One Summer on Cutthroat Lake
Owen Duffy
Synopsis:

Braxton’s golden age of cattle, dude ranches, and Cutthroat Lake Lodge has ended in World War II’s aftermath. When strangers try to revitalize it, tensions escalate. Then a famous photographer shows for a magazine shoot.



ISBN: 978-1-60489-237-6 Trade Paper, $18.95        Sale $9.50

ISBN: 978-1-60489-238-3, Hardcover, $25.95           Sale $13

Binding
About the Author:
Owen Duffy’s first novel, The Artichoke Queen, was published by Livingston Press. His fiction has appeared in various journals such as Passages North, New South, Storyglossia, New Delta Review, PANK, and Hawai’i Review. He holds an MFA in writing from Rutgers-Newark and currently teaches and mentors young writers. He lives with his family in Shaftsbury, Vermont.
 
Excerpt from Book:

 

One

 

 Spring, 1946: Denver, Colorado

 

The passengers waiting for the train to Braxton, Wyoming let out a collective sigh as the conductor announced that it had been delayed due to weather. A snowstorm, he said, on their intended route. This news came after the train had already been late to arrive, and those waiting in the lounge area, their suits and skirts wrinkled and disheveled, a cloud of cigarette smoke hanging above them, were told to wait for further news. Outside, the gleaming locomotive sat parked under a powder blue sky. As if in defeat, it chugged to a halt and released several long jets of steam.

The woman seated nearest the large windows stared out at the train with sharp grey eyes. She was in her late twenties, dressed in a brown wool suit, with a fur collar and matching hat. She wore silk stockings and heels, a dash of dark red lipstick. Her nails were neatly done in a matching shade, and a large diamond wedding ring hung from her left hand.

It was the fourth train she’d taken since five days prior. From New York, to Chicago, Saint Louis, to Denver. There’d been a lot of time to burn. And she’d used it wisely. On long distance phone calls back to New York, to her attorney, her banker, and then ahead to Braxton to make sure all arrangements were in place for her arrival.

She tapped her cigarette in the pedestal ashtray she’d been sharing with a businessman in a grey Western style suit beside her. He wore a Stetson hat, and sat reclined with his cowboy boots crossed at the ankle.

“Train travel,” he said in a soft drawl, to no one in particular. “A thing of the past. Flew up here from Dallas myself on a DC-3. Ever been on one?” He glanced at her but didn’t wait for a response. “Well, it’s the future. I tell you, we wouldn’t be worrying about a little old snowstorm. We’d already be in Braxton.”

She glanced back at him. She didn’t mind him talking, even if to himself. All the passengers in the waiting area had started to stretch and converse. There was little else to do.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, tilting back his hat. “A snowstorm is a snowstorm. But an airplane, boy. It can fly around it. Over it. Under it.”

There was a pause as the train’s luggage compartments were closed. For a moment it seemed the conversation was over, as since New York she’d made every effort to avoid any social entanglements, but here she could no longer help herself.

“Where,” she said finally, “are you going to land an airliner in Braxton? A cow pasture?”

The question hung in the air. He sat up slowly and knocked some ashes off his boots. Even if she was being disagreeable, she didn’t much care. When she looked over, however, she saw that he was grinning brightly, and realized that he’d craftily lured her into conversation.

“Where did you come from, if you don’t mind me asking?” The man’s voice adopted a more serious tone as he studied her. “I’d say New York City by the look of you.”

“You guessed right,” she said, continuing to look forward as the conductor on the platform, hands behind his back, instructed the porters to shut the passenger car doors.

“Traveling alone?”

At this she too looked at him closely. His suit looked expensive. And he was handsome, she supposed. Clean shaven. Mid-thirties. He looked like a wealthy cowboy. New to money perhaps, but still hanging onto his old ways.

She turned back to the window. “My husband is meeting me in Braxton.”

“Vacation?”

“That’s right.”

He leaned closer, as if to say it was an odd time to vacation in Braxton, and odd for a woman of her class to be traveling alone, but before he spoke she cut him off.

“He’s coming from Los Angeles, where he’s been on business.”

He turned at the sound of the passenger doors slamming shut. “Looks like we won’t be getting out of here anytime soon,” he sighed. “If it wouldn’t offend your husband, I could keep you company tonight, perhaps dinner? I know Denver well.”

She glared at him. This was exactly what she’d hoped to avoid. And who, exactly, did he think he was? Surely he could see that she was self-sufficient, not used to others handling her affairs. And he seemed the type that would hold every door, make all her arrangements, loop his arm through hers - when she was doing just fine, thank you.

She blew out a thin stream of smoke and crushed her cigarette. Then she ceremoniously slipped on a pair of gloves and began to gather her things.

“I don’t think so, but thank you anyway,” she said, and - to her own surprise - thrust out her now gloved hand, which he took and held firmly.

“Will Heaton,” he said, still holding her hand, as if allowing the sound of his name to breathe, and give her time to recognize it. “And I didn’t get your name.”

“Because I didn’t give it,” she said, slowly retrieving her hand. She’d heard of him. A magazine perhaps. A film reel about Texas oil barrens or cattle kings. Something of the sort.

“Well, good luck in Denver,” he said, tipping his hat forward and resuming his slouch, her slight having done nothing to dampen his spirits. “I hope your husband makes it alright,” he added from under his hat.

“Thank you,” she said, before turning and walking across the room, with the odd feeling that he wasn’t just looking at her, but right through her.

 After speaking with the ticketing agent, the passengers seated nearby watched the production of her luggage being retrieved from the First Class car. If it was an embarrassment, as the porters dragged it from the train’s belly, then stacked it neatly on a dolly, she showed not the faintest blush.

As her bags were wheeled in, she turned on her heel and walked briskly past the waiting area, past Will Heaton, who was now stretched out with his hat over his face, his pant leg riding up so she could see the long pearl handled knife tucked in his boot.

Some turned to watch her exit, as if wondering who she was, or where she thought she was going. There was only one way to Braxton, and this was it.

The porter struggled to keep up with her luggage, consisting of a matching set of three Louis Vuitton suitcases, a small trunk, and a valise. He pushed it out to the curb, where she instructed him to put it in the nearest cab, before placing a silver dollar in his hand. She climbed in, peeled off her gloves, and ordered the driver to take her to the nearest automobile sales lot.

He spun around and looked at her blearily. “In case you didn’t notice, there ain’t many lots back open yet. Rationing hasn’t been over here but six months.” He pointed at the gasoline rationing sticker in the corner of his window.

“I don’t much care,” she replied. “As long as its got a car for sale. Old or new.”

He looked back at her again, where she was, at the moment, gazing out the window, before she turned and narrowed her eyes at him, which made him snap around in his seat.

“Yes ma’am,” he muttered, putting the cab in gear. 

They pulled up outside a downtown DeSoto dealer minutes later, where she went into the sparkling showroom and said to the young salesman who came to wait on her: “I’ll take that one.” Her bare finger was pointed at a new cream-colored convertible which sat by the street side window under a swath of bright lights.

His mouth hung open only a moment before he snapped it shut, nodded, and said, “I’ll write it up.”

After the paperwork was done, she produced half the value of the car in cash and the rest in a check drawn on the account of a Thomas D. Gladinger of Fifth Avenue, New York City. The salesman and an associate rolled open, with great effort, the large glass showroom doors and drove the car out into the brisk late March air.

“Here you are Miss Gladinger,” the salesman said, opening the car’s door, as his associate began to raise the canvas top.

“No,” she told him, “I’d prefer it down.”

The two men looked at one another.

“But ma’am, it’s not yet fifty degrees. You’ll freeze.”

She flashed the same look at them as she had the cab driver, and the man fastened the top back down.

As soon as her luggage was secure in the trunk she surged forward, only to slam on the brakes a moment later, and turn to the two men who were still standing there watching her.

“Do you by chance have a map?”

They said it was a six hour drive to Braxton on the westerly route, through Pocatello and Idaho Falls. It was there she stopped for lunch at a café, placed a phone call ahead from the booth by the door, then had the DeSoto gassed up as she sat there in the clear midday light.

She drove with the map on her lap, the heater blasting. Soon she saw the familiar image of the Teton Mountains and the ranges that extended beyond to the north and west, into Idaho and Montana. Those old valley homes and surrounding ranches she passed, cattle grazing in the fields, spoke of a long bitter winter having come to an end. The Snake River, winding down from the north, ran high with spring snow melt. She paused on the bridge spanning it - and without fanfare - plucked the wedding ring from her finger and flung it in the water.