Now that the Night Crusher has been moved into the Holding Pen — a resort on the outskirts of Dodge City, usually with vacancies and happy to take on an extra head for a night or few, unlike the hotel closer to the center where Big Pharmakos, Drifter Jim, et al, and yours truly reside — his handlers breathe easy, and go off for a night on the town, singly or in small groups, fated to end up together again at the same couple of bars before long, either pretending not to notice one another or pretending to be surprised at the coincidence of all turning up at the same place and the same time, having been so briefly apart, and treating it as inordinate cause for celebration, which maybe it is or ought to be.


The Night Crusher has recently emerged from a hot n’ sudsy bath and is now wearing slippers and full-body pajamas, up to and including a Holding Pen embossed nightcap. He’s drinking High West whiskey, warming the glass above a rosehip-scented candle, and thinking how this, too, is a nightcap.


Thus pass a few days. He’s in here day and night, walking the room, supposedly using this time to get acculturated to his new assignation, which involves a Lazy Eye, “a new student,” and, he knows better than not to suspect, Professor Barry Dalton, in one of any number of capacities or another. He reads over the Lazy Eye Mythos briefing that he’s been given and wonders where the interest lies … Why me? Why this? and so on. Some days he’s certain he’s dealt with this whole story many times before; other days he doubts even that there’s going to be any story to deal with at all.


In terms of food, he’s been given a single unripe avocado.


He may have been offered more, but this, along with the High West whiskey, is what he accepted. He’s made a game out of carrying the avocado around the room during the daylight hours, trying to place it in the brightest square of sun, moving it constantly as the sun moves. He carries it in what has quickly become a Buster Keaton routine, snatching it up fast as soon as the sun moves and diving into the new square of sun before it moves again, be it on a tabletop or on the sheets or a windowsill or the floor or on top of the TV, every link in his chain of being shackled to the ideal of falling into servitude behind the grand project of ripening this avocado in the sun.


When, after a few days of this, and a few nights of nightcaps, it comes out ripe, he is hardly surprised to find himself unable to consume it, so integral to the Holding Pen’s scant symbolic order has it become.


So, growing hungrier by the minute, he passes into a new set of days, a Phase B, falling around the room with the avocado softening then rotting then pulping in his hands, until one night he has to wash them in the bathtub.


Then he plants the pit in the plushest part of the carpet and sits cross-legged beside it, waiting for it to sprout, listening to footsteps in the hallway.


He draws the shades and resolves to leave them drawn, now that he’s beyond any need for the sun.


To occupy his mind after his bath one night, he decides to do a little writing. He takes out the Holding Pen Notepad and writes in pen at the top of the first page, A Dramatic Retelling of Blue Velvet by David Lynch from Memory:


Under this he writes, “A guy comes back to his hometown.”


Satisfied, he caps the pen and takes a lap around the room. When he feels refreshed, he comes back to read over his work and make any edits his fresh eyes deem necessary. Still satisfied, he puts it away and gets in bed.


Just as he’s about to drift off into what may be his final night before his actual work begins (this is up to his handlers, from whom he’s heard zilch), he hears something from the next room.


A phone ringing.


There’s a clattering of hands and then a voice saying, “hello??” very eager. Then again, even more eager, “hello???” Some confusion ensues, a bad connection, guesses the Night Crusher, or a language barrier. “Hello?? Who is this?” asks the voice.


Then, something apparently finally coming clear, the voice, deflated and a little on edge now, says, “oh. Oh. No. That’s way old. Yup, no. Definitely not interested. OK, talk to you later. What? No. GoodBYE!” And hangs up.


Strange, thinks the Night Crusher, getting up to take a pillow out of the fridge and put the one he’s been lying on in there. Lying back on the fresh, cool one, he prepares for sleep when the phone in that room rings again.


The exact same interaction plays out. Eager, confused, deflated, on edge.


And again, and again, through many hours of the night. The man in that room seems never to lose his excitement for the call, and it seems never to be who he’d hoped it would be. The Night Crusher, from behind his eyelids, tries to envision the mathematical series that’d best represent the recursion of these calls, unsure if this is a simple problem or an extremely difficult one, if a problem at all. He remembers here the word “cinchy,” unused for years and years.


He sees a long straight country road and, along one side of it, a row of abandoned temples, gently smoking in the wind, each having formerly, aeons ago, contained a sentence or jumble of words that held some sweet meaning for the Night Crusher alone, turned now to the peppery stuffing of abandoned temples.


Coming off of this road and back into his head and room, The Night Crusher realizes that the phonecalls he’s been overhearing involve Professor Barry Dalton. He gets up and starts packing his things, polishing off the last of the High West. What he can’t tell, he realizes upon further reflection, is which end of the phone the Professor is on. Is he the one calling, or the one receiving the calls? he wonders. He doesn’t feel any less certain that it’s Dalton for not knowing which end he’s on. In fact, if anything, this proves that it must be Dalton and no one else … who else that I know has this quality? he wonders.


His bag packed, he steps widely around the avocado seedling, wishing it the best, and opens his door and goes out into the hallway, further than he’s ventured in all this time. He’s sad to leave his writing behind, but maybe the sacrifice will bring him luck.


He’s creeping through the lobby, past the tables that have held the continental breakfast and will again in a few short hours, about to wheel through the revolving doors and out onto the street, when something going on at the pool catches his eye.


So now he’s out there, by the pool, in the middle of a scene that he hadn’t at all expected to find himself in the middle of, in the last instant before getting noticed en masse.