Ed Stanko was gnarled as a crabapple, knobbed and hard. He hated too many people to remember them all. From that fatass Flossie Reilly onward, a hundred or more (a thousand if you counted the service, millions if you counted all the goddamn Koreans). His wife and kids as well, goddamn them. Let them weep at his casket; he swore if there was an afterlife he'd curse them from the very brink of hell.

God damn them all.

He was a hard man, hard as a crabapple, and only worms could soften him. (He laughed at the thought.) It wouldn't last, the fires of hell would turn him hard again, hard as a cinder. He had been a coward all his life and so for a long time couldn't turn his hate to anything of value. Then Flossie died and the hotel was his, thanks to the GI Bill and a tax auction, and he sat there all day now, in the piece of shit lobby, a room no bigger than a Holiday Inn room, drinking beer and hating and looking out at the road. It was something to do in this piece of shit life (twice a week he shaved with a straight razor, Thursdays he drank a shot of cognac neat; every night he watched TV with the wife until he slept, in good weather his kids would come over and cut the lawn or fix a broken window, but this was March, half mud and slush and grey as his wife's ass, and no one came near).

There was no more hotel. He'd turned the place to four cramped apartments as soon as he got it, turned the lobby into a tavern. It was too much goddamn trouble. He'd closed it up years ago, sold all the inventory but the shelf of cognac and a huge blue jar of pickled eggs which still sat there like dead babies in an abortion ad. Sundays he opened the door and sold the Roanoke paper. It was something to do, pocket change. He had an eleven percent disability from the army for a gimp leg and, thanks to Flossie and Uncle Sam, made the rest of his money screwing social services out of rent for these sad-ass tenants who in Korea or somewhere else would (and probably should) have been put to death. There was a mongrel half-wit in his fifties who couldn't remember his full name, a fat slut with four kids covered with scabs, an old fart all dressed up in a gaberdine suit that smelled of piss and mothballs, and a hard-looking but uppity woman named Eleanore with black hair and murderous eyes who could have been a whore once. Sometimes they would try to complain about something, a sink without a washer, a slow radiator, rats. He put an end to that soon enough, threatened to tell social services that they took drugs or broke things, threw them out on their sorry asses.

Otherwise sometimes a car would stop and some asshole show up at the door, expecting quaintness or country wisdom. Their wives and kids would peer around the beaming assholes at the door. What the fuck do you want? Ed would say then laugh as they drove away.

He had been a coward. No one liked him. It was a life. Each morning he woke up surprised and a little disappointed that he'd made it to another goddamn day in this empty stinking valley.