nowthatithinkofit...



Oct 25

"Before the Play" by Stephen King

Scene I: The Third Floor of a Resort Hotel

Fallen Upon Hard Times


IT WAS OCTOBER 7, 1922, and the Overlook Hotel had closed its

doors on the end of another season. When it re-opened in mid-May

of 1923, it would be under new management. Two brothers named

Clyde and Cecil Brandywine had bought it, good old boys from Texas

with more old cattle money and new oil money than they knew

what to do with.

Bob T. Watson stood at the huge picture window of the

Presidential Suite and stared out at the climbing heights of the

Rockies, where the aspens had now shaken most of their leaves, and

hoped the Brandywine brothers would fail. Since 1915 the hotel had

been owned by a man named James Parris. Parris had begun his

professional life as a common shyster in 1880. One of his close

friends rose to the presidency of a great western railroad, a robber

baron among robber barons. Parris grew rich on his fiend’s spoils,

but had none of his friends colorful flamboyancy. Parris was a gray

little man with an eye always turned to an inward set of accounting

books. He would have sold the Overlook anyway, Bob T. Watson

thought as he continued to stare out the window. The little shyster

bastard just happened to drop dead before he got a chance.

The man who had sold the Overlook to James Parris had been Bob

T. Watson himself. One of the last of the Western giants that arose

in the years 1870-1905, Bob T. came from a family that had made a

staggering fortune in silver around Placer, Colorado. They lost the

fortune, rebuilt it in land speculation to the railroads, and lost most

of it again in the depression of ‘93-‘94, when Bob T.’s father was

gunned down in Denver by a man suspected of organizing.

Bob T. had rebuilt the fortune himself, single-handedly, in the

years 1895 to 1905, and had begun searching then for something,

some perfect thing, to cap his achievement. After two years of

careful thought (during the interim he had bought himself a

governor and a representative to the US. Congress), he had

decided, in modest Watson fashion, to build the grandest resort

hotel in America. It would stand at the roof of America, with

nothing in the country at a higher altitude except the sky. It would

be a playground of the national and international rich - the people

that would be known three generations later as the super-rich.

Construction began in 1907, forty miles west of Sidewinder,

Colorado, and supervised by Bob T. himself.

"And do you know what?" Bob T. said aloud in the third-floor suite,

which was the grandest set of apartments in the grandest resort

hotel in America. “Nothing ever went right after that. Nothing.”

The Overlook had made him old. He had been forty-three when

ground was broken in 1907, and when construction was completed

two years later (but too late for them to be able to open the hotel’s

doors until 1910), he was bald. He had developed an ulcer. One of

his two sons, the one he had loved best, the one that had been

destined to carry the Watson banner forward into the future, had

died in a stupid riding accident. Boyd had tried to jump his pony

over a pile of lumber where the topiary now was, and the pony had

caught its back feet and broken its leg. Boyd had broken his neck.

There had been financial reverses on other fronts. The Watson

fortune, which had looked so secure in 1905, had begun to look

decidedly shaky in that autumn of 1909. There had been a huge

investment in munitions in anticipation of a foreign War that did not

happen, and had not happened until 1914. There had been a

dishonest accountant in the timbering end of the Watson operation,

and although he had been sent to jail for twenty long years, he had

done half a million dollars worth of damage first.

Perhaps disheartened by the death of his oldest son, Bob T. had

become unwisely convinced that the way to recoup was the way

that his father had couped in the first place: silver. There were

advisers who contended against this, but after the calumny of the

head accountant, who was the son of one of his father’s best

friends, Bob T. trusted his advisers less and less. He had refused to

believe that Colorado’s mining days were over. A million dollars in

dry investments hadn’t convinced him. Two million had. And by the

time the Overlook opened its doors in the late spring of 1910, Bob

T. realized that he was precariously close to being in shirt-sleeves

again … and building on the ruins at the age of forty-five might be

an impossibility.

The Overlook was his hope.

The Overlook Hotel, built against the roof of the sky, with its

topiary of hedge animals to enchant the children, its playground, its

long and lovely croquet course, its putting green for the gentlemen,

its tennis courts outside and shuffleboard courts inside, its dining

room with the western exposure looking out over the last rising

jagged peaks of the Rockies, its ballroom facing east, where the

land dropped into green valleys of spruce and pine. The Overlook

with its one hundred and ten rooms, its staff of specially trained

domestics, and not one but two French chefs. The Overlook with its

lobby as wide and grand as three Pullman cars, the grand staircase

rising to the second floor, and its ponderous neo-Victorian

furniture, all capped by the huge crystal chandelier which hung

over the stairwell like a monster diamond.

Bob T. had fallen in love with the hotel as an idea, and his love

had deepened as the hotel took shape, no longer a mental thing but

an actual edifice with strong, clean lines and infinite possibility. His

wife had grown to hate it - at one point in 1908 she told him that

she would have preferred competing with another woman, that at

least she would have known how to cope with - but he had

dismissed her hate as a hysterical female reaction to Boyd’s death

on the grounds.

"You’re not natural on the subject," Sarah had told him. "When you

look at that there, it’s like there was no sense left in you. No one

can talk to you about what it’s costing, or how people are going to

get here when the last sixty miles of road aren’t even paved-.”

"They’ll be paved," he said quiet "I’ll pave them."

"And how much will that cost?’ Sarah asked hysterically. "Another

million?”

"Nowhere near," Bob T. said. "But if it did, I’d pay it."

"You see? Can’t you see? You’re just not natural on the subject. It’s

taken your wits, Bob T.!”

Perhaps it had at that.

The Overlook’s premier season had been a nightmare. Spring came

late, and the roads were not passable until the first of June, and

even then they were a nightmare of washboards and axle-smashing

chuckholes and hastily-laid corduroy over stretches of jellied mud.

There was more rain that year than Bob T. had ever seen before or

since, climaxed by a day of snow flurries in August … black snow,

the old women called it, a terrible omen for the winter ahead. In

September he had hired a contractor to pave the last twenty miles

of the road that led west from Estes Park to Sidewinder, and the

forty miles from Sidewinder to the hotel itself, and it had turned

into an expensive, round-the-clock operation to finish the two roads

before the snow covered them for the long, long winter. The winter

his wife had died.

But the roads and the abbreviated season had not been the worst

of the Overlook’s first year. No. The hotel had been officially

opened on June 1, 1910 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony presided over

by Bob T’s pet congressman. That day had been hot and clear and

bright, the kind of day the Denver Post must have had in mind when

they took “Tis a privilege to live in Colorado” as their motto. And

when the pet congressman cut the ribbon, the wife of one of the

first guests fainted dead away. The applause that had begun at the

cutting of the ribbon dried up in little exclamations of alarm and

concern. Smelling salts had brought her around, of course, but she

had come back to the world with such an expression of dazed terror

on her vapid little face that Bob T. could cheerfully have strangled

her.

"I thought I saw something in the lobby," she said. "It didn’t look

like a man.”

Later she admitted that it must have been the unexpected heat

after all the chilly weather, but of course by then the damage had

been done.

Nor was the tale of that days reverses all told.

One of the two chefs had scalded his arm while preparing lunch

and had to be taken to the hospital closest by, far away in Boulder.

Mrs. Arkinbauer, the wife of the meat-packing king had slipped

while towelling herself dry after her bath and had broken her wrist.

And finally, the crowning touch, at dinner that night. Bob T.’s pet

congressman swallowed a piece of heavy Western sirloin strip steak

the wrong way and choked to death in the full and horrified view of

two hundred guests, nearly all of them there at Bob T. Watson’s

personal invitation.

The pet congressman had clawed and clutched at his throat, he

had turned first red and then purple, he had actually begun to

stagger among the assembled company in his death-throes,

bouncing from table to table, his wildly swinging arms knocking over

wine-glasses and vases full of freshly cut flowers, eyes bulging

hideously at the assembled revellers. It was as if, one Bob T.’s

friends told him much later in private, Poe’s story about the Red

Death had come to life in front of all of them. And perhaps Bob T.’s

chance to make his beloved hotel a success had died on that very

first night, had died a jittering, twitching, miserable death right

alongside the pet congressman and in full view of those assembled.

The son of one of the guests who had been invited for the gratis

opening week was a second-year med student, and he had

performed an emergency tracheotomy in the kitchen. Either he was

too late to begin with or his hand shook at a critical moment; in

either case the results were the same. The man was dead, and

before the end of the week, half the guests had departed.

Bob T. mourned to his wife that he had never seen or heard a

spectacular run of bad luck.

"Are you so sure that bad luck is all it is?" She responded, only six

months away from her own death now.

"What else, Sarah? What else?"

"You’ve put that hotel up in the tabernacle of your heart!" She

assured him in a shrill voice. “Built it on the bones of your first-born

son!”

Mention of Boyd still made his throat roughen, even a year later.

"Sarah, Boyd is buried in Denver, next to your own mother."

"But he died here! He died here! And how much is it costing you,

Bob T.? How much have you sunk into the wretched place that we’ll

never get back?”

"I’ll get it back."

Then his unlettered wife, who had once kept house for him in a

one-room log cabin, had spoken prophecy to him:

"You’ll die a poor an sorry man, Bob T. Watson, before you see the

first pennyworth of profit from that place.”

She had died of influenza, and took her place between her son and

her mother.

The season of 1911 had begun just as badly. Spring and then

summer had come at more normal times, but Bob T.’s younger son,

a fourteen-year-old boy named Richard, had brought him the bad

news in mid-April, still a full month before the hotel was due to

open.

"Daddy," Richard said, "that bastard Grondin has diddled you."

Grondin was the contractor who had paved the sixty miles of road,

at a total cost of seventy thousand dollars. He had cut corners and

had used substandard material. After an autumn of frost, a winter

of freeze, and a spring of thaw, the paving was breaking up in

great, rotted chunks. The last sixty miles of the trip to the Overlook

would be impassable by buggy, let alone by one of the new flivvers.

The worst thing about it to Bob T.’s mind, the most frightening

thing, was that he had spent at least two days of every week

supervising Grondin’s work. How could Grondin have slipped the

substandard materials past him? How could he have been so blind?

Grondin, of course, was nowhere to be found.

Repaving the roads was more expensive than the original paving

had been, because the original paving had to be taken up. It would

not serve even as a foundation for the new road. Once again work

had to proceed around the clock, entailing overtime wages. There

were holdups and snags and confusions. Wagons drawing the

materials up from the railhead in Estes Park lost their wheels.

Horses burst their hearts trying to draw overloaded wagons up the

steep grades. There was a week of rain at the beginning of May. The

road was not re-completed until the first week of July, and by then

most of the people Bob T. had hoped to draw had made their

summer plans and less then half of the Overlook’s one hundred and

ten rooms were occupied.

In spite of the panicked clamorings of his accountants - and even

his son Richard - Bob T. had refused to lay off any of the hotel’s

staff. He would not even let one of the two expensive chefs go (two

new chefs; neither of the two from the previous year had come

back), although there was barely enough work for one. He was

stubbornly convinced that in late July … or August … or

even in September when the aspens had begun to turn … that the

guests would come, the rich would come with their retainers and

their hangers-on and their careless money. The statesmen would

come, the machine politicians, the actors and actresses who aced

the Broadway stage, the foreign nobility who were always in search

of a new and diverting place. They would hear about the gorgeous

hotel that had been built for their pleasure at the roof of America,

and they would come. But they never came. And when

winter put finishes to the Overlook’s second season, only one

hundred and six guests had signed the register in three months.

Bob T. sighed and continued to stare out the wide window of the

Presidental Suite, where in 1922, only one President had actually

stayed - Woodrow Wilson. And he had come he had already been a

man broken in all the ways a man could be broken - in body, in

spirit, in his believability with the people. When Wilson had come

here he had been a sorry joke. There had been talk in the country

that his wife was actually the President of the United States.

If Sarah hadn’t died, Bob T. thought, tracing aimlessly on the

window with the tip of his finger, I might have laid them off, some

of them at least. she might have badgered me into it. She might

have … but I don’t believe it.

You’ve put that hotel up in the tabernacle of your heart.

The 1912 season had been better. In a manner of speaking, at

least, the Overlook had only run eighty thousand dollars in the red.

The two previous seasons had cost him over a quarter of a million,

not counting the paving of that double … no, triple-damned road.

When the 1912 season ended he had been hopefully convinced that

the pump had finally been primed, that his whining accountants

could finally put away their pots of red ink and begin writing with

black.

The 1913 season had been better still - only fifty thousand dollars

in losses. He became convinced that they would turn the corner in

1914. That the Overlook was gradually coming into its own.

His head accountant had come to him in September of 1914, while

the season still had three weeks to run, and advised he filed for

bankruptcy.

"What in the name of God are you talking about?" Bob T. asked.

"I’m talking about nearly two hundred thousand dollars in debts

which you cannot hope to repay.” The accountant’s name was

Rutherford and he was a fussy little man, an Easterner.

"That’s ridiculous," Bob T. said. "Get out of here." His head cook

Geroux, would be in soon. They were going to plan the menu for the

closing three nights, what Bob T. had conceived of as the Overlook

Festival.

The accountant put a thin sheaf of papers down on Bob T.’s desk

and left.

Three hours later, after the cook had left, Bob T. found himself

looking at the papers. Never mind them, he told himself. Into the

wastebasket with them. I’ll pink the little bastard, him with his

Boston accent and his three piece suits. He was nothing but an

incompetent tenderfoot. And did you keep folks on our payroll after

they advised you to go into bankruptcy? It was laughable.

He had picked up the papers Rutherford had left, to file them in

the circular file, and found himself looking at them. What he saw

was enough to make his blood stop in his veins.

On top was a bill from the Keystone Paving Works of Golden.

Principal plus interest in the sum of seventy thousand dollars.

Account due on receipt of bill. Below that, a bill from the Denver

Electrical Outfitters, Inc., who had wired the Overlook for

electricity and had installed not one but two gigantic power

generators in the cavernous basement. All of this had happened in

the

late fall of 1913 when his son Richard had assured him that

electricity was not going to go away, and that soon his guests would

come to expect it, not as a luxury but a necessity. That bill was in

the sum of eighteen thousand dollars.

Bob T. flicked through the remainder of the papers with growing

horror. A building maintenance bill, a landscaping bill, the second

well he had sunk, the contractors who were even now putting in a

health room, the contractors who had just finished the two

greenhouses, and last … last, an itemization in Rutherford’s neat

and ruthless hand of salaries outstanding.

Fifteen minutes later, Rutherford was standing before him again.

"It can’t be this bad," Bob T. whispered hoarsely.

"It is worse," Rutherford said. "If my estimates are correct, you will

finish this season twenty thousand dollars or better in the red.”

"Only twenty? If we can hold out until next year, we can turn the

corner-.”

"There is no way we can do that," Rutherford said patiently. "The

Overlook’s accounts are not depleted, Mr. Watson, they are empty. I

even closed out the petty cash account last Thursday afternoon so I

could finish making up the staff’s pay envelopes. The checking

accounts are likewise empty. Your mining interest in Haggle Notch

is closed out, as per your order this July. That is everything …

Rutherford’s eyes gleamed with brief hope. “That is, everything I

know of.”

"It’s everything!" Bob T. agreed dully, and the hope in Rutherford’s

eyes was extinguished. Bob T. sat up a little straighter. “I’ll go to

Denver tomorrow. I’ll see about a second mortgage on the hotel.”

"Mr. Watson," Rutherford said with a curious gentleness. "You took

the second mortgage last winter.”

And so he had. How could he have forgotten a thing like that? Bob

T. wondered with real fright. The same way he had forgotten two

hundred thousand dollars worth of payment due? Just forgotten it?

When a man started “just forgetting” things like that, it was time for

that man to get out of business before he was pushed out.

But he would not let the Overlook go.

"I’ll get a third," he said. "Bill Steeves will give me a third."

"No, I don’t believe he will," Rutherford said.

"What do you mean, you don’t believe he will, you little Boston

bean?” Bob T. had roared. “Billy Steeves and me go back to 1890

together! I got him his start in business … helped to capitalize his

bank … kept my money in with him in ‘94 when everybody west of

the Mississippi was shitting in their drawers! Hell give me a tenth

mortgage, or I’ll know the reason why!”

Rutherford looked at Bob T. and wondered what he should say,

what he could say that the old man didn’t already know. Could he

tell him that William Steeves had put his position as President of

the First Mercantile Bank of Denver in severe Jeopardy by granting

the second mortgage when the situation at the Overlook was clearly

hopeless? That Steeves had done it anyway under the ridiculous

conviction that he owed Bob T. Watson a debt (to Rutherford’s

precision-balanced mind the only real debt was a debt that had

been contracted for in triplicate)? Could he tell Watson that even if

Steeves cut his own throat and agreed to try and get him a third

mortgage that he would succeed in doing nothing but putting

himself on the severely depressed executive job market? That even

if the unthinkable happened and the mortgage were issued, it

would not be even enough to clear the outstanding debts?

Surely the old man must know those things.

Old man, Rutherford mused. Surely he can’t be more than fifty,

but right at this minute he looks more like seventy-five. What is

there to tell him? That his wife was right, maybe, that the creditors

were right. The hotel had sucked him dry. It had stolen his business

acumen, his savvy, even his common sense. You needed a special

kind of sense to survive in American business, a special kind of

sight. And now Bob T. Watson was blind. It was the hotel that had

blinded him and made him old.

Rutherford said, “I believe the time has come for me to thank you

for my two years of employment and give my notice, Mr. Watson. I’ll

waive any further emolument.” That was a bitter joke.

"Go on, then," Bob T. said. His face was gray and drawn. "You don’t

belong in the west anyway. You don’t understand what the west is

all about. You are just a cheap tin Eastern chamberpot with a timeclock

for a mind. Get out of here.”

Bob T. took the stack of accounts due, tipped them in half, in

fourths, and with a clench that went all the way up his arms to his

shoulders, in eighths. He threw the pieces in Rutherford’s face.

"Get out!" He yelled. "Go on back to Baaston! I’ll still be running

this hotel in 1940! Me and my son Richard! Get out! Get out!”

Bob T. turned away from the window and looked thoughtfully at

the large double bed where President Wilson and his wife had slept

… if they had slept. It seemed to Bob T. that a great many people

who came to the Overlook slept very poorly.

I’ll still be running this hotel in 1940!

Well, in a way that might be true. I just might. He went into the

living room, a tall, stooped man, mostly bald now, wearing

carpenter’s overalls and heavy workshoes instead of the expensive

Western boots he had once worn. There was a hammer in one

pocket and a keychain in the other, and on the ring attached to the

chain were all the keys to the hotel. Better than fifty in all,

including a different passkey for each wing of each floor, but none

of them were labelled. He knew them all by sight and by touch.

The Overlook had not wanted for a buyer, and Bob T. supposed it

never would. There was something about the place that reminded

him of that old Greek story about Homer and the sirens on the rock.

Businessmen (the Homers of the 20th century) who were otherwise

sane and hardheaded, became irrationally convinced that they

could take the place over and over beyond their wildest dreams.

This pleased Bob T. to no end. It was finding out that he wasn’t

alone in his craziness, it seemed. Or maybe it was just knowing that

the Overlook would never stand empty and deserted. He didn’t think

he could have borne that.

Despite Rutherford’s protests that he could only salvage something

declaring bankruptcy and letting the bank sell the Overlook, Bob T.

had it himself. He had grown more and more fond of his son

Richard - perhaps he would never be able to fill Boyd’s shoes but he

was a good, hardworking boy and now that his mother was dead

they only had each other - and he was not going to let the boy grow

up with the stigma of a bankruptcy case hanging over his head.

There had been three interested parties and Bob T. had held on

grimly until he got his price, always staying just one jump ahead of

the baying creditors who wanted to bring him down and divide the

spoils up among themselves. He had called a hundred old debts,

some of them going back to his father’s time. To keep the Overlook

out of the bank’s hands and in his own he had browbeaten a widow

into hysteria, he had threatened an Albuquerque newspaper

publisher with exposure (the news publisher had a penchant for

young, pre-pubescent, actually - girls), he had gotten down on his

knees and once begged a man who had been so revolted that he had

given Bob T. a check for ten thousand dollars just to get him off

his knees and out of his office.

None of it was enough to blot away the rising tide of red ink -

nothing could do that, he recognized - but he mustered enough in

that winter of 1914-15 to keep his hotel out of receivership.

In the spring he had dealt with James Parris, the man who had

begun life as a common shyster. Bob T.’s price - a ridiculously low

one - had been one hundred and eighty thousand dollars plus

lifetime jobs for himself and his son … as the Overlook’s

maintenance men.

"You’re insane, man," Parris had said. "Is that what you want to

avoid bankruptcy for? So the Denver papers can report you’re

working as a janitor in the hotel you once owned?” And he

reiterated: “You’re insane.”

Bob T. was adamant. He would not leave the hotel. And for all his

cold businessman’s talk, he knew that Parris would give in. The cold

talk did not hide the funny, eager look in Parris’s eyes. Didn’t Bob T.

know that look well enough? Hadn’t he seen it in his own mirror

every day for the last six years?

:I don’t have to dicker with you over it,” Parris had replied,

affecting indifference. “If I wait another two months, perhaps only

three weeks, you’ll crash. And then I can deal with the First

Mercantile.”

"And they’ll charge you a quarter of a million if they charge you a

penny,” Bob T. replied.

For that Parris had no answer. He could pay the two Watsons’

salaries for the rest of their lives out of the money he would save by

dealing with this lunatic instead of the bank.

So the deal was made. The one hundred and eighty thousand

dollars at last mopped up the red ink. The road was paid for, and

the electricity, and the landscaping, and all the rest. Bankruptcy

was avoided. James Parris took over in the manager’s office

upstairs. Bob T. and Dick Watson moved downstairs from their suite

in the west wing of the third floor to an apartment in the huge

cellar. Their domain was behind a door that said Maintenance Only -

Keep Out!

If James Parris had ever thought that Bob T.’s insanity would

extend to his work, he was wrong. He was the ideal maintenance

man, and his son, who was more fitted for this life than one of

affluence and college and business things that made his head hurt

to think of them, was his eager apprentice. “If we’re janitors,” Bob

T. had once told his son, “then that thing going on over in France is

nothing but a barroom squabble.”

They kept the place clean, yes, Bob T. was something of a fanatic

about that. But they did more. They kept the generators in perfect

running condition. From June of 1915 to this day, October 7th,

1922, there had never been a power outage. When the telephones

had been installed, Bob T. and his son Richard had put in the

switchboard themselves, working from manuals they had pored over

night after late night in preparation. They kept the roof in perfect

condition, replaced broken panes of glass, turned the rug in the

dining room once a month, painted, plastered, and oversaw the

Installation of the elevator in 1917.

And they lived there in the winter.

"Not too exciting up there in the winter, is it?" The bell-captain

had asked them once while they were on coffee break. “What do

you do, hibernate?”

"We keep busy," Bob T. had answered shortly. And Richard had

only offered an uneasy grin, uneasy, yes, because every Hotel had a

skeleton or two in the closet, and sometimes the skeletons rattled

their bones.

One late January afternoon when Bob T. had been putting a piece

of glass over the top of the reception desk, a terrible noise had

come from the dining room, a horrible choking noise that had

encased him in horror and had taken him back over the years to

that first night, when his pet congressman had choked to death on a

piece of steak.

He stood stock-still, willing the noise to stop, but the terrible

strangling noises went on and on and he thought, if I went in there

now I’d see him, staggering around from table to table like some

awful beggar at a king’s feast, his eyes bulging, begging someone to

help him.

His entire body broke out in gooseflesh - even the thin skin on his

back knobbed up into bumps. And as suddenly as it had begun, the

choking sound sank to a breathless, gargling moan, and then to

nothing.

Bob T. broke the paralysis that had gripped him and lunged for the

big double doors that gave on the dining room. Surely time had

taken some sort of twist, and when he got inside he would see the

congressman stretched out on the floor with the guests gathered

helplessly around him. Bob T. would call out as he had on that longago

day, “Is there a doctor in the house?” and the second-year med

student would brush through the crowd and say, “Let’s take him into

the kitchen.”

But when he pushed through the double doors, the dining room

was empty, all the tables in one corner with their chairs upturned

on them, and there was no sound but the wind singing high around

the eaves. Outside It was snowing, obscuring the mountains for a

moment and then revealing them for another moment, like the flap

of ragged curtains.

There had been other things. Dick reported hearing knocking

noises from inside the elevator, as if somebody had been caught in

there and was rapping to be let out. Only when he opened the door

with the special key and slid back the brass gate, the elevator was

empty. One night they had both awakened thinking they heard a

woman sobbing somewhere above them, in the lobby it sounded

like, and went up to find nothing.

These things had all happened in the off-season, and Bob T. didn’t

have to tell Dick not to talk about them. There were enough folks,

Mr.-High-and-Mighty-Parris among them, who thought they were

crazy already.

But sometimes Bob T. wondered if things didn’t sometimes happen

in season. If some of the staff and some of the guests hadn’t heard

things themselves … or seen things. Parris had maintained the

quality of the service, and had even added a feature to it that Bob

T. had never thought of - a limousine which made a run from The

Longhorn House in downtown Denver right up to the Overlook once

every three days. He had kept prices low in spite of the inflation

the Kaiser’s war had brought on, hoping to build the trade. Hoping

to build a name. He had added a swimming pool to the hotel’s other

formidable recreation features.

The people who came to the Overlook to enjoy these features

rarely re-booked for a second season, though. Nor did they give the

Overlook benefit of that best and cheapest advertising, word-ofmouth,

by recommending it to their friends. Some of them would

book for a month and then leave in two weeks, shaking their heads

in an almost embarrassed way and brushing aside Parris’s earnest

questions: Was something wrong with the food? You were treated

poorly? The service was slow? The housekeeping was sloppy ? It

seemed it was none of those things. The people left and rarely

came back.

Bob T. had been pleased to see the Overlook become something of

an obsession with Parris. The man was going gray over it, trying to

figure out what was wrong and having no luck.

Had the Overlook ever had a season in the black between 1915 and

1922? Bob T. wondered now, as he sat in the Presidential Suite

living room and looked at his reflection. That was between Parris

and his accountant, of course, and they had been a couple of close

ones. But it was Bob T.’s guess that it never had. Maybe Parris had

never let his obsession get out of hand as the Overlook’s owner and

builder had done (Bob T. sometimes thought these days that he had

tried to ride and break whatever jinx had been built into his hotel

the way his grandfather would have ridden and broken a wild

mustang pony), but he was quite sure that Parris had pumped large

amounts of money into the hotel every season without getting

anything back, as Bob T. himself had done.

You’ll die a poor and sorry man before you see the first

pennyworth of profit from that place.

Sarah had told him that. Sarah had been right. She had been right

for Parris, too. The shyster might not have been stony broke, but he

surely must have been sorry he had ever hooked up to this

combination when he died of an apparent heart attack while

strolling the grounds this August past.

Bob T.’s boy (although Dick wasn’t such a boy now, old enough to

drink and smoke and vote, old enough to plan on getting married

this December) had himself found Parris early in the morning. Dick

had been down in the topiary by the playground with his hedgetrimmers

at seven AM and there Parris had been, stretched out

stone dead between two of the hedge lions.

It was funny about that topiary; it had become the Overlook’s

trademark in a way, and it had come into being in a very offhand

fashion. It had been the landscaper’s idea to fringe the playground

with hedge animals. He had submitted a sketch to Bob T. showing

the playground area surrounded by lions, buffalo, a rabbit, a cow,

and so on. Bob T. had scratched a go-ahead on the memo

accompanying the sketch without a pause. He couldn’t remember

that he had even thought twice about it, one way or another. But it

had often been the playground topiary that that the guests went

away talking about instead of the meals or the spare-no-expense

decor of the rooms 29 suites. Bob T. supposed it was just another

example of how nothing at the Overlook had gone as he had

expected.

Parris, they figured, must have gone out for a late evening stroll

across the front lawn and the putting green and through the

playground to the road. On the way back the heart attack had

struck him down. There had been no one to miss him, because his

wife had left him in 1920.

In a way, that had been the Overlook’s fault, too. In the years

1915-1917, Parris had spent no more than two weeks of the season

here. His wife, a sulky, pretty thing who had been something on

Broadway, didn’t like the place - or so it was rumored. In 1918 they

had spent a month and according to the gossip there had been

several bitter fights over it. She saying that she wanted to go to the

Bahamas or to Cuba. He asking sarcastically if she wanted to catch

some kind of jungle rot. She saying that if he didn’t take her she

would go on her own. He saying that if she did that she could find

someone else to support her expensive tastes. She stayed. That

year.

In 1919, Parris and his wife stayed for six weeks, occupying a suite

on the third floor. The hotel was getting hold of him, Bob T.

thought with some satisfaction. After awhile it got so you felt like a

gambler who couldn’t leave the table.

Anyway, Parris had been planning on a longer stay, and then, at

the end of their sixth week, the woman had gone into hysterics.

Two of the upstairs maids had heard her, weeping and screaming

and begging for him to take her away, to take her anyplace. They

had left that same afternoon, Parris’s brow like thunder, his wife’s

pretty face pale and devoid of make-up, her eyes resting like dark

raisins in the hollows of her eyesockets, as if she had been sleeping

badly or not at all. Parris had not even stopped to confer with his

manager or with Bob T. And when he had shown up in June of 1921,

it had been sans wife. The head housekeeper’s sister lived in New

Jersey, and she sent out one of those gossip papers saying that

Parris’s wife had asked for a divorce on the grounds of “mental

cruelty,” whatever that meant.

"What I guess it means," Harry Durker, the groundskeeper told Bob

T. over bourbon, “is that she couldn’t pan out the gold as fast as she

thought she could.”

Or was it the Overlook? Bob T. wondered. Anyway, didn’t matter.

Parris had been up here on opening day of the season just past, the

Overlook’s thirteenth, and he hadn’t left until they carried him off

in the Sidewinder funeral hack. The little shyster’s will was still in

probate, but that matter was going to be quite straightforward.

Parris’s hotel manager had gotten a letter from the firm of New

York lawyers acting as executors, and the letter had mentioned the

Brandywine brothers from Texas, who were expected to buy. They

wanted to keep Parris’s manager on if he wanted to stay, and at a

substantially higher salary. But the manager had already told Bob T.

(also over bourbon) that he was going to turn the offer down.

"This place is never going to make a go," he told Bob T. "I don’t

care if Jesus Christ Himself bought the place and got John the

Baptist to manage it. I feel more like a cemetery caretaker than a

hotel manager. It’s like something died up in the walls and

everybody who comes here can smell it from time to time.”

Yes, Bob T. thought, that’s exactly what it’s like. Only ain’t it funny

how something like that can sometimes get a hold on a man?

He stood up and stretched. Sitting here and thinking over old

times was all very well and good, but it wasn’t getting the work

done. And there was a lot of it this winter. New elevator cables to

be put in. A new service shed to be built out back, and that had to

be done before the snow flew and cut them off. The shutters had to

be put up, of course, and-

Bob T., on his way to the door, stopped dead still.

He heard, or thought he heard, Boyd s voice, high and young and

full of joy. It was faint with distance, but unmistakably Boyd’s.

Coming from the direction of what was now the topiary.

"Come on. Rascal! Come on! Come on! Go it!"

Rascal? The name of Boyd’s pony.

Like a man in a dream, like a man caught in some slow and slushy

delirium, Bob T. turned to the wide window. Again that curious

feeling of time doubling back on itself. When he reached the

window and looked out he would not see the hedge animals because

the year was 1908 and the topiary had not yet been set in. Instead

he would see a buddy stretch of hill clumped and clotted with

building materials, he would see a pile of new lumber where the

entrance to the playground would later be, he would see Boyd

racing toward that pile of lumber on board Rascal, he would see

them go up together, he would see Rascal’s rear feet catch the top

of the pile, and he would see them tumble down, together with all

grace gone, and hope of life with it.

Bob T. staggered toward the window where he would see these

things, his face dough-pale, his mouth a slack wound. He could

hear- surely it was not only in his mind? - hoofbeats drumming on

muddy ground.

"Go it, Rascal! Get up, boy! Get-"

A thudding, flat crack. And then the screaming began, the high,

unhuman scream of the pony, the rattle of boards, the final thud.

"Boyd!" Bob T. screamed. "Oh my God, Boyd! BOYD!"

He struck the window forcibly, shattering three of the six panes of

glass. Drawing a jagged though shallow cut across the back of his

right hand. The glass fell outward, turning over and over, twinkling

in the sun, to strike and shatter on the outsloping second floor roof

below.

He saw the lawn, green and manicured, sloping smoothly down to

the putting green and beyond it to the topiary. The three hedge

lions that guarded the gravelled path were crouched in their usual

half-threatening, half-playful postures. The hedge rabbit stood on

its hind legs with its ears perked up cockily. The hedge cow stood as

was its wont, cropping at the grass, now with a few autumn-yellow

aspen leaves caught on its head and stuck to its sides.

No pile of lumber. No Boyd. No Rascal.

Running footsteps up the hall. Bob T. turned to the door just as it

opened and Dick hurried in with his tool box in one hand.

"Dad , are you all right?"

"Fine."

"You’re bleeding."

"Cut my hand," Bob T. said. "Tripped over my own stupid feet and

hit that window. Guess I made us some work.”

"But you’re all right?"

"Fine, I told you," he said testily.

"I was down at the end of the hall, looking at those elevator

cables. I thought I heard someone outside.”

Bob T. looked at his son sharply.

"You didn’t hear anyone, did you, daddy""

"No," Bob T. said. He took his handkerchief out of his back pocket

and wrapped it around his bleeding hand. “Who’d be up here this

time of year?”

"That’s right," Dick said. And his eyes and his father’s eyes met

with kind of electric shock, and in that second they both saw more

than they might perhaps have wished. They dropped their eyes

simultaneously.

"Come on," Bob T. said gruffly. "Let’s see if we’ve got the glass to

fix this bastard.”

They went out together and Bob T. spared a single backward

glance at the living room of the Presidential Suite with its silk

wallpaper and its heavy furnishings dreaming in the late afternoon

sun.

Guess they’ll have to carry me out in the meatwagon, the same as

they did Parris, he thought. Only way they’ll get me to leave. He

looked with love at his son, who had drawn ahead of him.

Dick, too. This place has got us, I guess.

It was a thought that made him feel loathing and love at the same

time.

Notes

  1. ineffabletwaddle reblogged this from withnailrules
  2. groundscan reblogged this from withnailrules and added:
    YES! The deleted prologue from Stephen King’s “The Shining”.
  3. troublicious said: Really dude? REALLY? Use the read more jump feature next time!
  4. withnailrules posted this

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