Chapter 20

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Barlow held the door for Caroline as they entered The Inn of the Dancing Bear. They had left Columbus before dawn on Tuesday morning after Thanksgiving and arrived just before lunch. The inn was deserted except for the old timer with the facial tick who sat at the far end of the bar. Barlow recalled his name, Twitchy. Caroline sauntered over to a bar stool while Twitchy gave her the once over.

The inn's owner popped out from the kitchen. Barlow waved him over but felt embarrassed because he had forgotten the man's name.

"You're back," the owner said. He looked at Barlow then at Caroline with a quizzical expression.

Barlow could read his mind. The guy was thinking, who is this lady? What happened to Pet? Of course, being a bartender, the man would never divulge the business of his customers. It was an unwritten code of conduct for bartenders everywhere. At least, that's what Barlow hoped.

"I'm Trevor Dunne," the bartender said as he extended a hand toward Caroline.

Caroline shook and introduced herself.

"Pleased to have you as a customer," Trevor said.

From his stool at the end of the bar, Twitchy slurred out the words, "Well now, she's a looker." He turned to Barlow. "This girl is classier than that woman cop you were with the last time."

Even though Barlow had told Caroline about his meetings with Pet, he felt his face grow hot with embarrassment. Why, though? He had nothing to feel guilty about.

Trevor snapped his fingers. "Hey, mind your own business, Twitchy. You leave these folks alone." He shook his head and wore an apologetic expression. "What can I get for you?"

Barlow glanced at Caroline. She acted as if Twitchy's unwelcome comment didn't faze her. To Trevor, she said, "We've been on the road for hours and haven't eaten. Is it possible to get a late breakfast?"

Trevor leaned against the bar. "Any other time of year your request would be no problem, but this is the second day of rifle season. In about fifteen minutes, this place is going to be teeming with deer hunters on lunch break from the woods who are going to be ravenous. My wife is busy in the kitchen preparing hot soups and chili getting ready for the rush."

"I feel what you're saying. For me it would be like during a Buckeyes game."

When the bartender cocked his head signaling he didn't understand what she was saying, Caroline went on. "I'm night manager at a busy sports bar in downtown Columbus, Ohio. When the Ohio State Buckeyes have a home game, it's complete chaos. We trim our menu back to serving just a few items to keep our kitchen staff from going bonkers, so I get it."

"I suppose you do."

She considered. "How about hot soup and a toasted cheese sandwich?"

"That I can do," Trevor said, "and out of professional courtesy to a fellow bartender, the meal is on me."

Caroline beamed. "Thank you."

"I'll have the same," Barlow said.

"Yeah, but you'll pay for yours." Trevor smiled. "Just kidding. How about drinks?"

"Water with lemon," Barlow said.

"Make that two," Caroline said.

From the end of the bar, Twitchy shouted, "Hey, I once spent an afternoon pulling drafts at the VFW. Do I get my meal for free?"

Trevor rolled his eyes and ignored the man.

"Before you fill our order," Barlow said, "there's another reason we're here. You told me during hunting season this place is booked solid, but we're going to need a room for a couple days. I've been gone too long from Perry County and lost touch with the businesses around here. Can you recommend someplace nearby?"

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