Chapter 5

Hunting Dog

“I need to see room 317,” Caleb said.

The painfully thin woman behind the check-in desk glanced up from her computer terminal and eyed him through her wire frame glasses. She was dressed in what Caleb thought of as typical public relations drone attire: black skirt with a slightly oversized starched white shirt beneath a black jacket and a loose necktie striped with several shades of dark red, hair pulled back into a tight bun, blood-red lipstick contrasting with her soft brown skin. The faux-gold name badge perched atop her left breast identified her as Mia.

“I said, I need to see room 317,” he repeated, keeping his tone bored and efficient.

“Is that your room, sir?” the clerk asked.

“If it was, do you think I would be asking to see it?” Caleb said. He fixed the woman with he best menacing glare. It was not difficult. Caleb had carried an intimidating reputation since high school, though eight years in the Marines, and two more in the brig at Camp Pendleton. Since then, a decade of work in the underbelly of corporate America had sharpened his powers of intimidation to a razor edge.

“Well, no… I…” the woman stammered.

Caleb waited, his expression unmoving. An amateur would have pressed then, trying to force the nervous clerk into giving him what he wanted, but Caleb knew better. It was far more effective to let the woman’s own paranoia play out until he knew exactly what button to press. Push to hard right now and she would shut down, call her manager, maybe even jump straight to threatening to call the police.

She blinked, rearranged her shoulders to a position of poise and mock confidence, and said, “I’m sorry sir, but unless you are the resident of room 317 I am afraid that I cannot allow you entry without probable cause.”

There it was. She probably had not even noticed the power in her own words, but to Caleb they were the key to everything he needed. Parker believed in aggression as the solution to all his problems, and he often used people like Caleb to carry out his blunt business strategy, but Caleb had long ago learned the truth about violence: It wasn’t the actual pain and damage that solved problems, but the fear of pain that that suffering instilled in everyone who witnessed it. Caleb now knew what the woman feared and he knew how to push her for information without resorting to crude threats.

Caleb flicked a glance at the woman’s name badge as if he had not already scrutinized her from head to toe and judged the precise angle of attack that would be most effective, then heaved a long suffering sigh and said, “Listen, Mia, there are two ways we can handle this. The first is that I call back to the field office, piss off the night supervisor, he calls to wake up a judge, then three more agents show up in a big black car and come storming in with a warrant and make a big fuss about presenting it to your manager. Meanwhile, I stand here looking all intimidating for a couple hours just as all your business clients are wandering back from the bars. They might be drunk, but I bet they’ll all be sober enough to wonder why a Fed is lurking about here in the lobby.” He gave a significant glance around the deserted lobby, then shrugged and said, “Or I can take a quick glance at the room now. If the woman staying there is who we think she is I’ll have the evidence I need to arrest her quietly when she comes back. And if it turns out that our dragnet just picked up a name collision I’ll be out of here in ten minutes, no one the wiser.”