All of us here in Nelson, we never realized we each had different parts of a puzzle.
“No, I don’t think Chantelle always had that little black notebook. At least, she didn’t have it the first few times I met her. I think it showed up last summer, right when she started asking so many questions we all wondered whether she was writing a book or something. But she moved to Nelson a little under a year ago, at the end of winter. I remember seeing skis in her truck bed when she first drove in and having a good laugh with the guys, wondering what she thought she was getting herself into. Nelson might be high desert, and it does get cold in the winter, but we haven’t seen snow in decades, and even then it was just little flurries. No one’s going skiing around here.
Turns out Chantelle is from New Mexico, grew up in another little town much like Nelson but with more snow. We learned she was a nurse, went to school in Albuquerque, but wanted to work at a rural hospital. Told me she had a brother who needed all sorts of special doctors, and she thinks communities like ours ought to have more nurses.
So Chantelle works over at Martindale Rural, and I hear she’s a real good nurse. But I guess even Martindale was too big for her tastes, so she rented a house here in town. It’s not every day we get a young person moving to Nelson. We’re a tiny little town, and we lose more than we gain every year.
Most of the young people here drive out to Martindale in the evenings for a little bit of night life, but Chantelle was always here. If you want to find friends and make a home here in Nelson, Howell’s is the best place to do that. Only bar in town, unless you count the kids that drink beer out back of the 7-11. Which, by the way, think you officers can do anything about that? Convenience stores are getting too convenient, if you ask me.
Right, her notebook. I think she started carrying it around a few months after she moved here. I remember one night, just before the monsoons hit that August. Everyone was talking about when the clouds were gonna break. She was hanging out at the bar when one of the fellas playing pool said something about Talon Lake. She got up right away, went over to the pool table and asked what he was talking about.
Well, come to find out, Chantelle is from Talon Lake herself. She says no one’s ever heard of it and she never thought she’d hear those words out the mouth of someone she hadn’t known since birth. But we used to have a couple of guys around here who were always riding out to Talon Lake to go fishing. Someone knew someone with a cabin out there and they’d go drink themselves stupid and harass some trout whenever they got the itch. They’d strap big ice coolers to their Harleys and come back with a bunch of fish to grill up.
Chantelle just kept asking about Talon Lake and the guys who’d gone fishing there way back in the seventies, and we tried to remember what we could. I wasn’t sure why she wanted to know so much. Figured she was just excited about finding a connection to her hometown.
Both guys are dead now, real sad story. They used to be good pals, riding their motorcycles together and getting into all sorts of trouble. Both were pretty rough around the edges. One night the two of them got to fighting about something or other and Conrad, who’d always been the more bull headed of the two, he off and kills Lonnie. Real bad scene. Went to prison for it. He came back here afterwards, which we all thought was odd. It was Lonnie who had ties to the area. But Conrad got a trailer and skulked around Nelson for a few years before he died too.
Well, she was back the next night, and she had that notebook. She was asking more folks about Lonnie and Conrad, about their motorcycles mostly; seeing if anyone remembered what make and model they used to ride, and how often they took those coolers down to New Mexico. I don’t think that girl ever rode a motorcycle a day in her life, but she sure seemed interested in all the details, writing them all down. Never saw her without that little black notebook after that.
She started hanging around in Howell’s more and more, chatting up all the locals and taking notes. Never while someone was talking, though. She was always real polite, look you in the eye and all that. But after someone finished up, there she’d be, hunched over and scribbling stuff down.
One night, Sheila Sanders was down at the bar, saying she has a story about old Conrad that she figures she can tell now he’s dead and everything.
Apparently Sheila had a bad boyfriend, real dangerous guy. Sheila tried to break it off with him, but he wasn’t acting right, and she thought she oughta get herself a gun. Only problem was, she had a record. She tells Conrad how she’s been trying to get herself a gun but can’t find anywhere that’ll sell her one.
Well, I guess Conrad must have been sweet on Sheila or something, cause he leaned in real close and told her he had a secret. Conrad tells Sheila that he and Lonnie knew the biker guys who were running drugs and other contraband all around the Four Corners states and down into Mexico even. He tells her he can get her a gun real easy, but she has to promise to keep her mouth shut about everything else he and Lonnie are involved in.
Now this wasn’t a big surprise to most of us. Back in those days everyone sort of knew Conrad and Lonnie were into something like that, but they were so tight lipped about it we all had the good sense to keep our mouths shut too. But Chantelle, she hears this and all of a sudden there’s that little black notebook out of her pocket, and she’s interviewing Sheila about the gun and Conrad and everything else.
Word gets around town that Chantelle is collecting information about Lonnie and Conrad and one day Abigail Bridges comes down to the bar. She’s got to be in her nineties at least by now. Used to cut hair in town until her hands got too bad. She says Sheila sent her down to talk to Chantelle, ‘cause she knew a story about Lonnie that she always thought someone else oughta know.
Chantelle was still on shift at the hospital, so Abigail asks me to take a message. I say alright, and get some notes on the back of a bar napkin. It’s no little black notebook, but it’ll do.
Abigail starts talking about her late husband, John, says how one night he was out with Lonnie and the guys, drinking and getting up to mischief. They broke into the stables where the Glassey family boards racehorses, and somehow a horse got killed. John swore it was an accident, but either way, those horses cost thousands of dollars, and no one wanted to take the rap for all that.
Most of the guys involved were bikers. Only John had a truck big enough to haul a dead or dying horse anywhere. Lonnie sent all the other men home, telling them to make sure their wives knew they’d been at home that night, then got in the truck and told John to drive out of town going north.
According to Abigail, Lonnie took him to this abandoned mine shaft he said no one else knew about: not the town records office, not the sheriff, nobody. I guess the pack rats that live down there fill it with cholla balls, meaning you couldn’t get down there even if you really wanted to. Something goes down there, it won’t be found.
They threw the horse’s body in there and the Glasseys always thought one of their horses had just gotten loose and disappeared into the desert. I guess Lonnie threatened John something fierce, saying he better not tell anyone about the secret spot or he’d end up there too, and he took it seriously enough that Abigail only heard the story years after Lonnie died.
When Chantelle came by that night, I gave her Abigail’s message, and you should have seen the girl, her whole face lit up. She asked if she could take my napkins and I said sure thing, wouldn’t even charge her for the supplies. She stuck ‘em in that notebook of hers and went right to the bar’s phone to look up Abigail’s number.
I don’t know when she caught up with Abigail, but Harry over at the hardware store had Chantelle in there a few days later, cleaning him out of ropes and rakes and PVC poles. Every time someone around here starts some big project, Harry usually gets involved, but he couldn’t make heads nor tails of what she was doing.
Well, I guess you know the rest, officers, or else you wouldn’t be here talking to everyone. Chantelle’s uncle was murdered in Talon Lake while out on a pizza delivery run in the seventies, and no one ever caught who did it. I guess his car had been bashed up pretty bad, trunk ripped open and the undercarriage dismantled, and rumors were that he’d been running drugs or money or something for one of the trafficking gangs down there. But it was a cold case for her whole life, one of those small town mysteries that don’t get solved.
As soon as she found out we had two men around here with ties to Talon Lake, she started asking more questions, and it must have come together for her pretty fast. She knew that some guys on motorcycles had been seen in town around the time of the murder, so when she heard that Conrad and Lonnie had been bikers with ties to gun runners, she just kept digging. Learned about everything - the fight Conrad and Lonnie had, and about the old mine shaft where Lonnie swore he could hide anything from anyone. All of us here in Nelson, we never realized we each had different parts of a puzzle, but she sure put them all together in that notebook of hers.
So yes, officer, to answer the big question, sure I think that girl should keep it, all the twenty thousand dollars I heard she found. And I’m not just saying that ‘cause I expect most of it to be spent here in town, where we sure need it. She deserves it. Chantelle’s the one who figured it all out, found the hiding place Lonnie used, and hauled out decades worth of cholla balls with just a big old rake she made herself. You ever gotten cholla in your skin, officer? Those spines will mess you up bad, I’m not kidding. I had a dog once get into a cholla patch and boy, he was miserable for weeks.
Anyway, if I were you, I’d be down there looking too. Wouldn’t be surprised if you find more than a bunch of pack rats and horse bones, if you know what I’m saying. Nelson used to be a pretty rough place, and we’ve had our share of mysteries and disappearances. But when it comes to the money, I think I speak for everyone here in Nelson when I say you oughta just give it to Chantelle, plus a commendation for solving an old case for y’all. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to have a look inside that notebook of hers, too. No telling what else she might’ve dug up.”