Desert angel

She had graduated 12 years earlier near the top of her class at the university where she studied third-world economics and English.

Her name was Alala, which means the lost one. A large firm in the capital had offered a fine position, but she returned to the village where she was born because she was needed there.

She married Jelani, which means mighty one, and he was an officer in the village bank. There were two children, Jamar, which means handsome, age 8, and Fatima, which means weaned, though that was not quite the case.

Fatima was six months old.  She was fat and happy with round black eyes.

The family made payments on a new condo on the village’s outskirts, part of a government project called Hope.

They drove a Ford Fiesta and entertained friends on weekends when Alala would serve groundnut soup, waakye and grilled antelope strips.

That was how it had been, but today was different.  Alala was near death afoot with no family on the pitiless sands of the Majarani Desert.

* * * *

It had started the day robed men raided the village atop fast camels, sweating horses and dirty Nissan pickups painted black and tan.

They carried long knives and rifles, and they killed scores the first day as Alala and Jelani crouched in their condo closet with Jamar and Fatima who would scarcely keep quiet.

At nightfall, the raiders bunched on the plaza, lit into the hooch, and howled around bonfires.  Alala heard terrified screams from young girls and women who had been corralled there for abuse.

* * * *

On the second night, they collected food from the kitchen, as much as they could gather, which was not a lot because they had to carry Fatima.  At 1:15 a.m., they walked out into the dark desert.

Destination: the frontier with Darkeen, over 140 kilometers distant.

They were not alone. Other families were doing the same. Alala spotted them in the near and far distances above and between the endless dunes in the moonlight. Gradually, they all vanished into the vastness of the Majarani.

* * * *

The family trekked cool nights and rested hot days under the occasional date palm or behind shade cast by soaring dunes.  The food did not last long, and neither did Fatima.  It was a horror.

Then, on the fourth day, Jelani died without warning.  Alala could do nothing, near blind with grief and pain.

She and Jamar kept walking.  The boy cried, and Alala despaired. Thirty-two hours later, Jamar too died, and it was then that Alala saw the winged Bedouins in black robes sail through the moonlight on albino camels.

This story had come down the centuries among desert tribes, but she had never believed it. She had a university degree and spoke two tongues.

The winged Bedouins in black robes had always been so much poppycock till now, flying above her so plainly.

She was faint from hunger, weak and dizzy. On the seventh day, nighttime really, she was lying beneath a date palm. There should have been water, but there was none.  Water had appeared now and then, but nothing that anyone could eat.

* * * *

There was a sound, and Alala opened her eyes. The moon shone atop a distant dune and there, directly before her, were two winged Bedouins in black astride snow-white camels, standing on the sand.

Come with us, they said, smiling.  We have your family, and they are waiting.

Jelani has grown mighty. Jamar is so handsome. And you must wean Fatima who is fat and happy again with the round black eyes of a desert angel.

Alala rose and went with them, surprised that she could fly.

The last night

As an April moon shone on the thick forest of oaks outside the wooden window, and Atahualpa Yupanqui sang La Pastorcita Perdida from the next room, she looked toward his eyes.

Lying naked atop him in the dim light of a candle, her long black hair hung on either side of her barely visible face like theater curtains poised in the final act.

Sadness covered the bedroom walls like misplaced raindrops.

She didn’t see the tears on his cheek as she said, We could make such beautiful babies together.

But they never would, and he knew that.

Wolf’s death

For three days the old wolf sat at the cave entrance. Now and then he would wander off and eat a rodent.  Then he would return to the cave, sitting  just outside.  He felt very alone.

His mate lay dead inside, and that was the end of it. There were no ceremonies, no neighbors to bring cakes and Cokes and covered dishes.  No sympathy from anybody or anything.  They were wolves.

Finally, he decided what he would do. The following morning, he stepped inside and looked at her one last time.   Goodbye, my love.  Then he trotted down the mountainside, gaining speed.

Though he was old, he ran faster and faster past conifers and bushes and stones and streams and ravines and memories and tears and happy times and pups and hunger and anger and love.

He catapulted toward the world of Homo erectus. He had a plan based on a grudge gripped in the genes of  Canis Lupus. Finally, he had a target.

He jumped at its throat and ripped it.

At that same second, an obsidian-pointed spear pierced his heart, but he felt nothing.  He  had left his dead heart days back inside the cavern.

He fell at the foot of a tree.

* * * *

The old wolf  earlier at the overlook.

Close call

As Maurice prowled the hall, he noticed a familiar smell, faintly.  A meth lab. Stranger things had happened at the Marbol.

He turned one way, then another. Which room?  He knocked first on 426. The door cracked and a sweaty, shirtless man stared out.

Whatcha doing in there, sport?  Maurice fingered the door open a little farther and saw a human form hiding beneath the bedsheet.

Smell of sweat, not meth.

Excuse the intrusion, sir.  Maurice pulled the door shut and turned toward Room 428 on the opposite side. Yes, far stronger there, the aroma of dope.

Shouldn’t have disturbed the lovers, he told himself.

The Hall Prowler patted his pistol and thought:  Probably be better to just phone the police.  He did, and five narcs came with guns and a warrant.

Three hours and lots of noise across the hall later, Myron Blade and Kristanabel stepped down the stairs and out to the sidewalk, passing Lenny Slick at the front desk.  He admired the shape of their skulls.

They had arrived as father and daughter on vacation from Topeka, but Lenny knew better.  Hanky-panky registering as respectability was common at the Marbol Hotel.

It had been a mighty close call for Myron, and he was still breathing heavily, not entirely from fear.

Kristanabel smiled salaciously and swung her hips a few steps ahead.

An hour later, Maria opened their room door, rolled in her cart and looked around. It was dank  and musky . . .

. . . and sin stuck to the floral wallpaper like flies on fresh dung.

* * * *

(One of a series titled The Marbol Hotel.)

Blade’s descent

Myron Blade looked at Kristanabel across the tossed sheets in the dim room light of the Marbol Hotel and thought: Oh, God!

There were two parts to this thought. One was, oh, God, I’m going to prison.  The other was, oh God, that was good.

At least she had turned 16. If only she were 18. If only she were not his foster child. If only he could get a grip on himself.  If only.  If only.

He sighed.

Myron had no idea what he was up against. In the year since the girl came to live with his family, she had said little out loud, but she had said much in other ways.

The slow strolls between the bathroom and her bedroom with the loose towel slipping. The prolonged stares over the dinner table directly into his eyes as Mrs. Blade served broccoli or mashed potatoes or pork chops to the children, the real children.

Kristanabel was no child and perhaps had never been.  The Blades knew little of her past, especially that she had killed her parents in cold blood while they slept.

They knew nothing of her cunning, her remarkable intelligence, that she had neither morals nor heart. They were deceived by her calm face and occasional sweet smile.

Then one day it happened. Words were whispered in the dark evening hallway as Mrs. Blade washed dishes. Hands moved this way and that.  A wicked young smile here, heavy breathing there.

Just a few moments in the hall shadows, the two of them.

* * * *

This was not their first visit to the Marbol Hotel. It was their fifth, and each was better than the last. Both felt that way, but for different reasons. As he breathed harder, she tightened the rope, the trap. She dug the hole deep and dark.

He looked at her. She had filled out over the past year. She had arrived thin. Now she was rounded. Her hair was long and blonde, and there were freckles.

There was a knock at the door.

Myron jumped up naked, rushed over and opened it a crack.  Two cold blue eyes below a buzz cut stared at him.  Whatcha doing in there, sport?

* * * *

(One of a series titled  The Marbol Hotel.)

The Hall Prowler

Like many large hotels, the Marbol has a security guy, the house dick.

The Marbol’s man is called Maurice or — to the other hotel employees — the Hall Prowler because that’s what he does when he’s not sitting at the bar shooting the breeze with Bo and nursing a sarsaparilla.

Maurice is a former military man. He’s a trim 5 feet-10 inches tall with chilling sky-blue eyes, a buzz cut  and a mysteriously easy-going manner.

He once worked hotels in Las Vegas, and he wants to return because he loves that town more than Sinatra ever did.

Maurice never married, and he has no kids he admits to. He’s a free spirit who’s licensed to carry.

He settles disputes at the hotel, and he keeps an eye on things. Lots of  “things” happen at the Marbol and settling them rarely takes more than a glance into those stony blue eyes.

It was Maurice who led the police to Billy Lancing´s room the day that Billy began his descent toward a prison death, and his way-too-fresh bedmate, Kristanabel, became a foster child to Mr. and Mrs. Myron Blade, something they lived to regret, by the way. You’ll see.

Maurice rides a Honda Silver Wing 500 with saddlebags, an older model from before they went and made a silly highway scooter out of it, and he lives in a furnished apartment that he keeps neat with the dishes washed and racked.

He’s saving his money because he wants to retire and move to Vegas before he’s old. You can buy a house pretty cheap in Vegas, or at least you could during the times we’re talking here.

The Marbol has been dust for decades. These are just memories.

* * * *

(One of a series titled The Marbol Hotel.)

The moonrise

Everybody has seen a sunrise.

Has anyone seen a moonrise?

No one speaks of moonrises.  You never see photos of moonrises. Poets never mention moonrises though they are enamored of the moon.

Does the moon rise at all?

It must because it’s up there and — since it circles the Earth — at some point of the 24-hour day it’s on the other side of where you are standing.

When it returns, that should qualify as a moonrise because when the sun is on the other side of the Earth, and then it comes to your side, we call that a sunrise. When it leaves that’s a sunset.

Has anyone ever seen a moonset?  Of course not. You never know what the moon is going to do, which is why we associate the moon with women and sometimes insanity.

The moon brings both love and werewolves, ripping your heart out both figuratively or literally.

It’s a mystery. It arrives without arriving, and it departs without departing.

Maria the maid

She came north three years back from her adobe home in Mexico’s State of Guanajuato. And, like so many, she climbed over the desert fence with a gallon of water.

Maria found a cleaning job at the Marbol Hotel, but this lonely life among the pinche Gringos was not what she expected.

She wanted to earn floods of money to send back to her family in Puertecillos where her sisters, Ismeralda and Lupe, still lived with Mamá and Papá. She had heard the Gringo streets were paved with greenbacks if not gold.

She had planned on banking a fat dowry to start her life with Pepe, her boyfriend in Puertecillos whom she had not seen in those three years.

One day, while Maria was changing sheets in Room 212, I eased into her sleeping space in the Marbol’s basement, and I opened a drawer.

Yes, I am a Nosy Parker. Here are brief excerpts from letters I found. They were written in Spanish, but I translated for you.

* * * *

Dear Lupe, I miss Puertecillos so very much and Mamá and Papá and you and Ismeralda. And Pepe most of all! How is he doing? Is he missing me?

There’s a Gringo who comes by the hotel sometimes and sits in the lobby. I’ve gone out with him now and then because I get so lonely. He teaches me the English. Once I let him kiss me, but he put his hands on both my (tetas), and I had to fight to get away.

* * * *

Dear Maria, everybody here in Puertecillos misses you and always asks about you. You’ve been gone so very long. I am sad to tell you that Pepe has been seen running around with that (puta) Martita.

But Mamá and Papá send thanks for the money you’ve been wiring us.

We’re building a real bathroom with a flush toilet on the back of the house.  No more freezing our fannies in January. Ha, ha, ha!

And we’re putting more beefsteak in our tacos.

* * * *

Dear Lupe, the Gringo, his name is Bobby, somehow got down to my room late last night and wanted to kiss and only the Virgin Mary knows what else, and you know that I am saving myself  for my handsome Pepe. I had to call Maurice to throw Bobby out.  Maurice is the hotel’s security man.

Oh, how much I want to have Pepe here with me. I miss and love him so.

Tell him.  Over and over and over.

* * * *

Dear Maria, how I hate to write you this, but Pepe and Martita got married yesterday. It was just the civil ceremony, but they’ll be doing the real wedding in the church next Wednesday. And you’ll never believe this, but he invited me and Esmerelda and Mamá and Papá to the wedding.

Papá said that if he goes he will take the .45 and shoot the pelotas right out from between the crotch of  Pepe’s pants. And I think he means it too.

Please come home, Maria.

* * * *

Dear Lupe, when I got your last letter I cried and cried. The next day I phoned Bobby, and he came over at 10 and stayed all night with a bottle of tequila.

He was so silly and funny. He didn’t know anything about lemons and salt, and I had to teach him. Maybe I love him.

He told me he just got out of prison last month, but that he was innocent, and I believe him. He is such a sweet man, and very handsome if you don’t mind that part of his left ear is gone.

* * * *

Dear Maria, I have such sad news. Papá went to the church and shot Pepe’s pelotas right off. Papá is being held at the juzgado. You need to send as much money as you can quickly so we can pay off the judge. The juzgado in Puertecillos is a horrible place. Mamá is in bed and won’t get up.

And Pepe is going to sue us for what happened to his pelotas. Please come home. With money.

* * * *

Dear Lupe, I am going to marry Bobby next week. Then he will look for work, and I will continue cleaning here at the Marbol Hotel. I don’t have any money to wire you. Bobby says he needs to save what I make so we can rent an apartment. Tell Mamá and Esmerelda that I love them, and I hope Papá gets out of the juzgado real soon.

And tell that pendejo Pepe that I’m pleased he lost his pelotas.

* * * *

That was all I got a chance to read because I heard Bobby and Maria coming down the stairwell. I hid in the closet for over an hour.

They kissed and did other things I will leave to your imagination, and then Maria gave Bobby all her tip money, and they left the room.

And so did I, just barely dodging Maurice, the hotel dick, known to employees as the Hall Prowler. He’s not a man to mess with, but that’s for another day.

* * * *

(Note: Many years later, long after Bobby had been strangled during his fourth prison stretch, Maria would look at her four kids and think back to her old life, and she would miss Guanajuato.)

(One of a series titled The Marbol Hotel.)

Fact, Fiction and Opinion Stirred in an Odd Pot

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