Archive for February, 2023

The Mexican woman who’d greeted them at the door watched quietly as Richards hauled his bags up the wide staircase to the second level, Frank following behind with his head on a swivel checking out the photos and paintings.

There were several pictures of the Mexican construction crew and the early stages of the ranch house, interspersed with romanticized oil paintings of western scenes of cow roping and cattle drives.

Of course these assholes would have Mexican servants, Frank thought as he walked down the dark wood upstairs hallway. There were doors on both sides opened to simple but plush bedrooms.

“This one is mine,” Richards proclaimed as he entered a dark-paneled room with a skylight and a view of the mountains and the sun-spangled desert,

Richards dropped his bags down on the floor by the queen-size four poster bed, stretched and looked around, taking it all in with a grin.

“Which room is mine?” Frank asked.

“I’m thinking we should set you up in one of the cabins, Frank. They’re pretty cool. They have everything you’ll need: AC, TV, a wet bar—fully stocked, I might add.”

“I see,” Frank said. “Servants’ quarters.”

“Not at all, Frank, not at all. It’s just that all the bedrooms in the main house have been spoken for. Consortium members glommed onto them eons ago. Some of the douchebags even wanted to have brass nameplates put on the doors. But Bryce, for a change, showed a little restraint and put the kibosh on that one. Nevertheless, I don’t want to overstep my bounds and risk having one of the entitled ones get his shorts in a twist.”

“I hear you, man. No problem.”

Frank shook off what he felt was a slight—nothing unusual in this type of a set-up. And he was leaving for California, anyway, soon as he got himself recharged.

“Come on, Frank,” Richards said,  “I’ll show you the fun area.”   

They went back downstairs and clicked across the hardwood floor of a large dining room on their way to the back of the house, where they entered another room of leather and wood and head mounts of dead animals. Also more old black-and-white photos, a fireplace on one side and a pool table and a circular poker table in the middle, and what looked to be the latest in stereo equipment along the back wall. Off to the right was one of those giant screen projection TVs, a semi-circle of overstuffed chairs in front of it.

Through a large pair of glass French doors, Frank could see the sunlight dancing on the blue-green water of a huge, Lima bean-shaped swimming pool. Just beyond the pool were two tennis courts of green and red asphalt enclosed in a chain-link fence with light stanchions rising above the courts.

“They use those tennis courts much this time of year, Larry?”

“Only at night, thus the lights. But really, they’re not used much at all these days.”

“Bring your racket?”

“I didn’t. But there are plenty here if you want to play.”

“No thanks, man. I never did go in for white bread sports like tennis and golf.”

“You are such a real man, Frank, it makes my heart flutter.”

“Fuck you. Besides, I don’t have a white sweater to tie around my shoulders.”

“You are sadly lacking in the important things of life, Mr. Ford.”

“True. You still play much?”

“Not in a long while. Too long, really.” He grabbed a hunk of fat on his waistline and shook it between his fingers.

“Love handles, Larry,” Frank said. 

“Yeah, right,” Richards said. “I’ll get the keys and we’ll get you set up in your cabin.”

They went outside and, man, was it hot. Like lasers to the top of Frank’s head.

Were things getting thin up there?

They got in the wagon and Richards directed him down to the third and last dome in the row.

Frank swung in alongside it.

Richards got out and stuck a key from a large fob into the cabin door while Frank dug out a small suitcase and his shaving kit.

Frank was starting to slow down, fatigue crawling up his legs now, but the water of the swimming pool had looked so inviting he was determined to stay awake long enough for a dip.

“All right if I use the pool?” he asked. Richards was standing at the door of the dome like a maître d at a fine restaurant.

“Of course, man. Facilities are open to all guests at Rancho Deluxe. But I thought you were famished.”

Frank had forgotten his hunger—excited by entering the lavish grounds—but now he remembered. “Yeah, I could eat,” he said, walking past Richards into the dome.

“I’ll get Maria to rustle us up some huevos rancheros, maybe some fresh Arizona grapefruit. The pantry is always well stocked here.”

“You don’t have to trouble the staff, Larry, just show me the way to the kitchen and I can fix something up. I’m used to fending for myself.”

“The staff here is well paid, Frank. And they don’t do much when there’s nobody here. We’ll have a nice breakfast and then I may join you for a dip. I think they keep the water around eighty degrees. Got a suit? There’s a bunch for guests to use in the cabana at the end of the pool, if you need one.”

Richards stepped inside the dome and flipped a switch on the air conditioning unit.

Frank said, “I picked up a pair of trunks before I left Zenith. Going to California and all that shit, you know?”

“I do. So let’s go eat.”

“Man, I really need to shower first. My pits smell like old garbage cans.”

“I was going to say something,” Richards said, laughing as he walked back out into the heat.

(End of Chapter 11)


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Richards brought the station wagon to a halt at the top of the rise. From this vantage point you couldn’t miss it. Sun was high in the sky and glaring off the vast amount of tinted glass and polished steel between and around the dark wood frame of your typical southwestern ranch house.

Typical, if the owners were named Rockefeller or Getty.

Place seemed like it was nestled right up to the foot of the mountains, in a sheltered little valley. There was a gate mounted on stone pillars, with an arch above it. An adobe wall extended from the gate on both sides, wrapping around the perimeter of the property. Seemed to go all the way back to the mountains. The area in front of the house was paved with red bricks in a pattern of expanding circles. Near the left wall, about a hundred yards or so down from the gate, Frank saw three small, red, domed structures. Another fifty yards farther along sat two buildings fashioned out of the same dark wood as the main house. One looked like a stable or a barn and the other seemed to be a miniature version of the big house. But plenty big enough for people to live in.

Frank said, “So who’s the guy who built this place?”

“An old-time Denver tycoon by the name of Howard Parker. Made most of his money in railroads and mining. Some say he would invest in anything that came along if it looked profitable, ethical concerns be damned. The way his son Bryce tells it, this trait led to some of the old boy’s peers calling him Colonel Parker, after Elvis Presley’s sleazy manager. This was in his later years and I guess old Howie didn’t appreciate the humor very much. He drifted away from the old-school guys, which effectively curtailed the gatherings of the mucky-mucks out here. Bryce owns the estate now. He’ll be coming in tomorrow, I think. Sonofabitch is a real party animal, who also shares his father’s disdain for laws and regulations.”

The fifty yards or so leading to the front gate looked to be paved with bricks the color of sand.

The goddamn yellow brick road, Frank thought to himself as Richards put the Ford in gear and proceeded down the hill.

The arch above the gate consisted of two curved metal bars with wrought-iron letters in between. Sonora North.

“Sonora North?” Frank said as Richards stopped the wagon in front of the gate.

“The old man loved Sonora, Mexico. Back in the forties he owned a hunting camp down there somewhere. Bryce said the family also owned a hotel in Hermosilla. As the story goes, old Howie brought a crew of Mexicans up here from Sonora to build this place. There are old photos of the crew and the early stages of the house inside. Our location here is on the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert, so there you go.”

Richards got out of the wagon and went to the gate, where he pushed some buttons on a control panel mounted on the right hand pillar. Frank looked out at the mammoth, sprawling, two-story structure of gray-tinted glass and thick wooden beams as the gate swung slowly inward.

Richards drove up to the front door of the house, parked, and started fetching his bags from the back of the wagon. 

Going in the front door, first thing Frank noticed was the crisp, clean, cool air and the hum of air conditioning. Refrigeration. Dried the sweat on his chest and gave him goose bumps.

To his right was the living room. Or great room. And this one was really great. In the middle of the high vaulted ceiling was a chandelier fashioned from the wheel of an old Conestoga wagon. Resembled those Frank had seen in a few Minnesota cabins, except this one seemed to be rimmed with sterling silver instead of the usual steel.

The rest of the room was all dark wood and leather furniture, and a massive stone fireplace made of what Frank thought to be stones gathered from the area, same material as the gate pillars.

The Sonora factor was evident in the Mexican rugs on the hardwood floor, and also the wall hangings. Frank stared at a tapestry on the wall with a multi-colored pinwheel. Reminded him of something he’d seen on a mescaline trip in the late sixties.

The Parker factor was likely represented by the large number of mounts on the walls, running the gamut from African beasts—a lion, a water buffalo and a rhinoceros—to local creatures like the mule deer, coyote and mountain lion. A huge grizzly on its hind legs in the far corner of the room, toothy maw locked in a roar, seemed to be a nod to Teddy Roosevelt’s famous stuffed bear Frank had seen in history books.

(To be continued)


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The road wasn’t shown in Frank’s atlas.

It was hardly a road, really, more just a worn-down strip across the desert surrounded by nine-foot-high saguaro cacti and those clumps of unlikely vegetation Frank believed were mesquite.

Seemed like that was where tumbleweeds came from. He didn’t know for sure. All he knew for sure was he was rolling across the boiling hardpan headed toward a hill in the distance that probably seemed a lot closer than it actually was.

“So this fantastic Rancho Deluxe of yours is out here in the middle of nowhere, Larry? I’m beginning to wonder. Sure this isn’t a scam and we’re really going hunting for the Lost Dutchman Mine? I can’t see a fuckin’ thing but sand.”

“You got me, Frank, I confess. There’s gold in them thar hills, podner.” He pointed at the looming mountains to the east. “Just hold your horses big fellow, you can see Rancho Deluxe from the top of that rise up ahead. It will blow your mind, I promise you.”

“Seems like they went out of the way to get a little privacy.”

“Well, the old man used to entertain quite a few major players out here in the early days of the joint. They were the type that needed distance from prying eyes, from what I hear.”

“What about now? What do you guys do out here?”

“These days it’s primarily a winter getaway for the Denver residents, myself included. Now and then the consortium gathers together for some business planning sessions and a little R and R. There’s lots of partying, and these guys are also a little camera-shy. We’re talking second and third generation heirs from around the world. Rancho becomes sort of like a small-scale Bohemian Grove. Ever heard of that place?”

“I have. Saw a documentary on TV. You guys do rituals like Bohemian Grove?”

“If you consider drinking, drugging and whoring rituals, then yes.” 

“What’s this younger generation coming to?”

“Going to hell in a handbasket, Frank.”

“No shit.”

(End of Chapter 10)


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