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A ROCKY MOUNTAIN MYSTERY
By JOHNNY MACK HOOD
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Johnny Mack Hood
All rights reserved.
JC had a restful sleep lulled by the gentle clacking and motion of the train as it crossed Nevada and Utah during the night, and he had a good breakfast in the diner before detraining in Glenwood. Susan had not been so wise. She insisted on staying awake to see the scenery. There hadn't been much to see in the dark and it was clear that she would now be paying a penalty by planning a little nap in the car as they made their way to Bennett's lodge and missing out on some of the best scenery in existence.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado, is a small town but well known and much visited by travelers from around the world going to and from the famous accommodations at Aspen just to the southeast. In the winter Aspen has probably the best skiing in the country and in the summer is often the site of international conferences and a classical music festival.
After picking up a rental car and a handful of Colorado and local maps JC and Susan decided to do a little shopping while they had the chance. Their adventures in Fiji had left little time to replenish clothing and personal effects lost in the tragic sinking of the cruise ship just off the coast of New Zealand aboard which they had been pursuing the solution to yet another mysterious killing. That had turned out well but the frenetic pace was beginning to tell. They could only hope that this mountain resort would finally give them a chance to restore their flagging supply of energy and enthusiasm. Actually, Susan secretly hoped that the admiral's interest in their visit here was an omen pointing to more adventure of the detective sort. She never seemed to tire of the scrapes she managed to get into. Being drugged and spirited from London to Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the middle of her honeymoon had to be her peak experience to date. But then here she was none the worse for wear and a lot wiser and happier. How could she not be happy with that tall handsome dark haired sailor husband by her side – never mind that he suffered from chronic sea sickness? She adored him anyway.
They did their shopping and got underway south on highway 82. Susan dozed off before they even reached the small town of Carbondale twelve miles out of Glenwood. The route south toward Aspen was along a very good and much travelled highway that ran through the center of a broad valley dominated by one of the tributaries of the Colorado, the Roaring Fork River. Homes, ranches, and businesses were scattered along the way on either side. This area was much settled and had the character of just being the southern outskirts of Glenwood. If one looked at a Google presentation of Glenwood one got the distinct impression of the city being a sort of string town along this river that was running from the southeast to the mighty Colorado. If a person had only the experience of seeing the lazy trickle called the Colorado at a place down to the south like Yuma it would be unrecognizable. Here it was truly a mighty torrent. One spring a few years back a giant boulder had rolled down the mountain on the north side of the road just to the east of Glenwood and had struck a VW full of passengers knocking it off interstate 70 into the river. Neither car nor passengers were ever found.
Glenwood may be small but it has a venerable history. The Hotel Colorado and the city's magnificent hot springs pool is legendary and has been a favorite of tourists from both the East and West for more than a century. At one time it was so frequently visited by U.S. presidents that it earned the sobriquet of Western Whitehouse. On a high hill nearly within the city's precincts is the grave of the famous gun slinging dentist, Doc Holiday. Holiday died here at the age of 36 of tuberculosis after a protracted stay at the Glenwood Hotel. During Holiday's relatively short life as dentist, gunfighter, and most famously, gambler, a cloud of famous and infamous names surrounded him; Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Johnny Ringo, Big Nose Kate among them. The Colorado gold rush of 1859 put its distinctive mark on this part of the Centennial State. In fact one of the small counties near Denver bears the name of Governor Gilpin, the official who refused to extradite Holiday back to Arizona to face numerous charges of murder and mayhem.
Off to the right JC glimpsed the local airfield that served the city. The main airfield for this part of the country however was the jet field at Aspen; much served by major airlines.
After a brief twelve miles drive JC took the branch to the right as they struck off into much higher country on state route 133 at Carbondale. They got almost as far as Redstone when JC pulled off the road and shook Susan awake. "Susan, wake up. This is what we're here for – great scenery and all kinds of stuff you've never seen before."
Susan sat bolt upright, "I'm sorry JC sweetheart. I really didn't mean to sleep through the best part. Are we there yet?"
JC laughed, "No, we're not there yet but I think we need to get out of the car and take a little hike around to get ourselves ready for the day. This is not the time to snooze." He got out of the car and came around to her side and opened the door. "Out you go. We're going to hike down to the river and stretch our legs. We've not seen a river like this before."
Susan clambered out and gave a puzzled frown, "What are you talking about? We've seen lots of rivers."
"Well, yes, but his one is pretty neat and it is close to the road. Let's go down and have a look."
They made their way down a gentle slope through the alder, cottonwoods and pine seedlings to the banks of a rapidly flowing stream – the Crystal River according to their map. It joined the Roaring Fork near Carbondale. It was spring and the melting snows had filled the stream to and beyond its banks. The water was crystal clear in simple confirmation of its name and rushed with a very loud noise over boulders and fallen trees and splashed merrily up onto the grassy banks on either side.
JC knelt down close to the stream and put his hand in. Turning to Susan and smiling broadly he said, "It's cold. I hope that's an omen. Maybe there will be some snow at Bennett's place."
Susan smiled to herself. It was pure delight for her to see JC so happy and invigorated. Their Fiji experience had taken a lot out of him. This trip was just the ticket. She knew it would be good for both of them. She wondered what their host would be like. Her short time around Navy people in Hawaii had led her to accept the fact that she was now truly a Navy wife. She liked the people that she had come to know ... except for the one that had done the evil deed in their Hawaiian adventure. That was surely a rare exception.
It was time to move on. The car rental man had suggested they have lunch at the inn at Redstone which JC judged was only a few more miles up the road. The short drive took them deeper into the pine and aspen forests and the mountains seemed to close in on both sides of them. It was beautiful and exciting. Neither had ever visited or lived in this sort of environment.
The stop in Redstone was brief and the lunch excellent. The inn here sported a very elegant swimming pool and the place seemed to be well patronized. There were apparently a lot of local cabins and homes tucked away in the canyons and forests in the vicinity, the residents of which seemed to find this to be their favorite watering hole; a term which included both the pool and the dining room bar. An inquiry of the waiter informed them that Marble was just a few miles further on and that the Gemhaven Lodge and Ski Resort was just beyond that. The waiter was about to exit the dining area but turned to Susan and said with a grin, "Have you two ever been in this part of the country before?"
Susan stopped, "No. Why? Are we in for some sort of surprise?"
The waiter chuckled and continued on his way through the tables, "The little town up the road isn't called Marble for nothing."
Susan frowned and gave JC a questioning look.
While JC and Susan finished their lunch and continued to make their way up the road to the village of Marble the scene shifts south to Aspen.
A small dapper man has just stepped off the newly arrived jet at the Aspen airport. He looks slightly out of place in this mountain paradise. Well maybe not. There is a hint of European about him. That would not be too surprising since Aspen was host to world travelers year round. Often the obscenely rich could even be seen in flowing robes. On this individual a tweedy looking jacket belted in the back and with leather elbows hints of Alps or at least Austria. Then there are his trousers: very narrow in the leg, and just a little short, revealing high top shoes that have thick soles and look adequate for a long hike in the woods. He is even wearing a narrow brimmed hat with a small feather that made one wonder where he had stashed his alpenhorn. In any place but here he would surely have turned heads and maybe even a question or two inquiring at which theatre he was playing.
He had a very pale complexion, a pencil thin mustache, and his jet black hair which was limp and seemed plastered to his skull, was trimmed in narrow sideburns down to the edge of his sharp jaw line. He had thin lips that appeared never to have smiled and dark black eyes sunken deep in his ferret-like face. Few would be expected to initiate a casual conversation with this person.
This foreign looking gentleman had been able to procure a cab at the airport. On taking his seat he gave a simple preemptory instruction, "County Recorder, if you please."
The cabby turned in his seat and gave him a puzzled look. "Are you sure? I guess the office is open. Do you need a hotel accommodation?"
Without actually scowling but still appearing to be quite annoyed the man replied, "The Recorder's office if you please." With that he settled back in his seat and gazed fixedly out the window at the sky. The cabbie whisked him into town and deposited him at the county seat offices without further comment.
At the desk in the County recorder's office the recently arrived visitor from wherever finally got the clerk's attention. "My name is Helmut Von Rothstein. Could you please get me the records for mining claims in the vicinity of Marble and Redstone?"
The young lady behind the counter glanced at her somewhat unusual visitor and turned toward the cases that held the rows of heavily bound books that contained the records of property ownership in Pitkin County. Helmut Von Rothstein – hmm. She had a set of German grandparents back in Wisconsin. As a young girl she had often spent weekends with them. Her father seemed to know little or no German but her grandparents often used the language around their home. She had picked up a little – aside from her name from them. She hated that – Hilda! Who would do something so cruel – name a child Hilda? It hadn't been long before she had acquired the shortened version and used it almost exclusively – Hil. Most people assumed it was short for Hilary and she did not disabuse them. What was really charming and just a little silly, and didn't bother her at all was what followed in Chicago. There she met a wonderful young Irish lad by the name of Dale McCoy and had married him. To everyone's amusement they had become Hil and Dale McCoy. Shortly after the nuptials he had found a job in Colorado as a Sheriff's Deputy in Pitkin County that seemed to fit his military experience in the Marines. The new local topography seemed to fit their names.
But 'Rothstein,' she had to know what that was. 'Stein' was 'Stone' of course, but 'Roth.' Ah yes – 'Red.' So his name is Redstone – really odd. He wants the book showing Redstone properties and old mining claims. Maybe he imagines they are part of a family inheritance.
She ran her finger along the spines of these dusty cloth and brass bound books until it stopped on the one he had asked for. She hefted it off the shelf and laid it on the counter before him. "Mr. Rothstein, you may take it to one of those tables over there. Please return it when you are finished."
He picked up the book and turned toward the table and then in an icy low tone over his shoulder said, "Von Rothstein!"
An hour later Von Rothstein dropped the book on the counter and in crisp voice said, "Marble ist not in this volume. Do you have Marble please?"
Hil McCoy looked up from the computer keyboard where she had been entering data and said with a slight smile, "I'm sorry, Mr. Von Rothstein. Marble is in Gunnison County. You will have to go to the recorder's office in Gunnison for that information." In your eye you twit she thought.
Rothstein looked annoyed and said "Ach!" under his breath. "How does one get to Gunnison?"
"They have an airport or you could drive. As the crow flies it's not far but by road it's a fair trip, especially at this time of the year. I'm not sure whether Independence pass is open yet. That would be the hard way. If you are driving you would just go back to Carbondale and take 133 over McClure pass. There could be some icy spots so you should be careful."
Rothstein gave a snort. "I do not need instructions on operating a motor vehicle. From what I see around me our mountains in Austria are more than a match for what I've seen so far."
Rothstein gave her a black look, turned on his heel and stomped out. Hil sighed. It was not her fault that Marble was in another county. Dale would get a kick out of this tale. She sometimes had a share of interesting experiences in this office. One might think it dull work. It was anything but. So many people in this part of the world harbored fantasies of finding an old untapped gold mine in 'them thar hills.' It never happened.
* * *
Hil was fixing dinner that evening when she heard the front door slam. She knew Dale's habit and his step and was glad that the love of her life was safely home, not that being a deputy in Aspen was particularly risky. She looked forward to regaling him with her adventure of the day. There wasn't often much to tell him. As a deputy sheriff for Pitkin County he usually had more tales to tell than she. Today might be an exception. Her eccentric and grumpy visitor from Austria would make at least a brief dinner time tale.
During dessert and after she had let him in on the manners and appearance of her sole customer of the day he brightened the mood with a proposal. "What say we take in the festivities at Gemhaven this Friday?"
Hil frowned, "Can we afford it?"
This was a serious question. In spite of the fact that they both had paying jobs, living as working folks in Aspen in your own home was not a snap financially. Rents and the other necessities of life were so expensive that few working stiffs could afford to live within the boundaries of this town. Many of the inns and hotels got as much or more than a thousand a night from the routine celebrity guests that frequented the place summer and winter. At one time in the past waiters and other service people commuted from Glenwood or lived in tents nearby because of the obscenely inflated rents.
"Look, Hil, We get free drinks on Friday and only have to pay for the room on Friday and Saturday night. I'll bet that Steve and Grady will lay on enough heavy hors d'oeuvres to make a meal. We'll only have to eat meals on Saturday and then Sunday breakfast."
Hil didn't like the idea of taking a real break and then making it a penny pinching event. "Dale, sweetie, we will go but we will spend whatever it costs. I think it's a great idea. Let's do it."
It was Wednesday. In two days they would both be off work and would drive the few miles to what was really an affordable resort and in their view a much more secluded and beautiful place. There was no question that romance was in the air and they were about to take ecstatic advantage of it. What could be nicer than springtime at Gemhaven, a truly magical place?
These so-called festivities and amenities at Gemhaven Ski Resort were a marketing scheme of Steve Bennett's, the owner. In order to keep the condos and rooms more or less full and have enough income to keep a permanent full time staff he had devised a schedule of fees and rental charges that was irresistible to many. Weekend rates were normal for the industry. Weekly rates were only a little more for the whole seven days. To get people in on Fridays he hosted an open bar and heavy hors d'oeuvres on Friday evenings at no cost. Most went ahead and had a late dinner as well in the lodge. His kitchen staff worked hard that night but it usually paid for itself with the dinners and wine. Breakfasts came with the accommodation in the lodges. He also stocked the condo refrigerators with bread, butter, jam, eggs, bacon, and coffee at no additional cost. Usually patrons who used the condos made their own breakfasts. This relieved his lodge staff in the mornings of too much extra labor. All of this sounds very expensive but actually it isn't. It is small peanuts in the grand cash flow scheme of things. Steve Bennett was doing quite well.
Excerpted from MOLLY'S PUZZLE by JOHNNY MACK HOOD. Copyright © 2013 by Johnny Mack Hood. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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