Life and death in the Foothills

What happens when a small town finds itself in the path of suburban sprawl? Discontent. Gunfire. And nostalgia.

The Miners Club in Georgetown, where the locals meet to discuss the way it used to be.

The Miners Club in Georgetown, where the locals meet to discuss the way it used to be.

Photo By Larry Dalton

You can see it, driving east on Interstates 50 and 80. The slow, steady creep of suburbia into the Sierra Nevada foothills. This soon-to-be-seamless sprawl stretches from Folsom to El Dorado Hills to Cameron Park to Placerville. From Roseville to Rocklin to Newcastle to Auburn. A malignant, pastel-stained rash of uniform stucco boxes undulates over the rolling hillsides of parched amber grass. It’s the relentless march of the American dream.

You can see it slowly squeeze the Georgetown Divide between its pincers. The northern push of Placerville’s houses and vineyards across the South Fork of the American River. The continued expansion of Auburn southward, across the Middle Fork.

Follow Highway 49 south from Auburn, and it intersects with Highway 193 at Cool, a crude, wooden strip mall of a town. Drive east on 193, and the space between homes begins to widen out. From the ridge tops, tinted glass windows of modern “smart houses” shine down upon derelict clapboard cottages. Real estate signs sprout from empty fields. Near the outskirts of Georgetown, a new shopping center diverts travelers away from the town center marked by the four-way stop at the intersection of Highway 193 and Main Street. One day soon, the stop signs will be replaced by a traffic light. Civilization, with all its inherent goods and evils, is coming to Georgetown, population 1,152.

It is really already here.

But for now, the four-way stop remains a four-way stop. More often than not, a white El Dorado County sheriff’s patrol car lurks under an oak tree at the intersection, waiting to nab tourists who roll through the stop signs, or locals who list out of the Georgetown Hotel or the Miners Club or any of the other bars that line Main Street, and dare to get behind the wheel of an automobile.

It’s a town born in blood, fire and gold. Prospectors flocked to the area during the Gold Rush, and more than a few ended their lives violently. The Georgetown Hotel has burned down and been rebuilt five times since 1860. A recent history of the area claims that Georgetown has “more ghosts than people.” The days of the wild, wild West may be long gone, but the independent frontier spirit remains, and longtime locals view the outside world with suspicion.

But that hasn’t stopped the outside world from coming.

And it’s brought its own special brand of drugs and violence with it.

In 1997, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department found a working methamphetamine lab, a “bubbler” in the parlance of narcotics officers, a few short miles from Georgetown, on Tipton Hill Road. It was the biggest meth lab bust in El Dorado County history. Police found 11 pounds of finished methamphetamine at the site, which was on property belonging to Georgetown’s Andrew Murphy. Murphy, who turned state’s evidence in exchange for a reduced sentence, testified that he allowed the lab to be run on his property in exchange for drugs, money and relief from a prior drug debt. San Joaquin County resident Terry Muscio was convicted as the lab’s ringleader. Four Mexican nationals were convicted for operating the lab.

And last month, just a few miles east of Tipton Hill, Herald resident William Hunt, 42, and his son Matthew, 8, were deer hunting on Hunt family property when they stumbled upon a marijuana plantation and were shot and critically wounded by the man guarding it. William Hunt suffered a collapsed lung and lost his spleen and part of his liver due to the shooting. One buckshot pellet passed completely through Matthew Hunt’s brain. Another lodged in his ear. He was in a coma for a week after the shooting. Both Hunts are recovering slowly.

Luis Lopes Arriaga, 77, the man allegedly guarding the marijuana, was charged with two counts of attempted murder in the case. According to his son, Mario Lopez, who was present at the shooting, Arriaga had allegedly been hired to guard the marijuana by Silvestre Gonzalez, William Hunt’s brother-in-law. Gonzalez was arrested last week in Rhonert Park in Sonoma County. He was armed with an AK-47 and a pistol and was carrying six pounds of marijuana. Gonzalez was arraigned in Santa Rosa on several felony charges and also faces two counts of attempted murder in El Dorado County for his role in the Hunts’ shooting.

It’s the kind of story that resonates well with the outlaw heritage bequeathed by Georgetown’s gold country past. The son of the father who shot the son and the father was hired by the brother-in-law of the father who was shot. It has an incestuous, backwoods ring to it.

Similar things have happened here before.


But ask anybody in the Miners Club about the marijuana garden shooting; ask, for instance, bartender Bob Russell, and the first thing you’re likely to hear is, “Must have been out-of-towners. People around her don’t do stuff like that. It’s stupid to shoot someone over that. If you’re going to lose your crop, lose your crop, but don’t go to prison over it.”

The question seems to evoke annoyance more than anything else. Of course it was out-of-towners. Mexican nationals. It was in all the papers. Now let us get back to our drinks.

They start drinking early at the Miners Club. Maybe old Lee van Weegan will come in at 2:30 p.m., drink his two small drafts and spend $20 on rounds, just so he won’t have to sit at home and watch the soap operas his wife is addicted to. Or Audrey Butts might drop by to drown her considerable sorrows in the hard stuff, or to play the piano.

At 73, Butts has spent most of her life in Georgetown. She came here in 1943, back when the population was just 300. Her parents ran a dairy that delivered milk in clear glass bottles to the doorsteps of the townspeople each morning. Her grandfather was an electrician at the Beebe Mine. However, the mining industry was already on the wane, to be displaced in importance by “green gold"—the timber industry—shortly after WWII. She met her husband, who is still alive, in 1947; had her first son, Stan, in 1949. The mills kept producing wood throughout the 1950s; Audrey kept producing babies. Daughter Peggy in 1952. Son Chris in 1956. John in 1961. Catherine in 1962.

The mills are gone now, and so are the mines. There are ghosts in Georgetown; there’s a ghost in this bar, but Butts won’t talk about it. The drugs and the violence were too close. The blood is still fresh. The memory still hurts.

Bob Russell’s shift begins at four in the afternoon. He’ll chat up the old folks and play bar games with the patrons, who begin to trickle in around quitting time. Maybe Chris Butts, one of Audrey’s two surviving sons, will drop by to sip beer and talk quietly about hunting or the weather.

Susan Gagliardo is known to pop in on occasion. In 1997, a foothills real estate agent told her, “Don’t buy a bar in Georgetown. They shoot people there. They beat people up. They hang people in the streets.” No doubt the agent was exaggerating somewhat. No one’s been hanged around here since the 19th century. And while certain patrons of the Miners Club have been known to occasionally engage in fisticuffs, Gagliardo ignored the advice and bought the bar anyway. The previous owner had only one stipulation: keep the place the same. She has, right down to the deer heads and Christmas tree lights hanging from the walls.

Gagliardo formerly lived in Moss Beach, a small town near Half Moon Bay. She was fed up with the traffic and the crime in the Bay Area, so she “traded the ocean for the mountains.”

“I call this paradise,” she says. She freely admits her customers can be a rough crew. She’s aware of the recent marijuana shooting. But for her, Georgetown represents one last chance to live a small-town life, free, at least most of the time, of modern life’s complexities.

The serious partying begins at nightfall. Mountainous, bearded men dressed in denim and flannel swill bottles of beer down like soda pop. Fresh-faced country girls slug down shots of tequila. Russell hustles to keep everyone’s glass full.

If he’s on that night, local musician Richard Dade, looking like a cross between Waylon Jennings and James Coburn, regally strides in sometime around 7 p.m. At age 11, Dade played his first gig at the Georgetown Hotel across the street. At age 48, he’s playing the same place this New Year’s Eve. He has an impressive repertoire of songs, classic standards such as “King of the Road” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go.”

From the back corner of the bar, he launches into the first number, and the women, and even a few of the men, form a tight circle around him. His girlfriend, Peggy, strikes off-key notes on a bell chime, or murmurs background vocals through a second microphone. Big Piano Bob, the Lake Tahoe legend, trades 12-bar blues riffs on the bar piano with Dade; then it’s break time, and everybody goes outside to smoke cigarettes.

Dade’s good enough to be a star anywhere, but he’s chosen to be a star here. He lives a couple of miles up Wentworth Springs Road, in a small hamlet called Quintette.

“My daddy was one of the first or second people to buy land up in Quintette,” Dade says between puffs on a Marlboro. “He said I’d be thankful for that someday, and damned if he wasn’t right.”

Inside the bar, Bob Russell takes up Dade’s guitar. He fiddles with the tuning then, in a foghorn voice, breaks into a Bobby Bare tune:

Washed my face in muddy water

Picked my teeth with a rusty spoke

I’ll do dishes and your daughters

Foothills residents know it’s miles to any population center, and they like it that way.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Anything that might get broke

Peggy flashes Dade from across the bar with her bare breasts.

It’s the signal for Dade to take the stage again, and he teams up with Russell, who switches to slide guitar, using a shot glass from the bar as a slide. Peggy and another woman grab the second microphone, and the quartet perform a bluesy rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

The circle forms once again, and the small crowd works itself into a Dionysian frenzy.

For the moment, the outside world, relentlessly creeping in, is forgotten.

“You know what I like about this place?” a bleary-eyed man slurs near closing time. He’s talking about Georgetown. “Once I broke down in Reno. I called a friend here because I didn’t have any money. He drove all the way up there to help me out on a second’s notice. That’s the Way We Are.”

As if to prove his point, a car overturns eight miles up Wentworth Springs Road not more than 15 minutes later. It’s a fairly straight section of road, and it’s not exactly clear what caused the accident. Two men— boys, really, not much older than drinking age, if that—kneel down beside the car, trying to turn it right-side up.

“Hell, yes, we’re drunk,” says the taller one, the passenger. A large knot swells where his forehead struck the windshield. The driver is apparently uninjured.

“Shut up and help turn this thing over!” he hisses at the passenger.

There is no way the two of them can turn the car over, and the driver starts to panic, making little animal sounds, little squeals and squonks, the kind of sounds people make when they know their life is about to take a drastic turn for the worse.

“You got to get out of here; you got to run before the cops come!” the passenger says.

“C’mon, help me!” the driver whines.

“You got to run!”

The cavalry arrives just in the nick of time, two carloads of men who look as though they’ve been doing a fair amount of drinking themselves. Five or six of them line up next to the upside down car, grab on, and heave it back over on its tires. Then they push it off the side of the road.

There’s no broken glass, no blood, no trace that there’s been an accident.

It’s like it never happened.


In the morning, a lumber truck rolls down Wentworth Springs Road, laden with enormous pine logs at least 12 feet in diameter. You don’t see many loads like that these days, says Mike Gonsalve, owner of the Camp Chiquita Campground, which is not more than two miles east from where those boys rolled their car. In years past, 300 or 400 such loads might come down the mountain in a single day.

But he’s only seen three or four this entire year. Increasingly strict environmental regulations have decimated the timber industry in El Dorado County. In most parts of the El Dorado National Forest, only selective logging is permitted. Old growth trees, the big trees, the few that are left, are off limits. Gonsalve says the logs on the trailer were probably from a tree that was already dead.

Gonsalve figured he’d purchased the perfect business 20 years ago when he and his wife bought the campground. The National Forest butts up right next to his property; it’s crisscrossed with well-maintained trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians. But the same environmentalists who have wreaked havoc on the timber industry have also made things difficult for recreational users of the forest. He pulls a thick U.S. Forest Service environmental impact report from behind the counter of the small camping supply store he runs, offers it for some quick night reading.

“They’ve created a monster out here, and one of these days, it’s going to blow up,” he insists. He’s referring to past National Forest Service policies that have allowed dead growth to pile up, turning the woods into a tinder box. Like many locals, he’s frustrated with the federal government’s management of the forest. “About the only thing you can do on it now is have a marijuana farm. They’ve got some real plantations out there, more than 1,000 plants.”

The recent shooting occurred right behind his campground, near the Blodgett Experimental Forest. El Dorado County Sheriff narcotic officers found 1,250 harvested plants at the scene of the crime.

“It’s been going on for years,” he says. But not to worry. “It will all change when we get a new president.”

Make no mistake, this is Bush country. Political placards promoting Al Gore for president are rarer than those trucks carrying the really big logs. Bush signs are everywhere. There’s a strange irony at work here. The voters in this staunch Republican county want to preserve their traditional way of life. Yet the one political action that might have done the most to preserve it—1998’s Measure V, a population cap that would have limited build-out growth in the county—was soundly defeated.

Irony abounds in the woods that stretch out behind Camp Chiquita and beyond. The recent heavy winds have left a carpet of leaves and pine needles on Balderston Road; its narrow, single lane rises into the hills like a well-manicured golf green. The first few miles of backroad are bracketed by the fence posts of properties that grow increasingly larger, horse ranches and cattle ranches and motorcycle trails. Balderston merges into Darling Ridge Road, and the spaces between ranches grows larger until there are no more ranches or fences and just trees, white alder, foothill ash, knobcone and ponderosa pine, red willow, blue elderberry, black cottonwood, live oak. The conifers form a dark green sky for the deciduous trees, which explode like fireworks in a fantastic aerial display of neon pinks, reds, oranges and yellows. It seems as if there are no other humans for miles. It’s truly serene, a postcard from New England, and then a bend is rounded and at the top of the ridge, in the middle of nowhere, sits an enormous redwood house.

It’s 10,000 square feet, at least. Three stories. Huge picture windows face down toward the valley. The area around it is devoid of any life, a couple of acres of brown dirt, scraped clean of any brush. It’s brand new; various pieces of construction equipment still lay about. It is apparently uninhabited. A single power line connects it to the outside world, a black vine disappearing into the treetops. The house seems lonely, out of place.

A few miles further into the woods, a delivery truck sits on a dead-ended side road.

A marijuana farmer collecting his harvest?

Not quite. It’s really a delivery truck, and the driver is lost. He’s been given an address, but there is no house. His cargo is a 65-foot swimming pool liner.

Swimming pools and movie star-sized houses. The future of the Georgetown Divide.

And a few miles later, the past: Darling Ridge Road cuts into Bear Creek Road. It rounds a hill, then plunges into a small hollow. A small stream, Bear Creek, flows under a bridge at the bottom. A ramshackle house surrounded by enormous piles of assorted junk—several generations of satellite dish, three rusted-out camper trailers, a tin shed on the verge of collapse—sits next to the stream. Four bloodhounds chained next to the house bay insanely. One breaks free, dragging its heavy chain behind it.

Every mile or so along this section of road, a similar dwelling with a similar junkpile, its owner’s time in residence calculable by the number of rusted-out automobiles scattered on the property. No doubt the owners of those redwood mansions will have aesthetic differences with those who have come before them.

Civilization finally disappears for a good 10 miles into the woods, halfway across the Georgetown Divide, on Rock Creek Road. The road modulates from pavement to chip seal to red clay to rocky slate as it winds its way south toward Placerville, over and through the heavily forested Slate Mountains. The aspens and the cottonwoods and the oaks give way to towering pines and firs as the road gains elevation. The temperature cools markedly. With the exception of a few hunters trying to fill their deer tags before the season closes, there is no one else about.

Bob Russell, novelist and bartender.

Photo By Larry Dalton

The road crests the divide and heads downward. The terrain reverses itself. Slate, red clay, chip seal, pavement. Rock Creek Road cuts into Mosquito Road at Swansboro, a collection of ranch houses, a fire station and a small airstrip, and a mile further, just before the swinging bridge that crosses the South Fork into Placerville, is the rutted-out dirt road that careens down the side of a canyon into what the El Dorado County Sheriff’s narcotics division calls the Mosquito Grow.

It’s one of four marijuana gardens operated by Mexican nationals that the Sheriff’s Department has busted this year. They spotted it from a helicopter in September. A Sacramento man who was involved with the garden was apprehended, but the Mexican nationals tending it were gone by the time the officers got there. The plants, all 900 of them, remained. The officers chopped the plants down and confiscated them for evidence, but much of the garden, including a sophisticated gravity-fed irrigation system, is intact.

A thick stand of manzanita provides cover for the garden, which is laid out in three separate plots on a hillside. It is necessary to crouch in order to enter the passageways that have been tunneled through the brush. Inside each garden plot, the earth has been terraced, much like a Japanese tea garden. Black plastic hose snakes across the layered hillside. Empty white plastic bags that used to contain professional-strength fertilizer lie about. The twisted red limbs of manzanita seem like empty hands from which a prize has been wrenched. Between the two upper gardens, the food stuffs and supplies of the Mexican nationals: plastic bags full of rotting peppers, onions and fruit. Empty egg cartons and cans of salsa de chile fresco and beans. A pair of blue-toed socks hanging from a manzanita branch. An eight-pack of Charmin toilet tissue. Used propane bottles. A reel of Eagle Claw eight-pound-test fishing line. A pair of powder blue briefs.

And an empty box of Winchester Super Speed 20 gauge shotgun shells.

While Mexican nationals have long been active in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Southern California, this is the first time they’ve been found growing this far north, the El Dorado County narcotics officers say. At times, they must have been scared, these men guarding the Mosquito grow. They are on the lower echelons of the families that operate the marijuana gardens. They aren’t paid very much. They must stay within the manzanita for months at a time. The Mexican nationals that were first hired by Silvestre Gonzalez to guard and tend the garden on the Hunt property ran off , court documents say.

So Gonzalez recruited another Mexican national, Luis Lopes Arriaga, to replace them.

Like the men in the Mosquito Grow, Arriaga must have been scared at times, crouched alone in the manzanita a dozen miles east of Georgetown, tending the plants by hand, eating food from cans, reaching for the shotgun every time a twig snapped. Yet the slight chill in the fall air signaled that his work was almost done. The marijuana, 1,250 plants, would be harvested and readied for transport. A tidy sum would soon be his.

Just a few more days, alone in the garden.

The man and the boy, William and Matthew Hunt, must have come out of nowhere. The man was carrying a rifle. Perhaps Arriaga didn’t realize they were only hunting deer.

Only providence prevented this from becoming another Georgetown ghost story.

From the Blodgett Experimental Forest, where the “Shooting Grow,” as it has become known by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s narcotics division, is located, it’s just a few short miles west on Wentworth Springs Road to Camp Chiquita. There are 1,713 square miles in El Dorado County, and they’re getting smaller by the second. News travels fast around here. Those two kids who turned their car over? The man sipping a beer at the picnic table at Camp Chiquita heard about them. Knows who they are. The passenger, the one with the knot on his head, had to go to the hospital because his head swelled to twice its normal size. He’s OK now, though. The swelling went down. No one at the hospital knows he was in a car accident.

The man at the picnic table doesn’t want his name in the paper—might be repercussions—but he has plenty to say.

He talks about growing up poor in the foothills, back when people still used outhouses. How much the area has changed from the backwater it was then. Sure, he knows the people who hang out at the Miners Club. They’re all very nice people, but hardly representative of the Georgetown Divide today. In the past dozen years, the area has become a destination for wealthy people, intelligent people. There’s even culture now, a classical music concert series that rivals anything found in Sacramento.

But its not clear if he thinks all of this progress is a good thing. He calls the big, million-dollar redwood houses mausoleums. He doesn’t care much for snooty rich people and their conservative politics. And then there’s all the negative things modern civilization has brought with it.

The recent shooting in the marijuana garden, for instance.

The meth lab found just up the road, on Tilton Hill.

The crank fiend with the pit bulls.

Does he lock his doors at night?

Are you kidding?

A woman, a friend of his, pulls in to the campground. She has been chopping wood and is covered from head to foot with tree-dirt. She speaks mysteriously of a meadow with a storybook house made of stone. Money is buried in the meadow around the house. Children who play there have been known to suddenly turn up with dollar bills in their hands.

He speaks of a geode so large it contains an entire restaurant.

She speaks of a man who recently found a gold nugget the size of cantaloupe.

She rolls a joint and lights it up. It’s cool, she does it all the time. No one every hassles her. Once, she and a friend were driving back from Uncle Tom’s cabin, about 20 miles east on Wentworth Springs Road, and they didn’t know how they were going to get back, because they had run out of weed. Just then, marijuana started falling out of the sky. The cops were busting a marijuana farm and throwing the plants from a helicopter to a truck waiting below. A bunch of it bounced off to the side of the road, and they picked it up.

She swears it’s all true.

They’re both reminiscing about a time that is past, a time when there was room to live in Georgetown, when good fortune came easy, you didn’t have to lock your door at night and there were more ghost stories than people. The ghost stories remain, and new ghosts walk these woods, but they are far outnumbered by human beings. A car drives by, and the woman smoking the joint recognizes the person driving it, a local lady who is very active at the elementary school.

The joint dangles from her lips.

“I just got busted by the Mother of the Year,” she laughs.


Down in Georgetown, Bob Russell cracks open a Keystone Light. Soon, he’ll be back on shift at the Miners Club again. Russell, 50, shares a small wooden house right across from four corners. He’s been living in Georgetown, on-and-off, in one place or another, since 1980. He likes the slow pace of life, the lack of bumper-to-bumper traffic. There are some things, however, he does not like. He glares across the street at the oak tree that provides shade for the El Dorado County Sheriff’s patrol car, which is conspicuously absent.

“When I first got here, you could walk around outside with a drink, and if the sheriff happened to be in town, he didn’t say anything. We’d sit out by the hotel, playing guitars, drink three or four cases of beer, without the fear of going to jail.”

That changed when the El Dorado County Sheriff put in a substation in the mid-1990s.

“It’s like a farm,” he says. “Whenever they need meat, they come over here and kill a cow. This here’s a revenue-maker.”

“I hear they’re thinking about closing it down,” says Rick Miller, one of Russell’s housemates. Miller, 6-feet 3-inches, with a beard, a shaved head and a black T-shirt emblazoned with “SS Specialties,” looms over Russell like a gnarled tree. He’s sharpening a 10-inch Bowie knife.

Rick Miller would prefer that the El Dorado Sheriff’s Department take its substation out of Georgetown.

Photo By Larry Dalton

“The substation?”


“That’d be good.”

Most of Russell’s things—an old 386 computer, books, boots, outdoor gear—are crammed in the house’s small front room. For the past six years, he’s been working on a novel, The Eviling. It’s an action adventure story set in the mountains of Northern California. In it, a couple and another man who live in a secluded mountain town called Poverty defend themselves from a psychopath who has escaped from an asylum and vowed to track them down.

Their demon catches up with them.

Shortly before four, Russell walks over to the bar. He chats up the old folks, cleans out glasses, gets ready for the evening’s shift.

A man in a cowboy hat about the same age as Audrey Butts sidles up to her and whispers a sweet nothing in her ear.

“Oh, shoo!” she says, swatting him away.

The mines petered out by the end of the 1970s. Environmental regulation all but finished off the timber industry by the end of the 1980s. Butts weathered it all, raising her children the best way she knew how, loving the small town she’s spent nearly her entire life in. But California was growing, rapidly growing, evidenced by the sprawling developments creeping their way into the foothills on either side of the Georgetown Divide, the meth lab found on Tipton Hill, the pot gardens in the forest. The so-called modern world caught up to Georgetown, caught up to Audrey Butts.

She doesn’t like to talk about it.

Tears push their way up past all the scotch, flood her eyes.

She won’t talk about it.

It happened on a cold Saturday night in January of last year. By then, methamphetamine had come to dominate the life of John Butts, Audrey’s youngest son. He’d been in El Dorado County jail all week for driving with a suspended license and resisting arrest. Upon his release, he returned to Georgetown and discovered that his sister Kathy had thrown out all of his drugs.

He went haywire.

First there were threatening phone messages, to his sister, to his brother Chris, to his parents. Then he showed up at his parents house, murder in his eyes. He became verbally and physically abusive. Chris heard the commotion from next door and ran over to help. The brothers fought, and Chris received a four-inch gash to his forehead. Chris went back to his house to get his shotgun, something to force John to stop.

But John wouldn’t stop.

The brothers continued struggling.

The shotgun went off.

John fell to the floor, a hole in his chest.

So Chris shot his brother in the chest.

He died on the floor of his parents’ house.

Audrey leaves the bar and takes a seat at the piano. She plays a beautiful, lilting version of “Mood Indigo,” then honors someone’s request for “My Darling Clementine.”

A few of the men in the bar supply the lyrics.

“It’s a shame,” says the man in the cowboy hat, who’s slid into Audrey’s stool at the bar. “Chris is all right; he just likes to drink a little beer. But John was spun. He threatened his parents, his family, his mother. You just can’t do that.”

Chris Butts was never charged with any crime; a county grand jury declined to file an indictment. After his mother has gone home, he comes into the Miners Club to play poker dice with Bob Russell and a few of the boys.

It’s a slow, easy night, and there is soft laughter amid the sound of clattering dice. Chris and Bob talk about going deer hunting on Friday, before the season ends. Richard Dade just feels like drinking a few beers tonight, so he’s loaned his guitar to a local kid, who warbles a nervous rendition of “Hotel California.”

The men playing dice groan.

“Richard, get someone who can play up there!”

Outside, Dade reassures the kid that he played just fine. He’s passing the torch here, giving back what he’s been given all these years living in Georgetown.

“Whatever you do,” Dade advises, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t sing.”

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t sing.

Better advice is hard to come by.

Down at four corners, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s car is absent. The fall air is warm, with no hint of the harsh winter soon to come. Tonight, life goes on in Georgetown much as it has for more than 150 years.

But the squad car will be back.

And no one can make the world go away.