An hour later, I was swiping through his photos when the glass lobby doors opened, and two police officers walked in, a tearful woman in tow.
* * *
The elevator smelled like cigarettes and pine sol. I stood on the left side, next to the cops, and watched the doors close on the woman in the lobby. She stood in the gap before the doors, a full green purse hanging heavily off one shoulder and knotted her hands together. I recognized her from the photos on his phone. In one, she’d had a baby on her hip. In another, she’d been in black lingerie, her belly pouching over the top of her underwear, her mouth curled into a seductive smile.
“She can’t come with us?” I asked.
“We aren’t sure what we’re going to find.”
I waited for more, but the silence grew as the car shuddered past the eighth floor. I had put him on twelve, just off the elevator, because he seemed like the type to complain if he had to walk down to the end. I thought of the phone, which I’d shoved in the drawer at the sight of the cops and wondered if I should mention it to them.
“So… umm.. are you arresting this guy?”
“Nope. Just a wellness check.” The officer’s gaze landed on my flip flops, which were emerald green and had little palm trees between my first and second toe. They were the pair I kept behind the front desk and slipped on to save the ache in my legs. In the excitement of their arrival, I hadn’t thought to put on my work heels, which were still kicked off beside the credit card slips.
“My heels are behind the desk,” I explained. “I normally have them on.”
He shrugged as if he didn’t care, and I rubbed the key card to room 1206 against the front of my polyester skirt, grateful when the elevator doors opened.
“It’s to the right. Second or third door.”
We came to a stop outside the door, and I watched as the first officer put his ear to the door, listening. I moved a little closer, my ears perked. He rapped on the door with his fist three times, then waited, his head still close to the door, one hand resting on the butt of his gun. I stared at the gun and wondered if they planned on using it. Was Mr. Union violent? He hadn’t seemed so.
Another three raps and the officer looked at me. “Unlock the door, please.”
I moved forward quickly, inserting the card into the keypad and frowning when the lights turned red. “Just a second.” Muttering a curse under my breath, I pulled it out and inserted it back in, withdrawing it a little more smoothly this time. The lock hummed, then turned green. I twisted the handle, and the larger of the two officers put a hand on my shoulder, pulling me back.
I watched as they moved into the room, the door catching on the lip of the carpet, affording me a narrow view of the room. I saw the moment they paused, their attention on the bed. One glanced at me, then murmured something to the other. I sidled to the right, and focused in on the mirrored closet doors, inhaling sharply at the view it revealed.
James Union had taken off his socks and his shirt. He was sitting up in bed, a can of our $8 chocolate-covered peanuts open in his lap, his chin tucked against his neck, a bullet hole clean and crisp in the center of his forehead.
* * *
I got off at eleven but stayed an extra fifteen minutes, my feet swinging as I perched on the plastic stool in the night auditor’s cubby and recounted the night. Marla snapped a piece of gum, her expression bored. “Happened before,” she drawled, holding down her finger on the printer’s queue button. “Room 419. Drug overdose. Everybody loves to die in a hotel.”
Did they? I couldn’t think of a worse place to die. Especially not this hotel. We only washed the comforters once a year. We had a horrific cockroach problem, one frequently mentioned on online reviews, and most of the rooms reeked of a sort of spoiled-milk scent.
“Go home,” Marla said, nodding at the clock. “You ain’t getting paid for this crap.”
I stood and remembered James Union’s phone, which I had hidden in the side pocket of my bag. “Alright. See you tomorrow.”
I wouldn’t be back tomorrow, but I didn’t know that yet. I walked out of the front doors and down the side of the building, my flip-flops flapping along the sidewalk, my heels tucked away in the cabinet of the employee break room where they stayed until someone stole or threw them out. I wouldn’t go back to that hotel until three years later, with documentary crews in toe, anxious to catch the humble and macabre root of my fame.