"There's so much to do, and I'm not halfway done"
-- Marine Research, Chucking Out Time
It was hard not to speed on the way back to the motel. My foot felt heavy on the accelerator, but I held back. At one point I had to pull off to the side of the road while the police passed. I tried to look inconspicuous and think innocuous thoughts. Still, it felt like there was a blinking sign over my head that read "Guilty." They didn't give me a second look.
I returned to the hotel carefully. I walked in between two of the buildings. I tried to be casual. I was just another customer who was supposed to be there. Vance had been thoughtful enough to put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the knob of my door. It was locked. I could live without my things inside, but they would tie me to what happened here. I contemplated my options and walked up to the office.
I went up the little ramp, and the no-skid coating bit into my feet. No one was at the desk, and nothing but the sound of a dryer in the next room. I was considering helping myself to the key, when a young man came out. His eyes were glued to the GameBoy in his hands. I didn't recognize the music, so I couldn't say what he was playing.
"Hi," I said, "I stepped out of my room to get the paper, and when the door closed behind me, and I..."
"Locked yourself out," he finished for me. He didn't bother looking up at me. He put the GameBoy on a shelf and pulled out a ring of keys from a drawer.
"Yeah," I said. I tried to sound embarrassed. I don't think it would have mattered.
"What room?" He asked.
"115," I said.
"Yeah, OK," he said, and walked with me to the room.
I debated if I should tip him for his trouble. If I did the unusual option, then I'd stand out even more in his memory. Despite his lackadaisical handling of this, it was a break from his routine, and I stood out enough as it was. It didn't seem like the tipping kind of place. He unlocked the door, and I reached forward to grab the knob.
"I can't thank you enough," I said, but he had already turned to go back to the office
My case and the contents that Vance had admired were gone. He probably took them. If he was caught with them, there would be some interesting questions he'd have trouble answering. Everything else was still here: my phone, my clothes, luggage, and most important my shoes. It felt good to put them on. I didn't bother with socks. Vance hadn't thought far enough ahead, or he planned on coming back for them. If it had been me, I would have taken everything at once. It's too risky to come back to the scene. The money I'd left on the table was also gone. That was OK, I had made a modest profit in the exchange.
I drove Vance's car a block away and wiped down the steering wheel and everything else I might have touched. I left the keys in the ignition, and the top down. It was a problem would take care of itself -- a cherry car like that would be a popular item. I made my way back to the motel. Between last night and today's adventures, my feet and the rest of my body were complaining. I packed up my remaining possessions into my little eco-friendly rental and checked out. I found a dumpster to dispose of the pictures and pizza box on the way to the airport.
I returned the rental, and made my way into the main terminal to check in. I joined the line and got back in character. When it was my turn, I handed over my ID to a very small blonde woman named Tammi who had trouble seeing me from around her console.
"Hello Tammi," I said, slipping the role back on, "I'm seem to have a bit of a problem."
"Oh no," she said with a touch of sympathy.
"Yeah," I said, "I'm afraid I need to make your life a little more difficult. My trip has been called short and I need to get back to the home office."
When I had booked my flight, I'd purchased a round-trip ticket. A one-way trip, purchased on short notice, would have attracted far too much attention. I had no idea how long I would need to be here so I allowed for three days between arrival and departure.
"That's no trouble at all sir," she said. "Let's see what we have here."
Tammi hummed as she entered my information to her terminal -- Alanis Morrisette, Head Over Feet.
"We have a flight to Portland that departs in a little over two hours. Will that work for you?"
"Perfect," I said.
"Did you at least have a good time while you were here," Tammi asked as she booked me onto the flight.
"It was very interesting," I told her.
"You should come back for a longer stay," she said. "There's a lot of great stuff here."
"I'll see what I can do," I said and then answered the ritual security questions. No, no one unknown to me asked me to carry any items onto the flight. In exchange, I was given my ticket, and told to have a good flight.
There were no surprises waiting for me at the gate as I passed. I had nothing to consume on the trip, so I searched for something to read. I had no taste for fiction, at least not the best sellers I saw on display. I wanted something a little less attached to reality, science fiction or fantasy. There was little to pick from in those genres. Romantic thrillers about lawyers seemed to be in fashion with travelers this season. I bought an issue of Natural Geographic. It had long dense text and many pretty pictures. I also picked up couple of magazines on photography. The only thing from my case I cared about replacing was the camera. I could return to something larger and more professional. I needed a hobby, and paranoia was déclassé.
The flight back was uneventful, with one notable exception. The extra-strength dosage of adrenaline had begun to wear off. I was feeling all the abuse my body had taken -- feet, face, head, and the rib. My side burned, and it hurt to breath deeply. As soon as I could, I ordered a little bottle of Scotch to dull the pain. Normally, I wouldn't drink at a time like this, but this was a special circumstance. I should have stopped to wrap my chest. The changes in pressure as the plane took off and landed were new and interesting entries in my card-file of pain. It made it hard to concentrate. I toasted being alive and drank deeply.
I made a game effort to read about natural history. I tried to read the same article on the Fennec Fox (Fennecus zerda) three times before giving up and just looked at the pictures. They were cute little guys, smaller than the average house-cat. Residents of African and Arabian desserts, they needed no freestanding water, getting all they needed from their prey. I'm sure there were people out there foolish enough to want to keep them as pets.
It seems that every couple of years some new exotic animal would strike the fancy of a portion of the populace, and some of them would keep them as pets with varying degrees of success. Hamsters and Gerbils were downright boring when you compared them to Sugar Gliders. Predators were notoriously difficult to domesticate. A little fox running around in your living room sounded like it would be hard on the furniture. I think people should learn from their foolish mistakes, but I wasn't sure if it was fair to the foxes.
The landing hurt more than the takeoff, even with the advantage of my 86 proof analgesics. I would have to get the rib looked at soon. I took a moment before leaving the airport to look up doctor's offices. I concentrated on addresses in the poorer sections of town. I found one that could take me that day. I rented a new car and headed over there.
It was a small office next to an equally small dentist office, next to an attorney that specialized in immigration law. They weren't shocked when I told them I didn't have insurance. The doctor had a thick accent that sounded Eastern European, though from what I was able to overhear his Spanish was flawless. He looked at my injuries, and then poked around for a bit. I told him where it hurt.
"Run into a door?" He asked. He wore a broad smile when he said it. When he spoke, the words all came out in a rush "Runintoadoor?"
"They are tricky, those doors," I answered obliquely.
"Should someone be told about this particular door, maybe?" He asked.
"No," I answered. "I don't think it will be a problem to anyone else."
"Humph," he grunted and nodded. "One day, people will wise up to the danger of those doors. You know? Then those doors better watch out. Yes?"
That comment would take so long to separate the words, and decipher the meaning that I just nodded. He was wrapping my chest to keep the rib in place. I could have done it myself, and I would after this, but I wanted to make sure the damage wasn't worse than I thought. He stopped and looked at me.
"Not a door yourself, are you?" He asked.
That made me stop and think.
"I don't think so," I said, "but if I was, I'm not anymore."
The doctor gave me a smile and nodded.
"Good," he said. "I came from a place where there were many, many doors like that." He gestured to my rib. "It's better here, you know?"
I did, and I agreed.
"But there are still too many doors around." He said. "There are bad men everywhere. If you aren't one, then good for you."
"Yeah," I said.
The doctor gave me a prescription for the pain. I didn't plan on taking it. I agreed to take it easy and said my goodbyes. I paid in cash to leave as little of a trail as I could. I liked the doctor, he did a good job and seemed to care about his patients, but I hoped never to need his services again.
I could've picked a hotel anywhere in the city, but I choose downtown again. I knew the area. I liked the area. This time checked into the Benson, an old and venerable upscale hotel. I felt like treating myself. If I hadn't been tightly wrapped in bandages, I'd have laid down in the large tub. My whole body hurt. I settled for soaking my feet. I use them a lot, and they are important to me -- feet, hands, eyes, and brain. I left a message for Ray to let him know where I was staying and how to reach me. I opted for a liquid dinner. I propped the glasses by the door in an impromptu alarm, and went to sleep.