I always slept so well on a hotel bed. And yet, it was hard to wake up sometimes, after drinking so much the night before. The fatigue was heavy upon me. A headache floated around my skull, and a parchedness trespassed between my lips.
A breeze twisted through the open window, tussling at my hair. I could still smell women's perfume against the bedsheets. Part of me was still dreaming, until–
Bzztzztzztzzzt—bzztzztzzt! a cellphone droned a dull vibration against the nightstand, Bzztzztzztzzzt—bzztzztzzt!
Irritated, I rolled over, twisting the sheets against the empty silhouette of where a woman had been last night. I was not awake enough to remember her name and I was pretty sure my phone was set to ring, not vibrate.
"Ughhugh," I grunted, really hoping she'd pick up that damn phone of hers already!
In my hung-over state, it sounded like a jackhammer against concrete. I moved a hand across the bed to nudge her awake. That was when I realized she wasn't in bed anymore.
I wanted to chuck it out the window. I turned my head, opened my eyes a little bit, and saw the bare surface of the table where her purse had been the night before. It took me a second to process.
Bzztzztzztzzzt—bzzklncktklnck! my cellphone, not hers, clattered against my keys after inching its way across the uneven glass surface of the night stand. It had been my phone all along, causing this ruckus. I must have set it to vibrate last night, too inebriated to commit that to memory.
It sounded like a train wreck making rampant love to a busy construction site. I thought my ears would bleed. Reluctance gripped me. My eyes shot open, in pain. I rolled over again, reaching for it on the night stand.
Bzztbz— "Hello?" I had pressed the speak button and held the phone to my ear. My voice was undeniably groggy.
"Is this Mr. Thomas Rose?" asks a woman, her voice carrying a thick Louisiana accent. It was nobody I recognized from the company.
I offer her a guttural clearing of my throat, then, "This is he; speaking. May I ask who's calling?"
"Yes, Mr. Rose. My name is Doctor Andrews. I work at the hospital where your daughter was born. And I believe you left a large sum of money in an envelope with a note, in my office, with my name on it."
"Was the note not sufficient to explain things?" I asked her, as kindly as I could without yet having my morning coffee.
Dr. Andrews erupted, incredulous and angry. "Neither I nor any of my colleagues will be threatened or bribed, is that understood, Mr. Rose?!"
"You tested her blood, did you not?" I asked, keeping my voice calm and even.
"The lab tested both of them, yes," she acknowledged. "Mother and daughter. I was given the results."
"And...?" I was growing impatient with this woman. I fought the temptation to get out of bed and make my way over to the coffee machine, where a lukewarm brew still sat. I could smell it.
"And everything was normal, Mr. Rose," she told me.
"Are you sure?"
"Right as rain," she told me.
There things were not what I expected Doctor Andrews to say, and if she were to say anything along these lines I wouldn't expect it to sound so sincere. I was certain: she believed that everything was normal. That meant I had left that money there for nothing.
"Which company owns the hospital?" I asked.
"HCA owns most of the building, but we work in partnership with Winter's Rose Incorporated. They own and operate most of the labs, including the blood lab and the pharmacy."
And for a moment, I was relieved. I even sighed. Winter's Rose Incorporated: the company. Someone on my side was already one step ahead of me, saving my ass from exposing—
I disconnected the call. I could feel my blood pressure rising.
It was the only conclusion I could make: Todd Winters had his first inkling of what she was. He was the only other person I could think of in the company who could and would pull strings like that. How he knew to do so... I could only fathom. I was staring at the wall, trying to process the full extent of what this meant, when the hotel room phone rang. Still in bed, I picked up the phone, "Hello?"
"Mr. Rose? Reception. Your wife is here to see you."
Great, just what I need, I thought to myself. Divorce papers to sign! "Send her up in five minutes," I instructed the desk clerk.
"Certainly," replied the young woman.
I hung up the phone. Then I picked up my cellphone again and changed the call notifier to actually ring instead of vibrate. With a stretch, I got out of bed, naked, and went over to the coffee maker and microwave before getting dressed.
There was no sign of the woman I had taken to bed last night.