Safely locked in her room at Cove Lodge — dressed for bed in pale yellow panties and a white T-shirt emblazoned with Kermit the Frog’s smiling face — Tessa drank Diet Coke and tried to watch a repeat of the Tonight show, but she couldn’t get interested in the conversations that Johnny Carson conducted with a witless actress, a witless singer, and a witless comedian. Diet thought to accompany Diet Coke.
The more time that passed after her unsettling experience in the motel’s halls and stairwells, the more she wondered if indeed she had imagined being stalked. She was distraught about Janice’s death, after all, preoccupied by the thought that it was murder rather than suicide. And she was still dyspeptic from the cheeseburger she’d eaten for dinner, which had been so greasy that it might have been deep-fried, bun and all, in impure yak lard. As Scrooge had first believed of Marley’s ghost, so Tessa now began to view the phantoms that had frightened her earlier Perhaps they’d been nothing more than an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.
As Carson’s current guest talked about a weekend he’d spent at an arts festival in Havana with Fidel Castro—”a great guy, a funny guy, a compassionate guy” — Tessa got up from the bed and went to the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. As she was squeezing Crest onto the brush, she heard someone try the door to her room.
The small bath was off the smaller foyer. When she stepped to the threshold, she was within a couple of feet of the door to the hall, close enough to see the knob twisting back and forth as someone tested the lock. They weren’t even being subtle about it. The knob clicked and rattled, and the door clattered against the frame.
She dropped her toothbrush and hurried to the telephone that stood on the nightstand.
No dial tone.
She jiggled the cutoff buttons, pressed 0 for operator, but nothing worked. The motel switchboard was shut down. The phone was dead.