Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Twinkle, Twinkle Shakespir Edition
By Glenda Yarbrough
Copyright © 2015 glenda yarbrough
Many times someone will do something that will trigger the imagination of an author of fiction. This is true with the story Twinkle, Twinkle. It was Kay Mesa, Joyce Loosier, and Barbara Dawson who helped fuel my imagination when we went to the Windsor Hotel in Americus, Georgia.
Book Cover: Little girl ghost from long ago who image is really from an old picture.
This book is to all those who love a ghost story. You know who you are.
The Ghost of Windsor Hotel
Windsor Hotel’s Lobby
When a building or a house has stood for centuries, has a tragic death linked to it, then most people whisper, “It’s haunted.” Whether it be true or not, I for one can not say, being as I have never seen a ghost. But there are others who are convinced they have. That’s the way it is with The Windsor Hotel. I spent two nights there, had a wonderful time, and did not see the first ghost. Although my cousin Joyce and I decided to put sheets on our heads and knock on our room’s door the first night as a joke. Some people just never grow up, and with laughter, we said it was payback for being locked out of the room by my mischievous sister Kay. The only one who behaved herself was Barbara, but in truth, she started it by saying something was wrong with the door, sending Joyce and I out into the hallway to check it out. This gave Kay a chance to lock us out of the room…out in the hallway with the ghost.
In 1901 there really was an accident, perhaps a murder, I really don’t know, but this is the story. A young woman lived at the hotel with her seven year old daughter. The mother was a maid for the hotel, and the daughter had free range to play in the hotel as her mother worked. A man who was a politician came to the hotel, and he and the woman became involved. One night, for whatever reason he was angry, some say he was angry at the child because she awakened him from his sleep. In anger, he shoved the little girl. The gate to the service elevator’s shaft was not closed. When he shoved her, she was in line with the opening, and her mother attempted to jump between the child and the shaft. But instead of saving her, they both fell to their death. It was rumored that the man paid off the staff to keep his secret since he had deliberately shoved the little girl, and of course, he did not want his illicit relationship exposed.
A hundred years later the story is still very much alive as well as a ghost story. People say they have seen the little girl in the third floor hallway, running around and singing her song, “Twinkle, twinkle”. Workers have said they felt a cold breeze as a quick movement passing them, or a cold spot in areas of the third floor. They are convinced it is the little girl. The hotel has been investigated by ghost hunters, who ascertained they felt something in different areas of the hotel, especially on the third floor.
And….who am I to say either way. Enjoy the story, which is just the author’s imagination, and let your imagination take you back to 1901 Americus, Georgia to the Windsor Hotel, and if you visit the hotel, perhaps you will meet the little girl who sings “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are….”
“Twinkle, twinkle little star how I wonder what you are,” six year old Talu sang as she skipped down the second floor hallway of the Windsor Hotel. She stopped and stared down at the lobby below. Her mother was dusting the furniture while Huns removed the ashes from the fireplace. Talu knelt, grabbing the rails, her face pressed against the white spindles of the golden oak rail. She waited until her mother looked up. When she did, Talu waved her small fingers at her through the railing. Her mother smiled, giving her a small wave in return.
Talu and her mother had been living at the Windsor for the last six months after her mother obtained a job as a maid. They lived in one of the rooms on the back hallway on the third floor on the servants’ hall. Her mother told her this was the best job and place to live that they had ever had. Talu loved it here. There were so many rooms, hallways, and stairwells to explore. Her mother helped clean those rooms.
Maids, cooks, doormen, and Huns worked in the hotel. Margaret and Beth were waitresses in the dining room. Floyd ran the elevator and was the doorman, and Norman and Oscar worked at the front desk and the pub. They were all her new family and lived at the beautiful hotel on the corner of Jackson and Larmar Street in Americus, Georgia.
Her mother turned back to her work. Talu rose from her perch and quickly ran up the stairs that led to the third floor. Again she looked down. You could see the lobby from this floor too. The atrium lobby allowed a person to see all the way to the ceiling. Hand craved rails made from golden oak with white spindles encircled each hallway above the lobby. Huge hand carved columns supported upper hallways. Soft carpet covered the hallways and rooms. Marble tile was laid throughout the lobby with a rug in the center.
The Queen Ann edifice was designed by architect Gottfried L. Norrman of Atlanta. Five stories of elegance that had not been seen in Americus but in August 1888 the site was measured and by June 1892 the hotel grand opening welcomed more than one hundred guests and well-wishers. There were verandahs, towers, balconies, and a three story atrium lobby. The hotel was named after John T. Windsor. The founders originally thought about naming the hotel Alhambra, hoping the name would lend an international essence, but the name did not set well with the community, so the name Windsor was selected. No only was he one of the investors of the hotel, but he was a leading capitalist in Americus. Aristocratic qualities surrounded the name The Windsor, the quality that Americus aspired to. The goal for the hotel was to bring in the winter visitors from the north to mild southern Georgia. They wanted a hotel that non other could compare with in Americus. The hotel covered one block, a tall rhodium was in the front and the grandest suite 301 was on the third floor encircled by windows on three sides. Talu had seen inside that room too. Her mama cleaned it every time someone stayed there.
“Whattcha doin’, precious?” Talu whirled around. Agatha, one of the upstairs maids, paused on the staircase that led to the fourth floor. Agatha was her mother’s best friend here at the hotel. She was tall, skinny, her heavy southern accent wrapped around her words.
“Playin’.” She could have told her that she was out of school for Christmas, but Agatha wouldn’t have cared. It made little different to Agatha if she was in school or not.
“Ok, sweetie,” she said as she continued down the hallway with the carpet sweeper.
Talu ran toward the fourth floor staircase. There were five rooms up there…one was the bridal suite. In that room, you could see all sides, and to the far end of the city. Talu had only been in that room once. The room was beautiful, and she loved going from window to window, staring down on the city.
“Talu,” Agatha called out. “Yew know yo mama don’t want you up there.”
But mama wasn’t watching her. She was downstairs, but Talu stopped. Agatha smiled at her, but once Agatha turned the corner, Talu dashed up the staircase. When she reached the last step, she stopped. Someone was up here. They were talking low, almost in a whisper. Then they giggled.
Talu inched her way down the hallway, hugging the wall. The voices were coming from the bridal suite. They were on the other side of the round wall. She leaned around, her small hands flat on the wall, her eyes eager as she tried to get a glimpse of who was around the corner.
Her eyes popped.
They were kissing. Some man and a woman leaning against the wall. She didn’t know the man, but she knew the woman. It was Beth from the dinning room. Talu put her hand over her mouth as she gasped. The man quickly turned.
Talu ran. The man rushed after her but before he reached her, Talu was running down the stairs. Her heart pounding, as her legs flew down the stairs so fast as if her feet never touched a step. She didn’t stop until she reached the lobby, but her mother was no longer there. She whirled, eyes searching the lobby, but her mother was no where to be seen.
Then she looked up. The man stood by the railing on the second floor, starring down at her. His face was stern, his lips firmly drawn in a thin line.
Talu ran toward the back hallway toward the dinning room, toward the kitchen. Maybe the cook would protect her. Why was the mystery man after her? She didn’t know him!
The elevator was coming downstairs. Floyd was bringing it down. She could hear the turning of the cables. Was he bringing the man down?
Talu darted through the kitchen door. Bell was leaning over a long table rolling dough. When she saw Talu, she laughed.
“Well, what’s after yew, baby? You running in here like the hounds are after yew.”
She pulled herself to a stop, but went to Bell’s side, coveting safety. “Nothing, Miss Bell. I’m lookin’ for mama.”
“Baby, yew know yo mama don’t work in here and it ain’t dinner time.” Bell was a tall woman who was round as a potbelly stove with fat cheeks and a pinched mouth, but with a heart that was as warm as her kitchen on a hot August day. She came to Americus from Alabama because some man promised marriage to her. He was a drummer who passed through her small town of Somerville. But there was a problem when Bell got to Americus. The man had lied, wasn’t from here, and Bell had no idea where he was. She couldn’t return to Somerville. Everyone in the town knew she left town for marriage. There wasn’t anything left to do. Her pride wouldn’t allow her to admit that her love jilted her.
She leaned down and kissed the child. It was than that she realized that Talu was shaking. “What is it, Talu?” The girl shook her head. “Yew can tell Miss Bell. Anything.”
“I just want mama.”
“Well, sugar, it only 9:30. Long time till dinner. Yo mama cleaning rooms for the guests.” Bell turned back to the dough. She was making rolls that had to set behind the cook stove to rise. This was her second batch. She needed one hundred rolls for dinner. “There’s gonna be a lot of people here for dinner. Them politicians gonna eat dinner, then have a meetin’, and spend the night. Your mama’s busy, hon.” She kissed the top of Talu’s head. “Now, yew go along and play now. We’ve got work to do.” Fearful eyes looked into Bell’s. “You sure you ok?”
Talu nodded her head, turned and left the kitchen but first she peeked around the doorway that led into the dining room. No one was in the room. White table-cloths covered each table, a perfect place for her to hide when she was playing when guests weren’t in the dinning room, but she didn’t think the man would hide there…waiting to grab her. Slowly she made her way to the hallway, again peeking around the doorway. No, he wasn’t out there either.
She took the backstairs to the third floor, pushed open the door at the top of the stairs, she turned right. A huge oak swinging door led to the hallway where the rooms were. Maybe Mama would be down this way.
Talu pushed open the door and as she stepped into the hallway, she saw her mother on the little rise where the rooms were. A three step stair led up to the hallway. She stopped.
“Talu,” her mother said, “come here.”
But Talu couldn’t. Her legs were weak, her eyes wide, fear rushed over her, freezing her body in place. The man stood beside her mother, laughing with her. Why was he talking to her mama?
“Talu.” Her mother gestured for her to come to her. “This is Mr. Thornton Heitzig. He’s one of Georgia’s Representatives. They’re gonna be here overnight. And you’re gonna have to be a good girl and not be runnin’ all over the hotel makin’ noise. They have important business to do while they’re here.” Her mother held out her hand. Talu moved to her. “This is my daughter, Talu.” The man held out his hand to her. “Talu,” her mother said, “shake the nice man’s hand.”
“Hello, Talu. You may call me Mr. Thornton.”
Talu shook his hand.
“I apologize for her being so stand-offish. She’s only six.”
“And a very pretty six year old. Just like her mama.” The man’s smile was meant for her mother, not her. She still didn’t like this man. He patted her head as he smiled again and left.
Once he was out of earshot, her mama questioned her, “Why were you so rude, Talu? Standing over there like you were afraid to even come to me. When a man like that wants to shake hands, it’s an honor. He goes up to Atlanta to help make our laws. A very powerful man. He knows the governor.” She smiled at her young daughter. She knew Talu wasn’t interested in these things, but she wanted her to understand just how important it was to know the right people. She didn’t want her child to follow in her steps—always struggling for a living. Talu was pretty, but she wanted her to be smart too. Maybe marry a man who goes to the Capital up in Atlanta.
Again she smiled at the child, then her eyes lifted toward third floor ceiling. “Imagine, having respect of all the people, meetin’ all kinds of folks. It’s almost like being a prince or something. Oh, to be one of them, living like that.” Her voice became almost distantly, as if her mind had wandered into a dream world, but then she shook it off. “You go play, darlin’. Meet me downstairs for dinner at 12:30.”
Talu knew she didn’t mean in the dining room, but in the room that had a long table where all the staff met for meals. Down the hallway to the back of the kitchen, the small room was a gathering place for not only their meals, but a place they talked and laughed on off times. It was their place at the hotel. Each floor had a verandah for the guests to enjoy socializing, but the help wasn’t allowed out there except to clean, but they had their room.
They could eat their dinner here from 12:30 till 1:15. If you couldn’t get there at that time, you missed dinner time unless you could talk Bell into letting you have some food. “Ain’t got time to feed yew people at all hours. Got supper to cook. So yew best be here no later.” But Talu knew Bell always kept some food on the back of the stove in case one of the workers was tied up with work and couldn’t get down to the room at dining time. But most of the time they were all there, ready to not only fill their belly with food but their curiosity with the gossip of the hotel. Maybe she should tell what she had seen. If she did, Beth might get mad at her. And she was afraid of that man. He looked mean. But she could tell her mama.
Her mother went into room 334. Tula was close behind her. “Mama,” she said as she closed the door. “That man…”
“Talu baby, go to the laundry closet and get me some fresh sheets. I didn’t bring enough with me. This is my last set.”
“Mama, you know that man….”
“No, darlin’, I don’t know the man. Run along and fetch me those sheets. Hurry. I need them.” Her mother began stripping the sheets from the bed.
Tula stood still, and her mother repeated the request without looking up. The child ran out of the room and headed toward the service elevator, which was just down the hall to the left of the room. It sat back in a little cove not far from the small staircase that led down to the servant’s rooms, which was separate from the guests’ rooms. No one used the service elevator but the staff, but Talu would have to take the stairs. She didn’t have the strength to operate the hand-cranked elevator. She hurried down the hallway to the stairs.
Talu had roamed all over the hotel, but this was the first time fear crept over her. What if that man was out there—waiting for her? Why did he chase her? Was it because she saw him kissing Beth? Yeah, that had to be the reason. But why? Why did he care if she saw him with Beth?
Her mama said he was a nice man, but she was still afraid of him. Mama didn’t know he had chased her down the stairs from the fourth floor. She wouldn’t even give her a chance to tell her what she had seen.
Talu hurried down the hallway and before going down the stairs, she heard the elevator. Floyd was coming from the fourth floor. She ran down to the guests’ elevator, hit the button. The elevator stopped, the door opened. There were three men inside the car with Floyd.
“Well, good morning, misses. And what floor do you need?”
Talu stepped inside. She smiled up at Floyd. “The first one, please.”
Just before the door closed, a voice called out. “Oh, wait! Please hold the elevator.” Within moments the man stepped inside. “My gracious. I don’t know where the morning has gone.” He turned to the three men. “Good morning, gentlemen. I do hope we have a successful meeting today.” The men quickly agreed.
Talu didn’t have to look up at the man. It was him. He stepped back, standing beside her. He didn’t speak but before they reached their floor, he discreetly caught her elbow. When she attempted to pull away, he squeezed it; then he dug his fingers into her flesh before releasing his grip.
The elevator stopped. Floyd opened the door. Tula darted out the door. She heard the man laugh as one said, “That little girl’s fast as a young rabbit.” Again they laughed. Talu didn’t slow down until she reached the linen closet. From the bottom shelf she removed two set of sheets, then hurried up the back stairs. She found her mother in 334.
“Mama,” she said as she laid the sheets in a chair. “That man was in the elevator. And mama, he hurt my arm. I don’t like him.”
Her mother laughed. “Talu, you don’t even know him.”
“He hurt my arm.”
“What do you mean?”
“On the elevator. He caught my arm. And mama I saw him—”
“Talu, don’t talk about the guests. You have free rein here but not to spy on the guests?”
“But, mama, I saw him and—”
“Hush, Talu, I don’t want to hear it.”
Talu drop her head. Bell and ‘em always talked about the guest, so did her mama. “Well, he did hurt my arm,” she mumbled.
“Oh, I’m sure he didn’t mean to, darling.” Sala quickly stripped and made the bed.
“Yes, he did! He squeezed my elbow really hard…like this.” She grabbed her arm. “And you know what else he did?”
Her mother took the sheets from the chair. “Talu, be a good girl and run along. I’ve got to run the sweeper over the rug. Now go along. And don’t bother the guests.”
“Please, Talu, go play. I’ve got a lot of work to do and I need you to not be underfoot this morning. Get your little doll and go sit on the veranda.”
“But we aren’t supposed to be out there.”
“Go out the one on the third floor. I doubt anyone is out there. You and your baby doll sit in one of the chairs out of people’s way.”
Tula ran to her mother, threw her arms around her waist. “I love you, mama.” Sala Novak laughed.
With Tula gone, Sala turned back to her cleaning. She hoped the girl didn’t bother the guests. She was usually so good. This job was important. For the first time in years she had a decent job, one that gave them more than just money. The hotel was home. The staff like family.
As she moved the sweeper over the carpet, her thoughts went back to what Talu was trying to tell her. Wonder what it was? “You’re as bad as she is,” Sala scolded. “Gossiping about the guests. Wanting to know what a child seen and heard.” Her thoughts drifted to the man. He was a fine man. Dressed nicely. Tall. Bold blue eyes and sandy hair. Handsome. What did he say his name was? Thornton Heitzig. Thorn. Wonder if he’s married? Probably.
She pushed the carpet sweeper one last sweep over the floor, gathered up the sheets, and told herself how foolish she was for giving Thornton Heitzig any thought. Married or not he was out of her league.
Sala Novak had been raised on a peanut farm in Lamar County Georgia. Her mama and pap still lived on the same rented farm land. She too would still be there but seven years ago she got pregnant. She had just turned twenty but her twenty-three year old boyfriend said he was too young for marriage, that he wanted to see the world. He jumped a freight train the next day after she told him. She had no idea where he went. Maybe west. He always talked about going west, but for all she knew he was just over the county line in Dooly County.
It didn’t matter. He didn’t want her or the responsibilities that came with a baby. She never could understand how he could not want his own baby. When Talu was born, and she saw that sweet face, she knew she could and would handle all the responsibilities herself, whatever it was.
But it wasn’t easy to handle the gossipers. No longer was she James and Nancy Rylanders’ daughter. Instead she was that Rylander gal who had a baby. She didn’t want that for herself, but she especially didn’t want it for Talu.
She left…and took the name Sala Novak.
She scrubbed out rooms in two-bit hotels, hoed cotton, picked cotton, and worked in peanut fields. She felt she had done it all as she scrapped for any penny she could find—almost any way. But there was a line she would not cross. She’d seen other women cross that line and it seemed that once they did, there was no place for them to go. It was expected of them. The men talked. They knew which ones would do more than pull those cotton bolls in the fields, or scrub pots and pans in hot water with sweat rolling down into their eyes. They were tired, beaten down with no hopes and no dreams beyond those few pennies for a little food and somewhere to lay their heads. They were tattered and so were their children. And before they knew it there was another one on the way to share in their raggedy lifestyle.
Then a man crossed her life. A man who changed it forever. He stayed in one of the hotels where she worked and early one morning when she came to his room to clean, unknown to her, he was still there. He offered her three dollars if she would give him what he wanted. When she told him no, he threw her down on the bed. She thought he would rape her, but instead he slapped her across the mouth and left. She quickly cleaned the room and left. Fear made her clean the room. If he told her boss that she didn’t clean his room, she might get fired. She needed her job.
But he did worse. He accused her of stealing three dollars from his night table while she was cleaning the room. The owner fired her. That was in Taylor County, but it turned out to be a blessing cause from there they came to Americus in Sumter County and to the Windsor Hotel. This was home.
In 1825 the teat of Indian Springs allowed the land between Flint and Chattahoochee River to be settled. When General John Americus Smith traveled through the area with his soldiers, he loved the location and return, buying land for a plantation. The plantation was so large, other people came, worked there and stayed, growing into a large settlement, which became a town. In 1832, the town square was laid off and while deciding what to name their town, Lovett B. Smith, one of the commissioners, suggested why not name it Americus after the general.
This was the beginning of the small town Americus. The town had a tumult history when farmers in Sumter and several other Georgia counties rebelled over foreclosures because of the US financial crisis of 1837, stopping the sale of farms. The deputy sheriff who was conducting the sales was kidnapped. The Democrats and Whigs fought on the courthouse square in 1844, resulting in some serious injuries. The South Western Railroad arrived in October 1854, which caused a population explosion for the town. Americus did not see any battles during the War Between the States, but Andersonville was just ten miles north of Americus where a prison camp for the Union soldiers was built. In 1864 Americus was converted to a Confederate hospital, and on August 30th, a huge fire destroyed the business district but no lives were loss.
From this history, Americus evolved into the town it was today, thirty years after the beginning of the war that tore the county apart, a town that Sala settled in simply because she liked the town. Liked what she saw, liked the people, and liked the future it offered her and her child. And she loved the Windsor Hotel that gave her all she needed…a job…a home…and friends.
She looked around the room. 334 met her satisfaction. Hopefully Mr. Heitzig would think so too. She quietly closed the door behind her, and moved on down the hallway as light as a feather floating down the hallway toward the service elevator, her long white apron wafting against her dark skirt, resembling a spirit in the dimly lit corridor.
When she reached the elevator, the box wasn’t there and the steel gate was closed. She looked down into the dark shaft. The top of the elevator was sitting still on the bottom, probably in the basement since it seemed so far down. She hated to crank it all the way up here. She turned, going toward the service corridor. If she cut through there, it would be shorter than going across the front balcony.
Then she heard the elevator coming. Sala thought about waiting for it, but she would be almost across the back hallway by the time it reached her, especially if one of the other workers stopped the elevator.
“Sala.” The voice came from behind her as she made her way down the steps that led to the servants’ quarters. She turned. Thornton Heitzig hurried toward her. “I thought I had missed you.” He was smiling as if he’d found a missing friend.
Sala was surprised but pleased as she smiled at the handsome man.
“Here,” he said, thrusting something in her hand. She looked down. It was a silver dollar. “I wanted you to have this for cleaning the room. Should have given it to you earlier but…” He smiled. “It’s not that often I get to talk to such a beautiful lady.”
Sala dropped her head shyly. No one had ever spoken to her like that before. “Thank you.” Her voice soft, low.
Again he smiled, but this time looking deeply into her eyes. “You are. You know that don’t you?”
“Oh, no, Sir.”
He smiled and took two steps closer with the last finger on his left hand he tilted her face upward. “But you are, and should be told such on a regular basis.” His finger caressed her cheek. “And now, my dear, I must go. Do you realize you drew me back here? I left a group of Senators to get a chance to have just another glimpse of your beautiful face.” She didn’t answer but stared into his cobalt eyes. “Do you live far from here?”
“Oh, no, Sir. I live here at the hotel, Sir. All the staff does.”
“Really? I presume up on the top floor.”
“Oh, no, Sir, just down those steps is the servant’s quarters. We never come up here of course, except to work. The elevator there—it’s for us to move about the hotel. Even when we leave the hotel, we go down that way or take the back stairs.”
“I see.” He looked toward the servants’ hallway. “So your husband lives here too …and the girl?”
Sala dropped her eyes. She couldn’t tell him the truth. “No, Sir, no husband. He died…from consumption right after Talu was born. She was only five months old.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, but he could see it in her eyes. The lie that she tried to bury. Probably never been married or a husband that ran off and left his family She was young, pretty, and as innocent sounding as if she were a mere eighteen year old. Probably mid-twenties or a little older. For hired help, she seemed to have a salient persona about her that most did not possess.
“I must get back.” He said it softly as if talking to his lover. She nodded. He was gone as quickly as he had appeared, and Sala tightened her fingers around the silver dollar.
A whole dollar! Wait till she tells Agatha and the others!
Oh, no, no, she couldn’t do that. They might wonder what she did to earn so much money. No one had ever paid her for cleaning their room. Why did he? Did he expect something in return? Probably not.
The elevator stopped and the steel gate opened and Agatha stepped off. “You got all the rooms on this side cleaned?” Sala nodded. “Ok, come help me clean the fourth floor.”
They took the elevator up to the fourth floor and they worked together until 12:30, but Sala never mentioned the silver dollar in her skirt pocket.
At exactly 12:30 they went to the servants’ room for dinner. Bell had made extra rolls and a roast with potatoes. The guests had roast but they also had carrots, green snap-beans, and pecan pie. The staff only had a roll, meat and potatoes, but the food was good and didn’t cost anything. There were no complaints.
“Did y’all see that handsome Senator,” Agatha asked as she sipped her tea. The tea was sweet and cold. She wished there was a slice of lemon floating in it.
“Which one,” Bell asked. “I heard Beth ‘n ‘em whisperin’ ‘round this mornin’. I told ‘em they could ferget it. “Em fellows didn’t come here lookin’ fer a woman.” She laughed. “At least not to keep.”
The others sniggered. Huns laughed too saying “Ain’t no servant gal gonna marry the master.” Huns’ wife was Lucille, who helped Bell cook.
“What about it, Sala. Did yew see that good lookin’ man?”
Sala wanted to laugh, wanted to say, “Yeah, he gave me a dollar and told me I was pretty”, but instead she shook her head. “I don’t know what man y’all mean.”
Talu wondered if they were talking about the man who kissed Beth, but mama saw him. Maybe he wasn’t the one. Her mama didn’t know she saw him with Beth. Talu listened but didn’t say anything. If she did, mama would scold her.
“They leave this afternoon once they finish their meeting. That’s what Floyd said, and he got it from Oscar. Said he reckoned they will be out of here by four o’clock.”
“Good,” Agatha said. “Won’t have to clean up after ‘em tomorrow. I do declare…sometimes men folks are so messy.”
“Bet he ain’t,” Bell said with a giggle. “Bet his room’s clean.” She looked at the maids. “Which one cleaned his room? Ya’ll know?”
“No, ain’t like we know who’s in the rooms. We only clean. Just see the guests while they walking around the hallways or on the verandas”
“He’s in room 334,” Tula said. Her hand flew over her lips as if she could shove the words back inside her mouth. Her mother gave her a stern look. But Bell laughed and when she did, the others laughed too. So did her mama.
“And how do you know, pet?” Bell smiled at her, eager for her words.
She didn’t want to tell the truth. There was no way she could do that. “Well, I saw him on the elevator…and…and he was comin’ from that way.”
They laughed. “Darlin’, he could have been comin’ from any room.” Bell got the tea pitcher and offered tea to everyone, which they all wanted.
Talu ducked her head, eating quietly. She cut her eyes toward her mother, but Sala was busy talking to Agatha. Her mother knew that man. It was that man she was talking to, and she thinks he’s nice. But he ain’t. He hurt her arm.
The meal was finished and the staff all went back to their different jobs at the Windsor Hotel. Talu was still sitting at the table in the empty room. Maybe she should go to their room, and read her story book, or take a nap. Her full stomach made her sleepy, but she didn’t really want to go to sleep. Maybe she could go up to the fifth floor and look out the windows down to the street, watch the people on the sidewalks. Or up to the tower. Yeah, that’s where she would go.
“Talu.” She looked up. “Whattcha doin’ honey?”
“Just sitting here. I’m gonna go up to the tower.” She smiled at Beth. Maybe she shouldn’t have told her that. Beth might tell her no, don’t go there.
The waitress sat down by the child. “You goin’ up there, huh?” She looked down at the table. “You tell your mama you saw me up on the fourth floor?” Beth didn’t look up as she waited for Talu’s answer.
“You gonna tell?”
Talu didn’t answer. She tried to tell her mother, but mama didn’t want to listen to her. The room had to be cleaned, and another one waiting for her. Hurry—hurry, was the way it was around here with the staff. Beth reached for her hand. Talu looked into her eyes.
“Don’t tell, Talu…don’t tell anyone. I might lose my job. You know I got to have my job. Don’t you?”
Beth smiled at her as she leaned over and lightly kissed her cheek. “Thank you, Talu.” The child returned her smile, slid off her chair, and ran out of the room. A sly smile spread across Beth’s lips. She told Thornton that she could get the child to not tell. That he didn’t have to threaten the girl. But how was she going to let him know that she had it taken care of? He would be gone by five.
When Thornton Heitzig came into the hotel yesterday afternoon, he caught her eye. He came into the dinning room in the evening for supper, but then he came back just before they closed, wanting iced tea, for her to bring it up to the third floor verandah. “My room would be more comfortable than a chair on the porch.”
Her suggestion delighted him. The dining room was dimly lit by two sconces in the middle of the room. The other sconces had been extinguished, but it was as if no other light was needed.
“Come,” she said, taking his hand in one of hers, the other holding a tray with a small pitcher and two glasses. The back door to the kitchen closed. “That’s Bell leavin’. Give her just a moment. I know her. She ain’t gonna take the stairs. She’ll go to her quarters by the service elevator. We’ll take the backstairs. No one will see us.” She smiled up at him, and as they walked through the dining area, through the kitchen to the backstairs, the only sound was the ice clinking against the glasses.
They went to her room, which was on the other end of the hall from Sala’s room, but the ice melted and they never drank any tea. He wasn’t in her room long before he slipped back to his room.
Then this morning as she took his order for breakfast, he smiled, asking when they could meet, and she told him to meet her on the fourth floor as soon as her breakfast shift ended, around 9:30. There were no guests on that floor, and it would have been perfect if not for that child finding them.
It frightened him. It will be ok, she assured him when he came back up stairs, saying he could not catch her. “It’s ok,” she said. “She lives here, her mother is one of the maids.”
“Ok?” he snorted. “Don’t you realize it could ruin me if it got out I was fooling around with the help!”
His words did not bite, she knew what he meant. “Oh, no…” she assured him, “no one will know. I’ll talk to her.” She tried to flirt. “Am I not worth a little risk?” But he hurried away, leaving her in the middle of the cove by the servant elevator, which she quickly took downstairs.
Now he would be leaving by five but if she could get him to realize she had taken care of Talu, maybe he would come again, see her. She knew that gold ring on his hand meant he was married. It wasn’t a regular gold band, but had rubies across the top. But it was on his left hand. If it wasn’t a wedding ring, why not wear it on his right hand? Didn’t matter. He had money and power. She could do worse than being the mistress of a rich man.
The morning melted away, and when the Senators came in for their noonday meal, he did not look up at her as she took his order, or glanced her way while she placed their food on the table. She went from table to table doing her job of making sure the fine gentlemen of Georgia’s State Senate enjoyed their dinner. Not once did he even look her way, but laughed and talked with the men, and once the meal was finished, they sat for a little while, drank sweet tea…talked, laughing. Then they left, going to the meeting room on the second floor. She didn’t see him again. Around 4:30 they left. You could heard their laughter in the lobby as they said their good-bys to each other, saying how much work they’d accomplished and for everyone to have a Merry Christmas.
At first she wanted to pretend he would slip away to tell her good-by, but he didn’t.
It was nine o’clock in the evening and Talu was upstairs asleep when the workers gathered in the room. Their work was finished for the day, and their stomachs filled with the last of the pot roast, they sipped their last cup of coffee. Agatha though was drinking tea with a shot of Jack Daniels in the tea. They talked and laughed about the events of the day.
Huns said, “’Em folks gone. One of ‘em gave me a Winston. Said have a smoke on ‘im.”
“Really,” said Bell.
“Yeah, he told me that one day soon he’d be runnin’ fer governor and wanted me to vote fer ‘im.”
“What’s his name?”
“Oh, I don’t remember that,” Huns laughed, then continued. “But I do know the name of that smoke. Winston.”
Laughter filled the room. “Was it Mr. Goodlookin’?” asked Bell. “Never did hear what his name be.”
“Bet Sala can tell yew,” Agatha said. She snickered, then sipped her tea. “She done got friendly with ‘im.”
Beth coughed, strangled on the hot coffee. Bell slapped her on the back. “Yew ok, girl?” Beth nodded her head. Went the wrong way she explained. Bell patted her again, but her attention had reverted to Agatha. “Now, how come yew saying that?”
Sala gazed deeply into the cup of black coffee as if she wasn’t aware that she had become the topic of conversation. Agatha smiled at her friend, Beth listened intently, but no one noticed Sala’s fixation with her coffee. All eyes were on Agatha as they waited for the answer to Bell’s questions.
“Oh, yew didn’t think I saw y’all this afternoon up there on the third floor hallway. I say him talkin’ to yew. What y’all talkin’ bout?”
“When? You mean when Mr. Heitzig was leaving?” She sipped her coffee, trying to appear nonchalant. “He just thanked me for doin’ a good job cleanin’ his room, and to tell Talu by.”
So that’s why she didn’t see him before he left, why he didn’t make some excuse to see her, thought Beth. He could have come to the dining room, needing a glass of water or tea, anything. She could have told him that Talu wouldn’t talk. But instead he’s talking to Sala. Why?
“Didn’t look that way to me. He was all smiles, and than he even laughed. He ain’t puttin’ a move on yew, is he? You know how ‘em pretty men are—God’s gift they think.”
“Oh, no,” Sala quickly said. “He’s just a nice man.”
“How you know how pretty men are,” asked Margaret.
“Oh, I know, I know,” Agatha said.
“So does Lucille,” Huns said. “She married one.” They laughed; Lucille playfully hit him on his chest.
“Bet he’s a married man,” Bell said. “They always married…they just don’t tell yew.”
Sala didn’t respond, but drank her coffee. Then someone mentioned there was talk of snow, can you imagine that, they said. Snow in Americus? A low rumble of no was spread through the room.
“They brought in more coal today. Sayin’ we gonna have a bunch of people here fer the holidays, at least the days leading up and after. Most people ain’t gonna be here for Christmas Day ‘course, but we gotta get decoratin’ the hotel. They gonna bring a tree in by Saturday…that’s only three days to have that front lobby decorated.”
“More work,” said Agatha. She looked at Sala. “I’m glad they gave that lobby to yew.”
“I love the lobby. It’s so grand and beautiful. The beauty of the carved oak railing. All of it. The chairs and sofa by the fireplace makes it cozy. Almost like a real home. You can stand in the middle and see all the way to the ceiling.”
“Right up to all ‘em hangin’ chandeliers to clean.”
“Oh, hush,” Lucille said. “You have fewer jobs around here than any of us.”
They all laughed, and Agatha’s remark about Sala and Thornton Heitzig was forgotten except for Beth. Not only was she wondering if Thornton Heitzig would be returning to the Windsor but if he did, who would he be coming to see?
It didn’t snow. Instead it rained…a cold rain with a strong northwest wind that Bell swore could cut you to your bones, and that’s why she repeatedly told everyone how wonderful it was to work and live at the same place. Didn’t have to get out in the weather. Some said they wondered if the rain would turn to a freezing rain. But the weather didn’t keep the people at home during the days that led up to Christmas Day. Americus’ stores were decorated, church choirs were caroling, the streets were decorated, and people just seemed to be in a joyful mood as they greeted each other with smiles and waves, as they went about their shopping. But no place was as grandly decorated as the Windsor nor was there any place better to have a Christmas party than the luxurious hotel.
The Windsor was decorated beautifully with greenery, soft candle light brought a warm glow that was enhanced by the fire in the lobby’s fireplace. The Christmas tree was dazzling with its lights and decorations. On the mantle were figurines of a manger scene. Conviviality and joy filled the hotel as the guests celebrated Christmas with parties, whether private or in the pub. The servants decorated their room off the kitchen and their private quarters.
For days Bell made special deserts for the guests and the staff. Cakes, candies, pies, turkey and dressing, baked ham, and yams were just a few of the aromas that wafted from the kitchen’s cook stove and spilled out into the dining room. “Every time somebody opens that back door, somebody else comes lookin’ for food,” Bell said, referring to the door that went out into the back hallway that the staff used. It was Christmas time and even the staff could sneak a cookie or piece of pecan praline, fudge or divinity.
On Christmas Day though, there weren’t very many guests, people were at home with their families, parties were over as families enjoyed their dinners together, some going to early morning worship. The hotel was quieter, the staff didn’t have to work except Bell and her kitchen workers, and up on the third floor, some heard Talu’s squeals of delight when she opened a package that held a new baby doll. “The prettiest doll in the whole world”, she told her mother. Huns and his wife Lucille went to Plains to spend the day with her parents. For days, Lucille had been giddy about going home, kept saying how her mama always cooked enough food for an army, and it was a good thing because her family was as big as an army. All the staff was excited about Christmas, making their plans and whether they stayed at the hotel or went home to families, it was an amazing time at the Windsor Hotel.
But Beth wasn’t interested in neither the festivity nor the aromas from the kitchen. She sat in a chair by a window in the dining room, looking out onto Larmar Street. Every since she heard Agatha talking about Sala and Thornton, she could not get it out of her mind. What if was the question that kept returning. She listened to Sala as she talked, trying to tell if she had any hopes of seeing him again, but after the night Agatha mentioned him, Thornton’s name had not resurfaced. No one was interested but her, and here she sat on Christmas morning at ten o’clock, starring out the window, watching the rain running down the street and wondering.
“Beth. Beth.” Bell called her from the kitchen door. “Will yew come here a moment.”
“Whattcha you need?” Beth asked as she went into the kitchen.
“I know you don’t usually cook, but I need them cakes iced. They’re for dinner.”
Beth frosted a German Chocolate cake while Bell basted her turkeys. The cornbread dressing was made, ready for the oven. Scrumptious aromas wafted throughout the warm kitchen.
The last meal was served at four, the doors closed at five. Windsor’s manger said they could have the evening off, saying he knew they’d want to spend Christmas night with their family.
“Huh,” Bell had said, “he knows the people gonna be home with family. Won’t hardly be anyone here…not on Christmas Night.
It was around five when Agatha burst through the back hallway door. “Guess who I just saw? Yew ain’t gonna believe it.”
“Well, yew gonna tell or let’s guess?”
“That pretty man is downstairs, checking in.”
Beth, who was helping Bell wash dishes, dropped a glass, which shattered into several pieces on the brick floor.
“Girl, whattcha doin’? Yew gotta be more careful than that.”
“I’m sorry. Sorry,” she said as she grabbed a broom. Quickly she swept up the slithers of glass as she listened to Agatha.
“Yeah, I was comin’ cross the front hallway on the third floor, and when I looked down…”
“What yew doin’ up there in the front hallway?”
‘What? Oh, just cuttin’ through. Ain’t nobody here…and I was gonna go over to…”
“Yew get caught doin’ that, and yew’ll get a jackin’up. No servants are allowed up where the guests are…”
“There ain’t no guest.”
“Will you two shut up so Agatha can finish her story?” They both looked at the young girl, still holding the broom. She’d said too much. They’d be suspicious why she was so interested. “I’d like to get out of here tonight,” she said, trying to smooth things over.
“Well, there he was…checkin’ in…had a small bag…then he got on the elevator and Floyd brung ‘im up to the third floor. I skedaddled back over to our hall, and hid at the service elevator and waited. I peeked around the corner and, sure enough, there he was. Unlocking room 334, same room he was in just a few days ago.”
“Wonder what’s he doin’ here on Christmas Night?”
To see me, Beth said silently. She should hurry. Finish these dishes so she would be in her room when he came knocking.
“Bell, we need to get these dishes done.”
“Hush, girl, I want to hear this.”
“But I’m tired.”
“There ain’t really nothing else to …”
“Bell, I want to get the dishes done. I’d like to go to my room.”
Bell put her hands back into the dish water.
“How many more?”
“What?” Bell asked.
“How many more do we have?”
“Will yew just go on.” Bell pulled her hands back out of the water, drying them on her apron. “There’s only a few. Now, go on.” She didn’t care how tired Beth was, but the girl wouldn’t shut up. She wanted to hear the maid’s gossip, not Beth’s bellyaching. Beth hurried out of the room, and Bell turned back to Agatha. “Then what happened?”
“Nothing. He just unlocked the door and with inside.”
“Wonder why he ain’t home with his family?”
Although there was almost half of the German Chocolate cake left, Agatha picked at the crumbs on the plate. “Oh, didn’t I tell you?” She knew she didn’t but this was the last of her gossip, and she savoring it like eating the last piece of a German Chocolate cake. The last piece always seemed best because you knew there wasn’t anymore. And it was a delight to watch Bell as she waited for her to ask what, but Bell didn’t. She just stood there like some kid on Christmas morning, waiting for the candy to be doled out, eager waiting for whatever she got.
“He told Oscar he was staying over night, catching the train in the morning. His wife went over to Taylor County to her folks for Christmas but he was tied up with business and he said since he was comin’ through Americus he decided to spend the night here. Said he thought it would be the perfect place to spend Christmas Night.”
“Well, yeah. I didn’t talk to the man.”
“What kind of business he in?”
“Why, I don’t know except for being a politician. They always politickin’. Seems like that’s their main job.” Agatha got another crumb from the cake plate. “You got any milk? I want a piece of this cake.”
“I’m trying to finish dishes, not mess ‘em up.” She handed Agatha a glass and a saucer for the cake. She turned back to the dish water. “I wonder…you think he’s tellin’ the truth?”
Agatha cut the cake, a large piece that she placed on the saucer. “Truth? About what?”
“Him saying how his wife at her folks, him workin’, and just passin’ through Americus.”
“Why would he be lying?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, knowing that she was lying to herself. How come he didn’t leave his work so he could wake up in the morning with his wife and family? Or take a train to Taylor County? How come he’s here? She didn’t trust any man, especially when he showed up unexpected somewhere he shouldn’t be. The questions just popped up in her mind, but she didn’t voice them to Agatha.
“I have no idea,” Agatha answered between bites of cake. She turned the glass of milk up, her eyes went to Bell over the rim of the glass. She sat the glass down. “Whattcha think?”
“Oh, nothing. Just wondering. He shore is a pretty man, don’t yew think so, Agatha?”
“Oh, he’s good lookin’. The worse kind. Makes it hard for a girl to think straight.” She took another bite of cake. “This is good cake, Bell. That’s why I hate to see Christmas over. All that food is over too.”
Bell laughed. “You just like me. You don’t need a bunch of holiday food. But.” She turned around, drying her hands. “We got parties for New Year’s.”
Agatha smiled. “Yeah. All next week the hotel will be buzzing.” She washed the plate and glass. “Wonder if Mr. Heitzig will be here next week?”
While the women were downstairs gossiping about Mr. Heitzig, his steps were light as he moved down the dimly lit hallway of the servant quarters, glancing over his shoulder. The passage was empty, thank goodness. Last thing he needed was for someone to see him going into her room. He took a chance the last time he was here, but every chance gave an opportunity to being caught.
The knock was light, if it had been a voice, it would have been a whisper, but there was no answer. He knocked again. The door cracked, and he could see her eyes through a slit of light between the door and wall, the light coming from inside her room.
“Let me in,” he whispered.
“What are you doing here?” She knew, but it was best to play coy. She didn’t want to come across like some cheap one night stand.
“You brought me back here,” he replied. “Let me in before someone comes along.”
She knew she shouldn’t but the chain dropped and the door widened as she welcomed him into her room, a smiled traced her lips.
Thornton Heitzig stepped into the room and brought out a small doll from behind his back. “For Talu,” he said.
Sala didn’t know if it was his smile or the doll but her heart skipped. “Talu.” She turned and looked at her child lying on the bed. “Come see what Mr. Thornton brought ya.” Talu got off the bed, went to her mother. Thornton held out the doll. “What do you say, Tula?”
“Thank you,” she said, but she didn’t want his doll. Santa brought her a new doll and she had NiNi, her baby doll that she’d had since she was three. But the real reason she didn’t want the doll was because it was Mr. Thornton’s doll, and she didn’t like him.
She took the doll, and went back to the bed. Their room was small, with only a dresser, two chairs, a small table by the chairs and a table beside the bed. Talu slept with her mother. Someday, her mother had said, they would buy them a small house in Americus, but for now, this was home. But someday she would have her own bedroom and a swing in the backyard. Someday.
As she sat in the middle of the bed, her mother and Mr. Heitzig sat down in the chairs by the window. They could have looked out into the streets of Americus, but they didn’t. They just talked low, laughing, and looking at each other. They were still talking when Talu fell asleep with her new dolls and NiNi.
Down the hall just around the corner, Beth peered out into the hallway. It had been an hour since she came to her room. Thornton was nowhere in sight. Why wasn’t he here yet? She turned to close the door. Delight filled her when she saw him come around the corner. Quickly she stepped back into her room. He mustn’t know she had been looking for him. She waited on the other side of the door, waiting for his knock.
It was light.
Quickly she jerked the door open…he was taken aback, but he smiled.
“Good evening,” he said as he slipped into her room and into her arms.
Where you been, was the question slamming into her head, but she didn’t voice it. Instead her lips were on his and the question dissipated.
Thornton Heitzig continued his trip to the hotel, but after a couple of months, Beth began to wonder why he was always so late coming to her room. In early March she knew he was there; he ate supper in the dining room, talking with other guests and enjoyed his evening with them in the pub. He was easy to spot on the second floor verandah with a drink in hand, laughing gaily as if he had nothing on his mind but having fun with his friends. Around ten o’clock he bid his friends good night and took the elevator upstairs. Beth was watching him from a staircase on the second floor and when he came inside, she rushed up the stairs and hid in a closet down the hall from 334. But Thornton didn’t go into his room, instead he continued down the hallway, glanced over his shoulder before he took the four steps down into the servants’ quarters. She relaxed. He was coming to her room.
The he turned right instead of left.
He wasn’t going to her room. Quickly she left her hiding place, and rushed down the hall. Just as she reached the bottom of the steps, Thornton went into Sala’s room.
Weakness washed over her.
Pain gripped her heart.
She wasn’t in love with this man, she told herself, but she had feelings for him. And worse, she wanted him to have feelings for her, she wanted to be his mistress. He cheated on his wife with her, and now he was cheating on her with Sala.
Should she storm the room? Accuse them both?
No. It was better to have him in her room. Have him on her territory.
Quietly she disappeared into her own room. And waited.
After an hour she eased open her door, again looking down the hallway as she had Christmas night. The hall was empty. The waiting was killing her. The pain had turned to anger. She walked out into the hallway. Should she go?
No. No. She kept telling herself. Wait. But what if he didn’t come to her room? What if he went to his own room? Or wait for him upstairs? Either way he would finally go to his room. She would surely see him.
Quickly she scooted up the hallway to the service elevator. In the small cove, she waited. She didn’t have to wait long before she heard him coming up the steps to the guests’ corridor. She stood by the elevator to give the appearance that maybe she was going downstairs. He stopped short when he saw her, looking back over his shoulders. For a moment he looked trapped.
“Good evening, Beth.”
She smiled. “Thornton? What on earth are you doing up? Could you not sleep?” She glanced around. “Come, I’ll walk with you down to your room.” When they reached the door, he pulled out his keys and opened the door. He intended on closing the door behind him but before he could, Beth was in the room. “I bet I can help you get to sleep.”
He loosened his tie. “No, Beth. You need to go. I need to get some sleep. I plan on leaving early in the morning.”
She moved closer to him, eased his tie off. She then gently helped him out of his coat, running her hands over his back. He was a man. If she could lure him into bed with her, than she had not lost him…her talents in bed would pull him to her…keep him coming back to her.
He stepped away. “Not, tonight, Beth. Just leave.”
Anger erupted. “No.”
He whirled around. “What?”
“Have you forgotten you place? You are a servant here.” He spat the words, reprimanding her.
She moved closer to him. “Am I your servant?”
She caressed his chest, her fingers slipping inside his shirt. A deep sigh escaped from his chest. She moved her hand up to his neck, stroking his neck, leaning her face into the hollow of his throat as she….
He shoved her away. “Get out of here,” he said coarsely.
She stepped forward, her eyes blazing, her face twisted with rage. “Throw me away like a soiled rag, will ya!”
He laughed sinisterly. “My dear, you were soiled before I ever met you.”
Her hand flew up to slap him, but he caught her wrist. “Now, get out of here before I throw you out.” He shoved her against the door.
Beth flew back at him, her nails reaching for his face, but he slapped her across the mouth. “Get out,” he hissed.
She backed to the door, her hand on the doorknob. “I’ll tell you wife about your little whore in 328.”
It was as if a vicious dark storm shrouded his face…he jerked her away from the door, his hand squeezing her neck. “I could snap your neck like a toothpick,” he breathed into her face. “You think anyone would come looking for a missing servant girl?” He shoved her away…landing her against the door again. “Get out of here and keep your mouth shut.”
Beth meekly turned the doorknob, and slipped out of the room. She ran to her room, her tears falling, but not out of love but fear of the man who had warmed her bed just a few weeks ago.
Thornton Heitzig sat down on the bed. He was shaken. Never would he have thought little Beth would attack him. Just who did she think she was…threatening him like that. The good thing was, she didn’t really know who he was. Didn’t know his wife or his family. She didn’t even know who he was.
He stood, shook his body as if to shake off her threat, then undressed and climbed into bed. No sooner than his head hit the pillow, panic gripped the very pit of his soul, twisting, tossing, like a paper sack hurling down the street on a windy night. Of course she knew who he was! He was a senator. His family…his wife…his work. All of it laid bare for her to see, to harm.
He tossed in his bed. Sleep evaded him and when the morning sun peeped through the window of his room at the Windsor Hotel, Thornton Heitzig knew what he had to do. If the girl ever threatened him again, he would simple carry out his own threat.
When he came downstairs, he went to the dining room. He watched Beth. She was near the kitchen door with a cart that had a tray with several plates of food. She didn’t notice him at first, but as she turned around after placing a plate of food in from of a customer, she spotted him standing in the dining room entrance. Their eyes met…she quickly looked away, and he moved into the room and sat down. After she had taken care of the other customer’s breakfast, she came to his table.
“Yes, sir, what would you like to drink?” she asked as she handed him a menu.
Without looking up, he answered her. “Give me some bacon and eggs. And some black coffee.” He looked up at her, his eyes glaring…daring. “So strong it could kill you.” His wily smile reflected in his eyes.
His words shook her, knees felt limp. She knew actually what he meant, but she refused to show him fear. “I’ll bring you your eggs right away. I’ll be back with your coffee.”
She hurried away, pretending his words meant nothing, but Thornton Heitzig smiled as he looked at the morning paper. The little gal knew precisely what he meant, and she could not hide her fear.
After breakfast Mr. Heitzig left the Windsor Hotel. His family was waiting for him in Taylor County. Beth continued her shift at the hotel, but Thornton Heitzig’s words haunted her all day. That evening when she went to bed, her anger brewed while down the hall Sala Novak wondered if it was possible Thornton Heitzig could be what she and her little daughter had needed all along. Talu played with her dolls as Sala fantasized about the nice looking man with sweet words.
So it began with Thornton Heitzig coming to the Windsor on a regular basis. Once a month, sometimes more. At first no one but Tula and her mother knew why, and of course Beth, but Beth was too scared to say anything. Yet her anger and jealousy brewed, knowing the man she’d sat her cap for, gave her body to, had tossed her away for just another servant girl. If it had been anyone else beside Sala Novak, a maid in the hotel, maybe the bitter gall would not be so hard to swallow, but every time she saw him, she knew why he was there. It wasn’t long before rest of the staff also noticed that Mr. Heitzig always seemed to wander the halls at night. Whispers rose that his nighttime strolls always ended on the servant’s quarters…room 328 to be exact.
Spring turned into summer, and Sala Novak became Thornton Heitzig’s mistress. It wasn’t an ideal situation, not one she planned, but his visits were a bright spot in her life, and the gifts gave her and Talu more in life. But the gifts were few and not really that expensive. And he was no longer patient with Talu. Some nights when he came to her room if the child was awake, he put her in the hallway. Talu either hung around the cove at the service elevator in a chair that her mother placed there for her, but other times she danced trough the hallway singing “twinkle, twinkle little star,” but this didn’t set well with the others on the hall since they were in their rooms to rest after a long day of work. When asked why she was out in the hallway, singing, Talu said “Mr. Thornton’s visiting mama”. When Talu sang, everyone knew Thornton Heitzig was in her mother’s room.
Whispers spread among the staff about Sala’s lover, but now that she had such a powerful man inn her life, they no longer teased her about the good looking man. It was as if they were all in agreement to not meddle, at least not to her…everyone but Beth.
It was late August, a bright hot day in Americus, and the southern humidity hung heavy, making the heat almost unbearable. Some said later it was the heat, others said it was the heat of jealously, but Agatha said it was just plain old meanness. Whatever it was, as they ate their dinner, Beth walked into the room and sat down directly in front of Sala.
“Well,” she began, “your lover was in town yesterday, but I didn’t notice him here. He was seen comin’ out of a shop over on Lee Street. Might’ve been a bank. I don’t know…but he had a woman on his arm. Could have been his wife…or maybe his new girlfriend.”
Sala was cutting a piece of pork fatback that was used to season the green beans that were on her plate. She didn’t look up at Beth, not knowing what Beth expected her to say. Talu sat beside her and she looked up, waiting for her mother to say something. But how do you tell your seven year old her mama’s boyfriend has a wife, has children?
Beth saw Talu eyeing her mother. “Bet she never told you that man who comes to her room at night has a wife, has she Talu?”
“Leave her alone, Beth?” Sala said. “Why are you interested in whoever Mr. Heitzig is with?”
All the anger, jealousy that had been brewing all summer erupted from Beth.
“Oh, It’s Mr. Heitzig, is it? Is that what you call him when you’re in bed when you’re…”
“Hush, Beth! The child,” Bell said.
“The child! Do you think she cares for the child? Taking a married man as her lover while the child roams the halls!”
“Shut up, Beth!” shouted Sala.
Beth leaned forward, her face directly in front of Sala, her eyes blazing, her voice hot, filled with hate as she raged. “She needs to know her mother isn’t this sweet innocent devoted mother! Her mother’s a common prostitute, a—”
The blow was a backhand hit right into the mouth, bursting Sala’s knuckles, knocking Beth’s head backward. Blood spurted from the girl’s mouth. Sala jumped to her feet, stretched her body across the table, her voice low, coarse as she spat the words at Beth. “You keep your filthy mouth shut around my child!” Sala said as she leaned toward Beth. “I don’t care what you say about me, but not to my child.”
Beth jumped to her feet, her chair overturning, but before she could attack Sala, Huns sprang. “You two shut up! Whatcha trying to do—get everybody in the hotel fired? Settle down. This ain’t no local whorehouse!”
“Yeah,” Bell said. “You both gonna get yo’selves fired and over what? Some man that don’t want yew! Either of yew.”
Beth wiped her mouth with her hand then rebuked her. “What lie are you tellin’?”
Bell shook her head. “Do you think I don’t have eyes? Don’t yew think I don’t know when a woman is hot after a man? It was wrote all over you from the first day you laid eyes on ‘im. And you may have had him for a moment, but that’s all it was. For a moment, and then he took up with Sala.” She turned to Sala, and continued. “And don’t think for one minute he’s gonna give you anything other than whattcha already got. There’s gonna be a day when he just don’t come around no more. Or even if he did, you’ll always be the one on the outside lookin’ in. It’s his wife whose gonna have his home, children, and rightly she should. He’s her husband—sorry lot that he is, but still hers.”
She reached over and caught Sala’s arm. “Baby, he’s just using you.”
“Ha!” Beth yelled her words. “Using her? What do you call it that she’s doing?” Beth asked her questions as she backed her way toward the kitchen doorway. She was going to escape up to her room till supper. But before she left, another question was tossed. “Yeah, what is she?” Then she disappeared into the kitchen.
The room was silent. Sala sat in silence but as soon as Talu finished her dinner, she slipped out the side door into the back hallway, telling Talu to go play in their room for awhile.
Beth and Sala seldom spoke to each other after that day unless it was absolutely necessary. Thornton Heitzig continued to visit the hotel and all the staff knew why. Beth thought about notifying his wife but she was afraid it might be traced back to her and Thornton Heitzig might kill her. After his threat, she was terrified of him.
In October Talu caught a flu bug that was going around at school. She stayed in bed for several days and even after she was feeling better, she stayed close to their room. Thornton Heitzig came to visit during this time.
It was raining, a horrible thunder storm. Talu hung close to her mother every time a storm such as this arose, and the lightning and thunder frightened her even more tonight. Sala told the child to get in bed, snuggle down in the covers, and that she too, would come to bed soon. But Thornton Heitzig knocked on her door. He came in, looked at Talu lying on the bed.
“She needs to leave.” His words were blunt, short, as if he was irritated at seeing the child.
“I’m sorry, Thornton, but she’s been sick. Besides, she’s afraid of the storm.”
“She don’t look sick to me…nor scared. You scared, Talu?”
Talu nodded her head.
“She’ll be fine. Get her out of here.”
“Mama, no, mama….”
Lightning popped. Thunder shook the windows.
“Thornton, I can’t…she…”
“Can you not drag yourself away from that child? Every time I come here, it’s the same thing. Always having to push her out the door. I came here tonight to see you…and not to talk. Get her out.”
“But Thornton, she’s scared. She’s been sick all week.”
“I want mama,” Talu said, jumping out of the bed, running over to her mother who was beside the table by the window. She wrapped her arms around her waist.
“Your mama, your mama,” he snapped. He stormed around the room. “Either you put her outside, or I leave and I won’t be back.”
Sala looked at her daughter. “I can’t put her out, not tonight, not with the storm, and her sick.” Talu always played in the hallways when Thornton called, at least long enough for Thornton to have his desires satisfied. But he had become more moody, not wanting Talu around even when they weren’t in bed. “Kids get on my nerves” he had told her. “Send her away.” If Bell was still in the kitchen, Talu would go downstairs for milk, other times she would play in the hall, singing her little song. But tonight was different. Each boom of thunder seemed like a cannon being shot off from the hotel’s roof, and Talu clung to her, refusing to leave her side. It had been only moments before Thornton’s arrival that she’d finally lay down on the bed. Now he wanted her out of the room.
“Thornton, she’s scared.”
“She’s not a baby.” He grabbed Talu’s arm, attempting to pull her away from Sala, but Talu’s small arms encircled Sala’s waist.
“No. No. NO!” She wailed, her arms clinging tightly. Then she glanced over her shoulder at the man whose hands were trying to pry her away from her mother. “I hate you!”
Thornton Heitzig jerked her arms away from her mother, and shoved Talu out the door into the hallway. At first she beat on the door as thunder and lightning rattled the hotel’s windows. She slumped to the floor, hugging her knees as she cried.
Thornton stood between Sala and the door, and when she attempted to reach for the door, he flung her backwards. “No, you will not go to her. That’s what’s wrong now. You’re always spoiling her.”
“She’s my baby!”
His hand struck her face—a hard brutal blow to her cheek with the back of his hand, and a hot evil curse insulted her ears. “I’ve had it with you two.” He grabbed her shoulders, shaking her. “How many times do I have to tell you, you belong to me!”
He shoved her down on the bed and who once was her lover now became her rapist.
It wasn’t long before he stood, glaring down at her. “Now,” he said, gathering his pants. “Get dressed, and get that wailing kid! Everyone in the hotel has probably heard her by now.”
And why do you care? You didn’t care while you were raping me, she wanted to say, but she didn’t. She gathered up her clothes that were tossed to the floor in a heap by the bed. Slowly she pulled the petticoat over her head, dropped the dark skirt on top of the undergarment, and then slipped on her blouse. As she buttoned the white cotton blouse, she plotted her escape. First she would test him, seeing if it could be as easy as just him not ever coming here again. “We can’t see one another anymore.”
Thornton Heitzig stood in front of the chest of drawers, staring at his refection in the mirror that hung on the wall above the bureau. He smoothed his dark hair, inspected his chin, and ran his fingers along his mustache before he spoke. Without turning, but looked at her refection in the mirror, he asked. “You jest, right?”
“No. This relationship isn’t working.”
“Oh, really? And for whom?” He smirked. Then loud laughter exploded, a nefarious laughter that filled the small room. “And just when did you decide this? Tonight? Or was it when you got one of my gifts? Or was it when you tucked that fifty dollar bill in your buxom?” He turned around, stared into her eyes. They were cold, dark, without any emotions. “No, this relationship will be over when I say it is.” He shoved her aside. “Now, get out of my way.”
He jerked open the door, forgetting that Talu was there, sitting in the corner by the door. He tripped, staggering, almost losing his balance. “You little brat. You did that deliberately.”
Talu jumped up. She did not respond to his verbal attack, but rushed toward her mother who had come to the open door, but his hand grabbed her. Thornton Heitzig raised his hand to strike the child—Sala caught his arm, which he yanked out of her grip. Talu wiggled out of his other hand and ran toward the steps that led up to the guests’ hallway. Thornton Heitzig caught her just as she reached the service elevator. Sala ran up the steps after them.
He shoved her into the cove as Sala came down the hall and as she came around the corner, she saw him slap the child, knocking her backward. “NOOOOOOOO!” Her wail filled the hall as she attempted to jump behind Talu, attempting to grab her baby, attempting to block her from the open shaft of the servant elevator. Their screams filled the black hole as they fell through the darkness…the mother and child screaming as they tumbled into obscurity…the mother reaching the bottom of the shaft first. The child landing on her mother, almost in her arms as if even in death she was still trying to protect her.
Thornton Heitzig watched in horror as mother and child fell down the three flights to the bottom of the shaft. He didn’t realize the steel gate was open when he shoved the girl. Sweat poured from his body, cold fear gripped him. His hands clenched tightly the edge of the open door to the shaft, staring down into the sinister hole. They were dead—he’d killed them.
Quickly he backed away, looking around him. Who heard this? Did anyone see them? Slowly he moved toward his room, then he walked faster, almost at a run. Faster. Faster. His legs carried him toward 334.
He was at his door. Key in hand. Almost escaped to his room.
He turned. Next to the steps—the steps that led to the servants’ quarters was Beth. “Mr. Heitzig, did you hear that?”
His body trembling, his mouth dry, sweat pouring, he moved toward her. “Yes, I did. Yes. Sounded as it was coming from that way. That’s where I was headed.”
She smiled. But didn’t reply, but moved on up the steps, moving toward the servants’ elevator. “It sounded right around here.” She stepped into the little inlet in front of the elevator. “The door’s open.” She stared into the dark hole.
“What’s going on?” Huns hurried up the steps, rushing down the hallway. He saw Thornton Heitzig coming his way. “Mr. Heitzig, what’s going on? We heard screams.”
“I’m not sure, but I think someone fell down the elevator shaft.”
Beth, who had lain down on her stomach, her hand cupping her eyes as if it would help her to see better. “I can’t tell. It’s too dark.”
“Get a flashlight, Lucille,” Huns told his wife. Quickly she rushed to her room, passing others in the hallway as more people ran to the elevator. She returned with the light, giving it to Huns, he told Beth to move. “Let me see if I can tell.” He lay down, shinning the light into the cavity. “There’s something down there on top of the elevator. It looks like someone.” He leaped up. “Someone get the manager! They got to get the police in here!” His voice strong, but shaken as he gave the orders.
Beth, who had been standing to the side of the elevator, looked out over the crowd that had gathered. “Where’s Sala?”
“What?” Bell had just come up to the group. She’d been in the bathroom when she heard all the yelling.
“Why I don’t know?” Bell quickly looked around. “In her room, I guess. Oh, Lord, I hope she’s in her room.” She hurried back down the steps to 328. The door was wide open. Bell gasped. She darted into the room. It was empty. “She’s not here. She’s not here,” she yelled, running back to the rest. “Her door’s open. But she ain’t there. Neither is Talu.”
Hush fell over the group.
“But why would Sala fall down the shaft. She never went near it without the gate being closed. Why was the gate open?” Margaret asked her questions so fast no one could answer her.
“Sala wouldn’t have been around here with Talu, not with it open.”
“Maybe she was trying to save the girl.” Thornton Heitzig spoke before he thought. All eyes turned on him.
“What is it?” asked the manager. “Has someone really fallen into the shaft?”
“Believe so,” said Huns, his head dropped as he added, “It may be Sala and her little girl.”
The manager hurried away, going back to his office to notify the authorities. Shortly afterward, the police were there, the elevator slowly being pulled up to the first floor so the top of the car would be level with the second floor. Everyone went downstairs to the second floor and waited. Even before the gate was open, they could see Sala and Talu lying on top of the car.
“Oh, dear Sweet Jesus!” whispered Bell.
Huns turned his head away, Lucille buried her face in her husband’s right shoulder, and Agatha cried, her sobs quiet, tears rolling down her cheek. But Beth stood off to the side, watching. Thornton Heitzig had come downstairs with them, standing in their midst with a stony veneer. A face shroud in nothingness. No fear. No hurt. No sorrow. Nothing. As if the dead were nothing to him. Maybe they weren’t, thought Beth, maybe they weren’t. Her hatred for Sala was for nothing. Just like Bell had said. The only person Thornton Heitzig loved was Thornton Heitzig.
She stared at him until he felt her eyes on him. He glanced her way. A devious smile played with her lips, inciting her eyes. Beth tipped her head toward him.
Terror enthralled his body to the point he turned his toes underneath in his shoes to give him some kind of support. Beth suspected the truth. That someway he was involved.
“Stand back, folks, stand back,” they were ordered as the police removed the bodies from the car. “Give up room to work here.”
They all backed up, yet they also could not leave as they stared at the police removing the bodies, gently laying them on gurneys. They stared after them as the police carried the bodies away. Then the remaining police turned to them.
“Ok, folks, who knows what happened here?”
At first no one answered, then Beth stepped forward. “I heard them scream. Sala was grabbing for the child to save her, but she lost her balance too. Just a horrible accident.”
Thornton Heitzig wondered why she told her lie.
Sunshine, a light breeze tossing leaves from the trees would give the appearance of a perfect day, if not for the fact that it was the day Sala and Talu Novak were buried. It had been four days since the accident.
Beth told the police she saw it all, how the little girl was running around playing and she stopped, realizing the gate wasn’t closed to the elevator, she looking down the shaft. Sala yelled for her to get back, but when the girl whirled around, she lost her footing, and Sala grabbed for her and both fell to their death. So sad.
After the police were gone, the staff back in their rooms, Beth knocked on Thornton Heitzig’s door…once. It seemed like he had been waiting for her he answered the door so fast. Beth walked in like an old friend.
“Oh, I know what you did.” She walked around the room, picking up what-nots, inspecting them like she was really interested. She turned, smiled. “Oh, what a tangled web we do weave once we practice to deceive.”
“What are you talking about, Beth?” He wanted her out of here, but Beth knew something. Either she saw what happened, saw him shove the girl, or suspected. She lied to the police. Beth didn’t do that out of love for him. Or did she? Was she hoping to get back with him now that Sala was gone? His confidence returned. “What do you want, Beth?”
“Oh, I think it is more about what you want, Thornton.” She sat down on the bed, and crossed her legs, revealing delicate ankles. She had on a long cotton nightgown that was soft and thin from too many washings, and the outline of her small breasts rested against the fabric. He came to her, leaned down, and his lips almost brushed across hers but she turned her face, and stood. “Oh, no, not that, Thornton. That’s not what you want…not really. What you want is for me to keep telling my story.”
He whirled around. “What? The police have your story. You should have come to me before you went to them.”
She laughed. “Oh, but if I had, you would be at the police station…maybe in jail.” She laughed again. “We all here know about you and Sala. Now she’s dead. So, let’s talk money. I know you don’t want a scandal. You have a wife, a reputation, and so much more. The question is just how much you’re willing to pay so you get to keep all of that…so no one else will know.”
“Pay? Who you going to tell?”
“The police. I will tell them you threatened me. I was scared of you. The police will question all the staff in the next few days as they figure out what happened. Just the other day we were discussing you two, how you always came here to see Sala. Poor thing. Now she’s dead.” Her words mocked him.
“Who was talking the other day about her?”
She laughed loudly. “You really think the staff wasn’t aware of why you kept returning? Sala was your mistress. We all know. Knew about the doll you gave Talu. Did you think we didn’t know why Talu was always singing at night when you were here? Roaming up and down the hall here on the third floor, singing.” She broke into the children’s song. “Twinkle, twinkle little star how I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high…”
Beth laughed. “Maybe we should sing, ‘Thornton, Thornton, his love is like a dove…now gone to live up above.” He raised his hand to slap her, but Beth knocked it away. “Lay a hand on me and it will cost you more,” she threatened.
“What do you want?”
“Money. You pay us and we’ll never tell what really happened here tonight…just a horrible accident.”
“Oh, not much, but enough. You got a lot to lose here. Like I said, family, your influential life style that touches all the way to the Atlanta.”
If he could, he would have killed her too, but Thornton Heitzig knew the easiest way out was to pay. The next day he left Americus, but not before he had his bank to wire him fifteen thousand dollars to a local bank. They didn’t question the transfer because Mr. Heitzig was always conducting some kind of business deals. He met with the staff in their room off from the kitchen, each one getting the amount they all agreed to. Beth got the most…three thousand…because she was the one who brought it to Mr. Heitzig attention that they need to meet and come to an agreement.
Bell stood over the grave. “I would have never thought Sala would have died—here at the Windsor. Just horrible.” She wiped tears away from her eyes with a small white handkerchief.
“She loved it here…her and little Talu,” Agatha said. “And how could anyone have thought this would be the way they’d leave the hotel. And they’d still be here with us if not for that man.”
“Shhh.” Bell hushed her, glancing around. “Some one might hear you.”
Most people had already left the cemetery. The leaves whirled across the graves as if they had somewhere to be…somewhere beside a small cemetery. Bell looked up at the trees as the wind plucked the leaves, sending them on their journey. “Won’t be long till winter.” Her eyes traveled to the low white cloud tumbling across the blue sky. “Less than three months till Christmas. Remember last year we wondered if it would snow?”
“And it rained…a cold winter rain. Talu was so happy, running around, laughing, playing always with her doll. Nick or something.”
“NiNi,” Bell said. “Sometimes she’d ask for two cookies—one for her and one for NiNi.” She sniffed, wiping her eyes again as they swelled with tears. “Just won’t be the same.”
Agatha stared into the sky before she spoke. “It was raining…a hard cold rain last Christmas when he showed up here. Sala said he gave Talu a doll. I think that was the night it all began. Him sneaking in here, telling Floyd how he worked all day, and was traveling to Taylor County to see that wife of his. He came here for one reason…and that was to see our Sala.”
Never had she called Sala that before, but it seemed as if in death she had became theirs. They didn’t know who her family was…something about her mama and daddy lived over in some county, but no one knew where for sure. They knew very little about their Sala. “He should pay.”
“What? Oh. But he did.”
“No,” Agatha replied. “I mean really pay. We shouldn’t have taken his money. Should have told the police the truth.”
“It was easier to take the money. That is more money than I’ve ever seen at one time. Huns said they were going to Plains, search for a farm around there. Whatcha gonna do with yours?”
“Save it. He committed murder and we let him get away with it. He should have been tried for murder.”
“His kind is never tried. He’d get away with it either way. At least it cost him some money, and I’m sure Beth had him sweatin’ bullets.” She thought for a moment. “You know, Agatha, I hope that man never sees another peaceful night.”
They stood there for a moment, looking down at the few flowers on the graves, then they walked away from Sala and Talu.
In February, Thornton Heitzig returned much to the staffs’ surprise. They didn’t want him there, some were wary of him, wondering if in some way he would do them harm. What they didn’t realize was that Thornton Heitzig didn’t want to be there either. He had sworn to himself never ever would he return, but he had no choice. Some business clients in Sumter County suggested they meet at the Windsor Hotel for their meetings. He didn’t want on the third floor, but the hotel was booked and he had no choice but to be on the third floor. They offered him room 334, but he turned it down.
“Ok, give me 301,” he said. Room 301 was as far away from 334 as he could get, located at the front of the hotel, over looking downtown Americus. He was nervous before he arrived, felt the heated stares of Oscar as he checked in. The normally friendly Floyd was silent was they rode up to the third floor. He didn’t recognize the maid who was dusting the hallway. If Sala was alive, probably she would’ve been doing that. The thought was shoved from his mind as he opened the door to his room.
It was a lovely room with windows encircling the room for a perfect view, but Thornton Heitzig wasn’t interested in the view. He wanted to conduct his business and get out of the hotel and Americus as soon as possible.
He did not want to retire to his room at the conclusion of the day’s meeting. His supper was in the dinning room, but Beth wasn’t there to take his order. He wondered where she was…if she still worked at the hotel…or if she took his money and fled the town. It had been five months, but sometimes fear caused him stress, the what ifs. What if she came back demanding more money, always wanting more money? Could he kill her…just to get rid of her, could he murder? His thoughts always answered yes. If you can kill a child, you can kill anyone. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t kill Talu, that it was all an accident. The child stumbled. He didn’t shove her. Really he didn’t. But in the darkness of his soul, he knew better. His anger toward the child caused him to shove her.
Their screams invaded his thoughts when he was still, when he tried to read a book, or sit quietly at home. All winter every time he sat down in front of the fireplace with his family in the drawing room, his eyes stared so at the fire that his wife Maude would ask what he had on his mind. “Nothing, dear, nothing. Just business. Business you would not understand.” She would smile, pat his arm, telling him that he worked too hard.
Maude was a pretty woman, a woman who came from a family of wealth and influence, influence that he had used to grow his own business. He should have been content with her, with their four children, but he wasn’t. There was something so alluring to have sex with some woman who was in an inferior class…a woman with no influence on him other than what he allowed…a woman who thought she was special simply because she was his mistress. That’s the way Sala was, until that night.
It was so obvious she lied about a husband. She was just another woman that got herself pregnant and the man left. Simple as that. And the very idea that she thought she would tell him when the relationship was over.
But tonight as he sat on the second floor verandah, he enjoyed being with the clients, drinking at the pub, and as he sat leisurely in a wicker chair, he looked out across at the tall buildings of Americus. It was a beautiful town. Forget about the past, he told himself, forget a Sala and that kid. Enjoy life, enjoy the hotel, and just be glad he wasn’t like everyone else. Petty little people, searching to be somebody. Suddenly, he stood up.
“Here, here,” he said his beer mug high over his head, “I salute you all fine people. Aren’t you glad you’re up here, enjoying yourselves. He turned to the edge of the tall railing and leaned down. “And here’s to you poor souls down there. Look up here!” His voice grew louder as he continued. “Don’t you wish you were up here, having fun? Come on!” Two men on the street stopped, looking up at him. “Come on up here, friends and I, Thornton Heitzig will buy you poor souls a drink. Senator Thornton Heitzig is always for the down trodden, the broken man who does have a dime.” His words made no sense as he waved his arms, and the two men on the street pointed at him and laughed.
One of his business clients slipped out of the verandah into the hallway of the second floor. He looked down to the lobby, searching for Floyd. He spotted James by the desk and motions for him to come upstairs. With James’ help, the two men persuaded Thornton Heitzig it was time to go to his room.
When he lay down on his bed, the liquor quickly helped him to fall asleep. Thornton Heitzig didn’t want to think about anything but sleep and the booze helped his mind to find sleep.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.”
He was dreaming.
He tossed his head from side to side on the pillow.
“How I wonder what you are….” The voice was low, sweet, pure, angelic.
He bolted upright, shaking his head, but he could still hear it.
“It was them. Those workers. They were trying to torment him. Getting out of bed, he jerked open the door. The hallway was dimly lit, but he could tell it was empty.
He was closing the door, turning aside, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw it. Just a glimpse. Quickly it was there. In a flash, it was gone.
Did he see it? Was it real? What was it? A white pale light. Shadowy figure. But he saw it. And he saw the face. A face of a child. Her face? Was it?
All his emotions rushed through him—fear—panic—terror!
Could it be her? Dressed in that little white nightgown just like that night? It was there, then gone. Just vanished. So quickly.
It had to be his imagination. Yeah, that’s what it was. His imagination fed by too much booze and haunted by that night. It was nothing. Just his imagination.
But what if it wasn’t? What if she really was here? Was her mother here too?
“Stop it! Stop it!” he scolded himself. “Are you trying to drive yourself mad? It’s nothing. Nothing,” he kept repeating as he climbed back in bed. “But it’s midnight. It was almost midnight when she died.” Thornton Heitzig pulled the sheet over his head. “It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen,” he whispered. Sleep evaded Mr. Heitzig for the rest of the night.
The next morning as he sat with his business clients, one of the men said, “This place must be haunted.” Thornton Heitzig, who was drinking coffee, coughed, spitting the coffee back into his cup. The man gave no attention to Mr. Heitzig’s coughing as he continued, “Last night I swear, I believe a child was singing in the hallway. It seemed as if she was running up and down the hallway, singing and laughing. I looked out, thinking why on earth would parents allow their child out in the hallway in the middle of the night? But the hall was empty. But I know I heard it.”
“I heard something too, but it sounded like a baby crying.”
The waitress walked up to their table. “Oh, ya’ll heard the ghost last night did, ya?” She was the same girl who served their table last night. “They say this place is haunted. I don’t know. I just been working here for the last two weeks, but I ain’t seen nothing…or heard anything.” She leaned a little closer as if she was telling them a secret. “But one of the maids upstairs says every time she goes down the third floor, she feels this cold spot and one day…she swears…that she saw a little girl rush past her…a little girl in white. Personally, I don’t believe in ghost myself, but she sure can make a believer out of you when she gets to talkin’.” She smiled. “Now, what y’all want for breakfast?”
As long as it was light, as long as there were no dark corners of night sneaking forward as the day drew to a close, Thornton Heitzig was able to push the thoughts of Sala and Tula, thoughts of ghosts away from him, but night loomed along the horizon as the sun sank low in the Georgia sky. A fire of colors painted the sky in the west, and a large full moon peeked in the eastern sky, quickly moving up into the sky to proclaim its place for the night. Thornton Heitzig sat in the pub, drinking a wine. One, he promised himself, only one. Tonight he would keep a clear head. No ghost to vex his sleep tonight.
The client who helped him to bed last night, asked him as they sat at the bar. “Do you think we’ll see that little girl tonight?”
Mr. Heitzig looked up from his drink. “You believe in ghost?” An astounded Thornton Heitzig asked the man whom he viewed as a highly intelligent gentleman.
“Oh, yes, yes. My mama told us stories of ghosts when we were children. Her family lived in an old haunted farm house up in Tabot County. She said that a little boy died there…some accident…and he would come around…trying to play. Said he would take their toys and move them from room to room, then they would hear him laugh while they hunted the toys.” He took a drink of his beer. “And there was one, an old woman, who was always going…” He leaned back, then rushed forward toward Mr. Heitzig’s face. “BOO!” Thornton Heitzig shot backward. The man laughed. “Yeah, that’s the way we reacted every time mama told that story.”
“So, she didn’t see ghosts?
“Oh, yes, yes…but not an old woman. Just the boy. The place was haunted.”
“What about last night? This place?”
“I heard something. What about you?”
“Me?” Had he heard rumors about him here at the hotel? Rumors about that night? His own fears made him nervous.
“Did you see anything last night?”
“No,” he lied. “Slept like a baby.”
The man laughed. “I’m not surprised after all the booze you drank last night. You put away a good bit of Old No.7 last night.” He laughed. “Yeah, you really were enjoying that Tennessee Sippin’ Whiskey.”
The remark made Thornton Heitzig uncomfortable. He did not usually succumb to public drunkenness, but reserved most of his drinking at home where he might have a drink at night before retiring to bed. He sipped his wine. The man annoyed him, yet he did not want to be alone in his room. What if it came to his room?
“Mr. Heitzig,” another man approached him. “I’m so glad to see you here. I was afraid you might not return after that horrible accident.”
Thornton Heitzig looked up, staring at the man. Who are you? Who are you? “Excuse?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” The man held out his hand to Mr. Heitzig. “I was in the room next to yours that horrible night. My wife and I were here. Spent the night here before going on the next day to see our daughter over in Taylor County. Wished we had never stopped… not that night.”
The client looked up. “What night?”
“Oh, haven’t you heard? A few months ago there was a horrible accident here. A woman and her child were killed. Horrible—just horrible.”
“Really? What happened,” the client asked eagerly.
The man shook his head slowly, speaking to the client. “It was the most ghastly thing. It seems the child was playing around the service elevator and the gate wasn’t closed. I don’t know if she tripped or got too close, looking down into the shaft…you know how kids are, not knowing the danger, but whatever, she fell and her poor mother tried to save her and she fell too. Both of them killed.” He turned to Thornton Heitzig. “You were there right after they fell, weren’t you?”
“I heard the screams. There were quiet a few people who heard the screams and came running.” His gaze traveled over the man. “What about you, sir, did you come, come to see if you could help?” It was as if he was accusing the man for not being about to offer help to the injured parties. But the man quickly rebutted.
“I knew there was no help needed, for they were both deceased.”
“Maybe that’s what I heard last night,” said the client. He took a sip of his beer. “That little girl must be haunting this place.”
The other man laughed, but Mr. Heitzig said nothing. He lifted his gaze to the back of the bar, his eyes watching the bartender pouring whiskey into a shot glass for another customer. He wished it was for him…wished he had a bottle he could take to his room…get so drunk the morning sun would be rising over Americus before his eyes stirred from their sleep. But more than that, he wished he was home…home with his wife and their four children and he could sit in their parlor, read his books, watch his children play on the floor, as a roaring fire kept the family warm, and all foes kept at bay. But he couldn’t leave until tomorrow afternoon when their meeting was concluded.
“Oh, I don’t know if the place is haunted or not.” Then the man asked. “What did you hear? And where?”
“It sounded like a little girl was signing, Twinkle, twinkle little star. Then laughter.”
The other man gasped. “That’s what the little girl was singing that night. I heard her myself. She was roaming up and down the hall…and I said to my wife…I said, “Why on earth is that child not in bed? It’s late”. They said the next morning she was always singing and playing around the hallways. That her mother worked here. Such a sad story. She was little, about six, maybe seven.”
She was seven, thought Thornton Heitzig.
“That elevator’s just down the hall from my room. I’m staying in 334.”
“Oh, yes, that’s very close. That’s where you was that night, wasn’t it?” he asked Mr. Heitzig.
“I thought so. We were in 332.”
Thornton Heitzig turned up his wine glass, letting the sweet wine fill his mouth, and as he sat the glass down on the bar, he stood. “If you gentlemen will excuse me, I think I will sit out on the verandah for awhile.”
“It’s cold out there, man. This is February.”
“Yes, it is.”
Walking through the doorway to the verandah, Mr. Heitzig heard the man say, “Strange fellow.” To which his client replied, “Yes, yes, he is. Tell me more about the accident.”
He door closed behind him and he took a seat at the farthest end of the verandah. There’s nothing to tell him about the accident because no one was there except the three of them. No one else knows how hard he shoved the kid. Sometimes he liked to pretend that he reached out for her, but that was only when he felt a twinge of guilt, but that was rare. Guilt accomplished nothing but made a person weak. He refused weakness. Weakness interfered with his business, interfered with life. But he did worry. Worried about Beth, the staff, the deaths. He wanted to rise politically. To do so, that night had to never be associated with him in any way. Not even his presence that night should be mentioned. The man put him here on that fatal night, and if not for him, his client would have never known about the accident, or at least that his room was just down the hallway from where it happened.
Thornton Heitzig thought the situation over. He had no choice but to stay the night, but it would be his last, and never again would he meet clients or the other members of Georgia’s State Senators. If they had to meet here, he would find an excuse to not come. Simple as that. With his decision made, Mr. Heitzig retired to his room, filled with confidence. Never again would he return. He could make it through one more night.
He turned out the light, lay his head on the pillow, and sleep should have embraced him, but the full moon illuminated the room as if it was an early silver dawn. Getting out of bed, Thornton Heitzig pulled the blinds on all the windows that circled the room. He got back in bed, turning his back to the windows. Now the room was dark, such a darkness it seemed as if the room had fallen into a cavity of obscurity. He turned over and lit the lamp. If you’re scared of the light, scared of the dark, what do you do? He pondered for a moment. Getting up, he went to the window on the north side, pulled up the blind half-way, allowing a little moon light into the room. Problem solved. When he got back into bed, he turned off the light.
His eye lids grew heavy, his breathing low, his body drifting into sleep. Suddenly he was awake. There was a presence in the room, he was sure of it, but he was afraid to open his eyes.
It was close to him…hints of breath on his face…slowly his eyes opened…an ashen figure hovered near his bed. “BOO!” Its breath splayed into his face. He yanked the blanket over his head, thrusting himself deep into the bed, quivering and sniveling, begging God to make it go away.
Laughter filled the room.
He waited over five minutes before peeking out from under the blanket, waited until his body no longer shook. He rose, slipped to the door, placing his ear to the door as he strained for any noise on the other side.
You’re being foolish, he reasoned as he went to the bed. It was a dream, brought on by that man yelling boo in your face downstairs. He settled into the bed, pulling the blanket up to his neck, and waited for sleep to carry him to morning.
He waited. But sleep didn’t come, and from the hallway he heard the singing. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.” Over and over the song filled the hall, and little feet skipping up and down the hall.
Around two, everything grew quiet. Deathly quiet. But now the hush seemed louder than the singing. Would she do something to him? Could she kill him? Would she? He could leave the hotel but if he did, it would just stir up all kinds of questions, causing people to focus on him. And that was the last thing he needed…and that’s what kept him there.
“Well, did y’all see the ghost last night,” the waitress asked as she walked over to their table. The group of six men sat around the table. These were the men that brought Mr. Heitzig to Americus, their business was important to his company, important to his political career.
The client who heard the man talking in the bar spoke up. “No, not last night. I didn’t hear a thing. Anyone else?” All the men shook their heads. “I guess she was just quiet last night.” He laughed.
“Oh, no, she’s still here. The third floor maid has seen her this morning. The maid come flying down the stairs, burst in here, and told Bell that she had seen that little girl this morning.”
The men stared at the young woman, their mouths dropped. Mr. Heitzig fiddled with the napkin lying on his lap. His foot tapped silently under the table.
“Sure did. Bell hushed her up, gave her some hot coffee, and told her to get back upstairs and clean.”
“Y’all think maybe we ought to have our meeting down the street at the bank’s conference room?” one of the men asked, referring to the Bank of Southwest Georgia that was on the northwest corner of Forsyth Jackson Streets.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mr. Heitzig said. “There’re no such things as ghost. The woman probably saw a shadow. Let’s eat breakfast and get our work done.”
Later in the afternoon as they finished their meeting, Thornton Heitzig knew never would he return to the hotel. But he needed a reason. “Gentlemen, with all the talk about a ghost, I feel it keeps us from concentrating on why we are here. With that in mind, I suggest our next meetings be somewhere else other than here.”
“Oh, but I love this hotel,” the client said. He also liked the idea of it being haunted, as well the beautiful surroundings. “It gives a mystical atmosphere.”
“Well, I say it hinders.” Mr. Heitzig was firm and the others didn’t care so they agreed to meet in another county for the next meeting.
It was late afternoon, a pleasant winter afternoon with cool crisp air and sunshine. Thornton Heitzig tossed his valise into the back seat of his motorcar. He stood beside the driver’s side, putting on his driving coat, hat, and gloves, but before he put on the goggles, he looked up at the hotel, to the third floor.
She stood on the third floor verandah, right there in board daylight…looking down at him. She leaned over the rail, gazing into his face, then she smiled, raised one hand, waving him good-by.
Strong legs that supported his tall lean body became weak. His eyes searched the verandah for Sala, but he didn’t see her. “Talu,” he whispered. And as softly as his word, she faded away. Weak arms lifted him up into the seat. “She knows I’m not coming back,” he breathed to himself. “Knows I’m scared of her. She’s real. She knows I killed her when I deliberately shoved her.” For a moment he sat there as if he was waiting for the motorcar to take him away, then he realized he had not turned the crank on the vehicle. After turning the hand crank at the front of the motorcar, he returned to the front seat.
Driving west out of Americus, he saw a small salmon colored cloud shaped like a plume. Underneath was a perfectly round small cloud. The clouds lay directly in front of him. “A large plume…and a period…that’s a sign,” he whispered. “The end has been written. It’s over.” A sigh of relief washed over him. His hands became steady. Yet, his mind refused to release the image on the verandah. “No one will ever know the truth…no one…except the staff. And they’re paid well…they will keep my secret.”
Thornton Heitzig never returned to the hotel.
But Thornton Heitzig was wrong though when he thought it was over. The gossip that surrounded the little girl ghost spread throughout Americus as well of tales about her mother’s lover killing her and her mother. Rumors of the little girl ghost grew not only in Americus, but throughout Georgia and in time, beyond. People said they saw her, or hear her singing “Twinkle, twinkle”. Some believed the deaths were an accident, others wonder if the man shoved her deliberately down the elevator shaft. As time passed the story became very simple. An unnamed politician, who was her mother’s lover, in a rage of anger, shoved the young girl into the open pit of the service elevator shaft on the third floor. The mother, trying to save her daughter, also fell to her death in the incident at The Windsor Hotel.
Over one hundred years has passed. The little girl ghost is still rumored to laugh and play at the grand hotel. Today no one knows the name of the politician, nor do they know what became of him, if he asked for forgiveness, if he made a name in politics, or what. But Talu doesn’t care as she plays and sings, “Twinkle, twinkle little star…how I wonder what you are…” on the third floor of The Windsor Hotel.
I hope you enjoyed this book. It was a joy to write as the characters began to take shape and I, too, was carried back to Windsor Hotel, seeing them at the turn of the twentieth century. I loved the idea of Bell’s warm kitchen, the cozy parlor, and sitting on the verandah, looking out over Americus. The hotel was alive with the persona of the past, the staff loved the hotel, and Sala and Talu loved it the most because it was a home that they so desperately needed. Perhaps that’s why some people believe they have seen the little girl at the hotel, that maybe she and her mother in real life also loved the hotel.
Again thank you for supporting my writings. You play a large part in the success of my books.
The year is 1901 in Americus, Georgia and Sala Novak thinks she has found the perfect place for her and her six year old daughter to live at the Windsor Hotel. Sala is hired as a maid at the hotel, and they are given a room on the back hallway of the third floor. At the hotel, they become friends with the other staff members, but then her mother meets Thornton Heitzig, a powerful man who seduces the young Sala. Tragedy happens on a stormy night, resulting in the death of Sala. Afterward, the staff believes the little girl who was killed with her mother, now haunts the hotel and sings the children song, "Twinkle, twinkle." Some of the maids believes they have seen Talu on the third floor. They also say they have felt eerier cold spots on the hallway as well. Thornton Heitzig refuses to believe the stories and continues coming to the hotel for business meetings. Yet he wonders, and his fears grow as he listened to the business clients tell their stories of hearing a child singing in the middle of the night. His fears become his reality when he comes face to face with Talu.