A DESPERATE TEMPTATION

by Joelle Steele

Guests were always being warned to secure their valuables in the hotel safe. But it was no surprise to Lindy Jackson when they ignored that advice and left their gold chains and cash on the night table or next to the bathroom sink. She had heard plenty of stories about stolen Rolexes, emptied wallets, missing designer clothing, and a host of similar thefts. But when she entered room 583 to change the towels and make up the bed, it was the first time in about two years that she had personally come across any valuables laying around unattended.

At first she thought it was just a piece of paper that missed the trash can. She could only see the sharp white corner sticking out from under the edge of the plum-colored floral spread, which was crumpled in a heap at the foot of the bed. She lifted the spread and draped it over the armchair and out of the way, revealing not a piece of paper per se, but an envelope. Guests were always throwing garbage on the floor.

You would think that a classy place would attract classy guests, but ... As Lindy picked up the envelope, crisp currency peaked out from inside. She poked the money back inside without counting it and laid the envelope on the table next to the chair. Crazy people. More money than good sense.

"I wish I had so much money I could afford to jes' leave it sitting on some floor collectin' dust instead o' interest," she grumbled in a murmur only she could hear.

Money was the root of all Lindy's problems. Too many bills and not enough income to pay them. A dead-end job and no future. Of course, she would have plenty of money if she did not have to spend so much of it on Dwight, that no account husband of hers. When was the last time he ever contributed anything to their marriage other than his opinions?

"Well, I think we should be thinkin' about gettin' away from here, You know, takin' us a vacation," Dwight offered from the dusty brown tweed recliner chair that doubled as his podium and his daybed. He was, as usual, unshaved and unshowered. Lindy could smell him when she passed by his chair on the way from the bedroom to the kitchen, where her morning coffee was brewing.

"Jes' what is it you're fixin' to get away from? You sit in front o' that TV all day long. The way I see it, you already on one big, long vacation."

The television symbolized their problems. The wide screen, in front of which Dwight spent almost all of his waking hours, took up most of their already cramped living room. He had bought it without discussing it with her, spending all of their joint savings and all of his Christmas bonus on it. There were so many things they needed more, like dental work to fix the broken crown that had been causing her to rely on Tylenol and Anbesol for pain relief.

"I got no job, woman. What do you expect me to be doin'?" He wriggled deeper into the chair and reached for the remote. Sitting in front of the television also gave him an excuse to refuse communication with her. He cranked up the volume.

"Lookin' for a job, that's what," she said, raising her voice to new limits. "An' now I'm goin' to my job. Don't forget to take the garbage downstairs today. An' for God's sake, take a shower before I get home. Between you and the garbage, I don't know what stinks worse." She almost spit out the last words, as she picked up her backpack and left. If she didn't know better, she would swear that man was on drugs. Here he was wanting to go on a vacation with money they didn't have, while she was working extra shifts to make what little money they did have.

That was two days ago. As of last night, Dwight hadn't bothered to come home from wherever he was. She secretly hoped he would not come home at all, ever. But he always did. Lindy knew the drill and just tried to maintain her usual routine. Two buses and almost an hour later, she was stuffing her backpack and her jacket into her locker at the hotel.

The head housekeeper, Eileen Cooper, was adamant about all her staff being clean and well-groomed. Lindy stood in front of the long row of mirrors and checked her appearance. Her soft blue, mini-checked pants suit uniform was clean and newly pressed. It was hotel policy that long hair be secured in some way, so her tiny black cornrows were neatly pinned up in a small bun on top of her head and held together with a tortoise shell clip. She wore only minimal makeup, and her only jewelry was her wedding band and a pair of gold cross earrings, a gift from her mother on her twenty-first birthday. Her shoes were white athletic models from K-Mart.

It was just past noon when Lindy met up at the midway point of 5th West with her co-worker, Juanita Torres. The two women had been working together on the same floor for the past six years, and both had been named Housekeeper Of The Month on several occasions. They rolled their carts into the supply closet and took the rear elevator down to the basement where they rummaged through their lockers for their lunch bags. Juanita's home-made burritos spun around in the microwave next to Lindy's Top Ramen.

"How come you so quiet today?" asked Juanita, as she cracked open a warm Diet Coke and poured it into a cup filled with ice.

"Dwight didn't come home last night."

"He's done that before."

"I know. I jes' wish he wouldn't come back."

"Why don't you get a divorce?"

"Believe me, that has crossed my mind so many times ..."

Juanita cut one of her burritos in half and handed it to Lindy, who emptied a third of her Top Ramen into an empty cup and handed it to her friend.

They were the same age, but Juanita looked older, and Lindy felt ancient. Juanita was happily married with three teenage children, and her husband worked as a groundskeeper at a hotel in Santa Monica. But her health had not always been good, and she was overly thin, her face drawn and ashy, her hair dry and brittle. Lindy looked much younger than her thirty-four years. Thanks in part to having a job that required her to be constantly moving for forty hours a week, she weighed less than she did in high school. Her milk chocolate skin was smooth and clear, free of any blemishes, except for a small scar beneath her right eyebrow, a souvenir from her late stepfather, whose idea of discipline for any infraction had always included a slap with the belt. Had Lindy not turned her head slightly as the blow was struck, she reckoned she would have been blinded.

Lunch ended, and Lindy and Juanita headed back upstairs to 5th West to finish the rest of the rooms that had not been available to them earlier. Lindy went to room 595. The guests had checked out and she stripped the bed of sheets and removed all the towels from the bath, piling them on the floor near the door. Her cart was in the hallway in front of the door. Across the way was room 583, and a young man of about twenty-four was fumbling with his card key. He had short blonde hair and blue eyes rimmed with dark lashes. His dark maroon tie was loose against a pale pink shirt, and he held a briefcase in his hand, with his charcoal gray jacket resting over his arm.

"Need help there?" she asked, as she reached for the Lysol on her cart.

"No, but thanks for asking," he replied, as his door suddenly opened and he disappeared inside.

"So that's what a man with money-to-burn looks like," she murmurred. She wished she'd had the guts to just take that envelope and high-tail it out of Los Angeles and back up to Tacoma. Her mother had always told her that if things did not work out she should come home and start over. Well, things were not working out, and she wanted to start over, but it would take some cash to get out of L.A. and all the way to Washington.

The following morning, Dwight had yet to put in an appearance. He had not called either. Lindy did a quick check of the closets and drawers to see if he might possibly have packed his things and left.

"Oh Lord, please let him be gone," she prayed softly and earnestly, as she tried to determine whether his favorite orange sweatshirt was in a drawer or in the hamper.

The front door slammed. She knew it was too good to be true. He always came back. What would be his excuse this time?

"And where have you been, Mr. Jackson?" she demanded.

"I was with Lawrence. His ol' lady's visiting her sister who's havin' a baby."

It was probably true. He was lazy, and he was inconsiderate, but he was not violent, and he was not a liar. He just did not seem to care about anyone but himself. Lindy could not count the number of times that he was late coming home or stayed out all night, and never even bothered to call her. She had eventually stopped calling the hospitals to see if he had been in an accident. And it was no use to ask him to call. She had tried that.

"So you're sayin' you don't trust me. I gotta call you when you know I ain't cheatin' on you. You wanna tell me how to do my business. Well, that ain't gonna happen. If I'm not here, I'm not here. That's it."

It was something like kindergarten logic, and she didn't understand it. He was not always that way. When they had first married ten years ago, he was working as a driver and deliveryman for Avery Appliance in Culver City. He was home every night, and more specifically was home and in her bed. Less than two years ago, he broke his foot while playing basketball with some friends on a Saturday afternoon. He could not work, but only for about eight weeks, and then his foot was fully healed. Even though Avery offered him his job back, he never returned to work, and he had made negligible efforts to find another job.

Unemployment was not enough to adequately pay the bills, and Lindy often took extra work on the weekends to keep the phone connected and the utilities on. Dwight's attitude and his behavior had degraded into what she guessed was just a reflection of being depressed. When he first started acting out, she begged him to go back to the doctor and find out what was wrong.

"Ain't nothin' wrong with me!" he shouted. "I don't need no doctor."

"Dwight, baby, you got somethin' wrong wit' you. You been actin' like somebody I don't know."

"I'm the same man you married," he insisted. "You're the one who's acting like you're somethin' special. You making the money an' all, you think you the boss now, like you can tell me what to do."

It was pointless to argue. He wouldn't get help, he wouldn't change, and damn it all, he would not move out! She would have to be the one to leave. After all the effort she had put into trying to make things work, she was forced to admit that it was over, that she could not fix the marriage all by herself. Lindy stifled her tears as she quietly left the apartment and headed for the bus stop, leaving Dwight fixed in his usual spot, eyes glued to the tube, remote at the ready.

At the hotel, Eileen Cooper was buried in a mountain of paperwork. There were piles of supply catalogs, file folders, and forms lining the edges of her desk in the ten-square-foot room next to the laundry. Eileen was studying a file and making notations in it. How she was able to work amid the chaos that was her desktop and the noise from the washers and dryers, was anybody's guess.

"Eileen, may I have a word with you?" Lindy peaked into her supervisor's office shortly after arriving at the hotel.

"Sure Lindy, what can I do for you?" Eileen put her pencil down and motioned for Lindy to take a seat.

"I would like to know if there is any chance at all for me to get a raise or a promotion to a higher paying job."

"I don't know about the raise, since personnel usually makes the final decisions on that, but your performance has been excellent, so when I send in my recommendations to Mary Sujon for your next review, they will probably support a raise. As for a promotion, all we have are a few openings for maids right now. I have been asking for an assistant, and you might well qualify for that, but so far my requests for help have not been answered by Mary or anyone else in personnel."

"Thanks, Eileen. Please keep me in mind if anything comes up." Lindy rose and left, and the two women smiled at each other in parting.

Room 583 was not yet vacant, and the guest was not yet scheduled to check out according to Lindy's schedule. She surveyed the place and started cleaning up. She had finished in the bathroom and sleeping area, when she moved on to the living space. There, on top of the television in full view, was the envelope. She picked it up, and flipped it open, looking at the bills inside. There was well over $2,000 in the envelope.

"Why? Why does he leave this much money just sittin' out in the open for all the world to see?" Lindy spoke aloud, force in her voice. Desperate people could really use that money. She wanted to get out of her life with Dwight and back to the normalcy of her old life in Tacoma. But some women were even more desperate because they had to feed a houseful of fatherless children. She thought of Juanita and her brood. A large sum of money like that could make all the difference in the world to that family.

She slapped the bulging envelope against the palm of her hand. It was enough to take her to Tacoma and maybe even rent a studio apartment in the nice old-fashioned complex down the street from where her mother lived.

"No, Lindy. This is a bad idea. What you're thinkin' about doin' is just plain wrong, no matter what you think you need right now." She lectured herself in a quiet voice as she wiped her dust cloth over the top of the television and put the envelope back where it was. Even if it was not wrong to steal, she knew as sure as she was breathing that she would probably not get away with it anyway. Worse case scenario, she would get caught in the act. The guest would walk in before she had a chance to leave the room with it neatly tucked away in her pocket. Or, the money would be reported missing before she had a chance to hurry home, pack a bag, and leave town.

"Oh, Lindy," she said to herself. "Now there's a fine idea. You skip town with the money. I'm sure nobody's gonna suspect anything at all. They won't have police lookin' for you in Tacoma now, will they?" She shook her head at the level of stupidity to which she had sunk. To have thought for even one second that she could get away with stealing. She hurried, empty-handed, to her next stop, room 586. Her feet were aching when she walked in the front door that Friday evening.

"And you complain about me not comin' home! Where you been?" He was parked in his usual spot, but he had taken a shower. She could still smell the soap in the air, and he had changed into clean clothes.

"The #4 bus was late," she replied, offhandedly.

Lindy went into the bedroom to take off her jacket and shoes. As was her usual custom after a hard day at work, she laid on the bed for a few minutes, closed her eyes, and relaxed her back. She heard the television go off and the front door close. It was a Friday night, and he was gone again, but probably not for long.

At one time, Lindy believed that you married for better or for worse. To her, that meant that there would be good times and there would be bad times. It did not mean that you stayed for no good reason when your husband didn't love you and you no longer loved him. She had loved Dwight once. She wished it was the way it had been between them as recently as three years ago, before Dwight broke his foot and became a complete couch potato and often absent spouse. But in the last few days, she had come to the realization that Dwight was not going to change, and the only way she could have her life back was if she made the change. She fell asleep and did not wake up until almost noon, when she heard a knock at the door.

"Hey, girlfriend. Did we have plans or somethin'?" she asked, as she opened the front door to her neighbor and best friend, Viola Phillips.

"Don't think so," replied the tall woman in a gold and ivory print pantsuit. "I just thought I'd come say hi."

Lindy thought of Viola as somewhat exotic. Her skin was dark, like bittersweet chocolate, her hair cropped short to her skull. From her ears dropped long, hand-made African carvings. Vi knew what the symbols meant that were carved on them, but Lindy just thought they were attractive. Vi made herself comfortable by starting a pot of coffee while Lindy showered and dressed.

"So where is he?" she asked when Lindy appeared in the kitchen in her white terrycloth robe.

"Gone."

"You mean he tore himself away from that big ol' TV?"

"Yeah, Vi, he did," she sighed.

Vi made a low grunt of disgust. "Why don't you leave that man? He ain't worth it, Lindy. He just ain't."

Lindy closed her eyes and tried to compose herself. "I know, Vi. If I could find a way out of here, believe me, I would take it."

"You could always sell that TV. Should be able to get at least a thousand for it, don't ya think?"

"Vi, I can't even afford to take out an ad to sell it. And if Dwight found out, like if someone called about it, he would stop me cold."

"I know someone who would buy it, pay cash and all. Just say the word."

Lindy's eyes opened wide. "How sure are you about this, Vi?"

"Real sure. The buyer is Art. He's looking for a good used one right now, and your set is right in his budget."

Art was Vi's older brother. He had a reputation for being a smart shopper when it came to anything that was used. Not only did he buy things that were in perfectly good condition for a fraction of the original cost, he also bought stuff that was nothing more than broken down junk to most people. He repaired and restored those items and then sold them for a sometimes significant profit.

"Okay, Vi. Tell Art it's his, but he's gotta wait until the time is right. I'll let you know when that is on Monday."

The weekend was long and quiet. Dwight came home late Sunday night, drunk. He fell into bed with Lindy and fell immediately to sleep, snoring loudly for most of the night. The following morning, he was still asleep when Lindy left for work.

She had made her decision to leave Dwight and go back to Tacoma. She needed money, and working extra hours was not the best option. She had certainly done it on more occasions than she cared to recall. But selling the television was the best idea. Instant money meant instant relocation. That would be $1,000, plus the $770 in rent money that was due in just four days. It would never find its way to the landlord.

"Vi, can Art pick up the TV on short notice? I need to wait until Dwight is out of the house." It was her morning break, and she called her friend from the employee pay phone in the locker room.

"I think so. I'll find out for sure. What's gonna happen when he finds out it's gone?"

"I will be long gone."

Lindy headed back to 5th West and room 583. The money envelope still sat on top of the television where it was on Friday when she last worked in the room. The weekend housekeeper apparently paid it no mind. Unless you knew what was in it, you would just think it was a letter. She looked at the envelope. Never before in her life had she felt so tempted to do the wrong thing. Damn, how she wanted that money!

The room was not overly messy, and it took her only a short while to replace towels and make up the bed. She took one last long lingering look at the envelope and sighed.

"I am not gonna do it. I am not gonna do somethin' I'll have to carry around with me for the rest o' my life," she mumbled under her breath.

"Are you talking to me?"

Lindy spun around to see the young blond guest standing in the doorway.

"No sir, just talking to myself," she replied, regaining her composure as quickly as she could.

"I've just come from the front desk. I have to check out in just a few minutes. Thanks very much for keeping the room so clean," he said, as he reached in his wallet and pulled out a $100 bill and handed it to Lindy. "For your hard work and honesty."

"Thank you very much!" she replied, taking the cash. It was not $2,000, but it was more than she expected. She picked up the soiled towels and walked into the hallway, closing the door behind her. As tempted as she was, she had done the right thing. And she had been rewarded for it with a very generous tip.

At lunch, Lindy went to tell Eileen Cooper that she was leaving without notice. It went well, and Eileen said she would see to it that Lindy's final check was mailed to her in care of her mother in Tacoma.

Everything was so real now and happening so fast. On her way home, she visited the ATM machine and withdrew all but $68.72. That evening, while Dwight watched one sitcom after another, Lindy sat in the bedroom and called and got the times of the bus departures. She also called her mother and told her she would be there by Friday at the latest. Her mother was thrilled to have her only daughter move home. After that, Lindy went over to Vi's to spend some time with her friend, and when she came back to the apartment, Dwight was asleep, the TV still on.

She took the remote and turned it off, then went to bed. She didn't want to wake him, didn't want to have another pointless conversation with him. Once she was settled in Tacoma, she would file for divorce.

Thursday was her last day at the hotel. She had lunch with Juanita and four other maids who made a going-away cake for her. They all sat in the employee lounge chatting, and Lindy knew that as much as she would miss her co-workers, she was going to a new and better life. When she arrived home that evening, Dwight was nowhere to be found.

She went into the bedroom and pulled her suitcases out from the back of the closet and from under the bed. She hurriedly filled them with everything she intended to take with her. She looked around the apartment, trying to determine if there was anything left that she couldn't live without. She didn't have any more room in the suitcases, but she could always leave something with Vi and have her ship it to her in Tacoma after she was settled.. She called Vi and asked her to have Art come over and get the TV. She knew Dwight would not be home until at least 11:30. Art arrived within fifteen minutes with a friend.

"Here you go, Lindy," he said, as he counted out $1,000 in cash into the palm of her hand. "I hope you have a good life in Tacoma."

"Don't forget the remote," she said. The two men were carrying the TV through the door, and she stuffed the device into Art's jacket pocket as he passed her.

Vi came in as the two men were leaving. The two women took the suitcases down to the street and loaded them in the trunk of Vi's old blue Impala. A half hour later, they were at the Greyhound depot, Lindy had purchased her ticket, and the bus was scheduled to leave in less than thirty minutes. They nibbled on Cheetos and talked, and as the time of departure drew closer, they said their goodbyes.

"I will miss you so much, Lindy," said Vi, her eyes welling up.

"I'm gonna miss you too, Vi," she said, embracing someone she would probably never see again.

A voice announced that her bus was boarding, and Lindy and Vi carried the bags out to the bus. Vi waved as the bus pulled out of its space and headed for the street. Lindy waved back, and when she could no longer see her friend, she removed her jacket and covered herself with it like a blanket. In twenty-four hours she would be having dinner with her mother in the house she grew up in. She leaned her head back and immediately fell into a peaceful sleep.