Satan’s eye, slipping out of sight beyond the shifting sands. A blind eye now to the denizens of the desert, but still burning in the memory of each scorched skull. Now night, and once again, the million flaring stares, peeking through the peepholes of the sky’s black mask … and the bright mad moon … and the howling wind. …
The door flew open. Clem looked up from the motel ledger as his brother, Chester, lurched into the room. In the hawkish light of the cabin office, Chester looked like nothing so much as a wayward desert ghoul. His tangled beard and disheveled hair, glistened with sweat. His slept-in custodial uniform was in disarray. “Have a nice nap Chester?” Clem shifted uneasily behind the metal desk. Chester stared at him without expression. He clutched a crumpled sheet of motel stationary in his gnarled fist. “Seems a might cooler.” Clem stammered. “Reckon we’ll catch a break if the wind don’t shift?”
“Epiphany.” Chester whispered.
“Excuse me Chester?”
“EPIPHANY!” Chester thundered. He stormed across the room and slammed the crumpled paper on the desk.
“Oh.” Clem poked his horn rimmed reading glasses (which he had been peering over) back to the bridge of his nose. “I guess you done writ me another poem Chester.” He sighed as he picked up the page.
“I wake up, the nightmare’s still there.
I wake up to panic and fear.
I wake up to doom and despair.
I wake up, there’s death in the air.
And my room’s like a tomb sealing me in.
And the clock on the wall is spinning its hands
And I hide in the dark from the unknown again.”
“That’s a right purty poem Chester.” Clem forced a smile. “Epiphany’s a right fine title.” He fished an aspirin bottle from the desk and swallowed a handful. “Chester, reckon you might take a look see in cabin 3? If you feel rested. That slicker couple – one’s with the Benz and that little fluffy dog what bit your leg – they been callin’ and complainin’, complainin’ and complainin’ … Chester … slow down bro … Chester! … DON”T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT NEEDS FIXEN’?”
Softly in the dark, the Magician slips past the bolted locks of Clem’s snoring aspirin- numbed imagination, up the slender, spiral staircase of fantasia-land, down its narrow, dimly-lit hallway, through the silent, moonlit bedchambers, out the window and over the roof – as quiet as a shadow, draped in his midnight magic black cloak, carrying his satchel of starlight and moon glow, as he dusts the night with dream.
The streets are empty as Chester shadows through the unknown city in his recurring nightmare. Dark, deserted buildings surround him. He had no idea why he’s there or where he’s going if anywhere. There’s not a soul in sight. But he senses something in the sir. He knows he’s being followed everywhere.
The air is crisp. The weather has cooled. The motel is deserted. The last of the travelers finally gone, thank God, that city slicker Chester swore he saw on “America’s Most Wanted.” That had led to all kinds of problems. Chester shouldn’t have gone after him with the shotgun. Hadn’t he called the police right in front of him to calm him down? He should have known that old gun had a mind of its own. He should have known not to point it at anyone. When they dug through his wallet turns out he weren’t no crook at all but some big shot. Nothin’ to do with the body but get rid of it. That wad of cash he was carrying was tempting he admitted. Waste not want not. Couldn’t bury that. Half asleep, Clem sits loosely on a tall metal stool behind the cluttered motel office counter, arms hanging at his sides. The doors slowly opens. Chester’s hair and jacket, even his black, tangled beard, are caked with blood. There are burn marks on his face and hands. His clothes are blackened by smoke. His arm is broken. It dangles and swings as he lurches toward him and falls forward.
“Help me Clem!” Chester clings to the counter like a drowning man a raft’s edge. His body trembles. There are tears in his eyes. His crusted mouth drools. “I’m hurt bad Clem! They durn near killed me!”
The pale clerk rises slowly, adjusting his glasses. His brother’s eyes are wild, filled with fear and panic. He can see no open wounds or lacerations.
“You should of used a fuse on that there Caddy tank Chester.” Clem pulls the motel ledger from beneath his brother’s toppled figure. His thin lips pursed. The top page is smudged with smoke. The binding smeared with red. He must have carried that city slicker over his shoulder. Clem brooded. He should have drug him to a hole. His brother had no sense at all. “Fuel’s dangerous, Chester. Thought you might know better.”
He’d never wipe this off. Clem shook his head. He’d have to start a new book. The records would be all messed up, lest he attached the pages from the previous lodgers and that wouldn’t do.
“Caddy tank!” Chester lurches up like a madman. “Weren’t no Caddy tank blow me! I hid the Caddy. Were the chopper I shot down explodin’. Almost landed on me! Crashed into Widows Peak. Plumb knocked the top off! Big boulder broke my arm! Fire nearly burned me
alive! The damned thing tumbling down! It was hell!” He whimpers.
“Chopper? Chester where’s your shotgun?”
The brothers turn abruptly from one another and gape out the window. Headlights sweep across the motel parking lot. A dark sedan pulls up near the office. A lone man sits inside. The plain car looks official. The brothers eye it warily. Their bodies stiffen as they study the man behind the wheel.
“Best go in the back Chester.” Clem straightens his suspenders and puts on his clerical visor.: “We’ll talk about this later.”
The man emerges slowly from the car. He has dark, curly hair. He looks rough and rangy. Clem catches a flash of a 45 holstered beneath his dusty Bureau windbreaker. Clem’s pulse races as the man strides through the door. His flesh feels clammy as the scowling agent approaches the counter. When Clem looks in his eyes sweat breaks from his pores.
“Stragger.” The man holds up a badge. “FBI. I’m following up on a call you made last night. You told the Black Water police you had a suspicious man staying here. Guy on “most wanted. A killer.”
Clem swallows hard and heaves a sigh.
“That man is gone, officer. Like I told the other what called later. Bad looking man. We’re lucky we’re alive.”
“Who’s we?” The agent glares at him and scowls.
Clem’s face turns white.
Agent Stragger lifts the ledger from the counter and studies the entries inside.
“Me and my brother Chester.” Clem stammers. “This motel is ourn.”
“What’s your name?”
“Where’s your brother, Clem?”
The agent rips a page from the book. His moustache forms a frown.
“He’s away. In town I reckon.”
The agent looks around the room and lights a cigarette. He blows the smoke in the nervous clerk’s face/ Something starts eating away at the back of his mind. His eyes narrow.
“Is this your entry? How come it’s been scratched out?”
Clem’s palms start to sweat. He forces a smile. The agent’s eyes are serpents. They bore through him like fangs.
“Really didn’t notice sir.” Clem’s legs tremble. He plays with his suspenders, fidgets with the visor on his head. “maybe he done snuck in here and scratched it out, cover his tracks?”
“Was the car a Cadillac?”
Smoke trails through the agent’s nostrils.
“Can’t rightly say I recollect. Maybe it were, maybe not. Might have been a Buick.”
“We’ll enhance this page on a computer, see if the letters stand out. We’re looking for a V.I.P supposed to meet the mayor of Tucson this morning. Figured maybe his car broke down. The mayor sent a chopper to search the desert. Someone shot it down. Last call the police got was about a black Cadillac off the road by Widow’s Peak. He was going to check it out. I’m going to send another agent around with a photograph of the V.I.P.. Kidnapping? Assassination? Something to do with that “most wanted” guy you recognized from TV? You and your brother Fester help him out. Give him a description of the man who stayed here. Make sure Fester sticks around. I don’t want to have to look for him. We’re too busy to play around.”
“That’s Chester, officer.”
“Chester not Fester.”
“Someone get cut?”
The agent holds up his hand. The long blunt fingers are stained with dried blood. Clem watches the agent’s eyes wander along the counter. They move from it to the floor and to the spotty path that led to the washroom door.
“yes sir. My brother.” Clem’s voice is shaky. “Earlier in the day.”
“That why he went to town?”
“Did he go to town to see a doctor?”
“Yes sir. The doctor. Cut real bad. Been too blamed busy to clean it up.”
“Place is a real bee hive.” The moustache smiles. “Can I use your washroom?” He vaults the counter and strides toward the back. He drags on his cigarette and drops the butt on the floor.
“Plumbing ain’t working officer.” Clem’s voice is strained. “I can let you in the room next door. Nice and clean, fresh new towels.”
“Just want to wipe off my hands.” The big man turns and smiles. “Maybe run a comb through my hair.”
“That lock’s plumb busted!” Clem calls after him shrilly. “You can’t get in!”
“That’s OK. I’ll fix it.”
Stragger kicks in the door. Chester is seated on the toilet, holding his broken arm. He is biting on his wallet, squirming with pain.”
“Works better with your pants down.” Stragger says pleasantly. “Oh, that’s right, plumbing’s out anyway. Guess if it was working you’d have washed up some.” Stragger studies the tortured, blackened figure. “Lookee here, Clem.” He turns back to the clerk. Clem stands and stares, white as a ghost, his arms frozen at his sides. “Your brother’s back from town. Why don’t the three of us take a little ride?”