For the last fifteen or so years I've been living with a bunch of dead guys at a motel in West Texas. Like the characters in my stories, I'd really like to move on, see the world, go places. But I'm just like them. Anchored by love, worn down by circumstances and fascinated by how much there really is underneath it all. So I keep writing their stories and tell myself that someday, when I've got this all out of my system, I'll write deep, meaningful literature about... something else. In the meantime, this is a place for the short attention spanned. I'm making a commitment to keep it small here. Flash fiction and scenes from the life inspired by, The Bella Vista Motel.
Everybody thought Dicky Two-Times got his name because of his way with the ladies, but Romeo knew better. As he sat there under the trees going over the night Dicky died, he remembered that there had been a dame involved, but she'd been no more responsible than the gun that killed him, she didn't pull the trigger. Romeo continued to ignore the blur of grey beside him, though he flinched at the lightening flash of white light from just over his left shoulder, like a flashbulb "pop" going off, as if the picture in his mind of Dicky holding up his hands in front his face, the word "no" forever frozen on his lips, had just been snapped by an unseen camera. The dame bothered Romeo though, because he couldn't remember where she came from, whether she'd arrived along with Sy or with the flock of whores from Violet's and Sy had just called dibs on her – but either way, he did remember she had been a real looker, and she'd made herself scarce as soon as things got ugly. It might have been Dicky's passes at the dame that got Sy started, but what pushed him over the edge was the weird way Dicky had to keep touching Sy's stuff, casually like he was trying to be unnoticeable, the side of his whiskey glass, one, pause, two, the back of Sy's chair, one, pause, two... with guilty, feathery fingers and a twisted mouth like he couldn't help himself, like he hated what he was doing. Romeo thought the incident had been unfortunate, but didn't see that he could have prevented it, because the only ones responsible for Dicky's death had been Dicky himself and the guy he made sore, Sy, who'd said, "Dicky, you touch my head one more time, and I'm gonna fucking kill you."
Romeo could hear the dogs sniffing around somewhere behind him, the orchestra of birdsong and lazy wind through the trees high above, interrupted by the occasional rude cackle of crows. He opened the guest book and scanned the names, frowning at the blank spaces that held faint impressions of fake monikers he'd inserted in the first book to round things out, and guys like Geo Caletti and Mo Ragola who seemed to come and go without incident. Only the dead men had left their marks clearly, indelibly, the signatures unique to each in deep, rusty brown ink. The first name, right at the top still caused a sick feeling in the pit of Romeo's stomach, the smell of burned flesh coming to mind as clearly as the image of Jack... taking a head-first dive into the white hot incinerator. Every name had its own story, some as bad or worse in their own way as Jack's, and as Romeo's gaze fell on Dicky Two-Times, he tried to remember the sequence of events, wondering if somehow he could have prevented the outcome. A cold chill ran up the back of Romeo's neck, but he knew not to turn around, not to look for the man in the gray suit, the man with the rainwater eyes, the man he'd shot dead two years earlier – he knew Agent Ramiel could only be seen out the corner of his eyes unless he was asleep and dreaming, and then, he was all too clear.
Romeo walked out into the clearing behind the motel, an area of about twenty or thirty yards, a hushed threshold at the edge of the grove. The grove went back a long ways, nearly two acres deep, about an acre wide at the far end, big enough for Romeo to squint his eyes and look out into the trees, imagining central park. The largest trees surrounded the edges of the clearing, their branches spreading out above in a cathedral ceiling of leaves so that it was always shady, even when winter stripped the branches down to a skeletal tangle. On the left side of the clearing, a huge old stone fireplace and its chimney stood completely intact and functional, the cabin it served in 1870 stripped away by hostile fire. On the far right side, a modern cement block incinerator, big enough to serve ugly purposes, with an extra wide metal door and a high chimney of its own, smoked calmly, like a lit cigarette lying in an ashtray waiting for lips. Usually when the guest book came back, Romeo pitched it in the incinerator without pause or remorse, but this time, tired of lying to himself, tired of doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome, he decided to take a seat on the edge of the stone hearth and face what the book had to say, to see if the names written in deep brown ink would come alive long enough for him to understand what he was supposed to do.
Slappy, the kid, appeared from around the corner, hip first and jaws flapping as usual. Romeo still had the phone receiver in his hand, even though Mr. G had hung up, and could feel his pulse battering senselessly against the dead, black bakelite. "I hope you're ready to go," the kid said, "'cause when I pulled the truck up and looked back in the rear view, there's the mutts in the back again, just like they always ride back there, like it's all of a sudden normal or somethin', but unless you let 'em ride in the back when I ain't lookin,' I don't know where they keep gettin' the idea they're goin' somewhere, and I gotta tell you, I'm fed up with their gettin' in the way and being so obstinate about it - those dogs are some big heavy bastards when they don't want to move - but I did finally get 'em out, so... we goin' now or what?" Romeo replaced the receiver, closed the cover of the guest book and tucked it under his arm. He couldn't help sighing as he looked out the front window at the road that lead beyond sight to wavering, intangible horizons and said, "Nah, you go on without me and just get double of everything on the list." Slappy's elastic eyebrows shot up, but before he could ask, Romeo said, "I got some work to do before our new guest arrives..." and he gave a whistle for the dogs to make it easier on the kid as he headed out the door and down the walkway to the grove of trees behind the motel.
Romeo squinted at the guest book, read the name at the bottom of the list - Clark Mannish - but it didn't ring a bell, did he know this guy yet? That bloody metallic taste flooded the back of his tongue and set his teeth on edge, the hair on the back of his neck prickled and an electric tremor ran up his spine. He looked at the big, black phone on the desk as it began to vibrate with the force of its warning bell and thought of air raid sirens, fire alarms, parochial school, death, disaster, confinement. He answered it before it could finish ripping open the silence and said, "Bella Vista Motel, how can I help you?" even though he knew it was Mr. G. "Romeo, ever at the ready..." Mr. G said, his black skull grin evident in his voice, "good thing I caught you before you did your shopping, you'll need to set another place at the table tonight." Romeo listened to Mr. G's instructions, trying his best not to clench his jaw, unsurprised when he was told the new guest's name and got a sudden picture in his mind - a man of gigantic proportions with eyes by turns needy and cruel, a man with a deep voice and a high, girlish giggle.
Romeo was in a hurry when he breezed through the motel lobby, keys in hand and the temporary freedom of the road in mind. A supply trip to San Angelo wasn't exactly a pleasure cruise, but hey, he knew how to savor fresh air sucked through a straw. And anyway, he had a good feeling that a new shipment of records from Sha-Sha was waiting for him at the post office, brand new recordings from jam sessions at 3 Dueces, Billy Eckstine's, Jimmy Ryans' and who knew where else – anywhere Sha-Sha could drag his wonderful recording machine and capture the wailing beat, beat, beat. Each shiny black disc he acquired gave him back a piece of himself, let him close his eyes to the dry, stir-crazy day after day and fool himself into thinking he was back home in the city. If he'd kept going right on through, he wouldn't have noticed the guest book, spread-eagle lewd right out on the front desk. But there it was, taunting him with its pages of tombstone roll-call, all the names he didn't want to see and more – a new name, a new guest, a new stain that wouldn't clean away, no matter how many times he burned that god damned book in the incinerator.
For the last fifteen or so years I've been living with a bunch of dead guys at a motel in West Texas. Like the characters in my stories, I'd really like to move on, see the world, go places. But I'm just like them. Anchored by love, worn down by circumstances and fascinated by how much there really is underneath it all. So I keep writing their stories and tell myself that someday, when I've got this all out of my system, I'll write deep, meaningful literature about... something else. In the meantime, this is a place for the short attention spanned. I'm making a commitment to keep it small here. Flash fiction, scenes from the life and Six Sentence serials inspired by, The Bella Vista Motel.