Valenti studies the photos Hubble gave him, in particular the shot of the dead girl he claimed to have photographed himself. She is lying on her back, behind a car with the license plate showing. The picture is old but the number is readable, barely. When he puts the number into the computer it comes back:
477 Sky Hawk Road
Bitter Lake, NM 24952
So Hubble did have a wife. Why lie about that? It doesnt make any sense. But there she is, dead behind her car with an alien handprint visible on her neck.
At the nursing home Valenti says to his father, You were right. Hubble had a wife. Hubble came to you, didnt he? He told you someone was trying to steal his car that night and that he found his wife dead, that she had a handprint on her. Just like the one you saw on that corpse in 1959. And that he saw a man run away. A drifter. And he thought the drifter was the murderer. Two years after the murder Hubble came back, didnt he? And he found you and persuaded you to help him find that drifter. Am i right?
A drifter? Dad says.
Valenti hands him the newspaper clipping. As Dad looks at it Valenti says, And when you found him you killed him. You killed an innocent man because of Hubble.
No! Dad exclaims.
Dad, please tell me what happened out there. Please.
I did help Hubble, Dad says. We tracked him. The drifter. We were just going to get the truth out of him. Hub told me he wouldnt hurt the man.
Hubble shot him, Valenti says. Didnt he? He shot the drifter, not you.
Whatever you do Jimmy, dont trust him. He’s a serpent.
Shatner and Frakes never showed up for the panel discussion of UFOs that’s supposed to be the highlight of the whole convention so i had to talk Hubble into taking their place. He finally agreed but said he had to get his slide show back at home at Bitter Lake. And his car was fucked up and so i end up driving him.
The desert at twilight is humid and the wind makes for a chilly ache. Red clay escarpments falling into dark and shadows sharp as razors. Winter’s chromatic face.
You dont think much of Valenti do you? Hubble says to me
I dont think of him at all. He’s a redneck sheriff in a redneck county in a redneck state.
Beautiful country, dont you think? Hubble says. Especially at at sunset.
I guess. It’s all i’ve ever known. Mr. Hubble, you said you would answer some of my questions.
My Shiela and me, we liked to slip away sometimes, just take a drive. Nothin’ like flyin’ down the highway with the woman you love at your side, is there?
Of course it has to be the right one. Know how you know that? A kiss, that’s how. Ever hear the expression, ‘the earth moved?’
Yessir. I surely have. Hemingway. For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Did it ever feel that way when you kissed a girl?
Well, i say. It sure wasnt a guy.
Smart ass, he says with frail, aching laughter. Well, it was our first anniversary. She told me she had a surprise for me. And i had one for her. I took the last of my paycheck from the refinery and bought some fireworks from an old indian by the side of the road. Just outside of town i remembered i forgot to bring matches. So i pulled into Peppers Cafe. But you know that, dont you?
Sir? I say in utter bewilderment.
There’s Peppers Cafe right over there. It’s been closed for years but there’s something i want to show you.
Now i know what he means by Peppers Cafe. It’s been closed all of my lifetime but is a kind of landmark.
You recognize it? Hubble says.
I dont know what you’re talking about, i say. I’ve never been here.
It is full dark and fully claustrophobic now as i get out of the car. I am feeling uneasy, i guess because this man who has seemed merely eccentric now appears to be a real crank and IDK if i should be worried or not.
He walks around for almost a minute while he revisits some dusty thing that happened here, that happened to him in the cobwebbed past. Finally he says, It was just getting dark. All i needed was a pack of matches and there they were right on the counter in a goldfish bowl. Ten cents a pack.
Mr. Hubble, i say, trying hard to be polite, If we’re going to make Bitter Lake in time to get back for the panel…
And you know what? He goes on. I didnt have it. Not even ten cents. I thought about going back and getting some loose change i had in the car’s ash tray but that wouldve broken the mood. I said, ‘Hey buddy, dont make me embarrass myself in front of my lady. It’s our anniversary.’ And he says, ‘Have a good time. It’s on the house.’ And he gave me a book of matches.
I dont understand, i say, getting more and more anxious.
But i didnt have a good time, he says, ignoring me. Not that night or any night since. She never got my surprise. And i never got hers. Not until i got a copy of the coroner’s report. But there it was. She was three months pregnant. A little girl, it said. She was carrying our child. Surprise!
That’s awful, Mr. Hubble, i say. I’m really sorry.
So am i! He rages. Four innocent people lost their lives that night. My wife, my baby. That drifter and me. Dead man walking. That’s what i’ve felt all there years. The only thing that’s held me together all these years was you.
Me? I say. But i dont even know you.
Well, i know you, he says turning to face me with a big ass automatic pistol in his hand, pointing right at the middle of my chest.
Whoa, i say, realizing that he is a madman. You are making one big mistake.
I dare not move while he has that gun on me at this close range. I could release enough EMR to turn him to atoms but to do that i’d have to raise my hand and he will surely kill me before i have time to even twitch.
I know you can change your face, your body. You’re a shape shifter ’cause you’re always running. You changed yourself to look like that drifter when you killed my Shiela, trying to take her car. What were you running from then? Somebody else find out your filthy little secrets?
Sir, i know you’re upset but i did not kill your wife. I wouldnt kill anybody.
And this crazy son of a bitch is gonna kill me if i dont do something fast.
Valenti told me about the healing, he says, working himself into homicidal lather. That girl with the handprint on her stomach. A handprint just like the one on Shiela.
I am not him, i say desperately. Whatever he was.
I know who you really are, what you’re capable of.and i wont let you kill again.
I am watching Hubble so closely that i dont see Michael but he sees me. When he yells Hubble takes his eyes off me just long enough that i close the gap to him and wrap my arms around him and take him to the ground. In all this confusion Michael is running this way and Hubble’s gun gets away from him and lands on the ground and we roll and struggle and i see him reach for the gun. He almost has it before i generate an EMR pulse that pushes the gun away.
Hubble sees this and struggles harder for the gun. He says, I knew it was you. You bastard!
And in this chaos a Sheriff’s car pulls up and Valenti steps out just as Hubble gets his gun back. And Hubble has me at gunpoint again.
Valenti walks toward us, his gun drawn.
Put the gun on the ground and step away from it, Hub, Valenti says.
It was him! Hubble shouts in triumph. I just saw it. I was right.
Saw what? Valenti says.
His powers. We have to stop him!
I dont know what he’s talking about, i say.
Liar! Hubble roars.
Put the gun down and walk away from it Hub, Valenti says with urgency.
This son of a bitch is gonna die today, Hubble says. And nothing’s gonna stop me so go ahead. Shoot me. Every round in that gun.
It only takes one, Valenti says.
Coward! Hubble says. Pussy! Your father was too chickenshit to do it and so are you.
I see Hubble’s eyes narrow and his finger starts to pull the trigger but Valenti’s gun speaks first and Hubble’s head disintegrates.
Valenti says, Max, i’m sorry. I didnt know this was gonna happen. I didnt know how crazy he was. How dangerous.
What did you tell him? I say in a swell of purple rage. Why did he come after me? You’re the sheriff. You’re supposed to protect me from this. But all you have ever done is go after me and make me hate my life. Do you believe all this crazy shit? You’re just like Hubble! You want my ass? Well, here it is. Take it. Just take me and be done with it!
Max, come on, Michael says. Settle down..
No, no, no, i say, shaking my head.
Son…, Valenti starts to say.
Would you treat your son like you have me?
Get out of here, Valenti says. Both of you. You were never here. Go on!
Come on, Max, Michael says. Let’s go.
I turn and walk away but Michael continues to watch me carefully. He says, That guy was crazy, Max. He didnt know what he was talking about.
He wasnt that crazy, i say. I think the one we’re looking for has killed people. A lot of people. Hubble found himself an alien. He just found the wrong one.