I listened to Ziggy Marley and ate two pop-tarts as I took the short way home, my doors locked and pedal heavy as I passed through the worst part of Hyde Park, then took the hard turn into my neighborhood. I found a parking spot two buildings over and weaved through the cars, brushing crumbs off the front of my uniform as I clutched my bag under one arm and scanned the lot for anyone who might pose a threat.
Everybody didn’t love to die in a hotel. One girl chose the 7-11 just outside of this parking lot. They found her with a Snickers bar in hand, the wrapper half off, a knife in her gut. Her purse was gone, and I didn’t know what she’d had in it, but I watched them tow her car, a decade-old clunker with bald tires, so it couldn’t be much. She’d probably died for the same amount of cash I had stuffed in the front pocket of my cheap blazer.
I made it to my building and jogged up the exterior stairs, realizing on the second flight that I wasn’t sure whether I’d locked my car. I paused, warring over whether to go back and mentally cataloging anything of value in it. My textbooks. A knock-off set of wireless earbuds. My leather jacket, stuffed half-under the front seat. I forged on.
I made it inside and trudged past my roommate, who nodded in greeting, her attention pinned to the TV, where a reality show diva shoveled fries into her mouth and moaned complaints about her hairdresser. I considered sharing the excitement of my night but didn’t have the energy for it. Pulling my door shut, I kicked off my flip flops and took James Union’s phone out of my bag. Curling into the pillows, I scrolled through more of his photos and then his messages, my interest in the dead man growing as I discovered his second family and the fireworks that had erupted that afternoon.
I fell asleep while reading his texts. My hair was unwashed, my makeup and uniform still on, and I didn’t know. I didn’t know that the scratch-off in my ratty purse was a winner, and I didn’t know that James Union’s second wife was in her minivan, driving over to kill his first wife.
The next morning, I stuffed a spoon heaped with corn flakes into my mouth and stared at my phone, scrolling through the article on James Union’s domino effect of death. Beside me, sat James’s phone, which I had decided to take to the police station as soon as I finished breakfast.
The article was lengthy and riddled with typos, but full of juice. The wife from the lobby had followed the police to the coroner’s office to identify James’s body, then visited the Dollar General and purchased an extra-large box of garbage bags, a box of latex gloves, and a cheap knife set.
I’m dense; I realize that. When James Union checked into a hotel room with no luggage, didn’t negotiate the rate, then dropped his phone into the trash can, I should have picked up on it. But how did the Dollar General cashier not find black trash bags, a giant knife set, and latex gloves suspicious?
It was the cheapness of Christina Union that saved the San Diego wife’s life. When Christina tried to stab the second wife, she missed, and the knife hit the fridge door, the handle immediately popping loose of the blade. Wife #2 thought fast, picked up the toaster from the counter and whacked Christina over the head.
I guess grief does strange things to people. I chewed and clicked on a video link, watching as a newscaster spoke to Rick, my manager. I turned up the volume.
“Oh, my gawdddd.” Amy staggered into the kitchen with a pronounced limp. “Leg day yesterday was brutal. Please kill me if I ever mention box jumps ever again.”
I shushed her as she asked him a question. Would Rick stutter? He had a pronounced impediment that flared when he got worked up. I silently rooted for him as he cleared his throat and began to speak.
“Hey—isn’t that your hotel?” Amy paused, mid-stretch of her rock hard thighs and peered over my shoulder.
I nodded, my mouth full. Rick made it through a halting but smooth introduction to the hotel and last night’s events without a single stumble. I mentally high-fived him as he wiped at his brow and stepped out of the shot. I could anticipate what would happen next. Tall black coffee chugged like water in his office. Then, a donut delivery. By the time I started my shift at three, there would be a few half-eaten pieces left in the box, sitting in the middle of the break room table.
“Whoa.” Amy crossed her arms. “This happened last night? When you were there?”