I thought I would showcase another excerpt from the second of my novels, Kisses and Lies. One of the things I enjoyed about writing this book is that for about the first 2/3 of it, the chapters alternate between my protagonist's narration and a third person narrative from the point of view of a young man named Happy Hillman, who decides to strike out on his own with help from his parents. The only condition--a condition that is Happy's, not his parents'--is that he the money they give him is his inheritance and they no longer have to treat him as their child. Happy makes his way to New York City and finds out that life on his own is not quite what he'd hoped it would be. This scene is his first encounter with the harsh realities of city life.
The rest of the trip had gone by uneventfully. The car had run flawlessly. He’d done some research and knew where he was going to stay, though the neighborhood was a bit scarier than it seemed online. Finding a parking space about half a block down on 42nd Street, he locked the doors and walked quickly to the entrance of what had been described on a website as a historic hotel, but he could only describe it as a flophouse. The sign, which doubled as an ad for a popular cola, was badly chipped and dented, from what appeared to be ricocheting bullets. A knot formed in his stomach and he very nearly turned around, but he steeled himself to walk in. He was tired, he told himself. It wouldn’t be so bad inside and things would look better after a good night’s rest.
He was mistaken. It did look so bad inside. Maybe worse. The dozen steps up from the open entryway to the front doors looked to have been white once, though that was a guess, as they were hidden under decades of city grime, along with occasional dark semi-circular blotches, undoubtedly from vomit and/or urine. At the top landing were two doors that had, a long time ago, been clear glass. Below the handle on the left door was a hand-written sign declaring that no visitors were allowed. Painted on the wall just inside was an arrow above the word “Office.” To the right of that was a large sign painted in white letters on a red background. It said, “Fire Command Center in Office.” He had no idea what that meant, nor did he think he wanted to.
At the front desk, with an overwhelming sense of panic, he found his money was not stashed in his inside jacket pocket as he remembered. Thinking about it for a few seconds, he remembered deciding his jacket was not a safe permanent hiding place. He could absently leave it hanging on the back of a seat or it could be accidentally taken. So he had taken a few hundred out and locked the rest safely in the glove box of his car. He would take it out when he went out to get his luggage.
Paying for the week, he was given a key—an actual key, not a key card. It was attached on a ring to a credit card sized laminated tag with his room number hand written on it in permanent marker. His room was on the second floor at the top of the landing, beside the non-functioning ice machine and the empty, unplugged vending machines. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about people waking him up by coming to the machines in the night. But upon entering his room, he realized that people waking him at night was not likely to be an issue. He found it unimaginable that he would ever fall asleep. All the run-down roach motels he’d seen in movies could not prepare him for the gut-turning reality that was room 201. The only thing more startling than the peeling, yellowed wallpaper; the sagging bed (complete with a threadbare spread covered with cigarette burns); and carpet that was once who-knows-what color, but was now somewhere between brown and black; was the nostril-blistering stench, which seemed most likely to come from two parts urine, one part cigarettes, and at least a part or two of alcohol-laden vomit. He tried to breathe through his mouth, but was alarmed to find that this coated his tongue with the almost literally palpable odor, so he decided smelling his new home was less objectionable than tasting it.
Afraid to leave his luggage in the car too long, he went back downstairs and out to where he parked. His mind was awash with fear. How was he going to live, let alone make it on his own here? The hotel alone might kill him with rat or flea bites or some exotic disease on the floor or bed. If he somehow managed to survive the microbes, what were the chances he wouldn’t catch a stray bullet or get killed by a mugger? His face flushed with shame. In his befuddled contemplation, he realized he must have passed his car, as he had just crossed to the next block. He scanned down the street to where he felt certain he had parked. Wasn’t it right behind the rusting old heap with the flat tire and broken back window? Had he turned the wrong way when he exited the building? He didn’t think so, but he had to check, so he ran down the street to the same point in the opposite block. Nothing. He went another block. Still not there. So he ran back and went another block in the way he had initially gone. A hot lump grew so rapidly in the pit of his stomach that he half expected to look down to find the contents gushing out his navel and burning through his shirt. Pulling out his wallet, he counted out the money he had left. Ninety dollars. He had been in the city exactly long enough to check into a hotel and his car, along with almost $25,000, had been stolen.