April 14. La Quinta.

This particular La Quinta’s in a shady part of town and there’s bad lighting in the parking lot so when you get here at 9:30 it’s almost pitch dark. You walk inside with the McDonald’s bag and the Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand and your keys in the other, clutched in a jumble, unclear whether you’d swing or stab them at an attacker.

The elevator is wood-paneled and smells like 2002 and the hallway is narrow so you can hear laughter and coughing and arguments and all different sorts of TV while walking to your room. You’re on the second floor and two guys are having a heated argument in Spanish under your window so you draw the shade and turn the TV on and eat your fast food, drink your beer, stare at cartoons but focus mostly on money, jobs, where to go from here. Family drama. Issues with money again. Where will you live next month.

Something next door crashes into the wall behind your TV and you spill some beer in your lap, trying to stand up. Snatch the remote up and hit Mute.

Crouching by the window in your boxers and dress shirt, some vague inflexible imitation of a karate pose, rivulets of beer on your arm and crotch, you stand perfectly still, listening closely.

But your neighbors are dead quiet now. Not even a TV.

Blood’s pumping in your ears.

Creep over to the door and open it slowly and look both ways down the hall.

Just the white noise behind other people’s doors.

In the arm chair over the next two hours you watch cartoons with the volume low, taking small sips, going rigid and muting the TV whenever you think you hear something from next door. At some point you get into bed and at 9 am wake up with a gasp from some dream about a sniper.

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