Monday, 22 January 2007

Chapter 4: One Star Motel

The clock on the dashboard clicked round to midnight as the rented saloon pulled into the car park of the Lone Star motel. There were plenty of parking spaces to choose from. The saloon came to a stop and the tall, thin figure of Doctor Andrew Owen stepped out.

A concrete box with thirty or forty rooms in it
, Doctor Owen thought as he surveyed his surroundings. Architecture straight out of the low point of the seventies.

Above the entrance, a grimy sign pointed the way to a swimming pool at the rear of the motel. Doctor Owen would bet his bottom dollar that all the pool contained was two inches of green slime but suspected there wasn’t anyone here that would take his bet.

Lone Star Motel? One star motel would be a more appropriate title
, he thought, half expecting the capital L to fall off the sign. Still, beggars can’t be choosers and when you’ve got to lie low, there’s nowhere lower than the sewer.

Doctor Owen checked in and paid for his room, which was unreassuringly inexpensive. Without getting out of his seat, the desk clerk handed him the key and went back to watching the tiny colour TV sitting on the desk.

What an easy job
, Doctor Owen thought, I’d give anything to swap places with you right now. You can have all my money, all my qualifications and all the secrets I know.

All I want to do now is put my feet up, watch TV and forget about everything.

But he couldn’t do that and he knew it. He had a responsibility to his wife, his friends and everyone he worked with. Hell, he even had a responsibility to the kid sitting there watching TV without a care in the world. That responsibility was to stay alive and finish his work.

For the first time in his life he was glad he didn’t have any kids. The doctor and his wife Emily had considered it for many years but as was the case with many other aspects of their personal life, his work came first.

Emily had left him several times but always returned. She knew that living with the potential saviour of the human race would be difficult. It wasn’t as if he was a sex-addicted lothario or a clandestine alcoholic. When they were together, he was a model husband: caring and considerate, and they both thought they would have been perfect parents.

They had argued and cried about having children countless times but they always came to the same conclusion: once his work reached this stage, they would be in mortal danger and it would have been selfish for them to think the safety of the children wouldn’t be affected by his work. She remained loyal to him and he prayed that she had remained safe since they temporarily parted earlier that day.

Warm, musty air and the stale, lingering stench of cigarettes hit Doctor Owen in the face as he opened the door to room thirty-seven. As expected, what stood before him was a basic motel room: a bed, a TV and a bathroom. Everything he needed for the night. Tomorrow he would check into another motel and attempt to make contact with Doctor Forrest, who led the research assignment.

He threw his bags on the patch of the mustard carpet that held the fewest stains and went into the bathroom. He splashed cold water on his face and looked at himself through the film of dirt on the mirror.

Am I really the saviour of humanity? Can I live with the responsibility?

He decided it was too late and he was too tired to be contemplating the meaning of his life so he threw himself on the barely clean bed sheets and fell asleep almost immediately.

Deep in sleep, Doctor Owen didn’t hear the door handle click and a floor board squeak as a heavy size eleven stepped inside. Nor did he hear or see a tall dark figure approach the bed. The only thing he noticed was a tight grip on his neck a split second before a chloroform-soaked rag covered his face.

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