** Ten **
Looking at the woman clumping along next to the buffet tables I was thankful that she didn't glance up as she worked at laying the trap for her next victim. Missus Babcock had earlier snared me in her net when I was trying to escape the horrible feeling of being watched and stalked. I made the mistake of joining her at her table. After a few minutes of conversation, I'd thought of her as a tick sucking the blood out of unsuspecting animals. I watched as she hustled out slowly with her cane flashing in the sunlight to the patio outside the hotel lobby. There were many guests still eating, so clearly she'd help someone else lose their appetite before too much longer, with her graphic medical discussions of various and numerous maladies that allegedly had ruined her life.
The desk wasn't manned by any of the clerks I'd dealt with in the last hour; instead, a very beautiful young lady stood ramrod straight behind the dark marble-capped desk. She was anywhere between twenty-five and fifty. Her skin glowed and was a light mocha shade. Naturally her hair was silky, straight and flowed in a long black sheath half way down her back. Her uniform consisted of the light cream shirt and a dark skirt that I knew went exactly to her knees. In the time I'd been at the hotel, I'd seen the odd phenomena of the hotel employees' skirts landing precisely at their knees -- every last one. I concluded that either they had tailored their attire to conform in length to specific hotel criteria or they hired woman that fit the uniform -- a non-smutty edition of clothing, unlike a certain restaurant chain in America where the employees squeezed into a set of t-shirts and shorts like Mattel had prefabricated them. Bimbo Barbies in the bar-slash-restaurants serving buckets of beers and wings while reliving their high school glory days with cartwheels and handstands.
No, this gal was not part of the entertainment menu at the hotel. Her face was devoid of makeup that I could detect and her almond shaped eyes met mine slowly -- almost demurely. She didn't radiate sexuality, evilness or even fear. She was there to placate me for some reason, that was my first impression.
A lilting sweet voice flowed from her mouth, "Ma'am. Good morning, how may I assist you?"
I'd never seen her at the front desk the entire time I'd been staying at the hotel. Suspicion was pushing at me hard. She wasn't acting like the desk clerk for my benefit, as far as I could detect, but she just didn't belong in the setting. Like the children's game of looking at a pen and ink picture and being asked, "What doesn't fit here? What doesn't belong?" Little Bobby or Susie would stare intently then take a thick black or red crayon and circle the shoe on top of the roof of a house with trees drawn upside down lining the walk made up of books and Lifesaver candies.
Yes, she didn't fit and mentally I crayoned a nice big red circle around her in my mind while keeping my eyes peeled for any other oddities, Charlie with a machete or a nearly naked man peeing on my toes -- neither would surprise me in the least. Something was definitely brewing.
"Hello, yes, I'd like to check out and get a ride to the airport, please." I slid my room key forward with the key fob facing her allowing there to be no misunderstanding about which room we were discussing.
Her face momentarily looked confused, but she slid down a mask of civility while looking pointedly at the key I'd pushed in front of her face. Time slowly ticked by, and she hadn't moved to take my key, or click at the keys on the keyboard of the discreetly hidden computer system at her waist beneath the countertop to check me out of the hotel.
Not wanting to stand in the lobby all day, I said through somewhat clenched teeth, "Is there a problem?"
She moved her lips to form a semblance of a smile while she obviously was mentally trying to work out exactly how to nicely phrase her reply. I'd observed that the hotel staff was unfailingly polite at all times. Ducking her head, she shuffled some papers into view and said, "Excuse me, one moment, please?"
Like it was a real question.
Then she turned her back to me and walked to a corner picking up a house phone. Her hair slid forward hiding her features as she whispered into the phone. She didn't speak in English, which didn't surprise me given I wasn't in America, but still I was stuck on an island in Indonesia ... and what did surprise me was that she spoke instead in something other than the dialect that I'd heard the locals speaking. It took me a minute to figure out she was speaking in Dutch. I recalled when researching my travel plans that the various shipping companies had made the Indonesian islands some of their favorite ports. The Dutch East Indies Trading Company had helped infiltrate most of the inhabited islands from the 1700's up until World War II. They'd been kicked out with a passion and other than brief attempts to regain power over the passing years remained a bitter memory for some and a language and bloodline with many others. A mixture of Dutch-Indonesians peppered the country, as did the Dutch words and at times language. Her words stopped and she nodded silently, a natural gesture but useless when on a phone call. Hanging up she reluctantly came back to me saying, "You were to stay one more week. Have we done something wrong?"
"No, an emergency at home." I kept my answer short and sweet.
A frown rippled over her features, "I am not understanding." I hadn't exactly thought out why it was critical for me to explain my actions to a stranger when it began to dawn on me that I was being totally played. Delaying me so as to set up the next ambush. Smiling widely I said, "Well, if you really must know, my dear old Uncle Harry is getting quite up there in years and my being so far from home is causing him undue stress. He's flying me back because he's ever so worried."
With that I stopped speaking and waited for her to process what I'd told her. I was pretty sure she spoke enough English, hell, she probably spoke three or four languages fluently. I never failed to be impressed with people who actually took the time to learn other languages. I had an ear for them but never immersed myself long enough anywhere to become utterly fluent like some folks. I tended to pop around too much for that. I mentally recalled Uncle Harry's smart-ass comment to me before I'd left to travel as he suggested like 'a real, normal human'. He'd said, "Emma, my Magpie, stay longer than a week or two somewhere for a change and you'll be surprised what you'll pick up."
I focused back on my stalled checkout process and concluded that there wasn't much of an opening for the clerk to comment, but she apparently had been given some sort of command to keep me distracted and firmly stranded at the desk, and not trying to head out to the airport like I'd planned. Not my idea of how I was going to spend the day, so I decided to be a bit firmer and see where it got me.
I pushed the key even closer to her and firmly said, "Well, thanks for your concern. Hotel was great but I really need to head out to the airport. Did you call a driver for me?"
I slapped a larger smile than before on my face while she avoided doing any of the actual check out routine. Much less even take the key from the counter. My smile didn't fall as she said, "Excuse me, I check."
And just like that she spun back away and walked to the same phone. Her voice was even more clipped than previously but this time she forgot to let her hair fall forward hiding her face. I watched her features grow slack as she listened to the unseen person on the other end. I'd been mistaken in thinking that she was any different than Charlie. Something certainly had her enthralled. She'd just been better at masking it. She wasn't a total meat-puppet but had been pushed nearly like a vampire's intended victim. Human blood donors, whether voluntary or not tended to be controlled by the vampires with their minds before they fanged in to keep the screaming to a minimum in the normal populated cities and towns. Not so much in the countryside, I'd discovered, but I didn't think this qualified as the countryside despite the lush tropical environment. I gritted my teeth and tried not to focus on how so many of the people I'd been around recently had been pretty much meat puppets for some unseen creature or creatures.
Armed with that little insight, I started to casually check my available exits. Charlie wasn't lingering with a weapon in the foray and everyone seemed to have finished demolishing the breakfast buffet tables -- even Missus Babcock wasn't in sight. No other hotel employees hustled around the lobby, which was eerily quiet. Her voice dropped to a nearly inaudible level. Not that she was saying much. Her head kept bobbing up and down like one of those obnoxious bobble head dolls that people put in back windows of their cars.
She noticed me staring and rudely turned herself completely away from me; looking at her straight spine, something about the whole thing really bothered me. I didn't have a clue why she was there but I still had options. Picking up my bag I turned my back to her and headed out the front door.
The lady emitted a little squeak and slammed the phone down while calling out, "Missy, Missy -- wait. You need paperwork." I'd left the room key on the counter, which was part of the hotel's policy, so I kept walking.
Sketching a wave over my head, not bothering to turn around I called out, "No, I'm fine. Why don't you just mail me the bill. You have a nice day."
'Have a nice day' being one of the more sardonic wishes I'd often found, I fluttered my fingers over my head in a definitely flippant wave good bye. I couldn't do much more short of running but my pace was definitely quicker than most humans.
"Missy!" She'd nearly caught up to me as I stepped over the hotel's threshold. "Driver coming soon, you wait!"
Laughing, I quickened my step to utterly supernatural speed and said, "Sure. 'Soon.' That could be ten minutes or three hours. Don't worry. I'll say nice things about your hotel to all my American friends."
Of course -- that was definitely a lie.
Just then Missus Babcock tromped back into the lobby. Naturally she immediately noticed wasn't anyone manning the desk. Her cane thumped decisively against the desk.
"Young lady!" The grandiose tones adding a bit of drama and sounding put out she exclaimed, "You need to fetch me my key right now." She'd quickly noticed the employee nearly out the front door -- the uniforms really were a dead giveaway.
Clearly torn between delaying me and giving proper service to a hotel guest, her innate manners won out.
"Certainly, Miss Babcock," and the young girl gave up her pursuit of me. That she knew my breakfast companion's name meant she was quite possibly associated with the hotel.
I quickly made my way down the road towards another hotel we'd passed on our various tours. My backpack was plastered to me by the time I made it to their front desk. The employees of the hotel wore slacks and dress shirts but dark green was their chosen palette. Seeing me with luggage the young man's face was filled with confusion; I doubted many folks walked to the hotel since the airport wasn't close. I smiled and pushed a wet lank of my hair out of my eyes and said, "Good morning."