Monday, July 31, 2017

Moose and Elk and a Bank Robbery -- A Day Trip

In July my son's family and I took a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, my second favorite place in Colorado. It is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Its 265,461 acres of forest and tundra is bisected by the Continental Divide, which means that for the most part streams that head up west of the divide join the Colorado River and make their way to the Pacific Ocean. The water of those to the east of the divide eventually makes its way to the Atlantic.

After an early breakfast at home, we had an early lunch in the village of Grand Lake, the park's western entryway.

The Sagebrush Bar and Grill is a welcome stop for people hiking the Colorado Trail.
Good food. Good service. And they can leave their back packs and trekking poles
inside the front door. On a visit a couple of weeks earlier I saw one young man
whose pack I swear was at least as big as he was.

That earlier visit was made ostensibly to get a Lifetime Senior Pass for $10. It's good for all our national parks and it's going up to $80 August 28. You can get them online, but it was a good excuse to go, right?

So I handed my pretty, floral card to my son as we approached the entry gate. What? No rangers in sight. Just a sign that said to proceed. They didn't check my card. They weren't charging the standard day fee of $20.00 per car. And there I was all prepared to save money.

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (a Roosevelt New Deal program during the Great Depression) Trail Ridge Road runs 48 miles from Grand Lake at 8,369 feet above sea level to Estes Park, the east gateway, at 7,522 feet. Eleven miles of it are above tree-line, the highest point being 12,183 feet.

As you travel the road, the climate and ecosystems change as you change altitude. From marshy river valley through montane, subalpine, and into alpine tundra at its highest.

The best opportunity to see moose is in the Kawuneeche Valley of the Colorado River just up the road from Grand Lake, at relatively low altitude, though still well above the mile-high mark.

Kawuneeche means "valley of the coyote" in Arapaho. You can tell when there are moose or, indeed almost any large wild creatures in sight of the highway. People stop their cars alongside the road and pile out to get a closer look. The public is advised not to approach the animals and because the Kawuneeche valley is well below the level of the highway and very marshy, the public behaves. We joined the crowd and did see a moose and her calf. Sorry, I only had my cell phone and they were too far away, so no photos.

Trail Ridge Road is a series of switch backs and steep grades. Around each curve or as you start down a ridge you are treated to a new vision of the world. Dramatic valleys falling hundreds of feet below you or sheer cliffs rising as many feet above. Waterfalls and clouds. Clouds dancing among the mountains and around you.


And wildlife.

    Elk alongside the highway                 A marmot near the wall at a scenic overlook 

Then down from the mountains, we skirted Estes Park missing the traffic. A stop at Colorado Cherry Company for an afternoon snack -- Cherry pie and coffee for me. Then on to Lyons for a stop at Oskar Blues, a bar and grill complete with a pinball arcade in the basement.

As we got out of the car and my daughter-in-law was divvying up quarters for the pinball machines, we noticed two sheriff's deputies running into a neighborhood -- one with a rifle and the other with a police dog -- their vehicles parked at odd angles in front of a neighborhood bank. Yes, indeedy. My first bank robbery.

We did not dawdle outside to see what happened. The kids played pinball and I finished reading a very good book.

Here I am with the grandchildren all lit by a black light in the basement pinball arcade.

According to the next day's Denver Post the robber got away on foot with an "undisclosed" amount of money and had not yet been apprehended.

The Grandkids figured he had a getaway car parked somewhere in the neighborhood north of the bank. I figure, considering how many tourists were in town, he probably couldn't find a parking place any closer.

Anyway, after the children ran out of quarters, it was home again for us, completing our 210 mile loop through the mountains. All-in-all, a good day trip.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Icarus File -- Flash Fiction

Ch 1 G7 Spy, A Sand Dune, An Extension Cord

      “Adele.” Armand called. “Adele, can you come in here?”
     No Bond Girl, Adele, at just over average height and more than average weight, dressed in olive drab scrubs, looked more like an army nurse than a caterer’s assistant.
     “Yes, dear. A moment. Let me start the dryer.” She had to start the dryer, air only. She moved a tray of seedlings off the dryer and unplugged the grow light from an extension cord. The missus was apparently into fresh herbs.
     “Adele, now, please.”
     Armand leaned against the kitchen counter, blood seeping from just above his left eye, his left cheek swollen and beginning to color.
     Two very large, very fit young men stood, one on either side of him. Aleksei, the blond, had his back to her. In a club or a bar, Aleksei and Kolya, with his shaved head, would be bouncers. In the Portero home, they were Uncle Aleksei and Uncle Kolya, security.
     “Armand?” She pulled the hand towel from her waist band. “Aleksei, get some ice.”
     Aleksei turned toward her, a gun in his hand. A Glock 19. Good choice, she thought. Reliable. Easily modified to fit a smaller hand. Standard 15-round magazine. Reduced dimensions make it ideal for concealed-carry. She wished she had hers on her. She glanced at the box of clean towels sitting on the other end of the counter. Beyond her reach.
     “Give me your phone” the blond ordered her. She did and he motioned her to Armand’s side.
“Have you been in the Communications Room?”
     “Communications?” She pressed the towel against Armand’s wound. “You mean with all that computer stuff?”
     Kolya got ice with his bare hands. Adele wouldn’t serve ice from that tray. Who knew where his hand had been?
     “May I get a clean towel?” She nodded toward the box of towels.
     “Kolya, get her towels.”
     Kolya, brought her one towel. Not the box as she’d hoped, but she was glad he took only the top one.
     Without giving her time to deal properly with Armand’s wound, Aleksei herded them into the laundry room. The door had no lock.
     The Communications Room, a half-bath, and the mudroom also opened off the kitchen. Mudroom, a misnomer if she ever heard one. They were in the desert, an hour and a half southwest of Vegas. Beyond the wall surrounding the house was forty-five square miles of sand dunes and many more miles of Mojave Desert. Not much mud.
     “Make sure the guests all leave, then check the perimeter. I’ll watch these two.” The blond scanned the laundry room. Probably looking for weapons. She didn’t see any either. He then closed the door and poured himself a cup of coffee.
     This was her third dinner party at the Portero house in five weeks. Its layout suited Adele perfectly. She had easy access to the Communications Room and their main computer. The Portero people hadn’t caught her before. The Field Office planned to use her for continuing information mining. Tonight the goal was the Icarus File, a list of access codes. Low-level stuff, but useful. Continuing? Guess not.
     “I am so sorry, Adele. I didn’t know. But they pay well and their parties are small and easy to do.” Armand’s considerable bulk seemed to have melted onto the floor. “You’ve not been with me long. Honestly, I don’t usually have these problems.”
     “I know. I know.” She patted his shoulder then listened at the door. She couldn’t tell who was out there or what they were doing. “Can you get up?”
     He struggled to his feet.
     “We’ve got to get out of here.” Adele rolled up the extension cord and stuck it in her pocket. She got her smock out of the dryer and took a thumb drive out of its pocket. “Be ready to go when I get back.”
     “Aleksei, please,” she called.
     “I need to go to the bathroom.”
     He opened the door and stepped back. He stood relaxed, his gun holstered. He could easily watch both the door to the half-bath and to the laundry room.
     She flushed the toilet and ran water.
     As she walked back to the laundry room, she seemed to stumble. Aleksei, walking behind her, failed to stop and suddenly he was right against her.
     She stomped his instep with her full weight. Turning into him, she brought her knee into his groin. He went to the floor. Luckily for her he was face-down with the wind knocked out of him. She kneeled on his back and uncoiled the extension cord. Wrapping it around his neck, she pulled it tighter and tighter. It seemed to take forever for him to stop struggling. Kolya would be back soon.
     “Armand! Come on,” she called as she retrieved her phone from the dead man’s pocket. And his gun.
     Armand staggered from the laundry room. She grabbed his arm and dragged him through the back door.
     “Do you have your van keys?”
     “Keys?” he wondered. “Kolya took ‘em.”
     She pulled him to the gate in the wall and into the sand dunes beyond. They didn’t have much time.
     Less obvious than white in the moonless night, she could clearly see him in his black chef’s clothes against the sand. She got him to the back side of a small dune twenty yards from the wall.
     “Lie down.” She started scooping sand onto him. “Be still.” She didn’t have to completely cover him. Just muddy his lines, Camouflage 101.
     “Who are you?” he whispered.
     “Just a cook,” she whispered back. “But I have friends.” She waved the phone at him. “No matter what happens, be quiet. I won’t be far.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Three Books -- A Conjoined Review


Like Nature, I abhor a vacuum. (A misuse of a metaphor if ever I misused one -- horror vacui is a postulate attributed to Aristotle: to wit, nature contains no vacuums because if there were a vacuum, the denser surrounding material would immediately fill it and it would no longer be a vacuum.)

All that to say, I hate to finish one book without another or two or three waiting in the wings. So I check books out of the library. I buy books at book stores. And I save them from the dumpster.

And how does this work out for me? Well, let me tell you.

I was in Barnes and Noble last month, gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket and a coupon in hand for a classic. Wuthering Heights was right on top of a stack of classics in the front of the store, wearing a beautiful olive, faux leather cover. I hadn't read it since high school, and, as I remembered, it was tragic and romantic and fixed Emily Brontë forever in my mind as the best writer of the Brontë sisters.

When next the opportunity to start a book presented itself, I started Wuthering Heights. Alas, I have passed the age where tragedy is synonymous with romance. Wuthering Heights is a litany of mental and physical cruelty against Heathcliff as a child and into young adulthood. By then he is so emotionally scarred, his humanity so disfigured, as to make his character as repulsive as the people who had mistreated him. 

Spoiler alert: Nothing ends well for poor Heathcliff.

I avidly read murder mysteries. Unlike Wuthering Heights, the dastardly deed is usually done and over in a few pages with the rest of the story devoted to bringing the miscreants to justice.

Luckily I was saved from reading the rest of  Wuthering Heights. I got an email that the third in Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series, The Cruelest Month, was waiting for me at the library.

But alas and alack. It seems I am not yet old enough to appreciate Ms. Penny's cozy mysteries. They are simply too cozy. I started the series, because several of my friends really enjoy her work. 

CBS Sunday Morning had a piece on Louise Penny (click here) just before I started The Cruelest Month. I very much enjoyed the interview with her. She is much more interesting than her characters. She said when she developed Chief Inspector Gamache's character, she wrote a man like she would like to marry.

I find the character altogether too perfect. Gamache never gets upset, or if he does, he doesn't show it. If I were to meet him, I would be sorely tempted to pinch his nose to see if I could get a rise out of him.

One thing I've got to say for Ms. Penny -- she employs the most creative methods of murder I have ever read. And another positive, her characters do not abuse children.

What am I reading now? Jodi Picault's House Rules, a book my daughter rescued, along with two bags full, from outside the dumpster near her home. (Her mother raised her right.)

I have not read Picault before, so we shall see.

So far my only complaint is that the book smells of tobacco smoke. I wonder what happened to the previous owner that all those books were discarded. They had had the books long enough that they should be so impregnated with the smoke. Do you suppose they died? Of lung cancer, maybe? Did they have a pet? What happened to it?

Can I get lung cancer from the book? Sort of second hand smoke once removed.

Ahhh. Mysteries everywhere.

Friday, July 7, 2017

My Life According to The Rolling Stones

Sometimes Facebook inspires me. Grace Wagner posted the following:  "Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think! Repost as "my life according to (band name.)"

If you decide to do this, too, I suggest picking an artist or band that's been around for a while and covered everybody in the business. Plus choose someone who just makes you happy.

I'm not including all the questions. Lord knows I've spent most of the morning on YouTube revisiting these songs. I've put links to the songs I do name here just in case you want to spend too much time with Mick and the Boys. So here goes.

Pick your Artist:  Well, duh – The Rolling Stones
The closest I've ever come to them was many years ago, driving west on US 66, yeah the famous one. It was late at night and The Stones were playing in Norman, Oklahoma, less than 50 miles south of the little town I was driving through. I knew they were there and I was listening to them on the car radio, just cruisin' and groovin'. And then, and then, there were flashing lights in my rear view mirror. Yep, I was being stopped by the only police officer on duty in that very small town. Speeding.

Back to the Facebook questionnaire.

Are you a male or female:  Honky Tonk Women
This video is from 1969 when Charlie Watts still had dark hair.

Describe yourself:  She’s a Rainbow

How do you feel:  Just My Imagination

Describe where you currently live:  Under the Boardwalk

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:  Down the Road a Piece
This video is from 1965 on the TV show Shindig! back when Mick and I were just babies. This is what we watched instead of American Ninja Warriors. Shindig! was probably lower budget, but then it was in black and white.

Your favorite form of transportation:  Driving Too Fast
Another one of those rockin' songs that could get me in trouble on the highway. That's why they call that electronic device in a motor vehicle cruise control and I should always use it.

Your best friend is:  Midnight Rambler
OMG! What Mick lacks in rhythm, he makes up for playing the harmonica. And Charlie Watts with white hair. Can't sit still while this is goin’ on?

What's the weather like:  Gimme Shelter
Reminds me of the Whoopi Goldberg movie, Jumpin' Jack Flash -- I can't understand what he's saying on this one either. But, who cares, it's rock n roll!

Favorite time of day:  The Moon Is Up

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:  Out of Control
What can I say? Keith has finally gotten as old as he's always looked, and Mick and I aren't babies any more.

What is life to you:  Silver Train

Your relationship:  You Got Me Rocking
My husband keeps me rocking and I don't mean in a chair.

Your fear:  Ventilator Blues

What is the best advice you have to give:  You Can’t Always Get What You Want (but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.)

Last year this song was in the news because the 'rump campaign used it. The Stones to tweeted “The Rolling Stones do not endorse Donald Trump. 'You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ was used without the band’s permission.” In this instance I didn't get what I wanted or needed. I just hope we all survive it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Different Kind of Independence Day -- Flash Fiction

She waited until he left for work then packed her bag (his bag really, the biggish one with wheels) and called Lyft for a ride to the airport. The $15,000 she got for her car ($14,984 to be exact) wouldn’t last long, but it would have to do.

On the way to the airport, she pulled up flight information on her phone. A new phone completely separate from Martin’s account. Southwest Airlines allowed two free checked bags, but she had only one. One checked bag and one carry-on -- her computer bag -- would be enough to keep up with when she got to her destination.

Her destination? Some place he wouldn’t think of. Not Dallas. Her sister lived in Dallas. Some place he didn’t know she knew anyone. She didn’t know anyone in Jackson, Mississippi, but she didn’t know if Jackson had good public transportation. She needed some place with good public transportation, now that she didn’t have a car.

Minneapolis had good public transportation. She’d been there once. Before she met Martin. Neither she nor her sister had ever been up north. They were in college and it was Fall Break. They first saw Minneapolis just before the sun went down. The sky was clear and the city seemed to rise out of the prairie. All glass and steel, it shone like a beacon marking the end of their journey.

She didn't know anyone in Minneapolis so he'd never think to look there. She entered Minneapolis into the destination box. The cheapest one-way ticket was for a flight leaving at 5:45. Martin wouldn’t be home until six or a little after. She’d be gone.

She entered her credit card number. Her own credit card number from her own account. Not a joint account with Martin. Her first concrete act of defiance. Leaving hadn’t been a real option then. Or, at least, she hadn’t seen it that way. It was just something to think about.

“I want my own money,” she told him. “What if I want to buy you a gift? I don’t want to buy you a gift with your money.”

“But it’s our money. Your check goes in there, too,” he said.

“I’ll just put a little into my account. The rest will continue to go into our account.”

“How much?” he asked.

“Just a hundred a month.”

That satisfied him. Not that his income didn’t easily cover their living expenses, plus. He just didn’t want her to have too much money of her own. He was afraid she’d leave him.

Well, she certainly didn’t have too much money of her own. But it was her own, and she was leaving him.

She should have left months ago. When she realized there was nothing she could do to make it work.

She couldn’t tell when he was going to go off  anymore. Or what it was that would set him off. Mention of a co-worker’s good fortune. Asking him when he’d be home from some meeting or other so she could plan dinner. Complaining about the neighbor’s noisy dog. Things she thought would do it, didn’t. And subjects that it would never occur to her to be dangerous, would be. She had to get out.

When she lied to him about her car being in the shop for a few days, he didn’t lift an eyebrow.

She didn’t tell anyone where she was going. Of course she didn’t know until now. She’d call her parents when she got there. Tell them she was safe. But she wouldn’t tell them where she was. At least not at first. So they couldn’t tell him. Keep them out of it as much as possible.

She’d send Martin an email as the plane was boarding. He’d be on his way home. She was glad they didn’t have children. Or pets. There’d be no one for him to take it out on.

“Thank you,” she said to the Lyft driver.

He set her bag on the curb under the Southwest Airlines sign. She took the bag, the doors opened, and she walked through. Smiling.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Higher Authority -- A Book Review

I don't usually read books that scare me -- not because I don't scare easily, because I do. But usually I know that a book is going to be scary and I don't start it. Like, I don't read Stephen King or Tom Clancy -- not because they are not good writers. They certainly are. Somehow King's horror, as far-fetched as it is, is still viscerally believable and his books are too long for me to complete before it gets dark. Tom Clancy, on the other hand, is not far fetched enough. The wars he starts in his books seem altogether too likely.

Higher Authority is the third in Stephen White's Alan Gregory murder mysteries. I started reading them because a friend recommended them and White is a Colorado author. Sort of a hometown boy, dontcha know.

Dr. Alan Gregory, the usual main character in White's mysteries, is a clinical psychologist in Boulder, Colorado. The main character in this book is Alan's fiancee, Lauren Crowder. Crowder is a particularly interesting character because of her power and because of her weakness.

She is a hard-driving lawyer and as Deputy District Attorney in Boulder, she is unafraid to go after the bad guys no matter how threatening they may be.

Her weakness? She has multiple sclerosis. To protect her tough-on-crime persona, she hides her frail health. She neither seeks nor graciously accepts sympathy even from the few who know her condition, including Alan Gregory whose proposal of marriage she accepted but about which she still harbors serious misgivings.

Lauren joins forces with an old law-school friend to litigate a sexual harassment suit in Utah against a highly respected member of the Mormon Church. Danger and death ensue.

White's website introduces the plot of Higher Authority this way.

"The sudden death of Utah's Senator Orrin Hatch propels his successor, Lester Horner, first into Hatch's Senate seat and then on to become the first Mormon associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Carried along with Horner is Blythe Oaks, an ambitious and intelligent woman who is also Horner's favorite law clerk and fellow Mormon.  But Blythe's reputation—and, by extension, Lester Horner's—is threatened when a female former employee accuses her of sexual harassment and career sabotage."

Are you confused yet? I surely was, because, at least as of this moment while I am writing this blog post, Orrin Hatch is alive and well holding his seat as Senior Senator from the Great State of Utah. He is Senate Pro Tempore making him third in line to the United States Presidency.

Which brings us to the book's fear-factor for me.

I knew very little about the Mormon church. My only experiences with Latter-day Saints have been with parents of my daughter's friends, with writer friends, and with seat-mates on airlines. And, of course, Orson Scott Card one of my favorite writers. Then there are The Osmonds. All enjoyable and not the least bit frightening.

I knew a little about the founding of the Mormon religion and their self-exile to Utah to escape discrimination and mistreatment first in New York, then Ohio, and finally Missouri.

I did not know so, so much. Of course, this book is fiction, but White seems to have done his research well. His book plays to my one great faith -- that all religions develop fanatics and the element of secrecy in any religion or religious order is the cloak that hides those fanatics. That is frightening to me.

Not to mention that the real, still living, Orrin Hatch holds a potentially more powerful political position than does any single member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Let me just say this book is very well written and its plot believable enough that I must have gained five pounds in the three days it took me to read it.