He spent two summers modeling western wear. Because of his raw, dark good looks he came to be in demand, and his pay shot up to five dollars an hour, and seven fifty if he had to work over eight hours. During those two years he graduated from high school, and enrolled into a Jr. College. He studied to be a mechanical engineer. His grades were good, but his heart wasn’t in it, and he dropped out. Then during that summer he found a job at Diablo an erstwhile mockup of an old west town. He hired on as one of three outlaws that daily robbed the stagecoach to the amusement of the paying customers.
Merle loved this job; he loved the horses, the smell of the barns, and black powder, Merle was content to stay there forever, but then he got drafted into the Army. This was during the Korean conflict. He flourished in the army; it turned out he was a deadly shot with both the M1 and the Colt .45. He was more than a little embarrassed that he was traveling around the various posts showing off his shooting skills while he buddies were facing a vicious enemy, and deadly cold weather. But this plum of a job ended when a lieutenant, a sadistic bastard, filed phony charges against a friend of Merles. Merle came to his friend’s defense. The lieutenant punched Merle in the stomach. Merle had a flashback to his father striking him, and beat the pulp out of the officer. During war time this is a hanging offence, but because of his reputation as a marksman, he was broke down to PFC and fined two months pay. The lieutenant was transferred.
Mark Sterling stepped into the hallway and grimaced at the smell of urine, and cleanser; he wondered, for the hundredth time, if all small hotels smelled the same. The hall mirrored his room, with the broken floor tiles, peeling paint on the walls, and half the ceiling light bulbs missing. Merle made his way down the hall, and down the creaking stairs, to step outside into the early morning mist. Mark took a deep breath and resisted the urge to cough. Standing in the entry way to the hotel, Mark Sterling’s eyes swept the street as if he owned it. The street was inhabited by night people. Trucks of various sizes were delivering supplies, an old woman fishing for something in a dumpster beside a deli. Three old men squatted in a darkened alley, passing around a paper bag; probably Mad Dog wine. One of the old men shouted something at Mark, but Mark didn’t catch what he said.
Mark recognized the fact that at one time he’d been one of their number: a homeless drunk, until he turned his life around with the help of Central Mission, and AA.