Copyright© 2011 Ethan Holmes All rights reserved.

The Keystone, By Ethan Holmes
Chapter 1: Room Please

Her frail, thin body was slumped back, her head tilted to the left supported only by the black rubberized foam handle of the wheelchair. Opaque drool dribbled down the corners of her wrinkled purple mouth. Straw-like, salt and pepper, shoulder length hair was matted with half dry sweat and stuck flat to her head. She looked liked she barely weighed ninety pounds and her cheek bones jutted out from paper-like skin tinted an icy blue. The pink and white pin-striped smock she was wearing just sort of hung on her like it would prefer to be back on the hanger in the closet instead of pasted to this dead old woman.

“Dang! That’s a big-ass needle!” Toby pointed to a hypodermic hanging just above her right collar bone, the weight of it tugging down at her skin like a cactus spine on steroids.

“What do ya think, Titus? She looks like she hung on a bit past her prime, don’t she?” Toby laughed and patted his size fifty two waist struggling to burst out of his dark blue Dunmore Heights EMT uniform.

Titus looked at big, black, bald Toby standing over the old lady grinning ear to ear eagerly waiting for a reaction to his morbid humor.

“Toby,” Titus growled, “Are you always a pinhead or do you just play one on TV? And by the way, when are you going to quit pretending you still fit in someone else’s uniform? You know, someone three sizes smaller than you?”

Toby’s facial expression quickly turned to dismay. “Hey Ty, ain’t no need to go gittin’ personal my man. I was jus’ tryin’ to keep the situation light. Ya dig?”

Titus blew him off as he continued his examination of the dead lady’s room. “It stinks in here like a mixture of old bleach and cheap whiskey.”

“HEE HEE! That’s a fact Jack! You got it. You just described this whole place man! This hotel has smelled like that for years. ‘Bout the only place you can breathe is down in the damn lobby. HA! But only when the doors are turnin’.” Toby was back to smiling as he lit a cigarette.

Titus knew it was an accurate description of The Keystone. It was a thirteen story gray and tan stone structure complete with gargoyles on the two front corners of the building looming down on the street below. Located at Harrison Avenue and Roselyn Street in the Dunmore Heights section of North Scranton, Pennsylvania, (a place the late Harry Chapin politely referred to in song as “that coal-scarred city,”) it presently served as a locally infamous haven for life’s down on-their-luck castaways.

Sick, elderly patrons with no known family and no money to pay for nursing home facilities or in-home care roomed side by side with allegedly recovering drug addicts, alcoholics and state subsidized mental cases barely able to live on their own. More traffic was generated by Pennsylvania State social workers going in and out of the ancient revolving glass doors of the Keystone than by its own guests. Sprinkled among them were some of the city's ugliest bottom-feeder whores who couldn't keep enough of their earnings out of their noses and veins to afford better accommodations.

Built in 1939, The Keystone quickly became the landmark hotel of North Scranton. Positioned strategically to handle passengers from the Reading & Pennsylvania Railroad at the nearby Wheeler Avenue Station, The Keystone was, at the time, the grand dame of hotel accommodations in that area. If you looked carefully you could still see signs of the past glory of the place from its dual ten foot revolving glass doors to the black marble floor of the lobby and the gold leaf hotel name etched above the cherry wood front desk which, ironically, still had the faint aroma of cherry but only if you stuck your nose right on it. You wouldn’t want to do that.

A stale, rancid cloud hung in the air unless one of the revolving doors let in a blast of fresh air to stir it around.

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