I have never been inside The Benson hotel before. Looking back, it’s kind of weird since I’ve lived in Portland for my whole life, but I guess there are a lot of things in your city you never see. Not the way the tourists do.
Tonight though, I decided I would be a tourist. Having a camera at my side would certainly help in that pretense. I smile up at the doorman as I make my way up the sidewalk, pausing briefly at the bronze plaque on the ground as I have many times before when walking throughout downtown, and then timidly walk up the steps inside.
“Good evening and welcome to The Benson ma’am,” the doorman says to me, cheery enough in his fancy, gold-gilded uniform. Still, I feel like he’s judging me and what I’m wearing; my Doc Martens still muddy from the morning’s rainfall, my maroon leggings with a hole in them and a scuffed leather jacket. I’m obviously not a guest here, not at one of the most prestigious hotels in the state of Oregon.
I give him a tight smile and walk past him into the revolving doors which sweep me inside. The lobby is surprisingly busy for nine p.m. as there’s a line at the vast checkout counter a few people deep, and the bar/lounge to the right of me is crammed full of swanky patrons swilling martinis. I barely have time to take in the understated grandeur and opulence of the lobby – which totally reminds me of the golden age of Hollywood – before a waving movement brings my attention to the bar again.
In the corner, swilling what can only be a Jack Daniels and Coke is Dex. Actually, he’s not swilling it. Rather, downing it in fast gulps and as soon as he sees he’s caught my attention, he waves the prim waitress over and orders another one.
I swallow hard, feeling all sorts of strange feelings rush up in my body. I’m nervous, I already was, but I’m excited too and though my breath catches slightly when I see him, it eventually flows out all hot, ragged and sparkling with nerves.
I haven’t seen Dex since we parted ways at the airport in Albuquerque. It wasn’t long ago, but it still makes me feel like I’m going on a first date all over again. Not that we ever were dating and not that (with his girlfriend Jenn) we ever would. But I can’t help the way I feel. Stupid. And in love with my partner.
I smile, broad and completely natural for him, and make my way to where he is sitting, at a small, white clothed table just big enough for two. Before I reach his side, I wonder if he’s going to hug me and before I can finish the thought, he stands up, stepping around the table. I am quickly enveloped into his arms. He smells like Old Spice and a bit like the hand-rolled cigarettes he picked up in New Mexico. His arms are strong and firm around my back. The hug is close, tight and genuine. I relax slightly, wishing we were somewhere else and not this busy lounge where people watch us with disinterest.
I am the first to pull apart, though I could have stayed in his arms all night. I give him the once over now that I am up close.
He looks pretty much as he did in New Mexico. The cuts on his face from the shapeshifter’s attack are faded; his moustache has been trimmed, almost gone, as is the scruff beard under his chin. His eyebrow ring glints from his black brow. His cheekbones are high, perhaps higher than before. I take another step back and see that he’s lost a little bit of weight. It shows in his face most of all.
“Checking me out again?” he says, his voice low, his lips snaking to the side in a smirk. There’s something off about him, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s because, despite the closeness of the hug, there’s an awkward distance between us, like we aren’t sure how to act around each other now that the skinwalkers and Maximus and sharing a bed for a few nights are gone. We both almost died in New Mexico – I know it had an impact on us, but it doesn’t seem to have any bearing here in the swanky Benson hotel.
And then there are his eyes. Dex’s eyes are his focal point, the part of him that wins people over or drives them away. Dark chocolate, enigmatic and emotive. Sometimes they are ruthless, sometimes seductive. They are a mystery as much as he is and the one thing I can’t help from drowning in over and over again.
But here, tonight, they are clouded. No, that’s not quite it. Not clouded but subdued. The sparkle and zest that roam in them, no matter what his mood, are gone. They are handsome, beguiling eyes but not his.
I think back to Red Fox and how he had gone so long without his anti-psychotic medication that he began to actually feel again. It was scary for him, no doubt (and for me, let’s not kid ourselves) but in the end…he was free. Or so I thought. Now it seems that sparkle and life, the manic highs and lows, are gone. As destructive as they were, they are an important part of him.
“Sorry,” I mutter to myself, dropping my eyes quickly to the table just as the waitress comes by and puts down his drink.
“What would you like, Perry?” he asks me. I look up at him and the waitress. Her name tag states her as Prudence. She has white hair and a friendly smile but a stance that says I better be quick with an answer.
I don’t drink normally, especially not on the job – which is what I am doing here tonight with Dex – but I say, “A glass of the house red, thanks.”
It’s the cheapest and will relax my nerves. Prudence leaves with my order after Dex gives her a quick wink. He then turns to me as we sit down.
“So how are you, kiddo?” he asks, peering at my face, trying to read me before I say anything. “Is it nice having me in your neck of the woods again?”
“It’s just nice to see you again,” I say honestly. With Dex living in Seattle and me in Portland, I only ever see him when we film. And in the between time, I miss him.
A blush starts to creep up my neck. I can feel it.
He gives me a smile that reaches his eyes and shows perfect teeth that are quite white for a smoker. “Well, it’s nice to see you. Too bad you’re not bunking with me tonight at my motel.”
I give him a sharp look, not sure if he’s kidding or not.
He smiles again, almost leering. “I’ll probably be shaking in my boots after tonight with only my pillow to hug.”
The waitress comes back and gives me my wine. He gives her the same kind of smirk. This is how I know he’s messing with me.
I roll my eyes. “So what is our plan for tonight anyway? Are we just going to sit here and drink and wait for the ghosts to show up?”
“Patience, Perry,” he says and takes another gulp of his drink. He gestures to the wine and nods at it. “Have some of that and relax.”
I take a sip of the acidic merlot and look around me. As gorgeous and old-fashioned as the hotel is, there are so many people about, and I can’t imagine how on earth the place could be haunted. But apparently it is. In fact, Portland has a few ghost tours that come around and poke their heads in the hotel a few times a week. I doubt anybody ever sees anything, though.
“Are we the first ghost hunting show to come inside here?” I ask Dex.
He coughs on his drink and shakes his head. “Fuck no. We’re a bit behind on this one. I think just about every ghost hunter has been in this hotel at some point or another.”
“Do they ever find anything?”
He gives me a wry look. “What do you think? Of course not.”
“What makes you think we will?”
He smiles again and reaches over with his hand to pat me softly on the head. “Because I’ve got you, kiddo. You’re my little ghost bait.”
I think back to Red Fox, to a moment when Dex said I might be offered up as bait to the skinwalkers. The idea bothered me then and it bothers me now. I take a longer sip of the wine this time.
He’s watching my face closely, as usual, and he still keeps his hand there. I’m not sure if he’s trying to comfort me or what. I shoot him a deadly look from the side of my eyes.
“I’m joking you know,” he finally says, his voice less rough, less gravely. “I just mean, well, you know there’s something about you, something that attracts these things. You’re like a secret weapon.”
“Some weapon,” I scoff and look down into the glass, my vision becoming a blur of deep reds. “What’s the point of just attracting these…things? These people? If I could use this…power…whatever it is, for good…that would be a different story.”
He shrugs and takes his hand away, his attention back to his own drink. The back of my head feels vulnerable without his hand there. “You never know. There’s supposed to be a shitload of ghosts in this hotel, maybe you can help one of them.”
I raise my brows at him.
“A shitload?” I repeat. “Where do you get your information, Mr. Foray?”
“Wikipedia. That thing is never wrong,” he says without irony. He looks around him and takes in the scene. “We’re supposed to meet the night manager, Pam, in a couple of minutes. She said she’d find us. She’ll give us a tour of the place; hopefully give us the real story. I want that on film.”
“And what do you want me to do?” I ask. Once again, we’re going into a film shoot more or less blind. And by we, I mean I. Dex always knows what’s going on and I’m always in the dark. I did research The Benson before biking over here and all that, but I have no clue what to do or say. There is no storyboard, no script. We just wing it and I usually end up looking like an idiot.
“Just be yourself. Ask her questions. I’ll film both of you. We’ll wander around the hotel. Then we’ll probably be allowed to go off on our own and do some exploring. I’ll give you the infrared camera this time so we can see if we pick up any hot or cold spots.”
I shiver at that thought. Using the infrared meant we’d be wandering around in the dark. Whether I’m in a lighthouse on the coast or in the New Mexican desert, the darkness still gives me the creeps. Especially now that I know there are things out there that want to hurt me. That know I’m a sort of “bait.”
By the time Pam shows up, I have finished my glass of wine. It has only left me anxious, not relaxed.
Pam is on the overweight side, similar to the way I was in high school, but unlike me, she seems to bustle with confidence. Or bustle with something. Her wide, cheery face gives her the appearance of being younger than she probably is and she speaks a mile a minute.
“You must be Perry and Dex, I recognized you!” she exclaims, beaming at us and holding out her hand. We both give it a quick shake. She points to the name tag on her black suit. “As you can see, my name is Pam. Pam Gupta. I’m the night manager here at The Benson.”
“Thanks for having us,” Dex tells her sincerely, reaching under the table and bringing out a backpack and a camera bag.
“No, thank you,” she says putting extra emphasis on the words. “As soon as you told me who you were, I looked up your ghost show and immediately fell in love with you guys.”
Dex and I exchange a quick look.
“I mean,” she corrects herself and lets out an awkward clip of a laugh, “I was scared witless at the Darkhouse episode and the one in Red Fox but I was so drawn in by you two. You’re just so…so…”
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