It seemed as if he’d been waiting forever already, and it had only been a little over an hour. It was 10:47pm according to the dim red glow of the digital clock radio on the nightstand. His hands were shaking like a leaf and his eyes were burning red with wretched tears, dilated and blurred at the pale-yellow disheveled light that lunged at him, as he blindly felt along the wall to find the small switch; it was surreal, as if he were walking through a waterfall of dancing shadow. As he reached for the sink to steady himself, hands clammy and warm, he turned the knob but dare not look at his reflection in the mirror above, as the reddish-brown water spat and then rushed into the rust-stained bowl.
Unable to wait any longer, he thrust his quivering hands into the stream and watched through wading pupils as it slowly began to run clear. With concerted effort, he attempted to raise a puddle of it to his face, but after several failed tries he would eventually surrender his entire upper-torso to the effort, as he angled himself between the shallow bowl and the spigot. Maneuvering his head into the small basin and under the steady but ragged stream of ice-cold water proved challenging, as his eyes were now instinctively (and tightly) closed. Time and again he would adjust himself, bumping into the sides of the basin and poking his scalp with a jagged-edge of the rusty spigot, causing water to be violently deflected into the small bathroom and narrow hallway that lay beyond it and just inside the front door to the room.
At some point, the water began to re-route itself around his head and found a path down the back of his shirt – Shit! he thought, as he quickly raised his head, forgetting the ½” clearance he had narrowly achieved and impaled his scalp on the spigot – FUCK!! he exclaimed aloud.
Reaching out to grab a too crisp (hard) white hand towel now askew on its rod, Mark began to dry himself without removing his sweatshirt. A proper term for it now, his ‘sweat’ shirt (and tee beneath) were soaked almost dripping prior to their impromptu dousing. Cold sweat had now become exacerbated by the icy-harsh blow of the room’s air conditioner as the youth now leaned into it. He was boiling hot and dripping with sweat a few seconds ago, but now as he pulled his frigidly dry forehead from the smooth plastic ventilation-grate covering the front of the small A/C unit, he could make-out the lines of dust that would now adhere to it, as his gaze shifted than passed in front of the cheap hotel dresser’s mirror. Wiping it disgustingly away with his sleeve, before transferring that onto the corner of the bed-slip that lay at the bottom of the single bed in the small room. He grimaced at his reflection in the fake gold-framed oval mirror, ghosted in areas by the etching of age and neglect, its ‘gold’ taped edges peeling-away in places to a bare industrial-metal frame.
It was 10:58 now, as time shifted between fevered un-willed motion and mocking shadow. Almost delusional with constant internal strife his very soul a twisted and distorted scream, the boy sat, eyes sunken and lifeless as he witnessed but did not partake in his World; a darkened room, small black and white TV causes shadows and gray light to flicker and fade, back and forth, beyond his physical eyes and across the silver-screen of frontal lobe activity that now replaced actual ‘sight’. He nervously laughs a little at the spectacle. Up and down his emotions are steered - like a haunted house. Then he’s on his feet again, but he doesn’t know why or, where. Then a gush of water, he’s wet and so is the floor of the bathroom. His reflection is harsh and cold, won’t look again, can’t look again. He’s shivering now, or is it ‘still’?
Gotta sit down before he passes-out. ‘Guys Pass-out, girls Faint’ – not sure why that mattered to him at the moment, he just knew that it did – He laughs (aloud?) at this. So gray now, he’s Gray inside. He paces back and forth again (or was it before?), here and there, to and fro’, flicker and fade. The room darkens between scenes on the TV (or maybe just in his head), shadows of light and gray. The gray is more disturbing than either the sharp intrusion of the Light or the solemn retreat of the Dark; It knows both, and is instantly made aware that it is neither. Thus it becomes, Hopelessness. Crippled by (just) one two many choices.
Time dances still, turning and waltzing with heaving bosom and heavy sighs. He sleeps and is awake again, or is it still. Shadows and light, then… Brrrrrriiiiiinnggg! The noise shot through his brain to the very core, where it hummed and pulsed violently, Brrriiinnnggg!! Please Stop, Oh God! One eye closed, he reached for the nightstand, grabbing the handle to the single drawer (within laying a Gideon Bible, no doubt) on the first blaring torture, then finally lifting the horror from its cradle.
“Hello?! Chucky? Penny? Who is this?!”
“Yes, hello sir it’s the front desk. There’s a Delivery-Guy here who says someone ordered some food there but isn’t answering the door. This is room 307 correct, did you guys order any food?”
“Food? Shit, I mean yeah. I was asleep I’m sorry –“ his head was pulsing angrily with a migraine now, thump-Thump, thump-Thump, thump-Thump!
“It’s $9.30.” The desk clerk continued in a thick Southern drawl, “Should I send him back up, or did ya’ll wanna come down to the lobby?”
“Yeah, send him back up. Sorry.”
He had ordered the food in a delirious state he imagined, no doubt thinking that it would give him strength or comfort, or both. He heard the rushed and then running hard-soled rubber adidas that the youth was wearing as they chomped up the hollow outdoor stairwell and crested the landing of the 3rd floor. Tip tap, tip tap, Mark could hear him approach. As the boy rounded the corner of room #301, brown paper-bagged order in-hand, he decisively turned left toward Mark’s room and not to the descending rooms on the right. Surely he had made many deliveries there in the past, he thought.
"Sorry about the confusion." Mark said. 'Aw, that’s no problem Man! $9.30,' said the youth. "Keep the change, it’s Okay." – 'Thanks again!' He said smiling, and turning to leave. "Hey, you know where I can get some… Never mind."
[ 12:02am | The Days Inn – Decatur, GA | March, 1983 ]
What’s taking them so long? He pleaded within. Were they, Okay? Should he go looking for them? Why did he always have to stay behind? This wasn’t easy either, it was worse in fact; the waiting and not knowing - the lack of control. No matter, he thought. He knew the rule and so did they, if they hadn’t returned by now, something was wrong. Since he hadn’t even heard from them (no call to the hotel room or front desk, he checked. No pages either) it was assumed that things were very bad. Shit! he moaned. Shit, Shit, Shit! slamming his fist on the wobbly desk that held a phone and a single unlit lamp. It swayed and creaked in his wake. “Hey, keep it down in there!” a muffled, highly irritated voice returned through the stained yellow-orange of the rooms (originally?) Scarlet and gold-striped wallpaper.
By now, he was beyond shaking and his entire body was in constant quiver. So much in fact, that he wasn’t aware if he were willing it so or letting it occur, as he couldn’t remember what the difference had been. He was vaguely sure there was one, however, but continued unfettered and organic. When the ceaseless vibrations passed into a soothing hum, he would fall into an agitated and shallow sleep. He did this feverously throughout the night. Waking only to shake his head in confusion and bathe in sweat, with clenched-jaw and grinding teeth. Sadistic and depraved ‘Dali’ like dreams of twisted gray screams and bright towers of white gleaming columns of light, hazy and blurred the higher they reached into the ever darkening sky.
“water…” he would beg weakly into the phone and the dis-embodied voice he prayed to be on the other side, “…could you have someone bring up some water, please. Thanks. No, I’m fine, just tired, it’s been a long day… yes, thank you. Tomorrow, I’ll be checking out late if I can. Yes, one extra night… Cash Ma’am, yes. That’s right…”
He would awaken again, one last time, to the blissful recollection of a solitary and final realization. He would not perish after all! Additional doses of his Medicine (he now gloriously recalled through his illness induced stupor), had been placed in a secret compartment of his luggage! Oh Merciful, Glorious God! How Lovely a Prince you are to bestow upon me the recollection of thought that would serve to save my very Soul! Glory Be to God!” he proclaimed in his fever.
Light and gray, flicker and fade…
“So, you say that you don’t recognize these two? Look again, closer this time.” The Dekalb County Sherriff’s Deputy was clearly irritated and (apparently hot), despite the blaring artic-chill of air-conditioning that flow through the Lobby and over the reception desk like an internal jet-stream.
“I want you to pay attention, Son.” He said, wiping the sweat from his brow with a crisp white handkerchief, almost magically produced from the inner breast-pocket of his staunch gray blazer. As he placed his impeccably white Stetson on the counter, deliberately in front of and between the two of them, he continued. “Really, pay attention, Okay? – This is an important Police matter. You do understand that, don’t you?” Never once shifting his honest (yet stern) steely-blue eyes from the young Hotel General Manager.
“Yes Sir,” said the clerk nervously. “And as per my District Manager, we fully intend to cooperate. However, I have been informed by my staff that Mister… Gray, wasn’t the one who signed the register or paid for the room last night, it was a…” he flipped through the open ledger that his counter-staff had hastily produced upon the Deputy’s request shortly after his arrival, some 15 minutes earlier “Miss, Lane. Penny Lane,” he said pausing, only to look up embarrassingly to meet the Deputy’s accusatory, yet empathetic gaze. “I’m sorry, that's all we know.” He concluded, lowering his gaze again and closing the ledger.
“Okay well, you wanna know what I know. What I know, is that I’ve Got two Yankee Kids down at the station with three firearms and 1 kilo of Cocaine between the two of them. Now, with the one deceased Yankee upstairs in room #307,” he seemed to pause here (for effect, perhaps) of your establishment,” another pause, “who has now fallen victim to the drug, in the form of an apparent overdose. That makes for three very, ‘out-of-place’ individuals in our little neck of the woods,” he continued, now slow and deliberate, as he reached for and placed the bright-white cowboy hat on his head with one hand, while leaning on the long beautifully polished Mahogany wood counter to face the hotel manager with the other. “Now, Ya’ll wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would Ya’ll?” his left eye squinting and voice lilting with the end of the sentence and the last, ‘Ya’ll’.
“Well,” shyly continued the young Hospitality Manager, “I wasn’t the one who checked them in, after all. It looks to be a staff member named… Sharon S.” With this he closed the ledger and returned the Officer’s gaze. “I’m sorry, but my Manager has informed me that I can’t say any more than that, without a warrant. I am Sorry.”
“Yeah, we spoke with your manager earlier. Paul Rodriguez, I think his name was?”
“Yes Sir, that’s correct.” He replied, pushing his glasses further up onto the narrow bridge of his nose, nervous still, but slightly empowered now by the thought of a cathartic end to this impromptu interrogation.
The Deputy stood there, for what had seemed like forever, just ‘matter-of-factly’ looking into the Managers eyes, unblinking and unapologetic.
“Well, ok then.” He finally said, head still but with his eyes shifting toward the exit, and then lazily back again, to meet the young man’s glazed expression. “We’ll talk, soon.” He continued with half a smile, as he turned and left.
As he approached and passed-through the automatic doors of the hotel’s lobby, and into the stagnant yet sweet ‘peach and magnolia’ smell of Georgia in the Spring, the Deputy Sherriff contemplated on the nights events as he had many nights before. For 30+ years he had been a Police Officer. 12 in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, and the rest in the Atlanta Metro Area. Specifically in the City of Decatur Georgia, which lies within Dekalb County, some 5 miles Northeast of Atlanta. This would be where he honed his craft, and intended on retiring to rest on his laurels.
As sure as he was a ‘Son of the Confederacy’, however, he was convinced that the winds were changing in the ‘Grand-Old South’. It was the 1980’s and Drugs (especially Cocaine) would run through every vibrant and connected City in the Nation, with one City in particular leading the Charge – Miami! Being approximately 650 miles (1k Kilometers), or about an 8 hour’s drive from Atlanta, it would give birth to a ‘World-Wide’ Cocaine Epidemic that would stretch from the slums of one America to the next, without indifference. As a result, all sorts of criminals would immerge from under once scattered rocks to claim their stake, and fuel a post 1970’s woefully stagnant World Economy!
From Hollywood and New York City to, Decatur and Atlanta, The Deputy thought. ‘Them DAMN Yankees just won’t leave us alone! It’s like the Fuckin’ War again!’ he would declare, when whiskey and juke-box had taken their toll. Tonight would be no different he thought, as he climbed into his white Chevy Pickup and adjusted his hat in the rear-view mirror.
Reaching again into the inner left-breast pocket of his blazer, the Deputy removed the official small plastic ‘evidence-bag’ he placed there earlier in the investigation. It would be submitted as official evidence, of course, but for now he needed to follow procedure and identify the victim, properly. This meant not only a search of the newly bourgeoning computerized ‘Criminal Data-base’ that was sweeping Law Enforcement at the time, but the more traditional Police work of contacting the next of kin, in this case. He hated this part of the job the most, as did the majority of his colleagues; ask any of them if they would delegate the task to a subordinate for example, and the unanimous response would be that they would rather not burden another soul with the melancholy of it all. It was particularly difficult when the victims were young, and not expected to suddenly pass-away. Sadly, that would be the case here. Again, he would have to contact a grieving Mother or Father, Aunty, Sibling, or ‘Significant-Other’. It made him physically ill. He would have to will himself to remain calm, to settle his stomach.
The youth’s Driver’s License had been retrieved from the room, along with some personal possessions of the three, to include; a .45 Cal. automatic pistol, a 9mm ‘Mac-10’ sub-machine gun, half an ounce of marijuana, and some LSD tabs and $1,375 in cash. The small amount of Cocaine found in the room, assumed to have been transited with the Trio as they arrived in Northern Atlanta, was officially deemed to have been for ‘personal consumption’.
As he sat in the parking lot, turning the bag containing the boys driver’s license, over and over in his hand, the only clue they had about who he was, and (possibly) why he was there, a tear began to form in his eye. Odd, he thought. He must be getting old. Time to lay down the Badge, and not a minute sooner.
Like his Cohorts, Mark Gray, as his Drivers License (and the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles and National Criminal Database records) would later confirm, had only minor criminal charges associated with his person; Misdemeanor Possession of Drugs, with the ‘Intent to Distribute’, and a few equally dismissive weapons and petty-theft offenses. Not a major player at all, just a Yankee Kid from Baltimore, trying to hedge his bets and close the gap between Urban Plight and Survival, between ‘getting-by’ and ‘thriving’, however and wherever he could. It was sometimes said, by less ‘Worldly’ folk, that life is not simply ‘Black-or-White’, but a complex myriad of shades of, gray. But, in his experience, if by ‘shades-of -gray’, they meant ‘Life-or-Death’, it was simple; The dead know only one thing: It is better to be Alive. There was no ‘shaded’ or variation of Life. You either ‘were’, or you ‘were not’. Simple and plain. These Kids, were just three (of ‘Legion’, he supposed) suspended in Shadow. With nowhere to go, and unable to retreat. Neither the North nor South would give them refuge. And although they were lost in the Gray ‘Middle’ that was the Mid-Atlantic Coast and their own ghosts, they reveled in the now, and in the fact that they, ‘were’. May God help them! May She help us ALL.
Although Sunrise would not ‘officially’ occur for another hour, at 7:04am EST, the sun had already begun to crest the horizon. Bold and Bright, it would pierce the dawn and sear the sky with shadows rich in hues of deep yellow, orange and crimson. As the trucks engine roared to life, he took a deep breath, let out the clutch and slowly pressed the accelerator.
A Brave and Bright new World awaited him. It awaited us all, he supposed.