Cover art copyright © 2011 by Jeroen ten Berge
All rights reserved.
THE PAIN OF OTHERS is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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“The Pain of Others” originally appeared in
“Want change, Miss?” he asked.
“On a $9.75 fare? What does your heart tell you?”
Past the bellhop and into the Grove Park Inn carrying a small leather duffle bag, the cloudy autumn day just cool enough to warrant the fires at either end of the lobby, the fourteen-foot stone hearths sending forth drafts of intersecting warmth.
She sat down at a table on the outskirts of the lounge, noting the prickle in the tips of her ears that always started up right before. Adrenaline and fear and a shot of hope because you never knew what you might find. Better than sex on tweak.
The barkeep walked over and she ordered a San Pellegrino with lime. Checked her watch as he went back to the bar: 2:58 p.m. An older couple cuddled on a sofa by the closest fireplace with glasses of wine. A man in a navy blazer read a newspaper several tables away. Looked to her like money—top-shelf hair and skin. Must have owned a tanning bed or just returned from the Islands. Two Mexicans washed windows that overlooked the terrace. All in all, quiet for a Saturday afternoon, and she felt reasonably anonymous, though it didn’t really matter. What would be recalled when the police showed up? An attractive thirty-something with curly red hair and ridiculous sunglasses.
As her watch beeped three o’clock, she picked out the sound of approaching footsteps—the barkeep returning with her Pellegrino. He set the sweating glass on the table and pulled a napkin out of his vest pocket.
She glanced up. Smiled. Good-looking kid. Compulsive weightlifter.
“What do I owe you?”
“On the house,” he said.
She crushed the lime into the mineral water. Through the windows she could see the view from the terrace—bright trees under grey sky, downtown Asheville in the near distance, the crest of the Blue Ridge in the far, summits headless under the cloud deck. She sipped her drink and stared at the napkin the barkeep had left on the table. Four four-digit, handwritten numbers. Took her thirty seconds to memorize them, and a quick look around confirmed what she had hoped—the windowwashers and the hotel guests remained locked and absorbed in their own worlds. She lifted the napkin and slid the keycard underneath it across the glass tabletop and into her grasp. Then shredded the napkin, sprinkling the pieces into the hissing water.
One hour later, she fished her BlackBerry out of her purse as she stepped off the elevator and onto the fifth floor. The corridor plush and vacant. No housekeeping carts. An ice machine humming around the corner.
Down the north wing, Letty flushing with the satisfaction that came when things went pitch-perfect. She could have quit now and called it a great haul, her duffle bag sagging with the weight of three high-end laptops, $645 in cash, one cell phone, two iPods, and three fully-raided minibars.
Standing in front of the closed door of 5212, she dialed the front desk on her stolen BlackBerry.
“Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa. How may I direct your call?”
Through the door, she heard the phone ringing, and she let it ring five times before ending the call and glancing once more up and down the corridor.
The master keycard unlocked the door.
5212 was the modest one of the four—a single king-size bed (unmade), tiled bathroom with a shower and garden tub, the mirror still beaded with condensation. In the sitting area, an armoire, loveseat, leather chair, and floor-to-ceiling windows with a three hundred and fifty dollar-a-night view of the Asheville skyline, the mountains, and a golf course—greens and fairways lined with pines and maple trees. A trace of expensive cologne lingered in the air, and the clothes on the bed smelled of cigar smoke.
She perused the bedside table drawer, the armoire, the dresser, the drawers under the bathroom sink, the closet, the suitcase, even under the sofa cushions, which occasionally yielded big scores from the rich too cheap or lazy to use the hotel safe.
Room 5212 was a bust—nothing but three Romeo y Julieta cigars, which she of course pocketed—bonuses for the bellhop and barkeep.
On her way out, Letty unzipped her duffle bag and opened the minibar, her BlackBerry buzzing as she reached for a 1.5 ounce bottle of Glenlivet 12 Year.
Pressed talk. “Yeah?”
“What room you in?”
“Get out of there. He’s coming back.”
She closed the minibar. “How long do I have?”
“I got tied up giving directions. You might not have any time.”
She hoisted the duffle bag onto her shoulder, started toward the door, but the unmistakable sound of a keycard sliding into the slot stopped her cold.
A muffled voice: “I think you’ve got it upside down.”
Letty opened the bifold closet doors and slipped in. With no doorknob on the inside, she had to pull them shut by the slats.
People entered the hotel suite. Letty let the duffle bag slide off her shoulder and onto the floor. Dug the BlackBerry out of her purse, powered it off as the door closed.
Through a ribbon of light, she watched two men walk past the closet, one in a navy blazer and khaki slacks, the other wearing a black suit, their faces obscured by the angle of the slats.
“Jameson, if you’ve got it.”
She heard the minibar open.
“Chase, I need to hear you say you’ve really thought this through, that you’re absolutely sure.”
“I am. I only went to Victor when I realized there was no other way. I’m really in a bind.”
“You brought the money?”
“Mind if I have a look?”
Letty heard locks unclasp, what might have been a briefcase opening.
“Now, you didn’t just run down to your bank, ask for twenty-five large in hundred dollar bills?”