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Contact One:  The Cali Continental

Hotels are often referred to as being “hotspots for cold spots”.  Whatever the circumstances, be it for the pleasant gatherings of a family reunion or vacation, the solemn events of business meetings and funerals, or the less-purely-intended ones of shady exchanges or secret rendezvous, lodgings have always been hubs for activity.  If walls could talk, rented rooms would be alive with whispers revealing the confidentiality of ages.

Not all memories left behind at inns are ones of gaiety.  On occasion, these places serve as the setting for gruesome crime, and emotions running as high as those often connected are rarely easy to extinguish, no matter how much time has taken place since the incident.

“The Cali Continental” of Sacramento, California is one such place with a nefarious past.  In 1972, this hotel opened its doors to the public.  It was a luxurious little spot that boasted a promising future.  After the first year of business, however, one of the workers was seriously injured in an accident from a burst water heater.  Unfortunately, the owner had put every last bit of money that he had into the hotel, and with the revenue not yet enough to offset the costs, he hadn’t enough for the heavy lawsuit filed against him by the injured employee.  Unable to pay the debts before him, the owner shut the place down under the guise of plumbing repairs.  While the building was vacant, he poured bottle upon bottle of alcohol onto the dining hall floor with the notion of collecting fire damage insurance.  When the blaze began, it was far greater than the gentleman anticipated, and he burned along with his beloved hotel.

Very little of The Cali Continental was salvageable after the fire, but some minor structural aspects still stood.  A new investor bought the land and built a small motel off of the remains of its predecessor.  The new owner thought it would be only proper to pay homage to The Cali and made sure that the entryway boasted pictures of the old splendor and glory of the previous hotel.   Even so, these photographs and few beams were not the greatest memento of the time past, for it is said that the old owner never truly left.

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“Four thousand for the transmission?” Constance fumed out loud for what was easily the eighth time.  She took a half-hearted swig from her paper cup of stale, weak coffee.  It was cheap and fairly nasty, but free to paying customers—truly a repair shop keeping the clients at heart.  Finally, she looked to her younger colleague, “Hey, Ein—what’s a new transmission usually run for?”

He tilted his head and peered at her through his thick-lensed glasses, then abruptly responded, “The general cost tends to range between one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half thousand dollars.  For a specialty job like The Racer, four thousand is a fair price.”

She gulped down the rest of her drink and dropped the waste into the plastic garbage can.  “I still say they’re rippin’ us off.  Get you in a corner, take you for every freakin’ dime you’re worth,” she grumbled, tongue clipping words in her customarily lazy manner.

Ander sighed and cracked his neck as his fingertips trailed along the back of his collar.  “It’s entirely possible, but I doubt it.  But, even if they are, what choice do we really have?  Seriously.  We’re in a bind here.”

Stoak looked up from the eight-bit video game behemoth as he lost his final life.  “What’s that?  They’re ripping us off?  Do I need to rough somebody up?”

To his credit, Stoak did appear to be on the intimidating side, despite his jovial personality.  He was a towering man with a solidly built body–all muscle but without an overly bodybuilder-like bulk–and an obscene amount of piercings peppering his pasty face–ten cartilage studs, gauged ears, a double pierced nostril, and a stud for each eyebrow.  He finally quit tallying the number of times a child would gawp at his spiked jet-black-and-crimson-tipped head of hair, cling to their mommy’s sleeve, and ask if he was Satan.

Too peeved to permit herself a smirk at the man’s feigned machismo, Constance scowled, “Whole place is one big, money-grubbin’ sham and I oughtta–”

“You ought to just drop it right now,” Ander snapped back.  “Unless you’ve magically learned how to repair cars overnight, we’re staying here until they fix The Racer, and each time it breaks down, we’ll keep going to repair shops.  Capiche?”

“Yessir,” she drawled, flipping him off in a mock salute, eliciting a stifled giggle from Ein.

“Hey, Ander!  Didja see this?” Stoak picked up one of the flimsy business cards and shoved it under his superior’s nose.  “This little podunk repair shop has a website!  Even these guys are better promoted than we are!”

“Forget about the stupid website, will you?  I know we don’t have one–I know, I know, I know!”  Stoak had been on Ander’s back for ages to get a web page together in hopes of raising awareness and promoting the team.  At this point, the boss was getting tired of hearing the same spiel rehashed time and time again, though his annoyance made it all the more enjoyable for the crew when entertainment ran dry.  “What the crap did I ever do to earn a group like this bunch?” Ander sighed, running a warm-toffee-colored-hand through his short, fuzz-ball muss of hair.

“Brought it upon yourself, Buddy.  Went something like...oh, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea that you can’t refuse–‘“

Constance elbowed her studded coworker’s arm.  “I swear, he wouldn’t leave me the hell alone.  It was verbal Chinese water torture.”

“Can it!” he barked, glaring at the three of them in turn as if it would fend off the impending headache.  “I don’t want another word from any of you until we’re done here, and that’s final.”  After a tense moment, Ander glanced Ein’s wide, almost teary eyes and crumbled.  He exhaled, “Look, I’m not mad, I’m just frustrated.  We need to start making some money if we want to stay afloat.  So, seriously, please…for at least ten minutes, I don’t want to hear anything else about money or websites or beating anyone up.  Let’s just enjoy the atmosphere for now.”

“The atmosphere?” Constance cocked a dubious eyebrow as she cast her glance over the grime of the less-than-pristine auto body shop.  “Whatever you say, Boss.”

With all of the cash already invested in forming the Suppressors, an added repair bill, and zero results in the first few weeks, Ander was beginning to wonder if starting the group was really as fantastic of an idea as it had seemed to be on that blustery night.  It had appeared plausible enough when he had called Stoak with the initial proposal.  Once the light of day crept in with its scrutinizing rays, however, the reality terrified him; if he went down, this ragtag team of ghost hunters was going to sink with him.

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Ander had always honed an interest in ghosts, to put it mildly, so when he saw the latest in the scarce articles on the parapsychological institute in Wyoming, he decided to quit dreaming and throw his hat into the mix.  He was well-familiarized with the field from years of reading and research, so he wouldn’t be going in completely blind.  Get together a few people, grab some supplies, and live out the fantasy he had never seriously allowed to cultivate. No problem.

It was easy enough to convince his eighteen-year-old half-brother to join.  Ein had been ready to start college as a double major of engineering and physics with a minor in biology, but, even with such prospects ahead of him, all it took was the briefest suggestion and the boy eagerly dropped all plans to be at his sibling’s side.

If Ein was an easy recruit, Stoak was a no-brainer.  The two of them were coworkers at an athletic footwear and sports store.  When Ander called him immediately when the notion took root and asked how he felt about quitting and changing his career path, Stoak had his work shirt torn off before any explanation could even be given.  A glance at The Racer that weekend–the refurbished, slightly oversized “short bus” that ate up the majority of his savings between purchasing and repainting it jet black with lime green and electric purple racing stripes–and the deal was sealed ten times over.
Of course, they couldn’t up and quit the next day, and it was easily a solid two months before they got together a small sum of money for further living and travel expenses.  Procuring the closest thing to usable equipment that they could wasn’t forgotten, either.  Luckily, if one wanted to call it that, Ander’s deceased birthfather had been an avid hunter and left his son with his beloved collection of weaponry.  Being well acquainted with theoretical mechanics, Ein had enough supplies and know-how to convert the sawed-off double barrel shotguns into tools for exorcism.  Jokingly, Ander had referred to them as “Blasters” while Ein was in the process of constructing them, and the name stuck like unwanted bubble gum.

They had a vehicle, weapons, screens, scanners, and a whole host of less-than-top-of-the-line-yet-no-less-effective conglomerations designed and assembled by the brainy youth.  As ready as the group was for their new line of work, there was one more player the head was desperate to employ.

Talking Constance into joining them was anything but simple.  When she was a sullen, sulking, standoffish freshman, she had gone to high school with the senior Ander.  They would spend their lunch breaks together in the noisy, crowded lunchroom with Ander constantly chatting animatedly about this supposed haunting or that ghostly fact.  Though she always tried to display disinterest, he couldn’t shake the notion that she knew more about the other side than she ever let on.  She forever pretended that all of the stories and information that the boy went on about was new and uninteresting to her, but the glint of understanding, recognition, and even malice in her eyes showed otherwise.  He had kept in brief contact with her throughout the years, but nothing aside from the casual “Hey, how’s it going?” and idle chit-chat.  That was it.  Simple, cordial, harmless.

Upon deciding to pursue a ghost hunting job, his thoughts immediately went to her.  Reflection reminded him that she was no stranger to the field, and he decided to attempt an internet search on her name.  “Constance Linrah” popped up over fifty times, and each article or blog that mentioned her dealt with exorcisms or specter sightings. Strangely enough, however, every single piece had been deleted aside from the article titles. Seeing her name yielding afterlife tags set him ablaze in excitement and Ander knew he had no other option; Constance was unquestionably well-versed in some manner, and he knew that he needed her.  He had book smarts on the topic, but it was obvious she could match him in know-how and easily exceed him in experience.

He had counted on her joining up without argument.  He was wrong.

She flat out refused him, telling him outright that she wanted no part of his “paranormal games.”  The harder he pushed, the stronger she resisted.  Over the phone, she called him every foul name that flew into her mind and tripped from her tongue.  She cussed him out and gave him a verbal assault the likes of which would reduce a hardened FBI agent to a blubbering mass of tears–but Ander was, if nothing else, persistent.  Being at the wrong end of his friend’s temper wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t enough to scare him away.

One afternoon, Constance arrived back at her apartment complex and found him waiting for her, leaning casually up against her front door with an excited grin stretched across his face.  Her emeraldine eyes bore into him like twin daggers that sharply extracted the breath from his lungs and the smile from his lips.  Before he had had the chance to utter a greeting, she lunged at him, barely pausing in front of him, but not without punching her fist straight through the faded cream wall just precious centimeters from his head.  Bits of plaster swirled in a momentary snow of powder.  His body froze as not a muscle dared to twitch.  The particles tickled the insides of his nostrils, but the rushing adrenaline prevented him from sneezing.  Terror flooded his pores as their faces nearly touched.  Constance’s leer was one of pure, livid fury.
In that eternal moment, Ander could hear the blood pounding in his ears and feel his heartbeat spasm erratically against his chest as his body physically trembled.  Both sets of eyes were dilated–his out of icy fright, hers from burning, vicious anger.

Her breath a smoldering coal against him, she growled, “You stay away from me, ya hear me?  I don’ want any part of that world.  I’m stayin’ on this plane, and if you try draggin’ me into it, I’ll make you regret even knowin’ my name!  Get the hell away and leave me alone—I don’ wanna hear it anymore.  You might enjoy that bullshit lifestyle, but you’re never gonna rope me in with you—do you freakin’ understand?  I’m through with ghosts!”

Even if she had an inch or two on him, Ander had never before imagined feeling such fear from the young woman, but that run-in caused pure panic to sprint through his veins.  Regretfully, he accepted that trying to get her help was a bust and had given up on his friend altogether.  When she stormed into her apartment, she slammed the door in his face, ending all aspirations he had of getting her on his ghost hunting team…until two weeks later when he found Constance, bag packed, waiting for him outside of his own home.

She never explained her earlier resistance or the sudden change of heart, but he never questioned it, either.  She was immediately welcomed into the group by the three males.  They acted oblivious, as if none of the previous, unsavory refusals had ever occurred, and left the past behind in an unspoken oath.  Whatever reasons she had for initial rejection were irrelevant and whatever she had once done in regards to the supernatural world was all in the past; Constance was one of them–a group Ander christened “the Suppressors” in honor of their desire to separate the dead from the living–and that was all there was to it.

It was as far from a glamorous lifestyle as conceivably possible; they primarily lived off of cheap takeout and fast food—though talk had turned to instant noodles and canned vegetables in recent times—and they stayed in inexpensive, seedy motels the majority of nights—though, frequently enough, they camped out in The Racer to save a few bucks.  For the most part, the group took their situation in stride and homeless jokes weren’t uncommon among them.  Truthfully, the four of them enjoyed it–they just wished they could garner more results.




© Katie Bailey, 2012
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