Click here for Part One and here for Part Two.
He turned and walked out, scanning for the elevators. He found them around a corner, banked against a giant mirrored wall. The light around the elevators was dimmed, draining into sepia, because maybe the hotel managers wanted people to think they were in an old photograph. Winnick shook his head at the absurdity of it all. That would never work, he thought. He had yet to hit a button, and he held Scott's wallet in his hands. Alone for a moment, he began to wade through its contents, lifting out the hotel room keycard between two fingers, while his thumbs kept the wallet gaping wide. He found, in the same inner sleeve as the keycard, a slip of paper with what appeared to be a room number scribbled across it. Slipping the wallet into his back pocket, he looked at the paper, turned it over, scanned for more writing, maybe a little note, or a sketch. Nothing. Winnick felt briefly disappointed in Scott, but he shook it off. He quickly memorized the room number, and then at the slip of paper.
Hit hit a button. He heard a ding, then the easy rumble of an elevator door sliding open. A hunched over young man wearing a white baseball cap with a giant floppy F on the front stepped out and walked quickly away from Winnick without looking at him. Winnick watched him go, then stepped into the den-like quiet of the elevator. He hit another button, marveling at the apparent sleepiness of the big hotel, and he heard another ding. He stepped into the hallway.
A soft, syrupy light settled over everything out here. What was with the light in this place? he wondered. It made him drowsy. He tried to figure out what financial motives the hotel management could have for trying to make their customers sleepy with all this brown half-light, but he couldn't come up with anything. So he walked down the hall, looking for the room number. He found it after about five minutes. He swiped the keycard, and gently opened the door.
He stepped in, and immediately noted the white kitchen to his right. The kitchen was the only source of light. The sink was silver and dripping and filled with a plate, a glass, a pot streaked with pasta, and a saucer that looked like someone had opened a vein into it. Winnick walked quietly into the kitchen, which smelled of cold, wet food. He bent his head over the sink, squinted at the saucer, as though it were a fly-leg under a microscope. He sniffed. Not blood, because that would be odd. A sauce, he supposed, with which he was unfamiliar. The plate had gobs of tomato and onions and bread, and other bits of whatever, and the wet sink odor of it all put him off. He turned from the sink and found the knife rack, from which he extracted the big kitchen knife, which had apparently not been used to prepare the dinner Scott had been unable to get home for. Standing there in the middle of the kitchen, Winnick looked into the shadows of the rest of the room. A chair and a sofa hunkered down in the dark, the large box of the TV cut big black corners into the blue evening light coming through the curtains on the far wall. Maybe he'd flip some lights on later. Probably not, though.
He walked out of the kitchen and turned right, the only place the hallway into the bedroom could be. He made no sound. He found the bedroom door as if by instinct, turned the knob so gently, pushed it open so gently, walked in, and heard the soft, sweet breathing of the pretty young woman who loved the man Winnick had left cooling and stinking in a garbage heap somehwere back that-a-way. Winnick felt such sadness for her. How could she ever have envisioned such an outcome for herself or her husband? And if she had, what could she had done? Would not marrying Scott have saved her? Would she have preferred nights of unbroken loneliness, if this was the alternative? Would marriage to someone other than Scott have led her life in another, safer direction, one free of such unthinkable horrors? Would she have loved that man as she loved Scott? If the answer was no, would that have been a trade she would have been willing to make? And if not, what a sweet young woman she must be.
Winnick got slowly into bed with her. She was warm, and wearing something that felt almost slippery; it must be terribly comfortable, Winnick thought. He cautiously found a small lamp on his side of the bed and turned it on.
The woman stirred, and turned her head, with its pretty tangles of sleepy hair.
"Baby?" she murmured. "I'm sorry, I got tired."
Winnick put his hand over her mouth and slammed his knee into her stomach. She went rigid and bleated into his palm. He showed her the knife and she immediately began to cry.
"I cut open your husband's stomach about an hour ago," he said, sad at the words.
He could feel her saliva and her lips, even her tongue, against his palm. Her tears poured back into her ears and hair.
"Here we go," he said. "There won't be anymore." He stabbed her hard in the abdomen, twice, paused to watch her, and then stabbed her three more times. The bed was becoming a lake of blood. Her feet pounded the bed's sheet and comforter. He squeezed tight on her mouth. He kept stabbing her, and her fury began to drain out of her. "This is how it ends. So now you know." He cut her throat and gouged out her eyes with his thumbs.
He took a shower while holding the knife, which later went into the trash. He took one of Scott's topcoats to cover the gore on his clothes, and ditched his shoes in favor of a nice pair of boots. He left the hotel without a glance at anybody or anything, hailed a cab outside, and let out a relieved sigh when he opened his own front door. He undressed, showered again, put on a robe, stuck his clothes in the garbage, got into bed, and lay awake for a long time.
* * * *
The next day was Saturday. Tomorrow was Sunday, and Sundays were for calling his brother's home and hanging up if anyone answered. Saturday was usually something of a free day. He rolled out of bed at 9:22, his room lit by a cloudy, curtained haze of a sun, softening all the shades of blue in his bedroom, of which there were several. Mounds of clothing were kicked through on his way to the bathroom, where he showered for the third time in under twelve hours. This shower was the hottest of the three, the steam so thick and piping that it seemed to effect his breathing a little. He reddened comfortably beneath the spray, and hung his head in, what was it, shame? He toweled off, took his pills, brushed his teeth, slipped into his thickest robe, and went back to his bedroom. He scooped a shoebox out from beneath his bed, took it to his kitchen table, opened it, and scattered the contents before him.
This was a collection of scraps. Index cards, dollar bills, Post-Its, formerly crumpled notebook and legal paper, typing paper, napkins, all scribbled over. Lists, notes, letters, poems, warnings, pleadings, apologies, ultimatums. Drawings, story ideas. Winnick could not remember how long he'd been collecting these. Two years? Something like that, he supposed. Regardless, he'd begun by accident during one of his walks. It was in his nature to walk the streets, during the day as well as at night, just to observe things and people and places. Park benches were often a destination for him. He would seek them out in areas busy with pedestrians, and he would plant himself, and he would warmly stare at them all, taking note of people's moods, noticeable in eyes and strides and breathing. Angry people, for instance, had small eyes and rapid breathing. Happy people had soft eyes and slow breathing. Sad people walked as though the bones in their legs were degenerating with each step, which maybe they were and that was why some of them were sad. Also, sad people's eyes looked like those of sleepy fish. Sad people wore sweatpants and sweaters.
This natural interest in his environment and those who shared it with him surely led him to this current fascination, because it was while observing people one day that he found his first scrap. Not a scrap, to be honest, as it was a full sheet of unlined paper, folded square twice over and left almost in the middle of the bench. He didn't unfold it at first, but waiting until there was a lull in foot traffic. When he did unfold it, he saw it was a letter, written in blue ink. It said:
You told my parents that you think you lost Jesus. I think that's very sad. Why did this happen? Times are tough I know, for me too, but for you more. I know. I'm going to tell you something straight, it's a shit life sometimes and I'm done pretending it's not. But you can't lose Jesus! Because Jesus is all there is. Do you know why? Because he's the only one who can love you forever.
There was a bit more after that, but it was a variation on the "I care about you and you should call me" sentiment that ended all such letters. Winnick was nonetheless enthralled by that first part, and tried to imagine who had written it. He knew it was a woman, because she'd signed it (Brittany), and he thought she was probably young. And he thought she might be black, because he was given to understand that black people often talked about Jesus. Beyond that, he had to admit, he had trouble seeing her, and imagining her life. Her life must be absolutely packed with loss, though, and apparently also compassion for others, which impressed Winnick to no end. To know so much suffering, and to still find it in herself to care about her friend! He'd read that letter twelve times in a row right then and there, and from that day on had sought out more letters like it, wherever and whenever he happened to be walking.
He'd found few of that caliber over the years, but he'd found many other scraps of thoughts and emotion, scribbled or scrawled and left for strangers throughout the city. He sifted through them now.
Here was an interesting one. A list, on a large Post-It. It said:
And another one. Not a list this time, but a personal note on a small piece of legal paper. It said:
Dennis - You hurt me with what you said about my legs. I go to the doctor about them almost all the time! But whatever, your fat! - Joan
Another list, a sort of "to do" list this time. Or no, more like an attempt to structure a day:
take a bath
eat my breakfast
play sega for 1 hr.
go to cemetery and see mom
eat my lunch
play Nintendo until dinner
eat my dinner
Now a warning:
Keep knocking jackass I'll call the cops or I'll punch a whole through your face! Whats it like to eat shit my friend? Ha ha youre a clown. Maybe thats why we're always laughing. Its not because youre funny cuz youre not. Youll be eating shit even more too if you keep knocking jackass. So keep it up it'll be so funny if you do! Youre funeral, jackass!
I miss you and wish you would call. When you don't I get sick. I think about why you don't like me anymore, and I don't have an answer. But I'm truly sorry for whatever I did.
A non-sequitor, a melancholy one:
Peter - You left again. Most times I just sleep.
There were several shopping lists, like that first one. It struck Winnick that something as trivial as a shopping list could linger with him in a way that even some of these nakedly emotional notes and letters could not. It was curious, but when you read something like this next one -
- you had to stop a moment, didn't you? Winnick did, at any rate, and when he read that list it swept through him like a slow breeze. It struck him in the way he supposed other people were deeply impacted by reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby-Dick, or some other great novel. Winnick guessed he was a bit of a fool, because who else cared as little for art or literature as Winnick did, but at the same time could almost be awe-struck by a sloppily spelled grocery list?
He was beginning to feel restless, staring at this heap of paper. He watched it for a few more minutes, fluttering a little from the air conditioner's breath coming from the vent in the ceiling above the table. He put his hands on top of the heap to try and settle it, and its many corners rustled against his fingers. He didn't want to press it too firmly.
Well. That was enough. He began to gather it all up again and put it back in the shoebox. Once it was all stored back safely underneath his bed, he got dressed and ventured outside. He wanted to go walking today.
END PART THREE