“It’s a long way to Vegas,” the old man said.
He was ancient, with a weather beaten, deeply creviced face. His dark skin and his brown eyes gave away his Native American ancestry. He was also poor, you could tell by his clothes, there he was sitting there and waiting in his oil and dirt covered baggy jeans, a shirt, dropping from his shoulders and a battered straw cowboy hat to shield his squinting eyes from the sun. He squinted constantly and spoke with a serious tone to his voice, as though revealing some important truth, as though the answers to all of life’s questions could be revealed in the fact that it was a long way from to go.
“Yep,” agreed the second man, who wore a Rod and Gun cap and whose face and clothes were just as ragged. He stared Billy in the eyes and pronounced gravely a well known truth: “it’s a long way to Vegas.”
It was just getting hotter and hotter. He could not remember it ever being this hot in the foothills of the county. It must be some kind of record, Forty degrees or even more. He hated the heat. But it wasn’t just the heat Billy hated, right now Billy hated everything. He hated the heat and he hated these two old men and he hated his job, because right now he should be in his cutoff shorts and a tank top, sitting in his living room with a cold beer in one hand and the remote in the other and the air conditioning up to full blast, watching his big flat screen TV, instead of being out here in his starched uniform in this Goddamn heat. But that was his job, and he took his job seriously. With power comes responsibility, and Billy had a lot of both. Ventura County was the roadkill capital of the world. Someone once wrote, “that if it lives in Ventura County, there is one lying dead by the side of the road somewhere.’ On his way over here Billy had passed two dead dogs, four dead raccoons, a crushed rattlesnake and a few deer.
But one more thing too. The proof of the statement was lying a hundred feet away in a pool of her own blood. Billy’s first thought when he examined the body, is that she had probably been pretty, but it was hard to tell with part of her jaw cracked and snapped off. She fit a specific type of girl you found in California; big blond hair, big heels, flat stomach, a very lean thing, oh and poking out of her pocket he saw a stash of money, and lots of it, that may, or may not have been hers. The car certainly fit the stereotype. It was a late model Porsche 911 Turbo, black like her tight little dress, a rich car to go with her ‘rich ways’, The heat waves radiating off the Porsche’s black roof, The surface of the car was probably getting up to 70 degrees, Her body was lying there, between the car and the gas pumps. The filling hose was still stuck in the fill spout. She had put in seven and three tenths gallons before the pump had stopped. Her purse was on the passenger seat of the car. There was an empty soda bottle lying next to her, its contents spilled on the pavement by her head, mixing with her blood.
What she had been doing here, Billy couldn’t imagine. Nobody came here any more. This filling station was far off the beaten path. Once upon a time there had been a hotel across the street with concrete blocks stacked up and crusting apart for rooms and a twenty foot concrete Indian statue out front. Next to that a diner in an old air-conditioned railroad car. The Nation had owned the hotel once upon a time, playing to the white-man’s stereotypes of their people, his people. The stupid grinning concrete chief was still there, but absent his nose and several toes which a group of boys had broken off with a sledge hammer. This place was prosperous a long time ago, but the old highway had been abandoned. The state had built a new six-lane freeway down in the valley, and like a river that had changed its course it had left this little corner of Ventura County high and dry. Nobody came down this road anymore. The Porsche had probably been the only car out here all day. The only thing left was this old filling station with its rusty pumps and broken windows and two old men who continued running it because they had nowhere else to go. Well, they could go back to the Rancheria. The rest of the nation had moved back onto there, farther up in the hills, where a shiny new casino had replaced the tacky hotel as their main source of income. They could go there where the nation would take care of them and they’d live a comfortable life on all the money they were stealing back from the white-man: but they were too damn stubborn for that. Instead they stayed out here, on this desolate old road across from that damned concrete Indian, because this was their land and they refused to give it up. He hated them more than anything, just like he hated himself. They were the past he couldn’t escape. They were his family, and he hated being one of them.
“Tell me again, dad,” Billy said to the man in the straw cowboy hat, leveling upon him the eyeless gaze he normally gave drunken motorists, his face hidden behind mirrored sunglasses.
“Rolled in here about two o’clock,” his uncle Earl, interjected, “pretty little thing. Nice car too. Said she was going to Vegas”
“Long way to Vegas,” Billy’s dad said again.
“Did she ask directions?” Billy inquired.
“Nope,” his father answered, “she asked how far it was to Vegas.”
“Told her,” Earl said, “Long way.”
“Then what happened?”
“Well,” his father continued, “she bought a soda and paid for her gas. She was filling her tank when the motorcycle pulled up.”
“Jap-bike,” said Uncle Earl.
“He pulled out a great big pistol and shot her in the face. Then he just rode off. Must have been some sort of mob thing.”
“Like The Sopranos,” Earl volunteered.
“Did he pull out?” Billy asked.
“Nope,” said Earl.
“Just drove away,” said Billy’s father. These two had been completing each other’s thoughts since before the dinosaur ages past.
“Could you describe the motorcyclist?”
“Nope,” said his father.
“Didn’t see his face,” said his uncle, “he had one of those full face helmets with a black face screen.”
“Face screen,” Billie repeated.
“Full suit of riding leathers,” his dad went on.
“Black, like his helmet.”
“And the bike.”
“What kind of pistol?” Billy inquired.
“Maybe a .45.”
They were so annoying.
“Which way did he ride off after he left?” Billy continued.
“South,” said his father.
“Or Vegas,” Uncle Earl suggested.
“Nope,” Billy’s father corrected him. “ Too far. It’s a long way to Vegas.”
“Humph,” Billy grunted, and he walked away.
Wherever she is, even if she was at Vegas. It was a long way to Vegas, and nobody came through here to get there. They’d either have to go over the Pass or south up the heights and onto the flats. Or through Death Valley, which in this heat made even less sense.
“Was she going to go south?” He asked absently.
“Nope,” said his dad, “Through the pass.”
“It’s open till October” his uncle said, as if the Sheriff wouldn’t know that.
The motorcyclist had gone south. He could have been heading for Vegas too. If the motorcyclist had crossed the state line into Nevada, which meant the F.B.I. would have to get involved. They’d come around, crawling all over the place, messing up his county, and they wouldn’t solve a damn thing. He’d like to leave it to them but he couldn’t. Feds were useless. They’d never see it. Billy had never met a fed who could find his rear-end with both hands and a flashlight. But it was right there in front of Billy, as plain as the nose on his face, and it was up to him to do something about it. It was his county, his responsibility. He checked the woman’s purse just to be sure. He found fifteen dollars and no credit cards.
“Stand up, dad,” he said, “You too Uncle Earl.”
And then he cuffed them.
They couldn’t believe it. He was family and he was arresting them—worse, condemning them. They’d get the needle for sure. And it was Billy sending them to their doom. They couldn’t understand how he could do it. They didn’t say a word. They just stared at him dumbly as he read them their rights.
He searched the station (he didn’t need a warrant, it had been in his family or years). He found the girl’s credit cards in the till, along with seven hundred thirty five dollars and his father’s old colt .45, which he knew without ballistics would turn out to be the gun that had killed her, just as he knew that nobody could survive in this God-awful heat in black leathers and a full faced helmet.
It’s time to go back to school. For many of us, students and non-students, summer is the ideal time to forget the formalities of school or work for a while. While I definitely encourage you to indulge in the last bit of summer vacation over Labor Day (US) weekend, I wouldn’t do readers justice…