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If I were to pick one thing that irritated me more than anything else, it would be someone calling me a liar. I may have a lot of shortcomings, but lying is not one of them. I suppose that's why I lost my temper when my older brother Sean insisted that I had promised our very recently departed mother that I would take over the management of the Tempest Hotel after her death. Losing my temperespecially with my three older siblingsis one of my foremost shortcomings. For years I had tried both to overcome it and to rationalize that they always brought on my tantrums. I suppose both were true. Today was no exception. I had tried to control my temper after Sean said, "You will take over the hotel, Keene. We took a vote right after the funeral today. It was unanimous. Anyway, you promised Mom you'd do it. "I ran those short sentences around in my head for a very long thirty seconds before I exploded. Considering everything, that was pretty good in my book. I would have been proud of even fifteen seconds. I was also pleased that my tantrum only lasted for a minute or two. During that short duration, I loudly explained to Sean that I had told our mother I had other plans for the rest of my life and that I didn't want to have anything to do with the Tempest Hotel. What I didn't tell him was that she had told me I was the one she trusted the most and that even though I was working toward a career, the others were already deeply involved in theirs. In retrospect, I have to admit that I never fully closed the door to my mother, possibly leaving her thinking that I might do what she wanted. I suppose that I just expected her to live for many more years and that by the time she passed on, I'd also be deeply involved in my career. However, I had not promised her anything as Sean claimed.4 Clair M. Poulson When I calmed down, I looked up at Sean, all the way up from my scrawny five-foot-six to his towering six-foot-one, and said, "I suppose it was the three of you who voted . "He grinned that maddening, self-centered grin of his and replied, "That's right, little brother." "Don't I get a vote?" I asked. The grin expanded across his face. "Of course you do, Keene. What is your vote?" "I vote no!" I felt my temper picking up again. "We can just sell the place and someone else can worry about it." "Noted," he said. "And you lose, three to one. Actually, I'd say it was four to one because Mom did want you to take over. Maybe she didn't tell you, but she told me. You'll need to move in right away." He smiled for a moment, further infuriating me, and then he added, "We all have a stake in how well the place does, and we expect it to do well." I didn't lose gracefully, but I did lose, mostly because Mom had wanted me to take over, not because of the vote my siblings had taken. We had buried my mother, Maude Tempest, that afternoon. I headed back to Los Angeles shortly after. Three days later, I had packed up my belongings and left my small apartment behindway behind. You see, the Tempest Hotel was located in Hardy, Wyomingon Highway 89, close to the Idaho border and about halfway up the state. The apartment I was leaving was in Los Angeles, where I had just finished my third year of a four-year bachelor's program in criminal justice. I'd attended the police academy the previous summer and graduated as a fully certified police officer. I'd worked as a reserve officer for the LAPD while I was finishing my schooling. My planand that of the LAPDwas for me to work there full-time when I graduated. My brothers and sister told me I was too small to be a cop, but that didn't bother me. I could take care of myselfbetter than most, in all honesty. They knew nothing of my black belt in karate. And I had no intention of telling themunless they tried to do what they used to when I was young and they were teenagers. Neither of my brothers would ever beat me up again! One of the things that had helped me back down from this particular bout with my siblings was the fact that I loved my mother and felt obligated, even though I'd never promised a thing. I decided that I'd go for the summer, and by fall I hoped to have something else worked out for the small hotel so I could pursue the rest of my education and career. I didn't tell them any of that. It might have provoked the kind of battle I hoped to avoid. Why my mother and father had purchased that hotel in Wyoming was something neither I nor my siblings understood. They had raised us in various places around the world as we followed Dad, a dedicated, hardcore army officer, on his military assignments. One by one, beginning with Sean, the oldest, and ending with me, the youngest, we migrated to various locations around the country. Los Angeles was where I had wound up and planned to stay. Sean, on the other hand, had ended up only a hundred miles or so from our folks in Wyoming. He worked in the oil field and made good moneyor so he claimed. He did drive a nice, late-model, cherry-red Corvette, which he claimed was fully paid for. I suppose that was possible. Sean had never married, so he had only himself to support. That Thursday morning, Sean met me at the hotel in the center of Hardy. I knew my way around, having visited my mother there several times following my father's death three years ago. Of course, I'd also been there for her funeral at the local LDS chapel the previous week. The Tempest Hotel was a two-story affair, with all guest rooms accessed from indoor hallways; it was actually a very nice placeby far the nicest in the area. It even boasted an indoor swimming pool with a large Jacuzzi beside it. My new quarters, which used to be my mother's, consisted of a two-bedroom suite on the main floor closest to the office. We had referred to it as Mom's apartment. "You better make this place pay." Sean handed me the keys and a list of what he presumed I should do as the general manager. He gave me an intense stare before speaking again. "I'll be back to check on you from time to time. So always have a clean room available for me. You never know when I might show up." "How do I make money if I have to keep a room empty just in case you grace me with your presence?" I asked angrily. The guy really rubbed me wrong, an art he'd perfected early in my life. Sean gave me another stern look. "Just do as you're told, Keene. See you around." He got in his bright red Corvette and sped away. I sat down behind the registration desk and rubbed my aching head. Sean and I had met there that morning at eight and relieved the night manager. I was alone now except for the four women who were busy cleaning rooms. It was the beginning of summer and thus the beginning of the busy season for the hotel. At least that's what Sean claimed, and I supposed he was right. I looked at the computer screen and began to check the past few days' records. The place hadn't done badly. Even my mother's sudden death hadn't kept patrons from coming in. It was a nice placeclean, neat, and well maintained. The pool was kept clean and looked quite inviting. My mother had allowed groups from the school and local churches to occasionally hold activities there. That was a big deal for a small place like Hardy. I heard the front door open, and I looked up. A very attractive young woman with red hair every bit as bright as mine entered, dressed in neatly pressed cop blue. I quickly took in two things: how nicely she filled out the uniform and the presence of a 9mm semiautomatic handgun on her right hip. I rose to my feet, wondering why a cop was already entering the Tempest Hotel. I hoped it didn't have a reputation for living up to its name. "Good morning," I said, glancing at the wall clock that hung above the door, making sure it was still morning. It was still fifteen minutes until noon. "Is there a problem?" "Not that I know of," the young woman answered with a smile that seemed to come from somewhere deep inside. I took an instant liking to her. I walked around the counter as she added, "I just thought I'd meet the new manager. Chief Thompkins, Officer Kerr, and I like to know everybody in town. You're new, so I wanted to come in and get acquainted." I offered my hand as I tried to stretch myself up enough to make myself taller than her. It didn't work. Our eyes met at exactly the same level. "Keene Tempest," I said as she accepted my hand and gave it a firm shake. "I saw you at the funeral," she said. My mind quickly scrolled back. I did remember a stunning redhead in a knee-length black dress. This was the same girl, I was quite sure, although she looked a lot different in the uniform. I read her name tagDonovanand I knew it was the same girl. I recalled that she had pronounced her first name "Shallay," with a long a. It had reminded me of the French word chalet. I really liked the name. "Chaille Donovan," she said, displaying some of the nicest white teeth I'd ever seen as well as two cute dimples. She spelled it for me, explaining, "I'm Irish, but you probably guessed that. I'm really sorry about your mother. She was a wonderful woman. We miss her around here." "Me too," I responded. "Her death was totally unexpected." She shook her head, and the smile left her face. "Heart attack," she said. "At least that's what we were told. I'm not so sure, even though she didn't look like she felt very well the past few weeks." "She didn't feel well?" I asked, surprised. Even though Mom had spoken briefly about her eventual death, it was something she had referred to as sometime in the distant future. She was just making sure she and her family were prepared when that time came. "Mom and I talked quite often, and she didn't say a word about being ill. Her death caught me totally unprepared." "Me too, but she seemed like she was under a lot of stress lately. We often met at the café over there," she said, nodding to the north in the direction of the small establishment that was my nearest neighbor on Main Street. I'd eaten there when I got into town that morning after driving most of the night. I'd also eaten there while I was in town for the funeral. The sign over the door said Hardy Café. Not too creative, but I guess it fit. Chaille went on. "We'd have a cup of hot chocolate together two or three times a week. She didn't talk much about her family except for you. I gathered you were her favorite." A quick grin and a sparkle in her eyes accompanied that statement. "She said you were the smallest member of the family but the nicest." "That doesn't say much for the rest of them," I said mildly. "She loved you all," she said. "You're just the one she talked about the most. You're all redheaded, your mother told me. People say us redheads are hot-tempered. I don't think that's any truer of us than of people who are blonde or brunette. Your mother seemed as mild a person as I'd ever met. And I think I control my temper pretty well." She seemed thoughtful for a moment then added, "Most of the time anyway." Her eyes sparkled again. "Did you know my father, the Colonel?" I asked. People had known him as the Colonel. Even following his retirement, he'd used the title. She nodded her head. "I met him a few times before he died, right after I was hired by the town. Now he had a temper. "It was my turn to nod. "He did at that." I didn't mention my own tendency to blow off steam. I was, after all, trying to get that little problem under control and doing fairly well at it. "I'm surprised to see you here. Your mother told me just two weeks ago that she was hoping you would take over when she died, which she pointed out was not imminent at all." "That's what my siblings told me. When she mentioned it to me, I told her that I didn't want to take it over. I have a totally different career path planned. But my siblings decided that I would manage it even if I don't want to." "You don't want to? Then why are you here?" she asked. "If you don't mind my asking." I shrugged my shoulders and stepped behind the counter again. "You don't know my sister and brothers." "I've met Sean," she said. "He came around and visited your mother quite often. He works in the oil field. I really like his car." She paused for a moment. Then she added, "I'm sorry, but frankly I don't care a lot for him." "Join the club," I said. "He can be a real jerk." I was tired, and as much as I was drawn to the pretty officer, I wasn't in the mood to talk all day. "It was nice of you to come in," I told her in an attempt to get her to leave. I had a lot to do before I could feel like I knew enough about the hotel to run it in anything close to an acceptable manneracceptable to myself, not to my siblings. I didn't think I could ever reach their expectations, but as long as I was doing the job, albeit for only a few months, I would give it the most I could. "Yeah, thanks," she said. "I guess I better go." She turned to the door, but after opening it, she paused and turned back to me. "Your mother said you were a reserve officer in LA and that you were working on a degree in criminal justice. So I was surprised when she said she wanted you to come here, knowing you had a career." "I don't think she was fond of the idea of me being a cop," I told her as I sat down behind the counter. "And none of us expected her to be gone so soon." I could still see Officer Donovan's face. A shadow seemed to cross it. She turned as if to leave but then twisted back once more. "Chief Thompkins and the other officer in our department, Payton Kerr, say I'm wrong, but I'm not sure your mother's death was due to any kind of illness, not even a heart attack." That got my complete attention. I stood again. "What exactly do you mean?" "I'm sorry. I guess I shouldn't say anything, but something was going on in your mother's life. She was, like I said, under a lot of stress. She seemed unhappy lately, not at all like the woman I had come to know Checking Out 9
so well. When I asked her one day if everything was okay, she told me that it was, but the way she looked at me and the way her face went red, I couldn't help but think that she was hiding something. I pressed her a little on the matter, but she changed the subject and wouldn't talk about it." "Officer Donovan," I said as I walked around the counter to look directly into her dark blue eyes. "What do you mean that you don't think she died due to illness? Are you saying she may have been" "Murdered," she said, cutting me off. "But I'm probably wrong. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. Please, don't mention it to the chief or Payton. They already know how I feel, and they told me I was up in the night. I should take their advice and forget it. I don't need them angry with me."
She started through the door. "Wait. I think we need to talk, Officer Donovan," I said with some urgency. "Please just call me Chaille," she said. "Maybe we can talk later. I'm probably wrong. I shouldn't have said anything." She went through the door and left me to worry.