Well hello, ladies. I rarely provide a prompt that begs for such darkness (I figure we get that without asking for it often enough), so who surprised me this time? In the case that nobody surprised me, what then? In the case that I have no idea how to finish the intro, blah blah writing blah great season blah?

Sarah Wreisner

An emergency light – triggered by the smoke – was flickering when we arrived, painting purple and black bruises on everything around us. A bridal dress, still wrapped up and ready to go, swayed on a brass baggage cart – kind of a cliché, considering what we found later. Glass flashed from the tile floor: wineglasses, from what they looked like. It seemed like they were flung into shards at the wall.
She must have shown them the bottles. Initially, I thought she must have done this after it started to kick in – but we could see, from the violence of the glasses being thrown like they were – that a struggle had broken out. The girls must have had some strength left in them to have put up a little bit of a fight; at least there’s that, I guess.
Toxicology is working on identification as we speak. The bottles were empty, as if dropped or slapped out of someone’s hand: even so, there was enough powder on the containers’ insides for testing. The wine glasses are being tested – everything is. Whatever it was, it caused immediate, almost explosive nosebleeds. The blood pattern – a mix of spray over your typical “blowing out” effect – suggests that the girls were sneezing violently as the substance’s side effects kicked in.
Prints are back, confirming what we expected: one girl’s prints (“the bride”, we’re calling her) covered the empty pill bottles, but only the other missing girls’ prints covered the wine glasses. Partial palm prints and even more fingerprints were scattered about on the furniture and table. A couple unusual marks, possibly left by a forehead or a chin, were partially dried in bloody saliva on a wall on the upper floor.
Photographs of the lobby, the glasses, the places where the girls were sitting, the luggage and the dress were all taken – we took thousands of pictures, but I still want to give you my initial impression of the scene. Four couches faced an enormous, blue-tinted glass table. The table was broken at some point, probably after the blood was left on three of the four seating areas. Like I said in my earlier report, the blood suggests simultaneous nosebleeds being suffered by three of the girls, at which time a physical altercation erupted over the glass centerpiece.
I spoke to the concierge myself. He claims he saw nothing and heard very little. “I suppose on some level the girls were acting strange. But it was late; it was just after bar close.” He explained his absence from the front desk at such an hour, which we are still working on. “I was called into the kitchen for an hour or so.” An hour or so, and he didn’t ask why? Something about this guy’s story doesn’t add up, but we’re waiting for a polygraph as I write this now.
Pete, the guy from the kitchen who the concierge “covered for”, knew two of the bridesmaids personally. In fact, we believe he knows the girl whose blood wasn’t left – the bride, the one who held the bottles – even better. I think you’ll agree that he contributed to this fiasco (if you want to call it that) somehow, but we don’t know if his involvement was premeditated at or not. More than likely, he was pulled into the scene when the outburst took place. I’m assuming this was when the concierge was called away, but the guy can’t seem to keep his story straight. In fact, the guy is falling apart.
In one moment, this guy’s frantically begging us to get help – it’s as if he doesn’t recognize us as police officers working the scene of a crime. It’s as if he still believes something is taking place upstairs. Then, after a few minutes, he reverts to that silent, rocking state (which is how we found him outside the door to the room). I still don’t know what to make of it, and either does Bill. The guy’s completely lost his mind. We have a counselor treating him now.
Inside the room (more on the lobby – and Pete – later) we found some things. The tub was filled to the brim with tepid water. Inside was about as much blood as you’d expect to see in a slaughterhouse, except for the small pieces of glass, which might have been embedded in the skin of whoever was submerged there. The whole room was stripped of its luggage, except for the suitcases of the one girl – a fifth, from what the hotel receipt tells us – whose blood (or prints) weren’t found in the lobby. Bloody blankets were scattered atop one soaked mattress. Knives, some of which were brought up from the hotel kitchen, were scattered about the room, especially by the bloody bed.
We still can’t get a direct answer from Pete, the guy from the kitchen, but he must have brought them up at some point – at least it’s one of our theories. Even so, we are almost positive the knives were used for something terrible. We found much more than blood: tissue, mucus and congealing substances were also left behind. We bagged some fragments of bone, too. Jesus, it’s been a long morning.
From what we understand, considering the small (and shaky) bits of information that Pete has given us and from what we know of prints and blood patterns, a massive scene took place in the hotel room upstairs. In fact, there were two rooms (joined by an entryway) which I’ll show you in a minute. Afterwards, due to what occurred upstairs, the bride and most of the rest of the party had gathered with some of their luggage in the downstairs lobby. They were waiting for something – possibly to be picked up, even at that strange hour. We know that the scene in the hotel room, with the bloody bathtub, shards of glass and general damage – occurred before the ladies descended to the lobby. I mean, something happened to cause them to flee, right?
Before Pete pulled him into the kitchen, the concierge did witness a heated conversation – not an argument, but a general snippiness that he sensed in their tone. They had brought drinks down and were lounging with them, but he didn’t protest, as the hotel is a bit nicer (and not used to unruly guests anyhow). They had a large, brass, hotel-issued baggage cart in their possession. The wedding dress and several stacks of heavy, overstuffed luggage were loaded onto the cart. He could not explain how the women acquired the cart; he believed they simply wheeled it from the lobby to their room, and back down, after packing it with their things. At some point, a confrontation occurred, but not before the concierge was called back to switch places with Pete from the kitchen. I believe the room altercation was simply brought down into the lobby with them, while they gathered their luggage and attempted to flee whatever occurred upstairs.
During this time, the discussion must have heated up considerably. Several empty bottles of some unknown medication were produced and possibly waved about. Glass was broken, the table was smashed, and the girls fled the scene – we are not exactly sure if they left in one unit, or if they scattered individually. A small fire started in the kitchen, causing those strange, purple lights to be triggered over the whole place.
Again, the concierge never heard a thing from the kitchen, but Pete – who is being treated as we speak – seems to have suffered a psychological “event”, to put it lightly. The dress remained, still in that plastic from the seamstress, but the luggage – if that’s what it was – disappeared with those girls. The fifth girl’s family has not been notified quiet yet. I suspect bodily dismemberment, a drug overdose, hotel staff involvement – hell, a lot of things happened down here tonight, but we’re not going to make any official announcements until later tonight.

K: It’s too clinical, unfortunately. I was hoping that the report would lead into the event at some point, but unfortunately it reads like a script for Unsolved Mysteries. I know some of the relevant info is there, but I really would have preferred to see the actions in real time.

DK: By design, this is a little clinical to read, but that perspective fits well with the subject matter, and juxtaposing that tone with the disturbing acts that were committed here is a fine touch. I like the way the details of the scene are thought out to connect here. BRONZE

Margaret Martin

Chapter 1: WAS IT KRISTIE?

Kristie closed the door behind her as she left the manager’s office, tears pooling in her eyes, spilling onto her cheeks, hot and angry. The hollow feeling of injustice swelling in her stomach.

She scrubbed at her eyes with the back of her fists, exhausted from raw emotion and from being called into work at 8:00 am after working until midnight.

“What did you do with the money?” She felt his voice scraping in her mind. “You’re a good employee, so I’m giving you until 5:00 to give it back. You don’t, we’re calling the cops!” A new stream of tears.

She left the Riverside Inn and felt the cool morning air blow against her tear-stained face. $1000! There was no way she could come up with that. She wasn’t one of the typical rich kids at Colby College. She needed this job. She needed to figure out what had happened and clear her name. But how? She wasn’t Nancy Drew, for crying out loud.

She sat down on a garden bench and saw the three Baxter boys running around in the grass with a Frisbee. They had been in the lobby last night, goofing around. Maybe they had seen something.

“Hey, kids. It’s me, Kristie, from the desk. Listen, have any of you seen a wedding dress? I lost it last night, and I really, really need it back.”

The teens looked up from their game.

“No wedding dress. But there was something weird going on at the bar. We hope you find it.”

Chapter 2: WAS IT THE BARTENDER?

Kristie returned to the lobby and walked over to the bar, which had been cleaned after closing and would not open again until 11:00. She studied the smooth wooden counter with the leather wrapped edges for anything out of place. The usual offerings at the tap, in the soda cooler, on the snack rack.

She took inventory of the bottles along the back. Everything there was pretty basic too, with one interesting exception: two weird and beautiful bottles, one half empty and one unopened, of Ty Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo. Kristie had spent a lot of hours staring at that shelf of bottles from her post behind the desk. The sake was new. Rodney must have known that the Japanese girl was coming! How could he have known? There was definitely something weird about the bar.

She dropped her keys and got down low, peering under the four stationary bar stools, black leather and shiny chrome. Aha! Under the base of the third stool were two empty pill bottles. She picked them up to study them more closely. Prescription bottles. A guest’s, perhaps? How did they end up on the floor? Did the bartender try to drug someone? Did Rodney try to drug that poor girl? Or the old man with her?

Chapter 3: WAS THERE A FIGHT?

Kristie wandered around the lobby. Mr. Wallner, the night concierge was no longer there, but his logbook was lying open. She took a quick picture and then walked away, reading the schedule from her phone. Nothing really stood out: “9 pm – dispatch a taxi to the opera to collect Mrs. Ray and guest (214). 11:20 pm – send the three Baxter boys (210) back to their room.” Between 2 and 3 he did rounds for the security guard, who had left for some reason, but everything else looked normal. She made a note to talk to the concierge and the security guard.

In the center of the lobby, 3 small sofas were arranged in a square around a small table. The fourth side of the square was a flatscreen mounted on the wall over a fake fireplace. She walked over to the couches, sitting on the middle one, and noted some small stains on the arms of the three sofas. They looked like blood. She snapped a shot of the arm nearest her. She got up to change the channel, then sat down on a different couch to check out that stain more closely.

Whatever happened to the dress, it must have involved a fight. The security guy would have to know about that.

Chapter 5: SHADOW AT THE WINDOW

Kristie rolled the pill bottles over in her hand.

The youngest Baxter boy, Pitts, came and sat next to her. When he saw the pill bottles in her hand, he got nervous and quiet.

He rubbed at a scabbed-over scratch on his arm, and it started bleeding again.

“You know anything about these?”

“Those pills? No way. We’re not allowed to touch pills. Mom just lets us have the empty bottles for our games. Yesterday we caught a bunch of ants and put them inside the bottles, then hid them under a chair! Haha! We waited and waited for the ants to come out on the legs of the funny lady, but they never did.”

Kristie nodded.

“Too bad that your ant trick didn’t work! Did anything else kind of funny happen, though?”

“Well, there was that funny lady, right? And the guy giving her the drinks was so happy to see her. They had so many drinks together. She seemed a little nervous, like this.” He pressed his fingertips to his lips, and the blood dripping from his scab started rolling up his arm.

“But then she came over to play with us, and something happened. That guy was weird. He started shouting. A lot. And then we had to go upstairs again.”

“Hey, thanks for talking to me, Pitts. I just gotta find that wedding dress, or I won’t be able to work here anymore. Keep looking, and if you think of anything else, please tell me right…”

Pitts held up his hand to stop her. He pointed his head subtly toward the window, widening his eyes.

She casually looked over, and saw it too. A shadow loomed in the bushes there. Someone was out there, listening to their conversation. The shadow stayed still as a stone. Kristie gestured her head to the front door and raised her eyebrows at Pitts, who left to go find out who was hiding there.

He left the building and walked boldly past the front windows. Once he turned the corner, he crept slowly and quietly, keeping close to the building. He saw someone crouching behind a shrub. He reached around and grabbed him by the collar.

It was his brother, Dougie.

“Pitts! You’re ruining my hiding spot, moron.”

“Sorry. Any luck with the wedding dress? Kristie says she’s in big trouble.”

Dougie just shook his head, but after Pitts took off again, he turned back to the window and watched Kristie sitting there.

Chapter 4: MAIL-ORDER BRIDE

Kristie remembered that gross old man. As soon as she saw the girl go into the restroom, she called out to Mr. Wallner to watch the desk and followed her in.

“Hi! You OK?”

The girl stood very still. “See this wedding dress? They bought it for me to wear tonight. I have no money. I have no anything. I don’t want to marry this… this…” She looked like she was about to cry, but she stopped herself and breathed deeply.

“Can you help me? Give me money to go out of this place? You could take this dress. You could sell it for money.”

Kristie nodded. Wedding dresses cost a lot of money. It would be easy to sell it and get back the money. And that poor girl. Something was not right about the situation. She went back to the drawer, pulled a thousand out, and crammed it in her pocket. She just needed to wait until the girl went back into the bathroom to make the exchange.

That’s when all hell broke loose. The old man started thundering wildly. He was drunk as hell. The girl was sitting on the couch, crying.

Rodney called over the security guard and told him to get him out of the lobby.

Chapter 5: THE MISSING DRESS

Kristie saw her chance. She walked over to the girl on the couch and sat beside her. She looked around.

The guard had taken the old man out, probably into the yard, to calm him down. She handed the girl the money, and the girl thanked her and ran out the door.

Kristie went to the bathroom to grab the dress and go home, but the dress was gone. GONE. She felt the panic bubble into her throat. She came out of the bathroom and searched everywhere, but the dress was gone. And the girl was gone. And the money was gone.

Jimmy came in then to take over for the night. She had no choice but to play it cool and take off.

Rodney left for the night, and Jimmy and Mr. Wallner worked the sleepy hours in silence.

Kristie hung her head as she sat on the sofa. Where was that dress? She needed it back.

Chapter 6: WAS IT JIMMY?

Kristie looked over at the desk. Jimmy had come in after her, but he had been here all night. Maybe he had some answers for her about the dress.

“Jimmy, have you seen anything strange around here today?”

“You mean besides you stealing money from the drawer? Not a thing, Kelly. Don’t get me involved in this mess.”

“It’s just that there’s this dress that I’m supposed to be selling to get the money back. It will all be fine if I can just find that dress!”

“Well, I haven’t seen it. And I’m not getting involved.” He turned his back to her and started sorting through the pile of receipts on the counter.

“Well, there’s one thing. And it’s weird. But you should ask those Baxter boys. They’re always around, and they seem like they’re up to no good.”

Kristie knew it was a silly thing. How would they know anything about that dress? Besides, they’d been helping her all day.

Chapter 7: A CHAT WITH MR. WALLNER

Mr. Wallner seemed to be as old as the Riverside. He had started working there before everyone else, including the manager. The rumor going around was that he had once been the manager, back in the glory days of the hotel, before the big chains came to take away their College guests.

Whatever Mr. Wallner was, he wasn’t a crook. He was trying to help that girl as much as she was, and Kristie just knew that he wouldn’t have stolen that dress. Maybe he would have taken it to put it somewhere safe, though. She had to find out.

She walked up to his front door and knocked. He was probably still asleep after a night like that.

“Hullo?” He poked his head out of the door. “Kristie, you got trouble, I hear. Looking for that dress?”

“YES! Please tell me you know where it is, Mr. Wallner. I need to sell it and get the money back for the drawer. Bonnie at Bonnie’s Bridal says she will take a look at it. Please.”

Kristie could feel the panic swelling in her once again. Her job, everything, depended on getting that dress. The manager didn’t care about that girl’s sob story. He wanted the damn money.

“Under the sofa by the TV. I slid it there for safekeeping – I figured housekeeping might go through the bathroom while you were gone, but I’ve never seen them, not once in oh, fifty years, sweep under that sofa.”

Kristie squealed and hugged him. “Is that when you did the rounds for the security guard?”

“Yep.”

She ran back to the hotel, smiling the whole way.

She got into the hotel and hit the floor by the sofas. Anticipation bit at her.

There was nothing there.

Chapter 8: IT WAS DOUGIE

Kristie walked up to 210 and knocked on the door. The loud TV suddenly quieted, and some giant ruckus followed. Eventually a voice behind the door called out, “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Kristie, I just wanted to ask if you had seen that dress yet?”

Pitts pulled open the door, with a finger over his lips. He gestured with his head toward the bathroom. Kristie could see a shape moving behind the door.

Pitts called out loudly, “Dougie! I need to go pee! You have to let me in!”

Dougie growled, but he turned the lock. As the door swung open, his eyes met Kristie’s.

He was holding the dress in one hand, his cell phone in the other.

“I… I… was hiding in the girls’ bathroom. I didn’t want to go to bed like some little kid! I can be up past midnight! That girl was so cute, too. I… I… wanted to help her. But then YOU came in! You ruined my chance to… I just…”

Kristie cried out in relief. “OK. It’s OK. Let’s just go sell it! We have almost no time left!”

She smiled at Pitts as they ran out of the room.

K: Interesting take on this thing, breaking our story into several sub-stories and introducing a lot of characters. I think it was a little ambitious for the space, though it did attempt to explain every story element, and in unlikely ways to boot. SILVER

DK: I found the action here a little more laborious to follow than was probably ideal, or intended. This one has several threads which weave in and out, but some tightening could’ve helped those threads’ interactions and separate conclusions become clearer. Still, I like the perspective of Kristie as the protagonist and I was sympathetic to her situation throughout.

Sarah Bizek

The phone rang at four thirty in the morning, dragging Detective Susan Lynch from her troubled sleep. All night she’d tossed and turned, woken to alarms alerting her to her next dose of pain medication. Before her hand fell on the receiver, pain in her abdomen struck her like an ice pick to the gut yet again. She tensely sucked air in through her mouth, and then coughed with the dryness her tongue and lips had taken on during her interrupted slumber. There had been little respite from the pain since surgery the day before. Even the excessive amounts of oxycodone did not allow any reprieve. She pushed the receiver to her face.

“Lynch,” she croaked. Her voice had been baritoned by the cotton mouth and monotoned by the drug-induced malaise.

“Sue, it’s Bill. We’ve got something strange.”

“I’m on vacation,” she whispered as she rolled onto her side and pulled her knees to her chest. The pain was creating explosions behind her eyes.

“Not anymore. It’s at the Vanderbilt hotel. Blood soaking some of the lobby furniture. Three teens missing, but no bodies at the crime scene. And…weirdest part. A wedding dress in the lobby. Just sitting there. Perfect condition.” Bill paused.

“Some reason Calahan can’t do this one? I’m on vacation.” Lynch sipped on some water in an attempt to separate her teeth from her chapped lips.

“In fact, yeah, there is. Seems like Rudy Marconi appears numerous times on the hotel’s surveillance camera from last night.”

Sue sat up in her bed, a bit more alert than she’d been a moment earlier. Rudy Marconi. Mobster she’d been after for eight years, since the first case of her career. He’d murdered an entire family in their Upper East Side apartment and with seemingly no motive. Five bodies hacked apart with a meat cleaver. Gruesome. And though the circumstantial evidence had been significant, it wasn’t enough to beat Marconi’s stooge lawyers. He deserved to pay, and she wanted to be the one to throw the book at him. This new case intrigued her.

She was about to tell Bill she’d be at the scene in ten, but then she looked down at herself. Her abdomen was bloated to three times it’s typical size. The day before, a gynecologist had both cooked the lining of her uterus to the point where it would no longer function and tied the tubes that Sue was certain she’d never use. The pain was incredible. And not a single pair of her pants would possibly fit her. She couldn’t work.

“Bill…I’m on vacation.” She said this urgently, hoping he wouldn’t continue to pry.

“Lynch, I’m not sure why I have to say this, but your vacation ended the second we saw Marconi’s face on that surveillance feed. Get your ass down there.” His voice was stern, very unlike him. He was nervous about something, she could tell. But it didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter.

“Bill, I have blood running out of my uterus and vagina right now, and my abdomen is the size of the Octo-Mom’s with all those babies shoved inside.” She heard Bill gag. “I’m not on fucking vacation, I had surgery yesterday. I tried to save you from the gory details, but you made me do it. I will NOT be in today. I CAN not be in today. Put Calahan on it. He can’t fuck it up too badly before I return next week. Yeah?” Her head swam with the effort of raising her voice.

“Okay. Yeah. Yes. Uh…I hope…well, take care of yourself.” The line went dead. She dropped back against her pillow and sighed. After popping another ten milligrams of oxycodone, Susan Lynch slumbered.

This time she dreamed of a slimey Italian man wielding a meat cleaver. Three teenagers, in formal attire, ran through the woods. Each of them bled from non-lethal wounds to their throats. Rudy Marconi laughed as he chased them into the dark.

K: Wow, this was brief. The skeleton of a strong narrative is here, but isn’t given the proper room to grow and therefore didn’t stick with me once I’d read everything else. I wish I knew a little more about Marconi and this event. BRONZE

DK: I enjoy a lot the way this uses the case (and by extension, the prompt) as a means to paint a concise portrait of Susan as a character. Her weariness (in general and condition-specific) and her drive to bring in Marconi both come through really vividly. SILVER

Shawn Ashley

I remember that summer like it was yesterday. Such a defining moment in time. I had just graduated high school and was one of only a handful of my girlfriends to attend college in the fall. Alice Cooper had the most popular- and most fitting- song on the radio at the time, “School’s Out”.
It was 1972.
Claire was going to “bum around Europe spending her parent’s money” for a year, she said with a flip of her long brown hair and cigarette dangling between her two middle fingers. I never knew why she smoked them like that, instead of between the pointer finger and middle finger, like everyone else. But Claire was just like that. She smoked a lot, drank too much at parties, slept with too many boys…but she was fun. My mother couldn’t stand when I would hang out with her, but her parents owned half of the town so she let me. However, disapprovingly.
My mother wanted to be a member of everything, the city council, the country club…She would plaster on a fake smile and bake a cake for anyone who dared breathe within the city limits. Claire’s mother helped my mother successfully fool people into thinking she was a pillar of niceness and grace.
Elizabeth was going to college- just like me- only she was going to Wesleyan. Far away from me. From all of us. She was so crazy smart, smarter than all of us, that sometimes she acted really weird. But she was probably my closet friend out of everyone. We knew everything about one another and would stay up late playing Elton John’s Rocket Man, searching for infinite meaning and talking about boys. She was extremely skilled at pottery and was constantly in her little “artist’s cove” as she called it, throwing pots.
Elizabeth had a wild fling with one of the teaching assistants at our high school who had come in to help assist with European Literature from the local college. She had said that they made out wildly in his car one night and he had dared to try and put his hand up her skirt.
She had freaked out, of course. Slapped him and ran from the car. Afterwards, she had called me, crying, also justifying that it was the seventies and sexual liberation had been happening for over a decade and why was she so scared and afraid and oh, she really liked this boy but now she had slapped him and he would never talk to her again.
She was right. He never did.
And Moira…she was getting married. That weekend, in fact. I had gone with her to pick out her dress and flowers. Her mother helped with pretty much everything else. Moira and Mark were high school sweethearts and had been dating for two years, it was only natural that they get married.
And then there was me. I’m Heather. Heather before “Heather” was cool. I’m shy and a little standoffish. People have said I was pretty, in a very plain or unnoticeable way. I’m the observer. The follower.

The rehearsal dinner was scheduled for six p.m. because some of the older people had to go to bed early. I had the dress in my arms as I scurried behind Moira to get into the hotel.
She was a wreck, talking a mile a minute and I was left to try and decipher what she actually NEEDED me to do and what she was just ranting about.
“I have a bunch of rooms booked for this weekend, under Cardhall,” she barked at the concierge as she approached the counter.
“Y-y-y-y-yes, miss…Moira…” he stammered as he opened the book to look.
“What is wrong with him?” She turned to me.
I peeked out through a haze of white crinoline. “He was in our chemistry class. Byron. Don’t you remember? He’s so in love with you,” I whispered.
Her eyebrows lifted up. “Oh?” She turned back to him. “Byron, sweetie…help with my things?”
He nodded as he scampered around the counter and grabbed some bags from her and led the way. He didn’t bother to help me, so I trailed behind with the dress blowing in my face and heavy bags on my shoulders.
As we hurried across the lobby, I noticed a young, cute bellhop leaning against the wall across the room, smoking a cigarette. We locked eyes for a moment and he broke into a smile and laughed silently as he watched me struggle with the dress. I blushed and hurried to catch up.
The rehearsal dinner was boring and not all of the fans in the room were working. Moira’s mother had taken to fanning herself with her gloves and Claire disappeared before the dinner was even over. Thankfully, it was over pretty quickly. All of us girls were staying overnight with Moira in the hotel to decorate and help her get ready in the morning. Everyone had left for the most part and we had offered to clean up. The heat was still stifling so late into the night in the room we were decorating so I excused myself for the ladies room and felt the cool, fresh air as I pushed my way into the lobby. I got distracted by the art on the walls.
“Having fun?”
I turned quickly in surprise. It was the cute bellhop. I felt my face flush. “I guess.”
He was leaning against the wall, smoking again. “Either you are or you aren’t.”
For some reason I couldn’t look at him. “I guess not, then.”
“Wanna go outside? For some fresh air?” His smile was beyond gorgeous.
All I could do was nod and I followed him out the front door and we headed around the side of the hotel. He jumped up on the cement railing and patted beside him. “Come up.”
I hopped up beside him.
“Patrick,” he said.
I smiled. “Heather.” We sat for a moment.
“It’s so nice out. This has been the best summer,” he said, taking another drag of his cigarette.
As he blew it out, I inhaled deeply. I didn’t smoke but there was something that was beginning to awaken in me for a man with a faint hint of tobacco on him. He held it out to me.
“Oh, I don’t smoke.” I looked away.
He gave me a disbelieving look. “Whatever you say.”
We sat in silence for a minute, our legs almost touching. I could feel the electricity between us, as if we both wanted to touch one another but didn’t.
“You listen to music?” He asked, finally.
“Yeah, of course!” I exclaimed. Music was one of my favorite things in the world.
“Pink Floyd?”
“Who?” I asked.
“What?! You don’t know Pink Floyd? Only one of the best bands ever. You have to listen to them. They just put out another album, ‘Obscured by Clouds’. They change my life with every album.” He paused, thinking. “What about Deep Purple? You know them??”
“’Smoke on the Water’ is one of my favorites!” I said, excitedly. “But Elton John with Honky Cat and Rocket Man are probably my favorites.”
“Yeah, ‘Smoke’ is so good. And I really dig ‘Rocket Man’ too!” We smiled at each other and laughed. He reached up and touched my cheek. “You’re really pretty.”
I felt my stomach flip over and butterflies fill my entire abdomen. Was he going to…?
And he did. He leaned over and kissed me ever so lightly on the lips and I felt like I was floating. Good thing that I was sitting already because my knees gave out. I had my eyes closed so tightly and when I opened them, he was looking at me, amused.
“HEATHER!”
I heard my name and I jumped down and rushed to the front of the hotel. Moira was standing in the front, screaming my name with tears rolling down her face.
“Heather, you will not believe this!!” She yelled, sounding panicked. She noticed Patrick. “Who are you?”
Patrick, who had followed behind me, held out his hand. “Patrick,” he said, but she ignored him and his outstretched hand.
“Come with me,” she pulled me by the arm back into the hotel and into the women’s restroom. She once again broke into tears and I could barely make out what she was saying.
“Mark is…he is…oh my god, Heather…he is CHEATING on me! He is sleeping with someone else…”she exclaimed through huge sobs.
“What? Moira, what? Calm down…did you say-“I tried to ask what was going on but then Elizabeth pushed through the door.
“Ok, Moira, I got your things. I have the dress hanging on a rack in the lobby. Let’s go, let’s get out of here. Let himexplain it to everyone tomorrow,” Elizabeth said briskly as she put her arm around Moira.
I was confused. “Wait, is this true? Mark is cheating??” I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
Moira turned to me with fire in her eyes. “Yes! And apparently, he has been seeing her for over a year. AND I’M PREGNANT!”
Elizabeth and I stopped dead.
“You’re pregnant?” Elizabeth asked softly.
Moira dissolved into tears. “Yes…I was going to tell all of you girls this weekend, together. And now…”
Elizabeth looked at me and we both sprung into action, grabbing her bags and pulling her out of the ladies room. Patrick was still outside in the lobby, looking confused. We all ignored him and tried to gather all of the things when Claire came sauntering through the front door.
“Who do you have to fuck to get a drink at this hotel?” She asked, clearly already plastered.
“Claire, help us, please…grab the rest of Moira’s things. We need to get her out of here as soon as possible,” I asked.
“I HATE YOU!” Moira screamed at the top of her lungs. We all stopped and looked as Mark came into the lobby. “I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU!!” She ripped herself away from us and lunged at him.
There was a flurry of limbs and screams as she attacked him. Patrick and Byron, who jumped out from behind the counter, rushed over to help pull her off of him.
They plopped her into a chair where she sat sobbing and breathing heavily. “Moira, I’m sorry. I thought I should tell you now, BEFORE we got married! I wanted to come clean,” Mark pleaded with her.
“Shut up! SHUT UP, MARK!” She yelled.
“Ok, ok,” Elizabeth stood, taking control. “We are going to go get the rest of your things, Moira. Then we are leaving.” She looked at Claire. “Come with me and be useful.”
Claire trailed after her and then stopped and handed Moira her purse. “Hold that,” she slurred and continued following Elizabeth.
Patrick, Byron and I all looked at each other. The only sounds were Moira’s sobs and Mark’s heavy breathing.
Patrick walked over to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “You ok?”
I nodded.
“I suppose this isn’t the time to ask you for your phone number…”he smiled, half-heartedly.
I laughed, in spite of myself.
I heard the cries from Mark before I could really grasp what was going on. All I know is that when I turned, I saw Moira on top of him, stabbing him repeatedly and blood was flying everywhere. Patrick and I didn’t really move at first. I think we were so shocked.
By the time everyone had sprung into action, Mark had already staggered over to a different couch, his blood seeping through the white cushions. Patrick finally got the knife from Moira’s hands and she fell to the floor in a puddle.
Mark had made it to the other side of the room and stopped moving.
“Oh, fuck,” Elizabeth’s voice shot through the room. She and Claire had returned.
Moira looked up at her with frightened eyes. “What did I do?” She whispered.
Byron was standing over Mark’s body. “He’s not breathing.”
We all just stood in silence.
“My pills!” Claire exclaimed, as she noticed her spilled purse on the floor and dropped to her knees to pick them up.
“Let me guess, Claire….your knife too?” Elizabeth asked, ironically.
I jumped in. “Ok, what are we going to do?”
Everyone just looked at each other.
“I own a kiln.” That’s all Elizabeth had to say.

By the time the sun came up, we were all packing our things to join Claire on her trip to Europe. All of our parents understood, being that Moira had been “left at the alter” by Mark who had gotten cold feet and fled. The police never did figure out what had happened in the lobby that night, although they found a couple of bottles of Claire’s pills strewn throughout and blood soaked into three couches. But there were not any bodies to be found, so no one was charged with anything.
I mean, it was the seventies….there were no security cameras in the hotels in a small town. And Byron hadn’t seen anything…he had been “covering for Patrick from two a.m. to three a.m. while he took his break”.
Mark’s family was still in contact with him. They got regular updates from him while he lived in Canada but due to his embarrassment of his behavior and how he treated Moira, he couldn’t possibly face any of them.
At our ten year high school reunion, Elizabeth- who had become a celebrated artist- had given each of us a small decorated box of ashes that she had made as gifts.
She even made one for Moira’s ten year old daughter.

K: Though some of the dialogue could be punched up, the story went for a different style and time, and I fell for it completely, what with the pop culture references. In the end, this one left the biggest impression, and I got the strongest sense of having been there that any of the stories provided. GOLD

DK: I like everything here – the setting is perfect for this story, the characters, even the minor ones, are detailed well and in unique ways, and the emotional arc of the crime and its resolution are really strong, too. The ashes thing at the end is deliciously dark. GOLD

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Another immunity for Shawn leads us into a vote that I honestly can’t predict. I apologize for the difficulty of this one (nearly all of you mentioned it), and I’m pretty sure the last one isn’t half this punishing. Maybe it is. I guess we’ll see.

Votes are due by tomorrow night at 9pm Central.

In about a week, one of you will be crowned champion. Do you care as much as I do? Probably not, but still, it’s pretty awesome. Cheers, Survivors.

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