Land of Pleasure: An Excerpt

They stopped at the only intersection. The sign at the south end of town had said KENOMA WELLS and the first thing they saw was the gray little church with asbestos siding. Then came the trailer homes, and the gruesome dog that walked with a tilt, thrall to a strange gravitation. Then this intersection with a single red light on twisted wires. On the right-hand corner sand-colored bricks lay fallen from façade of an L-shaped building. A kid on a rusty red trike rolled to a stop and stared at them with dishwater eyes.

They drove through the intersection and past the Edom County Courthouse on a bluff to the northeast. The lawn was weedy and here and there a bristly pine stood its lonely ground. They stopped and she rolled down the window and read the historical marker about some officer of the Missouri Militia that had prevented his men from murdering Mormons. “A major humanitarian,” she said to her silent driver. A couple of kids on bikes swooped past like buzzards. She rolled up the window and urged him drive happily the hell out of there.

The road was shit for a mile and then turned into blacktop as smooth as a tarbaby’s butt. They had attained Iowa. A few miles more they drove under a trestle and up a small hill to a crossroads and stopped. The sign said HEBRON. A shed with the same name stood to the east of the road. On the other side stood an old white store. A young woman with red hair sat on the porch, drinking from a china cup and looking for all the world like she was open for business.

“A Coke, or a poke?” she asked. The driver didn’t smile.

A ways past they turned northwest onto a dirt road and crossed a rickety bridge over a piddlely creek. A mile later they came to a hill crowned with white pines, a white Chapel sheltering under dark boughs beyond it. A truck with high wooden sides was parked in a narrow lane to the left with crime-scene tape suspended across it. Next to that a man in a lumpy deputy’s uniform leaned against the trunk of his car, his arms crossed. He glanced up, beseeching relief, or possibly a sandwich.

They stopped for a moment in front of the cemetery gate and looked at the iron scrolling along the top. She looked at the map and nodded. They nosed up to the crossroads. To the left stood a couple of redbrick buildings and to the right, a watertower. A double-arrowed sign—QUARTZ ROAD—pointed north and south.

She slapped her hands on her thighs. “Well, that’s it. We’re here.” The driver nodded. She reached into the back for her duffle and got out.

“You’ll leave the keys in her? Maybe park her inconspicuous?”

The driver nodded and hit the gas. The Hudson made a wide turn and headed back the way it had come. She waved and walked west.
A half hour later she entered Zion. She cut through the fairgrounds and past the schoolhouse. The white cupola of the Courthouse rose above the rooftops. Right on target. She walked south down Elm to the Thunder Cloud Hotel and went in. A little man sat behind an oak counter gloating like a silo rat over a mound of receipts.

“Too early to check in?” she asked.

He looked up, his eyes widening. “Depends on whether I got a room,” he said.

“You serve my kind, right?” She slapped her left hand on the counter. The ring knocked. He glanced at it, then reached into a cubbyhole for a guest form. “Name?”

“Galldor,” she said. “With two ‘l’s. Get it? I got gall, and I’m wide as a door.”

“I’m guessing you have a last name, too?”

She pictured the little cemetery on the hill. “Wilson. Will that work?”

Azariah nodded. “Long as we’re making it up, let’s give it two ‘l’s, for symmetry’s sake? Where do you hale from?”

“The skies. Get it?” Galldor Willson said.

Azariah Root sighed. “I’ll need cash. A week’s deposit.”

“You got it.” She peeled him a ream of Lincolns from her considerable roll.