It was just after 3 am when Novelia stuck her key into the door to her private quarters. It took her a few tries. Shot nerves and lack of sleep made her hands jittery. The largest reason for her nervousness was how smoothly the Hotel had run lately. There had only been a few little hiccups, nothing that would warrant the label “problem”. Certainly nothing worth getting panicked over. Everyone appeared to be displaying acceptable behavior. Money was coming in. It looked like this month would go in the books as well above average.
All of this weighed heavily on Miss Kepler. She was so used to continuously scrambling to deal with disasters, it felt unnatural when things went well. She didn’t trust it. Experience told her either something horrible was about to happen, or had already happened and she was not aware of it yet.
But without anything concrete to worry about, she could only try to shake off her feeling of impending doom and try to get some sleep. All that was left for her to do was to transfer the day’s revenue from the cash box tucked under her arm, to the safe build into the wall of her office.
Novelia slipped through the door and quickly locked it behind her. A tiny relieved sigh escaped her lips. None of her staff ever bothered her here. Any emergencies would now officially belong to the next day.
She turned around and was suddenly face to face with a huge black dog, growling threateningly at her. With a startled yelp, Novelia pushed herself against the door. For a moment she felt like a deer in headlights, trapped between the glowing yellow eyes of the monster in front of her and the heavy wooden door at her back.
The moment was broken by a mean sounding little chuckle. “Jumpy, Miss Kepler?” The voice had a strange echo to it, like it was broadcast to her ears and directly into her head and the two were slightly out of phase. “Usually the sign of a less than clear conscience.”
The dog snorted at her and sat down, looking smug. Novelia regained her composure and lifted her chin up. She glanced at her uninvited guest. “This is a hotel. We have to adhere to regulations,” she said with as much authority she could muster. “Have him shift.”
The person sitting in her leather chair swirled her best brandy in a glass under its nose, wearing an expression that made it clear they were unimpressed. Novelia had dealt with Lenore Chaseleigh for well over a decade, but never been able to figure out their gender, and she never worked up the nerve to ask. Asking might offend them. The last thing she wanted was for her benefactor to be offended.
If pressed, Novelia might admit that “loan shark” was a more accurate term to describe Lenore Chaseleigh. But since she was unsure how confined the confines of her mind were, “benefactor” was the term she used, even in her own thoughts. And to be fair, Lenore Chaseleigh had helped her get Farrago Hotel off the ground when all other lenders had laughed her out the door.
Without house Chaseleigh, Farrago Hotel would not be what it was now. On most days, Novelia was very grateful for that.
“Why would you force such a magnificent being to wear your crude, inferior form?” Lenore remarked with a small dismissive shrug.
Novelia sighed and addressed the dog directly. “You and your kin,” she had almost said “kind” but caught herself just in time, “are more than welcome at Farrago Hotel. But within the walls I can not allow your canine form. I could be shut down. I hope you understand.”
The dog made a reluctant grumbling sound, followed by a condescending snort, but it got off its hind legs anyway. Novelia turned so she wouldn’t have to look at the transformation. She had seen it before. It always made her head hurt. She focused her attention on Lenore. “You are a couple of days early.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Not at all,” Novelia assured him quickly. “It’s just that I have not prepared the payment yet. It will take me some time to count it out.”
“That’s fine, I have all night,” Lenore said generously.
Yes, but I need some sleep, Novelia didn’t say and barely dared to think. Instead she opened the safe in her wall. She could feel Lenore’s eyes on her as she moved. It made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
“I appreciate how accommodating you are, Miss Kepler.”
“My pleasure,” Novelia mumbled. Every move she was making was calculated not to have to look at her benefactor and their bodyguard, who was now a male wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans. She sat behind her desk and started counting out hundred dollar bills.
Lenore got up from the chair and casually half-sat on the corner of the desk. They lit a slender cigar, tilting their head back to blow thick blue-gray smoke up in the air. “I also have some other business to discuss.”
Novelia froze up. It was like someone just dumped a bucket of ice water down her back. “Oh?” she asked, forcing herself to continue counting out Lenore’s money. “And what might that be?”
“House Chaseleigh wishes to rent the hotel as the venue for an upcoming nuptial celebration.” Lenore announced. They tapped the ash from their cigar, letting it simply fall on Novelia’s carpet. “Which will include rooms for the guests and, naturally, catering for the reception…”
Novelia stared at Lenore, internally screaming. She was rewarded with their terrifying grin. “Does the hotel employ a wedding planner?” they inquired.
Every fiber of Novelia’s being wanted to deny Lenore’s request to rent her hotel. She frantically searched for some, any, excuse that would make Farrago Hotel an unsuitable place for the proposed event.
“I…I…I will take care of it myself,” Novelia heard herself stammer in dismay.
“Wonderful! I will tell the lucky couple their special day is in the best of hands. Also, please let your chef know I will stop by tomorrow night to discuss our…dietary requirements.”
At a loss for words, Novelia stuffed the money in a large envelope and handed it to the bodyguard. The man still was able to trap her with his glowing yellow eyes, as he took the money for his master. Lenore tapped the envelope on the palm of their hand, for a moment they seemed to be thinking things over, and then gave it right back to Novelia.
“Keep it. As a down-payment.” Lenore said. They walked to the door, their bodyguard half a step behind them, and opened it.
Didn’t I lock that door?
Just as they were about to step into the hallway, they gave Novelia one last, deeply disturbing smile. “I look forward to working very closely with you on this. I will see you soon.”