THE LAST TOWN #3: The Toils of Jock Sinclair
From the upcoming release of The Last Town #3: Waiting for the Dead (until I come up with a better title): I feel badly for Jock Sinclair. Totally.
As always, this is first draft stuff, unedited, no guarantee that what you read here will make it to the final version. Though frankly, I think this one’s a keeper.
SINGLE TREE, CALIFORNIA
The Maserati’s check engine light had been on for almost an hour as Jock Sinclair nursed the vehicle through the night, trapped in thick traffic that seemed present everywhere he turned. Meredith sat in the seat beside him, as silent as a statue. Sinclair had no idea if she was still pissed with him after their argument hours earlier—to be truthful, he couldn’t give a damn, the only difference between her and the rest of the cunts he’d used was that she was an heiress to a fortune that he fully intended to benefit from. He’d smooth it out with her later. He always did. Despite her education and earlier accomplishments in the modeling world, Meredith was one of those women who needed a strong man to give her a direction in life. Even when he managed to piss her off, he was always able to bring her back to his side. Sinclair allowed himself the opportunity to smile smugly at his reflection in the rear view mirror. Women like Meredith were like sheep before a wolf, and Sinclair had always been able to smell them out.
But now, the Ghibli’s check engine light was on, and it wouldn’t go out. And truth be told, the engine was starting to become sluggish, laggardly. The Italian sports sedan was having trouble accelerating, even in traffic that moved no more than twenty-five miles per hour up Route 395. Ridgecrest was three hours behind them, and that was where they’d picked up a lot of the traffic, and Sinclair had been chafing ever since rolling past the blue collar desert town. The Maserati had been surrounded by pickup trucks, big rigs, minivans, and the usual assortment of vehicles normally favored by the lower middle class, and most of those red-necked bozos couldn’t drive to save their lives. Sinclair weaved in and out of traffic where he could, but it was rare for him to get past a top speed of thirty-five miles per hour.
And then, the Ghibli’s check engine light came on.
Italian piece of shit, Sinclair raged impotently. If only we had an Aston! Or even a Range Rover!
Ahead, a town loomed, emerging from the scrub and desert that surrounded the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Sinclair glanced at a road sign as soon as it came in view.
SINGLE TREE SAYS HOWDY!
“Oh, dear God,” he said aloud. “Howdy? Surely California is more civilized than that, or have we somehow crossed into Neanderthal Texas?”
Meredith made a satisfied hmph noise in the back of her throat, but offered nothing more.
A glance at the GPS showed that, indeed, the town of Single Tree, California lay ahead somewhere in the darkness. All Sinclair saw out the windows at the moment was a trailer park. People sat on the side of the road in lawn chairs, watching the traffic snake past. He clucked his tongue. Such plebeian activity, as if the fools had never seen traffic before. He noticed several people held signs. Water, $1.00. Tamales $2.50. Fresh fruit, vegetables. He also saw several motorists had pulled out of the line of traffic to take advantage of these offerings, and Sinclair clucked his tongue again and shook his head. Idiots, buying someone’s rusty tap water for a dollar.
The Ghibli continued to lag its way northward. Sinclair thought he could hear something under the hood now, like a cylinder misfiring. He clenched his teeth and fidgeted slightly in the seat. He glanced over at Meredith, and in the light of the GPS display, he thought he could see her smiling wanly. Enjoying his discomfort, perhaps.
Stupid tart, Sinclair fumed to himself.
At last, the town of Single Tree appeared. The lights were still on, so that was something. And curiously, Sinclair thought he saw construction equipment out in the desert. Floodlights illuminated a large swath of the barren region as several back hoes went at it, attacking the desert floor with a vengeance. It was an odd time to be doing such work, seeing as it was almost three o’clock in the morning.
Probably those God-awful frackers, Sinclair thought. Truly, greed knows no limit.
The first gas station they came upon was full of cars and trucks, and traffic was backed up to the town limits. Sinclair pulled around most of it, stomping on the accelerator, trying to coax the overprice piece of luxury Italian shit into something resembling forty miles per hour. The Ghibli began to shudder as its engine knocked. The car chugged past a Comfort Inn hotel, its parking lot full, then ambled its way past a lumber store—its parking lot was full as well, albeit with hulking trucks that bore all manner of construction equipment. Further up was a small airport, its entrance gate closed and apparently locked. On the other side of the street—now called South Main Street, he saw—there was a Chevron gas station, also clogged with vehicles. Sinclair considered trying to make his way into the parking lot anyway, but there was no chance of him being able to turn against the oncoming traffic. Also, he didn’t want to stop, for fear the Ghibli wouldn’t start moving again.
The car meandered past two more full hotels, several ramshackle homes, and what appeared to be a large parking lot full of more construction equipment. A Carl’s Jr. hamburger restaurant, currently closed. A Subway sandwich shop, also closed. A used car dealership, the sight of which got Sinclair’s hopes up, until he saw several hopped-up pickup trucks and lowriders out front. As much as he was growing to despise the Maserati, he knew nothing would come from allowing a gang of backcountry monkeys to poke and prod at it. The car shook and shuddered a bit more, actually starting to drop in and out of gear.
“What in the hell is wrong with this car?” Sinclair muttered.
“Just stop, Jock,” Meredith said wearily as the lights of the center of town came into view.
“Where, Meredith? Where would you like me to stop?” Sinclair almost shouted.
Meredith pointed out the windshield. “Right there. That looks as good a place as any.”
Sinclair looked in the direction she indicated. A long, low-slung, vaguely horseshoe shaped building the color of burnt orange sat in the darkness. The sign proclaimed it was the Trail’s End Motel, and in smaller text, Sinclair was informed that every room had HBO, a bath tub, and an ironing board.
What’s more, a smaller sign glowed in the darkness like a happy afterthought: VACANCY.
“You want to stay in a roach motel?” Sinclair was aghast at the prospect. “Meredith, darling, when was the last time anything less than a twelve-hundred thread count set of sheets came into contact with your sacrosanct skin?” he asked, even though he was more worried about his own skin coming into contact with anything with a thread count south of five hundred and ten.
The Ghibli bucked again, almost throwing Sinclair against his seat belt. He cursed. Meredith sighed.
“We don’t have much of a choice, Jock,” she said, the perfect picture of reason. “I really don’t think we’re going much farther.”
“Damn this!” Sinclair shouted. He wrenched the wheel to the right, and the Maserati labored to get into the parking lot. He barely made it to the curb before the expensive car stalled with a lingering rattle. Try as he may, Sinclair couldn’t get the vehicle to restart. Frustrated, he collapsed back into the driver’s seat and regarded the sign towering over him.
“Every room has an ironing board,” he said, bitterly.
“You’d better hurry,” Meredith said. “With our luck, there’s probably only one room left.”
Sinclair looked up as a two-door Jeep pulled into the parking lot. He threw open the door and lunged to get out, but the seat belt held him fast. He unlocked it with a curse and pulled himself out of the Ghibli’s opulent interior. His lower back was stiff and painful, despite the driver’s seat premium padded bolster. Growling in pain, he broke into a jog, heading for the motel office.
“Damn this!” he said again. “Free HBO and ironing boards—damn this!”
Gunning for May on this one, folks.