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Most of those people, save Kevin and Martin, I never saw again. Sue Mercer was part of the permanently vanished bunch. She was the red-headed Pentecostal girl from Minnesota living among the drifter-degenerates that squatted about town. She was fascinated by God and the mountains surrounding Wells. She talked about infinite variation in the ridges and individual grains of sand and how there were billions of burning stars no one had ever seen.
We were deeply in love, inhaling nasally, for a couple days. It ended as quickly as it began one yellow desert morning. The morning she saw a harbinger of Christ at the Burger King. Harbingers will do that. Donna's Ranch, a whore house in Wells, Nevada. All photos by Daniel C. The first time I stopped in Wells I was out of gas and money. After that, I drove in for days at a time, for a free roof. There are at least 20 abandoned brick-and-particle-board houses along the main drag with a broken window, or a hinge-less pine door you can move to the side.
More than half of them have a working sink and toilet. I went in to see what the inside of a whore house looked like. Televisions were on in the rooms that lined the long, skinny hallway behind the bar. Girls from the east coast were talking in the rooms and blue light from the televisions flashed out of their doorways, showing how dusty the air was. I bought a warm beer and looked at the ditto. Some of the faces were nice. None were thin. When I came out, Sue was standing on the roof of her Oldsmobile, peering out into the mountains, smashing a pair of binoculars hard against her face.
I was taking pictures of the run-down houses I slept in — the broken glass on the carpets, the shingle piles; and little tent-city where Kevin Denglo, Martin Penesi, and Kaia lived with their adopted dogs.
I was drunk , photographing my Whopper. Sue was laughing at her fish-wich, drawing pictographs — cat faces or spikey suns — in the condensation on the window. Sue decoded the Burger King bathroom and sat on the sink, laughing like crazy, breathing through her nose like a yogi. She wanted a cigarette. She turned her head over her shoulder toward me and leaned into the mirror.