A Glass Winter 7
By M T M
Heat, oppressive heat. They said it would be 39°C in the city. Those unfortunate enough to be outside hustled from one air-conditioned lobby to another, a constant tirade of disbelief. It cannot be this hot, this is ridiculous. Beating down, the sun seemed to imbue concrete and greenery alike with its baking glow; every step equal to that assault of heat that rushes out from an open oven. After a mere few minutes exposed, from the cool of the car to the welcome relief of the hotel lobby, Vanessa was already dealing with a film of sweat across her whole body. She stood in the long bathroom, breathing deeply, splashing water on her face. A minor inconvenience. There were much more important things to be faced today. One last reassuring look in the mirror and she crept back into the dimly lit stall.
Vanessa emerged, transformed. The woman who walked out seemed shorter, less self-righteous; perhaps timid even. The blonde wig merged seamlessly, not a whisper of black could be seen. The flat green dress with slits in the sides, gold band around her neck. Although it gave her pause to be in the shoes of a hotel porter, she cast her pride aside in a moment as a childish thought. The steady determination that had led her to this point was not dimmed, it urged her forward now more than ever. She felt it. A trembling glow in her abdomen that felt sensitive as if likely to explode in a sensation of mingled pain and anger. But equally, she was in control. There was no doubt of the task, no question of failure. The calm determination became a swelling of pride. All notions of judgment, consequence, fear; thrown aside without feeling. She felt almost psychopathic. Completely calm, driven by the unwavering knowledge that nothing could be more deserved.
Today she would murder Arnold.
She gazed at the clock, its slowly moving hands scorning her. Five past. The morning staff now gave way to their afternoon counterparts, people would be moving in all directions. Most eager to get home out of the heat, some cursing the sweltering hours ahead. She slipped out of the bathroom. A small family were checking in at the desk, wiping their brows in the stale air of the glass lobby. She walked calmly towards the elevators. Conscious not to walk too fast, or too slow. Strolling forward with an air of boredom, absentmindedly glancing at a few workers fixing an elevator door. No amount of determination could overcome that childhood fear of being caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing. As the minutes past and the lift still did not arrive, her skin began to crawl. More people were arriving. She fidgeted with her hands, conscious of the beads of sweat forming on the back of her neck.
A soft ring made her jump. The lift doors slid open and she walked inside, painfully aware of a maid pushing her cart in behind her. Catching herself in the mirrored walls, she saw how pale she was. In fact, she looked unwell. The maid cast her a sideways glance, although whether the expression was of pity or suspicion Vanessa couldn’t tell. Breathe she told herself. But then, before the doors could close, a man strode in. His shoes clicking on the metal floor. Vanessa felt her chest tighten. The man wore a suit despite the heat, he was seemingly engrossed in a leather-bound folder he was carrying and unaware of the nervous pale woman and the short plump maid beside him.
Four floors, no five. Shit. A lump in her throat interrupted her steady breathing. Was it four floors or five. She had planned this for months. Cursing herself and panicked, she reached forward for the button. The suited man stepped in front of her, reaching down and pushing 4. He very nearly knocked her hand out of the way, they exchanged glance. He was handsome, full lips and a well-kept beard. It was Austin.
Things were not at all going to plan. Vanessa, lying completely still, felt a frantic sense of panic tingling in her whole body. She had tried to subdue Austin, repeatedly telling him about a friend she was intent on visiting. But he had insisted on a drink. Flustered and terrified she had somehow ended up in his room, on his sofa, in his arms and now in his bed. It was a curious situation to be in. A passing dalliance with an old flame on route to murder the man that ruined your life. But she had convinced herself that being here provided a stronger alibi than the café owner she had recently bribed. She would have to find him of course and terminate their agreement, although it had crossed her mind that a man of reasonable intelligence would see the profit in making her life difficult.
She slid out of bed. Austin was a handsome man, reasonably wealthy she supposed. But not the most observant. He had not noticed her porters uniform. She had some far away executive to thank for that, designing staff uniforms that could pass for high fashion. But perhaps he was not slow witted and would realise something was up when he saw a maid strolling down the hall. She needed to escape.
Slipping on her dress she examined her reflection. A few stray black hairs hastily tucked back into the wig and she was ready. Grabbing her handbag as she passed, it hit the chair hard. She faltered, Austin groaned in his sleep. Something hard in her bag had made the noise. It was the gun.
She slipped out into the hall, painfully aware that time was running out. Walking quickly, her shoes muffled by the carpet, she saw a maids cart piled high with towels. Something told her to take a few, so she did, hurrying towards to elevators.
Vanessa’s head spun. It was the maid from the lift.
“What are you doing with those young lady?”
Time seemed to stand still. She didn’t have the faintest clue what to say.
“I…I” She laughed nervously, “A guest, asked me for more towels” Her voice broke as she said it. The maid looked at her in disbelief and confusion.
“You. You can’t just take these I have stock to keep track of dear. You…” She cleared her throat, simultaneously noticing Vanessa’s handbag.
“What’s your name dear? I don’t think I know you, and I know almost everyone by now”
“Helen” She offered. It sounded more like a question than an answer. “I’m new”
“Oh, I see” She said smiling, “Its quite alright dear” She reached down, shuffling things around in her cart. Vanessa breathed a sigh of relief. But the maid straightened up, a phone in her hand.
“No” Vanessa breathed. Walking towards her.
“What’s that dear?” She took no notice, “Ill just call downstairs, I’m sure some supervisor or something is around to help you get your bearings”
“No, really, its fine!” They were almost face to face now. “I’ll just go downstairs, you don’t have to-“
“Nonsense, its no trouble” She was dialling.
A flash of terror made Vanessa lose balance, she dropped the towels. The maid clutched her arm in support.
“Oh my dear, maybe you should come inside and sit for a minute. Come on, its alright” She led Vanessa into the open room. She clutched her handbag to her chest. “We’ll get this all sorted out”
Some force came over her, she shook off the maids hand and slammed the door shut behind her.
“But… my dear” The maid gasped.
“Shut up!” Vanessa yelled, exploding from the tension, the fear. “Please, just shut up!”
The maid looked abashed, her eyes glazed over as if she might cry.
“You’re not going to call downstairs, are you listening?!”
The old woman nodded feverishly, holding back sobs now.
“Please-“she croaked, “What’s going on dear I was just trying to help what-“
Vanessa thrust her hand into the bag and pulled out the gun. The maid wailed but was silenced by a stern look. That calm determination had come over her once again. This woman was going to stop her, even if she succeeded now, the maid knew her face. There was only one option. Coming to this conclusion she breathed deeply for the first time. Detached, unfeeling, unmovable. You have to, you have to, there’s no choice a voice in her head told her.
She walked around the bed and shot the maid in the head. Then, stowing the gun back in her bag, she picked up the pile of towels and left the way she had entered.