From the midst of the meadow came the vehicle. I wasn’t quite done with my Fresca when it pulled up in front of me, but I put the bottle down, burying it in the soft dirt like a bulb. I watched it pull up with my eyes and forehead in a frozen and fixated state, and heard it idling, waves of gas and heat rippling out from its sides like the breath of a panting Savannah Creature after a long and incensed run. I felt myself yawning, and heard my name (“David Riiiiiiiiice!!!”) resounding in the distance, and, because my mouth was open so wide, I almost thought it might have been me calling out (and it might have been). A tinted window of the vehicle rolls down, and Big Pharmakos sticks his head out into the bright meadow air, gingerly maneuvering its girth through the window slit. “Hurry up!” he shouts. “The caretaker is calling you!” A moment of indecision here, where I feel two sides of me nailed to opposing barns and the rest stretched out into a clothesline, my organs hanging like newly-cleaned dirty underwear in the breeze. Will this caretaker take care of me? I hear myself wondering, while the other barn wonders, or thinks: “Big Pharmakos is your friend, probably, so best to go with him and get on the road while it’s still light.” So I climb into the backseat where a side door has been slid open, and now I’m in there. As we pull away, our momentum tears down one of the barns like a truck with a heavy chain coupled to its fender, and we drag splintering shards of wood through the wet and soft summer earth. My name continues to ring out in the distance, with the nurse’s clear and assertive Japanese emphasis. Big Pharmakos turns to me from the passenger’s seat, and I can see the back of Large, Creeping Charlie’s head from where he’s driving, a map spread taut over the steering wheel and his fingers tearing holes through it like a skin or a film they must penetrate in order to drive. “That was a narrow escape,” says Big Pharmakos. “You almost got taken to see the caretaker.” He shudders. “I don’t know if you know it, but you did.” I say that I know it, but that I don’t know what would have been so bad about that. “Best to talk less rather than more, for the moment,” says Big Pharmakos, and I can hear Large, Creeping Charlie grunting assent. “Until it blows over. Why don’t you get some rest in the back? We prepared it for you.” Big Pharmakos nods to an area further behind me, behind the back seat, that I hadn’t seen until now. There’s a handsome wooden door, and I find it ajar and push my way in. Inside is my room back in the hotel in Dodge City, the proverbial “Room in Dodge City” itself, as it were. I go in, take out my box of Cuban mints and have one, counting how many are left, and put the box on the nightstand. I see that my bed is freshly made and the sheets are even turned down just as I like them. The blinds are drawn tightly, and I have no interest in opening them just yet. As I stand there, hoping there’s hot water in the shower, the telephone on the little work desk rings. I pick up, and Big Pharmakos meets me on the other end. “This is your captain speaking,” he says, laughing jovially. “Just an update from the road. We should be pulling in shortly, if all goes well. Conditions is clear,” he says, as if quoting a comedian whose routine he thinks I know well. “Sit tight, mister, it’s all gonna be fine and dandy.” I wait until he hangs up, and then I walk toward the bathroom to see about that hot shower.

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