Category: A Matter of the Mother Lode

Keep up with Where Two Rivers Meet: A Matter of the Mother Lode, a fictional anthology by writer H.A. Silliman, born and raised in Gold Rush country.

The Secret Life of a Country Wife

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 Copyright © 2021.

Digging Up Dirt—And Maybe More Ore

By H.A. Silliman

Part 7, Where Two Rivers Meet: A Matter of the Mother Lode

Recovering editor Mack Boyd became, de facto, The Golden Gables’ first guest. The afternoon he arrived, he hobbled in on a cane with help from Sally. We settled him into a makeshift bedroom on the first floor of the main house.

“Much appreciate this,” he said, weakly. “I won’t stay too long.” He had lost 20 pounds. His yellow skin hung loosely on his face.

The boyish demeanor of “Coach’s Kid” had dissipated. Clearly middle-aged now, he was frail at that. Sally handed over a bag of medication with the instructions. She would stop in every day to check on him and bring food.

“Naturally, I couldn’t visit the golf course,” Sally said, “but we’ll go soon.” With that she dashed off, promising to return with a cheesecake for dessert.

By then, the children were in from school and excited to have another visitor. They fussed over him, brought towels, puffed up pillows and found magazines from Rennie’s library. Richie pitched in, too, and gave him the latest Ledger. So, just like that, another troubled soul blended into our routine and life went on.

Over my first cup of coffee with Mack, he asked for the latest gossip. I told him I’d didn’t know much.

“Any word on who inherits Rennie’s company?”

The subject of the Two Rivers Telephone and Telegraph Co. had, indeed, been on folks’ minds since Renwick died. In all the years I worked for Rennie, and though we’d been close, he hadn’t talked much about business affairs.

“The last thing I heard, Attorney Paul Bartley was working on it,” I said.

Babe also visited, checking in about newspaper business. Mack asked me to temporarily help keep the subscription list up-to-date. I converted the pantry into the inn back-office, set up my computer
there and also began organizing for The Golden Gables business. One evening, Judge Fergulia and Deputy Jack stopped by and asked to speak with Richie. They went upstairs to his room. When they left, they didn’t say a word to me! Later, the boy came downstairs and rummaged in the kitchen.

“I’m making hot chocolate,” he said. “Would you like a cup?”

I was at the dining room table and soon he brought in the mugs, sat down. “That was weird—those guys visiting,” he began. “They asked me if I’d ever seen any of Dad’s gold. He showed me a few small pieces. The rest he said he was in a safe deposit box in a bank. They asked me which one, and I said probably here.”

“Have you ever found gold?”

“Not by myself. I was with Dad some nights when he picked some rocks he said were gold out of the creek. I mainly dug dirt.”

Here, I thought, I could open a conversation about his mother, so asked, “What did your mom think about the gold?

“I don’t know. She went looking in the creek one time. Didn’t find any. Mom asked to see the nuggets, but Dad said they were already in the bank—or maybe sold—I forget.”

He shook his head, eyes watering. “When I think about this stuff, my stomach hurts. So I don’t. It’s better that way. I don’t care about the gold. I just want my old life back.”

I wondered if he really knew exactly what his old life had been—father a secret drinker, mother maybe having an affair. The boy rose then and walked over to the little fireplace in the kitchen. On the mantle were photos of the kids, my late husband and Rennie. He picked up the photo of Rennie, which showed him in his usual spot on the company patio. “Who’s this? Your grandfather?”

“No, that’s the man who owned the telephone business in town. Mr. Selleck. This was his house. You remember him?”

Richie said he didn’t, and I wasn’t surprised, since the Wyders lived out of town. “There’s some odd about him,” Richie said, studying the photo closely. “He’s looks familiar, somehow, like I’ve seen this face be-

The next day, Sally stopped by to check on Mack and then joined me for coffee. “He’s doing better already,” she said. “Would you know, Deputy Jack paid a visit at the deli. Wants me to chat up Mack about his digging in the graveyard. They know he found coins. Some were scattered around the hole. Anyway, they want the gold. Says it belongs to town since The Church of Peter and Paul is the town property.” I told her about Jack and the judge’s visit the night before—and what I’d found out then from Richie.

“Look at us—a real pair of sleuths. Grown-up Nancy Drews we are! That’s country living for you, keeping tabs on the neighbors,” Sally exclaimed, and then whispered, “So, do you think Barbara is really missing?”

We chewed on that for a bit—wondered if credit card or phone records had been checked for recent activity. Taking the initiative, I called Deputy Jack right then and put him on speaker phone so Sally could hear. He said that they hadn’t searched the Wyder home yet, but planned to soon.

“Greg Halsam at the bank says Don Wyder didn’t have a safety deposit box,” Deputy Jack added. “Maybe there’s one in Nevada City or somewhere else. The thing is, where’s all the gold that Donny-boy was talking about?”

“You think Barbara took it?” I asked.

“Don’t know. It would be better if she had––then that means she’s alive. The gold is the key. If there’s no gold, why was Don digging?” He left that thought hanging and hung up.

Weighing that idea, we sat silently, and then Sally said, “After the kids leave for school tomorrow, let’s go to Red Eagle. Barbara Wyder spent more time golfing then at home. Someone there must know something!”

Writer H.A. Silliman grew up in the Gold Rush country and now lives in California’s Outback on a small ranch with a dog named Bodie. Copyright © 2021. The people, places, and events portrayed in The Two Rivers Anthology are fictional or fictionally portrayed.