There were lots of mountain meadows like this one. Hidden by banks of trees or on the edges of riverbanks. Only the initiated knew where to find them. This one was the biggest. In the spring the ground is saturated with melted snow and you can’t do anything with it for months except look at it and admire it from the road. Now that Fall was on its way the grass had grown thick and long, and the ground dry enough to sleep on.
The three of them lay out in the grass in a pinwheel of friendship with their heads creating the hub of the wheel, their legs as the spokes, shooting off into different directions from each other. If one of them got animated they would bump heads with the person next to them. They stared up into the sky waiting for falling stars. Bobby was the best at spotting satellites. As they watched one careen across the sky in its unnatural path Bobby would try to imagine the device itself speeding through space, running into things. Well it never did that of course ‘cause then it would crash, but maybe one day if they watched long enough they would get the chance to see and then they could be only ones in town to say they saw it happen. Sort of.
“Just think, a few days from now and this whole place will be transformed.” Rebecca waved her hand over the plain of grass.
“Why do you always have to do that?” Bobby rolled his head back to see the top of hers.
“Always do what?”
“I don’t know what you call it… keep time. You make an anniversary out of everything.”
“Whatta you talkin’ about?”
“’Remember two weeks ago at this time we were doing such and such. When I was five this exact thing was happening on the other side of the world, three years from now we’ll look back on this day in history’ blah, blah, blah.”
“Hey! Just because I like to think about things and how they’re connected doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it.” She reached back, her hand smacking him in the eye.
“Hey!” Bobby sat up. “Watch it,” he put his hand over the injured eye and squinted at her with the good one. Rebecca had folded her hands over her stomach again and was smiling contently.
He looked over at Amanda, she had not said anything in a while and her breathing was slow and deep. Still holding his hand over the assaulted eye Bobby leaned over Rebecca and whispered. “Hey, I think Mandy’s asleep.”
“No.” Amanda declared. “Just waiting for you to do something stupid.”
“Well you’ll be waiting a long time,” he laid back and rejoined the circle.
“So as I was saying,” Rebecca resumed. “It just always amazes me that this place goes from this, total wilderness to total weirdness in just a matter of minutes.”
“Minutes!” Bobby snorted. “Try hours.”
“Hours are made of minutes, Bobby.”
“I take it you’re on the set up crew,” Amanda asked.
“Yeah, my mom signed me up. Makes her look good when a council member’s family is participating.”
“What a load of crap, we all help.” Amanda snickered.
“I know that. I’m just saying that’s just the way she thinks.”
“How ‘bout you Mands, whatta you doin’?”
Amanda shrugged her shoulders. “Same as every year, ticket taker.”
“I’m hoping to get the Kentucky Derby booth this year. I think I have a real shot at it.” Bobby waited. “’Shot.’ Get it?”
Rebecca raspberried, “Yeah, Bobby we got, it just wasn’t funny.”
Amanda tapped Rebecca with her arm, “Better than being a carni,” both the girls giggled.
“Oh yeah well what do you get to do?”
Rebecca giggled again. “I get to assist all those cute forest service guys. You know get them water, show where stuff is?”
“A roadie for the forest service,” Bobby said incredulously. “Those guys aren’t cute, they’re old.”
Rebecca shrugged, “Some of them older maybe. But they always bring along the interns that clean up the trails all summer.” The smile in her voice was evident.
“You really think you’re gonna meet your true love that way, huh?” Bobby pulled on a hand full of grass.”
“Maybe,” she shrugged her shoulders again.
“Jealous,” Amanda threw a clod of dirt at him.
Bobby sat up again. “I don’t need to take this kind of abuse from you guys. I got all kinds of people waiting to abuse me.”
“Oh calm down,” Amanda grabbed his sleeve. “We do it out of love, those other people do it for sport.”
Bobby huffed and collapsed into the grass again.
The rumble of the river echoed across the canyon. An occasional car drove by, but otherwise the three of them listened to the silence.
“What’s your favorite part of the fair,” Rebecca asked. “I like seeing all the people.”
“You mean all the boys,” Bobby corrected her.
“Like you don’t go because of the girls.”
“I like the rides,” Amanda said, “The ones that go really high or really fast. But not in a circle. Those make me sick.”
“But that’s the best part,” Bobby laughed.
“Ulck.” Rebecca frowned. “Besides the girls, what are you looking forward to, Bobby.”
“I like the haunted house, the fun house, and midway. Oh, and the food.”
They agreed with a collective “mmm.” Between the chili cook off, the, baking competitions, funnel cake and fried Twinkies, popcorn, cotton candy, white corn on the cob cooked in the husk nobody ate for a week after the festival.
All the towns in the area came to work together to put this event on. It had become quite important for drawing in tourists to the area to show off their cooking skill, classic cars, or artwork. It was also that last of the season for any outdoor activities. Once the snow started the road would be closed and no one would be back until the spring melt.
This was Amanda’s favorite time of year. It was a time between times. Up here the seasons were different than in a lot of places. There was snow and no snow. That was one way of looking at it, the snow stayed around for so long usually. But there was the color of the leaves near the streams, the number of Birch trees was minimal compared to Pine, but they were so beautiful with their yellow leaves wading in the sea of green. Summer was over, the tourists would stop coming after the festival and a pleasant calm would descend over the town. It would snow just in time to give everyone something to complain about.
This year seemed different. She thought maybe it was because she would be twenty soon. No longer being a teenager meant new responsibilities. Or so it seemed. One day you are excused and the next now you have to somehow answer for and explain every action. No more goofing off. She liked the idea of not having to answer for her thoughts or actions. They were her own and if she didn’t want to explain them it was her choice, the choice of an adult. At the same time intimidating, so many choices and decisions to make for herself. Chances were she would still be at the café living in her parent’s house until something better came along. How likely was that going to be?
“She’s asleep for sure, this time,” Bobby whispered.
“No.” Amanda corrected him again. “What are hoping to do, put my hand in warm water so I’ll pee my pants?”
“Na, we’ll have to do that one when we get back to my house to watch a movie. But first—”
“Go Grizzlys!” Amanda and Rebecca shouted in unison.
There was not much to do so the high school sports events were the one thing everyone in town did, besides the festival that is, that was only once a year. The football and basketball teams gave them something to write about in the paper. This game was the official start of the week of festivities that meant everyone would be there.
Rebecca shivered. “You brought the hot chocolate, right?”
“Of course.” Bobby stood up. “What am I, a barbarian of some kind?”
He helped both of them to their feet and they tromped back to the car. When no longer in school every night felt like a weekend. There was still plenty of time left in the evening.
The football field was a large patch of dull green grass with brown spots and faded chalk lines, surrounded by wood bleachers that had weathered to a hideous brown, gray color and sank in the middle. Nobody cared, rather, everyone cared. This was the community meeting grounds where everyone came together for that one all meaningful touch down and game. Amanda, Rebecca, and Bobby had their usual spot on the very top level, closest to the snack stand. The cheering, the stomping, and the really bright lights. For them it was something to do. The high school almost never made it to the state championships, but that was okay, they were still the home town heroes every fall rescuing the towns folk from summer tourism and ushering in the change of seasons. Amanda, Rebecca, and Bobby were no longer any stake to which team won the game since they were had been out of high school a few years. It was just nice to be out of the house and away from the parental units.
Amanda got up to get a refill of her soda, leaving Bobby and Rebecca on their own. Waiting in line she noticed a man standing next to the snack shack. He wore dark blue jeans and a brown sports jacket. He had a micro recorder and a pocket notebook. His eyes jumped around before speaking into the recorder. His eyes landed on Amanda. Quickly she turned away, she had been caught. She had never seen the guy before and probably never would see him again. He was definitely an outsider. She got her refill and a box of Red Hots and turned around to start back to her seat.
Crunch! With a rattle of red candy and the cracking of plastic she found herself covered in soda, staring at the man’s shirt.
“Hey!” The stranger jumped back and glared at her. “If you wanted to say hi, just do it.”
Amanda blinked up at him. Cold soda soaking into all her clothes, she shivered slightly.
“You know, like Nike, ‘Just Do It.’” He smiled down at her.
She frowned. He was much older than her. She didn’t really know, it’s not like he was wearing a badge or anything that stated his age, he just seemed like a thirty- something or at the very least not twenty or under.
“I’m Brian,” he held out his dripping hand. “I’m just visiting, thought I would check out the game.”
Amanda reluctantly took what was offered with no effort to impress him, she made contact and quickly retracted her hand. “Welcome to our town,” she said looking around for Rebecca or Bobby to rescue her. The two them sat with their back to her, leaning against each other taking turns to talk in each other’s ear. They suck, she thought.
“Yeah it’s been great,” he reached over and grabbed a hand full of napkins, he took her hand suddenly, patting it dry. “You are?”
Amanda yanked her hand back like it had been burned and held to her chest. She looked at him with shock and bewilderment.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—“
She stepped back, “It’s fine,” she reached for her own napkins. “I, uh, I’m Amanda.”
“Amanda,” he repeated with a playful tone.
“I really have to get back to—“
“How you like the game so far, Mandy? It’s pretty cool—“
“Don’t call me that. Where did you hear that?” She looked around again this time for someone from the police station, Charlie, William, Henry, any of them, where the hell were they? She backed away and quickly turned away at a halfhearted around.
“Okay, well nice meeting you Amanda,” Brian shouted after her. “See you around.”
Amanda heard him call after her but she had already decided to put him in her mental Pandora’s box, let’s not go there again. She went down several sections and then weaved her way back across. Looking up and back she could see Rebecca and Bobby watching the game. She could see the snack shack too, the weirdo was gone. She checked the bleachers in case he had decided to follow her, but she could not see him anywhere. Stomping her way back to the top she dumped a few Red Hots into her hands and chucked the tiny hard candies violently at the both of them upon her arrival.
The two of them looked up at her, “What gives,” Bobby picked the sweet from his chest and tossed it back at her.
“What happened,” Rebecca asked noticing her browned hoodie.
“Thanks a lot Musketeers, I am practically molested by some tourist and you two sit her laughing it up.” She pushed her way past them and sat down.
“Molested?” Rebecca grabbed her arm.
“Forget it,” Amanda stared at the players on the field running back and forth. “Who’s winning?”
Pure darkness receded and light returned. It took some time for him to focus. Something moved above him, far in the distance. The green and yellow light swayed above him with gentle a rustling, swish, swish, swish, like his breathing. He was out of breath. Why? The dappled sunlight on his face was warm, but cool all at once. He was surrounded by the green and yellow. The air smelled like… dirt and moisture, clean and unpolluted. Unpolluted by what? Who?
And silence. Not silence exactly, just the absence of something else. But there was something unnatural about the lack of noise around him.
He sat up and took a look around. The sun was still high in the sky, the silhouettes of leaves moved back and forth across his hands and face. He felt his face, it was damp with sweat. He could feel it all over his body, his clothes sticking to his back. He looked at his hands. They were dry, cracked and calloused in the palms with scars on most of the fingers and across the backs, a band-aid around his index finger.
The chatter of the forest was muffled, like it had been shut up in a box. The scurry of squirrels on bark and the flapping of birds wings had been stilled by something, someone. Him? But that wasn’t all. His ears rang with residual sound like after being at a rock concert and your hearing is muffled for hours afterwards.
Looking over his shoulder there was a steep slope going up for about fifty yards full of trees and covered in under growth, rotting leaves, and rocks. A clean path of fresh dirt streaked down the last part and ended right where he found himself sitting in a mound of dead leaves and fresh dirt. Would falling down a steep slope have these results? He wasn’t sure. It wasn’t the fall itself, but what preceded the fall. Whatever had happened before was important but he could not say why.
He tried to remember the thing that had happened before he found himself staring up into the trees. Black. Not blank. Black. Like when you first turn the lights off and it seems as if it is pitch black until your eyes adjust. You know everything is still there. You can sense it around you and you have a pretty good idea where everything it is. All your furniture doesn’t disappear just ‘cause you can’t see it any more. The memory of the event, of everything seemed to be waiting in the wings to appear on stage but they were waiting for their cue. If only he knew what it was.
He had a general sense of who he was: hard worker, reliable, well liked, and a few lifelong friends to boot. He looked at his left hand. No ring. That was disappointing, but expected. He wore heavy khaki trousers, covered in dirt and leaves; some of the stains seemed worn in. Tan leather boots, scuffed at the toes, the treads on the soles were worn down some. Finally a dark blue, button down, flannel shirt, torn on the shoulder in one place, fresh blood darkening in the gap.
On instinct he reached back and felt a familiar lump in his back right pocket. What came out was a brown leather wallet, broken in and worn on the corners. Flipping it open he was confronted by a rectangular badge.
“Well, I’ll be damned.” He stared at the small piece of plastic:
Name: Andrew James.
Eyes: Blue eyes
Height: 6’ 1”
It was his picture all right. He didn’t have a mirror of course to make sure but it felt right. He was sure that if he had a mirror he would see the same face as the one in the photo. Brown hair. He wasn’t sure about that but close enough.
“Andrew James,” he said aloud. “The man with two first names.” He chuckled to himself, he’d heard that one before. Maybe he only thought it to himself whenever someone said his name. Who knows. He liked the name. He was glad it was his.
He looked back up the slope. Something waited up there. His truck? He searched his other pockets; a Swiss Amy knife in one and a set of keys. It was a modest set of keys. A Chevy key, a few normal size ones to the house maybe, and some smaller odd-looking ones, most likely to various kinds of equipment. In the other pocket he discovered some loose change and a receipt from Save Mart Gas for eighteen plus gallons of gas, a deli sandwich and a fountain drink. The receipt address and driver’s license were from different states. So he was away from home, but he wasn’t even sure by how far.
The hushed quite of the trees prevailed. There was a tension, a penned up expectancy. It was unnatural, but as far as he could tell he was the only unnatural thing around. He did not belong here. He did not feel he was alone. He fell down that slope for some reason. Was he pushed? Chased? Was it a desperate, last ditch effort to put distance between himself and whatever was still huddled in the shadows waiting for him? Why was he in this forest and where is this forest? His innate sense of danger simply was not there. The danger had passed perhaps but there was still an apprehension. These sorts of things should concern him but it just didn’t seem to think there was anything to worry about. Things would work themselves out. He was alive and that was saying something.
That being said, sitting here was not going to accomplish anything. Tucking his legs up under himself he stood. Everything tilted suddenly and spun. With a hard thud he found himself looking up at the trees again. He blinked a moment trying to figure out what had just happened. The sound of his heart thumped in his ears. This was not going to be easy.
He took a moment to catch his breath and gave it the ol’ college try again. This time the trees and ground pitched and rolled but somehow he managed to remain standing. Mustering all his power of concentration he turned toward the slope and looked up to ledge. He considered the possibility of maybe an easier way up, a less strenuous path had to be somewhere but for now he figured the direct way would be the fastest. That was where he had come from and that was where he needed to go. He lunged forward and pushed himself up. Shadows crowded the edge of his vision. Everything grew bright white, overexposing his retinas and a stabbing pain into his head. Brown leaves and overturned soil rushed up on him. He reached out for the nearest bush but fell short, face down where he had stood.
* * *
The drilling sound of a woodpecker on a nearby tree drew Andrew out of his stupor. He felt as if he may have been awake for a while but was only just now aware of it. Again he was staring up into a tangle of tree limbs that framed a steel colored sky. All color had drained out of the world. It was cold, a slight breeze blew across him, he shivered. Birds called in the distance, and he could hear the scratching of tiny claws on bark.
“Young man?” A man’s voice asked.
Andrew turned his head toward the sound. A man crouched nearby, his forehead damp with perspiration. “Young? I’ll have you know that I’m forty- seven.”
“True,” the man’s expression neutral. He had short hair was a dark gray with flecks of black mixed in. While he seemed to have aged well he was aged. It was easy to see that his experience exceeded his years. “I’m Gregory.” He held his hand out.
Propping up on his elbow Andrew regarded the stranger. He wore outdoor clothing, but they looked new. His demeanor was of total calm, reserve. No, control. Andrew had the idea that there was nothing that could shock this man. Emergencies are what happened to other people. No event that would shake him off balance. With nothing to lose Andrew shook his hand. Gregory’s grip was powerful but not chauvinistic.
Andrew looked around. This was not where he had been before. They were on a plateau, wait, it was a road, a dirt road. Deep grooves worn through the grass and cutting through the foliage. The edge was formed by a steep drop off, the one he had gone done. There was a green jeep a few yards away. Next to it he could see there were fresh tire tracks, maybe where his car had been.
Looking back at Gregory, “Did you…carry me out of that gorge?”
Gregory smiled grimly. “I did.” He stood up. “Now that I know you are okay we can get you to some medical attention.”
“How did you find me, how did you know I was here?”
The astonishment drained out of him. There was no danger, he was sure of that, but this was not dumb luck, he was too practical for that. “Now how is that you know who I am when I don’t even know that myself.”
“Your injury is unfortunate. It will be dark very soon we should get you out of here before we can no longer see our way out.” Gregory bent down supporting Andrew’s arm and back. “You ready?”
Andrew nodded his head and braced himself. Standing was still a challenge. He felt dizzy. Gregory waited for him to recover. Once ready they hobbled to the car. Gregory opened the door for him.
Climbing into the driver’s side Gregory started the engine. “Mr. Moore’s personal physician will make sure you are okay.”
“Much obliged.” Andrew rolled down the window and put his arm out. “Should I know ‘im?”
Gregory turned the wheel and started down the road. “Mr. Moore has been expecting you.”
“Is that a fact?” The jeep jumped and jerked as they drove over fallen rocks and potholes left by rain. “And he would be?”
“Really? What’s with the reunion then?”
Gregory kept his eyes on the road. “What Mr. Moore does is his business.”
“Blind obedience, is what you do?”
“As you can see, Mr. James, my eyes are wide open.”
“So I can,” he smiled and watched the road. There was nothing around that he recognized. “Can’t wait to meet ‘im, again.”
“He feels the same.”
They drove in silence. As they progressed the road became smoother and widened. Eventually it dumped them out onto a main road, by the width of the road and the total absence of businesses he would have to say it was a highway. The jeep pulled out onto the road.
The cool smell of a pine trees at the close of day was a welcome scent to Andrew. He took a deep breath and instantly felt at peace. Gregory only drove, leaning back into the seat, this was a familiar route for him. It was as if he had forgotten all about his passenger, he was on autopilot. Like his clothes the car conveyed a message of belonging to the area. There were no personal effects in the car. No fast food containers, travel mugs, or printed off sheets of unneeded directions. But it was top of the line everything. Leather seats, wood paneling, Bose stereo, electric everything. All weather tires, four-wheel drive, rope wench on the front and yet the leather seats looked as if they had never been sat in. It almost had that new car smell.
Rising above the tops of the trees was the white peak of a mountain. It was snowed covered and even in the fading light Andrew could see that it was steep and jagged in places, deep canyons and sudden drop offs. The road appeared to be heading straight for it. The took a steady climb into the trees, no other signs of civilization except for an occasional road sign indicating they were in National Park land. The road curved and wiggled higher and higher. One side of the road was a deadly drop off and on the other a wall of rock, with each new turn these switched sides. The car slowed slightly as the came around a sharp bend and shooting off to the right was a road, barely visible. If you did not know it was there you would miss it. It was such a subtle separation that it blended into the landscape. Turning off of the highway onto the road with a severe turn and up a sudden incline.
Feeling his back press into the seat Andrew could see that there was something on the road ahead. The car chugged confidently forward. As they neared, he realized it was a gate that spanned across the entire expanse of the roadway but was in the process of opening inward. Gregory had not made any motions; both his hands were on the steering wheel and his eyes focused on the road. How did the gate open? Did someone see them coming? Andrew could not see anything that would indicate like a lookout or guardhouse, then again, there was just the thinnest bit of light left. The gate had somehow recognized the vehicles that belonged there, some sort of GPS or homing signal. He thought about any car that might take the turn by mistake, the way down would be treacherous, but the road was only one car wide, whoever came up here would have to back their way down.
Once through the gate they continued up the winding incline. The trees were thinning out and the road became lined with natural stone and well- placed shrubs. The road widened in to a large flat plain and suddenly bare rock jutted out, teetering on the precipice of black granite was a house. Built right up against the mountain. All he could make of it in this light was wood and glass. The wood looked almost black, like the rock or trees, maybe even the same dark hue as the trees around them. A pinnacle of wood and glass jutted up into the sky. The huge panes of glass looked out over the valley behind them. It was a paradox of an unnatural thing looking like it belonged there.
Gregory took the car around the side where house came out over the path. Again a door was already in the process of opening right up out of the rock. They drove into the side of the mountain and into a lit garage. There was one car width of space. There they stopped. The garage went further in. There was one car in from of them, a larger, heavier vehicle with large tires. Next to it was an oversized snow blower. On the side where Gregory got out was a black sedan, Bentley.
Andrew followed his lead and stepped out of the vehicle. The floor of the garage was polished concrete. It felt like a clean room in an electronics factory. Except where they had just driven in there was no indication of dirt. He doubted there were oil stains on the floor. There were shining red Craftsman cabinets and hooks on the wall holding all kinds maintenance tools. It was warm too, a pleasant kind of warm but a little stuffy.
“Guess you have to be self-sufficient up here. Would cost a fortune to have someone come out.” He looked around the immaculate, well stocked and organized space. “Not that cost is factor for someone like your Mr. Moore.”
“If you will come with me.” Gregory started to walk to the back of the garage. In the concrete wall beyond the SUV was a pair of stainless steel doors. Using a key the doors opened up to an elevator. Gregory waited for Andrew to go in.
Andrew felt his pockets and looked back at the car before getting in the elevator. “Feel like I’m forgetting something.” He looked at his host and chuckled.
Gregory used the same key to activate the elevator. It was smooth ride. Slow and gentle.
“No stairs, huh?”
“There are, but with your injury this is the best option.”
“Yeah, that,” he felt the back of his head. He could feel there was a bump back there, it throbbed like hell. His hair was matted with dirt and he guessed blood. Don’t take a hit like that without some blood. “I appreciate all of this, but are we even friends?”
Gregory turned to him. “No.” He went back to looking at the doors.
“How about this Moore fella?”
The doors opened. Gregory stepped out first and waited for Andrew. He stepped into a hallway. The cream colored carpet was thick under his feet, so much cushion gave a little bounce to his step as he followed Gregory to the end of the hall. Warm track lighting illuminated an oil painting of the mountain as well as the corridor. Everything was hushed and enclosed. It smelled like pine. A Wainscot of polished wood slats that glowed under the lighting ran down the full length of the hall on both sides. Opening a heavy wood door they came into another hall, this one a little more traveled than the last, wider too. There were other doors. The smell of burning wood and a tinge of smoke hit him.
A memory fluttered on the edge of his consciousness. A fire pit. There was a dog. Black lab. Was it his? He felt he was a dog person. Other than the familiar sense of the trees around him, there was nothing more specific. Was that because he was hurt or because he had done it so many times his brain had generalized all the times into one stock memory? Whoever has his truck has his dog and if he finds out something happened to either there will be hell to pay.
The room opened up suddenly into a steeple of glass. Had to be the room he had seen from the car. Wood rafters came together maybe twenty-five feet above his head. There was a simple glass chandelier hanging from the center. The world outside was dark now. To the right a fire flickered in a free standing pit. There was no chimney, had to be gas then. The pit was at the center of a hole. There were steps down creating a circular bench all around. Pillows were scattered about for comfort.
If this fire was from gas source, where was smoke coming from?
“Dinner is almost ready.” Gregory announced. “Pork roast. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Well frankly, I don’t know.”
“Get yourself a drink.” His eyes flicked to the far end of the room. A free standing wet bar was stationed near the glass overlook. A sliding glass door close by. “Make yourself at home.” He waved his hand to whole room. In addition to the fire pit there was another sitting area of oversized couches. The cushions plump full of filling to bursting. The material slightly shagged, with throw blankets of natural wool.
“When will I be meeting my host?”
There was no response, only the fire on fake logs with its continuous sigh.
Andrew looked around, Gregory had disappeared like that.
Make myself at home. Home. He thought about the word as he walked over to the bar. There were a couple small refrigerators. Of all the liquids on offer the larger seemed the most appealing. Popping the cap off, he took a swig. Good stuff. Hopefully it went with pork. Putting his forearm against the glass he rested his forehead against it and looked out. The dark line of the forest against the navy blue sky. A few stars twinkled in the sky washed out by the light behind him. He knew there was a city down there. A couple. Small communities surviving on the edge of wilderness.
He sighed. His breath fogging the glass. Home. He’d only been an amnesiac a few hours and he felt he was doing pretty good so far. All he had to do was find the light switch and then he would know. A square of reflected light hit the glass. He turned around to see a woman coming toward him with a tray of food. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a bun. “Where would you like to eat, sir?”
Andrew blinked dumbfounded. The door opened again and another girl came out with a platter of condiments. A1 Sauce, salt and pepper, a variety of salad dressings. She could not have been much more than ten or eleven. Her small chin and slender hands resembled those of the woman holding his dinner.
“Sir?” The older woman waited.
“Anywhere is fine with me.”
The woman’s brow knitted together. Her eyes blinked faster. “Can I recommend the fire then?”
“Sure, recommend away.”
She carried the food over to the edge of the pit. Cautiously she stepped down onto the bench and then another until she was at the bottom. All the way around the fire pit was a black marble ledge. The woman placed the food on it and beckoned for the girl, taking the tray of condiments from her she placed it next to his food. Crawling out of the pit she looked at him. “Will you be needing anything else?”
“Some answers would be nice.”
Her eyebrows bunched up again, she pursed her lips, and folded her hands in front of her. “I… I—“
“Don’t worry about it darlin’.” He smiled.
She smiled and the two of them quickly scurried back through the door they had come.
Andrew chuckled to himself. He felt bad for her. He didn’t mean to embarrass her. He really did want to know. Everyone seems so serious and/ or mysterious around here. It had been unfair to ask her.
The smell of the flame broiled meat and the white wine sauce on the vegetables made his stomach grumble. Who knew the last he had eaten. Had to have been hours. Lowering himself into the pit he seated himself on the bench with some pillows in the small of his back. He stuffed the silk napkin provided into the top of his shirt and balanced the tray of food across his knees. All signs indicated this would be a class act meal. He doubted that he ate this lavishly at home, wherever that was.
* * *
Gregory took the main stairs. They were the showcase of the entry way if anyone ever used the front door. Hand carved railings and a painstaking cross patterns imbedded into each step from the bottom step to the top step. Wide enough for a production number, the broad steps swept upwards parting in the middle for a large mirror and diverging in opposite directions. Taking the right fork to the library he passed the game room, the movie theater, and cocktail room. When he thought about this estate the word that dominated was peace. So far removed from human activity. The surrounding towns were relatively close together but because of the tracks of forest separating them you would never know it. No buildings were more than two stories high. From the right elevation you could see the highway cutting through the trees but otherwise all humanity was invisible.
The main room, where he had left Andrew, faced west and when the sun hit the glass it would shine back, he had people in town comment on it every now and then. This house was not the only one above the valley, but it was the biggest. And of course the most important since it was so intimately tied to the history of the area.
More than any other room in the house, the library was the most secluded. It was practically at the center of the house. In place of natural light false windows and a pair of French Doors were lighted in a way that mimicked natural light even to the point of dimming and brightening corresponding with the real time outside light. To add to the light of the rooms the bulk of the walls were painted a sunny yellow with the ceiling and beveled panels in white. It was an almost round room, double height, with two levels of built in book cases from floor to ceiling, which only served to further insulate it from all noise. Several speakers were imbedded all around the room so that if you sat in the middle on the strategically placed couches, sound literally surrounded you. It was a compact room with different kinds of seating, high backed Louis XV style arm- chairs surrounding small pine tables to accommodate tea or water. If you wanted something less formal there was plumb couch with matching armchairs on each side. Along the back of the couch was a long table with a chair and everything one would need for writing a letter.
Climbing the nearest of the two tight spiral staircases to the second tier of shelves he crossed over to the middle and paused. On this level the shelves had been alternated with beveled panels. This center one was different from the others. Leaning on the right side with his weight he heard a slight click and stepped to the side. The panel swung inward without a nefarious creaking. He slipped in through into the next room, pushing the door shut behind him. There was no chance of anyone else coming in behind him since only Mr. Moore used the library but habits should remain regardless of who was around.
This room was called the observatory for many reasons. It had a reinforced glass roof. It was heated so that there was never any snow build up. It had an automated feature that after some much weight had accumulated the heating would kick in. It was a rare occasion it snowed so much that Mr. Moore had not already turned the mechanism on. Mr. Moore ended most of his evenings here where he could contemplate the night sky while music floated all around him.
There was a steep stairway that led to a deck higher up (the highest point of the house) that put you within a few feet of the glass dome. You could see most of the rest of the exterior of the house from this vantage including the road leading up to the house. There was also an adjunct security suite where you could monitor the array of camera angles.
Gregory looked around. A tray with Mr. Moore’s Earl Grey tea sat untouched, still steaming. He could see the silhouette of Mr. Moore against the skylight on the top level. The standing order was he was not to be disturbed if he did not give you his immediate attention. Gregory turned to leave, Mr. Moore would know where to find him. He pulled on the handle of the false panel.
Gregory closed the panel and turned around, looking up. “Yes, Mr. Moore.”
Mr. Moore was leaning on the safety rail with his elbows, the night sky hovering over his head. “Did you manage to get to Mr. James in time?”
“I did, he was injured, but not fatally.”
“Is he secure?”
“Yes, Mr. Moore.”
“And his injuries?”
“Hard to say, Sir. He seems to have amnesia. The doctor should get in tonight to examine him.”
There was no immediate response. Mr. Moore continued to lean over the side but made no movement. The slightest move of head was barely visible in the near darkness of the room. “When she arrives tell her to join me for breakfast on the veranda.”
“Any sign of who may have done it?”
“Just some fresh tire tracks.”
“Damn,” he cursed under his breath and banged his fist on the rail. Mr. Moore stood straight and walked away from the rail. Gregory knew that was the official conclusion of this conversation. He slipped back into the library. Dinner was foremost in his mind, but he still had to get Andrew settled in. It had been a successful day and he was looking forward to the reward of a nice meal paired with a red wine.
The main reception area was packed with all of Customer Service, IT, Client Services, and Marketing departments. When Diane had been hired as chief financial officer they had thirty employees and counting. Only a hard and fast eighteen months later they had reached almost three hundred workers with full medical benefits and with stock options available. All the remaining departments had been assembled in the main reception of the adjacent building as well. People stood around in their department cliques waiting for this “spontaneous” meeting to start. It hadn’t been much of a surprise to Diane or the other officers. There had been some titter on the news about the end of a golden era for tech companies like theirs but she found that when you worked for a young upstart company like theirs you felt invincible. Those other guys, the competition, didn’t have the talent, ideas and innovation, and synergy they did. Unstoppable, unsinkable.
She looked out over the group. So much amazing talent. Brilliant and funny. The company had always prided itself on getting the best out of each of them and giving them what they deserved. The last employee fun day included horseback riding, paint ball, and mini golf. Those days would not happen again anytime soon. As it would turn out, ever again.
The Vice President got everyone’s attention. She stood beside him, back straight, shoulders back. A slight smile on her lips, not the happy kind of smile, more like determined, armed with optimism. It’s what they all would need to ride this storm out. As the VP announced the down turn in their sector and its effects industry wide, you could feel the tension ratcheting up. People shifted back and forth on their feet, crossed their arms, and murmured to themselves or the person nearest to them. Eyes shifted from confidantes to supervisors. As he transitioned with “as a result” all extraneous noise ceased. Restructuring is needed in times like these. It’s well known now that “to restructure” in corporate speak means, “to lay off.”
Each department will meet with a corporate officer to discuss the changes specific to that division. As people filed out to the elevators she could hear raised voices while others were unusually quiet. With the exception of the department heads no one know who would be staying and who would be going. Each department would have two meetings, one for those the company would be asking to stay, increased pay for the undeserved stress that would inevitably come starting tomorrow morning. The other meeting was for those that would be given generous severance packages, two months pay, extended insurance for that time, and recommendations of course. Extra security guards had been hired for each floor in case there were any incidents.
That day was one of the darkest in her personal history. She had been the chief financial officer. The CFO is the first line of defense. As soon as saw the numbers start slipping and the corporate antics that were need to keep up momentum she should have sent up the red flag. But instead, she had taken part in maintaining the delusion, believing it would turn around, this was temporary, every industry hits a lull, that’s how she talked herself through each breach of proper financial protocol. There was so much anger mixed with sadness. She was angry with herself as much as with the other officers. These people were good people. These employees had families, car payments, and rent to pay. They did their jobs well and they were being punished for the corporation’s gluttonous ambitions. They had over extended themselves on the euphoria of this hot new market and as a result the wave crashed down on them all. The drowning, suffocating aftermath would stay with her.
The whole ordeal had made her examine every decision she had made. The mistakes made and how they could be avoided next time, should next time come around. She had practically dedicated every waking breath to see the company thrive and to what end? To shatter the lives of good men and women to save themselves. It wasn’t long after that for her to realize she needed a change. She voluntarily left with a healthy severance package for all her “good woks.” She sold her modern upscale apartment and relocated her life, her center. Her friends and family thought she had gone off the deep end. In a way she had, but in the midst of her search she was reminded, to gain your life you must first lose it.
She took a deep breath, the cool mountain air grounded her in the present. Sometimes the mediation brought up memories or emotions she was not prepared to contemplate. She would write it down in her journal and see if it returned again later. Another breath. She opened her eyes. Beyond the sprawling gulf of tress for twenty miles a jagged white mound rose above the landscape, cutting into the sky, shoving it’s way through the clouds and towering over every living thing.
Her life as a CFO felt like a lifetime ago, another life. One that she had only watched and not actually lived. The time wasted was regretful. No matter. What was important was to value the time she had left and more importantly to learn from her mistakes. The here and now was something she could change. There was no point in ruminating over the past. She had learned from it and that was what counted. She unfolded her legs and stretched. It wasn’t long now until the festival and she still needed to frame her pieces for Artist Alley. She did landscapes like most people in the area. When surrounded by such astonishing beauty you couldn’t help but try to capture some small part of it for yourself.
The mountain was a favorite subject among her fellow artists in the community. It sold well to the tourists, but Diane liked to try other angles whenever possible. There were lavender farms nearby. She preferred to drive a little ways to get a view of the fields and foothills. It was hard to escape the mountain, and it was awe inspiring, but there were so many beautiful things in the world and so little time to paint them all.
Standing to her feet she pulled her arms overhead for a long stretch and let her arms down with a big sigh. She loved this porch with its picture perfect view. Going over to the rail she spun a Tibetan prayer wheel that had been bolted to the railing and smiled to herself, it was going to be a great day.
“Mr. Moore?” She giggled nervously, smoothing the sleeves of her navy blue suit jacket. Everything was perfectly pressed; the knee length skirt, white pinstriped blouse, and goldenrod ascot— perfectly poofed. “Oh, he is a nice man. So well mannered. He was my first sale ever. And my biggest sale you know. Ever. Of course it is the biggest property in the area so that isn’t much of a surprise.” Her desk was adorned with pictures of cats doing cute things. It was personal, the personal touch without over doing it. It was a functional desk, with matching accessories, the jubilee of pens in the burgundy holder, her business cards leaning at just the right angle from the burgundy dispenser.
“Yes, it’s true.” As if to dispel any disbelief. “That house had been in the Rochester family ever since people have settled in this area. That’s a couple hundred years, you know.” She straightened the nameplate on her desk, Beverly Banks, in black on faux copper. It was a large replica of the mini one pinned on her left shoulder above an embroidered logo, 21st Century Realty, also in goldenrod.
“Such a fascinating place. It started off small, you know, just a place to keep the snow off ya really. Terrible. Can you imagine, no central heating? In these mountains. Those pioneers, real troopers I tell ya. It’s a wonder any of them lived through that first winter. In the spring, that’s when the first loggers started coming in, ready to work. It wasn’t just about the trees you know, they were put to good use of course, but what it was really about was getting the tracks laid to finish the first railway across the country.
“Oh! I’m so sorry,” she lifts her hand in the air and wiggling her understated, but tastefully groomed fingernails in a dark pink color, not scandalous like red would be, but not the cotton candy pink of a tween. Lifting slightly from her seat she looks across the top of the cubicles, “Marie!” She waits until she has the girl’s attention and then beckons her over. “Can we get some more coffee over here for our guest? Thank you.” She sits down again folding her hands in front of her. “Now, Mr. Moore—“
Marie quickly appears, she is young, just out of high school most likely. Her shoes made of shiny black patent leather, like a dolls, her office casual clothes fit her awkwardly, too restrictive maybe. She holds a plastic tray, fake wood grain on both sides, and sets it down on the edge of Beverly’s desk, a silver carafe, a coffee mug of milk, and three kinds of sweetener in white, blue, and yellow packets.
“Aren’t you thoughtful,” Beverly squeezes Marie's elbow. “She’s my best pupil,” she smiles at the girl. Marie smiles apologetically, blushing, embarrassed and leaves. “Someday, when I have to leave God’s green earth I know, that while I may not have children, my legacy will go on in people like her.” She watches as Marie goes back to whatever it was she was doing before. “She is such a wonderful girl.” Beverly’s gaze goes into the distance.
So many nice people and nice things fill her life. Her cats, the Monday night quilting circle, and of course her job and all of it in a place like this, one of America’s most pristine Alpine forests. The freshest air on earth, the cleanest water anywhere. Surrounded by pines every day smelled like Christmas to her. Christmas and sunshine. Sometimes, when it’s been snowing like crazy for a few hours and she has just spent two hours shoveling out a path for her car and she looks back to see she has to do it again, with trembling arms and her back on fire in excruciating pain, she thinks maybe she should finally get out of this place. Afterward, sitting in front of the fireplace, wool blankets piled on her legs and a cup of homemade hot chocolate in her favorite mug, a photo of Mit Mit and Choo Choo in Santa hats, she watches the snow fall and with a deep breath of satisfaction. All the frustration of the previous few hours melts away like snow on your tongue. What a blessed life this is.
She blinks suddenly. “I don’t know what is wrong with me today.” She reaches up, patting her dark auburn curls. The precisely sculpted chunks of hair are held in perfectly unnatural places and add a few inches to her height. She clears her throat, “Where were we? Yes, the Rochester Estate.” Folding her hands again, she takes a deep breath.
“Logging became a big business up here, well still is, and of course once the trains were running that brought in all kinds of people looking to start new lives and more people means more business. Mr. Rochester was an excellent business man and his house grew right along with the town and his… assets.
“He’s a very important man around here, Mr. Rochester, he was our first mayor. Have you driven around much? Rochester High School. The middle school was named after his wife, Margaret Winslow- Rochester. If it wasn’t for him, this town wouldn’t be nearly as nice as it is. Many of the streets are named after his heirs.” She nods her head assuredly, as if to say that’s a fact, everyone knows it.
“The house, the house, the house.” She poured herself a fresh cup of steaming coffee, without putting any sugar or cream in she stirred her spoon absently. Clink, clink, clink. “Each addition was always a new undertaking. It meant clearing more trees and moving more dirt, it’s on the side of a hill you know. Sometimes it involved blasting right through all that rock. From certain angles it looks like the house has grown right out of the side of the mountain. Some of that was intentional. Mr. Rochester loved nature and it was important to him that nature was not interrupted just because he was there.
“Here’s a fun fact.” She leaned forward across her desk as if she was about to reveal a great secret. “Did you know there is a room, right in the middle of the house, made of the original walls and a ceiling that Mr. Rochester had cut down himself all those years ago? Completely made of pine tree trunks. Makes it look like a giant Lincoln Logs cabin.” She leaned back in her seat. “So it’s said, anyways. It’s supposed to be the wood from the original structure; it’s possible, I guess. They could carbon date it or something, I’m sure, to check if it’s the original cabin, but what does it matter really, it’s the thought that counts, right?” She looks wide-eyed for a nod of mutual agreement.
“Through the years rooms were added onto other rooms, hallways extended. On occasion there had been a collapse due to heavy snow. Because of that the roof has several tiers where the owner at the time decided to add high ceilings, or a new level, that kind of thing. In a way I think each Rochester has left his or her mark on the house.
“Because of all the changes and reconstructions, there is nothing symmetrical or reasonable about the place. But my, it is a beautiful house, don’t get me wrong. In the entry is this gorgeous wood staircase, and beautiful slate stone work everywhere. Majestic fireplaces in most of the rooms, including bathrooms. I have never seen anything so beautiful in all my life.
“So tastefully decorated but it is a bear getting through it. I literally needed a map to find my way around the place. The county clerk had so many blueprints on file I finally had to call in an architect to make whole new ones just to update the county records. It had to be surveyed so we could list it properly and makes sure that all those changes hadn’t created some unforeseen damage.”
Her eyes dropped and her lips were pressed together in a tight frown. “Poor Mr. Rochester, Richard. He was the last of them, no children, even the grandchildren were up in years.” She shook her head sadly. “So many of their beautiful things sent to auction. There was some mix up at the lawyers about his will, I don’t remember, it was so long ago now, but they needed a realtor and by default really, the account was given to me.
“The grounds are extensive, massive, most of it rock, and dirt, just pure forest, not really any gardens to speak of. And the private road, it’s quite long when you consider the cost of up keep and plowing in the winter.
“Mr. Moore, he pays to maintain the road at his own expense, no tax dollars are used for it.” She chuckles softly to herself. “You know, he even pays to make sure there is plenty of avalanche control. I suppose he would lose a lot if anything happened to the house. I’m sure he must have other homes. A man in his position usually does. But I don’t really know, I’ve only sold him the one.”
She leans in, this time much closer, her voice dropping below the chatter of the other agents on the phone or at the water cooler. “I can’t tell you anything personal of course, I respect my client’s privacy, and the law. But, I did Google his name once, he’s quite a prolific man. It’s the perfect house for him really. As diverse and interesting as he is.” She winks.
A shadow fell across the desk. Without moving, her eyes shifted up, “Marie!” She forced an impatient smile, “what can I do for ya?”
Marie leans in and smiles plaintively, “Your three o’clock appointment is ready.”
With surprise and ting of irritation at Marie, Beverly checks her watch. “Oh my. I love it when I’m busy, just makes the day fly by. It feels so productive too.” She waves Marie away and stands to her feet. Leaning over she straightens a photo of her with a man, they are young, the gold bands on their fingers gleam. Beverly is still wearing hers.
“It has been so nice talking with you today.” She tugs on the hem of her jacket. “If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to give me a call. You have my card…” She looks over, “Good.”
“Mr. Moore, he is very nice, so lovely to talk to, I sure hope you get the chance to meet him. It is a unique experience. Now remember, if you are thinking about relocation, it’s not a bad place to be, give me a call if you want to look at some properties.” She winks.
Beverly squinches her eyes shut. “What a ninny.” She shakes her head and puts her hands on her hips. “Honestly, I do not know what has come over me. I have never done something like this before; you must think me so rude. I never asked your name.” She held out her hand, her smile bigger than ever.
Below is a story I'm bringing out into the light. I will post parts each week. I would love to know what you think. I really like it but not sure what to do with it.
Part 1: Arrivals
Once upon a time sounded good. Like the sound of the church bells vibrating into the big blue sky, distant, out of reach. Or maybe it was more like the approaching of thunder, rattling the windows before the lightning strike. In either case, both would be welcome. It was a horrible place to be for anyone not interested in conquering the highest peak.
All day long Amanda poured coffee into the white ceramic cups of men’s ambitions. Hers was the last stop of sanity on the road to the conquest of the tallest peak in region. Anything higher required an airline ticket. Once you got into your car and started up that long, twisted road there was only one destination. Can you call yourself a man, or at least a true mountaineer, if you turned back before even stepping onto the trail? For six months you’ve trained, running up and down the stairs in your apartment building with weights strapped to your legs and four 2-litre bottles in your backpack. You’ve had a picture of the snow- encrusted pinnacle on your computer desktop at work for weeks. You’ve spent thousands of dollars on the kick ass gear: crampons, base layers, top of the line mountaineer boots, ice poles, an ice axe, down jacket, heavy duty bivey, cold weather sleeping bag liner, dehydrated foods, and gloves so thick you can barely bend your fingers around the pole grips. How could you ever face your buddies again without even have tried? Be it courage or stupidity, this was the point of no return.
The Top of the World Café catered the last meal to this exclusive group of individuals. The omelets and hash browns served up would be their last real food for at least the next three to five days. For some it was their last real food ever. The mountain had taken many lives over the years. It wasn’t always blind ambition either. Even those well-equipped and fully trained could be taken by surprise in a sudden storm. Gales of cold windblasts of eighty miles per hour upwards to one hundred plus were common. Snowstorms were known to happen every month of the year. Least of all was the frequent cloud cover that would completely swallow the mountain whole and leave you clothed in the amorphous shroud of white moisture. Any turn could be your last when you had no idea where you were going.
The interior of Top of the World Café was like many of the eateries in the area; rustic and cozy, like your living room. In the comfort of a real fire crackling from the depths of an oversized fireplace pieced together with large river rock, worn smooth by years of the flow of the water before it ended up here. Maybe not so much in the summer, but guests were always great admirers of the monster mantel. The greeters and servers wore their own clothes, casual but clean. The only thing that distinguished them from the customers were the black aprons they wore around their waists and the pot of coffee they usually carried around with them.
Amanda had lived most of her life in the shadow of the peak. In what she still considered to be a rash decision, sudden in its execution, her parents had moved from beautiful Fresno, California, poetry capital of the Golden State. She did not understand it then and she had yet to understand now. Well, of course she knew why or at least was told why. Her dad worked for Search and Rescue and there was an opening. They wanted a change. A fresh start, or something, they had not bothered getting her opinion on the matter. She had been four at the time and she still had not let them forget how she felt about it. She remembered the day they left. sitting on her sky blue Charlie Brown trunk in the middle of her empty room. Her parents took turns trying to reason with her. They promised great adventures with new friends, a new school, and a bigger house. What was wrong with the friends she had now, day care was not school, and she liked the trailer park they had been living in. They would have to go on without her, she had decided.
Years of experience with children of all ages through her middle and high school years had taught her many things, the first of which was that you cannot reason with a four year old, nor should you even try. Eventually her parents gave up on their postmodern parenting technique and did what was needed. With piercing shrieks, she kicked and bit all the way to the car, her father paying dearly for his determination. Buckled in the child safety seat against her will she watched with blurred vision as her old neighborhood slipped by and into the realms of a few vague memories and some fading photos in the family album. She pulled on the shoulder restraints, she knew the big red button in the middle was the key but really, what would that accomplish? Finally she cried herself to sleep in her car seat and dreamed about her new friends, new school, and bigger house.
She still lived in that bigger house with her parents. She, Rebecca, and Bobby daydreamed often about moving out of their parent’s homes to find a place for themselves but there were not any apartments to speak of. The town existed for one reason alone. They knew of a few families that had made small rooms in their garages to rent out and there were several hotels around but that was it. Their only real option was to leave, go to a real city with apartments and while they would list all the things they would do once in that new city with all the malls and multiplex movie theaters they could ever dream of none of them managed to do anything different than what they always did.
Day in and day out Amanda served food to the determined. Their pent up energy came out in friendly chatter about the weather and had she ever tried the climb herself. She would politely respond “no” and wish them luck. She had never been interested in going to the top or even approaching the bottom for that matter. It was an endeavor she did not understand. What was the point? You were not the first to do it; you would not be the last. There was no prize money, just a metal plated book at the top to sign your name in, why put yourself through such hardship just for bragging rights? It was stupid.
Sometimes, most times, at the Top of the World Café she got to serve the first taste of triumph. For better or for worse they returned bloodied and frost bitten the victorious would eat double than when they had gone up. Despite their deep exhaustion and injuries they had indeed accomplished something unique, something mighty, something less than ten percent of anyone else ever does. And man did it feel good. Or so she was told. Climbers of all shapes and sizes would slouch in the booth, faces sun and wind burned but beaming, retelling of their exploits to each other and laughing more than called for in their delirium. It was in those moments when a thought would pass through her mind that maybe, possibly there was something to it. The price might be worth paying. Or maybe she was just letting herself get duped into the delusions of grandeur of the oxygen deprived.
While it was true that the lifeblood of the town was fueled by these kinds of adrenaline junkies there were also the town’s people themselves that would come and feast at their fine dining establishment. Even in the digital age gas stations needed attendants, hotels did not clean themselves, and someone had to sell overpriced last minute supplies to the adventurers. For the local that did not want to do it themselves their choices consisted of the Burger Loft, a throwback to the age of drive-ins, their servers still wore roller-skates. Backyard BBQ served only lunch and dinner for obvious reasons, who had heard of barbeque for breakfast? In the interest of neighborly competition they didn’t serve hamburgers. And finally, for something really different, the Davidson family ran the taqueria, Los Locos Hacienda, neither of which made sense. For Davidson family was not Latino and to anyone’s recollection had ever been to Mexico. Nobody talked about the Italian Food.
As far as the locals were concerned there were very few people coming and even fewer going. It was like living with a large extended family. You knew whose car was whose. Dogs and cats might as well be community pets and nothing was a secret or sacred. And it was a very boring place so absolutely any disturbance of the most trivial sort was the subject over dinner tables everywhere and at checkout stands. One time she had held Bobby’s hand, at least that is what people were saying. What they had not seen was him yelping in pain like a little girl as she squeezed his hand as hard as she could for implying that she should date Brandon Jacobs. Stuff like that.
There was one person above all the others that everyone loved to talk about. Loved to share and compare every scrap of information that could be discovered and passed on. Each tidbit was prized and devoured like the last morsel of rations in the Donner Party. If you had something no one had heard of, which was rare, you were the hero of the day. All would seek your first-hand account to be sure that the facts were straight. Most of the time your revelation was really a variation on something already known. Shedding any degree of light on the mystery and enigma that was Jonathan Moore was always a welcome subject no matter where you were.
Amanda had seen him twice before, once was at a stoplight. He was driving a silver Lamborghini. It was in the middle of the day and no one else was around. They lived in the middle of national forest land it was quiet. The engine hummed softly with its flawless Italian engineering. She was on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street. She tried not to stare, it was rude, she knew that. Muffled music blared from inside the vehicle. He had come to the light just in time for her to cross. Fixing her gaze on the icon of the walking man she stepped into the street. As she did so she could see the silver shining vehicle in her periphery. Slipping past her with each step. This had never happened to her and who could say it would happen again. Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look. Why was she holding her breath? This was ridiculous.
So she did what she should not have done, swiveling her head she looked. Jonathan Moore stared right back at her. This was no mere catching of the eye. She turned her gaze toward him to find he was already looking at her. She stopped walking. He had to have been watching her the whole time. She stood frozen in the middle of the street staring at the man everyone knew about but no one really knew. She had seen photos of him, his dark brown hair was always the same length and parted to the left. He was never seen wearing anything other than a suit and even then it was always with the jacket. She wasn’t sure he knew the meaning of the word casual. There were people in town who had met him on the rare occasion he came in, but all that was known was hearsay and rumor. He smiled at her, hands at ten and two o’clock position on the steering wheel, his blue eyes never wavering from her.
A car horn burped. Amanda jumped. A blue and white Chevy pick-up waited behind him. It was Tommy Brooks, they had been in the same class all through school. He gave her the evil eye for holding up traffic. Looking above her she could see the light was green and across to the red hand that held steadily. She quickly dashed out of the way, pivoting on her heel to watch him pull away. The car moved forward at a leisurely pace. As it passed by her Jonathan Moore smiled and nodded. He was heading in the direction of his private residence, an ostentatious estate deep in the forest accessible only by a gated, private road. She shook it off if only to get to the other side of the street. By the time she had met up with Rebecca and Bobby later that day she was asked about how she narrowly cheated death at the hands of that man, who did he think he was anyways.