I WAS PUTTING IT TO A SKINNY LITTLE REDHEAD IN THE BEDROOM OF A nice hotel room when Pink Floyd burst from my cell phone, singing about money. I ignored them, hoping whoever it was would call back later and went back to work on the redhead. Three minutes later, she screamed like a rabbit in pain, released her legs from around my waist and fell beside me on the bed. Our bodies speckled in bright beads of sweat, we laid there for sometime, her head on my chest, my fingers gliding gently across her olive bronze skin.
As I hoped, Pink Floyd made an encore performance on my cell phone. We climbed out of bed. I threw my legs over the side, picked it up from the bedside table and answered it. She must’ve just rolled over and went back to sleep because the room was so quiet it was as if she never really existed.
“Yeah.” I whispered.
“I’m looking for a professional.” The voice on the other end was Russian, no doubt about that.
“What can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for someone to---.”
I terminated the call and kept the phone loosely in my hand. The redhead rolled over and stroked the middle of my back with her tender fingertips. The bed shifted and I turned around to see what she was doing. When the phone rang again, she was walking over to the chair in the far right corner of the room, shrugging into my favorite white shirt without bothering with the buttons. I swung my legs back over the side of the bed like I’d done before and flipped the phone open again.
Looking at the long strip of skin exposed by the open shirt, at the sides of her plump breasts, at the tuft of pubic hair between her legs, I said into the phone: “Hello.”
“What the hell was that all about?”
“You hung up on me.”
“Well, then why did you do it?”
“Because you never talk about what you want on the phone. It doesn’t work that way.”
“Are you telling me---.”
“Unless you want the cops to catch this on their cee bees then you’ll do what I say or you’ll find someone else to do the job better than me. If you can even find someone else better than me in the first place which you can’t so are we cool or is this gonna get hotter than a furnace?”
It’s not always wise to treat a client like that. They’re liable to hang up on you and leave you holding your dick in the dark. I don’t really consider myself a hit man, although I am. I like the term “professional” a little better; it sounds way cooler than “hit man” or “killer”. This way here, when the cops intercept my call they won’t know my real occupation.
With a deep sigh, the Russian said: “Okay. What do you suggest?”
“We meet someplace where there’s not much attention and plenty of privacy.”
“Where would you like to meet?”
“In the bar down by the lobby. You sit at one table with your back turned and I’ll sit at the one behind you. You do not turn around in your seat to face me. You stay right where you’re at. If you need to hand me something, then you hand it to me from behind your back or you can slide across the table to me.”
“How will I know it’s you?”
“I’ll be wearing blue jeans, an Ohio State Buckeyes tee shirt and hat. The hat will be pulled down to cover my face, which you don’t need to see. All you need to see is my hat. When you know where I’m sitting you come over to the table behind me and sit down. We’ll talk from there.”
“But how do you know the cops won’t be listening on their how you say it,” The Russian’s smugness toward his words. “bee-cee.”
“It’s cee bee and no asshole.” I said and hung up.
Rude people get on my nerves. They think they’re so fucking better than us that they have to talk to us regular people like that. Think the world should roll out a red carpet for them every time they do something right for someone; think the world owes them a debt they could never settle. What do they know? Their blood is just as cold and red as mine---if not colder.
The redhead--whose name I had yet to know--rolled over and sat with her legs around my waist again, her flat board of a stomach pressed against my back. Having gone one round with her already, I could sleep until next week. She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek; her lips tasted of cherries and her perfume reminded me of the ocean I longed to see but only dreamed of. Putting the phone on the bed, I picked her up like the groom carrying the bride through the threshold of their honeymoon suite and carried her into the bathroom. We had round two in the shower. I left her curled up in bed, knees halfway to her chest, hands pressed together and tucked snugly under her right jaw.
Looking at her now, I felt bad about not being able to promise her the life she deserved. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but I do believe that beautiful women should always have the finer things in life. And at no cost to them. Nothing would be different for her; she would never fully experience life for what it truly is and the world for what it truly holds. I was just a guy she screwed and I was no different than the next guy and the next one after that.
Like every other girl I’d encountered in my twenty-four years on this planet, I got dressed for my meeting and closed the door on my way out.
* * *
AFTER a long talk with the obese drug representative about how quick the world was going to hell in a hand basket because of high gas prices, I stepped out of the elevator and made it to the lobby in five minutes. The Madison was twenty stories of tinted glass with a set of revolving doors that gleamed like the edges of sun kissed gold. With its rich knotty pine walls, gleaming marble green floors and a narrow stretch of maroon carpet laid between the front doors and the spacious gray front desk, it reminded me of something I’d seen on Access Hollywood as one of the best hot spot for all the vacationing celebrities. Just yesterday, the front desk clerk decided to inform me that ‘the’ Paris Hilton had once stayed here. I took his information kindly, pretending that I actually gave a shit about something like that and went up to my room.
Since the left side of the lobby was crammed with long hallways and boring conference rooms, I walked to the right, toward the stretch of gift shops, tie-in restaurants and a small bar. I’m not one for alcohol but when I’ve had a bad day I want as much as I can get my hands on. Most of the places I go, there are as much bars on the block as there are churches in Mississippi but this place is nothing close to Miami, Louisiana or Los Angeles. None of the places I’ve been to are better than the ones I visit next. I’m not there as long as I’d like to be so I can’t really say which one is my favorite.
My occupation diverts my enjoyment and I despise that. But it’s not like a fast food worker who slaves all day in the hot sun to endeavor the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. They come back to work and go through the rituals just like everyone else. But where they serve foods high in cholesterol, I serve death with a high caliber weapon. Or whatever I can get my hands on; anything.
I’m a hit man, not by choice, but by fate. I once worked for some people in Langley and it went sour. I got tired of the cover ups, got tired of the red tape and got out as quickly as I could. They try to call me every once in a while, try to get me back in but I give them the runaround each and every time. I get a laugh at how many times they try to get hold of me, knowing that the Deputy Director is probably sitting at his desk, face redder than a beet as he slams the phone down in anger.
By the time I got to the bar, my watch said three minutes till seven. Through the tinted transparency of the first four windows, the moon burned faintly inside a thick, coffee black sky. Squeezed between a glass and brick gift shop, the tavern had rich tinted windows and a baggy green awning above the front door, the word TAVERN stenciled across the front of it. Two neon beer signs gave a rainbow finish to the marble floor outside; the left one was a blue Budweiser sign and the other said that they were open.
I stepped through the door and followed a narrow strip of dark green carpet straight into a large dining area. Its paper white walls were speckled with framed photos from years unnoticeable until now; the soft blue-carpet was dotted with lacquered brown tables with matching chairs; snippets of conversation rose and fell like gossip in a high school cafeteria. Small bowl lamps glared down from large ovals etched into the rough white ceiling. At the north wall, facing the front window was a boomerang shaped bar the color of mahogany with six stools and a tall shelf behind it. Varies of liquor bottles were on display behind a massive mirror like baseball cards at an antique shop, their lustrous brown liquid gleaming brightly.
There were three tables set against the wall leading toward a pair of oak brown doors that I guessed led into the kitchen. I sat at one of them, but I was facing the front of the tavern. I slipped the front of my hat down farther on my forehead and folded my hands neatly together on the tabletop. The whole tavern had been silent, save for a Benny Goodman classic spewing from the jukebox in the far left corner. It was my favorite one: “Waitin’ For Katie”.
A sexy and seductive voice asked: “Can I get you anything, sweet heart?”
“A tall glass of milk.”
“Is that it?”
I raised my head and peered up at her from under my hat. With a voice like a female disc jockey, I had to see whom it belonged to. She stood five foot five and probably weighed about one ninety, one ninety-two. She had long canary yellow hair that drowned the tops of her shoulders, big jade-green eyes and freckled brown skin. Her hourglass figure fit snugly inside the black slacks and white blouse.
“That’s all.” I said and gave her my best Paul Newman smile from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.
“What’s wrong with milk?” I asked. “It’s good for the bones.”
Sighing, she rolled her eyes at me as if I were a waste of time and padded away. I lowered my head back down onto the table like a child who’d been told no and waited. Three rapid minutes later, a tall glass of milk was set down in front of me. And I didn’t even get a “thank you”, let alone a “have a nice day”. Bitch.
I slid the glass of milk toward me and took a giant swig so cold that it sent a chill through my gums. Three rounds of sex can make you hungry and thirsty, but I was always thirsty so the hungry part wouldn’t come in until later. Besides, I’m not your average cold-blooded killer; I don’t devour entire entrées that weigh more than a bear. If I had a choice between a cheeseburger with fries and three pieces of chicken with a large Diet Coke, I’d choose the chicken, minus the skin.
The glass was halfway empty when the front door opened and light poured in, only to disappear when the door was shut. A squat man with short dark hair wearing a white suit stood before the entrance into the dining area as I’d done a few minutes ago. Two hefty, young gentlemen in black leather jackets and expensive clothing flanked him on both sides. They looked as if they could pick up a car and throw it two blocks down. Maybe I’m over exaggerating, but their arms were huge.
I lowered my head back down to the table so as to show them my hat and continued to drink my water. Their footsteps were pin-drop quiet and their shadows slipped stealthily pass my table like storm clouds in a once blue sky. I waited for them to pass me before I raised my head again. The wooden partition between the tables along the wall would make the perfect conversation piece. All the intricate little shapes etched out across it would easily hide the darkest of faces, including mine.
“Is this good enough for you?” asked the Russian whom I spoke with on the phone.
“It’s perfect by the way.” I said. “And while you’re at it you can dispense with the rudeness.”
“I’m not being rude,” he stopped long enough to bask in his sarcastic glory. “I’m being courteous.”
“Yeah, right.” I replied, crossing my left ankle over my right knee. “And George Bush is the greatest president alive. But I guess politics is not why we’re here now is it. You need me for something so let’s get to it.”
“I need you to kill my ex-wife.”
In all my years in this business, this one was a repeat offender. There’s always some guy who needs his ex-wife, wife, girlfriend or secretary killed. It’s the same thing every time. There’s always a woman involved, never a dog or anything. What happened to marriage counseling?
Not that I support the destruction of innocent animals, I refuse to kill animals although I master the perfect techniques to subdue them without hurting a hair on their fragile bodies.
“Trying to get out of paying child support,” I whispered. “or what?”
“I don’t even have kids. She couldn’t have them and I didn’t want them. But that’s not why I want her killed.”
“You know Jason Hill?”
“The soccer star Jason Hill?”
A small chorus of chuckles erupted from their table. I could just see them now, the two brawny bodyguards laughing through their thick red mouths. The Russian’s face crinkling with hysterical laughter.
Once the laughing ceased, the Russian said: “No. The other--.”
“Why him. Why her.”
“My ex-wife is currently wooing Mister Hill in this very hotel room, right now as we speak. She’s coming after me for two years unpaid alimony.”
“Why is she coming after you for money when Jason Hill will have plenty of it to go around?”
“What’d you say?”
“Guess it’s my turn to laugh, huh?” I said, pressing my hand against my chest. “Looks like I know something you don’t.”
When I didn’t get a wink from them, I said: “Yesterday, he signed a two hundred million dollar contract with another soccer team. Why does she need it---.”
“Because she’s greedy. Mina was very greedy when it came to financial matters. I could never control her about her obsessive shopping. Constantly buying this and that and this and that. I tried to get her to stop---.”
My turn to intercept: “There’s nothing wrong in making your woman happy. But when you cut her off, she left you. Am I right?”
“Never a dull moment with you is there, Mister.” He stopped as if he were trying to figure something out and said: “You never told me your---.”
“It’s Patrick. And that’s all you need to know.”
Something whirled over the top of the partition, flew over my head and landed on the table next to my glass of water. If it hadn’t been an envelope, I might’ve pulled out my gun but I picked it up and peeked inside of it. I thumbed through the thin stack of bills and plucked the picture leaning against the last hundred-dollar bill. Tucking the envelope into my front pants pocket, I held the picture between thumb and forefinger and surveyed it like a vulture overlooking a sun-drenched desert.
She really was beautiful; bubble-gum pop star beautiful.
Too bad she was going to die. Too bad it was going to be by my hands.
Her long russet brown hair, tight cheekbones, thin pink lips, heart shaped face and vivid brown eyes gave her the image of a former Spice Girl. As the picture told me, her toothpick frame made her look as if anorexia was a girl’s best friend. She looked plastic. Way plastic for my tastes. The last thing I need is a gold digger for a girlfriend. That and irritable bowel syndrome.
After I recounted the money, I said: “You’re about forty thousand short.”
“Ten thousand now and you get the rest when she’s dead. Deal?” He sounded like a car salesman who tried to sell you something you’d never drive if you were dead.
“I guess.” I said, tucking the picture into my back pants pocket and the envelope in my front pocket.
“When will you do it?”
"You’ll know when I--.”
“How will you do it?”
“A magician never gives away his secrets.”
Leaving a tip on the table, I said through the holes in the partition: “Don’t follow me out. Leave ten minutes after I do, got it? Suspicion never leaves a cop’s sight. Let alone anyone else’s.”
“Don’t you need to know the room number?”
“No.” I said, getting up from the table. “I can get that myself.”
When I was halfway to the front door, I knew they were watching me. Strangest thing was, unlike all the other times, it started to bother me.
* * *
WHEN I got back up to my room, I took my cell phone from my pocket and leaned back against the headboard. At least she made the damn bed. Most of the women I fuck and forget leave the bed in a twisted mess. She even left me her cell phone number and a mint on one of my pillows. I ate the mint, tossed her number in the trashcan and used my cell phone to call the front desk.
Three rings later, a cheery voice came on the other end: “Thank you for calling The Madison. My name is Claire, how may I help you?”
I opened my mouth, but my voice froze. I’d never frozen like this before. Never. This is the moment where I put on one of my many impressions in order to fool her. When she repeated the last part about how she could help me, I shut my mouth, harrumphed into the phone and switched on the old Southern charm.
“Yes, my name is Nathaniel Bouregard and I’d like to speak to Jason Hill.”
“I’m sorry, sir. But we at The Madison prohibit all outside calls to our popular guests unless you’re a member of their family.”
“Well, I’ll be a snake in a bird’s nest.”
“Is there a message I can deliver to him?”
“I just wanted to thank him for everything he’d done at the Boys and Girls camp over here in Strausbaugh, Ohio. He’s been such a big influence on those boys that I couldn’t help but send him something.”
“You can always send him something up from room service.”
“Are you sure? I mean I don’t want you getting into--.”
“Yes, I’m sure.” Claire gave a small giggle. “We let our guests’ families do it all the time.”
“Well, that’d be mighty fine idea.” I couldn’t believe she was actually falling for this and I pulled my mouth away from the phone so that I could laugh and rejoined her. “Is there anything you suggest, darlin’?”
“We have a lovely crab cakes combo. Comes with broccoli spinach dip, an order of baked asparagus sticks. And a lovely desert called Peanut Butter Explosion. It’s a scoop of white ice cream sandwiched between two giant chocolate peanut butter wafers with a light sprinkle of crushed peanut butter cups on top.”
Rubbing my stomach, I said: “Mmmm. That sounds mighty good right now. But just hearing it come from you makes my stomach grow another nine inches. I like dessert, but it don’t like me.” I stopped rambling like an idiot. “That would be fine, ma’am. Send that up to his room, if you would please.”
Computer keys rattled in the background. Rhythmic breathing attempted to muffle it with no luck.
“Okay, sir. Your total is forty two five nine.” She said. “Is that cash or debit?”
“Could you hold on there while I get my credit card?”
“Take your time, sir.”
I set my cell phone on the bed and went through my suitcase, looking for the right card for just this occasion. I found it tucked in with a pair of socks and raced back to the cell phone.
After I gave her the number, she said in her eerily happy voice: “ Everything seems to be in order, Mister Bouregard. We’ll send this up to his room as quickly as we can.”
“Thank you, miss.” I said and grunted as if I were hitching up my jeans. “Have a nice day.”
“Is there anything else I can get for you?”
“Could you tell me what room he’s staying in?” I pleaded. “I mean for the kids’ sake. They’ve been meaning to come see him and I’d like to tell--.”
“Room Two Forty Nine.” She whispered. “Don’t tell anyone I told you, okay.”
“It’ll just be our little secret.”
“Okay.” She said, not whispering. “Have a nice day and thank you for calling The Madison.”
I killed the call and dropped the cell phone on the bed beside me. I shrugged out of my street clothes and into a pitch-black suit with a matching tie and a pair of bat’s wing black shoes. I dropped my cell phone into my left pocket and took the elevator down to the lobby. Once there, I took a seat on the couch at the far left corner. There was a glass-topped table with black rubber framing placed in front of me and a mess of month-old magazine scattered across the top.
I chose a People magazine with last year’s Sexiest Man Alive on the cover and pretended to read it. I perched my left ankle on my right knee and set the magazine on my lap. I kept one eye on a lovely picture of the beautiful Keira Knightley that would make a preacher forget his vows--when does she not do that--kept the other eye on the elevators. Small clusters of travelers, drug representatives, middle aged tourists, college students in the midst of winter break pushed through the revolving doors of The Madison. A young couple carried an unpleasant child to the elevators, his plump pale legs kicking and screaming and purposely going dead weight so as to have made matters for his parents even worse, angry for being dragged to a place it didn’t want to go.
The kid wasn’t an obstruction, but a reminder. It reminded me why I didn’t--and never would--have kids.
People magazine still sprawled across my lap, I turned and stared out the window, at the city glowing beside me. Traffic crawled at a slow pace, as headlights and taillights flickered and died, flickered and died. According to the flow of people crossing the street, it was five o’clock and everyone had been let out of their cages, only to be led straight into another one. The sun dipped behind the horizon, behind the wall of buildings and casinos, painting the sky with a fiery orange light. Scantily clad women between the ages of eighteen and twenty trotted past the window, smirking and whispering behind closed mouths, their incoherent whispers telling me what their sexually polluted minds had in store for me while some just smiled and went on walking.
I don’t consider myself the hottest thing this side of the world, but it’s always reassuring to know someone still cares. I’m twenty six and I weigh two hundred and thirty two pounds, all of it pure muscle. My ex-girlfriend once told me that I looked like a young Peter Fonda, but then her mother told me--after I had sex with her--Hugh Beaumont from the show Leave It To Beaver. My hair is slick and black, without one little niche of gray and combed to the crest of my forehead like Cary Grant’s. My doe brown eyes, filled with wonder and mystery, were the magnets that lured the women.
From the reflection in the window, a pale apparition glided behind me. I turned and saw the waiter guiding the cart toward the pair of elevators. I set the magazine down, got up from the couch and followed him into the elevator. He stepped in before me, I asked him what floor and pushed the button. He placed the cart between us and watched the doors clamp themselves shut.
Rule number one. Leave your emotions and your remorse at the door.
The elevator shifted and glided its way up. The kid beside the food cart looked too young to be pulling minimum wage at a three-star hotel (at least in my book it was a three star hotel no matter how many others they had in the rest of the country). He could’ve been my little brother, save for the acne splattered across his cheeks and forehead. On the cart between us was a trio of sparkling silver domes. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what was underneath them. I crossed my left hand over my right and placed them both across my lap. I held back a breath, let it go and uttered a small reply of panic.
“Oh shit. I lost my contact.” I knelt down toward the floor, cupping my left hand over my supposedly lens-less eye. “Could you please help me find it?”
With most hotels, all the elevators come equipped with security cameras. Thanks to the petite redhead I had in my hotel room, the hotel never installed them. Which was exactly what I was looking for. Exactly what I needed. Especially for this particular job.
As the young waiter knelt to the floor, searching for my imaginary contact lens with frantic hands, I slipped the vial of poison out of my inside jacket pocket, twisted off the cap, raised one of the domes--it really doesn’t matter when it comes to this stuff--and poured the poison into the entrée. Once I knew I had enough, I set the dome down, slipped the vial back into my pocket and pretended to pick something up from the floor.
“Here it is.” I said, standing back up from floor and pressing my finger against my eye. “Damn things are always shooting out of my eye.” I turned back to the busboy. “Thank you for helping, though.”
“No problem, sir. It happens all the time.”
Three minutes of silence passed by when the elevator gave a violent shudder and the doors parted. The young busboy wished me a nice day and pushed the cart off the elevator. He waved at me as the elevator doors clapped to a close. I hit the button and headed back to my room. Any other circumstances would’ve permitted me to wish that young man the same nice day he had granted me, but there was one thing you always know in this business.
Never give praise to the suckers.
* * *
THE first thing I did when I got back to the room was use my cell phone to book a midnight flight back home. It was two hours till and I had plenty of time to goof around. I shrugged off my suit and jumped in the shower, suffice to the fact that I’d already taken one two hours ago. Strong jets of hot water pounded the pain from the backs of my shoulders and neck and slid down my spine; thick blankets of wispy white steam rose up from the tub and warmed my skin like the vapors of a roaring campfire.
When I got out, I wrapped a towel around my waist and was walking toward my luggage when my cell phone rang. This time, Justin Timberlake echoed through the room, talking about his sexy back. I sat on the edge of the bed, took it off the bedside table and answered it on the fourth ring.
“Is this, Mister Patrick.”
“Depends upon whose asking.” I sighed, thinking who the hell would be stupid enough to give my name over a cell phone.
“You know who this is.” The woman on the other line had a smooth Russian voice that was quick-to-the-point. “Don’t play dumb with me.”
Sighing, I said: “Hello ma’am. Or should I say, the future Misses Jason Hill.”
“Did everything go as planned?”
“Right down to the tee. Your husband was as gullible as you said he was.” I shook my head. “He got rude with me on the phone and I got rude with him right back. Even though you told me not to.”
“Ivan always was an asshole.”
“And a rude one at that.”
Silence went by before she said: “I hope my asking you to do this for free wasn’t an obtrusion.”
“No ma’am.” I said, staring out the window to admire the shimmering landscape that cities always have at night. “Not everybody gets paid for doing something. Just do me a favor, though.”
“Be there when I need you. We scratched your--.”
“And you want me to scratch your in return.”
“Consider it done.” She said, her voice now a mere whisper. “Anything you need in the future, just let me know.”
She cut me off again with: “No, thank you. With your help, Ivan’s entire two hundred and forty million dollar estate will revert over to me. There’s no need for you to thank me. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I said and killed the call.
I got up from the bed to go to my luggage when I heard the sound of hurried footsteps by the door. I sighed, clueless as to when the world was going to let me get dressed, and looked through the peephole. Head and eyes darting this way and that, the guy outside my door was taller than me but twenty pounds stronger, too. His blunt nose, thick lips, blue eyes and beige skin were the usual traits of a Russian bodyguard so this was definitely one of Ivan’s boys. Paying me a little visit for poisoning their boss.
I crept over to my luggage, pulled something from it and carried it back to the door with me. I reached over with my free hand, slid the chain free and leaned back behind the door. The door gave a whine as it open, slicing the carpet with a silver of warm golden light. A hand came through first, bulky and brown; the fingers clutched to the grip of a silenced Tec-9 pistol. After the hand had come through, the rest of him followed.
Was he really expecting me to open the door and let him shoot me?
Please. I know dogs who weren’t that stupid and they’re full bred.
Eyes pointed toward the bathroom, gun clenched tightly in his hand, the bodyguard approached the foot of the bed before I reacted. I crept up behind him on quiet, spider-quick legs, wrapped both ends of the wire around the palms of my hands, reached over the top of his head and wrapped the wire around his neck. I pulled as strong as I could, forcing the knuckles on both my hands to come together, pinching the man’s jugular vain, cutting off the air supply to his brain. I kicked his legs out from underneath him and eased him to the floor; he gurgled like a bucket under water and kicked for what seemed like three minutes before he gave up the fight he was never going to win in the first place. His fingers went limp, the gun clattered onto the floor and out of sight; the stench of expended bowels wafted through the room like fog after a bad rainstorm.
I released the wire from his neck, threw it on the bed and carried him into the bathroom. There, I put him inside the bath tub, filled it halfway to the top and shut the door behind me. Before leaving, I dropped the DO NOT DISTURB sign around the doorknob. I don’t know when they’ll find him, but I’ll be long gone and so will my assumed name.
I took the elevators back down to the lobby and trotted to the front desk. The pasty faced brunette was an enticing replacement to the pimple faced prick who checked me in yesterday. When she took my key, she bared the smile of an angel and passed me a slip of paper. Walking away, I opened the note and saw her name and cell number scrawled across the front of it. She winked at me and greased her top lip with her tongue.
Tucking the note into my front pocket, I returned the wink, pushed through the revolving doors and into the cold, dark city.
BIO: Brian J. Smith has been published in The Forbidden Zone Magazine and his story “A Day With Daddy” can be downloaded on I-Tunes. He lives in Chauncey, Ohio where he is at work on a horror novel.