Motel at the End of the World - Book 1 - The Coffee Killer
Motel at the End of the World - Book 1 - The Coffee Killer
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"I'm Darrell, the manager of the Crescent Motel. I've been running this place for years now, ever since the world went to hell. It's not the Ritz, but it's clean enough and we've got some decent regulars. My trusty sidekick is Bruno, a mutt I picked up off the streets a while back. He's got a nose for danger, which comes in handy in these parts.
That's why when Nance, our housekeeper, finds a dead body in one of the rooms, I know we have to keep it under wraps. We can't afford to draw any unwanted attention, until we can figure out who the killer is."
Sample - The Coffee Killer
Sample - The Coffee Killer
Few jobs are more depressing than sitting in a dank office behind the counter of an old motel in the middle of the night. Unless it's the end of the world, and you’re watching over the motel your dead aunt left you as your only source of survival. Then it's even more miserable. But add to that a former police dog as your constant companion and a bossy housekeeper to keep you company, and it’s a recipe for ruin. But they somehow made it work despite the challenges at the world’s end.
Except that Darrell’s dog, Bruno, didn't like bad weather or specific people and continuously whined under his breath and scooted closer to the desk as dead tree limbs shook outside the lobby window causing dark shadows to quake across the motel’s nearly abandoned parking lot.
"It's just the wind…you big baby. Stop your grumbling, Bruno," Darrell Riley, the owner, said. He glanced over the rim of his cheaters and watched dead leaves and debris snatched up on a passing breeze and carried off by a stronger gust of wind. Even the motel’s neon-lit sign that read Crescent Motel flickered with force, making a buzzing sound. "Don't you do that now! I don't want the hassle of a power outage. I’d get all wet restarting the generator." Darrell looked over at Bruno lying on his pallet behind the desk while he smoothed his bushy mustache. The German Shepherd laid his head between his paws again while darting his big brown eyes back at him and then again at the scary branches swaying like the arms of a monster. "It's just a random little storm. It's not even raining yet. Just relax. And no accidents. Save that for the bad guys, or Nance will have you mop floors."
Bruno glanced at him because he’d never graced the floor with a puddle. But also because he didn't seem convinced of either Nance making him mop it or that the storm outside wasn’t made of monsters about to get them both.
"Can I go back to reading the paper now? Thank you. At least someone’s still printing the darn thing." Darrell adjusted the front desk lamp just over the newsprint. He flicked his eyes back under the rim of his glasses to pick up where he'd left off in the Apocalypse Gazette and reread the headline:
MONSANTIS GUILTY OF MONO-CROPPING THE WORLD'S FOOD SUPPLY TO DEATH – NOT SURPRISINGLY, THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION CONCLUDED THE INVESTIGATION INTO MONSANTIS' BEST WORST PRACTICES IN THE PRODUCTION OF NEARLY ALL THE WORLD'S SUPPLY OF WHEAT, CORN, AND SOY PRODUCTS. THE OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTIC CHEMICALS CAUSED A SUPER MUTATED BACTERIA THAT WIPED OUT ALL MONO-CROPS AND SIGNIFICANTLY IMPACTED EVERY SEED WITH HOPES OF GERMINATION FROM NOW INTO ETERNITY. SCIENTISTS ARE STILL WORKING AROUND THE CLOCK TO SOLVE THE GLOBAL PLANT PANDEMIC THAT STARTED SEVEN YEARS AGO, CAUSING GLOBAL STARVATION, WITH NO SIGNIFICANT BREAKTHROUGHS TO DATE. THANKS TO…"
"Shh," Darrell said as Bruno began a low grumble again. But when he looked up, it wasn't the branches swaying their arms that made the dog upset again, but a man running under the Porte cortège just before a deluge started. When the doorbell chimed, Bruno lifted his head off the ground and sniffed at the stranger. Darrell folded and put his newspaper to the side and said, "Good evening. Looks like you just made it before the rain started. That's some storm coming."
The bald man swiped away the rain from his forehead and stomped a little on the mat to rid himself of the accumulated drops. He carried a backpack over one shoulder and took it off, setting the pack in front of him on the floor. "Yes, it's starting to come down out there, and I hear it will not stop for days. I'm assuming you have a room to rent for the night. I want to make it out of here before the worst of it begins in the morning, but I’m beat and need to sleep first before my trip."
"Well, that depends on your form of payment. Whatcha got?"
A corner of the man's mouth tweaked up in a smile while he unzipped his pack out of sight below the counter.
Darrell couldn’t see what he was digging for but began his list of most needed items for payment anyway. "We need soap, shampoo, and razors. Please, no more toothbrushes. Deodorant would be nice. Also, any kind of prescription contacts or glasses. Of course, any pantry items are always welcome. You don't have macaroni and cheese boxes, ramen noodles, or Oreos? Those will get you one whole night. And don't try to pay me with money. Some fool tried that last week. He brought in a bunch of Benjamins. I mean, seriously, we all know the reality now."
But the man didn't say anything yet. Instead, he kept his head down and continued to rummage something out of his bag, which made Darrell nervous. This wouldn’t be the first time he was held at gunpoint in the middle of the night, but he hoped he wouldn’t get that privilege again tonight. Because of that thought, he glanced over at Bruno just to be sure. But his trusty companion had his tongue lolling out of his mouth with several drool strings stretching a mile to the tile floor. He stared at the new guest, anticipating what he might have in his pack. What Bruno wasn't doing was freaking out…which was the best sign ever for a former police dog who used to sniff out explosives or ammunition. When Bruno freaked out…that meant danger, and it was late in the evening, and it was raining, and Darrell didn't want to put up with trouble so late in the day.
Then the man pulled out a small oblong package and slapped it on the counter. The packaging was matte dark brown, blunted at both ends, and seemed to conform to the flat countertop.
Darrell stared at it. Glanced quickly up at the man, who stood there smiling at him like it was some kind of joke.
Then he glimpsed at the package again. It couldn't be… "What the heck is that?" Darrell said, without hinting at what he thought it was.
"It's what you think it is."
Darrell swallowed, kept his hands to himself, and said, "Yeah…but is it what I smell it is? That's what I want to know?"
The man nodded, still grinning, "It is."
Darrell looked past the man to the lobby windows and beyond as if he was about to make a drug deal and hoped that no one was watching the exchange through the rainy darkness. Then he reached one hand out and squeezed the package. Between his thumb and index finger, the pinch felt like he was grinding bits of lightweight gravel. It was somehow therapeutic. His eyes lit up, and he squeezed the package a little more…kneading the contents with his fingertips and then his whole hand. Then, he let out a breath. Could it really be? He looked up at the man who patiently waited. "Are you alone? Is there anyone with you?"
The man shook his head. "It's just me. One night. That's all I need."
Darrell pulled the package across the countertop, unfolded the crimped edges, and rolled open the bundle. When the full force of the ground coffee bean aroma hit him, he closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. The memories flooded in. The early morning routines. The double mocha latte, the americanos, the straight black, the flat white, the caramel macchiato…the drip Italian roast…
"Brings you back, doesn't it?" the man said.
"Oh, man..." Darrell opened his eyes quickly and refolded the package, taking care to squeeze out the air. "I'm not even going to ask you where you got this. It's none of my business." He placed his fingertips on the giant ledger like a giant spider and pressed down. He spun the record book around quickly for the man to sign. He handed him a pen, unlocked the storage closet behind him, tossed the payment inside, and relocked the door before anyone caught a glimpse of what was sitting on his desk. "Checkout’s at noon. No exceptions. Room 34 is clean and ready to go. No smoking in the rooms. No pets. No bartering in your room for services. And…as always BYOTP…bring your own toilet paper." Darrell dangled the single key from the Crescent Motel's half-moon keychain.
The man eyed him, smiled, picked up his backpack, swung one strap over his shoulder, and then swiped the key from proffered Darrell's hand.
The man tipped his head and said, "Thanks, I'll have to make a run for it through the rain."
Darrell spun the ledger around again quickly as the man headed toward the swinging glass door, "Hey, and welcome to the Crescent Motel, Mr.…. Jay Houston."
“Thank you,” said Jay.
Then Darrell watched the man hurry through the torrent, across the sodden parking lot to room 34, where he coincidentally had parked his red car.
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