Chapter 5

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“Can’t you call someone? Your boss?” 

“It’s not that easy,” Becky replied. “There are rules here, codes of secrecy.” 

The brown Town and Country wagon pulled into Tamarin just before dusk but they still had no idea where they were supposed to stay. A motel would have worked temporarily, but they hadn’t seen a motel for thirty miles. Smiling faces took note of the old clunker rolling through town and Stan realized he never squeegeed Just Married off the back window. 

With no traffic lights to slow them down, they passed through Tamarin in under a minute. Nothing but desert and twilight in front of them as Becky fumbled with the map that offered no help or clues. 

“Screw the rules and codes,” Stan said, eyeing the rearview mirror before whipping out a U-Turn. “Let’s go ask for the nearest hotel.” 

Becky felt this was a bad idea, better to just drive out in the desert and sleep in the car, away from people who might ask questions. But the thought of being in the middle of nowhere with Stan turned her stomach. Not that she couldn’t have handled him if he got frisky, but the forced intimacy and potential breath and odor issues were enough justification to let standard protocols slip by just this once. 

It was Frank’s fault for not giving her all the information she needed. Her job was to react, to deal with situations a million times more stressful than where to find a place to sleep in dusty old Utah. But more than that, her job was to relocate Stan to this environment and keep him safe. She could just hear the snickering back at the office if she called to say she lost the address, which is what they’d all assume. Pride, and a lifetime spent battling weak female stereotypes, kept Becky from calling her boss. 

Stan guided the station wagon into an angled parking spot along the street. 

“What’s our story?” Becky asked. 

“We need a place to stay, that’s our story.” 

“Won’t it seem odd that we’re newlyweds moving to this town and we haven’t even scoped out a place to stay for the night?” 

“Leave the lying to me.” 

Stan grabbed the map off Becky’s lap and hopped out of the car. Becky followed reluctantly. 

Most of the sidewalk traffic were mothers pushing baby strollers with at least one other kid in tow. A few teenage couples smiled self-consciously on what were probably first or second dates. Stan searched for his target, someone who would be helpful but uncurious. Certainly not the ancient woman staring at them like they were tentacled space aliens beamed down from a flying saucer. Maybe Becky was the first Asian to walk the streets of Tamarin. 

They walked from one end of town to the other in a matter of minutes, then crossed the street to the opposite side of Main street and headed back to the car. 

Becky said: “Next person we pass, I ask for the nearest hotel.” 

It was getting darker by the minute. Streetlights flickered on and night was coming fast. 

“Let’s wait for the right person,” Stan insisted. 

“We don’t have time to wait.” 

And then Stan saw her, suddenly illuminated as a streetlight flickered on not ten feet away, leaning against the lamp post doing some warm-up stretch before a night run. She was decked out in dri-fit runner’s clothes with short brown hair she’d pulled into stubby pigtails in the back of her head. She’d been observing them arguing, an interested smile dimpling her cheeks. 

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