In order for you to understand the story I’m about to tell, it is important for you to know I MUST wear this lanyard around my neck while I’m at work. When I was hired, my boss impressed on me the importance of wearing – never carrying – these keys. He showed me that bending at the waist would allow me to use them without ever taking them off, which guarantees they will never fall into inappropriate hands. You see, the brass keys open various cupboards and closets around the hotel, and the plastic card with a picture of pie on it opens everything else, including all the guest rooms.
It’s Saturday afternoon on a warm, spring-like day. I’ve just arrived at work. It looks like it’s going to be a quiet shift. The phone rings. I answer like I always do, “Thank you for calling the [paranormal hotel.] This is Renae. How can I help you?”
A smooth, masculine voice responds, “Hello. How are you tonight, Renae?”
“I’m great. And you?”
“Fine, fine. I have a few questions. I’m in room 454. Can you tell me when my checkout date is?”
“Let me look that up for you, sir.” I pull up the appropriate guest screen and verify the identity of the caller by asking a him to recite his registration information. When he provides all the right answers, I say, “You are scheduled to check out tomorrow morning by 11:00.”
“Okay, so now I have another question: Can you tell me when the last time a new card was made for my room?”
Shit. No, I can’t. I imagine such information can be extracted from the key coding machine, but no one has ever taught me how. I press some buttons, but come up with nothing. “I’m sorry, Sir. I don’t know how to obtain the information,” I admit.
“Well, I believe – no, I know – someone has been in my room.”
I assure him that only the housekeepers and the front desk staff can enter his room, then describe the measures we take to prevent unauthorized access. Then, thinking that something has gone missing, I ask if perhaps one of the housekeepers moved an item.
“No. You don’t understand. This woman called me from inside my room. Someone there at the hotel must have made a card for her. Or she stole one. She described perfectly where all my things are. “
Oh. “Are you not in the hotel right now, sir?”
“No. I know she’s been in my room. In fact, she might still be in there. Can you check?”
I figure there’s a 90% chance that this is just paranoia. (I’ve seen a lot of paranoia since I started working here.) I tell the guest I’ll check his room and call him back when I’m done. Then I head up to 4th floor with my cell phone in hand. In the elevator, I dial The Ogre (my husband) so he can keep an ear on whatever is about to happen.
I knock at the door and wait. Everything is quiet beyond the peephole. I knock again. Silence. Finally, I bend, insert the key card into the lock, the the door is abruptly yanked open from the inside.
Off-balance, with the key still slotted into the lock, I stumble forward into the room. As I attempt to free myself, I look up into the blood-shot, raccoon-ringed, eyes of a pale woman. Her long, oatmeal-colored hair is straggling around her face, some of it sticking to the skin of her cheek and jaw. She’s wearing jeans, and some neutral-toned sweatshirt, but it’s the beer bottle she’s holding like a club that really catches my eye.
I scramble upright and step back into the hall. “Front desk!” I exclaim as officiously as possible. The words have proven to be a protective incantation for me before. They work again, and she lowers the bottle. She deflates from threatening to nervous. Fresh tears drag more mascara onto her cheeks.
My own cheeks, and my ears, are burning. My initial fear is subsiding but it’s being replaced by another, equally awful emotion – pity. I tug the armor that is a hotel desk clerk’s persona tighter around me and grit my teeth into a smile. “I’m sorry to ask you, ma’m,” I say, “but are you the registered guest for this room?”
“Ah. Um. No. But it’s my boyfriend’s room. We stay here all the time together. You’ve probably seen us together here before. I mean, we are–“
“I’m sorry to tell you, ma’m, that the registered guest has informed me that no one is supposed to be in his room. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
She didn’t fight me. (Though she did continue to reassure me that this was all a big misunderstanding.) I asked her how she had accessed the room and she pulled a key card from her pocket. “He gave me the key this morning.” After she retrieved her bag and her smokes, she allowed me to escort her out of the building.
Of course I had to call the registered guest back. He admitted that this was “a crazy-X thing,” but insisted he had never given her a key and that she must have worked some kind of magic to gain access to his room.
As far as I know, no one will be staying in that room tonight, even though it has been paid for. He said he expected to stop and gather his possessions in the morning.
Such is life at: