This is part two of 12 Woodbury Lane.
Alec set the suitcase down just inside the door, out of harm’s way. He turned the luggage tag over and back again, staring at the name momentarily in incredulity. He pulled the letter out of his pocket to compare the postback with the name affixed to the randomly placed piece of luggage. He checked it twice to be sure. Then he tucked the letter back and turned to find Estelle watching him intently.
Seldom did Alec have the opportunity to admire the lobby at the Hyatt Sloughton. To Estelle, he imagined, a girl of the streets, it was a place of incomparable grandeur. It was a very nice hotel to be sure, however to Alec, who worked as the hotel’s dishwasher, it was simply a means to a paycheck. Nevertheless, he normally entered it through the service entrance door, and so he stopped for a moment to take it all in.
Violin strains from Orfeo ed Euridice sifted in through the ceiling. Parkay tile led from the foyer to plush burgundy and gold carpet that cushioned like sponge. Elegant golden chandeliers poured ambiance into the room from myriads of tiny crystal cups. Polished hardwood and a marble counter formed the registration desk, behind which, Alec’s friend Reginald worked the late shift alone.
“Wait here a moment,” Alec told Estelle and her young son.
Estelle nodded, and Alec proceeded to the registration desk where he leaned over to talk to the clerk. He spoke in low tones, not to be overheard. They had a momentary disagreement upon which they came to terms, and then Reginald began typing on the registry computer. Presently, he produced a pair of electronic room keys.
Alec turned with a smile that quickly faded, as he was just in time to catch Estelle pushing her carriage back toward the door and the familiarity of the street outside.
“Ho’, ho’, ho’, wait up!” he called, racing after her. “I’ve got you a room, a place to sleep.”
Estelle stopped with her back still turned, but the boy was already out the door. Alec raced after him out onto the street. He started to call out for the lad, but there was no one to call to. The street was empty up one side and down the other. There was one lurker leaned up against a rail in the shadows on the other side of the street, but he wore an overcoat with his collar turned to the wind and he was much too tall to be a boy. Alec turned back inside.
“He’s gone,” he informed Estelle, somewhat distressed. “Plain out of sight.”
“Who is?” she asked.
“Your son. I’ve got a room for the pair of you.” He held up the room keys.
“I don’t have a son,” she said.
“Oh, well, I suppose I presumed he was. Your brother perhaps?”
“The boy who was with you just there.”
“There was no boy with me,” she said sincerely.
“He was; every step of the way. A little fellow,” Alec held out a hand, “helping with your carriage there.”
Estelle blinked at him as if the hotel lights bothered her eyes. The greasy smudges on her face no longer hinted of tears. Alec looked down into the carriage in the light. It appeared to be full of books and papers with a blanket tucked neatly around them. She was watching him suspiciously when he looked up.
“Well, I’ve got you the room then, anyway. You could have a nice hot shower before supper and a comfy bed to pop into after.”
“You shouldn’t have.”
“It’s putting me out none. Just an empty room no one will miss. Reg said he’ll wipe the entry clean.”
“I meant you shouldn’t have.” Estelle looked over at Reginald, who was staring at them from his desk. She hesitated at first, but nodded her consent. “Go on then.”
Alec led her to the elevator and they rode up in silence. On the 5th floor, she followed quietly out behind him where he couldn’t see her mentally counting off the steps from the elevator to the room, memorizing the room numbers in between, calculating. He unlocked the room, she pushed the carriage in, and he closed the door behind them.
When he turned into the room, he found her undressing. She had little on in the way of clothing to begin with and she was quickly half naked before Alec could realize himself enough to look politely away. She really might have been pretty once. She finished removing her clothes and approached him immodestly, wrapping her hands around his shoulders and pushing her lips against his. There was a moment before she realized he had no intention of reciprocating, whereupon she shrank back instantly, as if his lips had discharged an electric shock.
“I’m sorry,” Alec said. “I never meant to give the wrong impression.”
Her eyes looked alarmed.
“No, really, that’s not it at all,” he tried to reassure her. “I just…I really thought you might like a shower and a nice bed for a change.”
Estelle, suddenly insecure in her scrawny frame, pushed herself away and wrapped her arms quickly around her chest, hiding starvation-flattened breasts. “You don’t get something for nothing, do you then?” she asked. Her voice was full of defiance, but she was afraid for the first time to look at him.
“It’s alright.” Alec reached a hand out to touch her shoulder and then pulled it quickly away again. Estelle’s shoulder wore delicate soft skin, but it felt as bare bone covered by nothing more than appearance. “I thought while you showered I might step out and see if I can’t find you some clean clothes somewhere.”
“At this time of night?”
“Right. Well, there’s no harm in trying, is there?”
Estelle neither acknowledged him nor turned to look his way.
“See here,” he said. “I have two keys. Here’s yours on the table. I’m taking the other, but I’m going to knock when I come back, and you can tell me to shove off. The only way I’ll use the key is if you don’t answer my knock. Are we understood?”
After a moment, Estelle nodded and headed quietly to the shower. Alec allowed himself to watch her walk away. She had been pretty once, perhaps very pretty. Beauty’s remains still traced her gaunt figure. Elegance still guided her on the legs of a newborn foal. He turned his eyes away and stepped back out into the corridor, flipping the Do Not Disturb sign as he latched the door.
Estelle was right, of course. There were no shops open at such a late hour. Alec was well aware of that fact already. He rode the elevator down with a head full of thoughts, and the taste of a strange kiss upon his lips. He knew nothing about her, and what little he did know was challenged by each new thing he noticed – her curious knowledge of the letter, the voiceless boy she insisted had never been there, her carriage full who-knew-what, a hint of minty freshness on her breath like tooth paste. Estelle was not who she seemed.
Upon reaching the lobby, Alec found it vacant. Reginald had abandoned his post at Registration, likely for some menial task, and there were no patrons to be seen. He took a seat in the waiting area, watching things for a few minutes to calm himself. His heart was racing. He hadn’t stolen anything since fourteen when he and his hoodlum friends lifted a carton of ciggies from the five and dime. The memory helped to calm him. They had nearly died trying to smoke the things, and so they wore the packs around rolled up in their shirt sleeves for a few weeks to look cool. Eventually, he strolled as far as the foyer, where hand on the great glass turnstile, he paused to reconsider.
He could simply keep on going; go home. It was a tempting thought. It was late. He’d done his good deed. No moral obligation bound him to make good his offer of a meal, and as we know, Alec was not one usually given over to acts of compassion. Going home, however, was out of the question. Estelle’s kiss had seen to that. Like the bite of a poison apple, it seeped into his veins, binding him under its spell.
As he stood in entranced indecision, his eyes turned to the abandoned suitcase, still unattended by the door where he’d left it. The name on its tag, the name on the misdirected letter, belonged to a woman, and that, thought Alec, made it as likely a place as any to find clothing at such an hour. He glanced around to make sure that he was still alone, he snatched it by the handle, and rushed hurriedly back to the elevator.
Estelle would scold him reproachfully, he thought, and he began preparing his defense. Possession is 9/10ths of the law, isn’t it now? Who was she to complain about where her clothes came from? One can’t be too particular about a handout. Perhaps he would change the subject. She still owed him an explanation on what disadvantage he was in and what she knew about the name on the… nasty bit of a coincidence that.
There was no answer when Alec knocked on the door as he’d promised. He gave it a good minute and a couple more knocks before he finally tried the key. The shower was still running. He carried the bag in, checking the hall once more to be sure he wasn’t followed, and set it on the nearest bed. Unzipping it, he found, not much to his surprise, women’s clothing. What was to Alec’s surprise, however, as he laid the clothes out on the bed, was that they seemed the perfect fit for a girl who was no more than skin and bones.
Estelle was a long time in the shower. Alec checked his watch to be sure. The mystery of the matching names was gnawing at him now. He walked to the bathroom door and knocked at it, looking down in case she answered. There was no light coming from beneath the door, and there was no answer to his knock. “Estelle?” He opened the door and stepped in, and as he fumbled around for the light switch, he slipped and fell, hitting his head hard. Dazed, he pulled himself to his feet, found the light, and then screamed in horror at what it revealed.
The shower was indeed running, but Estelle was not in it, not very much of her anyway. Her body was hacked brutally into pieces, strewn about as though a savage beast had torn her limb from limb. Her head, ripped, not severed, from her body, lay face up in the wash basin, as lifeless now as her hair, staring up at him with immotile glazed-ceramic eyes. It was her blood Alec had slipped in. The floor was a lake of it, and now its smell curled fingers up into his nose, reaching to pull his stomach out through it.
Alec backed away from the gruesome scene in utter shock, with no thought for who or what could have done such a thing, how they had gotten into the hotel room, or how they could have been so thorough in such a short expanse of time. He could think of nothing rational at all. Weakened, he fell to the floor by the bed, where he sat, staring at the bath, breathing much too hard, sickened by the taste of mint on his breath.
His head nearly exploded with the sound when a sharp rap came at the door of the hotel room. He whipped his head around to face it, still dizzy with panic and from the blow to his head. He couldn’t answer the door. A girl was murdered in the other room and he was saturated in her blood. He stood paralyzed with no idea what to do, when to add to his horror, he heard the electronic lock activate, and the door opened.
Reginald, his so-called friend, had done anything but wipe the entry from the computer after he magnetized the keys. It was he who accompanied the Hyatt’s night manager through the door, followed closely by a man Alec was certain could be none other than the lurker he’d seen across the street.
© 2014 Anne Schilde