He worked the stick and shifted down gears while the rain poured and the radio droned. He slowed to a halt at the intersection and then turned off the road into the parking lot of his hotel. The radio wheezed:
“President Kennedy’s remarks were made in light of the events in—“
He turned the radio off and put the car in park. He sat in silence for a moment, listening to the rain. He got out of the car and made a hasty dash for the hotel lobby. He gathered up his coat and held it to himself to keep the rain off. He did not want to spoil his tie.
The hotel lobby was quiet, scarcely any sign of life. Neither tenants, guests, nor staff. The lobby was done in Art Deco that was fashionable about twenty years ago. He walked to the elevator and went up to his floor.
He lived on the eleventh floor. When the doors parted, he could see the hall and the few newspapers still uncollected. He recognized the evening edition of The Post belonging to the occupant of 1113 whom he suspected was a drunk. He lived in silent contempt of other people’s vices. He wondered how 1113 could do that to themselves.
He walked down the hall to his room, 1150, where he had lived for some time. Five years, in fact. Five years since he became a permanent occupant at the hotel. Five years since he threw away his wedding band. Five years since he walked out on his wife. Five years.
He enjoyed the arrangements as they were. He could get up in the morning and have his breakfast at the first floor restaurant. Go to work. Work his long hours. Come home to a room cleaned for him and do it all over again. If he needed privacy, if he needed a… moment, he could have it. Put a sign on the doorknob. And the hotel staff were always very discreet. Always very good at keeping things confidential. They even helped him out a few times. They understood. Not that he needed their understanding. He was a man and men have their needs. And what a man got up to in the privacy of his own room was no one’s business but his own.
He stood at the door of his apartment. Keys in his hand, water running down his coat. He could see the light was on in his room. Had he left it on? Had the maids? They worked in the morning, by the daylight. They scarcely needed the light, and he distinctly recalled turning it off. Could someone be inside? Why? What could they want? What would they look for? He had left nothing behind, no sign of anything he did. They would just find his clothes. They might've been worth stealing, but who breaks into a hotel and—
He finally put the key in the lock and turned it. The door opened. He looked to his left and right. The bathroom on the right. Closet on the left. The closet door was open; the bathroom door was closed. He walked further into the apartment. He walked through the kitchenette into a sort of living room, which in turn connected to the bedroom. The room was decorated with floral drawings, and elegant reproductions of woodblock paintings with pale geishas. Next to the armchair was a short rosewood table with a smouldering cigar in the ashtray and a glass with ice and about a half finger of whiskey. He stood there dripping onto the carpet.
“You forgot this when you left.”
He spun around. At the bedroom door stood a man with an ivory handled umbrella. The man spun and juggled it and twirled it a bit. He then threw it aside.
“I should be very grateful if you keep your voice down. Needless to say I have a gun, but I’d rather it didn’t come to that.”
“Who the hell—“
“Who I am isn’t important right this moment. What’s important is who you are and what you’ve been doing. Have a seat.”
The man pointed at the other armchair. They both sat down. The stranger took up his cigar. They sat in silence a moment. Then the stranger spoke.
“You are Peter Hollande. You work for the department of the treasury. You divorced your wife five years ago and have been living here ever since. I imagine you must have gotten bored one day, is that right, Peter? Settled domestic life wasn’t good enough? You needed some space. You needed to be able to go out late and drink and not worry about the old lady, is that it?”
“Look if this is about my marria—“
“Only the thing is, to outside appearances you live like a monk. You rise. You dine. You work. You go to bed. Over and over. No company, so I hear it. It is odd that a well-dressed man like you hasn’t got something going. Some pretty young thing who likes money? Not still sad about the wife, are you? No. I know it’s not that.”
“Whatever you think you know… about me… you don’t… it’s not.”
“I know you paid one of the bell boys to let you fuck him.”
They sat in silence. The stranger took up his drink and let it rest on his tongue a bit. Peter sat sweating and shaking.
“We all have our vices, Mr. Hollande. Unfortunately for you, yours can talk. They take money, too.”
“He said he’d not tell—“
“Sure. He said that when you paid him, but I paid him more. I paid them all more. I know about every bit of pink you’ve got in this town. Could ruin a man’s reputation. His career, even.”
Peter shook even more. He hoped his tears didn’t show but they did. His heart was in his mouth. He was frightened beyond anger. Beyond rage. Beyond anything but mute horror. What would people say? What would his parents say when they found out? His boss, his ex-wife, his friends. Everyone, what would they say?
“You should think of this as an opportunity. We can give you money. You do some interesting work for the Treasury and you’ll keep doing it. But from now on you will also work for me. “
The stranger got up and went over the inlaid liquor cabinet. He took another glass and filled it. He handed it to Peter.
“I have some friends. Who are very interested in what you do. Who are more sympathetic to your tastes than your own government. You help us, we’ll help you. You barely have to do anything. You barely have to lift a finger, and your secret stays with—"
Peter’s trembling hands turned to fists. The occupant of 1113 would’ve been too drunk to hear the struggle, but the whole building heard the peals of the first, and then later, second gunshots.
Sean Stone is a lover of the idiosyncratic, esoteric, and obscure. An old soul born at a young age on Vancouver Island, he now lives in Ottawa. He has a degree in Political Science and still finds that sort of thing interesting. He’d like to find some stimulating work to pay for new suits and old books.