Are You Loveable (part one)
“Clear out. We don’t allow no one loitering in the lobby. And I ain’t got room for any a-one of you. So clear out.”
Mulhall found this lobby unpromising, more the size of a bookmaker’s corner booth. Within the meaning of the act, the Bay Tree House offered a roof overhead to travelers. One might, then, have called it a hotel. The front desk was of the roll top variety, its back to the foyer. Grease-penciled on plain panel-board meant to face a wall, black scribblings, indelible carpenter’s specifications, greeted clientele.
One flight of stairs led to the first story, a second to the remaining. Mulhall suspected the Bay Tree of being in its day a gin mill, or discreet bawdy-house (or, of course, both—the Mickey Finns of the lower chambers a source of rifleable pocketbooks to the upper). He had concealed himself here among the ranks of the press…but these were thinning. Most of his colleagues had conceded the point.
Rain enfiladed the pavement, bulleting in sheets across brick. Thunder shook the window frame. They were stranded in this backwater burg, this southerly Podunk of the state of Illinois. Its two hostelries could not accommodate the traffic.
One man stood holding the door, rain pelting his left side, darkening the fabric of his brown suit. Mulhall shook his head.
“I said, clear out,” the hotelier repeated.
“You aren’t speaking to me,” Mulhall said.
“No, sir, I’m singin a church hymn,” the man answered. “Hoom am I speaking to?”
This was mockery. A sideways glance told Mulhall the others had gone.
“I mean to say…Miller, is it?…you misunderstand me. I haven’t come here expecting to be given a room. I’m only waiting.”
Miller puffed out air in exasperation, left his station behind the roll-top and confronted Mulhall, indicating this and that with jabs of his pocket watch.
“Did I say, or did I say, we don’t allow no one to loiter in the lobby?”
He moved to the door, still jabbing.
“But surely, in mere civility, what with the rain,” Mulhall began. The innkeeper jerked his head; his lips rounded on a word that Mulhall thought, given full birth, would be, “Out!”.
“My fiancée is…”
He tried, on the fly, to conjure a picture. “Driving carefully, I don’t doubt. If I were with her, I would insist she drive carefully in a storm like this. I can only hope…”
Miller stood unpersuaded. “She’s probly run in the ditch somewheres.”
He hated consigning his fiancée to this callous ditch of Miller’s. He hadn’t even named her. Mulhall assumed an expression of great anxiety, that of a tender heart shocked by lack of decent feeling—yes, that explained it—into a reaction somewhat tardy. He wrung his hands.
Are You Loveable
(2015, 2018 Stephanie Foster)