Mike Hayne

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The Manitou
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Manitou 2017

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 program. The early afternoon desert was bright. Elliot noticed a strong wind pushing against the side of the car. At first, he did not comprehend what was occurring; but, he briefly rolled a couple of the electric windows down to feel the powerful, afternoon desert wind. The radio topic was foreign cars. The conversation continued as people telephoned the show.

"The United States hurt itself," said the caller. "It was called planned obsolescence. It meant that the car companies designed their cars to break down after thirty thousand miles so a person would need to buy a new car every three years."

"That might be a folk tale or urban legend," said the radio commentator.

"Now," said the caller, "the computer companies are doing it with computers."

Elliot had heard these ideas before. He formed opinions about these types of political concepts. Jobs should have been a priority for this country. There were too many foreigners enjoying money that should have been kept in the hands of American workers. Elliot would always buy American products. In his apartment in the Bronx, his forty two inch flat panel TV was not Japanese, it was American.

Traffic was heavy on this interstate highway. Elliot noticed that at intervals, side roads ran off into the desert even though there did not appear to be any buildings out there. Nevertheless, Elliot got off the highway and explored one of these odd, seemingly purposeless desert roads. He was approximately a half mile from the interstate when an intersection allowed him to make a turn and drive in a direction that seemed parallel to the main highway. No cars were anywhere to be seen out here. Elliot believed he could find a place to take the nude girl's body out of the trunk. He would drag her into the desert, cut her hair for his briefcase, and leave her. It had been a good day, and he was glad he had encountered her at the neighborhood pharmacy.

Elliot passed an old house with a couple of cars near it. Apparently, people did exist out here on the vast plain. He loved the flat expanse of knee high bushes. It gave a sense of openness and freedom. In the distance, barren, desert mountains glinted in the sun of the early afternoon. At one point, a gully traversed the old road. The bushes that swayed in the breeze were shoulder height here, and the depression of the gully appeared to veer off at an angle. If he quickly dragged the corpse in that direction, no one would see Elliot. He proceeded.

When the beautiful, naked blonde's body had been carried down the gully and out of sight of the desolate, desert road, Elliot gently leaned her upon a bush in a manner that sort of propped up her shoulders and head. He paused to stand over her and admire the young girl with the black and blue marks on her neck where he had strangled her. Elliot went to the trunk of his car to retrieve his briefcase.

"Now," he approached the blonde, "we will give you a haircut. I love girls like you who wear their hair loose, but sometimes you should think about seeing a professional hair stylist."

Elliot disliked the constant wind and attempted to avoid it by crouching low in the gully and behind the swaying bushes. He cracked the briefcase as he stuffed long handfuls of the dead girl's hair in. He could organize it later. He finished the task and said goodbye to the girl. Of course, he reasoned that she would have divorced her husband and come with Elliot, a successful barber who could find work anywhere and had built up excellent credit. Nonetheless, he had to say goodbye to her. He peered in all directions to be certain this place was hidden from view.

While raping and killing the girl in her quiet suburban house (he had parked at the curb and entered through the garage near her red car and through an interior door), Elliot had discovered she was not someone's daughter but a newlywed. Her husband was at work and they did not have children or even a dog. The encounter had been a good one for Elliot, and it had been no trouble to back his large car up to the garage and load her body in the trunk. Now, he looked at his watch (1:15pm), and he carried his briefcase to the dark colored car parked at the entrance to the gully near the old road.

Elliot put the briefcase next to his suitcase and closed the trunk. He entered and started the vehicle. He decided to get his cell phone from a dashboard compartment and call his mother on Long Island. She did not understand the impulse that had come over Elliot three days ago to come to this desert. He immediately noticed that the cell phone had no function here. This vast area was not close enough to a transmission tower.

"Damn it," he started to drive onto the old road that he guessed at one time had been a way through this region parallel to the interstate highway.

The road surface was bumpy where maintenance crews had patched cracks with tar. However, something seemed odd. Elliot pulled to the side and got out of the car. The front tire was flat.

Elliot did not like it, but he got the jack and the small spare tire out of the trunk. He did not know much about mechanics. He favored buying new cars because he did not need to worry about repairs. However, he did know how to consult the owner's manual about how to operate the scissors jack. He also remembered that when he was sixteen, his step father had shown Elliot how to loosen the lug nuts prior to jacking up the car. The bastard had let Elliot jack the vehicle up (in those days it was a heavy, bumper style jack), and then Elliot's step father had admonished the boy as he tried to loosen the lug nuts and the entire wheel had turned. Sadistic. He tried to make Elliot feel dumb rather than simply instruct the boy to begin with.

Now, on this lonely desert road a half mile from the interstate highway, Elliot put the small lug wrench onto one of the five lug nuts on the car's wheel. He leaned to loosen the thing. He felt no movement so he stood up and used his foot to step on the handle of the lug wrench. It did not work. He put more weight on it. The lug wrench slipped free of the nut and Elliot might have been hurt by the violent fall he experienced.

"God damn it," he shouted to the desolate landscape. "God damn it; god damn it."

Of course, the cell phone would not connect here. He continued a few more attempts on all the lug nuts. He needed help of some sort. He looked up and down the road and across the expanse of dry, short plants. The sun appeared like something out of an old movie of settlers dying in the desert. The last beverage he had consumed was the soda purchased in Las Vegas prior to following the girl in the red car to her house. Elliot began to feel hot out here.

He saw a car approaching. Good. The ridiculous society that Elliot had to put up with, especially in the Bronx all day at Hector's Hair, caused Elliot to feel anger several times a day. It was always something. Now, it was the lug nuts. Some jerk at the tire rotation place, a crappy small business on Long Island that usually also changed Elliot's oil, had used a powerful compressor, air powered lug wrench to put the nuts on too tight. Jerk. The lazy, stupid young man had not known what he was doing. Elliot could have taken his car to the dealership for tire rotations and oil changes, but they always cheated him as if he would be content to pay high dollar amounts so all the employees from the manager down could increase their profits. A cheesy, money grubbing society, thought Elliot, had angered him for years. Hector also loved that game and tried to get every customer to buy an extra service or product at Hector's Hair. Predators seeking a dime here and there had made life unbearable for day to day living in the United States. Well, he saw that the car arriving had a family. The license plates were from Wisconsin. An average, somewhat heavy man drove, his wife rode in the passenger's seat, and two children occupied the back seat. The girl had long, loose blonde hair. Seeing her caused Elliot to smile. He stood in the street and waved his arms.

“Hello,” he said. “I need help.”

Paul Omner, his wife, Sally, and their two children were a middle class family from Wisconsin. Three days ago, Paul had decided to take a week’s vacation and drive west. He had told his kids they might enjoy Los Angeles.

“What is wrong,” Paul Omner saw that the man with the black slacks, black vest, white shirt and nice hair style had gotten out the scissor jack and small spare tire from the dark colored luxury car. The car had New York license plates.

“The lug nuts are too tight,” said Elliot.

“Paul Omner parked in back of the car. A tall, heavy man from the midwest, Paul thought he could break free the stuck lug nuts. He tried and got two of them loose but three remained un-moved. Paul and Elliot conferred and agreed that cell phones did not connect out here.

“Honey,” said Sally, “what is happening?”

“We know,” said Paul Omner, “that signs on the interstate mentioned a truck stop. We can get back on the main highway and drop him off there.”

“Also,” said Sally, “I think we have been driving enough.” She had disliked the way her husband had wanted to explore isolated desert roads. The children, Beth and Oliver, had become impatient. “Honey, we can get a motel with a swimming pool. That would be fun.”

“Yeah, mom,” said Beth.

“Squeeze over,” Paul directed Oliver so Elliot Morphson could have a seat in the back of the family car.

FBI agent Jenkins now knew the name of The Barber -- Elliot Morphson. Jenkins entered the old Federal Building in Kansas City. He had parked in a city lot across the street; the day was pleasant. An afternoon conference had been scheduled. He guessed he would see McCarthy, the guy from Boston who still had to use the label -- The Photographer -- to describe that serial killer because McCarthy had not yet detected the suspect’s identity.

The narrow, disjointed sidewalk had one slab with an imprint: WPA -- 1935. Jenkins ascended a dozen concrete steps and entered ornate, copper gilded doors with thick, plate glass. Inside the lobby, a large, framed portrait of J Edgar Hoover looked down from a high wall. Jenkins liked this place. He was glad he had worn his pressed suit this morning. His wife had packed three for Jenkins, but he many times re-wore a suit jacket whenever he could.

“Ok,” Jenkins took the first turn addressing the group of midwest FBI agents. On a computer conference network, the Boston, Westchester, and Atlanta offices were online. “Ok, two days ago the identity of The Barber was ascertained,” said Jenkins. “He is Elliot Morphson, and he is an actual barber in the Bronx. He works at Hector’s Hair. Elliot Morphson began driving west three days ago.”

Jenkins and a half dozen FBI agents, including the guy from Boston, McCarthy, occupied a conference room with folding chairs and a formica topped table. A projector hooked up to a computer showed a screen at the front of the room with three views: Westchester office; Boston office; and, Atlanta office. Jenkins instructed everybody that in the case sheets he had distributed, the pertinent information about Elliot Morphson could be studied.

Wilhoit was a big, friendly man. He dominated one end of the room and was a leader in the local office.

"An all points bulletin has been put out for Elliot Morphson's car. Yesterday," Wilhoit leaned to check his laptop computer on the table, "in the United States, 643 all points bulletins were posted."

All the professional law enforcement men in the room and on the teleconference understood that the volume of bulletins precluded police officers from spotting any wanted vehicle. The TV viewing public had an image of an old, 1950s style highway patrol police drama where a black and white police unit would wait by the side of a highway and nab a get away car.

“Psst,” Wilhoit raised his hand as if to tell a joke. His eyes twinkled. “Please, nobody tell the media about this.”

The room full of FBI agents laughed.

“What about fingerprints,” McCarthy, of all people, had spoken up to contribute to the mirth. “Could we run Elliot Morphson’s fingerprints through the national data base?”

The room became ridiculous with laughter.

“Simmer down,” Wilhoit held up a manila folder for emphasis. He glanced at the conference room door as if nearby offices might complain. “Yes, McCarthy, twenty thousand law enforcement requests for fingerprints were submitted in the past month. Get in line.”

Jenkins wanted to continue his discourse.

“All you Republicans,” he said, “who favor private corporations over government can be proud. The credit card company can process the information on Elliot Morphson and send it to me in four to six hours. Last night, he stayed at one of the large casino hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.”

“Jenkins,” on the large screen at one end of the conference room, the image online from Westchester resonated with the voice of Caruthers. He was the senior FBI agent in that New York office. “Jenkins, Elliot Morphson is traveling fast. Last night, the credit card showed Las Vegas. Do you think he might be in Los Angeles tonight?”

“It is possible. I don’t know yet.”

“The Los Angeles bureau can apprehend him.”

“I’m already out here, Caruthers.”

“Let the regional offices do their jobs.”

“I think I can put my hands on The Barber tomorrow or the next day.”

“Two days,” Caruthers relented. Then, he seemed to take over the meeting. “I’m going to put a map up here. Can everyone see it?”

“Yes, sir,” Jenkins spoke for the group.

“Who is in charge of the Manchester Mankiller case?”

On the map, black dots had been made with a felt tipped pen. Three of them progressed in a line from Manchester, Vermont through a couple of towns in rural Pennsylvania and then to one in Colorado.

“Sophie,” the conference room in the Boston office had its section on the projected screen. “Sophie, the Manchester Mankiller. I’m agent Ibanez, Caruthers. She’s driving a lime green sedan. Sophie seems to have stopped worrying about hiding her movements. I’m in favor of hopping a plane and finding her tonight somewhere in the vicinity of Las Vegas.”

“McCarthy,” said Caruthers. “Where is The Photographer heading?”

McCarthy instructed the conference that the television show Corpse Patrol had received in its afternoon mail (Studio City, Los Angeles) a postcard from The Photographer. He had bragged about killing a woman in Kansas yesterday and leaving her body in a wheat field.

“I was at that wheat field crime scene this morning,” added McCarthy.

“Where,” Caruthers could once again be seen on his segment of the projected screen where he had removed the map. “Where, McCarthy, did Corpse Patrol say The Photographer had sent the post card from?”

“Las Vegas.”

Wilhoit, the large Kansas City agent, attracted the group’s attention when he took a step toward the camera on its tripod that filmed the conference room for its online image in the other locations.

“Impossible,” said Wilhoit. “It’s too fantastic. Serial killers un-related to one another are all going to Las Vegas tonight. Is this what we are speculating?”

“First,” a woman in the Atlanta office spoke up. Jenkins recognized her as a sex crimes analyst. “This movement breaks a normal, territorial trait for serial killers. Secondly, this movement actually is causing each killer to make mistakes and in effect, blow his cover, you might say.”

“That’s what happened with Sophie,” said Ibanez.

“Let’s hope she does not kill, or for that matter, any of them kill, before you guys pick them up,” said Caruthers.

Chapter Eight

At the Cactus Motel, the heat of the afternoon meant that individuals passed the day inside. At her metal desk, Ann found a thick paperback book that Mark had been reading: Sexy Women. Ann read the novel but contemplated that none of the ideas actually described anything she had lived through. However, maybe it was possible for a woman to crave sex in that manner.

Orrin and Vince hung out in the restaurant, and only five customers came in all day. Sheila had not been out. The satellite TV was in her room. Orrin’s contained the computer. Once in awhile, they shared and spent time in one another’s rooms. In the past two weeks, the couple had avoided one another.

"Vince," said Orrin, "I'm going home for a few minutes."

"There's nothing happening here," Vince meant that he did not mind watching the restaurant himself. Vince was in the recreation room practicing on the pool table. He planned to ask Sheila to play tonight.

Orrin went out the rear door of the restaurant. He crossed the parking lot and entered the mobile home he shared with Sheila. He wanted to log onto the computer and see if any of his friends had emailed him. Also, he would review any motion picked up by his video camera pointed at the parking lot overnight.

Shock and anger welled up in Orrin. A distinct figure had triggered the motion sensor and appeared for ten seconds in the parking lot near Orrin's car. He immediately saw that it was not Sheila.

"Sheila," he went into the hall. "Sheila, what are you doing? Are you busy?"

He approached the door of her bedroom. She pulled open the door, and she wore only blue jeans. Orrin knew this was how she relaxed while watching TV.

"What," Sheila did not like this intrusion.

"Come here. It's important. I want to show you something."

"What," Sheila followed Orrin.

"Look at this," Orrin had saved the ten second video on his computer. "This shadow. It's a man in the parking lot." The time indicator read 2:30am.

"You are a crappy photographer," there appeared to be a man who briefly walked near Orrin's car. It was a dark shadow. No features could be ascertained at all.

"I thought you keyed my car, Sheila," Orrin blurted.

"Go to hell," she returned to her room.

A couple of days ago, Sheila had woken up at 5am. She had decided to go to the restaurant to make coffee. Coming down the steps of the mobile home with the key to the rear door of the restaurant, Sheila had created a small scratch on the door of Orrin's car. As she entered the restaurant, she regretted the nasty behavior on her part. That jerk caused her to be so angry and irresponsible she could not think straight.

Sheila wanted to get to some other situation. She thought that returning west towards Los Angeles to get an apartment in Victorville would be good. However, lately she had been wondering if Las Vegas would be a better place to move. Currently, she bided her time. Today, she wanted to lie on her bed and watch TV. She drank a bottle of wine, also, that Vince had picked up for her when he went to Walmart with Lester and Ann. Sheila thought that Vince and she could possibly leave the Cactus Motel together to get an apartment in Las Vegas.

Orrin did not bother to check his email. He created a still image of the phantom-like culprit. Then, Orrin printed the image onto a letter sized sheet of computer paper. He carried the picture rapidly to the restaurant/front desk building to show Vince and Ann.

In the gift shop, Lester and Spike occupied their time. They would go home in a couple of hours. Lester played his computer game; Spike lay on his side on the floor. Lester expertly controlled of the character in the computer game because for several years Lester had played the game one or two hours per day. The computer game depicted a huge landscape which included countryside, elaborate cities, highways, roads, vehicles, beaches and waterways, and even boats. The character appeared to be a felon in his mid twenties wearing athletic shoes, slacks, and a sleeveless t-shirt. The character could use fists or a gun to attack other characters in the game. Lester was smart enough to know that each segment of the game where his character completed a mission gave Lester a feeling of satisfaction. This satisfaction increased Lester’s enjoyment of the game and caused him to want to play more. However, knowing this did not mean Lester possessed the mental strength to deny himself the pleasure each morning when he entered the gift shop, went to his desk, and put the CD computer program for the game into the gift shop’s computer.

Ann came in. Spike awoke and scampered towards her. The hot afternoon could be seen at the glass of the entrance door. Lester paused the computer game and stood up. He moved to hug and kiss his wife.

“Honey,” she said. “You should go with me this week when I go shopping. We could spend the day in town.”

“I looked at the online movie schedule for Victorville. There are a dozen bad movies out this summer,” Lester noted, “but one or two might be ok.”

“Yes,” she replied. “We could see a movie and have dinner.”

Lester knew that Ann would make a shopping trip to Walmart within the next few days. It was an hour’s drive on the interstate highway towards Los Angeles.

John Synd had decided to turn onto a back road in the desert. He was curious to know what existed out here in this strange environment. Oddly, he found himself liking the stark beauty of the region. Last night, in Las Vegas, John had mailed a post card to Corpse Patrol, the TV show originating from Studio City, Los Angeles. He would eventually get to that destination. For now, John Synd wanted to see this. This beautiful landscape contained great views for photographs. John would put a desert picture on his computer at home as a background image. In Boston, his wife, kids, and John’s friend Brent would be impressed by a desert picture on John’s computer screen. They would wonder where the image came from. John parked at a small motel’s lot, The Cactus Motel, and he saw no cars in front of the place. He went to the door of a side building, a gift shop. Inside, John encountered a middle aged man and a fairly attractive woman of similar age.

“Hello,” Lester greeted John.

“Hello,” John appreciated the cute, small dog that wagged its tail. John stooped to pet the dog.

“Welcome,” Ann noticed that the man briefly studied her figure. She wore a western style, button shirt and jeans. Whenever she gained weight, these jeans became tight on Ann. Lester always told her the look was sexy.

“It’s quiet out here,” John could purchase something for each child, ages three and four, now in Florida with his wife. Hell, he thought, later she would know John was out west. He did not need to hide his travel from her. This was John’s vacation and he had a right to it.

All year John accepted the ugly reality that his high school friend, Brent, owned REMACO (Real Estate Management Company, of Boston). All year long John was the lowly blue collar worker who drove a van from property to property to do maintenance; and, Brent was the CEO who wore thousand dollar suits and acted like a big shot. John Synd was settled down, married to a school teacher, and the father of two boys. Brent was a wealthy bachelor who drove a sports car and hired real estate agents based on their female attractiveness and their willingness to go away for weekends with the CEO. Now, out here in this desert, John could forget all that.

"I'm from Boston," he said. "I've never seen terrain like this."

"We like it," Lester enjoyed the tourist's pleasant comments.

"I'll bet," John viewed Lester's remark as slightly sarcastic. Good for you, buddy; and, maybe you are a jerk. However, the woman seemed sweet. "I think I would like to rent a room in this motel," said John. "Is it open?"

Ann stepped closer to the tourist.

"Of course we are open. I have plenty of rooms."

John acknowledged he was ready to proceed so she accompanied him outside. They walked along a medium height chain link fence with a gate leading to a small, quiet pool. John Synd and Ann went up two wooden steps into a clean, old motel check in area. He noticed that a restaurant filled with empty tables lay beyond an archway. Four large windows were built into a wall in a manner that suggested old style architecture. It was a quiet, attractive room. As Ann went behind the check in counter, John understood that the man ran the store and this nice girl worked at the motel desk. He had thought it odd that such a small, non-busy gift shop would have two employees.

"John Synd," Ann stood behind the motel check in desk and accepted John's driver's license and money. "I believe you'll enjoy it here. The desert can be a magic place."

"It is peaceful," John Synd recognized in himself slight sexual arousal. He wanted to continue eye contact and conversation with this attractive woman.

"You can choose any room," said Ann. "One through fifteen. Fifteen is on the far end."

"Which do you suggest," John often wondered if a sexy woman during the course of a business conversation could detect that he did not care about the topic. His eyes studied hers. His breath was shallow. He was glad that he was only partially aroused and no erection would be visible.

"Mark," said Ann, "He's the night clerk, consistently puts people in rooms one and two. I suggest room six, halfway down. Or would you prefer seven?"

"Six," to John, it approximated the word sex, and he wanted to hear that word from her. "Would you do me a favor," John asked. "Would you show the room to me?"

"Sure," Ann wondered if the guy was afraid of spiders or something. She did not mind leading the way down the front steps and along the building of motel rooms.

"You are sweet," said John. "Thank you for walking with me."

"No problem," Ann estimated that there were four hours until the sun descended behind mountains at the far edge of this section of desert. "Here it is," she opened the door so John could enter first.

“I'm going to relax and enjoy the quiet," he noticed a twenty five inch TV with a DVD player built into it.

"Sorry," Ann noticed he had looked at the television. "We do not have reception here. There are a few dozen DVDs in the recreation room. Also, the recreation room has a satellite system and is open until midnight when Mark closes for the night."

“I can watch TV at home,” John momentarily thought about his wife and kids on their vacation in Florida. “This room will be good for me,” said John. “I did not get your name.”

“Ann.”

“Thank you, Ann.”

“Have a good night,” she departed.

At the truck stop, the Paul Omner family and their passenger, Elliot Morphson, arrived. The sun was near the ridge of a distant, barren mountain -- the type common to the desert and devoid of vegetation. Sally Omner wanted to return to the only motel they had seen all afternoon. She had seen a small pool at the quaint place a half mile away from the truck stop.

“Thank you,” Elliot Morphson opened the car door. “Your daughter has beautiful hair,” Elliot smiled at the child of perhaps eight years and then stepped out of the vehicle.

Sally glanced at her husband. He was bored.

“Good luck,” she called after the man. He had been wearing slacks, a white shirt, and a black vest. Odd, she thought.

“Kids,” said Paul Omner. “Let’s go inside.”

“Paul,” said Sally, “if we go into the truck stop, how much time will that take?”

“Stop obsessing about time, Sally. Kids, come on.”

His wife had nagged a lot on this vacation. To Paul, it almost seemed like she was competing with Paul for authority. If he allowed it, every discourse would have been an argument. “Five minutes. Maybe ten.”

“We want to go swimming before it gets dark,” Sally could entice the children as much as Paul could. Nevertheless, Paul, Oliver, and Beth proceeded into the large, busy truck stop.

The large building was meant to supply sustenance for travelers speeding between cities. Eighteen wheel trucks that delivered goods throughout the United States could park on hundreds of square yards of pavement. Dozens of pumps held gasoline for cars and diesel fuel for the trucks. A thirty table restaurant remained busy twenty four hours per day. Truck drivers often owned special, extended vehicles with beds in them, but a section of the building which would have stretched in length a city block in an urban setting, furnished showers and facilities such as a laundry or storage lockers that all catered to the truck driving business. Tourist families like that of Paul Omner could purchase souvenirs such as post cards of Los Angeles or Las Vegas, each city existed over a hundred miles in opposite directions from this enterprise.

Sally joined the family. The children led the way down various aisles. Paul said they could each have a small snack. He watched Oliver because the boy usually tried to take too much. The eight year old knew that Paul meant one bag of chips or one candy bar, but Oliver would try for one of each. Paul's jaw tensed and he looked away over the aisles.

“Sally,” Paul addressed her while they watched Beth and Oliver, nine and eight, hesitate on an aisle of small packages of treats as each child decided which one item to choose. “I like your idea about that motel. This desert interests me for some reason.”

“It’s very different than back east,” she agreed. “I think we will enjoy a night out here.”

“I think you have been upset by my sudden decision to take a vacation,” said Paul. “It was an urge; I don’t know what came over me.”

“It’s alright, Paul,” Sally understood that Paul owned a small coffee franchise and could take off whenever he wanted. She planned to get to The Cactus Motel, check in, and take the kids swimming before the sun went down.

Randy, the tow truck driver, sometimes spent the afternoon at his house. From the interstate highway, numerous roads led across the desert. Most drivers never noticed the exits from the main route. The roads led to various properties. People desired to own land. With thousands of dollars and adequate incomes, they would purchase real estate on sea shores, in decent neighborhoods, or in scenic forest settings. Over the years, less affluent buyers had wandered out here. Randy owned a house he had inherited. He lived with his wife and two children. A phone call from a guy at the truck stop caused Randy to leave his house and drive over there. It took a few minutes. Randy had smoked marijuana this afternoon while his wife and kids were shopping in Las Vegas.

Usually, when high from marijuana, Randy could perform his job. However, he would remain cautious with this odd looking guy in the black vest. If a customer realized Randy was stoned, there could be a complaint and the highway patrol officer, William, would hear about it. Maybe Randy was being paranoid. The atmosphere in the desert for the past few days had seemed odd. He greeted the man.

“Get in,” Randy had responded to the signal from the man in the vest.

“Thanks,” Elliot Morphson climbed into the passenger’s seat. “My car is a mile from here.”

Elliot explained that he could not get the lug nuts off. Randy drove the side road a half mile to the Cactus Motel and turned on the old highway. Ahead, Elliot could see his dark colored luxury sedan. Approaching from this angle, the car looked odd to Elliot. Randy did not bother to open the trunk of the sedan. Instead, Randy used his lug wrench which was shaped out of steel in a cross with a different sized socket on each extension. Two of the sedan’s lug nuts had been loosened. Randy succeeded with one more and then got from the tow truck a long, iron pipe (such as might be used in house plumbing -- a three foot piece).

The steel lug wrench remained on the stuck lug nut; into the end of the long pipe, one handle of the lug wrench was inserted. Randy leaned heavily on the lever. The nut released and the flat tire was now free from the sedan.

“Ok,” said Randy. “Get the spare tire.”

Elliot Morphson had followed a woman to her suburban home and strangled her. He had backed into her garage near her red car, and Elliot had put the corpse in the trunk of his luxury car. He now approached the empty trunk that only contained his suitcase, the briefcase with the blonde hair of five women, and the small spare tire and jack from earlier. The idea filled his mind that the girl’s body lay a short distance away behind some bushes in the gully.

“Nice car,” commented Randy.

“Yeah,” Elliot opened the trunk. “I buy American.”

“I appreciate that,” Randy had heard an interesting debate on talk radio about how Japanese cars were considered superior by many consumers.

“The Japanese believe their cars are better. Hell, we invented cars in this country, I think we know how to manufacture them,” Elliot liked the talk radio program he had heard the other night about how imported cars were harming American auto workers.

“New York, eh,” Randy glanced at the license plate at the rear of the car.

“Yeah,” Elliot reached to lift the small spare tire. He admired the car’s paint and it’s unmarred finish. A person had to be an excellent driver in New York to maintain a vehicle in this condition. Elliot paid $450 a month to an enclosed, multi story garage in the Bronx near his apartment. Each morning, he walked two blocks to get his car but he considered that to be healthy exercise. “Here you go,” he brought the spare tire to the front of the car. He wanted to keep the tow truck driver away from the trunk.

Randy easily fastened the spare, advised the guy that he needed to drive slowly, fifty five miles per hour, and get to the closest service station in the direction of Los Angeles on the interstate highway. Elliot signed an auto club form and gave Randy a twenty dollar bill; Randy’s profit on this tire change would be worthwhile. He insisted on rolling the dirty tire to the trunk and hefting it in near a suitcase and a briefcase. The man wore clean slacks, a white shirt, and a black vest (there appeared to be an aluminum barber’s comb in the vest pocket).

“How old is this car,” Randy shut the trunk.

“A year and a half,” Elliot replied.

“A man can get girls with a car like this,” Randy judged the luggage as being that of a single man.

“Yes,” Elliot glanced at the gully. He realized that the only live woman who had ever been in the car was his mother the time Elliot had purchased the car and drove it to Long Island to show her. He was now anxious to get going. “Thank you,” he moved towards the driver’s door.

"Go slow," Randy knew that the small, spare tire which car dealers had at one time called a donut for some reason, could actually drive farther than the fifty miles recommended on various labels in the trunk and on the tire itself. "Take it easy. You'll make it before the place closes."

"No problem," Elliot had excellent credit. He could buy four new tires with a swipe of a credit card. He waved goodbye as the strong man in the tow truck drove away.

Elliot Morphson now was alone on the desolate, old desert road a half mile from the busy interstate highway. This mimicked how he had begun out here four hours ago. He started his car and proceeded. Except for the flat tire, it had been a good day. Across the desert, the sun was visible an inch above a large, stony mountain.

Paul Omner, Sally Omner, and the eight and nine year olds, Oliver and Beth, arrived at the Cactus Motel in late afternoon. Three days ago, Paul Omner had decided he needed a vacation. He owned a coffee shop, and it was part of a national chain of outlets, so Paul Omner could allow his crew of excellent young employees to mind the store. As the family had entered the desert near Las Vegas, Paul Omner had begun to feel relaxed.

“Daddy,” the boy, younger by one year than his sister, was the first one to open his car door and get out. “Are we going to stay here?”

“Hey,” angrily Paul pushed open his car door and a strong, desert wind moved the door violently against its hinges. This increased Paul’s anger. “Hey, Oliver, do not jump out of the car ahead of the family. Quit complaining. We are staying here and you kids are going to keep your negative comments to yourself.”

Sally and Beth went to stand near Oliver. Sally would not contradict her husband even though she knew the boy had merely asked an excited question but was now confused and upset. She put a hand on Oliver’s shoulder.

"Honey, your father has been driving in traffic all day. He's not angry at you, he's just pent up."

Sally and the two children went into a nearby gift shop. Paul went up two wooden steps to check in at the motel front desk. He did not like the way Oliver got excited about little things like where the family stayed. He was probably in the gift shop at this moment smiling and talking about some trivial item. A person had to be serious in this life. The world was a dangerous, hateful place filled with ignorant, crazy, and perverted people. Oliver would grow up to be a fool if he did not pay attention and get serious.

For over a year, Paul Omner had wanted to change himself. He wanted to quit murdering little boys. It wasn't his fault. He was sick. He knew that with discipline he could change. He had murdered twice a year for the past three years. It was always the same. After successfully luring a boy to a secluded area (Paul favored the woods), he would not be able to control himself and the boy would end up dead. He loved them. They were innocent, hopeful, and good. They could grow and become strong in life. However, Paul somehow needed to interact with them in a savage way. Always, after a murder, Paul vowed he would stop and never do it again. Then, slowly, month by month, the urge would build up in him until he spent weekdays away from the coffee shop and stalking a mall or a park. Currently, it had been eight months since his last abduction and murder of a little boy. He had weighted this one down with a couple of ten pound rings from his dumb bell set and plastic rope he kept in the trunk of his car. The body had not floated free in the river and nobody had found it. Usually, Paul Omner saw the TV news report when one of his murder victims was found.

"Hello," Ann moved to greet the family man. She had noticed his car and attractive, young family arrive out front. "Welcome to the Cactus Motel."

"Thank you," Paul admired the lithe, middle aged girl. It was as if a stern life in the desert had kept her more pure than existence in a city. "I'm from back east. This is the first time I've seen this desert."

Ann appreciated the business. Paul Omner related that it had not been a flyer at the truck stop that had led the family here; instead, they had been exploring back roads. He declined Ann’s offer to show the room. The man from Boston, John Synd, had enjoyed that earlier. She believed she could continue to offer that service. For some reason, today, two types of unusual guests had checked into the Cactus Motel. Normally, no families or tourists made their way a half mile from the interstate highway to stay here. She left room number one open, registered the family in room two, and handed an old, plastic Cactus Motel key ring to Paul Omner.

Elliot Morphson needed to rest. He followed the isolated desert road until he came to a small motel. To the side, a road appeared to run back towards the interstate highway; however, Elliot Morphson did not want to get back to that crowded way. Instead, he preferred the solitude of the vast desert. Cars were in front of a couple of rooms, and he noticed that the Wisconsin family’s car was in front of room two; good for them. Elliot parked the luxury car in front of a building with glass doors and two wooden steps in front. He headed in to rent a room. It was a small operation but he figured they would accept one of his credit cards.

Ann glanced at her watch. 3:50pm. In ten minutes, she would turn over the front desk to Mark. He would work from 4pm until midnight. She got up to stand behind the counter that faced the glass doors. In the rear, she knew that Orrin and Vince were watching TV in the recreation room. Sheila had taken the day off.

“Good afternoon,” Ann welcomed a guy wearing a black vest, white shirt, and slacks.

“Do you have a single,” Elliot Morphson noticed the attractive woman’s hair was not blonde.

“Of course,” Ann had rented three rooms for the night: John Synd from Boston, the Paul Omner family from Wisconsin, and now this guy who placed a credit card and a driver’s license on the counter. “Bronx, New York,” she knew it was a section of New York City. “Welcome to the desert, Mr Morphson.”

“I had an urge to drive west three days ago,” said Elliot. “I’m glad I did. It’s beautiful out here. The city is good for business, but the congestion....”

“What kind of business do you do?”

“I’m a barber. My plan is to re-locate to Las Vegas eventually,” Elliot remembered that he had begun the day intending to visit hair salons and barber shops. Instead, he had met the young housewife in the neighborhood pharmacy and had followed her home to make love to her and strangle her.

“Would you,” Ann took from beneath a counter an old credit card machine, “like to be closer to this end or at the far end of the motel?”

“Anything is fine,” Elliot watched the woman place a carbon paper form and his credit card onto the small machine so she could make an impression of the credit card. It was a method used by establishments prior to the development of computers and electric cash registers. Back home, in the Bronx, Hector had one of the old credit card machines in a bottom drawer. “It’s refreshing to see a business still using the old method,” Elliot nodded at Ann’s work with the credit card.

“Thirty three dollars,” she offered a pen and the form for Elliot to sign. She put away the credit card machine. “Actually,” she said, “the credit card companies prefer businesses to be hooked up to the system.” Ann knew that there was an added three dollar fee to the Cactus Motel for processing Elliot Morphson’s card in this manner.

“Well,” he said. “My credit card is good; you don’t have to worry about that.”

Elliot noticed that this middle aged woman was extremely beautiful. Maybe living in this desolate place away from the stress of the city contributed to a person’s vigor and attractiveness. However, Elliot usually only got excited for blondes. If he ever changed his proclivity, he would have chosen a woman such as this motel clerk. She handed him the room key.

“Would you like me to show you to the room?” Ann recalled that John Synd had enjoyed that. Perhaps this small, extra courtesy might generate return customers.

“No thanks. I can find it,” said Elliot Morphson.

Chapter Nine

In the store, a small side building that had more gifts and souvenirs than sodas and snacks, Lester sat at a wooden desk in the corner. On the computer, he played the game of a violent criminal on a rampage through a city. He admired the way computer people had developed such a game. It was truly amazing the way Lester could use the mouse and keyboard buttons to maneuver the character through the city. It was fun and somewhat addictive as the person playing the game was rewarded with small successes based on how well he maneuvered the character.

Lester had spent twenty minutes with a young woman and two children. The children had been identified by name -- Beth and Oliver. Lester was glad that they had enjoyed looking at various items such as desert rock collections, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and small books about the region. Their mom had allowed each child to purchase a post card. The girl, Beth, got one of a saguaro cactus which actually grew in the Arizona desert several hundred miles to the east. The boy, Oliver, had been excited with his postcard of a scorpion. He had wanted both a scorpion postcard and a rattlesnake one, and he at one point had in his hand more cards of a coyote and large, desert rabbit. The mother had been firm and had insisted Oliver only get one card so he chose the scorpion. Lester was pleased to discover they were staying tonight at the Cactus Motel. Rooms rented tonight from travelers on the interstate perhaps meant that Ann’s work to advertise was paying off.

Mark woke up in his employee trailer fully refreshed. This morning he had gone to State Line Casino, an hour and a half away, and he had eaten breakfast, gambled with slot machines, and drank beer. He had returned, slept three hours in his clothes, and now woke up to the alarm at ten minutes to four. He proceeded to the front of the check in building and did not bother to pass through the rear entrance and restaurant. He passed from the rear parking lot between the motel building and the front desk building. He noticed three cars in front of rooms -- unusual. He went up the two long wooden steps and entered the old glass doors to the lobby.

Ann said hello to Mark and allowed him to take over. He went to the metal desk in the corner and picked up his paperback book, Sexy Women.

“Are there three rooms rented,” he asked. “What is going on?”

“I don’t know,” said Ann, “but I like it. I started reading that novel, Mark. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” Mark wondered if he could learn anything about women from Ann. He had always considered her to be his boss and not someone to goof around with. And that blonde girl, Sheila, had Orrin for a boyfriend and Vince liked her. Mark saw no chance to interact with her, and she probably would have laughed at his inexperience. “Mr Jones,” Mark referred to an eighteen wheel truck driver who stayed at the Cactus Motel once a week, “will come in tonight, Ann. That will be four rooms. I cannot remember a time since I’ve worked here when we had four rooms rented in one night.”

Ann went down the two long, wooden steps out front. She looked along the row of fifteen motel rooms and saw the dark colored luxury car and the family car from Ohio. Further along, she saw the car from the first guest who had checked in that afternoon. He approached with a digital camera that appeared a bit larger and more expensive than the ninety nine dollar models sold at Walmart.

“Hello,” John Synd, The Photographer maniac that the FBI was looking for in Kansas, intended to get a few pictures with his digital camera. “Hold it,” he pointed the camera at Ann where she paused in front of the restaurant/front desk building. “Smile. The best photographs have people in them.”

“Sure,” Ann complied.

Inside the store, Lester expected Ann to stop by. He continued with the computer game. He knew it was a few minutes after 4pm. He glanced at the door, and a guy entered carrying a digital camera. Lester paused the computer game to arise.

“Hello,” he said.

Spike rested in a corner of the store but came forward when Ann entered. John Synd reached down to pet the small dog, but Spike never stood still very long to be petted. Ann approached Lester.

“We have three rooms rented tonight,” she said.

John Synd moved deeper into the store to investigate various items. Many things were standard souvenirs. However, among a rack of books he found an interesting title: The Manitou. From the cover he understood that the Manitou was a native American spirit. Folklore associated the spirit with nature. It was not a ghost of any person. It was not a deity. The Manitou emanated from the landscape. Many viewed it as a spirit alive in deep, uninhabited forests. Nature was a powerful entity in itself. There were things the human mind could not comprehend. John Synd took the text, only a cover price of $11.95, to the front of the store to purchase. He could stay here a day or two and rest. He could read about the indian spirit, the Manitou. Lester worked the cash register.

“Thank you,” said Lester after the exchange was made.

Ann and Spike stood near the desk with Lester’s computer game still visible on pause.

“Enjoy your stay,” she smiled at John Synd.

“I believe I will,” he disregarded the cashier and related to the attractive, middle aged woman. “The desert is beautiful.”

John began to move towards the exit. Ann went to Lester and kissed him on the cheek.

“Ok, honey. I’ll be at home,” she began to follow John Synd out the door. Spike went with Ann.

John Synd maintained no expression, but rage engulfed him. He turned his back on the small store and rapidly crossed the parking lot in front of the restaurant/front desk building. Rotten slut. Her eyes had been warm. Her personality had been sweet. She had enticed John. She never said the guy in the store was her husband. She would be at home. Where would the husband be? If he was in the store, where did they live? John Synd angrily carried his digital camera and the paperback book about the Manitou. He noticed that the Cactus Motel property, out here alone in the desert, had several mobile homes present. He glanced back and saw Ann and the small dog moving to the small pool area.

Ann and Spike approached the gate in the chain link fence by the pool. The fence ran from the corner of the store to the corner of the restaurant/front desk building. Guests would usually walk from the rooms on the far side of the restaurant/front desk building and enter this gate or they could pass through the door on the far side, pass through near the recreation room, and come out a door which Ann could see from this gate, the exit from the restaurant to the pool area.

Ann paused to turn and greet a large, eighteen wheel truck which noisily stopped on the highway out front. Since there was no traffic, Mr Jones, a periodic guest, could enjoy parking along the highway when he stayed overnight. He parked on the far side of the old highway. The large, eighteen wheel truck was half on the shoulder and half on the un-traveled, old route through the desert. Mr Jones got out of the truck and crossed the road.

“Hello, Ann,” Mr Jones headed to the store to say hi to Lester.

“Hello,” she smiled from the gate near the pool; then, she and Spike continued on their way home.

James drove over Hoover Dam and followed signs on the highway that would lead him into Las Vegas. He had been driving since noon yesterday, eighteen hours, when he had left his mother’s house in Texas. However, last night at a roadside park in New Mexico, James had noticed truck drivers in eighteen wheelers and travelers in cars sleeping so James had leaned the seat back in the old muscle car and dozed the best he could. If he had not stopped, James would have arrived in Las Vegas this morning. Now, it was close to 6pm. The odometer in his old car did not work, but James had bought a road map yesterday on the way out of Texas. The distance traveled was one thousand miles.

After Hoover Dam, although congested with traffic, a pleasant, bright highway (the sun was still high) led into suburbs of Las Vegas. Five hundred and thirty dollars cash filled the front pocket of his jeans. He could succeed; he knew it. Of course nobody could find a job in that rural Texas town. A high school graduate like James could contribute his application to stacks of others at restaurants and grocery stores; that accomplished nothing. As he drove, James felt a vibrancy. He noticed new structures and homes. The highway was being widened, and dozens of large construction graders and dump trucks lined the side of the road. Opportunities were increasing. James could thrive here.

Closer to the city, in the distance across flat desert terrain, James recognized features of the Las Vegas Strip he had seen many times on TV. The section of town he entered now appeared older. He witnessed ematiated people on foot which he had learned about the times he had gone to large cities in Texas such as San Antonio or Houston. The people on sidewalks near old style motels from the 1960s were homeless. Many times, James knew, their gaunt figures were due to drugs as well as starvation. Nevertheless, some of the cheap hotels had signs advertising $25 per night. He doubted he would find a better deal in another part of town. Also, he needed to rest. Tomorrow, James would find a job. His father, before he died, had always instructed James to be brave and move directly towards an objective. James would sleep tonight, but he felt confident that tomorrow he could find employment.

James drove into the parking lot of a small motel. It had the type of sign that James had seen in his small Texas town where a person had to climb up there and attach clear plastic squares, each with a letter or number in black, to form the words. $25 per night.

“That will be $32.50,” said the clerk.

“The sign said $25,” replied James.

“We add a surcharge of $7.50 for electricity. Also, you have to leave five dollars as a deposit for the key. So that is $37.50.”

James went along with this and handed the clerk two twenty dollar bills. His father, James thought, had been a good soldier. To complain was not his style. However, James had often heard a recurring diatribe from his mother. The United States was becoming more and more shifty, she said. She particularly hated the phone company. She accused it of taking over her computer and she worried she might somehow be controlled or monitored while online.

“Ok,” James completed the transaction with the clerk and took the room key. He would call his mother, and he would sleep. It had been a good trip.

The interior of the room smelled musty. A window type air conditioner needed to be turned on to circulate some air. James studied the room with its worn bed under its motel style spread. The carpet was old but clean as was the bathroom. James went to the phone. It had old push buttons like the one in the kitchen back home. Earlier this year, his mother had let his cell phone go back to the company because the sixty dollar a month fee needed James to be working. Tomorrow he would find a job and then get a new cell phone. For now, he needed to use this device. He lifted the hand set and looked at the phone. Notations said to dial 9 to get an outside line.

“Front desk,” it was the voice of the clerk from earlier.

“I want to get an outside line to call Texas,” said James.

“You need a credit card or else come up here and give me a fifty dollar deposit.”

“I’ll do it later,” James hung up and felt rage well in him. What sort of world was this? It was dishonesty. Cheesy money grubbing dishonesty. He could lay down now and call his mom tomorrow. He needed a few hours sleep. If necessary, he would need to give the clerk the fifty dollars from his now less than five hundred but only talk for a minute and get most of the money back before he checked out. For now, James fell asleep.

The sun went down. The desert became dark. Lester and Ann spent a quiet evening in their mobile home. Lester played his computer game in the spare bedroom. During her break from 9am to 10am, Ann had started a slow cooker pot with a favorite dish of hers -- stew.

“Honey,” she called into the other room. “Did you notice how angry Chief Robert was this morning?”

“He’s torturing himself by obsessing about that hit and run,” Lester paused the game and proceeded to the kitchen.

Robert stood in the dark, calm desert in front of his house. The cars and mobile homes of his neighbors were as quiet as the non-moving palm fronds of the small reservation’s trees. A heavy, spiritual warmth filled the air. Four days ago, a terrible person had hit fifteen year old Jimmy and had fractured his leg. Neighbors were inside. Lights could be seen at various windows. The busy interstate highway a half mile away emanated its own lights and slight, distant sound. Robert turned to see two pairs of headlights coming from the junction road at the truck stop. He reasoned it might be the two native American vehicles returning from their journey to the beach in Los Angeles.

After a few minutes, Robert experienced a pleasant recognition as they pulled in from the road and familiar visages behind darkened windshields were visible. One car went forward so its people could proceed to their homes; one stopped and eleven year old Sara got out and then turned to close the door and wave goodbye to her friends as they continued on.

“Hi, daddy,” she skipped forth. “We had fun today.”

“Good,” Robert hugged her and kissed the top of her head. He could smell sun screen lotion on her. “Come inside. Do you want something to eat?”

Snow, the large white dog, usually spent a lot of time with Sara. Snow wagged his tail and joined Sara and Robert in the main room of the house. Robert smiled and acted pleasant. He disliked holding in himself the abhorrent emotions of the past four days. However, he would not quell the emotions with marijuana, distract himself with TV, or enjoy pleasurable foods. He would continue his vigil and pray that the horrible hit and run driver would somehow encounter bad luck and become apprehended wherever he was, probably in Los Angeles.

"Daddy," Sara maintained she did not need anything. She wanted to go to her room for the night. "Daddy, good night. It was a fun day at the beach."

Sara and Snow went to her room. From Jimmy's room, no faint light or sound was apparent, and that meant the house had settled down for the night. Robert fell asleep on the sofa. He remained filled with hate and the need for revenge.

Vince and Orrin had spent a usual day employed at the Cactus Motel. However, as Sheila had remained in her mobile home all day resting, Orrin's topic of conversation continued to be the indistinct shadow of a person by his car at 2:30am last night. They had both agreed that the form did not resemble Sheila at all.

"Maybe," Vince stood near Orrin at the grill where he prepared a salisbury steak and tater tot dinner for a guest who sat alone reading a book at one of the tables. "Maybe, Orrin," said Vince, "you should apologize to Sheila for accusing her of scratching your car door."

“No way,” Orrin knew the customer could hear them, “she did not key the car, but she’s been a bitch in other ways.”

“She’s never done anything to me, Orrin,” Vince acted in a respectable manner, maintained good posture and a smile, and brought the plate to the man at the table. Vince was careful not to let his thumb be above the rim of the plate. “Here you go, sir.”

“Thank you,” John Synd moved his hand from the table where he had been clutching his digital camera. The picture of Ann in front of the building briefly lighted up in the small display screen of the camera. The rotten bitch had not been wearing a wedding ring when she teased him while showing him room number seven. The two guys working in this restaurant were alright. They had problems like everybody else who tried to make an honest living in this country. “Thanks,” John’s stupid wife never made tater tots. “I haven’t had tater tots in a long time.”

“Enjoy,” Vince went to the recreation room where the TV was on.

Orrin continued with small tasks in the kitchen. Once a week, a restaurant supply truck delivered to the truck stop’s busy restaurant. If Orrin gave Lester a list, he would use the internet to order and the large truck would make a side trip a half mile to Cactus Motel to deliver a small order. That had occurred this morning, so Orrin was organizing shelves today. Also, for some reason tonight, the most rooms were rented that Orrin had seen since six months ago when he and Sheila had moved out from Victorville.

“Hello,” Mr Jones, a truck driver who stopped over once a week, greeted Orrin from the main room. “Where is Sheila?”

“She’s off today,” replied Orrin.

“Can I get a cheeseburger and onion rings, Orrin?”

“Sure,” Orrin glanced at the clock. 8:15pm meant they would be open forty five more minutes. “Medium cheeseburger,” Orrin knew this was how Jones liked it cooked.

Vince had been using the remote control to check the channels on the satellite TV. He arose due to politeness and came from the opened door of the recreation room.

“Diet Coke,” he nodded at the truck driver, Mr Jones, who brought a load of garlic through several times a month from the central valley of California.

“Yes,” said Jones. “Diet Coke. Also, bring a glass of water.” Jones noticed that lately, when eating restaurant food, indigestion sometimes arose in the lower part of his esophagus. “Thanks,” he took a seat at a table near the kitchen, a distance away from a lone diner who read a book while he ate.

John Synd enjoyed his salisbury steak and tater tots. He had The Manitou book opened by his left hand, but John only read small amounts of it. He felt relaxed in this pleasant, calm setting. Mr Jones, the truck driver seemed like a bit of a nuisance at only fifteen minutes until closing. Nevertheless, John could abide the guy.

At a quarter to nine, Mark sat on the old sofa in the lobby. No one would come in between now and midnight when Mark would end his shift, turn off the lights, and lock the door. He read the novel Sexy Women. Today, Mark had driven an hour in the direction of Las Vegas to the State Line Casino. He had eaten a nice meal and had played slot machines for an hour and a half. He had looked at many women and girls there. Often, any attractive tourist woman would be with her husband or boyfriend. Mark had conversed with the twenty two year old waitress who served free drinks to gambling customers. Of course, although the drinks were complimentary for casino gamblers, a dollar tip would be laid on the girl's tray each time she brought a drink.

Mark was twenty five. He lived in the mobile home behind the Cactus Motel. He had no girlfriend. He had always felt shy and had never made progress with any girl. During his high school years, Mark had achieved a few encounters. He was not a virgin. Nevertheless, his social skills were weak, he believed. At the State Line Casino, he wanted to converse well with the cocktail waitress. He wanted to ask for a date. For some reason Mark could not understand, he never acted bold enough to tell the girl he liked her. As he read the Sexy Women novel, Mark believed he could learn some perspectives about how women thought. The novel had been written by a single, young woman who lived in Manhattan. The story in the novel described single women in their mid twenties who went to night clubs to meet men. What did women want? What did they think? Mark figured the novel, Sexy Women, could tell him.

He heard a loud rumble outside. On the sofa, he sat erect, twisted his posture, and extended an arm to reach the old curtains. He peered out. Numerous lights adorned a modern eighteen wheeler tractor trailer. It was the new type of big rig with a large compartment, even an extra side door, behind the driver’s cab. There were lights along the edges of the roof and on wheel wells that appeared unnecessary for operation. Slick red paint glistened wherever exposed by the lights. The truck parked behind the one owned by Mr Jones. All the lights went out, and a driver climbed down to approach the restaurant/front desk building. The man was huge, six foot five and perhaps 350 pounds of mostly torso flab. Mark got up to face the door. Already, there were four rooms rented. He wondered what was going on.

"The flyer," the man was tall enough to duck as he entered. "I saw the flyer at the truck stop. I decided to drive over."

"Welcome to Cactus Motel," said Mark.

"A single, please. One night," Charlie had, on impulse, decided to stay in this quiet part of the desert.

"Of course," Mark prepared the paperwork. "It's unusual for us to be this busy. You will be in room eight," Mark calculated that with the three strangers, Mr Jones, and now this truck driver, tomorrow there would be five rooms to clean and make up. He liked to work. Vince usually helped, although Orrin and Sheila had done rooms in the past.

"The restaurant," Charlie studied the rear part of the building. "How late is it open?"

"The restaurant is about to close," Mark stepped sideways and saw Orrin still in the grill area. "Orrin, can you feed this guy?"

"It doesn't matter to me," replied Orrin. "Hurry up, though."

"Here's your key," Mark completed the desk transaction.

"Thanks," Charlie had a loud voice. He acknowledged both the helpful desk clerk and the compliant grill cook. Charlie strode past a hall area with a darkened glass door at the far end. Then, along an opposite wall he saw another exit door and large windows that looked out upon a pool. Charlie continued into the small restaurant. that had a door to the pool and glass windows along one side of the small restaurant.

"Whatever you have would be fine," Charlie said as he approached. "It will save me having to take the truck back on the highway."

"I have salisbury steak and tater tots."

"Excellent. Can I get two?"

"Sure," Orrin was going to use some of the salisbury steaks for the Cactus Springs lunch tomorrow. "We have plenty."

It irked John Synd that this huge buffoon dominated the room and had also gotten the same meal as John. Now, the man gravitated to the truck driver, Mr Jones where he sat at a table with a view into the TV room.

"Hi," said Charlie. "Is that your truck? It smells like garlic."

"I do that run twice a month," said Mr Jones. "Sit down, if you want."

Also, John Synd was bothered that the man had assumed that Mr Jones was the truck driver as if disregarding John as not manly enough. They were brutes, thought John Synd. He had never been athletic or muscle bound. He was five foot eight, not a very tall man. His physique approximated that of a golfer. Morons like these two truck drivers could not play golf. John did physical work. Last spring, he had hired day laborers and replaced a roof on one of the rental houses in Boston. The bundles of shingles were forty pounds, and John carried them up a ladder to the roof. The underlayment material, tar paper, came in rolls that weighed eighty pounds. John was not the biggest sort of a man, but he was not a wimp, either.

At 9pm, Orrin and Vince only needed to do a minor amount of work to close the restaurant. Mark was in the front part of the building reading a paperback novel. Vince waited in the recreation room and perused channels. He would wait until the two truck drivers and the guy with the Manitou book left. Vince was in no hurry. He knew that Orrin had a project in the kitchen organizing and cleaning shelves because a food truck from the city had made a delivery today. Vince saw nothing he liked on TV, so just to pass time, he put it on a rerun of Corpse Patrol he had seen several times this week.

At his table in the center of the room, John Synd could hear the TV show Corpse Patrol. His wife liked to watch it, and John had sent a post card last night to the Corpse Patrol TV station in Studio City, Los Angeles. During fifteen years that John had been killing women in Boston, Corpse Patrol had not reviewed any of John’s victims. That seemed odd to him.

“The Freeway Sniper,” said the TV announcer on the show. “Tonight, we stray slightly from our usual format. Police in six states along the east coast need the public’s help. They have no clues and no witnesses. Four people have been killed and six wounded due to the anonymous psychopath who began last September shooting at random cars along the main, east coast interstate which runs north to south from Maine to Florida.”

Charlie enjoyed the two broiled salisbury steaks and a large portion of tater tots the young cook had served.

"What can you do," Charlie had murdered two girls himself over the past year. "A maniac firing a rifle from the side of the highway -- what can you do?"

"I have enough trouble contending with bad drivers," Mr Jones pushed his empty plate aside and stood up to get coffee from a side counter. He understood the informal setting because he had had stayed at the Cactus Motel many times.

John Synd thought they were morons. They did not know how to hold a conversation. He took from the table surface his guest check, $6.95 for the salisbury steak, tater tots, and a soda. John laid a dollar bill tip; and, he picked up his book and his digital camera. He proceeded to the cash register at the front desk.

Mark now stood at the motel counter reading an interesting part of Sexy Women. One of the young, single women worked in a Manhattan office and intended to have some fun working late one evening. She would perform oral sex on a handsome man while he sat at his desk. Mark actually did not understand how a woman could enjoy doing such an act. If women thought that way, if the book portrayed a true picture, then Mark might have been making mistakes since he began dating in high school.

John Synd moved to the counter to pay his restaurant bill. The young man read a book. Idiot. A basic concept of customer service meant the young man should have acknowledged John as he approached. The boy laid the book aside and made eye contact.

"Six ninety five," said Mark.

John Synd passed forth seven dollars.

"Keep the change," he turned and went out into the dark, desert night.

When John killed, he always overpowered his victim. He pounced. From the moment he would grab a woman and handcuff her (several times John remembered punching the victim unconscious), the victim's mind consistently focused on whether or not she would survive. John frequently used that as a bargaining point. He went down the two wooden steps in front of the restaurant/front desk building. He disliked the two eighteen wheel trucks, one smelled like garlic, because they represented business when John Synd hoped to enjoy the solitude of this desert.

Vince sat watching TV in the recreation room. He felt lethargic. Today had been a peaceful day. Even the wind had not blown too hard in the desert. Vince would wait for the truck drivers to leave. If he collected the dishes, washed them, and swept the dining room, he might be busy until 10pm. However, Lester and Ann allowed the young workers to create flexible schedules.

"Corpse Patrol continues," said the TV commentator. An east coast style highway trooper wore a brown hat with a wide brim all around. The black chin strap was tight. He had a gold, metal star high on his chest.

"This interstate is a main corridor, north to south, along the east coast. It began about a year ago. Police easily identified what type of weapon had been used."

"What was that?" The reporter could not be seen on camera.

"A hunting rifle," said the trooper. "That kind of rifle, also, is known to take a scope. It is the type of weapon used by deer hunters. They can shoot a target up to a hundred yards away."

Orrin finished his work in the kitchen.

"Hey," he entered the recreation room. "I'm done. You don't need me; do you?"

"No," Vince appreciated Orrin's polite question which let Vince know Orrin was leaving. "I'll clean up after Corpse Patrol."

Orrin carried the computer print out, the dark shadow-like image of a man near Orrin's car at 2:30am. He went to the front where Mark had returned to the sofa after the weird guy with the digital camera and the Manitou book had left.

"Mark," said Orrin. "Look at this."

"You have shown me that twice today," Mark set aside the Sexy Women novel.

"I know," said Orrin. "But look at the time. You stay up late; don't you?"

"I close at twelve."

"Did you see anything suspicious last night?"

"That's a shadow. You have a picture of a shadow, Orrin. Look outside. It's all shadows at this time of night."

"Well," Orrin retreated and leaned against the check in counter. "I'm going to add some printing to this with the computer. Then, I'm making flyers and putting them up. I'll offer a fifty dollar reward."

"You need a better picture. That image could be anything. It could be a joke."

"I'm going over to the truck stop at seven tomorrow morning. Do you want to come?"

"Sure. That girl starts work at seven," now Mark had interest in the conversation. He liked this topic. "Are you going to get a date with her?"

"I think she likes me. Tomorrow, Mark, at seven, I'll drive. We'll have breakfast, and I'll put up flyers."

"Good," said Mark.

Orrin went out the front door and down the steps. He admired the well kept, red eighteen wheel truck parked behind the older truck owned by Mr Jones. Orrin saw the unusual sight of three vehicles in front of their respective rooms. Maybe Ann's attempts to advertise were paying off. A man came along the front of the motel rooms. He was dressed like an old style barber or something. Maybe he was a blackjack dealer from Las Vegas or State Line.

"Hello," Elliot Morphson felt restless. "You are the cook from the restaurant."

"Correct."

Elliot glanced back along the unused, dark highway and realized it was only a few miles in that direction where he had gotten the flat tire and where he had left the girl's body in the gully. It had been a long day. "Do the employees live on this property?" asked Elliot.

"We live there," between the fifteen motel rooms and the restaurant/front desk building, an expanse of parking lot led to the employee mobile homes, side by side.

"I like this place."

"Listen," Orrin handed forth the photo copy of the shadow. "It's not a good picture," he said. "But that is my car he is standing next to. I have a motion detector camera pointing out my window. If you see any strange guys back there, let me know."

"I'll be here a couple of days," Elliot Morphson glanced at the employee mobile homes. The parking lot near the rear door of the restaurant had a light and the windows of the mobile homes were illuminated. "Something about this place..." said Elliot. "It attracts me."

Chapter Ten

The Paul Omner family, Paul, Sally, Beth, and Oliver relaxed in their room. Paul had given each child a half tablet of sleeping pill. It was a prescription pill Paul's doctor had prescribed for Paul. Now, he sat on a wooden chair near the TV and used the phone to converse with the coffee shop manager back in Wisconsin. The store had closed an hour ago, eleven central time. Nevertheless, Paul liked to converse with the twenty four year old man who did a good job as manager of the coffee shop owned by Paul Omner. This showed that Paul cared about his employees, and it encouraged them to do good jobs. Paul knew what he was doing.

"Come on," Paul hung up and moved to the bed. "The children won't wake up."

"I don't like it when you drug them, Paul."

"It doesn't hurt anything."

"Eventually, will we quit putting them to sleep that way?"

"Yes. Of course we won't always do that. You know it is only on special occasions," Paul moved in a way to let Sally know he wanted to make love.

"Ok," Sally joked and embraced Paul. "Was this why you wanted to come on this sudden vacation?"

"I don't know," Paul hesitated. "I'm not sure why I decided to come out to this desert. Although, I like it."

In Las Vegas, at 10pm, James woke up. For a moment he hesitated due to the strange room far from the house in Texas. He turned on the light and looked at his watch. Ten o'clock in Las Vegas would be midnight back home, so James could not call his mother. He decided to go out and see the city.

Outside, in the dark, the first thing he noticed was the hot atmosphere. Nothing bright or new could be observed in this neighborhood. James walked to his car. It was an old sports car he had owned since before his dad died. All his possessions filled the rear seat as when James had left home yesterday morning.

He got into the warm, driver's seat and started the engine. The headlights shone on the door of his motel room and a small bush and pebbles (a landscaping motif). He backed out of the space and turned towards the nearby road. On the other side of the street and along this side, numerous old motels, perhaps dating from the 1950s or 1960s, existed. One referred to itself as a motor court, obviously an old style description. James paused as a gaunt black man ambled by on the sidewalk. Nobody out at this time of night on this street was hefty. James made a mental note about his possessions visible if someone looked at his car. However, he knew that nothing extremely valuable lent itself to view; probably, nobody would seek to rob any of his personal possessions.

If anything, the car itself might get stolen. James had never advanced to a finished stage of restoring the vehicle. The gray, primer paint did not look very good. Nevertheless, guys could finish the paint job and have a classic car. Tonight, James would be careful where he parked. Tomorrow, he would put as much of his stuff as possible in his motel room from the rear seat and the passenger's seat.

Over the summer, James had gained the age of 21. He could buy a beer but often did not. However, now away from home, James would partake. He saw a convenience store, arrived in the parking lot, and stopped the Camaro. James did not believe his possessions appeared valuable enough for thieves to desire. He rolled up the windows and locked the car. Inside, a lone customer leaned against the counter and chatted in a jovial manner with the clerk. Both glanced at James, and he turned to a rear aisle and beverage display case. James bought a sixteen ounce beer; and, the clerk requested an age verification.

"Texas, eh?" the clerk briefly held the driver's license.

"Yeah," James did not mind. The two characters loitering there did not seem dangerous or threatening. James knew the clerk had to ask for ID. "Thanks," was the only thing James could think of to say.

"Thanks," the clerk replied as a sort of closure to the transaction.

Outside the store, James paused to open the beer and take a sip. He appreciated the taste. He studied the street of dark, closed businesses. Still, a half dozen lonely pedestrians could be seen at various distances from where James stood. Because the industrial style neighborhood had only the dimly lit motels and the convenience store, the pedestrians haunted the environment in a meaningless manner.

James carried the beer to his car and drove onto the street. He planned to drive from this closed up vicinity to the fantastic Las Vegas Strip frequently portrayed in movies and TV shows.

There seemed to be a lot of pedestrians on this dark street at close to midnight. They wore jeans and dirty athletic shoes. No one had a need for long sleeves or a jacket. James guessed that these were local people. Maybe a few had arrived, like James, to begin new lives. He was glad he owned a car; he would not have liked to be out here walking at this time of night. Earlier today, upon driving into town, James had glimpsed the buildings of the Las Vegas Strip a few miles away. Therefore, now he understood which direction to head. In fact, if he took a side street into a neighborhood of houses, James figured he would emerge on the other side close to where he wanted to be. He could see the top of a tall, ornate structure he had seen on TV back in Texas many times. There were so many TV shows and movies about Las Vegas that James believed he would see many familiar objects tonight.

He disliked that the street in the neighborhood of homes seemed to wind in various directions. Why would people design a neighborhood like this? They wanted to be exclusive. James carefully observed dark family cars and street intersections; a cop might be present to discover the can of beer which James maintained between his legs as he drove. He felt good, but he did not want anything to ruin this night in Las Vegas. Damn it. He wanted to find the famous Strip, but he could not see it from here.

The nice suburban homes reminded James of Karen, his girlfriend -- she had been his first -- for three months at the end of high school two years ago. His father had died in the military tank accident, his mother had gotten lazy, fat, and stupid, and James and Karen had loved each other. They went to the prom. They graduated. She left town to go to Austin (to college) with a jerk not good enough for Karen. Why had she chosen him over James?

James had always been nice to Karen. In high school, many times, guys seemed to intimidate girls to get them into relationships. That was not the proper behavior, James believed. Girls had a right to make their own decisions and choose how to live their lives. They were not children to be controlled or dominated by a man. But Karen had chosen someone whom James believed was a worse choice than himself. She had messed up her own life; and, James understood she had messed up his life.

He eventually found an exit to the secluded cluster of homes. He remained lost with no view of the Las Vegas Strip. He drank a mouthful of beer. Warm air through rolled down car windows invigorated James. At 11pm, he was wide awake. He slowly drove across railroad tracks. Then, he spotted something. It was an ornate, flashing sign for a gentleman's club. In Texas, James had heard guys brag about possessing fake identifications with ages over twenty one, but James had never participated in stuff like that. He drank from his can of beer. He slowed to approach the parking lot where cars filled all the spaces in the dark. James turned in. He could go inside. He knew it was a topless club where girls would dance with their breasts exposed. He possessed approximately five hundred dollars. James considered that no one would know if he went inside for a drink and to see what was occurring. After that, he would find his way to the Las Vegas Strip for sightseeing.

James found a place and parked. Like the local, industrial area, there existed little light here as if customers did not want any witnesses concerning the cars. James finished the can of beer. He rolled up the driver's side window, arose from the car, and locked the door. He went around and performed the same task on the passenger's side. Still, the possessions in the dark behind the windows did not appear valuable enough to steal. He left the locked car and went to the front door of the gentleman's club. Through exterior walls, he could hear thumping music from the speakers inside. He was about to experience something strange, odd, and exciting; the muffled music was a prelude. James pushed open a heavy, wooden door. Light from a podium and a large security man attracted James.

"Ten dollars," the man was gruff. "And let me see your driver's license."

"Ok," due to the money, James wanted to hesitate, but he complied because he was here, he had gone to the trouble to park, and he wanted to see the women.

He paid and he turned to face the room. It was darker than the night outside except for dim lights behind a long bar where a dozen men sat on stools. James saw two small stages that were lit in such a way that the two women dancing in bikini style underwear and high heels seemed indistinctly illuminated almost in an artistic way. However, James could see what he wanted to see: naked breasts.

Amid the crowded tables, James witnessed many women in lingerie. These girls wore blouses of shear fabrics. The table area was dark but James began to be able to discern shapes. One girl, beautiful, had removed her blouse to dance individually for a man seated at a table. James had heard of this. He knew it was referred to as a table dance.

"Hello, honey," from his side, a woman six inches shorter than James (he was a good height for a man) touched his arm. "Here is a table," she did not have an ounce of fat on her body. "What would you like to drink?"

"Beer," was the only thing James could think to order.

"I'll be back in a minute."

Sitting at a small round table barely large enough to hold a couple of drinks, James studied the layout. The women were mingling with the customers, the men who sat at the small tables. Two beautiful, nude except for panties and high heels, women continued to dance on each artistically spot lighted stage.

Three days ago, James had felt an urge to drive west to the desert. His dad had always instructed James to go directly for his objective. Now, James was doing it. He was here, free from home, and watching bare boobs on the stages and amid the surrounding table area.

"Here, honey," she leaned close, her breasts in flimsy cloth near his face, and she placed a glass of beer on the table. It was an oddly shaped, medium tall glass that seemed to narrow halfway up. Under the glass, the woman placed a square paper napkin. She gently used her free hand and forearm to embrace his shoulders. "Would you like company?"

"Yes," James awkwardly sipped from the glass of beer.

When she sat in the chair next to his at the small table, her knees, rounded and close together, aroused James.

"I'm Melanie," she offered a warm hand.

"I'm James."

"I haven't met you before," she said. "Have I?"

"No. I just got here today," he explained. James looked 20 feet past dark tables to the stage where naked breasts made a stark appearance when they entered the beam of a spotlight. "When do you dance?"

"I danced before you came in, about ten minutes ago." She leaned to place a hand on his blue jeans where his knees were close to hers at the small table. "Listen, James. I have to check on other tables, but if you want to buy me a drink I can come back."

"Ok," he needed to conserve his money and start looking for a job. However, he could have a little fun.

"Do you want to buy me a drink?"

"Yes."

"I'll be back in a few minutes," she stood up and due to the crowd present in the table area, the beautiful young girl squeezed past James where he sat. He smelled perfume and the hem of her negligee tickled the bare skin of his arm.

When James sipped his beer, it seemed somewhat warm. He set the glass down on the paper napkin. The remaining inch of the amber liquid could be seen in the dim light.

"Honey," dark, thick hair came near his face as a waitress leaned forward. She held a small round tray. James had seen her deliver two drinks to a nearby table. The loud music meant an efficient way to talk was to lean close. James relished the view down the front of her loose shirt. This dark haired, dusky woman, revealed the skin of two very large breasts as she greeted James. "Honey, do you want another beer?"

"Yes," he said.

James wondered if some of the girls were merely waitresses or if they all danced. His girl returned with a tall glass with ice and a straw from which she sipped. She sat next to James.

"Eight dollars," she said.

It was expensive but James went along with the spirit of the moment. The girl thanked James and took a fold of cash from somewhere on her flimsy costume. He told her to take the entire ten dollar bill. James and his friends back home had gone to San Antonio or Austin and they understood about tipping.

"Thank you," she leaned forward to kiss his cheek. "I could do a dance for twenty dollars."

"No," James was taken aback. Couldn't she sit and converse for a few minutes? He had bought her a beverage. "What kind of drink is that?"

She sipped from the straw and placed the tall glass on the table next to the beer. James watched a dancer on the stage. The dark haired waitress brought a beer, placed it on a fresh paper napkin, and removed the empty glass.

"Four dollars," she accepted a five dollar bill and appreciated his offer to keep the change.

The waitress departed. James paid attention to the girl sitting at his table. She seemed nice.

"What kind of drink is that," he asked.

"Apple juice."

For a moment, they sat in silence. The loud music played. James continued to watch a stripper in the spotlight.

"Only apple juice for eight dollars," he inflected his voice to sound incredulous.

"Do you," she touched his thigh, "have a girlfriend back home?"

"No," James thought about Karen and how she had chosen a stupid, mean jerk instead of James. "No. I live here now. I'm done with Texas."

James remembered that the phone in the motel room had been fixed to place extra charges on a long distance call. At 6pm, he had fallen asleep rather than hassle with calling his mother. At ten, upon awaking, it had been too late for a phone call to Texas. He disliked that the motel phone added extra charges. It reminded James of other areas of life where cheesy little tabs and expenses were added by people in offices due to their greedy and uncaring natures. He hated people like that. Money grubbers were ruining the United States, and his father had died in the army defending the rotten system.

"James," it sort of surprised James that she knew his name. "Maybe you'll become a regular with us. Did you move to Las Vegas?"

"Yes," he had already drank half his glass of beer. "I need to find a job pretty quick. I only have five hundred dollars."

"We could have a party in the back room for five hundred dollars," the straw from her eight dollar apple juice was near her lips. "We could party in private, just you and me, for five hundred."

"No," James stood up and lurched from the cluster of tables. He did not look back. He focused on his footsteps and maneuvering towards the lighted entrance. The music continued to boom and spurred his exit. That stupid girl had not cared one bit about James. He clenched his fists. He could have waited in the parking lot until she got off work and then ask her when they were alone if she expected him to give her all his money for a so called party in the private room. Bitch. She was not a decent girl. He could have punched her in the face. The large security man at the entrance did not say anything as James passed. He pushed hard enough against the door to fling it rapidly back. He went out into the warm air at midnight.

Midnight, at the Cactus Motel found Mark enthralled on the front steps. The night seemed mystical. Something was alive out there in the desert. A hot, dry wind pushed against him. Tonight was darker than last night. Mark did not comprehend why, but he shuddered at the thought of Orrin's picture of some shadowy figure at 2:30am in the rear parking lot. The two eighteen wheel trucks parked along the road offered a bit of comfort to Mark. They contrasted with the vibrant desert. The trucks were understandable. To Mark, the desert seemed somewhat spooky.

Headlights came along the road from the truck stop. It was a bright sedan that reached the intersection near the indian village and turned towards Mark. The car moved like encapsulated humanity through dark desolation. Mark paused. The face visible behind the windshield was that of a beautiful young woman. She was alone. She pulled up to the wooden steps with her headlights focused on Mark to deny him any idea except to greet her.

"Hello," Sophie stood up from the sedan.

"Hi," Mark intended to close the office and relax nearby in his employee mobile home. The license plates -- MNKLLR -- were from Vermont. "How are you," he appreciated the woman's superb figure in a t-shirt and jeans.

"Is this place open," Sophie felt attracted to this desolate place. Three days ago, she had gotten an urge to drive west.

"Yes," Mark became excited. He sought to look in the woman's eyes. She came up the steps and was a bit shorter than Mark. Now near, he saw her eyes were blue. Mark became more aroused as she huddled with him near the entrance door.

"It's windy," her hair blew in a wispy, clean way.

"Yeah," Mark pushed open the door. "Come in. I can help you."

"I'm glad you have a vacancy. I need to rest," Sophie carefully watched the motel clerk's eyes. They had already moved to the front of her t-shirt several times. All men cared about was sex.

Mark went behind the counter to get a registration card. This morning, he had gambled and drank at the State Line Casino. The sexy waitress, of a similar age as Mark, had ignored his conversation or his yearning for a date. The novel nearby on the metal desk in the corner, The Sexy Women, confirmed that women liked sex and wanted to have fun. He wondered what this girl might desire. He offered the card for her to fill out.

"Sophie," he read her name upside down as she wrote it. "I have never met a girl named Sophie before."

"You have now," she could kill this creep for looking in her eyes with the lustful gaze he now offered.

“Are you on vacation?”

“Not really. I just decided to drive west.”

“That’s an interesting license plate. MNKLLR,” Mark watched her fill out the space for the car license plate on the motel registration card. “What is it? Mankiller?”

“Exactly,” Sophie had used an ATM earlier to get four hundred dollars. “Is cash ok?”

“Of course,” Mark accepted the money. Mankiller. Maybe Sophie was a girl like in the novel Sexy Women who enjoyed sex and fun.

He gave her the plastic key chain with the room number embossed on it. Sophie left to get her car and park it in front of her room. Mark watched her go; he could not figure out a way to further the conversation. Most likely, the girl was tired and needed rest.

Sophie carried luggage into her room. At 12:30am, she felt wide awake. She owned a digital video camera and a tripod which she set up to film herself. She would make a video recording which she could load onto her laptop computer. She laid the laptop computer aside because Sophie knew it would not pick up an internet signal out here. Her cell phone did not work so she assumed that her wireless internet connection would not work either. Tonight, she would content herself with making a video. She called this her video diary. First, she intended to take a shower and get cleaned up.

Sophie relished the warm shower which washed dryness and grit from her. She had stayed in Las Vegas last night. She had ventured to walk through a casino or even out onto the Las Vegas Strip, but instead had retreated to her room to sleep. The lustful gazes of men had been overpowering for Sophie last night. Now, while taking her shower, she also shaved her legs as if preparing to go out on a date instead of retiring. Sophie dried herself with a stiff, motel style bath towel. She walked into the room and placed her valise on the bed to unpack. For some reason, Sophie decided she would stay in this room a couple of nights. She used her hair drier to blow and comb her hair. She selected a beautiful, shear nightgown. After dressing, she surveyed herself in the mirror. Any man would have craved her.

Before her shower, Sophie had set up her tripod and video camera. It was now plugged in and on. She twisted a small, side viewing screen so she could see the image from where she stood. She posed like an actress.

"Now," she said, "I am ready for any man who views me as a sex object."

She leaned towards the bed to extract from her valise a large knife. It was a big kitchen knife. Sophie liked to think of it as a butcher's knife because of it's length and strong, sharp blade. She had killed three men over the past year since being released from Brookville.

"Men only think of one thing," Sophie held the knife up so she could see it on the small viewing screen. "If a man wants to make love to me and comes to my room, I know how to handle him."

At 12:30am, another of the six rented rooms had its lights on. John Synd lay on the bed and read the book he had purchased earlier: The Manitou. The chapters of the book described different parts of North America where the Native American spirit held sway. Different tribes spoke their own understandings of the spirit. The old motel room did not have television reception. Instead, a television with a DVD player in the base could employ DVDs from the lobby. John Synd continued with the book. The Mojave Desert chapter had a story from 1558 about an entire garrison of Mexican soldiers mysteriously destroyed; and, legends related it had been the Manitou. The spirit, in all the chapters and among all the tribes, was linked to nature. The Manitou was a natural force. John Synd understood that some sort of connection, it was believed, existed between the Manitou and humankind. Suddenly, something jostled the door to his room. One in the morning in this remote location caused John to arise and move to the blinds. He peeked out. He guessed the noise had been the wind. He could hear it buffeting the glass of the window.

John turned off the lights and went under the covers of the bed. He was glad he had not called his wife today. Tomorrow, he would send a post card to each son. They were too young to read, but they would enjoy the postcards. John’s boss, Brent, might be compiling work orders for the properties in Boston. To hell with Brent until John Synd got back, then he would catch up on the property maintenance. Brent probably was dating one of the young office girls; however, John Synd had enjoyed sex with a girl in Kansas two days ago.

After fifteen years, he wanted to stop. If he could only stop and never hurt anyone again, John Synd would put it all behind him. On the other hand, he disliked that after killing over twenty women, Corpse Patrol had never profiled any of John's murders. If he could possibly kill one more woman, for example when he did not feel the urge, perhaps he could break the pattern in himself. It would be like when he and Brent had attended Alcoholics Anonymous several years ago. One theory stated that prior to quitting, an alcoholic could have one last night of fun. John Synd killed once or twice a year. He had killed two days ago. He did not need to indulge his habit again. What if he did not wait for the urge? He could choose to rape and murder one more woman and then return home and vow to never do it again.

Chapter Eleven

At 1am, Lester sat on his screened porch with all the lights off. The truck stop was a half mile away and on the opposite side of Lester's mobile home, so he saw no illumination from that place in the vast, dark desert. Only faint lights from the indian village could be seen from Lester's porch. Ann and Spike were asleep in the bedroom. Lester wanted to finish half a can of beer. The wind blew heavily tonight. It did not bother Lester. Sometimes, the desert seemed alive at night perhaps with some natural indian spirit like in that book the tourist with the camera had purchased.

Lester sipped his beer and studied the faint lights of one or two buildings at the indian village. Chief Robert had remained stiff with rage for the unknown hit and run driver. Lester calculated that this was the end of the fourth day since the accident. If the police never caught the hit and run driver, how long would the intense emotions of hate and anger inundate the chief?

At one in the morning, James avoided the closed neighborhood he had gotten lost in earlier. He crossed railroad tracks and headed for a wide thoroughfare with new, bright streetlights. However, along the whole street with only a few late night cars, there existed fashionable brick walls of additional, closed neighborhoods. James understood that an urban area was prone to crime so citizens wanted to wall off their houses from the street. Nevertheless, this street appeared new and situated to reach a more active area such as the Las Vegas Strip. James proceeded.

At one point, James could glimpse the tall structures of the Strip, so he found a busy, well lighted street heading that way. At two in the morning, he marveled at the number of cars converging near famous, large casino attractions often portrayed in media. James studied pedestrians as he joined traffic on the Las Vegas Strip. James enjoyed looking at the girls, even if most of them walked in groups with boyfriends, husbands, and families. James did not want to meet a group of people, but he wanted to interact with someone. If he could find a pretty girl alone in one of the casinos, James could attempt to meet her. He discovered that parking was easy as he turned into a multi level garage and followed the directions to find a space. He parked. For a moment, he noted the possessions crammed into the car's seats, but James decided no one would be in here smashing car windows. The garage appeared well lighted and quiet. A sign with an arrow indicated the location of a casino elevator. On a cinder block column, a white, heavily painted number described level four. James knew he needed to remember that when he returned for his car. James went to the elevator. Compared to the activity outside, this garage remained quiet. A moment later, a security guard on a bicycle rolled past and nodded at James. Good. Back home in Texas, some kids talked bad about police. If people drank, smoked dope, or were out after curfew, they needed to be careful. James took a different stance. He could tolerate the police. As long as they knew James was acting good, police would not bother him. He appreciated them as doing a job and trying to keep order.

"How are you doing?" James spoke and the lean security man twisted his neck back as if to acknowledge the greeting, but he had already rolled twenty yards past the elevator area.

The door opened and James entered. He was alone in the elevator car. The walls were plastic laminate manufactured to appear as wood paneling. Attractive signs advertised casino wares. Steak and egg breakfast, $4.95. A photograph of the item looked good to James. He realized he was hungry.

When the elevator opened at the ground floor, James

Copyright Mike Hayne 2017