It was afternoon, and I was working the desk. After the departure of Dan The Army Man, I had been pulling a lot of double shifts, meaning a lot of 17 hour nights. The owners didn’t seem in too big a hurry to replace him, and it wasn’t as if I had anyplace better to be.

Around 3:00 PM, the phone rang.

“Joey? It’s Matt at Hilltop Pawn. You asked me to call if any more of your TV’s and fridges showed up. I got a lady at the counter trying to unload two TVs and a fridge, all with your logo and phone number stamped to the side.”

I chuckled. Usually, the crackheads were at least smart enough to sand those off first.

“Okay, Matt, don’t turn her down. Say you’ll buy them, but make sure that, during processing, you start to have ‘computer problems.’ I’ll be there in a few.”

Hilltop Pawn was about six minutes away at a brisk walk. As I approached, I could see a figure at the counter, gesturing wildly, visibly agitated. I got to the door, and crept in quietly.

“. . .how long this gonna take, anyhow? I coulda got twice that from Royce Pawn and Gold down the street, AND been outta there by now. . .”

I tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hello, Estella.”

She froze, and then slowly turned. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, but she said nothing.

I held out my hand. “Keys.”

“You can’t fire me, you ain’t authorized to fire anyone.”

“You’re right. I’m not. But I’m sure as shit authorized to call the police if someone steals from the hotel. So the way I see it, you can either deal with the cops, or you can just hand me those keys, and quit.”

Her nostrils flared, and she looked about ready to speak. But she thought the better of it, and thrust the room keys into my hand.

I put the keys in my pocket. I then turned to Matt. “Go ahead with the deal.” To Estella, “Think of this as your last paycheck. Don’t come back.”

*****************************

Seven months came and went. Boo replaced Estella, and was the best damn housekeeper we ever had, until her son was killed by a drunk driver, and she left town to be with family.

We never got a replacement for Dan. The hotel struggled on with two desk clerks, and our business steadily dwindled. It got to the point that we had six regulars left, and no new business.

The other clerk quit, and left me alone at the desk. I called the boss in Florida, and asked him to at least send one of his brothers to lend me a hand.

No one came.

I had to start closing the office in the mornings, keeping it running from 3:00 PM to 8:00 AM. I was running on fumes at this point, but I didn’t know what else to do. Had I quit, I’d have been without not only a job, but a home.

Then, the cable got disconnected.

One by one over the next two weeks, the regulars were leaving. Things were just falling apart. The phone got disconnected. Then the power, and the water.

I later learned that the owner hadn’t paid a single bill in months. He KNEW, and just left us to rot.

Eventually, he stopped taking calls.

One day, there was a knock on my door. It was a policeman, saying that the owner had called to complain about about a vagrant. That he had been asked not to arrest me, but to please make sure I vacated the premises.

He gave me a few minutes to gather what I could into a duffle bag, and escorted me out. It was the coldest night of the year, and I had nowhere to go.

So I walked. . .

. . .And walked. . .

. . .And walked.

END.

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