At first the ugly little room was unfamiliar. Then, as his eyes slowly came into better focus, its details became almost painfully too familiar, too reminiscent of something he didn't want to remember just yet.
He lifted himself uncomfortably on one elbow and looked around. In the drab early morning light the cheap hotel room looked even more unappetizing than it had when he first entered it the night before. A brown painted metal bed, a brown wood dresser with a towel spread on its scarred top, two brown wood chairs with his coat and tie hanging over one of them, and a bed-table with a lamp whose scorched paper shade was a little askew. There was a wash basin in the corner, a frayed rug on the floor, and a lithograph of a glacier on the wall.
There was a woman on the rumpled bed. He had a vague idea who she was. She seemed to be sleeping, and he didn't want to disturb her. There were three unopened quarts of beer on the floor near the bed, and he didn't feel like disturbing them either.
He was lying in a cramped and uncomfortable position on the floor. Apparently he had been sleeping there, for some reason he couldn't remember. His arms and legs were stiff and sore, his head throbbed and his stomach was churning. He decided to stay right where he was for the present. Perhaps a cigarette would help, if he could find one. There were none in his pockets but he finally located a half-empty pack on the floor and a folder of matches near them and within his reach.
He tried to remember what had happened and found it an almost impossible task. The whole thing had started, really, in the dingy little bar on Clark Street, where someone had first called him "Turk." He closed his eyes and it felt as though the lids were scratching his eyeballs.
Something was very wrong, somewhere. His name was Charles Bekker, and he was from Hastings, Nebraska. But his new friends called him Turk Greene. Chicago was a strange city to him, strange and gloomy; he got lost every time he ventured from his little orbit of rooming house, restaurant and job. But the guys in the bar--and the girls--talked and acted as though he had been here all his life. "Hi, Turk, where you been the last few months?"
He knew where he'd been, but he hadn't been Turk Greene nor Charles Bekker either. He knew, but he wasn't going to tell anyone, ever. Maybe he would forget about it in time, but he wasn't sure. Even here in this strange hotel room he could feel the fear again. Sweat broke out cold on his body, the cigarette shook in his hands, and the room spun around him for a moment in which the churning in his stomach became a dull pain.
"Hi, Turk, where you been?" "Oh, just places." And there were never any questions, which was good. There was nothing he was going to tell them. Still, they seemed like nice guys. He didn't want to argue with them, so he just let them call him Turk. The girls too.
That reminded him. He opened his eyes, blinked once or twice, looked toward the dirt streaked window and tried to guess at the time. Probably very early, and already beginning to turn hot. He sat up, faint and dizzy. Must have passed out on the floor. First time he'd ever done that. He wondered if--he glanced toward the woman on the bed.
She was lying in what, from his angle of vision, looked to be a curious position, one arm and one leg hanging limply over the side. He caught hold of a chair and pulled himself to his feet, swaying a little, and looked. The woman on the bed was dead.
He remembered that she had been a pretty woman. Girl, really. Her hair was a bright glossy blonde, he remembered admiring its sleekness. Now it was mussed and matted on the greyish pillow. Her dead face was blank, her reddened mouth was hanging loosely open. There was a bullet wound in her chest; her black rayon dress was smeared and streaked with blood.
The gun was on the floor. He wondered if he should pick it up. He kicked at it idly and then left it alone. He had never seen it before.
After he had stood looking at her for a long time, he realized that he had to do something. He had to get away. The police would come, and the police would know that he was not Turk Greene, nor Bob Smith, but that he was Charlie Bekker.
He gave a last look at the woman on the bed, picked up his coat and tie and threw them over his arm, and went slowly to the door, moving in a kind of half-consciousness. The door was locked.
The fear came back in a blinding, deafening, paralyzing rush. The door was locked. In a minute someone would come and look at him through a little window in it, someone with a horrible, mad, frightening face, would look for a long moment and then go away again. He tugged desperately at the knob.
Be calm, that was what he had to do. Somehow push away the fear long enough to act. He felt frantically through his pockets, his hands numb and trembling. He found the key at last in the side pocket of his coat. The worst of the fear left him then, he got the door open and ran down the shadowy hall, the door left half open, the key dangling from the lock.
There was no one in the tiny lobby except the dozing night clerk. He hurried out to the street and paused for a moment, trembling. His flight, he knew, had been not so much from the dead woman nor the police who would come sooner or later, but from the door.
An El train roared past overhead, and an instant later another roared in the opposite direction, momentarily deafening him. That explained something that had been bewildering him even in his half daze. There must have been the sound of a shot sometime during the night. But people had not come running. A passing El train would have hidden the sound.
He knew he hadn't killed her.
He started walking. Around the corner and half-way down the block was the Friendly Tavern. Closed, at this hour. He kept on walking in the general direction of his rooming house.
Several blocks later he paused in front of the smoke-stained brownstone and stared at its door. He was tired beyond feeling tired, his headache had become a sick pounding, he needed a drink and a bath, but he didn't want to go in. This was his home, his only home, it was the address he gave. No, the address Will Jones gave. But it was strange to him. Charlie Bekker wasn't Turk Greene or Bob Smith or Will Jones right now, and everything was strange to him, and he didn't want to go into the dismal rooming house on Dearborn Street. He lit another cigarette and kept on walking.
He'd seen the girl once or twice in the Friendly Tavern. Her name was Susy. She called him Turk, and he'd bought drinks for her. He wasn't sure who had suggested buying three quarts of beer and taking them to the cheap hotel around the corner, but they'd gone. He remembered paying for the room, going into it and taking the beer bottles out of their brown paper sack, and that was everything.