‘The Pilot’ by Anna North


From Five Chapters:

Jack Powers checked into the Angel’s Nest at six-thirty on a Thursday night. The Angel’s Nest is my hotel.  I saved for ten years and bought it on my thirty-fifth birthday, along with the little house in back. My mom lived there with me until she passed two years ago, helped me keep an eye on things.  She had kind of a sixth sense when it came to the guests — one time she told me to go check Room 12, and there was this nice old lady shoving the cable box into her suitcase.  We bolted them down after that. Mom always told me not to get too cozy with the guests, either.  Everybody wants something from you, she’d say, you just have to figure out what it is. Mom had seen a lot, what with dad leaving and then that deadbeat Dayton after him; she knew you have to be careful.

So when Jack asked me to have a drink with him, I said no, none too friendly. I was used to getting passes from the male guests every now and then. I was forty-five but I looked more like forty, except around the neck and eyes.  I used to date a lot, even got engaged twice.  The guys always did something to screw it up though, like looking at other women.  I knew to get out when the real trouble started.

I had a girl then working the desk during the day, and I took over from seven to midnight.  We had a lot of people checking in before the air show, so I was pretty busy.  Still, I was restless. A couple checked in — baseball caps, khaki shorts, T-shirts from a golf resort. They gave me their credit card and I told them to enjoy their stay.  An older guy showed up — fisherman’s hat, khaki shorts, T-shirt from a cruise line.  He gave me his credit card and I told him to enjoy his stay. Mom had been dead about two months at that point, and I was starting to realize it had been about that long since I’d heard anyone say a single personal thing.

Jack came back at eleven-thirty with two beers in his hand. He opened one of them and set it on the desk in front of me.

“I just thought I’d bring you a drink anyway,” he said. “If you want, I can go and you can drink it by yourself.”

I was in a funny mood that night. I didn’t say anything, but I took the beer. I raised the bottle and he clinked his against it.  That’s when I noticed his hands. He only had one thumb – the right one. In place of the left was a round, smooth scar, the size of a silver dollar, which threw back the light like plastic wrap stretched over a bowl.

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