“Hannibal? I – I need your help.”
Hannibal stood up with the phone in his hand, knocking against the table as he rose. His coffee cup tipped over and flooded his breakfast of bacon and eggs, but he ignored it. Face’s voice, the edge in it, set all of Hannibal’s alarms screaming at once.
“What’s wrong, Face?”
“Not over the phone. I need you to come to the Regency Hotel. You know where it is?”
“Yeah.” Hannibal had been there for auditions, usually when the producers wanted to keep the possible cast of their movie off the record for a while. A small place, quiet and discreet. “Face, are you hurt? Can’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
“No!” That edge again in his voice. Fear. Almost… Panic? “Room five-eighteen. Get here quick, please.”
Face hung up and Hannibal abandoned his now ruined breakfast. He found a shoulder holster and slipped a pistol into it, after checking it had a full clip. Then he put a jacket on, found his car keys and left his apartment.
LA’s morning rush hour had barely started and it took Hannibal only twenty minutes to reach the Regency Hotel. The clock on the dash showed almost six forty-five when he parked his car half a block away from the hotel.
Not the lobby, he thought. Just in case anybody might be watching out for him arriving. He didn’t think Face had been under duress when he made the phone call; he’d not used one of their pre-arranged codes to signal it. Still Hannibal saw no point in being careless. Ducking into an alleyway, he found his way to the back of the hotel. A couple of kitchen staff, in white tunics and checked trousers, hung around outside, smoking.
Hannibal quickened his pace. When he saw the hotel workers had noticed him, he looked at his watch and shook his head. As he swept past the two men, he called out.
“Man, I’m so late! Granger will tear me a new one. You seen him around?”
Before they had a chance to reply, or ask him who the hell Granger might be, Hannibal was inside looking for the stairs. A moment after that he started to climb out of the slightly grimy working areas of the hotel towards the bedrooms.
On the fifth floor, Hannibal emerged from the stairwell and memorised the way back to it, while he looked for room five-eighteen. A few people passed him as he searched, most of them business types, wearing suits, and carrying briefcases. However, some of the passers-by looked as if they just might be wearing the same clothes as they’d worn the night before. Men in rumpled suits or tuxedos without ties, women in dresses too formal or revealing for the daytime, carrying tiny purses.
At another time, Hannibal would have smiled at the sight of them, but now he just wanted to get to Face and find out what had him so rattled, so scared. Yes, he’d actually sounded scared. That told Hannibal that this must be something more than just another scam gone bad leaving Face in need of a quick bailout.
He found room five-eighteen. A “Do Not Disturb” sign hung on a small hook below a peephole. Hannibal raised a hand to knock, but before his knuckles struck the wood, the door opened. Face reached out, grabbed Hannibal’s arm and yanked him inside.
Hannibal stumbled into the room, hearing the door slam behind him, the rattle of the chain. Catching himself before he lost his balance, he turned to Face.
“What the hell? Were you watching out of the peephole?”
“Yes. What took you so damn long?”
Seeing Face was in no mood to engage in banter, Hannibal bit back a snapped reply. Face looked bad. He wore only black tuxedo pants, no shoes, no shirt. His hair was wild, his face pale and his eyes big and fearful. Hannibal spoke in softer voice now.
“What’s wrong, Face?”
Without speaking, Face pointed at the unmade bed and while Hannibal moved towards that, Face backed up to the door, pressed against the wood.
When Hannibal got close to the bed, he realised that the mussed up blankets and linens actually hid something. Something lay under a white sheet. His skin began to chill, the back of his neck to prickle. Despite the dread, he took hold of the edge of the sheet and pulled it back. A young woman lay there. Her long brown hair spread across the pillow. Her green eyes stared up at Hannibal. No, not at him. Not at anything.
Feeling like a man moving through molasses, Hannibal turned to look at Face, who answered the unspoken question in a bleak and hollow voice.
“Yes. She’s dead.”