Above the Darkness

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The Stormy Hotel

“Jordan? You ready?” I asked as I knocked gently while opening his door.

“Yup. I thought maybe we should check outside. He might have already left with the car somewhere. I haven’t seen him since dinner time, and I know he would have to ask dad. I already checked his room too.”

“Okay, yeah. Maybe he is just on the porch outside.”

We left through the front door, managing not to bring any attention to us. “No, not there.”

“Well, the car is in the driveway. Where else could he be?” We went into the back yard, and he was sitting in the garden petting Whoopido!

“Why are you sitting out here man? And who is this dog?”

“I just needed some air to think, that’s all. And I am not sure who this dog is, but he sure seems to like me.”

“Yeah, he is very friendly.” I said as I walked over to pet him. “C’mon Jordan, he won’t bite.”

“I don’t know. I have had bad experiences. Dogs don’t like me.”

“I am sure this one will. He is precious. Look at those eyes.”

“Oh, okay.” He walked over timidly. As he put out his hand, Whoopido came over to him and licked his hand. Jordan flinched. “See Jordan? He likes you!” I said as Whoopido rubbed his side against Jordan’s leg. I looked at Jordan’s goofy grin, and couldn’t help feeling my insides laughing again.

“So, I know why Liz is here, but how about you Jordan? What did you want?”

“I just wanted you to take me to my friend’s place.”

“Yeah, sure. I just got to check with dad. You guys stay out here, just in case he isn’t feeling too generous.” We both nodded in agreement.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t long before Jamie came back. He had a strange look on his face, an almost confused look. “What’s up Jamie? Is everything okay?” Jordan asked.

“Yeah, yeah. Things are great, let’s get going. Liz, is there anything you need to get? Like your purse?” I knew he wasn’t actually thinking of my purse, but the addresses.

“Are you sure Dad was okay with it?” Jordan asked suspiciously.

“It’s fine. It’s just he seemed too okay with it. I think he didn’t even hear what I said. But, I guess that doesn’t really matter. If we come back, and he asks why we took the car, I will tell him I did ask beforehand. I guess I’m worried that he won’t believe me or something.” He said, while fidgeting and looking downwards, talking to the ground.

“Well, if he doesn’t, I will back you up,” I said, trying to make him feel better.

“Yeah, but I don’t want you to get in trouble.”

“I won’t. Let’s not worry about that right now, though. I’ll get my purse.” I rushed upstairs, to make sure I had everything. I thought about Whoopido, and what we were going to do with him. I know Jamie would think it’s a bad idea to let him stay with us, but I have to convince him somehow.

When I went outside, the car was already running, and they were waiting in the car. Oh no, what about Whoopido? I took a closer look, and he was already inside the car! I supposed Jamie and Jordan liked him just as much as I did, or, maybe, Jamie thought the dog would protect us if we got into trouble. Either way, I was relieved.

“You got everything?” Jamie asked with seriousness in his eyes.

“Yup.” I assured him. We drove to Jordan’s friend’s place first. It wasn’t too far into town, but it was out of the way. I didn’t know where the address was exactly, but I knew we would have to backtrack, past our house, to go where Jamie and I needed to go.

Before I knew it, we were heading back in the right direction. “So now that Jordan is gone, what is the plan?”

“I’m not sure Liz. But I have kind of a bad feeling about this. Do you really think it is necessary? What if dad shows up at this hotel? And what are we supposed to do when we get there?”

“I don’t know, but I am sure we will figure it out. We could probably ask at the desk what room they were staying in, or if they were staying there at all. I think I have the picture of that girl. The same address, that you saw them at, is written on the back of this picture of her. I’ll show you when we are parked.”

“Really? So maybe Ruth knew about what was going on? But, I still don’t know why she would have a picture of this girl, or all of those other pictures. I wonder how they are all tied together.”

“Me too. She and this Daniel guy must have had something planned. I got his phone number from Tanya. Did you want to call him now? Or, should we go to his house after the hotel?”

“We will call him after. Maybe even while we are there, we will call him. And then, we can possibly get him to meet us there. We will know if he has something to do with all of this by his reaction.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. Hmm… Do you think that the people at the hotel will be willing to give us any information?”

“Not sure. I just hope that they don’t contact the police, and tell them that we have been snooping around.”

“Yeah, I hope not either.”

---

“Well, here we are. Can I see that picture now?”

“Yup. Here…. Does it look familiar?” His eyebrows furrowed, and he frowned.

“Well? Is something the matter? It’s not her?”

“No. I am pretty sure it is. The face looks really familiar, and the body shape is the same, but-“

“But?”

“The hair colour. It’s brown in this picture. But, when I saw her, I could have sworn it was blonde.”

“Weird. Maybe she wears a blonde wig. We’ll ask the receptionist, or whoever else we show the picture to, if the face looks recognizable. Also, tell them she might have been wearing a blonde wig.”

“Yeah, true. So you ready?” I almost blurted out no, until I looked over at Whoopido. He was happily panting in the back seat, with his drooling tongue hanging out. His eyes brightened. “I’m ready if he is.”

“You want to take the dog in?” Jamie asked unsure.

“Yeah, of course. We’ll say we are training him to be a seeing-eye dog or something.” It looked like he was ready to say no, when he also looked back at Whoopido. Whoopido then whimpered a little. “Oh alright. We’ll take him in.” Jamie complied.

Whoopido then bounced in the back seat, making funny little bark noises. “Looks like he is happy about that.” Jamie recognized. “What should we call him? I mean we should have a name to call him don’t you think?”

I hesitated, thinking about whether I should suggest his real name. I decided not to. I doubted my 20-year-old brother would really go for that. “Okay, well you pick the name Jamie.”

“Hmm. He looks like a silly character. Maybe he should have a silly name.”

“I agree.”

“Okay. Hmm. What about pookie?” He suggested, almost sarcastically.

“You are kidding right?” I laughed.

“Yeah, but what do you think?”

“Whoopido?”

“HAHA. Can we call him Whoopi for short?”

“Haha. No, I don’t think he would like that.”

“Okay, well it will do for now. Whoopido it is.” I couldn’t believe that he agreed to the name, although, it did suit the creature’s sweet and silly predisposition. He must have more influence than I thought.

It was raining heavily now, and it was dark. I could barely see the outline of the building but, from what I could see, it didn’t look like it was in very good condition. It almost looked more like a trucker’s motel than a tourist’s hotel. If anyone had anything immoral going on, it would be better to do it at a place like this.

When we walked in, there was a small lobby and reception desk. The woman sitting there had long, bleached blonde hair, a fake tan, and long red nails. She was filing them, while talking on her cell phone as we came in. She took a quick glance up, but ignored us. I had a feeling she wouldn’t be the best eye-witness. At least, we could probably count on her not to go to the police.

“Excuse me, Miss?” Jamie said fairly loudly. She still didn’t look up. He said it again while knocking on the counter. She held up her index finger, indicating for us to wait a minute. So, we did, but, when two minutes went by, Jamie said, “We are just going to take a look around and we’ll be back.” She waved her hand at us. We glanced at each other, to make sure her gesture meant we could go ahead. Even if it didn’t, we went anyways.

The hallways were narrow and long. There were only two levels: the main one, and the lower one. We went downstairs first. We had no idea where to start. We couldn’t knock each door to see who was in there. We really needed the data from the computer, to see if they had any record of who’d checked in.

An older woman was walking towards us, with a cart full of cleaning supplies. She was short, a little plump, and was sporting a frizzy, red fro. “Why don’t we ask her? She must see a lot of people coming in and out. Also, we could ask if she has seen anything suspicious when cleaning.” I suggested to Jamie.

“Good idea. Maybe you should approach her Liz. She might take to you better. I will stay here with Whoopi-wo?” I didn’t blame him for not wanting to approach her. She did seem a little scary.

We both giggled. “Whoopido.”

“Right.”

“K. I’ll be right back. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck. We’ll have your back, don’t worry.”

She was opening one of the rooms as I approached. I didn’t want to lose my chance to talk to her, so I said loudly, “Excuse me!”

She stopped suddenly, and gave me an annoyed look. “Yes? I am busy here little girl.” She was bitter, and seemed to be the type that was constantly irritated. I didn’t take it personally.

“Sorry, I can see that. But I have some things to ask you, if that would be okay?”

“Why would you want to ask me anything? I don’t know anything. I am just the cleaning lady.” She said, while giving me exaggerated hand gestures to imply her sarcasm.

“Well, I am sure you are more than that ma’am. And I assure you, you must know more than the woman at the desk.”

She gave a shy smirk, “Well, yes, that is probably right. Okay, what is it you want to ask me?” I could tell flattery worked well on her. She looked like she hadn’t gotten a compliment in years.

I pulled out the picture, and held it up so she could see it. “Have you seen this girl before? When she was here, she might have had blonde hair. And, she might have been here last night.”

“Why? You friends with her? I sure hope not. That girl is trouble.” She said firmly, with one hand on her hip and the other resting on her cart.

“So, she was here then?”

“Yes, many times. I am not sure what that girl’s problem is but she lets men take advantage of her, and it’s not right.”

“She has been here with different men?”

“Yes. And she does wear wigs. She has a deal with the manager of this place. They know who she is, but noone else does. I believe she usually goes by the name Natasha.” I wrote that down in my notepad that I brought along. I looked back to see Jamie and Whoopido standing there. Jamie’s eyebrows raised, and his head nodded slightly. I nodded back.

“Who is that?” The woman asked irritated again.

“Oh. That is my older brother and our dog. We are training him right now. Can they come over here?”

“If they must.” She said sternly.

I waved them over. I gave him the update on the girl. “Is she a prostitute?” He asked bluntly.

“Oh my. I am not sure, but I wouldn’t doubt it. She dresses pretty risqué, if you know what I mean.” We nodded knowingly.

“Of course. Would you be able to describe some of these men? Like the one you saw last night with her?”

“Oh it wasn’t last night. Well, it was very early this morning. Most of the time they don’t stay the night, or they come in the middle of the night. And, before I tell you any more, I would like to know why you want to know all of this information. I don’t care much if she or these men get in trouble, but none of this is my business. Are you a cop, son?”

“No. We’re worried our sister was involved with these kind of people and she has passed away recently.”

Her posture softened. “Oh, I see. So, she had some secrets?”

“Yes, it appears that way,” I said.

“Do you really want to know what kind of person she was, if she was involved with these kinds of people?” Her attitude came back full force. I could tell this woman had trouble letting her guard down.

“Well, we don’t believe she was like these people, just manipulated, and maybe hurt by them.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I would like to help, but I should get back to work.” She turned her back towards us.

“Please Miss-“

“Call me Mary.”

“Mary. Can we just ask a few more questions? Then, we will be out of your hair.”

“Oh, alright but, if my manager comes by, you better run out of here. He is a mean old goat.”

“Yes ma’am, of course. So the man this morning - what did he look like?” She began describing exactly what our father looked like. Hearing it from someone other than Jamie made it more real, and harder to digest. My stomach irked and rumbled. I could tell Jamie was also having a hard time taking in the truth. I tried to ignore the feeling, and I kept asking questions. I wanted to know whether or not Daniel had been there.

“Was there ever a younger man here with her? One that looked younger than my brother here? He is 20.”

“Hmm. I think so, yes. He was probably the youngest man that ever came here with her. I wondered if it was her boyfriend or not, but that wouldn’t make much sense because who would date someone like her?” It made me uneasy, every time she bashed this girl. I know she probably wasn’t the most morally sound person, but she was young. Young enough to be manipulated, abused and trapped. Even if she had something to do with Ruth’s murder, I couldn’t help but feel compassionate towards her.

This was a stepping stone for me. I didn’t believe I was the most judgemental person but, when it came to matters like these and girls like that, I probably would react the same as Mary. Today was different. I looked at the dark cherry wood eyes of Whoopido’s dog shape. They exuded sweetness, innocence and loyalty. I couldn’t help but wonder if this girl once had these same qualities.

On the other hand, I did agree with Mary. Why would someone date someone who did this for a living, unless they had some other reason? Maybe he was taking her money? Maybe he is one of the son’s of the men she had been with? I couldn’t be sure. I knew we definitely had to talk to Daniel tonight, or I would not be able to rest.

Jamie and Mary continued the conversation. He asked her about the other men and what the younger man looked like. He wrote down all of the descriptions in my notepad. He was also a very good artist so he sketched most of the descriptions - the ones where she remembered a lot about the person’s appearance anyway. I would have to compare these with the pictures I found in Ruth’s locker.

As they talked, I thought about my helpers’ advice. They made this such a big deal, but it didn’t seem very dangerous. I hadn’t used any of the gifts either, except Whoopido. I got out the letter from my pocket and read it over:

From Oochoo: Be unseen. Move only when safe.

From Goasila: When time is limited, slow down to take a closer look.

From Mazfanny: Laugh quietly. Step lightly.

From Vincent: Remember – Purpose.

From Harmony: I believe in you, now believe in yourself.

Maybe these messages weren’t literal. Maybe they were only metaphorical. Maybe I have to do all those things from the inside but, if that were true, then why would I need the gifts? There had to be something more coming, I could feel it.

Just then a tall, balding, grey haired man came around the corner. He was moving fast and stepping heavily. His face was rough and wrinkled. He moved much younger than he looked. “Is that your manager?” I asked panicked.

“Oh no, yes. Sorry kids, I got to go.” She was about to close the door when I got out the handkerchief, from my bag, and threw it in the air as fast as I could.

Everything stopped immediately, only I was able to move and talk. I knew I still had to get the records from the computer. We needed to know what room they were in, to see if they left any evidence behind. I ran to the front desk. I didn’t know how long the time would stay stopped. Goasila never gave a limit, so I assumed there wasn’t one. He always said to slow down, so I did just that. I had to make sure I got the right information. I checked the records, but my father’s name wasn’t anywhere, and neither was Natasha’s or Daniel’s. I assumed my father wouldn’t use his real name, but there wasn’t even a single man checked in at any time last night, or this morning.

The only strange thing I found was a peculiar pattern for room 301. That room was always booked under the name Mr.Riotta. I wondered if he was the manager. I tried to check the records of employees and information about the hotel. It took sometime but I finally found it. Sure enough, Mr.Riotta was the manager and owner. Why would he have to book this room every night? Was he behind all of this? Did he use this room for illegal activities? I had to get into this room. Now…Where would it be? The rooms on Floor 1, always start with 1 and on the main floor everything started with 2. Yet, there was no third floor, so where was this room located? And, how could I tell Jamie without him wondering how I attained this information?

Whoopido! He could pretend to sniff it out. I could say the handkerchief was dad’s, and the dog could smell that, then lead us to the room. I had to talk to Whoopido privately. Whoopido, if you can hear me, follow my voice. I need to speak to you. He then showed up on the desk as a frog. He jumped up and down on the bell, ringing it. “Whoopido? What are you doing? I need to speak to you.”

“I like the bell, it’s fun! And, being a frog, gives me extra jumping power. And, listen. Riiiipiit.” He continued to make singing frog noises. I was amused, yet intrigued by the enchanting frog sounds.

“Okay, Whoopido? I know you want to have fun, and so do I, but I need you to listen to me.”

“Remember Liz, I am here to help you have some fun. Speaking of which, how about that Mary? A character, eh?”

“Yes, she is. And, I know you are trying to make things more light-hearted, but I do need you to do something for me. I enjoyed your froggy noises and acrobatics, thank you, but can you listen now?”

“Sure. Okay, what is it?” He said as he drooped down in disappointment.

“Well, I need to get to this room. The number is 301. I think something fishy is going on in there.”

“Fishy? Like this?” He then transformed to a fish, and was flopping back and forth on the desk. I was a little annoyed. He was still trying to get me to lighten up.

“Whoopido, please. I can’t have you playing games. I don’t have much time.”

“Sure you do. You have all the time in the world. Just look around you. Everything is perfectly still.”

He made a good point, but I still felt rushed to get the information. “Okay, you’re right. I shouldn’t be so worried. Is there something you would like me to do before you help me?”

“That is quite a silly question, child. I do not need you to do anything. I am not your boss. And, I cannot force you to do anything. But, if I had a choice, I would like you not to resist lightening up.”

“Yeah, I can try that. But, I am going to tell you the plan now okay?”

“Sure thing, boss.” We both giggled.

“Like I said, I need to get to the room, 301.”

“But, it doesn’t exist.”

“It does. It’s on the computer. We just have to find where it is hidden. Can you use your instincts to help me find it?”

“Sure, I can try.”

“I am going to use this handkerchief. I will tell Jamie it is our father’s and, because you will be a dog, you will be able to sniff out his scent. I have a feeling he was in this room.”

“That sounds like a great idea, but I am not sure if I will have the sniffing powers.”

“Sure you will and, even if you don’t, we just got to keep looking until we find it, okay?”

“Okay, but what do we do about the scary man walking towards us?”

“Uh? Who?” I looked around, panicked.

“You know, the one frozen in the hallway, coming towards Jamie there.” He said with a half grin.

“Oh right. Um, I am not sure. We have to get him to leave us alone somehow. Maybe we can tell him we have a room here that we are staying in, or that we need a room, and the woman at the front desk wasn’t very helpful.”

“Not sure if that will work, but yeah, we can try.”

We walked over to our position before I stopped time. Start again. Everyone continued in the same manner. The door shut, and the man kept walking faster. He walked right up to us, and then spoke in a surprisingly soft voice, “What is a dog doing in here?” He must have assumed we were staying in the hotel.

“We are sorry sir. We meant to ask the manager, but the woman at the front just ignored us. We needed a room, and we need to have our dog with us. My sister- “ Jamie approached the man’s ear, then spoke in a lower tone, “ My sister sir - she is blind. The dog helps her.”

“Oh, sorry. Carry on then. But wait, you said you need a room?”

“Yes, that would be great, thank you. Are you able to do that?”

“Of course, I am the manager here. Riotta, Keith, Riotta.” He held out his hand. Jamie shook it firmly.

We all followed him to the front desk. I took on my role, as the blind sister. It was funny how my brother already knew what to say. I then remembered our discussion in the car about what we were going to do if someone asked us about the dog. I am glad Jamie remembered this, because I might have blown our cover. I must have been too preoccupied with that room.

“I have been wanting to fire her.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Her.” He pointed to the rude receptionist. Of course.

I stood back a bit to give them some space. He took her phone, hung it up, and then began speaking to her firmly. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their body language told a lot. They didn’t just have an employee, employer relationship. They knew each other more than that. Relatives maybe? Lovers? I couldn’t quite figure it out. I then realized I shouldn’t be staring over there, since I am supposed to be blind.

“Okay, let’s go.” The man said, and then progressed in front of us, still stepping forcefully.

“Don’t we have to pay?” Jamie asked.

“In the morning, son.”

“Aren’t you afraid we will just walk out?”

“I am never afraid of anything. And, if you did that, there would be hell to pay. Now do you want a room or not?” He became hostile.

“Yes, yes. Of course.” No one said a word after that. He gave us the key to our room, when we got there, then turned away, and stomped off without a word.

“Well, this turned out better than I thought,” Jamie said.

“Yeah it did. Good idea about the dog.”

“Thanks, I thought so.”

We stepped into the room. It was dark, musty and puny. I could hardly breathe. It felt like no one had been in there for years. I opened up the window to get some air.

“Don’t do that.” Jamie scolded.

“Why?”

“What if someone walks by and can hear what we are talking about.”

“But I can’t breathe in here Jamie. I can barely think.”

“Okay. Well, let’s just keep it down then.”

“Sure. Actually, there is an idea I had.”

“What is that?”

“Well, I think it would be a crucial to find out what room dad stayed in. And, that Natasha girl, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but how would we ever do that?”

“With this.” I held up the handkerchief, being sure not to throw it in the air. “It is dad’s. It has his scent on it. And, I think, Whoopido can track his smell down.”

“I am not sure about that but it’s worth a try. I think we should wait a little bit. And maybe turn on the T.V, and then leave it on, when we leave too. I don’t want to bump into Mr. Riotta again.”

“Okay sure.” I could use the break anyways. I felt too pressured and worried. I needed a moment to collect my thoughts. Maybe something would come to me, or maybe not. Either way, I had to relax. This was taking both Oochoo’s and Gaosila’s advice: move when safe and slow down to take a closer look. We were waiting to move, and I am slowed down, but take a closer look? At what? I looked around the room to see if there was something that stuck out… nothing.

“What are you looking for?” Jamie snapped.

“Nothing in particular but, I think, we should look around.”

“This isn’t the room, though.” He said indisputably.

“How do you know?”

“Well, they wouldn’t put us in the same room where illegal activities might have carried on.” I tried not to let his arrogance bother me, and listen to what he was saying. Normally, I would have blocked him out or gotten into an argument with him. I knew, now, it was better to work together, no matter how much we irritated each other.

“I guess that’s true. Still, I am going to look around.” I took the sheets from the bed, looked in the closet, in the bathroom, under the bed, in the T.V stand’s cupboards, still nothing. I was surprised that they had a coffee maker, and even more surprised they had coffee. I checked the expiry date, 04 05 1999. I couldn’t believe it. I figured it would be expired but 10 years? If someone tried to drink this, they would be poisoned, for sure.

“Look at this Jamie.” I handed over the coffee.

“What?”

“Look at the expiry date.”

“Oh my god, that is ridiculous. We could probably sue them for this.”

“Well, only if we drank it and one of us ended up dead.”

“True.” Then I had a crazy thought. Maybe they do poison people with this? Could it actually kill someone, though? Was this the murder weapon? I decided to check the sheets again.

“What are you doing now Liz? Would you just sit and relax? Here watch this show. It’s old but good.”

It was the old hit show 90210. I couldn’t believe fake, superficial people like that actually existed. I couldn’t believe Jamie liked this show, but I didn’t say anything. Instead, I stared blankly at the luminescent screen. It was hypnotizing, with all of the colours swirling around on the screen, with a pervading shimmer that covered the people on the screen, like an expensive sheer blanket.

Whoopido lay at my feet, at the end of the bed. He was calm and peaceful; breathing gently from his cute dog nose. I was happy he was with us. I felt safer and gentler.

My brother had fallen asleep. I didn’t want to wake him, but I did want to get started on our search. Maybe I could go by myself? It might look better if Whoopido and I run into Mr.Riotta. He won’t get as angry at a blind girl trying to find her room right? But then what if room 301 is his room? I can’t break in there. Or maybe I can? No. I can’t break in. How could I break in anyways? I don’t have a key, and I have no idea how to pick a lock. Wait a minute. Yes! Oochoo’s gift, I can use that!

I jumped out of the bed, and then covered my brother up with a blanket. It was getting chilly. The rain was cold tonight. I should shut the window but it was old and I didn’t want to make a lot of noise.

“Whoopido. Come.” He jumped out of his sleep quickly and came to the door.

“Okay, Whoopido. We are going to look for this room by ourselves. I don’t want to wake him up.”

“Do you think that is a good idea?”

“Well, I figure if I am with you, and we run into the manager, he won’t be as harsh with me.”

“Okay, I guess that makes sense. It is your choice, and I am here, by your side, no matter what. You can count on me!”

“Thank you. If you see Mr. Riotta you have to lead me okay? I can’t be leading my seeing-eye dog. That would be weird.”

“Indeed.” He agreed with a quiet bark.

We came to the end of the first floor. The hallways were dark and dingy, like the rooms. We still could not find room 301. I wasn’t surprised. They probably wanted to hide the room, since people might think a random 300-number room would be strange, and suspicious. Also, the location of the room couldn’t be among the regular rooms. I am sure the manager wouldn’t want guests like us to know where this room was. But then, how would I find it?

I walked back up to the main floor, and walked down every hallway to make sure. Still, nothing. I saw Mary come out of one of the rooms. She was at the other side of the hallway, so I ran quickly to approach her.

“Excuse me! Mary!” She stopped and rolled her eyes. “I am sorry Mary, but I have one last question to ask you and then, for sure, I will leave you alone. I promise.”

“Okay girl, but you better make it quick. I am really aching for a smoke, and break time is now.”

I nodded my head, “Well, here is the thing. I would like to know what room that Natasha girl usually stays in.”

“Oh, now you are asking too much. Mr. Riotta asked me specifically not to even mention that girl to anyone, never mind tell them what room she stays in. Are you out of your mind, missy!”

“I may be. But really, I won’t say a word. Besides, if he sees me snooping around, he won’t think much of it.”

“Why is that?”

“Because he thinks I am blind.”

“What? You can’t be serious.”

“I am. I know it sounds silly but, when he came rushing up to us earlier, my brother must have panicked because he didn’t want us to get kicked out, so he made him sympathize with us, by telling him that I am blind.”

“Mr. Riotta? Sympathize? Well, that is definitely new.”

“It may be, but it did work. So, please Mary. Don’t tell him okay?”

“Sure, but I am not telling you what room that Natasha girl stays in. It’s too risky. I don’t want to lose my job. This is the only thing I got.”

“Well, I think I already know what room. I just need your help in finding it.”

“What are you talking about now?”

“Room 301. Right? That is the room?”

“That is where Mr.Riotta stays when he is working, and how do you know that?”

“It is hard to explain, but is that where Natasha goes?”

“Yes and no.”

“How is that possible? She stays there sometimes?”

“No. Well, I have seen her go in there with those men, but the men don’t usually come out of that room. I am pretty sure there is an outside entrance. And another room that is attached to it that isn’t labelled.”

“Well, you clean it, don’t you?”

“No. Never. He doesn’t let me go in there. I don’t even have a key.”

“Can you tell me where the room is though?”

“Little girl, you are getting way too deep into this. I think you should take your information that you have to the police.” She said sternly, as she pointed to the way out.

“I can’t do that. I have to do this! Please try to understand!”

“I have an awful feeling. Even though I don’t like you much I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Well, thanks, I think? But, whether you help me or not, I am doing this. I already searched the hotel, and I will keep searching until I find it.”

“Oh, alright. You sure are stubborn, aren’t you?”

I smiled, “I like to think of it as determined.”

She smiled back. “Okay, I will tell you, but you must never tell anyone where you got the information, alright?”

“Yes, I promise.”

“Good. Go down to the end of this hall, take a right, and when you’re almost at the end, there is a door that has no label on it. That is 301. You might have missed it because it is a very small door and it is the same colour as the paint on the walls, where the other doors are a different colour.”

“Thank you! Thank you so much. Again, I am sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Just be careful, little girl.”

“I will.” I walked quickly down the hall, with Whoopido close behind. I followed Mary’s directions and, sure enough, I found the door. It seemed to blend right into the walls, like Mary said. I tried opening it but, of course, it was locked. I took out Oochoo’s gift in the shape of a necklace. Turn into the key that will open this door. And it did. Before I opened the door completely, I remembered Oochoo’s advice, move only when safe. Was it safe? I couldn’t tell. I looked around, and nobody was in sight. I put my ear to the door, and I couldn’t hear a sound. It was safe for now. Whoopido moved closer to me, and looked up at me, saying with his sultry eyes, “Are you sure about this?”

I looked up and closed my eyes, as I felt my helpers all around me and a surge of confidence filled my heart. I looked back at Whoopido, and said, “Yes. I am sure.” I opened the door.

---

I didn’t find a hotel room, but another hallway, one with a few rooms. This hallway was even darker and dirtier than the other ones. There was only one light on, and even that one was not very bright. I looked on the doors that were in this hallway to see if there were any numbers on them, and sure enough there were: 301, 302, 303 and 304. I didn’t try to open 301, since I figured that one was Mr. Riotta’s, and I did not want to run into him. I hoped he had gone home, and was no longer in the hotel, but that was unlikely.

I tried 302. It was open, but I did not fully open it. Instead, I tried the other ones. Surprisingly, they were all open. All this trouble to have a secret hallway, and the doors were open? I didn’t hear any noises from any of the rooms. It must be too early for his customers, so I checked each room one by one.

The first one was like a regular hotel room. It was even fairly clean, which was surprising. There was no sign of anyone ever being in there. No clothes were left behind, no wrappers. Nothing. I checked the coffee machine and coffee. It was fresh coffee! This must be where most of his business comes from, since it seemed he tried harder to make these rooms more welcoming than the others.

The second room was the same as the first, except this one even had a big screen T.V, a DVD player and a game console. I looked in the drawers and found lots and lots of movies that I should never watch. I just saw lots of pictures of naked women and shut the drawer. It seemed like this was an entertainment room, one for men who wanted to get away from their real lives, and indulge in guilty pleasures.

When I walked into the third room, I was met with total darkness. This gave me an uneasy feeling but, when I turned on the light, I knew why I felt uneasy, and it was not because of the darkness.

There were ropes, chains, handcuffs and whips hanging from the walls. There was a leather bed, with strap-like things hanging from the ceiling. I moved closer to the bed.

“Let’s get out of here Liz. We shouldn’t be here.” Whoopido pressed.

“Wait. There is something here, on this bed.”

“What? Let’s just get out of here. My dog ears are picking up something.”

“Are you serious, or are you just trying to make me leave?”

“Seriously Liz. Quickly, c’mon.” I never heard such gravity in his voice. I wanted to listen, but I knew there was something important I had to get.

I walked over to the bed anyways, and saw some kind of liquid on it. It was splattered all over, and some had even gotten on to the floor. “Is there another light over there?” The one that was on, was far too dim.

“No, but I think this is one of those ones you can turn up…I don’t want to Liz. Let’s go. They are getting closer now.”

“I can’t.” I got over to the light quickly, turned it up, and turned back towards the bed, but this time I didn’t need to get closer. I knew what it was. Blood. And, it wasn’t that old either. I didn’t want to do what I was about to do, but I knew I had to. I got out the handkerchief wiped some of the blood onto it. DNA.

“Okay, can we go now?”

“Yes, yes. Wait. Listen.” We both heard talking coming from outside the room. Men’s voices, one that sounded like Mr. Riotta, one that was younger sounding and another that was a girl’s voice - Natasha maybe?

Whoopido nudged me, “Look”. Behind heavy dark drapes, there was a sliding glass door. We took a chance and ran for it. We ended up, somehow, at the back of the building, next to the garbage bin.

“We need to get back to Jamie, tell him what we found, and get out of here.”

“I agree.” Whoopido barked.

When we got to the front of the hotel, I peeked inside to see if the receptionist was still there, but she wasn’t. “Okay, let’s go in now, before she comes back…if she comes back.”

We made it through the lobby, and down to our room without being detected. When we got back into our room, Jamie was thankfully still there, fast asleep. I wondered if we should stay here the night, and leave really early in the morning. Maybe we could catch the others leaving. Then, I thought of that guy Daniel, and how much information he must have on Ruth. We had to talk to him. And if we stayed, and tried to leave in the morning, we might even run into our father. Besides, he might suspect something if we are gone all night.

I pulled the covers off of Jamie, and shook him until he woke. “What? What? What is it? I’m up.”

“We’ve got to go. There is nothing more here. We have to call that guy, Daniel.”

“What are you talking about? I thought you wanted to find out what room Dad was in?”

“I already did. I mean, I talked to Mary again while you were asleep.”

His grogginess subsided quickly, “You what? You shouldn’t have left this room without me Liz. It could have been dangerous. You brought the dog, I hope.”

“Of course and we were fine. No worries…Anyway, she told me where the room was, and she said I wouldn’t want to know what was in there. She said men come here to fulfill their immoral fantasies. Whatever that means, and I didn’t want to ask. But, I am sure you know, right?”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense. But, what about evidence? What about finding out if Ruth was here?” I could tell he still wasn’t happy about me not including him, but I couldn’t risk it or wait.

“I also told Mary what Ruth looked like, and she said she had never seen her here. And, if she was here, Mary said that there is a back way into these rooms, so she barely ever sees anything.” I felt bad not telling Jamie the whole truth, but there would be too many questions about how I got into the room, and he would be angry that I went without him.

I was trying to figure out how Ruth, my father, Mr.Riotta, Daniel and Natasha were connected. I hoped that Ruth was not involved with those kinds of acts. I was especially worried about the third room I went into, # 304. Could that have been her blood? Was it someone else’s? Was it a bunch of people’s? The thoughts came like a disturbing slide show in my mind.

I then remembered Herosavieltun, and all of the horrible things I saw there. I remembered the purpose: to learn compassion, to help and to sacrifice for the better good. I thought about these people here, in this hotel, doing those disgusting acts. How does that, in any way, serve a purpose? How could people do such things with young girls like Ruth and Natasha? I hoped that Ruth wasn’t involved, but my heart and gut knew better. My father must have brought her here. She must have tried to get out of it. Or, she might have found out something valuable, and she was going to spill his secrets. That was the only explanation.

Again, my mind was a flood of distressing thoughts and images. ‘Why?’ I kept asking myself. Maybe, when I sleep tonight - if I can - I will find out more. Again, I remembered those horrible acts in Herosavieltun. After thinking about it for awhile, I realized it was the witnesses of those acts who had harder lessons to learn. If you experience something first-hand, and then see it happen to another person, it is easier to have compassion for them. However, it is harder to do this, when you have not experienced those things for yourself, and you now have to take action to stop it. It was the same for Jamie and I, and any others seeking the truth. It was our chance to learn those big lessons. I then wondered, are those awful people here as our teachers? Are they just an illusion, like the ones in Herosavieltun?

Jamie stopped making the bed, fixed his daunting eyes on me, and asked, “Liz? What is wrong?”

“Nothing. Just thinking.” I said trying to sound convincing, but he didn’t buy it.

“I know what Mary said is hard to understand and digest but, hopefully, we can make sense of all of this soon.”

“I hope so.”

He took a deep sigh, picked up my bag for me, and stood at the door as he said, “Alright. Well, let’s get going then. I will call this Daniel kid when we get to the car.”

“Should we check out? Or give any money for our time here?”

“I am not sure. We will ask the receptionist. That is if we can get her to speak to us.” I nodded in agreement.

Luckily, the receptionist wasn’t on her cell phone when we got there, and Jamie was able to talk to her. I figured he would be able to get us out of here and probably without paying. I went to sit on the couch in the lobby with Whoopido by my side. I felt a little better that we were now closer to the truth, but I was still unsure about how everything was going to play out. Whether it would be okay or not; I knew this was my journey, and I was glad for my company.

Jamie waltzed over from the reception desk with a grin on his face. “Alright Liz, let’s get out of here.” I was relieved.

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