Departures by Rebecca Peters
Lily was a front desk agent at La Maison, a boutique hotel in Chicago. Most days at La Maison revolved around placating the large number of wealthy (and entitled) clientele who frequented such places, and today was no different. On average, she mollified two dozen harried guests before her lunch break. Lily had an excellent poker face, which she employed whenever she handled such delicate situations. The trick was never to let them see you falter, or they would go in for the kill.
That day, the first complaint arose surprisingly late in the morning, when a certain guest’s flight was delayed due to the frosty Chicago weather. The guest, Mr. Andrew Reed, was a tiny, well-dressed man, with a shiny bald head and small features. The front desk came up to his mid-chest and he placed both hands palm down on it – a clear gesture of power. Mr. Reed insisted that Lily extend his stay by one night, at no additional cost. This was absurd, as he was already paying an alarmingly low rate for one of the hotel’s suites. Lily smiled politely, met Mr. Reed’s glare, and replied, “Unfortunately sir, we cannot accommodate that request. However, we can give you a slight discount for your additional night. And, of course you could stay in your original room.”
“That is not even close to what I am asking for… Lily,” he said, pausing to glance at her name tag before spitting her name out like a curse, “I said I want it completely discounted. It’s not my fault that your winters here are unbearable. Now, give me a new key to my room, and see that the luggage is brought back up,” Mr. Reed finished with an affected huff and a stomp of his shiny Ferragamo loafer.
“Again, I can’t allow you to stay in the room for free, but, if you will bear with me for just one moment, I’ll see what my manager can do about your rate,” Lily replied, still employing her generic smile.
“You do that,” the guest sneered. He kept peeking at his shiny, undoubtedly expensive wrist watch as if he had anywhere else to be. She could feel his narrow, grey eyes boring into her back as she turned away from him.
There was no one in the back office. In fact, Lily was the only one working at the front desk until the afternoon shift came in. She sat in the office for a long minute, wishing that Mr. Reed would walk blindly into oncoming traffic and imagining the gory details. When sufficient time had passed, Lily returned to the desk and addressed the beet-faced guest before her. “I’m sorry, sir. It’s just not possible. My manager offered free breakfast tomorrow in addition to the discount, though. Would that work for you?” she asked, smiling apologetically to show that this was indeed her final offer.
“I suppose that will have to do, but I still don’t appreciate being punished for this snow storm. I’m missing a very important conference in San Francisco because of this, you know.” Mr. Reed sighed dramatically and Lily knew she had won this round. When he realized that she wasn’t going to apologize again, he leveled his gaze and continued. “Very well, just have my bags sent back to my room and make me a new key.” Mr. Reed looked as if he had just bitten into a ripe lemon. His shiny head was angled up, nose in the air, as he gave this last command.
“Yes sir, here you are. I’ll have a bellman up to the room right away with your bags,” Lily promised as Mr. Reed snatched the room key from her hand and spun on his fancy heel towards the elevators. She watched him go, shaking her head. Lily sighed. “Just another day in paradise,” she said to no one in particular.
Overhearing this, Sean, the valet attendant at the desk across the marble-floored lobby, replied, “Perk up Lil. At least we’ll get some cancellations today with all the snow coming down.” Lily nodded in agreement. She liked Sean, but was never sure how to respond to his constant comments. There were so many and they seemed to come so frequently; if she verbally responded to all of them, she would have no time to deal with guests. She smiled politely in his direction and began the day’s tedious paperwork.
At precisely 12:36 PM, after her colleague had come in for the afternoon shift, Lily made the rounds to each room that was supposed to be checked out for the day. The occupant typically left without checking out with the front desk staff, and the rooms would be empty. From time to time, Lily would find the chance unorganized guest who was running around trying to pack up the rest of his belongings in order to catch a flight back to wherever he hailed from or some other far-flung destination. In those instances, Lily typically asked if the guest needed help with his luggage and then made a gracious exit. On very few occasions, she would find a dead-bolted door with the “privacy please” sign lit up in florescent orange next to the doorknob. This meant that Lily needed to call the guest and, if he answered, try to sweet talk him into getting the hell out of the room.
Lily liked to start at the lowest floor and work her way up, always taking the stairs so she didn’t have to feel guilty about skipping the gym after work. The stairway was a concrete structure with a twin on the other side of the building. She usually had to use both due to the amount of rooms she had to check, zigzagging around the building like Mario dodging barrels in Donkey Kong. She made her way up to the first guest floor, which was technically the third floor, taking the stairs from the lobby. Walking the deserted hallways made her feel like the mayor of a ghost town; her footsteps echoed dully off the hardwood floor of the corridor. There were only two rooms on this floor to check, and both were empty. Lily noted this on her list of twenty-plus rooms, and made her way up to the floor above.
As she climbed the concrete stairwell, her mind drifted to things other than vacant rooms. Lily had bigger dreams than working the front desk of a hotel. She wanted to travel more than anything, but had yet to receive a passport stamp or fly across an ocean. Lately, her days were spent planning a budget and surfing the web for cheap airline tickets to anywhere. As she entered the fourth floor hallway, she had Bali on the brain. She had grown up in the Midwest, so the most exotic places to her always included a beach. The thought of lying on a distant beach kept her moving through the monotony of working at La Maison. Sure, each day held its own unique set of difficult guests and frustrating issues, but they were always there. Lily could count on it; it was probably the most consistent thing in her life. At the end of each day, she felt just as exhausted and stuck as she had the day before. The only thing tying her to the job was the money; every paycheck brought her closer to the ocean, to new experiences, and to the adventurous life that she desperately craved.
Lily continued working her way through her rounds until she arrived at the eighth floor. Her hamstrings were burning by this point, and she was ready to be done with this tiresome chore. There were three rooms to check on this floor and the first was right across the hall from the stairwell door. Lily rang the doorbell, and a disgruntled woman answered. She was wearing one of the hotel robes, and her hair was a matted mess, sticking out in little tufts from all angles.
“What do you want?” the woman said, glaring at Lily.
“Good afternoon, madam. My name is Lily, and I work at the front desk. I was wondering if you had a departure time in mind for today,” Lily replied, trying to sound like she had some authority. She smiled at the woman with forced politeness.
“We’re packing now. It’s very rude to try to rush us, especially when your rooms cost a small fortune. We’ll be out of the room in a half hour, no earlier,” the woman, whose name was Cecelia Banks, according to Lily’s list, stated. “Send a bellman then.” With that, Mrs. Banks slammed the door.
Lily shook her head as she walked away from Mrs. Banks’ room. Moving on to the next room, Lily caught a whiff of a slightly familiar smell. At first she couldn’t place it, but after taking a few steps closer, she knew. Memories of her freshman dorm overtook her, and she thought of her very eccentric first roommate and smiled. The only thing that was missing here was the sweet, fruity smell of Swisher Sweet wraps. The scent of marijuana filled the west end of the eighth-floor hallway. The smell was so strong that Lily couldn’t tell exactly which room it was coming from. She could hear the howling of the wind flowing through an open window; it was an eerie, high-pitched sound that echoed through the empty hallway.
Lily walked a little further down the hall and stopped in front of the last room on her list for the eighth floor. She somehow knew that the illicit smell was coming from this room, number 806. The room was a corner suite, and cost more per night than her monthly rent. She checked the list for the name of the guest – Mr. Matthew Shane, plus an additional guest whose name was not noted in the reservation. Lily knocked on the door tentatively, but received no reply. She knocked again and, in an authoritative voice, said, “Good Afternoon, this is Lily from the front desk.” She hoped it was loud enough to carry through the thick door. Again, there was no answer, so she begrudgingly fished the master key from her pocket and slid it into the card reader on the door. The door unlocked with an efficient beep and a slight click. Lily opened it slowly and leaned inside the dark room.
“Good afternoon…” she called down the shadowy hallway that led to the living room of the suite. There was still no answer, but Lily sensed a presence in the room. There was a certain weight in the air that carried at least one person’s breath and movements. Lily slid the deadbolt out, propped the door open against it and moved further into the room. “Hello?” she called again. Again, there was no reply, but Lily could hear someone skittering around in the dark bedroom at the end of the hall. To her left was the entrance to the bathroom, and she could see a broken bottle of whiskey discarded in the corner next to the bathtub. Lily made a mental note to call Housekeeping and give them a heads up. She moved a little further into the room, stepping over the empty food wrappers and crumbs that littered the floor. The flickering light from the TV in the bedroom reflected off the few scattered pieces of broken glass on the carpet. Lily thought she could hear voices in the bedroom. She started to call out another timid greeting, but the voices started again, so she stopped to listen.
At first, all she could hear were bits and pieces of words that sounded like nonsense. The voices were talking swiftly and sounded at odds. Lily moved a little further down the hall, now wracked with curiosity. Protocol stated that she leave the room and let security handle it; but, she had already come this far – why not go a little further? Lily pushed her back up against the wall and scooched down the hallway, beginning to hear more of what the guests were saying.
In hushed voices: “What do we do now?”
“Just hang tight.”
And then loud enough to make Lily jump, “I CAN’T STAY HERE!”
She moved forward another few inches and stretched her neck to peek through the partially closed door. She could see a man, small in stature, wearing only a pair of boxers and a t-shirt so large that it hung off one shoulder. The eerie glow of the TV revealed his shape and features. His hands gripped the side of the bed where he sat, rocking slightly back and forth, whispering, “No, no, no, no…”
His face was drawn and pockmarked, punctuated by unfocused blue eyes. Lily couldn’t see who he was talking to, but she’d seen enough to know that it was time to go. As she turned to leave the hotel room, her heel crunched onto the scattered glass on the floor. Before she could even wonder whether she had been discovered, Mr. Shane flung the door fully open and was on her, his red face nose-to-nose with hers. She could smell the whiskey and smoke on his breath as he yelled in her face, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!” His breathing was labored. He didn’t seem to notice her hotel uniform. “WHO SENT YOU?”
“I…I’m Lily, from the front desk, Mr. Shane,” Lily stammered. She was still trying to grasp what sort of situation she had walked into.
“HOW DO YOU KNOW MY NAME?”
“I work here, sir. Your name was on the reservation.”
Mr. Shane backed off a step. Lily felt some of the tension fall away, as she thought she saw something like comprehension fall across his face. She was wrong.
His bony arm shot out and grabbed her wrist with surprising strength for such a wiry frame. He yanked her further into the bedroom. Lily struggled to tear her arm free. As she felt his grip give, she got a better look at the bedroom in which she stood. There was no one else there. Mr. Shane had been arguing with himself, and Lily realized that she was dealing with a decidedly unstable man. This realization made her lose her strength long enough for Mr. Shane to regain his.
“You’re an interloper! You know that you won’t get away with it,” Mr. Shane said with a wistful look on his face. Lily felt like she was stuck in someone else’s storyline and was trying to play catch up. He grunted, as if agreeing with her thought, and dragged her towards the closet.
“WAIT!” Lily screamed, her throat aching with the effort. “Why don’t you just let me go? I didn’t see anything. I don’t know anything. I just work at the hotel…” She stopped trying to fight back to show that she was willing to cooperate. He stopped for a moment, looking at the space above her head. As if an agreement had been reached between himself and whomever he thought he was talking to, he continued pulling her forward towards the closet. Mr. Shane took one of his hands from its grip on her arms to open the double doors, triggering the light inside. Lily took one look at the interior of the closet, with its ironing board leaning against the back wall and robes swinging among otherwise empty hangers, and was again filled with panic. He shoved her in and closed the door as she shrunk to the ground in shock.
Lily could hear him moving furniture, probably the large arm chair, in front of the closet door and wedging it under the doorknob. She could hear him whispering to himself again, just inches away, outside the doors. Lily felt tears prick the corners of her eyes, and, for a moment, she was lost completely in self-pity. She felt her stomach cramp and a chill sweep through her from top to bottom as true fear set in. She was alone in the darkness and had no idea what would happen next. Ideas of what might happen flickered through her mind: images of gore intermingled with snapshots of her friends and family, as well as hopes for her now uncertain future. She could die here, in this crappy hotel, where she had already wasted so much time. That thought did the trick. Anger took over, replacing the overwhelming fear.
The light coming from the crack between the closet doors was weak, and she strained her eyes to spot an escape route. She could hear Mr. Shane pacing around the room, muttering to himself. To her right, Lily could barely make out a small, flat basket next to the ironing board. The basket, standard in all the hotel rooms, contained an iron, a spray bottle, and an aerosol can of starch. Lily tried to imagine defending herself with any of these items and decided that the iron would be her best bet. She wondered if she’d be able to get out of the barricaded closet in order to use it. Lily began to formulate her plan. Why am I even there in the first place, she thought. What was he hiding? Or was it just because he trashed the room? No, that couldn’t be. He’s clearly unhinged. She hushed her frantic inner dialogue to eavesdrop on what he was saying. She could only make out words here and there, something like: “she saw…”
“She couldn’t have…”
“Get rid of her…”
That was enough. Lily decided that it was now or never and took what little space she had to get a running start. Pushing off the back wall of the closet, she rammed herself shoulder-first into the doors. She could feel them give slightly before whatever was barricaded outside fell back into place. She was back where she started.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?!” Mr. Shane roared, throwing something hard against the closet door.
Lily didn’t respond. Her shoulder ached, but she needed to try again. She backed up against the wall as she heard his steps approach the closet. She picked up the iron and held it in her right hand like a shield. Instead of waiting to see what her captor would do next, Lily slammed into the doors again, her shoulder popping painfully. This time she succeeded in busting the doors open. The furniture lay in disarray on each side of the closet doors and Mr. Shane was standing in front of the chair that had just toppled over during her charge. His legs and arms were outstretched, as if he was waiting for her to run right into them. She used her momentum and swung her right arm wildly, catching him in the jaw with the iron and propelling him backwards. He landed hard, slamming up against the bed, and his jaw hung slack to one side. His red-rimmed eyes were dazed and unfocused as he stared up at her, with hate and confusion smeared across his face. She didn’t wait to see if he’d get up. She darted down the hallway that led to the suite’s main door. She heard the lamp from the bedside table topple over as Mr. Shane attempted to stand.
Before Lily could reach the door, he pounced from behind her, catching her on the right side and swinging them both wildly into the wall. A fresh wave of pain tingled through Lily’s battered shoulder. She was propped up against the wall, with one leg outstretched and the other bent beneath her. Mr. Shane was half-sprawled on top of her, grabbing at her arms, trying to regain control. Lily knew she had to shake him and escape before he regained his strength. She kicked in the direction of his stomach, grazing his side, but only causing his grip to tighten. She kicked again – twice this time. Her blows landed directly into his ribs and belly. His grip faltered, and Lily wiggled to a crouch, bracing herself up on her back leg. Mr. Shane clutched at his ribs and rocked slightly on the ground, his broken jaw oozing spittle and blood. She kicked again, and now that she was fully back on her feet, the blow hit him square in the nose. This finally silenced him.
Lily turned to escape, but stopped when she noticed a leather carryall on the ground just behind the door. It was open, partially spilling its contents onto the floor, and Lily took a brief inventory of what was inside: a hunting knife, a small spiral notebook, a flask, and four large bundles of cash. The notebook was folded open, revealing what appeared to be a page full of a single name written multiple times over.
She took the entire bag with her as she exited the room. She ran to the guest elevators, peeking back down the hall before rounding the corner. She punched the down button twice and checked her reflection in the elevator door’s mirrored surface. Considering the brief hell she’d just gone through, she didn’t look too bad. The elevator dinged, and, Lily rushed on before the doors were fully open, fearing that Mr. Shane would somehow catch up and stop the doors before they could close. However, they did eventually close, and she was free. Lily closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cool surface of the elevator doors, calming herself down. Once she reached the lobby, she took a deep breath and walked out of the elevator bank, bumping straight into Sean, the bellboy.
“Whoa! Where you goin’ Lil?” he asked, smiling in that overly friendly way of his.
“Hey Sean,” she replied, hoping to pull off the plan that had formed during her ride down from the eighth floor. “This guest just gave me a huge tip to personally take his bag down to his car, so I’m running it out now.”
“Oh, nice! Do you want me to call valet to bring the car out front?”
Lily kept moving, calling back, “Already did!” She didn’t look back as she strolled out the front entrance of La Maison, trying to keep her cool. Once she rounded the corner, she moved a little faster, practically running the few blocks to her usual bus stop. The reassuring weight of Mr. Shane’s bag on her arm caused her mind to race with potential. As Lily reached the stop, she was too restless to wait for the bus as she normally would. She hailed a cab, causing the pain in her shoulder to flare up again. As the taxi pulled up beside her, Lily had already set her thoughts on the road ahead.
Explore more mad musings in Sheriff Nottingham IV: The Fifth of November – available on Amazon!