the Slightest Wings
police cars in the parking lot were not parked in spaces,
but were left where the officers had jumped out. Gretchen
noticed that the few cars going by on the street were moving
slowly past the motel. A few minutes ago, she had watched
the spinning lights of the ambulance pull out and disappear
in the direction of the hospital. Looking out beyond the canopy,
she watched the silhouettes of men moving around the furthest
police car. A rear door opened, and she guessed it was an
officer pushing the head and shoulders of the biggest of them
into the back of the car. She looked at the silhouettes of
the other big men, but could only make out the arms -- crossing
and uncrossing, going into pockets and out, scratching at
shoulders. These other men, boys really, hadn't done anything,
but hadn't done anything to stop him either. An officer stepped
out of the darkness into the bright lights beneath the canopy.
He was older, but probably still fifteen years younger than
her she guessed. His eyes adjusted slowly to the light, and
he squinted to find her through the glass and across the lobby
standing behind the front desk where she had watched everything.
He opened the door and stepped in, and she knew he was there
to ask her questions. And she felt ready . . . for anything.
* * *
Gretchen Saunders had only taken the job at the motel because
her husband had died six months ago and the nights early in
the week were just too long to be alone. On weekends, she
drove to her son's house about an hour away in Petoskey and
spent time with his family, although sometimes she didn't
think it was fair for her to impose herself all of the time.
Since Joe had passed away, she had developed a need to be
around people, especially at night. Most days, in the light,
she could handle.
When the front desk manager called on a Wednesday and said
he needed her to work Saturday night, she told him she could.
In some ways she thought it would be a nice reprieve for her
son's family, especially his wife. Other times, as she thought
about it throughout the week, she became nervous because she
had only been doing the job for a month. The manager had assured
her that Saturday nights were no different from any other
nights, just a little busier. Although he had told her that
he knew she could handle it, his voice had sounded like the
telemarketers who called all day and goaded her into buying
things she didn't need.
While putting a few new seedlings into her garden on Saturday
morning, Gretchen thought of Joe and her fingers stopped where
they were in the dirt. Memories of him always seeped into
her mind the same way. For a moment, a warm happiness at the
thought of his face would take her, but what always followed
was the realization that he was gone and she would be alone
the rest of her life. The sadness came then, a suffering animal
inside of her, palpable.
They were planning their first trip to Hawaii when his cancer
was diagnosed. Two months later he was dead, four months after
his retirement. He had been such a part of her and had made
things easy by making most of her decisions for her. She had
loved him for the way he could guide her and missed him now
the way a stroke victim might lament the loss of one side
of the body. Leaving her tools in the soil, she walked into
the house to try to nap through the grief. She turned on the
air conditioner, knowing that its hum might lull her away.
Arriving at the motel late in the afternoon, she ran her card
through the time clock and said hello to Amy, the day shift
clerk. The last hour of Amy's shift was the first hour of
Gretchen's, but the younger woman continued to work as if
she were alone. Gretchen tried to stay out of her way. Looking
through the reservations, she saw that most of the guests
for the evening were already checked in, and she was relieved
to think that the night might not be too overwhelming. She
watched Amy checking in a couple, and was surprised by how
quickly the young woman swiped credit cards through the machine,
punched in totals, and handed out keys.
A young man with shoulder-length hair glanced up at Amy now
and again from one of the lobby chairs. Gretchen watched him
as he flipped through local tourism brochures, obviously not
reading them. His eyes would then wander slowly across the
paintings of Lake Michigan shorelines and lighthouses until
they finally came back to Amy. Sometimes she met his look
and smiled at him, and Gretchen recognized the smile as one
she had reserved for Joe when he used to look at her from
across a room. She looked away from the young man, hating
herself for how quickly thoughts of her dead husband came.
During the first hour of the shift, Gretchen had tried to
keep herself busy, but had only managed to hand out a few
soaps and towels. At ten minutes to five, another couple pushed
their way into the lobby.
"You could at least hold the door," the woman said.
The man with her said nothing and walked to the front desk.
"Room for Abbot," he said in a flat voice.
"I hope it won't be this sweltering all summer,"
the woman said.
Mr. Abbot said nothing. He began to shuffle through his wallet.
His wife stepped up close to the desk and looked at the clock
on the wall behind it. "Is that clock right?" she
Gretchen looked at the clock, looked at her own watch, and
then looked at Mrs. Abbot. "Yes, it's right."
"Well, I guess we won't see any of the quilt show today,"
she said accusingly to Mr. Abbot. "You just couldn't
take the road my dad told you to, could you?"
Gretchen knew the quilt show that Mrs. Abbot was talking about
-- a two-day affair at the local armory that often brought
people in from around the state. She had gone a few times
with friends, but never with Joe.
"The highway your dad wanted me to take ain't any faster,"
Mr. Abbot sighed from under his mustache, his voice too timid
for his argument. He was not a very big man, probably five
or six inches under six feet.
"Oh, you know everything," Mrs. Abbot said, louder
than she needed to for him to hear.
"Have a good stay, Mr. Abbot," Amy said and handed
him his room key.
When he took it, Gretchen noticed black scabs on his knuckles.
She had seen Joe's hands looking the same way after he had
been in a fight at a bar in Upper Michigan during deer season.
At that time, Joe was twenty-two. Mr. Abbot looked to be in
his late thirties.
He picked up his luggage and began to walk down the first
Mrs. Abbot followed him. "Is this the floor we're on?"
He didn't answer but stopped in front of room 107 and tried
to open the door. Gretchen watched him turn the key a few
times, but the door wouldn't open. Then, Mrs. Abbot grabbed
his hand, twisted the key out of it, and jammed it back into
the lock. After a hard turn, it opened, and Mr. Abbot followed
his wife into the room. Gretchen saw his mouth say something.
"You have about three more rooms to check in," Amy
said behind Gretchen. "Then, it should be pretty easy
for the rest of the night."
Gretchen turned and saw Amy standing by the time clock looking
hurriedly for her card.
"Are you going to be all right?" Amy asked. "Do
you have any questions?" She dropped her card into the
clock. It gave a metal thud.
Gretchen wondered if the front desk manager had said something
to her. "I'll be fine," she said, but she felt old
and silly. She turned and picked up the folder of pending
"All right. Good night, then," Amy said and walked
out into the lobby. The young man who'd been waiting for her
stood as soon as he saw her on the other side of the desk.
While he slipped an arm around her waist she untied the scarf
from her neck. They walked towards the doors.
Gretchen watched them, wondering if she should have taken
the time to think of a few questions for Amy. I don't even
know what to tell people who come in after all of the rooms
have filled she thought. The most rooms that had ever
been filled on a Tuesday was seven, and then usually by sleepy
business travelers. Tonight, there wasn't a vacancy in the
place. Clearly, the manager had only called her as a last
minute resort. He probably wouldn't rest until after midnight,
knowing then that she had finally punched out.
I helped raise two boys she thought to herself reassuringly,
I can handle seven more hours running this motel.
As she settled into the idea somewhat assured, she saw Amy
walking back towards her. The young woman leaned over the
desk. "I almost forgot to tell you. We had a complaint
from a guy who said the hot tub felt cool. It's no big deal
really. We had a birthday party in the pool area earlier this
afternoon, and the kids splashed a lot of water out. Ray filled
it before he went home and said it's going to be a couple
hours before it heats up to temperature. If anyone asks, just
tell them that. It's most likely already warmed up, but I
thought I should tell you."
Gretchen smiled and thanked Amy. She decided then that she
liked the young woman and watched her jog back to her boyfriend
who was now smoking a cigarette under the canopy. He ran his
hand across his forehead, looked at his palm, and then wiped
it on his sleeve. Amy opened the doors and joined him, and
as they walked out from under the canopy, he said something
to her, and they both looked up at the sun before walking
out of sight.
The next hour slipped by very quietly. Gretchen finally resolved
herself to watching guests go into the pool area. She was
relieved when none came back out to complain about the hot
tub. Now and then she looked out into the parking lot and
could see a steamy haze rising from the car hoods.
Her first guest finally arrived. His hair looked damp. She
ran his credit card through the machine while he stepped a
few feet from the desk and opened a cellular phone. Though
she tried not to, Gretchen listened.
"Hi. I just got in. The plane was a little late. Is everything
okay?" He listened for a few seconds. "All right,
we knew he was going to start talking back to you again, but
we had talked about it. What did you do when he said that?"
He listened for about thirty seconds, running his fingers
heavily through his hair. "Ah Jesus, he walked away?
What'd you say?"
Gretchen strained over the noise from the pool area to hear
"We talked about this, honey. You can't just do nothing.
He's twelve. He's not going to start behaving better until
he knows you mean business." He slipped his hand into
his pocket and listened. He shook his head. "I'm two
hundred miles away. You can't let him walk all over you. I'm
just on the road too much right now."
Gretchen thought of how she and Joe had raised their boys.
If the boys acted up during the day, she promised them swift
punishment from their father that evening, which was no idle
threat. This arrangement had worked out fine, but Gretchen
couldn't imagine what she would have done had Joe been on
the road for days or weeks at a time. She felt sorry for the
woman on the phone.
"Are we done here? Can I go to my room?" the man
asked, having caught Gretchen eavesdropping on his call.
Red-faced, she nodded and handed him his room key. Only after
he had disappeared up the stairs did she notice that she hadn't
had him sign his credit card receipt. Too embarrassed to call
his room, she decided to wait to see if he would come back
down. He has to eat, she thought.
While she tried to compose herself, the Abbots came out of
their room wearing bathing suits. Gretchen noticed right away
that Mrs. Abbot was heavy around the middle and bottom. Why
would she wear a bikini? she thought. Although Mr. Abbot
had a gut, his biceps looked like big potatoes. He tried to
walk past the desk.
"Tell her," Mrs. Abbot hissed.
Mr. Abbot stopped and rubbed his face with his hands. "Christ,
Tammy, I told you there's nothing they can do about it. The
thing's blowing cold air . . ."
"No harm in telling her. We might get a discount. Just
Gretchen could hear them clearly, but tried not to stare.
She looked out into the parking lot and saw a van pull in
with large letters printed on the side. She made out the word
When Mr. Abbot turned and stood at the front desk, Mrs. Abbot
walked past him. "I'll be in the pool," she said
loudly. "If they can't fix it, find out if we get a discount."
Mr. Abbot set his hands on the front desk and then pulled
them back to rest at his sides.
"Is there a problem, sir?" Gretchen asked. She hoped
it was something she could handle.
Mr. Abbot looked toward the closing pool door. "Not really,"
he said. "Our air conditioner is making a drumming sound,
but it's working fine. I mean, it's blowing cold air."
"I could try to call someone in from maintenance,"
she said, but then remembered that her manager only wanted
maintenance called in for emergencies.
"No, don't call anyone in. Thanks," Mr. Abbot said
and walked towards the pool.
When he opened the door, the laughter and splashing grew louder
for a moment. As the door closed, softening the noises again,
Gretchen heard the dull thud of something hitting metal in
the parking lot and looked outside. Several big men in t-shirts
were standing around the van that had just pulled in, and
one was shaking the pain out of his right hand. After a few
seconds, he stopped and examined his knuckles. They were all
young men, maybe in their early twenties. She could see that
the one with the hurt hand was the biggest of them, but they
were all big with arm muscles like thighs. As they walked
under the canopy, Gretchen saw that one had no bags, but carried
instead two cases of beer.
When they came through the doors, Gretchen felt as though
the lobby had shrunk. It seemed silly around them, like a
dollhouse. The biggest of them was looking at his hand, and
Gretchen could see that the knuckles were bleeding. Drawn
to the sounds of the pool area, they walked over to the windows
that looked in on the swimmers. One broke from the others
and walked up to the front desk.
"We're part of the Cass College rugby team," he
said, but didn't look at her, turning instead to watch his
Hoping that they were in the wrong motel, Gretchen flipped
through the registry, but found that a registration had been
made for six people from Cass College.
"Look at that fat ass," the biggest of them said.
"How'd you like that on top?"
His words were followed by harsh whispers from the other players.
Following their pointing fingers, he looked over at Gretchen.
"I don't give a shit," he said.
Gretchen avoided eye contact with the players and finished
checking them into their rooms. The one at the desk handed
her a check from the Cass College Accounting Office, and she
handed him two keys. When she looked over at the other players
again, she saw that the biggest was wrestling with another
who finally fell back and knocked over a potted plant.
"Lighten up, you asshole," the one said, picking
"Come on, Jack, take it down a notch," another scolded.
The one at the front desk looked over and then held up the
keys. "Let's go."
The other players began to pick up the luggage. Jack picked
up the beer. "I'll take these," he said. "Let's
go drink to our loss."
Gretchen tried to calm herself, but she was shaking. "You're
right down there," she said and pointed them in the direction
of the first floor hallway.
None of them thanked her. Their bodies rumbled past the desk
like the eighteen-wheelers that always seemed about to edge
her car off the highway. Another guest came down from the
second floor, and Gretchen absently waved hello to him. He
didn't wave back, and she realized, only after he'd left,
that it was Charles Anderson, the man who still needed to
sign his credit card receipt.
Before she could clean up the mess from the spilled plant,
Gretchen had to check in the last guests for the evening,
an older couple that was just walking in. They were about
Gretchen's age, and she felt embarrassed by her uniform and
name tag. The woman stood with her arm looped through her
husband's. That should have been Joe and I, Gretchen
thought after she handed them their key. To keep from crying,
she scooped what soil she could back into the pot and then
packed it down. Before vacuuming, she watered the plant, walking
back and forth between it and the drinking fountain with a
small plastic cup.
Mrs. Abbot came through the pool door as Gretchen was making
her last pass with the vacuum. "Is anyone going to do
anything about that hot tub?" she asked.
"What?" Gretchen asked.
"The hot tub is cold," Mrs. Abbot said angrily.
Gretchen remembered what Amy had told her and explained it
to Mrs. Abbot. Half way through the explanation, Mrs. Abbot
began to shake her head. She walked over to the pool door,
opened it, and called to her husband. The door closed, and
she looked at Gretchen.
The telephone rang.
"I have to go back behind the desk," Gretchen explained,
but the phone stopped ringing by the time she got to it.
Mrs. Abbot opened the pool door again. "Get out here,
Rick," she snapped.
After another thirty seconds, Mr. Abbot came through the door,
his face long and angry. He walked with Mrs. Abbot over to
the front desk.
"Tell her what you told me," Mrs. Abbot said.
"Ah, Christ . . ."
"Just tell her. She's trying to tell me that they put
some new water in the hot tub this afternoon and that's why
it's cold." As her husband started, she cut him off.
"He used to clean pools as a business," she said.
"That water is really pretty cold, probably down a good
ten degrees. I think your heater might be down," Mr.
Abbot said. His wife smiled at him.
A hot sensation raced up Gretchen's spine. She looked at Mr.
Abbot. "What do you think I should do?" she asked
Mrs. Abbot shook her head.
"Well," Mr. Abbot said, his voice deepening, "you
need an accurate reading of the hot tub's temp. You got anything?"
Gretchen remembered that there was a thermometer on a thin
rope behind the front desk. She bent, found it, and dangled
it in the air for Mr. Abbot to see.
"Let's go check it out," Mr. Abbot said, walking
toward the pool.
Gretchen followed him to the hot tub. Despite the cooler temperatures,
a fat man was sitting in it, his hairy chest floating in the
foam. Gretchen was embarrassed by his near nudity, but walked
over and dipped the thermometer into the water.
"It is cool . . . tepid," the fat man said and then
smiled agreeably to Mrs. Abbot.
"I know," Mrs. Abbot said. "We should complain
to the manager tomorrow."
The fat man's kind smile dropped and he turned away to read
the pool rules posted on a nearby wall. Mr. Abbot sat in a
chair a few feet away rubbing his eyes with both palms.
While Gretchen waited for the reading, a man with a little
girl on his shoulders waded from the deep end of the pool
into the shallow end and then up the stairs.
"You might check the pool, too," he said, setting
the girl on her feet. "It seems cold."
Gretchen could see the little girl's goose pimpled skin. "I
will," Gretchen said. She felt alone, realizing more
than ever that she was the only employee in the motel. When
she pulled the thermometer out of the hot tub, she had trouble
seeing the small numbers.
"Eighty-nine degrees," Mrs. Abbot, who had edged
her way quite close to Gretchen, reported. "Isn't that
low, honey?" she asked her husband.
"Sign on the wall says a hundred and one. Something's
gotta be wrong for the temp to drop that low."
"What are you going to do?" Mrs. Abbot asked Gretchen.
"We still have two more hours of swimming."
The thermometer slipped out of Gretchen's hands into the bubbling
hot tub. The fat man reached down between his legs and handed
it back to her. Gretchen suddenly felt as she had years ago
when she had begun to have hot flashes. Forgetting to check
the temperature of the pool, she walked out to the front desk.
She thought she had told Mrs. Abbot that she'd call maintenance,
but by the time she reached the pool door, she couldn't remember
if she'd said anything to anyone. On the way out, she passed
the rugby players who were on their way to the pool. She didn't
look up at them.
She paged Tom Stanley, the maintenance man on call for that
weekend. While she waited for him to return her call, she
heard the rugby players begin yelling and swearing. Their
voices echoed into the pool's high ceiling and drowned out
the young laughter and shrills that had been there before.
Soon after, guests began to leave the pool area, ushering
children away from the profanity. Even with the closed door
between the pool and front desk, Gretchen could hear each
curse word clearly.
She was too nervous to talk to any of the guests leaving the
pool area. She knew she couldn't do anything for them until
maintenance arrived, so she unlocked the front desk manager's
office and waited in the dark for Tom to answer the page.
When he didn't, she paged him again. She heard pairs of wet
feet flapping up to the front desk, stopping, and then flapping
away. "Hello?" someone would call from time to time.
Just go to your rooms Gretchen thought.
The phone finally rang, and she went back up to the front
desk to answer it. She sighed in relief when she saw that
no guests were waiting to complain to her about the rugby
players. Tom was on the other end of the phone but, seeing
the Abbots leaving the pool area, Gretchen asked him to hold,
and she cupped her hand over the mouthpiece.
"I'm on the phone with maintenance right now," she
said to them as they walked past the desk.
Mrs. Abbot didn't say anything, and Gretchen could see that
she was crying.
"Honey, he wasn't saying that about you," Mr. Abbot
whined. "I didn't really hear him say anything."
Mrs. Abbot stopped and wept into her palms, and Mr. Abbot
put his arm around her, trying to cradle her head into his
She slipped away from him. "I think you did hear him
just fine," she said in between her shaking breaths.
"What do you mean?"
"I think you did hear him, and you knew he was talking
about me," she said, her voice more controlled.
"Like hell. If what you're saying . . . I'm not afraid
of them, Tammy. I'll go back in there right now if you want
"Just come on," she said. She walked towards their
room, her shoulders shaking again with sobbing.
Mr. Abbot caught up to her and put both arms around her. Her
body seemed to collapse into his, and he guided her toward
the room, speaking softly to her.
A few feet before they reached their door, Mrs. Abbot said
something and pushed Mr. Abbot away from her.
"Jesus Christ, honey," Mr. Abbot said, following
her into the room.
After a few seconds Gretchen could hear a faraway voice coming
through the receiver. "Hello?" she answered.
"Did you page me?" Tom asked angrily.
"Yes, I did." Gretchen said. She could hear a televised
baseball game and the hum of an air conditioner from Tom's
end of the phone. She explained everything to him about the
hot tub. While she talked, she heard louder yelling coming
from the pool. ("Don't be such a god damn asshole!")
Tom paused before saying anything. "Well, you'll need
to make some signs that say 'pool out of order'. Tell the
midnight person that I'll be in around six to look at the
"Aren't you going to come in tonight?" Gretchen
asked. She hoped he would come in so the rugby players would
see him and know there was a man around.
"Nothing I could do tonight. Even if I got the heater
running, it wouldn't make any difference to the water temp
until after midnight."
"Maybe you could just come in and look at it. Maybe it
would be easy to fix," Gretchen pleaded. She heard several
men in the background shouting at something that had happened
in the baseball game.
Tom exhaled loudly. "Are the pool lights on -- you know
the ones under water?"
Gretchen remembered that they were and told him.
"The pool lights are on the same breaker," Tom explained.
"If the lights are on that means there's something electrical
down on the heater . . . nothing easy to fix. Just hang the
signs, and I'll be in in the morning."
Gretchen said good-bye and hung up the phone. She found paper
behind the front desk and made the signs Tom had suggested.
She was nervous for the next hour, but she saw no other guests
going towards the pool. Outside of the yelling and swearing,
everything seemed quiet. Gretchen took out some wood polish
and sprayed down the front desk. While she rubbed it, she
realized that she hadn't thought of Joe for some time. She
decided that this more strenuous night was doing her some
good. Maybe I'll ask to work a few Saturdays in the future
Ten minutes later, the door to the pool swung open and hit
"He is such a cock sucker," one of the boys was
shouting. He walked with his head tipped back, his right hand
pinching his nose. Watery blood ran down his face.
Another player was walking with him. "You know how he
can get," he said as they walked past the desk.
"He's worse tonight."
They didn't look at Gretchen. A few yards behind them, the
rest of the young men walked out circled around Jack. They
were walking slowly.
"Not my fault he can't catch," Jack said. His hand
was wrapped around a beer.
"Well, let's let him cool down a little. You threw that
ball pretty hard," another of the players said.
"We decided it was first down, right? You get the ball
back if your team gets first down, right? I was just giving
him the ball."
"You whipped it right into his face."
"Alright, I'll say something to him."
Gretchen moved again after they passed.
An hour later, when several guests called in to the front
desk, even some from the second floor, Gretchen knew what
they were calling about. She'd been listening to the rugby
players in their room from the front desk -- yelling, cursing,
arguing. A few times she'd heard a loud thud as though someone
had hit a wall. They were as loud as they had been in the
pool, and Gretchen had been sitting at the desk hoping they
would tire out. Most of the guests on the phone were reasonable;
they just wanted to know if she would call and ask the noisy
room to quiet down. Every time she started to pick up the
phone, however, she imagined and believed that their room
was getting quieter. Then she'd wait.
The phone rang again, and Gretchen picked it up. "Front
desk," she said.
"Are you deaf? Can you hear what they're doing in that
room?" Mrs. Abbot asked, her voice slightly hysterical.
"Just listen to them."
She must have taken the phone from her ear and set it near
the wall because Gretchen could suddenly hear Jack's voice
very clearly. ("And then the little faggot tells me that
I won't pass his class.") She guessed the next sound
she heard was a can of beer hitting the wall.
"This is Mrs. Abbot in room 107. We want to be moved."
Hopelessly, Gretchen flipped through the registry, knowing
what she'd find before even looking. "I'm sorry Mrs.
Abbot," she nearly whispered, "but all of our rooms
"Filled? Well you're going to have to do something."
Gretchen heard the word "something" shatter into
sobs, and then Mrs. Abbott hung up the phone.
Gretchen knew what she'd have to do and finally made the call,
taking a deep breath when the phone began to ring.
"Hello." It was Jack, and his voice sounded as though
it were slipping out of his mouth before he intended it to.
"Yes, hello. This is the front desk calling." Gretchen
paused and steadied her voice. "We've had a few complaints
about the noise coming from your room."
"Hold on," Jack said.
Gretchen heard his palm scratching over the mouthpiece of
the phone. She could still hear him laughing, and another
voice came through the murmuring. ("Don't be a prick,
man. She's probably someone's grandma.")
Jack came back on the phone. "I don't know what you're
talking about. We're sleeping down here. You must have the
Gretchen tried to harden her voice. "Sir, I know I have
the right room."
"Look, goddammit, we're sleeping. Don't call here again.
I don't come down there and bother you, do I? Do you want
me to do that?" Jack asked.
("Come on, Jack.") someone in the room said.
Gretchen sat silently on her end of the phone.
"Don't call again," Jack finally said and hung up.
Gretchen remembered what the front desk manager had said about
calling the police, how he'd explained that having them at
the motel, especially at night, gave the place a bad name.
"In a small town like ours, it can be fatal," he
had said. "Try to handle all situations in-house unless
it looks like someone is going to be hurt."
Remembering Jack's threatening words, she began looking for
the police dispatcher's number. As she flipped through the
telephone book she realized that the first floor was now silent.
She waited, but only heard the hum of the air conditioning.
Maybe my call did quiet them down, Gretchen thought.
Nine minutes later, when she wheeled the mop and bucket of
soapy water into the lobby, it was still peaceful. Relieved,
Gretchen dragged the mop head back and forth across the floor.
Her shift would be over in a half hour.
Feeling almost happy, she looked over at the potted plant
the rugby players had knocked over earlier and could tell
that it would live. Even the topmost leaves jutted out firmly
on their stems. As she examined the plant, an unexpected idea
came to her. I could go to Hawaii by myself. For a
moment she tried to let the thought fade, but it remained,
and she believed it. As though she were afraid she'd lose
the impulse while sleeping that night, she walked quickly
behind the front desk. Trembling, she found a travel agent's
number in the phone book. She wasn't surprised when nobody
answered, but she left her own phone number on the agent's
answering machine, along with a request to be called back.
She was smiling when she hung up, excited by knowing that
she'd set things in motion. She'd made a gesture that she
could not withdraw. The travel agent would call her back Monday,
would help her book a flight, reserve hotel rooms, plan sight
seeing trips. In her excitement, she picked up a pen and forged
Charles Anderson's signature onto his credit card receipt
and then laughed to herself. It felt right to her to do something
she'd never dared before.
Walking back from the mop room fifteen minutes later, she
heard someone howling. Although she wasn't sure it was Jack,
she knew that it was coming from the rugby players' rooms.
She scurried behind the front desk to pick up the ringing
phone. While she assured a guest that she was going to call
the police, she saw Mr. Abbot coming out of his room wearing
only his pajama bottoms. His hands were knotted into fists.
Slamming his door, he started towards the front desk. His
hair was matted in places and stuck up in others, and he looked
as though he'd been suddenly woken. When he'd almost reached
the spot where the carpeted hallway became the hard tile of
the lobby, he stopped. Without looking at Gretchen, he turned
around and stomped back to the rugby players' door. The report
of his hand sounded like a hammer, and when they didn't answer,
he started swearing at them. Then the door opened.
Jeff Vande Zande's website at: www.jeffvandezande.com