Part 31 - Lodge

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The Econo Lodge charged ten dollars more for a room than its neighbors. One of the fluorescent lights in its lobby had died, leaving a gloomy widow. The tourist information rack held only a few brochures for the Museum of Science and History, and the plastic ferns needed dusting, but the floor had been recently mopped and the air was clean. The motel was just uninviting enough to draw neither custom nor suspicion.

Huntsman stood before the front desk carrying a black leather doctor's bag.

"You're all set, Mr. Huntsman." Smiling through a walrus mustache, the manager slid a metal key over the counter. He sounded perhaps too eager to please, but his performance was otherwise satisfactory — although he and Huntsman were alone in the lobby, he had turned to the rack of room keys. A casual observer would have thought that he'd taken Huntsman's key from it.

A careful observer might have marveled at the manager's above-elbow prosthesis. It was perhaps too modern, too capable of manipulating fine objects, and presumptively too expensive for a man who worked the desk at a cheap motel. Huntsman did not begrudge the manager his arm, but neither did he wonder what else the man had lost to the enemy. What they'd taken from Huntsman was enough.

Huntsman exchanged his car keys for the room key. "I'm driving a police cruiser. Do you have a garage?"

"I'll move it to the loading area. It'll be out of sight. Anything else?"

"Do you have a trauma surgeon on call?"

The manager shook his head.

"Get one by morning," Huntsman said. "Just for the day."

The manager looked alarmed. "What's going on—"

Huntsman gave him a flat look.

The manager held up his prosthetic palm. "I know better than to ask. Just give them Hell for me."

Not for you, Huntsman thought. He exited the lobby. The key was for Room 4. Mandarin Chinese for death, and likely someone in Tallahassee's idea of a joke.

A couple, dressed too well for their accommodations, walked towards the lobby. A careful observer might have seen a middle-aged businesswoman having an affair with her assistant. But they were perhaps too serious for lovers, and too fit for office work, and the younger man's waistband holster showed through his shirt. They lowered their eyes as Huntsman passed.

"That was the old man," the young man whispered, too soon to escape Huntsman's notice.

"Shut up. I didn't see anything. Neither did you," the woman whispered back.

Children training children, and humanity hangs in the balance, Huntsman thought.

He removed the do not disturb sign from the doorknob and entered Room 4. It was laid out like any other cheap motel room — twin beds, dresser, television, bathroom and shower — except that it had a minibar. He dropped the doctor's bag on one of the beds, locked the deadbolt, checked the reinforced glass on the window and the lines of salt on the window sills, and drew the blinds.

A spare JSO uniform hung in the closet between a FedEx uniform and an Italian-cut suit. One of the quartermasters had apparently lost a bet — among the medical scrubs, motorcycle gear, and casual attire hung an ice cream truck driver's uniform and cap, tailored to Huntsman's measurements like the other disguises. The waste of Lodge resources amused him no more than the gorilla costume had. He changed out of his uniform. The fresh uniform, and a duty vest, went on the bed next to the doctor's bag.

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