Violeta Gabor stood at the front counter of her hotel, examining her guest registry. Or at least, that was what she appeared to be doing. Quickly her eyes scanned down the column of messages written in the margin—notes from customers, traveling agencies, local services. The registry doubled as Violeta's general notes pad, chronicling her history at the Wayfarer with clipped, unemotive efficiency.
But this note near the bottom of page 163 changed everything. It was from a phone call earlier that morning. A message from England…from her commanders in the Inter-Operations Coverts Support Systems. For the Wayfarer, besides being a small, neat hotel in the low-cost district of Travost, was also a staging area for deep penetrating covert operations against the opposition. A spy pit-stop.
In the last few months, however, the number of operators that passed through her station had grown less and less. Today Gabor had received the message she had been dreading. There in the Wayfarerer's registry, neatly printed between a customer wake-up call request and the number for the eatery down the street, was this message: Your Mother Is Ill. Auntie Margaret Needs You To Come Home. Cousin LW Will Pick You Up At London International In Two Weeks.
This was it. She was being closed down. Mission control had determined her station was not valuable enough to risk maintaining it. The last three years of recruiting agents, developing contacts and constructing a network to assist out-of-town operators now seemed to have been a waste of time. She shook her head and closed her registry book with a bang.
Suddenly the front door opened and a man leaped inside, out of the blinding winter storm. As he tried to close the door, the wind snatched it from his hand and slammed it loudly. The man winced and, turning to where Gabor stood at the front counter, smiled apologetically.
"This winter weather is crazy," she commented duly in the local language. She slowly re-opened the guest registry and placed it on the desk for the man to sign. Bending, she opened a drawer and began to pull out the forms that a guest at her hotel would need to fill out for the local police.
"I'm sorry…man at bus stop said English you spoke, yes?" the man asked brokenly in the local language as he ambled over to the desk. He was tall, with auburn hair and bright blue eyes. He had a likable smile, but Violeta was fairly certain that he was a covert operator. There was an unnatural intensity beneath his friendly demeanor. Not that it would be noticeable to just anyone; as Violeta's favorite professor once said, "Only those who are aware of the reality in everything ever know the truth about anything."
"Yes, English. I went to school in America." She replied. Her English was understandable, but heavily colored by the lilting local accent.
His eyebrows lifted, his smile widened and he sighed a little with relief. Just like a nervous tourist would have. Whoever this agent was, he was a professional.
"Wonderful. It's been so long since I met a person who can really understand what I want to say." As he spoke he pulled out his identity card, visa and passport. It was obvious he had traveled in the country for a while; he finished filling out the papers quickly and easily, without engaging in conversation.
As he straightened his papers, he asked casually, "Do you happen to have any rooms with a view?"
Though she didn't react visibly, Gabor wanted to cry inside. She had been right, this man was an agent. The agent. The closing agent. This coded greeting signaled the arrival of the agent sent to shut her down. Somehow she had hoped that the message had been a bit wrong, something just a little out of place. But no, there was no mercy, no good-byes. "Cousin LW Will Pick You Up At London International In Two Weeks." Lone closing agent from London will arrive directly. Close down station and report to headquarters in twelve days.
With a mental sigh Gabor forced herself to look up at the stranger and give the affirmative—encoded—reply, "Sorry, you've come to the wrong hotel. We're the only one in town without any view."
His smile was unchanged as he continued the coded greeting, "That's perfect, then. I don't like views."
Gabor placed the paperwork on the counter and requested a covert agency identifier, "So where do you come from?"
The man began returning his identification papers to his various pockets as he replied, "London is my hometown."
So far, so good. Gabor took down a key from the rack and handed it to him as she asked, "Oh, you have family there?"
He replied almost cheerfully, "No, I'm all alone in the world."
Lone agent—just as the message said. Now for his codename: "No friends or anything?"
"I'm a rather solitary fellow. The fellows in school always said I was a real Lone Wolf."
LW Will Pick You Up…it was confirmed. He was the closing agent. She looked at the registry and paperwork, to get his operating identity, and then said, "Well, Mr. McNeil, I hope you are not so solitary as to miss dinner."
He smiled again and shook his head, "I make it a habit to never miss my meals. Though I was rather hoping for a shower before dinner…where is…" he lifted his eyebrows and shook his key slightly.
"Room number 6 is up the stairs, down the hall to the right. But hurry—we eat dinner at seven."
"Thank you," he said and he was gone. Gabor listened to his footsteps fade as he hurried up the stairs and down the hall. The key rattled, the door closed and the end of an era had come. The Wayward Inn was, for all intents and purposes