I’m guessing that most every city dweller has at some time heard a jarring sound at night variously described as a pop, boom, or bang. It might be perceived as a car backfiring, a firecracker, maybe lightning, or… a gunshot. One can only hope it is not the latter. For the purposes of this story, we’ll just use the word “Bang” to describe the sound, whatever it really turns out to be.
Most guests at the fifty room Mayfield Hotel in Los Angeles heard such a Bang at 9:00 p.m. on November 18th. For a select few, this Bang had a profound effect.
Sylvia in Room 205 finally rose from her computer and stretched wearily. All efforts in past hours to progress with her new novel had been unproductive. “I’m empty,” she declared out loud to herself. A grudging admission that she was suffering from the dreaded writer’s block - for the first time ever. She had come to Los Angeles from Austin to do research for her new book, Falling Hard. It was to be a fictional story about a celebrity’s decline from the pinnacle of fame. Made up characters, sure, but she wanted to be accurate as to the L.A. places to be mentioned. It would lend a veneer of truth to the tale. During her stay, she could pin down such details and enjoy a retreat for her writing.
She had recently parted ways with her boyfriend but wasn’t much disturbed by the change. It was her choice. He was a nice guy with intentions of their having a future together. She had concluded, though, that she liked but didn’t really love him. He was too predictable, too sensible, just too ordinary. If Sylvia were to be someone’s life partner, she wanted someone who would remain continuingly interesting and compelling to her - a romance that wouldn’t fade. Foolish idea, maybe? So be it. She felt perfectly content to remain single. Lots of men were attracted to her petite tailored look, short brunette hair and penetrating eyes. She was always open to a limited, if refreshing, encounter with an attractive man.
Certainly, her career seemed to be on the right path. Her first novel had received a thrillingly favorable response from critics. Sales to the public were regrettably meager though, so her agent encouraged the writing of another book. This one intended to utilize her same distinctive gift of language, but with a subject, characters and story having broader public appeal. That is to say, more profitable to the publishers. O.K., she was fully on board with this. Just find the inspiration in her mind. Then translate it to words on a page. Simple enough. It wasn’t happening though. She was stuck. Damn!
Meanwhile, in Room 207, Jonathan rubbed his tired eyes. He’d been pouring over the Bible as usual for support of his absolute belief that Jesus would be returning imminently… at 9:00 p.m. today, to be exact. (That would be midnight in New York City, if it mattered.) As a guest pastor in past months, he had been delivering the same sermon to evangelical churches around the country:
“The end-time period surrounding His second coming has been given many names. They amount to the same thing: The Bible says, ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’ At that time the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we Christians who are alive will also ascend. There to always be with the Lord. Ah, yes, the Rapture. Woven into perceptions of the last days is much apocalyptic imagery. Underlying all such beliefs is the certainty that He… Will… Come! The nearby November 18th is the date certain.”
In his mid-40s, Jonathan displayed a persistent disapproving countenance. A too obvious comb-over. Conservatively dressed of course, and with a bow tie, no less. He appeared the very cliche of a religious zealot. However, he would reject such a characterization. He has insisted, “I’m not a religious fanatic, or one of those misguided diviners-of-dates and sensationalists exclaiming the time of His return. I’m not a foolish or unserious person. I received a vision that was a holy and true message, not a fanciful dream. He will arrive on the day declared. It is the truth.”
No congregation to address now, so he spoke out loud to himself. “The message and warning has been given. I can do no more. This room is as good a place as any to experience the glorious event.”
His thoughts were interrupted by a pounding on the door of the next room 209.This was followed by heated conversations in Spanish. Jonathan had spent many months of his youth travelling in South America, so his Spanish was functional if faulty. He heard these pleas from the half dozen people seeking entry to the room:
“Queremos quedarnos. Déjenos entrar. Estamos desesperados.” Translated, they were saying: “We want to stay. Let us in. We are desperate.”
Jonathan cracked his door open and peeked out. He could hear everything said. Those standing outside were obviously from Mexico or other Latin countries. They were disheveled and looked exhausted.
There was an answer from inside: “We’re in hiding ourselves, friends. There are already two families in this single room – parents and three young children. We’re almost broke. Very hungry besides. You’ll have to find another place to hole up.”
The outsiders, accepting this reality, had a last hopeful question. “Do you know of a place we can go to be safe?”
The response was not hopeful, “We’ve heard there are some churches that might house immigrants but know nothing more than that. So, so sorry. Lo siento.”
The outsiders left dejectedly. Those remaining inside spoke to each other quietly. Jonathan was surprised at the lack of noise given all the people and kids in the same room. It struck him that this is how one behaves when on the run – you urgently try to be invisible. He had conflicting thoughts: “Most of us Evangelicals support Trump’s immigration policy - this conviction that we’re meant to be a white Christian America. The poor families next door are rightly terrified of being arrested and deported by ICE. Our government doesn’t care why they are fleeing home countries. The historic right to seek citizenship is ignored. What’s that Statue of Liberty inscription about welcoming outsiders ‘yearning to breathe free’?” With sudden insight, Jonathan rejected this mindset. He knew with certainty the answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” Jonathan was damned if he would report these vulnerable visitors to the authorities.
He smiled as he contemplated the miracle so soon to occur. The world would know soon enough what Jesus would do about everything.
Randall and Ralph in Room 102 were giddy with their success. Beers in hand, they looked at the spoils of their robbery dumped out on the bed. It had been pulled off just that afternoon, $215,000, a fucking fortune. They’d both spent some years in prison for thefts with comparatively pathetic payoffs. That’s where they had met. Both were released a few years ago and had been partners ever since. One might say “partners in crime,” but that would make them sound like big shot criminals, instead of the small-time burglars they are. Not the most likely pairing up either. Randall was a big intimidating guy of color. Ralph couldn’t be whiter or less impressive in stature. But they worked well together.
“So shall we hunker down right here for a few days just in case?” asked Ralph.
“Yeah, and we have all these pretty green bills to keep us company,” said Randall, holding a bunch in hand. “We gotta’ remember not to go crazy blowing money and attracting attention.”
“I’m thinking maybe just a Caribbean holiday with my girlfriend might be O.K.”
“Sure. I’m keen on getting a new Bronco, but it can wait. I’ll settle for just buying some new clothes to impress the ladies.”
Ralph mused, “How about a toast to that famous fashion designer. A miracle to us that he didn’t trust banks.” They clinked beer cans in a salute.
“Yeah, the job was perfect. The home was empty. The alarm easily disabled. No fuss and no fingerprints left behind. We’ll never have another robbery set up so perfect.”
Randle answered seriously. “We’ve managed so far to live pretty well off our jobs. But there’s always the fear that one will go wrong.”
“Yeah, and the worry isn’t about our maybe getting hurt. We decided long ago to carry no weapons and confront no one. We just can’t get caught. We can’t go back to jail.”
“As of now though, life looks good. We can figure out what’s next when things have cooled off.”
Fourteen-year-old Lola from Number 210 wandered around the Mayfield Hotel, sometimes stopping by the small swimming pool in the front. Too cold for swimming, even if Uncle Herbert staying with her might have allowed it. He was very permissive about most things, except when it came to her safety. He looked every bit like the Professor of Literature at Whitmore College. The place where he’d served on the faculty for half of his fifty odd years. It was closed for the Thanksgiving holidays. Lola’s school was as well. Her parents were taking their own week-long adult vacation. They’d entrusted Lola for this period to the care of close family friend Herbert and his sister, who they had yet to meet.
“When will we visit your sister?” asked Lola. “You told Mom and Dad that’s where we’d be staying.”
“We will stop and see her, but you and I had planned a parade of things to do together. By staying here, we can catch them all. Disneyland, the beach, Universal Studios. I’ll enjoy spoiling you, my precious niece.”
“But you’re not really my uncle. That’s just what I call you.”
“And we’ll pretend that it’s so for any strangers that we meet, O.K.? It avoids confusion. Come now, give me a hug and a sweet kiss. I’ve got some reading to do before bedtime. You could play carefully by the pool, or maybe watch television in the lounge.”
“Sure Uncle, I can entertain myself just fine. It’s fun to spy on people staying here. There are mysteries going on.” Herbert chuckled at this remark as she left the room.
He adored this girl. His feelings about her were complicated though. He longed to hold her. For that matter, who doesn’t enjoy hugging a sweet child? However, his compulsion went well beyond this. He had observed certain of her mannerisms that would come to fruition when she matured: How to flirt… with a man particularly; manipulation with sweetness or tears as necessary to get her way; an angelic body on the cusp of the girl to woman reshaping. He felt a thrill at the thought of climbing into her adjacent twin bed during this week. Of touching her and then… Oh God, he knew these thoughts and actions were wrong. Unnatural, even. Evil, most would say. And yet didn’t Lola seem to reciprocate his feelings in subtle playful ways?
Lola headed for the guest lounge at the manager’s office. She’d met Shawn, the manager, the day before. She instantly liked his puppy-friendly manner and athletic good looks. He was some lucky girl’s boyfriend for sure, she thought to herself.
“Hi Shawn. May I watch television down here? Don’t want to bother my uncle when he’s reading.”
“Why sure. It’s Lola from Room 210, right? How could anyone forget the name of such a pretty girl?”
Lola blushed at the remark and tried not to show it. “Do you really like watching over this place? I mean, you’re not really old and this seems so dull… and…”
“I understand the question. Between us, little princess, I’m not so keen on doing this. My grandfather invested in this hotel. I needed a job after retiring from my chosen occupation. The owners needed someone trustworthy to run the place. “
“Retiring? That’s something old people do.”
“True, but I had no choice.”
Lola looked puzzled.
“O.K., my little interrogator, I was a professional football player. Wrecked my knee and could no longer play. I’d failed to save all the money earned. Football is all I know. Had to make ends meet, so here I am. But tell me about yourself. How is it that your uncle has you in hand?”
“He’s spoiling me while my folks are on vacation. Uncle Herbert promised to take me to the most fun places for kids in this City.
“How nice for both of you.”
“Shawn, aren’t you curious about some of your guests? Some might be famous, or criminals hiding out, or… who knows what else! I’ve seen a few that look like trouble.”
“That’s really none of my business. If you keep an eye out though, you could let me know about anyone who appears dangerous. You’re a very perceptive girl. I’ll assign to you the position of house detective while you’re here.”
“I’ll do a good job. You’ll see.”
Byron parked his car in the Hotel lot. He was ten minutes early for his appointment with Amanda. There was no choice but to sit here until then - nervous, excited and feeling vaguely guilty. His wife had died the year before at his same too-young age of fifty-four. The pain of loss had subsided, but sweet memories remained. They had been devoted to one another, though the physical attraction had faded long before. So, he was surprised to find himself slightly aroused by the cute and friendly young server at his favorite morning coffee place. She’d done nothing flirtatious to invite this response. He was just suddenly aware of her full lips, the curve of her breasts and bottom as she walked away. He couldn’t remember when he’d last had any sexual thoughts. Byron wondered if he could even get it up after all this time. (He was uncomfortable even thinking the word “fucking” to himself.)
The suddenly renewed interest in sex led him to make inquiries. He took the bold step of calling someone found online for a possible encounter. He wasn’t clear about the sort of arrangements available to him nowadays. Should he seek a prostitute, an escort, or a so-called friend with benefits? The latter category better suited his sense of propriety.
He made the phone call. “Hello, is this Amanda?”
She responded in a sultry and inviting voice, “That’s me. Who is calling?”
“My name is Byron.” He continued hesitatingly. “I would be interested in having a… a… meeting with you. This is something new to me, I must confess. Forgive my awkwardness.”
“Oh, my dear, don’t be concerned about that. I should be the one hesitant about hooking up with a stranger. Be assured that I’m just a friendly girl. Not intimidating in the least. Could you tell me a little about yourself?”
“Yes, sure. I’m co-owner of an engineering firm here in town. My wife passed away and I’m a widower. Have a grown son and daughter. A decent looking 50ish guy I’ve been told, if that matters. I’ve never done anything like this before.”
“Byron, I’m sure you won’t be corrupted by our meeting. You have an advantage in having seen my photos online. I’ll see you when I see you. Meeting at my home is not possible. I’m a divorced mother with a five-year-old daughter. So, may I suggest we meet at the Mayfield Hotel at a convenient time?”
Haltingly, he said, “How about the gift, or... uhhh... favor that you would need?”
“Well, it’s important you know that I am not a prostitute. My body is not for sale or rent. I choose to engage only in long term, but part time positive relationships. The support given me I consider just that which any unemployed girlfriend might expect.”
“Oh, I understand, but wouldn’t want to mislead you. I just don’t know if a continuing relationship would work for me now with anyone. As an embarrassing admission, I haven’t had sex for quite a few years.”
“Byron, you sound like a genuinely nice person. Let’s try just meeting and see how it goes. I have the feeling that you’ll do right for me, whatever happens.”
“That sounds fine. How about the evening of November 18th, say 6:00 PM? Would that work for you?”
“That’s a date. I’ll text you the room number then. Look forward to our becoming better acquainted.”
The time was now. The ten minutes waiting in the car passed swiftly, and Byron got out to find the messaged Room 115.
Fair to say that a lot was going on in the rooms of the Mayfield Hotel on this day. You wouldn’t hear a peep, though, from Room 218. A most pleasant-appearing elderly couple in their mid-seventies, the Mastersons were staying in the hotel for a few nights while their house was being painted. Children and grandchildren were long gone. To have enjoyed such a long marriage, one would imagine they were exceptionally compatible and loving. They were a product of the fifties, when in their social set the husband was expected to make the final decisions on all important family subjects. A wife was respected so long as she limited herself to traditional female functions. In fact, Mary had impressive artistic talent. She had succeeded in selling several of her oil paintings to a high-end furniture store in L.A. early in their marriage. Grant admired her enterprise but forbade any further such commercial efforts. Her transgression was never repeated. This constraint of her liberty was never forgotten.
The saddest guy in the building was Devon, staying in Room 121. Lord knows he had reason for this despair. The thirty-seven-year-old had been fired due to his drinking habit; was separated from his wife; saw his two kids on only rare occasions; and recently had his first stroke requiring paramedic intervention and a hospital stay. He had concluded that there were no options for him toward any happiness at all. He was a loser. So, he had bought a gun for the purpose of ending his worthless life today.
Byron was stunned when Amanda opened the door of Room 115. She was not at all what he’d been expecting. The person before him was a comely and nicely dressed blond. He’d have been proud to have her on his arm anywhere. She smiled invitingly as he entered and they sat down in chairs by the single table. Her take on Byron had been way off as well. He was a nice-looking slim guy with a shy and appealing manner.
They began a conversation, haltingly at first, then with candor and humor. Byron relaxed and allowed himself to enjoy her company. They shared a glass of wine from the bottle taken from the fridge. After half an hour or so, Byron took the needed initiative. “Amanda, you are beautiful and desirable, as you surely know. I haven’t enjoyed talking with anyone this much in years. But I really crave… hmm… intimacy with you now. It’s been longer than I can remember, so my performance might well be a disappointment.”
“I rather doubt it,” said she, and began disrobing.
Lola checked in with Shawn at the office. “Detective Lola reporting in. Nothing really dangerous going on right now. There are some guests to keep an eye on though. Did you know that a whole bunch of people – I mean a real bunch! – are staying together in 209 and speaking another language? Also, that the man staying in 121 has a gun on his table. I caught a glimpse of it through the window.”
“You are one observant little chick. Pardon me, Detective Chick. I will make a point of visiting those rooms you mention, with the excuse of offering extra towels. Hey, it’s quite late; your uncle will surely be looking for you, Lola.” She left quite pleased with herself.
No one was more alert to the time than Jonathan in 207. 9:00 p.m. was without doubt the hour when Christ would return. As to just exactly how the rapture, the uplifting of good Christians to heaven and other consequences would occur, the Bible was a little fuzzy on the details. The only thing he knew for sure was that the happenings would be instantaneously experienced. As the seconds ticked toward the magic hour, Jonathan closed his eyes, tensed, and awaited transcendence.
All of the goings on described above occurred prior to 9:00 p.m. At the strike of this hour a sudden strident sound was heard at the Hotel.
It sounded just once, but was very penetrating, if not exactly identifiable.
“Hallelujah,” cried Jonathan. It has happened!
Slowly opening his eyes, he didn’t know what to expect. What he saw was… nothing! He looked out his window. Everything was the same. How could that be? He wondered: “Did I just imagine that voice in my head telling me He was coming? Did I distort my Bible interpretations to find evidence that this would happen? I was dead wrong. And yet…and yet…that crack of lightening at exactly the predicted hour must have some spiritual meaning for me. My prediction was in error, but there could not be stronger proof of my devotion. Could that Bang perhaps have been a message to redirect my mission? Inspiring me to do tangible good in the world instead of preaching about imagined prophecies?” Jonathan needed another truth to live for. This would be it.
He opened the blinds to appreciate the endless sky, with new meaning for his life.
Shaken by the boom, several heads poked out from adjacent Room 209. Addressing Jonathan, one of the men said fearfully, “Que fue eso? Nosotras tenemos miedo? Puedos ayudamos?” Jonathan quickly translated. “What was that? We’re afraid. Can you help us?” All those inside came out and gathered around him. The apparent leader continued, “We know too well the sound of a gunshot. We’ve learned that means the police are here. We’re tired of hiding. Ready to give ourselves up to ICE and hope for the best.”
With his new outlook, Jonathan felt great compassion for the plight of these immigrants. He shook the hands of the parents, introducing himself, and fondly touched the heads of the children. “I will take you to safety. There are some churches nearby, whether Baptist, Catholic or Lutheran, who will provide sanctuary. My own church is opposed to this, I’m sad to say. I’ll call and confirm which of these others is able to shelter your families. Be ready to leave within the hour.” Luckily, Jonathan was driving his old van, which could pack in these seven people.
The adults all spoke out: “Bless you for this mercy.”
He did feel blessed and empowered.
The robbers in Room 102 had a similar response. “Christ,” said Ralph, lacking any of Jonathan’s religious intent, “that sounded like a gunshot. That spooks me. Bad memories. A cop’s warning shot. My cousin gunned down. Hate that sound.”
Randall nodded agreement. “I felt the same chill. Could that be the wakeup call we needed? Maybe, just maybe, this is the right fuckin’ time for us to go straight. We’ve been partners in thieving for years. With the bucks we have now, why couldn’t we partner up to own a legitimate business?
“I’m not so sure. Stealing is the only thing I know how to do. And we’re good at it.”
“Yeah, but Ralph, we could learn something else. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to live life without fear?”
“I must admit that sounds good. To be honest, I’ve been giving some thought to the same thing. I even have an idea what it might be. Suppose we were to buy a motel in a second-class kind of neighborhood. We’d use our windfall as a down payment. I’ve got a connection that could arrange the loan we’d need, overlooking our histories. Maybe we could offer some special attractions to keep the motel filled up.”
“Yeah. Maybe the rooms would be rented out with no questions asked. We would operate strictly within the law, but if some bad guys needed a place to hide out…”
“Right, and if some neighborhood ladies chose to visit with their eager new companions at our motel… those things wouldn’t be our concern. We might suspect, but wouldn’t know, or want to know, what our guests were up to. We’d rely on our own experience and instincts to keep away any real troublemakers.”
“Killer idea, Ralph. And for this open-minded policy, room rates would go for a premium. And the lady visitors might give us a 200% occupancy!”
They looked at each other with shared conviction and shook hands vigorously. Ralph summed it up, “We’ll live the American dream! Let’s go hit a bar to celebrate our waking up.”
Just before the Bang occurred, there was a very real unfired gun in the hand of Devon in Room 121. He thought to himself, “Just one pull of the trigger and it will be over. I’ve made a mess out of this life.” Growing up and to this day he’d thought of himself as a macho guy. No one could tell him what to do. He’d party, drink and fight and the hell with the consequences. Somehow, despite his loathsome behavior, he’d managed to acquire a wife who loved him and bore two kids. Had he loved them back? Probably, but not so they would know it. He was the model of self-indulgence. His life was bound to fall apart. Now it would.
He’d heard that some near-suicide victims yank the gun away at the last moment, causing debilitating injuries without the conclusive result. No such mistake would be made by him. He put the barrel of the gun in his mouth, finger on the trigger, and counted to ten. Strangely, he was reminded of playing hide and seek with his kids when they were little and counting to ten. This time the game would be permanently ended. “One, two, three…” he continued slowly, “four, five, six…” A few seconds remained before 9:00 p.m. Then:
Devon was startled and for just a moment wondered if he’d shot himself. The fortuity of an apparent gunshot occurring at the very moment he was about to end it all gave him pause. That could almost make him a believer in cosmic occurrences. He remembered his Dad counselling him as an impetuous youth to always count to one hundred before doing or saying anything with important consequences. Should have listened to him. Was it too late to second guess himself? Was there anything he could look forward to in life? Well, perhaps yes, if he’d stop focusing on the negatives. Couldn’t he stop drinking, as so many other alcoholics had done? He could even start by attending an AA meeting in the morning. Might his wife Janet consider reuniting if he demonstrably cleaned up his act? Could he still establish a loving relationship with his kids? Could he find another job? The answers to all these questions would not be a definite No, but rather a big Maybe. It would come down to whether or not he could really change. Doing so would absolutely be worth maximum effort, when compared to the alternative of being dead. Devon felt a surge of hope.
He left his room and headed downstairs needing fresh air, oblivious to the gun still held in his hand. At this same moment Randall and Ralph were departing on their way to a pub. They almost bumped into each other.
“Hey man, easy with the gun,” blurted Ralph.
Devon put the gun in his pocket. “Sorry fellas, nothing intended.”
Randall asked, “Was that your weapon that we heard fired?”
“No, that wasn’t me. I was planning to use it but that Bang changed my mind.”
Randall again. “You were going to shoot somebody?”
“No, Hell no. I was going to take my own life.”
“Suicide? God damn, friend, how bad must your life be?”
“It’s been pretty terrible, but now I’m going to try and fix things. I’ve been an awful hell-raising jerk until now. Spent the whole life thumbing my nose at society and acting disgracefully. Can you imagine doing that?”
Ralph and Randall shared a glance before Randall answered, “No. Can’t imagine. Say, we’ve had some good fortune recently and were going out to celebrate with a drink. After your near ending experience you could surely use one. Why don’t you join us?”
Devon inquired: “Sure, thanks, though I’ll pass on the alcohol. May I ask why you guys are staying here?”
Ralph replied, “We’re making plans to buy a motel. We’ve been partners in business before but have no experience actually managing a property.”
Devon replied. “That’s an irony. I’m broke, but a crackerjack at running a small business. At least I was before being fired for my drinking.”
Randall continued. “So, is it fair to say that you need a stake for a new life with a job that matches your skills?”
Devon nodded, “Exactly.”
Ralph put his hand on Devon’s shoulder. “Let’s get better acquainted. This might prove to be a lucky day for all of us.”
In Room 115, Byron was having a thrilling time. He hadn’t known that sex could be this good. So much fun. His arousal had been sustained with Amanda. She seemed like a tigress taking him on a sexual adventure. The only thing missing for him was an orgasm. “Guess that’s just one of the downsides of advanced age,” he thought to himself. “Not such a big deal.”
He was wrong. This sudden crack instantly pushed him over the edge. More surprising was the obvious fact that Amanda shared the same release.
“Byron, you should know that coming like that is quite the exception for me. And it wasn’t the gunshot or whatever that was. It was you. I’m more accustomed to maintaining control. Consider yourself flattered.”
After that they remained in bed for hours talking very comfortably. Byron discovered that she was working on her fine arts master’s degree from UCLA with a specialty in sculpture. She was divorced from a too hasty marriage, ending with her having sole custody of their child.
“Forgive my naivety Amanda, but you are great looking, super intelligent and talented. Why would you be…” His voice trailed off.
“No, that’s a reasonable question. I’ve had other offers of marriage, which should be tempting for the security of my daughter Cindy. No one has seemed right for me. I could find a regular job in the art field. It’s important to me, though, to try and sustain myself as a sculptor. In the meantime, support is received from just a few men I care for, who have need of part-time respectful love affairs.”
“That makes sense to me. I would love to spend more time with you at my house if you’re O.K. with that. Also, would like to take you to dinner, or some musical event, or… hell, anything you’d like to do. After your lovemaking and our stimulating conversation, I’m totally captivated. Of course, I shouldn’t presume that you’d want to see more of me. Guess I’m not the catch of the century.”
“I think you’re a sweet and attractive man. I’d be pleased to spend more time with you. Consider how frequently you might like to do this. Then I’ll let you know the amount of assistance needed. You can overcome any old-fashioned sense of propriety by considering the payments to be gifts in support of Cindy and contributing to the arts.”
“Amanda, what if I wanted you all to myself? Would that be possible?”
“I think you might be in happy shock right now. If we should have an exceptional togetherness for say six months, you can repeat the question then.
“I maybe love you already.”
“Go home. Maybe you’ll sleep it off, my Romeo.”
In Room 210, Herbert and Lola were lounging on the separate beds in their pajamas.
She was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He was rereading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Herbert couldn’t concentrate though. He was anticipating how he might accomplish sliding into bed with Lola without alarming her. The further moves he might then take were unclear, but he longed to fully embrace her.
He interrupted her reading. “We can visit the Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios tomorrow if you’d like. I know you’re a big fan.”
“Oh Uncle, that would be such fun. You’re spoiling me terribly. We have so many exciting things planned. No chance to be bored.”
“It’s fun for me too. I’d like you to feel that our times together would always be great fun. Might I lie with you and read the Harry Potter book with you? I’m a fan of the author too.
“Sure, come over to my bed. At home, my mutt Charley would often lie with me.”
Herbert rose and lay beside her. He wanted to appear natural though his heart was pounding. “I love you a lot. You know that don’t you?”
“Well, sure. I love you back. You always treat me so special.”
He placed his hand on her thigh. “There are more ways that we could make each other feel wonderful.”
“Oh, tell me. I so like surprises.”
Herbert slipped his hand under the sash of her pajama pants. “Do stop me if you don’t like this.” He reached further down her satin thigh, thinking of delights that might follow, when:
They were both startled by this and drew apart. She responded as any child might. “What was that? It scared me. If I was at home, I’d call out for Dad.”
Herbert tried to reassure her. “It’s O.K. Probably just a car backfiring, or some such thing.”
“I need my Sleep Buddy. I’ll feel safer then.”
Believing she was speaking about him, Herbert tried to comfort her by patting her shoulder.
She shook this off. “Please Uncle, get Sleep Buddy. He’s in my bag.”
He got up and from her bag extracted a quite bedraggled teddy bear. “You must be looking for this.” He handed the stuffed toy to Lola, who embraced it and curled up defensively.
“I just want to sleep now Uncle. Will you turn out the lights when you’re finished?”
“Sure, Darling.” Any of his sensual thoughts had evaporated. Instead, he lay down and questioned himself. He had been seconds away from committing a loathsome act. He didn’t believe in Divine Intervention, but that thunder strike, or whatever it was, certainly curtailed the commission of his sin. He needed to impose self-control. He genuinely loved Lola. Surely, he could and must separate these tender feelings from the damaging lustful ones toward a minor. Yes, he must recognize that fundamentally every child is vulnerable. They are not equipped to protect themselves from abuses by an adult. He had never before acted upon these pedophile impulses. However, he was troubled by an interview recently requested by the FBI regarding certain downloads from sites featuring underage girls. Might they accuse him of something? He shuddered at the prospect.
Lola spoke. “I’m not afraid anymore. I realized that you’re here to protect me too. Another outing for us tomorrow to look forward to. Goodnight Uncle Herbert.”
“Goodnight my sweet girl.”
It was 8:30 at night but frustrated author Sylvia in 105 was just spinning her author wheels. She had a sudden hankering for something sweet – a vice too often surfacing. There was a 7/11 store just down the street. The short walk would do her good.
About this same time Shawn made his nightly trek around the hotel to ensure that everything is in order. He didn’t like the job he had but took pride in being conscientious about it.
Sylvia returned from the store through the dimly lit hotel parking lot with the candy prize in her purse. She sensed someone approaching her from behind and was suddenly thrown violently to the ground. She saw a disheveled young man with a crazed look. The assailant tried to pull her purse away, but the strap was held firmly over her shoulder. This frustrated him and he cursed, as though she should be blamed. His attack then seemed to switch to a sexual assault. Sylvia screamed and struggled, but the attacker pinned her down and placed his smelly hand over her mouth. She was about to lose consciousness.
The attack was suspended. The violator believed that the noise might be a gunshot intended for him. In that interim of seconds, Shawn, making his rounds, saw the lady in distress. He raced over, grabbed the attacker and slugged him repeatedly into submission. “Are you hurt, Miss?”
She answered, breathing hard. “No, not really. Guess I just skinned my knee. You’re Shawn, right?”
“Yep, that’s me. You, I recall from the check-in, would be Sylvia in Room 205.”
“Well, you’re my hero, Shawn. Saved me from being robbed and maybe a whole lot worse.”
“Aww shucks Ma’am, just doing my duty,” he responded in a lame John Wayne impersonation. “If you could accompany me back to the office, I’ll toss this creep into a closet to hold for the police. I could also tend to your bleeding knee.”
In the office, after the police were called and Shawn had nursed and bandaged Sylvia’s hurt knee, they sat and talked.
She asked, “What was that loud boom anyway?
“Frankly, it sounded like a gun. When we part company, I will try to figure out where it came from.”
As they waited for the police to arrive, the circumstances seemed to ease conversation. She told of the book she was writing about the fall of a fictional celebrity. Also, she explained that the writer’s block had led to the short 7/11 trip and being attacked.
He described being an ex-jock, whose injury cancelled his career and led him to this unappreciated job.
“Hold on. I know you. Every football fan in this city does too. You’re Shawn Magnin, former great wide receiver on our beloved NFL team.”
“You flatter me, but yeah, that’s me. I lived high during that time. Thought the big income, adoration and endorsements, would last forever. Silly, stupid me. Look where I am now.”
“You know, the character I had in mind for my book was to be a famous actor. He could just as well be a celebrated athlete. It could be your life that I write about… as fiction, or maybe your real-life story. See, I’ve had my comeuppance too. My first book was a literary success but didn’t sell well. I need to write a winner with popular appeal. What do you say? We’d need to spend lots of time together if we did it. I wouldn’t mind staying over in L.A.”
“Sure, Sylvia. Here’s a beautiful talented lady wanting to be with me to learn and write about my life. I can make that sacrifice.”
“Excellent. To seal our deal then and for saving my money and my life, I will share with you one-half of the M&Ms I bought at the store. And PS, even aside from our book arrangement, I’d very much like to see you.”
Detective Lieutenant Shannon arrived and entered the office. Several of the hotel guests also came in to inquire about the Boom.
“Lieutenant, the bad guy who attacked this lady is locked in the closet there. I beat him up a bit.”
The Detective addressed Sylvia. “I’m sorry you suffered that attack. Lucky that this fella was around to help you.”
“Yes. He’s a champion.”
Remember the Mastersons - that sweet old couple in Room 218? One wonders how they might have responded to that startling noise. You never could have guessed their conversation before the Bang.
“Richard, we’ve been together for over fifty years. One would think that any conflicts or frictions between us would have mellowed over such a long period. Not the case. During this time you’ve often made arbitrary decisions that ignored or overrode my feelings and choices.”
“Darlene, I’ve always tried to do what would be best for you and the family.”
“You acted from an assumed dominance that might have been standard in Victorian England, or maybe even when we were young in the Fifties. But things have changed… evolved over time. Women today should be and insist upon being treated as equals. Think of our granddaughter Amanda. She has pursued her dream of having a career as an artist. A sculptor at that. She hasn’t been diverted from this by any obstacle - male or otherwise.”
“At this age, neither of us are capable of changing our ways. So, why would you bring this up now?
“It’s the career I never had. It’s the recognition of my artistic talent that was never given. You stifled this. You said no wife of yours would ever have her own career… it wouldn’t be seemly. Maybe you feared it might exceed your own career in its importance and income.”
“Surely you should have put these grievances behind you given all the times and memories we’ve experienced together.”
“Quite the contrary. These constraints have simmered and festered like an open wound. You never even acknowledged the boundaries placed on me.”
“That just sounds like a female hissy fit. Something about staying in the Hotel away from home seems to have stimulated this. I’m willing to overlook your outburst and take no offense.”
“Not taking your wife seriously should be a capital offense. Right up there with murder.”
Darlene startled him by removing a gun from her purse. “You bought this gun to have it available for protection at our home. I’m using it for another purpose.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You won’t shoot me. You can’t!”
“You’re through telling me what I can’t do.” She aimed and pulled the trigger.
After receiving Sylvia and Shawn’s statement about the mugging, the Lieutenant took the handcuffed attacker out to the patrol car. Shawn then told him of another possible police matter. One of the guests who came to the office was sure that the gunshot (he was positive that’s what it was) had come from down the hall. So, the policeman and Shawn proceeded to knock on the doors of some second-floor rooms.
They passed Sylvia’s room 205, found Jonathan was not at home in 207, nor were the “whole bunch” of people in 209 that Lola had reported. When Herbert answered the door of 210, Lieutenant Shannon was startled and exclaimed. “Professor Cane. Whitmore College!”
The Professor looked perplexed. “Yes, that’s right. I’m on the faculty there.”
“I had a Russian literature class with you. Must have been more than ten years ago. It was memorable to me. You stimulated an interest in reading that has never stopped.”
They shook hands. “I’m flattered Officer…uhh…”
“It’s Detective Lieutenant Steve Shannon, Professor. It’s a real pleasure to see you after so long. But let me explain our intrusion. I’m investigating a possible gunshot that may have come from one of these rooms. Do you know anything about it?”
“No, though it certainly startled me and my niece.” Lola appeared behind him in her pajamas looking curious.
“Well, we’ll continue checking the rooms. Forgive my coming on so strong Professor, you just released for me a flood of memories of the great Russian authors you introduced me to - Pushkin, Tolstoy, Chekov. Oh, then there’s Dostoyevski and Nabokov… Their writing influenced this reader to almost comprehend why someone would commit despicable acts.”
The professor nervously rushed a goodbye. “Nice to see you again. Glad to hear I was able to be a positive influence.”
The Lieutenant and Shawn next came to Room 218. “This would be where the Mastersons are staying,” commented Shawn. Mrs. Masterson opened the door a crack.
“Excuse me,” said the lieutenant. “I’m from the police. We have reason to believe that a gun might have been fired here. Is that correct?”
She opened the door wider. “I’m afraid so. You probably want to see if anyone was injured, right? Well, come in then.”
Mr. Masterson was seated on the couch with a towel on his upper arm showing some blood stains. “I’m the guilty party.” He smiled despite his hurt arm. “The gun was discharged accidentally. I have a permit but was careless when I cleaned it tonight. Really sorry if anyone in the hotel was disturbed by this. So stupid of me. It fired and the bullet grazed my shoulder and left a hole in the couch pillow. Mary is nursing the mere scratch.” He glanced affectionately at his wife. “I’ll be glad to pay for damage to the couch.”
“Perhaps I should report this though,” said the lieutenant.
“Oh, please couldn’t you avoid this. It’s so embarrassing,” pleaded Mr. Masterson.
“Well, O.K. I’ll just choose to overlook this episode then. Glad no one was badly hurt. I hope, at the very least, that a lesson was learned from this experience.”
Mr. Masterson considered this remark, then cryptically responded, “A lesson? Oh, yes indeed: Always respect the needs of your wife… or else!”
The Lieutenant and Shawn looked at each other uncomprehendingly.
A revisit to the seemingly disparate stories recited above reveals that in fact there was something shared by all the players. Everyone found something vital:
Sylvia the author found inspiration and a likely love interest. Shawn found a fan intensely interested in him as both the player that he once was and the person he is now.
Randall and Ralph saw a way out of their criminal life. Devon could see reasons to live and perhaps even find happiness.
Byron now knew that his romantic and sexual spark, deemed lost, was quite intact. Amanda came across an additional source of income and an affectionate admirer.
Herbert found his moral compass just in time. Lieutenant Shannon came across his long-revered Professor.
And Lola found the Harry Potter exhibit to be just wonderful.