Read Chuck Wendig’s blog. He’s fun and informative.
This is one of his flash fiction challenges, due today.
I got Gothic and Creature Feature.
Here she be.
MANAGING THE MONARCH
The Monarch used to be a nice place. Mark Twain stayed here, back in the day. Now it’s a flop house. The hand-carved wooden bannisters have been whittled by decades of graffiti and the floor-to-ceiling murals in the lobby are covered in layer after layer of whitewash, ectoplasm, and jizz. The grand ballroom hosts only Anonymous meetings, infectious liaisons, and the occasional heroin overdose while the elevator is a literal death-trap and the stairwells smell of piss.
I have a job here, at The Monarch, through no fault of my own. I paid my rent, on time, every month. One morning, sixteen weeks ago, a cold draft slipped an envelope under my door. Within the envelope was a key, a business card, and a letter. The letter advised me that I was now the manager of the Monarch. My first responsibility was to clean up the former manager’s apartment and move into it. The key was to her apartment. The number on the card put me through to a lawyer’s assistant who advised me that I was contractually bound to accept the job if I wanted to continue living there.
I have a job, I told him. At the Stop-n-Rob down the street. What if I don’t want this job?
The assistant had chuckled. Then you’ll have to move. Good luck finding another place that’ll take you in, Ms. Gossard. What with your history.
He didn’t bother to say goodbye before disconnecting and the chipper switchboard operator politely and repeatedly dropped my calls thereafter. I finally read the fine print on my rental agreement.
Damn it. The little twit was right. Put out or get out.
The Monarch was the least discriminating bit of housing in the area and moving out of town would violate my parole. I didn’t have a choice but to accept. Funny how things work. Fortunately, the denizens of the Monarch don’t much complain about the Monarch. Things tend to fix themselves if proper offerings are made. I don’t actually work for the group of lawyers representing the off-site owner, nor do I work for the tenants. No, I work for the Monarch and she doesn’t ask much of me.
Save on occasion.
This morning I woke up and smelled something unpleasant. The smell was more unpleasant than the usual miasma of mold and excrement. When I stepped out into the hall, I saw Tammy standing outside of an open door, several plastic bags laden with Dollar Store groceries significantly reducing the circulation to her hands. I glanced down at my watch even though it would tell me only the time, not the date, and asked, “Is it the fifth already?”
Tammy is not a resident of the hotel. She visits Craig on the fifth of each month, when he collects his SS money, and she stays for a few days while he happily spends the lot of his income on cheap food, cold sex, and bad meth, all of which she supplies. She turned to me with what I thought was a snarl but quickly realized was an attempt to block her nostrils with her upper lip.
“He’s dead,” she said. “He’s fucking dead, damn it.”
I looked into the room and saw that the old man had been dead for a while. I considered attempting to move the body into the alley to avoid the cost of a professional cleaner but realized that his remains would require a combination of plastic tarps and buckets to go anywhere. Better to leave him be as there seemed to be no difference between Craig and the mattress at this point.
I closed the door. “I’ll make a call,” I said. I did not know who I would call.
“This place doesn’t need any more shadows,” Tammy said. “There are lots of shadows,” she insisted, when I shook my head in response to the thoughts not related to her comment. “There are so many shadows it should be condemned and you know it.”
“I’ll contact his caseworker,” I told her. “You keep this between us for now.”
She snorted and turned on her heel, tracking towards the domicile of the next name on her wait-list.
The only time the lawyers handing the business of the Monarch will pay for upkeep and maintenance is when the invoice is accompanied by a court order so I contemplated the situation. I knew what Craig’s caseworker would do. She would sigh. She would call the coroner. The authorities would be involved. The many illegalities of The Monarch’s existence would be documented. My contract implied that I was responsible for extreme discretion.
When I returned to my apartment, the familiar cold draft slipped a card under my door. On the glistening black card—in gloriously stylized gold-leaf print—was a phone number. I’d learned to avoid negative reinforcement so I called the number without hesitation.
The man arrived within five minutes, which meant he’d been inside of the hotel when I called. I’d never seen him before. I did not question his origin. He was a corpulent fellow, inside of a black suit pinstriped with gold thread that would have been fashionable in the hotel’s heyday, circa 1907. He wore a hat and sported a monocle over one eye, the iris of which was black as pitch.
He quoted an outrageous amount of money. I offered him $100, less than ten percent of his original quote. He countered valiantly for several rounds until we agreed on $280. He seemed more confused than disappointed with the deal but moved forward, honorably.
“You will need to give me three days,” he advised. “Three days with no disruptions.”
“You haven’t even looked at the body. You’ll probably need a team. A discreet team,” I added.
“I’ll need three days,” he said. “And the money up front.”
As I opened the envelope of petty cash in my hand, the gentleman pulled a wad of bills from his own pocket and peeled off fourteen Harriet Tubmans. He gave the money a little shake when I did not take it.
I stepped back, perplexed. “What’s this?”
“I thought as much,” he said, cheerfully. He pulled several more twenties from his billfold.
He let the money flutter to the floor and stuffed the wallet back into his pants. He then pulled a long and ornately filigreed silver straw from behind the kerchief peeking out of his lapel pocket.
“Three days,” he repeated, indicating my direction with the slender device. His hand trembled and his words were slurred by saliva. “No disruptions.”
I unlocked the door. He went inside, his eyes fastened on the slurry in the trough of rubberized sheets. He did not lock the door from the inside so I turned my key the other way and gave the handle a little jiggle to make sure the bolt was engaged. I stood there for several moments, my ear almost touching the wood. When the sounds began, my gorge rose in a manner so furious that I emptied the contents of my stomach down the outside of the ornate oak slab that had once kept the secrets of literary royalty.
A cold breeze came up the stairwell and down the hall, encouraging the money he’d dropped to flutter further along, indicating that I should follow. I left the neon slurry of gummy-worms and chardonnay in place, knowing the mess would encourage residents to maintain a wide berth for at least three days.
Back in my apartment, fortified by another box of wine, I contemplated the list of the two hundred-and-some odd residents. I began crossing off the names of people I’d recently witnessed interacting with visiting friends and family. I ticked several that kept to themselves and seemed rather lonely or antisocial. My hands shook but my resolve strengthened as the number of candidates increased. With three years left on my parole for voluntary manslaughter, I have come to the conclusion that managing The Monarch might allow for a delightful nest egg upon my release.