“Getting nervous yet? The wedding’s only two months away!” Pastor Jenning’s voice boomed over the din of churchgoers leaving the Sunday afternoon service.
Holly smiled as she guided her fiancé, Greg, through the crowd to approach the grinning minister.
“We can’t wait!” Holly answered, laughing. “Especially for all this planning and work to be finished.”
“Let me tell you, I haven’t been able to rest for a year, Pastor,” said Greg. “First, I had to sew the bridesmaids’ dresses, then pick the flower arrangements, then – “
“You’ve done no such thing, Mr. Gregory Stephens,” interrupted Holly, playfully swatting his arm. “Anyway, we’re all set for the rehearsal, Pastor Jennings. I spoke with Jessica and she’s put it on your schedule.”
“Great, Holly,” the pastor answered warmly. “I’ll see you then, if not before.”
As she and Greg moved into the St. John’s parking lot, Holly heard someone calling her name. Swinging around, she saw Amy and Daniel Vale, waving for her attention. Taking hold of Greg’s hand, Holly pulled him over to the smiling couple.
“Hey, guys,” said Holly, hugging Amy as Greg and Daniel shook hands. “What are you up to today?”
“Oh, nothing much, maybe a movie,” said Amy.
“Or a nap,” added Daniel, wearily.
Amy ran her fingers affectionately through Daniel’s hair. “My poor baby’s been working overtime.”
“Is that so?” Holly asked, feigning surprise.
“Well, it seems worth it, Dan,” interjected Greg, looking across the parking lot, “if that’s the new car I’ve been hearing about.” He pointed to the sparkling silver Mercedes parked in the far corner of the lot.
“I guess I haven’t shown it to you yet, old boy. Let’s go.” The two young men walked toward the car, chattering about horsepower and camshafts, leaving Amy and Holly alone.
“Boys will be boys, I guess,” Holly said.
“They’re so cute,” laughed Amy. “We’re all going to have so much fun at your wedding, I just can’t wait.”
“I know. And you’ve been the best maid of honor I could’ve ever hoped for.”
“That’s matron of honor. And it’s the least I could do, given everything that you’ve done for me.” Amy’s eyes sparkled, and Holly knew what she was referring to.
“Speaking of which,” continued Amy, her voicing dropping to a whisper, “you and I are going to the mall tomorrow when we’re done teaching.”
Holly gave her a scolding look. “Amy, you just saw Franklin on Friday!” she said, checking over Amy’s shoulder to make sure that Daniel and Greg were still inspecting the car.
“And listen to this,” said Amy, ignoring her protest, “we’re going to be in room 69 of the Leland.”
“Very funny, you little vixen,” Holly responded, rolling her eyes. “I thought you didn’t do those, anyway.”
“Oh, I don’t do them with Daniel. With Franklin, it’s a different story, though. I can’t help myself.”
Holly sighed. “I’ll never understand you, Amy.”
“I told you before, a little prudish behavior goes a long way in reducing suspicion.” Amy placed her hand on Holly’s shoulder. “Oh, Holly, you have so much to learn.”
Daniel’s car roared toward them, and came to a sudden halt. Greg threw open the door and emerged from behind the steering wheel, laughing.
“Holly, you should buy me one of these,” he said.
“Hmm, no,” she answered. “We’d better be going. You’ve got to get back home to work on your thesis and I’ve got to clean my filthy apartment.”
Waving their friends goodbye, Holly and Greg walked hand in hand to his car.
“Will I be able to see you tomorrow afternoon?” Greg asked.
“No, Amy and I need to go to the mall,” she replied, feeling a little thrill from the lie. Although Holly might indeed visit the Mall at Northlake Crossing, Amy would not be with her. Her best friend would instead be with Franklin at the Lehigh Hotel, satisfying her unending sexual needs. Holly had reliably served as Amy’s alibi since the two friends were freshman together at Whitmore College, where she had become practiced in assuring Amy’s jealous boyfriends that Amy had spent the night with her, not a romantic rival.
“All right,” answered Greg dejectedly. “I guess I’ll see you on Tuesday, then.”
“Sorry, honey,” Holly answered, tempted for escort taksim a moment to change her mind. But she didn’t, and she turned her attention to a review of tomorrow’s lessons.
After Greg had dropped her off at her apartment, Holly’s mind drifted to Amy and her plans with Franklin tomorrow afternoon. Amy’s life was exciting, Holly thought admiringly. And for a moment, Holly imagined herself stealing away to the hotel, meeting a lover of her own. Immediately, however, she felt guilty and dirty for thinking it.
But the thought wouldn’t leave her, and she allowed herself to explore it occasionally throughout the rest of the day, enjoying the spike of excitement it inevitably caused. And during one of those indulgences, an idea emerged that set her heart racing. It seemed harmless enough, and would certainly give her the taste of something she hadn’t realized she wanted until just that moment. Holly was ashamed for coveting such a thing, but something powerful in her – something of which she was only dimly aware – cast her reservations aside. She had been dreading tomorrow, as she did the start of every week, but suddenly, she could hardly wait for it to come. How lucky Amy was, Holly mused, to feel this way practically all the time.
Monday afternoon found Holly lounging on a bed in room 67 of the Lehigh Hotel. As she reached for another magazine from the nightstand, the thin mattress let out a tortured squeak. Shifting her small frame to find a comfortable spot, she wondered how the hotel’s management expected people to sleep on something so unpleasant.
Holly glanced at the battered clock radio on the nightstand. Where was Franklin? She had heard Amy enter the room next door over an hour ago, but Franklin had yet to join her. The tingle of excitement Holly had felt by checking into this seedy little hotel was almost gone, and she began to feel embarrassed for succumbing to her curiosity. The appeal of listening to her best friend have sex, even with an illicit lover, began to wane. Things had, however, gone better than expected – Holly had located the Lehigh easily enough in the unfamiliar, forbidding neighborhood. And, the room next to Amy’s was available, no questions asked. Most importantly, though, Holly hadn’t run into Amy or Franklin. That had caused Holly the most amount of worry – there would be no comfortable way of explaining her presence at the hotel, and she winced at the thought of attempting it. But thankfully, she was now safely and secretly tucked away in one of the Lehigh’s anonymous rooms.
Three hard knocks on the door to Amy’s room startled Holly out of her reverie. There was a pause, then two more knocks, and then the rattling of a key in the lock.
Holly gingerly lifted herself from the bed and stepped slowly toward the locked door cut into the shared wall of the two rooms. Taking a deep breath, she quietly pressed an ear against the narrow space between the door and its frame, and listened.
“Is it still necessary, sir? I promised last time that I wouldn’t try to pull your mask off.” It was Amy’s voice, thin and uncertain.
Whoever Amy was addressing did not respond. Instead, Holly heard a strange, metallic sound, like that of a ratchet turning.
“Ouch!” cried Amy. “Please, not so tight!”
Holly momentarily backed away from the door, confused and alarmed. This was not what she had expected. Nervously, she approached the door once more.
“Don’t you want me to use my hands?” Amy pled.
A man’s deep, raspy voice answered. “No, bitch, it’s not your hands I want.”
Holly nearly cried out – whoever had just spoken was not Franklin. Her mind scrambled unsuccessfully to match the unfriendly voice to anyone she or Amy knew.
There was the rustling of motion, followed by the sound of a creaking chair.
“It’s good to see you again, sir,” said Amy, apparently ignoring the man’s coarseness. “Will you let me suck you off today?”
The man answered with a snort, followed by the clinking of a belt buckle being undone.
“Oh, my! You must have had a good day at the office,” Amy said. And then, after a pause, “You smell like girl.”
Holly was repulsed, but found herself unable to pull away. What a horrible escort etiler man, she thought.
“Rebecca ain’t worth a damn as a secretary, but that little girl sure can fuck,” he snickered. “Likes it, too.”
“Do you mind if I lick her off you?” Amy asked hesitantly.
The man mumbled something in reply, but the sound of Holly’s rapidly beating heart rendered his words indistinguishable. A few moments of silence passed before she heard a series of wet, slurping noises, punctuated by the man’s occasional groan. This continued for several minutes, during which time the sucking sounds became louder and rhythmic, and the man’s agitation grew.
Suddenly, something – probably the chair – crashed into the door Holly was leaning against. She leapt back in surprise, and heard Amy shriek. The man barked something at Amy, and his angry words were followed by the sounds of struggle. As quickly as it began, however, it ended, with the muted thud of someone falling to the floor.
The next sound that reached Holly’s ears was that of ripping fabric, followed by Amy’s gasp.
“Good, you little slut, you did as you were told,” the man said, huffing. “That pussy looks nice bare.”
Cautiously, Holly crept toward the door again. From the other side came a sloshing sound, accompanied by vigorous motion of some sort.
“Well, look at that, wet as a prom date,” the man chortled. Amy was breathing heavily, and moaning.
“Oh! Please put more fingers in, sir, you know I can take it,” she whimpered.
“You show this little thing to your husband last week?” he said, and the cadence of the squishing sound quickened.
“No,” Amy replied, panting. “You said not to.”
He grunted his approval. “How ’bout that big-dicked lover of yours?”
“No, sir. Oh, god, that feels so good!”
Holly was taken aback – Amy had told her that she had been with Franklin only a few days ago. Had Amy lied to her, or was she now lying to the brute on the other side of the door?
“Oh, that’s a good girl,” he said, and there was again the rustling of movement. “Yeah, get on that dick, baby.”
“It’s yours, darling,” Amy said. Holly heard the squeaking of bedsprings. “Yours alone.”
Holly recoiled from the door, suddenly desperate to leave. I shouldn’t be here, she thought, frantically collecting her things. It had disturbed her to witness the perversions taking place next door. The strange man, in particular, disgusted and frightened her.
Rushing from the room, Holly slipped quickly into a nearby stairwell, nervous that the wait for the elevator would leave her exposed for too long. Hurriedly skipping own the steps, Holly tried to sort out the thoughts buzzing through her mind. Gradually, she fixed on one. She and Amy had shared everything over the years, even the dark secret of Amy’s relationship with Franklin. Why had this been kept from her? Maybe Amy was embarrassed, she thought hopefully.
After descending seemingly endless flights of stairs, Holly finally burst into the lobby, out of breath.
“I need to check out,” she said to the clerk behind the front desk. “Here, I’ll pay cash,” Holly added thrusting a handful of bills at the somber, gaunt-faced man.
“Room number, ma’am?” he responded, ignoring her outstretched hand.
The clerk clicked on a series of keys on his computer, and then waited.
“Uh, Ms. Hollingsworth?” he asked, a confused look overcoming his face.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Umm, you’ll need to talk to Mr. Thackery. He’s the manager.”
“Why? What for?”
“I don’t know, ma’am. There’s just a note here on your room number. Let me get him for you.”
Holly was becoming distressed. Not only did there seem to be some sort of problem, but also, every minute she spent in the lobby put her at risk of being spotted.
“No, wait,” she sputtered. “Can I speak to him in his office?”
“Sure, I guess. Follow me.”
Casting a glance backward, toward the still-closed elevator doors, Amy followed him through down a short corridor behind the reception area.
“Ah, Ms. Hollingsworth,” said the tubby man behind the desk. “Please, sit down.”
The thin, wooden door behind Holly escort beşiktaş slammed shut, its glass pane rattling.
“Easy does it, Carl!” yelled the man, calling after the departed front desk clerk. “Sorry, Ms. Hollingsworth, I hope he didn’t startle you.”
“No, I’m fine. Thanks,” replied Holly absently, her eyes darting around the office. The walls were the faded yellow of an old newspaper, and the air reeked of cigarette smoke.
“My name is Lewis Thackery, and I am the manager of this establishment.”
Holly was surprised, not by his words, but by the manner in which he said them. He had a thick British accent, and his tone was almost regal. She couldn’t have imagined anything more at odds with his un-tucked shirt, the bristles of his day-old beard, or the tussle of what remained of his hair.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Thackery,” Holly said, impatiently. “May I ask what the problem is? I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
The smile left his round face. “What was the purpose of your visit to our humble little inn today?”
Holly felt something unpleasant in the pit of her stomach. “I’d like to keep that private, Mr. Thackery.”
“Please, call me Lewis,” he replied, leaning forward across the desk. His grey eyes narrowed. “Well, I certainly can respect the need for privacy.”
Holly exhaled in relief. “Thank you.”
“And I’m certain,” he continued, looking directly at her, “that you feel the privacy of our other guests is to be respected as well.”
“Yes, of course,” she answered.
“I don’t think that Mrs. Vale, or her guest, would be pleased by your interest in their, ah, affairs.” He smiled crookedly at her.
Holly swallowed hard. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied, a quiver in her voice.
Lewis sighed, and a look of disappointment crossed his face. He swiveled his desk chair to face a computer monitor, pressed his fat index finger several times on the mouse, and a grainy image flickered to life on the screen.
Holly was aghast. She could see herself, crouched against the door joining her room to Amy’s. Although the video was fuzzy, and shot from what must have been a ceiling ventilation duct, there was no mistaking her identity.
“Are you going to have me arrested?” Holly asked, wondering if that was even possible.
Lewis chuckled humorlessly. “No, my dear. There’s no need for police here.”
“I promise not to do it again,” she said, weighing the value of a threat to alert the police. Surely, spying on hotel guests must be illegal. She decided to hold back, for now. “I won’t even come back, I swear.”
“Well, it’s not that simple, unfortunately,” he said, apologetically.
A thought struck her. “Is it money you want, then? I don’t have a lot, I’m just a school teacher.” Perhaps this was the way out. How much, Holly wondered, should she offer?
“No, love, this is not about money. And I am merely a conduit.”
Holly stared at him, confused. She had the sense that this was happening to someone else, that she was listening in on another person’s conversation.
“I would like you to meet a certain gentleman, and indulge him with your company.”
Holly drew back. Despite the delicacy of his words, Lewis left no doubt as to what that meant. She felt the stirring of hysteria. “You can’t expect me to do a thing like that,” she replied.
Lewis grimaced, and shook his head. “I understand, Ms. Hollingsworth. But there are certain salient facts that may affect your decision. If – “
“I didn’t hurt anyone,” she interrupted, weakly, feeling as though her words would have little effect.
“If you refuse, the secret that you and Mrs. Vale have protected all these years will be made known,” Lewis went on. “And that may cause real harm.”
Holly was stunned. “How do you know about that?”
Lewis waved a hand at the computer monitor. “Franklin Wainwright and Mrs. Vale are frequent guests to our hotel.”
Something, however, still didn’t make sense. “So you have film of them together. But you couldn’t have known that I was aware of their…relationship.” Holly wondered why she had paused to search for the polite term.
“That, Ms. Hollingsworth,” Lewis answered, his lips tightening, “is something I cannot share.”
Holly felt sick, and completely alone. “You can’t expect me to do a thing like that,” she repeated quietly.
Lewis cleared his throat. “Now, then,” he said, as if she hadn’t said anything at all, “shall we make the arrangements?”
-Continued in Part Four-