• Kelsey Garber

The Garhardt Hotel: 1

Chicago: 1954

The Garhardt Hotel

Life in the seat of luxury abounded, as vivacious as ever. The skirts of the ladies swished, and their heels clicked along the checker-patterned tiles while the men lowered their hats from their heads upon entry, straightening their ties up to their necks in proper form. The colors and smiles that swept through the lobby whirled by each other almost in the manner of a perfectly choreographed dance, with the calming rumble of chatter supplying the melody. The ding of cash registers, the clatter of keys, and the clacking latches of suitcases accented the rhythm, and everyone moved seamlessly with the beat, falling into step and finding their place among the flowing rabble.

The bellhop, young Jackson Buckley, held the door wide for a visiting couple, his teeth gleaming a reflection of the chandeliers. “Welcome to the Garhardt Hotel. May I take your luggage for you?”

The patron pulled his case close to his chest. “I can manage on my own. Thank you.”

“Buckley!” Cramer, the supervisor, beckoned with a crude snap of his fingers.

After patiently closing the door behind the couple, Buckley stumbled his way through the guests and back to the service desk, broadening his scrawny shoulders and clasping his hands behind him in the presence of his superior.

Cramer slapped a handful of items into Buckley’s arms. “Mr. Sanders in 503 needs his bill, the dear lady Mrs. Weston in 332 has requested clean towels, Mr. Chambers rang for his daily cigarettes, and Abernathy decided to topple a breakfast tray in the middle of the hall on floor six, which I imagine he’ll need help cleaning before an unfortunate visitor slips and breaks their neck on a puddle of coffee.”

Buckley blinked, wide-eyed, at the oddball items he juggled across his forearms. “Are all the room numbers written down somewhere, sir?”

He shoved Buckley in the back. “Get on with it! If you mess any of it up, you’ll know next time to open your ears when I’m talking.”

The boy scuttled toward the elevator, balancing the cigarette case on top of the precarious stack of towels the best he could. He scooted onto the lift sideways so the horizontal handle of the mop could squeeze through the parted doors. Once he found himself alone, his back slumped forward and he heaved a breath, allowing himself only a moment to be relaxed and sloppy away from the expected professionalism of his work.

On only the second floor, the lift slowed and Buckley sucked his stomach in and stuck his chest out, jutting his chin upward to feign confidence. When the doors slid aside, a shapely beauty bewitched him, short, ivory curls framing her rosy cheeks and round, russet irises. His poise faltered, though she took very little notice of the homely bellboy.

“To the lobby, please.” She faced forward, never even affording him a glance.

Sweat dampened the hem of his cap as he fretted at the elevator buttons, so far out of reach from his fumbling, full fingers. Yet he couldn’t disappoint a guest. “Yes, Miss.”

He stuck a knee under the heap in his arms and risked freeing a hand, hobbling on one foot like a clown and punching several floors on accident until the lobby button lit. Though in achieving his goal, the top towel slid from its perch, pitching cigarettes and bills off with it.

The woman sighed, but softened with pity as she dodged rolling debris. “May I take something off your hands? Make your work a bit easier?”

“Oh, no, Miss.” Buckley crouched awkwardly, kicking at the crumpled up towel in the hopes of balancing it on a toe. “I’ve got it very much under control.”

A sweet smile graced her lips and she plucked the towel from the floor. “Several trips might have made this a little bit easier for you.”

“You may be right, Miss.”

She gathered the cigarettes and replaced them in their case before tucking it into his jacket pocket. “Perhaps that will help. I’ll drop the dirtied towel in the chute in the lobby, save you the trouble.”

“Thank you. You are very kind, Miss.” His cheeks heated up.

She stuffed the bill into his opposite pocket then turned away again, reasserting the patron-bellhop relationship as it should have been.

After three unneeded stops, they finally arrived at the lobby and she stepped off. Yet as the doors closed between them, she glanced back one last time and offered him a warm smile that no one caught but him. His heart skipped and he stumbled back against the railing behind.

Buckley ventured into the halls of floor three lost in a daze, the lovely lady from the elevator still blessing his mind. “Mrs. Weston,” he whispered to himself, attempting to focus. “Mrs. Weston wants towels in room 330-something.”

He knocked at 331 first to be met with a grumpy, impatience, unmarried man that had no need of new towels. At 332 he finally rid himself of his most significant burden, gladly passing off the haphazard load to Mrs. Weston’s husband.

Mr. Weston narrowed his eyes at the stack. “These are the fresh towels?”

Buckley swallowed, but grinned. “Fresh as could be, sir.”

With a humph, Mr. Weston slammed the door.

Luckily Buckley dropped in on Mr. Chambers every day, so knew right where to go. Farther down the hall he rapped on 355.

Mr. Chambers, clothed only in a robe with his hair askew, threw the door aside in his eagerness. “About time, boy. I’d wondered if you’d forgotten me.”

“I could never forget you, sir.” Buckley presented the cigarette case.

The man thrusted one between his lips and lit it before accepting the rest, his withdrawals clearly burdening him badly. “Same time tomorrow?”

“I’ll be here.”

Two floors up, Buckley proudly approached 503, recalling the number with no doubt.

A bald, hunched man answered. “Yes, lad?”

“Mr. Stander?”

The patron offered a gentle grin. “Sanders, that is I.”

Buckley suppressed the urge to stamp his foot at the simple mistake. “Yes, of course. My apologies, sir. I have your bill. Whenever you are ready you may call down and I will come back to receive it.”

“Thank you, my boy. I will do so.” The nice old man nodded a farewell and disappeared into his room.

Finally Buckley dragged his feet up to floor six where Abernathy had created yet another disaster. The mop towed along behind, just as unenthused to do the job as Buckley. When he showed, Abernathy was knee-deep, scrubbing with grubby towels and muddying his uniform. He leapt at the sight of Buckley.

“I’m so glad you’re here! You have to help me before Cramer finds out, or it’ll be the end of me.”

“He already knows,” Buckley groaned. “He’s the one that sent me.”

“Oh.” Abernathy paled. “What did he say? Am I canned?”

“You would have to ask him.”

He dove back into the heap of wasted syrup and caffeine. “I can’t for the life of me get this stuff up. It’s sticking everywhere.”

Buckley flourished the mop. “That’s what this is for. Let me.”

One swipe across the tacky floor and both the boys froze. A bone-chilling scream pierced every corner of the hotel, from somewhere unknown.

After a moment of regaining his head, Buckley sprang back to the elevator and smashed at the button, knowing by instinct he would need to report back to the service desk promptly. Whatever had occurred, the patrons and staff alike would be in a panic until the issue was resolved. The scream had been enough to frighten away just about anyone.

Buckley lunged through the opening doors before falling backwards in a shock, ice shooting through his veins. Laying on the floor of the lift, the charming young girl that had helped him, her ivory curls all awry, gazed out unblinking with a cold, gray complexion.

To be continued in The Garhardt Hotel: 2...

© 2021 by Kelsey Garber

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