Marcus Winters was sitting comfortably in a small coffee shop when the Coconino County Sheriff called. Vibrations from the phone echoed through his coffee, making circular ripples rhythmically dance in the brown liquid. While the drink steamed on the stained wood table, the phone continued to ring and vibrate for a few more seconds. Marcus did not want to pick up. Of the three other patrons, two were now glaring towards him with disdain: “Who was he to come in here, in public, and let his phone ring and ring and ring. He’s just staring at it. Rude. It’s a Sunday morning for God’s sake.”
Feeling the consequences would be severe if he did not pick up the phone (if not from the woman next to him then from Sheriff Thomas Barnett), Marcus answered his phone.
“What?” He breathed into the phone with an exasperated sigh.
The gruff speech incited groans from his involuntary audience.
“Learn to pick up your phone, dipshit,” The Sheriff growled. Marcus could hear chewing tobacco slushing around in the Law’s lower lip.
Marcus rolled his eyes, staring straight out into the wall opposite his table. It was made of large white bricks and was adorned with pictures and paintings of ambient scenery. Who took those pictures, he wondered, and why? It didn’t matter, he mused, all that mattered was that he was looking at them now.
Sheriff Barnett was still barking through the phone. He was angry and excited; Marcus hoped in vain that it was just a friendly check up. The lack of a “Hey, how’s it going,” told him it was not.
The smell of coffee seeped again into his nose. He took a sip and burned his tongue. Marcus set the white mug back down.
“Do you understand me, mutt?” The Sheriff said, pausing for a response.
“Just tell me what you need me to do,” Marcus said.
“I already told you, you ingrate,” The Sheriff said, his bitter voice reminiscent of too many whiskeys and too many cigarettes.
Sheriff Barnett’s accentuated southern drawl said more about his opinions on how the law should function than any case report could. He was angry and old, upset at the rise of paperwork in his once fine profession. Some men had wondered if it was possible for The Sheriff to complete a sentence without insulting someone, something, or some idea.
This no longer seemed to be a conversation for a coffee shop. In a few smooth motions, Marcus had placed his white Stetson hat back on his head, snapped on black aviator sunglasses, and walked out the door into the blistering sun of Holbrook, Arizona.
He wore a white shirt, mostly unbuttoned and revealing his dark hairy chest and a golden cross necklace. His maroon pants glistened, as he looked around the road for a place to stand. He began to walk down the road, looking for anywhere with a lick of shade. Sweat beaded down his chest, and his armpits were already wet through his shirt.
“Well, you’re gonna need to tell me again,” Marcus said into the phone.
He had abandoned his quest for shade, and was now sitting on a low wall, watching cars trailed by.
“In case you’ve forgotten, I’m calling you because you are a low-life killer, and in this nation we put sons of whores like you in prison. But, I, in my endless charity, gave a dark-skin like you a second chance. All I ask is every now and again, you go claim a bounty for me. Does that sound familiar to you, Marcus?” The Sheriff said, his threat thinly veiled.
Marcus sighed. He knew what he’d done. He wasn’t proud of it but it was in the past, wasn’t it? And he was a changed man now. Wasn’t he?
Besides, who hadn’t killed before?
“Yea, yea, yea, you got a name or not?” He said.
Fifteen bounties and he would earn his freedom. He was indebted and indentured to deliver fifteen people to the extrajudicial justice of Sheriff Barnett. This would be number eight. He was almost halfway there.
“No. I don’t got a name. I want you to just go hunt willy-damn-nilly for a mystery man in a mystery place,” The Sheriff started, “You’re an idiot, Marcus, of course I got a name.”
The conversation paused while The Sheriff spat and licked his chapped lips.
“Well feel free to share anytime,” Marcus responded.
Marcus sighed. He knew all too well that Sheriff Barnett was a cruel man. To the old man, law was done best during the Wild Wild West. If you are a criminal, you hang. Unfortunately, modern law did not function to The Sheriff’s wishes, so he had to blackmail men like Marcus into capturing suspects outside the purview of the law and its incessant need for evidence and fair trials. From the fringes, The Sheriff could execute his own brand of justice.
“John Bondi. Last seen in Winslow, Arizona. I hear that he’s shacked up in some seedy motel. You bring me Bondi, and I’ll never ask you anything again. And,” he paused, “as an added bonus, I’ll give you twenty-five grand.
“But, I need him alive, Marcus, got it?” The Sheriff said, “Alive.”
Somehow, The Sheriff’s enunciation of Marcus’ name was more derogatory than any insult he could have conjured.
“Bring you John Bond-ee alive and we’re done?” Marcus responded.
He knew he pronounced it wrong, and he knew it would bother The Sheriff. He wanted to give all the hits he could to the smug old man.
“It's Bond-eye, you twat. How many times were you dropped as a baby that you can’t comprehend a simple god damned sentence? Of course that’s what I said. Go get it done. ALIVE!” The Sheriff said before spitting a significant amount of chewing tobacco.
The air was dry and sapped water from Marcus’ lips. The whole town smelled like dust.
“Think it would help if I knew why you wanted me to go get him? He rob a bank or somethin’?” he asked.
“Writing a book? I asked you to bring me John Bondi, so go get me John Bondi,” The Sheriff yelled before hanging up the phone.
Sweat was beading from Marcus’ forehead. It was 110 degrees without a cloud in the sky, the weatherman wagered it would get hotter. He walked back towards the coffee shop where he left his car. There were not many people on the streets. Most people seemed to just be passing through, and the citizens of the town had opted to be borderline reclusive on the scorching morning.
He never wanted to be a bounty hunter. But it seemed preferable to life in prison.
When Marcus saw his car a smile drew across his face. The black 1970 Camaro was sparkling in the sun. In the Arizona heat, it may have even been melting. It had two doors, manual transmission, and an engine that sounded like a fat man’s stomach after a three day fast. Even in the dirty, sand filled deserts of Northeastern Arizona, the car was so clean that at first glance that it appeared new.
“No. Wait,” Marcus thought.
It wasn’t clean. He pulled a microfiber cloth from his back pocket and wiped down the left headlight smearing and cleaning a dead bug’s guts off the light. Now, he thought, now it was perfect.
He opened the door, sat down in the driver’s seat, and meticulously closed the door behind him. He twisted the key, and the car responded with a strong growl. The uninformed may have mistaken the engine for an apex predator, like a jaguar or a bear. The car’s clock read 8:51 AM. Marcus checked his glove box: Registration, insurance, half a pack of cigarettes, a small case of bullets (fifty caliber), and a Smith and Wesson five shot revolver.
The radio hummed, not making much sound. It was a commercial anyway. Marcus pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road. After a small handful of traffic lights and stop signs, he arrived at the I-40, and turned west.
The stretch of concrete and metal that makes up the Interstate between Holbrook and Winslow was flanked on all sides by a brutal, empty, unforgiving desert. Marcus barreled down the near straight shot between the towns, it wouldn’t be an hour before he arrived.
Just as Marcus tuned back in to the radio, the news began to air.
*Zzzzt* “I’m Larry Lagoon This is 94.3 your finest source for Northern Arizona news. Four people were found dead in the forest south of Flagstaff yesterday. Authorities have confirmed one of the bodies belonged to Joseph Sheiner, former accountant of deceased gangster Steve ‘The King’ Sillios. The other three are assumed to be his family members, all appear to have been burned to death. Authorities are unsure why the man and his family were hiding out, and have no suspects at this time.”
Marcus was too distracted in thought to hear the rest of the report. Burned alive. What a way to go, he thought. He decided he would rather die in any fashion other than burned to death in the wilderness. His thoughts returned to the news.
“…will hopefully be repaired soon. Now, here’s your Winslow Weather. Today: Hot. Tomorrow: Hotter. The day after tomorrow: Hot again. Tune in tomorrow, same time, same place, this has been Larry Lagoon on 94.3 FM.” *Zzzzt*
A folk song began to play.
There was no scenery to behold. Pale yellow shrubs and grasses sat upon brown, waterless, dirt. It was an endless expanse in all directions, void of hills, mountains, or rivers. For a road so close to the famous Painted Desert National Monument, very few colors were present. Occasionally, Marcus passed by a small canyon, a sweat lodge, or a ranching edifice. It was an ocean of lifelessness under a cloudless sky. The upside, he thought, was that there were not many bugs. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw a mosquito. Sure, bugs existed, he mused, but without humidity or water the quantity was fractional. Marcus smiled as he thundered down the road.
When Marcus arrived in Winslow it was just past 9:30 AM. He skidded into a parking lot and silenced the beast’s engine. He planted his leather boots onto the ground and walked outside. It was not any cooler here, and without the car’s air conditioned interior, he began to sweat again.
He walked into a café, ordered coffee (Is one cup ever enough?) and began researching where in God’s good name John Bondi would be waking up. Though he only had seven bounties behind him, Marcus was sure of one thing: Outlaws did not wake up before 10:00 AM.
He was among a larger crowd of six or seven other customers. The café smelled like syrup and pastries. 1950’s teeny-bop songs were almost fully drowned out by the high pitched whooshing of an old A/C unit.
There are not many places to stay in Winslow, sixteen to be exact. As a known criminal, there are even fewer. Marcus tried to put himself in the shoes of an outlaw on the run. Seven of the lodging options were probably too expensive, he decided. Another seven were chains and he wagered that a chain would not be the temporary residence of John Bondi, who was apparently worth $25,000. There was some overlap, of course, between the pricey and chain hotels and motels. Of the sixteen hotels, motels, and hostels, there were four places worth checking.
First, Doug’s Motel. It was cheap, and did not have a lot of rooms. Most important, Marcus figured, Doug’s Motel accepted cash and bragged about it.
Second, The Winslow Inn. It was located downtown, which meant a lot of foot traffic, and therefore no reason to think twice about a strange new face.
Third, Route 66 Motel. Cheap, old, and dilapidated, this was the place that Marcus would choose had he been hiding out. It was straggled in an eastern segment of the sorry excuse for a civilization. Unfortunately, he was not an outlaw on the run, and he was not convinced his choice for a hiding spot would match with the choice of an actual outlaw degenerate.
Fourth, the Desert Inn. Not too cheap and not too expensive, it was a moderate place for moderate people. It wasn’t seedy, it wasn’t classy. It was subtle, understated, and unobtrusive, tucked quietly in the Northern part of the town, far from the Interstate.
He would start with the Desert Inn, then (for the sake of efficiency) head to the Winslow Inn, the Route 66 Motel, and finally, Doug’s.
Marcus walked to the first motel on his list: The Desert Inn. It took about ten minutes, but despite the heat, he liked the fresh air. When he arrived he was greeted with a small administrative building. There were 6 two story units, each with two rooms available. Combined with the front office, they formed an L shape around the parking lot. Each building was a pale tan with pastel pink and blue Native American patterns set upon them for contrast. Five cars were lying in wait for their owners to emerge from the rooms. A red neon vacancy sign hummed as Marcus approached the office.
When he walked towards the administrative office, he saw through the large glass window that the clerk’s head was buried in her phone. He walked in and a bell rang, but the clerk did not look up. She was old, or rather, she appeared old. Years of drugs, desert sun, and apathy had aged her beyond her years. She smelled like stale cigarettes and cheap deodorant. A fly loop-de-looped and swirled around her head, but it was apparent that she didn’t care.
Marcus approached the desk, and stood silent for about five seconds before producing an obtrusive cough. Hearing his act of showmanship, the woman did not look up from her phone. Her skin drooped off of her face, as if she had just been slapped in slow motion. A microscopic cartographer could mistake her wrinkles for a system of endless and complex canyons. She had grey hair with hints of blonde. A failed dye-job perhaps.
He glanced around the desk and he saw a sign: Ring bell for service. This is ridiculous, he thought, and rang the bell. In the raspy voice of a server in a diner circa 1952 she greeted him.
“How many nights,” she droned, not looking up.
“I’m not here to stay the night…” Marcus began before he was interrupted.
“Then what are you doing here?” She rasped. Her voice was like two cheese graters fighting for dominance.
“I’m looking for a man,” he said, voice so suave and cool it may as well be made of ice. It was a practiced response. This was not the first man he had to hunt, this part was routine – muscle memory.
“Aren’t we all, sunshine,” she said.
It seemed her eyes were trying to avoid Marcus’ as she slid candy into matching color sets on her phone.
“Funny. I’m looking for John Bondi,” he said.
“John Bondi,” she glanced up, “Well good luck, he certainly ain’t here.”
“How do you know him?” Marcus perked up.
It was a lead.
“Got any idea where he may be?” he said.
“Bastard destroyed a few too many of my rooms is how I know him. And no, If I knew where he was I would be there collecting what he owes me,” she said.
Bondi was not here, but seemed to be the kind of enigmatic personality that lingered in long term memory on those unfortunate enough to cross paths with him. Marcus searched “John Bondi,” on his phone’s internet to no avail. It was a shot in the dark, but stranger things had happened to Marcus in the last year.
He thanked the woman, tipped his white hat, and headed out the door. Onto the next lodging.
It did not take long to cross the Winslow Inn off the list of potential hidey-holes. Two minutes flat to be exact. Marcus walked in the door, greeted the front desk’s dejected worker, and informed him of his mission. Before he could finish the words “I’m looking for a man,” a shoe was hurled at his head and followed with borderline unintelligible ramblings.
“Think I know e’rry person who walk through that door? Think I gonna share what I know with johhny law? Get out o’ here and don come back, don’t make me call Horis,” was all Marcus comprehended, but it was plenty. He backed away. If Bondi was inside, he would have to stake the building out.
Better to just move on, Marcus thought.
He tipped his Stetson and finished backing out of the inn, wondering who Horis was, how large he was, and if he would become a problem. Marcus hadn’t met a man immune to a few rounds of lead, but it wouldn’t be wise to rule out the possibility. The Route 66 Motel was next.
Outside the Winslow Inn, Marcus took a moment to take in the town. A statue of Glenn Fry, founding member of the legendary rock band Eagles, stood nearby. The town had an indescribable pride for the man due to an off-hand line in their hit song: Take It Easy. At this point, Marcus himself was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and he had to admit, it was a very fine sight to see.
Tourists, vagabonds, and locals mulled about. The downtown block was kept clean and pristine. New and old restaurants fed plenty of patrons each day. A line had formed behind a brass statue of Glenn – Every tourist needed a picture with him. They too, had the once in a road trip opportunity to stand on a corner, in Winslow, Arizona. A homeless man with an untrimmed beard and matching brown hair decided that he too needed something there; though it was not a picture or a memory. He nonchalantly approached each and every group, made his demands, and hoped – nay, prayed – that he would be handed anything: A dime, an apple, a gift card, or ideally, a small sack of drugs. Only occasional tourists obliged.
It was easy to tell who was a local and who was not.
The sightseers parked on the block, took a picture, grabbed a bite and a beer, and got back in their cars. It was bizarre to Marcus that people travelled to the remote desert town in search of a picture and something to do. He scoffed as the travelers smiled and laughed, but failed to venture outside downtown Winslow. The town was four hours west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, nearly an hour east of Flagstaff, Arizona, and over three hours from Phoenix, the metropolitan jewel of the Arizona Desert. This many people could not just be passing through. Winslow was the destination.
The locals on the other hand were downtown because they worked there, either at a gentrified brewery, souvenir shop, overpriced restaurant, or on the street begging for coin. The town was formerly propped up on a combination of Route 66 traffic and a booming railroad industry. Today, Route 66 was a relic and the railroad was less relevant than ever to everyone but trans-national shipping conglomerates.
One block in any direction saw broken down buildings, boarded up windows, frowns, and the downtrodden eyes of a town forgotten in time struggling to keep up. Only the gas stations and convenience stores servicing interstate travelers had no problem staying afloat. The day that no cars need gas would be the day Winslow, Arizona is welcomed to its grave. Men like Elon Musk would be the nail in the coffin for making the town wholly obsolete.
When Marcus left the strip he was greeted with shattered glass, trash, and a sea of cigarette butts. He walked back to his car thinking there was no way Bondi could know he was coming, so there was no need to rush. He started the steel beast, it drank a hearty gulp of gasoline and roared. Onto the Route 66 Motel.
The Route 66 Motel was in a sorry state. It was larger than the Desert Inn, with a total of fifteen rooms and a front office. A vacancy sign tried to glow in a familiar neon red, but it too was not immune to time, opting instead for an inconsistent flicker. A fifteen-foot blue post was capped with five vertical white cubes each with a red letter spelling out “MOTEL”. Below it was an advertising placard touting color-TV and running water.
Red white and blue, Marcus mused, pure Americana.
He parked his car in the parking lot as close to the road as he could, and took the keys out of the ignition.
The U Shaped complex was two stories tall, with sunbathed turquoise and yellow paint working hard to cling to the wall. Large portions of the paint had peeled off revealing a layer of brown plaster. One man was slumped asleep; He may have even been dead. Not my problem, Marcus thought.
“Let’s make this quick,” he said to himself as he walked through a glass door into the office. The heat from the walk had started to get to him. This time he would not play games or worry about charisma. Straight to the point.
The office had a plastic waiting bench, a desk, and a back office shrouded by curtains. A stack of old magazines took up half the bench. No one tended the desk, and there were no computers. A small ledger sat on the desk next to a metal cashbox. An analog TV was mounted on the wall, turned off. Upon further inspection, Marcus noted it was not even plugged in. The interior was painted baby blue with thick pink stripe about halfway up the wall. Black and white pictures of the good ol’ days were the only decorations joining peeling paint on the wall.
“Hello? Anybody here?” Marcus said.
A woman emerged from behind the red faux-velvet curtains. She looked to be thirty, her hair was tied back. She wore a white shirt and blue jeans. She was no model, but compared to the dinosaur running the office at the Desert Inn, she was a Hollywood Star. Before she could start to speak, Marcus began.
“I’m going to give this to you straight, you have two options here. Option number one, you tell me which room John Bondi is staying in so I can stop by for a visit. Option number two, I pound on every single door, create a substantial racket, and piss off every customer you have until I find him,” He said.
He had no idea if Bondi was here, but the clerk didn’t know that. If this bluff worked, he imagined he could have a strong career in professional poker.
“Hmm. Well on the one hand I don’t care for any of my clients enough to be bothered if they receive a wake up call. But, on the other hand, I’d rather not be yelled at before noon,” she replied, changing her posture. She stood up straight, cocked an eyebrow, and raised the left side of her lip. He was hanging on her every word and she knew.
She paused for a good twenty seconds, pretending to think his proposal over. He stared at her, palms flat on the cold desk. This was the moment of truth. She looked down at the ledger, scanned over its names, then looked back up at Marcus.
“He’s in room eight, second floor. I can’t give you a key, and if anyone asks I didn’t tell you anything,” she said.
Finally, she thought, something exciting was happening in the rundown town and she was in the eye of the hurricane.
Time to find out if she was telling the truth. More so, it was time to catch John Bondi. Marcus salivated at the thought of twenty-five grand, then found himself drooling over the thought of no longer serving The Sheriff and becoming a free man. No more fear, no more threats: The promised land was in room eight.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Marcus said. He tipped his hat.
“Hey!” The clerk shouted before he made it out the door. “Don’t make too much noise,” she said, winking.
He laughed as he replied “I’ll try my hardest.”
He walked outside, up the stairs to the second floor, and towards room eight. The door was made of dark brown wood, blots of white paint from decades prior clung to the facade. A peephole stood at eye level. Best to stay out of its gaze.
Marcus pounded hard on the door three times. A splinter pricked his hand, but drew no blood.
“Open up!” he yelled. He hadn’t brought his gun, and was now realizing that maybe he should have. If not for Bondi, then for Horis.
He heard scrambling inside, then shouts, “Pants... Where the hell are my pants?”
After ten seconds Marcus prepared to bang on the door again. Just as he raised his fist to slam against the wooden barrier between him and his prize, the door opened as much as the chain lock would allow. Cold air rushed out of the gap.
The three-inch gap between the door and the doorframe was filled by a tall woman with a sheet wrapped around her. Her black hair was frazzled and she had striking blue eyes. Her figure blocked all view of the room behind her.
“You don’t look like housekeeping,” she giggled.
The front desk clerk slurped from a 64 ounce Styrofoam cup in the parking lot, eyes unmoving from the action.
“John Bondi here?” Marcus said.
May as well give him a chance to appear before taking any drastic measures.
“Hmmm… John... who? John Bond-ee? I can’t say I’ve ever heard of him,” she said.
The woman was a bad liar. She grinned ear to ear every time she opened her mouth, unable to control her giggles. She pronounced his name wrong to fool the assailant in the doorway.
In response, a man could be heard muttering, “Bond-eye, its Bond-eye.”
“Hat! Where the fuck is my hat?” the man then shouted in a panic from inside the room.
“Sorry, miss, wrong answer,” Marcus said. He took a full step back, grabbed the second floor railing with his left arm, raised one leg and gave the door a good strong kick.
His foot collided with the already ajar door. It shook back, the chain tensed and the wood buckled, but the door did not open any further. Without missing a beat, he kicked again.
The second time Marcus’ foot hit the door the chain snapped off the wall, the door flew backwards, and the sound of glass shattering was heard throughout the entire complex.
Wait… he thought. Glass? He didn’t kick anything glass, and there wasn’t a window in the door’s arc. He stepped past the giggling girl and dashed into the room. Liquor and sweat hung in the air like a light fog. The woman’s companion was nowhere to be seen. A large window facing the rear of the motel was shattered. Marcus approached it and looked outside.
On the ground lay a broken nightstand surrounded by shards of glass. The clear debris glistened in the sunlight, flanked by the translucent green and brown chips of a thousand shattered bottles and a million shattered dreams. About twenty feet past the nightstand a man was headed in no particular direction aside from away.
He was limping in a panic, glancing around in all directions. The man had no shoes and no shirt. He did however have blue jeans, and a wide brimmed brown felt fedora. In his right hand he carried a brown leather jacket. Was he after John Bondi or Indiana Jones?
Marcus was not standing inside a motel room in Winslow to watch Bondi run off, as entertaining as it might be. He sprinted outside, almost lost his hat on the stairs, and darted into the parking lot towards his car.
“I told you not to make too much noise,” the attendant said, having watched everything unfold.
It was the highlight of her month and she was already texting her friends. She knew they would never believe her, so she headed up to snap a picture as Marcus rushed past her.
Marcus started his car and flew out of the parking lot so fast that with a long enough runway and a pair of wings he could have been airborne.
The pursuit was on.