Anguished Souls at the Santa Rita

Early morning sun blazed a piercing spotlight through the expansive glass entrance as my head snapped painfully up from my deadened arms. My bleary eyes slammed shut again and my arms; alive with the maddening tingles of receding numbness, were momentarily unwilling to so much as wiggle until the tiny travel alarm I kept beside the switchboard started buzzing. Great, it was time to make the morning wake-up calls, and I really didn’t feel like doing so myself.

I hustled into the tiny kitchen behind the lobby desk to turn on a pot of coffee and discovered that Lydia must have already done so, for a freshly brewed pot awaited my most grateful indulgence. As I sat back at my desk, a steaming cup of caffeine in hand, the swish of the lobby door let in the refreshing scent of morning, and I looked up to greet whoever had entered. But no one had.

These things happened at the Santa Rita.

When I took the job as overnight concierge, they hadn’t said it would be easy. They said it would be interesting. And that it was. I think it’s what kept me spending every Friday and Saturday night there for my last five months of high school.

I’d made two successful wake-up calls (by that I mean the guests hadn’t spewed obscenities at me for granting their request to be awakened, or angrily hung up) when the tantalizing aroma of molasses drifted past.  “Mornin’, Jonesy!” I called to the night janitor/watchman.

“Mornin’, Ma’am,” he answered around an ever-present pipe, as he pushed an enormous dust mop across the gleaming lobby floor and I giggled. It tickled me that he called me that.

Elderly and quite sprite, Jonesy had worked at the Santa Rita more than thirty years and had told me all about the signs, as he called them. Though Lydia always scurried from the room, I hung around and listened, spellbound, when he’d speak in a voice as smooth and rich as the smell of his tobacco.

“Lydia’s got coffee on already,” I told him, and he stopped in his tracks and cocked his head.

He stepped up to the counter and winked a sea-green eye “Ah, I expect she’s running late today, Ma’am.  I ain’t seen her.” He tipped his grey fedora and resumed his dust-mopping.

“You’re kidding, right?”

He came around the counter and picked up my empty cup “No, Ma’am.” He said before shuffling into the kitchen. I stared at the silent switchboard as he got himself a cup of coffee and refilled mine. He knew just how I liked it.

“Maybe I sleep-walked and turned it on myself” I mused. I’d set it up for the morning when I’d started my shift the night before, so that had to be what happened.

Jonesy leaned against the wall, looking much like Morgan Freeman did in the Unforgiven and took a sip, “Maybe.” He shrugged

These things happened at the Santa Rita.

Over time, Jonesy told me about the signs, eight in all, that were what he considered proof that the building was inhabited by disquieted spirits (are they ever not disquieted?). I thought he had a real convincing list of reasons why the "gone" might not be.

After a nine-year-old had been seen swimming in the pool all day, he was found inexplicably drowned at the bottom, early the next morning. His parents; awakened from a long night of drinking, had not been aware of his whereabouts and promptly went to the roof together and jumped, landing just feet from where their son was pulled from the pool.

Several years later a prominent businessman celebrating his thirteenth wedding anniversary shot his wife to death after an argument and called room service for another bucket of ice before hanging himself in the elevator shaft.

It was a few years after that (this one still gives me chills) when three young men, in town for  a seminar on Native Americans, were found dead in their rooms from “apparent sudden heart attacks.”

Not long after I worked there, the building was razed, and word got out that the Santa Rita Hotel had been built over an ancient Indian burial ground. I don’t know if Jonesy ever knew how right he probably was. I hope so.

Spirits of the Southwest