The three girls and Caleb arrived at the motel on the docks in Evergreen Harbor just before sunrise. The girls loitered out of view in the shadows, trying to avoid the rats scurrying around in the accumulated trash and the first bright rays of sun, while Caleb went to check in.
“Good morning, young man. Welcome to The Dock!” The receptionist greeted him, warmly. “How can I help you?”
“I require a room,” Caleb replied.
“You’re very early! I wouldn’t usually allow check-in before 2pm, but business is slow thanks to the dock worker strike and I like your face, kid. Please fill out your details here.” The man slipped a piece of paper and a pen across the counter and watched as Caleb wrote. “Travelling alone?”
“No, with my wife,” Caleb said.
“Wife, eh?” The man wore an odd expression; slightly disappointed? Caleb reasoned that couldn’t be right, but now was not the time to dwell on his lack of emotional understanding.
“You don’t look old enough to be married.”
“I get that a lot. We’re um, newlyweds.”
“Oh, I see. Congratulations! In that case, I’ll give you room 5.” The man winked, taking Caleb’s form and giving it a quick scan. “Oh, what lovely handwriting you have… Thor? What a strange name! Gone are the days when people had normal names like Wilbert and Broof. That’ll be eighty simoleons, please.”
Ralf Widdlefinkle hated Forgotten Hollow.
None of the towns in his district were without issue; Windenburg was Wangshaft’s territory and Glimmerbrook was full of barefooted lunatics, but he’d rather spend a morning chasing escapees from The Tower or shutting down a ‘witch hunt’ than being reminded that he was also responsible for policing this dying, inseverable limb of a town.
Forgotten Hollow had a beautiful village, acres of natural forest and a notorious reputation for being a place you visited and never returned from. He had always begrudged having to investigate all those dead-end missing person cases; a never-ending carousel of absent hitchhikers, prostitutes and their clients. As he’d climbed the, admittedly limited, ranks of the Woodland Borough Police Department, Ralf had gradually shifted these unsolvable cases, as well as most of his other cases, to his willing deputy, Chase Crooks.
These excellent delegation skills had enabled Ralf to focus his efforts on more important issues, such as ensuring that he finished work promptly at 4pm each day and that his office always had a good supply of croissants.
Unfortunately for Ralf, his deputy had not turned in today. He’d been hoping to perfect his latest coffee blend while he caught up on the big ongoing investigation being carried out by the Sims Bureau of Investigation; a juicy celebrity case of murder and potential kidnapping that he was not allowed to touch, despite three of the suspects being residents of Forgotten Hollow.
SBI had made it abundantly clear that they did not want a backwater police force dabbling in their investigation and Ralf was not one to argue. He wasn’t here about the Moss case. He was investigating a separate allegation of assault filed by Dale BarGuy.
But there was a problem; Ralf had never heard of the alleged assailant. He had searched all the files and had found nothing about a ‘Caleb Vatore’. The only Vatore he could find record of was a Dr. Lilith Vatore in Del Sol Valley. Possibly a relative, but he wasn’t going to trudge all the way over to her in the city if he didn’t absolutely have to. He had hauled himself to the bar, the scene of the alleged assault, in the hope that someone here might be able to point him in the right direction.
Policing at its finest.
He checked his watch for the umpteenth time and let out an exasperated sigh. Eight thirty, he’d told her and it was almost nine. Ralf looked towards the bar, resignedly. Did he have to do everything himself?
Right on cue there came a shrill call from behind him. “Hey Boss! Sorry I’m late! I have had one helluva night!”
Before Ralf could cut her off, reprimand her or even blink, the force’s newest recruit, Jessica Spoon had started doing what she did best. Yakking.
“I went out with Chase last night and before you say it; I know, I said I wouldn’t give him another chance and I know he’s your nephew and I don’t want to insult your sister’s parenting skills, but the guy is such a jerk, Boss. I mean, seriously. He picked me up from my mum’s place and my poor mum must have only said two words to him. Typical Chase; he was as nice as pie to her face and then as soon as we were alone, before we’d even reached our seats in the cinema, he’d started with his jokes. He called her a llama! I mean, okay, she has a bit of a moustache and is spitting a bit when she talks right now, but that’s due to her medication.”
Ralf tried to get a word in. “We should—“
“Well, I’m ashamed to admit it but that was one joke too far and I lost my rag with him. I think I told him to drop dead or jump in the river, I forget which. I remember storming out of the theatre, sort of. I was wearing ridiculous shoes and I don’t think he even bothered to follow me. Then the next thing I know, it’s the crack of dawn and I’m waking up near the kids’ play area with one doozy of a headache.”
“The play area?”
“I have literally no idea what happened, Boss. But other than a bit of a rash on my neck where I think a mosquito got me, I appear unscathed and my knickers were still on. Which is just as well because let me tell you; I’m having the mother of all periods right now! Hey, that’s probably why I got so angry with Chase, come to think of it. Menstrual stress.“
“That must be it because I saw a dog this morning that had a slightly funny leg, the poor thing, and I started sobbing like a baby. And my iron levels are low at the best of times so I probably just fainted last night. Women problems, hey? You men are so lucky that you don’t have to deal with this never-ending woe. My emotions are all out of whack, my boobs really hurt and, Watcher, the cramps I’m having, I couldn’t even tell you. Like a load of pixies moshing around inside of me. Party in my uterus! I should get a warrant and shut the place down. ‘It’s the police! Everybody out!'”
Ralf merely sighed as Jessica waffled on.
“Have you seen the headline about that Moss case? The lawyer fellow confessed, but Watcher knows what to. I was chatting to my friend, Libby, over at the coroner’s office and – I didn’t tell you this – but she says the report is inconclusive. Can you believe that? They still can’t be a hundred percent sure how Sandy died. It’s madness! What did that man do to her? Libby obviously couldn’t give me all the information but apparently there is more than one probable cause of death. Travis must have really, really wanted his wife dead. And they haven’t let the butler go yet, either, so he probably played a part. Factor in the guys from the mill here and something really doesn’t add up.”
“It’s not our—“
“Have you heard from Chase? I’m guessing not as we’re here instead of him. Not like him not to show up for work, is it? Then again, he turns thirty next week and I think he’s having some sort of breakdown about it. Went to the gym nine times last week! I wonder if he met someone after I left – the ticket booth attendant was giving him the eye. Most likely he thought it would be funny to let me wander aimlessly in the dark in my stupid shoes. I’ve called him twice but his phone is going straight to voicemail and I’m not going to call him again or he’ll think I want him back and that ship has well and truly sank now. I managed to get the first bus home but I barely had time to shower let alone eat before I got your message so I might pass out again. I hope this bar has snacks.”
Ralf had pretty much stopped listening by this point, but after a few blessed beats of silence, he turned to the girl. She seemed to have finished.
“Okay, fun night. Did you read the report?”
“Yes, Boss,” Jessica replied. “Read it on the bus next to this woman who had the cutest hat I have ever seen. She made it herself by knitting with shredded bin bags. I think they were used ones, she smelled a bit funky, but—“
She was off again. “The report, Jess?”
“Oh right, yes. Alleged assault. Interesting that the alleged assailant has no previous, well, anything. What are we thinking; fake name? Possibly a drifter?”
Ralf hadn’t really thought anything; that was her job. “Possibly. Hopefully someone in here knows something. After you.”
“You have got to be kidding me, Caleb,” April said with disdain. “He definitely did not give us an upgrade!”
Caleb looked around at the sparse room. “It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad!?” April screeched. “It’s awful! Oh my gosh! If this is a good room what does the crappy room look like?”
“Maybe it has slightly bigger rats,” Melinda suggested as something furry brushed past her boot, disappearing into a hole in the wall.
“Or extra blood stains on the bed,” Faith chimed in, looking at the tatty remnants of the bedsheets. “Shitting hell. Even I’d think twice about getting it on in that thing.”
“I’m not staying here!” April wailed. “We’ll catch something!”
“You can’t catch anything; you’re undead,” Caleb said, patiently. “The sun is up and there aren’t any other hotels near here, so you’ll have to stay. We’ll head off the second night falls, I promise.”
“Fine! I’ll stay but what are we supposed to do for all that of time? There’s literally nothing around here. The TV doesn’t even have a socket to plug into!”
“There are lots of things we could do, April,” Caleb replied, trying to avoid looking at Faith’s impish face; she was on the verge of an inappropriate quip, he was sure. “We can talk, tell stories, play charades…”
“Ugh, charades?” Faith grimaced. “Stories? I’m gonna need more than this one sad bottle of vodka to get us through a whole day of hearing about April’s poor little rich girl life. Fringey, go to that store we passed on the way here and get some more. And if they’ve got anything even remotely fun in there, buy that too. A paddling pool, a pack of cards heck even a bikini wax kit would be more fun than charades.“
April murmured her agreement.
Caleb sighed. “Melinda, can I have some money?”
Melinda had been so transfixed by the rat in the skirting board that she’d almost forgotten to rain on the parade. “No. Funds are limited you guys; we can’t squander them on alcohol and random junk. And you’re not shoplifting again,” she said to Caleb, shutting him down before he even opened his mouth. “We’ll survive. It’s only a few hours.”
“Screw that!” Faith huffed. “I have some money you can use.” She reached into her pocket and handed Caleb the small roll of notes she had acquired the previous night.
“Where did you get that?” Melinda asked.
“I forgot I had it,” Faith replied. “Oops! Silly me.”
“Yes,” Melinda whispered, feeling defeated. “Silly you.”