Title: Born to Die
Disclaimer: Most of the characters beyond this prologue are not mine.
Rating: Eventually M. And by eventually, I mean if I ever get there.
A/N: Lots of the hospitality information mentioned herein is written with fiction in mind. However facts, procedures and protocols are taken from the job I do every single day. Most of the characters bear no resemblance to anyone I know. Well… the people who you want to punch, they are based on real people. Haha.
Shalina adjusted a pile of cotton towels in her arm, nudging the elevator button with her free hand. As the heavy doors eased shut, she smoothed the towels, tracing the hotel's intricate emblem, a golden shape of infinity, with her fingertip. As the elevator climbed, the digital counter changed as each floor passed.
The Arches might have been prestigious with luxury beige carpets, original artworks lining the walls and silk woven draperies hanging from long windows, but the feeling of unrest permeated the walls, almost to the point of suffocation. Shalina knew there were few people who understood the reality, and she only learned to recognise it after years of wandering the same corridors, knowing each door, alcove, closet and duct. The troubled minds of those who had sought refuge seemed, almost to have seeped into the concrete foundations. She felt it, and it made her skin prickle as she stopped outside room 411, rapping her knuckles against the heavy door.
Shalina had seen guests of all origins pass through, most of them rich. But she'd come to learn that wealth did not guarantee happiness and she had witnessed much sadness. From several attempted suicides to one that did not fail. As the door swung open, she felt a tremble in her spine as she always did upon recollection of James T. Storm. She wondered if the dark haired man with eyes the colour of newly bloomed violets felt the atmosphere of death that choked her the moment she saw the new carpets beyond the door. She thought it was tremendously obvious that new carpets had been laid just recently. The wheat colour was different between the corridor and the bedroom. Mr Storm had left too much blood. The walls needed to be repainted. The carpets re-laid.
"Thank you," the guest said, taking the towels from her open arms. Shalina nodded once, dropping her keys into her pockets.
"You are welcome," she replied, stretching a smile across her face. Her cheeks already hurt from many more such forced smiles. The gentleman looked at her with a odd, vacant expression, easing the door shut until she had to shuffle back to avoid the wood knocking her toes. As the latch clicked into place, she shook herself, turning on her heel. There was rarely a time when it was quiet enough to linger over her troublesome thoughts. She hadn't actually stopped to contemplate Mr Storm in a few weeks. With new guests coming and going, it was difficult to find a second to indulge in the dormant thoughts that bothered her subconsciously and sometimes came to her in dreams.
She had seen only a glimpse of the blood, crimson red, leaving a dried line along the northern wall. The chain held the door in place, and with only his toes showing, the image reminded Shalina of a horror movie. She remembered how her heart seemed to stop, stilling in her chest. Her breath caught inside her lungs, stale and heavy until she almost fainted. Her feet were heavier than granite, rooting her to the spot, her eye pressed against the narrow strip that afforded her only a glimpse of the motionless body on the floor. Her first conscious thought was of how she would deal with the death in a professional and collected manner.
Shalina had eased the door shut, listening as two chuckling guests with golf bags wandered by, greeting her good afternoon. She should not have remembered the greeting in particular, except her very reason for standing outside Mr Storm's room was because it was seventeen minutes to one and check out time had been twelve o'clock.
Even now, she could recall the colour of their sweaters and how the little studs on the bottom of their shoes made indents on the carpet as they walked, wheeling their bags behind. One had a squeaking wheel that made noises all the way down the corridor, around the corner and into the elevator. Shalina waited until they were gone, before releasing a breath filled with anxiety, fear and trepidation.
When the news broke, the hotel became a buzz of activity and she was seated down, offered herbal tea and told to relax. But her heart refused to still and the colour images in her mind burned furiously against her retina. Her colleagues patted her shoulder, offering condolences as though she knew him personally. She felt only a deep sense of annoyance and inconvenience at the man's death, and perhaps a feeling of selfishness, too. Didn't he think about who might find him whenever he pulled the blade across his wrists?
Even now, as Shalina stopped at the linen room, as saw the red marks and felt a tremor of sickness in the pit of her stomach. The other receptionists said Mr Storm wasn't the first and Lucia said he would not be the last.
"People want somewhere impersonal to end it," she had said, clicking her pen as though her statement were the most rational in the world. "And a hotel is as impersonal as you can get." While their theory might have been rational, it did not stop Shalina from feeling resentment at the man's need for an impersonal resting place.
Pulling open the linen closet, she stepped inside, easing the door shut behind her. The high shelves, lined with towels, sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers, cast the room in a bright white light that made her eyes hurt. Squeezing her lids shut, Shalina wondered, not for the first time, if it might be time to move on. The hospitality industry was volatile. The guests were rude, demanding, ignorant and often oblivious to the hassle she had to endure to ensure their happiness and comfort. Her painting was her passion and sometimes all she wanted in life was to sit behind her easel for ten hours a day, willing away the images of death, darkness and despair that would probably be forever ingrained in her memory.
The radio in her pocket tinkled and she sighed. No rest for the wicked.
"Shalina? Shal? Can you hear me?" The reception was crackled, making Lucia's voice sound alien, almost.
"Go ahead," Shalina replied, resting her forehead against a pile of downy towels.
"Six zero nine needs extra pillows," the alien voice said before buzzing off. Shalina collected two into her arms, inhaling a dusty plume that made her lungs wheeze. Coughing, she swiped her arm through the air. "Did you catch that, Shalina?" Lucia asked, sounding inconvenienced.
"Yeah." Above her head, she noticed the ceiling tile sat uneven on the frame, and a spiral of dust caught the light. "Lucia, have maintenance check out the ceiling in the forth floor linen closet." The radio beeped and she dropped the little device into her pocket. Reaching up, she pressed the plasterboard tiles, testing the weight against her fingertips. The slab crackled, parting and falling, leaving a gaping hole in the ceiling. She cursed, eyeing the exposed venting above her head. Reaching into her pocket, she found her radio. "Lucia? Can you tell maintenance the ceiling is quite urgent now?" At the other end, she heard her colleague laugh.
"What have you fucked up now, Shal?" she asked. "Curiosity killed the cat, you know." Shalina moved forward, debris cracking beneath her feet. She opened her mouth to retort, dropping her eyes to the floor. Like déjà vu with Mr Storm, her heart stilled and her lungs began to burn. In pieces beneath the sole of her shoe was the remnants of a skull, gaping eye sockets watching her, pearly teeth exposed as if in an eternal grimace. "Shalina? Don't touch anything up there. If you fuck up pipes, Billy's gonna kill you." She registered the same of the maintenance man – a guy with zero tolerance for fuck-ups, and in the back of her mind, far beyond the part that was preoccupied with the human skull at her feet, she realised Billy would be tremendously pissed at the annoyance of a dead body in the vents.
"Lucia? When you're calling maintenance, you're going to need to call the police too. We have a dead body on fourth."
Have I witnessed a suicide before? Yes I have. This is a Bones story – but you can be guaranteed you're going to have some insight into the wonders of hotels. I need to share the grimness with someone!
Brennan and Booth coming up. Bones in the vents? Right up their alley!