The two women moved easily through the pitch black silence of the pines. Neither talked for a bit. They made their way down the mile-long trail. Seeing with their memory, they traveled in the darkness. Two figured floating among the ghosts of the new moon. Down to the end of the jeep road, where the old Ford truck was parked next to a tricked out Jeep Rubicon.
“Mother, just how are we going to find Bob?” Sanna asked quietly. “I mean, you said yourself he has been missing for a few days. For all we know he is in the desert on one of his vision quests.”
“Oh, I have a feeling it won’t be all that hard to locate him.” Bridget had a bit of lightness in her voice. “You see, Bob for all his trying, is still a creature of habit. Although a very focused hunter, he does like his distractions. You see, The Reverend Horton Heat is playing…”
“At the Eld,” Sanna cut in, and her smile rang out in her words. “Well, isn’t that convenient and all at the same time very weird.? The Reverend is playing an off-season show in Crested Butte. What are the chances?”
“Exactly what I was thinking. It seems the gods are in our favor.”
They drifted down the trail, winding between the aspens, pines, and leftover snow. In the cold spring silence, they shared many thoughts, though neither one talked. Just a mother and daughter sharing a moment in a familiar place. They both had their mental preparations to make and now was as good a time as any to make them. The following days would be hectic. They would move and counter move until they solidified their family rule or they were dead. Better take some time to meditate on your future actions now. Once things were in motion, hesitation wouldn’t be an option.
They cleared the forest’s hold on their tongues, and both moved towards their vehicles. Bridget stopped and turned to Sanna saying, “Don’t think for a second we are taking that newfangled contraption to town.” The older woman stood tall and even in the dark, you could see her stern face.
“Really? You want me to ride in that kidney bruising bucket of bolts you call a truck?” Sanna almost sounded like a dejected teenager. “Not going to happen.”
They stood six feet apart, facing each other. Two Asgardian strong women, having a moment of crushing stubbornness. Two whole minutes passed and finally, Sanna huffed and said, “Fine. We drive separate to Kebler pass. Then we take your truck to town.”
Bridget shrugged. “Sure.”
The two vehicles started the crawl down the jeep road. The road was kept in a state of almost impassability for the final couple miles or so. This was to ensure anyone that had ignored the many “No Trespassing” signs to not venture any further. Sanna led the way, and Bridget rattled on behind her.
The WRX was downshifted, and with the exhaust rapping, Bob pulled into the sleepy offseason Thursday night of Crested Butte. Crawling onto the 15 mph empty streets he turned left on Elk Avenue. The main drag was mostly deserted and patiently waiting for the summer crowds. Three blocks down, Bob slid into a parking spot in front of a three-story, brown, wanna-be old western wood clad building. A real estate office occupied the first floor. The big windows, plastered with the overpriced resort town trophy homes, was tucked back under a second-floor deck that covered the sidewalk. A wooden sign hung from the front of the deck. “The ELDO: A sunny place for shady people.” He smiled as he always did when he read that sign.
In front of him was a big fancy tour bus. He cut the engine and let the quietness of the empty ski resort town surround him in comfort. He sat for a bit. Watching young mountain people, in down jackets and hoodies, park their town bikes and enter the stairwell door, beside the real estate office. Tonight there was a big act playing and it was the slow season. Even if you didn’t like the heavy psycho-billy punk rock sounds of The Reverend and his faithful bass player Jimbo and whoever the drummer was at the moment, you were going to the show. It was the only thing going in town and would be for over a month.
Bob got out of the car. Smelled the crisp cool air and stretched. The clock moved at a different speed here, and Bob could always feel it. Things ticked along at a slower pace and in a slightly off-kilter fashion. He liked it and so many times wished he could just stay. Get a job as a ski tuner with a free season pass and ride all winter long. Maybe be a raft guide during the summer. Be anonymous and boring. Just another mountain sports junky, eking out a living and enjoying the great outdoors.
Stepping up on the sidewalk he looked to his left and eyed the tour bus. He could knock on the door. Hang out with the band. He would be welcome. He and the Reverend went way back. Bob had been to so many shows that he was a permanent name on the guest list. But, tonight Bob wanted the common tribal company of the bar. The noise of banter, the faces of regulars and show-goers alike. He had spent the last few days alone, wrapped up in his head. Dreaming, tripping and talking with spiritual lions. Right now he needed camaraderie. Even though he had no real comrades here, the crowd itself would be enough to make him feel like he belonged.
At the top of the stairs, the familiarity of the scene made his defenses start to drop. The young, bearded lumberjack-like bouncer looked him up and down. The Stones ’ “Honkey Tonk Woman,” slipped out from the double doors. Glass clinked, and chatter floated above it all. Under everything was the smell of stale beer, marinating in the old wood floor. Perfect. Just perfect, Bob thought.
“ID, ticket or $25.00,” the bouncer announced with a smile behind the burly facial hair.
The Regulator gave the young man a sideways look and a crooked smile.
“Ok, then,” he said with a nod. “How about the ticket?”
Bob, thrust out his hand. The bouncer shook it, even though he was not sure why. He was not used to being overly friendly with the customers. “Name’s, Regulator. Should be on the list.” The bouncer looked down at the guest list. “How’re things going tonight?”
“Things are good. Mellow so far. The Reverend should change that soon. Ah, here ya are.”
The young man looked up and found himself glued to a pair of ice blue eyes. They told him everything was going to be great. Everything was going to be just like it should. This made him uneasy. He shook away from the stare, and Bob handed him a fifty dollar bill. “Thanks for your help.” The Regulator’s calm voice cut through the noise as a couple opened the door to leave.
“Um, yeah. No worries brah.” The bouncer was not sure what to make of the feeling he felt. A feeling, like the souls in the bar, had just become a little more important. He felt a need to be vigilant and that he was a bit more important.
Bob walked in and felt all the warmth and welcome of a local watering whole wrap around him. It filled him with hope, and he took a seat at the end of a long bar. The bouncer watched him with a concerned eye. For some reason, he knew he would be watching Bob all night.
The Eldo is a long narrow establishment. The bar runs along the front left side. The bathrooms and a passageway take up the middle. The dance floor and stage reside in the rear. The walls are finished with rough barn wood in a multitude of patterns, and the furniture is vintage seventies steakhouse. In true mountain bar fashion, the bathrooms are a fucking mess. The bar back is traditional Old West, oak and mirror set up. The bar is a dented copper with oak trim. Basically, it’s wood tone set upon a backdrop of wood tones. And Bob, could not have been more at home. The bartender strolled down the line. Tucked a towel in his back pocket and just nodded his head.
“Patron, silver, on the rocks with a lime.” Bob handed the bartender a $100 bill and said, “This should cover the night.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit. You know your money is not good in here.” The bartender crossed his arms and looked straight at the Regulator. This stance caught the eye of the young girl on the stool next to Bob. “If I buy your silver for the night, can you promise me all patrons leave in the same state that they arrived?”
Bob pulled his Quicksilver hoodie over his head and swept a hand through his blonde hair. The top was getting long. Four or five inches. The sides buzzed up with a number two guard. He set his trucker hat back on his head and pulled it down tight on his brow. He had to tilt his head up a bit to look at the bartender. About half the bar had now noticed the standoff and some wore inside grins. “If you set everyone at this bar up with one round of silver, I will spare their worthless mountain troll souls. But, if any one of them gets in my way on the dance floor,” he paused for dramatic effect, “I will cut down the lot and send them to the mead halls of Valhalla.” His eyes scanned the bar and landed on the girl next to him. She started crying.
Then the bartender shrugged his shoulders and said in a loud voice as he turned. “ So he has promised. The Regulator has spoken, and you will all be spared tonight! Silver for all! Compliments of the house!” There was a large cheer and half the people sitting at the bar started laughing while the others looked on in confusion.
Bob looked at the girl next to him and smiled. She found her legs and walked away. He spied the bouncer watching him from across the bar, keeping his smile he gave him a wink. Just a little reassurance that all was fine. The bartender moved back his way and filled two shot glasses. “Where did your little girlfriend go?” He poured the tequila. “Heard about your father. Not cool. So, how the fuck are ya, Bob?”
“Thanks, Tommy. It’s Pretty much been a bag full of suck lately, but tonight I just want to be another, regular old person.” The first shot went down, and the glass was refilled. Tommy walked around the bar and hugged Bob. Not many people could hug the Regulator, but Tommy was different. He was Bob’s oldest friend and the only person outside the family who knew what Bob was. Bob accepted the condolences and drank another shot. “What’s up with the new bouncer? Can he handle this crowd?”
“I agree, he might not look like much, but his antenna for trouble is good, and he’s quick. Real quick. So watch yourself, Bob.” Tommy smiled and walked back down the bar. Over his shoulder, he said, “Oh, and by the way, there is nothing regular about you.”
The dust rolled up from behind and washed over their trucks as they stopped at the intersection at Kebler Pass. It circled and swirled in the headlights as the old truck idled and the Jeep was parked. Sanna grabbed a long, hard case and a backpack. She crossed in front of the headlights and dropped the bags in the bed of the truck, first checking for pig shit. You never know with the old woman, she thought. Climbing into the cab, she was reintroduced to a familiar smell.
“Wanna hit?” Bridget offered over a blunt the size of a zucchini, to Sanna.
She just shook her head and smiled. Sanna, thanked her lucky stars for marijuana. Without it, her mother would be an overbearing mess of intensity. Bridget could put off some big vibes and make people feel on edge. She could do this from simply walking into a room. The pot took off the edge and left everyone at ease. Bridget turned up the Hank Williams on the three hundred watt stereo system, and they sashayed their way toward Crested Butte. The truck’s barreling exhaust trying to outdo the subwoofer. Although she loved her old trucks, she loved a good stereo system even better. With Bridget singing along and puffin’ on the blunt, Sanna felt like her mother was possibly tickled pink for the task ahead of them. She seemed to be relishing this. And why not? She had been hiding out in the mountains for decades. Hiding and watching from afar. Hiding and training her daughter. Sanna had a lot to learn if she was to take over the family business. She would have to learn even more than most because when and if she took the helm, she would be an unknown. She would be coming cold and she would have to prove her competence, fast. Bridget didn’t just teach her about the family. She taught Sanna the finer things about the shadow world. Bridget was a ghost in her own right. A warrior in the old world sense of the word. She was a master at intimidation and the art of overpowering your opponent. She was not all power though. She knew how to bait an enemy in and use misdirection to gain the advantage. Bridget had made Sanna the woman she is today through patience and tenacity. Sanna was grateful and she was ready.
Sanna watched her mother driving and singing. She felt good. She felt the gods had brought her here and that the Norns were spinning a good life for her. Bridget turned to her, “Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you….” Sanna smiled and before she knew it was singing along. “You’ll cry and cry, and try to sleep….” In the back of her mind, she wondered what would happen when they found Bob. When they, she, was face to face with him. She knew that Bob, knew, she was alive. Sanna was sure he had seen her in the spirit dream, but she left him so long ago. So many years he was left to fend for himself. Yes, he seemed to be handling it all ok, but what will he think of her? Sanna was feeling something odd for the first time in a long time. She was feeling nervous. Nervous what her little brother would think of her. Would he still like her? Would he be on her side? Would he want to take over the family himself? So, many things she didn’t know and within the hour she would have her answers.
Jimbo’s stout fingers rapped fast and steady up his flame-painted, stand-up bass, strings. He slapped in perfect time with the drummer’s punk rock speed. Their thumping rhythm chocking the air in the lower half of the room and filled all their groins with lusty bass. Above it all wailed the clean, hollow-body, frett-damaging, relentless serenade of the Reverend Horton Heat. Dressed in a fine western wear suit that would make Hank Williams jealous, he sang, smiled and musically hypnotized the audience into a swing dance mosh pit frenzy. Bob stood stage right and watched the Reverend perform his voodoo. A few shots of tequila mixed around in his head and the music vibrated through his bones. He was in the moment at last. Not thinking of the past, nor the future, but marveling at the synchronized beauty of the three masters blasting away in perfect synchronicity and power. He was here, and this was now.
After playing for an hour, the Reverend gave Bob a sideways smile as he took a sip of his bourbon. They had just finished up a three-song set of classic Reverend surf punk and he mouthed to Bob, “here we go,” before ripping into, “The Devil’s Chasing Me.” By far Bob’s favorite song and the Reverend knew it.
“Sunset lights the sky, and there’s a shadow over me…..” The high lonesome guitar rang in over the driving western swing beat. Bob watched in anticipation.
“But when the Devil comes collecting, your gonna payin’ for eternity… The devil’s chasin’ me….”
Jimbo lays his bass upon its side. The drums are lowered to a background drone and a steady ride cymbal jazz triplet. The Reverend climbs up on Jimbo’s bass and starts in on his magical solo ride. Bob loves this part. He closes his eyes and waits for the build dancing notes.
Then the nerves in the base of the Regulator’s spine light up a wave of energy that spikes through his skull. Something has shifted. Something has disturbed the air and made it taste of darkness. Yet, his stomach senses something familiar. He needs to move. Floating to his left he never took his eyes off the stage. Tucking himself in behind the speaker column. Back into the side shadows. He is no longer part of the space.
The rumbling of the Ford takes up two spots in the parking area to the rear of the Eldo building. The two women give each other short glances as if to check each other’s resolve. As unsure as Sanna is about how Bob will react to seeing her, Bridget might be even more unsure. She has been helping the Regulator dispose of his problems. Never once has she let on that she knew where his beloved big sister was. Much less that they had been working for years towards this very moment. It was soul crushing for Bridget to keep this secret. Bob loved and honored his sister. He never talked about her, but a mother knows her children and Bob was hurt. Hurt that Sanna could just up and leave. He knew she was not dead. How he knew this, Bridget had no idea, but he knew. Tonight could get very interesting. Bridget had to bring her children together and she had to be successful. This was paramount to bring together all the years of planning.
The two got out of the truck and started toward Elk Avenue and the entrance to the bar. They could hear the muted sound of loud rock and roll. Sanna stole a glance to the second-floor windows. She could see figures silhouetted in the red, blue and green lights. Some of their heads nodding along with the beat. He’s right there. Right inside those windows. She looked over to her mother. Bridget slowed, knocked her head and smelled.
“Everything ok?” Sanna asked and then she felt it too.
Bridget nodded, shrugged and said, “Yep, just thought I smelled vermin. I think it’s just the dog shit freeing itself from the melting snow piles.”
Sanna wasn’t sold, but she went along with it. They rounded the corner, past Bob’s car and opened the stairway door. The bouncer was checking some IDs when he took a glance at the two women. He got that uneasy feeling again like the one when he talked to that Regulator guy. He didn’t ask for IDs and quickly made up an excuse that since the band had been playing for over an hour, he would just let them in for free. Something about a fifty dollar bill flashed in his head. The women entered the bar, took an unnoticeable look around and headed for the band room. They moved their way to the back of the dancing crowd.
Bridget leaned into Sanna and half yelled in her ear, “Why the fuck do you kids like the music so loud? I am surprised anyone under 30 can hear.”
Sanna, replied with a smile, “It’s to drown out the negative voices in our heads.”
“Well, I know for sure he is here. Do you see him?”
“No, but I do feel him and I know where he is.” She sounded a little baffled as she looked toward the back corner of the room. “Let me go alone.” Sanna looked into Bridget’s eyes and the old woman knew not to argue.
“Ok, but be cautious.”
Sanna knew she was not referring to her encounter with Bob. She felt it too. Something odd. Something sick.
Bob stood still and breathed a silent breath. He stared out among the dancing, moshing and watching crowd. Scanning the faces for a sign. Then a voice came from just behind him. “Why so shy, little brother? You know you’re not the only one in this family that can sneak around in the shadows.” There was a bit of playfulness in her voice along with a hesitancy.
The Regulator was not alarmed and his eyes never left the room. He spoke in a whisper and Sanna heard him clear as day. She also heard the warning in his voice. “No, I am not, big sis. Just as we are not the only ones that can play in here, either.” Just then he lifted his chin as to point out in the crowd.
Her eyes landed on a tall man with an angular face. He was pretending to enjoy the music while he casually searched the faces and sensed the room.
“I can smell him,” Sanna said, “and I don’t like it.” Her voice was raw and filled with venom.
Bob could feel her presences growing. “Keep your shit under control. If you can’t keep a lid on your emotions a bunch of people in here are going to die, and I promised Tommy that would not happen. Not tonight at least.”
Sanna closed her eyes and took a few slow, steady breaths. She was more of a straightforward specialist when it came to conflict. Patience and timing were not her strong suit. “So, what is your plan, brother?” she whispered back. Neither of them took their eyes off the tall man.
“In thirty seconds the bouncer will open the backstage door, five steps to our left. If all goes right, we walk right out.”
“Um, Bob, there is nothing but stage lights and open air that direction.”
“Yep. That is why we have to wait for the end of the song. The lights will go off for a second. It happens at the end of every Reverend show….ever.”
Sanna was not good with control. Her emotions were growing as the seconds ticked by, and the song came closer to an end. The tall man sniffed the air, and his eyes got wide. Sanna’s presence grew. The band raced toward the final note. The last cymbal crash crashed. The room went dark. Two shadows floated through the door. The bouncer felt uneasy. The lights came back up. The Reverend and the band headed towards the back door. A tall, angular man stood in the mid of the dance floor, and a knife was embedded in the wall where Bob and Sanna had stood.