With a slight limp in his right leg he pushed the luggage cart down the hall and then turned right at the end of the main corridor. She tried to look around and catch everything in. She wondered how plants could live in here to serve as ornamentation and how this hotel could look fresh and polished when it was obviously deserted. The three of them who were walking who knows where were the only signs of life she had seen, aside from plant life. She wondered why there were no cobwebs or anything else, since it was obvious that this hotel was far too much for one person to keep in repair alone, and the bellhop, although somewhat friendly, did not strike her as the sort of person who was going to expend heroic effort against entropy and chaos. She looked at the sign on the wall and saw that they were going to rooms thirteen through twenty-four. At the first door on the left, they stopped.
The bellhop handed her and Ashley keycards with the words #13 on them beneath a flourishing text design for La Hotel Espero that looked like a distant cousin of monotype corsiva, something like scriptina, perhaps. Here is your room, he said as he unlocked the door and opened it, letting the ladies enter first. Ashley looked at him as if such gallantry personally offended her and stomped inside. Kate looked at him, as if she was apologetic for the rudeness of her friend and then followed, as he took the luggage into the room. “This particular room, like the odd numbered rooms of the hotel, has two twin beds. The even numbered rooms have one queen-sized bed, and your reservation said two twin beds.” “Who made the reservation,” Ashley said, turning on him. “The reservation did not say,” he replied. “Do you have any idea who it was?” “I have an idea, but I’m not the sort of person who prefers to engage in such speculations.” “When was the reservation made?” “This morning, after I had conducted an inspection of the rooms of this floor. I would say it was about ten o’clock or a little afterward.”
Kate and Ashley looked at each other, a bit concerned. Kate decided to take over the role of chief inquisitor, as she was less snarky and more genuinely curious. “Where are we?” Kate asked. “That’s a more complicated question than you know.” “Try me.” The bellhop sighed. “I don’t really know myself.” “What do you mean?” “It’s been what feels like decades since I’ve seen anywhere else outside of this hotel.” “That doesn’t make any sense. You caught the Eurotrip reference and that movie is only a decade or two old.” The bellhop thought for a few seconds and thoughtfully replied. “Time works differently here. I have no idea what is going on in the world outside of this hotel. I don’t have internet, there’s no news. My daily routine is the only thing that tells me how much time passes, and according to that it has been decades. There are books in my bedroom that I have read dozens, even hundreds of times.” Kate looked very concerned, and she sat down on the bed. “What are you saying? Are you saying that we are trapped here?”
“I wouldn’t say that you are trapped, exactly. But your reservation did say that you were staying for seven days and six nights. This would be the first day. If you’re not too tired, would you at least like to take a tour of the hotel?” Kate and Ashley looked at each other and said, “Why not?” at the same time. That was sufficient invitation for the bellhop to lead the way into the corridor and go into lecture mode. “This hotel has seven floors and twenty-four rooms to each floor. There are as many rooms in this hotel as days of the week.” “That’s weird,” Ashley said. “I think the person who built this hotel was highly interested in the symbolism of numbers. If you look at your keycards, for example–I hope someone brought them–you will see that the number to dial to reach me should you want anything is star-1-5-3, which is the number of fish that were pulled up by the disciples on the instruction of Jesus Christ.” Kate looked at her keycard–she had remembered to bring it–and indeed that is what she saw. She was certainly more than a little puzzled, though, that there was so much in the way of number symbolism.
The bellhop stopped at the painting that was above the sign she had noticed earlier. “Every floor has some kind of number related artwork to set it apart from the rest of the floors. Here on the first floor, the art is a poster for the film “The Number 23.” Do you guys remember that film?” The ladies shook their head no. “It was a commercially unsuccessful film starting Jim Carrey as a man obsessed with the number twenty-three. When you consider how commercially unsuccessful this hotel is–since you’re the first guests I’ve ever seen here–you have to admit that whoever built this hotel at least has a sense of humor. We can all be glad for that, at least,” he seemed to be talking to himself, mostly. Kate looked at him with some admiration. This was a man who clearly knew a lot of things, and just continued to talk. It was as if he had not had anyone to talk with for a long time. She did the math in her head. She said that there had been no guests and he had been here for what seemed like decades. Who did he talk to in all that time? She thought that if she had to be alone for that long that she would go crazy and kill herself or something, and she was sure that if Ashley was anywhere without a handsome guy for more than a week or so that she would go absolutely insane. How could this man endure such solitude forever? He didn’t seem like an evil man, the sort of man who would deserve that kind of solitary confinement in a hotel like this, because she was now more convinced than ever that they were trapped in some kind of prison. She just didn’t know how to get out of it.
They had reached the restaurant that they had passed by earlier when leaving the lobby. “Here is our restaurant, Club 72,” the bellhop helpfully explained, with the sign easily visible above the entrance. “Do you eat here often, captain obvious?” Ashley said somewhat sarcastically. “I don’t always eat, but when I eat, I eat here,” the bellhop replied back politely. “What do you mean, you don’t always eat? You don’t strike me as the sort of man who cares that much about his physique. I don’t see you using any of that gym equipment we just passed.” “I do like to do some weight training from time to time, and I care more about my looks, as plain as I am, than might appear to be the case,” he answered, “but it really does me no good, since nothing I do really changes the way I look. I’ve looked like this the whole time I’ve been here.” “Your looks haven’t changed at all?” “Not a bit.” “I’m sorry. If I had to look like you for decades, I’d probably kill myself.” “I can’t change the way I look,” he said a bit modestly, “but at least I don’t look in the mirror often.” “We all do what we can,” Kate said, trying to keep the conversation civil. Continuing, she said, “So, what does this title mean?” “Well, it so happens that Leonardo Da Vinci was very fond of the number seventy-two, so much so that it appeared in some form in many of his paintings. Our restaurant, as quiet as it is, is definitely worthwhile to eat at should you wish to. It’s not like there is anywhere else to go around here.” “Who does the cooking?” “I do.” “You won’t kill us with food poisoning, will you?” “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Kate frowned. She had hoped that her friend would be on good behavior, but that didn’t appear to be the case. Yet although she might have wanted to interfere with the duel of wits between her friend and the bellhop, she had to admit to herself that he could take care of himself. He was hardly unarmed when it came to wit and sarcasm, although he appeared to be more of a person for reserve and understatement than the sort of shade that her friend liked to cast. “Would you care to cook for me sometime? I’m not afraid of food poisoning?” Kate said, surprising even herself. “Are you asking me out on a date?” “I guess I am,” Kate said, blushing a bit. “Well, it’s probably getting pretty close to bedtime for you both,” he said, and she turned to see that the sun had set outside. Had they really been walking around the hotel for that long? It didn’t seem as if they had been there that long, but they had walked through a seven floor hotel, seen a pool and a gym, stopped at the restaurant, and had more than enough time to hear lots of bickering. She didn’t realize that hours had passed, though. He was enjoyable company, even if he walked with a bit of a limp.
“Can you answer a question?” Kate asked politely. “You both have been full of questions since you arrived here,” the bellhop answered perceptively. “I don’t see any reason for you to stop now.” “Why do you limp?” “That’s an easy one,” he said. “Unfortunately, I am gouty.” “What do you mean?” “I have gout. Unfortunately, I’ve never had good kidneys, so anytime I’m on my feet a lot my feet tend to suffer a lot and my right big toe swells up. I can show you what it looks like, but you’d probably think it’s pretty gross to see.” “No thanks,” Ashley piped up, unwilling to let the bellhop focus all of his attention on Kate. All three of the people felt awkward for different reasons, and the conversation flagged. Politely, the bellhop turned to lead the two back to their room in uncomfortable silence. Reaching the room, the bellhop said to Kate. “How does tomorrow for dinner sound?” “That’s quite alright by me.” “I’m only a call away.” He nodded his head and turned and headed back to the lobby. The two women went inside their rooms after Kate opened the door and then they sat on their beds, in silence.
There was so much that Kate wanted to say to her friend, but she kept it inside. They had another week or so together and it would hardly work to end their first night fighting mad at each other. She knew that her friend just loved the attention as Charlie Puth liked to sing. And the fact was that although the bellhop was by no means a strikingly handsome fellow, he was certainly a kind person who had a lot of information to share and a certain amount of personality and charm. And as both of them knew, he was the best that this place had to offer. It was as if circumstances had conspired against them, to pit these two friends against each other. She had sometimes wondered about whether the author behind the divine providence of her existence was a kind one or an unkind one, and she had a striking feeling that it was not as kind as she had previously believed. But she was tired–the bellhop was right that it was too late tonight to eat and have a long conversation this evening. Maybe he was tired too. How could a man spent decades alone in this place, and how were she and her friend going to spend a week together in the same room without tearing each other to pieces. She had not come to any answers before sleep came to her weary eyes.