Part 8 of Where Two Rivers Meet: A Matter of the Mother Lode By H.A. Silliman
Promptly at eight o’clock a.m., Sally drove up in her white Subaru Outback for our trip to Red Eagle. It was Thursday. Richie and the kids were off to school after delivering the Ledger. Before we left, Sally checked on Mack Boyd, and then she and I piled into the car. She brought along a Thermos of hot coffee for the hour-long, twisty drive down Highway 49. As the roadway is narrow and attracts Sunday drivers even on weekdays, one needs to be alert. We drank coffee while chewing over facts.
“If Barbara was supposed to be golfing most days, I can’t see how she could stand this road,” I said.
“I suppose if you have an unpleasant husband then a getaway would be a huge relief and rejuvenate—more time away from a bad situation,” Sally suggested, and then described how she had been kept awake at night trying to figure out what had been going on between the Wyders. We considered the many angles we already knew—Don’s drinking, money issues, her possible affair, his obsession with finding gold: they all counted for something.
About an hour later, we came down the hill into Red Eagle. A touristy-trap town, the little stores are in buildings that had been an old lumber camp. Shingle-sided shacks now painted in festive colors—bright green, red, blue—lined the highway. The stores cater to valley folks. While the men play golf, their “little ladies” go shopping.
Red Eagle sports three antique shops, several heavily incensed stores selling candles and crystals, and with airy
music tinkling in the background; there are two dress shops, a place that offers very expensive backpack and outdoor gear, a land office and the post office, a bakery, two cozy cafes, plus a bookstore. All-in-all, the typical fare in the typical Gold Rush town—only useful if you need to buy a birthday gift—still, cheery like Disneyland Main Street.
Beyond town, lay the Red Eagle Golf Course. The course sits on a forested ridge above the Empire River. The links
wend their way among tall Sugar Pines and outcroppings of granite—a spectacular, one-of-a-kind scenery. Early on, the property served as the playground for wealthy lowlanders who came to soak in the warm springs onsite and relax at the massive-timbered Red Eagle Lodge. Over the decades, the lodge passed down through a succession of owners. It has been a chautauqua venue, a prep school and an alumni retreat of a private university. Then, some valley developers snapped up the acreage and created a members-only golf course and club. Locals are welcome if they can plunk down the very hefty membership fees.
We turned onto the property and passed newly-built condominiums—cottage style, with Victorian architecture— red metal roofs. Very cute, very expensive. Red Eagle has gentrified and citified, more Knott’s Berry Farm now than Old McDonald’s Farm. A beautiful spring morning in the Mother Lode, a host of golfers could already be seen swatting on the links. We went inside. The café bustled, the air heavy with freshly brewed coffee. Men sat in little clutches around tables. They eyed us with a bit of interest—or suspicion. Sally waved back, as if she knew them.
“They’re not going to intimidate me,” she whispered. A group of lady golfers—just one table—chatted on merrily. If anyone would know about Barbara’s doings here, they would. Then Betty Norbert, who knew we were there to visit, came dashing in and hastily escorted us to the back offices.
“Your café looks lively,” Sally commented as we settled into our chairs. “How’s business?”
“Doing well,” Betty said. “Most members are retirees. They eat here a lot. The rest are folks who come up for the weekend or vacations. The owners only solicit memberships to people making over a hundred grand a year or whose net wealth is above $2 million. You have to prove it with bank records. Very exclusive. Too posh for me, but it’s a job!”
Sally got right to the point. “So that means that Barbara Wyder must have been really well off. The membership
couldn’t have been her husband’s.”
Picking up a sheaf of papers, Betty studied them. “Since I just started working here, I’m still learning the system. Barbara joined two years ago. Paid cash for the membership. She pays $200 a month for a golf cart. The entire account is active and up-to-date since it’s on autopay. All of last year, she paid for golfing lessons at $60 a pop. She had three a week.” Betty broke off, flipped some more pages, “Wow. Here’s the charge sheet for the food. Her café bill ran about $300 a week.”
She stopped again. “A lot of drinks—and each time, she’s paying for meals for two!”
“Is she paying in gold nuggets?” Sally joked. “When was the last time she ate here?”
Betty studied the papers again. “April 3 is the last charge. No recent fees for lessons, either.”
Sally and I glanced at each other in disbelief. Richie had said the last time he’d seen his mom was just after Thanksgiving—and then his father said she’d gone to visit her parents back east. The mine accident that killed Don had happened in mid-April.
After Sally related this timeline Betty mused, “So, she was golfing here after Don said she’d left town. She stopped
coming to the club not long before her husband died.”
“What is the billing address for her credit card?” I asked. Shuffling through the account papers, Betty said, “Here in Red Eagle—1873 Marshall Way. That’s those condos down at the entrance.” She stopped. “And I’ve seen that address elsewhere.” Betty pulled up a screen on her computer. “Here it is!” she exclaimed. “That’s the same one that Gavin Stallard uses—he’s one of our golf pros!”
Writer H. A. Silliman grew up in the Gold Rush country and
now lives in California’s Outback country on a small ranch with
a dog named Bodie. You can read the first two installments of the
anthology, As Happy As Sutter and The Mystery of The Saints, at
hasilliman.weebly.com/fiction. Copyright © 2021.