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.]
For awhile the hotel seemed as normal as any of the hundreds of other hotels and inns in town.
I talked to the guy that did the business column for the local paper and gave him enough of my background to convince him that I had some idea how a hotel ran.
Then I realized I was hungry.
"You forgot to eat lunch didn't you?" Ms. Karol said with a 'mothering' look on her face. "You work in a hotel with two restaurants, a coffee shop, and a bar, all with three star food, and you forgot to eat."
She held out her hand. I took it and she guided me out to the main restaurant. The early dinner crowd was filtering in. She towed me to the matre de's stand.
"Mister Stuart, we've got another one." She said to the maitre de.
I had never gotten a real good look at this man before. He reminded me of a character in a soap opera my wife used to watch. Mr. Stuart was the very definition of the word 'formal'. He seemed to have been born to wear the tuxedo he was in. His face would have stifled a bus full of grade schoolers.
"Mister Friend. Even the most enthusiastic hotel managers must eat to remain at their best."
All I could do was look at his immaculate vest, complete with watch chain, and say, "Yes sir."
"Miss Karol, will you be dining too?"
"Yes, I believe I will. An early dinner."
"Very well. Follow me." He turned on his heel and led us to a table in a quiet corner. "Miss Patty will be your server. The veal is excellent today." Then with a bow he was gone.
"Wow." I said.
"That's the first impression he makes on most people."
"How long has he worked here?"
"About fifteen years, his father had the same position before him." She grinned, "And the senior Mister Stuart was worse."
"He never smiled at all."
"I haven't seen this one smile yet." I looked across as the man led two couples to a table near the windows.
"I have. Once in awhile. He has perfect teeth."
I nodded. He couldn't have anything less.
Patty bounced up to our table and smiled broadly. "Good day folks!" She trilled, then she recognized Ms. Karol. "Hiya!"
"Patty, this is Mr. Friend. He's the new general manager."
"Hiya! I'm Patty."
I restrained myself. "Good afternoon." I nodded to her.
"Whatcha'ha..." She stopped in mid word as Mister Stuart frowned across the room at her. "Would you like to see a menu?" She finished.
"No thank you." Ms. Karol said. "We'll have the veal."
I nodded. "It came very highly recommended."
Patty finished our order and went toward the kitchen.
"So what do you think of our little motel by the side of the road?" Ms. Karol said.
"I like it." I said honestly. "I still haven't seen all of it. But I like it so far."
I felt a chill and looked around.
"What?" Miss Karol said.
"You got that look on your face."
"Don't tell me you can read me already."
From the corner of my eye I saw the seat next to me move. I reached over and touched it, the imitation leather was ice cold. The rest of the booth was room temperature.
But there wasn't anything I could see there.
"OK, spill it."
I grinned at her. "We're not alone here."
She looked at me for a second, then her grin was back, even wider. "You'll get used to it. They eavesdrop on anything that is about the hotel. About the only place you can be alone is the bar, they don't like it in there."
"Because it has been so heavily remodeled. The ethereal atmosphere has been disturbed."
"Oh." She said with wide eyes. "So you really know about this stuff."
"Not as much as I would like, but I found it fascinating. In college, I actually had a double major I took so many classes in parapsychology."
She nodded as Patty brought our drinks and chatted about something or other.
"One thing I've always wondered is why there are so many different ghosts here." Ms. Karol said slowly.
"How many are there?"
"Hattie, the laundry lady, she says she knows more than a dozen of them by name."
I nodded, I had only seen the laundry woman briefly when I walked through the basement yesterday.
"But she said those are only the ones she deals with, there are more that I know of. Like Mr. Woodford. And Cleovis."
"Cleovis?" I repeated.
"He was the head bell hop for ages. He still hangs around the front desk from time to time. We always know he's there because they said he was constantly singing. Sometimes we hear somebody singing old time blues."
I nodded, something else to look forward to.
"But a lot of Hattie's ghosts aren't related to the hotel."
Ms. Karol nodded and leaned forward conspiratorially. "We've got a man that used to be the florist across the street. There's a stray dog that hangs out in the alley that some say used to be a man that worked in a shop that was torn down when they put in the new bank plaza. There's a taxi driver that wanders through from the side doors looking for somebody that needs a ride." She gestured toward the huge brass doors between the restaurant and the bar. "And there are some things here that kind of defy description."
I nodded. "Like what?"
"I've never ran into anything myself, but I've heard that some of them just give people the creeps and don't appear to be human. Like Cleovis, he's harmless and even a little entertaining. Mr. Woodford has even made some suggestions to help us run his hotel better."
"That's nice. But you've said there are some that aren't so pleasant."
"Oh yes. In fact, there's one right down here. In the kitchen, there are times when they've had to change the menu because nobody would go in the storeroom. One old cook said there was a dragon in the pantry."
"A dragon." I nodded. "It's possible."
"Yes. Some Earth spirits are referred to as dragons. There are other things such as elementals and natural forces that occur pretty much everywhere. Some of those don't care if you are here or not, see things such as roads and buildings as part of the scenery, and leave us alone as much as we leave them alone." I grinned, "However, there are others."
She looked away, Patty was bringing our salads. I paused.
"Are you going to do something about the pantry?" She asked me.
"What about it?" I said playing dumb.
"Hifi says he's not going in there again." She said.
"Oh, can I see this storeroom?" I smiled at Ms. Karol.
"Sure." Patty said.
We followed her back into the kitchen, she pointed down a flight of metal stairs and Ms. Karol started down them. An elderly Oriental man was walking up the stairs.
"Meiss Karor. It is beack." He said seriously.
She nodded and said it'd be all right. We continued down the stairs.
The basement looked like a maze. From the base of the stairs the hallways went in six different directions with all sorts of doors and openings everywhere. Without my assistant, I would have been completely at a loss. But she pointed around to the left and we went that way.
The hallway wound through a line of huge ovens and a production table. The smell of baking bread was almost intoxicating.
"This is it." She said.
"Spice closet. Main line cookstaff only." I read off the sign. Then I looked up and down the hallway. "Let me see if I know where we are." I walked down a little.
Against the wall was an ancient lift with huge screws than ran clear to the ceiling. An old service lift.
"We're actually under the street?" I said to her.
She thought about it. "Probably."
"OK. I was just trying to get my bearings." I went back to the door and reached for the handle. "Let's see who's home."
Ms. Karol actually took a step back.
"You've met our friend in here?" I said to her.
"No. And I'm not sure I want to."
I pushed the door open and looked inside. There was no cloud of noxious smoke with a writhing demon in the middle of it. It was just a small storeroom full of shelves. I reached for the light switch. But my hand didn't want to cooperate. Against all logic and better judgement I walked into the room with the lights off.
Did you ever have the feeling you were being watched and judged?
I attributed the first three seconds of the feeling to prior suggestion. I was supposed to feel something in here. This room had a nasty in it that scarred an antique line cook to the point he had started looking for another job.
But then the feeling didn't go away.
"OK. Here's the deal. I'm the new manager and I can't afford to replace an experienced cook every time I turn around because you like it in here. We'll leave you alone except for when they need stuff, I'll even see if we can keep the more popular of the supplies upstairs or somewhere. IF you'll let Hifi and the others come in and get what they need without trouble. Otherwise. I'm going to have these two walls knocked out and a whole new shelving system and lighting installed in here. Maybe with a speaker into the dining room's music system." I looked around. "Got it?"
There was no reply. I felt that maybe the speech wasn't going to work on this one. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. My eyes started to water. I took a deep breath.
"It's up to you. My brother in law is in the construction business. He'd love to get the hotel contract."
The feeling eased a bit. I played it right to the ground. "That's better. When the restaurant is closed, we'll keep this door locked and the lights off." Something in me said that whatever it was, it was coming from outside the wall, from under the street.
It passed. I found my diaphragm was shaking as I walked to the door. "See. They'll work with us."
I stepped out into the hall and the door behind me slammed so hard the plaster around the frame cracked.
"Oh, yes." Ms. Karol said with a grin. Then her face blanched and her lip trembled.
"I feel it too. Walk to the stairs slowly."
Whatever it was, whatever was in that room, had no intention of playing ball with us.
I looked back at the door. I couldn't see anything. But I could feel it. The hallway was full of it. And it was rolling this way like a London pea soup fog of fear.
I had to. I just had to.
As Ms. Karol started up the stairs I steeled myself and set my jaw, then I walked back down the hall and forced myself to open the storeroom door.
The room was pitch black. I could barely make out the shapes of the shelves. Not five minutes ago enough light came in from the hallway I could read the labels on the spice bottles and boxes of baking soda.
"Have it your way." I said to the room. I turned to walk away and the feeling of dread and oppression vanished so suddenly I had to put my hand on the wall to get my balance.
Ms. Karol came back down the stairs. "What happened? I felt it go back down to wherever it came from."
I nodded and blinked. "It's not from here. Something, and that's the word, something, lives out under the street, down and out, quite a ways too."
"Will it stay out of here?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. I hope so, at least for awhile. Maybe long enough to get that cook..."
"Hi-fee." She said slowly to emphasize the pronunciation.
"Hifi, to get him to relax a little."
I closed the door slowly. And we walked back to the stairs. But I could feel whatever it was still watching me.
And now, I got the impression it was angry with me. I decided it was a good thing that fetching garlic powder was not the normal job of the hotel's general manager.
Back in the dining room I found my hand shaking as I reached for my water glass.
"I don't know about you. But I need a drink." I said to Ms. Karol.
"Maybe one." She waved at Patty.
I ordered an Old Fashioned. Ms. Karol wanted a whisky sour.
"Do you want them now or with your dinner?"
"Now." We said together.
Miss Karol picked up her fork and played with her salad. "So can you control the entire night shift like that?"
"I don't think so. Especially since Mr. Woodford still thinks it's his hotel to run."
I put my hand on the seat beside me. The vinyl was warm again.
Our drinks arrived.
We sipped them and got lost in our own thoughts for a minute.
"So how are the guest rooms? Any of them occupied by non-paying guests?"
Ms. Karol blinked herself back to reality. "Oh, well. Only one that I know of, maybe two, and they're not bad, just annoying from time to time, like that woman and her TV. And those up on ten."
"That's odd." I said.
"The place is stiff with every manner of spook and presence. And they leave the guest rooms alone." I stirred my drink. "With over two hundred and fifty rooms, we could host a ghost convention. Yet its only the top and bottom of the place that's got them."
She was looking at me.
"Sorry, just thinking out loud. When was the last major renovation of the guestrooms?"
"Some of them have never been remodeled, just painted and stuff."
"Then that's not it. I saw where the ballroom was completely redone in the seventies."
She nodded. "Just before I started. It didn't have air conditioning and the lighting was getting so bad people complained they couldn't see their food."
"I've been to places where that would be a good thing."
Ms. Karol smiled, "You were thinking that maybe the remodeling kept the ghosts out of the rooms."
"Like it does the bar."
"But if they did all that to the ballroom, and I've seen the before and after pictures, that really doesn't hold. Why would they be up there and not in the bar?"
"Bad singing maybe."
We discussed it until our meals came. Then we changed the topic to when I would be moving in full time. Ms. Karol couldn't wait to meet Lori.
"She has to be a wonderful girl." She said.
"To put up with me?"
"No. To willingly move into a haunted hotel."
That evening I drove home to Richmond. Lori had most of our stuff packed and some of it sold already.
"How much storage space do we have?"
"An entire storeroom this size." I gestured to the living room full of boxes. "But with a twelve foot ceiling."
"That should do it. I don't want to get rid of all our furniture." She looked at the couch she had fallen in love with right after we moved here. We had to buy it on the spot and have it delivered that day.
"Oh, by the way. We don't have to hire a mover. I've gotten the hotel's van and a couple of the bus boys to help us Saturday."
She thought that was the best news she'd heard in months.
"So what are we doing tomorrow?"
"I've got some research to do, and we should finish packing."
"OK, but you're taking me out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
I looked at her and laughed. "You packed all the pans and dishes."
She just smiled.
I spent most of Friday gathering all the information I could on every brand of specter, spirit, and phantasm I could think of. I printed out a ream and a half of information and filled up a box of disks with references and pictures.
"It's that bad?" Lori said looking at my cheat sheet of things that go bump in the night. Except the ones at the hotel bumped in the daytime too.
"Well, yes and no."
"You've got my attention." She laid the sheet down.
"So far I've only ran into one that really gave me goosebumps. And the one that squeezed my toothpaste all over the sink. I really need to get back up to the ballroom and just sit there and see what's up. You wanna come with, we'll take a sack lunch and make an evening of it."
Lori shook her head. "Thank you, but no, I'll leave the ghost busting to you."
Just after lunch the apartment manager came over with the final papers and did their closing inspection on the place. "It is cleaner than it was when you moved in." She said.
"What time are you leaving tomorrow?"
"The guys should be here with the van at nine. We should be out before noon."
"OK, just turn in your key at the desk. Everything is fine, you should get your damage deposit back with no problem." She smiled.
I knew she was lying. I had two friends that moved out and left their apartment immaculate. They only got back half of their deposit. The management claimed they had to 'clean refrigerator drip tray and coil due to excessive dust buildup.'
Saturday morning, right on schedule, the hotel van was in the parking lot outside our apartment with Rick honking the horn and Dennis standing around looking at the scenery.
"Come on up. We've got coffee and donuts for you." I said waving at them.
Dennis couldn't get over it. "I've never been out of town before. This is so cool."
Rick laughed. "He kept asking me how far could it be and still be in Indiana."
"You've never been out of Indianapolis before?"
"He's lived his whole life inside 465." Rick said.
"He thought that if he crossed the highway he'd fall off the edge of the Earth." I added.
"No I didn't."
We laughed at him and had another round of donuts.
Then we started carrying boxes and bags and chairs to the van.
When subjected to a concentrated effort, we really didn't have that much stuff to move.
"That's it." I said closing the back door to the van. My car was full of computers, the stereo, and some small boxes. Lori's just had some of her clothes and a box of shoes in it. I smiled at the guys. "I'll buy lunch before we hit the road. An all you can eat buffet sound good?"
Rick was leaning on the van. "You don't have to ask me twice." He said making his bass voice even fuller.
"I'll turn in the key, you guys go ahead. I'll meet you out there." Lori said.
We drove out to the highway. I got in the turn lane, but the van passed me and went down about half a mile and made a U-turn, then it came back and pulled into the parking lot next to me.
"Cool! We went to Ohio." Dennis said getting out of the van.
Rick laughed and shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder what these kids think the country really is."
I looked at him, "Where all have you been?"
"Everywhere. I was the first black officer ever stationed at a base in Norway."
"I was a captain in the Army. Spent six months at a radar station above the Arctic Circle watching polar bears sift our garbage."
"If you don't mind my asking, why are you bussing tables at the Woodstone?"
"I retired from the Army, got tired of working for the city, between my pension, some investments, and some odd jobs, I do pretty good. And when I get tired of bussing tables, I'll do something else."
We walked around the outside of the truck stop so Dennis could marvel at the big rigs of every description.
"How many trucks are there?"
"Where? Here, or everywhere?"
"We saw hundreds of them coming over here. And there's a bunch here, and more out there." He pointed to the highway where a small convoy roared past.
"Thousands." Rick said.
"Tens of thousands." I added.
"Damn." Dennis said watching a tanker truck roll by.
"Your wife just got here." Rick said nodding toward Lori's car.
We met her at the door and went in to eat.
At the hotel later Lori directed traffic. What we needed upstairs went on one flatbed cart appropriated from the main storeroom. What was going to storage got carried down the hall and put onto the freight elevator. The singer's new music stand I took to the bar myself and set it on the stage.
In an hour, it was done.
I insisted Dennis and Rick take some money just for their trouble if no other reason, then Rick moved the van around to the parking lot.
"You know this place ain't normal." Dennis whispered to me as I locked the storeroom.
"Oh? How do you mean?"
He looked up and down the half-lit passage. "There's ghosts and stuff around here. I've seen'em."
"You've seen a ghost here."
"Yes, sir Mister James." He nodded vigorously. "I was coming down here to get a fresh stack of table cloths and I saw one. It was a woman carrying a big thing of flowers. You know, a centerpiece."
"Show me where."
We walked down toward the main elevators, then around a corner and stopped. "I was coming out of here and she was walking this way from down there." He pointed.
Right now there was nothing in the passage.
"Down here?" I said and walked that way.
"Yeah. She was life size, except I could see through her in places."
"Where did she go?" I said peeking in an open door and looking around.
"She got to the elevators and just disappeared."
"What did you do?"
"I took the stairs back up to the dining room."
I laughed and nodded.
Lori was unpacking and organizing. "You know. We've got more room here than we did in the apartment."
"I thought it was bigger."
"Well, that, and it's better organized. These are real closets, not like the ones we had."
"They built things better back then." I said taking the empty boxes she handed me. "You want to save these or get rid of them?"
She smiled at me. "Save them. Just in case."
"Just in case of what?"
"In case your ghosts run us off."
"They'll leave before I do." I said.
Instantly there was a loud crashing from the kitchen.
We walked in there and found the box of pans on the floor.
"Where was it?" I asked her picking up the box.
"It was on the floor."
The pans were scattered halfway across the kitchen. It looked like somebody had picked the box up and dropped it.
"OK. You made your point. You guys can stay too." I said.
There was no reaction to that statement.
We unpacked some more, then I said it was time for dinner, and since we didn't have any food, we'd go to the restaurant.
"Let me get changed." Lori said.
"I am not eating dinner in a T-shirt I have been sweating in all day." She looked at me. "And you are cleaning up too."
Later, in one of her best outfits, and me in a clean shirt and tie, we walked through the lobby to the restaurant.
"Good evening Mrs. Friend. Welcome to the Marion Room." Mr. Stuart said with a slight bow and a very slight smile. "You are looking most lovely tonight." He turned to me. "Welcome back sir."
He led us to a great table in a very romantic spot between massive real flowering plants and a gleaming wooden pillar. We had a view of the entire room and the entrance to the bar. Piano music drifted in from the bar.
"Barbara will be your server this evening. Tonight the flounder almondine is wonderful." He bowed slightly and ever so slightly smiled and nodded to us, then he walked away quickly to help somebody else.
"You ate every meal in here for the last two days?" Lori asked me.
"No, actually, just once. I forgot to eat lunch one day and Ms. Karol kidnapped me and drug me in here. I had breakfast in the other restaurant. And I tried the coffee shop once."
"The travel guide says the food is very good." Lori smiled at the waitress as she walked up.
"Three stars. We get four when they factor in price." She looked at me, "You're Mr. Friend aren't you?"
"Yes, ma'am." I nodded to her.
"Pleased to meet you, I'm Gay." She stuck out her hand.
I looked at her nametag and was about to say something.
"I know, Barbara is my middle name. We got some flack from some busy-body types about this place having a gay waitress."
Lori laughed, but I knew she was serious.
"Can I get you folks something from the bar?"
"Yes, two specials and put it on my tab." Ms. Karol said from behind her.
"Hello, Hildie." Gay said to her. They exchanged pleasantries as Ms. Karol sat down with us. Gay nodded and walked toward the bar.
"I'll just stay a minute. Georges gave you the most romantic spot in the whole building so I won't bother you too long. I just wanted to meet your wife." She extended her hand across the table. "I'm Hildie Karol. The assistant GM. You're either Lori or his daughter by a first marriage."
Lori took her hand and smiled. "Just his wife."
They chatted about the move for a few minutes. Then the drinks arrived, two giant glass mugs filled with something colorful complete with an umbrella stuck into a piece of pineapple floating on top. I looked at it as all three women talked about something, then sipped it through the straw. It was ice cold, but bit the back of my throat anyway. Lori decided we wanted the flounder and salads. Then they talked about the menu for a minute.
"What is in these?" I said to a break in the conversation.
"He won't tell anybody, but they are very popular."
"And potent." I added as Lori sipped hers.
"The recipe is in the safe in the office, but Guidar wrote it in Lithuanian so nobody can steal it. He said after he's gone we can get somebody to translate it so we can keep serving them." Ms. Karol said.
"Only him and Elmer know how to make them. And they say we'd have to torture them to get it out of them." Gay continued.
"It's very good." Lori smiled and drank a little more.
In a little bit Ms. Karol looked at me with a serious face. "I need to talk to you sometime, but it can wait until morning."
"Larry had a heart attack yesterday morning."
"You might not have met him yet. Larry Phelps. He's the head janitor."
"I saw his name on the roster. How is he?"
"He's going to be fine eventually. They did an emergency five-way bypass at the University Hospital. But his floor mopping days are over. His daughter told us to consider him off work for at least three or four months."
"That's too bad. Is he an older man?" Lori asked.
"He's fifty at least, but he weighed three hundred pounds and believed the sticky buns they sell in the coffee shop were proof there is a God. He ate two of them every morning at the end of his shift before his crew went home."
"I think I saw him in there the other morning." I nodded.
"Probably, he's as nice as he can be, but a little quiet. Unless you spoke to him first, he wouldn't have said anything."
"Is there anything we can do for him or his family?"
Ms. Karol shook her head. "I checked his insurance, it's OK. And they said he got to the hospital in time. He had the attack right down there on the loading dock, if he had been up on a floor, he would have laid there till morning."
"That's good." I said.
"We've already sent half the gift shop to his room." Ms. Karol grinned.
"Good, that was my next question. When can he have visitors?"
"Maybe Monday or Tuesday."
I nodded, now to his attack's affect on the hotel. "So, who's going to his job in the mean time?"
"That's what I need to talk to you about, Frank's got it for right now, the scheduling, supply orders and all, but if he does the job for more than two weeks, we have to promote him on the pay scale."
"The union." I said. "Larry is going to be out for at least three months, and then on light duty if he comes back at all. Is there any way we can temporarily promote Frank for say, six months, then if Larry comes back and gets back to full duty, put everything back the way it was?"
Ms. Karol thought about it. "We'll have to run it past their shop steward. But I think that will work. Since it's in the best interest of Frank and Larry."
"See if we can set up a meeting tomorrow or Monday."
She nodded and smiled at Lori, "Nice meeting you. Your husband is a natural for this job. He can even handle the night shift."
"I guess in some ways that's more important." Lori said with a sideways look at me.
Ms. Karol nodded and left.
We chatted for a few moments about this strange new world. Then Gay brought our salads and we began eating.
I only got about halfway through my drink before we were faced with the dessert selection. The flounder had been fantastic, the potato perfect, and the steamed garden vegetables just right. I wanted to finish my drink, but knew if I tried, they'd have to get the flatbed hand truck to wheel me back to the apartment. Lori turned down dessert with sad eyes.
"Just looking at that is fattening." Lori said to the waiter with the dessert tray.
"Yes ma'am. And it is all 'to die for' rich."
"You don't have anything lo fat and all?"
"Some plain gelatin." He said with a grin.
Mr. Stuart stopped by and asked us how everything had been.
"Wonderful, are you sure you only got three stars?" Lori asked him.
"Three and a half last year. Three this year. I expect we shall get our half star back next year."
"Why?" I asked him.
He looked at me through half closed eyes. "Because, sir, we now offer Indianapolis Jazz Festival Bar-Be-Que on Friday nights."
"Sounds right to me."
"Have a good evening folks." He bowed slightly and nodded as he walked away.
We got up and walked out and strolled through the lobby. After several minutes looking through the gift shop and the travel store, Lori smiled at me in the hallway as I watched the traffic.
"Well, now what?" I asked Lori as we watched some late arrivals check in at the counter.
"I'm beat. If you want to go upstairs and see if anybody is up moving around, go for it. But all I want is a shower and bed."
That sounded like a good idea. I told her so. We walked up the staircase to the office and apartment level. I had to fish for my keys for the front door key, I hadn't used this entrance yet. We walked in and looked around.
"Well, we're home."
"Saves on commuting time." She smiled. Then she walked to the window and drew the curtains back.
"Not a bad view." She said.
We were looking down the street at the rest of the downtown. Skyscrapers towered above some older storefronts. The last rays of the evening sun were just peaking between some of the buildings.
I walked through the apartment. "Did you make the bed?" I asked Lori.
"No, I hadn't had time since we got here." She said walking around the corner.
The bed was made, fresh towels laid out, and a flower arrangement on the kitchen table.
"Here's a card. Welcome home, Mildred and Jen, Housekeeping." She read. "I wonder if they keep the apartment up."
"I have no idea. I'll have to check."
"I need something to do. I'll go nuts if they're in here every day cleaning up and changing our towels."
"I think you'll live." I grinned at her, but a bell kept me from kissing her.
"Answer the phone." She said.
"Yeah yeah." I walked into the living room and looked for the phone. I got to it on the third ring.
"Hello." I said into it.
"Mr. Friend?" Ms. Karol said.
"Sorry to disturb you. But I thought you should know."
I could hear it in her voice. Something was wrong. "What's wrong?" I asked her.
"Larry Phelps just died."
The chill that went through me was physical. I had no idea what to say.
Her end of the phone was silent too.
I took a deep breath. "I want to hold the funeral dinner here, on us. In one of the banquet rooms. Can you let the family know? See if that's all right?"
"Sure. I'll see his sister tomorrow."
"Thanks." I said, then she hung up. I felt like I had just lost a friend, even though I had only seen the man once.
"What?" Lori said walking out. I was still holding the phone, staring out the window.
"The janitor that had the heart attack died. I told Hildie I wanted to hold the dinner for the family here after the funeral."
"Oh, that's terrible."
"What is? Holding the dinner here?"
"No, that... well, that he died."
I nodded. "It happens. Mrs. Samuels died last month remember? My last act on the Sunshine Committee was sending her family flowers."
"Yeah, but they didn't mean it. These people acted like they all really knew him and were upset that he got sick."
"They probably did. And the way this place is, more than likely at least one of his parents worked here before he did."
She looked out the window with me. "Well, it had been a nice evening."
"I'm sure we'll have other evenings." I went to the window and closed the curtains on the city.
Sunday morning arrived with a thump outside the front door as I was brushing my teeth. I opened the door and looked out. The morning paper was lying there. I picked it up and closed the door.
"Good morning." I said as Lori rubbed sleep out of her eyes.
"Who was at the door?"
"The paper." I held it out to her.
"You've got toothpaste on your mustache." She said.
"You look wonderful this morning too."
We still didn't have any food, so we dressed and went down to the lobby.
"Continental breakfast or a real breakfast?"
She considered the options. "Real breakfast."
We walked through the quiet hotel and down the street side hallway that took us to the cafe.
"Good morning Mister Friend."
"Morning Jean. This is my wife, Lori."
"Wonderful to finally have you with us." The lady said to her.
Lori smiled and nodded. "It's nice to be here."
Jean showed us to a table and told us all about the morning's special. We decided it sounded good and ordered it.
A couple of incoming employees came in. We discussed Mr. Phelps a little, but then lapsed into silence.
Our breakfast arrived and we ate to some small talk and watched the traffic outside crawl by.
"What's within walking distance here?" Lori asked me at one point.
"I don't know."
"Let's find out." I nodded at Jean the next time she came by.
And I was sorry for six hours that I did.
Jean told Lori about the Circle Center Mall. It sounded harmless enough. After we ate we went and changed into walking shoes and got some essentials and walked three blocks or so over to the indoor mall.
To me, shopping is knowing what you want, know where it is, and go get it. Park somewhere in the same ZIP code, and go in and make your purchase. If you must comparison shop, hit the web, make a couple of calls, drive to two or three stores, and make your selection based on the available choices.
I had no idea what the Circle Center place was. I thought maybe it was a building with a small set of shops and a department store in it. This thing, I don't even know where to begin, was huge. And now we lived a few minutes walk from it.
It occupied two entire downtown blocks and change. From the directory, it was four stories tall, with over a hundred shops, not to mention anchor stores. I loved my wife dearly, but this was not my idea of a recreational day away from the hotel.
Lori took me by the hand and commenced to evaluate every store in the place.
At one O'clock I had almost played my way through every game in the arcade and was thinking about lunch.
By two O'clock I was sitting on a bench looking out at the city drinking something she had bought that was terribly sweet.
By four O'clock I was listening to some old man tell me all about how they built this place and why.
Lori had seen it all. She asked me if I wanted to go upstairs to a movie.
The picture was good, the popcorn was so buttery it made me feel slimy, and the seats were the most comfortable I had ever been in in a theater.
We walked back to the hotel afterwards still laughing about the movie. It hadn't been that bad of a day.
"So, aren't you going to ask me what I bought?" Lori said as we took the elevator up a level.
"I figured I'd find out sooner or later."
She smiled and said it would be later. "Let's see what's on the cafe's salad bar. I don't want a big dinner."
"They closed an hour ago. Sunday hours."
"I'll have to speak to the manager about that." She looked at me seriously. "I don't want to change to go down to the restaurant. I just want a salad."
I picked up the phone. "Its called 'room service'."
She stood there and looked at me. "I forgot, this is a real hotel. Where they still have that."
Twenty-five minutes later I was signing the ticket for our dinner while Lori freshened up in the bathroom.
"Ready?" She said from behind me as I set the table.
"Sure am." I said turning around.
No I wasn't. She was there in a breathtaking lingerie set. I have no idea what to call whatever she had on under the floor length silk gown, but I liked it. A lot.
I held her for a long time before we even thought about dinner.
"I was going to wait until after we ate, but I wanted to try it on, and well. Once I had it on, I didn't want to take it off."
"That's my job anyway." I smiled to her.
And later, after dinner, I did my job very well.
The next morning I had to deal with the arrangements for the funeral dinner for Mr. Phelps for Wednesday evening, and a dozen other things that seemed to magically appear on my desk downstairs.
And there were forms I had to fill out. Seems there was a step missed in my hiring process. I sat in the accountant's room and watched her watch me as she took down my tax and insurance information. Ms. Warren had about as much of a sense of humor as a rabid skunk. I gave up trying to make her even smile and just answered questions and signed forms.
On my way out of the suite I smiled at the temp.
"You are the manager aren't you?" She asked me.
"When I'm done here, can I put in an application? I like this place."
"Sure." I said.
The young girl smiled and sat back at her desk to answer the phone.
She put the caller on hold and went to page Ms. Warren.
"Except if you work downstairs, you have to wear shoes." I said to her.
She smiled broadly and nodded, she pushed the button, "It's Mr. Kendel about the produce bill."
I nodded and walked out.
Then for some reason I will never understand, I took elevator up. Up to the tenth floor.
The floor was silent. Not even the sound of the air conditioners broke the stillness.
The elevator's door closed. It echoed through the place.
I thought I heard whispering from off to one side. I followed it slowly.
Then I paused and held my breath. Actually hoping to hear footsteps, or something that would suggest it was a radio someplace, or maybe the old intercom malfunctioning.
I walked slowly back toward the elevators and then around to the far hallway where the cloak room and vending machine was. I walked into the cloak room and turned the light on, then looked around. It was still and quiet.
The whispering was back.
I walked to the counter and just stood there. Waiting. Listening.
I heard the elevator door open and looked over that way. But both sets of doors were closed.
The whispering was louder. I heard some chairs move and the rattling of glassware.
I had to go look.
The ballroom was silent and still. The sun shone in the windows lighting the stage area in an almost hurtful glare.
I walked to the waitress station. There wasn't even any glassware in the cabinet to rattle. Then I went down the far hall. The side rooms were just as empty and still as the ball room. I knew I was being watched. But I ignored it. I walked back around to the cloak room and looked in it again.
The whispering started up again.
Whispering that I could almost understand. I strained and thought I could hear an actual word once in awhile. But the harder I strained to hear it, the fainter it got.
I heard what sounded like the cover of the piano close and fought down the temptation to go see if it had moved. I turned the light off in the cloak room and stood there again. Listening to the almost discernable voices.
"Sir. Do you have your ticket?"
"WHAT!?!??!?" I screamed and jumped out into the hall and turned around.
I got a glimpse of a young woman standing at the counter, then she was gone.
My heart was pounding like a marching band in my chest, but my blood was frozen. Tears streamed down my face. My hands were shaking so hard I couldn't control them enough to wipe my face. I took several deep breaths. Then swallowed hard. I walked back toward the room slowly.
It was still empty.
"No." I said, amazed my voice would even work. "No, I think I misplaced my ticket."
There was a rustling in the room. Then it changed. Almost imperceptibly, but something was different.
"What did you check?" The voice said.
I looked around, fighting the urge to run down the stairs.
At the counter stood a young woman, a girl really, in clothes that went out of style after World War Two. She was smiling at me with clear bright eyes.
"Sir?" She said to me. But her lip movement was out of synch with the words. I heard her after she mouthed the words, like watching a movie on an old projector with a bad sound loop.
"I thought I had a rain coat, but maybe I left it in the cab." I said the first thing that came to mind.
Her mouth moved. Then "I can check for you sir."
"That's OK. Let me think about it for a minute. Maybe I'll remember what I did with it." I looked at her. Trying to remember every detail of the image.
There was no doubt in my mind that I was seeing a full apparition of somebody that had worked here ages ago.
"What's your name?" I asked her.
"Rosalie." She answered. Then her face changed, got older, and very sad. Then she was gone.
"Rosalie." I echoed. "I'll see you again sometime." I said to the room, then on a whim, I reached into my pocket and took out a couple of coins and laid them on the counter.
I walked to the elevator and pushed the button.
It took a minute for the car to arrive.
"Have a good evening sir." The voice called out to me as I stepped through the door.
Copyright, 2000, Levite 2001 The Media Desk
All rights reserved, including rights to publication. All persons and events are fictitious. This story is not endorsed nor is it to be seen as the conditions in the City of Indianapolis No harm of the City of Indianapolis is intended. No ghosts or spirits were harmed in the writing of this story. Email- firstname.lastname@example.org
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