Jack Halliday

The November Featured Writer is Jack Halliday

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Jack Halliday

ROOM 801
by Jack Halliday

I suppose I fell in love with her the first time I saw her.      

Love is like that, isn’t it? I mean the real item, the kind that hurts you late at night when you can’t keep yourself from remembering how she looked when she was sad and wistful, or when her hair matted against her cheek as tears stained it, or the way the dimples seemed to appear from nowhere when you made her laugh.

It was a humid August afternoon, the fifth of the month to be precise, and I was hot and bothered and feeling melancholy like I always did around this time. Dates are like that with me. June first is another red-letter spot on the calendar. But I won't bore you with meaningless details. Meaningless to you, I mean. To me? Everything about her is meaningful to me. Always has been. Even after all these years.


The flight had been uneventful and the rental was actually ready on time. It was the right model and everything. A lanky fellow with bad skin and oily black hair greeted me. He slid the contract my way and I signed it dutifully, forced a smile and began the half-hour drive to the hotel.

I don’t remember anything particularly interesting about the scenery on the way over. I was just glad to disembark from the car and roll my suitcase through the doors and up and into the reception area of the Brock Plaza Hotel.

The girl behind the desk reminded me of her: bright brown eyes and light blond hair. I noticed the very fine, light hairs that decorated her tan arms as she slid the registration form across the desk. We went through the particulars and I actually felt the pulse in my neck when she slid the key case toward me. 

The number 801 was inked prominently on the plastic room key-card. I snatched it up, tapped it a few times against my five-o’clock-shadowed chin and sidestepped a too-eager hotel employee looking for a tip from me for allowing him the privilege of doing something slower than I could.

The elevator smelled like the kind of lemony cleaner they used on the floors of my high school, where I attended longer ago than I care to remember. The ding of the elevator signaled that my destination was even closer now. The carpet was comfortable under my feet and a Latino housekeeper avoided my eyes as I made my way to pass her, magnetized by the door to the room at the end of the hall.

Although I had been here many times, I never could get used to the pictures decorating the hallway. Black and white, yet just as interesting as if they had recently captured some newly discovered wonder of the world this very morning. 

In a moment I was once again inside the small, well-appointed hotel room. In one way, it was decidedly nothing special. Yet in another, to someone with trained eyes like mine, it was a portal to another day and another time and another lifetime altogether. The room may have been inexpensive, but it was priceless nonetheless.

I rolled my luggage case against the wall and moved across the floor, beside the bed, and slid the curtains aside. You could barely see the Falls, but they were there all right. No telling how many marital unions they had witnessed. 

Time had marched on and thousands of gallons of water had poured into the Niagara River in a sort of inarticulate wedding serenade to the nameless and faceless copulating couples who had begun their marital journeys on the Canadian side of this famous little town. It had worked its magic for us too. 

But that was “long ago and far away.”

I freshened up and arranged my toiletries mechanically on the sink top before I fired up a cigarette and plopped down onto the bed without even turning down the spread. I gazed out the window, mesmerized by the sight and sound of the water, wishing for all the world that this time, this year, I would finally be cleansed of it all.

I lay on the bed, remembering.

I must have dozed off and when I came to I realized how hungry I was. After a quick bite at one of the eateries in the arcade attached to the hotel, I decided to take a leisurely stroll up the main thoroughfare, stopping for junk food desserts at a couple of kiosks and finishing up at the wax museum. 

She always loved the wax museum. It absolutely amazed her, the craftsmanship of the entire affair. How she used to marvel at the rich and famous, captured by wax and tool! They were frozen in time and place, for the entertainment of seeking and searching eyes that would never actually view their flesh and blood counterparts. I felt her elbow in my ribs the evening she asked me when I thought we’d be looking at her likeness. We both had a great big laugh over that one. 

And that’s why I killed him.

What else is there to do to someone who puts out the kind of light she had within her?

Next, I found myself at the top of the long busy hill, the street filled with visitors and honeymooners from who knows where and staying for who cares how long. It was beginning to get dark and the familiar pall began surrounding me with its usual solemnity, even with the lights and hubbub of the crowd demanding my attention. 

I learned long ago how to ignore demands of any kind from anyone. My father had taught me that. 

“A man’s attention comes at a price,” he used to bark. “And that price varies with the worth of the man.”   

Needless to say, he considered himself “priceless” and very rarely let anyone capture his full attention for any appreciable length of time.

I found an empty bench and took a seat, lit a cigarette and squinted through the column of smoke lazily lifting itself heavenward as I replayed the familiar facts of the situation yet again.

We had met here, she and I, and had to steal what meaningful moments we could in-between her daily commitments; and those were considerable and non-negotiable. But find time we did, and we enjoyed those special moments, we most certainly did, as often as her schedule and our ingenuity allowed.

It was arguably the greatest and most fulfilling month of my entire young life. Yes, I was young then. We shared a bond unlike any we would ever have with any other person. And yet, for different reasons, neither of us even knew each other’s real names.

The air was getting cooler now and the crowds were beginning to thin out some, but I couldn’t seem to find the energy to get up and go on back to the room. That room, with its manacling memories, was my master. It had been that way since the day I’d found the note. 

Just like a scene from a movie, she’d left a pale pink envelope on my pillow just before she left town without so much as even a hint of a warning. 

I’d gone out for a local paper and planned on reading it over a cup of coffee in the room. I knew she’d be out until late because of her work. When I opened the door, there it was, the note center stage on the bed that had been carefully made by the early morning cleaning crew. I quickly scanned the room for any hint of her lingering presence. There was none except for the faint aroma of perfume on the envelope and the lipstick-kiss on its underside. Not only the air in my lungs, but the energy of my entire life itself seemed to sigh out of me as I lay back on her pillow, snatched up the letter and then began to read its contents. 

Apart from the usual and expected pledge of love, she shared a very real and urgent fear for her life. The note, apparently scrawled very quickly, intimated that she had inadvertently become involved with some rather unsavory characters. It had become clear to her that in their collective mind she had information potentially damaging to their business and political interests. 

I considered the idea of a conspiracy theory preposterous of course, but also found it difficult to believe that she would deliberately concoct such a tale. What possible motive would she have? And why share the information with me? But, as I said, I could think of absolutely no reason why anyone would want to wish her physical harm. No one could possibly want to destroy such beauty.


In Room 801, I folded my arms over myself and squeezed. I found my eyes filling up once again at the memory, even after all these years. I looked out at the lights of the city shimmering in the darkness, like so many beacons of hope promising a better and brighter day that never seemed to arrive. 

I was a prisoner in self-imposed isolation from life and really living it. I only lived for August. One month that brought love into my heart, and, eventually, murder. Here I was some sixty years later, still stubbornly stuck in the past, clutching at a memory as ethereal as the smoke from the dying embers of my cigarette. 

Sixty years ago I went on with my life, matured and mated, and took on all the trappings of life as it’s normally supposed to be lived. But always, in the inner recesses of my mind, the contents of that note remained. And the name. 

“Sal Lombino,” she’d written. “If anyone is ever involved in any violence toward me, it will be him.”  

In getting on with my life, I learned the trade and did my part in the family concern without too much anxiety over her. Almost a decade passed, without even a hint of her suspicions and fears having even a remote possibility of being fulfilled. The beautiful woman lived her life separately from mine, still alive.

Although we no longer saw each other, there was no bitterness on either of our parts, as far as I knew. I had kept abreast of the important facts of her life, including her failed marriages and work success. But for the most part, she drifted into the background of my mind as I sought to live my life without her, pouring all of my energy into “making it” according to the common definition of the term in corporate America.

All of that changed the day I read about her death, almost ten years after our brief encounter. 

The various stories were so conflicted that I eventually hired my own private investigator, to no avail, it seemed. The contents of her note now stood out in bold relief in the very forefront of my mind.

I began to do my own investigating, primarily into the life and times of Sal Lombino. It wasn’t long before I finally had enough material to connect the dots in a series of events and innuendos that did, in fact, involve his business and political associates. I came to the very sad and sobering conclusion that she had, indeed, died at the hands of someone in Sal’s employ.

It’s difficult to describe the process that takes you out of your comfort zone and catapults you into another life altogether. But it happens, usually without your permission. At least that was my experience. 

I knew that I had to acquire retribution for her and closure. I couldn’t live with the thought of such beauty cut down and destroyed. And I knew that that meant I would become involved in a degree of violence I’d previously known only from motion pictures and television dramas.

Because some of my connections intersected in various ways, I was able to get closer to Sal’s life than the average uninvited individual. 

I arranged a meeting with him at his private office uptown. That entire evening was surreal, beginning with the unlocked door at the front of the gaudy affair he called home, to the opened, inner office of his private place of self-employment. 

Sal Lombino was completely alone in the imposing domicile. He wore a satin smoking jacket, a ring on every finger and a gold chain around his flabby neck, sparkling as it lay nestled among his graying chest hair. His salt-and-pepper hair was a close-cropped crew cut. As he stood to greet me, he resembled a crude caricature of a Hollywood agent. 

He opened a cigar box next to his desk blotter and lifted one of Cuba’s finest out and toward me. I declined, his smile faded and he motioned for me to sit down. 

He spoke. “So, it’s been a long time, eh, boy? What’s up?”

I slid the slightly worn envelope across the desk to him. His pudgy fingers opened it and he tilted it toward the light from his green and gold desk lamp. He sighed and slapped the contents down on his desk. He squinted as he pierced me with cold, dark eyes containing the warmth of century-old marbles.

“You kidding? Me? Seriously, I’m supposed to be involved with some frail’s death?”

My inarticulate reply was the report of the .38 Colt Detective Special which I fired directly into his forehead. 

He went slack-jawed, eyes wide and instantly bereft of either anger or attempted intimidation. A halo of smoke and the odor of cordite surrounded him like the spray from the Falls you feel as you pass under them on one of the scenic boat tours.

But that was Chicago, not Canada. And it was ten years after my month in heaven with her. I murdered for her, hoping to bring her peace, wherever she was.


I lay for quite awhile atop the spread on the bed we’d shared sixty odd years ago. I clasped my hands behind my head and stared vacantly at the night sky beyond the window. Tomorrow, this August fifth would become yet another bead on the string of consecutive yearly trips to this haven of hospitality, this monument to lovers seeking to seal their vows with a honeymoon spent at true love’s ultimate cliché.

I ordered room service and lingered over a breakfast shared with her, at least the “her” of my brightest and best recollection. Kisses warm and sweet, the embrace of her lush body, and the sharing of an emotional bond I would never even come close to duplicating with another woman, filled my mind.

And then I knew I could return to the present, at least for one more year.

The hotel corridor was cool and quiet and I nodded with appreciation at the black and white photos on display in the hallway as I wheeled my suitcase to the elevator. Yet another blast of air conditioning greeted me as the doors opened and I approached the registration area of the hotel’s well-appointed foyer.

The same young lady from yesterday afternoon was at the desk and smiled warmly as I slid my room key across the counter.

“Sleep well?” she asked.

“About the same as usual,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”

She wrinkled her nose, looked quickly back and forth and then leaned toward me and whispered, “You know Marilyn Monroe stayed in Room 801 when she was here filming Niagara back in 1953.”

“You don’t say? Why, I guess I was nearly twenty years old back then,” I responded with a smile.

She continued, “That room's still an attraction after nearly sixty years.” 

I offered, “My father was slightly acquainted with her back in those days if I recall.”

Her eyes widened with interest and then she added, “You may have noticed that the hotel has photographs of her mounted on the walls in the hallway leading to her room. She was born June 1st, 1926 and died August 5th, 1962. Imagine, she only lived for thirty six years and yet they reckon there was never anyone just like her.”

I signed the bill as I responded, “No I suppose not.”

Then the sweet young thing took my key and room charge slip.     

Her eyes twinkled as she said, “Have a wonderful day, Mr. Lombino, Jr.”

Jack Halliday is a published author, optioned screenwriter, multiple contest winner & finalist and consulting producer, based in the Midwest. His stories have appeared in Hardboiled Magazine as well as several digital anthologies. His first fiction book, Kawanga/Swan Song and Other Mystery Stories, was published by Wildside Press as their “12th Mystery Double.” His new noir mystery novel, The Big Bluff, will be out soon.

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