I had worked at the Ramada for five years since I was eighteen and had done everything from checking travelers in and out to repairing air conditioners to plunging clogged toilets. I’d even changed linens and planted flowers in a bed by the lobby. The lobby consisted of a sofa, a couple of chairs, side tables with ash trays, a Gideon Bible, floor lamps, and rental plants that were watered and changed out every other week. The burnt orange carpet popped in the sunlight and cast a glow on the wooden counter that held a cash register, credit card machine, a folio tray for registrations, and the switchboard. I had my own ash tray behind the desk, and by the end of a double shift, it was full of Marlboro light butts that I dumped in the toilet before the next shift.
From Florida to Quebec to California, I’d checked people in, but I never dealt with anyone who gave me a cold and evil feeling. I’d been cursed by unhappy folks because of noise, air conditioners not cooling enough, or even roaches, but if one travels to the South, it’s uncomfortable, and there are more bugs than one can imagine. I had even been flimflammed by construction crew out of a hundred-dollar bill with their back and forths and multiple conversations. I had come up short at the end of the shift and had to put in my own money to balance my cash drawer, so I didn’t get written up or fired. But they hadn’t made me feel uncomfortable.
When the sedan pulled under the porte-cochère, it was nearly ten o’clock at night, and most travelers were already in their rooms. I could tell the fellow was by himself, and he wore khakis and a light plaid, short sleeve button down shirt. He opened the glass door, asked if I had an available room, and I told him we had a single. He filled out the folio, and I felt chilled like the temperature dropped. His stare seemed blank, there was no light in his eyes, and he felt evil, but he wasn’t inappropriate in any way. I asked him if he was heading to Florida and he simply said, “No.” He didn’t offer any additional information. He gave me cash and said he would leave the key in the room. Even after he left, I couldn’t shake the feeling and even told the night auditor about him. “You’re probably catching a cold,” the auditor said. For some, this would’ve been the perfect customer, because he didn’t talk, ask endless questions about chain restaurants, and ask clerks to repeat words because our Southern accents were charming. I have never felt that way again about anyone I met.
Then, I couldn’t do a Google search for him on the internet because the web didn’t exist in the mid-1990s. I took the carbon copy of his folio and stuffed it in my pocket and found it in a box of certificates and letters from that time period when I was cleaning the garage. When I looked at it, I remembered the coldness and felt evil reaching out from across time. Though I do hundreds of Google searches a week, I didn’t need to do one. I knew the name Jeffrey Dahmer as soon as I saw it but didn’t know it then. I always heard one should trust his intuition and I’ll never question mine again.