Paper Thin

Sunday 29 – Monday 30 September, 2013

The Bacharach and David number blaring from the stereo in the room next door did nothing to disguise what was going on. Adele Fincher was no stranger to hotel rooms, and she knew the sort of thing that regularly went on in dingy little dives like this one, but this was the third night in a row that she had endured the torturous sounds from room two.

‘Fuck me!’ she yelled as she threw a pillow into the air, fully aware that it would quickly descend and land on her. ‘Fucking rabbits, that’s what you are. You assholes! Shut the fuck up!’ She managed to blurt out the words before the pillow landed squarely on her face. She grabbed it and slammed it on the bed next to her.

* * * * *

Timing was everything in his business, so when Luke Hardacre learnt that the room next to his had been let, he was annoyed that his isolation was now destroyed. No amount of loud music was going to disguise what he was doing in room two for long. Someone, namely whoever had booked in to room three, would ultimately complain about the noise and he’d either be made to quiet down, or move on. He looked at the sad specimen of manhood duct taped to the ratty chair, and sighed.

‘Lucky, are you ready to continue?’ a burly helper next to Luke asked him.

‘Mmmhumph, let us continue while we still can,’ he replied.

Tears rolled down the cheeks of the restrained man, the duct tape over his mouth flexing back and forth as he tried desperately to breath.

‘No, no,’ he mumbled, but his pleas were futile. ‘Lucky’ Luke Hardacre was the go-to man whenever someone important but a little shady needed something done to someone else. He was, in his mind, a sort of teacher, and someone needed Brett Walton to be taught a lesson. Luke approached him head on with a pair of open pliers in his right hand. The burly helper who had spoken earlier, stood to the side of Luke, kitchen blowtorch in hand, a stream of blue flame firing out from the end. Walton squealed again, and a stream of urine trickled down his left leg and puddled on the floor around the chair leg.

‘Damn it, Brett. Now poor Charlie here is going to have to stick around afterwards and clean up your piss! Shame on you for making Charlie have to do that,’ Luke said.

He reached down to Walton’s hand and pried open his fingers, stretching them flat against the arm of the chair. Despite being restrained, Walton violently tried to twist his hands around and out of Hardarce’s grasp.

‘Grab the duct tape, Charlie, and tape his fingers flat. Just leave that first knuckle on each finger free.’

Charlie sat the mini blowtorch on the nearby table, took the roll of tape, and did as Luke had asked. It was a battle against Walton’s will, but Charlie managed the task in a little over a minute.

‘Nice job. Now, let’s get to work,’ Luke smiled. Job satisfaction was always high for him.

Charlie pressed the standby button on the remote to power up the stereo. It was nothing fancy, not the sort of classy unit that either he or Luke would have in their respective homes, but they really only needed a cheap stereo that would pump out enough sound to cover the inevitable screams that their marks would make. He pressed the play button on the remote, and the instantly recognisable voice of Burt Bacharach blasted through the speakers. Luke stepped closer to Brett Walton, pressed Brett’s left index finger tight against the chair arm, and positioned the pliers at the tip of the fingernail.

‘Now, Brett, you know why this has to happen, don’t you?’

Walton nodded. It was only ever going to be a matter of time before he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and Walton’s employer, a renowned bookie from the east side, had determined that the best lesson he could teach Brett Walton was to remove the offending hand at worst, or disfigure it completely at best. It was a detail that the bookie would leave up to Lucky Hardacre.

Lucky looked into Walton’s eyes and continued speaking. ‘You stole from Reggie Black. Nobody, nobody steals from Richter Scale Reggie, and gets away with it. Especially as much as you took. So, Reggie wants me to make sure that you learn not to steal from him. Believe me, this is going to hurt you more than it does me.’ He laughed at his own joke, and looked to Charlie for his reaction. Charlie simply shook his head and averted his eyes from Luke’s.

‘What, Charlie? Not funny?’

‘Nope. Sorry, Lucky, not funny at all. In fact, I kinda think it was cruel,’ Charlie replied. Luke shrugged his shoulders.

‘Sorry, man. I thought it was funny,’ he apologised to Walton, who was sobbing hysterically. ‘I’ll just get on with it.’ Luke pushed one arm of the pliers underneath the nail of Walton’s left index finger, and closed the top arm.

‘Hold on, Brett. Stay still, stay still. It’ll be messier if you struggle. And it’ll hurt a helluva lot more too.’

* * * * *

 ‘Oh my God, not again! How many times in one night can they . . . Urgh, I don’t even want to think about it.’ Adele rolled on to her side, and placed a pillow over her head in an attempt to drown out the sounds coming from the room next door. She’d decided that she would speak with the hotel manager in the morning. She’d force him to get rid of the noisy patrons, or reimburse her for the duration of her stay as recompense for the rubbish neighbours.

‘And they won’t even play any decent music!’

Releasing the pillow covering her head, she reached over to the bedside table for her cell phone. She pushed the home button and activated the screen. It was eight minutes past two in the morning. She rolled her eyes and dropped her head on to the pillow. It was then that Adele heard something different from the usual sounds coming from room two. She concentrated, listening carefully to what was going on. The music was off, and Adele managed to pick out some words. Whoever was next door was now having a conversation; it seemed a bit one-sided, and it was muffled, but it was a conversation none-the-less.

She sat up, threw the bed covers off, turned the bedside lamp on, and walked over to the common wall. She placed her ear against the wall, closed her eyes, and concentrated on what was being said.

* * * * *

 ‘Charlie, you start on cleaning up the room. I’ll put the gear away. Brett, you just stay there and try on to bleed over the carpet anymore. And Brett?’ Luke waited for Walton to make eye contact with him before continuing his speech. ‘Brett? Have your learnt your lesson?’

Walton weakly nodded.

‘Are you gonna steal from Reggie again?’

This time Walton shook his head to indication that he wasn’t going to steal from the bookie again.

‘Because, you know, Brett, next time Reggie won’t pay me to deal with this nicely. He’ll pay me to make you disappear. Painfully and permanently.’

Walton nodded again, and this time he couldn’t hold back the tears.

‘It’s okay, buddy. Lesson’s over. And hey, on the plus side, you still have your hand . . . and your fingers . . . well, at least, you know, your fingers will heal. The nails might not grow back ‘cause Charlie cauterised the wounds pretty well. But you’ll still be able to use your fingers when they do heal.’

Luke started to collect and clean the tools that he and Charlie had used to inflict the painful lesson on the thief, but he stopped and turned his attention again to Walton.

‘And about the pissing your pants thing . . . don’t feel bad. Charlie and I have never had a guy who didn’t do it when he realised what was about to happen. Me and Charlie, we won’t tell anyone about your little accident. Secret’s safe with us. We might be assholes, but we’re not gossips.’

Lucky’s words did little to console the tortured man still duct taped to the chair.

Once they had packed up their tools, and Charlie had cleaned the room, they readied Walton to be escorted from the hotel.

* * * * *

Adele cracked the hotel room door open a couple of inches, so that she could catch a glimpse of the occupants who were about to leave room two. What she’d heard had terrified her, but she figured that if she were to report the goings on to the police, she’d surely be asked for a description of the men. Cautiously, she peeked through the gap. Coming out of room two, were two sizable men supporting a smaller, weaker looking man with bandaged hands. There was nothing special that she could use to identify them. All three men were wearing black clothing and shoes, and she couldn’t see any distinguishing features aside from the bandaged hands of the smaller man. Feeling that she’d potentially just risked her own life for nothing, she began to close the door as carefully as she could. As if wanting to give her presence away, the door let out a loud creak, and the two larger men snapped their heads around to locate the point of origin of the noise. There was no pretending that she hadn’t seen anything. Adele had been spotted.

‘Charlie, get him in the car. I’ll deal with this,’ Luke instructed his friend. He waited while Charlie took Walton’s entire weight before stepping back towards Adele’s door. He quickly decided on a course of action, and as he got to Adele’s door, he put on a conciliatory smile. He stopped short of the door, not wanting the possible witness to feel threatened, but he was close enough if he needed to employ sterner tactics to push her to forget about what she’d seen and heard.

‘Hey, I’m sorry about my friend over there. I imagine that his . . . exploits were clearly audible from your room.’

‘You could say that,’ Adele replied. Luke leaned in closer, and lowered his voice to a whisper.

‘He, ah, he just broke up with his longtime girlfriend, and I guess it’s fair to say that he went a little nuts, you know, out of revenge. Apparently, he has had a very good time the last few nights. I’m sorry for any inconvenience he’s caused with the loud music and, you know, women. Took my buddy and I a while to track him down after he disappeared. Sorry we couldn’t get here sooner to stop the racket for you. How long did you have to put up with it?’

Adele didn’t want to say anything to the man she assumed had been the one she heard threatening the smaller guy, but he was oddly disarming.

‘Three nights. Three long nights of his . . . amorous activities.’ She played along with his act. It was safer than getting killed.

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet. As he opened it up, Adele saw that it was packed with hundreds of dollars.

‘Look, the least I can do for you, is to cover your stay here.’ He handed her a wad of fifty-dollar bills.

‘No, no, it’s really not necessary,’ she replied, not wanting to touch what she thought might have been blood money. He reached down and took her hand, forcing the cash into her palm and closing her fingers over it.

‘Don’t worry; he can afford to pay me back later. Please take it. I’d feel better knowing that you didn’t waste your money on a crappy stay in a hotel. It’s by way of an apology for his behaviour. Please.’

She looked down at her hand. He must have given her five hundred dollars, and the cost of the hotel was nowhere near that amount. Considering her options, Adele thanked the man for his generosity, wished him luck with his friend, and watched as he swaggered back to the car to join the two others. Quietly, she closed and locked the door, and waited, just in case one or both of the bigger men decided to come back to finish her off. It wouldn’t have surprised her if they had, given what she’d heard through the wall.

Adele waited by the door for the better part of an hour, but they didn’t return to the hotel. Her sleep, however, was intermittent, as she played through the night’s events in her mind.

* * * * *

Charlie looked at Lucky as they drove the freeway back into the inner city.

‘What are you looking at, meathead?’

‘You think the woman knew anything?’ Charlie asked. Luke considered his response for a while before answering.

‘Nah, I’m pretty sure she bought my story about Walton whoring around after breaking up with his girlfriend. She didn’t give me any reason to believe anything else. And besides, I gave her a wad of fifties, and that’s usually enough to shut people up. I doubt that we’ll be hearing from anyone about this.’

‘Still,’ replied Charlie, ‘it might be an idea if we use another hotel for a while. You know how thin hotel walls are, Lucky.’

‘Yep,’ said Luke, ‘paper thin.’

They drove on into the night, Walton in the back seat too scared to make a sound.

‘Where do you think we should drop him off? Back to his wife, or maybe Reggie?’ Charlie asked.

Luke was quick to reply. ‘Nah, I was thinking off the Brooklyn Bridge.’

. . . The end . . .

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About Danielle

I like to write. What more is there to know?
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