On Rudy’s walk back to his champagne-colored sedan, which he had just decided to name Jill (after the waitress at the bakery) he pondered over that brief moment. Upon mention of his new employer, the waitress’ demeanor had shifted, and her friendly, pretty face betrayed the nervousness beneath. What had made her so nervous?
You, dear reader, may think it odd that a young bachelor like Rudy would name his automobile for a girl he’d just met in a bakery. You are right; it is odd! But our Rudy is quite a bit odd. Having grown up a quiet, lonely boy who invested his allowance in books instead of baseball cards and dime candy, Rudy never learned the knack for talking to girls, even when he had occasion to do so. She had seemed so nice and sweet and pretty, and he’d been feeling so very brave in this new place, and maybe he’d gotten carried away but he would swear he felt an affinity for her. So his car is named Jill now, and I have a feeling, reader, that we’ll have to remember that later.
The man who hired Rudy, a Mister Johnson, had recommended temporary residency at a hotel just two blocks from the 56 Department. Upon this advice, Rudy had prepaid a two-week stay at the hotel over the phone and sight unseen. Seeing the hotel, he regretted that decision. It looked older than the city surrounding it, older perhaps than the statehood of Minnesota itself. Five stories of degrading brick and windows, each dirtier than the last, punctuated by a mid-century off-broadway-style incandescent “Hotel” sign, which was unlit save for three letters: H, E, and L. Great, really excellent, thought Rudy, and he hoped that any present demons or imps would at least frighten off the cockroaches. He drove the car up the ramp to the on-roof parking lot, slung his “essentials” bag over a shoulder, and started down the stairs to the front entrance. Being sure to take two deep, melodramatic sighs, he braced himself, pulled the brass handled door open, and stepped through.
Inside, a gruff-looking but well dressed desk attendant sat behind a worn-but-warm cherry cabinet with a marble desk top. Both the man and desk looked original to the building. Rudy also had a faint impression that both may have been very fine fifty years ago, and that they remained sturdily built.
The man wet his lips with his tongue as though he had not spoken in a very, very long time, and when he opened his mouth to say hello all that came out was “Rudolph Augustus Lund.” It was not a question.
“Yessir,” Rudy said instinctively, compliantly. The man behind the desk sounded like he’d taken gravel with his evening tea, and each word had its own thick, warm weight.
“Room six. Fifth floor.” The man pushed an old, bronze key across the counter. The attached wooden key-fob displayed the number fifty-six in a circle; the edges of the numbers touched the inner rim of the circle. It look hand-engraved. Rudy could feel an anxious headache beginning at the back of his neck.
“How did you know I was me?” Realizing the question was both odd and rude, he added a quick “Sir.”
“You’re the only reservation,” he said. “Besides that, Mr. Johnson said you’d be by.”
“Oh.” Rudy did not feel less nervous. “Well, thank you very much, Sir.” Rudy could not help but feel like a small, quivering child in this man’s presence, and he thought he’d better mind his manners. In response, the attendant grunted.
Up, up the elevator, which doubled as the freight lift. Rudy had never actually seen an elevator such as this, save for in films or on television. An iron, scissoring fence served as the door, and the buttons were mechanical, not electronic. It rattled up the shaft and shuddered every inch it climbed. Rudy felt stomach butterflies regarding the impending state of his room, and then thought no; in this place they could only be stomach moths.
The key slid smoothly, soundlessly into the tumbler above the doorknob and turned to a slick, clean click as the bolt slid back into the door. Slightly surprised, Rudy closed his eyes, pushed open the door, stepped in, and took a deep whiff. When his nose was unoffended, he opened his eyes, one at a time. What he saw gave him quite a start, indeed.
(to be continued)