The day after Nixon
resigned a Greyhound bus pulled up at Beto Junction on its route to Albuquerque.
Last time this had happened was the day JFK visited Dallas.
who alighted stood tall and wore a dusty brown fedora, an overly large trench
coat and desert army boots. He carried a large, weather-beaten leather suitcase
in one hand and though he’d never called that way before, walked with a purpose
up the rise towards a small diner.
At the Beto Junction Diner, Paul Vance
prepared for the day. Too early for his usual breakfast customers, he poured
himself a coffee and went back to turn on the grill.
When he returned,
the stranger was seated at the counter. “Hi buddy, what’ll it
“Coffee,” the stranger answered. He sat down and took off his hat.
He reminded Paul of Johnny Cash ‘cept for the hair, with was steel grey white.
Paul couldn’t place the accent; someplace north of Kansas, perhaps.
“Cream?” The man shook his head but helped himself to
Paul noticed the large suitcase that sat on the floor next to the
“Planning on staying? Only one boarding room in town. Motel
closed two years ago.”
“Just passing through. Name’s Hannigan. Travelling
salesman. Last of a dying breed.”
“A bagman; dying breed for sure. Let me
guess? Encyclopaedias? Not much call for books here.”
“No, nothing like
that.” The stranger put his cup down. “You wouldn’t be
“That’s not much of a sales pitch.”
smiled, leaned over to pick up his case and placed it on the counter. It was old
and one corner had been hastily repaired with Band-Aid. He clicked both locks
that snapped back loudly.
“Okay, you’re not going to believe me.” He opened the suitcase. It revealed clear empty plastic bags. Some were plain, others had
labels stuck on, either red, yellow or green.”
“Plastic. You’re selling
plastic bags!” Paul exclaimed. He laughed.
“I’m not selling, son. I’m
buying and trading”
“I’m trading memories, dreams.
Those yellow tag bags, those are memories I’ve got to trade. The ones with the
red tags are the ones I’ve bought. Green ones are customer orders. We do mail
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No sir. It’s a new concept
from Japan called Kioku, that’s memory in Japanese. We pay you to take a memory
away: ten dollars. Everyone’s got a bad memory or two, right. You gotta replace
it so you get a new one to choose from. There’s a chemical compound in each bag,
that’s the secret.”
“You’re kidding me…”
what happens to the memories you buy?”
“We export them. Canada, Mexico
mostly. They pay a hundred bucks for an American's memory. Makes them feel
“Can I interest you? You must have a
bad memory or two in that head of yours Mr…?”
“Vance. Yeah, a few but I
wish I’d never set eyes on Erline.”
“Bad romance, well there you go. Try
“Cheatin’ whore. Do anything to forget her”
up. “Here’s ten bucks, take a plain bag, think of Erline and blow into it.
That’s all you do. Then tell me what kind of memory you want to replace
“Ten bucks, for blowing into a bag!” He choose a plain bag, thought
of his ex-wife and blew. He sensed that cheap perfume she always wore then
handed Hannigan the bag and watched as he sealed it and attached a red label on
“How’s Erline?” Hannigan asked.
Hannigan grinned. “My mistake. Okay, you choose. Have any kind
of memory you want from this list.”
Paul read out loudly “High school
prom, sport, War…Sex?”
“Sure. That’s our best seller. If you’re lucky you
can get a Jane Fonda and you’ll remember it as if it was real. Oh wait, I only
got one of those and that’s off a guy I bought it off. It’s red bagged so it’s
not for sale.”
“I want a sex memory. You said I could have anything I
“This is highly irregular, but you seem like a regular guy.
Here…” He handed a bag over. “Don’t blow. Inhale. It’ll take about twelve hours
to take effect.” He handed Paul a bag. He hesitated and looked at Hannigan who
nodded. “Go on. Could be Jane Fonda…”
He opened the bag and sucked in
air. This time he smelled the sweet sickly aroma of orchids. Hannigan took the
bag, looked inside then peeled the red label off and tossed it into the
“Hey Paul, any chance of service here?” Paul glanced down the
counter as two of his regulars walked in.
“Sure, be right there. Wait
He walked over, took their orders and walked back. A
five-dollar bill and a coffee cup sat on the counter. Paul walked over to the
door but there was no sign of the bagman.
That night Paul Vance dreamt
about the best sex he’d ever had. She was blonde with a body like dynamite. It
was so real… He dreamt about her again that day. Got so excited he closed early.
It was great. On the second night, he dreamt about her again, then just as he
climaxed, she screamed. He woke up sweating. The third night he saw his hands
grip her neck. It was a memory he couldn’t escape. Each time he thought about
her he saw more detail. Her body, her lips, a discarded red dress with a corsage
of orchids, a broken set of paste pearls and her fingernails digging into his
face as his hands gripped tightly around her delicate neck. He saw the room,
patterned wallpaper, the Topeka Times on a table and a calendar displaying the
fourth of June that year. Through a window, he saw a clock tower. There was a
wall mirror. He saw himself in it except it wasn’t him. It was
Paul Vance had never visited Topeka but after two weeks of his
recurring nightmare he took the bus out there.
Topeka only has one clock
tower. He found it. The Menninger Clock tower was a building housed as part of a
psychiatric unit and there’d been a murder at an adjoining building that June. A
nurse called Annie Kopesky had been strangled. He asked questions about it. Too
many questions. A guy from campus security notified the police who arrested
He explained his story about Hannigan and Kioku and about his
dreams. He told them things only the killer could have known, about the orchid
and paste pearls. The police checked but found no company called Kioku. They
even called Tokyo. After three days of interrogation Paul Vance was charged with
first degree murder.
At his trial, someone called Erline, who claimed to
be his ex-wife, testified he had a violent temper. He swore blind he’d never met
her but no-one believed him, especially when she produced wedding photos. A guy
in a dusty brown fedora sat in the courtroom every day. He carried a large
weather-beaten suitcase with Band Aid on one side. Paul screamed out each day
that he was the real murderer but no-one took any notice.
They found him
guilty but insane and from his cell at the Topeka Asylum Paul Vance has a nice
view of the clock tower. He still dreams of Nurse Kopesky and wonders who Erline