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I woke up late in the afternoon on the same day. It was actually almost evening, and Lara was missing from the room, which was unusual because she would normally wait for me. Anyway, I didn’t care to know where she was, and I got up, took a shower, shaved my beard, put on a new set of dirty clothes—I rotated them to avoid soiling some of them more than the others—and at last, I set on the task of cleaning my weapon. You always have to remember to take care of it if you want a reliable gun, and my old iron pal was sincerely touched by my attention. I felt him shiver in my hand and softly click with pleasure. After finishing the task, I patted him friendly on the back and put him in the nightstand drawer to rest because I wasn’t going to need him this evening. My intention was to go down to the lobby bar, have a few drinks, and relax.

I slowly started down the stairs, and while remembering the adventures Lara and I had the previous night, I wondered whether I would meet Sandra at the reception this evening. I kind of didn’t want to, because, most probably, she was going to shower me with uncomfortable questions. Unfortunately, when I reached the lobby, my “girlfriend” was there, smiling happily at me. She wore a summer ruffle-sleeve mini dress, which hung loosely on her body, its hem ready to fly up with the first puff of wind. Her hair was scraped back into a ponytail and had glitter dust in it. With all this, the receptionist shone charmingly with a very pleasant girlish vibe.

“You look fresh,” she said as she noticed me coming down, “for a man who has pretty wild nights, at least!”

“Oh, not at all!” I tried to dodge her calculated attack with a casual lie. “I slept like a rock! When I woke up, I was so entangled in bed sheets that I thought I had fallen through the floor right down into the laundry room!”

“Really? That’s weird,” Sandra licked her pretty lips with delicate lipstick on. “Because I think I saw your car following mine early this morning.

I frowned but tried to remain calm despite her unpleasant remark. It meant she had noticed us after all!

“It’s just impossible!” I made an effort to sound convincing. “My car has been outside in the parking lot for three days in a row!”

“Well, maybe I was wrong then,” she agreed reluctantly. “After all, it would be too ridiculous if you had two completely identical Fords, right?”

“Right!” I nodded rather stupidly and asked myself whether she suspected about the stolen car or not. “It would be utterly ridiculous, indeed!”

I was worried that she knew our little secrets, but if you think about it, it was actually in the order of things. We didn’t really have a very delicate approach to our late-night adventures, and probably even the dead in the cemetery were already aware of what we were doing. However, I kept acting dumb and tried to pull a maneuver to change the subject of our conversation.

“How’s the little pup, by the way?” I attempted to smile, but it came out weird and grotesque because I still felt stupid. “It looked so sweet last evening!”

“Oh, you mean Rocky? He’s fine. He suffers from hemorrhoids, but other than that, he’s just fine!”

“His name is Rocky?” I was sincerely surprised. Her stupid dog seemed to me more like the seventh dwarf from the fairytale of Snow White, but with a gas mask on his face. Rocky was somewhat too majestic for him.

“Yes, it is! His mother was Eva, and his father was Adolf.”

“Well, his grandfather must have been Benito, then!” I suggested wittily.

“No, his grandfather was Bimbo. They were all performers like you, you know.”

“Like me?” I didn’t get her point.

“Didn’t you say you performed in the circus? They did too!”

“Oh, you mean my… performances!” I mumbled sourly because I had completely forgotten the bullshit I had told her about myself when we met the previous time. And since I was quite sure I would give her more of it pretty soon, I promptly tried to move to the next subject.

“Incidentally, have you, by any chance, come to invite me for a drink?” Sandra surprised me before I was able to do it, after which she smiled cunningly. “I’ve got about twenty minutes to kill before going out for a meeting.”

I looked at her, unsure at first. It wasn’t exactly my idea to change the subject, but unfortunately, I didn’t know how to refuse the offer. The problem was that every time I opened my mouth around this woman, I started talking nonsense and then my life was complicated. And since I hesitated for too long now, in the end, I just moved my head so indefinitely and confusingly that even I had no idea what my gesture was supposed to mean.

Nevertheless, Sandra smiled at me and turned around to come out from behind the reception desk without commenting it. She grabbed me by the elbow and led me toward the bar, with which she actually stripped me of the chance to make a decision. I had no option but to accept her invitation, and we slowly headed, arm in arm, toward the pink neon above the glass door as if the place behind it was a wedding chapel in Vegas and we were getting married there. A few seconds later, she resumed the unpleasant subject.

“Old Bimbo was kind of famous in the old days,” she explained to me willingly. “He was actually the most stupid dog I’ve ever seen, and Rocky has taken after him. The only thing Junior cares about is eating oatmeal porridge and barking at a small footstool at my place. I suppose he’s just angry that it won’t bark back.”

I smiled sourly but considered it necessary to take some professional interest in the artistic career of the old cur. After all, I had to play the role I landed myself in!

“Where did Bimbo perform?” I asked.

“It was the Venus circus,” Sandra replied. “You must know this place! It was kind of popular back in the day when performing with animals really meant something. Now it’s more like pet training, you know, because of animal rights advocates.”

“Those were glorious days indeed! I know the place, of course!” I confidently said, without having the slightest idea what she was talking about.

“As a matter of fact, ‘performing’ is a bit of a stretch if we refer to Bimbo,” my ruthless inquisitor continued her vicious act. “His crowning trick was nothing more than pissing in the hat of the clown who co-starred with him. Then the guy would put the bowler on his head, pretending he knew nothing about it, and the audience would laugh. At least the stupid part of them would do!”

“And that was all?”

“Yep, that was pretty much all of it! That’s how people knew them—‘Bimbo, Bambo, and the Bowler’. It was their only trick, and it wasn’t even much of a trick. Bimbo was doing it not because he was trained to do so but because nobody succeeded in the task of making him kick the bad habit. Eventually, Bambo decided to make a trick out of it so that the whole thing might serve a purpose. He was truly a stupid dog, didn’t I tell you!”

At this point, we reached the counter where we had drinks on our previous date here, and we sat on the high stools again. Sandra called the bartender and ordered gin fizz for herself, and I ordered a glass of Beefeater. Then I secretly looked her up from head to toe. I still considered her an incredibly hot chick despite her sexual manners befitting a hungry arachnid, and I kind of hoped we would repeat our little fight in the rubber plant. The hem of her dress slightly rode up when she crossed her naked legs, and her thighs with their silky smooth skin made my eyes stick to them like chewing gum.

“So how did it all end?” I asked Sandra after a while to distract myself from screwing her in my mind. “Their careers, I mean!”

“Well, one evening, Bimbo had an artistic spur,” the hotel owner explained after taking a sip of her drink, “and he thought shitting instead of pissing in the hat was a very good idea. Bambo just flipped out and smashed him with a folding chair, which was part of the props for the act. He did it right on stage, in front of the audience, and literally made a whole circus of people cry!”

I quietly whistled as I pictured the horrible scene, with kids weeping and tons of snot and tears flying all around the place.

“What a dramatic story!” I noted.

“Uh-huh! And what about you? What was your accident like?”

“My what?” I looked at her, puzzled. In my mind, however, I vaguely suspected I was heading for the next embarrassing situation in my life.

“When we spoke the last time, you said an elephant accident ended your career. Remember?”

With irritation, I remembered. It was extremely stupid of me to invent such a ridiculous story and then, forget about it, but there it was—I had done it, and now I had to play along. And since I had absolutely no idea how to fix this in a reasonable way, the only thing I came up with was improvising again.

“Well, it’s not that interesting, in fact,” I mumbled hesitantly. “There’s really nothing to say. The animal was just nervous, and since I was chewing gum while riding on its back, the poor thing thought I was eating something delicious. It accidentally brought me down with its trunk, then got scared and stepped on my left foot’s little toe. It was a big shock for me, and I never recovered.”

And after making a fool of myself for the zillionth time, I stopped talking and awkwardly looked away to prevent further questions. I was the king of bullshit! Had I consciously tried to fabricate such monumental nonsense, I really doubt I could have.

Sandra looked at me for a while, narrowing her eyes to decide if my lame attempt was worth pretending she believed in it. Then she smiled leniently.

“That’s a very interesting story!” she remarked. “I should admit I would have never thought you were a circus performer if I just saw you on the street. I would probably have thought you were… a detective or something!”

I winced, surprised. I didn’t like her “assumption” at all, but since everybody in this city clearly knew everything about me, maybe I shouldn’t be. Her unexpected insights suddenly stripped me of my lame disguise so quickly that the skin on my cheeks literally flaked when my fake beard came off. The new situation immediately broke the magic between us.

“Yes, I know! It’s unbelievable. Sometimes, even I can’t believe it, but it’s true,” I muttered cheerlessly. “Such were my father and grandfather before me!” And after I said that, I clenched my teeth tight because I was afraid that I would involve all my relatives, dating all the way back to the Stone Age, in the circus business.

“So what are you doing these days then?” Sandra decided to leave it at last and mercifully pretended she believed in my Mexican soap opera-style family drama. “It must have been hard for you to quit after all these years on stage!”

“To be honest, it’s still hard, but I’m working on self-improvement now. I’m trying to be a better person,” I rambled recklessly. And instead of making an excuse and walking away, I started another round of bullshit—tenfold messier than the previous—without any idea again how I was going to get out of it. “Currently, I’m trying to find a colleague of mine who went missing about a month ago and help her.”

“Really? And who would that be?” Sandra promptly played along with my new sketch.

“She’s an ex-colleague of mine. From the circus, I mean.” My mouth promptly used the opportunity to go wild after it sensed my brain was missing from the driver’s seat. “She got involved with two scumbags and disappeared with them, leaving her little girl behind!”

“And now you hope to find her and convince her to come back? Oh, that’s so sweet!” The hotel owner gave me a radiant smile. It made me want to punch myself in the face because I realized I didn’t look like a social worker at all. Unfortunately, I couldn’t admit I was a PI either because she was probably connected to the boss of Eternity in some way. I had just laid all my cards on the table prematurely, denying myself any chance to gain anything from it, and to comfort myself a bit, I could only think Sandra was clever enough to know what I was actually doing even without me telling her.

“What does your colleague look like?” she asked me next.

I reluctantly described Lara’s sister. “She’s a fine green-eyed girl with chestnut hair—about five and a half feet tall. She’s actually very beautiful, although a bit spoiled.”

“She must have been a tightrope dancer then.”

“Why do you think so?” I looked at her suspiciously.

“Tightrope dancers are always the hottest chicks in the business and often spoiled by the attention they get from the audience. Plus, they usually aren’t tall because it helps with balance, you know.”

“True,” I muttered sourly, agreeing with her. I was drained, and my will to kick back was gone now because I felt completely entangled in my own lies. “She was a tightrope dancer!”

“What about her bad friends?” Sandra wanted to know.

“What about them?”

“How do they look?”

Since everything was over now, I described them as well.

“Hmm. I think I know these guys after all,” my inquisitor looked at me cunningly and made her preparations to nail me mercilessly to my cross. “I think I know that colleague of yours as well. Is it possible, by any chance, that her name is Sonya?”

“Uh-huh,” I mumbled barely audibly, like a man who was being accused of first-degree murder by the police, and he was afraid that whatever he said might be used against him.

“However, I’m not so sure, though!” My heartless girlfriend kept terrorizing me with obvious delight. She probably thought I deserved it, and maybe she was right. “The woman I know isn’t actually very much into circus art. And I don’t think she has any kids, as a matter of fact.”

“Well, my colleague wasn’t very good at her job. She used to hide it from people outside her circle,” I said, embarrassed. “And she was also a lame mother, as I mentioned!”

“Do you really think you can change her mind about her little girl? It seems like a long shot to me!”

“Well, it’s worth trying, at least!” I almost choked on my emotions, but not for Sonya’s unborn child. I cried for myself!

“You know what? I think you should do it. You should definitely give it a shot!” The next moment, Sandra encouraged me with a condescending smile. “One never knows, after all! If you’re convincing enough, she might come to her senses and realize how much pain she has brought to her poor child’s life. If you’re lucky, she might even quit giving blowjobs to strangers!”

I looked at her, shocked. It was clearly the end of my pathetic journey. I had screwed it up completely, and now we both knew it. It was official! However, since there was simply no way for me to make the mess bigger than that, I made up my mind to finish my ridiculous act with a resonant fart. So I held my nose and did it loudly, “Will you help me find her?”

Sandra looked at me with pity and faked a sigh of desperation. She didn’t even make an effort to be convincing.

“I wish I could help you. I really do!” She said afterward. “But unfortunately, there’s no way because the person in question disappeared not long ago, and now nobody knows where she is. She clearly does that every now and then!”

Just like her, I sighed too, but unlike her, I was sincere when I did it. I just bet the ranch and lost everything! I fired all my ammunition for nothing, and if someday, Hollywood made a movie about my shitty career, my grotesque attempt here would be the culmination of the entire story for sure. And to make my humiliation even more complete, Sandra decided to ask me afterward, “What was the last name of your secretary again? You said Croft, didn’t you?”

I didn’t say anything because I didn’t dare.

“Is it possible, I wonder, that she’s actually Sonya’s sister?” The hotel owner continued her cruel game.

“No, it’s definitely not possible!” I answered tartly and rather too quickly. “Lara doesn’t have a family. She’s an orphan… from… the Vietnam War!”

And that was it! The ultimate rock bottom, I had just hit it! I was actually so pissed off—not at her but at myself—that I wanted to run away from our date. It was ridiculous to think I would squeeze any information from her, and I only humiliated myself and let her play with me.

“You know, it’s all quite funny, in fact!” Instead of bursting into laughter after my unsuccessful verbal stunt, Sandra noted slyly, “Have you noticed that your personal secretary looks amazingly like your former colleague? If they really aren’t sisters or very close cousins, at least, it would be such a weird genetic eccentricity!”

I pursed my lips, annoyed, and decided I wouldn’t fall for it again. It was time to abandon my delicate approach and counterattack at last. I made up my mind to press Sandra’s back against the wall unscrupulously and get what I wanted from her because it was clear we were enemies now and nothing less.

“Aren’t you running late for your meeting?” I looked at her coldly. “I hope I’m not keeping you!”

“Oh, no, I’ve got a few more minutes,” the hotel owner glanced at her watch.

“Who’s the guy, by the way?” I asked her without really knowing it was a man and without even caring how profoundly inappropriate my question was.

“He’s an old friend of mine. Why do you care?” She shrugged, not too concerned.

“I wondered if, by any chance, he might be the boss of Eternity.”

“Why? You wanna know something specific about him?” she smirked.

“Not exactly, no! But I noticed your Porsche parked in front of his club a couple of times, so I wondered what kind of relationship you two have.”

“Oh, I really hope you’re not jealous of him!” Sandra smiled mischievously. “It’s not really a second date thing, you know.”

“No, I’m not jealous. That would be ridiculous!” I was quick to reject her idea. “I just thought you two might have a symbiotic connection. I mean, businesswise, like common marketing strategy and client service.”

To be honest, I really hoped Sandra would lose her shit after this question because I was really out of line here and trying to connect her to a drug distributor. I suspected she would be pissed off and she would make a mistake. To my great surprise, however, she sipped at her drink and simply ran over my revised tactics of pressing her with emotion no stronger than a caterpillar tractor running over an ice cube.

“Neither is true,” she explained. “I just go there sometimes to have fun. That’s all! People tend to feel bored when they drink at home, don’t they?” And she spread her arms to indicate that she meant the hotel.

“I guess they do!” I mumbled thoughtfully. “It’s weird, though, that almost everybody in your hotel feels bored!”

“What do you mean, ‘everybody’?” Sandra raised her eyebrows, puzzled.

“Well, I mean that a good deal of the people who work or check in here have more than just fun over there.” I had to explain. “I have the feeling they run some kind of business, and I think you know it.”

“Who are these people? Give me someone in particular!” Sandra suddenly wanted to know, still without losing it.

“Like a very weird couple, for example, who always wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts as if they have just returned from their vacation,” I described the albino guys because they were the first to come to mind. “I guess you’ve seen them because they’re so beachy, and weirdly enough, they never get tanned!”

At this moment, my early evening companion finally abandoned her relaxed attitude and slightly leaned toward me, lowering her voice, as she said, “You know what? I think you should be very careful with these two if your paths cross. There’s definitely something fishy about them!”

“What do you mean?” I asked her, surprised.

“I don’t know. I just don’t like them very much.”

“But you have reasons to think there’s something fishy about them, right?” I insisted.

“Well, what I know is they’re in the car business. They buy and resell old crap, or at least they say so. I suspect there’s more to it, though, because I’ve never seen them drive anything other than their own wreck!”

“The car business? No shit!” I exclaimed, uncertain, because the guys really didn’t strike me as being salesmen, and I suddenly thought they might be drug pushers or something. “Will you introduce me to them? I might actually have a proposal they’d like.”

“What proposal? You don’t mean to get rid of your car, do you?” Sandra asked skeptically.

“Well, my beauty’s kind of aged now,” I shrugged and started pulling up another show, hoping to get a whiff of something. “Maybe it’s time for us to separate.”

“You’re still talking about the old Ford you’ve been driving since you came here, right?”

“Yep. That’s exactly what I’m talking about!”

“But how could you possibly get rid of it?” Sandra pretended she believed the bullshit I was trying to sell her. “After all, the car isn’t yours, is it?”

I suddenly stared at her, terrified. I had no idea how she knew about that, but she seemed so sure that my hair bristled. Because of her extraordinary extrasensory abilities, my lame disguise as a retired circus performer went down the drain, and I remained naked and helpless in front of her like a newborn baby.

“What makes you think the car isn’t mine?” I only asked, while swallowing dryly and forgetting about my unscrupulous plan to press Sandra’s back against the wall.

“You rented the Ford. You can’t own a rented car, and you certainly can’t sell it! I mean, it would be awesome if you could pull this trick, but could you really?

After hearing this, I collapsed completely. My hair not only bristled now, but literally waved like young prairie grass in the wind, and I wondered whether my perception of things was right. Maybe I didn’t live in the real world after all, but in a parallel universe where everything happened backward, and everybody knew in advance what I was going to do in my entire life after that. Nevertheless, I made an effort to pretend—for a while longer, at least—that the contents of my head weren’t publicly available to everyone.

“But how could you even know all that?” I asked, flabbergasted.

Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure I wanted to hear the answer. It didn’t matter that much, and besides, unlike me, Sandra wasn’t a person who made bluffs at every turn, so she probably had something very reasonable in mind when she said that.

“It’s the license plate!” she explained to me. She was obviously playing a game and I had the feeling she actually liked it. “I know the owner of the car rental agency where this antique came from. He bought a bunch of them from Mexico a while ago and registered them with sequential plate numbers. People who rent them often drop by as my clients.”

I just stared at Sandra without saying anything because there was simply nothing I could say. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to. It seemed I had just fallen into my own trap, breaking my nose into the wall where I was supposed to press my opponent’s back! I actually felt like a dachshund that was so fat that his ass got stuck in the entrance of the rabbit hole every time he tried to catch prey. And now, of course, I had no other option but to make a fool of myself again.

“Well, we’re a bit short of money lately,” I mumbled, embarrassed, with almost no idea where I was going. “I know it’s not the right thing to do, but—”

“Say no more! I completely understand.” The hotel owner suddenly interrupted me, waving her hand to illustrate her generosity. “I’ll stop charging you for the room you occupy. I just didn’t know you had a problem!”

“Oh, no, no, it’s not a problem! We can pay!” I promptly backed out, just like a virgin who desperately wanted to get rid of her virginity but was ashamed of the act at the same time. And on top of that, we hadn’t even paid a dime so far!

“You should keep in mind that your idea probably won’t work though,” Sandra returned to her point right after I stopped my stupid protest. “I think you won’t be able to fob these guys off with your old beauty!”

“Really? And why is that?” I suddenly felt intrigued.

“It’s because there’s something fishy about them; I told you so! I think, just like your circus colleague, they live a double life. I suspect that their car business is just a cover.”

“A cover for what?”

“Well, I don’t know. That’s the whole idea of fishiness, isn’t it?” Sandra smiled.

“But you must have heard something!”

“I’ve heard rumors! I’ve heard they’re actually in the business of liquidating.”

“You mean like liquidating companies?” I suggested hesitantly.

“No, I mean, like liquidating people!”

A heavy and awkward silence followed her last sentence. Her words sounded so rough, and if it weren’t for these cute little lips that said them, I would have thought they were a direct threat to my life. After that, Sandra just said goodbye and stood up to go, leaving me alone at the counter. I thoughtfully watched her swaying hips as she slowly left the bar, and I wondered if there was even a single person on the entire planet who didn’t know everything about me. Probably there wasn’t. The events so far didn’t suggest I had a private life at all!

I thought about it for a while, picturing Lara and me leaving the hotel every morning and hopping into our Ford, with people gathering around with flowers and colorful banners to celebrate the famous private detective Murphy Mellrow and his assistant going on their next secret mission. At the same time, in the citadel of evil at the other end of the city, all the villains lay out the red carpet and open champagne bottles, preparing to meet the star couple appropriately. A festive mood reigns all over the streets, and out of everybody, only the detective has no clue what all this is all about, and he thinks that people in this city just like to party.

I hung out in the bar for a few more minutes, but I definitely didn’t feel like drinking anymore. My good mood had disappeared, and I slowly stood up to go to our room and see if Lara had come back via the fire escape. I started climbing up the staircase, and on my way to the fifth floor, I tried to convince myself that Sandra was joking when she made hints about liquidating people. Even if she were, though, our staying here was more than unreasonable now, after everything that had happened lately. We just couldn’t afford to ignore that fact anymore. There was one small problem, though. Lara was still missing, and the TV set in our room worked again.

I nervously stepped away from the door after I tied the lock. The latter wouldn’t yield, and that’s how I knew Lara wasn’t there—because she wouldn’t bother to lock herself inside. In fact, I didn’t even know the lock worked because I had broken it the last time and had no idea they had fixed it. Besides, the situation at the moment looked exactly like when we caught someone rummaging through our stuff two days ago, and just like then, he watched TV in our room with the sound so thunderous that the entire hotel vibrated!

While I listened to it while standing outside in the hallway and wondering what to do, I flared up. I realized I had made too many compromises about too many things lately. I was suddenly very angry with myself for keeping this stupid case still open; I was angry with Sandra for betraying me and with Lara for not being here; I was angry with Larry and Bob for not living long enough so I could break their noses in person; and I was angry with a dozen other people who didn’t have a particular connection to this case. Being so pissed off, I just turned around to go to the neighboring door, and without thinking twice, I kicked it open and rushed inside. Luckily, the noise I made was muffled by the thundering TV set behind the wall, and the room was also empty.

Then I quickly crossed over to open the balcony door. I jumped over the iron railing and stepped on the fire escape, after which I reached our balcony and jumped over its railing. Finally, I looked through our window. I saw the fucking junkie that usually sat in the elevator corner, trembling like a leaf, now stretched out on the bed like a king, his small, empty eyes fixed on the TV screen. All our stuff was scattered on the floor just like the previous time—when we returned here from Larry and Bob’s shack.

I looked at the door to the room. It was still ajar, and the dumbass had absolutely no chance to react if I stormed in—he was too relaxed. I needed less than ten seconds to put my plan into motion, rush inside, and grab him by his lean neck. The only thing he could do was scream, but fortunately, it would make no difference because of the booming TV set. Anyway, he didn’t even try that.

The jerk looked at me, surprised when I rushed inside, and he instantly realized it was terribly pointless to fight. I grabbed him and violently dragged him to the TV set to pull the cord out of the outlet, and then I pushed the bastard down on the floor, pressing his back against the bed foot with my left knee upon his chest.

“Now, you’ll tell me everything you know about everyone in this hotel and the neighborhood!” I pulled a nasty face. “And when I say everything, I mean literally everything!”

To my great surprise, the idiot looked at me relatively coolly. Clearly, my appearance and angry expression didn’t have the potential to match those of the dreadful creatures he probably met in his catatonic visions every morning in the elevator. His short, feather-like hair reminded me of Max and Moritz’s, and his loose red coat and baggy pants made him look like a Civil War volunteer who got lost and then robbed in the bushes while taking a shit.

“Oh, man, it’s too long to tell!” The dumbass opened his chapped lips to answer too brazenly for my taste. “Plus, you’d be better off not knowing!”

“Will I?” I roared angrily and slapped his face really hard with my right hand. “All the parties tonight are canceled, and there’s still a lot of time until the late-night show, so I have plenty of time to kill!”

“But why are you doing this, man? Can’t you see I’m at work? Do you even know what a responsibility it is to have a job?” The idiot naively tried to touch my morals without knowing I had none. “I really have to go back!”

“No, you absolutely don’t have to! You’ll definitely spare the people your hideous shaking in the elevator tonight! Sometimes I think you’re gonna dethatch the cabin from the cable system!”

The bastard suddenly looked at me, kind of embarrassed, and curled closer to the bed’s foot. He seemed ashamed, which surprised me because I thought he was incapable of such a feeling.

“What do you want from me anyway?” he asked me, swallowing the insult.

I loosened my grip on him just a bit so he could talk more comfortably.

“Well, just start singing. It’s not that hard for you, is it?”

“No, it’s not! I could do that, yeah. What do you want to hear? The Star-Spangled Banner alright?”

I gave him another hard slap.

“No, it’s not alright! But what you’re doing in my room—now and two days ago, would be perfectly fine!”

“But isn’t that clear, dude?!”

“It isn’t!”

“I was looking for dope! What else do you think I could do here?”

I shook my head grimly because I wanted a more elaborate answer than this. I thought that maybe I should be more uncompromising in my demands!

“Did you find any?” I gave him the next slap, and this time his pale cheek became bright red.

“No, I didn’t!” he replied worriedly because, obviously, the slaps continued no matter what he said. “And the last time I didn’t find anything either! You’re literally ruining my life, man! Here, if you don’t find anything the first time, you’re just screwed!”

“What do you mean, ‘screwed’? What’s that supposed to mean?”

The bellhop waved his hand in the air rather unclearly.

“Believe me, you wouldn’t want to know. Don’t get me wrong, man! This neighborhood is dangerous. You feel me?”

I shrugged. Clearly, my gentle approach led us nowhere and made our chat very unproductive. I removed my knee from his chest and grabbed his left wrist, twisting it sharply to make him lay on his hip.

“Listen to me, you stupid fuck!” I roared in his ear. “Not only will I want to know everything; not only will I break all your fingers and you won’t be able to hold a joint long enough to finish it; not only will you be late for work tonight, but you will also fly out of this fucking hotel riding in the back of the garbage truck! You’ve probably noticed I’m your boss’ friend, so I think you definitely know what I’m talking about! You feel me now?”

To be even more convincing, I let go of him for a brief moment and reached into the nightstand to pull my Colt out. The moron hadn’t checked out the drawers yet, despite everything else being scattered on the floor, or he had checked them out but didn’t dare touch the weapon. Anyway, I added to my threats by roughly thrusting the gun into his face.

To my surprise, my new approach worked, and the bellhop turned pale immediately. I expected it to take some time for my words to reach his shitty brain, but he started shaking right away, and he did it so badly that I doubt he would have been more scared if I had cut off his little finger with a blunt axe and made him eat it. At first, I couldn’t understand which threat on my list had the most devastating effect on him, but soon it became clear.

“But why would you wanna do this to me, dude? What have I done to you?” He started squealing and sobbing in my arms. “Do you even know what it’s like to have no job? I’ll die exactly ten minutes after I walk ten feet away from this place!”

At first, I looked at him, puzzled. It seemed he was trying to beat around the bush again, and I was just about to give him a slap with the muzzle of my gun, which was going to be a really serious escalation in the trend of violence so far when I suddenly grasped the actual reason for his nervousness. The wretch was addicted! He was so deep in shit that this hotel was like the udder of a fat heroin cow to him, and it delivered a record-breaking yield of snow into his goddamn nose every single day. It was actually my trump card against him. I got his ass now!

“Stop whining as if you’re dying!” I gritted my teeth angrily. “You know perfectly well that you’ll still have the opportunity to leech on hotel guests. All you have to do is talk!”

“What do you wanna know?” He bulged his eyes, ready to spill now. I smiled. If he opened his mouth as wide as he opened them, I was definitely in luck here.

“Well, for starters,” I began gently, “let me know why you were so sure there were drugs in my room.”

“Are you kidding?” The bellhop barked hoarsely. “Everybody has dope in this shithole. Why do you even think people visit it in the first place? Across the street is Eternity! It’s the major narcotics depot in this part of the city—a true freight yard for all kinds of drugs!”

“And you’re just robbing the guests? How do you cover your tracks, then? How come no one has smashed your stupid head yet?”

The jerk sneered at me. His unhealthy-looking yellowish teeth disgusted me when the light from the window fell on them for a moment.

“You can’t really ask me such a thing, bro! You can’t want me to tell you this. It’s my trade secret!”

I shook my head disapprovingly and tapped his head a couple of times with the barrel of my gun. My gesture did the job and convinced him to talk again.

“Most people who come here,” he explained reluctantly, “have no idea what they have in their luggage. After partying all night and leaving Eternity, they don’t even know who they are anymore. It’s a shame not to take advantage of this. It’d be the same if you had qualms about robbing a dead man!”

Here, he paused for a while, hoping he had told me enough, but I kept looking at him intensely with a grim expression. After a quarter of a minute, he realized he had been wrong in his presumption.

“The only problem is,” the bellhop continued, “that you have to be really quick in this game. You have to lay your hands on something the next morning or the evening at most because it’ll be over.”

“And why is that?” I wanted to know.

“Well, answer the question yourself! How many nights do you think people need to replenish their dope closet? They come here from neighboring counties, sometimes from neighboring states; they buy their shit; they party; they stay in the hotel until they reanimate, and then they leave. If you miss the window, you might have to wait for a while before you get another chance, and if it happens to be long, it’s a real hell, you know! You simply have no fucking idea what it’s like—the terrible nights, the nightmares, the awful mornings, the sweating, your muscle pain—!”

Since I didn’t want to hear about his muscle pain, I stopped him immediately.

“Okay, okay! I know the picture very well. I’ve seen you in the elevator!”

The bellhop recoiled again as he heard my accusation. It was weird because most drug addicts didn’t realize they had a problem while still using. This one was different, though. At the same time, I remembered that Sandra told me just the same thing when we first met—Eternity and Cacadulu shared pretty much the same pool of clients. I wanted to make the bastard tell me more about his boss’ role in this joint venture, but I was afraid he would fall back if I pushed him too hard. His boss was a tough woman! After knowing how rough she could be with people like me, I could only imagine how she treated dumbasses like him. So I decided to leave these questions for later.

“Tell me about the supply chain now!” I asked him instead. “There are two black scumbags who deliver stuff to the owner of Eternity. They were small fish but suddenly turned into traffickers, and now they’re on the gravy train. How did that happen?”

The wretch turned his yellow eyeballs to look at me and grinned condescendingly. I knew my question was too much for him because he was nobody, but I hoped he had heard something on the street. Maybe he had even heard something about Sonya.

“Aren’t you modest here?” He clicked his teeth, ridiculing me. “Why don’t you ask me how Pablo Escobar is doing his thing?”

“There’s also a green-eyed chick who hangs around with them.” I ignored his sneer. “I believe you’ve seen her. She’s a good looker—the type of girl who usually wouldn’t involve herself with pieces of shit like them.”

“Well, Ginny was a good looker too, and she shouldn’t have involved herself with Bugsy, but what do we know about love and friendship? Right?”

I just shrugged and raised my hand with the gun.

“What the fuck, dude? Are you goddamn nuts?” The idiot immediately screamed in terror. “How could you expect me to know such stuff?! No one gives me a fucking account of how they run their business. I don’t even care how they do it as long as the dope keeps coming!”

I slowly put down the weapon. I was bluffing, actually; I only wanted to give him a little push.

“What about Villa Nueva, then?” I moved on with my interrogation.

“What about it?” The bellhop licked his lips.

“What do you know? Unleash your imagination!”

“Well, that’s a really nice spot!” Quite expectantly, the junkie started fooling around. “Spanish style, a lovely garden, at least ten bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms with Jacuzzis… There’s a really wonderful porch out front, and the swimming pool is just swell! You know, I would absolutely lo-o-ove to—”

No matter how unpleasant it felt, I raised my hand again and roughly thrust the barrel of my gun into his disgusting mouth because just encouraging the bustard to talk obviously didn’t work. My poor iron friend! I really hoped he would forgive me for the humiliation I bestowed upon him.

“You know very well what kind of information I care about!” I hissed viciously.

“I know nothing, man!” The miserable fuck gabbled worriedly and hideously slobbered on my weapon. Terrified, I pulled the Colt out of his mouth and wiped it on his shabby red coat.

“Next bump on the road, and I’m thrusting this thing into your asshole and pulling the trigger!” I warned him. “No one will hear a thing, and you’ll suffer terribly!”

I bluffed again, of course. I couldn’t even imagine doing such a thing to my Colt! Luckily, the asshole wised up immediately and didn’t decide to test me.

“I know nothing!” he repeated mournfully. “I just drove Sandra to the mansion once when she had a broken leg. That’s all I can tell you!”

“And what was she doing there?”

“I have no idea. Probably putting legs over the guy’s shoulders.”

“Why do you think she did that?”

“Because she stayed inside for just the right amount of time to have a good fuck, and then, when she came out, her hair was messy as hell. Two days later, a brand-new Porsche popped up in front of the hotel. Sandra doesn’t have the money, you know.”

Well, well! This could really be something,” I thought, intrigued. “It could be a lead!

“When did that happen?” I asked him afterward.

The bellhop pursed his lips and made an indefinite gesture, which could easily mean something between two days and two hundred years. I was sure that even if I asked him how old he was, he would answer the same. Just like the bartender, he lived in the moment.

“A month or a few months ago, maybe. I’m not exactly sure!” He proved me right after taking almost half a minute to think.

“And you never saw the guy coming around after that?”

He repeated his gesture, and in addition, he jerked his head diagonally—whatever it was supposed to mean.

“Who is he?” I kept asking him.

“Have no idea. Some big shot who breeds Porsches in his garage, obviously!”

I looked at him, not particularly satisfied, and thought about the situation. His words shed a different light on Sandra’s character and portrayed her as a woman who loved playing double games. Unless, of course, the guy from Villa Nueva was somehow connected to the boss of Eternity, which was quite possible too! The wretch promptly used the short pause to make my interrogation go sideways.

“You’re asking too many questions, you know that?” He looked at me cunningly with the contracted pupils of a junkie. They had shrunk almost to pinhead size. “You a cop or something?”

“Neither! I’m a homicidal maniac!” I turned my head toward him. “And I get outrageously pissed off when asked stupid questions!”

“So where did you hide it, man? Tell me!” He didn’t stop nagging. “Your dope! It must have been some very obvious place; it’s a matter of professional interest for me to know that!”

“Believe me, you’d be better off not knowing. This secret is dangerous. You feel me?” I answered in his style. “And also, I think you might want to keep me posted if Sandra’s boyfriend comes around again. I hope it’ll be soon!”

“Sure thing!” the jerk agreed without even thinking for a second. “I, too, hope it’ll be soon. You’ll know it right away!”

I didn’t actually like the fact that he succumbed so quickly, and I thought he would most probably blow me off, but I couldn’t do anything about it now.

“So what exactly would my benefit be? What do I get from our deal, huh?” the moron looked at me hopefully after a while, trying to negotiate something for himself.

“You’ll know that when the time comes,” I grunted evasively.

“Oh, man, these are the kinds of benefits I don’t like!” he said with a long face. “Usually, the only good thing coming out of these is the feeling of hope as you wait. But you can’t live on hope, right?”

Then he licked his lips and tried to smile disarmingly at me. His expression was terrible; I was ready to do anything to get him to stop smiling.

“You do know what kind of benefits I like! Do you?” he asked brazenly, glancing meaningfully at the scattered stuff on the floor.

“And you do know how easily I get mad! Do you?” I hissed threateningly.

“Okay, okay, goddamnit!” He backed out quickly. “You don’t have to be so touchy, dude! You’ll know even without me telling you anyway. When the time comes, I’ll simply disappear from the elevator for a while. This guy’s lousy with dope, man. I won’t miss my chance!”

I frowned because I didn’t see how his disappearing from the elevator suited me. When I noticed he had disappeared, it was going to be too late for me!

“Didn’t you just say you had seen the guy just once? Did you lie to me?” I asked him angrily and suddenly hit him with the Colt across his mouth. His upper lip immediately split open, and a gush of blood spurted all over his face. I hated it, but I had no other option. Obviously, the jerk didn’t take me seriously enough, so I had to change my approach again.

“Why did you do it?” The bellhop screamed and cuddled at the foot of the bed, terrified.

I slowly put my face closer to his and looked him in the eyes. He was trembling with fear and wanted to pull further back, but there was nowhere he could go.

“Listen to me very carefully!” I said to him in an icy voice. “I’ll ask you a couple of questions now, and then I will let you go. But it’s up to you what condition you’ll be in. So think twice before answering! Got it?”

He held his lips in his right hand, frightened, and looked at me without answering. His eyes were wide open, which was kind of creepy because his pupils were so damn small.

“Your boss clearly has business relationships with the boss of Eternity,” I went on without waiting for his reply. “And it’s clearly not just about clients. There’s something else, and this hotel is a front for it. I wanna know what it is!”

The bellhop swallowed dryly.

“I don’t know too much. I swear!” He said worriedly. “At first, it was about clients. But then, Sandra started visiting Eternity quite often—sometimes late at night—and her financial status suddenly improved. I suspect she launders for him, but I’m not sure.”

“What’s his name? The guy who owns the joint across the street?”

“Tanaka, Jonathan Tanaka.”

“I’m not so sure about the laundering, you know,” I said skeptically. “Think more about it! The man seems rich enough to funnel everything through his own company. Why would he need a stinky hotel located less than fifty yards from the place where he distributes tons of drugs?”

The junkie shrugged, or at least tried. He was too scared and nervous.

“Sometimes Sandra makes business trips outta state,” he went on hesitantly. “Then, all of a sudden, a whole bunch of guests checks in here. I think she acts as a marketing manager for him or something. There’s really no way to know what’s really going on!”

I thought about it. It was an unexpected new angle, but she might have had this role. It surely made sense.

“How many clients come and go every month?” I kept asking. “In the ballpark, at least.”

“They’re not too many, but they come regularly. And they’re all rich. They don’t even know how much money they have in their wallets!”

“People of power?” I wanted to know, ignoring the fact that my questions had become more than a couple now. The bellhop didn’t choose to seek his rights or protest. He just nodded.

“And the owner of Villa Nueva. What’s his name?”

He shrugged.

“He’s in the deal too?” I went on questioning him.

“I told you, I don’t know him! I’ve been in his front yard for half an hour just once.”

“But you know too well he’s lousy with dope!” I frowned irritably and waved the gun in the air. “You some fucking prophet or what?”

“No, I’m not! I know it because Sandra comes loaded every time she pays him a visit!” the bellhop raised his voice. “The man is stuffed!”

“How could you possibly know she comes loaded?” I asked him, suspicious. “Don’t tell me you hit your boss’ room too!”

The idiot looked at me, surprised and blinking, and then, he suddenly realized he had fucked up really bad. He suddenly lost control and started shaking terribly; he literally tried to crawl under the bed.

“Okay, okay, take it easy now!” I tried to calm him down, happy to have him in my hands. “I don’t care about that! I don’t wanna know as long as you keep your damn mouth shut about our little conversation here. Now focus on the last questions! Do you know a whore who likes butterflies enough to wear one printed on her ass?”

His eyes fixed on mine, puzzled at first, and then he nodded barely. “She’s an ex-prostitute,” he explained. “She used to work in the area, but at some point, she was promoted to deliver girls for Tanaka’s clients. Originally one of his thugs used to do it, but I guess he didn’t do a good job.”

“Oh, there’s a side business with girls, then! It’s not just about dope.”

He looked at me rather weirdly. “Eternity’s a strip joint, man! Of course, it’s about girls too. Where there is dope, there are always girls!”

I pursed my lips and accepted his answer because I couldn’t disagree. I thought for a moment and wondered what else I could ask him, but there weren’t many things on my mind. He was just a piece of shit—he was nobody! Then I remembered something.

“You know what? There’s one more thing,” I said. “There’s a very strange couple—a man and woman who hang around here and across the street sometimes. They always wear beach clothes, and they look quite ridiculous. I’m sure you’ve seen them a lot!”

“Why do you want to know about them?” The bellhop swallowed tensely, and I noticed he felt uncomfortable. He was sweating profoundly.

“Tell me who they are!”

“Why are you asking me about them?” He suddenly shivered.

“Well, you know full well that I’m the one who is supposed to ask questions, don’t you?” I used my weapon to make him see my point. I tried not to be too aggressive, though; I didn’t mean to hit him anymore.

The guy kept looking at the Colt for a while, but I wasn’t really sure he was seeing it. His shaking became more intense, and I thought I might lose him soon. Then, surprisingly, I heard him say, “They’re aliens!”

At first, I thought he was making fun of me, and the impulse to give him a tap on the head with my gun seized me, but then I checked myself.

“Who told you that? The bartender?” I remembered the crazy theory my other weird friend had.

The junkie didn’t hear my last question. He had already entered the phase of total unresponsiveness—probably because of the strong emotions he had experienced for the last fifteen minutes—and his eyes were watery now, and I couldn’t see any sign of reason in them.

“Okay, you can fuck off!” I quickly said to get rid of him before he lost consciousness, here in my room. I really didn’t want to drag him along the corridor all the way to the elevator.

It turned out I had definitely underestimated the bastard! I hadn’t even finished my fairly short last sentence yet when the jerk jumped up like a wound-up spring and shot himself toward the balcony door. It was just unbelievable seeing him do it so soon after he lay helpless at my feet. Before I knew it, he was gone—down from the fire escape platform on the fifth floor.

I thought I would never see him again. I was sure he had suffered a terrible death, but when I stepped out onto the balcony and looked down, he was nowhere in sight. I could not see his lean body bouncing off the iron stairs, lying smashed on the broken sidewalk, or cuddling in some of the dumpsters nearby. He had vanished into thin air!

Right at this moment, I heard someone banging on the door behind me. I quickly stepped into the room and went to unlock and answer it. It was Lara. She had just missed the show. As soon as I opened the door, she rushed inside, skirted around me, and flopped on the bed with her shoes on, puffing. She was sweating heavily; she literally had the appearance of someone who had crossed the Sinai desert on their way to the Promised Land!

“The weather’s just unbelievable!” I heard her swear after she took a deep breath. “My cunt feels like a stewed plum!”

“Where have you been?” I asked her while ignoring the overly descriptive part at the end of her sentence.

“Where haven’t I!”

Then she suddenly noticed the blood on the floor.

“What has happened here?” she grunted, bewildered.

“It’s nothing. I just cut myself while shaving my beard.”

“Did you shave on the bed?” Lara was astonished.

I shrugged. She also shrugged and pulled the sheet from under her body, flinging it at her feet because it was already wet from her sweat. Then she kicked it on the floor and turned around, and soon after, she stopped moving. She seemed asleep, or at least pretended to be asleep; I couldn’t tell for sure.

I looked at her for a while and went to the balcony for a quick cigarette. It was already getting dark. As I smoked, I thought about Lara. Lately, she was acting very strangely—something was definitely wrong with her. She was too secretive and moody and would go out early in the day and alone, which was very untypical of her. And it wasn’t like the weather was so pleasant and encouraging for outdoor activities! I thought that first thing in the morning, I would tell her that we had to leave the hotel and move to my place. Things were getting too complicated and dangerous here!

I stayed onto the balcony until I finished the cigarette and then finished another one. After that, I stepped back inside and turned the TV on, lying on the bare mattress beside Lara. After having such a peaceful and relaxing day, I didn’t feel like sleeping, but I had nothing else to do except watch some stupid show or news. After an hour and a half of staring at the screen, I finally dozed off with my head full of crap, and almost in my dream, I thought that my crazy friends—the bum with the tin basin and the bartender—were probably right about television after all. It really had the power to brainwash people and turn them into fucking zombies.

A couple of minutes later, I fell into Morpheus’ arms for the rest of the night.

©2022 S.T. Fargo


Damn you, Detective!—Chapter 19 | a Crime Story by S.T. Fargo

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