Authors: Nita Prose
“But she wasn’t the one to find him dead,” I say.
“Everyone reacts to stress in different ways, I suppose,” he replies.
“Yes, of course,” I reply.
“Molly, do you think you could come in her place and work the day shift tomorrow? Again, I’m sorry that—”
“Of course,” I say. “An extra day of work isn’t going to kill me.”
Another long pause.
“Is that all, Mr. Snow?”
“Yes, that’s all. And thank you. We’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“You will indeed,” I say. “Good night, Mr. Snow. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
“Good night, Molly.”
I will admit to having bad dreams last night. I dreamed that Mr. Black walked through the front door of my apartment, gray and ashen, like the living dead. I was sitting on the sofa, watching
. I turned to him and said, “No one comes here, not since Gran died.” He started laughing—laughing at me. But I focused my laser gaze on him, and his limbs turned to dust, a fine charcoal particulate that spread around the room and into my lungs. I started gagging and coughing.
“No!” I yelled. “I didn’t do this to you! It wasn’t me! Get out!”
But it was too late. His grime was everywhere. I woke up gasping for air.
It’s now six
It’s time to rise and shine. Or just rise.
I get out of bed and make it properly, careful to position Gran’s quilt so that the star in the middle points due north. I go to the kitchen, where I put on Gran’s paisley apron and prepare tea and crumpets for one. It’s too quiet in the mornings. The scratchy grate of my knife against the toasted crumpet is an offense to my ears. I eat quickly, then shower and leave for work.
I’m locking the apartment door behind me when I hear someone clearing their throat in the hallway. Mr. Rosso.
I turn to face him. “Hello, Mr. Rosso. Up early this morning?”
I’m expecting the basic civility of a good morning, but all I get is, “Your rent is overdue. When will you pay up?”
I put my keys in my pocket. “The rent will be paid in a few days’ time, and at that point, I will make good on every penny I owe you. You knew my gran, and you know me. We are law-abiding citizens who believe in paying our fair share. And I will do so. Soon.”
“You’d better,” he says, then shuffles back to his apartment, closing the door behind him.
I do wish people would pick up their feet when they walk. It’s most slovenly to shuffle like that. It leaves a very poor impression.
Now, now, let’s not judge others too harshly.
I hear it in my head in Gran’s voice, a reminder to be gracious and forgiving. It’s a fault of mine, to be quick to judge or to want the world to function according to my laws.
We must be like bamboo. We must learn to bend and flex with the wind.
Bend and flex. Not my strong suits.
I head down the stairs and out of my building. I decide to walk all the way to work—a twenty-minute jaunt that’s pleasant enough in good weather, though today the clouds are broody and threaten rain. I breathe a sigh of relief the second I set eyes on the bustling hotel. I’m a professional half hour early for my shift, as is my way.
I greet Mr. Preston at the front doors.
“Oh Molly. Tell me you’re not working today.”
“I am. Cheryl called in sick last night.”
He shakes his head. “Naturally. Molly, are you all right? You had quite a scare yesterday, so I hear. I’m terribly sorry…about what you saw.”
My dream flashes in my head for a moment, mixed with the real vision of Mr. Black, dead in his bed. “No need to be sorry, Mr. Preston. It’s not your fault. But I’ll admit, this whole situation has been a bit…trying. I’ll keep calm and carry on.” A thought occurs to me. “Mr. Preston, did Mr. Black receive any visitors yesterday, friendly or…otherwise?”
Mr. Preston adjusts his cap. “Not that I noticed,” he says. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” I say. “The police will investigate, I’m sure. Especially if something is amok.”
“Amok?” Mr. Preston fixes me with a serious stare. “Molly, if ever you need anything—any help at all—you just remember your ol’ friend Mr. Preston, you hear?”
I am not the kind to impose on other people. Surely Mr. Preston knows that much about me by now. His face is stern, his eyebrows knit with concern that even I can read clearly.
“Thank you, Mr. Preston,” I say. “I appreciate your kind offer. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m sure there’s extra cleaning to tackle today since there were many officers and paramedics traipsing through this hotel yesterday. I fear not all of their boots are as clean as yours.”
He tips his hat and turns his attention to some guests who are trying, unsuccessfully, to hail a cab.
“Taxi!” he calls out, then turns back to me for a moment, “Take good care, Molly. Please.”
I nod and make my way up the plush red stairs. I push through the shiny revolving doors, jostling against guests heading in and out. In the front lobby, I see Mr. Snow by the reception desk. His glasses are akimbo, and a lock of hair has escaped his gelled-back coiffure. It wags back and forth on his head like a disapproving finger.
“Molly, I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you,” he says. He holds the day’s newspaper in his hand. It’s hard not to notice the headline:
WEALTHY TYCOON CHARLES BLACK TURNS UP DEAD IN THE REGENCY GRAND HOTEL.
“Have you read this?” he asks.
He passes me the paper and I scan the article. It explains how a maid found Mr. Black dead in his bed. My name, thank goodness, is not mentioned. Then it talks about the Black family and the strife between his children and his ex-wife. “Rumors have been swirling for years around the legitimacy of Black Properties & Investments, with allegations of fraudulent dealings and embezzlement being shut down by Black’s powerful team of attorneys.”
Halfway through the article, I catch the name Giselle and read more carefully. “Giselle Black, Mr. Black’s second wife, is thirty-five years his junior. She is the presumed heir to the Black fortunes, which have been the subject of family feuds in recent years. After Giselle Black’s husband was found dead, she was seen leaving the hotel wearing dark glasses, accompanied by an unknown male. According to various staff members at the hotel, the Blacks are regular guests at the Regency Grand. When asked if Mr. Black conducted business at the hotel, Mr. Alexander Snow, the hotel manager, had no comment. According to lead detective Stark, foul play has not yet been ruled out as Mr. Black’s cause of death.”
I finish reading the article and pass the paper back to Mr. Snow. I suddenly feel unsteady on my feet as the implications of that final line sink in.
“Do you see, Molly? They’re suggesting that this hotel is…is…”
“Foul,” I offer. “Unclean.”
Mr. Snow attempts to straighten his glasses, with limited success. “Molly, I must ask you, did you or have you, at any time, noticed any…questionable activities in this hotel? With the Blacks or any other guests?”
“Questionable?” I say.
“Nefarious,” he explains.
“No!” I reply. “Absolutely not. If I had, you’d have been the first to know.”
Mr. Snow releases a pent-up sigh. I feel sorry for him, for the burden he carries—the mighty reputation of the Regency Grand Hotel itself rests on his slight shoulders.
“Sir, may I ask you a question?”
“The article mentions Giselle Black. Do you know: is she still staying here? In the hotel, I mean?”
Mr. Snow’s eyes dart left and right. He steps away from the reception desk and the smartly uniformed penguins manning it. He signals for me to do the same. Gaggles of guests are roaming the lobby; it’s
unusually busy this morning. Many of them hold newspapers in hand, and I suspect that Mr. Black may be the topic on the tip of many tongues.
Mr. Snow gestures to an emerald settee in a shadowy corner by the grand staircase. We make our way there. It’s the first time I’ve ever sat on one of these settees. I sink into the soft velvet, no springs to circumvent, unlike our sofa at home. Mr. Snow perches beside me and speaks in a whisper. “To answer your question, Giselle is still staying here at the hotel, but you’re not to pass that along. She has nowhere else to go, do you understand? And she’s distraught, as you can imagine. I’ve moved her to the second floor. Sunitha will clean her room from now on.”
I feel a nervous flutter in my stomach. “Very well,” I say. “I best be off. This hotel won’t clean itself.”
“One more thing, Molly,” Mr. Snow says. “The Black suite? It’s out of bounds today, obviously. The police are still conducting their investigation in the room. You’ll notice security tape, and a police guard posted outside the door.”
“So when should I clean that suite?”
Mr. Snow stares at me for a long time. “You’re not to clean it, Molly. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
“Very well. I won’t then. Goodbye.”
And with that, I stand, turn on my heel, and head down the marble stairs to my basement locker in the housekeeping quarters.
I’m greeted by my trusty uniform, crisp and clean, encased in plastic wrap, hung on my locker door. It’s as though yesterday’s upheavals never happened, as though every day conveniently erases the one that came before. I quickly change, leaving my own clothes in my locker. Then I grab my maid’s trolley—which is, miracle of miracles, fully stocked and replenished (no doubt owing to Sunshine or Sunitha, and certainly not to Cheryl).
I head through the labyrinth of too-bright hallways until I make it to the kitchen, where Juan Manuel is scraping the remnants of breakfasts into a large garbage can and putting plates into the industrial dishwasher. I’ve never been in a sauna, but I imagine it must feel like this—minus the offensive odor of a medley of breakfast foods.
As soon as Juan Manuel sees me, he puts down the spray nozzle and eyes me with concern.
“Dios te bendiga,”
he says, crossing himself. “I am glad to see you. Are you okay? I’ve been worried about you, Miss Molly.”
It’s becoming upsetting that everyone is making such a fuss about me today. I’m not the one who died.
“I’m quite fine, thank you, Juan Manuel,” I say.
“But you found him,” he whispers, eyes wide. “Dead.”
“I can’t believe he’s really gone. I wonder what it means,” he says.
“It means he’s dead,” I say.
“What I’m saying is, what will it mean for the hotel?” He takes a few steps closer to me, so close he’s only half a trolley’s width away.
“Molly,” he whispers. “That man. Mr. Black? He was powerful. Too powerful. Who will be the boss now?”
“The boss is Mr. Snow,” I say.
He looks at me strangely. “Is he? Is he really?”
“Yes,” I reply with utmost confidence. “Mr. Snow is most definitely the boss of this hotel. Now, can we stop discussing this? I really need to get to work. Today, I’ll make some new arrangements for tonight. I’ve just heard that the fourth floor is under surveillance. The police are still up there. I need you to stay in Room 202 tonight, okay? Second floor, not the fourth. To avoid the police.”
“Okay. Don’t worry. I’ll stay clear.”
“And Juan Manuel, I shouldn’t be telling you this, but Giselle Black is staying somewhere on the same floor. On the second. So be careful. There may be investigators, even on her floor. You have to keep a low profile until this investigation is over. Understood?”
I hand him a keycard for Room 202. “Yes, Molly. Understood. You need to keep a low profile, too, okay? I worry about you.”
“There’s nothing to worry about,” I say. “I best be off.” Then I exit the kitchen and wheel my trolley to the service elevator. I step in, the air instantly fresher and cooler, and I ride up to the lobby, where I’ll retrieve my daily stack of papers from the Social.
Even from afar, I can spot Rodney behind the bar. When he sees me, he rushes out to greet me.
“Molly! You’re here.” He puts his hands on my shoulders. I feel them like electricity, warming me to my core. “Are you all right?”
“Everyone keeps asking me that. I’m all right,” I say. “Perhaps a hug would not be too much to ask of you?”
“Of course!” he says. “You’re actually just the person I wanted to see today.” He folds me into his chest. I rest my head on his shoulder and take in the scent of him.
It’s been so long since I’ve been hugged that I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my arms. I opt to wrap them around his back and rest them on his shoulder blades, which are even stronger than I would have imagined.
He pulls away before I’m ready. It’s only then that I notice his right eye. It’s swollen and purple, as though he’s been punched. “What happened to you?” I ask.
“Oh, it was stupid. I was helping Juan Manuel with a bag in his room, and I…I ran into the door. Ask him. He’ll tell you.”
“You should ice that. It looks sore.”
“Enough about me, I want to hear how
doing.” He looks around the bar as he says this. Groups of middle-aged women eat breakfast together, teaspoons tinkling against ceramic, laughter echoing as they while away the morning hours before their theater matinees. A few families are filling up on stacks of pancakes before a day full of museums and sightseeing. And two lone-wolf business travelers peck at continental breakfasts, their eyes glued to their phones or the newspapers splayed in front of them. Who is Rodney looking for? Surely it’s none of these guests. But if not them, who?
“Listen,” Rodney says in a hush. “I heard you found Mr. Black yesterday and that they took you to the cop shop to ask you questions. I can’t talk now, but why don’t you come by after your shift? We can grab a quiet booth and you can tell me everything. Every last detail, okay?” He reaches for my hand and squeezes it in his. His eyes are deep pools of blue. He is concerned. Concerned for me. For a moment, I wonder if
he’s going to kiss me, but then I realize how daft that is—kissing a fellow employee in the middle of the bar and grill. Of course he wouldn’t do that. But it’s a pity nonetheless.