After the job, Ned met Stan in the E-den. In nanoseconds of blurred distraction, Stan got wise to the joint:   smoke spools, cheap bulb-splattered darkness, a brass lip of a counter, working stiff music for heavy fucking. Bing ! Bang! Bong ! Gothically got up waitresses, theirs badged Kay Yoss, slapped down beer bottles gassssss-pinggg-ly opened, you can kisspout or gulp down the Bud  in your tulip glass. Free will it's called.

Outside, the trees grieved. Days in northern lands fall like widow weeds about woods, day's no different from night, the trees mourn. Where were you  the night of? The gravel-pocked earth held a sea of nothingness-darkness, a spangle of cars steed-stood about the E-den like a November Texas book depository on Elm. Where were you the night of ?

Ned did the choosing and it was the E-den, next to Seedy Motel, the end of the world in Stan's book. "Sell me a bridge or try to," Stan said on the cell, faking sophistication. Ned asked, "You got the money?" 

Stan was already piecing together a scenario in which he would appear trench-coated and shaded and above all cool, but the fear-cancer was crab crawling over the voice on the cell. Ned's numbers were wiggling across Stan's Panasonic plasma. It hurt to be talked down to by lowlifes. Stan clicked off, disinterring the following memory.

"Ich liebe dich" a lipsticked Rhiney voice undulated hotly around his pavilions, Senta had dipped a pen in cerumen: I want to enter you and sent him the message.  Stan's groundless fears did not take flight, she had to be rubbed out.

Cash don't buy people, people buy people. Stan, suavely shaded and trench-coated, slipped out of his office and into Seedy Motel. He was an on the way up executive and this was his first execution, which was how he preferred to think of the  incident, or else he cared not think about it at all, kick it under some mind-rug: it never happened at all at all at all... or it might come back when he was on the toilet and the mag got boring. He was a man with a future looking like African borders drawn up by a remote European peace conference. Straight as a ruler and Be - You - t' full ! His life was - is Be-You-t'full and no two bit Senta-whore was gonna horse around with the  Molly-me-Jimmy-Katie caper he's got perking in the 'burbs. He had to put all this behind him, move on with his life, deal with it, learn from his mistakes, become a better, deeper person, return to God, when he had a moment to squeeze in. 

But, it was like the thrill he got at 13. He had taken his old man's car with no old man beside him, and no holds barred on the sheer pussy of the speed way, his fright dissolved into a giggle at the pit of his stomach when the fuzz car, painted like an ice cream stick and half hidden beneath broccoli branches, didn't chase. Or when His First Time and Betty Boop banged. He planted his seed into her seediness. She was no whore, just one of those mixed up females with ragged middle aged cleavage and a copious shoulder-to cry-on need. Moe of Seedy Motel sees them everyday. Cash and Love share Blindness. Mounting the stairs he gets a hard on like there is no tomorrow, and tries to hold it, but the elevator plunges to the bowels of the Earth. He is lucky, Cleavage cleverly reverses the situation. "Cute cute," she simpers making her boobs bounce as she strokes it back up like a puppy dog. "First love. Your Only True True love. You'll return to sender." Betty Boopurrs, eyes half shut. He does not know what she means.

First love? First murder? Errors and then a toss in the hay? Deal with it, learn from your mistakes, return to God, life's about wangling, right ?

So he is in shades and a trench and he is genu-whinely wishing he was someone and somewhere else. Doing 100 at 13 was a cakewalk. He needs a shot and goes down for ice. Moe has become two greasy desk attendants badged Hi I am Vick and Hi I am Tim, they wear weak wormy smiles, dead pansy features, and 'dos, parted one  on the  right, the other on the left. They speak like Alvin and the chipmunks sharing a bag of Lays.

"Ice machine over there," says Vick.

"We got all the ice in China," adds Tim.

The machine plunks pellets into Stan's cup under the aperture. It was an old machine and defecation was slow and communicative like a yawn, but Down There. One plunk and Stan felt a pull Down There. Another plunk and the pull Down There, then a plunk and a door clicked, Stan's face turned up. 

Someone was actually leaving his room. Stan had taken what he thought were all necessary precautions, leaving  credit cards, checkbooks and means of formal identification in secured areas, miles away from his present location, bringing with him only the clothes on his back,  legal tender, and to complete the picture, a Johnnie Walker Red Label 12 years. The unexpected intruder would find nothing of value but the booze to calm Stan staging the crime, unless... unless...  Stan turns to Vick and Tim and scowls like Batman.

"Some one has left my room," Stans says.

"Some One or Some Two?" Tim the joker asks.

"It must be the Pacer," explains Vick.

"The Pacer? I'm Yale, you guys. I want the facts, the facts, the facts!" Stan explodes.

"The fax is ovuh there." Tim laughs.

"Shuddup!" Vick pokes his brother in the ribs. "Mr. Yale, the individual whom you witnessed entering and leaving your room is not unknown to the management, and, I assure you, is perfectly harmless and even beneficial. His 'thing' is Bibles. He gets practically giddy on Bibles. Haaaahhaaaaaahaaaa !"

"Please continue," Stan says harshly, the ice was melting.

"Yes," Vick says with an eye on Tim. "You see, the Pacer replaces Hotel Scriptures with personalized editions of his own choosing, especially tailored to the spiritual  needs of the occupant of the room. I apologize for not mentioning it before, but when you think about it, it really is more considerate than a basket of fruit."

And there, on the edge of the cheap peach dresser, E A Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination. An Arsene Lupin calling card peeks out from the smooth curve of its binding. Ligeia.

"Ligeia?"  Stan wonders. "Ligeia?"  His Yaleyes had read E A Poe in a sleeper  Lit course. "Well, so be it!" He shrugs. READ is scrawled in screaming China Red lipstick on the card and the thought smacks him that this will be their only contact before. The situation escapes him. He feels foolish for the shades and the get up, but he reads...

... About a gummy ghostly trans'dental maiden from a decaying Rhineland city leading E A Poe through labyrinths of obtuse erudition. Before going to the grave, she
spins off a poem a 10 year old could write about a Conquering Worm, whatever that is. Stan goes to sleep, the tale unfinished.

A strange dream takes over. He is sea horsing past Seedy's walls, past the gaggle of  Fords parked on Seedy's gravel, past the elders on Elm, past the twinkling crusty city scabbing the night sphere, past the stars in their lonely illuminations. He bobs into a Dreamworks animation universe where a HAL jangles "tale unfinished, tale unfinished." Waking, he realizes that the 6 has departed and the 7 will be nudging into the station. He wonders about Ned scribbling in lipstick. Was he ?
Diana Pollin