Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Viola, at the beginning of The Chaos Child

Viola’s trip to Connecticut at the beginning of The Chaos Child

At first Viola thought it was a jet-lag induced hallucination. Inclement weather at BWI had delayed the last leg of her flight from Houston to Hartford. She’d used the time stuck on the plane to e-mail a memo back to the office regarding the importance of nonstop flights. Ten minutes after sending the e-mail, she’d begged Duke to deliver lunch to the office as an apology for the profanity-laden message.

As the taxi pulled into the hotel parking lot, though, it became clear that it wasn’t a hallucination. There really were three gold and red Ghost Grabbers vans parked in front of the Luz Hotel. As soon as the car rolled to a stop, she flung open the door and hopped out of the car. While he retrieved her suitcase from the trunk, she dialed Becky’s number.

“I am scheduled to be at the Luz tonight, aren’t I?” she asked, cutting off her employees greeting.

“Yes, you are. I spoke with the manager, a Mr. Scott Farleigh, this morning to confirm your reservation in a non-smoking room.” Becky’s voice was cool. It was clear she hadn’t completely forgiven Viola for the e-mail. “I have also rebooked your return flight. I will e-mail the details to you shortly.”

“Thank you, Becky.” Viola made a mental note to send Becky flowers. “I am sorry about the e-mail. You know airline food makes me cranky, and I was stuck next to the most talkative person on the planet.”

Becky harrumphed. “Is there a problem with the hotel?”

Viola handed the driver a wad of bills in exchange for her suitcase. Gravel crunched under her sneakers as she marched towards the glass double doors. “There are Ghost Grabbers vans in the parking lot,” she hissed.

She normally didn’t bother wasting energy thinking about the multitude of paranormal investigators across the country. Most treated it as a hobby, and those who hunted demons in their spare time couldn’t throw stones. The Ghost Grabbers, however, had landed a syndicated television show and national attention. Their condescending attitude towards spirits, laughable techniques, and propensity to claim everything as paranormal had earned them Viola’s disdain.

Becky muttered an apology and hung up on Viola. Viola shook her head, slipped her phone in the front pocket of her green trousers. The foyer of the mid-sized independent hotel was dark and imposing. The glass in the skylights was frosted and electric wall sconces provided the only other light. She gave them points for creepiness.

Viola ignored the rail-thin blonde standing near a grouping of chairs in the lobby. She recognized the young woman as a member of the Ghost Grabbers. The thirty-ish black woman behind the front desk smiled politely at Viola, but her posture indicated she was uncomfortable.

“Hi, Viola Duke.” Viola forced herself to remain in control. It wasn’t the poor woman’s fault the manager was a PR-hungry ass. “I’d like to speak with Scott Farleigh. Now.”

As if she’d expected such a request, the woman, Adelle according to her name tag, escorted Viola to a small office on the other side of a black column. Adelle rapped once on the door before opening it. Three men, two wearing gold Ghost Grabbers polos, were already in the room.

“Mr. Farleigh, Mrs. Duke has arrived,” Adelle said before brushing past Viola and returning to the desk.

Viola left her suitcase outside the door. She slipped her balled fists into her pockets, leaned against the doorjamb, and fixed Scott Farleigh, a graying, middle-aged stout man, with an expectant stare. “If there was a miscommunication between your office and mine, I have no problem moving on to one of my other locations and rescheduling this evaluation.”

She didn’t care if it cost a potential business associate. Something about Farleigh rubbed her the wrong way, and in the end he would be the one to lose out on profits. There were five hotels in the Hartford area looking to work with Spirited Stays.

“No, no, Mrs. Duke. There is no misunderstanding.” Farleigh’s booming voice rattled the framed photos on the walls. “I was hoping we could kill two birds in one night, so to speak. You and these gentlemen are in the same line of work. Surely your… er… skills would be a perfect complement to their technical expertise.”

Anger swirled in her belly. Power flooded her veins, turned her eyes a dangerous, glittering black. “I am not a medium for hire,” she bit out, lips curled back in a snarl. “I do not appreciate you making arrangements like this without consulting me first.”

“What’s the matters, Mrs. Duke?” One of the Ghost Grabbers leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “Afraid of the cameras?”

“Nope. I don’t want to waste my time working with a bunch of AV Club geeks who don’t know the difference between the hum of an air conditioner and an EVP.” Anger cooled steel resolve. She kicked off the doorjamb. “My expertise isn’t the one you should question, Mr. Farleigh. I’ve got mad skills.”

The spirit in the corner of the room hesitantly waved at Viola. She winked back at the shy, young man dressed in mid-nineteenth century clothing. It was clear he was less than impressed by the Ghost Grabbers, too.

“Now, it’s late and I’m tired, so I’m going to go back up to the desk and check in. I’m going to order something from room service for dinner, and in the morning I’ll pay for my stay and leave. You won’t contact my company, and I won’t tell everyone I know what a jerk you are.” She arched an eyebrow at the flabbergasted Farleigh. “Okay?”

“B-but, Mrs. Duke…”

“Oh, and by the way, your hotel isn’t haunted.”

The spirit followed Viola to the front desk. He loitered by her suitcase while she checked in and got a room service recommendation from Adelle. It wasn’t until she was in the elevator that she spoke to the ghost.

“I’m sorry about denying your presence earlier. Feel free to make a liar out of me, if you’d like.”

The ghost shook his head. “I have seen their work on the television. I do not care for their methods or their manner of speaking.” He extended his hand, thought twice about it, and settled for tipping an invisible hat. “I am Archibald Thorton, Mrs. Duke. It is a pleasure to meet someone with whom I can converse.”

“Viola, please.” She curtsied awkwardly. “Archibald? Can I call you Archie?”

“You may. It is a diminutive my dear sister often used.”

Archie walked with Viola to her room. She was pleased to have a corner room, until she opened the curtains across the wall-length picture window. She had a lovely view of… the hotel across the street. She let go of her suitcase and sank onto the edge of the bed.

“I hate Connecticut.”

After changing into sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt she’d stolen from Duke’s side of the closet, she read the one-sided room service menu aloud to Archie. There were four sharp knocks on her door. She grabbed the tranq gun out of her open suitcase and peered through the peephole before opening the door.

Farleigh and two of the Ghost Grabbers stood in the hallway. The blonde from the lobby had a black case in her hands. She shuffled her feet and shot Viola a hesitant, apologetic smile.

“Mrs. Duke, I am going to have to ask you to remain in your room for the duration of our investigation,” the male Ghost Grabber said. “Rainbow’s going to install a camera outside your door to ensure nothing contaminates our evidence. We’re going to need you to keep your television off, as well.”

Viola slammed the door in their faces. She briefly entertained thoughts of burning the building down or at least slashing the tires on the Ghost Grabber vans. The bacon cheeseburger she ordered from room service was bland and her fries were soggy. She made a mental note to forgo the complimentary breakfast.

She dragged the black upholstered chair to the window and stared out the window as she ate her chocolate lava cake. Fortunately, it had a rich flavor and the cake was moist. She regretted not ordering two and calling that dinner.

The hotel across the street had a charming, Victorian façade. It was smaller than the Luz, but looked brighter and cleaner. “What do you know about the Cantor Hotel?” she asked Archie.

“I am afraid I have not left this establishment since my death.”

As soon as she finished her dessert, Viola booted up her laptop. The Cantor’s website was simple but elegant. It only had 124 guest suites and one meeting room, but it also boasted a bar, dining room, lobby, and library. The décor managed to maintain an old world feel without compromising modern amenities.

She and Archie watched the virtual tour and clicked through the photos. Archie instantly fell in love with the Cantor. He sighed wistfully when they reached the pictures of the library.

“How attached to this hotel are you, Archie?”

“I do not know. I have not attempted to leave.” Archie faded from view. “Please pardon me.”

Viola responded to two of Becky’s e-mails. Halfway through her second game of solitaire, Archie returned. A wide smile split his boyish face.

“It is possible! I crossed the street and entered the Cantor. The library is divine!”

“How do you feel about moving?” She didn’t feel guilty in the least about stealing the Luz’s ghost. It was true that most of the hotels listed with Spirited Stays profited from being haunted, but none of them outright exploited the resident ghosts.

After hearing Viola’s proposal, Archie heartily agreed to moving to the Cantor if the proprietor agreed with the plan. They played four games of computer chess before Viola got tired of losing and shut down her laptop. The Ghost Grabbers weren’t bothering to be quiet. They could hear them stomping up and down the stairs and talking in the hallways. Viola bit back a laugh every time she heard a high-pitched exclamation. As the hotel’s only spirit was dozing in her room’s spare chair, it was doubtful they’d caught anything truly ghost-related.

She flicked off the bedside lamp and stretched out on the bed. Duke laughed when she used their link to tell him all about the Ghost Grabbers and Archie. He laughed even harder at her petulant exclamation of boredom.

“We could always…” he started.

“No,” she sighed. He made the same suggestion any time they were apart. “We are not using the link for that.”

“But I miss you.” His voice dipped lower, liquid heat her mind. “I could make it good, sugar.”

“I’m sure you could, but there’s a camera with audio right outside my door.”

His chuckle was two-parts pure filth and one-part amusement. “You could try being quiet.”

“There’s also a ghost in my room. A ghost who blushed when he saw my ankles. I’m not going to traumatize the poor thing by engaging in… in that.”

 “Ha,” Duke laughed. “Never mind, then. If you can’t say it, you can’t do it, sugar.”

Face flame red, she sent a wave of irritation through the link. “I hate you.”

“No you don’t sweetness.” Duke’s affection-warmed tone lulled her to sleep. “Just relax and think about all the things I’m going to do to you when you get home. I advise stretching first.”

She fell asleep with a smile on her face.

The next morning, Archie was right beside her as she paid for her room and rolled her suitcase across the busy street. The inside of the Cantor was as inviting as it appeared on the website. Viola went directly to the front desk, introduced herself, asked for the manager.

Phillip Dickens, the general manager, greeted her with a smile and a breakfast invitation. Behind his back, Archie gave her an enthusiastic nod. She grinned back.

“Mr. Dickens, how would you like to be the manager of a haunted hotel?”

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