Chapter 1

Boulder, Colorado
Thursday, October 26, 1978



Jon Cells never dressed up for Halloween, so seeing all the decorations in the lobby of the Hotel Boulderado where he had a month-to-month lease only made him feel that much more alienated. In the politically charged atmosphere that ended the war in Vietnam and created a culture gap in the American population so distinct that it was epitomized in name by one of the most popular chains of retail clothing stores ever to launch, it was hard for a musician to make a living. The country was deeply split between young and old, the way it was and the way it could be, and it was easy to tell who was dressed – and groomed – for each part. There were still plenty of people stuck in the middle, but Jon always knew which side of the divide he was on. That much had stayed the same. He had been playing guitar, growing his hair long, smoking pot, and traveling on a one-way ticket to an alternative lifestyle since before he was out of high school. It was a journey he hoped would take him far away from the purgatory of suburban New Jersey where he had started out.

And Halloween was so suburbia. That’s why he hated it, and that’s why he was in a bad mood the minute he saw the orange and black crepe paper threaded through the carved wood railings of the hotel. What was Halloween doing in his house? Shouldn’t it be banished from all the cool places? Cool people were already cool, and they didn’t need to dress up and become someone else. That’s what straight people had to do; become someone else to feel alive. He knew he was going to heaven or hell – and either place was okay with him as long as it wasn’t that vacant wasteland of in-between.

Wearing tight jeans, pointy boots, and a partially buttoned nylon shirt, he got off the vintage elevator and walked through the lobby as if he owned the place. At six-foot-two with a tussled mop of dirty blond hair and sculpted Nordic features, his entrance into the elegantly funky Fleur de Lis restaurant on the ground floor did not go unnoticed. A friendly hostess in a black leotard and long floral skirt guided him to his usual table. “This one okay?” Mavis asked rhetorically.

“Swell,” Jon sighed and slipped into one side of the two-person booth.

Mavis noticed his sour mood. “Coffee?” she asked delicately.

“Thanks.” Jon looked around and was disappointed to see that Halloween decorations had blighted the restaurant’s charm. What was it about Halloween that everyone else found so interesting? Colored plastic streamers strung over curtain rods? Tennis balls draped in white napkins hanging from lights? Cardboard cutout black cats in midprance?

Mavis poured his coffee at the serving station and brought it to him. Jon seemed particularly conflicted, so she asked, “Everything okay?”

“Everything’s a long word,” Jon grumbled. “But these Halloween decorations are … .” He stared at them and shook his head.

“Yeah, they’re great, aren’t they? I love Samhain!” Mavis enthused. She had changed her name from Michelle when she became a practicing Wiccan. “The veil between the worlds will be thin this weekend,” she repeated the myth.

Jon didn’t know what she was talking about, so Mavis went to another table. Staring at a giant pumpkin with a hollow smile that was situated directly in his line of sight, he took four packets of raw sugar, ripped all their tops off at the same time, and dumped the contents into his coffee. Sweeping the errant granules onto the floor with a wipe of his sleeve, he glanced around the restaurant to see if any of the other regulars were there.

A waitress arrived with a menu while he was mindlessly stirring his cup with a spoon. Sasha knew he was grumpy even before he said anything. “Good morning, Jon,” she said sweetly, hoping a familiar smile would brighten his day. “The usual?”

Jon looked up at her with a twisted grin. “No, I don’t think so, it being so close to Halloween and all that. I think I’ll try something different. What do you recommend? Orange juice and black toast?”

She assumed he was joking but wasn’t sure. “That’s what you want? Orange juice and toast well done?”

Sasha was very sexy – something Jon knew from firsthand experience – and Jon delighted in teasing her. “No, not necessarily. They just seem like the right Halloween colors,” he said sarcastically. “What do you recommend?”

Sasha was determined to have a nice day and kept her priorities simple. “I usually eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast, but you can get whatever you want.”

Jon’s hand slithered under the table and gripped her thigh. “What about you? Are you on the menu this morning? Mmm?” He squeezed.

She backed away awkwardly. “Jon! We’ve been through that. Please just tell me what you want for breakfast,” she said, flustered. “There’s another table waiting.”

“Oh, all right, if you insist. I’ll have deviled eggs and ghost soup. If you’re all out of that, just bring me the breakfast special.”

Marco, Jon’s bass player, glided into the restaurant lip-synching “Just the Way You Are” along with the hotel’s speaker system. He had a love-hate relationship with the Billy Joel song because it was the soundtrack to his last failed relationship.

Jon didn’t like Billy Joel and thought the song was sappy. “I hate you just the way you are,” Jon sang as Marco slid into the seat opposite him.

Marco’s faded denim jacket was open and his medium-length hair was still drying from the shower. “Hey, man,” he greeted, “sleep good?”

Marco never had anything important to say, so Jon didn’t bother answering him.

“Well I didn’t. Asshole in the next room had a party that didn’t stop until I don’t know when.”

“The room with the famous writer guy? What’s his name again?”

“William Burroughs. He’s a junky or something,” Marco added with disgust.

“I heard that too. The chick I get coke from out in Table Mesa sells to his little lover boy.”

For all his rock and roll pretension, Marco was still a white boy from a middle-class family. “Yech! Gay, junky sleazebag – and he’s the one that’s famous!”

Jon stirred his coffee. “I know, man. Whadya gotta do to make it these days? Fuck sheep?”

Marco noticed the decorations. “No man, the new thing is horror. Dare ’em and scare ’em, slice ’em and dice ’em. You hear about that new movie Halloween? There’s less blood than Jaws, but I still want to see it.”

Jon didn’t really care about movies because he wasn’t in them.

Marco waved for coffee and continued, “So what time are we rehearsing today? I’ve got some things to do this morning; places to go, people to meet.”

“The guy at BlueStar said to come by the studio after lunch, so let’s meet there at one o’clock. We can rehearse after that. You hear from Frankie?”

“He said he could get off work early if we were ready to jam. I’m picking up my bass from the shop this afternoon.” Marco looked around and realized how overdone the Halloween decorations were. “Holy shit. What’s happened to this place? I’ve never seen it so decked out.”

“Yeah, I know. So lame.”

“I guess they did it for the big Halloween party this weekend.”

“Party? Here? I thought Halloween wasn’t until next week.”

Marco asked Sasha about it when she came to take his order. “We’re going to have the party this weekend,” she explained, “‘cause, well, it’s the weekend, and that’s when you have parties.” She thought it made perfect sense.

“Oh, I just can’t wait,” Jon deadpanned. “Scaredy-cats and goofy ghosts.”

Sasha knew he was being sarcastic. “You should come, Jon, really. It’s not going to be just a regular Halloween party.”

“Don’t tell me; everyone’s going to wear a costume.”

“Of course, silly, but that’s not why it’s going to be so special.”

“No?”

“No. The movie company is paying for everything. Free drinks and catered food. Everyone’s invited.”

“What movie?”

“Halloween. You guys are so dense! They paid Mavis and me to help them decorate.”

“But why are they having a party here?”

“Why not? The Boulderado always has great Halloween parties.”

Marco was beginning to like the idea. “I don’t usually dress up for Halloween, but this could be cool.”

Jon reconsidered. “I might have to peek in on the festivities to see who has the best strumpet outfit on.”

Baby don’t you tell me no lies,

‘Cause I got a little case of Terminal Thighs.

“The posters say there’s going to be live music and dancing.”

“Dancing? Where?”

As they imagined how it was going to be set up, Simone LeFete, the owner of the downstairs lingerie boutique, strolled into the restaurant and seated himself at the table in the corner. His slinky Asian girlfriend, whose straight black mane was streaked with a shock of blond, trailed him. Covering his well-fed paunch with a loose-fitting jacket and his balding curls with a beret, Simone exerted a secret-keeping, silent influence over the restaurant. He acknowledged Jon, then did the same to several other regulars. Mavis brought him coffee before he asked. A rough-shaven man rose from another table and sat down opposite him. Glancing furtively as they talked, their quiet conversation ended when someone else stopped to say hello. Flatware clinked a porcelain melody over satisfied murmurs, and sweet bacon odors wafted through the posh air of an unhurried Fleur de Lis morning. An assortment of regular customers and overnight guests savored the tasty Eggs Benedict, seasoned potatoes, custom French toast, and whole grain pancakes. The late-night anthem “Hot Blooded” oozed through the timeless atmosphere of the historic hotel that had been welcoming guests since 1909, and the admixture of diners expanded into uncharted territory when a delegation of Naropa Buddhists occupied the large round table near the window. Having successfully transplanted their secretive disciplines in the New World, the Buddhists’ roots were much deeper than anyone realized.

Throughout its long history, the brick and limestone Hotel Boulderado had always been a beachhead for the waves of population beating against the eastern shores of the Rocky Mountains. The building’s five-story architecture, reminiscent of a luxury cruise ship, placed all the rooms on the outside and left the center for communal experience. The main lobby boasted a white marble drinking fountain whose water came directly from a nearby glacier, the prominent stairway featured ornate wood balusters and a landing that overlooked the lobby’s patterned tile floor, framed photos of the miners and pioneers who had settled the area decorated the original panelled walls, and a massive covered entryway supported by Greek columns was designed to withstand the elements and instill the security of European culture into the brave souls who made the Wild West their home.

Still the largest and most imposing building in the downtown area, the elegant hotel with Victorian flourishes was ground zero for Boulder’s recent arrivals. Visiting yoga teachers, iconic poets, entrepreneurial drug dealers, and disaffected youth from both coasts descended on the picturesque town tucked into the foothills of the Front Range like a swarm of social insects, and some took advantage of the hotel’s efforts to stay booked by becoming long-term residents. They worshipped the area’s natural beauty with and without chemically stimulated vision, were reborn in the icy waters of Boulder Creek, communed with the local mountain spirits, made businesses out of the wild herbs they picked, tooled leather goods from the abundant cowhide, panned for gold on lazy Sundays, and fell so much in love with the ten-speed biking lifestyle that many bought houses, got married, had kids, opened stores, and transformed the downtown economy. But they were always the outsiders.

Situated at the base of stunningly scenic rock faces that marked the end of the Great Plains, Boulder was also home to twenty thousand Colorado University students whose Big 12 football team had a real live buffalo for a mascot, and whose cafeteria was named after an unfortunate prospector who resorted to cannibalism for survival. The stately campus grounds, dominated by multistory buildings faced with native sandstone and topped with red adobe tiles, were a magnet for well-heeled matriculates who played Frisbee on the expansive lawns, basked on outdoor blankets, strummed their guitars, frolicked in Hacky Sack circles, and even got some studying done. Not surprisingly, picnicking under the towering cottonwoods and gorging on the pleasures of youth made CU a popular place to get a higher education.

But Boulder was not just a university town. The National Commission on Atmospheric Research (NCAR) called it home, the controversial Rocky Flats nuclear weapon manufacturing facility was located on its southern edge, a massive IBM office complex was located a few miles to the East, and scores of smaller support businesses tied to the scientific, military, and academic communities employed many local residents and occupied warehouses and storefronts throughout Boulder County. The direct descendants of settlers who had driven the Native Americans to the brink of extinction in the gold rush of the last century monopolized the politics, but Boulder was constantly reinventing itself, and the latest incursion of idealistic hippies, drug smugglers, and Tibetan Buddhists was more like a colorful chapter in the history of the area than what defined it.

The idea that independent filmmakers from Hollywood would choose Boulder, and its iconic, centrally located hotel, to launch a national promotion for their groundbreaking movie surprised no one who had spent any time there. In keeping with its business model of conferring its historic gravitas for a price, the Boulderado had recently hosted an international Buddhist convention featuring the Dalai Lama, a well-attended weekend symposium of UFO enthusiasts, and the pre-rush hazing for the most popular fraternity on the CU campus. The owner of the hotel, a reclusive millionaire who rarely left his mountain redoubt, entrusted his manager, Jack Aikens, to make all the arrangements, and although Jack didn’t always follow all the rules, he was very good at keeping the hotel full of paying customers and staging elaborate events. Mr. Lawry, the hotel’s resident octogenarian, was always invited, but Chief Niwot never was.