It was a cool winter evening just outside Las Vegas Nevada, the wind was blowing and carrying with it the sounds of the far away strip, its neon lights washing over the city like water over a rock. Miles away sat a rundown no-tell motel, it was old and clearly needed a paint job, it was two stories and sat in a U shape, with the inner rooms, windows, and doors facing down upon a courtyard with an empty cement pool in the middle and a small mini-golf course with ripped up astroturf. The motels’ sign was missing a few letters but otherwise displayed the establishment’s main selling point, rooms by the hour. Pretty much the only customers that came around were cheating husbands with empty wallets and wondering eyes and gamblers who could not afford to stay in the city and had to come crawling back with nothing but lint in their formerly bulging pockets.
However, there was one other type of guest who stayed at this particular motel, the ones who sought to vanish, to disappear from society, to keep their head down, or to hide from the world. Clint Williams was one of these people, a former contractor he now collected social security, the wife had cleaned him out in the divorce, his kids lived out of state until the home he and his wife had owned was sold, and the money split, Clint was stuck. The old motel was cheap and the other people who stayed there asked no questions, the rooms were sparse and the place offered no food, so Clint often found himself dividing his time between the local diner and the courtyard pool. He had bought an old cooler at the local gas station and filled it with some ice and beer, he would spend hours sitting next to that old empty pool, sipping on a can and watching the sunset, the light from the strip slowly washing the sky in brightness.
It was that night he met John Argo, he first saw Argo walking down the stairs, slowly passing the rusted and bent fencing that protected the occupants from falling off the edge as they drunkenly made their way up to their room. He was youngish, maybe mid-twenties maybe mid-thirties, he wore converse, jeans that fit a bit too snuggly for Clint’s liking, and a white T-shirt with a Banksy image on it. He had a close-fitting worn leather jacket on, the sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and a knit cap pulled over his hair. He walked slowly into the courtyard and paused by the edge of the pool, he pulled out a cellphone, looked at it and then held it up over his head as if searching for a signal, Clint smiled and called out, you won’t have much luck there, this whole area has spotty reception.
Argo turned and looked over at Clint, then said, no bother, Clint continued if you need to make a call the office will let you…for a fee, Argo shrugged and said, naw the call was not anything that could not wait till tomorrow or even next week. He pocketed the phone and started to walk back towards the motel stairs, Clint then leaned his head back and called out, hey empty seat here if you want? Argo paused and seemed to be thinking it over, Clint then flipped open the cooler and pulled out a can, I can promise you beer and good conversation or silence if you are into that? Argo chuckled, said don’t mind if I do, and walked over, he pulled over a plastic pool chair and sat down, the sun-bleached plastic bulged slightly under his weight and for a split-second Argo was slightly worried it may break. He looked over and smiled for the first time, and said hit me. Clint pulled out two cans and handed one to Argo, ohhhh O’Doul’s I see? There a story there? Argo asked, Clint was silent for a moment, everything has a story, whether it is interesting or not in the question, but I’m just a middle-aged man, what’s your name son? John cracked open the can and took a long sip, John, John Argo, that is an interesting name, it is strong and firm, Clint commented. Argo then asked Clint’s name and what brought him to this wayward place, to which Clint said that’s a long story, one that starts decades ago, for a moment his eyes were lost as if he had traveled back to a time long since passed, or maybe just to the day before.
However, to sum it up, I loved the bottle and I drank until I would blackout, I was a contractor, a successful one as well. One day the wife and I fought, I started drinking that night and did not stop until an hour before I needed to go to work. Needless to say, my boss did not take kindly to that, I took a swing at him, the cops were called and I ended up breaking the nose of one of Carson City’s finest. Argo was silent as he took another sip, the cop get a glove in? Clint burst out laughing, naw, he tased me and threw me in the back of the car. The part I left out was that the cop was my cousin, he was kind, said he would get my boss to drop the charges, and he would forget I hit him if I would check myself into rehab. I did, long story short the wife left me when I was in rehab, and the house is tied up till the divorce is settled, I’m jobless as my boss fired me, and now I live here at the motel and avoid the advances of the hookers who hang around out here.
Clint then turned his head and nodded, so what’s your tale John? You are a young feller, no reason why you should end up in a run-down place like this. Argo slowly got up and stretched, he finished his can and then crunched it in his hands, the light metal cool and hard on his skin, he gazed at it for a moment before tossing it into the empty swimming pool. It hit the side of the wall and dropped tumbling down until it rolled into a small pool of leaf-covered water at the bottom. John stood for a moment then cocked his head to one side, how the hell did the leaves get here Clint? He then looked up and pointed, there are no trees, in fact, I cannot remember seeing any for quite a ways when I drove here. He took one last look at the pool and the mysterious leaves and then came and sat down again, reaching inside his jacket pocket he pulled out a pack of American Spirit cigarettes, looking over at Clint he offered him one, to which he declined. Producing a lighter Argo lit one and took a long drag, leaning back in the chair he felt relaxed for the first time in a long while.
He took another drag from his cigarette and began, I am on my way to California, and I have been gone a long time. Perhaps too long, perhaps not long enough. Been taking my sweet time getting there, been driving for weeks, but this is the final leg of the trip. The final leg is always the hardest. You got friends? Family? Maybe a girl out there? Clint asked? I was born out there, have many family members and more than a few girls, his mouth formed into a pained smile. As for friends, I am not sure, as I said it’s been a long time. Why did you leave the older man asked?
Taking another drag, Argo leaned his head back and looked up into the night sky, the cool breeze blowing pack him, it was an almost nostalgic feeling, the darkness, the neo light in the distance and the rattling of those damn leaves as they skittered on the concrete. He was unsure what it made him nostalgic for, maybe something from another life.
Have you ever heard of Quanah Parker, Clint? Cannot say that I have he replied. He was a Comanche war chief some even say the greatest chief of them all. Thing is he was an outsider, his mother was a white captive, from a massacre, taken by the Comanche she was given to a brave to be his wife, and she bore him a child, half American and half Comanche. He had a hard life, yet pushed through and was a terror to the US Military and his archenemy Colonel Mackenzie. After the Indian Wars, he surrendered and was forced to live in a world that he was a part of yet did not fit into, one that both feared and resented him.
I like his story, Clint; he returned to a world that he never knew after many years and was able to survive and almost one could say thrive. Clint looked at John closely, and said, will you do the same? In California? Live there and thrive? Argo glanced over, I am not planning on staying, I will go and take care of my unfinished business then vanish again, maybe then after a while, I can start again, be a new man. Clint cracked open another can, ah yes, unfinished business I know a little something about that. Regret goes hand in hand with it, and if a man does not take care of it, the very thought of that unfinished business can consume him. I lived many of my good years in a bar, and I cannot tell you how many men I saw hollowed out by the thought of the years and times gone by. What is your regret, John Argo? What unfinished business do you have across the state line? You do not have to tell me, but you have to tell yourself, you are a young man, I see maybe a bit of myself in you, be cautious! There are those around you who seek to stop you from moving forward, they simply cannot stand to see one make a decision to better themselves. I think they are angry they are not brave enough to do it themselves. There are many times I should have taken a step forward and I did not.
Argo finished his cigarette and tossed it down, grinding it out with his heal, good advice, I will keep it in mind, do that John and you are still a few hours from the Stateline, maybe its better for you to simply turn around and go back to whence you came? Sometimes to face one’s issues, a man has to simply go the other direction, not all the problems of one’s past can be faced head-on; perhaps some of the past is best buried in an unmarked grave to be forgotten.
The night wore on, John and Clint talked of many things, their favorite sports teams, the woman they had dated and Clint told John about his time in the military long ago. John did not consider himself a warm person, but he genuinely liked Clint Williams, the man was a rare breed of honesty and what you saw is what you got. Around 1 am, Clint fell asleep in the pool chair, the crisp chill of the morning air awoke him, and he stretched his foot knocking over a few beer cans that were leftover from the night before. He looked over and saw the empty chair, John Argo was gone, in his chair was a piece of paper that looked ripped out from a journal of some sort. He reached over and picked it up, flipping it open, he read
It was nice meeting you Clint, thanks for the beers and good company; it’s been a long time since I enjoyed myself like that. I am off to California, sometimes it is best to bury and forget the past as you so eloquently put it. Other times we simply cannot do that. This is one of those times, I will think of you when I reach the Coastline, I owe you a round if we should meet again..
All the best,
Clint Williams gathered up his things and went back to his room, on his way he glanced at the empty pool and chuckled, John was right. Where did the leaves come from! Little did Clint know but he would never see John Argo again. He got dressed in a fresh set of clothes and realized he was hungry, maybe Mage at the diner had some pancakes all made up, he would have to go and find out.
Byron Lafayette is a journalist, grad student, poet, and author of ‘Abandon: The Darkness’ and ‘Age of Isolation’, he loves to read and dabbles in photography when he is not working on his Dissertation. Famously private he has never revealed his face publicly and leaves his readership to wonder just what he looks like…