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A Simple Man
August Reynolds was an ordinary guy, devoted to his young family and his blossoming career travelling the state of Arizona selling auto parts. His was a simple life…the American dream…until a late night knock on his motel room door changed everything.
Ripped from the pagrs of the "X-Files", Gus's journey opens doors best left closed.
A SIMPLE MAN : SAMPLE CHAPTER
Gus Reynolds was late getting out of Holbrook but cracking a six pack with Woody, the owner of Holbrook Auto Parts, was a routine he rarely broke. Woody and other owners of the many small auto parts stores scattered across the Arizona landscape enjoyed seeing a real life factory rep from time to time.
Since Gus and his young family were transferred to Arizona, he had spent his first year logging windshield time hitting only the small outlying towns. The big city customers were off-limits to the new “meat”. Every Monday morning, he packed his company station wagon with boxes and boxes of catalogs, price sheets and marketing materials, and hit the road, rolling home late Friday afternoon.
His wife Beth had her hands full adjusting to a strange city and taking care of their two young daughters. With Gus away all week, her homesickness grew and she cried constantly. She hoped that volunteering at the local pre-school would get her out of this depression. She did enjoy the swimming pool in the backyard and the girls were learning to swim, a skill they lacked growing up in Detroit.
Gus had hoped to make it to Flagstaff before nightfall but that wish was out the window. Best he could do was spend the night in Winslow, then hit Flagstaff Friday morning, make his calls, then haul ass back to Phoenix.
It was pitch black when he rolled into the EZ Rest Motel parking lot. Gus usually just passed through Winslow (Eagles got it wrong…not “such a fine sight to see”) but the EZ Rest was clean and cheap and perfect for his needs.
“Hey Chip…long time no see!” he greeted the clerk at the desk. Chip was a student at NAU and was home for the summer. His parents owned the little Motel and loved to have their son manning the desk at night while they slipped home to enjoy the comfort of their own bed.
“Hi Gus…glad to see you again. Still playing the guitar?” Chip was playing in a blue grass band at school and, once he found out that Gus used to be a musician, would hound him for tips that he would use in expanding his own lick library.
“Can’t find the time anymore, Chip. I barely find enough hours to spend with my family. If I pulled out the Ovation I think Beth would break it over my head.” Before making the move last year, Gus sold or gave away all of his gear except the old Ovation acoustic which sat in the closet of his home office, gathering dust. He had hoped that one of the girls would want him to teach them how to play but no interest was sparked so far. In fact, Allison, his oldest, was driving him nuts wanting to take piano lessons. Beth had already started looking for used pianos in the paper.
“So, staying just one night Gus?” Chip asked as he slid the room key across the counter.
“Yeah…I’m beat.” Gus answered. “I think I’ll hit the Sonic and turn in…real exciting life of the travelling salesman.” Both men laughed and Gus returned to his car and drove to the first floor room. He saw no need to worry about all the sales junk in the back of the station wagon and carried his small suitcase in to the room. First order of business was to call Beth and check on her and the girls.
“Hey babe…everything OK at the homestead?” He hoped she would be free of tears for at least while they talked, and she was.
“We’re fine,” she answered. “Are you in Flagstaff?”
“No, I got hung up in Holbrook and decided to spend the night in Winslow. I’m heading to the local Sonic for a gut bomb. At least the tater tots are good. Are the girls still up?”
“I just put them to bed. They were in the pool all day and could hardly keep their eyes open during dinner. I hope the sunscreen I bought is strong enough. So far neither of them is sunburned. Oh, I think I found a good deal on a piano. It’s a used Kimball Whitney spinet and it’s only $500.00. I want us to go look at it when you get home. OK?” Beth had always wanted to learn how to play piano but her parents ignored her pleas. She would not make that same mistake with her own kids.
“Sure babe,” he replied. “Don’t say anything to Allison. We can make it a birthday present.”
“OK. Drive safe. Love you,” she said and they ended the call.
The Sonic on 2nd Street was almost empty but the carhop was cute and friendly so Gus decided to eat in the car and chat before returning to his room for the night. He watched the girl maneuver on her roller skates and he realized just how horny he was. She was overtly flirting with him but she was probably barely 16 even though she looked much older.
When he returned to his room he realized there were no other cars in the entire parking lot. He had the whole place to himself. At least it would be a quiet evening for a change. He set his travel alarm for 6 a.m. but called Chip and asked for a wake-up call just in case he didn’t hear the alarm go off.
Just like at home, he dozed off watching Letterman and finally turned off the TV when he got up to take a pee at 2 a.m. The temperature was nice and cool, much different than the desert heat in the valley, and he even pulled a blanket over him before falling asleep.
The EZ Rest was located right off the I-40 on Park Drive. Across the street was the MOJO Coffee House and Truck Stop, a popular oasis for long-haul truckers travelling the old Route 66 highway to Albuquerque. The bulk of the EZ Rest lodgers were truckers but the traffic was unpredictable from week to week.
Just as Gus was drifting back to sleep he heard the air brakes of an 18-wheeler as it came to a stop at the MOJO. “Wow, that guy is pulling an all-nighter,” he thought to himself, and then went back to his dreams.
Thirty minutes later Gus was awakened by frantic pounding on his door. He waited a few minutes, hoping whoever was knocking would lose interest and go away. That didn’t happen and now he could hear someone shouting for help on top of the pounding.
Gus jumped out of his warm bed and went to the door, peeking through the lens and seeing a young woman, hysterically screaming for help. “Hold on a second!” he yelled as he slid open the dead bolt and opened the door.
The girl jumped into the room and slammed the door shut, struggling to engage the dead bolt. She was out of her mind in fear, he thought. She was wearing a dirty halter top and cut-off denim shorts and trembling from the cold. Her tears made her mascara run down her cheeks making her look like a raccoon. She was wearing cheap plastic flip-flops and her feet appeared to have been bleeding from walking a very long distance.
Gus took the blanket from his bed and wrapped it around her while he poured her a glass of water. Her crying had subsided and she eagerly gulped down the water, trying to clear her throat to speak. “You must help me. If they find me I’m as good as dead.”
Gus was still half asleep. “What the fuck is going on?” he asked himself. He needed to sort this out and fast. “Who are you and who is trying to kill you?” he asked as he pulled on his pants.
“My name is Norah. I was a student at Northern Arizona before they got ahold of me. No one is allowed out once they take you in…no one.” She began to cry again and he took her hands, trying to calm her.
“So who is trying to find you Norah?” he asked, now fully awake.
“They are called ‘The Family of Redemption’. They have a guarded enclave in Sedona. The locals think they are just another bunch of religious nut jobs soaking up the mystic vibes of the red rocks. Sedona is like a magnet for these cults. This bunch is much more and very dangerous. I was able to escape and thank god for a horny trucker who picked me up and brought me this far.”
He could envision a truck driver catching a glimpse of a hot young girl trying to flag a ride. “Did the trucker try anything with you?”
“Once he saw how upset I was I think he got scared and couldn’t wait to find a place to dump me…and here I am. You never told me your name.”
“My name is August…Gus. On my way home from a long week on the road.” She really needed a bath, he thought. “Say, you need to clean up so go ahead and use the shower. You can wear one of my shirts for now if you like.”
She looked at herself in the mirror and knew he was right. “OK, thanks.”
He could hear the shower running for what seemed like an hour. All she had was what she was wearing…no purse…no phone…no money. He needed to call someone to come and get her, maybe the police.
Norah came out of the bathroom with a large towel wrapped around her torso and another around her wet hair. “Do you mind if I wash my undies in your sink?” she asked. “I doubt your boxers would fit me.”
He took a long look at her and immediately liked what he saw. She was the rarest of natural red heads…one with blue eyes. She was a little thin but still had curves in all the right places. With her face washed he could see the road map of freckles on her face and shoulders. He guessed she was no older than twenty-one.
Gus took a white dress shirt from his suit case and hung it on the door knob to the bathroom for her to retrieve. “Here’s the shirt you wanted,” he yelled out and she opened the door and quickly grabbed it.
About twenty minutes passed and she finally emerged, wearing her newly laundered panties and his long white shirt. “Hope you don’t mind. I used your blow dryer to dry my undies.” She had put her long red hair in a pony-tail which made her look even younger than she was.
“Look Norah, I have a wife and two kids waiting for me so we need to get you with someone who can take care of you...like your parents. Let’s give them a call and let them know you are safe and where they can pick you up.”
“NO!” she screamed. “They are part of the problem. They support the “Family”. They will take me right back there. Even my old roommate drank the Kool-Aid and was passing out pamphlets in Sedona and Flagstaff. The rest of my family is back east and never bothers with us.”
“Well that leaves the police. Get dressed and we will walk to the office and have Chip call the State Highway Patrol. They have a station in Flagstaff. You can wait for them here or I can take you there on my way home.”
“Listen to me Gus,” she said calmly. “I can see you’re a nice guy just trying to help but I have no place to go where I can be safe. My parents made me sign over my bank account to the “Family” so I can’t even buy a bus ticket. If they find me no one will ever see me again. It will be like Norah Tillman never existed.”
Gus was not convinced. “If your life is in danger the police can protect you until they get a handle on the activities of this cult you were in. Bottom line, Norah…you can’t stay with me. It will be morning in an hour so please get dressed. We can stop at MOJO’s for some breakfast before I have to leave.”
North Texas Book Festival "Best Aduly Fiction" selection 2017.