Garbol shooed his friend Jetz from his hotel room. “Go. Don’t miss the keynote speech, it’s Wanderfeldt. The guy’s hilarious. I’ll see you later at the breakout sessions.”
“I’m just ecstatic,” said Jetz. “Can’t believe you came at all. I thought these things bored you to tears.”
“We’ll make the best of it.” Garbol shut the door, made a pot of coffee, and unpacked his suitcases.
He sat at the desk by the window and sipped coffee while reading Goedel, Escher, Bach, by Hofstadter on his Kindle. A knock sounded on the door.
“Come,” he said.
The door cracked and slowly opened, a small, middle-aged, balding man wearing a blue suit slinked in as if he didn’t want Garbol to notice, then shut the door.
He approached Garbol, bowed, and stood before him.
“Have a seat, Mr. Gogh,” said Garbol.
The manager took the arm chair and seemed to deflate as he sank into it. “Thank you for seeing me, sir wizard.”
“Please. Just call me Garbol.”
“Yes, sir.” Mr. Gogh fiddled with his tie. “I’m sorry for asking you to come under pretense.”
“There’s no dishonesty. I’m genuinely interested in some developments on dematerialization, and the conference presenter isn’t a complete boob. But I can assist with your troubles, too.”
“There have been strange—”
“How long have you been manager of this hotel?” asked Garbol.
“Three weeks, sir. Why?”
“Only measuring how long you let it fester. Go on.”
Mr. Gogh wilted. “I dare not even say it.” He tucked his elbow into one palm and supported his face with another. “We have ghouls, sir. Three or four of them.”
Garbol scowled. “How many deaths?”
“None, sir!” Mr. Gogh sat upright and gripped the chair’s arms. “Thanks to heaven, none. My predecessor had the foresight to empty the seventh floor of all other guests.”
Something wasn’t right, but Garbol couldn’t put his finger on it. “They stay on their floor?”
“So far, yes.”
“Mr. Gogh. How did these ghouls get into your hotel in the first place?”
The manager turned his head and looked at the floor, mumbling.
“What’s that?” asked Garbol.
“They had reservations.”
Garbol stood. “Your predecessor rented the rooms to them?”
Mr. Gogh cringed.
“What the hell would possess a man to rent rooms to ghouls? Didn’t he see their enlarged eyes, their greenish skin, and their lightbulb heads? What kind of human has a head like a lightbulb? Where is he? I’m going to tear him a new one. I’m going to hex him with boils, and then I’m going to feed him piece by piece to those ghouls.”
“Please, sir. It wasn’t his fault. One of the reservationists at the counter did it. They were already in the rooms when he showed up that morning.”
“He was the manager. What happened with his people is his responsibility—he should have fed the reservationist to the ghouls piece by piece.”
“Oh, he did ever so much worse to him, sir. I assure you the reservationist has been soundly punished.”
Garbol wrinkled his brow. “How. What did your predecessor do to him?”
“He promoted him.”