The sign read ‘Twin Pines Lodge’ it was big and blue. The same colour blue adorned every door in the motel set into the cream colour walls. It was a common looking L shaped motel with the office closest to the street with a few adjoining rooms connected to it. Then you had the double packed rooms adjacent, facing out towards the street. There wasn’t a pine tree in sight. Just the large sycamores spaced out unevenly behind the back building.
The parking lot was nearly empty, there was a white minivan under a car port awning on the right of the entrance. And a white Toyota parked next to the office. He pulled into a space between the minivan and a big green dumpster that was facing out into street at an irregular angle. The dumpster was next to an oddly placed patch of grass that looked like someone’s front lawn. It was edged off by a black fence around the office of the neighbouring motel that had a nice little desert garden made up of cacti and orange rocks.
He got out of the car and looked around for a second with his hand cupped over his eyes. A curtain moved from one of the upstairs rooms. James felt exposed.
He walked slowly towards the small office building at the head of the fat snake. It was a tiny building partially hidden by some overgrown bushes. He entered and right of the bat got a trailer park feeling, the floor felt temporary, made of some sort of panelling covered in a carpet. There was no air-conditioning, just a big fan on the ceiling and one on the desk next to a nodding Chihuahua. He didn’t suspect the rooms had air conditioning either.
The room felt even smaller than it looked and even James not being of an advanced height felt it necessary to stoop. There wasn’t much to see, a beaten up couch that looked like it belonged in an airport waiting room. The carpet was blue, stained and pulled up at the edges, the owner probably had a dog. There was a small coffee table between the couch and a chair that didn’t match either the table nor the couch. A few tropical plants which also stooped.
There were a few framed pictures of what looked like stock photography of Caribbean islands, Barbados, maybe Jamaica. Some religious iconography above the desk, a picture of Jesus with the catholic heart and thorns. There was a crucifix next to it, just to make it doubly holy. The rest of the wall behind the desk was covered in framed plagues relating to some qualifications in motel owning and hospitality. Awards that looked like they’d been printed off the internet with the name; Howard Blum. An alcove behind the desk lead into the back where the owner probably lived. It didn’t have a door, just a set of those hanging beads that made a noise when you went through them.
James couldn’t put his finger on it but the room smelled stale, like the smell of rotting insect carcasses under a hundred-watt bulb. There was a bell on the desk, that on closer inspection actually looked like a doorbell that was taped to the counter, the wire running down the side. The desk itself was of some indistinguishable wood that was varnished to look like a hardwood. But it was patchy work and a lighter thinner wood showed underneath. Ringing the bell a second time he realised what the smell was. Taking a closer look at the nodding Chihuahua on the desk. He noticed it actually wasn’t nodding at all because in fact it was a real Chihuahua stuffed and mounted on the desk with a heavy looking ornate base. The plague read ‘Fido’.
He rang the bell again and listened, sounded like a TV was on in the back. He rang the bell again and heard a stirring, like someone waking up. He heard joints cracking, ankles creaked as they took on the weight of the body above them. A slow shuffling noise approached from the backroom.
A gaunt figure appeared mechanically and slow in the alcove. He parted the beads and entered as if he was coming out of an elaborate Swiss cuckoo clock. He was tall and thin but naturally stooped with age. He was wearing a string vest that really didn’t cover a lot up. His arms were sinewy and bare and there were visible tufts of white and grey chest hair sticking out of the places the old vest didn’t cover. His skin, wrinkled but looked as soft as a babies. His face was long and thin and looked like that of a sad horse with flecks of grey stubble and nose hair. He had full head of white hair sitting back on the top of his head. The style similar to that of Bob’s big boy, the mascot of the famous burger chain. A sort of fifties style swoop quiff. He was wearing a pair of Bermuda shorts and some fluffy pink slippers, hence the shuffling sound.
He shuffled behind the desk and cleared his throat.
“Err... this is going to sound strange- “James paused, suddenly flushed as he realised he hadn’t given any thought to what he was going to say. Or even what he hoped to find.
The old man’s eyelids fluttered as if he was dreaming and he lifted two weary grey eyes and pointed them at James with their bowed lids. “My dog barks some”.
James’ mind went completely blank as the old man stared at him “Err never mind, can you just give me a minute?”
“Mentally you picture my dog, but I have not told you the type dog which I have. Perhaps you might even picture Toto from the wizard of Oz” The man began to chuckle to himself. “But I can tell you my dog is always with me.” The old man said as he shuffled back to his room behind the alcove.
James went outside and paced some, he thought about lighting a cigarette but he remembered he didn’t have any. Come to think of it he’d given up years ago, so why that craving would come back now seemed odd. Maybe just something to do with his hand or a reason to be hanging around outside.
There was a small shooting pain behind his eyes. He put a palm against his eye and opened his mouth wide. Turning his head, he took a quick scan of the rooms to see if anything at all was familiar.
Every room looked identical moving across from the office, that same blue door. There was only one noticeable difference about the room on the end of the single story block. The door was ajar.
A cool breeze was blowing. The black Lincoln pulled into a concrete driveway on Belvedere drive in the suburbs of Belvedere heights. A middle class area a little higher in the foothills of the box springs mountain park. The house they pulled up to was second on the list of possible doctor’s with sketchy pasts in the Riverview area. The first one was a dead end, just another pill popper who got caught.
3627 Belvedere heights was a nice single story house in a nice area. A black mail box outside matched the faux Victorian black streetlamps of which there were two. A well-kept lawn with a few bald patches which couldn’t be avoided in the middle of what was essentially a desert. The lawn itself was fairly open and almost circular since it was on a corner right in the middle of the intersection onto floral avenue. The stop sign placed smack dab in the middle of their lawn. This left little the imagination. It stands to reason the home owner thought it was necessary to have a series of well-trimmed but seemingly randomly shaped bushes. Of which were different types and colours, tightly hugging the outline of the house. For the most part blocking any view into the house and offering some modicum of privacy from passers-by.
They’d had to park in the driveway since there was no curb to speak of, obviously not a lot of dog walkers in this neighbourhood.
The house almost looked like a short mountain chalet but without the snow or an Asian pagoda with the mountain so close behind it. It was the dark maroon roof tiles with the stiff peaks and the dark maple that gave off the holiday in the hills vibe. They’d seen a lot of desert plants on their way up, yucca and agave, even in the neighbour’s yard, but there were none here. It was all very buttoned down, no ragged edges in sight.
There were a few large cottonwood trees in the front shading the front door without blocking the garage. There was a single lonely maple near the lip of the driveway hemmed in by some neatly trimmed shrubbery. Backed by some latticed fencing which veiled the head of a silver Lexus. But of course it’s ass end was sticking out far enough so people could see it when they passed.
There was another black Taurus parked in the open garage. A typical two car garage the other half taken up by the usual bric-a-brak, a dismantled pool table and a bunch of non-descript blue plastic tubs. An American flag protruded from the side of the garage at a forty-five-degree angle.
Harri pulled up the handbrake with a satisfying crunch behind the Lexus and rolled out of the driver’s seat. She slammed the door behind her in an authoritative fashion. As if she imagined the whole neighbourhood as well as the people in the house were watching. And thus they had to know serious things were happening somewhere, somehow.
Con got out of the car and looked around, he took in a deep breath of that second-hand mountain air and felt refreshed. All the mugginess cleared away and in the shade of those cottonwood trees he felt pretty lean and comfortable. Harri was never comfortable by nature. She scanned the area furtively, waiting for an armed jihadi to jump out of a yucca plant with a stinger missile in his back pocket.
She tossed her tight ponytail and began a tight but feminine sashay towards the shaded entryway. Con smiled as he watched her go and dawdled behind her giving a quick glance here and there as he felt he ought to.
She’d already rang the doorbell and was waiting with a cocky smile for him when he sauntered over. He gave her one of his cheeky school boy grins on that stubbly face and she laughed as he almost tripped over an empty planter near the front door.
“Feeling better?” She smirked playfully.
She rang the doorbell a second time and a man’s voice could be heard deeper into the house. “Coming!”.
The door was made of that same rich dark maple as the rest of the house. It had a little ridged glass plate in the door and a white chair on the stoop. The sounds of shoes on tile as well as the scratchings of a small dog careening around could be heard approaching.
A bald man of average height opened the door ajar keeping the small mixed breed dog at bay with one foot in a black croc sandal. Looked like something mixed with a pug and a poodle.
“Sorry, gotta keep the dog in or my wife will have kittens. What can I help you folks with?” The man said in a relatively affable if forced tone of voice. In that moment his averageness was almost painful to behold. He was just about over five and half foot tall. White, Average build, a little soft around the middle. Bald with chemistry teacher glasses and a small well-groomed goatee. His face was sufficiently lined to assume his age at around the mid-forties. No notable facial features, thin lips with a fairly bulbous nose and pointed ears. He wore a white striped short sleeved shirt tucked into a pair of light brown pants with the black crocs on his feet. He looked like a neat soccerdad.
“Carter Sable? Formerly Doctor Carter Sable.” Harri said as blunt as possible, waiting to gauge his reaction.
“Err yeah that’s me, what can I do for you officers?” He answered tersely without having to take a second glance.
“Special agent Harriet Jaguer, FBI, this is my partner Special agent Constantine Folsome.” Her tone was barbed; he’d rattled her more comparing her to a common cop than she had prodding at his failed medical career.
“FBI? What’s this about?” The man asked scrunching his brow up as much as possible.
“We’d just like to ask you a few questions about your whereabouts in relation to a crime. Can we come in and talk to you a little bit?” Con Said returning the man’s original affable tone.
Sable goggled at him for a split second and Harri studied his face.
“Y-yeah sure, come right in off- err agent”. Sable said as he opened the door stumbling over the dog.
They followed him through a surprisingly tight entrance, choked on either side by closed white doors.
The walls were all painted white, the house itself looked to be built sometime around the sixties or seventies as was most of the area.
They followed Sable past the entrance which was tiled in a tan bathroom tile around a tight corner into a sitting area that overlooked the kitchen. The kitchen was separated by a waist high partition, the tile followed around under the alcove into the kitchen. The boxy sitting room was carpeted in a similar colour to the kitchen. An almost ‘cat-sick’ brown. The kitchen was large but fairly drab. The fixtures were white to match the walls, the surfaces were done in this faux marble tabby cat pattern and the cabinets were a light ash. All of it seemed shoved to one side to make way for the large set of patio doors which lead to the pool hidden behind the slats of the venetian blinds.
“Err please sit down.” Sable said as he cleared a place on a brown leather couch, moving extraneous tasteful cushions and kicking a toy fire truck out of the way. The couch was against the back wall facing away from the pool with a single long window behind it covered in more venetian blinds. It let in a fair bit of light but the room still felt very small as they sat in the corner of what was probably a load baring wall.
Con glance up at the ceiling which had sunken lights that made it look like a hotel room or a night club bathroom. There was a large dark flat screen on the wall adjacent the couch. Probably so he could watch TV from the kitchen, since there wasn’t much side space in there. Just the long thin breakfast bar and the work tops. A fan in the kitchen span furiously but other than that, the small sitting room didn’t have much ventilation.
There was a matching brown leather chair angled around the couch with a small black coffee table parting the two. Harri perched herself on the edge of the chair and bade Sable to sit on the couch, instantly giving the impression of a job interview.
Con poised himself to sink down into the couch next to Sable, but he cast a quick glance and small smile at Harri. She turned her head slightly and Con stopped himself.
“Err I don’t suppose you have a bathroom I can use?” Con said oozing boyish charm and almost blushing.
Sable seemed to wince at the imposition. His expression locking up in a confused grimace of prolonged hesitation. “Err, y-yeah, it’s just down the hall on the right, you can’t miss it.” He seemed to shudder as he went into spasmodic series of automated placating gestures pointing past the dead TV on the wall.
“Sorry, it’s unprofessional. I’ve been on the road awhile, haven’t had much time to stop.” Con chuckled and then quickly danced out of the room.
Sable watched him go carefully.
Harri watched his expression change and then cleared her throat to remind him of the clear and present danger she still posed.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions in regards to an ongoing investigation”
“Anything I can do to help sure, what’s this in regards to?” He settled back into the couch popping one of the couch cushions over his lap. He feigned an aura of respectful nonchalance.
“It’s in regards to a series of murders.” She said it in a way that seemed like she was already tired of saying it halfway through.
“Murders?” Sable over exaggerated his shock.
“I wanna ask you about how you lost your medical license”
“Oh that, what does that have to do with murders? I just did some Botox on the side at parties. The medical board found out and I was fired.” He exhaled as he talked and shrugged.
“What do you do now?”
“I work as an acupuncturist”