Chapter Two: The group huddled, but before anyone could cast their vote an Arco sign appeared in the distance. A purple square fronted the neighboring store, one with orange letters that spelled out Rainbow Donuts. They had arrived, but were going the wrong way and already passed the first available left turn lane. It was quiet that night, but there was enough traffic on the road to prevent a quick U-turn: a Subaru passed by, then a Kia and a pair of black-and-white cruisers with their lights on and sirens off.
Gwen pursed her lips. “That’s weird.”
A moment passed before the Nissan circled around to make its way toward Seaside Estates and those warm beds within. When the car’s headlights found its gates they shone on a pair of modest, turquoise pillars and a sliding gold-flecked gate; the push-button box mounted on the median was their way in. Mark pressed the big, square button under its speaker. The reply was unexpectedly blunt.
“Hi, yeah, I have a reservation for Edith Tilton,” Mark replied. “We’re friends of hers…she’s not here, but she called ahead, talked to Adam about this.”
The box squawked, “Just a minute,” then went silent.
“Okay, I do have something in that name, a group of four, but the guy that checks people in and hands out keys already went home for the night. I can let you in and give you a parking pass, but that’s all.”
After a sidelong glance and a triplet of shrugs the unseen attendant had his answer.
“Sounds good,” Mark replied. “Now where are you at?”
“To your left once you get through the gate; turn right at the next intersection. You can’t miss the office, it’s across from the pool.”
A Harvest moon hung overhead as palm trees swayed in the breeze and the visitor’s quest for rest continued. Beyond the pool they found a nondescript one-story building with a metal bench and a set of double-doors. A bell rang when the friends pressed through. Zeke drifted toward a vending machine stationed next to the bench while the others entered and found a twenty-something hunched over a dog-eared textbook, Hi-liter in hand. When the door closed, he looked up.
“That was fast.” The clerk had a talent for stating the obvious.
“Yeah,” Mark said while gesturing toward the unseen gateway, “short trip.”
“Okay, well, here’s your pass. Just hang it from the rear-view.” A gray tabby lookled on from the seat in a nearby corner. “Adam will be here by eight o’clock tomorrow — he can handle the rest.”
“Alright,” Claire replied, “sounds good.”
Gwen was still petting the purring tabby as the others turned to leave. They found Zeke on the bench outside sipping from a can of Coke.
Gwen jokingly scolded him, “Now you’ll be fussing for hours.”
Mark just grinned, then said “The supervisor won’t be here for a few hours, so we’re going to have to share the Sentra until then. Same arrangement?”
“I think so,” Zeke looked around and theatrically sighed, “but that Best Western would have been so nice.”
to be continued>>>
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