Scene from “The Straits of Juan de Fuca”

May 26, 2014

I was up around 4:30 AM and drove out to the Stonehenge replica in Maryhill Washington, near The John Day Dam. I wanted to get to Maryhill by sunrise, well before the solar eclipse that was scheduled to begin around 7:00. There would be a lot of Druids present, or pagan sun worshippers at the least, and I was most interested in Runic and his circle, and I also counted on the cult from the Olympic Peninsula showing up. What I had planned for them would not be pretty.

Dawn was breaking along the Columbia River Gorge, and once you passed the Cascade range divide, the land transformed from the lush enchanting green of the gorge, with its many threads of waterfalls, to the khaki brown hills of the Dalles region. From there you entered the irrigated high desert to the east that, when viewed from an airplane, made a perfect patchwork of green-brown squares where the large soy, apple and hops farms lived. The river was wide and glittering in the waking sunlight —The Columbia, famous for its Depression-era history, famous for its dams, for its Shad and Salmon. Strata of fog gently lifted off the water, untethered from the night, loosening braids of pale silver.

When I first reached the Stonehenge at Maryhill, I decided to keep my distance from the crowd that had already gathered to watch the eclipse. Many of the Druids were wearing those dark and heavy UV blocker sunglasses, a strange sight in their robes and hoods. Some carried sun pans. One held a pet lynx on a leash. The Druids paced or occasionally joined in a circle to hear a leader recite a text from memory, and all of them would at random recite from memory. Uncial Runic was not among them. Not yet.

Sam Hill had built the mock Stonehenge in 1929, and it was too perfect in design and not quite faithful to the original, though it was impressive. Down the road, at Maryhill, he had created a small oasis in the high desert, a large mansion in the middle of emptiness and scrub. There was a well tended lawn, fountains, and Moorish gardens with peacocks strutting across the grounds—almost like a Parrish painting in its artificiality . . . I parked a mile away and changed my clothes in the car. I began walking toward mock Stonehenge. There were cars and motorcycles all along the road now. It was estimated that a few thousand people would be here for the solar eclipse. It would be an unusually hot day for this time of year with temperatures in the mid- to upper 90s. The eclipse was still an hour away but you could already feel something different, a subtle change in the light, in the emerging shadows. Some of the Druids wore painted faces like harlequins. I also had changed into a Druid robe. We passed each other without recognition on the dusty road leading to mock Stonehenge.

I saw Uncial Runic approximately ten minutes before 7:00. A group of 20-30 Druids had swarmed around him, and he was holding court in these last few minutes before the start of the eclipse. A female reporter from a local news crew was nudging her way through a knot of Runic’s followers. The acoustics inside mock Stonehenge were exceptionally good. I was standing some 30 feet from Runic and I could hear just about every word he spoke . . . I had devised my plan some time ago: I would wait until the eclipse was nearly total, when everyone’s attention would be focused on nothing else, and then I would make my arrest, or arrests, catch them by surprise. I knew I wasn’t supposed to look directly at the sun, but I didn’t believe that would be a problem. I wasn’t looking at the sun. I wasn’t about to let “Runi” or his minions out of my sight.

… and Darkness fell across the face of the Land…

The eclipse had started and a unified hush fell across the crowd. Most of the spectators whispered among themselves. A bead of shadow appeared on the sun’s right edge and very slowly bled across the surface of the disk. I kept my eye on Runic and his inner circle. Had they seen me? Someone noticed and whispered to Runic and he glanced at me, but they did not move away, possibly because they didn’t want to upset the sacredness of the event. I thought of the song lyric, “I want to see the sun blotted out from the sky . . .”

When the eclipse was total and the corona formed a collar of flame around this immense pit, I approached within 10 feet of Runic, who saw me and turned. My shout echoed and reverberated among the stones.

“Uncial Runic, you are under arrest for the murder of Everett Lovejoy.”

“Have you no shame!” someone yelled, and a mob of Druids started toward me until Runic pulled a gun from his robe and fired. Even at close range he missed me, and luckily everyone else. The mob scattered and all the spectators had moved away, which made it easy for me to draw my own weapon. Runic had now grabbed the woman who had been whispering to him earlier and used her as a human shield. The hood fell from her head and I saw the long golden plaits of hair. The totality phase of the eclipse was nearly over. Melanie begged me not to shoot her. I leveled my gun directly at her heart.

“You really think I won’t shoot her?” I said to Runic, and the other Druids, who stood apart like a Greek chorus in some amphitheatre.

“I am really not the one,” he shouted back, shrill and somehow oracular in the cutting acoustics of mock Stonehenge. “And capturing me will only lead you to an unpleasant truth.”

“I’ll take my chances . . . Let her go.”

He shoved Melanie at me and sprinted toward the megaliths. I followed and we took our positions in this pagan corral. I crouched and crawled from stone to stone in the circle, only to discover when I’d fired a shot that Runic had also moved and fired back at me from a different vantage point. The sky was neither day nor night but a strange and grainy tone like I imagined limbo might have looked in Dante’s vision of Hell. Uncial Runic and I were trapped in a hideous Wild West ballet, creeping figures under a ball of tar, non-fixed points on the stone circle’s radii and tangents. We were irreverent Druids. False pagans. We moved and angled for position among the megaliths, and the eclipsed sun, like a cyclopean eye, indifferently watched our frail and desperate dance . . . I fired a round that went unanswered. Already knowing, I fired two more rounds into the hot and silent morning. Runic had escaped.

The following morning I drove to Melanie Franz’s store in Selwyn. As I pulled up to the store a person was escaping out the back door. I quickly circled around the building to the rear entrance and a car sped away. Washington license plate, the driver’s silhouette shrinking in the rear windshield. Again I had that uncanny feeling I’d experienced at mock Stonehenge near the John Day Dam.

I returned to the store and Melanie. She acted nonchalant as if no one else had been here. I was beginning to lose my patience with her.

“Who are you and Uncial Runic hiding?”

“Patty Hearst,” she said with a pout and a smirk.

I slapped her. A reflex. Pain and tears bloomed on her face.

“You fucking bastard! You’re so stupid! You know, you almost got me killed yesterday.”

“I believe that was mutual. Now, if you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’ll have you arrested as an accessory to murder. Who ran out of the store just now?”

“A customer.”

“Customers don’t normally flee at my approach. You’ll have to do better than that. She was a student of yours, maybe a lover. I have some of the papers she made from your designs. They’re not as good as the originals, of course. Do you care to see them?”

“No,” Melanie snapped, her hand massaging the welt I’d placed on her cheek.

“Are you fucking Runic? I thought you had better taste in men, and women too.”

“Give me a little credit, Juan. So what if I was fucking him. What difference does it make to you?”

“It makes a difference,” I said. “I don’t like him for one thing.”

“You don’t even know him.”

“I know what he’s about. I know that he’s a fraud, a phony, a poseur, and I don’t like how he treats women.”

“Like you treat them so well. Slapping them.”

“We’re not lovers anymore.”

“Oh?” she laughed nervously. “So if we’re not lovers, then it’s okay to slap me? Is that your code of conduct with the fair sex? Only abuse those women whom you’re not screwing?”

“Stop it.”

“Are you jealous, Juan?”

“Sure,” I said, “if that’s what you want to call it, but at the moment I don’t care about you or me, or you and Runic, or any of your other relationships, I want to know who killed Lovejoy and if you can help me. Just tell me who that person was in your store.”

She watched me with a pensive and indulgent smile, and I felt the urge to slap her again but didn’t.

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