The Shining

Part Two. Closing Day Chapter 9. Checking It Out


Ullman was waiting for them just inside the wide, old-fashioned front doors. He shook hands with Jack and nodded coolly at Wendy, perhaps noticing the way heads turned when she came through into the lobby, her golden hair spilling across the shoulders of the simple navy dress. The hem of the dress stopped a modest two inches above the knee, but you didn't have to see more to know they were good legs.
Ullman seemed truly warm toward Danny only, but Wendy had experienced that before. Danny seemed to be a child for people who ordinarily held W. C. Fields' sentiments about children. He bent a little from the waist and offered Danny his hand. Danny shook it formally, without a smile.
"My son Danny," Jack said. "And my wife Winnifred."
"I'm happy to meet you both," Ullman said. "How old are you, Danny?"
"Five, sir."
"Sir, yet." Ullman smiled and glanced at Jack. "He's well mannered."
"Of course be is," Jack said.
"And Mrs. Torrance." He offered the same little bow, and for a bemused instant Wendy thought he would kiss her hand. She half-offered it and he did take it, but only for a moment, clasped in both of his. His hands were small and dry and smooth, and she guessed that he powdered them.
The lobby was a bustle of activity. Almost every one of the old-fashioned high-backed chairs was taken. Bellboys shuttled in and out with suitcases and there was a line at the desk, which was dominated by a huge brass cash register. The BankAmericard and Master Charge decals on it seemed jarringly anachronistic.
To their right, down toward a pair of tall double doors that were pulled closed and roped off, there was an old-fashioned fireplace now blazing with birch logs. Three nuns sat on a sofa that was drawn up almost to the hearth itself. They were talking and smiling with their bags stacked up to either side, waiting for the check-out line to thin a little. As Wendy watched them they burst into a chord of tinkling, girlish laughter. She felt a smile touch her own lips; not one of them could be under sixty.
In the background was the constant hum of conversation, the muted ding! of the silver-plated bell beside the cash register as one of the two clerks on duty struck it, the slightly impatient call of "Front, please!" It brought back strong, warm memories of her honeymoon in New York with Jack, at the Beekman Tower. For the first time she let herself believe that this might be exactly what the three of them needed: a season together away from the world, a sort of family honeymoon. She smiled affectionately down at Danny, who was goggling around frankly at everything. Another limo, as gray as a banker's vest, had pulled up out front
"The last day of the season," Ullman was saying. "Closing day. Always hectic. I had expected you more around three, Mr. Torrance."
"I wanted to give the Volks time for a nervous breakdown if it decided to have one," Jack said. "It didn't."
"How fortunate," Ullman said. "I'd like to take the three of you on a tour of the place a little later, and of course Dick Hallorann wants to show Mrs. Torrance the Overlook's kitchen. But I'm afraid-"
One of the clerks came over and almost tugged his forelock.
"Excuse me, Mr. Unman-"
"Well? What is it?"
"It's Mrs. Brant," the clerk said uncomfortably. "She refuses to pay her bill with anything but her American Express card. I told her we stopped taking American Express at the end of the season last year, but she won't..." His eyes shifted to the Torrance family, then back to Ullman. He shrugged.
"I'll take care of it."
"Thank you, Mr. Ullman." The clerk crossed back to the desk, where a dreadnought of a woman bundled into a long fur coat and what looked like a black feather boa was remonstrating loudly.
"I have been coming to the Overlook Hotel since 1955," she was telling the smiling, shrugging clerk. "I continued to come even after my second husband died of a stroke on that tiresome roque court-I told him the sun was too hot that day-and I have never... I repeat: never... paid with anything but my American Express credit card. Call the police if you like! Have them drag me away! I will still refuse to pay with anything but my American Express credit card. I repeat:..."
"Excuse me," Mr. Ullman said.
They watched him cross the lobby, touch Mrs. Brant's elbow deferentially, and spread his hands and nod when she turned her tirade on him. He listened sympathetically, nodded again, and said something in return. Mrs. Brant smiled triumphantly, turned to the unhappy desk clerk, and said loudly: "Thank God there is one employee of this hotel who hasn't become an utter Philistinel"
She allowed Ullman, who barely came to the bulky shoulder of her fur coat, to take her arm and lead her away, presumably to his inner office.
"Whooo!" Wendy said, smiling. "There's a dude who earns his money."
"But he didn't like that lady," Danny said immediately. "He was just pretending to like her."
Jack grinned down at him. "I'm sure that's true, doc. But flattery is the stuff that greases the wheels of the world."
"What's flattery?"
"Flattery," Wendy told him, "is when your daddy says he likes my new yellow slacks even if he doesn't or when he says I don't need to take off five pounds."
"Oh. Is it lying for fun?"
"Something very like that."
He had been looking at her closely and now said: "You're pretty, Mommy." He frowned in confusion when they exchanged a glance and then burst into laughter.
"Ullman didn't waste much flattery on me," Jack said. "Come on over by the window, you guys. I feel conspicuous standing out here in the middle with my denim jacket on. I honest to God didn't think there'd be anybody much here on closing day. Guess I was wrong."
"You look very handsome," she said, and then they laughed again, Wendy putting a hand over her mouth. Danny still didn't understand, but it was okay. They were loving each other. Danny thought this place reminded her of somewhere else
(the beak-man place)
where she had been happy. He wished he liked it as well as she did, but he kept telling himself over and over that the things Tony showed him didn't always come true. He would be careful. He would watch for something called Redrum. But he would not say anything unless he absolutely had to. Because they were happy, they had been laughing, and there were no bad thoughts.
"Look at this view," Jack said.
"Oh, it's gorgeousl Danny, Iookl"
But Danny didn't think it was particularly gorgeous. He didn't like heights; they made him dizzy. Beyond the wide front porch, which ran the length of the hotel, a beautifully manicured lawn (there was a putting green on the right) sloped away to a long, rectangular swimming pool. A CLOSED sign stood on a little tripod at one end of the pool; closed was one sign he could read by himself, along with Stop, Exit, Pizza, and a few others.
Beyond the pool a graveled path wound off through baby pines and spruces and aspens. Here was a small sign he didn't know: ROQUE. There was an arrow below it.
"What's R-O-Q-U-E, Daddy?"
"A game," Daddy said. "It's a little bit like croquet, only you play it on a gravel court that has sides like a big billiard table instead of grass. It's a very old game, Danny. Sometimes they have tournaments here."
"Do you play it with a croquet mallet?"
"Like that," Jack agreed. "Only the handle's a little shorter and the head has two sides. One side is hard rubber and the other side is wood."
(Come out, you little shit!)
"It's pronounced roke," Daddy was saying. "I'll teach you how to play, if you want."
"Maybe," Danny said in an odd colorless little voice that made his parents exchange a puzzled look over his head. "I might not like it; though."
"Well if you don't like it, doc, you don't have to play. All right?"
"Do you like the animals?" Wendy asked. "That's called a topiary." Beyond the path leading to roque there were hedges clipped into the shapes of various animals. Danny, whose eyes were sharp, made out a rabbit, a dog, a horse, a cow, and a trio of bigger ones that looked like frolicking lions.
"Those animals were what made Uncle Al think of me for the job," Jack told him. "He knew that when I was in college I used to work for a landscaping company. That's a business that fixes people's lawns and bushes and hedges. I used to trim a lady's topiary."
Wendy put a hand over her mouth and snickered. Looking at her, Jack said, "Yes, I used to trim her topiary at least once a week"
"Get away, fly," Wendy said, and snickered again.
"Did she have nice hedges, Dad?" Danny asked, and at this they both stifled great bursts of laughter. Wendy laughed so hard that tears streamed down her cheeks and she had to get a Kleenex out of her handbag.
"They weren't animals, Danny," Jack said when he had control of himself. "They were playing cards. Spades and hearts and clubs and diamonds. But the hedges grow, you see-"
(They creep, Watson had said... no, not the hedges, the boiler. You have to watch it all the time or you and your f ambly will end up on the f uckin moon.)
They looked at him, puzzled. The smile had faded off his face.
"Dad?" Danny asked.
He blinked at them, as if coming back from far away. "They grow, Danny, and lose their shape. So I'll have to give them a haircut once or twice a week until it gets so cold they stop growing for the year."
"And a playground, too," Wendy said. "My lucky boy."
The playground was beyond the topiary. Two slides, a big swing set with half a dozen swings set at varying heights, a jungle gym, a tunnel made of cement rings, a sandbox, and a playhouse that was an exact replica of the Overlook itself.
"Do you like it, Danny?" Wendy asked.
"I sure do," he said, hoping he sounded more enthused than he felt. "It's neat."
Beyond the playground there was an inconspicuous chain link security fence, beyond that the wide, macadamized drive that led up to the hotel, and beyond that the valley itself, dropping away into the bright blue haze of afternoon. Danny didn't know the word isolation, but if someone had explained it to him he would have seized on it. Far below, lying in the sun like a long black snake that had decided to snooze for a while, was the road that led back through Sidewinder Pass and eventually to Boulder. The road that would be closed all winter long. He felt a little suffocated at the thought, and almost jumped when Daddy dropped his hand on his shoulder.
"I'll get you that drink as soon as I can, doc. They're a little busy right now."
"Sure, Dad."
Mrs. Brant came out of the inner office looking vindicated. A few moments later two bellboys, struggling with eight suitcases between them, followed her as best they could as she strode triumphantly out the door. Danny watched through the window as a man in a gray uniform and a hat like a captain in the Army brought her long silver car around to the door and got out. He tipped his cap to her and ran around to open the trunk.
And in one of those flashes that sometimes came, he got a complete thought from her, one that floated above the confused, low-pitched babble of emotions and colors that he usually got in crowded places.
(i' d like to get into his pants)
Danny's brow wrinkled as he watched the bellboys put her cases into the trunk. She was looking rather sharply at the man in the gray uniform, who was supervising the loading. Why would she want to get that man's pants? Was she cold, even with that long fur coat on? And if she was that cold, why hadn't she just put on some pants of her own? His mommy wore pants just about all winter.
The man in the gray uniform closed the trunk and walked back to help her into the car. Danny watched closely to see if she would say anything about his pants, but she only smiled and gave him a dollar bill-a tip. A moment later she was guiding the big silver car down the driveway.
He thought about asking his mother why Mrs. Brant might want the car-man's pants, and decided against it. Sometimes questions could get you in a whole lot of trouble. It had happened to him before.
So instead he squeezed in between them on the small sofa they were sharing and watched all the people check out at the desk. He was glad his mommy and daddy were happy and loving each other, but he couldn't help being a little worried. He couldn't help it.