New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample story from Wicked Stop

There was something about the motel clerk Clair didn’t like. Something that made her shiver. It was nothing she could put her finger on, the feeling was too elusive. It wasn’t because the lewd old fool gave her the once-over as soon as she and her family stepped into the motel office first thing in the morning to check out of their rooms. That wasn’t it.
Call it instinct, an instinct she inherited from her Japanese-American mother whose own mother and father had been interred by the American government during World War II. A harrowing experience that left them wary of authority and suspicious of white people in general. Or, maybe it came from her father who was half-black and half-white, his black heritage yielding the cautionary forewarning. Part of the black man’s DNA, she reasoned.
“All you have to do,” the clerk said, leaning over the counter, the map spread out in front of him, “is follow I-75 south until just about here.” He pointed a dirty fingernail at a section of the map of Georgia located not far from Jimmy Carter’s hometown of Plains, Georgia and the former Civil War prisoner camp of Andersonville.
“That’s sort of out in the sticks, isn’t it?” Clair’s father, Marshall King, asked. “For a first class resort hotel.”
“It’s a retreat,” the clerk said, smirking.
“Resort, retreat, whatever,” Marshall snorted.
“Got a four-star restaurant, so I been told.”
“What else?”
“You name it, it’s there. Hot tubs, cocktail lounges, shows, all the stuff rich people like. Reasonably priced, too.”
“What’s the name of the place, again?”
“Wicked Stop. The Retreat at Wicked Stop.”
“Funny name for a resort.”
Helen, Clair’s Japanese-American mother, smiled. “Funny name for a town.”
“Suppose so,” the clerk said. “Way I hear it, the town was named for something that happened during the Civil War.”
“What was that?” Marshall said.
“Don’t rightly know. Got to ask the folks at the Retreat.”
Marshall peered at the clerk. “You get a commission if we stay there?”
“No reason to get uppity ... sir.” The clerk came down hard on the “sir.”
Helen tugged her husband’s sleeve. “We can talk about it later in the car, Marshall.”
For a second time, more boldly now, perhaps in response to the challenge issued by Marshall, the clerk’s hungry gaze roamed Clair’s body, a nose to toes appraisal ranging from her coal black hair and matching dark eyes, depthless and hypnotic, to her ample bosom, out of proportion for a young woman who stood 5’4” tall and weighed 115 pounds. Skin color the lightest shade of cocoa butter. His gaze came to rest on her long, shapely legs that jutted out from a pair of short-shorts.
Clair avoided the motel clerk's gaze. Over the years she had become accustomed to stares, knew there was no avoiding them. In high school it had been different. Back then if older men raked her body with looks of unrestrained lechery, she resented it. Even went so far as to tell a couple of them to fuck off. No longer. Over the past several years and countless ogles, she had learned to tune them out.
Yet … there was an unexplainable aspect of the motel clerk’s behavior, something more than simple lust. The way he smirked, as if he had secret knowledge about … well, something she didn’t know or understand. The feeling left her unsettled.
The clerk’s restless gaze swept over the other young woman in the motel office, the one he heard the older man call Heather. By physical build and size, she could have been Clair’s twin, the major differences being her blonde hair, blue eyes and alabaster white skin. A bosom not as large as Clair’s but well formed. She was wearing tight shorts and a revealing tee shirt that clearly displayed her large nipples.
Marshall, noticing the clerk’s fixed gaze, frowned. “You can call ahead for us, arrange two rooms for tonight. Family of four. Our names are on the register.” With that, he wheeled around and said to Helen, Clair and Heather, “Let’s go.”
The family left the motel office and loaded their suitcases into the trunk of Marshall’s 2009 Lincoln Town Car, a car he cherished and refused to trade in for a newer model.
After they climbed into the car, Heather said in her breathless voice with a slight lisp to it, “I thought we were headed to Ft. Lauderdale.” She and Clair had been pre-med classmates at Ohio State, and this trip was their graduation gift. Cleveland to Florida, first class all the way.
Except that yesterday the Lincoln’s fuel filter clogged in the sticks south of Nashville and they were forced to spend the night at this dumpy motel while a local garage repaired the car.
“We’re going to Ft. Lauderdale, honey,” Marshall said to Heather. “But we’ll need to stop one more night before we get there. And this resort at Wicked Stop is on the way.”
Clair’s mouth tightened. No matter how many times she asked her dad not to call her friends “Honey," he persisted in doing so. Not maliciously, of course. He was just old school, reared in a former day when men routinely called secretaries and young women names like honey and sweetheart. Clair sighed. Long-standing habits are so hard to break.
Unfortunately, her older brother Justin didn’t have the same excuse. Clair once heard him unabashedly tell a friend that “Women are good for the three Cs: cooking, cleaning and kissing.” Then roared with laughter at his feeble witticism. That pretty much summed up her brother’s attitude toward women. It galled her but, in the interests of family unity, she kept her mouth shut. Still, in a family where his mother was an architect and his sister was preparing to become a surgeon, she wondered how Justin picked up the idea of woman as homebody and servant to man.
Not that she had to think hard or long about the answer. It came down to the same thing. Dad, of course. He had this antiquated attitude about women. What Clair called jungle thinking. Me Tarzan, you Jane. I work, you cook.
Dad had never fully accepted the idea of Mom working outside the home. Clair sensed that he was jealous of Mom’s position as a senior manager with Cleveland’s most prestigious architectural firm. Mom brought home more money than Dad, which had to add to his resentment. To make matters worse, Mom, a fiercely independent woman, used her maiden name Matsui, and not her married name, at work.
Once, when Clair was a senior in high school, she overheard a conversation between her parents that crushed her. It was early Saturday afternoon. A small fire in the basement of the high school had sent the practicing cheerleaders home, Clair among them. Mom and Dad didn’t know she was in the house. From the shadows of the entrance hallway Clair listened to her parents argue about the necessity of Clair going to college.
“She has her heart set on becoming a doctor, Marshall.”
“She doesn’t need to. All the girl has to do is get a job as a secretary for one of the nice downtown firms. Meet some fine young man and get married. She’ll be set for life.”
Dad’s objections drove a dagger through Clair’s heart. Particularly since he hadn’t balked about sending her older brother Justin to Notre Dame for his undergraduate degree in accounting. Nor did he quibble about Justin’s selection of the expensive Wharton School in Philadelphia for his graduate studies in business.
So, it fell to Clair to fund her own way through pre-med at Ohio State. Which she did with some clandestine help from her mother. Helen paid for Clair’s tuition and books. Clair worked in the university cafeteria as well as a local bridal shop to pay for her room and board and incidental expenses. She intended to borrow her way through medical school, this time without help from either her mom or dad.
While Clair simmered in that long-ago memory, her mother, Helen, drew a cell phone from her purse and punched in a number. Marshall looked at her questioningly.
“I’m calling Justin.”