Saturday, December 5, 2015

An International Assassin and the Little Girl, Wilson Arch, Moab, Utah

It was a snowy Boulder, Colorado Thanksgiving and the thin woman dressed in black sat by the fire at the Residence Inn. She glanced at a man in the lobby and nodded. The assassin recognized his contact and took the seat next to the woman. Without a word, she passed him a manila envelope and a picture of a young, angelic girl with brown hair. Her intelligent eyes stared into the camera. The girl was the target.
        “You take her to Wilson Arch outside of Moab, Utah and leave her under the arch just after sunrise….that’s important, under the arch and just after sunrise.”
        Wicker sat back and stared at the picture as he thumbed the bulky envelope containing his money. The woman was an enigma, contacting him via a circuitous route. She was paying 100% up front, which was unusual. “I have complete faith in you.” She said, as if reading his mind. “Besides,,,” and she let the thought hang. Wicker understood the unfinished sentence was a warning to do his job.
        The next morning Wicker ushered the girl to his SUV. She wore a tan parka, jeans, and hiking boots, carrying a doll and a small backpack. “My name is Ida.” She said as got into the driver’s seat. “I talk too much. Okay?”
        Wicker turned and gave Ida an icy smile, which he expected would quiet the talkative girl.
         “Good, we’ll get along.” She said in her annoying, little girl voice.
         Taking the Flatirons Freeway, Wicker proceeded to US 93, and finally onto I-70. They had started late morning so it would be evening when they got to Moab. Wicker had reserved two rooms at the Moab Best Western. He would deliver the girl to the arch just after sunrise the next day.
         Why and what for was not Wicker’s business, but it was one of his strangest assignments. His main concern was the girl would become frightened and try to escape.  But so far the girl was pliant, humming to herself and playing with her doll. He glanced at Ida and smiled as she held the doll to the window and pointed out Idaho Springs, a former mining town.  “In 1859 during the Pikes Peak gold rush, George Jackson discovered placer gold here.” She explained to her doll. “At first they used a rocker box, dipping water into it from the creek, and then sorting the gold from the sand, placer gold.”
         Wicker looked at her in a new light.
         “Yes,” Ida said, seeing his expression. “I’m a know-it-all, a pain.” She sighed. “That’s why I am being sent back to them.”
         The two were quiet until they came to Breckenridge, an upscale ski area and Ida had another story. “George Spencer settled here to support the 1859 gold miners swarming to the Rockies.” Ida explained. “The town was named after Breckinridge, the 14th vice president of the United States. But in 1861 at the start of the Civil War, VP Breckinridge sided with the Confederacy, so in protest the mayor altered the town’s name, changing the first i to an e and renaming the town Breckenridge.”
          And so it went as they cruised past Vail and Aspen, one story after another. They finally cleared the Rockies and at Grand Junction, Ida announced she needed the rest room.
          Wicker found a Shell station and walked with Ida to the food mart facilities. He waited outside the ladies room until she came out. As they went back through the grocery, Ida took his hand and squeezed. Wicker glanced around noting the place was half full with Thanksgiving travelers, but they were quiet, standing motionless and staring at Ida. The silence and stares unnerved Wicker and they hurried back to their SUV, speeding off toward Moab.
          As they crossed into Utah, Wicker reflected on the food mart and the crowd. The shoppers had stared at Ida not with amusement, or curiosity, but with reverence.

The next morning after a light breakfast at the Best Western they left Moab and headed south on Route 191. Ida was quiet, taking in the grey skies and the undulating road that snaked between the stark sandstone cliffs.     
         After a half hour they found the Wilson Arch and Wicker parked off the road, as the sun hovered to the east. He reached behind for her backpack and doll, but Ida shook her head.
         Together they crossed the blacktop and headed to the arch set back from the road. Following a narrow trail, they made their way up the sharp incline until Ida stopped. “I should go on alone.” She said, looking at her escort solemnly.
        Wicker nodded and let Ida go ahead. She clambered onto the base rock and stood under the arch, calling for Wicker to come closer. As he stepped to the base, Ida began to hum, then sang: “Ride on, see you. I could never go with you, even if I wanted to.”
         And then she hummed again the haunting tune.
         “Sing the rest.” Wicker called. “I like it.”
         Ida shrugged, saying there was no more. “The song is Celtic.” She said in explanation.
         Wicker nodded and knew it was time to go. He waved and turned back toward the road. He was halfway to the SUV when there was a shrill whistling like a Mississippi steam boat horn, and then something blotted out the rising sun, leaving Wicker in darkness as panic surged through him.
         Suddenly it was over and the sun reappeared, the whistling stopped. Fearing for the girl’s safety, Wicker turned and ran back to the arch.
         But Ida was gone.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Candidate's Mother, Shard Villa, Middlebury, Vermont

The young newshounds got rooms at the Middlebury Inn. After a brief talk with their informant they drove south on Route 7. The candidate had stirred the pot by stating he had attacked his mother with a hammer…during his youthful, dark days. The candidate claimed he found spiritual guidance and took a different road, becoming an admired and consummate professional.
      Skyler was fascinated by the odd tale and approached Chloe to pursue the story. They got a free-lance assignment to find the candidate’s mother and interview her. The media had to know the truth!
     Fortunately, Chloe had a friend at the Vermont Medical School who was taking a residency in geriatrics. He had discovered the candidate’s mother secreted away at the Shard Villa, an upscale, assisted-living home in Middlebury, Vermont. The doctor was able to arrange a meeting for the reporters. Chloe would ask the questions and Skyler would clandestinely film the interview with the elderly woman.
     Their contact greeted them at the Shard Villa and escorted them to an upstairs turret room with a view of the Green Mountains. The two introduced themselves, taking seats in front of the candidate’s mother, Mable. The elderly woman sat on an upholstered chair with a plaid blanket over her legs. In her left hand she fingered a silver cross; Mable's right hand was under the coverlet.              After small talk, she coughed and asked Skyler to get a glass of water from the kitchenette across the room.The young man turned away and the silver cross slipped from the old lady’s gnarled hand. Chloe bent from her chair to retrieve the icon, taking the cross from the floor. Suddenly Mable‘s right hand came out from under the blanket holding a ball peen hammer. With a swift blow, she popped Chloe on the head and the young woman collapsed to the floor with a soft thud.
     Skyler was just returning with the glass of water and he gaped at Chloe sprawled on the floor.
     “I think she’s fainted.” The elderly woman said her eyes wide.
     Quickly Skyler crossed the room and knelt beside Chloe. He saw the wound in the back of her head and looked up at Mable, who then cracked Skyler in the forehead. The young man toppled on his back and the room was still, but then Chloe groaned.
     The old lady bent down. “You got it wrong, dearie.” She whispered.
     “I’m the one with the hammer.”

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The White Buffalo Trading Post Explosion, Kendrick Park, Northern Arizona

The wind whistled among the pine trees and an odd noise in the night woke Bruce. His research group was staying at the White Buffalo Trading Post and in the morning he would present the history of the Red Mountain Devil, a Hualapai tribal legend of a creature that inhabited the Grand Canyon area in Northern Arizona.
     Creeping from his bed to the window, Bruce saw there was a moon illuminating the still landscape and he heard again the clinking sound. Catching his breath, Bruce saw something lope from the inn’s propane tanks and vanish among the rocks on the other side of the road. A bobcat?
     Donning a heavy sweat shirt and jeans, Bruce hurried outside to the parking lot with a flashlight. Everything was still as he crept to the road, scanning the light among the brush. Suddenly his beam caught a figure crouched in the juniper, red eyes blazing in the dark. The shape rose and vanished along a trail into the pines. Bruce crossed the road, calling out. And then the White Buffalo exploded.

Later, sitting on the ground with a blanket around his shoulders Bruce stared at the fire-scarred ruins of the trading post. His team was dead and only he and the owners who lived in front had survived the explosion. After paramedics treated him, the Sheriff asked questions, curious why he had come outside and escaped the fire. Bruce told the Sheriff he had awakened to a noise and gone to the window, seeing something run from the shadows of the inn and cross the road. The Sheriff asked Bruce what he had seen.
          “Please don’t tell us it was the Red Mountain Devil.”  A deputy scoffed sarcastically.
          Bruce took a breath and paused.
          “Probably a bobcat.” He answered.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Red Mountain Devil, Kaibab National Forest, Coconino Plateau, Northern Arizona

 The Red Mountain Devil is a legend of the Hualapai, which once dominated the Coconino Plateau and Grand Canyon. According to the Hualapai, the devil roamed the Red Mountain volcanic cone and surrounding badlands, preying upon the weak and infirm condemned to the Red Mountain. Those that were banished to the area disappeared without a trace.

A small group of adventurers stood at the foot of the Red Mountain cone, gazing at the hoodoos and odd mineral crystals that erode out of the jagged walls. Hugh, their leader, told them to wander as they pleased, then rendezvous in an hour. He urged members to be on the lookout for bobcats, which were often seen in the area. Hugh reminded they would get an early start the next morning and spend the day scouring the area for evidence of the supposed devil and his lair.
     Bruce detached himself from the group and wandered off, climbing along the slippery hillside slope. The sun was at his back and shone on the northeastern side of the cone. He walked cautiously, taking pictures of the various formations, the sunlight casting eerie shadows.
     Pausing, he snapped an interesting gargoyle-like formation in the distance, noticing an odd figure at the rock base. Bruce quickly advanced his telescopic lens to study the rock and image, but to his surprise, the figure rose and vanished among the Ponderosa Pines. Perhaps the bobcat?
     Later Bruce met the rest of the group, but kept quiet about what he had snapped among the weird-shaped rocks. He was a breakfast speaker the next morning at the White Buffalo Inn where they were staying. His task was to present the Hualapai history of the devil legend. Bruce was excited to end his presentation with the hoodoo picture and the gray presence at the formation’s base. He would let the group conjecture on exactly what was in his picture.
     They made their way back to the parking area and climbed into the van. Bruce sat in the back as the vehicle moved to the two-lane highway. He looked back and was surprised to see a face peering at him from the juniper brush. Quickly Bruce raised his camera, but the figure ducked away.
     That was no bobcat.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Vanishing at Lake Hortonia, Sudbury, Vermont

A moonbeam-lighted figure stood in my bedroom doorway. I sat up as she stepped forward in the pale light and I could see it was Nan, the gray-haired Trac Inn manager. She sat gingerly on the end of my bed and whispered. “She’s going to kill you.”
      I sat up with a start, realizing Nan was talking about the waitress, Brita who I had picked up in Magdalena, New Mexico and then dropped off in Roswell. I was driving from Arizona to Vermont for two weeks on Lake Hortonia.       Inexplicably, Brita had shown up in Vermont waiting tables at the Trac-Inn.
Nan edged down the bed, leaning forwarded. “Brita is staying across the road at the old Hunter place in the marsh.”
      She was referring to the cottage that was slowly disappearing in the encroaching swamp. “That place is deserted and inhabitable.” I said. “No one’s stayed there for 20 years.”  Nan shook her head. “No matter, Brita’s not from here.”
      “Brita is Scandinavian.” I said. “I think Norway.”
      Nan gazed out of the window and looked at the night sky. “She’s from out there.”
      I followed Nan’s gaze out of the window and realized she was looking at the stars. “Come with me.” Nan whispered. “We have to check on Brita. You’re in danger.”
      Dressing quickly in running shoes, jeans, and a sweatshirt, I followed as Nan led the way with her flashlight. We walked the peninsula dirt road to Route 30, the black macadam that runs north and south. It was three in the morning and there was no traffic as we approached the ramshackle cottage that was listing in the bog waters.
      “Listen.” Nan commanded. We stopped and my skin prickled. It was quiet except for the frogs and crickets singing in the night. We proceeded slowly to the narrow path that wound through the undergrowth to the bleak cottage; Nan touched my arm and looked at me. ”Let me check. I’m friends with Brita. I’ll signal you with the flashlight.”
      Nan kept her light down on the path and disappeared into the reeds and brush. Only a swamp creature could live in that old place, I thought to myself as an owl hooted. A cloud covered the moon, leaving me in darkness of the edge of the swamp.
      Nan’s flashlight beamed through the cottage windows and then the stillness was broken by a shrill scream, then quiet. Even the marsh denizens paused and only only the loon cried from the southern end of the lake. I waited holding my breath, but Nan’s light had gone out. A cloud covered the moon for a few seconds and the trees and brush seemed to creep closer.
      The realization slowly dawned that Nan was gone, vanished. It was time to for me to retreat and leave Vermont, return to Arizona. What had Nan said about Brita? “She’s not from here.” And then Nan pointed at the stars.
      What had I gotten into? Martha Blake of Scottsdale had hired me to analyze her murdered spouse’s tangled finances, which ran into the millions. Martha had agreed I could take 2 weeks in Vermont to assess her dead husband’s complicated transactions. To my surprise Brita, the backpacking hitchhiker, had appeared at the Trac-Inn and waited on me for dinner. After taking my order, Brita had whispered that Martha had hired her to… “Take care of me”.
      It was too dangerous to search for Nan. Better to leave Vermont and head back to Scottsdale. I had to focus on Martha and try to understand what was going on.
      Time to go.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Killing at Lake Hortonia, Sudbury, Vermont

A demented wail sounded across the lake as the sun set reflected on the gray waters. It was the call of the loon, which usually heralds a storm. Sipping a glass of Otter Valley Shiraz on the lakeside cottage deck, I looked at the crumpled note the hitchhiking blonde had passed me in Roswell, New Mexico. She had printed, “Vermont”.
      Looking at the paper I wondered how Brita knew I was traveling to Vermont. Or was she traveling across country to Vermont and letting me know her destination?
      Lake Hortonia is east of Whitehall, New York, a small upstate NY town known for past UFO sightings and Sasquatch encounters. Perhaps Brita was pursuing her own UFO research, as she had previously visited Nevada’s Area 51 and then Roswell.

The next morning I rose at 7 and the lake was becalmed, like a mirror. I noticed the road-side door was ajar. Had someone entered during the night? I look around the cottage, but nothing seemed disturbed. The cabin is set on a finger peninsula that ran north to south and I was alone as the Nature Conservancy owned the rest of the land jutting into the lake, just south of Lake Champlain. I checked the screen porch, looking up and down the dirt road that bisected the peninsula, but no one was about.
      I devoted the morning to the financial analysis of a young widow, Martha Blake, whose husband had been murdered in Scottsdale, Arizona. The case involved many millions and was unsolved. Martha had agreed I could continue my work of analyzing her husband’s complex investments in Vermont. Just before I departed Arizona, I had noted oddities in her finances and pointed them out, but my client became agitated at my discoveries so I let them be.
      Taking a break after lunch, I walked up Route 30, and then bore right on a dirt road. The area was thinly populated and I saw no one. At one point on the ridge road, a fawn bounded out of the woods, glanced at me, and then vanished in the dense foliage. As I walked it struck me the financial oddities appeared as thinly disguised payments, two withdrawals of $50,000 just before her husband’s killing. I also noted a more recent payment of $100,000. Had Martha paid someone to murder her husband? Was someone else to die?
      That night I went to the Trac Inn, an Innsbruck-style building that was set back from the road. The gray-haired manager greeted me at the door, introducing herself as Nan and led me to a small, lake-view table. Nan left a menu and I studied the array of offerings. I sensed a presence and looked up to see Brita, the backpacker from Roswell, dressed in a white blouse, black skirt replete with a dainty white apron. Smiling she curtsied, her blonde pony tail bobbing, and noted she was my server. I was stunned, but pleased to see her.
      Brita bent low and told me she was on a sabbatical from the University of Stockholm studying unexplained phenomena and otherworldly happenings. But she had taken a side job since she had arrived in Vermont. She nudged me, saying she was happy to see me again.
      I wanted to ask about the note she had given me in Roswell, but the manager bore down on us, so I gave Brita my order of seared scallops in lemon sauce and she departed. I felt a sense of well being. Trac Inn would be a convenient place for dinner. Brita looked to be in early 30s and seemed interested. Perhaps a meal together across the street in the cozy Palms, a chic Italian Restaurant.
      There was a commotion in the rear and I watched as the manager strode to the back of the restaurant. Brita suddenly appeared and she bent down, whispering in my ear.”My Vermont assignment is you. You stuck your nose where it doesn’t belong and Martha Blake is unhappy. ” She paused and I looked up startled.
      “It’s a shame.” Brita continued, massaging my shoulder. “Another place, another time… who knows? But business is business.” And then she left, darting back to the kitchen.
      My dinner came via another server, who told me Brita was indisposed. I ate a few of the scallops and pushed the rest around on my plate in confusion. I asked for the bill and paid in cash with a reasonable tip.
      Back at lakeside, I secured the cottage as best I could. Then I crawled into bed, pulling the covers to my chin. It was pitch dark on the peninsula and the frogs croaked in the cove, an owl hooted, but the loon was quiet.
      What to do?
      Brita intended to kill me.  


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Mysterious Blonde, Roswell, New Mexico

I left Flagstaff, Arizona in the early morning on July 1 for the first day of my cross-country trip to Vermont, aiming for Roswell, New Mexico. On day two I would head for Amarillo, Texas. Taking the back roads on US 60, I was just outside of Magdalena, New Mexico in the afternoon when an abandoned house with a curious light over it caught my attention.
      Pulling into a turnoff, I got my camera and headed to take a few pictures. To my surprise, a young woman emerged from behind the house, appraising me as I approached.
      She was tallish, broad shouldered, dressed in hiking boots, tan cargo pants, and a blue chambray shirt rolled up to her forearms. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail and she had a square face, large mouth, and intense blue eyes. She was carrying a medium-size backpack and gave me a smile.
      “Going past Socorro?” She queried. “Can I catch a ride to Roswell?”
Pausing, I expected her boyfriend to come bounding out of hiding, but no one else appeared. Instinctively I knew I should say no, but her smile broadened as she cocked her head in a silent plea. Agreeing to take her, I took my pictures, the first with her standing by the door of the main house, and the rest with the two structures in the afternoon shadows.
      I attempted to draw her out during the ride, but she was vague about her backpacking across the States. Throughout the trip, she gave curt answers to my questions with an enigmatic smile. My traveler said she was from Europe and her name was Brita, but she refused to elaborate. Her coloring indicated Scandinavia, perhaps a Viking as she mentioned a desire to see Minnesota and the Kensington Runestone.
      We made good time to Roswell and I turned onto Main Street, heading north. My passenger pointed to the left, indicating the UFO Museum.
      ”You can drop me at the exhibition.” Brita said. “After all, it’s Roswell.”
      I pulled over and my passenger exited the car, taking the backpack from the rear of my vehicle. Walking around to my side she thanked me for the ride and said she might see me at the Cowboy Cafe. Suddenly there was a honk behind me and I realized I was blocking the street.
      My hitchhiker passed a folded note to me through the open window. The car honked again, so I shoved the note in my shirt pocket and drove on to the Holiday Inn.
      After checking in I reviewed the stock market’s ups and downs, and then showered and shaved. It was past six so I drove to the Cowboy Cafe, which was dim inside with a nice buzz in the half-filled dining room. I took a table by the window and ordered their specially brew, which was amber and tasty, a slight hint of citrus, Out-of-This-World Ale.
      Relaxing, I scanned the surroundings for my hitchhiker, but no luck. I asked the waitress about a tall blonde in cargo pants, but she shook her head. Taking another sip of the cool ale, I recalled her note and found it in my shirt pocket.
      I unfolded the paper and found one word printed in dark ink…

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The House at the End of the Street, Historic Boise, Idaho

Someone was in her bedroom and Amy sat up with a gasp. A stranger stepped from the closet, going to the bedroom door. Amy started to yell, but he put his finger to his lips. A person in the hall turned the knob, but hesitated.
       Amy and the boy locked eyes as they heard footsteps. “It was your stepfather,” the boy whispered. “He wanted in, but not tonight.”
      Putting her hand to her mouth, Amy thought it was a nightmare. The youth came to sit at the end of her bed. In the moonlight she recognized him as Brian Cooper from the last house at the end of her street.
      Thinking back with a shiver, she knew her stepfather, Ray, had been eyeing her. Intuitively, she sensed Ray’s intentions, made worse when he drank.
The girl pulled the covers up to her chin and cocked her head. What to do?
      “We have to kill your stepfather.” Her visitor whispered.

Three months later, Amy cajoled her mother to visit the Coopers. Amy explained she had recently met Brian Cooper and he had been a comfort after the tragic death of her step-father. Her curious mother agreed to meet Amy’s new male acquaintance.
          Brian’s house at the end of the street was small, in need of paint, and obscured by unkempt trees and shrubs. Amy knocked on the door and a woman in a shapeless dress partially opened the door. Her hair was gray and a wizened face peered between the crack of the entry. Amy explained they were neighbors and she was Brian’s friend.
          Mrs. Cooper brightened and bade them enter, pointing to a faded, brocade-covered couch against the wall in the dim living room. Taking a worn arm chair across from them, she waited in anticipation. Amy’s mother explained that she had lost her husband, Amy’s step-father, in a terrible accident three months ago. Mrs. Cooper interrupted, saying the postman had told her about Ray tripping on the cellar steps and landing head first on the concrete floor…”head cracked like an eggshell”. She cackled.
         Taken aback, Amy’s mother took a breath and then continued to relate how Brian had provided solace and comfort to Amy, and now she wanted to meet Mrs. Cooper’s son, thank him for being kind to her daughter.
         Brian’s mother stiffened, the color draining from her face, sitting still as a mannequin. A cloud of silence hung over the trio. Finally, Amy leaned forward, “Brian was such a friend to me. I want my mom to meet him, but I haven’t seen your son the past few months and I feared Brian might have had a mishap or something.”
        Mrs. Cooper was silent, then slowly nodded. “There was an accident.”
        Amy put a hand to her mouth and her mother grimaced.
       “A fatal motorcycle accident.”
        The two visitors sat stunned, absorbing what Brian's mother had just told them.

       “Brian’s been dead for more than a year.” Mrs. Cooper said.    

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Girl From Far, Far Away, Aurelia's Diner, Gallup, New Mexico

“Take my hand-cuffs off…please.” The young girl pleaded from the back of the patrol car.
          Ed looked at her and nodded. She was seventeen, thin and average height. She had a pretty oval face, with cupid lips, and wide brown eyes, all framed with light brown hair. The girl next door, but something wasn’t right.
          Releasing the handcuffs, Ed stepped back and she exited the back seat, glancing up in the sky. She pointed and smiled, “They’re coming for me.” She said.
         The officer looked skyward and saw a shooting star streak across the night sky, moving west to east, flaming out over New Mexico. He stood in the parking lot which had been dusted by a brief snow squall. The clouds had cleared and now the clear, night sky was resplendent with a multitude of stars.
The girl laughed lightly. “You’ll see.” She said.
         Ed had decided they should eat as they had gotten a late start from Phoenix and been slowed in New Mexico by the snow. He found a diner off the I-40 outside of Gallup that looked interesting, pulled in and parked. She gathered herself and they walked to the brightly-lit diner. Going inside, he steered her down the narrow isle; red covered booths were on the left and a long counter with stools on the right. They took a booth in the back.
        The diner was busy with a number of people at the counter and most of the booths full. A pony-tailed blonde came over with menus and took their orders for ice tea with a smile.
         Ed’s prisoner had been arrested in Phoenix for assault, but research showed there was a warrant for her in Albuquerque where she was accused of a double homicide, the killing of her foster parents. Ed had volunteered to escort Jill Brand back to New Mexico where she would face the more severe charges. He planned to drop his captive off in Albuquerque then take Route 285 south to Roswell and spend a day at the museum. He scoffed at conspiracies, but was fascinated by them: the North Carolina Brown Mountain lights, the Phoenix sightings, and the mother of all UFO conspiracies, the Roswell Incident. The trip was his opportunity to visit ground zero and see the UFO evidence in Roswell.
       Holding the menu, Ed peered over the top at the girl across from him. She was slight, not powerfully built. It was hard to reconcile the Phoenix boy’s broken nose and two strangling murders in New Mexico with his youthful prisoner. The waitress came and Ed ordered the meatloaf special. Jill ordered the same.
       “I’m dangerous.” Jill said her brown eyes sad. “Something’s wrong with me.” She sighed.
       Ed sipped his tea, baffled by his captive. She appeared oblivious to the serious charges she faced in New Mexico. He had seen pictures of her dead foster parents and both were big bodied. How Jill strangled two of them was a puzzle.
        Checking the diner wall clock, Ed noted it was almost eight and he needed to call his wife, a routine when away from home.
        Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash, as if a lightning strike. Everyone in the diner tensed, waiting for the sharp thunder clap, but it never came. In a few seconds the bright light faded and some in the diner went to the windows, staring out and talking softly.
       Ed sat back and looked out the window, but the parking lot was still. He turned to Jill and was shocked to see she was gone. Looking around, he saw the waitress coming.
       "Your friend in the girl’s room?” The waitress asked, setting down two large plates of the meatloaf special.
Ed nodded. He supposed Jill had gone during the lightning flash. Remembering to call his wife, Ed checked the wall clock and saw it was 8:20. He sat back mystified as he had lost 20 minutes. He got up and went to the rest rooms, knocking on the woman’s door, and then peeking in, but it was empty. He checked the men’s room, but it was empty too.He stood in the hallway, rubbing his chin.
      Walking to the front of the diner, Ed went outside and checked the parking lot. He looked in the patrol car, but there was no trace of Jill. Glancing up at the sky, he saw a shooting star heading east, but then it was gone.
He turned as someone called and he saw it was the waitress at the diner door. "Where'd she go?" She asked from the steps.
      Ed walked over and looked up. “They took her home.” 
      “Oh, where’s home?” The waitress queried.
      “Far, far away.” Ed said.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Clue Research Center, Canyonlands, Utah

Mr. Green hit Scarlet with the candlestick in the study and she crumpled to the floor, dying instantly. Diane White passed by and witnessed the blow. Diane’s eyes went wide, as she put a hand to her mouth. Professor Plum joined Diane at the door and gaped at the dead Scarlet.
          “We have to call the Collector.” Diane murmured.
          But the Professor shook his head. “No, no, that would be a disaster! If we call the Collector then they will shut us down, close the research center and our home here abandoned.”
          Diane caught her breath, debating with herself. What the Professor said was true. It would be the end of the Canyonland facility, the breakup of their psychological-sociological team. Plum rubbed his trim goatee and suggested that Diane call a meeting for the evening where they could discuss the situation and look at options. Puzzling was why Jake had killed Scarlet. Jacob Green was their most advanced SA-5 model, athletic, flexible, and an advanced thinker. What had Scarlet done to provoke Jake? Was something awry in Jake’s code?
          “We have to try and stay on, keep together.” The Professor insisted.
          “I agree.” Diane responded.

That evening Professor Plum chaired a meeting of the Institute’s staff, the principals sitting around the large, mahogany table, the assistants and security staff, mostly early S-model robots, were in chairs against the book-lined walls.
          Plum began the meeting by recalling history, noting that automatons were introduced 10 years ago to replace fast-food workers, who hated their work and only made a minimum wage. A living wage for fast-food workers meant the mostly small-business outlets would go bankrupt. What to do?
          “Yes, it was a success.” Mrs. Peacock, the owner of the facilities, a former sprawling Mormon farm, chimed in. “Fast food service and efficiency increased overnight. The robots made the difference!”
          The professor agreed and went on to describe how the use of automatons evolved exponentially with increased artificial intelligence and agility. The mission of Canyonlands was to study the interaction between humans and new advanced robot models such as the SA-5, Jacob Green.
          “I could always beat them in tennis,” piped up Colonel Mustard from the end of the table. “That is, until Jake came along.” The Colonel groused.
          Looking to his right at Jacob Green who was two seats away, the Professor nodded, saying the SA-5 was the most advanced model and should be at the institute for a year of testing and adapting.
          “Maybe we should call the Collector,” Mustard suggested. “It’s odd that Jake struck Scarlet. I've never known that to happen… hopefully just a one-off.”
          The Professor waved his hand, shaking his head. The Collector was a last resort; better to try other options.
          “It is strange. I've never heard of this happening.” Diane White said. “We've had our first incident.”
          A cloud of gloom descended over the meeting as the participants glanced at the handsome Jacob Green. Professor Plum finally said the best option was to send Green to the Regional Advanced Center in San Diego for a diagnosis and a review of his code. Worst case would result in SA-5’s disassembly.
          The group around the table nodded, wondering about the implications of Green been sent to San Diego. Colonel Mustard muttered about his tennis game. Mrs. Peabody nodded knowingly. She had colleagues at San Diego and they might be able to keep the incident quiet.
          The Professor leaned forward to speak again when suddenly Green pushed his chair back, stood up, and pulled a wicked-looking hunting knife from a sheath attached to his belt. Jake took two quick steps and plunged the knife into Plum’s back. Green then calmly returned to his chair.
          The stunned group gaped at Professor Plum sprawled face down with his arms flung out on the table. The robots seated along the wall stared straight ahead motionless, not comprehending what had just taken place. The S-models were not coded to deal with conflict.
 After a few minutes of quiet, Diane White pushed her chair back and slowly stood up. She gazed at the service staff, and then at the humans huddled fearfully around the table. Jacob Green‘s head was down as he doodled on his note pad.
“So it begins.” Ms White said.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Monument Valley Incident, Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Mandy was driving too fast on the narrow, two-lane blacktop that wound through the Northern Arizona landscape. She was tired, woozy from too much wine the night before at the Best Western Canyonlands in Moab, Utah.
 She was desperate to get to Scottsdale where her former husband, Mark, was in intensive care. A friend had tipped her off that Star, Mark’s new trophy wife, had rushed him to the hospital. Mark was critical and Mandy did not have the new version of Mark’s will. Mandy feared she was zeroed out of her former husband’s latest testament.
Tightening her grip on the steering wheel of her white Lexus SUV, she pulled the visor down with her right hand as the sun was low to the east, often blinding as she sped through the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. She nervously searched for a gas station or a convenience store as she desperately wanted a cigarette, a habit she had kicked ten years ago. But all she saw were the crimson mesas and sandstone towers in the distance. Turing her attention to the road, she was suddenly aware she was up to 90 mph and the road swerved. With a gasp, Mandy yanked the steering wheel to the right.
Settled at a safe 65 mph, Mandy breathed easier. The strong desire for a smoke was gone. To her surprise, off to the right she saw a lone figure standing on the side of the road with his right arm out, signaling for a ride. Normally Mandy would have sped by and left the hitchhiker in her dust. But on this trip she needed company and pondered the tall figure as she slowed on the empty desert road. He had long brown hair and beard, even a staff. She smiled as she envisioned a prophet. Trusting her instinct she pulled off on the side of the road, watching in the mirror as the stranger walked to her car and opened the rear door. He tossed in his walking stick and backpack, and then got in the front, peering at Mandy with deep-set brown eyes.
She asked where he was going and the man just pointed ahead where the road undulated like a black snake, then slowly climbed into the red, sandstone buttes that define Monument Valley. Mandy nodded, strangely at ease with her silent rider. She slowly pulled onto the road and smiled as they both stared at the beauty of the empty desert and the valley of rocks on the horizon.
In a flash they were climbing the rise that ran between two sandstone formations standing as sentinels. As they came over the rise, Mandy gasped and put her right hand to her throat.
The hitchhiker put his left hand on her shoulder and pointed with his right hand. “Behold.” He said.

The state trooper stepped back as the tow-truck driver attached a chain to the wrecked Lexus. They watched as the emergency vehicle roared off toward Moab, even though it was too late for the patient.
“A petite blonde, a real looker, but banged up.” The tow-truck driver commented. “Paramedic said it looked like a broken neck.  She must have come around the curve too fast and then overcorrected to the right, flying off the butte.”
        The state trooper shook his head as he stared at the totaled SUV. “Why such a hurry?” He muttered.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Man on the Bench, Hillside Park, Santa Fe, New Mexico

The state troopers cautiously approached the man on the park bench. Surprisingly, he was out after 6 PM and using his clam-shell cell phone. Jenny, the senior officer and a tall, broad-shouldered trooper with a blonde pony tail, went forward and sat next to the startled man. Brian, the acolyte was medium height with a dark flattop hair cut, hung back in case there was an ambush. It had been known to happen.
          As Jenny sat down the elderly man looked up, putting away his cell phone.
“Where am I?” He asked in confusion. Jenny stared at him, and then put her hand on his leg.
          Brian gazed around the quiet, darkening park, but nothing appeared untoward. It was past six in the evening and curfew was in effect, an offense for the man on the bench. Worse, he had been using his cell phone in public, a class-two felony.
          Jenny talked quietly to the old man, who seemed unclear about his location, or what he was doing in the park. The elderly man had reasons to worry as Brian recalled the woman they found last week in the Cross of the Martyrs Park who had been out after curfew, swilling a bottle of Cabernet on the grass. Jenny had ordered Brian to cuff the woman for his first arrest. Out past six and drinking in a public park was a compound felony.
 They took the woman to Central in the back of their cruiser. She was disoriented and incoherent; babbling that she was Mary and had permission to be out past curfew. She claimed she was doing the “good work” and just taking a few sips of wine to renew her spirit. As Brian helped her out of the back of the car, she looked at him with sad brown eyes, saying: “It is finished…isn’t it.”
          Brian shook off the troubling memory of Mary and asked his superior, “We’re taking him in?”  He nodded toward the confused man on the bench.
          Jenny waved and shook her head, throwing Brian a glance as she continued to talk to the man on the bench. A chill ran through Brian as Jenny had discretion, meaning if she deemed someone a threat or a burden to society, then she could execute the offender of the spot.
          Brian stiffened as the old man and Jenny stood up. But she patted the gentleman on his shoulder and guided him to the park path with a quick hug and a gentle nudge. The two troopers watched as the senior toddled across the park toward a large, solemn looking brick building.
          “He’s from the institution, so we send him on his way.” Jenny said.
          Brian raised his eyebrows.
          “He reminds me of someone.” Jenny said, reading the question.
          Brian smiled. “Lucky guy. Remember Mary from Cross of the Martyrs?”
          Jenny turned, cocking her head. “So?”
          “They hanged her this morning.”   

Monday, March 9, 2015

Cabin in the Woods, Coconino Forest, Flagstaff, Arizona

Shadowman grabbed Amy McMillan at 4th and 7th on a cold February afternoon. In a flash, she was in the van with chloroform silencing her. An elderly woman across the street saw her, and then a horn honked. When the woman looked back she recalled seeing a shadow and the girl was gone.
          An hour later, the kidnapper and his victim arrived at an empty cabin in the snowy Coconino National Forest. Ray, known in the trade as Shadowman for his stealth, sat and smoked a cigarette. He watched his teenage victim tied to a yellow chair in the dusty kitchen and exhaled as the blindfolded girl moaned. She began to struggle; raising her head, then went still and sniffed the air. Amy looked in the direction of Ray who had abducted her.
“He hanged himself from there.” She said, nodding up at the thick, bare beam which ran the length of the kitchen. “The husband stood on the table and put the rope around his neck, then stepped into oblivion.”
Ray felt a chill run down his back and he dropped his cigarette to the floor, rubbing it out with his foot. The cabin was abandoned because of a murder-suicide incident. Amy McMillan was sixteen and it was whispered she was prescient, a skilled seer, the source of her father’s billion-dollar fortune. And now Ray and Jason had kidnapped Amy, asking for $4million for her safe release, a fair sum for the McMillan family’s golden goose.
According to the story, one night a few years back Amy walked into her father’s den and announced that West Texas Crude was going to collapse. She called the bottom at $51 in exactly 21 days. The rumor was her father took a flyer and shorted oil which was selling for $101 a barrel when his daughter made her prediction. Three weeks later he bought WTI for $51 and that was the beginning of Maynard McMillan’s hedge fund, now worth billions. There were whispers that Maynard’s uncanny trades were based on the occult, perhaps an Ouija board. Leave it to Jason to determine the oracle was Amy McMillan, the daughter with special faculties.
“When your partner, Jason, comes, he’ll tell you to untie me.” The girl said, breaking the silence. “Then he will shoot you in the back of the head and shoot me in the chest, thinking of my father.”
Ray chewed on his lip. Jason was nonviolent. The plan was get the money, set the girl loose on a fire trail in the forest, and then they would go their separate ways. Jason wanted to try Mexico. He would go to Canada, somewhere along the coast.
“No witnesses.” Amy said, as if reading Ray’s mind. “That’s what the Boss plans for you and me.”
Ray paced back and forth in the kitchen, stopped and put a few more pieces of wood into the potbellied stove that was slowly heating the frosty kitchen. The clever girl was trying to rattle him, but she did have the vision. And she had known the prior owner of the cabin had murdered his wife and then hanged himself. How could Amy have known that?
“You could take off and leave me with Jason. That’s one option.” She said. “Save yourself.”
He looked at Amy, but did not respond.
“Or you could stay and let me take care of Jason, or Boss as you call him.”
Ray looked at the blindfolded girl, who was remarkably composed. 
“Think about it. Jason wants out of the business. This is his last gig. He wants the money and no loose ends.” Amy explained.
Ray’s cell buzzed and he answered. It was Jason saying he had the money and was on the way. Everything went like clockwork.
“You’d better leave, or remove my blindfold.”
Ray hesitated, and then took off Amy’s bandana, surprised at her captivating blue-gray eyes. She was alluring and he wondered.
“I’m still a teenager.” She said shaking her head.”When it is done you get the keys, take his car with the money in the trunk. No matter where you go, I’ll find you.”
They both turned as the front door open and tall, burly Jason strode in, cloaked in a tan Burberry trench coat. He stamped snow from his feet, and then looked in surprise as he spied Jason and Amy together by the kitchen table. She was still bound, but the blindfold was off and her strange eyes glittered.
Jason stopped and his eyes widened as he gaped at the bound girl. “You!” He sputtered. “So McMillan adopted his wonder girl from the institute.”
 Before Ray could speak, Jason produced a snub-nosed revolver and pointed it at them.  Boss had no intention of sharing the ransom, or letting Amy go free.
“Sorry, Ray. You have no idea who she is.” Jason said with a nod of his head at Amy. “And I am getting out of the business. I need all the money and I can’t let you two go, especially now that she’s seen me.”
Jason leaned forward, looking directly at Amy and their eyes locked. The room went silent and Jason went rigid with fright. He straightened up as his right hand that held the pistol involuntarily rose. Ray watched as Jason brought the gun up to his chin, then slid the barrel across his cheek, opened his mouth and put the stubby barrel between his teeth. Amy was still tied to the chair and Ray stood beside her, transfixed as he stared at the Boss with the revolver stuck in his mouth.
Ray caught his breath and put his hands on Amy’s shoulders as she leaned forward. Jason stood before them and struggled. He rolled his eyes, pleading as sweat beaded on his forehead. Ray pressed the girl’s shoulders; maybe they should reconsider. Talk a bit. What did Jason mean that he knew her?
 Amy put her hand on Ray’s and pressed it. Then she smiled broadly at the Boss, giving him a nod.
And Jason pulled the trigger.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Something in the Woods, Coconino National Forest, Flagstaff, Arizona

The eyes were black, it's teeth fanged, and a reptilian tale slowly swished the snowy ground. The deputy sheriff put his hand on his service automatic and approached cautiously.
          “Set me free.” The creature said in Rick’s mind, not making a sound as it looked at the deputy with dark eyes. Rick hesitated and waved at the couple on the road who had called 911, reporting a Sasquatch snared in a bear trap at the edge of Coconino National Park outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. A few weeks before an Arizona highway camera had caught furry objects on SR 260 near Heber, Arizona. Rick assumed local hunters or teenagers had set the bear trap just in case the things roamed in the Flagstaff direction.
          “Set me free and I am in your debt. Good fortune will follow.” The voice sounded again in Rick’s head, who then decided on a course of action.
          “Hold the trap steady and I’ll open it with both hands.” The deputy said to the trapped beast.
          “If trapped by man, then I must be freed by man. You must release me by yourself.” The creature replied.
          Rick stood and stamped his feet in the frigid January afternoon air, the western sun casting shadows on the patches of snow. They were standing on the edge of the vast ponderosa pine forest that stretches from Northern Arizona to the Apache Reservation in the southeastern corner of the state.
          The creature was cloaked in a large shaggy coat with a hood, giving the appearance of a furry being. Rick walked back to the couple who had discovered the trap and sounded the alarm. They stood wide-eyed by the deputy sheriff’s cruiser.
          “Why don’t you shoot it?” The willowy girl with a pony tail asked.
          “Can I help?” Her wispy haired boyfriend queried.
          Rick advised them the trap had caught an Iraq army veteran in a greatcoat who‘d drunk too much wine. He told them to stay by the car, and then he retrieved his nightstick. The deputy returned to the trapped beast and knelt in the snow, putting his foot on the trap, then inserting the club between the sharp teeth and leveraging it open.
          The creature stepped free and limped away as Rick watched, then paused and looked back at the deputy, “I won’t forget.” It said soundlessly, and then vanished in the dense pine woods.

It was a month later on a dark, bone-chilling February night when Rick pulled over a black Escalade with the license plate light out on Route 66. The driver lowered his window and then pointed a revolver at the deputy. Suddenly the window went up trapping the driver’s gun barrel. Rick pulled out his automatic and heard a metallic click as he watched the front passenger furiously working his gun. Then the rear door flew open and a shaved-head man with a tattoo on his neck jumped out and racked a shotgun. The man reached for the trigger with his right hand, but he slipped on the ice and stumbled backward. The shotgun discharged.
Four months later on a spring evening, Rick was gathered with his deputy friends at Buster’s Restaurant to celebrate his commendation medal for “Extreme Valor”. There was lively chatter as his friends relived Rick’s encounter with the deadly Mexican Cartel trio on Route 66 that frigid night.
At the end of the table was Joe Don, a new deputy recruit who Rick had mentored. He watched the gaiety with a sour face as Joe Don was innately dour and still bedeviled by intolerance.
“Ricardo was just lucky.” Joe Don said and the table quieted.
“Think about it.” Joe Don continued. “The driver’s window malfunctions. The passenger’s gun jams, and the Homey in the back slips on the ice blowing his head off. All Rick did was stand there.”
          The table murmured, and then Carol, a religious deputy, bowed her blonde head. “It was divine intervention.” She said, her hands clasped in prayer.
          Bobby, sitting across from Carol, nodded. “Rick must have been an angel.”
          Joe Don laughed and looked down the table at Rick, asking.” What’s the name of your guardian angel, Deputy Ricardo?”

          Rick cocked his head, gazing around the table at his friends. “I don’t have an angel.” He replied, and then added: “But I do have a demon.” And Rick recalled that afternoon in Coconino National Forest where he met something in the woods.