Chapter 34 ~ Joe Wonders What Circle of Hell He Is In

Chapter 34 ~ Joe Wonders What Circle of Hell He Is In

Eleven hours and thirty minutes after receiving the text, Joe pulled the BMW into the parking lot of a Residence Inn in Henderson, Nevada, a bedroom community adjacent to Las Vegas. Joe went inside and checked in. Sam got out, stretched and walked to the north end of the parking lot. He stepped onto the sidewalk and caught sight of an all night pancake house off of Sunset Drive offering all you can eat pancakes and sausages, and free coffee for four ninety-eight. His stomach sent a message to his brain, his brain sent the message to his feet and walked back to the BMW and waited for Joe.  Hot pancakes covered with streams of hot maple or blueberry syrup and sausages, he could already taste it.

Joe and Sam sat in a booth across from each other. A slender waitress wearing a white shirt with the top three buttons undone exposing silicone trying hard to buy back ten years, approached them carrying two filled coffee cups, came to their table, and set them down. She said, “No menus after nine. You get pancakes and sausages. Tonight you get blueberry pancakes with the sausage.”

Sam smiled and said, “Thanks for making it easy. Joe has a hard time making decisions.”

“Where you fellows from?”

Sam said, “Wherever it was, I wish you lived there, I woulda stayed.” He laughed.

Joe stared at Sam. He tried to figure if Sam was hitting on the waitress or being country friendly.

The waitress winked at Sam and smiled, “I heard most everything. I hadn’t heard that one.”

She turned without saying a word, a few minutes later she returned with two orders of three plate sized pancakes and sausages. She smiled at Sam and said, “If you finish them, you can have more.”

After she left, Joe said, “She likes you, Sam.”

“I got this woman magnet running through my veins. I was born with it. It’s been my curse,” Sam laughed. 

Joe and Sam dug into their pancakes as if they were hungry vultures attacking road kill. Sam emptied what was left of a bottle of maple syrup on his pancakes. Each his fork-filled bites oozed with warm dark blueberry syrup. 

They exchanged small talk about the trip. The scenery in Utah. The winding canyon as they drove out of Arizona into Nevada. When Sam was nearly finished, he wiped syrup off his grunge and said, “I don’t know if this grunge thing is gonna work for me. It catches more food than a dog lying under a table. ”

“You looked younger without the hair, you want my opinion,” said Joe.

Sam pulled a piece of pancake out of his stubble, and said, “The waitress didn’t mind. Have you figured out how far we are from Monica Ritchie’s house?”

“I did a Google map for directions. We’re only six miles away. You feel like going by tonight? She might be up?”

Sam was playing with a piece of pancake in the syrup with his fork. He lifted his eyes toward Joe, “How’d you like two strange guys knocking at your door around ten at night? They didn’t teach you common sense in Ohio?”

“You got a point. Let’s drive by the house tonight. We won’t stop. How’s that sound?”

“My opinion, we can find the house as easy tomorrow. I don’t think it’s going to run away. Settle down. Relax, we just drove eleven hours.”

The waitress brought the check and handed it to Sam. Joe reached for the check. Sam pulled it away.

“You’re paying?” said Joe.

“No. I’m gonna memorize the phone number she wrote on the back for me.”

The next morning, Joe and Sam ate breakfast in the Residence Inn lounge. Thirty minutes later, Joe pulled out of the lot and headed left on Sunset. They passed by Sunset Station Casino and drove under the 515 overpass. A mile later they passed by Sam’s Town another off strip casino. Joe had been to Vegas twice. Both times he flew in and took a cab to the strip. This part of Vegas had a different feel. It was blue collar, many of the homes had bars on their windows to prevent break ins, and For Rent of For Sale signs gave the feeling of a transient community. 

Sam hit Joe on his bicep, “Sam! Please don’t do that,” said Joe.

Sam pointed ahead, “There’s Hildago. Take a right.”

“What if her trailer is to the left?”

“That the best question you got? Take a right. If you figure the numbers are not working in your favor, you signal your intention pull to the curb. You check your sideview mirror, signal your intention to do a three point turn, make the three point turn and head back the other way. Turning right, you don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic. Kin you remember all that?”

“There is no oncoming traffic,” said Joe.

“Do what you want hard head.”

Joe signaled, and took a left onto Hildago. Trailers converted into homes on small desert sand lots lined both sides of the street. Cinderblock gray walls separated each of the lots. Mailboxes were at the edge of the street and each mailbox had the house number on its side. After Joe passed three trailers, he signaled his intention to pull to the curb. He made a three point turn and headed back the other way. Sam laughed and whistled a tune Joe hadn’t heard.

Joe chanced a look at Sam, “You look ten years younger with the grunge gone.”

“When are you gonna shave the piece of fur growing on your cheeks?” asked Sam.

Joe shrugged. He signaled to pull to the right curb. “Here it is.”

The BMW pulled to a stop in front of 432 Hildago Way. Sam turned and looked at an old air conditioner on the roof of a deck gray trailer. The air conditioner sounded like it was running the last mile of a marathon. A short sidewalk made of red bricks haphazardly placed on the desert sand led to two narrow wooden steps in front of the trailer door. Two large reddish flower pots sat on either side of the steps. One held flowers long dead. The other contained a poorly cared for yucca plant. A small pink tricycle with a pink plastic horn lie sideways on the desert sand. Next to rested a blue plastic beach pail, and matching blue shovel.

Sam turned back and saw Joe staring at tricycle. “Does it ever end, Sam?” Joe asked.

“All we got is a first impression. Monica might not live here for all we know,” said Sam. 

Joe opened his door, took a long look at the street and trailers. He spotted a few vans, several pickup trucks, and three cars without wheels resting on cinderblocks in the small yards in front of the trailers. A tilting neighborhood watch sign with gang graffiti on it was in front of the next lot. Joe shook his head, closed his door, and stared at the trailer in front of him. There were four small windows. Broken blinds tilting haphazardly were behind two windows. The other two windows had cracks running from the lower right corner to the upper left corner. A piece of cardboard covered each window from inside. Joe took a deep breath and walked around to the sidewalk. Sam was waiting for him.

Joe walked up the narrow brick sidewalk and reached over the two narrow wooden steps and rang the doorbell. He waited a moment then rang it again. 

Sam said, “You’re ringing it wrong.” He stepped to Joe’s right, stood on his toes and pushed the doorbell. He didn’t release it. Thirty seconds later, a female voice from inside hollered, “Stop ringing the damn thing, I’m coming.”

The metal frame door partially opened and a short, Latina, with disheveled black hair hanging down from her head and touching her shoulders and collarbones as if it had come out of the spin dry cycle on a washing machine. The latina had puffy dark circles under her deep brown eyes. She still wore her makeup from the night before making her look much older and worn than she ought to be. 

She angrily said, “What the hell do you want? You woke me up. What time is it? Who are you?”

“Are you Monica Ritchie?” asked Joe politely.

“What’s it to you. Who wants to know? Am I in trouble? Are you guys vice cops?”

“I’m Joe Astore. This is my friend Sam. Joe Ritchie is my father I trying to find him. I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes if you don’t mind.”

Monica, clothed only in a light blue terry cloth rob, loosely cinched at the waist not caring what she exposed opened the door. The bright desert sun forced her squint. She rubbed her eyes with both of her fists. She said, “If you find him, tell him he owes me five years child support. What’s in it for me, if I talk to you?”

Joe’s brain froze. Sam said, “If you give us information we can use, we’ll give you what you usually get.”

“All you want is information?”

“That’s all we want,” said Sam.

“Come on in,” Monica didn’t bother holding the door, she turned and walked around a basket of laundry toward a kitchenette. She sat on a chair at a small table with a half filled bottle of whiskey and two dirty shot glasses on the table. 

Joe looked at a sink filled to overflowing with dirty dishes. A radio sat on the counter sitting on top of a box of Kotex next to the sink. The trailer smelled of mold, garbage, and marijuana. A sofa held a short black leather skirt, panties, and a bra. A rumbled see through black lace blouse lie on the floor next to the sofa.

“I charge by the hour and the clock is ticking,” said Monica.

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