A couple of vehicles rolled past them in the street, both pick-up trucks. A man went by leading a herd of goats. They scattered a few chickens that were pecking in the dirt. Hamm led the way to a two-story stucco building, stepping up under the low veranda. Maribelle couldn’t help but notice the walls, with their bullet holes like pox scars. She followed Hamm inside.
“They serve food in that room over there,” Hamm said, nodding to his left. “It won’t give you the trots. That’s the one good thing you can say about it.”
The man behind the counter said something Maribelle couldn’t understand, and Hamm answered him, “Yep.” Hamm started up the stairs. She followed.
The building was clean enough, though the walls hadn’t been painted in a long time. They might have been white once, maybe still were under several years’ worth of hard life. A ceiling fan hung from a long thin stalk, wobbling and squeaking as it spun, doing little to cool the room. The upper floor balcony encircled the lower room, and the doors of all the rooms opened out onto this balcony.
“My room’s here, next to yours,” Hamm said. “So you just holler if you need any help.”
“In case I get attacked by any baboons?” Maribelle asked. Hamm snickered. He opened the door to one of the rooms. It wasn’t locked.
“Here you go,” he said, laying her luggage on the single bed. The room had a bathtub, toilet, a small dresser and the bed. It had just one window. “This is the one a’ the few places in this whole stinkin’ shithole of a town that’s got hot water,” Hamm said. “Or runnin’ water at all, for that matter. You’re lucky.”
“Um, that’s good,” Maribelle said.
“Keep your door locked,” Hamm said. “An’ like I told you, holler if you need help. These walls are so thin you can hear a fart through ’em.”
“Aren’t we going out today?” Maribelle asked.
“Not today,” Hamm said. “I’m waitin’ on word from some of my, uh, contacts. To make sure it’s safe.”
“But it’s still so early,” Maribelle said.
“Now you lissen up,” Hamm said. “I’m gettin’ paid to make sure you get back home in one piece. Anything happens to you, I don’t get paid. So I ain’t takin’ no chances. That simple enough for you?”
“Please don’t talk to me like I’m stupid,” Maribelle said.
“I won’t,” Hamm said. “An’ you don’t act stupid. There’s been some trouble out near where we’re headed, an’ I mean to make sure it’s safe before I take you out there. Half those Warumbi bastards have got machine guns now.”
“Well, I guess I could use an evening to rest up,” Maribelle said.
“Right.” Hamm turned to leave. “Lock the door behind me,” he said, “an’ give a yell if any horny baboons try climbin’ in your window.”
Maribelle was glad to close the door after him. She didn’t bother unpacking her clothes, just left them in the bag. She sat down on the bed.
*Guess I could take a shower. I need to wash the dust off.* She was glad the room was on the second floor. The window had no curtains. *Maybe later.*
Maribelle got her laptop out of her backpack. She found the room’s solitary wall outlet and plugged in the computer. The screen lit up. The sounds of an argument, loud and ugly, came in through the open window. Maribelle began to type.