“And you’ll take me to the salvage yard to see the car?”
“I think we can swing that. But for now, let’s go. I’ll walk you out.”
* * *
Ethan’s jacket and shirt smelled marginally better as he slid his arms into the sleeves and started down the street, away from the Wayward Pines Sheriff’s Office. He still reeked, but figured the offensive smell of decay would draw less attention than a man walking around town in nothing but dress slacks.
He pushed as strong a pace as he could manage, but the wooziness kept coming in waves, and his head was alive with pain, each step sending new tendrils of agony into the far reaches of his skull.
The Biergarten was open and empty save for one bored-looking bartender sitting on a stool behind the bar reading a paperback novel—one of F. Paul Wilson’s early books.
When Ethan reached the bar, he said, “Is Beverly working tonight?”
The man held up a finger.
Ten seconds passed as he finished reading a passage.
At last, he closed the book, gave Ethan his full attention.
“What can I get you to drink?”
“Nothing. I’m looking for the woman who was tending bar here last night. Her name was Beverly. Pretty brunette. Midthirties. Fairly tall.”
The barkeep stepped down off his stool and set the book on the bar. His long, graying hair was the color of murky dishwater, and he pulled it back into a ponytail.
“You were here? In this restaurant? Last night?”
“That’s correct,” Ethan said.
“And you’re telling me that a tall brunette was tending bar?”
“Exactly. Beverly was her name.”
The man shook his head, Ethan detecting a whiff of mockery in his smile.
“There’s two people on the payroll here who tend bar. Guy named Steve, and me.”
“No, this woman waited on me last night. I ate a burger, sat right over there.” Ethan pointed to the corner stool.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, buddy, but how much did you have to drink?”
“Nothing. And I’m not your buddy. I’m a federal agent. And I know that I was here last night, and I know who served me.”
“Sorry, man, I don’t know what to tell you. I think you must’ve been at a different restaurant.”
Ethan suddenly lost his focus.
Dug his fingertips into his temples.
He could feel his pulse now in his temporal artery, each heartbeat carrying the punch of those cold headaches he used to get as a kid—that fleeting, excruciating pain that followed too ravenous a bite of popsicle or ice cream.
“Sir? Sir, are you all right?”
Ethan staggered back from the bar, managed to say, “She was here. I know it. I don’t know why you’re doing...”
Then he was standing outside, his hands on his knees, bent over a pool of vomit on the sidewalk that he quickly surmised had come from him, his throat burning from the bile.
Ethan straightened up, wiped his mouth across the sleeve of his jacket.
The sun had already dropped behind the cliffs, the coolness of evening upon the town.
There were things he needed to do—find Beverly, find the EMTs, and recover his personal belongings—but all he wanted was to curl up in bed in a dark room. Sleep off the pain. The confusion. And the base emotion underlying it all that was getting harder and harder to ignore.
The strengthening sense that something was very, very wrong.
* * *
He stumbled up the stone steps and pushed through the doors into the hotel.
The fireplace warmed the lobby.
A young couple occupied one of the loveseats by the hearth, sipping from glasses of sparkling wine. On a romantic vacation, he figured, enjoying a completely different side of Wayward Pines.
A tuxedoed man sat at the grand piano, playing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
Ethan arrived at the front desk, forcing himself to smile through the pain.
The same clerk who’d evicted him from his room that morning started speaking even before she looked up.
“Welcome to the Wayward Pines Hotel. How may I help...”
She stopped when she saw Ethan.
“I’m impressed,” she said.
“You came back to pay. You told me you would, but I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see you again. I apologize for—”
“No, listen, I wasn’t able to find my wallet today.”
“You mean you haven’t come back to pay for your room last night? Like you promised me you were going to multiple times?”
Ethan shut his eyes, breathing through the exquisite pain.
“Lisa, you cannot imagine the day I’ve had. I just need to lie down for a few hours. I don’t even need a room for the whole night. Just a place to clear my head and sleep. I’m in so much pain.”
“Hold on.” She slid off her chair and leaned toward him across the counter. “You still can’t pay and now you’re asking me for another room?”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“You lied to me.”
“I’m sorry. I really thought I would have it by—”
“Do you understand that I went out on a limb for you? That I could lose my job?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Did you not hear me?”
“I don’t have any place to go, Lisa. I don’t have a phone. I have no money. I haven’t eaten since last night, and—”
“Explain to me again how any of this is my problem.”
“I just need to lie down for a few hours. I am begging you.”
“Look, I’ve explained this to you as clearly as I possibly can. It’s time for you to leave.”
Ethan didn’t move. He just stared at her, hoping she might see the agony in his eyes, take pity.
“Now,” she said.
He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, backing away from the counter.
As he reached the doors, Lisa called after him. “I don’t want to see you back in here ever again.”
Ethan nearly fell descending the steps, his head spinning by the time he reached the sidewalk. The streetlamps and the lights from passing cars began to swirl, Ethan noting the strength flooding out of his legs like someone had pulled a drain plug.
Regardless, he started up the sidewalk, saw that redbrick building looming up the street, eight blocks away. There was still fear of it, but now he needed the hospital. Wanted the bed, the sleep, the meds. Anything to stop this pain.