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Karma at the Charlie Hotel: Fiction by Louella Lester
Acceptable Margin of Inventory Loss: Fiction by Charlie Kondek
The Racing Rocks: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Preacher Woman of Reverie, Oklahoma: Fiction by Ann Marie Potter
Justice Served: Fiction by Glen Bush
A Broken String of Love Beads: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Revenge and Redemption: Fiction by Walt Trizna
Thirst: Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Solar Punks: Fiction by James Blakey
Rito Was a High Number: Fiction by Fred Andersen
The Parcel: Fiction by Robb White
Red Wine and Cyanide: Fiction by Adrian Fahy
The Crowd: Fiction by Jack Garrett
The Offal Truth: Fiction by Scott MacLeod
Madam Maree Sees Your Future: Flash Fiction by Jon Park
Wereworm: Flash Fiction by Daniel G Snethen
Promises: Flash fiction by Richard Brown
No Need to Cry: Flash Fiction by Zvi A. Sesling
The Classy Woman: Flash Fiction by William Kitcher
oh how i wish: Poem by Rob Plath
Bird in Flight, Nullarbor Plain, 1967: Poem by John Doyle
Pools: Poem by Bernice Holtzman
I Exist Inside an Invisible Poem Everlasting & Overflowing: Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
Let me drop the last chapter: Poem by Partha Sarkar
Excursion: The Cruise Ship Chronicles: Poem by Jake Sheff
We'll Always Have Two Things to Hold: Poem by Chandu Govind
why nothing else matters: Poem by John Sweet
the pale grey light of forgotten afternoons: Poem by John Sweet
Orchestra Class: Poem by Elizabeth Zelvin
The Old Lady Shows Her Mettle: Poem by Elizabeth Zelvin
Eggs Over Easy: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Pretty Face: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Another Saturday Night: Poem by Richard LeDue
My Death Knells: Poem by Richard LeDue
Poems as Cheap as Christmas Lights: Poem by Richard LeDue
Dead Work: Poem by John Grey
How He Died: Poem by John Grey
The Man in Their Midst: Poem by John Grey
First at Pimlico: Poem by Craig Kirchner
4 AM: Poem by Craig Kirchner
Leap Year: Poem by Craig Kirchner
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Strange Gardens
ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Louella Lester: Karma at the Charlie Hotel

104_ym_karmaatthecharliehotel_bernice.jpg
Art by Bernice Holtzman 2024

Karma at the Charlie Hotel

 

Louella Lester

 

         I only heard about the room because I was volunteering at the soup kitchen, not because I cared much about helping others, but because it got me a free meal without waiting in line for hours. I happened to be spooning out mashed potatoes near Barb, a dive hotel owner’s daughter, who was there to fulfill a requirement for a college course. I overheard her saying a guy had been found dead in the hotel the night before, though he’d met his demise almost a week earlier.

          I’d worked the meals with Barb a few times and she always tried to chat me up. I’m not a bad looking guy, I try to dress well, no matter my situation, and I think she thought I was maybe someone just temporarily down on their luck. Unlike drinking or drugs, a gambling addiction is not so obvious. I sidled over to Barb and asked if she wanted to go for coffee later and she agreed.

          At the coffee shop I spun a tale about a vindictive ex-wife leaving me and child support payments that used up all my savings after I was laid off. After about thirty minutes I mentioned that I’d been evicted and was desperately searching for somewhere cheap to live. “Oh, it’s like this was meant to be,” she giggled, “I know where you can get a place, as long as you’re not too squeamish.”

          I’ve never been the type who’s grossed out easily, so I wasn’t much bothered about living in a room where someone had just died. And, with winter coming, I was desperate. I used the last of my cash to pay for her latte while she phoned her dad. I moved in the next day.

          The room was on the top floor and when I poked my head out the window, which I was leaving open to air out the strong smell of bleach and the underlying odor of death, I could see Charlie Chaplin, the hotel’s namesake, in a mural perched at an angle just under the roof line. It faced my window, and it was one of those paintings where the subject’s eyes follow you no matter where you go. Those eyes didn’t look happy, like you’d expect with a comedian. I could swear those eyes moved, maybe giving me a warning. Now, that gave me the creeps, but I had nowhere else to live.

          Barb kept texting, making it clear she was interested, and I could come over to her place any time. She wasn’t my type, but I hadn’t had sex in sometime and I also felt I owed her a thank you screw. So, I agreed to go to her place for supper the following weekend. I figured by then her volunteer stint at the soup kitchen would be done and I wouldn’t have to see her anymore. Best laid plans, eh?

          I was in no mood for company as I stood waiting for Barb to buzz me into her condo, I’d just lost pretty much all of my most recent employment insurance money betting on what turned out to be the final game in the World Series. But a free meal wouldn’t go amiss.

          It turned out the pasta sauce was great, but the conversation was dull. She spoke of shopping trips to New York and Taylor Swift concerts, and I fake-listened. Later, in bed, I thought about my high school sweetheart to get into it. I made sure she’d climaxed and was snoozing, before I carefully sorted through her jewelry box, selecting dusty pieces from the bottom, that she’d likely not notice were missing, then I hoofed it to the door.

          She kept texting and I kept making excuses until she backed off a bit, then one night I was shocked when I arrived home to find her sitting on my bed. She held up a master key. “I have a bit of pull around here. I hope you haven’t eaten, because I brought you some yummy soup.” Behind her, out the window, I could see Charlie’s eyes, but I didn’t heed his warning. I had to pay her back later, in bed, but at least it cost me no money. After that, she arrived every couple of weeks to exchange meals for sex. Until, last night, when it ended for good.

          Barb showed up with a chicken casserole and when I was halfway through the meal she spoke. “So, I went through my jewelry box today, some pieces are missing.”

          “Oh no", I said, “do you have a cleaner or something?”

          “No, I don’t, no one but me has been in my apartment since you visited.”

          “Barb … what are you saying?”

          She pulled out her phone. “Do you want to watch some video from the teeny tiny camera I have set up in my bedroom. I hadn’t looked at it in sometime. Have now.”

          I felt sick, really sick, as I apologized, and told her I was in dire straits. Asked her what I could do to make up for it. “Oh, you’ll pay for it, just like the guy who lived here before you.” She close-mouth smiled as I slid off the bed, clutching my stomach.

          “Surely you’ll be caught,” I whispered, “if a second person is poisoned in here.”

          “Poisoned? Oh, he wasn’t poisoned. He died in a hanging accident, choked while he was jerking off.”

          I writhed on the floor, dying, shouted for help, but the loud music from the bar below drowned out my voice. I clutched at her leg, which she pulled away before gathering up the casserole dish and utensils and wiping down everything she had touched, then she left as I took my last tortured breath.

          I’m lying here, now. Eyes wide open. Waiting for someone to discover my body. I’m staring at Charlie who’s staring back through the window, and I swear he’s shaking his head at me.

Louella Lester, a Winnipeg (Canada) writer/photographer that has been published in a variety of journals and anthologies. Her quirky flash-CNF book, Glass Bricks, is published by At Bay Press.

Bernice Holtzman’s paintings and collages have appeared in shows at various venues in Manhattan, including the Back Fence in Greenwich Village, the Producer’s Club, the Black Door Gallery on W. 26th St., and one other place she can’t remember, but it was in a basement, and she was well received. She is the Assistant Art Director for Yellow Mama.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2024