Mike Hayne

Part 4
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The Manitou
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Manitou 2017

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 proceeded into the wide, noisy casino. Much of the noise came from various bells that chimed on what James guessed were the hundreds of slot machines. He believed that was where the sounds originated from.

James realized that cigarette smoke filled the wide, bright room. He had never liked cigarettes. Marijuana was ok. He could understand marijuana. But tobacco never had done anything for James. He figured that people so much wanted to belong, or to believe, that they bought phony suppositions. Hundreds of years ago someone had influenced people to smoke tobacco and had convinced them they would feel something from the smoke. Absurd. James never wanted to be part of any dumb crowd.

There were not too many people around. James wandered among many slot machines. A wiry old man in dark slacks, leather shoes, and a white dress shirt wore a bronze name tag -- Clyde.

"Do you have identification," the man had a stern look. "I have to check your age. You need to be twenty one to gamble."

"Yes." James handed forth his Texas driver's license.

"Thank you," the man returned the license. "Welcome to Las Vegas."

James did not mind. They had to enforce rules. He paid attention to a nearby slot machine and slid a dollar bill into a receptor. The dinging sound prevalent throughout the early morning casino now erupted from his machine to signify twenty credits. The denomination was nickels. He played as per the instructions. Nothing happened. He moved on. His actual interest was in the cocktail waitress who had walked past.

James determined her direction and followed the woman approximately his age. She wore a tiny leotard snug to her form. Her brown hair swayed as she walked. Shear, black pantyhose covered her thighs and allowed James to study all the flesh of her legs through the shear material. Black high heels walked crisply as she carried a small, round tray and her husky voice called to the sparse number of tired, early morning patrons.

"Cocktails," she said. "Cocktails," and she continued on.

James found his way to glass doors near a long motel check in desk. Not much was happening. He went outside and sought the Las Vegas Strip. He would be out there walking with pedestrians, many of them sexy women, as he had seen earlier when driving. Ok, now James would be walking on the Las Vegas Strip. He was glad he had left Texas yesterday. Tomorrow, he would try to call his mom again to let her know he was alright.

James went to a sidewalk where numbers of tourists moved in the warm, 3am air. These people looked different than the ones on the street near the motor court. Pedestrians here had hefty statures. The girls were groomed and alert. The crowd seemed to pursue an identical course to go from one end of the Las Vegas Strip to the other. James wandered into the next big place. His eyes quickly scouted for attractive cocktail waitresses. The same clanking slot machines, hundreds of them, spread across the expanse of the casino as in the previous place. James paused to try a machine. This time, he slid five dollars into the receptor. After a few minutes, that money was gone so James continued to explore. He made his way around the casino and then out a bank of glass doors onto the Las Vegas Strip again. Even at three in the morning, James saw as many people walking around as a crowded shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon in San Antonio or Austin. He enjoyed the warm air and the sort of quietness of the traffic and pedestrians at this hour. James continued his journey and after awhile he followed the sidewalk into another large casino hotel. When he emerged from this one he spied a popular fast food hamburger place that he recognized. This national brand held a place amid the unique, fantastic hotel casinos of the Strip. There were a dozen cars in the semi-dark parking lot. The plate glass windows and the light and activity inside attracted James. He was hungry.

He obtained his meal and located a table a distance apart from other diners. However, at a table near a window a young girl in blue jeans and athletic shoes sat alone. On the table was a paper wrapper and half eaten hamburger. She sipped from a small soda. On the table rested a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

"Hello," James spoke across a short space between them.

"Hi," she glanced at James. Her shirt was sort of a long garment, almost a dress, that draped past her waist at her faded blue jeans. She did not look bad, but she looked like someone who had been up all night.

"It's late," James stammered. To try to initiate a conversation like this, James thought, would be difficult for anyone.

"Yeah," the girl glanced again at James. Her hand touched the pack of cigarettes. The hamburger laid half eaten.

A moment later, a young girl similar to the first arrived. Extremely thin, this girl used jerky movements indicative of intoxication from amphetamine. She clamored onto a chair and stretched her bare forearms across the table near the cigarettes.

“Losers and tourists,” she breathed and shifted her legs and posture several times. “It’s a boring night in Las Vegas.”

“Eat something,” the girl indicated her hamburger.

“Thanks,” the jerky girl scooped up the food like she was a close friend and this was a common occurrence.

“Hello,” James believed they might be local girls. Maybe they could tell him where to get a job.

“Sorry,” a piece of hamburger fell out of her mouth as she laughed. “We are taking a break.”

“Leave him alone,” the first girl smiled at James.

“You date him then,” the other girl continued to laugh. “Anyway,” she finished the burger and also drained the last of the soda from the paper cup. “Come on.” She stood up. “We’ve got to go.”

“Sorry,” the girl with the cigarettes followed the other one towards the door. “See you later.”

James was amazed at the spectacle in the parking lot. A huge, new SUV had more lights and chrome than necessary. The girls quickly moved to step up into the passenger seats. Through the plate glass of the restaurant, James sensed heavy bass music from the vehicle’s enhanced sound system. A handsome, well dressed black man sat in the driver’s seat. He seemed as big as the SUV. James reminded himself that he had nothing against inter-racial dating. He finished his meal and proceeded back onto the Las Vegas Strip. He continued on the sidewalk and through casinos until he made his way to the place he had started two hours ago. He rode the elevator up to the fourth level parking and went to his old car filled with his possessions from back home. James was tired.

When he got back to his neighborhood, the businesses were closed and none of the people about were tourists. James noticed a place with dim lights and persons congregated on a section of sidewalk on each side of the door. Labor Pool. Paid Daily. Show up ready to work at 6am. He could do that. First, a couple of hours of sleep would suffice. Then, he would go to the labor pool.

He parked in front of his room. James decided to carry some of his stuff in. That would be one less task tomorrow. He moved half the items, closed the door and turned off the light. He lay on the bed. He thought about the girl he had seen at the hamburger place. He could masturbate. He resisted the urge and instead fell asleep. If he did not wake up early enough to go to the labor pool, he could go the next day.

James could not sleep. It was 4:10am. He continued to think about the sexy girl he had seen at the fast food place. He stood up, went to the bathroom, turned on the light, and splashed cold water on his face. He had kicked off his shoes but had not undressed. He would not masturbate. It was wrong. It was a sin. Maybe his dead father could see James. No matter how pent up his emotions became, he would resist.

James decided to take a walk. The exercise would vent some energy. James went out the door. The morning had no dew in it as Texas manifested to chill pre-dawn hours. He ambled confidently. Even the homeless and other street characters had retreated for the night. Only dim light from various plate glass windows of old businesses illuminated the old sidewalk.

At one point, James saw flashing police lights and two officers standing outside their cruiser to question a gaunt, dirty man who sat on the curb. Good. James respected the law. They were doing their job.

Around a corner, a congestion of people blocked the way. It was the labor pool. James checked his watch. 4:50am. The sign above the building was visible: show up ready to work at 6am. James approached the rear of the line.

“What is going on?”

“Labor pool,” the lanky, tall man possessed long, brown hair and black inked tattoos adorned both forearms. He wore facial hair in the form of a moustache and goatee.

“The sign says 6am,” James observed.

“If you wait until then, you might not get sent out to any job.”

“I would like to get sent out.”

“We have a pretty good chance. Do you have a spare cigarette?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Too bad.”

“I moved here today. I came from Texas,” said James. “What’s your name?”

“Ronny. I’ve been here a couple of years. It’s not too bad,” he appeared to be ten years older than James, perhaps of the age 31 or 32.

“I’m James. This would be pretty good if I could work and get some money today.”

“I was at a liquor warehouse for two days. I liked that.”

“We have to wait an hour,” James commented.

“It’s better to wait than to not get sent out,” Ronny glanced around and fidgeted as if seeking a cigarette.

The line looked long ahead of Ronny and James; however, it was twenty people and moved steadily towards the entrance when the door opened at ten minutes to six. Behind the two, twenty additional applicants arrived. James crowded behind Ronny at the door threshold.

"I'm glad I came early," said James.

"Ronny," a thin, old man with short, white shirt sleeves and slick, black hair beckoned. "I have a good one for you."

"Can James come?"

The man studied James for a moment.

"Yes," he said. "This job is for two. And, Ronny, it will last two weeks with a chance to get a sheriff's card and a regular position."

"Let me see that," Ronny grabbed at a large, white card the man held. "Yes. I like this," Ronny shared with James that a substantial, well known casino hotel on the Strip needed two dish washers. "Thank you," Ronny shook hands with the clerk. "I appreciate this."

"Get going," said the man. "You need to be there by seven."

James followed.

"Thanks," he said. "It will be good to work together."

"Come on," Ronny attained the sidewalk. Daylight now brightened things, traffic increased, but the sun could not yet be seen. "We can easily walk to the job by seven."

"I have a car, Ronny," James led the way down a side street to the old motor court. "What did he mean about a sheriff's card?"

"Anyone who gets a job at a casino needs to file an application at the courthouse. It's just routine. You are not on parole; are you?"

"No. My record is clean," replied James.

They placed enough possessions in the motel room to completely uncover the passenger's seat of the old sports car. James and Ronny departed.

"Nice car," said Ronny. "I had a pick up last year, but the engine seized up. It was old."

"I drove all the way from Texas in one day," James knew the direction to get to the Las Vegas Strip.

James and Ronny enjoyed seeing the extensive casino, and they entered a spacious buffet style restaurant that bustled with activity. At the rear, where attendants maintained a selection of food on the line, the men contacted the manager.

"I'm Adams," he invited the two through double swinging doors. The kitchen was bright with stainless steel and personnel in white uniforms. "One of you will be washing pots; one will be on the dish machine with Jose." The manager nodded at a young, stout mexican man near a steaming, noisy industrial dish washer where racks entered on one end and came out the other. "Jose, here's some help for you today."

The manager took James and Ronny to the office to fill out paperwork. He explained that after two weeks, he would consider keeping them. They would need to get a sheriff's card, a health card, and with their first regular paycheck join the culinary workers union. They were fitted with white shirts and paper hats. Adams gave them a couple of pairs each of checkered pants.

"You can wear the pants you have on today. But go into the bathroom and change your shirts."

Ronny and James began work in the dish area of the large casino hotel. Ronny chose the clean side of the dish machine. It was his job to remove the plates and stack them in racks to be rolled out front. James went to a large, stainless steel sink with three deep compartments, each with a long faucet on a swivel. Jose explained that the left sink was for suds and the next two for rinsing. At 7am, as James began, between fifty and one hundred pans, pots, and rectangular baking sheets piled upon each other in an array of items needing to be washed.

From the other side of the room, a brash character attracted attention. She was a black woman, young, slightly overweight with a powerful, robust figure. She wore the uniform James had noticed out front for the serving staff.

"Hello, new boy," her tone was sassy. "You need to be fast. Don't let us run out of plates in the restaurant."

Obviously, she had addressed Ronny. James used a metal wire scrub pad to clean a large pot with remnants of oatmeal. He glanced to see the girl pushing a heavy rack on wheels (full of plates) towards the front restaurant. "I'm Carol, by the way," her voice reverberated off many hard, stainless steel surfaces in the kitchen.

At seven in the morning, Vince and Mark were awake in the central room of their employee mobile home.

"I'm late," said Vince. "I've got to get over there."

Mark had slept five hours. He was alert and ready to go to the truck stop with Orrin.

"We have six rooms to make up today. Vince, you should see the girl who checked in at midnight. Right before closing, she drove up in a sedan with Vermont license plates."

"It was a weird night," Vince adjusted his belt and checked that his shirt was tucked in. Sheila and Ann would be there; Vince cooked today. Orrin and Mark would work later and make up rooms. "The desert has been weird for the past few nights."

"Spooky. I thought I was the only one that noticed it."

All day yesterday, Orrin had agitated about the odd photograph taken at 2:30 in the morning near Orrin's car. Vince disliked the idea of some strange man lurking in the parking lot. However, the picture proved that Sheila had not scratched the paint on Orrin's car. Vince was glad.

"Orrin," said Mark, "is going to put a flyer up at the truck stop. It is a print out of that picture."

"I've got to go, Mark."

Vince liked Sheila. He checked his watch: 7:10am. He crossed the parking lot and entered an old door at the kitchen. Sheila and Ann sat at a table drinking coffee. They did not complain that Vince arrived late. He went behind the grill counter. At the large windows along the wall by the pool, the sun had not yet become high enough to create brightness. Vince enjoyed this tranquil time of the morning.

"Who," said Vince, "is ready for breakfast?"

Sheila approached Vince for fried eggs and toast. The young people enjoyed serving one another on various days. Today was Vince's turn to cook. Ann adjourned to the recreation room. The TV was on an early showing of Corpse Patrol. Vince organized the cooking area. He thought about the shadow in the parking lot. The figure seemed somehow ominous to Vince. Who was it? Why was he near Orrin's car?

"Orrin is passive aggressive," Sheila's voice filled the quiet, early morning building.

Because Vince desired Sheila's attention, it irked him that she conversed about Orrin. Ann had been hearing this sort of conversation among the young people since Orrin and Sheila had broken up a couple of weeks ago. Ann understood. Sheila implied that Orrin's polite nature might be a symptom of mental illness. It was standard TV psychology.

"I," said Vince, "will have an omelet for myself." He could sit and eat with Sheila this morning. His mouth got dry contemplating what interesting conversation he could develop. He wanted to avoid the topic of Orrin. Vince appreciated Corpse Patrol, but he did not take it seriously. Such events would never touch their lives.

"Sheila," Vince spoke loudly from the grill area. "Orrin gets upset when you joke like that."

"It is not a joke. On the TV, it is always said that the maniac killers were nice guys. Orrin acts nice but anger is welling up in him."

"Then, quit taunting him and making it worse."

Elliot Morphson woke up. He yawned and looked around the motel room. It was not bad. Yesterday, he had goofed off and had fun. Today, he was in this desert a long distance west of Las Vegas. Something about the quietness of this place enticed Elliot. He thought about the young housewife's body a few miles to the east of here and the trouble with the flat tire yesterday afternoon. He needed to replace that small spare tire, but maybe Elliot could relax here today in the middle of nowhere. He needed a break. He got out of bed and began to clean up and groom himself.

At 8am, people settled into their routines. They enjoyed their situations. Orrin had not yet appeared because he would have a free morning to eat breakfast at the truck stop. Lester, with Spike, appreciated quiet time at home while Ann worked from 7am to 9am. Lester sometimes smoked marijuana in the morning, so he now sat in his easy chair on the screened porch. He smoked. He looked across the blue, sunny horizon although he understood it was not the clear blue of his youth but a hazy layer of carbon monoxide from the constant traffic of the interstate. Lester smoked and listened to music on headphones. He favored pre-1985 rock and roll music. He had not actually added any musical artists to his collection after 1985, and Lester had not listened to the radio or watched the musical television stations. He did not believe it was a condemnation of recent talent on his part; it was just that nothing put forth by modern media attracted Lester's attention. It was like media was either trying too hard to impress him and thereby failing at creativity; or media had merely sank into the realm of a common business offering a new package of toothpaste or the latest sugarless cereal.

Chief Robert felt trance-like on the fifth morning after Jimmy's accident. Robert would take a brief ride this morning. Also, he knew he needed to eat something today, but he would continue to deprive himself of pleasure as much as possible until the emotions of anger and hate in him ran their course. Oddly, in front of his house preparing Prince for the ride, Robert noticed that Sara and Snow were going off across the desert for their daily walk. Robert figured she had been influenced in her solitary activities by observing Robert. He would perhaps use regular psychology to talk to Sara in case she needed guidance. There were at least three other children close to her age she could be playing with.

Chapter Twelve

Fully cleaned up and groomed, Elliot Morphson came from his room. He loved this dry, warm setting. He needed to return to Las Vegas and look for barber jobs. He also needed to email his mother. Those tasks could wait a day or two. He intended to walk to the restaurant to see what sort of breakfast they offered. Elliot noticed his luxury car with what auto mechanics called a donut, the small tire intended to travel only fifty miles to a repair shop. Elliot liked the old road with no traffic. He relished this isolation from the frenzy of city life. Two eighteen wheel trucks had not even parked completely off the pavement along the road as if assured no car would hit them in the night. Elliot Morphson, of course, was impeccably dressed in his white dress shirt and barber's vest. He was, after all, The Barber as had been described on the national TV show Corpse Patrol For a moment, he looked east to where he had left the housewife's body yesterday. Then, Elliot Morphson proceeded to the restaurant. His stomach bubbled with hunger.

While Ann watched Corpse Patrol in the nearby TV room, Vince sat at a table with Sheila in the empty restaurant.

"Are your fried eggs ok," he believed he had cooked them right.

"Sure," Sheila felt that Vince liked her but for some reason was shy, maybe due to respect for her ex boyfriend, Orrin. She finished eating the fried eggs and toast. Ann sat on the sofa in the recreation room. After Corpse Patrol, the morning news came on from Victorville, the closest city in this part of the desert. When Sheila arose to take her dishes to the kitchen, she noticed that Vince finished his omelet and followed her awkwardly. He liked her. She was about to refill her coffee cup when the side door opened at the hallway between the front office and the TV room. A gentleman dressed like a casino dealer entered. Sheila moved to greet him.

“Welcome, sir,” she motioned with an arm to the empty restaurant. “Would you like a table looking out at the pool?”

“That would be fine,” Elliot Morphson studied the server’s long, blonde hair. It was not styled in any way. It was the type of blonde hair that Elliot Morphson loved. He thought about the beautiful blonde hair in his briefcase in his room. “This is the first time I’ve been to the desert.”

Vince moved behind the grill. The guy with the white shirt and vest bothered Vince. The stranger leaned a bit close to Sheila. Anyway, it was a customer and a chance to do some work.

“Welcome,” Sheila brushed back a strand of hair from the side of her face. “Would you like coffee?”

“Black, please.”

Elliot Morphson enjoyed a cup of coffee and read the menu. To allow the man time to decide on what he wanted, Sheila settled in the TV room next to Ann. At 8:30am, the local news in Victorville repeated it’s half hour format. Ann knew that by repeating the news the TV allowed people to catch any stories they had missed. Ann herself had not yet seen the main stories of the morning.

"This is today's early news at 8:30am. The top story this morning is the discovery of a nude woman's body in the desert."

Elliot Morphson laid aside the menu. He lost interest in any breakfast. Vince heard the news where he stood. Sheila and Ann watched the reporters in the desert with a film of an ambulance, a couple of highway patrol cars, and the stretcher on wheels with a covered body on it. William, the wiry old highway patrol officer was visible in the scene. Vince came over to the door of the rec room.

"Is that near here," he asked.

"We don't know," Ann replied.

"I see William," offered Sheila.

Elliot Morphson stood up and took tentative steps towards the rec room.

"What is it?" he said.

"We don't know yet," Ann continued to watch the TV report from the local news.

A map of the desolate area was portrayed. The interstate highway was prominent. However, the truck stop, the half mile long side road, and the old, parallel two lane near the Cactus Motel appeared on the map.

“There we are,” said Sheila. “And the indian village.”

The mark on the map which identified the location of the body seemed odd to Elliot Morphson. If he walked out of this building and turned east, that would be the direction he had dumped the housewife’s body yesterday afternoon.

“I don’t understand,” said Elliot. “Which way is that?”

“It appears,” said Vince, “to be a couple of miles from here.”

“Which way? If you went out front, which way?”

“To the west,” Vince answered. “Along the old highway past the indian village towards Los Angeles.”

Elliot hovered in the middle of the restaurant. Sheila got up to check on him.

“Are you ready to order, sir?”

“No, I am done,” he continued to hesitate in the middle of the room.

Ann heard Elliot say he was done. She arose because in a couple of minutes Lester and Spike would come out to the store and Ann would have an hour of alone time at the house.

“Sir,” she passed Elliot Morphson, “I’ll ring you up over here.”

Could a different nude woman’s body have been out in the desert? Elliot took tentative steps towards the front. He followed the lithe form of the dark haired receptionist who had checked him in yesterday. Elliot’s eyes watched the lower part of Ann’s back where her shirt snuggly hugged her shape and tucked into the tight belt of her jeans. The news continued to be audible to everyone.

“Five days,” the coroner was on the TV screen. “The woman’s body was in the desert for five days.”

“Hey,” Sheila noted. “Five days ago was the day of Jimmy’s hit and run accident.”

Vince grabbed the coffee cup from Elliot's table and handed the unused menu to Sheila. She appreciated that Vince’s act was one of help and friendliness to her.

"You are sweet," she smiled.

"So are you," Vince needed to figure out a way to become closer to Sheila.

Elliot joined Ann at the cash register at the front desk counter.

"Only coffee," she said. "$1.25."

"Sure," Elliot proffered a dollar and a quarter. He could barely speak. Two bodies in the same part of the desert shocked Elliot Morphson. He struggled to comprehend it. Ann finished the transaction and moved to the front door.

"It's time for my break."

Elliot went out at the same time Ann did. Nearby, at the side parking lot that led to employee mobile homes across from the kitchen door, Mark waited. He was highly interested in the cute sedan with the personalized license plates from Vermont. MNKLLR. Mark needed to go with Orrin to the truck stop this morning, but Mark wanted to see that sexy, single girl who had checked in at midnight.

"Hi, Mark," Ann went down the two long, wooden steps of the front desk/restaurant building.

"Hi," Mark noticed a weird guy behind Ann. "Orrin and I will be back before noon to clean rooms."

Charlie was a large truck driver who had come out of his room an hour ago. He was inspecting his truck, he had the lights on all around it, and he had both doors opened to the rear cab section behind the driver's area. He liked to use a small brush and dust pan to sweep the floorboards. When the young man waited near the sedan and the two people came out of the building, Charlie stared at the beautiful woman. He thought that maybe during the course of his stay he could entice her to the truck with beer or wine. Once he had her in the sleeping compartment behind the driver's cab, Charlie could rape her. During the course of the past year, on two different occasions, Charlie had gotten a truck stop prostitute into the rear cab area and raped and strangled her. The beautiful motel woman would be extremely gratifying, Charlie believed. He reached near the driver's dashboard and activated switches to cause the lights to go on and off. He peered sideways to see if she had noticed, and Charlie believed she had. He loved her.

Lester left home at 9am. He and Spike entered through the rear gate in the chain link fence to the pool. He greeted Ann at the front gate. Spike jumped with paws to touch her shin.

"Lester," said Ann. "Did you hear the news? A woman's body was found near here."

"A woman's body..." Lester was not sure what Ann was talking about. In his hands he held the CD to his computer game and the key to the store.

Ann explained what she had seen on the news. Elliot Morphson stood nearby. Lester asked what Mark was doing a distance away.

"He's waiting for Orrin. They are going to the truck stop for breakfast and coming back later to clean rooms."

"Ann, is it your flyers that attracted this business?"

"I don't know," she replied. The six rooms rented outshone any traffic the Cactus Motel had seen. Ann remembered at the most three rooms once or twice a year.

From the direction of the indian village, two black and white California Highway Patrol cars came. One was William. The other patrol car had two officers in it. They slowed near Lester, Ann, Spike, and Elliot Morphson. William rolled down his window.

"Good morning," said William. "I told these guys we could get breakfast here."

"Hi, William," said Ann. "Come on, Spike." She went into the pool area to head to the house for her one hour break.

Elliot Morphson paused.

"I'm going to take a walk," he departed.

The two patrol cars parked at the front of the restaurant/front desk building. Lester began his day in the small store. He went to the computer and loaded in the disk he had carried from home. He momentarily considered doing research for the windmill he wanted to buy. Instead, he resumed the game where he had left off last night.

Mark checked his watch. 9:15am. Orrin came out the single wide mobile home that he shared with Sheila. Mark was hungry for a breakfast at the truck stop. They would take Orrin's car. Orrin gestured.

"What are you doing over there? Come on. Let's go."

"Orrin. You should have seen this girl who checked in at midnight. That is her car."

"Are you ready to go?"

Mark saw the white papers in Orrin's hand that were the reward flyers. He appeared to have five or six copies. He handed one forth for an opinion. The computer print out was all black ink. The same murky image as yesterday existed there. Large letters dominated the top of the page: Reward $50. Below the picture, Orrin had written: wanted for vandalism. The flyer ended with Orrin's phone number.

"What," Mark handed back the flyer, "if Sheila answers the phone?"

"What?"

"Sheila. The phone is in your mobile home; what if she answers?"

"She's no problem. I can tolerate Sheila. Give me a minute before we go, Mark."

Orrin entered the restaurant's kitchen door by the dumpster. Mark waited outside. He had no need to see any of them this morning. Instead, he looked at a small window at the back of the motel room building. That would be the window of the bathroom in Sophie's room. Mark wondered when she would wake up. How could he converse with her or seek a date if she checked out a few hours from now?

Orrin came in near the grill area. He quickly noticed Vince sizzling hash browns and bacon. Three highway patrol officers sat at a central table. Sheila glanced sideways from the coffee area. Orrin checked his watch, 9am, so Ann had already left for her one hour break.

"Here," Orrin reached for the white page taped near the kitchen. It was the plain picture from yesterday. "I have my reward flyer to put up." Orrin noticed the cops but figured he better not bother them with this crime.

"Fifty dollars," Sheila laughed. No one suspected that she had scratched the paint on the driver's side door of Orrin's car. "That's ridiculous, Orrin."

"Don't worry about it," he taped the flyer prominently.

"I hope," Vince joked, "that I find the guy. I need the money."

Sheila laughed. Vince appreciated her acknowledgement of his wit, but he wanted to be careful not to offend Orrin. Sheila was wrong; Orrin was not a potential maniac holding back emotions of rage. Orrin would not get a kitchen knife and go crazy in the restaurant. Nevertheless, Vince believed there was no sense hurting the guy's feelings. Sheila was a beautiful young woman. Even the highway patrol officers smiled and leaned towards her when she approached their table.

The television could be heard on commercials. It had been playing a game show. Now, at a break in the programming, a loud announcer's voice attracted attention.

"Concerning the body found in the desert, the police psychologist had this to say."

The three patrol officers twisted in their seats as if hoping to view the TV from their location. Orrin noticed Sheila moved to the door of the rec room. He was curious about a body in the desert.

"Is that," said Orrin, "the Victorville channel?"

"Shhh," said Sheila.

"Besides being stabbed," said the police psychologist, "there were many wounds made by a fist. The killer would likely be a white male, meek and polite who could fly into a rage at any moment."

"How," asked the reporter, "do you know that?"

"It's the standard profile. It's the norm in cases like this."

"Could that be predicted before the person killed anyone for the first time?"

"That would be ideal. Science is not yet at that stage. Only God knows what a person will do in the future."

"Do you believe in God?"

"Yes," said the scientist. "Yes, I believe there is some sort of spirituality that we can call God in one form or another."

Orrin stood awkwardly near Sheila. He held five flyers in his hand that he would put up at the truck stop. He would also have breakfast and see Heather, the cash register girl.

The three highway patrol officers looked to Vince to see when their food would arrive.

"I think," said William, "I know that guy."

"The psychologist," one of the officers replied. "He gave a rudimentary opinion."

"Standard stuff," the third officer agreed.

Orrin congregated with Vince long enough to hear the details of the body in the desert. Vince finished organizing the three breakfast platters, and Sheila came to deliver the food to the diners.

"Orrin," she teased, "did you hear the psychologist? A meek, white guy."

"Shut up, Sheila. You are not funny," Orrin disliked that the highway patrol officers could hear this.

While Orrin was inside, Mark returned to the front parking lot near the motel rooms. It was already almost 9:30am. Sophie would check out and drive away. Mark studied her sedan and contemplated the pretty young woman driving across the midwest. Mark wished he could somehow converse with Sophie and get a date with her.

Orrin needed to put a flyer in the store. He left the restaurant through the front door, jogged down the two wooden steps, and found Lester playing his computer game. Orrin watched for a couple of minutes. He had played that game twice himself, although Orrin used the regular game system that hooked up to the television set. Lester did not mind putting the game on pause.

"Hi, Orrin."

"Can I display one of these flyers here?"

"What is that?"

"The camera from my window. Look at the time. 2:30am."

"I admit, it is odd," Lester did not know what to think. Orrin had a point. If a stranger was stalking the property, that mattered.

"He's by my car. I think he scratched it," said Orrin.

"Didn't you say Sheila had keyed your car?"

"That was before this," Orrin leaned near Lester who had swiveled in the chair away from the old, wooden desk. Orrin knew which drawer held the cellophane tape. He grabbed the dispenser and decided to tape the reward flyer onto a glass window of the door facing out.

"Orrin," said Lester. "Why is the picture so indistinct?"

"I don't know."

"It's more like a shadow. I'm not sure it's a prowler. Could it be something else?"

"I run the camera every night. If he comes back, he'll be photographed again," Orrin pushed on the door to go find Mark.

Lester continued with his computer game. Orrin had a lot of anger in him. The fifty dollar reward on the flyer indicated the strength of Orrin's emotion. He wanted to resolve an issue he could not resolve. That flyer would not accomplish anything. Lester used the computer mouse and keyboard buttons to maneuver the game character using a shotgun to kill three enemies in an ally. Also, thought Lester, Chief Robert seethed with pent up, unresolved anger due to Jimmy's injury.

Orrin went past the pool and the front desk entrance. He saw that Mark had returned to the sedan parked in front of a nearby room. Mark seemed to lack a strategy for dealing with women. Late at night, Orrin had seen Mark reading magazines with pictures of naked women when Ann or Lester and no guests would be around. The magazines purported to give examples of sexuality for more than prurient interests. Orrin theorized that Mark had over stuffed his brain with ideas to the point that he could not function well with the opposite sex. He was overwhelmed at this point.

“Mark, let’s go,” Orrin walked fast. “Forget about that girl. She will check out, and you’ll never see her again.”

“I know,” Mark reluctantly forsook his vigil. He went to the passenger’s side of Orrin’s car. “We can enjoy breakfast at the truck stop.”

They entered the car, and Orrin got underway.

“Mark, you won’t believe what we saw on TV. It was on the morning news from Victorville. They found a woman’s body in the desert near here. She was naked and had been stabbed to death.”

"What do you mean they found her near here?" Mark did not know how to react to such bizarre news.

"It was a few miles west of the indian village along the old highway."

"Is that why there were two highway patrol cars out there?"

"I guess so," Orrin slowed near the stop sign at the intersection of the fast moving interstate traffic. "I saw three officers in the restaurant eating breakfast."

While Orrin and Mark arrived at the truck stop, Sophie came out of her room wearing a bikini and high heels. She had showered, brushed her hair, and put on a slight perfume. She knew she looked fantastic as she walked without turning her head. She carried a canvas bag with sun tan lotion, a glamour magazine, and her butcher's knife. Her other hand grasped a beach towel she favored that she always packed along with her three string bikinis. Sophie was conscious of a burly truck driver near his eighteen wheel vehicle. She carefully avoided glancing at the man. She proceeded to the side door of the restaurant/front desk building. Charlie's hands shook with excitement as he quickly closed and locked his truck. He wanted to go to the pool to approach the girl. He intended to follow her through that side door. He knew the restaurant had windows with views of the pool.

Mr Jones came along the front of the motel room building. He immediately saw the expensive, new truck parked along the old highway behind that of Mr Jones. Such a truck, new with extra ornamental side lights and a slick paint job, indicated that the driver was the owner. He was a large man who now crossed towards the side entrance ahead of Mr Jones.

"Hello," Charlie guessed this was the guy that owned the other truck. "Is that your truck? It smells like you are doing the garlic run."

"Yeah. I'm used to it."

"This is a nice place," said Charlie. "I've driven on the interstate hundreds of times previously without stopping over at this place."

They entered at the side door and arrived past the rec room into the restaurant. The room was dominated by three highway patrol men in desert tan uniforms complete with black leather gun holsters. They bothered only to glance at the two truck drivers whom Sheila led to a table near the window. Mr Jones concurred with Charlie that they should sit together.

"Today," said Mr Jones, "I'll be in Salt Lake City."

"I'm going to stay here another day at least," Charlie accepted coffee from Sheila, and he looked to the pool where Sophie prepared to relax on a lounge chair. The three highway patrol officers and the young man behind the grill had ogled Sophie. She positioned her canvas bag with her glamour magazine and butcher knife on one chair and she spread her favorite beach towel on an adjacent chair. The knife could cut any man pursuing lewd or inappropriate behavior.

Inside the truck stop, a bustle of activity filled the wide, low building. Orrin and Mark entered and both immediately looked to Heather behind her counter. There were short lines of two or three people at both cash registers. The young men intended to pass through the convenience store to the busy restaurant.

"Mark," Orrin glanced sideways at Heather in her bright work shirt. "We better not bother Heather during this rush."

"Good, because I'm hungry," Mark noticed that the convenience registers, where people also paid for gasoline, continuously added customers to each line as the clerks finished any transaction. "Did she see you?"

"Yes. I believe she took a quick look when we came in."

"Are you sure or imagining it?"

"I'm not like you, Mark," Orrin joked with his friend. "I know what I am doing."

Outside, at the fuel pumps, Myron waited. He was a middle aged black man from South Carolina. He had quit his job at a bank five days ago to drive west. He liked this arid weather. Myron was in a good mood and had not shot anyone lately but he was contemplating killing the two white teenagers he now waited for. They were inside the truck stop. He hated them like he hated most people. They should have known that Myron would be finished topping off the gas tank. He noticed that his mini van had a faded paint job after only five years. Planned obsolescence. He knew about that. The only thing he disliked more than an American car company was a Japanese car company because Myron believed they did not use planned obsolescence.

This country had been racist, and Myron believed it still was. However, add to that the idea that corporations could plan that their vehicles fall apart so consumers needed to buy new cars; well, that was another reason why Myron believed hate was not only normal these days, it was healthy.

"It's about time," he commented when he spied them approaching in the bright, busy parking lot. The boy carried a gigantic soda fountain cup with a plastic lid and straw. Myron detested jerks who drank those huge sodas and he detested that the boy stopped to let the girl sip awkwardly. "You two hurry up. I've been waiting ten minutes out here."

"Ok," said the boy. "It was crowded in there."

"Sorry," the girl went for the front, passenger's seat.

"Just, come on," Myron got into his position behind the steering wheel. He doubted the girl had yet attained the age of sixteen. She nibbled at a bag of potato chips. Her legs were extremely thin in faded jeans.

"We appreciate the ride," she said.

"Thanks, Myron," the boy again annoyed Myron by offering the huge cup forward for the girl to enjoy. "You're great."

Myron loathed the way the white, teenaged couple kowtowed to him for being black. The girl would think about sex to prove she was not racist or worse, would fantasize about the fabled, large black penis (which Myron understood he did not possess).

Myron liked to shoot people with his hand gun. He had been shooting any random person in South Carolina where he worked as a bank teller. He sometimes laughed to himself that usually, it was a bank teller who needed to be afraid of getting shot. He did not carry his hand gun to work. It remained in the center console of his mini van. Now, with the two hitchhikers, Myron kept the gun tucked into his belt at his lean, hard belly under a loose fitting pullover shirt. Or, while driving, he kept the gun near his left side by the driver’s door under the seat. If he decided to shoot these two, he would do it in a manner he had experimented with a few times. He would tie them up with clothesline and make them cry and plead for their lives. He relished the idea that no matter what the victims said, they were going to be shot and killed by Myron. He had not done two at once, so controlling these two white teenagers might be a problem.

In the vast desert, Myron could shoot the boy and get him out of the way and then tie up the girl and have fun killing her. Myron did not rape. He had begun as a teenager in Washington DC while growing up. Myron had enjoyed window peeping. At that time, he had considered raping a girl. The city park would be a good place. Maybe he could find a woman alone and could drag her into the bushes to have sex with her. One weekday morning, Myron was surprised that as gray skies and a drizzle darkened the jogging path, two other guys had been there seeking to leap out to grab a woman. Myron had thought they might have been partners, but they explained they had only met at the jogging path. They were like fishermen meeting on a pier to each enjoy his sport. In this case, raping was the sport. They told novice rapist, 17 year old Myron, that it was not their fault that the culture enforced sexual dogma in a way that seemed to make it mandatory. Even homosexuals were accepted as long as they had sex partners. Only the people without partners were rejected and denigrated by the public. The two men on that rainy DC morning ten years ago had waited like lions for a gazelle along the path. The trio watched a few women jog by. Soft hair bounced by clean attire. Some wore long, terrycloth pants and others revealed flesh and muscles of lean legs from athletic shorts. The tiny jogging shoes gracefully tapped on the paved path that city planners had provided for recreation.

Myron had not returned to that park to rape. He had done a couple over the intervening years, but Myron did not actually care about sex or crave it like most of his friends did who watched a lot of TV. Myron figured that because he had never been a fan of the situation comedies or the dramas shown each night for the citizens of the United States, Myron had somehow escaped the sexual dogma. He did not need it. Besides, he had a pastime he enjoyed. He liked to eat alone in restaurants and watch people. He was a people watcher. He always carried his hand gun tucked into his belt at his stomach with a loose, pull over shirt hanging down. Lately, Myron had contemplated shooting as many people at one time as possible. He liked to envision it.

Now, with the two teenagers in the minivan, Myron left the truck stop and found a side road leading into the desert.

“Where are we going,” asked the girl.

“We’ve been driving all night,” Myron did not know why he favored this particular side road. He also realized his answer to the girl did not make sense. The boy’s face could be seen from Myron’s peripheral vision.

“I could drive, Myron,” the boy leaned forward.

“No,” and after a few minutes Myron had driven a half mile from the main interstate. “There,” he said. “Look at that. The Cactus Motel. I think we should check in and rest.”

“We cannot afford that,” the boy protested.

“My treat,” Myron could sleep well tonight and have fun shooting these two tomorrow.

“No,” said the boy. “We want to get to Los Angeles. We are close.”

“We can do that tomorrow,” Myron hated this punk. It would be fun to shoot him.

Myron drove a mini van that continuously had broken parts on it such as a dashboard compartment door, a passenger’s seat track, or a seat belt retractor in the rear. Talk radio topics had denigrated Japanese car companies for harming United States employment. Myron agreed that was bad, but worse was the fact that he suspected Japanese cars were superior. It was just one more thing to cause Myron to feel angry several times a day.

Myron liked the childproof lock feature. From his driver’s seat, he could use a button for the powered door locks to prevent passengers from opening the doors unless Myron released the mechanism. It gave him a sense of power and control. He would not let these two white hitch hikers out unless Myron agreed to it.

“Can you take us back to the interstate?”

“No,” Myron replied. “I’m going to check into this motel and get some sleep.”

The two had been with Myron for six hundred miles. They were intent on getting to Los Angeles, so they had opted to remain with Myron as he drove straight through Las Vegas on the interstate. On a whim, Myron had quit his job as a bank teller in South Carolina. Five days ago, he had begun driving his mini van west. He had an urge to travel, but he really did not have a plan about where he intended to go.

“Please,” said the girl. “Couldn’t you take us back to the truck stop? We could hitch hike from there.”

“I said no.”

As they drove for six hundred miles, the boy had frequently kowtowed to Myron concerning black culture. The boy became animated when a rap song would come on the radio.

“Ok,” Myron released the child proof locks. “Get out here. You can walk half a mile to the interstate highway.”

Myron did not care to bother with them. Killing them would have been fun; but, he needed to get some rest. He liked this remote, desert motel.

“Ok,” the girl opened her door.

“Thanks for taking us this far,” the boy gathered two backpacks from the rear seat and joined the girl.

Gangster rap music. Myron laughed to himself. The boy had tried so hard to be non-racist and cool. During the drive, a high consciousness of black culture had traveled with the boy. This black basketball player was great; or, that black music star was wonderful. Sometimes, Myron speculated that artists had purposely used the derogatory term nigger precisely so whites could not partake of the music. Now, as the couple walked away, if the boy moved his hands in any sort of gang symbol as a homage to black people, Myron would not hesitate, he would shoot on the spot. The two white teenagers did not look back. Instead, they focused determined steps towards the truck stop.

Chapter Thirteen

At the truck stop, Mark had gone to the restaurant while Orrin quickly completed his task of hanging up flyers. He put one on the bulletin board in the back by the bathrooms and the rear, service door. This back door was solid metal and not meant for customers to enter. It had a bar across it instead of a door handle, and the bar acted as a way to push open the door from this side, but from the other side, Orrin suspected there was no egress. He doubted many people would see the flyer back here. On the other hand, across the way, he put two on the bulletin board near the shower room for the truck drivers. He saw Ann's flyer and realized he had not labeled his flyer as being at the Cactus Motel. It was too late now, so Orrin finished and joined Mark in the restaurant.

It had been a few minutes since Orrin and Mark had received coffee and given their breakfast orders to the waitress. Although busy, the truck stop restaurant accommodated them at a central table. Mark enjoyed coming out because of the activity and the crowd. He always had a sense that he might meet a girl. At least, he could see attractive women and speculate about them. At age twenty four, Mark should have been married by now. Instead, he had never actually had a steady girlfriend. In high school, he had begun by thinking he was too smart and nice to be appreciated by the rowdy, popular crowd. He did not want a weird haircut, an earring, or to get a tattoo to impress girls. Mark wanted to be himself. Now, at this adult age and being employed in the world for a few years, Mark had almost come to believe that the smartest, nicest young men were resorting to being homosexuals. Mark had no stomach for that. He believed he could learn some principle that would turn things around and make him successful with women.

“What do you think about the waitress,” he asked.

“I like her,” replied Orrin. “She’s at least forty, though.”

“I guess so,” Mark accepted a plate as the waitress set it in front of him. He had ordered scrambled eggs, warm southern style biscuits in a thick gravy, and small breakfast sausages. He sipped hot coffee. “Thank you,” he said.

“Sure, honey,” she finished and moved to a nearby table while pulling forth an order pad she had stuck in her belt.

“She,” Orrin began with his Denver omelet, “called you honey, Mark.”

“They all do that. Sheila does that to increase her tips,” Mark momentarily thought about Orrin and Sheila having arrived at Cactus Motel six months ago and having now broken up. “How’s your omelet?”

“The cook knows what he is doing,” Orrin could see part of the convenience store section of the large interior layout of the truck stop. He could not view Heather at her cash register.

“Are you looking for Heather?”

“Of course,” Orrin drained his coffee cup and noticed the waitress nearby with a thermal pitcher refilling coffee cups. “What do you think about this crowd?”

“I’ve had friends that hated to go out due to crowds,” said Mark. “I’ve known more than one person like that.”

“Twenty years ago, I remember I was in Los Angeles on a weekday morning. It was five in the morning, and I was walking to work and got a view of the freeway. I was on a cross street that went over the freeway, and Los Angeles had a separated freeway with four lanes in each direction. The outbound lane possessed moderate traffic. However, inbound, the headlights were four abreast and stretched to the horizon where I could see it from my vantage on the cross street overpass.”

“I’ve seen that rush hour traffic, too,” Mark noticed that a very attractive woman in blue jeans and a tight shirt had entered the restaurant with a man, probably her husband. Mark appraised her breasts, and they were nice.

“Well,” Orrin continued, “I remember thinking that the four lanes of inbound traffic would continue from 5am to 7am or 9am. Then, I realized that a half dozen freeways entered the city from different directions. On top of that, the major cities in the United States all had that same traffic. I remember thinking it was madness. I felt that something was wrong. Some basic concept of civilization was wrong, Mark; that’s what I thought.”

“When I saw traffic like that, I noticed one person in each car. You described it as madness. What if each individual was listening to morning radio with announcers and commercials not to mention news driving everyone crazy.”

“That was twenty years ago.”

“So, it has gotten worse. Logically, it must be horrible now. We are lucky to live out here,” Mark glanced at the woman who had been seated with her companion a few tables away. Mark loved looking at the woman’s attractive figure, face, and hair.

“One thing, though,” Orrin observed, “the satellite radio in recent years has become widespread. That type of radio plays music without the influence of announcers or commercials.”

“That would help,” Mark agreed. However, he knew there were probably entire channels that featured news announcers or radio talk programs. Mark contemplated the audience might be fragmented. Some drivers would blissfully daydream to their favorite songs; others would seethe with weird political viewpoints, angers, and fears engendered by the news channels.

Orrin and Mark finished their meal. The method of payment was to stop at a cash register near the entrance to the restaurant. Each paid for his own check. Each had left a dollar tip on the table for the middle aged waitress.

"There," Orrin saw a break in the business at the convenience store registers, "there she is, Mark."

Orrin and Heather made eye contact as he left the restaurant and crossed an expanse of floor in the convenience area. From this location, several glass doors opened to the front of the truck stop.

"Actually," Mark continued the conversation. "I don't mind crowds. I think this place and State Line Casino are interesting because of the flow of people. I enjoy the liveliness of it."

"There are less customers now," said Orrin. "I'm going to talk to Heather."

The freeway shooter had an idea. He had been watching the news and knew that police in six east coast states were looking for him. For some reason, an urge had impelled him to drive west. Now, at this truck stop halfway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the freeway shooter imagined he could apply for a job. A paper sign taped to a long counter in the convenience store requested applications for a security guard. He could do that. The cute girl at the cash register, her name badge said Heather, forestalled him.

"The manager will not be here until the day after tomorrow."

"I can wait," he replied.

Orrin believed he could talk to Heather after the tall, slightly bald guy moved aside. Mark went outside because he did not want to interfere with Orrin's conversation. Mark viewed Orrin's task as a method to entice Heather for a date. Mark believed such dating maneuvers were intricate, and he did not want to distract Heather. Orrin picked up a small package of powdered donuts which he could purchase from Heather. The bald fellow moved to the side. Orrin advanced.

"Hi, Heather," he laid the package of donuts on the counter.

"Hi," she smiled and her fingers reached for the donuts to pass over a price scanner.

"Excuse me," the freeway shooter returned momentarily. He gripped the single page application form Heather had given him. "When I fill this out, do I bring it back to you or do I keep it until the manager comes in?"

"He won't come in until the day after tomorrow," replied Heather.

"I understand that."

"You can give it to me and I'll put it on his desk or you can keep it and bring the application with you when he is here."

"Thank you," he headed for the restaurant to drink coffee and fill out the application for the security guard job at the truck stop.

One reason the freeway shooter had escaped capture along the twelve hundred miles of east coast highway was that he lived in his sports utility vehicle. It was the largest type of American vehicle without being a top end model. He had removed all the seats except the two front driver's and passenger's seats. The freeway shooter rented a medium sized storage space in New Jersey; the grocery store where he had earned sixteen dollars an hour, where he had worked fourteen years, had closed so all his possessions and the seats of his SUV now existed in the storage place. He had only a few relatives, and they did not remain in contact with him. He would not say that he hated the United States; he disrespected it. The freeway shooter had saved money over the years and possessed enough to remove ATM money anytime he needed it. If he ran out two or three years hence, he would need to rejoin the pathetic system of rent and money grubbing at a job. For now, he was free. He resided in the large SUV which he had furnished comfortably with camping provisions. This sort of freedom, staying on the road, seeing the country, and keeping several boxes of ammunition and his deer rifle lying beside his sleeping bag was the true spirit of the United States. Freedom was what it was all about. Once in awhile, he could hide beside a highway and shoot a passing motorist. That was justice. They all deserved it. Greedy, selfish bastards. Pathetic. They were the traitors by subscribing to a system that was little more than graduated levels of criminals with the most successful on top, all feeding off the bounty of the United States corporations. When the freeway shooter sniped at a car, he was exacting God's revenge on them. Also, if he ever got caught, he would be famous on TV, and everyone would know his name.

The freeway shooter had proceeded to the restaurant so Orrin continued with Heather.

"It's busy, huh," he offered.

"Yes. But I have a minute to talk," Heather liked this guy so, of course, as usual, conversation did not occur easily. "It's been hot."

"We've got a few customers at the Cactus Motel. It's unusual," Orrin made eye contact and perceived that Heather might say yes to a date. During numerous conversations, she had never mentioned a boyfriend. Nevertheless, Orrin hesitated and planned to ask at a later time. Maybe he could come over when she worked an evening shift. "Heather," he asked. "When do you work again at night?"

"Actually, tomorrow," she replied.

"I should come over and we could eat in the restaurant," he surprised himself by blurting out the request.

"At midnight? That's when I end my work shift tomorrow night."

"Yes, tomorrow night at midnight," Orrin smiled but was careful not to beam. He did not want Heather to feel too confident about his urge to know her. "It will be great, Heather."

"I agree, Orrin," she expressed his name because he had said hers.

Because of that guy that wanted to see the truck stop manager about a security guard job, when Orrin left the building and found Mark standing near the car, it had been close to ten minutes. Still, Mark did not exhibit signs of being peeved.

"How is she," he was enthusiastic.

"I can't believe it," Orrin moved for the driver's door. "I decided to ask her to have a meal with me and she said yes. I had not planned to ask her this morning, but I suddenly decided to make the attempt."

"Heather is a pretty girl," Mark went into the passenger's seat of Orrin's car.

"I could tell when I looked in her eyes that she liked me."

Mark did not feel self conscious about being twenty five and wanting to know details about Orrin's method. He and Orrin talked about women often. They both understood that modern life in the United States had become disjointed and weird. Guys had to continuously learn and adjust.

"Orrin," Mark paused so as not to distract his friend while he drove across the four lanes of divided highway during openings in the fast Los Angeles and Las Vegas traffic. "Orrin," the car had now moved onto the half mile road leading to the Cactus Motel. "You've told me a dozen times about chemistry. That's the part I don't understand."

"You are not ugly, Mark. You should have gotten sexual glances from girls. I think you need to keep your eyes open and know what to look for."

"I think I'm trying for the wrong types of girls. I run into a lot of rejection."

Paul Omner arrived at the truck stop. He had excused himself from his family. They could amuse themselves at the Cactus Motel restaurant or the pool. Paul Omner wanted to look around the truck stop. He parked and entered at the convenience store. The place was not extremely busy, and Paul went to the restaurant, got a table, and ordered coffee. He decided to see if his cell phone would work here, and it did. Technology was expanding rapidly, even to this remote interstate highway. Paul appreciated the United States and the capitalist system that allowed for all this abundance and activity. Few other countries had average citizens in new cars speeding between cities on whatever whims drove people. Certainly, most other countries would not have a truck stop like this with a dozen fuel pumps, constant business, and thousands of products varying from twenty types of candy bars to personal grooming items, packaged food, souvenirs, and even entertainment products such as music CDs. Paul owned a coffee shop in Milwaukee. Now, it would be a little past noon there. He decided to use his cell phone to call and see how things were going. He pushed a speed dial button on the cell phone. The waitress delivered a hot cup of coffee. Paul nodded at her.

"Thank you," he said. Then, the phone connected and in Milwaukee, the manager answered. "Hello, buddy," Paul knew that the young man would recognize Paul's voice.

"Hello. How is the vacation?"

"Fine. Is everything going smoothly there?"

"Sure. We've got it covered. No problems. Business has been steady."

Paul Omner sipped the coffee. He prided himself on hiring good employees and treating them well. In Milwaukee, his shop earned consistent profits. He had a good, middle class life with Sally, Oliver, and Beth. They lived in a decent suburb, neighbors respected the Paul Omner family, and they even went to church a few times a year. Paul Omner had killed four boys over a two year period. If he was careful, Paul Omner could get a boy of approximately seven or eight into the car. Oddly, the standard ploys frequently described on TV worked. Could the boy help him find a lost puppy? Or, the boy's father wanted the boy to come home; get in the car and Paul could drive the boy.

Paul finished his coffee and decided to look around the truck stop. Sally would take Oliver and Beth to breakfast at the Cactus Motel restaurant.

Paul perused shelves but did not see anything he needed. Then, he saw a boy alone. Paul could scan above the medium high truck stop shelves to notice any adult who should have been watching the boy.

"Little boy," Paul became excited. "You should not be alone. Where are your parents?"

"They are coming."

Paul again sought any nearby adult but did not see one.

"Your dad might be in the bathroom. We will go see," Paul laid a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder and the boy moved along the aisle. Paul could see the public bathrooms at an isolated, rear corner not far away. "This way. I will help you find your father."

Paul could barely walk he was so excited. Sounds seemed to not affect his ears. The boy moved easily to a short hallway that led to a rear door that might have been for truck stop employees to take trash out.

"Stand right here by the door to the men's room," Paul commanded. "Your parents should have told you not to wander off. Stand right there a moment while I check this door. What is your name?"

"Joey."

"Joey, be a good boy while I peek out this door."

The boy obeyed. The short hallway had nothing but a bulletin board. A strange black and white flyer offered $50 for information about a shadow of a man by a car. Paul moved to the metal door with a spring, bar type of latch. No signs warned of an alarm, but it was clearly not a public door. He cracked it and held the door while taking one step out into the bright, desert sunlight. Two large, odiferous trash bins stood nearby. Paul could see his vehicle a short distance away. If he firmly took the boy's hand, Paul could lead the boy to the car. However, Paul needed to think up a pretense. He needed to tell the boy something to occupy his attention and make the walk to the car seem plausible.

Paul Omner could drive the boy into the desert on one of the desolate side roads. Paul did not want to do this. He had not planned to molest a boy today. Some part of his mind, some deep desire realized ecstasy would result. Paul Omner had molested many boys over the years, but in recent years when Paul had a family and business in Wisconsin, he had decided that to strangle the child and leave the body was the best method. Killing the victim probably cut in half the odds of being caught. Paul returned from the metal, service door and walked past the bulletin board and a side door to a women’s bathroom. The small boy was gone. Maybe he had entered the men’s room. Paul took tentative steps that way. Then, he spotted the boy a distance towards the nearby store shelves, but a young man with a rough appearance -- beard stubble, a t-shirt revealing sinewy arms and tattoos, an earring -- a man lean and physical in his mid twenties with strong eyes approached the boy.

“Son. I told you to not wander off. Come here.”

Paul Omner quickly went out the service door. He noticed it shut and no entrance handle existed on this side. The smell of the dumpsters and the bright sunlight impressed Paul as he rapidly stepped to his car, started the engine, and swung around the rear of the truck stop to avoid the gasoline pumps out front. Paul Omner drove onto the side road that intersected the main interstate. He decided to turn west towards Los Angeles. He got onto the highway and pushed the gas pedal to attain a speed of seventy miles an hour. Nevertheless, he remained in a right hand lane and some cars passed Paul Omner at speeds of eighty or more. He pushed radio buttons to seek music so he could drive, think, and relax. Sally, Beth, and Oliver could take care of themselves for a few hours at the Cactus Motel.

Myron drove slowly and looked at an old style billboard for a Las Vegas casino hotel. It seemed an odd location for such a billboard. Two large trucks were parked along the narrow old highway. He wanted to check into the Cactus Motel and sleep. The sun was now high, and he had been traveling with the two white teenagers all night. The dashboard clock on his American made minivan did not work, so Myron pulled forth a cell phone to check the time. 9:30am. At that moment, two black and white California Highway Patrol cars pulled from the parking lot of the Cactus Motel.

Myron’s nerves resonated with slight fear. The officers might glimpse the cell phone. If Myron got pulled over for a ticket, the pistol in his belt might be a problem.

The two Highway Patrol cars departed. Myron removed his foot from the accelerator. The old mini van slowed. He noticed a small store, a chain link fence behind which Myron saw a pool, and what seemed to be a main facility which included a restaurant. An unusual object was a horse tied to the chain link fence. Myron did not know anything about horses except what he had seen on TV. The horse was large and brown with a saddle and a rope tied to the chain link fence. A piece of rope also hung down from the saddle and held a one gallon plastic jug which Myron assumed was water. He parked and approached the front steps of the building. The horse did not move or turn his head to notice Myron. The horse's eye on Myron's side blinked. Myron entered the front desk part of the building.

In the restaurant, Sheila quickly surveyed the two truck drivers by the window. They busied themselves with their breakfast so Sheila moved to address the black man at the front desk.

"Vince," she called to the side room. "Pay attention; we are getting busy."

"This isn't busy," Vince complained while he arose from the sofa. The TV showed a morning sports program of highlights from last night's National Basketball Association games. Vince liked to drink coffee and watch the highlights, but Orrin was not cooking so Vince needed to pay attention.

"Hello," Sheila walked rapidly to greet the man.

"Do you have a single," Myron did not mind this girl. Her first impression had not offended him.

"Yes," she replied. "Is it for one night?"

Myron asserted it was, and Sheila completed the transaction. This was the sixth room rented, and Sheila put Myron near the far end of the building. This was the most rooms rented during any day of the six months Sheila had been at the Cactus Motel.

Sheila understood that men desired her. She did not wear a ring. There seemed to be a perpetual impetus to sex in the United States, and in high school, years ago, Sheila and her friends had accepted it. Only rarely did Sheila consciously contemplate the sexuality of existence that pervaded all interactions. Now, she handed the plastic key ring to Myron and moved his check in card to a lower portion of the counter with the five others. Sheila made eye contact and tried to determine if the black man was thinking sexual thoughts about her.

"Here you go," Sheila said. "Your room is out the door and all the way to the far end."

"Thank you," Myron disliked the way the United States advertised blonde, blue eyed white women as the ideal. Such a mentality harmed black women. The so called gangster black men that prized young, white girls to the point of degrading and enslaving them as sex objects -- such men were oafs in Myron's opinion. Nevertheless, the petite, young blonde motel clerk charmed Myron.

"I believe I could eat," Myron took a tentative step around the reception counter to seek the restaurant. "I drove eight hundred miles without stopping."

"Follow me," Sheila said. "We've got plenty of room in the restaurant. No waiting."

Sheila felt ridiculous for having said that. Maybe she was somewhat awkward in the presence of this intense black man. He was not tall or muscular. His eyes seemed to not blink. There was a sternness about him.

In the restaurant, the two truck drivers lingered at their table near the window. Sheila could not help glancing at the stunning woman laying in a bikini on one of the lounge chairs at the pool. The table where the officers had eaten still held its dirty dishes. Sheila noticed that Vince had moved to the grill area. He should have cleared the dishes, she thought.

Myron followed the blonde girl. Out the window, at the pool, he saw a fantastic woman sunbathing. He studied her longer than he should have. One center table had dishes on it, but the blonde woman offered a different square table with four chairs.

"How is this?" Sheila motioned slightly with her arm. "What can I get you to drink?"

"Do you have milk?"

"Yes sir," Sheila thought that not many breakfast diners ordered milk instead of coffee or juice.

In the store, Lester and Robert sat in a couple of office chairs in the corner. Lester perceived an odd demeanor in Robert. It almost looked like the indian chief, in his forties and close to Lester's age, had been starving himself. Lester attempted to view in the native american's eyes a sign of emotional pain. The face revealed nothing.

"Robert," Lester used a flask from the coffee machine to top off two mugs on the metal desk where the men sat. "Robert, are you riding in the desert every day?"

"The desert soothes my spirit," Robert conversed with Lester sometimes about lore. The white man seemed incapable of comprehending. Robert believed it was due to strong beliefs developed in Lester while growing up. Robert accepted this as the way things were. "Before I ride, I want to get hamburgers from the restaurant for Jimmy and Sara."

"I saw Sara and Snow earlier along the edge of the property."

"They enjoy the desert. I want her to come home and eat lunch," Robert knew it was only 9:45am, but Jimmy would gobble his food while playing a video game. Sara could enjoy her hamburger and fries when she returned later. She knew how to warm the food in the microwave.

When Robert had tied his horse and stopped to say hello, the men had exchanged opinions about the woman's body found ten miles south along the old route towards Los Angeles. Lester feared any sort of city-like danger arriving out here; especially, this could harm eleven year old Sara during her hikes in the desert. Lester avoided the topic. Robert viewed the recent evil events as spiritual. The interstate did not only carry thousands of United States citizens through here, it carried their mental vibrations. Hate, lust, greed, or even ideas perpetrated by any recent TV show could entice all sorts of evil spirits to swirl among the population. Robert intended to wait for the desert to fend off this infection of evil; with Lester, Robert changed the topic of conversation.

"Did you see anything about the NBA game last night," Robert had deprived himself of the pleasure of TV watching since Jimmy's accident.

"No," Lester did not follow sports. He glanced at the nearby computer screen. On the paused computer game, Lester had been lobbing hand grenades at a police swat team. "No, Robert, but Vince will know. He's working in the restaurant with Sheila today."

Elliot Morphson still felt dazed concerning the sudden news report about a woman's nude body found in the desert. But the TV news had definitely said the body was 5 days old. Also, the cook had pointed in an opposite direction from the Cactus Motel, towards Victorville and Los Angeles.

Elliot enjoyed walking on the dry desert. The small shrubs were spaced in such a way that the compacted dirt was exposed, allowing a nice surface for hiking.

The desert landscape differed from the Cactus Motel property. The motel constituted a square of a few acres. The shrubs seemed closer together and greener.

Palm trees grew whereas the general desert had no palm trees or only sparse scatterings of Joshua trees. Towards a rear corner on the side facing the indian village, Elliot Morphson noticed a large, double wide mobile home in excellent condition. The porch was of heavy wood with large screens all around. It would be a wonderful place to sit and enjoy a view of the desert. Elliot went near to survey the place.

Ann enjoyed quiet time on her break from 9am to 10am. Lester's porch mainly held comfortable appointments, but at one side he had placed a washing machine and dryer. The mobile home's interior laundry area was not large enough for the new machines. Now, Ann went to the washing machine to move clothes to the dryer. She wore her jeans and tennis shoes but had decided to throw her shirt and bra in with the wash.

Elliot Morphson glimpsed movement behind the screens of the porch. He checked his forward steps and remained motionless. The dark haired woman from the front desk was topless.

Ann performed her chore. She prided herself on discipline, that although she could return to the front desk at 10:10am or 10:15am, she would be there on time at 10am. It was a bright morning. With no wind today, the desert stretched to the horizon with its quiet, motionless terrain. Spike laid on his side on a nearby sofa. Ann usually did not bother to turn on the TV system. Sometimes, she enjoyed music, but today everything remained quiet.

Elliot Morphson let the woman retreat to some chore in the mobile home’s interior. Then, he turned to head for the road and the front edge of the property. Nearby, a large, white dog pranced in a zigzag motion past short, desert bushes. A native american girl walked. Elliot smiled.

"Hello," he noticed that the dog wagged its tail and had a friendly attitude.

"Hi," Sara never met people out here. "Who are you?"

"I'm Elliot, he offered his hand to shake. Glad to meet you. What is your name?"

"Sara," her small hand shook his.

Elliot Morphson released her hand, she continued on her way, and the large, white dog came near. Elliot patted the broad head. Then, the dog followed Sara. Elliot Morphson disliked children for one reason. He sensed a child might at any minute go out of control and be in need of discipline from Elliot. At the age of 45, he had no experience with children, and Elliot did not want to interact with them. During a usual week, at Hector's Hair in the Bronx, a couple of dozen children came in for haircuts. Elliot Morphson demanded that the parents be present and able to control the kids. This native american child, Sara, seemed well behaved. Elliot considered Sara to be a bit young to be wandering alone in the middle of nowhere.

In the restaurant, Mr Jones and Charlie ate their breakfast at the table next to the plate glass window. Mr Jones enjoyed a slight warmth from the glass now that the sun had completely brightened the pool area. Charlie, the bulky driver who owned a late model eighteen wheeler with red paint and elaborate lights conversed but every few minutes averted his eyes to study the beautiful girl sunbathing on a lounge chair.

"You know," Charlie ate the remaining portion of his bacon and eggs, "I like this desert."

"This is not your first trip to California," offered Mr Jones.

"No. I've been along the interstate plenty of times. For some reason, I decided to stop over. I think I'll stay a couple of nights. I want to get some rest."

Sheila finished clearing the table the highway patrol men had occupied. Vince remained at the grill. Sheila could hear the sports show on the TV describing last night’s basketball games. She wanted to know about the woman’s body found in the desert. Who was this woman? What had occurred?

Myron admired the business-like waitress; however, his table afforded a view of the pool and he continuously looked at the exposed flesh of the woman there. He hated himself when he succumbed to the commercial, TV motivated image of white women as ideal. On the menu, he decided biscuits and gravy, a southern style breakfast, would suit him. Myron made eye contact with the waitress.

“I’ve decided,” he hefted the menu for emphasis. The room was quiet and intimate. People could hear and talk throughout the place. In fact, to the side was an entertainment room of some sort. He could hear sports commentators chuckling about last night’s basketball highlights as if the black athletes were clowns to amuse the white people. This annoyed Myron and was ruining his morning. He would eat and get to his room to sleep. “Biscuits and gravy.”

“Anything else,” Sheila wrote on her order ticket.

“Yes. A side order of bacon.”

“Very good,” Sheila collected the menu and moved to join Vince at the grill.

“Vince, here is the order,” she placed the ticket on the counter.

“Biscuits and gravy,” Vince looked at a nearby shelf. “Damn it.”

Vince knew he had to mix the gravy from a box of powder. The biscuits were frozen. Sheila sensed his concern and believed she could help.

“I’ll get the biscuits. Start the bacon.”

Vince leaned towards Sheila and enjoyed being close. He noticed her hands as she opened the slick box of frozen biscuits. Vince guessed the microwave would work to thaw the product. He became conscious of his thoughts and monitored his conversation. He knew this feeling. When he desired to make love to a woman, Vince struggled to interact. It was odd that most of the time he could be fluent and imaginative but when around someone he wanted to love, he froze up.

At 10am, Ann and Spike came from the double wide mobile home. They used the door at the inside of the property and proceeded to the chain link fence in back to enter the pool area. Ann felt excited about the number of quests that had checked in yesterday. At the pool, a young lady lounged. How long had it been since Ann had seen such a sight of a tourist enjoying the pool? It had been a month or six weeks since the last time guests had relaxed at the Cactus Motel pool. It was like a family pool for Lester, Ann, and the three young workers (Mark never partook). In that regard, the pool sometimes seemed forlorn and lonely to Ann.

"Hello," Ann greeted the young woman who had raised her head at the sound of the gate.

"Hi," Sophie noticed that the frenzied little dog was harmless as it quickly nodded at her and then went to the gate in the other chain link fence.

"Don't mind us," said Ann. "We are passing through."

Sophie did not care one way or another. Before laying her head down, she witnessed two nasty men in the restaurant at a table near the window. Sophie was certain they were lusting for her in her bikini. Jerks. She moved one hand to her canvas bag on the adjacent lounge chair. Her butcher knife could be felt there. Sophie laughed to herself and relaxed back with her eyes closed to enjoy the desert sun. This was a pleasant vacation.

Ann and Spike saw the brown horse belonging to Robert tied at the front fence. They proceeded through the nearby gate. Spike had seen Prince many times, and the horse did not react. Spike scampered in the direction of the store.

"Hi, Robert," Ann entered behind Spike. The dog looked to the stern chief and then seemed to retreat towards Lester's feet. Robert nodded to Ann.

"Hello."

"Honey," Lester would play his computer game a little while longer when Ann and Robert left. Then, Lester intended to email a guy in Texas that had details about how to purchase a windmill. "Ann, what is that flyer Orrin was carrying? Do you understand anything about that?"

"Orrin and Sheila make comments about each other. I don't think it's serious."

"The picture looked vaguely like a shadow of a stranger near Orrin's car at two thirty in the morning. Could it be a prank?"

"I don't know," Ann wanted to change the subject. She intended to pay bills and work on the check book. "We are going to have extra money this week due to the increased number of guests."

Lester acknowledged that he appreciated this. Robert arose to accompany Ann to the restaurant.

"I'll stop by tomorrow," Robert said. "If you see Sara, send her home."

"Sure," Lester's finger moved to un-pause the computer game.

Spike remained in the store with Lester. Ann and Robert walked outside to go to the restaurant/front desk building. Ann sensed something different about Robert. He was overwhelmed, she thought, by emotional pain since Jimmy's hit and run accident. The driver had not been caught. Ann led the way; Robert was a gentleman. She wished she could advise him. Could he somehow release his pent up anger and hate towards the hit and run driver?

In passing, Robert gently patted the horse's hard rump. They would ride, but first Robert would buy cheeseburgers and french fries for Jimmy and Sara. He scanned the area for a view of his eleven year old daughter and her large, white dog Snow. Robert saw two semi-trucks, eighteen wheel tractor trailers, parked along the old road near the motel rooms. He recognized the truck of Mr Jones, but the other truck was a stranger. A dry breeze blew. Wispy bushes on the landscape swayed as if pent up with a life force that was more than just the wind.

Inside the restaurant, Sheila delivered to Myron the plate she had helped Vince prepare. Coarse grained biscuits, a starch gravy, and bacon comprised a southern style dish that had gained popularity with workers across the United States.

"Enjoy," Sheila smiled at the small, lean black man.

"I will," Myron disliked her happy tone and her stupid admonition to enjoy. What did she think he was going to do with the food? Of course he would enjoy it. Why order it if not to enjoy it?

"More milk?"

"Of course," he smiled and looked at her blue eyes. Blonde hair and blue eyes, he laughed to himself. Of course she would be no good, no matter how pleasant or attractive she appeared.

"I'll be right back," she picked up his empty milk glass. Sheila thought the man to possess an undercurrent of aggression. She sensed a meanness about him. His smile had the makings of a sneer. His eyes continuously appraised the surroundings.

The gun against his belly collected sweat between the metal and his skin. He liked the bolt action of the nine millimeter gun with its ammunition clip of nine bullets ready to spring into the firing chamber. He could first shoot the burly men, what he guessed to be truck drivers, who sat at a table near the window. If Myron could shoot those two and the other man, the cook, he could turn the gun on the waitress. When they all were dead, Myron could go out to the pool and use the gun to force the woman in the bikini to go to Myron's mini van. He had clothesline rope to bind her, and he could drive her to a desolate part of the desert to relish killing her. She would cry and plead, and Myron would enjoy that immensely.

Robert followed Ann up the wooden steps into the lobby. On his person, he carried a small, hand crafted leather purse that Jimmy had made several years ago. Robert opened the purse to unexpectedly find only two dollars and a quarter. Ann witnessed this. Robert recalled that of seven dollars, he had given Sara five for her trip to the beach yesterday. Ann could help.

"Don't worry about it," she said. "I can give you credit."

They met Sheila in the restaurant.

"It's busy," Robert offered as conversation. "If you want to let me have two cheeseburgers and two orders of french fries," said Robert, "I'll ride by with the cash as soon as I drop the food off for the kids."

"It's no problem, Robert. The main thing is that Jimmy will start to feel better."

"The accident could have been worse," Robert spoke a positive viewpoint for Ann, but he retained inside him a severe and hungry anger.

"What," Ann used an order pad that had been on a side counter near a bowl of fruit, "what will you have, Robert?"

“Nothing,” his tense jaw allowed no smile. “I’m going for a ride in the desert.

Vince received the order and put two hamburger patties on the grill. He dropped a stainless steel basket with frozen french fries into hot oil. Then, he walked from the kitchen area to the restaurant since the food needed to cook for a few minutes. The television sports channel attracted Vince. Robert had moved to stand in the door and watch basketball highlights. Sheila cleared dishes from the table of the truck drivers and went to refill their coffee cups.

"Vince," she admonished but did not continue.

"The food is cooking, Sheila," he liked the curt, business-like interaction. Maybe some sort of formal barrier had broken down between them.

"Hi, Robert," said Vince. "Is Jimmy doing ok?"

"Yes, he will be ok," Robert's favorite professional basketball team had won last night.

"They," Vince referred to the team, "might go all the way this year."

The sound of the television irked Myron. Sheila finished with the truck drivers. She went to check on the little black guy.

"Can I get you anything else," she asked.

"I'm finished," Myron figured the blonde waitress was the only decent one in here. "I hate basketball," he knew that the two at the door of the TV room could hear. White people try to pretend they like black guys in sports. Pathetic."

"I'll get your check," Sheila retreated. "Vince, are you preparing Robert's food?"

"Yes," Vince returned to the grill to flip the hamburgers. With one hand he gripped a handle to the fry basket and shook it slightly a couple of times.

Robert glanced at the lean, strict black man. Robert hated the racist black guy. Ever since the 1990s, racism had made a resurgence in the United States because of jerks like that. Robert liked basketball.

Myron made brief eye contact with the indian. Myron did not care. He had a gun in his waist band and could shoot everyone here. Myron glanced away rather than provoke the gruff, older man. Myron knew that such a man could view Myron’s stature as shorter than normal. During the course of his life, Myron had been treated many times as insignificant, as just another person to shut up and stand in line. He had been one of the crowd. The Bible called such people sheep. Myron felt anger and was glad the indian had turned back to the stupid basketball highlights.

"Well," Charlie stood up. He glanced at the luscious girl in the bikini. "I enjoyed that breakfast."

"Me too," Mr Jones arose. He prepared to get on the road.

"I like this desert," Charlie glimpsed the nice woman in the lobby area. She had come past the pool with a small dog. Apparently, this girl lived in the double wide mobile home visible on that far side of the property. Charlie led the way to the front counter. "I'm going to stay over a couple more nights."

Ann positioned herself near the cash register and looked up at the huge man's face. He was the driver with the ornate truck outside. He offered the receipt Sheila had written for the breakfast.

"Good morning," Charlie smiled. He loved this dark haired woman. Her eyes were green. "I want to pay for this. Mr Jones, put yours up here. I'll get it. Also, ma'am, I would like to pay for another night in the motel."

Mr Jones saw no harm in this, so he let Charlie buy the breakfast. The large man obviously liked Ann. Mr Jones had to admit that he also liked her clean, dark hair, her sculpted face, her friendly expression, and most of all Ann's tight shirt and bra that did nothing to hold back her breasts but instead emphasized their weight and size. Nevertheless, Mr Jones rejected the idea of a society so craven that people thought constantly about sex. He intended to get in his truck and head for the bright interstate towards Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

"Thank you," he waved a tentative hand at both Charlie and Ann. Mr Jones moved to exit.

"Sure," Charlie nodded at the guy. Then, he reached to receive change form Ann. "This is a beautiful place. Do you live here?"

"My husband and I have a mobile home, yes," Ann understood that men were attracted to her.

"It's beautiful," Charlie appreciated the counter that rose to a height near his belly. He would have been embarrassed if she had seen his sexual arousal. He sought to maintain the conversation with general small talk. "I've been to the truck stop dozens of times, but this is my first visit here."

"Welcome," she said. "We are glad to have you."

Ann completed the transaction. She began to turn away. She wanted to see news about any further facts about the body found west of here. Also, she needed to interact with Robert. Vince would be completing the to go order of cheeseburgers and fries for Sara and Jimmy. Charlie looked down at the front of his pants and quickly turned to leave.

"I'll see you later," his back was to Ann as Charlie said this.

Vince remained behind the grill. He watched the lean black man to see if any facial clues related to the biscuits and gravy. Why did the jerk need to order something like that? Vince had lived his entire twenty five years in California, and he had no interest in the southern states. Maybe the menu should not have included biscuits and gravy, Vince thought. Then, he shifted his attention to Sheila. She looked good in her waitress shirt. Vince wanted a date with her. Orrin had broken up and said he liked Heather at the truck stop. Orrin would not care if Vince hooked up with Sheila. Maybe they could find jobs in Las Vegas and Orrin could remain at the Cactus Motel.

Robert had positioned himself to stand at the opened door of the TV room. He knew that watching the basketball highlights pleased him and broke his covenant to fast and suffer during Jimmy's recovery. The sizzling hamburger meat could be heard. Robert turned his back to the small, racist black guy at the center table. Sheila went to clear the dishes from the table where Mr Jones and Charlie had eaten breakfast. Two five dollar bills were there as if the two truck drivers had competed concerning their tips. The three highway patrol officers had been paid for by William, and one of the officers had left a five dollar bill on that table. With Vince working the grill, Sheila did not have to contend with Orrin. He usually paid attention to any tip and wanted to divide the money equally. Sheila did not mind except that it was Orrin promoting this. That irked her more than sharing the money. The odd flyer Orrin had put up caught Sheila's eye and she thought about the ridiculous nature of it. However, she regretted that a few mornings ago, she had used the key to the restaurant's back door to scratch Orrin's car.

"Robert," Vince maneuvered hamburger buns, meat, and cheese to prepare the order, "your food will be ready in a minute."

"Thanks," Robert replied.

Sara and Elliot Morphson arrived at the front of the building. She bid Snow to wait near her father's horse tied at the chain link fence. At the pool, Sara noticed a pretty woman whom Sara had never seen before. Sara skipped to join Elliot Morphson at the wooden steps.

"My dad is here," she commented to Elliot Morphson.

The girl was the first one to enter the glass doors of the Cactus Motel lobby. She was greeted by Ann. Elliot considered the idea of the girl's father being present. The dark haired eleven year old did not interest Elliot in a sexual sense; nevertheless, he realized that parents were wary of any adult talking to a child. Prior to entering the lobby, Elliot peered east along the old highway in the direction he had left the housewife's body yesterday. Also, he turned his neck to look behind where the two large eighteen wheel trucks were parked and the two drivers talked. Elliot entered the glass doors and saw Ann. She had paused halfway into the restaurant to check on Robert, but Ann now acknowledged Elliot.

"Hello," she said. "Did you enjoy your hike?"

"Yes," he remembered how she had appeared on her porch topless. "I love this desert."

"Would you like breakfast," Ann recalled that this man who dressed oddly with slacks, a white shirt, and barber's vest had only drank coffee earlier.

"Hello," Sheila approached as the two entered the restaurant. "Would you like a seat by the window?"

"Yes," Elliot positioned himself so he could watch the woman in the bikini.

"Have you worked up an appetite?"

"An appetite for pretty blondes," he flirted.

"You're sweet," she laid a hand on his shoulder like a sister. "I'll give you a minute to read the menu."

Sheila was not offended by the man's remark. He considered it a joke. A guy like that (he looked about forty) probably did not get many dates. Especially, the way he was dressed appeared odd. Overall, the man seemed innocent enough. Sheila moved to check on the black diner.

"How is everything," she inquired.

"Good," Myron pushed his plate back. The milk glass was empty. He noticed that the dark haired clerk from the front had come to talk with the indian. Therefore, Myron figured he could finish his transaction with this pretty blonde girl. Although he detested the culture that prized such a white woman as the best, Myron felt slightly aroused to be interacting with this waitress. "I'm ready to sleep now."

"Sleep?" She smiled. "I'll get your check. Follow me."

"Good."

"Why are you going to sleep at ten in the morning," she led the way to the front cash register.

"I drove eight hundred miles without stopping. I had an urge to see the desert," Myron's shirt hung loose over his waistband and the hard metal of the gun gathered sweat at his belly. He looked down to see if any details could be witnessed under the fabric.

Myron appreciated that the mid level counter hid her view of his trouser front and the gun. If he decided to shoot several people at once, maybe he would spare her. Or, he could shoot all of them and rape her. Maybe he could kidnap her, drive her into the desert, and have fun with her. He still had clothesline ready he had intended to use on the teenaged hitch hikers. Sheila finished the exchange of money for Myron's meal.

"Have a good sleep," she offered.

"Take a dollar as a tip," Myron left one bill on the counter. "I enjoyed it."

Sheila now had Robert and Sara near the TV room and the guy in the vest by the window. She took his order and delivered it to Vince, who remained busy in the kitchen. Vince noticed the man had ordered pancakes.

"Damn it," said Vince. "What is with all the weird orders?"

"I have to clear that center table."

Sara had been attracted to the flyer of the shadow near Orrin's car.

"What is this," she asked.

Vince neatly packaged the two cheeseburgers and french fry portions. He nodded to Ann. Robert turned away from the basketball scores on the TV. Vince knew the eleven year old indian girl and could respond to her.

"That picture was taken by Orrin," Vince explained.

"Is it a ghost?"

"Sara," Robert saw the paper sack with the food. "You need to come home now."

Robert understood that many times recently, numerous TV shows had been about ghosts. It appalled him that the shows portrayed themselves as scientific. However, Sara had been swayed by the shows.

"Maybe," she said, "it's a ghost of someone we know. It could be grandpa."

Sara's discourse and the mention of Robert's deceased father suddenly irritated Robert. He wanted to caution Sara. He did not believe in ghosts. He believed in natural spirits such as the Manitou. Robert knew that certain forces existed. If some sort of shadow had appeared in the desert, it was not grandpa. Also, Robert did not want Sara to be in danger either from some human interloper to the peaceful desert or from some unidentified spirit.

"Come home," his voice was a bit stern. It contained the five days of fasting, denial of pleasure, and anger since Jimmy's contact with the actual evil of modern philosophy that stated one could injure another and then nonchalantly drive away.

Robert and Sara left. Sheila and Vince worked in the kitchen; she washed dishes. Ann went to the TV room and the sound of the channels changing could be heard in the restaurant. Elliot Morphson sipped coffee, waited for his pancakes, and listened for the TV because it might stop on Victorville news and more about the body. He noticed the stunning woman in the bikini. Her light brown hair had highlights which Elliot recognized were from a home dye kit. Still, the beauty had done a good job on herself. She possessed the correct, media driven appearance of a sensuous young woman. Elliot admired her for that, although she did not have blonde hair.

Chapter Fourteen

By now, Mr Jones had prepared himself and was ready to drive away towards Salt Lake City. Charlie's rear doors to his large, modern truck cab were opened. He wanted to air that space out. Also, if Ann looked from the glass doors across the street, she would see Charlie's situation. A distance away, in front of the fifteen room motel building, Orrin and Mark had rolled forth a cart with big canvas pouches to receive dirty bed linens. The cart also possessed compartments to hold freshly folded pillow cases and sheets as well as cleaning supplies. Mr Jones climbed into his driver's seat and started the diesel engine. He rolled down the window.

"Goodbye, Charlie. It was nice meeting you," Mr Jones made a mental note that next time he met Charlie, Mr Jones would buy the meal. Charlie seemed like a decent guy.

The bra of a truck stop prostitute Charlie had killed was on the bed in the rear cab. He had enjoyed the bra last night while viewing a pornographic DVD. Charlie twisted his neck to view the glass doors where he knew Ann worked.

Mr Jones slowly pulled onto the old highway. He waved to Orrin and Mark. A few miles ahead, Mr Jones knew of a side road through the desert that would take him to the busy interstate leading to Las Vegas.

"What time is it," asked Mark.

"Almost ten thirty," replied Orrin.

"Do you see that sedan? That is her car."

"You told me that already."

"I guess she is still asleep."

Myron approached. He used a toothpick to remove a piece of breakfast sausage from a hole in a molar. He saw the two young, white guys with a cart for cleaning rooms.

"Don't come near my room," Myron proffered the plastic key ring to show them. “I will sleep all day.” He unlocked the door. “And keep the noise down.”

Myron’s gruff attitude challenged the boys; he knew. However, he understood how to contend with people. Especially, because Myron was short and lean, he could be bullied so he presented a strong offense. More than actual life on the streets, television and movies had influenced Myron. Kill or be killed. Exploit and dominate others or appear weak and lose. Myron navigated well through the culture of the United States. He now entered his room and pulled the gun from under his shirt. He placed it on a bureau and fell onto the bed to sleep. He slid the pillow from beneath the bedspread and cushioned his face with the soft linen.

John Synd woke up in his room. Normally, he would check his cell phone on the night table for the time. However, he had left the phone switched off in the glove compartment of his car. He did not want contact with his wife. She would take care of the two young boys, so they would be alright. Then, when John Synd returned to Boston, he would pamper them and make it up to them. Also, John Synd had no interest in talking to Brent, the CEO of the property management company, John’s long time friend, and ultimately, John’s superior.

John had masturbated last night so he arose to shower and clean up. His wife often criticized John as if he was a sex addict. When she theorized that John’s condition was a sickness and that he would pass it on to the toddlers, he had punched his wife in the mouth. He never again hit her, but that had almost ended the marriage. After taking his shower and getting dressed, John Synd picked up the book he had purchased yesterday in the store -- The Manitou. He left to get breakfast in the restaurant. It was almost 11am. John wanted to see Ann, the attractive woman married to the man who ran the store.

In the restaurant, Sheila joined Ann in the TV room to watch Penelope. The man in the vest enjoyed pancakes and coffee at his table near the window. Ann ate an apple and relaxed. On the TV show, Penelope interviewed a young woman star of a very popular, evening television comedy.

“Let’s look at a minute from the show,” Penelope raised a hand to point to a large screen near the chairs where she and the actress sat.

“You smell,” on the screen, the actress and a husband character stood in a bedroom setting.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” the audience laughed.

“Your entire family smells,” replied the husband. “That’s the first thing I noticed when I met them.”

“He, ha, ha, ha, ha.”

“Ok,” Penelope spoke and the TV comedy stopped. “The show is on Sunday night.”

“We,” said the actress, “keep the banter fast paced and witty. Our writer grew up in Beverly Hills, and we went to high school together.”

Elliot Morphson thought about his mother. He had not spoken to her all week. A few days ago, he had left a message on her answering machine. Elliot did not like the pancakes. They seemed doughy in the center. He noticed the cook at a sink in back washing dishes. The blonde waitress could be seen on a sofa in the TV room. Elliot listened to hear any news about the body found in the desert.

John Synd walked towards the restaurant/front desk building. He carried the Manitou book, but he realized he had forgotten his digital camera. No matter, he continued. There existed a side door, glass, that led to a short hall between the TV room and front desk lobby. This hall opened to the restaurant. However, John proceeded to the wooden steps and main entrance doors because Ann might be working there. He loved her lean, business like form. She was a woman of the west. John had never killed a western woman before.

Vince worked at a kitchen sink, deep and stainless steel, to wash dishes from the morning customers. To Vince, the small motel a half mile from the interstate seemed busy all of a sudden. He could only see the guy in the white shirt and vest near the window. Sheila and Ann watched Penelope in the TV room.

John Synd quickly assessed the lobby and front desk; the dark haired woman, Ann, was not present. He walked through an archway into the restaurant. One guy ate pancakes at a side table. Immediately, John saw through plate glass the supple beauty of a woman sunbathing. He had enjoyed raping and killing in Kansas yesterday. John felt no need for sex today. An opened door to the side of the small restaurant allowed for the sound of the TV to emanate. Behind a grill, a young cook’s eyes focused on John.

“Sheila,” said Vince. “There’s a customer, Sheila.”

“Hello,” she came from the room where the TV played,. Sheila grabbed from a sideboard a napkin and eating utensils to place on the center table where the highway patrol officers had sat. “How is this?”

“Fine,” John enjoyed the pretty blonde. He sat down and placed the Manitou text away from him so the girl could offer a menu. “Coffee, please.”

Elliot Murphy did not like the way the jerk with the book faced this way. Elliot would have preferred seeing the man’s back. Also, the man obviously lusted after the young, blonde waitress. That irked Elliot.

Sheila attended to the man with the book. She poured coffee and brought his order ticket to Vince.

Finally,” Vince began to break eggs, “a normal breakfast. Ham and cheese omelet. Bacon. Coffee. None of that pancakes or biscuits and gravy stuff.”

“Shush,” Sheila respected Vince for not being loud enough for Elliot Morphson or John Synd to hear. “If you behave, you and I can cook a late lunch together.”

“Are you flirting?”

“Are you?” Sheila walked off to join Ann.

John Synd perceived that the dark haired woman might be in the TV room, but John could not see her from where he sat. He sipped coffee. He read the Manitou book.

Some describe the Manitou as a shadow figure. Others see it as a ghost. Nevertheless, the Manitou is not the ghost of any particular person,. The Manitou is a spiritual force. Also, various legends attribute both good and evil to the Manitou. A tribe beset by this spirit would view it as evil; an opposition tribe, at war with the other, would view such a Manitou attack as a godsend.

Vince successfully finished the omelet and hash brown plate. He carried it and the side order of bacon to the customer. He decided to get a cup of coffee and take a break in the TV room. He arrived and perched on a folding chair near the pool table. He glanced at Sheila where she sat on her usual end of the sofa. Ann had finished her apple but held the core in one hand as if momentarily she would arise to spend time in front.

“Vince,” said Ann, “what has Orrin told you about that flyer?”

“Not much,” Vince respected his aunt, but Orrin actually had not much of a plan to catch the shadowy figure.

“Orrin is dumb,” Sheila grinned but kept to herself an idea that a passive aggressive white man fit the usual profile of a serial killer. The serious nature of the body to the west curtailed Sheila’s mockery.

“Well,” Ann stood up, “we are getting more traffic so we all need to be alert.”

Ann departed. Vince studied Sheila. She looked beautiful, and he wanted to play pool with her tonight. If Vince was careful about Orrin’s mood, and if Vince remained a good friend, Orrin would focus on Heather at the truck stop and have no hard feelings.

“Sheila,” said Vince, “maybe we could play pool later.”

“Sure,” Sheila thought about Orrin. “Why not?”

John Synd devoured his omelet and hash browns. He paused when Ann passed, smiled, and said hello as she continued to the front of the building. John wanted to rape and kill her. If he performed the deed when not pent up, perhaps he could use this method as a final murder and then stop. Maybe he could also stop drinking and go back to AA. Of course, he needed Corpse Patrol to recognize The Photographer as an important, successful serial killer. John imagined how he would feel when his dumb wife watched TV enthralled by the episode about The Photographer while John hugged their sons nearby. Also, Brent, the jerk who believed himself an important company CEO who dated numerous secretaries would be relegated to a lesser position in the world. The fact that Brent would not know it while handing John Synd a work order, that would make John's superiority sweeter in John's opinion.

Elliot Morphson finished his pancakes. The cook had gone into the TV room with the blonde waitress. The other woman had passed to the front, and the jerk with the book had given her a lustful look. Elliot regretted killing the young housewife in Las Vegas yesterday. It always felt like a dirty sin to him afterward, but during the moment compulsion overwhelmed him. People hid their sex lives. Nobody, when cleaned up in the light of day mentioned what anyone had done the night before. What passions did his mother have? Did she watch the TV shows about women having sex? Did she then promote such ideas within herself?

Elliot feared his mother would one day see the news that Elliot had been apprehended and would know of his violent indiscretions. He feared the highway patrol officers and the nude body found that morning. Meanwhile, the jerk with the book surveyed the blonde's figure when she emerged from the TV room to pour coffee for the man. Elliot noticed that the waitress possessed young, full, natural blonde hair. He could include such hair in his briefcase and finger it any time he wanted.

"I'm ready," Elliot Morphson stood and waved slightly at Sheila. At that moment, he could not avoid an appreciative glance out the window at the practically naked girl by the pool. "I will pay with a credit card; is that alright?"

"Sure," Sheila proceeded and made contact where his hand held aloft the card. "Follow me."

Sheila realized that lonely, middle aged men had populated the restaurant. Each seemed somehow strange, but she attempted to understand them. She wondered what sorts of sex lives such men practiced. She perceived them as polite, decent people.

Ann sat at her metal desk and picked up the paperback copy of Sexy Women. The cover proclaimed -- number one bestseller soon to be a major motion picture. Ann understood that modern publicity firms could make any book an instant classic. She also knew that Mark Twain had once described a classic as a book everybody owned but nobody read. That was humorous. Nevertheless, Ann decided to continue reading Sexy Women. Although most of the descriptions bore no resemblance to anything Ann had lived through, maybe there existed some sphere where women were so cravenly sexual. She had always considered men to be somewhat brutish because they thought in that manner. Maybe it was plausible that a woman could feel that way. The book was set in Manhattan. Had Ann somehow grown up wrong? Had she missed something in life? She intended to read the novel for awhile.

Elliot Morphson and Sheila went to the cash register. Ann offered to arise, but Sheila affirmed she could complete the transaction. Elliot Morphson used a hand to check his hair and perceived that the young blonde wanted to prolong interacting with him. Sheila reached beneath the counter to get an old credit card impression machine. Elliot Morphson enjoyed watching her cute hands working with the device.

"That's interesting," he said.

"I know. We are not hooked up to the credit card system."

"Sorry," said Elliot Morphson.

"It's no problem," Sheila set numbers for the cost of the meal and placed a carbon sheet and the credit card into the machine. She pushed the handle to make the impression of upraised numbers of the plastic card onto the receipt form.

"I use credit for everything," Elliot continued. "I have $80,000 available credit. Credit allowed me to buy a new luxury car."

John Synd appreciated when the jerk in the vest had left. The waitress returned to attend to John. He loved the dark haired, middle aged woman, Ann. However, if he needed to rape and kill one more woman as a final fling prior to stopping, maybe this young, blonde waitress would present herself as an opportunity. The more he thought about this plan, the more John Synd believed it could work.

"What's your name," he smiled and flirted.

"Sheila," she seemed to sashay and amplify her languid movements when she walked to get the coffee flask and top off John's coffee.

"Thank you," John smiled. Sheila had performed the task a few minutes before, and the cup only needed a quarter inch of the dark, hot liquid. "I'm sure I will stay here a few nights."

"Is that a good book?"

"Yes," his hand inadvertently touched the text. "Yes, I like it. Spooky. In the dark last night, I came outside, and I could almost believe the wind contained spirits."

"Here, away from everything, it does get dark," Sheila glanced at Orrin's ridiculous flyer of a shadow near his car at 2:30am. Could some stranger be on the property at night? What about the woman's body found west of here?

When John Synd finished breakfast, he left a dollar on the table for Sheila and carried his ticket to the front. He immediately saw Ann at the metal desk in the corner. She laid the paperback novel, Sexy Women, on the desk. She used a standard technique of facing the book down, opened, to hold the pages where she had been reading.

"How are you," Ann greeted the guy that had taken her picture on the steps yesterday. She stood and approached the cash register. "Where's your camera?"

"In the room," he handed her the meal ticket.

"Thirteen ninety five," Ann advised.

"Actually," John offered a twenty, "I should take another picture of you sometime.”

Ann gave the man his change. She decided to walk to the store to see Lester. Sometimes, he liked her to bring a lunch over to him or they both could eat in the store and relax. John Synd moved ahead to the exit.

She explained she was going to the store. John mentioned he wanted to get a couple of post cards to mail to his children. They were in Florida with their mother, but as soon as he told Ann that, John regretted giving too much information. He planned to quit killing and return to Boston, and he expected not to be traced as The Photographer.

As Ann now led the way down the front steps, on the side of the highway in his living space at the rear of the large truck's cab, Charlie peeped out a small window. He loved Ann. He wanted to lure her over here with alcohol or marijuana. Then, if he could get her into the bed area, he could rape her. Charlie resented the jerk who followed Ann to the store. Charlie did not need guys like that around. Charlie enjoyed watching DVDs that his daughter made from TV. Now, John reached for a pornographic DVD he had recently purchased.

Lester still had not gone online to check email or contact the man in Texas about a windmill. Lester focused on completing a task in the computer game. When he heard the door open, Lester looked at his watch. Noon.

"Hello, Ann."

"The restaurant has served twice as many customers as usual," she appreciated the way Spike woke up and scampered to touch little paws at her shins through the fabric of her jeans.

John Synd said hello but moved deeper into the small store. He carried The Manitou book he had purchased yesterday. John looked around hoping to see AAA batteries. He went to the post card rack.

Elliot Morphson had not bothered with his laptop yesterday. There was no way to connect to the internet. He planned to carry it with him as he would take a drive this afternoon. He also took his briefcase of blonde hair to put in the trunk of his luxury car, and he drove towards the connecting road to the interstate. He would drive in the direction of Los Angeles. He figured he could find a tire store and buy a new tire. The small, donut type of spare tire had an embossed sentence on the side wall stating the spare tire was only reliable for fifty miles. Orrin and Mark watched the guy in the vest leave.

"Nice car," commented Mark.

"We," said Orrin, "can start with his room. We need the master key."

Mark led the way through the side entrance into the hall between the TV room and the front desk lobby. He intended to go to Ann's metal desk and get the master key; however, he spotted Sophie at the pool. The restaurant was empty. Sheila could be seen washing dishes at the sink near the grill. Mark veered towards the glass door from the restaurant to the pool.

"Wait a minute," he advised Orrin. "There's the girl who checked in at midnight."

Mark advanced and disregarded Orrin's desire to get the master key. Orrin sought Vince in the TV room. Vince used the remote to search for news channels. Currently, nothing was being reported about the body found nearby. He sipped coffee.

"Hey," he greeted Orrin. "What happened with Heather?"

"Tomorrow night at midnight after her shift," Orrin glanced to see where Sheila was. "I'm going to have a meal with Heather at the truck stop."

"That's decent."

"Did you hear news about the body?"

"No," said Vince. "What about that weird shadow by your car? Do you think weird things are occurring here all of a sudden?"

"And the number of occupied rooms. With the black guy that checked in this morning and the two truck drivers and the woman Mark loves, it is seven rooms. That's strange."

At the pool, Mark felt awkward to be standing fully clothed near the beautiful girl on the lounge chair. He decided he should act as an employee. He meant to be there for some reason other than to converse with her.

"Hi, Sophie," he smiled. "Is everything alright? Did you have a good stay?"

"Yes," Sophie relished every quick movement of Mark's eyes to her naked skin. She sat up and arched her back.

"Are you leaving today," he blurted. Mark then disliked himself for being blunt and needy. Obviously, Sophie would know he wanted a date.

"No," she rested a hand on her canvas bag containing the butcher knife. "No, I would like to rent the room for at least two more nights. There is something about this place I like."

"Great," Mark could not believe what was happening. "Great, Sophie. You don't have to do a thing, I'll go inside and make a note at the desk. You could come by anytime between four and midnight to pay."

"You are a sweetheart," Sophie had knifed to death four men during the past year since she had been discharged from the mental institution in Vermont.

She had been in that place for five years since she had micro waved her younger sister's kitten. Then, Sophie's mom had moved to use a belt as if she could be dominant like Sophie's dad. A butcher knife on the counter had settled the issue, warmly sunk into the woman's fat belly. Since then, the sensation of a knife stabbing through flesh and muscle had enthralled Sophie. For five years, the doctors had seemed to make her case worse. It took a long time to figure out how to answer to appease them. She had gotten her freedom.

It was not Sophie’s fault that men wanted to thrust themselves upon her. While incarcerated, a book she had enjoyed described two female insects Sophie admired. Both the black widow spider and the praying mantis were strong females who killed their mates. What Sophie was doing was not abnormal; it was natural.

In the store, John Synd purchased two postcards. He still carried the Manitou text, and he had read one third of it. Lester worked the cash register. Ann stooped to pet Spike. Even with her husband present, John Synd could not resist a furtive glance at her lithe form beneath her shirt and jeans. Ann had found out that Lester needed nothing from the restaurant. They would both be home at 4:30pm. She did not want to converse about the desert corpse or about Orrin’s prowler with John Synd present.

“I need batteries,” said John. “AAA batteries. I checked the truck stop yesterday, and they were sold out. I need to find a Walmart.”

“It’s on the interstate,” said Lester. “Sixty miles towards Los Angeles.”

“AAA batteries,” said Ann. “I’ll bet they are for your camera.”

“Yes,” he enjoyed making eye contact with Ann. If he could rape and kill her, maybe that would satisfy John enough so he could stop and never do it again.

“I’m going to Walmart tomorrow. Maybe I could bring batteries back for you.”

“Sure,” he replied. “It would be even better if I could ride with you, Ann.”

“Maybe,” she looked at Lester, “it will be after work. It will be late.”

“Sure,” Lester believed having someone with Ann would be ok. After all, a woman’s body had been found a mile south of here. “Sure, Ann, why not. It will be good for him to go with you.”

“Ok,” Ann addressed John. “You and I will get your batteries tomorrow night.”

“Excellent,” John Synd replied. “Then I can take more photographs. It‘s going to be good”

Inside the restaurant, Sheila now wiped all the empty tables. Orrin left Vince in the TV room and paused nearby. Sheila saw Mark and Sophie at the pool.

“That’s disgusting,” she commented.

“Mark has a right to seek a date, Sheila.”

“This is not a singles bar.”

“Well,” Orrin became angry. “I’ve got a date at midnight tomorrow with Heather at the truck stop.”

Sophie decided it was time to go in. She stood. At the plate glass windows, no men could be seen leering at her. Mark moved in tandem with her. She asserted she did not need Mark to carry her bag or her towel. She went in at the door of the restaurant and proceeded across to the access hall between the TV room and the front desk lobby. Mark watched her back as she headed for the opposite door to the parking lot on that side. He needed to get the master key, continue with Orrin, and add two more nights on the ledger for Sophie’s room.

“Don’t worry, Sophie,” he called as she pushed the exit door. “I’ll register you for two more nights.”

“Thank you,” Sophie did not look back but she waved nonchalantly.

At noon in the parking lot between the restaurant/front desk building and the row of fifteen motel rooms, warmth and a dry breeze soothed Sophie. She enjoyed the unusual sensation on her skin. She turned her head to notice that one of the large, eighteen wheel trucks had departed. Small bushes across the desert landscape swayed with the wind. The atmosphere impressed her as alive and dynamic.

Charlie lay on the bed in the rear portion of the truck’s elaborate cab. He watched a pornography DVD. His head remained near a small side window, and Charlie saw Sophie stride along the front of the motel rooms. That was a phenomenal woman, he thought. Nevertheless, he shifted to view the store in case the dark haired woman, Ann, appeared from there.

When Sophie went out the side door, Mark dutifully veered to the lobby of the building. Mark and Orrin went to Ann’s metal desk. Mark noticed the copy of Sexy Women folded open on the desk top. He got the master key. He cautioned Orrin that Mark needed to note two more nights for Sophie on the registration.

“Alright, Mark,” Orrin headed for the front door. “Did you get lucky?”

“I’m making progress.”

“Good for you,” Orrin tried not to sound sarcastic.

They proceeded to the motel rooms to begin their jobs.

“Just think,” Mark led the way past Sophie’s green sedan and her motel room door. “She is in there right now. Maybe she’s taking a shower.”

“You over think it, Mark,” Orrin had known guys like this in high school. “Don’t contemplate too much, just act. It’s a percentage game. If you ask enough girls, one will say yes to a date.”

“I took action. You saw me walk directly to the pool. I could barely think of anything to say, Orrin.”

"That was good, yeah," Orrin planned to get the housekeeping cart and roll it to Elliot Morphson's room.

"Well," said Mark. "Do you want to know what it is? I think girls can look in my eyes and see that I only want one thing from them."

"I think that too."

"I don't like it. It makes me feel creepy, like a weasel trying to harm her in some way."

"You have no choice. You have to look a girl in the eyes, converse about her mom or some boring TV show, and constantly hide the fact that you are thinking about sex."

"I don't like it."

"When we get to Sophie's room," said Orrin, "you better let me do it."

"I understand," Mark envisioned scents of perfume, wrinkled sheets with covers tossed aside, and lingerie strewn about. "I agree, Orrin, you make up Sophie's room."

As the two guys passed, inside her room, Sophie posed in front of her video camera on its tripod. She would not have enjoyed being out of shape or ugly. She adored looking like any pretty young woman from a magazine cover. But that did not give all men and boys the right to create an air of lust around her. Why couldn't she walk into public without their molesting gazes touching every part of her figure? The butcher knife had killed four men over the past year. Sophie always cleaned the knife and kept it well. It was the same knife from the house that Sophie had used to stab her mother's belly during the cat incident. Sophie's mother was so spiteful that she had not gotten rid of the weapon just because her daughter had used it to attack.

"Dirty men," Sophie had positioned the butcher knife strategically under a pillow flat on a mid portion of the bed. "Any dirty man who wants to come in here and have sex with me will suffer the consequences," she said into the camera. Then, she prepared to take a shower and dress to go to Las Vegas tonight. She wanted to have fun.

Sally Omner and the two children, Oliver and Beth, came out of their room.

“Where’s daddy,” said Oliver.

“He went for a drive,” Sally would take them to breakfast. Maybe Paul would be back soon.

“Hi, kids,” Orrin had opened the door of Elliot Morphson’s room.

Sally herded the children to prevent them from focusing on the elaborate housekeeping cart.

“Move,” she prompted Oliver and Beth, ages eleven and nine, “we are going to get breakfast.”

“Where do you think daddy is,” Oliver obediently went along the front of the motel rooms.

“He took a drive, Oliver. He’ll be back in a little while.”

“Can we go swimming,” he asked.

“Yes. After we eat. Go ahead. You know the way. Come on, Beth.”

The family crossed a driveway and parking lot between the restaurant/front desk building and the row of fifteen motel rooms that stretched east along the old highway. Sally would have preferred a newer, better established motel; however, Paul had insisted they remain here in the desert a couple of days. Paul frequently went out to drive and relax. Sally wondered if he went to places such as topless clubs or porno movies. She believed he did not go to bars. Nevertheless, Paul was a good husband and a stable businessman. Sally did not regret her marriage or situation. She loved the children.

Orrin always convinced himself that he could smell the particular scent of a room’s occupant. He guessed sometimes that he was exaggerating, but he was conscious of Elliot Morphson now as Orrin flipped the light switch by the door. Mark came behind intent on grabbing all dirty linen and towels.

“She’s so beautiful, Orrin.”

“Shut up about her,” Orrin carried a sponge and spray bottle to the bathroom. He could accomplish the task in five minutes. “I know one thing, though. I am definitely going to put my large kitchen knife either in my room or my car. If that stranger comes around, I’ll be ready.”

Mark could have replied -- shut up about him -- like Orrin had admonished about Sophie. Instead, Mark remained quiet and pulled sheets form the bed. He wondered what Sophie was doing now.

Ann returned outside on her way back to her desk. She wanted to prepare the four paychecks for the young people and calculate Cactus Motel finances a bit more. She understood that Lester would continue with his computer game. About the windmill, or even about painting the billboard posts, Lester had the attitude that life was long and he could do such work tomorrow or the next day. Ann saw the billboard and also saw Charlie’s closed up truck. The thought of the billboard reminded Ann to factor the $1200 monthly payment from New York into the finances since the check would arrive this week. Ann walked in the hot, afternoon sun. She noticed the sunbathing girl no longer relaxed at the pool. John Synd had hesitated in the store. He did not want the husband to suspect any wanton intentions in John. He allowed the beautiful woman, Ann, to depart.

Ann reached the wooden steps and approached the aluminum and glass entrance doors. A large shadow reflected behind her. The truck driver, Charlie, loomed over her even though he stopped on the lower wooden step. He was a broad, huge man. He carried a tall, stainless steel thermos popular with security guard types or truck drivers. Ann leaned back from the man.

“Hello,” she stammered.

“I did not mean to startle you,” Charlie’s slacks did little to hide his excitement. He maintained strong eye contact and hoped Ann would not look down. “I wanted to see if the restaurant had any coffee to go.”

“Of course,” she turned to go in and remained conscious of the large man close behind her.

Sophie showered and shaved her legs. She groomed herself well but dressed in casual clothes and athletic shoes. She stuffed a complete change of clothing into her canvas bag. From the video camera, which she left on the tripod, Sophie removed the small video tape and nestled it into the bag with her spare clothes. She then arranged the butcher knife inconspicuously in there and prepared to leave. She had an idea about a fun project she could accomplish on the interstate into Las Vegas.

When Sophie came out of her room, Orrin was putting a small bag of trash from Elliot Morphson’s room into a big pouch on the cart. He needed to grab a couple of fresh soaps and a replacement trash bag to finish the bathroom.

Orrin thankfully noted that Mark was out of sight farther along in the laundry room. The beautiful girl got into her sedan and drove away. Mark arrived in time to see the car depart.

“Where is she going?”

“She did not tell me, Mark,” said Orrin.

Chapter Fifteen

Ann settled at her desk. The tall truck driver, Charlie, ducked under the archway and approached Sheila for coffee. John Synd came from the store, and he entered the restaurant/front desk building. He decided he would not speak to Ann lest she perceive him as a nuisance. He coolly walked by and saw her look at him. John Synd felt certain about his attractiveness and handsomeness. Tomorrow evening, John and Ann would enjoy a ride to Walmart. The desert would be dark. John would relish tomorrow night. Now, he made his way to the TV room.

“Does anyone know when Corpse Patrol shows a new episode,” John met the cook in the room, but the young man played pool and maintained visual contact with the waitress. John momentarily experienced embarrassment for stepping between the two. Vince made a pool shot with a gentle stroke and a ball thunked into the table.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Sheila, you pay attention to that...”

“You do, too, Vince, and you know it.”

“...I mean, you know better than I do when it brings out a new episode.”

Meanwhile, Charlie loomed near the coffee service as Sheila indicated the coffee flask.

“It’s old.”

“I can drink it,” Charlie liked the relaxed atmosphere. He was glad he had come to this desert. “Don’t bother to make it fresh.”

Sheila followed Charlie’s directions and did not brew fresh coffee. She filled his large thermos.

“That’s good enough,” Charlie nodded. “I drink it hot and black. Working man’s style,” he sought to be clever.

“Tonight,” Sheila called to Vince and John Synd. “7pm on channel five.”

“Thank you,” Vince wanted to play pool with Sheila tonight.

“What time is it now,” excited, John Synd asked this even though he wore a watch. Yesterday, he had set the time to accommodate Las Vegas. “Is it the same time here as in Las Vegas?”

“Vince acknowledge that it was. John sat on the sofa and reached for the remote control. Tonight, Corpse Patrol would feature the post card from the serial killer, The Photographer, which John Synd had mailed from Las Vegas two nights ago.

Charlie admired the fragile, young waitress. He could maybe lure her to his truck. What could he converse with this girl about? Sheila was only a few years older than his daughter. He did not want to mention some children's cartoon.

"I come out to California a couple of times a month. This is the first time I've stayed at this motel."

"Did you see Ann's flyer at the truck stop?"

"Yes, I did," Charlie accepted the thermos of hot coffee.

"Two fifty," Sheila knew the price because William, the highway patrol officer often filled an identical thermos.

"Here is a five. Keep the change."

"Thank you," said Sheila.

Charlie realized that the conversation had been boring and business-like. The girl gazed upward with beautiful eyes. Charlie grinned.

"California is pushing for marijuana reform. Have you heard that," Charlie's illicit topic caused him to feel a similar arousal with Sheila as he felt when conversing with Ann. "Pretty soon, people will be able to smoke anytime they want in California."

Charlie possessed weed in the rear cab of his truck. Sheila chuckled rather than let the older man feel foolish. She intended to smoke tonight after work. Maybe she would smoke with Vince outside the rear, kitchen door prior to playing pool.

"Well," Charlie walked away. "Thank you for the coffee."

"Thank you," Sheila went to put two fifty into the cash register.

Charlie wanted to go lie down for a few hours in his motel room. Outside, he noticed the two guys with the house keeping cart and decided to take a nap in the bed compartment of his truck's cab. The coffee would be lukewarm when he awoke in a few hours. The thermos did a good job of preserving the beverage. His main purpose had been to interact with Ann, so that had worked.

At noon in Las Vegas, James washed pots. He had remained busy and considered himself to be doing an excellent job. While scrubbing or rinsing the items which cooks continuously brought to him, the work was boring so James listened and watched all that he could. Carol, a heavy black girl, periodically rolled forth a dish cart with plates she had cleared from tables out front. She was loud and happy. Her route diverted before reaching the pot sink, and Carol pushed the cart past high utility shelves to the noisy, hot dish washing machine.

"Hey," Ronny came over. "It's time for lunch."

The employee dining room was located on the second floor away from the bustle of the kitchen and the restaurant. A cook served from a hot line and a girl tallied the meals at a cash register prior to the employees entering an expansive, low room with numerous tables. Busy for lunch, a din of conversations echoed across old fashioned ceiling acoustic tiles. Jose had remained washing dishes and Ronny explained that the lunch breaks were staggered. The black girl, Carol enjoyed lunch at a table with several friends.

"Hey," she had a bold, friendly face. "Are you two guys from the homeless shelter?"

"No," James paused while carrying a tray with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, a roll and butter, and a large soft drink that had only cost $3.50. "No, Carol. I just got here from Texas yesterday."

"Come on," Ronny intended to lead James to an unoccupied table. "James, we only have thirty minutes for lunch."

"See you later," James sought to leave a polite impression with the regular employees.

"Here," Ronny found a table in the corner. "Look at this place. This is why I like to be free and work out of the labor pool."

"I want to work for two weeks and get hired permanently," James believed himself to be a good worker.

"I'm glad you have a car because I don't like being far away from downtown."

"A while ago you thought this place was walking distance from the labor pool."

"It's farther than I remembered it. After eight hours of washing dishes, if you weren't here I'd be riding the city bus. Between five and seven on weeknights, a downtown casino has a shrimp cocktail for ninety nine cents. That's what I want to do after work."

James enjoyed the delicious fried chicken and mashed potatoes. In two days he had accomplished a lot. He wondered what his mom would think about his success. He needed to call her and let her know how he was doing. James noticed that Jose had come in with his lunch tray.

"Ronny," James indicated the mexican, “is it time to go back?"

"No. He's early. Stupid mexican."

"In Texas, we get along with mexicans," said James.

"That's dumb," Ronny stood up. "I think we are supposed to carry our trays to that counter over there."

James saw that Ronny was correct and followed him to put away their dirty dishes. Carol met them on the way down a rear staircase to return to the ground floor restaurant and kitchen.

"How are you doing, sweetheart," Carol's jovial tone did not indicate anything more than playfulness.

"Good," James did not know how to respond.

"Carol," Ronny led the way down stairs that were wooden and narrow between two tall, bland walls with old wooden handrails on each side. "We got hired from the labor pool, but that does not mean we are homeless."

"I was joking, Ronny."

"This is the best kind of job the labor pool can offer. People wait six months unloading trucks or digging ditches, one day at a time, before getting something like this."

Adams, the manager, appeared at the bottom of the narrow stairs to come up to the employee area on the second floor. Adams held square shoulders and looked up with an engaging attitude. The wooden steps and narrow, tall space echoed footsteps.

"Shoes," Adams came past Ronny, Carol, and James. "I do not like your athletic shoes in the kitchen so you two will have to get the proper, slip resistant work shoes as soon as possible."

Carol went to the restaurant to collect dirty dishes. James and Ronny continued at their positions in the dish room. Ronny again mentioned the ninety nine cent shrimp cocktail at the downtown casino. He also complained about needing to buy shoes.

"They should supply the shoes if they want us to wear them," Ronny could be heard past the tall shelf of pots that separated the two work stations.

James did not care about shrimp cocktail. He would drop Ronny off, get cleaned up, and go out to see Las Vegas tonight. James possessed more than four hundred and fifty dollars. With the job, he could afford some fun. However, he reminded himself about the little amount of sleep he had gotten last night. Also, James needed to call his mother.

At the Cactus Motel, the mid May afternoon temperature approached 110 degrees. All the buildings contained air conditioners. Lester turned off his computer game. He considered that during June, July, and August, the electric bills for the Cactus Motel caused Lester and Ann to lose money. They had less than sixty thousand dollars in savings. Five years ago the amount had been close to ninety thousand so Ann sometimes conferred about that. She asserted that increased business from the interstate could rectify the situation.

Lester connected to the internet because the store employed its own phone line. In another hour, it would be four o'clock and he would go home. At the front desk, his wife usually would not tie up the phone with her laptop computer. She prided herself on keeping a businesslike demeanor. The Cactus Motel needed to be available to callers. Now, Lester waited while two different advertisements intruded onto his monitor screen.

Lester understood that his nephew Vince, and his friends from Victorville, Orrin and Sheila, liked restaurant work. They were decent young people and did their share in the motel rooms, too. But Mark, the drifter who watched the front desk from four until midnight was more than the others in the sense that Mark had handyman skills. For example, while watching the front desk, Mark could pull Lester's car to the side parking lot, raise it on jack stands, and change Lester's oil. Mark could do this in fifteen minutes and not ask for money. Lester would give the young man ten dollars. There were dozens of instances like that. A repaired ceiling light fixture in one of the rooms. One toilet had needed to be lifted from its base to replace a seal called a wax ring, a four dollar part at the plumbing store. Mark had done the job for which a plumber would have charged $300. Lester's proprietorship of the Cactus Motel and the welfare of the four employees benefited Lester as much as it did the young people. Also, it would have been lonely if he and Ann had closed the restaurant and store. Would they have closed the rooms? Lester could not imagine the Cactus Motel allowed to fall into ruin. Ann usually said that Lester thought too much due to marijuana. She maintained that sometimes a person had to act. Lester liked to contemplate things. Did most people find themselves locked into lives they initiated at one time? Was Lester trapped here losing savings and doing nothing with his life? Maybe between Ann and the four young people, they could watch the store and Lester could get a job. He could pay attention to the truck stop to see if any jobs opened up there.

The internet had now connected past the two pop up style advertisements. It had taken two minutes. Now, at a lower corner of the screen two notifications beeped to get his attention. You need anti-virus protection. Lester knew such a thing cost $40 per year. The other notification said -- update now: click here and we will update your system for you. Lester closed the anti-virus box but the update box re-appeared three times until he finally was able to point on it and click it off. This angered Lester.

Lester hated the cheesy, modern business philosophy that used to be called "nickel and diming." Each company sought to add a fee here or an extra cost there. The phone companies were particularly bad and the invoice in the mail was practically unreadable. Young people of a similar age as Orrin, Sheila, Vince, or Mark had graduated from college and gotten jobs in downtown offices. An attitude of scamming existed as each office person grabbed for a dollar. Growing up, Lester had not remembered the United States being so intent on or having such a philosophy of money grubbing. To take oneself away from such a system, to live out here in the desert, was not to be a loser; it was a noble lifestyle.

Outside, at the motel rooms, Mark now removed the linen from the Omner family’s room while Sally, Beth, and Oliver were in the restaurant. Orrin moved to freshly make up the two, queen sized beds.

“Orrin,” Mark would finish here and be at the front desk in a couple of hours, from 4pm until midnight, “what are you going to do tonight?”

“I’ll be in my room on the computer. I want to see if I can find Heather on the internet,” of the four young people, Orrin and Mark owned cars. Each car parked in front of one employee mobile home.

Myron woke up in his room. He showered, shaved, and brushed his teeth. Myron prided himself on his unique style of killing. He loved to randomly shoot a victim. He never robbed them. He was an honest, working man. He did not choose victims based on sex or age, there existed no pattern for the cops to trace. He even killed a mexican or an oriental sometimes.

Myron finished cleaning up. He put on fresh clothes. His shirt hung loosely in front over the final accessory he donned, his pistol tucked tightly at the belt of his waist. Myron ventured outside. He was not hungry. He needed booze. First, he glanced at the two boys by the housekeeping cart. Jerks. He proceeded to an opened area between the restaurant/front desk building and the 15 motel rooms. Myron entered a side door and went into the restaurant where a mother and kids occupied a table. Myron went into the TV room.

In the TV room, Myron passed Vince who went to the grill to cook for a woman and two children in the restaurant. Myron chose three DVDs from a nice selection the Cactus Motel offered for the TV/DVD combination units in each room. Although the recreation room had a satellite television hook up, the rooms did not. On the edge of the pool table, Myron stacked three DVD movies he intended to watch. The old, heavy pool table was the type that needed two quarters to release the fifteen balls for a game. However, the Cactus Motel proprietors had left the key in the mechanism so the pool table required no coins.

"Hey," Myron attracted the attention of a lean, middle aged man on the sofa, "do you want to play?"

"No, thanks," John Synd saw the little, aggressive black man as a danger. The eyes were tight with animosity no matter how friendly the mouth talked.

"Why not?" Myron smiled. "One game. Come on. Live a little."

"I was going to lie down for awhile."

"I just woke up," Myron racked the balls. The blonde waitress, Sheila was around and she would notice Myron playing. "What do they have to drink here?"

"Nothing," John Synd contemplated his plan to stop his vices by raping and killing Ann tomorrow night. A few years ago, John and Brent had attended an Alcoholic recovery program in Boston. "I think the only place to buy beer is the truck stop."

"Who cares about beer," Myron used the pool cue to break, a pool term meaning he had taken his initial shot. "I need vodka, man."

John Synd nervously used the remote to scroll through channels. Sheila or even Ann out front could have heard the vulgarity from this thug-like black man.

Sheila focused on Beth, the eleven year old girl who sat at a center table with her mom and younger brother.

"Fried chicken," said Beth. "We went to that place in Las Vegas yesterday, mom. Do you remember?"

"Get fried chicken if you want."

Vince overheard this. Damn it. He would be glad tomorrow when Orrin cooked.

"No," said Beth. "I don't want to repeat. I want something different."

"A hamburger," Sheila looked to Vince. "Beth, we have a delicious hamburger."

"Maybe," said Beth.

"That's what I want," Oliver closed his menu in a perfunctory way as if influenced by an adult at some previous time. "A hamburger would be perfect, mom."

Paul Omner had been driving four and a half hours. After the truck stop, he followed the interstate towards Los Angeles. After sixty miles, Paul had found a town called Victorville. The mid day traffic on the fast interstate had been aggressive and Paul was glad to be in average, normal neighborhoods he recognized as similar to those he might find in Milwaukee. At an intersection, Paul noticed a coffee franchise resembling the one he owned back home. Nevertheless, he felt no particular urge to enter the place. Paul did not feel like getting out of his vehicle. He loved driving and sightseeing. He pushed a button to roll down the windows even though the May, California desert temperature at this time of the day approached one hundred degrees. Paul slowed near a school, but the chain link fence and absence of cars reminded him that school had let out for the summer. Still, maybe a solitary boy might walk to find a basketball court or something.

As he looked at sidewalks, the bright, dusty town's traffic annoyed Paul. Many of the junky cars held mexicans. Sometimes, Paul hated the United States. Everyone acted pressured to accomplish this or that. It was all business and everyone was out for himself. Paul thought about the four boys he had molested and killed over the past three years. He needed to kill them to avoid detection. It was a good, practical matter of business. If the country's demeanor was ruthless and selfish, then why should Paul be remorseful about his tactics?

In Las Vegas, James, Ronny, and Carol went out back for a break. Ronny and Carol smoked cigarettes.

"James," said Ronny. "What time is it?"

"Two thirty," James liked this rear parking lot consisting of a half dozen rows of employee parking. No people occupied this space at this time. The mid-May afternoon on a windless day in Las Vegas began to get hot. James carefully stood in the cool shadow of the of the huge, concrete casino hotel that rose above them. "We have two more hours to work," said James.

"I'm going to quit," Ronny's statement sounded like a joke.

"What do you mean," asked James.

"I like labor pool jobs because they allow me to be free. I'm not tied to anything."

"We have two more hours to work," James asserted.

Carol finished her cigarette, tossed down the filter, and stepped on it.

"The labor pool doesn't like it when a person quits," she said. "You did not finish the day."

"I'm leaving. If I get out front now I can catch the 4pm city bus and arrive downtown in time to enjoy a couple of ninety nine cent shrimp cocktails."

"I like that downtown casino, too," said Carol. "But I'm not going to quit for that."

"I've got a back ache," Ronny explained. "Otherwise, why would I leave early? This is one of the best types of labor pool jobs, why would I quit? It is believable that my back is sore."

"Whatever you say," said Carol.

Ronny departed to find the manager, Adams, and quit. James figured he had lost a friend, but the objective now needed to be paying attention and succeeding. In three days, James had arrived in Las Vegas and found a good job.

"I should call my mother," James enjoyed the warm, May afternoon air on his skin.

"What?" Carol lit a cigarette.

"I moved out three days ago. I drove all night to get here. The telephone in the place where I am staying does not work."

"Here," Carol offered her cell phone from her pocket.

"Thank you," James quickly assessed her generosity.

"It's no problem. I pay fifty dollars a month for unlimited calls."

“Hey,” James studied the phone in his hand, “this is the same plan I had in Texas. But my mom cut it off and told me I had to learn how to build my own credit.”

“It’s tough if you have not previously had credit or a full time, steady job.”

“Thank you for letting me use this,” James dialed his mom’s house in Texas. The answering machine had been on the kitchen counter the entire time James had grown up there. He calculated that at 2:30pm here, it would be 4:30pm in Texas. He wondered where she was.

“Mom. I’ve already gotten a room and a job in Las Vegas. How is that for taking initiative? Ok. I’ll call you again tomorrow.”

At the truck stop restaurant, Sophie had eaten a salad. She loved the way the morning sun at the Cactus Motel pool had darkened her tan. She knew she would have fun tonight in Las Vegas. It was almost four o’clock when she left the truck stop. Nasty men all studied her sexy appearance. If it was a ten year old boy with his mother, if it was a fat old truck driver, or if it was a young newlywed, they all looked at and desired Sophie. She proceeded to the truck stop parking lot. Everything baked under the hot sun; it could be seen in the distance a few degrees above a long, stony mountain ridge. She admired the beautiful lime green color of her sedan. She got in and drove onto the interstate highway heading in the direction of Las Vegas, approximately three hours away.

When Sophie had traveled five miles, she pulled to the side of the highway to implement a certain plan. She parked and raised the hood of her car. She leaned in and found a wire and plastic connector to pull loose. Now, the car would not start. What sorts of men would pretend to want to help Sophie only because they hoped to have sex?

She waited. The May sun was intense. As she posed in her shorts and loose, attractive blouse, two cars sped past, and then an eighteen wheel truck loomed noisily next to her as the driver slowed and made his way ahead onto the shoulder. He debarked.

Sophie moved to her passenger’s side door and peered at the seat. Her canvas bag rested there with her toiletries, a change of clothes, and her butcher knife. The rotten man intended to help Sophie with her car trouble. Actually, she knew it was her sexy appearance that lured the truck driver.

"Hi," said the man. "Do you need help?"

"Yes," she caught his eyes assessing her boobs through her loose blouse. "I don't know what happened. It just died."

"Are the keys in it," the nasty man reached for the driver's door to enter Sophie's car without her permission as he would, no doubt, seek to enter her. Bastard.

"Yes, the keys are in it," Sophie watched a dozen cars pass. Then, an unusual event occurred. Another large, eighteen wheel truck slowed to pull to the shoulder of the interstate highway ahead of the first truck. This truck was elaborately painted with the colors of a popular grocery store. The driver approached. He was lean, tall, and young. Sophie noticed the man's hands were sinewy and strong.

"Do you need help," this creep's line was the same as the driver who now emerged from the lime green sedan to join them.

"Yes," she made strong eye contact after the young driver's lustful glances up and down her body. Both these idiots spoke like common jerks using pick up conversations in a bar.

"Well," the first truck driver was a paunchy, middle aged man with flabby, tattoo laden arms. "I turned the key several times and nothing at all happened. It might need a starter."

The tall young man leaned under the upraised hood and touched a few wires as if he knew what he was doing. Sophie doubted he had a clue about the clean, quiet engine. She intended to kill whichever one gave her a ride and attempted to have sex with her.

"I need to get to Las Vegas today," she said.

"I," said the young man, "could give you a ride back to the truck stop."

"No," replied Sophie. "You would have to find a cross over point on the highway and backtrack. No, I think the best idea would be to ride with one of you to Las Vegas so I could get there today. I can call a tow truck for the car."

"Ok," the young driver studied passing traffic in the bright afternoon sun. "I can take you. We'll be there between 6:30 and 7pm."

"That's ok," Sophie's tone suggested she would decline. She looked at the paunchy, older driver. His truck differed from the grocery store truck in that this man's truck had a long front vehicle, the cab. This area possessed the normal seat but also a compartment behind the seat with a bed in it. "What about you?" Sophie turned so the heat from her body seemed to radiate the foot and a half distance between them.

"Sure," his breath smelled like peppermint gum, "I can take you to Las Vegas. We can be there by six," his statement seemed to compete with the grocery store guy's since he had estimated an arrival time of six thirty.

"Fine," the younger man acted hurt. He turned to go. "I can see you'll be alright." He retreated to his truck.

Sophie giggled.

"He's pouting," she laughed and gently touched a hand to the truck driver's short sleeved shirt at his shoulder.

"I don't blame him," he said. "Who wouldn't want to take you to Las Vegas." His eye contact turned into a leer. "Let's go."

The driver escorted Sophie to the passenger's side of the truck. Shade existed here. He offered to hold her hand so she could step up into the high vehicle.

"Wait," Sophie hesitated. "Let me grab my canvas bag and lock the car."

After Sophie and the truck driver drove away, as the sun became closer to the distant mountain ridge, the highway patrol man, William, passed the lime green sedan on the side of the interstate. He noted it, but he did not bother to investigate. The night shift could mess with it if they wanted, but usually travelers called a tow truck themselves. William had driven past the truck stop because he intended to go ten miles, one more patrol for the day, and then return. On the seat next to him rested a manila folder with unpleasant, unfamiliar work for William. He needed to show people the sketch artist's picture of the deceased woman from the desert earlier. Also, The manila folder contained the actual autopsy photograph of the woman's face, but William did not want to show that to Heather at the truck stop cash register. Maybe Randy, the tow truck driver or Lester, the owner of the Cactus Motel property, would be allowed to see the photograph. William drove towards Las Vegas as if avoiding making the u-turn and returning to the truck stop to show the picture.

At the truck stop, the freeway shooter positioned his SUV in a far, rear corner of the parking lot. He would sleep tonight in back where the seats had been removed to create a living space. Also, he was contemplating if he could find any location along the interstate favorable for sniping at passing cars. Back east, six coastal states were looking for him, he had been portrayed on national TV, and a reward existed of $50,000, he believed, for any information as to his identity.

During May, back east, the afternoon temperature would have been in the 70s. Here, he guessed it to be over one hundred degrees. Now, the sun would soon drop behind the long, treeless mountain in the distance. The weather would cool off then. He decided to go to the truck stop for a soda.

Meanwhile, in the truck stop, Myron noticed a disproportionate amount of white people. So this was what the desert was about, eh? He continued to formulate his plan to one day shoot everyone in a building. At the cash register counter, Myron placed two bottles of vodka. They were heavy, glass bottles. He liked the attractive young cashier although her breasts were not accentuated by her stiff work shirt. Myron read her name tag: Heather.

"37.68," she said.

"That's not a bad price," Myron made eye contact and was conscious of his gun tight against his belly beneath a loosely hanging shirt.

Heather worked on the transaction for the black guy but noticed the odd fellow who wanted to apply as a security guard. He ignored several customers and smiled in order to greet Heather.

"Don't worry," said the freeway shooter, "I know the manager is not here today. I came in for a soda."

William entered carrying the manila folder. Myron tensed. The freeway shooter did not care about the sheriff. A half dozen customers moved towards a couple of counter girls. William paused and awaited an opportunity to talk to Heather. He dangled the folder by his side and let it tap a couple of times against his thigh. He knew that the highway patrol uniform caused the customers and cashiers to behave stiffly. Even people not guilty of any crime felt self conscious around a uniformed officer. After a minute, the wiry black man departed with his two bottles of vodka. William stepped forward to show Heather a sketch of the dead woman.

"Do not concentrate," said sheriff William, "if you recognize her, it will come to you."

"I don't know," Heather liked this old highway patrol officer. He frequented the truck stop several days a week. "I believe I did not see this woman."

"Ok," William closed the manila folder. He decided he would eat in the truck stop restaurant and show the sketch to as many employees as possible. William could also approach the half dozen trucks beginning to fill the overnight lot. He might get lucky with a truck driver recognizing the woman.

Late afternoon at the Cactus Motel caused Mark to sweat in the small, practically a closet, laundry room with a washer and dryer. Orrin pushed the service cart nearby. After Mark finished the last dryer load, Mark stopped the machine, opened the door, and began to fold towels.

"Whew," he said. "There is too much humidity out here. The desert is supposed to be a dry heat."

"We are done," Orrin thought about Heather. Her shift at the truck stop would end in a few minutes. "Let's go," he wanted to get to his room and his computer. Tomorrow, Heather worked the cash register shift from 4pm until midnight, and Orrin had a date with Heather to eat a late dinner in the truck stop restaurant.

"It's almost four," Mark needed to shower and get to the front desk.

"You sleep less than anyone I know," Orrin understood that a fourteen hour day did not pay much more than an eight hour day. "Why do you work so much?"

"I sleep when I am tired. That is enough."

Before Orrin retired to his mobile home, he planned to enter the rear door of the restaurant to access the kitchen. A dead woman in the desert and a prowler at night suggested that one of Orrin's large kitchen knives would make a good weapon. With that, Orrin could fend off any maniac lurking on the property.

Of the six cars from last night, only John Synd's remained. He laid on the bed, propped on his side, and John read the Manitou book in the dim, late afternoon light. One tribe told a tale about a village that had let itself go. Bad thoughts. Bad emotions. These could conjure an evil presence.

John Synd closed his eyes. He thought about Ann. Tomorrow evening she would drive John sixty miles to Walmart to get AAA bateries. If John raped and killed Ann as one final splurge, he could possibly stop the habit and return to Boston to live a normal life with his wife and two boys.

Inside the Omner room, Sally lounged in an old arm chair. The children, Oliver and Beth, were encamped one on each double bed. They watched a DVD obtained from the Cactus Motel’s TV room. It was a recent, popular animated film. Sally did not pay much attention to such fare except that she believed the messages and plots had somehow shifted since the days of her childhood. Sally basically did not understand the recent types of movies, but she knew something had changed.

Harry Monkey was wealthy. He constantly collected bananas.

“You must be smart to have all the bananas,” said little Molly Monkey.

“I’m crafty,” instructed Harry. “There’s a difference. If you are crafty, you can out maneuver any opponent no matter how smart.”

Harry Monkey, the greedy primate, was the hero of the children’s movie. Nevertheless, the kids remained absorbed in the story. The afternoon waned. Paul Omner would return from his drive soon, Sally hoped.

Mark went to his mobile home for a quick shower. Orrin entered the rear door of the restaurant near the kitchen. He heard Vince and Sheila in the rec room. Ann was probably up front. Orrin recognized a loud, hard pool shot familiar to Vince.

“Finally,” Vince’s voice came through the opened rec room doorway, “the restaurant is empty. It’s been strange with all the business this week.”

“I wonder what Orrin is doing about that shadow by his car,” said Sheila.

Orrin realized nobody knew he had come in. He wanted to collect a sturdy butcher’s knife from a drawer in the kitchen. Orrin figured that a strong stance and a thrusting motion like a sword fighter would deflect attacks by any maniac. He quietly performed his task of getting the knife; at the same time, Orrin thought about Heather. Maybe he could look her up online in a few minutes.

“Ha,” Sheila laughed as if to alert the room. “Orrin snuck in the back door, Vince.”

“I did not sneak,” Orrin clutched the knife.

“What are you doing with that weapon, Orrin?”

“It’s not a weapon. You are stupid,” he pulled recklessly on the exit door. It banged loudly back upon the wall, and up front, Ann might have heard the commotion. Orrin hated the way Sheila could arouse anger in him. “You are stupid,” he repeated.

Chapter Sixteen

Ann checked her watch. She expected Mark in a few minutes. In back, Sheila and Orrin slung comments at each other. Ann arose to go out the side door by the pool. The mysterious flyer still hung on the wall near the grill. She noticed Vince and Sheila in the TV room and a brief motion at the door near the grill as Orrin left. Vince paused with a pool cue and acknowledged Ann on the far side of the restaurant preparing to exit.

"Goodbye, Ann," Vince would momentarily be alone with Sheila. "See you tomorrow."

"Goodnight," Ann pushed on the aluminum and glass door to the pool. She would go home and check the internet for news stories out of Victorville about a woman's body found in the desert.

In Las Vegas, the afternoon passed uneventfully at the dishwashing machine for James. He worked hard and sweated. Carol arrived with a cartload of dirty dishes.

"Adams," she commented, "moved you from the pots; eh?"

"He said the pots could wait until the evening shift since Ronny quit."

Carol made a point out of going around a tall, metal section of shelves to glimpse the pot sink.

"James, that's the most I've seen any washer knock them down since I've been here. Often at this time of the afternoon dirty pots are stacked to the ceiling."

"I like to work, Carol."

"It looks like you do," she assisted James in removing the dirty dishes from the cart so he could rinse them and send them in racks through the machine.

"James," Adams wore a white shirt and tie denoting him as a restaurant manager. He arrived from the same entrance as Carol when she brought dirty dishes. "James, are you going to quit like your friend Ronny?"

"No way. I like to work."

"Good. Tomorrow, wear the uniform pants with your shirt. You can get slip resistant shoes at Walmart for fifteen bucks."

Adams did not wait for a reply. He headed in the direction of a food preparation area where a dozen cooks labored.

An hour later, both James and Carol approached the rear parking lot. Carol would give James a ride to the front lot where he had parked early that morning with Ronny. James carried a pair of black and white checkered dish washer pants, a spare white shirt, and the t-shirt he had been wearing when he arrived.

"Carol," he said. "One pair of pants and two shirts means I will need to wash my clothes three times a week."

"That's exactly what it means, James."

Carol's car was clean and new, an economical model for which she paid $175 per month with four years yet to go.

"Carol, it's a nice car."

"Show me where you parked. The lots are extensive out front."

Carol pushed a button and windows smoothly rolled down. She lit a cigarette. The smoke and hot, lazy afternoon air in the car soothed James. Lethargy gripped him, and he wanted to sleep. The cigarette smoke smelled pleasant.

Copyright Mike Hayne 2017