Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
I promise you my love … we will return. Herbert O’Malley thought about New River and the vow he’d made to Madeline as he supported himself with a cane on the floor of O’Malley Motor Company’s VEA (vehicle exterior assembly) line. His arthritis had been much more pronounced the last eight months. A computer operated robot with telescoping arms plucked an exterior shell from a slow moving conveyor-belt and dipped it into one of seven tanks holding heated solutions of chromium, magnesium and nickel along with a patented alloy that produced vibrant color in stainless steel. The resulting uni-body was then flash-dried, joined with an interior and attached to a completed chassis producing a four, six, eight or ten-cylinder Earth Car with glistening rust-resistant color that never chipped or faded.
The Metro-Detroit factory and nine others were on schedule to produce more than seven million Earth Cars (one every eighty seconds) in twelve different models, outselling Ford by 800,000 units, including two economy-hybrids at an average list price of $36,816 for fiscal 2014. It was a good year. Profits for the automotive empire were expected to exceed three billion dollars … not bad for a privately held (non-corporate) company.
Herbert was glad when the plant manager and the group of high level engineers and systems analysts following him through the factory agreed to break for lunch. The group flew into Chicago in a company helicopter while Herbert retired to his immaculate but seldom used upstairs office.
A news report showed a group of humble Amish people in Pennsylvania. A deranged gunman had just shot their children in a schoolhouse. The first thing the religious group had done was forgive the attacker. Herbert marveled at the sect’s great faith and wondered if he could muster the same inner power. He wasted no time calling his wife. Madeline picked up her cell phone the second ring. “Did you see the awful report of the Amish children being shot on the news?”
“Yes,” she said, “On an Delta Airlines monitor. My heart goes out to those people and their most Christ-like exhibition of forgiveness. They are right. Revenge, resistance and hate only gives power to evil but …”
“I talked to our private investigator this morning,” Herbert interrupted. “Harrison James and his team have been searching satellite images of Idaho. They’re covering every inch of ground, but it’s hard. Two thirds of the state is protected wilderness area with some of the roughest and heavily forested areas on Earth. But he assured me that he will find it … if New River exists.”
Madeline barely waited for him to finish speaking. “I might have something,” she said. “I’m at the Friedman Memorial in Hailey with the other half of Harrison’s team. The airport manager has no record of any jets landing here on December twenty-third, let alone a Dessault, but one of Harrison’s investigators found a receipt for 22,419 lbs. of high octane jet fuel … sold on that same date. Now considering that most pilots refuel when their fuel gages show one third capacity, this 22,419 lbs. is two thirds of the capacity for a Falcon 7X at 31,940 lbs.”
Herbert caught her excitement. “What did the airport manager say about the fuel?” he said.
“He said it had to be a mistake,” Madeline told him. “He has no record of a jet landing or taking off on that date. But this is the really strange part. He said the airport was locked-in zero visibility on that day! Nothing came in; nothing went out.”
“Keep on it. I think we’re getting close!” Herbert told her as he hung up the phone. The tenth richest man in the world poured Irish whiskey into a glass and settled into a Spanish leather recliner. The first solid lead in almost a year had ignited a light in the dark corners of Herbert’s mind.
Margene, their only child, had been clinically depressed from birth. Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on treatment programs over the years hadn’t restored her to any semblance of normalcy. The night she called from a college in Idaho saying she was bringing home a fiancé for Christmas, Madeline hadn’t recognized her own daughter. Laughter had replaced nineteen-years’ worth of tears and the uncontrollable zest for life erupting from Margene had left both parents mystified, thankful … and overjoyed.
George Weatherbee had proved to be the perfect future-son-in-law. From the time they flew in a Weatherbee family friend’s Dessault Falcon 7X to a small Idaho airport during a white-out blizzard until they woke up a week later in Detroit, life in tiny New River had been an unbelievably wonderful dream. The last day in the delightful village, Herbert had plucked a golden envelope in the shape of a leaf from the town square tree with the name of a New River resident inside. It was a drawing for a Secret Santa exchange to be held the following year.
Herbert poured himself another drink, because this memory started out as a dream and turned into a nightmare. Police at the door at three a.m. in Detroit saying Margene’s flight 419 had crash landed upon arrival in the Motor City. Private investigators saying there had never been a boyfriend, a snowy flight to Idaho, a gold leaf envelope … or a town called New River.
Herbert had been ready to believe the well-meaning friends and acquaintances who expressed their deepest condolences at his loss. With his wife suddenly in a mental facility and a huge company to run he had no choice, until he found the gold-foil leaf. Herbert O’Malley reached inside his jacket pocket and extracted the golden envelope in the shape of a leaf with the name Jack Freeman inside. He still had a Secret Santa gift to acquire before Christmas. Jack loved cars; By God! Herbert would not disappoint him.
Memories flooded Herbert’s mind on the trans-Atlantic flight to France. The rush of adrenaline that coursed through his body while chopping wood in the brisk morning air of New River and the pacifying Christmas carols sung by kindhearted welcoming neighbors were as lost loves in a storm. He had promised Madeline and himself that he would return … he had to find a way back to the tiny, impossible to find, town in Idaho.
The chief operating officer of Dessault Aviation Group, Boïk Segalea waited for him with a limousine in Paris. It was the first time they had met. Although outwardly cordial, the aircraft manufacturing executive was obviously inwardly furious at the hostile takeover of his subsidiary company. “Il semble que vous avez gagné (it appears you have won) Mister O’Malley,” Segalea’s voice displayed no open hostility toward the new majority stockholder. “Vous souhaitez visiter l'usine de fabrication (Would you like to visit the manufacturing plant) or tour your new headquarters first?”
“I don’t officially take control until twenty billion dollars in US currency is transferred later today,” Herbert told him. “I know you keep track of where your jets travel and who flies them. We can put a stop to this all right now if only I can look at your records.”
“Je suis désolé mais c'est impossible,” Segalea told him. “Our clients as well as the onboard GPS flight tracking information are extremely confidential!”
Herbert looked at his watch. “I’ll know in about two hours anyway,” he said. “Why not make things easy? Give me the information I want and I’ll see to it that P and W Canada resumes shipments of your turbine engines as well as cancelling the stock buyout.”
Segalea was intrigued. “Why is information sur un vol d'un Falcon 7 X si important that you would use worldwide leverage to force a company like Dessault into submission?”
“Have you ever been to Heaven?” Herbert asked the executive as the limousine made its way through the Paris streets.
“J'ai été proche de la mort plusieurs fois (I have been near death several times),” Segalea replied with a laugh. “But I fear it was most likely Hell I glimpsed and not a better place.”
“I have seen it with my own eyes,” Herbert told him. “Someone I love is very happy there and I only want to find my way back.”
Segalea handed Herbert an unmarked manila envelope. “I planned to give you this after the funds transfer but I see no reason to delay.” He threw his arms in the air in a gesture of surrender. “Vous devriez m'ont dit qu'il s'agit de l'amour!” He smiled. “You should have told me. Love is a completely different matter!”
Three hours later, Herbert was on a private flight back to the United States courtesy of the still intact Dessault Aviation Company. He studied the information the chief operating officer had given him. A Dessault Falcon, number NF7X-419, owned by Joseph P. Callahan from Cloverdale, strangely the same town his wife Madeline had grew-up in, had flown four people to Idaho during a blinding snowstorm on December twenty third, two-thousand thirteen. ‘Gotcha,” Herbert exclaimed.
Joseph Callahan was seated across from an attractive older woman inside a small café called Spare-A-Dime in Cloverdale, Montana when Herbert found him a week later. It was snowing outside and the small café felt warm and comfortable. Judging by the saucer sized grease stain and crumbs on the oversized plates, the pair had just finished two enormous cheeseburgers and were sharing a large order of French fries. “Mr. Callahan I’m Herbert O’Malley from Detroit.” Herbert held out a trembling hand as he shuffled slowly toward the booth.
“If this is about the broken heater-switch on my 2010 O’Malley Earth Car I’ve already taken it to the garage and the warranty covered it,” Joseph joked. “It works just swell now.”
O’Malley laughed. “Actually I wanted to ask you for a favor.”
“Please sit down,” Joseph said. “This is my very old and dearest friend Melania Descombey.” He gestured toward a woman had to be at least eighty years old but looked much younger. O’Malley sensed great affection tinged with sadness in the introduction.
“I’m very pleased to meet you,” Melania said. She grasped two of Herbert’s fingers. He felt a strange sensation as if he were a book being read. “You wish to travel to New River?”
O’Malley was astonished. It was the first time anyone had referred to the tiny town directly as if it were an actual place.
“Then New River does exist! It is real?” Herbert’s heart beat faster.
“Of course!” Melania said as she dipped a French fry into catsup. “People often lose dreams … but they can always be found … somewhere.”
“This is the best news that I’ve heard in almost a year,” Herbert said.
“You visited New River once,” Melania told him. ‘And you caught a glimpse of heaven. Are you sure that you want to go back? You realize that you may never return to the life you once knew?”
“My wife and I have both decided that we want to stay in New River forever,” Herbert told her. “When a person has power and money it seems we desire only that which cannot be sold or bought.”
“How is Madeline?” Melania asked. “I haven’t seen your delightful wife since she was a tiny girl. Does she still love to look in mirrors?”
“She ran from her own image for years,” Herbert said. “A parent who loves a child shares their children’s fears and anguish. Margene was in deep depression for so many years. Being in New River with a happy daughter and her fiancé made what we thought of ourselves and everything else blissful.”
“What is it that I can do for you Mr. O’Malley?” Joseph asked.
“I believe that you own the jet that transported us to New River before,” Herbert said. “I’m beginning to believe that flying in your Dessault Falcon is the only way we can get to where we want to go.”
“It’s not the only way,” Joseph said with a glance at Melania and then a smile, “but it’s surely the fastest.”
“We have many things to think about … and to consider,” Melania said.
Herbert and Madeline drank hot coffee from a thermos inside an empty aircraft hanger while the Dessault Falcon was being fueled. It looked like the beginning of a terrific storm. Large snow-flakes fluttered from the sky like clumps of spinning cotton. Herbert held a wrapped Christmas present in his arms but they had no other luggage. “You decided on a Secret Santa gift for Jack Freeman then?” Madeline pointed to the thin, oblong box. “What is it … a shirt?”
Herbert chuckled. “The shirt off my back,” he told his wife.
A uniformed man appeared out of nowhere when a small door opened. An icy wind dropped the temperature in the storage building ten degrees before the door closed. Herbert felt a rush of adrenaline course through his body as he shook hands. Madeline visibly swooned as the young man touched her fingers.
“I’m your pilot, Johnny Lang,” he said. “Flight 419 to New River, Idaho will leave Cloverdale in ten minutes.”
“It’s a miracle that any aircraft managed to fly in this weather. Mr. Johnny Lang must be some kind of wonder pilot,” Herbert commented as the plane taxied along the runway at Haley airport. The snow was coming down very heavy in the area called Sun Valley, visibility was almost zero. “The flight here was like a dream,” Madeline told her husband. “No sudden drops or stomach spilling turns. I hope the rest of our stay is as pleasant.”
Herbert and Madeline struggled against blowing snow toward the vague outline of a Plymouth station-wagon idling with its lights on high-beam. Jack Freeman jumped from the driver’s seat of the used-to-be-red automobile and opened doors for them. “The heater still ain’t working so good, so I brought covers,” he said as he stowed their luggage in the back. Madeline pushed the same pile of smelly horse blankets she remembered from before to one side.
Jack, smiling and freckle-faced, leaned over the front seat and warmed them with a smile. “Welcome to New River,’ he said. He still looked too young to be driving an automobile.
“If I remember right we still have a ways to go before we arrive at your magnificent village.” Herbert stared at the storm raging outside as the inside of the car, and his old bones, especially his arthritic legs, began to feel strangely warm and wonderful.
“Once the Kharon touches down you’re here,” Jack said. “The airport and the storm are as much a part of New River as the river and the bridge that no cars can cross.”
“That’s an odd name for an aircraft isn’t it?” Madeline gaped at the sky blue letters scrolled on the nose-portion of the expensive aircraft as they spun away from the airport.
“It’s probably Joseph Callahan’s mother’s name,” Herbert joked. His legs were beginning to feel better than good … they felt fantastic.
“No, it’s from Greek mythology,” Madeline shivered. “Kharon is the name of the …”
“Hang on,” Jack called out from the driver’s seat. “Like I said before, this is almost a sleigh ride.” The careening car banked high on snow drifts piled high on both sides of the road as it spun down a series of treacherous switchbacks. Jack turned on the window defroster and the ghostly voice of Bing Crosby singing an a cappella version of White Christmas rattled from the rusty air-vents as if the long dead singer’s smooth voice was now part of the Plymouth’s malfunctioning heating system. By the time they were almost to the bottom of the mountain, they were all laughing. The snow filled sky had turned brilliant blue and they could see white smoke rising from clusters of roofs nestled in the shimmering snow-covered valley like a toy town spread under a Christmas tree. Madeline gasped in wonder. “I’d forgotten how beautiful this place was.”
Jack stopped the rusty station-wagon next to a small group of people near an old dilapidated wooden trestle bridge. Children were ice-skating on the frozen river. Herbert recognized several people from the trip a year earlier, plus a few new ones warming their bare hands next to a large fire. A man and woman both smiling and wearing identical floppy ear-muff caps handed Herbert and Madeline each a cup of steaming apple juice. “Welcome back to New River,” they said.
The laughter of the children was drowned-out by the tingling of bells as a horse-drawn sleigh came around a bend in the trees and glided across the old bridge. Herbert didn’t realize how cold he felt until he was seated. The driver opened a box at the rear of the sleigh and covered each passenger with a steaming hot blanket. The warmth flowed over every inch of his body and for the second time in his life he experienced true joy and happiness. He nudged Madeline several times but he couldn’t stop her giggling as the horses clomped in a wide circle and the sleigh headed for the small town. Herbert began to laugh and then to croon along with a dozen other passengers as they sang Frosty the Snowman.
Margene and George Weatherbee were waiting on the sidewalk with their arms filled with brightly wrapped packages as the sleigh glided down the single main street of the small town. Madeline burst into tears of joy as she jumped from the sleigh and hugged her daughter for the first time in almost a year. Herbert noticed the piles of Christmas presents in his daughter’s and her fiancé’s arms. “I’m afraid we left so quickly we neglected to buy any gifts.” He gestured toward a colorfully lit Gimbel’s Department Store that looked just as he remembered from his youth. “I hope they take credit cards.”
“Your money is no good here,” George laughed, “And don’t worry, the stores have exactly what you’re looking for.”
George and Margene piled their packages into the sleigh and persuaded the driver to deliver them to a cabin under construction. Mother and daughter decided to visit a newly opened dress store while George and Herbert walked inside the long defunct Gimbels.
Soft Christmas music and the smell of hot popcorn filled the air. A tiny steam train, with the number 419 on its smoking engine boiler, chugged around a huge Christmas tree as a dozen employees dressed as elves helped joyous customers wrap presents at register-missing checkout lanes. Wide-eyed children ambled down colorful aisles obviously filled with joyous fantasies and dreaming of Christmas morning. “I’d like to give my wife and daughter something special this year,” Herbert told his future son in law. “My large company was what I thought would bring me happiness … but I was wrong.”
George Weatherbee extracted two necklaces from floor mounted tree branches designed to hold jewelry. Miniature gilded clock parts shimmered from the ends of golden chains. Herbert noticed the names Madeline and Margene etched on the backs of tiny glistening watch-case plates. “Perfect,” he said. “I should have given the two women I love more than anything else in this world … my precious time.”
Herbert O’Malley chopped wood outside the cabin his daughter and George Weatherbee would live in after it was finished and they were married. Rather than make him tired, each swing of the splitting mall seemed to renew his energy and restore his vitality. Each crack of the axe sent flocks of chattering Rocky Mountain Blue birds fluttering from snow covered branches. The birds swooped overhead scolding him for the fright and then landed in the same tree again as he placed the next log. From a distance, church bells pealed and tickled his freezing ears. He was beginning to feel like a young man of twenty and didn’t want to stop even when his future son-in-law who was stacking wood in a pile laughingly suggested that they had enough for several weeks and they should quit for the night. “I feel like if I could only go on another hour I’d be in the best shape of my life,” Herbert complained.
“I know how you feel,” George said, “but today is December twenty-second. Tomorrow From midnight until six a.m. is La passeggiata del Diavolo The walk of the Devil,” George took off a pair of gloves. “There is balance in all things in your universe and in ours. Where there is great good, there is also great evil. Where there are angels, there are also demons. You do not have to be afraid. But stay in your room and open your door to no-one. Do not look into the streets tonight. Cover your ears and pray you do not heed the sounds. The Black Lord comes to New River at the stroke of midnight and he will tempt those who are weakest. Just remember humility and forgiveness are the two greatest powers on Earth.”
Herbert shivered. He remembered the horrible black thing that had tried to force its way into his and Madeline’s bedroom a year ago, the first time they were here. George and his father had somehow got the creature to leave.
Christmas lights were beginning to flicker on all over the valley. “I plan to spend the evening with my wife,” Herbert said. “Nothing is going to distract me.”
Herbert had just dropped a two by six oak beam inside metal brackets either side of the front door’s frame, to reinforce the entrance, when Madeline emerged from the shower - drying herself off. “I love the feel of the water when it touches my skin,” Madeline said. “I swear every time I look in the mirror, I’m a little slimmer and years younger.”
“Don’t go too far back - Baby!” Herbert was in a great mood. His wife did look like she could be just a couple of years out of high school. “You can’t get any more desirable than you are right now.”
“How about a little wine and a movie?” Madeline said as she danced across the floor holding a DVD. “It’s been years since I’ve seen White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.”
Herbert laughed. “You thought that old squeaky heater blower in Jack’s old car was singing that song too … didn’t you?”
“It was,” Madeline insisted with a giggle. “Everything about this place is magical … why not old cars that can sing to you?”
“I love you Madeline,” Herbert said as he pulled her onto the bed.
White Christmas was halfway finished when Herbert heard a scream from outside that made him jump up and shut off the television. Margene’s shrill voice carried from the street below. “Daddy help me!”
Herbert was taking the wooden beam from the door that opened onto a balcony when Madeline griped his hand with hers. “You know what George told us … and you know what happened last time!”
Herbert hesitated but for only a moment. Margene’s terrified wails from the street below made him involuntarily yank the bar off the door. He felt like he was losing his mind. “I lost my daughter once … I will not again!”
The thing was a dark-blue, blackish blur of bristled hair and ragged claws as it forced the door open and burst into the room. A fleshy tail, as thick as a small tree trunk, slapped the walls and a smell like rotting cabbage and feces tainted the air. From the other side of madness Madeline was screaming. Herbert had time for only one thought … My God! My God! What have I done?
To be continued …