F is for Fugitive Page 51


The registration desk ran the width of the lobby, but there was no one in evidence. No reception clerk, no bellman, no painters at work. The silence had a quality about it that caused me to glance back over my shoulder, scanning the second-floor gallery. There was no one visible. Shadows hung among the eaves like spiderwebs. Wide, carpeted hallways extended on either side of the desk back into the gloomy depths of the hotel. I waited a decent interval in the silence. No one appeared. I pivoted, doing a one-eighty turn while I surveyed the place. Time to nose around, I thought.

Casually, I ambled down the corridor on the right, my passage making no sound on the densely carpeted floors. Halfway down the hall, glass-paned doors opened into a vast semicircular dining room with a wooden floor, furnished with countless round oak dining tables and matching ladder-backed chairs. I crossed to the bay windows on the far side of the room. Through the watery ripples of old glass, I saw the tennis players leave the courts, heading my way.

There were two sets of wooden swinging doors down to my left. I tiptoed the length of the room and peered into the hotel kitchen. A dull illumination from the kitchen windows cast a gray light against the expanses of stainless-steel counter. Stainless-steel fixtures, chrome, old linoleum. Heavy white crockery was stacked on open shelves. The room might have been a museum exhibit-the "moderne" style revisited, the kitchen of the future, circa 1966. I moved back toward the corridor. The murmur of voices.

I slipped into the triangle formed by the dining room door and the wall, pressing myself flat. Through the hinged crack, I saw Mrs. Dunne pass in a tennis outfit, racket under one arm. She had legs about as shapely as a pair of Doric columns, capped by the rims of her underpants, which extended unbecomingly from the flounce of short skirt. A varicose vein wound along one calf like a vine. Not one strand of her white-blond hair was out of place. I assumed her companion was her husband, Dr. Dunne. They were gone in a flash, voices receding. The only impression I had of him was of curly white hair, pink skin, and portliness.

As soon as they'd disappeared from sight, I slipped out of my hiding place and returned to the lobby. A woman in a burnt orange hotel blazer was now standing at the registration desk. Her gaze flicked toward the corridor when she saw me emerge, but she was apparently too schooled in proper desk-clerk behavior to quiz me about where I'd been.

"I was just having a look around," I said. "I may want to book a room."

"The hotel's closed for three months for renovation. We'll be open again April first."

"Do you have a brochure?"

"Certainly." She reached under the counter, automatically producing one. She was in her thirties, probably with a degree in hotel management, no doubt wondering if she was wasting her professional training in a place that smelled like a faulty garbage disposal. I glanced at the pamphlet she'd handed me, a match for the one I'd seen at the motel.

"Is this Dr. Dunne around? I'd like to talk to him."

"He just came in from the tennis courts. You must have passed him in the hall."

I shook my head, baffled. "I didn't see anyone."

"Just a moment. I'll ring."

She picked up an in-house telephone, turning away from me so I couldn't read her lips while she murmured to someone on the other end. She replaced the receiver. "Mrs. Dunne will be right out."

"Great. Uh, do you have a rest room close by?"

She pointed toward the corridor to the left of the desk. "Second door down."

"I'll be right back."

I was telling a little fib. The minute I was out of sight I race-walked down the corridor to the far end where it met a transverse corridor with administrative offices on either side. All of them were empty except for one. A nice brass plaque identified it as Dr. Dunne's. I went in. He didn't seem to be there, but the chair was piled with sweaty tennis togs, and I could hear the patter of a shower being run behind a door marked Private. I took the liberty of a stroll around his desk while I waited for him. I let my fingers tippy-toe among his papers, but there was nothing of interest. A detail man had been there and had left some samples of a new anticholinergic, with accompanying literature. The glossy color enlargement showed a duodenal ulcer as large as the planet Jupiter. Oh, barf. Picture that sucker sitting in your gut.

The file cabinets were locked. I had hoped to explore his desk drawers, but I didn't want to push my luck. Some people get cranky when you snoop around like that. I cupped one hand to my ear. Shower off. Ah, that was good. The doctor and I were going to have a little chat.

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