Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Secret of the Lost Tribe, Chapter Two

Begin with the beginning.

Chapter Two

The Hotel California

It was dark. It was night. It was late. At least too late to be riding around a highway winding through some Indian reservation, without any definite idea where they were going.

Before nightfall, Jennifer and Traynor had visited another tourist attraction, El Morro National Monument, also known as Inscription Rock. It was another ruined Anasazi village, this one atop a sandstone promontory that was covered with inscriptions left by the Anasazi, the Spanish, and American pioneers. However, tourist attraction or no tourist attraction, now the highway ahead and behind them was deserted.

"Where the hell are we?" cursed Jennifer over the country music wailing from the radio of the roadster.

"On some kind of a road or a state highway or some such thing called 53, according to this map," Traynor replied wearily.

"We might already be in Albuquerque if not for that stupid pileup and detour on the Interstate. Welcome to Gallup — The Drunk Driving Capital of America."

"So much for Amarillo by morning. But on the Interstate we'd have missed that El Morro Anasazi thing."

"Fuck the Anasazi."

He grinned. "Wasn't that funny when that ranger told you that you need 'sturdy walking shoes' for that trail? I'm not the kind to go, 'I told you so,' but I told you so."

"Shut up." She looked straight ahead.

"I mean, there's nothing funnier than two government agents duking it out. Former government agent, in your case. Can you tell me who exactly of you two had the monopoly on the legitimate use of force back there?"

"Shut up."

"Do you think he should have shot you for your own good when you simply ignored him and walked up that trail anyway?"

"Shut up."

"To play the devil's advocate: What about property rights? Doesn't the government get to make the rules on government property?"

"Shut the fuck up."

"Best thing is that the Interstate's got to already be open again. Otherwise we'd have more company. This is the only road paralleling the Interstate."

"Do you want me to turn around?"

"No. Sooner or later we've got to end up on the Interstate again, according to the map."

"To hell with your stupid map."

Traynor looked up from his stupid map. On the radio, Emmylou Harris observed, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." He looked around. Obviously, Emmylou was right.

He cocked a brow. "Not the end of the world. But if it weren't dark, we could see it from here."

If anything, the darkness was emphasized by the light of the full moon. It only made one think what might lurk in the shadows between the silvery silhouettes of trees and bushes. Ahead, beside the road, a butte rose steeply into the sky. On its apex, outlined against the white disk of the moon, stood the black silhouette of an Indian horseman, like a ghost from a time long gone by. Despite the deceptive moonlight, Traynor was sure it was an Indian, not a cowboy from a nearby ranch. The figure did not wear a war bonnet like a plains Indian, but he did not wear a cowboy hat, either. Traynor thought he got a glimpse of the savage garb. Most tellingly, however, the shadow held a bow instead of a rifle.

Traynor nudged Jennifer. "We've got company."

She blinked her eyes in fatigue. "Huh?"

He pointed out the silent, immobile figure in the sky.

She shrugged. "It's a reservation, after all."

"We've got to be a couple miles out of that reservation already."

"So do you wanna climb up there to tell Chief Moth Eaten he's out of area?"

"Not necessarily. It's a free country."

"By the way — how the hell did he get up there?"

"Maybe there's a path on the other side." He grinned wryly. "Still, a bit creepy with that bow — one would think today's Indians pack rifles. Like he's on the warpath, ready to command some unseen army to attack…"

That moment, a flaming arrow burned through the windshield of the Auburn, hitting Jennifer's eye. At least that was what she felt. As the automobile sped towards the needle of light, the needle grew into a speck, then into white neon letters advertising: "Hotel California." The sign sat on the roof of a single-story building. In front of it was another light, a flashing blue neon sign announcing: "Vacancy." It was not actually a hotel; Motel California would have been closer to the truth. From a row of rooms sprouted a more spacious wing, probably the office and maybe a restaurant, with two gas pumps and a diesel pump in front of it. That was all. Jennifer pulled into the parking lot between the vacancy sign and the motel.

"Gas. Food. Lodging." Traynor frowned. "Not exactly the Plaza."

"Let's get that real straight right now. I'm about to fall asleep at the wheel. And you're not exactly the world's greatest driver. You'll understand that I'm not too keen to have you drive my Auburn at night. So we're kind of running out of options. Either we'll be sleeping in my car, or we take a chance on this Hotel California."

There did not seem to be too many guests. Only a handful of other vehicles sat in the parking lot in front of the rooms. Jennifer stopped the Auburn in front of the motel office.

When they entered, they found a middle-aged couple behind the front desk. Both of them stood a bit taller than either Jennifer or Traynor. Apparently, they were discussing some business matter. As Jennifer and Traynor checked in, the four of them got involved in a conversation. It turned out the other couple owned the motel. They said their names were Irv and Maxine Goldman. Eventually, Jennifer and Traynor realized they were not only very tired but also very hungry.

"Well, I've already closed the kitchen for tonight, but I can get you some apple pie," offered Maxine.

"That would be wonderful," Jennifer sighed.

They moved to a booth in the diner. Now the New York couple saw that there was more to this wing than just front desk, office, and diner. A spacious room next to the diner was a veritable general store selling souvenirs to tourists and groceries to the few locals living out here. This place had to be the supply depot and gathering place for ranches far and wide.

While Maxine got the apple pie, Goldman volunteered to mix them drinks. Some strands of his receding gray hair escaped from under his Stetson. His face was tanned like leather, and his stout frame was dressed in a flannel shirt and worn blue jeans.

"You guys are Eagles fans?" asked Traynor.

"Eagles? Oh, you mean because of Hotel California?" Maxine brought the apple pie and sat down at their table.

Her hair was still black — possibly dyed. However, the first thing one noticed about her were her big, questioning eyes that seemed to wonder at something inexplicable. She looked a little slimmer than her husband, although that was hard to tell due to her flowing floral-print dress.

The apple pie smelled delicious. However, Traynor knew that that meant nothing. But when he tasted it, it proved to be delicious, without that chemical aftertaste of factory pastry.

Goldman served the tequila sunrises Traynor had ordered, got himself a beer from the refrigerator under the counter, and joined them. "No, we were actually on our way to open a hotel in California when we came across this here place. The guy who had built it wanted to get rid of it badly, so we bought it for a song, and opened our hotel here instead of in California. But we named it for our formerly promised land. You know, we're originally from Chicago. As the saying goes, we saved our pennies and saved our dimes — to build our own hotel someday."

"Maybe we should have moved on… After all, when we found out why he had to sell…"

"Shush, Max."


"Let's not worry our guests."

Jennifer frowned. "But? What is it?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all."

"Irv, you know it's one of these nights…"

"Max! Enough is enough."

Although he was curious himself, Traynor thought it more important to avert marital discord. "That reminds me… Could I get another tequila sunrise?"

Jennifer rolled her eyes. "Take it easy, desperado…"

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