Walt unlocked the garage door to his Alta Mesa home at quarter past one, still wincing from the look Rodriguez (or Martinez) had given him at the gate, the reason for which became obvious when he had the occasion to view himself, full on, in the bathroom mirror.  Scottie was out, and muffled sobbing emanated from John's room as he quickly gathered up clean clothes, locked the bathroom door behind him and stripped, heaving the rags and the pink, glittery shirt into the tub...  there was crusted dust, caked over more dust, blood on his cheek and upper lip, more on his left ear, his were cheeks nearly as black as Wiley Coyote's after a stick of dynamite had blown up in his face – which, technically, could’ve happened.  Hydrogen! he shivered, under the sunburn.  After he'd showered a pound or two of salted dust away, he discovered that his chest and hips were covered with long, red scratches, already beginning to scab over.  What had he done the other night?  Yet he felt fine... maybe there were no after-effects from Tex's "X" (or was it Ester's "E", or had there been something untoward in that tea)... the fact that he had spent the night half-naked in the desert, and much of the morning in a hydrogen balloon, festooned with styrofoam to mimic a medieval castle... well, he accepted this, but it still hadn't wholly registered.  He slapped some rubbing alcohol over the scratches, shaved and decided he looked half-presentable, but when he stepped out of the bathroom, Missy was waiting for him, like a delinquent utility bill.

          "You missed services," she hissed.

          "I'm beat," he lied.  "And I have to go right back in, now... so we can pick this up tonight.  Reverend Paul say anything worth keeping in mind?"

          "He wants us to be sure to vote... he said that the denomination doesn't advocate specific candidates, or propositions, but it's pretty obvious that voting against the Wal-Mart slate or for any Democrats would be sin.  The topic of the sermon was Matthew Thirteen..."

          "That was nice."  Because Missy had caught him on the way out, and he'd said that he was going in to his important, dignified position in hospitality, he'd gone back into the bedroom and taken out the blue and green iridescent tie, the one that reminded him of the backside of some beetle... and that reminded him it was Barry's day off.  Luck all around! 

          "These can't be Christian people... your employers... making you work Sundays, like this.  Is that why you don't introduce me to them?"

          "Hospitality never takes days off," Walt growled, straightening the tie.  "Hey... I'm the one missing Chargers' games, and just when they've finally started winning..."

          "That's not the same as disrespect for Jesus.  I’m almost sorry to have to tell you… Hermie’s coming to town…"

          “What’s to regret?” Walt brightened.  “It’s been eighteen months… is he bringing the family?”

          “No… oh…” Missy answered tentatively.  “By himself.  Something about a conference, I think, he didn’t go into specifics…”

          He kissed her, chastely.

          "Wonderful.  I'll be back late, tonight... eightish... but I'll be back..."


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          He actually reached the DP parking lot before two... the traffic was almost nonexistent, the community still in church or flopped before televisions, beer and snacks in hand.  There were a half dozen enthusiastic students at the traffic island on 268th, Republicans; they waved signs, begging for honks from passing vehicles.  The Mickey Mouse vampire didn't look so ferocious now, under the blazing afternoon sun, and after the Merritt Peripheral castle... Walt glanced at it, turned off the ignition, checked his face in the car mirror again.  No visible scratches.  There was still a stink wafting upwards from the Town Car's trunk, but it wasn't so bad, and... besides... it was the check cashing joint's problem, now.  Crossing the lot, he entered through the security door that someone... Achmed, probably... had left open with a brick, and Barry's troll croaked: "I see you!"... Kenny called him into the office, whining, before he could clock in, and declared that he, Walt, was damn lucky not to have come in late on Mister C's watch, especially not after the 19-8 thrashing dealt out to Barry's beloved, doomed Red Sox.

          As Kenny had said over the cellphone, Tex and Gwan had called in sick, their places had been taken by two temps, one of them the girl with glasses... what was her damn name?... she'd accompanied them up to Mecca in the hearse.  "Man, I never expected to see you," she said, "the way you were wasted, last night and just, sort of, ran off."

          "That bad?" Walt shrugged, bouncing on his heels, on his two, good shoes.

          "Bad?  You kept singing the damn Toys R' Us song, creeped out the whole community..."

          "Your memory seems, well, sharp... I thought the purpose of drugs was that everybody forgets.  Like Vegas, what happens in the E-hole stays in the E-hole..."

          "There's no such thing as E-holes, A-hole.  There are K-holes..."


          "You wish, old man."  And, since there was a customer at the register, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other, she turned... her hair swishing in what, to Walter, this afternoon after, seemed a rather agreeable susurration of fast-food smoke-wind, asking: "Dog Pound, are you alright?  Can I help you?"  The guy was wearing a cheap orange shirt, which indicated, either, that he was an escapee from prison, a state prison, or that he was into fashion, gangsta-style... unlikely, since he was old, Caucasian under the dirt and stubble, and barely able to articulate his order.

          He pointed at the menu over the counter... "dog, Coke..." he muttered, wrenching a few crumpled bills and grimy coins from a pocket.  Probably found the shirt in a trashcan after some other escapee had stolen civilian clothes and ditched the prison scrubs, Walt relaxed.

          It wasn't until much later that the scattered gears that were the components of Walter's former memory came together long enough for him devise a subterfuge to obtain the name of the temp without the humiliation of asking.  Once the other Sunday temp, a Mexican girl, inputted the wrong order; this would have required Eunice to break off her own transactions, come over and use her special red key to unfreeze the register... the purpose of this, Walter assumed, being to document the clerical error (whether genuine, or just the customer's change of mind) to be recorded and held against the cashier for disciplinary action in the future, dependant on whether there were sufficient replacements at hand to fire her or provoke an angry resignation.  But Eunice was outside, taking a smoke... the place was dead, otherwise, so Walt volunteered to go back to Kenny's office, where the floating manager, feet up on Barry's immaculate desk, was watching the late game on Fox, Buffalo... it looked like, and someone.

          "Yeah?" Kenny glared.

          "Uh... one of the cashiers had to change an order and Eunice is out, If you want, I can take the red key out and bring it back."  He pointed to the unwatched monitor bank.  "Place isn't busy..."

          "I know that," Kenny replied, peevishly, but dug the key out of his pocket.  "Is it that ditz... Serafina?"  His was a sad imitation of Barryism...

          "No, the other, uh... uh..." Walt prompted.


          Walt nodded, accepting the key, with all of its implicit potency.  He should've felt bad, giving Elle an undeserved black mark with the Sunday manager, but keyturns were among the most venial sins of the DP.  Nobody remembered them, all that mattered was that, every couple of weeks, Barry activated some function on the register that correlated mistakes with the cashier assigned for the shift, and used this as his club... Eunice had mentioned some girl had been fired, once, for an overusage of red keys, but also that there were other factors involved... "she got under Barry's skin," Mrs. Clay winked, "maybe because she wouldn't let him get under hers..."

          "I didn't think Mister C. swung that way," Walt had said, after taking precautions to be sure they weren't in direct line with any of the surveillance cameras.

          "Are you alright?" Kenny writhed in Barry's chair... the day manager had made a point of telling Walt that the office furnishings were his, not Kenny's, not Louie's, not even Mr. Z's.

          "Fine," Walt said, holding up the red key with subordinate's idiot grin, "...fine!"  And he felt fine, he felt like... oh, Tangier-fine?  Hawaii-fine?  He felt Walter-fine, for sure, he had a hundred dollar bill, a red key, and no Barry nipping at his heels.  "And her name is Elle," he said to himself, repeating "Elle!" so the name wouldn't fall back down into that keyhole, or asshole, into which the unwanted and unimportant occurrences of his days increasingly fled.