This part of the city was not like the rest. It wasn't a part that the tourists ever got to see, or if they did they immediately regretted it. The main streets and famous intersections is what the tourists wanted, so they never wandered very far. This part of the city wasn't kept tidy for the sake of business. Public trashcans overflowed, overlooked sporadically by the social workers. The streets were narrow and cramped, unlike of the spacious main roads. The brick and mortar walls were filthy, alternating between layers of grime and graffiti.

Tony made his way, drunk and stumbling, through the narrow streets and narrower alleys. He'd lived his entire life in the city, but never been here before. He'd known that this area existed, of course. Everybody knew about it. But other than the knowledge that it existed, it had never actually factored into Tony's thoughts at all. It was like a spleen. He knew what a spleen was, and that he had one, but knowing how it worked didn't matter, only that it did its job. Likewise, this part of town probably served a purpose as well. It was where the addicts lived, or at least ended up. It was where the homeless made their home. It was where the flotsam and jetsam of the city gravitated to in the end, as the only place they had left to go. Tony, right now, had no place left to go, so he was stumbling around aimlessly, searching. He didn't exactly know what he was looking for, only that he'd know it if he saw it. He needed somewhere quiet and out of the way; a place where he could have a few moments of privacy.

In a single moment, like an answer to his half-muttered, whiskey soaked prayers, he found what he was looking for. A hotel, advertising its existence with only a door and a small sign on an otherwise featureless wall. Tony leaned heavily against the door, and after only two attempts, managed to open it and fall inside.

Inside the hotel, everything seemed just as cramped and small as the streets outside. Just inside the door was a hallway, with a single chair backed up against the nearby wall, and directly opposite was the check-in window. It was a framed hole in the wall which bridged the gap to the room on the other side. The top half of the window was blocked by a large sheet of glass, presumably for the clerk's protection. Tony hauled himself to his feet, and at the same time thought to himself that the d├ęcor of the hotel might have been nice about fifty years ago, but right now it just made him feel worse than he already did.

The clerk behind the window was an old man, wizened, grey-haired and wrinkled. He glared at Tony over the top of his wire-frame spectacles perched on his nose. It was the glare of a man who had seen everything, and had stopped being surprised a long time ago.

"Cash only." he said, with a voice like dusty books and dry paper. Tony dug into his pocket, and tossed some crumpled notes onto the desk. The old man sniffed in distain, but studiously unfolded the notes, neatly tucked some of them away in an ancient cash register, and started to count out Tony's change.

"Keep the change." Tony mumbled. He staggered a little, in the way of drunks everywhere. The old man was mildly surprised by this unfamiliar display of generosity, but only mildly.

"Thank you, sir." he said with a tight, mirthless smile. He looked up again at the man standing before him, and noticed the week old stubble, the stained and wrinkled suit that had probably been slept in, and the stink of booze on his breath. Under the circumstances, the clerk felt compelled to show a rare token of sympathy for this man.

"Rough night?" he asked, treating Tony to another tight-lipped smile. Tony blinked a few times and staggered some more as he considered his response.

"You could say that." he replied, then took his key and proceeded through the hall to the stairs at the back.

"If you need anything, my wife Marion can help you." the man called after him.

Tony found the room that matched the number on the key, and unlocked the door. His room was just that: A room. Four walls, a bed, and a small chair. Once again Tony considered that once upon a time this would have been a very nice place to stay, back when space was a highly prized commodity. Now, it looked more like a closet. As he stared inside, there was a loud rattling noise and something nudged him in the side, hurting his hip bone. With a giant he turned to see what it was, and saw a frail old lady behind a rickety trolley piled with various cleaning supplies.

"Sorry, dearie." she apologized with a yellow-toothed grin. "I just need to get past there."

Tony gave her an apologetic grunt, and stepped inside his room so she could get past. After he sat down on the bed and closed the door, he could still hear the clattering trolley make its way down the corridor. Tony felt sorry for her. He wasn't the type of person who liked to make trouble for other people, intentional or otherwise. In fact, he'd spent most of his life going out of his way to avoid causing grief or inconvenience in the lives of other people. However, tonight it was something that couldn't be avoided.

Tony reached behind his back, and pulled out the revolver he had tucked into his belt. It was small, and not very powerful, but that didn't matter. It would still do the job. Looking at it now, seeing the greasy yellow light from the bare bulb above reflected in the steel barrel of the gun, Tony realized that this was it; the moment had come. His mind was a turmoil of emotions, twisting and tumbling around each other like clothes in a dryer. He sobbed, unable to hold it in anymore. He'd kept his own thoughts at by until now by focusing on just one thing at a time, and not thinking about the future. It was easy to keep himself busy: first get completely drunk, an easy distraction; then buy the gun, and look for a suitable place to be alone. He'd made the decision to do this, of course, but that had seemed like such a long time ago instead of just a few hours. Now that Tony had stopped moving he turned around to look at the dark, gaping maw of the universe. It loomed behind him, swallowing up his past as though everything he'd ever done had meant absolutely nothing.

Tears flowed freely down his face as he lifted the gun, pressing the muzzle to his temple. He tried taking deep breaths, in an attempt to bring a measure of calm to his mind. But the pain was still fresh and raw in his chest. And really, what was the point? It's not like anything was going to matter in a few moments anyway. Soon the pain would be gone, and he would be swallowed up by the universe, into oblivion. But it did seem important to find some form of calm, some solace in the thought that his suffering was about to end. Reaching into his jacket pocket with his free hand, he pulled out a creased and worn picture that had obviously been looked at a lot. He stared at it, and the dagger of pain in his heart twisted another inch. He didn't need to see it again; he knew every detail from memory. But seeing it now was significant, even though he couldn't think of precisely why. Even though it hurt to look at the picture again, it felt right to do so just one last time. So he closed his eyes, and tucking the picture away, he took more deep breaths until his breathing cam smooth and steady. This was it. No more waiting, no more excuses. All that was left was to pull the trigger.

"Goodbye." he whispered hoarsely. With a shaking hand, he squeezed the trigger.

The gun clicked, but that was all. Gasping from the pent-up stress and adrenaline of the moment, Tony fired again, and again, each time getting only an empty click in response. Snarling, Tony grabbed the gun with both hands and broke it open, checking again to see if it was actually loaded. It was; six bullets nestled in their chambers. Tony tried several more times to shoot himself, until he gave up and threw the gun against the wall.

"Dammit." he said with feeling, and fell sideways to lie on the bed. He was suddenly very tired, and felt his eyes close on their own as he nuzzled the soft pillow beneath his head, and drifted to sleep.

There were no dreams for Tony that night. In fact he didn't feel like he'd slept at all. It was as though the moment he'd closed his eyes someone was shaking him awake. He groaned and waved away the hand on his shoulder.

"Don't give me that." said a soft but stern voice. "Wake up right now."

Reluctantly, Tony opened his eyes. For a blissful moment he couldn't remember where he was, or why he was there. But then he remembered all too well, and sighed heavily. Small, strong arms snaked under his body and lifted him up off the bed. He looked to see who was disturbing him, and recognized the old trolley lady he'd seen in the hallway. The door to his room was open, and he could see the edge of the trolley through the doorway.

"You must be Marion. What do you want?" he asked, more than a little irritated. After his bungled suicide attempt it didn't seem like too much to ask for a night's sleep. The old woman frowned at him, and thrust her hands on her hips like an indignant housewife.

"I think you have some explaining to do." she said, and pointed to the gun on the floor. Tony stared at it, saying nothing. It lay there in the corner where it had fallen, speaking volumes with its mere presence about what had almost happened here. Tony felt tired again just looking at it, and leaned on his knees to hide his face in his hands.

"I've got nothing to say that you want to hear, lady." he said through his fingers. "Please just leave me alone."

"No way. If you ask me, it looks like you've already had too much time by yourself."

"Well no one asked you!" he snapped. "Just get out, and mind your own business."

"Oh, and this ain't my business?" she said, affronted. "You're about to make a god awful mess in one of my rooms, leaving me to do the cleaning up and you say it's none of my business?!"

She lifted her skirts and sat down next to him on the bed. He rolled his eyes and groaned again, unable to believe her audacity.

"Is this the part where you try to talk me out of killing myself?" he asked sarcastically.

"What do you think?" she replied curtly.

"I think you're wasting your time. Believe me, I wouldn't be doing this if I had any other option."

"You always have another option, you stupid man. You can let go. You can move on."

Tony laughed dryly, and looked at her closely.

"It's not as simple as that." he scoffed.

"Oh? And why not?"

"Because problems don't go away just because you ignore them, lady."

"Do you honestly think you're the first person to feel overwhelmed? That you've got it so much worse than anyone else in the entire world?"

Tony lost his temper and jumped to his feet, and punched the wall. His fist poked through the ancient plaster, and threw up a small cloud of dust into the room.

"You don't know me!" he screamed at her. "You know nothing about me!"

To his surprise, Marion hardly reacted at all to Tony's outburst. She only continued to glare at him, and as hot as his rage burned it quavered and shrank under the force of that gaze.

"I know enough." she said gently. "I know that you're a strong man, who's been forced to be strong for a long time. You're here now because you've been worn down by life's troubles, that you're losing your soul bit by bit until it feels like there's no escape, no way out . . . except this."

She bent down to pick up the gun, and held it in her lap with both hands.

"You don't need this to escape, young man. Because it's not life that you're trying to escape from; it's yourself."

Tony tried to laugh again, laugh in her face at the absurdity of her words. But something inside him was welling up, responding to what she was saying, and his eyes were starting to prickle with fresh tears. He felt so frustrated and stressed out that it was all culminating to a sharp point in his heart. He turned away from her so she wouldn't see him cry.

"That's ridiculous." he croaked. "I'm not the problem."

"Really? Then why are you here? If the problem was outside of you, why are you so ready to end your life?"

She stood up and neatly stepped around to stand in front of him. They stood toe to toe, and he had to look down at her because she was a fair bit shorter than him. But he didn't dare look away from her stern gaze.

"Your problems are inside of you, young man. Those feelings that make you feel trapped and cause you this terrible pain don't come from other people. They don't come from things, or rain down from the sky, they are in you. All the time. That's why killing yourself here is pointless, because whatever it is that waits for us in the next life, you still can't escape from yourself. Your pain and your feelings, they follow you no matter where you go. It's the one thing you take with you."

A potent moment of silence stretched between them, and she stepped back to place the gun on the bed. She turned to leave, but stopped to look at him. She wasn't stern anymore, in fact Tony couldn't tell what she was right now. After everything that had been said he felt numb, and senseless.

"You have a choice." she said softly. "The same choice you've always had, and that you will always have. You can let your pain control you, and rule your mind and your actions. Or you can choose to be under your OWN control, and accept that your pain has no power over you, unless you let it. You have the power to exist as a person of peace and contentment, if you have the strength to see the truth of who and what you are."

As she spoke her last words, she stepped through the door, and closed it gently behind her. Tony was once again left alone in his room, and he couldn't help but stare at the gun on the bed. Once more his emotions were in turmoil, but now it was a battle of confusion and uncertainty. Things seemed so different now. When he'd arrived he'd been in agonizing pain and anguish, but he'd been certain in his course of action. The steady rock he'd been tied to had been cut loose, and he was flapping in all directions in the wind. Behind him the universe was ready to swallow him up, and to fall in would be so easy, almost effortless. At the edge of the universe where he stood, Tony turned around to face what lay ahead. Before there had been nothing to be seen. Now . . .

He slowly bent at the waist to reach for the gun on the bed.

At the front desk, Marion and her husband were chatting in hushed tones. The hotel around them was silent, peacefully quiet. The two of them were discussing something, or could have been having a small argument. Either way, neither of them noticed that they weren't alone until a shadow loomed over them both.

"I'd like to ask you for a favour." said Tony, and handed the gun to the old woman. She eyed it with mild distaste but accepted it.

"And what would that be?"

"Get rid of that for me? I'd rather let go of it right now and be done with it, if that's alright."

"Don't worry yourself." she said with a smile. "I'll take care of it."

Tony nodded and smiled. It was his first real smile in a long time, and it felt strange to wear one now. It felt good though.

"What will you do now?" she asked him. Tony stared at the wall for a moment, considering.

"I think I'll move out of the city. I've lived here my entire life, I think it's about time I got out to see what there is to see."

"Do you know where you're going?"

"No." said Tony, smiling some more. He had no clue where he was going, and for once, not knowing what the future held felt very, inexplicably good. "Thank you Marion, for everything."

The old couple watched him go, and noticed that as he made his way to the door, he took something out of his pocket, and without even a glance tossed it to the floor. Marion stooped to pick it up. It was a picture, but she didn't bother to see what it was. She tore it into little pieces and threw it in the trash.

"What was that?" asked her husband softly. Tony had reached the door, and stepped out into the morning light. The big man breathed in deeply the fresh morning air, smartly turned to the right, and started walking.

"It doesn't matter." she replied. "At least not anymore."

"Of course, I suppose. What did you say to him?"

"Oh you know perfectly well. I said what I say to everyone."

"Well either way it seems to have worked."

"You're right. He'll find whatever he seeks. Before he sought an end, and now with luck he'll find a new beginning."

The old man chuckled and shook his head in amusement. "Don't pretend that you don't already know."

She smiled at him, reaching out to place her hand over his for a brief moment.

"Come on." she said. We have more work to do."

Lieutenant David Bowers was not happy about how his night was turning out. He'd had to work a triple shift to cover for his partner who'd not shown up at the station again, and Bowers strongly suspected that the bum would be home, passed out on the couch surrounded by empty beer bottles. The whole day had been a long tedious world of paperwork, and then he got the call. Now he was wrapped his coat tighter around himself in the chill night air as the paramedics did their job. Bowers wasn't even certain why he even had to be here. This was the bad side of town, and the roads were so small that the ambulance could barely fit on them. The combined flashing lights of the ambulance and the patrol car reflected on the filthy bare walls, and were starting to give the Lieutenant a severe headache.

Nearby he heard the sound of a woman crying. It was the cleaning lady of the hotel, who'd given her name as Marion Struthers. She'd been the one to find the stiff that night. Bowers certainly hadn't wanted to be the one to deal with her, so he thrust her onto one of the uniforms to take her statement. Bowers had taken a peek inside, and had been disgusted, but not shocked at what he'd seen. The corpse, who's wallet declared had once been a Tony Juliano, had half his brains painted all over the walls of the pokey little room he'd rented. The shot had alerted the staff who ran to investigate, then the police were called.

Bowers didn't even bother to take out is notebook for this one, it was open and shut. The gun in the victim's hand had only one missing bullet, and the one he'd pried out of the wall with his pen was the same calibre. It was an obvious suicide, and unless the doctor at the morgue found anything to suggest otherwise, the Lieutenant was hoping to get the paperwork for this one out of the way before midnight.

Two paramedics came out of the hotel and past Bowers, wheeling a gurney between them. The body was covered with a sheet, stained red at one end, and an arm hung off the side. One of them, a young man, turned to catch the Lieutenant's eye.

"At least he's in a better place now." he said. Bowers snorted.

"Don't tell me you believe that kind of stuff, Johnny."

Once the body was loaded onto the ambulance, it was carefully manoeuvred through the narrow streets. The patrol car was soon to follow, carrying the old couple who owned the hotel because they didn't feel like they could stay there tonight. Soon everything became quiet once more, and all that remained of the night's events were some troubled memories, and the paperwork.