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The Seaview Inn
   

from The Toonijuk, by Bill Goetzinger

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Chapter 9: Shoe Shopping

After giving a charming, bickering couple the key to Cabin 12, Lou Beaudre switched on the No Vacancy sign. Then he returned to the front office, sat behind the desk, flipped open his biochemistry text, and tried to study for the next day’s exam.

The window was open a crack to let air into the stuffy building, and this allowed Lou to also hear the spring peepers, their cacophony punctuated every few moments by the croaking of larger frogs. The rhythmic noise always made him sleepy, and after working the morning shift at the Bayou Motel, then three hours of school, and now the night shift, Lou was feeling very sleepy indeed.

Hell, it was gonna be a slow night. He set the book aside, set his head down, and managed to grab a whole five seconds of shut-eye before a ruckus snapped him from it.

Some jerk before him in the lobby, wearing a long black coat and a wool cap, swearing, rattling, and beating the crap out of the cigarette machine.

 

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Heck, thought Lou, saying, “Hey, buddy!”

Jerk kept up his attack the machine.

“Hey, buddy!” repeated Lou. “You break it, you fix…”

Fella stopped. Turned and stared hard at Lou, who now wished he’d kept his fat mouth shut.

For this was Mr. Garcia.

Long-term resident of Cabin 15.

Mr. Garcia slipped the wool cap off his smooth, bald head, the corners of his mouth turning to form a polite smile, as if saying, “Pardon?” Suppressing a shiver, Lou picked up the book and tried to melt back into its pages.

Mr. Garcia always gave him the jitters. He wasn’t sure why. The guy was a lot smaller than Lou. Five feet, five inches at the most, with a slight, wiry physique.

But that face! Worn, chiseled, and as stony as one of those heads on Easter Island. With squinty Clint Eastwood eyes. Not a centigrade of warmth flickering in them, and a vicious scar under the left.

Mr. Garcia quit staring, gave the machine another slap, and took a pack of Marlboros from it. Lou noticed on the floor a Styrofoam cooler. On top of it lay a sealed, stuffed manila folder and a copy of Vogue. Lou guessed the last was for the other occupant of Cabin 15, the invisible one.

Mr. Garcia opened the pack and took out a cigarette and lighter. Pretending not to notice, Lou tried to read, but as the flame reached Mr. Garcia’s mouth, he worked up enough nerve to at least look at the guy, saying, “Uh…”

Mr. Garcia glanced at Lou; the flame stayed near the cigarette tip. Lou said, “ah, um,” and pointed to the wall. Mr. Garcia fixed Lou with those Pale-Rider eyes and chewed his lower lip, as if mulling over whether to kill this candy-ass punk or merely slap him around and shave off his kneecaps. Then he checked where Lou pointed, at the No Smoking sign.

Mr. Garcia extinguished the flame, “Sorry,” he said, voice a gravelly baritone. Pocketing the cigarettes, he approached the desk.

And Lou’s heart skipped a beat, though he knew what was coming next, things having fallen into a routine by now. In the morning, Mr. G left Cabin 15 and drove off in his dark van with the black-tinted windows. Where he went was anyone’s guess (robbing banks? whacking people?), but while he was out, the cabin stayed quiet, the blinds always down. The door never opened, and the lights never came on.

Then, between eight and ten at night, Garcia returned to the motel, stopping by the desk and paying in advance for the next day. Always in cold cash.

So Lou now waited for Mr. Garcia to take out his billfold and plop some twenties or fifties on the counter. But all he did was say,“Whatcha reading, chief?”

Lou showed him the cover.

“Advanced Biochemistry,” Mr. Garcia read the title aloud. “Huh? Sounds pretty boring to me.”

He started to walk away. Lou cleared his throat. Said, “Uh, Mr. Garcia, aren’t you going to…?”

One look made Lou stop talking.

“Whazzat, chief?” Mr. Garcia grinned. “Oh, I see what you’re askin’. The answer’s no. Think this’ll be our
last night.”

“Really?” asked Lou, trying not to let his relief show.

“Really,” said Mr. Garcia, sticking his cap back on and picking up the cooler along with the manila folder and Vogue. “And thanks for your hospitality. The missus and I greatly enjoyed our stay.”

He bumped open the door and strode out into the misty night.

Lou waited a full second then ran out and stood on the porch, under the eaves, enjoying his own cigarette and watching Mr. Garcia as he walked unhurriedly across the muddy lot toward a row of white, one-bedroom cabins, 15 the farthest on the left, right next to fifty acres of swampland, which, in addition to snakes, had a few gators. While back, a seven-footer had been found in 13.

Mr. Garcia now reached his cabin, and Lou watched carefully as he set the cooler down and unlocked the door. Same as every night. Door was never opened for him. Nor did anybody appear to meet or embrace or kiss him.

Mr. Garcia carried his stuff inside. Lou waited for the lights to come on. They didn’t. Garcia popped halfway back out and shut the door. Lou waited. But no light shone through the closed blinds, which never opened.

The “missus” must be asleep, thought Lou, just as she was every night and every day for the past few weeks.

Right.

But Lou had seen her. When the Garcias first checked in a month ago, he had seen a woman go into the cabin. At least he’d thought it was a woman, because he’d only seen the back of a figure covered head to foot with a shawl and robe. A tall figure. Much taller than her midget of a husband.

But after that vague sighting, the mysterious Mrs. Garcia had proven more elusive than the Loch Ness Monster. Where did Mr. Garcia keep her? Lou glanced at the jungle of Cyprus and water oak, where more than a few bodies had been found, then gazed back at the cabin.

Gazed as he finished his cigarette, yearning for the lights to come on.

They didn’t.

Lorenzo Garcia shut the cabin door, set the heavy cooler on the floor, and almost reached for the light switch before thinking better. He glanced over at where the bed was, listening in the dark, hearing nothing.

Taking from his pocket a small flashlight, he flicked it on and shined the beam on a portable refrigerator, tucked against the wall. He opened it and was about to unfasten the cooler lid when he heard the creaking of springs. Glancing again in the bed’s direction, he saw a quick movement of shadow and two tiny lights, like fireflies in parallel flight.

He shut the refrigerator door. Clicked off the flashlight. Shadow and fireflies vanished.

“Sorry,” he said, picking up the manila folder. “Didn’t mean to disturb you. But I’ve been driving around with this…” He tapped the cooler. “…for the past hour. Oughta get the stuff in the fridge.”

Silence. Lorenzo said, “Made a killing today, lemme tell ya! We can afford ourselves better digs now.”

More silence, then a patter on the floor and a soft hum, the sound an overhead fan might make, if this rattrap had one. It abruptly stopped.

“And anyways,” he said, “it is high time we blew Dodge.” He picked up the folder. “Our supplier’s edgy. Hospital’s security been nosin’ around, apparently, so he says he won’t do this no more.” Lorenzo peered at the bed, trying to see better, before turning on the flashlight and directing it back on the fridge. “But I figure you’ll want to get movin’.” He waved the folder. “’Cause I think I’ve found you-know-who. Got everything, in here. Home address and, drum-roll please, a nice smiling photograph. That you’ll definitely want to look at, ’cause…”

A violent tug…

…and the folder was snatched from his hand.

He looked to his left again but only heard, by the bed, a tearing and the sliding of paper.

“There on top,” said Lorenzo. “Like I said, I’m not a hundred percent sure it’s our boy. But, hey, you saw a lot more of him, so take…”

A plosive hiss cut him off. Like air leaking from a ruptured tire. Paper crinkled, ripped…

A voice in the dark, a seething whisper, said,

“It’s him.”

“Yeah, thought so,” said Lorenzo, eyes barely catching a black wraith that rose from the floor and levitated to the other side of the room, to a window offering the most lovely view of the swamp.

He heard the blinds being raised, the window opening. From the outside came a cool draft and the chirping of frogs.

“Leaving me, babe?”

Two pinpricks of light appeared and vanished. The voice said, “Getting my exercise. You get some sleep; don’t wait up for me. We leave at dawn.”

“Careful,” said Lorenzo, stepping toward the window. “Watch out for snakes, alligators, and…”

“They don’t bother me.” A sniffing. “Not as much as cigarettes do. Ciao, dear!”

There was a flapping like sparrow’s wings, a gentle thump like a cat pouncing, and a leafy rustle. Then just the chirping of the frogs. Lorenzo turned on the lights.

Damn, he thought, as he tossed his pack of Marlboros into the wastebasket. Should know better by now.

The window facing the swamp was wide open, bugs flying through it. Lorenzo walked over to the bed, which was unmade, a strand of black hair on the mattress and tears in the sheets, as though someone had gone over them with a razor. He bent down, picking up both the folder and the picture that had been in it.
A headshot of a man with bleached blonde hair, a boyish face, and a smirking, frat boy grin. Around the neck, Lorenzo could see the collar of well-tailored suit. At first guess, one might say it was the face of a stockbroker or corporate raider, but the truth, Lorenzo knew, was nothing so innocent.

The picture was wrinkled and punctured with fingertip-sized holes.

Ten holes, to be exact. Five a side.

“God help you, friend,” muttered Lorenzo, dropping the photo. He chuckled at his insincerity and went to put the stuff in the fridge.

 

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