International Writers Magazine: Chicago Weekend
said I was perfect. An English girl, unassuming. No-one would
suspect a thing. The job was perfect for me too. $500 cash in
hand and no work permit required. All I had to do was spend a
weekend in Chicago
It was hot in the
corridor outside Harry J Wilks office. I wiped some sweat from my cheek
and breathed a sigh of relief. I could give the $500 to Danny. Id
tell him my mum had sent it. Id tell him I was going to stay with
my friend Heidi for a couple of days
The flight from Los Angeles to Chicago was crowded. There was no food
on board, just coffee and some dry salted nuts. I wished I had eaten
something before I left home but there was no time now. My instructions
were to take a cab to the Sunrise Motel, check in and wait. Just wait
Harry said. Hed call me when I got there.
A light drizzle fell into the darkness as my cab pulled into the entrance.
I didnt know if we were north or south of the city, it was just
an address to me, but I knew we were somewhere way out of town on the
freeway. The driver seemed a little uneasy as he lifted my suitcase
from the trunk.
"Are you sure this is the right place maam? You want me to
I checked my address again. "No, no its fine thanks"
I said trying my best to sound like everything was OK.
The sign above the entrance was half illuminated. The first three letters
of the word "SUNRISE" were blacked out and the letters that
were lit were flickering dumbly, as if they couldnt decide whether
to stay alight or succumb to the gloom.
The electric doors swung open and the first thing I noticed was the
glass. An enormous shield of transparent perspex wrapped itself around
the reception area, from floor to ceiling, meaning that the staff had
to speak through little amplified grills in the middle. I could tell
the glass was a necessity and not some paranoid security measure because
there were already some bullet shaped dents in it.
The second thing I noticed was the smell. Like rotting vegetables, a
putrid, humid smell, like nothing Id ever encountered. The blonde
woman in the nylon uniform behind the glass looked embarrassed. She
was hoping I wouldnt ask about it because then she would have
to explain the whole damn thing all over again. How Mikey Hunter the
permanent resident who lived on the ninth floor had gotten a little
drunk one night. How the lift doors had opened and he had stepped in
on his way down to the lobby for some cigarettes, but the lift wasnt
actually there that night, just a long drop down the shaft into the
darkness. That fucking maintenance man. Lazy goddamn asshole. Everybody
knew the lift was out of order. But poor old Mikey, he fell in the hole
and his body had lain there a week before anyone knew he was gone. That
was two weeks ago. Theyd tried to clean the place up after the
police had done their forensic search. But nothing could get rid of
the smell. Jesus Christ, no-one should have to work in this place
"The elevator is out of order honey" said the blonde as she
handed me my keys. I asked if I could get something to eat, even though
I was feeling a little sick by now. She told me there was a Dennys
diner just across the freeway or a machine on the third floor that sold
coffee and candy. I made my way to the staircase past the lift, the
yellow and black emergency tape placed in a cross over the doors belatedly
warning that nobody should enter.
Once in my room I threw myself onto the bed. God, this was a dump. The
carpet was stained and stuck to your feet as you walked. The bathroom
stank of mould. I took out my mobile phone. Damn it! I had forgotten
to turn it back on after the flight. There were three messages from
Danny already. He seemed in quite a good mood on the first one, he was
wishing me a good weekend. The second one was telling me to switch on
my goddamn phone, he had something he needed to talk to me about and
the third one said how he had just called Heidi to see if I was there
yet and she told him she hadnt seen me in a week. Where the fuck
was I ?
I was beginning to wonder myself. I looked in the mirror
week. I rubbed at the dark shadows under my eyes to see if my mascara
had run, but it was tiredness etched on my face. My own dark eyes stared
back at me in the silence. I knew Danny was a dead end relationship.
Co-dependent I think they call it. But how could I break away with no
money and no job? And now here I am in this godforsaken hole. How did
I possibly think I could get away with it? I knew about the man who
had died in the lift. Harry had told me how the police had put it down
to an accident but that the motel manager thought there was more to
it than that. The place had been infested by a teenage drugs gang, theyd
flooded the place with crack, using the joint like a shopfront and they
were demanding more and more protection money every week. They told
the manager his children would go on a one way trip to Disneyland if
he ever spoke to the cops so thats why he had called on Harry
for some advice. And Harry knew I was desperate for a job. He knew my
visa had run out and it just so happened he needed an assistant fast,
no questions asked. He said Id be perfect. Just spend a couple
of days as a guest at the hotel and Ill join you there on Sunday
he said. "Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut."
so thats what Ill do. Maybe I wont even leave
my room. Yeah, thats right, Ill just lock the door and stay
here all weekend and Ill tell Harry I didnt see a thing.
My heart was beating faster now. I was going to have to phone Danny
and come up with something. Theres no way I could tell him the
truth, hed kill me. Hed say "What the fuck?" and
call me every dumb bitch under the sun. I just needed to sit it out,
thats all. Id read a little and the time would fly. Id
call Danny a bit later. Maybe Harry would call soon too. If only I wasnt
Maybe I could just quickly go up to the next landing
and get something to eat from the machine, itd only take a minute
I chose a Hershey bar and some black coffee and was making my way back
along the hall when a voice rang out from behind me.
"Hey lady! Where you going with that coffee ?"
I stopped dead in my tracks for a moment, too scared to look around.
Then I carried on walking.
"I said bitch, where you going with that coffee?" This time
I could feel his breath on my neck behind me.
"Just back to my room. Been travelling all day. Got to get up early
in the morning."
The voice softened a little and he laughed. "Where you get that
Where you from baby? Hey Marv, check this out! Bitch
sounds like the Queen of England"
A boy of about 19 came out of a doorway in front of me, he was bare-chested
and his eyes were red and crazed. A gun hung loosely from his belt.
"Christ, I wish I was!" I said in my best English accent as
loudly as I could, and the two of them began laughing just long enough
for me to push past and run back down the stairway
Back in my room my heart was thumping me in the chest. They had seen
.Thank God they were so out of it
maybe they wouldnt
remember me in the morning, maybe they hadnt seen my face
What am I talking about ? Of course theyd remember me
I sat back on the bed and held my head in my hands. I was reaching for
the phone to call Harry when out of the gloom came a heavy knock at
the door. I nearly leapt out of my skin. I tried to calm myself by thinking
that it was only the maid. But it wasnt the maid. A mans
voice began to call my name. I looked towards the door and realised
I had forgotten to put the chain on the door. There was nothing for
it. I was going to have to open it and see who was there or climb out
of the window and run. Either way I knew it was going to be a long weekend
© Alison Shaw - November 2006
Alison is studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University
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