Part 2 - Chapter 1 - The Return

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Jacko and I were both sick of life on the road. Aimless drifting from town-to-town left us feeling disconnected from humanity, empty, and anxious. Especially now that our cash had dwindled.

My brother sat on the edge of his bed in our cheap motel room watching one of those veterinarian programs on Nat Geo Wild. He loved any show featuring animals and seemed to have an affinity for them.

Peering between the slats of blinds which I'm sure were once white but now stained nicotine yellow, I scoped out the parking lot. Hardly any cars. No surprise there. Only the down and out stayed in places like this. Or guests who paid by the hour. That was the problem paying in cash. It limited our options. Decent hotels demanded to have a credit card on file which meant we had to stay in the rattiest of places.

Being on the run, I couldn't afford to leave a paper trail.

I looked for headlights. The pizza delivery store promised twenty-minute door-to-door service. That was half-an-hour ago.

Jacko and I traveled mainly by bus, but sometimes we hitched rides. We left our hometown of Las Vegas a year ago and kept moving. Maybe nobody was after me. After exposing the Heralds, anyone pulling strings behind the scene likely scattered like cock roaches when exposed to the light. Maybe Jacko and I were running from nothing, but I didn't want to take any chances.

A knock at our door.

Jacko sprang to his feet. "I'll get it."

"No, let me get it." I stepped in front of him, glanced through the peep hole, and saw a young guy holding a pizza box. Looked normal. No danger.

I undid the chain, unlatched the dead bolt, and eased open the door.

The kid held out the pizza box for me, bug eyed and pale faced.

"What's wrong with you?" I asked.

His eyes darted around our room seemingly checking for threats. "Got mugged in this neighborhood once."

"How much for the pizza?"

"Fifteen."

Thumbing through my wallet, I noticed a few hundreds along with an assortment of smaller bills. A far cry from the twenty-thousand in cash Jacko and I had started with.

I handed the delivery boy a twenty and told him to keep the change. He thanked me and wasted no time making a quick getaway.

I looked for a place to set the pizza. With grease soaking through the bottom of the box, I didn't want to dirty anything. Glancing around, I realized there was nothing to get dirty in this grimy room and set the box on top of the dresser. A slimy film already coated the veneer of the dresser as if housekeeping sprayed furniture polish but hadn't bothered to wipe it off.

"What do you want to drink?"

"Orange soda," Jacko said without glancing up from the TV.

I stepped down the dingy corridor and outside to the soda machine. Early June and the night air held a chill and smelled like rain. The only light other than the illuminated soda machine was a nearby fluorescent VACANCY sign that buzzed and sputtered. I plinked coins into the slot and Jacko's orange soda tumbled down the chute. I fed the machine again and selected a Pepsi for myself.

When I returned to the room, Jacko had already started eating. He popped the top of his soda can. "Happy birthday, big brother." He nibbled his pizza and turned his attention back to the TV.

I had just turned nineteen. Sighing, I grabbed a slice of pizza and regarded my brother.

What were we going to do with our cash running out?

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