Here’s an excerpt from a work in progress called Motel Mysteries. Hope you enjoy it – and Happy New Year!
For a long time afterwards, the maids talked about the Clown who stayed in Room 5. True, there was a small circus visiting, but it was usual for the performers to stay in their caravans, isolated from the world at large. So a Clown taking a room at the motel was strange enough on its own. But more than that, the Clown was always the Clown. That is to say, no one ever saw the Clown without full costume and face paint. And believe me, by the third day of his stay the maids were all competing to see who could surprise him au naturale. Well, to be perfectly clear, they did not wish to see any bare buttocks or other body parts, just the face. You understand.
The maids worked in two shifts, in those days. The first beginning at six in the morning and stretching out over the daytime hours until half past three in the afternoon. The second began at three (to give a period of overlap for exchange of any important information) and ended at midnight. Between midnight and six it was assumed that guests would have no needs that couldn’t be handled by the night manager. Marietta and Dolores worked the first shift during the week, replaced by Lois and her sister Lola on the weekends (and holidays). Nights were handled by Addie, Margaret, and Jolene in a rotation pattern only they understood. As there were thirty-one units (Air Conditioned! Electric Heat! Tub and Shower Combinations in All!) each maid was responsible for fifteen rooms a shift. The extra room, located in lonely splendor above the office, was rarely used due to the inconvenience of the location of the only stairway (through the manager’s office). When it did need the occasional cleaning, either both maids worked together or the job was decided by a coin toss.
The Clown was given Room 5, and, according to the night manager (who did talk more freely than his daytime counterpart), the room choice was at the Clown’s request. Why? Another mystery.
In the ordinary routine, Room 5 was Marietta’s responsibility. And it was she who subsequently alerted the others to the curious guest. They soon established a plan of surveillance, both while the room was occupied and when it was vacant.
They were circumspect at first. Waiting until the room was clearly empty or the “Maid Service, Please” door hanger was in evidence. Either way, they learned nothing. If the Clown was in, he nodded pleasantly but never spoke, and stayed focussed on the local newspaper which seemed to interest him. There was no sign of makeup in the bathroom, the bureau or night table drawers, or in the small closet. Nor any clothing for that matter. The bed was slept in, but very neatly: no sheets pulled loose of the corners, the spread in place rather than lying in a heap on the floor. The bathroom towels were damp but neatly hung on the appropriate rods. The toilet paper and soap were lessened each day such as might be expected by normal use. The trash can offered up a few used tissues and the wrapper from the soap, but nothing else.
Addie knocked uninvited one early evening on the pretense of delivering fresh towels. They were graciously accepted by the Clown (in costume and makeup) with a pleasant nod. The same happened when Margaret knocked the next night at 9. Lola, always bolder than the others, actually opened the door with her passkey , without knocking, on Sunday morning before the breakfast hour, only to find the Clown as always, her apologies and less than convincing explanation greeted by the ubiquitous nod.
Jolene and Addie bought tickets to a Circus performance to see if they could learn anything of interest. The Circus was a small one: a few acrobats and jugglers, a couple on stilts, a ringmaster (of course), a monkey who rode a rather aged horse, and the Clown. The Clown’s act was unremarkable, consisting of a few tired magic tricks and a ride around the ring on a unicycle. The friends attempted to engage some of the performers in conversation after the show, and to edge their way into the private area behind the tent, but to no avail. The Clown was back in his room at the Motel before they returned to report to the others.
In a move born of desperation, the seven maids engaged the help of the Night Manager. This, they knew, would not be without consequence since the Night Manager, in addition to being gossipy was rather greedy. Cash was short, but they put together an offer of homemade pies, fresh caught fish, and a ride on Jolene’s boyfriend’s motorcycle and in return received assistance in gaining access to Room 5 during the deepest hours of the night. No one wanted to be left out, so they all converged on the door to Room 5 together. The Night Manager carefully turned the key and opened the door. Lois quickly turned on her large flashlight and shone it on the bed. The Clown lay sleeping, in full costume and makeup. Disturbed by the light, he woke, lifted his head and nodded to them with slow deliberation. They retreated with small squeaks and a good deal of commotion. Back in the Office, they made each other swear to refute any claims made by the Clown, reasoning that if they all denied the intrusion it would be written off as a dream.
As it turned out, there was no need. The Clown left without comment the following day (his bill fully paid to the Day Manager). The Circus also disappeared, on the road to wherever it was expected next.
Marietta was resigned to finding no new clues when she went to prepare Room 5 for the next guest. She had no idea what to make of the bouquet of paper flowers that had been left on the bedside table. She put them in a jar in the break room so everyone could see them.