He had been driving for hours, with little to no sleep. The snowflakes blowing past the windshield creating a hypnotizing effect only making his weariness worse. It took all that he had to keep his eyes open. He was kicking himself for not stopping in Santa Rosa, but he had no desire to spend any more time in New Mexico than absolutely necessary. He was nowhere near where he wanted to be, but at least he had put almost two states between him and the train wreck that was California.
Mickey had packed up and left Los Angeles on a Tuesday, it was the day after the worst Monday of his life. That Monday in March was the day his life came unglued. He had been a private investigator for the last thirty years. He was good, he knew the system, had connections with multiple law enforcement agencies, had a great reputation and a great business going. If you wanted to find out something about anyone in LA, you called Mickey, he could track anyone down. That all changed on Monday. His attorney told him, “You’ve got nothing to worry about, they don’t have a case” but the jury decided differently. In an instant, his world was turned upside down, his license was revoked, he lost most of his life savings, and his career was over.
It was all such a shock, he couldn’t believe the way things had turned out. There was no way he could stay in Los Angeles, even aside from the humiliation of losing his livelihood, he had nothing to tie him there. He had lost his wife of 25 years to a hellish battle with lung cancer just the year prior, and with this latest slap in the face it seemed, the Golden State held nothing but pain and misery. It just made sense, to get the hell out and head to Chicago.
When he left, he had no plan, other than get to Chicago. The drive to this point had been uneventful, he made Kingman, AZ the first night staying in a rundown motor lodge that looked like it was straight out of a horror flick. He didn’t care, he was damn near broke and he just needed a place to sleep.
He lit another cigarette and cracked the window to try and stave off the exhaustion. He thought of the hotel in Kingman, and how his late wife would never have stayed in a roach pit like that. Hell, he would gladly pull off at the Bate’s Motel right now if it was at the next exit. There was nothing between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari aside from empty grasslands and snow. After what seemed like hours, he finally saw the sign ahead, “Tucumcari Next 5 Exits”.
He took the first exit he could, after ten hours of driving with nothing but coffee and cigarettes to keep him going, he could use a stop. As he pulled off the exit, the amber glow of the check engine light came on. “Shit” he thought, “I hope this rust bucket don’t quit on me”. As he drove into the town, he noticed how the main thoroughfare looked almost abandoned. The boarded-up buildings and rusting neon signs made the place look like a ghost town. For a moment, he thought about getting back on the interstate and heading to Amarillo, but he knew he couldn’t hold out that long, and he wasn’t sure about the car.
As he drove further he saw an orange fluorescence ahead, through the snow he made out an antiquated neon sign flickering three letters “EAT”. There was another sign above it for a motel, but it’s neon looked to have long since expired. Mickey pulled into the parking lot, his car making a terrible knocking sound and killed the engine. As he opened the car door, the bitter wind stung his face with the driving snow. He rushed to the motel lobby clutching his light jacket around him tightly.
When he entered the lobby, there was a small reception desk with a lamp that looked like it was from the 50’s dimly lighting the room. The air smelled of mildew and stale cigarettes. Behind the counter was a petite older woman with her grey hair pulled up into a bun. She was puffing a cigarette watching the evening news on a small black and white television with aluminum foil on the rabbit ears. It was obvious she hadn’t seen him come in.
“Excuse me ma’am, I’d like a room”, he tried not to startle her, it looked as though she might not be able to handle too much of a scare.
“Oh, I’m sorry hon I didn’t hear you come in”, she apologized in a feeble voice. “What can we do for you”.
“I’d like a room for the night”, he repeated.
“Sure, sure, just let me get my spectacles here. How many of you and how long you stayin’ for?”, she asked.
“Just me and just tonight” he replied.
“Ok, we can put you in room 24, it’s on the east side of the building about half way down. That’ll be $45.34. Cash or Charge?”, she inquired.
He handed over a fifty and took the keys from her. They exchanged their good nights and he headed back to the frigid ice box outside to find his room.