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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Novels
- Published: 07/03/2019
When He Was a SingerBorn 1949, M, from Colorado Springs, CO, United States
When He Was A Singer
A former Country Western singer and star who dropped out of sight is found by a well-known CW magazine writer and commentator. She is determined to bring him from his self-imposed exile back into the Country fold. However, not is all that it seems.
Ten years ago, he dropped out of the Country Western scene. Dan Thomas just dropped off everyone’s radar. For a couple years people wondered what happened to him, then socially he fell off country western’s watch list. Most people soon forgot about him, mesmerized by a whole new group of entertainers. Except for one magazine writer who remembered him, Barbra Wise.
Wayne Cannon gazed at Barbara over the top of the computer monitor. “And you remember this Dan Thomas from what – ten - twelve years ago, Barb?”
“I was just a teen ager then. I like a lot of girls I was stuck on him like girls stuck on a rock star now. I had, and still do have every album Thomas produced until his disappearance,” Barbara said waving to Thomas’ picture that still adorned Cannon’s wall with dozens of other stars then and recent.
Cannon’s office was the perennial magazine editor’s office, stacks of galley’s, copy proofs, photographs tagged for certain editions. But do not touch anything, he knew just where a certain copy was and in what stack. Move it and you are doomed.
Sighing, Cannon said, “Look Barb, I can appreciate you’re wanting to get this Thomas back into the Country scene but I can’t have you wasting your time chasing around the country, possibly on false leads going no-where.”
“There is reason to believe there is suspicion about his disappearance.”
Cannon listened to Barbara’s reasoning for pursing this Dan Thomas. Waving his hands around he said, “Suspicion – as in?”
“The condition his truck was found in the Platte River. The water, in that area at any time averages only three or four feet deep. Anybody could have walked across the river at the time, even a non-swimmer. Somehow either he walked to an area he was able to get out of the river without leaving tracks, or he was able, despite the river’s current swam across the river to the other side and got out.”
Cannon thought a minute then said, “Okay, granted he has what can be construed a common name. Still, social security number and driver’s license number can be traced.”
“Okay, argument aside, Dan pays somebody, he has or had the money to change the social security number to one that can’t be traced, DMV number changed until he gets a new vehicle. Anything that can throw somebody off his track trying to find him.”
“Back to my original question, what makes you so certain you can find this Dan Thomas?”
“Start at the beginning with the night he vanished.”
Denver, Colorado was the home of Western Singer News magazine and Nashville Examiner both monthly magazines. The magazine’s left off with the Denver Police and Sheriff’s Deputies attempt to find Dan Thomas. Barbara spent two hours scouring the archives from the night Thomas disappeared to two weeks later when they gave up.
Cannon argued, “He’s dead. Either swept downstream and drowned, or faked his death and does not want to be found.”
When Barbra joined Western Singer five years ago Thomas’ well published disappearance was speculation covered by all the media outlets in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Nashville. The Platte was dragged as far north and south as the Denver and Adams County sheriff’s departments could go scouring the area as far north as Broomfield and south into Arapahoe County. A body was never recovered.
Standing in the magazine’s parking lot on South Broadway Barbara stared at the white capped mountains surrounding Boulder thinking. She remembered once a boyfriend of hers, a Black Beret with the Army’s famous 503rd Combat Group told her, “If you want to pull off the perfect crime, don’t hang around populated areas or obvious areas. Seems every criminal does that…” He pointed to the snowed capped peak of Pikes Peak. “Head for the mountains and a prepared hide away. Don’t leave any trace of your being there and have enough supplies to hold you over three months. They’ll give up after two months due to the cost incurred from trying to find you. Then move to new ground.”
She gazed at the forests that darkened the Rocky Mountains west of Boulder. She knew the strength of the region did not lie in its giant trees and silence, but in that only migrating birds knew were the forest ended.
Thomas’ disappearance gnawed at Barbra until it became an obsession. She at least had a point of beginning, one of the sheriff’s departments or the local television outlet or Denver Post. She decided the easiest route, start with KMZM television – journalist to journalist.
The news editor Tom Berger studied the information on his monitor, Barbra anxiously trying to see what Tom was looking at.
“I don’t know how much of a help I’ll be Barbara, I was in collage during that time – wrong end of the country – University of New Hampshire.” He looked up at her. “And you know how much of an interest they have in C and W back east, especially at that time.” He held a hand up to form a, “…zero!”
Her next stop the Denver Post near the middle of the city and Supreme Court building. Parking in the parking lot near the Public Library of Denver Barbara walked up town to the Denver Post building. Passing the park at mid-town and a group of homeless men sitting around the walls and benches she stopped.
Turning around, Barbara had an idea and took a chance. She approached one group, they were sharing a bottle of wine watching her approach with guarded stars. She didn’t want to get too close, the bodily odors alone reminded her of the old stock shows she went to with her brother and father, the odor was over powering.
“Excuse me, I’m Barbara Wise for Western Singer News magazine here in the Denver area…”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of it,” one replied with slightly slurred speech. “What about it?”
“Yeah, whatchya need hone, not a story on a bunch of drunks I suppose?” another said as he took another pull from the bottle, another of the group grabbed the bottle away from him.
“Speak for yer self, Mac,” one said interrupting lighting a cigarette off the first one he had.
Shoring up her resolve, gripping her purse and note book tighter Barbara said, “Do any of you recall a Dan or Daniel Thomas, a country western singer from this area around 2004 or earlier?”
“Oh hell yes,” Mac piped up. “Yeah I even remember like it was yesterday the night he supposedly disappeared. Played a lot at a place called the Sun Dance tavern on Colfax.”
“Yeah, more cops, paramedics, divers, search teams, dogs, reporters …”
“We was camping near there, this was across from Elitch Gardens, the cops ran us outta there. `Said we didn’t belong there.”
“Yeah, we knew why, they didn’t want the reporters to see us and make a stink about us camping there.”
“Sure let Joe Doe have a wreck there and he’s lucky if two cops, a couple firemen, paramedics and tow truck show up. Dan Thomas, a famous Country Western super star disappears and the county turns out everybody but the National Guard to search for him.”
“Wait a minute, guys you said you were there,” they nodded. “And did you hear anything, say a truck or car?”
Lighting a cigarette Mac said waving it around, “Sure we heard the truck engine but nothing else. Thought it was some kids screwing around on Elitch Circle. He probably turned the lights out ahead of time then had the wreck as a cover.”
It was something to think about. Barbra thanked the men then continued on to the Denver Post building. She stopped at the bus station sitting down on a bench, she pulled out her tablet computer to write down what she heard to include the remark about all the police and paramedics that were sent to do the job versus if the average person had an accident.
‘… everybody but the National Guard.’
Walking inside the Times building, Barbara pulled off her sun glasses to ride the elevator to the fifth floor getting off in front of the reception desk and an officious receptionist.
“Yes, ma`am may I help you?” the lady at the desk asked with a put on smile.
Barbara produced her press pass and ID. “Barbara Wise, I’m doing a magazine article on the disappearance of Dan Thomas...”
“The Country Western singer?” the other said her fingers poised over the telephone key pad.
“Yes. I would like to talk to whoever would remember that night and maybe I could have access to the newspaper morgue to do some research into that night?”
“Let me see if Fred Turner is at his desk. He’s the assistant news editor.”
Before Barbra had a chance to sit down an older editor emerged from the back. “Ms. Wise?”
“Fred Turner come on back to my office. Wow, you have quite an assignment ahead of you. That falls in to the police Cold Case files.”
“Do you remember anything of that night? Barbara asked as they walked back to his office, a glass enclosure offering her a sixty-five degree view of the floor, other reporters returning from assignments, heading out to assignments, while others took copies from those in the field.
“Yes. You definitely came to the right place. The magazine you are working for now was just a month shy of getting off the ground when that happened.” They walked into his office a cluttered of new and old newspaper copy only a hole free of paper existed in the front middle of the desk where he worked. “I was in college, University of Denver when that happened. Several of us teamed together to cover the story. The professor was all for it, having been an old news hound himself.”
“May I record this?”
“Oh, be my guest.”
She set her digital recorder on the pile of papers between them. The first thing she thought of, ‘Don’t come in here with a lighted match or Bic lighter.”
Barbara said starting the recorder, “According to what I recall myself and various sources, he left out of the Sun Dance, a club down town on Colfax speeding off toward the interstate but ended up in the Platte River by Elitch Gardens. Supposedly that was the last anyone saw of him.”
“Pretty much so,” said Fred leaning forward on his elbows. “This is the way it went down that night. According to investigative detectives from the Denver Police, he never showed for his gig at the Sun Dance club that night. According to witnesses he pulled up near the club – people knew who he was, Thomas sat in his truck for a while then suddenly, like you said took off at a high rate of speed. How he never got stopped for speeding is anyone’s guess.”
“If he’d gotten stopped that either would have prevented his planned suicide or delayed it.”
Barbra made notes in her notebook.
Fred spread his hands. “Good point but no one knows for sure. We do know Dan was suffering from burn out. He was doing damned near a show a night near the end; he was burning the candle from both ends. He’d do two or three here go down to the `Springs do a show at Cowboys on Tejon. Pueblo do a show the next night – usually Bands in the Back Yard, Trinidad do a show or to La Junta, Burlington, up to Greely and back again. Even his band was feeling the stress. But as leader, lead guitarist he was feeling all this the worse.”
“And he snapped.”
“Under the circumstances a normal person would have eventually gone off. He lost two of his band members, walked out on him because of that. They couldn’t keep it up any longer. He was just driving himself and them to a slow grave. He was popular and big enough he was booked into the Pepsi Center at least twice that I recall.”
Barbara knew to be booked into the Pepsi Center today, between Taylor Swift and Alan Jackson’s Final Tour for example you had to be damned good.
“Now you’re saying he left the club and nobody knew anything until much later. What exactly
Taking a drink of warm flat soda, he had sitting close by he went on, “As close as the police could piece it together and later our group was able to figure out he accessed Elitch Circle made a hard turn into a driveway near a maintenance yard went through a barrier fence jumped a highway, crossed South Platte hiking and bicycle trail. The tire tracks showed he crashed into the Platte River near the park sinking the front end of the truck.”
Barbara was taking notes and thinking about what she was hearing. “Isn’t it rather shallow in that area?”
“Yeah depends on where you walk its roughly waist deep. Some of us think – supposition he could have walked across to the other side or easily swam and taken off from there. A passerby on the adjacent highway, Grand Army of the Republic Highway or better known as I70 saw it happen from the bridge but unable to help – called nine-one-one on their cell phone. But a well-planned move on his part – before anybody could react or get there in time. This is what our group envisioned he did; he knew what he was doing, he crossed the light rail line once he crossed the river to a parking area for commuters taking a bus into the city or riding the bus or train into town – or anywhere.”
Barbara decided she would check a couple of Dan’s old clubs out in the city before getting any deeper into this story. Her first stop would be the Sun Dance club. The Sun Dance was one of his favorite bars he played at when in Denver.
Barbra found the bar on south Colfax Avenue south of the down town area.
Walking in to the bar, pulling her sun glasses off she looked around the nearly empty place. Two men sat at the bar watching some game on ESPN, a man and woman sat at a table isolated from the others holding hands, and two business men sat on the far side talking, papers lay between them.
Walking to the bar, the bar tender eyeing her since she was alone.
“What’d ya need, ma`am?” he asked cleaning out some glasses watching Barbra reach in to her purse.
Barbra produced her journalist card. “I work for Western Singer News magazine and the Nashville Examiner. I would like to ask you a few questions concerning a past entertainer who used to perform here years ago, Dan Thomas, if I may.”
“Dan Thomas? Haven’t seen him in years – ten to be exact.”
Pulling up a stool she sat down. “As I recall this was one of his favorite venuess he liked to perform.”
The bar tender picked up another clean towel to continue washing glasses. “Yeah. He was in here at least three or four weekends a month. Usually on a Friday or Saturday. He got big enough – popularity that is, he was booked into the Pepsi Center and Cowboys in the `Springs and Bands in the Back Yard down in Pueblo. And you gotta be damn good to play at those two venues.”
Pointing to the bar she said, “He got his start here?”
“Here – that’s when I started here as bartender and he worked over at the Wild Horse Tavern in Evergreen Village. As I recall near the end he had three or four places he was playing at. What really killed it for him was a big name – is all I remember, talent scout from Nashville was here.” He pointed at the bar, “I guess he ran into somebody who tipped him off this was Dan’s favorite venue if he wanted to listen to him play. Dan impressed this guy that night and he wanted to sign Dan to a long term contract. At least that’s the way it came back to me. Dan was reluctant, wanted no part of it. This was his home town and this is where he wanted to stay.”
Barbara began to piece Dan Thomas’ disappearance together. “He kept getting hounded by the talent scouts?”
“Yeah. At least two more thought they could get him to Vegas. Dan wanted to think about it. Really bothered him. One evening between sets he talked to me about it. As you know a couple of the perquisites to being a bar tender is being a bona fide psychologist, counselor, doctor without portfolio, and sounding board. Anyway the next weekend he never showed. I took it for granted he was at one of the other bars over on the south side. Didn’t bother me none I was happy for the kid. Well the next morning I read about his so-called accident in the paper.” He leaned across the bar to Barbra, said in a conspirator tone, “Accident my ass. The stress of what he was doing, those talent scouts, and going at it damned near every night, and no breaks drove him over the edge. He snapped.”
He threw his hands up in, ‘I don’t know.’
Reason told Barbara the one person who knew him the best was the bar tender, Mike Horton who had been at the bar the longest. Thanking Horton, she slipped her sun glasses back on stood outside the bar for a minute then walked back to Broadway where a hotdog cart was set up by the Denver Public Library. Buying a cold chili dog with cheese and a luke warm soda, the soda was warmer than the hot dog, she sat on a nearby park bench eating the chili dog she thought about what the bar tender told her. Taking out her tablet she opened it to a Word page and began furiously typing. She finished the hot dog with one hand and typing with the other.
The man’s voice jarred Barbara’s thoughts. “Huh?”
“Omni dexterous. Multi-handed,” he said with a warm smile that made her smile in return.
She looked up into the Mylared sun glasses of a man smiling down at her. “Yes?”
“Journalist for Western Singer News magazine here in the Denver area. And you?”
“Robert Holmes. Writer, freelance – mostly books. Done a couple non-fiction articles but prefer fiction or sci-fi. Broader base.”
Barbara drew in a breath. “You’re thee Robert Holmes?”
“I’d say one and only but there is my sister Roberta.”
“I didn’t know you had a sister?”
“She writes under the non de plume of Christine Martin keeps our writing from getting
confused. When she was born Dad was in Korea so he couldn’t very well veto the name.”
“I didn’t know. Oh please. Sit?” Barbara moved over offering Holmes a seat.
“Thanks. I’m up here to do some old fashion research for a book on the good old days.”
“Good old days?” Barbara repeated with a slight laugh. “My understanding the good old days were just as bad as the good old days now.”
“True. I’m taking it from a different angle though. From the eyes and experience of an Army officer at an Army post – Fort Wade near here.”
“I’m working on an article for Western Singer News on Dan Thomas the Country singer.”
“The Dan Thomas who supposedly disappeared – what, ten years ago.”
“The same one. You remember him?” She was ready to add Robert’s observations in spacing down several lines.”
“And – oh, Barbara Wise. And is it okay if I tape record this?” Robert nodded. Making introductory notes she set the recorder between them beginning. “You said Robert Holmes? What do you remember of Thomas?”
“To give you an idea how I came to knowing Dan as he liked to be called – rather than Daniel as a few referred to him. The first time I saw him in person was a Saturday night at Cowboys on South Tejon in the `Springs. I was still in the service at the time – Fort Carson, 4th of the 40th Armor. My girlfriend now wife, wrangled tickets for Cowboys in the `Springs that Saturday night. Like a few other people we got there early claiming a front row table. One thing that sticks out even today, Dan barely - I don’t think ever went out of the state. He had offers in the year before his disappearance for one of Nashville’s big record – or CD companies. They wanted to make a super star out of him. Locally, Denver, Colorado Springs, down to Pueblo out to Burlington. Grand Junction. He was as popular as Jason Alden, Brad Paisley or Miranda Lambert – if you can believe that.”
“Wasn’t there a couple talent scouts after him around then?” Barbara asked adding that part in to his local popularity.
“Yes and a couple more waving the big bucks under his nose. And strangely he wanted no part of that scene. The guy could have been well off if he’d taken them up on the offers, but he didn’t. Who knows why?”
“You said you knew Dan. How?”
“He spent the weekend down in the `Springs not long after that and he did a series of concerts on Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, then wrapped it up with a concert at Memorial Park on Union Boulevard. Of course, Maryann can read a duty roster as well as I can – making sure the First Sergeant didn’t tap me for any kind of duty that weekend. So, we began the rounds – and he did not repeat one song between the three venues every night was different.”
“That’s something impressive.”
“How I met him. His truck broke down. Small wonder. He never did any maintenance on it. And …” He drew the word out. “Coincidentally, Maryann wanted to go to Pueblo. To humor her like the good husband and sap I am, I took her and we met Dan on the Interstate outside of Pueblo. I ended up taking him to Bands in the Backyard and we got free front row seats!”
Barbara was furiously typing.
“But the day he disappeared – oh my god!” Robert recalled, “I thought the world had ended. I was getting ready to leave for Post – it was five a.m., Maryann was supposed to be getting herself ready for her job. She was sitting in her favorite chair in her jammies crying. The local C and W station Country 105.5 FM announced Thomas was missing, she broke down crying. I think she would have gone out there and looked for him herself along with a couple hundred other fans. And some of the units on post were no different. Of course, at the time and it wasn’t until a couple years later we learned the real truth to his disappearance. A nervous breakdown from the stress and tension he was under.”
“I understand the stress and nervous breakdown was from being hounded by talent scouts.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it. All the talent people could see was money. They were like wolves at a sheep auction. Which sheep would be the juiciest?”
Barbara cringed at Robert’s words. “How did you know it was a nervous breakdown?”
Robert and Barbara traded looks, “How would I or did I know what it was that he had? I was at the time a line platoon sergeant in an armor unit, twenty men in my platoon. I know the tell-tale signs. You can definitely quote me on this. Alpha Company somehow ended up with three over time that should never have been in combat arms units. Rear echelon support yes. I think the recruiters twisted their arms to meet quota that month. All three ended up with Chapter 8 discharges due to mental health. I learned early as an NCO the signs leading up to suicide and he was border line.”
Furiously typing Barbara wanted to get Robert on the record -- potential suicide.
“Off the record Bob, since you know this area. Where would you go if you were running away from yourself?”
Bob stood and pointed west. “The mountains.”
Bob took Barbara into the Library to the map section which was part of the reference department. Finding the book for Colorado, one that was popular with research students.
“I’d start with the Georgetown Loop next town before the Eisenhower Tunnel is Silver Plume then after the Tunnel is Silverthorne. Any of these towns is a candidate for a hideout. Skip Cripple Creek and Victor, they’ve gotten to be small cities, no thanks to the gambling crowd. But anything west or south toward Cortez County.”
Robert left her with his business card and more questions than answers.
Evening set in over Colorado, Barbara stepped out of the Denver Public Library. The hotdog cart was gone. Shouldering the bag with the tablet she wandered back to where she left the car in the parking lot beside the library. Except for two cars, she was one of the last to leave.
Driving to Englewood and her apartment Barbara thought about what Robert Holmes told her. So far, not counting the guy she knew years ago, three told her if someone is going to hide look in the mountains. The police and other search teams all looked for him around the immediate area. APB’s had been put out, that was ten years ago. Nothing.
Barbara sat in her one bed room apartment staring at the television but not seeing it. ‘What was
Thomas doing, escaping his popularity? Was there more than just an overzealous talent scout he was avoiding?’
Wayne Cannon read the draft of Barbara’s article and looked at the photograph’s several archive photos from the accident scene. She took a couple in the parking lot across the river from where he wreaked the truck and at the same time a light rail train was at the station leaving it to the reader to speculate how he disappeared.
“Good so far, Barb. Now let me ask you this, suppose he doesn’t want to be found?”
“I’ve thought about that so far. Leave it open ended. There’s still enough time has elapsed for him to have gone to Alaska if he wanted or – ease back into Denver and just merge with the general populace.”
Reading the last part again, he said, “And this Holmes – man you’re lucky. Holmes? He’s another local celebrity. Number one best seller. Anyway, he suggests Georgetown and Silver Plume. Interesting. Why?”
“Okay, I didn’t add it in I wasn’t sure how you’d take to it. Remember Holmes was Army so you know where his thinking is at.”
“Military. Yeah, I am quite familiar with Holms’ past. Or at least my wife is but go ahead.”
“Nervous breakdown, possible suicide. One of those two towns could be used as a staging area.”
“True. Good point. And if he decided not to hang around there?”
“To put it lightly, we’re screwed.”
Barbara returned to her desk feeling frustrated. She wondered if investigative reporters ran in to this problem. Maybe that’s why they were ‘paid the big bucks.’
The phone on her desk chirped for her attention. “Barb…”
“Miss Wise, Gordon Baker- Gordy for short. I understand you’re doing a magazine article on Danny.”
“Yes.” Barbara was wondering where this conversation was going and how he found out about the article.
“I was the bass guitarist for the group – probably one of the few who stuck with him `til the last.”
“Do you know what happened to him?” Barbara asked when Cannon walked up to her. She pulled a pad around wrote on it, ‘Thomas’ former bass guitarist’. She carefully clicked on the speaker button. Cannon waved everyone down to keep quiet.
“I can’t tell you but it wasn’t a nervous breakdown as people think.”
“Were you there I mean when all this went down?”
“Look, he swore me to absolute secrecy on this. But the reason for the call – you know he used to give almost his entire take to the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children here and Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs. Also, he gave quiet heavily to Care and Share – semi-truck loads of food at Thanksgiving. The only thing he asked for was his privacy.”
Barbara was busy writing the information down, Cannon and other writers stood around her listening as she talked.
“Was there a reason he did this – I mean give to the hospitals and Care and Share?”
“A need is all I was ever told. Look, I gotta go.”
“But …” was all Barbara had a chance to say before he hung up. “Damn.”
Cannon patted her on the shoulder. “You got your hands full, kid. Follow through its your puppy.”
“Thanks boss.” Barbara thought a minute. ‘I’ll make appointment with Memorial Children’s Hospital then … Why not Robert?’ She called Memorial first to make appointment with Children’s Hospital first then Holmes. Digging through her purse looking for Robert Holms’ business card she tapped out the numbers on the key pad she waited a few seconds. “Robert? Barbara Wise at Western Singer News. I just got a strange call from a guy claiming to be Thomas’ former bass guitarist.”
“That’s the one. Do you know him?”
“No, just he was Dan’s bass man.”
“I’m coming down to the `Springs tomorrow hopefully to see the director of the Memorial Hospital Children’s Hospital. Let’s meet for lunch.”
“Do you know how to get there?”
Bob gave her quick accurate directions how to get to Boulder Street from Platte Avenue.
Barbara pulled up to the hospital front entrance a uniformed girl came out to park the car, the young man in charge of the valets handed her a card, one end he tore off to place under the windshield wiper. Barbara walked in to the lobby turning left into the Children’s section.
The waiting area was full of children from infants to children around twelve. She approached the reception counter.
The nurse looked at her curiously then for a child. “Yes, may I help you, ma`am?”
“Barbara Wise from Western Singer News magazine, I have an appointment to see the director, Dr. Janice Stuart at ten-fifteen.”
The receptionist checked the calendar on her computer. “Very well, ma`am. Have a seat Dr. Stuart will be with you momentarily.”
Barbara sat between two harassed young mothers with their children. The sight of the children gave Barbara a wistful feeling, missing out on the greater part of her life, never having a child of her own. Being Aunt Barb to her nephews and niece filled that gap but having her own to hold and love – she missed.
“Ms. Wise Dr. Stuart will see you now.”
Walking in they greeted each other. Barbara sat the Doctor began, “So Miss Wise, what can I help you with?”
“Yes, Doctor I am doing an article for Western Singer News magazine. Do you recall a Daniel, or Dan Thomas donating substantial amounts of money to your hospital and two in the Denver area?”
“Oh.” Dr. Stuart drew out the word. “That would be before my time I believe. I have come across the name on occasion. The funds stopped coming, I believe ten years ago. I understand there was an accident of some sort. I only started here as Director three years ago. Just a minute, let me get my head nurse, Jackie Hamilton, she was an intern here at that time.”
A few minutes later Jackie Hamilton entered Dr. Stuart’s office.
“Jackie, you were an intern when a Mr. Dan Thomas donated money to the hospital. What do you remember of him?”
“Well his compassion and love for the children. When he’d stop in he’d sing to them, we’d have sing-alongs and just general fun day.” She paused to glance toward Barbara. “I miss those days.”
Barbara picked up her car from the valets and drove down Boulder Avenue toward the center of town where she met Robert Holms.
“Thanks for meeting with me Bob,” Barbara said as she got in the truck, Robert taking her note book and case laying them on the back seat. “I feel like I’m doing something sinister or ...”
She buckled her seat belt. Robert pulled out from the curb driving toward South Nevada.
“Meeting with me for an affair?”
“Yeah, that too.”
Within a few blocks Bob turned on South Nevada heading south to the Broadmoor Center Shopping Center. Soon they were crowded in among off-duty Army and Air Force personnel.
The waitress laid down menu’s and poured them each coffee. Bob picked his choice out in seconds. Looking around at the young soldiers and Airmen Barbara noticed a tear at the corner of his eye. She followed his gaze. “Maryann and I like to come down here on occasion to mix with the military. Two veterans bestowing our worldly knowledge on the kids in hopes they would take away some hard-learned lessons with them.”
“I didn’t know you were in the Army?”
Bob nodded. “Twenty-two years. Four wars. Maryann was in five years before she got out to have our twins.”
“Oh? How old?”
“Twenty. They wanted to be like their mother and me – careerists. But like I told them, they’d probably meet a guy who would change their minds.”
“I didn’t know you were married?”
Bob blushed. “Fifteen years. She passed on just after I got out. I raised the girls myself, sometimes with the help of their aunts, Maryann’s twin sister Theresa and my sister Roberta.
There was a lot of love there for them”
Barbara sensed a story there the same way she sensed a story in Dan Thomas.
“May I ask you something, Bob?” Barbara stopped as their breakfast was brought to them.
Robert nodded as he dug into his omelet and side order of pancakes. She compared it to her healthy order of strawberries on a waffle.
“You are going to eat all that?”
“Yup. Watch me.”
“I am. Anyway, once in a while I do an article for a writer’s magazine like this.”
Robert smiled. “That’s where I’ve seen the name.”
Barbara smiled that somebody recognized her name. “Would you be averse to me doing a story on you after this is over?”
“I’d have to give it thirty seconds worth of thought before I answer.”
Barbara started to think as the waitress poured them more coffee.
“One time a group of us came in here on an early Saturday morning, I think we damn near went
through four gallons of coffee by the time we left. Tipping was a bit different in those days.
Anyway, the girl made out like a little bandit off us. Almost a hundred dollars.”
“Good service.” Barbara ate some more of her strawberry waffle then said, “Your thirty seconds of thought are up.”
Bob stopped said, “Hey you’re good. True. Why not. It will tick off my editor though.”
“Why is that?” Barbara finished her waffle watching Bob make short work of the omelet.
“My business manager and publicist have only tried for the last two years to get a story out of me.”
“Oh? Why didn’t they?”
“Excuses.” Finishing the omelet and pancakes he took a sip of the coffee. “Chief among them I’m on reserve status with the 503rd Combat Reserves. And they seemed to pick the dates I was on reserve status for training or overseas – mainly desert. Which they couldn’t understand – or didn’t want to.”
Bob shrugged his shoulders.
“But the interview?” Barbara had the feeling Bob was playing with her.
“Sure. Sorry about messing with you. One project at a time. We’ll schedule the interview after this is over.”
She met Robert Holmes at a truck stop on 470 West outside of Denver. Bob helped her climb in to the familiar truck settling herself in for the long drive taking Interstate 70 west.
“You suggested Georgetown. Any particular reason?” Barbara had the recorder going as Bob held the truck at interstate speed.
“You familiar with Georgetown?”
Barbara shook her head. “No. I attended the University of Colorado and stayed in the area.”
“Old. The original town is built into the mountain. Not much around there in the way of industry to attract anybody, especially any of the young people.”
Leaving the interstate Bob drove into Georgetown slowly following along old streets, the asphalt worn away, never replaced showing the original paving stones in places. Modern, 1960’s and 2000’s style buildings mixed with late 19th Century. Bob followed Rose Street to 11th Street. Seeing a sign for the Georgetown Mountain Inn a place that offered food and a cold beer. He pulled into the parking area.
“I don’t know about you but I could use something to eat,” Bob said finally shutting the truck’s engine off.
“Beer?” said Barbara looking at the Budweiser beer sign.
“That and a hamburger.”
They got out starting to the door. Bob spotted a sign with old posters near the door. Layers of posters torn by time, the wind and elements flapped in the wind. One caught his eye.
“Barb, our boy Dan Thomas.”
Barbara took out her smart phone taking a picture of the poster, Dan Thomas’ smiling face peeking at them from the stratums of advertisements for other C&W performers.
“Good lord,” Barbara said in a low voice here’s one for Mark Travis when he was still an unknown in country music.”
“Well that’s why we’re here. Let’s see what we can find out.”
They went in crossing the large room, Barbara stopped to look at the assortment of photographs of different country entertainers who had performed there over the years, many well-known artists now were still testing the harsh waters of the recording business then.
The lone waitress sat at that end of the bar smoking a cigarette ignoring them. The bar tender was washing glasses and watching ESPN on one of several wide screen TV’s.
Sitting at the bar Bob and Barbara looked around a second at the mostly empty bar.
The commercial finally came on.
Leaning toward Barbara, Bob said for the bar tender to hear them, “Ever notice the commercials last longer than the game itself?”
The bar tender heard him. “Oh, what can I get ya?”
Barbara nodded. The bar tender took two glasses filling them with beer setting them in front of them.
“And two burgers with cheese and fries,” he added, glancing up at a screen in front of him to see what was happening. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
The bar tender stepped to a window that opened into the kitchen. “Hey Billy two B and B with a slab and two f and f’s to stay!”
Barbara closed her eyes. “I don’t like the way he said that.”
“Does have a bad connotation to it,” Bob agreed.
“Yeah, what do you need?” He glanced back at one of the televisions behind him.
Taking a chance, Bob said, “My friend here and I are doing a story on Dan Thomas a local C and W performer for a C&W magazine in Denver. Didn’t he used to perform here at one time?”
Pulling out a publicity photo of Dan Thomas, she showed it to the bar tender.
Bob and Barbara knew the answer but Bob wanted to hear what they would get for a reply.
The bar keep turned to Bob. “Yeah. Funny you should ask that. Whatever happened to him? Haven’t seen or heard from him since – what, two thousand one – three, there about?”
Barbara asked sipping her beer, “Mind if I tape record this?”
He shrugged. “Greg Fuller.”
“Greg, what can you tell us about him?” she asked as the burgers and fries were served.
Greg thought for a moment then said slowly, “Well to begin, picture this place packed wall to wall on a Friday or Saturday night. The bar area had people standing five to six deep at times. I guess you can say he was the equivalent of the local boy made good. A sort of super celebrity.”
Barbara took a bottle of catsup squirting some on her hamburger then watched Bob add barbeque sauce, relish, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles to his hamburger besides what was already on it. He lifted the top bun to fix the slab of onion then attacked the hamburger.
“As I was saying,” Barbara continued, watching Bob make short work of the hamburger.
Glancing toward Bob, Greg Fuller watched with amusement. “There is now among some country western aficionados who say he was hounded by several Nashville talent scouts shoving money and contracts at him. Have you heard anything about that?”
Fuller shrugged. “You know as well as I do the definition of opinions and rumors.”
Bob stopped to regard the other.
Fuller went on disregarding Bob’s sharp gaze. “As a bar tender I hear every fantastic rumor from ‘oh my god the apocalypse, the world will end tomorrow to, did you hear the latest out of Washington – it’s all a conspiracy?’ After a while it all amounts to the same - trash. And that’s the light way of putting it. Popular rumor had it at the time he drowned in the Platte behind Elitch Gardens. I wouldn’t know I’ve never seen the place.”
Bob gassed up his truck, the Beast Junior, Barbara used the time to add notes on her computer tablet.
Leaning against the side of the truck as the pump ticked off the gallons and price per gallon Bob said, “You know we’re not any further ahead on this then we were two days ago.”
“Then what do you propose we do?” Barbara leaned out the open window to gaze at him.
Bob looked around a minute then the pump clicked off. “I got a hunch. Silver Plume is just up the interstate a ways toward Eisenhower Tunnel.”
“What’s up there?”
“Nothing. That’s the whole point. After that who knows, the guy could have left for Mars by now.”
“Hey, I’m trying, aren’t I?”
Bob got in the truck, then was on the interstate within a few minutes driving west until he saw the sign for Silver Plume angling right he slowed for the exit. He wasn’t sure what he’d find but it was worth a try. His first thought when entering the town was ‘What do people do for a living around here?’
Silver Plume was a modern 21st Century throw-back to the glory days of 19th Century gold and silver mining days of Colorado. Looking Barbara tried to imagine Silver Plume at the height of the silver mining era. Stopping at the intersection Bob pointed to the sign for the tourist railroad. “I take that back. They do have something going up here – a tourist railroad.”
Feeling sarcastic, Barbara said, “Do you want me to cheer now or later?”
“Oooh, she does have a sense of humor.” Bob nodded toward a small grocery store on the opposite corner. “Got that picture of Thomas from his early days?”
Barbara pulled a picture of Thomas out of her brief case. Showing him the picture Bob drove across the intersection to the Buckley General store. Next door was an antique store and garage, two over-the-road wreckers set to the side with an abandoned converted bus with two flat tires and the discarded frame and wheels of a car. A car and truck set in front, they couldn’t tell if they were in for repair or belonged to the guys who owned the place.
Pointing straight ahead Barbara asked, “What does somebody need with a boat up here?”
“Land fishing? The only body of water close to here that qualifies for decent water for a boat is the Arkansas River – without all the rocks in the way of course.”
Pulling up to the store Bob and Barbara got out walking into the store two women, a young girl and an older lady stood at the small counter stocked with candy, gum and trinkets. They looked up when Bob and Barbara walked in. The first thing that hit their minds was ‘Tourist’.
Barbara walked up to the counter. “I’m Barbara Wise with Western Singer News magazine in Denver and my friend Bob Holmes.”
The young girl gasped, “The writer! Mama, Robert Holmes!”
Barbara managed to recover the moment. “We’re doing an article on the disappearance of Dan Thomas the country western singer – performer. We have reason to believe he may be in the Georgetown - Silver Plume area.” She laid the picture on the counter for the two women to see.
“Mom! That’s him! That’s Dan Thomas! I told you that’s him.”
Barbara and Bob could not help but appear startled. They were prepared for another dead end in
their pursuit of Dan Thomas. The young girl took a felt pen to sketch a beard and mustache on the image.
Barbara looked at the picture. “He’s here?”
“Yes, the east end of Main Street.” The girl said pointing in the general direction of the street. The mother appeared annoyed at the girl. “Take a left on to Woodward to Main Street right or east at the town hall and red caboose all the way to the end and a right on to Charles Street – last house on the left.”
“Thank you.” They said, surprised this was the first break they’d had since starting this project.
Leaving they could hear the mother and daughter arguing.
Bob said quietly as he helped Barbara in, “Oops. We just caused a family feud.”
The mother said to the daughter, “You don’t tell strangers where people live around here you don’t know who they are!”
“They’re writers’ mother. Robert Holmes the writer. Maybe they can get Dan singing again. Bob Holmes can,” the girl said sternly arguing. “I miss his singing. How many years has it been since he settled here? Everybody including you knew who he was.”
“But we left him alone. He wants to just live alone for a while,” the mother argued back admonishing the girl.
“Sure, until he married Amy Wells last year!”
“He had to!”
Barbara opened the door Bob boosting her in. “Married? And a child? That’s another plus.”
“Well let’s see what we got to work with,” Bob said closing the door. “This better be worth all the trouble we’ve gone through to find him.”
Driving slowly through the town of less than two hundred people Bob slowed for the intersection. At the intersection was the volunteer fire company, three pumpers. Turning right onto the Main Street he noticed the on corner the front door of the Town Hall was open. One small office for the town clerk. When the mayor was in, his office was on the second floor along with the municipal judge.
The two exchanged looks of mild surprise.
Barbara said, “My walk-in closet is bigger than that.”
“What do you want for a town with just two hundred people?”
Turning to the right they slowly drove along Main Street past rows of former stores, shops now boarded up and colorful but faded homes of blue and white and beige, many of which pre-dated the turn of the Twentieth Century. Bob followed the street until the pavement ran out turning to a dirt track.
“Charles Street,” Barbara said nodding to the sign. “We’re here.”
Turning on to the street Bob drifted to the end. He saw a person – a man with a dark beard was under the hood of a 1984 Ford Bronco, at his feet was an open tool box. Some tools laying on the ground. Leaning on the left fender was a young woman, playing in the dirt at their feet was a toddler not more than eighteen months old. He pulled up behind a large shiny metallic blue semi-tractor rig.
Barbara wanted to get a picture but better be sure first.
They got out crossing the street. Barbara looked back seeing the names Dan and Amy Thomas, Inc. in white script on the side of the sleeper box.
Bob said pleasantly, the man looked up still holding the air cleaner in his hand. “Hello, Dan
“Yeah and you are the writers June from the General Store called about you were headed this
way. She said she chewed April out for giving you directions how to get here.”
“Yeah, we heard her. I am Bob Holmes ….”
The young woman’s face light up with a smile. “The writer! I’ve a couple of your books.”
Barbara sighed with relief. Bob’s name became a talisman bringing them good luck with people they talked with. Bob smiled nodding his head to them.
“I’m Barbara Wise with Western Singer News magazine in Denver.”
They shook hands.
“I bet you’re here to do a story on me,” he said tossing the tools back in the tool box nudging the lid closed with a foot. “Well – no use running from myself anymore.”
He looked toward his wife for her nod of approval. His hands were greasy and dirty, he picked up the box taking it to the back of the truck closing the tail gates. The woman picked the boy up as they turned to go inside. Barbara went back to the truck to get her bags sensing this was the defining moment in Thomas’ life. Hurrying back to the group they went in the house the woman setting the toddler down to run free.
“Come on in the living room,” Dan gestured to the living room. “Please.”
“Coffee?” Amy asked taking the glass pot from the Mr. Coffee maker.
Barbara pointed to Bob. “He might, he drinks it by the gallons.”
Dan went to scrub his hands while Amy made the coffee and took out four cups.
Amy laughed. “So does Dan. Milk and sugar?”
Barbara nodded. Bob said, “Tankers coffee -- black.”
Barbara could not help making a face. “His stomach.”
Bob stood holding his hat in hand looking at several pictures and two shadow boxes with flags folded to a triangle, awards and decorations and brass plaques.”
Dan watched as Bob looked the pictures and awards over.
“In the Army?” Bob asked looking back at Dan he did not miss the tear sliding down his face.
Barbara took out the tape recorder. Amy was standing beside her. Barbara pointed to the recorder, Amy nodded and Barbara turned it on standing close to the two men not saying a word just letting the tape run.
Pointing Dan said, “Dad. He passed away about two years ago. Major in the Army. That’s my big bother. He died in Afghanistan. And those – me in Korea before I began my singing career.”
Bob said with a surprised tone. “You were in the Army?”
Dan nodded proudly. “ETS’d an E5 then I pretty much fell into singing.”
“What unit were you with in Korea?”
“Seventh Cav Regiment in Jong ju go.”
“My last assignment before retiring as an E8 was B Company, First of the Sixty-third Armor.”
Barbara was glad she had the foresight to put a fresh tape and batteries in the little hand held recorder. She had to admit, not for a second would she have guessed what Dan’s back ground was. He never talked about it and shunned any publicity. Bob quickly found common ground to draw Thomas out.
They sat down, Barb and Bob sitting on the sofa, the tape recorder on the coffee table between them.
“I know after all these years I suppose I owe everyone an explanation why I skipped out like I
did. The day before I got the call my brother was killed in Afghan. I went to pieces almost overnight. I didn’t know what to do. Gordy my lead bass guitarist said I couldn’t go on the way I was. That night I wanted to die. We must have sat up the better part of the night. Gordy and two other guys cooked up my dropping out – getting lost. With nothing else to lose I went along with the idea. We packed everything. One of the guys hit the dumpsters of a couple liquor stores and a Wal-Mart for boxes. We packed everything in Gordy’s Suburban. The night of the supposed performance is when I went through with the plan. I wreaked the truck in the Platte near Elitch Gardens, jumped the Platte and was gone a few minutes later. Gordy got me another truck then a few months later when I moved up here changed the paper work from Gordy’s name to mine. I just laid low for a few months `Til the dust and feathers settled. But singing and entertainment? No, I am comfortable where I am at now. The most stress I have now is keeping my log book straight for the ICC.”
“What are you doing now?”
“Trucking. Mostly hauling rock and timber right now. I know you couldn’t miss the Blue Devil out front. Amy picked it out at the dealership. Paid cash for it – it’s ours. Anyway, I pick up a box trailer next week that’s when the three of us head out cross country for two weeks.”
Before they left to return to Denver, Amy picked up the squirming toddler to sit on her lap, Dan picked up his guitar strumming a popular ballad for the baby. Barbara was amazed the baby settled down as his parents sang to him. Barbara felt herself chocking up as they sang.
Bob and Barbara closeted themselves in her apartment to write the article, Dan Thomas C&W Singer: The Mystery Unfolds.
Robert and Barbara presented the proofs to her editor Wayne Cannon. Sitting across from Cannon they anxiously awaited his verdict.
“You guys happened to trip across him in Silver Plume? Where’s that?”
“West on I-70 near the Eisenhower Tunnel,” said Bob noting the place on the copy about the Tunnel. “When they cut the tunnel that’s probably the most excitement that town has seen since the silver mining days.”
“I wouldn’t know I am not from this area originally. Tennessee.”
Bob was helping Barb in to his truck. Pulling out of the parking lot he said, “Now what?”
“You,” said Barb laying the tape recorder on the console between them. “You owe me.”
Bob looked at her with feigned surprise. “I owe you what?”
“That interview – or did you so handily forget?”
Bob laughed as he pulled on to South Broadway driving north to the interstate.
“Touche… Well it all began …”
# # #