The trigger was pulled twice and, as you would expect, two bullets burst forth.
With a look of utter surprise, the little man groaned, looked down at where the projectiles had hit him, clutched at his bleeding chest, and fell to the already-stained carpet. Milner snatched what he had come for—what he had killed for—and ran out of the hotel room.
Shady Pines Motor Lodge. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s not. It reminds me of every dump I ever stayed at when I was a kid during our dreaded “family vacations”: Two stories tall, with long walkways running past thin wooden doors and a safety rail that you’d better not sneeze on for fear of it collapsing.
“Furnished rooms” the ancient neon sign boasted. Hah! If you count a beaten-up circular table with a wobbly leg and a kitchen chair straight out of Beaver Cleaver’s kitchen as “furnishings,” OK. I don’t want to think about the history of the mattress that became my bed!
Before the divorce, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in such a place. But, when you suffer through something like that, your options are limited. My ex was awarded almost everything we owned. I got tossed out on my ear with nothing but a beaten-up Ford truck with no A/C and precious few dollars to show for more than a decade of marriage. The only thing I was grateful for was that we never had any kids to put through this hell too.
And then, the icing on the cake: Seven weeks after the divorce was final, I lost my job at the accounting firm.
That’s how I ended up at Shady Pines, the cheapest place in town … and I was already behind on my rent—a fact that the obese, chain-smoking Estelle Wagner, the wife of the owner, took every opportunity to remind me.
“Very well, Mr. Hutchins,” Estelle replied, the long-ashed cigarette clenched in her teeth. “We’ll see you tomorrow afternoon. Check in is at one. Goodbye.” She hung up the phone, put her cig down in an ashtray that hadn’t been emptied since the Bicentennial, and turned to me. “Good day, Mr. Milner,” she said.
“Mrs. Wagner,” I replied, exhausted. “Any mail for me?”
She turned and plucked a few letters from a table behind her. “Just bills, I’m afraid,” she said, handing them to me.
“Look at the pretty yellow forwarding stickers!” I exclaimed. “Nice to know that my ex is seeing that I pay her utilities.”
“Any luck with a job?” Wagner asked.
“I’ve applied for everything I could find,” I explained. “Nothing. I’ve been pounding the pavement since eight a.m. No breakfast, no lunch, and I know there’s not much of anything up in my room for dinner. My feet are killing me!”
“Then this is a horrible time to bring up the overdue rent.”
“I’m sorry,” I answered, wearily. “I know I owe you, and I’m doing everything I can to get you your money. I may be granted an extension on my unemployment benefits, but I won’t know for certain for another week or so.” After she rolled her eyes, I continued, “I’ll have your money for you soon.”
“I hope so,” she replied, taking another drag.
“You must have other tenants who are behind as well?”
“Yes,” she replied, “but no one as much as you.”
“I’ll find a way,” I assured her with a sigh.
“It’s not me, you understand,” she explained, “but my Harry isn’t as considerate as I am. I talk about you all the time over dinner. ‘Harry,’ I say, ‘Mr. Milner’s a good man. He’s looking for a job. I know he is. I see him leave here every morning. He’s trying.’ But Harry … well …”
“What’s he gonna do,” I asked, “put me out on the street?”
“No,” she replied, taking another drag for dramatic effect, “but he might put you out a window.”
“Is that you, pal?” my always-cheery neighbor, Arnie Donaldson, called out when I reached the top stair of the second floor of the motor lodge.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I replied, winded. To my amazement, I saw that he was sunning himself.
“I can’t see you too well without my glasses.”
“Where are those Coke bottles?”
“In my room,” Arnie went on. “I didn’t want them to ruin my tan.”
“More likely, I’m getting a burn,” he chuckled. “One of my old girlfriends used to say that I was so fair skinned, I could get burnt from headlights.” I sighed, and he continued. “Tough day?”
This is very suspenseful! Not your typical theft / murder story. Goes a different direction.
Very well written! A couple of hold my breath moments! Ah ha to catch a thief! Never count your chickens before they hatch! Very good!
Now that's a clever twist! I didn't see it coming. Well done!
This was very good! Didn't guess the ending, nicely done!
Good little story
Liked it. Reminded me of an old "Twilight Zone" type theme. Like robbing a bank and finding out it's counterfeit money.