I promised I would never tell this story. Fearful people make foolish promises. Now I know peace cannot enter where dark secrets dwell.
We first heard the name that would forever change Glendon Lake, New York in the fall of 1985. A late September sun washed the Adirondack village in a shimmering light. Like a protective barrier against the harsh winter to come, Glen Mountain cradled the town from the north. Along the southern edge, the dark blue waters of Glendon Lake caressed empty beaches.
With migrating birds drawing V’s against the autumn sky, and comets of color brushing the trees, the little mountain resort was at its most picturesque. Few people noticed. After Labor Day, residues of tourism are scrubbed from the face of the village, and the locals are more comfortable in the smoky shadows of Corky’s Bar than out in the open air.
Corky’s is the heart of town. If you want to hear the latest local news, you make it a point to stop in at least once a day. Since my daily visits lasted a good part of the afternoon, I was there the first time the name Devon Wells was spoken.
Mike Williams and I were at our usual spot at the bar having our usual conversation, trying to figure out how Mike could make some money. He was in dire straits and I was anxious to help him. Day after day, he voiced his despair, and day after day, I tried to lift his spirits.
My concern for Mike was partially fueled by guilt. In 1978, he bought the construction business his father and I started in the fifties during Glendon Lake’s heyday. Even after those lucrative years, there was always enough building within a hundred mile radius to keep us busy. Not long after Mike bought the company, however, the bottom fell out of construction in the North Country. Mike was reduced to doing repair work on the old stores, motels and cabins that cater to the middle class tourists who pass through in summer.
Winters were long and lean, but Mike had been getting by. He was bored though, and longed to build something. Then his mother goes and sends him one of those newly popular self-help, you can do anything books. It convinced him he had to take a risk to turn his life around. So, he decided to build a log cabin on Glen Mountain.
His father and I bought most of the lower western section of the mountain years ago. About a mile and a half wide, the property consists mostly of gently rolling forest. Midway, a road runs up the mountain. My house is about a quarter of a mile up on the east side. A little beyond that on the west side is a twenty acre spread of fairly flat land. When Mike Senior retired to Florida, I bought out his share all but that parcel which he wanted to give to his son. When Mike decided to build on ten acres of it, his father financed him and I offered to help.
Mike Junior hoped to sell it as a summer home, or at least rent it for the season. It was a desperate act; Glendon Lake hasn’t attracted full-time summer residents for many years. The tourists who come here can’t afford more than a one week vacation, and not a fancy one at that. But Mike was always a bit of a dreamer. Guess he thought he could turn Glendon’s luck around as well as his own. No one else was surprised there hadn’t been a nibble on the place, to buy or rent, in over two years.
The cabin turned into an added expense Mike could ill afford. Then, last June, he fell off the roof of the Double D Diner while tarring some weak spots. His right leg was broken in two places, his left knee shattered, and he was out of commission during the busiest time of the year. He refused to ask his father for any more money, and was a wreck worrying about how to pay the bills and put food on the table.
It might not be rational, but I felt some responsibility for Mike and his problems. I wanted to help. From the higher elevation of my barstool, I looked down at Mike slumped in his wheelchair. The sorry sight of him made me decide to go ahead and offer the loan I’d been wanting to extend for some time. As a sixty-two year old bachelor, I have more money than most people in Glendon Lake, and little to spend it on. It was only knowledge of the fierce Williams’ pride and quick temper that held me back. But things were at a critical point, and I figured Mike would take money from me quicker than welfare.
As I cleared my throat to speak, the door of Corky’s flew open and the bulk of George Henderson filled the frame. He paused, panting with the exertion of carrying his body from his real estate office across the street.
“Mike! Mike!” George yelled as he caught his breath. He squinted his eyes, peering about the cloudy barroom in search of Mike. I recall the moment vividly for it was the only time in my life that the sight of George Henderson gave me pleasure. I gulped my beer, glad not to have to face the awkwardness of offering Mike money.
“Over here, George,” Mike called.
Not waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, George followed Mike’s voice across the room. He hunkered forward and waved his arms in front of him to clear a path to where we sat. He completely missed Mike sitting in the wheelchair and nearly landed in his lap. And it was there, sprawled between the bar and the arm of the wheelchair, that George made his momentous announcement.
“Praise God, Mike, we got an offer on the cabin!”
Silence fell over the bar. I believe tears sprang to Mike’s eyes, but he quickly dropped his head. It wasn’t but a few seconds before he whispered, “Take it. Whatever it is, take it.”
George regained his pompous air along with his footing. Smoothing his jacket, he chuckled at a slow, deliberate rate. Then the sound deepened and his belly wiggled as he cried, “Oh, but Mikey, that’s the best part. They’re going to pay full price!”
Corky Moran let out a long, slow whistle from behind the bar.
Mike’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You got to be shitting me!”
George rubbed his hands together. “I shit you not, my good man. I shit you not.”
“Mother of Christ, I don’t believe this.” Mike looked anxiously at me and then Corky for confirmation that we’d heard the same thing and he wasn’t dreaming.
“Well, it’s the God’s honest truth, Mike, old boy. The God’s honest truth. I guess you could say the worm has fully turned, eh? The worm has fully turned!”
George settled his bulk on a barstool and proceeded to draw his story out to far greater lengths than necessary.
“Less than an hour ago, the telephone rang. I was walking in the door from lunch. Marcy wasn’t there. Been home sick all week, you know. Flu bug or some such thing. Anyway, I answered the phone. There was a man on the line identified himself as a lawyer from New York City. Oops,” George said condescendingly, “an attorney. I do beg your pardon. This attorney person said he was representing a certain party, a… hold on, I got it right here in my pocket. Right. A Miss Devon Wells. That’s it. Says this Devon Wells person wants to buy your cabin and the ten acres that goes with it.”
“When did she see it?” my curiosity prompted me to ask.
George turned toward me. “God only knows, Ben. That’s a mystery in itself. I never showed it to her. I’ve shown the cabin so few times I can remember exactly who and when.”
“What else did the lawyer fella say?” Mike wanted to know.
“Well, he asked the price, and I told him. And we’re talking the original, Mike.” George grinned, delighted with his own business acumen. “I know we discussed dropping the price after season, but we never got around to setting a new one. So, I just went ahead and quoted the original. The lawyer didn’t hesitate a second. Not a second. Said that would be fine, draw up the contract and send it to his office. He gave me the address. Meantime, he said, he’d put a thousand dollar binder in the mail today to hold the property.”
“A thousand dollars!” Mike’s face lit up. His joy quickly gave way to worry. “What if they change their mind? Do we get to keep the thousand?”
“Well, no, not at this point. It’s what they call good faith money. They’re not legally obligated to nothing until the contract is signed. Then they put down ten percent and if they back out after that, well, they’re just shit out of luck, as the saying goes.”
“Did you mail the contract yet?” Mike pressed.
“Not yet, Mike. I wanted to find you first and deliver the good news.”
“That’s fine, George, and I do appreciate it. Now how’s about hustling back to the office and getting that contract in the mail?”
“That’s just what I intend to do, Mike. Just exactly. In fact, I promised the lawyer I’d do just that, get it in the mail today. Believe it or not, we could close this thing out in a month. These people seem as anxious to buy the cabin as you are to sell it.” George pushed himself off the barstool.
“Thanks, Georgie boy. You done a fine job. Just fine.” Mike patted him on the arm.
“Why thank you, Mike. You know I aim to please. The satisfaction of my clients is of utmost importance to me…”
“Sure, George. You don’t have to tell me. Now you get on with what’s gotta be done.”
“Fear not. I’ll have it in the evening mail.” George hurried out of Corky’s with a grin to rival Mike’s.
I ordered drinks for everyone in the bar. Together, we toasted the sale of Mike’s cabin. As he raised his glass to his lips, Mike whispered, “Thank you, sweet Jesus.”