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“Cross Country to Topeka” posted here is the third chapter in my unfinished novel hard road to barstow.  The chapter is broken into three parts for readability.  It is posted here in logical order.  Coming soon, I will be providing links in the posts directing readers to thethree parts>  I will be creating a new page shortly with consolidated links to all parts of the novel posted here, including chapters 1 and 2.  In the meantime, you may find the various parts of the story under the category head “on the road.”

3

Cross Country to Topeka

(part 1)

There came a knocking on the door.  It was 11:30 and I had only been sleeping about half an hour.  I had been up about thirty hours alternating between taking tequila shots to popping Ritalin to tearing roaches apart to make one decent joint to sitting at my laptop trying to form coherent sentences about this whole fucked up experience.  The Wild Turkey was a constant.

“WHAT!?  WHAT DO YOU WANT!!??  Don’t come in!  I’ll turn my cobra loose!”

“Housekeeping, Senor.  Would you like clean towels?  It’s been five days, Senor.”

I staggered to the door and fumbled with the safety latch.  It’s the U-Bolt kind that I have never been able to figure out.  I snatched the door open and the maid squealed and dropped the towels.  For a moment there was this weird tableau; young and dumpy Hispanic woman in a pink uniform and a pile of clean towels at her feet, eyes so wide open that I thought her plucked eyebrows were going to cross her hairline, mouth frozen in a perfect ‘O’; me with a cold, half smoked cigarette in my mouth that I had grabbed off the floor on my way to the door, six days of salt-and-pepper stubble on my face, long, greasy hair sticking out in every direction, and pizza sauce crusted in my chest hair and staining my boxers which hadn’t seen soap in two weeks.

“WHAT?!  CAN’T YOU READ GODDAMIT??  ‘DO NOT DISTURB.’  ‘NO DISTURBE.’  COMPRENDE??!!  GO THE FUCK AWAY!”

That broke the spell.

She stepped cautiously backward the way you do when you want to get away from a dangerous viper without provoking an attack.  “Housekeeping, Senor?  Clean towels?  Sheets?” She looked quickly down at the pile of towels and then back up at me before I had a chance to strike.  She was a gamer this one, I had to say.  I have sent many a housekeeper screaming back to the barrio.

“Leave everything right here,” I said, “and bring three . . . NO!  FIVE!  FIVE more ice buckets.  Sit it ALL by the door.  Tell NO one that I am here and then LEAVE ME ALONE!”

I grabbed a twenty-dollar bill from the night stand and shoved it into her hand.  She looked at it as though it was covered with Anthrax and then quickly stuck it in her apron pocket before I had a chance to change my mind.

I closed the door and turned back to the room.  Jesus!  I couldn’t tell if the wastebaskets were full or not.  I couldn’t see them for the piles of Domino’s Pizza boxes, Chinese food containers, Heineken bottles and cardboard cases, liquor bottles of every size and denomination, Cheeto bags, Pringle cans,  and empty Coke two-liter bottles.  Cheap plastic motel cups were here and there with unfinished booze in the bottom and substituting for ashtrays.  There was a liquor bottle on every flat surface that would hold one.  Cigarette butts and random roaches overflowed all the regular ashtrays.  Bedspreads, blankets, sheets and pillows lay in heaps on the floor and hanging off both beds.  A pair of red panties was tied around the phone receiver which was off the hook.  Dionysus had certainly stomped the earth in Barstow over the past week or so.

On one nightstand was an oasis of cleanliness.  It was where all my drugs and paraphernalia was lovingly inventoried and stacked.

A towel was shredded to make a headband to keep my hair out of my eyes when I was nose to the screen of the laptop trying to make sense of the dancing letters.  I would have used one of my bandanas that I obsessively carry but they were all caked with dried blood from when I cracked my head out in the desert.

I lit the cigarette in my mouth and stumbled over to the laptop which I purchased the second day here in Barstow.  It was still on.  I tapped the touchpad to clear the screensaver and squinted to see the screen.  The majority was gibberish that I would later reassign to the ether—except for the last sentence.  “That was when the bastard abandoned me in Topeka.”

Oh yeah, Topeka.

We left Savannah for the cash run to Atlanta and from there points west.  Jerry was throwing junk into the back seat when I walked around to the passenger door.

“What?  The crack-whore isn’t coming?

“No,” he said.  “And she’s NOT a crack-whore!  Her name is Penelope and she has a tapeworm!  THAT’S why she looks like that.  She has to stay close so she can get her medicine.  I promised her I would write.  I think I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

“Oh, well, in that case, my apologies and condolences.  Hand me the grass.”

“We only have a quarter-pound man.  Go easy on it, o.k.?”

“o.k, o.k. Grandma,” I said, “Now hand me the bag.”

He slid behind the wheel and after giving me a moment to complete the delicate process of loading and tamping my pipe, we took off.  250 miles and four hours later we were northwest of Atlanta with an extra three-thousand dollars in our pockets.  MY pockets rather—no way was I going to let that thieving punk get his hands on the money.  But I will say one thing for him.  He knows how to find a bargain.  No one can spot or knows how to romance a cheap whore like my old friend Jerry.

“Slow down, man!”  I said.  “We’re going to get busted.  You’ve been doing more than 90 for over an hour now.”

“No problem, bro,” he said.  I am a fully certified officer of the law.  If we get stopped, I’ll flash my badge and we’re off scot-free.  There is a Brotherhood of the Blue, you know.”

“You’re a goddamned bail bondsman, you geek!  That aluminum-foil, gumball prize ain’t gonna cut no ice in Georgia.  You’re drunk.  I’m drunk and stoned.  We’ve got out of state plates.  The crackers will use us for target practice.”

“In that case,” he said, “I’ll slap some cuffs on you and tell them that I apprehended you trying to flee the Sovereign Colony of Virginia.”

“Shithead . . ..”

“What?”

“Never mind.  Keep driving.”

I reached under the seat and pulled out the Wild Turkey.  We only stopped three times before we hit Topeka.  Twice to get gas and once in Nashville to heckle tourists in brand new cowboy hats with their jeans stuffed in the tops of their three hundred dollar pointy-toed boots.  We laughed so hard at one fat Burgermeister, his Frau, and their Trio of Piglets that the fire fell out of my pipe and burned a hole in the upholstery.  At one gas stop we loaded the back seat with beef jerky, Pringles, and Cheetos for human fuel.  We took turns on the interstate keeping lookout when a piss break was required.  Somewhere in western Tennessee I fell asleep.

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