Echo Motel sat mute on the north rim of Laurel Canyon.
In its prime, the property had been considered a charming haven for couples without rings—or, worse yet, couples wearing unmatched sets. In spite of its bravado though, Walter Pederson had witnessed the unending erosion of the chalet’s exteriors until, eventually, they matched the lurid feel of the interiors.
Not that he could have done anything to prevent it. He was only a managing partner, the half without money. It was literally none of his business.
Walter figured the gravel parking lot would never see another convertible.
But he was wrong.
Late one Sunday under the light of a single lamppost, a '68 Mustang, the shine gone, pulled to a stop directly in front of the registration office. A young woman in jeans and white t-shirt stepped out. Only some of her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail—the rest fanned windblown around her tired face.
She scanned the row of units, each a measure smaller than the next until her eyes traveled back to the office from where Walter watched. Instead of a bag, she carried a book over the threshold.
"If you're looking for someone, don't bother." It was an odd way to start a conversation, but he'd long ago learned the difference between a cheater and someone who'd been cheated upon.
She brought the book, a leather-bound journal, up to her chest. Several yellow tabs tucked themselves under her chin. "Who said I'm looking for someone?"
"Your face said it—but I don't tell nothin' to no one. Never have. It's called ‘survival.’"
The girl's mouth curled toward her nostrils. She shoved the journal into Walter's hands, too fast for his flight reflex. "It's my mother's—was my mother's. She didn't survive. Though it's a pity God didn't take her when her heart first broke. People like you—" She shook her head. "God help you."
Opaque purple underscored the yellow speckles surrounding her irises. It had been decades since Walter had really looked at someone. "Leave me alone. I'm old—you know how many men have passed through them doors?" He gestured to his left, felt the jiggle of his flaccid upper arm at the shirtsleeve.
"It was my mother—she was seventeen."
He wanted the journal out of his hand, but she'd crossed her arms over her body. "What d'ya want from me? What people do is their own damn business." He flung the book down next to the registry, but the feel of soft leather lingered on his fingertips. "What d'ya want from me?"
"Can you see who checked into Unit 2 on the dates I marked?"
She'd taken him seriously.
He pulled the first tab. August 18, 1969. "You're kidding, right? You know how long it'd take to go back nineteen years?"
"I've got all night. I can help." Those eyes remained worn and steady on Walter—her lashes sparse.
"I don't need your help. Go get some sleep."
For an hour Walter sat in his back office on the edge of his La-Z-Boy, the journal opened on his lap. The static that had started up in his head was making it impossible to think. He'd just tell her he hadn't found anything. It was none of his business. That's how he'd survived.
But the man who the girl was looking for was her father.
He should have checked ID’s. He could have done that much. How many under-aged girls had there been?
That line of thought continued through the fuzz, gathering focus. What was his business? Whose keeper was he? Whose keeper had he been?
Certainly not of this girl's mother.
Not of this girl's mother…
Not of this girl's mother…
The sun rose past strand after strand of pines, now finding its way center above the canyon. The girl must have been as exhausted as he was. But she'd be there soon. He'd emphasized with her, as with all his guests, that checkout time was firm—he only had two housekeepers for two hours.
Walter pushed the arms of the recliner forward, feeling his own arms quiver as he lay back. He reached for the soft leather that rested on his heart, ignoring the pressure beneath. A note to her extended from behind the cover—he wished he'd gotten her name.
And now there was no chance of getting it—the time for survival was over.
He wouldn't even be there to take her key.
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