*Batman Begins and The Dark Knight do not belong to me. I do not make any money writing this story.*
A/N: Had this idea forever...had to get it down. Hope its okay.
Y'know what I was gonna do? I was going to be a zoologist. I loved animals, more so then people in many ways; I was one of those people who preferred the company of animals to the company of humans, probably because they never asked questions and never betrayed you. I wanted to work with animals for the rest of my life. I had it all figured out by the time I was eleven: I was going to finish high school, work maybe a year to earn a little money, maybe get a scholarship, go to college, become a zoologist and work in a zoo somewhere. It was going to be great! I was going to feed the lions, train the monkeys, entertain the dolphins, wrap snakes around my shoulders, cuddle koala bears...yeah, it was going to be great.
I never told anyone about becoming a zoologist. Well, not recently. I told one of my coworkers once, and all she did was laugh and joke that being a maid was kind of like being a zoologist, except that I'm cleaning up after larger, grosser, less intelligent animals. Somehow hearing your coworker describe it aloud as accurately as that was more depressing then thinking about it.
Anyway, as you've probably guessed, I'm not a zoologist. I'm a maid. I'm a maid and I fucking hate it. I don't know why I didn't quit when I was ahead. Day after day I found myself up to my elbows in garbage, semen stains, and bloody carpets; a one-way ticket to the rest of my life, and a million miles away from ever leaving Gotham. Ruined dreams are the norm in Gotham City.
That night had been no exception. It was 6:00 pm when I pushed open the door to room 307. As soon as the smell of whiskey, stale vomit, and cheap women's perfume hit my nostrils, I sighed heavily; so much for leaving work on time. Turning on the light I felt the breath leave my chest as I took in the sight of the destroyed room. It literally looked like a giant ball of garbage had crashed through the window and trashed the room. There was mess everywhere.
I started in the bathroom, unclogging a towel from the deep, wet recesses of the toilet. The mirror was littered with graffiti; as I scrubbed away at it, I realized it was scribbled all over with two different shades of lipstick: pussycat pink and velveteen violet. There was probably a bit of threesome action going on here, not too terribly unusual for the Palace. A white G-string was hanging over the shower curtain and it made me wonder: wouldn't a hooker notice that her panties were missing at the end of the night? Maybe not.
At 7:00 pm, when I should have been leaving for the night, I was pulling a left-footed clear plastic stiletto, a cheap Bic lighter, a dirty magazine, and a skid-marked pair of tighty whities out from under the bed (with my scrubbing gloves, I'll have you know). I stripped the moist, yellow-stained bed sheet from the bed and threw it into the trash, since it seemed irredeemable at that point. The pillowcases were soiled with lipstick, mascara stains, and traces of whiskey. I scrubbed the windows, which looked to have mashed potatoes splattered all over them. On the room service tray I found the empty whiskey bottle, along with a half-eaten vegetarian dinner, and an empty pack of condoms.
You'd figure that would have taken the cake. But when I opened the drawer on the bedside table, I found a pair of furry-lined handcuffs, a riding crop in poor condition, and (believe it or not) five used condoms squished between the pages of the room's Bible.
By the time I had returned to the room to a somewhat livable state, it was 10:30 and pouring rain outside. I had eight blocks to walk to the train with pinching feet and a holey umbrella. To say it was the worst night of my life was an understatement.
Naturally it didn't get any better. That was the first night I saw him.
Room 307 was my last room for the night. After I finished cleaning the monstrosity, I pushed my cart into the maintenance room. I threw the sheets into the baskets, ready for laundry the next morning, closed the door, locked it, and slowly made my way towards the bank of elevators so I could collect my stuff and go home.
The amplified sounds of copulation, television, and shouting surrounded me, and although it would usually make me cringe a little, that night I was too tired to really notice or care. Let them have sex, let them scream at each other, let them watch bad television, it didn't matter anymore. I leaned back against the elevator wall on the ride down, praying that it wouldn't stop and get stuck like it did on Polly last week; she'd been stuck in the elevator for three hours before the fire department came, which wasn't too surprising; they don't really come down to this side of Gotham much anymore unless it's a real emergency.
The elevator doors opened (thankfully) and I walked into the lobby, rubbing my neck. The Palace had a tiny lobby with bad carpet and peeling painted walls. It was poorly lit, smelled badly of mildew, and worse when we sprayed the air freshener to cover up the mildew smell. There were crude landscape paintings on the walls, probably bought at some garage sale, and the front desk was splintering and in need of repair or replacing. We sold more condoms then candy out of the three vending machines that lined the far wall. Overall, it was fairly unwelcoming. Fitting, since this is where I first saw him.
The lobby was deserted, save for Martin who was working the night shift. I gave him a whole-hearted smile as I approached the desk. "Evening, Martin."
Martin smiled; he is literally the nicest man you could ever hope to meet in Gotham City. "Evenin' there, Jane. Hey, aren't you here a little late?"
I nodded. "Yeah, don't remind me." I said, coming around the desk to go through the door behind him, which led into the office. The office/break room/meeting room/closet was a tiny little room with a tiny little kitchen and a rickety table and set of chairs. I usually ate my lunch in here and spent my breaks in here. There was a weird, out-of-place door on the far side of the little room that led back out into the lobby towards the stairs. The door to the manager's office was closed, a telltale sign the manager was not in. Next to his door was a coat rack; my navy blue raincoat was the only one left; all the other girls were probably long gone. Frowning, I collected my coat from the hook, took my Tupperware out of the fridge, and unlocked the drawer where we put our purses when we worked.
As I collected my things, I vaguely heard the bell over the front door ring, and a big heavy body came stumbling in from the rain.
"Evenin' sir," Martin said happily. Martin told me once that he loved it when people came in late. It always made a fairly quiet, lonely job a little less lonely. "Sure is comin' down hard out there, ain't it?"
I was putting on my coat when I heard the low, mumbled reply. "I ah, need a room."
"Well sir if it's a room you're lookin' for, we sure got them." Martin said with a laugh, and I heard the creek of his chair as he stood up. "How many are you?"
Once I had everything, I decided to go out through the other door, since it would probably seem peculiar and unprofessional for a maid to go bustling through in the middle of a check-in (not that the Palace has ever been gun-hoe on professionalism, mind you). Once I was sure I had everything I brought with me to work, I headed out the side door, which opened in front of the stairwell, and turned the corner to go through the front door.
I got a fairly good look at him that first night. Our new guest was monstrously tall, or so it seemed in the poorly lit lobby, and every piece of clothing he wore was dark, about two sizes too big, and soaked with rain water. His long hair fell down around his face like dark, shaggy curtains and were dripping wet. I had a feeling that once he got to his room, he was going to have a nice hot shower…assuming the hot water kept long enough to have a decent shower.
He towered over the desk to sign a few papers for Martin, and I stopped to get my umbrella out of my bag. As I dug around, brushing my keys, lip balm, and bus pass, surprisingly I did not even touch my umbrella, and as I dug deeper of course my wallet fell right out and tumbled to the floor. I sighed heavily, bent down to retrieve it, and as I stood up, my eyes connected with those of our new guest.
Have you ever had a moment that occurred in 10 seconds but seemed to happen in slow motion? Our new guest watched me with eyes as black as night as I slowly stood up, and as I stared back at him I felt a very real chill roll down my spine.
Maybe it was the way he had his head turned to me: slight, and on an angle so most of his face was covered by long wet hair and only his eyes peered out at me through those tresses. Maybe it was the fact he was slightly hunched over, his shoulders up almost at his ears. Maybe it was the way he was watching me, innocently yet not so innocently. There was something hard and mean about those eyes; I've known mean men before and they all have their telltale characteristics, whether it's the sneery smile, the voice that yells, the hands that hurt…but there was something about him and the way he stared at me that I'll never forget.
I knew instinctively. Call it women's intuition. There was true meanness in him.
Clutching my wallet and my bag protectively to my chest, I pulled my eyes away from him and quickly went past him, distantly hearing Martin's cheery voice talking to him, but I headed for the front door just as fast as I could. I could feel his eyes on my back as I went. As I passed him I literally felt like a wave of relief wash over me, like when you get a bad vibe and when you get to safety, suddenly you feel so much better. Anyway, I rushed to the door, eager to be on my way, finally finding my umbrella and pulling it out. As I pushed open the door, I heard Martin behind me.
"There you are, sir. Room 310, the last one down the hall on the third floor."
I walked out into the rain, silently cursing. Fuck! Just my luck! The weirdest, creepiest guest I'd seen in weeks and he had to be staying on my floor. Swell.
It rained and it rained. I walked eight blocks under my crappy umbrella towards the Palace at 5 in the morning, getting more and more soaked and cold as I walked on. That was what I especially hated about Gotham City; it rained a lot, and was always dark all the time, or at least it seemed that way to me. Maybe it was just my sour outlook on life; then again maybe not.
I sighed heavily; Estelle the housekeeper had called an early morning meeting for all housekeeping staff. She calls herself a housekeeper, although I don't think the Palace is a nice enough place to warrant calling her a housekeeper. She's the head maid, and I figured if she wanted to call herself the housekeeper, she'd have been better off working at a bed and breakfast. Then again, she's the head maid; if she doesn't like you, she'll find a way to get you fired. She's vindictive like that. So if she calls herself the housekeeper, I guess I'm in no position to question her.
Needless to say, she's not the kind of person you wanted for a boss. She was controlling, manipulative, and spiteful. The way she bossed us all around, it wouldn't surprise me if she was once the warden of a women's maximum security penitentiary. So there I was, marching to work in the pouring rain at an ungodly hour on about four hours of shaky sleep.
We had our meetings in the tiny break room behind the front counter. There was four of us propped up at the table in our cheap uniforms, yawning away, greeted with cold coffee and stale pastries. I sat up, brushing my hair out of my face, struggling to stay awake, and propping my chin on my fist so I'd at least stay alert, and respond if she asked me any questions.
Estelle came waddling in, the last of us to arrive, looking flustered. Five in the morning and she was already sweating under her heavy arms. She was, as per usual, in a fairly pissy mood. "Ladies, Mr. Halterstead was by yesterday for the books and was appalled by the state of the lobby!"
Mr. Halterstead owned and managed Gotham Palace Heights. I met him once when I was first hired and was happy never to have seen him since, frankly. He was a very thin, strange man in his 40s with a hard-lined face and joyless blue eyes. From what I'd seen, and what I'd heard about him, he never seemed impressed or appalled about anything.
Estelle sat down in her seat, trying to catch her breath. Seemed like she ran a marathon before bothering to show up for the meeting. She fanned herself with her meaty hand, the complaint about the lobby forgotten. "Are you all using the bleach solution I gave you? Hmm? Y'know it works perfectly on the linoleum, gets the smells out."
I wanted to groan but didn't dare. It was way too early for any of this.
"I've also realized that our shampoo supplies are dwindling," Estelle continued as she began to thumb through the thin stack of papers she walked in with. "So until further notice, only put shampoo in the rooms when the guests ask for them."
I gawked in disbelief. Shampoo only when guests asked for it? No one was going to want to stay here. Although it was fairly safe to say our guests' first priority wasn't exactly good hygiene. I guess, in retrospect, the shampoo rationing was somewhat reasonable.
"Let's move onto guest feedback…" Estelle said, shuffling through her papers. Guaranteed, this was always the worst part of the meetings. I don't know where guests leave their comments, whether it's with the front desk or with Estelle herself, but they always surface, there are always a lot of them, and they're always horrible.
"Okay, floor two: ashtrays have not been emptied in the rooms. Towels haven't been changed. One guest said he found a dead rat in the bathtub!" Estelle threw up her arms in exasperation. "Lois, what the hell is going on?"
We all turned to look at Lois, who was in her late 30s with a gum-popping, hair-twirling attitude who got surprisingly defensive when her "hard work" was called into question. Today was no different: she popped her gum, put a glossy red fake fingernail down to the table surface and declared: "Every one of those rooms has clean towels every day!"
"Sure Lois," said Estelle, drumming her fingers on the table. "Are you actually cleaning the rooms or just adding them to your timesheet?"
I rolled my eyes at Polly, the other maid who was closer to my age, and she smiled back in understanding. This is how most of our staff meetings ended up: in the beginning, they totally focused on concerns and problems, but ended with Estelle and Lois fighting about something trivial.
Today, surprisingly, they agreed to disagree, and then it was time to move on. "Now, floor three…"
Estelle's big, brown, glassy, disapproving eyes drifted to me, at last, and I stared at her, holding my breath - waiting for the onslaught to begin.
"Jane, I had a guy complain to me the other day, he said you threw one of his shirts in the trash!"
I frowned, alarmed, and straightened up in my seat. "When was this?"
"Three days ago."
Three days ago? This was the first I'd even heard of it. I tried to think back and remember; was there a shirt or even a piece of cloth I had picked up off the floor and thrown out for some reason? Maybe in one of the bathrooms? Perhaps I had mistaken it for something, a washcloth maybe? Unable to place the situation clearly in my head, I shrugged and shook my head. "I suppose I could have mistaken it for a pillowcase or something…"
Estelle's stare narrowed to me. "He said it was ocean blue, it was hanging off the chair and you threw it away!"
The other girls looked at me but I just shook out my shoulders, unsure what to say, completely dumfounded. I didn't recall ever seeing an 'ocean blue' shirt hanging off a chair, and if there ever was one, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have thrown it away just to spite the guest. "I'm sorry, I don't recall seeing a shirt or throwing it out-"
Estelle sighed, unimpressed. "Well we had to give him a voucher for a free night just to calm him down. Don't let it happen again or it'll come out of your pocket."
I opened my mouth to argue, but she gave me that look that could curdle milk and I decided now was not a time to argue. I lowered my head. "Yes Estelle."
"Good," she said bluntly. "That's all for today, ladies. Now go to it."
I got up and left, feeling tired and grouchy. I can tell you now I sure as hell didn't throw away anyone's stupid blue shirt.
"Hey, don't worry about it." Polly said as we left the break room, out of ears reach of Estelle. "When I first started, some asshole said I walked in on him and his wife when they were in bed together."
"Eww." My nose curled, suppressing a laugh. "Did you really?"
Polly laughed at my reaction. "I did, but that sure wasn't his wife, it was Wendy."
Then I did laugh. Wendy was the hooker who worked out front; we were so used to seeing her around that we sometimes joked she should run the hotel.
"That's gross," I said grimacing, but Polly laughed. "I've walked in on her twice; it's never a pretty sight."
We began the ascent up the stairs to go to our designated floors to begin cleaning. The stairwell was in desperate need of replacing or at least maintenance; every second step creaked something awful and the carpet covering it was at least fifty years old; it was blue, really gross, and stained with fifty years worth of who knows what.
"What time did you get out of here last night?" Polly asked as we made our lazy ascent.
I let out a low, aggravated sigh. "Must have been 11 or something. Room 307 may as well have been hit by a bomb."
Polly smirked. "Martin said one of the Falcone guys came by yesterday with a couple of hookers-"
"Ah, there you go." I said. "There was writing all over the mirror in two different lipstick colours."
"Oh my god, I hate that!" Polly exclaimed. "Do they really think that lipstick just comes off?"
I shook my head, annoyed. Sure it had been last night, but it had still been an ordeal and, to date, the worst mess in a room I've ever cleaned. Damn those Falcone goons and their sexual tendencies. Unfortunately, because of its convenient location close to the Narrows, most of the Palace's clientele is Falcone goons.
We started walking up the stairs to go to the third floor, and my feet felt heavier and heavier with every step taken. Abruptly Polly patted my shoulder. "Hey, look on the bright side. The sooner to work, the sooner to finish, right?"
I looked up at her and gave her a genuine smile. Polly was too damn pretty to be a maid; she had long auburn hair she fixed up in a ponytail when she was working and let down at the end of the day. She had these massive sparkling brown eyes and full pretty pink lips. She could have been a model, no fooling; she could have been on the cover of Gotham Runway, living it up in a fancy penthouse suite, having gorgeous rich guys like that Bruce Wayne take her out for dinner and dancing. Instead she was here working at one of the grimiest hotels in the city, cleaning up after the Falcones and other unworldly, repulsive characters.
As we climbed the stairs I heard heavy footfalls on the steps above. Someone was coming down the stairs. Without looking up, I moved to the left side of the stairs, behind Polly, letting the guest shuffle past us on the narrow stairwell.
Strangely, as the guest went past us and descended the stairs, I felt the brush of rough cloth on my bare arm and shuddered deeply, my skin breaking out in goose-bumps. Stopping for a moment, I turned and looked down the stairs, only catching a fleeting glimpse of the guy who passed us. I frowned as I saw a man with an extremely tall stature and dark clothes disappear at the bottom of the stairs.
It was him.
I felt my shoulders seize up as I remembered, abruptly, how he had stared at me the night before in the lobby, those eyes like the deepest pits of black ocean watching me intently. Now, having been touched by his clothes, I felt harassed in the strangest way. I instantly put a hand to my skin that had been touched by him, covering it as though trying to comfort myself.
"Hmm," Polly said in an inquisitive tone, and when I looked up at her she too had stopped to catch a glimpse of our guest, a strange small smile tugging at her lips. "Must be a newbie; haven't seen him here before."
I frowned unhappily, turning back to stare down the stairs disapprovingly. "He came last night; Martin gave him 310."
"Oh, lucky you." Polly said, elbowing me and giving me a smile. "He's kind of cute…in a Texas chainsaw massacre kind of way."
I felt my eyebrows knit together in uncertainly, and stared up at her like she was crazy. "What are you talking about?"
Polly frowned and pointed at her mouth. "Well didn't you see…ah, don't worry about it." She waved her hand at me, turned around and continued her way up the stairs. "You'll probably see sooner or later."
I continued to follow her up the stairs. I promise you, we don't make it a habit of assessing which of our guests are hot and which ones are not, it's a losing battle and a waste of time. Guest 310 sure as hell was not "cute", even if Polly compared him to Leatherface; he was a strange giant of a man who dressed like a homeless person and had mean eyes. But frankly, it sure wasn't anything I was going to waste my time dwelling on. He was a guest, plain and simple. Guests come and go; I stay and clean up after them.
And anyway, it was time to start the day.
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