CHAPTER I Monday Jeazel Pete is at it again. The investigation into the death of a local undercover agent continues. Wildfires are ravaging the west. The Vice Presidents ahead in the latest polls. And it looks like its going to be clear for the weekend, the TV announcer said although nobody was really listening as the sound softly filled the almost empty hotel lobby. Well be back in two minutes with the details here on WKYT-27, he continued. I glanced down from the TV perched on the wall as the commercial began. What channel is that in the room I asked the receptionist as I glanced at her name tag adding Debbie? Thats channel eight, sir. OK. I want to catch the weather. $52.25 is your change and heres your key. Have you ever stayed here before, sir, she asked with a smile. I nodded in the affirmative and she continued. Well good, youre in room 315, which is in the first building on the right when you come into the parking lot, its the one next to the indoor pool. Check out is 12 noon. Enjoy your stay at the Cumberland Inn. I counted out my change like a miser and then picked up the key-card from the counter top. Thanks I said as I turned and walked out to the parking lot. As I glanced around I thought, man, this is a nice place, much nicer than I remembered. Double spiral staircase, baby granddont touch the keys, an elegant portrait of the founders, looking stately in their golden years, hung over the fireplace which had a mantle that mustve been over a hundred and fifty years old. Upon the tables, strategically placed around the lobby, were books which had equally elegant, multi-colored bindings, all with a look of age that said, Ive been here a while. I dont know how I missed all this stuff the other times I had been here. But that was work and I was always in a hurry to check in and get to my room. As I walked through the double set of glass doors I saw a grounds keeper standing by my 85 Nissan pick up. He turned and looked at me and said, Good Afternoon. Afternoonuh, Doug, I returned, glancing at his nametag. I was just admiring your bumper stickers, youre sure getting around, he said motioning to the tailgate of my truck with his eyes and a slight movement of his head. They look kinda new. On my tailgate were 11 bumper stickers indicating that I was a tourist. Some placed horizontally, some vertically and others at angles. The stickers appear to be placed haphazardly, but there is a grand plan to this madness. Yeah, I chuckled. Im doing some sightseeing and I want to see if I can cover the whole tailgate before I head back home. That wasnt quite the truth, but he would never know. He chuckled like he understood why I was doing it, but I could tell he didnt share my enthusiasm for my effort. Weve got some in the lobby, do you want me to get you one? Sure, I didnt even see em in there, I said. I was too taken in by the setting. Man, this is a pretty nice place, especially for being so far in the middle of nowhere. Whats the scoop here anyway? Well, its actually owned by the college, Cumberland College that is, and one of the main focuses of the college is accommodation and comfort management. Hotel/motel management, you know, he said like I was having trouble understanding his meaning. Most of the people working here are students working through the summer and getting some extra credits to boot. Thats pretty cool. I said as I nodded my head and looked him in the eye. Let me get that sticker for you. He turned to walk into the lobby. I glanced at my watch and I thought about how badly I just wanted to get to my room. After what seemed like an hour Doug came struggling through the heavy glass doors. That door is tough, he mumbled as he came through and walked up to the back of my truck where I waited for him. Weve got two of them, take your pick. Gimme the one the says CUMBERLAND INN KENTUCKY As he peeled the back off he asked, Any place particular? Yeah, right under the one for Niagara, up and down I replied. I knew that he had no idea what pattern I was trying to achieve, but the way he said it, I sensed that he knew there was an underlying plan to this random disorder. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wad of change from Debbie. From the crumpled bills I fished out the two one dollar bills and tried to iron out the wrinkles with my hand by pulling the bills, one at a time, through my first two fingers. After three or four swipes of each bill I handed then to Doug saying, Thanks. No, thanks, Doug said with a tone of genuine wholesomeness. I just had a feeling he was a country boy. But, I also sensed that he was a little embarrassed to take my gratuity. Hey man, if you are going to make your career in the accommodation and comfort management business youd better get use to accepting tips. Thats part of the fringe benefits of the profession, the perks, you know, I said as I looked at him trying to get him to take the money from my extended hand. I didnt want to make the kid feel bad, but I did want him to accept this tip. Thanks, he said as he finally relented and accepted my money. It seemed like this was a big step for him. I could just imagine him being raised as a Boy Scout doing a good deed every day, running to the mailbox for his grandmother, helping a neighbor with farm chores, or shoveling the sidewalk and driveway for some unfortunate who could not do for themselves and getting the good feeling that comes from helping others in need. And here I was trying to force him to surrender that instilled kindness for a few measly bucks. Im Doug Chaster. If you need anything just let me know. He took the bills and stuffed them into his pocket without even counting them, or even looking at them. OK, Doug, I said as I opened the truck door and sat behind the wheel. Through the opened window I said, Ill be here for a few days, so Ill see you around. As I pulled out of the loading zone I heard a faint Have a nice day, coming from Doug. I glanced at him and waved briefly saying, Thanks! Thats one expression I hate. Half the time the sentiment seems false and, frankly, I dont know what to say in response. I dont feel right saying, Have a nice day, because I dont know most of the people who say it to me, and frankly, I dont care if they have a nice day or not. The people that I know dont say that to each other. Usually the best I can get out in response is a feeble, You, too. I slowly pulled through the parking lot looking at the rooms listed on the plaques located above each buildings entryway. That was easy, but considering there are only two buildings it shouldnt have been that hard. I pulled into a parking spot that was isolated from the other four cars parked at that end of the parking lot. I glanced at my watch as I opened the truck door. That little encounter with Doug may have caused me to miss the weather on TV. I grabbed the straps to the two duffel bags in the king cab area of the truck. Pulling and tugging on them I struggled to squeeze them through the gap between the drivers seat and the door opening. They popped through and hit the blacktop with a small thud. I positioned the straps so that I could pick them up, sling them over my shoulder and have a free hand to pick up the zippered canvas bag I had in the bed of the truck.