How about another short story today? Unlike last week’s story, this one is a contemporary tale told in two parts.
THE WARREN TRADING POST CAPER
Blue skies. Gently rolling terrain. Purple mountains in the distance. Sounds like paradise, right? Not when a merciless sun boils tar right out of the pavement. I passed an endless stream of road kill, one a rattlesnake that appeared to have become mired in the goo and died out of desperation. I felt like that reptile as my tires struggled free of oozing oil with each turn of the wheels. The air conditioner in my Camaro struggled to keep the temperature at an acceptable level even though it was only eight in the morning.
My race across this desert terrain had started with a telephone call at five o’clock this morning. Marlene’s voice had sounded desperate. Frantic, actually. I couldn’t quite make out what the problem was before the uncertain connection was broken, and I was left to stare into a dead telephone. She had called from the little store her parents, Mike and Evelyn Warren, left her following their tragic automobile accident last year.
I had encouraged her to sell the establishment, but she had been raised in that trading post out in the middle of the western New Mexico desert. So sentimentalism triumphed over good sense. At least in my opinion. I worked full time for an engineering firm in Albuquerque and was only able to make the hundred-mile drive to Warren Trading Post on weekends. I had thought she would soon tired of the loneliness, but she seemed to thrive on it. And I had to admit our reunions every five days were something to look forward to. She was comfortable; I was frustrated.
I topped a rise on a surviving stretch of old Route 66 and spotted the trading post on the south side of the two-lane highway about a mile ahead. A pickup turned into the store as I watched. I tromped on the accelerator and managed to lurch into the parking area just as an Indian I recognized as John Benchley, tried the door. It appeared to be locked. John, a friend of my wife’s since childhood, beat on the door and shouted for Marlene. He turned as I slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car.
“Hi, Frank. You got any idea what’s going on? Marlene ain’t opened up yet.”
We both knew my wife never opened later than 7:00 a.m. in order to serve coffee and donuts to a few regular customers – most of them local area Navajos – on their way to work at the natural gas processing plant 20 miles to the south. “No idea, John. I got a frantic call at five o’clock, but we were cut off. I got here as fast as I could.”
I fumbled with my keys and managed to get the door open. As I entered calling for my wife, an ominous silence shouted back at me. Both of us came to an abrupt halt and gaped at the sight confronting us. A portion of the western wall of the trading post was gone. A hole the size of a small truck gave us a perfect view of the sand outside the building.
“Jesus! What the hell happened here?” John asked. “What could take out a three-foot adobe wall like that?”
“And where in the hell is my wife?”
I shouted her name as I ran through the store to the living quarters at the rear. After a thorough search of the entire premises, including the two small building behind the post, revealed no trace of Marlene, I discovered John searching the ground outside the wrecked wall.
“Whoever or whatever it was raked and swept the area clear. I can’t find nothing but a faint track over here where they got careless. Maybe a semi tire print, but maybe not. Damn, Frank, did you notice the big safe holding all the pawn goods is missing?”
“So is Marlene.” I paused a beat. “What do you mean, whatever?”
“There was doings out here last night.”
John shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno. Lights. Things a man don’t look at too close.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Just saying …”
“I don’t have time for stories about witchcraft, man. Marlene's missing! I’m gonna call in the County Mounties.”
To be continued. What do you think? Witchcraft? New Mexico's "Alien" country, you know. Time will tell. Hope it’s been interesting enough to draw you back next week.
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