The Kings in Arizona
Of the three things that Randy King valued most in this world, it was the $85.27 that currently took precedence over the others. It was not that he loved the money more than his 6 year old son, Dylan, or his father’s wristwatch; it was that while he was certain of the location of both his son and his watch, he was not certain of the whereabouts of the $85.27. He stood outside the motel room, pacing and kicking an empty Coors can, mentally retracing his steps. He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen it. Inside room 17, Dylan sat on the unmade bed, watching TV, and drawing on the inside of a Gideon Bible. Randy went into the room.
“Hi Dad,” Dylan said, eyes still on his picture of two jousting knights. There was a spray of red crayon around one’s head.
“Hi son,” Randy said, patting Dylan’s recently shaved head. He began to methodically search the motel room; going through drawers, looking under beds, and checking behind dressers.
“Watcha looking for Dad?”
“Just something. Nothing big.” He was now going through all his pant and shirt pockets.
“Can I help?”
“No. It’s OK.”
Dylan smiled and started flipping channels with the bolted down remote.
“I thought they had HBO. It says HBO on the sign. There’s nothing to watch.”
His father, not hearing this, counted the change on the night stand.
“I’ll get us some pops. What do you want?”
“Are they still out of orange?”
“I don’t know. Probably. I told the manager. What else do you want?”
Dylan bit his crayon and thought carefully.
“Alright. I’ll be back soon.” Randy locked the door behind and crossed the parking lot towards the front office. There was no one behind the desk. The orange pop’s small red light was illuminated. Randy put in his change and took two root beers back to the room.
“Sure. I’m gonna sit outside here for a few minutes, OK?”
Randy went back outside and sat in a white plastic chair. Even though it was before noon, red letters reading DESERT INN TEL flicked on. Below it was a board that listed HBO, phone, $30/night, and pool. Dylan was excited about the pool, but it turned out to be billiards.
Randy and Dylan were on their way to Los Angeles when their jeep’s fan belt broke, stranding them in Northwestern Arizona. The cost to repair the jeep was too much and given its condition, Randy sold it for parts, the money providing food and rent for a few weeks. Although the weekly rate was $122, Randy planned on using what he had to win the rest in a poker game with some other tenants tonight. But now he had no money. He was pretty sure that someone stole it. There was no maid service, but the doors were old and there were plenty of likely suspects.
His brother was working as a waiter in Spokane and had promised to send some money every month. Since the last one came only three weeks ago, he couldn’t count on it right away. Dylan’s mom might help them out, but Randy wasn’t sure where she was. Texas, the last he heard. Maybe he could talk to the manager, Mr. Cave.
The rug in the motel office was bleached a sickly green by the sun. Only in spots behind the desk was the color intact. By the glass doors were two steel legged, vinyl chairs, one brown, one black. In between them sat a low table with an assortment of magazines-Reader’s Digest, People, Guns and Ammo, X-Men. All were out of date. The only current reading material, the local paper, was in the manager’s hand.
Gabriel Cave sat behind the desk, smoking an unfiltered Lucky and sipping at coffee in a Styrofoam cup. On top of the desk was a small register book, a newly sharpened pencil, a glass bowl of peppermints, and a silver bell, which was hardly necessary since the office was one room. Either someone was here or they were not, but people expected a bell at a motel. There was also a black nameplate with Gabriel Cave in gold letters.
Cave leaned back and cracked his knuckles, glancing at the clock behind him. He was dressed in white golf slacks, huaraches sandals, and a red polo shirt, the top buttons undone so that a few tufts of gray hair peeked out. He wiped his brow with a bandana and turned up the little white fan.
“Looks like it’s gonna be a real scorcher today Joe,” came the voice from the radio.
“Sure is Bob. OW! That microphone burned me!”
“Idiots,” Cave said, turning the dial and finally settling on Arizona’s Classic Country Station-The Coyote. They promised a block of Johnny Cash. Gabriel looked out the window and saw Randy King walking towards him in black jeans, boots, and a white short sleeve shirt. Cave put down his paper and folded his arms on the desk.
“What can I do for you Mr. King?” Cave asked as Randy entered.
“Well,” Randy said, standing and wondering where to put his hands. “Well there’s something I got to talk to you about.” He put his hands in his back pockets; his expression was such that he wouldn’t look out of place clutching a big hat to his chest, as if he were a tenant farmer coming to petition the landowner.
“OK. Shoot,” Cave said, massaging his neck. “Coffee?”
Cave poured him a cup from a plaid thermos. He handed it to Randy and said, “Wife made it. Strong as hell.”
“Thanks,” Randy said, moving to sit down.
“Yeah, sure,” he replied, halting.
Cave handed him the pack and a book of matches. Randy lit it and handed the pack and matches back.
“Keep the matches,” Cave told him, taking out a new book from a drawer and lighting a cigarette. The book was white and said Desert Inn Motel in yellow letters, with a phone number and a drawing of a cactus.
Randy again moved to sit down.
“Mint?” Cave asked, gesturing to the bowl.
“Have a seat then,” Cave said, pointing to the chairs. Randy chose the brown vinyl one, which sat considerably lower than Cave’s.
“Well, Mr. King?” Cave exhaled lazily.
“Well Mr. Cave, I need some time…I’ve got some, well, financial predicaments,” he said, eyes down.
“Oh?” Cave said, his eyebrows arching. “What kind of, as you say, predicaments? Not a serious predicament, I hope?”
Randy laughed quickly and nervous. “Oh no, nothing real serious.”
“How much is nothing serious?”
Randy licked his chapped lips and focused on Cave’s cigarette, which was nearly half ash. Cave followed his gaze, tapped the ash off, took one drag, and crushed in the ashtray.
“Mr. Cave, I can’t pay right now.”
“Than you’ll have to leave, I’m afraid. Sorry.”
Randy looked for a place to put his cigarette. He put it out in his coffee.
“I can’t Mr. Cave. I need to stay here. I’m expecting money from my brother. Listen, I can work for you or something. Those weeds in the parking lot are pretty bad.”
Cave’s half-laugh, half-cough interrupted him.
“Those weeds don’t keep away customers. Besides, it’s hardly worth what you owe me. If I give you credit, others will ask. And everybody’s got a hard luck story. I’ve heard ‘em all.”
Randy nodded. “I understand that, but this is different. I got a kid. We got stuck here. We got nowhere to go right now.”
Cave looked bored and sipped his coffee. After a minute of silence, he smiled briefly and said, “I’ll tell you what King, lemme see that watch.”
Randy looked at his wrist. “My watch.”
“Yeah, your watch.”
Randy unbuckled it and handed it to him. Cave weighed it in his hand and inspected it as if he were a jeweler. He turned it over and read the inscription.
“Earl Evan King. Your old man?”
“Yeah,” Randy said, eyes on the watch.
“Tell you what, when you expecting cash?”
“Two weeks max. I think.”
“Here’s what I’ll do King, because I’m a good hearted sonofabitch, you let me keep this watch and I’ll let you stay, OK? But I’m charging interest and don’t tell anybody or you’re out, capeche?”
Randy nodded. “OK. Great. Thanks.” He wiped his sweaty hands on his jeans. “I really appreciate it Mr. Cave.” He put out his hand, but Cave shunned it with a wave, as if to say no need to thank me I make such munificent gestures everyday. The phone rang and Cave answered.
“Gabriel Cave, manager, Desert Inn Motel.” Cave looked up at Randy, cupped his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered. “Take a mint. Sorry Dennis…yeah, that’s fine…yeah…Tuesday?”
Randy took a peppermint, thanked Cave again and went outside, where he breathed a huge sigh of relief. He struggled with the plastic on the peppermint for a minute before throwing it in the dirt.
When he returned to room 17, Dylan was outside, dressed in sweat pants and a “These Colors Don’t Run” shirt. He was making car sounds and steering a matchbox Trans Am into a dump truck.
“Crash! Boom!” He threw the cars and watched them fall, adding another “Boom!” when they landed.
“Hey buddy,” Randy said, scratching his wrist.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. We’re fine.” Randy rubbed his son’s head and was about to go into their room when he heard his name.
“King?” Randy turned around to see Mr. Cave coming across the parking lot, hiking up his pants. “Hey, I got something for you. Can you fix a toilet?”
“Um, sure. I can look at it.”
“Room 23. Make it snappy.” Cave snapped his fingers and went back to the office.
Rand shook his head and looked at Dylan.
“Alright buddy, I’ll be back in a minute.”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED