I lead the way into the hotel through the side entrance.
“O M G Phil, what are you thinking?” says Ashley.
“Not sure.” I don’t want her following me, but I can’t afford to let her out of my sight. If she runs, I’m finished.
The side door is propped open. Easy entry. I begin the slow pitter-patter down the hallway. My heart races. I’ve got an iron grip around the handgun.
I’m on the second floor. I step, step, step down the hallway, eyeing each door. I wonder how many guests have reserved rooms within earshot. I wonder how many would call the cops at the sound of gunfire.
I stop at 203. I press my ear against the door. Television sounds – late-night Cinemax special. I look at Ashley, and her eyes are already locked on mine.
You’re not actually going to kill someone, right?” she says.
I drop my gaze, then cover the peephole and turn to the door. I hold the gun in my left hand, and knock slowly with my right. The television’s porno-moans cease. I hear slow footsteps from whoever’s inside. They’re coming my way.
“What?” says the dark, low voice inside.
I don’t respond.
“Speak!” says the voice.
I hear a groan, then footsteps away. I knock again, three, slow, times.
I take a breath. “I need to speak with you.”
I gulp. “Master.”
I hear the bolt lock snap open. I clench my handgun tighter.
Sweat drips off my eyebrow.
The door handle turns. I cock the gun, ready to fire.
Door stops short of opening all the way. He left the chain fastened, and pokes one eye in the crack. Latch comes undone. The door opens. I see his face – it’s big and wide, just like the rest of his body. He stares me up and down, then slams the door shut. I pound it with my fist.
“Who is Master?” I say.
Nothing. I gulp.
Door flies open. Before I can react, he grabs me by the shirt and rips me inside. I fall on the floor. He’s running away. This is a big dude – one I can easily outrun.
I bolt out the room and chase after him – he’s heading toward the stairway. I start after him, then stop and turn around. Ashley’s gone!
She must have taken the elevator. Probably just walked in. I sprint after it. I press the button; slam it even. Too late.
I turn around and fly down the hallway. I reach the stairwell, and jump down the first flight, then the second. I start running to the elevator shaft on the first floor, then stop.
I can see the hotel receptionist speaking on the phone. I can’t risk being spotted by her running through the hotel lobby. Not even to catch Ashley.
I turn and sprint out the side door. Big boy’s nowhere to be seen. Right by the hotel is a heavily wooded area. Great place for a hideout.
I enter the woods running. I don’t hear anything. This guy could have a gun.
I slow down to a crawling pace. He could be anywhere. I have no flashlight on me, not even a phone. Both my hands are locked around the handle.
My breath is heavy. Every step I take breaks twigs, and I can’t bring my hands to stop shaking. This isn’t like any football game – this is life or death.
Something creaks. Up above, a short distance away. I shuffle my feet across one another. I can hardly contain my breath.
A snap. High, overhead.
I raise my gun and aim. I can’t see him.
A loud smack, followed by a crash. A tree branch broke, no doubt it was unable to support him.
I run over, and find him lying on the ground, hands covering his face.
“No more!” He screams. “No more, please!”
I point the gun at his head. “What are you talking about? Who’s Master!”
“No!” He yells. “I can’t take this. I can’t!”
“Tell me about Master!”
The big guy chuckles. “Master? You wanna know who he is?” He starts laughing, then grabs handfuls of dirt and smears it onto his face. He grows hysterical, and pounds his fist into the twigs and branches next to him.
I bring the gun closer to his head. “Stop laughing.”
He doesn’t; he’s cracking up.
I step forward until I have one shoe on his stomach. I bend over and press the barrel into his forehead.
“Tell me everything you know.”
His eyes grow big, and he quits laughing. “A guy can only take so much.”
“Who is he?!”
“Oh, you want to know about Master?”
My finger is on the trigger. “Yes.”
A big grin spreads across his face. “Fuck. You.” He reaches out for my gun and pushes my finger into the trigger. Half his noggin splatters out behind him as the gunshot echoes through the woods.
- Thomas M. Watt