Chapter Four

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A beat of awkward silence had passed before the clatter of glass sounded the bartender's arrival in my orbit.

"What can I get you?" he asked, in the tone of a man who wanted to know anything but, as he looked down at me from across the counter.

Up close he was that tall, blond, large eyed breed of guy that middle-aged housewives hoped for in pool boys and Ralph Lauren favored for hawking a three piece suit.

If my dick were bipedal, it would have run shrieking for the nearest point of cover. Ankle boots, for fucks sake.

"A beer, eventually," I answered. I was still tamping down laughter and judging by the deepening of his scowl, a hint of that had slipped out in my tone. Giving myself a mental shake, I cleared my throat. "First though, who do I see about getting a room?" I nodded in the direction of the hotel entrance. "I didn't see any lights on in the lobby."

My bartender's poker face was pro. In fact, I was starting to wonder if he'd suffered some kind of face paralyzing nerve damage. "Hotel's closed," he said, expression not shifting an inch.

"Closed?" I repeated.

"As in defunct." He almost managed to look - was it apologetic or pleased? - about it.

Fan-flipping-tastic. With the luck I'd been having so far that day, I could guess the answer, but I asked anyway. "Is there another hotel in town?"

"Nope." He anchored an elbow on the counter in front of me, resting a dress shirt clad forearm on the abused marble. "There are hotels in Cortez. That's...sixty miles south."

I let out a groan. "Seriously?"

He shrugged; one of those continental gestures that signified this wasn't his problem. "Telluride is closer. I wouldn't recommend trying the pass in this weather though, not if you don't know the roads."

"No shit," I deadpanned, barely managing not to snap out the words. His lack of reaction to anything, was starting to wear on my pre-chewed nerves. "I just came that way. Took a rock to the windshield."

He of the precisely gelled bangs looked unsurprised and uninterested in equal measures by this announcement. "How bad?"

Dragging a hand through my own hair, I sat back heavily in the stool; gravity seeming to have just increased by a few degrees. "Can't drive with it," I ground out.

"Damn." He pushed up from the counter. "You still want that beer?"

"Make it bourbon," I sighed. "No ice."

He snorted at that, but turned around and took down a bottle of Benchmark - God help my taste buds - all the same.

"There's a couple of truckers in here that'll be heading out before too long." Setting a glass down in front of me that had seen one too many rounds with the dishwasher, he grabbed the bottle again and poured out a couple of fingers. "One of them'll let you hitch a ride to Cortez if you ask."

Spend a few years in any kind of law enforcement and you generally begin to pick up on strange details about a person. It's a necessary survival skill. It's also hard as hell to turn off. I couldn't help noticing that my bartender's accent didn't fit the geography any better than his boots. Or that there was something hokey about his body language, something unnatural.

"I sure as hell hope so," I said, fighting the urge to further dissect.

Picking up the glass, I downed a mouthful of cheap bourbon as I pretended to examine the bottles on the back shelf. I couldn't quite put a finger on the second thing. It was possible, of course, that I was overthinking it. He could have been nervous and uptight as a result of being new to the job. Or from simply being bad at it. The hand scrawled "help wanted" sign I'd noticed as I'd blown through the door had me putting my chips on the first though.

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