Archie Grimley is the type of guy you pass on any street and never notice. Life had given Archie and left him down at heel, starving and dirty. Archie had one thing in his favor; he had a knack for a good story, and this kept him working for the newspapers. His stories never made headlines, but readers liked his offbeat, and often controversial style.
The only problem Archie had about writing is he could never let a story die. Many people had told Archie to let sleeping dogs lie, but Archie loved to kick the nest to see what came out. If he got stung, as long as he got his story, that’s all that mattered.
Years ago, he had a family, in those days he was a man with respect in the town. Now, he was nothing but a joke. Life kept kicking Archie, but he kept fighting the odds and living for the next story. He pushed himself beyond the limits to maintain the dream of a Pulitzer Prize alive. Nobody had the heart to tell him unless you lived in the city, and you had no chance of winning the prize. The papers didn’t go out to “the sticks” looking for a reporter with a knack for stories. The papers only saw what was on their doorstep, and Archie wasn’t in the front line.
Archie had taken more beat downs than anyone should have had to endure, but a man with nothing to lose will go beyond the limit. He was such a man; he had no life outside the paper, and the next story to chase. The tough exterior he often showed, hid the pain of loss he felt. The scars of too many fights had ravaged his face. Some days even he couldn’t look in the mirror. Archie was never handsome, but he had an earthy charm the ladies once liked. Now, Archie looked like what he was, a punch-drunk hack writer for a two-bit magazine, looking for a story that would get him a bed, and a bottle.
Luck had passed Archie many times, but he didn’t care. He found himself in a rut, and he lost the will to climb out. He believed in his ability at times. When the drink and the courage were flowing, Archie had the spirit that got him his job. It was hard for Archie to recall those days. The days were getting fewer and further apart, for a man who knew he was running out of luck.
He’d fought men bigger than himself, but the things he could never beat were his demons. Archie’s family died in a fire, on a day when he was out chasing a story. Everyone told him it wasn’t his fault, but he never forgave himself for not being there to try to save his
wife and children. There was a story going around the fire was arson, a warning to Archie. The one thing they forgot to tell the people who set the fire, take away what he lives for, and a man becomes a wild animal with only revenge fuelling his body.
The thing that bugged him the most was he’d been at the paper for years and never caught a break for a story. On that day, he’s the only one in the office and gets an out of town job. On his return, he saw the fire and knew something dirty was going on. The only trouble was, he made a point of chasing stories others let drop. In the process, he made some powerful enemies.
A man who had been a loving husband, and father, in one night, became a cold-blooded hunter. Archie may have lacked the qualifications of the better-known writers, but he had the imagination they lacked. Archie's hunt for the truth made him a fearless reporter who got to the bottom of the story; even if the story never got published. If this meant heads had to be busted, Archie was the man to do it. Archie's philosophy had always been "Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread." He went above and beyond his call of duty every day; in the search for a story, and the truth.
He was relentless, never taking a vacation, always chasing the next story. He thought if he missed a story, he would miss his chance to get the prize – or so he told himself in the beginning – now, he didn’t believe the story either. Archie knew in his soul, the only reason he kept going was because the longer he went on, the less he thought of that night.
In the weeks after the fire, Archie searched for the reason. Was he the reason? Had he crossed somebody? He spent weeks trying to find a reason, or the people who set the fire. One day he was sat in the shade of an old tree, drinking the last of his beer when the truth hit him like a hammer. He was to blame and to find out who, or why, wouldn’t bring the family back. The only thing he could do was to keep his mind active as long as possible.
The truth was he’d upset too many people to try to find who had torched his home. He realized nobody would help him, the people he went after had so many connections they could cover their tracks before he got close enough to get a hint of a story, and the truth.
Archie made a decision to chase any story that looked intriguing to him. He got up from his seat and walked to the remains of the garage. Inside was his old beaten up car and a suitcase. He was never a man who had a lot of clothes, so packing up his belongings didn’t take long. He took a last look at the old place, walked to the car, opened the boot and threw his case in the boot of his car. Then, without a look-back, he drove out of town and headed into the desert.
Where was he going? He didn’t know or care. All he wanted was to hit the road and start over.
Days, and miles passed by, and Archie lost track of time. All he could think about was the road, and how dry his mouth was becoming. The day had been too long, and the road too hard. The dust clung to the air like a blanket of bees to a honeycomb. His eyes burned with the salt from his sweat. Which explained why he almost missed the tavern, as it appeared out of the dust, like a mirage. “Hell, I didn’t know that was here,” he muttered as he pulled in.
He pulled over and let the engine idle, considering his options. Archie looked up the road; all he saw was distant dust trails and miles of empty sands. He took a look at the oil gauge and said, “Well, I guess that settles it. I’m gonna have to get some gas and a meal here. I can’t go on, and I’m dry as a bone.”
He bent over and picked his old leather hat from the back seat he went over to the door of the tavern. He paused to feel the coolness of the air inside before he went in. The bar was dark and cool, and his eyes took time adjusting to the blinding light of the desert.
Archie glanced around the bar, his time alone made him watch for possible threats, but the folk looked friendly here. He walked to the bar, he leaned his elbow on the rail and inquired, “Can I have a beer, please?” as the barmaid approached him.
She winked at him, his matted beard showed he’d been on the road a long time; “What’s your poison, friend?” she asked.
He smiled, and replied, “Long, and cold, anything goes. I’ve been on the road too long to care.”
The dark haired barmaid smiled and swayed her way along the bar, as she did she took a second glance at Archie and licked her lips. Her mind was racing with the possibilities that could lay ahead for romance. It wasn't long before she returned with a cold drink. As he dug his hand into his pocket to find the change, she said, "Ain't no need for that, this is on the house. I don't see many new faces, and none as handsome as you."
Archie smiled and replied, "Thank you, kindly miss. The road is a harsh mistress, and the desert can drive a man crazy. I almost missed your inn."
He sat at the bar, the sweat running down his dust coated face. He took the time to try and figure out who the patrons of the bar were, but nobody stood out. "I guess they got the same raw deal I did and left everything behind," he thought, as he looked at the sad, worn out faces looking back at him. "One for the road!" he said, as he raised the glass to his mouth and took a large mouthful of the fresh beer.
Behind him, Archie heard someone speak, as he turned, the barmaid said, "What's your name, stranger?"
He took a big swallow, and replied, "Archie Grimley. I can't tell where I came from, I've been on the road so long my mind is foggy. Years ago, people used to respect me; now I'm on the run."
The barmaid replied, "My name is Carol; I run this establishment. Most of the folk here left everything or had it taken from them. What are you running from, Archie?"
He had no answer to the question; in truth he didn't know what he was running from, or where he was running. "I can't say for sure, Carol. The closest I can get to an answer is myself."
A friendly looking man rose from a table in the far corner and came to the bar. "Hi, Fred Doyle is my name. You sure have a problem, man. I can't say I know a man who can outrun himself. It's a mighty hard thing, when you're running; especially when you can't find any place to escape to."
Archie rubbed the sweat from his brow with a dirty rag, and replied, "You're right about that, Fred. I've been running so long, and hard, I forgot why I started. The only thing I remember seeing were the engines outside of my home, and crying as they carried my family out; what happened between then and now, I can't say."
Carol replied from behind the bar, "it's probably for the best, Archie. There are times when our mind blanks out the bad things so that we can move on."
A middle-aged man enquired from the darkened corner of the room, "Why do you think you're running from yourself, and not the past, Archie?"
The crowd turned to face the corner, as he replied, "I've been chasing the stories so long, I forgot I had a family. I think in the end, one of my stories got too close to the truth, and somebody put the heat on, to scare me. Whoever set the fire went too far, and I lost everything."
Carol poured herself a small beer and came out from behind the counter, her dress swishing in the slight breeze. In the bar there were few tables and fewer patrons; most of the crowd knew each other. Outside all you could see was mile after mile of empty desert. She sat at the table next to Archie and enquired, "What are you chasing this time?"
He turned slightly to see her for the first time, and answered with a sigh, "I don't know, Carol. I've been driving so long I don't know where I'm heading," Archie paused to look out of the grimy window, with a nod, he continued, "other than out there."
The man in the corner enquired, "If you don't know what you're after, how will you tell if you find it?"
Archie smiled and said, "I guess I won't until the story has the right feel to me. That's the problem being a reporter, and you have to keep going where the story takes you; even if it isn't where you intended to go."
Carol moved slightly, her fingers touching Archie's dirt covered fingers; he turned to look her way, and she smiled back. Her dark hair matched the color of her tanned skin beautifully. "You look tired Archie, when did you last sleep?"
He paused to think, then answered, "I can't recall the last time I slept in a bed, Carol. Most nights I nap in the car when I get too tired to drive, or my eyes get too salty to see." Archie took a gulp of his beer, and enquired, "If you don't mind me asking, what's your story, Carol?"
She winked at him and replied, "There's no problem; everybody knows me.I had a messy relationship and came out here to escape a clingy man. He never gave me space, in the end it got too much for me, and I walked out on him. I took my car and drove until I had to stop. When I parked up for the night, it was pitch dark, and I never saw this place. I woke the next morning and decided this was where I would stay. In the beginning it was hard, nobody came for weeks. But gradually people drifted in, and the rest is history as they say."
Archie looked at the people sitting at the bar, and at the tables, and said, “You've made a lot of friends by the look of it, Carol. I’m pleased to see the place is thriving, after what you have been through, you deserve some success.”
Carol saw the glint of hidden romance emerging in Archie’s’ smile as she replied, “Thanks, but you should stick around for the busy times. In the next few weeks, this place will become so popular with bikers I won't be able to cope on my own. They're always willing to lend a hand for a meal, or a drink of beer. What I need is a man around the joint on a permanent basis,” she looked at Archie and gave a wicked grin.
He had not come here with any intention, but Archie got the idea he might fit in with this group of people. “I'm willing to stay, for now I'm at a loose end,” he said tipping the brow of his hat Carol’s way.
She flashed her winning smile and replied, “I'll drink to that.”