Monday, December 10, 2018

The Hotel – 25

I went up to my room, put on a sweatshirt over what I was wearing, added my jacket, and left the hotel. Edwin had been correct, it had stopped snowing. That made it easier for me to find him. I just had to follow his tracks in the snow. They went around the lake to the far side, then into the trees. I almost lost them at that point when a sudden breeze shook the branches, knocking snow over them, and me. I brushed if off, swearing as some of it went down my collar, and moved forward, my eyes pealed for any sign of where he'd gone. I picked his footprints up again a few yards further on and stopped dead. Beside them were the paw prints of a large animal.

Then, ahead of me, I heard Edwin say, "Orville should be here any time now."

There was no reply from, I presumed, Henry. I inched forward, trying to see where they were, afraid the wolf, if that's what the paw prints belonged to, was close by since its prints were still visible next to Edwin's. Had it been following him, I wondered.

Then I saw them. Edwin was squatting beside a huge wolf, his hand on the animal's back. They turned as one to look at me.

Edwin stood, shaking his head as he said to the wolf, "You should have warned me." Then, to me, he said, "I really wish you hadn't followed me."

"Are you…? Is he…? Where's Henry?" I stammered out.

Coming over, Edwin gripped my forearms. "Go back to the hotel, Austin."

"Not until you explain why you were talking to that wolf like he was a pet, or something."

He seemed about to reply when an older, brown-haired man I'd never seen before came into view, accompanied by another wolf. Edwin must have been blocking his view of me because he said, "Logan had to show me where you were."

"Logan should have warned you we have company," Edwin replied, turning to him.

"So I see," the man replied. Since he was wearing a tan uniform under a winter jacket, it didn't take me long to figure out he must be the sheriff. He held out his hand. "I'm Orville. Edwin mentioned you when he spoke with me."

"Austin," I replied, swallowing hard as we shook hands. I didn't know what was going on but whatever it was, it scared the hell out of me.

Orville smiled dryly as he said to Edwin, "I take it he didn't know."

"I have the feeling he does, now, although he doesn't believe it." Edwin glanced at me. "Or doesn't want to believe it." He gripped my arm again. "You wanted to know where Henry was. He's right here." He nodded to the first wolf. Almost instantly it vanished and Henry stood in its place, fully dressed.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Guardian Angels – Ambivalent - 28

Mike didn't read Link the riot act, but he did explain to him that a lot of the kids ran away rather than face continued abuse—physical, verbal and/or sexual—at home.
"You're a cop," Mike said when he finished his lecture. "Why the hell don't you know this?"
"I do," Link protested, "on a mental level. Emotionally though… That kid had bruises on both arms and no backpack and…" He shook his head. "He must have run away so fast he didn't even pack anything."
"Possibly. Probably. At least he found us. One of the counselors will make certain he gets a pack and a couple of changes of clothing. That's the best we can do, other than feed him tonight and give him a safe place to sleep."
"He can't stay?"
"He can spend the day here if he wants, but he'll still have to line up again tomorrow evening for a bed and a meal. If he's lucky, he'll get them again. If not…" Mike sighed. "It's a fact of life for kids on the streets, Link. We only have so much room and some of it's taken up by the Thirty-Day kids. Unfortunately, he'll probably leave in the morning and try his hand at begging to get enough to buy something to eat and from there—it's a vicious circle. Try for a bed, and if a shelter doesn't have one, try to find a safe place to spend the night and start all over again the next day."     
"That sucks," Link muttered.
"No shit. Now we'd better get back before Paddy blows a fuse."
Link nodded. "Are you and he…"
"We're friends, nothing more."
"Good," Link barely whispered but Mike heard him anyway and wondered why he sounded so relieved.
For sure it can't be what I'm thinking. We've only known each other for a few hours. And I'm not sure I can even call it knowing. He's here to do a job. Tomorrow it could be someone else, just like it was yesterday. Still, it would be nice if it was Link again. Mike wasn't certain why he felt that way, but at the moment he did.
* * * *
"I'll drive you home to make sure you get there safely," Link told Mike as he, Mike and Paddy left the shelter for the night. "I'm parked in a lot two blocks from here."
"You don't have to. That's my job," Paddy growled before Mike could reply.
"And mine," Link said firmly. "I'm the cop who's assigned to this case. You're just"—he grinned mockingly—"the hired help. And you don't have a car. Right?"
Paddy nodded, muttering "Right" as he clenched his hands angrily. At the moment he wanted nothing more than to strangle the young officer. Emphasis on young. "How the hell old are you by the way?" he asked tightly.
Link grinned. "Not as old as you, but old enough."
"That did not answer my question."
"I know. I'm twenty-five."
"You look like you're barely old enough to go into a bar."
"And that, Paddy, is why Detective Massey assigned me to this case." Link turned to Mike, repeating his offer.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Hotel – 24

I hit up the bathroom then got dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved turtleneck. I debated going downstairs to wait for everyone to arrive for breakfast then decided to wake them. At least some of them had made it clear they planned on sleeping-in which would prolong the agony, so to speak. I went door to door, telling them I wanted them in the dining room as soon as possible. When they asked why, I fended off their questions, saying I wanted to tell everyone at the same time. Of course, being smart people, most of them figured out it had something to do with Tessa but they didn't push it.

I faced a very worried troupe when they were all assembled at the communal dining table half an hour later.

"If you haven't figured it out already," I said, "They found Tessa."

"Alive?" Caitlin asked, though her expression said she knew that wasn't the case.

"No. She…her body was hidden under a pile of fallen trees from what I've been told."

"Hidden?" Ramsey said. "As in purposely put there?"

"Apparently," I replied.

Noah frowned. "How do they know she didn't crawl under the trees to get away from the rain, or the snow? It rained before she left. We know that from the footprints. If she was, I don't know, pissed at whoever was with her and took off and then got caught in the snow…"

"I have no idea, Noah," I replied. "All I know is what Edwin told me. Someone put her body where Henry found it."

"I want out of here," Jenn said, jumping to her feet. "I won't stay where someone could kill me, too."

Kirby grabbed her hand to stop her. "The police won't let you leave."

"The sheriff," I said, "although it's the same thing right now. You're right, Kirby. He won't let any of us leave, at least not until he talked to all of us."

Knowing Ramsey, I half expected him to suggest we eat while we waited, but he didn't. For almost the first time since I've known him, he wandered over to the credenza where breakfast was laid out, shook his head, and came back with a cup of coffee and nothing more. The others seemed equally as reluctant to eat, although Noah and Marsh got sweet rolls and juice.

We were all tense and nervous so I decided to see if I could find Edwin and Henry. If nothing else, I might learn if they'd discovered anything at all that might tell us who killed her. Marsh offered to come with me. I declined, asking his to try to keep anyone from having a meltdown since he was the most stable of the group.


"Yep, you. You're the only one without an ounce of drama in your blood," I replied. "If any of them act like they're going to lose it, take them aside and talk them down."

He looked doubtful, but agreed.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Hotel - 23

Someone was banging on the door to my room. I groaned as I checked the time and saw it was only six A.M. Friday morning, meaning I'd gotten maybe four hours sleep, if that. Getting up, I went to see who was there at such an ungodly hour.

"We've found her," Edwin said the second I opened the door. He was wearing a winter jacket and boots, with gloves tucked in the jacket pocket at the moment.

"Alive?" I asked, hoping against hope.

"I'm afraid not." He came in when I stepped aside. "There's a stand of aspen deep in the forest and some of them were felled by a bad snowstorm last winter. Henry decided to move a few of the lighter ones, to see if she had crawled underneath to find shelter from the snow or, to be honest, to see if she'd used them to hide from somebody, if that's what was going on."

"Damn it all to hell." I sat down on the bed, shaking my head. "Could he tell…?"

"How she ended up under them? Yes. Someone put her body there."


Edwin sat beside me, his arm around my shoulders. "I've called into town to have the sheriff come up here. Orville—don't laugh, that's his name, as much as he hates it. Before you say anything, his father was the sheriff before him. Anyway, Orville went to college to study criminal justice, joined the police force, and a few years later when his father became ill he returned to take over his job."

"Tell me you're not leaving her there until he arrives," I replied, pulling away to look at him.

"If I had my way, we wouldn't, but he insisted. Something about seeing it in situ. Henry's standing guard. At least we can be thankful for one thing, the snow has let up."

"Am I the only one you've told so far?"

"Yes. I figured you'd want to break the news to your people."

"Not really, but I've got no choice."

"I'm going to email the guests who are due to arrive today know you're going to cancel the show," he said.

I thought about it before replying, "Hold off until I've talked to everyone. They may want to do it in spite of this, as an homage to Tessa, if that makes sense." I smiled grimly. "Presuming the sheriff doesn't arrest one of them for her murder."

"I do hope not, but they are the logical suspects. All of you are."

"Me included. I know that."

"All right. I'll leave you to it and go down to wait for Orville." He gave me a quick hug, which surprised me, and left.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Hotel – 22

The first thing I saw when we got to Edwin's part of the mansion was a large living room with furniture I suspected had been in the mansion since it was first built.

"Just like a normal home, with the exception of the woodwork and the coffered ceiling, and a fireplace large enough to roast a deer," I said.

Edwin laughed. "In other words it fits the rest of the mansion. This used to be the family's private parlor, as grandiose as it is. We use it as sort of a common room, now. The second and third floors are more up-to-date, in deference to the fact we spend half our time in the hotel proper. I decided we needed a break from all the dark wood and what have you. Come, I'll show you."

He led the way up a staircase off to one side of the room. When we got to the second floor I immediately saw what he meant. There was a hallway with doors at each end and another  facing us. That was to Vern's suite, he told me. There was a hardwood floor and the walls were painted pale beige, with no wainscoting.

We went down to the far end of hallway, he opened the door, and I found myself in another living room. It was the antithesis of the one downstairs, with light blue walls and drapes, and modern furniture, including a desk that held a computer with all the peripherals. Off to one side were two doors. One opened onto a small but well-equipped kitchen. The other was for his bedroom, which held a king-sized bed with a pale oak headboard and a matching dresser.

"Would you like another beer?" Edwin asked. "Or coffee?"

"Coffee sounds good," I replied while I studied the books on shelves along one of the living room walls.

I heard him moving around in the kitchen, then the sound of the coffeemaker doing its thing—and cups, I presumed, being set on the counter. I'd just taken a book from the shelves to look at the blurb when I felt his hand on my shoulder. I turned and without a word he kissed me.

Did I know that's why he'd invited me up here? Of course. Was I surprised by the kiss? Not really. Did I fight it? Hell, no. It had been a long time since a man had been interested in me the way he apparently was—and shown it so emphatically.

He stepped back, looking at me with one eyebrow cocked in question. "I know you said you weren't into one-night stands and I'll honor that if you want me to."

My mind said I should end this before it went any further. My body said otherwise and I went with it, replying, "I think I'll make an exception this time." After all, it wasn't as if I'd ever see him again once I left the hotel, so I didn't have to worry about either of us expecting some sort of commitment that could turn sour after a few days or weeks. It would be tension relief and nothing more after a very stressful day.

It wasn't until we were undressed that I wondered how often he tried—and probably succeeded—to seduce guests who came to the hotel. I considered asking, making a joke out of it, and decided it didn't matter. I was, after all, doing the same thing although I was the seducee, not the seducer.

"You're quite impressive," Edwin said, his gaze raking over my naked body. When they focused in on my hard cock I wondered if he meant that, not all of me, until he ran his hands over my chest. "I didn't expect you to be so well-built. Clothing hides a lot, which in your case is unfortunate."

"Thanks for the compliment," I replied. "You've got nothing to be ashamed of, either." I might have expanded on that if he hadn't kissed me hard as he wrapped his arms around me, tumbling us onto the bed.

From there, things proceeded as we both knew they would, ending in explosive orgasms followed by several kisses as we recovered our equilibrium. Suddenly he jumped out of bed, saying, "The coffee is more than ready."

I sniffed and laughed as he hurried out of the bedroom. I had the feeling what was left of it was a layer of thick sludge at the bottom of the pot. I followed him and found out I was right.

"I can make another pot," Edwin said as he dumped the mess into the sink.

"No, that's all right. I should get back to my room."

If I expected him to suggest I stay with him, it didn't happen, since he replied, "We both need to get some sleep. Tomorrow, or today I guess, could be rough if we find Tessa's body."

That definitely cooled any remaining ardor on both our parts. I went back to the bedroom to get dressed, came out carrying my shoes, and he walked me downstairs. When we got to the door separating his living area from the hotel, he gave me a lingering kiss, which I returned.

"I'll see you in a few hours," he said.

"I'm not going anywhere, so, yeah, you will."

We left it at that and a couple of minutes later I was back in my room. As I showered I thought about what had happened. He was a nice man, an interesting one. If things were different I might even consider getting into a relationship with him, if he was so inclined. But they weren't.

"In a couple of days, I'll be back in the city and he'll still be here, doing what he loves which is running the hotel." I smiled wryly. "Well, barring things like cops and a murder investigation if Edwin's men do find Tessa and it turns out she was killed by… God, I hope not by one of my friends." I said it, but I knew that was a definite possibility. Not something I was ready to deal with at the moment.

Getting out of the shower, I dried off, put on a pair of boxers, and fell into bed. I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow.