The guy said something, and I stepped around him and made it to her. “You okay?” I asked, and forced myself not to brush her hair away from her face, to cradle her face in my hand. To order her to look in a mirror and recognize how pretty she was. The music roared, and I almost missed her response.
“I’m fine.” She tucked her hair on her own. “But, thanks.”
“I meant it.” I studied her eyes and wondered if it was too soon to ask for her number. With another girl, I’d get them a drink. Dance with them. Take them up the big staircase and to my master bedroom. With her, I felt like she’d spook at a stiff breeze. “You’re beautiful.”
She blushed and stammered, and my attention was distracted by the only thing that could pull me away from this girl. A camera. I stepped back. “I gotta take care of something.”
It was Matt, a cell phone in hand, its focus directly on us. I cut around a couple and made it to his side, pulling the phone out of his hand and stopping the recording.
“Hey!” he said sharply, reaching for the device. I held it out of reach and put a hand on his chest, keeping him at bay. “That’s great stuff, man. Hero level. Followers are gonna love that.”
“Have you posted this anywhere?” I scrolled through the camera roll, spotting still frames he’d captured while filming.
“No, I wasn’t live. But I can get it up—” He tried to get the phone from me and sputtered when I shoved his chest again. “Are you—? What are you doing?”
I deleted the video, then the stills, then went into the trash and deleted them there. “Deleting them.”
I tossed back the phone, and he cradled it in his hands, squawking in distress when he verified the deletion.
“Why did you do that? That shit was epic! Pure chivalry, man!”
“She’s not a prop.” I looked through the crowd, but she wasn’t by the keg stand anymore. “You can’t treat people like that.”
“Oh, come ON.” Matt looked up from his phone. “I could have gotten us trending with that shit. Hashtag Cash to the rescue, man. Trust me and let me do my job.”
I pushed through the partiers, scanning the crowd for her face. When I couldn’t find her on the back deck, I headed into the house, then searched the beach, but she was gone. Like Cinderella but without the slipper.
I found the dead body the same day that I became a millionaire. James Union was forty-eight. The internet would later unearth that he had two wives, one in Los Angeles, one in San Diego. The wives had found out about each other earlier that day. James listened to the women scream at him for two hours, then drove to the closest hotel and checked himself into a room.
The closest hotel was the Ramada at LAX, and I was the lucky loser staffing the front desk. Later, in the interviews and press calls, they would ask if I could tell. Could you tell that the man planned to kill himself?
No. I was struggling with a gut-twisting menstrual cramp and barely paid any attention to the man with no luggage whose phone wouldn’t stop ringing. What I did notice was the moment he pressed in the code (1-1-4-4), typed in a text, then clicked the power button on the top of the phone, holding it down until it quieted. Moving his arm out to one side, he unceremoniously dropped the newest model iPhone into the silver trash can.
“Did you just throw your phone away?” I rose on my toes and tried to see over the dark wooden counter. Who threw a perfectly good phone away? My own, a three-year-old model with a spiderweb of cracks along its front, was barely functioning.
“Don’t need it.” He passed me his credit card and later—the experts would call that moment his cry for help. By throwing away his phone, he was supposedly begging me for help. Pay attention! he was saying. I’m about to kill myself, and I need you to stop me.
If it was true, I was the wrong desk clerk. If Nigel had been there—sweet, doe-eyed Nigel who wrapped up the catering leftovers and dropped them off at the homeless shelter each night—Nigel would have picked up on the clues. Nigel would have asked him what was wrong, and if there was anything he could do to help, or if he needed someone to talk to. Sadly, Nigel wasn’t there because, ironically enough, he’d been fired for his homeless shelter donations—the liability of giving away leftovers too alarming for management to process.
I absorbed the guest’s response—don’t need it—and waited until he got on the elevator. The minute the doors closed, I sprinted around the front desk and fished the phone out of the trash.