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Authors: Russ Franklin

Cosmic Hotel

BOOK: Cosmic Hotel
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Copyright © 2016 by Russ Franklin

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Franklin, Russ, author.

Title: Cosmic hotel: a novel / Russ Franklin.

Description: Berkeley: Soft Skull Press, 2016.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015045974

Subjects: LCSH: Racially mixed families—Fiction. | Mothers and sons—Fiction. | Fathers and sons—Fiction. | Alien abduction—Fiction. | Domestic fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Literary. | GSAFD: Science fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3606.R42255 C67 2016 | DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at

Cover design by Jen Heuer

Interior design by Domini Dragoone


An Imprint of Counterpoint

2560 Ninth Street, Suite 318

Berkeley, CA 94710

Distributed by Publishers Group West

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

e-book ISBN 978-1-61902-808-1

For Amy




















































In the beginning, maybe I should state some things I did believe in, things that had served me well. Dividends. Face-to-face meetings. I believed in the American business system and everything my mother taught me, and we were successful. I believed in the report she was giving that day, a slide-show presentation—“Final Report: Windmere Resort Properties.” I believed in the ten weeks of hard work we'd done at this hotel.

My mother, Elizabeth Sanghavi, stood in front of the room, holding the remote in the crook of her elbow. She stood with such perfect posture that her head touched the edge of the projector's light, her hair aflame with negative cash-flow numbers. She was the best hotelier in the world and nobody was listening. I sat in the dark conference room watching the slides that justified this hotel's closing, this very building's eventual demolition. While she did this, the four men from the hotel's parent corporation sat around the table staring into their personal devices, faces glowing with hockey scores or email jokes or whatever entertained them more than this, her work.

What should I have cared? They were paying us a bundle either way, and we were almost done with this hotel. I had inventoried everything from towels to screwdrivers, had measured the thickness of crawl spaces in an effort to estimate the cost of remodeling versus tearing the structure down and rebuilding a new one. Seven severance envelopes stuck out of my blazer's side pocket, waiting for the next meeting, a meeting these VPs wouldn't have to attend but we would.

Elizabeth pushed the remote to show the white letters on a blue background: “Structured Closure Step 1,” and the hidden inlay of her business suit sparkled as if, despite its wearer, it wanted attention.

I sat in a crisp suit, held a nearly empty water bottle, and fantasized about throwing it through the dark and connecting to the rear of a VP's skull. The VP would then turn around, stunned to see Elizabeth Sanghavi's son as the thrower. I would tell him to pay attention, maybe add an “asshole.” But then I would see the horror on Elizabeth's face. Then over the next few quarters, we'd slowly lose clients. She couldn't exactly fire me. I was twenty-eight years old and her only employee and the only surviving member of her once successful hoteling family. I could imagine the demise of our consulting business would lead to Elizabeth having a heart attack and with her dying breath she would blame me and the water bottle.

Her shadow extended nearly to the ceiling, and she droned on.

How many meetings have I attended in my life?
I wondered.
Can you get cancer from too many meetings
? A heaty panic rose in my body, and I tried to take a sip of the water, and that was when the plastic bottle—that had once been considered for a VP's head—popped. Two of the men glanced up from their devices at me, and I tried to smile with the water still in my mouth and discovered I couldn't swallow.

I was familiar with panic attacks and tried to think positive
but at any second, I knew I could spew water over the room, causing embarrassment to me, the firm, Elizabeth. I covered my mouth and got to my feet.

Elizabeth paused her presentation, trying to see what I was doing, me heading out the door without buttoning my jacket.

I went at a respectable pace down the hallway to the open air of the lobby and finally swallowed. People swarmed through the hotel with the deliberate speed of travelers. I stood at its very center and bent my head back and closed my eyes and concentrated on the feeling of a healthy travel day in America, listening to that sound people's voices make together. I had lived in hotels my entire life, wanted no other lifestyle. I
reminded myself we were a normal family trying to run a normal family business. Tomorrow I would be living in a new hotel, which would hopefully be better. If the economy had been good during this period of my life, I'm sure I would have been in a different state of mind that day.

While I'd been fantasizing about the water bottle and the VP's head, my father was in Bangalore trying to find a payphone to call me. I imagine him patting his pockets and asking his handler for the correct change, pretending like he wasn't broke, and making it all sound charming and enduring.

I reopened my eyes to the lobby. Nothing here really mattered, but the severance envelopes still stuck out of my blazer's pocket, and I saw that I had positioned myself uncomfortably close to a guest sitting in a chair. She concentrated on her phone conversation, not noticing me. I saw that she had one shoe planted against the side of her other shoe. Elizabeth had a theory that you could determine a person's economic circumstances by how far apart they held their feet. This woman—one foot on the other—obviously had no respect for footwear, so must have been raised, according to Elizabeth's theory, in a plush childhood.

I watched the woman stand and wave, then walk down into the sunken sitting area to greet someone. Her yellow blouse emphasized her nice figure. She met and hugged another woman. They let go, and I watched the woman in yellow open her mouth like a yawn and swipe a tear with her knuckle.

I buttoned my blazer and went and said to them, “Welcome to the Windmere.” They smiled at me, and I motioned for a bellhop to get the new arrival's luggage.

People's first impression of someone with my shade of skin was favorable. I have some of my father's Caucasian features but Elizabeth's Indian color, which subconsciously registers as tan and healthy.

The bellhop took her bag, and I said, “Tony here will have it for you after you check in. Enjoy your stay.”

Tony, I saw as he took the handle, wore a blinking blue earpiece, strictly forbidden, but Windmere employees had certainly heard
rumors of demise by now. Because of us, the hotel would be closed, demolished, and then another rebuilt on this exact spot.

Across the lobby, I saw the VPs and Elizabeth emerge from the hallway. She spotted me excusing myself from the women.

The corporation's men passed without acknowledging me, went by in a hiss of business soles on carpet, bag straps over their shoulders, checking their return flights' status on their phones. I had this feeling that they never looked up from their phones the entire time they were here in Dallas.

Elizabeth had a soft growth of hair in front of her ears almost like sideburns, her black hair held in a gold clip in the back. Several guests in the lobby were checking her out, including the two women I had been talking to. In this world, Elizabeth—tall, beautiful, sophisticated—was an asset for me, and I knew it, and I was to her.

She glanced at the two women and said to me, “Are you going to get involved tonight?”

“Well, nothing is a given in this business, but . . .”

She sighed at hearing her own maxim and said, “Ten minutes until the meeting with managers, eleven before we go in. Wait until I make the restructuring joke about the Rangers. Then pass the envelopes out.”

“It's the Cowboys who restructured,” I said, “football, not baseball, and we know how to do this. They weren't even listening to you in there.”

She tugged her jacket. “What happened to you?”

“I just needed air,” I said.

“The word ‘just' is for simpletons. Did you try a positive visualization?”

“Yes, I pictured leaving this hotel,” I said.

“Do you have the envelopes?”

“Of course I have the envelopes. Stop worrying.”

She began, “Proper planning and practice prevents—”

Piss-poor performance.
I know, I know.” These were Elizabeth's seven Ps.

“I have to contact Walter Simpson and Chicago.” She took a breath and at the same time casually handed me a business card. “This is the address,” she said. “Send our things along.”

She turned and went away, and as she did, she looked up into the reflection of the lobby in the black marble ceiling.

Then I glanced at the address she'd written on the back of her card. In her nice, neat script was “Grand Aerodrome” and an address in Atlanta.
I hated Atlanta. It was almost as useless as Orlando.

A bellhop said, “Hello, Sanghavi?”

“Hello, Henry,” I said.

The other bellhops stood around the podium at the front doors suspiciously watching Henry talking to me. I smelled some kind of humiliation coming, but Henry only held out a magazine in a plastic mailing wrapper. The familiar label had three hotel addresses marked out until it had finally caught up to me here.

I took it and thanked Henry with a twenty. I also believed that tipping was the cheapest, best investment in life.

Henry said, “And there's a phone call for you.”

I touched my phone beneath my jacket.

He shocked me by lifting his hand and pointing.

“Please don't point, Henry. Escort, always escort the guest,” I said, but here was Henry holding his hand higher than his shoulder, cuffs riding on his wrist.

“In there. Long distance,” he said.

I understood he meant the business suite. Only one person in my life called me on regular phones. I walked swiftly without breaking into a run, knowing if I didn't hurry my father would grow impatient and hang up.

The business suite's hallway was lined with frosted-glass conference rooms on both sides, most vacant, like zoo exhibits whose inhabitants had been set free. The only light came from conference 004B where I peeked around the corner and saw the department heads anticipating our final meeting and the severance envelopes in my pocket.

Directly across from the managers' meeting was a glass room labeled
where the old phone rooms were. I went inside the business center to the receiver off the hook in

I said, “Hello, Charles.”

” he said. “
It's Charles!

“Who else would it be?” I tried not to sound excited. “You should call my phone, you know.” I put the magazine on the table and glanced through the glass at the department heads across the hallway.

“Lost that number, I'm afraid,” he said. “I had to track you down.” The long-distance connection clicked and my father's voice surfed along with the static.

“You're the genius,” I said, “so
my number.” I kept the phone in the crook of my shoulder, and I tore into the magazine's plastic wrapper.

The last time I'd heard from Charles was months ago, a letter. He always began his letters, “Dear Sandeep, my son,” as if he needed to point out to some other reader who I was, and I was suspicious that he had read too many books that were
The Collected Letters of So-and-So
and fantasized about his letters being collected.

The reception on the phone faded and came back as he offered empty apologizes.

“Let me call you back,” I said, “this is a bad time for me.”

,” he said, “I'm traveling.”

I saw Elizabeth stop in front of the other room and look in at the department heads. The shock of not seeing me there registered in her body language as a slight weight change to her heels.

“Charles,” I whispered, “I have to call you back.”

Elizabeth glanced down the hallway, then at her cell phone to see if she'd missed a message from me. When she went inside the conference room, she tried to smile, and Sylvia Iseman, head of maintenance, circled back to her chair and everyone sat leaning forward. Elizabeth would be opening with a neutral statement.

“Charles, I need to go,” I said, “Where can I reach you?”

“I'm at a conference in southern India!”

” I said slouching in the chair and throwing my head back. My father was a pain in the ass. He lived in this big house in Palo Alto, had hosted a popular PBS science show years ago, and was once famous, as famous as an astronomer could be. Now I wanted to know what India was like, but I said, “But I
to go now!”

Elizabeth continued talking, her gold hair clip sparkling. Carlos Sinclair leaned back in his chair and shook his head.

“I'm still a pretty big deal here,” Charles said over the phone, “they treat me very well. Listen, I'm between funding at the moment, but I've got a new book coming out and other things going on.”

I noticed a notepad beside the phone with the Windmere logo. Someone had written “Geneva 1000x.” I took my pen out to write the amount of money Charles would want so I could hang up and join Elizabeth in the meeting.

“Charles!” I interrupted him, standing up and stretching the cord. “You'll have to call me back. Let me have a contact number, I'll call

“Sandeep! If you don't want to talk, I'm hanging up now, but I think you'll want to hear what I have to say.”

hang up.” I sat the envelopes on top of the magazine, each envelope with the first name, middle initial, last name printed on it. My chair tilted and its cushion produced a polite flatulence that smelled like mold. I waved the envelopes over my head trying to get Elizabeth's attention and listen to Charles Van Raye tell me he needed a “splash of cash.”

“Yes, I know,” I said to him. “How much do you need?”

Sylvia Iseman in the other meeting room saw me waving and pointed. Elizabeth turned in her chair. It took her a second to focus through the layers of glass to see me, her eyes narrowing.

Yes, I am talking on a landline

“And I'd like to tell you something,” Van Raye said over the phone.


“It's very exciting.”


Van Raye went on about his confidence in me while Elizabeth came through the doors and stood in front of
1 and looked down at me. She spoke through the glass, “What does he want? Money?”

You would think twenty-five years of being divorced would have distilled the ire.

BOOK: Cosmic Hotel
13.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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