Chapter Fifty-eight

   Room #207 in the Tempe Teepee Motel was a lot like room #206 except that it was a much, much quieter room. Apparently the occupants of 206 had been performing some kind of ritual torture -- and loving it -- for at least two hours. The noise was deafening. Maureen's defense was to stuff cotton in her ears; mine was to turn the radio up all the way, but this -- couple? -- in the next room were doing things that could not be drowned out.
   "I'm going down and complain," I announced, realizing I'd have to confront that moody psychopath of a motel manager.
   "I said, 'I'm going down to complain.'"
   "I said -- never mind -- take the cotton out of your ears."
   "TAKE THE COTTON OUT OF YOUR EARS!!!" I pulled the cotton out of her ears.
   "What were you saying, Jim? It sounded like you said you were going down to complain."
   "That's right, I am.
   "You do realize that you're going to have to confront that moody psychopath of a motel manager."
   "Yes, I do."
   I approached the manager's office with some trepidation. Here it was, the middle of the night, the lights were all out, and I was about to disturb a nut with a criminal record a mile long. I knew this because he kept his criminal record on display in the lobby.
   I knocked, gently at first, but there was no answer. I knocked a little more forcefully and still there was no answer. After constant pounding with my fists drew no response I ripped the fire extinguisher off the wall and smashed it through the door, sending shards of wood everywhere. With some difficulty I wriggled my way through the opening and entered the dank, dingy, musty -- but otherwise delightful -- office. He wasn't there. No one was there. Now what? I wondered. At least if this psychopath of a motel manager had been in his office there might have been a chance for some honest-to-goodness action, but, alas.
   At a loss for motivation or purpose I again wriggled my way out and aimlessly wended my way back to our room. I knocked on the door, which was wisely locked.
   "Maureen, open up. It's me." I knocked a few more times. Nothing. Maybe she's in the shower, I thought, so I decided to wait, leaning uncomfortably against the balcony railing. As I said, it was the middle of the night, and the sky was filled with stars, as well as a surprisingly large number of flying saucers. There must have been at least ten flying saucers in the sky in the short time that passed before the door finally burst open and revealed, not Maureen, but -- one of the readers I think -- and he was holding, and eating, a large, meaty, bloody... limb! He was eating a leg!
   I rushed past him into the room and saw that there was blood everywhere -- on the floor, the walls, the ceiling -- it was the most disgusting sight I could ever remember seeing -- and then I felt faint, things began spinning and... the next thing I knew there was an ice pack on my forehead and Maureen -- she was alive! -- was by my side, doling out spoonfuls of Campbell's Chunky Vegetable Soup.
   "What happened?" I asked, in a daze.
   "You witnessed something awful, Jim, and then you passed out."
   "I passed out? But I thought you had been -- I mean, the guy was eating a human leg and there was blood everywhere and -- "
   "Jim, Jim, calm down, all that did happen but, you see, you walked into the wrong room. You went into room #206. We're in 207. You walked in on a private matter that doesn't concern you and it's best you forgot the whole thing and got back to what you were doing."
   "Well, at least it's quieted down over there. Now, maybe, I can get some sleep. Turn off the lights."
   "Who was that?"
   "I don't know."
   "Mind if I drop a quarter in the Magic Fingers slot?"
   "Huh? Who said that? Where are you, pal?"
   "I don't see anyone, Jim."
   "Either of you have a quarter? I left my pants back at the office."
   "By the way, folks, check-out time is two o'clock -- sharp! If you're so much as a second late you pay for another day."
   It was the motel manager -- and he was in the room, possibly in the bed with us!
   "How'd you get in here?" I asked him.
   "I've got a master key."
   "What do you want?" Maureen wanted to know.
   "I want a quarter, so's I can get this thing to work."
   "No, she means, what is it that you're after? We're fully aware of your record, that you're a moody psychopath and all, so don't try to trick us."
   "I am not a moody psychopath, that's my brother-in-law. He and my wife went on a two week vacation to the Grand Canyon, not a bad setting for fiction I might add."
   "He went with your wife?" I was relieved that at least the maniac in our bed was not a moody psychopath.
   "What could I do? He's an unpredictable powder keg with a short fuse and a thin skin."
   "And a low boiling point, too," I added, condescendingly."
   "Yeah, that too."
   Maureen was getting impatient.
   "Look, Jim, I can't get any sleep, this story's going nowhere -- why don't we get back in the car and on the road again?"
   She was right. The motel scene wasn't coming together the way I had intended. What went wrong? (You didn't trust your instincts -- Ed.) No? Who's that? Junior? Is that Notesie's kid? (Yeah. Dad told me to take a peek at what you were up to, not that he's changed his mind or anything -- Ed.) Well, how about that! How are things in book land? (Very slow, very slow. No one's coming in with anything new, or different. Just the same old baloney: Celebrity cookbooks, post-Cold War post-mortems, quasi-autobiographies of semi-fictional characters, etcetera, etcetera -- Ed.)
   "Excuse me, you two," Maureen interrupted, "I can't speak for any of the other characters, but this is one character who could use a change of scenery. How about it, Jim?"
   See ya later, Junior!
   And there we were again, tooling down the highway, doing about ninety-nine on Route 66, or vice versa, wind whipping through our hair, bugs flying up our noses, the distinct smell of manure in the air. Dinosaur manure? Nah, red herring, forget it.
   "Jim, look at these." Maureen opened up a large brown envelope and pulled out some photographs, several of them looking like they were from somebody's attic they were so yellowed and frayed.
   "I'd rather not look at anything right now, Maureen. Can't this wait?"
   "No, Jim, the publisher wants a decision on this immediately."
   "The publisher? What decision?"
   "The pictures. The photographs for your book."
   "My book? My novel? A novel doesn't have pictures."
   "Well, this one does. And you've got to choose them -- now. How about if I describe them to you?"
   "Here's one of Lincoln when he was a boy, but it's hard to tell it's Lincoln."
   "What about a picture of a five dollar bill?"
   "You can't photograph money and reproduce it. It's a federal crime, punishable by incarceration, a favorite word of yours."
   "Well, then, are there any others of Abe?"
   "Sure, sure... there's a classic Matthew Brady, and several from the debates with Douglas, and a couple of Raymond Massey."
   "You pick it. What else?" We were still going ninety as storm clouds began to develop in the distance.
   "Here's a nice shot of the Olympic Games in Barcelona."
   "Fine. What else?"
   "Do you like this one of Joan Didion?"
   "Where'd you get it?"
   "Her publicist sent it over."
   "Joan Didion has a publicist?"
   "Apparently so. By the way, I wasn't sure if you wanted a picture of Norman Mailer in your book or not, so I -- "
   "No. No pictures of Mailer. Absolutely not."
   "Then there's just a few more that you have to look at, and they are... this one, a doctored photo of King Kong clinging to the Chrysler Building in New York. Do you want it?"
   "The Chrysler Building? King Kong climbed up the side of the Empire State Building."
   "I said, it's been doctored. You can tell, someone just cut out King Kong and pasted him on a picture of the Chrysler Building. It's obvious."
   "Okay, put it in. I'll just have to write something about it -- no, maybe not, maybe this will do. Any others? I want to know, because we're getting close to The Mystery House, it's only two exits away."
   "What about a picture of the world-famous Hotel del Coronado in San Diego?"
   "No, I've plugged them enough already. Any more?"
   "One more. Which photograph of Arsenio Hall do you want to use?"
   "What are the choices?"
   "One's of him while he's hosting his show, and the other's an 8X10 glossy publicity still."
   "Use the one from the show."
   "All right, done."
   "Good. Next stop -- The Mystery House!"

(This ends Chapter Fifty-eight. Only seven more chapters to go!)

Chapter Fifty-nine