Two AM. Highway 50. Ely, Nevada. We laughed out loud at the Break-a-Heart Hotel in Silver Springs, flew past the Last Chance Saloon in Austin, then passed up the Parsonage House in Eureka. A coyote darted across both lanes a few minutes ago, and I've seen more road-kill in one night than in a lifetime of driving. We're low on gas. From here, the next decent stop is Delta, Utah, and that's one hundred and fifty three miles up the road. I've got a job in Denver to get to, but we won't make it tonight.
Ely it is.
The Prospector is full. So are the Park-Vue and the Copper Queen. Hotel Nevada is no different, so I ask where else we should look. Jessie stays in the car with the doors locked. The girl behind the desk looks to be in her late teens. Her name tag reads: Rose Ellen. She's wearing a red tank top with black bra straps showing and her breasts are so large, they move papers around on the countertop while she talks. This is her job.
"The Jailhouse Motel, I guess," she says. "They always have a room left."
"It ain't the best," I say. "But anything would be fine. Can you call them for us?"
"Sure, baby."Rose shouts into a dark room over her shoulder where the blue light of a television blinks against an obese man's face. "Get up, Bull. What's the number for Lola at Jailhouse?"
Bull opens his eyes, scowls, and turns to Rose. "Look it up, bitch." Bull shakes his face, loose fat jiggling in his cheeks. "Jailhouse?" With considerable effort, Bull stands up. Dark wiry bangs stick to his forehead and a long jagged scar travels the length of his chin. He walks into the doorway, filling it, and looks me in the eye."You're not going to stay there, are you?"
"Everything is full," I say.
"You feeling lucky?"
"I wouldn't go to Jailhouse without a bucket of Clorox and a body condom," Bull says. Then he laughs from somewhere deep in his throat.
Rose dials the number and twirls her hair. "Lola," she says. "You got more rooms open? I got a pretty little couple here needs a rest." She pauses and licks her finger. "All right then. I'll send them to you."
I walk back to Jessie, hoping the job in Denver will give us a better life. I jingle the change in my pocket and wonder how cold it will be tonight, sleeping in the car.
Murray Dunlap's work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Post Road, Night Train, Red Mountain Review, Silent Voices, The Bark, Fried Chicken and Coffee and many others. His stories have been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as Best New American Voices, and his first book, "Alabama," was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. He is currently working on a novel-in-stories called "Bastard Blue." The extraordinary individuals Pam Houston, Laura Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writing.