Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Trish leaned back in her chair and stretched her long legs out over the ottoman. It was a move designed to focus his attention; but to be honest, his attention didn’t need much more focusing.

They’d been sitting here in the hotel lobby, close to the fireplace for nearly two hours. Save for a couple of bio breaks, and trips to the bar to top off drinks, they had been talking non-stop. There were chairs scattered close by, and they would be occupied for a few minutes at a time as people waited for ride-shares or friends to show up. Overhearing the conversation, they would have assumed it was just two people becoming acquainted with each other, which it was. But there was also playful taunting buried between the lines. A more seasoned student of human behavior, such as the desk clerk, could see the slowly escalating flirtation. He had alerted the night manager, and they entertained themselves with a play by play of the proceedings. There was a beer riding on who would make the first move.

There was a more altruistic reason for their voyeurism: they had often observed a man and woman getting to know each other in that exact spot. The big fire and the dim lighting seemed to encourage people to drop their guard. Often, more often than one would think, it ended with her a little tipsy and him offering to walk her to her room. They weren’t about ruining anyone’s fun, just making sure both parties were playing the same game. A quick “how are you tonight?” sometimes was enough to break things up. Or not.

This couple seemed evenly matched though. They looked to be both in their late forties or early fifties. The woman had long blonde hair, creamy skin and enormous dimples. The man looked like he had stepped out of one of those “Touch of Gray” advertisements. They were both tall. They were also both sober.

The clerk, by long established custom got to choose first and went with Trish as the first mover.

But then an unexpected occurrence; they were standing and hugging. A good bye peck on the cheek from blondie. He offered his hand, which she took and then slowly withdrew, letting her fingers linger suggestively on his palm. She walked down the hall to the elevators but not before throwing him a backward glance.

“They ain’t done” noted the manager, stating the overwhelmingly obvious.

The clerk shook his head “he could have followed her into that elevator. Did you see that last look?”

“He likes her.” The manager gestured towards the man who was now poking around the lobby looking for nothing in particular; decompressing. “He’s playing the long game. Who’s working breakfast tomorrow?”

“Tammy. I’ll clue her in.”

Tammy was a supervisor in the hotel restaurant. It was her job to make sure meal service ran smoothly and that the dining experience was in keeping with the hotel’s high level of service. Tammy was also an important information conduit.

To understand where this is heading you will need to understand a little bit about how some hotels operate. While guests are visitors, on any given stay they outlast their hosts who will work a shift and then go to their own homes. So there needs to be official communication channels so that there is continituity of a guests experience between shifts. Did you want a taxi at 7am? Duly noted in the overnight log. Was there a big party in room 403? Noted. Was someone acting suspicious? Also noted. Or maybe someone was ill and the day shift should check in on them and a million other things that needed to be communicated from one shift to another.

But in some hotels, like this one, there were unofficial channels. Things that people wanted to know but certainly didn’t need to. Things that only became clear over the course of a full twenty four hours. Such as why was the man in 611 spending so much time doing laundry, or how come a frequent customer, say Tina, had switched out drinks from whiskey sours to beers. Or for that matter, that Mark, the bartender, wanted to work whenever Tina was in residence. And how was it that Mark always knew when Tina would be showing up?

Trish and her gentleman friend had left the overnight crew with a cliff-hanger and that would never do. This was where Tammy came in. Tammy prided herself on knowing what the guests wanted before they even showed up for a meal. She knew which ones wanted to talk and who preferred to be left alone and who, in any given stay, might start off eating alone but had later acquired an eating companion. Especially a breakfast companion. Sometimes, a simple inquiry to housekeeping, about unused rooms, unslept-in beds would seal the case.

In short; Tammy could smell an assignation like a raccoon can smell old eggs and coffee grounds. And in this case, Tammy sniffed the overpowering aroma of restraint. But that doesn’t mean nothing interesting was going on here.

Sure enough, the next morning the two of them had shown up to eat breakfast together. Tammy sidled over and introduced herself. They reciprocated and she found out the man’s name was “Rob”. “Ah, Trish and Rob” she said coyly noticing how Rob’s face flashed red. “So, what are you two lovebirds up to today?” More blushing from Rob.

Tammy knew how to cut to the chase. If they had been business associates, relatives, or even just friends a quick denial and setting the record straight would have occurred. But the long pause told her the issue was as yet undecided. In an effort to get past the silence, Trish asked if she could recommend a good place that they might enjoy visiting.

Tammy pounced: “Some place romantic?”

Without hesitating Rob replied “Yes, that would be perfect.”

Both women stared at him.

Both women smiled.

Trish was grinning from ear to ear “something romantic would be very nice.”

And with that, Tammy had everything she needed to know, which allowed her to take off her espionage hat and replace it with her match-making hat. Now she would need information from the night crew.

But the night crew was no help. Trish and Rob had not shown up that evening. Hoping they had missed them, Tammy stayed past the end of her shift, but there was no sign of them. Had they checked out? No, housekeeping, doing their normal refresh rounds reported luggage still in each of their rooms. Neither of the beds showed signs of having been slept in.

What had become of them? Speculation abounded but Sarah, the newest member of the the day crew, seemed to have the most plausible explanation: they were business travelers, and would need to book expenses for their hotel stay. So they remained checked in while they were off on a romantic getaway. But they would need to come back. Their luggage was still here, along with what looked like laptops and other electronics. Sure, they could sneak in, grab their stuff and be automatically checked out, but everyone was on the lookout for them.

Why would they care? Well for one, humans love a mystery and it gave the staff something to talk about. But also, everyone that came in contact with them had thought they were both really nice. Even Tammy, who was a bit of a misanthrope.

But there was a nagging thought on all of their minds: what if something had happened to them? Or what if he had done something to her? Well there was nothing to be done about it for now, they would just have to wait until their scheduled check-out time and if they didn’t show, they would do what they always did. Box up their things, bill their credit cards and if there was something that seemed off, well they could file a police report. But really, there wasn’t much the police could or would do unless there was some suspicion of a crime. Which there never was.

But then two days later they came bouncing into the lobby, gathered their things and went to check out at the front desk. Sarah immediately called Tammy who rushed out from the restaurant.

“So…how was your trip?” Tammy asked without waiting for pleasantries.

Trish held out her hand.

Someone behind the front desk whistled.

Tammy gasped “oh my god! Well it must have been pretty good!”

Rob was nodding happily “great recommendation Tammy!”

The manager came out from the behind the front desk, and hugged Trish. “I don’t think we’ve had anyone get engaged here before! After you’re married come back for a getaway and the stay is on us!” she said enthusiastically.

But Trish was shaking her head “We just got back from Vegas…”

The lobby erupted, Tammy opened the bar, a no-no before noon, and everyone shared a champagne toast. The valets, seeing what was going on, somehow managed to write “just married” on Robs rear window. Then they said their goodbyes and the couple roared off happily to wherever they were going. Rob was from Troy, New York and Trish was from Nashville. While everyone wondered how that would work, people that ran off to Vegas after a 72 hour fling could probably deal with that kind of minor detail.

Things returned to their normal cadence of trying to make guests happy and dealing with the usual hotel drama. That is until the the police detective from Troy called. It seemed Rob hadn’t returned to work, and his ex-wife and daughter had not heard from him either. Once they explained what happened to the officer, he sighed and said, “sometimes people just get a wild hair and off they go.” Still, there were people worried about Rob so the officer collected Trish’s information and thanked them for their help. That was all he needed to know.

He was back on the phone two hours later. “Nothing you told me about this “Trish” checks out. Not her phone number, not her email, and someone else lives at the address she gave you.”

Everyone was gathered around the phone which was on speaker. Susan, the manager, noted “she used a credit card to check in. Let me look up the number.”

“Don’t bother, it’s almost certainly stolen.”

He then asked for a detailed description of Trish. So together, they crowdsourced a description: her wavy blonde hair, green eyes, soft features with prominent dimples and creamy skin with a flawless complexion.

Tammy remembered something from when she first saw her “I noticed she glided into the restaurant. Slowly, like she owned the place. Very self-confident; she knew how to own a room. You couldn’t miss her.

“Right said the detective. Because she is 5 feet 11 inches tall.”

No one spoke a word until the detective broke the silence “did she speak with an accent? Like Eastern European maybe?”

Everyone said “no” except for Sarah, the new girl.

“I’m second generation Romanian. Her accent is very slight, almost none at all, but I could tell at once.”

The manager was incensed “why didn’t you say anything before?”

Sarah, though new, was not to be trod on. She bristled. “What, she is suspicious because of an accent?”

Before the manager could defend herself the detective broke in. “This happens all the time, something happens and people start barking at each other. Go easy on yourselves.”

Sarah looked at Susan and without saying anything let her off the hook.

Tammy jumped in. “Who the hell cares. Officer, what do you think is going on?”

“Well, it’s with the Feds, but I can tell you this woman has been married in Vegas at least six times. She is pretty enough to get a man to latch onto her, but not so young that it makes them wary.”

“I told them where to go to have fun…” Tammy said dejectedly.

“She didn’t need your help for that.” the officer said gently.

“Anyway, once she figures out the man is both available and has some money, she lures them away from a hotel, and the poor guys fall for her. Once they are married, she gets access to his banking information, drains his accounts and disappears.”

There was a long silence while everyone wound their way to the same unspoken question.

“I don’t think we’ll hear from Rob again.” Said the detective a little sadly. “He had a lot of people that cared for him. Didn’t know him myself, but apparently he was a good man.” He sighed “You might hear from the Feds, they’ll be looking for more evidence. But for us, it’s a closed case.”

Several hundred miles away, in a hotel lobby, in front of a roaring fire a tall pretty blonde named Tonya, in her late forties, stretched out her long legs and asked the man she’d been talking to if he’d top off her drink. As the bartender refilled the whisky sour, the man looked over his shoulder at her and wondered how he had gotten so lucky.

© Glenn R Keller 2022, All Rights Reserved

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