Monday, March 26, 2012

Chapter Five of ALONG FOR THE RIDE

Here's the scoop: Several Avalon Authors have come together to write a novel for fun. Every author contributes one chapter. There is no pre-arranged plot; there are no rules except that we follow Avalon's guidelines of writing family-friendly material. If you missed the first three chapters or if you would like to refresh your memory, please click on "Avaloner Online Novel" in the column to the right.


By Elisabeth Rose
Chapter five

Stan didn’t try to hail a cab outside the restaurant he bundled me along the sidewalk and around the corner, icy pellets stinging my cheeks, feet slipping and sliding in my clumsy rubber boots which had unaccountably grown a size or two.

I was getting very, very sick of this. In fact I’d had enough. Along with the whole incomprehensible Stan situation I’d been chased, frightened to near babbling hysteria, grabbed at by a strange scary man, lost my phone, probably ruined my designer dress, coat and shoes, been drenched, frozen and deprived of a meal -- unappetising though it may have been, it was food and I was hungry. A girl could not and would not endure this.

I stopped in the swirling wet, miserable slush that passed for weather in this city and announced, “I’m not doing this anymore. I’m going to my hotel to collect my suitcase and I’m leaving.”

I peered up and down the street looking for a cab. If he wasn’t hailing one I sure was.

Stan had forged ahead a few paces before he realised I’d dug in my new second hand rubber boots and wasn’t following like an obedient dog. He strode back and grasped my arm.

“Don’t be stupid.” His face loomed large in my vision, but now as well as the usual attractive and kissable his mouth indicated stern and angry which far outweighed any romantic feelings I might have been developing. Plus calling a girl stupid wasn’t an endearing trait.

“Stupid?!” I wrenched my arm free. “This has nothing to do with me, any of it. I’m leaving.”

“You can’t.” Now the anger morphed into smugness which only fuelled my own growing fury.

“Watch me.” A vacant cab appeared through the murk and I waved my arm wildly. It slowed, spraying slimy icy water onto my legs but I yanked the door open, tossed my bags of ruined clothes in and dived after them. Stan was almost too slow but he managed to get a foot in and his bum on the seat before the driver obeyed my strident command to get going. His large body lurched against me as the car slithered into the street, the door slammed. I fumed.

He wasn’t in a hurry to straighten himself, lolling against my resistance until he eventually got the message, sat up and brushed wet hair from his forehead. I was not succumbing to that spark between us, I was not!

“The snow will close the airport,” he said.

“That’s doubtful.” I had no idea. What would I know about snow? It didn’t look thick enough to me and already it was turning back into sleety rain rather than settling in those soft white romantic drifts our brochures featured in the ski package holidays.

Stan wisely refrained from saying more.

“Where to, ma’am?” The driver caught my eye in the rearview mirror. I almost told him the hotel name but then thought better of it. Stan probably already knew but I wasn’t going to hand him the information just in case. What landmark was close by but anonymously public? I didn’t know this city. More to the point how could I shake Stan? He’d been trouble since I laid eyes on him. Was he rescuing me or abducting me? Charm was the oldest trick in the book and he had buckets of it.

“Hotel Regent,” Stan said. The faint cinnamon aroma he carried about with him intensified in the warmth of the car’s interior, comforting as a farmhouse kitchen on baking day. I wrenched my thoughts back on track. Don’t be lulled by Stan’s apparent concern.

Another smell emanated from my damp second hand coat. I sniffed. Not quite as pleasant as cinnamon. The last owner had been a smoker.

I sighed and stared out the window. Okay. I couldn’t shake him but I didn’t have to talk to him. He wouldn’t tell me anything anyway. Ten minutes later the familiar fa├žade appeared through what was now driving rain. I flung the door open leaving Stan to fend for himself with the driver and the fare.

The staff were probably used to drenched guests squelching across the foyer with sodden shopping bags because no-one accosted me as a bag lady. I headed for the elevators without a backward glance. Was Stan on my heels? Didn’t know, didn’t care. Fortunately a bell pinged and one of the elevators released a group of people. I darted in and slammed my finger on all the floors from three up to ten then the close door button. My room was on seven. My little ruse might give me a few extra moments to escape Stan.

Each time the elevator stopped I pressed close doors. For good measure, before I got out, I punched in a few more floors. He could ask at the desk but they should ring my room to check with me first. If they didn’t I’d black mark them in my Travel Agent lists. To make doubly sure I rang the reception desk and asked them not to give anyone my room number. No-one, I emphasised.

“Very well, ma’am.” He didn’t sound at all interested in why I might be so adamant. For all he knew I might be on the run from the law. A tick for respecting guests’ privacy.

I hadn’t unpacked more than my bathroom bag when I checked in earlier. Just enough to spruce up a little before my blind date. What a joke! Thoughts of the Mel payback paraded briefly through my mind. But recompense could wait. The faster I got out of Seattle the better. I could plan her penance on the plane.

I took out my laptop and checked flights. It was 7-45. I’d missed the 8pm services to Phoenix and the next wasn’t till 11pm. My cursor hovered over the Book seat button. Should I go to Santa Barbara instead? That’s where Mel was and despite her crazy voodoo feelings regarding me she was the one who seemed to be at the centre of this mess.

I clicked on Santa Barbara flights. Nothing till the morning. The question was did I wait here holed up in my hotel room for the night with the wolves prowling about outside or did I make a run for the airport and the 11pm flight home? If I did that I’d arrive in the middle of the night and have to fly out again in the morning to catch up with Mel at the Convention. That would strain the credit card even with my agency discounts, plus be tiring. And Stan could be waiting downstairs with his followers. That scary man in the Japanese restaurant didn’t get there by chance. People seemed to be trailing about Seattle playing follow the leader with me, clueless, out in front. And handsome Stan was up to his neck in it.

Well I wasn’t playing anymore. I didn’t like that game.

If I stayed I could order room service, have a hot shower or better still soak in the tub, sleep in a comfortable bed and take stock of the situation. I booked a 10 am flight to Santa Barbara. I wouldn’t ring Mel because she’d either try to talk me out of going or confuse me even more with her cryptic utterances. I texted her instead.

At hotel. Freezing here. Taking a hot bath.

Love

Sonya.

Then I turned my phone off.

While my bath was filling I ordered a steak, salad and baked potato with sour cream plus chocolate mousse for dessert. I figured I’d need all my strength to cope with whatever was going on and who knew when I might get my next decent meal.

* * *

I amazed myself with how well I slept in those crisp white sheets with cold rain falling outside and confusion muddling my head but I woke with a jolt and sat up abruptly, staring at the curtains and the darkened room until my head cleared and I remembered. 7 am. I sprang out of bed and ten minutes later, overnight bag trailing behind me I strode along the corridor to the elevators.

Other guests were up and about even though the view through the glass front doors showed a dark and gloomy street with rain still dripping endlessly from the heavens. A quick glance ascertained no familiar unwelcome faces lurked behind pillars or pot plants. Stan wasn’t there. He hadn't spent the night on one of the lounge chairs keeping guard over me. Was that a little surge of disappointment? Would I ever see him again?

Another more sobering thought occurred. Had whoever caused his collapse in Starbucks tried again and succeeded? But what could I do and would staying make any difference? No.

I waited at the desk behind a grey-haired couple who were also checking out. Australians. The flat accent gave them away when the man said, “Can you call us a taxi for the airport, please?”

“The concierge will assist you, sir.”

“Righto. Thanks.”

“Would you like to share a cab?” I asked quickly as they turned to leave. “I’m heading for the airport now, too. I only have this bag.” Safety in numbers. The Aussie man despite his years had a solid build and well toned muscles under the thick wool sweater.

He glanced at his equally fit looking wife and some unspoken message flashed between them.

“Yes, all right.” His wife smiled. “We’ll be over there.” She pointed across the foyer where a medium sized red suitcase waited by the porter’s desk. Seasoned travellers by their modest luggage.

The desk clerk brought up my details and I signed for my dinner charge. At Mel’s expense, of course. “There’s a message for you, ma’am,” he said. “One moment.” He bent down and scrabbled about under the desk, reappearing with an envelope. My name was handwritten on the front.

“Who left this?”

“I don’t know, ma’am. I came on duty at six and it was left for you last night.”

“Okay. Thank-you.” I took the envelope he proffered. The writing was unfamiliar. My chest tightened and heat prickled my skin under my layers of clothing. Had Stan left this? Who else? Annie? That other scary man? Was it totally innocent and unconnected to them? I swallowed, breath coming suddenly hard as I realised I’d been holding air in my lungs.

“Excuse me.” The woman next in line nudged me aside.

“Sorry.” I stepped away still staring at the envelope. It held only a single sheet of paper by the feel of it.

“ Excuse me.” Again. I looked up. My Australian fellow travellers were beckoning from the doorway. “Taxi’s here.”

I shoved the envelope in my handbag, forced a smile and went to join them. Rain poured down again in leaden sheets.

“Where does all this water come from?” said the woman as we settled ourselves in the cab.

“No idea. But we don’t get it in Phoenix where I live.”

“We’re Betty and Frank,” she said.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Sonya.” I switched on my travel agent’s voice and persona and chatted like a normal person all the way to the airport with the envelope waiting like a time bomb in my bag.

But after we’d gone our separate ways, me to my Santa Barbara flight and them to their Denver connection I sat in the coffee shop nibbling on a Danish and sipping a latte, staring at the envelope and the looping script which depicted my name so carefully in black ink.

One more sip of coffee for courage and a quick wipe with a paper napkin to remove Danish stickiness from my fingers and I opened the flap and drew out the, as I’d suspected, single sheet of notepaper.



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1 comment:

Sandy Cody said...

Love this chapter, Lis, especially love that you've given Sonya some backbone.