watching the three shapes in room 107 on the ground floor. When I was younger I might have thought that being a man loitering in a parking lot with a gun in his jacket would be cool in some way. In fact it just makes you wonder if you'll ever be let back inside.
After forty minutes the second man came back out of the hotel and drove away. Eventually it seemed like there was only one shape in Nina's room. It stood motionless behind the curtain for a while.
I went into the hotel, swung around the far side of reception and walked along the corridor. I knocked on her door and it was a full minute before it was opened.
Nina had taken her shoes off, and thus looked about two feet shorter than usual while being about the same size. She looked tired, and wary.
'How did you know what hotel I was in?'
'Called the cops, said I was a Fed underling and had an important package for you.'
'Christ. And the room?'
'I asked at reception,' I said. 'Security in this town is not iron-clad. I should warn you that if al-Qaeda decide to take out the Thornton Savings and Loan, they may well pull it off.'
She didn't smile. 'Did I make a mistake coming here?' I asked. 'It's just, I thought someone left me a note.'
'Sorry,' she said, and stood aside.
I walked past her into the room. Other people's hotel rooms are strange. Unless you've entered it with them, been present at the initial dispersal of case, jacket and small change, peered hopefully in the bathroom together and pulled the curtain aside to establish the view isn't all that great, they always feel like someone else's nest. The dampness of another person's towel is private. Maybe that's all I was feeling.
'Nina, are you okay?'
'I'm fine,' she said, in an un-fine way. 'This is the first day I've been out in the world for a long time. I hadn't realized how used I'd got to being the way we were.'
There was a pot of coffee sitting on the desk. I helped myself to a cup and sat in an object which some designer, somewhere, had evidently believed would function as a chair.
'Is that all it is?'
She sat cross-legged on the end of the bed. 'Maybe.'
The coffee wasn't great, but I soldiered on with it. Nina stared at the mirror above the desk.
'Tell me,' I said. 'Tell me why you're here.'
'It's my job.'
'No,' I said. 'It is, but that's not why. Monroe knew you'd come out for this one. Why?'
She smiled at her hands. 'I keep forgetting you're not stupid.'
'Me too. It's an easy mistake to make.'
She looked at me, rolled her eyes, and seemed okay for a moment. Then her face clouded again. She slowly let herself fall back until she was lying rigidly on the bed, eyes on the ceiling.
I sipped quietly for a few minutes longer, until she finally started talking.
'When I was young,' she said, 'there was this woman.'
Nina grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin. She was an only child. Her parents got on well with each other, and with her. She was smart and good at sport. For some reason this had not translated into having large numbers of friends. She did not take the bus home from school with the other kids, but walked to where her father worked and waited on a bench outside. He drove them home, talking about his day, or, on infrequent but memorable occasions, sitting in churning silence. When she turned thirteen she got with a crowd at last, and became a little more sociable, but for a number of years that was how each afternoon ended. The walk from school, and then a sit, getting an early start on her homework or just watching the world go by. She liked to do that, and only accepted the offer of a seat in reception when the weather really was too cold or wet (and Janesville got plenty wet, and plenty cold). It was not a great part of town but her father could see the bench from his office window, and the security guy on the door kept an eye out for her too. Perhaps things would be different now, but back then, the arrangement was fine.
Opposite the office was a bar, on the ground