This story is the beginning of a work of fiction I have written, which involves the tanlged lives of a band, a paleontologist (whom we do not yet meet in this exerpt) and a ruthless villain with the power to destroy them all.
On a gray November morning at the newly refurbished Rodeway Inn in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a middle-aged housekeeper enters room 223. She wears tight fitting, acid washed blue jeans and a Def Leppard 1982 Pyromania World Tour T-shirt. The sleeves and neck have been cut out of it. On her right shoulder is a tattoo, which against her pasty white skin looks like the bleed of blue ink on a cocktail napkin. It was once a weeping rose. With anomalous, youthful freckles on her weathered face, she squints through the smoke of a just lit Marlboro Light 100 into the darkened room. The television flickers, mute, and MTV is peddling sex, drugs and Rock & Roll with salacious images and canny slogans. It jolts the otherwise tranquil room with its frenetic, slow motion strobe. In this pallid, pulsing light, she can see the two slept in double beds and a Styrofoam take out box on the floor in front of the bed closest to the TV.
She flicks the light switch just inside the door. Nothing. She flicks it again. Still nothing. "Shit," she says, between her teeth, and walks to the lamp between the beds. She is distracted by a video and sits down at the edge of one bed to finish her cigarette before starting the cleaning. As her eyes adjust to the darkness, she begins to notice beer cans, bottles, cigarette butts, mangled cheeseburgers and other remnants left by the occupants of Room 223. "Shit," she says again, this time loudly and defeatedly. She reaches for the lamp between the beds. It won't turn on. She reaches under the lampshade and screws in the light bulb.
The room is bathed in the intimate light of the lamp and she sees for the first time the extent of the damage to Room 223. A smoke detector hangs crippled from the ceiling. Three or four empty twelve packs of beer, eviscerated and awash in a sea of bottles and cans, populate the sopping carpet. Crushed cigarettes have left dozens of black streaks in the carpet. On the table near the sliding glass door to the patio, which bears a greasy face print, are empty pints of Jack Daniels and Cuervo Gold. Chairs are overturned. The sliding screen door is dislodged from its track, presumably walked into by a drunken guest. Small, plastic baggies, empty and open, scatter the floor around the table. She notices a larger baggie under a take out box and picks it up. It is filled with marijuana. "HeIllooo, Sunshine," she says in amazement, and hold the bag to the light of the lamp. "You tear up a room like this, you better leave a tip for the housekeeper!"
As she stuffs the baggie into her brassiere, a naked, wraithlike man of about 25 springs from the space between the bed and the far wall. He is lean and lanky, and his dark hair has been spiked and matted by a short, drunken coma. "NEVER!" he screams, lunging across the bed at the terror stricken maid. She gasps, flailing her arms, and faints.
He pauses. Wait a minute, man. You could have just scared this poor woman to death. She only looks 40, but the hearts of speedfreaks have been known to explode during a strong adrenaline surge. And everyone out here is a speedfreak. Think of that club owner last night, and his floozy wife. Better check this old girl's pulse.
She's alive, thankfully. He laughs softly to himself as he reaches for a pair of leather pants that hang from the curtain rod. He pulls them on and fishes a pack of cigarettes from the right front pocket. He produces a Zippo lighter from the clutter of the table and lights his Camel with a flourish. Reaching for an open beer can on the television, he drinks a long pull and spits it out violently, throwing the cigarette filled can against the glass door. He doubles over and vomits into a brimming plastic garbage can. "Fuck," he growls.
He picks up another can, and shakes it next to his right ear, warily. Confident that it has not been booby-trapped, he drinks the beer down and belches the word "Mommy". He is oblivious, now, to the catatonic maid, and sits down to finish his cigarette and enjoy the quiet solitude of the room.
In the bathroom, he brushes his teeth with an index finger. When he finishes, he takes a long look at himself in the mirror. His eyes are obsidian black, with the whites so bloodshot that it hurts him to have them open. A silver stud pierces his outer brow. His teeth are white but crooked. Silver, dime sized hoops dangle from his nipples. Across his chest is a brilliantly colored tattoo of a naked woman riding a Chinese dragon. He sneers at his reflection, clears his throat and spits a green oyster at the haunting doppelganger. He then pulls his wallet from a back pocket, extracts a $20 bill and sticks it to the dripping loogie. "Better leave a tip...", he says, mocking the housekeeper's dictum.
As he walks out of the bathroom, a clean-shaven, slightly balding man of about thirty enters the room. He appears freshly showered and ready for anything. "Hurry up, you drunk," he says. "We already ate and loaded the gear. You're lucky we left you here. That club owner wanted to cut your balls off."
"Oh, okay, Twelve-Step," patronizes the wraith. "At least I woke up dry!"
He walks back into the bedroom and puts on a t-shirt emblazoned with an illustrated image of a man and a sheep in a "69" position. He plucks the bag of marijuana from the maid's brassiere and puts it in his pants packet. "Yoink!" he says. He then drops to all fours and produces a guitar case from under the far bed. He cocks his head in mock sympathy for the still unconscious maid, pushing out his lower lip. "Good-Byyyeee, Sunshine," he sings, leaving the door open behind him as he leaves.
A great, gray 1983 Dodge Wide One passenger van puffs and chugs in the hotel's deserted parking lot. A light snow is falling. The girth of this aptly named and oddly plump vehicle bulges out over the tires, which appear comically small beneath its hulking mass. Its resemblance to a roasting turkey with wheels has caused its owners to trace the wings and legs of such a bird into the soot and slush caked exterior. In the calm of the falling snow, a cloud of water vapor and exhaust wafts about the van, disappearing into the air above its towering 9' clearance. Smoking a hurried cigarette and clutching an old, blue-plastic briefcase, the freshly showered man of 30 paces nervously and mutters quietly. "Let's go, man," he says, his tone impatient but not unfriendly. "We're running late."
"I know, I know," says the wraith. "You got the heat on in there? Jesus. Three of my toes cracked off last night on my way to the hot tub." Finishing another cigarette and flicking it away, he climbs with his guitar into the van's front seat.
"Heeeyyyy .... Wally!" calls a voice from the back of the van. "That tweaker club owner was asking for you. He wanted to buy you breakfast!" The bass player's name is Chris, and he is reclined across the back seat, tucked behind a stack of speakers, with only his legs visible.
"Fuck him," mutters Wally. "I paid my tab."
"Yeah, but he caught you feeling up his wife in the back seat of their Cherokee," he cackles, getting up to pass Wally a Polaroid picture. "Thanks for the mammaries," he hisses and returns to his Star Wars sleeping bag. He is laughing now, and plunks down like a jubilant child into a pile of autumn leaves.
In the picture, Wally sees himself with both hands over his belly and his head thrown back away from the camera in a fit of diabolical laughter. Behind him is a couple, dimly lit at the perimeter of the camera's flash. The man looks about 45, with a long ponytail pulled tight over his scalp. He wears a white t-shirt and denim vest, and he looks like a short biker. His hands are outstretched and pleading, but his eyes are wild and unfocused. The woman is much younger, about 25, and doubled over in front of the man, pulling a stinky, white dress over her legs. Her hair is tousled and covers one eye, while the other eye glows red with the flash, in an expression of unabashed mischief. She and Wally are in on the same joke, at the expense of a short, angry biker.
"She told me she was a post-grad at Berkeley, working on a dig, searching for the bones of ancient lizards up there in the Craters of the Moon National Park. Said she was packing it in for the winter and heading for Hawaii. I bought the whole thing, ate it up," Wally chuckles.
"She kept buying the drinks, saying she had money left over out of a generous grant from the Mobil Corporation," Wally remembers. "That bartender lady had to know what was going on. And that door-guy mope. Jesus, how dumb was I? She's the owner's wife!" He was talking to no one in particular.
“You weren’t dumb, Wally, just horny," says a muffled female voice from a bundle of bedding in the bunk above the back seat. "That chick was good. Poor little biker guy." It is the band's singer.
Curled into a fetal position in the rear-facing seat of the van is the drummer. The arm of another band member, the trombone player, hangs from a bunk above the stack of speakers. Also in the van is a table, littered with empty snack packages and assorted alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverage containers. Shoes, blankets and suitcases are stuffed among the instruments and amplifiers. This is the close but comfortable cabin of a stalwart vessel of the open road.
"Finish that cigarette, Raynor," barks Wally, to the pacing smoker outside the driver-side door. "Get this beast rolling! The horizon calls!"
Two hours later, they are driving east on HWY 26, beside the astonishingly beautiful Palisades Reservoir in the Targhee National Forest. Hardly a sentence has been spoken. It is time to stop for gas. The needle is sagging on EMPTY, and tonight's gig in Jackson is still a good 60 mountain miles away; first south along the water, then due north through Wyoming's Bridger Teton National Forest. Raynor leans over the wheel, steering with his left hand and rubbing his bald head with his right. "There's a Mobil station, Wally," he says. "Maybe you can pick up a grant while we're here, huh, smart guy?"
But Wally is sleeping now, his head propped against the passenger window. He jerks awake as the van lurches into a glowing bastion of petroleum and human contact in this bewildering expanse of the slowly freezing American Outback. He rubs his eyes and descends from the van for a cup of coffee and a smoke in the cold. The others emerge and waddle over the ice, into the station.
Modern surveillance techniques permeate every aspect of our world. Untold numbers of active and derelict satellites spin above the busy billions on Earth, recording a spectrum of electromagnetic signals from virtually every square foot of the surface of the planet, every second of every day. Our highways and avenues, our shops and libraries and parks and churches and our homes teem with cameras, microphones and laserbeams with the purpose of detecting something, anything…everything.
So it was not unusual that when they entered the Mobil station, they walked into such an array of cameras, microphones and laserbeams. Nor was it unusual that they behave suspiciously for those devices, which they did. In fact, one way that Wally combated the boredom of the open road was to torment beleaguered attendants by stalking through the aisles, darting his eyes and shooting his hands in and out of his pockets. He had been thrown out of more service stations than he or his companions could recount. But he was smart enough to have his cigarette and a trip to the bathroom first.
Wally was a living manifesto of the punk rock ethic, in that he viewed rudeness and discontent as virtues, as noble commitments to changing the world for the better. However, he despised punk rock music and the phony excuse it offered to the unaspiring sheep that it attracted. “That shit is meaningless,” he would say. “Those safety-pinned, open-sored roaches that infest the streets of Berkeley and the Village, and anywhere else you can buy a Green Day CD, they make me sick. No, Sid and Nancy, I can’t spare some change. Now let go of my bagel.”
Wally was admittedly ashamed that he had been one of those roaches, back when he lived in a doorway at the corner of Telegraph and Durant in Berkeley. He would spend his days with a paper cup in his hand and a mean, stupid mongrel named Carl at his side. There were many so called “friends” back then, other punks that begged change and shared patchouli and needles; countless suburban refugees that loved nothing and did nothing.
But those days were a million miles away and all that remained were the dragon on his chest, a dog collar that hung from his neck on special occasions and an adolescent penchant for random acts of mischief.
It was that penchant that compelled Wally to torment the jittery attendants of gas stations all over the U.S.A. And it was that penchant which brought Wally, his bandmates and their monstrous touring van to the attention of a paranoid hillbilly tycoon, 130 miles away at an obsessively fortified quasi-bunker dug into the rock at the base of Crescent Mountain on the Continental Divide.
Wally was proud of the fact that he had never been arrested, nor ever been guilty of anything more than possession of negligible amounts of marijuana, or anything more despicable than breaking a few hearts or urinating in public. And he threw himself into his brazen shoplifter act.
But the man who watched Wally’s act on one of the many 5-inch monitors of his extravagant security console was a murderous lunatic with despotic fantasies and truly perverse idiosynchracies.
Edgar Womack owned the Mobil station on Highway 26, and many others throughout Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. He owned vast tracts of real estate. His tenants and employees knew him as a Purple Heart Veteran of World War II and a ruthless proprietor, but few had ever even seen him. They called him Sweaty Eddie. They knew that each of his commercial establishments was carefully wired with sophisticated audio-visual recording devices, as were his real estate holdings. He wired trees and fence posts and utility poles with electronic eyes and ears to “protect his investment”, as he told his tenants. As Sweaty Eddie hired only parolees and ex-cons, his employees naturally assumed that the cameras were there to discourage them from doing whatever it was that got them into jail in the first place. And the cameras did.
Wally wasn’t thinking about video cameras or the penal system as he moved slowly through the aisles, doing his best to solicit the suspicions of the man with the wispy goatee at the register. He did not know that the man at the register was an ex-con who served eight years in San Quentin for robbing a South Korean post grad and beating him into a coma in The People’s Park in Berkeley, CA. In fact, Wally had been in Berkeley at the time and had seen the blood of Pyong Dae Park under the West goal of the basketball court as he walked Carl through the morning fog several days after the incident. But the coincidence was to remain undiscovered.
Most offenders can expect to serve considerably less than their sentence by behaving well in prison. But the man behind the counter had served every minute of his sentence. He remained a violent criminal and drug abuser while behind bars, and had even earned the nickname Lazarus for having been pronounced dead from a drug overdose, only to spring back to life, bawling like a baby, through some miracle of chemistry and electricity.
But there was no way for Wally to gather all of that from a nametag that read “Gerald.”
I am 29 yrs old, I grew up in Hawaii and have been touring with my band for five years and have been living in the Bay Area for the past two years.
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