Gone for Good Page 77

Now what?

Wait, I guess. What else was there? I bought a newspaper at the stand and found a spot in the corner of the lobby where I could see the door. I kept the newspaper up over my face, Spy vs. Spy style, and felt like a total idiot. My insides churned. I never thought of myself as the type for an ulcer, but over the past few days, a burning acidity had started clawing at my stomach lining.

I tried to read the paper—a totally futile act, of course. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t muster up the energy to care about current events. I couldn’t keep my place while glancing at the door every three seconds. I turned the pages. I looked at the pictures. I tried to give a damn about the box scores. I flipped to the comics, but even Beetle Bailey was too taxing.

The blond receptionist would flick her gaze in my direction every once in a while. When our eyes met, she’d smile in a patronizing way. Keeping her eye on me, no doubt. Or maybe that was more paranoid thinking. I was just a man reading a newspaper in the lobby. I had done nothing to arouse her suspicion.

An hour passed without incident. My cell phone rang. I put it to my ear.

“You see her yet?” Squares asked.

“She’s not in her room. Or at least she’s not answering the phone.”

“Where are you now?”

“I’m staking out the lobby.”

Squares made a sound.

“What?” I asked.

“Did you really say ‘staking out’?”

“Give me a break, okay?”

“Look, why don’t we just hire a couple of guys from the agency to do it right? They’ll call us as soon as she gets in.”

I considered that. “Not yet,” I said.

And that was when she entered.

My eyes widened. My breathing started coming in deep swallows. My God. It was really my Sheila. She was alive. I fumbled the phone, almost dropping it.


“I have to go,” I said.

“She there?”

“I’ll call you back.”

I clicked off the power. My Sheila—I’ll call her that because I don’t know how else to refer to her—had changed her hair. It was cut shorter, flipping up and under at the end of the swan neck. She had bangs now too. The color had been darkened to an Elvira black. But the effect . . . I saw her and it was like someone punched my chest with a giant fist.

Sheila kept moving. I started to rise. The dizziness made me pull up. She walked the way she always walked—no hesitation, head high, with purpose. The elevator door was already opened, and I realized that I might not make it in time.

She stepped inside. I was on my feet now. I hurried across the lobby without running. I did not want to make a scene. Whatever was happening here—whatever had made her vanish and change names and wear a disguise and Lord knows what else—needed to be somewhat finessed. I could not just yell out her name and sprint across the lobby.

My feet clacked on the marble. The sound echoed too loudly in my own ears. I was going to be late. I stopped and watched the elevator doors shut.


I pressed the call button. Another elevator opened immediately. I started toward it but pulled up. Wait, what good would that do? I didn’t even know what floor she was on. I checked the lights above my Sheila’s elevator. They moved steadily. Floor five, then six.

Had Sheila been the only one in the elevator?

I thought so.

The elevator stopped on the ninth floor. Okay, fine. Now I pushed the call button. The same elevator was there. I hurried inside and pressed nine, hoping that I would get there before she entered her room. The door started closing. I leaned against the back. At the last second, a hand shot through. The doors banged against the hand and then opened. A sweaty man in a gray business suit sighed his way in, offering me a nod. He pressed eleven. The door closed again and we were on our way up.

“Hot out,” he said to me.


He sighed again. “Good hotel, don’t you think?”

A tourist, I thought. I had been in a million New York City elevators before. New Yorkers understood the rules: You stare up at the flashing numbers. You do not engage anyone in conversation.

I told him that yes, it was nice, and as the doors opened, I dashed out. The corridor was long. I looked to my left. Nothing. I looked to my right and heard a door close. Like a hunting dog on point, I sprinted toward the sound. Right-hand side, I thought. End of the corridor.

I followed the audible scent, if you will, and deduced that the sound had come from either room 912 or 914. I looked at one door, then the other. I remembered an episode of Batman where Catwoman promises that one door will lead to her, the other to a live tiger. Batman chose wrong. Well, hell, this isn’t Batman.

I knocked on both doors. I stood between them and waited.


I knocked again, harder this time. Movement. I was rewarded with some kind of movement emanating from room 912. I slid in front of the door. I adjusted my shirt collar. Now I could hear the security chain being slid to the side. I braced myself. The knob turned and the door began to swing open.

The man was burly and annoyed. He wore a V-neck undershirt and striped boxers. He barked, “What?”

“I’m sorry. I was looking for Donna White.”

He put his fists on his hips. “Do I look like Donna White?”

Strange sounds emanated from the gruff man’s room. I listened closer. Groans. Quasi-passionate groans of faux pleasure. The man met my eye, but he didn’t look happy about it. I stepped back. Spectravision, I thought. In-room movies. The man was watching a skin flick. Porno interruptus.

“Uh, sorry,” I said.

He slammed the door shut.

Okay, let’s rule out room 912. At least, I hoped like hell I could. This was crazy. I raised my hand to knock on 914, when I heard a voice say, “Can I help you?”

I turned and at the end of the corridor, I saw a no-neck buzz cut wearing a blue blazer. The blazer had a small logo on his lapel and a patch on his upper arm. He puffed out his chest. Hotel security and proud of it.

“No, I’m fine,” I said.

He frowned. “Are you a guest of the hotel?”


“What’s your room number?”

“I don’t have a room number.”

“But you just said—”

I rapped the door hard. Buzz Cut hurried toward me. For a moment I thought he might make a diving tackle in order to protect the door, but at the last moment, he pulled up.

“Please come with me,” he said.

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