse off MT 41, a lovely, rural spot, but somewhat isolated. Why would the girl think the farm was abandoned?
They sat at the kitchen table and Clay poured two bowls of his homemade soup. Loredana sipped the broth and sighed, then proceeded to tell Clay she was on her way to Butte to meet friends when she detoured from I-15 to take MT 41 as she wanted to see Beaverhead Rock, the Lewis and Clark rendezvous point of rocks. When Clay asked why Beaverhead, Loredana explained she was a student of Shoshone mysticism and that peculiar limestone rock was the site for ancient ceremonials, especially the Shoshone atonement ritual. She went on to say the rite was a terrifying experience which repeated again and again, a penance cycle for those who sinned.
Finishing their soup in silence, Clay thought about the Beaverhead and the Shoshone. They did have their secrets and odd spells, but didn't everyone? Clay broke the silence and asked Loredana where she was from, but his guest waved her hand and said, “I’m sure you've never heard of it.”
Clay sat back, uneasy. What did that mean? Who was she and why had she knocked on his door? Still, no need to worry as Loredana was probably just a runaway, a troubled youth, one of many who often vanished on the road.
 His visitor helped tidy the kitchen and then they drifted into the living room and sat together on the couch talking. Loredana was tired and she rested her head on Clay’s shoulder, so he put his left arm around her. To his shock, she grabbed his throat with her strong left arm and squeezed. With his free right hand, Clay found a throw pillow and slammed it against her face.
 The death struggle was fierce and Clay found his eyes fluttering as Loredana throttled him. But then the girl went limp, falling sideways on the couch. Clay debated what to do and finally concluded no one would ever believe that she had tried to strangle him, so he buried her in the left corner of the back yard by the evergreens.        

The next morning Clay sat in the kitchen nook overlooking the backyard. He sipped his black coffee and then started. Something was wrong. The birdbath was in the right corner of the back yard. His forehead beaded in sweat as he sat uneasily in the silent house. The right corner was where he had buried his wife after he killed her when she announced she was leaving, going to California. After all, she’d won the lottery and had located an old boyfriend.
          Clay had buried Loredana in the left corner of the backyard and placed the birdbath there to obscure the digging. Who had moved the birdbath? He sat rethinking the incident, cocking his head and hearing sounds in the old farm house. Winds moaned and clouds scudded across the morning sky. He was used to the structure creaking, but the night’s adventure had unnerved him. Was someone in the house?
          Starting in the cellar Clay spent the day scouring the rooms all the way to the attic. In the afternoon, he repeated the process, but found no one. As twilight drifted across the prairie, Clay began to relax. He was about to pour himself a glass of wine when the double-eagle door knocker banged. He put his wine glass down, went into the hall and opened the door.
          There stood the backpacker, her dark eyes fixed on him. Without a word, Clay bade her to enter. Together they went into the kitchen and he ladled the homemade soup. They eyed each other, soup spoons raised.
          “Tell me about Beaverhead Rock and the Shoshone.” He said
          “Of course,” the girl replied. “I’ll tell you about the Shoshone atonement ritual.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Love Potion Number 9, the Little Shop, West State Street, Boise, Idaho

Randy emptied the love potion #9 into Belle’s coffee cup while she cut the pie in the kitchen. He sat back smiling. Of course, the shop’s owner was cuckoo, but no harm to try. Belle returned with the pie plates and took a bite, sipping her coffee.
          She looked at him with inflexible eyes. “I like you as a friend, Randy. Always have. But I can’t force my feelings. No one can do that.”
          Spying the coffee hopefully as Belle took another sip, Randy could only hope. Who knew…maybe the potion would work, and then a haunting refrain floated through his mind. Be careful what you wish for.

Previously Randy had been despondent by Belle’s continuous rejections. One night he ended up in the Basque Center on Grove Street. He sat at the bar sipping an Idaho red recommended by the  bartender, a thin, young man of Basque descent who listened patiently to Randy’s lament about Belle’s rebuff. “I’d try anything.” Randy said, waving his right arm and tipping his wine glass, which the bartender adroitly steadied.
          The bartender leaned forward and spoke in a low voice, telling Randy about an antiquities shop on State Street. In the shop there was an herb and spice section managed by an old Basque woman. Rumor had it she sold under-the-counter potions. There was even something for the heartbroken, or so people said.
          Waking the next morning with a vicious hangover, Randy nursed a cup of coffee, recalling the Basque bartender who spoke of herbs and potions. On a whim, Randy decided to visit the shop on State Street and see what the old lady had to offer.
As Randy approached the antique store he saw a tall woman in pink, hesitating in the doorway. Suddenly she turned and almost bumped into Randy. “I’m having second thoughts,” the lady muttered and then hurried away. He entered the shop and to the right in the corner was the Little Shop, offering herbs and spices. Behind the counter was an old, hunched woman in black. She smiled unctuously and before he could speak, she reached under the counter and produced a small vial. “Love Potion Number 9 will do nicely.” She said in a crone’s voice. “Your darling will not be able to resist you.”
          Much to Randy’s surprise, the potion had worked and Belle had fallen in love with him. But over time Belle’s adoration became obsessive and cloying. After two years Randy could take no more of her.  She was driving him crazy and in desperation he returned to State Street, curious to see if the old lady at the Little Shop had a remedy to reverse the curse.
          It was if time had stood still when Randy entered the dusty shop. The woman was exactly the same and looked at him with rheumy eyes. “Ahh,” she croaked, “you’re back.”
          Surprised the old hag recognized him; Randy started to relate the history of his experience, but the woman held up her hand. ”Skip the sad story. How much did you give her?”
          Explaining that he feared failure, Randy admitted he emptied the vial into Belle’s coffee. The shopkeeper exhaled and shook her head; reminding that she had instructed just two drops of Number 9.
          Apologizing for not following instructions, Randy related how possessive and clinging Belle had become, worse his wife now stalked him. The old woman reached under the counter, pulling out a black vial. “This should dim her ardor.” She explained. “Four drops into her coffee, or better yet, into a glass of wine.  Not to worry, I’m always here if anything goes awry.”
 Days passed and Randy was conflicted as he stared at the black vial. But finally he decided to proceed. As he opened the evening wine, Randy mused about Belle’s recent inheritance from her father. As Belle’s husband, the money would pass to him if anything happened to her. The possibility of two birds with one stone was enticing. Gathering his courage, Randy poured the potion into his wife’s wine.  At first four drops, and then with a smile he emptied the entire vial into her glass.
Later that evening, Randy heard Belle calling out from her bedroom and he went to the foot of the staircase. His wife was standing at the top of the stairs, weaving as she gripped the rail.
          “You poisoned me!” She called hysterically. “I called my sister…she’s on the way.”
          Holding up his hands to calm her as his heart sank. Randy explained she had gotten woozy after dinner and he had put her to bed, perhaps too much wine.
          “But I feel like I’ve been asleep forever. Did you kidnap me?” Belle demanded, panic in her voice.
Before Randy could respond, Belle put her hand to her forehead, swooned, and then pitched headfirst down the steep steps. He carried his wife to the couch and covered her with a tartan throw. He had to save Belle as the sister from hell was on the way. The answer was the crone’s anecdote so Randy raced outside and drove back to State Street.
He parked in front of the antiquities shop, and walked quickly to the door. In the dim light, he could see a tall figure in pink hovering in the doorway. It was the same woman who had been there two years ago. She turned as Randy approached her face stricken, eyes wide in dismay. “I can’t get the potion.”She said, pointing to the sign on the door, which announced the shop was closed and out of business.
“I am truly star struck.” She added in disappointment.
          “Consider yourself lucky.” Randy said and walked into the night.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Thelma and Louise Impersonators Smoke the Devil's Pipe, Ketchum, Sun Valley, Idaho

 The mystery would bedevil the Sun Valley aficionados for years. Cordell Cooper parked his Range Rover beside the fast running Big Wood River. The moment to act was when darkness fell. Yesterday the FBI had descended on his Ketchum offices and frozen his bank accounts. He was now a wanted man, destitute except for the SUV. To save everyone embarrassment and a 100-year jail sentence, he would join the disappeared. Sun Valley would buzz, what happened to Cordell Cooper?
          Reaching in his pocket he grasped his one-way ticket that would topple him from the small bridge into the icy waters. The fast current would take him south to town. While his outraged clients searched for their financial genius, he would float through Ketchum into the Idaho void. He reflected it was only ten years ago he had come to Sun Valley. He’d had drinks with an elderly couple in the Duchin Lounge at the Lodge and they complained about their need for income. Cordell had set them up with a quality dividend portfolio and so it began. Ten years later he was managing $250 million, but greed, gambling, and a sharp market turn had caught him. The faithful wanted their investments redeemed, but the money was gone.
          Cordell found an ochre-colored picnic table by the river bridge and sat to reflect on his misfortune. At least he had returned money to Brie who had arranged Lodge suites when he had a VIP. His reverie was interrupted by a young, blond lady who approached from behind and called out to him. She was slender, average height, with striking blue eyes. Giving him a radiant smile, she asked to share the picnic table. They chatted for a few minutes and then a second blond emerged from among the cottonwoods and aspens, equally attractive, but more powerfully built. In her hand was a black automatic pistol.
          “I’m Ruby and that’s Rose.” The lady with the gun said as she emerged from the trees. “Is that your SUV up the road?”
Without thinking, Cordell nodded.
“This is a big day for you. We've had a busy week of killing since we left Erie, Pennsylvania. You’ll be number five.”
          “Number six,” Rose corrected, noting the backpacker they killed outside of Laramie was their fifth victim. The girls exchanged comments and then Rose counted off the killings on her fingers.
As the girls argued, Cordell’s mind raced. He had planned to vanish in the Big Wood River. Instead he would be murdered by a pair of psycho runaways.  Ketchum would know what happened to him, spoiling the intrigue. He would be a footnote in the girls’ bloody swath--- “Victim number six in their killing spree across America was Cordell Cooper, the notorious financial swindler.”

After an hour drive in Cordell’s Range Rover, the girls directed him to a yellow, rundown trailer at the edge of the Sawtooth Mountains, the slopes still tipped with snow. Inside, Ruby took a ratty couch to the left. They sat Cordell in a kitchen chair, while Rose took a small, stuffed chair across from him. Ruby relaxed with a beer and rambled about the trip from Erie, Pennsylvania. It wasn't her fault, Ruby whined and Cordell expected Ruby to blame the violence on abuse and alcohol. Instead Ruby claimed to have smoked the Devil’s pipe, which was the reason for the rampage.
          Finally, Ruby went silent and took the gun from her belt, giving it to Rose. “Time to break you in.” Ruby said. “Shoot him.”
 Cordell tensed while Rose took the gun and stood up, looking down at him with a Mona Lisa smile.
          He closed his eyes and there was a loud bang. His body shook and when he dared look, Rose was standing over him with the smoking gun. Ruby was sprawled dead on the couch, blood trickling down her front.

Later Rose touched his chest as they napped on the double bed at the other end of the trailer. Telling Cordell she was thirsty, Rose went for water. He turned and looked out of the small window. It was dark now, but outside he saw a shimmering light that closed on the trailer. An angelic figure hovered outside of the window, a sign from heaven?
Sitting up, he heard a message. He was being offered redemption. Two roads he could follow. One would take him back to Ketchum where he must confess stealing his clients’ money, and seek the court’s mercy. Or he could take Rose and start anew, down to Phoenix, Sun City with the seniors. Rose could teach fitness, physical therapy. Cordell could offer financial advice to the old timers who were outliving their savings due to low interest rates. He and Rose would dedicate the rest of their lives to those in need, a path to atonement and salvation.
Cordell’s spirits soared with the implications. This meant life was not random chaos, and that he was not meant to perish in the Big Wood waters. There was, indeed, a life plan and a reason for him to go on.
          Suddenly Rose was back, standing in the dim light. Cordell patted the spot beside him on the bed, wanting to tell Rose about the good news.
Rose stepped forward. “While you slept I went outside and I smoked the Devil’s pipe.”
Hel felt a chill run down his spine.
 “And the Devil smoked with me,” she added, raising her gun.
Cordell stopped patting the bed. Wasn't that what Ruby said to explain her mayhem? He glanced at the window, but the redeeming angel was gone.
Then Rose pulled the trigger.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Rock Springs Massacre, Sweetwater County, Rock Springs, Wyoming

Laura saw the horror in a sliver of the full moon shining through her window. She sat up with a start, thinking it was her stepfather finally making his move, but then gasped as she saw the man’s disfigured face, no nose and half his jaw gone. Letting out a scream, the girl pulled up the covers to her chin, watching as the figure crept forward keeping his face in the shadows. Oddly, he was wearing a long, silk blouse with a pigtail dangling down the front.
 As the figure silently approached Laura saw him point, motioning for her to leave the room. Jumping out of bed and going to the door, she paused; hearing running on the stairs, and then her stepfather was banging on the door. Laura hid as Adam stepped into the room, heading for her bed where the figure was now huddled under the covers.
          “It is okay, Laura. I’m here for you.” Her stepfather whispered as he paused at the side of the bed.
          Without understanding why, Laura stepped around the door and into the hall. She was jolted as her bedroom door slammed behind her and she heard Adam screaming. The terrified girl bolted down the stairs and called 911.

Mara Mountain stared at the gingerbread house in Rawlins, Wyoming, possibly the site where an 84-year vendetta had ended. Mara was the director of the Laramie Plains Historical Society, which was located in the Historic Ivinson Mansion. She mounted the steps slowly, hesitating to ring the bell as four months previously Laura Benson had endured the murder of her stepfather.
          When Mara called, Laura had seemed willing to talk and the girl invited her to visit, so the director had made the trip to Rawlins from Laramie. Smiling as the girl appeared at the door, Mara noted Laura was tallish and raw boned with an oval face and brown eyes set off with a large mouth and a melancholy smile.
          Laura ushered her visitor into the dim hallway and Mara thanked her for the time. The girl replied by saying that many years ago she had visited the Ivinson Mansion with her Girl Scout Troop and Mara had been gracious in discussing Wyoming history and answering the girls’ questions.
          Eventually, they settled in the living room with a pot of tea, sitting in overstuffed chairs across from each other. After conveying her condolences for the loss of her stepfather, Laura noted her mother had died from cancer six months before the murder. It had been a difficult year.
          They fell into an uneasy silence and then Mara said, “I think your stepfather was the final victim in a series of revenge killings.”
The director went on to note that since 1930 every three years an unexplained death had occurred in the southwestern area of Wyoming. Mara had traced each one of the deaths back to the 1885 massacre at Rock Springs. “Twenty-eight deaths since 1930, that’s the number of Chinese killed in the Rock Springs coal mining riots.”
          Laura shook her head in confusion. “You think my stepfather was related to the 1885 massacre in Rock Springs? I don’t understand”
          Mara explained. “Your father’s name was Benson, but his mother’s maiden name was Washington. I traced her back to Isaiah Washington, the ringleader of the riot against the Chinese.”
          Laura sat back, digesting what the director had said. She had never been close to the Benson family, having met her stepfather’s mother only briefly at a family reunion.
 “But why wait until 1930 to avenge the deaths?” She asked.
          “To the Chinese, a slight is worth 1,000 years. So you can imagine the death of 28 Chinese coal miners. Even if it takes forever, there will an accounting.” Mara replied.
          The girl’s eyes widened, absorbing the reasoning. Mara explained there appeared to have been a conspiracy to kill a relative of the people involved in the 1885 massacre. Why the killings started in 1930 was unclear, maybe it took time to organize the plot. Perhaps the 3-year interval between the deaths was to conceal the fact that the killings were of people who had a connection to the massacre.
          “It’s hard to grasp.” Laura said. “And why tell me if the killing is over?”
          Mara said she thought Laura would want to know her theory about why her stepfather was killed, that it might not be just a random killing by a deranged person. Also, Mara was curious to know if Laura had heard of her step-father’s connection to the massacre. The girl shook her head, saying she was unaware of the Benson family connection to the infamous 1885 incident.
          A silence fell over the two, and then Laura changed the subject, saying that she would start the University of Wyoming in the fall and relocate to Laramie as soon as she could sell the old house.
          They chatted some more and then Mara thanked Laura for her time and left, pausing outside of the gabled house and looked back. She hesitated, having come across a yellowed letter that had been missed in her initial massacre research. It mentioned there were actually 29 Chinese called in the 1885 rampage. It also noted that Isaiah Washington had a brother who had been a co-conspirator in the riots, but had deftly avoided publicity and accusation.
Mara huddled as a cold, spring wind swirled down the street. If the letter was correct, that meant one more killing to avenge the massacre.
          Laura Benson?


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Sun Valley Lodge Countess Schaffgotsch Abduction, Ketchum, Idaho

 They grabbed Countess Adele Schaffgotsch as she paused at her burgundy Land Rover. Roy appeared from behind her SUV and pointed at the rear tire, saying she had a flat.
          Adele was thinking of lunch and paused, caught off balance. Suddenly a white van appeared with the side door open and Roy stepped forward and shoved Adele into the van. Jack smothered her with a chloroformed towel.
          They drove from the imposing Sun Valley Lodge, heading north into the Sawtooth Mountains. It was a crisp April afternoon and the two men breathed easier, winding away from the recreation area. Three miles into the mountains, they came to a side road with a discreet estate marker on the left and turned.
          “The estate’s not occupied.” Jack said. “We can stay in the groundskeeper’s cottage; he’s away for the week. We get our money, and then it’s off to Mexico.”
          Roy nodded. They had hatched the plan in Williston, North Dakota where the two had been drivers in the oil fields. Jack had done the research, zeroing in on the Countess, a patrician woman in her late 40s. Still a looker, Jack had told Roy who had the roving eye.
          They turned onto a dirt road and after two miles came to a small stone and green frame cottage hidden among the tall evergreens. By now the Countess was stirring and Roy helped her out of the van, surprised that she was not older.
          Jack had researched the countess after seeing her name in a Sun Valley news item. Her distant relative was Count Schaffgotsch, who had discovered Sun Valley for Averell Harriman in 1935 as the site for a world-class resort in the western USA. The Count had been killed on the eastern front in World War II.
           Adele came to Sun Valley in the late 70s, taking a suite at the Lodge. She was reported to be in her early 40s. That was over 30 years ago, but time seemed to have stood still for the Countess. Their captive had a slender athletic build and a youthful face with silver hair, clear skin and bright eyes. 
           The two men led Adele into the sparsely furnished living room and sat her on the couch. Jack stepped back and appraised the Countess, noting she was regal in black slacks, a white sweater, and a blue blazer with a fancy scarf around her neck. She was a picture in wealthy elegance, but her youthful demeanor nagged him.
            As Adele regained her senses, she scrutinized her captors who were dressed in jeans, flannel shirts, and dark windbreakers. They were rawboned, probably in their late twenties and bad news. She knew they had abducted her for money, but did they intend to kill her? Adele smiled at her captors. They had no idea what their future now held, as she had planned for such a contingency.   
          “Here’s how it is.” Jack said, interrupting Adele’s thoughts. He said he was leaving to make the call, demanding $500,000 for her release. The Countess gestured for her purse and Roy gave it to her. Adele found a leather holder and pulled out a card. “Call and ask for Mathew. He will get your money by this evening and then I can be on my way, yes?”   
          The two men stared at her, so quick and easy?   
         “The trick is the hand off.” Adele added, breaking the silence. “That is always the Achilles heel of a kidnapping. I hope you have a good plan.”      
          Jack shifted his weight uneasily. He did have a good plan. Still, Adele’s calmness bothered him. He had expected a gnashing of teeth and weeping.       
          Saying Roy would keep her comfortable until he returned, Jack left to make his call. With luck the prisoner would be back in the Sun Valley Lodge by nightfall. 
The round trip took two hours and it was twilight when Jack returned to the cabin. He parked and then held his breath, fearing the sudden appearance of the Idaho State Patrol, but all was quiet.
          Jack left the briefcase with the money in the van and entered the cabin, surprised to find it empty. He hurried to the bedroom where he found Roy spread out on the bed with Adele whispering to him.
          Pulling out his snub-nosed revolver, Jack went to the bed and put his hand on Adele’s shoulder. She looked at him and for the first time he noticed a strange glint in her pale blue-gray eyes. “Roy was so tired, he couldn't stay awake.” She said.
Starting to speak, Adele shushed Jack. She got up, turning to her captor who suddenly felt unsteady. She steered to the couch.
        “You called and got your money?” Adele asked. Jack nodded. He had gotten through to Mathew, who voiced concern but readily agreed.
          The Countess leaned forward and spoke to Jack in a soft voice. He was unable to discern her words; his eyes flickered, and then closed.
          Getting up from the couch, she went to the kitchen where she lifted the stove cover and blew out the pilots, then opened the oven drawer and blew out the oven pilot. Turning on the gas jets Adele returned to the couch side table and removed the bulb from the lamp. She took a pocket knife and cracked the bulb shell revealing the filament, then screwed the broken bulb back into the lamp.
          Adele checked on Roy who was laid out on the bed like a medieval knight with arms crossed over his chest. She smelled the gas, returned to Jack and whispered: “When the phone rings, turn on the table lamp.”
          She put Jack’s cell phone on the table next to the couch. Adele took Roy’s phone and stepped outside as Roy staggered into the living room. He looked at Jack with dog eyes. “She promised me quality time.” Roy said forlornly.
Adele called Jack’s number and he leaned over, turning on the table lamp. The bare bulb filament flared, igniting the propane gas.
Watching as the small cottage exploded with a roar, Adele got into the van and slowly backed away. The cabin remains collapsed and Adele murmured.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Northern Arizona US 89 Closure and the Strange Lights, Great Basin State Park, Nevada

Trouble called when the phone beeped. It was Embry Hamilton. A chill ran down my spine when Embry asked me to meet him at the Happy Valley Hilton in Arizona. I was back in Boise and had delivered my Colorado trip report to Louise Hamilton, an accounting of my Boulder journey to look for her husband who had disappeared seven years ago. Before Louise officially declared Embry dead, she had hired me for a last search.
          Three months before, I had started my investigation with a trip to Las Vegas.  Louise then directed me to a former girl friend in Boulder, Colorado. When I met Becky Sue in Boulder, she admitted that Embry had come to see her that summer. He was depressed and fearful, so Becky arranged for an isolated retreat by a stream in the Flatiron foothills northwest of the college town.
According to Becky, Embry had been caught in the September 100-year Colorado rains and swept away, his body not yet found. I visited the site of the ranch house and a local told me he had seen a man struggling in the flood waters, and the man managed to emerge downstream, vanishing into the forest.
I called Louise after Embry’s strange phone call and she urged me to visit Arizona. As I had friends in Scottsdale, I planned a trip in late January with mixed emotions. Perhaps the phone call was a hoax.

It was a day and half drive from Boise to Happy Valley, a sprawling mall on I-17 at the northern edge of Phoenix. I checked in at the Hilton and tried Embry’s number, but no one picked up so I left a voice mail and my room number.
          After a restless afternoon walking the vast complex, I returned to the Hilton and found a note under my door. I opened it, seeing a crude, hand-drawn map that ran north on I-17, turned east on I-40, and then exited to US 89 north through Northern Arizona and Utah. To the west of Delta, Utah there was a square marked, “Wauneta Inn”. There was a notation for a 5PM meeting the next day. The paper was signed EH, Embry Hamilton?
          Studying the map, I concluded Embry wanted a meeting at the Wauneta Inn. I did a quick Google search and saw the trip was about 550 miles north. The inn appeared to be a solitary spot in the Great Basin Desert close to the Nevada border.
          I left the next morning and soon was in Hopi land, which melded into the sprawling Navajo Reservation. I was about 30 miles south of Page, Arizona when I ran into a roadblock, a crude sign saying 89 was closed due to a landslide, so I took the winding 89A which runs through the colorful Vermillion Cliffs.
          Stopping for snacks, I entered an Indian trading post and noted an attractive, sharp featured woman in a leather dress at the cash register. She eyed me suspiciously as I asked about the US 89 landslides, replying it was a geologic event.
I inquired if the handicrafts were Navajo and she frowned, saying they were Paiute. And then added: “We are Aztecan and before the Spanish came, the Paiute Nation included Arizona, California, parts of Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon. The west coast was Paiute.”
          I nodded, impressed.
          “If only…” she started, and then let her thought float.
          I bought a Paiute braided belt, a drink and a sandwich as I did not want to stop for lunch. I followed the old Mormon Wagon Trail, passing through Jacob Lake into Kanab, Utah where I found 89 once again, which skirts between Zion to the west and Bryce to the east. The scenery in Southern Utah is dramatic as on my right were the Vermillion pink and white cliffs, and then the Escalante Petrified Forest.  
          Linking up with US 50 I headed west through the small town of Delta, Utah for the Nevada border. It was dark now and after an hour, I saw in my headlights a small, red structure which announced itself as the Wauneta Inn, eerily alone in the high desert. There was a light on in the last room on the right of the inn, but otherwise the place seemed deserted.
          The room door was open, so I settled myself in the Spartan setting, using the small bathroom, splashing my face and wondering what to expect next. I was jolted when suddenly I heard a roar and banging outside where I saw bright lights. Exiting cautiously, I turned the corner of my room and was blinded by what I thought must be a diesel pickup truck with spotlights.
          As I stood shielding my eyes, a silhouetted figure appeared in the glaring lights. I started to back away, but he spoke.
          “Tell them Embry is gone,” the man said in a deep voice. “They should forget him. Embry Hamilton is with us now.”
          Before I could reply there was a strange “whoosh” and I was catapulted backward, my head hitting the ground, then blackness.
          It was early morning light when I groggily awoke to find myself in the bed and under the blanket. It was bitterly cold and I shivered as I looked around warily, finding the room empty. I cautiously went to the door and peeked out, but all was quiet. I went outside and around the corner, but there was nothing, no tire tracks. I rubbed my head, feeling a bump. A few feet from where I had been standing there was a large stone. Apparently I had fallen backwards and hit my head. But who had taken me into the room and put me to bed?
          I was unnerved and jumpy so I got in my SUV and headed west. Once I got to Ely, Nevada it was a straight shot north to Boise. I drove for an hour and found a sign announcing the Great Basin National Park. Ahead near the park entrance was a lone Conoco Station and I pulled in, needing a coffee.
          Inside I found a tallish man with a blond mustache and a wispy goatee flashing a friendly smile. He bid me good morning and asked where I was coming from.
          I told him the Wauneta Inn and his eyebrows rose in surprise.
          “You must have seen the lights last night.”
          I hesitated and he continued.
          “There were strange lights in the sky. My girl lives near the Wauneta and saw them. We think it must have been one of those experimental planes from Area-51. Of course the old timers around here think …” and he put a finger in the air, circling it while making a “whoo-whoo” sound.
We laughed and then a voice sounded from the back: “Strange lights can be from here or from the night sky.”
We turned to see a young man in cargo pants and a khaki shirt with a backpack over his shoulder emerging from the rest room. He struck me as a Wanderer, one of those that can pass seamlessly between the parallel universes theorized by quantum mechanics.
“But maybe it was something else, he added with a smile.
 The attendant leaned forward and asked. “Like what else.”
“Magic”, the young man responded.
 I got a large coffee with a doughnut, and then I was back on US 50 heading to Ely, thinking about the service station encounter. Had I really seen a pickup truck at the Wauneta?

 The central question was why? And who or what had taken Embry Hamilton?