Snow & Winter series
Ghost of Durango Coda
“Not to be that sort of passenger,” I began, “but are we almost there?”
“Almost,” Calvin murmured.
I sighed, leaned back in my seat, and adjusted my sunglasses as a glare hit the windshield.
We’d been driving forever.
I know—I left New York City. And willingly, I might add.
Calvin and I were definitely what I considered to be workaholics. Between him being a lead homicide investigator and me owning a business, we didn’t really leave the city. Our schedules never allowed for more than a day or two away, so why bother? Also, I was a bit of a homebody, but that was neither here nor there.
Well. It was kind of here and there.
I didn’t go on vacation. It just wasn’t a thing I really did, or something Calvin did, for that matter. So color me surprised when he came home one evening and said: “Let’s take a trip to Colorado.”
We flew out of LaGuardia and had rented a car in Denver. From there we had been driving. For like six hours. I wasn’t supposed to know where.
It was a “surprise.”
“My ass fell asleep twenty miles ago. I have to piss, and this altitude is making my hands dry.” I flexed my fingers a few times before holding them out. “See? We’ve been in Colorado for an afternoon and they look like they belong to an eighty-year-old.”
“We’ll be there soon.”
“I’ve already deduced we’re heading to Durango.”
“But you don’t know why,” Calvin countered. He checked his mirrors before making a turn.
I stared at him for a moment. His white— well, I assumed— short sleeve T-shirt showed off muscled and freckled arms. He wore sunglasses and looked damn cool doing it. And Jesus Christ… he was such a sweetheart. I felt kind of like I was being whisked away by Prince Charming or something.
Granted, Colorado hadn’t been where I assumed riding off into the sunset would occur.
“What?” he asked. Calvin knew I was staring without glancing away from the road.
That made him turn his head briefly, an eyebrow raised above the lens of his glasses. “It’s never nothing when you fall silent.”
“Compliment or insult?”
Calvin looked at the road again.
“I’m just surprised you dropped work to take an impromptu vacation,” I stated. “Out of the blue.”
“Sometimes not having a plan is romantic.”
“You do have a plan, though,” I said.
“Hm-hm. And you don’t. It’s driving you nuts, isn’t it?”
“You’re enjoying the torture too much,” I answered.
Calvin chuckled. He made another turn. “I wanted to treat you.”
“Because I love you.”
I cleared my throat. “I love you too.”
Calvin removed a hand from the steering wheel and held it out, palm up. I took it, and he enclosed his fingers around mine, giving a brief, tight squeeze. “Just relax, sweetheart.”
Easier said than done.
But at least Calvin had been telling the truth about us almost being at… well… wherever we were going. We drove through Durango in the early evening. Main Street was bustling, and it took a few turns around the block before finding a suitable parking place.
“Are we here?” I asked when Calvin shut off the car.
He pulled his sunglasses back to rest on his head. “We’re here,” he confirmed. Calvin opened the door and got out.
I followed, walking to the back as he popped the trunk and took out a small suitcase. “The anticipation is killing me, Calvin.”
He glanced at me and I caught a small smile play across his face. “Follow me.” He moved onto the sidewalk and made his way toward a big, brick building several stories tall.
I hurried after, reached Calvin’s side, and took his hand into mine. “What is this?”
“Can’t read the sign?”
“Little closer, then.”
We crossed the street and the lettering on the windows finally came into better view.
“The Strater?” I asked.
Calvin paused at the steps. He looked down, giving me another smile. “Do you know it?”
“Sure! Well, I know of it,” I corrected. “It was built in 1887 by Henry Strater. It cost around seventy-thousand dollars at the time of construction. Do you know how much that is today, with inflation taken into account?”
Calvin was still smiling. “A lot.”
“Over a million dollars. This was the social hot spot of Durango.” I stared at the doors for a moment. “We’re really staying here?”
“For the weekend,” Calvin answered. He motioned in one direction with his free hand. “There’s a history museum I want to take you to. All the trip advisors say it’s a ‘must’ on the Durango to-do list. There’s also the Durango & Silverton Railroad, which seemed like something you might enjoy. And Downtown is registered as a Historic District, so I thought—“
I grabbed Calvin by the front of his shirt and pulled him down into a kiss. I didn’t care we were standing on a busy street. I didn’t care folks were coming and going from the hotel doors and we were probably in the way. And I didn’t care that our gay kiss might potentially offend someone outside of my safe neighborhood of the East Village.
No boyfriend had ever done something like this for me before. I didn’t know how else to respond. I had been swept away for a romantic weekend, complete with a historical tour, that I had to do zero planning for. If I wasn’t already sleeping with Calvin….
“Happy?” he murmured after breaking the kiss. Calvin pressed his forehead to mine and ran his hand through my hair.
I had a stupid lump in my throat, so I just nodded a little.
“Let’s check in.” Calvin took a step back and hiked up the stairs to the front door. He held it open and I followed inside.
There were several people mingling about in the lobby of the hotel. Calvin walked to the desk, but I remained standing in the middle of room, turning in a slow circle as I took in the décor. It had been restored to its historical glory, and was a simply perfect combination of Victorian America meets Wild West.
Even the lighting was subtle and relaxing, compared to most hotels.
I could live here.
I glanced away from the sitting area beside the large front window and joined Calvin’s side at the counter. “This is beautiful,” I said. “I need to take some pictures to show Pop.”
He smiled and touched my back lightly.
“Mr. Winter,” a young man said as he handed over a small, room key booklet. “I have you on the third floor, but it only has one bed. Is that— okay?” He glanced between the two of us.
Yes, I know. I’m not what most people expect when they realize I’m Calvin’s significant other. I should be taller. Stronger. Bigger. More handsome….
“That’s perfect,” Calvin said, accepting the key.
The hotel clerk smiled, maybe a bit relieved like he thought he’d made a mistake as to our relationship. “We have a bar and restaurant directly next store, which I highly recommend. They have a great atmosphere.”
“Romantic?” I sort of blurted the question out, but who could blame me? I was all smitten at the moment.
The clerk’s smile got a bit bigger. “I think so. You gentlemen will love it.”
“Thank you,” Calvin said. He put a hand on my shoulder and we walked toward the stairs. “You know,” he began, after we were making our way up the first set. “They say the hotel is haunted too.”
“Really?” I paused at the top.
“That’s what I heard.” Calvin turned the corner and kept walking.
I went after him. “What inspired you to come out here, anyway?”
“Water cooler talk.”
“You gossip at work?”
Calvin laughed quietly, leading the way up the next set. “An officer stayed here on his honeymoon. He said his history teacher wife loved it. It sounded like a very Sebastian-friendly place.”
I knew Calvin meant the history part of the trip sounded like it would appeal to an old fart like me, but had he also associated something as romantic as a honeymoon with— us?
I stumbled, tripped, and grabbed at the railing in a blind panic.
Calvin turned, reached out, and gripped my shoulder to keep me from face-planting. “Jesus. You okay?”
“Y-yeah, sorry.” I cleared my throat. “The— stairs. They’re shorter than what I’m used to.”
Calvin gave me a funny look. “You look a little pale. Do you feel okay?”
“Maybe it’s the altitude.”
I let go of the banister and waved a hand. “No, I’m fine. Really.”
Calvin stared a moment longer before nodding and hiking up the rest of the stairs. He stopped outside of a room and removed the key from the envelope.
“Wow!” I exclaimed.
Our room was beautiful— shimmery wallpaper, non-matching pieces of antique furniture, and a bed with a magnificent mahogany headboard. I walked to the left side and opened one of the windows overlooking the street in time for the nearby train to blow its whistle loudly. I fished my phone from my back pocket and snapped a mediocre picture of the town view.
“It’s like stepping back in time,” I said, looking over my shoulder.
“With the exception of modern plumbing,” Calvin answered. He pushed the suitcase up against the far wall.
I left the open window and breeze fluttering the curtains. At the bedside table was what appeared to be a small journal. I set my phone down and retrieved the book. “Someone leave this?” I opened to a page at random and held it close. But with sunglasses on and sans magnifying glass? No dice on the reading.
I walked across the room and held it out to Calvin.
He took it, without question as to what I needed help with, and sifted through a few pages. “A diary? Oh— this is the ghost diary.”
“Of course,” I answered dryly, as if that response answered all my questions.
“I was told they keep one in all the rooms,” Calvin continued. He closed the book. “Guests can include their own observations.”
I raised my eyebrows and began patting my pockets. “Where’d I put my magnifying glass?”
“Not now,” he said with a touch of amusement. “Let’s get a drink downstairs. The saloon has bartenders in costume.”
“Nothing against the ladies who manage to somehow both breathe and serve drinks while wearing corsets, but I hope there’s a cowboy or two for me to stare at.”
I grinned widely at Calvin. “Giddy-up.”
He put an arm around my shoulders and walked to the door. “Don’t make me punish you later.”
“With a warning like that, why would I stop now?” I opened the door and stepped into the hall first. I slipped from Calvin’s arm and walked backward. “If I flirt with an outlaw, will you use your handcuffs on me?”
“Seb,” he said with a tone that sort of indicated he was liking the fact I was digging a grave for myself.
“Will you pull out your gun so I can determine whose is bigger?” I continued.
Calvin let the door fall shut behind him as he followed me into the hall. “One more,” he warned.
“How’s that song go— save a horse, ride a cowboy?”
Calvin lunged forward, grabbed my wrist, and pulled me tight against him.
I laughed and twisted in his hold. “Did I do bad, sheriff?”
“Bringing you here was a huge mistake.”
“Nah, you like it.”
Calvin smiled and kissed my mouth. “Let’s get you drunk on trade whiskey.”
“Sounds fun.” We started down the stairs before I patted my pocket. “Shit. I forgot my phone.”
Calvin handed me the room card.
“Hold onto those drunk thoughts.” I jogged back up the stairs and to our room, letting myself inside. I went to the bedside table where I’d set my— where was the phone?
I put my hand on the tabletop. I was certain I’d set it here when I picked up the ghost diary….
I turned my head and saw it laying at the foot of the bed.
I grabbed it and left the room once more.
I was drunk.
More drunk than I usually got.
I blamed the altitude.
Calvin was paying our bar bill downstairs and I had gone back into the hotel with the intention of taking a piss. But I stopped on the stairs leading to the third floor when I heard a door close above me. Up and to the right.
Pretty sure that had to be our room. Shitfaced or not— I’ve got excellent hearing. Comes with the poor eyesight.
I waited halfway up the stairs to see who was leaving.
But it was silent.
Maybe it had been housekeeping?
Although that didn’t make sense. It was nearly ten at night.
I gripped the banister, more to steady my inebriated steps than anything, and crept up the last few stairs. I peered around the corner.
Nothing but an empty hallway.
I must have been mistaken.
I pulled the room key from my pocket as I reached the door and let myself in. I stood in the doorway, leaned to the left, and turned the lamp on. The room had a comfortable glow about it, just enough to illuminate our suitcase against the wall— unzipped with clothes hanging out.
“Well shit,” I stated.
“Think it’s a Strater ghost?” I asked, still staring at the open suitcase.
“No,” Calvin replied as he rubbed his lightly bristled cheek.
“Not open to the supernatural?”
He gave me side-eye. “It was housekeeping.”
“Not that smart of them, don’t you think? I mean, whoever is assigned to cleaning this room will get blamed.” I stared at Calvin. “I heard the door on my way upstairs, but obviously there’s no one in here.”
“Probably whoever it was leaving.”
“But I was on the stairs.”
“There’s an elevator,” he stated, before crouching down to go through the rumbled contents.
“I guess….” Not that I was debating whether or not the elevator existed— I just hadn’t heard it being used.
“Nothing seems to be missing.”
I crossed my arms and looked down. “It’d be a sad day in hell when my underwear is worth something on the black market.”
“I’ll call the front desk.” Calvin stood once more.
“Do we have to?”
“Someone was in our room, Seb.”
“They’re not anymore.”
“I’m drunk and easy right now. Let’s deal with it later.”
I wrapped my arms around Calvin’s neck and pulled him down to kiss. I curled one hand through his thick hair, giving it a good tug. Calvin put his hands on my hips, pulling me against his own body. He deepened the kiss, tasting like heat and male and delicious whiskey.
“You’re terrible,” he murmured against my mouth.
“You fucking love it,” I whispered.
Calvin growled, shoved me down on the bed, and climbed over me. “You’re damn right.”
I’m not sure what had woken me. I tried falling asleep again, focusing on Calvin’s warm breath against my neck and shoulder, and the weight of his arm draped over my chest. I was hanging precariously in a state of semi-consciousness when I heard the floor creak.
My eyes snapped open and I turned my head to the door. Fuzzy though it may have been, I watched the shape of it fall shut in the dark, the lock clicking quietly.
After the insanely hot hotel sex, I’d spent a few minutes reading through the ghost diary we’d found earlier. At least until Calvin had snuggled up close and made a passing comment about the likely made up stories of dead people who never exist not being very romantic.
And whatever my knight wanted, he got. So I’d tossed aside the book in favor of post-orgasm cuddling.
Anyway. Point being, several of the written accounts by previous guests mentioned the door opening and closing in the middle of the night— enough that one couple slept with a chair shoved under the knob. Others mentioned items being moved around the room, or just going missing entirely during their stay.
So. Uh. Was there a ghost visiting our room while I was currently pantless?
I eased out from under Calvin’s hold, surprised my movement didn’t wake him. I grabbed my glasses from the table and put them on before going to the door and checking through the peephole. The light from the hall caused me to squint, but I saw the almost… semi-translucent… shape of… something vanish around the corner.
“What the fuck?” I whispered. I turned around and hastily grabbed my pajama pants from the suitcase. I yanked them on, picked up my magnifying glass left beside the ghost diary, and slipped out of the room.
I tiptoed down the short hall from our door, wary of the floor making sounds and giving my location away.
Not that— well, I’m not sure if that mattered to a ghost, but whatever.
I poked my head around the corner. The halls appeared empty, and no noise filtered up from the open staircase that looked all the way down to the lobby.
Christ. I must have looked like a lunatic. Half dressed, wandering around a hotel at like two in the morning, with nothing but a magnifying glass.
Why did Calvin adore me?
I had nearly turned around and gone back to our room when one, I realized I’d have to wake said boyfriend because I didn’t take a room key with me, but two and more importantly, that weird spectral thing I thought I had maybe seen through the peephole was standing in front of a door further down the hall.
I leaned awkwardly to one side, watching it. My eyesight may have been shoddy, and I may have still been an itsy bit drunk, but that wasn’t a ghost.
Someone dressed like a ghost, sure. But not a real dead person haunting the halls and rattling chains.
That meant a living person had been in our room, pilfering through our things…. Had we been robbed and not yet noticed?
“Hey!” I shouted.
The person startled, turned, and looked right at me. They were dressed in what appeared to be a historically accurate representation of maid’s clothing from the late 1880’s. Their complexion looked wrong though, even from a distance, so I ventured to assume they were wearing makeup of some sort.
“Don’t move!” I said— like an idiot and not intimidating in the least.
And of course they ran. I moved to the left to cut them off, but the person skidded and turned on a heel to go the opposite way toward the stairs. I thought about throwing my magnifying glass at them, but all that’d accomplish was breaking it. I dropped it to the carpeted floor and instead picked up a potted plant from a nearby stand.
“Shit, shit!” I didn’t know how else to slow the person down, so I blindly threw the house fern.
People were standing outside their rooms, watching the scene.
I couldn’t blame them.
Must have been interesting from the outside looking in.
“So you heard the door close,” Calvin stated.
“And you went to investigate.”
“It’s a thing I do from time to time.”
He cleared his throat and ran a hand through his hair still mused from sleep. “You saw this intruder—”
“Dressed as a maid,” I interjected.
“Is he wearing makeup?” I continued.
Calvin stared at me for a moment, then at the man now in handcuffs. He was sitting on the hotel floor with several uniformed officers and hotel staff surrounding him. The burglar was covered in potting soil from where the container had broken on his head, and the fern’s sad existence was strewn all down the staircase.
“He is wearing gray makeup, yes,” Calvin replied.
“For the spooky.”
“I’d suspect so.”
“Detective Winter,” one of the officers said. He held out a wallet to Calvin. “This appears to be yours.”
Calvin frowned and took the wallet while patting the back pocket of his jeans he’d thrown on after hearing the crash and screams from the hallway, courtesy of yours truly. “I had it when we returned from the saloon.”
“Looks like Mr. Michaelson here has been using hotel keys to access rooms,” the cop replied, eyeing the suspect. “He must have slipped into your room during the middle of the night to look for valuables.”
“I was already in there,” Michaelson said from the floor, sounding like he’d given up entirely. “In the shower.”
“You heard us having sex!” I declared.
He frowned in response.
“You tried to steal my phone too,” I said. “I remember putting it on the table, but then I found it on the bed.”
“I was already in the closet when you checked in,” he muttered, narrowing his eyes at me. “You came back to the room too fast and I panicked— had to hide again.”
“Asshole,” I murmured. Not that the phone was particularly valuable to me. I just had a lot of pictures of me and Calvin and our dog on it, and I’m a sentimental sonofabitch.
“Your partner here stopped Michaelson from making another burglary tonight,” a second officer said to Calvin.
Calvin looked at me.
I grinned. “All in a day’s work.”