Always hard when a case goes cold, the sweaty man says with his pot-belly big and hard as a boulder, smelling strongly of pabst blue ribbon, endless, wet layers of Marlboro second-hand smoke paining Robs over-sensitive nose, and the un-sanitized, humid flesh of a man who is unmercifully inattentive to his own hygiene. Rob mulls intellectually over the mind of man who can live so happily in the organic outcomes of his self: a sign of depression, of a mind too burdened and brimming to leave room for thoughts of cleanliness. Was this the unique torture of all those who dwelled in centuries past, to be ignorant of their own stench, tolerant of everybody else’s?
The sloppy man, loosening scents behind him of his squalid motel when he’d shift standing as if in chronic agony, also talked too much: was this a guilty mind, or an innocent one over-compensating for being helpless? When he’d smile Rob could detect the faint black outlines of the roots of dying teeth; in his own mouth, Rob skimmed his teeth with his tongue as if being in the proximity of the other man would suddenly rot his own teeth.
Used to work ‘em myself, Texas Ranger way back, and the slobs tongue worms out of his mouth to gather the foam accumulating at the corner of it.
What do you do now, luxuriate alone in motels?
The pig-man scoffs, and then answers.
I travel with my pension, spreadin’ the good word. What else imma do? Ain’t got no family, no wife waitin’ in the wings… Ashley was a nice girl, lookin’ to find herself thru Christ, said she thought she was…. Possessed or somethin’. She approached me in the hotel after she saw my dog-eared bible. Like to stay in fancy ones, sometimes, hotels, then slums like this. Gives me a sense of gratitude. Anyways, she was real geared toward the lord it seemed to save ‘er. Gave ‘er the name of a man who runs prayer group. Recall ‘em tellin’ me she left quick before they could try’n help ‘er. Guess it wasn’t what she was lookin’ for.
He’s standing in front of an adobe-colored threshold with turquoise trim. Thick black brows reminiscent of Halloween cats superstitiously arching, and Rob is uncomfortable in his dusty suit, beginning to itch, thinking too much of what could’ve happened. Rob wears his long, raven-feather black hair down today, and he feels it toyed with by the wind on his back.
But you do have a family; Rob says impassively, not a flinch.
The filthy man looks down, and Rob sees it now: the pathetic sadness, the weary eyes. The man hesitates, but then says, not any that wanna see the likes of me.
He didn’t seem to be lying, Rob thought, able to feel his own cleanliness and loneliness, and so after a few otiose questions, he took his leave, but he keeps him on the list of suspects.
The man named Rob traipses out into the loose gravel. He’d stops in the middle of the motel parking lot, dazedly, taking in the view of the blue skies, the scatter of rooftops, beyond that, sempiternal earth with tufts of Mexican feathergrass. He shuts his eyes against the flaming wheel of the sun.
Are…. are you asking around about Ashley? A woman’s tremulous voice inquires behind him.