Authors: Blake Crouch
THE PAIN OF OTHERS
by BLAKE CROUCH
Copyright © 2011 by Blake Crouch
Cover art copyright © 2011 by
All rights reserved.
THE PAIN OF OTHERS is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For more information about the author, please visit www.blakecrouch.com.
For more information about the artist, please visit www.jeroentenberge.com.
“The Pain of Others” originally appeared in
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
The bite of conscience, like the bite of a dog into a stone, is a stupidity…Can you give yourself your own evil and your own good and hang your own will over yourself as a law?
– Friedrich Nietzsche
LETTY DOBESH, five weeks out of Fluvanna Correctional Institute on a nine-month bit for felony theft, straightened the red wig over her short brown hair, adjusted the oversize Jimmy
sunglasses she’d lifted out of a locker two days ago at the Asheville Racquet and Fitness Club, and handed a twenty-spot to the cabbie.
“Want change, Miss?” he asked.
“On a $9.75 fare? What does your heart tell you?”
Past the bellhop and into the Grove Park Inn carrying a small leather duffle bag, the cloudy autumn day just cool enough to warrant the fires at either end of the lobby, the fourteen-foot stone hearths sending forth drafts of intersecting warmth.
She sat down at a table on the outskirts of the lounge, noting the prickle in the tips of her ears that always started up right before. Adrenaline and fear and a shot of hope because you never knew what you might find. Better than sex on tweak.
The barkeep walked over and she ordered a San Pellegrino with lime. Checked her watch as he went back to the bar: 2:58
. An older couple cuddled on a sofa by the closest fireplace with glasses of wine. A man in a navy blazer read a newspaper several tables away. Looked to her like money—top-shelf hair and skin. Must have owned a tanning bed or just returned from the Islands. Two Mexicans washed windows that overlooked the terrace. All in all, quiet for a Saturday afternoon, and she felt reasonably anonymous, though it didn’t really matter. What would be recalled when the police showed up? An attractive thirty-something with curly red hair and ridiculous sunglasses.
As her watch beeped three o’clock, she picked out the sound of approaching footsteps—the barkeep returning with her Pellegrino. He set the sweating glass on the table and pulled a napkin out of his vest pocket.
She glanced up. Smiled. Good-looking kid. Compulsive weightlifter.
“What do I owe you?”
“On the house,” he said.
She crushed the lime into the mineral water. Through the windows she could see the view from the terrace—bright trees under grey sky, downtown Asheville in the near distance, the crest of the Blue Ridge in the far, summits headless under the cloud deck. She sipped her drink and stared at the napkin the barkeep had left on the table. Four four-digit, handwritten numbers. Took her thirty seconds to memorize them, and a quick look around confirmed what she had hoped—the
and the hotel guests remained locked and absorbed in their own worlds. She lifted the napkin and slid the keycard underneath it across the glass tabletop and into her grasp. Then shredded the napkin, sprinkling the pieces into the hissing water.
One hour later, she fished her BlackBerry out of her purse as she stepped off the elevator and onto the fifth floor. The corridor plush and vacant. No housekeeping carts. An ice machine humming around the corner.
Down the north wing,
flushing with the satisfaction that came when things went pitch-perfect. She could have quit now and called it a great haul, her duffle bag sagging with the weight of three high-end laptops, $645 in cash, one cell phone, two iPods, and three fully-raided
Standing in front of the closed door of 5212, she dialed the front desk on her stolen BlackBerry.
“Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa. How may I direct your call?”
Through the door, she heard the phone ringing, and she let it ring five times before ending the call and glancing once more up and down the corridor.
The master keycard unlocked the door.
5212 was the modest one of the four—a single king-size bed (unmade), tiled bathroom with a shower and garden tub, the mirror still beaded with condensation. In the sitting area, an armoire, loveseat, leather chair, and floor-to-ceiling windows with a three hundred and fifty dollar-a-night view of the Asheville skyline, the mountains, and a golf course—greens and fairways lined with pines and maple trees. A trace of expensive cologne lingered in the air, and the clothes on the bed smelled of cigar smoke.
She perused the bedside table drawer, the armoire, the dresser, the drawers under the bathroom sink, the closet, the suitcase, even under the sofa cushions, which occasionally yielded big scores from the rich too cheap or lazy to use the hotel safe.
Room 5212 was a bust—nothing but three
cigars, which she of course pocketed—bonuses for the bellhop and barkeep.
On her way out,
unzipped her duffle bag and opened the
, her BlackBerry buzzing as she reached for a 1.5 ounce bottle of
“What room you in?”
“Get out of there. He’s coming back.”
She closed the
. “How long do I have?”
“I got tied up giving directions. You might not have any time.”
She hoisted the duffle bag onto her shoulder, started toward the door, but the unmistakable sound of a keycard sliding into the slot stopped her cold.
A muffled voice: “I think you’ve got it upside down.”
closet doors and slipped in. With no doorknob on the inside, she had to pull them shut by the slats.
People entered the hotel suite.
let the duffle bag slide off her shoulder and onto the floor. Dug the BlackBerry out of her purse, powered it off as the door closed.
Through a ribbon of light, she watched two men walk past the closet, one in a navy blazer and khaki slacks, the other wearing a black suit, their faces obscured by the angle of the slats.
“Jameson, if you’ve got it.”
She heard the
The man who wasn’t named Chase poured the Irish whiskey into a rocks glass and cracked the cap on a bottle of beer and the men settled themselves in the sitting area.
drew in deep breaths, her heart slamming in her chest, her knees soft, as if her legs might buckle at any moment.
“Chase, I need to hear you say you’ve really thought this through, that you’re absolutely sure.”
“I am. I only went to Victor when I realized there was no other way. I’m really in a bind.”
“You brought the money?”
“Mind if I have a look?”
heard locks unclasp, what might have been a briefcase opening.
“Now, you didn’t just run down to your bank, ask for twenty-five large in hundred dollar bills?”
“I went to Victor.”
“Good. We’re still thinking tomorrow, yes?”
“I understand you have a son?”
. He’s seven. From a previous marriage.”
“I want you to go out with your son tomorrow morning at ten. Buy some gas with a credit card. Go to Starbucks. Buy a coffee for yourself. A hot chocolate for
. Wear a bright shirt. Flirt with the barista. Be memorable. Establish a record of you not being in your house from ten to noon.”
“And then I just go home?”
“Can you tell me what you’re going to do? So I can be prepared?”
“It’d be more natural, your conversations with the police I mean, if you were truly surprised.”
“I hear you on that, but I’ll play it better if I know going in. It’s the way I’d prefer it, Arnold.”
“Where does your wife typically shower?”
“Upstairs in the master bath, right off our bedroom.”
“As you’re stepping out of the shower, is the toilet close?”
“Yeah, a few feet away.”
“You’re going to find her on the floor beside the toilet, neck broken like she’d slipped getting out of the shower. It happens all the time.”
“Okay.” Chase exhaled. “Okay, that’ll work. I like that. Then I just call the police?”
“Call Nine-one-one. Say you don’t know if she’s dead, but that she isn’t moving.”
“The police won’t suspect I did this?”