Excerpt: Can Natalie Come Out To Play?
As the dark red blood spilled down her designer outfit, there was no doubt the brunette woman propped up at the foot of the bed in front of me was dead. I stared into the hotel room, unable to move from my spot. The dimly lit room had been trashed and a smashed television lay in glass strewn everywhere.
Since the woman was dead, I couldn't help but feel sorrow at the loss of a life. It was very creepy, staring at potentially the aftermath of someone's last breath. I wanted to scream and run away, but was stuck in my spot.
A blond, possibly graying man, dressed in all black and wearing gloves, came out of the bathroom and stared at me with angry dark brown eyes. "Who are you?"
As surprised and mortified as I was, I watched the man, determination filling my face. "I work here."
"Lady, you'd better leave and forget everything or I'll kill you, too. I'll be watching you." He leaned closer to me so I could see his nose hairs. "I have connections that'll let me know if you talked."
Setting my jaw firmly in place, I threw my hands on my hips and spouted out the first thing that came to my mind. "Are you going to clean up this mess?"
"Are you serious?" He pulled a knife from his pocket and pointed it toward me.
I spun around and ran back toward the front desk, noticing someone coming out of their room at the far end of the hallway. They were too far away to help, so I ran to my coworker. "Call 9-1-1!"
I turned my head to see if the evil one was following me, but he was gone. With a quick peek around the corner toward the room, the man was nowhere to be found. Furthermore, there was no indication that he'd ever been there. How weird. It was dark outside, too, so I knew I couldn't have seen the guy if he'd left the hotel.
My co-worker, Jerry, hung up from his phone call. "What's the matter with you? Didn't you see I was on the phone? She could be 'the one.'"
I yanked the guy out of his seat and coaxed Jerry toward the room with him in the lead, in case knife-man was still around. "Come with me," I said. "I want you to see something. No phone call is worth missing this."
He walked with me back to the room containing the dead woman and looked inside. With a moan, the guy's knees turned to jelly and he fell to the floor, passed out.
No one was in the hallway, so I reached down and slapped his cheek, hard. "Wake up! The murderer could still be here."
"Murderer?" He lifted his head an inch. "Where? What happened?"
"You passed out from seeing a dead woman. We can't stay here in case the guy comes back."
"Oh yeah." His head hit the floor again, but his eyes stayed open.
I pulled Jerry to his feet by his shirt. "Get up. I have to call the police." After moving my sleeve over my hand to protect the crime scene, I shut the door to the room. I was more than annoyed, but for some reason, seeing a dead body didn't upset me as much as I thought it would, even with all that blood involved.
I grabbed Jerry's arm and dragged him to the front desk. He sat down with a plop, his face as white as a sheet, while I sat down and dialed for help.
Someone picked up the other end of the call. "Emergency." The woman chomped on something that sounded like gum and didn't seem to be in much of a hurry for anything.
"My name is Natalie DeLeon, and I work at the front desk of the Liberty Tree Hotel in De Pere. I'd like to report a murder."
The crash over the receiver was loud.
"Doggone it!" the woman screamed on the other end of the line. "Did you say murder? Really? We haven't had a good murder around here in years. How exciting."
Was she nuts? Murders were horrible things.
"What was that noise?" I asked.
"It was my favorite red nail polish and now it's all over the place."
"Why did it make such a loud sound?"
"It was the super economy-sized bottle. I think it contained a gallon of the stuff. You can never be too careful when it comes to stocking up on nail polish."
It sounded like the 'good' stuff and would probably peel off within seconds. Sounded like a thrift shop special, for a 'real deal.'
The woman continued. "Now, tell me, is this hotel in De Pere?"
I sighed and rolled my eyes. I knew I'd already told the woman that. "Yes, the only Liberty Tree Hotel in the Green Bay area. You know, the one with the huge billboards all over the city that give explicit directions?"
"Oh yeah. Can you tell me how to get there?"
"You've got to be kidding," I mumbled and looked over at Jerry, hanging on my every word.
"Ma'am?" the woman asked.
I could hear her wiping the nail polish, and envisioned it drying on the tabletop, the equipment, and all over the room, considering the size of the crash I heard when it fell. It reminded me of the red blood in the murder room, snapping me back to reality.
"There's been a murder," I said. "And we need someone to come out here immediately. Just take route 41 on the west side of Green Bay to De Pere, then turn left off the exit for Highway F to the private road to the hotel. You definitely can't miss it, with the huge lights all around the property and all the signs and billboards indicating the way every few feet on Route 41. And, can you hurry? It's creeping me out with all this blood in the room behind me."
"Someone will be there right away." The woman hung up.
Jerry grabbed my collar and pulled me to his face. "What did they say? Tell me! Tell me!"
"Let go of me," I said, pushing him away.
An older couple, wearing Green Bay Packers' sweatshirts, walked into the lobby and scowled at the two of us behind the desk. Jerry let go of my shirt and we both pasted smiles on our faces, waiting until the couple was gone.
As soon as the lobby was empty, Jerry got right into my face. "What did they say?"
"Relax. They're on their way." I suddenly remembered the warning from the man in the room. "When the police get here, I didn't find the body, but you did. The murderer threatened me, so I don't want to be killed. I'm close to getting my college degree and I'm not messing with fate by reporting something. Got it?"
"You want me to lie to a cop? I didn't find the body, you did."
I hushed him just in time for a businessman to walk through the lobby. We smiled at the man and waited for the room to empty again.
I turned to the scrawny idiot who worked with me and sighed. "You have to do this for me. You don't know anything, so even if they give you a lie detector's test, you won't be able to tell them anything."
With a moan, he looked out into the empty lobby and dropped his chin into his hands, propped up by his elbows on the front desk. "Why didn't I turn in my two week notice three weeks ago?"
"Are you quitting?"
"No, but I wish I'd known what was going to happen tonight, so I could've at least prepared for it. Maybe I should've called in sick instead?" His head hit the front desk in frustration with a loud, empty-sounding thud. Yep. That was Jerry, all right. Empty headed.
I grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him toward me while sirens sounded in the distance. "This isn't the time to wimp out on me. When the cops come, you found the body, understand? You didn't see anyone else and were just checking up on a noise we heard a few minutes earlier. Got it?"
"Yeah, I got it. It just freaks me out that there's a dead body right behind us."
I let go of his shoulders. "I'm not dealing too well with it myself. I should've beaten up the murderer or something and held him until the cops got here."
"You?" He raked his eyes down over me. "You're tiny. I don't think you could do that, could you?"
"Probably not, but I feel like I should avenge that lady's death or something. It's not right to do that to someone, and he needs to pay." I must've been nuts, but something kicked in inside my head, that I had to take care of this problem, somehow. However, I had no idea what I could do. It had to be on the sly. I wasn't about to let the cops know who I was. "I still don't want him to think I talked. I don't want to be his next victim."
"I get it. Hey, should we call the owner?"
I thought about it for a moment. "Do you know him?"
He pushed the phone my way. "No. You call him."
"I don't know him either." I pushed the phone right back. "You call him."
Jerry's arms suddenly crossed in front of him. "If I'm going to be talking to the cops, you call Mr. Williams. I certainly don't want to deal with him."
"Why?" I heard the sirens scream closer and closer to the hotel. My time was limited to talk to Jerry any more.
"Because I hear he's not very nice and loves to fire people." Jerry leaned a little closer. "I think he enjoys it way too much—if you know what I mean." He rolled his eyes at me.
"No, I really don't, but that's beside the point. If he fires me, then I'll just blame you." I grinned and he turned away.
Jerry looked out the front door of the hotel. I stared with him, watching the snow falling, realizing the snow was starting right on time. It was early December, which meant four more months of daily continual 'flurries' amounting to feet of frozen ice under the freshest white snow. Ah, winter in Wisconsin. What a lovely sight.
Within seconds, red and blue lights from at least four De Pere Police cars lit the street in front of the hotel. At least six cops poured out of the cars, running inside through the snow starting to cover the sidewalk.
The first man approached the desk, but I didn't want to talk to any of them. Instead, I picked up the phone, took out our employee manual and dialed the number for Mr. Williams.
The cop faced Jerry. "Where's the dead body?" He seemed to be the oldest officer of the group and probably the one in charge.
"Come with me," Jerry said, leaving his post at the front desk.
The other police officers followed behind and I tried not to laugh, thinking they all looked like baby ducks following their mother. Realizing they were following Jerry and he was playing the role of their mother made me laugh on the inside even more.
"Hello," the man on the other end of the phone answered.
I collected my thoughts and cleared my throat. "Mr. Williams?"
"Who is this?"
"Sir, this is Natalie DeLeon. I work at your hotel in De Pere."
"Why are you calling me so late? Did you know it's after ten at night?" He seemed a bit testy, but I held my ground.
"Yes, sir, I know it's late. It seems there's been a murder at the hotel. We thought we should let you know."
"Oh." He lowered his voice. "That's different." I guess murders calmed him down or something.
I crouched down at the desk, and tried to keep it quiet. "Sir, the murderer threatened me if I talk. I'm having my coworker field questions from the police."
I looked up as a good-looking man with very blue eyes and short brown hair tapped on the front counter. I put my hand over the receiver and almost gawked at him. He was so gorgeous, looking like a model from a magazine, with high cheekbones, a very masculine jaw and soft-looking hair. "May I help you?" I asked, straightening to my full height.
"Who are you talking to?" Mr. Williams shouted.
I held the phone away from my ear and winced. "Just a minute," I said to the man at the desk, then turned my attention to the phone. "It's a guest. Give me a minute, sir."
"I'll be right there. Don't talk to anyone about this." He ended the call with a thud.
I stared at the dead phone for a moment, then hung up and turned my attention to the hunk on the other side of the desk with a grin. "Sorry about that. May I help you?"
The ambulance workers brought a gurney inside and almost ran into the man with the blue eyes and sexy grin standing in front of me. Guests and onlookers were crowded in the lobby to view the entertainment for the evening, considering it was more exciting than the re-runs on television.
A reporter ran to the front desk and shoved a microphone into my face, with a cameraman beside her, recording every moment. He was out of breath, trying to keep up with the dyed-blonde reporter with obvious breast augmentation.
But I ignored them. Instead, I focused on the handsome guest with the blue eyes and brown hair standing on the other side of the desk. He was smiling, amused with the situation at hand. He must've had no clue about the dead woman in the room behind me.
The reporter shoved the microphone into my face. "Can you tell us what happened here?"
I faced the boob-job. "I'm busy with a guest. I don't know anything, so if you'd leave me alone, I'd appreciate it."
"But you have to know something. You do work here, don't you?" She was evil, all right. If she was the best they had, the news industry was in trouble.
Dead silence filled the room while everyone listened for my answer. Not only that, the blue-eyed gorgeous man waited for me. His eyes spoke volumes, but I had no idea what they were saying. He was so charming, I really wanted to pull this guy into the back room, have a nice chat and do other things to him, but I had to remain professional.
I turned toward the blonde boob-job with the microphone, thrust my hands onto my hips. "Look, lady, I'm trying to take care of the guests here." Yeah, so I had a New York accent, and I had a tendency to talk with my hands, but this woman seemed appalled. "I have no comment for the press and especially not for you." I paused, to get the timing just right, eyeing her up and down. "You're rude and need some lessons in manners. You can print that, too, and I'd be willing to take it up with your management. Tell them to give me a call so I can tell them how unprofessional and nasty you are." I was tempted to give her a few 'special' hand signals, straight from the city, but it wasn't appropriate in the small town arena.
Everyone in the room clapped. The blonde woman huffed, stuck her nose into the air and turned away from me. Small conversations eventually broke out, but the tone was definitely quieter than it had been.
Mr. Blue Eyes tried to contain his amusement, while I turned on the charm and my smile. "Now, may I finally help you?"
"I guess you took care of her." His voice was smooth, making me really want to get to know him better.
"She deserved it. Are you a guest here?"
"Yes, I am. I'm in the room right there." He pointed across from the murder room. "My name is Peter Brown, and I need another pillow."
I grinned and considered winking, but realized that the television cameras were rolling their live shots for the breaking news feed. It must've been a slow night for news, because all the major television stations were already on the scene.
"I can certainly give you another pillow." I walked to a closet off the lobby and brought Mr. Blue Eyes a pillow. As I handed it to him, he grabbed my hand and pulled me close, moving his mouth up to my ear. He was a take-charge kind of guy. Just what I liked.
"I heard what you told the murderer," he whispered.
I closed my eyes and sighed. They fluttered opened again to watch him. "Please don't tell anyone," I whispered.
He leaned close to me again, making me take a deep breath of anticipation. I could smell his wonderful aftershave and minty-fresh breath, wishing I could get to know this man. "I won't tell a soul," he said. "I'd be frightened of that man, too, if he spoke to me like that. If you need me, I'll be in my room. I can help you."
Cavorting with the guests was forbidden, according to the rules. "Thanks, but I'll be fine." Images too explicit to describe suddenly popped into my head about this man in his room, and I felt my face heat up.
He winked as he trailed his hand over mine and then left the front desk. I grinned, and returned to my post to look over some of my notes for my class. However, my mind was elsewhere, with Mr. Blue Eyes and his soft pillow. I was so jealous of that pillow, it was pathetic.
I'd read the first page twice when someone interrupted me. "Miss DeLeon, may I speak to you?"
I looked up from the desk and saw an intensely brown-eyed, brown-haired man standing in front of me, flashing his badge. He was wearing a heavy coat over a nice suit, his eyes piercing through me and making me melt. Two hot men in one night? I must be dreaming.
Since he was a cop, I knew I had to be professional. "I'm working, sir, so you'll have to wait until my replacement comes." I lowered my head and kept reading my notes.
I saw the man out of the corner of my eye turn toward the ever-growing crowd. As soon as he whistled, the crowd grew silent. He motioned and snapped his fingers. "Jerry! Here. Now."
Such incredible power. I felt my mouth fall open, thinking of him as a someone who could handle any situation. I wondered what it would be like to date someone like that.
The man waited for my coworker to join him. Jerry lowered his head and walked toward the front desk. He was very pale and raised his eyes to mine while slightly shaking his head. That's when it hit me—Jerry didn't keep his word, and told the officer I'd seen the murderer. I sighed and rolled my eyes, then joined the officer in the suit and thick coat.
"I'm Detective John Van Laren with the De Pere Police Department." The dark-haired man put his hand on my elbow and led me toward a conference room off the lobby. "We'll talk in here."
As soon as we sat at the table, his huge brown eyes seemed to attack me. There was no way I'd be able to keep anything from him with that intense stare of his. But before I had a chance to open my mouth, the door to the room flew open and an older man appeared.
"Natalie, did you say anything yet?"
I looked toward the man with no idea who he was. "No. We just sat down."
The older man shook the snow from his parka, removed it and sat beside me. He was attractive for his age, with gray hair and lots of wrinkles. Dressed in a gray sweatshirt with blue sweatpants and snow-encrusted boots, the older man thrust his arm out to the detective. They shook hands while the detective seemed to study the man.
"Hello," the older man said.
"Who are you?" the detective asked.
"I'm Grover Williams. I'm surprised you don't know me."
"No, I don't know you. Why are you here?" Detective Van Laren asked, very annoyed.
"I own this hotel," Mr. Williams said, his hands suddenly on his hips. "Who are you, anyway?"
The detective stared Mr. Williams down while he pulled out his badge. "I'm Detective John Van Laren. Why are you here? This is just a routine questioning."
Mr. Williams put his hand on my back. "I'm here for Natalie." He leaned toward the detective. "She has no parents and she's all alone, so I'm here on her behalf." His voice was a mere whisper, like I couldn't hear him, even though I wasn't deaf.
I raised my eyebrows, turning toward him in amazement. I'd never even met him before, yet he knew my name and knew both of my parents were dead.
Mr. Williams patted me on the back and moved his face closer to mine. "It's okay, Natalie. I'm here to help you."
I bit my lips and turned toward the detective again.
"So, can we get started?" Van Laren asked.
"No, sir, we can't." Mr. Williams sat down. "I've called my lawyer on Natalie's behalf, and we need to wait until he gets here."
Mr. Williams intrigued me. Anyone who could use the word 'behalf' more than once in just a few minutes must've had dealings with the law before. He was even willing to call his personal lawyer for me, someone he didn't know.
Who was this person, really, other than the owner of the hotel?