I FIND the kind of breakfast place I was looking for. A diner I can tell will figure into the mythos of this town however long I stay in it.

 

I’m in here now, still dreaming, my face and neck washed in the bathroom around back and off to the side, the kind they have at gas stations. My food gets slid in front of me. As I eat, I look at the other people in here. Some look like Indians, others are plain white. In trying to imagine who they are and what they do, I run through an audition in an empty space in my head, trying out who’d be right as a gunslinger, who as an all-around outlaw, train robber, card shark, bookie, pimp, ether addict, scalp trader, cattle drover, owner of the general store who’s hard at work on a sequel to the Bible, starring all of his friends with a few of the transvestites he knows filling in for angels. They pass by as if on wooden sticks parading before my eyes as I eat, and I begin to populate Dodge City for myself. At the end of the audition, I tell them that I’ve seen all I need to, and will be in touch. After breakfast, I take to the streets. What I came here to do can wait a few days, I decide. For now, I’ll just walk around. I follow my senses until a bleating, as of sheep or cows, takes me up one of the side streets and past a lumber mill and a burger joint, to the junkyard. I start creeping around in here, following the sound, aware that there might be a junkyard dog about to leap out and dispatch me. I pick up a piece of wood with some screws sticking out the end, just in case. The bleating, I can tell now, is coming from a wrecked trailer up on cinderblocks, behind a fence that has a hole torn in it, among a bunch of other wrecked vehicles of all sizes. I stand there and listen, figuring it must be about nine a.m. Sooner or later, a man comes around from behind the trailer, and stands on the other side of the fence regarding me.

 

Then he comes through the hole, introduces himself.

 

“I’m Junkyard Charles Matthiesson,” he says.

 

“Hi,” I say, and tell him my name.

 

A pause. Then, “you got a junkyard dog?” I ask him. “No sir, I do not. Nothing like that.” I drop the wood with the screws in it. Then he asks me where I live, and I say I’m staying in the hotel.

 

“Ah,” he replies. “That’s where Drifter Jim stayed … once”

 

Like that’s all already a long time ago.

 

“I don’t think so,” I reply, though I have no real reason not to admit to knowing what he’s talking about.

 

“Suit yourself,” he says, and unbuttons one of his shirt sleeves. We both listen to that bleating.

 

Eventually, he says, “That trailer’s full of sheep. Guy up on the highway about forty miles from here had a wreck last winter, and I came and towed it away for him, never knowing what it was full of. I’ve told him to come pick up his sheep, but so far no sign of the man. Maybe today’s the day. I deal with people who fall off the road, you understand? So there’s no telling when they might turn back up.”

 

“Must be a sensitive business,” I say.

 

He thinks awhile, then replies, “Some of the time.”

 

That’s about the end of our conversation. “So,” I say, “lived in Dodge City long?”

 

The man unbuttons his other sleeve. “Been sleeping here about as long as I can remember. But no, I wouldn’t exactly say that I live in Dodge City. No sir, not per se.”

 

I tell Junkyard Charles Matthiesson that I’ll see him around, and roll over onto another side to sleep some more.

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