Ethan sidled up to the desk and rested his forearms on the high counter to steady his balance.
“Good evening,” Lisa said. “Welcome to the Wayward Pines Hotel. How may I help you tonight?”
Her greeting seemed off. Not the words, but the delivery. Like she was struggling through something she rarely had to say.
“Do you have any vacancies tonight?”
“We sure do.”
Lisa typed on a keyboard.
“Just tonight?” she asked.
“Yes. For now at least.”
Ethan glanced at the computer monitor—an ancient monstrosity. Like something from the late eighties. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen such a dinosaur.
“I have a nonsmoking, nonpet room on the second floor with a king bed.”
“That’ll be fine.”
She finished typing. “And would you like to put this on a credit card?”
Ethan smiled. “That’s an interesting question.”
“Really? How so?”
“I was involved in a car accident several days ago. A truck slammed into the side of my car. Just up the block from here actually. Maybe you saw it?”
“No, I sure didn’t.”
“Well, I was just released from the hospital, and the thing is...I haven’t been able to locate my wallet. None of my personal belongings, in fact.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
He thought he saw Lisa’s smile lose just a touch of its initial enthusiasm.
“So how exactly will you be paying then, Mr....?”
“Burke. Ethan Burke. See, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. I won’t be able to pay for the room until I get my wallet back tomorrow. I’m informed the sheriff is in possession of my things. Not sure why, but...” He shrugged. “Is what it is.”
“Hmm. See, I’m not really allowed to open a reservation without a cash advance or at least a credit card number. It’s hotel policy. In case—and of course I’m not saying that this would necessarily happen—but in case there was any damage to the room or charges incurred that—”
“I understand that. I’m well aware of the purpose of deposits. What I’m telling you is that I will be able to pay you tomorrow morning.”
“You don’t even have a driver’s license?”
“Everything’s in my wallet.”
Lisa bit her bottom lip, and he could see what was coming—a nice girl working herself up to be the bad guy.
“Sir—Mr. Burke—I’m afraid that without a credit card or cash or identification, I’m just not going to be able to give you a room tonight. I would love to. Really. But this is just hotel policy and...”
She stopped talking when Ethan leaned over the counter.
“Lisa, do you know why I’m wearing a black suit?”
“I’m a special agent with the United States Secret Service.”
“You mean those guys who guard the president?”
“That’s only one of our duties. Our primary mission is to protect the integrity of our nation’s financial infrastructure.”
“And so you’re, like, on an investigation in Wayward Pines?”
“I am. I had just arrived in town when the accident happened.”
“What kind of investigation?”
“I can’t discuss any details.”
“You’re not pulling my leg, are you?”
“If I was, I’d be committing a federal crime.”
“You’re really a special agent?”
“Yes. And I’m tired and I’m asking you to give me a break. I need a room for the night. I promise you—I’m good for it.”
“And you’ll pay tomorrow? First thing?”
* * *
Key in hand, he trudged up the steps to the second floor and emerged into a long, quiet corridor. Faux lanterns had been mounted to the walls every twenty feet, and they shed a weak, yellow light on the Persian carpeting.
His room was at the far end, number 226.
He unlocked the door, stepped inside, hit the light.
The decor ran to the folksy side of the spectrum.
Two badly done iconic Western scenes.
A cowboy on a bucking bronco.
Group of ranch hands huddled around a campfire.
The room was stuffy, and there was no television.
Just an old-school black rotary phone sitting on one of the bedside tables.
The bed itself looked soft and enormous. Ethan eased down onto the mattress and unlaced his shoes. Walking around without socks had already started several blisters on the backs of his feet. He took off his jacket, his tie, and undid the first three buttons of his oxford shirt.
There was a phone directory in the bedside table drawer, and he took it out, set it on the bed, and lifted the antique phone.
Strangely, his home phone number didn’t immediately spring to mind. He had to spend a minute visualizing it, trying to picture how the number appeared when he smart-dialed on his iPhone. He’d had it just the other day, but... “Two...zero...six.” He knew it started with those three numbers—the Seattle area code—and five times, he spun them out on the rotary phone, but five times he blanked after the six.
He dialed 411.
After two rings, an operator answered with, “What city and listing?”
“Seattle, Washington. Ethan Burke. B-U-R-K-E.”
“One moment please.” Over the line, he could hear the woman typing. There was a long pause. Then: “B-U-R-K-E?”
“Sir, I’m not showing a listing under that name.”
It was certainly odd, but considering the nature of his job, his number was probably unlisted. Come to think of it, he was almost sure it was. Almost.
“OK, thank you.”
He shelved the phone and opened the phonebook, located the number to the sheriff’s office.
It rang five times and then went to voice mail.
After the beep, Ethan said, “This is Special Agent Ethan Burke with the United States Secret Service, Seattle field office. As you know, I was involved in the vehicular accident on Main Street several days ago. I need to speak with you at your earliest convenience. The hospital informed me that you’re in possession of my personal belongings, including my wallet, phone, briefcase, and firearm. I’ll be coming by first thing in the morning to pick them up. If anyone gets this message before then, please call me at the Wayward Pines Hotel. I’m staying in room two twenty-six.”