Authors: Alan Russell
Am noticed the fragrances, but having served in the Hotel California’s service for ten years, he was not so easily waylaid.
He had bitten of the Hotel’s apple long ago, thought of himself as far removed from innocence, but maybe he’d need to do some
more chewing to get further knowledge of evil, and an understanding of why Dr. Kingsbury had been murdered.
The security hut was not on any recommended Hotel tour. It was removed from both the gardens and the ocean, no mean feat,
as most of the Hotel managed both floral and aquatic vistas. Am was sure the location wasn’t some accident. He suspected there
was a direct correlation between the perceived importance of departments and their housing. The executive offices were fit
to receive dignitaries, and had ocean views. The quarters for sales and marketing were expansive, with museum-like displays;
purchasing and accounting, located in the back of the house, looked high-tech enough to be a bookie operation; and catering,
in its garden setting, was a cornucopia of exhibitions, with pictures of food, weddings, and meeting rooms, and samples of
fruits, chocolates, and cookies. (“Offer them most of the seven sins when they walk in,” the catering manager had once explained,
“and you’ll book the function every time.”)
Where was the security hut? It was the last stop on a poorly asphalted path (only legs, or utility carts, could navigate it)
closed to guests. Its nearest neighbors were groundskeeping and gardening, but it was clear those two departments considered
security the country cousin. Am’s predecessor in his job, Chief Horton, had often proclaimed, “In the priority of things,
security at the Hotel is considered lower than a snake’s fart.” The Chief had always found it difficult to speak without some
reference to flatulence.
The transition from hotel management to hotel security had not been an easy one for Am. He was used to being involved in the
important decisions of the property. Formerly, he had to be concerned about everything that went on in the Hotel, a situation
almost analogous to trying to control the workings of a mini-city. His responsibilities were now much more limited, even if
many departmental heads were still in the habit of calling on him for help. He had considered resigning, but had found it
difficult to end his relationship with the Hotel, telling himself it wasn’t quite the right time yet. “I haven’t suffered
enough,” he said, usually with a laugh, an explanation that sufficed for most. The truth was an onion he didn’t pick at. From
the first, he had felt at home in the Hotel. As it had done to so many others, the Hotel had enchanted him.
Am walked into the security hut. Flanders was on dispatch. He had gone through most of a box of jelly doughnuts sitting in
front of him; strawberry, from the look of his shirt. Flanders looked like John Belushi in his last days; bloated, unkempt,
and borderline demented.
“Do not pass go,” said Flanders. “Do not collect two hundred dollars. General Tojo’s called three times in the last five minutes.
He wants you over in the executive offices pronto, Tonto.”
Tojo, aka Takei. “Did he say what he wanted?” asked Am.
“No,” said Flanders. “But by the teakettle sounds coming out of his teeth, I’d say it was your ass.”
Yes, thought Am, the Hotel enchanted him. The only problem was that he could never be sure if it was a good spell or a bad
One thing that could be said for Takei, no matter how early you arrived at work, he was already there toiling away. As far
as Am was concerned, that was reason enough to dislike him.
Takei was waiting for him outside the executive offices. He didn’t try and hide his anger, didn’t try to ritualize his displeasure.
The man was almost turning American, and Am wasn’t sure he liked that.
“When I arrive,” he said, “I find another young man sitting in my office.”
So, thought Am. Someone had finally beaten Takei to work.
“He had the same story as the others,” said Takei. “I tell him there is a mistake, and that he should remove himself from
my office, but he will not leave.”
That was a first, thought Am. His predecessors had quickly vacated Takei’s office when asked to leave.
“He say that he was hired as the manager,” said Takei. “I tell him more than a few times that that position is already taken.”
Takei’s tone was firm. The unsaid echo was there might be an opening in security very soon.
“I’ll take care of it,” said Am.
“You tell me that before, three, four times. Did you call the authorities like I suggest? The FBI?”
Am got the feeling that Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., was still headlining on reruns in Japan. “We’re talking about serial hiring,”
said Am, “not serial murdering.”
Takei’s face went white. “This is not a funny thing,” he said, “even if everyone seems to think so.”
Somewhere in that somber statement Am heard a child’s cry of “Everybody is laughing at me.” That explained why, from appearances
at least, Takei was more alarmed about this situation than he was by Dr. Kingsbury’s death. In Japan few things are more important
than saving face.
“I’ll get back your office for you,” said Am. “And I’ll try to get answers. Maybe this one noticed more than the others.”
“If he did not, what will you do?”
Am almost said, “I’ll perform
the lobby,” but instead replied, “I’ll come up with a new plan.”
It would have been more accurate had Am announced he would simply come up with a plan. What he had been hoping was the practical
joker would tire of his game. But this prankster was single-minded, if nothing else.
The kid was sitting in Takei’s leather chair. He looked as Am expected, about eighteen or nineteen, and still in the market
for acne cream. Diana Wade was talking to him, trying to put the young man at ease. Takei’s administrative
was getting all too used to these kinds of situations, and was hard-pressed not to show her amusement.
“Hi, Di,” Am said.
Diana was new to the Hotel, one of the few recent additions that Am approved of. She was a single mother successfully raising
two young boys, which meant she was basically unflappable. Her job, Am had heard her say, was the easy part of her day.
“Hi, Am. I’ve got another new boss. This one’s named Larry Young.”
The kid was the fourth GM to announce himself in the past month. There was a similarity to all of the pretenders to the throne.
They were eighteen to twenty years old, equal parts cocksure and unsure. All of them had applied for a job at the Hotel, any
job. Apparently someone had managed to purloin their applications. The young men had been called and arrangements made to
meet them at a site off the property. The mystery interviewer had been uniformly impressed with all of the candidates. Their
intelligence, their acumen, and their character had in every instance astounded the bogus human-resources director. He had
told the applicants that they were not just suited for any job, but the top job. They were to be hired as general manager.
It was the kind of story which only a young man could believe, could swallow without too many questions. It didn’t totally
surprise them that someone else confirmed what they had always suspected: they were very special.
“Hi, Larry,” said Am. “My name is Am.”
Am offered his hand, but it wasn’t accepted enthusiastically. “Mr. Fletcher,” said Larry, “warned me about you. He said I
shouldn’t listen to either you or Mr. Takei.”
“Fletcher” was elaborating on his practical joke. That wasn’t good news as far as Am was concerned. Now he was even coaching
the pretenders to the throne. The kid was wearing his defensiveness. It fit about as well as his sports jacket, which was
a couple of sizes too large for him, probably his father’s. The tie he was wearing had gone out of style about the year he
“What else did Fletcher tell you?” asked Am.
“That you and others would be jealous. That you’d try and confuse me, and trick me into thinking there had been some mistake
about my being hired.”
“And what were you supposed to do while all this trickery was going on?”
“Remain in this office and wait for Mr. Yamada. He’s going to explain everything to all of you.”
Am sighed. The staff thought these periodic visits by the “new” managers were hilarious, but the joke wasn’t only on Takei;
the kid was involved too. He was serious, and his lip was trembling a little. Everything was going like the script he had
been presented, a script Am was beginning to resent more and more.
“And what did Mr. Fletcher tell you to do if we insisted you leave this office?”
Larry was never going to be wearing a Phi Beta Kappa key, but he seemed a nice enough fellow. He hadn’t yet learned business
poker, how to hold cards, and bluff, and up the ante. “He said that I should refuse. That I was just to wait for Mr. Yamada.”
Fletcher undoubtedly thought that involving the Fat Innkeeper would make his joke that much more special.
“And now that you’re sitting here, Larry, does that advice, or anything else Mr. Fletcher told you, make any sense?”
The teen didn’t respond, but he sure did seem to be thinking. He face showed his growing doubts.
“We don’t know who this Mr. Fletcher is,” said Am. “The only thing we do know is that he is obviously angry with the Hotel,
and is using young men like you to get back at us. I could call for help. There are a few people on this staff who’d probably
enjoy dragging you screaming out of this office, but that’s not what I want to do.”
The kid sank into the chair. “I just came here looking for a job,” Larry said. “A good job.”
Fletcher had played on a universal fantasy. The Horatio Alger rags-to-riches through hard-work stories have never been as
popular in this country as the Rita Hayworth fables. To be human is to await discovery, whether at a Schwab’s drugstore or
at a bus stop. Larry had been seduced by a Publishers Clearing House mentality, the idea that fate’s finger had just been
itching to tap him on the shoulder. Naïveté was the only requirement for the “job” he had landed.
“I can’t promise you a job,” said Am, “good or otherwise. But I can get you an interview with Linda Gold, the Hotel’s
Am’s offer didn’t immediately win the kid over. Maybe he really was GM material. But it did prevail over the histrionics that
Fletcher obviously wanted. Larry reluctantly rose from his chair. He’d recover. We all find out about Santa Claus someday.
“No one’s in personnel yet,” said Am. “How about I buy you a cup of coffee first?”
Larry preferred cocoa to coffee, and asked for extra marshmallow topping. At first he was quiet, perhaps a little ashamed,
but then he began to open up to Am, asking him questions about the Hotel. Am forgot about Larry’s youthfulness, and how his
belief system was still intact. Am didn’t take things with a grain of salt, just assumed he was dealing with Lot’s wife unless
he discovered otherwise. When Larry asked him how long he had worked in the hotel business, Am told him he wasn’t sure whether
he should answer in human years or dog years. His cynical assessments on life, and the hotel industry in general, scared Larry.
“I’m beginning to think,” said the young man, “that I shouldn’t apply for any job here.”
The kid’s solemn pronouncement made Am feel like a pretty bad career counselor. “Look,” he said, “if you’re a people junkie,
working in hotels can be a great job. Next to being a parish priest, I can’t think of another profession that allows you to
help mankind more. At times you feel like you’re being paid to be a good Samaritan. It’s a job where the psychic income
be very high. Recently I helped Dr. Jonas Salk book some rooms for his friends. No, I didn’t create the polio vaccine, but
at the Hotel California you get to experience a lot of secondhand immortality.”
“Who’s Dr. Salk?” the kid asked.
God, thought Am. I’m that next generation. That’s one thing Southern California doesn’t give courses in—how to be middle-aged.
Am took out his notepad. It was time to play the house dick. Larry had applied for a job at the Hotel ten days ago. Human
resources had supplied him with an application. He had been told to fill it out, and that he would be contacted if an opening
became available. Larry had left his completed application atop an empty counter. He figured that the woman who had helped
him would process it when she returned. That didn’t narrow Am’s list of suspects, as human resources was a frequently visited
department and anyone could have walked in and picked up Larry’s application.
Larry said that he had been called three days ago by a man who identified himself as Mr. Fletcher, head of human resources.
He had agreed to meet with Mr. Fletcher at a nearby Denny’s, was told to look for a man wearing a carnation. Fletcher had
explained he liked conducting his interviews away from the Hotel so as to put the candidates at ease. Am had heard the same
story from all the others Fletcher had “hired.”
Fletcher always remained seated during his interviews, making it impossible for anyone to guess his height. Am couldn’t be
sure whether he was dealing with the same individual, or a cabal of personnel-director imitators. Copy-cat hirings might be
a new fad for Hotel employees. So far Fletcher had been a blond, a brunet, and a redhead, and his complexion had ranged from
pasty to tanned. He was said to be between forty-five and sixty-five. The only thing that had remained the same was his made-up
name, and the enthusiastic use of his hands. The man liked to gesture, to use his digits in operatic form.
Any distinguishing marks? No, said the kid. Anything that made Fletcher stand out? No.
Any reason for me to be optimistic about figuring out who the imposter is? thought Am. No.
The fog was showing signs of lifting, which on this morning wasn’t necessarily a very good thing.
The whale wasn’t improving with age, and that was playing havoc with the Hotel. For once, Am found himself grateful for being
removed from the rigors of the front desk. Beleaguered clerks had told him that virtually everyone in the Hotel was asking
for new room assignments. All of the guests were convinced there had to be a better room location, somewhere upwind from the