August 24, 2013

KES, 93



He briefly looked as startled as I felt.  But then his face cleared and he said, “You must be Kes from cabin seven.  Hi.  I’m Jan.”  He held out his hand, but this was a blunt, broken-fingernailed, ink- and machine-oil-stained hand, not at all like Mr Love-Me’s, and looking at his grin I could see him as Mike’s father.  My face relaxed into a smile in response (Hey!  What do you mean by relaxing!  Deinonychus and unspeakable cosmic horror is waiting for us a mere twenty miles away!).

“Yes.  Maybe Serena told you I’m checking out tonight.”

“She did indeed.”  Jan opened the giant ledger Serena had applied to on my arrival.  There wasn’t a computer screen in sight and the credit-card machine looked humble and subservient.  And old.  A Model T of credit-card machines.

“Er—where is Serena?  She was here five minutes ago.”

“Yep,” said Jan, making a note in the book.  “She’s mad at me so I gave her the night off.”  He looked up at me again, grinned, and went back to his book.  I could immediately see him as a great guy to have a beer with and a totally infuriating boss.  I could also kind of see his shirt as a manifestation of the taste that produced friendly neon campfires.  The plastic mother-of-pearl buttons were particularly eye-catching.

I took the key out of my pocket and laid it on the table.  I would not be sorry not to have a campfire gouging my leg any more, but since I was trading it in for a ring of keys big and heavy enough to use as a spare anchor for a medium-sized yacht I had slightly mixed feelings about the exchange.  At least there wouldn’t be crushed food on the walls.  Unless there was a poltergeist who had liked its solitude.

Then I pulled the bracelet out and laid it next to the key.  It was even more beautiful than I’d thought in the dim light of cabin seven.  Here there was a blast of overhead 100 watt that made it glitter.  I was pretty sure it was real silver—it had what looked like hallmarks stamped on the inside of the cuff—but it was as shiny as if it had just come out of the hands of one of the White House’s butlers.  So it was well cared for and couldn’t have been lost for long.  Bizarrer and bizarrer.  To coin a phrase.  Even more bizarre was my conviction, as I pulled it out, that I suddenly smelled roses:  it was so strong I looked around the office.  Although florists’ roses are notoriously duds in the scent department and I doubted there were any roses blooming in New Iceland this time of year.

And roses didn’t really fit the décor.  I’d been too stunned when I arrived two nights ( . . . two nights) ago to notice much.  There was a big wall unit of veneer-plywood pigeonholes of about the same vintage as the credit card machine.  I knew it was veneer over plywood because the corners were splitting.   I was relieved to see there was nothing visible in the pigeonhole for cabin seven.  The pigeonholes were facing a gigantic map of the area and some racks of flyers for local attractions.  Which meant there must be local attractions.  I probably didn’t want to know.  Giant freshwater squid taxidermy museum.   Possibly sharing the parking lot and really bad café with a theme park based on other unusual animals.  Naked mole rat roller coaster.  Axolotl carousel.  I shook my head.  I had to get back to work before my brain was taken over by the stuff I usually shoved into my fiction.

“I found this in a corner,” I said, turning the bracelet up so the rose gleamed.  The medallion was maybe ceramic;  the rose was a deep velvety red and the white background was slightly opalescent.  The contrast with Jan’s buttons was a little queasy-making.  “The previous tenant must have left it behind, although I can’t imagine why she didn’t turn around, however far away she’d gone, the moment she noticed it was missing.”

Jan looked mildly surprised and then puzzled.  He flipped one page back in the ledger book and shook his head.  “Last person in that cabin was a week ago, Bill Wheatley, he travels in agricultural equipment, one of our regulars.  Nice guy, still calls his wife sweetheart like he means it, but he wouldn’t be buying her anything that looks like that.”  He flipped another page.  “Before that, young couple with three little kids, couldn’t afford a bigger cabin, had ’em in sleeping bags on the floor.  Not theirs either.”  He picked the bracelet up and looked at it.  I was only now noticing the seed pearls around the medallion.  I’d thought they were silver beads.  “Pretty thing.”  And then added, “Almost too pretty.  Take some living up to, I guess.”

I looked at him, startled.  I wasn’t expecting poetic sensibility from Neon Campfire Decorative Squashed Food Man.

He laid it down and then pushed it back across the counter at me.  “You keep it.”



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