html version ©01 Levite
[Note: this is a horror story. The subject matter may upset some more sensitive readers. The Woodstone Hotel does not exist in the city of Indianapolis, however, other city features do exit or are presumed. No resemblance to actual persons is intended.]
"Who puts a want ad for hotel managers in a parapsychology journal?" I asked myself out loud.
But there it was. An advertisement you'd expect to see in a metropolitan newspaper occupied about a quarter of one page.
My wife looked over my shoulder, "It's in downtown Indianapolis. I think we've been past there."
I nodded. "But I've never heard of this hotel, but it says it's near the downtown."
"You thinking about calling them?"
I shrugged. My current position was about to die with the branch of the company I worked for. They had offered out-placement, but so far nobody needed a support services manager with a degree in Public Relations and who had minored in parapsychology. In the fine print of the ad it said the manager was entitled to live on premises in a self contained two-bedroom apartment. That sealed it. I pointed to that line in the ad and reached for the phone.
"Woodstone Hotel." A voice answered.
"I was calling about the manager's position. Is that still open?"
"Oh yeah. Hang on!"
I faxed them my resume. Two days later we drove over to Indianapolis and found the Woodstone.
It was a huge building that occupied most of a city block. It was least a hundred years old. When it was built it was probably the tallest thing in town, but now, the rest of the downtown dwarfed it. I counted ten stories from the parking lot. But it seemed bigger, more massive. It was a stately old place, cut from the same pattern of half the hotels of its era in cities all across the country. We walked around to the stately main entrance and pushed the revolving door around in its slow stately circle to enter the solidly furnished, stately main lobby.
"Welcome to the Woodstone. Are you pre-registered?" A young man at the desk asked us.
"No, no. My name is James Friend. I'm here to see Mister Martin about the manager's job." I said to him.
"Oh, yeah, they said you were coming in. Ahhhh, OK. Here it is, you can wait in the bar and order something to drink. Mister Martin is around here someplace, I'll find him for you."
"Sure, thanks." I took the papers he handed me and we turned from the desk. Then I turned back to him, "Where's the bar?"
He pointed off and to the left. "Through there, past the elevators, you'll see it."
The bar wasn't stately. It was 1950 plush meets 1990 commercial meets 2000 technology. It didn't have a personality. Well, maybe it did, three or four of them, all clashing.
I ordered a cup of coffee and my wife got a diet cola. The bartender seemed to be as old as his bar. But he was friendly enough and talked until the waitress needed a refill for a customer who was sitting alone at a table in a back corner.
We had been sitting there about five minutes looking through the brochures and information sheets the clerk had given me when Mister Martin came in. He was a middle-aged man who seemed genuinely very happy to see me. He got a cup of coffee from the bar and joined us at our table.
"This is my wife Lori." I introduced her to him.
"A pleasure. Do you really have a degree in parapsychology?"
I thought it was an odd first question for an interview for a hotel manager. But I answered it anyway. "I minored in it. I found it fascinating. I still keep up on things and just finished an on-line course in classical hauntings."
Mr. Martin actually giggled and clapped his hands. "Oh, that's perfect. When can you start?"
He grinned, "My regional vice president loved your resume and called your HR director yesterday, they think you will be perfect for us, and they are going to call it an out-placement."
I shrugged, it made a corporate kind of sense. "I don't know, probably two weeks or so."
"Great. Wonderful, let me show you around."
"Why the rush to bring me on board?" I asked him as he drained his coffee in one gulp.
His face changed and became extremely serious, he looked around nervously. "So I can get out of here." He almost whispered.
As we left the bar he walked us through the main restaurant which was just getting going for the lunch hour. "Lunch is our busiest meal, we do twice the plates for lunch as we do for dinner. We get a lot of people from the offices and stores around here."
The dining room was tasteful. It looked like it had been redecorated recently by somebody with excellent taste. The tables were spaced far enough apart that you didn't elbow your neighbor
The menu was a little too much on the healthy side for my taste, but it did show a promising line of small steaks and burgers with lunchtime prices that didn't induce trauma.
We nodded at the maitre de and followed Mr. Martin out.
Then he showed us the manager's apartment on the mezzanine level next to the main offices. "This'll be perfect for a nursery." Lori said looking through the smaller of the bedrooms.
"You have a baby?" Mr. Martin asked with concern.
"Not yet. We're kinda planning for the future." I answered.
"Oh, OK. Good." He smiled and went on to show us the separate door that opened to the outside.
Then came the small office in the apartment. "These can show any of the major areas of the hotel. And are tied into the main office and the security office." He pointed to a row of small monitors.
A couple of them were dark while the others showed various hallways and other areas. "Are those broken?"
"No, they work, we just don't use them." He said.
I shrugged and followed him on out to the main lobby, the registration desk, two different shops and a news stand occupied the side away from the bar and restaurant. A quick walk through ended with a swing downstairs through the laundry and maintenance areas. Then we walked up the lowest reaches of the Grand Staircase that continued on up in a great curve past the mezzanine to the second floor.
"This is a nice place." Lori commented. "It's got character."
"Yes, ma'am. That it does. We'll go up and see the meeting rooms." Mr. Martin continued to lead us up the marble stairs.
The second floor was all meeting rooms of one description or other.
"This isn't the ballroom." Lori said looking at the large hall that formed the center of the second floor.
"No. It isn't, that's on the top floor." He said quietly. "We don't use it. Much."
"Oh? Why not?" I asked.
"I'll tell you about it later. Let me show you some of our guest rooms."
His manner completely changed when Lori mentioned the ballroom. Something about it made him nervous. I decided that after the guestrooms, I wanted to see the ballroom.
Mr. Martin showed us four different rooms. Everything from a luxury suite with its own kitchen and special maid service to a single that was barely larger than a cell, but did have a nice bathroom. He explained that while the hotel had over 250 rooms, there were only about two hundred rooms at any one time open for guests. "We have a few long term leases, and six corporate suites, and a few rooms that have been rented as office space. And there's three staff rooms besides yours."
I shrugged, I knew nothing about how hotel rentals worked, it sounded good to me.
"You can see the outdoor pool from here." He said from the end of the hallway. "The hotel bought the lot next door about thirty years ago and built the recreation center."
The pool was on the roof of the two story building next door. The indoor pool was in the basement of the hotel, and was almost too small to even be considered a hotel pool, but it served its purpose well enough.
"Our game room, and the coffee shop are in there. And a small weight room. It really adds a lot to the hotel." He smiled at the pool.
"Yes it does." I nodded at it. "Let's see the ballroom."
Once again, that transformation. "We can go up there later, lets go down and call Mrs. Danbaugh and tell her you'll take the job."
"In a minute, just a quick look around."
He seemed to be on the verge of panic. But he swallowed hard and nodded. "A quick look." He walked reluctantly to the elevator and pushed the down button.
"The ballroom is on the tenth floor." Lori said.
"Oh, yes, so it is." He pushed the up button.
He was silent the whole ride up from the fourth floor to the tenth. The doors opened and he actually stepped back a step.
"Let me guess. The ballroom is why you wanted a parapsychologist and why you want out of this building."
He nodded slowly.
"Tell me about it." I said looking out of the door at a very unremarkable marble and paneling wall with a letter-board sign announcing a homecoming dance with a date from three years ago.
"It's haunted." Mr. Martin said.
"Yeah, so is the White House." I answered.
"No, I mean this place is really haunted. Day and night, on Sunday, it doesn't matter. I've seen things up here I don't even want to understand."
"But they have dinner dances up here." Lori nodded at the sign.
I looked at it. And blinked. The sign had changed. Now it was announcing a dinner dance two weeks ago.
I didn't say anything, maybe I had read it wrong.
"Once a month. The Hoosier Pride people have their thing up here. They've been doing it for fifty years or something, they don't seem to mind them."
"Who doesn't seem to mind who?" I asked.
"The ghosts and the Hoosiers. Maybe they've got an understanding or something."
Lori laughed. I nodded, "I wouldn't be surprised." I stepped out of the elevator and read the sign again. It was still saying 'Hoosier Pride'. Mr. Martin stepped out of the elevator cautiously. Lori walked out and looked around. "This is really nice." She said.
The central feature of the tenth floor was the large ballroom, it occupied over half the floor. With several side rooms on each side of it. The hallway from the elevator led around to the left, off to the left along the hall were several doors.
"What's down there?"
"They used to be our most expensive suites. The Presidential, the Viceroy, and the Churchill."
"And you don't rent them any more."
Mr. Martin shook his head. "They're unlocked, you can take a look."
I looked at him. He hadn't moved from in front of the second elevator. I opened the door to the Churchill suite.
The musty air of the place blew out into the hallway.
For the first time since a college field trip to a haunted mill, I felt something. I don't know what, I am not a real sensitive person. But I felt there was something in the room. I shut the door and walked toward the ballroom.
Lori was looking inside what was evidently the cloakroom next to a soft drink machine. I walked around the corner down to the entrance to the ballroom.
I knew Mr. Martin and Lori were right around the corner, but I felt completely alone. I walked into the ballroom and looked around. Sunlight poured in through the skylights and full wall windows on the far end. But it still seemed dark.
There were a couple of people in my college classes that claimed they could really feel, and sometimes describe in some detail 'presences'. While several of them seemed to be a combination of wishful thinking and good guesses, two or three seemed to be the real thing. Now I wished I was one of them.
"This place is creepy." Lori said walking in from the other side. "It's like that one place that was in that movie. From Germany."
"Yeah, except this is our new home." I looked around. It wasn't anything tangible. Some places just emitted an evil air from the time they had been built, on. Others seemed to take on unwholesomeness as they aged. This place wasn't bad, there was no evil here, the sense I got was that it had seen too much, the memories in this room were unwholesome, but the room itself wasn't evil.
"Somebody is watching us." Lori said.
"Yeah. Somebody, or some thing." I answered her.
I glanced around. "I don't know, let's go see." I said to her. I walked toward the noise. Back into the hallway I had just come out of.
There was a mop bucket in the middle of the hallway. No mop, no water, no nothing. Just an old metal mop bucket and wringer.
I pushed down on the handle, the wringer made a rasping creaking noise. "That's what we heard."
"Where did that come from?" Mr. Martin said peaking around the corner.
"I don't know, it's your hotel." I said.
Mr. Martin looked at the bucket and wringer.
The thought that he had tip-toed down the hallway and moved the bucket from wherever it was, then ratchet the wringer, then run back around the corner crossed my mind, for a second. But the bucket was in full view of the door to the ballroom. I was sure if somebody had brought it there I would have seen them.
Lori looked around, "Let's get out of here."
I thought about saying something, but then second guessed myself and nodded, "That might be for the best."
Mr. Martin was holding the elevator for us.
After we passed the fifth floor he sighed. "Now do you believe me?" He said.
"I believed you before we went up there. I just wanted to see it to complete the picture of this place."
"You're still taking the job aren't you?" He looked from me to Lori and back.
"Sure. Why wouldn't I?"
Lori smiled, "We drove clear to Dover, Delaware to send the weekend in a haunted bed and breakfast down the street from the Governor's mansion."
Mister Martin grinned. "Then you may be the man for this place."
Back in the office he called Mrs. Danbaugh and told her I was perfect for the job.
"He understands the unusual problems with that property doesn't he?" She asked over the speaker phone.
"You mean the ghosts?" I said.
The speakerphone was silent for a minute. "We don't see things that way. The corporate office does not recognize the existence of spirits and demons."
I laughed, "I don't think the spirits recognize the corporate office."
"I'd never thought about that." The lady said through the speaker. "You know the rumors about it being haunted were around ages before it joined our holdings."
"I'm planning on doing some research into that." I said.
"What does your wife think about the Woodstone?" Mrs. Danbaugh asked Lori.
"It's beautiful. And Mr. Martin's friends upstairs just make it unique."
We chuckled for a second. Mr. Martin's laugh was nervous.
The hotel bought us dinner in the restaurant, then we drove home and began to spread the news that we were moving to Indianapolis.
At work the next day I found out they didn't need me to give them two weeks notice. Inside of three days I carried a box of stuff out to my car and that was that. Nine years over and done with in two days and three hours.
"Sure, no problem, you can start tomorrow and move in after you get things settled on that end." Mr. Martin told me.
"Driving in from Richmond ever day?"
"Hhmmm. That is a long drive. You could come in and spend the night here and maybe go back the next afternoon. This is a hotel after all. It would still count as your training."
It would take us a week or so to get out of our lease and get moved. A couple of days away and a day off to get packed and moved would work out good for me.
Lori was a day shift assistant manager at a convenience store. Mr. Martin had assured her that half a dozen places within two blocks of the hotel would sing and dance to get an experienced manager on board. She grinned and said she might take some time off and take a couple of computer classes or something.
The next day I drove into downtown and realized I had forgotten about one little detail which I hadn't had to worry about working just outside of Richmond. Rush hour.
Indianapolis has a real live rush hour. Something I had only seen on the TV news for the last nine years. I sat and looked at the neighborhood around the highway for a few minutes and wondered about the wisdom of taking the job of managing a hotel full of ghosts. But before I got too far into my second thoughts the traffic shook loose and started moving, "So I guess I'm in for keeps." I said to the downtown skyline.
I drove into the narrow employee parking lot and pulled into a spot facing a dark window. I got out and walked around the outside of the hotel and found the loading dock. I walked down the truck ramp as a food service truck left. The loading dock area was typical for any large business. Boxes and crates sat apparently at random with a rainbow of stickers on them with somebody's magic marker shorthand on them.
I stepped through the obstacle course and into the shop area. A man was working on the wheels of a plate dolly from the restaurant.
"You're the new manager. I'm Custis, the maintenance chief." An elderly dark skinned man said. "I was out yesterday when you were here."
"James Friend." I stuck out my hand.
"Good to meet you Jim." His grip was warm and solid.
"So, what do you do down here?" I let my eyes wander around the room.
"Fix what I can. Replace what I can't." He smiled and gestured at the cart. "There's always something that needs done. When I finish this there's a toilet up on the fifth floor that won't stop running."
Suddenly a stack of small boxes fell over on a shelf on the far wall. The maintenance chief shook his finger at the area. "Now Fred, you stop that showing off."
"You got one down here too?"
Custis nodded, "It's Fred. He was the plumber here back in the forties."
I looked at him, "How do you know?"
"We figured it out. He never picks on anything that has to do with plumbing. Like those boxes, they're wall plates for the new bathroom controls. Right next to them are the new faucet handles."
I looked at the shelf, the awkwardly stacked handles were still there. "When did Fred die?"
"Back in the seventies. They found him in there, they thought he was asleep, except he was still there the next day."
I nodded, "That would be a sure sign something was wrong"
The older man grinned, "So you believe in our night shift?"
"Of course. That's the main reason I got the job."
Custis screwed his face up thoughtfully. "Seems right to me. The last full time manager was right from hotel school, he lasted about three months before he quit." He laughed. "The man said he was going out to breakfast, then called from Detroit and told us to send us his stuff."
"Long way to get breakfast."
"I don't think he's ever set foot in the state again."
"What happened to the manager before that?"
"Let me see. That'd be Mrs. Fulbridge, Yeah." He nodded. "I was here the day she quit. She was something, didn't take nothing from nobody or nothing." He jerked a finger toward where Fred evidently was. "Well, there was some sort of school dance up in the ballroom. And they called down, said their band was having all kinds of trouble. She went up there, and in about ten minutes all Heck broke loose. She come running down the stairs stark naked, claiming there was dogs after her. Ran clear out into the street screaming and never came back in. I never saw no dogs, but upstairs in the ballroom, the lights was all burned out and there was water all over the place like the sprinklers had gone off. But they hadn't."
"What happened to the kids from the dance?"
"All that was here was the band and the decorating crew. They said they didn't call her, they had all come down for a bite to eat. We got the mess cleaned up, and they had their dance with no problems at all. The band sounded great, if you like that kind of music."
I laughed. "Your night crew just didn't like her."
"No sir. She ticked them off. They had been after her for some time."
"I'll make sure I don't 'tick them off'."
I shook hands with the old gentleman and continued into the building.
I was directed to Mr. Martin in the restaurant's main dining room talking to a couple of employees over coffee.
The body language and facial expressions suggested this wasn't a pleasant exchange of good news over their morning cup.
"I hate to hit you with this on your first day on the job. I thought we had bought some time. But..." Mr. Martin said. "The union isn't happy."
"Ah ha." I said looking at the two employees.
"Would you like some coffee Mr. Friend?" The matre de asked me.
"Yes, please." I sat down at the table and looked at the faces around the table. "I'm walking in here cold, I didn't even know this place had a union. Can somebody bring me up to speed on what's happening before I say anything stupid."
Mr. Martin and the two employees looked at each other as my coffee arrived and I stirred sugar into it.
The woman, Ms. Rae began a narrative that went back about four years. The contract between the hotel and the commercial workers went two years at a shot. The current contract had come up during the time the hotel was changing owners and management companies. The union agreed to a contract extension...
"And the six months are up now." I finished her sentence for her.
"In about two weeks." The other employee said.
I nodded. "OK, I've got two weeks to get ready for this. Do I have a copy of the old contract and anything else I'll need?"
Mr. Martin nodded, "It's in the manager's office."
I nodded, "If I have any questions, will you guys be willing to help me out?" I looked at them with a questioning look.
"Sure." They both said. "We'll be happy to answer anything we can."
"And the main office's labor relations officer will be here next week for you."
"I've always believed in keeping as much as we can in house." I said to Mr. Martin. And scored my first point toward disarmament with the union.
Later in the office I got a stern lecture from Mr. Martin about how the union had been nothing but trouble and it was the home office's position that the hotel would be better without it.
"That's all well and fine. But walking into a new job and not even knowing the front desk's phone number, I don't need a strike or something right off the bat. I'm going to see next week if they will give me a month or so extension and try to work through this." I explained.
Finally he nodded. "That's reasonable. I've been listening to them cry for three months with them knowing I was just here temporarily. It hasn't been pleasant."
I wanted to change the subject. "Why didn't you take this post permanently?"
He seemed shocked by the question. But then he took a deep breath. "When I first came up here. I thought about it. I mean it's a gravy job all things considered. The place is booked solid for like eight weeks every year, three years ahead. Even a slow weeknight sees us at nearly fifty percent. The meeting rooms are reserved so much we have trouble finding a free room for our own functions. We even have the pool booked once a month. This place is a hit. It almost runs itself for the most part. A large part of the employees have been here forever, we have several second, and a couple of third generation employees." He gestured out the office window. "It's a beautiful place, they don't build them like this no more. You know that staircase is real solid Italian marble?"
"But..." I said for him as he coasted to a stop.
"But." He sighed deeply. "There is no way I can work in a building that has places in it that absolutely scare me to death."
I watched him shake his head.
"I didn't even show you the storage rooms in the second basement. Or the patio on the roof. I can't even go up there."
"They can't hurt you." I said.
"I know. But I can't even put the key in the lock. I go down that hallway and my hands start shaking so bad, I can't hold the keys."
He got real silent. "I might as well tell you." Mr. Martin sighed. "I had been here, I don't know, a couple three weeks. I went up there to check out a report of somebody messing around on the patio. I was still in denial about the... the ghosts up there. I went to the tenth floor and went to the doors to the patio. And found the door open. I walked out there expecting to find empty beer cans and cigarette butts." He stopped talking and looked out the window.
"What was out there. Some busboy and a cocktail waitress?" I grinned.
"I wish it had been." He almost smiled. "Well, in for a penny... I walked out there, and ... I don't know how to say it. The first thing I noticed was the furniture was different. I looked around, and the bank building wasn't there. I could see the State Capitol building. I just stood there and blinked. Then I looked back at the building and saw Mr. Woodford walking toward me."
"The second owner of the building." I said recognizing the name from the plaque I had read under a picture in the lobby.
"Yeah. But he's been dead for about sixty years." He licked his lips. "It was him, cigar and all, he walked up to me and asked if the music was loud enough. I looked in the ball room window and saw an orchestra on the stage."
"What did you do then?" I felt like I was conducting an interview of a witness to a paranormal event. Then it hit me. I was.
"I froze. I mean I completely froze. Then Mr. Woodford said something else and everything was back to normal. I mean, back to today. The bank was back, and the furniture was like it is now, but I could still smell cigar smoke."
"Sympathetic temporal displacement. They took you back to the nineteen thirties or whenever through a psychic memory of the hotel. You were still here. Since you could smell the cigar smoke, Mr. Woodford and his friends came forward to see you."
"What did they do with the bank building?"
"You saw Indianapolis as they saw it then, that's all, it was actually still there."
"But every time I go up there, I smell cigar smoke."
"I think that's you're subconscious warning you to stay the hell away from the patio."
"And I listen to it. I haven't been near those doors since. And the other day with you and your wife was the first time I'd been on the tenth floor in a month."
"You don't think I'm crazy. I mean, you studied this stuff. Did that really happen?"
"I have no reason to say it didn't, and from just what I've seen so far. This place is really haunted. If not possessed."
"Possessed." He said slowly. His face was completely expressionless. He sighed, "I need to go for a walk. You want to look through the contract and see if you understand everything."
I didn't know it until three hours later. But Mr. Martin went to the manager's suite, packed his suitcase, dropped a note to forward his mail to St. Louis. And left.
Mrs. Danbaugh apologized all over the place, and offered to send in an experienced manager to help me along, "But Mr. Martin said he wouldn't go back in there if we tripled his pay."
I laughed, "I think I can muddle through. He did pretty good at showing me the ropes, I've got the manual, and Miss Karol will be here tomorrow. We'll be all right."
"If you need anything, I'm just a phone call away." She said.
"Have you ever been up here?"
"No I haven't, but I've been meaning to since we took it over."
I didn't believe her for a minute. But I told her we'd always have a room with her name on it when she came to town. We ended the conversation pleasantly.
I hung up and looked at the office. There was a framed picture of Messrs. Woodford and Stone smiling as the keys to the place were exchanged back when it was almost brand new. Mr. Stone had built the Stone House Hotel then had managed to go broke shortly after it opened. And according to some of the hotel scuttlebutt, Mr. Woodford had more than a little to do with that. Mr. Stone sold his stake in the place and went west seeking fresh opportunities. Mr. Woodford took over and ran a splendid hotel until his death in the forties. I smiled at the picture and assured the gentlemen that I would take as good of care of their hotel as I possibly could.
I answered the phone and told the desk clerk I'd be right out. As I got up from the desk I would have sworn to judge and jury that I could smell heavy cigar smoke in the room.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I am not familiar with hotel policy in this matter." I told the lady honestly.
"Well, you ARE the manager."
"Yes ma'am. But I have only been the manager for about half an hour. If you give me a minute, I can call somebody more familiar with these matters and..."
"I suggest you call somebody with some authority because I most certainly intend on escalating this as far as I can until I get satisfaction." If she inhaled any more air, she'd pop.
"Ma'am, what would that satisfaction be?" I asked her.
She wasn't expecting that.
"A refund for last night's stay? And a coupon toward another weekend in one of our properties?" I offered. I had gotten the same thing a couple of years ago from an airport hotel that had a heater that died at midnight.
The woman stood there and looked at me. "That's acceptable. I assume you have the appropriate forms for this?"
"Yes ma'am. You go ahead to and have lunch and when you check out, it'll be ready." The clerk said.
"I will. Thank you." She said and walked toward the restaurant.
After she was safely around the corner Cindy, the desk clerk smiled at me and gave me a high five. "You handled that better than Mr. Martin ever did."
"What was her main problem with her room?"
"The TV wouldn't stay off."
"Why didn't she unplug it?"
"They're wired in so if it gets unplugged the alarm goes off."
"Oh. OK. And the night staff was playing with her."
Cindy laughed, "They must not have liked her either."
I spent my first night in the hotel in the manager's apartment. And the first hour of that first night on the phone.
Lori couldn't believe the turn of events. "Are you going to be all right in there?"
"Oh yeah. I think the union is going to be more trouble than the night shift."
"The night shift?" She asked, then laughed, "You mean our friends from upstairs."
"Yeah. I've met a couple of them too."
We talked into the night. Then I fell asleep to the TV.
I got up the next morning and walked into the bathroom. My toothpaste was all over the sink.
I picked up the tube and walked into the bedroom.
"OK guys!" I said loudly. "There are some things I'm not going to tolerate, and this is one of them. Some obnoxious bittie's TV is one thing. My bathroom is something else all together. We're stuck with each other for a long time, and I know how to make your lives more miserable than you can make mine. If you want to find out what Dr. Stubin talked about in the second semester of that class, just go ahead and push me."
I heard a door slam, but none of the doors in the apartment had moved.
But I still had to clean up the toothpaste.
The cafe's breakfast was good solid fare. Probably three times the cholesterol that I was supposed to have for the day on one plate. But it really hit the spot.
I turned to the voice. An elderly lady was standing there. "Yes, ma'am."
"You certainly look like your name. Your smile is so warm and friendly." She smiled at me.
I have heard the same thing from at least every fourth or fifth person I have ever met since I was in college, about every third person has something a little sillier to offer, but so far, here, I had avoided that. All I said to the lady was, "Thank you ma'am." I indicated the opposite seat and stood as she sat.
The waitress brought her a coffee without my saying anything.
"Good morning, Marguerite." The waitress said to her.
The waitress went to greet another customer and left me with Marguerite.
"You work in the gift shop. I remember you from the other day."
"Oh, no, I could never call you by your first name."
"What's your last name?"
"Very well then, Mrs. Johnson. What can I do for you?"
She blinked, "Oh, OK. I see." She smiled. "James." The lady took a breath. "We had a shipment of T-shirts and hats come in. But they spelled the name of the hotel wrong again." She put a shirt on the table.
I held it up and looked at it. "Hotel Wellstone, Indianapolis." I read.
"I called the printer, they said that's what was on the order."
"Ask them what the name was on the check." I folded the shirt up and gave it back to her. "If you want, I'll call them for you."
"Oh would you please? I'm not very good at that type of thing."
I nodded and kept the shirt as a note. The lady thanked me and took her coffee with her.
The rest of my first full day at the helm of the hotel was a string of similar tasks.
My second in command arrived and seemed surprised at what had happened over her two days off.
I asked her the same question I had asked Mr. Martin.
"I don't want to be the manager." Miss Karol said seriously. "I've been here a long time, I've seen, well, you're the seventh manager that's been here since I started on the desk."
"You're mother also worked here didn't she?"
She nodded. "She ended up being the food manager before she quit. My father was part time here doing all sorts of jobs. I started here in high school."
I nodded thoughtfully.
"I'll save you the math. That was twenty-two years ago. I'm forty-one now."
"Twenty-two years here." I patted the counter.
"And a good bit of it has been spent standing right here." She stepped to the desk and put her hands on the registration book.
"You must like your work."
"I really do. I've seen people I met years ago bring their kids back here. Even grand kids." She smiled at a couple as they walked through the lobby. "My husband came and went, my kid is in college, and I am still here. This place is the only constant in my life. Even with our cast of unpaid employees that run around from time to time."
I nodded slowly.
"And before you ask, I have no intention of either quitting or retiring or being promoted."
"Fair enough." I agreed. "But are you willing to hold a rookie's hand until he can solo?"
She smiled nicely. "I would be happy to."
I also found out the hotel had been running an ad for a part time housekeeper. But fortunately the housekeeping manager handled those interviews. I was just asked to sit in and offer my opinion of the candidate. And the young woman that Mrs. Donahue was interviewing gave me a very firm opinion to offer after she left.
"I don't think she'd even know how to plug in the vacuum cleaner, let alone use it." I said.
"I agree." She wrote 'unacceptable' on her application. "We don't have time to train somebody that has never made a bed or folded a towel in their life."
"Are there any more interviews today?" I asked her.
"Yeah, one more, at two."
I called the T-shirt people about the misspelling. They agreed to print us new shirts, if I could demonstrate that what they sent was not the correct spelling of the hotel and refer to a check number that had paid for the order.
"Where's the business office?" I asked Cindy at the desk.
"Two nineteen." She said. "Just go in and ask for Ms. Warren."
"Ms. Warren." I nodded.
"Oh, Mr. Friend. I need to warn you. She's a little... odd."
I stopped in my tracks. "Define. Odd."
"Well. Her dad was the accountant here for years. And his uncle was the bookkeeper before that. And she, well, room 219 is hers. And she lives there. I don't think she has ever been out of the room except when the kitchen caught fire last year."
"How old is Ms. Warren?"
Cindy made a face and shook her head. I looked back at Miss Karol in the duty office behind the main desk.
"She's probably in her thirties."
"OK." I said and prepared for an odd thirty-year-old accountant.
219 was away from the meeting rooms down a hallway behind the cloak room. I knocked and walked in at the voice that said to come in.
"Ms. Warren?" I said to the rather young looking woman at a small desk.
"Oh no. I'm her assistant. Hang on. I'll get her." She got up and walked into the next room. She was barefoot.
I looked around the room. It was a standard suite, three rooms and a kitchenette.
"Hello?" A slightly heavyset woman said from the door, she was dressed, if that was the word, in a shapeless housecoat. "Who are you?"
"James Friend. I'm..."
"Oh yes. You're 748. Yes. You're still in your training period."
"Things have changed slightly, I've been the manager since yesterday morning."
She made a face. "Figures, I'm always the last to know."
"Sorry. I'm just getting my feet under me." I decided to come to the point. "There was a screw-up with the T-shirts for the gift shop. The printer wants a copy of the check that paid for the order."
"Do you have the invoice number?"
I nodded and handed her the sheet of paper.
"I'll take care of it. They've had problems before with them." She turned and went back into the other room. "Thank you. Nice meeting you." She said from around the corner.
The young woman had been standing off to one side. "Is there anything else?"
"I guess not. Thank you." I turned and walked to the door.
Back at the desk I looked at Cindy and Ms. Karol. "You were right. She is odd." I grinned, "I got the impression she actually owns the hotel."
"You never know." Ms. Karol said.
"Who's the girl that works for her?"
"Some temp. They come and go faster than you can whistle Dixie."
I scratched my ear. Something I did when faced with the absurd. "OK. I guess maybe I'm better off not knowing or understanding."
"Guaranteed." Ms. Karol grinned.
Later I dealt with the lounge singer that wanted to know what I planned to do about his microphone stand.
"Last month you said you'd see about getting me another one. And six months ago you promised me a brand new one." He said seriously.
"I promised. OK, I'm sorry, it's just other things came up. I know a place that has them. I'll pick it up myself and have it here before the weekend." I said to the guy.
He looked at me with tight eyes. "I have your word."
He looked at Ms. Karol. "You're my witness." She nodded. He stalked off.
"My only question is, can he sing?"
"Not a note." Ms. Karol said. "Well, that's not fair, he's not that bad."
Cindy laughed, "Yes he is, but there are those that like him."
"The deaf." Ms. Karol said straight-faced.
I walked to my office and called Lori. We talked for awhile, then I told her what I needed.
"At the pawn shop across the street, they've always got microphone stands. Go over there and pick up a decent one."
"What do you need with a microphone stand?"
"Just another of the peculiarities I've found around here." I giggled and told her about Ms. Warren.
"You're kidding." She said.
We talked about the move this weekend and hung up telling each other how much we missed each other and so on.
I went back out to the lobby wondering what was next.
A few phone calls later I was sitting in on another interview for housekeeper.
The lady ended up interviewing us.
She had been a housekeeper in everything from the Navel Academy dorm to a consulate in New York. Now she was semi-retired with her husband and looking for a part time position just for something to do.
"Yes ma'am, we have lightweight vacuums and every floor has it's own carts and supplies." Mrs. Donahue said smiling.
"What are the procedures for reporting a damaged room?"
"You call the desk from the room and a member of management comes straight up to look at it." I remembered that from the supplementary material from the contract.
She nodded and looked at us. "Is any major construction or renovations planned?"
"Not right now." Mrs. Donahue said and I agreed with her.
"Will I be assigned to particular floors or fill in as needed?"
"You'll be assigned a range of floors but if we are short handed, the remaining floors will be divided between the available staff."
She nodded, "That's fair enough."
There was never any doubt. The lady would start Friday.
Continued in Woodstone 2
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