The whole thing started with a running shower in the next room.
Kent and Mabel Kirkwood of 3431 Drosophila Road–only in a college town would you have a Drosophila Road–Middletown, Connecticut, had looked forward to a short getaway for their fourteenth wedding anniversary, but had to delay their plans when the architectural firm that Kent worked for as a materials engineer was rather unexpectedly awarded a contract to build an extension onto an existing structure downtown as part of a long-awaited refurbishment of the old garden district. A source of funding had appeared unexpectedly, and the building owner, a man named Wesley Cogsley, was anxious to spend the money lest it be retracted. He had good reason to be concerned: the money had been promised by an old and wealthy Navy friend casually over drinks, without much reflection, and Cogsley half expected the friend to pull his offer after his beancounters got wind of it. The check–$1.8 million–had cleared and so the money was spent, and the project awarded to Kent’s employer, Hapley and Associates. Thus the week-long trip to Vegas was cancelled and replaced with a weekend at Disney World instead, booked on a Monday for Thursday travel. The resort hotels were, of course, full, and while the Kirkwoods were placed on the reserve list in case of a cancellation, no such thing materialized, and so Kent and Mabel found themselves in the Howard Johnson’s four miles from the park: a two-star hotel, if you were generous. “Oh, I don’t care,” Mabel had said when they checked in and got to the room. “As long as the shower is clean, it’ll be fine. We’ll be at the park all day anyway.” Characteristic of her; she’d been raised in near poverty in Appalachia, used a Marine Corps commission as a ticket out, and after six years in the Corps, she’d endured a lot worse than a crummy hotel room.
Kent was far more squeamish about such things. “Let me check the bed before you sit on it, honey,” he said as they maneuvered their luggage through the door.
“Check it for what?” Mabel asked, not entirely sure she wanted to know.
“Bedbugs,” he said.
“Eww. Is there really such a thing?”
“Sure there are,” he said, tearing the covers off the bed. “Haven’t you ever said ‘don’t let the bedbugs bite’ to someone?” He was inspecting the seams of the bare mattress now, but there was nothing to see. “They’re endemic in the US right now.”
After the bed passed inspection, Mabel went in the bathroom to assess the tub. It was clean–chipped in a few places, but clean–and Mabel noted the sound of water running. She checked the taps, then observed the surface of the water in the toilet, and found no indication of water movement. Kent’s face appeared in the doorway. “How’s it look in there?”
“Listen,” Mabel said. “What’s that noise?”
It’s the next room. Sounds like they’re taking a shower.”
“Oh.” Mabel nodded. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”
After unpacking and arranging their things, Kent and Mabel went down to the lobby then had a late lunch at the Dennys Restaurant across the street. They returned to the room an hour later, and when Mabel went into the bathroom, the first thing she noticed was that the noise was still there. “Honey, the water is still on in the next room,” she said.
“You’re kidding me,” Kent said. He stepped in and over to the wall that separated the two bathrooms. “They must like long showers over there,” he said.
“I guess it could be a second person taking a shower,” Mabel shrugged. She came out of the bathroom and moved across the room to open the sliding glass door that led to a small balcony. There was just enough room for the two chairs and small table between them that sat there. She came back in and closed the door. “It’s too cold to be out there,” she said as Kent was arranging clothes in the dresser drawers.
“Why don’t you see if you can get some weather?”
She picked up the television remote and flopped down on the bed. The television came on and she flipped through the channels, locating the ubiquitous weather station. She muted the audio and studied the graphic on the acreen. “It’s supposed to get up to 73 today.”
“That’s not too bad.”
Kent finished arranging things and lay down on the bed next to his wife. She picked up the remote and clicked through the channels. “Ah!” she said “Fast Times at Ridgemont High! I love this movie!”
“Meh,” her husband respondes. But he thrust a pillow behind his head, and the two of them watched the movie for awhile; Kent dozed off and woke only because his wife got up and headed to the bathroom. The movie’s credits were rolling as Kent pulled himself up to a sitting position.
“Hey, the water is still running over there,” she said from the bathroom
“What?” Kent said.
Mabel’s face appeared in the doorway. “I said the water is still running over there. That’s not right.” She stepped over to the bed, sat down next to Kent, and picked up the room phone.
“What are you doing?”
“Calling the desk,” she responded. Then the clerk downstairs answered.
“Hampton Inn, Roger speaking.”
“This is Mabel Kirkwood in 448,” she said crisply. “Listen, the water in the next room, in the bathroom, has been running a long time. We can hear it through the wall.” She paused, listening to the clerk’s response. “It’s on the right as you walk in,” she said.
“What’s on the right?” Kent asked.
“Shh!” Mabel shushed him. “Okay,” she said into the phone. Then she put it back in the cradle.
“What did they say?” Kent asked as he contemplated rising from his seat on the bed there beside her.
“They said they’d check it out.”
And presently, the heard footsteps, then a knock on the adjoining room. “Mr. Pordlin?” A voice called, then a louder knock and “Mr. Portlin, hotel staff.” Then there was the soft beep as the lock was opened with a master keycard. “Mr. Portlin?” the staff person announced loudly as one does when entering an ostensibly occupied hotel room. Kent and Mabel listened–they heard the man knock on the bathroom door, call the name again, and then the water was turned off. “Shit!” they heard him say, and then they heard the crackle of a handheld radio. “Sheila, we’ve got a code 41 up here in 452,” he said.
“Code 41,”a female voice responded.
Kent went to the door, opened it, and stepped out into the hallway. He could see the open door of the next room, 452, and as he waited for something to happen, Mabel joined him there and took a step toward the open door. “Honey, do you think–” Kent started to say, but by then Mabel had crossed over to the open door and was taking in the scene. Even in profile, Kent recognized the squad leader grimace and posture.