What remains of teddy re.., p.1
What Remains of Teddy Redburn, p.1Lorraine Ray
What Remains of Teddy Redburn
Copyright 2017 Lorraine Ray
Even today if you visit Los Hombres you can search for Theodore Pennington Redburn. Signs shouting “Treasure Maps to the Lost Satchel!” “Redburn Mystery Clues Sold Here!” appear in the gift shop windows on the way to the interesting petroglyphs on Ghost Hat Hill. These shops hope to sell you the maps and souvenir booklets which some of the more enterprising people in town have drawn up to explain the sightings of the mysterious multi-millionaire. The maps and booklets mark the routes he might have taken when he visited Los Hombres and later disappeared. You’ll see some change back from a five dollar bill before you rush out of the gift shop, bells jangling on the door, and rattle open the folded map right in the middle of our narrow sidewalks on a Saturday morning when we’re struggling to get around you with our bags full of organic grocery shopping. Follow the dotted lines and you’ll be embarking on a search of the environs of Los Hombres for the remains of Teddy Redburn. Once he was a human being, but now he’s best described as a treasure hunter’s goal, an X-marks-the-spot, like the location of the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, etc.
“Treasure hunting is a venerable pastime in Arizona,” drones the author of a Southern Arizona guidebook in their section covering ghost town, lost mines, and misplaced loot. The names of the forgotten mines and treasures awaiting discovery by the lucky and adventurous can be reeled off by any dedicated treasure-hunter and include: the Mine of the Blind Mule, Screaming Skull Hoard, Vulture Comstock, Treasure of the Weeping Nun, Bloody Skull Pit, Old Blood and Thunder Comstock, and the Mine of the Lost, to mention only a few of the more colorful ones that everybody ought to know. Why, you can cross the whole state and do nothing but lurch from one lost treasure to another, if you care to. While other states around our nation boast of their productive crops like grapes, cherries, and hay, or worthwhile endeavors like building bridges or designing cars, the state of Arizona remains most fertile in the field of abandoned mines or misplaced treasures—like the remains of Teddy Redburn. Whether they were inebriated or shot by arrows when they lost their valuable mine, someone always has an idea where they might have left it. And these charlatans devise ingenious ways to charge you for the information, selling you metal detectors and panning equipment and producing YouTube videos about stashes from famous stagecoach or train robberies, videos which promise to reveal the secret wanderings of the various lost prospectors and robbers for a small fee. You might think this is rather pathetic, but we all crave our dreams and who’s to say fantasies of stumbling upon large sums of money or gold are any worse than dreams of inventing an important medicine or a contraption to go faster. Why are you moving so fast, and why are you so sick, we might ask.
On the face of it, the desert probably doesn’t seem to be a great hiding place, but that’s because you’re thinking of all deserts as sandy desolate locations, like the Sahara sand dunes. Los Hombres sits in an entirely different kind of desert. When old Grundy Pennington Redburn founded the city as a railroad shipping location for cattle ranches in the Huachuca Mountains, he built his mansion into the side of a steep hill named Ghost Hat, and others, who wished to be fashionable, followed his example and built there. Craggy, rock-strewn, the terrain of Los Hombres abounds with ditches, which we call arroyos, with steep sides to them. These arroyos sprout thickets of spiny brush, trees, and cacti. Almost every house either has an arroyo behind it or in front of it, and these steep ditches carry rushing waters during the summer monsoons, and those rushing waters eroded several deep caverns within town and more on the west side, outside town. One cavern high up on the hill even served as our town jail (and is now being converted into a fashionable restaurant promising delicious enchiladas and loud mariachi music). Where these arroyos broaden outside town, sand covers the wide beds and the thickets on the sides merge to form a huge swamp-like bog on the plain. Good luck digging through all that for what remains of Teddy Redburn.
But no one actually hopes they’ll find Teddy. After all these months, he must be dead, and no one wants his corpse, least of all his family. Although some believe a cousin survives Teddy, they say this relative is now far too wealthy to care about his cousin’s remains. Others in town think Teddy fathered children, but most of us believe he lied when he claimed that during his last hours.
The public and the treasure hunters, though, they want what Teddy could have had with him when he died—a satchel crammed full of cash.
That night, when Theodore Pennington Redburn turned off the I-10 and drove the frontage road into Los Hombres, he discovered that his home town, which he hadn’t seen for years, had morphed into a wrecked and deserted landscape with half the buildings boarded up, and the other half functioning in a shambling semblance of what he remembered. It was almost as though everyone had fled to fallout shelters as an air raid siren blared sometime in 1989. But even the air raid sirens in town disappointed; an old ham radio operator and electrical nut who plagued the town claimed critical wires disintegrated years earlier.
“I examined that air raid siren in the spring of 2004,” said Bernie Goodson, the noted ham radio operator and electrical nut. “Our city council decided to disconnect it and send it to the Santa Cruz County museum in Tombstone. A relic of the cold war they called it. I was there the Saturday the city crew took it down, and when they opened the cover to disconnect the wires, the county work crew noticed all the insulation had been chewed to shreds by some damn pack rats! The wires were shot to hell! To add insult to injury the damage was actually quite old. More than a decade prior from what I could see. This means we lived without an air raid siren for all those years when we should have been testing it every month. Think what the commies could have made of that!”
But you probably suspect that the air raid siren has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened to Teddy Redburn and his satchel of money. And you’d be right if you thought that. In fact, it was Bernie Goodson himself who first drew a map with the air raid siren on it, and he put it there because he liked air raid sirens, not because it had anything to do with the disappearance of Teddy Redburn. Whenever curious visitors ask why the nonexistent air raid siren is marked on some Teddy Redburn maps, people say the siren was a city landmark, but the real scoop is that Bernie drew that map. You can buy his map in the town gift shops: recommended only if you collect oddities.
Anyway, within a city block of the siren, Teddy stopped to fill the gas tank of his Ford Fairlane at the Los Hombres Service Station.
“Pump first,” hollered Hector Fimbres from the office on the highway frontage road. “Nice car!” he added as an afterthought.
The figure outside the Ford Fairlane waved an acknowledgement, perhaps of both these remarks.
When Teddy Redburn paid for the gas, he made the mistake of opening his leather valise, an old-fashioned satchel for lawyers, in front of Hector, who was the first person in Los Hombres to get a glimpse of all that fabulous cash.
“Hundred dollar bills! I’m telling you there were stacks of ‘em! Wrapped up with paper bands. Hundreds of hundreds, I guess. And that’s what he paid with. A hundred dollar bill. I watched him pull it out of a stack. I don’t even know how much money there was!” Hector tells this story to anyone who asks and while he talks his eyes go buggy and wild, or maybe more buggy and wild than usual; he’s an excitable person. Among those who trekked unsuccessfully out into the blazing desert looking for what remained of Teddy after the town realized he disappeared, Hector can be remembered as the witness with the biggest medical bill from treasure hunting and the witness with the most unusual description of Theodore Pennington Redburn.
“The strange t
Was Hector so mesmerized by the stacks of cash that he imagined the beard was fake? It’s rather hard for people to judge. Hector claimed the man with the satchel looked young and only masqueraded as an old man. As proof he maintained that the fluorescent lights in the gas station office lit the skinny man well that night and the man driving the Fairlane lifted his dark glasses. But why was he wearing dark glasses at twilight? Furthermore, blue eyes were what Hector remembered seeing, though Teddy’s eyes were green! But Hector mostly ogled the money; of that, Hector confessed.
“He was a hipster, a genuine hipster type. And I could see the white beard on his face was fake. He’d glued it on with spirit glue,” added Hector. “That’s what I saw. When he turned his head to the side. When he grabbed a package of True Southwestern Smoked Chili-Jerked Turkey. I could see the beard was fake.” Hector always slams a fist on the store countertop when anyone questions his observation skills. “Shit, if you don’t wanna hear what I have to say, why do you even bother asking me?”
This information, which casts aspersions on the story thus far and which leads the listener to believe that Teddy Redburn was not the person driving the Ford Fairlane, is false. The car the police eventually found parked outside the Big Gulch Diner was registered in Las Vegas to Theodore Pennington Redburn, and the person driving the car was Teddy and not someone who murdered Teddy and stole his money. If you were imagining that, you should stop being so imaginative!
And Hector definitely saw the money—several other people saw this same money—so by all means keep your attention correctly focused on the cash.
Teddy, the Mattress King of Las Vegas, whose late-night ads promised to bring a quality night’s sleep to man and woman, girl and boy, then left Hector, the stunned, temporarily money-blinded attendant, and slipped back into the car to pilot his old Ford Fairlane up the lanes of his childhood home. We know the Fairlane prowled Los Hombres’ streets with the mirrored chrome bumper gobbling the shadowy curbs and corners of the town, because several people remember glimpses driving by. Every sighting of the car appears on the various maps which are for sale.
Eventually this old car drove up Ghost Hat Hill. People don’t dispute the routes it took, or that the car kept going, only pausing on the uphill drive once briefly outside the ruined mansion, the Redburn family home, possibly to view the sleeping porch, a sunny old structure wrapping around the mansion under rotting eaves with a few rocks leaning against the porch railings. These specimen rocks would be valuable somewhere else but they were just big dumb rocks here where there were so many rock specimens strewn about as though God’s museum of rocks exploded. Grundy Pennington Redburn, Teddy’s grandfather, built the huge mansion on the side of the hill. Born rich, mattress manufacturing was, in fact, a major step down for Teddy, regardless of the notorious television ads in Las Vegas.
Then the Ford crawled farther up the hill, alongside the high curb on Ghost Hat Road, limping up the last lonely stretch as though it didn’t have the power to counteract the wind, as though it was afraid of the climb and what it might find up there on the creepy moonlit crest. Ghost Hat Road is the steepest street in Los Hombres, and it leads to the well-known mountaintop petroglyphs, which are undoubtedly the unattractive town’s main attraction, featured in the sad website which the town almost never updates.
Though the slow crawl of the Fairlane appears insignificant, a week later hundreds of people hiked that same route, arguing over how far an old man could have throw a satchel out of a car window. These people thrashed the bushes, even jumped into backyards on either side of the road, in hopes of finding the thousands of hundred dollar bills that the mattress king of Las Vegas might have thrown away due to his Alzheimer’s condition. That many of them fell into cacti or sprained their ankles simply reflects their gumption and not their foolishness. And if you believe that, I have a treasure map to sell you.
While during the day Ghost Hat Hill usually had a few visitors, so close to nightfall, in that small Arizona town, those visitors had left the parking lot which led to the petroglyphs. Teddy guided the old Ford Fairlane into a space and we know which one it was, because a witness, Georgie Rios remembered looking the car up on her phone to be certain of its make since she hadn’t seen one of those old Fords in years. We even know the exact space where Teddy parked because Georgie paid a lot of attention to details. She also sold popcorn commercially from a popper she towed to Ghost Hat on weekends. She stopped to read a text message from her son who lived away from home at a university, and she confessed that she never spoke to Teddy.
“The old dude was sitting in his car. Behind the wheel just looking over the town. Staring up at the mountains. I think he was planning to hike up there. He gazed a long time at the moon, too, so he might have been planning to hike up there!” Georgie still likes to laugh with her girlfriends about her sighting of the musing multi-millionaire who disappeared. She makes money off of popcorn and never sought Teddy’s treasure; a rich person revisiting Los Hombres surprised her.
And, actually, Teddy had left the gas station that night contemplating the wisdom of coming back to Los Hombres. Without letting himself into his grandfather’s mansion, he drove to the top of Ghost Hat Hill at six-thirty in the evening to wait for the harvest moon to appear and to think about having sold his mattress factory and being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He reached the summit, and for a while, until the moon showed, he rested with his eyes lightly closed, recovering from the eyestrain of traveling through monotonous, brightly-lit desert country. His head throbbed, but being at the top of this particular hill under a full moon was on his personal bucket list and on the first day of his life back in his home town and maybe his last day on earth, any item on his list couldn’t be delayed. Soon he fell asleep.
When he awoke, he noticed a strange white glow like a creepy blob watching him sleep in his favorite haunt. He grew up in Ghost Hat and spent most of his early life romping around on this particular hill and at that time there had been no creepy blobs living there, to the best of his recollection.
“A person who falls asleep in a public place has no right to be startled by observers,” Teddy lectured himself, laughing at his fear of the glowing orb, actually the moon’s reflection, which was also the sun’s reflection, cast on a wrinkly, writhing plastic popcorn bag, one Georgie Rios had sold earlier that day. “If I’m really planning to live in that wrecked house of mine, I have to do a better job of managing my fears, and buck up against the terror of glowing, pulsating alien blobs which are actually plastic bags. Also, any alien blob which kills me, frankly, might be doing me a favor. I don’t even know what I’m living for any more.” With that he reached down and felt for a gun he’d hidden under his seat. He drew it out and laid it on the seat beside him.
He’d always thought of himself as brave, not flinching when he had to offer first aid to a worker in his factory who had a piece of wood for a mattress slam against their shoulder and the shoulder was horribly dislocated, or when his neighbor’s daughter had fallen off her bicycle and broken her arm in three places, and he hoped this wasn’t a sign that his resolve to do great things with himself had petered out, but it probably had. Alzheimer’s was a rough thing to face alone. Maybe shooting himself was the brave thing to do?
With quick turns of the window crank, the pane of glass in the car door shivered and dropped at the bidding of a scrawny wrist. His wrist! He barely recognized himself after years of eating poorly, devouring cans of chili reheated quickly in a microwave, fast food from greasy bags, and cold pizza left in the factory lunchroom. He studied himself in the rearview mirror; worry had turned his beard white and the hairs at his temples in only sixty-three years old.
He glanced out at the view again. Not much could be seen of the higher countryside. Just vague hints of the thousands of creosote bushes merging into juniper and manzanita and then pine trees where clouds poured over a saddle in the Huach
On the hilltop around him, an expanse of lonely asphalt had been neatly divided into parking spaces. Lacey creosote decorated the brightly moonlit desert hill. Rounded rocks and a cluster of teeny homes clung to the hillside further down. Seeing those small homes, Teddy felt a wave of nostalgia, for he hadn’t yet seen the inside of the old haunt and relived some of the memories he wanted to on what he planned to be the new beginning of his sixty-three years of life. And maybe some purpose to his life would come to him magically without him doing anything.
The billowing plastic bag in the parking lot puffed and swelled, and outside the gaping mouth of the bag a large run-over pile of kernels embraced fitfully and meandered toward the parking space where Teddy sat.
Teddy, squinting at the petroglyphs on the rocks at the edge of the parking lot, leaned his elbow and his head out of the car window. But instead of studying the rock, he looked at himself again, this time in the side view mirror. His teeth needed a cleaning, and his wardrobe was in shambles. Now that he’d been bought out, he’d have a lot of time to attend to those problems, and quite a bit of money.
“I’ll go see the petroglyphs up close,” said Teddy to no one, and possibly everyone, in the whole world. He liked to think he was saying hello to the earth again; he would see which way things took him. He might want to be saying hello and not goodbye.
Teddy ambled across the parking lot and along the trail, patting the big rock of his childhood which was about the size of an elephant, he supposed. Oh, the sight of that rock was dearer to him than the face of a childhood friend! He hadn’t seen the petroglyph rock in years; most of those who lived in Los Hombres had never bothered to see it. Chipped out by man, or woman, hundreds of years earlier, somewhere there, closer to the moon in the east, would be the trilby-shaped petroglyph that gave the hill the moniker Ghost Hat, though some claimed that petroglyph didn’t really look much like a ghostly hat.
Teddy liked patting the rock like a companionable dog, while his palm felt the texture of the stone. The heat of the day lingered in the warm mass and that made the analogue with a dog or an elephant apt.
As he walked along the encircling trail at the side of the rock, he came upon the familiar shapes chipped in the surface. The spiral pattern, something like a mountain goat, the parallel lines, a man, and another spiral. He could see them clearly in the moonlight. And then, there it was, the vague hat, or cloud. Whoever thought it was a hat, he wondered? Doubtless, some joker, and it wasn’t respectful to the artist from the Pima or Hohokam tribe, who probably imaged a cloud or a mountain or even this very hill Teddy had grown up on.
Years ago, on one trip back to Los Hombres to see his parents, Teddy strode up the hill briefly to see the petroglyphs. The rock was an old playmate of his, a jungle gym and with a private sand box at the side. On windy days he’d find the protected side and press his back against the hard wall and dig aimlessly in the soil with sticks he found. Long before the parking lot was built, when anyone who wanted to see the petroglyphs had to hike up there, Ghost Hat Hill and sometimes the desert below it, was Teddy’s private playground. He used to race all over the hilltop and sit on this very rock, thinking out the course of his life as he projected it forward. How could he have imagined going to Las Vegas, working in a mattress factory and then saving enough to buy it from the owner and run it himself, rarely seeing his parents, sleeping in the garage of his own home, being cheated and finally losing the whole thing after finding out he had early stages of Alzheimer’s. It was too much for anyone to take in. The scope of the stupidity and bad luck, in a way, he supposed, was stunning.
Thankfully the warehouse he’d signed over that morning wasn’t the original quonset hut he’d begun in, because that was nearer the I-15 in North Las Vegas, and he’d sold it years earlier. A tragic day that had been. Even though he had planned to get out of Vegas quickly that morning, Teddy had pointed the Fairlane in the direction of the old shop on his way out of town, allowing himself a brief nod to sentimentality, to look one last time at the place where he’d begun his business. When he pulled up beside it, he was amazed to discover it had become a wig factory occupied by Gomez Fine Hairpieces, and some cheerful wig-makers sat on a bench outside vaping placidly together and soaking up the Nevada sun like a pair of lizards.
His parents had had no opinion about him moving to Vegas, but he knew they’d been sad; they never once came to visit him there. That told him their conclusion about it better than them saying anything directly to him, but you can’t mend things when you’ve screwed up something with the dead.
“The people who did all this chipping on this rock…they died a thousand years ago,” Teddy said to himself.
Sure, they did. Could they be buried on this hill? Or out in the flats? He imagined hundreds of graves stretching out on the valley before him and he imagined the occupants of the graves curled in fetal positions, and then stretching while still in the ground, cracking the soil, standing slowly, shaking off the dirt, rising in the moonlight, and treading slowly toward him to serve as helpers to take him to the afterlife with his parents. Would there be such a possibility? Would there be someone to greet him on his journey to death? Did he believe in that? Did the Pima or the Hohokam believe in that? They might well have guardian angels or some such idea, some guardians in this world who take you to the next.
Running around on the hill as a kid had been fun, however such freedom from his parents made him independent and independence meant he thought for himself and found it easy to be able to make money when he was older. But while it left him with great memories and great ambition, it was possible it might have made him unattached to his friends and then made him, as a consequence, morose and negative about having children. Maybe his girlfriends couldn’t compete with the freedom when he told them that as a boy he’d had the run of a small desert mountain. Sure, he had stood there thinking the hill was his, and no one could tell him what to do. Too much solitary time, that was what had caused his attitude. What could he do about it now?
A prairie dog scurried out warily and stood on his back legs with its small front legs in a position of generous inquiry. A prairie dog would be his guide to death. Ha! That was actually quite funny. “Want the popcorn somebody spilled up here?” Teddy asked it. The prairie dog went down on all fours warily and then stood on its back legs again. Why, there were prairie dogs up here when he was a kid, and he couldn’t believe it, that he had remembered that. He wondered if this one was the great-great-great (how many greats?) granddaughter of one he saw at age ten? That was a comforting thought, thinking of the lineage of this little animal stretching all the way back to his youth and maybe to the youth of the buried Hohokam, of the people who chipped out the rock. It made the world continuous, even if he wasn’t going to be, and it was a consolation prize for him leaving earth and for him having rarely been on his hill all these years. And for him being stupid enough to leave it. “I had to make money somewhere else,” he rationalized to no one. “I couldn’t make money in this town. See how it crumbled away to nothing?”
In contrast to his sad feelings about this place and his old factory, Teddy hadn’t been at all sentimental about selling the new mattress factory location, and he wondered why not, but it did hurt him that several good workers would probably be fired after his name was on the papers. He’d stopped in at that factory to say goodbye, also, that very morning. The suppliers of wood and fabric in Georgia had already lost their usual orders from him and would no doubt fire some of their workers and cancel arrangements with their suppliers. Teddy could foresee a cascading series of disasters for people he didn’t even know, in places he couldn’t imagine, all because he’d signed those papers. But sign them he had; he hadn’t had much of a choice in the end, though he’d tried to hold out as long as possible.
And he wondered if this group of buyers would ever manufacture any decent mattresses again in Las Vegas, even with the brains of the best help th
Getting cash for their check was an impulse on his part; he’d lived off cash before and found it an interesting adventure. Then he got out of Vegas quickly, he felt as though he were making a clean escape, for it was likely he would get busy in his new life and not sit around ruminating over how he’d lost everything, including his health.
“Well, I had a run of bad luck,” Teddy had said, smiling and shrugging to his workers that morning. “I never thought I’d sell, and I don’t have much purpose to my life. The factory was everything I’ve wanted since I was eighteen.” He’d been telling the truth. The drive, the mission of his life, had been the mattress factory, but with it gone he couldn’t think of what he would do with his time.
“Aww, something’s gonna come your way.” One of the big burly factory workers had said that in consolation when he shook Teddy like a rag doll that morning.
When Teddy left what used to be his second-floor office in the corner of the new mattress factory, he plastered an odd smile on his face. He strolled out of the building, waving goodbye to some of the older workers, shaking a few hands and thumping a few familiar backs. He took one last look at the cutting tables, the rolls of fabric, the assembled frames, and the piles of new wood. All of that had been his once. His place. He snapped a picture with his cellphone, and then the factory door closed and he was gone.
Worry, so much worry, surrounded anyone when they tried to build things right for customers. The new owners wouldn’t feel that worry because they were planning to re-cover cheap used mattresses that they’d bought from a wholesale supplier for pennies on the dollar. Well, recycling kept the bulky mattresses out of the landfill, Teddy thought, in an ecological mood, but the old frames were often unclean; Teddy had discovered that in the first shipment they’d “suggested” he buy once the price of his factory had been agreed upon and the paperwork was being drawn up by a lawyer.
“Las chinches de cama,” Jesus Yglasias had said. Jesus, who’d been employed in the mattress factory for years, had said this as he was stripping the cover off the old mattress, and he’d been staring at a joint of the used frame.
“What’s that?” Teddy had asked, coming over. “Oh, you mean bedbugs?”
Together they had looked at small black dots crawling toward the crack.
“Ay, Chihuahua! I’ll get rid of that,” Teddy had said once he saw the bugs crawling. He seized the frame from Jesus and ran out the door.
And he’d gotten rid of it. Meanwhile he’d let the lawyers accelerate the process for the buyers who wanted to carve apart what was left of his business and he’d quickly sold his house in Vegas to this same lawyer; Teddy was done with his life there. The buyers had finally gotten the best of him, but a bedbug infestation was the final straw. Well, he’d done his best to try and avert it.
Teddy had bid farewell to the workers at his factory as though he would never see them or the plant again.
Well, he had enough money that he could do what he pleased. By selling the factory he was quite rich for his age. Not that he wanted to live in Vegas anymore or really to live at all, anywhere.
And everything had been easy about Teddy leaving; he was able to discuss cancelling the deal with his wood suppliers in Georgia and he pretended to inspect and admire some scratchy and cheaply made swatches of fabric from the Far East which the new owners had ordered. The new owners were only surprised he hadn’t sold earlier, what with Teddy’s lawyers after him and Teddy never noticing he was being embezzled until the financial situation had been drastic.
His mother had had great intuition; British women had it, intuition in spades. She warned him that Herb Wilcox, Teddy’s accountant, was not to be trusted (and she said this before she called Madame Schznecnikov at the psychic hot line in New York, only for confirmation) that was when Herb was staying with them on a vacation and he’d apparently already begun embezzled money from the mattress factory, siphoning it off it teeny amounts whenever he made a transfer for Teddy and Teddy was none the wiser for ten years. That news broke right before the lawsuit. Teddy’s mother had seen through Herb when he had argued that his mother was imagining things. He could now see there had been actually something to his mother’s suspicion.
But now the strain was over, and he could take off and go wherever he pleased.
Past the petroglyph rocks, Teddy Redburn kept walking out under the stars and in between the creosote bushes that spaced themselves evenly over Ghost Hat Hill. Then he felt the weight of the something in his hand, and he stopped and looked down.
At the gun.
Yes, he held it. He couldn’t say if he liked that weight or not, but it was something. When he went up the arroyos the gun was out in front of him as though he were hunting someone in the sky, perhaps, he laughed, as though he was going to shoot at the moon. When he went down the embankments, the gun pointed at his feet and that made him smile again to think of the soldiers who shot themselves in the foot to get out of war. In a way you could look at life as though it were some continuous war against unseen and unfeeling fate. Or you could imagine you were a revolutionary trying to defeat the great dictator in the sky, the guy behind it all who seemed sometimes to have something against you, to be lining up the forces to oppose your happiness, and who took away your support when you needed it and left you alone with unfeeling neighbors.
Teddy held the gun up to his temple and considered whether now was the correct time to pull the trigger.
Was he taking the easy way out?
Was there anything left for him to do?
Cars whizzed by down below the turning. Ghost Hat Road merged with Wild Oats Street and then merged with the frontage road and then the Interstate and joining it would mean only eight hours driving to San Diego and nine to Los Angeles. The bars and cafes of the town sat in a compact cluster, and seemed to contemplate how much better those other places were than Los Hombres. That night, music spilled into the night air and people shrieked jokes and angry curses and motorcycles popped to life and revved off. The bars and cafes had plenty of customers, a steady trade of families and tired and hungry single men, men who ate their slabs of pie in three bites, men who glared at the noisy families in disgust. But up on Ghost Hat the action of the day was over. About the only thing in the petroglyph parking lot were some gently billowing plastic bags and scattered popcorn kernels near the spot where the popcorn popper had pulled out. And there was a sad old man holding a gun to his head.
Ona Gonzalez, who owns a beauty parlor in town, had lived on Ghost Hat Road for about a decade on the night when Teddy Redburn vanished from Los Hombres. She sometimes had to look for her cat, Coco Cubillas, around six o’clock in the evening, in the twilight gloom. The aged cat lost most of his battles with the other younger neighborhood cats. Furthermore, he walked so slowly that he barely escaped the coyotes, which were eager to vault patio walls and eat cat food out of bowls, and which often prowled the arroyos and the roads of Los Hombres at night. It was best to bring Coco in, though Ona hated to miss even a minute of the news and Wheel of Fortune looking for her cat. She found people winning money thrilling and the news very fascinating, though it often concerned the bodies of migrants found in the desert outside town.
“Coco,” Ona called that night. That was when she witnessed the Ford Fairlane first go past her place heading up the hill. She took several tentative steps forward alongside the garden wall, calling for the cat, but went inside when she didn’t see him right away. “He wasn’t even hiding out in his favorite weeds!” she exclaimed, remembering the hunt she undertook for her cat when people began gossiping about Teddy Redburn.
She left her house a second time about an hour later and this time she was successful at finding Coco. She kept a beat-up Volkswagen parked on the street and her nicer Volkswagen in her garage that extended off the back of her house and opened onto the road. As usual on wi
The big harvest moon shone, clear and luminous, from the hill and Ona supposed the strange car had driven up the road for the view and had decided to park facing it once more on the way down. People often did that. They even sat talking sometimes or vaping in the car placidly. Sometimes she’d look out and seen people out there smooching and doing worse, though she didn’t gaze for more than a few seconds at that kind of activity. It worried her that her grandchildren would notice the antics eventually. Luckily none of her bedroom windows overlooked the street. Maybe they wouldn’t want to spend nights at nana’s house when they were older anyways, so what was she getting all worked up about? Just the stuff and nonsense of old age.
“Quite a moon,” she commented to the man when she peered across the road at him getting out of the car. Like one of those young men from Bisbee, a hipster as she had imagined because of the old car which was the type those young men drive now, the young men with beards and funny clothing she’d seen walking the streets in Bisbee and few moving to Los Hombres, too. Yes, maybe now they were moving here. Those hipsters, that was what her niece called them and that word amused Ona. Though in the next instance, Ona knew this was no young man. This was an older man because of the way he walked toward Ona who held the bulk of Coco Cubillas upside down across her chest like a furry baby and jiggled him. The bell on his collar tinkled and he threw his head back and analyzed the old man upside down. Coco meowed again, but without much interest.
The man turned and went back to the car to put the satchel he’d held in one hand on the seat. Ona watched him slide in the thick leather satchel which bulged, and when he set it down, the weight of it on one arm pulled his shoulder down. She remembered that detail later when she found out it was stuffed full of money.
“Oh yes, the moon, yes. My, isn’t it lovely. A lovely sight. Free for the taking,” said the man standing still for a moment and looking at the night sky in wonder before he closed his car door. He was so thin that the effort staggered him.
“Are you looking for someone?” Ona asked. She took a few small steps in the man’s direction, up the sidewalk with the bulky cat still in her arms.
“No.” The man wandered in her direction, too. “Just reliving a few old times. Good times. I own the old place.” He used a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the ruined mansion.
“Ah! I see.”
“I’m thinking maybe I’m going to live here and get it fixed up. I sold my factory in Vegas.”
“Oh, that’s nice!”
“That’s quite a cat you have there. A Persian?”
“Ah, yes. Persian. He’s my baby!”
“You baby him?”
“He gets everything he wants. Coco Cubillas,” she said, addressing the upside down cat, “you big silly old bag of gato,” she scolded him and bounced him gently. He mewed again. “Why don’t you stay in the garden at least, huh? You aren’t a young cat anymore.”
“You baby him,” the stranger concluded.
“He’s my only baby. I don’t want the coyotes to get him.”
“Just him to baby,” the man echoed.
“Have to have one,” she claimed. “Life’s only good when you have someone to look after. Isn’t that right, Coco?”
“Maybe I need a cat.” The man lurched closer to her and up the high curb.
“Well, people are better.”
“You think so?”
“Sure. I got sixteen grandkids, though. I take care of about eight after school. And Coco. My other baby.”
“I got no children. My girlfriends never wanted any.”
“Awww. That’s no good.”
“No, it’s not.”
No children wasn’t good, thought Teddy. On the day he sold his business, he’d got up at five-thirty in the morning to make it by eight to the title company office in North Las Vegas. His pen scribbled the letters of his name, putting an end to his signature on the last page of the deed, only a few minutes after a sleepy clerk had unlocked the glass office door. “I’ve got no one to leave the business to,” Teddy told the clerk. Now he was remembering the early-morning scene and him saying he had no children, a comment which had been so distressing for him.
“But the house…it’s yours?” Ona asked.
“Sure. It was and I mean it is. I lived there as a boy, and I’m here now. It’s really wrecked at the back. Worse than when I last saw it.” Not once in Vegas had he mentioned the ordinary small town in Arizona where he’d grown up. That made it convenient for him to disappear back there. To Los Hombres.
“The kids were using it for parties,” Ona explained, “but they’ve left it alone for the last couple years. Too busy on their phones to party. Why not sell it?”
“I can’t do it. Even though I haven’t come to see it much, I still think of it as mine.”
“I see. You’re sentimental they would say.”
“That’s right. Sentimental. Well, guess I’d better look over the old place.”
Ona watched him walk back to the mansion porch before taking the cat in and feeding it.
“Who ever said saying goodbye was easy.” Teddy’s mother used to say that and tear up when he went back to Las Vegas. He didn’t visit her and the home in Los Hombres nearly enough times. Didn’t bring his girlfriends with him ever, and then, when he was thinking of and planning another visit, she was gone. Dead in the night, curled up in a fetal position with her feet crossed at the ankles. Alzheimer’s, too, evidently, though they called it senile dementia back then. The neighbor told him about her ankles being crossed; his father never mentioned it. Within two years his father was also dead.
When he left Ona Gonzalez and strolled up there to the old mansion, the place spooked Teddy badly as he stepped in. In the dark with no electricity, a few of his parents’ books sat expectantly on the built-in bookshelves. The people who broke in didn’t read, but he did, and he was glad to hold those books again. After roaming the mansion for half an hour he realized there wasn’t a bed (how ironic that he made mattresses for years and now was going to have to buy one himself ) so he would have to sleep in the sleeping bag he’d brought, if he planned to stay the night. But when he thought of sleeping there, he came outside and decided he would rather sit on the porch again. He couldn’t bear to stay inside the dark home right then. Maybe never.
That day he’d discovered it hadn’t been as hard driving alone from Vegas to Los Hombres as he’d thought it would be before he started. Along the way he’d pretended that his mother was still with him on the passenger seat smoking a cigarette (her flavor was menthol, as he remembered it, in a green box of Pall Malls) and chatting to him (because she was English she would say that she was rabbiting on endlessly) about the vacation they once had at London Bridge when it first arrived in Arizona from London in 1969. Chatting to his dead mom had been a bit like a scene from that movie Psycho, frankly, and when people in Vegas discovered that he slept on a mattress on the floor in his own garage, in a bed he shoved up against the wall, so that he would save money and could rent out his own house, they thought he was psycho. Yeah, that was right, a couple of girlfriends had said he was psycho or a cheapskate or a psycho cheapskate to do a thing like that. They were probably right, as he considered it now. He didn’t know why he had rented out his own home and slept in the garage. That was just the stupid, cheap stunt of a nut.
His mother had always been amazed to think London Bridge was taken apart a
But the phony English village had fallen down now; he wondered where it was when he went there once to visit after his mother died. A lady in a grocery told him it had become a wreck in some parts that had to be bulldozed down for lack of interest. It had become a missing village. The hedge mazes had only a few frail plants left to remind him of what they must have been like back in the day when they’d visited. Teddy barely remembered it himself.
Thinking all that reminded him of England. His parents had gone there once for their twentieth wedding anniversary, and he had come along as a ten year old, though his father had said, “Let’s go again when Teddy’s sixteen,” but by then she didn’t have people any more in Hastings or anywhere else, and his mother said it wasn’t the same without her people and it only made her feel sad and lost and useless to go back without her people being there. Without going back she could almost think that they were still there and she hadn’t seen them in a long time. But he remembered walking on the shingled shore and then climbing the groynes spaced along a cold and windy beach. He remembered looking out over Romney Marsh and the little town of Rye where he bought sugar mice once from a sweets shop they’d found on a narrow cobbled street.
He could see their family photographs from their one trip to England flipping past like an inner slideshow, the pictures of them on a village green, at a deal table in a pub, at a church boot sale and visiting the caves in Cheddar Gorge. And he could see the house where an uncle of his mother lived. The uncle would be gone now.
If his mother had been alive, she might have talked to him on the trip to Los Hombres about the houseboat parties they used to throw on Lake Mead, that dry winding reservoir with its brown stone walls above white stones, like a gigantic bathtub with a ring, she said. Renting the houseboats with four beds and two baths and a sliding glass door at the back had been less money than they imagined. The side pools of hot aqua water fascinated all three of them. Teddy had soaked in one of those with his parents while the houseboat was tied up nearby. And his father liked to pilot the houseboat and tie it up near other boats in side channels. Teddy hid at the top deck under a canopy where he couldn’t hear their talk, couldn’t hear the arguments too well.
But the lake was lower now and he’d heard the boats weren’t available anymore, and Teddy wondered what his father would think of that if he knew?
At their parties on the lake there had been far too much liquor. And thinking of that always brought out a grim bit of guilt his father carried around like a stinky bouquet after his mom had died. Why had he told her she couldn’t hold her drinks? He said it casually once after they were returning the houseboat at the rental agency. It came out before he could stop it, and he didn’t even believe that she was any worse than the other women, but he’d said it nevertheless and she had taken it for gospel. Teddy’s father never should have said anything like that and the sad thing was it’d made her drink more afterwards. And his father worried aloud whether her Alzheimer’s was caused by booze. After she died, at the end of his life, Teddy’s father was haunted by the thought which would not leave him and had hounded him and pounded into his brain. The idea that he had killed his wife subtly with one tossed away comment made years earlier.
At one point in the drive to Los Hombres from Vegas, Teddy improvised some conversation about the types of cars now favored by the casino Indians near London Bridge, and what it meant about the tribe. Before she got Alzheimer’s his mother used to be interested in subjects like that, because she liked Native American customs, saying it was the one great thing about America and something the country ought to take more pride in. For example, when they visited Los Angeles in 1974 she was interested in the Chumash and Gabrielino and Tongva tribes that had lived in the Santa Monica Mountains in the towns of Xoqto and Saspili and on the islands offshore. She even found a shrine at the old school, named Warren G. Harding High School, lurking behind a chain link fence which protected a sacred grove and the spring, Tongva Spring, flowing since the fifth century. Watercress surrounded the spring when the Spanish arrived. It was only opened once in a while and always for the day before Columbus Day, a celebration of life in California before the influence of Columbus for the few remaining people interested in the California tribes. There, in that city of ten million, this teeny vestige of a great unknown past lingered, secretly celebrated.
Once in Palm Springs on another vacation, she sought out the nearest reservation of the Cahuill Indians, who called themselves the Taxliswet, (of course that meant the people. How many people on the face of the earth called themselves the people?), and learned a few words in the language. She learned they were the biggest landlords of the city of Palm Springs and they owned 6,700 acres within city limits. Now that his mother was dead, he didn’t suppose she was still interested or even still listening to him, but it didn’t hurt to pretend that she did. So he had talked about his interest in the tribe which owned so much Palm Springs real estate.
Looking around himself, Teddy realized his old home had met the same fate as the English village at London Bridge, although he was the one responsible for his grandfather’s home. When he looked around himself at the dust and decay, the merry thoughts of trips with his mother and father to England and Lake Havasu and Los Angeles and Palm Springs, which had occupied him so cheerfully on the journey back to Los Hombres, wore off and he doubted he had made a good decision thinking this would be a fit place for him to live or to die in.
As a child, he had occasionally slept on the porch of the old house on this hill under a thick serape and it was odd, that sleeping arrangement, because unlike most kids he could get up and do as he pleased. A few times when his parents first let him sleep out there, he’d been afraid and snuck back inside at night, and he’d heard them making love, but most nights he stayed out there under the serape.
Twice he’d slept up there on the petroglyph rock. On the night he graduated high school and a second time a month later on the night before he left for Vegas. His mother and father never asked where he was going at night and they let him run about Ghost Hat Hill without any questions, though it was a rule that he could not go into town without their permission and strangely enough he never broke with them on that; even when he could drive, he never went into town without them.
Teddy was just sitting on the porch for a while, thinking these odd thoughts of his, getting ready to drive back into town when a couple strolled by.
Hans Zwilanski and his wife preferred to walk around town during the months they had lived on Ghost Hat Road; their new home was on a scenic hill with petroglyphic decorated rocks, and they enjoy strolling up to the petroglyph park from their house.
“Let’s walk up to the top for a moment just to see the moonlight,” said Hans. “We won’t even need to bring a flashlight.” He stood up from the couch and stretched.
“Oh, again? You want to go up the hill again?” she asked, l
“Well, what about the meatloaf? Last time it got dry.”
“We’ll only be a few minutes. We’ll nip out quickly and come right back. It won’t be cooked,” Hans assured her. He glanced at the back door to see if it was locked.
“I guess so, all right. Just quickly.” She stood up and slid her phone in her back pocket.
Hans planned to make love up there with her—hopefully. He figured she’d probably refuse. Since the baby came, she was getting awfully cold to him and he didn’t like it. Six weeks were up and he knew everything should be fine; grandma had the baby for the night and his wife would have no excuse. He thought she better start getting more responsive or he was gonna skedaddle, and pronto. She’d better figure out how to get herself back in shape, too. If not, he would take the kid and just raise him somewhere else himself.
Hans glanced ahead and saw an old Ford Fairlane parked in front of the abandoned house and the front door of that old mansion was open for the first time since they’d lived there! As they approached, Hans could see a skinny man with a white beard and a baseball cap sitting on the porch steps inspecting some old books, but Hans’s first instinct, which was to wave, was stifled, and Hans was glad his wife didn’t seem to notice the man in the suit with the strange beard sitting on the steps because it might alarm her more than usual; she felt Ghost Hat Road wasn’t safe and he might have to leave her alone at night once or twice to see a new girlfriend and he didn’t want to receive any alarmed and desperate texts from her. Drawing her attention to an odd person on the hill might be more upsetting than he would care to deal with. She could become a little hysterical when she felt unsafe.
Hans had seen the old lady next door beckoning her cat earlier that night. Someday he’d be as old as her and what would that be like? For that matter, what would his wife be like? If she was so afraid at this age, what would she be like when she’d be older and a lot weaker? He didn’t like the thought of that.
If this marriage didn’t work out, he vowed to divorce her and marry someone younger like the lady who was running the coffee shop. She was a smart young lady. His mother had said for him to give himself permission to fail if the marriage didn’t work out and he needed to come home and live with her again, which was sounding better every week. His mother’s cooking was tastier than his wife’s, after all, and she didn’t even try any of the recipes his mother gave them, which showed that she was not considerate of his feelings. After the baby was bigger, he’d think about leaving and maybe with his mother’s help he could have the child and his wife would only have visitation.
She could have at least tried one recipe of his mother’s in order to make him feel a little better. What did it mean about his marriage when his wife didn’t even try the recipes her mother-in-law gave her and they were damn good recipes because he’d eaten her cooking and he’d been putting on good weight when he lived with his mom, but now the scales were showing that he was getting skinnier and it was his wife’s mean cooking that was doing that to him. That was what his falling weight meant.
His face sure did look thin and hungry again because of her and he remembered that look from when he was a child and their father took most of the money and spent it on gambling in Mexico. It probably didn’t mean anything good about a wife’s opinion of her husband’s family if she wouldn’t cook the recipes his mother knew.
As they walked closer to the old mansion steps, Hans forgot about his troubles with his wife and wondered why that dude with the big white beard had the leather satchel beside him? And it looked jammed full of stuff when he opened it, and then Hans realized as he strolled past and away that in the moonlight it had really looked like money at the top of the opening! Neat stacks of new money with paper bands around them the size and the color of good old American greenbacks! Why was that dude sitting there like a bump on a log? With a bag full of money on his lap!
Hans had to think about that.
At the top of the petroglyph hill, his mind focused on the money and he forgot about making love to his wife. They only meandered around the rock and ambled back.
Though the car was there when Hans and his wife returned, the old man had vanished.
Brooding about what he’d seen after they got back from their walk, Hans regarded the Fairland and the ruined mansion out his front window. Later, when he was perusing his cellphone, he got perked up and listened especially well when he heard a Ford engine go by heading back down the hill. When he was lying awake in bed around eleven o’clock, he thought he heard the same old Ford engine coming back to the mansion, but he was too sleepy to get up and check.
Earlier that evening at about seven-thirty the Ford Fairlane drove slowly through the outskirts of town to where the old schoolyard stood. In the next week, Bernie Goodson recalled spotting the car in a space beside the schoolyard fence when he glanced out his venetian blinds that night. The car was parked where you could view the new jungle gym and the wood chips, Bernie claimed. Even with the new equipment, the school was the same old building with its original flagpole and sash windows; Teddy Redburn probably didn’t see much of a change.
Later, when he drew his own treasure map, Bernie included the schoolyard stop, making his map unique. He was also the mapmaker who marked the removed air raid siren, and on another whim he included a ghost story from the school on his map. Bernie remembered the legend bandied about school at the time he went there of a janitor haunting the rooms. When Bernie was young, kids would look around the school for the blood supposedly in a hall where the janitor died, and Bernie remembered how remote death had seemed then, and he contrasted it with how close death seemed now that he was fifty-one and it made him shiver a little.
On his way down the hill, Teddy remembered that his mother had gone to church, to the big old Methodist place on Pennington Street, so he went to find that church in the center of town. That building hadn’t migrated anywhere since he’d last seen it, being such an enormous old hulk fashioned of substantial granite and brick, and he found a parking space, not in front of it, but near enough where he could nose the Fairlane in easily.
Within minutes, the driver’s door of the Fairlane opened and shut and the bent figure of a man was seen trudging up the sidewalk by Cate Ferguson, the owner of the Gray Dog Art Gallery when she placed a new box of note cards featuring the hilltop petroglyphs in her shop window. She saw the figure pass and listened as the slow footsteps continue up the sidewalk and, a few minutes later, when she stood outside to lock the gallery door, she noted the dark form of the same man standing in front of the church. His gaze traveled over the bricks fondly, lingering on a chimney and the big black door only a few steps from the sidewalk. Where the small grassy front yard had once been, there was only dried weeds and smashed bottles. A few advertising flyers had blown into the yard, and Cate saw him pick those flyers out of the weeds and patiently fold them.
“Nobody much goes there anymore,” she called to him. “They use the back door when they do. I hear it’s full of dirt and bats inside. Smells of mildew.”
“Ah huh,” said the man, spinning around in Cate’s direction. “I’ve been in Vegas for years. This was my mom’s church. We went here when I was little.”
So, he was once a resident of the town? She thought his suit looked expensive. The baseball cap, however, was cheap.
“Used to play here,” the man said. “Summer and winter. Had an old tree in the back where I made a fort. I played good guys and bad guys.”
Good and bad guys. Nowadays Teddy Redburn didn’t recognize evil. A few days earlier, he hadn’t stuck around in the parking lot of Mirabella Title and Trust (perhaps he could have hid himself behind one of Las Vegas’ ubiquitous palm trees) to deck any of the buyers, even though he knew they were scheduled to show up at ten for their part of the signing. Even if he had known about their conspiracy, there would have been no point in getting angry at them then or trying to get even
Maybe he should have paid more attention to good and evil. First, it was a thieving accountant and then a frivolous lawsuit and then Alzheimer’s. It was just one thing after another this year, Teddy said to himself. It took him the whole year to realize the dishonest accountant and the frivolous lawsuit were both devised by the new owners to get him to sell, but he hadn’t seen himself as the object of a conspiracy at the time, or perhaps some part of his consciousness rejected the clues. One might say the fury he felt at all these coincident disasters was really his doubts about the unlikely chance that all this had happened without the hand of someone truly evil.
A lawyer’s leather briefcase, the kind with pleats on the side so it can hold lots of papers, swung from Teddy’s gnarled fist. In the fading twilight, Cate could see his shoulders droop with the weight of the case. She thought of chatting with him, perhaps about his mother, but she had dinner plans in mind and she imagined he was the type to guard his privacy.
“Would you sell me a book?” he asked, surprising her by shuffling back toward the shop.
As Teddy approached, he reached into his satchel and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. Cate noticed a roll of bills with paper bands on it and thought she saw more of the same.
“I’ll have to get change. Which book?” she asked.
“One about the county’s history. Whichever is the thickest.”
“Oh sure. I’ve got one of those.” She turned the knob to open the shop door again and looked back. Sure enough she could see a whole satchel full of bills! That’s what the old man had. My goodness, he must be horribly rich, she thought! She’d heard rumors that someone left Los Hombres and made good in a business line; she couldn’t remember what. Why this must be the character of the rumors! She wondered if she could interest him in anything else in the store.
“I have several lovely handcrafted items. I’m about to close, but I’ll stay open if you’re interested. I have a lady who does quilts for me and a man I know makes replicas of the petroglyphs on the mountain on sandstone. Why don’t you look around at a few of them?”
“The petroglyphs sound interesting, but I have to say I don’t shop at all anymore for novelties. My house in Vegas was full of those things and I had to let them go. Too many things and I can’t give them away to my kids. They haven’t got room for them.”
But why was Theodore suddenly claiming to have kids? What did his lie mean? Did Cate remember the conversation wrong? The people in town later speculated about that. Did Teddy want to try out having children for a moment of pretending?
“Good evening and thank you,” Cate said as she followed him out and he strolled away with his new book.
“Evening,” he called back politely. “I think my grandfather is in here somewhere!” Teddy tapped the cover of the book she’d sold him.
When the gift shop owner left in her car, Teddy could be seen putting the history book on the floorboards of the Fairlane. Afterwards, he left the car and slumped down to the cracked porch steps of the church, a place where he sat for years as a kid and where he’d sometimes taken off his shoes after school. Now he slid the brass clasp open on the satchel and reached in to pull out the gun, no, not to shoot the moon, no, he laughed to himself, not to do that.
He reached around the money and pulled out some papers and set them on the steps, but the wind started to lift the corners and he lay the gun down to hold them still. These papers were the deed of sale for his mattress factory in Vegas.
In the late afternoon on his way to Los Hombres he’d thought of visiting the post office to see if he could tell them that someone was living in his house now. At least he would get advertising flyers, if he stayed up there. But when he’d driven by, he’d noticed the post office wasn’t open anymore, or so it seemed, because the big arched windows that overlooked Pennington were boarded over and the three adobe brick front steps from the sidewalk, which he also remembered sitting on sometimes when he waited for his mother after church, were covered with more yellowed tubes of old advertising flyers and miserable scrawny weeds dying and spreading their seeds in the sidewalk cracks.
He leaned against the church around eight o’clock on a windy and warm Saturday night, a night which was just becoming wild in the bars near the Interstate; he could hear more shouts. Most in the town wouldn’t have to work as truck drivers and waitresses the next hot day in October, and on that bright moonlit night you could see through a thin veil of dust as the traffic flowed on the Interstate. The trucks with loads of furniture and meat, and the campers intent for mountains and lakes. Say, he noticed, they had fixed the bridge over the highway. A good thing that was, he thought. A good thing.
When he was certain no one watched, he turned down the lane at the side of the church. Teddy stuffed the gun back in the satchel as he walked. He flattened himself against the building and peered down the side of the church toward the back entrance.
He strode down toward the entrance. This was a strange time to be going to church, you might think. On a Saturday night?
Perhaps they had Saturday night congregational suppers.
What Teddy Redburn did at the church for the next two hours was a part of the whole mystery, a mystery the people of Los Hombres would come to love, maybe the best part of the whole story, if you’re the type to believe in buried treasure, X-marks-the-spot and such. But every time someone tries to dig around the church property, a neighbor confronts them and runs them off.
The popcorn lady, Georgie Rios, drove by the church at ten and saw Teddy as he crossed Pennington to his car, and she swore Teddy didn’t have a briefcase in his hands.
“When I looked in my rear view mirror, the Ford Fairlane pulled out behind me. It drove past the church and the town park. It went by the old, empty shops on Wild Oats. I can’t prove it, but I think he went back up Ghost Hat Road.”
Around eleven, a visitor to town was sitting in the Big Gulch Diner when he glanced out the window as he brought some hot sauce to his table for his tacos and he saw, in the light of a streetlamp, hunched shoulders and a baseball cap gliding by on the sidewalk that ran beside the deep arroyo on the opposite side of the street. The man felt at the time that it was odd when the shoulders and cap suddenly stepped off the sidewalk, quickly and deliberately, around a big barrel cactus, and dropped down into the arroyo. This man had visited Los Hombres for years and he knew it was a rough scramble down to the arroyo bed called Big Gulch from that particular spot. He almost thought of going out the door to check if the person had fallen, but he figured he couldn’t see much so late at night.
Whether the person who he saw disappear had hands that were full or empty was impossible for him to tell; the parked cars blocked his view. It was later mistakenly rumored that the Big Gulch patron had definitely seen Teddy carrying a shovel away from the car and that he had his satchel firmly in his hand.
When the police interviewed this diner patron, he stated that was no old man scrambling down the side of the arroyo. “Oh, you don’t know desert dwellers very well,” said one of the town’s old timers.
At midnight Jan Jansen, who was an insomniac, gaped as she read bizarre tales of alien abductions on several sensational websites devoted to the discussion of such matters, to the size of alien heads, to the alien’s personal assessments of various European countries, to the chattering insect-like sound of their evident alien language, and to what their multi-lobed genitals resembled (a stewed cauliflower head) and she was delighted to find new posts which had come in within the hour from New Jersey with details of fresh landings and encounters on an isolated beach on an offshore island only the week prior.
If she couldn’t sleep, the alien abductions were always the sort of thing she relished combing at night, and she kept seven tabs open across the top of her laptop computer screen and opene
Jan lived in Hombres Haciendas, a mobile home estate a mile outside of Los Hombres on a side road nearer the Mexican border. Hers was a double-wide that she had bought with the payment she received from that auto wreck she had two years earlier in Phoenix. The wreck hospitalized her for three weeks and couldn’t work for months. On her bed she propped her laptop on a pillow in front of her so that she could peruse the sites or delve into her pile of library books resting on the bed beside her (with their bookmarks in the places where she’d stopped because she kept five or six mysteries going at the same time) and from her bed she saw the motion detection light come on outside. That happened a few times every month and she wondered if it were drug mules passing by from Mexico, but they left her alone because she was with the collies and her sons were usually home on their own trailers on the property, but they’d gone fishing in San Carlos for the weekend like they sometimes wanted to do in the late fall if there weren’t any hurricanes threatening to come up the Sea of Cortez. Her five collies began yelping and dashing around the double-wide and she had to call out their names (she had named them after the Classical Greek people because of their way of being very dignified at times, not this time) and she clapped “Dionysis, Ganymede, Hyperion, all you kids!” to them and told them their mommy was disappointed. She rolled out of bed and stepped into the shower stall to a small sliding window which was the best way to see in the area of her property where the light was coming on. Peering out across her clearing, she saw an old man in a baseball cap and a dark suit crossing slowly, his frail head tilted upward at the night sky. He walked deliberately toward the southeast with a valise in his hand. Later she thought she might have seen a shovel also when so many reported him carrying one, but truthfully she doubted he had anything but the briefcase in his hands. That was peculiar, she thought, hers was practically the last house for a hundred miles in that direction and if he kept traveling that direction he was going, he’d head right into the valley which would be deadly in the heat of the Arizona day, even in the month of October, even halfway through the month.
“Hey!” Jan shouted out the window at the retreating figure, “Hey you! Whatcha doing? Don’t you even know whatcha doing?”
Teddy beheld the moonlit desert floor, the round lacey splotches of the creosote bushes; leaf litter they dropped fashioned circular patterns in all directions. The oldest living non-evolved plant. Teddy had read that. Somewhere in this vast sea of plants the original creosote bush endured; researchers had located it after years of investigating. Teddy took pleasure in their oily little leaves which cast such strange lacey patterns in the moonlight.
The leather valise pulled his arm down, so he tossed it into a weedy flower. He had what he needed out of the satchel.
After he’d walked for another half an hour, there was an odd shadow under the only mesquite tree nearby. But not a shadow. A body.
The corpse he encountered rested under a tree because it seems when you are dying in the desert you seek shelter under trees, though some people might not consider the desert trees anything like a tree at all because of their sparse foliage and short twisted trunks which cast so little shade. The black branches of this mesquite came down far and Teddy barely saw the corpse beside the tree trunk because it looked like the shadow of the tree itself in the moonlight, and Teddy could see well that night, for a night walk, that was.
It approached twelve-thirty when he found her sitting under that tree. He’d lost track of time in the night with the beauty of the elevated mountains enticing him onward over the desert floor, and the feeling that he was back home staying with him for the whole time, as it had been when he’d seen his old family home, or the wreck of his old home, he should say, or the husk of his home, like he’d been a wasp or an insect all his life and that home was but a discarded body he once inhabited. But now he was about to do the last thing in his life and he was going to do it in the first place of his life, where he played as a child. This dead body of a woman was an intruder in that plan.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded.
Of course, she had little to say; she was only a corpse. Teddy scowled at her and then glanced away. Did she even have eyes anymore? How could anyone who was young let themselves get into such a state?
And people enjoyed shows about zombies coming alive. Teddy wondered if any of those people had ever seen a dead body and the answer was probably no, because they cleaned up America so thoroughly, except out in the desert southwest where the undiscovered dead were piling up under trees everywhere you went.
And now children were coming; he’d heard it on the news! Well, he’d read they were coming across the desert, sent out of their homes and on a perilous journey to avoid the chaos in their lands, the drug lords and petty tyrants ruling their countries like vengeful god. Was this a child? Not likely by the size of the body. She must have been a full grown woman, but not old, Teddy thought, not old at all, because the old didn’t risk it, of course. The old stayed home and helped the young prepare to leave.
“Dear, dear,” said Teddy, looking at the dead body of the woman. She looked young to him; too young to die this way, slowly failing under a tree, discarding her backpack and her shoes in the wash and she was so close to Los Hombres. Only another hour’s walk perhaps. Yes, an hour.
He might be about to die in the same place; he had lost hope in his life. He had lost his business and was about to lose his mind, according to the doctors. She probably had hope and was coming to America for a reason. Probably for a job. She could have had plans in her brain and that was a sad way to die. Teddy had a brain that could not make plans any more. He’d lost all feeling for plans and schemes and desires. That was it! That was the reason he was taking the gun out to the desert to shoot himself. His brain was slowly losing any ability to plan anything for the future; he’d forgotten how to believe in himself.
The body of an immigrant slumped against the tree. In the dark, even with moonlight, he couldn’t tell absolutely if it were a man or a woman. Well, it didn’t matter now. Man or woman, what difference did it make? How funny. He bet all her life she had thought it made a difference somehow whether she were a man or a woman.
“You are the only witness then,” said Teddy to the body as he put the gun to his temple. “I will die near you. Two bodies will attract more attention. They’ll be sure to find you that way. You understand that I have to do it. There isn’t any reason for me to go on living and the best thing is to get out of the world right now before I’m feeble and unable.”
It was the gas station attendant, Hector Fimbres, and the gift shop owner, Cate Ferguson, who divulged their secret to Los Hombres the next day. They had seen stacks of hundred dollar bills in a satchel that a shriveled old man carried! When a customer came into her hair salon with a crazy story about an elderly man with a briefcase full of cash that afternoon, Ona Gonzalez grasped immediately that it was the man she’d met outside her home when she was looking for her cat, and she struggled to remember what she’d said to him and what he’d said to her.
Then the next day the police scrutinized the abandoned car which was left on the street, parked outside an insurance agency near the Big Gulch Café. The police began their inquiries by looking in the car window at two old novels with tattered covers and a brand new book about Santa Cruz County history with a bookmark from the Gray Dog Gallery sticking out. This bookmark led them to Cate Ferguson who recounted the meeting with Teddy, and she related the old man’s words about his grandfather practically started the town. She remembered him saying his grandfather could be in the history book. The policeman w
Once the police left, Cate also imagined that she’d seen a shovel in the back of the Ford Fairlane. In fact she’d seen a broom handle that Teddy used to prop up part of the headliner in the car’s ceiling, a portion that was lifting off after he’d paid for a restoration of the car. The broom prop kept the headliner up while he was driving to Los Hombres from Vegas. Rigged to keep the thing in place temporarily, the broom handle in the dark resembled a shovel handle to the gift shop owner who sensed mystery now in the hundred dollar bills he’d paid with. By then, the insurance agency insisted the car be towed away from the only parking space directly in front of their business, so no one reported that the shovel was actually a broom handle.
Cate told several people about seeing a shovel, and these people added a pick to the shovel, and other people enhanced the story so that Teddy had been seen digging behind the church. Ona Gonzales and Hans Zwilanski certainly hadn’t see a shovel or a pick, and if the old man did something other than stare at the church, which was what Cate saw, he hadn’t actually been seen doing it.
What Remains of Teddy Redburn by Lorraine Ray / Humor / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes