From across the room Elby knew they must look like high school friends meeting after a long time apart, unsure of each other but attentive. Such a tenuous relationship it could break forever without anyone noticing. And she had every intention of getting up at any moment and doing just that. Break it. End it before it started. She knew the ending before the beginning even happened. Men wanted one thing and one thing only, and she had no interest at all in that.
But she didn’t pull herself away. She could have, but she felt a desire to stay. To talk to this man. Her whole life, she had so little interest in men she accepted herself as a sort of neuter. But this guy had a frequency about him that lit her up. Kept her glued to her seat. Preposterous, she told herself. She knew nothing of the man.
Elizabeth—a.k.a. Elby—Elder stood at an uncomfortable crossroad in her life. At thirty-two and teaching basic literature to undergraduates at Fort Lewis College in Durango, she had lost her way. She stopped reading for pleasure, hadn’t taken a long hike in the mountains for a couple years, and hadn’t done any art projects for even longer. The world felt grey and uninteresting to her.
Her uncle, the one who started calling her Elby as a baby, suggested she volunteer as a tour guide for a summer, like he did, and plant a garden, like he did. At a deep level, she knew those were his ways of avoiding the same kind of depression she allowed herself to experience. At a deeper level, she knew her uncle represented a family-male influence that Elby could barely tolerate. Her father taught her that lesson. But her uncle saved her. After her parents died in a car wreck, he took early retirement and moved Elby to Pagosa Springs. He was a good family-male who, for the most part, knew where he should not step and did not step there.
Now, with this stranger at the bar, every time she thought she could dismiss him, he became more interesting. Family secret, he said. Lost treasure. She had the former, but not the latter.
“Ahh, and you’re off for the chase,” she said. “With lots of big horses and big guns. Hunt the family secret down and kill it. Bring it back. Carry it around like a trophy.” She mimed carrying a slab of meat on her shoulder. Where did this flamboyance come from? It felt good. Maybe she’d had too much to drink.
Baxter couldn’t tell if she made fun of him or if this was her style of humor. He decided to play along. “Yeah, me heap big bwana man.”
She laughed and took a quick swig of beer. “Ah, that’s rich. Offensive dumbass white-boy slang for two cultures on different continents mixed into a single comment that proves the intractable stupidity of men. Bravo.” That’s it, she thought. That’s her bitter self she knew so well. She told herself not to attack this guy merely for being male. That’s my hang-up. Keep that to self.
“You don’t like men, do you, bwana woman?”
She pressed her lips together and used willpower alone to force them into a weak smile. “Not usually.”
“Why not? Tell me lies, tell me truth, just make it interesting.”
She smiled again, genuinely this time. How could this man do that to her? Men didn’t make her smile. They made her smolder in anger. In fact, this one, she lectured herself, must be playing her. Just acting interested to get her into the sack. What all men wanted. That thought melted her smile.
“Oh, just your usual lost virtues,” she said. “A very nasty, very dark, very deep family secret. But unfortunately, not a shred of lost treasure.” She wanted to bite his head off. But maybe not until after he got his hands on her. The intrusive thought offended her, surprised her. Where had that come from? She never, ever wanted a man’s hands on her again. Push that thought away, away, she told herself. Away.
Baxter finished the last of his tequila—Mr. Tequila, he thought with an inner flash smile—and began drinking the Guinness, finally warmed to the right temperature. He smacked his lips. The thick beer felt good coating his mouth. He needed to push away from this woman. He couldn’t afford entanglement, no matter how useful she might be. He would find someone else to help him. Not this girl. She would trip him up. He’d lose his camouflage. Worse, get distracted from his goal. Whatever that was. His mind fluttered a moment in indecision. Then he remembered. Hide. Find the family treasure. In that order. He breathed deeply.
“Seems we’re at an impasse,” he said. “Grounded on the rocks of our own family secrets. In celebration of that, you should drink your tequila.”
“Sometimes you sound like a hick and sometimes like a professor of literature or something,” she said, trying to keep her self-protective anger smoldering.
“I am a hick, but I’m not a professor of literature.” He took another long pull of the beer. Part of his disengagement strategy: drink fast.
She laughed in spite of herself. Dammit if she didn’t like the conversational ability of this guy. “Well, I am a professor of literature and I’m thinking about becoming a hick.”
“Are you really?”
“So, what’s your favorite story from literature?” he asked. Bells went off in his head. Klaxon sounds. He asked for a story in direct contradiction of his decision to disengage.
She looked at him while reaching back into her brain. Which story should she cite? The answer appeared in her head as suddenly as the old artistic insights she used to have and she brightened and sat up straight. “Arabian Nights,” she said.
“Ah, yes. One of my favorites, too. Keeping a herd of women around until they no longer please you, and then put them to death. I can see why you like it.”
Bastard, she thought. But she thought it admiringly. She liked how sharply he turned it.
“No,” she said, “not that part. What I liked were all the eunuchs that guarded the women. Seems the highest and best use of men to me.”
Ouch, he thought. Skewered along with all of mankind. He swigged deeply from his beer. Two more swallows, then he would be gone. But he couldn’t shut his bloody mouth. He wanted a parting shot for this woman. This man-hater. If she weren’t a woman, he would punch her, a quick jab.
“Ah. You know, I think I’ve finally figured out your type.”
“My type,” she said. She did not like being a type. Her entire being sank into a sour place. She prepared herself to finally put this man where she wanted him, as worthless as all men, a dog turd on the sidewalk of life.
“You’re only attracted to emasculated men. Ones who don’t probe you. Who don’t want to get inside.” His tongue turned acid. A jab with the mouth.
She snapped. It even felt like a snap to her. Or maybe a whoosh, like an ignited pile of gasoline-soaked rags. She grabbed her tequila glass and threw the liquid into his face. She stood, knocking over her chair. People at nearby tables looked. She burned inside and her ears roared, making her deaf. She so wanted a snappy, pain-inducing comment, but nothing came to her and she merely glared at him, then stomped away.
Baxter reacted slowly. Licked his lips. Blinked his eyes. Tequila leaked in and burned them. They watered. He closed his eyelids, patted the table until he found a napkin and wiped his face.
“Waste of good tequila,” he said loud enough to satisfy the onlookers, most of whom laughed and nodded and turned back to their lives. All but one man, who raised his cell phone and casually took a photo of Baxter.
Short description for The G.O.D. Journal: After he accidentally kills his wife, Baxter runs. Hiding in his derelict boyhood home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, he discovers a journal that leads to a treasure of gold. With the guiding hand of a deranged hunter and Wall Street financier, Baxter discovers true gold is concealed in the heart of a woman who helps him search for an Anasazi pictograph that is key to his family treasure. Read the full description….
Hot Water Press publications scheduled for 2013: Annie and the Second Anasazi (a trilogy set in the year 2054), and Soo Potter (an Anasazi historical novel). To find out when they’re available, sign up for notification by email here.