It wasn’t the first time Romeo shared a room with a body-bag that wasn’t empty. It was usually in cheap motel rooms like that one, with rooms that you could get to without having to go through a lobby. The procedure was always the same; pay for two nights, sleep there the first night, clear out in the morning, and then cleaner would stay there the second night and leave with the body-bag on the third morning. Usually, after everything had been taken care of, Romeo would lie in bed and stare at the ceiling until his adrenaline would fade away and he was able to sleep.
On that night though, Romeo sat at the rooms desk browsing websites that the man in the body-bag was on before Romeo walked into the room and did what he was there to do. The thing that would lead to a man sharing a room with a body in a bag. Romeo sat down and at first didn’t know what to do or think about the naked women on the computer, but it wasn’t long before his curiosity got the best of him and he started to move the clicker around the screen and following website links. It was click after click that brought him to a webcam site where cam models would live stream themselves for whoever was willing to watch and pay for some fun.
It wasn’t surprising this is what the man had been doing when Romeo entered the room to end his life. Being in debt to loan sharks that helped him fund an unsuccessful strip club should’ve been enough to get a hit put out on him, but it was actually his attempt at fleeing that led him and Romeo to that motel room in El Paso. Romeo, having been a hitman for so long, made quick work of finding the man through paper trails and online fingerprints that are easy to pick up when you know what you’re looking for.
And for Romeo, someone like this man was the perfect contract to accept. Romeo was never much of a people person but that never made him someone evil per se. He took on contract killing because he was no good at interacting with people he wasn’t killing. It was this discovery and an agreement he made with himself to only take contracts for people he felt the world would be better without that led him to that room and then to that computer.
Romeo clicked on one of the thumbnails and entered a cam room that belonged to a model named Valarie. The way the website worked, Romeo could see Valarie but she couldn’t see him and could only communicate with him via a chat box on the side of the screen. When Romeo entered the stream, there were no other people watching which meant that it was just him and her. Valarie noticed there was a viewer right away and perked up on her chair.
“Hello there stud. I’m Valarie.”
To this, Romeo responded in the chat box,
“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Romeo.”
“I was starting to think I was going to have to spend the night all by myself. Now that you’re here, maybe we can have some fun?”
Just seeing the word fun brought a smile to Romeo’s face. In his line of work, it was a word that was rarely said because it was an emotion that was rarely ever felt, especially for Romeo.
“I’d like that.” Romeo responded.
There was some small talk that included Romeo telling Valarie he had never been on a website like this before. Valarie assured him it was okay and told him she’d walk him through the entire process. After talking for a little while Romeo typed into the chat box,
“You’re beautiful Valarie.”
This made her smile. To Romeo, it seemed to be a sincere smile that even had traces of blushing on it. Valarie leaned a little closer to her camera and said in a soft voice,
“Thank you, Romeo-” Hearing Valarie say his name, made Romeo perk up in his chair. He didn’t know what to say and it was quiet for a second before she asked,
“Do you have any money?”
Romeo did have money, a lot of it too. At exactly midnight he had received a deposit as compensation for the work he’d done to put body-bag man in his bag. It was all in his account along with compensation for other dead men that weren’t dead when he met them. For the most part, all the money ever did was sit there because all Romeo ever spent money on was gas and food. He had one suitcase with the same 3 outfits he always wore. Brown pants, black button-up shirt. black pants, same black button-up shirt. Black pants, blue button up shirt. Before he could answer the question, Valarie began to explain how he could put money into the website and then be able to tip her.
“Then, we can really start having fun Romeo.”
And so he tipped. The thing about tipping though was that Romeo wasn’t doing for the same reason anyone else on the website would. After tipping, Valarie would go to take off a piece of her clothying and every time Romeo would stop her. She’d ask him if he was sure and he’d say,
“Yeah, I’m sure. I just want to talk.”
This confused Valarie. At one point she even asked him if he was sure he was on the right site. When she asked him this he typed,
“Of everything that could have happened tonight and of all the things I could’ve stumbled into I stumbled onto you. If I wanted to see someone without any clothes on there’s other places I could’ve looked for that. This, this feels meant to be.”
To this, Valarie didn’t know how to respond. She bit her nail and smiled politely before saying
“Yeah, I guess that’s one way you can put it. Why don’t you tell me about yourself Romeo?”
Romeo didn’t give anything away. Instead he turned Valaries questions over to her and began to gather more and more information about her. She told him she lived somewhere in Southern California, but told him politely that she didn’t feel comfortable sharing which city in Southern California that was. She did however go on to tell him that she lived near some windmills in a small desert city.
All that information would have meant nothing, would have triggered nothing if not for the fact that after Romeo said it sounded like a lovely little town, Valarie responded by telling him,
“Yeah, maybe one day you can see it.”
Maybe, he thought to himself. Then, he tipped her even more money and they kept talking into the early morning. With every tip she’d light up and tell him that he was the best or he was making her night the best night she’d had in a long time. Romeo was enamored and felt like they were forming a bond the likes of which he had never experienced before in his life.
At exactly six a.m, Valarie’s microphone picked up the sound of a bell chime.
“Holy shit, I didn’t realize it was so late; or early I guess.”
“Where is that coming from?” Romeo asked.
“There’s this huge Apostolic church near my apartment and that fucking bell rings every morning. I hate it. I have this theory that it’s louder in my apartment because I’m on the second floor. I swear, it’s bad enough the sun is always poking through my window in the morning, but I also have to deal with that. I’m sorry, I’m rambling. I really should get to bed though.”
Romeo didn’t want to end. The joy of the night was one he was unfamiliar with, one that felt like it was filling something in him that he hadn’t previously known was even empty. Overwhelmed by what he was feeling, he could only come to one conclusion as to what it was. He tipped Valarie one last time, more than he had tipped the entire night. When she saw the tip she was shocked. She put her hands up to her mouth and screeched,
“Romeo! Oh, Romeo! What is this for?”
There was a moment of silence before Romeo’s message appeared in the chat box.
“Valarie, tell me you love me.”
Valarie looked at the message. Then, she looked at the camera, took a deep breath and said in a very sincere voice,
“Romeo, I love you.”
The words were sweeter than anything else Romeo had ever heard, seen, tasted or touched in his entire life. The fact that Romeo had asked and paid for Valarie to say the words was lost the moment she said them because for Romeo, everything had just changed. Romeo, as socially stunted as he was, to hear the words was like living through a drought his entire life only to suddenly feel, taste, touch and smell rainfall.
The moment Valarie said I love you Romeo’s mind was made up; he was going to Southern California. Valarie was, after all, just a few landmarks and digital fingerprints away from being found.