Seroje lifted the gun with both hands and aimed. Her eyes stared downward, jittering across the firing range. The gun was a large nine mm pistol, much larger than she preferred. The gun was a loaner.
“No, you need to aim. Look through the sights of the gun,” the instructor said, using his hand to lift her chin.
There was a single target, a black shadow representing the upper torso of a man in front of her. The target was ten yards away.
“I got it,” she said, wishing the man would step back and stop touching her. She needed to get this over with since she didn’t have much time.
Her eyes dropped again.
“Eyes upward. Trigger finger along side the gun until you are ready to fire,” the instructor said, touching her hand to point out how he wanted her to hold the gun.
“Back away,” Seroje said in a terse voice. “I can’t fire with you right there. You’re right in the path of the shell case ejection.”
“You need to get your form correct,” he said.
“Back away,” Seroje said in a low whisper. Neither of them were wearing hearing protection as the gun had a silencer.
The instructor sighed and took three steps back.
Seroje jittered her eyes, calculating the distance. She raised the gun just a bit and fired twice. The shots hit the target in the heart region. She changed her aim and rapidly fired, alternating between the center of the eyes and the heart until she’d fired the remaining fifteen shots. She knew the gun was empty.
Seroje ejected the gun magazine and cocked the gun, showing there was no other shell loaded as that was the protocol taught by her instructor. She set the gun down on the table.
The instructor remained silent.
“I only needed to fire one full magazine, right?” Seroje said. “To get my quota in for the week for work?”
“Yeah,” the man said in a quiet voice, staring at the target.
Seroje pressed the button and the target came to her. She pulled the paper target off the clips that held it and walked out of the firing range. Her shift at work started in an hour and she didn’t have much time to go home and change.
Seroje sat on a tan sofa in the second floor lounge of a large hotel in the middle of Annapolis, Maryland. She was wearing a gray skirt and suit jacket with a white blouse. Her laptop was positioned on her lap. Beside her, she had a stack of folders and her phone. She was masquerading as an office worker catching up on work.
There were two wooden end tables at each end of the sofa containing lamps with swirling black designs. Two tan overstuffed chairs, facing each other, squared off the furnishings of the lounge.
Off to her left was a large sweeping staircase that went down to the main lobby. There were large open hallways on her right and left, encircling the entire hotel. Looking down over the railing, one could see the entire lobby from a large section of the hallway.
Voices and laughter from people in the hotel bar and the lobby rose up, reaching her in the lounge. The only conversation she was able to register and understand was the one man with a deep voice who talked non-stop about his dogs. Seroje figured he was in the lobby near the stairs. She found him annoying.
All these details flooded Seroje’s senses. Her hazel eyes, unfocused and jittery, captured every detail around her like a camera filming, no matter how unfocused she kept her eyes. Her ears captured every sound; the two women walking, the man walking behind them, and the people down below. Her nose caught the whiff of someone’s aftershave. The sofa was hard.
The two women power-walked by. As soon as Seroje became aware of them, she realized the second floor was used like a walking track for those in the hotel, especially after dark. She gave no indication that she was aware of them. They were of no concern to her.
Seroje curled some of her shoulder length hair, strawberry blond, over her ear, out of her face. She wanted another soda.
The time was ten forty-five pm.
The man walking down the hall sat in the chair to her right, making a phone call. She guessed he was in his late thirties. He had some gray in his brown hair. His eyes were brown. His dark suit was expensive and well tailored. He seemed toned and fit. His phone call appeared to be a conference call with his people about the customer that was to have met him there and never showed.
Seroje gave no indication that she was aware of him. He also was of no concern to her.
The man talking about his dogs must have walked away. She no longer heard him and now all the conversations in the lobby and bar were nothing but background static, easy for her to tune out.
Two male hotel employees, dressed smartly in their red uniforms, trotted up the stairs with purpose. As soon as they were far enough away from the stairs, they stopped, pulling out cigarettes. Smoking was prohibited in the hotel. They used a soda can for their ashes.
Seroje typed on her laptop, sending an alert to the manager of the hotel. She’d been hired by the hotel in a sting operation to catch employees misbehaving. This was her third night there. She’d been sitting in different lounges, but this one seemed to be the right one since she was seeing the first instances of inappropriate behavior. She typed in her report a description of the employees for the manager’s sake. Her memory photographed them and she’d remember them forever.
The manager of the hotel, Patel, dressed also in a dark well fitting suit, walked up the stairs, looking stern. He slid his phone into a pocket, looking as if he’d just read the alert from her. His dark eyes spied the two employees and he approached them. The two employees flinched, putting out their cigarettes in the soda can, starting with their excuses. Patel hushed them and walked them away toward a back staircase.
They’d be fired, Seroje knew.
The man in the chair ended his call and made another. This call sounded like he was breaking up with a girlfriend.
“Look, I can’t make you happy and you’re not making me happy,” the man said in a quiet voice. He sat very still as he listened on his phone for almost ten minutes. “You’re still not making me happy. I think that’s all we can do. Bye.”
Seroje now knew for a fact that he’d just broken up with a girlfriend.
Another male hotel employee walked through the lounge followed by a maid. The maid looked sheepish, keeping her head down. Seroje remembered having seen the male employee earlier; his name tag read Chris. She didn’t know the maid’s name. Her ears picked up a door closing. Seroje knew the area. The two had gone into a maintenance closet. She sent an alert to Patel.
A woman walked through the lounge hiding a dog in her coat. Pets were not allowed in the hotel. Seroje guessed it was a Bichon Frise by the fur on the woman’s coat. A furry white head poking out of the coat confirmed her suspicions. Seroje was here to spy on employees, not guests. She ignored the woman and the dog. The woman trotted down the steps to the lobby.
Two other male employees appeared, coming from the back staircase. They paused, looking around the area.
Seroje read their lips, despite the fact that they were speaking in Spanish. They were looking for the other two guys to go out back and smoke a joint. She needed names before she alerted Patel.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Could I get another soda?” She held up her empty soda can.
The two employees turned, taking a couple of steps toward her. Now she could read their name tags.
“Of course,” one of the employees said and they both left, heading down the back staircase.
Seroje sent their names on to Patel with an explanation and added this information into her report. She didn’t add anything about her request for a soda or about her perception that she’d not get one from either of the two.
The man in the chair stared at his phone, looking perturbed. She figured it was due to the customer who’d not appeared rather than the girlfriend, since he had seemed rather relieved during that call to end the relationship. His phone rang and he answered the call.
Patel walked up the stairs, looking peeved as he headed toward the closet. A door opened down the hall and she knew he was interrupting the pair. Hushed voices from that area reached her. Patel stood there some time. The couple were hastily dressing, Seroje figured. Then Patel escorted them away, also toward the back staircase. The employee, Chris, was still tucking in a shirt. Both employees looked a little disheveled.
The two women power-walkers passed again talking about husbands who couldn’t find leftovers in the fridge and had to be shown that the food was right in front of their faces. The woman speaking was emphasizing her words with flailing hands as if this was the most important issue in her life.
The man’s phone call was from his son. By the responses from the man, his son was asking for money. The man told him what he’d pay for and no more. Apparently that was not what the son wanted to hear and was making it quite clear to his father. The man held the phone away from his ear as his son ranted and raved as if getting money from his father was a god given right.
“I can’t hear you. I have a bad connection,” the man said toward his phone, since he’d not brought the phone back toward his ear or mouth. “Bad connection.”
The man ended the call with a touch of his finger.
Three other women strolled through the area, using the second floor like a walking track. They were carrying sweaters since the weather was cooler in the evening, so Seroje knew these ladies were not hotel guests. They also were of no concern to her.
Another male employee strolled through and Seroje held up her soda can.
“Hola, Dr. Pepper frio?” she said, using Spanish this time as both a test to see how the employee responded and to see if that would get her a soda.
The man nodded, grabbing her can and tossing it in a trash can on his way back down to the lobby.
The man in the chair was texting on his phone.
Seroje sent a message to Patel about the employee not putting the can in a recycle bin. Petty, but that was what the hotel wanted to know, each infraction no matter how small.
The man in the chair was now watching her, to her chagrin.
“Are you a hotel detective?” he said, once the employee was out of sight. He spoke in a very low voice, but Seroje heard him as well as read his lips, despite her appearance of watching her laptop screen.
She didn’t answer him, annoyed that he’d even spoken to her.
“What time do you get off work?” he said as he glanced at his phone and typed another text, apparently in response to one he’d received.
“Excuse me?” she said in a low voice, without moving her eyes or head.
“You heard me,” he said in just as low a voice and with a slight smile, just raising the corners of his mouth.
The first two power-walkers passed by again, but were talking in quieter voices. Seroje was unable to hear what they said.
“Craig Manor is the name,” Craig said after texting someone again.
Seroje typed his name into her laptop while she continued to look as if she was working and was ignoring him. She had access through her company to a website for looking people up.
“You’ve been married twice. And you just broke up with a girlfriend. Rebounding?” she said in a quiet voice, still without moving or looking up from her laptop, hoping that would shut him up and make him leave.
He shrugged, looking unconcerned.
“Two speeding tickets in the last two years. Wealthy, but you pay your taxes. Own a number of businesses around the world,” she said.
“What else,” he said, showing no sign he was surprised she knew this much.
“You had a customer stand you up tonight and your son doesn’t know how to handle his finances,” she said, still annoyed, but she kept her voice even.
“Could hardly call her a girlfriend,” Craig said with an off-handed smile and a small wave of his hand.
The hotel employee returned, trotting up the stairs with a can of soda.
“Numero de habitacion, por favor,” he said, continuing in Spanish according to hotel rules because that is how she’d started the conversation. He opened the can of soda for her.
“Uno dos ocho,” she said, taking the soda. “Gracias.”
He nodded and left.
It was a real room number that she and Patel agreed to use since there was not a guest in that room.
She was thirsty and drank almost half the can.
“Are you going straight home to bed or having supper?” Craig said.
“Why is that important?” she said, not understanding, as she passed some quiet fizzy burps.
“If you’re going to supper, I’d ask if I could join you.”
She didn’t answer because she didn’t know how to respond to such a bold request.
“I’d guess midnight,” Craig said. “Less than an hour. What’s your name?”
“Seroje,” she said, thinking about her company.
OSLO was a watchdog agency that kept such a low profile that no one seemed to know about it. No one even seemed to know what OSLO stood for. The company also watchdogged their employees and Seroje had become a blip on their radar.
She was a loner, not dating anyone or socializing. They wanted healthy, well adjusted employees, so they sent her to a socializing match-up holiday in the Caribbean for practice. For two weeks, she’d sat on the beach, not meeting a soul. But that was probably because everyone else was clubbing, then sleeping most of the day away. Now, here she was back in her home town, working, and some guy wanted to pick her up.
She thought about accepting to make her company happy and to leave her alone.
“Unusual name,” he said.
“My mom touted she came from gypsy heritage in Europe. Said the name meant ‘all seeing eye’ in some Slavic language. But it translates roughly to ‘seeing eye’ in Dutch. I pronounce the J, the Dutch don’t.” she said in an even voice as if she stated this information all the time.
“Do you work here?” he said.
“At the moment,” she said, still watching her computer screen.
Two male employees that she’d seen before on previous nights walked through the lounge. They stared at Seroje and Craig.
Patel came panting up the stairs after them. The two employees ran, looking guilty. Seroje hadn’t sent any alerts on them and wondered what they’d been doing. Or perhaps, not been doing.
“I think they’re getting wind of you,” Craig said in a low voice.
“They probably think it's you.” she said in the same quiet voice.
Seroje pulled up more information on Craig. His son was named David, eighteen, and was enrolled in his first year of college at the University of Maryland. Craig looked like he was a quiet billionaire, not making waves. People knew about him, but he was rarely in the news. He could walk the streets and not be recognized. She’d heard of his companies. He seemed to be doing well.
“What do you like to drink?” Craig asked.
Seroje raised her can and took another drink.
“I meant in the way of wine, beer, liquors.”
“Tea, soda or water,” she said. “That’s it.”
“Food allergies?” he said with a slight smile.
“No, I eat what I want,” she said, wondering where this line of conversation was going.
She added a few more notes to the report she’d been working on, intending to send it to her boss at the end of the evening. Her next two days were already booked and she knew she’d not be back here.
“What do you do in your spare time?”
“Stare at walls,” she said as she stared at the carpet, which had a hideous red and black pattern. There was also a small piece of paper almost in the middle of the floor that no one had picked up. Her eyes shifted to the wall because the carpet pattern was disturbing. The paper on the floor was just as disturbing.
She’d rather go home, but this was an opportunity she had to think about. Her opinion was growing more favorable because they sat in silence for the next fifteen minutes. Seroje liked silence. She could sit with someone who was silent.
The walkers must have finished or were escorted out. No one had passed by in some time now.
“I’d have thought your son would call you back after losing the connection,” she said, practicing her small talk, which she was lousy at. When she worked, like she was tonight, she pretended to be another person, which helped her function better when she interacted with people.
“He knows me and once my hearing goes, I can’t hear my phone ring,” Craig said.
“Young and stupid, but not that stupid,” she said, moving her gaze back to her laptop, already not knowing where to go with the conversation.
“I wish he’d get over the stupid, but that can take a while,” Craig said.
“So how old are you?” she asked, but she already knew because the information she’d pulled up included his birth date.
“Thirty-seven. And you?”
“Only a fourteen year difference,” he said. “We could still make it to our fiftieth wedding anniversary if I make it to my late eighties.”
She smiled, but held in her laugh, noting that he was good with numbers.
Patel walked slowly up the stairs, looking at her.
“Oh, miss. This was left for you at the lobby. That will be all,” he said, handing her an envelope. He left, back down to the lobby, looking exhausted. The piece of paper was still on the floor.
The time was eleven fifty-seven.
Seroje sent her report, waiting to make sure her email finished sending before closing her laptop. She slid the laptop into her backpack along with her folders, which were empty, and the envelope. She slipped her phone into her jacket pocket.
“Are we ready to go, dear?” she said to him, pretending she already knew him. “I’m starved.”
He rose with her and she was pleased to find him taller than she. She was five foot eight and calculated he had to be a little over six feet.
Seroje paused to kneel and pick up the paper, throwing it in the trash, then throwing away her now empty soda can into a recycle bin. She walked down the stairs with him as if they were a couple leaving the hotel.