Chapter One
My first conscious thought on Saturday morning, October 16th was how incredibly comfortable I was. The king-sized bed I occupied was larger than what I was used to, the featherbed underneath me was heavenly, and my cotton tank top and yoga pants were as cozy as could be. Plus, and this was the best part, I was not alone. Snoring softly beside me was Geoffrey Ernest Petersen Geoff. My new husband. And this was my first morning of married life.
I stretched enthusiastically, then determined not to wake my sleeping swain, I slowly, subtly lifted off my side of the covers and slinked down my side of the mattress. I happily slid my feet into a well-worn pair of shearling moccasins and headed for our sparkling new kitchen, shutting the bedroom door behind me.
Geoff had built the kitchen. In fact, he had built the whole house. It was a tradition in his family for each man to build a house for his wife, which was a bit odd in this day and age because Geoff's father John was the founder of the Petersen Publishing empire. There was no need, at least not financially, for Geoff to build me a house. But he felt a need to do it, as a member of his family, and I was more than happy to accept this gift. I looked around at the polished oak cabinets, the hand-carved scalloping, the carefully laid tiles and floorboards.
Carefully laid, I thought to myself. Heh. I was somewhat giddy the morning after our wedding, and, as always, prone to bad puns. As I filled my coffee carafe with cold water and scooped fresh free-trade Nicaraguan beans from a ceramic canister, I thought about the wedding the night before. It had been marvelous. The wedding, held not so coincidentally on my 45
th birthday, had taken place on the shores of Lake Michigan, performed by Louisa, a friend of the family and Unitarian minister. The reception, held at Del Lago, a rather fancy restaurant positioned right up against the water, had been a real success.
Our guests were very close friends and family only. Mom and Dad were there, and of course Geoff's parents John and Lily were present. About a dozen siblings and good pals filled out the rest of the guest list. We feasted on prime rib, lasagna, garlic mashed potatoes and a delicious chocolate mousse cake covered in white chocolate and molded into the shape of a rocket at the moment of launch.
Angela, one of my colleagues in the anthropology department where I teach had giggled to me over a glass of champagne, "My, my, my, Dora! What would the Freudian cognitivists say about this cake! Or the symbolists. I've never seen a pastry that's quite so phallic!" I punched her in the arm but I was pretty happy. Phallic symbols at a wedding aren't necessarily a bad thing. And as a 45-year-old bride with a 50-year-old groom, I thought a phallic cake made out of chocolate sounded like more fun than Viagra. I smiled to myself in the kitchen and turned on the coffee grinder oh, hell! The grinder! It made noise!
Not unexpectedly, I heard a soft groan from the direction of the bedroom. My groom was stirring. I hit the coffee maker's on button and listened for more sounds from Geoff. He might go back to sleep, which would be good because we had a long day in front of us. As I settled in to wait for the coffee to finish or Geoff to come out to the kitchen, whichever came first, I thought again about the wedding. It had been so nice. About the only thing that had gone wrong was that Bella and Chris had cancelled on us when Chris fell unexpectedly ill that morning.
Bella was Bella Stuart, an old flame of my new husband. They had attended the University of North Dakota together, both enrolled in the Master of Space Studies program the school offered. Geoff had gone on to work for NASA as a historian and Belle had taken over as director of the Clarksville "Airquarium," an air and space museum in Michigan known for its rather dorky name and rather amazing collection of old planes.
Bella, who was something of an aviatrix herself, was the perfect choice to run the place. Her mother, a Russian dancer who had defected during the 1960s, had married an American pilot, and Bella grew up in a family where aviation, art, scholarship and creativity were all highly prized. She was a gorgeous woman too. In her late 40s, her hair was all loose blonde ringlets and her eyes were amazing, slightly slanted gray sparks. She had flown in aerobatics competitions, spoke Russian and Japanese fluently, and handled all the repairs on her car. She was also skinny and tall. To be honest, I sort of hated the bitch.
Next to Bella, I felt short, dumpy and dull. My hair is a wavy, mousy brown, my eyes are about the same color and I'm barely 5'5" on my tiptoes. And I'm not skinny. I fretted as I thought about the "Trip to Russia," a fabled voyage Geoff had taken with Bella before we met. It had been a group tour arranged for space travel fanatics to Moscow, the cosmonaut training facility in Star City and other locations associated with the Soviet (now Russian) space program. They had a marvelous time and to this day joked about the strange foods and exotic items for sale in some mysterious flea market.
I'd never been to Russia and I didn't speak Russian or Japanese. French, sure. I did my doctoral research in France. I spoke some Spanish. But those were Romance languages. Latin-based, basic, very simple. They were useful lots of people the world over spoke them and along with English I could communicate with lots of different people. Still Russian seemed more prestigious to me. It was rarer. And when exotic languages were combined with a tall blonde who knew her way around a cockpit, well
Phoo. I was only making myself unhappy. So what if I'd never flown a plane? Geoff hadn't married Bella, he'd married me, right? She broke things off years ago and Geoff had recovered just fine. I was married to Geoff and Bella was married to Chris.
Chris Montgomery. Chris was a nice guy, tall, with a reddish beard and a sometimes wicked smile. He was about six feet tall (making him a couple of inches shorter than Geoff) and had a thin runner's body. He was a freelance journalist with a strong idealistic streak and seemed to be growing more idealistic over time. The latest target of his sharp pen was Burronton Industries, the energy giant whose control of much of the nation's oil supply made them a frightening adversary. Lately they were looking into hydrogen cells, solar and wind energy, every possible form of energy that was out there. I thought it was rather progressive of them, but Chris thought it was suspicious. An oil monopoly was one thing, but a full-bore energy monopoly was just scary.
Anyway, Chris had fallen ill the morning of our wedding, and Geoff had received an apologetic call from Bella. Chris was feeling very sick, too sick to come out to the wedding, but he'd be all right. She wanted to stay home and keep an eye on him, which was perfectly reasonable under the circumstances. Geoff was disappointed. He told me he had especially wanted to hear Bella's toast. I felt bad for Chris but breathed a sigh of relief for myself. With Bella absent I was able to feel like the bride, not worry about competing with my husband's glamorous ex.
"Dora? Where's my bride?" called Geoff from across the house. I grinned and slid my way across the hardwood floor in my slippers.
"Do I hear the dulcet tones of my groom?"
"Darling! The day after my wedding and I wake up alone?"
I flung open the bedroom door and saw my sweet Geoff, sitting up in bed with his sandy hair in complete disarray and a big grin on his face. His glasses were on the table beside him and his green eyes gleamed.
"Come here," he commanded, extending an arm toward me. I giggled and held back.
"What is this?" I exclaimed, "Some kind of romance novel? 'Come here!'" I repeated, mocking him.
"Okay, then don't come here. I don't care. It's just that our flight doesn't leave until noon and it's .um only 9:15 right now," he said, squinting at the bedside clock.
"Yes, that's true," I agreed. "But whatever might you have in mind?" He didn't answer. He just looked at me, all innocence. Sensing no danger, no guile, I sat on the end of the bed. I looked back at him, reflecting his innocent gaze. He lunged at me.
"Hey!" I screamed, breaking into giggles. I swear, you would have thought we were in our twenties instead of the mature, ripe individuals we really were. I gave up resisting and let myself be pulled into his arms, where I received dozens of little kisses, then some bigger kisses, then some signs of affection that I don't care to share with the general public.
Later, while Geoff was in the shower, I got back to my coffee. It had been sitting there for more than an hour, but I figured with enough sweetener and milk I'd never notice the difference. I read the paper and drank my coffee and decided that being a wife was something I could get used to.
Geoff came out to the kitchen then in a ridiculously colorful robe I'd once gotten him on sale. He sniffed the air.
"That coffee smells wonderful," he said. "Too bad it tastes awful. Have we got any tea in the house?"
"Yes, darling. I made sure that blueberry stuff you like so well was stocked in our new kitchen. I can't let my husband go without his favorite tea now, can I?"
Geoff made his tea as I scanned the classified ads in the paper, looking for retail space. One of Geoff's dreams that we had planned to pursue after the wedding was to put together our own tea shop/caf /bookstore. We even had a name for it: Sucha Teas. As in "You're such a tease, honey!" It was a private joke that had become a mantra and a deep personal desire. We had a site chosen for it, but I was mildly obsessed with looking at alternative sites, just to make sure we hadn't paid too much. Part of our honeymoon was going to be spent looking for textiles, paintings, knickknacks and furniture that would give our little shop a unique look in west Michigan.
The morning sped by, we got ready to go, and soon we were on the way to the airport. I was really excited to visit New Mexico again. I had done some research there in graduate school, specifically at a Catholic shrine town known as Chimay . Chimay was the site of an important pilgrimage, miraculous healings and dirt, which like the more famous water of Lourdes, was believed to have certain healing powers. I had a good friend at Chimay too, Madeline Burroughs, whom I was hoping to see. I'd also heard rumors that David Kim, a former professor of mine who had served on my doctoral committee was living somewhere in New Mexico. He'd retired and sort of gone incommunicado so I wasn't sure
where he was, but I was hoping to be able to track him down somehow once we arrived.
Our check-in went smoothly and I thought about how this might be the last time I traveled under my maiden, unhyphenated name, Dora Summers. I didn't change my name to Petersen, I hyphenated, and would be legally Dora Summers-Petersen as soon as I arranged for all the legal name change stuff after our trip. I planned to use Summers professionally, though, since I had published pretty extensively under that name. My license and plane ticket still said Dora Summers and I felt somewhat wistful about the upcoming change.
The Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids is a pretty small place, making it really convenient when traveling. This time, however, there was a bump. As we headed to security an older lady sitting on a stool asked to see our identification cards and boarding passes. No problem. She waved Geoff through, but hesitated after looking at my ID.
"Uh, Miss, your license is expired."
"What? No, it can't be, I just updated the registration last week!"
"Did they give you any documentation about your license?"
"No, maybe, I don't know!" I began to panic. I could see that the expiration date on the license was my birthday, October 15th the day we were married. The day before right now. I was traveling with a license that had been expired for one day. The lady saw the concern on my face.
"We can still let you travel, you'll just have to go through extra security measures for the rest of your trip. Keep that in mind." She made a mark of some kind on my boarding pass and sent me through. As she had said, I found myself subjected to the wand and the pat down and to a search of my luggage. I didn't mind any of that; what bothered me was the knowledge that here we were, embarking on a driving trip to New Mexico that would involve covering hundreds of miles and I wouldn't be able to legally drive! And if that weren't bad enough, I began to fantasize about being trapped in New Mexico by vigilant security guards at the Albuquerque Sunport who would refuse to let me board a plane with an expired license.
Geoff could see my mind going he always can and tried to comfort me.
"So you won't be able to drive. That's not the end of the world. And it's still an identification card. It doesn't stop being a legal form of identification just because it's expired."
"It doesn't? Oh my God, I can't believe I didn't realize it was expiring. They didn't send me anything. I didn't know!"
"I know, Honey, I know. But this is good, right? You would have had to pay to renew it and then pay again after the wedding to change your name. This way you can do it all in one step." He was right, but I was still nervous. I felt like I was involved in some kind of shady activity, flying with an expired driver's license. Perhaps the stress from the wedding was finally making me crack.
The flights themselves were uneventful, and after a change of planes in Dallas we landed in Albuquerque on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. We picked up a Prius at the rental agency then drove across the majestic vistas that formed the route from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. After checking into our room at La Fonda we took a driving tour of Santa Fe and finally settled into an early dinner at La Plazuela, the restaurant at La Fonda that I remembered most from my graduate school days. The dining room was inside the hotel but completely encircled by painted panes of glass depicting birds, flowers, and abstract designs. The middle of the restaurant featured trees bedecked with tiny shimmering lights.
Geoff and I fell into bed that evening, exhausted but in a great mood, our bellies stuffed with enchiladas, tacos and sopaipillas (as well as servings of flan and tres leches that we absolutely did not need).
The next morning was bright and sunny. New Mexico seems to receive more than its fair share of light, especially the high-altitude regions like Santa Fe where the atmosphere itself is daringly thin and oxygen is noticeably lacking. I got the coffee maker in the room going while Geoff showered and soon we were on the road again, this time to Jackalope on Cerillos Road.
Cerillos Road is the main commercial road that runs through Santa Fe and Jackalope, a retail establishment named for a mythological rabbit with deer antlers, is the strangest combination of a flea market and imports shop that I've ever seen. Almost everything a person can imagine is for sale at Jackalope, from Ecuadorian knitwear to Pakistani baskets to southwestern CDs and enormous Oriental rugs. Geoff had never been to Jackalope and he was a bit unsure about it at first.
"So, what We go into these stores?"
"Yeah!" I responded. "Or we can wander around the displays here in the center oh wow, look at those pumpkins!" Several tables were almost literally spilling over with gorgeous glass-blown pumpkins in various sizes, most of them four to six inches across. Lots of them were bright orange with green stems, but many of the whimsical squashes were blue or green or brown or odd iridescent shades that were hard to classify. A workshop stood to one side under a sort of porch, and we could see the craftsman working the glass and adding to the hundreds of pumpkins on display.
Now the main purpose of this trip to Jackalope was, at least according to what I'd told Geoff, to acquire some decorations for the shop. But I hadn't been entirely truthful. I also wanted to visit because of a sense of nostalgia for my younger days and because the center of the compound contained a genuine prairie dog colony.
This is hard to explain to anyone without an anthropological background, but some of us in the field are inexplicably drawn to any creature with a complicated social system. Prairie dogs fit into this classification. Like their distant cousins the meerkats of South Africa, prairie dogs live in a complex system of tunnels, care for each other's young as babysitters, and maintain lookouts to protect the safety of the group from predators. I study religion and pilgrimages and sacred spaces and I'm fairly certain that these concepts don't apply to prairie dogs, but it's still a draw for me to see how they interact, communicate, and so on. Today they'd been given a huge pile of green hay and they were gathered around it in a circle, happily eating it, and sometimes carting it off into the tunnels, presumably to provide food for later and/or line their burrows. Geoff insisted they looked like giant gerbils, but he agreed they were cute and humored me until I was ready to move on to the shopping portion of our expedition.
Shopping! One of the reasons that God created Santa Fe, I have no doubt. Geoff had brought a floor plan of the shop with him. The largest portion of the store would be filled with books, of course, probably both used books and new books from less well-known publishers as well as books from Petersen Publishing. A side section would feature a caf as well as canisters of coffee beans and tea leaves. We wanted people to be able to buy a book or magazine, a cup of fine tea, and to relax in a casual atmosphere that would take them away from Michigan's perennially snowy falls, winters and springs. We figured the antithesis of the great white north was the warmth and character of the southwest, which is one of the reasons we chose Santa Fe for our honeymoon. That being said, I was an anthropologist and having multiple cultures represented was important to me. An imports shop that featured a lot of southwestern style, then, was an ideal place to make some purchases.
We ended up buying a few chili ristras, both the real dried ones and a few of the ceramic ones. They could be placed around the counter in the caf area to give it a warm feel. Geoff fell in love with the Oaxacan carvings. Artists in Oaxaca are famous for their wooden carvings of fanciful animals, often in very bright blues, pinks and purples. Often the figures will have removable or interchangeable antlers, horns, ears or even wings. We thought a few of those on top of the higher bookshelves would attract the attention of our clients and get them to look up to the tops of the bookcases when they might not otherwise do so. And although they were seasonal, I picked out about a dozen of the pretty pumpkins in orange and green because, frankly, I just couldn't resist.
After arranging to have our purchases shipped back to Michigan we hit the road to accomplish one of the major goals of the trip: a visit to Los Alamos. As a space historian, Geoff was especially interested in the site's past as the location where a group of scientists spent the last part of World War Two working out the details of the first atomic bombs. It was called the Manhattan Project. A lot of the technology invented at Los Alamos turned out to be essential for the development of the American space program, and knowing that figures like Robert Oppenheimer were actually there made the place very appealing to Geoff. He was very excited as we made the drive out to Los Alamos, passing amazingly beautiful mesas that looked almost pink in the full light of day. He had another reason for wanting to make the trip.
"I can't wait to see Wayne! It's been over a year." Geoff exclaimed.
"You told me but I can't remember why couldn't he make it to our wedding? He's one of your closest friends, right?"
"Yeah, the times we spent together when we were both at NASA were legendary. Well, actually the stories he tells are legendary reality is somewhat less impressive. Still, he's a good guy. Funny. But he's been weird lately. Distracted."
"Distracted? What do you mean?"
"I don't know. Well, back in August he said he was going to come to the wedding "
"Yes, I remember that. He even sent back his RSVP. And then he cancelled, what, the week before? That wasn't cool," I growled.
"Yeah, it was weird. He said something came up at work, something he couldn't miss. He sounded upset, but sometimes those things happen. He's a really good guy."
"Well, at least we'll get to see him today," I said, smiling. "I've been wanting to meet him. What time are we supposed to go to his office?" I was looking forward to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Los Alamos laboratories, and Geoff had always described Wayne as a funny, interesting guy. Geeky, but interested in popular culture and very charming.
"Oh, it doesn't matter. We'll just go. I think I'd told him we'd call when we got into town."
"Wait, isn't he expecting us?" I began to worry, like I always do. "We can't just waltz into a national laboratory without an invitation. Are you sure he'll be around?" Geoff turned to me, the pink rock and pale sand of the landscape behind him setting off his green eyes.
"Sweetie, this is my friend. There's nothing to worry about."
Chapter Two
We worked our way up the steep hills of Highway 502 and onto Central Avenue, Los Alamos' main strip. Geoff pulled the car into the parking lot of the Bradbury Museum.
"I've always wanted to see this," he said. "I'll give Wayne a call and tell him we're in town. I'm sure he's expecting to hear from us." He looked the museum up and down and then turned to me, a boyish half-smile on his face.
"Sweetie, you've been here before. Was it named after Ray Bradbury, the science fiction author?"
"I don't know! Good question. Hey, I bet Wayne would know. Why don't you call him now?" Geoff punched out the number on his cell phone and waited a moment.
"Hi ,could I speak to Wayne Whedon please? Yes. Oh. Really? Because Oh, I see. Well, when would be a good time He really said no calls at all? Then I'd like to leave a " Geoff pressed the "end" button on his phone and looked at me, all hurt, shock and surprise.
"They said he's not taking calls. Any calls. That's really weird, especially when he knew we'd be in town. It's not like him."
"Love, I'm sorry. I'm sure there's just some mix-up. We'll try him again later. What did you want to do now?" Geoff slid his cell phone into his pocket and opened the door to the car.
"Well, we're at the Bradbury Museum. We might as well see it!"
The Bradbury Science Museum was created in 1963 to serve as a link between the general public and the secret and not-so-secret goings on at the Los Alamos National Laboratories. Most of the museum's focus is on the role Los Alamos played in the creation of the atomic bomb in the 1940s, although some parts of it, such as the section devoted to research, consider current areas of study like the human genome project, environmental monitoring, and space research. For a history and technology geek like Geoff, the museum was going to be fascinating. For me the creation of a secret, artificial and temporary community during a major war was the interesting topic, and all the hardware was secondary.
We got to the museum just as one of its educational films was beginning in a small auditorium that smelled strongly of pizza. We wondered whether we'd just missed a field trip group or private party. The film provided a history of the Manhattan Project and contained old film clips and archival footage from the time. It was a bit choppy in terms of editing, but it really put me in the mood to discover the rest of the museum. Who had these scientists been? What was it like to have to keep your address secret and self-censor all your correspondence back home? As a new wife, I was also curious about the lives of the women at Los Alamos. They had been encouraged to contribute their brains and brawn to the project, but it must have been strange indeed to give birth, raise families and live lives as close to ordinary as possible in a hush-hush camp high up in the southern end of the Rocky Mountains.
After the movie we explored the history section of the museum and one of our great mysteries was solved.
"Honey, did you see this letter?" I asked Geoff. He came over and took a look. It was a letter written from science fiction author Ray Bradbury to the Los Alamos Labs' second director, Norris Bradbury. In it, the author good-naturedly noted that any possible blood relationship between the two men would be hard to prove or disprove, but at least they had the same goal in mind advancing technology. Ray told Norris in the letter that while Norris worked with the actual scientific advances, Ray was on the other side, encouraging interest in Norris' future employees.
We also toured the museum's technology section, which included displays about radioactivity and human genetics, and the defense area, which I'm sure was Geoff's favorite part. Models of the atom bombs known as Fat Man and Little Boy were on display and the whole area, which took up nearly a third of the museum's total space, contained artifacts relating to WWII and Cold War technology.
On our way out of the museum we saw a sign indicating that there was a van tour of Los Alamos available for a very reasonable fee. "Tour the Atomic City!" encouraged the sign in large, cheerful lettering. I pointed it out to Geoff.
"Damn, we missed it," he complained. "It left at 1:30pm. That would have been cool."
"Why don't we keep it as a possibility for later in the week?" I suggested. We can always come back if you like."
There was a bookstore next door to the museum and we decided to take a gander. It was a lot like an ordinary bookstore, save the extra-large section on science and technology. I browsed through some of the Richard Feynman books while Geoff began collecting a pretty good stack of cold war-themed tomes.
"Any of those ours, Geoff?" I queried?
"Huh? They're all ours, or will be after I buy them. Oh, no. You mean, are they published by Petersen? No, no. Most of them are put out by local presses here in New Mexico. Which is why this is a good place to get them. If I like them, I'll put them in Sucha Teas, though. I think we should have a really big science section, don't you?"
"Of course, darling, I would expect nothing less!" I grinned.
When we got back to the car, Geoff decided to try to reach Wayne one more time. Just like his previous attempt, this one led to no contact with Wayne and no information about why this contact was impossible. I asked Geoff if he had a number for Wayne besides his work number.
"No, actually," he replied. "Which is sort of stupid because for all I know he could be doing research somewhere else in the state. The last time I tried his cell phone it was no longer his number. He had to change it a few months ago because he said he'd been getting some harassing calls."
"Harassing calls? Who would harass him?"
"He didn't say. I wondered if it was his ex-girlfriend Janey or something. The two of them were an item for quite a few years and it ended sometime back in the spring, I think. Maybe he ended it and she wasn't in agreement."
"Ah, the travails of dating. I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore." I really was glad. "So he changed his cell phone for one reason or another. Why didn't you get the new one from him?"
"I didn't think I needed it. I had his work number."
"Aargh," I groaned, and gave him a little tap on the knee with my fist. "Men." It struck me as stereotypically male behavior not to keep a friend's contact information up to date. And I hate stereotypes. As well as the thought that I'd be in love with someone who exemplified a stereotype. This was all very frustrating. It was time to move on.
"So what's the plan, Stan?" I asked, crossing my arms across my chest in a way that I hoped conveyed good natured impatience.
"Well, we could call local information and see if we can find a land line phone number," said Geoff, ignoring my peevish look. He tried, but neither one of us was surprised to find that Wayne's local number was unlisted. I was getting antsy, sitting in the car discussing my husband's wayward friend.
"Is there anything else you want to do here in Los Alamos while we're here?"
"I just want to get a t-shirt for Rick back home he'd love to visit here," he said.
A quick trip to the Fox department store (known for its t-shirt selection) later, we were on the road back to Santa Fe. Geoff was driving, and I sat in the passenger seat looking at one of the books he'd bought. As we drove back, I thought about how unfair it was that Geoff had to do all the driving on this trip. It hadn't been my intention to let my driver's license expire. I was planning to do half the driving during our honeymoon. But without a valid license, there was no way I could get authorized to drive the rental car and with no authorization and no license, I certainly wasn't going to try. The last thing I needed was to be pulled over in an unfamiliar state in an unfamiliar car, driving illegally. Besides, I was sure that Geoff loved to drive, I thought, leaning the car seat back into a comfy horizontal position. And this way I got to be the navigator. And the road photographer. And I could handle all the phone calls we needed to make while we traveled.
Just as I closed my eyes to consider the importance of my role as passenger, my cell phone rang. It was the Old House, a restaurant I hoped to visit that night, calling to confirm our reservation.
"Yes. Yes, I guess I am Mrs. Petersen, I suppose. Okay. Yeah, 8:45 would be great. Good. Okay, see you then."
"What was that?" asked Geoff, roused from whatever daydream had been consuming him.
"Dinner tonight. One of the best restaurants in Santa Fe."
"Sounds expensive."
"I fully expect it to be expensive. But this is the only honeymoon I plan to take, so I want to make the most of it."
"Well, when you put it that way I suppose we can splurge a little."
"Darling," I purred, "I'm glad to hear you say that because I made some additional plans "
"Dare I ask?"
"Horseback riding. Tomorrow morning. Bishop's Lodge Ranch. Doesn't horseback riding sound like something we should do while we're here in the southwest?"
"You know, Sweetie, I think it does. I hope your horse is faster than the one you rode back in Galveston. What was his name?"
"Sparky. The slowest horse that ever was."
"Yup," sighed Geoff.
"Are you worried about Wayne?" I asked him, putting my seat back into its upright position and beginning to massage the back of his neck.
"No. Well, yes. Kind of. I wish I knew what he was up to and I wish I could leave a message for him! First he misses the wedding and next he's nowhere around when we get here. He's either avoiding us on purpose or in some kind of trouble, and I don't like either possibility."
Chapter Three
I think that elk might be an aphrodisiac. Maybe it's the wild mushrooms that had an effect. But our dinner at the Old House put Geoff in a romantic mood that was still present the next morning. I woke to find his fingers playing with my hair.
"Dinner was good," he whispered. "I liked the wine you picked out."
"Wow, so this is the effect elk has on you!" I exclaimed. Maybe I should send you on a hunting trip in the U.P. from time to time." The "U.P." is Michigan's Upper Peninsula, most of which is pristine, primordial wilderness.
"I thought you didn't like hunting. Oh wait, except when it's a group like the San Bushmen who do it for survival, right?"
"That's true, very true. Hunting for sport bad, hunting to live, fine. But I'm curious about the effects of venison on your physiology." Geoff laughed.
"A scientific study, huh? I don't know about that. Still, the elk steak was very, very tasty."
"Are you afraid you might become an elkaholic?" I asked, all innocence. Geoff fell backwards, groaning, his head hitting his pillow with some force.
"Uuugh, woman! That was awful, " he chided. I giggled.
"You knew the job was dangerous when you married me." I convinced him to take me back in his arms and made no more bad jokes for a long while.
Our horseback riding session was scheduled for 10am at the Bishop's Lodge Ranch. Bishop's Lodge is just to the north of Santa Fe, resting at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. "Sangre de Cristo" is Spanish for the "Blood of Christ." Many of the place names in the region have a strong religious content, a result of Spanish explorers coming to the area to spread salvation through their Roman Catholic faith. Santa Fe itself actually means "Holy Faith." Despite its strong ties to Roman Catholicism, Santa Fe has become something of a bastion for seekers of all stripes. Wiccans are present, as are Sikhs, evangelical Baptists, crystal-gazing New Age types, and, of course, the devout among the American Indian population, who often combine Roman Catholic festivals with older, more traditional ritual activities. For someone who studied religion from an anthropological perspective like me, Santa Fe was a fully stocked cupboard of delights.
Bishop's Lodge, on the other hand, is a pretty secular place if you set aside the spiritually awe-inducing beauty of its surroundings. It sits on 450 acres that are flanked by the Santa Fe National Forest. The ranch offers its guests activities like tennis, swimming, hiking, trap shooting, yoga, and of course horseback riding. However, those more spiritually inclined can partake in the spa and wellness center, which includes treatments inspired by Native American healing remedies, including special herbal teas and sweat baths. Of course treatments associated with the "other" Indians, those of the Asian subcontinent, are also available, such as Shirodhara aromatic oil massage, which is meant to stimulate the client's "third eye" and thereby provide benefit to the soul.
I was sorely tempted. A woman in my line of work can sign up for a spiritual massage and legitimately claim to be doing fieldwork. Well, almost legitimately. But I was there with Geoff, and although I was sure he wouldn't turn down a massage, we were there with an appointment set up for horseback riding, and that's what we would do.
We parked our rented Prius and began to scan the compound, looking for something among all the pink and tan adobe structures that looked like a stable. Or at least a sign pointing to a stable. We finally decided to go into the reception area, where a woman at the concierge's desk hooked us up with a young man who took us in a golf cart right up to the horse corrals. We tipped him and he sped off, leaving us, for the moment, on our own. I looked at our riding outfits and sighed, feeling somewhat self-conscious at the ritzy spa.
"Do you think we should have gotten cowboy hats, or anything?" I asked Geoff, looking at his faded white Tilley hat. A Tilley hat is a cotton hat originally designed for sailing, although later models have taken on different looks. Geoff's hat looked like a cross between a sailor's hat and something a guide in the Australian Outback would wear, and although it wasn't technically a cowboy hat it was certainly fitting for outdoor activities and suited him well. He wore it with a white hooded sweatshirt, jeans and tennis shoes.
I, on the other hand, had made something of an effort to look the part, although I didn't have a cowboy hat either. I wore a well-loved, broad-brimmed straw hat, the kind that smells beautifully of tall grasses and can be squished and rolled and mangled without losing its shape. I matched it with a fleece pullover with hazy, indistinct orange, brown and tan stripes (it sort of looked like a desert sunset, if I do say so myself), ordinary blue jeans, and my favorite pair of camel-colored suede ankle boots with just enough of a heel that they'd fit nicely into the stirrups.
"We don't need cowboy hats, Love," said Geoff, "we look great!" Suddenly, a shape was moving toward us, and fast, all ears and snout. I jumped back, grabbing Geoff's arm and realized that the shape in question was a dog, probably an Australian shepherd or a shepherd mix of some kind. The dog was energetic, bouncy, very interested in us, and carried a bright green tennis ball in her mouth.
"Hera!" called a strict sounding female voice from inside the stable, "Come here!" A young woman of about nineteen stepped into the sunlight, and Hera, for that was the dog's name, ran over in her direction. The woman wore a true cowboy hat that I frankly envied, a flannel shirt, heavy denim jeans and a pair of braids that fell onto her shoulders. She looked us over, smiled, and said, "Are you the Petersens? Okay, cool. I'm Clarissa. Come upstairs, we have a little bit of paperwork to cover." I followed Clarissa into what looked like a barn and up a pair of rickety-looking but surprisingly stable stairs. Geoff was right behind me, but was somewhat delayed when Hera decided to drop her tennis ball and grab hold of the sole of one of his sneakers instead. I laughed as he stood on one leg at the bottom of the stairs, the other sticking out behind him with a dog attached to hit.
"Come on, doggy. I need my shoe. Let go, please. Let go!" He looked at me, a bewildered expression on his face. "He won't let go of my shoe!"
"He is a she," I commented, very much amused. "Hera. She's named after a goddess. Maybe she needs a sacrifice?" I called up the stairs, "Clarissa, we've got a dog issue."
Clarissa peered out of the upstairs office. "Oh no! Hera! You let GO!" Finally Hera did let go and Geoff was allowed to follow me to the office where we basically signed our lives away in order to be able to go on an hour and a half long horseback ride. Clarissa made small talk as she got the papers in order.
"So, didn't you say you were here for your honeymoon when you made your reservations?"
"That's right," said Geoff. "We're spending the whole time in New Mexico."
"Oh yeah? Just Santa Fe, or are you visiting other places?" She smiled at Geoff somewhat flirtatiously I thought, although that might have just been my imagination.
"Actually, we were in Los Alamos yesterday," I chimed in. "Geoff's a cold war historian and we were hoping to visit a friend who works at the labs there, although we didn't catch up with him yet."
"A friend at the labs?" inquired Clarissa. "I know some people there. Who is it?"
"Wayne Whedon," answered Geoff. "He works with space elevators, satellites, that kind of thing. You know him?"
"Um " said Clarissa, flicking through our consent forms, a look of concentration on her face. "Space elevators? No, I don't know anyone who does work on space elevators. My friends are more in the biological section of the labs. That's pretty interesting." She had actually stopped looking interested and instead her face wore a look of what seemed like deliberate boredom. It reminded me of the look on the face of my junior high school "enemies" when I'd give a speech in my eighth grade debate class. I decided I didn't like Clarissa very much. She was an odd one. I had liked her just fine a few moments before. Maybe it was my imagination again, but something had changed.
"Anyway," Clarissa continued, "Head downstairs and you'll see Luis. He'll be your guide on your ride today. He's nice. Knows the horses really well." She dropped her head to look at a stack of papers, including, I thought, our consent forms and she circled something near the top. She looked up.
"Oh, we'll work out the payment when you get back. And you can decide whether you want to add a gratuity for the guide afterward too. Have a fun ride," she concluded, her voice sounding flat and scornful, like fun was the last thing she actually wished us.
As we went down the stairs, Geoff whispered to me, "What happened to her? She was so nice at first."
"Maybe she could tell your new wife didn't want her flirting with you!" I answered, with a hint of a smile.
Hera waited for us at the bottom of the stairs, this time with a stick in her mouth. It was a good stick, the kind that dogs typically fetch, but we didn't have time to play because Luis, our guide, was waiting for us. He was a short man and looked to be of Mexican descent. He wore denim jeans, a jean jacket, and another mighty fine cowboy hat. It's funny, I'm not normally a country-type person. I'm a city girl, through and through. But put me in New Mexico and I develop hat envy.
"Have you ridden before?" he asked, his English colored by the influence of his native Spanish.
"Not seriously," Geoff answered. "A ride on the beach at Galveston, that's about all since I was a kid."
"I took lessons in New Mexico a few years back, but I've only done tourist-type riding," I noted.
"Okay," Luis said, and went to pick out our horses. We went outside of the barn and into the sunlight. It was a glorious autumn morning. The air was crisp, the sky was blue, the riding paths were dry and dusty. It looked like the rain we'd seen in Los Alamos the day before hadn't touched Bishop's Lodge, and I was looking forward to a spectacular ride through the mountains.
Luis brought out Geoff's horse first. He was a handsome tan colored horse called Boster. He was tall, had a pretty white starburst between his eyes, and looked as gentle as could be. He actually reminded me a lot of Geoff. Geoff mounted and I snapped some photos, enjoying the image of my groom as horseman. Shooter, a black and white gelding somewhat smaller than Boster, was brought out for me. I was pleased that I managed to get on the horse without falling or losing my hat or otherwise making a fool of myself. Luis rode Hapa. I recognized the name as being Hawaiian for "half."
"She's half what and half what else?" I asked Luis. He was pleased that I understood the meaning of her name.
"Half Appaloosa and half Arabian," he said. "She's a good roping horse. She is mine. I take her to rodeos. She is very nice."
"Well, she's beautiful," I said. And she was. Hapa was smaller than the other two horses and had a smoothness to her line that set her apart from her more obviously muscled companions. Luis put her through a few exercises, having her walk a few steps backwards and follow several voice commands in English. After we expressed sufficient admiration for his beautiful horse, he mounted and we began to follow him along the trail.
Trail riding, in general, is pretty easy. The horses know the route by heart, the paths are familiar, the pace is slow. Different horses have different temperaments, however. Our little group started out with Hapa in the lead, Boster in second, and Shooter bringing up the end. But Shooter was my kind of horse and after it became apparent that Boster was the slow, leisurely type, Shooter and I made our move when we crossed a paved road and had a bit of room on all sides. After a truck passed, Shooter and I moved forward and took over second place, leaving Boster (and Geoff) somewhere behind. I have my competitive moments and I grinned at the thought of having overtaken my dear husband.
We settled into a comfortable line: Hapa, Shooter and Boster, in that order. Luis led us into some foothills and soon the animals were breathing somewhat harder, taking us up ascending paths that curved alternately through pine forests and barren areas of rocks and sand. A few times the path led us along the sides of cliffs and I learned what it was to trust a horse. There I was already, perched with my head maybe eight feet above the ground, precariously balanced astride and enormous horse with no seatbelt, no straps, just sitting on a saddle with my feet straining to stay in the stirrups, holding onto the reins and the horn of the saddle as though they'd magically protect me. Every time the horse lurched or shifted his weight, I'd find myself tightening my already tight grip on the saddle and doing everything I could to bring my knees together, which wasn't easy given that there was an animal's torso in between them. Now add to that scenario the view of a cliff just a foot or so to the side, featuring maybe an 80 foot drop, and you'll see why I was nervous from time to time.
Falling off the horse would have meant disaster, but I did have some control over that, even though it felt iffy at times. If the horse fell, I would have been in real trouble, and over that I had absolutely no control at all. I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that if I slipped along a cliff's edge, I'd only have one stable leg to use to try to get myself back under control. If a horse's leg slips, he's got three other legs, a veritable tripod, to return to stability. The horse knew the trail, the horse had four legs, the horse had instincts of self-preservation. My best choice was to trust the horse.
Once I decided that Shooter was going to keep me safe, I really began to enjoy the ride. We passed impressive vistas where cliffs and mountainsides fell away into vast canyons and the morning light played clever tricks of light and shadow, giving the whole setting the feel of some distant planet. Then the horses would turn and we'd be in a forest of thick conifers, pine nuts hanging from the trees and birds calling out or flying in circles above us. Relaxing even further, I started a conversation with Luis in Spanish. Geoff and Boster were far enough behind that they wouldn't have been able to hear much anyway, so I figured I might as well chat and work on my Spanish at the same time.
I used to speak Spanish somewhat fluently, but after I spent some time living in France my brain decided it could only consciously accommodate one foreign language at a time. If I wanted to speak French, Spanish was going to have to be put away somewhere a bit deeper and harder to access. This meant that when I tried to speak in Spanish, roughly half the time I would forget important vocabulary words and find myself thinking of their French equivalents, which wasn't always very useful. The other trick my brain played was to convince me that words in French were actually Spanish and I'd find myself using them as though they were Spanish, deeply confusing my conversational partner who had no idea what I was talking about.
With Luis, I kept it simple. He seemed happy to speak some Spanish and told me that a good friend of his, a chef at a local hotel, was French. He seemed amused that Geoff and I had just gotten married, and less interested in my previous research in New Mexico and anthropological leanings than whether I was cooking for my new husband as a good wife should do. Oy!
One of the nice things about being an anthropologist is that when someone from a different cultural background begins behaving in a way that I consider sexist or otherwise inappropriate, I can step back and study the person. In this case, as I explained in broken Spanish that I tried to cook from time to time but that Geoff was really the gifted one in the kitchen, I considered Luis' background, expectations of masculine and feminine roles, etc. until my initial anger cooled. I shouted back to Geoff what Luis and I had been talking about and he was very amused. Geoff is a very fair person and believes strongly in equality between the sexes. We've never had established, traditional roles, and actually mock them from time to time. If things seem to be going in a male chauvinistic direction in our conversation, Geoff will often break the tension by saying, "Woman! Get me a beer!" This is a private joke because Geoff hates beer, can't stand to watch football, and tends to reject most of the macho stereotypes. Goodness, I do love the man. But seeing our guide trying to put me in a traditional feminine role tickled him to no end.
"Yeah," Geoff called forward to me from his seat atop Boster, "you definitely need to cook more. Stay in the kitchen. Be a good wife. Get me a beer!" I could hear him chuckling. He was very lucky that he was riding behind me because if he'd been ahead I would have been tempted to throw something at him. I don't know if Luis could hear him, but I went back out of anthropologist mode and back into seething over the injustice of men toward women over the centuries.
Luis and I continued to chat in Spanish. He revealed that he'd been in the U.S. for about twenty years, since he was a kid, and talked more about how important the rodeo was to him. He also said that when we reached the top of the hill we were climbing, we'd be able to see his house. Wow, I thought to myself, these guides must make some good money.
When we reached the peak I pulled my camera out and took some snapshots that must have included landmarks hundreds of miles away. The air was crisp and cool, the sun was bright, and I was very grateful for my straw hat. Luis dismounted and turned to Geoff and me, who were still astride our horses.
"You want me to take photos?" he asked.
"Sure, that would be great." I handed him my camera and he took a photo of Geoff and me side by side on our horses.
"I take one of you kissing?" Luis suggested.
"Yeah, that would be wonderful," I answered. Geoff, however, was caught up in the view and made no effort to kiss me, let alone come any closer. Luis grinned at me, and spoke in Spanish.
"Ah. No te quiere."
"What!? Geoff, Geoff, you'd better come kiss me. Luis just said that you don't love me." Geoff was startled into paying attention again and Luis just laughed. He got the romantic picture, then a couple with Geoff's camera. The whole time Luis was walking around on his own two legs I was dying of envy. I was being stretched into positions I hadn't tried to assume since I was in gymnastics in high school and I began to wonder if I'd even be able to walk once the ride was over.
Luis got our attention then and pointed to a luxurious mansion on the next hill, all white-washed walls and cheery red roof.
"That is my house," announced Luis. I goggled, wondering just how much he actually did earn as a guide and whether he had another job. Or an inheritance.
"Really?" asked Geoff. Luis spread his arms, a slight smile on his face.
"No," he admitted. "My house will be like that in Heaven." He looked skyward and I wondered if I was witnessing religious piety, a wily declaration of humble poverty to win the sympathies of the wealthy tourists, or some combination of both. In any case, Luis managed to convince me that he wasn't a prosperous landowner leading horseback rides just for the fun of it. Duly noted, Luis.
The ride back down the hill was, to my mind, more challenging than the ride up. Of course, if I were a horse and not a rider, I'm sure I'd have a different opinion. The thing was, suddenly my mount was pointing downward at an odd angle and I found myself having to lean pretty far backward to make up for the change in position. Also a horse moving downhill with a rider attached is no longer resisting gravity, but going along with it, and this sometimes led to problems with balance and timing. The final issue with the downhill ride was that somehow Geoff and Boster had taken the second position and Shooter and I found ourselves in the rear. Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so chatty with Luis, I thought.
Shooter was very unhappy to be last in line. He was the only horse I've ever seen who actually tailgated the horse in front of him. Shooter's head was literally bumping repeatedly into Boster's backside. Boster, for his part, was still very slow and mellow and the trail had become quite narrow. Boster was impossible to pass, and if a horse can suffer from high blood pressure, Shooter was certainly showing the symptoms.
Some of the downhill paths were incredibly steep, and I knew we were going to be in for it when Boster would stop on the trail and do a cost-benefits analysis of continuing. You could see the wheels in his equine head spin, and Geoff, who had commented to me on the trail that Boster could throw him off any time he wanted to and was therefore in charge, had no interest in rushing him. Finally, Boster would consent to descend and Shooter, polite despite his earlier tendency toward "trail rage," would give him some space before heading down himself.
Despite the riskier descents, all three of the horses were a bit more upbeat and free spirited on the way down. For one thing, the horses had decided they were hungry. Early in our ride Luis had warned us not to let Shooter and Boster eat any grass. During the ascent they showed no interest, but on the way down there were suddenly plenty of patches of the delicious green stuff and both of the horses, especially Boster, were inclined to snack.
I considered the fact that Geoff was letting Boster have free reign and was delighted when I realized that this situation was exactly what the expression had originally described. Geoff wasn't manipulating Boster's reigns and was instead letting the horse do what he wanted. Free reign! I got it, and smiled.
I, on the other hand, was trying to maintain some semblance of control. When Shooter spied a tasty clump of grass I'd take the reigns and lead his head away. He'd resist and I'd try again and he'd resist and I'd try again and finally he'd follow my orders. I was pleased that I'd finally gotten control until I looked down and saw that my horse, whom I'd been disciplining with such strictness, was peacefully chewing an entire mouthful of grass. Drat! No wonder he'd been ready to move on.
In addition to their new interest in nibbling the plant life along the trail, after a climb downhill, both Boster and Shooter were inclined to break into a happy gallop from time to time, something neither Geoff nor I were prepared for. We'd be moving as slow as molasses and then suddenly the ground would get flat and the horse would break into flight. I'd find myself suddenly gripping Shooter's saddle with my hands and thighs, fighting desperately not to go flying myself. I am proud to say I never screamed, although anyone hearing my calm command of "Whoa" might of thought it sounded higher pitched, rather louder and more staccato than my normal speaking voice.
I could feel muscles in my back and legs crying out for relief when we finally reached the bottom of the hill after nearly an hour and forty-five minutes of riding and approached the stables. The dirt path was wide and open and the scarier moments of riding were long behind us or so I thought. Suddenly Hapa, Luis' horse, was rearing up on her back legs and seemed to be terrified. Looking ahead I could see a huge puddle covering the path, maybe five feet across and four feet wide. Now I knew it was just a shallow puddle, but as Hapa whinnied and reared, it became apparent that she knew no such thing. Here was Luis trying to force her into a watery abyss, and she wasn't going to cooperate. Either side of the path at that point was lined by tall trees and finally Luis got Hapa to skirt the side of the thing and she sort of hopped on her back legs until she had passed it.
Geoff and I could see the puddle, but our horses, who were lower to the ground, weren't aware of it until they were upon it. Boster, who had shown himself to be overly cautious at the best of times, also balked. Snorting fearfully, he decided to avoid the puddle by scraping up against the trees to the puddle's left. This would have been a reasonable plan had he been riderless, but Geoff's leg was on that side and ended up being pinned between a pine tree and roughly twelve hundred pounds of horseflesh. Geoff groaned as his leg was simultaneously scraped and compressed.
Riding third, I began to panic, wondering both how badly Geoff had been hurt and what Shooter would do when he saw the puddle. Shooter took me by surprise and earned my love when he simply crossed the puddle. No fear of unknown depths for him. Good boy! I knew I had the best horse.
Geoff, on the other hand, had gone completely silent on his mutinous mount. We were almost to the stable and I could see ripped denim and red stain from where I was, riding behind him. Luis was murmuring to himself in angry Spanish. I heard charco, the Spanish word for puddle, and Clarissa's name, and the word est pido. He was fuming.
At the corral, Luis dismounted and then gingerly helped Geoff get down from Boster. They went together into the barn and for a few minutes I just sat there on Shooter, rubbing the bridge of his snout to keep from feeling nervous. I told him repeatedly what a good boy he was for not minding the puddle.
After a while, Luis got out and helped me dismount. I found walking somewhat wobbly. Geoff was inside the barn, sitting on a chair, his hurt left leg propped up on the table with the jeans sliced even further open and a large piece of gauze covering the angry wound alongside his left knee. I sat down beside him. Luis went upstairs in a fury as Hera began to circle the table, this time displaying a blue squeaky toy that looked something like a porcupine.
"Oh, Sweetie," I said. "How are you doing? That looks bad."
"No, it's not that bad. Nothing's broken, it's just sort of bruised and cut I think."
"Ouch, poor you. Your leg was just sort of trapped, huh?"
"No way to get it out of the stirrup. Damn horse. Damn puddle."
"It's weird," I continued, "I don't remember seeing that puddle on our way out. Did you? I think we took the same path both times." The conversation I had been able to hear upstairs between Luis and Clarissa suddenly grew louder. I couldn't make out many words but I could hear "puddle" and "responsibility" and "injured" loud enough to be intelligible. I also heard "bruja," the Spanish word for witch.
Geoff sighed. "No, it wasn't there before, and it was the same path. I don't know how a puddle would just suddenly appear there was no rain during our ride."
"Do you need medical care, Sweetie?"
"No, I don't think so, I " Geoff stopped speaking as the sound of footsteps descending the rickety stairs became apparent. Luis, looking angry, and Clarissa, looking well, concerned in that fake sort of way you sometimes see when talking to management at a department store about poor service, joined us.
"We're terribly sorry you hurt yourself " She looked down at our contract, " Mr. Petersen. It's unfortunate, but as you can clearly see, the waiver you signed clearly indicates that you participated in this horseback riding event of your own free will and knew the risks it involved."
"Yes, I know," said Geoff.
"In a way, you're lucky!" said Clarissa, exhibiting the false brightness of a fluorescent lamp. "Horses react to large puddles in unpredictable ways. You could have been thrown! I'm so glad your injuries are minor."
"Minor," Geoff repeated, the barest hint of contempt in his voice.
"Anyway, to express our regret about your unfortunate accident, here's a coupon for 10% off your next ride."
"Thanks. I don't know when we'll use it, but we'll hang onto it," I replied in a stilted voice. I just wanted to get out of there.
"Here's your bill. There's a place to add a gratuity for your guide should you so choose," chirped Clarissa. I couldn't believe her gall. Meanwhile Luis had gathered additional supplies from his first aid kit, including some Bactine, fresh gauze and some medical tape. He patched Geoff up as I settled the bill, adding a more-than-decent tip for Luis, who had impressed me with his concern for Geoff. Geoff stood up uneasily and said he was ready to leave.
"Thanks," said Clarissa, all false cheer. "So what's next for you two honeymooners? Back to Los Alamos? I hope you find your friend!" With that she sprang up the stairs, followed by Hera and the blue porcupine. I contemplated spiny animals and their human counterparts as Geoff and I exchanged a significant look.
Chapter Four
Geoff and I drove away from Bishop's Lodge in a state of thoughtful silence. Well, I was thoughtful. It was possible that Geoff was just doing that silent brooding thing some people do when they're in pain. Or when they're trying to decide whether someone just tried to murder them. The silence was getting to me, so I finally decided to speak.
"So, uh .what did you think of the ride?" Geoff took a few moments to speak. It was like he was returning from some distant voyage into a subterranean cavern in his brain and had to go up several layers before he could reach the light and answer me. I tried to be patient. While I waited he turned onto Highway 25, which put us on the route to a little town from my past, Chimay . I was just beginning a daydream about the place when Geoff finally decided to answer my question.
"Well," he started, a touch of humor in his voice, "I liked most of it. The scenery was gorgeous. I liked my view of you from behind for example "
"You did not! You did?"
"But getting smashed into a tree and cutting my leg open was a bummer."
"I bet, Sweetie. That was so weird. Are you going to be okay?" I took the opportunity to rub the back of his neck again. He liked that, and I felt like he needed some nurturing after his near-crushing.
"Well, the cut isn't deep. I think it's going to bruise pretty dramatically, though. And I think it's going to be hard to walk on tomorrow."
"Heh," I chuckled, "It would be hard to walk tomorrow just from the horseback riding! I know I'm going to be sore. But your leg! Why is it always your leg? Remember when you bashed your shin on the car door in Las Vegas?"
"I do. I still have that weird dent in the bone. But at least that was my own fault. I thought this situation was a bit suspicious."
"You mean the puddle?" I asked.
"Yes. It definitely wasn't there when we rode out. We were gone for, what, an hour and a half or so? Where did it come from?" He sounded irritated and I couldn't blame him.
"Well, it didn't rain. I think it was on purpose. Maybe someone made it with a hose. Or dumped out the horse's water trough," I suggested.
"The horses didn't seem to think it was normal," Geoff noted.
"Nope, they didn't. All except for my baby, Mr. Shooter, who wasn't scared of a dumb puddle," I crowed, momentarily forgetting to be sympathetic and moving my hand from Geoff's neck so that it could take part in a bit of victory choreography. He flashed me a look. "Uh, sorry," I said, chastened.
"I think someone did make the puddle. On purpose. Horses aren't usually good with puddles. They don't know how deep they are. They spook. And the puddle was exactly in the right place so that a horse couldn't easily go around it," he continued.
"Hapa totally freaked out. It's a wonder Luis wasn't thrown the way she was jumping around like that," I added.
"I know! Okay, Dora, tell me if this sounds weird to you." Geoff paused as he passed a slow truck on the left. The pinkish tan mesas against the blue sky were breathtaking and the sun was just reaching its noon apex, rendering the landscape oddly shadowless. "The girl who worked in the office," he continued.
"Clarissa," I supplied.
"Yeah, Clarissa. Remember we talked about her getting weird and unfriendly? When did that happen? What were we talking about?"
"Um, " I thought about it. "It was right after you said we had visited Los Alamos and you mentioned Wayne and his work with space elevators. Kind of weird."
"Yeah," he answered. "That's what I thought. Her mood changed. She got strange. And did you notice she asked about Los Alamos again when we left?"
"Yes, but it's a bit too much of a stretch for me, love. What do you think, that she didn't want us talking to Wayne so she ran out and made a puddle on the trail so that we'd fall off our horses and have to go home without seeing him? It doesn't seem likely."
"I agree with you, but Wayne has been acting so weird too that I think something might actually be going on. Did you follow any of the Spanish when Luis was yelling at her?"
"Oh yeah," I remembered. "He was totally mad at her. He called her a witch. And he said something about the puddle and responsibility, but he might have been talking about the waiver. I'm sure he didn't want to be blamed for the accident."
"I'm sure he didn't want to be in an accident!" Geoff exclaimed. "I mean, he was the closest to being seriously hurt. It's just really odd."
"I agree with you. I don't know what all that was about. Do you really think she was plotting against us somehow? Oh!" I burst out, noticing a sign, "We have to take 76 if we're going to go to Chimay . Here's our exit."
The conversation about the potentially treacherous Clarissa was dropped as we left the freeway and ended up on a winding little country road heading toward the shrine town of Chimay . I had first visited Chimay in 1998. Although my plan in graduate school had been to do my doctoral fieldwork as an anthropologist in France, the money, at least at that point, had not been forthcoming and so a domestic destination was necessary. Rocamadour, my site in France, was a Roman Catholic shrine that was being visited by people of a more "New Age" persuasion. Chimay , an American Roman Catholic shrine located just outside the spiritual seeker's paradise known as Santa Fe, seemed like a decent backup site.
I had driven to Santa Fe from San Diego and moved in with Sharon Kleinerman, a brassy New York transplant who I found intimidating and almost impossible to live with. She was a bit of an exhibitionist, very needy, and inclined to complicated and carefully planned acts of revenge. I stayed out of her way as much as I could, but occasionally found myself trapped for what seemed like hours while I heard about her party days back in Manhattan and the various celebrities she'd dated.
During my two months living with Sharon, I did some freelance writing to pay the bills but tried to get out to Chimay several times a week to do interviews, observe visitors, attend church services, take notes about what the local merchants were selling, that kind of stuff. Typical anthropological research.
One of the stores, El Sol y La Luna, was rather more eclectic than the rest. It carried the more traditional folk Catholic objects associated with Chimay , like glass-encased candles emblazoned with saintly images, rosary beads, playful Day of the Dead skeletons and tiny tin milagros, representations of body parts and other objects that allow the devout person to focus his or her prayers on an ailment and also signal God about what problem to solve. What made it stand out, however, were the items that aligned it more with the religious openness of Santa Fe. It sold goddess necklaces, books on Buddhism, Native American religious articles and other objects that fall fell from the Catholic mainstream.
El Sol (as I usually shortened it in my mind) was one of my favorite haunts during my short fieldwork time at Chimay , and it was where I first met one of my best informants and closest friends in New Mexico, Madeleine Burroughs. When I met Maddy she was working in El Sol as a sales clerk. She was a white woman in her early fifties with pale skin, rosy cheeks and lips and cool blue eyes. Her hair, which had a slight wave and came down past her shoulders, was an intriguing blend of grays, seeming to combine the dark gray of steel and the snowiest of whites. Lots of women in the Santa Fe area let their hair go gray very proudly, and Maddy fit right in. She was shorter than I was, but more petite, and she had the smile of an angel. She was also technically a lapsed Catholic, but managed to combine somewhat traditional Catholic beliefs with an interest in crystals, tarot cards, reiki massage and frequent visits to sweat lodges.
Like many people with a "seeker" mentality, Maddy was interested in academic approaches to religion as well as the insider's perspective. After I became a familiar face at Chimay , she would make an effort to greet me by name and soon she had become one of my most important informants.
Informant. Now that's a funny word. Anthropologists use it to refer to a person who lives in the society they're studying and who is willing to discuss the society, explain the rules, and generally help the anthropologist get his or her bearings. When I first mentioned my "informants" to my mother, however, her background as a police officer caused her ears to prick up.
"Informants?" she asked with disbelief. I realized that Mom probably pictured me in a dark room with one lamp hanging down from the ceiling, pointing the light at some terrified criminal and yelling "Spill it, stoolie!"
Nope, that's not how it works at all. An informant is a member of a specific society who's willing to talk to you and offer explanations. Very often informants become good friends. And that's what had happened back in my grad school days with Maddy. I'd been quite a bit younger than she was, but that didn't stop us from shooting the breeze on slow days when the customers were few and far between. We'd sometimes go up the road to a restaurant called Rancho de Chimay for drinks, or just stay near the church at Leona's where we could drink sodas and eat a tamale or two.
Maddy taught me a lot about the community at Chimay . Although she was not of Spanish ancestry like most of the locals who lived there, she spoke Spanish fluently. She had been married to Rigoberto Ortega of the Chimay Ortegas for a while, and this had helped her fit in. Well, to some degree. You see, Maddy was a seriously free spirit. Unlike many of the more traditional Catholics in this rural part of New Mexico, Maddy was inclined to pick and choose what elements of the religion suited her and what didn't.
Birth control was fine, she thought. As were homosexuality, feminism, and the worship of the Goddess. Maddy was very devout, but she saw all religions in the world as being varied reflections of the same truth. Roman Catholic Christianity was true, but so were Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, the beliefs of Aboriginal Australians God, she sometimes said, was too big to fit into just one religion (and she sold a bumper sticker that expressed the same sentiment). In her view, God was big enough to be both male and female as well, and Maddy felt that the feminine aspects of God were too often ignored.
The Virgin Mary attracted Maddy's attention. Here was a feminine persona, a powerful persona, understood in Hispanic communities in a way that differed from what Maddy had been taught as a child in Chicago. When the Spanish conquistadors were busy conquering the New World, one of their goals was to get the native peoples to convert to Christianity and be saved. Many of the Spaniards weren't very subtle about this, and lots of slavery, bloodshed, rape and murder occurred to this end. Salvation indeed. Accept our route to Heaven or we'll send you to Hell.
In 1531, though, an event occurred that made this forced conversion of the indigenous peoples a bit more voluntary. On a cold winter day near what is now Mexico City, a peasant man called Juan Diego, one of the early native converts, was witness to a miraculous apparition atop Tepeyac hill. She wore clothes that glowed like the sun, identified herself as the Virgin Mary, and asked that a church be built at the very site where she stood. If this were not miraculous enough, she asked Juan Diego to pick roses that were growing on the hill (despite it being far too cold for roses), and when he brought the roses down to show the local bishop, both bishop and peasant were astounded to view that the interior of Juan Diego's cloak now featured a detailed, colorful portrait of the Lady he had just seen.
This apparition, who soon became known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, became a force for conversion. The native peoples were impressed that the mother of God had seen fit to appear to them on their own land, and some accounts said that her skin was dark, more like theirs than like the paler skin of the Spaniards. She and her image served as ambassadors between the Spanish Catholics and the indigenous Mexicans and to this day pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe carry a great symbolic meaning and inspire pride among the Hispanic Catholics of North, Central and South America. Many anthropologists, including yours truly, are intrigued by her similarity with an Aztec moon goddess called Tonantzin. It has always been common for members of conquering cultures to take over local symbols and deities and rework them to make them more compatible with the religion they are trying to spread.
For Maddy, however, whether the apparition was Tonantzin or the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe had a significant meaning and role to play. She was the divine feminine, the Goddess, Mother Earth. Catholicism in Maddy's English-German household had mostly left the Virgin Mary out. Sure, Maddy saw her in Christmas stories and at the foot of the cross during her Son's crucifixion, but she wasn't a powerful, loving, constantly present figure the way she was in the Catholicism Maddy found in New Mexico, and this different view of Mary played a rather large part in Maddy Burroughs becoming Maddy Ortega for nineteen years.
She did the best she could to fit into the Ortega family. She learned to cook local foods, attended Bible study with the mothers of the Chimay community, and gave birth to three sons. She slowly absorbed the history of Chimay , how on one day in 1816, Don Bernardo Abeyta saw a mysterious light on his property (which was apparently considered sacred land by the native population), went toward it, and discovered that it was coming from inside the ground. Don Abeyta began to dig and was rewarded with the discovery of a large crucifix that resembled the religious icons associated with Our Lord of Esqu pulas in Guatemala.
Don Abeyta got into immediate contact with Father Sebastian Alvarez, a local priest, who picked up the crucifix and took it back to his church in Santa Cruz. Maddy learned that the next morning the crucifix had disappeared and was found back on Don Abeyta's land. This happened twice more before everyone agreed that a new church should be built, right in Chimay . This new church, a small structure built very simply out of adobe, was called El Se or de Esqu pulas, and the crucifix was placed at its altar.
The hole that was left in the earth when Don Abeyta dug up the crucifix was included inside the church and local peoples soon reported that the dirt inside the hole had healing powers, very much like the water found in Lourdes, France. Maddy became accustomed to the pilgrims who visited the shrine, and tried to get used to the scene at Chimay every Good Friday, when 30,000 to 40,000 people converge all at once for the site's most important day of pilgrimage. She was a wife, a mom, and a storekeeper, and her life was just fine.
But Maddy had the heart of a seeker and the mind of a scholar, and found she spent her free hours reading books on theology, history and, yes, anthropology, and she was soon obsessed with the way goddesses and other powerful, divine feminine figures appeared in the religions of the world. She read about early matrilineal societies where goddesses were worshipped, women were in charge, and war was non-existent (whether those societies actually existed in such an ideal form is up for some debate).
Rigoberto wasn't happy with her new intellectual pursuits and they began to fight on a regular basis. In the end, they separated, she got custody of their sons and of the store near the church, and he took over a family tourist shop up the road. Maddy waited until her boys were grown and had gone off to college then took back her maiden name, Burroughs, and changed the name of her tourist shop from
La Tiendita to El Sol y La Luna, referring to the Virgin of Guadalupe's sunny clothes and connection to the moon goddess. She learned to read tarot cards and perform energy healings, and made her shop into something of a seeker's paradise.
The rest of the local community did the best they could to accept her. Everyone knew her and besides, she and Rigoberto were still technically married, even if she'd gone back to her very Anglo last name. The new character of the store was considered a bit odd, but everyone knew of seekers and religious explorers coming to visit the shrine at Chimay , and hey, they spent money like everyone else. So by the time I arrived at the site to study the pilgrimage, Maddy had managed to reinvent herself, going from Rigoberto Ortega's unusual wife to Madeleine Burroughs, resident eccentric and tea leaf reader. She was an ideal informant for these reasons, because she straddled both the traditional Catholic culture of the region and the emerging New Age movement of Santa Fe. And now, on my honeymoon, I couldn't wait to see her and introduce her to Geoff.
"See the sign, Honey?" I asked Geoff. "We turn left here. Follow the signs, there's a parking lot in the back." Geoff parked the Prius and we got out of the car. Well, I hopped out with my usual energy and Geoff sort of stiffly made his way through a series of painful looking positions, from sitting to standing with about a dozen intermediate steps in between. His leg. In my reverie about Chimay and Maddy, I'd forgotten his leg.
"Sweetie, let me help you!" I exclaimed, bouncing over to the driver's side. "I should have offered to drive. Wait, I can't drive, I don't have a valid license. Shoot! I don't know what to do. Are you okay? Did you want to go back to the hotel?" Geoff looked at me with a great deal of amusement.
"I think I'll survive," he said. I don't need to go back to the hotel. I made it this far. I'm just a little stiff."
"Usually that's a good thing," I sighed. His eyes widened in mock offense.
"You!" he chided me. "You're a married woman, talking that way! Especially in a sacred place." He was grinning. Ah, nothing like flirtation to take the edge off pain.
"Well, come on then," I said. "Let's head over to the shrine. Hey, maybe we can get you healed!"
We left the parking lot and followed a sidewalk into a grassy area where an outdoor worship area had been built. There were an altar and seats surrounded by a ring of catalpa trees, their enormous yellow leaves as wide as paper plates, blowing in the cool breeze. The entire area was planted with green grass and surrounded by various makeshift altars. A long chain link fence separated the site from a small creek.
Ah, the chain link fence. One of my favorite things about Chimay . It's a brilliant site to view makeshift ex-votoes. I'd better explain that. An ex-voto is an offering that a pilgrim leaves at a sacred site. Sometimes it's a gift of thanks, sometimes it's just to know that you've left something there. You know how when people travel, they like to get souvenirs? They'll look at that snow globe from Tampa Bay and remember their fun vacation. Well, an ex-voto is sort of a souvenir in reverse. It's an object that people leave behind at a sacred place, usually because they're so moved that they want to make sure a part of themselves stays behind.
In the section of Chimay 's sanctuary near the holy healing dirt there's a sort of hallway that's traditionally been a place where people leave ex-votoes. When I first started visiting the shrine I'd spend hours looking at pencil drawings of Jesus, well prayed-over rosaries, velvet paintings of the Virgin Mary, and lots and lots of crutches. When people came to Chimay to be healed, those who regained the ability to walk would leave their crutches or cane behind and dozens and dozens always lined the walls of this part of the church. A doll representing the
Santo Ni o de Atocha, a version of the Christ child who walks from place to place healing people and answering prayers, sits in a special sort of altar box and is given offerings of children's shoes, dozens of pairs, because He walks so much that his footwear is in constant need of replacing.
Photographs were another major offering. People would leave pictures of anyone they wanted extra protection for, like children or sick friends, and also dear ones they had already lost whose souls were waiting in purgatory until they'd be permitted to enter heaven. The priests used to gather these photographs after a while and put them into photo albums kept near the church's entrance. When I first started my research there were about twelve photo albums altogether and I would pore over them, looking at the faces and wondering the stories behind them.
A few years after my fieldwork, however, a new priest took over as rector of the shrine and changed that portion of the church. The walkway was paved to make it wheelchair accessible and strict limits were placed on what could be left in the shrine. The new priest said he was only following fire regulations, but I recall during one of my visits at that time that the locals and visitors were somewhat disappointed.
It was around that time that I noticed the new role of the chain link fence. People began leaving crosses among the links, usually newly made crosses fashioned from two twigs and a bit of rope or twine or even grass. Sometimes nothing held the two sticks together but the fence itself. After a while the entire chain link fence was filled with these little wooden crosses and then joined by fancier crosses and notes and rosaries and photographs and all kinds of things that used to be left in the church itself.
Geoff and I walked through this outdoor worship area and took some photographs of the hundreds and hundreds of crosses left there by faithful visitors who wanted their presence there to be marked somehow. There were a few small altars in the area, too, featuring statues of various saints, and people had adorned them with more of the crosses, rosaries, and even small rocks painted with wishes and prayers, like one small stone calling for Paz!, peace.
Now since this was my old stomping ground, I wanted Geoff to see it in the right way, in the right order. I didn't want him to get to the shrine itself until we'd had a chance to explore the surrounding areas. I let him take a few exterior photographs of the adobe church, but then urged him to follow me into one of the smaller shops, the one actually run by the local diocese.
This shop was small and claustrophobic and seemed more like a religious bookstore than anything else. We wandered around, observing the rosaries for sale and the portraits of holy figures. I found a couple of books I hadn't seen before and began to grow desperate trying to locate a container for holy dirt.
"I don't understand," I whispered to Geoff. "They used to sell them and I can't imagine they wouldn't anymore. The dirt is free, but you can buy special boxes and things to keep it in. But I can't find any "
"What about these?" asked Geoff slyly. Near the cash register was a collection of clear plastic containers, each about the size and shape of a hockey puck. They were emblazoned with the words "Chimay holy dirt" and my mouth fell open with delight as I imagined sending these little dirt disks around the classroom. My students would be able to see the dirt without having to open anything.
"Brilliant!" I rejoiced. When the saleslady was ringing up my disks and books, I asked her, "When I was here years ago, there used to be a sort of wooden box for the dirt with a sliding top and a cross. You don't carry those anymore?' I followed her gaze to a shelf right behind me, one I had just examined.
"They're right there," she said.
"Ah. Missed them," I commented and wondered how I'd gotten anywhere in a profession that required a person to have decent powers of observation.
When we got outside, Geoff said to me, "So, do we go into the church and get this magic dirt yet?"
"It's not magic dirt," I corrected him, "it's holy dirt. Healing dirt."
"Okay, healing dirt."
"Not yet. You hurt your leg so we have a great excuse to get a milagro. And my friend Maddy sells them. So let's go to her store next." I started off in that direction, an easy enough proposition since all of Chimay 's land and buildings could fit easily into an average-sized grocery store.
"What's a milagro?" Geoff asked, following me.
"Little tin body parts that you leave in the church to help you get better," I replied. "Maddy will help you pick one out!"
Maddy's store was whitewashed and shone brightly in the sun. Hand painted lettering on the outside wall let passersby know they could obtain popsicles, portable altars called retablos, and the milagros Geoff and I had just been discussing. A small table just outside the doors featured a selection of books on understanding Buddhism. Man, I had really missed Maddy.
We entered the store and the bells fastened to the door pulls gave us away. My dear friend Maddy looked up from behind the cash register. Her eyes fell on Geoff in a friendly way, then turned to me and her eyebrows rose toward the ceiling followed swiftly by the corners of her mouth.
"Dora! Dora Summers! My God, there you are. You told me you were coming, but I wasn't sure if today was the day. D os mio, you look great! Those Michigan winters haven't killed you yet. And I take it that this is the guy?" I smiled at Dora and nodded.
"So you're Geoff," she said, extending a hand. "I shouldn't need to tell you this, but I will. If you ever, I mean ever hurt Dora, that'll be the end of you. But you look like a nice guy and from what I've heard, you're the Goddess's gift to womankind, so I'm not going to worry very much. It's great to meet you."
"Happy to meet you," Geoff said, warmly. I felt so proud!
"I'm so glad we could work this into the honeymoon," I told Maddy. "And it's been such a long time! What's the news here?"
"Well, one of those cell phone companies is trying to put up a tower right here within Chimay . And a bunch of us are making it damn hard for them."
"A cell phone tower?"
"Can you imagine? This place is sacred and it was sacred long before the Spanish got here and probably sacred before the Indians got here. We don't know what sacredness is. It could be chemical, it could have to do with molecules here in the sand, in the rocks, in the waters, in the trees Who knows? And they think they can just fry the air here with microwaves and no one will know the difference? I don't think so. We have to protect places like this." Geoff looked a bit confused, but I answered Maddy with a hearty "Amen!"
Maddy turned her attention back to Geoff and looked him up and down. She frowned when she got to his left leg and battle-scarred jeans.
"Whoa, Cowboy!" she cried. "What happened to you?"
"A little incident with a horse right before we came here," Geoff responded. "It involved a puddle, a horse, and a big tree. I got caught in the middle."
"He's sore but okay," I added. "Still, we were thinking this would be a good chance to try out a milagro. Geoff's new to this whole Chimay thing, and I want him to have the full experience."
"Ah," said Maddy, "One leg, coming up!" She pulled a cardboard box about the size of a shoe box down from a shelf behind the cash register and began sorting milagros on the counter top. There were hearts and heads and hands, arms and breasts and buttocks, and milagros representing sex organs. Pretty much anything that could get sick on a human body was represented. After sorting through an ear, and eye and a neck, Maddy located what she was looking for: a leg. It was maybe a quarter of an inch in length, made from thin tin or aluminum and it looked as though it had been stamped out by a machine.
"Okay, " said Geoff, his expression showing both doubt and a game willingness to go along, "How much does it cost?" Maddy looked hurt.
"I'm not going to charge you! Not for a little two dollar milagro! Listen, Geoffey, if your wife comes in here and starts buying up the books and art like she usually does, you can hand over the old credit card. But I'm not going to charge you for this!" Maddy's hurt was gone and she looked warm and friendly again.
"Don't worry, Miss Maddy," I said, "we'll be back. Just have to make a visit to the santuario first."
"Catch you in a few," Maddy answered laughing. "Hey, I'll throw in some tea and a reading when you get back, okay?"
"Sounds great!" I called as Geoff and I headed back out the door.
When we got to the front of the church, we just had to take a few more photos. The adobe was smooth and tan, there were flowers everywhere, and the sky was an astonishing deep blue. The air, when you took a deep breath, somehow managed to smell like the sun. We stepped into the church and things were cooler, dimmer, suddenly much more serious. A sacred place.
A wooden Jesus done in an almost cartoon style stood to the right of the entry way. His face exemplified suffering and his various wounds bled profusely. His hands, gripping the air in agony, looked like claws. This was not my favorite image of Jesus, not by a long shot. We made our way to the back of the church and I pointed the cross out to Geoff, trying not to disturb five or six people who sat in the pews, praying silently.
"That's the miraculous cross," I whispered.
"The one that kept disappearing and reappearing in the hole?"
"Yes. Now look to your left sweetie. We go in there next. Don't forget to duck!" We turned at the altar and passed through a very low door into the hallway where the hundreds and hundreds of ex-votoes were located. Geoff rose to his full height and took it all in. There were dozens of metal crutches, neatly hung vertically on one of the walls, like jackets in a closet. Above them was a small green cast that looked like it had just been removed from a child's leg. Some sort of medical device for keeping broken bones of a face in place hung next to it. It reminded me of the kind of things basketball players ended up wearing if they got a high-speed elbow to their cheek.
"What do I do with the leg thing?" Geoff asked, still whispering.
"Well, you can pray for healing and then leave it somewhere." I looked around. On one of the walls was a small holy water font. The upper part of it was the face of Jesus and the lower part where the water would normally be placed, was empty save for a pair of milagros left by someone before us. Geoff closed his eyes for a moment then placed the little tin leg in the tiny bowl. I found something that hadn't been at the shrine when I'd last visited, a tray put out specifically for photographs. Images of mothers, fathers, cousins, children and friends were everywhere, as were little plastic bags of the healing dirt, some of them containing milagros.
"Let's go see the dirt," I suggested. I turned toward the little room at the far end of the hallway. It featured another extremely short door with a sign that said, "Watch your head." Good advice. I remembered hearing that it was a local American Indian custom to have very low doors so intruders would be bending and would be at a disadvantage if they barged in uninvited. This room must have been done in that style.
The room was very small, maybe eight feet by eight feet and the walls were, unsurprisingly, covered by pictures, statues, rosaries, crosses and other religious items. In the center of the room in the middle of the dirt floor was a hole. Just a simple hole, about one foot across. It looked to be two feet deep and was filled halfway with dirt. A plastic red shovel, the kind you'd find for sale with children's beach buckets, rested in the dirt within the hole.
The dirt was interesting. People always claimed it had healing powers, and I'm sure that for those who were very faithful, healing did occur. But sometimes I would hear visitors telling each other that part of the dirt's miraculous nature was that it constantly replenished itself. "Every time I visit, it's still full!" was a common claim. However, the priests I had spoken to during my field work at the site were very frank. Father Andrea had once told me in his thick Italian accent, "A man comes with a truck each week with the dirt. I don't know where he gets it. It's good dirt. It hardly has any rocks!" But people were inclined to believe what they wanted to believe and I knew myself well enough to know I was no exception.
Geoff pulled the plastic disks from the church gift shop out of the plastic bag he was carrying and we filled each one with the sacred, healing dirt. I rubbed a little bit on my lips and licked them to take it in. There were probably a few good minerals in it and I saw no reason not to partake in the healing if it was available. I also sprinkled some gently on Geoff's left knee.
"Can't hurt, might help!" I whispered, then stifled a giggle as I spotted a sign that read, "Please do not throw holy dirt on walls or on statues." Wow, they wouldn't have put that sign up if they didn't need it! There must have been a wild dirt fight in here sometime in the past.
Leaving the church the sun was extremely bright but welcome after the constant twilight of the sanctuary. Sunlight or no, we were soon back in Maddy's store and I was happily collecting a pile of books while Geoff examined the various happy skeletons associated with Mexico's Day of the Dead. There are actually two Days of the Dead, All Saints' Day, which is November 1
st, and All Souls' Day, which is November 2nd. Many Mexican Catholics believe that souls in Heaven, saints, will return on the first day in spirit form, and that souls in Purgatory will return on the second. The spirits that visit you will be people you know who have passed on. Usually children come back on All Saints' Day since they're considered to have died without sin.
It's a day of celebration because your lost love ones are returning to you. People clean and decorate graves and they create altars specifically for the ghosts they expect to return. Children's altars might feature favorite dolls or comic books and will certainly be covered with a child's favorite foods: candy, soda, apples, whatever the child used to like in life. Altars for adults will have a bit more variety, and alcohol and tobacco products are not uncommon. Water is left for everyone because ghosts are thought to be tired after their long journey. It is believed that the spirits will visit the altars and take most of the flavor away from whatever is left there. When the spirits have gone, the family members will consume the food and drink, talking to each other about how the flavor is off and how this means for sure that little Lupe or T o Tom s was there.
For the living, especially small children, it's a day to laugh death in the face. People put out figures of skeletons doing ordinary things, like shopping, driving cars, getting married, etc., eat calaveras, which are candy skulls made from sugar, and dress up in skeleton costumes. It seems to be a way of welcoming the dead, showing bravery in the face of death, and just having a good time. Geoff picked up a skeletal bride and groom and put them next to my stack of books. I heartily approved.
"So, how about that reading?" asked Maddy. "Do you need some guidance in your life? Some advice for your journey? How can I help you?"
"Well," I told her, "we have had a couple of weird things. " I explained how evasive Wayne had proved to be, how Clarissa at the stables had undergone a personality transplant before our eyes and how we were a bit suspicious about the puddle that had led to Geoff's hurt leg.
"I'm sure these are all random coincidences, but "
"There's no such thing as randomness. Or coincidence, my dears. Something's going on with you two on this trip and I'm going to do my best to help you figure it out. I'm going to do a reading called 'The Twisting Path.' It's a good one if you have risky stuff going on and I think you do. "
Maddy pulled yet another box down from the shelf behind the cash register. This one contained a blue felt mat, maybe two feet across, and a deck of cards. She had me shuffle the cards, then Geoff, then me again. The shuffling done, she began to place the cards down in a spread. She started her reading with a card on the lower left.
"Ah, the Two of Swords," she began. "Reversed. I knew something was going on. This card indicates that someone you think is a friend probably isn't. Someone's lying to you. Or they will lie to you." She looked up. "Don't worry, Geoff honey, it won't be me."
A card on the far left was the next one she described.
"This is what could possibly lead you astray. Well! Look at that! The Sun. This is happiness, accomplishment, happy relationships. A good marriage. That kind of thing. I interpret this as telling us that your own happiness together might distract you enough that you don't notice the bad things going on around you. You might miss something that turns out to be dangerous. So pull your head down out of the clouds from time to time."
Geoff snorted, his cynicism showing, but Maddy ignored him and turned her attention to the card in the middle. The Two of Clubs, reversed.
"This involves a decision you're going to have to make on your path. When it's upside down like this it means you're going to have some problems. It's another indicator that you have a false friend. That someone is going to, or already is, lying to you. You're also going to lose something, but what that is, I don't know." Maddy tossed her gray curls back over her right shoulder and a look of strong concentration appeared on her face. She turned to the card on the lower right.
"This card is a warning about another false path that may lay before you," breathed Maddy. "The Knight of Cups. Hm A knight is usually someone masculine, although it could stand for a warrior of some kind. Symbolically speaking, probably. In this case, it stands for an opportunity, an invitation or a proposal. I'd say that someone is going to make you an offer and it's going to seem like a good bet, but be very cautious. It's a false path, like I said."
"Okay, kids. I realize this hasn't been fun, but we're almost through." Maddy began to examine the card at the top. "This card is what's going to hide your true destination. It's the Three of Swords, which stands for sorrow. But it's reversed. Still, your true path, the way you should go is going to be hidden by things like confusion, mistakes, anxiety. You're going to have these feelings and they might lead you to feel you can't accomplish your mission, whatever that is, but you should recognize them as simple distractions. Illusions."
"Sounds like very Buddhist advice," I managed, but I was feeling very shaky inside. I thought the idea that the puddle was intentional was just an amusing mind game something to give a minor accident a bit of color. And now here was Maddy sweet, earthy, spiritual Maddy venturing into non-empirical realms and returning with all kinds of warnings about false friends and deception and dangerous invitations. My stomach did that kind of thing where you can feel it drop and suddenly become heavy. Not to be outdone, my veins decided to do that chilled blood thing. Oooh. Not fun.
Geoff saw me turn sort of green and put a strong arm around my shoulders. He gave me a reassuring squeeze.
"Well, that's interesting," he said to Maddy, "but I'm not sure that cards can really tell the future."
"They don't really tell the future," Maddy answered, "they just help us identify patterns in the parts of reality that aren't that obvious. Something is going on, and you're going to have to be careful, that's all. I'm sure you would have been careful anyway, even without the reading." She looked at me.
"Dora, sweetie, you're scaring your husband. Where's the detached scientist I know? "
"Just because I write about magical thinking doesn't mean I'm not susceptible to it," I mumbled. "I knew something weird was going on with Wayne and with the horseback riding, but I thought I was being silly, and now I feel terrible!"
"Don't feel terrible," said Maddy, and Geoff gave me another squeeze. "Even if the cards are right, you're going to both get through this just fine. Heck, it's your honeymoon. And don't forget, there was the Sun right there in the middle of everything. Happiness. Good marriage. Joy. Whatever problems may come your way, the cards say you made a good match with your Geoff." I nodded, slowly.
I knew better, I really did. I was great at stepping back from religious beliefs and supernatural explanations and seeing what purpose they served in different societies. Divination, like tarot cards or crystal balls or tea leaves, was a way for people to feel more in control. They offered warnings and explanations and made people feel like the had the power to work on destiny. Change destiny. Avoid tragedy. Solve puzzles. It was all psychological. But Maddy's reading had made the hairs on the back of my neck go up and had given me chills in all the wrong places.
I'm a great believer in the totally natural and straightforward power of the subconscious. While the conscious mind is shopping or watching television or riding on the back of a horse, the subconscious mind is operating like a silent computer, taking in data, sorting it, analyzing it, and only filtering some of that to the conscious mind. My reaction to Maddy's reading wasn't so strong because I truly felt that she was receiving information from some supernatural source, although I suppose that's possible. Instead, her comments were confirming something my subconscious had already figured out and had been trying, with limited success, to convey to my conscious mind. She delivered the message faster than my subconscious could and I was floored.
"Here," Maddy said soothingly. "I promised you some tea." She invited us behind the counter and into a little room concealed from the store by some star-covered curtains. Keeping an eye on the customers, she brewed some Darjeeling and put out a bowl of chile-spiced pistachios.
"I think you need a bit of my special stash," Maddy said. Geoff's eyes grew wide and he stared at me. I know he was thinking that she was going to pull out some kind of hippie hashish, but that's not Maddy's style. Instead she placed a couple of dark chocolate bars on the table. Good stuff. But chile-spiced like the pistachios.
"Geoff, you ever try chocolate and chile together?" she asked. He gave a broad smile, the first time I'd seen him really smile since we came back to her store.
"Yes, I have," he responded. "Dora talked me into getting some in this little gelato place near her old apartment. Sweet and hot at the same time. Great stuff." Maddy looked pleased, Geoff looked pleased, and I took some of the chocolate and let it do soothing things to my dopamine levels until I felt calmer.
By the time we left Maddy's store, around six o'clock that evening, my good mood had been restored. I was full of chocolate and tea and an Enya CD that Maddy had played in her store and fellowship and laughter. If someone was out to get us, we'd just get them first. We were on our honeymoon, damn it! We had the angels on our side. We said goodbye to Maddy, telling her we'd stay in touch (and that we'd send wedding photos she hadn't been able to make the trip and she'd been kicking herself over it), and returned to the car. I noticed Geoff's gait was smoother than it had been earlier.
"Is your leg feeling better?" I queried. "You're moving more gracefully now."
"Like a ballet dancer? Ha. Yes, actually, the knee is feeling a lot better. The swelling has gone down some."
"Ah, the healing dirt reveals its powers again!" He looked at me, half-smiling and half-disbelieving. I continued, "What do we know? Could be the dirt, could be the chile and chocolate, could be that Maddy cast a spell when we weren't looking. "
"Whatever you say. Speaking of weird things like spells, even after eating candy and nuts all afternoon, I'm suddenly starving."
"That's good," I replied, because we're set for dinner up the road at the Rancho de Chimay at seven." I glanced at my watch. "We've got forty-five minutes or so to kill. Want to hit some of the weaving shops?"
Geoff agreed, so we took a drive away from the shrine and got a better look at some of the local scenery. We stopped in a store that specialized in rugs woven by local Native families and stared, astonished, at a huge room filled with looms of various sizes. After a quick consultation, we found ourselves ordering three large rugs and a hall runner for Sucha Teas. These weren't little rugs, either. The "Red Pueblo" we bought, for instance, was hand-woven, made of wool, and weighed thirty pounds! It also cost over $5000. Yay for Petersen Publishing money, I thought, not for the first time. A professor's salary just can't cover $12,000 worth of rugs plus shipping! But the rugs were going to look amazing in our store. The rainbow-style hall runner, I decided, was my favorite. Yay for rugs! As we checked out, Geoff made another purchase as well a t-shirt advertising the local minor league baseball team, the Albuquerque Isotopes. He just couldn't resist.
By seven-thirty (I had had to call the restaurant to ask them to hold our reservation while we looked over the rugs), we were settled at a cozy table with tortilla ships and a bowl of guacamole, waiting for shrimp enchiladas. Geoff sipped a Chimay Cocktail, I savored a Blue Margarita, and both of us had put the tarot reading out of our minds.
Chapter Five
The next morning I awoke before Geoff, made some hotel room coffee as quietly as possible (I get a kick out of those coffee filter things that look like gigantic tea bags), and popped a DVD in my laptop computer. I was glad I brought my headphones along because being able to watch a movie or television program in silence is sometimes really wonderful. That morning I was watching an old episode of the TV show Hart to Hart.
Hart to Hart was a popular series when I was in my early 20s, attending college as a commuter student and still living at home. It was about a happily married, impossibly glamorous couple called Jonathan and Jennifer Hart and their adventures solving crimes in southern California. It used to come on during my mom's one night out a week when she sang with an a cappella barbershop chorus called the Sweet Adelines. She and my father had recently divorced after a long separation and she called on me to baby sit my much younger brother on Tuesdays when she was out singing. I'd make Eddie, who was about 9, go to bed and I'd curl up on the couch to watch the show, stealing an hour of prime study time to watch the Harts foil the devious plots of villainous chocolatiers, murderous gold thieves and delinquent pet food executives. I was young and na ve, but full of hope, and I loved to fantasize that a life filled with romance, adventure and wealth would someday be within my grasp.
It was harmless fun, and I enjoyed seeing marriage portrayed in such an alluring, albeit completely unrealistic and campy, way. I had rediscovered the series on DVD in adulthood and was somewhat stunned to find that I was as captivated as I had been during my college years. Geoff sometimes told me I was just a big kid, and I'm afraid he was absolutely right. That morning I located an episode that took place on the Harts' horse ranch, in some unspecified western state. There was an evil landowner trying to buy out the neighboring properties to engage in unscrupulous strip mining, and the whole episode was a cornucopia of thrilling chases on horseback, ranch homes done in a Hollywood version of southwestern style, and more enviable cowboy hats that you could shake a stick at. I loved to see Jonathan and Jennifer riding so soon after Geoff and I had taken our own ride through the sagebrush and, I have to admit, their battle to defeat the larcenous landowner gave me some small measure of courage.
Just as the episode ended, triumphantly of course, with the Harts and their faithful valet Max enjoying cocktails in the ranch house, Geoff began to stir. Forty-three minutes of the Harts billing and cooing their way through danger sans commercials had put me into a romantic mood.
"Mmmm .good morning, Dora," said my husband in a voice still touched with sleep. I unhooked my earphones and bounded across the hotel room, landing on the bed.
"Good morning, Darling," I breathed. Geoff made no mention of my use of the term "Darling," even though it was a rarity in our vocabulary. "Sweetie" and "Honey" were much more common, but I tended to say "Darling" a lot after watching an episode of Hart to Hart. Both Jonathan and Jennifer used it, and the twenty-year-old who still lived and breathed inside me thought it was terribly, terribly sophisticated.
"Mmm " said Geoff and closed his eyes, ostensibly to go back to sleep. I couldn't have that. Not now.
"Darling, don't forget We're on our honeymoon," I reminded him. His eyelids opened up, just barely.
"I know " he said, sounding puzzled. I could tell that he wondered why I was mentioning that just then.
"Honeymoons are romantic," I told him. His eyes opened more fully and he looked at me with slow comprehension and growing amusement.
"Romantic, are they?" he asked. "I see. I'm game as long as you remember my fragile condition." He showed me his knee, which was a stunning purplish blue. I made sympathetic noises, but made sure he knew I wasn't letting him off the hook.
"So, what would you suggest we do to celebrate this romantic time in our lives?" he whispered. I used all the sophisticated, glamorous tools at my disposal to show him.
Breakfast. I love breakfast. Or brunch. And Santa Fe had one of my favorite breakfast places ever, the Plaza Caf , right in the middle of the, well, the Plaza. It was just a little diner, but it buttressed the little park that marked the center of the small city and was nestled among the various shops and art galleries that made Santa Fe great. See, Santa Fe is organized in a somewhat unusual way, with streets that turn in odd directions and have no relationship at all with cardinal directions like north, south, east or west. But it does have a center. And this center is the Plaza, a grassy park, maybe a city block in all, with trees, walkways, and a very pretty gazebo.
To the northeast of the central park runs Palace Avenue. The Palace of the Governors is on this street and the covered patio portion of this building is the site where many Native American jewelers and other artisans show off their wares. The biggest trade is in silver jewelry, especially silver worked with local turquoise or gemstones from far away like African malachite. All of these traders are licensed, and no one without a special license is allowed to trade here.
The other three streets that surround the plaza are on the southeast, the southwest and the northwest and are strung with stores ranging from kitchen supply places to expensive silver stores to an old-fashioned five-and-dime. Geoff and I had enjoyed taking walks around this section of the town, but to our consternation, all the shops seemed to close right around six o'clock at night. We wondered what there was about the Santa Fe mentality that permitted shops to shut down when tourists, with bulging wallets, were still in the vicinity hoping to cart off souvenirs. Perhaps it was the same mentality that led to streets running northeast to southwest instead of north to south.
In any case, it was late morning, all the shops were open, and the Plaza Caf stood before us in all its glory. Geoff had never eaten there before, so I tried to explain it to him.
"Well, it's sort of a dive, but really nice. Locals eat here as well as tourists. I used to come here and people-watch in the nineties and I love their sopaipillas." I told him.
"So pie whats?" he inquired.
"Sopaipillas. They're pronounced so-pie-PEE-yas. They're pastries, not very sweet, fried somehow so they puff up like little air pillows. When you cut into a fresh one, little hot puffs of air come out. You eat them drizzled with honey." I added, as we entered the restaurant.
A stocky looking lady in a Plaza Caf t-shirt led us to our booth that sat among a string of booths facing the counter that really gave the place its credentials as a diner. The wall behind the counter was a mosaic of salvaged pieces of black and white crockery. Behind Geoff, the wall that led to the restrooms featured a giant map of the southwest and I looked with some homesickness at the California coast where I'd grown up. No matter. There was breakfast to consider.
Huevos rancheros. Breakfast burritos. Blue corn pancakes. I ordered a cup of coffee, Geoff ordered a watermelon-orange juice blend, and we settled in over our menus, determining how to stuff ourselves for the next hour or so. I finally chose the breakfast burrito, a tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs, onions and cheese and doused with chile sauce. Geoff went for it all the big combination breakfast that was a bit more traditionally American-style with its eggs, sausage, bacon, and stack of blue corn pancakes. We made sure to ask for sopaipillas on the side.
When we ordered, the waiter asked me if I'd like red or green chile. This is a ubiquitous question in Santa Fe. Sometimes red is hotter, sometimes green is hotter. If you want both red and green you ask for "Christmas style," which I always found amusing. I was told that green was hotter, so went for the red. I had grown up with spicy food available, but could only take mild levels of spice nonetheless. This had the effect of making me feel like a real wimp in Thai, Indian and yes, New Mexican, restaurants, but there it was.
While we waited for our food, Geoff and I planned the day.
"I'd like to go back to Los Alamos again today and try to find Wayne. I tried calling him again this morning, but the office wasn't open yet. The automatic operator did let me into his voicemail, though, which was an improvement over yesterday. At least now there's a message for him if he checks," Geoff said.
"Are you sure you even want to bother with him?" I asked, somewhat concerned. "I mean, he should know we're in town and if he hasn't made an effort to contact us "
"I think he's probably just busy. I don't think we need to take anything personally."
"I know, it's just all that stuff about false friends made me wonder "
"Oh no, " Geoff exclaimed. "Not that stuff. I was worried you were going to take that fortune-telling to heart. It means nothing. I've known Wayne for years. I know I can trust him and I know he's really my friend." Geoff isn't one to get angry, but when he does he doesn't usually yell, he usually shuts down slowly and avoids eye contact. He had started to do that now and I immediately changed tactics. I did not want to get in a fight with him during our honeymoon. I mean, I've heard honeymoon fights are surprisingly common, but I really didn't want to go there.
"Sorry, Sweetie," I apologized. "I don't know him, and I'm sure you're right. You've known him for ages and you're in the best position to judge what's going on. Let's go into Los Alamos and we'll see if he calls us back. If not, we'll catch up on stuff there that we didn't see yet." Geoff nodded, appeased, and the waiter appeared with our food. It was good, but if the red chile was milder than the green, the green must have eaten holes in all of their dinnerware. By the time our breakfast was over, my eyes and nose had sprung leaks and my face probably would have served as a fashionable red counterpoint to Geoff's blue knee.
We did a bit of post-breakfast shopping in the Plaza. We bought some turquoise and silver earrings for Geoff's mother Lily and I got a pendant for myself. Geoff resisted my hints that we needed to buy cowboy hats, and instead turned his attention to the many gem and mineral shops in Santa Fe's downtown. He had a wonderful time examining bowls made from trilobite fossils, displays of petrified wood, and collections of rare meteorites. We also visited a pair of used book stores and I ended up buying a book on the death and burial rituals of the ancient Hawaiians. You never know what you'll find or where you'll find it.
After an hour or so we were shopped out and got back on the road to Los Alamos. Part two. The sequel. The search for Wayne Whedon continues. Yes, I have a very snarky imagination. But I knew finding Wayne (who still hadn't called us back, by the way) was important to Geoff and that he really wanted to get a better look at Los Alamos, so I was willing to give it another try.
The drive from Santa Fe to Los Alamos was, once again, completely gorgeous, and we soon found ourselves, once again (again) in the parking lot of the Bradbury Museum. Geoff wanted to get a few more photos of some of the technological artifacts inside the museum, but he was especially enthusiastic about taking the tour around Los Alamos we had seen advertised the last time we were there. It was about a quarter after one when we arrived, so we went back into the bookstore next door to the museum where we had spent so much money before to purchase a pair of tickets.
At 1:30pm a bright yellow van drove up and parked next to the sign. Our guide jumped out. Her name was Judy and she was a very energetic woman in her early 60s with a cap of grayish-brown hair. She took our tickets and we were joined in the van by another couple, a man and woman who looked to be of retirement age. Judy shut the four of us into the van, climbed into the driver's seat and put on a headset.
"Welcome to Los Alamos!" she said brightly. "I'm Judy, and I grew up here, albeit after the days of the Manhattan Project. We're going to see the parts of the town that were important in those days. You'll be able to take a look at where the scientists who came here for the Project worked, lived and even played. We're also going to see some of current laboratory plant, although I need to warn you, you won't be able to take pictures there. Are we ready to go?"
We all nodded our agreement and soon we were heading along Central Avenue, seeing the part of town that used to be known as Bathtub Row because it was where the ritzy homes that actually had bathtubs instead of showers had been built. The site had been a former boys' camp, and when the scientists moved in it retained a lot of its camp-like appearance. Judy drove us past the homes of Bathtub Row, pointing out the house of Robert Oppenheimer himself! Geoff's eyes were a bit wider than usual and he looked quite pleased. When Judy pointed out a historical museum in this section of the town, he looked at me with great significance.
"Yes, Sweetie, we can come back. Don't worry," I whispered.
We drove up mesas and down plateaus, gazing soberly on the destruction the fires of the year 2000 had wrought. Finally Judy drove us through a security gate that was surprisingly unoccupied.
"You see over there?" she chirped, indicating an area of construction work. "They're redoing this section, making it more secure. Every time the country's alert status changes we have a new routine. Normally we'd have to talk to the guards but today with the construction, they're just letting us through. Not that I mind. It's usually such a pain!" After passing through security we found ourselves surrounded by what looked like an enormous office park. It was mesmerizing to think about what kinds of research were going on in the buildings even as we pulled into a parking space. Weird smoke poured from some kind of mysterious grate on one side of the road and the sidewalks were hosting a variety of people, some in suits, some in lab coats and others in very casual khakis and jeans.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Judy, interrupting my thoughts, "This is one section of the current laboratories. We have to be careful here. You remember I said no pictures? This is what I was talking about. A friend of mine who works as an archaeologist for the labs put together a timeline of the labs and it's on display out here in front of this office. It's really well done and I'm sure you'd be tempted to take a photo of it, but please don't. I've seen men come out of the buildings to confiscate film or force people to delete digital photographs here, and it's not any fun at all. In fact, I'd suggest before leaving the van that you put your cameras away. If security even see a camera, we might get more attention from them than we strictly want!"
Somewhat nervously, I stuck my camera in my jacket pocket, wondering in a paranoid way whether someone, somewhere would see it and come after me. Geoff and I stepped down out of the van and followed Judy and the others along a sidewalk until we reached five display tables set underneath a few cottonwood trees.
Judy said, "For those of you who like chronology, I'd suggest you start with the display to the far left. If chronology's not your thing, start anywhere." She smiled. I hadn't realized I was a big fan of chronology until that moment, but once I realized the displays depicted the history of Los Alamos, I definitely wanted to see them in order. Geoff and I headed all the way to the far left and read about the volcanic activity that had created the caldera on which we now stood. The second display showed the Native American history of the area, particularly its prehistoric origins, and I suddenly understood how an archaeologist had been instrumental in the creation of the display panels. I was heading over to the third panel when I heard Geoff gasp.
"Wayne! Wayne! Over here! Wayne Whedon!" He had spotted his wayward friend, quite by coincidence. From where I stood, it seemed like Wayne, a tall brown-haired fellow with deep dimples whom I was seeing for the first time, tried first to ignore Geoff's call, then felt guilty and turned around reluctantly. He approached us slowly, dragging his feet. Judy looked a bit shocked and worried, as though us recognizing a friend during her tour would be interpreted as some kind of security risk.
Wayne looked like he was worried about this being noticed too. Not really knowing him, I wasn't sure of his facial expressions, but his "smile" looked somewhat false to me. There was a tone of forced jollity in his voice when he spoke.
"Well, Geoff Petersen! Funny running into you here today!" He looked over his shoulder toward the parking lot. "On your honeymoon, isn't that right? And this must be Dora." He extended his hand. I had always thought I'd be very friendly with Wayne when I met him, but something here felt strange, wrong, somehow disturbing. He was, however, a good friend of my husband's, so I made an effort.
"Wayne! I've heard a lot about you wild times at NASA and all that. It's so good to finally meet you." Geoff seemed pleased to see his wife and good friend at the same place at the same time, even if there were two elderly tourists, a tour guide, and a large yellow van waiting for us. A light rain had also begun to fall.
"I tried to call you," said Geoff, "They said you weren't taking any phone calls and they wouldn't take a message from me either. Didn't realize until we got here that the only phone number I had for you was your work phone. I think I told you we were going to be in town."
"Did you? Oh, uh, I guess you did. Sorry. I've been very busy. How long are you going to be in town?" Wayne asked.
"Actually, we're staying in Santa Fe, but we're going to be leaving for Roswell tomorrow morning," Geoff explained. Wayne's expression changed, and I could see a glimmer of someone who had shared a lot of laughs with my husband.
"Going to track down the little green men, are you?" said Wayne and flashed a genuine-looking smile. "Listen, Geoff, I'm sorry I've been so hard to reach." His voice dropped into an almost-whisper and I could tell he was doing that thing where he was pretending to look at us but was actually scanning the area behind us. "There's been some stuff going on that I can't explain right now."
"That's okay, we understand. You've got to work," Geoff said, but he looked confused and wary. Wayne looked from side to side for a second and then spoke in a voice that was noticeably louder than the tone he had been using.
"Let me give you a better number to reach me at!" he stated in a clear, bold voice. I fished a piece of paper and pen out of my purse and gave them to Wayne. He wrote something out and handed it to Geoff, who put it in the pocket of his jacket.
"Geoff," he said, his voice dropping down again, "you guys be careful, okay? I'll try to be in touch." Then, louder, "Don't want to hold up your tour! Congratulations, guys and have a great time in New Mexico!" Then he was gone. The sky was gray, the rain was falling harder, the elderly couple were back in the van eyeing us from their seats, and Judy the tour guide was standing by the door to the van looking both impatient and worried. Embarrassed and a bit shaken, Geoff and I got back into the van as fast as we could. Judy shut the door and resumed her narration.
The rest of the tour was interesting, although Geoff and I were a bit distracted. We did get some interesting photos of some non-classified parts of town, and drove through a residential neighborhood where Geoff put himself back into a good mood by asking Judy tons of questions about the local housing market, taxes, and other financial details about life in Los Alamos.
After the tour and another quick jaunt through the Bradbury Museum, we drove over to the much smaller history museum and had a wonderful time looking at various artifacts associated with life in the Atomic City. The museum was located near Bathtub Row, where many of the more important scientists had lived, and I got a few photos of Geoff posing in front of Robert Oppenheimer's house. We drove back to Santa Fe just as the sun was setting and I let Geoff be alone with his thoughts. My own thoughts were occupied with trying to figure out who this Wayne person was and what he thought he was doing. The tarot card reading Maddy had done for us was still fresh in my mind and all I could think of were the reversed Ten of Clubs and the reversed Two of Swords. False friends. Treachery. Deception.
That evening, after a bit of a nap for Geoff and a few chapters of a fantasy novel for me, we decided to spend an evening like the locals do. I remembered a shopping mall I'd visited when I'd lived in Santa Fe and we thought we'd check that out, just for fun. When we arrived, however, we discovered that everything except the movie theater had shut down for the evening. We were aghast.
"Seven. Everything closed at seven!" I whined.
"What kind of place is Santa Fe? What do people do at night?" Geoff wondered. "I mean, you work all day, you go home, have dinner and then if you want to do a little shopping what? You're out of luck?" I agreed it was frustrating. We were enjoying playing the bad tourists and complaining, but the mall being closed probably saved us a fortune.
Our big brunchy-type breakfast had finally worn off and we decided to consider what local fare was available. After cruising up and down Cerillos Avenue and dismissing Indian, Thai, Baja-style Mexican and even Nepalese restaurants, we decided on a soup and salad joint that Geoff remembered from his days in Texas. All you could eat for $5.99! After our fancy meals of elk and foie gras topped short ribs (that's what I'd had that night one of the most decadent things I'd ever eaten!), plates of fresh veggies along with soup and sandwiches seemed like an excellent plan.
At some point during our dinner, Geoff reached into his jacket pocket for something or other and came out with a slip of paper. It was the phone number Wayne had given him.
"Might as well program this into my phone," he said. "Then I can throw this away." But when Geoff opened the note, his face got suddenly pale and I began to worry.
"What is it, Honey?" I asked.
"This isn't a phone number," he responded. He passed me the note. It was written in a hurried scribble, with lots of abbreviations. Wayne had been trying to pack a lot of information into his note. It read, "Pls b careful! Dngr! Bng watched. Later." I felt the blood drain from my face. As the fear hit me, I could feel my breathing get shallow and when I spoke, my voice had gotten very high-pitched and squeaky.
"What?" I asked. "Is this from Wayne?" Geoff nodded.
"I don't understand," I continued. "He gave you this? But what does it mean? Who is being watched? What are we supposed to do? Oh my God, Honey, are we in danger? Is someone watching us now?" With each word I spoke, my voice got higher and breathier and faster until I sounded like a five year old who'd had way too much sugar.
In retrospect, I wouldn't have blamed Geoff if he'd slapped me across the face. It was one of those classic moments of panic that, at least in the movies, is solved only with a hard slap or possibly a glass of water to the face. But he just took the note back from me and waited for me to calm down.
"Are you okay now?" he finally asked.
"I think so. Well, I don't know. I'm scared."
"I'm scared too. Which ticks me off, because this might be Wayne's idea of a joke."
"Oh, that's right!" I exclaimed, very relieved. "He was always doing prank type stuff in Houston, right? That's got to be it. Okay."
"Except he gets a look when he's trying to fool someone and he didn't have that look this afternoon. He seemed to want to brush us off, but he also seemed like he was trying to be friendly on some level," Geoff noted.
"I noticed he kept changing his voice, too," I added, "like he wanted only us to hear certain things and then wanted some things to be overheard by anyone." We fell silent a few moments and then I spoke again, as quietly as I could.
"Do you think he's being watched, or we're being watched?"
"From the way he acted at the labs, I think he was afraid someone was watching him right then. He kept looking around and, like you said, doing that voice thing." The waiter at the soup and salad place asked us if we'd like our sodas refilled and Geoff and I both jumped.
"Sorry!" said the server, a bit taken aback. "I just wanted to know if you wanted more to drink."
"No, no, that's okay," I answered. He left and I looked around the room in what I hoped was a subtle manner. Geoff was staring at the table top, thinking.
"Here's what we do," he finally said. "We follow our schedule the way we have it planned. We go to Roswell tomorrow like normal. Then Las Cruces for the S-Prize. We have our honeymoon."
"But "
"But we keep our eyes open. We look for trouble. We just stay extra aware. I don't think we really have anything to worry about. If Wayne's in some kind of trouble, that doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be in trouble too. I mean, I'm concerned about him, but it doesn't look like he needs us to help with anything. He just said to be careful, so we will."
"He also mentioned danger," I commented. I picked up my fork and dislodged a cherry tomato from underneath a lettuce leaf. I sighed. After a few seconds, I spoke again.
"Listen, Geoff," I started, "this may sound weird, but let me just get this out. First, I think that there may be something to Maddy's reading. It was all about danger and false friends and stuff and, I don't know, there are things in the world we can't explain. Maybe she was able to hook into something on that level. I don't know. But the second thing is what happened with the horses. That girl at the horse place
changed when you mentioned Wayne and space elevators. And judging from Luis' reaction to the puddle, I really, honestly, think she had something to do with it."
"So do you want to just pack up and go home?" Geoff shocked me with the pointedness of the question.
"No!" I exclaimed, horrified. This was my honeymoon! We were in New Mexico. We had plans!
"So we stay on schedule and we proceed with caution. Hopefully there will be no more suspicious accidents or weird omens. Maybe we'll hear more from Wayne later. But I don't think worrying about it is going to make things better." He stood up.
"Where are you going?" I demanded, my voice going high again.
"I'm going to see," he replied, "what they have for dessert in this place."
Chapter Six
I slept very fitfully that night, although our ride back to the hotel from the soup and salad place was uneventful and Geoff and I could see no evidence that we were being watched by anyone. We got up relatively early the next morning, stopped by a health food store for smoothies and some high-fiber blueberry muffins and started our long drive to Roswell.
There's just under 200 miles separating Santa Fe and Roswell, but much of the drive is on rural roads so it takes about four hours, with a stop here and there for gas, to make the trip. The scenery started out with the mesas and mountains that surround Santa Fe, but soon the land around the road went completely, totally flat. We could see straight ahead for what looked like a thousand miles.
Flocks of crows caught our attention with a game they seemed to play. It was a cold morning and the asphalt of the road was probably the warmest thing around. The birds would fly over it and then two or three would land, just a few yards in front of our car. Geoff slowed down the first time this happened, and the crows took off when we got closer. The next time they landed right in front of our car Geoff didn't slow down, and the crows were still able to take flight in time to save themselves. This happened easily four or five times on the same stretch of road and we decided that we were observing the crow's version of chicken. Whichever crow waited the longest before flying away was the winner. I looked around to see if there was any crow road kill, but these particular birds must have been experts at the game because there was no evidence that any one of them had sat in the road for too long. Thank goodness! I see enough road kill in west Michigan and I didn't mind the lack of it in New Mexico.
We stopped at a sort of a giant tacky tourist mega-mart in Clines Corners at our first gas stop. There were all kinds of souvenirs, from ersatz American Indian art to Elvis and alien items, to x-rated party gifts of various kinds. Although it made for an amusing way to spend twenty minutes, we didn't find anything we wanted, either for our home, for Sucha Teas, or even for gifts for our friends. We did buy some fudge, though, and that made the rest of the ride pretty pleasant.
We chatted on and off during the rest of the ride to Roswell. I had a couple of CDs I had brought for the car and we spent a good portion of the ride listening to southwestern style music with a Latin flair. Occasionally we'd pick up a good radio station for a little while then lose it after just a few minutes. We didn't talk about Wayne, but I'm sure we were both thinking about him. Still, with distance between us and Los Alamos, the whole thing started to fade a bit and seem less pressing and more like a faraway memory.
We finally pulled into Roswell about four o'clock in the afternoon. It looked like a pretty normal town at first glance, but as we traveled along Main Street we began to notice several alien-themed gift shops meant to attract tourist attention with giant alien heads, spaceships that appeared to have crashed into walls, and other images of little green men. Even the street lamps in Roswell's downtown were shaped somewhat like alien heads, sort of elongated almond shapes, complete with slanted, inhuman eyes. Geoff's eyes, fully human, were fully engaged with what he saw around him. He wasn't really a believer in aliens, at least not those purported to have crashed outside of Roswell, but space stuff was his passion, and U.F.O.s fell squarely into that category. He was having a blast.
We had decided to go slumming during this part of our honeymoon and checked into a Motel 11, one of those rundown spots that caters mainly to truckers. Geoff had given me a funny look when I said it was where we were staying during the Roswell portion of our trip after all, it was a one star joint and our hotel in Santa Fe had been the La Fonda, a very nice three star place. But it was Roswell. Aliens! Out in the middle of nowhere. I figured we needed a hotel that would be just as picturesque and memorable as the surroundings. I also have a weird sense of humor.
The Motel 11 was a pretty large place, two stories. The woman who checked us in wore a nametag that identified her as "Bev" and she had the look and demeanor of an older elementary school teacher not the kind who is sweet and adored the children, but the kind that has been disillusioned after years of gum in her hair and staples on her chair and bruises on her shins. She was the kind of older lady who wasn't going to put up with any guff from anyone, least of all someone who comes in off the street and wants a room. Or wants an extra pillow. Or wants to know where the nearest shopping mall was.
As she filled in our paperwork, sending us outside to retrieve our license plate number and getting everything but our social security numbers, a man and his son who had been using the indoor pool came up to the desk and the man asked for some extra towels to take back to their room. Bev ignored him, very pointedly. A full five seconds passed (which is longer than it seems count it out!) and the man asked again. At that point, Bev lifted up her bun-coiffured gray head, peered at him over her glasses and said in a voice full of prim ice crystals, "I will be with you when I have finished."
Geoff and I were still shivering from the chill when we got to our room upstairs. We began to unpack, but stopped when we realized we could hear practically every word being said in the hotel room on the other side of the wall. It was a pair of truckers, discussing when and where they were going to have dinner that night and who was going to get which bed. They seemed so loud, but we knew they were speaking at a normal volume it was just that the walls were so thin.
"Love, not sure this is the hotel I would have chosen," whispered Geoff.
"Sorry," I answered, wincing. I risked a reference to Wayne's warning about being watched: "At least the bad guys won't be able to sneak up on us." As if in demonstration, we heard the pounding noise of someone walking just past our door. Geoff rolled his eyes. He headed into the bathroom for a few minutes and when he came out he whispered again.
"You're going to enjoy the toilet," he said, and there was a sarcastic note to his voice. What the? I decided to see what he was talking about, so I went into the bathroom and had a seat. And noticed immediately that my right buttock was a full two inches higher than my left buttock. This was weirdly disconcerting. Ah, a quality hotel is a joy to find.
"So, you want to complain to Bev about the room?" I asked, teasingly, when I came out of the bathroom.
"Uh, no. She'd probably hit my hand with a ruler!" Geoff replied.
"She totally looks like she would! And then make us write 'I will appreciate my motel room' a hundred times on the board." We were jovial, but we were also whispering. If we could hear everything our neighbors said, they could hear everything we said.
"You know what?" Geoff asked, sotto voce.
"I'd like to get out of here. You game?"
"Totally!" I replied.
"For sure!" agreed Geoff in a whispered, valley girl accent. He thought it was cute to mock my California heritage. I swatted at him to keep him in line, a big grin on my face for the first time in a day or so.
We snuck past Bev without being lectured about our sloppy haircuts or gum chewing habit and made it safely to the car. Here we were in Roswell. Roswell, the town where, nearly sixty years before, legend stated that an alien spaceship had crash landed. Most of the alien passengers had died, said the rumors, but one had lived long enough to have been taken to a secret government laboratory where his physiology had been studied in great detail. People in Roswell still whispered about the cover-up, adding flames to the conspiracy theory fire that brought tourists into the town to get a bit of alien action.
After parking downtown we began making our way up and down Main St., enjoying the window displays and giant blow-up dolls the merchants placed out to attract attention. It reminded me in a lot of ways of the pilgrimage centers I'd visited, especially the larger ones like Lourdes in France. Both Lourdes and Roswell were scenes of contact between ordinary humans and entities beyond the ordinary. At Lourdes the Virgin Mary appeared to a young girl called Bernadette Soubirous, while at Roswell, a farmer known as "Mac" Brazel finds the wreckage of a downed flying saucer. Both stories are unbelievable to skeptics, but both stories have legions of devotees who know the truth of the events somehow deep in their bones. Lourdes has the advantage in that the Catholic Church supports Bernadette's telling of the event. Poor "Mac" Brazel, under some kind of threat from the U.S. government, changed his story and never spoke of the mysterious wreckage ever again.
Lourdes is full of shops that refer to Bernadette or the Virgin Mary in their names, like "Le Berceau de Bernadette," which translates as "Bernadette's Cradle." I thought of this as I looked at stores called Star Child and Alien Zone. There was a sandwich shop called Not of this World, and a former Denny's that had been converted into a new restaurant called the Cover-Up Caf . I was sure that such places attracted Roswell's many pilgrims and that these visitors were thrilled to have access to shops and eateries that helped make their trip to Roswell as alien as possible.
Geoff was excited about the official UFO Museum, but it was close to closing time so we decided to save it until the next day. Instead we wandered through two or three of the alien-themed souvenir shops. Most of them had t-shirts with tacky slogans, or even offensive ones like a little green man in a sombrero identified as an "illegal alien." There were dolls and key chains and books that purported to tell the truth about UFOs, their occupants and what our space brothers really wanted from us.
One of the shops had a section called "Area 51," a name choice that annoyed me because Area 51 is in Nevada, not New Mexico. This section, which we paid two dollars each to enter, featured a number of sets, each one with a prominent alien dummy, that were designed to provide visitors with a memorable photographic experience. We decided to go with it and got a number of amusing portraits of each other. There was Geoff next to an alien bartender, me watching television with a beer-drinking alien, Geoff emerging from a flying saucer, me teaching an alien student in a classroom, and even one of us defying gravity as we kissed above the head of an alien who calmly consumed a bowl of cereal at his breakfast table.
All the intense, ritualized paranoia of Roswell made me forget my own paranoia, and by the time we decided to have dinner, I was feeling very relaxed. We decided we couldn't pass up the Cover-Up Caf . The Cover-Up Caf was designed to look like a military installation, which followed a certain logic since Roswell had once been the home of an Army base. It had both a military and space theme, and was meant to look like something set up by the armed forces to ensure that no one found out the truth about Roswell. A sign on the outside identified the building, playfully, as nothing but a weather balloon tracking station. The interior resembled a military cafeteria, from the metallic looking tables to the authentic military-issue hanging lamps above each booth.
As we grabbed our table, I noticed that the special of the day was something called "alien stew," a designation that I found somewhat frightening. When we got our menus we discovered that the place was basically a burger joint, and that suited us fine. We ordered a couple of hamburgers and some fries and settled into a conversation about what the local Roswellians, I guess you'd call them make of having an alien-themed home town. I could see that it would be fun, on the one hand, but also limiting in some ways. I was sure the locals sometimes wished they lived someplace normal. I was, of course, thinking of research I'd done on the communities that surround pilgrimage destinations. Geoff focused on the income the alien theme brought to the town and thought being associated with aliens was probably better than being poor. As he spoke I watched a flat-screen TV with vague interest. It seemed to be showing a documentary about crop circles in Italian. Hmm .
Our waitress, a woman in her early sixties, came by our table with our dinners. The burgers were surprisingly good, clearly made right at the restaurant from fresh beef. The fries were okay, but I thought Geoff was right when he guessed that they cooked them in the same oil they used for their fried fish. We continued our conversation, and Geoff explained his belief that the wreckage found by "Mac" Brazel was actually an American spying device whose existence did need to be kept secret. The cover-up, he thought, was real, but it had nothing to do with aliens.
When Pearl, for that was our waitress's name, came to clear our plates, I decided to ask her some questions. Not to interrogate her, but just to ask some typical tourist questions.
"So, we were talking and we wondered what people who live here thought about all of the alien stuff. Do people enjoy it, or does it get tiresome?" I asked. Pearl looked thoughtful.
"Well, it's certainly done a lot for the economy," she responded. "Before all the alien stuff became popular, we really didn't have a lot going on. I mean Roswell is the dairy capital of New Mexico, but "
"Dairy capital?" asked Geoff. "Is that what that smell is? Um, I didn't mean " Geoff stopped, embarrassed. We had noticed an odd odor when we got to Roswell, sort of methane-like and very rural. It made sense that it was a dairy smell. We just hadn't expected it in the town of top-secret alien landings.
"It's funny," Pearl said. She was clearly not offended at all. "You live here long enough and you don't notice it. But my grandson, well, every time my daughter and her husband would come to visit me, he'd say at a certain point, 'It smells like Mee-Maw!' Took them a while to understand that he meant the dairy smell. So that smell means his grandmother, as far as he's concerned!" We laughed.
"So aside from the dairies, Roswell's about the aliens now?" Geoff queried.
"Oh yeah. There's a festival in the summer and people just come from everywhere. We meant to have the restaurant open by festival time this year, but it just didn't happen. Next year, though, we expect a lot of business."
"I bet you'll get it." I said. "Did you grow up here?" I asked, curiosity getting the better of me again.
"Yes," Pearl answered.
"What was it like? Did people talk about the incident that happened in the forties, or has that just become a topic recently?"
"Oh, people talked about it my whole life!" she exclaimed. "In fact, when I was three years old, my dad took me to the crash site and I've never forgotten it. I still remember the big hole in the ground and the scorch marks. I was little, but it made an impression."
"Wow" was all I could think of to say. Pearl continued.
"We'd talk about it from time to time when I was growing up. My family worked for the military at the time and they were definitely told not to talk about certain things. I don't say there were aliens, but something definitely happened there." She dropped off our bill and headed over to the next customer.
I was impressed. Here we were in Roswell, talking to a woman who had seen the crash site with her own eyes! It was amazing. I was always fascinated by the idea of life on other planets and here was proof! Geoff, however, had thoughts of his own.
"Pretty smart," he commented as we left the restaurant.
"What's pretty smart?"
"To have waitresses that tell the clients about seeing the crash site and stuff. Her description wasn't accurate based on what I've read, but it certainly adds to the atmosphere of the place. Did you catch that the owner of the restaurant also owns a tourist shop across the street? I talked to him while you were in the bathroom. He sets up his Cover-Up Caf , gets the waitresses to talk about their own alien experiences, and that drives up business at his store!"
"Did he tell you all that?" I demanded.
"Well, no, but it's pretty clear."
"I don't know, " I disagreed. "I thought she seemed pretty sincere." But Geoff had managed to burst my bubble, probably for the best. I mean, I managed to go to places around the world where miracles were said to have occurred and I'd always been able to maintain my objectivity. Put me in Alien Land, USA, though, and I'm ready to sign up and start paying dues.
I decided to myself that Geoff and I were both right. Pearl probably did believe she had seen the alien crash site. But any deception on her part was most likely unconscious. There were a lot of good, functional reasons to believe in alien visitors, and believing in something that brought money in wasn't a bad idea.
I was quiet as we went back to the hotel. It was more fun to believe in aliens than to not believe in them, and I couldn't quite recapture the feeling I had had just a few moments ago, right after we talked to Pearl. We were heading back to a lousy flea bag of a hotel room, we'd probably be up all night listening to unseen people snore, and armed killers were probably after us because we knew Wayne. I decided I was not having fun.
"Hey, what's with you?" Geoff asked, back in the room. "You seem distant."
"I'm fine," I said, grabbing my novel and settling onto the bed. "We have to be quiet, you know." Geoff undressed, brushed his teeth, and pulled his own novel out of his bag. I had gone into full sulking mode. I wanted to watch television, but it would disturb the neighbors. I wanted to believe in aliens, but it wasn't logical. I wanted to feel safe. I wanted to talk loudly. I wanted
I felt a hand against my shoulder. It worked its way down my back and then rested there a moment, making little circles. The fingers spread and the motion of the hand on my back changed into a more wide-ranging pattern of gentle scratching. I closed my book.
"That feels good," I whispered in a voice that had something like a purr within it.
"I can think of something to do that would be fun," announced Geoff. "And we can do it quietly if we're very careful. It can be a game."
"Oh yeah?" I answered. I put my book down and rolled over to receive a very soft, very silent kiss.
Despite the pleasant interlude with Geoff, I didn't sleep well. I woke often, and each time felt angry and unnerved. I wanted to rage, but I wasn't sure what my target was. The toilet was a good start. Stupid toilet! Stupid! Who would install a toilet at an angle like this? What kind of business did the Motel 11 think they were running? And why would they hire a woman like Bev who made the guests feel like naughty children? I growled to myself, but even that made me angry because I realized that if I growled at full volume, I wouldn't just wake Geoff, I'd disturb half the tenants in our hallway. I wanted
out of this hotel room and out of smelly Roswell and whose idea was this anyway?
I managed to fall back to sleep and when I woke up, I was feeling somewhat better. My feelings sometimes come to the surface in the middle of the night and they're always overdramatic. My rage had passed, and even though I still wanted to leave the hotel, I was feeling less desperate about it. We were going to leave. Today. Yay for us!
I made a cup of coffee and risked turning on the TV while Geoff went into the bathroom to use the ridiculous toilet and take a shower. After a few seconds I could hear groans coming from the bathroom. Weird groans. Inhuman groans. Unearthly groans. It was very strange, but I could also hear normal showering noises and then the buzz of Geoff's razor, so I figured he wasn't the mystery groaner. He emerged a few minutes later.
"What was that sound?" I demanded.
"Oh, you could hear that?"
"I can hear everything. Paper walls, remember." I commented.
"They didn't install the shower correctly. Those noises were coming from the shower floor. This isn't just an old hotel, it's a badly constructed old hotel." Geoff sounded as annoyed as I had been at 3am.
When it was my turn to shower I tried to keep the groaning to a minimum, but every time I shifted my weight the shower stall made a noise that sounded like a sick cow from outer space. I'd reach for the soap and the alien cow would moo. I'd grab the shampoo, and a herd of the things would threaten to stampede. I guess it makes sense in a dairy town where a UFO landed, but I didn't like it at all. However the shower did give me insight into why aliens
might have landed in Roswell. Perhaps they were from Saturn's moon Titan, which features methane seas and methane rain and Roswell, with all its cows, just smelled like home.
Eventually we packed up our things and escaped from the hotel. We had two items on the itinerary for this last day in Roswell, and they were both museums. The first was Roswell's "serious" museum, a place that combined Southwestern art, historical memorabilia, and, best of all, artifacts associated with Robert Goddard, who had worked on his rocket experiments in Roswell in the 1930s. Goddard's entire workshop was recreated within the museum and Geoff went to town taking photos of everything. I settled in front of a video display that showed home movies of rocket launches shot by Mrs. Goddard, and learned that a cold glass of milk is the best way to celebrate a successful launch. At least that was what Rob and his team decided.
Lunch was sandwiches at Out of this World, which turned out not to have a space alien theme. Instead the interior looked like a scene of ancient Greece or Rome as represented in someone's hazy imagination. There was a mural featuring rolling green hills and classical style architecture, complete with columns. Fake ivy lined the walls, bringing the mural into the room three-dimensionally. There was a stage, too, and when Geoff and I inquired, we found out that a Christian rock band was due to play that very night. This made me even more curious about Roswell, especially how a belief in aliens and strong religious leanings were reconciled, but that question would have to wait for some future fieldwork project.
After a pair of overpriced turkey sandwiches, we were ready to hit the UFO Museum. This museum was housed in a former movie theater, which gave it a nice retro-kitschy feel from the street. Inside it was a bit more serious. There were documents and photographs lining wall after wall, and even the entry featured a large map where visitors could use colored thumb tacks to mark their states or countries of origin. The management of the UFO museum must have really wanted to know where their guests were from because in addition to the map there was a book and the docent or concierge or greeter was encouraging everyone to sign in. We didn't want to wait in what had become a line, so we decided to skip it.
The walls told the story of "Mac" Brazel, showcased replicas of official documents and even featured alien-inspired art. Artifacts from the 1940s like old radios and even fragments of weather balloons and crash dummies from the time, since both of these had been proposed as alternate explanations for what was observed at the crash site. All in all, I found the museum a bit disappointing and actually less interesting than the museum that had featured Robert Goddard's tools and films. Still, we made sure to stop in the gift shop to see whether the official UFO Museum's souvenirs were more interesting than those in the alien-type stores outside.
I bought an official Roswell magnet to display on my office file cabinet, knowing it would bring to mind both our honeymoon and images of the David Duchovney character, Fox Mulder. Nothing wrong with a dual use object, right? I was out of cash, so I asked the teenage boy behind the counter if I could use my debit card. He said people had used it for purchases of less than a dollar, so my $2.35 was just fine. I was embarrassed anyway, and stuffed my debit card and magnet into my jacket pocket.
As I was stuffing away the evidence of my woeful cashless state, I overheard some familiar voices. Well, that's not exactly true. I heard a familiar language, French, specifically a bit of southern-accented French. The French-speakers turned out to be a group of tourists visiting the area from Marseilles. They were X-Files fans and while they had skipped seeing Santa Fe, they couldn't leave New Mexico without seeing Roswell. I didn't question their priorities, at least not to them. Roswell over Santa Fe. It was astounding. I amused myself after our brief conversation imagining them telling friends that despite the reputation of Americans, they did find someone who spoke French. And where was that? Roswell. Are you sure she wasn't an alien? Heh. I'm easily amused, and that makes my life a lot happier, I find.
I had found the museum interesting, but I was eager to leave it, and Roswell, behind. Geoff agreed. After all, we were going to Las Cruces next, for the S-Prize Space Exposition, and that was going to be cool. On the way out, the museum worker behind the desk called out, "Folks! Have you signed our guest book? Please don't leave without signing the guest book!" Geoff looked at me and sighed. So close to freedom! But we turned around and signed in at the desk. Then we made our way to the exit.
"Petersen! Geoff Petersen!" called the desk attendant.
"Maybe you won something," I whispered to Geoff, "One millionth conspiracy theorists gets a free tin foil hat!"
"I have a message for you," said the worker and handed Geoff a piece of paper. I started to get that shaky feeling again and I didn't like it. We went outside into the light of the sun and Geoff opened the note. It was in girlish handwriting with all of the "i"s dotted with circles, but it was signed with Wayne's name.
"Bit of a feminine style," I joked, my voice a little high and breathy again.
"I think it was probably dictated over the phone, dear," answered Geoff, completely sober and serious. The note read:
"Jeff Peterson. Need to meet with you. Go to the In of the Mountin Gods on the road to Las Cruces. Meet you in the bar Wensday at 1pm. Please take care of yourselfs. Wayne."
Things were getting seriously creepy. I sat down on the curb to regain my senses, right next to a "UFO Parking Only" sign. Geoff sat down beside me, but his bruised leg made him move a bit slower.
"So what do you think?" he asked me, all seriousness.
"I think you're right. It was dictated over the phone. To a sixteen year old girl who's failing her English class," I answered, and put my head down on my knees.
"What is this 'Gods' thing?" Geoff responded. He acted as though the last thing I said had been intelligent, so I decided to make it up to him.
"I wanted to go there anyway," I told him. I read about it in our guidebook. The Inn of the Mountain Gods is an extremely fancy, extremely nice Indian casino and resort run by the Mescalero Apache. From what I've read it puts a lot of casinos in Vegas to shame and it's very elegant compared to some of the casinos we've passed on the freeways here. They have hunting, tennis, swimming, their own lake, gambling and stuff."
"Okay, so I guess we're going there next," he said.
"Do we have to?" I asked. "I mean, Wayne has been bizarre and unreliable and now he's stalking us at Roswell, and Maddy said there would be false friends and even if tarot cards are bogus, he still could be a false friend."
"I know him, Dora. I don't think he would jerk me around. Something serious is going on and he's getting in touch with me because he apparently can't handle it on his own."
"Then why doesn't he call you like a normal person? When Beth or Lynne need help, they just call me. Like that song. They don't leave notes for me at freaking UFO museums!!" I had begun shouting. Great. Now I was a crazy woman in Roswell sitting practically in the street by a UFO sign and getting louder and louder. Soon the X-phile types would come out and take photos next to me. Geoff, for his part, said nothing. But I wouldn't have married the man if I couldn't read his mind from time to time.
"Okay, Geoff," I said quietly after I had calmed down. "We'll go to the Inn of the Mountain Gods. We'll meet Wayne there. Let's go find your friend."
"Thank you," Geoff replied.
Chapter Seven
We were a good ninety miles or so from the Inn of the Mountain Gods, but it was a straight (well, straight-ish) shot on the 70. The drive was very tense and we sat in silence. I was feeling embarrassed about having panicked, but that embarrassment kept becoming panic itself. I found that I could either believe the note and Geoff's serious response to it and be terrified, or I could decide this was still Wayne's idea of a very sick joke and be furious. Terror alternating with fury is not a lot of fun, and I don't recommend it. I mean it seems to be good for fueling things like war, but sitting in a moving car that passed through some more incredibly beautiful scenery, it was more like a form of abstract torture.
Geoff was deeply, deeply silent. He got that way occasionally when he was absorbed in thought, but I'd never seen him this absent before. From time to time he would rub his hurt knee, absentmindedly. The drive began to take on some odd characteristics; the silence and brooding made it seem to last a long time, but my utter reluctance to actually reach the Inn of the Mountain Gods made it go too fast.
Too fast or too slow, we eventually found ourselves following signs to the casino/resort. The roads into the place were a bit twisty. They wound through some forested areas and passed under a tunnel, and occasionally we'd catch a glimpse of Sierra Blanca, the tallest in a series of jagged peaks that shone white with snow against the warm blue sky. If I hadn't felt sick I would have appreciated the view. I sighed. I was starting to get bored with being scared and whiney. I was a grown woman, right? Geoff needed me and I was going to have to work on feeling brave and bold.
Brave and bold. When I was in my mid-twenties I was invited on a nature hike with a group of friends that included a Sierra Club guide. We went spelunking through the mud caves of the Anzo-Borrego Desert, a bit of a distance outside of San Diego. That hike was one of the only times in my life when my body took over as boss and my brain just rode along. We hiked up difficult paths and across rocky terrain. We crawled on our bellies through underground caverns that were only two feet high. I followed the guide and my brain shut off and I just moved. I skipped when I needed to and I ducked when it made sense. I analyzed nothing. I got home the next day with aching muscles, bruises all over, and as dirty and dusty as I've ever been. And I felt incredibly, deeply powerful. I could do anything. My confidence had soared for days. I tried to recapture that feeling now.
Geoff parked the car in a multilevel parking garage. When the engine was off, I turned to him, took his face in my hands, and gave him a good, solid kiss.
"This is going to be okay," I said. "We're going to be okay. It may be hard, but whatever happens, you and I will get through it. I trust you and you trust me and we're both smart and we can get through anything." Geoff took both of my hands in his and kissed them.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you too."
"I'm so glad I have you with me." He took a deep breath. "It's just about three o'clock. Let's go see what this place is like before we meet Wayne." We got out of the car and started for the elevator that took recently-parked guests to the casino area. Then I stopped and turned around.
"What is it?" asked Geoff.
"Since we're here and since I wanted to come here anyway, can we bring the guide book? Maybe you and Wayne will start reminiscing about NASA and I'll wish I had something to read.'
"Of course," answered Geoff, throwing me the keys. I unlocked the back seat of the car, grabbed his mail carrier-type bag with the guidebook in it. Then we finally made our way into the main building.
The Inn of the Mountain Gods is stunning. It sits on an incredibly blue, blue lake with the snowy mountains forming a barrier between water and sky. The building itself is sort of white and gold and gives the impression of strength and force along horizontal lines. When we reached the main lobby, I literally stopped breathing for a moment. The lobby was a wide open space with a look that seemed to cross art deco with the arts and crafts movement. Sort of like Frank Lloyd Wright with a little extra curviness. At the end of the lobby was a huge two-story window of plate glass that got wider as it got taller and formed a pleasing curve across the top. The window framed Sierra Blanca and the lake perfectly.
"Wow," I said, displaying my rapier wit.
"Pretty," Geoff answered. Unlike me, he didn't sound like an idiot. I stared at the view and realized that no casino on the Las Vegas strip could ever replicate this view. Well, not without a lot of paint and fancy lighting. That lake and those mountains were real and reality was hard to come by in Sin City. But I heard a familiar noise. It was the call of slot machines. Mmmmm .casino.
"They have a casino," I said to Geoff.
"Yes, I think that's why they call it a resort/casino," he answered.
"We could look around," I noted. I was starting to forget about Wayne and the reason why we were here. There was a pretty view. And there would be slot machines and blackjack tables and flashing lights and clinking coins. My baser instincts took over. Danger? What danger? I wanted to play. I grabbed Geoff's hand and began to pull him toward the "Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!" sounds down the hallway.
It wasn't Vegas, and I knew it. Vegas had a weird effect on me that was hard to explain. Vegas restored me and revitalized me. It was the crowds of people and the bright, shifting lights and the noise. People crying out in victory and machines beckoning players with their blatantly artificial siren songs. Music played constantly, and my favorite melodies in Vegas were those sung by old-fashioned lounge bands that played alongside the casinos doing their best to resurrect Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. I knew plenty of people whose characters meant that Vegas the Vast Energy Consumer sucked away their energy, leaving them exhausted. Vegas always felt to me like a cool glass of water after a long run. It was life-sustaining. I always left Vegas with more energy than I started with.
But the Inn of the Mountain Gods was not Las Vegas. It was too beautiful and too tame and too isolated. It wasn't a cool glass of water, it was a shot of fluid from a broken drinking fountain. Still, it was better than nothing. We found a ten dollar blackjack table and settled in.
Blackjack was the only real gambling vice Geoff and I shared. He didn't play before I met him, but on our first trip to Sin City, I'd introduced him to the game. We always set a limit, and we usually came out just a little bit ahead. This time, we'd just have to see. The dealer, a white guy with a bushy reddish-blond mustache, cards out to the five people sitting at our table. Mine was an eight, Geoff's was a king of hearts. Of course it was. The dealer's first card was a seven. Hmm My next card was an ace. Geoff was incensed.
"What are you doing with my ace?" he demanded.
"Turning my eight into a nineteen!" I exclaimed. The dealer dropped a nine on top of Geoff's king.
"Mmph," he grunted, looking at his nineteen with dissatisfaction. The player next to Geoff busted after hitting on a fifteen and the next two players stayed at eighteen and twenty, respectively. Turning to his own hand, the dealer revealed a six, then an eight. Busted!
"Whooo!" I said, feeling excited. My $10 in chips became $20, and Geoff also doubled his money. We won the next round, too. So I grabbed my original $20 in chips and stuffed them in my pocket. We played for about a half hour in total, and every time I won, half my winnings would stay on the table and half would go into my pocket. This meant that I literally couldn't lose my original money and I was just playing with the house's cash. Each time I added to my pocket I was increasing my winnings in a safe way. Geoff was playing in a similar way. We eventually did run out of chips on the table in front of us, but it wasn't a big deal because, as we found out counting a little later, I had $80 in my pocket and Geoff had $60. Not great winnings, but hey, better than losing.
We cashed in our chips (I carelessly shoved the cash in my pocket where the chips had been) and I looked at my watch. My stomach lurched. It was 12:55pm. I did not want to go meet Wayne, but there was no way out of it. We went into the large bar area that shared the beautiful view of the mountain and lake with the lobby. Wayne was already there, sitting at the bar, drinking a pale amber beer.
When Wayne saw us, he flipped a tip on the bar, abandoned his drink, and hopped down to greet us.
"Hi!" he said pretty cheerfully. "I don't think anyone knows I'm here. I was really careful on the drive out. But just in case, let's go to my car."
"Sounds good," responded Geoff, and I remembered my decision to be brave and bold and wished away the tight feeling in my stomach.
Wayne, as it turned out, was parked on the same level we were, level four, but a couple of rows down from us. He was driving a nondescript beige Toyota Camry, and he invited us in. Geoff got in the front seat next to Wayne and I got in the backseat. I wondered for a second if we were going to go drive somewhere, but Wayne's plan seemed to be to just keep us in the car, somewhat out of sight.
"I suppose you want to know what's going on," he started. Geoff and I both nodded, but we were both silent. I didn't know about Geoff, but the suspense was killing me. I hoped nothing else would. "Okay, first, are you familiar with Burronton Industries?" We both nodded again. Of course we'd heard of Burronton Industries. It was one of the most famous, important, powerful companies in the country.
Burronton Industries had been founded in the late 1970s by Jerry Burronton. He was an oilman, at least at first, but as his power had begun to accumulate, he became an industrialist, a successful capitalist, and an influential political insider. Burronton seemed to be everywhere, especially given the current administration in the country. They seemed to be in charge of more than half America's oil, but they also had a strong influence in other countries and were a constant presence in the Middle East. They had recently begun to dip their toe in alternative energy sources, focusing their attention on solar power, windmills, that sort of thing. I didn't trust them, but I'd been happy to see them go in a greener direction. Still, they gave tons and tons of money to politicians I disliked and were conservative in a way that was harmful. The joke was that Burronton would fund the South rising again if they thought they could cut costs by employing slave labor.
"Okay, well Burronton Industries got in touch with me about a week or so ago about my work. The space elevator stuff. I don't like them, so I told them to leave me alone. I wasn't about to share my research with those people. Jerry Burronton talks a good game about environmentalism, but Burronton has destroyed rivers, buried toxic waste, they've displaced indigenous peoples, and they do everything they can to squeeze every last bit of money out of the American consumer," Wayne told us. He seemed to be talking very fast and I could smell the beer on his breath. I guessed he had drunk more than the one beer we saw him with.
"Yeah," Geoff agreed. "I think Burronton has a lot to do with the current war issues. By supporting 'good American values,' they're able to control tons of oil in the Middle East."
"Exactly," Wayne agreed. "They're bastards. But they heard about my research about space elevators. You remember, Geoff, the idea I had about how if there were space elevators installed at various points on all the continents there'd be a way to send energy between them. Remember that?"
"Yes, Wayne, I remember," Geoff answered.
"Yeah," said Wayne, "Well, it wouldn't work exactly like that, but I came up with some algorithms that would have involved a system of space elevators and satellites and basically realized that an energy net, what I've hypothetically called the 'intersphere,' could be created. If it were configured right, it could theoretically counteract increases in global warming."
"Wow, that's incredible!" Geoff responded. They talked a bit more about the details, but, I'm sorry to say, I wasn't able to follow all of it enough to report it in any detail here. I'm a social scientist and my specialty is qualitative data, like the steps in a ritual or the words to a prayer, not quantitative data, like the different systems needed to operate a 'beanstalk' space elevator versus a 'sky hook.' What it came down to, however, was that Wayne had apparently discovered a way to create an artificial energy web that would produce an invisible sphere around the earth that would allow scientists to regulate heat and light in very subtle ways. These subtle changes would have significant repercussions. From what Wayne explained, a subtle tweak in one area could allow a bit more heat to escape the atmosphere, for example, and that might reduce the average temperature on the planet by a half a degree. It doesn't sound like much, but even something that small could stop most glacial melting, for example.
I was all for technology that would reduce global warming, but this seemed very dangerous to me. If the net was configured incorrectly, things could go very badly.
"I don't know," I said, speaking up for the first time in a long while. "Isn't putting a system like that in place sort of hazardous? I mean, it could improve things, but it could also make them worse."
"Yes, that's true," said Wayne, looking thoughtful. He grimaced, making his dimples deepen again, and I became convinced that he was at least somewhat intoxicated. This was a troubled guy.
"Anyway," Wayne said after a couple of seconds, "I told Burronton to take a hike, but they sent these goons to my office in Los Alamos, and next thing I know I'm in a hotel room somewhere talking to Jerry Burronton himself. Man, I tell you, Geoff, the guy is insane. He's got a plan for my research."
"A plan? What do you mean?" Geoff encouraged his friend.
"He didn't tell me straight out. He just offered me a lot of money to sell them the specs for the intersphere. A lot. He wanted to know how to create it, what technology would be needed, that kind of stuff. I said no, and the price went way up. I mean, I could retire on what they were offering me, Geoff, and buy an island or something. So I got suspicious."
"That sounds reasonable," I offered.
"I told them I'd consider it and went back to my office. I did some scans on my computer and found out that someone had been getting into my files that's how they knew about the intersphere. Well, that ticked me off, I didn't like the idea that Burronton Industries thought they could get into my stuff, no matter how much money they had or how many people they bought off. So I hacked into Burronton to see if I could find out what they were trying to do."
"You hacked Burronton?" Geoff gasped. "Didn't you think they'd find out?"
"Yeah, but not before I'd find out what I wanted to know. That was the day I saw you guys with the tour bus. About an hour before you arrived I got into their system and saw the plans for what they were going to call the 'Intersol,' he said.
"Wait," I interrupted, "Didn't you say it was the 'intersphere'?"
"What I had in mind, yes," Wayne answered. "But they had plans in their system to create a global net that could be configured to drastically reduce the amount of light and heat coming to earth from the sun. All we'd see during the day would be a pale disk, and stars and moonlight wouldn't shine through at all. The average temperature on the earth would plummet."
"That doesn't make any sense!" Geoff exclaimed. "What would be the point?"
"It sounds like the kind of thing that could go wrong with the intersphere," I noted. "If it let too much heat escape, for instance. That's what I was worried about."
"See, that's the thing," Wayne replied. "From their plans it looked like the first part of the plan was to implement the intersphere as a solution to global warming. They'd be heroes, right? Big, mean, oily Burronton saves the planet with their earth-friendly technology. But the second part of the plan was when 'unanticipated difficulties' would arise. The heat would be turned too low. Energy would be too limited. The planet would be in serious trouble."
"That's an understatement," agreed Geoff. "But it seems like shutting off the intersphere at that point would be the best move at that point."
"There's the rub. The temperature would drop so drastically and so suddenly their model had the average global temperature dropping by twelve degrees that even if the intersphere was immediately turned off, it would take decades for the temperature to rise to normal levels again. Plants would die off, crops would be destroyed. Thousands of species of animals would go extinct. The planet would recover eventually, but there'd be panic in the meantime." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a brown leather wallet that looked like he'd had it for years.
"So according to the information I found, part three of the plan had it that their scientists would discover very quickly and conveniently that the intersphere could redeem itself by becoming the solution to the very problem it had caused. It would be harnessed to create a different kind of energy sphere. This one wouldn't control the entry of light and release of heat, it would actually produce light and heat. Burronton would turn the intersphere into the Intersol, a sphere of light and heat that would completely encircle the planet."
"Let me get this straight," I started. "They block out the sun "
"And the moon and the stars and everything " interrupted Wayne, and I could tell that for a space guy, this was almost the worst part of the plan.
"And they create an artificial sun instead. That encircles the entire globe." I finished.
"So," Geoff commented, "I suppose they think they would be able to have a monopoly on this Intersol thing. They'd decide who had light and who had heat "
"And it would be based on whoever could pay," answered Wayne. He had opened his wallet and was looking for something in the bill compartment. As he searched, I saw a photo of a beautiful woman with a head full of thick, coppery red hair wearing flashy diamond earrings and what resembled a mink stole. It looked like it was done in one of those mall places that dresses you up and gives you a makeover before your portrait. I wondered if she was Wayne's girlfriend.
"But that makes no sense!" I interjected. "Don't they realize that the whole planet depends on things like sunrises and sunsets, on the way the moon pulls the tides? I don't see how they could replicate the system with their Intersol. Things would die anyway. They'd destroy all life on the planet!"
"Dora," Wayne responded. "This is the company that assisted the administration in making up reasons to invade the Middle East. They think in terms of money, and unfortunately they think in the short term. If it's going to increase their profits for the next year or two, they'll do it. They assume there either won't be any serious problems or they'll be able to fix those problems when they arise."
"Idiots!" exclaimed Geoff. "So, they hacked you, they like your system and want to use it. You hacked them, found out what they wanted it for, and said no?"
"I haven't said anything to them lately. I've been trying to lay low. But they want the specs for the intersphere and I know they're tracking me."
"I thought you said they got the information from the intersphere from your computer?" I asked.
"They got the general outline, but not how to do it." Wayne had pulled an object out of his wallet. It was made of clear plastic and was a little bit shorter and wider than my little finger.
"Geoff," Wayne said, addressing my husband directly. "I started working on my intersphere calculations back when I was still living in Houston. Back when you were still there, too. I did work on them at my job when I came to Los Alamos, but I never put the algorithms on my work computer. I have half of them on
this," he said, indicating the plastic object. It was a flash drive, a portable data storage device. Lots of people at my university used them for storing files and stuff. I'd put lectures on them myself from time to time. "I know where the drive with the rest of the math is, and I'll get that to you tonight, okay? How about at the Satellite Inn in Alamogordo? That's not too far. We can meet at eight?"
"Sure," Geoff answered. He handed me the drive since I still had his bag. I put the drive inside, feeling like I was handling some kind of precious, fragile jewel.
"The most important thing, guys," said Wayne, looking from Geoff to me and back, "is that Burronton does NOT get this information. I don't know how else to keep it from them. They're big. They're powerful. They own, or can buy, government agencies. I mean, I thought about going to the police, but they would have had the information in two seconds. I thought about destroying the algorithms, but the science is good and in the hands of a trustworthy organization it could prove essential to the future of our planet. But Burronton wants to use it for profit, fast, without thinking about the consequences and so I have to make sure it never gets into their hands."
I startled as I heard the sound of a pop, like a car backfiring, and the window on Wayne's side of the car shattered. Oh my God, had someone thrown a rock? Uncomprehendingly, I watched as Wayne's head dropped onto the steering wheel of the car and I realized that I had been splashed with blood.
"Come on!" cried Geoff, opening his car door and exiting the car just as I began to do the same. He helped pull me out of the car and I clutched the bag as we dropped down to our knees on the passenger side, hoping the car would shield us from whomever had just shot Wayne. We both realized that whomever had shot Wayne was going to be after the flash drive.
"Let's hope it's just one person," whispered Geoff. "They'll search the car and Wayne first, probably. Let's put as much space between ourselves and the car now that we can."
We began to run in the direction of our car, but it was an awkward, half bent-over run, as we tried to keep ourselves hidden or protected by other cars. A man in a blue sweatshirt and jeans had run over to Wayne's car and was doing something inside, probably searching Wayne and the car's interior.
"Can we make it to our car?" I asked Geoff.
"Let's not," he suggested. We'd be easy to track, and whoever that guy is, he's got pretty good aim. He's going to suspect us next, so we'd better disappear." Just then a group of retirees came out of the elevator and began looking for their vehicle. The killer in the blue sweatshirt pushed Wayne over and stood in front of the shattered window of the car, trying to make it less visible.
"What happened here?" asked an older lady, eying the damage.
"Oh, just some damned kids!" said the killer. "Trying to rob the car. I've called security. You better make sure your own car is okay!"
"Oh, he's right!" said another member of the older lady's group. "Our windows look okay, but we'd better check to see if anything is missing!"
Damn his luck, I thought. The first group of potential witnesses that comes by didn't even notice little details like blood on the car, they just automatically believed his explanation. And he was clever to think of a story that would make them want to go to their own car as quickly as possible. My next thought was eeew, is that gum down here?
While the killer was conversing with the group of senior citizens about the darn kids of today, Geoff and I had managed to silently slip ourselves through the open back window of an old, beat up Buick LaSabre Estate station wagon and drop to the floor. We couldn't watch the killer from here, but he didn't know where we had gone, and so it seemed like a good idea to stay put for the moment.
"Stay calm," Geoff whispered to me.
"I am calm," I answered, and it was true. I was more likely to feel panicky in situations that really weren't all that dangerous. Turn up the danger and I was very Zen. Or maybe Taoist is more appropriate. Go with the flow In any case, my breathing had slowed and I was thinking clearly. And my thoughts were telling me to stay put.
"Let's stay right here for the time being," Geoff said, echoing my thoughts. "If he had seen where we went, he would have found us by now." Just then the passenger's side door opened. I probably would have shrieked, but my voice chose that moment to leave me, which was a good thing because the person standing in the door was a Mescalero Apache woman in an old Van Halen t-shirt. The driver's side door opened next, revealing an Apache man in a button-down shirt and khakis. They hadn't seen us yet, and the woman was speaking to someone behind her.
"Yes, Henry, I'm glad you had such a good time at the pool, but you do need to get back home and do homework now, whether or not John is staying until dinner. Maybe he did his homework already!" She leaned forward from the front of the car to unlock the door to the back seat and let her son in, but just that moment saw me. Our eyes locked.
Her expression changed just slightly.
"Henry. Just hold on a second," she said. Then, "Michael. Look in the back seat." Michael, her husband, peered into the back to see two scared people, spattered with blood, squished as far as possible into the foot area of the back seat of their car. It was such an unexpected vision that the two of them managed to remain very calm as well. They looked at us, expectantly.
"Help us," I finally whispered. "Man out there. Blue sweatshirt. Killed killed our friend." The man called Michael pulled his head out of the car and I could tell he was scanning the parking lot. He must have seen the killer in the blue sweatshirt because he looked back in the car and nodded at his wife.
"I see the guy," he whispered to her. "He's throwing stuff out of the back of a blue Prius."
"Crap," said Geoff. "Then he knows who we are."
"Look, they're covered in blood," said the woman to her husband.
"He shot our friend in the beige Camry. We ran and managed to hide in your car because the window was open. Please don't let him know we're here." I said softly. The woman looked at her husband, then me, then gave a short nod. I heard her speak to her son, who was still outside.
"Henry, there are some people in the back seat, but it's okay. Don't say anything, just keep quiet. We don't want anyone to know they're back there."
"Are they illegal immigrants?" Henry asked, as the back seat door opened.
"No honey, just some people in trouble. Keep quiet, okay?"
"Can I play my GameBoy?"
"Yes, you can play your GameBoy." Henry got into the back seat, but sat with his legs crossed after he put his seat belt on, which was fortunate because I was squished directly in front of him. I was glad that we had chosen to climb into such a big car.
Since we were hidden, Michael decided to drive around the parking lot a couple of times, just to see what was going on. He told us later, after we had explained our situation, that he had seen a security guard examining the Camry and presumably finding Wayne's body. The man in the blue sweatshirt had ransacked our Prius and was no longer in sight when Michael drove by again. The trunk was open and empty. The man in the blue sweatshirt was probably still searching for us, and I hoped that the old Buick station wagon didn't strike him as a likely hiding spot as we rode out of the parking garage.
Michael drove a good distance away from the Inn of the Mountain Gods before he pulled over behind a copse of trees so that the car wouldn't be visible from the road.
"So, what's going on?" he asked us.
Geoff explained what was going on in a general way, without providing too much detail. He said basically that someone else wanted something that Wayne owned, rightfully, sort of intellectual property, and that Wayne had put it in our charge before he was shot. Henry had stopped playing his video game and was wide-eyed.
"What is it?" he asked, full of wonder and curiosity.
"I think it's actually safer if you don't know," I told him. "But it's something that legally belonged to our friend and that he gave to us, and we don't want you all to have any trouble as a result. You helped us more than you know."
The woman, who was named Linda, looked us over.
"You looked so scared in the back seat there, with blood all over your white shirt. I just got a feeling that we could trust you," she said.
"Well, we're incredibly grateful," answered Geoff. "We've already inconvenienced you so much, but is there any way you could take us someplace where we could rent another car?"
"Sure," said Michael, but you'll need a change of clothing. And probably a shower." I pulled my compact out of my purse, which I still had, along with Geoff's bag, and took a look at myself. I had dried blood in streaks on my face and also in my hair. And they were right, my shirt The moment it hit me that this wasn't some kind of abstract blood, but the blood of someone my husband knew and cared for, my stomach turned. I ran behind a tree and vomited, tears coursing down my face.
"Let's take you back to our place," said Michael. "You can have a shower, we can wash your clothing, make you some soup or something."
"That sounds great," said Geoff. He pulled me into him, which was helpful, because I had begun to cry uncontrollably. Wayne had been killed for a set of numbers. Numbers! And now our lives were certainly in danger and if we couldn't keep the little flash drive away from the thugs at Burronton, the whole world was in peril.
Chapter Eight
Four hours later, Geoff and I were back on the road. The Torres family, Michael, Linda, and even Henry, had been incredibly helpful. We'd tried to give them some money for their troubles, but except for Henry, who was twelve and always in search of new video game money, they were very gracious about refusing. So here we were, just the two of us again. We were washed, shampooed, our clothes were clean and we were in a new car. They had taken us to a car rental place in Alamogordo, and now we were in a red Dodge Intrepid. We no longer had our luggage, and neither of us thought it was a good idea to go back to the Inn of the Mountain Gods when anyone from Burronton could be sitting there in wait. We had Geoff's bag, my purse, and that was it.
I was suddenly glad we'd made arrangements to have so many of our purchases mailed back home. But some things were just lost. All the books for instance. Every book we'd purchased was in the back of that rental car, probably never to be retrieved. And then there was another irrevocable loss Wayne.
"Sweetie, how are you doing?" I asked softly to Geoff. I had told him everything was going to be all right and he had agreed, but we'd both been so very wrong.
"Wayne is dead," he said darkly. "But he wouldn't have given us the flash drive if he didn't think that was a possibility. I think he knew he was going to get killed. Do you still have it?" he asked breathlessly, suddenly worried.
"Yes, I have it," I said. I peeked into the bag, looking at where I'd placed it. "It's here." Geoff put his right hand on my left knee.
"The way I see it is that Wayne put this into our care. We've got half of the algorithms necessary to create the intersphere and as long as we have half of them, Burronton is screwed. So we could just destroy that flash drive."
"But Wayne didn't want it destroyed," I reminded him.
"I know. And that makes what we have to do incredibly complicated. Instead of keeping the numbers away from Burronton, we're going to have to get the other half of the numbers somehow and then get the information to someone, some organization, that's more trustworthy."
"How are we going to do that?" I asked.
"Good question," he answered. "I think I'm going to have to bring in someone with a bit more knowledge of this field than I do and get some advice." Just then, in a weird coincidence, Geoff's cell phone began to ring. He pulled the car over on the side of the road as I dug through his messenger bag to locate the phone. I handed it over.
"Huh. It's Bella! I bet she'd be able to advise us. It's lucky she's calling!" Geoff smiled as he pushed the send button to speak to Bella, but despite all of the danger we'd been in and horrible things we'd experienced, my first feeling on hearing that Bella was on the line was jealousy. I didn't want to be jealous, but she was too attractive and too talented and had too much of a past with Geoff for me to be entirely comfortable. So I sulked a bit as Geoff talked to her.
"Hi Bella! Yes, we are on our honeymoon, but that's okay, I wanted to talk to you anyway. You're not going to believe what's been happening! Wayne is dead ." He paused. I could hear a feminine voice exclaiming in surprise on the other line. Geoff saw me straining to hear and said to Bella, "Would you mind if I put you on speaker? Dora's here with me and she's as involved in all of this as I am, so it's probably better if both of us explain what's going on." He nodded to something she said and pushed the speaker button on his phone.
"Hi, Dora," said Bella, in a sing-song voice. I imagined her sitting in her office at the Airquarium, her feet up on her desk, a leather aviator jacket on, sexy black leather boots, and oh, probably a martini. Well, probably not, but that's how I imagined her.
"Hello, Bella," I responded dutifully.
"So explain this?" Bella said. "You said Wayne is dead? As in actually dead? What happened?"
"He was shot!" Geoff told her. "We were right there with him in the car at a casino here in New Mexico. We're pretty sure it was over some data he was carrying. This guy came up to the car in the parking garage just as Wayne was telling us about some information he had about a project that Burronton Industries was trying to get from him."
"Burronton Industries, huh?" Bella inquired. "You think someone from Burronton shot him?"
"That's what it looked like, Bella," answered Geoff. "The guy just shot him point-blank in the head and we managed to hide while he ransacked Wayne's car and then ours. We got a ride out of there with some people who were willing to help us out."
"Did he get the data?" Bella asked.
"What? No," Geoff replied. "Wayne gave us a flash drive with half of the algorithms and he was going to get the rest of them somewhere tonight, I think, but he wasn't able to finish telling us. It was horrible, Bella. The guy just shot him in the head, and that was it, he was gone."
"Oh, Geoffey," Bella said, her voice gone sweet and syrupy. "Wish I could be there for you. He was a good friend. You have a lot of history together. I remember that time we all went to the Cadillac Bar at Kemah and we got so drunk." She began to laugh. "He started making up these stories about this aphrodisiac he'd purchased at a market in Nepal and he was going to show me how it worked !"
"I don't remember that," Geoff said, his eyebrows raised.
"You don't? Maybe you weren't there that night. Hmm " She sounded puzzled, but not too worried about it.
"How's Chris?" I asked, trying to change the subject by asking about her ailing husband.
"Chris? Oh " Bella started. "He's still in the hospital, poor thing. The doctors still can't find out what's wrong with him. They've got him so full of tubes that he can't say a word. But I think he's feeling better. I go in and read to him sometimes."
"That's got to be rough," said Geoff, sympathetically.
"Yes, rough," I agreed. "Honey, weren't you going to ask Bella about the flash drive?"
"Huh? Oh yeah, Sweetie, that's right. Bella, we're over our heads on this one. We don't know if the guy who killed Wayne knows who we are, we don't know who to get this information to, we just know it can't get to Burronton. You have some tech industry contacts through the Airquarium, right? Anyone you know who could advise us?" Geoff asked.
"Hmmm ." said Bella, languorously. I could hear her shuffling through papers. "How about Vladimir Petroff? He's in the area. He works at the Alamogordo Space History Museum, and I think he's planning on attending the S-Prize Expo too. He works for the U.S. government now, but he has some experience in espionage issues, and that sounds like what you're up against. I'm sure he could help you get the drive to the proper authorities." The way she could give out information like that and still sound like she was purring confounded me. Stupid Bella. Meanwhile, Geoff was gesturing at me in what I slowly realized was a request for a pen and some paper. I pulled them out of my purse, wishing I felt more like glamorous Bella and less like Geoff's personal secretary.
"Thank you so much Bella," Geoff was saying when I started paying attention again. "Give Chris our best!"
"Goodbye, Bella," I chimed in, somewhat flatly.
"Goodbye, Doreen, goodbye Geoff. Sorry we couldn't make the wedding, but you know how things are." She paused a moment. "Stay safe!" she added. Geoff hung up the phone and stared thoughtfully at the number he had written. As for me, I couldn't hold in my feelings.
"Doreen? Doreen?" I demanded. "We've been going out for three years and we're married now, Geoff! She knows I'm Dora, not Doreen."
"Uh huh," Geoff answered absently. "It's close. She probably figures Dora's a nickname."
"Hmph," I snorted. "And doesn't she sound blas about Wayne? And even Chris, her husband? You'd think she'd care."
"I'm sure she does care," he answered, looking me right in the eyes. "Honey, is this that jealousy thing happening again?"
"Not really," I said. "Well, maybe. I just don't trust her very much. She still likes you a lot."
"And I like her a lot," he said, reassuringly. "We're friends, we're supposed to like each other. But you're my wife. And I'm here, in all this trouble, with you." He leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. "Don't worry about us, just worry about our situation." His eyes twinkled with humor. "I'm going to call this Petroff person." He dialed the number as I reclined the passenger seat, leaning back and shutting my eyes. When the connection was made, Geoff put the call on speaker-phone again.
"May I speak to Vladimir Petroff, please?"
"I'll connect you. Please hold." A muzak version of "Sergeant Pepper's Lonelyhearts Club Band" started playing and I groaned to myself, very silently. It didn't last long. Soon the music was replaced by the sound of a male voice, very baritone and accented with strong traces of Russian phonology.
"Yes, this is Dr. Petroff."
"Hello, my name is Geoff Petersen and I'm a friend of Bella Stuart's "
"Oh yes," said Petroff delightedly. "Bella Stuart! She is quite something, is she not? I have never met a woman who could pilot a plane like that, choose fine wines, and her Russian is impeccable!" I covered my face and rolled away from Geoff. If I'd been able to curl into a fetal position in the car seat, I would have done it right then.
"Yes," answered Geoff, oblivious to my suffering, "she's quite something. Anyway, she suggested I call you about something. My wife and I narrowly avoided being killed just a few hours ago. A friend of mine, Wayne Whedon, was shot and killed and we were with him."
"Wayne Whedon? Is he not the expert on space elevators at the Los Alamos Laboratories?"
"Yes he is. We think he was shot by someone trying to get a flash drive from him that had some important coordinates on it." Geoff said.
"Oh, a flash drive," responded Petroff. "Did the shooter obtain the drive?"
"What? No, no, we still have it. Wayne gave it to us before he was shot."
"I see Mr. Peterson," I could tell from the way Petroff said "Peterson" that he was writing the name down. I wondered if he had caller ID or would be asking for Geoff's cell number. "And, if I may be so bold as to ask, what exactly was on this flash drive?"
"We don't know exactly," said Geoff, sounding somewhat cautious. "It has to do with some calculations for a project he was working on. We have good reason to believe that Burronton Industries is involved in the murder."
"Burronton," repeated Petroff in a way that suggested he was not writing it down. "So, if you do not mind telling me, are all the calculations on the flash drive?" I pulled the lever on my chair and sat up straight. Something about the questions Petroff was asking was bothering me. Geoff flashed me a look that indicated he was wondering the same thing.
"I don't know," he answered. "Wayne said something about another drive " I had begun to shake my head "no" somewhat violently, but Geoff mentioned the second drive and all I could do was wince.
"Oh, you say there is a second drive?" Petroff asked, sounding genuinely interested. Geoff began to realized he had goofed. Petroff was interrogating us in a way that sounded like he was very interested in the situation and not because he wished to help us.
Even though Petroff was on speaker-phone, I hadn't said anything, and I preferred to let him think he was only communicating with Geoff. Still, I had an idea to make things more complicated for Burronton, if Petroff was, in fact, working for them. I held up three fingers at Geoff and waved them. He looked at me uncomprehendingly. I waved three fingers at him again and began to mime turning the steering wheel of the car.
"Oh!" Geoff exclaimed, finally getting it, "he mentioned a third drive. I think the information is on three drives!" Geoff announced, as I nodded vigorously.
"Three drives," repeated Petroff. "And is it possible that you know where the other two drives are?"
"No," Geoff answered with all honestly, "we only know the location of one drive." Petroff paused, probably to write something, then inhaled as though he was going to say something very important.
"Mr. Petersen, I think the best course of action is for you to bring the drive you have in your possession to my office here at the museum. Then we can discuss, as two gentlemen, what the best thing to do with the drive would be." Geoff looked at me, wide-eyed, and we both knew that meeting Petroff would be a very bad idea. But we also knew that refusing to meet him would alarm him, and probably whomever he was working with. Geoff spoke very calmly.
"That sounds like a good plan," he said, rather convincingly. "Would it be convenient for me to bring it there now?"
"Why yes, Mr. Petersen. I have some free time as it happens right now." Geoff got Petroff's address and hung up the phone. Car or no car, I'd managed to pull my knees up to my chin.
"So how do you interpret that?" Geoff asked.
"Do you really want to know? I think both Petroff and Bella expressed way more interest in the flash drive than in the fact that Wayne was killed. I think it's creepy. Does Bella have any kind of connection to Burronton that you know about?"
"Hmmm " Geoff responded. "Actually, I hadn't thought about that, but I think they sponsored a recent exhibit at the Airquarium. The most recent Blackbird exhibit."
"And weren't they listed as having contributed to the spy satellite symposium back in August? The one Wayne spoke at?" I remembered.
"Clever girl, I think you're right!" Geoff said. "I bet that's where this all started. Crap. I gave Bella Wayne's contact information for that symposium. I thought it was a good opportunity."
"You couldn't have possibly known, Sweetie," I answered. "If every time someone gave an academic talk it turned into a case of espionage and murder, no research would ever be done. It would be too dangerous. This is criminal; completely unpredictable. None of this is your fault by any stretch of the imagination!"
"I know, but still " The reality of the situation was finally hitting Geoff. One of his best friends in the world was dead, we had seen him die, and we had been powerless to prevent it. I unfastened my seatbelt and crawled, as best I could, across the gulf that divided our bucket seats. I put my arms around Geoff's shoulders and squeezed, then kissed him on the cheek.
"A horrible thing has happened," I whispered to him, "but we'll get through this. We have to get through this, for Wayne's sake. He's counting on us, wherever he is."
We decided to drive straight through to Las Cruces. The S-Prize Expo was starting the next day and Geoff knew some people associated with space and technology there who might be able to help us. Of course people from Burronton would also be there, so we'd have to lay low and be as careful as possible. As we drove along the 70 freeway, I thought back to what I remembered of Maddy's tarot card reading and wished that I had written it down. False friends. The false friend wasn't Wayne, it was Bella. And the Knight of Cups who represented a man who would give us an offer, an offer that would be a false path to take. I was sure that was Petroff. Solar sails, space vehicles that used curved membrane mirrors that were pressed upon by solar radiation and moved fuel-free through space, were vaguely cup shaped.
I didn't really believe in tarot cards, but the reading gave me a framework for understanding what was happening, so I went with it. There had been a false friend, there had been any number of losses (Wayne, our rental car, most of our luggage) but I hoped that Maddy had been right that we'd pull through it. That's what I was counting on.
As the sun got lower in the sky, I noticed that Geoff was getting sleepy. He had a fixed look on his face and his eyes were more toward closed than they probably should have been for someone who was driving. Since we didn't know when Petroff would realize Geoff wasn't coming by with the flash drive, being alert was a good idea. Geoff, however, looked far from alert.
"Hey, are you okay?" I asked.
"Tired," he answered simply. "Leg hurts."
"It does? When did that start?"
"This morning. It was kind of red when I woke up, redder than it was before," he explained. Well, crap. Last thing we needed was for Geoff to have his wound get infected.
"Do you want to pull over and take a nap?" I asked, worried about his ability to continue driving.
"No. We shouldn't stop. Petroff knows I'm not coming by." The gods must have a sense of dramatic timing, because just then Geoff's phone started to ring where he'd put it away in his bag. We didn't pick up, but the caller ID feature indicated it was Petroff's number.
"Speak of the devil," I said, under my breath.
"Listen, Honey," Geoff started. "Could you take over and do some of the driving? We've only got about fifty miles to Las Cruces."
"I don't have a valid license " I began, but I knew I sounded whiny and unhelpful.
"Is it really going to matter?" asked Geoff. "We're out in the middle of nowhere, and this is kind of an emergency. Plus I don't think I can keep driving."
"Okay, okay, I'll drive," I answered. As we pulled over, Geoff's phone started ringing again. He looked at the caller ID as we exchanged places.
"This time it's Bella!" he announced. Then sarcastically: "I wonder what she's calling for."
"She and Petroff think alike," I responded, getting behind the wheel of the Dodge and adjusting the car seat, mirrors and back support. It's all well and good to be married to a tall man like Geoff, and I usually like it, but when we take turns driving the same car it's a hassle. The man's legs are fourteen feet long, at least.
We'd been driving for about five miles, Geoff reclining in the passenger seat, when his phone rang again. This time the caller ID didn't identify the call. We still didn't pick up who knew who it was. But after a few minutes, Geoff's phone beeped to indicate that there was a new voice mail. Geoff put the message on speaker phone for my benefit.
"Geoff?" the message started. The speaker was male, but he sounded like he was either ill or whispering or both. In any case, his voice was soft and husky and occasionally broke into coughing. "This is Chris Montgomery, Bella's husband." Chris coughed again. "She's been on the phone here in my hospital room she thought I was sleeping and I don't have a lot of time to leave you this message. First thing, I'm not sick, I've been poisoned, at least that's what the doctors think is the most likely cause of my medical issues." Another deep cough. "I think Bella did it and I think she did it because of the article I was working on. I was writing an expose of Burronton Industries, trying to show some of their more underhanded dealings, particularly in the area of corporate espionage. Anyway, she was just now on her cell phone with someone she called Jerry. Probably Jerry Burronton, at least that's what I'd guess." Chris took a very deep breath and then fell into a coughing spell that lasted several seconds. Then the message continued.
"She called him darling. Anyway, she told him that Geoff Petersen and his wife were somewhere near Alamogordo, that you had someone's file Waverly? Wayton? and that they were closing in on you. She said they'd find the rest of the files once they found you." Chris launched into another series of coughs that sounded deep and bronchial. The man was clearly very ill.
"I don't know you well, Geoff, but you've always seemed like a nice guy and I don't think my chances of publishing my article on Burronton are very good anymore. I love Bella, she's an amazing woman, but she's gotten in over her head with the wrong people and I'm a casualty of that. I don't want you to be too. So just watch "
At that moment a woman's voice, presumably Bella's, became audible in the background behind Chris. We heard a fragment, " not supposed to be on the phone," then the phone was clearly hung up. Geoff hung up his own phone then lay back down in the passenger seat, his right arm, bent at the elbow, forming a sort of blind fold against the low rays of the setting sun. When he spoke, his voice was muffled.
"I don't think Chris is going to survive. I think Bella is going to make sure he dies, especially after that phone call.
"Poor Chris," I agreed. I had always liked Chris. A lot. When Bella and Geoff would reminisce about the good old days at the University of North Dakota, Chris and I had gotten into our own conversations. He was a journalist, very idealistic, very much interested in changing the world for the better. He felt that exposing the crimes of the government, of corporations, of those in power, was a good way to force things to be cleaned up and to become fairer. Justice needed to be served. He published his work mostly in the Grand Rapids Press, but he occasionally got his more dramatic articles published in newsmagazines.
I could imagine that his decision to investigate Burronton had caused no small amount of tension between himself and Bella. Especially if Bella was taking money from Burronton, and even more especially if Bella was, as Chris had hinted, having an affair with Jerry Burronton himself. Oh, poor Chris. I could see that Bella and Jerry Burronton would have a lot in common. Burronton was ambition defined. At about sixty years of age he still ran a marathon every year and he had done amazing things like climb Mount Kilimanjaro and gone parachuting into the jungles of the Amazon basin. He was greedy and smart and I'm sure Bella was just his cup of tea. Or at least one of several cups of tea Burronton wasn't known for his monogamous tendencies. And he didn't need to be monogamous. The man was, as the phrase goes, a silver fox.
So Burronton Industries decided to go into space technology just as Jerry Burronton begins seeing the director of the Airquarium. The match made sense as a business decision, and I was sure the attraction between Bella and Burronton was real and very mutual. So when Bella's husband began poking around, it would have been threatening on multiple levels. If Chris was right, Bella poisoned him (on the day of our wedding, I thought indignantly), and was able to get him out of the picture at least temporarily. If she knew he had warned us, though, the chances of him recovering were very slim.
Chapter Nine
Geoff slept in the passenger seat as I drove the rental car along Highway 70. I'd been thinking our situation through, trying to decide what the best move was at this point. It might have made sense to call the police to try to get them involved, but Burronton Industries was everywhere. They had money and they very often funded politicians, both on the national and local levels, who were sympathetic to them, and in this way their power grew. If we called the police in the Alamogordo area, for instance, who's to say that the Chief wasn't put into power because of his connections to Burronton? And Burronton was so tight with the current federal administration they not only were given tax breaks and the like for oil drilling operations, but every time a war zone somewhere needed contractors or security, Burronton was sent in that contacting the FBI or CIA would have probably led to our arrests, if not our deaths.
I looked at Geoff and couldn't believe what he'd had to go through over the last few days. To have one close friend die and to be betrayed by another! And to have both events be linked in such a violent way, it was beyond toleration. As for me, I had been excited to meet someone like Geoff. His connections to NASA and space travel had thrilled me and I admitted to myself that I was something of a groupie when I met him. He had interviewed men who had walked on the moon! He had met women who had gone on space walks! He was not only a known author in his field, but was frequently listed in the acknowledgements section in other books. I found that irresistible. But I hadn't counted on danger as a consequence of a relationship with the man. Still, it was for better or worse, right? So here I was driving through rural New Mexico without a valid license with murderers on my tail. At least it would make a good story if we survived.
I began seeing signs indicating that we were approaching White Sands. White Sands, New Mexico was known for both its beauty and its military utility. It's about 275 miles of white sand dunes, mostly made up of gypsum. Gypsum leaches out of the local mountain ranges, and since there is no water to dissolve the gypsum and carry it out to sea (New Mexico is landlocked), a pattern has developed instead where the gypsum dissolves in water and is reformed as crystals, creating a stunning looking desert that is so brilliantly white it can be easily spotted from long distances away, reportedly even from vehicles orbiting the earth.
A section of White Sands called Trinity was where the first test of a nuclear bomb by Americans was conducted. It had been an implosion-design plutonium bomb and had created an impressive, dome-shaped fireball. This event was where Robert Oppenheimer had uttered his quote from the Hindu sacred text, the Baghavad Gita, "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds" upon seeing the horrific bomb that had been created. Sand at the test site had, in some cases, been fused into glass, and pieces of this radioactive glass, now known as Trinitite, were pretty rare, although collectors had been able to buy it during the 1940s and 1950s. Geoff, of course, owned some, although he handled it only occasionally.
Contemporary White Sands was the site of the White Sands Missile Range, and tests of missiles were still frequently conducted, sometimes closing highway access to the site. It had been the setting of a space shuttle landing just once, in March of 1982, when heavy rains at Edwards Air Force base in California had made landing there impossible. The landing at White Sands had gone well, but the fine gypsum powder that White Sands was named for got into every crevice of the shuttle, including engine parts, and it was determined for future missions that the site was just too
messy to make it a routine landing location.
White Sands also played a role as a national monument. Unique plants that have adapted to the gypsum sand soil grow there, and there are animals like mule deer and jack rabbits to be found as well. The National Parks Service encouraged tourists and locals alike to visit, and there was an eight mile road that snaked through the gypsum sands with areas set aside for visitors to take pictures, play in the sand, and even camp. Geoff had been there before, but there had been a problem. I looked over at my sleeping husband and tried to remember. I believe it had snowed during his last visit. I smiled a bit, imagining how a cover of white snow would have taken away from the unique beauty of miles and miles of white sand. How would anyone have been able to tell the difference?
I was contemplating a detour into the fast-approaching National Monument entrance when I noticed I was being followed by a New Mexico Highway Patrol car. My chest and stomach went ice-cold as guilty adrenaline spurted into my bloodstream. I glanced at the odometer, realized that I was going about 5 miles above the speed limit and took my foot of the accelerator. I hoped my gradual deceleration wouldn't be seen as suspicious. I'd never driven without a license before and I was a bit scared about what would happen if I were pulled over.
"Sweetie?" I said softly, trying to get Geoff's attention just in case.
"Humph?" he asked, maybe only twenty percent conscious.
"Honey, please wake up. I'm being followed by highway patrol and I'm nervous." Geoff pushed the lever to raise his seatback to its normal level.
"Were you speeding?" he inquired.
"Maybe just a little bit," I conceded. "Like maybe five miles over "
"That's not very much. I think we're okay."
"I hope so, but they've been right on my tail for about three minutes now. I'd like to pull over somewhere and have you take over. We're close to the White Sands National Monument, did you want to go in there?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'd like to see it anyway. The weather's good today."
I took the exit to get from Highway 70 into the park. It looked like the visitor center was closed, so I kept driving. A worker was stationed at the security gate.
"Is it too late to go in?" I asked her through the rolled down window.
"Well, we close the road in about a half hour, seven o'clock. You can go in as long as you're back on the main road by seven thirty," she answered.
"Okay, that sounds fine. Is there a charge to get in?" I inquired.
"Usually, yes, but we had some heavy rains earlier in the week and the road is flooded out about four miles in. We usually let visitors drive eight miles in, so because half the road is out of order we're letting people in for free today"
"Must be my lucky day!" I said, brightly.
"Have fun," she responded, waving me through. I passed through the gate and found myself traveling slowly along a two lane road. Risking a glance behind me I noticed that Highway Patrol was still following.
"Geoff? Highway Patrol is still there!"
"That's bizarre," he said. "Why would they follow us into the park?"
"I don't know. What should I do?" I asked.
"Keep driving. Don't break any laws. Maybe they're trying to freak us out because we're tourists. They can tell when it's a rental car."
I drove about a mile more in, but my hands were starting to tremble a bit. I was imagining being arrested. Geoff, meanwhile, had pulled his digital camera out of his messenger bag and had begun to shoot photos through the windows. It was sunset, and the sky around the sands had begun to turn pink and purple in addition to its normal blue shade. I had the impression of driving through a beautiful, endless beach, although where the ocean was, I couldn't fathom. I tried to concentrate on the loveliness of the site rather than the threatening vehicle that continued to follow my every move.
After a little while longer, we approached a wider area of the road that looked like a place where cars could be parked. Since White Sands was about to close for the evening the lot was deserted, but at least Geoff could take over as the driver. Whew! It had been a close call. My celebratory feelings ended, however, when the police in the highway patrol car behind me chose that very moment to put on their flashing lights.
Oh, bloody, bloody hell! I thought as I rolled down the window of the car and waited for the police officer to come up to the door. I would pretend that I hadn't noticed my license had expired. Heck, it was an out-of-state license, maybe they'd miss it. Geoff sat next to me, silent but wary.
"Ma'am, I need to see your license," said the officer as he shone his flashlight through the driver's side window and onto my lap.
"Just a sec," I answered, and fumbled with my purse, retrieving it from the backseat of the car. It was getting cold out there. I hadn't noticed with the car running, but now that the window was down, there was a definite chill.
"Do you know your license is expired?" asked the officer. "I don't know what the law is in Michigan, but it's illegal here to drive without a valid license."
"Oh!" I said, trying to feign surprise. "I didn't know! I updated my registration, but I guess I missed this my birthday was just a few days ago."
"Uh huh. Ma'am, I need you to step out of the car. And your husband too."
"Really?" This time my surprise was genuine. Why on earth would they need me to step out of the car? Now that I'd actually been pulled over I was less nervous, and it seemed to me that this was exactly the kind of situation where police would give out a "fix-it" ticket. Before opening his door, Geoff whispered to me.
"He didn't say why they pulled you over. That's not normal. Be careful!" The cop walked around to Geoff's side of the car, his hand on his gun holster. He was about six feet tall, a couple of inches shorter than Geoff, and in the dusky light I could see that he had brown hair and a brown mustache.
"I need to see your license, too, Sir," he said to Geoff.
"Isn't that somewhat unusual, officer? I wasn't driving the car," protested Geoff, who handed over his ID nevertheless.
"I'd advise you not to argue with the law, Sir," answered the officer. He looked over Geoff's ID then nodded at the other officer, a Hispanic man with a short, military-looking haircut. The second officer responded to the nod by stepping out of the squad car and pulling out his firearm.
"Why did you pull me over?" I asked the first officer, my voice doing that squeaky, breathy thing again. I hated that. It made me sound like such a wimp!
"Well, little lady, a ways back we noticed you were going 78 miles per hour when the speed limit was 75." He spoke smugly, like he was very pleased with himself. He and the other police officer were both grinning a little, showing their teeth. I looked at his name tag. It read "D. August." His companion was "P. Oviedo."
"Don't you usually give people a little leeway?" asked Geoff. Officer Oviedo said, "See, that depends!" and shoved Geoff hard in the chest. Geoff, who had no reason to suspect a blow was coming, fell to the ground, the wind knocked out of him.
"Hey!" I yelled, and was rewarded by a hard slap across my face. Man, it stung, and it made me even angrier. Geoff saw Officer August hit me and despite his breathlessness, began to jump up in my defense. He stopped when Oviedo placed his gun against Geoff's temple.
"You just sit there, Petersen," Oviedo said. "You just stay nice and calm while we have a look at your car."
"Where's your search warrant?" I yelled. A few tears were streaming down the side of my face, but whether it was from the shock of the slap or from anger, I couldn't tell. I tended to cry when I was angry. I sometimes wondered what purpose that served, but at the moment, it didn't really seem relevant. August grabbed my left arm in his right hand and shoved me, hard, next to Geoff. I ended up sprawled in the white gypsum dust and August chuckled.
"Yo, Primo," said August, "you keep a gun on them while I look through their stuff. "
"Okay, man," answered Oviedo. "Take anything that looks good." Maybe I'm slow, but it finally began to occur to me that this wasn't a routine traffic stop. These guys were working with Burronton, I decided, and were after the flash drive. August popped open the trunk of the car, and finding nothing there except the jack that came built in, turned his attention to the car's interior. He threw some fast food wrappers from a drive-through we'd stopped at earlier out onto the road, then looked into what seemed to be the glove compartment. He grabbed Geoff's messenger back and shook it so that the contents all spilled out onto the sand in front of him. He turned his flashlight back on to sort through them.
He rifled through some maps and threw those aside, then picked up Geoff's digital camera.
"Primo, you need a camera?" he inquired, laughing.
"I can always use a new camera, Darryl," answered Oviedo. "And besides, man, maybe he took some interesting pictures."
"Oh yeah, that's right," said Officer August. "That would be a good way to get some visuals on some of those math problems we're supposed to look for." August put the camera back into the messenger bag, then kept sorting through Geoff's stuff. He lifted up a couple of objects and turned to us.
"What, you keep dirt in here?" he asked.
"That's from Chimay ," I answered, "Healing dirt. Miraculous dirt."
"It heals you, huh?" said Primo. "Will it heal this?" He brought his knee back and into my head. The blow wasn't enough to make me lose consciousness, but enough to knock me flat. I don't know what Geoff did but Primo said next, "I've got a gun on you and your wife, man, and I'm a good marksman. I think you better calm down and just let us do what we want to do right now." I sat up slowly, flinching in case Oviedo planned to strike me again. But he was no longer paying attention to me. He had found Geoff's cell phone and was apparently going through the address book. The Chimay dirt was still in its plastic disks, but those disks were now tossed a few feet away, light brown circles against the pale white sand.
"I think we keep the phone," said August, and he put it into Geoff's messenger bag.
"Okay" answered Oviedo. He looked down at me. "Darryl," he said, "don't forget the lady's purse. Ladies keep all kinds of interesting things in their purses." August came over to me and pulled at the shoulder strap of my purse. It hurt so I worked to help him take it off my shoulder.
"Here," I said, sounding angry.
"That flash drive had better be in here," said August. "Because we were told to bring it back, and if we don't find it on our own, we're going to have to ask you a few questions."
"Yeah, and make you talk," added Oviedo. He got a dreamy look in his eye and began to list options in sort of a sing-song voice. "I can do things to you to make you talk, and things to him to make him talk, but we can also do things to him to make you talk " Oviedo leered at me, "And of course, things to you to make him talk."
"Hey, here it is!" said August, holding up a purple flash drive triumphantly.
"Crap," said Geoff under his breath.
"Crap," said Oviedo, somewhat more loudly. "Darryl, shouldn't we like, you know, interrogate them? I mean, they might know more than they're telling us."
"I know you were planning some fun, Primo, but J.B. said time was of the essence and we're on the clock. So sorry, man, but no. Maybe we can stop at Lucinda's afterward and you can act it out with Betty. But we need to go."
"Okay, okay." August took some handcuffs out of his squad car and linked my left wrist to Geoff's right wrist. Then he took another pair and hooked Geoff's left wrist to the steering wheel of our Dodge.
"Can't let the little lady drive," he smiled at Geoff. "Or you either." He grabbed the rental car keys from Geoff's pocket, then added, "Hey, Primo, take the battery out of the car."
"Sure thing, man," said Primo. By the time August and Oviedo had gone, it was dark out, and cold, and Geoff and I were handcuffed to a car without a battery. They had taken Geoff's camera, both of our phones, and our wallets. There was no way to drive, no heat, no anything. No money. And I had begun to shiver. We had missed the park closing and we were stuck in White Sands for the whole night.
"Honey, I need to do something," I said to Geoff as we sat in the cold car.
"Bathroom?" he asked?
"No, I need to get outside, get past you." I leaned across his lap and opened the door with my right hand, then stood on the ground outside, my left wrist still attached to his right wrist.
"Okay, Geoff, now I need you to stand outside for a second. I need to stretch as far as I can." He complied and I found that even with Geoff chained to his steering wheel and me chained to Geoff, I could still reach both of the disks of the Chimay dirt. I was thankful that there was enough moonlight to make out the dark circles against the white sand.
"Got 'em!" I shouted. When we were back in the car with the doors shut, Geoff turned to me.
"What are you doing?"
"Had to get these," I answered. I opened them, one at a time with my right hand. The first one contained miraculous dirt, but also my debit card. The second one contained Wayne's flash drive. It was too dark to see, but I could feel them. They were really there. Geoff was confused.
"I thought they found the flash drive!" Geoff exclaimed.
"They found a flash drive, not the flash drive. I hope they like anthropology, though, because they'll soon be enjoying a PowerPoint presentation on the subsistence strategies of hunter-gatherers!"
We spent the next few hours trying to stay warm in our powerless car. Fortunately for us it stayed above freezing outside and having two people inside allowed some measure of heat to build up. It was really, really dark though. Geoff eventually fell asleep, but I was uncomfortable and cranky and fidgety, and sleep just wouldn't come. Weren't there supposed to be park rangers around her someplace? I began to fiddle with the handcuff that had been placed around my left wrist. Geoff was so exhausted that he didn't stop snoring, even when my movements caused his right hand to lift up and down.
Like a lot of right-handed people, my left hand was somewhat smaller than my right. Even though the cuff seemed pretty securely fastened, I realized that if I folded my hand vertically, there was
almost enough room to get it out. I slid off my wedding ring to make my left hand that much thinner, and put it in my pocket. The ring made me think of ways I had removed too-tight rings in the past. Butter? Not an option. Neither was soap. I suddenly remembered a story my mom had told me about trying on a ring in a department store and being unable to remove it. Her solution was pretty gross, and she felt bad about it, but it worked she had licked her finger, surreptitiously, all around the ring, and the saliva, coupled with a lot of twisting, had made it possible to slide the ring off.
I contemplated my wrist and the cold dirty metal of the cuff. Yuck. But I couldn't sleep and I was cold, and what else did I have to do out here in this gypsum wasteland? So I began to lick my left wrist. It wasn't easy since my wrist was attached to Geoff's wrist, which was, in turn, attached to his rather heavy arm. But, and forgive my graphic description, dear reader, I eventually worked up enough saliva to cover my wrist and hand, and actually managed to slide the damned handcuff off. Freedom! Oh, sweet, sweet freedom! Of course it was freedom bought at the cost of a slimy wrist and hand, but there have been worse costs for freedom I'm sure.
The first thing I did was wipe my spit-covered, rapidly-chilling hand and wrist against my jeans. The second thing I did, even before waking Geoff, was to go outside of the vehicle and relieve myself. The third thing was to engage in some deep thought after I got back in the car. I was free, but my husband had handcuffs on both of his wrists. Would the spit thing work again? I wasn't sure I had enough saliva for that.
"Dora?" It was Geoff, rousing from his sleep. "Did I hear the car door?"
"Yes, you did, Sweetie Pie!" I answered proudly. "I am free!" Geoff woke up fully, and I touched his right hand to my unencumbered left wrist in the dark. "You got loose? How'd you do that?" I explained, and even though I couldn't make out his face, I knew him well enough to imagine his look of disgust.
"Well " I started, defending myself, "it worked."
"For you," he answered, "but I don't think I can get my hand through this thing with all the spit in the world." For some reason the phrase "all the spit in the world" tickled me and I began to giggle. I was very tired. Now that I was free, all my agitation left me and I fell asleep. Poor Geoff was still stuck.
When I awoke a couple of hours later, the sun was starting to rise. I blinked a couple of times and found Geoff looking at me.
"You awake?" he whispered.
"Yeah, Sweetie. I can see you!"
"Houston, we have sunrise," he answered in a way that managed to sound both playful and exhausted. I kissed him, then remembering, pulled my wedding ring out of my pocket and placed it back on my left hand.
"Dora, check in the glove compartment. Any chance there's a paper clip somewhere in there?" I opened the compartment door. There was a plastic sheath containing all of our rental car documents, and I opened it and slid them out. I didn't see a paperclip, but wait
"Yeah, there's a red one here on their business card, attaching it to the contract. I think it's plastic," I told him.
"Plastic?" Geoff groaned. "That won't work."
"Nope, sorry, my bad. It's metal. The red is paint or something covering it," I explained.
"Okay, Honey," started Geoff. "We're going to pick the locks on the handcuffs."
"Wow, you know how to pick a handcuff lock?" I asked. Geoff looked somewhat abashed.
"Yes, but I "
"Geoff Petersen, how do you know how to pick a handcuff lock?"
"You're not going to like this," he stated calmly. "All I'll say is that Bella taught me."
I saw red, and it wasn't from looking at the paper clip. I opened the car door, slammed it shut, and left my good-for-nothing husband sitting in there by himself while I stomped around in the growing daylight. I kicked the car a few times for good measure.
"He learned to pick handcuff locks from Bella. Bella! Oh, I just bet he did. So Bella was Little-Miss-Handcuffs, eh?" I kicked the car another time, startling Geoff. "Good, you should be startled!" After a few minutes of my tantrum, I decided I was starting to feel chilled again. Being cold made me want to go back into the car, and wanting to go back into the car made me forgiving. I opened the passenger side of the door and sat back down next to Geoff.
"Don't tell me anything more about Bella and handcuffs," I said. "Let's just work on these locks."
The whole routine went pretty quickly, given that I had two free hands. Geoff told me to unbend the paperclip, then re-bend it in the shape of an 'L'. He explained that most handcuffs were of "pawl and ratchet" design, which meant that if I stuck the bent tip of the paperclip into the keyhole of the cuffs and moved it around in a circle, I could disengage the pawl. I didn't understand the mechanics of the cuffs very well, but apparently the pawl is a protrusion within the cuffs that rests against the gearwheel of the ratchet part of the cuffs. The pawl makes it so that the gearwheel can only move in one direction. I was able to disengage the pawl and ratchet mechanism with the paperclip, which allowed the first set of handcuffs to open.
I was faster with the second set of cuffs, and soon Geoff was released from the steering wheel and the car. We popped the trunk and threw the now-hated cuffs into it. Geoff hated them because they represented captivity. I hated them because they represented captivity and Geoff's past with Bella. I slammed the trunk closed.
"What's the matter?" Geoff asked, unwisely.
"Where should I start? My husband knows how to unlock handcuffs, but he doesn't suggest that when we get locked up, instead he lets me lick myself out !" Geoff cracked up, also unwisely.
"Darling Dora, it was dark. We wouldn't have been able to pick the locks until sunrise anyway. Plus it would have been really hard for you to do it with just one hand free. Plus, it's funnier that you had to lick your way out of a pair of handcuffs " He paused, and I could see him calculating the risk in saying out loud what he was thinking. "I mean, Bella knew handcuffs, but she never licked her way out of them. That's pretty impressive!"
"Aaaugh!" I said, in anger and surprise. I began to walk quickly down the road, away from him. I was mad. Seething, boiling, roiling mad. Why had I married this guy? Here I was, in mortal danger and it was his fault, because of his friends. And he was making jokes, and teasing me about his treacherous ex-girlfriend?! I could have stayed in California. I'd be safer. I wouldn't be interacting with all of these espionage types. I would be calmly discussing fieldwork in a colleague's office, not in some blasted New Mexico desert with some jerk who had a murdered best friend and a murderous ex-girlfriend .!
After about fifteen minutes, Geoff caught up with me.
"Dora, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! It was just too funny not to say!" I ignored him and kept walking toward what I hoped was the entrance to the park. I had my ATM card, I could go pretty far with that. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the clear flash drive, the one Wayne had given to Geoff.
"I believe this is yours. Good luck with it. I'm going to the ranger station and arranging for transportation back to Michigan. I hope you survive this little battle that your friends are waging. Maybe Bella will take mercy on you." I handed him the drive and kept walking.
"Sweetie? Where are you going?" He took me by the shoulders and spun me around. "I need you. I love you. I shouldn't have said that about the handcuffs, but I'm a bit punchy. You said we'd stick together. You promised, just a few days ago, I might add, to 'forsake all others' and stay with me 'for better or for worse.' Bella's in the past and those promises are in the present. And why on earth would you be jealous of a woman who's killing her husband? Do you really think I'd rather be with her?"
"I guess not. She'd really kill you, and I'm just thinking about it!" He continued walking beside me.
"Well, I guess that's good."
"What's good?"
"You're at least talking to me."
"Yes, Geoff, I'm talking to you. You're right, I married you 'for better or for worse,' for all of that. And I know you're tired and have been through a lot and aren't thinking particularly well, and neither am I. So even though I'm furious with you right now, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt," I said. I've been told my moods run "hot and cold" sometimes, but the truth is, once I tell someone I'm angry with them, the anger tends to disappear. And that's what happened right then with Geoff. My angry tears became cathartic tears and he pulled me against his chest and I cried and cried until my eyes swelled. Geoff, for his part, rubbed my back and whispered things like "I'm sorry" and "I love you" in my ear and didn't seem to mind at all that on a chilly morning I was soaking his jacket with tears. After a few minutes, I was able to speak again.
"I'm pretty amazing, huh?" I began. "First spit and now tears. I think I've exhausted my fluid supplies. You'd better find me some water soon."
"Don't worry, love. If you can just keep walking for a half hour more we should be able to get to the ranger station. Then we can get something to drink. Maybe they even have snacks in the gift shop!"
Geoff was wrong about the snacks in the gift shop, but the park ranger, a very personable woman in her early 30s named Karen, supplied us with bottled water and some candies that they had set out for Halloween. Nothing like a few handfuls of miniature candy bars when you're starving! We explained to her, somewhat warily, that our car battery had gone "out" (ha ha) and that we'd spent the night in the cold. She let us call our rental car company in Alamogordo, and although they were angry with us, they agreed to send out a tow truck. We didn't tell them that the battery would be missing, but we figured that they'd bill us for it. Anyhow, they were luckier than the first rental car company in Albuquerque who had to send someone to retrieve the car from the Inn of the Mountain Gods. I hoped this wouldn't have an effect on our insurance policies and once again felt very grateful for the Petersen fortune.
Karen, as it turned out, had an errand to run in Las Cruces and she was willing to give us a ride to our hotel there. She asked us some questions about our trip to New Mexico, but we'd learned from our experiences so far that even the nicest people could be connected to Burronton Industries and that Burronton seemed to have put an all points bulletin out on us. So we made pleasant small talk about the lovely views and the sunny weather of the last couple of days and didn't mention Los Alamos or space or even anthropology even once. We certainly didn't mention our little incident with the New Mexico Highway Patrol. The chances were good that she knew those guys. We tried instead to leave her with the impression that we were Nick and Nora Carleton from Green Bay, Wisconsin and we'd been staying in Las Cruces. We had made the trip out to White Sands the day before in order to see the sunset, and our car had simply broken down. Of course we had no luggage, it was all at the Fair Meadow Inn back in town.
I noticed in the car mirror that my face, still puffy from crying, was also a bit puffy where Officer Oviedo's knee had made contact with my forehead. Thank goodness I wore bangs. I'd never realized how practical they were before. Still, I was a serious mess. I began daydreaming about things like a warm bed and a hot shower and some food with actual vitamins in it. After a while I noticed that my head was doing that jerking thing where you start to pass out, then your chin hits your chest and that movement wakes you up. What the hell. I gave in. Putting my head against the passenger side window of Karen's jeep, I fell asleep.
Chapter Ten
When I opened my eyes, I was very grateful indeed to see our hotel. I had half expected Karen to take us to Jerry Burronton's lair and to wake up tied onto a railroad track or something. Instead, Geoff and I were dropped off at the entrance to the Fair Meadow Inn. Luckily for us, Karen just waved and went on her way because we needed to actually check in and that would have been suspicious.
As we waited in the busy hotel for a clerk, it became apparent that this coming weekend was going to be busier than normal for them. From what we could gather from those around us, the University of New Mexico at Las Cruces was having its homecoming and, as we already knew, the S-Prize Space Expo was also taking place. If we hadn't made a reservation weeks before, they wouldn't have had any room for us available. We were also lucky that their check-in policies were somewhat lax. They took our names and were happy to transfer the room from Geoff's Visa to my debit Master Card, but they never asked for IDs and never inquired about our luggage.
A few minutes later we were in a lovely, large room with a giant king-sized bed right in the middle of it. Yay for me for deciding to splurge in Las Cruces. This was not the Motel 11 in Roswell, no sir. There was a bathroom with a nice wide bathtub and a shower, both blessedly silent. The toilet was actually level. There was a coffee maker and a hairdryer and a collection of tiny shampoos and soaps and lotions. There were even little amenity kits with toothbrushes and toothpaste. And try as I might, I couldn't hear any noise from the rooms surrounding us.
Geoff said I could shower first, and it was heavenly. Seriously one of the best showers I've ever taken. The water was warm, the soaps smelled good, and I was getting rid of various layers of gypsum, spit, dried blood, tears and sweat. I toweled off and made a small effort at blow-drying my hair, then decided sleep was what I really needed. Geoff was already spread out on half of the king-sized bed, blissfully unconscious. I joined him in insensibility as soon as my head hit the pillow.
A few hours later, around noon, I woke up to find Geoff now clad in a towel, emerging from his own shower.
"Hey Sweetie," he said, "you okay?"
"I kind of hurt in a few places, but I feel much better than I did a few hours ago. Sorry I blew up at you," I apologized. He looked very cute standing there with his hair all wet.
"I'm sorry I said anything to make you blow up!" he added. He sat down next to me on the bed and smiled. Oh, that smile. I decided that what I really needed right then was to make up with my husband. So I did.
An hour or so later we were dressed, rather annoyingly, in the same clothes we'd gotten beat up and abandoned in. Our major credit cards had been canceled and Geoff had arranged for a few replacements to be rushed to the hotel. He also had his secretary back home overnight our passports, which would serve as our IDs until we could get our licenses replaced back in Michigan.
"I think I know what we need to do now," Geoff said, arranging his hair in the mirror. "We need to go shopping." What? I couldn't believe my ears. "We need to go shopping" was one of those heavenly phrases like "We need to get some cheesecake" or "We need to arrange a trip to the Bahamas." He looked at me, amused. "Wow, that sure perked
you up," he said. "You look more awake than you have in days. But let me finish. We have to get new clothes, that's for sure. New luggage, everything. But we also need to figure out what we're going to wear to the S-Prize Expo."
"Geeky space t-shirts?" I suggested.
"No, we have to make sure no one recognizes us," he responded.
"What, you think we need disguises?" I asked, bemused.
"Well, it wouldn't be a bad idea. I mean, we should go because I have some contacts there who'll be helpful. But with all of the innovative space stuff that goes on at these expos, you know space elevators solar sails .and the like," Geoff paused and I could tell that mentioning these technologies had brought back some very harsh memories.
"You're worried we'll run into some of the Burronton baddies," I supplied. He nodded. "Well, I think you're right. The bad guys will be there, and they'll be hoping we show up, especially after they've determined that the disk they got for us is really only good for helping them pass their Anthropology 204 midterm." I chuckled to myself. "They wanted quantitative data and they got qualitative!"
"You soft scientist, you," said Geoff, giving me a kiss. He got on the phone with the reception desk downstairs and within the hour we had yet another rental car, this time a Chevy Aveo. I was impressed. Geoff, who was ridiculously prepared for all things, had gotten a photocopy of his license (he kept one in his office, can you imagine?) sent to the hotel, here in Las Cruces, and that fax, plus a little extra cash, had magically made one of the local agencies decide they were more than willing to rent us one of their cheaper vehicles, although we did have to put all kinds of extra coverage on it. So basically Geoff snapped his fingers, and we were on our way to the Mesilla Valley Mall.
Shopping makes me happy, even when people are trying to kill me. Or beat me up. Or other bad things. We hit the Dillard's and got some fresh pairs of jeans. Geoff got a pair of t-shirts and a sweatshirt. I got a pink baby-doll tee that said "true love" on it. What? It was our honeymoon. We also bought some very nice rolling suitcases, underwear, socks, new tennis shoes and I got some cozy yet feminine pajamas. I insisted on a couple of bathing suits. My final purchase was a somewhat floppy denim jacket in a touristy southwestern style. It was about two sizes too big and fit me like a sack, which, considering the disguise I had in mind, was perfect.
We also made sure to purchase a pair of new cell phones, but we arranged for new numbers as a precaution. New cameras were on the shopping list as well. We had lost our portable computers, but fortunately most of the important stuff had been backed up before we left Michigan. Since there wasn't an Apple Store in Las Cruces we decided to wait on buying any computers during our trip. However Geoff changed his mind when we passed an electronic goods shop on our way back from the mall and found a good deal on the MacBooks there. He explained that we might need a computer over the next few days. Whatever. The internet access would be useful at least.
After dropping our new acquisitions off at the hotel we decided on a late lunch at a local barbecue place, then continued our mission to find disguises. We couldn't have planned things better, of course, because it was just a couple of weeks or so before Halloween. No one thought our shopping around for new looks was strange at all. Not knowing exactly what looks we wanted to achieve, we spent most of an afternoon trying on various wigs, some synthetic and some actually fashioned from human hair.
The wig I finally decided on, after trying out being Joan Jett, Lucille Ball and Maddy Burroughs (my friend in Chimay with the long gray locks) was an ash blonde bob in a style called "Allie." The salesgirl at the wig store assured me that it would be more flattering to my "round" face than the first two styles I had chosen. I wasn't so sure, but when Geoff saw me as a blonde, his eyes lit up. When the salesgirl noted that the wig could be worn shaken-out and tousled as well as smooth, I fluffed it up, looked in the mirror, and decided I was now capable of giving treacherous Bella a run for her money. I wasn't going to be a glamour princess at the Space Prize Expo, but maybe the wig would come in handy later, when we were safe
After he experienced the joys of being a blond surfer dude, a Tom Selleck clone and Julius Caesar, the salesgirl and I decided to age Geoff with a gray toupee and a fake mustache in a grayish-white shade. He looked rather like a more attractive version of Captain Kangaroo, but strangely enough, he wasn't thrilled when I told him that. It was the look for him, though. He was unrecognizable, but still looked like a plausible ordinary person. If that ordinary person was someone's goofy grandfather.
We picked up a cane in one of those temporary Halloween costume stores, then our final stop that afternoon was to a local optician. Since we were making Geoff look older, we got him a pair of rather large glasses that gave him an owlish look associated with men over a certain age. I was going to be a blonde but I didn't want to look overly dramatic, so we went with a non-corrective pair of contacts in a somewhat translucent green that made my brown eyes appear to be a mousy hazel. We bought a pair of non-corrective glasses for me as well, going for one of the least expensive brands. Those glasses were one of the only inexpensive parts of the shopping trip.
When got back to the hotel to try on our disguises, we had a blast. Geoff looked at himself in the mirror, taking in his gray bangs and Wilford Brimley-esque mustache and giant plastic-rimmed glasses. He relaxed his normally straight posture and stood in something of a slouch.
"Back in my day " he began, modulating his voice into a rougher, older version of itself. "We ate nothing but potatoes. Green potatoes full of eyes. And we liked it!" I noticed that a bit of Mark Twain was appearing in his voice, which wasn't surprising given that he'd done a few one-man shows as Mark Twain before we met. We both loved good old Samuel Clemens, and on our first date I'd taken that as a very good sign.
I put my real hair up in a zillion bobby pins from the wig store and began my blonde transformation. A little yellowish eye shadow on the brows made them lighter and more believable with my hair. Geoff came up behind me and gave me a little hug.
"Back off, grandpa!" I growled. "I'm not done yet."
"No, missy, you're far from being done. You still look too cute. I don't want to have to fight off all the young men with my cane!" he answered, sounding both creaky and cranky. I laughed as I taped down my bosom and put on my enormous jacket. I stuck my rear out as far as was comfortably possible then plopped on my glasses. They were both nerdy and oddly girlish, done in a purple color with a touch of glitter. As I stood back and admired my new self in the mirror, I realized the whole look was very Agnes Gooch from the movie Auntie Mame. Turning to Geoff I squinted my eyes and curled up my nose.
"I'm your sponge!" I announced, quoting the movie. Geoff laughed heartily and pulled me into his arms.
At least, I thought somewhat later to myself, I know he loves me for more than just my looks!
We spent a quiet night in the hotel that night, keeping a low profile. We could see the car from our hotel room and so far it hadn't been ransacked or towed away or anything. No one had called the room at our hotel or threatened us on our cell phones. We had heard no word from Bella and nothing from Petroff, either. But none of this allowed us to calm down because it was very clear that tomorrow, when we'd be attending the S-Prize, was when the next hammer would fall.
That night, however, we were sound and peaceful and it was just the two of us in a little bubble of temporary safety. We watched TV (although not the news, since the shooting death of a Los Alamos scientist at a Mescalero casino was the big story). We went for a swim in the indoor hotel pool, then relaxed in the Jacuzzi. We ordered a bottle of champagne from room service and a pizza from a local joint that would bring the pie right up to our room. The champagne arrived first and was chilling when the pizza got there. Mushrooms, black olives, ham and pineapple. Perfect with champagne.
We spent that night like it was our last night on earth, and for all we knew, it was. We drained the bottle of champagne, made tipsy love one more time (honeymoon, dear reader, honeymoon), and passed out in each other's arms.
The next morning I awoke slowly, somewhat groggily. The room was a mess, with clothes strewn everywhere, the bottle upended, and the pizza box, still containing a few slices of pizza, on the floor. Had we been robbed? Had someone broken into the room? I sat up with a start, but calmed down when I saw that the computer was still there and our new phone were charging quite cheerfully on the desk in the little "office area" the hotel supplied. Geoff was snoring peacefully. Our hotel room hadn't been ransacked, we were just slobs.
I sat up and marveled at how comfortable I felt. I'd drunk half a bottle of champagne, but I felt just fine. A trip into the bathroom told another story. I looked simultaneously drained and puffy. My face looked as though it contained no blood at all. I was nearly as white as a sheet of computer paper. My eyes, however, looked like someone had tried to inject saline into my lips and had missed. Bleh, I looked awful.
Normally looking awful would have been a problem, but today it could only be a boon. My champagne beauty treatment left me looking more Agnes Gooch-like than I had the night before. All the better for my disguise, I thought. Then my stomach lurched a little in fear as I realized that today was the day we'd go to the Las Cruces airfield and try to sort out our friends from our enemies.
Geoff woke up a little bit later and we finished the pizza, which had grown cold. It still wasn't bad, because when is pizza ever bad. I thought of a joke that I'd heard: Sex is like pizza; even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. True enough, I decided.
I realized after a while that I was dawdling and so was Geoff. We felt like we were on our way to our executions, but dressed in the most unflattering outfits available. But we were a responsible couple, and soon Grandpa Wilford and Agnes were making their way down the hotel hallway toward the elevator. I remembered something.
"Ooh!" I exclaimed. "Wedding rings."
"We can still wear them," Geoff protested.
"Au contraire, I think it's better if you're my father figure today," I replied.
"Oh for heaven's sake," said Geoff, resignedly taking my ring from me and removing his own. Geoff reached into his jacket pocket to put away the rings and his hotel key and got a funny look on his face.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Nothing. I just realized that the pocket seam is coming apart," he answered. "It's not surprising, given what this jacket has gone through. I mean, it's practically the only original item of clothing I started this trip with. And it wasn't new to begin with." His eyes narrowed behind his giant owl glasses. "Wait, I can feel something."
I reached into his pocket to see what I could find with my smaller hands. There was something flat and hard, like cardboard, in his pocket, and it had worked its way into the torn seam. I pulled it out it was one of the tarot cards that Maddy had used in our reading back at Chimay . The Sun.
"A message from Maddy," I explained to Geoff. "The Sun means satisfaction, happy relationships, Love, joy, and a happy marriage. She must have snuck this card in your pocket back in her shop."
"I didn't notice it until now. That's weird."
"It got stuck in your seam. She probably meant for us to see it before, but I think it means something that you found it now. We have to be hopeful, Geoff. This was the one good card in the whole reading. We have to rely on each other today. "
"Yes," Geoff replied. "And we have to save the Sun."
Chapter Eleven
Despite my anxiety and strong sense of purpose, I enjoyed my Agnes Gooch-type disguise. No one looked at me at all, and what's weird is that I felt younger. I mean, I was in my mid-forties, but as I caught a glance at myself in one of the hotel lobby's decorative mirrors, I thought I could pass for thirty-seven or so. Geoff on the other hand, looked closer to seventy, and I decided, much to his annoyance, that I was going to call him Dad for the rest of the day.
We stopped at the hotel reception desk to get a map to the Las Cruces Airfield and the desk clerk looked us over. It was clear she didn't remember seeing us and just assumed someone else had checked us in. I spoke to her in a voice that was slightly whinier than my own, but not strange enough to be a caricature.
"Hi. My dad and I want to go to that space thing today. Could you tell us how to get there?"
"There's a map right here," she answered, handing me a photocopy they had available on the counter. Apparently lots of their guests were attending the event. It was a big deal.
"You drive along here and then park in this lot." She looked Geoff up and down. "There will be handicapped parking if you need it. Once you park, you get on board one of the shuttles, and they take you right up to the gate."
"Shuttles, is it?" asked Geoff playfully, using his older voice. "I've heard about those space shuttles."
"No sir," the desk clerk replied taking him seriously. "I'm afraid these are just buses. But you might see a space shuttle at the show!"
"Thanks," I said to her, nodding. I took Geoff by the arm and led him out to the parking lot of the hotel. He was mumbling to himself under his breath.
"She thinks I'm an idiot. I was making a joke. I knew they weren't space shuttles, it was a play on words!"
"Now, now, Dad," I said louder than Geoff would have liked. "Don't get all worked up. You know what your doctor said about your blood pressure!" He gave me a look that was meant to chastise me, but it made me laugh instead. I hesitated when we got to the car, not sure who should be driving. Geoff opened the passenger door for me and said gruffly, "Since my darling daughter doesn't have a license, I'd better take the wheel. Thought you would have taken care of that when you were sixteen." He had me there. Fine, I accepted my seat and let Geoff drive us to the Expo.
The drive was a short distance down the freeway, then signs pointed us to a rather desolate looking area that was still five miles or so east of the airport. More signs led us to a makeshift parking lot on what looked like it was normally some vacant land. There were mud puddles, a few trees, several hundred cars parked in neatish rows and a line of buses, all waiting for the arrival of New Mexico's space tourists. Even though Geoff looked like he should have a handicapped spot, we didn't have the necessary permit. So we parked at the end of a row and made our way through the mud up to the buses. I actually envied Geoff his cane this path was sticky!
The bus ride to the Expo entrance was uneventful. But that was probably a good thing. We purchased our tickets and went inside the temporary walls that hid the interior of the fair from nonpaying eyes. The walls inside were covered with color posters depicting various space vehicles and the names of a variety of sponsors. A model of StarshipA, the space ship that had won the first well publicized S-Prize competition, back in 2004, was one of the first amazing sights and Grandpa Geoff immediately geeked out, demanding that I pose in front of it. I'll admit that I thought it was pretty cool, too, although the real thing would have been a lot cooler. I realized as I posed that if we got out of this alive, we'd have a whole series of photos of ourselves in these silly costumes. But at least no one would be able to immediately peg us as Geoff Petersen and Dora Summers-Petersen, and that would buy us some time.
We weren't sure what our actual plans were at the Expo. Part of what we wanted to do was locate some of Geoff's friends, but part of what we wanted to do was avoid being seen by those who wished us ill. So mostly what we had to do was wander around until we saw someone to approach or were seen by someone to run away from. In the meantime, there was all this super cool space stuff to look at, so we tried to mellow out and enjoy ourselves.
There were robots in various places and displays from NASA and private spacefaring companies, and even a Japanese space team. One of the best things to watch were the rocket launches and if you couldn't get a seat by the fence and look out onto the tarmac, you could watch the launches on huge screens that were placed in the middle of the festival grounds. A private company was making attempts to win the current S-Prize for inventing a vehicle that could make a safe lunar landing and rise up into space again. Oooh, and there was food. Turkey legs and roasted corn and cotton candy and even a beer tent. This was a lot of fun. I settled into people-watching mode and was trying to analyze the sales strategies of a t-shirt booth when Geoff spoke.
"I don't believe it."
"What don't you believe?" I asked.
"Look at the speakers' schedule here," he answered, handing me the Expo's official brochure. "See?" He pointed at a column on one of the pages.
"Anousheh Ansari? Wasn't she the first female space tourist?"
"She's speaking at 1pm. Look who's speaking at 2." I followed his finger and read the name. Jerry Burronton.
"Oh my God!" I exclaimed. "He's actually here?"
"Which means all his people are going to be here too. We have to be very, very careful today, Dora."
"That's Agnes," I corrected him. "So, what's our plan now?" Geoff settled into quiet thought as we moved across the fairgrounds toward the space elevator contest. This section of the Expo was one of the busiest, since a number of private companies, and even high school science clubs, were competing for the $150,000 prize. The challenge was to create a space elevator, the same technology that Wayne had been working on, to create a conveyance that could climb a stationary ribbon or cable up to an orbiting space station. The idea was that these "elevators" would be able to carry people and objects up to space stations in a way that would cost a lot less and be more efficient than sending up space shuttles or rockets. The technology was in its very early phases, so win the prize today, all contestants had to do was create a "climber" that could work its way two hundred feet up a "ribbon" at the rate of about three feet per second. The climber had to be light and fast and lots of climbers seemed to be using solar power, which was wonderfully abundant here in New Mexico. As I watched a team of teenagers ready their climber, Geoff spoke again.
"Okay, our plan. It's not much, but we're sort of in limbo. So I think we avoid Jerry Burronton as much as possible, we keep a low profile, and we look for people we know."
"Like Bella?" I asked, spotting her emerging from an exposition tent right alongside Jerry Burronton himself. She wore tight black jeans, a brown flight jacket, and her blonde hair was cut in a very becoming short style. She had a pair of brown boots on. I noticed they were flats, which wasn't surprising given that she was almost as tall as Burronton. Burronton was in blue jeans, an official S-Prize polo shirt in navy blue and a white baseball cap with the initials "B.I." for "Burronton Industries" on it. It seemed like he was on a good will tour of sorts, since there was still quite a bit of time before he was scheduled to speak. He and Bella smiled at people and shook hands, and Burronton even signed some autographs as we watched.
"The merry widow," Geoff guessed as he watched Bella put on the charm. "I wonder how she pulled that off?"
"I'm sure it's a sacrifice for her to be here, but you know, whatever's best for the Airquarium," I answered sarcastically. "Okay, so let's not go over there." Geoff watched wistfully as Bella and Burronton got on board a golf cart that was presumably taking them to some kind of V.I.P. area. From what I could guess, there seemed to be four body guards trailing them.
I had been frozen when I saw Burronton and Bella, but they hadn't even noticed us. I guess it wasn't surprising. We didn't stand out at all, we just looked like an old man and a middle-aged woman there to spend a weekend afternoon. I was torn between the desire to maintain some level of homely anonymity and the wish to be cuter than Bella, but both feelings swiftly passed when I noticed a red-headed woman on a folding chair near the space elevator competition. She had a notebook on her lap and was talking, somewhat sternly, it seemed, to a boy of about sixteen.
"Geoff," I started. "Why does she look familiar?" Geoff turned his head.
"Oh my God, that's Janey. Janey Harper! She was Wayne's girlfriend back in Houston. I don't know if they still see each other. I mean, still saw each other. She teaches tenth grade science at Creek View High School."
"He had her photo in his wallet. That's where I saw her!" I exclaimed. I looked at Geoff and he looked back at me, and it was clear we were coming to the same basic conclusion. If Janey was in New Mexico for the S-Prize, and Wayne had known she was going to be in New Mexico for the S-Prize, there was a chance that she was involved somehow. Maybe she even knew where the second flash drive was located.
We approached her cautiously, aware that she wouldn't recognize Geoff in his disguise. She looked tired and drawn, and when we got closer she looked at us with open irritation.
"Yes? May I help you with something?" she snapped. "Or did you just want to stare at me?"
"Uh, we " Geoff began.
"Look, if you're here to hassle me about that flash drive, I'll tell you the same thing I told those apes: I don't have it. I don't know about it! Leave me the hell alone!" It was clear she was under a lot of stress and clear that she was very frightened.
"Janey," said Geoff softly, in his own voice. "It's me, Geoff Petersen." She eyed him suspiciously.
"Prove it." Geoff thought a moment then spoke.
"New Year's Eve party. Houston. 1999. You came as Sulu, Wayne was dressed as Uhura. I was a giant tribble and passed out from being overheated that night." He said. My eyes widened. I'd never heard this story. Janey's eyes widened too, but in recognition.
"Geoff, it is you!" Geoff and I both responded with "Shhhh!" Janey continued in a lower voice. "Why are you always dressed up when I see you? Oh my God, did you hear about Wayne?"
"Janey, hand me a brochure about your students' space elevator. We don't want to attract any weird attention, especially since Burronton's people are already watching you." She gave him a flyer and I pretended to be fascinated by her three students who were readying their climber for its first contest try. Geoff continued speaking, very softly.
"Yes, we know about Wayne. We were there when they shot him. He gave us one of the flash drives."
"He did?"
"Yes, and then a gunman shot him. Dora that's Dora, my wife usually she's prettier than that" I ignored him "Dora and I were able to escape, but we've been on the run from Burronton ever since. Thus the disguises."
"I see," answered Dora, "but I wasn't lying before. I don't have the drive. Wayne was supposed to meet me at the hotel where my students and I are staying last night, but he never showed up! I saw an article in the local paper today about a Los Alamos scientist being shot, but they didn't mention his name and I never would have realized " When I looked back at Janey, her eyes were filling up with tears.
"Don't cry," Geoff whispered, "I don't mean to be cruel, but you'll attract too much attention if you do." Janey made an effort to stop. Geoff said, "Listen, Janey, is there any way you might have the drive without knowing it? Did Wayne give you anything to keep for him, send you anything in the mail?"
"Not that I know of. Although back in September he did send a manila envelope full of clippings and things for my science class. He knew they were going to be working on a space elevator, and since he's an expert, I asked him to send anything that might be helpful. So he sent one of those envelopes, like he does, you know, and it was just full of articles and clippings. Paper stuff. That was it.?
"Are you sure? There were no CDs or flash drives or anything electronic?" Wayne inquired.
"Not that I know of, although I didn't go through it myself. Let me ask Diego, he's the president of the Science Club this year and he's been leading the space elevator project." She called him. A skinny African-American teenager came over, looking annoyed at having been distracted.
"Yes, Ms. Harper?"
"Diego, remember when Dr. Whedon sent all of those clippings to our class?"
"Was it just paper in there? You know, articles and stuff?"
"Yeah, except for the flash drive." Three adult jaws all went slack at the same time. I fought hard not to look as surprised as I felt, but suddenly the adrenaline was flowing again.
"There was a flash drive?" Geoff asked, solicitously.
"Yeah, it has all kinds of cool space elevator data on it. We've been using it for the project." I swallowed, pretty hard.
"This is Mr. Petersen," Janey said, and I winced. Who knew who was listening? "Could you please show him the flash drive?"
"Yeah, I guess," answered Diego, "but we're using it." Geoff went over to where the kids were working on their climber and deciding on the best possible strategy for launching it. I smiled at Janey and followed him.
"Solar panels up!" argued a pretty teenage girl with carefully curled black hair.
"But we brought the heat lamp!" countered a tiny Asian girl in a band camp t-shirt and braces. "We might as well use it if we brought it along!" Diego brushed past them and showed Geoff a set of blueprints for making a basic space elevator.
"This was on the drive," Diego explained. "But we modified it."
"Was that all that was there? Could you open the file?" I asked. Diego looked at me for the first time. "I'm his wife," I said, indicating Geoff. Diego didn't answer, but turned back to the screen.
"Yeah, here's the file. It has the blueprints and a few journal articles and then there was this weird file. We tried to open it but it must be scrambled because it was nothing but numbers. No explanation or anything." That was it. It had to be.
"Diego," Geoff said calmly, "I need the flash drive."
"It's ours," Diego asserted. "Dr. Whedon sent it to us for the contest. I'm not giving it away!" Janey had joined the group and stood behind Geoff and me.
"Maybe there's a compromise that can be reached," she said slyly. "Mr. Petersen, our science department has undergone some recent budget cuts. If you were to offer a donation to the department, I'm sure we could release the flash drive."
"But " protested Diego.
"After all," continued Janey, "we could buy new Bunsen burners, new microscopes "
"A scale model of the solar system?" asked one of the girls.
"Yes!" said Janey. "I mean if Mr. Petersen offered ten thousand dollars " Geoff almost literally flipped his wig.
"Ten thousand dollars?" he choked. Diego looked thoughtful.
"Okay, if he writes the school a check for ten thousand dollars, we can let him have the drive," Diego decided. I suddenly felt much better. Geoff wrote the check, put the drive into his pocket and after thanking Janey and her students, we decided it was time to go. But our interaction with the Creek View Science Club had attracted some unwanted attention. Bella, looking as cool and pretty as ever, had been watching from some distance away. It was unlikely she had seen the details of what had occurred, but she probably knew Burronton wanted an eye kept on Janey and I could tell she was focused on us as we walked away.
"I hope those kids win that space whatever contest!" I said to Geoff, in character, trying to sound ignorant.
"In my day all we made were soap box derby cars," he replied in his old-timer voice.
"Nice of you to give a donation, Dad!" I added, as we passed in front of Bella. It took every thing I had to walk normally. The woman was watching us like a hawk. But after a few moments we had passed her, and I felt myself go weak with relief. A few seconds later, though, we heard a shout.
"Geoff!" called a voice. And before I could stop him, Geoff wheeled around in response. It had been Bella. Some diabolical instinct of her had made her see this old man as her former lover and she was clever enough to make him react.
"Bloody hell!" he hissed. "She tricked me. She's calling the bodyguards. We've got to run!" Geoff grabbed my arm and pulled and I found myself running as fast as I ever have, before or since, through the crowds at the S-Prize. We ran through a group of spectators watching a rocket launch and jumped at the sound the rocket made when it ignited. We almost collided with a man dressed as a giant panda (for some reason) as we passed Japan's private spaceflight information booth. We ducked under a giant inflatable globe of the earth, tilted on its axis, and knocked over some poor woman who was handing out Expo brochures at the gate.
Looking ahead of us, I could see that one of the buses that was heading back to the parking lot was letting on its final passengers.
"Out of the way! Out of the way!" Geoff yelled. "Emergency!" Shocked, the people in line stepped back and we bounded up the steps. "My wife is having a baby!" Geoff shouted to the driver! "We have to get her to the hospital! Please, drive us back to the lot and I'll get her there!" The bus driver looked relieved that she wouldn't have to drive us to the hospital and hit the accelerator. A man got up and I sank down in his seat, thankful for the shapeless coat I was wearing. Heck, for all anybody knew under
this thing, I could be pregnant.
As we sped away, I looked out the back window. There was a golf cart. If I wasn't mistaken, it was the golf cart Burronton had been riding in with Bella, although this time it contained a pair of their tough-looking bodyguards. We had to go faster! I put one hand to my belly and let out a wail.
"Driver! We have to hurry!"
"No problem! Just tell her not to have it in here!" We reached the parking lot. "Here! I'll drop you off," said the excited bus driver. "Where's your car, where's your car?"
"It's the Aveo .Oh! Ooooohhh!" I said. The screaming was, at that point, more real than fake. I suspected those guys were armed.
The driver found the car and Geoff led me off the bus, as fast as he could. We climbed in the car and he threw the Aveo into reverse, nearly hitting the bus. Luckily for us, the bus was hindering the progress of the thugs in the golf cart and they had stupidly gotten out of the cart and on their feet to try to get around the bus. The last time we saw them they were standing in the mud. One waved his arms around while the other spoke into a cell phone.
We had escaped again, but we weren't exactly safe. We were sure Burronton's guys had our license plate number, and with that they'd be able to track us to the hotel. Another shopping spree's worth of items had to be abandoned again.
"Can't go back to the hotel," I said to Geoff.
"Told you not to buy that computer."
"Yes, dear." We fell into a silence as Geoff moved us north on Highway 25. We were heading in the direction of Albuquerque now, but with no idea where we should go. On the plus side, we had both flash drives and the Burronton people thought there were three. So that was an advantage. Geoff gave me his flash drive and I put it, like the other, in one of the Chimay dirt disks. Now there was one drive in each disk. On the minus side, Burronton Industries knew we had two drives, knew our license plate number, and knew roughly where we were headed. If we stayed on the major highways it would be easy for them to have their contacts locate us and stop us before we could get anywhere close to an airport. I guessed we were trapped. I restlessly pulled the state map out of the glove compartment to see if we had any options.
Here was Las Cruces and there was Albuquerque. In between was a lot of open space and not very many places that looked like shelter. I pulled off my wig with one hand and began pulling all the bobby pins out of my sweaty hair and dropping them on the floor. Geoff's mustache and toupee had been thrown on the backseat of the car. But wait, what was this? Radium Springs. Radium Springs! I began to laugh.
"What? What is it?" Geoff asked, alarmed.
"Radium Springs! It's just a few miles ahead. That's perfect!" I said.
"I don't understand."
"Radium Springs is the site of a Seon temple here in New Mexico. It's a form of Buddhism, basically the Korean form of Zen Buddhism."
"And it's where my doctoral chair, David Kim, went to spend his retirement. Take this exit, Geoff! Trust me. He's a monk now. He's sent me letters from Radium Springs, New Mexico, and I always meant to look him up on this trip, but I hadn't gotten to it yet. I didn't realize it was so close."
Geoff had pulled off the highway and we followed signs for what seemed like an hour. The dusty openness of the road gave way to grassier areas, including some pecan and pistachio groves and it felt like the rest of the world was far, far away. When we came in view of the temple itself, it was breathtaking. There stood a tall, four-story structure with a sloped roof on top. Each layer beneath the main roof had its own extension that rose up in a slope, creating a very pagoda-like appearance. The temple was painted a turquoise color, appropriate for the southwest, and a round yin/yang symbol was painted above the top central window.
We pulled into an empty area behind some trees and parked the car, then approached the main door. I pulled a rope to ring a bell and two men answered the door. Both had their heads and eyebrows shaved off and both were wearing loose gray shirts and trousers that looked something like pajamas. I bowed slightly, unsure of Seon Buddhist protocol.
"I'm sorry," I began, "I'm looking for David Kim. This is something of an emergency " One of the monks looked at me curiously.
"Dora? Dora Summers? Is that you?" It was David! I gave him a big hug and he led us inside.
"Do you trust this guy?" Geoff whispered to me.
"With my life!" I answered. Soon we were seated on a low couch with cups of tea talking with my old professor who, despite the shaved hair and eyebrows, was very definitely still himself. He still spoke English with a very slight Korean accent, but his English was fluent and his sense of humor had become very American during his time spent in the United States.
I explained to him about our wedding, about the strangeness of Wayne's behavior and about our trip to Los Alamos. I told him about the tarot reading at Chimay , the note Wayne had left at Roswell, and about Wayne's murder at the Inn of the Mountain Gods. I described, to the best of my ability and with Geoff's help, Wayne's research, the intersphere and the Intersol, and the Burronton Industries' plans for Wayne's research. I finally recounted what had happened at White Sands and at the S-Prize Expo.
"So you see," I finished, "Why when I saw we were near Radium Springs, I knew you were the person we had to see!" David, who had taken it all in very calmly, as suits a Buddhist monk, nodded.
"I see," he replied, "why I was the person you were meant to see!"
"Thank you," I said. "I knew you'd take care of things." David led us to a guest room the monks had near the temple that had a western-style bed and bathroom and told us that we were welcome to stay as long as we wanted. Meals would be brought to us and we could spend time with the monks in the evening if we wanted to. They often played chess or watched television at night. They had a regular poker game, if we were interested.
"I'd suggest you stay at least a week," he ended, "until things work themselves out."
"Sounds good to me," I answered. "This will be a nice break."
After David had left, Geoff looked at me, curiosity intense and clear on his face. He sat down next to me on the bed.
"Dora," he said, "I'm lost. Could you please explain why we're here in a Buddhist temple for a week? I mean, I understand that we'll be hard to find, but how can a bunch of monks help us?"
"Oh no!" I responded, laughing. "I never told you? David, my doctoral chair. He's David Kim. His brother is Kim Hun Lee!"
"As in Kim Hun Lee, the new Secretary General of the United Nations?" Geoff responded, amazed.
"Yeah, I was sure I told you that at some point. Sorry. So yeah, he's going to let his brother know what's going on. He'll pull some strings."
"I bet he will!" Geoff agreed. I leaned back on the bed and stretched. I felt safe for the first time in about a week and it was so peaceful here. Soon Geoff lying next to me, an affectionate look on his face. We fell asleep early that evening and missed the card game, but that was okay. We had saved the sun and the moon, and possibly the whole world and we deserved a little bit of a break.