• Kelsey Garber

The Garhardt Hotel: 2

If you missed part 1, find it here.

Policemen arrived and gathered the hundreds of patrons of the popular establishment in the lobby, crammed together like sardines. Not one fearful, accusatory shout could be distinguished over another. Buckley squeezed his shoulders together as narrow as he could and slithered his way through the mob until his gut rammed into the service desk. On the opposite side of it, Cramer fielded ringing phones left and right, all the while waving off demanding guests that pointed the finger at him.

Buckley still hadn’t caught his breath since stumbling upon the poor girl of his dreams. “Cramer! What happened?”

“Get away,” he growled. “You think I don’t have enough to deal with?”

“I just want to know what happened to her.”

“If I knew, do you think I’d be dealing with all this trouble?” He turned away, spinning the dial of the phone and hollering blasphemies into the receiver.

Abernathy cropped up behind, his hat lopsided from the tumult. “What did Cramer say?”

Buckley shook his head in grief. “We’re on our own.”

A policeman shoved his way to the desk, glaring between all the uniformed employees. “Where’s the service boy that found the girl?”

Buckley’s tongue dropped dead, but Abernathy knocked him in the shoulder. “This is him, officer.”

“With me.” The policeman whistled away the surrounding crowd and hauled Buckley to the side.

Still stunned, Buckley stammered, “But I don’t know anything.”

“Then tell me who does.”

“That’s him!” a guest screeched in their ears. “He was late with my cigarettes. He’s always on time. He would have been on the elevator. It could have been him!” Mr. Chambers stalked up with a grimace.

The officer scowled down at Buckley. “Did you deliver his cigarettes late, kid?”

Buckley unbuttoned the collar of his jacket, on the verge of choking. “I had other errands to run. It had nothing to do with the Miss.”

Mr. Weston overheard and pushed forward as well. “And the towels! They always deliver four and we only received three. The bellhop was up to something, I knew it.”

“A towel was found on the girl.” The officer crossed his arms. “How did she end up with the missing towel? Had you met her before, bellboy?”

Buckley’s mouth hung wide. “I didn’t know her, sir.”

“But you met her, didn’t ya?”

“Only for a moment.”

Everyone around jeered in victory. They had sussed out a viable culprit and fear kept their opinions unwavering.

“But I saw her off the lift and never encountered her again until after the tragedy,” Buckley begged.

The policeman already ushered him toward the exit and the crowd cheered him on.

“Ask Abernathy!” he went on in desperation. “I was with Abernathy when I found her! Ask him!”

All fell silent and looked to the clumsy bellhop, struck silly by the fate that suddenly depended on him. Abernathy cleared his throat and straightened his hat. “We were together when we heard the scream.”

“That doesn’t prove anything!” Mrs. Weston piped up, crooked around her husband's elbow. “One bellboy to another, of course they would cover it up. The towel is the tell. We solved it, officer. My husband and I.”

The couple for which Buckley had held the door that morning crammed their way into the midst of the accusers and the man that had been possessive about his case howled over everyone. “I don’t think the towel has anything to do with it, though the boy is clearly guilty. My wife and I saw the woman leave the elevator while this bellhop drooled at her like a dog.”

Buckley’s cheeks flushed as they had when he first laid eyes on the lady. “She was kind to me. I had no reason to kill her, or the means to kill her for that matter. I didn’t notice a scratch on her.”

“That’s because she was strangled,” the officer cut in. “If you had checked closer, you might have spotted the bruises.”

His stomach crashed down like a bag of rocks and the policeman towed him on toward the door. “Hang on!” Buckley cried. “How did she scream?”

Everyone stopped short in their tracks.

“What are you going on about?” The officer pulled him up by the scruff of the neck.

“If she was strangled, how did she manage to scream?”

Mr. Chambers jutted his chin out. “She could have screamed at her attacker before he got hands on her.”

“I found her alone in the elevator seconds after the scream. That’s impossible.”

Mr. Weston jabbed a finger at Buckley. “It’s possible if you did it.”

The fury of the crowd redoubled and the policeman forced Buckley through the door. One last testimony could save him, and he spotted the visitor within the throng, hoping against hope that the pieces of his alibi would hold together.

“Mr. Stander!” He called out to the gracious old man from 503. “I came by your room with the bill! I had no time to commit a murder!”

The old man smiled the same sweet smile as before. “The name is Sanders, son, and I am afraid I have never seen you before in my life.”

With despair crushing his bones, the police car door shut on Buckley and he sagged in utter defeat.

To be continued in The Garhardt Hotel: 3...

© 2021 by Kelsey Garber

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