The Brown Hotel
Haunted Hot Brown
Copyright © 2017
by Robb Hoff

      The location scouting of the 15th floor of The Brown Hotel in Louisville,
Kentucky seemed to get off to an auspicious beginning. The screenwriter arrived in
the lofty and lavishly ornate hotel lobby clearly enthused by the
scénario (as he
called it) that he was poised to hand-deliver to the filmmaker.

      “Read it and leap,” he smiled then bowed, sticking an edge of the black folder
into the filmmaker’s ribs. “Leap with joy from your 15th-floor shoot to your
Festival de Cannes impact, where you’ll surely leave them speechless with such
haunting splatter.”

      But the élan vanished from the screenwriter’s face when he raised his
sunglasses and gaped at the middle-aged woman across from him as she averted her
eyes from his.

      “Well, that’s just…splendide,” the filmmaker grinned in reply as he took the
black folder. “You think you’ve really got something here? I do love this lush lobby
and the building exterior is quite intriguing, but I’m not quite feeling the pièce de
résistance yet. Maybe we’ll get that on the 15th floor.”

      “A multimillion dollar renovation five years ago truly restored the historic aura
of The Brown,” the woman announced with silvery resonance as she lifted her
agate green eyes to the filmmaker and softly tossed her billowing, dark copper
hair.         
      “The very soul of this building is now transfigured with a rediscovered
vibrancy that revives the boundless vision of the hotel founder and builder.”

      The screenwriter turned his gaze toward the filmmaker, noticing his face flash
flush before his colleague lowered his eyes from the woman’s streamlined visage of
smooth skin hoisted from high cheekbones and dimples that crimped each corner of
her mouth as she plied her glistening, full lips to reflect the tinge of a smile.

      “Well…” the screenwriter began slowly, returning his sunglasses over his eyes,
“I’m certainly all-in for this place. I wrote the script with some previous experience
of this setting in mind. I found it evoked some rather saucy déjà vu.”

      “Like what?’ blurted the fourth person in the room, who was the media
director for the hotel.

      “Well…” the screenwriter again began slowly but this time maintained his gaze
on the face of the woman cowering somewhat in front of him, “something akin to a
spirit conjured that could stage a rendezvous between an unabashed seductress and
her poor unrequited lover who she devastated with her heartless betrayal of him.

      “Maybe then our spirit conjured here could revive the intimacy the two often
shared together when they felt like they were the only two souls in the universe.”

      “Oh,” was the media director’s reply.

      “Sounds maybe a little too syrupy,” the filmmaker suggested with a teeter of
his hand and a wince. “Maybe not so Hallmarky soulmatish, if you will.”

      “Well…” the screenwriter began even slower this time,“perhaps…instead…it
's
just rich and creamy. I mean, we are at the site where the Hot Brown originated,
after all, and it doesn’t get any more delectably creamy than that.”

      The screenwriter displayed more spunk and flair than it appeared as he
grappled with his recognition of the woman, Angela, who was a public relations
assistant from a firm employed by the hotel.

      "Indeed,” Angela confirmed, lifting her eyes to the filmmaker once again. “The
Hot Brown was created in the hotel kitchen in the 1920’s to satiate the hunger of
the throngs who often converged here at The Brown to dance the night away. The
mouthwatering Mornay sauce that smothers the open-faced serving of bacon and
turkey is definitely as decadent now as it was then nearly a century ago.”

      The filmmaker knotted his brow as he slowly returned his eyes to the woman.
He then noticeably squinted at her with his mouth slightly ajar.

      “You’re seeing it, too,” the screenwriter whispered to him. “She’s an absolute
natural. Beautiful, but hardly an ingénue at this point in life, and captivating
without the dagger edges of a femme fatale – or at least so it seems at first blush.”

      “What are you talking about?” the filmmaker’s voice boomed as he spun to
face the screenwriter, who in turn simply uttered: “Audition her.”

      “Why?” the filmmaker blared even louder.

      “Because she is the one who belongs to this part,” the screenwriter nodded
repeatedly during his answer.

      “But you were the one who wanted the actress we have flying in from L.A.,”
the filmmaker countered. “She should be here in a couple hours.”

      The screenwriter shifted his gaze from Angela to the hotel media director and
perched his sunglasses on top of his head.

      “All right with you and the hotel if we give her a shot to be our silver screen
vixen here?” the screenwriter asked the director.

      “Why not?” the director shrugged before he turned to Angela. “I believe you
listed acting or theater credits on the vita I reviewed about you when we retained
your firm. It’d be great publicity for us if someone with a connection to the hotel
appeared in a film about the hotel.”

      “Do understand that this is just proposed as a short for now,” the filmmaker
clarified for the media director. “There may never be feature-length footage taken
unless we decide to significantly expand the concept with adequate funding in tow,
of course.”

      The screenwriter clearly had more wheels turning than he disclosed. He again
lowered his sunglasses over his eyes and returned his gaze to the public relations
assistant still averting his stare.

      “With that said, “ resumed the filmmaker, “why not audition at the site right
now since we have a working script? It will give us a 15th-floor dry run if nothing
else.”

      “Indeed,” concurred the screenwriter. “An audition is definitely in order, and
the script is in place.”

      “What do you say, Angela?” the media director asked her. “Do you want to
indulge our guests?”

      Angela tossed her wavy, shoulder-length hair before she set her stare squarely
on the screenwriter. “Absolutely. Why not?”

      “We obviously could work out representation and compensation details,” the
filmmaker said,” if your audition leads to anything more than just a fun, unique
experience for the benefit of the hotel.”

      “Very well,” Angela replied without shifting her eyes from the screenwriter,
who was still staring at her behind his sunglasses.

      The director then ushered the party toward an elevator, only to notice that the
elevator suddenly started its descent from the 15th floor.

      “That’s strange,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone was up there today. It’s not a
floor with guest rooms.”

      Strange, indeed, but even stranger still when the uninterrupted descent of the
elevator finished at the lobby with an opened door but no one inside.

      “You know,” the director said, taking a step back. “I really have to handle
some dining issues and reservations before lunch. Please forgive me, but you all can
show yourselves to the 15th floor. I believe Angela knows the way.”

      The filmmaker’s phone buzzed urgently before he plunged his hand into the
pocket of his slacks to retrieve it. He fumbled the phone in his effort to turn it right
side up and read the text he had received.

      “Looks like there are a pair of potential producers at the airport after all,” he
said smilingly. “I have to go meet them, but we’ll be back in time for lunch. Au
revoir.”

      The director departed with a slight bow. The filmmaker turned with a wave
before he, too, left the lobby. The empty elevator awaited its two remaining guests.

      “After you,” the screenwriter offered, gesturing for Angela to enter the
elevator ahead of him as he removed his sunglasses and slid them into the soft case
in his front pants pocket.

      “You can stop it now, Rod,” she snapped at him as he followed her into the
elevator. “They’re both gone.”

      The door shut behind them then the 15th-floor elevator button lit up without
either one of them pressing it.

      “I get the feeling that the hand of fate is at work here, don’t you?” he asked
her.

      “Seems more like something sinister to me,” she replied through a sigh as she
folded her arms across her bloused chest and leaned against the side of the elevator
nearest the floor selection panel. “Like you’re trying to either set me up or pick me
up.”

      “I’d still like nothing more than to pick you up and set you off right here and
now,” he said, pointing to the corner of the elevator next to her.

      “Wouldn’t be too smart,” she glared at him. “There’s cameras in here. We’re
not living in the 90’s anymore.

      “Besides, I’d have no choice but to file harassment charges against you and
seek a restraining order or else my husband would certainly kill us both this time. I
was terrified he was going to kill us before, but he never figured out just how much
I encouraged you to pursue me. You have me to thank for that.”

      “I never meant to pursue you or for anything to develop between us like it
did,” he said, keeping his distance from her. “Still, I don’t think I deserved to get
thrown under the bus quite the way I did either, but I understand you were in
survival mode in more ways than one.”

      “Whatever,” she displayed a yawn then continued. “I’m just glad it’s over
between us now. I really thought I was in deep trouble for months afterwards,
whether from you coming after me in some kind of rage or my husband, even
though we never did actually commit adultery.”

      “Yeah,” he scowled at her, “rage or adultery would’ve been simpler for me,

but the way you spilled your guts to my wife made it sound like I wanted us to
elope to live some kind of Satanic life for debauched Bohemian writers. You really
did demonize me on that front without so much as a hint that you were playing your
part in our little literary affair. Thanks for that pile of…”

      But before Rod could finish, the two of them were jarred by the violent launch
of the elevator upward.

      “What the…” Angela gasped, bracing herself in a corner.

      “Looks like somebody wants us to change the subject,” Rod blared as he
braced himself in the corner opposite her.

      The elevator surged faster and faster with each floor passed until it seemed like
there was no chance that it would slow enough in time to stop at the 15th floor.

      But it did stop, jerking to such a halt that their feet lifted from the floor for a
harrowing moment.

      Then the door opened.

      “You know,” Angela began as she stuck her head out of the elevator to peer
down the hallway, “I’m really not sure where we’re supposed to go.”

      “I have no idea where to go at all,” Rod admitted before he pointed to the
hallway floor outside of the elevator door and shouted: “Look!”

      One footprint of plaster dust and then another started to track away from the
elevator down the hallway. The two of them eased out into the corridor and trailed
the lead footprint at a distance. After cautiously making their way along the
hallway, the two stopped when a final footprint materialized and a hallway door
creaked open.

      “We dare enter,” Rod said, leading the way for Angela.

      As he crossed the threshold, she stopped in the hallway. He reached back and
took her hand, guiding her into the room filled with covered furnishings except for
a lace-covered table in the center of the room upon which a tall candle glowed
behind an open dish steaming at the table center. There were also two place settings
of just a plate and silverware and two clear glasses of iced, dark-colored drink.

      “That smells like a Hot Brown,” Angela’s voice trembled.

      “How is any of this possible?” Rod breathed aloud.

      “You doing this, aren’t you?” Angela turned to him scowling before she
repeatedly poked his chest. “You’re trying to get back at me, aren’t you?”

      “No,” he groaned then snatched her by her slender forearm.

      She glared at him, jerking to shake free from his clutch until a sudden gust
surged between them. The swirling air then jolted the table, disturbing the lace
tablecloth before it snuffed the candle flame. She stopped her resistance and he
released her as they both turned toward the table.

      “Well,” she began wide-eyed, “it’s not like we haven’t shared cordial meals
together before.”

      “True,” he concurred before he stepped to the table and pulled out one of the
chairs for her to sit in. “Whatever is going on now, we might as well make the best
of it.”

      The door creaked before it slammed shut behind them then the candle flame
flickered back to life. Angela sat before Rod maneuvered a square of the Hot
Brown onto each of the plates. When he sat, she pointed to his beverage.

      “You try yours first,” she said.

      “Oh, that’s right, I forgot” he sneered at her. “It’s all right if I get killed to test
your waters for you.”

      “You know how I felt about you,” her voice quivered. “I told you that last
night we were together that I was attracted to you in every way when you asked me
if I was and I meant it. You knew that I cared about you, too, but that doesn’t mean
I was at all prepared to run off with you and leave everything and everyone in my
life behind – no matter how desperate I was to write.”

      “I know,” he sighed. “It’s just getting hard for me to remember that you did
actually like me once upon a time after the way everything blew up in my face
because of your guilt and fear or whatever it was that caused you to discard me the
way you did.”

      “It was you who caused it,” she glared at him in return. “Everything was fine
until you freaked me out with your bizarre conversation about divorce and dying.
What did you really expect me to do?”

      “Let’s just drop it,” he said before he sipped from his glass. “Tastes like I've
been served an Arnold Palmer.”

      “Hope mine’s not,” she muttered before she sipped from her glass. “Actually,
mine is just unsweetened tea.”

      The two took their first bites of the Hot Brown then drank again from their
glasses.

      “I’m so sorry,” he paused from eating to say as he wrenched his face to the
verge of tears. “I never meant to cause you any turmoil.”

      “Don’t worry about it anymore,” she sighed. “We gained from knowing each
other for the time we did and that’s a good thing, right?”

      The two then genuinely smiled at each other for the first time since their
unexpected reunion. They kept their subsequent comments to each other at a
surface level as they ate their Hot Brown together, remarking about the savory
flavor of the sauce, the crispiness of the bacon, and the complement of the turkey
to the Hot Brown whole.

      Between bites, they also shared the latest about their respective adult children,
and they paused from eating altogether at times to remark about a book or a movie
that they knew would interest them both. Their candlelight lunch at the 15th-Floor
shoot location proceeded smoothly with gentle tone and real affection shared
between them, but once Rod swallowed his last bite of Hot Brown and washed it
down with his last gulp of drink, she knew he was about to say something that
might ruin the ambiance.

      “This all just reminds me that every day gets harder for me to trudge through
without you in my life,” he confessed to her. “I just miss you so much – still after
an entire year has passed. I know you probably didn’t fall for me quite like I fell
completely in love with you, but I hope for your sake that you didn’t grieve our loss
anywhere near as much as I did because I’m really just a shell of a man now trying
to stretch out his miserable existence in a sequence of shambles.”

      “I’m just not wired to allow myself to feel that way,” she said softly as she
smiled and brought her hand across the table to meet his. “But that doesn’t mean I
didn’t care about you then or don’t care about you now. It’s just that there’s really
nothing permanent that either one of us can do about it now. You just have to let
me go all the way.”

      “Believe me,” he began with a slight squeeze of her hand, “if I knew you were
working here, I would’ve never planned to stick around. I would’ve given up the
script and split because seeing you just utterly breaks my heart all over again.”

      “Sorry for that,” she squeezed his hand in return. “But I’m glad you came and
stayed all the same. I really do miss you, you know. I found you fascinating and the
way you look at me is like I’m the most amazing and beautiful woman to ever grace
this planet. I really do appreciate that. It still warms me inside all over.”

      “Well, if you ever want to play the part of the only woman in my life,” he said
as he looked into her eyes and brought his other hand to their held hands, “I’ll
always be here waiting for you to make me yours for the rest of our lives.”

      “I know,” she said, tears trickling down her cheeks. “Maybe some day, maybe
tomorrow, but just not now.

      “Still, it does feel good to know my audition won you over so well.”

      Watching all of the people go by as I have done for nearly a century now from
“The Magic Corner” vista of this amazing place, I can tell you that I have never
seen two people so happy together who had to exile themselves from each other so
thoroughly just to continue to function in this world. It became clear to me that he
had the opportunity at some point to make her an offer she couldn’t refuse to
choose him and a new life together, but he failed somehow to win her heart
entirely. He had accepted that he would pay the price for that shortcoming for the
rest of his life if necessary.

      Sad though it may be, there’s still that core of joy that shines through their
shared memory of each other, now that I see them together in this light. Such a
sight kindles my nature of hospitality to the point I feel obligated to give them one
swan-song moment together that they both can privately cherish for the rest of their
lives.

      As I light my cigar from the candle at their table and they crinkle their noses at
the detection of its leafy smoke scent, I play the music that I know they need to
hear, Granted the number wasn’t released until some years after my own death, but
I understand it is the right song for them to hear all the same.

      “Good God!” Rod bellows as he springs to his feet. “I hear The Rolling Stones
song
Angie.”

      “My God, I hear it, too,” Angela’s voice quavers before she buries her face in
her hands.

      “Shhhhh,” Rod tries to console her, “It’s all right, Angie. Everything will be all
right, you'll see. We just need to have our first and last dance to your song, that’s
all.”

      “OK,” she sniffles once she removes her hands from her face and casts her
glimmering green eyes toward him in her search for more confirmation.

      Rod extends his hand to her and she takes it. He guides her up from her seat
and grasps her other hand. The two of them hold hands and delve into each other’s
eyes, embracing the desire that pulses between them.

      “I’ll always love you,” he whispers to her before he brings his lips to hers for
their first real kiss.

      “I know,” she manages to say once they release their lips. “Let’s love each
other with all of our hearts for this one dance before we really do have to bid each
other adieu.”

      Their dance begins, and I leave them to their moment, together and at some
semblance of peace finally in each other's arms.

      So I guess that’s a wrap, or maybe just a haunted Hot Brown.

      At least I got to play my part.

      Yours truly forever.
      JGB