Anarosa stopped to stretch out her back before swiping her key-card. The door swung open for her, and she wrestled the overloaded cleaning cart inside.
It was unusually heavy today, since Lisa had told her exactly who the six particularly strange guests were. The hotel was classy for this part of town, meaning in addition to the perfectly lovely, normal families who stayed there, Anarosa was accustomed to cleaning up after politicians, businessmen, and professional ladies of a certain capacity that she avoided thinking about as she laundered their sheets. What she didn't have experience in was cleaning up after superheroes. She had no idea what to expect in their rooms.
Hence the laden cart, stacked with extra equipment and cleaning supplies. She kicked the perpetually stiff wheel, turned it forwards, and closed the door behind her. She took a moment just to breathe before turning around. This was the first of the so-called Avengers' rooms. There could be anything in here.
Thus fortified, she turned. And exhaled in relief. This must be the room of one of the more normal Avengers, if there were such a thing. Bed rough, but not destroyed. Suitcase leaking clothes, but the lid was flopped shut, and whoever stayed here had made an effort to kick his laundry under the case's stand. Nothing was even broken.
The only thing that in any way hinted that this person wasn't a typical guest was the fact that the pad of hotel paper was covered in scientific formulas that she couldn't even guess the meaning of, and the pen had apparently run dry before they'd finished writing. She replaced pen and paper, careful to leave the work in place. Whatever it was, it looked important.
She turned away, and stripped the bed and began to make it up neat. Given what she'd been dreading, it could have been a lot worse. Which Avenger was staying in this room? She felt that she ought to thank them for making her job easier. And saving New York, she supposed, but that was miles away and Anarosa's world was, in practical terms, limited to the relative ease of the rooms she cleaned.
Bed made, she fished for the registry on the cart, flipping through until she found the listing for this room. Bruce Banner, apparently. Anarosa didn't recognize the name. Would the Avengers use aliases? Unlikely, given how much publicity they were getting. Probably it had gone past on the television and she just hadn't caught it. She was working hard in her night classes for English, but was she really expected to recognize such strange names as Bruce?
The rest of the room only took minutes to straighten up. Anarosa paused in the doorway as she left, and smiled. It could have been much worse. Maybe the others were just as considerate? She could have left the extra supplies behind after all.
She was still smiling hopefully as she entered the next room. And stopped, and gasped.
And crossed herself.
It was spotless. No, better. Flawless. Immaculate. Suddenly the room she'd just tidied seemed rough and untidy, clumsy.
The bed was made with razor-sharp edges, the centerpiece smooth as glass. Both pillows, perfectly plumped, sat almost proudly at the head, with mathematical precision. The television remotes were lined up with each other, not even crowding the neatly-stacked magazines. She recognized their spines; they were sorted by date.
Had anyone even slept here? Had anyone entered this room? No, surely they had; housekeeping never did this good a job. Almost hesitant, hardly daring to touch anything for fear of ruining it, she tiptoed across to the wall closet and slid the doors open.
The suitcase at the bottom was settled into the corner, not thrown in haphazardly as was standard, if it even reached the closet. The clothes on hangers were clearly freshly ironed, and the ironing board had been put back, standing tall against the back wall. The iron was back in the cardboard box. The clothes hung perfectly spaced from one another, neither all shoved up against one wall or so far spread that the ones away from the door couldn't be reached.
Hardly daring to believe her luck, Anarosa poked her head inside the bathroom. No toothpaste stains on the sink, no spilled aftershave on the counter. No watermarks on the mirror, or soap dried out on the shower walls. The whole room gleamed. The modest toiletries were lined up as precisely as the items in the main room.
They hadn't left her anything to do! Who was this person? Forget saving New York, forget Bruce Banner's normal-looking room, this occupant really was a hero! Anarosa crossed herself again and turned back to the main room. Everything had been done with almost military attention to detail. Were any of them soldiers? One of them was a captain, wasn't he? Captain America? She had laughed at that name the first time she'd heard it, thinking that America was all very well, but she doubted the style would catch on. Captain Peru… Captain Dominican Republic… They just lacked a certain something.Then she had been proud of herself for making a joke in English.
She smiled again and pushed the cart out of the door without touching anything. Her manager would disapprove, but Anarosa knew that anything she did would only look worse.
At the third door, she dared to wonder if her luck would hold. She swiped her card, and let herself in.
And sighed. It really had been too much to hope for.
Much of the room looked normal – messed-up bed, magazines disarrayed – except for the remote sitting in the middle of the television screen. Who had managed to put a remote through a flatscreen? These weren't the cheap near-hollow boxes on the lower floors. She hurried around, and looked at the back; yes, it was protruding through the metal there.
She crossed herself for an entirely different reason than delight this time, and went back to the cart for the paperwork. Fortunately she could just hand over a paper form now. She shuddered at the thought of the old system, under which she would have had to tell her manager personally about the destroyed television.
Who would put a remote through a flatscreen?
Who could do that?
Anarosa shook her head, and ignored it as she tidied the rest of the room, keeping a close eye out for anything else broken. Everything else seemed intact.
But apparently speared televisions were not the only oddity here. The shower handle was pushed all the way towards hot. Surely they'd bumped it by accident once they'd finished. If they'd used the shower at that temperature, that wasn't just hot, that was dangerous. But who turned off a shower and then set the handle all the way towards hot? Who put a remote through a flatscreen and took literally boiling showers? Anarosa suspected she didn't want to know the answer.
Halfway done, she thought as she approached the fourth room. She'd been aiming for optimism, but something told her she'd just finished the easy half. The ruined television and unbelievable temperature setting were just warnings of what was to come. She had probably used up her day's supply of good luck in the second room.
The image of that perfection strengthened her, and she let herself into the fourth room.
It could have been worse. It would have taken a considerable amount of effort and planning, but it could have been worse.
There could have been seven, not six, empty wine bottles scattered around the room. Three, not two, could have been broken. The lamps could be glowing bright blue, instead of just green. A full third of the ceiling might have been dripping something onto her, instead of just the intermittent patch. The carpet was squishing beneath her shoes, but they might have spilled the red, not white, wine. The sound on the television could have been on louder. That would have been disastrous, she thought as she kept her eyes closed to the tangle of bare limbs while she hunted for the remote. She felt herself blushing furiously at the sound of the moans coming from the television, but she needed her hands free to find the remote; no covering her ears. She had to open her eyes again, because the table wasn't where it should be. It was upside-down on the bed. She didn't want to think about that.
She set the table to rights first, because it seemed easier than dealing with the rest. In desperation, she pulled out the power cord on the television as an interim measure.
It didn't work.
She panicked slightly, because those sounds were truly ungodly, and pulled out all the cables currently in the wall. At least the mysteriously green lamps went out, but the television was not silenced. Why wouldn't it turn off?
She pushed herself back to her feet, and hunted for the remote again. She was careful to avoid the broken glass, careful to avoid the dripping ceiling. She was prepared to find more bottles, more spilled liquid.
She wasn't prepared for what she found under the bed.
What were those things? She had tidied the rooms of those certain professional ladies, but they'd never had anything that looked like these… How did one even use…
She was surely blushing more than she ever had in her life as she tentatively pushed each one aside, searching for the remote. She was a good Catholic woman. She didn't need to know what these things were. Or where they fit, or who would use… She wondered if her manager would expect her to tidy those up too. Line them up on the bed? She didn't care. She wasn't touching them any more than she had to. In fact, her sleeve was pulled up over her hand as she nudged them aside.
"Madre de Dios!" There was the remote, at last. She snatched it, staggered to her feet, and finally turned the television off. At least the remote still worked, even if it apparently didn't need electricity to run any more. Would the room's account still show that the television had been used? She was suddenly sure that was why whoever was staying in here had done… whatever they had done. Without the electricity draw, the front desk couldn't see that they had used the television, and couldn't charge them for it.
In the silence, and in the absence of that video, cleaning up the broken glass and steam-vacuuming the wet carpet was almost a relief. She checked the wet bar – still completely stocked. Somehow she was no longer surprised that the occupant had brought his own liquor. All six bottles of it. She hoped wickedly that they had a terrible hangover this morning.
Despite whatever had apparently gone on last night, the bathroom was mercifully decent. After seeing the devastation in the main room, it was enough for her to cross herself in thanks.
There was a note on the counter.
Hey, sorry about the mess, and before you ask, yes I would act like that in my own home.
She shook her head, and threw the note in the cart's bin. This one might have saved an entire city, but she pitied whoever had to clean up after him when he wasn't doing that.
Well, at least her day couldn't get any worse. She'd never seen a room that had looked like that, not even that time with the senator and the three ladies of negotiable virtue and the police had been called and somehow hadn't come back down for two hours. These people were supposed to be heroes. Surely only one hero out of six was permitted to be such a slob.
Why couldn't they all be more like that nice military one?
This is five out of six, she thought as she swiped her card in the next door. I'm almost done.
Thank Heaven, this one was another normal Avenger. Open suitcase, yes, messed-up bed, yes – but broken glass, no, dripping ceiling, no, remote in television, no.
There was a blanket missing from the bed, though. Several, actually. She hadn't thought it had been that warm last night, but maybe this Avenger was used to cold?
Things were normal until she opened the closet. The missing blankets were where she'd half-expected to see them, shoved up on the top shelf. Except they weren't quite shoved. Curious, she fetched a stepladder, and climbed it for a better look.
So maybe this one isn't normal after all. The bottom blanket, the heavier of the two, looked suspiciously circular, the edges dragged in towards the centre and forming almost a ring around the middle. The lighter blanket was neatly folded in that middle, as if it were sleeping there.
No. As if somebody had slept under it, and this was their idea of a made bed.
Anarosa almost lost her balance on the stepladder. Somebody had slept here? In the closet? On the top shelf of the closet? The bed was right there… Suddenly horrified in an inquisitive kind of way, she rushed over and looked at the bed more closely. No head had touched those pillows. All the mess came from dragging out the two blankets to make the… nest?
It seemed rude somehow, but if they didn't want it disturbed they should have put a sign on the door, and she was supposed to make the bed up for the guest, not the closet. She grabbed the blankets in the closet, and pulled.
And shrieked as something hard fell from them and hit her in the head.
She dropped to the floor, hand to the sore spot, rubbing it gingerly. Some shoes or something must have been caught up in the blanket. Where had they gone? She shook out the blankets and threw them on the bed, out of the way.
Then she saw what had hit her in the head.
It wasn't a shoe.
She crossed herself again.
It was a gun.
These Avengers were soldiers, of course they were armed… and if they were attacked at night, of course they'd want a weapon nearby… but there was still a gun sitting on the floor.
And it had hit her in the head.
What if it was loaded? She couldn't leave it there, but what would happen if she touched it? Was it some kind of special weapon that would attack anybody except its owner? Maybe she should leave it there and pretend she hadn't seen it.
Hadn't seen the gun in the middle of the floor. Like that would work.
This was worse than those things she'd found under the bed in the last room.
Slowly, hardly able to believe herself, she turned to the bed again. And lowered herself to the floor. And took a look.
"Madre de Dios," she exhaled in relief. Nothing awful. Just a serious-looking hard black case. Perhaps where the gun was meant to be? Some other weapon? She didn't care. At least that hadn't been hidden in the blankets either.
The blankets had been responsible for the problem, so she used them to solve it. Wrapped the fabric around her hands and lifted the gun like that, just in case actually touching it would be a disaster, and put it back on the shelf where it had come from. If she were lucky, the occupant would think she'd simply taken the blankets down and never seen it. She made the bed, properly, tried desperately not to think of what kind of person preferred a pile of blankets on a shelf, and escaped, grateful to have suffered no further injury.
Anarosa had to pray for strength and patience before she entered the last room. After the normality of the first, and the sheer blessings of the second, she'd been faced with destruction, ruin, and blanket nests. Perhaps it was time for blessings again? Perhaps. She swiped the card and entered. She was actually trembling.
Her eyes were closed. She felt like a terrified child. Anarosa opened one, and then the other.
And crossed herself.
Because everything looked okay. The bed even had all its blankets, and a depression in one of the pillows showed that somebody had, thankfully, slept there like they were supposed to. The television was intact and turned off. Anarosa looked into the bathroom, and smiled. The products there were definitely feminine. She might have guessed that the one female Avenger would make things easy on her.
She went to the bed, and picked up the pillow to plump it up.
Not just one gun this time. Two. But pointed away from her, and not hitting her in the head, so she forced her breathing to slow. She could handle it. She replaced the pillow, gingerly, and reached over for the second one.
She was proud of herself, because she didn't scream at the sight of a third, larger gun.
She also didn't scream at the knives beneath the sofa cushions, the wire garrote in the shower, the grenades under the sink, the rifle in the closet, or the brass knuckles under the magazines. She left them all carefully in place, and tried not to think about the fact that no matter where in the room she was, one or more of them was within reach.
Especially when she discovered the tiny filled syringes under the rug. She'd been walking over that! She looked around the rest of the room, knowing there were cabinets she hadn't checked, cushions she hadn't lifted. Just how much armament did this Avenger carry? Anarosa had seen the skintight uniform she wore, too – where did she carry it? She decided not to vacuum under the bed, because she knew there would be about seven heavy cases like the one in the previous room. One case and a single gun seemed like a mercy after this. Why oh why couldn't the second room have been last? That would have been mercy indeed, after all these horrors to see something so delightfully perfect. Even the first room, the normal one, would have been nice. That Avenger didn't feel the need to hide weaponry everywhere, or destroy things, or throw impossible parties, or sleep in a closet. Anarosa would never curse those ladies on the arms of paying men ever again. Whatever else they did, they weren't terrifying.
When she finally left and shut the door behind her, she gasped for air and nearly collapsed against it. And crossed herself, twice, for sheer thanks that she was alive. She never, never wanted to go through anything like that ever, ever again. If the Virgin Mary ever had mercy, they would only be staying one night. They might be gone within hours.
She should have learned not to hope for so much. Because when she dug out the registry, and looked through it, she almost fainted.
Suicide was a sin, but surely God would make an exception for her…
They were staying for three more weeks.