Chapter 1 from "Doing the E.T. Tango: Dancing with the Universe"
Since John's Book Doing the E.T. Tango: Dancing with the Universe is his first published book we want to provide some content to allow readers to decide if the book is a good fit for their interests. Over the next few weeks we will be publishing chapters from the book, information about the the area around where the story takes place and some early samples of John's writing. To get things started, here is Chapter 1 Looking for Bill.
Chapter 1 Looking for Bill
The small town of Franc Valley, Wyoming receded in the background as the cold blacktop of the rural state highway ate at the new tires of the Mercedes. The Big Horn Mountains loomed on the horizon to the left and large fields of sugar beets awaited the coming harvest on both sides of the lonely road.
Ellen Goodwin had traveled to this northern wilderness only three times before. She loved the natural scenery in this part of the country, but preferred the off-season. Tourists swamped the area during the summer months, and lodging was scarce and expensive during the peak period. Yellowstone National Park – the cauldron of hot springs, geysers and sulfur nearly a hundred miles to the west – provided the magnet that drew the summer crowds. Since most visitors only had a few weeks out of the year to vacation, they were hungry to fill that time with as much adventure and merriment as a short trip could allow. This filled them with a combination of frantic glee and road-weariness that could erupt as laughter and giddiness, or result in outright bickering. Either way, it ruined an otherwise pleasant experience that Ellen had felt last year while in the area.
Tooling around in the expensive black Mercedes was Ellen's greatest joy. She did not just spend two short weeks vacationing. It was her life. All her friends believed she had married Thomas - thirty years her senior - for his money. They were so wrong. He was the sweetest, kindest, most caring man she had ever known. His friends thought he just wanted a trophy wife – a decoration to compliment his wealth. Her classic beauty, long dark curly hair, gray eyes and smooth skin, an hourglass figure that showed off every curve ... all these seemed to confirm this impression. Even in jeans and a T-shirt, she projected an aura of beauty that turned heads and made wives nudge their husband when they looked.
However, Thomas had seen more than mere beauty, and had actually gotten to know and love her. They both enjoyed reading, especially Mark Twain, and always shared in the discovery of a new author. They went to Shakespearean plays, enjoyed odd little films at independent theaters, and even a few walks on the beach. Their joint interests and mutual affection were so harmonious that his affluence and her beauty seemed like accessories in their relationship. She fondly remembered their wedding, under a sunny blue sky in Los Angeles on the lawn of his mansion, the love in his eyes as he said “I do” and her shared warmth as she returned the vow. Then she stifled the memory of standing beside his coffin as it was lowered into the grave after far too few years with him. Brain cancer had taken him away from her.
But he had been rich ... filthy rich. He had made his fortune years before in real estate - and what a fortune! Ellen did not know the exact count, but it was well over a hundred million dollars. Long before anyone knew that southern California property values would skyrocket, Thomas had bet that they would. He invested everything he had and began buying up numerous parcels in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. When the market boomed, he was set for life. Then his investments in computers and some early web companies expanded his portfolio even further. Being childless, Ellen had no heirs, so she considered it her vocation to spend it all before she died. That way, no one else could reap the benefits of her late husband's cleverness and zeal.
Ellen's apprehension grew with every mile that disappeared behind the luxury vehicle. Her next stop would definitely be an adventure. She had found the advertisement in a men's survivalist rag called He Man, but she had no idea whether it was legit. She double-checked the address on the page she had torn out of the magazine as she maneuvered the Mercedes down the two-lane blacktop:
HAVE $$? WILL TRAVEL!
Do you need a job done that is beyond your taste or ability?
Give me a call.
I will do anything legal if the price is right. Contact me at:
The Bill Regal Agency
2009 St. Louis Parkway, Ste. 109
Salt Lake City, Utah 84310
The owner, Bill Regal, sounded gruff and impatient when she called him for an appointment. She almost considered having him investigated before their meeting, but at the last moment decided against it. Getting an accurate picture of his character was important, but she trusted her own judgment where human nature was concerned.
Franc Valley was more than four hundred miles from Salt Lake City. It would take her the rest of the day and into the night to get there, but she was used to driving and enjoyed the long hours behind the wheel. She wanted to meet the man personally and judge his competence for herself before she wasted her time – and her money. Even if he were extremely talented, the job she had planned was a long shot at best. But she did have one hundred million dollars to spend – and barely thirty or forty years to do it. This project could put an appreciable dent in the fortune that she was determined to spend – not to mention it also possessed elements of risk and adventure.
* * *
Ellen had knocked on the door marked “Bill Regal Detective Agency” and heard a bellowed out “Come in!” She opened the door and walked into the small office. There was a beat up wooden desk directly across from the door with two chairs that looked like they might have come out of the junk yard. There was a man standing beside the desk, looking out a window at the mountains east of Salt Lake. He turned around and Ellen stepped in towards him before stopping in surprise as she saw him.
Only one adjective could accurately describe Bill Regal: ugly. His face resembled a close-up of the surface of Mars, with fifty-year-old wrinkles as dried-up river channels and deep pockmarks as craters. During his second tour in Vietnam, he had a close encounter of the worst kind with a fragmentation grenade. It misfired, but spewed enough of its deadly contents to severely scar his face and left hand. These blemishes would remain for the rest of his life. He wore his disfigured visage like a badge, as if it were given to him by the Marine Corps, along with his Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
He also sported a slight paunch, but Ellen noticed brawny muscle everywhere else. His dark hair hinted at the use of Grecian Formula or shoe polish to hide the gray. His sports jacket looked like a reject from Goodwill Industries and the pants looked like they might have been recently worn by a homeless person, but his ill-fitting wardrobe did not overshadow the scars that seemed carved into his face. Ellen noticed that he was only slightly taller than her – and for once she was glad she hadn’t worn high heels. But his piercing blue eyes were clearly sizing her up. With Bill standing in his small office beside this fashionably dressed lady, this could have been a scene from Beauty and the Beast.
He walked over to her and held out his hand to shake hers. She closed her mouth and smoothed her face out as she reached to shake his and said “I’m Ellen Goodwin and I have an appointment with you?” she asked.
Bill looked at her, with a slight glint in his eye and an awareness of how his appearance shocked people. He said “Yes you do, pleased to meet you, ma’am.”
“It’s good to meet you too. I wanted to discuss with you the job I told you about on the phone. What do you think of my idea to search for aliens in the Army base by Franc Valley?”
"I can't exactly decide what I think about you and the job yet," Bill said with an amused stare. "You're either a rich little snot with shit for brains … or just plain crazy."
A look of abject outrage crossed Ellen's face as she abruptly rose and stormed toward the door. His response was quick and curt.
"Sit down!" It was not a request. With every fiber of her being telling her to get out of there, Ellen stopped and slowly settled down into the nearest chair in front of his desk. The rage disappeared from her countenance and was replaced with a look of consternation.
"I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're just a nut job,” Bill declared as he rocked back on his heels and gave her another once-over. “I'm a bit ‘round-the-bend myself. Where did you get the hundred grand?"
"I don't see how that is relevant to this discussion," Ellen said quickly, furrowing her brow as she glared at him.
"Like Perry Mason said, ‘It goes to the credibility of the witness’,” he replied quietly. “Are you just a rich little snot with shit for brains?" he asked. He walked back around the desk and sat down, bright blue eyes still looking at her, trying to intimidate her. The chair creaked as he settled back; steepled his hands together in front of his face and waited for her response.
Ellen let slip a wry smile–this time she was not at all offended by his line of questioning. She had driven this far to talk in person–just to judge him for herself–and she could tell from his inquiry and demeanor that he was responding in kind. He certainly had the right. Her opinion of him immediately went up a notch.
"My undergraduate degree in history is from Penn State,” Ellen said as she sat up straight, looked down briefly while smoothing her skirt over her crossed legs. “I graduated Harvard Law in 1993 in the upper ten percent of my class and worked my way through both schools by waiting tables. I passed the Pennsylvania Bar Exam in 1995 and worked for the law firm of Norman, Brent and Shaw until 2008. In 2002, I married a multimillionaire named Thomas Goodwin. He passed away in the fall of 2008. So I may be a rich little snot, but I certainly don't have shit for brains."
"Touché,” Bill returned. Her monologue almost sounded like a resume. “Do you understand that if I decide to engage in this insanity with you, the expenses could easily be ten times the hundred grand you offered me? You would be out of pocket over a million dollars!"
"I have the money," Ellen replied brusquely.
"This is a tough one," Bill said as he put his hands in his jacket pockets, took a deep breath and blew it out through pursed lips. "If we are successful, my fee plus military pension and disability would enable me to close this place and really retire. On the other hand, if we get caught breaking into the base, we could be killed. In that case, I guess I could still retire. Worst case scenario: we get caught and get sent away forever. There’s this guy twice my size back in stir who thinks I'm cute. They’ll probably make him my cell mate in that case, so let’s not go that route."
Then dead silence. Neither of them moved or said a word. Suddenly the phone rang in the next office and the sound of hard-heeled shoes echoed through the tiled corridor outside Bill’s door.
"On the other hand," Bill raised a finger with a twinkle in his eye, "I have an angle of attack on this one. Very intriguing stuff – kind of right up my alley, too. I think the government is getting out of control.” Bill continued as if thinking out loud. “I have very little patience for killing innocent people - especially when we have to use drones, like they do sometimes in these new wars when they don’t want to risk the lives of pilots. Very cowardly stuff, that. And, without having a clear enemy outside the country, it seems they're starting to take aim on their own citizens by spying on them. This would be a kind of non-violent way to show them that they are our employees, not our bosses. Imagine them trying to keep a secret like this from the American people."
"My thoughts exactly," Ellen nodded as she crossed her arms. "This has got to be the biggest story of the century – maybe in all of human history."
"Of course, that's assuming the entire thing isn't just a big pile of horseshit," Bill said as he also crossed his arms.
"Nobody will ever know if we don't go take a look," Ellen replied.
"Let's see if I have the story correct," Bill said. "In 1947, a UFO crashed in New Mexico, the Army roped off the area, cleared all the stuff out and hauled it up to this base in Wyoming. There are different stories from various eyewitnesses at the time that actual alien corpses and flying saucers were found."
"That about covers it," Ellen answered. "First they admitted to the press that they had recovered alien artifacts. Then suddenly they changed their story. It was suddenly a weather balloon in spite of news stories that said otherwise. Other eyewitnesses have also said that people were threatened with death if they made too much of a stink about it. All I want to do is take a look around that Wyoming base a little bit. You said you had an angle of attack on the problem?"
Bill walked over to his desk and reached for some papers. He handed Ellen an invoice which had already been filled out and said, "I'll go over the details later. If you are seriously interested in this, make out your first check for a quarter of a million dollars. That will cover my entire one hundred thousand dollar fee. The rest I will credit toward our project expenses. When that’s gone, I’ll need expense checks in advance for every step of the project. If at any time those checks fail to come in, our agreement will be terminated and I keep my entire advance. This fee will not be contingent upon success of the project. If you decide to make out the check and sign the contract, you can consider your hundred grand spent. For my part, I agree to do my best to provide you with what you require and to let you participate until such time as I think you are in the way or in any physical danger."
Ellen put her hands on her hips and glared at Bill, then yelled, "Who are you to judge whether I am in danger? I’m hiring you as an expert and a guide, not a bodyguard. You have admitted that the project is risky. I'm not stupid. I can take risks as well as you can."
Bill put his hands back in his pockets and in a calm voice said, "I'm against women in combat. A bit old-fashioned, that. But I understand your feelings and will do my best not to save you from any injury whatsoever. I must insist on one thing: If you get in my way in any fashion, one of us will have to cease and desist. I will be in charge of the mission and you will not question my orders when I give them. If you can't live with that condition, you better save your hundred grand."
"Yes, sir!" Ellen said, clicking her heels together and raising her hand for a mock salute. She was satisfied with his competence and she knew she needed his expertise. Experience had taught her that men were useful sometimes and she had to put up with their bullheaded nature as a compromise. In spite of her outward demeanor, though, she was satisfied with the interview and she had what she wanted – an experienced investigator to help her realize an item on her bucket list: find proof of aliens who visited Earth.
Bill then handed her some paperwork - apparently he had anticipated the agreement. She looked it over briefly – standard boilerplate stuff, seemed okay, so she signed it and made out a check for services to the Bill Regal Agency. He bowed slightly as he took the payment, swept his arms and said in a grandiose tone, “Why, thank you, madam. I am now your humble servant.”
She grinned and held out her right hand. “I don’t consider a deal sealed until we shake on it, no matter what paperwork is signed.”
Bill looked at her hand, then at his, shrugged and reached out – just a quick up-and–down motion – then let go. “The deal is sealed,” he declared. ”Good business that. Let’s go find some aliens!”
Ellen started walking toward the door and said over her shoulder, “I’ll be in touch about when we can get this thing going. I want to get started ASAP.” She then heard a faint, slightly mocking “yes ma’am” as she exited his office.
After she left, she smiled to herself. She was quite pleased with the start of this adventure. As she walked to her car, she thought of her husband, Thomas, and his obsession with UFO’s and stories about aliens visiting Earth. He had loved her for herself and only herself. She missed him so terribly. She continued thinking about him as she drove, and remembered what life had been like before she met him. She learned in her teens what most men wanted from her – and it wasn’t her interest in Twain or Shakespeare. She realized that she could make her way in the world with her looks and men’s interest in her body – but she wanted more than that, since her beauty would fade and younger women would quickly step in to replace her.
As a teenager and then a young woman, she focused on a fashionable wardrobe that fit her style, makeup that emphasized her fair features, and learned to walk effortlessly in heels. She also became well-versed in social manners – how to make small talk and how to make men and women comfortable – because she knew that beauty alone would not take her where she wanted to go. She watched the starlets from the classic ‘30s and ‘40s films – Vivien Leigh, Katharine Hepburn, Hedy Lamarr, Mae West – and copied their style, confident manner and ability to put almost anyone at ease with minimal effort. She worked on possessing a classic beauty, yet another tool for getting what she wanted, along with her college degrees and broad general knowledge.
She used all of these tools to get by in a man’s world and had done well enough, even before meeting Thomas. But with someone like Bill, she was prepared to use all of the tools she had to get the work done and make sure she came out with the proof she wanted – even if she had to be a lady instead of being a bitch.