So I was sitting in a plane - one of those efficient little jets the airlines like to use these days - and we were bumping down through mountain turbulence toward Aspen, Colorado. I was on the aisle, crowded in beside the poor guy sandwiched between me and the window, and we started chatting (Get our minds off the rocky ride? Maybe).
He tells me he's a native of Aspen, I reveal my purpose - which is, of course, to help complete our report on the murder of Nancy Pfister. "Nancy Pfister?!," he says... And then the stories roll out. Not many of them remotely suitable for putting on television, but colorful? Oh, yes. Everybody knew Nancy Pfister, says my seat-mate.
Then we get out at the little terminal and look down the tarmac at the much more crowded hub for the private jets that lately have helped define this place. To Nancy Pfister's scornful dismay. The rich have gravitated to Aspen for years, but it was more funky once, free-wheeling, hippie-ish. That was the old Aspen, the one Nancy belonged to and, according to many people here, helped define. Now? The newbies are billionaires. Not quite the same place anymore.
It's a fascinating town. Beautiful, certainly. And as I drive up a side road near one of the ski runs and look out over the surrounding hills, now painted in the brilliant yellow-gold of the turning Aspen trees, I feel almost like I'm in church. It's quiet, spiritual. Though jarred a little by what Nancy would have called the beginner castle plunked like a big chunk of "look-at-me" on the next mountain over.
And I run into a woman about to take her cocktail hour surrounded by the wild grass of a pristine hillside overlooking this natural cathedral. She asks me what I'm up to. I tell her. "Nancy Pfister??!!" More stories follow. Everybody knew Nancy, she says.
She is, of course -- though absent now -- the center of our story. But Aspen is full of characters. Like the lanky investigator named Lisa (I wouldn't want to be a suspect in her interview room!), the close friend, Kathy, who was both confidante and something like a servant, and the tenants, whose soaring success elsewhere crumbled bit by bit into modern tragedy, whose center could not hold.
And, as Nancy's friends watched them, they all came together on a hillside near Aspen...
And nothing will be the same again.