Roy’s Desert Motel
by Arthur Davis
“Of course I’m going to make the meeting on time, so stop whining and give my message about the Markson account to Lenny.” Jerry Bishop switched off his cell phone and tossed it on the seat next to him. It bounced off the leather, tumbled to the floor, and disappeared.
He shouldn’t have spoken to Donna so harshly. Some day she would up and leave him and he’d spend another year going from one gum-chewing dimwit to another trying to find someone who can take a message or file a document, or spend most of the day on the phone with their friends.
Though he reasoned, who would want to work for the vice president of a three-employee insurance office in the middle of nowhere hustling retired farmers, day laborers, truck drivers and outcasts from trailer parks. And, every month, the same divorcees, screaming kids, drunken husbands and cheating wives.
He reached into his shirt pocket for a cigarette but came up with a wad of messages from Donna. He had given up smoking a week ago at the insistence of his doctor and, because his second ex-wife wouldn’t leave him in peace after realizing his getting emphysema might threaten her alimony.
The drive from his office in Bisbee, Arizona, only an hour southeast out of Tucson, was something he looked forward to each month. The tail end of the swing south into New Mexico ended back north in Douglas, Arizona, and a night with Sherry Burgeon who ran a little cafe her mother opened twenty-one years ago. Sherry was sweet, wore too much make-up, believed every Hollywood tabloid and, though she had long since seen her fortieth birthday, still had a body worth a wet dream.
Jerry turned down the air conditioner to conserve his battery as a jackrabbit jumped from the roadside into his path. He watched with fascination as the little gray-brown creature sat there, unaware it was about to become road kill.
He hammered his horn a couple of times. “Lazy little prick.”
Twenty yards away he swung the wheel sharply, skidded against the shoulder of the road, kicked up a whirlwind of dirt, and struck a small rock that bounced up against the undercarriage. When he regained speed and composure there was no sign of the rabbit in his rear view mirror.
Three country western songs and an endless commercial for Texas Southern Beer later he noticed his gas gauge dropping. He got out of the car, bent down and spotted gas draining through a two-inch gash the rock must have made in his tank. He jumped back in the car, jammed down the accelerator and prayed. The odometer quickly passed ninety miles per hour on the late-model sedan. He steadied himself out at an even hundred. If there were police around, he only hoped he would be picked up on their radar.
“OK. We can do this.”
He searched for another channel but it was all the same shit-kicker’s droning, same lamenting pathetic men and women spilling out their sad guts over lost loves and misspent lives. The gas gauge’s thin red indicator slipped under the quarter tank mark. He had eighty or so miles to go to the next town.
“Think,” he exhorted himself.
The desert just west of the Continental Divide was barren with only scrub, sand, saguaro, dung beetles, and rattlers. He had left a good job in Los Angeles eighteen years ago with his first wife. It was supposed to be a new beginning for both of them, and turned out to be a repeat of past failures.
The indicator slipped through the red, Empty-zone. A few emergency gallons and the engine would sputter and die. He was trying to calculate how far he had to go when he spotted something at the edge of the horizon steaming up from the heat waves on the tarmac.
“Yes!” he shouted, fist-pumping the air. “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The sedan slowed but not before it covered enough ground for Jerry to make out three small bungalows behind a main house. He couldn’t recall it being there in his last trip. His car rolled to a halt no more than fifty yards from a battered sign reading, Roy’s Desert Motel.
He switched off the engine, grabbed his briefcase, and slammed the car door shut. The baking late July afternoon sun was still a formidable presence. He hadn’t seen any sign of life except for one lousy rabbit. No trucks or cars on a road that was routinely used by both.
He walked a few paces, remembered his cell phone and returned to the car. He bent down at the side of the car and examined every inch of carpet under the seat. It was not on the floor between the rear and front seat either. A sickening feeling welled up into his chest.
“OK, don’t panic.”
The neon light announcing Roy’s was broken. Two weathered pine chairs sat on the front porch. Neither looked as though they would support life. The vending machine at the end of the porch was empty. A pair of tumbleweeds lazily crossed the tarmac nearby and fell into a patch of cacti.
Jerry Bishop opened the screen door and stepped inside. The air was cool. A long couch occupied one side of the office, a desk the other. A radio was playing in the background. He dropped his briefcase on the couch and straightened his tie. He leaned over the partition but couldn’t find a telephone. He heard voices, music and footsteps.
A young man came out of the back clutching a dog-eared paperback under his arm. The boy couldn’t have been twenty. He was wearing regulation jeans and dust stained black t-shirt. His face was round and soft and with small grey eyes sunk deep in his freckled face.
“What can I do for you?”
“Well, for starters, I could use a phone.”
The boy sat down behind the desk. “So could I.”
“I ran out of gas a few yards down the road. Can you spare a few gallons?”
“You want a room?”
“All we got are rooms.”
“No phones or gas?”
He looked up again. “We rent out rooms. Rooms are what we’ve got.”
Jerry glanced around the office. The weathered blue walls were bare. The linoleum frayed. “And there are no phones in the rooms?”
“No phones anywhere.”
Playing along. “So you’re all booked up?”
“We were. They all left this morning. You can have your pick if you’re staying the night.”
“Do you have a car around here?”
“Mister, we got no cars, no phones, and no gas.”
“I have a meeting up in Douglas and I need to get gas or find a phone so I can tell them I’m going to be late,” he continued. “Do you have any suggestions?”
“No, but I see your problem.”
“Anybody around these parts have a car?”
“Sure. Some folks do.”
“But there’s no way to call or reach them. Right?”
“Maybe someone will drive by and you can flag them down.”
Jerry walked to the door. The mountains in the distance were cloaked in a charcoal afternoon shadow. Soft white clouds drifted high overhead. “I’ve landed in goddamn lost fucking world inhabited by inbred cretins,” he lamented quietly, and turned to the boy. “So when was the last time a car came by?”
The boy folded his book up and set it on the desk. “Just now.”
“I mean before me.”
“Don’t know. I was out back reading. Expect I’d still be there if you hadn’t come along.”
Jerry had meetings scheduled for afternoon and evening and Lenny was going to need help processing the new Markson account. “You live here?”
“Born and raised here.”
At least the kid has a sense of humor. “Where did the name come from?”
“Grandfather’s name was Roy.”
“What an amazing coincidence. My brother’s name is Roy.” Of course it wasn’t. It was just that Jerry couldn’t figure what to do next. No car. No gas. No phone. No brains.
“Take your pick. All three of em’ are empty.”
“Jacuzzi in every cabin?”
“Just like in the big hotels.”
“You’re kidding, of course.”
The kid got up and came around the desk. “My grandfather was a very smart man, mister. He wasn’t a cretin with a sense of humor either.” He reached back over the desk, picked up his book, and before he disappeared into the back, added, “Keys are on the desk. They’re all fifty bucks a night.”
Jerry Bishop stood in deafening silence. He hadn’t considered the possibility of a mind-reading cretin. He picked up all three keys and went out into the suffocating heat. His car stood like a beached whale in the desert.
Without immediate help he was going to miss a night between Sherry’s welcoming thighs, her shapely buttocks in once hand and Jack Daniels in the other.
“Fucking rabbit,” had plenty of time to save itself he considered, and stepped up to the first cabin, inserted the key into the lock and pushed. He was met with a blast of cold air.
The inside was several times the size he would have imagined and decorated in rich fabric and accented with ornate antiques. Rose and green silk curtains covered the two windows. There was thick, wall-to-wall pile carpeting, a loveseat, a lounge chair upholstered in some exotic burgundy colored fabric, and two heavily cushioned chairs offsetting the front of a king-sized, four-poster oak bed. Music was seeping into the room. He went directly to the bed.
He let his fingers graze the fine finish on the large Korean enameled chest of drawers. Just like the one he had seen in a museum in San Diego years ago. His heart pounded with excitement.
The bathroom contained a large white Victorian sink, toilet and oversized glass-enclosed shower and an ample Jacuzzi, as promised.
“Not a bad love nest for fifty bucks.”
It took half an hour for him to go through the other two cabins, which were much like the first. He went out to his car, checked for the phone again, removed his suitcase, searched around for signs of life, then bounded back to the cabin as though Sherry was waiting for him in her favorite black silk teddy.
He stripped off his clothes and plunged into the warm Jacuzzi. The shower had twin water poles on each side of the enclosure that sprayed out high intensity water. He held onto the safety railing and turned up the pressure. He stepped out, toweled off, and rolled onto the bed.
“Well I’ll be dipped in shit and rolled in cracker crumbs. This is definitely not bad.”
A small chest in the corner of the room held a freshly stocked bar. “Sherry is going to love this place.”
By the time he’d finished off two mini-bottles of Jack Daniels he realized he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
He flipped open his suitcase, took out a pair of casual trousers and yanked open the door. The night was desert black. A moonless evening illuminated only by the twinkle of dying stars. Forgetting his shoes, he hopped the distance to the office and pushed open the door. He tapped the silver desk bell but there was no response.
“Here Lightning Boy. Here Lightning Boy. Come out, come out wherever you are.”
He walked to the partition behind the desk where the boy first appeared then disappeared, and knocked. No answer.
When he could no longer stand the frustration, he yanked the door open. The same twinkle of stars greeted him. A light breeze swept across the desert enveloping Bishop in a deep chill. He shuddered violently.
“What the fucking hell is going on here?” He fell back through the doorway and against the partition. The view from inside the doorway was a framed chink of iridescent desert defying a jet-black sky.
“Where’d he go without a car?” he said in a voice only his fear could hear.
He fought to control his trembling and walked back to his cabin. He locked the door, turned on the oversized television screen, grabbed a bottle of beer and a can of macadamia nuts, and watched basketball until the nightly news came on.
“Fucking rabbit bastard think he could stand in my way, in my way, like he owned the road?” One of the empty beer bottles fell off the bed.
“I’m drunk, and I’m worried about an empty beer bottle. But, you know, it’s the empty ones you have to be concerned about,” he garbled, crawling like a scared child to the fridge. He pulled the door open. “OK. That’s better.”
Jerry Bishop slept on the carpet in cabin number one of Roy’s Desert Motel that night. He slept, as they say, like a baby, having gone through a six-pack and a handful of bottle shots of Jack Daniels. He woke to an acid dry day. He stumbled half-naked outside and threw up behind the office. When he stopped heaving, he wiped his face and looked up. A jackrabbit sat a few paces away, staring him in the face.
The rabbit’s eyes darted left and right, assured itself that it was in no danger from the rattler that had been following it all morning, and eyed the evil smelling creature with suspicion.
“You’re responsible for all this!” Jerry screamed, swinging his arms in a wide, senseless arc. “But you’re not going to get me. Not you, not my wives, not any of those incompetent parasites in my office.”
He lunged forward and landed on his face. When he looked up the rabbit was gone. Bishop ran haphazardly through the scrub and sagebrush. Following an imaginary path, he lurched forward past mesquite and ancient Palo Verde trees. Soon the pain in his legs was matched by the burning clutch in his lungs and the throbbing pain in his head. When he stopped stumbling and looked around, Roy’s Desert Motel was gone too. “Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no,” he frothed. “You can’t hide from old Jerry here.”
Another hour of wandering and he fell to his knees and began frantically digging a hole in the sand. He used both hands to scoop and scour until he had dug a pit in which he could almost kneel. “There’s water down here. I read that aquifers are under all deserts.”
He dug and dug until his fingers bled and the sun baked his back a deep umber. He dug until he was half submerged in the hole. He dug until the rattler that had been stalking the jackrabbit, having found the scent of his puke behind the office, caught up with him and struck squarely at his buttocks, before sliding back into the sagebrush.
He became dizzy and disoriented. His breathing became shallow and labored. He flapped his arms around, every so often, slapping the air near his buttocks to prevent another mosquito from taking advantage of his vulnerable state.
He grew weak, and could barely sit up. He remembered falling over into the pit. He remembered the sun hurting his eyes. He remembered watching a tiny ant scamper away a few feet from his nose. He felt the sweat drip down his forehead and sting when the salty solution bled into his eyes. He thought he felt something crawling up his back but he couldn’t be certain. But he did know Lenny was going to screw up the Markson account. He just knew it.
David Lawry took his usual half-hour to walk from his parents’ trailer park and opened Roy’s Desert Motel at exactly seven o’clock. He took down the welcome sign, switched on the air conditioner and checked for spiders and other nasty creatures that might have invaded his sanctuary.
The asshole’s car sat on the shoulder of the road, only the key to cabin one was missing. He would tell the asshole about the trailer park after he paid his bill and checked out.
Most people would have considered reading people’s minds as clearly as their own, a gift and not a curse. But it had plagued Lawry his short life and he felt much better as a recluse than a spectacle. It was probably the reason he enjoyed the solitude of maintaining Roy’s. It was preferable to listening to a soundtrack of evil most people had in their heads.
The rental car was eventually towed to the local police station and examined by the medical examiner for signs that might lead to the whereabouts of one Jerry Bishop, who apparently had disappeared into the desert without a trace. While the investigation proved inconclusive, the auto mechanic assigned to detail the car at the rental agency in Bisbee discovered a cell phone wedged high into the springs under the seat next to the driver.
A deeper sweep of the surrounding hillside a week later revealed Bishop’s partially decomposed body. A forty-three year old male Caucasian of average weight and height. The coroner concluded that the body exhibited no unusual or suspicious injuries or trauma, but that Bishop’s system was overwhelmed by a lethal amount of snake venom. When combined with a substantial amount of alcohol, the coroner suspected it rendered Bishop incapable of making his way back to the motel. Essentially, he died in the grave he seemed to have dug for himself.
David Lawry, the grandson of the man who the motel was named after, later confided to the coroner that he sensed that Jerry Bishop had a death wish and was so depressed about his life that what happened in the desert may have more to do with his frame of mind than the more obvious forensic and pathological circumstances that precipitated his death.
When the coroner inquired as to what made Lawry so certain of Bishop’s mental state at the time, the young man quietly withdrew his observations.