Working overnight in a hotel can be a cozy experience, especially if you’re the houseman. You’re not chained to the front desk; in fact, you’re pretty much expected to be out of sight for most of the night, toiling in a far off corner.
But you can also get the feeling that you’re the only wakeful person in the world there.
An empty lobby. A ballroom that would echo if not for the carpet eating the sound of your footsteps. Halls that rattle with the dreams of dozens of sleeping guests. The hotel seems to whisper that you’re all alone, that the dreamers wouldn’t stir if it decided to bare its teeth and snarl.
The break room is what tells you that the building is really an insomniac. It lies quiet and tries to sleep, but the buzzing of the fluorescent break room lights lets you know its sanity has become a frazzled and weary thing.
© Copyright 2011
The hotel was a sleeping mountain of concrete and glass.
The night auditor ignored them as he brushed through to the employee men’s room. Normally he would have snuck into the guest bathroom in the hall, but Kurt had made a point of mopping just before going on break, and the tiles were angry when they were wet.
Abdi sat peeling oranges, his back against the big corkboard, crinkling the purple paper below the sequined cardboard letters telling them “AT MARRIOTT, YOUR COMFORT IS OUR BUSINESS!”
Kurt sipped coffee with creamer that was just a little too old. The massive LED clock above Abdi flickered as it hit 0145, signaling their break was over when it came two o’clock.
There was buzzing at the front door. Dom came bustling out of the bathroom to let the guests in. Kurt looked to see a gaggle of drunk homecoming girls stumble past the desk. One saw him through the office hall, asked Dom if the blondie in the uniform could come tuck her in.
“We need a teddy bear!” another slurred. “Can he be a teddy bear? We’ll, you know…” she smiled a little too slowly over Dom’s shoulder. “We can tip.”
Dom waved them by. Abdi laughed.
“You are good investment,” he said in a voice that rang of western Africa. “You make hotel look very good to happy people.” He smiled in a way that told Kurt that fifty years of hardship is never an excuse for poor humor. He liked Abdi, wished the old man didn’t have to do the shit work they shared.
Dom was back in the break room. “Kurt, I’m gonna need you to start in on the conference room.” He looked at his watch. “It’s almost two already. You’re really gonna have to hustle.”
“No conference,” said Abdi, pointing at the clock. “Not two yet.”
Dom turned and stared him down. With the girls back in their rooms, the hotel had gone back to sleep.
“Big room,” Dom said, loudly. He knew this irritated Abdi, but hadn’t figured out Abdi understood English better than he spoke it. Abdi always let it go; people had been far ruder in Kenya. “Big room,” Dom said again. “He needs to work now.”
“No. No work now.” Abdi was quiet, polite, simply pointing out the time.
“I’ll get to it in a sec, Dom,” Kurt said then.
“I’m on break.”
“I’ll punch you back in at two.”
“You can’t really do that.”
“Kurt, it’s a big meeting tomorrow. And you still have vacuuming.”
“I get it, big room, lots of shit. I got ten minutes to go.”
Dom’s jaw bulged, one direction, another. Kurt was a little quicker to call HR than the rest of the staff, even though he worked nights. The isolation usually drove night crews in the past to start thinking they were on their own.
He left to man the desk as a red eyed family dragged their bags to the door.
“Good man,” Abdi nodded. “Others, they work, work too much. You, you sit, you know when. Good man.”
Abdi ate a slice of orange.
Fifteen years of service gave Abdi the unpaid half-hour break and an extra paid one. Kurt handed the old timer his half-full thermos before he clocked back in. “Maybe you can help me move tables with some coffee in you,” he told him.
“You no drink coffee, young man!” Abdi smiled. “Coffee, it wake you. This, it bite you!”
The old guy poured the coffee anyway as Kurt went back to work.
Kurt walked past Dom, grabbed his radio from the counter. “Headin’ down,” he told the manager.
“Got two hours,” Dom was unnecessarily nervous as Kurt made his way down the sloping hall to the ballroom.
There were clicking heels behind him. He turned, saw one of the college girls crossing the lobby. Her legs looked tight, like they strained to keep her steady. He caught her eye, and she gave a smile highlighted with heavy mascara before she was out of sight.
Kurt ran his hands over his short blond hair, stretched his arms over his head. Muscles tightened like shoelaces, joints in his chest popped. The ballroom was too bright; he reached into the closet where the tables were stacked, found the dimmers and lowered the lights until they had to strain to make shadows. It was quiet except for the rumble from the heating vents. The chill that crept in through the doors made him feel sharp and quick.
Kurt worked while the hotel slept.
The last touch was dividing the conference center with the air wall. The thing was heavy as shit, and despite the angry November chill leaching the heat through the doors, he was red and sweating. He undid a button and went back upstairs.
Dom almost looked like he was giving him a stare, but no, it was over his shoulder. Kurt turned, saw the girl from before bending over, looking at the chips. Her ass was shaped like a round heart.
He figured she wouldn’t like catching the help scoping her out, looked away as he made for the kitchen. He could never figure out why they stored all the glass cleaner in there, but whatever, he didn’t run the place…
He was holding the door open as he left, looking for the light switch, when he felt fingers work their way past his undone button. Soft fingers, almost as soft as the lips that were working on his neck.
Something pushed him back into the kitchen, almost off-balance. He grabbed for support, grabbed a pert, round heart.
She was breathing in his ear, her slick tongue on his earlobe.
“You workin’ all night?”
“Most of it.”
“You think they’d notice you slippin’ in my room?”
Kurt’s girl was asleep at home. “I think they’d see me gone.”
Her thin black skirt rode high enough for him to feel her heat against his groin. He spun around, compulsively. She grabbed him tighter as he stumbled through the door, cackled as they spilled into the hall. She didn’t let go until he was pressed against the wall.
Dom’s head was down over the computer screen, but his eyes were up and burning into Kurt. They lit the girl aflame as she stumbled away in heels.
Kurt straightened his collar, saw a familiar red in Dom’s cheeks. The same red Dom had after he’d called Tadiloni Italian, when Tad corrected him that he was Cuban.
The burning red told him someone was going to get bitched out.
Kurt got out of sight quick, bee lined for the break room. Abdi came out of the men’s room just as Kurt’s soda tumbled out of the machine.
“Taking a break again young man?” the older man asked in his usual mock surprise. His eyes twinkled kindly and he smelled of a snuck smoke break.
“Can’t work too hard,” Kurt told him as he left. “Might end up looking like you!”
Abdi sat at a side table to review his checklist, and laughed.
There was thirty minutes left until his shift was over. Kurt had worked the eight-to-four shift for a little over seven months, but he still found himself aching to sleep every night.
Thirty minutes to go. With everything inspected, Abdi had likely already gone home. Kurt blew the last puff of smoke through the roof’s trapdoor, latched it behind him as he went back down the ladder into the engineer’s office.
“Feel bad for housekeeping tomorrow,” Dom told him with a sideways look as Kurt crossed the lobby.
Kurt nodded, walked past the desk to laundry. Something heavy thumped inside the driers as they went through their nighttime wrinkle guard cycles.
Abdi’s paper and pen was still on the table when Kurt stepped through into the break room. His glasses had fallen on the floor; one lens had chipped and fallen out of the frame.
Huh. Abdi never took those off without stuffing them in their plastic case.
Footsteps behind him. Dom standing a few inches from him, eyes burning him sharper than before.
“About to clock out?” Dom’s voice was flatter than the room’s fluorescent lighting. At least the room had that one flickering bulb to give it a breath of life.
“Is Abdi still here?”
“No,” Dom told him. “Why would he be?”
“I think he left his glasses.”
Dom looked over his shoulder with a simple tilt of his body, tilted back in place. His eyes never moved in their sockets; he looked at Kurt only when he had Kurt back in his field of vision.
“I’ll make sure he gets them.” Dom spoke like an angry dog fighting not to show its teeth.
“Yeah, okay. Cool.”
They stood still for another half a minute.
“About to clock out?”
“Yeah. Yeah…” Kurt didn’t move for the punch clock. Something about how Dom stood gave him the impression of a wall full of nails.
Another half minute…
“Feel bad for housekeeping!” Maybe Dom had meant to say it with a laugh. It had come out with a bark.
Dom looked up, nodded. “Rooms. Fucked up.”
“Party girls? It…” Kurt listened. The hotel was new, thin. Sound got everywhere. “Sounds kinda quiet to me.”
“Is now.” That bark that didn’t mesh with the wild eyes. Kurt realized the eyes were smiling. Smiles are never cheery when the rest of the face ignores them.
“I…I guess I’ll go…” Kurt slowly, carefully stepped around Dom. Dom didn’t move but to follow him with his eyes.
Dom’s right hand gripped his left arm behind his back. The edge of a dark stain was visible on his sleeve, peeking from his clenched fingers.
The driers thumped, too heavy to be shoes.
Half a minute. “’Night Kurt.”
Dom was still standing there when Kurt walked by the desk, looked over his shoulder and watched with his lone, smiling eyes as Kurt walked into the frosty night.
Kurt made his money shuffling about while others slept. He would go home and dream beside Mel.
Behind him, the night began flashing with bright blue lights. They were streaking for the hotel. Kurt listened, barely made out the sound of sirens.
The sleeping mountain flickered and flashed as Kurt drove home.