Rhys switched off the ignition. Resting both hands on the steering wheel, he peered through the dusty windscreen and gathering late afternoon winter gloom. Would he find her? Would this be the end of his search?
He had literally lost count of the false leads. If this didn’t turn up anything then the trail would be cold, dead cold. He shivered involuntarily. As he slowly unclipped his seat belt and opened the car door, he said a brief prayer. “Please, God. This time. Let it be this time.”
The rusty motel sign above him swung squeakily. Who would want to stay here? The only reasons Rhys could think of were if your car broke down on your way somewhere else, or you were hiding. Especially if you were hiding.
He’d been searching for eighteen months now. Others, even his wife, had given up, although few would come right out and say it. But Rhys couldn’t stop turning over stones, looking for his little girl who’d run away so long ago.
Hardly little anymore, Samantha was 21. It hadn’t even been that much of a surprise, her leaving. There had been the repeated threats to do so, the many arguments, accusations, lies and frustration. But he wasn’t about to go over all that in his head right now.
As Rhys walked to the motel office he clutched a creased sheet of paper. He knew what was written on it by heart.
He pulled aside the ranch slider door to the motel office. The front desk was unattended. A faded calendar from last year hung on the back wall, along with a dusty clock and a sign warning they didn’t take cheques. Rhys pressed the buzzer on his side of the desk, his stomach feeling hollow and squeamish.
A middle-aged woman appeared from room to the right, behind the desk. As she walked through the open door, the sound of a TV soap opera theme song bleared in the background: ‘Family, we are all family. We all need family...’ Rhys swallowed hard and his stomach-ache went up a notch.
“Yes?” asked the woman. Even she seemed surprised someone would want to stay there.
“Excuse, me, Ma’am. My name is Rhys Lane. I’m looking for my daughter, Samantha. I need to contact her urgently for family reasons. I heard she might be staying here. Can you tell me if she’s here now, or has stayed here recently?”
Rhys pulled out a photo from his jacket and laid it on the counter so the woman could see it. He’d gotten used to his slight dramatisation of the truth. There was no urgent family reason. Rhys just knew he had to keep looking for Samantha.
The woman narrowed her eyes at Rhys, then picked up the photo. It could be any young woman. Clear skin, wide smile, short bob style hair cut. She looked again at the man in front of her. There was some family resemblance she supposed.
“There was a girl here last week. Could be the one in the photo. Her hair was longer and she looked older. When was this taken?”
“It was about four years ago,” admitted Rhys. “It was the only one that was a really clear shot of her face. What name did she give?”
“Well, Sir. I’m afraid I can’t give you that information. It’s privacy laws, you see. You got any letter from the police or something?”
Rhys handed over the crumbled letter he had carried with him from the car.
“No, but I have this. It’s from Samantha, a note she wrote when – well, when she left home. Maybe you could match it with the writing in your registration book?”
“Well, it was a man that filled in the register,” she said, noticing the wince on the man’s face. She debated with herself for a moment.
“Look, I shouldn’t do this, but I think I can trust you.”
She turned the register around so Rhys could see the entries.
“There,” she said, pointing with a stubby finger. “That’s the registration plate of the car they were in.” She waited until Rhys quickly scribbled the number on the back of the letter he’d shown her, then flipped the book shut guiltily.
“Good luck,” she said. “I hope you find her.”
“Thanks. I’ll never give up looking for her. I’m her father. It’s what a father does, isn’t it?” said Rhys, before turning and hurrying for his car.
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