Chapter 3 – Movers and handshakers

 

Bob Peebler picked the lint off his cashmere sport coat, lazily wondering how many such coats he would own in his lifetime.

Three? Ten? A closet full? It was his favorite item of clothing and he fell into stroking the sleeves as one would stroke a cat. So soft, so luxurious. “Bob,” interrupted his assistant, Anna, staring at his sleeve, “Eddie’s on line one with a question about that Benedict/Vermillion closing.”
Signaling her with a nod as he pressed the speaker phone button, he lifted his index finger asking her to wait. Annoyed by the index finger, Anna pretended to only half understand and began to mouth to him, “You want me to wait?” He kept the index finger up.

“Eddie, what can I do for you?” he boomed with practiced good humor. “Yes, the closing was supposed to happen on the 30th of this month latest. Push it back…. Why would the buyer be looking at land outside Dove Creek? What on earth is out there besides lots of dust and Mack trucks hahaha …. No, there’s no real problem, how long does he want?….I’ll check with the seller and get back to you. Right. Bye.”

Speaking to Anna as well as the world at large, Bob nutshelled his feelings. “That sonofabitch is asking for an extension and Benedict is going to freak. A two million dollar deal and the buyer is still window shopping at the last minute. What do you know about this Vermillion, anything?” Bob had leaned back in his chair and was bouncing a pencil, eraser down, on his desk. “I mean, who would play around with me like this?”

Anna recognized that he’d hit the nail on the head in his final question: he was being manipulated and didn’t like it. Who did?

“Rory Vermillion,” she answered him, “is a fairly well-off friend of Peter Cheesewright’s who wears old jeans and cowboy boots and tee-shirts, but manages to make shrewd real estate deals by the dozens. I think he made up his last name. Most realtors don’t like him because he seems to know more than they do, but Eddie Masket gets a kick out of him. Vermillion’s big ranch is in Montana next to some movie star’s. Eddie Masket says Vermillion is going to make the next Masket home possible.”

Bob had acquired a look of distaste, which soured even more by obvious curiosity. “How do you know this,” he asked, finally looking at Anna as if she had just acquired mass and scale.

“I listen in at bars,” she answered and left the room.

What Bob did not know was that Anna listened in at work, too — on the phone, and from the bathroom that shared a wall with his office. She knew more about her boss than most women know about their husbands. That he liked new clothes — especially cashmere — and new cars, new girlfriends, and new money. He was at home in the world of real estate and like to flaunt recent wealth in predictable ways.

In addition, she knew a couple of cocktails were mandatory before dinner — “a glass of Smirnoff, no ice” — and he ordered lamb chops, well done, whenever he got the chance. He had graduated with a BA in business from Michigan State and had moved to Telluride three years earlier, apparently having done well back home. He owned an expensive two-bedroom condo, slept on a water-bed, ate Bran-Buds for breakfast and read suspense thrillers and a little Louis L’Amour on the sly. Louis L’Amour. A head shaker.

Overall, Bob was an easy character study and a somewhat boring one, but Anna nevertheless still found it fascinating to eavesdrop and lived in hope of being surprised. She kept hoping to find out what he was like when the “on” switch wasn’t on. Maybe he would have to be asleep for that.

Back in her office, Anna wondered about Bob’s conversation with Eddie Masket. She sipped her lukewarm decaf and began doodling with the words “Dove Creek,” which ended up “love creep.” An involuntarily spasm of memory of the night before gave love creep meaning. The love creep who kept offering to buy her cocktails with his captivating words, “Aw c’mon honey-bun, ‘s’on me.” Honey bun.

Dove Creek. What was going on out there, she wondered, and why did Vermillion have any interest at all? She decided to call Mimi O’Rourke, her closest friend and a Dove Creek specialist.

It rang three times and then went to the answering machine: “Please begin by leaving your name, at which time I may pick up the phone if I like you –” Mimi was nothing if not frank.

“Hello I’m here!” Mimi’s voice was loud and she was out of breath.

“Hi, Mimi, Anna here.”

“Hey! How are you?”

“Okay. I mean I’m at work while everyone else is off in Baja or Canyonlands. Anyway, I’m sitting here trying to figure out something about a real estate deal, and I’m scribbling the words Dove Creek out on my calendar. Are you busy riding the exercise bike or can you talk?”

“Any excuse to get off that thing. Hang on a minute, I need to turn down the stereo. She was screaming into the phone to drown out the booming music. “What about Dove Creek?”

“I don’t know,” Anna began, “there’s something fishy going on. Rory Vermillion, you know, the guy from Montana with the three dogs and the lear jet — just slowed Bob down on a closing because he’s looking at buying land in Dove Creek. Is there anything going on out there right now that you know of? Seen anything going up, new real estate signs or anything? Out-of-state plates on expensive autos?”

Mimi grinned as she pictured Anna, a frustrated detective, aloft on the wings of curiosity, flapping around for something slightly sinister, illegal, or at least thought-provoking. “We went out that way last weekend,” she answered, thinking back to the landscape,’ “and I didn’t notice anything different. But then we spent most of our time at La Sal Junction , and that’s not really right next to Dove Creek. They just discovered some old Indian ruins not far from there, but that wouldn’t affect the price of the land….” Mimi couldn’t imagine anyone besides herself wanting land out there in the middle of nowhere: the idea that someone with money, someone with confidence, and someone with cowboy boots caked with Montana dirt clods wanted it, too, upset her. “Do you know exactly where he’s interested in investing?” she asked her friend.

“No, but I think I can find out,” answered Anna. “Just keep your ears open, too, while you’re waiting tables. Especially if anyone from that crowd comes in.” They ended the conversation just as Bob stuck his head in her office. “I almost forgot why I wanted you to hang around. Could you come into my office a minute?” Grabbing her notebook and peeling off the page that said love creep, Anna followed big Bob into the inner sanctum. She hated the feeling of following him anywhere and usually lagged behind not to appear to be on her master’s heels.

“Some high rollers from Chicago are coming in to look at large parcels in and out of town next week. I need reservations for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at all three of the usual places. Make them for eight o’clock, five people, and tell the owners we don’t want to be crammed in like sardines. Use my name.”

What other name would I use? Anna thought as she said “Okay,” and headed back to her little room. If she called Eddie Masket, whom she liked in spite of herself, maybe she could get some kind of feel for what exactly was going on out by Dove Creek, if anything. First the restaurants, then Eddie Masket. She had four contracts to type up and an appointment for a haircut at one. A haircut: it was reassuring to know that the trimming of hair was regular and regularly made her feel as the loose and split ends of life were taken care of, disposed of. Gazing out the window of her office into the little park and Main Street, Anna tried to gather all the mental loose ends, the fidgets, the worries, the unknowns into a ball and hurl them through the glass pane. Breathing deep, she focused on herself without thinking: this was a trick she had learned from her last therapist, and even though she didn’t know why it worked, it worked. Her last therapist had been a powerful woman.

Anna Ortiz Kidd was not a career secretary; but like many others, she’d made the mistake of learning to type. In her case, what she did, she did well, and she could type faster than nearly anyone in town. Employers sensed something commanding about her — though she would never recognize this herself — and she always managed to get her own office. Only two kinds of people had ever hired her after she had moved to Telluride five years back: those who weren’t afraid of her intelligence, and those who were unaware that it existed. Peebles would have run scared from it had he known it was there, but Peebles didn’t know much about her kind of woman, anyway, and probably never would. He liked women with tight jeans, gold chains, medium-high heels and that taken-care-of look to them. Anna wore leggings and large sweaters and had no trace of pampered, at all.

With a master’s degree in linguistics, she looked back on her life with not a little discontent. She was supposed to have become an academic at some best-and-brightest university, worn the tortoise-shell glasses and had pieces published on a regular basis. She was supposed to have followed in the footsteps of John Ortiz, her famous  linguist father and been as flamboyant has her mother, Lilith Yarnold Kidd. But it hadn’t turned out that way. She had gone the way of the wayward wind and it had blown her to the far corners of the four corners. She would have constructed a sentence just this way.

Since moving to Telluride, she had put in a half-dozen jobs under her belt and had learned a little about lots of things, including being a line cook in a restaurant, painting and drywalling, word processing, and using database and spreadsheet programs. She liked the company in restaurant work — had met Mimi there in fact — but liked the comfort of her own office and a computer, even it it meant yes-ing Mr. Bob or any other boss-du-jour. Anna’s office said much about the woman in it, as did any environment she happened to be in. Others saw this set-designing as a talent and a gift, but to Anna, the point was to remind herself daily of who she was, for she feared the imminent loss of the soft and moving core that she considered herself. Preserving the self was deliberate and necessary and decorating was how she did it.

In the small office she occupied, the walls were lined with framed prints and relics of the Renaissance, an age she identified as her own. Illustrations of DaVinci’s inventions and color lithographs of decorative motifs. A small replica of Michelangelo’s David and a gilt-framed replica of a Van Eyck painting. Paperweights and pens reminiscent of things Shakespeare might have used. One wall was painted an incredible deep and royal blue and had been stenciled with gold fleur-de-lys. It was truly striking, what she had done, and she had done it in the name of self-preservation. What did Peebles think? Peebles believed– because Anna had told him so – that she had gone to interior design school but had never finished and therefore couldn’t get work. Maybe, Peebles had concluded, this is why she’d only painted one wall.

Anna was of medium build, had beautiful pale skin except for a scar next to her left eye, thick brown hair, which was long and straight, brown eyes, and she smoked Camel’s, two a day. Choosing this moment to indulge in her first, Anna picked up the phone and dialed Eddie Masket’s number.

“Eddie, it’s Anna Ortiz Kidd.”

Eddie’s voice was steady and unsurprised. “Hello Anna.” She called often for Bob, and she knew Eddie preferred talking to her than the boom-box of Bob’s mouth. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I’m calling for a friend of mine who may be interested in purchasing some land out near Dove Creek. La Sal Junction to be exact. This has nothing to do with Bob or with Mountain Realty Network. It’s just me and Mimi O’Rourke.” She took a drag off the delicious Camel.

“Mimi, huh. Since when does she have money to spend on land?”

“Since she heard word of an inheritance,” Anna lied, “and she has this thing about that area. She loves it. She has for some time.”  She could hear him cupping his hands over the phone to talk to someone else. “Well, let’s see what I know about Dove Creek.” He paused as if to part the encyclopedia of his mind and let his eyes rest of the page marked, Dove Creek, Realty. “I have a client who is actively pursuing the purchase of land in that area at this time, a wealthy client. He seems to think that if he buys a circle of land with La Sal Junction at tits center, he could turn it into a small commercial outlet servicing the traffic between Telluride and Moab. He seems to think he could put a restaurant and filling station there and attach a dude ranch to it.”

“Dude ranch?” Anna could not believe it.” What — is he, from Arizona?” She wanted to hear him say who it was.”No, it’s Rory Vermillion. He usually knows what he’s doing; he’s shrewd, if a little too intuitive for my tastes. I don’t know this time, though. You know, he’s putting me in a spot with your lovely boss; he wants to delay the closing on that ranch house.”

“What do you think about this idea, though, of developing La Sal Junction?” Anna wanted to know.

“I can’t judge a guy like that. His batting average is too goddamn good.” The price on the La Sal Junction piece of land is $90K for the five acres with the buildings or a cool million for 110 acres including  them. Obviously, Rory is going for the large piece, but he’s trying to deal on it. It’s not that much money to him, but he needs to feel as though it had “bargain” written all over it. And what does Mimi want with La Sal Junction?”

“Search me. She’s had her eye on it for years and makes regular pilgrimages past it.” This much was true. “I guess she’ll just have to look someplace else.” This was not true, but she wanted her friend off the hook of suspicion. “Is there anything else for sale in the area that you think Mimi might like?”

“Possibly,” Eddie answered, “But I’d have to make a few calls. Are you officially representing Mimi or can I give her a call?” He liked top-heavy women and Mimi’s breasts were inconsequential. “You can call her if you want, but she’s hard to get a hold of most of the time. Call me if you can’t reach her, or call me and we’ll schedule a meeting over beers or something.” Anna was beginning to think she should use Mimi’s breasts to their best potential. Mimi wouldn’t mind, once she found out that there might be mischief and deceit involved. Though a specific plan had not yet coalesced, she could most definitely feel a subtle thickening of the plot.

“Sounds good,” Eddie answered, cheered by the prospect, and said good-bye on a definite up-beat. She had done the right thing.

When she called her friend with the news, Mimi was crushed. “A dude ranch, for God’s sake Anna… that makes me sick at heart. That piece of land is mine, I look at it and it’s as if I were meant to be there. As a matter of fact when I stopped there last weekend something happened that would interest you very very much. I can’t go into it now, it’s too bizarre, but I’ll have to tell you. We can’t let this guy Vermillion get near my land — he’ll ruin that place, I don’t care how shrewd he is.” Mimi was surprised at her own resolve. But someone was taking her dream, yanking it away like the comfort of a warm blanket.

“Mimi, what do you want to do with this place, if you don’t mind my asking? I mean, I think I have an idea about steering Vermillion away but you still need money to buy it.”

“We’ll have to talk but not on the phone,” answered Mimi, keen on Anna’s penchant for surreptitious. “Can we meet for beers later, like at six o’clock? I don’t have to work tonight.” They agreed to meet at The Buckeroo.

October was an oddball month is southwestern Colorado. It could be pancake hot in the desert and blowing with snow in the mountains just two hours away. This October week, the clouds — or the cloud, rather — bore down on Telluride, warm grey and pregnant with mist, and began to shroud it, obfuscate its being.

Only a few weeks ago, a desert wind had blasted through like a taste of another world, and folks had worn shorts and gazed at each other clear-eyed, happily absorbed in the present. On those days, when the leaves had already fallen and were decomposing faster than one would think possible, leaving no trace of a relentless aspen yellow that warned people in a big, one-color soliloquy that winter would arrive soon, on those days that the sky was cloudless and brilliant blue, the sun fierce and the leaves gone, no one felt apart from nature or each other. Somehow with summer in the sky and winter on the ground, the feelings that seasons routinely evoked were suspended and people, relieved that they could live for this day alone, floated in a non-named place of time without obligation to it. Pangs of fall melancholy had vanished. And winter’s calls to curl up and sleep had, as well.

Now the mists lowered and the air itself shivered with wetness. A town of old Victorians and false fronts closed in on itself, and its people, though out and about, protected themselves with too-large coats and mufflers wrapped around their faces. They turned inward because winter, in this enveloping configuration, forced them to.

The mountains loomed above as great protectors and reminders of the magnitude of nature — of snow, of rock, of falling water. Many people had been buried under their avalanches, had fallen climbing their summits, this was no exaggeration. Now, hidden in mists with only spires piercing through at the lowest levels, the mountains slumbered and collected snow. The town, nestled in its canyon, looked cozy but vulnerable.

Inside the buildings, the little burg acted like a bigger one. Realtors made furious calls and showed properties to wealthy shoppers, making money so fast that the ching-ching of the cash register could be heard in the place of the far-off chiming of the church bells. City government issued building permits and reviewed design plans, barely able to keep up with the construction despite the turn of the weather. Outside, carpenters showed up for work at eight, but stamped their feet and drank coffee until ten when sunshine would hit the valley and thaw their extremities. Lumber trucks unloaded huge stacks of the sticks used to construct the fragile-looking frames of new homes, and deliveries of every kind were made to the hardware and grocery stores, and to the restaurants and bars.

But in this town, as in other alpine towns, there were seasons of ebb as well as horn-of-plenty flow. Though young people, arriving in clannish packs, looked for winter work and  housing, mainly in October, things slowed. Shopkeepers  dreamt idly of the winter season, a month away, and marked everything down twenty percent, or thirty, sometimes purely with the intent of getting people in their lonely shops. Restaurants closed for a spell with some of their workers heading out on brief sabbaticals. The museum closed its front door; and even the library went to limited hours.

But all of the bars stayed open.

The bars stayed open because they were always full, and they were always full because there wasn’t much to do besides drink in a town of 1500 people. Not exactly true. The bars were always full because people here knew how to drink, and they just kept on doing it. They socialized there, they gossiped, they bonded, they loosened, they ordered another and another. They drank more Budweiser than Coors, more Coors than Pacifico. Lots of tequila shooters, Jack Daniels and Absolute. Some screwdrivers, less white wine. Later, there would be more Absolute and Tanqueray, Black Label and Crown Royal. At this point, though, it was still a mixed crowd.

On this particular Thursday, at around 5:30 in the evening, The Buckeroo Bar was just starting to happen, and in a typical fashion. Of the thirty or so folks in the bar, probably twenty were construction workers, a good third of which were about to embark on a long night of back-to-back beers. The other two-thirds only needed one or two, possibly three, to take the edge off; except that now with this gloomy weather bearing down all around, two or three might just lead to four or five. A fire in the fireplace crackled and spat, its heat bringing even greater color to the glowing cheeks of those around it.

The others at The Buck were working types: a couple of secretaries, an architect, a liquor store owner, one or two low-key realtors, and a postal worker. Most of them were here for quick but effective drink and would be out by seven, ready to wander home, to slice quickly through the blackness in order to reach another fire-lit refuge.

Among the construction workers, but not quite among them, sat Max Lee Perdue, a tile man, scribbling on a napkin with his head bent. He clutched a Bud in one hand, using it to hold the napkin in place, and, it appeared, to hold himself in place, the grip was that good. Taking intermittent swigs, he would sometimes bring the stuck napkin up with the beer to his face, but didn’t seem to notice or care. For five minutes, he focused on the napkin, then sat up slowly aware again that he was in a place of uncommon noise and not much privacy.

Someone’s hand just then gripped his shoulder, and he jolted, tipping the beer over for a split second and sending the napkin off the edge of the bar. It fell to the floor.

“Hey Max, how’s life in the bathroom and the kitchen?” A big bulging man with Buddy Holly glasses and a blond beard leaned on the bar next to him. “Get this man another Bud,” he motioned to the bartender, “This one’s got to be warm by now, the way he’s been nursing it. Or would you prefer a shot of your choice?”

“Prefer” was not a word Raymond T. Peach would have normally used; he did it for Max. Max seemed to bring out the polite in folks and the ridiculous thing was, he never even recognized it. This perfunctory acceptance of un-characteristic language coming from other people’s mouths was quite possibly why people kept doing it. Others molded themselves to Max naturally, and though Max was an easygoing guy, he never understood the art of molding to others. They molded to him. As a result, he was considered just slightly eccentric.

“A beer’d  be good, Ray,” said Max. “Too early for shots, but a beer would be good.” He forgot the napkin with the same grace that had allowed him to focus on it, and turned to a fresh bottle of beer with all the pleasure of a panting dog running to a cold stream on a hot day. Ray bought him another, and another and before he knew it, Max was drunk. What could you say about him? He looked sheepish, rubbery, and content. Like a big weight had been taken out of his pants pockets.

“I’d like to see the bartender.” He made this statement to Ray Peach, who took it upon himself to flag the bartender down.

“Max says he wants to talk to you,” Ray leaned over the bar, winking at the Thursday night barman. “I haven’t seen him this drunk since he broke his arm that time. He’s funny as hell.”

“Yes, Max, what can I do for you, my friend?” Barkeep Chuck articulated well and loud as Ray manually spun Max around to face him. “What you can do, Chucky,” he answered with an earnest attempt at sounding sober, “Is let me buy a round for the house.” He gestured to everyone in the bar with a flourish of his arm and hand. “I’d like to do this here today. For all of us.”

“Are you sure, Max?” asked Chuck, “Because you know it’s going to run up over fifty. Do you have that kind of money on you, Max? Are you celebrating something?” The bartenders were perceptive here.

In response to this, Max pulled out his wallet and placed four twenties on the bar. What fell out with them was a fortune from a cookie that read “When opportunity knocks, answer in lingerie.” Someone had crossed out lingerie” and inserted ski boots.” Max was a good skier, but more than that, he was addicted, every-day, keeps-track-of-the-days kind of addict.

He hiccoughed and nodded, “Yep, I”m celebrating all right. I’m celebrating a small inheritance left to me by my Aunt Meridian of Providence, Rhode Island. Hadn’t seen her in eight years. She was eighty-three years old and she liked me. Left me 15K, so God bless her and bottoms up everybody.” Max plunked himself down and smiled.

In case not everyone had heard, Chuck yelled out: “A round of drinks on Max to celebrate his new-found wealth.” The crowd of twenty-five or so let up a whooping cheer and closed in on the bar like ducks bee-lining to breadcrumbs. “To Aunt Meridian” was the toast suggested, and everyone raised their fresh drink to the woman of the hour. Among the chorus were the voices of Mimi O’Rourke and Anna Ortiz Kidd, fortuitously making the switch from draft beer to Black Label at this point in time and hailing Max not Meridian as the person of the hour.

“Do you know Max at all?” inquired Mimi of her friend, squinting across the bar is if to aim a torpedo. “I mean have you ever had a conversation with him or possibly heard any good gossip?”

“Not really,” sad Anna fingering her second cigarette and thin bronze lighter. “He broke up with that one woman a while ago, the one with the Day-glo teeth and the yellow Saab, and keeps to himself. I’ve seen that look on your face before, Mimi. Getting lonely for a warm masculine body?”

Mimi noticed the cigarette and put thoughts of Max without a shirt on hold. “Why do you smoke those things anyway,” she asked. “I mean, the look is aesthetic and all, but they’re really really bad for you.”

“Maybe I’ll cut down to one a day,” answered Anna, flicking the lighter again and again.”It could be time for that. It could be time for that tomorrow,” and she lit the Camel.

“The thing about Rory Vermillion,” Mimi picked up the old conversation, “is that he’s got so much money that nothing means anything to him anymore. A fake rancher from where? LA? New York? Probably reads Esquire and drinks mineral water with his dinner. Probably wears silk socks.”

Anna had divulged all of the information of the day to her companion, and Mimi was about to go into her reasons for needing La Sal Junction so badly and that bag of Anasazi beans.

Just then, however, Rory Vermillion himself walked into the noisy room, sat down next to them at the dark end of the mahogany bar where  practically no one was, and ordered a draft beer. Even amidst the smoke and ever-present odor of hundreds of  layers of hundreds of beers, they noticed the aftershave. He smelled good.

“Synchronicity,” thought Mimi as she realized once again that there is no such thing as coincidence, that we are all players in some perfectly timed, some synchronous yet spontaneous game. “Curious,” thought Anna, as the smell of cologne took her back to something  she could not quite put her finger on, but a pleasant, — a most pleasant, in fact — memory of some kind. She blushed and lifted the cigarette delicately to her already parted lips.

Reaching over to let the ash fall into the ashtray, she felt someone remove the cigarette from her hands.  “You shouldn’t smoke these,” she heard a casual voice almost whisper very close too her ear, and turned to find his nose two centimeters from hers. Though all the blood had rushed to her face, she remained still. “Oh really. Well, which ones should I  smoke, Mr. –”

“Vermillion,” came the reply. “Rory Vermillion. You shouldn’t smoke anything but French cigarettes: once you smoke those, you’ll give up cigarettes for good. And I speak from experience. ” Anna’s split-second thoughts were that his teeth were too white for anything except bad romance novels. Again with the Day-glo teeth. Her palms itched. Was it the cologne? she wondered.

“Rory Vermillion,” piped in Mimi, bringing her face into the huddle obtrusively. “Isn’t that a coincidence, we were just talking about you.” She was tapping her fingers on the bar and looking at them half-expectantly. Mimi cut an intrusive figure without much effort. Her hair bordered on schizophrenic, wavy and black and all over the place. The complexion was Irish but the eyes almond-shaped and Oriental. And her manner was brash. Smiling as if suddenly deciding they could be friends, she stuck out her hand. “Mimi O’Rourke, and my friend Anna Ortiz Kidd. We hear you’re interested in land Dove Creek way. Would you mind telling us why?”

“Nothing like getting right to the point,” thought Anna, regaining her composure and absently shaking Vermillion’s hand as she stared at the thin watch on his wrist. It was seven o’clock by his expensive timepiece. “Snap fucking out of it,” she lectured herself, using the kind of language that shocked her, especially when she used it on herself.

“You’ll have to excuse Mimi,” she articulated carefully. “She does like to get right to the point, doesn’t she.” She glared at Mimi with a warning look that said, “Let me do the talking.” Mimi gave them both a sweet and innocent smile, one of a thousand smile permutations calculated to manipulate whatever sundry occasions life dished out. She knew she was a piece of work. She knew they both were.

Meanwhile, Vermillion indulged the female personifications of night and day and drank the entire draft beer down, apparently relishing it, then ordered a scotch, a Black Label. Mimi nudged her friend. “Beer and Black Label,”  she hissed, “Could he be all bad?”

“What do I like about Dove Creek,” Vermillion began. “I really don’t know, that’s what surprises me. Normally I have an instant feeling and I know where it’s come from. Like my land in Montana: I got that sensation in my gut and I figured out it was because my father had rhapsodized about ranching up there the whole time i was growing up. Something clicked like a deja vu and I knew it would be right. But Dove Creek, that’s not at all the same. Dove Creek is mysterious and beautiful in its own lost way. I don’t know why I like it, and frankly I’m not sure about the investment.

“Now it’s my turn to ask you. You must, coincidentally, be the one Eddie mentioned to me. What’s your thing with Dove Creek Miss O’Rourke?”

As he said this, another cheer wafted to the ceiling for Max Lee Perdue. They had him on their shoulders and were passing him around. He seemed to have no bones in his body, and as they put him down, someone finally had the courtesy to place a cup of coffee in front of him. “Cream please,” he said weakly before passing out on the bar. A small group within the reveling group had made up the “Max Song'” and began singing it around him while the bartender made a quick scan on the place to see who could cart him home. They sang surprisingly well, and with harmonies — a story about Max inheriting money from Auntie Meridian. All to the tune of the Leave it to Beaver theme song.

Someone then volunteered to take him home, and in a drunken gesture of voluntary goodwill and a little pity, the folks had pitched in many dollars to help him recoup his loss. They didn’t have to do this, Max had offered; but the paper money was stuffed in his coat pockets like tokens of appreciation, some of it still sticking out. He looked like a scarecrow and about as alive.

And after he left, or was carried out, the party — including Mimi, Anna, and Rory, quickly died down, so that by eight o’clock the bartender was already drinking coffee and feeding the fire. He was nearly alone except of McGee Corleone and Betty Huffy who had come for Sambuca and a game of darts. In his heart, Chick Ludman the Thursday night bartender called it a night and slipped in an old Dave Brubeck tape, wondering how long he should wait until he added something potent to his coffee.