Oilman Watching

I am a specialist troubleshooter for the petrol-chemical industry, when things go wrong and the local engineers can't fix it, I get called in.

The major perks of job are that I get paid a huge amount of money for my unusual talents and I don't have to work to schedules, clock ins, clock outs, regular working hours. Anything goes so long as the plant gets back on line as fast as possible.

As with any other job in the world there are down sides. Not many I must admit, but enough to make me wonder why I do the job. My major beef is that oil towns are rough, tough and unruly. The transient accommodation reflects the towns and the people who need it. New workers, salesmen (and women), transients such as me get to live in the motels and dos houses that spring up. The executives of course fly in on executive jets and fly out the same day, no stop over.

My income could of course pay for a trailer or accommodation further afield and more luxurious, but seeing as I mostly use the rooms to sleep in it just does not seem worth it. So I grit my teeth and live in hard used establishments. I've got used to that sort of accommodation and I just accept it as part of the job. To make up for it I have a fine ranch, with a luxurious ranch house with all the mod cons and while not working I bask in luxury.

Living so much in transient accommodation means that I have seen and experienced many events that a normal staid life style would have shielded me from. Brawls in the street, wild noisy sex parties, drama, misery, joy, you name it, I have probably seen it and then some stuff you haven't thought of. I was called to do a job in the wilderness and as is typical found myself booked into the local, most upmarket motel in town. The builder/designer had had delusions of grandeur and so when the oil boom started he had upgraded his establishment, but being short of cash and probably greedy too, he had skimped on the very details that make an establishment liveable, let alone luxurious. For one thing the walls were thin made of board. Sort of arrangement that could, at the stretch of the imagination be called dry walling. Sound proof they were not and after the first night I knew that my neighbour on the right hand side loved Ricki Lake, ate pop corn in bed and had a very bad case of the trots.

The room on the other side was, thankfully empty.

The problem I had been contracted to fix was a simple one and I spent more time soothing the conscience of the plant engineer than in fixing the problem. It is quite often the case that they expect massive problems and somehow forget the small stuff they learnt in college. Solving the small problem took far shorter than I had expected so even with a discount I was going to give the management, I would still make a lovely profit.

I got back to the room and found that I had lots of daylight hours still left. The view out of the window was uninspiring and I had noticed that the front facing room across the way from me appeared to be empty. I wandered down to reception and negotiated with the bored reservations  clerk a change of venue, with the expected increase in price.

I moved into my new room with a bottle of the best whiskey I could find in the town and poured myself a small glass, well watered down. I put off the bender for another time as I had to fly out early the next morning and appear enthusiastic 14 hours later on the other side of the continent and also look confident and effective. The view was actually quite nice, a long sea shoreline, some waves, a few boats, and the promise of a sunset. I was just settling in when there was a knock at the door. I went to the door and opened it. Facing me was a large man of indeterminate age. He looked concerned.

"Yes, can I help you?" I asked politely.

"You cannot stay in this room."

"Why? You clerk agreed it was empty, I paid the agreed amount, there appears to be nothing wrong with it. What is the problem?"

The big man shuffled his feet, looked around, looked back, "Cos you just can't."

"Yes, I can." I said firmly "And I am going to stay and nothing you say is going to change my mind."

The man sighed. Shook his head. "Ok, but just don't blame me if things get funny."

Having seen what I considered to be almost all that could go funny in the world, I was not concerned.

The big man left and I went back to sitting at the window watching the sea. It was peaceful, contemplative and I must have drifted off to sleep, because it was dark when the guests in the room to my left came in and woke me. Two voices, a man and a woman and from the tone of their voices, I gathered that they were slightly drunk and very horny. I looked out at the sea view, and to my surprise, realised that I could see directly into the next room by a trick of light and reflection in my window and their window. Sitting in the dark as I was, I was invisible.

They had soft lighting on and so I could see them quite clearly. She was a very beautiful if slightly over-endowed blonde, dark blue dress and a décolletage from which her breasts were on the point of escaping. High heeled shoes and bright scarlet lipstick finished off the gangster mol image to a tee. She had the wheedling sound you associate with woman who supplied the eye candy for fifties gangster movies.

He was dressed in fifties style too. Some sort of fancy dress I wondered vaguely to myself. I was not averse to watching them flirt and play so I stayed where I was and watched. Pretty soon things got a bit more heated, after a couple of passionate kisses he had his hand up her dress. From the movement of his hand and the soft sounds she was making, I guessed that the man hand found his target and was caressing it fairly skilfully.

After a few minutes, her hands started to fiddle with his fly and soon her hand was doing similar services for him. As I suspected the action could not last for too long and soon he turned her around facing me, bent her over so she was bracing herself on the window sill with her face close to the window that formed part of the mirror system I was watching through. It was a bit unnerving because her face seemed to have grown, magnified somehow by the mirror effect.

I was left in no doubt that he had penetrated her from behind, because she threw her head back and gasped loudly. I could see him over her back and could see his movement, but not much else. The action became pretty wild and just as all three of us were expecting some sort of climax, there was a loud bang and the door of the neighbouring room crashed open, "You lousy cheating bastards!" was all I heard before two huge blasts of a weapon erupted. The man and woman had not had time to separate before the shots were fired and to my horror blood splashed on the window and the two lovers crashed to the floor. Almost immediately the lights went out, the door banged open and I was left alone in the dark, horrified by what I had witnessed.

I dialled the reception and to my surprise, the phone was answered almost immediately by the big man. "Yes?"

"You gotta call the cops. There has been a murder."

The man sighed. "No there hasn't."

"I have just seen . . "

"A blonde woman and her lover shot?"


He sighed again.

"Wait there, I am on my way up."

He arrived and took me into the next door room. The room was empty, not just of bodies, but of furniture. Nothing I had seen through the window existed. The only thing left was the carpet, much the same as in my room but it covered one wall rather than the floor. The room was dusty, dark and convincingly empty. It was also cold, menacing, completely uninhabitable and it stank too of sex, cordite and cheap perfume.

"In 1954, a local gangsters and the wife of another gangster were having an affair. The husband caught them and they were both shot in this room. We cannot hire out that room at all and the one you are in is unrentable at this time of the month because every month at this time they relive that murder. It is a sodding pain. And now I will have some of that whiskey with you and you can ask me anything you want to ask."

We retired to my room and he filled in the details of the murder.

I commented on the carpet on the wall. "The room next door is even stranger, the carpet is on the ceiling, the next door the carpet is on the wall and it goes back to normal."

"Why do you you leave it like that?"

"It is part of the lease agreement. The owner, a strange professor type insists that the carpeting must remain as it is. Built into the lease it is. If I remove the carpet, I will lose the lease." He shrugged. "It stays that way."

We ended up finishing the bottle of whiskey and I fell into a deep sleep. I was not very enthusiastic the next day when I got to my next job, the hangover saw to that but I winged it and ended up back at home.

The ghost story worried me and I worried at it.

By chance I had to go back to the same town some months later. I checked into the same hotel and go the back room I had got the previous time. I didn't argue and anyway I had a much more complex issue to deal with which took a number of days to resolve.

I met the big man on my last evening and we shared another bottle of whiskey. It was a chance remark by him that solved the riddle. He mentioned that the owner was a mathematician. It didn't immediately ring bells, but about an hour and two or three whiskeys later it struck me. I understood what was happening and I proposed a solution to the big man.

"You can add carpets? Just not take them away?" He nodded.

"When is the next occurrence?"

"Tomorrow night."

We added a row of carpet tiles to the ceiling of the room I had been in starting at the carpet on the wall, across the ceiling and then led them out to the window.

The next night we were in the room adjacent to the murder room. The time arrived, the blonde and her lover arrived, the sex started, the gunshots and darkness, but this time the room we were sitting in was filled with the smell of cheap perfume, cordite and and sex. A gentle wind blew passed my cheek and I swear I felt two lips brush a kiss on my cheek. When we came to check the haunted room it was warm and comforting, the menace, the cold, everything was gone.

"What just happened?" asked the big man.

"Simple. The owner is a mathematician and he has arranged the carpets to put a twist into the building. That twist makes a Möbius strip which is a geometrical entity that has no distinct outside and no distinct inside. Once caught in a Möbius strip you cannot get out. The spirits of the dead were thus trapped and could not leave. What we did was to break the Möbius strip just enough to provide an exit for the ghosts.

Later that evening when I came to look in the mirror, I found I had scarlet lipstick on my cheek. What I did not notice is that there was lipstick on my collar. My wife found those marks and now she is divorcing me. She says she just does not believe in ghosts.