In a luxury hotel, why would a thief steal something so inferior?
Open for Business
CHAPTER
1
Parallel Inn & Suites
The small town of Ayelsdale was not known for its ranches with two horses, its deserted cafes, or the lonely cathedral that stood on the hill, inhabited only on Sundays.
Nor was it known for the measly population of 442 people, the family-run grocery mart, or the town’s “Sewing Shack” on its way out of business.
It was known for its hotel.
The Parallel Inn and Suites stood five stories tall, flooded with visitors.
Bright hallways inlaid with mother of pearl and carpeted with soft red rugs never dulled, and the waiters and waitresses in the dining room were always bustling.
One man slouched in his chair in the dining room and took a sip of his sparkling drink. Another, opposite him, listened intently to his story.
“This hotel’s all they got, you see? Some people say that the town poured all its effort into this one glamorous building here. Others say that without Parallel, it would become a ghost town.”
The other man nodded agreeably and raised his hand. “I see. Check, please.”
A bartender wiped his hands on a cloth, balancing a dial phone on his shoulder.
“Be right there, ma’am, I’m dreadfully sorry for delaying your order... Oy, Marcus! Bring this up to Abigail Clemens, Room 12 on the third floor.”
“Yessir.” Marcus jumped up from his stool and eagerly collected the large glass bottle. He opened the door to the waiter’s flight of stairs leading to the suites on the floors above.
A grouchy lady in a pale pink wrap wrenched open the door, scowled at him and collected the bottle. She slapped a few dollars into his hand. He opened his mouth to protest; she had given him too much.
“Keep the change,” she huffed, and promptly slammed the door in his face. Marcus was about to hurry back downstairs when another woman flew out of her room in disarray. Her eyes swept over his hotel uniform.
“Sir!” she panted, sweeping her arm toward her room. “There’s been a disturbance-”
“Apologies, ma’am, but I don’t think I’m certified to...”
“No, it doesn’t matter... just take a look...”
Marcus strode down the hall with his heart pounding in his throat and looked past the bright number 15 into the suite.
He was about to conclude that there was nothing wrong when suddenly, he noticed something that just about made his heart stop.
The curtains- they were gone.
The bed sheets and mattress cover- gone.
Marcus, with the woman trailing him, walked shakily into the bathroom.
Towels- gone.
She opened the closet. “My husband’s coat, his leather shoes, and the hotel dressing gown. Also stolen.”
He frowned. “I will report this at once. In the meantime, we will move you to a safer, larger suite. No charge. We will replace all the towels and bedsheets and curtains.”
Out of his pocket he produced a key to a suite on the fourth floor. They traded keys. He slipped the woman’s key in his pocket.
“Begin packing your things. I suggest you do this before tomorrow.”
The woman nodded, relieved. He slipped out of the suite and stumbled down the polished spiral stairway. Instead of entering the dining area, he took a sharp left and into the manager’s office.
The door loomed over him. With a tremulous fist, he reached up and rapped on the solid dark oak.
“Who is it?”
“Sir, it’s Marcus... Marcus Vanryn. Room service... waiter...”
“Come in.”
A man no older than fifty adjusted his position in the chair and then steepled his fingers, balancing his head atop them.
“So, Marcus, what have you come to tell me?”
Marcus glanced at the brass plate on his desk. Mr. Matzke, Manager was engraved in black.
“Sir,” he began. “There’s been a disturbance. A thief... he stole from a room on the third floor.”
“Stole what?”
“Um...” Marcus cringed inwardly. “Bedsheets, towels, and curtains. And a hotel dressing gown, a man’s coat, and his shoes.”
The hotel manager closed his eyes for a brief moment and turned the rotary dial on his phone. He held the handset up to his ear.
After a few painstakingly boring minutes, he put the phone down and faced Marcus again.
“Apparently, the chambermaids who were scheduled to clean the room already cleaned it.”
Mr. Matzke rubbed his temples.
“Congrats,” the manager held out his hand for Marcus to shake. “You’ve got yourself a mystery.”
“Me... what? Me... myself... a what...”
“Come back tomorrow, 10:00 A.M. sharp. I will hire a detective to help you, and you two can settle this case.”
Marcus shook his hand, regretting every second of it.
“Yessir.”
The next day, Marcus combed his hair, wrote a short note to the bartender saying he would not be serving customers, and knocked on the oak door once more.
“Good morning, Mr. Vanryn.”
“Good morning, Mr. Matzke.”
“May I introduce you to Caroline Powell, who has professional insight on theft and robbery. She claims she already investigated the scene, but you should check again.”
“Pleasure,” she said shortly, stepping forward and shaking his hand. Her grip almost crushed his fingers.
“You two will examine the room and-” Mr. Matzke’s face aged about ten years. “Hopefully find the culprit. Hopefully keep the hotel’s reputation clear.
“If not, then the word will get out and the popularity of this place will drop. Our customers will not feel safe in this place. We’ll no longer be open for business. If you know what is at stake here, then I do hope that you will be able to find whoever’s behind this.”
They both nodded. Caroline swept out of the room without a second glance. Marcus nervously glanced back. The door closed.
“First,” Caroline opened a notebook the size of her hand, “We examine the crime scene. Then, we interview the witness. After, we check for any clues or footprints or something, or anything...”
“Pardon?”
Caroline rolled her eyes and began mumbling to herself.
Marcus caught “Unprofessional,” and “Do case by myself” before they stopped at Room 15. Caroline jiggled the doorknob. Locked.
He remembered the key in his pocket. Stepping forward, he unlocked the door. It swung open soundlessly.
The room was exactly the same as before, but the curtains, bedsheets, and towels were back in place.
Caroline walked the perimeter of each room, frowned, and scribbled something on her notepad. Marcus leaned over her shoulder to read her spiky, perfectly-spaced writing.
Slight burn mark on rug. Could be from lamp. Will confirm later.
“There’s a note from the occupant,” Caroline’s voice rang from the other room. She held it up for him to read.
To whoever is investigating my case—
The following statement is to my best knowledge and belief.
Yesterday, at around 5:00 P.M., I left my room. The reason behind leaving the room was to fetch ice for my wrist- I had injured earlier.
I was foolish. I left the room door ajar, suspecting no one would enter. The hallway was empty. I had lit a lamp with a match and blown the match out beforehand. The stack of unused matches were on the table.
When I came back, the lamp was out. The stack of matches were gone. My husband’s leather shoes, brown jacket with milky white buttons, bed sheets, curtains, and towels were also gone.
The balcony door was closed, but locked. They didn’t go through there. I knew with certainty that they had entered and exited through the hallway while I was gone.
I hope this helps your case.
Best of luck, Cecelia and Mitchell Stanford, Rm. 15, Third Floor
Caroline stared down at it. “That gives us a lead, somewhat.”
Marcus unlocked the balcony door and stepped outside. There were no burns, no footprints, dirt streaks, or anything of the matter.
Then he looked down. The front of the hotel was below him, illuminated with yellow lights. On the right was a small clump of trees, not quite a forest but larger than a backyard.
“Caroline, you might want to see this.”
A thick growth of ferns wound its way through the not-quite-a-forest.
Marcus noticed that some of them were flattened.
Which meant that the ferns were stepped on.
Caroline hurried over and peered down. Her face went pale.
“Um, er-”
“What?” Marcus turned toward her. “It’s our best lead!”
“I know. Never mind. Let’s go down.”
They locked the room, took the stairs and went out the front door. Walking around the clearing, Marcus examined the ferns.
“It’s human. An animal’s foot wouldn’t be big enough to flatten the entire fern.”
“Bears?” Caroline wondered doubtfully.
Marcus shook his head. “Been living near here all my life. No bears at all- what is that?”
In the flowerbed was a dent in the dirt. Caroline touched it. It moved under her finger.
“It’s fresh...” she noticed his expression. “What are you thinking?”
Marcus stood rigid. Understanding dawned on his face.
“Whoever did it, they unlocked the balcony, threw the things out the window. It explains the scar in the dirt. That could be the side of a shoe,” he explained excitedly.
“Then they went back inside, locked it, and left without the things. Without looking suspicious, they went back downstairs, collected the things, and took off that way.” He pointed at the broken ferns.
Caroline was indignant. “What about the burn mark? Or the matches?”
Marcus was too excited to be flustered. “We’ll figure it out,” he concluded, heading toward the ferns. “In the meantime, we’ll stick with this.”
They followed the ferns into a clearing with three houses.
“Voilà,” Marcus announced with pride. “Our prime suspects.”
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