* * *
Outside the bar were parked three pickup trucks, two beaters, three motorcycles. Judging by the number of vehicles, he assumed there might be a dozen patrons inside at the most, but when he walked through the door he found double that amount, mostly men but a few women, too, sitting at tables and booths. None of them occupied the bar, where Nova headed through a fog of cigarette smoke and country music, instinctively veering toward the corner of the bar, so he could view the room with his back up against the wall.
The bartender was an older woman who had seen better days. She wore too much makeup and her hair had been bleached down to the roots. She barely acknowledged Nova at first, standing behind the bar, puffing on a cigarette, staring into space.
Finally Nova said, “Can I get a drink?”
She blinked and studied him for a long moment, before crushing her cigarette out in an ashtray sprouting used butts. She waltzed over, taking her time, still staring off into space like she would rather be anywhere else but here.
“What kind of beer?”
“I don’t care. Just as long as it’s cold.”
She pursed her lips, studying him again, before silently grabbing a glass and filling it from one of the taps set up along the bar. Despite the Budweiser and Miller Lite neon signs buzzing in the windows, none of the taps were labeled, so Nova figured it would be a crapshoot to see what he ended up with.
The beer, when she set it down in front of him, had too much head, and the foam overflowed along the sides of the glass.
“Thanks,” Nova said. “You got a napkin, too?”
She ignored him. “You want to start a tab?”
The woman started to walk away, probably to grab another cigarette, when Nova said, “Who runs the motel?”
She gave him an irritated look. “What’s that?”
“The motel. I’m looking for a room.”
“Oh yeah?” She turned to him fully, lighting herself another cigarette. “And why’s that?”
“My car broke down a couple miles from here. This time of night, I’m guessing I won’t get a hold of a mechanic until morning, so I figured I might as well get a room.”
The woman seemed to think about this for a moment before nodding. “You want a room? I can give you a room.”
“You manage the motel?”
“The motel, the diner, this bar—I manage it all. One night’s stay will cost you eighty bucks.”
“Seems pretty steep considering you have six rooms and only one of those is currently being used.”
Her eyebrow lifted. “You trying to haggle with me? Because I don’t have to rent you a room at all.”
“Eighty’s fine. Where can I get a key?”
“The keys are already inside the rooms, right on top of the pillows. But don’t expect to find any mechanic in the morning.”
“There ain’t any. At least there ain’t any around here. The closest mechanic shop is in Townsend, the next town over, and that’s at least twelve miles. They’ll send someone out, but it might take most of the day.”
This wasn’t the news Nova wanted to hear, but he wasn’t surprised. He had passed through some towns just as small as this in the past two days, towns that barely deserved a dot on the map, so he couldn’t complain. At least he had a place to lay his head down, even though he was beginning to think the sheets might not have been washed in a while.
Laughter exploded at a booth off in the corner, a trio of beefy men pounding the tabletop.
The bartender started to drift away again, and Nova said to her, “Small town, huh?”
She sighed, turning back to him. “You seen any smaller?”
Nova shrugged and took a sip of the beer. He had expected something watered down, but it wasn’t. It was surprisingly good. He held the glass up and squinted at the amber liquid.
“What kind of beer is this?”
“Good beer,” the bartender said. “Any other questions?”
“What’s the name of this town anyway? I didn’t see any signs on the way in.”
The bartender flashed nicotine-stained teeth. “Honey, welcome to Parrot Spur.”