The petrol pump clicked in Joshua’s hand, indicating that the tank was full. He had spent the past two minutes staring at digits, thinking about the girl sleeping in his passenger seat. How long do I keep the girl? Where should I go next?
With no idea concerning his own response to the latter question. However, he already knew his answer to the former. She will be with me until I can add her visage to my collection. No more than two days.
A brief walk to the kiosk was completed before paying in cash, all the time keeping an eye on his car and its contents. He returned to the seat he had occupied in his car for the past two hours. He started the engine, looking straight ahead. There was a roadside hotel just beyond the forecourt. Should we stay here, or should we keep going?
He shook his head, realising in a moment that he was too tired to continue driving whilst staying alert. In any case, he had no fixed destination. He would just be driving from place to place. Of course, doing so had its advantages. He would be harder to find. The girl would be less likely to try to run away if she had no idea where she was, or how she would find her way home.
He looked to the right of the hotel. The typical red roadside restaurant was there, still serving the public, unlike so many others. The chain had been serving greasy food to adults and handing lollipops to children for as long as he could remember, and it looked as if it hadn’t been touched with a paint brush since the day it opened. To the side of that was an oversized newsagent that could provide him with the provisions he needed.
Moving the car from the petrol station and parking in front of the hotel, he walked into the adjoining shop. The typical glum music filled the air that smelled of cleaning fluids. Sauntering between the small aisles he picked up hair dye, a pack of razors, shaving cream, two pairs of large-framed reading glasses and a pay-as-you-go mobile phone, which his former American persona would have called a ‘burner’.
Heading towards the checkout, he noticed a collection of coats in various sizes. He picked one that was long and too big for Abigail. He needed to do something to hide the conspicuous school uniform. Seeing a girl in the almost ill-fitting outfit on a weekend would raise concerns and prompt questions. Such a sight could even result in a report to the police. He had to be careful. He nodded his approval. It was a necessary purchase.
He paid in cash and placed the purchased items in the rear of the car, except for the coat. He pulled off two labels, each held in place with a thin string of plastic. Realising that Abigail was not conscious enough to put on a coat, he placed it over her like a blanket before booking in to the hotel for one night.
Joshua’s time spent in the presence of the staff of budget, roadside hotels tended to be brief. More often than not, the single member of staff would show at the front desk to check people in, and to attend to the immediate needs of guests. Aside from these fleeting moments, they would spend their time behind a door or a partition wall. I’ve always wondered what goes on in that little room. Maybe someday I’ll ask.
He offered the fake name Jared Carter and obtained his room key from the tired, disinterested man in his early twenties behind the desk. The wafer thin young man wore blond hair that looked bleached and a uniform that looked unwashed. His bland features changed for the briefest of moments as he forced a welcoming smile onto his face. Despite the expression, his eyes gave away the truth. There was no enthusiasm or motivation. He was here for a paycheque and for no other reason. Joshua rolled his eyes whilst the ignorant young man seemed to try his best to avoid making any kind of eye contact. It’s no wonder the service industry is dying on its feet.
Joshua looked at the name badge on the man’s chest, the name ‘WILL’ was in block letters on a label that had peeled from the right as far as the second L. William, meaning dedicated protector. This guy looks like he couldn’t protect his wallet, let alone a hotel full of guests.
Following Will’s retreat, with his eyes now focussed on something in the room behind the desk, Joshua was free to smuggle in his young detainee. Returning to the car, he managed to pick up Abigail, covered mostly by the coat, and lay her on the double bed in his hotel room. He was grateful that he had stumbled on the place on a quiet night. A room on the ground floor, near the front desk reduced the distance he had been required to cover whilst carrying his captive cutie.
For a moment the new name, invented for the unimpressed Will, had slipped from his mind. As he remembered, chided himself, determined to keep a better track of the names he used. Making them up on the spot could lead to problems. If someone asked for identification then he would be discovered as a fraud. His names and counterfeit IDs would often be random, but decided upon in advance. He avoided themes such as famous authors, American presidents or British Prime Ministers, all of which would make him easier to track.
He returned to the foyer, surveying a collection of vending machines. He considered his purchase choices from the fluorescent monstrosities in front of him. Similar machines seemed to adorn almost every public place on earth these days. Chocolate bars and crisps were the usual inflated prices, whilst drinks choices seemed to consist of seven different varieties of cola and little else.
He kept walking in the direction of his car from whence he retrieved his two cases, placing the items from the shop in one of them. They were necessary in altering his own appearance. The following morning he would use a passport photo booth to capture his new look, ready for the modification of his identity cards. Little else was needed to prepare for another property rental in another town.
He hadn’t yet decided where he would like to be based next. He walked through the entrance and was blasted with hot air as he crossed the threshold. Winter is coming. I could go somewhere remote. A seaside town would be bustling in the summer, but they tended to be far quieter between September and April. Although most would be bleak, breezy places at that at this time of year, they would be avoided by all but the locals and the most die-hard holidaymakers. Good places to hide, with or without a teen girl in tow.
He paused at the vending machines again, buying drinks and snacks. Hardly a nutritious meal, but it will be enough for now. We’ll eat, she’ll sleep, and then I’ll get to work.