Story by BethAnn Baird
Illustration by Tim Soekkha
I’m not saying it was my smartest move, but I was annoyed to the point that the words just came out of my mouth. Call it an irrepressible impulse—like a double-decker meatball hoagie that sits in your stomach, churning and burning, until the acidic lump makes an unstoppable run for the exit. My ability to maintain stoic restraint in the presence of idiots had crumbled and I couldn’t hold back. Anyone claiming they haven’t been in the same position is lying. Anyway, I don’t care all that much. It’d be my word against theirs. And they all knew mine counted more. Besides, I accomplished the deed. In the end, that’s all that mattered.
My name is Drake Pieroy. Son of Marty Pieroy. Grandson of Samuel Pieroy. And I am a legacy. Like my father, and his father before him, I hope to one day sit at the right hand of Louie DeBrasso—patriarch of the famed Philadelphia crime family. My pops holds the position now. Once he’s done with it, the honor will fall to me . . . assuming I’ve earned the Don’s trust.
Though born into the mob life, I’m not yet considered one of DeBrasso’s inside men. Even as a legacy I’m required to prove my worth. Much like a fraternity initiation, there are certain tasks I must first complete. Having dispensed with most of them already, there was just the one—the big one—left to go.
As both my father and grandfather completed their final test at Hotel Elegante, it seemed only fitting that I did too. I’m all for honoring tradition after all. And as the hotel is located far outside DeBrasso’s turf, it wouldn’t be tied back to the family if I botched things up. And I did almost botch it when I revealed the purpose of my visit to two of the hotel’s guests and one of its staff . . . the trio of dullards with whom I found myself trapped in the hotel’s malfunctioning elevator.
We never made it beyond the first-floor thanks dullard number one—a sixty-something busybody whose face lay decaying beneath thick layers of makeup, her lips permanently pinched into a disapproving scowl. Exclaiming, at the last possible second, that she’d forgotten her handbag at the concierge desk, the elevator attendant had punched a red button on the wall panel—presumably to prevent the doors from closing—and jumped from the compartment.
“Stay there, Mrs. Vanderplow,” the uniformed man had called over his shoulder as he hustled across the lobby. “I’ll get it.”
“Thank you, Jeffrey,” the woman started in reply, just as the doors to the elevator not only closed but locked as well. Seemed that red button hadn’t worked as intended. Rather than stopping the system’s progression, it instead placed the whole thing into a sort of fail-safe mode, preventing the lift’s pulleys from commencing and trapping its four occupants inside.
“Sorry ‘bout that folks,” the middle-aged attendant had shouted through the door. “I’ll fetch maintenance. Shouldn’t take long. Five minutes tops.”
I knew I should’ve taken the stairs. The joint had two sweeping Gone with the Wind-style staircases right there in the lobby. But no, I’d elected to entomb myself in a six-foot square box with Ms. Better-than-thou Vanderplow. Judging by the hefty gold medallions dangling from each ear and the turtle-shell pumps into which her feet were wedged, it was clear she wouldn’t be of any help rectifying our predicament.
Neither, I guessed, would the man who’d moved to stand beside the wall panel. A slick-haired bloke by the name of Brett Silverfish. As he wore a suit, one might assume him an investment banker or real estate tycoon. There were loads of the glorified salesmen in residence at the hotel, so it only made sense.
Upon closer examination, however, it appeared Herr Silverfish was merely attempting to look like he was. Though both pieces of his ensemble were brown, his jacket (a size too small) and his pants (not only too small but an inch too short) didn’t quite match. One was darker, the other redder. The briefcase propped against the wall beside his feet was tattered along two of its edges and his scuffed black shoes hadn’t seen polish in several years. Despite these noticeable imperfections, the man stood tall—chin high, chest out—while chomping a piece of gum and studying the wall panel as one might a treasure map. As if the secret to reopening the doors was contained within the array of buttons, if only he could decipher the riddle.
This left the elevator’s final inhabitant, Lynda (as indicated on her nametag). Dressed in a greenish maid’s uniform, she was clearly a member of the hotel’s staff. Given the lines creasing the skin around her eyes and strands of graying brown hair pulled into a low-hanging ponytail, I put her age about fifty. But as she was a waif of a woman—weighing less, no doubt, than the three-fifty-seven magnum shoved into the back of my pants—I didn’t hold out much hope there either. It was clear this motley collection of strangers, with whom I’d already grown bored, would neither speed our escape nor aid me in completing my task.
So, I stared straight ahead at the doors, jaw clenched, willing the attendant—Jeffrey—to hurry it the hell up. And my fellow detainees to leave me the hell alone.
My plan worked for all of thirty seconds, during which time Vanderplow and Silverfish not only introduced themselves but exchanged verbal credentials—justifying their inclusion among the hotel’s haughtier clientele. That was followed by chirpy banter regarding their planned itineraries, as well as their shared delight over the previous evening’s eye-watering chateaubriand, cooked up courtesy of Hotel Elegante’s Chef Ronaldi . . . a celebrated chef de cuisine rumored to have migrated to America after earning his former establishment its third Michelin star.
Kill me now. In less than a minute I’d heard more about the hotel’s dinner service and two of its guests than any human being should have to endure. I was beginning to see how my grandfather’s stay at the hotel had resulted in murder. And that’s when it happened. My inability to keep my mouth shut. After an attempt to engage the thus far silent maid Lynda in conversation failed miserably, Madam Vanderplow turned her sights onto me.
“We don’t see many like you around here,” she said, smiling and batting her lash extensions as if they were black swallowtail butterflies, fluttering about in a desperate attempt to unstick themselves from her face.
When I didn’t respond, she tried again.
“Are you here on business, or is yours a trip of leisure?”
Like storm waters thrashing against a dam, testing the limits of its resistance, my irritation was rapidly hurtling toward the breaking point. How long would it take before this woman gave up and redirected her efforts into grating the nerves of some other unfortunate soul?
Clearly undeterred by my silence, she gave it yet another go.
“I find that in situations such as this, time passes much quicker when those involved engage in spirited conversation. Though we were but mere strangers only minutes ago, fate has intervened, bonding us as allies borne of circumstance. And perhaps, if we might be so fortunate, friends. So, won’t you tell us, new friend, what brings you to the Hotel Elegante?”
Was this woman for real? Annoyance warming my chest, I leveled my gaze on her. “I don’t need any more friends.”
But the woman only smiled. “One can never have enough friends. Wouldn’t you agree?”
And that’s when the dam broke. Though the seasoned crook in me knew I’d do better to keep my lips sealed, my frustration had finally won out.
“You want to know my business here?” I said, the heft of the magnum urging me onward. “I’m here to kill the little old lady in room 501. Call it a rite of passage courtesy of Louie DeBrasso. Still think we might be friends after we get out of this deathtrap?”
To my surprise, the expression on the woman’s face remained unchanged as her eyes floated between me and Silverfish. It appeared the always-a-silver-lining Vanderplow was unsure if I was telling the truth or pulling her leg. Silverfish, on the other hand, stiffened. The man was clearly familiar with Don DeBrasso’s body of work. Averting his gaze, Silverfish shoved his hands deep in the pockets of his ill-fitting slacks and stared down at the floor.
After another tension-filled beat, Vanderplow—apparently deciding I was kidding—broke the silence. “You tease,” she said, waving a hand in dismissal. “Why would anyone want to kill sweet Granny Rose?”
Granny Rose. So that was the old broad’s name. When I’d cased the joint the evening before, I saw the frail woman go alone into room 501. She had to be eighty-something. Maybe even the big 9-0. As it doesn’t matter who I kill to prove my loyalty to DeBrasso, I chose her. Granny Rose. She clearly had one foot in the grave already, so I’d be doing the old gal a favor giving her an express pass to the pearly gates.
My eyes still on Vanderplow, I shrugged. “She’s as good as any.”
“She most certainly is not, and I’ll tell you why . . .”
Hands on hips, Vanderplow began lecturing me on the finer points of choosing an appropriate victim. Or, at least, why you shouldn’t mess with little old ladies. Even in jest. I still wasn’t convinced this woman believed the reason for my presence at the hotel. And I really didn’t care. I just wanted out of the damn elevator. Where the hell was that attendant, the illustrious Jeffrey?
“And I’ll tell you another thing,” Vanderplow continued, “that poor woman is here to scatter her husband’s ashes. He died in his sleep the Thursday before last. They would’ve been married seventy years this spring. Seventy!”
“Then it’ll be a happy reunion,” I said, looking over at the buttons on the wall panel. Numbers four, five, and thirty-two were lit up. Why hadn’t I taken the stairs? With no elevator at his disposal, my granddad had climbed to the fifteenth floor to kill some muscle-bound scamp running a gambling con. I, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered to walk up four measly flights to off some depressed old granny.
Vanderplow’s rant continued. “Maybe it escaped your attention but the woman’s whole family is here. Staying just across the hall from her. Two grown sons and their wives. Not to mention six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.”
“Oh, hell,” Silverfish grumbled, pulling at a tuft of his hair. “Is that what that racket was? My room must be right below theirs. Those damn kids kept me up all night. Sounded like the running of the bulls up there. Someone ought to shoot those parents . . .”
The words were no sooner out of the man’s mouth than he looked over at me, eyes wide and mouth gaping.
“Oh . . . no,” Silverfish stammered, waving his hands about as he attempted to backpedal. “I didn’t mean they should actually be shot. It was a figure of speech.”
In his haste to convince me the statement had been a slip of the tongue rather than a suggested alternative to shooting Granny Rose, Silverfish reached out and touched my arm. I looked down at his hand resting on my bicep, then over at him.
“Sorry,” Silverfish said, quickly pulling it back.
I reached around under my sport coat and grasped the butt of the pistol still wedged in the back waistband of my jeans. Silverfish’s eyes followed my hand. From his vantage, he wouldn’t be able to see the gun itself, but his body stiffened again, nonetheless.
“I don’t care who gets the bullet,” I said, letting go of the gun and dropping my hand back to my side. “If you want to save the old lady, that’s fine by me. But it’s got to be someone at this hotel. And it’s got to be today. I’m not making the drive out here a second time.” Then I nodded over at Vanderplow. “You’re the one who knows this Granny Rose. You made the case to save her. That mean you’re volunteering to take her place?”
“What? No, of course not,” Vanderplow said, clasping a manicured hand to her chest. The jovial expression on the woman’s face had faltered. The confidence once underscoring her visage had given way to uncertainty. And fear. She shook her head. “Besides, I don’t even know Granny Rose. I heard about her, that’s all.”
“Great, then you won’t miss her. I’m sticking with the original plan.”
Vanderplow sputtered once, expressing her disapproval, then fell silent. She and Silverfish looked at each other, their eyes now tinged with dread—wordlessly communicating as allies borne of one hell of a bad circumstance. What should they do? How would they get out of this? And would they still be alive when they did?
Then from the corner of the elevator came a tiny voice so slight I almost thought I was hearing things. As if the ghost of Granny Rose was whispering in my ear.
“What’s that, dear?” Vanderplow said as all eyes turned to the diminutive maid.
“Room fourteen-eleven,” Lynda repeated only marginally louder than the first time. “The man in that room steals. The little shampoos and stuff, that’s okay. But he steals all the chocolates from my cart. The tiny ones that go on the pillows. All gone. Every day. And he stinks. His body odor gets into all the nooks and crannies. Everything is always a mess in there. Takes me an hour every day to clean up after him.”
Then she raised her head, her dark brown eyes meeting mine, and nodded. “Him . . . you can shoot him.”
Damn. Who knew there was a pit-bull lurking inside that tiny wisp of a woman?
“Oh, I know just who you mean,” Vanderplow gushed, then lowered her voice almost to a whisper. “I heard the man in that room is a transient off the streets. The manager is letting him stay at the hotel free of charge. And it’s not the first time they’ve done it. There have been others.”
Silverfish frowned. “Nice place like this? Can’t they fill all the rooms?”
“Usually they can,” Lynda said. “But sometimes they have difficulty filling rooms on the fourteenth floor.” Then she pointed at the wall panel. “There is no thirteen. People are superstitious of thirteen. But still, some guests don’t want a room on fourteen either because they know it’s really the thirteenth floor of the hotel. Not fourteen.”
“Well, it’s scandalous if you ask me,” Vanderplow said. “While I myself have an open mind, others of my station would be apoplectic at the very thought they might be lodging under the same roof as a wayward street urchin.” Then she nodded. “I second Ms. Lynda’s suggestion.”
“Now wait just a minute,” Silverfish said. “You’re not seriously suggesting we pick who this guy’s going to shoot? If he gets caught, that makes us accessories to murder. No . . . not me. You can count me out. I want no part of this.”
“I won’t get caught,” I said, eyeing him. “Not unless someone in this elevator talks. And that’s not going to happen, is it?”
“Nooo,” Silverfish said, once again backpedaling. “Never. I only meant that as a hypothetical—”
“Would you rather he shot Granny Rose?” Vanderplow cut in. Seemed some of her former confidence had clawed its way back. “Or one of us?”
“Of course not,” Silverfish said, shaking his head. His eyes nervously darted between me and Vanderplow. “I don’t understand why anyone has to get shot, but can we at least agree it won’t be anyone in this elevator? I mean, that’s only fair . . . right?”
I could live with that. I really didn’t care who took the bullet and this way was almost better. My pops always said to think of it like hunting deer. You want to stick around long enough to get the shot off, but not so long that you learn something about the mark.
“Sure,” I said, still wishing I’d taken the stairs. “It won’t be any of you three. So, we’re settled on the guy in fourteen-eleven then?”
“No. I’m not,” Silverfish said, raising a hand. “If we’re actually doing this, I think our pick should be unanimous and I don’t happen to agree.” Then he gestured over at Vanderplow. “That man is here trying to improve his station, to use your words. Do you think that’s easy for him with people like you running around giving him the stink eye and turning up your nose? No, I’m sure it’s not. I, for one, happen to respect a man who’s working to better himself.”
Vanderplow crossed her arms over her chest. “You would,” she said, glaring at Silverfish.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I know you’re an imposter. Your bank account isn’t much bigger than that man’s in fourteen-eleven. You come here every other week, dressed in your mismatched thrift-store suit, hoping to charm your way into the good life. Who are you weaseling in on this time? A wealthy widow? Maybe a divorcee with her ex-husband’s money to burn?”
Silverfish opened his mouth to speak then closed it again. He took a deep breath as he stood there shaking his head, clearly wracking his brain for an appropriate response to the accusation.
“I’m . . . that’s not . . . who told you such a thing?” he finally spits out.
The corner of the woman’s mouth slipped into a sly grin. “I have my sources. Besides, you can’t fool me. It takes one to know one . . . and you’re not one.”
“Oh, and you are?” Silverfish countered, finally locating his backbone.
“Just what are you implying?” Vanderplow huffed. “That I don’t belong at this hotel? I’ll have you know I paid good money to be here. I belong here more than you do.”
“Maybe right now you do,” he said with a slight tip of his head. “But not for much longer. You’re broke. The Vanderplow coffers are empty. Dried up. You got no more money, honey!”
“That is absolutely not true. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Ah, but I do,” Silverfish said, then winked at Vanderplow. “I, too, have my sources.”
“Oh really,” she said, hands back on her hips. “And who is this fount of misinformation you’ve been listening to?”
Silverfish smiled. “A man with whom you are on a first name basis. Our very own elevator attendant. Jeffrey was it?”
“Jeffrey? That blabbermouth! I told him that in confidence.”
“Not only that,” Silverfish continued, clearly relishing this opportunity to turn the tables on Vanderplow, “I know about the IRS investigation. Seems Mister Vanderplow has been caught with his greedy hand in the embezzlement jar. And his wife . . . that would be you . . . is suspected as well.”
“You’re making that up!” she insisted, stamping her foot. “Jeffrey told you no such thing.”
Lynda cleared her throat. “He’s not making it up. Jeffrey told me that as well. Sorry, ma’am.” Then turning to Silverfish, “And he told me about you too. That you have a wife at home. And two kids. Twin boys.”
“Ooohh, is that so,” Vanderplow said, grinning over at Silverfish. “Look who’s in the hot water now. Does your wife know you’re here cavorting about with rich, beautiful women? Hmm? You know, some might consider that adultery. You were so quick to point a finger at me, all the while you were keeping your own dirty secrets. Or should I say, almost keeping them.”
“That no-good fink,” Silverfish grumbled. “I’m going to strangle him. He’s . . . he’s—”
“A rotten snitch,” Lynda supplied. “I know. He told my secret too. I’m not really a maid. I used to work the front desk. Wearing the nice uniform and greeting all the customers. But then Jeffrey ratted me out. Told the manager I was stealing from the cash drawer.”
Lynda lowered her head. “There was this beautiful gown in the department store window. With sparkling crystals down the front. I wanted it so badly. I didn’t take much. Just enough to cover the dress . . . and some shoes. And matching purse. When the manager found out, he demanded I repay the money. But I didn’t have it anymore. I’d spent it all. So now I have to work as a maid until I pay it all back.”
A pit-bull with a grudge to bear. Who would’ve guessed?
“Well,” Vanderplow said when Lynda had finished. “I think it’s quite clear who the problem is around here.”
“Yeah,” Silverfish scoffed, “you can say that again.”
The three fell silent as they glanced from one to the other. Then Silverfish nodded and all eyes turned to me. Appeared the trio had arrived at a unanimous decision after all.
“Seems we’ve got ourselves a winner,” I said, just as the elevator dinged and the doors opened. Jeffrey—the taker of secrets and keeper of none—stood in the doorway, Vanderplow’s forgotten handbag tucked under his arm.
“Five minutes, folks. Just like I promised. I’m a man of my word.” He handed over the purse and stepped into the elevator. “Shall we get on our way?”
“Actually,” Vanderplow said, pulling the straps of the bag over her shoulder, “it completely slipped my mind, but I was supposed to meet my attorney across town for coffee. I don’t know where my head is today.” Never looking back, she exited the elevator and hurried for the hotel’s front doors.
“Wait up,” Silverfish called, following two steps behind. “I have a car. I’ll give you a ride. It’s on my way home so it won’t be any trouble.”
Then Lynda shrugged and stepped from the elevator. “I, too, must go. I forgot I need to grab an extra box of chocolates from the supply room. For a customer on fourteen.” The woman stood there a moment, her eyes briefly meeting mine, then she scurried away out of view.
“Well,” Jeffrey smiled, turning to me as the doors to the elevator closed, “looks like it’s just you and me.”
My name is Drake Pieroy. And I am a legacy.
— ♦♦♦ —
To Sterk Fontaine. Want object in your line. Difficulties involved. Superior fee. Come to my home. Dr. Gregor Tharaspas.” Thus begins another occult-adventure with the enigmatic Fontaine and his plucky side-kick/secretary, Angie.