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Authors: Deborah Garner

Above the bridge

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Table of ContentsACKNOWLEDGEMENTSCHAPTER ONECHAPTER TWOCHAPTER THREECHAPTER FOURCHAPTER FIVECHAPTER SIXCHAPTER SEVENCHAPTER EIGHTCHAPTER NINECHAPTER TENCHAPTER ELEVENCHAPTER TWELVECHAPTER THIRTEENCHAPTER FOURTEENCHAPTER FIFTEENCHAPTER SIXTEENCHAPTER SEVENTEENCHAPTER EIGHTEENCHAPTER NINETEENCHAPTER TWENTYCHAPTER TWENTY-ONECHAPTER TWENTY-TWOCHAPTER TWENTY-THREECHAPTER TWENTY-FOURCHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

 

ABOVE

THE BRIDGE

A Paige MacKenzie Mystery

 

Deborah Garner

 

 

Above the Bridge

by Deborah Garner

 

Copyright © April 2012 Deborah Garner

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

EXCEPT FOR BRIEF TEXT QUOTED AND APPROPRIATELY CITED IN OTHER WORKS, NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM, BY PHOTOCOPYING OR BY ELECTRONIC OR MECHANICAL MEANS, INCLUDING INFORMATION STORAGE OR RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS, WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE COPYRIGHT OWNER/AUTHOR.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I owe heartfelt thanks to so many people who helped bring this book into existence.  I'm extremely grateful for the help of Carol Anderson, Jay Garner, Karen Putnam and Nancy Roessner, all gracious readers who provided insightful feedback on final drafts.  Special appreciation is owed to Elizabeth Christy for her outstanding editorial assistance, as well as to Luke Tabor for cover design.  And big hugs go to my Wyoming "big sister," Mary Udy, who tolerated my never-ending obsession with getting this story written.

 

In addition, numerous research sources deserve thanks for the outstanding services they provide:

 

The Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum is a gold mine of knowledge on area history.  Shannon Sullivan, Curator of Collections, was especially helpful in providing valuable fact-checking expertise and access to photographic archives.

 

The Teton County Library's research section on local history provides a wealth of information on the history of Jackson Hole.  Of particular help was the book, "A Place Called Jackson Hole: A Historic Resource Study of Grand Teton National Park," by John Daugherty, with contributions by Stephanie Crockett, William H. Goetzmann, and Reynold G. Jackson.

 

The National Museum of Wildlife Art offers top-notch educational resources about wildlife, ecology, art and western heritage, as well as an outstanding view of the National Elk Refuge. 

 

The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center boasts a magnificent relief map of Jackson Hole, detailing near infinite possibilities for hiding - or discovering - hidden treasure.

 

Additional thanks go to many other family members and friends - you know who you are.  Above all, I am grateful to Paul Sterrett and to my father, Bruce Garner, for believing in me.  Without their patience, support and encouragement, this book would never have been written.

 

For My Father

 

CHAPTER ONE

Just before midnight, Paige Mackenzie walked to the door of her room, twisted the cool, metal knob and stepped outside.  She glanced around the half-filled parking lot and vacant sidewalk, peered up and down the street at the dark windows of nearby stores and leaned back against the inside of the door frame.  Taking a deep breath, she exhaled slowly, a frosty cloud of white slinking away from her lips and out into the late October night.

Lookingup, she watched the moonlight dissipate softly across the cloudlesssky.  It had been that way for severalnights.  As with each recentevening, she stood under the ceiling of stars and felt a gentle peace settle over her, one of many welcome changes in her life.

It had been almost a week since Paige had arrived in the western mountains of Wyoming.  And it had taken her that long just to begin accepting the quiet nature of the area, a jolt of a change from her hectic New York life.  She had spent the previous week driving across the country, slowly leaving the Atlantic coast and eastern life behind her.

Wyoming had been a shock to Paige.  The open land seemed to go on forever and the highways stretched endlessly into the distance.  Crossing the state from the east, the open fields had encouraged her mind to wander.  Each mile she covered had made the next one feel even more welcome.  Though she was traveling with a purpose, she knew any geographic change had the potential of kicking up the unexpected.

She had stumbled into Jackson on a late Friday afternoon, finding a room in town at the Sweet Mountain Inn.  She’d dropped her overnight bag on the bed and set up her toothbrush, toothpaste and favorite lavender soap on the narrow, glass shelf in the bathroom.  The last leg of her trip had been long and tiring, five hundred miles from Denver in one straight shot.  The previous day’s drive had been just as taxing, another five hundred mile stretch from Topeka to Denver.  It was tempting to collapse on the bed and rest.  But curiosity outweighed exhaustion and the lure of the unfamiliar town called out to her.

Fighting fatigue, she’d cupped her hands under the bathroom faucet and splashed cold water on her face.  A look in the mirror confirmed what she suspected.  She looked as tired as she felt.  Her eyes, usually a sparkling green, appeared dull and lifeless.  She turned her head slightly to the side, noting, as she had many times before, that she’d inherited her father’s nose and strong jaw line, along with her mother’s smooth skin and high cheekbones.  Running a brush quickly through her auburn hair, she set out to explore.

Sauntering slowly down the main street, she’d let first impressions of the town sink in.  Store windows displayed western wear, cowboy hats and impressively realistic wildlife sculptures. Upscale galleries showcased exquisite photographic works, while jewelry store windows framed unique, one of a kind, artist creations.  Smaller shops sold homemade candies, ice cream, local huckleberry jam and fresh roasted coffee beans, as well as a hefty assortment of souvenirs for the multitude of tourists the area attracted.

She had paused to order a vanilla latte to go from a small coffee house, hidden away in an old log cabin on a side street, a sign above the door announcing itasTheBlueSkyCafé. Addingaraspberry-orangemuffin to her purchase, she had continued to wander through town, arriving finally at the town square. On a park bench, surrounded by trees and attractive landscaping, she had begun to contemplate the possibilities her visit might hold.  Though not yet defined, they felt endless.

Now, on this cold, crisp night, her back pressed against the solid wooden door frame, thoughts tumbled around in her mind, just as they had on that very first day.  What had brought her to the west, to Jackson Hole in particular?  She’d been given a fair amount of latitude in choosing a location to research.  A trip down the Atlantic coast would have certainly been easier, but it was something she had done many times before.  She’d always managed to keep from wandering but now, at the age of thirty-four, she knew she was ready to step outside the familiar.

Susan was always good about listening to Paige’s input, which was something Paige appreciated about her editor. She’d been a little surprised that Paige had chosen to distance herself so far from familiar territory, yet the more they had discussed various options, the more Susan had felt that Paige’s proposal was feasible.  It had been some time since the paper had done a story on anything outside of the immediate region.  It made sense that the east coast readership would be drawn to a story about a western Wyoming area.  Jackson Hole had seemed a good choice.

Paige stepped back inside, eased the door closed and listened for the click of the latch.  Out of habit, she locked both the doorknob and the deadbolt above it, though she was aware many residents of the area didn’t lock their doors at all.  It was just one of many differences she’d noticed upon her arrival.

Other differences included the slow pace of life, the way people took their time to explain things, the patient attitudes they had when listening.  Cars stopped at crosswalks and horns didn’t honk the split second traffic lights turned green.  The few traffic lights there were, that is.  Merchants weren’t afraid to accept local checks.  Strangers weren’t greeted with looks of suspicion.  It appeared in this town that people were actually innocent until proven otherwise, a proof that apparently was rarely necessary, according to the almost nonexistent crime rate.  Within these observations Paige had begun to breathe a little easier, to relax into the calm peace of the mountain town.

It was during the first few days after arriving in Jackson, maybe four, maybe five, that Paige noticed Jake.  She’d taken her usual place in line at the Blue Sky Café, right behind another regular she recognized as a woman who wore a different hat each day and right before Old Man Thompson.  At least that was what Maddie, who ran the popular, funky café, called him.

Paige was stirring sugar and cinnamon into her sturdy paper cup, clutching the heat-protecting wrap with her free hand and watching Maddie hand Old Man Thompson a plain bagel, toasted well, with light butter, just the way he’d ordered it the morning before.  And the morning before that.  She had just tapped the edge of her spoon on her cup and was reaching to deposit it into a glass marked for used spoons when a jingle of bells on the front door caught her attention.  Glancing over her shoulder, she first saw the weathered cowboy hat, tilted slightly to the left of a fine-chiseled face.  A bit sun-kissed, Paige thought, most likely from working outside.  Faded blue jeans and a red and blue plaid shirt blended in with the hat and tanned complexion.  A scuffed pair of brown boots peered out from below the jeans.

“Hey, Jake,” Maddie shouted across the counter.  “What’ll it be today?  Black coffee and a cinnamon roll?  Or black coffee and a blueberry scone?  Or black coffee and black coffee?”

The man she called Jake took a few strides over to the counter, his boots clicking against the old, wooden floor.

“You know me too well, Maddie, old girl,” he said with a slight smile.  “Black coffee and black coffee it is.”

“Who’re you calling an old girl,” Maddie said, holding back the coffee as Jake shook his head and laughed.

“Maddie, you look younger to me every day,” he crooned, “I wake up each morning and just can barely wait to get here and see you and your pretty face.”  He raised both of his hands and smacked them against his own face for emphasis.

“Take your coffee, you sweet talker, you,” Maddie replied, waving away his outstretched money and signaling the next customer to move up in the line, a slight woman who had entered just after Jake.

Taking a seat in the corner, Paige grabbed a copy of the local paper and tried to bury herself in the morning news.  A stark contrast from The New York Times that consistently landed on her doorstep each morning at home, this paper was filled with stories unique to the immediate area.  A wildlife conservation group was protesting newly increased hunting quotas.  The town council had turned down a proposal for a major commercial remodel, based on blueprints that detailed building heights that were well above those allowed by the planning commission.  A few pages into the paper, an impressive list of musical appearances stretched down the right side of the crisp newsprint.  It was clear the town’s new Center for the Arts pulled in big names.

“I’d try to get tickets for Willie Nelson if I were you,” a woman passing by the table said, noticing Paige looking over the event section of the publication.  “He was amazing the last time he was here.  If it’s sold out, try for Bob Dylan.  Or Joan Armatrading.”  Paige offered a quick thank you as the woman scooted out the door.


Page 2

Between articles, she found herself sneaking glances at Jake, who had taken a seat in a small, corner booth on the opposite side of the cafe.  He was attractive; there was no doubt about it.  But she was here for work, she reminded herself.  Besides, it had been a year since her last relationship ended and she’d grown accustomed to having her time to herself.  As a side benefit, it certainly made it easier to focus on work and finish assignments without distraction.

Jake slid back in the booth and swirled his coffee around in his cup.  He reached over to a wire rack by the wall and pulled a copy of the local paper from the top of a pile.  Again he swirled his coffee, took a sip, thumbed through the paper, took another sip, followed it with another swirl, and finally stood, folded the paper under his arm, and walked out the front door.  He’d never glanced up at Paige.

Two days later Paige saw Jake again.  She’d stopped in at a local mountaineering store in search of a sturdy flashlight for her car.  While comparing a budget priced, hefty red one with a pricier, slender, metallic blue model, she caught a glimpse of the back of Jake’s hat and then recognized the click of the boots.  He held an armful of supplies: colorful ropes, a pick axe and an assortment of metal clips.  Climbing equipment, from what she could tell.  No wonder he was in such good shape, she mused, fighting back a smile.

She chose the blue flashlight and browsed around for a few minutes.  Numerous customers arrived, drawn in by end-of-season sale signs.  The store stocked a wide variety of items; it wasn’t hard to see why it was popular.  Backpacks of all sizes, shapes and colors hung from hooks on one wall, their straps and ties dangling down.  Running shoes, hiking boots and sandals filled another section.  Tents and sleeping bags made up a center display.  A rack near the check-out counter was packed with insect repellants, tubes of sunscreen and canisters of bear spray.

“Quite an assortment you have here,” Paige commented as she placed the flashlight on the counter.

“Yep,” the young clerk quipped, a boy hardly out of his teens.  “What you need just depends on what you’re planning to do. Lots of outdoor activities around here.”

“So I see,” Paige nodded, glancing around at the racks one more time.

“Take that guy who just left.  New in town.  Obsessed with mountain climbing.”  The clerk ran the flashlight over a flash of red light, entering the sale into the store register.

“You planning on doing any rafting?” he continued.  “You might need a waterproof jacket.”

“No. I’m just here to do some writing.  I’ll only be here a few weeks at most.”  Paige rummaged through her wallet for cash.

“Well, at least get yourself a strong sunscreen,” the clerk advised.  “This altitude can be tough on skin.  Wise to have some protection against those rays.”

Following his advice, Paige added a high-level SPF sun block to her flashlight purchase, paid the cashier and left.

The third time she saw Jake was two days later, this time at the farmer’s market on the town square.  Same hat, same boots, different armful of supplies, this time corn, apples, a loaf of bread, a small jar of what might have been jam or honey and half a dozen other items that Paige couldn’t recognize from her position at the flower cart.  Armed with sunflowers and a basket of raspberries, she watched him briefly as he moved on to another vendor.  Somewhere between a table offering homemade tamales and a green van selling sacks of freshly harvested potatoes, Jake slipped off through the crowd and disappeared.  Paige finished her shopping, gathered her purchases, and headed back to the inn.

It was a brief article on an inner page of the local paper the next morning that helped Paige start to put the pieces together.  Jake Norris, originally from Cody, but a newcomer to Jackson, had bought the old historic Manning ranch, about fifteen miles north of town.  Twenty-six acres, with magnificent views of the Grand Tetons, a huge barn, six small cabins, a two-story farmhouse and plenty of room for cattle and horses to graze.

The ranch had been on the market for many years, becoming increasingly run down as time went on.  Many potential new owners had looked at the property, but a sale had never been finalized. Some prospective buyers had edged away, perhaps because legend had it that the ranch had been built on old Native American burial grounds.  It had also long been rumored that at least the farmhouse was haunted, if not other buildings on the land, as well.  Undoubtedly, others had stepped back because it was just too darn expensive, like most of the real estate in the area.  Jake Norris had watched it calmly as the price continued to drop slightly with each deal that fell through, moving in at the last minute with an acceptable offer.

Paige set the paper down, poured another cup of fresh ground coffee and looked out the window of her room, running the details of the article over in her mind.  A ranch with a mysterious history could make for intriguing reading.  Burial grounds and haunted buildings would certainly draw interest, but she would need specifics.  Perhaps there were multiple accounts of unusual activity on the property.  Or maybe the rumors had merely started up when the ranch stayed on the market for an extended period of time.   It was doubtful that there would be enough to go on, but it was worth keeping the ranch in mind.

The light outside dimmed, causing Paige to look up towards the sky.  Where there had been mere wisps of clouds just an hour before, there were now thick, gray pillows, growing more solid and closer to each other by the minute.  This wasn’t surprising to Paige, who was already becoming used to the weather’s constant changes.  But if she planned to head out at all, she knew she should do it soon.

Standing in front of a small assortment of hanging clothes on the rack in her room, she grabbed a black turtleneck top and her favorite jeans.   She’d brought very little clothing with her, leaving most of her wardrobe back home.  Still, not knowing the exact length of her stay, she’d played it safe and packed a bit of everything, leaning towards the casual side.  Now she reached forward again and ran her fingers across the tops of the hangers, landing finally on a hunter green jacket.  It was a favorite of hers, with its soft fleece lining, matching hood and spacious pockets.  She pulled it off the hanger and slipped it on quickly, grabbing her car keys and an umbrella on her way out the door.

The drive north from Jackson was an easy one.  For one thing, there was only one road out of town in that direction, making it essentially impossible to get lost. And once Paige left the activity of the town itself behind, the road opened up, curving alongside the vast expanse of the National Elk Refuge on the right and passing the impressive National Museum of Wildlife Art on the left, a stunning building of native rock that blended into the butte so naturally that it almost seemed possible it had evolved geologically, as had the valley itself.  There were very few other cars on the road and one by one, they peeled off alongside the shoulder to take photos of the wide landscape vistas or to pose with other family members in front of the entrance sign to Grand Teton National Park.  It wasn’t long before Paige found she had the highway to herself.

Even having read descriptions of the Grand Tetons in her pre-trip research, nothing could have prepared her for her first glimpse of the mountain range.  Seeing the sloping butte fall away to the left and the spectacular peaks of the Tetons rise up in the distance took her breath away with a sudden, intense punch. As if to boast about their soaring heights above the valley floor, the highest peaks wore crowns of the previous winter’s snow, a sharp contrast to the October terrain below.

Paige continued driving north.  Fading blooms of Indian Paintbrush and scrubby stretches of sagebrush lined the sides of the road.  The Jackson Hole Airport appeared in the distance, blending so uniformly with the landscape that, had it not been for the single rise of a control tower, it could easily have been missed from the road.  It faded away behind her after she passed the airport junction, marked with a simple, rustic brown signpost.   In the rear view mirror she saw a small shuttle bus turn out of the airport driveway and head south towards town.  It struck Paige as inconceivable that the small, unobtrusive transportation hub for the area could handle the massive volume that it did.

She focused her attention on the road before her, glancing occasionally at the open fields on both sides of the highway.  Bison grazed to her right, clusters of hefty mammals hovering together, a few younger members of the herd standing close to their mothers.  A red fox played in the field to her left, sprinting, crouching and then freezing in place to wait patiently for unsuspecting rodents to show their faces.  It didn’t take long for the fox to pounce forward and come up away from the earth with a dinner appetizer.

Paige turned off the main highway, taking a right turn onto Antelope Flats Road. Heading east, away from the Tetons, the road meandered around the historic structures of Mormon Row.  She had read about this area while doing research.  The group of preserved buildings dated back to the early 1900’s, when predominantly Mormon pioneers settled in the valley.  Continuing on, Paige turned south, following the road to the small town of Kelly.  Set off to the south side of the road, the sparsely populated town appeared to hold not much more than a handful of cabins, yurts and other modest forms of housing.  As far as Paige could see, there were no sizable commercial establishments to sell groceries or other necessities, though a small eatery offered coffee and sandwiches. The town clearly depended on Jackson itself to provide a source for most of its supplies.

Paige veered to the right as the road curved west, placing the Tetons directly in front of her.  Again, the soaring peaks of the mountain range astonished her.  They dwarfed everything around them.  Even the sizable buttes in the valley seemed meager in comparison.

Not long after passing the small Kelly post office on the edge of town, she spotted a work shed along the south side of the road, a few pieces of rustic furniture scattered in front.  She pulled off the road, feeling the car bounce beneath her as it navigated potholes in the unpaved driveway.  She parked the car, stepped out onto the dusty ground and took a look around.   A tall easel stood to the left of the building’s doorway, displaying photographs of pine bed frames, sturdy dining tables and rustic chairs, all artistically handcrafted from logs. Twisted bundles of slender tree branches framed mirrors of varying sizes.  The designs were elegant in their simplicity, but also creative and woodsy. These were not the cookie cutter designs that she had seen in a few of the more tourist-oriented stores downtown.   Several of the pieces were appealing enough that Paige began to wonder if some new furniture might be in order, hard as it would be to ship it back to the east coast.

The sound of approaching footsteps interrupted Paige’s imaginary home redecorating.  Looking up, she spotted a man in well-worn, dusty work clothes stepping into view from behind the shed.  He appeared to be in his mid-seventies, a sturdy fellow with a face that spoke of decades of hard work.  He nodded a friendly greeting as he drew closer, brushing sawdust from his shirt sleeves at the same time.  A large black Labrador trotted alongside him, his tail wagging an additional welcome.

“Can I help ya?” he called from about ten yards away.  “Dan here. Dan McElroy.  These are my creations.”   He waved his hand towards the pictures on the easel and then immediately signaled Paige to follow him to the side of the small building.

A tall, red barn with a pitched roof stood about fifty yards behind the smaller wood shed.  Paige walked across to the barn, following a few steps behind Dan.  She looked up at the tall, sliding door with faded, peeling paint on crisscrossed wood planks, pushed a few small rocks out of her way and stepped inside.

A lengthy work table ran along the right side of the barn wall.  A table saw sat on one end, a corresponding pile of sawdust on the floor below it.   Assorted bins of nails and screws sat in various spots on the work counter and a pegboard holding old tools hung from the wall above the work space.  Tall piles of lodgepole pine were stacked around the floor, divided into several batches according to size.  Across the barn, scattered pieces of furniture stood in partial stages of completion – a long, rectangular table, a set of outdoor patio chairs, staircase sets of bookshelves and other semi-finished projects.

“What brings you to these parts?”  Dan asked, looking back over his shoulder, while reaching for a hammer from the pegboard.  He grabbed an assortment of nails from one of the bins, crouched down alongside the rectangular table, and drove a nail into the side of a rustic leg.

“I’m here to do some research for an articlefor the Manhattan Post,”Paige offered, watching how careful Dan was to work the nails in with precision.  She glanced upward, figuring the roof must be at least fifty feet tall.  Small rays of light shone through the cracks, casting a surreal glow around the rest of the interior.

“You’re a writer, then,” the man mused.  “I’ve known a few of your like in my day.  Sometimes nice folks, sometimes trouble.”  Paige thought she saw him cast a wink in her direction, but wasn’t entirely sure.  He continued to set nails into the wooden legs of the table, moving from one to another in a counter-clockwise direction.

“What’s your article about?” Dan asked, without missing a stroke of the hammer.  Paige noticed he was wearing a tan, leather vest, with a few tassels of fringe hanging from the hem.  As he moved with the hammer, the thin, leather pieces swayed in the air, dangling like windy branches on a willow tree.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Paige admitted.  “But it needs to have some sort of western angle, so the paper decided to feature Jackson Hole.  I figured if I could get a sense of the area’s history first-hand, the rest might follow.”


Page 3

Dan laughed out loud.  “You big city folk always crack me up.  Thinking you can mosey on in and breathe up a dose of western heritage.  Ain’t that easy, ma’am.  But I wish you luck anyway.”  Dan seemed to pause for a moment, staring at the last nail he had set, inspecting the results of the final hammer stroke he had made.  Then he stood, straightened up to his full height, which Paige estimated to be over six feet, and stared at the table for a minute.  He turned slowly to face Paige.

“There’s a lot that’s gone on in this area that people don’t know about,” he said cautiously.  “Well, some people do, some people don’t.”  He paused a few seconds, as if to consider what he had said.  “There’s a whole lotta secrets in this valley.  The ones people talk about aren’t so much true.  It’s the ones people don’t mention too often that can get a person wondering.”

Paige pondered this for a minute, not sure how to respond.  Maybe these were just the musings of a man who lived a quiet life and spent his time alone making furniture, with too much time to let his imagination run wild.  But then again, maybe there were secrets hidden in Jackson Hole that even many of the residents didn’t know.  Maybe she’d stumbled into something bigger than the mere history lesson she’d expected.

“You’ll see, if you stick around long enough and keep your eyes open and ears alert,” Dan said, watching her as if he could read her thoughts.  “Are you just here for a short bit?  Or planning to spend some time in our beautiful valley?”

Paige took a look around her.  Beautiful it was, there was no question about that.  Looking through the barn’s doorway and gazing across the valley, the mountains rose up like monuments to heaven, stretching into the clouds, mist wrapping around the upper peaks.  As if to accentuate the drama of the view, a lone bald eagle soared across the sky, landing regally in a tree not far from the barn.  The air was clean, crisp and cool and the smell of the woodwork mixed with the scent of late fall.

“I’ll be around for a little while, however long it takes to finish the article,” Paige said, half to Dan and half to herself, as she watched the eagle take flight again.

Dan’s words had piqued her curiosity.  Maybe there were more elusive stories in the valley than she had originally expected to find.  Her goal in coming out to Jackson Hole had simply been to tie local culture and western history into an enjoyable article for readers. But Dan had inadvertently hinted at something better.  If a more unique story could be found, it would give her a better angle, which was never a bad thing.  It would take perseverance and, most likely, a bit of luck to search it out, but it would be well worth it.  If it even existed at all, she reminded herself.  And if it all took longer than she’d originally planned, she was starting to think she wouldn’t mind.  It had only taken a few days to grow fond of the area.

“You got a place to stay, city-slicker?”  Dan asked, arms folded now, weight shifted onto one leg, hip slightly swayed.

“I’ve got a room at the Sweet Mountain Inn,” Paige replied.  “Not much space, but it’s reasonable and clean.  Right in the center of town, easy to get around.  At least I have it for the next day or two. They may be booked up after that, but there are other places to stay in town. Many of them, it seems, just looking up and down a few blocks.”

Dan laughed.  “You’re right about that.  We probably have more hotels, motels, inns and lodges in Jackson Hole than you do back there in New York City.”  Pausing, he added, “OK, I doubt that’s entirely true.  Besides, I’ve never been east of Nebraska.  But we sure do have a lot.”

“I think you must need them,” Paige commented, remembering an article she’d seen in the local paper the day before.  “You guys get almost four million people coming through here each year.  That’s pretty amazing for a town with a population of only nine thousand or so.”

“That many, you say?” Dan said, stopping briefly to take this in.  “I don’t know about statistics and that kind of stuff, but I’ve gone into town during the summer months and there’s sure not much room to walk down the sidewalks.  I try to stay out here as much as I can.  That’s one good thing; you don’t have to get far out of town to find a little peace and quiet.”

Dan looked around appreciatively at the open fields around him before continuing.

“Well, if you decide you need a little more privacy or room to breathe, I’ve got a cabin I rent sometimes.  Not very fancy, but plenty quiet.  Might be good for a writer type such as yourself.”  Dan pushed the table a bit to the side, took a cue from Paige’s silence and waved her over to the door of the barn.  She followed him, both out of politeness and curiosity.

Outside, Dan pointed across a nondescript field to a small log structure at the edge of his property.  It had a narrow porch, a modest front door, two rustic windows, and a slightly sloping roof with a short chimney on top.  Paige took a look at it, not failing to notice the dramatic mountain backdrop.

“If you’re gonna be here at least a little while, I rent it by the week.  Only sometimes, and I never advertise it.  Rather have it empty than have some wacko stranger in it.”  Dan sighed and shook his head, undoubtedly remembering at least one undesirable tenant.  “But you seem like a nice lady.  You think about it.  I’ve had writers in there before, they say it’s a good place to think and get the words out, or whatever it is you writers do. LikeIsaid, you think about it.  Eighty bucks a week, in advance.  Business is slow right now.  Could help me out and help you, too.”

Paige stood silent for a minute.  She hadn’t intended to take on regular rent.  She wasn’t even sure how long she would stay.  And the people who ran the Sweet Mountain Inn were wonderful and had been very accommodating since she’d arrived.  But they had also warned her that there were a few nights coming up that were already booked solid.  She might be forced to find other lodging if she needed to stay.  In addition, it seemed there was something calling to her in this valley, though she couldn’t pinpoint what it was.  The chance of finding good story, perhaps, or just a needed break from city life.  She hadn’t taken a vacation in years.

“You know, I might be interested,” Paige said slowly.  “Mind if I take a look at it?”

“Help yourself.  Door’s open.  Go on in and look around all you want.  It’s not too fancy, being as it was built back in the early 1900’s.  But it’s got running water and electricity now.  You know, electricity didn’t come to this area until 1921,”   Dan added quickly, looking quite proud of himself for knowing this fact.  “It has a small bath and a nice little fireplace.  If you decide you’re interested, I can throw a bed and table in there for you.  Maybe a couple other spare pieces of furniture.  You look around, let me know.”  Dan twisted his neck to the side, making it crack sharply.  He turned and headed back into the barn.

Paige looked over at the cabin.  It wouldn’t hurt to take a look around, even if just to see the inside of an historic dwelling and get a feeling for the way the early pioneers had lived.  She headed across the field and approached the small, rustic building.

The porch was narrow, maybe six feet deep, running the width of the building, which Paige approximated to be around fifteen feet across.  A patchy roof slanted out and downward above the porch.  Similar to those inside the barn, rays of light peeked through the slats in the porch roof.  An old, metal tub rested on the floor, just to the right of the door.  A few dried flowers lingered in the tub’s dirt, left over from the warmer summer weather.

Slowly Paige turned the handle on the door and pushed it open.  It was dark, but enough light entered through the windows to be able to make out the interior.  There were two rooms, one in front and a second directly behind it.  A small bathroom sat off to the right of the front room.  There was no kitchen, but she could see a narrow, wooden counter and small sink on the far left wall.  A cupboard hung above those, the door open to reveal empty shelves.

The main room wasn’t large, but the sloping roof helped it feel more spacious.  In addition to the two windows in front, a side window faced west towards the Tetons, which meant there would be good afternoon light.  In the far corner was a small, rock fireplace, with a wide hearth and a few fireplace tools beside it in a metal bucket.  With each October night seeming colder than the one before, a warm fire wouldn’t be a bad way to end the day, Paige mused.

The back room was identical to the front, though not quite as deep.  Paige approximated it to be about eight by fifteen feet.  It was dark, with just one small window centered high on the east wall.  There was ample room for a bed and a dresser, though not much more than that.  A throw rug could be tossed on the worn, wooden floors to add color and, Paige thought with amusement, a little warmth to go with her habit of staying barefoot most of the time.  There was no closet, but a few small hooks poked out from alongside the window, which would allow her to hang up a few articles of clothing.  Two shelves hung above the hooks, a perfect place for folded shirts and sweaters.

Dan was outside the barn, sawing a slender piece of lodgepole pine into smaller pieces, when Paige walked back from the cabin.  Two sawhorses swayed slightly with each movement of his hand saw.  Not far away, the black lab had curled up in the shade of a cottonwood tree and was attentively supervising the work.

“I’ll take it,” she heard herself say impulsively, knowing she was acting purely on instinct.

Dan reached out with a quick handshake, immediately returning to finish sawing through the last inch of a three foot stretch of wood.

“It’s a done deal,” he said.  “You can drop the first week’s payment off whenever you want, today, tomorrow, whatever works for you.  Oh – and there’s no key.  Don’t worry; you won’t need one out here.  There’s a latch on the inside of the door, though.”

Paige looked around, summing up her new surroundings.  Adding one impulse to another, she tossed out a question for Dan, keeping her voice as casual as possible.

“Do you happen to know where the old Manning ranch is?”

“That’s an easy one,” Dan replied, turning to face the road.  “Head right up there a ways, past the fencepost at the end of the field and then around the curve to the left, just a little on down the road until you hit a right turn and then up the hill a bit, not too far but far enough.  After that, take a left and then a right.  You can’t miss it.”

“Nice place, that ranch,” Dan added while lifting a log from a nearby stack to determine if it should be the next one to saw.  “Run down, though, was abandoned a long time.  Just recently bought up by a guy from Cody.  Supposedly his family lived in that area back in the prospecting days.  So they say.”

Paige nodded a thank you, hoping she’d gotten enough of the country directions right to keep from getting lost.  She promised to be back with the first week’s rent and a few belongings the next day and set off in her car again, this time heading back in the direction of Kelly.  A golden field stretched out to her left, two large bison resting in the middle.  Wild thistle decorated the edge of the road, scattered about in tiny bursts of purple and brown.  A magpie sat high on a fencepost at the end of the field, as if to signal that she was following Dan’s directions so far.

Paige passed the field and found herself alongside a narrow, winding stream set off the road twenty yards or so.  Tall reeds and muted, jewel-toned grasses grew along the water’s edge.  A bright yellow canoe rested upside down against the far bank.  There was no fence separating the road from the water and a dusty, makeshift parking area marked this spot as an unofficial swimming hole.

Not more than another hundred yards beyond the stream, the road became increasingly narrow and began to climb.  At first following only a slight incline, it quickly turned into a steeper grade, dipping periodically in roller coaster fashion.  Finally, the road leveled out into a flat plateau, at which point Paige noticed a rustic barn in the distance, brown and weathered, surrounded by a handful of smaller buildings which were barely visible above the surrounding brush.

An impressive log gate stood alongside the road at the entrance of a narrow dirt driveway. Silhouettes of cowboys, wildlife and trees decorated the top of the arch, stretching overhead in a sculpted metal design.  Small clusters of scrub brush dotted the surrounding landscape, alternating with taller bursts of dry grass.

Paige pulled her car up past the front gate, turned the wheel to the right and guided the vehicle over to the side of the road.  She stepped out of the car quietly, feeling a slight breeze graze the side of her face.  Leaving the car door only partially latched, she looked around, seeing only open stretches of land.  This was what Dan meant about finding peace and quiet outside of town, Paige thought.  As if in rebuttal, a crow above her let out a piercing screech before continuing its journey across the sky.

To the left of the driveway, a white metal sign with the words “No Trespassing” was nailed onto a fencepost.  Faded and weathered as the sign was, the lettering made a clear enough statement. The property was off limits.

Paige walked to the barbed wire fence that ran alongside the entrance.  There was no sign of anyone present on the land, at least not anyone she could see from where she stood.  It was tempting to duck between the spiked wires and get a closer look at the property.  She’d never been one to stay within the rules, a trait that had landed her in trouble more than once in her life.  Still, her instincts told her not to push this time.  She retreated to her car, paused to take in the overall view once more and then drove away, continuing east.


Page 4

Paige followed the road a few more miles, winding into a canyon, where the landscape of trees thickened.  Out of the corner of her eye, she spied a sudden movement within one particular cluster of trees.  Pulling over quietly and peering through the foliage, she could make out the dark outline of a moose.  Paige stepped cautiously out of the car and positioned herself at the side of the road, not close enough to be in danger, but close enough to clearly see the animal.

A few other cars passed by, passenger necks swiveling as the vehicles slowed down, something Paige would soon come to expect, the braking of cars to see why other cars on the road were stopping, all hoping to catch a glimpse of area wildlife.  A young man stuck his head out of one car window and snapped a quick picture of the moose with a small point and shoot camera.  A large motor home with blue horizontal pinstripes along the side yielded several tourists with cameras, who hopped out to take photographs from the side of the road.

Paige moved slowly around a small tree, resting against the bark and watching silently.  Within a short time, the other onlookers returned to their vehicles and headed down the road.  Paige remained behind, watching as the young moose meandered between trees and nibbled on branches and leaves, his fuzzy, newly-grown antlers not yet fully formed.  Eventually the moose and Paige made eye contact, neither one moving, but letting their notice of each other linger silently in the autumn air.  Determining that he was not threatened, the moose lowered his head and continued to munch on the local vegetation.  Paige remained quiet and still.

Somewhere within these moments of silence, Paige realized she had stumbled into an adventure far beyond the scope of her assignment.  Many miles from home, in a land of exquisite beauty, she had found a place to soak in a renewal of sorts.  She’d discovered an environment that was conducive to examining her own life.   A new purpose for her trip began to form in her mind and heart, one that had the potential to carry her far beyond her writing assignment.  She had a sudden feeling that her visit to Jackson Hole was going to be a journey of self-discovery.

In time, the moose moved away, slowly making its way up an embankment thick with foliage, until finally it disappeared over a ridge.  Paige returned to her car and drove on another half mile, where she was able to turn around in a small pullout that served as a parking lot for a canyon trailhead.  She started back towards Jackson, passing first the old Manning ranch and then the log cabin that would soon be her temporary home.  Seeing the sharp angle of the shadow falling from Dan’s barn, she glanced across the valley at the Tetons and realized the sun was rapidly growing lower on the horizon. It was time to return to town before it settled behind the mountains for the night.

Small candles lit up the front windows of the Sweet Mountain Inn as she pulled into the driveway and parked her car.  It had been comforting, having the inn as a landing zone for her visit.  The innkeepers had been warm and accommodating.  Their hospitality had allowed her to feel welcome and their directions around Jackson had allowed her to easily familiarize herself with the town.  She would make a point of thanking them when she checked out the next day.

At the small writing desk in her room, Paige pulled out her journal and prepared to jot down some notes.  It had been a full day and one filled with intrigue.  The land and the people of Jackson Hole were so different from those she was used to back home.  The quiet in the air alone was almost a shock.  The landscape, the scenery, the culture and the history; all these things were new.  Instinctively, Paige knew there was much more waiting to be discovered.

Her thoughts kept returning to the old Manning ranch. An historic ranch could make for interesting reading, especially on the east coast where ranching would be less familiar to readers.  But a ranch would have to be unique to the Jackson Hole area in order to be the right subject matter.  Some aspect of its history or a tie to a local human interest angle would be needed. 

Intuition had often led her to a good story in the past, but she didn’t have anything solid to go on this time, at least not yet.  Admittedly, a touch of her curiosity was caused by Jake himself.  That was something she would have to watch.  It wouldn’t be the first time a good-looking guy had thrown her off track.  Still, she couldn’t help but wonder.  He seemed amicable enough with people in town, yet he kept to himself.  He’d moved into the area recently, buying up a large property that had been on the market for awhile. What was his purpose in moving to Jackson and purchasing that particular property? 

Paige sat back in her chair and mulled this over.  She needed a reasonable basis for thinking he might be tied into a local story or else she had to focus on the basic article she had originally come to write.  So far she had nothing.  It would be wiser to start again in the morning and search out other topics of interest in the area. 

She lifted her overnight bag from the room’s metal luggage rack and placed it on the bed.  Grabbing the few articles of clothing that were hanging in the closet, she folded them into a small stack and slid them inside the bag.  She left out one pair of faded jeans, a rose-colored T-shirt and a cable-knit burgundy pullover sweater.  These would work for quick dressing in the morning.  She could already feel a buzz of excitement when she thought about moving to the cabin the next day.  But the first thing on the agenda was getting a good night’s sleep.

 

*   *   *   *

 

Morning arrived with the sound of raindrops pattering on the walkway and tapping against the windows, bringing with it a whistling of wind.  Paige peeked out of the curtains of her room at the dark, gray sky and debated the idea of adding one more night at the inn.  The idea of staying inside all day, hunkered down in a warm room, was appealing.  However, the urge for a hot mug of something caffeinated gave her enough incentive to dress and venture out.  She tossed on the clothes she had laid out the night before and twisted her hair up into a loose, haphazard bun.  She pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head and broke into a cautious run, watching puddles on the ground and slick sections of wooden boarding that might cause her to slip and fall.

Maddie was behind the counter of the café when Paige walked in, serving a double espresso and blueberry scone to an Italian tourist in line.  Old Man Thompson was bent over his coffee at the end of the small counter, just as he had been the last time.  Several high school girls were sharing a hot cinnamon roll and sipping chai teas at a round table by the window, repeated episodes of giggles exploding between whispers.

Paige took her place in line, picking up the morning paper while waiting.  The front page was dotted with a mix of national and regional news, along with an impressive picture of fighting elk centered just below the Jackson Hole Daily title.  The second page held news of the last city council meeting, several small articles about local citizens, an ad for a boot sale and dates and times for upcoming entertainment at local venues.  Continuing through the next few pages, Paige found coupons for off-season restaurant specials, classified ads for everything from firewood to hay and a multitude of real estate listings, most of them astonishingly pricey.  She was still flipping through the paper when she realized someone was talking to her.

“What can I get for you today,” Maddie was saying, likely for the second time, by the look on her face, both patient and slightly annoyed.  Paige knew she still had a tourist look about her, something almost beyond definition but clear nonetheless to local residents.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Paige offered, realizing she’d been lost in the morning paper and not paying attention.  “I’ll take a vanilla latte and one of those raspberry-orange muffins.”  She pointed to a basket of fresh bakery items that had just been placed inside a glass display to the right of the counter.

“I noticed you in here the other morning,” Maddie said while starting the whirl of the coffee machine.  “You must be new to Jackson?”  Her voice had an inquisitive, yet friendly tone to it.

“Yes, very new,” Paige responded, pulling a few dollar bills out of her purse.  “I’m working on an article for a paper back east and came out here to do a little research - historical information, local perspective, that type of thing.”

Maddie pushed back the lever on the coffee machine and poured a stream of steaming milk into a thick paper cup, already filled with a shot of espresso.

“Whipped cream?” she asked, with a playful look in her eyes.

“Sounds good, but no thanks,” Paige smiled, taking the cup from her and sliding the money across the counter.  She leaned to her left and grabbed a plastic lid from a stack of many, pressing it securely against the top of the cup.  Reaching back into her purse, she tossed a dollar into a jar marked “Tipping is not just for cows.”

“Enjoy your stay,” Maddie said casually, her eyes moving to the next customer in line.

Paige thanked her and moved away from the counter, finding a place at a small table in the corner, just behind the front door.  She leaned back in her chair, took a sip from the opening in her cup’s lid and looked around the room.

The high school girls were just grabbing knapsacks from below their table and tumbling out the front door, accompanied by a flurry of youthful energy and more than a few bursts of laughter.  Old Man Thompson was still drinking his coffee, sitting in the same place, bent over his cup in seemingly deep concentration.  Either that or he was asleep, Paige thought. It was hard to tell since he never lifted his head, aside from a very occasional sip of coffee. And for that his head was more inclined to move towards the coffee than the other way around.  A few tables held local residents browsing the morning paper, while others customers came and went, arriving empty-handed and departing with various steaming drinks and fresh bakery goods in their hands.  Outside, the rain continued to fall, tapping against the front windows of the café in a bleak contrast to the buzz of activity inside.

About halfway through her latte, it occurred to Paige that she was glancing at the door each time it opened, observing arriving customers with interest.  The sudden realization that she was watching for Jake took her by surprise, as did her disappointment when he did not show.  She lingered, reading the paper, finished her latte and muffin and decided to head back to the inn.

Raindrops were still falling as Paige walked the short half block from the café to the main street of town, though by now the downpour had faded into a light drizzle.  The gray clouds overhead had lightened a bit, but still hovered above the town.  As Paige turned the corner, she noticed the four distinctive arches around the town square that she had seen upon her arrival in Jackson.  Sculpted from gathered elk antlers, one stood at each corner of the block that formed the central park area for the town.  For a brief second she thought the closest arch reflected a faint light, as if a small ray of sun had slipped through the clouds.  Glancing up, however, she saw nothing but the same cloudy gray.  Another look back at the arch told Paige she was mistaken about the light.  There was nothing but rainy day landscape in front of her.  She pulled her jacket tighter and returned to the inn just in time to avoid a crash of thunder and a new downpour.

With the rain continuing to fall outside the window of her room, Paige set about documenting her initial impressions of Jackson.  She pulled a small notepad from her suitcase, a spiral bound book with a tan cover.  Turning to the first page, she jotted down the general location of the town that had originally been named “Jackson’s Hole,” after Davey Jackson, an early fur trapper.  She described the two main streets, which ran perpendicular to each other in town before veering off in opposite directions. The first, Broadway, headed south, passing through Hoback Junction about ten miles later.  It then meandered through the Snake River Canyon and the town of Alpine, finally crossing into the state of Idaho.  The other, Cache Street, headed north, passing a multitude of local businesses and many of the town’s motels before finally reaching the outskirts of Jackson. Beyond that, it headed through Grand Teton National Park, up through Yellowstone National Park, and eventually into Montana.

It was an amazing place, Jackson Hole.  Nothing Paige had heard or read about it did it justice, now that she was seeing it with her own eyes.   Set in a bucolic valley and bordered by soaring mountain peaks, it would be impossible not to be impressed by the dramatic vistas the area offered. The most majestic stretch of mountains was the range known as the Grand Tetons, created by shifting layers of volcanic ground and then sculpted by frozen, knife-like glaciers.   Surrounding ranges each offered a variety of terrain, trails and landscape.  A gaze in any direction would reveal a masterpiece of natural scenery.

Mountain peaks were not the only lure for visitors.  Crystal blue lakes were scattered throughout the area, some easily accessible by car and others hidden away, only to be reached by way of challenging trails.  The abundant wildlife - elk, moose, bears, wolves and bison, among others – had clearly picked a suitable area for their native habitat.   Foliage and berries were abundant during spring and summer months and the backcountry allowed isolation from humans.

Winters were a different story.  Harsh weather, sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall kept most of the national park areas closed while roads remained unplowed.  Though snowmobiles carried adventure-seekers into some of the more distant terrain, ski slopes closer to town were the main draw during these tougher months.

Paige paused for a minute, looked out the window as the rain continued to fall.  She thought about the Blue Sky Café and the Sweet Mountain Inn, both appealing as individual, non-chain businesses.  There were other unique establishments in town, as well, like the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike, known for its bar stools made of saddles.  Eateries included pizza parlors, steak and game houses and upscale sushi bars, as well as many offering Chinese, Italian or Thai cuisine.  Though a town of the old west, it had clearly learned how to artfully feed its residents and to cater to the palates of modern day tourists.


Page 5

Paige closed her eyes and tried to imagine what the town must have been like years ago, in the late 19thcentury, when settlers arrived and homesteaded, began trades and started the development of what would become such a popular destination many years later.  She could almost hear the rustling of skirts as women walked along the wooden sidewalks.  She could imagine the clattering of hooves from horses trotting through town, some carrying newcomers looking to settle, others bringing mail or supplies.  She tried to imagine the buzz of conversation that must have taken place on the very streets she had been walking herself the last few days.  It would have been an entirely different scene than the one she was witnessing now.

Returning to the paper and pen before her, she sketched out these new impressions. Putting away her notes, she reached into a black, leather case which was leaning against the writing table, pulled out a small, compact laptop, gathered her thoughts and began to compose an email to her editor.

 

To:  Susan Shaw

From:  Paige Mackenzie

 

Re: Article on Jackson Hole

 

Hi Susan,

I’ve arrived in Jackson, which is turning out to be the most fascinating place.  I can’t get over how different it is here.  The people are wonderful and the entire town is quaint and peaceful.  Aside from the massive tourism, that is.  Thanks for sending me after the summer rush was over!

I’ve been staying at an inn not far from the center of town, a place called the Sweet Mountain Inn.  I’ve had a small room, nothing fancy, but everything I’ve needed for these first few days.  Being able to walk to most everything in town has come in handy.

As it turns out, I stumbled into a small cabin not too far north of town, on the land of a local resident who makes log furniture.  He offered it to me for a very reasonable rate, based on a weekly rental.  I think it’ll be a good place to absorb the area and begin to set it down on paper.  I’ll move over there tomorrow, at least for this week.

I haven’t started drafting the article yet, but am taking notes and recording initial impressions.  I’ll be able to start putting these thoughts and details together a few days from now, which will give me plenty of time to get it finished before the deadline.

I’ll touch base with you soon, to let you know my progress.

 

Say hi to everyone in the office.

 

Paige

 

Clicking on the “send” icon, Paige shot off the email, turned off and snapped shut the laptop and placed it back in its case.  She still preferred to jot down notes by hand, but modern times required modern means of communication and she knew Susan needed a quick update.  She was thankful for the convenience of wireless access at the inn and knew she’d miss that once she moved up to the cabin.  With the email to Susan sent off, she could now set work aside and get organized.

The rain appeared to be easing.  The sound of a steady downpour had given way to a light pattering.  Outside, raindrops fell from the edge of the roof, cascading from rain gutters, splashing against the cement sidewalk and disappearing into small puddles.  The gray sky had lightened up a bit, though it was far from being sunny.  Paige was already learning that Wyoming weather couldn’t be predicted.  It could be sunny one moment and raining the next.  The locals often quoted the old expression, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes.”  She was finding this to be true.

She grabbed the overnight bag, gathered her other belongings and loaded up the trunk of her car.  Checking briefly to be sure she hadn’t overlooked anything, she closed the door behind her.  Turning her room key in at the office, she thanked the innkeepers for their hospitality and returned to her car.  The sooner she could get into her new living space and start focusing on writing, the better.

She pictured the cabin in her mind as she drove south a mile to the local K-Mart.  The cabin had electricity and running water, a small bathroom, but no kitchen.  There was a long table she remembered seeing outside, which she hoped to move inside and use for a makeshift kitchen.  With this in mind, she found an open space halfway towards the back of the parking lot and headed inside the store, aiming first for the section with home appliances.  She wouldn’t buy anything that she didn’t really need, or couldn’t take with her when she left, but she’d buy what she needed to get by in the cabin without too much discomfort.

It was going to be too chilly in the evenings to get by on cold food alone, so she looked over the selection of smaller cooking devices and picked out a single electric burner, which could easily be set on the long table and plugged into the outlet on the cabin wall.  She found a can opener in another aisle, making a mental note to pick up a variety of canned soup, dry pasta, a couple jars of marinara sauce and some oatmeal for cold mornings.

She paused in front of a compact microwave oven, but decided she’d be able to make do with the burner and a small sauce pan, which she found on another nearby aisle.  Moving on to an assortment of dishware, she was glad to see plates, bowls and silverware stacked and priced as single items.  She picked up one of each, adding a ceramic mug with an image of a moose on it.  It was all she would need.  Having company over was not on her list of plans.

Passing by the bedding section, she was thankful for the sleeping bag she carried with her whenever she was on a road assignment.  Rolled up in the trunk, tucked against the side of the car, this was what she’d use to sleep in, saving her the expense of sheets and blankets.  She picked up one pillow, to make her nights a little more comfortable.  Moving on to a section of linens, she chose a bath towel in a soothing, sea foam green, as well as a hand towel and washcloth to match.  She had everything else she needed for the bath with her already.

Taking her selections to the front cashier, she made her purchases and exited the store.  She threw the bags in the trunk of her car and headed next to the local market, where she picked up an assortment of food items that would not require refrigeration.  It would be easy enough to fix simple meals without using perishables.  She made sure to toss some fresh fruit into her basket, an added measure to keep from living on canned and packaged food alone.  She could pick up milk or other items as needed, in small quantities.  Bottled water would work for a beverage, along with coffee.  Again, she was thankful for the items she always carried with her on the road, which included a small coffee maker and a grinder for coffee beans.  Thinking of this, she added a package of French Roast coffee beans to her other selections.  Impulsively, she grabbed a mixed cluster of fresh cut freesia and iris, along with a few small votive candles, to make the cabin feel a little more like home.  She checked out at a front register and added the new purchases to the growing inventory in the trunk of her car.

The drive back through town was an easy one.  Even with a few mid day tourists cruising along, the traffic seemed almost nonexistent to Paige, being used to the frenzied pace of New York City.  She made a left turn at the intersection of Broadway and Cache streets and headed in the direction of the cabin.  Before long, the road passed into the wide, open space that bordered the north side of town.  The rain had now let up completely and bright rays of light cascaded down from between the remaining clouds.  Appaloosas grazed in a field to her left, gathered in by long stretches of wooden fencing that allowed the horses a generous space to roam.

Twenty minutes later she arrived at the small cabin, pulled her car up alongside the porch and popped open the trunk.  There was no sign of Dan and the workshop appeared to be closed.  As she approached the front door of the cabin, she found a note tucked into the door jamb.

“Gone to Idaho Falls for supplies.  Make yourself at home.  Back late tonight, Dan.”

Paige looked around at the deserted property, realizing how quiet it suddenly seemed.  The noises at the inn had been second nature to her, being so minor compared to the sound level of Manhattan.  The street traffic had simply been soft background noise.   Late guest arrivals in nearby rooms had gone unnoticed.  Yet the absence of sound around her now was almost deafening.

The door to the cabin creaked as she pushed it open and reached for the light switch.  A ceiling light flickered on as she stepped inside, casting a weak glow across the front room. She made a note to pick up a small reading lamp the next time she went into town.  It was unlikely the cabin’s dim light would be enough for writing.

She unloaded the trunk of the car and set about arranging her new living accommodations.  With some effort and a few hefty grunts, she dragged the table inside and pushed it against the far wall.  She stacked her small collection of dishes to the right and set up the electric burner to the left.   Up above, she placed the canned and dry food goods on the lower of the two long shelves.  It took a little stretching to reach them, but it kept them out of the way.

Searching around the yard outside, she found an old, green jar, halfway embedded in the ground.  Bringing it inside, she rinsed the dirt off the smooth, glass surface and arranged the freesia and iris in it, adding a few sprigs of greenery from one of several bushes alongside Dan’s barn.   She placed the makeshift flower vase on a small, square table in the second room, setting one of the votive candles beside it.  She then rolled out her sleeping bag on the narrow bed and fluffed up the pillow she had purchased in town.  This would do, she thought, as she sat down and looked around the room.  It was rustic and basic, but comfortable.  The bed and table, hand-crafted by Dan, were artfully designed in such a way that they blended perfectly with the antique log structure.  The cabin had everything she would need.  She was struck by how little it took to get by, thinking of the multitude of belongings at home that she had accumulated over the years.  Yes, the cabin would do nicely.

With the weather improving after the morning rain, she moved to the doorway and stood for a few minutes, surveying the property.  A few old farm tools were propped against a shed about twenty yards away.  A long deserted, metal milk can was resting on its side halfway between the cabin and the parking area.  She walked out to it and brought it up to a standing position.  Then glancing back at the cabin, she moved it closer, thinking it might make a good plant stand beside the front door.

The porch itself, narrow as it was, looked inviting after the errands she had run and the work she had done inside the cabin.  Paige pulled a weathered, wooden rocking chair closer to the door, retreated inside and emerged a few minutes later with a book. Settling down into the chair, she opened the book to the spot she’d bookmarked the last time she’d had a chance to read.

It wasn’t long before the sound of an approaching vehicle drew her attention toward the road.  Certain that it would be Dan, she watched for his old, white van to pull into the driveway.  Instead, she was surprised to see a red pick-up truck pass by.  A decal of a cowboy riding a horse decorated the back window of the cab, a symbol she had seen frequently since arriving in Wyoming.  The windows were slightly tinted and a thick coat of dust covered the exterior of the truck, similar to most vehicles around town.   She watched the truck continue on, pausing for a bison crossing the road before disappearing from view.

Returning to her book, she tried to continue reading, but found it difficult to concentrate.  Not only were snippets of possible article topics seeping into her mind, but the temperature was dropping with every passing minute.   True to the jokes about the weather, clouds were already starting to form again overhead.  A chilly breeze was kicking up, weaving its way through the beams on each side of the porch and ruffling the pages of the book she now held firmly in her hands.

Paige looked up at the sky and knew she didn’t have long to move back inside before the first raindrops fell.  She set her book just inside the door and walked quickly around the side of the cabin, where a pile of split logs rested against the wall, a thick green tarp stretched across the top.  Reaching under the tarp, she grabbed the wood, gathering logs into her arms quickly and moving them to the porch. Two armloads would be enough to stock the small fireplace inside and keep it going for awhile.  She finished stacking the wood just as the rain began to pour down.

Using one of several local newspapers accumulated over the past few days, she tore out a few pages, crumpled them into small wads and placed them along the bottom of the fireplace.  Building on this, she placed small twigs and tree bark above the paper, stacking several of the split logs on top of those.  She found a book of matches in one of her bags and lit the paper.  Sitting back, she watched the progression of flames as they slowly moved up from the paper to the kindling, finally catching on the larger logs.

It was soothing watching the fire and again she picked up her book and fell into reading.  Only when she heard a sharp thud on the porch, followed by a knock, did she set the book down.  She jumped up, crossed the room and opened the door, where she found Dan standing, his clothes and hair soaked from the rain.

“I brought you a little something,” he said, pointing to a small refrigerator.  “I had this in storage and thought you might be able to use it.  I’ve been meaning to put it in here, anyway.  Don’t need it in the house.  Doesn’t hold much, but at least you can keep a few things cold.”

“Great,” Paige responded with surprise.  “I’m sure I’ll be able to use it.  I was planning to live on canned food and fruit.  Thanks for thinking of me.”  


Page 6

Dan shook his head in amusement as he lifted the small, square refrigerator and brought it inside, placing it against the far wall, under the shelves.

“I see you’ve gotten settled in a bit,” Dan said, looking around.  “Looks nice and cozy, the way it should be.”  His view took in the glowing fire and he nodded his head in approval.

“I really like this cabin and appreciate your offer to let me stay.  Oh, speaking of which,” Paige added quickly, turning away and crossing the room.  She grabbed her purse off the long table, pulling out the first week’s rent and handing it to Dan.  He took the money, folded it in half and put it in the back pocket of his jeans, thanked Paige and left, sprinting across the open lot to get out of the rain.

The weather whipped up into a frenzied pace during the afternoon and evening.  Paige stayed inside listening to the howling of the wind and pounding of the rain. The sounds of the storm echoed inside the old cabin, creating an isolated feeling and a sense of a larger force.  To these haunting sounds of nature, Paige warmed a bowl of soup and ate in front of the fireplace, watching the flames slowly die down.  Eventually her eyelids grew heavy and she curled up in the sleeping bag, fluffing her pillow before resting her head and falling asleep.

The storm had eased by morning.  Paige made a pot of freshly ground French Roast, poured some into her moose mug and looked out the front window. A light mist covered the mountains, weaving its way between trees.  Dan’s black lab played alongside the driveway, chasing chipmunks and jumping in and out of low brush.  Paige could hear the caw of a crow nearby and turned to see it sitting on the roof of the barn.

Without Internet access, she knew she would have to head into town.  It was likely that Susan had returned her email from the day before and she’d need to send a reply.  She pulled on faded blue jeans and a red, long-sleeved, button-down shirt, adding a V-neck sweater over that, a dark blue knit with a heavy weave, one of her favorites.  She lifted a hooded jacket off a wall hook, just in case the weather took another turn, grabbed her laptop case and cell phone and left the cabin to head toward Jackson.

 She pulled out of the driveway and started toward town, reaching up out of habit to adjust her rear view mirror.  Looking behind her, she noticed the outline of a red truck, far enough behind her that she had not seen it while entering the road.  She lifted her foot off the accelerator to allow the truck to move a little closer, curious if it might be the same one she had seen pass by the day before.  Continuing to slow down, she finally pulled over at a scenic turnout, quickly grabbing a map in order to appear occupied.  As the vehicle approached and prepared to pass her, she cautiously turned her head to the left, just in time to catch a glimpse of the driver.  Somehow she was not at all surprised to find that the driver was Jake.

 She waited before pulling back out on the road, long enough to not call attention to herself, but not so long as to lose sight of the truck.   Following it into town, she watched it pull into a parking space near the town square.  Again she stopped her car and watched as Jake got out of the truck and walked to a bench in the center section of the square.  He paced back and forth nervously, glancing occasionally at his watch.  

Paige estimated ten minutes passed while Jake paced, during which time his patience appeared to grow thinner, if she read the changing manner of his stride correctly.  His steps became uneven and nervous.  His arms crossed and uncrossed repeatedly.  It was clear he was waiting for something and not at all pleased that it was taking as long as it was.  Finally a man approached from the opposite side of the square, dressed in bulky clothing and wearing a cowboy hat pulled forward and to the side.  The bench was partially blocked by trees and she was too far away to see their faces, but she could still tell the two men were engaged in a heated conversation.  At one point the man who had approached Jake reached into his pocket and pulled something out, handing it over to Jake, who stuffed it quickly inside his jacket.  Both men lingered, their arm motions telling Paige that they were speaking a few final, terse words.  Finally they parted, moving away in opposite directions.

Watching Jake walk east from the square, Paige suspected he was aiming for the Blue Sky Café and soon found she was right.  He crossed through the park, walked under the antler arch and headed across the street, disappearing around the corner.  Paige put her plans to check email on hold, locked her car and followed.

The café was packed, more so than it had been on other mornings.  Most tables were occupied and a line stretched from the counter halfway back to the door.  This allowed Paige to enter un-noticed.  She took a place behind the other customers waiting and looked nonchalantly down the line.

Jake was just stepping up to the counter, ordering his usual black coffee.  Looking around at the crowded cafe, he took stock of the few available tables and grabbed one in the back corner, set away from the rest.  Leaning back against the wall, he quickly glanced around and took the envelope out of his jacket, opening it discreetly and pulling out a folded note.  In Paige’s judgment, he appeared entirely consumed, his eyes scanning the paper from side to side, at times leaning closer to squint at whatever it contained.

After a few minutes, he folded up the paper abruptly, stuffed it back in his jacket and quickly walked out the door, leaving his coffee untouched on the table.

Paige took her latte to go, opting not to follow Jake anymore.  For one thing, he had disappeared too quickly when he hurried out of the café and Paige wasn’t sure which direction he had taken.  For another thing, she needed to check her email and it had to be done before she headed back out of town.

Ten minutes later she pushed open the glass doors of the library and headed to the computer area.  To her relief, there was only a short wait in line.  She was soon settled into a chair in front of an empty terminal, logging into her email account.  As she expected, there was a response waiting from Susan.

 

To:  Paige Mackenzie

From:  Susan Shaw

 

Re:  Jackson Hole Article

 

Hi Paige,

Great to hear from you!

It sounds like Jackson Hole is as interesting as you expected.  Glad you are settling in and starting on research.

 

A couple things to think about:

Try, if you can, to push beyond the regular tourist information, beyond the advertised spotlights of the area.  We want to find something different, something unusual.  We want to give readers an inside view.  See if you can get to know some of the locals and maybe some of the old timers, too.  They’ll know things that wouldn’t be readily available through normal research channels.

Also, if you can do as much historical research as you can, it will cut down on the fact-checking we need to do later on.

We have a little time on this one, but I’d like to see it ready for print in two weeks.  See what you can do and let me know if you have any problems.

 

Susan

 

Paige clicked on the return icon and quickly typed a short response, aware that others were in line for use of the computers.

 

To:  Susan Shaw

From:  Paige Mackenzie

 

Re:  Jackson Hole Article

 

Hi Susan,

Thanks for the advice and direction.  I think two weeks will be fine.  I’ve already run into a few locals and will see what I can learn from them.  I’ll also do some research at the Historical Society, where I can get accurate dates and names of events and people involved with Jackson Hole’s history.

Again, thank you for your help and support.  I’ll give you an update later in the week.

 

Paige

 

Paige logged off and stood up, moving away from the computer in order to let the next person in line step up.  Heading toward the exit, she rounded a corner quickly, without looking up.  A clatter of books slamming against the floor followed her clumsy crash into another library patron.  Embarrassed, Paige mumbled an apology while bending down to pick up the spilled books.  Two more hands reached down to help, accompanied by a light laugh.  To her surprise, she looked up to see Jake.

“Oh my, gosh,” Paige stammered, more shocked and surprised to see Jake than she was apologetic for the collision.  “I’m so sorry.”  She scrambled to grab a few more books from the floor and noticed they had titles about Jackson Hole.  Some appeared to be history, others maps and trail information.  She heard the light laugh again and straightened up to face Jake straight on.

“I really am sorry,” Paige repeated, glancing at the books in her hands before looking up.  “It looks like you’re doing some research on this area.  Local books?”  She watched for a reaction.

“Jake Norris,” he said, shifting the books he was holding to one arm and extending his right hand toward Paige.

“Paige Mackenzie,” she countered.  She met his hand with her own, feeling a sudden, unexpected shiver at the touch of his skin against hers.

“These books?” Jake said lightly.  “No particular reason for them.  I just enjoy reading.”  Still, he clung tightly to the books in his arms. 

Paige noticed the edge of the envelope sticking out of the pocket of his flannel shirt.  In fact, she noticed the shirt itself, a light blue with gray and white lines in the design.  She also noticed his jeans, his rugged skin and the tilt of his mouth, still posed in a slight smile.  And she noticed his eyes, a blue-gray that matched perfectly with the shirt.  And then she noticed that he was noticing her notice.  She abruptly regained her composure, apologizing once more for not watching where she was going.  With a thin grasp of dignity, she quickly added that it was nice meeting him.  Turning to leave, she could feel his eyes and smile lingering on her back as she walked away.

Feeling oddly unsettled, she stopped to pick up a few more grocery items for the fridge that Dan had been kind enough to provide.  With another stop, she added a few utensils and some small pads of paper for taking quick notes.  From there she drove into the center of town, making the usual left turn required to head north.  The gray clouds had lightened considerably and there was still plenty of daylight left.  Impulsively, she pulled the car over in front of the town square.

Paige walked slowly around the perimeter of the park and then crossed diagonally along one of the slatted wood walkways that crisscrossed the square. Clusters of violet primrose and bright yellow dahlia surrounded a tall statue in the center, a memorial to war heroes.  She headed toward the bench where she had seen Jake’s animated conversation with the other man earlier that morning.  Sitting down, she took a slow look around the square.  She ran through the scene in her memory, knowing she had been watching from too far away to be sure of any details.  But it had been clear that Jake had seemed especially agitated and the man he met hadn’t been any less upset. The exchange of the envelope had been done quickly and discreetly, but not before an argument of some sort.  After that there had been little or no conversation.  Jake had merely tucked the envelope away quickly and walked offtowardthe Blue Sky Café.

 Again Paige ran through the encounter in her mind, wondering what the envelope contained.  It had to be important, both because of the way the interchange happened and because of Jake’s hasty exit from the café after reading the envelope’s contents.  Her instinct told her she was onto something and should follow through with it.  After all, Susan had encouraged her to pay attention to the local people, to try to get information that was not readily available to anyone who simply passed through town for a day.  Whatever was going on with Jake and the other man, it was definitely something outside of ordinary town activity. She was determined to find out what it was.

From her location on the bench, Paige had a view of most of the square.  She surveyed the area and paused, taking note again of the four antler arches, in particular the one on the corner closest to the Blue Sky Café.  Again it seemed to have a faint glow across the top, just as it had when she passed by it the other day.  Looking around at the other three arches, she didn’t see the same lighting.  She looked up and searched for parted clouds and rays of sunshine, wondering if one might be directed at that particular arch.  But there was nothing from above to cause that type of effect.  Nor were there streetlights on, which ruled out yet another possible explanation.

She stood and took a few steps in one direction, watching the arch closely as she passed it by, but could see no change in its appearance.  Reversing direction, she walked back, but the glow remained the same.  Finally, facing the arch directly, she wondered if this could simply be a trick of Wyoming mountain lighting, some type of optical illusion caused by the high altitude.  A scientific explanation was starting to sound like something she would welcome.

She approached the arch, expecting to see the light fade, but instead it seemed to grow brighter.  Though it appeared to go unnoticed by other people passing by, it seemed clear enough to Paige.  Stopping a few yards in front of the arch, she stared at its hazy glow for a few seconds, certain that she wasn’t imagining it.  She looked around for bystanders who might be able to confirm what she saw, but the town square was now surprisingly empty.  When she looked back at the arch again, the glow had completely disappeared.


Page 7

 

CHAPTER TWO

The sun was starting to lower on the horizon when Jake pulled up to the fenced gate of the ranch.  He stopped his truck just far enough back from the gate to allow it to open, pulled on the emergency brake and left the engine running as he jumped out.  The latch was old and rusty and the hinge creaked abrasively into the still air.  He made a mental note to replace it at some point.  But that would have to wait, along with dozens of other tasks.  He had much bigger things on his mind.

He swung the gate open, returned to the truck and drove it through, stopped again and jumped out to pull the gate shut and then continued on to the old farmhouse.  He liked the building, old and run down as it was.  It had two stories, a small attic and a large front porch that wrapped around the sides.  The interior was spacious and boasted an impressive vaulted ceiling above the main room.  Yet those features didn’t interest him as much as the view across the valley to the Tetons.  This was the reason he had bought the property, that and the fact it dated back to the late 1800’s.  It had cost him an arm and a leg, but he was certain it would pay off in time.

Upon entering the farmhouse, he tossed aside his hat, a typical cowboy style with a wide brim.  It was a clean shot, landing on a wooden hook on the wall to the right of the entrance.  He dropped his jacket on the sofa and walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of Moose Drool.  Savoring the questionably-named but satisfying malty brew, he sat down at the kitchen table and pulled out the envelope.

Damn that Frank, he muttered under his breath.  He didn’t appreciate being blackmailed and that was exactly what Frank had done, as far as he was concerned.  It should have been an easy exchange in the town square that day.  Instead it became a dispute.  Well, he wasn’t going to worry about it now.  He had what he’d waited for right in his hands.  Now he just had to put the pieces together.  After all these years of waiting and searching, of keeping secrets and being cautious, he could feel the anticipation of reaching his long-time goal.

He opened the crumpled paper and stared at it, just as he had that morning in the café.  Good old Maddie, he thought, always ready with his black coffee.  It was a good town, a nice place to live.  It probably would have been worth moving to it anyway, even without a motive.  But that was beside the point.  He was here now, with business to take care of, not to sit and ponder the benefits of life in Jackson Hole.

The paper in front of him was worn and yellowed, with a rough tear along the left side and a stain of some sort just to the right of the center of the page.  Lines, both solid and dotted, meandered across the sheet of paper, crossing at times and staying parallel at others.  At one point of intersection there was a mark off to the side, which appeared to be something of a cross between a star and an “x”.  There was no indication of direction, no typical markings to show north, south, east and west.  And there weren’t any words on the page at all to give even a general location.  An uneven zigzag line wound its way across the upper left side of the page, disappearing into the torn edge.  Three symbols resembling arrows were clustered to the right.

Jake set the paper down on the table, took another swig of his beer, and let out a frustrated sigh.  This wasn’t going to be enough, he thought.  Maybe he needed to start over from the beginning, to think it all through again.  He felt a sudden, familiar flutter of apprehension, one that he shook off as quickly as it took hold of him.  He hated these moments when doubt weaseled its way into his thought process.  Hesitation was counter-productive.  He brushed it aside and tried to put his thoughts in order.

It was an old legend, though not a familiar one to many, much to his advantage.  It was never widely publicized.  Few articles had been written about it and those that had been were less than convincing.  The lack of evidence was to blame, at least in Jake’s opinion.  People tended to want something concrete before they would accept a tale as feasible.  They sought specific clues or multiple accounts of the same story.  The little that Jake knew he’d learned from his grandfather, an eccentric old man with a seemingly wild imagination.  Little he said had carried much credibility.  He’d told numerous tales during his lifetime, all met with skepticism at best.

But his story of buried loot had captured Jake’s attention as a young boy.  As he grew up he became more and more convinced that his grandfather’s story had some truth to it.  It made sense, wild as it sounded, that there could be a stash of treasure hidden somewhere in or around the valley.  There were plenty of other legends he’d heard over the years.  Some told of stagecoaches that had been robbed, while others claimed various pioneers had found gold and run off with it.  Still others described local Native American tribes who had accumulated valuable goods by trade over the years and hidden them away.  Yet it had always been his grandfather’s tale that he had believed the most.

Jake folded up the paper and carried it into the large living room.  He looked around, weighing his options, and then walked over to a tall, oak bookshelf and pulled out a book about Wyoming history.  Opening it to a page in the middle, he inserted the map, taking care not to damage the paper any more than it already was.  He then pressed the book shut, replacing it on the shelf.

Jake took a moment to survey his book collection.  He had just about everything that had ever been published about the history of the old west, in particular those books concerning the area of Jackson Hole.  Whatever recent additions had come into print he’d picked up at the library that afternoon, along with any publications about the area’s topographical profile or books containing trail maps of the mountains.

He was sure the mountains were the key.  Grabbing one of the trail guides, he settled into a comfortable, wing-backed chair, switched on a small floor lamp and began to browse through the book.  There were so many possibilities.  This was where the hard part came in. In coming to Jackson and purchasing the old Manning ranch, he’d felt he would have a better chance at finding the location of the legendary treasure.  Instead, he’d only run into frustration.  The valley was too long, too wide, to make this an easy task.  Just the trails alone roamed over fifteen hundred miles, all put together.  And there was nothing to say the treasure was buried anywhere near a trail.  After all, many of those trails had been developed over recent decades.  They wouldn’t have existed one hundred years ago.

One possibility, Jake had thought, was a trail that looped up past Taggart and Bradley lakes, located about fifteen miles north of town.  Another he had considered was an area behind Emma Matilda and Two Ocean Lakes.  This area seemed less likely to him, in that it was approximately thirty miles north of town.  Still, whoever hid the treasure may have felt more secure keeping it at a distance.

The area that had intrigued Jake the most, though, was up against the Grand Tetons, behind Jenny Lake.  Here the possible hiding places were almost endless, as the trail wound up through Cascade Canyon and branched off at a fork, leading in one direction to Lake Solitude and in another to Hurricane Pass.  Just to arrive at Hurricane Pass was over eleven miles one-way, not to mention the elevation gain of 3500 feet.  Taking the other fork involved a distance of about nine miles total to get to Lake Solitude, with an elevation gain of about 2300 feet.  And this didn’t include any searches he’d need to do off the trails themselves.

Jake thumbed through the trail guide a little more, looking over other options.  Static Peak, accessible through Death Canyon, was another possibility.  Nor had he ruled out Delta Lake, reached by trail out of Lupine Meadows.  The truth was that it was a huge mountain range with a seemingly infinite number of possible hiding places.  Finding the correct one would be a monumental task.  But it was not an impossible dream, Jake told himself.  He was determined to see it through.  He owed it to his grandfather, as well as to himself.

He placed the trail guide by the front door, alongside a pair of well-worn hiking boots.  A quick glance around confirmed other ready supplies – a bright flashlight, a small compass and a warm, but lightweight, jacket. It would be easy later on to grab everything quickly and head out to begin exploring some of the trails.  At least he could work on ruling a few out.  The more he was able to narrow down the search, the closer he’d be to his goal.

Crossing the room, he pulled out the book that held the crumpled map and sat back down in the chair.  There had to be something he had missed the first time he looked at it, some other marking or a line that was more obvious than he thought.  Turning the three-way light up to its brightest level, he held the map up and peered through the paper.  With the exception of the smudged spot just to the right of the center, there didn’t seem to be anything hidden.  He squinted, attempting to see through the spot, but it was heavily stained and the light did nothing to reveal anything that might be underneath.

The sound of a sudden crash outside brought Jake immediately to his feet.  He switched the light off quickly and stuffed the map under the cushion of the chair, then crossed quietly to a front window, pressing his back against the wall to the side of the window sill.  He waited to hear more sound, not moving, his heart pounding inside his chest.  It didn’t seem possible that anyone could know why he was here, what he was searching for.  But it made sense to be cautious anyway.

When several minutes passed without any additional sound, he pulled the edge of his front curtains aside and peered outside.  Only then did he realize that the sun was almost down, leaving behind only the partial view that was typical for the twilight hour.  He hadn’t been aware that it had grown so late while he was wrapped up in reading the map and trail guide.

Seeing nothing unusual outside, he moved to the doorway and cautiously opened it.  A soft breeze flowed through the opening and the wild grass outside bent with the rise and fall of the wind.  There was nothing out of the ordinary that he could see.  His truck rested right where he had parked it.  The chairs on the front porch were undisturbed.  Everything seemed to be in its proper place.

Jake closed the door, twisting the lock a little more attentively than he usually did.  Without turning the lights back on, he made a circle of the house, checking latches and briefly looking out of each window.  Still he found nothing unusual.  The sound must have been an animal running through the property, he decided.  It was not uncommon.

To calm his nerves, he returned to the main room and opened a tall, oak cabinet.  He pulled out a round glass snifter and a decanter of brandy, setting it on the small table beside his chair.  He poured a generous serving and settled back, taking a gulp, followed by a few smaller sips.  The warmth of the sweet liqueur spread down his throat and into his chest.  He took several deep breaths and finally found himself relaxing.  It had been nothing, he figured.  Just the normal sounds of the open range, the regular noises to expect when living in this territory.

CHAPTER THREE

It was still light when Paige returned to her cabin, even after making additional stops to run errands along the way.  At the post office, she had dropped off a handful of postcards to friends back east.  In the local thrift store, she had browsed around for a few more items.

She parked her car in front of the cabin, unloading a reading lamp and a large, oval, braided rug that she had found at the thrift store.  Taking these inside, she made a second trip to her car for a small bag of groceries, which she took inside and put away.  She set fresh fruit and banana nut muffins on the table, next to the coffee pot.  This would cover breakfast the following morning.

While it was still light, Paige brought in an armful of firewood and stacked it to the left of the fireplace, where it would be ready for use later on in the evening.  She pulled a chair up to the small writing table and pulled out her laptop.  It was time to start outlining her notes so far, transferring them from the small notepad where she had been jotting down brief tidbits over the last few days.

 

Jackson Hole – Notes

 

*Jackson Hole is named after fur trapper David E. Jackson, an early partner in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.  Originally named Jackson’s Hole, referring to the entire valley as a “hole,” it was later changed to simply Jackson Hole.

Pre-1800 – Area was used by Native Americans for hunting and fishing.  Tribes included Shoshone, Nez Perce, Crow, Blackfeet and others.

1803 – Lewis and Clark expedition organized by Thomas Jefferson.  Expedition reports helped inspire westward movement.

1806-1808 – John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark group, traveled into Jackson Hole to scout for fur trading.

1845 – Fur trapping declined as styles changed.  Other means of earning income were developed, including the opening of early dude ranches, aimed at bringing visitors in to enjoy the area’s hiking, fishing, hunting and scenery.

1862 – The Homestead Act allowed settlers to claim land for the price of making improvements. Many settlers arrived, both American and European. Early settlers included John Holland and John and Millie Carnes.

1871-1878 – The Hayden Surveys officially named many landmarks, including Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake.

1872 – Yellowstone, just north of Jackson Hole, became the world’s first national park.

1888 - Population of the valley was 20 men, 2 women and 1 child. 

1889 – The first Mormons migrated to Jackson Hole.

1890 – Wyoming became a state.

1892 – Population of Jackson Hole had grown to 60 people. 

1892 – The first post office was at Marysville, which closed when the Jackson Post Office was opened in 1894.

1894 – Town of Jackson named,

1897 – The Jackson Hole Gun Club built The Clubhouse, which was the first community building.

1897 – President Grover Cleveland set aside the Teton Forest Reserve.

1899 – Deloney’s General Merchandise was the first store to open in Jackson.

1900 – First Jackson Hole census.  Approximately 600 people living in the area.  Five post offices existed in the valley.

1901 – Hotel belonging to Mary Anderson, which had been located at Antelope Gap, was moved to the Jackson town site, becoming the Jackson Hotel.

1901 – Bill Simpson laid out plans for the town of Jackson, using typical grid format common for the time.

1903-1905 – The first local school was located in The Clubhouse, and then moved to a log building.

1906 – Roy Van Vleck and brother Frank arrived in town and started building a cabin, later opened as Jackson Mercantile.

1907 – William Trester’s first photo of town.  Tuttle and Lloyd’s Saloon already visible.

1908 – President Theodore Roosevelt established the Teton National Forest.

1909 – First edition of Jackson Hole Courier published.  Population now 1500.

1912 – U.S. Biological Survey Elk Refuge was established.

1914 – Town of Jackson incorporated.

1920 – Jackson elected the nation’s first all-female town council.

1921 – Electricity powered Jackson for the first time.

Pre-1924 – Town square was just a depression covered with sagebrush.

1924 – Town started to improve the square by bringing in dirt to fill it.

1931 – Town brought in plants and landscaping.

1941 – Roads around the square were paved, cutting down dust problems.

 

Paige hit the save button and shut the laptop down, waiting for the lights on it to click off before slowly closing the top.  She’d learned quite a bit about the area since arriving in town, but it was clear that there was much more to learn.  It wasn’t as easy as just talking to the locals, though that had been good advice from Susan.  She needed to get beyond that, to get to the information that even the locals didn’t have, or didn’t know they had.

She had always been one to trust her instincts.  It had worked for her on other articles, such as the famous pirate Blackbeard’s hidden cove on Ocracoke Island, or the quiet life of the Kentucky Shakers near Harrodsburg, Kentucky.  Sometimes it was worth following a hunch more than just facts.  But usually the real payoff came in following both, in finding whatever way the two could weave together and create something not otherwise visible.  It was one of the challenges of writing, combining research and imagination.  She loved searching for the magic point where the two intersected.

Standing up, she left the small desk area and moved to a front window.  The sun was almost gone; only the faded images of twilight remained.  She could hear the wind rustle through small patches of sagebrush outside.  The screen door creaked a little as the breeze washed through the front porch.  There was some sort of mystery in the air.  It wasn’t anything she could put her finger on and it wasn’t anything that could be found in any of the research she had done.  But it was there, nonetheless.  This was the part that intrigued her the most, the instinctual part.  She had a hunch that this time it was the factor that would pay off.  All she had to do was find the right combination, the right key.  She had a feeling somehow that Jake would lead to this.  She just had to find out how.

Impulsively, she grabbed a jacket and stepped outside.  If following instincts was what she had to do, then that was exactly what she would do.  She eased her car out of the dusty driveway and turned out on the road, heading in the direction of Jake’s ranch. 

Other than a few bison grazing by the side of the road, dark shadows against the twilight sky, she found the road deserted.  This wasn’t a surprise to her.  She’d learned quickly after arriving in Jackson that the activity was mostly centered in town, much of it directly around the town square itself.  It was only necessary to drive a few miles in any direction to reach some solitude.

As she continued along, she spotted a faint light in the direction of Jake’s ranch.  It twinkled in the semi-darkness like a star that had decided to appear on stage a little early.  It grew slightly brighter as she approached, but there appeared to be only one window that glowed.  She surmised it couldn’t be much more than one small light.  Perhaps he wasn’t even home.

To play it safe, Paige parked her car on the side of the road, finding an area that was slightly lower than the roadside fence, allowing her car to stay out of view of the ranch.  She proceeded on foot another hundred yards or so, until she came to a point along the wood post and barbed wire fence that allowed her to see the old farmhouse clearly.  With quiet steps, she approached the fence, bent down a little and peered through.

A bald eagle soared across the sky, landing on the higher branches of a tree that was about halfway between Paige and the house.  A lone coyote roamed the fields to the east, prancing about and lunging at small rodents and other animals who were about to become supper for the clever hunter.

Paige eased her way along the fence until she arrived at a point where there was substantial brush on the other side, large enough clusters to hide behind.   There, without giving a second thought to fact that she was trespassing, she slid carefully between two of the fence’s wires.  She moved from one cluster of sagebrush to the next, crouching down to avoid being seen, until she found herself in a location where she had a good view of the house.

Still only one window held light.  The glow was brighter than it had appeared from down the road and it cast a small area of light out onto the front porch of the farmhouse.  Inside the window she could see the outline of a man’s head from the side, with the face tilted slightly down.  He appeared to be sitting in a chair of some sort, something with a high back.  The light was set behind him, preventing any illumination of his features.  Seeing the familiar red truck parked alongside the house, though, Paige knew it had to be Jake.

She watched the silhouette of his head move back and forth, turning slightly from side to side.  Perhaps he was just stretching his neck, she thought.  Or he might be working with his hands, maybe whittling some wood or repairing an appliance.  Or maybe he was reading, Paige suddenly thought, remembering all the books he’d been holding at the library earlier that day.  It occurred to her at that moment that he might be researching the area, just as she was.  Maybe he’d come to Jackson Hole for more than just the real estate investment of the old Manning Ranch.  As Dan had mentioned, Jake had family ties to the area going back generations.

She watched as he rose up, moved away from the window and then returned again, holding something in his hand.  Another book, Paige guessed as he took a seat again in the chair.  He must be looking for something in these books, she thought, watching him reach up to adjust the light.  What was it?  Was it hidden in the past history of the area?  Was it something concerning Jackson as a town right now?  Whatever it was, it had to be intriguing, as he remained in the same spot for some time.

Paige moved forward, still staying a good twenty yards or so from the house.  She inched behind another cluster of sagebrush, this one fairly thick and wide.  The outdoor light continued to fade as night approached and the view inside Jake’s window grew even clearer.  She remained crouched down, peering above the sage brush only slightly.  It was at this time that she felt the presence of someone or something nearby.

Turning slightly to her left, she suddenly gasped, seeing the coyote that had been running loose on the side of the property standing not ten feet away.  Holding her breath, she watched him as he watched her in return, a quiet stand-off in silence.  He took a step closer, which caused Paige to gasp again.  She waved her hand quickly, as if to whoosh him away by suggestion, but this had no effect.  The coyote continued to face her, staring at her with small, puzzled eyes.  Finally Paige picked up a small rock from the ground and, in desperation, pitched it at the animal, though not hard enough to cause sizable injury.  She hoped only to scare it away.

It worked, but not in the way she might have hoped.  The coyote jumped back at the sight of the incoming rock, brushing against some shrubbery and then bounding off in the direction of the house.  Paige watched with a terrified, sinking feeling inside her as the coyote raced around the corner of the front porch, crashing into a stack of old crates sitting just to the side of the house and causing them to fall over.  It then veered off into the fields and disappeared into the distance.

Her heart pounding, Paige stayed motionless behind the large cluster of brush.  There was no sound from the house, but she could see the light inside quickly extinguish itself.  In the growing darkness, she felt frightened and vulnerable.  After all, she didn’t belong there.  She was clearly trespassing and she didn’t even have a decent excuse to give for doing so.  She didn’t even have one to give herself.

Paige remained frozen in place, hearing nothing but silence for a few minutes.  Then, at the creak of the front door opening, she took advantage of the slight sound to flatten herself down on the ground, where she knew she couldn’t possibly be seen.  She held her breath and waited for what seemed like forever, until she finally heard the door latch shut.  Still, she remained on the ground, the smell of dust in her nose and the scratching of dry brush against her clothing. 

Eventually she eased herself up off the ground and, remaining crouched down, moved cautiously from sagebrush to sagebrush until she found her way back to the opening in the fence.  She slipped back through it and quietly but quickly hurried down the road to her car.  Her hand shook as she inserted the key into the ignition, but after a couple false, nervous tries, she got the engine running and pulled out onto the road, making a hasty retreat to her cabin.  Here she parked the car along the far side of the building, rather than out in the general parking area, and then slipped inside the front door, Latching it shut, she sat motionless until dark had fallen completely.

 


Page 8

CHAPTER FOUR

Jake paced back and forth across the town square, frustrated and angry.  How stupid could he be, believing Frank the way he had? He was as much of a liar as his grandfather probably was, raising him on all those ridiculous stories of buried treasure.   His grandfather had pulled the wool over his eyes and now so had Frank.  He should have seen it before, but that only made him as stupid as the others.

Pausing to lean against the monument in the center of the square, he pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, tapped it against his hand, pulled one out and pressed it between his lips.  With his right hand he patted his chest and then his hips before finding a book of matches, somewhat torn and wrinkled from being carried around in his pocket, but useful nonetheless.  He coughed a little on the first puff, just a reminder that he had quit smoking years ago.  But extreme times called for extreme measures.  He was just about at the end of his rope.

Jake shifted his weight from one hip to the other, then leaned back casually again.  It wouldn’t help to appear nervous, he thought.  It was a good thing he calmed down and settled back, because when Frank came walking up, he wasn’t in any kind of a calm mood himself.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, calling me out here like some little servant?”  Frank was fuming and he wasn’t about to hide it.

“I need more information from you,” Jake stated calmly, looking Frank directly in the eye.

“I already gave you everything I have,” Frank insisted, though the look in his eyes told Jake otherwise.

“Listen up, now,” Jake said, the calm tone in his voice and manner starting to quickly slip away.  “I didn’t spend all this time, all these years and all of this last particular year getting to this point, only to have it all ruined by you.”  He pointed his finger at Frank for emphasis, then dropped it and looked around to make sure they weren’t attracting attention by causing a scene.

Jake lowered his voice and moved his face closer to Frank’s.  Even without words, the communication was clear.  Frank now shifted his weight back and forth, considering the unspoken statements.

“I want the rest of the information now,” Jake said slowly.  “Don’t even try to tell me that paper is everything you have.  I know better.  For one thing, the tear on the side of the paper hardly looks a hundred years old.  And the smudge doesn’t look that old, either, now that I think about it.”  Jake ran an image of the small map through his mind.

A woman walked by, accompanied by a small terrier on a leash and a young girl, who she pulled in closer to her as she passed the two men.  Frank and Jake waited until they were alone again before continuing.

“OK,” Frank said carefully, keeping an eye on Jake while he spoke.  “I might have something else for you, but…” His voice trailed off and he looked at Jake inquisitively.

Jake threw back his head and laughed, then brought his gaze directly into Frank’s eyes.  “Don’t even think about blackmailing me for any more money.  You’ve gotten all that you were promised.  Now it’s your turn to hold up your end of the deal.”  His eyes didn’t waver until Frank started to nod his head.

Frank looked around nervously; making sure no one else was approaching.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” he said, lowering his voice as a precaution.  “We’re not going to meet in this place again.  Too many times will look suspicious.  For all we know, someone could have already seen us and wondered what was going on.”  Frank paused and looked around again, then stopped with his gaze on Cache Street, directly across from the town square.

“I’ll meet you tomorrow night at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.  It’s crowded there and we won’t appear obvious to anyone.  Besides, a good, tall lager sounds pretty good to me.”  Frank shrugged his shoulders and stretched his neck to one side, then to the other.

“Well, at least that’s one thing we agree on,” Jake answered, imagining a cold beer in his hands right then.  “You’re on, but don’t let me down on this one.  I already told you I held up my side of this deal.  Now you’re going to follow through.”

With that the two men parted ways, Frank heading toward one antler arch and Jake heading toward another.  It would be a long twenty-four hours, Jake thought to himself, but he’d make use of the time.  And tomorrow night he’d have his answer.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

Paige took the narrow, dirt road east, climbing out of the flat land and winding into the hills.  Tall rows of aspens lined the road, sunlight filtering through the last remaining leaves of gold and orange which represented the tail end of fall foliage.  The sunlight cast sharp angles low across the ground, almost horizontal in the rapidly setting sun.  Beyond a rocky scenic overlook, the road swung sharply down in switchbacks before flattening out beside a lake.  Signs marked the way to a campground, spaces inside empty and quiet.  Yet an open gate, not yet locked for the coming winter, allowed Paige to turn in.

She followed the driveway towards an area designated for a boat ramp, turning left just before it and parking near a small picnic area, which looked out over the water.  The surface of the lake was rippling and a chilly breeze hit her face as she stepped out of her car.   Paige followed a path to a picnic table, took a seat and stuffed her hands in her pockets to try to keep them warm. 

The sun was just slipping behind the horizon and wisps of clouds had started turning from a pale, whitish-yellow to a soft, light pink.  An echo of the same pink settled over the lake, illuminating the ripples across the water.  As the daylight continued to fade, the pink clouds turned to a deep rose and finally to nothing more than dark gray.  The outline of the mountains became pronounced, appearing as jagged edges against the remaining sky.

A few cows called out from the other side of the lake, distant silhouettes along the shore.  As the light faded even further, one lone tree stood out in front of the water’s edge, its barren limbs reaching up into the sky.  The thin, stark branches stood out in dramatic contrast to the warmth of the sunshine that had just departed.

Paige shivered and pulled her jacket tighter around her, watching the final acts of the evening’s sunset performance.  Even as the mountains started to fade into black, a shimmer of light remained on the water, a mirror of the sky.  Like an inseparable pair, they would continue to fade away in equal measure until the blackness of the mountains reached out and took hold of the space above and below.  Soon the cows would blend in with the hillside, the lake itself would become one with the shore.  Dark green pine trees would meld together into one picture of night without anything to distinguish one part from another.

Once again Paige felt the lure of the area.  Tall mountains, so dramatically sculpted they were almost unbelievable, a town with the sense of history and hidden secrets, and now this awe-inspiring sunset over the lake.  Paige knew she’d fallen into something unique and unusual.  There were many shades to the magic of Jackson Hole.  The rosy hues of the evening sunset were just parts of the total spell.  When the dark had almost settled in completely and the chill became too much to bear, she returned to her car and headed back to the cabin.

Dan was working by kerosene lantern outside the barn when Paige pulled into the driveway, hammering a golden colored lodgepole branch into a flat sheet of burl to form one corner’s leg.  Three more legs of similar shape, size and length rested against the side of the barn.  He stopped hammering and called a greeting over to Paige, who responded with a wave as she continued walking to the cabin.  The hammering started up again as she stepped inside and closed the door.

Again she sat before her laptop, recording the observations of the day.  She looked over the history notes she had already made, trying again to get a sense of what the town had been like in its early years.  She tried to imagine the early settlers, how hard it must have been for them to come into the valley and even survive, much less make a home for themselves.  The winters were frightfully difficult.  There was no electricity in the late 1800’s, when people first arrived.  The wildlife, although beautiful, could also be dangerous.  It was certain that some succumbed to attacks from wild animals who acted to protect their young or to guard sources of food.  And then there was the lawlessness, the drinking and carousing that undoubtedly caused additional problems.  Gunfights and territorial arguments must have taken many to their graves, as well.

Paige shut the laptop and built a fire, warmed a cup of soup and curled up on the braided rug, which she had placed a short distance from the fireplace.  She let her thoughts run at random, thinking of the soothing sunset over the lake and continuing to contemplate the scenes that must have played out in the days of the old west.  When she felt sleep descending, just as the dark had fallen over the lake, she pulled a pillow off the bed and fell asleep with the warmth of the fire on her face.

 

CHAPTER SIX

The sun was nowhere to be found when Jake sat up and stretched the following morning. Looking out his window he saw only heavy mist covering the mountains and a white layer resembling soft cotton stretching out below.  Only the tip of the peak known as The Grand stuck out above the foggy scene, awe-inspiring in its stance 13,770 feet above sea level.

Jake pulled on jeans and a faded sweatshirt and headed to the kitchen to make a pot of fresh coffee.  Over the first few sips of the rich brew, he watched a sliver of lightning streak down from the sky, followed by a sharp crackle of thunder above.  He fixed a bowl of corn flakes, sprinkling far too much sugar on top, a habit he knew he needed to break.  From the kitchen window he watched the rain begin to pour down, slamming against the ground with sudden fury.  More thunder and lightning followed, to his dismay.  He would need to wait the weather out before heading off.  Another delay, he acknowledged reluctantly, just what he didn’t need.

He moved into the main room, setting the cereal and coffee on a rectangular pine table in front of the couch.  Walking by habit to the bookcase, he pulled out the hidden map.  He sat back in the comfortable, wing-backed chair and studied the map in a little more depth.  Tracing his fingers along the tear in the left side, he looked at the zigzag line again, which followed the left margin of the page, small segments occasionally disappearing off the side, as if the line had originally extended beyond the tear.  It must be the mountains, he thought.  Nothing else would have that shape.  The treasure must be on the other side, on the section of the map he was now convinced Frank would bring him that night.  This fit with his theory about Cascade Canyon, which extended deep enough inside the mountains to be located on the portion of the map he considered missing.  Perhaps the zigzag line indicated a direction, not the mountains themselves.  Or it could be both, for that matter.  There was no way to know without the missing piece.

Once again he held the smudged section up to the light, twisting the paper in different directions to see if anything showed through.  There was nothing he could see, just as there hadn’t been when he looked before.  It would be a long day, waiting for the meeting that night with Frank.  Resigned to a rainy morning, he closed his eyes, map clutched in his hand.  He tipped his head to rest against the back of the chair and waited.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

The rain was slick on the pavement as Paige drove into town.  It didn’t matter, she knew she had to fight through the storm and get to the library to email Susan.  It had been several days since they had corresponded and it was time to give her an update.  If only she knew exactly what to say.

A few locals were scattered around the library when she entered, either slouched in chairs reading, or working at small tables.  One library worker pushed a metal cart stacked with books, scanning shelves as she moved down the aisles and stopping occasionally to insert a book here or there.

Paige was relieved once again to see the computer area wasn’t crowded.  A teenage girl occupied one seat and an older woman with bifocals leaned in toward a monitor not far from where the teen sat.  Paige took a place near the corner, glad to find a computer available that had some privacy.  She logged on and opened her email to compose a letter.

 

To:  Susan Shaw

From:  Paige Mackenzie

 

Re:  Jackson Hole Article

 

Susan,

It’s quite the rainy day here in Jackson Hole.  We’ve had thunder and lightning since the early hours.  I stayed inside for much of the morning, to avoid the slick roads, but then made my way into town to touch base with you.

I’ve done some research this week on the history of the area.  It’s a fascinating place, settled by homesteaders in the late 1800’s with more arriving as the century turned.  Life was extremely hard for the early residents of this community.  From a historical aspect, it’s possible an article on this would be of interest to history buffs.  I’m not sure how marketable that would be, but it’s one of the possibilities.

On the other hand, I think I may have stumbled onto something on the local level, though I’m still trying to figure out just what it is.  There are a couple locals here who’ve been meeting in the town square, exchanging envelopes and that sort of thing.  One has also been doing research on the area, which I know from bumping into him at the library.  Literally, that is, but that’s another story altogether. It’s just a hunch, but I have a strong feeling there’s something behind all this.

I’m going back to the town square today, even if the rain continues. There’s something unusual going on and I think I should pursue it.


Page 9

I’ll get in touch with you again in a couple days.  Maybe I’ll have something concrete for you at that time.  I’ll keep trying.

 

Paige

 

Before leaving the computer, Paige pulled up Google and ran a search on Jackson Hole.  Getting too many hits, she narrowed the search by making her query more specific, first by running the words “Jackson Hole History” and then “Jackson Hole Early Settlers.”  From there she followed links to several websites, jotting down notes as she found bits and pieces of information.  She ran a check for bibliographies on the research results she found, printing out several lists of book titles.  Logging off, she gathered the printed pages and headed for the aisle on local history.

Following the numbered signs on the ends of the aisles, she wasn’t surprised to find that the section she was looking for was right around the corner from where she had bumped into Jake.  She moved down the middle of two tall rows of books, scanning the titles as she went along.  Pulling a few volumes off the shelves, she found a comfortable chair where she could browse through various chapters.

The first two books were very general, recounting tales of grizzly bear encounters, difficulty getting supplies into the valley without direct train lines, and sawmill development to help with logging for early settlers.  But it was the third book that caught her attention, a slender bound text with a dark blue cover.  The chapters were brief and were spread over a range of topics, from homesteading history to wildlife conservation to the gradual acquisition of land that would eventually become Grand Teton National Park.  As she skimmed through a few chapters, one subject in particular caused her to pause.

Among the many people who had come to Jackson Hole around the turn of the century were prospectors.  These men had come into the valley following rumors of gold.  Many of the searches centered along the Snake River, which wound its way through the valley from north to south.  Following a winding path, the river had provided many opportunities for panning gold.  The mountains, on the other hand, had allowed many opportunities for hiding it.  Though the accounts in the printed volumes stated that no substantial amount of gold had ever been found, Paige couldn’t help but wonder if this was true.  The written records showed such small amounts of gold accumulated, it almost seemed impossible that there wasn’t more.  After all, it didn’t say there wasn’t any gold in the valley, only that very little had been discovered.  What if there had been more gold discovered than history books showed?  Perhaps there were discoveries that had gone unreported.  It wasn’t beyond reason that lucky prospectors might have kept the more lucrative finds a secret.

Paige approached the front counter of the library.  A slender young woman with braided red hair and dangling silver and jade earrings walked over to the counter, asking if she could help.

“What does it take to obtain a library card?”  Paige asked.

“Just some identification and an address,” the woman answered, reaching for an application form as she spoke.  “A phone number is good, too.”

Paige paused and thought for a moment.  She didn’t have a local address, but had her cell number.  And she might have an address at the cabin, but hadn’t a clue what it might be.  She did, of course, have a driver’s license, so there was some form of ID she could provide.  Giving over this information seemed to be enough.  Within a few minutes she had her driver’s license number, cell phone, and a general delivery address gathered together.  She soon left the counter with a library card in hand.

She returned to the chair and the bookshelf, selected the slender, blue book, along with several others on general area history.  Additionally, she picked out a few trail guides, hoping they might give her some possibilities of locations where gold might be hidden, providing her hunch was correct.  It was a long shot, she figured, but it was worth following.  Hidden gold would certainly make a story of interest to the paper’s readers back in New York.

Gathering the selections into her arms, she approached the library’s check-out desk, catching the attention of the library clerk and speaking up in a voice that would not disturb others in the room.

“Excuse me,” she whispered across the counter to the clerk.  “Are there any more books about the history of gold prospecting in the area?”  It couldn’t hurt to ask.  There could be books that had been returned, but not yet placed on the shelves.

The clerk’s earrings swayed as she shook her head from side to side, jade and silver catching slivers of light from the bulbs hanging from the library ceiling.

“I’m sorry,” she replied apologetically.  “We usually have more on that subject, but they were all checked out recently.  Would you like me to notify you when they become available again?”

‘No, that’s ok,” Paige answered as casually as she could.  “These will be fine for now.”

She checked out the books she’d already chosen, stashing them in an empty tote bag in the back of her car.  It was still raining, though it had let up a little.  A steaming latte sounded good.  She headed over to the Blue Sky Café and found a parking place directly across the street.

Maddie was behind the counter, as always.  Old Man Thompson was hunched over his coffee in his usual spot, a buttered bagel resting on a small plate next to the coffee cup, though it appeared to be sitting untouched.

There were a few customers, but not the usual line, most likely a result of the rain.  Had she not needed to go into town to use the library computer, she probably would have stayed home herself.

Maddie greeted her with recognition this time and it occurred to Paige that she had already become a regular.  At least she had certainly frequented the Blue Sky Café often enough to have it appear that way.

“How’s it going, local girl?”  Maddie said teasingly.  “Last I heard you were just visiting, doing an article on the area.  No pressing deadline, I take it.”  Maddie took Paige’s order and moved to the coffee machine, starting up a whirling of steamy noises.

“Oh, it’s just such an interesting area,” she told the café owner lightly, watching her pour frothy milk into a heavy paper cup.  “I decided a little more historical background would make whatever I write more interesting.  I found some good resources at the library.  They have a great section on local history.”  She demonstrated this by indicating the stack of books in her tote bag.

“You’re right about that,” Maddie said, taking Paige’s outstretched payment for her latte.  “There’s certainly an interesting history here in this valley, no question about it.”

Paige thanked her and moved to a comfortable spot to read, the back corner where she’d seen Jake sit before.   With the café as empty as it was this morning, she had her choice of places to sit.  The one she chose was a small booth, as opposed to one of the wooden tables.  For one person it was quite spacious.  She placed her drink on the table and the tote bag on the bench beside her.  Pulling out the blue book, she took a sip of her latte and thumbed through the pages, finding the section that had intrigued her at the library.

According to historical accounts, Walter W. Delacy set out with a group of prospectors, starting first in Montana and then working their way down through Jackson Hole.  They followed the Snake River south, covering the valley and then passing through what was now known as Hoback Junction, searching along the portion of the river that ran through Snake River Canyon.    Flanked by cottonwoods, they moved along the limestone terrain, eventually running into sandstone toward the end of the canyon.  Doubling back, they searched the valley again, camping along the Gros Ventre River and then moving north to Cottonwood Creek and Pacific Creek.  At Pilgrim Creek they set up a mine along the river, but gave up when their work went unrewarded.

Paige paused to look around the room while her mind circled this information.  Were their efforts really unrewarded?  History was not always accurate.  Once again her instincts told her there was something beyond the basic account in this book. 

She noticed Maddie had caught up with customers and was wiping down countertops.  No one remained in the café except for Old Man Thompson, who, as always, remained hunched over his coffee.  She watched him take a small sip before setting it down once again.  Her gaze returned to Maddie and she decided to approach the counter.  It couldn’t hurt to try to get a little more local information.  That had been what Susan suggested and it was good advice.  Not all answers could be found in printed material.

“Hey, Maddie,” Paige inquired.  “You’ve lived here awhile, haven’t you?”

Maddie laughed and shook her head with amusement.  “All my life, honey.  And my mother before that.  And her mother before that.  Each statement was spoken with more emphasis than the one before.

“I had a feeling,” Paige replied.  “So I’m wondering if you might know any local legends.  You know, the kind that might not be in the history books, but have been passed down from generation to generation.”  Paige waited while Maddie appeared to think this over.

“What kind of legends are you looking for?”  Maddie questioned in return.  “This is a small town.  Small towns always have legends.  Some are true and some are not, but they’re always floating around.”

“Well,” Paige began hopefully, “I’m particularly interested in the old stories of the prospectors who came through this area, what they might have found or not found during their explorations and mining attempts.”  She waited for Maddie’s response, watching her turn away to wipe down the back counter.  When she turned back, she had an expression on her face that was a cross between blank and puzzled, as if she were thinking the question over carefully.

“I doubt I’m going to be able to help you on that one,” Maddie answered.  “That’s one subject I don’t know too much about, other than what we learned in school.  But I’m sure that matches whatever you’ve read.  The way they came into the valley, searched around and didn’t find much of anything.  I think the lucky ones were the ones who went on to California and other areas.  The guys who stayed here kind of got short changed.”

Paige sighed and nodded her head.  “That’s what I figured,” she said, thanking Maddie for the information.  She noticed Maddie scrubbing the coffee machine vigorously, perhaps trying to remove splashes of espresso from the morning’s business, turning next to the task of stacking ceramic mugs on the back counter.  Paige returned to her corner booth, gathered together her books, replaced them in the tote bag and, waving goodbye, stepped out of the café onto the sidewalk.

Pausing a few steps from the door to rummage through her purse for car keys, she heard the clanking sound of the cups stop and recognized Maddie's voice speak up.  With no other customers in the café, her comments could only have been directed at Old Man Thompson.

“I don’t like this,” Maddie said quietly.  “I’ve got a bad feeling about it.” Paige waited to hear a response from Old Man Thompson, but he remained silent.  Finally she heard the thud of a fist hitting the counter.

“Don’t worry about it, Maddie,” a gruff voice responded.  “She’s just passing through.”  He spoke with an annoyed tone of confidence.  “You worry just as much as your Aunt Ruby did and she drove everyone crazy.  Besides, this girl's reading those history books and there’s nothing about this in there. She ain’t gonna find nothing here.”

“I hope you’re right,” Maddie’s voice replied.  As the conversation ended and the stacking of mugs resumed, Paige crossed the road, heading in the direction of her car.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Jake spent the morning listening to the rain pounding down on his roof.  He spent most of the afternoon pouring over the maps he had accumulated over the years.  Worn and faded, yet not nearly in as bad a shape as the paper Frank had given him, these were the maps he had analyzed as a child, comparing the visual layout of the land with the stories his grandfather told him.  Now he pulled the reading light a little closer and looked carefully at the Jenny Lake area and the section of mountains directly behind it.

From the south, the area could be accessed by following the trail up through Lupine Meadows and then skirting around the south end of Jenny Lake.  From the north, a trail from the smaller String Lake wound its way around the north end of Jenny Lake, making this an alternate route.  In modern times, Jake knew, a boat was available to whisk visitors across the lake, thereby shortening the hike into Cascade Canyon.  At the time the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth, however, hikers would have had to take one of the other routes.

Once they arrived on the west side of the lake, they would need to start their ascent, arriving before long at Hidden Falls and, just beyond that, at Inspiration Point.  Ruling out the boat crossing, this was approximately a three mile trip.  Though not a difficult hike in current times, reaching Inspiration Point would have been more difficult in the early 1900’s, as the present, steep trail was not cut through the granite rock until the 1930’s, when the task was accomplished by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Another three and a half miles would take hikers to the Forks of Cascade Canyon, where there was a choice to branch off in a northward direction toward Lake Solitude or to head south toward Hurricane Pass.  Jake was betting on Hurricane Pass as the most likely, just because of the remote location.  It wouldn’t have been an easy hike for the early settlers, but it was probably far enough from the more frequently traveled valley to let them feel safe about hiding their stash.

Jake continued inspecting the maps for a good part of the afternoon, then folded and set them aside.  He took a long, hot shower and prepared for his trip into town.  Reaching into his closet, he pulled out a white shirt and his best pair of denim blue jeans.  He followed this by selecting a tan, leather vest and a shiny belt buckle with the shape of a buffalo sculpted into the metal.  Checking his appearance in the mirror, he ran his fingers through his hair, still wet from the shower.  Tossing it around a bit, he decided it could dry on its own.


Page 10

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar wasn’t terribly crowded when he arrived, but by the looks of the busy sidewalks, Jake knew it would be filling up soon.  The regular doorman, Billy, tipped his cowboy hat at Jake and waved him in.

“How you doin’, Mr. Norris,” Billy said as Jake flashed a grin his direction.

“Doin’ fine, Billy, doin’ just fine,” Jake answered, taking a quick look around the room.

“What brings you out on a cold night like this?”  Billy asked, more for small talk than anything else.

Jake glanced over his shoulder to respond as he sauntered by.  “Just hangin’ out, figured a beer or two might taste good.”  Billy nodded in agreement before turning back to the door to check the ID’s of a couple young ladies.  Jake continued on into the room, passing a row of pool tables before arriving at the well-known bar counter.  Swinging his leg over a saddle, he nodded a hello to the bartender.

“Hey, Deke,” Jake called out, “How about a cold one?”

The bartender gave a thumbs-up sign in Jake’s direction and opened the door to a refrigerator under the counter.  Pulling out a tall, frosted glass, he angled it under one of the spouts for draft beer and filled it most of the way, then turned it upright at the last minute, allowing a perfect head of foam to settle on the top.  He placed it in front of Jake and slapped his hand playfully against the bar.

“One Snake River Lager, Jake, old boy.  That’ll be three bucks for you.”

Jake pulled out a billfold from the back of his jeans, leaning to the side a bit in order to reach it.  He slipped out a five and slid it across the bar.  “Keep the change, Deke.  It’s always a pleasure doing business with you.”

Taking a slow drink of the amber liquid, he looked around the bar and took in the usual nightly scene.  A few men stood casually around one pool table, leaning on cue sticks and watching one man take a shot.  In the far corner of the bar, a band twanged out a country song, spotlights casting a red glow on the stage as the musicians played.  A few old timers danced on the wooden floor in front of the band.  Several men in jeans, boots and cowboy hats leaned against the far wall, eyeing the room and watching for any attractive ladies who might show up.

There was no sign of Frank.  Jake kept an eye on the door, forcing himself to look around only occasionally, so as not to appear too anxious.  He began to feel irritated at having to wait.  Frank had inconvenienced him enough.  He’d had just about all he was willing to take, and then some.

The band broke into a run of old classics – Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.  Jake was tapping his foot to a rendition of “I Walk the Line” when he saw Frank enter the bar, glance casually around the room and then walk over to where Jake sat.  He took a saddle next to him and told Deke to serve up one of whatever Jake was drinking.

“How’re you doing tonight, Jake?”  Frank said with feigned politeness, handing Deke exact change for his beer.

Jake waited until Deke walked away, knowing that bartenders often heard a little too much of everything said at the counter.

“Don’t mess with me, Frank,” Jake said, lowering his voice.  “I’m all out of patience with you.  Don’t even think about wasting any more of my time.”

Frank paused a few seconds, just on general principle, and then reached into his pocket, pulling out an envelope that looked much like the first one he had passed to Jake in the town square.

“I don’t know if I should even trust you,” Jake mumbled with exasperation.  “How do I know this one will be different from the other?”

Frank stood up, gulped down the rest of his beer and looked Jake straight in the eyes.  “You’ll see,” he said.  “Put the pieces together and you’ll be on the right track.  You probably could have done it with what I gave you before, but maybe this will make it easier for you.”  He dropped fifty cents on the counter as a tip for the bartender and then turned toward the door and left, stepping aside only briefly to let a few people enter the quickly filling venue.

 

CHAPTER NINE

Paige hoisted her tote bag over her shoulder and walked to her car.  She opened the door, tossed the bag across to the passenger seat and then straightened up to look at the sky.  The rain had stopped, at least temporarily.  But she had gotten to know Jackson Hole too well by now to trust the weather to stay the same for very long.  Still, it was nice to have a break in the rainfall.  The gray clouds were slightly lighter in color, though there were no patches of blue sky to be seen. She looked up the street toward Snow King, the pine covered mountain that bordered Jackson, rising to an impressive altitude of 7780 feet. A layer of fog hovered across its slopes.  A glance in the other direction brought her gaze upon the town square, deserted at the moment.

Paige paused, narrowing her eyes a bit.  It seemed once again that there was a slight glow coming from the antler arch.  She looked up at the sky, as was now her habit, to check for a ray of sun that might be slipping through the clouds anywhere, but there was nothing.  She pressed the lock on her car door, pushed it shut and walked briskly toward the arch.  It seemed ridiculous to be irritated by an inanimate object, but enough was enough.  If it was some sort of prank, she intended to get to the bottom of it.

As opposed to the other times she had seen the mysterious light surrounding the top of the arch, this time it didn’t fade away as she approached.  Instead, it appeared to deepen, blending mysteriously with the misty air.  She stepped closer, stopping when she was just a few feet away.  Looking around, she saw the square and sidewalks were still deserted.

She took a few more steps forward, continuing until she stood almost directly underneath the well-known, stacked antler landmark.  Above her, the glow continued to grow even brighter.  Paige was certain this time that she wasn’t imagining it.  The light quickly grew diffused as it spread outward into the air, but the immediate glow on the arch itself remained constant.

Paige looked around for some sort of logical source for the light, perhaps an electrical plug for Christmas lights that had been turned on early.  But there were no power outlets or cords anywhere and she saw nothing else out of the ordinary.  The antlers simply rose from their cement bases with nothing attached in any way. 

Once again Paige looked around on the ground surrounding the front of the arch and then focused her attention on the walkway.  What appeared to be an old, rusty skeleton key rested at an angle on the ground, just a few feet beyond the arch.  She looked around, thinking she might see someone who had dropped the key, but there was no one on the square or surrounding sidewalks.   Curiosity finally getting the best of her, she stepped through the arch and reached for the key.

 

*   *   *   *

 

Paige picked the key up in her hand, feeling the coarse texture of the rust against her skin.  Aware of a sudden sensation of tightness around her chest and some difficulty breathing, she straightened up, unprepared for the scene that met her eyes.

The well-maintained landscaping and central statue of the town square were nowhere to be seen.  There was no neon sign across the way announcing The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and not a single souvenir-stuffed shop in any direction.  Nothing but dust stretched out before her, a concave hollow of dirt mixed with a few stray bushes of sagebrush scattered across the land.

Bringing her hand to her chest, she found the source of her shortness of breath wasn’t only the shock of the change in scenery, but the stiff undergarment of a corset, tightly laced beneath a soft, red satin bodice, trimmed with antique ivory lace. A full skirt of matching fabric flowed down from a tight, pleated waistline.  The hem rested mid-calf, just above a pair of dressy black boots with tassels dangling from their upper edges.  Several layers of colorful petticoats peeked out from below the hem of her skirt. 

Paige felt a shiver of fear run up her spine and crossed her arms in an attempt to fight off nervous shaking. She struggled against the restrictive corset to take deeps breaths and bent forward to rest her hands on her knees.  Whatever was happening to her, panic would not help the situation.

Straightening up, she looked around and shook her head in disbelief.  Perhaps there had been some sort of drug mixed in with her latte.  It all seemed so real, not at all like the haziness of a dream. As if to affirm this feeling, a clatter of horse hooves approached on the left.  Paige watched as a weathered wagon passed by, haphazardly loaded down with supplies – barrels of vegetables, an old stove pipe, a couple of bales of hay and other assorted goods.

She glanced cautiously around, noting very few buildings. Those that caught her eye were weathered and rustic in nature.  A store of some sort stood across the open grounds, bearing a sign across the top that announced it as “Deloney’s General Mercantile.”  There were large gaps between the buildings, simple, open spaces of dirt.  The scene resembled a ghost town movie set, so sparse were the surroundings.  Still, other commercial establishments lined the dusty streets – the Jackson Hotel and a pitched roof structure called The Clubhouse.  A handful of smaller businesses were also scattered about, offering services of varying trades.

Paige moved hesitantly across the open space and, still struggling to breathe, took notice of a few more details. A slight twinge of curiosity began to seep into the continuing feelings of uneasiness and fear.  She stepped into Deloney’s store and glanced around.  A portion of the shop clearly served as a market, offering apples, potatoes, flour, corn starch, syrup and numerous other types of provisions.  The remainder of the establishment housed just about every type of household item one could imagine, from sewing supplies to hardware, as well as basic machinery and farming tools.

Back outside, she slowly began to wander through the town - if it could be called such, with only a handful of buildings in sight.  Yet, as empty as the landscape appeared, activity surrounded her.  Customers emerged from Deloney’s store carrying boxes of assorted household goods.  A few men leaned against the outside of a blacksmith shop, having an animated conversation that involved a good portion of laughter and knee-slapping.  A mother walked by holding a young boy’s hand tightly in her own, scolding him for misbehavior. Though sparsely populated, it was clear to Paige that the activities of a town were going on – trade, communication, and various aspects of community life.

Paige paused in front of the building with the sign above the door identifying it as The Clubhouse.  Playful sounds of piano music floated out into the dusty air and seemed to beckon her from within.  Hoisting her skirt up to avoid tripping, she climbed a handful of stairs to the front door and slowly stepped inside. 

The music was upbeat and grew louder as she entered. A few other women stood around, some dressed in similar garb, though the colors and fabrics varied.  One neatly coiffed woman with auburn hair and elegant green attire fanned her face with one hand and rested the other on the arm of a rough looking man. Yet another, a slender brunette with sultry eyes, sat in a chair against the wall, her back straight and poised, as if waiting for a cue.  The music stopped briefly and immediately started up again with a different tune, this one even livelier than the last.  The woman in the green dress was drawn out toward the center of the floor by the man she accompanied, where the two began to dance.  Another gentleman crossed the room, grabbing the hand of the brunette, gently pulling her to her feet and escorting her to the dance floor, as well.

It was a festive atmosphere, bustling with music and laughter, but it hardly seemed a place that would help Paige get her bearings.  She was just turning to leave when the sharp voice of an older woman called out.

“There you are, little lady,” the voice shouted from across the room.  Paige glanced over to see the woman bustling rapidly towards her.  She was a little heavier than the other women and the lines on her face gave her age away as at least a couple decades down the road, as well.  She charged up to Paige and grabbed her arm, pulling her over to the side of the room.

“Finally,” she said with exasperation.  “They said they were sending you, but we expected you a few days ago.”

“They were sending me…”  Paige repeated, her voice trailing off before her words could manage to take on the tone of a question.

“Yes, they were sending you, just not very quickly, if you ask me” the woman muttered, patting Paige’s hair with her hands and, holding her by the chin, turning her head to one side, then to the other.  “It’s just not that easy to get girls out here.  This is Jackson, not one of your big towns.  Now let’s get you a little more painted up.  You’re not going to please any men with a plain face like that.”

“I…”  Paige started to object, but found she was essentially speechless.  The woman grabbed her hand with an awkward tug and quickly whisked her across the floor.

“Now, Maylene.  That’s your name isn’t it?”  The pause that followed lasted only a split second, not long enough for Paige to even respond.  “Of course it is, that’s who they said they were sending.”  The woman parked Paige in a chair and patted on some face powder and rouge, followed by eye shadow and red lipstick that must have been as bright as her dress.

“My name’s Pearl, but you can just call me Mama.  I take care of all you girls.  If you’ve got a question or a problem, you just bring it to me.”

Paige was quite sure at this point that she had a whole string of problems, but she wasn’t about to spill them to Pearl, who stood above her now in a huffy, matronly manner.


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“Now you remember this is a respectable hall.  We only employ fine young ladies, not any of those other types.’  Pearl pulled back, eyed the newly painted Paige and gave a few clucks of approval.  “Your job is to make sure the men have a good time, dancing, drinking and talking if they’re in the mood to run their mouths a bit.  But at the end of the night they go home.  The rest of it ain’t your job.  Just remember that.”

Opening her mouth to try to explain that this must be some kind of a mix up, Paige felt a hand on her left arm and a slight pull away from Pearl.  She turned to find herself looking into the face of a decent-looking man, dressed in business-like attire.  His clothing was a notch or two upscale from what the men on the street had been wearing.

“So you’re the new girl they sent up from Denver,” the man stated, with a tone that made it obvious that he was pleased.  “Well, you owe me the first dance, then, seein’ as I’m the one who brought you up here.  It’s about time you showed up.”  He pulled her out to the middle of the floor, alongside the woman in the green dress and her dance partner, both of whom nodded a kind hello.

The man rested one hand on Paige’s waist and lifted her hand with the other, keeping a respectable distance between them as they started moving their feet to the music.  Paige followed along, instantly grateful for the cotillion classes she had been subjected to as a pre-teen.

“You’re a pretty one, you know.  We don’t always get the best dance hall girls out here in Jackson, but you’re as fine as they come.”  Paige started to say something and, using her better judgment, decided instead to merely smile.  It was enough to just take all this in, without having to form any responses.  She had a feeling she could get by, for the most part, with a simple smile for awhile, while she tried to figure out what had happened to her.

“As I was saying, we don’t get many of the best girls here,” the man repeated.  “The fine ones usually go on to California, out to San Francisco where the bigger dance halls are.  But this is a fine place here, Jackson is.  You’re going to be glad you came here instead.”

The woman in the green dress, who was just circling by at that moment, nodded her head in agreement.  “Glad you’re here,” she whispered from a few feet away.

Paige wasn’t so sure she could agree.  At the moment a martini at the top of the San Francisco Hyatt sounded just fine to her.  And a first class airline ticket to get there would promise a smoother flight than whatever she’d just taken.

She looked around the room and saw a few more men entering.  Most seemed to be fairly respectable types, not like a few of the characters she’d already seen around town.  They removed their hats once inside and nodded a few hellos around the room before mingling in with the crowd.

“I see you’re lookin’ around at your new home,” the man remarked.  “It’s a nice building, this place.  It was built by the Jackson Hole Gun Club, back around 1897.  And it’s not just a dance hall, you know.  We call it The Clubhouse.  We use it for settlin’ our legal disputes and we can gather together and smoke here, too.”  The man seemed immensely proud of all this.  “Of course, bein’ a lady and all, you don’t smoke, but us men, we love to get together now and then and partake.”

Well, I don’t smoke anymore, not since quitting a few years ago, Paige thought to herself, but decided it would be wise to not state this out loud.

The music ended and the man escorted her to a seat at the side of the room, thanked her for the dance and promised he’d be back to dance with her again later on.  From there he left, joining a group of men by the front door.

The woman in the green dress had parted with her dance partner on the floor and now moved swiftly in to sit beside Paige.

“I am so glad you’re here, honey,” she said, fluffing her hair with her right hand and pulling her skirt aside in order to take a seat on the chair next to Paige.  “We’ve been wondering for weeks who the new girl was they were sending up here.  My name’s Susanna, you know, like the song, “Oh, Susanna.”  She hummed a few bars, and then continued.  “And I know you’re Maylene, they told us your name before you got here.”

What good would it do to try to correct anything at this point, Paige wondered?  And even if she wanted to, it would have been impossible to get a word in edgewise.  Susanna kept right on going, telling her about the dance hall, the customers, the town, her beau, her other friends, where she lived and where to get the best price on flour.

“You’ll just have to see the new dresses in at Deloney’s, back in the corner.  There’s one about your size in the prettiest sapphire blue.  It would be beautiful with your dark hair, Maylene.  And it’s got little pearls around the neckline and at the ends of the sleeves.  Oh, and the neckline is low enough, without being too low, if you know what I mean.”  Susanna turned her head slightly sideways and gave a little wink.  Before she could continue on this time, however, both girls were startled by a crash just outside.  Following others, they moved over to the front door to take a look.

Three large, wooden barrels rested on their sides in the middle of the dusty road, piles of potatoes spread out across the dirt.  A crude wagon was at a standstill, angled slightly in toward the building.  Dust rose up from the ground where its wheels had come to rest.  Two chickens ran squawking away from the scene.  In the center of the commotion an older man stood wearing overalls and a shirt that may have been white at some point in the past.  He pulled a tattered hat off his head and threw it down on the ground.

“Dang it, Russell.  Why can’t you ever watch where that horse of yours is going?”  The man stomped on his hat with one foot, then stepped back and kicked it with the other.  The hat went flying, landing on a small pile of potatoes a few feet away.

“Stomping that hat of yours into the ground ain’t gonna change anything, Zeke,” a bystander shouted from across the road.  “You know Russell’s not the best driver in the west.  You just have to watch out for him.  Anyway, he’s long gone by now.”  He waved his arm down the road, where the back of another wagon was just retreating in a cloud of dust.

Zeke huffed and turned around in a circle, surveying the damage.  “Well, if you ask me, that man shouldn’t even be allowed on the road, much less on that horse of his.”

Paige watched bystanders shake their heads and go back to whatever they were doing before the commotion.  It was obvious that this was a regular occurrence, most likely repeated frequently by the same two characters.

Susanna pulled on Paige’s sleeve and motioned for her to come back inside.

“You can’t have much pity on those two, Zeke and Russell,” she said, laughing.  “They’re always in some sort of scuffle.  It’s been going on for years and it’ll probably go on for a lot more.”

“I take it they’re regulars around here,” Paige commented, feeling any comment would be better than staying as quiet as she’d been so far.

“Regulars?”  Susanna laughed again.  “There ain’t nothing regular about those two.  They’re about as irregular as can be.  Now you want regular, you take Jeremiah.  He’s a quiet sort, but ain’t nothing else odd about him.  Stays out of trouble, keeps his mouth shut.  You can always find him hangin’ out down at Tuttle’s place, but he stays out of fights and other things, gambling and the like.  Not like some of the other boys down there.”

Paige looked at her inquisitively.  “Tuttle’s place?”  She asked, more for conversation than anything else.

“Yep, Tuttle’s place, the saloon,” Susanna said.  “Don’t worry.  You’ll get to know the town in no time. Tuttle’s is the place where you can find out just about anything that goes on in this town.  Not a fit place for a lady, though.  I’m just warning you.  People get the wrong impression about ladies who go in there.  Or they get the right one, depending on the case.”

Susanna turned to smile at a well-dressed man who had approached while they were talking.  Reaching her hand out, she accepted his unspoken invitation to dance.  Paige watched the two walk away and then stood and eased her way around the room towards the door, trying to appear casual and not attract attention.  When she reached the front of The Clubhouse, she slipped outside.

Most of the potatoes and household goods were loaded back on Zeke’s wagon, though he still stood there muttering to himself.  Paige passed by quietly and walked down the road, small bits of dust kicking up around the heels of her boots.  She passed a couple young boys sitting on the ground, thumbs plunking marbles across a flat section of dirt.  A woman walked past with a high necked blouse and street-length skirt, glancing sideways at Paige with a slight frown of disapproval.

She arrived in front of Tuttle’s Saloon and stood outside, taking in the building.  It was, like the other buildings, built of wood, with a tall, false front.  It was a style she was familiar with from watching old westerns and from photographs of old ghost towns.  But to see it right in front of her was another story.

The front of the saloon was plain, but had a porch that ran the length of the building, with four tall beams holding up the small, sloped front roof.  True to classic western saloon style, there were two swinging doors at the entrance.  In spite of Susanna’s warning, Paige summoned up her courage and stepped inside.

The bar was long and elegant, carved exquisitely from a wood that appeared to be mahogany.  Behind the front counter a tall, wide mirror covered the wall, elaborately decorated with gold designs.  The counter itself was sturdy and long with bar stools all along the front.  A few men sat at the bar, most wearing hats, white shirts, vests and pants made of heavy cotton fabric.  Four other men sat at a table in the corner, cards in their hands, looks of concentration on their faces.

To Paige’s immense relief, it wasn’t crowded and she didn’t seem to attract much attention.  A couple of the men at the bar took a look her way, but turned away to nurse their drinks, whether out of more desire for what was in their glasses or out of disapproval at seeing a lady inside the saloon.  The men playing cards kept their attention focused on their game, one tapping his foot nervously below the table, another slouching back with a sly smirk on his face.

One man at the end of the bar, sitting alone, caught Paige’s attention.  He portrayed the classic look of a cowboy, someone well-suited for his western surroundings.  Though missing the stereotypical modern-day jeans and boots, he wore a weathered hat, tilted forward.  The chestnut brown hair below that was slightly ruffled, as if a gust of wind had just blown across his shoulders.  His neck and forearms were deeply tanned.   She guessed his age to be around twenty-five, give or take a year or two. 

As an excuse to get closer, she approached the bar and asked the bartender for a glass of water.  He looked at her as if she were either crazy or lost, but poured her a glass of water anyway, sliding it slowly across the counter.  He didn’t speak and Paige didn’t offer up any conversation, other than a quiet “Thank you.”  She turned away from the bar and then, feeling suddenly conspicuous, turned back and tried to make herself as invisible as possible.

Hearing the slap of the swinging doors behind her, she threw a quick glance over her shoulder.  A man of about thirty years of age had entered, short but stocky in build, with a gruff expression and air of condescension.  He looked around and walked over to the man sitting quietly at the end of the bar.

“What’ll it be for you today, Cyrus?”  The bartender called down the bar, clearly giving the man more of a welcome than Paige had received.  She wasn’t surprised, having been warned by Susanna that women weren’t welcome in the saloon.

“Just the usual, Slim.  A glass of your best rotgut barrelhouse whiskey, and the sooner the better.”  He slapped his hand on the counter, perhaps out of impatience or perhaps for emphasis.  “Oh, and give Jeremiah another of whatever he’s having, too.”  He tossed a couple silver dollars onto the counter and turned to Jeremiah and lowered his voice.  Paige inched a little closer.  Thankfully, the two men didn’t seem to notice.

Though Paige couldn’t hear all of their conversation, she was able to pick up bits and pieces.  Between gulps of whiskey, Cyrus and Jeremiah seemed to be working out a plan, though what it was about Paige couldn’t tell.  Phrases such as “back at the cabin” and “ain’t safe there” and “when I know, you’ll know” were fairly clear.  The tones of the voices raised and lowered, as if some degree of disagreement existed between them, but nothing they wanted others to notice.

Looking sideways carefully, Paige saw that Jeremiah had not changed positions, eyes focused on his whiskey, which he swirled in circles with a steady movement of his glass.  Cyrus, on the other hand, shifted his weight back and forth, fidgeting with his drink and appearing impatient. At one point the conversation remained too hushed to make out any of the words, but seemed to quicken and become animated, voices rising as it did.  Cyrus pounded his fist on the counter and leaned in toward Jeremiah in a threatening manner, then pulled back and took a large gulp from his glass.

“You’ll just have to trust me on this one,” Paige heard one of the two men say.  She guessed from the rough tone that it must have been Cyrus.  Jeremiah didn’t respond, but leaned forward, falling directly into Paige’s view.  She snapped her head back quickly in an attempt to cover up her eavesdropping.

Cyrus, however, seemed to have noticed her, because he set his glass down on the bar, straightened up and stuck both his thumbs in his belt, one on each side of a large silver buckle.  He walked slowly over to her, his boots clicking sharply on the sawdust-covered wood floor.


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“Maybe the lady needs a whiskey,” he said, tossing the words down the bar to the bartender.  Paige began to shake her head, suddenly wishing that she hadn’t had the nerve to come in.  She pulled up straight, hugging her arms close to her sides, as if this would somehow give her protection.  Cyrus moved a little closer and leaned one arm on the bar, his other hand reaching out to touch Paige’s hair.

“Leave the lady alone, Cyrus,” a voice stated firmly from behind him.  Cyrus turned to find Jeremiah facing him squarely, clearly meaning business.

“She’s not bothering anyone,” Jeremiah said, continuing to stare Cyrus squarely in the face.

“Well, the way I see it, she don’t belong in here if she ain’t lookin’ for trouble,” Cyrus said, lifting his shoulders and raising his eyebrows, as if to demonstrate that this was an obvious fact.  “This ain’t no place for ladies.  I figure she must want some kinda trouble if she came in here.”

Jeremiah took another step toward Cyrus.  “Well, you figure wrong.  It’s none of your business why she chooses to come in here or not come in here.  Now you back away now, Cyrus.  I mean it.”

Cyrus looked back and forth between Jeremiah and Paige, who stood motionless by the bar, watching the two men. He considered the situation and Jeremiah’s insinuations, and decided it wasn’t worth taking a chance.  He tipped his hat to Paige, just as if he’d never stepped away from his proper manners, turned around and walked across the room and out the door, leaving it to swing behind him.

Paige looked over at Jeremiah and whispered a thank you, still a little shaken by the incident.

“It’s no bother,” Jeremiah said, regarding her with curiosity before lowering his voice to match her whisper.  “But he’s got a point, ma’am.  As he said, this ain’t no place for a lady.”

“I guess you’re right,” Paige agreed, taking the cue to leave before more potential trouble could rise up.  “I think I’ll just go now.  Thank you again.”

Jeremiah tipped his hat and went back to his place at the end of the bar, turning his head back only once to watch Paige as she walked out the door.

The road was quiet as she stepped through the swinging saloon doors and out onto the porch.  It appeared that Zeke had loaded up most of his spilled goods on his wagon and moved on.  Only a few loose potatoes remained scattered around the road.  Fearing a lecture back at The Clubhouse if she returned after taking an unexpected break, she headed off down the dusty road, toward a few structures on the outskirts of the newly-forming town.

On what might be considered a side street, there were a few other buildings with tall, western-style false front exteriors, as well as others not much larger than sheds. One appeared to be a blacksmith’s shop, while another seemed to provide building supplies and machinery.  Others offered various services to the growing community, from taxidermy to dental treatments.  Paige winced, imagining what a trip to the latter might entail. In the distance, a church rose up, sturdy red brick giving it a stance of permanence.

Paige paused in front of one building front that had a large piece of machinery in the window.  Putting her hand to her forehead, she pressed her face up against the window, attempting to see inside.  It appeared to be a printing press, large and clunky, not at all like the sleek machines of modern times.  Of course, Paige realized that, to the people she had just met, these were modern times.  This particular printing press was likely considered a marvel to this community.

Stepping back, she looked up at the letters painted across the front of the small building.  “Jackson’s Hole Courier,” it announced, triggering a memory from the research that Paige had been doing.  Indeed, the valley had been called Jackson’s Hole before the name was simplified.

She tried the door, finding it locked, and then scouted around on the ground, where her eyes came to rest on a small paper caught underneath the side of an old barrel.  She reached down and gently pulled the paper loose, straightening it out and turning it right side up, so that she could see the print.

Her heart felt a faint flutter when she saw that the date at the top of the page was Sept. 27, 1909.  It matched the scenes that had played out in front of her, but the whole scenario still seemed impossible.  Though she recalled her step through the glowing arch, the reach for the skeleton key and the instant change of surroundings when she stood back up, it just wasn’t feasible.

She scanned the front of the paper and noted several small articles.  One announced building plans for new structures around town.  Another recounted a dispute over a homesteading tract along the river.  Yet another gave information on navigating the pass.  Paige could hardly imagine what a trip over Teton Pass would be like in 1909.  It was difficult enough getting over the pass in current times, considering the steep grade and often slippery road conditions.

On the second page of the four page publication, Paige’s eyes fell on an intriguing article.  An expedition had worked its way up along the river, stopping at numerous points to pan for gold.  Though it reported that only traces had been found, it seemed to imply that perhaps there was more to the story than the members of the expedition were telling.  Realizing it could be pure speculation on the editor’s part, or even an attempt to entertain the paper’s readership, Paige wasn’t sure it could be taken seriously.  Still, it seemed to fit in with her growing suspicion that gold had something to do with the mysterious activity she had come across, both in the past and the present.  Or was that the future, she wondered, considering where she seemed to be standing at the moment?

Paige read carefully through the article, which told of a difficult trip, rough camping conditions, a few scares with wildlife who didn’t appreciate their calm territory being disrupted and a list of names of the men in the expedition.  Somehow she was not surprised to find both Cyrus and Jeremiah’s names in that list.  The account stated that no significant amount of gold had been found, yet also commented that a few of the men weren’t talking about the trip, asserting that they didn’t have much to say.  Paige couldn’t help but wonder if some weren’t talking because there wasn’t much of anything to report, while others weren’t talking for other reasons.

She skimmed through the rest of the paper, which consisted of a variety of notices. Some indicated claims filed for homesteading sites, while another advertised new merchandise at Deloney’s Store.  One small article listed supplies expected to arrive in town the following week, already en route from Denver.  There was an account of an unexpected meeting with a few members of the Shoshone tribe, though no problems had resulted from the encounter.  Small tidbits about people around town also followed, resembling a modern-day gossip column.

Paige clutched the newspaper and looked around her dress for some place to hide it.  There didn’t seem to be any pockets and the corset didn’t allow so much as air inside, so there certainly wasn’t room for paper.  Finally, Paige folded it into a small rectangle, pressed it as flat as possible, and stuck it into her left boot, where it rested just below the edge that boasted the black tassels.  She could feel the paper scratch against her leg as she walked, but it wouldn’t be noticeable from the outside.

Hearing the sound of horse hooves against the ground, Paige turned to see a wagon passing by.  There were four passengers riding on benches above the turning wheels and a driver seated on a slightly higher level in front, his hands holding reins attached to two horses.  The driver nodded a hello to Paige, continuing on down the road, eventually pulling into a barn of sorts.  It wasn’t as large as the barns that Paige had seen in the Midwest, but it was large enough for the wagon and entourage to pull inside.

Paige followed, approaching the building and peering in from outside.  She found an open space with a high ceiling, a few rays of light pouring through the wood beams and resting against a hay-covered floor.  Several horse stalls lined one side of the building.  Two wagons, including the one she had seen pass by, were parked against the other side of the building’s interior.  As the passengers finished stepping out of the wagon, the driver folded up a step ladder that was attached to the side.  Securing it with a short length of rope, he turned to the front of the barn, at which point he noticed Paige.

“Are you lookin’ for a ride somewhere, little lady?” the man said, brushing a few pieces of hay off his sleeves.  He wore a derby type hat in a dark brown shade which seemed to match perfectly with his thick mustache.  He was short, at least shorter than Paige was herself, and had a business-like demeanor.

Paige considered the question, in view of the fact she wasn’t even sure how she had arrived where she was.  It was a little hard to decide, all things considered, how she could explain where she really wanted to go.  A journey of one hundred miles might be a stretch, but one hundred years would certainly be out of the question. 

Surely this short but agreeable man would need some type of directions, Paige thought, considering her options. The possibilities included returning to either the dance hall activities in The Clubhouse or the clearly anti-female territory of Tuttle’s Saloon.  Or she could take the risk of ending up somewhere different, which didn’t seem any worse of a choice than the others at this point.  With this in mind, she looked around and then back to the driver, telling him that she would, indeed, like a ride.

“Well, you’ve come to the right place, then,” the man said, introducing himself as Chester.  “I’ll just hitch up my smaller wagon and be right there.”  He disappeared out a back door, leaving Paige to look around a little more.

Old pieces of farm equipment hung on the barn’s interior walls and a stack of metal buckets leaned against a side door.  A black crow flew in through the front of the barn, circled around a couple of the wood beams, continuing its path of flight down and out through the back door.  As it flew out, Chester returned, motioning to Paige that her ride was ready.  She followed him out the back, where a small wagon stood ready, hitched up to a brown quarter horse of sturdy build.

“Just climb on up here,” Chester said, pointing to a step ladder similar to the one she had seen attached to the larger wagon inside.  He reached a hand out to help her step up, which she accepted, climbing the steps awkwardly in the cumbersome dress and taking a seat on a bench inside the wagon.     

“Where to, ma’am?”  Chester asked as they pulled around the barn and approached the road.

Paige thought for minute, and then gave the only answer she could.

“I don’t know,” she said honestly.  “I think I’d like to see a little of the countryside.  Just go ahead and drive a little ways out of town.”  She paused a minute before adding, “Somewhere that you like, Chester.  That will be just fine.”

Chester gave her a puzzled look, clearly used to people asking for rides when they had somewhere specific they needed to go.  But he turned the wagon out onto the road anyway, heading south, away from the town, along a dusty stretch.  To the left, an impressive mountain of evergreen trees soared skyward, looking very much like the landscape Paige recognized from present times.  To the right stood the familiar, small butte that she also recalled, with rolling slopes and a brown covering of low brush.

As they came to the end of the butte, Chester turned to his right and continued on, circling around and eventually taking a narrow road up the west side.  It was a bumpy ride and Paige grasped the wagon’s side panel more than once for support as she was jolted by the uneven surface of the dirt road.  But, at the end, the view paid off.  Pulling the wagon to the edge, he brought the horse to a halt.  From this vantage point, Paige and Chester looked down on the town together.  The outline of the town’s beginning was clear, a layout of crossing roads, with buildings scattered along the dusty streets, most separated by empty lots.  Behind the town, the mountain that would later be called Snow King stretched across like a backdrop.

“This is my favorite place.”  Chester said quietly.  “This is where I come to do my thinkin’.”  He sat still, looking out peacefully at the town.

“I can see why,” Paige agreed, taking in the wide open land that surrounded the few buildings below.

“It’s building up fast now, this little town.  Got our own telephone system, the Jackson Valley Telephone Company,” Chester added with pride.

“So, you have a telephone?” Paige asked, genuinely excited for him.

Chester threw back his head and let out a laugh the size of the valley itself.

“What in the world would I need one of them modern contraptions for?” He shook his head with amusement.  “Everybody knows where to find me.”  He glanced around, debating other tidbits of information worthy of a little boasting.

“Do most people live here in town?”  Paige asked nonchalantly, already knowing the answer, but wanting Chester to get a chance to brag a little more.

“No, ma’am,” he replied quickly.  “This whole valley’s fillin’ up with homesteaders.  Why, just last year the president of these United States opened up a whole lotta land north of here, up for grabs.  Folks started filing claims right quick.  Now ranches are springin’ up so fast the elk can barely find food these days, all their grazing areas blocked off with buck-rail fences.”

 “I worry about them animals,” he continued.  “We got a whole lotta dead elk up there in the valley, seein’ as they can’t find enough to eat.  Some folks in town are workin’ on a petition to send to the government, askin’ them to set aside an area for the elk to feed.  I hope they get it.”


Page 13

Chester paused to consider what he’d just said before adding a few more examples of the town’s developing status. 

“But, as I was sayin’,” Chester continued, picking up the topic of conversation again, “Jackson’s Hole is growin’ and it’s gonna continue to grow, I figure.  We’ve already had a ferry crossing the river for six years, thanks to Bill Menor.  And it’s been ten years already since Pap Deloney opened his store.  We even had one of them new-fangled automobiles come through this year, way north of here, trying to go through Yellowstone.  You’re a smart lady, it seems, so I’m bettin’ you know that’s been a national park since 1872.  Anyway, they were fools.  I heard they found out them things ain’t allowed in the park.  Had to take it through on a wagon.  No, Tuttle’s place wouldn’t be hoppin’ the way it is if not for all them folks comin’ into this valley.”

He crossed his arms, clearly satisfied with his portrait of the growing valley.

“Now, look over here,” Chester said, motioning for Paige to turn her head to the far left. “Back there behind us a ways we got ourselves a dude ranch, the JY.  Just set up operations a couple years ago.  People are thinkin’ it’ll bring visitors in, fetch us all some extra dollars.  Sure would help me, more folks needin’ to git around.”

“I thought most people here were cattle ranchers.”  Paige watched as Chester nodded his head in agreement.  “And others grow oats and barley,” she added, trying silently to run through her recent research of Jackson Hole, but coming up short with specific chronology.

“Well, now, they do that,” Chester agreed, nodding his head.  “They grow alfalfa and clover, too, even some wheat.  But it’s not enough for most people to get by. And there’s lots to see around these parts, things more folks ought to see. So they’re hoping visitors will come.”

“I have a hunch they will,” Paige reassured him, holding back a smile.  She wished she could tell Chester what Jackson would look like one hundred years in the future, but knew it would sound unbelievable.

Quietly, they remained on the butte, observing the activity of the townspeople below.   Some rode horses towards the outskirts of town.  Others walked with arms full of supplies.  After some time, Chester picked up the reins and signaled to the horse that it was time to go.  Taking the same bumpy road back down, they returned to the livery barn, where Chester jumped down from his driver’s seat and helped Paige out of the wagon.

She thanked him and then suddenly realized she must owe him a fee for his services.

“Oh, my,” Paige exclaimed. “I’m sure I need to pay you something for the ride.” She felt a sudden panic.  She’d been unable to find any pockets when she’d picked up the Jackson’s Hole Courier.  It was unlikely she had any money.

Chester held his hand up and shook his head.

“No, ma’am,” he replied.  “You did me a favor, letting me take you to my favorite sittin’ place.  I’m the one who owes you a thank you.  I know you’re new to this here town.  I hope you’ll think to stop by again.”

“I’ll be sure to do that,” Paige replied, not sure if this was a promise she’d be able to keep.  Thanking him again, she crossed the barn, heading for the front door.

Just before she reached the exit, however, her attention was caught by some movement to her left.  Looking over, she saw Jeremiah, from the saloon, working in one of the horse stalls.  Surprised to see him again, she wandered over, causing him to look up as she approached.

“I just wanted to thank you again for your kindness in the saloon,” Paige offered.  “I’m not from around here and I’m afraid I don’t know the local customs.  I’m glad you were there.”

“It was my pleasure,” Jeremiah responded, tossing a slight grin in Paige’s direction, while continuing to sweep up hay with a long-handled rake.

“I take it you work here,” Paige said, wincing at the obvious as soon as the words crossed her lips.

“I help with the chores here a few times a week, cleaning stalls and feeding the horses.” Jeremiah replied, setting the rake aside and lowering his voice.  “Chester’s getting on in years and can use an extra hand.  Don’t tell him I said so, though.  He’s got a hearty portion of pride.”

He straightened up and attempted to brush his clothing down, though without much success.  Loose strands of hay clung to his pant legs and smudges of dirt decorated his wrinkled shirtsleeves.  Paige realized with a start how familiar his features were.  He’d been wearing a hat inside the saloon and, sitting at the end of the bar, she hadn’t noticed the resemblance at that time.  But now, though his hair style and clothing were different, there was no question he looked very much like Jake.

Realizing she was staring, she stopped and offered an apology.

“I’m sorry to stare, it’s just…”  Paige paused.  “It’s just that you look very much like someone I know.”

Jeremiah smiled, gathering his rake and other work supplies and heading across the barn to set them against the side wall.

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, after a pause.  “I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I’ll take it as a compliment.  At least I sure hope it is.  It was a pleasure seein’ you again, but I must be gittin’ along now.”  He took his hat off a hook on the wall, tipped it towards Paige and turned away, crossing to the front of the barn.

Just before Jeremiah disappeared through the door, Paige saw something fall from his rear pocket.  She walked quickly over to the spot to retrieve the item, intending to catch up with him to give it back.  But when she came within several feet of the object, she stopped suddenly and stared.  There, caught in a glimmer of light shining down from the barn’s rafters, was the same skeleton key she had seen through the antler arch before.  For a second she caught her breath and froze.  Was it the arch that had brought her here, or the key itself?  A fleeting quiver of fear ran through her as she realized there had been no antler arches around the dusty center block of town.  There had to be a way to make sense out of what clearly seemed beyond reason.  She just needed to find out what it was.  Without even having to think twice, she stepped forward, reached down and grasped the key.

 

CHAPTER TEN

Jake didn’t trust Frank.  He didn’t trust him at all, not at this point.  For all he knew, Frank might have just given him another useless piece of paper.  After downing the rest of his beer, he grabbed his hat and stood up.  He ducked around a wayward cue stick, nodded a quick goodbye to Billy and stepped out onto the wooden slat sidewalk.  Without wasting any time, he made his way back to his truck and headed towards the outskirts of town, slowing down just once to let late-season tourists saunter across the road.

Driving north through park territory, he hit the brakes sharply at one point to allow an elk to cross the highway and again, another mile later, to wait for a trio of deer to move off the road.  He’d learned long ago to drive with extra caution, especially during twilight and evening hours.  It was common for wildlife to cross the roads unexpectedly, often causing damage to vehicles, humans and wildlife alike.  As eager as he was to look over the paper Frank had just given him, it wasn’t worth the consequences of driving too quickly.

Turning east, he thought over the various interactions he’d had with Frank, from the first time he had been contacted by the old man right up to that evening’s meeting at The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.  Was there any reason Frank might be feeding him false information?  Is that what he’d been doing from the start?  Maybe the map was a fake, the paper processed to appear old.  Or maybe it was truly an original map, but had been altered somehow to throw him off track.

No, it didn’t make sense.  What would the motivation be?  If the treasure didn’t exist, Frank would’ve had no reason to bring him to Jackson.  Was the buried gold real, but Frank was diverting him from the actual location with a map that wasn’t authentic?  That didn’t make sense, either.  Frank had clearly grown too old to search the mountains himself.  And if he’d had someone else to do it, he wouldn’t have come all the way up to Cody to plead for help.

Jake took a sharp left into the ranch driveway, screeching to a stop just long enough to let himself through the front gate.  With a heavy foot on the gas pedal, gravel scattered sideways and clouds of dust billowed up behind him as he headed for the ranch house.  Parking the truck abruptly, he jumped out, kicked the door shut and walked quickly inside, slamming the front door of the ranch house in the same manner.  Whatever Frank was up to, he wasn’t about to let him get away with it.

Grabbing the familiar book off the shelf, he pulled the first map out and unfolded it.  He then took the new portion of the map out of his pocket and sat down in his chair, bringing the two together and studying them.

What had looked like a map on its own before had obviously just been part of a whole, as he had suspected.  Together, the two pieces seemed to tell more of a story, though there was still much to figure out.

In the center of the map, where the two sides came together, it was now clear that the zigzag line continued into several sharp peaks of differing heights.  These were almost identical to the shape of the Tetons.  A winding line followed just to the right of the jagged lines, possibly a trail or stream or the boundary of a section of land.  Several groupings of arrows were clustered in different areas.  There appeared to be a plus sign in the center of the page, just to the right of the area where the two halves of the map connected.  Perhaps it indicated that the map’s sides should connect at that point.  Or maybe it meant clues on both sides needed to be connected in order to determine the location.

There were no other markings to the left of the large zigzag and there was nothing to give any hints as to what the smudge on the right might mean.  Jake still felt there must be something that tied the circular spot in with the rest of the marks.  He had hoped to figure it out by piecing the map together, but so far it didn’t make any more sense than before.

Additional lines and figures stretched across the bottom of the connected papers, but not in any way that clarified other parts of the map.  Arrows, oval shapes, more zigzags and a set of short, parallel lines all seemed arbitrary.  The haphazard smattering of shapes didn’t appear to correspond with the other markings.

Jake set the two halves of the map aside.  He considered taping them together, but thought better of it.  The paper was yellowed and fragile and there were additional tears on both the left and right sides.  No, it was best to keep them in two pieces and just bring them together whenever he needed to analyze them further.

Jake sat back and mulled over the chronology of his search.  He’d been in the area for almost six months now.  It had taken that long to settle in, blend in with the other townsfolk and to buy the ranch, so that he could be situated in the area where his great-grandfather had lived.  He would be able to come and go with more privacy.  The rest of his time had been devoted to searching for clues and scouting around to rule out some of the mountain areas as possible hiding places.  He’d also spent endless hours researching the history of gold prospecting in Jackson Hole, knowing any knowledge could lead him a step closer to his goal. 

What he hadn’t had a chance to do was to get out and physically explore the area as much as he wanted to.  He knew that knowledge of the trails, especially those that led into the Tetons, was crucial to his being able to discover the location of the gold.  And now he had the map to provide clues.  With this in mind, he returned both sections of the map to the hiding place in the bookcase and turned in for an early night’s sleep, in order to be prepared for a day of trail exploration.

 

*   *   *   *

 

It was clear and sunny when Jake stepped out into the crisp air the next morning.  Travel mug of coffee in hand, he cranked up the truck and left the ranch, heading west toward the main highway.  There were very few clouds in the sky, setting the valley dramatically against a stunning backdrop of blue.  Three bison grazed along the north side of the road as Jake headed west to the main highway.  A massive bull elk stood regally off to the left near Gros Ventre Junction, about fifty yards from the road.  A six pointer, Jake surmised, noting the impressive rack of antlers.

Jake turned right on the highway and drove north to Moose, a tiny town consisting of a post office, a few stores off a side road and an impressive visitor center for Grand Teton National Park.  He’d been to the visitor center many times since arriving in Jackson Hole, asking rangers questions about specific trails and analyzing the massive topographical map displayed in the lobby.  This time he passed the visitor center without stopping and pulled up to the park’s entrance gate, showing his annual pass to the ranger on duty.  He smiled as he replaced the pass in his wallet.  He’d been wise to cough up the fee for the annual pass when he first left Cody.  It would be money well spent for the return he expected.

Continuing northbound through the park, he took in the flat, open fields on his right and the majestic Grand Tetons on his left.  To the many people who visited the park each year, these mountains represented the strong, powerful forces of nature. To Jake, they represented much more.

He turned left at the south junction to Jenny Lake, a glacier-formed body of water estimated to date back 9,000 years.  The road curved alongside low brush until it dropped off into the south parking area for the lake.  Already into the off-season, it wasn’t hard to find a parking space.  He chose one near the front of the lot and pulled in, setting the parking brake and jumping out of the truck.  He checked his small knapsack, which held a water bottle, trail mix, a pad of paper and a pen. He’d known better than to have brought the original map sections along, but had made a rough, handmade copy which contained all the major markings on the original papers.

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