The drive to the motel was a pleasant change of scenery for Hannah. The rolling green countryside slowly gave way to a grid of grey concrete lined with towering structures of glass and steel. It was hard to believe that a place so cold and hard was an afternoon’s drive away from the bucolic little township she promised to serve and protect.
The GPS on the squad car’s dashboard presented Hannah with a bent lime green arrow accompanied by a woman’s voice telling her she had arrived at her destination. The motel had been built decades ago but appeared to be well-maintained. The front office was a stand-alone cottage which sat beneath a neon sign worthy of the Las Vegas strip. A small landscaped garden containing a picnic table and some playground equipment bridged the area between the office and the two-story structure behind it. Hannah could see the desk clerk through the picture window, reclining with his feet propped up on the counter, a laptop balanced on his thighs. Hannah pulled curbside and entered the office. The clerk swung his legs from the counter and signaled to her with a raised index finger, suggesting he would be with her in just a moment.
“Mom, I gotta go. Police business . . . No, nothing bad . . . Talk to you later. Love ya.” The clerk closed the laptop as he stood to address Hannah.
“Skyping with the mom. What can I do for you?”
Hannah held her badge in front of her for the clerk to see. A part of the job she relished.
“I hear you have a vehicle in your possession that may have been involved in an incident I am investigating.”
“You mean the El Camino?”
“Yes. What can you tell me about the owner?”
“The guy pulled in early yesterday evening. He had a dog with him, which we don’t care about unless they leave a mess. I thought I saw a van nearby, but I don’t know if it was waiting for him or not.”
Hannah pulled a small spiral pad from her back pocket and jotted a few notes. “So, the guy hasn’t been here more than a day and he offers you his truck in exchange for a night in a hundred dollar motel room? Don’t you find that kind of odd?”
“Well, he wasn’t the one that offered it to me. This couple comes through the door this morning. They looked like they had come from a Renaissance fair . He was in some kind of musketeer outfit. She looked like she was wearing part of his armor but over a t-shirt and jeans. She had bad sunburn, all blistery. They were in a heated discussion, but not like they were mad. More like they were in a hurry. The woman says something to the guy about being too late. They were in the right place but the wrong time. A day late and a dollar short. Something along those lines. Then she tosses the keys on the counter and says, ‘Room 117 won’t be back. Sorry about the inconvenience. Take the truck as payment.’ Then, poof, they were gone.”
“Yeah. I looked down at the keys for a second and when I looked up they were gone. I didn’t even hear the door open.”
The clerk pulled the keys from his pocket and set them on the counter.
“They didn’t say why he wouldn’t be back?”
“How about the room? Anything unusual about the condition of the room?” Hannah continued writing.
“I was leery of going into the room, considering the circumstances. I called the local cops to come and take a look. When I let them in there was nothing weird. The beds weren’t slept in, although they looked like they had been sat on. A few wet towels. Some of the complimentary toiletries had been used. All in all it looked as if he had gone out for an evening and not come back yet. No trace of the dog.”
“What did the local law have to say?”
“They said that as far as they could tell no laws had been broken outside of me being stiffed for the hotel room. They asked if I wanted to file a report. Since I was kind of paid for the room, I decided to let the whole thing slide. They told me that you wanted to talk to me and that you might want to see the truck. Do you want to see it?”
Hannah flipped shut the note pad. “Sure.”
The El Camino glowed indigo as it reflected the twilight sky. Hannah immediately understood why Griffin had been drawn to it. She slowly circled the truck, allowing her hand to caress its highly waxed surface. She picked a leaf from the hood and blew away the few crumbled specks it left behind. She glanced at the dash through the passenger-side window and continued along the truck’s bed. The machine was flawless. Well, flawless except for the forehead-shaped ding that disrupted the once-crisp edge on the tailgate. Hannah winced as she ran her finger through the crescent-shaped dent.
“What are you planning on doing with this?”
“I’ve got a tow truck coming to take it to a used car lot. I really have no use for it. It’s pretty ugly, if you ask me.”
Hannah calculated in her head what she might have stashed in her bank account. ”Any interest in selling it?”
The desk clerk thought for a moment. ” You interested?”
“How much you want for her?”
“I’m thinking about five or so.”
“I can’t go that high. How about three?” Hannah countered.
“I don’t know.”
“I would hate to have to confiscate this vehicle as evidence. Besides, three thou . . . “
“I’ll take three hundred and fifty. No less.”
Hannah quickly zipped her lips. The clerk obviously didn’t know what he had.
“You drive a hard bargain, sir. Three hundred and fifty dollars. I believe I saw an ATM in your office. We can settle up right now.”