“Room 724,” said Garbol.
Marcus, the room service waiter, followed him down the hall.
“Just knock, stand in front of the keyhole, and ask the ghoul if he ordered chicken gizzards.”
“I could just let you in,” said Marcus. “I’ve got the master key.”
“Unfortunately the spell that keeps them confined also keeps me from entering uninvited.”
“Ah-ahyt,” said Marcus. He knocked on the door.
No answer. Garbol urged him to do it again, but there was no response.
“Okay,” whispered Garbol. “Open it and get out of the way.”
Marcus did as he said.
“Hello?” said Garbol. “Anyone here?”
A quick search revealed the room was empty.
“Where the hell is he?” Garbol stepped back into the hall. “Room 742, then. Listen—if this one opens the door, don’t hang around. Go right back the way you came and don’t take off your vest for any reason.”
“All right, boss.”
“Tell Poof—the wizard who was on the stairs with us—it’s time to cloak all the journalists. Make them look like janitors or something.”
“Because ghouls love to kill and eat journalists.”
“We can hardly hold that against them,” said Marcus.
“Yeah, yeah. I already cracked that joke. Be ready.”
A hiss came from behind the door. “I know it’sss you, magissshian.”
Garbol waved Marcus off, and the waiter marched away down the hall. “I knew you were the smart one.”
The hiss grew louder.
“Can’t take a compliment?” Garbol stood in front of the peep hole. “You know I’m not a match for you. Why don’t you open up and talk to me, Clarentritch?”
A gurgle came from the other side. “It’sss trickery.”
“Are you afraid? You opened before.” Strange that he wasn’t getting any reaction out of using the ghoul’s name, but it should be enough to prevent an attack once he opened the door. “Certainly, such a great ghoul as Clarentritch can face a humble wizard.” Garbol pounded his cue stick on the door. “Face me.”
A raspy laugh faded as it receded farther into the room.
“Crap.” Garbol recalculated his tactics and determined he should contain this one, search for the dumb one, and come back with the other wizards to handle Clarentritch. He took a step back and touched his cue to the door. “Ghoulie, ghoulie, of the tomb, you be grounded to your room. If you leave ‘fore I return, spontaneous combustion you will burn.” Garbol figured the spell would hold for an hour, at least.
The door popped open and a ghoul lurched by him—but not Clarentritch. The dumb one was in there all along, the spell compelling him to his own room.
“Gah.” Garbol formulated a redirect to the spell. “The lure of flesh too great will be, escape the room and fire to see, down the hall a meal for free, human meat fricassee.” The wizard grimaced at his horrible verbiage, but it was enough to convey the meaning and weave it into the spell’s compulsion for the ghoul to go down the hall and into the stairwell where Murphy waited, his trap baited with faux human flesh.
The ghoul stopped, confused.
The ghoul twitched and didn’t answer.
“Go on.” Garbol pointed down the back hall. “That way.”
As the ghoul trudged away, Garbol swept through the room. No other ghoul was there. He checked the front and east wings, looking in the ice machine nooks, the sitting spaces, and the elevator alcove. As he came back down the east hall, Marcus turned the corner from the front wing.
“I told you to get the hell out of here.”
“Right. But I thought you should know—one of the ghouls just checked out early. He checked all of them out.”
Several things raced through Garbol’s head. The horrific realization that in the heat of battle he’d left the front stairs unwarded after using it to protect Marcus. The full consequences of that being that the alpha ghoul obviously snuck out that way, that he now had free access to everywhere in the hotel, endangering every guest, and that the reservation spell was now lifted, releasing the ghouls to do whatever the hell they wanted and making the hotel staff fair game.
The most urgent matter, though, was the knowledge that the ghoul just down the south hall was free, and as sure as piranhas to a wounded calf, it would charge Marcus and rip him to shreds as he took him down.
“Marcus!” Garbol sprang into a run.
Marcus looked down the south hall and stepped back, his mouth open and his eyes wide. He reached into his pocket and leaned forward. “Come on, you bastard!”
The waiter crouched and punched his hand forward as the ghoul came into view. Liquid spurted from his fist, hitting the ghoul in the face, and the ghoul screamed, fell to his knees, and wiped his eyes.
“That’s right, punk.” Marcus kicked him in the head, sending the ghoul to the ground, but it scrabbled up and flailed around.
Murphy burst through the stairwell doors carrying the bowl of faux human flesh. Garbol ran in between the ghoul and Marcus, parrying a swipe of the ghoul’s claws with his cue stick, then backed Marcus away.
Murphy extended the bowl toward the ghoul. “Here you go, pal. Put your face in this, it will soothe the pain.”
The ghoul steadied himself and peaked through bloody eyes, then grabbed the bowl and shoved his face in the hamburger. And, of course, he started to eat.
After a moment, the ghoul burst into a cloud of dust.
“Told you it would take care of it.” Murphy smiled. “Nothing like some old-fashioned disintegration potion.”
“Works like a charm,” said Garbol.
“Hah!” said Murphy. “Wizard humor.”
Garbol pointed to the black capsule in Marcus’s hand. “What’s that stuff?”
“Pepper spray.” Marcus held it up to show Garbol. “I never leave home without it.”
“Well, I’m adding that to my bag of tricks, but at the moment we’ve got the biggest and baddest ghoul loose in the hotel.”
“Let’s get him,” said Marcus.
“Let’s do,” said Garbol. “Nobody dies today.”
“Let’s hope,” said Murphy.