The hotel was an old brick building, nine stories tall. It looked like something that could have been built in Stalingrad in the 1930s. It took up a quarter of a block of prime real estate on Lakeside Avenue. The last guest had checked out during the Kucinich Administration. To my knowledge, nobody went near the hotel building. The building was untouched by graffiti artists and taggers. Not even a window had been broken.
There had been three previous attempts to do something with the property. Nobody had opposed the proposals. Everyone who had tried had obtained clear title and the permits. Each time the projects had failed and the property was then sold for a pittance. Compared to the costs of either razing and rebuilding or converting the existing building, the asking price for the property was little more than the costs of the legal and title work. Even with the collapse of the real estate market, the prospect of having a shining new building with killer views of the lake attracted developers.
Which is why I wound up in a lawyer’s office in a glass building on Public Square. The lawyer could find no legal reason why none of the earlier projects had failed. The property had never fallen into foreclosure. Each time the projects failed, the lenders not only took major haircuts, they filed the papers to release the mortgages. The lawyer wanted to know why. That’s what I do. I walked out of there with a thumbdrive of files.
I started with backgrounds on the developers. The 1979 project had six principals. All were dead. The `91 project had four principals. Two were dead. One was in a psychiatric hospital. One had emigrated and disappeared. The `04 project had twelve principal investors, once I worked through the levels of limited liability companies. Five were dead. One was in the Cleveland Clinic with terminal cirrhosis. Two were in psychiatric hospitals. Two were in state prisons, one for stabbing his family to death. He was arrested as he was tanning their skins, the jury sent him to prison because they couldn’t believe anyone was that crazy. The other convict had been in a fatal car crash and had set a state record on the Breathalyzer of .52, that’s six times over the legal limit. The other two had fled.
I did a spot check on the loan officers for the lenders. The results were the same, none of them were working and all had met similar fates.
The 1991 project had gotten to the point of work commencing. That one had been a conversion, they intended to keep the exterior and convert the interior to luxury condos. I looked up the prime contractor. It was out of business. I tracked down the owner; he was tending bar in Yuma.
I flew out to interview him. He looked ten years older than his age. He aged another ten when I told him why I was there. He told me that the building was cursed, nobody would work there longer than a hour. Then nobody would work for him. I asked why he had moved to Yuma. He said he thought it was far enough, but it wasn’t. He threw his bar rag down, walked out the door, got into his truck and drove away. I didn’t think he was coming back.
What is it about that building?
Did I tell you that I went inside it? After I got back from Yuma. I had a flashlight, a respirator mask in case of mold, a tyvek suit, gloves and booties. The door wasn’t even locked. When I went inside, the place was clean. No dust, no mold, no dirt. There was high crown moulding in the lobby, spotless. The stairwells were clean, no musty smell, no bums had peed in them.
Think about that. Nine stories. Fifty rooms each on the top eight floors, twenty on the first floor. The building had a restaurant, two ballrooms, kitchens, laundry, boiler room, the whole bit. I went in at least twenty rooms. Every fricking room was spotless. You’d have thought that the maids had just left. Martha Stewart would have approved. Does that make sense to you? The hotel had been vacant for over thirty years.
I was on the third floor when I felt it. A presence. I felt a voice, no, I didn’t hear it, I felt it. It said if I left right then, it would leave me be. If I didn’t go, it would never leave me. Hell, I had a job to do. I said that aloud. Why, I don’t know. This is my home, the voice said. You are not welcome, it told me. Get out, it said.
I went up to the fourth floor. The voice was more insistent. No, it wasn’t shrieking. But it told me it knew what I had found out, it knew that I went to Yuma and if I did not want to end up like the rest, to leave.
I didn’t believe in that supernatural shit. I said that.
I went up to the fifth floor. The voice told me so be it.
Imagine that someone unscrewed the top of your head and poured in molten lava. That would hurt, right? That would be nothing compared to what I felt. Somehow I was outside, back in my car, heading down I-71. I drove south and west for thirty-six hours. I found a bar, drank there until they threw me out, then I drove and drank and drove. The voice was quieter if I was drinking, but I had to drink a lot.
Well, you know the rest. I’m sorry about those kids I ran over. I’m sorry about the cop, too. Not much I can do, now. No, the voice doesn’t mind me telling you any of this. You won’t believe any of this anyway.
The guards are here, padre. It’s time, now. Pray for me?