Thomas blew out the mist of lamp oil over the torch he was holding, causing a billowing cloud of fire to blast into the air. The crowd a few feet away cheered and screamed. He loved his job, not that he made much money at it. He took another mouthful of the oil, preparing for the finality of his act. Tipping his head back, he blew his last cloud of fire and wiped his mouth.
The cheer from the crowd was followed by people stepping forward and dropping bills and coins into the wooden bowl he had set out to collect the cash. He watched people wander off as he put his things away to end his day. Picking up the bowl, he dumped its contents into his backpack without even bothering to count it. He zipped the pack and swung it up over his shoulders. Walking away from his Friday spot, he headed toward the weekly hotel he had been calling home for the better part of a month.
It was getting to be time to move on, but he had the feeling he need to stay in town a few days longer. The walk to the hotel took him along the river’s edge, and he let his thoughts drift as he walked. He listened to the river becoming rapids as he got closer to his turnoff and noticed a sound under the crash of the waves.
He stopped, tilted his head, and listened. Under the sound of the water, he could hear someone crying – or he thought he could. Shaking his head, he moved on and rounded the corner. The sign for the hotel came into view and he let out a puff of air. Below the sign stood a woman. One he didn’t have any urge to speak to.
She made it impossible for him to avoid. “Thomas, good to see you. I’d heard you were playing with fire in town,” she said, smiling widely.
“Yeah,” he sighed, “I’ve been here almost a month now. What are you doing here? Last I saw you there was talk about you heading to Houston.” He said.
She chuckled. “Nope, it was in the plans, but I changed my mind. I figured being on the coast was a better idea than hiding out in Texas.”
He snapped his mouth shut before he could say something that would get him in trouble. He avoided looking at the hotel, not wanting to confirm to her he was staying there. “I’m glad you’re doing okay. I have an appointment to get to,” he said, trying to move past her, ignoring the hotel.
“Now, Thomas, don’t be like that. I know you’re staying here and I know you just closed up for the day. How about you drop off your stuff and I take you for a drink?” She asked, batting her lashes at him like she was in an old movie.
He stiffened. “No. I will not make excuses or tell you lies. I’m just going to say no, I’m not interested,” he said, turning on his heel with the change of his mind and walking toward the front of his hotel. She knew he was staying, so there wasn’t any point in not going to his room. As he reached the door, her voice had him pausing.
“Don’t you want to know what happened to Tyler?” She said, baiting him with possible news of his brother.
He reached out and pulled the door open. “Not from you. I wouldn’t know if I could trust it anyway,” he said, walking through the door and up to the counter. It wasn’t a five-star hotel, but he had been there long enough to know they didn’t take kindly to people harassing their guests. A glance over his told him she had stopped just inside the door. He looked at the woman behind the counter. “If that woman comes in here and asks for my room number, do not give it to her,” he said.
The woman behind the counter pushed a button he could just see past the top of the counter and smile. “Of course, sir. And we will inform her we are full for the night.”
He hadn’t been expecting the woman to go that far. “Thank you.” He walked away, but the woman lowered her voice and spoke, stopping him.
“I’ve seen you perform down by the river. I’ve also seen the likes of her. Don’t worry, she won’t be a bother to you tonight. I’m assuming you will want to change hotels in the morning. Would you like a recommendation?” She asked.
He glanced over his shoulder again. “Not where she can hear. But thank you,” he said.
“I understand. I’ll be working in the morning so we can talk then.” She said.
He nodded and walked away, passing the plainclothes security guard standing near the elevator. The man smiled and stiffened in response to the look Thomas gave him. “Have a good night,” the guard said.
Thomas waited for the elevator, not giving in to the want to look over his shoulder to find out if she was still standing there. As the door opened, he stepped inside and pasted a smile on his face as he turned around. The thought crossed his mind to push the button for the second floor and walk up the other flight of stairs to put another layer of distance between her and his room. He pushed the button for two and watched as his nightmare was stopped by the woman behind the desk. The doors closed, giving him a chance to catch his breath. He shook his head, trying to clear the worry. The elevator stopped on the second floor; the doors opening with the ding. He stepped out and walked down the hall to the stairway at the end of the hall. Climbing to the third floor gave him a touch of comfort, as did locking the hotel room door and putting the chain on after he went inside.
He pulled out his cell and silenced it, just in case she had gotten his new number somehow. Avoiding the woman was becoming a full-time job in the last few months. He tossed the device on the table under the television, dropped his pack on the floor, and flopped onto the bed. He guessed whatever was keeping him here had something to do with her; the thought didn’t bring with it any comfort.
After a couple of hours of mindless television, he flicked the button on the remote, shutting it off. He rolled over and tried to relax enough to sleep, but thoughts of Sheila filled his mind every time he closed his eyes. Did she really have news of his brother? Was it worth listening to what she had to say? Or was he better off continuing the search on his own? He would make that decision in the morning. For tonight, he forced his thoughts to better memories and a long time later, drifted off to a dreamless sleep.