WARNING - this story may contain adult content including coarse language and/or sexual content which may be offensive to some
a short story by Mark Kolke
April 25, 2011
Before we headed out to Pahrump this afternoon I’d spent the morning interviewing everyone I could reach who had been on site on trail B yesterday.Most knew nothing, or they weren’t talking.
But Sgt. Monteith was helpful, ‘Mr. Philips, I gotta tell ya .. you should be careful. I’m not sure what’s at stake here, but guys from Interpol – German cops, Italian cops – are burning up the phone lines and they are flying in faster than hi-rollers.We’ve had to put half our detectives on this case – not so much to investigate but to play tour-guide for European cops. This is big.”
“I know … I’ve been hired to Stern Magazine to do an investigative piece. .” I was about to launch into more bravado, but then my phone rang - - -
I had, so badly, wanted to get back to the trip, back to the road, back to my daily routineand back to writing.
Our Vegas diversion had turned out to be unlike anything you’ve heard of, unlike anything they advertise.What happens in Vegas, may stay in Vegas, but what happens out in the desert, that was another matter . . .
I was wrong, again. I made the wrong turn – misread the damn sign. I thought I would wake up from this dream, wake up to find the scary monster was back under the bed where it belonged, the sun would come shining in the window and that lump of bedding next to me really would be a warm wriggling mate prize.
Actually, I’d misread every sign worth noticing since the day I met Glenna.Still, she has been a supportive wife. Her inheritance kept the roof over our head, and she believed I would turn the corner one day. Her heart was invested, right from the beginning, while for me, I think it never really kicked in.
But, today had been good, in a high-stress way, we were tired, weary – both physically and emotionally from these last two days.
. . . I’d been droning one for quite a while, going over the events I would put in the Stern piece - driving back from Pahrump to the I-15/Enerterpise junction, so we could resume our journey to L.A. after seventy-two bizarre hours in Las Vegas.
This trip was well intentioned – but not unfolding as a happy event, so I wasn’t looking forward to anything different in the den of trouble, crime and fast-people I perceived Vegas to be. I wasn’t disappointed – and the surprises just kept coming.
The trip was Glenna’s idea.I’d been working on my new book since last summer – and I’ve been stalled, blocked.Glenna insisted I shelve it for two weeks – that we drive cross-country. It turned out to be, for me, a Kerouac-esque purge of relationship weariness during tourist season while, for her, it was a combo of helping me get un-blocked while ensuring she’d have a vacation worth remembering.
So she thought.Understatement. Now it looks like the worst kind of foolishness that brought us here, to this point of jumping off on the next leg of the journey, but to what?
Excitement, or ruin – all for . . “For what?”, I yelled as loud as I could over the crap blaring from the dash of the old Landcruiser.
“Whatever.” Glenna chimed, nonchalantly, disdainfully, in retort.She was tired, strung out . . . but I had no patience.My adrenalin was in charge, so one word would do the work of a hundred . . .
“FuuuuckYOU”, my response, was not premeditated, but auto-triggered I suppose; I’d been stewing in it, like a tomato in my own juice for nearly seventeen years. Now, finally, something worthy of my skills – exciting, and financially rewarding was on our plates.Correction – my plate.She’d been so supportive when my career was going nowhere. Now, on the cusp of something exciting – she was being a wet blanket, slapping me in the face.
. . .I haven't had that exciting of a life, but I’d found, finally, this past year an exquisite sense of balance . . . not tranquility, but a return to a softer happier spot – comfort and joy, like a Christmas carol lyric, might be back. I’d been blocked.Today, I wasn’t blocked at all.
Oh what I’ve had paid for that, if you could buy unblocking in a store.
It was good.
The cross-country trip was nearly over, life was returning to something I might call normal. A skewed version of normal for most people, but normal for me. Normal for us.
For more years than I care to count, I’ve been searching for something I am not sure exists.I believe it exists, but having not seen it, my search has been a quest based on belief and faith that my time and efforts are not wasted.
Thought they might be. Untold stories ache in my gut some days. Now, this could not be better if I’d made it up.
But I really was blocked – worse than constipated, I’d not written a word in weeks.The cape was overrun with tourists now, my morning walks only offered solitude if I walked at 5AM, which had be bumping into rocks and tripping over driftwood.
My thoughts were immovable. Sitting there, undigested – like a bad slice of pizza you wish you’d never eaten during a period of extra gorging, when you were really full anyway, but for some reason, had to eat it.
Late, in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert, as if fermented crap junk food was the dessert cure for insomnia.
I wasn’t screwed up – just rattled, stressed. Yesterday was more calming, butGlenna’s panic attack the day before had really taken its toll on her. Our Vegas police interviews, exhausting as they were . . . are all behind us now.
On our second day in Vegas we rose early, went to the hotel lobby where we were met by Randy and Carla, our bike-tour guides with RedRockCanyonTours, for our half-day ride in the foothills near Pahrump.We showed up, as instructed: shorts, t-shirts and sneakers or walking shoes.Herded into a twelve-passenger van with rows of bikes on the roof, we were off.It was so cold in the back of the van everyone’s nipples were standing at attention.For a moment I smiled at the wisdom of having everyone in t-shirts . . . but I digress.
The moisture, the bird sounds – the desert was alive while all the Vegas tourists were still sleeping.Carla checked us all out for helmets and gloves while Randy adjusted seat heights, pedals etc on the bikes.Carla led us out along a marked trail, ‘A’ on our map while Randy brought up the rear. It was his job to gather and protect the stragglers while Carla, a marathon runner and ironman athlete in her spare time, set an aggressive pace for the keeners.My rubbery legs proved their inadequacy early, so taking the fork to connect with the shorter loop, to route ‘B’ on the map was looking like my best option. It was embarrassing to ask directions from Randy because, as it turned out, I was the only huffing-puffing wimp who couldn’t continue on route A.
“OK, Ross, you call me if you need any help.My cell phone number is at the bottom of the trail map, OK?” .Randy was so nice and, like his partner Carla, and incredibly fit and good looking specimen.
I responded, “Sure, no problem. I’m going to take my time – take it easy. I just don’t have the stamina to take trail A. “
The good news, I could go at my own pace – walk or stop when I wanted to – and still make it back to the van before Carla’s team would finish the big A loop. I stopped a few times to drink the view, and to double check the map to make sure this narrow trail was keeping me on the right track.
I was really enjoying the chance, finally, to coast on a downhill stretch. I was used to riding a mountain bike – I had one at home – but I kept having trouble with the toe-clip strap system Randy showed us.Coasting was good, but my right foot broke out of the toe-clip when I hit one of those mesquite shrubs that were everywhere – and before I knew it the bike was flipping end over end with me still attached to it.I’m not sure which hurt most, my ass, my back or my pride.There were no cactus patches where I landed - just mesquite bush after mesquite bush. I was scraped everywhere except my hands and head. Thank goodness for gloves and a helmet.
As I pulled myself up to what remained of my full height, I was trying to remember what it said on the disclaimer form we signed in the van.I think it said the bikes were insured.That would be good, because the front wheel was mangled and the derailleurs were chain meets mesquite wreckage.
I looked myself up and down – except for scrapes and twigs stuck in my t-shirt and shorts I looked alright, until I saw the mass of blood down my right side an the back of my leg.
“What the fu…. ”
My heart rate quickened as I realized – it wasn’t fresh red blood, so it wasn’t from me, and then I wondered where it was from.
I guessed that I’d tripped on something, or somebody, in the course of my fall.
I looked back at the sloped I’d fallen down, and began re-tracing my crash route.Half-way up the slope to the B trail, there it was.A leg sticking out of the ground, a shoe half-off its foot.I approached – it was European looking, and as I got closer, I could see the brand tag on the side ‘Rohde’, the German shoe maker.The leg was heavy – a woman’s I presumed because of the shoe style.Then I saw the torso, just a little further up the slope. I guess, as I was falling, I scraped off the soil covering the body – or rather, the body parts – that had donated blood to my right side as I fell.
I took out my cell phone – no service. I wasn’t trying 911, I was trying Randy’s cell# that was printed on the bottom of the trail map.I tried 911 – and it did ring through. It turned out emergency cell phone calls make it through, miraculously, and I was glad.
“Hello, 911?’, I panted into the phone.
“Yes sir, are you OK” , came a soothing but solid voice through the phone.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine – a little bruised up and the bike is trash, but I’ve found a body.”
The 911 operator came back with, “Sir, please calm down.Tell me slowly now – what is your name, where are you . . . and are you sure it’s a body?”
“My name is Ross Philips, I’m from Cape May, New Jersey . . . I’m on vacation – I’m just outside of Las Vegas, on a Red Rock bike tour.”, I barked back.
“I’m on trail B, by myself – the rest of the group are on trail A;I had a fall, I crashed and slid down an embankment. It looks like I disturbed a shallow grave – there is a body here.I can only see leg and torso – a woman, she looks middle aged. The torso is bloody and, when I fell, I got a lot of blood transferred onto my right side”, I rattled if off like it part of a novel I was writing.
By this time, as the 911 operator was advising that police were being dispatched – Randy and Carla had looped back on trail B to find me. They had walkie-talkie connections with their dispatcher who had already called both ambulance and police, as they were anticipating finding me with a heart attack or serious injury since I’d not been waiting, as they expected, in the parking lot.
Glenna was with them – her face drawn with fright; I think she was genuinely affected, vulnerable – in shock.She looked more shocked than happy to see me; I am certain she thought I’d be dead, or dying or with a leg bone protruding.
I felt for the other folks in the van – they’d finished their rides, earned their I rode the Red Rock Trail t-shirt and wanted to get back to their hotels in time for whatever was next on their agenda.
The police took statements from Randy and Carla and then sent them on their way.They assured us that we’d be taken back to our hotel just as soon as the detectives and crime scene folks took our statements.It took forever – and by then there were helicopters, all-terain vehicles and about 50 people in uniforms on the scene. Paramedics checked me out, applied a couple of band-aids and moved their focus to Glenna. They gave her some oxygen and a tranquilizer . . . leaving her a little zoned-out, but OK. That’s what they said.
Our frustration grew with the delay – but at the same time, mine grew.
“Officer,”, I said, “do you know who this person is? Were they murdered?”
His name tag identified him as Sgt. Monteith, and he replied “Sir, it’s too soon to tell cause of death for sure – and I’m not the one who can give out that information – but it is looking like she is one of a pair of German tourists how went missing from the Mirage the day before yesterday. Apparently he was a well known big gambler.No sign of him yet, but we’ve got helicopters with infra-red equipment scanning the area.”
My interest in this – in the story line, was waking up. I don’t get ideas like this digging for clams at Cape May.Suddenly my head was flush with plot ideas and schemes the Germans might have been involved in. Mob. Drugs. Gambling, Vegas. Hookers.There were so many possibilities – and the shoe, the Rohde shoe.Motherload of intrigue from the fatherland.
I looked over at Glenna, poor distressed Glenna – and I know she was shocked again, seeing me grinning from ear to ear, again, like she’d not seen me in months.She’d seen me up and down before – manic while working on a manuscript, and down, way down emotionally – physically too.Ah, the joys of depression are easy to take when you have something fresh and stimulating to give a lift.This was clearly it.
Glenna, looked at me, knowing what was happening – she smiled, and said,“Honey, this may not be how you planned or expected to break your writing block, but hey – what the hell! – if it works, use it.”, and she broke a tiny smile, though she was still shaking.
That twitch in her neck was back.A little tremor, not sure the cause, but every time she gets stressed, it returns like it had never been away.
Next day, barely slept – we spent channel-surfing in our room at the MGM Grand, packing a little between visits from police personnel with more questions for me. Glenna tried to ignore it all. I was on fire. I was alive, creatively, like I hadn’t felt in years – and I couldn’t wait to get back on the road. L. A. could wait, I wanted to get back out to the desert.
The phone rang – an overseas operator;Jacob Schmidt, an editor with Stern was on the line. He wanted to buy my story – if I would write it.We sorted out the fee, the exchange rate from Deutsche Marks to dollars - $50,000.
He explained - news broken in Germany – the body of woman I tripped over, in the Rohde shoes, Gisela Braun, wife of German industrialist with connections to well known crime families in Italy. It seemed the body of the woman I uncovered was the wife of that man how, according to Schmidt, was in hiding in fear of his life.It was a mob hit.Her husband Gerhardt Braun is on the run.
Our right front tire blew.
“‘Shit, I can’t hold it on this ramp.”, I screamed to Glenna; “hold on, we’re gonna roll . . . ”, as we flew right off the ramp, rolled a half-turn and crashed to the pavement below.
I was OK.More bumps and bruises. The Landcruiser was toast, but I’d be OK.Paramedics sent me to hospital and get my left arm x-rayed.I was enroute - in the ambulance, while Glenna was still on the scene. She was too shaky to move yet. They were stabilizing her. I sensed fear in the paramedic’s voice. I don’t think she will make it.
All our conversations suddenly went rolling through my mind – reliving the last seventeen years while the siren wailed, as the ambulance flew through the desert.
My phone rang; the little window on the phone lit up with a long number, European I think, and as I answered, I heard – in a heavy German accent, “this time it was your tire, next time it will be you. If you want to keep living, stay away from Parumph and stop asking questions about Braun”.