Dreaming of La Sal

A serial novel by Michelle Curry Wright

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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.


Chapter 2 – The Professor

“Dear Professor,” she had written,

“It’s been a difficult six months or so, as you might have guessed — since, well, here I am writing. Am I not having some crisis whenever you get a letter?”

She was seated at an antique schoolhouse desk in her turn of the century, slightly dilapidated rental house on Main Street. They’d put the desk in the kitchen as a place for all the spices to congregate, but Mimi had taken a shine to slipping into it, tipping her head down, and writing letters.
It was a drab day, par for fall off-season. Wind was up, temperature was in the dank 40’s somewhere, and the only places in town to hang were the bakeries (down to one) and the bars (seven). She preferred being home in the kitchen and indulging all the feelings the wind seemed to kick up inside her. She thought longingly about her roommate’s box of Malomars, as yet unopened — and about a bath in the old claw foot. She thought of trying to be a more relaxed version of herself, someone perfectly content to have a sweet, nothing-filled day. Instead, she was doing some kind of inky version of squirming on paper.
“Anyway,” her coffee was so strong, half the mug was filled with milk, “I’m getting older, but I don’t think smarter, not even smart enough to know I shouldn’t expect to get smarter. I kind of expected to hit a Blossom Year somewhere around now, where everything would become clearer and my path illuminated by neon arrows. It’s romantic, I know. EXCLAMATION POINT spelled out, because I know you hate the look of them on paper.
“Okay, so what, I’m a waitress, and I was one way before I met any of the venerated Tom Robbins characters. [Who is Tom Robbins, are you kidding me?] The money is good, the hours short, the pace quick, and the people, if not likable, are at least interesting in a fly-on-the-wall sort of way. I put expensive food and drink before them and they have their choice of treating me either like a servant, a savior, or an invisible presence. All three have their lessons.
How about a fourth Crown Royal, I’d like to hear myself say one day, so that the high altitude hangover you’re going to have tomorrow makes it a day you’ll never forget and most likely deserve?  Sadly, many of my best fantasies involve playing practical jokes on the meanies I wait on. Serve someone frozen peas. Hide their coats. Just. Amuse myself. Sigh. What has happened to me?
“I can’t imagine you in your thirties doing jobs like this. Didn’t you become a tenured professor in third grade? No, seriously. I would like to know if you’ve ever, ever, EVER done any kind of work that begs the questions of self-worth, self-direction, the role of the ego, the view of Earth from earthworm level. Have you ever typed for someone else, been at their disposal (even though you knew that by the force of some cosmic prank — or spank — you had been placed in the service of someone with half your wits.)
“Have you ever done anything that didn’t have to do with literature? Have you ever felt like one of the little people, the plebes, the prols, the workers of the world?” Mimi could feel herself ranting but couldn’t stop. She hoped she would bust into alliteration or some other dead giveaway that she and her pen had gone to a bad place, one without real feeling. It was too late.
“Don’t make me feel bad for your good fortune of knowing what you were good at. For one thing, let’s not forget that the subject here is me. And, as you probably suspected, I do have one very specific gripe right now.
“Call it old number 23, coming in slow and explosive, like a dirigible: What should I be doing with my life? It would seem such a vague and all-inclusive problem, but really it’s rather specific. I mean, should I learn how to fix shoes and fill that gaping hole in this tiny town? Should I become a bookkeeper? Should I take one of those real estate seminars and join ’em instead of berating them? Should I do videos on how to wait tables? I can see myself as many things — bricklayer, bartender, dancing girl. (Did you note the curious lack of white-collar jobs? A group of people whose ambitions elude me, whose habits stifle me, but whose educations are quite similar to my own.)
“Now I’ll tell you what I’ve learned in the last six months, or which cliché has begun ringing its chime in my ear non-stop. It’s all relative. Genius! Let me explain.
“When I was a kid, dad wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer or a military cadet. (I wanted to be Judd for the Defense, an early prototype of a species of television lawyers, actually.) The most mysterious form of person was — the realtor. I hardly knew what these people did, and confused the words reality and realty until the whole thing was just a big blur, with the purchase of houses somehow being the ultimate form of having touched down in Reality. What were Reality signs doing on people’s lawns? What did their gold jackets mean?
“One thing I already knew was I did not aspire to be one of them, reality or not: in fact, even salesman was a concept far removed from my family. (Yes, it’s a ridiculous view, but it’s the one I grew up with. I also grew up so biased against waitresses, the word wasn’t even in my vocabulary. We didn’t go out much, for one thing. We did buy much from salesmen, come to think of it. Imagine how far I’ve come on the roller skates of irony. And how many times I’ve fallen on my butt.)
“But now, the flip side of the coin is shining ever so brightly in my eyes, I’m beginning to think, “Hey. Maybe it’s all relative.” Here in this town, realtors own $45,000 cars and eat the four course meals I am asked to serve them. Here, realtors are living the high life, hint, hint. Here, for god’s sake, the ex-hippies are the realtors.
“I see a circle here, a very disturbing circle. These people are pre-e-e-e-tty well educated, some quite so (some burnt out and beyond education) who have become — in their weirdly earnest striving for more — the very people they threw rocks at during a generation they called the sixties. It’s all so relative!
“And just when you think you have pegged someone for a lowlife, a creep — well, a sneaky little thought comes back to haunt you: someone a couple rungs higher on the ladder of excellence is probably thinking the same about you. Time to bite your lip and stop thinking what you thought was right, right? Here’s the thing, though: it’s never that straightforward. The cad is still a cad. And in certain ways, you might be better than him. Hahaha. Haha. Ha.”
Mimi’s dog Nero was whining to go out into the miserable weather. In a sense, he was right: it was just weather. The air was still the air, the goodness of rain was still goodness. Why were people so picky about something they couldn’t change? Didn’t people all over Scotland and England just put on raincoats and walk and walk and walk and get smarter and smarter… just like she’d read in all that prose and poetry of the very people the professor had taught her to worship?
“A few minutes, babydog,” she said softly. “We can walk to the bakery and I’ll get a cruller and you’ll get the milk bone from my pocket. I can be just as good as a Scot, right?” Nero sat. Waited. In that stoic way he did when he knew there were good things ahead. It was a unique gift of his in the world of nervous and excitable labrador retrievers, his ability to hit pause. Mimi adored it. She was able to finish her letter this way.
“The final question?  The final question is, Should you aspire to broader all-is-relative type knowledge and watch your ego flounder, or should you invest in personality with a capital P, go for the style, be yourself and try to create a life that will, if nothing else, have amused and entertained the cosmic cocktail party in the sky? Or at least to have been cause for a raised eyebrows. I cannot but wonder what your answer would be to this question. You yourself have some measure of smarts and some visible humility in the face of true wisdom or genius. And yet you cling to your persona as if it alone is keeping you grounded in a world gone center-less.
“I really really want to believe that I am capable of meeting my own true genius. Ha! Maybe we all are.
“I know you won’t respond well to this particular view of my current self; and even though I wish you would, I understand why you can’t; it’s because you can’t bear to hear yourself sound patronizing and that’s would you would be. But you always sound patronizing, in some relative way: so: Go for it. There you go: two colons side-by-side in a single equation-like sentence.
“I liked your last bit of advice: try reading some Emerson and some Thoreau. I liked the advice because I like Emerson and Thoreau, not because of the way you said it. Don’t think I’m not aware of the self-consciousness of the father/mentor hyphen child/student type relationship. It makes me gag. Why don’t you try reading some Thoreau? Surprise someone and have a glitch that needs to be ironed out. Stumble a little. Trip on the zen rock of ridiculosity. Not a word! Written to disturb, to rap the professor on the head. Imagine me, presuming so much.
“I know that one cannot chit-chat in letters that are exchanged four times a year, but they’re all such big questions, the other ones. What is after waitressing? What is after 35? Can I slink out of my genes and become a different and better model of what I am? Will I leave the valley of the shadow of reality? Or the shadow of realty itself, for that matter. Will I meet the man of my daydreams? Is it all relative or is this too somehow just a study in comparison? And. When will the next cliché come sliding in to home plate?
“Don’t you ever have big questions anymore? Isn’t it hip to search your soul? Or at some age, do you simply start getting it? Please be specific in your next letter.”
She re-read her letter and took the last swig of coffee. She thought about building a fire after her cruller and the brave walk amid the elements. And though in much finer spirits now and less inclined to go on about her problems, she felt it would not be lying to send the missive. To it, she added:
“This weekend I drove out Dove Creek way again out, there into the deserts of the Colorado Plateau, just because it’s drawing me to it in visceral and mysterious ways I don’t want to fight.  I get in the truck and I can’t wait to get to this landscape which imprints itself on the back of my brain and makes me feel as though I am one with it. There, I feel I am directing an epic movie where the landscape is the movie, and all I have to do is be still and let my hair lash against my lips from the wind. There I feel things are still free, including myself, and that living things are roused from their sleep by the regularity of the sun and limitlessness of time. It is all wind and grasses and rock, the deep-ness of the sky, the light and heat-treated colors of amber and grey-blue and dust, if dust could be called a color.
“This time I had an extraordinary experience there, of the supernatural variety (and here’s where you may come in). I saw my life sort of flash before my eyes, and felt it was my destiny to buy the old La Sal Junction Café, to restore it, and to serve beans there (which are grown in the immediate vicinity). I will be needing some investors: are you interested? I’m being perfectly serious.
Yours truly,
With the silent final stroke of the i and two dots, Nero started wagging his tail. How did he know these things??? Mimi folded the six page letter, written on yellow lined paper, and weighed it in her hand. It was embarrassingly voluminous. Embarrassingly private. Embarrassingly too much for the receiver. With her mouth set in a frown, she nevertheless creased it over and over on the kitchen counter, to further flatten it, found a used envelope in her pile of used envelopes, and shoved it in.
“Almost there,” she said to her dog. “I’m doing that thing I do.” She taped up the top with one long strip of tape, and then reached into the junk drawer for her stash of bits of blank paper.  On a receipt from the hardware store, she wrote his name and address in red magic marker and taped it to the envelope. She wrote her name big, no address, over the last return address, which said Bank of Telluride. She took out her rubber stamp of Daffy Duck and the ink pad and stamped the front of the envelope once very hard. Baboom.
“Good to go,” she said to her dog who had begun to jump up and down near the coat rack. “It’s a three stamper; but do I look like I care?”

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Chapter 1 – A bag of beans

A turquoise pick-up screeches to a halt in the middle of nowhere.

Insert a Utah desert landscape at the crack of 4 pm on a medium warm April day. Insert dust puffing up at the wheels. Insert a long pause before anything in the frame starts to move besides the settling of fine, dry dirt that pauses like fairy glitter in the air.

Some people say there are only two kinds of stories in the world, the arriving kind and the leaving kind. Some people say there are a lot more but then the first people will tell you they’re only versions of Coming and Going. So, what is it when you have a woman on sort of a journey who then arrives in sort of a town?  A story with many potential outcomes? Sure. But eventually, inevitably, only one.

Nero, the black dog sitting on the passenger side, slammed into window as Mimi yanked at the emergency brake. She cranked down her own window and bit at her lip. “Tell me why,” she turned to her dog, “it has taken me this long to stop the car, get out, and have a look around?”

The dog, nose twitching with an in-swell of air, turned toward the steering wheel, and then, in a signature move, managed to launch from Mimi’s belly right out the fully open window. Mimi, never quite used to this move, tightened her abdominal muscles just in time and thought of dogs through windows, which is what she thought of every time her dog did this and often even when he wasn’t. Dogs through windows. Some people had lucky numbers, some people had baseball caps; Mimi had the image of canine enthusiasm leaping through a portal to freedom.

The breeze, a dry but flavorful gift, caught Nero’s nose and he stopped just long enough to inhale it in from every direction. Not exactly desert, Mimi thought, breathing in deeply herself, but deliciously close. It was what: a smell of dry plants – juniper, pinion pine, desert sage – coming together into something mystical, something magical, something holding ever-so-much promise.

Can I be the landscape’s pilgrim? Mimi wondered. Pilgrims had a purpose in life, and she yearned to think of herself as a girl with a plan, a mission Pilgrims, she thought, were able to turn life into something bigger than it sometimes seemed.

A sigh escaped her lips and lungs before she could articulate what it was she felt. “La Sal Junction. A little bit of heaven in a big-ass place.”

She opened her door and hopped down, dirt puffing at her boots. They were the Redwings she’d picked up at a second hand store for five bucks, already worn to perfection and just her size. These boots were her glass slippers, her red shoes, maybe not bound for glory but bound for adventure, with toes tough enough to kick any dirt clod into submission. “Many times have I passed you by, La Sal. But not this time. Right, Nero?” The dog, eager to explore, had already disappeared.

The southeastern chunk of the state of Utah lay quiet as a babe in the cradle of the Four Corners of Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Here on the Colorado Plateau – an expanse of cliffs and canyons and mesas created by the Colorado River and nearly as big as all of California – life for the most part rolled on as silently as the river. Occasional cottonwoods near the water continued to bend and bow; lizards continued to scuttle; and cactuses continued to bloom in silent and thorny glory, if anyone cared enough to stop and take a good, long, and appreciative look.

Here before you, was survival. Things survived grittily — but with a grace that seemed far more indicative of mastery than anything civilization had to offer. Time was kept in a simple, straightforward way, by layers upon layers in the thousand-foot cliffs, with a thread of river slicing right through 150 million years, give or take a few hundred K.

And on the verge of the plateau, right across the Utah border but not far from Dove Creek, Colorado – known locally as the pinto bean capital of the world, as chance would have it – stood an ex-outpost of sorts called La Sal Junction, junction referring to a rather minimalist meeting of paths, where a more or less minor road veered off the endless flat black ribbon on highway that was Utah 252. Like a comb pulled right down the middle of a head of root-showing bottle-blond hair, 252 parted the landscape. On either side, the look was the same: sort of flat, sort of hilly, plenty vast, and gut-wrenchingly tender.

Picture it in 1986. In the movie version, there’d be an old Ford Bronco on blocks in the distance. Your soundtrack would be Delbert McClinton, “I Got Dreams to Remember.” Or, no: maybe a lonesome cowboy would be sitting there picking out a tune on his J-45 Gibson that his daddy who’d long been gone had left him (but without any indication of the note he’d tacked to the inside of it for his son to find).

The camera would pan slowly around the aimless land and settle briefly on the distant La Sal Mountains, a small lavender grouping plunked onto a plain, and then the camera would somehow indicate a sky so open and vulnerable that kneeling down to it might not seem so ridiculously far off the mark.

The clouds, alive like genies sprung from bottles, now cast time-lapse shadows over the sprawl of earth. Mimi dropped her shoulders and let herself fall in love. Here at La Sal Junction, amongst the ruin, were the three most beautiful buildings she had ever seen. Naturally, they were abandoned – her favorite kind. Three white structures trimmed in red, a gas pump outside one of them, a faded CAFÉ & GARAGE etched on one of the others that gave you a feeling of things having once been. Of needing to be again. They gave you a delicious terminal feeling of roadside attraction.

The buildings stood alone at this junction, with nothing in view for miles but the tar-studded road, the distant mountains, the less distant cliffs, and the raging trout-blue sky. The wind blew and the dust obliged, and at this very point in time, Mimi and Nero, who had circled back, stood actively still and felt the landscape wash over them like some grand and faded, heavily gold-gilded framed painting, dry grasses porcupining the earth, trembling and flashing mustard yellow, and tumbleweed flying across the dustscape in small, hell-bent herds. God, it was spectacular.

This was a land that, though vast in tragic proportion, made perfect sense to Mimi. A dog could run free until, humbled by the greater freedom of the wind and the grass and sky, he’d finally slow down, way down, then on his own come to a complete halt. A person, looking around with all the expectation of someone just given the secret of life itself, would oxymoronically then feel miniscule and yet at peace. There was something about the subtle movements of parched flats meeting windgate sandstone cliffs at 90 degree angles. Something so alpha-and-omega about it, it leveled Mimi every time.

At least a dozen times the two pilgrims had passed this lonely junction on their way to Moab, incipient desert bicycling Mecca and home of the arches and spires of its nearby National Parks. Right now, the two of them were on their way back to Telluride, a very small and undiscovered ski resort, elevation 8,700 feet  and set in a box canyon at the end of another road. Mimi’s thoughts were not of home, her home in the mountains, not the next set of skis she would buy (Olins), or the next book she would put on the top of her stack (Still Life with Woodpecker), but of this monument to lonesome diners passing through once upon a better time.

“I could actually see myself here,” she thought, sky pressing down upon her. “Because, for one thing, every single thing about it stirs me.”

Mimi called to her dog, in part simply to break the silence. He had gone off again, and relocated himself, with paws perched, on one of the windowsills of the middle building, the biggest of the three, where he held his position, tail wagging furiously, nosing or eyeballing whatever it was he saw inside. She kicked up some dust and walked over to the window, inserting herself alongside him so she could squint through cupped hands into an open patch in the soaped-up glass.

The inside of the room was rimmed with dust, but Mimi, adjusting her view, immediately felt the stirrings of a story. She elbowed more of the dirt from the window, and scanned. A table in the middle of he room with a lamp hanging low at its center. Two chairs set up on either sides of the table. An old bandana and some tools next to a steel thermos. “Really?” she thought. It was as if a trap had been set for her. An enticement, a farfetched lure. A page from a J. Peterman catalog.

The windows, soaped and dusty and speckled with mud, let in just enough watery light to bring most everything into view, including – there it was — the object of Nero’s rapt attention: a small pack rat (known also as a desert rat) perched on another table in the far corner of the room. The creature, which seemed to be sniffing at something, was fingering it delicately.

“Hey,” Mimi called, surprising even herself by rapping on the window. “Hey, beat it! What do you think you’re doing?”

Petrified, the creature dropped whatever it was holding and all but dissipated into thin air; and Mimi, heartened by her power, began a circumnavigation of the building to get to the nearest door, which presented itself at the southwest, a study in layers of white paint with a bent and blackened knob hanging from it. Nero sniffed intently at the cracks while Mimi worked at budging the thing with her knee and shoulder. Back entrance, side entrance? Finally the door heaved open enough for Mimi and her dog to spill in sideways.

The room’s smelled of too many things to enumerate – of old wood and tar, of oil, and crackly paper, and dust, and nuts and bolts. To Mimi, it smelled also of dreams, a smell coating other smells and sealing them somehow. Mimi knew the smell –of activity and time and history and mildew. She filled her lungs and felt a pang of nostalgia so sharp she nearly buckled with a sudden memory of a cellar in her family home, damp, and redolent of potatoes, apples, firewood, grease, and stories. Where did it all go, this energy of pangs and desire and heartbreak and life being having been lived and then poof being gone?

Nero, sniffing out the hole that had served as the pack rat’s escape hatch, barked stridently and with increasing frustration. “Oh please,” Mimi scolded. “You’ll never catch that rat. He’s not going to come prancing out just so you can gnaw on his fleshy midriff for a while–”

Mimi liked talking to her dog and felt they both took comfort in it – even if she only indulged lengthy conversations once safely out of earshot of other humans. She was about to reach over and grab him by the collar when she stopped dead in her tracks, riveted by something on the table to her right. There, exactly where the packrat had sat fiddling with something, was a small burlap bag.

It stood out like a sore thumb. It wasn’t old, and it wasn’t dusty. It was fresh.

She picked it up and squeezed it, staring at the print on its outside. It was a little bag of Anasazi beans, packaged for the supermarket and sold as gourmet beans there. She had bought Anasazi beans herself many times, for if there was such a thing as “local food,” this would have been it. Beans the Anasazi might well have harvested themselves a thousand years earlier – now packaged fetchingly in a small burlap bag by Dove Creek Bean just down the road.

No, there wasn’t any way this bag, sitting on the tale, had been there very long. In fact, it practically vibrated with newness in this otherwise old and dust-filled room, like a glowing orb in the dark. It had energy that Mimi could feel in the palm of her hand.

She looked over her shoulder, wondering if she was truly alone. The dust on the table had not been moved. The room did not look as if it had been entered in years. Slowly turning, she circled herself like a dog chasing its tail. “Have I intruded,” she asked her dog, “or am I supposed to be here?” The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. And though the wind howled, indifferent to woman, to nature, to the vulnerability of the building – and though the screen door fussed and loose parts flapped – not a thing inside moved or made a sound.

Mimi sat down slowly and carefully on an old crate, aware of puncturing the membrane of dust that coated the room like plastic, and crossed her arms. And there she waited, as if someone had told her not to move until an idea came her way. With the bag of beans as her totem, she slipped into meditation and daydream.

What did she look like, sitting there, far from the vanities and poses of everyday life? Her face, relaxed like someone had just massaged it, was flush with blood. Her long and wavy black hair was pulled away from her face, but strands cast shadows across her nose, her left cheek. The shyest of smiles played on her lips with no hint of its either staying or vanishing. She almost seemed at home in the world.

Half an hour later, absorbed in nothing at all but completely and utterly absorbed by it, she returned to consciousness, eyes refocusing on the close at hand from the far away. Nero, who had gone outside, lay still in the dust, alert and watchful with an upright head. Together it seemed, they’d kept a vigil and waited for that idea, that notion that had so evidently been left for the two of them to encounter.

And after succumbing to the feeling of having to let go, to give in to the greater forces of the snow-melting river of life, a curious thing happened to Mimi O’Rourke. She felt that she knew her destiny and that it lay in her lap like a gift, only thinly wrapped in the tissue paper of her own limitations. In this state of mind, she could easily feel and see her future as the wrapping fell away. She knew what was to be. She did. She felt it in her bones. And transfixed by this unbearable power coursing through her, she was overcome. It was simply too much.

Her left boot, smack dap in her line of sight, became the new object of her focus. Boots and where they lived in her mudroom. Next to her Reeboks. Which were next to her flip flops. Which were next to a box of socks, which was her signature mudroom move and that other friends had copied. She felt herself come back to the world, the world of flesh and blood, friends and job, the world of small town politics and coffee and the occasional glass of whiskey.  Back in her body, she cracked a grin so big the whole landscape had to step aside for it to fit into the space provided.

She reached for the satchel of brown and white spotted beans and scooped it up swiftly, clutching it to her chest like a bag of gold nugget.

“Beans!” she said with such glee and exuberance, her dog hoisted himself up and barked. “Get in the car, Nee,” she said, “we’re going home–”

Infected with her infectiousness, the dog’s tail began to wag and he bounded to the door of the turquoise pickup, hopped in and settled himself quickly, face forward in the passenger seat like a sphinx, looking dead ahead to that far point on the horizon that only dogs can really see.

(click HERE for accompanying backstory chapter)