Midnight along Wyatt Earp Avenue—quasars of passing traffic, an occasional drunk stumbling along the shoulder. Stand in a place before Red’s Cafe, near Iseman Mobile Homes, out on the edge, right before Dodge City turns back to a country of red dirt and wheat fields and feed yards again. Look across the street. See that stubby, thickly built man with muscular legs, wearing a weight belt and baseball cap, the one pedaling a mountain bike flags? Boun on a covert mission, on his way from the Thunderbird to the Holiday to check on daughter Amanda. But not just that: At the edge of the Astro parking lot, he teeters off into the dark shadow of a cement wall. Sits awhile on his bike flag, hand propped against the wall, feet on the pedals, counting. Can see Jack Hooker in the glassed-in lobby, but Jack Hooker can’t see him. Jack Hooker is standing behind the desk, head down, reading something—a National Geographic. At this hour, in this light, Jack Hooker looks older than he is and younger, too. Boun never sleeps a night without knowing exactly how many cars are in the parking lot at the Astro Motel and reporting it back to Donna. The best way to beat your competition, said Dwayne Price, is to know your competition. Tonight’s cars: Thunderbird, twenty; Astro, four. What more do you need to know?
Behind the desk back at the Thunderbird, fifty yards from where Jack Hooker stands reading his National Geographic, Donna is sitting behind her own reception desk watching Married…with Children reruns on TV. I like Al Bundy she says. Like a lot. Funny funny things come out of his mouth. The laugh track laughs incessantly. Donna laughs, taking her cue from the laugh track. Those teeth—blinding. Now wait here awhile and laugh with Donna. Wait until a man eventually comes in—got a swabby head of white hair and bloodshot eyes—and says he was a friend of Dwayne Price’s and Donna’s eyes light up. Can remember this man, a peanut salesman? Something like that, right? Vending machine, he says. Chuckles, Snickers, Kit Kats. It’s after midnight, but at the Thunderbird the night is its own day, has its own constant neon bloom of light—people come at all hours, for all reasons—and Donna doesn’t sleep that much anyway, not since Dwayne died. Miss him, says Dwayne’s friend. He had a good heart.