Chapter 9 – No rancher at all

In the following weeks, the lives of O’Rourke, Ortiz Kidd, Perdue, Vermillion, Renoir and even Hanratty all crossed each others’ trajectories like neurotransmitters, or fireworks touching in the night sky or a pinball machine blinking madly with every touch of the ball. From a distance, their lives called out “yes!” to the idea of synchronicity. From a distance the big plan was still incomprehensibly big, but obviously and nevertheless a plan.                                                     

O’Rourke’s letter to Hanratty made him wonder about all those letters she had of his, about their contents becoming public, about how much he would hate that. He fired off an equally angry letter, and Mimi, for the first time, read a letter written in the heat of the moment rather than in the shall-we-say stupor of reflection. Hanratty surprised himself and he surprised her. Renoir’s call to O’Rourke, in addition to changing her life forever, had opened up the possibility of her actually purchasing the La Sal Junction Café; 

and with this min mind she began to plot ferociously, while Renoir put together the pieces of Mimi O’Rourke’s dream and the woman named Anna Ortiz Kidd. Perdue’s night with O’Rourke had filled him with the desire he realized had been missing from his life for a long — a very long — time and he began designing tiles again; and O’Rourke’s night with Perdue had made her want a man again (and especially now since she was not having him) and for this, she began dancing again, underwear clad, in the living room, a former routine pleasure that had gone to the wayside. Out came the James Brown tapes, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Chaka Khan and out came the dancing soul of Mimi O’Rourke.
Meanwhile, Anna Ortiz Kidd had found herself smack dab in the middle of the changing life of Rory Vermillion and knew not what to make of it. Here was a pursuing man, hot on the trail of a woman who had been in desperate need of being pursued. What woman hasn’t felt the flush of a man after her?

They had gone out to dinner a dozen times,  had blazed the open road on weekend trips to Santa Fe and Chaco Canyon. They had flown in his cute little Lear jet to Tucson for a brief day or two of eating fresh grapefruit in the sun. He’d surprised her with gifts embarrassing in their extravagance — a silver necklace weighing it must have been half a pound. a Stetson hat, some lizard boots. It had been difficult for Anna to accept these things but it would have been impossible for her to refuse them.

The fact was, she didn’t really like herself in the necklace, hat and boots.

At all.

She felt inch-long nails painted red and large oval rings of turquoise might have been more appropriate for the person wearing the necklace, and took more pleasure in holding the heavy object in her hand, letting it slowly slip through her fingers, than in having it hang around her neck like a collar. The hat was interesting in the same way all hats. are: it made her feel like a different person altogether. Standing in front of the mirror she’d stared and stared at her new shit-kicker self standing there, unable to decide whether it was an accurate reflection of any part of her soul. Donning it only when out of town and with Rory, Anna felt this hat was somewhat symbolic of their relationship. No wonder the ambivalence. And the lizard boots? They hurt her feet.

Now, as Anna did her morning stretches on this blindingly gorgeous December day, she stared at the boots once again. She had not given Rory any indication that she liked them  when he’d insisted on buying them for her in Tucson. In fact, she remembered wincing and grimacing her way through it. “Yes ma’am,” he’d said, “Those boots make you look like you were born and raised on a ranch.” Lizard boots did this? “And you’re taller in ’em, too.”

Sidling up to her and wedging his snake skin boots between the ones she was wearing, he’d grabbed her butt and pulled her to him. Despite herself, she’d gotten excited and let herself be pawed. (And then they’d raced to the hotel room where, limp as a rag, Anna was his for the taking, and the taking again. No one said the sex hadn’t been good.)

The early hints of Rory’s metamorphosis and been there, but other things had clouded Anna’s judgment. His aftershave, for instance (before the switch to Aqua Velva). His long legs (even in Wranglers). And his mustache (before the wax). These former characteristics had charmed her, had over-ridden his slip-sliding into a slow drawl and a more monosyllabic way of life.

Because in truth, Rory Vermillion was becoming more of a redneck every day. Had she encourage this? Had she made him believe that this was the kind of man she desired above all others? And how could she have done this? Disturbing thoughts for such an orderly, and responsible woman. Here was a man, a former financier on Wall Street, who had taken to the ways of the god-fearing, calf-roping, jean-wearing, tobacco-chewing set as if called upon by a higher power.

His condo, once dressed in the creams and teals and cinnamons that condo-lovers love, now looked more like a cross between Ralph Loren and Sheridan, Wyoming. The dining room table was leather, the chairs heavily wooden and big enough for two. Walls were painted dark green and fixtures were made of wrought iron. Elk heads gazed upon each other glassily. Wood floors held women rugs. Indian blankets lay upon the couches. The same man who had not known how to make a condo speak his name now had one that screamed it. Anna had said nothing in seeing the condo, newly remodeled, just last week; but inside her stomach had turned, and turned again.

“Idn’it something?” Rory had beamed at her, giving it the sweep of the arm followed by the hand on the hip. “Yep,” answered Mimi weakly, looking around the room, half-expecting to see a spittoon and a bottle of Jack Daniels amongst the rest of the paraphernalia. “It shore is, Rory.” The sarcasm was lost on him, and he smiled back, happy as a pig in shit. Anna had excused herself then — that was two weeks ago — claiming the stomach flu had hit, which wasn’t altogether a lie. She hadn’t seen him since that day in the condo.

Today, the day before her departure for LA with Mimi, Anna was supposed to lunch with Rory. She grabbed her toes and stretched forward letting the morning sun beat down on the back of her neck. He’d phoned her every day, each conversation becoming another deposition in the case of a man possessed.

From a relatively harmless “Hello Anna, how are you?” to a mutant cowboy’s “Hullo darlin’ – how you doin’?” He’d called up one morning, and, with the voice of Merle Haggard singing in the background, he told her he was “missin’ her somethin’ brutal. I’m cookin’ biscuits’n’ gravy,” he continued on shamelessly. “Dud’n that soun’ good?” Anna had to wonder if someone wasn’t giving him lessons, or if this weren’t some hideous practical joke.She knew that if Mimi had been the one involved she would have point-blank confronted him, asked him what the hell was going on. But Anna, truly the investigator at heart, watched and listened with horror as  a dude rancher with a Lear jet became one of the boys. He still read the Wall Street Journal  every morning, she’d asked him. But he never talked about it.

Nope. Now he talked about the ranch in Montana, about bringing it back to its glory, raising the cattle, branding the beef, running the horses. In the spring, he said, he would head back and get to hiring on some hands. He gave Anna the sneaking suspicion that she would be asked to accompany him to Montana wearing full skirts and boots with spurs, and of course a giant diamond solitaire. With this thought grabbing at her throat and sucking the life out of her, she began her breathing exercises. Oxygen to her brain might not be a bad idea, she figured.

She dressed in paisley leggings an oversized sweatshirt and a leather jacket and with every deliberate intention of not looking like a cowgirl, or of living in any of the western states. It had been fascinating and she was grateful for her brief but delicious blossoming of womanhood again, but marriage proposals were out of the question. Especially from a lunatic on a mission to be re-born again as third-generation rancher.

Mimi hadn’t been told any of this in detail. Anna, keeping notes, was saving it for the trip. All Mimi knew was that she was keeping Rory out of her friend’s hair so that she could negotiate a deal on the La Sal Junction Café with money soon to be hers from the sale of her book.

Anna, not knowing anything about letters to a former professor was doubly bowled over when Mimi had called with the news.

“Hang onto your Stetson, Anna Kidd,” she’d said. “I’m about to make some money in the most fantastically surprising way.”

“My Stetson is in the furthest reaches of my closet, back there with the prom pictures, and the bell bottoms and the hot pants.” She had just gotten the hat, but felt it was safest in the back of her closet. “How are you scheming to make money now?”

“You’re never going to believe this,” she began, gaining speed as the words bubbled out, “But some publisher in LA, a pretty neat guy as a matter of fact, wants to publish these letters that I’ve been writing over the years to an old professor-friend of mine. My letters, dozens and dozen — well hundreds actually — of them. See, the professor, Michael Norris Hanratty, and he were old friends and he mentioned them one day and Syd — Syd Renoir, that’s his name — read them all and liked them and has offered to publish them. Fifteen thousand dollars, maybe twenty. Can you believe this? Can you even believe this?” She swallowed and caught her breath. “Anna?”

Anna, used to being on top of things, tried to sort this out in her head in the split second before she said, “Huh?”

“It’s all true. All true. My letters. Published. Money. La Sal Junction.Trip for two to the City of Angels. Partially paid for.”

“Wow,” answered Anna, in an expression unfamiliar to her, one she used only once in a blue moon. “How many letters have you written to this professor person? And what were they about?” Regaining her sense of the inquiry, she felt herself focusing. “I mean, why does the other guy want to publish them? Is it an exposé of some kind?” She pictured Mimi as a whistleblower and smiled.

“No, nothing like that,” said Mimi. “They’re just letters about my life. I used clichés to describe the various episodes. One per letter. No one ever knew about them, from me anyway; I never told anyone. It’s just something I’ve done for a long time, like writing in a journal. Only I wrote to an attractive father-figure instead of to myself. Kind of embarrassing, really; only now it’s making me very very happy.”

Then she’d mentioned the trip and asked Anna to join her, and when Anna had hung up the Earth felt shifty beneath her feet. Here was a side of her closest friend Mimi she’d never known. In the weeks between then and now, they’d spoken a couple of times but less than if Mimi had not been involved with Max Lee Perdue and Anna with Rory “Kay-yippee kay-yay” Vermillion. A trip out of the box canyon and into the real world, and a chance to catch up with her buddy heartened Anna and braced her for lunch with the cowpoke from hell.

 

Rory came to pick her up at the office, and Bob, old Bob Peebles had never met the man. Anna, ready for the worst, barely heard her own intake of breath as he appeared, all duded up, in front of them both. Classic western shirt and pigskin jacket. Jeans, of course. Boots, naturally. And a big belt buckle. A big, big belt buckle. Almost as big as the big, big hat. The smell of Aqua Velva permeated the office as he stepped forward to grab Anna and pull her to him. “Annabelle,” he whispered.

Annabelle?

Taking her by the shoulders he squared her off and gazed at her. “A sight for sore eyes,” he said, as if there could have been no other script.

“Bob,” she interrupted, pulling back and making it a plain show of some courtesy to her employer (whose mouth had dropped open). “This is Rory. Rory Vermillion.” Her arms indicated the full length of the man in front of them. “Rory, this is my boss, Bob Peebles.” Managing a couple more steps backward as the men shook hands, Anna gagged on the after shave. Had he spilled it on himself? Rory was shaking Bob’s hand with more down home enthusiasm. “Uh, Mr. vermillion,” Bob was saying. “I was hoping we’d have a chance to meet, and maybe do business some day.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” replied Rory with an aw-shucks inflection. “You see, sir, I’m set on returning to Montana in the spring for once and for all.” He glanced over at Anna as if to implicate her. “My little condo here is all I really need; and my taste for real estate’s just about gone. I may not even make it through the winter, the way things are looking. May just have to head on up to the ranch before then. But I appreciate the thought.” Anna closed her eyes, afraid he would tip his hat.

Bob, confused as to what thought he was referring to, nevertheless smiled the friendly smile of the realtor. “Well,” he summarized, “I’ll let you two love-birds be off to lunch.”

Disappearing into his office with his back turned, Bob’s arm came up in the good-bye salute; and Rory good-naturedly returned the wave to the man’s back. “Nice fella,” he said.

Enraged by this reference to love-birds, Anna grabbed her coat viciously and headed for the door. “We should go since I only have an hour.”

“Take a long lunch if you need it,” Bob boomed from his office as if he’d heard her. “I’m expecting some calls at one,” she yelled back at him, irritation frosting the tip of her voice. Rory nearly pounced on the door before Anna could reach it, to open it for her and take her arm. “Ma’am,” he said as she stormed through.

Willing herself to be in control, Anna inquired politely where they were going for lunch. “To my place,” he answered, not missing a beat. “No one can cook chili in this town, so we’re fixing to eat lunch at my place. Chili and cornbread. Okay with you?” She was losing ground, but felt she must handle it. “Hm-mm,” answered with as much nonchalance as she could muster. “And it’s pronounced “Fixin’ not ‘fixing.’ We’re fixin’ to eat lunch at your place.” If he was going to be using the vernacular, he might as well get it right.

“That’s what I said,” he answered, not comprehending the correction. “We’re fixing to.” He was dead serious.

These syllabic reminders, vestiges of the one-time financier, fascinated  Anna the linguist. But they were infrequent now as he became the seamless cowboy, one without many such clues of  his former self.

His place hadn’t changed at all, except for a lived in look what softened it a little. Still the wrought iron, Anna felt, was over-wrought. And the elk heads made her want to duck or use an umbrella or something

“You know I’m leave for LA tomorrow on Mimi’s trip,” she said putting up an early guard. The cornbread smelled good as Rory pulled it out of the oven and down on a trivet to cool. “I realize that,” he answered. “Four days, is it?”

“Yes, four days in a  pretty nice hotel in Westwood close to a lot of shops and movie theaters and restaurants.”

We’ll, it’s good you’re happy about it. Should be a fine time for you ladies in Los Angeles,” and he pronounced it Angeleeze, It can be fun, for that sort of thing.” It seemed to Anna that he was being as honest as he knew how to be. She wondered if the transformation was nearly complete. Maybe it was time to find out.

 

“Rory,” she began cautiously, “What made you decorate this condominium the way you did?” He was spooning out the chili into wood bowls, and it looked like the real stuff. In mid-pour he stopped the ladle and paused to reflect. “It feels comfortable and it feels like me.” A shrug punctuated the sentence, and the ladle reached its pot. “Don’t you like it?”

“It’s okay,” Anna gathered her forces. “But it’s not what the Rory I first met would have done with it. Now you’re one hundred  percent into this cowboy thing and I’m having a hard time dealing with it.” She lowered her tone to a whisper now, speaking as if in a sort of twilight zone. “What has happened to you?” Unable to look up at him, she focused on the bean and carne stew under her nose and brought a bite to her lips.

“Nothin’ that doesn’t feel right.” Again, honesty and down home lucidity. It was driving her nuts.

“But,” she looked up at him, pleading now, “What happened to the guy from two months ago? Did you bury him like some psycho with a secondary personality or are you going to acknowledge where you’ve been and what you’ve done?”

“Have some of this corn bread, too,” he said, passing her a piece. Anna, who was working herself into a woman foaming at the mouth, was having the inverse effect upon her lunch-mate. Calm and collected, he continued to answer her questions. “I know what I was, Anna. But people grow, don’t they? They change They morph.”

“You aren’t changing like a normal person.” She gritted her teeth politely. “Normal people change slowly unless they’ve had some life threatening or catastrophic experience. You’ve changed abruptly into an entirely new set of clothes and adopted the life that comes with it, and the furniture, and the speech, and the mannerisms, and the down-home notions. And. You’re trying to make me go along with it!” she interrupted, then sighed. “The corn bread is very good.”

“That’s not true Anna now be reasonable. I’m not trying to change you honey. How’m I tryhin’ to change you?” He sincerely wanted to know.

“Well, for starters, you bought me a silver necklace, some boots and a cowboy hat. Weren’t you trying to dress me to fit into your scheme? I don’t look good or feel good in that stuff.”

“I bought you the nicest boots they had, and the best hat I could find.”

She was ready to give up.

“I love you Anna Kidd,” he said to her before she could figure out her next move. “I love you and I want to marry you;; and when we get married I want to take your name instead of the other way around. I want to be Rory Kidd. We could call it the Double K Ranch.” His hand, as feverish as he was, found hers and gripped it tightly. “What do you think?”

Yanking the hand away, she brought it up to her chest and cradled it there, appalled by everything he had said. “I think you’ve gone completely and utterly insane, Rory Vermillion” she emphasized the last name. “I think you need professional help. You don’t even know me: you don’t know how I think what I like, what my own dreams are, what kind of books I read. Or what kinds of boots I like, for that matter.” She pushed the chair away from the table with the back of her knees and began pounding on the leather table top.

“And you cannot have my name. It’s my name. It has a history which is my history. Your name is your history. And I suggest that you learn your own history and come to grips with it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go.” Tears filled her eyes and she brushed at them with her sweatshirt sleeve. “I’m sorry,” she added, sorry that he didn’t understand her, sorry that he would be hurt, sorry that had gone off the deep end.

“Aw, honey, please,” he intoned. “You’re misunderstanding me.” She was close to the door. “We can use my name then,” she heard him wailing as she stepped outside and hurried away, and “Anna, I love youuuuuu.”

“Oh God,” she said into her handkerchief as she blew her nose. “I’ve slept with a lunatic.” She hadn’t felt this bad, this irresponsible, this wrong about someone since the French-Vietnamese chef who had lured her to his apartment and whipped her — so to speak — with his ego and his B-movie lovers moves. The French accent had lured her then: now an accent of another hue was sending her running. Next time, she would forego speech variations of any kind. It was obvious.

No sooner had she reached her office than a message awaited her from him, telling her to call him and that it was urgent. In her own room with her own things, she slumped into her chair and felt yer eyes fill up again. “He wanted my name,” she whined and started to bawl. Bob Peebles, hearing the sound of a woman in distress, stuck his head in, surprise to see the er-level assistant broken down in a heap before him. “Anna?” he said, incredulous. “What happened. Did he hurt you?”

Wasn’t that just like Bob, she thought, to think he’d hurt her.

She sniffed hard. “He’s a lunatic. Completely nuts.” Hicoughing and sniffling, she continued on, addressing the world at large. “And he wanted me to marry him. And he wanted to change hims name to Rory Kidd. He’s verifiably crazy.” Bob was by her side now, trying this best to calm her down in the most annoying way. “There, there,” he was saying. “There, there. Now tell Bob all about it. Is he really getting out of real estate?”

At the end of an endless day, Anna Ortiz Kidd found herself at The Buckeroo, fiddling with a Lark in one hand her brass lighter in the other, waiting for Mimi to show up so they could order scotch on the rocks, hear the ice clink, and feel the cool drug slide down their hot throats. When she did arrive, her first question to Anna was to ask wh they weren’t saving all conversation for the flight the next day. She thought it had been agreed upon.

‘You can’t save it all up, Mimi,” answered Anna, irritated but needing a friend more than anything else. “I just had a close encounter with a lunatic who wanted to take on my name in marriage. I need to talk now. Otherwise, I’ll think it’s all my fault somehow.” With a lip beginning to quiver, she recounted the events of the chili lunch, the metamorphic man, the return to the ranch in Montana. She finished by asking Mimi if she thought it was a chemical imbalance. “I mean, how else can you explain this scenario? Wall Street money man finds god and becomes rancher? Is it god? What caused this change? Maybe it’s a family thing. His mother was mildly schizophrenic. Does he need drugs? Should I call a mental heath center somewhere and make some inquiries? I mean, what if he’s really sick?”

Mimi frowning while pulling on her bangs because she had no answers for her friend. “I don’t know, Anna. I didn’t like him from the start, but this really puts an additional grip on my dislike. Poor guy. It’s not your responsibility, though. Just because he asked you to marry him doesn’t mean you have to save him from himself.” Swallowing an unladylike amount of scotch, she felt it coating her teeth. “What about friends of his from New York? Did he ever mention any of them that you might be able to call? Or his real family, assuming they’re normal enough to know not-normal?”

Anna, happily inhaling her first drag on Lark number one of the day, shook her head. She was drinking and  smoking and enjoying herself immensely. “He really never talked about the big city much, even when he was his old self. He did mention an old college buddy living in LA who was talking about coming out for a visit, either to Telluride or to Montana. A lawyer in entertainment or something. Really great name. Trip something. With a Q last name. Quine! Trip Quine.” As Anna silently congratulated herself on coming up with this one astonishing piece of the puzzle, Mimi’s mind was focused on the fact that this old friend lived in LA, just where the two of them were headed, and could be tracked down and questioned. “We’re going to LA, Anna; we might as well just call him up. Pick his brain a little. See what he has to say about ol’ Rory.”

“Trip Quine,” repeated Anna. “what kind of a name do you suppose Quine is?”

“Interesting,” answered Mimi. “And hopefully, he’ll live up to it. Now let’s talk vacation. We’re supposed to meet Syd tomorrow for dinner at a restaurant somewhere near our hotel, which means we shouldn’t eat too much at lunch…” Mimi went on in a vacation monologue that lasted quite a few minutes, succeeding in getting her friend primed for the trip. They made plans for getting to the airport the next morning and said goodby.  Mimi would be dining with Max Lee at his place, and Anna would be dining alone, blissfully one. She had not returned Rory’s call and had no plans to do so. How could she relate to a man who called her Annabelle? If Trip Quine didn’t pan out she would simply try to stay out of his way and get over her guilt about the marriage thing. She could see no other course of action.

For her dinner, she fixed one of her favorite comfort foods: spaghetti with olive oil, black pepper, garlic and a touch of parmesan. Then she put her feet up and tilted her head back and fell deftly into sleep in her favorite arm-chair, one upholstered in blue velvet but worn down at all the right places. At two o’clock in the morning she woke up with a jolt, and, not knowing where she was, panicked briefly. To assuage the panic, she switched on the TV and watched the Love Boat reruns until she felt good enough, hypnotized enough to go to bed.