The elevator doors closed and, with their mirror finish on the inside, Holly inspected her disguise carefully. The red wig, covering her own graying hair, looked natural. It should for the price she paid. And the tasteful navy pantsuit fit the image perfectly, all very professional. Just as she wanted it. Her clipboard looked official, her gloves, the case. Everything in place.
It really is a shame it’s come to this.
The bell rang as the elevator stopped on the ninth floor, and Holly’s reflected image split in half as a hallway opened up before her. Near the end of the hall was a cart of cleaning supplies. Just what she had been looking for.
On top of the cart was a small transistor radio. Probably Japanese, she thought. They’re always making electronic trinkets these days. Blasting out of the little speaker were the opening bars of ‘Gimme Shelter’. Out of the open door next to the cart came a kid who looked like just the type to be listening to that noise: a greasy-haired young man, whose vacant stare snapped into surprise when he saw her. His name tag read ‘Joey’.
“Is something wrong, ma’am?” he said, looking at her bag and clipboard, his right hand clutching his spray bottle, while his left held a damp rag.
“Not at all,” she said, “you’re just in the room I’m to inspect. I trust the front desk was correct in saying that it’s not occupied?” “Oh yeah, it’s totally empty. Just got done cleaning it myself, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong on the inspection, ma’am.”
Joey looked nervous. She couldn’t have a nervous kid getting in her way.
“My inspection has nothing to do with your cleaning, Joey, though I’m sure you’ve done a fine job. This concerns California State Regulations on hotel rooms. An associate of mine will be up here shortly, as well.”
He nodded his head in understanding, his long hair flopping around as he did so. Where did they hire these people? “No problem, ma’am. You have a good time with your inspecting, then.”
He went on about his business, nodding, and listening to those Rolling Stones of his, taking his cart further down the hall to a room on the other side. It really is a wonder, she thought, how easy it was to get past him. Is a clipboard and pantsuit all it takes for these bums?
The room was 918. She went in, closed the door with her gloved hand, locked it, and sat her black, faux-leather case down on the bureau. She took note of where everything was. The window was across from the door, and at this height, and time of day, it was very unlikely anyone would be able to see inside from the street.
Scanning the room, she took notice of one of the beds. She strained as she lifted up the mattress without disturbing the newly-laid linens as best she could, which were of a garish red. Another stroke of good luck. If any blood should get on them, it would probably not even be noticed, provided it was blotted away quickly. Underneath the bed and box spring was ample space for his small frame, and with the bed skirt across the bottom, nobody would see anything.
In the bathroom were fresh towels, which she gathered up and sat on the bed. Two large ones, two hand towels, and four washcloths. All of them orange. It would probably be enough. It would have to be, in any case. The throw-pillow was dense and thick, which was good. She figured that if he sat on the bed, facing the window, the shot would exit his head and end up somewhere in the corner where a small hole likely wouldn’t be found.
Quickly, she looked outside to see if the No. 6 bus was pulling up. Checking her watch, she still had six and a half minutes, and that’s if it were exactly on time. Ten minutes, then.
Holly went back to her case and unzipped it. From it she pulled the Beretta 70, its magazine, and a silencer. She double-checked the chamber. A gun is always loaded, especially when it isn’t. Seeing that it was clean, with smooth action, she screwed on the silencer, inserted the magazine, and pulled back on the slide to bring one .32 ACP round into the chamber, waiting to do its grim business in less than twenty minutes, give or take.
She hid the gun carefully under one of the pillows near the towels, where Stan wouldn’t see it. Handle toward her for ease of access. Everything was in place.
She would fire, catch his head on the pillow, and wrap the towels around him to stop the blood from getting everywhere. Then, difficult as it would be, she’d get his body under the bed, hope that the gunshot – though suppressed – wouldn’t have aroused suspicion, and make sure everything looked completely normal. With the satchel of money and her own black case, she would exit the room, head straight for the elevator, and leave Los Angeles. And good riddance.
Standing by the window, she had nothing else to do but wait for the bus to come.
One of the new 71 Cadillacs drove by. Bright, shining red. Maybe she’d get one of those when she’d settled down and the smoke cleared.
After all, it was the least Stan could do for her after those years, all those things they’d done. It’s not like she’d even wanted to do it, but he was always so persuasive. “Just think of the quality of life,” he’d say when talking about the ransom money, “no more worrying about anything at all. You’ll have your balcony, overlooking the ocean, fresh sea breeze filling our lungs. It’s all within our reach, honey!”
And, stupidly, she believed it. That persuasiveness was one thing she was happy to have learned from him, and it almost made her laugh that it would be used against him.
The business was far too serious, and far too prone to go wrong for her to start laughing now. If she was to have any freedom, any of life of her own, any kind of distance between past and future, then everything had to go one way and one way only. Sure, part of her hoped that he’d been caught at the drop off. But knowing him, he’d pin her as an accomplice and soon the police would be on her, too. At least she wouldn’t go down alone.
Either way, if he didn’t come off of that bus with satchel in hand, she would leave the hotel immediately and drive for as long and far as she could. She would not be taking any chances.
At 4:12, the bus finally arrived. White with its thin red and yellow stripes across the middle, it stood out among all the other traffic like a big white whale. Several people got off, while Holly looked intently. She counted the people getting off. Three, four, five – where is he? Other people are already beginning to get on. For a second, it was beginning to look like she would need to resort to plan B, but just as a group of three old women were stepping on, there went Stan, awkwardly pushing past them on his way out, satchel in hand.
Holly felt a coldness run through her as she saw him, and once he was close enough to the hotel, she put the radio up to her mouth.
“I’m in room 918,” she said.
He gave a little wave to show that he’d heard her through his earpiece and went into the hotel lobby below her.
Another quick inspection of the room, another ‘play-though’, in her mind of where she would stand, what she would say, and how she would direct him. She breathed heavily, feeling for the first time that it may actually work.
There was a knock at the door a few minutes later. Holly saw Stan through the peephole and opened the door for him, locking it back up after he brushed past her. He was out of breath and sweating in his stark black suit.
“Did you take the stairs up here?” she asked.
“No,” he said, “it’s just nerve-wracking carrying this thing around.”
He slumped the old, brown leather satchel on one of the beds and proceeded to open it. If it was all accounted for, Holly was looking at $750,000 in cash.
“You can see if it’s all there,” he continued, wiping his face with his handkerchief. “I obviously didn’t have any time to count it since the drop. I gave it a quick looking-through to make sure it wasn’t just a few hundreds on top with nothing below. I wasn’t followed, as best I could tell. No funny business like last time, but still, I shouldn’t have chosen a bus. You know, taking public transportation in this town with all of this was taking an awful risk, Holly.”
Indeed, it had been a ridiculous idea, but he was so certain, at the time, that it was better than having a car that could be recognized and remembered. She’d argued against it, but he was already set in his mind. Nothing else she could do.
“Then why did you do it?”
“I couldn’t think of anything else and we were running out of time. But shit, Holly, you have no idea how many people were staring at that case. We’re going to have to rethink our whole system after this one, that’s for sure. This haul will give us plenty of time, though.”
“Just as soon as we figure out where we’re going,” she said. He let out a heavy sigh.
“Holly, why do you think we’re here? Have you been doing anything at all today except sitting around and waiting for me to come? We’re supposed to be a team, remember? And if you can’t get your head together on this, then we’re going to have a problem. A serious problem.”
Holly got up and shut the case, taking it off the bed and making note of how he was sitting, which was facing the bureau with his hands folded. He wasn’t in a good enough spot and she’d have to move him.
“We can discuss it right now,” she said. “Clearly you haven’t thought of anything, either, other than your famous ‘drive to Mexico’ plan, which I’m almost certain is nowhere near as easy as you make it out to be.”
“Damn it! Will you quit hounding me on that? How am I supposed to get anything done if you’re going to be here shooting down every idea I have?”
“And how are we supposed to not attract attention with you yelling like this? Keep your voice down, Stan. It’s dangerous.”
He let out another impatient breath. “Why do I even bother asking you? It would be much simpler if I just took a map and found a place on my own. But no, you have to have some say in it, too. And you absolutely insist on everything waiting until the very last minute. How’s that for dangerous?”
Holly sat down on the bed next to him and lit herself a cigarette.
“You and I both know,” she said, blowing smoke into the rest of the room, “that if you think about something for too long, you worry yourself to death and are liable to make a mistake. I’d give you more time if you could be trusted with it, Stan.”
Stan shook his head as he stared off blankly at the wall.
“You don’t think that having to risk our freedom, and my life, on these pick-ups isn’t enough to earn your trust? Holly, you know I love you, but let’s just get this over with and be done with it. I can’t handle this any more. I don’t even know why I listen to you in the first place!”
Stan got up and paced around the room, wiping his face with his hands in frustration. She couldn’t use this. She had to get him to sit in just the right spot, otherwise one little slip-up could ruin the whole thing. Her stomach was already in a knot, and with every little nervous tic from him, it twisted that much more.
“First you’re going to have to calm down,” she said. “I am calm!”
“You know you need to calm down before we talk about something serious. You need to pay exact attention, remember everything clearly, and be willing to keep your cool when it’s time to act. Right now, though, you’re too agitated, and when people get agitated, they make mistakes. And when people like us make mistakes, it all falls apart. You understand?”
Stan nodded, but he still kept pacing and looking off into space. She got up, snuffed the half-smoked cigarette in the ashtray, and held him in her arms. Even having to do so felt strange to her, as though through her touch he’d feel what it was she was going to do to him. Would he feel her nervousness? Would he react and somehow see her betrayal?
But he didn’t. He softened in her touch, even as far as letting her take off his jacket, and she knew that’s when she could guide him. “I want you to sit down,” she said, indicating one edge of the bed nearest the window, “and look out there.”
Despite the impatience on his part, Stan did as he was instructed.
“So what am I supposed to be looking at?”
“Just relax, Stanley. I know you’re upset, and I know this has been terrible and difficult, but you have to let yourself be calm. I want you to breathe slowly, and look out the window.”
Stan’s breathing began to slow, and she watched him intently. The wrong movement at the wrong time could throw everything off.
“Look out there,” she said, pointing through the window, “what do you see?” “The sky?”
“And what’s significant about that sky?”
“I don’t know, it’s just the sky. It’s clear, I guess.”
“Exactly,” she said, inching towards the pillow on the other bed behind him. “It’s clear, and if you let yourself feel clear, then your future will be clear.”
He swung around quickly to look at her, which made her heart skip a beat. She showed nothing on her face. “Have you been talking with that hippy kid outside?”
She smiled. “Don’t be ridiculous. Keep looking, Stanley. You need to have a clear head or else this whole thing may come crashing down on us. Do you trust me?”
There was an uncomfortably long pause between her question and his answer, which made her blood run cold.
“Yeah,” he said, turning back to the window, “sorry.”
“It’s all right. Just keep looking out there. Or close your eyes. Whichever. Just imagine how nice it’ll be when we’re off in some little town where no one knows who we are, not having to worry about a single thing, because it’s all done. It’s all behind us, without anyone to tell us what to do, where to go, or anything.”
She saw his eyes close as he breathed much more slowly. Without any more hesitation, she gripped the handle of the Beretta 70 in her right hand, and took the pillow firmly in her left. His eyes were still closed. The angle would be just about right.
“Can you see it?” she said, as she raised the gun and pillow into position.
“Yeah,” he said, “I think I can.”
The time had come, as though everything had come down and converged on this one point, with all signs blaring and flashing to do it.
Don’t waste any more time.
Don’t let him turn around, just do it.
As she put her finger on the trigger, there was the sound of the lock being opened and within a second, the greasy-haired cleaning kid came barging through the room.
“Sorry guys, I just forgot my—“
Without thinking, Holly instinctively swung the pistol around and fired at the kid.
The report from the suppressed pistol was still loud, like a car door being slammed, but far quieter than it would have been otherwise.
Two shots missed as he scrambled out the door, but one hit him square in the shoulder. At least that’s what it looked like for what brief a time she saw him. And for a split second, she forgot about Stan.
Suddenly, there was a hand around hers, and she felt Stan up against her, pushing his weight against hers, trying with all his might to wrest the gun away from her.
“What the hell are you doing!?” he yelled as they fell to the floor.
In the struggle, two more shots rang out, one hitting the bed and another shattering the sink in the bathroom. For the tiniest moment, she could see the silencer smoking.
He slammed her hand against the bureau until she finally let go of the pistol. He kicked it away, and though she made a lunge for it, he was already there to knock her, stunned, across the room, where she hit the wall hard.
“So this is how you thank me, huh?” he said, as he got up to his feet, picked up the gun, but saw that it had somehow jammed. He tried to free the slide, but to no avail, and threw the gun into the hallway. “Son of a bitch!”
At this point, Holly knew that it was over, but that was clearly not the case for Stan. His eyes were wild as he darted for the satchel of cash, running out of the room so haphazardly that he even slammed his shoulder into the doorway before racing off down the hall.
Her face stung, but there was more than that. All of the anxiety was long gone. Even the adrenaline from what had just happened was starting to fade, and what she was left with was a confusing emptiness that she didn’t know how to deal with. On top of that, the awkward aftermath was coming down on her, with people in the hallway clamoring to help the young man who had been shot, while hotel security came in to find her sitting in the corner where she’d landed. Once they were there, though, they didn’t seem to know what to do, and just stood watch until the police came.
Stan was caught three blocks away. He’d overestimated his ability to run, especially from two young officers who were more than happy to bring him down. He put up a childish fight, but lost quickly. That’s the way the mind gets in a panic, though, Holly reflected. She, on the other hand, went in calmly and with no words, no melodrama.
It was definitely a kindness on the part of the police to put them in separate cars as they went to the station, though. Looking out the window of the police car, she watched everything go by, the hotel as it disappeared, the cars shining more brightly now, for some reason, and people who had no idea what was going on. And still with that strange emptiness inside, knowing that it would be a very long time before she’d ever be out on a city street again. If ever.
But among all of that, there was something else. It was small, and wasn’t calling much attention to itself, but it was there. At the very least, she wouldn’t have to listen to him anymore. Wouldn’t have to listen to his ridiculous goals, go through with his terrible plans, or even see him again. In that way, she felt that she still got what she wanted. And that was infinitely more than what could be said for him. So, she smiled.