Read an Excerpt
Other than the fact that her fingers were on a computer keyboard, there was no real evidence that the woman behind the counter would be able to get Ginger and Kindra checked in. Tanned skin contrasted with a sequined zebra-print leotard. Blue feathers sprouted out of the top of her head. Her hair had that recently electrocuted look of a supersized bouffant.
Ginger Salinski strode toward the counter, pulling her rolling suitcase behind her. The suitcase contained twin sets, sandals, and a very crabby cat named Phoebe. Big hair and a skimpy outfit weren’t going to put her off. She was a woman on mission and time was running out.
“I don’t think the AC is working.” Kindra Hall’s face glistened like a solar panel as she turned a half circle in the lobby of the Wind-Up Hotel.
Ginger stopped short and closed her eyes, as if that could shut out yet another piece of bad news. She opened one eye. That would make it only half as bad, right?
People perched on lobby couches, wiping their faces with tissues and sopping wetness from their eyes. Across the expanse of blackand-white checkerboard floor, the bellboy, pushing a luggage rack that was shaped like a Radio Flyer wagon, stopped to unbutton his sweat-stained shirt. The brochure had said that the Wind-Up had a classic toy theme. A stream of moisture trickled down Ginger’s temple. She had been so focused on getting checked in that the tropical temperatures hadn’t affected her until now.
“I’ve seen worse.” Like inside a kiln.
“I’m sure it’s only a temporary thing.” Kindra stood on her toes and bounced.
At least the kid still had some pep and that was a good thing. Of course, the endless stream of lattes Kindra had consumed on the drive from Vegas to Calamity, Nevada, probably had something to do with her exuberance.
“They can’t charge a hundred bucks a night for a room and not have air conditioning.” Perspiration had caused Kindra’s blond hair to lie flat against her head.
Ginger winced. The last thing she needed was to be reminded of the cost of this hotel. She had never paid that much in her life. She could always find discounts and coupons, but not for the Wind-Up. She reminded herself that the best deal, at the expense of relationships, was not a good deal. They needed to be at the Wind-Up so her husband could network.
Ginger cleared her throat. “Let’s get Earl checked in so he keeps his booth at the Inventors Expo. We’ll go up to our rooms and wait for Suzanne and Arleta. At this point, I could sleep in a sauna.”
The woman with the showgirl look and poufy hair glanced up from her keyboard, batting blue eyelashes. “Yes, can I help you?” Thick stage makeup coupled with the heat gave her features a melting-wax quality.
“Are you…are you the one who checks us into the hotel?” Or maybe I have fallen down a rabbit hole.
The woman slammed a fist on her hip. “For now. I am afraid the regular help has quit. No surprise there.” Her booming voice almost overpowered her loud outfit. She leaned over the counter as though sharing a confidence, but spoke at an even higher volume. “Our illustrious owner, Dustin Clydell, has alienated yet another employee. I told him not to blame her for the AC problem. He didn’t listen to me when we were married; he doesn’t now. I don’t know why I keep hoping.” She pointed at her chest and nodded. “So who gets stuck with the admin duties? You guessed it. Good old, dependable Tiffany.”
“We’re in a little bit of a time crunch.” Kindra’s voice was apologetic, barely above a whisper. “We need to get checked in to reserve her husband’s spot at the Expo.”
Tiffany wiped her temple and a line of dark brown extended from the corner of her eye to her hairline. "Oh, sorry, honey.” She put her hands on the keyboard. “I just needed to vent. This AC mishap is only the tip of the iceberg. This place is going down like the Titanic, baby.” Tiffany stopped typing and turned. She waggled alternating fingers in the air like dueling pistols. “He just better give me the alimony he owes before this ship sinks.”
Ginger clutched her chest. Titanic metaphors were not a good choice at this point. “Please, we just need to get checked in.”
“I’m so sorry. I did it again.” Tiffany tilted her head side to side. “Yak yak yak, that’s all I do. I’m sure you folks have enough to deal with already.”
Understatement of the century.
“You don’t need to listen to me bellyache.” Tiffany placed her fingers back on the keyboard. “See, I’m being good.” She mimed tapping the keyboard with alternating fingers. “Focus, Tiffany, focus. What did you say your name was?”
“I’m Ginger Salinski. My husband, Earl, is registered for booth 29 at the Inventors Expo. Our contract said that we had to be here by three o’clock Thursday or our spot would be given to someone on a waiting list.” She pointed to the clock on the wall behind Tiffany. 2:48. “And we made it.” Took almost an extra day, but we made it.
“You sure did, sweetie.” Tiffany clicked away at the keys. “Let me just get this printed out, so you can sign it.” Ginger leaned back on her heels and stood up a little straighter. With everything that had gone wrong, at least Earl would have a shot at getting attention for his invention. Today was the first full day of the convention, so they hadn’t lost that much time.
Kindra leaned across the counter. “We reserved two rooms. One of them should be under our friend’s name, Suzanne Thomas.”
Tiffany held up a finger. “Just one moment, dear.” She bent closer to the printer, as if listening for sounds of operation. “I can only do one thing at a time. I’m not really a clerk. I just play one on TV.” She laughed at her own joke, causing the feathers on her head to shake. “Let me just get this agreement printed up for you. Dustin has been a real stickler about paperwork for the Expo. He’s got a waiting list a mile long, mostly local people who can be here in ten minutes, but a few people are waiting in other hotels. The success of the Expo is the one thing that has gone right.”
A sudden wind blew past Ginger. A rather large woman dressed entirely in lime green materialized. The woman tapped her white plastic sunglasses on the counter. “I want to report a theft. Someone has taken my diamond tennis bracelets, right out of my room no less.”
“I am sure you are mistaken.” Tiffany’s hands shook like aspen leaves. “You probably just misplaced them. This is a nice hotel–”
Ginger’s hand lurched protectively to her own costume jewelry.
“Nice, ha. My friend Gwen has misplaced”–the woman did an air-quote thing with her fingers–“her ruby ring and antique emerald and sapphire brooch last night. I think you know that.” She leaned closer. Her eyes became slits. “Aren’t you the one who took the theft report?”
Tiffany picked up a blank piece of paper and folded it over and over. “I’m…I am helping this woman right now.” Her gaze did a spasm up to the large lime green woman, then back down to her origami project. “Could you come back in just a few minutes?”
The woman exhaled, showing teeth. “I’ll be back. You can count on that.” She waddled away and disappeared into the sweating masses.
Tiffany crumpled the paper in her hand. “I’m sorry you had to hear that.” She tossed the paper toward a garbage can. “We don’t have a theft issue at the Wind-Up.” She blinked rapidly.
Ginger would bet a fistful of two-for-the-price-of-one coupons they had big theft problem.
A cacophony of clinking silverware and idle chatter spilled into the lobby as the doors to the hotel restaurant swung open. The sight of the $3.99 buffet sign cheered Ginger. Such a deal. A tall man with square shoulders sauntered through the door. His clean-shaven face, angular features, and perfectly sculpted hair reminded Ginger of a Ken doll.
A woman barely out of her teens rushed up behind him with a takeout box. She half curtsied as she handed him the leftovers. Ken doll leaned close and whispered something in her ear. The young woman laughed and fanned her neck with her hand, bending toward him flirtatiously.
The man trapped Tiffany in a laser-beam stare and ambled in her direction.