Alexei Stepanovich signed his name with a flourished S on the gilded, yellow note-pad. He was disgusted by his name and much preferred everyone to call him “Sue.” As such, every time he was forced to sign a notepad, an image of his own mild face or the bare breasts of a middle-aged woman, he always signed the S aggressively, pushing the nib deep, even into the skin. The reception looked up at him with horrible bulbous eyes. Around the receptionist’s neck was a lanyard facing the wrong way, into the chest of his yellow shirt, and Alexei wondered if it wasn’t done on purpose. Alexei wondered how many other signatures the receptionist had collected, and whether that was the reason the bulbous-eyed boy pawned so desperately after a job that involved sitting very still for extended periods of time, pretending to look important in the foyer of this provincial, yet somewhat renowned, luxury hotel.
‘Welcome to the Hotel Notorious, Mr. Stepanovich.’
Alexei grunted. A young girl, no older than fourteen, dashed across the foyer, between the chocolate coloured lounge chairs and marble-topped coffee tables, to bow in front of him. She had wiry braces and yellow teeth. Teenage nipples hillocked beneath her yellow shirt. Alexei glanced at the receptionist, as if to say, ‘Is this for me?’ but was glad when the young girl picked up his bag and made her way across the foyer to the three lifts that stood side by side on the other side of the room. Alexei stood very still, because he knew what was inside his travel bag, and he knew that the little girl would be very scared, absolutely terrified, if she found out. The thought tickled him. He crossed the foyer deliberately, he liked to think he was looming up on her like a storm, but she stood defiant by the lift and stared him down, so that by the time he was by her side he had shrunken to a fluffy white cloud.
‘I’m used to dealing with people like you,’ she said, sternly.
‘Like me?’ Alexei Stepanovich asked, bemused.
The girl put her hands on her hips. Her elbows were angular and her hips very thin. On the shining floor her trainers squeaked as she adjusted herself, squaring up to Alexei. She was tense. Little bunches of muscle gathered up underneath the short-sleeves of the yellow shirt, her calves bulged, her stained teeth bared like a fox. Another ten years and this little girl will be a force, a complete force, Alexei mused. He glanced at his travel bag, and the girl caught his look.
‘I’ll take it upstairs for you. You don’t have to worry about that,’ she said.
She turned and pushed the button and stood facing the metallic door of the lift, her back turned completely to Alexei. Mr. Stepanovich hummed and rolled backwards and forwards on his feet as they stood silently in front of the lift. The girl’s bony spine was visible through her shirt and her behind was totally flat. A graphite grey skirt reached down to the backs of her knees, which were red and raw, like they’d been stung or scratched. She looked out of place in the well-fitting clothes: the clothes fit too well, and the whole get-up was too grown up for such a young woman. Woman. Before she’d been a girl, and now she was a woman.
The lift arrived with a ringing bell. There was no one else in the lift, so the pair got in right away. Closing on the foyer, the lift rose steadily upwards, and there was silence except for the grinding gears, the clinking chains, and lift music turned almost to mute. It was an old tune and Alexei recognised it, however quiet, and began to bob his head. He was enjoying himself. The girl had no idea what was in his travel bag, or what was about to happen to the Hotel Notorious. Alexei thought the whole situation hilarious.
Clunk. The lift stopped. Out of the door first, the girl lead Mr. Stepanovich along the corridor to his specially selected room. They stopped at the door.
‘Card,’ said the girl.
‘Sorry?’ asked Alexei.
‘Your key card, Mr. Stepanovich.’
Alexei fumbled for his card in his blazer pocket. He pulled it out and handed it to the young girl between forefinger and thumb with a smile he hoped was sweet. Alexei had been travelling for two weeks and he was finally at the end of his journey. His mind was distracted, focused on bigger, more exciting things, than remembering he needed a key card to open his hotel room. Beep. The wooden door swung open onto a sparse but elegant bedroom with a large window that Alexei knew overlooked the courtyard, where in fourteen minutes the Chancellor would be exiting his car for an overnight stay in the Hotel Notorious. Mr. Stepanovich crossed to the window whilst the girl put his travel bag on the bed.
‘Anything else, Mr. Stepanovich?’ she asked.
Alexei waved her away, surveying the courtyard from the window. ‘That’ll be all.’
‘There is something else…’ said the girl.
‘Of course, of course,’ said Alexei, turning his body, one hand searching for his wallet, his face still turned to the window, ‘the tip.’
‘Not the tip, Alexei.’
Alexei Stepanovich turned to the girl, who was stood, legs apart, eyes fierce, pointing a silenced P92 at his chest.
‘Oh,’ said Alexei Stepanovich.
She fired twice.
Other short reads.