Mike Hayne

Part 5
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The Manitou
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Part 5
Manitou 2017

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.

James identified his car, the primer paint colored, old muscle car. He bid Carol goodbye until tomorrow. He deposited his clothes on the passenger's seat and rolled down the windows. It was so hot that a scent of plastic car seats and nylon carpet sweltered in the air. He started the muscle car and proceeded out onto the Las Vegas strip. He knew his wad of cash now held $479. With the good employment he had found, James figured he could go out tonight. He wanted to see the girl, Melanie, at the topless club. Also, James needed to call his mother and let her know he was doing well. James prided himself on how good a worker he was and the successful nature of his day.

Large, casino hotels had been built past the congested, traditional section of Las Vegas strip. Hence, as James headed in, at 4:30pm, he noticed a long, bright space of open road. Cars congregated far ahead at a traffic light; behind, cars arrived fast in back of James, but a free space existed where he could accelerate. Also, he happened to catch a yellow light and pushed on the gas pedal to make it through the intersection before the yellow turned to red. Immediately, at the entrance of a store's parking lot, a sleek Las Vegas police cruiser maneuvered and took notice of James. The flashing lights came on.

James slowed. He understood the situation. His dad had been a military man. James felt respect for someone like the cop attempting to keep order in the city. James complied and pulled to a stop.

It was not his fault about the yellow light. Other cars driving aggressively had seemed to propel James forward. He felt self conscious about people witnessing his interaction with the officer. If James needed to get a ticket, he could understand that. Everyone had a duty to support the law. He took out his driver's license and held it ready. The police officer wore a clean, creased uniform that appeared as if he had not sweated all day. He accepted the driver's license while shifting his stance to study the cluttered rear seat of the muscle car.

"Do you have insurance," the police officer used two fingers, index and thumb, to clamp the edges of the driver's license from its sides as if to minimize contact with the stiff, laminated card. "Texas, eh?"

"Yes," James was a good citizen. He proudly handed forth his automobile insurance card.

The police officer bundled the license and the insurance card together and appeared to not be interested in them.

"What is in the rear seat?"

"Just some stuff. I've moved here from Texas."

"Is there any alcohol or drugs in the car?"

"No," James sensed anxiety in his mid section which spread to his fingers. His left foot nervously tapped on the floorboard. James was not stupid. The old, primer painted car revealed a citizen of meager means, so this cop assumed James drank or took drugs.

"You say you moved here."

"Yes."

"Wait here a minute," the cop went to the meticulously painted patrol car with its efficient, flashing lights noticeable even in the bright afternoon sun of May.

The police officer had impressed James as aloof or curt. James believed he deserved as much respect as anyone else. The car was old and not yet restored. When painted and various parts were brought up to par, the vehicle would be comparable to any other on this street. James noticed he felt hot in the driver's seat. The cop returned.

"Here you go," he handed James the driver's license and insurance card. "Also, this."

It was a clipboard with a ticket for failure to stop at a red light. It needed to be signed: $130.

"Well," he took a ballpoint pen from the officer, "I was keeping up with the flow of traffic."

"Be more careful next time," the cop took the pen and clipboard.

"I just finished my first day of work," James sought to relate that he was a good citizen. He mentioned the name of the famous, prestigious resort where he worked in the kitchen for Adams.

"Ok," the cop handed James a copy of the traffic ticket. "Hold on a minute," the officer rapidly scribbled something then returned the clipboard to James. "Sign that."

"What is this?"

"A fix it ticket. If you change your driver's license and car registration to Nevada, you don't have to pay the fine."

James complied. The expense of being stopped here on his first day of work would significantly deplete his paycheck. As the cop paused to complete the paperwork, James thought about the bayonet between two boxes on the back seat. The cop left, and James started the old, muscle car to continue along the Las Vegas strip towards downtown.

His father had been a military man. James felt a kinship to the police officer doing a good job in Las Vegas. However, the strong man had disdained James perhaps because the old, primer colored muscle car appeared to be junk. The cop had treated James rudely. He intended to change his drivers license and plates tomorrow. He would also get the slip resistant shoes that Adams had demanded. However, James was not happy about the general rudeness of people he was meeting. James wanted to be good and do the right thing. He expected appreciation for his efforts. He was glad the cop had not looked amid the boxes in the rear seat. The bayonet might have caused problems.

Lester relaxed on his porch in his easy chair. Based on an internet search earlier, Lester knew the desert temperature had reached 102 degrees. He thought about Jimmy’s accident five days ago and the dead body discovered in the desert this morning. He thought about the increased business for the Cactus Motel and the seething anger chief Robert now nurtured. Lester decided to fill and light his pipe. It was a marijuana time of the afternoon.

Ann entered. Spike greeted her. Ann noticed Lester on the porch so she turned to the spare bedroom that held the computer desk. She pushed a button to get the computer started then went to the bedroom to remove her shoes and socks. She also shed her shirt and bra then put her shirt back on. Ann wanted to relax.

Lester gently inhaled marijuana. He used headphones on a long cord to listen to a rock and roll CD from the 1970s. No radio station signals could be received this far out in the desert, but the CD collection sufficed. As teenagers, Lester's brother (Vince's dad who now lived in Victorville) had gravitated to music television and commercial music. Lester opted for an earlier, traditional rock and roll. Dozens of the CD collection had actually come from ones owned by Lester's dad before he died.

"All the people are friends,

We live together; we work together

We will never sell out a brother

for money or the man,"

Lester appreciated the old style rock and roll lyrics non-existent in today's corporate music. The song arose from simple, straight forward musicians playing electric guitars, drums, and a piano. It was late afternoon; the desert would exist under a powerful sun for several more hours. Marijuana allowed Lester's thoughts to meander. The old billboard posts needed painting; Mark could finish it. Lester could seek Ann at her computer and consult about dinner; many times Lester cooked the meal. He inhaled one more large breath of marijuana smoke, enjoyed the music on his headphones, and from the shaded, screened porch watched the bright expanse of desert before him.

Ann waited at the computer and contended with numerous pop ups and computer programs seeking to dominate her screen. She knew Lester got annoyed at these attempts by "money grubbers" as he called them to control the computer. On the other hand, Ann appreciated the idea of advertising. She hoped she could somehow use the internet to promote the Cactus Motel and draw customers. Were her flyers at the truck stop working? Why had six rooms been rented on two consecutive nights? Ann maneuvered her mouse to click open email. She encountered a long list of advertisements but saw two familiar names -- her mother and her sister in law, the woman who was married to Lester's brother in Victorville. This was Vince's mother.

"Yes," Ann replied to the email from Victorville, "we heard the news about the woman's body. It was along the old highway two miles west of Cactus Motel."

Ann decided she wanted to include upbeat news, so she added another paragraph to the email.

"Vince continues to do well. He cooked all day in the restaurant. Also, the native american boy, Jimmy, age 15, is recovering from a leg fracture."

Ann did not mention the concept that she and Lester had considered all week, that chief Robert was fasting and seething with pent up rage for the driver who had escaped in the direction of Los Angeles. She then attended to her mother's email. Ann recounted the news about the corpse, affirmed that Cactus Motel was safe and not affected, and added that Jimmy would be OK after his accident of five days ago. Then, Ann added an encouraging paragraph to the email.

"Business increased this week at the Cactus Motel. We rented six rooms on two consecutive nights. I think my advertising efforts are effective."

Ann deleted a final line -- Lester is thinking about getting a windmill -- because including that in the email to mom might allow criticism of Lester's tendency to think and plan to excess which frustrated friends and relatives and allowed them to rejoin -- when is he going to stop talking about it and do it?"

Ann sent the email. She chose a dozen advertisements from the email list to delete, and she would return here in a little while to continue and read the ads that interested her. She arose to check on Lester.

In the restaurant, Sheila cleaned the drink counter. Vince sat in the TV room using the remote. Like most people, he cared to see news about the corpse found nearby. What sort of a maniac could do such a thing? Through the opened door, although Vince could not see Sheila at the drink station, he sensed her as she quietly worked. Her normal jabs at Orrin took on an ominous meaning with the gruesome police matter at hand. They all had watched enough Corpse Patrol to know that a meek, white male frequently could build up anger and become passive aggressive. Sometimes, such behavior resulted in violent outbursts.

At the sofa in the lobby, Mark read the novel, Sexy Women. Jacqueline's husband was playing a Sunday morning round of golf so the pool boy, a lusty mexican with a naturally bare chest, had snuck to the house to make love to Jacqueline. Mark had seen this story numerous times on television dramas and situation comedies. Nevertheless, the author of Sexy Women intimately described details that allowed Mark to increase his knowledge of such antics. The novel was giving Mark a perspective he never could have gotten in real life. While reading, he heard a car arrive out front and vibrations arose on the two wooden steps. One of the glass and aluminum doors moved. It was the highway patrol officer, William, and he carried a manila folder.

“Hello,” he said.

The restaurant would still be open a few more hours, although Mark rarely saw the wiry old patrol man at this time.

“Hi,” Mark leaned forward in an alert manner to show respect, but he did not get up. His finger in the paperback novel reserved the page he had been reading.

“Mark,” said William. “The police sketch artist did a drawing of the woman found in the desert. I would like to show you the sketch and see if you recognize her.”

“Ok,” Mark stood up.

William opened the folder to give Mark a look. Sheila advanced tentative steps through the archway to the restaurant. William realized that a sketch of the man in the white mini van could have been made by Mark going to the police station. Could the hit and run driver of five days ago be connected to the corpse? William understood that this case would take a lot of work.

Sheila and Vince looked at the sketch. Nobody recognized the woman. Vince mentioned that Orrin’s camera had captured some sort of indistinct figure at 2:30am near Orrin’s car. William glanced at the odd flyer hanging near the grill area, but William dismissed the shadow as irrelevant.

“Ok,” William wanted to end his day. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he bid goodnight to the three young people. Outside, he hesitated near his patrol car. He could walk through the gate by the pool and knock on Lester’s door. William could finish the day by showing the sketch to Lester and Ann. Instead, William decided to continue in the morning when he came for breakfast. Ann and Lester would be working then.

Lester studied the marijuana in its plastic bag. He had smoked half of it. If he smoked less frequently, perhaps a week or two could pass before the tow truck driver, Randy, would need to bring more. Lester noticed Ann in the kitchen so he went to join her. She brought from the refrigerator a couple of frozen chicken pot pies.

“How is this,” she offered.

“Good,” Lester reached for bread and a jar of peanut butter. “Are we out of potato chips?”

“Sorry. Yes, I’ll get them tomorrow night at Walmart.”

“Do you feel weird about giving that guy, John Synd, a ride?”

“No. He seems like a nice guy. With the dead woman in the desert, you know it would be good to have a companion.”

“I agree; it couldn‘t hurt,” Lester completed his peanut butter sandwich and took a bite. He moved for beer in the refrigerator. “Can I have two pot pies?”

“Sure,” Ann agreed. “Honey, we had six rooms last night. The truck driver, Mr Jones, left but the black man in the old minivan checked in. We will have six rooms tonight.”

“If we have six tomorrow night, that will be 666, the number of Satan.”

Ann recognized that marijuana influenced Lester’s conversation.

“The profit is $300 a day for the rooms, Lester. With the restaurant, we are in the black.”

The hot, late afternoon desert air baked the parking lot behind the restaurant/front desk building and the fifteen motel rooms. The two employee mobile homes stood side by side with Vince, Sheila, and Mark still at work. Only Orrin occupied his room. The large kitchen knife rested on his desk next to the computer. Orrin paid attention to the internet and was curious about Heather. In a little while she would be home from the truck stop. He knew her last name, so he might be able to find Heather on one of the popular chat sites. She lived with her parents in a house not far from the truck stop. Orrin leaned to the side and stretched to peer out the blinds. The parking lot would be bright for another hour or two. The corpse found down the road, the sudden influx of motel guests, and the image on the camera all portended trouble. He could grip the knife and thrust it forward if he needed to defend himself. His legs pushed back the desk chair as Orrin stood completely up in his bedroom. He now gripped the knife. He parried and imagined a dangerous intruder. Orrin maneuvered fast and the mobile home shook with his rapid foot movements and vicious stabbing motions.

He stood at a service counter, and Elliot Morphson's luxury sedan waited outside the tire store, a place of four noisy, opened garage bays. A burly man handled a pink invoice describing the cost of the labor and the expensive tire. Elliot had been talked into buying a new spare tire, also. The burly man stood more than a dozen inches taller than the barber from New York.

"Three hundred and fifty two dollars even," the tire man moved the pink sheet with broad, sloppy movements. "I need you to sign by the x. It means you were satisfied with the work."

"Of course," Elliot would not insult this oaf. Life had to be like this at times. Part of Elliot's mind considered that he had been robbed; but, nonetheless, Elliot could get back on the road and have one less thing to worry about. "Ok, sure," Elliot laid a credit card on the counter. The oaf had already diverted to other business by answering a phone call.

"Hold on a minute," he said into the phone. He swiped the credit card, returned it to the counter, and handed a receipt for Elliot to sign. "There's an added fee of $13 for disposal of used tires so that's $365."

Elliot swallowed anger. It was just the way business worked these days. Cheesy money grubbing. No wonder people got mad. Still, he felt happy outside in the bright afternoon to enter and start his dark, luxury sedan. He drove to a fast food restaurant, entered the drive through lane, and emerged back to the interstate while enjoying a large cheeseburger and french fry meal. He normally never ate in his car, but he relished a sense of freedom, of vacation, and of no need to contend with that moron Hector back at the barber shop in New York. Life was good. Elliot hated the huge, wet cup and straw that had come with the meal. Only morons drank from such a cup, so he took a long drink and then tossed the heavy object out the window. He reminded himself about the ticket he had received in Las Vegas two nights ago. That had been bad luck. Now, he sped east towards the Cactus Motel. It would take two hours to get there, and it was already 6:30pm.

In Las Vegas, the sun was still high. James parked the old, muscle car near his hotel. The parking lot sweltered, and nearby pedestrian ways were clogged with lightly dressed tourists. Having found a job, James felt happy. He intended to work and build up money. His mother never would have predicted such success for James. All he needed to do now was meet a girl. The front pocket of his jeans held enough cash for him to live in the rented room for a few weeks.

He locked his car. He admired the vehicle. It was low, wide, and powerful. American made. The Texas license plate accentuated the vehicle’s rogue appearance. He walked with a purpose to go inside and cool down prior to venturing out for his second night in Las Vegas.

Paul Omner saw the truck stop on the interstate highway. He turned onto the side road that led mile to the Cactus Motel. He drove past the semi-truck parked across the street from the restaurant/front desk building. At the motel rooms, a parking space existed in front of the Omner room. On one side, a nondescript sedan with Massachusetts license plates parked in front of that room, and on the other side was an old minivan with Georgia plates.

“Daddy,” both Oliver and Beth, nine and eleven, acted in a method of greeting the psychopath they had learned years ago. Both children ran to hug Paul Omner.

“Honey,” said Sally. “Can you get ice?”

“I’ll be right back. Come on, kids.”

“It’s hot out here, Daddy,” Beth skipped ahead.

“It’s a desert,” Paul perceived that the truck driver might be in the rear compartment of the extended cab of his truck. “It’s that side door,” he instructed Oliver and Beth to go past the end of the motel rooms, cross the driveway of the rear parking lot, and enter a glass door that led down a short hall behind the front desk area. As the group arrived in the restaurant, Oliver looked to Paul for guidance but Beth passed through the restaurant and veered into the opened door of a recreation room.

Vince enjoyed the quiet, late afternoon as he and Sheila worked in the restaurant. He heard Paul Omner and the two children enter. Sheila invited the man and the boy to the rear kitchen because she noticed the plastic ice bucket in Oliver’s hand.

“It’s here,” she pointed to the large, stainless steel ice machine that was close to the rear door near the kitchen often used by Orrin. “And here’s the scoop.”

Vince continued to line up a pool shot. He ignored the eleven year old girl who had eaten lunch earlier with her mom and brother. Now, she went to the DVD shelf and found a DVD she had put aside earlier. Beth carried the DVD out through the restaurant to the rear, kitchen area.

“Harry Monkey,” she stated.

At the large ice machine, little brother Oliver worked to fill a plastic, half gallon bucket. Paul Omner nodded at Beth to assign consent. Yes, the family could watch the Harry Monkey movie. This was the first one, somewhat old, but Paul Omner could tolerate this Harry Monkey DVD.

Beth smiled and waited for her brother and dad. Idly, she touched a drawer handle in the kitchen. Beth pulled open the drawer and several large knives of various sizes slid forward on the drawer’s formica base.

“Daddy,” said Beth. “Look.”

“Do not touch those, Beth,” said Paul Omner. “Let’s go.”

The desert sun began to wane as Mrs Omner waited in the motel room for her family to return. Next door, the old minivan identified the room where murderer Myron still slept after a mid afternoon’s bout of drinking. In the room on the other side of the Omner family room, denoted by a sedan from Boston with Massachusetts license plates, serial killer John Synd with the FBI moniker The Photographer laid restless on his bed imagining sex with Ann. He loved how during her one hour break this morning she had changed shirts. John noticed things like that. The front desk woman was clean. This time, instead of his annual obsession, John would take control and kill by choice. He would break his pattern.

Ann lived in a mobile home visible past the chain link fence of the pool. When John Synd ate in the restaurant and she was not working, he requested a table looking out the plate glass windows towards Ann’s mobile home. John thought about this as he lay on the bed in his motel room. It was late afternoon. Shortly, John intended to arise, clean up, and go eat dinner.

Fifteen years ago, John Synd had begun killing once a year in the Boston area. Sometimes, John Synd enjoyed two a year. He laid on his bed and contemplated how years progressed. At what age would he no longer physically crave sex? He was forty years old. The first time John had raped and strangled a woman, the pleasure of killing enthralled him. Yes, that made it so no one would ever catch him, but John Synd never suspected he would relish the act of murder.

John Synd lay half awake preparing to go to dinner. He hoped to see Ann, but John also favored Sheila. John needed batteries for his camera. If Ann was going to be John's last murder, he certainly needed an after picture. Therefore, he needed batteries. The opportunity arose while in the store. Ann and her husband had been talking about Ann going to Victorville tomorrow for shopping. Lester would stay home. John Synd, The Photographer serial killer whom the FBI would be seeking nationally, could ride with Ann. They would be driving late, 9pm by the time they got back to the Cactus Motel. Would John Synd feel ok about being alone on the desert highway in the dark, Lester and Ann wondered. The region could be desolate.

At 7pm during the late afternoon in May, FBI officers Jenkins and McCarthy each approached Las Vegas from the east. Traffic was moderate, and they had no idea about the location of the other agent. They conversed on cell phones.

"My office called," McCarthy meant the Boston FBI office. "Sophie took four hundred dollars from an ATM in Las Vegas yesterday, but nobody can find out where she stayed last night."

"I contacted the credit card company myself," said Jenkins. "Elliot Morphson has not yet checked in anywhere. Two nights ago, he stayed in Las Vegas but since then nobody knows."

McCarthy pulled down the visor because the desert sunlight baked his windshield as he drove west.

"My guy, The Photographer, whom I still don't know the name of, and your guy..."

"Elliot Morphson," said Jenkins.

"...The Barber. And now," continued McCarthy into his cell phone as he approached Las Vegas, "and now, Sophie, the Manchester Mankiller. Do profilers know what is causing all this?'

"I don't know," said Jenkins. "But the national news is on it. When I called the credit card company to get Elliot Morphson's records, the office people were enthralled with the case."

"The power of TV fame grabs them," said McCarthy.

"They referred to Morphson by his serial killer name, The Barber."

"What's your next move," McCarthy noticed that traffic was increasing on the interstate heading into Las Vegas.

"They pulled Elliot Morphson's credit cards," said Jenkins. "All recent expenses were studied. No luck. One guy told me that rarely, but it does occur, a motel might not be in the system. In that case, the paperwork would not be available for a week."

"The Photographer has been killing one woman a year in Boston," said McCarthy. "Fifteen years. Over twenty women raped and killed. He sent a postcard to Corpse Patrol in Los Angeles."

"And...."

"The postcard was from Las Vegas. Now, the TV crew will be out here tomorrow to meet me at my hotel."

"Good for you," Jenkins recalled the sexy TV woman he had met for his interview about The Barber. "Are you in one of the large, casino hotels?"

"It was a random choice," McCarthy related the name of the place he was staying.

"The TV people should thank you, or The Photographer, for affording them a Las Vegas trip."

Chapter Seventeen

Elliot Morphson passed the well lighted truck stop. He continued and neglected the side turn to the Cactus Motel. The sun had gone down, and Elliot did not feel like going in yet. He continued, although not fast, on the busy interstate heading towards Las Vegas.

In a restless manner, Elliot pushed buttons on his FM radio. In this remote region, only three channels came in. He heard stupid, minority based commercials which he hated. Over the years, back east, discussions about race relations had impressed The Barber; still, he knew that minorities were dirty and ungroomed. Then, a commercial for a Japanese car company came on. He pushed a different channel. He moved in an angry fashion. Elliot was proud that he owned an expensive, American made luxury car, paid for with hard work at Hector's Hair and good credit. He was a patriot. He did not need grubby, low class people or foreign cars ruining his life.

"We are animals," it was a talk radio station.

"And," a contrary voice spoke, "you say there is no god. Just people attacking one another in the streets."

"You said no god. But I agree, I will not stake my fortunes on some unseen spirit."

"No spirits. No ghosts..."

"Certainly not. Ghosts? That's dumb."

"Ok. Nothing more than a physical, animal life. Dog eat dog."

"Exactly."

Elliot Morphson enjoyed the radio, talk program. If there was a god, he knew hell would be a consequence. The Barber believed he was mentally ill. It was an obsession. He was not stupid. He knew the way people talked. Most of all, religions would hate Elliot Morphson's habit of grooming blonde women. Nevertheless, all activities were sins. Overeating was a sin. Smoking and drinking were sins. The government killed thousands of people in wars or let them starve or die of diseases due to not being able to afford health care. Why should Elliot Morphson be singled out and described as evil more than anyone else on this rotten planet. Life was cruel. The world was a jungle.

A small car on the shoulder looked like something a woman would drive; Elliot removed his foot from the gas. The parked car had Massachusetts license plates. Oddly, realizing it would be pointless to continue driving in the strenuous traffic, Elliot happened to maneuver onto the side road a short distance further along, and this was the area where he had left the body yesterday.

It irked Elliot that he had raped and killed only two days ago but now his mind contemplated looking for another blonde to groom.

Elliot Morphson had never seen any of the dead after he had left them. Now, with no cars or lights visible, the night became darker. Small, desert bushes could cause Elliot to trip; but currently, there was enough light to see. He was curious. He parked where he had been stopped when meeting the tow truck yesterday. Elliot's heart beat fast, he walked from the car, and he accustomed his eyes to the dark. He moved towards the small gully hidden from the road. It was dark. He paused; for some reason he felt fear even though there was nobody out here to harm Elliot. He listened. The wind was slight. He heard no sounds of animals. Then, one hundred feet ahead, a movement shimmered in the darkness. The height of the shadow-like figure was equal to Elliot's. The shadow possessed the form of a human against the almost indistinguishable hues of the night time desert scenery.

Elliot stood motionless. If the person had not yet seen Elliot's silhouette, staying absolutely still would advantage Elliot. The man must have been up to no good since he was out here in the dark a half mile from the interstate. Maybe it had something to do with that sedan stopped on the highway. Or, the guy was homeless. A desert dweller, living on this hard, dry ground, would be mean. He could murder Elliot.

Had it been an illusion? The desert was a place of mirages, right? But this was night. No. Definitely there was a figure lurking near the body. Adrenalin screamed in his veins but silence caused the ominous setting to be fearful. Elliot stiffly, quietly held himself rigid. The calm, beautiful desert impressed Elliot. Normally, he would have relished such a temperate night.

Now Elliot used every sense to monitor the darkness. He heard no footsteps. Whoever had been there in the dark had departed. Elliot retreated without going to see the blonde woman from yesterday. He made it to his car and felt relief when it started. He drove towards faint lights ahead, the Cactus Motel.

When John Synd woke up, he realized he had made a mistake by falling back asleep. Luckily, although dark, the restaurant would still be open. John could visit with the pretty waitress, read the book he had purchased about the Manitou, and enjoy a nice dinner. He liked this remote desert.

John Synd loved photography. His mother had inspired John. He was born in Boston, an only child. Often, in John's mind, various histories reviewed themselves. What had caused him to become a serial killer? He loved photography. That happy hobby was positive. His mom had inspired John before she died. Coincidentally, a camera his mom bought him for his birthday when eighteen took the final picture of his mother. He took the photograph the morning of the day she died. Then, John Synd, the man who later became a respectable husband, father of two, and excellent friend/employee of Brent in Boston, killed his mother. He had strangled the life out of her ugly face. Oddly, no police suspected John. An unknown burglar was thought to have killed Mrs Synd fifteen years ago. That murder had been long forgotten by the legal system. Poor, hapless John Synd, age 18, needed compassion from the neighborhood. He seemed slow and vulnerable. He carried a camera, an item his mother had given John for his eighteenth birthday. He needed help. Where would he work? How could he live? Fortunately, John Synd's friend Brent owned seventy rental houses in the Boston area.

Many years of raping and killing whenever he got the urge, that was John's happiness. There had been odd, weird instances when he almost got caught. Sometimes, he considered confessing. No. John would stop. He would break the habit.

Fifteen years ago, John appreciated the camera his mother had given him. It could store pictures and download those images to a computer. This had been prior to cameras being in many cell phones. Maybe because John had never opted for such a cell phone camera he had maintained his freedom. For some reason, cops were finding it hard to trace The Photographer. John Synd emailed a picture of each girl to the local police. These pictures were in the locations of the murders just prior to the murders. After a few years, some police departments linked the murders, but John Synd had not achieved the notoriety he hoped for.

John Synd kept one record of all the girls he had raped and killed over the years in the Boston area. On his personal, laptop computer which he normally kept locked in his work van, John Synd possessed the only images of the murders (everywhere else such as the camera they were deleted.).

When not at work, in the trunk of his normal car which John never let his wife drive, he kept items no other person should touch. His golf clubs were there. The small, digital camera which currently had no pictures stored in it and needed AAA batteries was locked in the trunk of John Synd's car. Now, he wore only his jeans as he quickly went from the motel room's door to the car to get his laptop computer. Whoever had invented computers had done the world a service, John knew. He took the item into his motel room, locked the door, and turned on the laptop computer to enjoy looking at pictures of the twenty women The Photographer had murdered.

John thought about Ann. He masturbated. He then turned off the computer, cleaned up, got dressed, and went to the trunk of his car to lock away the laptop. He returned briefly to the motel room to pick up The Manitou book. John Synd could enjoy a meal at the restaurant. He entered by the side door that led down a hallway to the restaurant. He saw Vince in the recreation room. The young man played pool and watched TV.

"Hi," said Sheila. "Are you hungry?"

"A cheeseburger and fries will be fine," John Synd laughed to himself because this innocent, young blonde would never know he had just masturbated.

"Actually," John Synd continued, "I'm interested in Corpse Patrol."

"Yes," said Sheila. "The new episode comes on at nine. Are you drinking root beer?"

"Yes," John Synd took a middle table with a view towards the opened door of the recreation room..

"Hi," Vince came forth to efficiently move towards the grill area. He enjoyed working.

"Hello," John Synd's hand rested on the book on the tabletop near his place setting. The young man obviously wanted to have sex with the pretty, blonde waitress, thought John. the guy was a typical, stupid jerk always thinking about sex, John believed.

Sheila remembered the man with the book, one of the sudden upsurge of Cactus Motel guests, liked root beer since he drank it at lunch. If Orrin wanted to break up, fine. She and Vince could maybe find jobs in Las Vegas. Sheila exemplified the traits of a professional waitress. She took an interest in her customer.

"Here you go," she set the cold glass of root beer on the table.

"Thank you," John Synd would stop his habit of raping and killing. Ann would be the last.

Mark watched the front of the building by the main entrance from 4pm until midnight. He liked Ann and Lester. Mark understood the three others, Orrin, Sheila, and Vince. Mark continued to rest in an easy chair and read the novel -- The Sexy Women. Soon, he expected he would have enough money saved to move to Las Vegas, find a place to rent, and start living a real life. For now, this employment at the quiet Cactus Motel suited his purpose. The three others were younger than Mark. They were frivolous, in his opinion. Right now, Orrin was likely in his mobile home playing a computer game. Vince and Sheila were in the restaurant and Mark had heard a customer come in at the side door near the recreation room.

John Synd knew there was a guy up front. The Cactus Motel seemed busy for such an out of the way place. Still, John enjoyed staying here. It was therapeutic. Tomorrow night, he would drive with Ann to Victorville to get batteries for his small, digital camera. That would be fun. Right now, he rested and read his book. At 9pm, Corpse Patrol would obviously need to announce that a serial killer, The Photographer, had sent the TV station a postcard from Las Vegas.

Indian spirits were natural, said the book. The landscape, whether forest or desert, mountain or valley, contained numerous types of life. Nothing existed independently of anything else. A bird would eat a bug, a wolf would eat a bird. John Synd did not even think about it previously, but the United States had lions. On an educational TV show, John had seen the United States mountain lion, but it looked different than the African one with its mane. According to the book, each animal possessed a spirit. Other living entities such as plants also held spirits. The earth was a spiritual world and Indians recognized these spirits. The Manitou was an overall spirit, a presence among all things.

Elliot Morphson disliked the gritty feeling due to a day spent at the tire store. He calmed himself after the terrible, negative event of seeing some shadowy figure out there near the Las Vegas girl's body from yesterday. Elliot took a shower, dried himself, and put on fresh clothes. He was wide awake, so he wanted to take a walk and see what was occurring at the restaurant. He took a neat, black vest from a hanger where two others also hung. Grooming mattered, Elliot believed. That stupid, nagging bitch, his mother back in New York at least had impressed the importance of grooming in Elliot Morphson. She had been correct about that, he thought. He combed his hair and slid the long, metal comb into a pocket on the front of the barber's vest. He went out. There were a number of cars parked in front of rooms. He noted his powerful, late model luxury car, a couple of family style vehicles, and a junky old van with South Carolina license plates. Elliot disdained that van since it belonged to the nasty black guy witnessed earlier stumbling around drunk. These simple people did not deserve to have such a rotten person here. Elliot glanced towards the dark road in the direction of the woman groomed yesterday. Then, he turned to go to the restaurant. He entered by the front, wooden steps. Across the street, a beautiful, large semi-type truck existed. Elliot Morphson did not know why a large truck like that was called semi, but he knew that people called it that.

Charlie laid on the bed in the living area of the truck. His head rested near a small window. He saw Elliot Morphson at the entrance across the street. Jerk. That idiot dressed in a weird manner. Nobody wore a vest. That man appeared like a barber whom Charlie's dad would have taken Charlie to as a kid. Stupid. Charlie wished the beautiful woman, Ann, would come out. It was only 9pm. She might walk her dog or something. Charlie would love to see her. While watching Elliot Morphson, Charlie pushed a mute button for the porno DVD being even though such an act was not actually necessary.

"Good evening," Mark stood up and put aside The Sexy Women.

"Hello," Elliot paused. "I'm not too late for the restaurant; am I?"

"Almost," said Mark, "it closes at nine. But we are happy to have you. I cannot remember the last time we had six rooms rented." He wondered if the cute girl, Sophie, was back yet. Possibly, she had driven to Las Vegas for sightseeing but her room was rented for tonight.

Vince had returned to the pool table in the recreation room. The guy with the book enjoyed his hamburger. Sheila worked the television remote because a new episode of Corpse Patrol would come on in a minute. Then, they all heard Mark talking to the character that wore the barber outfit. The man arrived, and Sheila went to attend to him.

"Welcome," she said.

"I'm not hungry," Elliot Morphson was slightly taller than the beautiful, blonde woman. "Only a cup of coffee for me."

"Yes, sir," Sheila allowed the man to take a seat at a table near the windows.

The pool area was dark and this created a mirror-like reflection of The Barber. He enjoyed how he appeared. The jerk with the book at a center table near the door to the recreation room was slovenly, in Elliot's opinion. The man was a brute. The waitress would favor someone like Elliot. The waitress brought the cup of coffee.

"Here you go," Sheila smiled.

The cook, a young man who could also use improvement in his personal appearance and hair could be seen in the recreation room. Elliot Morphson heard a ball from the pool table thunk into one of the pockets. Elliot offered a five dollar bill to the waitress.

"There you go," he said. "Does that cover it?"

"That's more than enough."

"Keep the change."

"Thank you," Sheila promptly turned to head for the rear door near the kitchen. "Vince, I'll be back in a few minutes."

Sheila appreciated the five dollar bill. The cup of coffee would add $1.45 to the cash register for Ann and Lester. The tip for Sheila was $3.55. That constituted a Las Vegas style tip. Eventually, she and Vince could get an apartment or even a house in Las Vegas. Currently, as Sheila went out into the parking lot, Her eyes quickly assessed Orrin's car in its place outside this room on that end of the mobile home. On impulse, two mornings ago, Sheila had done the deed -- she had lightly scraped the key to the restaurant along Orrin's car door. She regretted it, but they were no longer a couple. He needed to move on. Sheila worried that Orrin could be passive aggressive as she had learned by watching TV. An ex-boyfriend might pretend to be friendly and polite but secretly be harboring anger and hate. Sheila would take a break in her end of the mobile home. Then, she would return to the restaurant to join Vince in the recreation room for a pool game and television.

Orrin heard Sheila enter and go into the hallway bathroom. He did not hate her, but he needed to think. What should his next move be? The cashier at the truck stop, Heather, or even a job at the truck stop or at the casino hotel at Stateline, Nevada. Yes, Orrin had options. He felt sad to break up; he felt afraid to have to move and change jobs, but there existed some sort of hope or future for Orrin. He stood up briefly from his computer game to peer out the blinds. Who was that shadowy figure on the motion detector camera from late last night? Orrin returned to his game and glanced at the kitchen knife which rested on the table.

John Synd enjoyed the hamburger and fries. The television show, Corpse Patrol could be heard coming on the TV in the recreation room. Vince moved to the doorway to address the guy eating the hamburger.

"Here comes the new episode of Corpse Patrol," Vince noted.

"Thanks," John Synd actually did not hate the young guy. This was the west. John wanted to learn how people thought out here. "I can hear it from here."

Elliot Morphson sipped coffee. Would the blonde come back? These two were idiots. The Barber had actually been portrayed on Corpse Patrol six months ago. Elliot Morphson felt proud and laughed to himself. He could re-locate to Las Vegas and bring his mother out from New York. Elliot Morphson would thrive among fools such as these.

"Tonight," said the TV, "on Corpse Patrol: The Freeway Shooter. On the east coast, one of the most heavily traveled freeways in the United States, a sniper has killed six motorists."

John Synd left a remnant of bun and a couple of cold french fries to get up and enter the recreation room.

"That's right," a beautiful, woman reporter held a microphone and could be seen standing next to a freeway.

"I'm Ralph Peters in the studio," said a TV reporter at a desk with TV monitors on a wall behind him. "And Paulette Vera is on location as we spend the next half hour live looking for the Freeway Shooter."

"You know," Vince continued to hold his pool cue and idly shoot balls, "it amazes me that they can be certain enough serial killers will be active to make new shows."

"Shhh," John Synd was concerned.

"Ok," Vince might have busted the pool cue over the rude bastard's head. "Ok, man."

The TV show prided itself on its live format. Therefore, the top story should have been the postcard from Las Vegas. Where was the postcard? The Photographer had killed a girl in Kansas, yesterday, thought John Synd. Why were they focused on The Freeway Shooter?

"This," said the woman reporter, "is particularly frightening because we all drive. Suppose he moves to another location."

"Yes," the TV host in the studio, Ralph Peters, added, "it appears this is a new type of serial killer. As time progresses, civilization expands, these maniacs become more creative."

"I agree," as Paulette Vera held her microphone and stood outside with a freeway in the background, wind moved the attractive material of her dress. "I agree, Ralph."

John Synd disliked this. Vince suspended his pool game to see a contorted face, repressed anger, almost insanity appearing on this weird guy.

"Idiots," said John Synd. "They act like this Freeway Shooter is modern. He's the latest thing."

"Well," placated Vince. He noticed the customer with the coffee now arose and carried the cup to be visible through the opened door of the recreation room.

John Synd thought about the idea that his digital camera was fifteen years old, his methods outdated. He would never be recognized nationally. Or, if he could murder Ann tomorrow night he could stop and reform himself. Later, in his old age, maybe John Synd could write a book or something.

"Well," said Vince, "we can change the channel. Basketball is on."

Elliot Morphson sipped the last of his coffee and set the cup down.

"Thanks, I've got to go," he dared to step in the direction of the rear door by the kitchen, the one the blonde waitress had used. Would they notice his odd choice of exit? Maybe she was in her employee mobile home right at this moment brushing her hair.

The Paul Omner room enjoyed a typical evening. Paul and Sally were propped up on one bed in the direction of the old TV with its DVD player. Beth and Oliver were in a similar posture on their bed. The family had brought a supply of potato chips, sodas, and beer (for dad), and they now partook of those treats. Sally Omner accepted this lifestyle as not too bad. The children had a good life. However, Paul acted like he again wanted to slip a sleeping pill into the children's sodas so they would quiet down. Sally took the position that every night was too much. Paul worked hard more than forty hours a week at the small coffee franchise in Milwaukee. He understood business. A practical nature in business and in life profited a person. Paul molested a boy once in awhile and then killed the boy because that fit the plan. Paul Omner could not allow a boy to live and tell the police.

Myron had passed out drunk earlier. Now, he woke up. He knew it was too late to eat, 9:10pm. But if they were still in the restaurant, maybe they would prepare a hamburger or something simple. It was a small business. Myron had worked in restaurants previously. He decided he would hurry and see if he could get in. He dressed, stuck his gun tightly into his belt at his stomach, and hung a loose shirt over the weapon. Myron liked to kill people, but he had never shot a bunch of people at once. That could be an experience to look forward to. He quickly left the room.

Elliot Morphson hesitated while he watched the blinds, lights on in those rooms, at each end of the mobile home where Orrin and Sheila lived. She had left abruptly at 9pm, but he thought she was coming back to the restaurant. He thought she was merely taking a break. At that moment, on one end, blinds moved and it was obvious someone was looking out. Elliot did not move, however there existed a light on the building here by this rear door to the restaurant.

The person peeping from that room abated, the slightly ajar slats of the blind closed, and Elliot Morphson retreated towards the front of the building. The black man, Myron quickly walked along the front of the motel rooms. All he wanted was a hamburger. Two bottles of gin purchased earlier at the truck stop still existed in his room. He consulted his watch. 9:10pm. A stupid jerk came from the side parking area near two mobile homes in back. Myron should have killed the weirdly dressed man, some freak in a white shirt, black vest, and with barber's utensils protruding from a pocket.

"Hello," Elliot Morphson was startled. Why would such a hateful man be in this peaceful desert? Elliot recalled the shadow seen earlier out by the corpse.

"Hello," Myron continued past. He went up the wooden steps. He noticed the fancy truck across the narrow, old highway. The brutish truck driver obviously was in the sleeping cab which appeared posh. Asshole. Myron could kill someone like that as well. He entered the lobby of the old, Cactus Motel. A young guy with a book stood up.

"Good evening," Mark wondered why there were suddenly so many guests.

"Can I eat?" Myron walked past the young man and did not wait for a reply.

On the TV in the recreation room, prior to a commercial, a phone number flashed on the screen.

"Call this number if you have information about the Freeway Shooter."

John Synd resented this. A phone number. However, his postcard definitely stating he was The Photographer, wanted in several states and who had murdered two days ago in Kansas, had been ignored.

"Change the channel," said John Synd. "Put the TV on basketball."

"Can I eat," Myron saw the two men in the recreation room; he saw a plate and crumpled napkin on a table, obviously a recently finished meal. No waitress was present.

"Closed," said Vince.

Even though it was May, basketball was on the TV.

"Basketball," Myron considered shooting Vince and John Synd, also Mark. Who would hear the gunfire? "Basketball makes black men look like clowns. Grown men bouncing a ball. They should ride unicycles and juggle."

"You could eat at the truck stop," Vince hoped the aggressive black guy would leave.

"Don't worry about it," Myron ruefully considered the way his old van appeared compared to the newer vehicles parked in front of the motel rooms. He departed.

After work, in the rented room in Las Vegas, James had taken a shower and had laid down for a brief nap. He awoke groggily and noticed dark tinges in the corners of the room. He saw the clock -- 9:25pm. James got up quickly. He turned on the TV and began scrolling through channels. As each image flashed, James became conscious of female anatomy. Here a smiling face. Next, flesh from a woman's torso, legs, or arms. Many colors and styles of hair. James wanted to meet a girl, he wanted to make love, but he felt a slight fear whenever he contemplated any women he might like.

James wanted to buy a cell phone. He believed he could do that at Walmart in the morning prior to work. Now, he wanted to drive out onto the Las Vegas Strip and see what was going on. The old, primer colored muscle car joined traffic maneuvering in the direction of famous attractions. Although girls could be seen in other cars or on the sidewalk, many had boyfriends or were committed to the groups. To James, nobody seemed open to meeting him. He felt alienated.

He repeated the trek of last night along the crowded, interesting Las Vegas Strip filled with tourists. He desired more than mere sightseeing; something was missing from this experience. James lacked fulfillment. There needed to be more than a job washing dishes and a life paying rent. He ate at the fast food restaurant from last night. A grubby crowd existed at midnight. James did not see the two emaciated girls from last night. He drove across railroad tracks and became attracted to an ornate edifice: a topless club. Cheap cement painted white had been molded into statues like James would have seen in a history book carved in ancient times out of marble. The female statues possessed carved robes that hung free to expose breasts. He parked, showed his Texas driver's license at the door, and entered.

"Hello, honey," a beautiful woman immediately greeted him to lead him into the club. Heavy noise infused everything. The place was packed. Throughout the crowd, beautiful girls in various costumes moved to wait on customers. Three small, uplifted platforms with spotlights comprised stages, and topless women danced there. James relaxed. He loved this.

"Beer," he offered a five dollar bill to a girl as he took a seat at a small, round table.

"Hello," a girl the approximate age of James possessed large, round breasts hanging tightly in a lacy costume. "I'm Olivia."

"James," he followed her lead as she offered a hand to shake. Her warm, soft hand excited and comforted James amid the distractions, flashing lights, and noise. "I found a job today," he mentioned the casino hotel where he worked. Certainly, this nice girl would have heard of the place on the Las Vegas Strip.

"That's good," the girl leaned back as the waitress reached to place a can of beer on the table in front of James. She quickly turned in a manner suggesting she was busy.

"My change," James gripped the cold can of beer. "Does this cost five dollars?"

"She'll be back," Olivia noted. "What about you? Have you been here before?"

"Where are you from," James did not know how to converse.

"Of course," Olivia stood up close to James. "I grew up in Las Vegas. I could dance right here next to your table for twenty dollars. Would you like that?"

"Sure," hesitant, James complied in order to go along with the spirit of the evening. "I have a bit of extra money now that I have a job."

"Extra money is nice," Olivia began to gyrate. She accepted a twenty dollar bill from James. She lifted her flimsy shirt and pulled it off over her head. Her breasts, now naked, impressed James. "Do you like what you see," she asked.

This sexual situation might allow James to get in the mood. He had successfully moved from home, found a place to live, gotten a job, and now James could meet a girlfriend. That would impress his mother.

He thought something odd. All this was somewhat frivolous. What could he accomplish here? Life was hard. The bayonet in the car meant more about life than any of this. If Olivia considered James to be a fool, just someone to be cheated out of money, he could show her how manly and strong he could be. If she was outside, alone with James, he would be the boss. He finished the can of beer.

"I got a good job today," James bragged.

“That’s hot,” Olivia’s naked breasts were an inch from his face. “Where do you work?”

“It’s temporary at a large casino hotel on the Strip. But if I get hired steady, I’ll have to make my four hundred and fifty dollars last until payday.”

“Do you have four hundred and fifty dollars cash?”

“Yes.”

“I could take you in the back room for four hundred.”

Suddenly, James tensed and became cold. This girl knew he was having a tough time making ends meet. He had explained it to her. He might get hired full time washing dishes at the casino hotel. Until he got his paycheck, James needed to live on $450. Yet, this girl only cared that she could take James into the back room for $400. This angered him.

“What,” he enjoyed her naked body near his face, “What would we do in the back room?”

“Plenty,” she gently swayed. Momentarily, she glanced up as if at the cashier’s cage or the front door. James looked up at her.

“You are nice,” James might wait for her outside. If she saw his father’s bayonet, this woman would treat James with respect.

“You are nice,” the woman looked down at James. Her body was close to his, and her long, dark hair formed a channel on either side of their faces in the dim topless club.

A dark, quiet night lingered at the Cactus Motel. Restless, Elliot Morphson did not enter his room; he loitered at the far end of the fifteen motel rooms. The small, desolate highway reminded The Barber of the body out there. The angry black man came from the direction of the restaurant, got into his old mini van, and attempted to start it. Elliot recoiled due to the man’s cursing during three attempts before the vehicle started. He drove to the intersection near the small gift shop and turned towards the main interstate.

Copyright Mike Hayne 2017