“All right.” Baxter shrugged, but there was a hint of disappointment in his voice that made me frown. I couldn’t imagine that the stalwart detective actually wanted to hang out with me—he was all business and no pleasure as far as I could see. Besides, I didn’t trust him enough to have anything beyond a professional relationship with him, and even that was pushing it. “I’ll see you in an hour.”
“Yep.” I slung my purse over my shoulder, then headed out to where I’d parked my jeep. I’d opted not to walk today, not because I was lazy, but because I planned on using my lunch break for some more investigative work.
I munched on the turkey sandwich I’d packed this morning as I drove to the Black Bear Inn. It had been a few weeks since Tom had reportedly burned to death there, but I was hoping I might still be able to find something of use amongst the ruins that could tell me more about how he’d died. And if not, maybe the staff could tell me something.
I pulled up in front of the inn, which didn’t sound nearly as impressive as it was. It was a single story building a few blocks from Derby Road that wrapped around the lot in a boxy U-shape, with parking spots in front of each room. A small building stood in the center of the lot, with a service window that likely served as the check-in counter.
I parked my car next to the little shack, then approached the window. A fat man in a white button-up shirt sat there, his large thumbs a blur over his phone’s screen. Either he was having a texting marathon, or he was playing some kind of video game, but whatever it was, he was so riveted that he didn’t even glance up.
Annoyed, I rapped on the window with my knuckles. “Hello?”
He jumped, and the fat rolls beneath his shirt rippled as he nearly fell off his chair.
“Jesus!” he cried, grabbing onto the counter for support. His eyes went wide as they took me in. “Couldn’t you give a man a little warning?”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Good afternoon, Mister…” I leaned in to read his name tag. “Jenkins. I’m Detective Brooke Chandler. I’m here following up on the death of Thomas Garrison.” My throat tightened a little, but I forced myself to remain coolly professional. I was here as a detective, not as a grieving fiancée.
“Thomas Garrison?” The man scrunched up his face, and his beady eyes just about disappeared behind his pudgy cheeks. “I don’t know anything about that.”
I frowned. “You don’t remember one of your hotel rooms catching fire a couple weeks ago?”
Jenkins’s chins wagged as he laughed. “Ma’am, I think I would have remembered if one of our rooms burned down. You don’t see any construction going on around here, do you?” He swept a dinner-plate-sized hand around, indicating the motel.
“No,” I admitted, and that was puzzling indeed. “But it’s been over three weeks since it happened, and I figured maybe you guys had already repaired the place.”
Jenkins shook his head. “Takes the boss-lady forever to get any maintenance done around here. Of course, a burned down room would be a priority, so maybe I’m wrong. But I definitely would have remembered if anything like that had happened, and it hasn’t.” Folding his arms, he peered at me with beady eyes. “You sure this is the right motel?”
“Yes,” I growled, fisting my hands at my sides. Goddammit, I’d gotten the details from the file Captain Randall had given me this morning. I’d seen the pictures. Hell, I even knew which room he’d been in. “Take me to room 104.”
Jenkins frowned. “Now hang on there,” he protested, “I can’t just go letting you barge into motel rooms and disturbing our—”
I slapped my badge on the sliver of counter in front of the window. “Take me there now, or I’ll arrest your ass for obstruction of justice.”
Jenkins stared at me for a long moment. Whatever he saw in my eyes made him decide not to fuck with me, because he hefted himself out of his chair with a curse. He squeezed himself out of the shack, muttering under his breath the entire time, and I thought I heard him say “bitch cop” as he locked the door behind him.
And here I thought he was about to bring me flowers.
The enormous key ring at Jenkins’s belt jangled with every lumbering step as he led me across the lot and to the room in question. We stopped in front of one of the many dark green doors, and I inspected the peeling brass numbers as he fumbled with the lock.
Here we go…
The door swung open, and I pressed my lips together as I entered the room ahead of Jenkins. There was not a single hint of fire in the space—not a whiff of smoke or a touch of blackness on the white walls or the wooden bed frame. The pale brown carpet beneath my feet might have been ratty, but it was intact, not even a scorch mark or cigarette burn to be seen.
“See?” Jenkins demanded, folding his arms across his massive chest again. “No fire.”
“I do see,” I murmured, running my fingers across the bedspread. I frowned when nothing happened—usually I got a good flash when I touched a bed of any kind, and yes, that was a pun. But I saw no naked people rolling in these sheets, or watching TV, or even sleeping.
“What are you doing?” Jenkins demanded as I walked the room, gliding my fingertips across every available surface. “I don’t have time to stand here while you waltz around.”
I twisted my lips as I skimmed my fingertips across the dresser. “Yes, I’m sure playing Tetris on your phone is very important.”
Huffing, Jenkins pulled out his phone, presumably to play on it while I worked. The space was small, but though I touched nearly every available surface, I couldn’t get a single vision. Just like in Maddock’s nightclub, somebody had wiped every trace of memory from this place.
Sighing, I leaned against the radiator, wondering what my next move was. My fingers brushed against the grate, seeking warmth, and I got a flash of a man standing in the middle of the room.
The drapes were closed, the space tinted yellow by the single light fixture hanging from the ceiling, and the man’s trench-coat-covered back faced mine as he muttered some kind of foreign language under his breath.
He pointed toward the bed, and my eyes widened as the mattress burst into flame. The fire grew faster than I thought possible, devouring the mattress as it stretched upward, outward, licking at the flames and the carpet. I was sure it would reach the man next, sure that he would be burned to a crisp…