Mike Hayne

Part 2

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The Manitou
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Manitou 2017

Chapter Three

Early morning light began to brighten the bedroom of Lester’s and Ann's mobile home. Lester woke up, slipped on a pair of jeans, and went to the kitchen to start coffee. The little terrier's paws clacked on the linoleum floor, and the dog lapped water from a dish Ann had filled last night.

"Good boy, Spike," Lester said. "Do you want to go out?"

Lester used the front door so Spike would linger in the central area of the property. He tended to go towards the abdomen high chain link fence that ran twenty yards from the rear corner of the restaurant/front desk building to the corner of the small store. Spike could see the small motel pool, but the gate always remained latched as did the gate on a similar fence that connected the front corners of both buildings.

Lester did not bother to go to his outside deck area. He preferred that setting in the evening. Now, he sat at a dining table and used a remote control to turn on the news from the nearest city on the interstate highway, Victorville.

"Police this morning have issued a composite drawing of a man who tried to abduct a twelve year old girl on her way to school yesterday."

Ann wore a robe and slippers. She came out to say good morning to Lester and get a cup of coffee prior to cleaning up to begin her day. She noted the TV.

"It's getting to be once a week that we hear a story like that from Los Angeles or Las Vegas," she said.

"I've been thinking," Lester got up to join Ann at the coffee machine. "I wonder if we could erect a wind mill."

"I like that idea," Ann's immediate response was to decry the idea as unfeasible, but she would not say that to her husband. He was not stupid. "Could that work?"

"I don't know. The billboard brings in twelve hundred a month just by standing there. I'm sure those large, modern windmills generate enough electricity to pay for themselves."

"This desert has enough wind."

"Are you going to the truck stop to hang flyers?"

"Yes. The kids can handle the restaurant and front desk for a couple of hours. Also, I'm going to make a cake for Jimmy."

"Great idea, honey."

Orrin and Vince came out of their mobile homes at about the same time close to 7am. Vince's house mate, Mark, kept weird hours and was in the central room drinking a beer and using a remote control to scroll through TV channels.

"Where's Sheila," Vince asked.

"She's coming," Orrin had a key that would unlock all the doors to the building.

"Ok," Vince also had a similar key on his ring. He realized Orrin maintained a certain, seething anger for the girlfriend he had broken up with but who still lived in the other bedroom of their employee mobile home.

Vince was the nephew of Lester. He sometimes wondered if Orrin maintained decorum based on the concept that Vince could threaten Orrin's position. Vince would never do that, but Orrin might consider it. Vince and Orrin as well as Sheila had gone to the same high school in Victorville. Vince had an identical master key as Orrin, so when Orrin crossed the parking lot -- Orrin's car parked by his mobile home and Mark's car parked by his, -- Orrin went to the rear restaurant door by the trash bin, and Vince went to the side door that led to the hallway near the recreation room.

Once inside, Orrin moved efficiently to the kitchen and turned on the gas that ignited the grill. Orrin had found a scratch on the door of his car. Vince could act civil all he wanted; but, Orrin wanted the situation rectified. Sheila had probably done it to provoke Orrin, and she needed to admit it.

"If she admits it, Vince," Orrin could easily address Vince across the expanse of restaurant tables. "If she admits she keyed my car, that will be enough. I just want her to admit it. Not knowing increases my anger level."

Vince moved to the door opposite the one he had entered. This was the door that led to the pool area. Outside the large, plate glass windows, the pool looked clean and attractive and shimmered in the shade of morning twilight.

Vince went to a side counter that held a soft drink dispensing machine, a juice machine that used containers of concentrated juice for apple, orange, and cranberry, and a coffee brewing machine with the ability to fill two large stainless steel containers at the same time. Vince usually only brewed one container of regular coffee.

"Vince, what do you want," Orrin referred to the breakfast he was cooking.

"Scrambled eggs and bacon," Vince next went through the opened door of the recreation room. It contained an old pool table, a sofa and two easy chairs, a few small end tables, and a TV hooked up to a satellite dish on the roof. The motel rooms were not hooked up and did not receive a TV signal, but each had a television/DVD player combo and in the rec room one large bookcase contained hundreds of DVDs. Vince used a remote to turn on the TV and begin scrolling through channels. He dropped onto one end of the sofa where he usually sat.

In his mobile home, Lester enjoyed coffee at the kitchen table, maintained partial attention on the TV news, and read a newspaper he had picked up two days ago at the truck stop. An hour from now, he would go to the small store and open it. He and Ann both believed that keeping a consistent routine was important.

Ann bustled forth fully dressed in an attitude of having somewhere to go today. She carried a manila folder with a half dozen bright yellow flyers she had printed on the computer yesterday. She laid this on the table near Lester.

“Today,” she said, “I’ll visit the indian village and take Jimmy a cake.”

Ann used a large bowl and an electric hand mixer she had owned since a teenager living at home and baking with her mother. The procedure was simple, and she took only ten minutes to mix a box of ingredients, three eggs, margarine, and milk and fill two round, nine inch cake pans. She left those in the oven to bake for twenty minutes.

Normally, Ann would be at the restaurant/front desk building from 7am to 9am while Lester did not leave the house to open the store until nine. Spike would stay with Lester and then be with Ann when she came home for a one hour break at nine. This routine allowed the to couple relax and be alone at various times throughout the day. At ten, when Ann returned to her position, Spike usually went to the store to spend the day with Lester.

Elliot Morphson, serial killer, woke up in a cheap motel room in Ohio. He was driving west. Yesterday, as he prepared to go to his job in the Bronx, New York, Elliot had instead decided to drive west. He worked as a barber at Hector’s Hair. The old man, Hector, complained but said he could get one of the students from the barber college to fill in. To Elliot, Hector’s plan as it came through Elliot’s cell phone sounded like a threat to replace Elliot Morphson after twenty years.

This morning, Elliot awoke and turned on his laptop computer on the bed of the small motel in Ohio. He had an urge to get in his car and continue west. First, he logged onto the internet with a wireless connection. He immediately went to the Corpse Patrol website. From a list of unsolved murders, there were six hundred and thirty, Elliot clicked on the name of a victim.. The picture of a coed from Bronx Vocational School appeared with a description of her murder.

“This is one of four blonde women attributed to a serial killer the FBI has named -- The Barber. His primary killing territory is Westchester county, New York.” Elliot read the description and felt elated.

The motel bed was king sized, so Elliot had slept without disturbing the black briefcase on top of the bedspread near the edge. Now, he undid two clasps and opened the case to touch blonde hair. He masturbated like he had last night prior to falling asleep. Then, Elliot Morphson went to the bathroom to shower and shave. He brushed his teeth and combed his hair, but he would comb his hair again before he left the room.

Elliot dressed in black slacks and shoes, a white, long sleeved shirt, and a black vest. It was a barber’s vest in the old tradition favored at Hector’s Hair in the Bronx. In a vest pocket, Elliot liked to keep a seven inch, aluminum comb with large teeth on one end and fine teeth on the tapered end of the comb. He studied his appearance in a mirror near the room’s TV, and then Elliot took a few steps back into the bathroom to use the large teeth and then the small teeth on his hair. Later, he could groom more before checking out. For now, he left the computer as it was on the bed. He needed to read his email, but he wanted to grab a quick breakfast at the omelet house in the parking lot. Elliot closed the black briefcase and put it on a high shelf near the bathroom. It was too early for the maids to be around so the room could stay like this for twenty minutes. He was hungry. Also, the omelet house had windows that could see this room. He went to get breakfast.

Ann left the two cake pans on the kitchen counter to cool. She would return and frost the cake after putting up flyers at the truck stop. She kissed Lester, petted Spike, and went outside to the couple’s SUV. She drove across the rear of the property, through the parking lot between the restaurant/front desk building and the motel rooms, and turned onto the old highway. She headed towards the indian village then turned on the side street that led to the main interstate highway a half mile away.

Bright desert sunlight, frantic activity, and continuous noise dominated the truck stop along its section of four lane, divided highway. Between the eastern route, two lanes leading to Las Vegas, and the western route, two lanes leading to Los Angeles, a dirt tract separated the eastbound and westbound traffic. There were no trees or bushes on this twenty yard wide tract, it was comprised only of hard packed, light brown dirt. The ground was dry enough and compacted enough that even thirty mile an hour desert winds did not raise the dust, although a cloud of it would erupt if any vehicle strayed into that area.

Ann watched carefully at the stop sign because although it was merely eight thirty in the morning, hundreds of cars sped by in both directions. She maneuvered during breaks in the traffic to cross the eastbound lanes, the dirt tract, and then the westbound lanes. From there, the small, side road went along one edge of the wide, truck stop building.

A distance away, a very tall roof structure of steel allowed huge eighteen wheel trucks to fill up their tanks at the diesel pumps. In the front of the building, numerous passenger cars gathered at the gasoline pumps. Ann parked near an entrance to a convenience store part of the building.

"Hi, Heather," Ann nodded to a young girl at the cash register contending with customers.

Heather made brief eye contact, and Ann continued deeper into the expansive truck stop building.

Outside, at the edge of the parking lot, William rested in his patrol car. He had the vehicle parked with the windshield away from the bright sun. He watched Randy's tow truck arrive and pass into the busy gas pump area. Sometimes, Randy did not stop to chat.

Randy had left the house a few minutes ago. He had smoked his first morning reefer while driving over so he avoided the highway patrol cop. Anyway, Randy needed to get gas and then head to one of the repair shops near Victorville. Also, he had his mobile radio on in case he got any calls.

Ann knew the locations of bulletin boards. She went first to the customer bathrooms by a rear hallway and janitor's closet near a metal service door. A sign on the door read -- door is locked. Emergency only. Alarm will sound. A special push bar would allow egress during a crisis, but normally this part of the store was closed off except for the bathrooms. However, a large bulletin board held many items. Ann had brought her own push pins, but many unused ones existed. She put up her flyer. The one she had left here last month was gone. She saw several of Randy's business cards for his towing service tacked haphazardly across the bulletin board.

There were aisles of sundry items. Anything that might attract a tourist's attention had been stocked by the proprietors. Over the counter drugs such as ointments and aspirin, and personal hygiene supplies like bath soap, toothpaste, and shaving razors and cream were near swinging double doors with a sign -- truck drivers only. Ann knew that one of the best bulletin boards, one that might attract truck drivers, hung just past those doors in a narrow hall that led to the showers and locker area for the men. Ann pushed open the door. She immediately saw that her previous flyer was still there, but a corner had been torn off as if someone had needed a scrap of paper for a phone number. She moved to replace that flyer.

A lone man came from the rear of the hall where additional double doors opened to the actual showers and personal lockers. The man was young with dark, wet hair. He was clean shaven. He wore a short sleeved, blue denim shirt, black jeans, and athletic shoes. His arms had spent years lifting heavy objects, and the man had a tattoo with color in it.

“Hello,” he paused.

“Hi,” Ann stuck a pin into the bulletin board. She did not employ a steady gaze that would have informed her what the tattoo was.

“Cactus Motel,” he said. “I’m interested.”

One thing Ann had known since a teenager was that her breasts had grown full. Throughout her life, more than anything else, when meeting men, her breasts had been a factor. She had never exercised much. Her mom said that Ann had the type of svelte figure that a woman could possess almost as a testimony to not being athletic in life. The man stood closer than the concept of interpersonal space dictated.

"What's your name?"

"Ann," she made brief eye contact. "Maybe sometime you'll stay at our motel." She verged on mentioning her husband.

"Maybe I will," he smiled. He offered a hand to shake. "I'm Al, by the way."

"Nice to meet you," she gently touched a hand as hard as concrete.

"Nice to meet you," the man was not pathetic. He did not seek to clasp her hand for a prolonged period. The handshake was respectful.

"Well," she backed up a step. "I have to go."

The man realized no romantic encounter would occur. He seemed to accept it. Ann finished her project and went to the cash register counter where three girls worked.

"Hi, Ann," Heather momentarily was between customers.

"Can I put up a flyer?"

"Sure," Heather had seen Ann go into the restaurant and use that bulletin board previously.

Elliot Morphson finished breakfast at the omelet house in the parking lot of the motel in Ohio. He would check out and continue driving west. It was a beautiful morning, but now it began to get close to check out time. He returned to the motel and dreaded what he saw. A maid had already opened the door to his room. Elliot advanced and arrived at a large cart, a housekeeping contraption made out of plastic and canvas and used by the maid to carry supplies, linens, etc and to block the opened door of any particular room she was in.

"Hello," Elliot tentatively pushed the cart to gain access. “Hello. I will check out in a few minutes.”

His eyes darted to the black briefcase on the shelf near the bathroom. Nobody had touched it. His laptop computer had been carried from the bed and relocated with its screen still opened and the computer plugged in and on. It sat next to the television on a formica piece of furniture. The bedding had been stripped and piled on the floor along with used towels from the bathroom.

"Give me a few minutes," Elliot had now rolled the cart aside. "Come back after I check out."

The woman complied. She was young and stocky with black hair fastened tight to her head. Elliot did not care for her. She left and he shut the motel room door. He re-positioned his laptop back onto the mattress and he sat to check emails.

Elliot Morphson deleted a dozen advertisements from pornographers. He had quit logging onto pornography websites. He believed that the internet was like life itself. If you went to seedy places, you got a virus. Now, those types of sites continuously sent Elliot spam.

The email Elliot wanted to see was from his mother. A small icon on the screen indicated that at this same moment, on Long Island, his mother was online. She would send instant messages if Elliot unblocked her. However, for now, he read the email message his mother had sent him last night.

"Why didn't you let me know you had decided to take a vacation? How long did you plan this and when will you be back? Let me know. Love, Mom."

Elliot disliked that she signed her email messages. He had explained numerous times that the messages automatically identified who sent them. He composed a reply.

"I should not be gone long. I felt an urge to get out of the city. The trip was not planned. I will email tonight and let you know where I am."

Elliot closed the laptop computer. He accumulated all his possessions into his suitcase and placed it on the bed. He paused to touch up his hair and check his appearance in the mirror. He wore the white shirt and black vest of his profession. Hector's Hair in the Bronx had stuck to traditional dress rather than wearing smocks or barber shirts. Elliot Morphson lightly moistened his tapered, aluminum comb, ran it through his hair, and placed the comb in his vest pocket next to a pair of slim mustache scissors. He was proud to be a barber. Barbers earned good money and provided a needed service. Lastly, Elliot reached for the black briefcase and placed it on the bed ready to move everything out to his car. However, he could enjoy one more caress of the beautiful blonde hair from the three women he had killed over the past two years. Elliot wondered if he had killed four, but he had forgotten. Nevertheless, he would turn small locking mechanisms on the briefcase and open it to view the blonde hair before checking out of the motel. Consternation gripped him as he noticed the combination latches were aligned and unlocked. He quickly opened the black briefcase to check the contents. The maid had been in the room. Elliot Morphson always secured his briefcase. How could he have forgotten to do that this morning?

Robert fed Jimmy oatmeal and toast. Jimmy was propped up in his bed and watching a 32 inch flat panel TV he had bought a few months ago. The house had a decent satellite television system.

“Thanks, dad.” Jimmy sipped coffee and placed the cup on a bedside table. His dad had allowed the coffee instead of juice out of consideration for Jimmy’s injury. The pain pills negated any bad sensations in Jimmy, so he relaxed and settled the TV channel on the morning news from Victorville. He wanted to see if there would be a report about his accident. Robert positioned the food on a nice aluminum tray with small, hinged metal legs designed to service a person in bed. He noticed that Jimmy watched the news.

“Son, the accident might not be on TV.”

“I know,” he was beginning to think that himself.

Robert left Jimmy’s room to care for Sara; his eleven year old daughter ate oatmeal, toast, and milk at the dining room table.

Jimmy scrolled through TV channels. As usual, nothing much attracted his attention. A few years ago, the MTV provocative dances of sexual girls interested Jimmy, but now he looked on those white girl singers as somewhat ridiculous. He and his friends would find girls and make dates the best they could. The main obstacle to a social life in the desert was the distance between each other’s houses as well as a scarcity of people to meet. In the summer, with no school, things really slowed down. Jimmy enjoyed soccer practice two evenings a week and a game once a week which was where he had been going yesterday when hit by that white mini van. Now, on TV, no sports were on at this time of the morning so Jimmy paused for a moment on an odd TV show -- Corpse Patrol.

“Each week we find the body of a woman or child who has been abducted and murdered. This week, the Barber. He has killed four women over two years in Westchester County, near New York City. The Barber cuts the blonde hair from his victims. It is reported that a girl with long, straight blonde hair is the type The Barber will attack.”

Sheila came out of her employee mobile home at 10am. The desert wind blew her long, blonde hair back from her face. She knew Ann intended to take a get well cake to Jimmy today, so Ann’s normal routine of returning from her one hour break at 10am would not occur. Therefore, Sheila ignored the metal, rear door of the restaurant by the trash bin. Instead, Sheila went farther along that side of the building to enter the glass and aluminum door that entered the short hall between the rec room and the front desk lobby. She pictured herself hanging out at the front desk. Surprisingly, as Sheila came from the short hallway near the door of the rec room she saw Lester in the restaurant whereas at this time normally he would have been in the general store. Lester sat at a table near the large, bright windows that looked out onto the pool. The small terrier, Spike, scampered forth to greet Sheila. She stooped to pet the dog.

“Good morning,” she said to the room.

“Good morning, Sheila,” Lester had what appeared to be a patty melt sandwich and french fries on his plate.

“Hi,” Orrin was behind the grill counter. He made it a point to be amiable to his ex girlfriend because it was the right thing to do. He felt no hard feelings.

“Hi,” Sheila nodded across the empty expanse of tables. Orrin acted decently in front of Lester, but Sheila knew the scratch on his car door continuously irritated him.

Lester watched Sheila go to the front desk. He liked the way the young people looked after the property. He enjoyed the patty melt and contemplated the idea of a windmill. They were expensive; the monthly payment would be similar to paying a mortgage on a house. It did not need to be done this year. Lester was merely brainstorming, he believed. Spike came over and Lester offered a french fry. Spike happily chewed the morsel then settled onto the gray carpet with his head up to watch the movements of Vince near the coffee counter and Sheila as she went to the front door.

“Orrin,” Sheila laughed to herself. Vince and Orrin had not unlocked the front door. “The front door is still locked, Orrin.”

“Then, unlock it,” he called from the kitchen. “Quit complaining, Sheila.”

Orrin allowed anger to briefly arise in him. His tone was robust. He could not understand why Sheila believed she could goad him and get away with it.

Ann had returned to her mobile home to open a can of chocolate frosting. A fifteen year old boy would relish a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Lester and Spike were gone to either the store or to the restaurant for breakfast. Ann finished the cake and carried it on a large plate to the front seat of the SUV for a short drive to the indian village.

There were approximately fifteen mobile homes and a few regular houses at the small indian reservation. Ann pulled into an entrance road and maintained an eye to see anyone she knew. Chief Robert’s house was a large, well built structure with a neat wooden fence surrounding the side yard. Prince, a lean, beautiful horse lived in the yard. A hitching rail nearby might have been there for a hundred years. Robert’s saddle rested over the rail like a person would see in a western movie. Ann approached with the cake.

Inside, Sara had turned on the large 42 inch flat panel and satellite system. She seemed to sense Robert’s ornery mood even though he kept a stoic appearance. Sara put the channel on a sports network which was reviewing last night’s basketball games. She had done this on occasions when attempting to please Robert.

“Daddy,” she said. “Are the white players not as good as the blacks?”

This bothered Robert. With his friends once or twice such an expression had been made. He monitored himself to keep his demeanor subdued. Robert did not want to lash out with anger at his eleven year old daughter when that anger remained focused on the hateful mini van driver from yesterday.

“No, Sara. You are old enough to understand the concept of racism. White people are not the only racists,” in fact, Robert had noticed that since the 1990s, racist attitudes in young black people and mexican immigrants had been increasing. He believed the media enflamed such prejudices in people.

“I only asked if they were weaker basketball players,” Sara persisted.

“No. I want you to understand that any time a person focuses on skin color, it is a mistake. Do not judge a person by skin color, Sara.”

The United States media had spread this message in the 1960s and in the 1980s, but at other times this perspective had waned. As a parent, Robert saw his job as giving his children the correct beliefs even if the society did not.

Ann knocked on the door. Robert walked a few paces to open it. Snow, the large, white dog cared for primarily by Sara, came from a rear bedroom and paused silently in the center of the living room. Sara used a remote control to begin changing channels.

“Hello,” said Robert.

“Hello,” Ann slightly hefted the cake before her. “I’ve brought a get well gift for Jimmy.”

“Come in, please,” Robert liked Ann and her husband Lester. “We can go back and visit Jimmy for a few minutes.”

“How is he?”

“A fractured leg. He will be ok,” Robert led the way down the hall.

Ann perceived a quietness to the house. No air conditioner was humming or blowing. Still, dry air filled the interior, dimly lit hallway. A small, antique table seemed to hold no purpose other than decoration or some native american element as on the table rested a clay pot with an arrangement of tall, dry grasses. Ann knew that Robert had lived in Las Vegas for twenty years but that his wife had remained there to live and work. Ann did not know if the couple was divorced. Sara and Snow trod silently a few steps behind Ann. Robert rapped lightly on a bedroom door which was not completely shut. He pushed gently on the door.

"Jimmy? You have a visitor," Robert leaned forward to check on Jimmy. "Ann," said Robert, "this way, please."

"Hi, Jimmy," Ann smiled and entered the room. "I've brought you a get well cake."

"Hello," Jimmy had been lying flat on his back on his bed.

The room did not seem stuffy. The dim light mimicked that of the rest of the house. A 32 inch flat panel TV on its stand dominated an old desk which also held a few books and articles of clothing. The TV screen depicted a video game, paused, and Ann recognized the image as that of a game her husband Lester had at one time played. Ann looked to Jimmy's leg which stretched heavily on the bed as Jimmy partially raised himself. The pajama pants had been cut to give access to the hurt leg.

“The doctor put the cast on to minimize movement,” Jimmy knew this lady who ran the restaurant where he went sometimes. “They put a metal bar and screws in there, too. I’ll go back to get those out in six weeks.”

“How do you feel?” Ann found a place on the bureau to place the cake. “Is there a lot of pain?”

“Not now. When it happened, though, yesterday at this time I was lying out there with the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

“Sara,” said Robert, “will help with the cake, Ann.” He motioned to where Sara and Snow had arrived. “Sara, bring Jimmy’s cake to the kitchen.”

“Thank you,” said Jimmy, “for the cake.”

“You are welcome. We all want you to get well,” Ann noticed that a tapestry-like wall hanging over Jimmy’s bed was a traditional native american horse blanket. On the other hand, a translucent, flag-like material tacked over the window portrayed a popular football team’s logo.

Sara and Snow paraded from Jimmy’s room with the cake as if proud to have an assignment.

“Son,” said Robert, “I’ll see you later. Get some rest today.”

Ann and Robert returned to the front of the house. They proceeded outside. At the street side, not much parking space was crowded by Robert’s car and the large SUV owned by Ann and Lester. Robert expressed gratitude for the gesture of the get well visit and cake. Ann said she was returning to the Cactus Motel. Several times a week, Robert and his friends or family members ate in the restaurant.

“Thank you again, Ann,” Robert went into the house.

A moment prior to entering her vehicle, Ann was attracted to a mobile home a short distance away. This place housed a native american family consisting of two teenaged boys, a husband who commuted daily to work at a nearby national preserve, and a woman who possessed professional hair styling skills. Once a month, Ann came over to spend $25 for a haircut. Now, Ann saw the woman and another woman from one of the other reservation mobile homes. Ann moved to greet them. She paused as a pick up truck with three young men in front and one in the truck’s bed went along the central driveway and turned onto the street.

“Hi,” Ann greeted the women.

“Hello, Ann. We are just going in.”

The other woman was the customer who would receive a hair treatment today. She commented about her relatives who had left in the pick up truck to work day labor in Victorville.

“Well,” Ann said. “A little work is better than no work.”

“Yes,” the woman agreed.

Ann related that perhaps she might come later this week for a hair treatment.

“I’ll be at the motel this afternoon working on my checkbook,” said Ann. "I'll probably come over this week."

"That would be good," said the hair cutting woman.

Ann went back to Robert's house to get her SUV. Robert had saddled his horse, Prince. He carried a one gallon, plastic container of water as a person could purchase at a grocery store.

"I'm riding in the desert today," Robert's demeanor portrayed that of a strong, noble native american chief.

"I'm glad Jimmy is recovering," Ann sensed that Robert was holding within himself intense emotions.

Ann departed and Robert mounted Prince. He used a small piece of rope to tie the gallon jug of water near the front of the saddle. It would be an hour before he needed to take a drink. Sara and the large, white dog, Snow, came out. Robert knew that Sara liked to walk in the desert.

"Sara," Robert used one hand on Prince's saddle horn and one hand to lay a reassuring touch on the horse's neck. "Sara, where are you friends?"

"They are doing stuff," she moved towards a property line on the desert side. From there, the terrain stretched in a desolate way for hundreds of miles.

"Stay away from the road," Robert let his eleven year old daughter go because Snow was with her.

Prince was almost eight years old. Robert had owned the horse since returning from Las Vegas three years ago. Prior to that, Prince had been raised on a ranch in central California. No neighbors owned a horse. However, Robert remembered growing up in this region. In those days, 35 years ago, there had been a dozen horses and men had attempted to keep up traditions.

It was hot, but Robert tolerated it. He had experienced hotter parts of the desert. This was not too bad. For some reason today, Robert thought about the past and his life out here all these years. Usually, he never recollected like this.

In the past, Robert and his friends had ridden out here. In Las Vegas and here, his kids never seemed to have an abundance of playmates. People were sequestered with their entertainments; and, Robert noted often that the television and computer influences were paltry and perverse. However, now the hateful, selfish culture had resulted in a hit and run driver harming Jimmy physically. Prince stepped assuredly amid the dry shrubs of the hard terrain. Robert's stomach offered a slight sensation of hunger. He had forsaken food since Jimmy's accident yesterday. He unleashed the saddle rope to lift his plastic jug of water. The desert now was hot enough that sweat evaporated before condensing. Robert's skin was dry. He continued across the landscape. Prince could get over heated, but Robert monitored the horse; Prince was ok so Robert continued his lonely ride.

Sara and Snow were in the desert a hundred yards away from the old, unused highway; they approached the edge of the Cactus Motel property near the porch on the rear of Lester's double wide mobile home. The house was empty because by this time, Lester and Spike would be in the small store. Sara continued to hike and play in the desert.

In Ohio, Elliot Morphson checked out of the motel, put the suitcase and briefcase into the trunk of his expensive luxury car, and got on the road heading west. It was a beautiful morning. Even though the wind would dishevel his hair, Elliot pushed a button to roll all four windows down. He kept to the right lane and drove the speed limit which he normally believed was too slow. He inhaled clean, seemingly moist with vitality, air. In the Bronx or driving around Westchester County, Elliot Morphson usually only experienced an atmosphere of carbon monoxide.

He turned the radio to an AM station. The jovial announcer could be heard here as in New York. With a happy attitude the announcer quipped about war, poverty, and other serious issues. It was as if the job of the radio was to either confuse listeners or drive them crazy.

"Well," a person had called the radio program. "The Japanese build their cars to last."

"And," the announcer used a cynical tone, "they pay their workers half of what our guys get. I don't know about you, but I favor a buy American philosophy."

While driving, Elliot Morphson began to think about things other than the talk radio show. The four blonde women Elliot had strangled in Westchester County had been profiled on the television show Corpse Patrol. He smiled to himself about that.

Early afternoon at the Cactus Motel settled into its routine. Three customers, two men and a woman, enjoyed a late lunch; they were situated at a central table. Orrin maintained his station at the grill. Vince watched TV in the recreation room. The door stood open, and the sports channel basketball highlights could be heard in the restaurant.

Sheila performed her duties as a waitress. She intended to eat a ham and cheese on rye which waited on a plate in the salad refrigerator. She anticipated that the three people at the central table would leave soon.

"Would anyone," Sheila held an iced tea pitcher and a flask of black coffee, "like a refill?"

"Yes, please," the woman indicated her glass of ice cubes.

Both men accepted coffee in their cups. Sheila had served this group previously during their travels across the desert. They related that a friend had told them to veer over from the main highway for a good meal in a quiet setting. Sheila understood that Orrin was a skilled cook. Nevertheless, she disliked that he was wimpy. She knew he was angry and harbored strong emotions towards her, but he always smiled and talked pleasantly. She had scratched his car. Most boyfriends would have come to her room and slapped her but not Orrin. Many TV shows that she watched stated that maniacs were the nicest, most quiet guys. They would snap, go crazy, and bring a gun to the workplace. Orrin did not own a weapon. However, he had a butcher knife in his chef's toolbox with several other types of knives, a small bone cleaver, and items such as a meat thermometer, scissors, or twine for tying food items. That large knife or even the cleaver could be used as weapons if Orrin's meek demeanor revealed an angry, darker side.

After putting up flyers in the truck stop and taking a get well cake to Jimmy, Ann had arrived at her desk in the front of the building. She worked on various financial items. She paid Orrin, Vince, Sheila, and Mark once a week. For planning, Ann kept a ledger and rounded each figure to the dollar. Last month, the Cactus Motel had earned $4500 plus $1200 from the billboard advertising company in Manhattan. The young people were paid $800 each per month, so that $3200 and other expenses caused the business to exist but not to thrive. If Ann could attract perhaps $10,000 per month, which would be $300 to $350 per day profit, Ann figured the property would be a success. Ann used her laptop computer which she carried from her house sometimes. When online, however, the front desk could not receive incoming calls. Ann spent time today researching websites where she hoped to create advertisements for the remote, desert motel.

John Synd wanted to quit raping and killing. At age 40, he had been doing it in Boston for fifteen years. At first, it had been one girl a year. It seemed to be a tension that built up in him that released itself when he murdered. He believed he could stop. He had two small boys at home and a wife of four years. John had married late in life.

Yesterday, John Synd had taken an abrupt vacation. An urge to drive west had come over him. Now, he drove on an interstate highway in the midwest. To him, the problem seemed to be circumstances. John's best friend was his boss at a real estate company. John Synd drove a van to carry his tools to properties throughout the city. John was a repairman for rental properties. That meant that during the course of the business day he was not accountable to anyone and he roamed the streets. He spent a lot of time looking at girls and women to imagine them naked and to fantasize about making love to them. It practically was not John's fault that circumstances allowed him to rape and murder.

John Synd enjoyed this freedom. Once a year, his wife took a vacation to see her parents. She took the two boys. Now, John could roam free. He had brought his regular car rather than the service van he used for the real estate business. He had the van’s rear doors fixed so he could wrestle a girl into the van, knock her unconscious, and drive to a remote area. If she woke up, she could not escape from the back of the van. It had been nine months since he had done it. He murdered more than once a year now. John Synd wanted to break the habit and exist as a normal man in Boston with a wife and two young boys.

Ahead, on this highway, he would cross the Mississippi River and be in Kansas this evening. A longing developed in him. A compulsion pulled him along. He might find a woman who would converse with him, go with him, and let him take her photograph. John Synd had been labeled The Photographer fifteen years ago because John possessed a small, digital camera. His idea was to take a picture of the girl prior to raping and killing her. He would email the photograph of the girl to the police. He did that three times but stopped when he considered it too dangerous.

Currently, John Synd’s laptop computer in the trunk of his car contained a before picture and an after picture of each woman victim. He kept meticulous records. Often, when in a vacant house he was cleaning or repairing for Brent’s real estate service in Boston, John would use either his laptop or the digital camera itself to view the pictures and masturbate. One concern was the three AAA batteries in the camera. Only recently killed girls would be in the camera because every time he changed batteries, the pictures were deleted. He needed to constantly work on keeping his photographs saved in his computer files.

John Synd had not gained the attention of one of his favorite, national television shows -- Corpse Patrol. Nevertheless, The Photographer’s murders were recognized in Massachusetts. Fifteen years ago, his mother had given the digital camera to John prior to her murder. John’s favorite activity besides interacting with his victims was to take a photograph of them before killing them. They had no idea what would occur. Their innocent smiles titillated John.

However, over the years, media coverage had waned. These days, a dozen murdered women might turn up each year. He dared not email pictures due to sophisticated, modern police technology that might catch John. Sometimes, he called in tips on himself, but even that was risky. He continued to drive west towards the Mississippi River. John Synd liked to play golf. His clubs were in the trunk. He understood that Las Vegas had beautiful, desert courses. That was where John wanted to go on this trip.

At three o’clock, the desert wind buffeted Robert and Prince. Robert finished the last of his gallon of water; Prince had slaked his thirst at a small stream that Robert knew about in a grove of tamarisk at the foot of a treeless, dirt and stone mountain. The sun would be high five more hours, but Robert brought Prince home, unsaddled him, and released the horse to the fenced backyard where he moved to his large aluminum tub of water, his wooden shelter, and a couple of bales of hay.

Chief Robert felt lean and strong at the same time that he felt feeble due to not having eaten since Jimmy’s accident. His jaw was so tense with repressed anger that Robert remained conscious of the stiffness there. The wind blew very hard and he was careful to keep a firm grip on the house’s door. A wind like this could break the hinges.

At 4pm, in the Cactus Motel store, Lester remained inside and locked the door. No customers had been in all day. Normally, Lester would join Ann and Spike at 5pm in their double wide mobile home. Now, Lester intended to use the internet a few more minutes. At home, Lester realized that Ann probably would be online, so Lester continued here.

He wanted to read an article about Japanese auto makers. Unions in the United States were agitating that United States citizens should buy American cars. Lester had spent three hours researching windmills. If he could purchase a windmill and set it up near the billboard, that would create future income. Often, it surprised Lester the number of hours he spent perusing items on the internet. It reminded him of how people frequently used time to scroll through TV channels in the hopes of seeing entertainment or finding information.

At nine o’clock, Sheila had been gone for two hours. Orrin knew she was in her room on the internet chatting with friends. He looked around the grill area and the restaurant to observe any details that needed to be attended to. Everything was fine.

“I’m going,” he mentioned to Vince.

“Cool,” Vince watched a basketball game in the rec room. He drank beer from a refrigerator there. He intended to heat up a few small microwave pizzas. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mark sat on a sofa by the front door. He watched Orrin head out the back. Later, Mark would lock all the doors. For now, he needed to keep the front desk open until midnight. He read a paperback novel -- The Sexy Women.

Chapter Four

Two days after Jimmy’s accident, the residents of the Cactus Motel property lived their routines. At 830am, a half hour before Ann liked to go to her mobile home to walk Spike and take a one hour break, Lester ate breakfast in the restaurant. Orrin handled the work this morning. Sheila and Vince had not yet come forth from their respective employee mobile homes. Mark, the young loner who watched the check in desk from 4pm to midnight only rarely would be seen at this time; currently, Lester figured Mark was also in his place in the mobile home he shared with Vince.

“Ann,” Lester could easily address Ann where she paused by a sideboard inspecting a bowl of apples, oranges, and bananas. “Ann, I think we had six or seven guests here last month who saw your flyers at the truck stop.”

“I think so, honey,” Ann usually made it her job to order food from a restaurant supply company. Twice a month the truck brought fresh food, and Ann liked to help the young people organize the items in the walk in cooler. She also kept the fruit bowl maintained on the sideboard because she liked the pleasant mood it created in the place. Fruit was healthy and portended good things. If the young people saw it and partook of the nutritious food, that satisfied Ann.

“Ann,” said Lester. “Should we put some sort of advertising ploy at the truck stop such as coupons?”

“What kind of coupons?”

“Well, a free cup of coffee with breakfast. Or, a free soda with lunch. People would go for that, Ann.”

Robert entered, and Ann realized it was his weekly breakfast on the way to go shopping. However, two days after Jimmy’s accident, Robert was alone whereas he usually had Jimmy, Sara, and perhaps a neighbor or two from the indian village with him.

Lester recognized a strong look in Robert’s eyes as if he had been brooding for two days. Orrin remained near the grill since the menus were on the tables and Robert knew how to find his place. Ann met Robert at the table with coffee. Outside the windows, bright sunlight touched the pool and it shimmered, but the building had been situated so the sun never directly shone into the restaurant.

“Good morning, Robert,” she said.

“Good morning,” he had drank only water since the accident. Yesterday, Robert had ridden his horse in the desert from dawn until the sun had made it too hot to stay out. He now felt lean and alert. Every nuance of life contacted him in a powerful way. “Thank you for the coffee,” he took a tentative sip but by no means intended to relax his spiritual demeanor. “Let me have one poached egg and one piece of toast.”

“Would you like orange juice,” Ann noticed that Robert seemed aloof. He usually ate a substantial breakfast. He liked orange juice.

“No,” said Robert. “No orange juice.”

Due to deprivation, he felt attuned to the forces of life. He saw Lester at a nearby table, Ann near the coffee machine, and Orrin behind the grill. None of them cared about Robert or Jimmy. They expressed desire to care. These were good white people like he had had known at USC and at his casino job in Las Vegas. They were also victims of the greedy, hateful culture. Like Robert, they attempted to live in it and cope. Eating, drinking alcohol, watching TV, and smoking all helped people contend with the vast, evil philosophy that stretched across the land. A half mile away, the interstate highway represented evil as persons were all driven by their wanton passions to chase pursuits that in the end benefited no one. Since Jimmy’s accident, Robert had forsaken any of the normal activities used by people to quell the emotional pain of fear, greed, hate, lust, anger, and a dozen more emotions generated by modern thinking. Robert had remained pure and had let anger and hate fill him and hover over him in a powerful manner.

Federal investigator Jenkins, Westchester office, had been driving west for six hours today. He used a GPS dashboard unit to negotiate suburban Chicago streets. He parked and walked on soggy grass towards yellow police tape, a traditional scene that even civilians far removed from crime recognized due to television.

"FBI," Jenkins did not bother showing his identification to a couple of officers near the yellow tape.

"He's there," they indicated a young man, plain clothes, seemingly over concerned with his footwear on muddy ground.

"FBI," Jenkins used a sideways walk on a slight incline. He looked for a shrub or something he might grab to steady himself. Jenkins knew several guys that chewed antacid tablets, but he preferred a pill his wife bought in the pharmacy aisle. However, it needed to be taken in the morning, and Jenkins had not taken one today. "I'm from the New York office."

"I heard you were coming. Do you want to see her?"

"It's all I do these days," Jenkins reached level ground. He could see why this young detective used ginger steps.

"Looking at bodies is all you do," the young guy did not smile. His eyes were unblinking even in the humid, bright afternoon on the outskirts of Chicago. "I think," said the homicide detective, "that I'm seeing too many, like something is wrong with the system somewhere. I think there might be some general flaw in philosophy I don't grasp."

"Nobody grasps it," Jenkins related to the compatriot that the FBI regional office disliked this sort of road trip. "I've been after this guy two months, and I found out his name yesterday: Elliot Morphson. I'm less than a day behind him."

"This might help you out," the homicide detective nodded to a technician to uncover the woman's body. "Possibly a college student. We are inquiring at bars close to the campus."

"That's not mine," said Jenkins. "Mine only goes after blondes."

Jenkins said goodbye and returned on his trek up the slope. The Barber, Jenkins had named the suspect. This maniac would kill a blonde woman and then cut off long pieces of her hair. Jenkins believed the victim's actual hair style might attract the maniac.

"Hello, Jenkins," McCarthy came from the Boston office. "I heard someone from New York was out here."

"It's me. How have you been?"

"I've got a maniac heading west. Two days ago he had an urge to leave the Boston area."

"How did you know?"

"He taunts me."

"That's absurd," Jenkins wanted to get to his trunk and find the pills for stomach acid in his suitcase.

"A tip line. A Boston police phone tip line. The bastard calls in tips on himself. Now, the Boston police just forward the messages to me. It's like it is personal. I realize the suspect could not possibly know me, but it is like he's personally taunting me. He's driving west, but he promises to take plenty of photographs."

"Is he taking a vacation?"

"He'll kill along the way. I call him The Photographer. A real nut case."

"I would not be out here unless I was sure I could catch my killer. He cuts off their blonde hair."

"The Barber."

"I've got his name. Elliot Morphson."

"He was on the news. It's a weekly, prime time show my wife watches about police cases."

"They all watch that stuff, McCarthy. I was on that episode, but I ended up on the cutting room floor."

"Are you hoping to be famous," McCarthy joked because he figured it was humorous that Jenkins had mentioned the cutting room floor like a movie editor or actor on a TV talk show. "So the national, prime time news people interviewed you and then did not put you on the TV. Were you gathered round the set with your family and a bowl of popcorn?"

"I don't let my kids watch that stuff, McCarthy. No, I was not gathered round the TV on a Friday night. My boss told me he called them and got me taken off."

"How did he get away with that," asked McCarthy.

"I wonder myself. The thing is, the woman reporter turned me on. I talked to her for an hour in my office. This was before the camera guy got there and we did ten minutes of film that was supposed to be on Corpse Patrol."

"You say she turned you on. Are you saying..."

"Man, five foot six, one hundred and ten pounds, expensive clothes, and the tone of her voice, I mean the quality of it -- well, I would have told her the door key codes if she had asked. She wore a dress in length to her knees that revealed them when she sat and crossed her legs."

"Look over there," McCarthy pointed to a stunning woman reporter holding a microphone and followed by a burly guy with a television camera. "Corpse Patrol."

The Chicago homicide detective had come up the slope alongside the technicians using a stretcher.

"No," he called to the police at the yellow tape. "Keep them back." The young Chicago detective, in passing, paused to converse with Jenkins and McCarthy. "I hate those guys."

"How," said Jenkins, "did they find out so fast?"

"We are certain someone at headquarters maintains contact with that TV show. Nobody investigates because its a minor sort of infraction, like a nuisance, and if some clerk got fired for it the TV people would merely bribe someone else."

"Hello," McCarthy introduced himself. "Boston office, FBI. TV people like that don't even need to pay for it. Employees are star struck."

"She's hot," said the Chicago detective. "I'll give you that."

"Officer," McCarthy queried, “I’m interested in the crime scene photographs. The serial killer I am chasing is heading west. This might be one of his.“

“How will you know?

“I believe he will be in possession of his own pictures of the corpse. He’s a sick one. Let me come downtown later and read your reports."

“Sure,” the local detective agreed.

At Walmart, Robert felt no pleasure. Usually, with Jimmy, Sara, and a couple of friends, the shopping trip portended fun. They all loved the incredible bounty of the United States. Robert often commented that Walmart and sports proved that the country was capable of great things. People acted polite. There was peace and prosperity in this bright, abundant store. But how evil were their souls? He saw many girls a few years older than Sara who wore shorts tight and high on their thighs. Girls not even out of high school wore shirts that were skimpy and enhanced the appearance of breasts. Robert did not approve of such wantonness. He noticed couples and families. People were together. Did love create their bonds? He was divorced. He had little belief in love. Instead, he viewed relationships as barter systems. He pushed his cart, he had no fun today doing this chore, and he understood that his negative observations pertained to Jimmy's accident earlier in the week. It appeared that Jimmy would be ok. In a few months, school would begin again, and the kids would view this time as a memory. Robert continued to view it as more; he saw it as injustice and evil. How many of these polite shoppers would run a person over and keep driving? Was there anything deeper going on in this country? Did Robert not comprehend it? Or, if he told the truth to himself, did he comprehend it well? He passed the rifle display in the sporting goods section. At home, Robert had a pistol in his bedroom. No one knew he had another hand gun in the trunk of his car beneath the spare tire. Robert would have gladly used either gun on the rotten soul who had perpetrated the hit and run.

Robert drove sixty miles along the interstate. He passed the desert medical center and the helicopter. During the entire drive, he did not play the radio or listen to a CD. Robert thought about the hit and run driver. How would he be brought to justice? Robert made the turn at the truck stop. Near the indian village, Robert collected his mail. He saw an envelope from the bureau of indian affairs. As chief, he often received such letters about various payments for tribal members. He parked near his house. Sara, two of her friends, and Snow gathered to help with the plastic grocery bags. During the day, a couple of neighbors had been in and out of Robert's house to care for the young people. Yesterday, Ann, the woman from The Cactus Motel had brought a get well cake for Jimmy. Robert appreciated the people at the nearby Cactus Motel.

Since the accident two days ago, Robert had only eaten a small breakfast this morning at the restaurant. All the pleasures he had deprived himself of heightened Robert's emotional pain. Something had to occur; something had to break this mood in him.

Sara and her friends went out to play. Jimmy remained content in his room with his computer. Later, Robert would prepare dinner for the children. He opened the letter from the bureau of indian affairs. It had only been two days, but the report from the hospital for Jimmy's care was printed there. Robert did not need to pay anything, but the amount shocked him: $60,000. Again, in his lean, spiritual state, Robert noticed the basic, evil detail. Persons overcharged simply because no one would protest or no one would notice. Each individual selfishly grasped at each scrap of bounty. It had begun hundreds of years ago when the white people had arrived.

Native americans had been conservative. They tended to their lands and forests. When the europeans arrived, they exclaimed awe at the beauty of the forest. Underbrush seemed less thick than a european forest. There seemed to be just the right number of deer and rabbits. Fools. A beautiful land merely sitting there to be exploited and used, and the white people never considered that the native americans had maintained the forest. $60,000 for the doctor's labor and one hundred dollars for materials such as bandages and pain killers. One more reality for Robert to face and feel ineffectual about.

"Jimmy," Robert looked in at the bedroom door. "Don't over do it with the computer."

"My leg is not hurting, dad," Jimmy extended the limb awkwardly from the edge of the computer desk chair.

Robert felt focused and strong. In the living room, the television was off. From a high shelf, Robert retrieved a small ceramic jar with a lid. Inside, the marijuana remained untouched. He set it on the coffee table and contemplated the marijuana. After two days of deprivation, pleasure lay there; to smoke would bring relief from emotional pain. Instead, he remained motionless in his recliner. He would wait. He would let the tense emotions well up inside him. Robert believed the horrible person, the hit and run driver, would himself receive pain and trouble as he had delivered to Jimmy. The cosmic retribution, the truth of it, had to be real. All persons such as that driver should have been punished.

James, age 19, had grown up on a small property in Texas west of San Antonio. His father had been a career soldier at a nearby army base and had been killed in a freak tank accident during a routine work day. He had never been in a war. James resented that. What kind of man would spend a dozen years in the army and never see a battle?

James always felt alone and out of place. He disliked his mother for being fat, lazy and stupid. She should have never opened her mouth to tell him anything, because she was a worthless dope.

“James,” she hesitated on the porch of the old, white Texas farm house. At just past noon, thunderclouds could be seen darkening the prairie to give it a forlorn look. “James, this is dumb.”

“You are dumb.”

“Alright, now. Come inside and let’s talk.”

He thought -- go to hell -- but he did not say it.

“I’m leaving,” he carried a box of pornographic DVDs to his old car.

“No. You are not leaving.”

“Go to hell.”

“James, your doctor warned about repressed rage. You are not thinking straight, dear.”

“Go to hell,” who could think straight with her around? He disliked saying -- go to hell -- twice, but when she got him mad he seemed unable to articulate. “I’m going, mom.”

“Come in and we’ll talk. What about the truck driving school?”

“I can find a job in Las Vegas.”

“That’s absurd. TV gave you that idea.”

“I know what I am doing.”

James returned to the house and had to pass her. She offered a sour expression with small, unblinking eyes.

“I saw you put that jacket in the car,” she referred to a new army jacket with insignia sewn on. “You cannot take that.”

“Dad gave it to me before he died,” James lied.

"There's no way he could have done that, James," since it was a new, work uniform.

The insurance had paid $500,000 after the fatal accident. James loathed that his mother never worked and merely lived off the money. Daily, now, since high school, James and his mother had awakened in the Texas farm house to contend with one another. Tomorrow, he planned to wake up somewhere else.

"Mom," James had one of the last boxes he needed to load. After that, he only needed to carry his duffel bag to the muscle car. "This is my chance to do something. You will be proud of me if I make my way in the world."

"Ha. You can't even get a job around here. How can you find a position in Las Vegas?"

"It is booming right now."

Quit talking like the TV. What do you know about booming? Stay here and go to truck driving school."

She had offered to pay the tuition ($3900) out of her half million dollar insurance settlement.

"I'm going. I'll come back and visit sometime."

"Don't bother," she watched as he loaded the duffel bag into the small, cluttered rear seat of the car. "Stay out there if you want to. Go. Get out of here, James," her voice from the porch was one of anguish.

James revved the engine and then headed west. She would have thrown a fit if she had known that besides the new army jacket James had procured from a bedroom shelf dad's old, Vietnam bayonet.

The appearance of the sturdy, aggressive shank bespoke its use sometime during the Vietnam conflict. James understood that his father had enlisted after Vietnam and had never been in a battle. But the bayonet acquired sometime during a career on the army base in Texas had come from a war veteran. James imagined blood on the dark steel. Even not affixed to a rifle, a person could tightly grip the handle and jab it into someone’s guts. James strategically positioned the bayonet on the rear seat between two boxes.

He pushed a button on the dashboard CD player that James had installed himself. He knew his favorite heavy metal CD was ready to play.

"Don't push me around

I'm going to get down

When I come to town."

A friend had once described it as an angry drum solo, but James enjoyed this part of the song the best. He knew what he was doing. It was other people that caused all the problems. He chuckled to himself when he remembered a DVD movie he liked to watch about a slasher type of killer. People called it a slasher. James had his father's bayonet. If people deserved it; they deserved it. James could stab somebody. He did not doubt it. They would be shocked. The person would be a bully or a mean spirit like his mom. The person would never suspect that the target of the abuse could retaliate. Heh, heh. James knew what he was doing. He would never become a slasher. That seemed disgusting to him; but stabbing, James could understand that.

“Don’t push me around

I’m going to get down

When I come to town.”

James felt the urge to go west. He was heading towards Las Vegas, but he did not know if he would end up there.

FBI agents Jenkins (Westchester, New York) and McCarthy (Boston) were done for the day, and they had each gotten motel rooms. They met to have dinner at a restaurant, a national chain type, on the highway. Ordering from the slick, colorful menu was simple and fast. They received large plates of food and a thermal pitcher of coffee.

“Jenkins, do you play golf,” asked McCarthy.

“I never got into it. Why do you ask?”

“I packed my clubs,” said McCarthy. “If we chase these guys as far as Las Vegas or California, well, I believe I’ll get a game in.”

“Good for you,” Jenkins nonchalantly stirred coffee and sugar. “All of a sudden, The Barber left town and headed west. Yesterday, I learned his name -- Elliot Morphson.”

“How did you find out?” asked McCarthy. The Photographer taunted the Boston FBI agent by leaving messages on a phone tip line. However, McCarthy wondered how Jenkins had identified his suspect so fast.

“The Barber,” said Jenkins. “You remember that the news show did twenty minutes about him on a Friday evening.”

“Yes,” McCarthy’s dinner consisted of pot roast, thick gravy, and mashed potatoes. He enjoyed this restaurant.

“The news report helped. Elliot Morphson. I named this guy The Barber because he cuts off the long, blonde hair of his victims. He also dresses a particular way, like an old style barber with a white, long sleeved shirt and black vest. A motel clerk said The Barber had a pungent odor of after shave about him.”

Jenkins related that yesterday, a motel maid with a bad habit of peeping into unlocked luggage could not resist an expensive leather briefcase in a room while the guest went to breakfast. Having seen the national news report about The Barber, she called the tip line hoping for a reward.

“Yesterday,” Jenkins continued, “in Ohio, a police sketch artist made a drawing.”

“Can I see it,” McCarthy wished he had the name of The Photographer.

“I’ve got it out there on my front seat,” said Jenkins. “Since Ohio, I made my way along the interstate and showed the drawing at motels. No luck so far.”

Elliot Morphson felt excited. He had driven all day and heavy traffic on the interstate seemed to pull him along. The sign said: Las Vegas, 160 miles. He had plenty of room on his credit cards to pay for whatever he needed or wanted. His late model luxury car, dark blue almost resembling black, usually impressed people. He hated cheap, foreign cars. He particularly hated Japanese cars. People forgot the Japanese had been mortal enemies of ours only sixty five years ago. Las Vegas. Straight ahead. Elliot Morphson was a man of means. If he moved out here, later he would buy a light colored American car. Something had filled Elliot with a desire to drive out to this desert. Las Vegas. Yes. It was a good place. He might continue on, also. This interstate ran all the way to Los Angeles.

In his life, Elliot Morphson had done something significant. His dad had emigrated to New York City from Puerto Rico in 1973.

Elliot had completed Barber College, Bronx, New York, class of June, 1992. From the age of eighteen to twenty, he had lived at home, ridden the train each day going to and coming from the college, and had obtained his certificate. He could cut hair in any shop in the state of New York.

Since 1992, it would soon be twenty years, Elliot Morphson had worked for Hector. Hector’s Hair. It was a stupid name created by a stupid man. Hector was now much older, sixty eight, and still married with the physical health of an immigrant after a lifetime of happy work in the United States.

But Elliot Morphson had grown up on Long Island in the 1980s. His name had always bothered him. Morphson. Elliot's mother had been Puerto Rican as had Elliot's father -- Antonio. She had divorced Antonio in 1988 and had married John Morphson who was a businessman, white, and fifteen years older than Elliot's mother. The American dream for Elliot's mother was to give him a weird first name, marry an established American, and move to a nice home on Long Island. Elliot's true father had long since faded away. Maybe he had died somewhere at some time.

A woman of light complexion, his mother had dyed her hair blonde since before Elliot Morphson was born. In the 1960s, hair dying home kits had not been adequate. Elliot had rectified the situation. Since being at Hector's, Elliot had given his mom monthly touch ups. It was a way for them to remain in contact. Hector's Hair was in the Bronx; mother had always chided Elliot about that. From her point of view, a lot of work had been done to escape the crumby Bronx neighborhood where their Puerto Rican family had begun. Often, Elliot would drive out to Long Island to do his mom's hair. A few times a year, she would drive to the Bronx.

Of Puerto Rican descent, Elliot Morphson had been born in the Bronx and spoke English with no accent. Growing up on Long Island, people had usually thought Elliot was white. He had fit in ok. Nevertheless, during most of his life, he had disliked how shallow and racist people were, especially women. All anyone cared about was money. He was merely a barber with a small apartment. Yes, he had good credit and had purchased a new luxury car, but any woman who liked him for his car would be as shallow as the others. No, he had never been married. He did not need to be married. Pornography allowed Elliot Morphson to enjoy sex without having to interact or hassle with women.

He had killed a few women during the past two years. He thought he had killed four, but the blonde hair in his briefcase almost seemed to be that of three women. Could strands from two of the girls have become intermixed in the briefcase? Or, had he killed only three?

Elliot liked to find a petite, young woman that did not look very athletic. There was a certain soft type that he seemed able to detect. Everywhere Elliot went he could see at least three or four of the types of blonde women he loved.

Now, on the interstate east of Las Vegas, Elliot Morphson began to get annoyed. Didn’t all these drivers have someplace to be? Why were they all out here at this moment ruining his journey to the desert? He hated New York. It was congested, but the vista he now enjoyed was vast. Only the stupid cars filled with ignorant lowlifes bothered Elliot Morphson at this moment. Nevertheless, ahead lay Las Vegas and hope for a clean, new start. Hector believed that Hector’s Hair had merely lost a great barber for a ten day vacation; however, Elliot Morphson intended to see what it would take to re-locate here.

Chapter Five

Ann was 42 years old. She lived on the six acre property her husband had inherited. This property, the Cactus Motel, possessed fifteen rooms, each with a parking space. Other structures were a small store, a swimming pool, and a restaurant/front desk building.

There were three mobile homes. Two were behind the restaurant/front desk building. Four employees lived here. The other mobile home sat a distance away amid a clump of short palm trees. This mobile home looked off across the barren, desert landscape to the indian village, itself comprised of mobile homes.

Ann worked in the kitchen of the double wide mobile home. Spike lay on his side on the vinyl floor by his food and water dishes. Outside, dusk allowed Ann to be aware of the time, and Lester's nephew Vince would arrive for dinner.

Lester was in the spare bedroom where he had a computer set up. Ann believed he was playing a computer game. She knew, also, that Lester carried the CD disk between this computer and the one in the store. He could spend up to six hours a day with the game, and Ann had watched him play. She admired the skill of professional computer programmers who could create such a CD program for people to enjoy. Lester used the computer mouse and a couple of keyboard buttons to move a violent character through a real-looking cityscape. Lester seemed enthralled with the game. Ann viewed the activity as a hobby and harmless. She wondered if a person might waste time playing the game instead of focusing on worthwhile pursuits. In fact, the TV talk show Penelope had done an episode about that subject.

Ann prepared three steaks. Each was one pound. If she thought about cost, the expense of this dinner approximated thirty dollars. However, neither Ann nor Lester viewed themselves as money grubbers. Nobody earned much money in this desert. The concept of hoarding a vast sum for retirement held little sway here. Instead, they preferred to live and enjoy their situation. As she noticed out the window the dusk, and as she prepared the dinner to be ready when Vince would arrive, Ann listened to the TV in the attractive, nearby living room. The news from the satellite dish came from Los Angeles which was several hundred miles away to the west on the interstate highway. Ann thought she might hear at any moment that the hit and run driver from two days ago had been arrested.

Vince arrived at the front door of the double wide mobile home. There was no reason for such a door to be locked on this property so Vince let himself in.

“Hi, Ann,” Vince stooped to pet Spike who scampered forward on the linoleum kitchen floor. Vince figured that uncle Lester was in the bedroom playing the computer game.

“Do you want a beer,” Ann offered.

“Sure,” Vince understood that he could grab one from the refrigerator.

“It will be fifteen minutes,” Ann mentioned the time until all the dinner items would be ready.

Vince wandered through the opened bedroom door to stand behind Lester and watch the computer screen. Lester sometimes talked about not being able to use the modern style of game controller. He liked the computer mouse and a couple of keyboard buttons to make the character on the screen run, turn, or shoot. Vince had the identical game with his console that hooked up to the TV screen. For Vince, even though modern controllers had eight buttons, two side switches, and an eight way motion stick that could be reached with one outstretched thumb, Vince and most of his friends had progressed with the development of the television console gaming system. This particular game of the gangster running around a city robbing and accumulating money was four years old. Vince refrained from making any remark about the game which he knew well. Each person liked to find his own way through the game which allowed various choices to complete objectives.

“You,” Vince sipped his beer, “have made it to the end of this game; right?”

“Of course,” replied Lester. “This is my third time. The game is so big that I find more details to enjoy each time.”

“I agree. I’m addicted to it too.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to the computer game,” Lester pushed a button to pause the game. He stood up. “Let’s eat, Vince.”

The trio ate at a wooden table in a side area that afforded a view of the television. Lester used the remote to scroll through channels.

“Ann,” he asked, “should we add premium channels to the satellite?”

“That’s forty dollars a month extra,” she commented.

Lester settled on a decent adventure movie from the 1970s that he and Ann recognized. However, as they enjoyed their steaks, six minutes of commercials played. Vince conversed about Sheila and Orrin. Had she keyed the car? There was no way to know, but Orrin had set up a video camera to monitor the parking lot. Ann liked the young couple and was satisfied the way Cactus Motel functioned at the present time. Lester agreed. He believed it was a good mix of personalities on the property. Life was ok at this point for all of them. Lester, Ann, and Vince continued to enjoy their meal.

After dinner, Ann took Spike for an evening walk. Vince, at 915pm, stopped at the rear door of the restaurant but Orrin and Sheila were already finished and the rear door by the trash bin was locked. Vince noticed that Orrin’s car was gone; Sheila’s lighted blinds could be seen across the parking lot. She was in her room. Vince glanced at the opposite end of the mobile home, Orrin’s window, and laughed about the video camera set up to catch the suspected vandal. Vince sought egress to the restaurant/front desk building Farther along this wall, another door existed for guests to gain access from the motel rooms. He entered this door and a short hall that opened onto the main restaurant near the rec room. Directly across the way, the glass and aluminum door to the pool was probably not locked either. The restaurant lights, the rec room lights, and the TV were off. Vince proceeded to the front desk area.

“Hi, Mark,” Vince found the young loner in Ann’s office chair reading a paperback novel.

"Completely empty tonight," said Mark. "I sometimes feel like I'm waiting for something. Just waiting."

"Every so often one veers over from the interstate, though," Vince saw the novel that Mark had laid on the metal office desk in the corner. "Sexy Women," he knew it had become a very popular TV show. "Sheila loves that show."

"It gives me ideas about how women think," Mark stood up from the office chair. He walked to the front door. "Las Vegas. That will be my next move."

"Are you thinking about leaving, Mark?"

"Not anytime soon. I try to figure out money. I hear some people earn $60,000 a year. I saw it on TV. The average income in Los Angeles was $60,000. Could you imagine if you were married and both of you earned that amount?"

"I don't think about stuff like that," said Vince. He indicated the book. "Mark, would you be better off keeping your mind on Sexy Women?"

"I can keep my mind on both. Money and women are both necessary."

"Las Vegas would be a good place for you."

"In the future," said Mark.

Ann walked Spike without a leash. He accompanied her and did not stray. Ann went in the direction opposite of the indian village. Out here, the old, two lane roads in the desert made their ways to various locations. Over the decades, settlers had found pockets of water. People wanted to own land, and they could find inexpensive places out here. At night, Ann enjoyed the darkness that stretched for miles, however the wind blew at a strong rate. Spike went into areas of short brush but he quickly returned as Ann walked.

Lester cleaned the dishes. He finished the kitchen work in fifteen minutes. He decided to go into the bedroom and remove the game CD so he could take it to the computer in the store tomorrow morning. He turned off the computer. Lester never allowed his nephew, Vince, to see marijuana or know Lester smoked it. If the young people obtained their own supply, even if it was from Randy, that did not bother Lester. Now, he got a beer from the refrigerator and went to the porch. In the darkness, he lit the pipe and listened on headphones to his sound system. A distance away, small lights from windows of mobile homes at the indian village caused Lester to contemplate Robert. For two days now, Robert had festered with hate and anger. This morning, at breakfast, Robert had been alone during his periodic Walmart trip, and negative energy had emanated from him.

Elliot Morphson angrily slowed his large, dark luxury car on the congested freeway. Idiots. Maybe a few of them considered themselves to be locals who disdained his out of town license plates. Jerks. He slowed down so he could read the exit signs, not very well positioned and difficult to see due to flashes of reflected headlights. He veered over and fortunately found himself in a lane that prescribed: Las Vegas Strip.

Of course, traffic moved slowly, four abreast in each direction. He did not care. He was here. He rolled down the windows and let his eyes cover everything. He saw edifices popularized on TV many times. The light displays were wonderful. Interestingly, as great as the Las Vegas Casino Hotels appeared, out the rolled down windows of his car, Elliot Morphson noticed hundreds of sexy young women. They were mostly with husbands, boyfriends, or families, but that did not bother Elliot. He loved all the women. Each one was more fabulous and enticing than the next. Obviously, from all parts of the country or the world, these girls had come for the excitement of Las Vegas. Elliot Morphson was also excited. He drove slowly in the congested traffic and looked at female flesh. He loved the way the women imitated the slutty dress styles shown on TV. Tight, flimsy shirts stretched tautly on breasts. Lean legs were exposed at the hems of dresses or shorts. But whenever a blonde walked by with loose, long hair, Elliot stared unabashedly. Sometimes, even if the woman was with her mate, she would glance sideways and see Elliot's licentious gaze.

The desert night invigorated Elliot. He gladly remained as part of the prossesion driving on the crowded Las Vegas Strip. When he reached the far end of town and it was obvious there were no more of the attractive, large casino hotels to view, Elliot pulled his car into a parking lot and turned around to drive the opposite direction on the strip. At one point at this suburban area, Elliot noticed a closed hair salon. Tonight, he would use his credit card to stay at a casino hotel; tomorrow, he would drive around town and maybe visit a few hair places about future employment.

Elliot had spent an hour to drive up and down the Las Vegas strip. Now, he would return to the casino hotel he had decided might be the best one to check into tonight. However, in the flow of traffic relentlessly moving on its course, Elliot somehow found himself in a less attractive neighborhood. Many cities contained places that were older and in disrepair close to downtown. Elliot, a New York City resident most of his life, could navigate this dim, neglected part of town. He noticed a few ematiated homeless people limping along near closed up, industrial types of businesses. There were no fast food or national chain type businesses here. Then, Elliot noticed one illuminated building: Adult DVDs and Toys. He drove past that store. Then, he saw within the next block a totally nude revue and a gentleman's topless club. Half a dozen cars filled the dark parking lot of the gentleman's topless club.

Elliot could turn into a side neighborhood which appeared to be houses. Then, if he made another turn, he could find the main strip again. For a moment, on a dark street of old sidewalks and buildings with no recently erected, illuminated modern signs, Elliot felt self conscious about his beautiful, expensive car. He arrived at a stop sign, but that allowed him to pause only briefly. He made a turn and then proceeded past an apartment building that attracted his attention for two reasons. First, it had a flimsy, eight foot tall chain link fence that stretched for a block and had no visible openings in it. Secondly, slight glimmers of light and a few shadows on a balcony showed that people were living in that old building. Elliot now halted to stop at a traffic light that had no purpose because no vehicles drove here. To the right, a few blocks away, Elliot saw cars and lights on a main street. He noticed that nothing at this dark intersection moved, the red light seemed too long, and he made a right turn to head back to the main, Las Vegas strip.

There were no people on the street. Flashing lights on the surfaces of the facades shocked Elliot Morphson when he realized it was a police car. He looked in the rearview mirror and then stopped at the curb.

"Good evening, sir," one officer had walked up on either side of the car.

"I thought right turn on red was legal," Elliot held his driver's license and insurance card at his rolled down window.

"You failed to make a full stop," the officer used a clipboard. "Do you work in one of the casinos?" The police officer's eyes studied Elliot's black vest and white shirt.

"I'm a barber."

"How long have you lived in Las Vegas, Mr Morphson?"

Cops were stupid, thought Elliot. The man wanted to write tickets for Elliot not changing his driver's license or his car registration to Nevada.

"I just arrived," said Elliot. "I have a credit card. I will stay at one of the large casino hotels tonight."

"This is a bad neighborhood. When we see a car like this down here at night, we want to make sure no illegal activities are involved."

"I don't know what you are talking about."

"Prostitution and drugs," the cop turned away. "Wait here."

The police officer carried Elliot Morphson's driver's license and insurance card back to the patrol car. The other police officer remained by the rear bumper near the sidewalk. Elliot thought about race. Could they identify him as Puerto Rican by his appearance? Were they implying that he was a low life of some sort who would come to this neighborhood to buy sex or drugs?

“Ok,” the officer had returned to Elliot’s window. “Sign here.”

Elliot signed for the ticket. It was $35 so that did not bother Elliot greatly. He knew it was an unjust world. The police returned Elliot’s driver’s license and insurance card. Elliot drove away self consciously because they were watching him.

On the outskirts of Las Vegas, in a parking lot of a fast food hamburger place, John Synd ate a cheeseburger and thought about golf. Yesterday, in Kansas, he had met and photographed a nice girl, abducted and killed her, and then John had enjoyed nine holes of golf. He loved the United States and the expanding, burgeoning economy that created suburbs and golf courses. John ate the cheeseburger while sitting in his car with the motor and air conditioner running. In May, Las Vegas was hot.

The digital camera and the laptop worked well. He connected a wire to transfer the recent photograph to the computer. A drawback of the small, old camera was that it lost the pictures when the batteries died. Three, AAA batteries needed to be replaced after two days of use. He appreciated the picture of the girl from Kansas as it now appeared on his laptop. With the engine running, the air conditioner, the fast food and the beverage, and his camera and computer all disheveled in the car, John Synd felt some annoyance and anger. Why did the weather need to be so hot? Also, traffic filled the streets and was aggressive. Something urged John to keep moving west. Nevertheless, he intended to get a motel room here, see the attractions, and play golf, maybe tomorrow morning.

John Synd had married late in life. He had been married four years, and his sons, ages two and three, and John's wife had taken their yearly drive to Florida to visit her parents.

"Hello, honey," John called the Florida house on his cell phone. The finished wrappers from his cheeseburger and fries lay on the seat next to John in the semi-darkness of the lighted fast food restaurant. This place existed on a section of the Las Vegas Strip that continued north past the main attractions of town. "Honey," John used an expensive cell phone because it was necessary for his job as a mobile handy man in Boston. "How are the boys?"

"Fine," she said. "Where are you?"

"I told you that twenty times this week," John could limit how many questions his wife asked if he behaved in a gruff manner. "I'm meeting an old golf buddy in upstate New York. When you take your yearly trip to Florida for two weeks, it gives me time to get off on my own."

"Have fun, honey," she said. "I'll put the boys on."

John gave a brief greeting to each young boy. He had nothing against them. While talking, he noticed a billboard across the street depicting a golf course. He had seen Las Vegas golf courses on TV many times. John’s golf clubs were in the trunk of his car.

"Ok, son, be good and I'll see you when you get back to Boston," John finished the call.

John Synd had no reason to tell his wife he was in upstate New York for three days when he intended to be in Las Vegas for five. No, it was merely the fun of lying to her. He had been thirty four when they married; she had been thirty two and a local school teacher. Their mutual friends had gotten the couple together. John had already been killing women in Boston for sixteen years prior to getting married.

Although his wife was an idiot, John Synd could not disregard her. She made him angry by her routines. Everything had to be scheduled. His phone call had fit into the framework of her life even on vacation. She would have expected him to call. John put the digital camera in the glove compartment. He turned off the laptop computer and put it on the passenger’s side floor of the car. John decided he would not bother to call his wife for a few days. His boss, Brent, the CEO of a real estate management firm in Boston might call to try to be friendly or something; but, he could be ignored as well as John's wife. They were both stupid.

John secured the glove compartment. The knife with dried blood on it from that girl in the Kansas wheat field was in the glove compartment, also. He gathered up trash from the fast food meal. The parking lot was lighted and constant traffic filled the main thoroughfare a few miles north of the Las Vegas strip.

He prepared to leave the restaurant parking lot to drive onto the street and head towards town. However, first he went to throw away the trash. He could feel the dryness in the air. He carried the paper bag and wrappers to a trash can near the fast food restaurant's lighted plate glass window and entrance door. Coming out of the building was a short, attractive hispanic woman, young, with two small children. John Synd smiled at her as he threw away his refuse. She made eye contact but turned quickly away to usher her kids to her car. Stupid bitch. Women were all that way. He did not want to have sex with her. She could have at least acknowledged John in a friendly manner.

He returned to his car, started the engine, and drove onto the busy street. The people did not drive worse than anywhere else. John knew how to be careful. He had been to Las Vegas on two previous occasions during the twenty two years since he had graduated from high school. John had been drinking since he was twenty one. But he had gotten into Alcoholics Anonymous five years ago prior to getting married.

There existed a contrast between John Synd who had been raised by his mother and John's best friend growing up, Brent. Brent's family had been stable and successful. A rich grandparent had left $350,000 to Brent which he received just after he and John Synd had graduated from high school. Both times over the years, prior to five years ago, Brent and John had come to Las Vegas together. The scenario had always been the same. Brent used his expensive clothes and jewelry to meet a woman while John could not connect with anyone. Then, to make matters worse, Brent attributed his success with women to his charm. At the same time, he treated crudely any girl that went with him; Brent would call her a bitch and a whore, even to her face, and he would ridicule her. Always, Brent advised John Synd that he was too nice and weak towards women.

John Synd now drove onto the famous Las Vegas strip. He appreciated the way it had been built up and improved. One time he had viewed the place as old and tacky. It had seemed eclipsed by the large Atlantic City, New Jersey beach casino hotels where he and Brent gambled often. Brent had never married, had gotten increasingly more successful, and had employed John Synd as a handy man to drive a work van from real estate property to real estate property. John was both an employee and a friend of Brent. In Alcoholic's Anonymous, after John had quit drinking, he faced deep anger in himself, resentment, that such a chasm existed between himself and his best friend from high school.

He chose one of the older, famous hotels and parked in the garage. He would rest and feel free from Boston, his job, his wife and children, and Brent. John Synd needed to rest. He did not care that he had killed that girl in Kansas yesterday. She was worthless like everybody else on this rotten planet. Nevertheless, it was not a whim or a fun activity for John. It was an urge. He had always wanted to quit raping and killing. He could be a better person if he stopped.

John Synd provided his credit card to check into a casino hotel. However, he would pay all his expenses in cash and not order anything to the room. Even though his wife never opened mail addressed to John (including bank statements that concerned both husband and wife), there would be no record of anything John had spent on this trip. He put his suitcase in his room and then went out to ride the elevator down to the casino and enjoy looking at the excitement.

At one point, John Synd was in a gift shop. He now had an excellent idea. Instead of calling the Boston tip line to taunt the stupid police, he could mail a post card to the national TV show Corpse Patrol. Maybe they would transfer the case to a sophisticated FBI profiler like in a TV drama. It was ridiculous that with his prowess at killing none of his victims had been on that show. It was an injustice or some sort of police cover up, he thought.

John rode the elevator up to his room. If his wife, his boss, or any of his golf buddies could see him now in this swanky Las Vegas room, they would have been jealous. He used his notebook computer to access the internet. It was simple to find the address of the TV company for Corpse Patrol. It was Studio City, Los Angeles, so if he mailed the postcard tonight, they would get it tomorrow.

Chapter Six

At nine thirty in the morning, several native americans gathered the children for a trip to the beach in Los Angeles. The trip had been planned for months and the group took two vehicles. Robert momentarily reconsidered letting Sara go off into such a savage land. Jimmy’s accident had summed up all that was wrong with modern society.

Jimmy was ok in his room. Robert felt alive with emotions and sensations based on his three days of fasting. Hate for the hit and run driver filled every aspect of Robert’s demeanor. He decided to walk the short distance to the Cactus Motel. He would eat a small breakfast but he would be conscious to not allow the food to quell his raw emotions.

He walked on the old, cracked road that had been repaired many times with tar creating bumps the length of previously repaired cracks. A hot wind rustled dry shrubs across the landscape. A spirit held sway over the desert, and Robert’s self denial, his austere existence contacted that spirit. Life could be good. The world could be a decent place. At this pleasant hour of the morning, some natural force seemed to be beneficial out here. He inhaled strongly and walked with purpose to the Cactus Motel for coffee and a small breakfast.

William, the California Highway Patrol officer, had come down the wooden steps of the restaurant/front desk building. He had finished a meal and now approached Lester and Mark as they stood in front of the gift shop.

"Hello, Mark," said William. "I never see you out here in the morning."

"I'm driving to State Line," Mark intended to have fun today drinking and gambling at a casino hotel at the Nevada border one hour prior to arriving in Las Vegas on the interstate.

"Have fun," William possessed no ability to converse with a young guy like Mark.

"Man," Mark included Lester in the conversation. "Last night was spooky. Nothing but the wind moved."

"Also," Lester added, "it was dark. I prefer moonlit nights."

"Robert," William pointed attention to the approaching native american chief. He was similar in age to Lester.

"Hi, Robert," Lester said.

"Hello," Robert's speech seemed stiff. He wanted to dwell in his spiritual moment and his deprivation of pleasure. Nevertheless, he slowed to hear what the three white people had to say.

"Hi," Mark knew this guy. Mark also knew that Lester and Robert liked marijuana. Mark had smelled the smoke at night near Lester's porch. Jimmy, Robert's son, related well to Mark and at one time had mentioned that Robert smoked. Mark enjoyed beer. He would drink later today at the State Line Casino. Mark did not smoke marijuana, but he wondered how these older people, Lester, Robert, and William understood one another since partaking of the herb was, after all, illegal and William would have arrested them if he had known.

Mark believed a person should be sophisticated and see various issues from different perspectives. Some people smoked marijuana and others considered it illegal. The TV news portrayed hate, racism, and greed in the population but day by day, Mark encountered citizens who did not exhibit those traits. Women wore tight shirts, made eye contact, and smiled; but, that did not necessarily mean they wanted to have sex. So Mark enjoyed living in this desert away from the large trends of any city. Out here, he could contemplate things and decide how to live rather than being pulled along by any crowd.

"Lester," said Mark, "I'm going to get a soda to drink while I'm driving to State Line."

"Come on," Lester went with Mark into the store to sell a bottle of soda from the refrigerated, glass case.

"How is Jimmy," William was left standing in front of the Cactus Motel with Robert.

"A fractured thigh," Robert understood that the police had not caught the hit and run driver. "He will be ok by the time school starts."

"Good," William noticed that Robert's jaw was tense. The sides of his mouth were grim. Anger festered in the native american chief. "I'm glad Jimmy is ok."

"Thank you," Robert appreciated that the old, sinewy officer in his crisp, brown uniform did not lie or offer false hope about possibly catching the culprit. "The hit and run driver will find his punishment. There are natural forces to counter evil."

"Perhaps," William suspected that when Robert talked about folklore spirits moving across the desert, some of the dialogue was merely Robert's attempt to maintain his native american presence. He relished being an aloof, knowledgeable indian. William noticed that Ann and her small dog Spike approached from the rear of the property. A chain link fence with a gate existed from the corner of the small store to the corner of the restaurant/front desk building. She and Spike had finished their 9am break and had returned through the pool area. "Hi, Ann," William used that moment to depart. "I better get going."

Inside the restaurant, only Orrin and Vince worked today. Sheila remained in the mobile home at the rear parking lot. The two young men watched TV in the recreation room.

“Right wing,” Vince said. “Have you heard that before?”

“Of course I have,” Orrin had been to as much school as Vince. “I watch the news, Vince. Right wing. Left wing. Politics. I’ve seen this stuff.”

On this news channel from the satellite, the commentator dressed in an expensive suit, wore no facial hair, and addressed the audience like a stern father admonishing children. He wore an impeccable, blue suit.

“My guest today is Jeff Billingstone,” said the commentator. “He is the author of Shaping America.”

“Vince,” said Orrin. “Are the guys that write these books just average people spouting their opinions?”

“That sounds right,” Vince recalled that when he had read texts during his semester of junior college, a half dozen pages in the back of each text book would contain hundreds of references to other scholars.

On the TV, the author was an average middle aged man in a tie and sports coat. A large, ornate TV desk accommodated the pair. The hardcover book could be seen near the hand of the commentator.

“Shaping America,” said the commentator. “What does that mean, professor Billingstone?”

“It means something seems plausible. I drive to work in traffic and I am not angry, but maybe all the other drivers are angry. Maybe I should feel angry myself. Or, I do not feel envy or hate for co-workers, but six of the situation comedies I enjoy depict co workers who are envious, hateful, or even racist. Maybe I should feel these things when I go to work.”

“Interesting theory,” said the commentator. He held the book prominently on the TV screen. “Shaping America by Jeff Billingstone. After the commercial we’ll be back with a story about the illegal alien mother who had quadruplets in a small, midwest town. She is unwed and now our government is paying the bills.”

“That same old story,” said Orrin. “I’ve been seeing that since I was five.”

“It makes you want to go out and shoot a bunch of them,” said Vince.

“No.”

“I’m joking. If you couldn’t tell I was joking, that’s a problem. Do you really think I would say something like that? Seriously? Dude, come on, man.”

“I get it, Vince.”

In Las Vegas, on the thirtieth floor of a swanky, casino hotel, Elliot Morphson groomed himself. He like the full length mirror on the sliding doors of the closet. While optimistically preparing to check out in a few minutes, Elliot paused at the table near the window where he had eaten a breakfast from room service. He prided himself on having excellent credit. Last night, at the check in desk, he had blanched at the $147 expense. He could handle it, although today he would drive around and find a cheaper place. Frugality was part of having good credit and things like a nice flat panel TV in his Bronx apartment or a late model luxury car.

Last night, the cop had been a jerk. Elliot’s thirty five dollar ticket was unjust. The manner in which he had stopped at the red light in the seedy part of town had been adequate. Now, Elliot would remain optimistic. He picked up a glass and swallowed the last sweet orange juice. From the yellow pages in a bottom drawer of the dresser, nobody at the casino hotel would miss the two pages that rested on the table for Elliot to study. His car contained a dashboard map that he could enter addresses into. He planned to have an active day visiting hair salons and barber shops. Downstairs, last night, Elliot had noticed a hair salon. He liked that while working he could be entertained by tourists passing by the plate glass window.

Elliot reviewed his appearance. Last night, the stupid cop had guessed that Elliot worked in a casino. No, the traditional white shirt and vest of Hector’s Hair in the Bronx was one of the things Elliot agreed with Hector about. In the modern culture, hair stylists often wore regular shirts. The vest had a pocket for Elliot’s long metal comb and his mustache scissors. He also liked to carry a small, rotary nose hair trimmer in one of his pockets. On the bed of the hotel room, Elliot gathered everything to pack into his suitcase. Also on the bed, the briefcase rested. Last night, on the hotel’s pay TV service, Elliot had watched a pornographic movie (he could afford it on his credit card), and he had opened the briefcase to touch the hair while he relaxed.

Elliot checked out of the casino hotel, put his suitcase and briefcase into the trunk of his car, and drove into traffic on Las Vegas boulevard. It was a bright, beautiful day, late morning, and attractive citizens were everywhere. He used the dashboard global positioning unit to enter the address of a hair salon. He drove in that direction according to the map on the unit.

He decided to stop for a soda. He found a suburban drug store. It was the large type with a pharmacy in the rear of the interior and numerous products for sale in the aisles. Elliot spent twenty minutes in the hair care aisle, but he did not buy anything.

Coming from the rear of the store, carrying a small paper bag, moving rapidly and wearing white tennis shoes, a petite, blonde woman walked.

Elliot stopped at a counter in front to pay for his soda. The woman had already paid for her prescription in the rear of the store. Elliot watched the faded blue jeans as she moved through the sliding, automatic doors.

Quickly, Elliot scooped up his change and walked from the store. He breathed strongly and his eyes clearly examined the area. She had just started a small, red car and was backing out of a space. Elliot made it to his car and waited while she backed out and slowly drove onto a nearby, neighborhood street. Elliot came right behind her. She would not suspect his vehicle was following her. Elliot had learned that often, a brash maneuver would capture a woman he might otherwise have missed. He continued to stay right behind the red car.

Afternoon in a Kansas wheat field, FBI agent McCarthy from Boston intended to meet a local sheriff. A farmer had found a woman's body; the sheriff had determined the victim had been dead less than a day. Usually, McCarthy maintained a connection to headquarters with his computer. One of the analysts had suggested McCarthy stop here since it was in the vicinity he was currently working.”

"He was lazy," commented the sheriff . "Out here, on this desolate farm road, he could have dragged her a quarter of a mile into the wheat field and the body would have been undetected months."

"What does the farmer think about this," asked McCarthy.

"The public sees a lot of it on the news. I've noticed people react with less shock when they find a body."

"I questioned a homeless guy in Boston once who walked all over the city during his daily rounds. He had never found a corpse but he had always thought he might."

"I think it is population growth," said the sheriff. "Statistically, murders might not be increasing. It could be exponential growth."

McCarthy understood. More people meant more instances of crime. The FBI agent let his gaze cover as many details as possible. Oddly, he had a sense that this was a crime The Photographer had committed.

“Sheriff,” McCarthy had seen enough. “Will you let me have the police reports, particularly photographs?”

“It’s your investigation.”

McCarthy knew that The Photographer was seeking notoriety. He wanted credit. However, McCarthy and only level three security clearance people knew a hidden fact. The Photographer had sent three pictures through email to the Boston police fifteen years ago before technology had made it too dangerous for the photographer. However, in the intervening years when the guy had been calling in random tips on himself, he had once reverted to the email technique from a public computer, untraceable. However, in that case, The Photographer had sent a picture of the dead body. McCarthy knew that when he caught the psychopath, there might be evidence of both the before and after pictures of the girls. McCarthy wondered how many there would be.

The wheat was short. It stretched on the plain for miles. McCarthy liked the smell of it. In spite of the murder, the slight breeze and the mild temperature this afternoon in Kansas momentarily caused McCarthy to view the world as a good place. There were a dozen police officers working at the crime scene. Still, no news reporters had shown up, and everyone appreciated that. Overhead, the billowing clouds were somewhat dark, and police moved quickly to finish before any rain might fall. McCarthy prepared to drive back to Kansas City. The FBI office was preparing a conference call about recent movements within the past three days of serial killers. They seemed to be heading west like The Photographer.

“You know,” McCarthy mused, “I heard about a city park in Washington DC where they found rapists lining up along the jogging path and exchanging pleasantries like fishermen on a pier arriving in the morning.”

“We have that here,” said the Sheriff. “My girlfriend works twice a week as a decoy in a park. She likes it, but I hate it. Women always enjoy being attractive. It’s like teasing.”

FBI agent McCarthy shook hands with the man in a professional manner, thanked him, and departed.

John Synd, The Photographer, lay naked on his bed in a casino hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. He used a remote control to rapidly change channels but at close to 1pm he saw nothing interesting. The housekeepers had tried to come in three times. They were idiots. He knew that numerous people in places like this loitered past the noon check out time.

The wonderful aspect of this trip was that nobody knew where he was. His wife of four years taught high school in Boston. Each year at this time in the summer, prior to the start of school, she drove to Florida to visit her parents. The first year of marriage, John had gone on the three week trip. He had disliked staying at the house of her parents. John usually enjoyed raping and killing a woman during this time each year. He hated being tied to his wife and two boys, his dog, his job, and his house. He loved the sense of freedom when she took off on her yearly trip.

During lonely moments, sometimes John Synd contemplated the twenty women he had killed. He had been murdering for fifteen years in the Boston area. It had always irked him that the police and media had never understood that these deaths were related. Only the three emails long ago had caused the authorities to comprehend that they had a serial killer. Still, none of the women John had killed had been profiled on Corpse Patrol.

John laughed at his dumb wife. She would sit in the living room and watch Corpse Patrol and never suspect John’s secret life. And John’s boss, Brent, was equally dumb. John disliked that they had begun as high school friends and fifteen years ago, in their mid twenties, they had left their hometown to open a rental management company. Brent had inherited three hundred and fifty thousand dollars when his father died. That gave John Synd and Brent enough money to open an office and do some advertising. People who owned rental houses could hire REMACO (Real Estate Management Company). John Synd did an excellent job attending to all the details of rental properties such as repairing leaky faucets, preparing houses or condominiums between tenants, and collecting rent if the people did not mail it in a timely manner. However, Brent clearly had his office door marked with his name and title of president while John Synd spent his days in his van traveling from house to house to do the work.

They had been bachelors, but Brent successfully met and dated attractive girls. At first, John Synd and Brent had shared a two bedroom condominium, but later Brent had purchased and moved to a house with a woman whom he also employed in the office. REMACO began to earn good profits. Brent dressed in suits and played the role of sophisticated businessman. He drove a new, expensive sports car. Of course, John reasoned, that was the means by which one old high school friend had successful romantic affairs while the other drank in bars and pick up joints but usually went home alone. Brent had become a snob and a jerk, and John Synd smugly laughed to himself because he was the notorious local killer, The Photographer, and no one knew it.

Chapter Seven

Elliot Morphson had followed the girl in the red car to a suburban house where he had accosted her, raped her, and strangled her. As always, during the numerous rapes he had done in his life and during the four, now five, murders, Elliot expected to get caught and was amazed when he did not.

He neglected his plan to look for a job at barber shops. With the girl's nude body in the trunk of his luxury car, Elliot Morphson consulted his dashboard GPS map to locate the interstate highway heading west out of the city. Elliot believed he would encounter desert land similar to what he had seen driving into town last night.

He drove for two hours. He listened to a talk radio

Copyright Mike Hayne 2017