Who’s this guy coming in out of the hot night? Lean, tan, over-dressed for this place (not saying much). A kid, though, no more than twenty-three. And what’s up with him looking round like he’s expecting to be jumped? We’re respectable.
“Hi. I need a room for tonight.”
“Sure, honey. Rooms are fifty-five a night. Just need a credit card and driver’s license. Fill this out.”
He lowers a shapeless nylon backpack from his shoulder to the floor and it makes a heavy, not-unfamiliar clunk on the tile.
The kid’s handsome. He ignores the form I laid on the counter and looks at me. I’m tingling all up and down like a car battery’s hooked to my big toes.
I wish the shitty fluorescent overheads were low-watt bulbs; I wish he couldn’t see me so clearly, my skin, especially my arms. I wish I was twenty years younger. Wishing only gets you a stack of regrets, but I still do it. Like the tattoo on my forearm he just glanced at. Most days I don’t care it’s there but I caught his lip curling just ever so slightly and right now I wish to hell I didn’t have it.
“Actually I prefer to pay cash,” he says. “Last time I was through this way my card details were swiped. Ended up with all kinds of charges. Restaurant, night club, escort sites, ammo, all sorts.”
“Oh, that’s awful. Not from staying here, though?”
“Hard to say. It’s a possibility.”
“Well I’m sure it wasn’t here. We’re so careful with our, you know, transactions. I can’t imagine how that happened.”
“Beats me, too.”
Do I remember this guy? I should (I mean, take a look at him) but I don’t, and I can’t tell if he remembers me. There’s only me and Ronnie skimming the cards (far as I know—probably should look into that) so I guess it was Ronnie last time. I best tread careful. If my face is flushed (believe me, it is, I can feel it burning) I just hope he thinks it’s cause I’m swooning over him. Which I am, too, right or wrong.
“Well,” I say, “I can understand you being cautious. Kind of surprised you’d want to stay here again.”
“Yeah. Location’s good, though. Cheap, too. I can’t afford to be choosy so I figure I better be more alert is all.”
What’s he here for, to rob us? Get even? So what’s he waiting for?
“Your bank didn’t charge you, right? For what they got away with?”
“Right. But they also said they don’t bother going after the thieves. You believe that?”
“Crazy. Not worth their while, I guess.”
“It’s not right.”
I’ll put him in Eleven next to the breezeway with the ice-maker and the halogen spot. Keep him off balance with all the comings and goings through there. There’s been things happen in Eleven.
“I think Eleven’s available. It faces the highway.”
“No problem. Eleven’ll be fine.”
The buzz of the overheads gets louder while we’re not talking. We both seem to be waiting for whatever comes next. It’s Ronnie’s night at the Four-Leaf, else I’d be buzzing him in our room right now with the button under the desk, the signal to come to the office and make his presence known. I guess I’ll have to play this one out myself. The Ruger LCP’s in a drawer off to the right. About five feet away. But he’s still watching me.
With my fingertips I push the registration form another inch across the counter. He looks down then.
The crazy thing is, I’d still consider an invitation, if he was to think of it. Wouldn’t necessarily change the outcome, is what I mean. I guess I’m thinking about what all he said got charged to his card. Sounds like someone went on a bender. Escort sites, he said. It’s kind of bugging me that Ronnie took one for himself there. No share and share alike, which is (or was) our deal.
Young fella’s leaning over, his body cocked toward the counter while he fills out the form. He holds the pen awkward, his wrist bent around over the page like you see lefties do. He spins the paper round and slides it back over and I take a look. Fifteen years in this business, I know what to expect.
Under Name he’s put “Chuck.” Under Address he’s put “Lucky Star Motel.” That’s where we are, the Lucky Star Motel. The rest of it he left blank. I look up and I’m not surprised to see a challenge there in his eyes, maybe even the hint of a smirk on his mouth. I glance at the big office clock on the far wall—to figure how long it might be before Ronnie rolls home—and I think, I can handle this. Also, I think, I can handle Ronnie, too, when he drags his ass in from the Four-Leaf.
“Okay, then… Chuck,” I say. “That’ll be fifty-five dollars, cash. Let me see about your key.”
Maybe I already knew his ‘wallet’ is in his backpack, but anyway I’m not surprised when he doesn’t reach for a pocket, instead bends double as if touching your toes is nothing. Fit guy. In shape. I step to the right where my little pocket cannon is waiting for me, and thank God I called that right because here he is coming back up with a motherfucker of a handgun that looks just like one of Ronnie’s.
It’s not the size of the truck, as the saying goes, it’s who gets to market first. And that, my friend, would be me. Now I have a mess on my hands, of course. But the forensics will go my way; no sweat there.
I step around from behind the reception desk for a better look at my clear-cut case of self-defense. He really was a handsome thing. I see the bulge in his front pocket and I reach in for his bill-fold. I take three hundred in twenties and fifties and leave seventy-five. Then I call the police.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought of running the Lucky Star by myself. I guess I always knew I could do it, always wondered where exactly Ronnie fit in. You know? I guess you never know—until you’re made to find out—what it is you’re capable of.
The cops and all the rest will still be here when Ronnie gets home. He’s not going to like that. He’ll have words for me, no doubt. It could get ugly; the way we get sometimes.
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© 2017 by Philip Lowery
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Dragon Volant Press