Excerpt from R. B. Russell’s ‘Night Porter,’ forthcoming in Shadows & Tall Trees.
It was three in the morning and, although it wasn’t snowing this time, it was bitterly cold outside. The man was even younger than the previous two, perhaps even younger than Marianne herself. She was uncomfortable when she realized that she actually felt something maternal or protective towards him, and Marianne asked herself if turning him away was the best thing for his safety. If she booked him in, then at least she would make sure that this time she kept a close eye on him. She would put him into a different room from where the only other way out would be though a window into an inner courtyard.
“Room 18,” she said. “I’ll have to come up with you.”
“There really is no need,” said Fisher. “I can take Mr. Evans up to his room.”
“I need to reset the lock on the door,” Marianne lied. “It will only take a second.”
All three of them went up to the room with Marianne leading the way. She opened the door with her master keycard and explained, as nonchalantly as she could, that it would now be reset. She then made sure that Fisher’s key worked and she handed it over to her. The woman took the young man inside and Marianne used her master key to go into the room opposite, which she knew to be empty.
She watched through the squint in the door, and when the Fisher left Marianne waited for her to walk down the corridor before she came out. She listened to the woman going down the stairs, and although she couldn’t hear the woman crossing the hall past the unmanned reception desk, she felt the slight change in pressure as the front door opened and closed.
Marianne risked getting into a great deal of trouble, but, nevertheless, she opened the door to room 18 with her master key and walked in.
“Please excuse me,” she said, immediately noticing how cold it was in the darkened room. “I do apologize, but I…”
Her first reaction had been to look towards the window again, to see if it was open, which it wasn’t. But her attention was immediately taken by the young man standing just inside the brightly-lit bathroom. He was wearing only a tee-shirt and his hands were tied to the door handle with what looked like a dirty strip of some white material. He was obviously distressed; he was gagged and the look in his eyes was at first wild, but then suddenly hopeful, pleading. Then he looked from Marianne to somebody else who was inside the bathroom with him.
Suddenly that person pushed past the terrified young man. The first thing that struck Marianne was that the man who appeared was really very, very old. He had a long face and his wrinkles were deep, like the cracks in dried earth. He was also completely bald. He was dressed in a brown suit that, even back-lit from the bathroom and almost entirely in silhouette, appeared dirty and stained. In one hand he carried a hotel towel, and in the other he had a huge hypodermic syringe that looked like it was made of corroded brass.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said with a low, quiet but insistent voice.