The Lonesome Road: Prologue

Mirage, Nevada
June 1958

It was morning in the desert. A group of men gathered in the booths of a local café for their daily cup of coffee. En route to somewhere more populated and interesting, an occasional vacationing motorist stopped for gasoline and a meal. It was such an ordinary small-town day that no one noticed a figure on the horizon, ambling slowly by the side of the highway. Within a few minutes, a woman approached the café. She was wearing a faded sundress and worn sandals, covered with the dust that blew mercilessly in the desert. She was of medium height, though much too thin, bedraggled in appearance. Her black hair, looking as though it had not been brushed or styled for several days, spilled about her shoulders in wavy, windblown curls. Not a trace of makeup covered her sunburned face. A weariness that belonged to someone decades older settled over her eyes like a shadow.

Glancing at the menu on the counter, the woman reached into her pocket for a quarter. "I'd like a cup of coffee, please." Her voice was clear, distinct, neither too high nor too low. There was something in her voice that made people want to listen.

The waitress smiled and nodded. "Have a seat, honey. Coffee's coming right up. You look as though you've come a long way."

The woman nodded and took a grateful sip of coffee. "You could say that again." She sat for a moment in silence, sipping and stirring. "You have a phone I could use?"

"It's in the hall, right before the restroom." The waitress turned in the direction and pointed. "Can I get you anything else?"

"No, thanks." The stranger gave a corner of a smile. "I'll just be using the telephone." She slid slowly from the stool and walked toward the telephone, one hand in a pocket, as if searching for the number she was to call. Halfway across the room was a jukebox. She paused and ran a hand over the glass, her eyes narrowing as she read the titles. Her eyes lingered over one place, and a wistful expression came over her face. As if the glass had suddenly become hot, she abruptly pulled her hand back to her side and continued toward the hallway. She picked up the phone receiver and set it down again. The crumpled piece of paper was in her other hand. Making this call was both the last thing she wanted to do and the only thing she could do.