by Hy Conrad
Perilous, Nevada was one of the smallest towns in the desert west. It consisted of little more than Ralston North’s gas station, a few trailers perched around the lonely arroyos and Teddy Big Wolf’s Trading Post. Nothing much ever happened in Perilous. The citizens were too few and unambitious to support any really interesting venture– except for a love triangle. It had a pretty good one of those.
Lauren Guzman was at the triangle’s center. A recent arrival, she had set up house with her new husband Orlando in Dry Wash Canyon. Their trailer was a decent hike up the road from the gas station where Lauren had a stall selling the Native American blankets that she and Orlando wove on their home looms. This blanket enterprise put the Guzmans in direct competition with Teddy Big Wolf whose roadside tourist trap was half a mile away. The Trading Post sported a two-story wolf sculpture made from thousands of coat hangers and it sold everything from blankets to toys to moccasins.
A natural animosity developed between Orlando Guzman and Teddy Big Wolf. But the hard feelings didn’t extend to Laura. Orlando’s young wife had a personality that thrived on male attention and there was precious little of that in Perilous. Before long, Lauren was closing her stall and spending the afternoons at Teddy’s establishment. “He tells me great stories,” Lauren informed Ralston, her friend at the gas station. “It’s all perfectly innocent. But Orlando doesn’t understand.”
One afternoon in late October, when the passing trickle of cars had all but dried up, a windstorm swept through the dusty wastes of Perilous. The storm was just calming down an hour later when a van full of Las Vegas tourists turned off on a side road to take a bathroom break. There, in the middle of a truck path, they found Lauren Guzman’s body. When the Nevada Highway Patrol arrived, they discovered an old fence post torn out of the ground. Blood on the thick post matched a bloody gash in Lauren’s head. The first officer examined the gash and the few round drops of blood that had fallen from the wound to the hard-packed earth. “Looks like it got dislodged by the wind and just slammed into her.” “Maybe,” said his partner. “But before we label it an accident, let’s check around.”
First on their list was Orlando Guzman. Lauren’s husband seemed devastated. “Lauren and I had our differences, but we were working them out. She promised she wouldn’t visit Teddy anymore. This morning we had a real nice breakfast. Then she walked over to the gas station to open the stand. She said she might come home early if there weren’t many cars. She must have been on her way home when the windstorm came.” Teddy Big Wolf seemed equally grief-stricken. The news seemed to shock him into an unexpected candor. “She was leaving him,” Teddy told the officers.
“Today. Lauren and I were running away. My sister was buying this place from me. You can ask her. Lauren was going to leave the stand early today and we were just going to drive off without telling him.” “Well, which was it?” the second officer asked his partner as they left.
“Had Lauren been heading for home or for Teddy’s place?”
“Hard to say,” the first officer admitted. “The body was in a direct line from the gas station to the Trading Post. On the other hand, that footpath is also the easiest way to the Guzman trailer, especially if a bad wind was whipping around. Let’s see what the gas station owner says.” Ralston North was also devastated, which made both officers instantly suspicious.
“She was just such a wonderful woman. So full of life. She didn’t say anything about where she was going. Business was dead slow and the wind was really picking up. I shouldn’t have let her walk off by herself. It was all my fault.”
“Well?” the second officer asked as they returned to the patrol car. “Was it an accident? Or was it murder?”
“There’s just one important clue,” said officer one. “And that tells me it’s murder. It also tells me who did it.”