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President Still Missing. Day 11.

It was the headline of the San Juan Record, and my friends and I were finishing our ham and eggs at PJ’s Restaurant in Monticello. We were the second shift for breakfast. Monticello was really struggling to handle the 250 journalists, cops, and Secret Service folks in town. PJ’s is still for sale, by the way, if you’re interested.

“What the hell happened?” This was my newspaper buddy Hal from the Salt Lake Tribune. We were sharing a room together with three other people at the Motel 6. Housing was tight. Really tight. As in people sharing rooms at hotels and private homes, even the temple and the BLM offices were renting sleeping space. People who never would have even spoken to each other before this were together, sharing bathroom sinks and toilets. Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Socialists, conspiracy theorists, TV and radio pundits. All spread around PJ’s and other Monticello restaurants. Subway even began serving breakfast on Day 4 of the President’s disappearance. We were even pouring coffee for each other sometimes, for gods sake.

Hal was back from pouring coffee for Sean Hannity. Hannity didn’t say anything, just kept staring into his phone. I looked over at Hannity, then back at Hal. “Well,” Hal said sheepishly, “I was up.” Hal set the coffee pot down onto a pile of napkins at our table. I knew a few facts, but that didn’t mean the whole situation didn’t feel pretty damned mysterious.

“He and Barron were going on some special tour,” I said, “to see some rock art,” Some other journalists scraped their chairs over to us. “Valley of the Gods B&B was their last sighting. They had had breakfast, but the group was pretty quiet since Trump had just had an argument with the B&B owner about not getting chocolate cake and not being able to get cable down there.”

My tablemates were silent.

“Cable?” said Lawrence O’Donnell from MSNBC. “He’s in the middle of god’s country and he’s worried about cable?”

My cell rang. Shit. It was Zinke again. I’d just talked to him a few hours before. The guy would not let us do our jobs. Well at least he called me only every two hours. He called Search and Rescue and the San Juan County Sheriff every half hour.

Ryan Zinke has arranged the tour of Bear Ears for Trump. Barron had begged his mom to let him go. Even wore a red bandanna. Zinke gave the kid a cowboy hat, too. A white one, though Barron had requested a black one. “Remember,” Zinke had told him, “you’re one of the good guys.” Kinda pathetic, but Barron was into it.

“Some reporters did a bunch of iPhone photos and interviewed Trump and his son just before the Jeep caravan arrived. The Utes and Navajos were going to show him Valley of the Gods, then explore some more roads up north in the monument, and finally meet some oil and gas honchos at some potential drilling sites. Barron was excited about meeting some real Indians. Tell all his pals all about it back in D.C. and Maryland. About two hours after the caravan departed, the oil and gas guys called, asking where everybody was. That became officially Day 1 of Trump’s disappearance.

“Barron called about two hours later, said he was at the intersection of 95 and 261, and could we go pick him up.”

“And he was the only one there when they picked him up?” Hal said.

“Yup.” I held my coffee cup to my forehead. It was getting cold these mornings in early November. And I wasn’t sleeping all that well. My roommates all snored.

“And what kind of shape was Barron in?” Hannity asked.

“Pretty good, actually, for an urban preteen kid in the wilds of Utah.”

I didn’t share the description the Sheriff had told me. “Poor kid,” the Sheriff had said. “He was frozen half to death in some golf club nylon windbreaker he had on. But otherwise he talked the whole way back to the B&B about experiencing the wild west, how cool the Indians were, when could he come back. He wanted to keep Zinke’s hat, too.”

“Nothing about his dad?” This was John from The Journal out of Cortez.

“Not until one of the deputies asked,” I said, pouring myself more coffee.

“Oops,” said John, checking his phone. “We gotta go. The third shift is due in a few minutes.”

We cleared our plates and mugs into the tubs provided and waved thanks to the exhausted staff at PJ’s. We didn’t get to order breakfast; PJ’s just set out bowls family-style at each table. I’d heard the Peace Tree was letting people go into the kitchen to help themselves. PJ’s next breakfast shift was standing inside the door.

“Leave anything for us?” This was Rachel Maddow, who with her cameraman was slumped against the wall.

“Looking very western dude this morning, Rachel,” I said. She had on black jeans and a black hoodie that said, “Straight Outta Moab.”

“Don’t want to stick out too much like a sore New York thumb,” she said.

“I’d lose the ostrich cowboy boots then,” I said, pushing my way out the door.

“The ostrich leather is fake by the way!” she yelled after me.

I compared notes with my roommates who were gearing up to drive down to Blanding. We’d heard there would be some kind of announcement at noon. Phyllis of the San Juan Record was loading into my Subaru a duffle with sodas and salty snacks. Phyllis and I were sharing one of the double beds, while our two men roommates shared the other one. Phyllis zipped up the duffle.

“What do you think the announcement will be about?” I said.

“Arlene from the Park Service overheard a Secret Service guy say the Indian Jeeps had been found back in Owl Canyon, and that the sheriff’s getting some horses and dogs to track them.

I was silent. Tracking meant they’d be using Cyrus Yellowcat, the best tracker in San Juan County. He and I had worked together trying to find a missing kid back in 2012. It hadn’t ended well. But Cy was a professional. He’d find Trump and the Indian guides if anybody could. With or without dogs. We arrived at the parking lot of the Rodeway, where everyone had gathered.

“Well,” said Sheriff Eldredge, “he’s back.”

“’He’ who?” said John of Cortez.

“The President. He’s back. We found him.”

The press group erupted into shouted questions. The Sheriff waved us to be silent.

“He’s back, he’s safe. We’ll give you more details in a couple of days.”

More shouted questions.

“The Native American guides put him on some gentle old horse,” Sheriff and he met Mr. Yellowcat on one of the roads near Cedar Mesa,” the Sheriff continued. “First thing he asked for was some chocolate cake and a Diet Coke.”

There was uneasy laughter, then more shouted questions, mostly about Trump’s horse. Her name was Thunderbolt, the Sheriff said. She was 25 years old, a pinto. Trump was pretty saddle sore, seemed he’d been on old Thunderbolt for at least half a day. And, no, it wasn’t the first time he’d been on a horse, but he’d only had lessons on an English saddle.

Thunderbolt was going at a slow walk when Mr. Yellowcat’s border collie started barking, and Trump started yelling. That’s when Cy—Mr. Yellowcat—found him. Oh, and Trump had $500 in cash on him. He said the Indians gave it to him. That and an old poncho over his business suit. Oh, and the border collie’s name is Hagsy.”

“Short for Haggis!” I shouted out. I’d worked with this dog before. Laughter all around.

“Can we interview Mr. Yellowcat?” somebody yelled.

“In a few hours maybe. Now he’s talking to Homeland Security, the Park Service, and the San Juan Sheriff’s Department. You can take photos of Hagsy and Thunderbolt right now, though, if you want. But Mr. Trump’s been taken by helicopter to Denver for a thorough examination.”

* * *

We never learned exactly what had happened during those eleven days Trump was missing. The President refused to answer any questions about it, but he resigned from office a month later, so maybe it didn’t really matter. But Phyllis had a theory.

“Did you guys ever read the story ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’?” Phyllis had said. We’d been checking in at the Grand Junction airport. Some shook their heads, some nodded. “That’s probably what happened,” she said, “like in the story. The Indian guides got so tired of Trump, listening to his dealmaking bullshit, they decided to give him some money and turn him loose on their slowest horse. Then they’d go back to fighting the Bears Ears thing in court.”

Sitting next to Rachel Maddow on the flights to Dallas, then New York, I’d shared Phyllis’s theory and asked her what she thought.

“I did read ‘Ransom of Red Chief,’” she said, “in high school. And that is probably exactly what happened. And maybe later Mike Pence paid off the Utes and Navajo guides himself.”

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

Really, Really Dead.  

Dead. He was dead. No doubt about it. He was really, really dead.

I now sat at the desk of the intake officer, where his computer was taking forever to upload some forms. Vaguely glancing at the photos of him fishing in Scotland or somewhere equally cold and bleak, I was struggling to concentrate on the day. After years of asking my neighbors and friends about details of their own mysteries, here I was feeling foggy about events.

I did remember that I knew something had been wrong as soon as I’d reached the upstairs landing upstairs in my B&B. First of all, I could hear Wandering Jack yowling. He never yowls unless I’m there and he’s hungry. I had turned the key in the lock, but it was already unlocked. And Jack was yowling. My neck hairs stood on end.

I opened the door slowly, knowing you should never enter a room if your neck hairs are on end. I pushed the door so just my head was inside, another thing you shouldn’t do as I thought it over days later. I walked inside a few feet, which I should not have done. My left foot nudged a shoe, a Nike tennis shoe just like Robert . . . That’s when I knew it was him. That wanker! He was supposed to be gone! Had he drunk all my liquor and passed out? Or had a stroke like his mum? Or . . .

But then there was the smell. Like the time I’d found a bloated squirrel in the water trough at Grandpa’s farm. Grandpa had told me, “See, Feely, that will happen to you if you play around the horse trough!” He’d also once pointed out to me a flattened snake in the middle of their road.” “That will happen to you, Missy,” he’d said, “if you cross the street without looking.”

And now here was my ex-husband, sprawled not in a horse trough or in the middle of a street, but there on my red-rose patterned carpet. I’d been gone since before daylight to get into line to see the new Egyptian art exhibit at the Ashmolean. My ex was supposed to pick up the cat at 9 that same morning. He had a key. It was all arranged.

But here it was 6 in the evening, Jack was locked inside his carrier, which was sitting on the couch, and there was Robert in shorts, a T-shirt, and Nikes, dressed like he’d just come in from running or was just about to go running.

But he was not out running or about to go anywhere. He was dead. Drool out of his mouth dead. One eye half-open dead. One arm flung behind him dead. Hair a mess dead. Not sleeping, not just passed out drunk, but dead. He would have woken up at my screams if he hadn’t been dead. At least I think that was me screaming. Maybe it was Sarala screaming, I can’t remember.

This wasn’t like an episode of Law and Order, an enormously popular American TV series over here. I couldn’t call up the exact order of things like the TV actors. I couldn’t even exactly recall when I’d last seen Robert, things I knew this British cop would be asking me. I was in a numbing humid daze, like I was watching someone else open the door and enter the room. Maybe Law and Order scriptwriters had never seen anybody really, really dead.

But now Robert was dead. Like the squirrel and the snake. Really, really dead.

Christmas in Floy

It was Christmas in Floy

Exit 175 at yuletide

Visions of I-70 semis through the electric fog

A great icy pie crust rolled out over four and twenty black brush.


A Doctor Zhivago landscape

But no good-looking non-Russian actors like in the 1965 movie

Or good-looking non-Russian actors like in the 2002 TV miniseries

No Egyptian Omar Sharif or Scottish Hans Matheson as Yuri

Just an American wanderer in a giant stadium coat and a thick red, wool scarf;

My KEEN boots barely grip the ice around my car. (Continued)

A Bride for Death

Death was lonely
So he put an ad in the paper, saying about himself,
“Loves to travel and meet new people.”
And she arrived at the coffee shop for their first meeting
160 pounds of giggle stuffed into her 5 foot 1 inches
A headful of yellow curls and her mother’s recipe for deep-dish cherry pie:
Just what he needed. (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

A Murder, I Think.

It wasn’t what I was expecting. The police station looked more like an ordinary office, with houseplants, a pile of Hello magazines on the side tables, computer monitors, and IN and OUT boxes. It was a quiet Sunday morning. Apparently the chaos of the night before had been sorted, and the paperwork was now consuming the energies of Oxford’s municipal authorities.

I hadn’t wanted to call this in on my phone. I wasn’t sure I could have worked my cell phone, let alone put together some coherent sentences for the curious voice at the other end of the line. I knew exactly where the police station was, though. I walked by it when I went to the grocery. Looking back on it now, however, I don’t remember exactly how I got there that morning. My feet seemed to move independently of the rest of my body. But there I was at the station’s double door and taking the few steps up into the lobby. I needed to talk to someone face to face. (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

Could This Be My Diggory Venn?

I’m at The Beatnik as they open the next morning, but Dennis isn’t there. An older woman with a streak of blue in her hair is taking orders from a few young people at a table when I walk in. But there he is: the American is standing at one wall, flipping through a Kerouac book, cradling it on his arm with his beige trench coat. Maybe he’s in the Beatnik Reading Group. He sits down at a table by the window, folds his coat onto the back of the chair, sets his Kerouac on the table, and signals to the waitress. I sit at another table, listening carefully to his voice.

“Could I get something with my coffee? Toast, a teacake, or a croissant or something?”

“We have all of those, love, but we also specialize in cakes. My brother makes a very good lemon cake.”

“Well, then I’ll have coffee and some of the very good lemon cake, please.” Was that a Midwestern accent? I have a sudden, weird surge of homesickness. (Continued)

Show me the money

Elizabeth Gurney Fry, 1780-1845

Perhaps a country shows its true colors through its bank notes.

In 1928, the US Treasury Department reviewed the portraits on bank notes and concluded that “portraits of Presidents of the United States have a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others.” Exceptions were made for Alexander Hamilton, Salmon Chase, and Benjamin Franklin. No changes in the people depicted on US currency (intended for the general public) have been made since 1928.

In England, portraits on its bank notes change regularly and have honored scientists, writers, engineers, musicians, social reformers, and politicians. Right now their currency honors Matthew Boulton and James Watt (on the 50-pound note), Adam Smith (on the 20), Charles Darwin (the 10), and Elizabeth Fry (the 5). (England does not have a 1-pound note. That denomination is a coin.)

I had never heard of Elizabeth Fry, so, as I paid for my latte and pain au raisin at the Caffe Nero recently, I asked the man behind the counter who the woman was on the fiver. The barista shrugged and said, “I guess she’s somebody who’s dead.” Minutes later, as I sat upstairs with my breakfast, he came up to my table and said, “She lived 1780 to 1845 and was a prison reformer.” Had this tourist’s question just kick-started the brilliant career of an barista-turned-historian? Not sure. But Fry seemed a woman worth knowing, so I looked her up. (Continued)

Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

Why would I not order fish and chips here?

The Eagle and Child, when you hit it right and it’s not too crowded, is the best pub on the planet. A literary pedigree, low ceilings, a bright and helpful staff, and fabulous cooks. Even featured in the Inspector Morse TV series. I’m early, so I watch Dad as he enters ten minutes late. He seems to know the waitress, says something that makes her laugh, then orders fish and chips and a pint of lager at the bar.

“Hey, Pumpkin. You look nice.” Dad always notices clothes. Sometimes that drives me crazy. Especially when I dress in a hurry, and then he notices that.

“So, Dad, why are you ordering fish and chips? They make a lot of other – “

“Why would I not order fish and chips here? They’re great. And I get to sit where C.S. Lewis sat, and I like to think he would have ordered fish and chips as he was holding forth about whatever.”

“Tolkien maybe. I think Lewis would more likely be having a bowl of soup. More Presbyterian.”

“Well, whoever. I like their fish and chips. I come here whenever I’m in Oxford. Are you going to come to my talk tonight?”

“I’m still not sure. I’m working on a case.” (Continued)

Cheeky rascals at Holy Trinity


The friendlies selling tea, cakes, and scones.

It seemed to all be going on at Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Perhaps its most famous going-on is that it is where Anne and William Shakespeare are buried. I paid a “Concession” (old-age) price of one pound to get up to the front of the church with the tourist crowd to see the slabs under which the Bard and his wife are buried. The church also hosts concerts and plays.

In front of the church is a lovely shaded cemetery with benches and mostly unreadable moss- and lichen-covered tombstones, providing respite for travelers and the genealogist I met looking for Morris family names.

There is also a tearoom at the back of the church, complete with tables and chairs and the three lively women in the photo. The day I visited, they were selling cakes and “cheeky rascals” (four-inch-wide cookie-like scones decorated with almond-and-cherry faces, a take on the three-times-larger Fat Rascal, made famous at Bettys, a tearoom in York).

How much should go on at–or inside–a church? Just baptisms, weddings, and other official religious ceremonies? Or might famous pay-to-see tombs, concerts, plays, and cheeky rascals for sale help a church keep the common touch for everyone in the community . . . including a weary tourist getting handed a cup of tea by a friendly face?

To be or not to be Anne

Anne Hathaway’s cottage lies amid gardens and fields of roses, rushes, lavender, and delphiniums, in Shottery, about a mile outside Stratford-upon-Avon’s city center. Lovely willow trellises line the walks of the cottage (actually a rather substantial farmhouse), covered with all manner of winding tendrils of vine and vegetable. And a fine tearoom across the street serves sandwiches, cream teas, and ghost stories. I believe Anne’s family house is a more beautifully floral and satisfying tourist experience than her husband William Shakespeare’s birthplace in the town center of Stratford.

Anne (born in 1556, and aged 26) was three months pregnant when she married William Shakespeare (born 1564, and aged 18) in Temple Grafton, Warwickshire. Their daughter Susanna was born six months later in 1582, and twins Hamnet and Juliet were born in 1585. (though, sadly, Hamnet died at age 11). Those are the facts we know.

The docent at the cottage described Anne as a “multi-tasking farmer’s daughter who probably could have turned her hand at about anything.” Anne probably would not have received any formal education. She would, however, have had to learn how to govern a household, run a farm, and become skilled in housewifely duties in preparation for marriage. Women were expected to be married, and single women–or women otherwise not under the supervision of a male–were often looked down upon, sometimes as witches. It was legal for boys to marry at age 14; girls at 12.   (Continued)