Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Night at the Roadhouse

I began thinking about a narrative set at a motel along the Eyre Highway due to personal interest in these very isolated roadhouse towns. I soon afterwards realized that this would meet the criteria of an upcoming school English assignment quite well. Below is the full story, fleshed out for the assignment.

NOTE: The assignment required me to start this with "it was a dark and stormy night". I didn't choose to do so on purpose.

It was a dark and stormy night as the man, wearied by hours of travel, walked across the parking lot and into the harshly lit roadhouse. Not that the lights were particularly uncomfortable, but any lights at all seem harsh when compared to the blackness of the Nullarbor Plain at night. As he stoops under the low doorframe, he begins removing his jacket. Once inside, he is careful to place it so that it will not be stiff after it dries, clearly having practice in doing so.

He scans the amenities of the roadhouse. Not very impressive, just a small café (closed at this hour, of course) and a small motel desk. Behind the desk is a man wearing a ridiculously cheery name tag saying “Hi, my name is Arthur!”, fast asleep in his chair.

“Uh, ‘Arthur’,” the traveller begins, “I was hoping to rent a room.” Arthur does not even stir, clearly sleeping soundly. Annoyed, the traveller rings the service bell, loudly. Arthur immediately snaps up.

“Good evening sir how can I help you sir?” he says quickly, as if by reflex.

“As I believe I just said, I would like to rent a room for the night.” the traveller replies.

“One room will be 125 dollars per night, plus tax.”

“125 dollars! For a motel room in the middle of nowhere!”

“Sir, the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere is why the cost is so high.”

“Fine, I’ll take the one room. Name’s Martin Mitchenson. Just flew in from Birmingham and have a couple days before I leave, so I’m taking the chance to explore the Outback.”

“Here’s your room key,” Arthur says, “and your room number is 12. Enjoy your stay.”

Having secured his room, Martin walks out onto a covered outdoor walkway in front of the roadhouse and down to room 12. He enters his room and falls onto the bed for a hopefully restful night.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the roadhouse, a mysterious figure is listening for any indication that anyone is awake or about. Finding nothing, they slip out of their door, making sure that it doesn’t squeak. Sneaking quietly into the roadhouse lobby, the figure avoids waking the doorman and instead heads straight for the wall panel access to the roadhouse’s circuit breakers, which convey the power for the entire building. Surreptitiously, they remove the panel and locate the master switch, clasping it loosely between thumb and forefinger to avoid any sound as it is slowly moved to the off position.

As soon as it is released, there is a sudden silence as the various appliances in the cafe whir down, the type of silence that happens when a noise you never notice stops abruptly. The lights of the roadhouse go pitch black, glinting briefly on the figure’s gold Claddagh ring just before utter darkness. The figure, satisfied with their handiwork, slowly moves to the doorman’s desk, carefully taking a single room key.

Everyone in the building awakens in the same instant, including the doorman (sound asleep though he is). A loud crack has startled even the deepest sleeper in the motel, a crack with only one explanation: gunfire. As all the other guests are fumbling through getting up and dressed, a single figure slips away just long enough to reactivate the main breaker before blending into the emerging crowd of tired road-train drivers, hitchhikers, backpackers, and miscellaneous bleary-eyed travellers of the Eyre Highway.

Stepping through this crowd, followed closely by the doorman, is the closest thing to a police officer: a local bylaw enforcer, who just so happens to double as the roadhouse’s security guard. Not exactly riot control, but the pepper spray and handgun on his belt is enough to make him a suitable enforcer of the law.

Within minutes, a survey by the doorman and the security guard reveals that two guests are missing: Martin Mitchenson and Mrs. Celine Walker, found dead in Room 13 with a single gunshot wound to the head. The security guard then wakes Martin, who claims he has slept through the entire ordeal. The security guard is suspicious, and calls for backup from the National Police. Due to its isolation, however, the roadhouse is several hours from police assistance, meaning the security guard will have no help in the initial investigation of the murder.

“Mister Mitchenson, my name is Officer Robert Loblaw, but my friends call me Bob. I have a couple questions.”

“I’m not sure how much help I can be, Bob,” Martin replies, “as I was sleeping until the gunshot went off.”

“Is there anyone who can verify that you did not leave this room last night?”

“I’m afraid not. I have been travelling alone.”

“Unfortunately, sir, this makes you our number one suspect in this case. I am going to be forced to confine you to your room.”

For several hours, Martin paces nervously in his room as Officer Loblaw continues asking questions.

“Dammit Martin, this is a woman’s life we’re talking about here! And you’re the only one without an alibi! Confess!”

“I won’t make any confession because I am telling the truth! I didn’t leave this room last night!”
Suddenly, an officer of the National Police bursts in.

“Mister Mitchenson, we owe you an apology,” begins the officer. “Our investigation has concluded that Mrs. Walker’s gunshot wound was self-inflicted. The only thing out of place appeared to be her jewelry box, which we surmise she was holding as she died. You are free to go.”

Several days later, as he sips his hot coffee on his flight back to Birmingham, Martin reflects on the events at the roadhouse.As he brings the cup to his lips for the third time, he briefly flashes back to Officer Loblaw handing him a similar cup of coffee, during the period he was interrogated in and confined to his room.

“How odd,” he thought, “that a Australian security guard would wear an Irish Claddagh ring. I wonder where he picked that up.”

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