Thursday, November 29, 2012
Camden Corners: The Merryweather - The First Guest
The First Guest
It was a beautiful day in June when The Merryweather opened for business. The grand opening had been held the previous evening and was a successful introduction of the remodeled facility now known simply as The Merryweather.
Holly Mackenzie and Tracy Robinson were going over every detail of their reservation list as they awaited the arrival of some of the most prominent people in the state. They had invited a number of political figures as well as television personalities. The girls were amazed that many of them accepted their invitation. Almost every guest room would be filled for the weekend. They didn't expect their guests to be arriving until later in the day and closer to the time of the evening newscast. Tracy and Holly knew most of the invitees were more anxious to promote themselves than promote The Merryweather, but they didn't mind. They would enjoy the publicity too.
The entire staff was circled around them. Every one from the head chef to the bell boys and housekeepers were hired because of the enthusiasm they showed for The Merryweather and working with people.
“We may not be a five star hotel and we may never be, but we will always strive to fulfill that goal. Every guest and visitor to The Merryweather will be greeted with a smile and a friendly inquiry as to their well being.” Tracy said when a new employee was being considered for a position in the hotel.
Herbert Bradley held the article his wife had cut out of the newspaper just a few weeks ago. He remembered her exact words. “Herbert, I know we have never been extravagant in all of our fifty seven years together but wouldn't it be nice to see this place in Camden Corners called The Merryweather? The pictures look so inviting. Look at this, they have named the suites after former residents of the town. I have counted the money in the cookie jar and we have enough for a weekend at The Merryweather. Herbert, do you suppose we could be frivolous just this once?”
“Bessie, my dear, you know I am not a wealthy man. That money you have saved in the cookie jar is for emergencies, not silly trips to fancy hotels.”
That very night, his beloved Bessie died in her sleep.
Herbert stared at the shiny revolver he had purchased on his way to Camden Corners. In his grief, he thought Bessie would approve of him ending his life in the place she had asked to visit. He tucked the packaged revolver in his duffel bag and pulled his gray 1951 Studebaker coupe under a shade tree in the Merryweather parking lot. He attempted to smooth the wrinkles out of his well worn Robert Hall double breasted brown suit as he walked slowly to the front door of the hotel holding Bessie's cookie jar money tightly in his fist.
“Good morning sir, allow me to carry your satchel for you,” said the cheerful doorman as he reached for Herbert's traveling bag.”
“I am able to manage myself, young man,” Herbert snapped heading toward the registration desk. He glanced back and felt a pang of guilt at his rudeness. “Thank you for asking, young man. I am a man who is accustomed to carrying my own personal belongings and mean no offense.”
“No offense taken, sir, enjoy your stay at The Merryweather,” replied the doorman as he wondered what could be of such importance in that old, worn duffel bag.
Holly noticed the older man as he made his way across the lobby floor. She stepped from behind the counter to greet him. “Good morning sir, how may I help you today?”
“I'd like to rent one of the suites in this establishment. My dear wife read you would be opening today.”
“Yes sir, today is our opening day and you are our first guest. Will your wife be joining you?”
“No, I'll be joining her.” said this strange little man. My name is Herbert Bradley and I will be paying cash for the room. I would like to settle my account. I will not be making any phone calls or ordering room service so I will not be incurring any further expenses.”
“That will be fine, Mr. Bradley. We are expecting additional guests later in the day, however, the Duesenberry Suite is available and I'm sure you will find it comfortable.”
Holly introduced Herbert to Tracy and the other staff members who were gathered around the front desk awaiting further instructions. Herbert didn't remember ever being treated like royalty before. He was just sorry his beloved wasn't there to enjoy all this attention with him. In his mind, he could see Bessie's face beaming as he was escorted to his suite.
“I'm worried, Tracy, Mr. Bradley seems to be hiding something,” said Holly as she looked at his registration information. “He lists Pembroke as his home address. I'm going to call Steve. He know the editor at the Pembroke News. I'll see if he can dig up anything nefarious Mr. Bradley has done.”
Steve answered on the first ring. “Steve Burke.”
“Hi Steve, would you do me a favor and check with the Pembroke News. We have a strange little man who just checked in. He listed Pembroke as his home. I just have a weird feeling about him. Something is not quite right. His name is Herbert Bradley.”
“Anything for you darlin'. I trust your instincts. After all, you picked me didn't you?”
“Steven Burke! You flatter yourself. If anyone picked well in this relationship, it was you who picked me,” Holly laughed.
“I'll get right on it Holly. How are things going there? The crew will be over in a few hours to set up the cameras. Have any of the television stations been there yet?”
“Not yet, that's why I'd like to check out Mr. Bradley. We want publicity but only the kind that will make people anxious to visit our hotel, not drive them away.”
Less than ten minutes later, Steve called back. “Holly, I have some information for you on Herbert Bradley. His wife, Bessie, passed away just about two weeks ago. Seems she was very popular in town while Herbert was known as a skinflint. I spoke to Adele Quinn who knows almost everyone in Pembroke. She said Bessie and Herbert had been married for years. They have no children of their own. Herbert worked as an accountant for the plastics company there. He retired two years ago. The talk in town is that he has money stashed away and holds on tight to the purse strings. Bessie volunteered at the local boys and girls club and was loved by many. Her death came as a shock to everyone in town. It seems the talk of the town was that Herbert refused to spend a dime he didn't have to and when Bessie began complaining of heart pains, he refused to let her see a doctor. Adele had the feeling that last bit was the result of someone's over active imagination. It seems Herbert was still in shock when he closed up his house and left town this morning. Does that help at all?”
“Oh dear, Steve. It answers the question of what Mr. Bradley is intending to do. When I asked if his wife would be joining him, he said no, he would be joining her. The poor man. I can't let him do harm to himself and especially on the day The Merryweather opens for business.
“Thanks Steve, that is a big help. I'm going to see what I can do to get Mr. Bradley the help he needs before he does something foolish. Wish me luck.”
Holly rushed into the kitchen. She grabbed a tray, put a freshly baked raspberry Danish on a plate with a hot cup of coffee. “Put this on my bill, Tony and charge me for the vase of flowers on table number three.”
Holly took the small vase of flowers off the table and climbed the stairs to the second floor not wanting to waste any time waiting for the elevator. She met Tracy just before she entered the stairwell. “Something is not right with Mr. Bradley. I'm going to see if I can talk to him and dissuade him from doing anything rash.”
“Good luck Holly, I think we have everything under control down here. I'd hate to think our first guest is an unhappy one.”
Holly quietly knocked on the door to the Duesenberry suite. She was thinking how appropriate it was that Mr. Bradley was in this room. The first time she saw him she thought of Professor Melvin Tanner. She had read the Camden Corners' journals so many times she felt as though she knew every resident of town from so long ago. Professor Tanner was married to Kate Duesenberry's grandmother. The couple had met and married in their later years.
Herbert Bradley was lost in thought and didn't hear the knock on the door. He had been having a conversation with his Bessie.
“Herbert Bradley, what a lovely surprise. You brought me to this grand hotel for the weekend.”
“Yes, my dear, I hope you are enjoying it.” Herbert whispered to the urn he held tightly in his arms.
“Oh yes, Herbert. I love the room we are in. The beautiful mahogany four poster bed is so elegant with these fine quilts and luxurious comforters. The fireplace is like nothing I have ever seen before. I'm sorry it is so warm out today, I would like to see a roaring fire in it.
“Why are you crying, Herbert? I asked if we could visit The Merryweather for the weekend and here we are.”
Herbert snapped out of his reverie when he heard Holly's voice calling him. “Mr. Bradley, are you in there? Is everything alright? Holly was beginning to wonder if she was too late when she heard Mr. Bradley weakly call out.
“I'm quite alright, ma'am. I would like to be left alone, if you don't mind.”
“I won't disturb you for long Mr. Bradley. You are the very first guest of The Merryweather and I wanted to make sure everything was satisfactory.”
“Everything is fine. Thank you for asking, now if you don't mind, I really do wish to be by myself today.”
“Please open the door and let me put this tray down. It is getting terribly heavy and I'm afraid the coffee is cooling off quickly.”
Herbert grumbled as he set the urn with Bessie's ashes on the mantle. “I'm sorry Bessie, dear. This pesky girl won't give up. If I don't open the door to her she will just continue to disturb us. I promise to get rid of her once and for all.”
Herbert opened the door. “Miss, I don't want any coffee or Danish. The flowers are very pretty. I'm sure Bessie will enjoy them. Please put the tray down. I don't wish to take up any more of your time.”
Holly ignored his request and looked around the room wondering how Bessie could enjoy a bouquet of flowers when she was dead. She then spotted the urn on the mantel.
“Tell me about Bessie, Mr. Bradley. I'm sure you miss her terribly.”
With the mention of Bessie's name out loud, he realized he hadn't spoken to anyone about her since the day she died. The people who knew and loved her were grieving together and left him out. Maybe it was his fault because he wasn't able to show any emotion at her brief funeral.
“Ah, miss, My Bessie was the love of my life. Her heart was so big, maybe that's why it gave out on her. Everyone loved Bessie. She had the brightest smile and the heartiest laugh you have ever heard. I often wondered why she married an old curmudgeon like me.”
“I'd guess your Bessie saw that twinkle in your eye. Did you know your eyes sparkle when you mention her name?” Holly said as she glanced toward the nightstand. She noticed a paper bag with something shiny inside of it. If that's a gun, she thought to herself, I'm going to have to find some way to get it away from this poor man.
“Do they really sparkle? I miss her so. It feels good to say the words. Bessie was always so strong. I don't remember her having so much as a cold in all the years we were married. She never asked me for anything except her desire to visit this hotel for a weekend. I told her we shouldn't spend our money so frivolously. She accepted my answer with a smile. I did feel guilty about saying no to something she really wanted. As I lay in bed that night, I thought better about it but when I turned to her to tell her, she was sound asleep. The next morning, I discovered she was not breathing. I called the doctor right away, but it was too late, my Bessie was gone.”
“What a tragic loss for you Mr. Bradley. I'm certain your wife is with you in spirit. I think she would have liked this room, don't you?”
“Oh yes, she does. I have her with me,” Herbert said as he pointed to the urn resting on the mantle. “She will be with me until the time comes when I join her.”
“Mr. Bradley, don't you think Miss Bessie would want you to enjoy a long life? I'll bet she was a good friend to many people back in your hometown.”
“Yes, she was. Bessie volunteered at the boys and girls club in the city. She had such a way with children. She would invite them to our home for supper many nights. I'm afraid I wasn't as gracious about strangers in our home as she was. Bessie would just put her arm on my shoulder and tell me the children needed us. Whenever she did that, my heart melted and I couldn't deny her.”
“I'm sure those children miss her almost as much as you do.”
“You know, I hadn't thought of that, you may be right.”
“I'll bet it would make Miss Bessie happy if you visited the boys and girls club yourself. What do you think Mr. Bradley?”
“Do you think they would be happy to see me? I know I'm a poor substitute for Bessie, but I might be able to teach them the game of chess. Bessie tried playing but she was never very good at the game. I was an accountant before I retired. Maybe I would be able to help them with their mathematics. I always enjoyed algebra, I'm sure I can remember a few problems I would be able to help them solve.”
Herbert Bradley smiled at Holly. “Ma'am, I can't thank you enough for talking to me. I was about to do something very foolish and now you have made me realize what Bessie would want me to do for how many years I have left on this earth. I think I'll leave Bessie here while I go downstairs to see what all the fuss is about. Would you mind giving this to the sheriff when you see him? I don't have any need for it anymore.” Herbert handed the brown package to Holly.
Holly stayed in contact with Mr. Bradley for several years. He sold the home he and Bessie had shared for fifty seven years to move closer to the city and to a rooming house where meals were provided for him and the other residents. Herbert enjoyed his dinner companions and became friends with them all. His room had a fireplace with a mantle for Bessie's urn. Herbert opened his heart to the boys and girls at the club and they all thought Mr. Bradley was the best. Some of the children began calling him Gramps and it stuck. Ten years after Bessie's death, Gramps Bradley joined his beloved wife. There wasn't a dry eye at the funeral parlor as the casket closed on Herbert Bradley with Bessie's urn placed securely in his arms.