The Primrose Hotel doesn’t really have regulars. When I waited tables at the Grub N’ Grab, we had at least ten people who would eat there each day, or each week, or on some schedule you could depend on. But that doesn’t happen at the Primrose.
First of all, it’s probably the location. We aren’t near the main drag or the business district of the city center. We aren’t even in the countryside or near a highway. We’re tucked away on the edge of an abandoned old downtown that has become a tent city for most of the homeless in the area.
We’re a big, old, dingy place built in the early twentieth century and haven’t renovated since the 1960s. It’s all art deco and grand staircases with crystal chandeliers, but it smells like my aunt’s basement and the wallpaper is peeling in spots. And it’s pink. Like really pink. All shades of pink all over the place. It isn’t called the Primrose for nothing.
My biggest gripe with the job isn’t that it’s hard work. I’ve been scrubbing, slinging, digging, and sweating my entire thirty five years of life. I hate that every day here is the same. I clock in at the same time on the same days, and I clean the same rooms in the same ways. I’m one of ten maids on staff, and I’m in charge of the top floor. The one with the Presidential Suit.
No one ever stays in our Presidential Suit because no one is willing to pay more than a hundred dollars a night to stay here. This means that after I do my typical deep clean of the used guest rooms and my dusting and vacuuming of the unused rooms, I get to hang out in the suit by myself for a while. This is the best part of my day. I pretend like I’m scrubbing and shining every square inch of it when really I’m watching tv or taking a dip in the huge spa tub with real working jets. I turn music up really loud so everyone thinks I’m busy and lock the doors for a couple hours of uninterrupted relaxation.
I can get away with this because, like I said, no one ever, and I mean ever, books the Presidential Suit.
It’s a normal Wednesday afternoon when I finish cleaning my last room and head toward the suit for my ritual bath and TV siesta. As I place the key in the lock, Gena, who works at our front desk, sends me a text. “Guest coming up to the prez suit now FYI.”
And almost as if the universe timed it perfectly, someone behind me clears their throat.
I turn and stare open mouthed at the man in front of me. He’s tall, dressed in a tailored black suit with perfectly coiffed hair and a jawline you only see in action movies. He smiles, and it’s almost debilitatingly dazzling except there’s one little thing that throws me off. He’s wearing a black eye patch.
“Excuse me,” he says in a low voice. He squints his one brown eye at my name badge. “Daisy. This is my room, I believe.”
The sound of my name on his lips is enough to replace all thoughts of my afternoon alone in the suite with fantasies of him in the tub with me. “Yes, sir,” I say as I step aside. “Freshly cleaned and ready for you.”
He nods once and proceeds to the door, unlocking it and opening it with no trouble. As he sweeps his suitcase inside, he looks back at me once more and smiles again. “Thank you,” he says before the door closes with a soft click.
I stare at the closed door for a while, mulling over this exciting new development. I wonder what a man like that is doing in a place like this, and I settle on business. He must not have been able to find accommodations in the city. Perhaps there’s a big conference this weekend that I didn’t know about, though I do try to keep up with those kinds of things to better prepare myself for whatever workload might be in store. With nothing left to do, I put away my cleaning cart and wander back down to the front desk.
I plan to ask Gena what she knows about our mysterious new guest, but when I get to the round marble desk in the middle of the grand entryway, it’s bustling. People in suits much like Eyepatch Man’s are standing in straight lines, patiently waiting their turn to talk to Gena, our only receptionist on duty today. There must be at least twenty five of them all in sunglasses, standing straight like toy soldiers. The hotel hasn’t seen a rush like this in decades.
Gena must see me in my mauve uniform out of the corner of her eye because she looks over her shoulder and calls, “Daisy! Can you help me out, please?”
Her response shakes me out of my daze and I step up to the other computer behind the desk. I’m trained on almost every job in the hotel. Staff turnover is high, and since I’ve been here for five years, I’ve had a chance to learn everything.
I check in the guests, and almost all of them have names that sound fake. Jane Smith. John Doe. Dave Brown. All names that are meant to be forgotten. None of the guests say more than “thank you” or answer basic questions, and the IDs they hand in are obviously forged. They all pay in cash and quietly ascend to their rooms–all on the top floor, per their request.
When they’ve all checked in and cleared the lobby, I exchange a look of astonishment with Gena. “What the hell was that?”
She shakes her head and holds up her hands in surprise. “I have no clue. They just showed up. No reservations or anything.”
“Should we call the police?” I ask. “Or maybe they’re CIA or secret service.”
Gena shakes her head emphatically. “What’s good for the hotel is all the cash they just spent here. I don’t think we should call anybody.”
I shrug. I guess she’s right, and at the very least, it makes my life more exciting.
But the next week isn’t the titillating experience I was hoping for at all. The new guests place “do not disturb” signs on their doors. None of them ask for more towels or request turndown service. I ask the maids on duty overnight, and no one has had to clean up a single crumb from their rooms. I do my rounds every morning and afternoon, but no one needs a thing.
When I ask Gena if they’ve left, she says aside from meeting in the Presidential Suit for hours at a time, they haven’t gone outside the Primrose at all. Packages that she assumes contain food are delivered in unmarked cardboard boxes each evening, but otherwise they keep to themselves.
I get so desperate the following Wednesday that I press my ear against the door of the Presidential Suit to see if I can hear anything. It sounds muffled, like many conversations in hushed tones, but I can’t make out anything specific. I level my right eye with the keyhole, hoping I can see through the lock, but not even light filters through.
Just as I’m about to stand up, the door opens and I fall flat at the feet of someone with very shiny shoes. “Excuse me, Daisy. It’s Daisy, right?” a low voice with a hint of amusement says.
I push myself up and a hand is waiting for me. Not one to turn down help off of the floor after an extremely embarrassing situation, I take it. When I stand, I am face to face with Eyepatch Man. I feel my face burning with embarrassment. Caught red handed, or rather, red faced. “I-I’m sorry,” I stammer. “I wanted to see if you, uh, needed any more towels, mister–”
“Nickels,” he says with a slight smile. “Tom Nickles.”
I bow my head. “I am so sorry to disturb you Mr. Nipples.” I nearly jump at my mistake. “I mean! Nickels.” I step back. “Oh God, I’m going to leave now. Forget I was ever here.”
He grabs my hand and pulls me back, spinning me into him like we’re dancing. I look up into his single brown eye. He brushes a stray strand of hair from my face and his fingers linger at my cheek, the touch like warm electricity in my veins. I feel my heartbeat pickup and my breath hitch like I’m on the cover of a Ripped Bodice romance novel. “Do you want to join us for dinner?” he asks, barely above a whisper. His mouth is so close to mine that I feel his breath on my lips.
I nod, all knowledge of how to talk having left my brain. He releases me, but takes hold of my hand and leads me into the Presidential Suit. It looks different than it does when I’m in here alone. There are about thirty people sitting in a circle in the middle of the room. They are all wearing black suits like the one Mr. NIckels is wearing, and none of them turn to look at me because they are concentrating on something in the middle of the circle. I can’t see what it is, but a blue-green light emanates from the center, soft at first but then growing as I approach.
“What is this?” I ask, my voice the only sound in the otherwise silent room.
Mr. Nickels puts an arm around me, but when he touches my shoulder with his hand, it feels more like metal than fingers. I look up at him and nearly scream. His eyepatch is gone, and in its place is a large, red, bionic eye. He flashes a ghastly grin.
I try to run, but everyone in the circle has turned to look at me now, and their eyes are the same as his–shining red with metal gears shifting around it, unnatural grins plastered on their faces.
It’s when they rise that I see what’s for dinner.