Serial Saturday: The Figurine, Part 20

“So what do you reckon?” Jefferson asked. He and Temperance were standing near the hood of his Ford, looking at a map spread over his hood. Temperance looked down at the map, where little blue tufts marked the location of a swamp on the other side of town, then up at the sky.

“Going to be dark soon,” she said. “Maybe we should head into town first and wait for morning to check out the swamp.”

“Glass and her boys are still on the trail,” Jefferson said. “I’d as soon deal with whatever we gotta deal with before they catch up.”

Temperance smiled. “They wouldn’t be on our trail if you’d let me keep at them back there. But it’s up to you. This whole thing is your play.”

Jefferson let out a breath. “Hell, you’re probably right. We oughta get the lay of things, and you ain’t dressed for a swamp anyway.”

“And I can try calling Chipper again.”

They found the single hotel in town easily enough, a large building with peeling paint and the unoriginal name of the “Acushnet Hotel”, sitting on the corner of an intersection empty of cars or people.

Jefferson stepped from the car and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief as he walked around to the passenger door. “Too hot for anyone to be out, I reckon. Hell, folks around here probably get tuckered out just getting the name of their own dang town out, someone asks them for their address or something,” he said as he held the door open for Temperance.

“You get used to these things, when you grow up in a civilized state,” Temperance said airily, dragging her valise from the Ford. He knew better than to offer to carry it, no matter how heavy it was–Temperance liked to have ready access to the chopper whenever possible. He settled for gathering up what remained of her bags and his and heading for the hotel, staggering slightly.

“Guess if they have a bellhop the boy ain’t too alert,” he said as they made their way to the door. It seemed no one in the hotel was particularly alert. Jefferson and Temperance stood in the empty lobby for a few moments, looking around. There were a few chairs scattered about near end tables on the worn carpeting, and a fan on the high ceiling above them slowly shifted the hot air around. But there was no one in the lobby, nor behind the high reception desk. Jefferson dropped the bags he was holding, and after a moment located a bell on the desk, which he rang.

There was no sound in the hotel, other than a distant, muted “pop” as some old piece of timber expanded in the heat. Jefferson glanced over at the big grandfather clock in one corner of the lobby. It was as quiet as the rest of the place–looked to have stopped about six hours ago, in fact. Jefferson rang the bell again, and cocked his head to listen. After a few more long, silent moments, Temperance set her valise on the desk with a solid thump and unfastened the buckles holding it shut.

As if the sound of the bag hitting the counter had served better than the bell, there was finally an answering sound from the back office. Temperance rested her hand on the open valise as shuffling footfalls approached. As the clerk came through the door behind the desk, Jefferson glanced over and saw that Temperance was wearing a dazzling smile.

The clerk was a young man, Jefferson thought, though it was hard to tell, given his stooped shoulders and gray complexion. He ground to a halt and looked pointedly at the bag. Temperance leaned forward, draping her forearms on the valise and letting one hand slide into it. Her smile widened as she looked up at the clerk, but he made no reaction. A bead of sweat slowly rolled down Temperance’s cheek and hovered on her chin, but her eyes stayed locked on the clerk. He stared back with an expression that Jefferson couldn’t quite place. Somewhere, off in the hotel, another timber popped, and something released a long, low groan.

Jefferson cleared his throat. “Say, how ’bout a room?”

Copyright © 2012 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on August 18, 2012.