#6, that was the tarnished brass number on the door. His lucky number. He pushed the room key into the battle-scarred lock and turned. It took a bit of jiggling, but the knob reluctantly gave in, and Fleming stepped inside the room, closing the door behind

He’d been in this room, or one of its countless siblings, many times before. It was a room where the insects skittered across the floor in the night, while bigger prey skittered in the walls. The hotel, or maybe it was a motel, was the sort of place where the blue collars brought their cheap prostitutes for a quick pump, where the front office didn’t ask for ID and took cash, where those who didn’t want to be found could spend a night with a roof over their heads. It smelled of semen and desperation, and it suited Fleming just fine.

He thumbed the deadbolt and leaned back against the door. He took a deep breath and then another. He was safe. Well, for the moment; he couldn’t linger. The gap under the door, an inch high if not two, let in a dull glow from the one working light in the parking lot. The light also slipped in through a crack in the curtains. Otherwise, the room was as dark as a tomb. Sadly, it was less quiet. Fleming could hear a television, much too loud for this time of night, blaring through the wall, as well as a rhythmic thumping, punctuated by moans and the well-practiced “oh, yeah’s” of a pro.

Fleming reached over and twitched the curtains the rest of the way closed. He clicked on the light switch and walked toward the bathroom. Here, the scent shifted to one of stale urine and old shit. He wrinkled his nose in distaste and turned on the exhaust fan. Standing in the middle of the dingy linoleum floor, he began shedding his clothes, dropping them into a pile at his feet. He winced as he eased out of his shirt. His right arm from the shoulder down ached, like he’d gone ten rounds for the heavyweight title. He dropped the shirt on top of the pile and toed off his socks, trying not to think about what his bare feet might now come in contact with. He reached into the tub and turned on the hot tap as high as it would go. Glancing at the threadbare towel and washcloth, the former of which had a disconcerting stain in the corner, he was glad he’d brought his own. From his overnight bag, he withdrew a towel and washcloth, cheap but new. The bag went on top of the toilet seat and the towels on the top of the bag. Turning the cold tap on just enough to keep from being scalded, he pulled the lever to engage the shower. It sputtered to life, and he stepped into the tub.

He stood under the spray, his head down and eyes closed, letting the water run over him. He laid his left arm against the shower wall (no way he could lift the right above chest level now) and rested his head against it. He was elated, still riding that high, but very soon exhaustion would begin to descend. Before that happened, he’d need to burn the clothes, washcloth and towel, too. He’d need to clean out the drain when he was done showering. He’d seen on TV where the cops could get into a drain trap and find all kinds of interesting bits and pieces. He didn’t intend for any of those to be his. He should still have 3, maybe 4 hours of darkness left. Plenty of time. So long as he kept moving.

He opened his eyes and pushed away from the wall. There was a red stripe on the tile where his arm had been. He rubbed at it with his hand but that only smeared it. That’s okay, he told himself. He had a spray bottle of bleach and several rags in his bag. He’d have to wipe down everything he’d touched and began to make a mental note of every surface his bare hands or feet had, or might have, come into contact with in the room. When he finished, this room’d probably be the cleanest it had been in years. Maybe decades.

With hands that trembled slightly, which he chalked up to leftover adrenalin working its way out of his system or maybe the exertion of his earlier activities, he lathered up the washcloth and began to scrub. The soapy water cascaded off him and swirled down the drain. It was pink.


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