If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years I’ve worked here, it is the universal truth that no matter how they might try to dress it up and pretend otherwise, humans are messy creatures and that is a fact.
Some of them loved a good, hard party and they’d leave the rooms smelling like a bar the next day, beer pooled in sour patches on the carpets, cigarette butts spilling out of ashtrays knocked to the floor, that kind of thing.
The Higgs brothers were crazy like that – Joe kicked the TV in one night when they were good and wasted, and Mike got a mean gash on his forehead because he was jumping on the bed and got whacked by the ceiling fan.
Their old man owned a hunting surplus store that didn’t make them a lot of money so they paid for the damage in gin traps instead. I was fine with that. Kept the wild animals away.
Some of them were bedwetters, and lemme tell you, the cleaning ladies hate a bedwetter, for obvious reasons.
Some of them were messy eaters and left our sheets stained with all manner of shit – salsa, ketchup, bacon fat, mayonnaise… at least I hope it was mayonnaise.
All those people, they were harmless folk. Messy folk for sure but harmless, and mostly I didn’t let it get to me that they treated my rooms exactly like they were, cheap places to spend a night after a long day’s drive.
But then every once in awhile, I’d get a call from the Big Bad telling me to book out three rooms, one next to the other and I’d put down the phone after a call like that and I’d swear under my breath because I knew what was coming.
The next day I’d find the two rooms on the outside untouched, Big Bad just hired them so no one else would, but the one in the middle? I’d find it looking like wild animals had torn it to shreds.
The mattress would be lying half off the bed, springs bursting out of it at every angle and the sheets would be drenched in sweat and spotted with blood, lying in a crumpled heap in the corner.
The pictures would be lying face down where they’d been torn off the walls and the curtains would hang ripped on the railings, faint, bloody stains trailing down them where they’d been clutched in desperate handfuls.
The cupboards would be broken from blunt force, the bedside lamp would be a sad and tattered mess, the basin in the bathroom would be shattered and the floor would be drenched an inch of water from the broken faucet.
Anything that was glass would be smashed – windows, mirrors, anything. Those animals even managed to destroy the ceiling fan once, I found it turning in slow, lopsided circles, with only one propeller left on it. Not even Mike’s thick head ever managed to do that.
At first I thought the Big Bad was getting people murdered in those rooms, maybe people who owed him money or who had wronged him in some way. He never let me see the people who checked in, that was part of the deal and the next day he’d send one of his boys over with a bag full of money, more than enough to repair the damage, so I kept my mouth shut.
Still though, it was fuckin’ weird and I couldn’t stop my mind ticking over and over every time that phone call came.
In the end it was the screaming that really got to me. I can turn my back on a lot of things, more than I’d care to admit, but the sound of a woman screaming? You gotta be one cold-hearted bastard to not let that get to you.
I convinced myself that Big Bad was renting the room out to the worst kind of people you could imagine, maybe thugs of his who liked to beat up women and worse. Maybe that’s how he rewarded his hired guns, rented out these rooms in the middle of nowhere and let them do whatever the hell they wanted with them.
So one night I stayed up, listening and waiting because I had to know and even though it fucked me up pretty bad, what I saw, I’m glad I saw it.
Around four o’clock in the morning things finally went quiet in the room Big Bad had rented and a calm descended over the desert around us that was so deep, I swear you could hear the moon setting in the pale sky.
I climbed into the back of my truck and pulled the tarpaulin sheeting over myself, leaving a tiny gap for me to watch through as I peaked over the tailgate at their front door, about 50 feet away from where I lay.
It was there that I saw them.
He came out first, stooping as he stepped out the door in jeans, a black vest and more tattoos than you could ever count. His eye was swollen shut and crusted with dry blood, red scratch marks ran down his neck, and his shoulders were riddled with bite marks.
He was huge, carved from stone and had a mean look about him like he’d seen and done a lot of bad things in his life and he would see and do a lot more.
He scanned the parking lot for a few seconds and then slowly stepped aside, holding the door open with a thick, tattooed arm.
She stepped outside carefully, like a fawn, into the breathless morning, wearing his jacket.
She was every kind of beautiful that woman, but that’s not what stuck in my mind. What stuck in my mind was that after all that screaming and destruction, she stepped out of the wreckage of that room without a scratch on her.
And I knew in that instant that the screams I’d heard all those times weren’t from pain.
He closed the door softly once she’d stepped through it and she turned back to face him and gently put the palms of her hands on his chest and then lay her head between them, right where his heart was, to listen.
His arms rose slowly to encircle her and he tucked her head under his chin and closed his eye and they just stood like that for a long time while the sun rose red above the aching desert.
I don’t know how many years I’ve got left in me, probably a handful at best, but even if I lived another hundred, I don’t think I’ll ever see two people, two animals, more in love.
A black limo pulled up to where they were standing and she reached into one of his jacket pockets, took out a ring and put it on her left hand. She gave him his jacket back, wiped her face quickly and turned to get into the car.
He stood there watching her in silence until long after the limo had pulled away and the dust had settled, and then he jammed his fists into his jacket pockets and started walking down the road into the desert, the same way she went.
The rest of that day I didn’t do much but stare off from behind the front desk, lost in half-thoughts about what I’d seen that morning. By the end of the week it wasn’t much better.
A couple of months later Mike and Joe stopped by, asked how the gin traps were working out, so I lied and told ‘em they were working out just fine.
Truth is after that morning I dug a deep hole behind the shed, threw the gin traps in it and buried them, I don’t know why. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
The world carried on turning as though that morning had never happened, as it always has. The hours added up to days, which added up to months, which added up to years and I stopped thinking about those two. I just took it for granted that that big mean bastard finally met someone bigger and meaner or that that beautiful woman went back to whatever life was waiting for her in that limo and didn’t look back.
And so you can imagine my surprise this morning when I picked up the phone to hear a voice I hadn’t heard for nearly five years.
‘I need a room Sam,” he told me in that same old wolf-voice.
“Actually, make it three.”