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.