Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chapter VIII: The Economy Suite

Bill regarded himself in an economy suite's mirror. His hair had been trimmed. His beard, shaved away. His tongue still felt swollen and sore from where he bit it earlier in the day, but it worked more or less normally. He moved his tongue around between his lips and gums. He smiled and noted the lines creasing his face. Even with a smile, he did not look happy. Worry lines gave him away.

A crisp polo shirt hung from his bony shoulders. Once he would have filled the shirt out. He may have even required a larger size, but now he could not even fill out a small. He turned to the side and peeled off a transparent sticker with the size written on it in vertical repetition: S, S, S, S. His chest puffed out with an inhalation of air, but it was no use. He still could not fill out his shirt.

"What the hell happened to you?" he asked his own reflection. The chill of the marble countertop shot up his arm. He looked down and realized he had leaned over and grabbed the counter without thinking about it. He quickly realized his mistake. "Aw shit."


A stranger examined himself in the mirror. The thin young man had a pair of tweezers in his hand. He plucked at his eyebrows. They were styled into clean crescents that were perhaps a touch too high up on his forehead. There was something feminine about the arch. The young man smiled and hummed. A second man entered the bathroom wearing only a robe. The man plucking his eyebrows shouted and pushed the other man out.

"I'm not ready yet, bitch. Just wait till I'm beautiful. I promise it'll be worth it."

The other man smiled and walked out of the bathroom. He slapped the young guy on the butt on the way out.

The man who had been plucking his eyebrows smiled at himself. He reached down and grabbed a furry thing off the counter. The furry thing was a bright pink wig.

"You look beautiful." He puckered out his lips and began applying neon green lipstick.

Outside the bathroom, the front door opened with a whump.

A muffled shout through the bathroom door: "Where is that asshole!"

Another muffled shout answered: "Who the hell are you? You can't just come barging into my room. Do you know who I am?"

"I don't need permission. That little queen owes me two hundred bucks. Where is he?"

The man in the bathroom quit humming. He closed up his lipstick and stuck it into a tiny little purse hanging from a chain on his shoulder. He looked around.

There was more shouting through the door.

The man in the bathroom looked around the bathroom frantically. He cursed under his breath and stepped into the shower. He closed the shower curtain behind him.

A second later the bathroom door shot open and a large man walked inside.

"Jackie-O, where are you honey? Don't hide. Daddy just wants his money."

The big man looked towards the shower curtain. He turned towards the mirror, looked at himself in reflection, and rolled his eyes. "Give me a break. There's only one place you can be. You always were a stupid fuck." He pulled back the shower curtain.

The man in the wig screamed.

The big man raised his arm and brought it down against the smaller man in the shower. There was a slap, then another slap, then another slap. Sometimes the fist was closed; sometimes it was open. The person in the wig never cried out. He only released muffled grunts as if by holding in as much sound as possible he might keep out the pain.

The other man in the robe rushed in. He grabbed the big man's arm with his both of his hands. The big guy twirled around and brought a fist. The fist connected to the man in the robe's jaw, and he cried out. The man in the robe pulled his hand towards his jaw. A froth of blood and saliva spilled through his fingers. He rushed out the door. "Help!" he said through his fingers. "Help!" It was a garbled echo down the hallway.

The big man turned to watch the man in the robe run away. Behind the big man, the man in the wig stood. His face was puffy. On the right side of his face, beneath his recently groomed brow, the upper eyelid was puffed out and turning blue. A tiny cut just below his temple dripped a trail of blood. He smiled, revealing a missing front tooth. Blood dribbled out the side of his mouth.

"That's it bitch! I've had enough!" he swung his dainty little purse. The chain wrapped around the big guy's throat.

Caught off guard, the big man lost his balance and staggered backwards, hitting his head against the countertop. The little man in the wig leaped on top of him and screamed. He tugged on the chain around the big man's throat.

"I don't owe you anything!" the man in the wig said. "You owe me everything you sick fucking bastard!"

The big guy wasn't listening. He gasped for air. Wide open eyes stared at the ceiling without focusing. Bill knew the man lying on his back was unconscious.
The little man either was not aware or did not care. He tugged on the little chain purse until the man below him stopped fighting for air and lay silent and still on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. Eventually, the man in the wig's screams and yells turned into tears. He let go of the chain. He slammed the floor with his open palm.

"Why couldn't you just leave me alone?"

The man on the floor lay silent and staring.

"Why couldn't you just leave me alone?"

The man on the floor made no movement, no response.

Time passed and two new men walked into the bathroom. They wore dark uniforms and their badges shone under the cheap vanity lights. They read the man in the wig his rights, placed him in handcuffs, each of the two men picked him up by an arm, and carried him away.

While being carried away, the man in the wig kept repeating the same refrain over and over again.

"Why couldn't you just leave me alone?"


Bill lifted his hands from the countertop. He looked at them. He looked to the floor where the big man lay lifeless in another time that overlapped the way that all time overlaps. He wondered again why no one else could feel these things. The impressions were so obvious, especially when the feelings were so raw.

There was a knock on the bathroom door.

Bill jumped.

"You okay in there?" Gloria asked. "You didn't fall in did you?"

Bill smiled. "I'm okay. I think I'd like to ask for a change of rooms though." He opened the door.

Gloria lifted her eyebrow. "Felt it, huh?"

"Felt what?"

"You tell me what? Why do you want another room?"

"I saw something, okay? A guy got murdered, but it was really just self-defense. Mostly, I guess."

"That's what the jury said, too."

"So it did happen?" Bill asked.

Gloria nodded. "I think so. Just out of curiosity, what did the murderer look like?"

"He had finely trimmed eyebrows, green lipstick, and a pink wig."

"Damn, you're good. Too bad the D.A. can't take you to court as a witness. No jury'd ever believe you, but, shit, you corroborate everything perfectly, Bill."

"You knew about this room? What was this? Another test?"

Gloria flashed a smile.

Bill couldn't help but smile back. "Out of curiosity, what happened to the guy in the wig? He really was defending himself, more or less. I only saw part of the picture, but imagine there was a lot of abuse going on for a guy to snap like that."

Gloria's smile faded. "They let him off, more or less, but the judge ordered some inpatient counseling based on the charges. Determined it was all self-defense. It was a horrible story. No point into going into it all now, but the guy had been beat up pretty hard for a pretty long time. Medical examiner said there were signs of years of broken bones on x-rays. He had fractures that had been left untreated and never properly set in his ribs and dents in his skull. Really horrible stuff. Worst part is – the dude who was abusing him, the guy he murdered – that was his father."

"That was his father?"

Gloria looked down to the floor. "Not all parents are good."

Bill thought about his own children. He had deserted them. A pang of guilt kicked
him in the gut, and he thought he might be sick.

"Here." Gloria dangled a cardkey. "Take my room. I'll sleep in here. It creeps me out a little, but at least I don't have to worry about seeing a murder scene every time I touch a surface."

"Don't be silly. You know what happened in here. You can't possibly be comfortable knowing that. I guess we could share a room."

Gloria laughed. "Are you hitting on me, Bill?"

Bill blushed. "No, but that way you could keep an eye on me."

She pointed to the door. "I'll be fine. I've dealt with plenty of murder scenes, most of them fresh. This one's seen a cleaning unlike any other room in this whole flea bag place I bet. Besides, I think I've seen enough of you for one day. Get out of here. Be sure not to touch anything unless you have to. As far as I know there have been no murders in room 112, but who knows what kind of crazy stuff you'll find if you go feeling around? Besides, Benny's in there to keep you company. You guys'll work better as roommates, anyway. I need some privacy and a hot bath. It's been a messed up couple of days. Benny's not always so easy to rest around. You'll see what I mean. He's the life of the party. I could really use a quiet night to myself."

Bill nodded. "Goodnight, Gloria." He fought a strange urge to reach out and touch her cheek. There was something about her tonight, the way that she looked at him. She looked more like herself, like the girl he remembered.

"Goodnight, Bill." A half-smile crept across her face and she tilted her head.

They looked at one another in silence a moment until Bill awkwardly cleared his throat and turned away.

A hint of her aura touched the back of Bill's neck as he turned away. She had missed him, after all. He thought of all the lonely nights after high school when he had wanted to call and wondered what might have happened if he had only made one more effort? Perhaps then she wouldn't have rejected him like he feared? Perhaps then she would have admitted what they shared had been real? Perhaps there would have even been another life? He wasn't sure what that last part meant, but felt it to be true. Could there have been another life? What was that other life he felt anyway? It was gone now, but it had been real. A memory? He wondered how much would be different if they had never moved on, moved out of town, and gone off to separate colleges in separate states.

But the past receded behind him as Bill walked down the hall. He swiped the cardkey in the door of his room and walked inside.

"What's up, Roomie?" Benny said with a slur. He had a little bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand and was sipping it. The tiny bottle looked ridiculous in his large, meaty hand. Benny resembled Gulliver in the land of Lilliput. "There's a mini-bar!"

Bill walked past Benny and noticed how the large man stumbled behind him. "I see that. Is there anything left?"

Benny looked at the little bottle in his hand with one eye open. He tilted it up, knocked it with his finger, and stuck out his tongue. A drop fell from the bottle: the last drop. "Not much. I think there's some Kahlua or some shit. You could make a mudslide."

"I thought you Feds were supposed to stay sober, like be teetotalers or something?"

Benny's one open eye narrowed. "And I thought you were a stinker face baby killer." Benny waved the bottle in the air dramatically during a brief pause. He began to wobble. A hand was placed on the wall to hold himself steady. He belched. "But I was wrong. We're not all what we seem to be."


Benny smiled, and then his wide face grew green. "Excuse me, sir."

Benny stumbled into the bathroom. Through the open door, Bill heard Benny wretch.

Bill shook his head. He was in no mood to party. The image of the foot and the leg coursed through his mind. He thought about the abused young man pimped out and beaten relentlessly by his own father. He thought of his own children. He thought of Shelby. He thought of Gloria. These things ran circles inside his head. They vied for his attention. They fought to preoccupy his mind.

Bill rubbed his eyes, sighed, and lay down on the bed. He tried to block out the stories shouting at him through the sheets. In the end, he could not block them all out. Instead Bill tried to focus his mind quickly, from one thought to another to another until the scenes became a kind of white noise as he fell into a troubled and restless sleep. He tossed and turned. His clothes rode up on his body. Bare skin touched the hotel's sheets. He dreamed of lonely overweight businessmen watching porn with their hands down their boxer shorts. It was not a good night.

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