We met Lynn and Grace at a motel about 20 miles outside of Clear Lake. By the time Mikey and I arrived, the sun had almost set and we pulled into the motel’s parking lot with the last strands of twilight still clinging to the horizon behind us. It gave everything a strange pink hue that was just short of unsettling.
I tried to convince myself that the salmon-colored sky was a result of the manufacturing facility located about a mile up the road and I was probably right, but the knowledge did little to settle the knot in my stomach as we drove up to the motel’s front office to see Lynn and Grace waiting just inside, both women looking back at us through the glass door with identical expressions of exhausted relief.
To recap: Lynn was the secret badass former police detective who looked like an older, nerdier Annie Potts and Grace was the almost obnoxiously hot one who resembled only herself but that’s okay because did I mention that she was extremely hot? At least to anyone who found perfectly symmetrical features and a flawless body attractive.
The obvious downside was that Grace’s looks put her squarely out of all our leagues and she knew it. On top of that, she especially didn’t seem to care for me. We entered the small building to greet them and I gave Grace a polite nod.
She responded by immediately turning to Mikey and saying, “So he’s gonna be like a regular occurrence now? Great.”
Mikey furrowed his brow at her and started to answer but I cut him off as I replied, “Look, this whole Ross and Rachel will-they-won’t-they thing we got going is no picnic for me either. But if you can refrain from blatantly flirting with me while we’re on the clock, I’d really appreciate it.”
Mikey began to laugh. Grace just stood there, looking pissed and glaring at me through ice-cold murder eyes. Mikey pointed at the front desk as his laughter finally faded to a sigh and he said, “Lynn, you wanna go get us checked in? Four rooms.”
“On it,” Lynn replied as he handed her a credit card. Mikey then turned to Grace and gestured back at the entrance.
“You wanna take a walk to the car with me?”
“Take a WHAT?”
“We need to have a word.” Mikey moved to the door and held it open for Grace, whose murderous expression momentarily turned to confusion before finally landing on annoyed as she looked back at Mikey with a posture that said: Are you fucking kidding me?
Mikey’s posture responded with: No, I’m fucking not.
This was all very new to me. There weren’t a lot of intense exchanges of body language and dramatic rivalries with hot girls at any of my previous jobs. To be honest, the whole thing was starting to make me feel incredibly awkward.
When Grace followed Mikey outside and the door finally swung shut behind them, I let out a sigh of relief so loud that Lynn turned to look back at me. She approached a moment later with several key-cards in hand and I was initially embarrassed but then I saw that Lynn’s expression was one of empathetic resolve. She nodded at Grace through the glass door.
“I get it. I love the girl but she can be a bit… overly intense sometimes. She has her reasons and of course, that’s probably why Mikey chose Grace to begin with. He responds to intensity.”
We were watching Mikey and Grace argue through the glass door, the two of them backlit by a polluted pink glow while trading frantic gestures as I slowly nodded and said, “Tell me about it.”
“And it’s never easy being the new kid but there’s something you need to understand, if you haven’t figured it out already. Mikey is grooming both of you for the same thing.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“What do you think?” Lynn replied and then scoffed at me when all I could do was shrug. “It’s only-child syndrome. This is something that Grace wants very badly and for a long time, she was Mikey’s only real option. So of course, she sees you as her competition. Right now, he’s out there reminding her…”
Mikey appeared to be intently describing something to Grace as Lynn motioned at him and continued, speaking almost in sync with the movement of Mikey’s lips…
“That’s not how this works. We are a team and could not properly function otherwise… The truth is Mikey will groom as many potential proteges as he can find. For a gay man, he’s got a very hetero obsession with leaving behind little versions of himself to carry on his legacy. And god knows that girl has enough daddy issues to fight him every step of the way. So, this should be fun…”
Lynn quietly muttered that last line to me just before Mikey re-entered the office and asked, “We all set?”
“Yep. You are…” Lynn said, examining the four keycard sleeves in her hand. “Room nine. That’s the only one they had left with a view of the pool.”
Lynn handed him the keycard as she replied, “Figured you would appreciate that. Where’s Grace?”
Mikey pointed a thumb back over his shoulder. “Looking for a vending machine to punch.”
Lynn nodded and then handed me my keycard as she said, “That’s my cue. Gentlemen, as always…”
“You too,” I said and gave Lynn a quick parting nod, hoping she would see the sincere gratitude on my face. Whether she knew it or not, our little chat had gone a long way toward making me feel better about my current situation.
Mikey and I retreated to our respective rooms to freshen up and stretch our legs, agreeing to regroup at his room in an hour so we could go over the plan for tomorrow. I arrived to find Lynn and Grace already seated at a small round table by the window that was identical to the one in my room (just in case you people don’t know how motels work.)
Lynn smiled and gave me a little wave as I entered. Grace’s right hand was clenched into a fist and she was using her left to hold an ice-pack on top of it. She briefly raised the bag so I could see her swollen knuckles as she said, “I’d wave too but I’m currently incapable.”
“Wow, so Mikey wasn’t joking when he said you were looking for a vending machine to punch.”
“Only the ones with tempered glass fronts. Hurts like a bitch afterwards but it feels so satisfying to hit them because it’s glass that DOESN’T shatter, if that makes sense.”
I let her words sink in and replied, “To be honest, it’s actually kind of hot.”
Grace did something then that I had yet to see her do; she smiled. “And if you weren’t a weird scrawny man-child, that might be flattering.”
Lynn shrugged at her and said, “Not bad up until then.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I felt like my brain was going to induce an aneurysm if I didn’t say it.”
I gently clapped my hands together to get their attention (a trick I learned at magic camp, ladies) and said, “Not that this isn’t a lot of fun but, uh… Where the fuck is Mikey?”
As if on cue (and this time it really did happen), Mikey entered and turned to Grace as he said, “Five grand.”
Grace smiled at Mikey as she gestured at me and replied, “You’ll be happy to hear that you’re interrupting forty-five solid seconds of polite small talk between me and… Champ over here.”
I turned to Mikey and in the most sincere tone I could muster I said, “It WAS genuinely pleasant. I’d recommend her to all my friends.”
Lynn let out a reflexive chuckle and immediately covered her mouth, looking embarrassed as Grace glared at her. Mikey was having none of our bullshit. His gaze stayed fixed on Grace as he said, “You hear me? Five grand.”
Grace scoffed. “For a vending machine with a warped front? You got taken for a ride, homie.”
“It’s so he wouldn’t call the cops, HOMIE!”
Lynn interrupted him to say, “Mikey…”
Mikey turned and abruptly smiled at Lynn and I as he said, “Sorry. Not the time. Do you have that map?”
I helped Lynn unroll the detailed map of Clear Lake she had liberated from their town hall. Once we had it out on the table, Lynn quickly scanned the map and located the spot where they’d seen the old woman going into a dilapidated house earlier that day.
Mikey asked, “Was there anything strange about her? Her height or maybe an obvious deformity?”
Grace, who had seen her first, shrugged and said, “I mean she looked like a freakin’ hobo. She’s obviously been squatting in that house.”
Lynn added, “And that house is only accessible from an access road leading to the quarry on the West end of the lake. Calling it out of the way would be an understatement.”
I decided to chime in. “You’re saying that maybe the thing that killed everybody… Or took them away or whatever… It was something consciously going from house to house collecting people and simply didn’t know she was there?”
Lynn nodded and said, “I mean, look. It’s not even on the map so the place has obviously been condemned for a while. Plus, the treeline would cover it if you were scanning the town from an aerial view. It’s the perfect blind-spot.”
Mikey gently clapped his hands together (he must’ve gone to that same camp, gentlemen) and we all turned to look at him.
“Okay, so… Joel and I will approach at about nine tomorrow morning. We’ll have to dial it in with the walkies to figure out their range but I’d like you two stationed about here…” He pointed at a spot on the far end of the other side of the map and continued, “Just outside of town.”
“Bullshit,” Grace said as soon as he spoke the words.
“I know that might appear overly cautious given Clear Lake’s seemingly vacant status but let me remind you that we still have no idea what the fuck we’re actually dealing with here. I want our bases covered. Worst case scenario, would YOU wanna saddle Lynn with Joel?”
Lynn opened her mouth as if to say something but then she decided against it and just shrugged. Grace let out a defeated sigh. “I guess not.”
I turned to Mikey and said, “You realize I’m right here.”
“What do you want me to say? You’ve had zero field experience. Which is why we’re fixing that, first thing tomorrow morning.”
We wrapped things up shortly after that and I must’ve been beat because I fell asleep pretty much as soon as I got back to my room, at which point I had one of the most terrifying nightmares I have ever experienced and if I’m the one saying that, then you KNOW it had to be bad.