Chance arrived at the Snow Queen Lodge and found a folded half piece of paper with his name written in marker, taped to the front door. The note informed him that this was a contactless check-in, and his room was the first door opposite the entrance. It also gave him the WiFi password. After getting into his room, Chance threw his red messenger bag on the bed, relieved himself, and proceeded to call his publisher, John Roman.
"Heya John, just got in...so who is this contact of yours, and where can I find them?"
"So, we need to talk a little first, so I just got a complaint and not the first about some of your tactics in getting information from some of your sources...Ms. Dannaby, who works over in town records? Apparently, she is quite heartbroken about you. Did you just ghost her?"
"Hey now, John, I can not help it if someone makes aggressive passes at me while trying to pass me information on corruption! We met at the bar she bought me all the drinks. Then, when I made sure she got home safely, she drug me into her place. If anything, I should be the one filing a complaint."
"Uh-huh. I might believe that story if it were, say, the first or even third time I have heard a similar story. But it's not. Can you please try and write this story without fucking everyone in Aspen?"
"John, you know I can not, in good faith, make any such promises....but I will try my best."
"If you weren't as good as you are, I would have let you go a long time ago."
"You mean if you had anyone else that would put up with all your shit at this rag of a paper? But you don't, so here we are. So who is the source, and how do I get a hold of them?"
"OK. I didn't want to tell you before because I know you are a fan of this guy's father's work and would get all fanboy about it. But it's Hunter S. Thompson's, the political writer of the late '60s, son John Thompson."
A huge childlike grin came over Chance as he processed This news. Thompson was Chance's all-time favorite non-fiction author who almost won the 72' election in Aspen for sheriff and was the political correspondent for Rolling Stone...One of Chance's biggest regrets in life was not ever Meeting the man. He started bouncing on the bed like a hopped-up teenager before their first concert.
John sighed, "But Chance, listen, his son...has been, Ummm, somewhat damaged since his father shot himself. He was in the house when it happened, and it really kind of fucked him up, I guess. He hit the bottle in ways that would put your own drinking habits to shame. He also may not be completely sane. The word is that he talks to his dad a lot like he's haunted. So, see what actual useable, real information you can get from him, but take it all with a grain of salt. You should be able to find him pretty much anytime, day or night, at the Woody Creek Tavern. It was the local bar his father did most of his own heavy drinking at when he was alive. Some rich movie star bought it for his son after the funeral. He has an apartment on the second floor, so he never really leaves much. He said for you should swing by there."
"OK, I'm on it."
° ° °
Not everyone is Aspen was a Hollywood movie mogul or Fortune 500 CEO. The real locals of Aspen lived on the outskirts. The Woody Creek Tavern was about 4 miles out of town and next to a trailer park. This area was the working-class heart of Aspen, where the people lived that worked the ski resorts, bars, restaurants, and hotels spent their hard-earned time off. By the time Chance had ridden out to the tavern, the sun had fallen behind the mountains, dropping the temperature to where Chance could begin to see his breath as he swung his leg over the saddle of his motorcycle. The parking lot, like the streets, was empty, save for Chance's ghost-flamed Harley and a somewhat beat-up red Cadillac convertible parked near a side door.
Chance strode up to the front door to find a weathered, handwritten note taped to the front door. It read, "STAY OUT YOU ANIMALS!!! THE STATE HAS SHUT US DOWN DUE TO COVID...I HAVE NO ALCOHOL FOR YOU UNWASHED BASTARDS!!!" A crooked grin came across Chance's face as he read and then pressed his hand against the glass to block out the glare from the quickly diminishing sunset.
The bar was mostly dark, save for a light at the bar's back corner, above a tucked-away corner table. He saw a half-empty pint glass on the table, along with a book and an ashtray with still smoking cigarettes. The muffled sounds of a Cure song could be heard through the windows, but no one was visible from here. Chance knocked on the windowpane of the front door, but it seemed to catch no one's attention. He walked around the side of the bar through the parking lot and headed towards the convertible. As he got closer, he noticed the Colorado license plate read, "Gonzo."
He knocked on the back door, but again there was no answer. He tried the doorknob and found that it unlocked. He gently opened the door while listening for anyone inside. "Hello, anyone there? I'm Chance Van Horne, the reporter with the Sidewinder..." As he stepped into the back kitchen, he could barely hear a man yelling over the lyrics of "Never Enough." On one of the back stainless steel prep tables of the kitchen, he saw a mesh bag of grapefruits and a cutting board with the grapefruit juice and seeds. He made his way through the kitchen, the back bar and found himself in the dining area. There, in the back corner booth, sat a middle-aged, balding man in a plain button-up white shirt eating grapefruit and sipping off a half-filled pint glass filled with liquor busy reading a paperback book while talking to himself. The scene may have seemed reasonably commonplace to Chance were it not for the enormous shiny chrome revolver laying out on the table next to his plate of grapefruit.
The man lowered the book he was reading and spoke to the empty seat across from him. "Yeah, but listen Pops, why would the Red Lodge be operating here in Fat City? They know this is Black Lodge country." He paused as he spoke to himself as if listening to the response of some unseen person sitting across from him. Something else caught Chance's attention. The still-smoldering cigarette in the ashtray had a long filter-tip, but the ashtray was pushed across the table and positioned as if for someone sitting opposite of the reading man. Hesitantly, chase mustered the courage to announce his presence in a way that would not get him shot at.
"Ummm, hello, I come in peace."
The balding man jumped in surprise, realized he was not alone, sending his plate of grapefruit flying off the table. He scrambled to get a hold of the pistol and shakily leveled the massive barrel of the hand cannon straight at Chase's head.
"Whooooaaahhhh," Chance put up his hands out in front of him, showing that he meant no trouble. "I'm the reporter from Estes. You talked to my publisher earlier and told him to have me stop by. I tried knocking on the front door, but I didn't see you and went around back to see if you were there."
"Ohhh, OK...well shit, sorry man, the world has gone a bit crazy these days." Looking intensely suspicious at Chase, he seemed to remember that he was supposed to meet with a reporter. He put the revolver back down on the table and assessed the mess he had made. "Give me a minute to clean up this mess, and we can sit down and talk. You want something to eat, grapefruit maybe? The kitchen is closed, but I can pour you a drink if you want."
"Yeah, I'd love one." Chance said shakily. "Vodka soda, double, tall, lime, please."
The man slid the gun into the back of his pants and disappeared into the back kitchen, leaving Chance on his own. Chance took a moment to take in the bar. There was a menagerie of random, eclectic items mounted on all of the walls throughout the restaurant. The walls around the booth displayed old articles, posters, and framed photos of the now-deceased writer with various world-renowned celebrities, including Mick Jagger, Jim Belushi, Bill Murray, and even one of the Kennedy's taken either in the bar itself or in the mountains. After looking through the photos, Chance turned and examined the still smoking cigarette. He reached to pick up the cigarette from the glass ashtray, but as he was about to pick it up, he thought he saw a ring of smoke that appeared out of thin air. As if some invisible person sitting at the booth had blown it at his face. Suddenly the music skipped with a loud scratch and tone and switched to the middle of the Rolling Stone's "Paint it Black.' Chance jumped back, startled, and looked over to the classic jukebox. Just then, the man returned with a pint glass of vodka and a wet bar rag, oblivious to the sudden change in music. He handed Chance the drink and got right to work wiping up the spilled mess. "Here you go...Pops told me I need to tell you a few things, have a seat and take a drink. This is going to sound crazy."