April 27th 2015
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2004
“MY BROTHER WAS ALREADY DEAD!” Clifton Thackeray made some outrageous claims while he was being held in a Fort Collins lockup on suspicion of involvement in a truly bizarre and grizzly murder. Last Saturday he attempted to hang himself with his belt. What really happened that night in the mountains? Our Harry Blount investigates: Page 17. [“Westword” weekly, Denver, 3/15/05]
Here’s what she had:
She was dressed all in white. Drawstring pants, halter top, linen jacket. Sandals and sunglasses, with her short blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun. A niobium stud in her nose and a tribal tattoo around her belly button, a sun with wavy triangular rays that flashed every so often as her top rode up and down with the rhythm of her walking.
She felt good: she was smiling, swaying her hips a little more than she needed to. She remembered wanting to slip her sandals off and feel the rough rasp of the sidewalk with her feet.
How much of this recollection could she trust? It was pretty threadbare and frayed around the edges. All the sounds she heard when she went back to this place were low and distorted. Oceanic vibrations. She couldn’t smell anything. The light seemed to hang in the air in individual packets, stray photons pinned in place.
Worst of all there were no words. No names or signs. She bopped right past a stop sign but in this sunny space it was just a blank red octagon. Stop, she thought to herself. Stop, stop stop! The word wouldn’t manifest.
Palm trees. Rollerbladers and homeless people competing for sidewalk space. This was California, unless a million movies had steered her wrong. No place famous, just seedy and a little run-down in a charming multi-cultural way. A four way intersection with a food market selling Goya products, a free clinic, a boarded up storefront with no sign and some kind of bar. What she might be doing there she had no idea.
Time started up and the light moved again: with the scene set the action was ready to begin. At the intersection a Jeep Cherokee slurped up onto the curb and smacked into a stone bench with the sound of tin foil tearing and rattling. The car rocked on its tires, its windows the color of oil on water. Time hovered and danced around the scene like a bumblebee in search of nectar. Cubes of broken glass spun languorously in the air while clouds raced overhead in a fractured time lapse. She was frozen in place, in shock, in mid-stride. How much time passed? A minute? Fifteen seconds? The driver’s door opened and a man in a blue western-style shirt tumbled out.
The look on his face made no sense at all.
He staggered a bit. Grabbed at the bench, at the hood of his car. He was having trouble walking, standing upright.
Of course she went to help him. She was supposed to—why? What was she? A doctor? A nurse? The belly tattoo and the nose ring made her think otherwise. Massage therapist? The look on his face: slack. His jaw didn’t seem to close properly and his eyes weren’t tracking. Stroke? Seizure? Heart attack? She had to help. It was an obligation, part of the social contract.
He was dead when she got to him.
The man was dead but he was still moving. An impossibility, a singularity of biology. The point where normal rules no longer apply. The recollection began to break down at this point into raw sense-data. The synthetic fabric of his shirt where she touched it, the oils of his skin, the pure and unadulterated comfort of his arm as it crossed her back, holding her to him, hugging her—brother—father—boyfriend—husband—priest—something, some male presence, still welcome and good and wanted because she didn’t know what was going on, just glad for the human contact in a scary moment when nothing quite worked the way it should.
The pain, intense and real, far more real than anything else in her memory, as thirty-two needles sank into her shoulder, into her skin, his teeth.
That’s what she had. Everything else was torn away leaving ragged edges, bloody sockets. Her head was full of grimy windows she couldn’t see through everywhere else she looked. Her memory was dead and rotting and it had left her only these few scant impressions. Everything else was gone.
For instance: she couldn’t remember her name.
FIVE FOUND DEAD NEAR ESTES PARK: Police Chief Suggests Links to “Meth” Production in High Country [Rocky Mountain News, 3/17/05]
Dick rolled to a stop on the shoulder and dug through old Burger King bags until he found the gas station map. It had a bad grease stain on it that spread slowly while he watched. Shit, there goes Gunnison, he thought, chuckling to himself.
He hardly ever used the map—he’d grown up in these mountains and the prairies beneath them and there were hardly a handful of roads in the Front Range anyway. With a compass and a good idea of where he was headed he could usually get where he needed without straying too far. Still. There were a hundred canyons up in these mountains, little valleys like pockets on the sides of the big peaks, hollows lost in shadows or so overgrown with trees you couldn’t see them from the road. He was somewhere near Rand, on the wild side of Rocky Mountain National Park, pretty far from anywhere civilized. The map showed a road or more precisely a track—a single dotted line branching off from 125 and zig-zagging up the mountain, ending nowhere in particular. He had missed it somehow. Not too surprising. March might have thawed out most of the Great Plains but up this high snow still glinted in every declivity and overhang and lingered under the shade of every stunted tree. An unpaved road at this altitude could have literally disappeared since the map was printed, ground out of existence by the winter snow squalls or the run-off from spring freshets. Dick frowned and checked the GPS unit bolted to his dashboard, then looked again at the map. If he was reading the scale correctly he was within a quarter mile of the track but he had seen nothing as he drove by at twenty mph.
While he sat there wondering what to do he nearly missed a flash of movement in the rear-view. He turned around as fast as he could and saw a teenage girl come flailing out of the scrub growth on the side of the road maybe two hundred yards behind him. Her hair was a mess—well, she had just emerged from a stand of juniper bushes—and she wore an over-sized parka that was too heavy for the season. She had some trouble getting out of the bushes, her sleeves tangling up in the mazy branches until she had to yank hard just to get clear. That sent her tumbling to the ground. She got up and without even brushing herself off started walking. She didn’t even glance in his direction, just started stumping down the road to the south. He remembered seeing some cars back there. Just a hiker, he thought. Plenty of them got this far up and decided they wanted to go home. He even smiled at the thought. There was something strange about the way she was walking—like her knees were stiff with arthritis, maybe, though she was much too young for that. He watched her go until she had passed around a corner and out of sight and only then wondered if he should have gotten her attention, offered some help if she needed it.
He never really got a solid look at her face.
Whatever. At that point in a hike Dick knew he personally never wanted to talk to anybody. Let her be, he decided. If she wanted his help she would come back and ask for it. He still had to find the track and now he had a pretty good idea where to look for it. Idiot girl was hiking alone, which was a pretty bad idea in general, but hell, Dick wasn’t a park ranger. If people wanted to be stupid they had a right.
Back to the problem at hand. Nothing for it but to inspect the site on foot. He groaned as he unbuckled his seat belt and grabbed his gloves and coat from the litter-strewn back seat but in truth he loved this shit, always had. From endless hiking adventures as a kid to summer stints as a park ranger in his college years to his current post with the National Institute of Health he had spent more of his life outside and above ten thousand feet than most people spent in their homes.
The second Dick opened the door of the white Jeep snow blasted across his face and hands in a fine crystalline spray, making him squint up his eyes until he got his sunglasses on. Outside he was trodding on snow with every step, crunching it down. When he stood still he could hear nothing at all. The shadows of clouds roamed over the mountains, startlingly huge.
When he found the track he wasn’t surprised that he had missed it. The juniper bushes had completely obscured it from the road and anyway there wasn’t much of it to see. It looked like it had been gouged out of the slope instead of graded. Gravel had collected in spots along its length—maybe it had been a real road once but now it was hard to even think of it as an acceptable hiking path. No wonder the girl had been so anxious to get off of it and back to the road. When you knew it was there you could follow it with your eyes as it snaked up the side of the mountain and disappeared around a bend. It didn’t look too steep. Dick headed back to the Jeep to get his daypack and his cell phone. A nice walk in the mountains: all part of the job. He just wished he could stop thinking about that girl and the crazy way she was walking.