By The Hour

When tying up loose ends, 

make sure the knot is nice and tight.

By The Hour by Bill Morgan

The elevator smelled like stale piss but the old valet holding his bag didn’t seem to notice. Ellis took in baby sips of air and waited as the ancient cab crept to the third floor. He nudged past the man into the hallway and took a deep, quiet breath. It didn’t smell any better.

“Room 306, this way,” the old man said and turned to the right, down the hall. Ellis followed.

At the third door, the valet used the key and pushed the door open before stepping aside to let Ellis in first. The wallpaper was a floral pattern way past its expiration date and everything had a jaundiced yellow hue from so many cigarettes smoked or left forgotten, burning to the butt.

The valet gave him a smile and reached out his hand. Ellis slipped him a five and followed him to the door. “Have a pleasant stay, sir,” the valet said.  

It was a by the hour place, where the only thing to be had was pleasure in one form or another. Ellis looked out the window and counted the hookers, more volume than quality. He watched the train across the street make its slow loop into the city. In an hour, it would come back; his plan was to be on it. He opened the leather duffle bag and pulled out a pair of thick rubber boots, made to slip over regular shoes. Below the boots were coveralls and gloves. At the bottom of the bag was the wrapped M&P .22 compact, with the suppressor beside it. He took these out and set them aside, sure not to touch either with ungloved hands.

The phone in his pocket dinged with a text: Five minutes. Will notify what room after check in.

He set the phone on the soiled duvet and pulled the gloves on. From the front pocket of the bag, he took out a small passport case, part of the same parcel as the gun and suppressor. Inside were the details and a grainy black and white picture; each already committed to memory. He thought she looked like a nice older woman, the type who might look out of place here if anyone cared to take a second glance, but once the money was across the counter everybody became faceless.  

The phone went off again and he reached over to get it. Fourth floor, room 412.

He dressed in the coveralls and slipped the boots over his shoes. Once he had tucked the gun away, he took the gloves off and stowed them in the coverall pockets. At the door, he waited as two people passed by. They were probably too drunk to remember, but he was cautious and waited another minute before opening the door.

He took the emergency stairs up two flights and entered the fourth floor. He counted down the room numbers until he was standing at 412. Beyond the door, he heard the faint music of Chopin. He tested the knob. When it turned completely, he let himself in.

She was sitting on the bed, smiling, when she saw him. He shut the door and turned the lock. The radio switched to Samuel Barber Adagio for Strings. She raised a glass and drank the contents down.

“Drink?” she asked.

He declined with a nod.

She took the bottle and tipped another drink into the glass. “I really do hate drinking alone, but I admire a man who doesn’t drink on the job.” The curtains were drawn but she’d left the window open enough to let a slight breeze in.

Ellis stepped away from the window.

She sipped her drink and watched him. When he reached into his pocket, she flinched then relaxed when she saw the gloves.

“So how does this work? Do we have a struggle or. . .”

“You get what you paid for,” Ellis interrupted.

“Of course. Do you want to know why?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Mister, I’m paying you to kill me, the least you could do is entertain me.” 

Ellis relinquished and crossed his hand behind him.

“I’m already dying, caught a bit of the cancer last year and damned if it hasn’t worked its way into the untreatable spots.” She finished her drink, gave him a weak smile, and filled the glass again. After another sip, she rested it on her knees.

“Are you married?” she asked

Ellis shook his head.

“Good man. Worse thing I ever did. Thirty years and you know what he’s doing right now? Screwing an intern at his office. I have the pictures. When I confronted him, the arrogant shit laughed. ‘Oh, you’re going to be dead in six months anyway, I’m just getting a head start.’ He’s going to move her into my house, spend my family’s money on her. No!”

Ellis watched her finish the rest of the drink in one swallow.

She grimaced, shook away the alcohol burn, and looked up. “I’m not a murderer, and as much as I hate him, I can’t imagine him dead. But, sitting in a prison cell wondering how his gun got into this hotel room, how it was used to. . .Well, that I can live with.” 

Ellis took the cue and pulled the pistol from inside his coveralls. She let out a little laugh. 

“And this. . .” She waved her hand around the room “. . . is a bit of poetic justice. We used to come here when we wanted to feel dangerous. He’ll never understand. . .” Ellis pulled the trigger and the bullet stopped the thought before she finished it.

Per her instructions, he fired two more shots and exited the room, wiping the knob. When he got back to his room and undressed, he dumped the coveralls. The gun would find its way back into the victim’s house.

He looked at his watch. The train would be along in ten minutes, plenty of time for him to make it.

Bill W. Morgan’s fiction has appeared in the Yellow Mama webzine, The Wildcat Review, and The Reno News and Review. He is the author of three books: When We Awaken, Showcase, and Suffer Head. He lives in Carson City, Nevada.