The International Writers Magazine: Chicago Weekend

The Long Weekend
Ali Shaw

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. I’d tell him my mum had sent it. I’d 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. He’d call me when I got there.

A light drizzle fell into the darkness as my cab pulled into the entrance. I didn’t 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 ma’am? You want me to wait ?"
I checked my address again. "No, no it’s 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 couldn’t 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 I’d ever encountered. The blonde woman in the nylon uniform behind the glass looked embarrassed. She was hoping I wouldn’t 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 wasn’t 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. They’d 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 Denny’s 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 hadn’t seen me in a week. Where the fuck was I ?

I was beginning to wonder myself. I looked in the mirror ….33 next 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, they’d 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 that’s 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 I’d be perfect. Just spend a couple of days as a guest at the hotel and I’ll join you there on Sunday he said. "Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut."
OK…so that’s what I’ll do. Maybe I won’t even leave my room. Yeah, that’s right, I’ll just lock the door and stay here all weekend and I’ll tell Harry I didn’t see a thing.

My heart was beating faster now. I was going to have to phone Danny and come up with something. There’s no way I could tell him the truth, he’d kill me. He’d say "What the fuck?" and call me every dumb bitch under the sun. I just needed to sit it out, that’s all. I’d read a little and the time would fly. I’d call Danny a bit later. Maybe Harry would call soon too. If only I wasn’t so hungry…Maybe I could just quickly go up to the next landing and get something to eat from the machine, it’d 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 accent from? …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 me now….Thank God they were so out of it…maybe they wouldn’t remember me in the morning, maybe they hadn’t seen my face…. What am I talking about ? Of course they’d 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 wasn’t the maid. A man’s 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 of Portsmouth
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