The Ashcroft Hotel sat near the coast and waited for the next guest to arrive. Tyler Donovan was that next guest. However, he arrived in town just as the morning rush hour bottle-necked every major intersection which made it impossible for him to check into the hotel or at least drop off his duffel bag. It was a last minute work request and the convention manager apologized for not being able to arrange a room in a newer hotel but everything was sold out. The Ashcroft Hotel was an older hotel and too far from the job site so Tyler headed directly to the work location in the heart of the city. These weekend shifts kept him away from the wife and kids but it was worth it when he got to watch the big game on fifty-inch Technicolor.
This morning promised tolerable temperatures so the manual labour he was contracted to complete meant a long day but not an unbearable one. His Grannie Brigid always used to remind Tyler of the long days his grandfather Rory put in as a travelling salesman, and Tyler figured if his grandpa could do it, so could he. After an eighteen hour day plastered his sweat soaked clothes to his body like a postage stamp Tyler just wanted something to chow down on, maybe catch the last inning of the baseball game and a nice long shower before hitting the sheets.
Tyler’s first image of his accommodation made him think of the stories Grannie B told him about life in Ireland, especially when she lowered her voice to mention the ‘wee’ folk and the magic they conjured. The Ashcroft Hotel looked like it had been transported directly from the mind of an architect determined to house Merlin the Magician. Long and rambling, neither too high nor too ornate. The turrets at either end of the drive acted as concrete restraints to stop the building from sliding into the ocean. Gingerbread cornices adorned the eaves while glossy white pillars stood sentinel near the entryway.
As hotels went it was no better or worse than any other he’d stayed in. Posters and framed front page newspaper articles from the past nine decades littered the walls of the reception area. Front page news articles touting Lindbergh as a hero for flying solo juxtaposed with news of Bonnie and Clyde’s demise in a shootout next to huge headlines about Germany’s surrender in 1945 all triggered memories of high school history classes. Moon landings and Woodstock, local fires and rescues littered the walls. All these framed historic headlines and more kept him company as he ascended the winding wooden staircase but Tyler didn’t linger long over these nostalgic illustrations. He just wanted to relax in the quiet of his room.
Tyler assumed the hotel management hadn’t updated anything to the turn of this new century because they still handed the guests room keys as entries to the individual suites. Tyler’s key required a bit more of a joggle and shove to finally get his door open. At least the Ashcroft Hotel had upgraded the amenities in the guest rooms with large screen TV’s and modern looking beds.
Passed the first bed, dropped his duffel on the second one, turned on the TV to catch the last of the night’s game between the Yankees and the White Sox, eat his meatball hoagie, with extra cheese and hot peppers, a cold beer, then call it a night. He dragged an arm chair, upholstered in plaid from a long lost decade from the far corner and placed it near the TV, peeled off his sweat and grime covered shirt and chinos still fragrant with plaster dust then settled into the surprisingly soft fabric of the chair. Once he was comfortable, Tyler realized this old chair reminded him of his grandpa’s aftershave often inhaled as he read the funny papers over grandpa’s shoulder Saturday evenings. Odd he should think of that, what with Grandpa Rory being gone these past fifteen years.
As he reached for the remote a flicker of light in the pine trimmed mirror caught his eye. Odd, he didn’t remember turning the light on in the bathroom and now a shaft of light shimmered between the door and the jamb. Bathroom lights were the furthest thing from his mind against the aroma of basil and tomato mingled with hot peppers. Tyler shrugged his shoulders, turned back to the game as he unwrapped the still warm hoagie. He caught one fat jalapeno as it slithered its way off an oily glob of cheese to land on his bare leg. Anticipation had his saliva glands pumping. He wondered what his grandfather Rory did to pass the time when he checked into the hundreds of hotel rooms he must have stayed in over the course of his career as a salesman. He wouldn’t have had TV to watch until the late fifties, depending on what kind of hotels his employers paid for. Tyler wondered what his grandparents would have thought of this room with its mixed décor of dated wallpaper and a large screen TV from 2001.
Now that Grannie B lived in the Sunshine State, a stark contrast to the icy cold winters of Boston, she might like to come to the Ashcroft for a mini vacation, and, based on the framed news articles adorning the walls, she might like the trip down memory lane. He’d be sure to mention it next weekend when he and the family went for their bi-monthly visit.
His wilted duds lay puddled on the floor, close to his chair never to be worn again, at least until they’d
been through a damn hot wash. A flicker in the mirror diverted his attention once more. Who did the dust covered two-tone wing tip shoes beside the bed he’d passed on his way in belong to? For a fleeting second they reminded Tyler of his grandfather they looked that ancient; he should know because he helped Grandpa Rory polish them every Saturday night so they were ready for church on Sunday morning along with his own smaller leather shoes. And the gray fedora next to the battered brown leather suitcase complete with two buckled straps; if the destination labels were any indication this derelict piece of luggage was older than dirt itself. And none of it belonged to him.
The groan and squeak of faucets long unused erupted from the vicinity of the bathroom. A low baritone voice began humming Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral and the old Irish melody floated between the bathroom door and the jamb like invisible smoke. Tyler grabbed the splash of clothing at his feet. He seized his still packed duffel, the room key and raced for the door as if lightning might strike at any minute. Tyler Donovan was a whirlwind of body parts as he attempted to dress and run at the same time.
A mixture of embarrassment, confusion, and fright stopped him mid stride as the receptionist from the hotel lobby stood in the corridor. He caught a quick look of surprise and maybe amusement as she noticed a young man, only partially clothed, who stood in the hallway holding a leaking sandwich with a duffle bag slung over one shoulder a shocked look on his face. Tyler noticed that it just as quickly disappeared as her professional demeanor replaced her surprise with a hint of a smile.
“Is anything amiss, Mr. Donovan?”
“I…ah, well… I believe I’m in someone else’s room. That is, I think you gave me the wrong room key when you checked me in. There seems to be someone else in that room.” He nodded toward the closed door behind him. Tyler struggled to draw his trousers up to his waist with one hand, not sure what to do with the sloppy hoagie. He looked about the hallway for a shelf or table but seeing none, as nonchalantly as possible, he lowered the wax paper covered sandwich to the carpeted floor, shoved his uncovered arm into the limp sleeve of his shirt, then buttoned it like it was the most normal thing in the world; to dress in front of an elderly, bespectacled receptionist, with blue tinted hair, in a hotel corridor all while trying not to gasp for breath like a greyhound chasing a rabbit.
“Why don’t you go down to reception and see if they can sort out your room situation?”
“Thank you ma’am. I’ll do that. Ah ma’am, I apologize for…my…”
“Appearance? Don’t worry Mr. Donovan. In all my years at the Ashcroft Hotel trust me when I say I’ve seen it all. You go and do what needs to be done.” Her quiet smile reached her eyes as Tyler turned toward the stairway.
Tyler darted down the stairway barely touching the risers as he gained the hotels reception area eager to straighten out the confusion regarding his room. At that time of night it was populated with yesterday’s newspapers and discarded coffee cups. Details of a hotel fire captured on the framed front page of an old newspaper almost caught a ride on his shirt tail as he reached the lobby landing. He stopped to right it and quickly caught the words Ashcroft Hotel and photographs of some of the victims but he was in too much of a hurry to absorb the words.
Upended cigarette butts stood sentinel in the sand filled canister ashtray. A bored night manager glanced up as his duffel buckle scraped along the stairway railing when Tyler rushed into the area. At the night clerks raised eyebrow Tyler belatedly realized what he was doing and concentrated on each button as he righted his clothing, tucked his shirt tail into the waistband of his trousers while at the same time he slowed his breathing.
“Good evening sir. How may I assist you?”
“My name is Tyler Donovan and a short time ago the other receptionist, the older lady with the blue tinted hair, checked me into Room 430 and I think she made a mistake.”
“Why is that Sir?”
“Someone else appears to already be in that room.”
“That’s not possible sir.”
“Look, I just met the other receptionist, the older woman, upstairs in the corridor outside my room and she said to come down and you’d straighten everything out. So, can we do that, now?”
“As I said sir, I don’t think it’s possible for me to ‘straighten everything out’ as you requested.”
“Listen pal, I don’t need your stink eye…I’m getting dressed as quickly as I can. If the older lady receptionist I met in the upstairs passageway can treat me with respect while I’ve been scared out of my…well, I guess you could say I was scared into my clothes the least you can do is listen to what I’m telling you. And considering what was going on in my room I’m a little amazed I was able to do that.”
“And what exactly was that, Sir? Going on in your room I mean.”
“There was luggage, that wasn’t mine. See, mine’s here. And there was a light on in the bathroom and strange noises came from inside the bathroom and they weren’t made by me. Music, then groans and moans and all sorts of noises not made by me. And shadows. I didn’t even go in there. All I did was turn on the television. Can’t you check the register? You’ve rented my room out to someone else. I want to know what’s going on. Then I want a room where I can get some shut eye.”
“What room did you say you were in, Sir?”
“That’s not possible, Sir.”
“And why is ‘that not possible’…Gary, especially when I have the room key right here in my hand?”
Night manager Gary ticked off the reasons on his fingers. “Firstly, I have been on duty all evening and I most certainly did not check you in. Secondly, we have no old woman with blue tinted hair on staff. I would know as I’ve worked here for twenty years. And thirdly,” he looked down his long critical nose at Tyler, “We have not had a fourth floor in this hotel since the fire of 1979.”
Tyler glanced around the lobby then back at the clerk. The framed front page of the hotel fire, the one still askew on the wall. One of the photographs was eerily familiar. An older lady with glasses…but it couldn’t be.
Tyler very deliberately laid his room key on the counter in front of Gary the night clerk. He decided to sleep in his truck for the night as headed for the front door. He’d use his new cell phone to call the boss tomorrow and tell him there’d been an emergency and he couldn’t stay in town. First thing in the morning Tyler would be at his Grannie B’s for a long chat about the ‘wee’ folk.
Mary Elstone was born in Toronto in 1953. Mary graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor’s degree in English and History as well as a degree in Creative Writing from the School of Continuing Studies at the U of T. She is a new, emerging writer.