"Right, for seven days, and six of 'em were already up when he disappeared." Baxter's face crinkled. "Just don't like the sound of that. Disappeared."
Now, he's RE-appeared... "If you'd reported him as missing, the police wouldn't have done anything about it anyway. Enough time hadn't pa.s.sed."
"Right. And what else could I do? He doesn't show up on the last day he's booked, and then you arrive for an indefinite time, so...I moved Karswell's stuff out and gave you the room 'cos it's the one you wanted in the first place."
It was between Baxter's words that Fanshawe got the gist. Now matter how much money this Karswell man is worth, I'm worth more. He b.u.mped Karswell for a more lucrative customer, just like airlines b.u.mp discount pa.s.sengers for people who'll pay more. Happens every day.
"Like you said," Baxter continued, wringing his hands. "I thought he went someplace else for his last night, with a friend or something. He left his car, left his belongings and his suitcase, even left his keys."
"Oh, the Cadillac I noticed parked behind the inn- That's his, I suppose."
"Right. I moved it myself, then put his suitcase in the trunk. The cops probably think I'm some kind of a dunderhead. Man leaves his car, his keys, and I don't do a thing..."
Fanshawe recalled seeing Mr. Baxter stowing the suitcase just yesterday. "You're fretting for nothing, Mr. Baxter."
Baxter continued, still distraught, "I figured if he came back at the last minute, I'd give him his stay for free."
"Anyone else would've done the same thing. You don't have an obligation to inform the police that a private guest might be missing, and it's certainly not your job to guess that someone may have been murdered," Fanshawe offered.
"Yeah, yeah... But I knew it was him the minute I saw the suit that corpse was wearing." Baxter let out a long breath. "Jumpin' Jesus..."
Fanshawe could sympathize with the proprietor's duress. A hotel guest getting murdered-getting his FACE cut off-won't do wonders for the inn's reputation... They entered the inn and its rush of cool air. "I gotta get my tookus back to work, Mr. Fanshawe, gotta food delivery out back," Baxter said. He tssked. "I'm just dang sorry somethin' like this happened to ruin your stay."
"It's not ruined at all, Mr. Baxter-bad things happen everywhere." At last, the remnant adrenalin since the scream began to drain from Fanshawe's blood. He tried to end their discourse on a witty note, "If you think this is bad, try Central Park," but it didn't work. In the back of his mind, the grisly image flashed: Eldred Karswell's faceless skull...
"I don't know what it was," Abbie was saying during the early-evening lull, "but he just seemed-" She looked right at her father
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