That old building on the corner had seen a lot. It served for over 50 years as a beacon of hope and refuge to some of Azuretown’s most hopeless residents. Sure, it was run down, and more than a little dilapidated, but, when someone was down on their luck for some reason or another, The Azzuro hotel always found a place for them.
Toya Spelmon was in a bad spot now. For years, she was the queen of Azuretown. She was widely known as a woman who could get things. Need to renew a license to sell alcohol, but not everything is up to standard? Call Toya. Need a false address so your kid could go to a better school? Call Toya. All you needed to do was promise her a favor down the line and you were in the clear.
Toya’s favors, however, had finally run out, and she found herself inside the Azzuro, hoping for a miracle. As she had helped the residents of Azuretown get what they need, they stopped needing her services and she had to use more and more of her favors, until last month, she used the last one to make sure her rent got paid. Luckily, the mysterious owner of the Azzuro agreed to let her stay there for free.
She’d never met the man who called himself Dale. No one had. Stories floated around about him for decades. Some said he was some tech billionaire who had started his own company years ago after being fired from his job decades ago. Others just said he was a kind man with a kind heart whose rich parents had died, and he felt like giving back. Perhaps none of it was true. Perhaps all of it was. Toya didn’t care that much, but she was grateful that the man had stepped in to help her.
Toya sat in the lightly decorated and uncomfortable room. The bed was too firm, and the stale air around her stank of age. The room contained none of the comforts she grew used to in her own home. There was no internet, there was no place for her to really relax, and stepping out onto the main grounds of the hotel for a smoke made her uneasy. The Azzuro, for all the help it has offered Azuretown’s residents over the years, did not seem the safest of places. It didn’t take long to find the gang members roaming around the place looking for an easy mark. Toya found it astonishing how just five miles down the road, a wealthy suburb popped housed some of Azuretown’s most influential and wealthy residents…not to say that they weren’t guilty of their own crimes. Toya had been there often enough to tell plenty of stories of how the rich and influential live.
As she lamented her lot in life, her phone vibrated in her purse. Her cell had been like a desert in the past month… that is to say, the jobs had dried up. So it was a welcome surprise for her to hear something from it. She reached into her black leather purse with gold trimmings and read the message on the screen.
Need Help. Meet outside Azzuro?
The number was blocked and gave no further details about when. She responded asking the question of when this person wanted to meet. She was met with a quick reply stating that the text could not be sent. Toya mulled it over and it didn’t seem like the best idea, but what could she possibly have to lose, after all, her life was pretty much over. She placed her phone back inside her purse and gathered up her locs into a loose bun. She exited the door and made her way back towards the front door of the Azzuro where the tired-looking front desk attendant sat quietly reading a large book, barely acknowledging her as she left the building.
Through the glass sliding doors, she saw a tall man, dressed in clothing that he seemed to drown in. A long white t-shirt and jeans that swallowed his skinny frame. He looked around nervously and Toya guessed that this was the guy that sent the cryptic message. Instinctively, she grabbed her mace, cleverly designed to look like lipstick and gripped it tightly in her hands as she strolled over to him.
“You looking for Toya?” She asked him loudly from several feet away.
He quietly shushed her and pointed to an alley not far from the front door of the hotel.
“No, tell me what you want first, then we can take this thing to a more private area.”
The man rolled his eyes and sauntered over to her with the grace of a dancer, despite his body being drowned in the clothing that she was quickly becoming to suspect was not his.
He leaned in close to her. “look, I’m looking for something. It’s an object. This is going to sound crazy, but the things I’ve heard about it are amazing. I even met someone who said they used it,” the man said in a
“Well, what exactly is it?” Toya replied, sure that this was a joke.
“I can tell you, but not here. I’m not sure who has been following me.”
Toya nodded her head. She was intrigued. “Follow me.” She led the man back into the hotel. As they began to pass the attendant, he lifted his head from his book and began to speak.
“Hold up, Hold up. All guests, have to be registered to enter into the hotel,” he said.
“He’s with me,” Toya replied firmly.
“I can see that. Doesn’t change the fact that I need to know who he is.”
The man looked around nervously and eventually began to talk to the attendant. “My name is Oscar Acevedo. I’m visiting my friend here to discuss some family business…now is it okay if I go in with her?”
The attendant looked skeptical, but grabbed a clipboard with several lines dedicated to listing some of the personal information of the guests in the Azzuro. ‘Oscar’ grabbed the clipboard, scribbled in his information, and handed it back to the attendant.
“There you go, now we’ll be on our way,” Oscar said.
“Enjoy your time at the Azzuro!” the attendant said gleefully with a wink. Toya rolled her eyes in disgust and began to walk back to the room. Toya took her seat on the bed and Oscar sat on the crumbling chair in the corner of the room.
“Alright, spill it, Oscar.”
“Okay. Well, about 15 years ago I heard a rumor about a pair of brass knuckles that let you ‘skip on life’ for a bit. It’s said that they’ll give you a double who’ll make your life better.”
“And you actually believe it?”
Oscar shook his head, affirming Toya’s accusation.
“Look, I’ve done most of the legwork myself, but I’ve been feeling a little shifty since I got here. Someone gave me your name, and I decided it might be best if I let a professional handle it from here on out. I’ve been able to trace the knuckles last known location to here.”
“And who was this person who you met that has used them?” Toya said, still skeptical that any of this was real.
“My cousin, who lives in Guadalajara, told me he left them here about fifteen years ago, after he bought them from some guy named Dale. I believe him. Before he said he had those things, he was in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, and well on his way to losing custody of his children to his abusive ex-wife. He said he put them on, woke up and it was three years later, and everything had been resolved.”
The rest of the story, Toya wasn’t sure she believed, but the name dale sparked her interest. The same name of the man who owns Azzuro.
“Alright, say I believe you. What are you going to do for me?”
“I’ve heard how you like to be paid. When I come back, I’ll owe you two favors of your own choosing. Just please find these for me.”
Toya extended her hand towards Oscar. “How about we shake on it? I’m one of the best at what I do, so, just know that I will find these for you, and you will owe me TWO favors,” Toya emphasized.
Oscar extended his hands and firmly shook hers.
“Any more detail on where they might be in here?” Toya asked.
“No. I just know he said he left them here.”
Toya shook her head and dismissed Oscar from the room. She set off on looking for the knuckles. She entered the red-carpeted hallway and looked down each side. She noticed that there were several unmarked rooms and decided that that should be her first stop. She walked through the hallway and stopped at the first. She twisted the handle and was surprised to find that it was unlocked. She entered the room and the smell of bleach burned her nose. She had walked right into the cleaning closet.
Toya quickly exited the room and made her way to the next door and found the linen closet. That is when she noticed the stairs. They headed down and Toya was all too eager to get down there and see what secrets the Azzuro held. As she descended the stairs she began to notice how different the building had become. The red carpet had faded into a strange shade of maroon and the wooden walls became a brick façade. It reminded her of a gothic castle. Her nerves began to weaken. She questioned whether she needed this job that badly. Nevertheless, she persisted.
At the foot of the stairs, she found herself staring at a darkly lit room with more unmarked rooms on either side. At the end of the hall, there was an ornately decorated door with a lion’s head atop it. It seemed too obvious to her that the knuckles would be there, and so she headed to the first unmarked door on her left. When she entered it, it seemed as if she had entered an entirely new hotel. Everything seemed new, from the carpet to the walls to the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling and few feet. Toya admired the view down here and wondered why this same care wasn’t given to the living spaces above. She felt a push at the small of her back and tumbled into the hallway as the door slammed behind her. She turned and attempted to open the door only to find that it was locked.
“Hello!” she yelled. “Let me out!” she continued. She was met with silence and resigned herself to making her way out of this place as soon as she could. Something about this felt off, and she planned on cancelling the job with Oscar. It wasn’t worth being this afraid.
Toya stepped silently across the carpet towards the end of the hall. The sound of footsteps filled the hall, and yet, she could see no one that could have been making them. The air around her was cold, and an unfeasible wind seemed to blow her loose top and pants around her. As she walked, the hallway itself seemed to twist and turn, causing her to forget the way back to the door, not that she would be able to make it through it anyway.
As she continued to walk, she began to see a ghostly form take shape. It looked just like her. It had the same chestnut skin, the same hazel eyes and the same jet-black locs hanging from its head. Toya’s eyes widened as two other figures appeared. A small child and her mother. Her doppelganger was speaking to them. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she knew this moment from her own life.
It was the time she desperately needed a favor taken care of. The child was crying. The mother had tears welling up in her eyes. Toya’s ghostly self was speaking sternly with them. Soon, she could see the mother handing over a wad of cash.
The figures disappeared and two others took their place as the hallway seemed to flip and tumble. The ghost of Toya was handing a stack of falsified adoption papers to a couple who desperately wanted to adopt the child they had been caring for and soon the image shifted to that very same child, all grown up being beaten and yelled, it shifted once more to that child, all grown up and taking his own life.
Dozens of moments from Toya’s life flashed before her eyes, shown with ghostly figures of her and people she had interacted with throughout her life. They showed the consequences of her actions and after what seemed like days, the playthrough of Toya’s life stopped and a solid black door appeared in front of her, with a pair of brass knuckles at its base. Toya ran at them, grabbed them from the floor and ran through the door. She was back in the darkly lit room with three doors.
She thought she understood. These knuckles weren’t for her. They weren’t for Oscar. They belonged to someone who needed them, and she guessed that they lived behind that door with the lion’s head. She opened the metal door and tossed the knuckles inside. Toya made her way back up the stairs and to her room. She resigned herself to leaving Azuretown. She silently thanked Dale for his kindness to help, and cursed herself for her actions over the years. She stepped past the threshold of the hotel and set off towards new dreams, hoping she would never run into Oscar again.