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As elevator operator, Joe thought he knew the secret in Room 402. There was one angle he never suspected.

"Night Shift"

by L. I. Pentell 



Vol. 10, No. 11, January, 1953

     "Fourth floor. Watch your step, Miss."
     The doors of the elevator slid apart and its lone passenger made a hurried but graceful exit.
     Joe, the operator, slumped against the door frame, folded his arms and followed with half-closed eyes the slim brunette's progress down the carpeted hotel corridor.
     Poor kid, he thought, even as he admired the trim turn of her ankles, the unaffected rhythm of the suitclad hips. Nothing wrong with the girl's face, either, he remembered. Tonight wasn't the first time he had seen it. This babe was beautiful. Awful young, though...Poor, starry-eyed, damn-fool kid.
     Joe yawned and glanced at the signal board inside his elevator. Nobody wanted up or down at the moment, although it was past midnight and his was the only car still operating. He would wait. He knew this babe's destination and was pretty sure she would be back shortly for a return trip to the lobby.
     She had stopped at 402 all right, he noted. It was the last door at the end of the hall. He saw her lift a black-gloved hand and knock, so lightly--timidly, he wondered--that the sound of it could not be heard.
     Joe snorted, kicked at an empty cigarette package near his feet. 402 and his women! A different dame every time he was in town. Sometimes a different one every night, even. The guy was an ex-pro football player and looked it--yard-wide shoulders, all the rest of it. And his years on the gridiron hadn't marred those lean, rugged features the dames all went crazy for. He was a salesman now, with a big sporting goods company, and Joe supposed his gift for gab came in handy with the dolls, too.
     Joe shrugged his own thin shoulders inside the snug-fitting uniform of dark red gabardine. Not that he envied the guy, he told himself. He had a right pretty wife of his own. But he couldn't help it; it griped him to see all these gals--some of them just kids like the babe at his door now--making fools of themselves over the big blowhard.
     The girl had rapped twice more, each time more loudly. Joe stepped back into his car. Sure enough, after one more extra-loud knock, she gave up and returned slowly to the elevator. Faint surprise tinged the disappointment on her face when she found the car waiting.
     Suspecting, perhaps, that she had been watched, she remarked with some embarrassment, "Nobody home, I guess."
     "Maybe he's asleep," Joe said.
     She didn't buy that. "Most likely." She permitted herself a slight smile. "I knocked hard enough to wake the dead." She stepped inside the elevator. "I'll wait in the lobby."

     Joe's hand went automatically to the control, but he was reluctant to start down. He visualized her in the lobby, waiting. For what? For nothing. Getting the come-on from the lobby wolves. And her not even out of high school yet--he would be on that. Such a little thing, too. Shorter, even, than Joe himself.
     He told himself not to get softheaded about it; he asked himself what he was--a Boy Scout looking for good deeds to do? Hell, it was none of his business.
     But aloud he said, "I could let you in the room with a passkey, if you'd rather wait there."
     Lashes fluttered over the kid-blue eyes; a faint flush crept up her cheeks. Easy to tell she was new at this sort of thing.
     With a light, nervous laugh, she asked, 'Do you always let strangers into guests' rooms around here?"
     "He won't mind," Joe said dryly. "I've done it for him lots of times."
     Maybe that would be enough to send her on her way? He saw her eyes go dark for just a instant; then they focused with new determination and Joe thought he could read her mind: Of course there've been others. But now it's different. He said so.
     "Besides, you're no stranger, Miss," Joe ventured to add when she remained silent. "I've seen you and--" he jerked his head towards 402 "--him together, several times lately. In the lobby, in the coffee shop downstairs."
     "Fact is, my wife was talking about you two just this afternoon." He had forgotten this until now, but it was true enough. "Asked me if I thought it was serious between you two...You know married women," he added with a laugh, "always matchmaking."
     The girl looked puzzled. "Your wife?"
     Joe pulled back his shoulders. "She's a waitress in the coffee shop," he explained. "Maybe you've noticed her. The blonde?"
     "Oh yes, I remember! She's awfully pretty."
     Joe had expected the surprise in her voice. People were always flabbergasted to learn that he, the runt who ran car number one on the night shift, had managed to win himself such a doll.
     But now he found himself wanting to do more than just surprise this youngster; for some reason he wished he could really impress her. He would like to grab her wrist, hard, and say with authority, "Not all dames are taken in by bulging muscles and collar-ad mugs. Little guys like me--with faces nobody looks at twice--sometimes we can be pretty important, too." But who was he to convince her it was so?
     The girl was talking again--sparring for time, maybe--saying something about how she hadn't realized hotel employees took any interest in the guests.
     Joe's smile was one-sided. "I know. We're like the fixtures to you. Me, now--I'm just part of this elevator."
     He thought, if only his job were a big, important one. The he could speak out. And maybe next time she was on the chase for Mr. Right, she would look beneath the surface.
     "No, really," the girl protested," I didn't mean that!"
     If he were the hotel manager, now. Or the house dick.
     Something clicked in his mind. Why not put on an act? The kid would probably fall for it.
     He cleared his throat, made his tone low and confidential. "Matter of fact, Miss, there's more to my job than meets the eye." He scanned the corridor briefly, in true conspiratorial style, then lifted his uniform coat to disclose a gun-butt, protruding from his hip pocket. "any trouble around here, nights, I'm the boy who takes care of it."
     The girl swallowed. her eyes widened with respect. "You mean, like a--a house detective?"
     Joe nodded. "But keep it quiet. Nobody's s'posed to know."
     "Oh, I will!"
     The gun was the house dick's right enough. O'Reilly had slipped it to him a scant half-hour before. He was going to pay a little call on the merry widow up on nine, the cop had confided, nudging Joe. "Got her convinced I'm a big business exec. Don't want to scare the little lady," he had explained, "so keep this for me for about an hour, huh?"

     The girl stared at her watch now, bit her lip. Finally she made her decision. "About my waiting in the room--" she colored again, just a little "--I guess it's all right, if you say so...It would be fun to surprise him," she finished with a self-conscious grin.
     He'll be surprised all right, Joe agreed silently, as he accompanied her back to 402.
     Facing the door, he hesitated only a moment, then plunged the key and twisted it, flung the door wide.
     The girl, who had been digging in her purse--probably for a tip for him--had stepped across the threshold before the sordidly intimate scene met her eyes.
     Inside the room, a woman gave a strangled cry and spread shaking hands over her face. The man, fire-eyed, exploded into curses.
     The girl in the doorway stumbled backwards, wheeled and flattened her trembling body against the corridor wall to the right of the open door. Her eyes closed. Joe found himself in a similar position on the opposite doorway. He felt like something slimy had just crawled over him.
     For a long moment there was no sound but that of a hoarse, piteous sobbing from the room's feminine occupant. The came the thud of a big man's feet, the slamming of the door. Joe and the girl remained motionless.
     Finally, she said, in a dazed monotone, "You knew. You knew there was--someone--in there with him."
     Joe stared at the carpet beneath his feet. "I passed the door before--heard 'em laughing." His words were as flat, as toneless as her own.
     "You wanted me to know what kind--" She choked. "I suppose I ought to thank you."
     Joe said, "I shouldn't have done it."
     The girl stepped close to him, touched his arm. "You won't get in trouble, will you? I mean--you being a detective--"
     Joe flung her hand aside. "I wish I hadn't done it!"
     But he had. And suddenly he wanted the kid out of this, away from the hotel entirely, home in bed where she belonged. "Come on, " he barked, "I'll take you down."
     Obediently, she matched his swift pace to the elevator.
     Inside the car, she spoke again. "Please. Don't feel bad about this. He doesn't mean anything to me. Not really. By tomorrow--" she tried hard for a laugh--"or next week anyway, I'll have forgotten I ever knew him!"
     "Sure," Joe said, wishing she would shut up. "Sure you will."
    The light opposite number nine on his signal board blinked on; there was an urgent, accompanying buzz. That would be O'Reilly, wanting down. Wanting his gun. Well, he would just have to wait.
     The girl stepped from the car into the nearly-empty lobby and turned. The blue eyes were older, much less gullible than they had been fifteen minutes ago.
     Joe muttered a hasty "Night, Miss," and closed the doors on her wan smile, her softspoken answering "goodnight."
     As the car lifted, he tried to picture the girl's pretty face when she learned the full truth about the little surprise party he had engineered this night. When she found out he had been as stunned as any of them, finding that the woman in 402 was--his wife.
     Because the kid would know all about it when she read tomorrow's papers Would it make headlines, he wondered? They might even run his picture. Sure they would. After all, it wasn't every day an ex-Big name in the sports world was found murdered...

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