It was a dark and sultry night. Sweat slid down my back and pooled between my butt cheeks as I made the long trek down the humid hotel corridor. The chipotle chili with chunks of Texas beef the size of jawbreakers wasn't sitting well in my stomach, and I felt the need to run for the bathroom. But I fought the urge. I didn't want to draw attention to myself any more than I had already that day, and I knew if I did, I'd break my three-inch Payless Shoe Source heels and then everyone at the conference would see my bleeding blisters.
A small price to pay, really, for the illusion of the perfect writer. But then, that's what I am. A master of illusion.
My partner in crime, a brunette known for her love-affair with her cell phone, walked at my side, texting her latest conquest. Our other roommate, the one who likes to make snarky jokes, was waiting for us to come back to the room and change clothes so we could then head to the bar where she planned to hit on a cowboy she's spotted from the glass-enclosed elevator. (Research, she'd said, but we knew the truth). I, of course, couldn't make the sign of an "L" on my forehead fast enough, but in this case, I figured a drink was a drink, and after the day I'd had -schmoozing with editors and agents, embarrassing myself whenever possible and sitting through workshops until my ass fell asleep - I decided I deserved it.
Since the texting-girl was too busy, I whipped out my keycard and shoved it in the slot. The light flashed red. I cursed and turned the card around. The door made a strange sucking noise as it opened, and I reached back to scratch my butt as I hobbled into the room.
I knew something was amiss the second I stepped inside.
The lights were on. The room was silent. But the bathroom door, which was always closed, was open, and the exterior door to the room hit it with a thwack that echoed like prison doors slamming shut.
"Alice?" I asked cautiously.
"Alice?" Lisa called at my back, suddenly concerned as she snapped her cell phone closed.
We stepped around the corner, careful not to disturb the scene - just in case, and because we'd learned not to in the toe tags and body bags workshop we'd just taken - and peered into the room. Then we both caught our breath.
The room was empty. Alice's pillow was dented, as if she'd recently been lying there. Her laptop sat on the sheets, closed, which seemed odd since she'd had it with her every moment of the trip. Her salmon-colored shirt was tossed to the side as if she'd ripped it off her body in a moment of haste. Her purse, shoes, jacket, workshop bag were all in their neat and orderly places while our clothes were strewn around the room like normal.
Lisa looked at me. I looked at her. And we both knew whatever had happened to our snarky friend could not be good.
A shiver ran down my spine, chilling the sweat between my cheeks. "Check the bathroom."
Lisa ran around the corner. Her feet skidded to a halt on the hard tiles, the sound echoing through the eerily quiet hotel room.
"The toilet seat is up!"
"Up?" I exclaimed, running to join her. Sure enough, the seat was up, as if - gasp! - a man had taken a leak in our room.
"Housekeeping?" Lisa asked, shooting me a worried look.
"At nine o'clock at night?" I replied. "Not likely."
Lisa glanced around, then pointed at the wall. "Look. The towels are missing."
"Towels missing," I said, trying to put it all together. "Toilet seat up. Alice gone. Her laptop here. Something doesn't add up." I glanced at Lisa. "We need to check the room again."
Now growing exceedingly worried, we made our way back into the bedroom and took a closer look at the scene. I barely noticed my toes were bloody, or that my skirt was now stuck to the frozen sweat between my cheeks. Clues we'd missed before began to pop into our line of sight.
"Did you buy this five dollar bottle of Evian?" Lisa asked.
"Are you nuts? I wouldn't pay five dollars for water."
"Neither would I," Lisa said.
"Neither would Alice," I deduced.
Lisa's eyes grew even wider. I wanted to smack her and tell her to quit doing that tricky eye thing, but I knew that wouldn't help Alice. Stifling the urge, I glanced around the room one more time and focused on the problem at hand.
And that's when I saw it.
"What is that?" I asked.
Lisa took a cautious step forward. The color drained from her face.
"It's a phone book. And . . . and . . ." Her mouth fell open.
"What?" I exclaimed.
"It's open to this!"
(Put your crime scene hats on and help us figure out what happened to our roommate. While we enjoy having the beds to ourselves, we're starting to worry - and frankly, we don't want to be stuck with the hotel bill. So put your theories in the comments and we'll let you know if you were right. If, that is, we find her.)