Hotel Edler had two elevators on two sides of the lobby, which were so inconveniently located that when an influx of new customers arrived, the wait time would fluctuate between five to ten minutes if anyone was looking to access the upper floors. Richard had the chance to take note of this the moment he arrived.
Waiting a good five minutes for the elevator after causing a massive scene in the lobby was a rather underwhelming way to come down from his high. It only got more underwhelming as he squeezed into the elevator with at least ten other tourists and their jumbo suitcases, then watched the bellboy wrestle the door until it closed shut on them without cutting off any limbs.
An elevator you had to wait for defeated its own purpose.
A hotel that could not cater to guests on its full capacity was the highest level of garbage. From the first morning, he would wake up, go out to the elevator hall, call the lift, go back to his room, take a shower, remove the curlers from his hair, make sure to leave everything messy on the floor for the cleaning staff to suffer, then walk out to the elevator hall, and still manage to wait.
The elevators in Hotel Edler were just like its employees: tired, old, and unresponsive. Only the signature bad haircut was missing.
Richard secretly liked being trapped in this nightmare, because the place offered all sorts of things to be offended about on a long buffet table, and he could not help but go back for seconds.
The other good part about Hotel Edler was Pablo Garcia, who was often seen hanging around in the lobby with all of his abs and arms intact much to Richard’s delight. This was, of course, mostly because of a business interest, although there was some private aspect to it too, as Richard did have eyes.
(This was strictly something people around him should not know about, however. To the world around him, he had to be all business.)
And, fortunately, Pablo Garcia often seemed out of place and abandoned, although he was surrounded by so many loud and obnoxious fans. They came to the lobby to be nothing more than a nuisance, peeking at him from a distance. Interaction was off-limits, so Pablo was only stared at.
And people who were bored and lonely would hang out with anyone who was willing to keep them company, including rats.
You needed to do nothing more than to say hi to him and he’d be gazing at you already with his grateful puppy eyes. In fact, sometimes he would come to say hi all by himself, too. When he was not hanging around the rather okay-looking (although nothing special) bellboy, who wanted to be everywhere but caught in a conversation with Pablo Garcia.
Even with so much experience around A-list celebrities, it could be hard to strike up a casual conversation with the hottest man in the world. Even if in private he resembled a fluffy, awkward chinchilla more than the macho he painted himself to be in front of the press.
Richard would take a few minutes pacing around the lobby, trying to come up with something smooth and foolproof.
“Nice day, huh?” he said, after some contemplation as he sat down next to him on the sofa.
Pablo pensively stared outside through the huge glass door at the entrance, watching the rain pour down on the pavement. “It seems a little wet.”
“Nice day, inside, in here, at room temperature,” Richard corrected himself.
The glass door swung open and carried in a bunch of tourists, some stray leaves, and a lot of muddy water dragged in with the rollers on suitcases. In a moment, another set of leaves and storm would be incoming: it was not check-in time yet, so the guests would leave as they came after handing their baggage over for safekeeping.
“The hospitality spirit in here is a strong zero,” Richard bellowed, so everyone could hear, even in the back office.
Pablo’s mouth formed a cute little O. “Strong zero?”
That gave him leverage to go on and complain much more about this hotel, which was among his top five favourite things to do this week.
“Just this morning I found a cockroach crawling across my floor.”
“A cockroach,” Pablo repeated, fascinated.
He should have started with that to begin with. Why didn’t he think of this before? Richard reached down in his pocket to get his phone.
“I put the drinking glass over it, so I can show the general manager how disgusting her little hotel is. Do you want to see a picture? It’s a cockroach.”
His phone was not in his pocket, however.
Pablo nodded, still fascinated. “I would like to see a cockroach.”
Well, if Pablo wanted to see it, there was no other way. He stood up and stretched his legs.
“My phone is upstairs. Maybe you should look at the live one instead. Unless it died or escaped.”
As he seemed to be willing to come and check the monster, Richard walked past the unmanned front desk (the bellboy pretended to take seven hours to arrange a few suitcases lining up against the wall) and called the elevator. At the same time, Pablo went for the stairs.
“No way in hell,” Richard called after him.
He walked back, although a little reluctantly. “Why? I always take the stairs. It’s a lot quicker.”
“I didn’t pay for this hotel to take the stairs like desperate people who are not committed enough to go to the gym but think walking up some stairs will lose them some unwanted weight.”
Pablo received that with a serene smile, possibly because he was talking too fast for him to understand every word.
“I didn’t pay for this hotel,” he boasted when the elevator arrived with a cheerful ping.
On the other side of the lobby, the bellboy was still fervently pretending that the suitcases were not standing right, so he could spend some more time lazing about. Richard pressed his floor on the control panel and then hit the close button repeatedly until it started to behave.
Slowly, they began to ascend. Pablo turned his back to the door and entertained himself with the mirror.
“We’d be there already if we walked,” he thought. “It is only ten floors until my room. Where’s yours?”
He turned around and took a look at himself from the back. Richard was too busy being entertained by Pablo in the mirror to answer. Then, the orange lights above them started flickering and with a heavy pull downwards, the elevator stopped between floors five and six. Richard, barely, but kept himself standing.
A few seconds passed but no light returned. As he tried to hit a few more buttons (open, open, close, open, open, first floor, open, first floor), the display screen was left entirely unresponsive.
“Bitch,” Richard said.
And he had to choose this time to leave his phone somewhere.
Pablo softly knocked on the door with the back of his hand a few times. Richard banged on it like crazy, with both fists, and yet the results were the same. Absolutely nothing. Even yelling didn’t help. The emergency call button was left unanswered.
“Just call the front desk,” Richard ordered.
It turned out that Pablo did not find it necessary to bring his phone with him at all times. So they were there, two men, locked into the nightmare of elevators altogether, with nothing left to do.
“It’s fine,” Pablo thought, with a resigned shrug. He sat down on the carpeted floor. “Someone will soon realize that this thing is not working and tell the staff.”
“Except!” Richard felt like pulling all of his hair out. “Everyone is used to the fact that these elevators. Never. Arrive.”
“Right. Right. Do you think we will lose air and die?”
Richard thought about it and waved his arms about around the ceiling to check if any air was coming inside. “I don’t know. Maybe?”
“At least I won’t be alone.”
That did not seem to calm Richard as much as it calmed Pablo. “If I ever wanted to die, it certainly wouldn’t be in the wretched elevator of some dodgy European hotel.”
He kicked the door one last time, for good measure, but it changed nothing about their situation.
Then, he took his jacket off and sat down on it next to Pablo. “Now you wish the absolutely ordinary-looking bellboy was here instead.”
Pablo barely had to think. “No. He is so sensitive, he’d think this was all his fault. Blame himself. Maybe even cry. Not fun to be locked in an elevator with a crying boy.”
“Although, it definitely would be his fault…”
This was not the worst thing in the world, he thought. He tried to talk himself into just looking at this as a business opportunity and trying to make the most out of whatever he got. Richard closed his eyes and tried to come up with a plan. Not about the elevator, more about Pablo.
His head was empty.
Pablo also continued in a silent manner for a while, then he suddenly remarked. “This is a lot different from what I imagined.”
“When you imagine getting stuck in an elevator with someone it’s always so romantic, and people end up kissing and falling in love and... But now I am just kind of cold and it hurts to sit on the floor.”
Richard made a miraculous effort not to get too offended. Instead, he said, through pressed teeth.
“Well, a kiss wouldn’t hurt.”
“What! Never mind.”
When he got over himself a while later, they went on to play rock paper scissors on Pablo’s suggestion. That is, until they got bored after three rounds of Richard trying to cheat.
“It is not always about winning. Take a break,” Pablo scolded him. “Can’t you just play for the sake of spending some time?"
“Sorry, I don’t understand,” Richard claimed and proceeded to try convincing him that he won again.
He liked fun things, but every fun thing had to be connected to making money somehow. The concept of fun without consequences was alien to him. Much like he loved going through life permanently offended by something, he also liked the world around him to believe that he wasted no time playing useless games.
Even so, being closed off in this elevator, possibly forever, offered little more to do.
Later they continued with some classic red hands and ended up mostly tickling each other’s palms as an attempt of taunting until the match eased into some awkward hand-holding with their hands hanging between them.
The air turned heavy.
He suddenly felt himself growing more and more exhausted and considered for a moment that they could actually be running out of oxygen. If Pablo died, he would never fake date Emma, and if he never fake dated Emma, they would also never make more money.
Not that he would care about that, in hell.
Richard imagined hell as a place where vicious demons deliberately pushed you into all sorts of sticky situations that you used to hate during your life – so, not a lot unlike almost every accident he found himself in at Hotel Edler. Consequentially he also imagined that there would be no currency in hell, not a single hundred-dollar-bill to dry his tears up with. Or fan himself, when the hot winds of retribution lick his miserable body, sentenced to unending damnation.
He snapped out of it when he realized he could not have died on the plane to Austria and been mercilessly sent to hell. This could not be hell at all, for he was holding hands with Pablo Garcia.
“Maybe you can stop holding my hand now,” Pablo suggested. “It is getting sweaty.”
Richard wiped his palms in his shirt and pretended that nothing happened. He checked his watch.
“It’s been a while.”
In fact, he had no idea, as he was too busy being outraged to check the time when the elevator crashed on them. The elevator showed no intention to change any time soon, however, and Pablo seemed bored again, so he settled with trying something new.
He had to play some sort of games when he was at university, and pretended to have fun instead of counting money in his head. (Which was, a lot more fun than people.)
Right. He got it. Pablo would love this.
“I have something for you. How about… You say something you’ve never done, and I … do not drink if I’ve done it, because we have nothing to drink here.”
“A bit confused about everything that you just said, but okay. Let’s play.”
Richard stared at him for a while. “I know. I say something I’ve never done, and if you have, you take a piece of clothing off.”
“What? No. If I did it, I will just say it.”
“Right,” Richard agreed, although it defeated the purpose. “Adults do not play in run-down, haunted elevators.”
Pablo opened his mouth and then closed it. “What do you mean ‘haunted’?”
“If we will be the first people who died in this elevator, I’ll eat my shirt.”
His shirt looked the least appetizing among all of the things he was wearing, including his fancy brogues, so he was crossing his fingers for at least one dead person to come through. This hotel had been here for god knows how long, at least one person was doomed to die in its pathetic elevator.
People could starve to death during the journey between the ground and top floors. Richard used this game to be able to complain further about Hotel Edler, as never has he ever stayed at such a disgusting piece of garbage, met such disgustingly incompetent people, drank such disgustingly unsatisfying coffee, and the list just went on.
Pablo scratched behind his ear. “They are trying their best,” he thought.
“Their best is way below average.”
“This is more about you than about me but… never have you ever been not rich.”
Richard pressed his tongue against his cheek. “I mean, true, but what sort of game are you playing.”
That was the call for Pablo to launch into an impromptu explanation. He rolled his sleeves up, including the leather jacket he was wearing. Richard could see himself witnessing a photoshoot for some cheap gossip magazine’s cover: Ten Things You’d Like to Ask Pablo Garcia While Trapped in an Elevator.
A dirty, run-down backdrop, juxtaposed to all the glitter and gold Pablo represented. He would personally have the photoshoot in a luxury suite, but no concept is perfect.
“You sometimes meet these people who say things that make you think… oh, you have never been not rich.” He put on a very bad, fake accent, presumably mimicking however he thought Richard sounded. “Things like: I want to talk to the manager, or I’ve never in my life been treated this way, or … this soup isn’t salty enough, bring me a new one.”
Richard’s neck retreated between his shoulders. “That was very specific.”
That was very specific, and definitely not about him.
“You really can use the salt yourself. That is why it’s on the table.” The next moment Pablo smiled: serene and childish. “But for now, I am saying. Just… how do you say? Chill a little, Richard.”
Richard dragged his fingers through his hair. “I’m chill.”
He had never been chill his whole life.
“You know, I am technically here for work because I was invited to the grand opening of the Sports Centre. But if I want to tell you the truth, I just came because I wanted a holiday. I wanted to just not think a bit. Maybe get trapped in some elevators. Have you looked around in Vienna yet? Forgot about work for a moment?”
Richard rolled his eyes. “Please. As if there was anything to see here, I told Emma too.”
“Another reason how I know you have never been not rich is that you cannot stop thinking about making more money even for a second. I have money but I am capable of thinking about other things too. Just keep playing around like a kid. We are trapped in an elevator after all. Nobody will see you.”
He took a deep breath. When the world’s Pablo Garcia told you to take it easy, even if for a moment, you end up considering that he may be right. He kept telling Emma not to act like a child but what if she never knew what he did behind closed elevator doors.
Playing around once cannot hurt.
He had been making money his whole life.
And besides, if he got on Pablo’s good side and could talk him into this collaboration, maybe he can sell his sensational engagement to Emma to the press a while later. So, he would be playing, and by playing, working.
He would only need to convince Pablo that he was acting like a child, and manipulate him into thinking that he won. Then, he could walk away with the money he made out of him later.
Brilliant, Richard thought. Impress Pablo Garcia and get richer at the same time.
“Have you ever tried even? Having fun?” Pablo asked, after what Richard realized was a long, awkward silence, filled with his fantasy of money raining straight on him from the high heavens.
“I tried having fun when I told you to take your shirt off, and you ripped every last bit of fun I was looking forward to having from my poor little hands by saying no.”
Pablo answered with a polite, albeit confused smile.
“Show me your abs,” Richard demanded.
“They are not that special.”
“Show me your abs!”
Defeated, Pablo nodded and proceeded to pull his shirt up for a sneak peek. Richard nodded.
“Hold it for a moment,” he said and tried to take in the sight.
The moment he thought some light would be nice, for the full effect, the lamp on the ceiling flickered, and the elevator began to move upwards with a heavy jolt.
“Thankfully there was nobody inside,” a voice called.
Before they knew it, the door opened, and Pablo, his abs, and Richard looked straight into the face of one (1) insufferable bellboy, the general manager of the hotel, her husband, her son, and several other hotel staff.
Richard’s eyes flicked from the people to Pablo’s abs, then back again. The bellboy launched himself at the close button before any of them could move and removed himself from the elevator. As the door closed on them again, he sent a half-hearted wave in their way.
“Son of a bitch,” Richard thought.
Pablo pulled his shirt down. “We can look at the cockroach now.”
He almost forgot about that. In fact, his priority would be going straight down to the lobby and spitting insults on the hotel employees. I want to talk to the manager, and all.
But first, a detour to his room to fetch his phone. Maybe recording his yelling would be helpful later.
And the worst thing was? Now people would believe that he was using his elevator time to play getting naked with football legend Pablo Garcia. Which was technically true. (And all the more reason people should not have known.)
Pablo followed him into his room and amused himself with the cockroach until he was looking for his phone.
“Look, it’s still alive,” he remarked and knelt down on the floor to inspect the cockroach from closer. “It’s amazing that it made it up to this floor.”
Amazing would not be Richard’s choice but he blamed it on the language barrier. He fetched his phone from the nightstand and nudged Pablo.
“Come on. I need to yell at the bellboy for ruining my stay.”
“It wasn’t so bad,” Pablo thought. “Although, not very romantic.”
“I have to yell at him by principle.”
This time, he did not resist when Pablo initiated taking the stairs. Although the risk was there that some of the steps would collapse under them, he figured it would be a smaller risk to take than getting stuck for God knew how long again.
He was ready to yell. In fact, he was much more than ready: he was excited. He was looking forward to it. ‘The customer is always right’ was such a beautiful rule, it had to be one of his favourites.
Richard stormed downstairs, with Pablo behind him (pleasantly neutral about their misfortunes), impatient to release all his wrath on the first hotel employee he met.
Everyone was huddling around the elevator, seemingly waiting for their approach.
“Bitches,” Richard addressed them, very politely. “You thought you could lock us into an elevator and get away with it?”
They step away from the elevator all at once, like a frightened flock of birds when a rock is swung at them. The bleach blonde bellboy steps forward, fear and loathing in his eyes.
“We have to apologize...”
Richard cuts him off. “That you must.”
“We have to apologize, but we cannot take responsibility for our guests using the elevators during scheduled maintenance times.”
With a smile pressed through teeth, he points at the A4 paper taped next to the call button. It warns visitors about scheduled maintenance, provisionally between 12:00 and 14:00.
“No matter where I look at it from, this was not here before.” Richard takes a menacing step closer to the boy, then grabs the paper. “And this is hot. Fresh out of the printer.”
The bellboy was just as awful at being a conman as he was at being a hotelier, as this was enough to throw him off completely. Josi Edler had to come to his rescue.
“There is also a notice about the maintenance on our website.”
That much was true: when Josi Edler showed him the screen of his phone, there surely was a sloppy maintenance notice.
“It was not there this morning,” Richard hisses.
Josi opened his arms with a cheeky grin. “Maybe you haven’t checked thoroughly enough. We apologize for the inconvenience but we cannot take responsibility in light of the prior notice.”
Considering all of his options, Richard decided to say the following. “You wiener.”
Believing that their row was over, the employees began to scatter around and go back to their posts, pretending to be busy while not even doing the bare minimum.
Richard pressed his tongue against his cheek and tried to desperately find a way to keep yelling at them.
He felt a hard grip on his shoulder.
“Was this the first time wanting to talk to the manager didn’t work?” Pablo asked, with an amused smile.
For a moment, he envied the indifference with which he approached their miserable situation.
“What’s the long face for?”
Richard repeated himself from earlier, with a deep, frustrated sigh. “The hospitality spirit in this hotel is a strong zero.”
Pablo squeezed a little stronger and it brought tears to his eyes.
“Hey. Do you want to look at some abs?”