Friday, October 7, 2016

room 3-h

by nick nelson

illustrations by konrad kraus

i took a cab back to the old hotel.

i did not think anybody would recognize me.

i had called ahead and reserved room 3-h, the one i had stayed in years ago.

i paid the driver and went inside, under the same crummy old awning as before.

there was nobody behind the desk. i hit the bell.

the same old lady i remembered from before, came out.

she did not seem to recognize me. i signed in and she gave me the key, hardly looking at me.

i went up the room. it was a little smaller than i remembered.

so here i was, back in the room where it had happened.

where i had murdered shirley. exactly five years ago.

had the old lady remembered me? would she call detective jackson - if he was still alive and on the local force - or some other detective or policeperson?

i opened my little bag. i took the cheap glass vase out of it, and the red roses.

i filled the vase with water, and put the flowers in the vase and put the vase on the little table beside the bed.

i opened the drawer of the table. the same gideon bible - or a gideon bible - was in it. i did not take it out but closed the drawer.

i had done what i had come to do. but i just sat there, thinking about things.

finally there was a knock on the door.

it opened before i could get up. detective jackson walked in. wearing his same heavy overcoat, even though it was kind of warm out.

“hello, jackson, “ i said.

“hello, johnny, what are you doing here?”

“i just came to pay my respects.” i nodded at the vase with the flowers, but jackson did not follow my gaze.

“i got someone here i would like you to meet.” jackson said.

he stepped aside and a girl stepped into the room.

shirley. or her twin, or her double.

“is that you, shirley?” i asked.

“it’s me, johnny.” there was no mistaking her voice.

“then who - “ i started to say.

“who was the girl you murdered?” jackson asked. “she was a girl named gloria hardy. she just looked like shirley.”

i nodded. “so you are you going to take me in now?”

“no,’ jackson said with a smile. “you see, johnny, you were just a pawn in the game. we pinned gloria hardy’s murder on mike gaspard, a real bad guy we had been after for a long time. a drug dealer, a white slaver, a child pornographer, a money launderer for terrorists. and all that. so you served your purpose.”

“i see, “ i said. “this mike gaspard, was he really all those things?”

jackson laughed. “what do you care? the point is, it’s all over. you can go anywhere you want.”

“you are free, now, johnny,” shirley added. “free as a bird.”

i looked at shirley. “maybe - maybe we could get together again.”

“i don’t think so, johnny.”

“why not?”

“i never really liked you that much. you were kind of boring. and stupid.”

“yeah. yeah, i guess i was.”

“it’s been great seeing you, johnny,” said jackson. “but we will leave you now.”

they both left. shirley closed the door behind them without looking back at me.

i went over to the window and looked down.

i saw them get into an unmarked car. i had the impression they were going away together, to some place far far away, but it was no business of mine.

they drove away.

like shirley said, i was free now. free as a bird.

but how free is a bird?

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