“Would you be paying cash or card, Ma’am?” he asked.
He nodded and rang up the bill. He gave her the room key and pointed towards the left. “Third room.” He said.
She took the key, picked up the one bag that she was carrying in addition to her handbag, and went on her way.
The bag was clearly heavy. She could barely lift it, he saw. She was almost dragging it. He offered to help, but she refused politely.
The hour was late. What was she doing here, so late in the night with a bag so huge? He wondered. But then the very next moment, he shrugged the thought away. It was none of his business. She could be anyone. She was no one to him. She was in for the night. She had paid in advance. Cash. She would be gone tomorrow. Early in the morning, she had said. Maybe even before he awoke, he thought now with a tinge of disappointment. He made a mental note of waking up early tomorrow so he would at least see her leave. Not many people walked in these doors who were as beautiful as her.
Just for the night. That is what she had said. That is what most people said. And they left in the morning. They were happy to find a place to spend the night.
Open 24 Hours. More if there would have been more hours to the day. That was what his grandfather would say to one and all.
His grandfather had built this motel, in this godforsaken place, in the middle of nowhere, when there was nothing around for miles and miles, to provide a respite to weary travellers who could rest their bones and feed their horses on their way to the next village. Now, fifty years later, the place was still godforsaken; and despite the thriving villages and a railway station that had come up a few miles away, it was still in the middle of nowhere.
However, unlike in his grandfather’s time, today, more people had access to vehicles, and the Government had, as if apologising to him for the miserable, dreary place that he was stuck in, built good roads in this part of the country. That helped a lot with business.
Nonetheless, it did little to boost his morale. This was the only life he had known. But he had different aspirations. He looked forward to leaving this place someday. Making a life of his own. But the problem lay in the fact that no one was really willing to buy this business.
And the fact remained, that even though he hated it, he knew that the land on which the modest motel stood was worth a lot. And so he dragged on, day after day, smug in the knowledge that someday he would walk out of this place.
Someday, he would cash in the land and be on his way to a new life.
He saw a light come on in the room that the young lady had rented for the night. What would she be doing now? He wondered. Unpacking for the night, probably. Undressing? He kicked himself mentally. He didn’t want to go there. Not that anyone would know what he was thinking. But he knew it was wrong to think it. She might take a bath now, he couldn’t help thinking. And that made him think of the scene in Psycho, and he chuckled.
He had been in his twenties when he had taken over the motel from his grandfather – his parents having perished in a car crash when he was very young. He hadn’t liked to be the proprietor of the motel, really. His friends never ceased to remind him of the association in people’s mind, of motels with the movie Psycho. But he hadn’t had a choice. Not that anyone had ever mentioned it to him or been too scared to stop in the motel for the night…
As he watched, the light went off. He waited a half hour more at the counter. The night was dark now. Still. With no wind blowing. There was silence on the motorway too. Maybe he could retire for the night, now. It had been his experience that no one ventured this way in the wee hours of the morning. And in any case, he had the alarm set on the front door of his office. And the buzzer was loud enough to wake the people in the next village. If anyone came to the door, he would wake up. And so, locking up for the night, he retired to his living quarters at the back of the office.
The buzzer, accompanied with loud knocking at the office door outside woke him up. He walked up in his pyjamas and opened the door. For a moment he was too disoriented, and watched in disbelief, as an ID was shoved in his face.
“Detective Inspector Andrew Spike,” the man introduced himself in a gruff voice. “Are you the owner?”
He nodded. Still too dazed, too shocked to fathom what the police were doing here.
“You know anything about the dead body in Room 103?”
And then he was wide awake! The young woman from last night!
“Dead….dead body?” he stammered. “The young woman?”
“What young woman?” the DI asked.
“The young woman who rented the room. 103.”
“That is no young woman. It is a man. In his 40s, maybe. Dead. Cold. Poisoned, it looks like.”
He felt the ground give away beneath him and held on to the door to steady himself.
“Are you alright?”
“I… I am okay… thanks”
“We need you to come with us to room 103. Tell us what you know about the body. And about this young woman you mentioned. And before that, can we see the register? This young woman, you say, did she pay by card or cash for the room?”
And it all went downhill from there. The police somehow did not believe him when he said a young woman had rented the room. The name she had signed in, was Alex. That could be the name of a man or a woman. She had paid cash. There was no trace of her in the room. No fallen hairs, no hint of perfume. Nothing to indicate specifically if the room had been occupied by a man or a woman.
The police, he realised with a jolt during questioning, were equally considering the possibility, that it was the man who had rented the room; and it was only he, who insisted that it had been a young woman. Of course, he mentioned to them about the bag she had been carrying, which looked to be too heavy for her to carry. But the police found that hard to believe too. Because the bag had been found in the room. With a few clothes and toiletries that looked like they belonged to the man.
The woman he had met last night had arrived out of nowhere. There was no car. She hadn’t clearly taken a cab as he hadn’t heard one. The police thought she, or more likely, the man now found dead in the motel room, had come by train and hitch hiked it to the motel. He had no way of knowing one way or another.
But one thing he knew with certainty. That his dream of selling this piece of land and moving on with his life, was now almost over. Who would want to buy the land, let alone a business, where a dead body had been found?
No one knew the identity of the dead man. The woman might as well have not existed at all.
His mind went once again, to the reference of the movie Psycho. It had been the owner in that movie who was the killer. In this case, he had been done in by a guest. And yet, he knew from the way the police were questioning him, that he was, in fact, a suspect in their eyes too.
The rhythmic drone of the train calmed her mind. She was tired and weary. But too pumped up to sleep. She felt bad for the young man at the counter. The police would be all over him, and his motel, she knew. But she had done what she had had to do.
Killing her abusive husband had been easier than she had imagined. The bully had never known the poison was mixed in his whiskey. It was hiding the body that had been a problem. Not many people knew her in her village, but everyone knew her husband and if he was found dead in his house, people would’ve suspected her. That is why she had been keen to mention to the neighbours for the past week now that they were planning on taking a trip, her husband and her. And tonight, she had struck.
He had come home grumpy from work and had demanded an early dinner. He was already drinking heavily by the time dinner was done. She had seen her chance and mixed his drinks. The man had gone down like a sack of potatoes.
And then she had gone ahead with the plan she had already made. She folded him in the oversized luggage bag they owned, along with a few of his clothes and toiletries. It was too big, the suitcase, but he would fit in nothing else. She had then emptied his wallet and taken all the cash and valuables in the house and dumped them in her handbag. And she had left as dusk was falling. She had been careful not to take their car. That could be found missing, or worse, abandoned. So locked the house neatly, took a cab to the nearest train station and had taken a train. She hadn’t initially known where exactly she would dispose of the body; but she had found her chance when, passing through a town, she had seen the sign Open 24 Hours for a motel in a deserted patch of land far away from her husband’s village. She had gotten down at that station and walked the few miles, pulling the over-sized bag behind her.
She was petite. No one would believe it that she had carried that heavy bag. She couldn’t believe it herself, but then again, a true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart. And she had had the heart and the courage to get herself out of her misery. That had propelled her. That had given her the courage.
And now, as dawn broke, she watched from the window of the train. She hadn’t slept a wink all night. And yet, she felt light and fresh, ready to take on a new day. The village where she lived with her husband, the motel where he now lay; were all far behind her. She was headed into a new dawn with enough cash, and the determination to start a new life.
About the Author
Rashmi is a lawyer-turned-fiction writer and she loves telling stories. She also blogs on positive parenting, relationships, books, and humour. Along with the two published anthologies, she has also contributed stories to Kellogg’s India’s ‘Khuljaye Bachpan’ campaign that won a Bronze Medal at the 2016 Abby Awards, India and have been published as part of the anthology released at the end of the campaign.