My eyes shifted around the dining room, as the dinner rush came to a close. Back and forth. Ever watchful. Some patrons may have been staying at the hotel. Others may have been passersby who happened to see the menu. As for me? Well, I didn’t come here to eat, but the strip loin looked too good to pass up. And the spice brought back memories of New Orleans. I highly recommend it.
As for my quarry, I kept my eye on him. No matter how dull his activities were. He wore staunch blue pinstripes and burgundy brogues. And a rug that only Donald Trump could envy. His name was Ziti Williams. I’d gathered he was not only a literal bigwig but a figurative one as well. The Chairman of Kernig Utilities, in fact. And the Lamb & Valiant was his favourite New York eatery. He ate here every night and day, without fail.
Although a while ago, he had an incident here. Legal proceedings were filed, but never came to fruition. And now he played some racket with the owner of the hotel. So something fishy went down here.
His waitress Monique walked up to his booth, dread in her eyes, and addressed him and his companions. There was the blonde with the strapless, the brunette with the backless and the redhead with the backless strapless dress. And it seemed it was time to order dessert.
Without warning a fire earned my attention, and I was about to react when I saw it was under control. So controlled in fact, it burned itself out, with Anton and Chef Gino standing next to it, and the birthday girl. I smiled, and realised I could eat again. After all, Ziti drew out his meals. The appetizers, the dinners, the deserts, etc., so why couldn’t I?
Meanwhile, my server Marie returned to my table , looking more hot and bothered than usual. I gave her a puzzled look, noticing that she was wearing two fewer undergarments than she was when she checked to see how I was enjoying my steak. And her long hair was now free and windswept, lashes were longer, lips, somehow fuller.
Though I wasn’t surprised. The hostess Rachelle fawned over me when she showed me to my seat. Monique winked at me constantly, as did Zara. So did Mr. William’s redheaded prostitute. And at the bar was Sasha, making cat impressions, and mewing whenever I was close enough to hear. Not to mention every other woman in this town. I received genuine smiles from just about any girl who paid me any attention, be then 18 or 81. And the longer I hung around, the longer they wanted me to, it seemed.
Marie massaged both of my shoulders and asked, “Can I get you anything else, Mr. Nash?”
I suppose it was my own fault for introducing myself. So I insisted, as I pushed her hands away, “Please don’t call me that.”
“Certainly… James,” and she looked at me very suggestively.
Ugh. Here we go again, I thought to myself. “Um, yeah, could I get the cheese cake, please?”
“Of course. Whatever you want. What flavour? Vanilla? Raspberry? Double Fudge Brownie Delight? Dripping with a warm and decadent chocolate sauce? A goo so good you just want to nuzzle—”
I cut her off, “Uh, yep! The vanilla sounds fine. Thanks.”
A minute passed as she stroked my bicep, before she asked, “And… is that all you want?”
I nodded, and she smiled, “Okay.”
As she walked away she knocked her head back and let out a soft moan, and her entire body momentarily quivered and tensed spasmodically.
I focused again on Ziti. So far, there were no new developments. They ate their desserts, and I ate mine. In awkward silence; as the waitresses, and barmaids, and female guests stared at me with hungry eyes all around the gallery. I’d roll my eyes, and see only sighs.
Suddenly, Ziti stood up, and the girls followed him. The middle-aged man had looked at his phone, to read what was most likely a text. They paid. I paid. And then I followed them to the lobby, where a line as long as time was checking in, and or making their way to the cocktail party. A nabob soirée, which had already begun.
Yet Ziti didn’t shuffle over to the party gate, with the gaggle of grinding girls in his arms. Rather, he dismissed them, and moved to the elevator, alone.
In a moment I was on his coattails and joined the man in the lift.
The five of us stood in silence. Me, Mr. Williams, a pair of newlyweds and a grinning fool of an elevator attendant. We stood in silence. Fortunately he didn’t know who I was, and I was turned away. But Mr. Williams only exchanged glances with— and I checked his nametag— ‘Toby.’ I waited to reach the top of the skyscraper.
But we didn’t. Not to the top, anyway. Instead, Ziti departed at the 18th floor. I followed him once again, trying to keep a pace ahead, looking casual, with and my head focused on the door numbers to avoid suspicion. But the man didn't seem to care.
Midway down the hall, Mr. Williams stopped at room 1807. Discreetly I carried on, and kept an eye out for the person waiting to greet Ziti. But I never saw anyone. Whomever was there, was too far away from the threshold. And like Alice, he tumbled in, out of view, before the door slammed shut.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my floor, I didn’t have Mr. Williams’ person bugged, and I couldn’t invite myself into room 1807 and interrupt his secret liaison. So I waited outside. And waited. And waited.
Ten minutes passed by without any change, as I leaned against the corner, admiring the artwork in the hall. Some impressionist piece by the look of it. Every so often, I’d crane my neck around for a peek, yet there still were no new developments.
Before I knew it, the door opened. A man, most likely Ziti, held the handle, whilst continuing to converse with someone else in the room. I still didn’t know who.
Eventually, Mr. Williams left, with a briefcase in tow, and headed for the elevator. Though it wasn’t his normal lackadaisical strut. Rather, it was a full-on jog.
I sprang into action impulsively, without a single thought about what I was doing, and sprinted after the man. Galloped really; since I was so far away. By the time my stride met up with his, right before the doors could slide close, I’d made my presence known to Ziti Williams.
The three of us were alone in the lift, yet Mr. Williams barely noticed me after my outburst. In fact, I doubt he paid me attention at all. Not even Toby cared; and his eyes rolled back in his head, as he remembered his training, searching for that piece of information that would help him deal with the situation about to unfold.
For Mr. Williams seemed both cold and clammy, and as white as snow can be driven. A true feat considering he was still alive. I had seen corpses looking more animated he was so pale. Then I saw the lump in his throat, and I took a step back, as he regurgitated his lobster and chocolate cheesecake.
Once the breadsticks came up, I couldn’t help but proclaim, “Sweet Jesus! there they are,” and I covered my nose and averted my eyes so as not to hurl myself.
“Oh no… Are you okay?” said Toby.
I looked at the young asian man as he both looked and sounded so remarkably insincere, I thought it came across as sarcasm. But then a little more vomit came up to distract me. Now Ziti had come to the ooze.
“Sorry,” Mr. Williams replied monotonously.
Arriving at the penthouse, the man raced away again, stepping through the vomit to his room. I jumped over the throw-up and left Toby to deal with it, as I chased after the very ill Mr. Williams. He struggled to get into his room, but eventually did, while I entered mine, directly across the hall.
Perhaps I was a little paranoid, or perhaps I was being hypochondriacal, but I hurried to the restroom to wash my hands and face. Certain I had cleansed myself sufficiently, I calmed down, and returned to the door, dragging a chair along the carpet as I did.
I looked out the peephole.
“He’s probably still in there,” I muttered to myself as I waited by the door. Soon I was sitting in the chair, listening for any sound from Mr. William’s room.
Yet scarcely a minute passed by, when I heard the door click open. I stood up and looked outside to see a wholly transformed Ziti Williams. Not only had he ditched the valise and changed into a tuxedo, but his colour had fully returned. It made me wonder if he was a pod person, or if he had some sort of regenerating chamber in his room.
Dashing the alien thoughts from my mind, I wagered he would be going to the cocktail party. Back on schedule. My eyes followed him down the hall, and once more into the elevator, this time journeying into descent.
A few minutes later, I was ready. I combed my fingers through my hair, straightened my collar and lapel, prepared to mingle at the party as well. A quick check in the mirror on the way out, and I smiled at the handsome devil. I had the tux, the attitude, sobriety. As long as I was watered down, and stayed at the edge of the party, I wouldn't draw attention to myself like last time.