Author Resuscitation

We’ve been trapped on the corner of Elmwood and Arbor for God knows how long. We stomped, shouted, and spit inside the author’s head, all to no avail. She got derailed last year by that crap going on in your world, and she never righted herself and got back on the frickin’ track. She worked on other stuff, but not on our stuff. That made us stomp, shout and spit a bit louder, and then—believe it or not, we kinda shut up, too.

But—a big, big, big but…

She signed up for NaNoWriMo on November 1, as a rebel since she chose a work already in progress and not a crisp and clean page one. For three days now, she has worked on our stuff, on LAC 24, Loco Motion, which is where the hell we’ve been sitting for far too long, right in the middle of it.

Just to prod her on, I’m posting Chapter 1, and if she doesn’t keep making forward progress, I will keep posting chapters, including the roughest of the rough.

Chapter 1

The chick in Claudia’s GPS gadget ordered her to take the next right, and she slowed to a crawl. We were in the middle of the frickin’ boondocks so there were no streetlights or signs by which to gauge that turn’s actual whereabouts. Suddenly, though, the tree line ceased, and a driveway and a huge sign appeared: Red Pine Motor Lodge.

Although we still crawled, her turn proved whiplashing.

The GPS chick announced, “Your destination has been reached.”

“What the hell?”

Before us sat a derelict-looking motel, the strip kind, i.e. unit next to unit next to unit next to… There were maybe eight or ten of them. I suspected Alfred Hitchcock had sized it up one day long ago and had deemed it far too creepy to be believable.

At the far end, an “Office” sign loomed at a cockeyed angle, and Claudia inched the car toward it.

When she shoved it into park, she looked at me, her mouth gaping. “We’re just supposed to walk in there and say, ‘Hi. We’re Alberta Cojones and Heady Heaper, and we have reservations’?”

I thought that was a damn good question, but I had already made up my mind: It seemed a job far better suited for a gangster than a gossip columnist.

She asked, “And, why are we the only ones here?” With a point to the glovebox, she instructed, “Read the damn sheet again. Maybe we missed something.”

I was a gossip columnist; I could write and read. I therefore knew for certain that we hadn’t missed anything. Still, I retrieved the envelope. Lesbian Adventure Club weekends were usually never good when they began with envelopes. Remember the one Heady Heaper received instructing her to murder Mayor Alison? Then you know what I mean.

The prior evening, our doorbell rang, and Claudia answered it only to find no one there. Instead, an envelope lay on the step. It was addressed to Alberta and Heady, and it instructed us not to open it until “precisely 9:15” the next morning. Until that ominous hour, we simply figured we were in for another “nice, relaxing weekend at the mayor’s mansion,” where, undoubtedly, there would be a cadaver-less murder. We even imagined a makeshift mayor’s mansion on the banks of the irritatingly squeaky Gator River, since Maggie and Susan were our hostesses.

Instead, though, the note we read the next morning instructed us to drive to the address where we now parked. We were told not to research and/or look at a map of the address, and that reservations had been made in our names. “Bring clothes, sleeping bags, a full tank of gas, and lots of cash. Cell phones are to be used for emergency purposes only.”

When I read it to her again, the same thing simultaneously dawned on us: The reservations were in “your names.”

“It could be our real names,” she said, “and they’re just trying to embarrass us if we use our character names.”

“I still don’t get why no one else is here, though,” I said. “And, why here? Is this place even open for business?”

“One way to find out.”

Curiosity drove us from that car and to the office. When she pushed open its door, a metal bell clanged and startled me. I spied it above us and gave it a dirty look.

The smallish room had several filmy windows with curtain-less rods on the frames. It smelled musty as hell, and a glass door on the opposite wall had a sign indicating “Diner.” The room beyond the door, however, was dark.

A woman appeared from behind a wooden room divider.

“Hi there,” Claudia greeted. “We’re Claudia Kitterman and Kate Sutter. We have reservations.”

And, we have major reservations of a different kind.

The woman smiled and neared the small but tall reception desk, and Claudia and I moved closer. She took a book from the counter, opened it, and finger-scanned. Shaking her head, she said, “Mm, sorry. I don’t see those names.”

Claudia swatted me as she asked, “How about Alberta Cojones and Heady Heaper?”

“Now, those I do have!”

Surprise. Sur-frickin’-prise.

The receptionist spun around, and seconds later, she spun around again, this time holding a key in each hand.

Two?

“Alberta?” When Claudia reluctantly wagged her hand, she told her, “You’re in room ten. Farthest down.” Then, she thrust the other key in my direction. “You’re in room eight.”

We each grabbed our respective key, and I admit, I was damn confused.

“Have a nice stay,” the woman said.

Always attuned to the finer points, Claudia asked whether we needed to sign anything or pay or supply a credit card.

“Nope,” she cheerfully answered. “You’re good.”

We turned to leave, but Claudia stopped. She craned her head back. “Any chance you have reservations for, um, Vanna Sully, Joan Evves, Caro—”

“Sorry, ma’am. Reservations and the guest registry are private.”

Guest registry? You mean that thing we didn’t have to sign? Apparently, it was so private that even registering guests couldn’t see it. What the hell?

We left the office, and the door had barely shut when Claudia railed, “They’re copying! Susan and Maggie are copying Alison and Janice!” She clenched my arm. “Remember the first murder mystery weekend Alison and Janice had? They separated every couple, except themselves.”

Jesus, does that mean I’ll be bunking with Gertie Stone again?

Claudia continued, “But, they can’t monitor a whole motel like they could the second floor of a house.”

“Um,  don’t make the mistake of underestimating any of them,” I reminded with an elbow. We usually ended up royally screwed when we did. They were all capable of bastardly, dastardly things, and if I were an honest sort of person, I’d say we all were. 

“Well, let’s just get checked in to our rooms.” She said that last word rather snottily. “Then, we can find out who else is here.”

That caused me to scan the parking lot again—the little, gravelly thing that actually required a mere glimpse, not a scan. Our car was the only one, and there was absolutely no visible means of transportation for the receptionist. At least there wasn’t a spooky monstrosity of a house behind the motel where Mother lived in the basement.

We hurried up the planked walkway and then stopped in front of room eight, my room. I inserted the key, and after a twist and a push, the same musty smell invaded my nostrils.

The dark room looked as though no one had been inside it for ages.

“I can see why we need our sleeping bag,” I said, pointing to the bed that had nothing more than a grungy fitted sheet on it.

Claudia said, “Uh, honey, the letter we got said ‘sleeping bags,’ plural. I caught that right away. I figured they were going to do something like that.”

I inspected the room and concluded that there was no way in hell that this was a functioning motel. It couldn’t possibly have been.

Then, an envelope on the ancient TV caught my eye. For Heady’s Eyes Only: it read. Goddamn it! I was going to be instructed to murder again. At that moment, though, that didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

I held the envelope out to her. “They are copying Alison and Janice.”

“So, it is a murder mystery then?” she challenged. “Well, there are only three of us here. So, one of us is the murderer, and the other—or the receptionist—or both—is the victim.” She shook her head. “No, it can’t be the receptionist. You can’t just drag some unsuspecting stranger into a murder mystery.”

In perfect sync, we gasped and then spoke the same words totally out of sync, “Unless, she’s the murderer!”

“Wait a minute. Wait a minute,” I said, my brains blown. “Then… Are there three other dumpy motels out there and three other murdering receptionists, each with two victims from the 1930s?”

“How the hell do I know?”

“Well, how is this a weekend activity?” I laughed. “They joked last time about conspiring with Ginny and Kris on how best to get rid of us for the day. Maybe they didn’t mean a scavenger hunt. Maybe they meant a murder mystery. Maybe you and I are the only ones left.”

“What, and there are six bodies stashed here somewhere?” Exasperated, she rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Just open your envelope. Maybe there’s a letter that will explain all this.”

But, I didn’t want to read such a letter in front of her. She’d hammer me to tell her what it said, and it was rather safe to assume that I’d need time to think. I said, “Let’s just go to your room and see whether you got one.”

She didn’t argue.

“Hopefully, it’s cleaner, too.” Yes, Kate, only room number eight violates health and safety laws.

Okay, room number ten proved musty and dirty, too, and I asked, “Why is it we think nothing of camping in a tent on the ground, but a dirty room makes me want to hurl?”

“We’ll sleep in the car.”

Yeah, didn’t we screw the rules at the mayor’s mansion and sleep together in the hall? We’ll just screw ‘em again!

And there, on her dusty, ancient television was the expected envelope: For Alberta’s Eyes Only. I hoped to hell that either of them gave us some damn answers.

Except, things on LAC weekends were never quite that simple…

“They’re copying themselves, too!” I yelled when a dreaded item seized my attention. I pointed to the caseless, drooled-stained pillow on the less-than-half-made bed. Sitting atop it was a goddamn tiny, pink backpack. “‘Babes with Baggage,’ remember that horrible game?”

I shuddered. First, they reminded me of my murderous past. Now, they felt compelled to point out that I had emotional baggage. Except, didn’t we all dump our baggage? Wasn’t that the culmination of the damn game? Were they giving it back? I didn’t want it back.

Claudia snagged the backpack and opened it. As though ripping the heart out of our hostesses themselves, she removed a note tucked inside it. After a scan and a growl, she read to enlighten me, “‘Would it surprise you that Athens has a nice mall?’ ‘Would’ as in ‘would,’ not— Never mind,” she said, thrusting it in my direction. “You better read it.”

I was confused and eagerly took it from her.

Wood it surprise you that Athens has a nice mall? Backpack? Tote ‘em! 10:15.

Okay, ‘wood’ not ‘would.’ And while I knew damn well that Athens was a city just a ways up the road, I nonetheless said, “I always wanted to go to Greece. ‘Greece’ as in ‘Greece,’ not grease as in—”

She interrupted my homonym spree by shoving a key in front of my face. It was a little brass thing with “17C” on it. “That was in the backpack, too,” she informed.

My mind seemed to seize. Keys without keyholes. Cryptic messages. Baggage. Murder. 

“Jesus, I need a smoke.”

“Hurry then,” she said, pointing to the door. “The note could mean leave at 10:15, like the note we got this morning, or be there at 10:15.” I was already outside when she added, “Either way, we need to get moving. Oh, and we need to read these for-your-eyes-only things.”

I hurried to the car to grab my smokes. Then, as I lit up, I watched her take a seat on the edge of the walkway and rip open her envelope.

“What’s it say?” I asked.

“Is your name Alberta?”

“No, but I can write bad things about you in my gossip column.”

She laughed. “Just puff faster and read yours.”

Quickly, I obliged.


Hey, Heady, how’s it going? We just wanted to say hello and let you know we believe in you. You can win this. 

Love, Vanna and Joan

P.S. Don’t leave your stuff in your motel room all day. The locks aren’t very trustworthy.


“‘Win’?” I questioned. “Am I totally missing something?”

“It’s the mess with or be mess with thing,” she said as she stood. “We haven’t had to have that talk in a while. Maybe it’s just been so long since we have that we’ve forgotten how diabolical they can be.”

As she walked to the car, she spurred me to get moving by vowing to find coffee for me at the Athens mall.

I took two long drags, stubbed the thing out, and hopped in.

A moment later, we were on our way again.

“Car with a blinker,” she jarringly said, stabbing the rearview mirror. “I think it’s turning into the motel.”

I whipped my head around to see exactly what she described. Except, a few seconds later, it became obvious that it wasn’t a car. Nope, a van.

“Ginny and Kris!” we yelled.

As soon at it turned by the motel sign, I urged, “Step on it!”

What had seemed so unlike a competition suddenly felt life or death.

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