Ivy Leaf - Spring 2011
John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel
About the author
Kenneth A. Womack is the associate dean for Academic Affairs at Penn State Altoona. He is the author of numerous works of nonfiction, including Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles. John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel, published by Switchgrass Books, is his first novel and recently was announced as one of Foreword Reviews' 2010 Book of the Year award finalists. Representing more than 350 publishers, the finalists were selected from 1,400 entries in fifty-six categories. The winners will be announced in June.
About John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel
On April 19th, 1995, a truck bomb explodes in front of Oklahoma City's Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people in the ensuing wreckage and devastation. Within a matter of hours, the FBI launches the largest manhunt in U.S. history, identifying the suspects as Timothy James McVeigh, a Desert Storm veteran and weapons aficionado, and John Doe No. 2, a stocky twentysomething with a telltale tattoo on his upper left arm. Eventually, the FBI retracts the elusive mystery man as a bombing suspect altogether, proclaiming that McVeigh had acted alone and that John Doe No. 2 was the byproduct of unreliable eyewitness testimony in the wake of the attack.
This is his story.
With his peculiar ironic vision, "JD" narrates his secret life with McVeigh among America's militia culture, as well as their hair-raising entanglements with undercover federal agents. Along the way, the duo quenches their thirst for adventure by buzzing the security forces at Nevada's notorious Area 51 and slipping into the ruins of the Branch Davidians' Mount Carmel Center in Waco. John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel is the tragicomic account of McVeigh's last, desperate months of freedom, with JD traveling as the bomber's sidekick from one gun show to another, crisscrossing the country in McVeigh's beloved Chevy Geo Spectrum, and preparing to unleash one of the deadliest acts of terrorism in the nation's history.
Excerpted from John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel
Chapter 1: The Dreamland Motel
Timothy McVeigh is throwing firecrackers at you from across the room.
You are sitting on top of a bedspread in what you would generously describe as a "seedy" motel. The kind of motel that rents rooms by the hour and whose deserted, rectangular swimming pool has a milky sheen to its perpetually unrippled surface. The kind of motel that has a miniature refrigerator next to a narrow, unforgiving bed into which you can feed quarters to experience a halfhearted electrical massage.
You know intuitively that the refrigerator has never seen anything north of a six-pack of beer on the food pyramid, and you are well aware that the bedspread that you are sitting on is exactly the kind of bedspread that your mother has been warning you about all these years. Patterned in a faded, greenish print of garish flowers and ornamental swirls, it is oddly slick and filmy to the touch. You are repulsed by its grotesquerie.
Your mother told you that motels never wash these things, that it's too much trouble, that it's too expensive to buy all that detergent, and, besides, no one stays in these rooms for long anyway. That's why the TV doesn't get H.B.O., the picture isn't all that good, and the yellowed copy of TV Guide on the nightstand is more than two years old. Your mother warned you that whatever you do, you must never—never—allow your pristine, naked skin to touch the bedspread directly or you will very likely break out in a rash the next morning. A painful, potentially scarring red rash that lasts for days and days and days on end. But that's not what's bothering you right now.
What's bothering you right now is that your room is located directly next door to the motel's reception office. You could tell from the awkward glances of the burly, droopy-eyed manager with the wide forehead that she was suspicious of you and your roommate from the get-go, that you must be up to no good—that you would have to be, given that you don't look anything like the truckers and the hookers who normally pull off I-70 into her gravelly parking lot.
You know that she is putting you and your companion into Room 25 so that she can keep tabs on you—like this morning when she ran into you next to the ice machine, which is even more dangerous, with its microbes and its mold, than the bedspread could ever hope to be, and asked what you were doing up so early, this being a weekend and all.
You know that you have already told Timothy McVeigh—you were as explicit and uncompromising as you can ever possibly get—that you don't like the way the manager is acting, that you should keep a low profile, that you should check into the Super 8 just off the interstate. You know that the last thing—the very last thing—she needs to hear from the manager's desk right next door, through the thinnest of cheap motel walls, is a bunch of firecrackers popping off.
But Timothy McVeigh doesn't listen to you. He never listens to you. Just like he's not listening to you right now when you warn him—in the most direct, most unambiguous tones that you can reasonably muster—that he would be very mistaken to throw another firecracker in your direction.
Sporting a blank look on his thin, emotionless face, he sits Indian style on the twin bed opposite your own with his back resting against the far wall of your dilapidated motel room. You can tell that he is preparing to launch his next fusillade, gingerly removing yet another firecracker from the plastic sandwich baggie that rests in his lap and fidgeting with the Bic lighter in his free hand.
Your mother was very clear when she told you, all those years ago, that you must never play with firecrackers, that they are not a toy, and—here's the really important thing—that they should never discharge anywhere near the vicinity of the head region or serious injury could result. Namely, you could damage your hearing or, worse yet, go blind in one or both eyes. You repeat this to Timothy McVeigh but to no avail. You watch in revulsion as he lights another firecracker and limply tosses it in your direction, where it explodes near the lamp, toppling the TV Guide off of the nightstand in the process.
You advise Timothy McVeigh, in the most strident tones possible, that if he throws another firecracker you will have no choice but to retaliate. Using terms that he could not possibly fail to understand, you tell him that you will be like President Bush taking on Saddam and the Republican Guard back in Desert Storm. You tell him that you are drawing a line in the sand. A metaphorical line, but a line nonetheless. You glare at him a little longer, indicating the gravity of your intent, but the flicker in his eyes tells you that he very seriously doubts your resolve.
"You don't have the stones," says Timothy McVeigh as he prepares to light another firecracker.
But before he can launch another salvo, you are on him with a vengeance—your preternaturally staid demeanor erupting in an unexpected fury. You are punching him about the neck and upper body with all of your might. You feel your knuckles pounding and quickening as they come into contact with the bony chest cavity beneath his faded maroon T-shirt. You surprise yourself at the sudden, involuntary nature of your attack as you begin pummeling him about the face and he extends his arms in a brashly ineffective attempt to deflect your blows down toward his shoulders and torso.
You are taken aback that he doesn't return a single punch, but that doesn't stop you from slugging him a little longer—and a little more forcefully at that. You are caught unawares and a little bothered—Why lie about it?—that part of you is enjoying the unfamiliar release that you are getting from beating up another person, especially this person, with everything you've got.
You are a little surprised that, for all of your fury and anger, the whole one-sided bout scarcely lasts thirty seconds. It seems like an eternity, and you wish that it could go on a little more, that your euphoria might last just a bit longer before it disappears altogether, returning you back to that seedy motel room—Room 25 of the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kansas—with Timothy McVeigh.
You struggle to catch your breath as he lowers his arms in defeat, and you return to your corner of the room to regain your senses.
"I thought you people didn't go in for that sort of thing," says Timothy McVeigh, a tiny smile creeping across his narrow face as he shakes the cobwebs out of his head. He looks at you for an answer, but you fix your jaw in exaggerated silence.
"Whatever," he says, his voice dripping with disgust. Timothy McVeigh stands up, dusting himself off with his hands. "Let's roll," he announces, his face and arms still glowing beet-red from your barrage of fisticuffs.
You look around the room, at the rumpled bedspreads and the spent firecrackers scattered about the floor. You realize that you have no choice, really, but to roll.