I steered my car on to the circular gravel drive of the Buffalo Motor Lodge in Flagstaff, Arizona and stopped. A building, low and dark, split lodge pole pine siding. A long verandah stretching the length of its front was lined with Adirondack-type lounge chairs under the overhang of a cedar shingled roof Steps in the middle and at each end of the verandah. A lawn in the center of the semi-circle formed by the drive. In the center of the lawn a New England rock garden planted with colorful annuals and wild flowers. A parking area at the left of the lodge where five or six cars were parked. I pulled up to a split rail fence alongside a gray Honda Accord with a license plate frame that said Van Nuys. Must be his car. He said he often makes the eight hour drive here for long week-ends to get out of LA.
I walked toward the lodge, the gravel crunching under my shoes. A path at the left of the lodge led to cottages set around a large grassy area where guests could sit in lawn chairs or on chaises behind the man lodge. A small grove of aspen at the far end of the lawn. Tall cedars and pines shot up above the backs of the cottages. At the end closest to the lodge was a swimming pool, surrounded by a six-foot chain link fence.
The cottages were numbered consecutively around the grassy area. Five down each side and five across the back. Looking for Number 14, I took a short cut across the grass. Each of the cottages was separate. That’s good. No common walls. No neighbors to listen to. All had the same lodge pole pine siding and cedar shingle roofs as the main lodge. The grass hadn’t been cut in a long time and the swimming pool was covered with a vinyl sheet dense with pine needles. The cottages all looked the same: a door in the center and single double-hung four-light windows trimmed in green on either side. Some of the windows had screens.
The number 14 was barely visible behind a weathered rusty screen door. Two wooden steps painted dark brown led up to the door. I was standing in front of Number 14 because of Gene. At least, that’s what he said his name is. We’d met at the Swing, a sleazy bar on Fourth Street. The kind of place you find listed in the Damron Address Book. Mixed crowd, cruisy. Running a quick scan of the guys seated at the u-shaped bar, I noticed him on the side opposite me. We made eye contact. I smiled. He smiled back. Step One. Setup. I flashed a broad grin. He nodded. Step Two. Contact. I picked up my drink and moved to the stool to his right. Step Three. Conversation. It doesn’t take long. Two, maybe three minutes. If you’ve talked to a guy for five minutes and you haven’t connected, nothing is going to happen. Step Four. Connection. This trick or another later on.
I knocked. Heavy footsteps came toward the door. Step Five. Score.