WELCOME TO PICKETWIRE
A serialized story
by tim wintermute
THE PLAY’S THE THING
“That’s a wrap for tonight,” Max announced to the actors and crew assembled in the sanctuary of the Picketwire Community Church. “Starting tomorrow we’ll be rehearsing on the Tumbleweed Theater stage instead of here and on Thursday we’ll have a full dress rehearsal. We’re opening in less than a week so get your lines down.” He turned to Zelda as she was starting to leave and said. “You and Mike need to stay.”
“Why do I have to stay?” Zelda demanded. Max sounded like one of her teachers ordering her to stay after the rest of the class was dismissed.
“Because we’re going to rehearse the final scene. I asked everyone else to leave because it needs to be kept a secret. We won’t be rehearsing this scene in front of the other members of the cast so they will be seeing it for the first time on opening night along with everyone in the audience.”
“But we’ve all agreed to keep it a secret.”
“If the others see what’s in this last scene they might not be able to resist the temptation to tell someone,” Howdy answered. He’d left his perch in the back pew and joined them in the front of the sanctuary. “And I don’t want to lead anyone into temptation, especially in a church. I’m damned enough as it is.”
“You and Mike Arnold are the only ones in the final scene,” Max explained. “After the dialogue between Clay and Jolene, Mike will exit stage left and the spotlight will be on you as you deliver Jolene’s soliloquy that ends the play.”
“You’re our closer,” Howdy added.
“You mean this scene is like the last second of a game with our team down by one and I have the ball in my hands?”
“Exactly,” Max said. “You get to score the winning touchdown.”
“I played basketball not football.”
Max handed Zelda the script for the final scene. “Then just think of this as a basketball and you get to shoot the winning basket.” He looked around the now empty sanctuary. “Where the heck is Mike?”
“Here,” Mike Arnold announced walking through the doors at the back of the sanctuary. “Had to use the men’s room.” He strutted down the center aisle, every inch the leading man in his own mind and every centimeter of conceited jerk in Zelda’s.
“There is no men’s room,” Zelda shouted at Mike, not trying to hide her annoyance. “The restrooms are unisex.”
“Not when I’m using them,” Mike answered, then looking around the sanctuary asked. “Where is everyone?”
“It’s the final scene and Clay and Jolene are the only characters in it,” Max answered handing him a copy of the script.
Mike took the script and smiled. “I was wondering when I’d get my shot at really showing my acting chops.”
“Sorry to dim your star turn, Mike. But it’s more like I get the shot and you get an assist,” Zelda said.
After giving Mike and Zelda a few minutes to look over their lines in the script, Max asked if they were ready for a read through.
“Before we start I have a question,” Mike announced, waving his copy of the script at Max. “You told me to think of Clay as being like Hamlet. Only instead of being the Prince of Denmark, Clay is the only son of the biggest rancher in the State of Colorado.”
Max nodded in agreement and said. “Clay will take over his family’s cattle kingdom.”
“Right, so if Clay is like Hamlet why don’t I get a ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy?”
“In this case it’s nothing,” Zelda murmured under her breath.
“What did you say?” Mike asked.
“Nothing,” Zelda answered.
Mike walked over to Zelda, looked her in the face and said. “It sure sounded like you said more than nothing.”
“It was the sound of nothing, like your soliloquy.”
Before Mike could respond, Max walked over and put his arm around his shoulder and gently pulled him back. Leading him away from Zelda he said, “Now that I think about it, Hamlet is too sympathetic a character; Clay’s more like MacBeth.”
“Macbeth!” Mike blurted, then broke free of Max’s arm, stepped forward to face the empty pews and declaimed. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And then is heard no more. Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5.” He turned to Max and sighed, dramatically. “Now I know how he felt.”
“Laurence Olivier couldn’t have delivered those lines better, Mike” Max said. “You know, we’re planning a Shakespeare festival for next year and I’ll make sure you get a lot of opportunities to, as you say, show your soliloquy acting chops. Now, can we get on with the rehearsal.”
“Wait, I have a question,” Zelda announced.
“You too,” Max said as if he was reciting the et tu Brutus line from Julius Caesar
“The question I have is about the script so it’s for Howdy, not you.”
“Shoot,” Howdy answered from the middle of the front row pew where he’d seated himself with a copy of the script in one hand and a pencil in the other.
“There’s nothing in here about Jolene getting her revenge on Clay for the way he abused her. I don’t think it’s right that the play ends without Jolene getting even. I mean, Clay attacks Jolene because she breaks up with him, then he throws her out of his car and drives off. If I was Jolene I’d make sure he paid big time for what he did. I’d…”
“But you’re not her,” Mike interrupted. “You’re just someone named Zelda playing the part of a character named Jolene. Any real actor would know that.”
“Shut up, Mike,” Zelda answered, curtly. “I’m talking to Howdy. Why don’t you go back to your men’s room and work on your Larry Oliver impersonation.”
“Olivier, his name is Laurence O-live-ee-yeh,” Mike answered. “He was one of the greatest Shakespeare actors of all time.”
“Have you seen him in a play?” Zelda demanded.
“No…” Mike stammered. “He died before I was born.”
Zelda, put her hands on her hips and spat out, “Well hells bells, Mike, then if this guy O-live-e-yeh is dead there’s no one standing in your way to be the greatest actor of all time.”
“You don’t have a clue as to what great acting is,” Mike snarled.
“That’s it!” Max barked, holding out both hands in a signal for them to stop.
Zelda and Mike turned their heads to Max in a rare moment of unison. When he had their attention he continued calmly. “The emotion you two just expressed, the antipathy toward each other you showed, is exactly what Jolene and Clay need to display in this scene.”
“Huh?” Mike grunted.
“You mean it’s good that we can’t stand each other?” Zelda added.
“You see,” Max continued in a mellifluous voice. “Great acting is when the actor taps into their own emotions and channels them into their character. Otherwise it comes across as phony and make believe. You’ve both tapped into your emotions so now we need to channel them into Jolene and Clay.”
“Right,” Mike nodded in agreement. “Like in method acting.”
“I prefer to call it the Stanislavski system.”
“Stan, whoever’s system, will have to wait until Howdy answers my question.”
“His name is Konstantin Stanislavski,” Max said.
“That’s more of a tongue twister than O-live-ee-yeh.”
“He was Russian. In his system an actor draws on their own emotions to form the character they’re playing.”
“Is he dead too?”
“Well, then, he can’t answer my question.” Zelda turned back to Howdy. “Now Howdy, why doesn’t Jolene get even with Clay and make him pay for the way he abused her?”
“She does,” Howdy answered, calmly, his eyes locked on Zelda’s.
“How?” Zelda held up the script. “It isn’t it in the play?”
“That’s because it is the play.”
BREAKING AND ENTERING
It’s really impossible to cook for only one person anything worth eating and Jemma Lu liked to cook. She also hated to waste food. The results were the leftovers that she placed in plastic containers and took to work the next day along with a sack lunch with an orange and Greek yogurt for herself. She would put them in the refrigerator of the employee kitchen and by the end of the day the containers, empty and washed, would be stacked on the countertop. After finishing her less than full portion of Mexican braised short ribs with squash and corn Jemma Lu was just sitting down with a fresh pot of tea when there was a knock on her door. Not many people visited Jemma Lu at home so she peeked out the window near the door and saw the lanky frame of Foster St. Vrain.
When Jemma Lu opened the door, Foster apologized. “I know it’s late, Jemma Lu but I have some information on the person who tried to kill Wylie.”
Jemma Lu invited him in and asked him to take a seat in the living room. Foster took off his cowboy hat and followed Jemma Lu into the living room where she directed him to sit in one of the antique armchairs with a lace antimacassar draped over its back. “I just made a fresh pot of tea if you’d care to join me.”
“Sure,” Foster replied.
After getting another teacup and saucer from the sideboard in the dining room Jemma Lu placed it on the coffee table next to the tea pot. She sat in a chair facing Foster and poured the steaming tea into both of their cups. “It’s a Native American herbal tea made from a blend of sagebrush and prickly pear cactus. We sell it as part of our Picketea brand.” She explained, pushing a small jar with a spoon in it toward him. “It’s a bit strong so you should add some honey.”
Foster stirred in a generous dollop of honey and then tried to fit his thick right index finger through the small handle of the dainty cup. Finally, he gave up and clasped it in his right hand then took a sip. “This is pretty good, Jemma Lu.”
“It’s good for you as well. Calms a person down.”
“I guess if I drank this instead of beer I wouldn’t have shot my television set.”
Jemma Lu laughed then took a sip of tea. Foster noticed that her index finger slipped right through the cup handle. She placed the cup back in the saucer on the coffee table and asked. “Now, what’s this new information you have?” Foster shifted uncomfortably in the straight back chair. “I know it’s not as comfortable as your recliner,” Jemma Lu said. “These antique chairs have horsehair padding.”
“I guess it’s like being back in the saddle,” Foster answered, then leaned forward and gingerly set the teacup into the saucer resting on the coffee table. He pulled a small notepad from the breast pocket of his shirt. “I think I might have found the person who tried to kill Wylie. He really dislikes Wylie,” he said, opening the notebook.
“There’s a lot of people who dislike Wylie.”
“Yes, but this guy wants to stop him from stealing water.”
“He claims that Wylie is illegally diverting water from the Purgatoire and using it to grow cannabis. There’s another person he’s working with who claims the same thing. They say they’ve seen the illegal farm. I know it’s hard to believe.”
“You’re right that it’s hard believe and I wouldn’t if Wylie hadn’t told me that he was doing it.”
“He told you?”
“It was part of a business proposition he made the other day. He left out the part about stealing water. Stealing water doesn’t seem like enough of a reason for someone to want to kill Wylie.”
“They lynched people for stealing water when this was still the wild west.”
“This isn’t the wild west, anymore, Foster.”
“Nope, that’s why they’d use a moving vehicle instead of a noose. I guess you could call it progress although it seems that the intent wasn’t to kill Wylie. At least that’s what the guy told me.”
“He confessed to you?”
“It wasn’t a confession. It was more like a conversation. He didn’t know that I suspected him when we talked.” Referring to his notes, Foster continued. He filled Jemma Lu in about Clint’s video of a Jeep Wrangler following Wylie from his ranch and how he’d seen the same Jeep parked in front of the Pretty Good. That he’d observed the driver meeting with two other people. Then how he’d tailed them from the Pretty Good to his own house where they’d told him about Wylie stealing water and his illegal cannabis operation and then said they wanted to hire him to find victims of Wylie’s water theft. He stuffed the notebook back in his breast pocket, picked up the cup of tea and took a sip.
Jemma Lu shook her head in amazement. “They hired you?”
“I told them I’d work with them but not for them. I didn’t want to have a conflict of interest.”
“You didn’t tell them you were working for me, did you?”
“Nope, that’s client confidentiality. I told them I was doing some investigative work on Wylie for the Picketwire Press.”
“You’re working for the Picketwire Press?”
‘It’s more like volunteering. Tom needed someone with my investigative skills to help him with his coverage of Wylie and I told him that I had a personal interest in finding out who was trying to kill him. I didn’t tell him that you were the person who had the interest.”
“Why don’t they just turn Wylie in for stealing water and growing illegal cannabis?”
“It’s in the Sheriff’s jurisdiction so they’d have to turn him into Riggleman, which means it would go nowhere. In fact Riggleman probably knows all about it.”
“Right, I must have been crazy to suggest that.” Jemma Lu poured some more tea into their cups as she mulled what Foster had told her. After sipping from her cup, she said. “Based on what you told me I’m not convinced that this fellow is the one who tried to kill Wylie.”
“That’s because I haven’t told you that I’m pretty sure he’s hiding a blue minivan.”
“Why do you think that?”
“After they left my house I followed them back to the Pretty Good where this guy, Will, dropped them off. He’s in his late twenties, wears his hair in ponytail and works for the Picketwire Institute, some sort of think tank at Picketwire College…”
“I’m familiar with it.”
“I figured you would be since you know just about everything about Picketwire.”
Looking at his notes again, Foster said. “The woman introduced herself as Gretl Johan and said she was the Director of this Institute.” Foster looked up. “Since you also seem to know everybody in Picketwire I’m guessing that you know her?”
Jemma Lu nodded.
“The other guy said he was a professor of philosophy at the College. His name is Ari Nakos. I suppose you know him as well?”
“I haven’t met him, but Sid Tenken, who’s the Chair of the Philosophy Department, told me Professor Nakos is a new member of the faculty. He says he’s a rising star in the field. I wonder how he got involved in this?”
“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have anything to do with philosophy,” Foster said, putting his now empty teacup down.
“Philosophy has something to do with everything, Foster, that’s why it’s called philosophy, which means love of wisdom.”
Foster replied with a grin. “He may teach philosophy, but the way he looked at Gretl Johan he’s in love with more than her wisdom.”
“I didn’t know you were also an expert at detecting love,” Jemma Lu laughed. “Anyway, just continue with your story and tell me what happened after Will dropped off the two lovebirds.”
“I followed him. He drove to a small house on Bisonview. He parked in the driveway and after he went inside I checked out the Wrangler. It was unlocked so I looked in the glove compartment and found the registration. The Jeep belongs to his boss, Gretl Johan. I figured that if he was using her Jeep there must be something wrong with his own vehicle. At the end of the driveway was a single car garage. I tried the door and it was locked, which made me suspicious because most people in Picketwire don’t lock their houses much less their garages. I’ve got a hunch that there’s a blue minivan parked inside. With the police looking for a blue minivan with a bashed in front end he obviously couldn’t take it to a body shop to get it repaired so he’d have to stash it somewhere. That’s also why he’s using this Gretl Johan’s Jeep Wrangler. Now that it’s dark, I’m planning to go over there after I leave here and see if my hunch is right.”
“Pick the lock and walk in was more my idea.”
“If your hunch is right, what happens then?”
Foster shrugged. “That’s for you to decide, Jemma Lu. I’m working for you. If there’s a blue minivan with a Porsche size dent in its front inside the garage then Will Raines is the guy you’re looking for.”
Jemma Lu’s hands clenched the arms of the chair. “His last name is Raines?”
“I can see you’re surprised. Will Raines is a heck of a name for a hydrologist since they’re experts in water.”
Jemma Lu unclenched her hands and gave a wan smile. “Let’s find out what’s in this Will Raines’ garage before we, I, make a decision.”
“Right, you don’t have to decide what to do now.” Foster got up. “But now that it’s dark I better get going and check out the garage. I’ll let you know if my hunch is right. ”
“No, you won’t,” Jemma Lu replied. “Because I’m going with you.”
“What? Why would you want to do that?”
“Let’s just say I have a hunch as well, only unlike your hunch I hope I’m wrong.”
Foster parked a short distance down the street from the house on Bisonview. Fortunately, it was a moonless night and there were no street-lamps. Even better, the Jeep Wrangler was no longer in the driveway.
“We’re in luck,” Foster said. “Will’s not here.”
“Maybe he’s here but he parked the Jeep in the garage and since it’s a one car garage that would mean there’s no minivan hiding in there,” Jemma Lu said.
“I don’t see any lights on in the house.”
“Maybe he asleep.”
“It’s Friday night and he didn’t strike me as an early to bed guy. Anyway, we’ll find out after I pick the lock.” Foster reached under his seat, grabbed a flashlight and stuffed it into the pocket of his tan barn coat. Jemma Lu started to open the passenger door. “You sure you want to do this?”
“If I’m going to make the decision that could send this young man to jail I need to see for myself what’s in that garage.”
“Okay, but put this on.” Foster reached back, picked up a gray sweatshirt and handed it to Jemma Lu.
“One of my hoodies.”
Jemma Lu held it up. “It’s huge, Foster. I’ll look like a tent.”
“We’re not going out on the town we’re breaking and entering. The more of you it covers the less anyone will be able to describe.”
Jemma Lu pulled on the hoodie and got out. They walked to the house. Foster peeked into one of the windows and gave Jemma Lu an all clear thumbs up then they continued up the driveway to the garage’s side door. “Should I hold the flashlight so you can see?” Jemma Lu whispered.
“You do that and someone might see us as well. Besides it’s all touch.” Foster answered then bent down, inserted something resembling a paperclip into the keyhole and turned the doorknob. He pushed the door open and they both entered then closed it behind them and lit up the room with his flashlight. “Sure looks like a blue minivan to me.”
They walked to the front of the minivan. The beam from Foster’s flashlight played across the badly dented front end that was streaked with rent paint. “I’m pretty sure that’s a Porsche’s red paint and not lipstick.”
“Maybe the minivan belongs to someone else and the Will Raines agreed to let the person use the garage,” Jemma Lu said.
“I agree that a minivan isn’t exactly the vehicle of choice for a guy his age. Still, like I said, why would he need to borrow Johan’s Jeep if it isn’t his? Anyway, there’s one way to find out. We’ll just check the registration. Foster opened the passenger side door and then the glove compartment. After fishing around he pulled out the vehicle registration and looked at it with his flashlight. “You’re right, Jemma Lu, his name isn’t on the registration.”
Jemma Lu exhaled in relief. “Then, it doesn’t belong to him.”
“Nope, the registration says Linda and David Raines and the address is in Fort Collins. Must be his parents.”
“Let me see,” Jemma Lu said, snatching the registration out of Foster’s hands. He held the flashlight up so she could look at it.
“We should put the registration back and get out of here before Will gets back or wakes up or stops watching Netflix or whatever the hell he’s doing.” Foster grabbed the registration out of Jemma Lu’s hands then stuffed it back in the glove compartment and closed the minivan’s door.
Foster had just closed the garage’s side door behind them when they were lit up by the headlights of a Jeep that was turning into the driveway. “Pull the hood over your head, look down and let me do the talking,” Foster said to Jemma Lu.
The Jeep stopped, the driver’s door opened and Will Raines stepped out. “I’m Foster St.Vrain,” Foster said before Will opened his mouth. “The detective you hired today.”
“Sure, I recognize you, but what are you doing here?”
“I just came by because I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask you.”
“How did you know where I live?”
Foster laughed. “If I couldn’t find out where you live I’d be a piss poor detective.”
Will nodded. “Okay, I’ll buy that.” He pointed at Jemma Lu. “Who’s this guy in the oversized hoodie?”
“Oh, this is Jim, one of my detectives. Jim’s been working undercover on a case and didn’t have time to change.”
As Foster talked Jemma Lu peered out at Will through the opening in the hood. Then she walked closer. Her face was still hidden in the shadows of the hood as she looked up at him like she was studying his face. Will stepped back. Jemma Lu said. “I’m not Jim and I don’t work for Foster.”
“Well, then, who are you?” Will looked asked.
Jemma Lu pushed back the hood.
“Why, you’re Jemma Lu Tuttle!”
“I’m also your birth mother.”
END OF INSTALLMENT 29
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