“Just a sec!” he called out. He pulled his pants on and staggered over to the door. Undid the locks, the chain, tugged it open.
“Yes?” Ethan asked.
“Checkout is at eleven.”
“What happened to ‘first thing’?”
“I didn’t realize—”
“Have you been able to get your wallet yet?”
“No, I’m just now waking up. Is it really after twelve?”
She wouldn’t answer, just glared at him.
“I’m going to the sheriff’s office right now,” he said, “and as soon as I get—”
“I need your key back, and I need you to evacuate the room.”
“Evacuate the room. Get out. I don’t appreciate being taken advantage of, Mr. Burke.”
“No one’s taking advantage of you.”
Ethan took a hard look into her face, searching for something—softness, cracks in her resolve—but he didn’t find a shred of compassion.
“Just let me get dressed.” He started to close the door, but she put her foot across the threshold.
“Oh, you wanna watch me? Really?” He backed away into the room. “Fine. Enjoy the show.”
And she did. Stood in the doorway watching him lace up the shoes over his bare feet, button his stained, white oxford, and struggle for two agonizing minutes to knot his tie.
When he’d finally slid his arms into his black jacket, he grabbed the room key off his bedside table and dropped it into her open palm on the way out.
Said, “You’re gonna feel terrible about this in two hours,” as he walked down the corridor toward the stairs.
* * *
At the drugstore on the corner of Main and Sixth, Ethan grabbed a bottle of aspirin off the shelf and carried it up to the register.
“I can’t pay for this,” he said as he set it down on the counter. “But I promise I will be right back here with my wallet in thirty minutes. It’s a long story, but I have a headache from hell, and I’ve got to take something right now.”
The white-jacketed pharmacist had been in the midst of filling a prescription—counting out pills on a plastic tray. He lowered his chin and looked at Ethan over the top of his square, silver-frame glasses.
“What exactly is it that you’re asking me?”
The pharmacist was a balding man on the depressing side of forty. Pale. Thin. With large, brown eyes that looked even larger through his thick-as-plate-glass lenses.
“To help me out. I am...really hurting here.”
“So go to the hospital. I run a pharmacy, not a credit and loan.”
A flash of double vision jarred Ethan for a split second, and he could feel that terrible throbbing beginning to crank up again at the base of his neck, each pulse sending a wave of stunning pain down his spine.
He didn’t remember leaving the pharmacy.
Next thing he knew, he was stumbling down the sidewalk of Main.
Feeling worse by the minute, wondering if he should go back to the hospital, but that was the last thing he wanted. He just needed some goddamned Advil, something to take the edge off the pain so he could function.
Ethan stopped at the next crosswalk. Tried to reorient himself to the direction he needed to go to reach the sheriff’s office when he remembered. Sliding his hand into the inner pocket of his jacket, he pulled out the slip of paper and unfolded it.
604 1ST AVE
He was dubious. Knock on this perfect stranger’s door and ask for medicine? On the other hand, he didn’t want to go to the hospital, and he couldn’t show up at the sheriff’s office in the throes of this mind-crippling headache. He was planning to chew some ass, and that usually went better when you weren’t overcome by the desire to crawl up into a fetal position in a dark room.
What was her name?
She’d probably closed last night, which meant there was a good chance she was home now. Hell, she’d offered. He could swing by, borrow a few pills, get this headache under control before heading over to the sheriff’s.
He crossed the street, stayed on Main until he’d reached Ninth, and then took a turn around the block and headed east.
Streets intersected Main.
Avenues ran parallel.
Figured he had about seven blocks to walk.
After the third, he could feel his feet rubbing raw, but he didn’t stop. It was pain, but a welcome distraction from the pounding in his head.
The school occupied an entire city block between Fifth and Fourth Avenues, and he limped alongside a chain-link fence that enclosed a playing field.
It was recess hour for a class of eight- or nine-year-olds, and they were engaged in an elaborate game of freeze tag, a girl with blonde pigtails chasing everyone in sight as a choir of screams echoed between the brick buildings.
Ethan watched their game, trying not to think about the blood that had begun to collect in his shoes—cold between his toes.
Blonde pigtails suddenly stopped in the middle of a group of kids and stared at Ethan.
For a moment, the other kids continued running and screaming, but gradually, they also stopped, taking notice, first, that their pursuer was no longer chasing them, and then, of what had stolen her attention.
One by one, each child turned and stared at Ethan—blank expressions that he could have sworn contained some element of thinly veiled hostility.
He smiled through the pain, gave a little wave.
Not a single one of them waved back or otherwise responded. They just stood frozen in place like a collection of figurines, only their heads turning as they watched him pass out of sight around the corner of the gymnasium.
“Weird little shits,” Ethan muttered under his breath as their laughter and screams started up again, the game resuming.
On the other side of Fourth Avenue, he picked up the pace, the pain in his feet getting more intense, but he pushed through it, thinking, Just get there. Grin and bear it and get there.
Beyond Third Avenue now, and he was jogging, his ribs beginning to ache again. He passed a series of houses that looked more run-down. The seedy side of Wayward Pines? he wondered. Could such a town have a bad side?
At First Avenue, he stopped.
The road had gone to dirt—the gravel long since worn away and the lumpy grade of it heavily washboarded. There was no sidewalk and there was no road beyond this one. He’d come to the eastern edge of Wayward Pines and behind the houses that lined this street, civilization came to an abrupt end. A steep hillside, wooded with pines, ran up several hundred feet to the base of that cirque that enclosed the town.