Corazon | Teen Ink


April 30, 2011
By Brandon Taylor BRONZE, Mendham, New Jersey
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Brandon Taylor BRONZE, Mendham, New Jersey
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December 15th, 1934

The year is 1934- A heinous crime has been commited at “The Lions” a Hotel

A murder. That's what Hummel had said. The singer, Columbus, had been found in his suite. A blow to his head had turned the cream carpet into a red river. Well, according to Hummel, anyway.
Not our first murder, no. But The Lions wasn't exactly The Grand Hotel. You came here to hold afloat for a few months before you decided to let go after all, and let the waves take you.
Me? I'm a strong swimmer.
I leaned back, framed them, put it on the wall and looked them over fine. It was like a cent had been dropped in Hooverville. Limbs, faces, blurs. The lobby was steaming.
"When can we get out of here?" That was Room 106. The soul singer, Jones. She was pretty big. In every sense.
"This is ridiculous. I have a good mind to get my lawyer down here. You can't do this!" Room 56. Carter, the Ballerina. Passing us little people on the way down.
"Calm down. They probably have a good reason." Hudson was it? Her husband. But not for long. Not if what Hummel said about his visits to Room 98 were true. There she was now. Fabray. Watching him with her too long eyelashes, ringless fingers rubbing over a full belly. She moved back, as if hoping the wall would swallow her whole. It wasn't hungry. Hard to keep an appetite in this place.
"Can you believe this?" Hummel asked, leaning against the counter and playing with the bell. "They've shut us down."
"They're flushing him out." I observed my nails. "But in this place? They may not be ready for what they turn over."
Hummel wasn't listening. He didn't care for me and I wasn't exactly writing to the fan pages about him either. I followed his gaze, lingering on one of our newest additions. Room 109, Anderson. The composer. It was quite a view and I could understand the appreciation, especially since he was fixing his eyes on Room 10, Jessica St. James. An actor from New York. She'd left there with plans to climb to the top. She got her wish, except the heights she was scaling was the letter H, right behind Entwistle.
"You wanting to take her up more towels?" I asked. "How do you know she’s even catching for your team?"
He blushed. I could see why the guests liked him when he got flustered like that. Especially the older, female ones.
"You ladies got nothing better to do?" O’Donnell. He loomed over us, delighting in the cast of his shadow. "I don't pay you girls to lounge around and gossip about Gregory Peck, you know."
"Nerts! You barely pay us," Hummel snorted. Smart mouth. Shy eyes. "What did the bulls say?"
O’Donnell tightened his lip and held on to his words, staring Hummel over. I hated that look. I wanted to slap it from his head and watch it slide down the wall. I closed my eyes instead. "None of your bees wax, Sweetheart. Go see if any of the guests need anything. This could go on all night."
Hummel buried his gaze on the ground and gave a jerk of his head. A red blossomed around his neck like an infant day. He started forward, Anderson drawing him like he was the moon and Hummel was water.
"Fairy," O’Donnell muttered watching him go. As always the gaze was too long. I wondered about that. I wonder about a lot of things.
"I guess later is off," I said.
"You guess right, baby." He smoothed a finger down my arm. I swallowed the repulsion. An acquired taste. "But maybe we can get away later? After they interview everyone?"
"Maybe. I might go home. Wash my hair, look at my watch and then wash it again."
He pulled his lips back and tried to lick them. His fists clenched. "Why don't I fire you?"
I moved closer, eating into his personal space. "The same reason you promoted me?" A finger found his collar and slipped inside, brushing clammy skin. His palm let the fingers go.
His eyes darted over my shoulder. "Yeah. You think they'll find him? The killer?"
"I think they'll have a fun time looking."
"What about the Dame? Didn't she used to pitch woo with the chump?"
I turned, my breath hitching in my throat like a dam. Room 17. Sarah. She sat in her chair, her head clutched in hrt hands with hair entwining her fingers angrily. She looked like a woman going down for the third and final time.
But the girl didn't interest me. Not as much as the man at his side did. he clutched her shoulder, comfort in every pore. His white skin bled into the dark of her blouse, red tipped nails gleaming like promises as she soothed. His eyes rose and found mine, blue reaching out to brown. A smile hovered at his lips, and then changed its mind at last second.
Him. The boy in Room 17. With her.
I turned away.
"How'd a duck like that get a dame like her?"
I rolled my shoulders and bit my tongue. "How does anyone get anyone these days?"
"Mr. O’Donnell?" A tall drink of water for sure. One I could quench my thirst with. Strong jaw,Pale skin and soft eyes. He would have looked nice fifty foot in black and white and dipping Lana Turner. But all he had was us. "You the manager?"
O’Donnell stood up straight. "I am. I run this place for Lizzie. I didn't catch your name?"
"I didn't throw it." He turned to me. "And Ms-?"
"Carter. Morgan Carter." O’Donnell answered. "She's our receptionist. She takes the names. The calls."
"She speaks, too."
The newcomer smiled. His eyes took a wander down to my front and set up anchor. I let him. Everyone needs a warm place to lay their hat.
"Detective Taylor. I'm here about the murder."
"I didn't think you were here for the rates." I reached into my pocket and pulled out my smokes. "Taylor?" I said, "That right."
"They call me the Old man."
"And you can't get them to stop?" I smiled and touched a flame to a tip. "Old man." I let my tongue savour and taste the letters. "I don't know anything."
"Oh, I find that hard to believe, Frail. You look like you took plenty home from school." He gave a breezy grin, one he had been practising since he abandoned short pants. It was designed to make me pick up my skirts and faint.
I'm not the fainting type.
"What exactly do you want to know, Detective?" O’Donnell sneered politely. "And how long are you going to hold up my hotel?"
Taylor didn't give him his attention. That was all for me. "As long as it takes. Dangle, O’Donnell. I'll catch up with you later. Let me jar with your gal here."
"I'm not his girl," I said simply. When O’Donnell was gone. "I'm no one's girl."
"I had a feeling you weren't, Glamour." His face turned serious. "Do you want to tell me about your guests?"
"Is that a question? Or are you just making nice and letting me think I have a choice."
He chose air for his answer.
"Fine. Where do you want to start?"
"Columbus was killed a little over an hour ago. That's when your house dick reported it at least. He took a blow here." He touched at the back of his head. "And that's the last thing he took." He waited to still if I was going to need smelling salts. Satisfied I was going nowhere, he nodded. "The weak sister? The bell hop with the Kraut name?"
"Kurt Hummel."
"He says that no one has checked out. So, all we are trying to do, Ms. Carter, is see if any heads are missing."
I gave a glance around the room. Pretending that one of those faces didn't eclipse the rest. "Everyone's here that I can see."
He furrowed his brows at that. "This is everyone?"
"You may not be aware of yet, old man, but this isn't exactly the cream of the crop. This is where the misfits come when they get tired of the sound of a slamming door."
"I get it. I get it. So, while Hummel did the checking in, where were you?"
I pressed a hand into my pocket, fingers closing round the item. "I had an errand to run."
"May I ask what errand was that?"
"You can ask. Asking's free." I sighed. "I barely knew the man. I didn't kill him."
"No one said you did!" He introduced his brows with his hairline. "Now why would you say a thing like that?"
I stubbed out my smoke on the battered wood. "I was in my post for about ten minutes before he was found. Then you and your friends arrived. I didn't see anything."
He turned the checking in book around. "Maybe you can help me here? Give me a feel for your guests? Let's start with Anderson, Christopher?"
"Too square to fit in your round peg."
"Is that right?"
"Plus, I've never seen them exchange words. Let alone blows."
"Maybe he liked the look of him? And he wasn't forthcoming?"
I smiled, glancing over at Hummel wiping imaginary lint from Anderson's shoulders. At the distance between them that was close enough for dancing. "Maybe."
"Berry, Finn and Rachel?"
"That's them." I pointed outward. "George and Lenny." He followed my gaze and found the two. Berry was playing with his tie and grinning up at him like he was everything. Hudson stared down with the same fervour. If you didn't look too closely you'd miss his eyes searching the crowd. I know those eyes. They'll always be searching. No matter how many times they find it.
"I know her. She's the ballerina, right? That had the bad fall?"
"Never dance again they say."
"They say a lot of things. Few is worth a damn. And the tower next to her?"
"Finn Hudson. Her husband."
"And he took her name?" He scrunched up his face as if something foul lay on his tongue. "Putz."
"They weren't pally with Columbus either. Not enough to beat in her head, anyway." I wrapped a hand around the book and dragged it back. "And neither were Morrison, Porter, Jones, or St. James-"
"Jones? Okay, what about her?" He turned, leaning his elbows on the desk and staring out to the bustle like a man on the deck of his own boat. "What's her story?"
"Lady Arbuckle? One of the few that don't belong in this joint. She's been here about a month. Next month? She'll be dancing around Gillespie."
He gave a dip of his head. "This place is quite-progressive?"
I stiffened. "People can't afford to have prejudices here, Old man."
He shrugged. "It's not my world, Ms. Carter."
"But you're happy to live in it, aren't you?"
"Don't be sore." He held up his hands. "I was stating a fact."
"I suppose you want to know why I'm behind this counter and not cleaning it."
His face hardened like a cake left overnight. "You have me wrong, Ms. Carter. I get the feeling you have a lot of people wrong. You like that. You can keep your distance that way. And then you can have a high time telling yourself that's not your fault. It's theirs."
"Well, you've certainly given my feeble little mind a lot to think about." I raised an eyebrow. "Are we done?"
He looked at me as if he would like to sock me the jaw and not have to worry about it. "Hummel says that Mr. Columbus was friendly with One Julia Winne. You know anything about that?"
"Sure. They were going together for a spell. They've both been here over a year now, checked in around the same time. It fizzled out. Most things do. You don't like her for this, do you?"
"Just because a person sits down for a living doesn't mean that they don't reach for the moon once in awhile."
"And your motive?"
He took hold of his right ear and worried it. "Maybe she and Columbus found their spark again? Maybe he wanted to tell people. And maybe she didn't like that?"
I showed him my teeth. "Take a look at that man. The blonde." He did. "Useless legs or not, you don't step out on that. Would you?"
"Plus, Marlowe, how did she get down the stairs in time? The word is the boy has been dead less than an hour. She was here when the house dick found her. Wheeling up and down, putting chips in our flooring. And our elevator's out."
But not the side elevator. That one worked just fine.
"Okay. Staff? I can't exactly see Hummel leaving a body behind. That type have no steel in their spine-"
"You think murder is something to aspire to?"
"- O’Donnell? Maybe. No motive that I know of. But he looks the type." He turned to me, his grin slipping sideways. "You?"
I opened my my mouth with the idea of saying something. I let it pass
"Did anyone see you make your errand?"
It felt like a stab. "No."
"Ah, well." He stood up straight and gave the rim of his hat a tap. "We'll get to that. I'll talk to you later, Ms. Carter."
"I'll be here. Furiously counting down the seconds."
He reached out a hand and grazed a knuckle over my bracelet. "That's a lovely. Did the lug who runs the joint buy it?"
"It's cheap. I have one to every day of the week."
"You don't take compliments well, do you?"
"I have quite a collection. I've yet to find a use for them. Will that be all?"
"Hell. You're nothing but ice." He shook his head. "Nothing but ice."
I watched him walk away. Slow. The walk of the man with all the time in the world. I wondered what that was like. Because I was running out.
With a deep breath, I stepped away from my desk and made my way over to the others.
I made my way over to him.

Lindsay Carter beat me.
"This is outrageous. They simply can't keep us here!" She crossed her arms and turned to Reggie. "I did not go from dancing with Erik Bruhn to being held against my will in a dive like this." She sniffed. "This is only temporary you understand. Once my leg has healed I won't have to-" she gestured around the room, her arm spinning like a pinwheel. "-subject myself to such things."
I sighed and watched the two. Carter was small, pretty after a fashion. But the man that towered over her drowned out any beauty she might possess. As the rant continued, Reggie nodded in all the right places. And some of the wrong ones.
I gnawed about half an inch off my upper lip and touched against the metal in my pocket. Thinking back to the week before.
"What's this?" He was sitting on my desk, his legs crossed and toes tucked behind his heel. His fingers caressed my wrist.
"A pulsera," I answered, relishing the tingle as his fingers came into contact with my skin. "A bracelet."
"A-pulsera? That's so pretty." He traced the heart that the gold framed. "Do you want to trade?"
I laughed, like fingers across ivory. "I don't give just anyone my corazon."
"But mine is much more expensive." He said bluntly, but not cruelly. "Tiffany's. I think."
"Hmm. Let me think on it." And I was. I was already planning. I was seeing his face looking happy and knowing that I had put that smile there. That smile like a breeze in the middle of a LA heat wave. The only relief I ever got.
"Ready to go, baby?" The cripple asked. She wasn't a bad person, I suppose. But I still wanted to wheel her into the Hudson to look for fish.
"Morgan was just teaching me some Spanish!" He said happily. Leaning over the desk He pulled me into a tight hug. "We should go shopping!"
Too soon it was over. His embrace was gone. He was moving away.
I'd give anything to feel those arms again.
"Morgan Carter." He tried to focus those eyes on me. Small, beady, and close. As if they were in earnest conversation with each other.
"Duke." I took a step back, the scent clouding my senses. "Understudying for John Barrymore again, I take it?"
He unzipped his teeth and threw back his head. "You dish it out in spades, don't you, doll?"
"And I'm generous, too."
He leaned in and I leaned back. "You ever thought about movies? You could be the new Velez? I know Harry Cohn, you know."
"No one is touching my hairline." I watched over his swaying shoulder. Carter still had Reggie. "What do you think of all of this?" I said for something to be saying.
"The murder? Shame. He was a real pretty boy Ya ‘know? Not the type you'd marry of course, but charming on the arm." He leered. "You could be charming on the arm."
"Your arms couldn't afford me."
"The rumours are that you aren't exactly expensive." He tilted his head to O’Donnell with a green grin. "So why turn your nose up, Ankle?"
I gave a quick, hard wink and stepped closer, braving the fumes. If someone lit a match we'd all go up. "Listen to me, Duke. You might think you're a someone, but that's all passed now. You're a low down punk with his eye on the sky and his face in the gutter-" I smiled, the kind comforting grin of a loving mother. "And I know my way around there. So just play nice, or I will step on your neck if you even think of talking to me again. Got me? Ankle?"
I heard a snort to my left and glanced over. Hummel.
"Sorry, I was just—"
"He's all yours." I stepped round him and saw Reggie was now free. He met my eyes and gave a shadow of a smile. I practically bounced in front of him, a giddy excitement in my chest. "This is some scene."
"Yeah," he stared down at the ground. "It's really sad."
I rearranged my expression into one of abject misery. "It really is. She was so young."
"It's a really horrible accident."
"Accident?" A gust of air escaped my nostrils. "It was hardly that."
He shrugged and played with a sliver of gold that hung from his head.
I took a deep breath. "Listen—I ran an errand earlier and—" I reached into my pocket. "Well, I—"
"Morgan?" He cut me off. "Can I talk to you? Alone?"
Sarah. She'd done it. Conviction grabbed me by the throat and I had to choke out a breath.
And a dark part of me thought. Now he can be mine.
"Can Susan Peters spare you?" I looked over at Sarah who was staring up at the ceiling, her jaw slack. She didn't look the type, but I guess love can drive you to desperate things.
I shook my head and jerked my chin to the side, walking ahead of him to a quieter corner. "She took the side elevator, didn't she?" I said once we alone. Don't worry. Her legs work in his favour-they won't be looking too closely-"
"It was me."
A fist sailed through my soul and floored me. "What?"
"I went to his room. He was around Sarah. All the time! And I was jealous. It was wrong, but I was! And then he was saying all this stuff and it was so nasty, so I pushed him to make her stop but-"
"But what?"
"He fell." Reggie's eyes found the floor and my heart joined them. "He fell and didn't get up again." I clenched my hands into fists and felt my nails kiss the palm. Rough. Hard. Unrelenting. She came closer to me and my arms took their fill. They were happy. It was all they had ever wanted. But my mind couldn't enjoy it. Because they'd be coming for her soon. The same way I had came, and when they did they wouldn't be slowed down asking for directions. And they wouldn't be gentle. No amount of soft, velvet hair or butter-cream scent could change that. I let him go and my skin screamed at the loss of warmth.
"You don't tell." I said. I grabbed him by the shoulders, my fingers no doubt marking his skin through her clothes.
"But I have to. It's the right thing to do," his lip trembled. "It was me."
"Stop saying that!" I hissed. A flattie saw us and raised an eyebrow. I dropped the hands. "Stop it. No, you didn't."
"No. I'm going to fix this." I rose a hand to my hair, dragging at the root. "I'll fix it."
"I don't understand." He shook his head gently. "Please."
I was broken. That simple please tore through me like barb wire through silk.
"You were in your room. Showering. The first you heard about Columbus was when you came to find Sarah. You were shocked."
"That isnt-"
"Damnit, Reggie!" He recoiled as if slapped and I wanted to burn away the moment. "Reggie." I took him by the elbows. "It was a mistake. You didn't mean to do it. An accident."
"Will the police understand?"
I shook my head. I didn't know. "Who will look after-" The name felt kicked from my throat. "-Sarah if you go to prison? No, not prison. It would be the chair, Reggie."
"No!" Water filled his eyes, making them seem more like the ocean than ever before. "I don't want that!"
"Then lie. Say what I told you to say." My thumb traced a circle into his skin. "And no matter what happens. Don't change it."
"What do you mean?"
I smiled, I wanted to press my lips to his cheek and taste the salty tears leaking down his cheek. Feel that cold wet. But I didn't dare. Thing like that would be remembered. And I didn't want anything leading back to him.
"Do you trust me?" He nodded, his eyes wide. "I promise you. I'll fix this."
"Morgan, wait-"
I turned from him so fast I almost heard the snap of air.
I had to move.
I made my way out of the lobby and ducked through the door. O’Donnell and Taylor looked like they were getting into it. So engrossed in each other they didn't see me. I stalked to the side elevator, my heels clipping smartly against the marble imitation floor.
Slipping in, I keyed in the dead girl's floor. I watched the numbers climb and felt the moments crawl.
The doors pinged. I stepped out onto the floor my eyes searching for cops, photographers, and journalists. There was no one. God had granted me a favour and gave me an incompetent police force. If this had been one of the fancier hotels on the strip I never even would have made it this far.
I prayed I'd make it a little further.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped into the room. A white sheet was at the centre, stained red at its corner. Crossing quickly I knelt down and pulled back the sheet almost tenderly. I had never seen a dead body before. I could go a lifetime without seeing one again. I stared into his eyes that didn't see me. Eyes that stared into another world. I hoped they liked what they saw there.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I love him. Like you loved Sarah. Like he loves Sarah."
I bit at my lip and pushed back a tear. Crying had never helped before. It wouldn't help me, it wouldn't help Reggie and it sure as hell wasn't going to help Columbus of Room 19.
"I have to do this," I whispered. I put my hand into my pocket and pulled out the pulsera. The one I had brought for Reggie. Except whereas mine was garnet, hers was the same topaz as his eyes. I pressed it to my lips and kissed it goodbye.
Picking up Columbus's lifeless hand and I pressed the bracelet into his palm. I closed his fingers and heard the clasp catch inside his fist. One to every day of the week.
I had lied to Taylor. It wasn't cheap.
It was priceless.
I left the room, my head on the floor and my heart in the throat. No one noticed me. No one stopped me.
Returning to the lobby, I passed through the crowd, my knuckles grazing their bodies as I went. Life's rejects and losers all here in one place. Fighting to survive. I suppose I was one of them now. But it didn't feel like losing. Not even a little bit.
I took my place at my desk and looked up. Blue found brown again. I nodded and gave a smile. He gave a brave one back.
I guess he got my corazon, after all.


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This book has 3 comments.

Mystery inc. said...
on May. 7 2011 at 10:10 pm
I really enjoyed the flashback scene in chapter 2! Good work on your romance- usually romance isn't done very well but I found yours to be excellent.

on May. 1 2011 at 6:56 pm
interesting story. however, too many classic mystery story chliches. improve on that, and itll be good

wigwam99 said...
on May. 1 2011 at 2:52 pm
interesting story... I find the choice in setting interesting