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Room 401, Franklin Waters, checked in on my night audit shift. I had been working at the Pink Ridge Inn for about 8 months, originally during the evenings. But I was offered the 11 pm to 7 am shift after a few weeks because the previous night auditor had graduated college and moved on to a new career. It was mostly uneventful. Mostly paperwork. I had my fair share of walk-ins overnight. But Franklin Waters was different. He was a very particular man and had some special requests when I took down his information.

First and most importantly, he explained, was that he worked at night and slept during the day. As a night auditor, I understood his sentiments. He had a groggy look to him, as if he didn't sleep much at all, let alone only during the day. He had drooping, bloodshot eyes and a graying five o'clock shadow. He was wearing a Hall & Oates shirt that I commented on, as a mutual fan, and we struck up some polite small talk regarding their songs. His favorite was “Private Eyes.”

“I can go for that,” I quipped. He smiled for the first time during the check-in process at my joke, but it didn't last long.

His second rule: no housekeeping. This wasn't so peculiar. We had a handful of long-term guests while I worked there and a lot of them weren't comfortable with having strangers in their room while they were absent. But Franklin slept during the day and would rather clean up after himself than be woken up by a maid at 11:00 in the morning. Once again, I get it. I'm a night owl too.

The third rule was that we were not to transfer any outside phone calls to his room or even tell someone whether he was there or not. Once again, not so strange. In fact, this was standard procedure at hotels. Guest privacy was taken very seriously by our staff and so I had no problem assuring him that his stay would be no one's business but his own. He explained that he had recently divorced and so he wanted peace from his “bitch of an ex-wife” as he called her. He made one exception, though. If his son called, we were to transfer his call immediately.

I told him my name was Andrew. He smiled again, this time it lasted longer. “Andrew is my son's name, too.” He explained that he hadn't spoken to his son in over six years. Estranged. Some big fight between them that he wouldn't get into. A sob story. I was interested, but didn't let on.

His last rule? No one could charge his credit card unless he authorized them to. He would call once a week to give us his consent and we could hit his card for payment then. None of his requests were out of the ordinary, so we finished up his registration and I sent him on his way. After that, I never saw Franklin again.

For the first two weeks, everything was fine with 401. He called every Friday night to have his credit card charged. He would ask how the night was going. He asked if I had seen “the game” the previous night. I never knew what game he was talking about. I wasn't big into sports. But on the third week, he failed to call for payment. This happens often at hotels; people forget what day it is, guests may be low on money and try to slip by for a few days until they get a paycheck or a loan. The morning staff monitor balances, type up a friendly reminder letter, and slide it under the door. Room 401 always had their Do Not Disturb sign posted, so management never did more than slide a note under the door and hope to hear back soon. Most of the daytime people were a bit wary of 401, because no one, other than me, had actually seen Franklin. They never heard a peep from his room. Never got calls from him, no requests for clean linens or towels. After a while you just assume they're a very private person and forget all about them.

After three days, Franklin still hadn't made a payment and talk was abuzz in the office about eviction. So that night, I set out my “Assisting Guest, Will Return Shortly” sign and made my way up to the fourth floor. It was around 3:00 in the morning, so the hallways were empty. The corridors had recently been painted a dark shade of brown and the old, yellowing wall sconces really left the whole fourth floor very dim. Hotels had always been eerie but fascinating places to me. Especially at night. You could walk from floor to floor and never meet a soul, never hear a sound from anyone. If you didn't know better, you might not even remember what floor you're on. They all look the same. All the rooms look the same. Everything is made to be standard, uniform, a repeat of a repeat of a repeat. Mix that with the long, empty halls that ended at closed doors and there was just something, I don't know… creepy about the place.

401 was at the very end of the hall, farthest away from the office. As I neared the room, I could hear faint music. As I drew nearer, I made out what it was: “Private eyes. They're watching you.

They see your every move.

Private eyes. They're watching you.

Private eyes. They're watching you.

Watching you.

Watching you.”

It was coming from 401. I paused at the door. I always felt awkward knocking on people's doors. The idea of these people living their own lives, suddenly interrupted by a banging on the door. The Do Not Disturb sign was still on the handle. I knocked anyway. Nothing. I knocked again. Waited thirty seconds. Knocked again. Waited a minute. There was no answer, but the music kept playing. I sighed and walked back down to the office for the night. I hated being ignored, especially when I knew someone was in the room.

I grabbed the sheet that had all of the rooms' extension numbers on it and called 401. After a few rings, Franklin picked up. I could still hear Hall & Oates in the background when he said “hello.”

“Franklin. It's Andrew down at the front desk,” I said. “I was just letting you know that your payment has been overdue for a few days. Can I go ahead and charge your card?”

“Oh, sure, my apologies,” Franklin said. “Go right ahead. I've just been so detached from the world lately. It slipped my head.”

“No problem, just remember that it's due every Friday, okay?” I said. Then I joked, “I haven't seen you in a while. Where have you been hiding?”

“Oh, I've been floating around here someplace,” he said. “Any calls for me?”

“Not that I've gotten, no,” I said.

“Nothing from my son?”

“No sir,” I said. I felt a little bad for him because he didn't say anything for a few seconds after I answered. He eventually just told me to have a nice night and hung up. Another month passed and things went about the same. 401 would miss a payment. I'd go up to the fourth floor to hear the same song playing at the end of the hall:

“Why you try to put up a front for me? I'm a spy but on your side, you see. Slip on into any disguise, I'll still know you.”

I would knock. No answer. I would call and Franklin would pick up with the music in the background. I would ask to charge his card, he would consent. He would ask if his son had called. I told him he had not. Now and then there would be some small talk. But one night in particular, he asked me, “Andrew, why are you looking up my name on Google?”

I was startled by the question, because I had. The night shift was a boring job and sometimes my curiosity would drive me to Googling guests that seemed a little “off.” I never found much. The occasional arrest record, a LinkedIn profile. Searching Franklin Waters hadn't turned up anything interesting either. I take that back. I had found one thing: a police report behind a pay-wall and from the brief abstract that I could access, it mentioned a child abuse case and a domestic disturbance on file. I looked at Franklin's registration card. The city and state on his ID matched the area where the police report was filed.

A week later, 401's payment was overdue again. It had become a routine by now that I would ascend to the fourth floor, knock on Franklin's door, and get no answer. By this time, however, I was growing frustrated with the situation. Why couldn't the man just remember when he had to make payments? I stood at his door and knocked longer than usual. Louder than usual. After a few minutes, I swiped my master key and the door unlocked. But when I tried to turn the handle, it was jammed. I tried a few times, to no avail. Then I leaned in to peer through the peephole, even knowing that was not how peepholes worked. As I leaned in, the familiar Hall & Oates song was going into its final verse:

“Look into my private eyes, They're watching you. They see it. Ooh, they're watching you.”

I could only make out a blurry illumination coming from within the room as I leaned closer. I put my eyes against the lens, hoping I could see something, anything in the light. Then something moved in front of the hole, blocked the light completely. I jumped back. I didn't stick around any longer and retreated back to the office. I didn't even call 401 that night for payment. Every inch of me was rattling with adrenaline. My fingers shook. I left a note for my manager that I needed to take my vacation days as soon as possible. The next morning, my manager called, we worked out the schedule so that I would be off for the next week. That would drain all of the vacation hours I had saved, but I didn't mind. I needed to get out of that hotel for a while.

I took my vacation at home, drinking, hanging out with friends, catching up with Netflix. My nerves were starting to unwind and I felt like I would be ready to face the hotel again after my much needed rest.

But on the fourth day, my manager called. He talked very softly as he asked how my vacation was going, asked if I had gone anywhere special. I could tell by the tone of his voice, nonetheless, that my time off was not what he was interested in.

“Well,” my manager said, “Andrew. The reason I'm calling is about 401.”

“Oh? What about him? Did he miss another payment?” I asked. “You just have to call him sometime at night. He sleeps during the day.”

“No, no,” he said. “Well. You see, his credit card expired yesterday. So we slipped a letter under his door to contact us as soon as he could. But we didn't hear anything from him. So we went up to see if he was there and couldn't get in. Eventually, maintenance had to cut the lock.”

“He was hiding in there?” I asked, chuckling to myself as I grabbed a Capri Sun from the refrigerator.

“No,” my manager said. “No, he was dead.”

I closed the fridge door slowly, staring out the back patio door. “Dead?”

“Yeah, I uh… well, we think suicide right now,” he said slowly. “We called the police out, the coroner came. We actually really need you to come down here, Andrew. When was the last time you talked to Mr. Waters?”

“Right before I went on vacation. Well, I didn't talk to him. But I went to his room and heard him playing music. Someone was definitely moving around inside, but the door was jammed then, too.”

“Andrew, listen,” he said. “All the food in the room was spoiled. All those payment reminders we slipped under his door were just piled up. The coroner is here. He's saying that Franklin Waters must have been dead for a while. At least a month.”

“What?” I stammered. “Are you in his room now? Are you at the hotel?”

“No, I'm actually in my car. I'm driving over to pick you up, is that okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.” I said. I hung up. I hung up as fast as I could and closed the curtains. I was brimming with horror. Not because of the conversation. Not because I had spoken to a dead man. But because when my manager told me that he was in his car, I heard something in the background. His car radio, volume turned low, playing:

“They're watching you, watching you, watching you.”

Fiction


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