Home > Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(11)

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(11)
Ilona Andrews

Oh no, not the patient-dad voice.

"The entire point of delegating a task is so one doesn't have to perform it himself."

Isabella sighed. "Yes, Father. You have a visitor."

"I'm perfectly aware of her, thank you." The man fixed me with sharp dark eyes. "May I help you?"

Coming here was probably a mistake. "My father once told me that I could ask a man here for advice."

"What was his name?"

"Brian Rodriguez."

The man nodded patiently. "I know what my name is. What was your father's name?"

"Gerard Demille."

The man studied me. "Gerard Demille? You're Gerard and Helen's daughter?"

I nodded.

He got up. "Thank you, Issy, that will be all."

Isabella sighed again. "Does this mean you're done lecturing me?"

"Yes. To answer your question, tell the ifrit that if they want the use of the formal dining room, we'll need something from their khan stating they will handle the expenses. That will quiet them right up." He pointed at the bench. "Please sit."

Isabella turned and went toward the house, shaking her head. I sat on the bench next to him.

"Dina Demille," Brian Rodriquez said. He had a deep, slightly raspy voice. "When I heard that you'd moved in to Gertrude Hunt, I thought you would come to visit me sooner."

"I wasn't sure I would be welcome."

"My dear, your father put his own life in jeopardy for the sake of an innkeeper's wife and children. You're very young, so you probably don't have enough experience to realize how rarely a guest risks himself for our sake. Gerard is a very brave man."

"He would say he is very foolish."

"He would. For all of his bluster and pretending to be a scoundrel, he was always a modest man. All innkeepers owe him a debt of gratitude, and your mother selflessly saved him from the eternity of imprisonment. As their daughter, you are always welcome at this inn. What made you doubt that?"

"You didn't answer my letter."

"What letter?"

"I sent you a letter after the incident. It was some years ago."

Mr. Rodriguez shook his head. "I never received it. What did you write?" He seemed completely genuine.

"I asked if you knew anything about their disappearance." A tiny, fragile hope fluttered its wings in my chest.

Mr. Rodriguez leaned forward. "In a word, no. People can and do disappear from time to time, but for an entire inn to simply vanish is unheard of. Your parents were well thought of. When the incident occurred, I checked into it and many others did, too. But our collective wisdom failed. We know nothing."

The hope died. I did my best to hide my disappointment.

"You must miss them," he said.

"I do." Every single day.

"I'm sorry."

"Thank you."

Mr. Rodriguez offered me a small smile. "So, what may I do for you, daughter of Gerard and Helen?"

I took out a photograph of the stalker and passed it to him.

Mr. Rodriguez stared at the photograph. Alarm flared in his eyes.

"A Ma'avi stalker. Nasty creatures, vindictive and cruel. Is the inn threatened?"

"Yes." Technically, it was threatened now that I had gotten myself involved. "The stalker began killing dogs, then escalated. I believe there is more than one of them. How did they get here?"

"The same as everyone else." Mr. Rodriguez studied the photograph. "The question is why and who brought them in. You've had no unusual guests?"

"Only Caldenia."

"Ahh, yes. Not many people would've taken her in. I imagine she pays well, but the trouble she brings can't possibly be worth the fee."

"It's wasn't the money," I told him. "Although it was welcome. The inn needed a guest."

Brian smiled. "Ahh. Your parents would be proud. People of your age don't always understand that simple truth: the inns require guests to flourish."

My parents had never turned away a guest, no matter how difficult they were to accommodate. It was simply the way they did things. I saw no reason to veer from that course.

Mr. Rodriguez tapped the photograph. "Years ago, when I was much younger, my parents sent me to the West Coast to take care of some private business. I stayed at the Blue Falls, a very specialized inn. It catered to high-risk guests. One of them was something called a dahaka. He was in the lobby when I came in and I had to wait for about five minutes until he finished his business. It was thirty years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. He wore armor, carried high-technology rifles, and had two stalkers sitting by his feet. Being in his presence was like being trapped in a cage with a vicious, hungry animal. I felt the menace. He emitted it like fire emits heat. His stalkers drooled at me. I saw the hunger in their eyes. To them I was prey. Food."

He shivered and shook his head. "The dahaka looked at me in passing as he went to his room. It felt like somebody dumped a bucket of ice water over my head. Every hair on my body stood up." He rubbed his forearm. "I was a young kid then, twenty. I had all these powers and I thought I was immortal. That was the moment when I realized I could die."

This didn't sound good. Not at all. "And he had stalkers with him?"

Mr. Rodriguez nodded. "Dahaka are a reclusive and very violent race. They pride themselves on their ability to kill, and they often employ other creatures the way our hunters employ dogs. Stalkers are some of their favorites."

I thought out loud. "But why would a dahaka be in Red Deer, Texas? There's nothing there. And if one of them was there, why wouldn't he come to the inn?"

"I don't know. But I can tell you there's one way to find out if you have a dahaka. They implant transmitters into their animals. If you have one, that stalker corpse has a transmitter somewhere in its flesh."

So I was facing a very violent creature armed with advanced weaponry and a pack of murderous beasts. How in the world would I even deal with it?

"I wish I could help," Mr. Rodriguez said.

"Thank you." We both knew he couldn't. He had his inn and I had mine. "I just wish the inn was stronger, that's all."

"Would you mind a bit of unsolicited advice?"

"I'll take all the advice I can get."

He turned and nodded at the inn. "Casa Feliz is a very busy place. We serve Dallas and Fort Worth and a good deal of Oklahoma. We have a reputable standing as a good place to stay for most guests. In essence, we are the Holiday Inn of our world."

Yes, his inn was doing well and mine wasn't. I was painfully aware of that fact. "I'm afraid I don't follow."

"When Gertrude Hunt was built all those years ago, it stood on a road crossing. But now the roads have moved on, the inn stood abandoned, and I would guess that even with proximity to Austin and Houston, you still don't get many visitors. My point is that there are different kinds of inns. Some inns are like Casa Feliz and cater to a wide variety of patrons. Some cater only to few, select customers. The guests with special needs. Don't fight your remote location --turn it to your advantage. If you succeed in that, you'll build a quiet reputation that will speak volumes. Your exclusivity could be an asset, the way it was for Blue Falls."

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