Traveling Man



Traveling Man


The server put the plate of scrambled eggs and bacon on the counter and said, “Here you are, Hon. More coffee?”


            “Are you traveling?” she said as she filled his cup.

            “Yes. What’s the name of this town?”

            The server paused for a minute and studied his face before saying, “Don’t you know where you are?”

            Paul looked at her.

            “You’re in Glendive, Hon,” she said, thinking people usually knew the name of the town they were in, even if they were just stopping for something to eat on their way through, as this man obviously was.

            “In Montana, right?” Paul said.

            “Yes, in Montana.” The server waited few moments then said, “Where are you going?”


            “Out of Glendive? That’s highway 200 off the Interstate, just a few miles west of here,” she said. Paul didn’t say anything. She persisted. “Why are you going north? Nobody ever goes north. There’s nothing out there.” When Paul didn’t say anything, she put her hand on his and said, “Are you all right?”

            “No.” Paul stared at her hand, felt her warmth soaking into his skin.

            “Maybe you should get some help.” She squeezed his hand then moved off to wait on another customer farther down the counter.

            Paul finished breakfast, left a generous tip by his plate and stood by the cash register, waiting to pay his bill.

            The server put the few coins in his hand, smiled and said, “It’s big and it’s empty up North. Don’t get lost out there.”


He eased out of the parking lot, onto the street then caught Interstate 10 West on the edge of town. A few minutes later he saw the off-ramp, took it and rolled onto State Route 200, going north. Going nowhere, but remembering.


Maybe you better get some help the server had said. Paul grimaced. What kind of help could ever erase the memory of what had happened to him? He knew every shrink in Tucson, had spent hours with them trying to make some sense of that night’s horror.




Gayle walked into the bedroom and stood by the dresser. Paul, propped up on pillows, put his book down and said, “Oh, you’re coming to bed.”

            “No, not yet.” She opened the dresser’s top drawer, pulled out a pistol, cocked it and pointed it at him.

            Paul’s eyes flared. “Gayle, what the hell?”

            “This is for you,” she said, put the muzzle against the roof of her mouth and pulled the trigger.

            “Jesus Christ,” he screamed, jumped out of bed and stood still, frozen, unable to move. Gayle lay on her back, legs twisted under her body, eyes open, the top of her head blown off.

            Paul knew she was dead.


The coroner’s inquest determined Gayle Morgan deliberately put the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. Her death was ruled a suicide. A follow-up investigation by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department revealed Gayle had bought the gun, a Model 13 Smith and Wesson .357 magnum with a three-inch barrel, from a local pawn shop for $729.00 two months before she killed herself. A 50-round box of ammunition was thrown in, free-of-charge, by the pawn shop owner to sweeten the sale.


Their life together was happy, warm, and caring, at least to Paul’s way of thinking. Both were into successful careers; Gayle a skilled surgical nurse, he a sergeant, and soon-to-be lieutenant, with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. They had no children by choice, only two years of house payments left and no financial worries. They were young, in their early thirties.

            The successful couple everybody envied.




Gayle Morgan did not leave a suicide note. The speculation on why she killed herself in front of Paul was unrestrained and cruel; he was having an affair, and this was her way of punishing him; she was having an affair, and this was her way of ending it; they were heavy into drugs and Gayle, stoned beyond reality, didn’t know what she was doing.

            None of it was true. Why Gayle Morgan killed herself would remain unexplained.


Paul sat down on one of two chairs in front of the desk. Sheriff Hynes shuffled some papers, put them to one side then cleared his throat. “Paul, I’m approving a three-month extension of your medical leave. Paid, of course. Your counselor recommended the extension.” The sheriff tapped a manila folder on his desk with his finger. “It’s all in here. This is your copy.” He slid the folder across the desk to Paul.

            “Three more months of paid medical leave,” Paul repeated. “When?”

            “Now, starting today.” The sheriff cleared his throat again. Paul thought the sheriff might be dreading what he had to say. “Get away from Tucson for a while, Paul. Go fly fishing in Canada or scuba diving in Belize. Learn something new to keep from thinking, from remembering.”

            Paul nodded. “Sure, get away.” He said the words as if he was detached and didn’t grasp their significance.

And now he was in Montana. His car hummed along the thin asphalt strip of State Route 200 North, stretching over treeless brown hills that undulated across the prairie like waves rolling over a vast and empty ocean. In this bleached and barren space Paul thought time could stand still and nothing could happen. How nice that would be. Nothing happening. Time frozen. No past. No future. Just the vacuum of now.

            Paul saw a herd of antelope, heads down, grazing on one of the hillsides near the highway. Tawny coats blended in with the brown grass, making them difficult to see. They raised their heads as his car approached. Sensing no danger, they returned to grazing. They were first living things he had seen in over two of hours traveling in this desolate landscape.


            Cresting a hill, Paul saw a cluster of buildings in the distance surrounding a tall rectangular structure that looked like a grain elevator. A town? He decided to stop for a cup of coffee or maybe a beer.

            A faded and peeling sign greeted him as he neared the cluster of buildings:


Population 189

Elevation 2723 feet

            Paul slowed to the posted speed limit then stopped in front of the only bar he saw among the few buildings scattered along one side of the highway. He got out and stood by his car. One other vehicle, a battered pickup truck that looked like it had been abused for years, was parked a few feet away. The town seemed quiet and deserted, giving him the sensation that people did not live here.

            He stood just inside the door for a few moments, letting his eyes adjust to the dim interior before moving to the bar and sliding onto a chrome stool covered with red vinyl cracked and dried from age.

            The bartender, a white apron tied high on his expanding body, approached, put both hands on the bar as if bracing himself for Paul’s response and said, “What’ll you have?”

            “A draft beer.” Paul put a ten-dollar bill on the bar.

            The bartender nodded, picked up the ten and went away.

            Paul looked along the bar. An old man with a full grey beard and a head of grey hair blossoming from his skull like prairie bunchgrass then falling to his shoulders sat three stools away. The old man hunched over a beer bottle, wiping beads of moisture from it with a calloused thumb, creating a ring of water on the scarred wood surface. The old man turned and stared at Paul with cornflower-blue eyes that looked out of place in a wrinkled face tanned the color of walnut shells.

            The bartender returned, put a large mug of beer and change in front of Paul and went away.

            “Do you shoot pool?” the old man asked after Paul had taken a swallow of beer.

            “You look like god,” Paul said.

            The old man laughed. “Out here, kid, everybody’s god.” He took a swallow of beer. “And they could be,” he said after putting the bottle in the wet ring on the bar’s surface. “Do you shoot pool? the old man asked again.


            “Loser buys the next round.”          The old man slipped off the stool, pulled a quarter from a pocket of his worn and faded jeans and said, “Call it.” The coin spun in the air.


            The old man looked at the coin on the back of his hand. “Tails. You lose, kid.”

            Paul sat on the bar stool and watched the old man run the table. The balls rattled in the pockets like dry bones rattling in a tin cup before dropping to the bottom. When the last ball rocketed into a corner pocket the old man put the cue stick in the wall rack and said, “You lost, kid. Sometimes things are out of your control and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. You accept the loss and move on.” The old man stared at Paul with those faded blue eyes. “You move on, kid, you move on.” Then the old man grinned and said, “After you buy the next round.”

            Paul signaled the bartender for two more beers. “What are you doing here?” Paul asked after the bartender had brought the beers and drifted away.

            “Same thing you are, kid, waiting for answers.”

            “Answers to what?”

            “To prayers, kid, to prayers. Everybody’s praying, asking for answers.” The old man laughed, took a pull at the beer bottle, banged it on the bar and said, “Even you, kid, even you want answers.”

            The  intensity in the old man’s voice startled Paul. “You’re listening to prayers?”

            “Yep.” The old man took another swallow of beer, set the bottle down and sighed. “Day and night, I listen to prayers.” He turned his cornflower-blue eyes on Paul. “What are you listening to?”

            “I’m not listening to anything.”

            “Sure you are, kid. Everybody is listening to something or asking for answers. It’s why you ended up...” The old man paused, tapped the bar’s surface with a weathered finger and said, “It’s why you ended up out here. You’re not going to find it, kid. Not here. Nobody ever finds answers out here.”

            “Why are you here?”

            “It’s my job.”

            Paul didn’t know what to say. He thought the old man might be one of those eccentric characters every small town had, a harmless but colorful person adding a little charm to an otherwise dreary and colorless place. “Listening to prayers is your job?”

            “Yep.” The old man took another swallow of beer.

            “Do you like it?”

            “Nope. It’s a tough job.”

            “Why don’t you quit if you don’t like it?”

            “Son, you just don’t up and quit being god. Once that responsibility’s been dumped on your shoulders, you can never get out from under it.” The old man sighed. “Listening to those prayers every day, all that pleading and begging, the whining and the promises made. It just wears a man down after a while, hollows him out until there’s not a damn thing left inside.”

            Paul laughed, trying to humor the old man. “Make it easy on yourself. Don’t answer them.”

            “I never do, but the bastards keep asking.” The old man wiped the beer bottle with his callused thumb, adding more moisture to the growing puddle on the bar. “You better leave, kid. There aren’t any answers out here for you. Never have been.” The old man took another swallow of beer. “The answers people want are always behind them, never in front.” He emptied the bottle, tapped it on the bar and said, “Amos, another beer. Just one. The kid’s leaving.”

            After Amos had brought the beer, the old man turned to Paul and said, “Sometimes, kid, there aren’t any answers.”

            “How do you know that?”

            The old man laughed. “What did you call me when you came in?”

            Paul peered at the old man’s face, trying to catch some hint of sarcasm or perhaps playfulness at his expense.

            The old man took a swallow of beer. “So long, kid.”*


“You’re back,” the server said when Paul sat down at the counter. She glanced at her watch. “That only took six hours. I told you there wasn’t anything out there.” She held her pen over her order pad. “What will you have, Hon?”


            Paul finished eating, left another generous tip on the counter and stood by the cash register, waiting to pay his bill.

            The server handed him his change. “Well, traveling man, you’ve got three directions left. Which way are you going now?”


            “What’s there?”



 Robert P. Bishop


Robert P. Bishop is the author of three novels and four short-story collections, the two most recent being Syndrome and Other Stories, and, Payback and Other Stories, available on Amazon. His work has appeared in Active Muse, Ariel Chart, Better Than Starbucks, Clover and White, CommuterLit, Corner Bar Magazine, Fleas on the Dog, The Ink Pantry, Literally Stories, The Literary Hatchet, Lunate Fiction, The Scarlet Leaf Review, Spelk and elsewhereHe lives in Tucson, Arizona.


  1. Loved reading about Paul's physical and mental journey. Well done.

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