A hunter and the hunted face off against the backdrop of the savage desert.
You would be hard pressed to find a more remote place on any map.
A passing thought that raced through the busy mind of Timothy Price as he looked around the savage desert wasteland. He found the bareness of it all very unsettling. Something about it just didn't sit right with him. Getting lost out here - in the scorching hot desert - meant handfuls of sand before a drop of water would ever be found. It meant a tortuously slow death at the hands of dehydration.
He shielded his eyes to get a better look at the only architectural landmark around these parts of the Nevada desert - an abandoned looking Hotel.
This Hotel stood dominantly over a plateau of sand scattered for miles in every direction. The upside of this raw deal is that a hotel superimposed in the middle of nowhere provides a great deal of anonymity to travelers whose lives depend on it.
Timothy was such a traveler. He was young, indecisive and always fumbling for an answer. While he wasn't bright, he also wasn't disillusioned about how he ended up here. He owned a lot of money to the wrong type of people. When such things happen the unwise solution is to always skip town. Especially after reviewing the more sensible solution of actually paying back the money, but quickly recalling to mind that the loan was appropriated due to lack of finances in the first place.
So here he was, standing in front of this godforsaken Hotel in the middle of this wretched desert. He felt hot, irritated and utterly defeated - painstakingly trying to rouse his unresponsive mind.
Timothy consulted his watch - noting it was just after 6PM. He debated whether or not he should have a cigarette - his hands deciding for him as they plunged deeply in to the pockets of his dirty corduroys and fished out a pack of Camels.
He dropped his head forward over a pair of cupped hands, protecting a flame from a sparked match. His peripheral vision intercepted something moving with great velocity in the distance. Whatever it was, it was coming towards him and fast. His mind began to race.
Have they found me?
Sweat began to trickle down the back of his shirt, slowly and steadily, picking up speed as fear tightened its clutches around Timothy's throat. Having lost his ability to move, he simply stood frozen. His terrified eyes drawn to the embodiment of his worst nightmares.
If it was daytime, he could attribute it to be a fleeting mirage but since it was evening all he could do was convince himself it was a ghastly apparition. The product of a tired mind hallucinating in the merciless heat.
Even with his bloodshot eyes, irises obliterated by fear and with rapidly dilating pupils, he still couldn't look away - fixedly staring at the swiftly approaching object.
The darkness forbade him from seeing any details at first but then it relented, as if answering his pleas, allowing him to identify the emerging dark apparition as a classic '72 Corvette.
His quivering lips dislodged the cigarette firmly held in place just seconds ago. The situation had drastically changed. It needed a new appraisal from someone not as perplexed and bewildered as Timothy was at that exact moment. "It was just a car," he kept repeating to himself. Its appearance so deceptively casual. It wouldn't mean a thing to anyone but him... but to him it was the insignia of death.
He drew back, hyperventilating and trying to gulp the stale evening air. His heartbeat reached a sickening crescendo, climbing the stairs two at a time. His unsure hands fumbled for the rusted doorknob of his second story suite.
Once inside, he automatically pulled the tattered and faded curtain across the smudged window next to the door. He snapped the lock in place and pulled the precautionary chain across - which given the chance wouldn't withstand even the slightest pressure.
Poised with his back leaning against the door and his shoulders slumped, he felt utterly helpless. An animal caged in a tiny room that lacked even the bare essentials like a peephole. All he could do was listen for anything that would break the ominous silence from the other side of the locked door.
But the other side remained silent.
Timothy wasn't that easily dissuaded and kept on listening. Fear makes people stubborn - particularly when their life hangs in the balance. But the absolute of silence remained. Finally, becoming decidedly impatient, he dropped to his knees and sprawled across the once immaculate carpet now stained and foul smelling. He peered along the gap created by the door and held back a scream when he observed a pair of feet standing right next to his door.
Next to the strangers feet was the burning cigarette he had forgotten to extinguish in his haste to hide inside his suite. With sheer disbelief he watched it suspended in mid air momentarily before disappearing altogether from his restricted vantage point. All that was evil had manifested itself outside his door and was puffing on his cigarette. The cigarette that was picked off of the ground with dark gloves that blended with the darkness of the evening giving the cigarette a levitating effect.
His eyelids grew heavy, eyes twitched and drooped shut. He felt twice his age, worn out and arrested by his sheer exhaustion. As he drifted to sleep his last thought for the night had been....
They found me. Now it's just a matter of time.
Timothy awoke with his teeth clenched around the worn out carpet. Dissatisfied with his breakfast he quickly spat it out. His back was stiff from sleeping on the floor. But then again, it was always stiff. It's as if he carried a lifetime of tension in it.
He stood up with all the brisk promptness he could muster and clumsily made his way to the bathroom sink where he vigorously scrubbed his face and rinsed out his mouth.
Having regained his composure he proceeded to recount the final harrowing minutes of last night with increasing uneasiness. Fear once again doused him like the most fragrant of colognes.
He began to pace up and down the length of the room with great deliberation. Obsessively darting his eyes between the front door and the cheap wall clock with its crashing ticking hands pronouncing nothing but despair with each passing minute.
His life depended on a letter. Its contents would tell him if She were safe and if he could still rendezvous with her at the agreed location. He had to have it. But in order for him to grab a hold of it he had to travel down to the managers office on the first floor.
This of course meant leaving his room uninhabited with all its meager but valuable possessions.
And if he was situated next to an assassin sent to kill him, he certainly didn't want to walk in to a trap upon his return to the room.
An ingenious idea suddenly came to him. He put on his jacket and tore a loose thread from one of the sleeves. He licked the palm of his hand as well as the thread and left it there glued to his palm obscured from the sight of any prying eyes.
He walked out and locked the door, not forgetting to press the palm of his hand underneath the handle of the door - placing the thread expertly with one end stuck to the door and the other to the frame.
Timothy descended down the stairs, two at a time, clutching the rail for support and attentively listening for any noise. His heart beat increasingly fast with sweat rolling down his forehead.
But the atmosphere remained calm.
The Manager's Office was the last door on the far left. He purposely continued towards his goal, trying hard to ignore the distance, when something made him halt mid-step. The '72 Corvette. It was parked opposite the manager's office, blocked from the panoramic view of the second floor by the protruding awning.
His body tensed and his feet felt rooted to the floorboards while his mind remained restless with turbulent thoughts.
Was the stranger inside the Office now?
Uncertainty feeds paranoia and fear. He had to dispel it. It was now or never. He felt a surge of adrenaline, yanked the door open and darted inside the office.
The place was a mess. A sickening stench lingered in the air and slowly crept up his nostrils. He felt overwhelmed by the repugnant smell but quickly came to and focused his gaze upon the giant wall-sized-unit behind the concierge desk with its numerous identical boxes.
There was no letter in 10-B. It was empty.
He told her ahead of time where he would be. He thought it would certainly reach here by now. That is unless something went wrong...
"Can I be of service, Monsieur?"
She startled him. He didn't place her among the chaotic mess of the room. But there she was in her maid's uniform in the far corner making her way towards the concierge desk.
Taken by sheer surprise, Timothy's vocal cords felt unresponsive and he began to resemble a mute. Noticing his lack of initiative she addressed him cordially in slightly accented French, "I hope you found your room to your liking. It's very fortunate that the gentleman who booked it in advance never checked in to claim it."
"You mean to tell me... the room was previously booked?"
"Yes, Monsieur. It was the last room to get booked. Every other room in this Hotel was occupied."
"But I haven't seen anyone else around..."
"The customer's like their privacy, Monsieur. The hotel has a reputation for being discreet."
But of course the Hotel was known for its keen sense of secrecy. Tucking away murderers, gamblers and other vagrants. All cozily holed up together under one roof. Fate had a dark and twisted sense of humour. The only room that Timothy was able to book had a last minute cancellation. A cancellation by a much wanted party by the personage situated right next door.
This truly was the worst case of mistaken identity. It's not him that the man next door wanted. But what could he do? He couldn't just knock on his door and explain all that to the would-be-murderer of the man who never showed up to claim his room.
It was imperative at this point to return to the room and think it all over.
Timothy exchanged a weak goodbye with the vastly indifferent maid standing in for the concierge (if there was even one) and hurried back to his room. The thoughts in his head were jumbled. He had a presentiment that something awful was going to happen before the day was up.
He could feel the tension int he muscles and bones of his body. He sat down on the bed but he couldn't relax. Ready to leap up and run away at any sign of commotion. That's when it hit him.
The piece of thread.
All it took was a fraction of a second to notice it was gone, confirming the terrible truth he had learned downstairs. It was pointless to search the room. The search would yield nothing. In fact, it looked neater than he had left it just minutes ago.
All it took was a few minutes.
He was clearly dealing with a professional. His face grew paler with mortification. The room began to spin in front of him. His memorized eye travelling with the rotation until they finally settled on a picture of a yacht. It was the only picture in the room. Hung on the wall he shared with...
Almost instinctually, he got up from the bed and approached it, scrutinizing every detail in the process. Not finding anything that distinguished it from any other cheap, enlarged and framed photographs he decided to lift it up and examine the back.
A listening device has been installed on the back of the photograph. He had no doubts about it having been activated and transmitting right at this moment.