Comfort Reaps Rewards
|Haveland Marx cranked up the window in his ’68 big block pickup as he sped toward town. Wind whistling all around the cab made it nearly impossible to hear his good buddy Tinker on the phone cradled between his chin and his shoulder. As he listened, he supposed he could maybe invest in a hands free system. Might make maintaining the lane during delicate times a bit less stressful.
Not that he was stressed. Everybody around the area knew the sound of OleBess on approach. And everybody around town knew to dive out of the way in case OleBess came too close.
Haveland didn’t have the greatest reputation driving among the locals, but he certainly knew his way around a car. The town didn’t even have a proper garage. Everybody just made their way over to the Marx farm when in mechanical distress or else in need of a tune. Haveland could tell what ailed a vehicle by just listening. He had a knack for understanding their language. If you asked, Haveland might even admit he considered many of the domestic cars and trucks in the area better friends than the people who drove them. And the foreign jobs. Hell, he didn’t speak any German or Japanese or Korean, but he could tell when something was the matter, and he never complained about rolling up his sleeves … a lot like the area’s family doctor but without the birthing.
OleBess’s right side dipped into the irrigation ditch along the side of the road, and Haveland jerked the wheel back to the left and gunned the engine with a spay of gravel and grass before snatching at his legs to retrieve his phone. Thankfully it hadn’t bounced off the seat onto the floor because that might’ve caused a real mess.
“Yeah, I’m still here.” he said into the receiver. “Yeah, hands free … got it … no, not yet, but we’re getting there.”
Wayne hung her head out the window from the passenger side of the cab. She relished the times she could help out her old man. The number of which remained on the down low. She grinned to herself understanding her importance to the people within this inner circle of friends. Someone had to keep them in-the-road, so to speak. Even though she’d never received a word of thanks, whenever these guys needed anything done, it was always ole Wayne to the rescue … and that was just fine with her.
“Hell, I don’t know … what … 10 minutes? … Yeah, I know … two Elmers. City types. I know I know … don’t worry about it … the Foxhound’s along … yeah, she’s right here …”
Wayne stuck her chin through a mop of dirty blond whipping around the cab, flashed her teeth and turned back toward the window and held her hand out to glide along the rushing winds.
“She’ll figure out what they’re doin’… no doubt …” Haveland chinned back toward Wayne and slowed for the four way stop at the edge of town. “Yeah … c’mon man … she knows. Well I should know, shouldn’t I? She does! … Yes … she does! … awright? Right. Ok.”
Haveland closed his flipphone with a snap and slapped it onto the benchseat between them. He looked left, looked right. OleBess grumbled forward and then roared into town.
“Tinker says hi.” he said fishing a cigarette out of the pack on the dash near his window.
Wayne tilted her head toward him then back toward the window. She rolled her window up as Haveland was rolling his back down to blow out his first drag. She leaned her head against her side of the cab and grinned brightly.
“What.” Haveland asked.
“That all he said?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, what else did he say?”
Haveland thought about it, considered her youthful, spritely, face sitting there staring back at him. Considered himself lucky to know such a creature. His chest filled with warmth, and he turned back toward the road.
“… buncha this and that.” he nodded.
Wayne chuckled. “heh” she replied nodding.
She reached over her shoulder and retrieved one of his old, tobacco stained, trucker hats and pulled it down over her head. Her black, oversized “Detroit Rock City” t-shirt riffled in the wind buffeted against the closed window.
“Yeah, I know.” she said. “Back at both of you fools.”
Haveland found himself grinning despite himself and coughed against the back of one hand in an effort to recompose himself.
The town of Granpreis stretched out below them as OleBess crested the final nob of hill leading onto mainstreet from Durnfoth Lane. Well, Durnfoth was technically Rural Route 81, but the locals knew it for the farmland backing into the town’s outer edge and the family name controlling most of the surrounding countryside in older days.
Granpreis was a typical rural village, and the closest thing anyone occupying the area had to an organized county seat. It had literally three traffic lights. One was at its center, and the other two were arranged at opposite ends of Main Street proper, each letting out to separate Rural Routes.
Wayne rolled her window down as OleBess ground to a stop at the end of Durnfoth from the north. Haveland watched the dirt road in the distance to his left, where the pavement ended past Dystin’s barber shop. Laura Pastor pulled up to the light facing OleBess as they waited for the light to change. Both Wayne and Haveland gave an open palmed wave out their windows. As the green light came on, Laura’s Ford Tempo lurched forward.
“Pot Roast!” she yelled into Haveland’s ear as she passed by.
Haveland craned back and reached toward the Tempo with an open hand, then watched the rear view as Laura disappeared up the hill.
Wayne rolled her eyes.
“Pot roast?” she said with a hint of exasperation. “Why aint Gilly cookin’ anythin’ different. Why always pot roast?”
Haveland shrugged as they grumbled toward the center of town.
“I suppose, Tarrel aint shot nuthin’ inna while. What are you worried about anyway? You ate already!”
“Yeah, I guess.” shrugged Wayne checking her smartphone “Hey, where we headed anyway?”
“Oh.” he replied, matter-of-factly while scratching his stubble. “Tink says there’s these two Burbanites rolling through town. Said they was talkin all squirrely about something. That’s all.”
Wayne nodded while parking some stray hairs behind her ears. “You want me to find em?”
“Well, really … there’s only one place they could be if they’re here doing stuff like they was talkin’. Gonna need a place to stay so …”
Wayne snapped her fingers.
“Comfort Inn.” she said.
Wayne sat back against the seat and let her hand play in the breezy air as they grumbled to the next traffic light and stopped with a squeak.
Haveland’s eyes shot up at the noise, and he made a mental note. He’d need to go over OleBess’s braking system after they were done.
Gilly’s Stop and Go was the convenience store at the opposite corner of Granpreis’s main intersection. A decent roundup of parked cars lined the near side of the establishment with a couple of vehicles positioned at the pumps at the front. A tall, gangly kid leaned against the back of his hatchback watching the meter run while he filled his car with gasoline. Haveland caught the glint from an earring before the light turned.
OleBess rumbled forward. The sound caught the kid’s attention, and he turned toward the street.
Wayne bounced onto her seat and thrust her torso out the window.
“Hey Bass! You catch that squirrel yet?!” she yelled at him teasingly.
Bastian Wilman shrugged and threw out his middle finger. Haveland noted his white, Monsterdrink, t-shirt accented in snotlike green, slash graphics didn’t have any sleeves.
Wayne bounced back onto her seat, waved, and blew him kisses.
“Why you have to do him like that?” questioned Haveland.
Wayne grinned, shrugged, and turned toward the old man, “Aw, c’mon, he’s harmless.”
“If you say so.”
“Besides …” she continued, devilish grin playing across her face. “… every squirrel needs a nut.”
Haveland fought against choking on his own spit, pulled OleBess back to the center of the lane and tossed his cigarette butt out the window. He waved at a hunched girl in a blue dress walking down the opposite side of the street toward Gilly’s.
“Hey Suse!” called Wayne hand extended out Haveland’s window and across his face.
Susan Gallat stopped short along the sidewalk, scowled, and waved back with a big grin.
Wayne flopped back against her seat and adjusted the trucker hat atop her hairline.
“He’s not my type.”
Haveland glanced at her out of the corner of his eye.
OleBess rumbled on, passing the Sipp and Save, Morgan’s Deli, the Fallwall Savings and Loan, and Dexter’s Drugs, the Littel Library, Brouman’s BaitShop and then they were out of town through the final traffic signal and onward to the Comfort Inn along Rural Route 310, aka Haumant Road South. The roadway south of town was high sided, flanked on both sides by split railed fenced and barbed wire. Flat expanses of open field spread out as far as the eye could see accentuated by islands of patchy tree line and high scrub squaring the various parcels with low hills rising to the east punctuated by forest some miles distant.
OleBess rounded a gradual right hand bend in the road, and the fields before them parted to expose a long low building surrounded by paved parking and a short run-up to a covered entry. The building was a two story job dotted with curtained windows and was bisected by a balcony running along its entire length. OleBess drifted slowly along the road paralleling the parking for the facility. He slowed a fraction taking note of a fresh, new, extended cab four by four pickup truck sporting a camouflage graphics package parked closer to the entryway.
“Gotta be them.” he muttered.
Wayne craned across his girth surveiling the scene.
“Uh huh.” she muttered noting the number of windows, the number of doors, the stairwell positions, the makes, models, types of the two or three or cars parked around.
“Let’s see if Casey’s around.” he said.
Wayne sat back against the seat and watched, locked in.
Man, she was good at this. Haveland was thinking as they pulled beneath the check in canopy.
Haveland watched through the double doors. He could see into the lit area beyond and took note of a squat, dark haired woman tapping into a keyboard behind a counter.
OleBess grumbled forward and bumped the curb along the back of the building.
He cut the engine and gave Wayne a look.
“I’ll be right back.” he blurted, shoving the driver’s side door. He turned and put his head through the window. “Do me a favor.”
Wayne was sucking her t-shirt collar between her lips. She looked at him with calm, curious eyes.
“Head around the front and keep an eye on that truck over there. The new one by the side.”
“Right-o.” she said with a little salute and slammed the passenger door.
“Oh, and Hounddog?”
“Don’t let anyone see you.”
Haveland sauntered up to the double doors and jerked them open in such a way the dwindling sunlight caught the lady behind the counter’s eyes. She put up a hand to ward off the glare.
A low, shadowy figure shot past outside, a camo-panted, black t-shirted blur in combat boots who vaulted a low wall and settled behind a low hedge beyond prying eyes.
“Haveland Marx, is that you? I thought I heard our girl rumble through” the counter lady asked once her eyes adjusted.
Haveland Marx marched through the atrium, letting the doors “whoosh” closed behind him. He moved to the counter pinching his nose as if he had a headache.
“Yeah, Casey. It’s me.”
“Wow. Been a while.”
“Yeah, I know …”
“Been a few missed payments.”
Haveland lowered his hand. She was stout, slightly aged, roamy at the waste, dressed in a plain grey, jacket with a white pocket square, dark pants and a high collared blouse. Her dark hair was shorter than he’d remembered. She wore it almost shaved at the sides, full on the top. It was smart, serious, empowered. A teardrop shaped pendant hung from a gold chain around her neck. A twinge of sadness slapped him in the back of the head.
He puffed his cheeks, exhaled.
“Yeah I know.” he said sullen as a punished child while shifting his weight side to side.
She regarded him rather severely for several moments before stepping back and thumping her fists against her hips.
“Haveland Marx!” she yelled pointing fine nailed a finger squarely at his face.
He went rigid and braced for impact.
“Oh c’mon man! I so got you!! Aint no way you can pay any a that alimony!!.”
He shot her a look, then looked away, rubbing the back of his neck. He found himself to be only slightly embarrassed.
“I mean …!” she continued. “I’m the one with the job!! C’mon now!!”
“Yeah … I guess.” he said sheepishly.
Two members of the cleaning crew pushed into the lobby from a stairwell near the back of the waiting area. They wrestled a towel encumbered cart flanked by brushes, mops, and a small vacuum into the room and headed for the elevator. Casey Wylan previously Casey Wylan Marx shifted forward at her workstation and pretended to type.
“Yes sir. Single occupancy. For how many nights?” she asked him while giving the crew a single cursory glance.
Haveland watched the pair until the elevator doors closed with a ding.
“Ok. They’re gone.”
Casey dropped her hands to her sides and craned around in the direction they had gone.
“Whew. Rigors of the job, I’m afraid.” she said to him.
“So how you been Bear? How’s the girl?”
“Ok. I guess. And yeah, she’s good too … far as I can tell. You?”
“Good. Can’t complain. I’m up for manager after the holidays.”
“Really?” he asked more amazed than complimentary. Times sure had a way of a changing.
“Yessir. So don’t worry.”
“About the payments.” she continued giving him a serious look.
He affected his best hangdog.
“Yeah,” he muttered. “Ok.” and then added almost as an afterthought, “Thanks.”
She regarded him in earnest for several moments before clearing her throat.
“So what can I help with, Bear.”
“Oh nothing really. Nothing like that … I mean money is a good thing … (she nodded) And you should be proud. You …”
“Not what I meant.”
“Oh okay.” he looked around the room checking for onlookers. Noted the security camera and pointed toward it subtly while miming adjusting buttons on his shirt. “Audio?” he mouthed.
She shook her head.
He rested a meaty forearm atop the counter. “Ok cool. Kinda dumb though.”
“Ok, here’s the thing …” he began, “Got wind, there’s these two guys in town. Some kinda weirdness while hunting somewhere around here. City-types. Real Elmer Fudds.”
“Uh huh.” she said, coking an eyebrow.
“You got anybody like that staying here … or anything?”
Casey pulled a blue ball point pen out of her jacket, grabbed a post-it from a pad.
“You know I can’t give that out.”
“Yeah but …”
“No discussion.” she said scribbling something behind the counter. “We of the Comfort Inn family of hotels cannot divulge any information considerate of our patrons.”
Casey shot him a hard, serious look and propped hands upon hips. Haveland’s eyes went wide.
“Hotel?! This is … but. It’s just. You know how these things are.”
“I know how YOU are!” she said firmly. “Now I’m sorry, but you are going to have to vacate the premises.”
“Now. Sir. Poste haste and without hesitation. I need you to leave.”
“But … Casey I …”
She picked up the phone.
“Do I need to call security.”
Haveland almost laughed at that knowing full well “security” meant a coupla guys in a little room. A coupla guys he knew from the community helped raise. A couple of guys who probably wouldn’t do a damned thing about any of this, much less lay a hand on him or anyone he knew.
“No no. S’okay.” he said raising his hands in defeat.
Casey, exuding exasperation, abruptly began a furious, hellbent march around the check in counter. She strode toward Haveland, forcibly spun him by his shoulders and shoved him bodily toward the front doors.
“Alright.” he said, taken aback. “ALRIGHT NOW!! No need to … be so …”
“OUT!” she yelled, shoving him through the inner doors.
She followed him to the outer doors and held one open as he jumped hastily through.
When she was sure no one could see, and as he crossed the threshold, Casey reached across a smacked him firmly upon his backside.
Haveland straightened at the sharp “pop” followed by a minute stinging across his buttocks.
He spun back toward her from the sidewalk as she pulled the doors together.
She stroked the backs of her fingernails against her lapels, smoothed her hair and turned on one heel to head back into the Comfort Inn. She appeared to pat herself on one shoulder as she spun toward her station.
Within moments OleBess rumbled along the far side of the turnaround pausing only a moment so he could see inside the doors. Casey was back at her terminal, typing away but as he pushed the truck forward she suddenly looked up, feigned a stretch and mimed straightening her pocket square.
Next thing he knew, the passenger door jerked open and in popped Wayne.
Together they reentered the roadway and headed back toward town. The engine gurgled and grumbled and roared. The wind whipped about per usual.
Wayne looked over with a gleam in her eye. “… get anything?”
Haveland pursed his lips thinking about what had transpired. He tentatively patted his breast pocket. OleBess drifted a little to the right as he turned-out every pocket he had. His fingertips brushed something rigid hanging out of the back of his pants, and he slammed on the brakes, jerking OleBess violently to a stop. Wayne pawed at the dash almost bludgeoning her forehead against it.
Haveland checked the rearview, propped open his door in the dying light as night descended. He fumbled around hanging halfway out the door, grinned to himself, slammed the driver’s door and gunned back into the roadway. Just one side of Granpreis, he leaned toward Wayne and handed her a folded strip of yellow.
“What’s that say?” he asked.
“uuuuuhhh.” she said unfolding the little note against its stickiness. “Says: Rm107, til Tuesday.”
“Atta girl.” said Haveland as they moved northward.
“Wait.” said Wayne. “Pull into Gilly’s”
“Hounddog … this aint no time ta …”
“Seriously. I’m serious.”
Haveland eased the ’68 big-block alongside one of the gas pumps and cut the engine. He looked over at Wayne who’d already jumped out, leaving the passenger door open …
He scanned the area for her, but she was nowhere to be found. She’d vanished … but then, he heard metal slam, felt OleBess shift, and quick as she had disappeared, she was back.
Wayne bounced onto the seat.
“Look what I found.” she said grinning like a crazyperson.
On the seat between them she positioned what appeared to be a red and white tackle box.