PART OF AN ONGOING SERIES EXPLORING THE (SOMETIMES) LIGHTER SIDE OF A LIFE SPENT WORKING IN A HOTEL. READ EARLIER INSTALLMENTS HERE.
by DEVEN MATTHEWS
On any given evening, a hotel houses myriad guests for countless purposes. Many of the tenants are leisure travelers, happily enjoying a vacation from the demands of their everyday lives. A large percentage of guests are business travelers who are possibly working abroad, attending conferences, or are assigned to a special project away from home. Other occupants of the hotel might include long-term guests, those traveling for health reasons, or even those offering religious service.
Terrifyingly, a small percentage of the hotel’s occupants occasionally are criminals hiding from the police.
Although plausible, housing a known criminal doesn’t occur very often, but a hotel marks the perfect location for a criminal on the run to lay low. They can sneak in late at night and be gone early the following morning, reminiscent of Janet Leigh’s character in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Psycho. Hotels that accept cash payments are especially attractive to a criminal as no electronic footprint is left behind.
THE COPS CLOSE IN
One particular early summer evening, I was working with a guy we’ll call Mike. Together, he and I were manning the front desk of a midsize hotel with approximately 150 rooms. Mike had only been hired about three weeks prior and was getting comfortable in his newfound role.
The hotel was located in a relatively large city a short distance off of the freeway. It was on the city’s main street, which was once a highway. The street was dotted with restaurants, bars, retail stores, and (of course) hotels.
The city police department was well aware the hotels along this strip served as an ideal temporary hideaway for those evading the law since the freeway granted quick access to escape if needed. For this reason, squad cars frequently would cruise through our parking lot, running license plates on suspicious-looking vehicles. Every once in a while, they’d get lucky and find a vehicle registered to a lawbreaker.
Law enforcement usually would walk into the lobby and ask the front desk if the car’s registered owner was also a registered guest on the property. If the culprit was in-house, the officer would go out to the room, make an arrest, and have the car impounded.
It looked as though this scenario would play out again tonight, and there would be one less perpetrator on the streets.
The sliding door to the lobby opened and a breeze of the cold night air swept past the front desk. The smell of jasmine was carried by the current and the light scent permeated the air. A police officer accompanied the breeze and entered the hotel.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” the officer said to my counterpart and me.
“Hello,” Mike replied.
“Here’s your man,” I bantered while laughingly pointing at Mike. “He’s guilty, officer. Right here… He’s the one you’re looking for.”
“Whatever,” Mike replied, taking my jabs good naturedly. “You’re sooo funny.”
I looked at the officer who had approached the desk.
“Have you been running plates this evening?” I asked. It was such a common occurrence, I figured this was his reason for entering the hotel.
“I have,” the policeman confirmed. He rested his elbows on the desk and held a small notepad in his hands.
“Any luck?” I asked.
“Actually, yes,”, the cop replied.
I felt I owed Mike an explanation. “You see, the police will cruise the parking lot and randomly run license plates, looking for bad guys.”
Mike seemed uneasy about the operation, as if he could be in danger.
“We’ll find mostly parole violators,” the officer explained. “Every once in a while, we’ll find someone who’s got a warrant. I go knock on their room and take them down to the station. It’s all pretty standard.”
“What’d you find tonight?” I asked.
“Oh, jackpot!” I responded.
“Yeah,” the policeman responded. He then cut to the chase. “Do you guys have Mike Jacobs in house?”
My skin went cold and with wide eyes, as if I’d just witnessed a horrific accident, I turned and looked at my colleague.
“That’s me,” Mike answered timidly.
There was a brief moment where none of us moved. I imagined that we were each feeling very different emotions – the cop, sensing victory, Mike, overcome with fear, and me, in utter disbelief. It was the policeman who finally broke the silence.
“Could I ask you to step around the front of the desk for me?”
Mike obeyed the cop, who began the well-known charge. “Mike Jacobs, you’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent.”
The deputy guided my coworker – tonight’s perpetrator – to the lobby door, all the while explaining to Mike his rights regarding an attorney. The door slid closed behind them with a swish.
LIFE GOES ON
I stood there alone in silence, stunned at the events which had just occurred. It was like a dream. When I finally did move, it was to pick up the phone and dial my front desk manager. She answered after the first ring.
“Joy? It’s Deven.”
“Hey, Deven. What’s up?”
“Uh… Mike was just arrested,” I said.
“What?!” she exclaimed. “What happened? What did you guys do?”
“Nothing!” I blurted out. “At least, I didn’t do anything. A cop was running plates in the parking lot, and he must have run Mike’s plate, because he came in asking for him!”
“Are you kidding?” Joy asked incredulously.
“No. He arrested him right here at the desk. Cuffed him and took him away!” I was still in disbelief. It sounded so surreal explaining it all to Joy.
“Do you want me to come in so you’re not working by yourself?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I go home in just a few hours,” I explained. “I just thought you should know Mike left early – against his will.”
“Jeez. Well, thanks for letting me know,” Joy said. “I wonder what he did.”
“Wow,” Joy said in astonishment. “Unbelievable. Will I see you tomorrow?”
“As long as I’m not arrested.”
We both laughed and then said goodbye. I hung up the phone curious about the reason for Mike’s arrest. Had he committed a crime? Was he dangerous? Were the hotel’s assets in jeopardy? I assumed I was safe now that Mike was in police custody, but there was still a sense of unease that lingered in the air, the way the jasmine had earlier that night.
The following day, a tow truck came and impounded Mike’s car. He was also terminated. We found out later that his warrant was for failure to pay child support. A crime which wasn’t heinous enough to endanger any of the employees, yet serious enough to warrant an arrest and a private escort out of a job.
Deven Matthews is a hotelier who has worked in the hotel industry for more than 23 years. A professor of hotel management at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, Deven enjoys instructing the future managers of Las Vegas hotels. He holds a master’s degree in business management and is fascinated by all things hospitality. When not immersed in hotels, Deven enjoys playing the piano and spending time with his wife and their six children.