Gil quickly sat down in a chair near the door while Rosie settled herself on the sofa. She looked at him expectantly as if to say, Well, what now?
Gil shook his head as if to clear it. Then without comment he walked into the bedroom, located his briefcase, and extracted from it the dreaded script. Returning, he settled himself in the chair again and said, “Well, we might as well get on with what we came here for.” He opened the script.
Rosie gave him a look that said she was all business now. “Just one moment, Mr. Hall,” she said, as she went into the bedroom and quickly returned with pen and steno notebook. Settling herself back on the sofa once again she kicked off her sandals and drew her legs up under her, then poised the pen above the notebook and said, “Ready when you are.”
In response Gil began paging through the script, pausing every now and then to stare disconsolately at one scene or the other.
After about fifteen minutes of this when all he had produced was grunts and mumbles Rosie shook her head silently, laid down the pen and notebook on the sofa beside her, grabbed the remote control, and turned on the television, keeping it mute so as not to bother her boss.
Gil however didn’t seem to notice. He was lost in his own thoughts and the words and the scenes in the script seemed to him like some long-ago conversation, or maybe a television program that he had totally forgotten the significance of. His thoughts instead dwelled on the strange hotel, the strange people, the strange impossible incident on the stairs, and the delectable young woman he had brought up here for purposes that now seemed as remote to him as his college days.
After about another forty-five minutes he realized he was making no progress whatsoever and stood up abruptly, startling Rosie out of an episode of The X-Files by saying, “It’s no use.” He flung the script across the room towards Rosie and it landed on the sofa beside her. “Do me a favor,” he said, “see what you can make of this. I’m totally dry. The idea,” he explained sketchily, “is to make this dog somehow more cinematic. I need inspiration. I’m going out for awhile.”
She looked at him quizzically. “Sure Gil,” she said, “I’ll do my best, but I’m no scriptwriter.”
Gil, who was about to open the door, turned his head and replied with a short mirthless laugh, “Apparently I’m not either. Gotta get some inspiration. See ya later.”
As he was halfway through the door Rosie said archly, “Have a good time. Just doesn’t get too drunk, huh?”
Embarrassed, Gil decided not to reply and instead merely shut the door behind him. She was right, of course. She knew and he knew that he was going straight down to Winnie’s Wild West Saloon. He looked at his watch as he walked down the hall towards the stairs. Good, he thought. Not much past ten-thirty. I can get a few drinks, think about it, maybe something will come to me stream-of- consciousness style. But upon reaching the stairs and beginning his descent he was greeted by another startling sight. Two young women, apparently little more than girls really, were making their way up the stairs toward him, talking excitedly and giggling to one another. They might have been sisters—both had long ponytails that descended nearly halfway down their backs. They were dressed identically in white men’s Oxford shirts which were not tucked into tight blue jeans that were rolled up to mid-calf. Below were loose-fitting white socks and, of all things, penny loafers with real pennies inserted in the clasps.
As before, they took no notice of Gil, and as he tried vainly to ward them off he felt the same kind of breathy chill, and then they were gone.
Stumbling down the stairs the rest of the way, Gil shook his head and blinked several times. When he was certain that there were no more apparitions in sight he gave a little crazy-sounding laugh and said aloud, “God, now I really need a drink.”
He entered the saloon without further incident and, glancing around, saw that there was no one in the bar except for him and faithful Jimmy who was sitting on a stool behind the bar reading some sort of newspaper. When Gil seated himself on one of the stools directly across from him, Jimmy quickly stowed the paper under the bar and, looking pleased, stood up and said, “Yes sir, good to see you again. Will you be having the same? That was the twelve-year Glenfiddich, wasn’t it?”
Gil in turn was pleased to be remembered so accurately, even though there was apparently little competition for his business. Pulling himself together, he attempted to assume the big-shot image he always tried to project and said, “You got it. Fill me up, willya?”
Jimmy hastily complied and within less than a minute the drink was set in front of him. Gil grabbed it up and, clutching it like a life preserver, immediately gulped down two-thirds of its contents, emitting a sigh of pleasure. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and set the glass back down on the bar. “Thanks,” he said, noticing that Jimmy was looking at him, apparently having nothing else to do. “I needed that.”
“I guess you did,” was Jimmy’s noncommittal response.
Picking up his glass again and sipping more casually, Gil looked around at the empty bar and said conversationally, “Kinda slow, huh?”
“Oh,” said Jimmy with an unconcerned flip of his bar rag, “this is nothing unusual. In fact we really don’t get much business here at this time of night.”
“Gosh,” said Gil, “aren’t you worried about your job? How do you guys stay in business anyway?”
“Well,” replied Jimmy, “if you really want to know I’ll tell you about it. Here,” he said, taking Gil’s glass from him, “let me refresh your drink. On the house.”
“Terrific,” replied Gil. “I never turn it down.”
“Not many do,” replied Jimmy, busily refilling Gil’s drink. “So,” he continued, setting the full drink down in front of Gil, “you remember that earlier I told you about how the hotel came into being, right?”
“That’s right,” Gil replied. “So they had a good thing going here, huh?”
“Yeah, you bet,” replied Jimmy. “When they opened this hotel around ’20 or ’21 this whole strip was nothing but little shops, gas stations, a few restaurants, that sort of thing. They had at that time what you might call a monopoly. This of course was before my time, you understand. But Winnie’s told this story so often we all feel like we were here from the beginning. This place was a going concern in the twenties and the thirties, and business didn’t even slack off too much during the war.
“After the war we really started doing great business. In the fifties everybody seemed to have money to spend. The place was packed. We had big name entertainment here every weekend—big bands, popular singers, whatever. But as I told you, when old Mr. Remington had his fatal heart attack in the early sixties Winnie kind of lost heart. She tried to take over sole management of the place, but within a few years even she could see that things were not going well. The service declined, the vacancy rate rose, and by 1966 she decided to turn it over to a professional management team. In fact, this team and their descendants still manage the hotel to this day. In recent years however Winnie has rarely been seen out of her fourth floor suite. She used to come down every couple of weeks and later on every month or so and give the employees kind of a pep talk. Tell them of the hotel’s great tradition, how proud she was of everybody, you get the picture.
“Business improved and throughout the rest of the sixties and seventies this hotel became a real hip spot once more. But by the early eighties the developers moved in. That was when the strip as you see it now was created. The developers figured that with enough publicity this area could support at least another four or five luxury hotels, bars, restaurants, what have you. Of course they built these places to be modern and glitzy, kind of like the strips in Vegas or Reno, and this hotel began to be looked upon as old, kind of quaint, but definitely outdated.
“We began to lose business, at first gradually and then, by the mid-eighties when the rest of the strip became fully operational, our business dwindled to next to nothing. That was when Winnie and the management team put their heads together. Now, you have to understand that Winnie inherited the entire Remington fortune when her husband died. The only stipulation was that the bulk of his estate was to be used to keep the hotel running efficiently and continue to be family owned. So the bright idea that the management team came up with was to run this place as a tax loss. This worked out extremely well. Winnie’s personal fortune is now estimated to be somewhere in the hundreds of millions, nobody knows exactly how much and neither she nor the management team is telling. One good thing that has resulted from this is that all permanent hotel employees are making tons of money, including yours truly. We don’t have to worry about losing our jobs and the fact that the hotel usually is operating at about twenty-five percent occupancy even during the tourist season means that, frankly, none of us have to work that hard.”
Here Jimmy paused and, noticing that Gil had finished his drink, quickly poured him another without asking.
Gil took it gratefully and discovered that he wasn’t feeling half bad. Yes, he was slightly sloshed, but pleasantly so. “Well,” he said, “that certainly seems to be working out for you, doesn’t it? But say, I’ve gotta ask you a question.”
“Sure,” Jimmy replied, leaning over the bar slightly as if expecting to hear a confidence. “What do you want to know?”
“Well,” said Gil again, “do you think this place could be haunted?”
To his surprise Jimmy seemed to take him seriously. Removing his Stetson, he scratched his balding head and replied, “Who knows? Some guests have said they saw some things they couldn’t explain, but there haven’t been any what you could call major complaints. Why do you ask?”
“Oh,” said Gil, “never mind.” He waved his hand. “Just, you know, these old places. Lots of times they get a reputation for being haunted. You know, helps business and all that.”
“Yeah,” said Jimmy, now more sure of himself. “I guess a lot of places encourage that sort of thing. But here we don’t need to pull cheap tricks to encourage business. In fact,” he said with a laugh, looking around at the still-empty bar, “we don’t need to encourage business at all.” He looked at the clock on the wall that, to Gil’s surprise, was somehow nearing midnight. “Whoa,” he continued, “almost closing time. Hey, thanks for the conversation, mister. It really helped to pass the time.” Noticing that Gil’s glass was nearly empty again he said, “How about one more for the road? On the house of course.”
Gil was now beginning to slur his speech a little but replied, “Thanks Jimmy, don’t mind if I do.”
“Guess I’ll have one with you,” said Jimmy, pouring him the last of the Glenfiddich and pouring himself a Jack Daniel’s on the rocks. He raised his glass and continued, “Well, here’s to you, Mr.— Sorry, didn’t get you name?”
Gil. Gil Hall.” He raised his glass in return and they clinked.
“Well, here’s hoping you have a pleasant stay. You gonna be here all weekend?”
“Yup,” replied Gil, “that’s the plan.”
“Well, hope to see you again tomorrow. Remember, we open at noon.”
They both drained their glasses and Gil said teasingly, “Well, I hope you can locate another bottle of that scotch, ’cause I’ll sure be in the mood tomorrow.”
“No problem there,” Jimmy replied as Gil stood up and started to move unsteadily toward the exit. Upon reaching it he went back through the double doors to the staircase and looked around the lobby, then up and down the stairs. There was no one in sight, not even behind the reservations desk. Forcing himself to move with some degree of control, Gil began to mount the stairs.
He reached his suite on the fourth floor without incident and upon entering saw that it was completely dark in the living room. Switching on an overhead light he glanced quickly around the room. Rosie was nowhere in sight and the bedroom door was closed, but she had left her steno book on the couch where she had been sitting.
Going over to it he picked it up and saw that the first few pages had been filled out:
Gil [he read], I read the script and all I got from it was a headache. Either that or the excitement of the day caught up with me. So I took a couple of Tylenol and went to bed. Please don’t wake me up. I left a message at the front desk to give us a wake-up call at 8:30 so we can go down to breakfast.
I’m sorry I don’t have any thoughts on how to improve the script but I will sleep on it tonight and maybe we can both come up with something when we are rested and refreshed tomorrow morning.
Thank you in advance for what I hope will be a really swell weekend.
Your Girl Friday (and Saturday and Sunday, ha ha)
He closed the notebook and for some reason decided to put it back exactly as he had found it. Going to the bedroom door and opening it, he saw by the light coming in from the living room that Rosie was lying snuggled under the voluminous hotel covers on the far twin bed, the one near the window. The nearly full moon was shining through the open curtains of the window and illuminated her dark mass of hair as it lay in disarray on the large plump white pillow. She was breathing softly and regularly, every now and then giving off a perceptible but ladylike little snort.
Inexplicably Gil, even though about half drunk, had no desire to disturb her. Instead he looked around and found his one traveling bag over near the desk where he had carelessly tossed it.
“What I need,” he thought, “is some fresh air.” He opened his bag and drew out a pullover cardigan sweater and, taking off his light jacket, put on the sweater and then fastened the jacket over it. Then he retraced his steps, closing the bedroom door behind him and exiting through the living room door, turning off the light as he went.
As he began to make his way cautiously down the staircase again, he looked around suspiciously for any further apparition, but thankfully there were none. Gil giggled to himself a bit. Maybe it’s past their bedtime, he thought facetiously.
He reached the hotel entrance without seeing a soul and, making sure he had both the key to his suite and the front door of the hotel (for it was sure to be locked at this time of the early morning) he walked through the door onto the porch and down the few steps into the brilliantly clear and cold mountain night.
Walking down the driveway to the sidewalk of the main street he turned right towards the main part of the strip, of which the hotel was at the far end, and looked up at the sky. The air was clean, sharp, and cold, particularly after the constant smog of the LA basin that residents become so used to they only notice its absence when they leave. The nearly full moon was as bright as a spotlight and accompanied by a panoply of more brilliant stars than Gil thought existed. Even without the benefit of the sporadically placed streetlights along the strip and the neon of the various hotel and nightclub signs, the sky was so aggressively brilliant that he could almost read by its light.
As he walked down the sidewalk, he wondered to himself when was the last time he had been alone like this in such strange and unfamiliar circumstances. He couldn’t remember.
Gil surprisingly was of a more introspective nature than most Hollywood creatures, and unlike most he had not successfully buried who and what he really was. He knew that in a place like Hollywood, and the business he was in, that honesty was the worst policy; that it was necessary to carefully conceal one’s true persona behind a carefully and artfully constructed fabric of image, attitude, self-exaggerated achievements, and reputation. If he were in Hollywood right now, he would have to concern himself with talking the talk and walking the walk, so that when he entered a trendy restaurant or nightclub he would be able to display that sense of entitlement which most of the establishments’ employees re-enforced with their obsequiousness which passed for respect, and which they assumed in expectation of the sizable gratuities that Gil invariably gifted them with.
But now in this strange small town with no chance whatsoever of meeting anybody he knew on the street, he could actually admit to himself who he really was. He realized as one does when an opportunity, let alone a necessity, to confront the obvious arises, that he was not what one could call by any means a happy camper. He had, he realized (and not for the first time) been suckered into that deal with Natalie which left him really no plausible alternative to directing her scripts, no matter what he thought of them personally or artistically. His long-running contract with FineHall Productions (that is, Natalie) prohibited him from soliciting outside scripts and, as she had so often cuttingly pointed out, the only other alternative was for him to write his own. This unfortunately he had not a clue as to how to go about. Hell, he seemed at this point even incapable of adding anything to Natalie’s latest script which would make it cinematically viable.
As he walked down the street cursing himself, he realized that he had become as dissatisfied as any corporate hack who vainly dreams of opening his own business, but is too timid and complacent to burst the velvet bonds of his comfortable salary and benefit package.
Thinking of the script made him once again think about Rosie. He had, he freely admitted to himself, now that he was alone, brought her up here for reasons other than purely secretarial. But the more he got to know her (and what had it been? Only eight or nine hours now?) the more he realized that there was something special about her, a certain rightness that he instinctively refused to risk defiling by his eagerness and clumsiness. He knew that if it hadn’t been for his money and his position that he would be quite far down on the list of God’s Gift to Women.
Speaking of women, he realized he had gone about a quarter mile down the strip by now and was gazing at a large neon sign immediately to his right which read “Nunzio’s Gold Nugget Club & Topless Revue”, and below it a rather unimaginative proclamation of “Girls!—Girls!!—Girls!!!” And below that in smaller letters “Special Late Show Fri. & Sat. at 1AM”. Well, he thought, what could it hurt? He had both money and corporate credit card in his pocket and the night air and his critical self-examination had sobered him up quite a bit. He thought he could do with a nightcap or two and maybe he would see someone that he would consider worth inhabiting his dreams for a night or two. He checked his watch: nearly one o’clock now.
He wandered into a confusion of bright lights and a surprisingly large crowd of people—some standing around a small bar at the rear of the cramped room, and others crowded around small circular tables, each with a burning candle set in a chianti bottle in its center. They were laughing and talking and joking, and after the quiet of the street outside Gil felt an unpleasant buzzing in his head. Instinctively recalling the remedy for that, he pushed his way over to the small bar where an overworked and surly bartender was dispensing a seemingly endless series of mixed drinks to the constantly demanding patrons.
Gaining the bartender’s attention briefly he snapped imperiously, “Scotch on the rocks, splash of soda. Got it?”
Without acknowledgement, the bartender miraculously placed the required drink in front of him within a minute or two and said brusquely, “Five bucks, mister. Cash only.”
Gil checked his pocket, came up with a ten and told the guy to keep it. A little goodwill offering, he reasoned, was never out of place.
Grabbing the bill the bartender said, “Gee, thanks, mister,” with almost the hint of a smile gracing his hitherto grim visage.
“No prob,” replied Gil, airily picking up his drink and pushing his way closer to the small stage, just as the room lights began to dim and the small combo struck up a fanfare reminiscent of David Rose’s “The Stripper”. On this cue several rather superannuated women appeared on stage, doing their bumps and grinds automatically but obligingly. They had large but uniformly sagging breasts, too much makeup, and slightly protruding bellies that could not be concealed by the scanty G-strings which were their only real garment other than painful-looking stiletto heels.
During the course of the next forty-five minutes, Gil consumed another couple of scotches and desultorily viewed the show as it progressed on the small bare proscenium stage. After viewing the proceedings for some time he admitted to himself glumly that he couldn’t find anything here to dream about, much less write home about.
And then suddenly the show was over, last call was made, and Gil got one more for the road and left the premises, a little unsteadily now. Outside it was much as it had been an hour before. It was still clear, cold, bright, but the strip was much more alive now with people pouring out of the various bars and nightclubs, retrieving their cars and flagging down several taxis that had suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere. As it was a mere fifteen-minute walk back to his hotel, Gil took no notice of the suddenly frenetic scene.
Upon reaching the hotel, he let himself in with his key and found the lobby again deserted and nearly silent, the only sound a gentle snoring from the direction of the reception desk where the night clerk was obviously ensconced.
Crossing the lobby without being noticed, he mounted the stairs and once again was able to reach the fourth floor without incident or accident, as he was now quite unsteady on his feet.
Upon reaching the top of the stars, however, he saw a curious sight. Directly across the hall from him was, he could swear if his eyes did not deceive him, yet another staircase. But this staircase was peculiar in that for some reason it seemed to shimmer in and out of his field of vision, appearing more solid when he viewed it through peripheral vision and less solid when he viewed it from straight on. His inebriated state made him both unusually fearless and unusually curious. Any trepidations he might normally have, had all disappeared in the fumes of scotch. Wonder where this goes? He thought. I could have sworn there were only four floors to this hotel. Hmm. Maybe it’s just a storage area like an attic or something, but I’ll swear I’ve never seen these stairs before and I’ve been up here three or four times now. I’ve got to see where they lead.