Lake Montonia Gaze

       Mike Bozart
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another pSecret pSociety pshort pstory

Lake Montonia Gaze by Mike Bozart (Agent 33) | FEBRUARY 2017

Lake Montonia Gaze
by Mike Bozart
© 2017 Mike Bozart
On a seasonally cold 2013 winter morning, after gulping down my last slug of coffee, I gave Slim (who never took an agent number) a call from our frosty east Charlotte (NC, USA) back yard (bad cell reception in the basement apartment). Monique, my Filipina wife (Agent 32), was still asleep and not feeling good (a chest cold).
I punched in his new ten digits on my little LG not-that-smart phone. On the third ring he answered.
“Huh-lo,” [sic] Slim said, sounding like I had awakened him.
“Hi, Slim. It’s Mike – Mike van Tryke. [my art-name] Want to do a cool-air hike today at Crowders Mountain State Park and reminisce about Frank? [Agent 107, who had died unexpectedly – at 47 – three weeks prior] I think that it will warm up to 45.” [º Fahrenheit; 7.22º Celsius]
“You mean a cold-air hike. I bet that it will struggle to reach 40 [º Fahrenheit; 4.44º Celsius] on the north side of that ridge. But, yeah, sure. I’ve got nothing planned. I just need to do a little house-cleaning first. Want to roll out from my place at noon? I’ll be glad to drive. Just give me a few bucks for gas. I’m low on loot until payday – Friday.”
“Sure! Sounds great, Slim. See you then.”
Monique awoke just after ten o’clock and said that she would be fine without me for the afternoon, as she was just going to rest in bed.
The green minivan rolled onto Slim’s gravel Plaza Hills driveway at 11:58 AM. As I strolled up to his front door, I noticed a new McMansion on the lot beside him. Wow! The NoDa [a now-über-trendy area of northeast Charlotte] gentrification wave has crossed The Plaza. I bet the value of Slim’s modest two-bedroom house has tripled since he bought it in ’89. But, he’s not looking to sell. Thus, he’s just paying more in property taxes now. I’m sure that he’s thrilled.
I knocked on the thick, wooden, round-top door, as Slim had disabled the doorbell (annoying sound). Eight seconds later, the door was being unlocked.
Slim’s now-balding, 51-year-old (2½ years my senior), bespectacled, black-haired, Caucasian head appeared in the door gap. “I’m all ready to go, Mike.” He then stepped onto his gray-painted concrete slab porch.
A stray, medium-size, mixed-breed dog on the street started to approach us aggressively, but Slim yelled it away. Then Slim led the way to his gold-colored 1974 Chevy Camaro.
“Mike, I want to take the old lady out today. I haven’t driven her in months. Could you back your car out of the driveway?”
I obliged. Soon we were on the Brookshire Freeway (NC 16), heading northwest away from uptown Charlotte. Slim opened it up a few times, giving the old V-8 engine a stiff dose of throttle.
“Just clearing out her lungs, Mike,” he said with his trademark, almost maniacal, grin. I bet Slim had a few bong hits [water-pipe-filtered inhalations of marijuana] for breakfast. Wake-n-bake.
A few minutes later we were motoring down Interstate 85 South (but actually headed more west than south). Slim then inserted the Best of Journey CD into his high-end stereo. He started to sing along when Wheel in the Sky came on. Slim still loves his Journey.
When we passed over the Catawba River, I started to wonder which access point Slim had in mind for our hike. Don’t want to hike from the Linwood Road parking lot today. Too many people will be out. Won’t have any quality Frankenthoughts. [sic] Too many distractions.
“Slim, what part of the mountain ridge did you want to hike?” I asked as we zoomed past Exit 27 (Belmont).
“Let’s hike up to that craggy overlook – the one south of Kings Pinnacle – where I found that roach [the last part of a marijuana cigarette] in the cranny of a boulder.” He just used ‘craggy’ and ‘cranny’ in the same sentence. Graggy [sic] granny. Fraggy [sic] Franny.
“I remember that, Slim. You said that it was RAD – rainwater-advanced dope.” Wrong.
“No, Mike; I said that it was R-E-D – rainwater-enhanced dope.” My memory is shot. / Mike’s memory is fried.
“Oh, yeah. You’re right. That was quite a bizarre find. They must’ve got so stoned that they dropped it.” Wrong again.
“No, it wasn’t dropped, Mike. Remember that I removed it from a crack – a cranny – in that large boulder? Someone had strategically placed it there.” Oh, yes.
“Maybe Frank pranked us and planted it there when we weren’t looking.” No, no, no. Gosh, his brain is toast now.
“No, the roach was stone cold and the paper was weathered. It had been there for at least several days – probably over a week. Don’t you remember?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s coming back, Slim. I have an image of it now on my neural screen.” Neural screen? Ha!
“I bet that it was placed there for a reason, Mike.”
“Yeah, the stoners [marijuana smokers] probably didn’t want that half-inch [1.27 cm] of evidence in their car. Just not worth the risk.” His brain can still function after all.
“Congratulations! That’s the first intelligent thing that you’ve said since you got in the car, Mike.” Slim had a guffaw.
“I still have my moments, Slim. Still keeping senility at bay.”
“Just barely.”
I laughed. And then somber thoughts of Frank shut it down.
We then blew right past Gastonia. Slim had it locked down at 74 MPH (119 km/h) in the far left lane. Hope we don’t get pulled over. A speeding ticket would send his insurance through the roof. He always liked to drive fast – just like Frank. I guess that he knows the leeway limit.
“So, what exit do we take, Slim? Was it Exit 5?”
“No, that’s one too far, Mike. We take Exit 8 for NC 161.” [aka York Road]
“Oh, yeah; that’s right.”
Just then we were passing through the long Exit 10, which had a section of US 74 sandwiched between the southbound and northbound lanes of Interstate 85.
One hundred seconds later, Slim had slowed down and moved over to the far right lane. We safely exited the freeway and headed south on York Road. We could see the ridge looming ahead. With the leaves off the deciduous trees, we could even see some of the granite outcrops and precipices. Was that the one?
As we approached Stepps Gap, where the Ridgeline Trail crosses the highway, I noticed shiny steel guardrails that tightly lined both shoulders. Well, no parking here.
“Where are we going to park your muscle-mobile, Slim? The just-off-the-road-on-the-grassy-shoulder parking days are now over.” He sure is talking oddly. Maybe Mike is already on something.
“Right here,” Slim said as he suddenly turned right onto a gravel road named Oak Mountain Lane. “See the pink surveyor’s tape on these trees?”
“Yes.” What in the world is Slim thinking?
“Pass me the notebook under your seat,” Slim requested as he pulled off the gravel road onto a flat sandy patch.
I felt under the seat and extracted a grade-school spiral notebook. I handed it to Slim as he shifted into Park.
“Also, could you please pass me the magic marker that is in the glove compartment?”
I did so.
“Thanky-thanky.” [sic] Slim then wrote SURVEY CREW on a lined sheet of paper. Next, he tore it from the notebook and placed it on his dashboard in front of the steering wheel. What in the world?! Does he expect that to be his free-parking pass?
“I hope your car doesn’t get towed, Slim. It’s a long walk back to Charlotte. Thirty-eight miles [61.16 km] is a little beyond my range.” Gosh, he worries too much.
“Relax. It will be ok, Mike.” Hope so. But, I sure wouldn’t want to bet on it.
We then exited his Camaro and began our hike. We backtracked on the gravel road to NC 161. Then we walked across the highway and picked up the Ridgeline Trail. Soon we were climbing steadily, but not too steeply. In only eleven minutes we had reached the first northwest-facing overlook. I wandered over to check it out.
“This isn’t the one, Mike. It was the third one up. Remember?” Yep, he’s right.
“You’ve still got an elephant’s memory, Slim.”
“Only compared to yours, Mike.”
We had a laugh for a few seconds.
About two hundred feet (61 meters) farther was the second rocky overlook. Three Caucasian hikers in their 30s, two females and a male, were taking a water break. We just said hello and kept marching up the ridge.
In another two hundred or so feet, we were at our favorite spot of year’s past: the third perch. Lucky for us, no one was there. I looked at my cell phone as we stepped through a fissure and onto some massive boulders. It was 1:11. The sun was bright and did provide a little extra warmth. Though, the hike itself had already warmed us up.
I found a chair-like feature in the light gray, mostly rounded, granite rocks and sat down. Slim then did likewise. His stone recliner was about six feet (two meters) to my left.
I then noticed a green pond in the valley below. I pointed down to it. “Slim, there’s Lake Montonia.”
“Oh, yes. I see it.”
“Remember that Monday evening that me, you and Frank came up here, back in the summer of ‘94?” Back in the summer of ’69 …
“Hmmm … not sure.”
“The exact date was June 27th.” Exact date?
“Why would we have come up here on a Monday in June?”
“I think your electrical controls company had a complete shutdown that week. And, Frank was off work due to a construction accident. I think he
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