SILENT RIDER by Darren Block

 

 

CHAPTER ONE  The Spider

Wayne Mackey Jr. sat quietly behind black sunglasses waiting for his bus. His sleeves rolled down past his wrists to the base of his thumbs and his frayed bell-bottoms dragged well below his boot heels. A three-day beard and the wide brim of a beat-up cowboy hat shaded all but just a hint of his perfect chin. He believed that he’d mastered a consummate disguise but ironically his determination to be anonymous made him the target of every eye. He stared straight ahead, pretending not to be noticed. He lit a short filterless cigarette with the tiny butt of one burned down to nothing and flicked what was left to the ground in a silent shower of sparks. Secretly rubbing his singed fingers together, he tried to ignore the pain. The bus terminal bustled with people of all colors, shapes and sizes and a frenetic energy ebbed and flowed as the giant Greyhounds came and went. Accustomed to years of clandestine living, Wayne felt vulnerable and displaced sitting among the masses. He had been a movie star for most of his adult life and knew little of the outside world. From a distant corner of the terminal, Wayne spotted a woman approaching; an ordinary woman drawn toward him like a giddy bridesmaid, waving a pen and an old bus ticket stub like a freshly caught bouquet. Wayne pretended to remain unaware until that awkward moment of unwanted contact. She stood before him as if to offer her virtue. Wayne snatched the pen and the old bus ticket stub from her hand and hid them under his coat. He pulled her down onto the bench beside him by the hem of her tartan wool dress. He spoke to her softly, making sure no one else could hear. “How did you know who I was?” he whispered. “You wore that hat in Whiskey Train,” she replied proudly, “and those were the glasses from Risk Factor - you were so funny in that movie.” “It wasn’t a comedy.” Wayne whispered back. He had never been forced to make direct conversation with a fan before, his only feedback came from agents and publicists. “I’d be honored to have your autograph. Could you make it out to ‘my true love, Donna - love, Wayne Mackey Jr’.” He took out the pen, signed her ticket stub and handed it back to her, making sure that no one had seen him. “I’d really rather not have anybody know I’m here.” He begged. “Then maybe you should stop wearing clothes from your movies - listen to me - telling Wayne Mackey Jr. what to do.” She quivered at the very thought. “No you have a good point,” Wayne said, “too recognizable. I always tried to tell them my clothes were too recognizable, that ‘Wayne Mackey’ should be the focus, not the clothes - but they wouldn’t listen - that’s the problem Donna - nobody listens. It’s all about marketing nowadays - the sun-glasses, the shoes, the car - there are no movie stars anymore - the products are the stars, the actors have become the props. Do you know what I mean?” It had been several hours since Wayne had been able to talk about himself and the fact that he was talking to a perfect stranger was no deterrent; his ego felt like it was about to burst. Donna had stopped listening the moment Wayne had spoken her name, getting her very excited and nervous...and strangely possessive. “Who are you waiting for? Are you waiting for someone?!” She asked, barely containing herself. Wayne countered her energy by becoming dead calm, something he’d mastered over so many years of having fans get star-struck in his presence. “No - I’m on the next bus,” he said calmly trying to turn her off,” I’ve quit making movies and I’m leaving L.A. - tonight.” “Like in Runaway when you left Wall Street for Marissa Tome - you were so strong.” Wayne turned his attention to the large glass windows of the terminal, watching another bus pull away, wishing he were already gone. “But this isn’t a movie,” he said, as he watched the bus disappear and the trail of black diesel exhaust dissolve into the L.A. night. “If it were - I’d be in an Wayne Mackey movie!” she squealed, standing up and then practically passing out at the thought, “ I’d just die.” Wayne pulled her back down onto the bench. “I really don’t want anyone to know I’m here so if you could just.....” She abruptly snatched her autograph and dashed off across the terminal to a far corner where a friend stood waiting for her. They both whispered together, gazing dreamily in Wayne’s direction. He pulled the brim of his hat back down over his eyes, got up and dejectedly ambled over to the ticket window. Randy Molen, the ticket clerk sat in a small plexiglass booth, isolated, quietly looking down, just biding time until the next time he could get stoned. A thirty eight year old adolescent, Randy had a certain depth about him but unfortunately he’d killed a good number of brain cells attaining it. Randy seemed to embody his generation; his development arrested at about age nineteen, he found himself caught somewhere between the sixties and the nineties and felt a certain responsibility to reflect the politics, the anger, the spirituality and the addictions of four decades. He had become an enigma even to himself and worked extra hard at maintaining a safe distance between his impression of the world and the world itself. A theft resistant drawer and a small speaker hole was the only physical contact that the booth allowed and that was just the way Randy liked it. Wayne dejectedly pushed his ticket through the drawer.. “I’d like to trade this ticket in,” Wayne said quietly. “Is there a problem?” Randy replied without looking up. “I just need to get on a different bus.” Randy took a certain sardonic pride in being able to deny Wayne’s request. “There’s no other bus to where you’re going.” He said as he pushed Wayne’s ticket back. Wayne leaned into the glass and forcefully whispered as if he were talking to a disobedient dog, “I don’t care, just get me another ticket.” He grabbed Randy’s wrist through the drawer and forced the ticket into his hand. Well accustomed to being talked down to, Randy seemed to respond well to Wayne’s condescending tone. “Where to?” Randy asked flatly, unwrinkling the old ticket. Wayne thought for a moment. “Surprise me,” he said; and he meant it. Randy hostilely tapped a few keys on his computer then slowly looked up at Wayne from behind his red rimmed half-glasses. “The next bus out ends up in Franklin Idaho on... next Thursday. Number sixty-eight.” He struggled to read as he squinted at the screen and then finally acquiesced to his bifocals. “Weather won’t let us take you directly north - so you’ll have to travel sixty-six to Oklahoma and then up and around.” He threw his glasses onto his make-shift Lucite desk; they bounded around and finally ended up between his feet on the floor. He rubbed his eyes hard as if he’d just finished reading War & Peace. Wayne looked over at Donna and her friend who had still not taken they’re eyes off of him, then back at Randy. “How many people live in Franklin Idaho?” “Not as many as in L.A.” Wayne looked down at his clothes and then back over at Donna who gave him a long deliberate wink. “Sixty eight then,” he said. Randy pushed the new ticket across through the drawer but childishly pulled it back just as Wayne reached for it, “I know what you’re going through,” Randy said, still rubbing his bloodshot eyes. “It’s like a box, man. It’s like a glass box that gets smaller and smaller. Everybody’s watching and everybody wants something. I know. You need to get out of the box man.” Wayne looked back at Donna, barely hearing what Randy had said. “Can I just have my ticket?” For Randy, that was the longest conversation he had had with another human being in a good many years so in his mind he felt that he had just poured out his heart and had it stomped on. “That’s another thirty six dollars,” Randy spat back sharply. Even Wayne, as self involved as he was could see that he had hurt Randy’s feelings. “Hey I didn’t mean to be a jerk,” Wayne said, “it’s just that - you don’t know me, and...” Randy cut him off. “But I was listening - you weren’t listening - and I was.” Wayne’s posture shrunk a bit. “I’m sorry.” “You said nobody listens - am I nobody?” Randy asked, looking Wayne dead in the eye. Wayne shrunk even further. “I’m just not used to dealing with regular people,” he pulled his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose. “I’m a movie star - I was a movie star.” Wayne took off the glasses and pointed out the People Magazine on the stool next to Randy. Wayne’s picture graced the cover as the ‘World’s Sexiest Man’. Randy was unimpressed to the point of contempt. Wayne slid two twenties across the counter. “So I should keep the change?” Randy asked sarcastically. Wayne paused. “Sure - I guess.” Randy had a private thought that made his chest suddenly puff out and a false sense of confidence overcome him. “I’ll tell you when people listen - when they want something - then they listen real good.” He picked up the microphone that opened the bus-station’s intercom and through the feedback addressed the passengers in the terminal, intentionally faking enthusiasm as he belligerently stuffed Wayne’s four dollar tip into his pocket. “May I have your attention please,” he squawked, as everyone in the terminal got quiet. Randy waited a good long time before he made his announcement, savoring the power of the moment. “Greyhound proudly announces the arrival of bus number seven from Anaheim and we would now like to invite you to board. The next stop is Las Vegas Nevada. Bathrooms are at the back of the bus.” Randy had two dreams that would never come true; one was to design an amusement-park ride that was dedicated entirely to public transportation mishaps. The passenger would be subjected to subway rides, complete with blackouts and muggings, runaway cable cars, train derailments and bus accidents. The other was to build Vegas Vegas; a hotel that was a scaled down version of the original Las Vegas strip. He released the lever on the microphone with a high-pitched crack that seemed to echo through the terminal forever. His professionalism turned off with the microphone as he slumped back down in his chair waiting for the next bit of his soul to be snipped away by somebody who thought they were better than him. Wayne sat back down on the bench and flipped open one of the People Magazines, futilely hiding behind it as the remaining passengers boarded bus number seven for Vegas. He looked up from behind his own likeness just in time to see the bus pulling away and Donna’s heartbroken face in the last window in the back, the autographed ticket stub pressed up against the glass. He cautiously looked around to see that the terminal was now empty. Wayne yelled out as if he were yelling his final line to the back of a crowded theater. “Why did I ever want to be famous!?” Failing to respect the fact that Wayne’s outburst was purely rhetorical, Randy offered his opinion. “They say that comes from lack of attention as a child.” An awkward silence hung in the terminal, which, a moment before would have gone completely unnoticed, but now in the large empty space, lingered like a thick foul smell. “But who are ‘they’ anyway?” Randy continued, sensing he needed to say something that would cover the raw nerve that he had just exposed. Wayne pondered the question for a strangely long time. “I don’t know.” “Bastards,” Randy answered, “bastards.” Wayne agreed, “yea - they are bastards.” Randy slunk out of his glass booth and over to the thermostat that stuck out of the white tile wall just outside his transparent cube. He pulled a small screwdriver from his shirt pocket and jimmied it through the protective plastic box that guarded the thermostat from unwanted temperature changers. He used the tip of the screwdriver to delicately push the lever all the way to the left. “All that body heat makes me sick,” he said, “did you know that lady turned in her ticket to get on the same bus that you would have been on?” Wayne seemed surprised. “She did?” “Yeah. And now you’re on a different bus and she’s goin’ to Vegas instead of going to see her mother who’s dying of emphysema up in Oregon - I got the whole story - I was listening. So - good for her right. She deserves a break. That’s kind of.....” Randy couldn’t seem to finish his thought. Wayne tried to help, “Ironic.” “No.” “Funny?” “No.” “Pathetic?” Wayne asked. Finally Randy was able to fill in the blank spot in his brain. “Cruel,” he said, “cruel.” Wayne didn’t expect that. Randy ducked back into his booth and sadly sat down in his tattered swivel chair. He spun around a few times in the chair attempting to delight himself but it didn’t work. Wayne leaned against the slick white tile wall for a moment before letting loose of his legs, sliding down the wall into a crouch. The holes in the knees of his jeans tore a little more as he pulled his legs in close to his body. He closed his eyes and for a moment let go of the tightness in his jaw. He remembered what it was like to be happy; like the moment between asleep and awake where your mind is free and your soul feels like it’s finally in control. Suddenly the entire building began to shake as a devilish sound reverberated between the thick glass wall of the terminal and the tall brick sound-wall of the strip-mall that sat about seventy feet to the west, book-ending the space where the busses came and went. Randy cowered as five Harley-Davidsons pulled up into one of the empty bus loading spaces and stopped. Five riders dismounted in unison and lowered their kick-stands as if the move had been choreographed. The riders were dressed head to toe in leather; leather boots, pants, vests, gloves and hats. They wore steel studded leather collars, the kind you might find on a fighting-dog. Even their facial hair matched; long blond fu-man-chu’s cascading down and blending into jet black goatees. The riders dismounted in unison and strode deliberately to the glass wall. They stopped and stood an even arms-length apart, staring coldly inside. “Oh God,” Randy whimpered. Again in unison, the bikers lifted their left hands and all pointed directly at Wayne. Wayne meekly pointed at himself to verify they’re intention. They all nodded in unison. Randy took a deep breath as if he felt something very strange was about to happen. “Why are they pointing at me?” Wayne asked. “Maybe they’re fans,” said Randy, knowing that wasn’t the case at all. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” Randy searched hard to offer another scenario. “Maybe they’re the five horsemen of the apocalypse.” Wayne’s knowledge of the bible was fragmented at best. His father had been a southern Baptist preacher and the leader of a moderately successful healing ministry in Alabama back in the late nineteen sixties and most of the bible verse was used to scare people out of their money. He would minister to mainly misfortunate audiences around the south and use hired help to fake his weekly miracles. There was no shortage of poor people and it was fairly easy for local folks to justify anything to feed their families. Wayne’s introduction into show business came at the age of six when he was wheeled out in front of about two thousand hopefuls at a fairgrounds just outside Tuscaloosa and miraculously healed of some unexplained paralysis. One day a man drove into Wayne’s town straight up Chapella Street, from the south; odd considering that the only things at the south end of Chapella were alligators and a large family of Negroes left over from a tobacco plantation that had been overrun by a swamp twenty years earlier. The man drove a 1938 Packard; maroon and grey with a convertible top and clean white wall tires. The man met several times with Wayne’s father, working out some sort of negotiation. Wayne was always required to be present but was kept just out of earshot so he was never able to hear what the two men were saying. The man was a tall dark East Indian. He always wore a grey silk suit, nothing like anyone in Alabama had ever seen, with wide lapels and only one button holding the jacket closed. Once the man took off his jacket and left it hanging over a chair while the two men walked out into the yard to share a cigarette. Wayne snuck in and felt the material; he had never felt anything like it before. He thought it felt like water if water were dry and it smelled like crushed coriander seeds. On the rare occasion that Wayne was able to overhear, the man’s accent was so thick that Wayne couldn’t understand a word. During their final meeting Wayne’s father gave the man Wayne’s birth certificate; in return the man placed his hands on Wayne’s father’s head and said a few words in Farsi. Even as late as the 1960's, Negroes and Native Americans, especially young healthy male children were still being bought and sold for work on fishing boats and in the logging forests. It was always in the back of Wayne’s mind that they would come for him someday; as a child he didn’t understand the concept of black and white or of slavery. But the East Indian man wasn’t interested in trading slaves, he was interested in trading souls. Wayne’s father was murdered that night by the local clan for refusing to give a cut of the nightly profits and Wayne never saw his father or the East Indian man again. The bikers suddenly broke from their positions, mounted their bikes and abruptly rode away. After a few quiet seconds, a gust of northwest wind blew open one of the glass doors and rummaged through the terminal, flipping papers and warming the large room a few degrees. Wayne noticed a small grey spider crawling up his pant leg toward his belt. He put his hand down on his leg and let the spider crawl onto his skin and up his arm, ambling through the hairs, ultimately fighting it’s way onto his rolled-up shirt sleeve. Wayne put his hand down again, pressing it into his shirt and the little spider repeated the process, this time crawling up the other hand to the other arm. Wayne put his hand down again, and again the spider climbed on. Wayne held his hand up to his face and looked closely at the spider; it reminded him of something or someone but he couldn’t get his mind around what or who it was, if it was real or maybe something he had dreamed. It was one of those memories that sat so deep that it had no reference point, no line of connection to the present moment. All he knew is that he shared something profound at that moment with that spider. He gently blew on it. The spider held fast and Wayne blew a little harder but the spider didn’t budge; Wayne kept blowing harder and harder but couldn’t get it to let go. Finally the little spider threw out an invisible strand of silk and lowered itself gently to the ground and slipped away across the floor and under the wall. –

CHAPTER TWO The Scorpion

Toby Wallace was an old fashioned black gentleman and an old fashioned bus driver who believed in dedication and service; always professional and always courteous. Toby was born to his profession; his large bottom molding perfectly into the driver-seat of a bus, his eyes close together letting him focus on the road and his patients was unceasing. Toby had only two secrets; one was that he tried to avoid the brakes at all costs; he would gear down and slow to every stop, gently rolling his riders to a fluid halt as if he knew every road to the millimeter. The other secret he kept to himself. The light in the very back of the Toby’s bus flickered with each ripple in the road. The buzzing of the wheels was amplified by the absence of warm bodies on the bus and the flickering light added a certain drama to Wayne and Randy’s conversation. They were the only two passengers on the bus that night. They seemed bonded by their odd experience in the terminal and sat with their knees touching. They didn’t notice that the back of Toby’s head barely moved with the bumps in the road or that he never touched the brake pedal. They didn’t notice that the bus, aside from them, was completely empty. They didn’t notice the time or how tired they were or that they had absolutely nothing in common, they never discussed why Randy had left his job in mid-shift and boarded a bus for Franklin Idaho and they didn’t even notice that their knees were touching. Randy told Wayne stories about the bus station and about his concept for the amusement park ride and for Vegas, Vegas and Wayne told stories about playing golf with Jack Nicholson and having sex with Tony Randal’s wife. They still hadn’t talked about the bikers. Randy had evaded most of Wayne’s questions and Wayne wasn’t sure if he even wanted to know so he didn’t press the issue. He knew that Randy had seen them before but for some reason wouldn’t talk about it. At that moment he was just happy to have someone to talk to who didn’t care that he was a movie star. “So you know a lot about the bible?” Wayne asked. “Just Revelation,” said Randy, “I love the whole end of the world thing, plagues, pestilence, lakes of fire and what not. I’m pretty sure that the biblical concept of God is based on ancient sightings of U.F.Os. so I don’t invest too much spiritual energy in it - what about you, what do you know?” Wayne took a deep breath; for his own protection, the window to his past was one that Wayne always kept firmly sealed, unfortunately, whether he liked it or not most of what he knew was stored behind it. He always had to take a deep breath before going there, like diving into a deep threatening pool that may keep him trapped forever. After Wayne’s father was killed, his mother moved herself and Wayne to Arizona where they could get a fresh start and she could practice her own form of metaphysical healing. She set up shop in the little mountain town of Cornville, just outside of Sedona. There was no corn in Cornville but the better part of Northern Arizona in the late sixties was ripe with healers and people that came in need of curing in one form or another. There were crystal healers, pyramid healers, tarot healers, herbalists, Breathariens; there was even a couple who believed that watching them have sex would cure cancer. But Wayne’s mother Charlotte really seemed to have a gift. When she took your hand you could feel an energy, a very cleansing energy. Her eyes were two different colors, one blue, one amber, instantly giving the impression that she was somehow special. She would never let Wayne watch any of her healing sessions but he would secretly listen outside the door for hours as she would delve into her clients dreams; dream analysis was her specialty and she thought that all of life’s answers were there, something Wayne had been ingrained with from a very early age. After his father’s death the nightly images stopped, something Wayne never told his mother. When she would ask, he would make up a dream so she wouldn’t be disappointed. Like Wayne, she was very private and never remarried or even had any male friends after Wayne’s father. She hated him deeply for deceiving so many people in the name of healing; something that she held so sacred. She hated him for using her son to defraud and swindle people out of their hard earned money. She hated him for the years of abuse and degradation; and most of all she hated herself for loving him. Wayne exhaled heavily, finally answering Randy. “I guess I don’t know much about anything.” he sighed. Wayne closed his eyes and a half smile crept across his mouth, he had gone through that forbidden window for the first time in many years. Maybe he was already getting better; maybe being a regular person would be good for him, get him in touch with who he really was. Maybe he would finally find himself. Wayne leaned back in his seat and fell asleep. Arizona loomed large outside the buss’ long flat windshield. Toby always loved coming down the long grade that opened up into that desert. It felt like he was descending into a great ocean filled with strange delights and hidden treasures. Toby had run the same route for twenty years and still he looked forward to that moment. He always tried to plan on hitting the grade at dawn so he could see the new sun paint it’s way across the landscape. He never tired of it. The sun crept painfully under Wayne’s eyelids, red from only two hours sleep and eighteen years of Hollywood parties. The bus idled at a small bench-stop outside Tuscan. With his shoulder propping up Randy’s greasy head, Wayne slid his last cigarette from behind his ear and with trembling fingers he straightened it out, lit it, then quickly plucked it from his mouth as Toby glanced back at him. He held the smoke in his lungs until Toby turned his eyes back to the road. Wayne snapped his shoulder out from under Randy’s head and leaned down behind the seat for another drag. Randy woke up hard, but ready to share his dreams. “Oh man. I dreamed about this badger - or a hedgehog,” he yawned, “I was picking avocados - that must represent L.A. - and they’d dissolve in my hands so that I just had a basket full of pits. And my eyes were blue but I wasn’t really me. I had a third arm that kept punching me in the side. And my mom was there but she didn’t have any arms.” Wayne closed his eyes again, trying to trick his body into believing it was still asleep. “Why a badger,” Wayne asked closing his eyes tighter, trying to block out the light, “what do you think the badger was - was it me - was I the badger? Are you sure it was a badger and not a hedgehog?” “It was a badger. If it was a hedgehog, I would have said hedgehog. It’s the details that matter Wayne - remember that” Randy was emphatic, “you got another smoke?” he asked. “This is my last one,” said Wayne as he held the smoldering butt under his seat, something flashed through his mind: I dreamed too! He practically yelled. “I dreamed I was swimming with Tim Burton - and Tony Bennett was shooting at me with a bee-bee gun - and he was singing that Beatle’s song - that instrumental piece of crap that they all wrote together. “Flying.” Randy added. “Yes - thank you! Why does no one else remember that song?” Wayne was overwhelmed that something had penetrated the black backdrop of his sleep. “Because nobody’s paying attention Wayne - we covered that. I’m paying attention and nobody else is. Was he singing it or humming it - cause it didn’t have any lyrics?” Wayne thought. “I don’t remember.” “Think!” Randy said. He was disproportionately irritated. “Details Wayne! - details, he continued, “what do you think life is? You think you can just go through life overlooking important details. Pay attention.” Randy tried to hum a few bars of ‘Flying’ but wasn’t able to come up with the melody. “I gotta pee,” said Randy, giving up on the song. As he climbed over Wayne’s legs to get to the isle, he snatched the cigarette from between Wayne’s fingers. Wayne was too enthralled to react, he just wanted to go over his dream again and again, memorizing it in case it was just a fluke; he wanted to harness that multidimensional feeling that only a dream can offer. Right behind their seats, the bathroom door was ajar and buzzing with the rhythm of the idling bus engine. Randy took a long deep drag from Wayne’s cigarette and darted into the foul-smelling bathroom. Wayne rested his head on the edge of the window and stared out at the vast Arizona dawn. Toby was outside tossing bags into the storage compartment under the bus. A young woman stood beside him dressed in layers of purple and pink and lavender; scarves and more scarves around her neck and a large purse that overflowed with sundries and snacks. She tried over and over to hand Toby her ticket, but he seemed in no hurry. Although having made a habit of avoiding eye contact with other human beings, Wayne was strangely compelled to stare. Finally Toby closed the baggage compartment doors, took the woman’s ticket and escorted her to the door of the bus. Wayne smelled something foul behind him and reached back to slam the bathroom door the rest of the way closed. “Yo - there’s no light in here - and no ventilation,” Randy yelled, gagging from behind the bathroom door. Wayne started to get visibly nervous as the doors to the bus squeaked open and the young woman stepped up the stairs. He squirmed in his seat and slipped into his sunglasses. As she scanned around the empty bus, she didn’t even consider the other fifty three empty seats; she plopped down right next to Wayne and started talking before she’d even hit the seat. “Do you mind if I sit here ‘til we’re out of Arizona? My husband might be following me - ex-husband as of midnight last night. Jonathan T. Bains, the most boring man on earth - but as it turns out also quite psychotic - something you don’t find out about someone until you get caught screwing the pool boy in the cabana room. Him - not me. He’s totally straight though - just so you don’t get the wrong idea about him. So what’s your story?” She paused for a short breath. “Something wrong with your eyes? Did you just have those drops put in or something? I’m Violet.” Wayne couldn’t think of a thing to say. He could only stare. She had crystal blue eyes and mousy blond hair, nothing much to look at but she ripped the breath from Wayne’s lungs. One of her eyes was just slightly crossed, giving Wayne the impression that she was interested yet detached. She had an accent that Wayne thought he recognized; probably Northern Kentucky, he thought but mid-western non the less. Wayne prided himself on being able to tell where people were from. But he couldn’t take his eyes off of her mouth. It wasn’t a big full mouth that he normally thought of as sensuous, but he knew it would fit perfectly with his. Randy came out of the bathroom to see that his seat had been taken but was pleasantly surprised to see Violet; as pleased as he would have been to see any woman. “That’s my seat but it’s okay, I’m tired of this guy anyway. I’m Randy.” As Randy shook her hand he found it very difficult to let go, she had a magnetic quality and an energy that made people instantly care what she thought about them. Wayne tried to get a word in, “and I’m...” Randy cut him off. “That’s Wayne - he’s gay.” Violet took Wayne’s hands apologetically in hers. “I’m so stupid,” Violet said, “I hope you weren’t offended by what I said before about my husband and the pool boy. And in his defense, he was probably a pool ‘man’ but he’s Venezuelan so he didn’t have much body hair. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” She stopped talking for a moment as a sour look came over her face. “What’s that smell?” Randy kicked the bathroom door closed. “I’m not gay.” Wayne finally said. “Now you think I’m homophobic,” she said, “ well I’m not - look.” Violet pulled Wayne into her by the back of the head and kissed him with as much tongue as she could muster. “See, now I could have whatever you have and I don’t care.” Suddenly she broke down crying. Randy pulled a dirty handkerchief from his back pocket and handed it to her. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I kissed a fagot.” She cried. Randy knelt down beside her. Despite the fact that he had just been completely degraded, Wayne was enraptured and reeling from Violet’s condescending kiss; it seemed to have awakened something in him that had been sleeping for quite a long time. His head spun as he was whisked back to a sultry night in Ohio in nineteen seventy nine; back to the night he kissed his first love. They sat holding hands on a warm concrete fountain that was holding onto the heat from a long day in the sun. It was one o’clock in the morning in late September, Wayne had snuck Mary out of her parent’s house for late night cigarette and a half bottle of Jack Daniels left over from a Jimmy Buffett concert they had been to the night before. He had loved her since the moment he saw her but was never able to kiss her. He had kissed dozens of girls, it wasn’t that; it was just that she was different. He knew that once he kissed her, that no kiss would ever be the same, and he was right. That one kiss, that one night, would spoil him for the rest of his life. He missed her every day, the way people do when they drift apart but their love never really dies. The further his life took him away from hers the more he dreamed of her and the more perfect she became. Wayne forced himself back. He was afraid of what would happen if he thought about her for too long. Something about Violet caused everyone around her to become empathetic; people could sense her pain and sense that something was deeply wrong with her that they would never be able to know or want to know. Randy put his hand on her shoulder and tried to console her. “Hey it’s okay - he’s not really gay. I just said that. I got confused - and insecure. I’m extremely messed up.” He explained. She composed herself and turned to Wayne, her face wet with tears. “You’re not gay?” “No.” Wayne smiled. Violet’s voice continued to tremble. “Well you sure kiss like it.” Wayne’s face turned red. He stammered around in his head for something to cover an emotion that he’d had very little experience with. “First of all I wasn’t kissing you,” he said, “ you were kissing me. Second of all I just woke up. And third of all I don’t even know you - you can’t kiss people you don’t know.” Violet playfully pulled one of her many scarves up over her face. “Hey I’ve kissed dead guys that were better than that.” Wayne’s experience with women had never left him on the defensive; any woman he ever wanted, he got, no questions asked. He was Wayne Mackey Jr, a movie star, an icon and the fantasy of every woman that had ever heard his name; the ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ according to People Magazine. “Look, I was just sitting here.” He barked. By force of habit, Wayne pulled his sunglasses off knowing he could always rely on his fame. A strange look came over Violet as she finally realized who Wayne was. “You’re Wayne Mackey,” she said as Wayne finally smiled, “you are the worst actor I’ve ever seen.” Violet moved across the isle and slid over to the window seat and stared outside. She dug into her purse up to her elbow until she finally came up with an eyelash curler. She wiggled one of her lashes between the rubber pinchers and squeezed the levers hard, holding them tightly together. Randy came to Wayne’s defense. “Yeah well, he quit. He’s not Wayne Mackey Jr. anymore, he’s just Wayne Mackey Jr. now.” “We’ll see,” she said, as she released one eyelash and went in for the other, repeating the procedure. “And by the way,” she bragged, “the dead guy wasn’t dead when I started kissing him.” The bus lurched forward, squeaking and whining as Toby ran through the gears then it pulsed forward with a steady hum over the Arizona highway. Wayne watched Violet as she curled her other eyelash, memorizing her profile. Maybe it was the rejection, he thought, or maybe the confusion and emotional upheaval that his decision to leave Hollywood had brought to him and the thousands of people who depended on him for their livelihood; but it was something, he felt something. That was it, he realized, he felt something. He finally felt something. Wayne’s memories began to ebb and flow, coming and going fluidly, he wasn’t feeling the urgent need to repress that had become so habitual over the years. He recalled the first time he had ever seen the ocean on a family trip to Florida when he was about five. It rained the first two days of the trip and Wayne remembered sitting by the window of the small beachfront motel for hours waiting for the sun to break through. His father had given him a shovel and a pail before they had left home and all Wayne wanted to do, like so many children of the sixties was to dig all the way to China; he talked about it for the entire car trip. The second the rain stopped on the third day, Wayne ran to the edge of the water and began to dig; he had never felt happier. As he dug deeper and deeper, the more water would fill the hole. He used the pail to bail the water, but the more he bailed, the more the hole would fill up until finally the ocean overwhelmed it. That was how he felt at that moment; overwhelmed as all of the feelings that he’d forced himself to push down for so many years were welling up to the surface and that there may be no way now to stop them. Wayne’s cell-phone rang. He already knew who it was as he pulled the phone from his pocket like a gunslinger. “Hi Allen,” he said, as he looked back at Randy. Allen had been Wayne’s agent at William Morris for the last fifteen years and had single-handedly made him a star. Allen was crushed when Wayne made his decision to leave and it wasn’t about the money, although Wayne would be costing him millions of dollars. Allen wasn’t that way, he’d always looked out for Wayne’s well being and always tried to keep him on the straight and narrow; in fact two years before, in order to protect Wayne from an embarrassing and potentially career ending scandal, Allen spent two months in jail for possession of narcotics, a fire-arm and a few other incidentals, confessing to a spree of weekend crimes that Wayne had committed. Nobody ever knew that Allen had served Wayne’s time and Allen never spoke of it, to Wayne or anyone. Wayne listened for a moment before answering. “A comeback - I’ve only been gone for half a day .” Wayne’s eyes got big and he took a deep breath, “how much?” he waited to hear the offer again, “wow, that’s very tempting.” Wayne heard Randy clear his throat. He looked back to the seat behind him where Randy was shaking his head disapprovingly. Wayne took another deep breath and swallowed hard, “but I’m not coming back, I’m sorry Allen.” Wayne listened, “and the jet?” Randy reached over the seat, yanked the cell-phone out of Wayne’s hand and threw it out the window of the bus. The phone skimmed across the highway where it was crushed by an oncoming car. Wayne watched as his phone and what was left of his career disintegrated into the asphalt. For a moment Randy thought Wayne was going to strike him but Wayne’s eyes softened as he stared lovingly into Randy’s face. Wayne had a very wonderful and unfamiliar feeling come over him, knowing that someone actually cared about him and not who he was or what he was worth. Something happened to him that he wasn’t sure had ever happened; tears well up in his eyes and a sense of freedom washed over him. He had never been free, or at least never felt free, always living for someone or something other than his heart. “Thanks.” Wayne said, as he leaned over the seat to give Randy an awkward hug. “What kind of jet? Asked Randy. “Twenty-first Century Gulf Stream,” Wayne sighed, “with a pilot and a personal chef...and a doctor.” “A doctor.” Randy said, impressed. “That’s a big perk,” Wayne explained, “Unprecedented.” Violet couldn’t help but chime in. “What are you afraid of ...Wayne? Is it the money, the planes, the women, death? What drives a person to throw their life down the sewer and give up fame, fortune and success? What is that?” She asked. “He was in a box. He had to get out.” Randy explained. Violet became suddenly annoyed. “You can’t get out of a box in your own jet? You’re on a fucking bus.” Wayne turned to Randy for reassurance. “Can I get out of the box in my own jet?” “No! No. The jet’s just another box. You need to become part of your own solution Wayne.” Randy asserted. “What the hell does that mean?” Barked Violet, now even more annoyed. “It means he can’t be a part of his own problem.” Said Randy. “That’s the same thing!” Violet yelled. Wayne jumped in. “Hey leave him alone, he makes sense.” “And what’s your point of reference - Hollywood?” Violet asked. There was a loud thud from the front of bus as it jerked to a violent stop. Violet’s purse tumbled into the isle, it’s diverse contents spraying in all directions. Toby, Wayne and Randy ran out and around to the front of the bus. A dead horse was laying on it’s side with one eye wide open staring at the sun. Both the front legs had been crushed and twisted grotesquely backward and a large shattered bone in it’s right hind leg had shot through the skin, oozing steaming marrow onto the hot highway. About a hundred yards in front of the bus was a jack-knifed truck and a horse trailer with the doors swung wide open. Still unaware of what had happened, Violet collected as much of her belongings as she could and stuffed them back into her purse. She pulled down one of the windows and poked her head out into the hot dry desert air. She began to scream with unbridled despair as she witnessed the scene outside. She ran out and around to where the horse lay dead and began to vengefully kick the front of the bus. Wayne and Randy restrained her and took her around to the stairs where they sat her down and tried to get her calm. She suddenly turned eerily quiet; she walked to the back of the bus and sat on the bumper. She looked up into the sun for just a moment longer than she should have then rubbed her eyes. She took off one of her shoes and then the other, then slowly and systematically took off every strip of her clothing and walked naked across the highway into the desert. Randy and Wayne could only stare as her bare pale figure grew smaller and smaller, slowly disappearing; blending into the desert landscape. Wayne looked down and shook a small scorpion off of his boot. The angry little bug scurried under a rock and disappeared. Wayne looked up and noticed Randy staring at him. He looked Randy deep in the eyes. They shared a long gaze, the way people do when they meet for the first time but feel like they’ve know each other forever. Violet had covered about a quarter mile before she finally sat down cross-legged in the hot sand. She just sat. Wayne and Randy went back around to the front of the bus where they were met by Toby walking toward them. Two Mexican men in white cowboy hats and a very fat woman were in the process of dragging the dead horse back up the highway toward the trailer, inches at a time. “We’ve got a bent axle,” Toby explained, “it’s gonna take about four hours for a repair crew to get out. They only have one truck and they’re on a call about three hundred miles from here - sorry - I’ve got some water underneath and some emergency rations if you all get hungry.” He saw Violet sitting out in the distance. “And you’ll take care of her? I think she’s had a hard time of it.” Toby knew people. He could look into a person’s eyes and tell you whether they were hungry or tired or sad or if they’d been molested as a child. It was the secret he never told anyone. “You tell her that horse was dead before we hit it,” he said, “she’s got enough blame in her already.” A desert thunderstorm spread across the sky and within moments began pouring a torrential rain. Lightning struck the dark red mountains in the distance, dancing and skipping across the iron-rich mesas like incandescent marionettes. Tiny puddles began to grow quickly into large reflective lakes and the highway rapidly disappeared under a river of water.

CHAPTER THREE The Moth

As the sun dipped below the mountains and the last rain cloud disappeared across the endless sky the bus and it’s passengers sat like a giant grey whale, beached and dying on a deserted island. The front end of the bus was up on jacks and both front wheels were taken off, stacked one on top of the other. A large, heavy-duty tow truck was parked alongside the bus; one man sat in the passenger seat while the driver stood in front of the bus in the wet sand that had covered the highway. Toby was in a heated argument with the driver. Wayne and Randy watched from inside the bus where they were playing a game of cribbage on a small pull out table between their seats. Randy’s father had been a championship cribbage player, having won a world tournament in nineteen sixty and Randy had taken a tournament from him when he was ten years old, making Randy, according to him, the official cribbage champ of the world. He carried a cribbage board wherever he went, teaching the ignorant and crushing anyone who thought they might beat him and take his title. As laid back as Randy was, and as disorganized as his mind had become over the years, he was a stickler for the rules of cribbage; every muggins, any pushed peg, any count that wasn’t presented in the correct order, Randy would come unglued, making it very difficult to find a partner with as much passion for the game or tolerant enough to put up with Randy’s rants. Wayne was up to the challenge; countless empty hours on movie sets had made him not only a worthy cribbage opponent but a genuine master of the game. Randy loved it. The unofficial championship would go back and forth for several hours. Violet had taken refuge in the buss’ tiny bathroom; still unable to gather her emotions; she just sat crying, trying to physically purge herself of her grief. She was loosely draped in Wayne’s oversized coat that she would periodically using as a tissue. As the argument outside the bus became more heated, Wayne and Randy were distracted from their card counting, taking notice as they watched the tow-truck driver throw his hands up, storm back to his truck and drive away. Toby bumped his way through the open door of the bus lugging three suitcases. Violet finally came out of the bathroom draped in Wayne’s coat. She didn’t make eye contact with anyone as she sat down hard. “Well - they can’t fix us and they can’t tow us” Toby said, “I brought your bags in if anybody needs anything, we’ll be here the night.” Violet looked up at him, her eyes silently dancing with hate. “I love horses too,” Toby said, “I have two at home - Appaloosas. Sally and Joe. I love those horses more than I love my wife - and she knows it too. Tells me I should go live in the stables - sometimes I think she’s right.” Toby and his wife hadn’t spoken many kind words to one another in many years; his time on the road and her massive weight gain had put an irreversible strain on their marriage. He dropped their bags in the middle of the isle and went and sat behind the steering-wheel. Violet grabbed her suitcase and flipped it up on to one of the seats. She hesitated, waiting for the men to read her mind. “Could I get some privacy?” She finally asked, not able to look up. Wayne reached into the side pocket of his suitcase and slid out a box of Cuban cigars, one of the many illicit privileges that he would be giving up on his quest for anonymity. “C’mon boys, I’ve got some Cubans that I need to get rid of.” The three men filed out of the bus and disappeared into the setting sun. Violet waited for the silence; and then it came, interrupted only intermittently by the occasional buzzing of a tiny moth bouncing harmlessly against the buss’ small overhead light.

CHAPTER FOUR The Horse

The Arizona sun loomed large just above the night before descending gently into twilight. To Wayne, Randy and Toby, the bus looked like just a dark speck silhouetted on the horizon. They’d wandered almost a mile into the desert where they stood ceremonially in a circle. Wayne opened the box and passed a cigar to Toby and one to Randy. Toby pressed his nose into the cigar and took in the smell of the tightly woven broad brown-green Cuban tobacco. Randy licked the end of his as if it were a behemoth joint and pulled the outer leaf into a point with his lips. As if he had done it a thousand times before, Wayne slipped a cutter from his right front pocket and neatly clipped the end of his cigar. He searched his other pocket and found his diamond encrusted Cartier lighter; at the same time Toby reached down into his sweaty sock and slipped out a match; the strike anywhere variety with a white tip that he unsuccessfully struck on his shoe, fizzling the sulfur into a soggy puff of white smoke. Wayne lent him a tall elegant flame which Toby gladly drew up creating a heavenly pungent cloud. Toby was overcome with a pleasure he’d dreamed of but never known. He looked up through the fog of Cuban smoke and saw the bus in the distance, “I’ll be damned.” he said. They all stared at the bus, awestruck as it flickered like a jewel that had been magically brought to life, a glowing ruby painted against the pale desert twilight. From front to back, the rails under the windows of the bus had been lined with lit candles; hundreds of candles, each one different than the next. The windows in the back of the bus were draped with Violet’s scarves, all in shades of pink, purple and lavender. She had created a shrine. She would rather have run, but there was no place to run to. Death seemed to follow Violet wherever she went. Violet’s mother watched in horror as Violet’s twin sister bled to death in the delivery room. Both Violet’s parents were killed in a train derailment a year later to the day, leaving Violet to be raised by four different sets of foster parents until she was fifteen. She met Rigo Santos on her sixteenth birthday, 1988 and was pregnant with his child in less than a month. Rigo was a sexy Brazilian boy who dabbled in gangs and petty crime. He and Violet loved to take long dangerous rides on Rigo’s motorcycle. They would get drunk and stoned and speed through the canyon roads of the Smoky mountains, fearlessly challenging every curve. They made love several times a day throughout Violet’s pregnancy. Their baby was stillborn and Rigo was killed in a drive-by shooting two days later. She was married three times by the time she was twenty two, burring all three husbands; one in a car wreck, one from a drug overdose and one just died in his sleep, he was eighty one. Her life was now imbued with the sense that she was a catalyst for death. Toby, Wayne and Randy filed into the bus. Violet sat cross-legged on the floor writing in her journal, something she did to transpose her pain. Toby walked slowly toward her; he could feel her need to forgive him. Violet threw her arms around him. “It wasn’t your fault.” She cried. “I know baby. I know,” he said, “sometimes things just happen that’s all. Things just happen.” Violet flipped through the pages of her journal. “I need to read this out loud,” she said, “does anybody mind?” Nobody dared say no. Violet read her poem out loud. “I rode through fields of wheat and storm. My best friend strode beneath me torn. To carry me his pleasured joy. Careful not to destroy his spirit. He loved me like his mother. A gentle soul. I gave him everything I had. But couldn’t save him. He was gone. I cried all night and months and years. My tears went dry before my sorrow.” Everyone stood for a moment in a sad silence. Violet closed her journal.

CHAPTER FIVE The Fly

The bus parked along the roadside cast a cool shadow over a tiny mom-and-pop diner on the outskirts of Winslow Arizona. Toby had been able to repair the front end well enough to get the bus back on the road and now struggled outside to get an old pay-phone to work so he could give the bus company his status. Inside, Wayne, Randy and Violet were cramped into one of three red-leather booths perusing their greasy menus. “So what is it exactly about my acting that you don’t like?” Wayne finally asked. He had obviously been brooding about it for some time. Violet thought for a moment. She kept licking her finger and wiping the grease stains from her menu. “Your problem is that you have no soul,” she said flatly, “most people on the planet have one - but you don’t. You are a soulless man.” A strange cold feeling swept over Wayne as the smell of coriander and Violets words blended and drifted briefly through the diner; he knew that he had never loved, he knew that he could be cruel and detached but he had never been described (by anyone else) as a soulless man. With barely enough room for the waitress to move between the tables, she squeezed through to take their order. Too many children, bad genes, decades of manual labor and the Arizona sun had made her old beyond her years. She flipped open her order-pad and pulled a pencil from somewhere under her disheveled hair. “What’s for lunch?” She asked. Randy was starving. “Cheeseburger,” he barked, “and do you have curly fries?” “We have straight fries,” she said without smiling, “what about you missy?” Nobody had ever called Violet missy and she didn’t take very well to it. “Do you have anything vegetarian? She asked. The waitress cocked her head and lowered her glasses. “We have lettuce on the hamburgers.” She said. “What kind of lettuce?” Asked Violet, trying to find a button to push. “Plain - old - lettuce.” She said, unphased. “You mean iceberg.” Violet said rudely. “This is Arizona honey,” she snickered, “I don’t think you’ll find any icebergs around here.” The Mexican fry-cook laughed through his bushy black moustache. Violet knew that her bitterness had been all together outmatched so she decided to give up. “I’ll have a cup of piping hot water.” She said staring down at her menu. The waitress looked over at Wayne who had forgotten to wear any sort of disguise. “How ‘bout you sugar?” She asked. “I’ll have a club sandwich with extra bacon please.” He said, looking her straight in the eye. “Hey, you’re Wayne Mackey Jr., Danny,” she yelled to the fry-cook, “it’s Wayne Mackey Jr., the movie star. You were so good in Day of Judgment.” She swooned. “No! No he wasn’t,” shouted Violet, “he was horrific in that film. Did you know that he was supposed to be an officer in the Royal Air Force? He slapped on a Scottish accent - the worst ever by the way to hide that fact that he has absolutely no talent, an abysmal sense of truth and zero chemistry with any other soul-carrying human being on the planet.” She was livid. “Could I get a coke with that?” Wayne asked. “Anything for you sugar.” The waitress smiled at Wayne as big as she could, flexing facial muscles that had long since atrophied. She struggled to muster some sexuality. “You pay no mind to her,” she whispered, snapping an angry glare in Violet’s direction, “you’re the sexiest man alive - I saw it in the People’s Magazine.” Wayne seemed more aroused by Violet’s insults than by the Waitress’ attempts at seduction. “I quit making movies,” he explained, “and I’m going to Idaho.” The waitress and the fry-cook simultaneously broke out laughing. “Why is that funny?” Wayne asked, but their laughter drowned him out; a strange surreal laughter that took on an obtuse dream-like quality as if the moment had been suspended and put into slow-motion. Toby looked discouraged as he hung up the phone outside. He opened the diner’s wood framed screen-door. Fitted with a small rusted bell and woven with duct-tape and fishing line, the door barely held together as Toby let the wind slam it shut behind him. The concussion of the slamming door sent a loud crack through the diner that broke the spell of Wayne’s delusory moment. Wayne shook his head, and rattled his brain back to reality. Toby squeezed into the booth next to Violet who rhythmically dipped a worn out tea-bag and her fingers into her glass of ice-water, having given up on the notion of having hot tea. Toby sneezed into his hands, having some sort of allergic reaction to something. “Well,” he said, “bus number sixty eight is out of commission.” “What does that mean?” Asked Randy. “That means that they send another bus to get you and they tow this one ‘and me’ back to the yard.” Toby shoved his hands deep into his pockets and his lips disappeared into his face. It was his emotional shell and he looked very out of place inside of it. “Our bus works just fine.” Randy said as he looked hopefully around the diner for some sign that his food was being cooked. “The law says they gotta take it back,” Toby explained, “if you do repair work on your own bus, you can only travel sixty miles on that repair, then they have to come and get it. That’s the law.” “I don’t want another bus - I like this bus,” Randy complained bitterly, “and I like you.” “Well I’m flattered son, but the law’s the law.” Toby said. “How much for the bus?” Asked Wayne. “It’s not my bus.” Said Toby. Toby didn’t really believe that. He knew that the bus belonged to the company but he always thought of it as his; like a member of his family and his most loyal companion. “Then I’ll give you ten thousand dollars to drive us to,” Wayne turned to Randy, “ where are we going?” He asked. “Franklin Idaho.” Randy said proudly. “Ten thousand dollars to drive us to Franklin Idaho.” Wayne said. “It’s not my bus.” Toby said again. “Twenty thousand,” Wayne said, “and you can turn over a million miles.” “I’m thirty two days from retirement.” Toby said. “Fifty thousand.” Wayne said. “Done.” Said Toby as he took Wayne’s hand and shook it firmly. The waitress arrived with their food. They ate in relative silence. They all shared a destiny now. A common thread ran between them that they weren’t yet aware of. Their lives hadn’t just haphazardly crossed and they all sensed that soon they’d see how their fates would twine together. Wayne threw two hundred-dollar-bills on the table and thanked the waitress. The words ‘keep the change’ probably never had the impact that they had that day. Her severely dehydrated body mustered a tear of genuine gratitude as she watched Wayne leave the diner. The bus rolled down the highway with Violet’s scarves filtering out the open windows. As if suspended in time, the once cascading wax from Violet’s candles hung like icicles from the ledges of the bus windows. Toby was focused as he maneuvered the bus through the twisting curves of a mountainous Northern Arizona highway. Even with his headphones firmly over his ears, his classic Martha Ray leaked through into the bus. Violet laid day-dreaming across Wayne and Randy’s laps as they dozed in their seats. The frantic sound of a car-horn honking roused them from their light sleep. They looked out the window. Toby couldn’t hear a thing and continued to deliberately navigate the mountain pass. Blasting it’s horn, a topless yellow Corvette convertible swung along-side the bus into the oncoming traffic lane. Violet was horrified as she saw the driver of the car. “That’s Mr. Bains”...she hesitated.... “my husband!” She awkwardly announced. He pointed at Violet while waving his hand up and down, trying to get her to open the buss’ window. He managed to stay with the bus curve for curve while not taking his eyes off of Violet. Randy struggled to get the window to go down just about a foot, allowing Violet to poke her head out sideways. She yelled across the highway. “Go away!” She yelled. He just stared at her as he whipped the Vette around another sharp curve. “You’re going to kill yourself!” She yelled again. Mr. Bains reached under his seat, pulled a gun and aimed it straight at Violet. Wayne and Randy ducked down below the glass and tried to pull Violet down with them but her head was stuck, wedged in the window. With it’s emergency flashers blinking, Toby saw a stalled black Cadillac about a hundred yards ahead in the on-coming traffic lane. He briefly glanced to his left to see that it was a disabled Hearse sitting in the middle of the lane with it’s hood up. He saw that there was no one in the Hearse as he passed by, he then quickly refocused on the road as he approached another curve. As Mr. Bains raised the gun to shoot, his car collided head-on into the Hearse, practically disintegrating the Corvette on impact. The sound was explosive and terrifying. Wayne, Randy and Violet watched in horror as a casket was ejected from the back of the Hearse, careening end-over-end down the side of a steep mountain and disappearing into a deep ravine. The bus took another sharp curve and the horrific scene vanished behind them. Toby briefly stopped whistling the tune he was listening to on his head-phones. He glanced back for a brief check on his passengers, oblivious to what had just taken place. “Everybody awake back there?” He asked. In shock, they all quietly nodded. “We’ll be in Flagstaff in about five minutes,” he continued, “they’ve got a nice little tavern there, with a waitress named Daisy. Don’t get me wrong now, we just talk, but it’s good talk; music, poetry, philosophy. Listen, my wife’s a wonderful woman but she thinks Plato’s a big dog at Disneyland.” He chuckled to himself. A small man in a black suit stood hopefully by the side of the road as bus number sixty eight drew closer. He was Jake Alcot, a mortician and, unbeknownst to him, the owner of a mangled Hearse and a missing casket. Toby stopped the bus and opened the doors to let the man on. “That your Cadillac?” Toby asked. “Ironically, yes, “Jake said, “the Hearse has a long and tempestuous relationship with Cadillac,” he explained, “sure they were prestigious - that was before the Germans got into the game. Now it’s Mercedes all the way. You know what they say, ‘in with the old and out with the new.’ That’s an old morticians joke. I’m Jacob Alcot. Jake.” “Name’s Toby. Climb abroad Jake - that’s an old bus-driver’s joke.” Jake didn’t get it. Jacob Alcot was very famous in his own rite. The Hebrew mortician of the rich and famous with an impeccable record of timely delivery and proper Jewish tradition. He had been doing his work since nineteen forty seven and was the but of many cruel jokes throughout his prestigious career. The one that stuck in his mind was, ‘ever hear of Jake Alcot, he’s buried more jews than Hitler.’ It was always told in good fun and always by a Gentile. Jake only took on clients with fame or money; everyone from Marcel Proust to JD Salinger. He joked a lot, probably to counter the constant parade of death to which he always had a front-row seat. “Do you think you could take me into Flagstaff,” he asked, “I need a new water pump pretty quickly. We have to bury my passenger today. You know us Jews.” “No I don’t,” said Toby, “but I’ll take your word on it. Flagstaff’s only a few miles up. I’m sure your passenger will be fine.” Little did Toby know that Jake’s ‘passenger’ was at the bottom of a two thousand foot ravine. Violet was shaking uncontrollably. Death had caught up with her once again as well and again it seemed that there would be no outrunning it. She had an all-together different defense. All she knew how to do was to detatch; not get too close to anyone, not to love. She thought if she could last the journey that her salvation would come in Franklin Idaho. Somehow she knew that she could start over and that her life’s bane would be lifted. At least she hoped so. A small house-fly came in through the open window of the bus and landed in Violet’s hair.

New Song