the Goliard
To No Avail Slaps the Tale - A Jordan Dane Mystery
* Chapter One
* Interlude One
* Chapter Two
* Chapter Three
* Chapter Four
* Chapter Five
* Chapter Six
* Chapter Seven
* Chapter Eight
* Chapter Nine
* Chapter Ten
* Chapter Eleven
* Chapter Twelve
* Chapter Thirteen


To No Avail
      Slaps the Tail - Chapter Three

After excusing himself from the rat race and a promising career on the crime beat at the Chicago Sun Times, Mike Hacker had relocated to Southwestern Colorado and Mangas Mesa where he hoped to take advantage of his aunt's empty cabin and the peace and quiet the woods allowed to get some real writing done. As a jittery, citified insomniac who who had always done his writing mostly at night, it was almost a month before he happened to be out of bed early enough in the morning to notice Jordan Dane and her daily run around the Loop. On this initial sighting, he hadn't noticed any mountain lion.

Watching her pass below his window on that first day, as the sun crept above the Sneffels Range bringing with it the limpid light of an undeniable mountain morning, he stood mesmerized as she moved fleetingly in and out of view between the swimming summer leaves. He felt suddenly that he might be still asleep and dreaming. Animals seemed to swarm around her, for one thing, which added to the surrealness of the scene and while some could have been dogs on leashes, others definitely were not. It appeared to him that she had set off on a jog and the animals of the wood had fallen in behind her as if she played a pied pipe and was headed out of town.

City transplant Mike Hacker retreated quickly to the kitchen and, as he rummaged the shelves for some form of caffeine, decided that what he'd seen might be as normal up here as watching a carjacking on the street below from his window back in Chicago. It wasn't totally out of keeping, at least, with what his preconceived notion of what life high in the Rockies might involve. Now there's a girl who loves animals. Enjoying a run with her friends to start a glorious day. As in tune with nature as he himself would soon be.

It wasn't lost on him either that the girl was striding through this nature at a pace that would have left him on his knees heaving after the first few hundred natural yards. From when she had first come into view through the copse by the creek until she dropped from sight beyond the crest of the curve, she ran with the effortless, efficient grace of the well-trained athlete.
Hacker also noticed the purple running shorts and her legs of course. The orange sports bra straining to do its job. A sun-streaked ponytail of kinky golden curls bouncing over a taught brown back. For a Rush Street rat known to have an eye for the ladies who now lived alone in the woods, these would have been hard details to ignore.

As he watched her glide by on the fourth morning, he still had no perception of any puma. He did however hatch a plan to commence a jogging regimen of his own, or at least appear to do so, one which would take him around the Loop in the opposite direction. Initiate some chance meetings. Get to know some of his more active neighbors. A man could never tell when he might need a friend out here in the wild wild west.

So on the next morning that he was up early enough, Hacker broke out some workout clothes, or at least his Mizzou School of Journalism Sweatshirt, a pair of cut offs, and some flattened by packing Chuck Taylors. He stood above the road, behind a clump of trees on a knoll, nervously waiting for her to pass and then gave her a good head start before setting off at a respectable clip in the other direction. After a few hundred feet he became lightheaded and nearly passed out. Taking a blow and getting himself together, he then experimented with a fast walk and then a slow one. On the first grade, the thin air, compounded, Hacker reluctantly supposed, by five years of big city physical lassitude and newsroom cigarettes, had him stooping to lean on his knees every fifty feet or so. It was in this position that he noticed a dog, then two more, some various other scurrying critters, and then the runner herself, descending the corner by the Gotham driveway. Hacker pulled himself upright and as casually as he could, wandered over as if to inspect a coupling in the horse fence that circled the commons.

He was rehearsing his icebreaker in the meanwhile, using the fence as a prop, lolling and leaning in the most nonchalant ways he could muster. When he finally turned in anticipation of his face-to-face moment, he found instead that she had exited the Loop up a rutted driveway and was disappearing into the aspen shadows. Hacker turned back to the fence and continued his inspection until he had assured himself, or more accurately, would have assured anyone who might be observing from a distance, that he had determined that particular section of the fence to be up to snuff. He then slunk back to the Hacker House hoping his aborted attempt at exercise hadn't been observed by anybody. He found his spirits buoyed by the fact that he seemed to have a blonde running girl as his closest neighbor.

On a later morning he waited behind his tree again to make sure she was safely by before hopping in his jeep and driving up to the Loop's apex. He parked just inside the Proud's gate where, brandishing a pair of binoculars he'd found in a junk cupboard, he would do some ersatz bird watching. Stationing himself on the edge of the road, he practiced snapping the glasses to his face, intending to be discovered staring into the undergrowth when she and the pack approached. He sensed them coming almost immediately and noticed out of the corner of his eye a large tan creature bounding towards him ahead of the rest.

And while not many who knew him would say they thought of Hacker as any kind of animal lover, he was normally comfortable around the beasts others chose to keep as a pets and, in this vein, he commanded "Down Boy," in what he hoped was a confident voice. Keeping the glasses screwed to his eyes as if he had in his sights the last albino, pygmy spotted owl, he tried to remember some of his rehearsed and witty openers. "Ahoy Noah, lead me back to the ark for I'd like to volunteer for the human pairing," was one. "Morning, can I bum a beast off you." was another. Instead, at crunch time, "sit still." was all he managed, hissing it lamely and waving his free hand as he sensed something closing in. "What I'm scoping here is a rare..."

The beast hit him from the side with a whump sending him sprawling into the ditch bottom. He thrashed around blindly from his stomach, flailing behind him to defend the relentless bounding and pouncing he felt on his back and buttocks. Still clutching the binoculars for no good reason he managed to get rolled over on his side and plant a stiff forearm into his aggressor's neck. Strangely silent, the animal was lithe and persistent as it muscled down and he felt the hot breath as it fulfilled what seemed to be an urgent need to clean his cheek and ears with its tongue.

Throughout this ruckus, Hacker was hindered somewhat because he was hoping to save a little face with his new neighbor by appearing as casual as he could as if wrestling animals along the roadside wasn't any big deal to this particular man of the world. When it became clear that this strategy was only getting him extensively tongue whipped, he tossed the glasses to the side and concentrated his full efforts on grabbing a hold of the creature's head at each jowl and holding it at bay. It was when he had succeeded in controlling the beast that he realized he hadn't been battling some love hungry cur and stared instead into the gaping, grinning maw of an enormous cat.

"I've never heard a man scream like that," Jordan Dane is fond of intimating when asked to recount the making of Hacker's acquaintance. "Bird watching Phooey. He wouldn't know a grackle from a grouse from a grebe."

"I was watching birds," Hacker protests. "Hence, I was bird watching."

"Yes, and your wailing scared poor China Cat right up a pine tree. And you know that poor China Cat doesn't even have the claws to climb trees anymore."

"Yes, poor China Cat," Hacker would mutter. Poor clawless two hundred pound kitty."

This initial encounter occurred roughly a month before that weekend in August when One Bloody Word played Rico. Jordan and Hacker had become casual friends by this time and had made the drive over from the mesa to see the show together because Jordan was a live music junkie and Hacker, although certainly not a fan of reggae, needed something to do. Hacker, who found that he enjoyed the show much more that he'd expected, insisted that Jordan run him into town after the concert so he might check out some of the after hours gigs. He was all wound up from too many beers enjoyed along with the body thumping rhythms of the Word and was hoping Jordan would join him but she begged off, claiming to be burned out by the local scene. After a spate on small town life that seemed rehearsed and was peppered with words like stultifying, claustrophobic and inbred, she finally said that getting a little sleep sounded like a wiser and healthier choice.
Athletes, Hacker had muttered disparagingly. Perpetually in training.

Not that he expected to run into the future Mrs. Hacker or anything in town that night but one never knew. One thing was for sure; he wasn't excited to return to his lonely cabin. He was becoming all too familiar with what that was like.

Worried about how he'd make it back out to the mesa from town, Jordan had tried to entice him with a bottle of wine and a game of Scrabble by the fireplace but he had declined saying that his head was still ringing from the show and attempting to sort tiles into seven letter words might bring up his dinner. A cozy cabin with crackling wood fire. Good conversation. A fine Merlot and random curled up mammalia. A beautiful almost veterinarian, almost vegetarian-slash-waitress-slash-downhiller with a musician boyfriend who seemed to be perpetually on tour. Hacker tried not to think about these things when they were together but usually he did. And on that night he didn't need the frustration.

Hoping to keep a foot in the journalistic door in case his book didn't pan out, Hacker had started writing for the Telluride Daily Lode soon after he'd arrived in town. The job seemed much like playing Scrabble for a living to Hacker anyway and he had just endured another spectacularly boring week at the news desk. He needed a break. If he didn't find his way home or someplace else serendipitous to rest his bones he assured Jordan he would just wander over and sleep on the couch in the old stone building that passed for a newsroom. Still something of a big city night owl who did most of his best work in the wee hours he reminded her that it wouldn't be the first time he'd suffered the night through on a couch in the drafty former livery stable turned Daily Lode headquarters. Unfortunately, the sight of the scaly crack of the print driver's big ass waking him in the morning as he bent to fill the paper bins with the freshly printed Lode was something Hacker' was growing accustomed to.

And besides, sleeping in town would give him an early start on some of Saturday's breaking news. Some celebrity missing in the mountains. Maybe a mama black bear rumbling down Colorado Avenue with a couple of drunken tourists on her back. An avalanche of rock, rastafarians and microbusses tumbling down Tomboy Road into town when the commune got so big that the road finally gave out and slid.

As it turned out Mike Hacker didn't get much sleep anywhere that weekend. And all the breaking news was out on Mangas Mesa.

Chapter Four

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