The Lost Women of Lost Lake
A crimson sun sat low in the sky over the blue waters of Lost Lake when the stranger walked into the LaVasser Soda Fountain & Gift Emporium on Main Street. Lyndie LaVasser, the owner, happened to be standing behind the cash register at the time, hiding the cigarette she was smoking by keeping her hand tucked under the counter. She'd been watching her grandson, Kenny, hustle a girl who'd graduated from high school with him last spring. She was seated on one of the old-fashioned chrome and red naugahyde stools. The girl's name was Emily Jensen, a vapid but pretty little flirt. Kenny was ignoring the rest of the customers, which concerned Lyndie because, with the bad economy, the soda fountain was keeping the emporium afloat.
She cleared her throat.
Her grandson glanced up and grinned.
She nodded to the man waving his hand, trying to get his attention.
"Be back in a flash," Kenny said to Emily.
The boy might look like a linebacker for a pro football team, yet he was still a child, in Lyndie's opinion—happy one minute, down in the dumps the next. Emily, with that etherial look in her eyes, overdone make-up and long, golden, naturally curly tresses, was a diva-in-training, not the kind of girl who would ever understand a difficult personality like Kenny. The boy needed someone down-to-earth, someone who could watch a Vikings game with him and then go outside during halftime and enjoy watching him blow stuff up in the backyard. In her experience, men rarely picked wives for the right reasons. They went for looks. Legs. Breasts. Hips. Mouths. Eyes. Smiles. Damn the torpedoes and anything else that got between them and their favorite body part.
Lyndie made a mental note to talk to Kenny about this Emily kid, and yet as she watched the stranger move around the store, the thought drifted out of her mind.
Dipping down to take another quick drag, Lyndie eased onto a stool. At sixty-two, she was still slim and attractive, although she also fit quite easily into the grandmother category, which annoyed the heck out of her because inside she still felt a tad diva-like herself. Outward appearances, as she well knew, could be deceiving. Lyndie had a past, and that past told her the man eyeing the books by Minnesota authors along the back wall was a cop.
Working his way up to the front, the man smiled at her as he touched the black brim of his Chicago White Sox cap. "Evening."
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so. I'm looking for a woman named Judy Clark." He planted a pair of hairy hands on the glass countertop. "She'd be in her sixties now. About your age I would guess. I have a photo, although it's old. And it's not very good." He reached into the inner pocket of his light cotton jacket, drew it out.
Lyndie stubbed out the cigarette and slipped on her reading glasses. "You say this person lives in Lost Lake?"
"That's what I've been told."
The photo showed a waif-like young woman in jeans and a navy peacoat standing next to a handsome, sandy-haired guy in a ripped army jacket. Both were wearing bulky scarves that partially obscured their faces. "Have you tried the phone book?"
"She's not listed."
Handing the snapshot back, Lyndie shrugged. "Sorry. I've never seen either of these people before. As you said, the picture's kind of old. Where was it taken?"
"Chicago. November, nineteen sixty-eight."
"A long time ago."
He didn't respond, just nodded.
"Who's the guy?"
"Name was Jeff Briere."
"I'm sorry. Was he a friend?"
"I never met him."
"So... it's the woman you're interested in?"
"If you don't mind my asking, who is she to you?"
His thick eyebrows drew down over penetrating dark eyes. He reminded her of a crow—sleek, watchful, clever. "Just a person I need to talk to. I'll find her. One way or the other." He turned, looked up at the old tin ceiling. "You've got quite a place here. A piece of history, something from the early part of the last century." Glancing over at the soda fountain, he added, "That almost looks real."
"It is real. My ex-husband and I had it removed, piece by piece, from a drugstore that was going out of business in a small town in South Dakota. It's a big attraction around here, especially in the summer when the fishermen arrive and the resorts fill up."
He gazed around him a moment more, then faced her. "I take it you're a life-long resident."
He repositioned his cap, clearly not ready to end the conversation. "The guy over at the hardware store told me about a woman in town who might be able to help me. Her name's Helen Merland. Apparently she and her husband own the Lost Lake Brewing Company."
"Used to. Helen's husband died many years ago. She's in her late eighties now."
"The guy said she knows everybody. That's what I'm looking for. Someone with connections and a good memory."
"Well then, I think you're out of luck. Helen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year."
He didn't look the least bit sorry, just disgruntled.
"How bad off is she?"
Helen was forgetful. She became mixed up easily, would occasionally move back and forth in time, and yet, for the most part, was still able to take care of herself and live in her own home. Lyndie had never considered that Helen's growing affliction would have any bearing on her life, other than the sadness that came from slowly, inexorably losing a dear friend to a terrible disease. "I wouldn't bother her if I were you."
He returned the snapshot to the pocket of his jacket.
"Are you planning to stick around?"
"For a while." He took out a card. "If you think of anything that might help me, that's my cell."
She waited until the front door closed behind him before she picked up the card and read the name.
With a last name like that, he had to be related.
"What's wrong?" called Kenny, still hovering near Emily.
Lyndie forced a smile. "Nothing. Everything's fine."
Except that it wasn't. She did know a woman named Judy Clark. She saw her every morning when she looked in the mirror.
© Ellen Hart.