The crazy fuck!
He’d thought of nothing else since the book signing, all the across the busy streets of London, so much so that he forgot to get a receipt from the taxi driver.
Stroud Whitfield carried his suitcase through the revolving door of the hotel into a sparkling reception. Overhead lights reflected from every marble surface, like camera flashes, reminding him the way that the evening had started. Shame it hadn’t carried on that way.
Staffing the reception this evening, were two women and a man.
Stroud took a moment to extend the telescopic handle of his case and start to wheel it to the desk. He wasn’t thinking about how they jumped to attention, one dropping papers onto the counter, or how they all stood, ram-rod straight waiting for his approach: he was too busy thinking about that bastard in the audience.
Jesus, what sort of fucker would do that?
He’d been asked some probing questions before, some wannabe hack, or jealous genre writer wanting to know where he went to school and which contact he used to get a contract. How could he be so famous when his work was so bad, and it was getting worse over time.
Writing had changed his life. No shit. One book was all it took. That was when Stroud made his money, ever since if he had to admit to himself, he’d been unsuccessfully trying to emulate that big one. His other work seemed to linger, like a guest at the end of the party. Hell, he was even prepared to embarrass the publisher and talk about why his last book had only sold two thousand copies, and as it stood, he wouldn’t get anything more than his advance. He’d already admitted that the gentrification of his main character was a transition, mirroring his own life. Stroud had felt he couldn’t write about the run down tenements of Glasgow, not when he spent six months of the year in the Caribbean and couldn’t remember what it felt like to be cold.
Rich people get murdered too.
“Have you ever cheated on your wife?” What the fuck was that about?
Categorically, no! The audience had been as stunned as he had. The entire auditorium silent, save for the sound of the asker leaving. He wanted to say how much his wife was as much a part of him, as the sun and earth were in the solar system. He’d been fortunate, sure, after his first book, they never struggled like most people and that took a lot of issues away with it. His wife was the single most important thing to him, if it wasn’t for her - he would have stopped writing years ago. She said that he needed a hobby and she was right.
He tried to think of a witty comeback, but couldn’t. Maybe in the rewrite.
He took out his reservation details and placed them on the desk.
“Good evening, Mr Stroud.” The receptionist looked at him through the autocue style screen in front of her. His details projected back to front floating across the glass.
“Your wife has already checked in.”
The strain in his chest and tension tingled out of his arms.
She must have ditched the yachting club and flown over a early. He sense of relief was as strong as a double Jack, and just as warming. That was better than having to phone and tell her about the man. Had he had an affair - what nonsense!
He signed a card passed in front of him.
“Sir?” The young man had approached the desk, the other two flanking him. There were no pens, papers or books to sign. It was delegation of sorts. For a moment Stroud didn’t know what was going on.
“I’m sorry to mention this, but your wife…”
“What about my wife?”
“Conset Hotels want the best for our clients, b-b-but.”
Stroud took a step closer to the reception desk, the brass buttons on his coat clacking against the stone.
“And?” He said.
“While we appreciate someone of your importance staying here. It’s not normally acceptable behaviour.”
“What are you talking about!? Behaviour for what? You’re talking to me as though I’m child? Spit it out man!”
“Will she be staying the night?”
“What Goddamn business is it of yours. Fuck, yes.” Stroud threw his bag down.
The man quailed, taking a step back.
He took a deep breath. It took a while to sink in, he’d booked a single. Expensive as it was, they were probably moaning about losing money. “Okay, I’ll upgrade the room, Jesus.”
What is it with people today?
Stroud stormed to the lift.
He punched a button angrily, just to get the lift doors closed, to seal out the madness from the foyer.
Stroud rested against the wall, calming himself down.
They were just doing their job.
No need to take it out on them. He could have handled that better.
Part of the anger that he felt was to do with that bastard down at the signing, he was sure of it.
Now all he wanted to do was get into his room, see Judith and tell her what a shit day it had been. They could go out for a meal, have a few drinks, see the world through a gin haze, and it would be alright.
Glistening in the red plush carpet, he could see the plastic top off a hypodermic needle. His mother had been diabetic for a while and had to have insulin injections. It looked like the same white cap that came with those, before the pen dispensers became popular.
He shook his head. For five hundred a night, you would expect that the staff wouldn’t allow junkies onto the premises. Stroud vowed to write to their head office and complain, and about the treatment that he’d received. It was hassle he could do without.
Stroud hurried along the corridor.
On the second attempt he unlocked the room, Stroud pushed the door open, easing his case into the room and propped it against an almost empty, door-less wardrobe.
As he brushed past the coat hangers jingled.
“Hey darling!” he called, “I am so glad you’re here.”
He smelt the gin before he saw it, sitting on the end of the mini bar, with two small soda waters next to it.
“You love!” he said, then addressing the bottles. “I so need you.”
He shrugged out of his coat, walked out of his shoes by stepping on the back of his heels. Something that he’d not done in two decades.
The television was on in the bedroom; he could see a bare leg on the bed, but the angle means that he can’t see Judith. Only it’s not right. That’s not his wife’s leg.
The bathroom door opened and a shadow lunged out.
Stroud turned to see a balaclava figure bearing down on him. He flinched, one hand swatting at his attacker. A needle stabbed him, the point emerged through his palm in a bloody splay.
He over-balanced, flattening his case.
Taking a deep breath to scream, he inhales Chloroform from a rag, stuffed into his mouth.
Again the needle bites into his neck and he can feel poison flooding through the hole there. Cold and dark numbing his body.
Stroud feels his consciousness constrict like his pupils, his vision like a pin-hole camera, upside down and blurred.
The woman is dead. Naked.
Detached, he can feel cold air on his back. He feels himself being undressed, rolled this way and that out of his clothes.
His mind fogs, receding, as he is lifted off his feet.
The last thing Stroud feels, is his body resting on top of the cold dead woman.
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