The Mojave Desert, USA. Mid May. Hot. A well established interstate highway ran from
Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Hundreds of miles of barren, dry land were serviced by this one highway. Traffic was heavy. However,
away from the main interstate, the terrain became inhospitable. At night, it would be pitch black. Only a collection of
mobile homes, the Indian village, existed out here. These dwellings were dimly lit at night and were a half mile away from
An old, two lane blacktop highway went past the Indian village. This old highway, parallel to the interstate
a half mile distant, accommodated no traffic. Two establishments completed the built up part of this vast, uninhabited plain.
On the interstate, a large store and restaurant building with a dozen fuel pumps and wide parking lots all around was defined
as a truck stop. From here, a small side road traveled a half mile to the old, unused highway in the desert. At this intersection
next to the Indian Village, a little employed, fifteen room motel continued to operate in defiance of economic laws and the
interstate that had bypassed the place. The Cactus Motel had fifteen low rooms next to the old, unused highway. It was a
motel created in 1958 and owned by Lester’s parents.
Lester had grown up here. Life had been good in the 1960s. On all sides, dry desert scrub land spread
forth. It was not like shifting sand seen in movies about African deserts where nomads rode camels. This was hard packed
dirt that might have blown away as sand if small plants had not grown there. For miles in all directions under the hot sun,
a person could view a flat expanse of dull green shrubs, spaced apart from each other by distances of several feet or yards.
Under foot, the hard ground consisted of light colored earth and pebbles and rocks strewn throughout the region.
Lester had decided to paint the thick poles, four of them like wood used for telephone poles, that supported
a large billboard directly across the street from the Cactus Motel. It advertised a venerable old casino in Las Vegas. The
billboard had been erected at the highway in 1962. This part of the property across from the Cactus Motel created an easement
for which a Manhattan advertising company still paid $1200 per month to Lester's estate. This was a family business, so Lester
kept it going in memory of his deceased parents. Lester's brother lived more than a hundred miles away in the direction towards
Los Angeles along the main interstate. Lester's brother had a nice home and family in Victorville and did not care one way
or another about any income from the Cactus Motel.
"Hi, honey," Ann drew Lester's attention.
"Good morning," Lester positioned himself on a six foot aluminum ladder which leaned against the third
upright post of the billboard. "Is it ten o'clock already?"
"Yes. We've just finished our break," Ann referred to Spike, their small dog. "Why do you paint the
sign in this heat?
“We are not yet into the summer’s heat.” Lester slightly altered his stance on the ladder
to look down. The six acre property had a nice mobile home at one edge which looked across the desert at the Indian Village,
a distance farther along the unused two lane blacktop of the old route. The thick, telephone pole-like structures rose only
seven feet from the ground because this was an old billboard from 1962. Lester intended to only do the posts this year.
Coats of slick paint protected the wood from drying and cracking in the desert.
The large, well kept mobile home of Lester, Ann, and their small terrier laid at one edge of the property.
Two buildings at the front parking area were a souvenir store which Lester tended daily and a larger building which incorporated
a restaurant behind the facade of a front desk area. Ann usually began work at the front desk at seven in the morning and
took a one hour break from 9am to 10am. She had now come from the couple’s mobile home with Spike, their small dog.
Ann and Spike had passed through the pool area. It was a small type of pool that a motel might put in
during the 1960s to claim it had a pool. The pool existed between the store building where Lester spent his day and the large,
restaurant/front desk building where Ann looked after the motel. The fifteen room motel building on the opposite side from
the store ran along the old road towards the desert on the far edge of the property.
Spike scampered happily but had been trained long ago not to venture wildly out into the desert where
the sparsely spaced bushes, although low, were in many cases taller than Spike. If Lester and Ann had not trained Spike to
stay close, on that expansive desert floor the dog might have roamed indefinitely. Also, there existed rattlesnakes and scorpions
that could hurt Spike, although these usually hid in holes during the day.
“I’ve done enough painting for today,” Lester climbed down. He carried the paint bucket
and brush. He used one hand to tip over the ladder so it could lie near the old billboard until tomorrow, the next day, or
whenever Lester chose to come forth to continue this project.
Besides Lester, Ann, and their terrier Spike, four other persons lived on the six acre property. Sheila
and Orrin were in their early twenties, close to the same age as Vince, Lester’s nephew. The three young friends were
from Victorville, a medium sized city to the west. Lester and Ann lived in their mobile home to the rear on the far edge
of the property that looked off towards the small Indian village. On the six acre property, there existed two single wide
mobile homes near the rear parking lot of the restaurant and motel front desk structure. Sheila and Orrin had arrived as
a couple six months ago, and now they were separated. However, in one of the employee mobile homes near the restaurant, Sheila
and Orrin maintained separate bedrooms.
In the other employee mobile home aligned end to end with the Sheila and Orrin abode and delineating one
edge of the restaurant’s rear parking lot, Vince and a guy named Mark each had a bedroom. These four young adults did
not covet or need huge incomes. Sheila and Orrin might have drifted away already, but when they broke up Vince befriended
Orrin so the couple would remain. Vince thought he might have a chance to date Sheila because she was in her early twenties
and attractive. She was a natural blonde. She wore her hair straight, long, and clean as she worked as a waitress for the
Although the vast Mojave desert seemed uninhabited, enough local people and a few from the Indian village
arrived to eat in the restaurant each day. It was opened from seven in the morning until 9pm. There were eight wooden tables
with appropriate chairs. Lester had put in gray indoor/outdoor carpet. On the pool side of the building, four plate glass
windows rose from a thick, wooden wall of a similar height as the tables. A glass and aluminum door at the front corner of
the restaurant opened into the pool area. Visible from the windows were two chain link fences on either side, each with a
gate, that ran to the front corner and the rear corner of the small store building. Also visible a distance away to the rear,
the double wide mobile home of Lester and Ann at that edge of the property could be seen.
Orrin managed the grill. Vince did the clean up and dishes. Sheila was the waitress. A decent recreation
room stood to the side of the restaurant. The young people mostly hung out. They created their own hours, and they handled
the ten to twenty diners who wandered in each day. Mark, the fourth young person, the guy that shared the mobile home with
Vince, watched the front desk from 4pm until midnight. On a busy night, perhaps three of the motel rooms would be rented.
Usually, it was one or two. Mostly, the rooms were empty.
With the loyal restaurant regulars coming in a few times a week, with the few room rentals that might
explore this way from the main interstate, and with the $1200 per month from the old billboard, Lester prided himself on being
able to sustain the Cactus Motel property, establish a good home for himself, Ann, and Spike, and create a way for the young
adults to survive.
One of the regular customers was William, a lean California Highway Patrol officer near retirement age.
He wore his uniform crisp in the dry, wind blown landscape. The black leather of his holster and the belt seemed as polished
as his boots. The California Highway Patrol uniform itself was a light brown color which seemed a fashion statement appropriate
for the parched hues of the desert.
“William is taking an early lunch,” Lester walked with Ann to the front steps of the motel
check in office. The steps consisted of two long planks which raised the elevation at the front of the building to three
feet. Lester and Ann passed the black highway patrol vehicle, new and neatly maintained, with its white doors and sleek,
modern looking array of flashers across the roof.
“Do you think,” Ann wondered, “that William likes Sheila?”
“Everyone likes Sheila,” Lester implied that the young woman possessed endearing charms of
beauty and personality. “Spike. Come on.” Lester kissed Ann lightly because he intended to veer off for the
small store. There would be no customers, but Lester had a computer there and many online projects he liked to attend to
daily. He had enough to keep him occupied until 4pm when he would return home.
Lester noticed that in the second room down from the front desk/restaurant building, an occupant had spent
the night. A white minivan rested silently there. The vehicle did not appear to be a rental car from Las Vegas. Lester
could guess a rental car due to its appearance. However, he did this by using vague impressions rather than specific observations.
This model of mini van looked to be five or six years old. The white paint lacked any luster or sheen. Lester wondered if
a lone driver, a couple, or a family had arrived last night.
Ann went up the steps and through two plate glass doors in aluminum frames which functioned as well today
as when the Cactus Motel had been built in 1958. The dry, neat front room had a sofa and end table near the entrance. Straight
ahead, past a small motel check in desk, through an archway, Ann could see Sheila delivering a coffee refill to William, the
California highway patrolman. Ann had no business to attend to at the desk so she made her way into the restaurant.
“Hi Ann,” said Sheila. “Did you have a good break?”
"Yes," Ann noticed Orrin loitering half into the opened door of a nearby recreation room. She comprehended
that Sheila and Orrin might have been sniping at one another. Vince probably had gone to take a break out back.
"Good morning," Orrin had not been in the restaurant at 9am when Ann went to her mobile home for her one
"Good morning, Orrin," Ann took an apple from a bowl of fruit on a side board.
She intended to rest on a sofa in the recreation room and put the satellite TV on a woman's morning news
"Push up bra, sports bra, or no bra," the television woman was an attractive blonde in her thirties, "three
women tell their stories this morning on Penelope."
“Orrin,” said Sheila. “Why don’t you do some work
while I watch Penelope?”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Orrin moved to go behind the cook’s counter.
“He’s passive aggressive,” Sheila confided to Ann. Sheila brought a cup of coffee for
herself and joined Ann on the sofa in the rec room.
“Sheila,” said Ann, “you’ve told me that ten times this week.”
“I just want people to be aware.”
Orrin looked across the room to where William, the highway patrol officer, ate his late breakfast. Orrin
prided himself on his omelet skill.
“William, let me know if you want anything else,” offered Orrin.
“I’m ok, thanks,” William liked the informal way these people interacted. He knew that
Ann disciplined herself to put in an eight hour day, but the young people, Sheila, Orrin, and Vince were capable of dividing
the work among themselves.
“Orrin,” called Sheila. “Let me worry about William.”
"Either way," Orrin would step out the side door near the restaurant's rear parking lot. He could overlook
Sheila and let her have her way.
Orrin had an issue on his mind which he did not know how to handle. Someone had scraped the paint on
the side of his car. It might have happened the last time he made the sixty mile drive to Walmart to get supplies. It might
have happened at the truck stop a half mile away on the interstate where Orrin liked to hang out sometimes. Maybe it had
occurred that some miscreant had keyed the car, and Orrin had not noticed it until the next day. However, Orrin believed
that Sheila had scratched the paint on the door of his car. He thought he should have been angrier than he was. He should
have talked to Sheila about it.
Vince came out of a mobile home on that edge of the parking lot. As Orrin and Sheila each possessed a
room in one mobile home, Vince and the night desk guy, a young man named Mark, each possessed a room in the adjacent mobile
home. None of the group knew Mark well.
"Hey," Orrin seethed with anger, and this caused his greeting to Vince to be awkward.
"What are you so pissed off about?"
"Sheila. And when she gloats about all my repressed rage as she calls it, I get madder."
"She teases you a lot about that, Orrin."
"Too much TV. Her mind is affected by those crazy shows she watches. Like, every time a woman goes out
of her house a crazed killer is waiting for her."
"Did you ask her about your car?" Vince referred to the scratch mark on the driver's side door.
"She'll never admit that."
"Could it have been an accident? Could it have happened when you ate dinner at the truck stop or when
you went to Walmart?"
"No. I think it was intentional," Orrin moved into the parking lot at the rear of the restaurant. He
took tentative steps towards the two employee mobile homes. "Vince. Come on. Let me show you something."
Vince knew that Lester or Ann would not mind if the two young men took a moment to converse. The business
never really throve, and tasks could be handled with flexibility by Vince, Orrin, and Sheila. Nevertheless, Vince had noticed
a white mini van parked in front of the second motel room.
Orrin went into the mobile home and turned to the end containing his bedroom. Vince followed. He saw
a camera on a tripod pointed at the window and the parking space outside where Orrin parked his car.
"This," said Orrin, "is activated by motion. I'll leave it on during the night. Anyone near my car will
be caught on film."
"That's elaborate, Orrin."
The recreation room of the restaurant/front desk building had a door that stood open. A view was afforded
of the nearby restaurant. Sheila checked with William and poured him coffee. The highway patrol man, in his late fifties,
a tall man with wiry muscles, would continue eating another half hour. Sheila returned to the recreation room where Ann was
watching the woman's morning television show Penelope.
"Irene," said Penelope, "what was the biggest fight when you were married?"
"Now, as a forty four year old divorced woman with two teenaged sons, what is the biggest problem you
face? Is it still money?"
"I wish. Money pales in comparison to this problem," Irene was svelte. She wore a tight sweater in the
New York City television studio. Her breasts were amply portrayed. Her light brown hair, slightly curly, reached to her
shoulders. She had facial features such as a small nose, nicely made up eye lashes and lips, and an angular jaw. The forty
four year old woman appeared as attractive as a twenty year old. "No, Penelope, I earn enough and my ex husband is good about
child support, visiting, and helping out."
"If not money, what is your biggest problem now," queried Penelope.
The audience laughed.
Ann appreciated the TV show and glanced sideways at Sheila. No comment arose about Orrin. Therefore,
although Sheila and Orrin had arrived at the Cactus Motel six months ago and had separated as a couple two weeks ago, Sheila’s
disparaging remarks were becoming less frequent. Ann enjoyed the apple she had picked up in the restaurant. She and Sheila
sat on the sofa and watched TV. Highway Patrol officer William would be content with his breakfast for another fifteen minutes
before Sheila or Ann would need to arise to ring up the check at the front desk register. Penelope continued.
“Simmer down audience. It seems most of us can relate to trouble with men. Irene, can you be more
“It’s hateful out there, Penelope.”
“You can say that again,” she could not resist expressing her opinion.
“Let me give you an example,” said Irene. “Cougar.”
“Cougar,” commented Penelope. “That is a slang term for a middle aged woman who wants
to have sex with a younger man.”
“When I first heard it, I was shocked. Derogatory. How could our culture create such a hateful
slang word to describe a woman?”
“I can understand your point,” Penelope agreed. “When you think about it, the word
seems to attack a woman who is seeking to exert herself sexually. It is a word to harm a woman seeking to act in a powerful
way as the initiator of sex.”
“I heard a more rotten slang word. I heard a terrible one, Penelope,” Irene appeared sad
and unsure rather than angry. “MILF. Mom I’d Like to .... I cannot complete the sentence.”
"Ok," said Penelope. "A few people have heard it. Audience and viewers at home, you can read more about
this topic on our web site. Go to penelope.com."
Ann stood up to toss out the apple core. She would go to the front desk and work on the finances of the
Cactus Motel. She had plenty to keep her busy. When all was calculated, the enterprise always exhibited the same trait.
Financially, there would be no profit. Nevertheless, she agreed with her husband Lester. To keep the place going and create
an existence for the group seemed like enough. One day in the future there might come a way to thrive. For now, Ann felt
ok about this life here in the desert halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
William lingered at his breakfast.
“Sheila,” he offered the aluminum thermos to be topped off. “Give compliments to Orrin
for another great breakfast.”
“We enjoy having you,” said Sheila.
Carl Michaels was the owner of the white minivan parked at room two. Carl entered the double doors of
aluminum and plate glass. He stalked through the empty front room and proceeded to where he could see people in the restaurant.
At eleven in the morning, he intended his meal to be a substantial one.
“Welcome,” said Ann.
“Thank you,” Carl Michaels had seen the black and white California highway patrol car in the
parking lot. If they had been after him, he would have been arrested already. No, Carl ascertained that the officers were
eating an early lunch. Lazy jerks probably were not even paying for it compliments of the proprietor or they were paying
the bill with expense accounts. Carl Michaels had no respect for people like them; and, now he saw it was only one officer
and he was almost sixty years old.
“Have a seat over here,” Ann showed Carl to a place by the windows. “Sheila will take
“I appreciate it,” Carl looked warmly into the eyes of the beautiful California girl. She
was approximately his age, 42. He had worn slacks, a dress shirt, and a blazer which he had almost not donned due to the
heat of the desert. Now, in proximity to this beauty, Carl Michaels thought the blazer had been a good idea.
"Would you like coffee?" Ann asked.
"Yes. That would be good. I just woke up." Carl Michaels believed he had won her over. She had said
the waitress would take the order, but instead this fine woman had offered to get coffee for him. "Are you a California girl?"
"Yes. How did you guess?"
"I had never heard of that," said Ann. "What does my accent sound like?"
"Sweet. A California girl's accent sounds sweet and loving to me."
"Let me get your coffee."
William witnessed this. The traveler appeared like an average man on the road. The guy dressed fairly
well. Middle aged. Maybe he had some sort of business appointment today in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Either city could
be accessed from here with a three and a half or four hour drive.
Carl Michaels glanced sideways at the highway patrolman. Under a blue tarp in the rear section of the
white mini van, Carl Michaels had a woman’s body. He had killed her late yesterday afternoon and had veered from the
interstate looking for a remote place to deposit the corpse. Carl wanted to be in Los Angeles later today. He had never
been this far west. He lived in Detroit and worked as a delivery service driver. Over the past three years, Carl had strangled
four women in Ohio. The one in his car he had met while traveling west on this vacation.
She had said her name was Denise or Debbie. Carl remembered the name had started with a D, he thought.
He had picked her up at a highway rest area in Utah. She had never seen Las Vegas, and Carl would also be visiting that city
for the first time. They had that in common. However, he had killed Denise approximately one hundred miles to the east of
Las Vegas. Then, Carl had driven straight through the bright city on the interstate. Perhaps after he saw Los Angeles, Carl
would stop for a night in Vegas during his return trip to Detroit. Last night, after strangling Denise, Carl had not felt
up to sightseeing in Las Vegas.
"Good morning," Sheila waited near Carl's table and expected him to order his meal. "What can I get you
Carl read the menu. He ordered a standard hamburger and french fries.
“And top off my coffee, sweetheart,” he said.
"Yes sir," Sheila enjoyed being polite to diners. The gentleman in the blazer appeared to be a regular
guy. He was the type that came from a stable suburb somewhere. Most likely, the quiet gentleman appreciated that the highway
patrolman, William, was present for security.
The motel check in desk was a usual height approximately to mid abdomen. In a corner of that room, a
metal office desk and a chair accommodated Ann. She spent a few hours a day working on various projects such as making phone
calls, paying bills, writing in her personal journal, or reading. Ann owned a laptop computer that she could carry between
her home and this desk. However, if she hooked it up to the phone line, it meant callers to the motel would receive no answer.
Orrin and Vince entered at the rear door of the restaurant. Orrin noticed that a stranger had sat down.
Sheila watched Orrin expectantly. He saw where she had placed an order ticket near his grill. He made eye contact with her
but quickly averted his gaze and went to prepare the meal. Vince passed through on the way to the rec room.
"Hi, Sheila," he liked her even if Orrin did not.
"Hi," Sheila looked to William. She picked up the heavy plate and a smaller one which had held toast.
William had eaten all of his breakfast.
"Sheila," Vince reached the TV in time to catch the beginning of a program he and Sheila sometimes watched
together. "Sheila, Corpse Patrol is just starting."
“I’m busy right now, Vince.”
Corpse Patrol had been on for several years. A cable channel ran the TV show three times a day and often
“Corpse Patrol,” the announcer spoke while an image of pavement and a chalk outline of a body
could be seen. The camera angle shifted and yellow police tape, close up, had the writing Corpse Patrol on it. Vince liked
that clever way the show opened. “Each week we find a different woman or child who has been abducted. We profile that
Carl Michaels clutched his coffee cup and brought it to his lips. He glanced sideways at the strong California
Highway Patrol man. Carl had killed a hitch hiker last night.
“Today,” the TV could be heard in the restaurant, “on Corpse Patrol, we look at the
case of Jill Riman. She was stabbed seventy six times.”
Vince watched the detective portrayed on the television.
“Repressed rage,” analyzed the police detective. “A killer sometimes seems meek but
anger is brewing just below the surface.”
“Ha,” Sheila could not resist taunting her former boyfriend. “Orrin, that describes
William got up to go to the front desk to pay his check.
“Orrin,” he said, “that was delicious, buddy.”
“Orrin is passive aggressive,” Sheila walked forward to see William out and to collect the
Carl Michaels had killed four women in Detroit. Last night, he had strangled the one under the blue tarp
in the back of his white mini van. The TV show Corpse Patrol interested Carl. He had watched it many times. Still, none
of the women he had murdered had been on the show. Over the years, by viewing TV shows like Corpse Patrol, Carl Michaels
had learned what cops looked for in a murder. He had adjusted his methods. He could out maneuver the cops. They would never
catch him. He was smarter than them.
Carl’s wife had divorced him three years ago. He remembered when he had killed his first girl.
Just like psychiatrists on talk shows often related, Carl’s assaults had gotten more brazen. He had begun as a teenager
doing a rape whenever he could. Now, he had found that killing was much more stimulating than sex. His wife had divorced
Carl, but he had been moving on anyway. He did not need to exist with her in her puny little world.
Sheila had let Ann arise from her desk to settle William’s bill. Instead, Sheila returned to the
grill area and picked up the hamburger and french fries.
"Here you go, honey," she delivered the plate to the middle aged man in the blazer. He seemed like a
nice enough fellow.
At noon, William parked in one of his favorite places on the interstate. He expected to get two or three
speeders coming from Las Vegas. Some of William’s friends enjoyed commenting about which types of vehicles were most
disliked. William had been in this job too long for such antics. He had passed age fifty five, which many considered a good
retirement age. William would make it to sixty or even sixty five because retirement benefits substantially increased at
each mark. Also, this part of the desert, although busy, impressed William as somewhat tame.
William hid behind a slight incline of the highway. He faced the truck stop, but it was too far ahead
to be seen. Out here, this countryside consisted of desolate scrub land. Past the truck stop, the same type of terrain existed
all the way to the next town. On a side road, a half mile from the interstate, the Indian village existed.
Native American chief Robert was in his mid forties. As a tribal chief, Robert mostly contended with
paperwork for the twenty eight members living here. He laughed to himself about such labels deployed by the white people.
Tribal members. Like they were some sort of club. There were twenty eight of them, including children, and Robert managed
the paperwork for all of them in the office of his house. Many owned mobile homes because it had always been easier and faster
to purchase one in Victorville or Las Vegas and have it rolled out here. Robert had a house that his grandfather and brothers
had built during more optimistic times. The highway had once passed by here.
In those days people had contemplated the disgraceful act of catering to tourists. The so called Indians
were supposed to make pottery as if the useless desert dirt was sufficient for that. In New Mexico, with their clay deposits,
yes, pottery could be a trade. Robert had graduated from USC in 1986 with a business degree. He had worked twenty years
as a cage cashier in Las Vegas. Then, he had come here when his father died to occupy the family house.
All the tribal members possessed incomes, including the children. No one had been born recently. No
young women were currently pregnant. Robert managed files for all the birth certificates (and death certificates). Stout
old filing cabinets also held marriage licenses. Most important, however, were the various documents dealing with money.
There were half a dozen funds and programs offered by the white government which gave every resident here a portion.
Divorced, Robert's wife had returned to live in Las Vegas to work as a waitress in a coffee shop. She
always said she liked to stay busy and support herself. With tips, she claimed to earn twice as much as any government fund
might provide her. Thirty years ago, the wayward native american wife would have been a disgrace for Robert. These days
it affected no one. It just was a condition of life.
Nevertheless, Robert insisted that his fifteen year old, Jimmy, and daughter Sara, eleven, both grow up
with the tribe. When they reached age eighteen, they could fly.
Robert liked being a single man and an elder. The life of a shaman existed in this mental state. A medicine
man. He had not sought it, he had become it. He smoked marijuana. He saw visions. He knew the spirits that moved in the
world. He had a sacred tribal drum that he played at functions. He owned the full headdress of a chief.
School had gotten out for the summer, so the children now occupied themselves during the day. Jimmy would
play soccer with friends; they had a league and uniforms and adults in the area frequently picked up Jimmy for such activities
with friends. Robert needed to plan a visit to Las Vegas for the children. His ex wife would want to have them at her apartment
for a couple of weeks.
Sara was eleven and young. She played with Snow, her white sheppard. Or Sara and her friends were becoming
old enough to learn how to ride Prince, Robert’s horse. However, Jimmy, Robert’s fifteen year old son, had problems.
Robert understood. Jimmy had the white culture to contend with. Each native american went through this
phase. Robert had gone to parties in college, he had driven fast cars and motorcycles, he had partaken of all the media entertainments
mandatory to the whites. Robert felt glad he had returned to the family home in the desert. In psychology, he recognized
he had attained self actualization. It could be explained by the white man’s psychology. Nevertheless, some spirits
that moved across the Mojave desert could only be comprehended with smoke and the drum.
At the restaurant, Carl Michaels was glad the highway patrol man had left. Carl finished the last of
his hamburger and fries. The kid behind the grill did a good job. Carl glanced at Sheila when she was not facing him. A
couple of very attractive women resided at the Cactus Motel, in the middle of nowhere. On the way back from Los Angeles,
Carl Michaels might stop again.
“That was good,” Carl looked unflinchingly into Sheila’s eyes.
“I’m glad you liked it,” Sheila did not view herself as attractive, but during the twenty
two years of her life, every man and boy had convinced her of it. “Will there be anything else,” she placed a
copy of his ticket face down on the table.
“Your phone number,” Carl Michaels joked. If the young waitress took him seriously and complied,
that would be a bonus.
“My boyfriend does not like me to give out my phone number,” Sheila used a standard ploy.
Orrin overheard this from his cook station. He and Sheila had broken up, but Orrin did not dislike her.
Sheila was wrong about him being passive aggressive. He would never hurt her. Therefore, he resisted the urge to speak up
and taunt her by telling the weird middle aged man in the sports coat that Sheila currently had no boyfriend.
“Well,” said Carl, “I’ll see you next time I stop in.”
“That would be nice,” said Sheila.
Carl Michaels stood up and pulled forth his wallet. He placed three one dollar bills on the table for
a tip. The woman would see he was generous and a nice guy. Carl picked up the ticket.
“Do I pay this up front?”
“Yes,” Sheila indicated the way. She saw that Ann had gotten up from the corner desk to greet
“How was it,” Ann had noticed the man’s license plates said Ohio.
“It was fine,” Carl Michaels liked this older woman as much as the waitress. “I’m
going to Los Angeles but I’ll pass by again on my way back.”
“Are you on vacation?” These days it was not unusual for people to travel alone. It caused
Ann to appreciate Lester and their situation here at the Cactus Motel.
“Yes. Vacation. I’ve never seen Hollywood,” Carl Michaels remembered that last night,
near the truck stop, he had veered this way to get rid of the body of that girl from Utah. Now, in the daylight, he guessed
the old highway would be desolate enough to accomplish the deed. “It’s quiet out here away from the interstate.”
“That’s why I like it.”
“I agree. Too many people can be annoying.”
Carl Michaels had already loaded his suitcase into his mini van. He gave Ann the key to the motel room.
It was not a modern card key but an old, plastic tag with the room number stamped onto it. The metal key, dull and worn,
attached to the plastic with a ring.
When he got into the driver’s seat and started the engine, Carl immediately rolled down the windows.
He wondered why the odor of a human corpse smelled so distinctly disgusting. He hated himself for having been lazy last night.
Now, he had this ugly job to perform before continuing on.
He liked to play CD music when he drove. Twenty five CDs in a wallet in the center console were compilations
created by Carl on his computer. These songs represented his favorites from a large record collection. In the 1990s, Carl
had replaced all the albums he had owned as a teenager in the 1980s. When his mom died and his dad kicked Carl out of the
house, he never returned. A brother later told Carl that his extensive rock and roll album collection had been sold at a
garage sale when Carl’s dad remarried. Bastard. Well, Carl enjoyed CDs because they appeared like small versions of
the good, old albums. The cover art was part of the greatness of those records. If he still owned them in the neat manner
he had cared for them when a teenager, Carl figured they would have been worth a lot of money. It was just another regret
to contend with in life.
He saw no traffic on this cracked, two lane road a half mile distant from the interstate. With the windows
rolled down and the desert not too hot the drive was pleasant enough. He played his CD music, but often he found he had been
ruminating about things instead of enjoying the songs. He remembered one time as a kid walking by a neighborhood funeral
parlor. Some sort of vent or sewer near the lush lawn on a side of the building had given off the scent of human death.
Nothing else compared to it. A dead animal in the woods or by a road could smell bad, but it did not resemble human death.
For some reason, human death seemed unique. Maybe it was to warn people to stay away from it.
Carl left the Cactus Motel and proceeded along the old highway. Ahead, there seemed to be a collection
of mobile homes like a trailer park out here in the middle of nowhere. He drove rapidly past these so he could continue on
the old road into desolate terrain where he would dump Debbie’s body. Maybe her name was Denise. Nevertheless, last
night on the dark interstate in the desert coming from Utah to Las Vegas, Carl Michaels had enjoyed finding a side road, parking,
making love, and strangling the girl. He thought she was a run away. Her lean body gave her the sexy appearance of a model
even though being on the road and starving attained that look for Debbie. She had possessed a womanly body odor from not
having bathed that morning, but the scent seemed to heighten Carl’s pleasure during the sex and killing. At moments
it was an animalistic, out of control sensation which he enjoyed.
Trees lined the road near the Indian village. Carl was driving faster than he should have been. A soccer
ball preceded a lithe boy. The native american teenager was quick, lanky, and tall for his fifteen years. The front bumper
of the white mini van hit the boy and tossed him back and to the side in the dirt. Carl took his foot off the gas pedal.
A sideways glance saw that the boy wore what appeared to actually be a soccer uniform, and he was sitting back with one knee
bent and moving in a groggy manner. Carl looked at the speedometer: 45mph. The soccer ball bounced on the opposite side
of the old highway, and no cars were evident in either direction. Carl accelerated.
He recalled how Sheila, the waitress at the Cactus Motel, had called her boyfriend passive/aggressive.
This psychological term had been expressed to Carl Michaels by his wife. They had divorced three years ago after four years
of marriage. Their daughter still lived in the two bedroom apartment near the hospital where her mom worked as an appointments
clerk. Ok, if those two wanted to continue with boring, useless lives, that was fine. To hell with them.
Carl's ex-wife had called him passive/aggressive. However, at times she sought to appease him and described
him as manic/depressive. There was a forgiving aspect to manic/depressive as if Carl was just a spontaneous guy who could
not control his urges. Passive/aggressive seemed sinister, as if deeply held anger and hate were covered over by a veneer
of civility. If Carl was passive/aggressive, he was evil. If he was manic/depressive, he was mentally ill. But he thought
it was not his fault anyway. Society could drive anyone crazy these days.
Carl would drive a girl to a secluded place in order to have sex with her and strangle her. Then, he
would find a location to remove the body from his vehicle. At the moment when he would pull the girl from the mini van, he
always knew someone might witness the act. Someone might come along. For those few minutes, Carl would be vulnerable. On
impulse, he selected a section of road with hard packed dirt to the side, the road’s shoulder, and Carl abruptly parked.
He acted methodically.
He opened the rear of the mini van and tugged the body onto the ground. The odor repulsed Carl; next
time, he would not be lazy. He would stick to his normal routine of strangling the girl and then immediately finding a place
to dump her. The heavy, plastic blue tarp was some sort of pool cover or something he had bought at a large hardware store
for under ten dollars. He loved the United States. He often counted himself lucky to have been born here. Most people in
this country did not appreciate how good they had it. Most other countries could not even make a tarp like this let alone
sell it for under ten dollars. He rolled the body onto the tarp and dragged the entire enterprise twenty yards into the desert.
On the way back to the mini van, Carl turned to look at the desert. Short plants of some kind covered
the rock strewn ground and were high enough to conceal the blue tarp and body. He went to the front, right bumper and noticed
only a slight dent where he had hit the Indian teenager. No blood. That was good. The kid had not really been hurt.
Jimmy, the fifteen year old son of native american chief Robert, had a broken leg. A fracture of the
large bone in his thigh caused a huge bruise near the fabric of his soccer shorts. Jimmy yelled in pain. He wanted someone
to hear him. He understood one thing, he dared not move that leg. He laid half back on the hard desert dirt and surveyed
all areas for possible help.
He had been at the highway to await his ride to soccer practice. The coach arrived and three team mates
leaped from the vehicle to precede the coach to aid Jimmy. The presence of his friends caused Jimmy to feel less pain. They
would get him to the hospital. He would be alright.
William had heard the radio call for the accident. He arrived as the medical helicopter was already revving
its engine to take off. A dozen native americans were there. Jimmy’s dad, Robert, approached.
“It was my son. He told me what happened,” said the chief.
“How is he?”
“They think a broken leg,” said Robert. “It was a white mini van.”
Robert explained details of the accident as Jimmy had related them. William knew where to search. A
white mini van with Ohio license plates had been parked near room two of the Cactus Motel. Ann supplied the name of the suspect
-- Carl Michaels. However, the young man who worked 4pm to midnight at the front desk had not filled in a space on the card
pertaining to car license number. William would have to go online and access the data from Ohio. Ann and the three young
people knew Jimmy; they were concerned about his condition. William appeased their worries. Then, they wanted to know if
the highway patrol would catch Carl Michaels on the interstate before he went too far.
It did not work that way. William was aware of basic highway data. At this time of the morning on this
interstate, fifteen hundred to two thousand cars passed in an hour. Near either large city, Los Angeles or Las Vegas, it
could be ten thousand cars going in each direction on the six lane interstate. Yes, officers would have the license number
and description of the mini van, but nobody could actually find that vehicle without luck.
Robert and his eleven year old daughter, Sara, drove forty five minutes to get to the hospital. It was
in the direction of Los Angeles. He tightly gripped the steering wheel. He watched traffic with resentment. He believed
on this interstate, an hour ahead, was the evil man guilty of hit and run. Robert thanked god that Jimmy had survived the
The modern medical center, two story and fashionably designed, lay on the outskirts of an urban area.
Robert parked in a crowded lot. He noticed the helicopter on a raised landing pad of cleanly painted steel. The helicopter
appeared new, well maintained, and ready to fly.
“Daddy,” Sara accompanied Robert from the large, busy parking lot. “What will happen?”
“The police will catch the driver. Your brother will be alright.”
During the commotion of the ambulance, highway patrol, and medical helicopter, Robert had gleaned information.
Jimmy had a broken thigh bone which could be serious, but they thought it was a fracture and no arteries had been threatened.
William, the highway patrol man, had optimistically stated the authorities could apprehend the driver; however, William’s
spirit had appeared weak. Robert sensed William’s doubt that the man would be caught.
The emergency room doctor was black. Back in the 1960s, some native american elders had contended with
black people. At the least, they were competitors for United States bounty; at worst, black people could be outright enemies
more dangerous than the whites. Robert had worked through these issues while at USC. He had learned a lot. However, he
did perceive that in the 1990s racism in the United States had seemed to increase after the social and political successes
for citizens during the 1960s and the 1980s. Robert viewed it like an up and down graph. 1960s, civil rights. 1970s, perhaps
it had been some sort of a backlash against the 1960s. 1980s, the vibrant Reagan years full of hope and promise, and then
the 1990s to present which angered Robert if he thought about it.
Now he had something to really be angry about. The way the driver of the white mini van had left Jimmy
was indicative of the entire country these days. It had sank to a selfish, criminal level. A citizen had no redress. Examples
permeated the culture. He enjoyed the internet; but, when a portion of screen flashed that he had won a free Mp3 player,
he did not click on it. He knew it was a fraud of some sort. Most people recognized that. On the phone, a stranger would
call to help him with his credit card debt. Of course, people understood that no one would be calling for any altruistic
reason. Particularly offensive to Robert as an example of the selfish, criminally minded society had been the screw cap to
a plastic bottle of soda. Instead of saying he had won a prize, the soda cap had contained a code that he could use to phone
the company or look up online to see if he had won. Such pathetic groveling for money. This was a noticeable change in how
life in the United States now worked. When Robert had been a child, the soda cap would have forthrightly stated whether or
not he had won. The people who thought up these frauds and schemes brought a lot of effort to life for money.
Jimmy was in a recovery room intended for short term use. He would be released in a few hours.
“You can wait,” the doctor wore a loose lab coat and seemed a bit fat. His neat hair was
“Of course,” Robert did not display anger for the doctor to see. It was not the doctor’s
fault. Of course Robert could wait. One more slap in the face by events in general. One more weakness, the inability to
take action and rectify the situation. Robert wished there was some god or devil that would move to help him. He could understand
the principles behind voodoo. He needed to send out some force, some power, to destroy the hateful white man in the mini
The waiting room had cheap plastic chairs and various magazines. Robert and Sara were the only ones there.
Fortunately, a television allowed Sara to pass the time. Robert cared very much for Jimmy and was glad the boy would be ok.
Robert seethed with rage which he dared not show Sara. She watched cartoons that Robert understood both instructed the girl
and indoctrinated her to the ways of greed and hate. He sought usually to counter the influences on his children that threatened
to make them ignorant and perverted.
While Sara remained in the waiting room, Robert lifted from his pocket his cell phone. He stepped out
into the hall to call his ex-wife in Las Vegas. Robert gave her the news.
“He’s alright,” said Robert. “It was a freak accident, but the driver fled.”
“I’ll come over on my day off,” she sounded faint in the noisy casino where she used
her cell phone.
“You said he was alright.”
“A broken thigh bone.”
“I can’t drive four hundred miles to see Jimmy tonight. My day off is in two days. I’ll
be there in two days. Give him the phone and I’ll say hi.”
“I can’t give him the phone,” Robert became exasperated. Through a window in the door,
he watched Sara in the waiting room. “I’m in the waiting room; Jimmy is with the doctors.”
“It would do no good for me to drive over. Someone here in the casino would need to cover my shift.
I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
“Whatever you say,” Robert switched off the phone. He intended to leave it off for awhile.
He did not need it.
It was a two and one half hour wait. Robert thanked the doctor and attendants that helped Jimmy to the
car. Jimmy apologized to his dad for having been careless.
“No, Jimmy. It was not your fault. The person that hit you was evil. He deserves to be punished.”
By 4pm, Lester and Ann usually settled in their double wide mobile home. It was in the same location
as the one Lester's parents had owned. Years ago, the parents had retired to a senior citizen's community in Santa Barbara.
Then, Lester's dad had passed away five years ago and his mom two years ago.
"Macaroni and cheese," Lester had been holding marijuana smoke in his lungs. He now exhaled and contemplated
the idea that people in the desert lived longer than most. It had not been true of his parents.
After replacing the mobile home he and his parents and his brother had dwelt in, a project of Lester's
had been to construct a substantial deck and enclosed porch on the desert side of the house. He had used carpenter skills
learned while working for six years in Bakersfield where he had met and married Ann.
Ann liked to stay in the main room and watch TV. Nearby on the screened in porch with its tight, heavy
plank floor, the throw rug, and the two ceiling fans, Ann sometimes sat in a matching recliner next to Lester's. He looked
off across the dark expanse. The sky had not completely darkened, so the crisp silhouette of the mountain range in the distance
could be seen. Tonight, there was no wind -- a perfect evening in the quiet desert. He puffed another lungful of marijuana
smoke. He wished the lights of the indian village did not exist to spoil the dark, tranquil effect; but, you could not have
Lester heard a familiar sound. A tow truck driven by Randy, a local man in his thirties, parked and stopped
near the side of the porch. Randy seemed to want to avoid the front of the place and Ann. Randy used the screen door which
faced the desert side and had not been really necessary, but Lester had designed the door and incorporated it as part of proper
building technique. Now, Randy’s broad, robust figure pulled forth the screen door and stepped up into the room. Lester
“You are sweating,” said Lester.
“I hate humidity in the desert. It’s not normal.”
Lester had given Randy $100 to buy marijuana in Las Vegas. Routinely, Lester requested the weed and got
it; always, he remained wary the purchase might not be made.
“Did you get it?”
“Of course I got it,” Randy had a friend in a neighborhood with a consistent supply. “They
run it like a business these days.”
Lester noticed that the small package of marijuana always looked the same. It was as if a professional
corporation had created the product.
Randy smoked with Lester for a few minutes.
“Ten years ago,” said Randy, “I could look across the desert and see the mountains like
they were twenty yards away.” He inhaled deeply the marijuana smoke. “Now, this carbon monoxide haze fills the
“Two years ago at Thanksgiving, we were in Bakersfield. The gaseous cloud remained for two days.”
“I remember that. I had a headache for two days and kept hoping some sort of wind would come to
dispense the carbon monoxide cloud.”
Randy arose. He intended to stop by the indian village to check on Robert.
"Robert seems angry most of the time," Randy moved to the screen door. "I almost don't want to go over
there and see his current state of mind. Ann," Randy smiled past the porch at the main room of the mobile home, "good bye,
"Bye, Randy. Have a good night," she said.
"Robert," Lester contemplated as he laid aside the marijuana pipe. "Robert suffers form the anger of
modern life. Man is powerless in so many encounters. I've learned to cope."
"We all have. I'll see you tomorrow," Randy departed.
Ann lifted the lid of a large pan to stir macaroni and cheese. Ann used normal sized, although to her
they seemed small, boxes of the product she bought at the Walmart sixty miles away. Ann used four boxes and carefully followed
the directions to create a good macaroni and cheese for Lester and herself. Her sister and others, such as one of the girls
at the indian village, prided themselves on cooking the dish from scratch, but Ann had always achieved good results with the
While carrying two plates to the screened porch, Ann noticed the dog's water dish contained only a small,
dirty amount so she set the plates down momentarily to attend to the dog. Ann had trained herself to handle a task when she
noticed it. She then picked up the two warm plates and proceeded to the porch area.
"Here you go, honey," she handed Lester his plate and fork and then with that hand touched his shoulder
"Thank you," Lester balanced the plate with his left hand and used the other for a slight beckoning motion
they both recognized.
Ann leaned to kiss him briefly before sitting in her recliner which matched Lester's. She smoked marijuana
rarely. He often smoked, sat out here on the darkened porch, and listened with headphones to his sound system. If he became
emotional and gushy, Ann could abide that. Lester gobbled forkfuls of macaroni and cheese, and then he took several swallows
from a can of beer.
"Jimmy will be alright," he said.
"Was it a broken thigh bone?"
"Yes. It could have been worse. It was a fracture," Lester had heard of people breaking bones and there
being internal damage to veins or arteries. Jimmy had escaped that.
"Chief Robert," Ann knew most of the native americans who lived a short distance away. From time to time,
they ate in the restaurant. If friends or relatives from different parts of the country came for a visit, they sometimes
roomed at the Cactus Motel. "Chief Robert is not someone to cross."
"He is very strict. If the cops catch the hit and run driver, I could picture Robert going down to the
jail to have a word with the guy."
"Robert would do more than have a word."
Lester liked to converse with Robert when he stopped by the gift shop or ate in the restaurant. Lester
had known the children for several years. Robert offered insight into some native american concepts. However, Robert had
graduated from college and had worked in Las Vegas for twenty years. Robert could philosophize. He had several times noted
the callousness, greed, and dishonesty (including the media) that had befallen the United States during the last twenty years.
"You know," Lester said to Ann, "this hit and run accident sort of goes along with the way Robert's been
talking lately. Earlier this year, news from Los Angeles reported a black, homeless man had been run over, pre-dawn, on a
freeway. Mini vans and SUVs filled with individuals intent on getting to the coffee place prior to work had run over the
victim repeatedly like an animal's carcass. Robert had wryly expressed it like that -- drivers intent on getting to the coffee
place. It seemed to sum up all the worst aspects of our culture; but, now this occurred."
“Tomorrow,” said Ann, “I’m going to the truck stop to put up flyers. I’ve
got a cake mix in the cupboard so I’ll bake that and take it to Jimmy to see how he’s doing.”
“Good idea,” Lester appreciated Ann’s efforts to advertise by posting flyers on the
bulletin boards of the truck stop. “Have you decided about the internet website?”
“The two largest ones charge monthly fees and we have to take photographs of the room interiors,
the front building, and the restaurant. We have to write the copy.”
“Let me know the costs. I think it’s a good idea.”
Ann had been working to get the Cactus Motel listed on internet websites where people could search for
motel accommodations online.
“Maybe it’s only a dream,” she said. “Do you think anyone wants to search for
a motel halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in this desert?”
“They are fools not to,” Lester expected that Ann would finish eating, collect the dishes,
and return to the main living area of the double wide mobile home where she and Spike usually spent time. “This desert
is quiet. People can get in touch with their souls in this desert.”
“I agree,” Ann got up to take the dishes to the kitchen. The remainder of the macaroni and
cheese could be scooped from the pan into a container for the refrigerator.
“That was good, honey,” Lester reached for the small plastic bag that Randy had delivered
earlier. When the pipe was filled and ready to smoke, he rested it on the end table and went to get a fresh can of beer.
It was dark when Robert, Jimmy, and Sara arrived at their house. A couple of friends came out to gather
round Jimmy and help him. He carefully monitored his stiff cast to be certain it did not bump anything.
"Just give me the crutches, dad," he felt slightly annoyed to be fawned over. "I can do it."
"Be careful," Robert turned to control the advances of people wanting to help. Sara approached her large,
white dog, Snow. The house had been constructed by Robert's grandfather in the 1960s. There were four bedrooms. Robert's
dad had remodeled the kitchen in the 1980s. Special cellulose insulation had been blown into all the exterior walls in the
1980s, and attic insulation sheets of fiberglass had been increased. A large central heat pump/air conditioner had cost Robert
$3000 last summer, but it had been worth it.
After all had settled down, Jimmy was asleep in his room. Robert allowed Sara to fall asleep on the sofa
with her pillow and blanket. Now, his favorite professional basketball team played a game during the early evening. Robert
would relax in his easy chair and enjoy the bright, lively images on the television. He used a finger on the remote to reduce
the volume since Sara was sleeping.
Robert liked sports. The television spewed corrupt views of the world, but sports could not be faked.
If a player made a great shot, no one could deny it. Robert also appreciated golf. He would watch it on TV and imagine himself
playing golf with his friends and making a great shot. Nevertheless, infrequently Robert looked at a news program. He loathed
the things he saw there. Besides the news, Robert believed the situation comedies and TV dramas affected citizens. If corrupt
rulers were not using television to ruin the citizens, perhaps the media was like a seething, demented brain. Every crazy
thought, every odd desire, every weird theory portrayed thousands of times on thousands of channels adversely affected people
who merely wanted to work and live and have a little entertainment. Anytime he was not centered on sports, Robert warily
perused the TV channels.
The sound of Randy's tow truck could be heard outside, so Robert went to the door. Randy had a method
of purchasing marijuana during frequent trips to Las Vegas. Every week or two, Randy would drive over and offer Robert a
supply of the weed.
"Come in," Robert pushed outward on a screen door.
"How is Jimmy," Randy had heard about the accident while listening to the shortwave radio in his tow truck.
"He will be alright," Robert recognized Randy's usual tactic of carrying a paper bag from a fast food
place, wrinkled as if too long away from the restaurant; and, the tow truck driver held in his opposite hand a large soft
drink cup with a lid and a straw. "Come in, Randy."
Robert excused himself to quietly carry Sara to her bedroom. She was eleven and becoming tall, but she
snuggled comfortably asleep as she had over the years when he would put her to bed. Robert returned to the front room.
Randy settled into his usual spot on the end of the sofa previously occupied by slumbering Sara. He watched
the forty two inch flat panel television. The basketball game continued its colorful spectacle. His half drank large soda
rested on the coffee table. He rifled in the fast food bag which contained a wax paper wrapped, half eaten cheeseburger,
a partially full french fries box, and an ounce of the hydroponic marijuana. Robert returned from the bedroom area of the
"Thank you for coming," he said.
"I was at the truck stop when the accident happened. I heard the radio call," Randy studied Robert; would
he bring forth his pipe for their customary smoke?
"A hit and run driver. A white man in a mini van..."
"I hope they catch him," Randy had been in conversations with Robert about white people. Randy avoided
any focus on the white part of Robert's discourse.
"You expect the pipe," Robert's recliner contained a side compartment from which he retrieved the wooden
Randy leaned to accept the pipe. He packed it and lit the fragrant herb. He inhaled and offered the
pipe to Robert.
"No. Not tonight."
"Try it, Robert."
"I am glad you brought it, but I will not smoke tonight."
"It will take your mind off Jimmy's accident."
"I do not want to distract my mind, Randy."
"You are thinking about that driver."
"I wish him dead."
"Are you filled with hate?"
"Hate is not good for you," Randy continued to smoke the marijuana.
Robert would deprive himself of pleasure. He would fast. Spiritual power would be all he could rely
on. There seemed like no answer to him. Emotional pain overwhelmed Robert and would not abate.