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by Jim Foreman



Joe had an appointment with a man from Kansas City who was going to decorate the interior of the hotel. He was a rather effeminate sort of a little man with a handshake that reminded Joe of grabbing a handful of soft dough. Joe took an immediate dislike to the man, but thought that he would go along with him as long as he did an acceptable job.

"My suggestion is to decorate every room in a Louis the Fourteenth style, using a combination of purple and puce as the basic colors. I'll work those colors against the bed covers which......"

Joe interrupted the man, "Ninety percent of the people who will be staying at the Armitage will be men and most of them would throw up at the thought of spending a night in a room painted puce, whatever the hell that color is. I want something strong and masculine but looks warm, comfortable and reeks of old money."

"Perhaps you would like something in a western motif with murals of cowboys, campfires and horses?"

"Hell no," said Joe. "That isn't what I want either. I'll fire any person who even suggests anything that would connect this hotel with cows. There is already one hotel in this town for people like that. I want a hotel that appeals to men with money--lots of money. No stuffed animals, no cuspidors and no damn cowboy paintings. I want you to get your ass on the train and go see what some of the best New York hotels look like, and while you are at it, stop by Philadelphia and have a look at their best. Also, check out some of the exclusive men's clubs back east. If you can't bring yourself to decorating my hotel in the same manner as the Astor and Waldorf, then I have the wrong man on the job."

One thing that could be said for the little man was the fact that he understood what Joe wanted and went about producing it. While the carpeting that he bought was a bit on the floral side, the rest of the hotel had the look of the inside of a bank. The doors and trim were solid oak and the furniture was soft leather. The lobby was finished mostly in marble with off white colors for the areas which were painted. A huge chandelier swung above a bubbling fountain in the center of the lobby and the registration desk was raised six inches higher than the lobby floor to give a more aloof appearance.

The hotel was equipped with the latest fully automatic elevators which needed no operators. One stepped on the elevator, pressed the button for the desired floor and the elevator stopped exactly level with that floor.

It was Joe's desire to have the grand opening of the Armitage Hotel make the one Brewster did for Amarillo Hotel pale in comparison. Remembering what had brought out the people to vote a number of years before, Joe bought twenty steers and arranged to have them cooked over mesquite coals. There would be huge pots of beans and tubs of coleslaw. This would be a free barbecue to surpass anything ever seen in Amarillo or anywhere in Texas for that matter.

When the day for the dedication and grand opening came, the hotel was draped with red, white and blue bunting and United States flags flew from staffs on each corner of the building. A single Texas flag hung from a staff above the entrance doors. The new streamlined Santa Fe Superchief, the very latest and most modern in passenger trains, stood on the siding behind the hotel. Everyone was invited to come aboard and inspect it. A large platform, much like the one erected on the steps of the national capitol for the inauguration of a president, was built in front of the hotel. It was estimated that more than six thousand people came to Amarillo see the dedication of the new hotel.

In his dedication speech, Joe had decided to fling a few barbs of his own. He wanted to let the people know how he felt about the future of Amarillo without lowering himself to the level of the Brewsters with their personal insults. He had worked on the speech for several weeks before it was just the way that he wanted.

On the evening prior to the dedication, Joe hosted a reception in his new penthouse for the various state officials, including three state senators who had been friends of his father. There were also bankers, industrial leaders and other dignitaries at the party.

The reviewing stand in front of the hotel was jammed with dignitaries of all sorts. All of the city commissioners as well as the county board of commissioners and other elected officials were present. Both US Senators from Texas and three US Congressman were present. Warren Brewster, who had recently won re-election to the Texas State House, was absent because his name had been intentionally omitted from the guest list.

Roger stepped up to Joe and said, "I"d like for you to meet Grace Hammond. She's a movie actress from California and is here to visit some friends."

Not since that first look at Maggie, had Joe's heart done such a flip-flop. She had long blonde hair, blue eyes and a figure that would stop traffic. Her full lips were painted fire engine red and her eyes were outlined in some sort of green shading. She wore a knit dress that clung to every curve of her body, leaving nothing to the imagination.

"I'm pleased to meet you," Joe said.

"It's time for your speech," Roger reminded him.

Grace took Joe's arm and walked to the reviewing stand with him. Joe did his best to divide his attention between what he was going to say and the striking woman seated by his side.

The band played several numbers, followed by the National Anthem to quiet the crowd. Buck Henry, the editor of the newspaper, stepped forward to introduce Joe, which he did with pomp and style.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and neighbors," Joe began. "When I decided to build this fine hotel, I wanted it to represent the future of our great city and to propel Amarillo into the future instead of pushing it further back into the frontier. Amarillo's future is not in cattle, but in commerce and industry. I see a landscape dotted with factories which will put thousands of people to work, building millions of products each year. Keeping the land in grass to graze cows which drop only a single calf each spring is such a waste of our resources because it puts no one to work and does nothing to benefit our great city. I see Amarillo becoming the hub of transportation with more railroads and highways meeting here. I see the sky filled with giant airplanes, using Amarillo as their hub while they transport people rapidly from one coast to the other. Amarillo is in a unique location, almost exactly in the center of this great nation. We can either take the lead as this nation prospers and grows, or hide behind a cow and watch it pass us by. I prefer to be a part of the future and this is why I have built this new hotel. I dedicate this hotel to the future, not the past."

There was a roar of applause, the firemen cranked the sirens on the fire trucks and the engineer blew the whistle on the Santa Fe Superchief. When the crowd was finally quiet again, Joe continued, "In appreciation for all of you fine people coming to help celebrate this occasion with me, I am inviting you to attend the free barbecue which will be held at the fair grounds, beginning at six tonight. Also, each person who attends the barbecue will be given a ticket for a drawing in which two hundred lucky people will be given free lodging tonight in the new Armitage Hotel." The applause and shouting was even louder and lasted longer than it had following his main speech.

Joe raised his hand for quiet and when the applause finally ceased, he added, "I would also like to dispel any rumors that I am running for the office of Governor of this great state of Texas. I will leave that to those who feel the need for public adulation."

As if by magic, several signs popped up in various locations throughout the crowd, each proclaiming, "Armitage for Governor" and the crowd began to chant, "JOE! JOE! JOE!".

"Is this your way of announcing that you are running for governor?" asked Roger.

"I'm not as of this moment, just putting the idea in some people's heads."

Everyone looked up when they heard the roaring of three airplanes which appeared overhead. A wingwalker could be seen standing atop the wing of one of the ships and the other two performed loops, spins and other maneuvers.

"Did you hire those airplanes?" asked Roger.

"No, they are probably just some barnstormers who are here to take advantage of the crowd here for the dedication," Joe replied. "But speaking of airplanes reminds me, they are settling the estate of old man Bergin on Monday morning and I want you to buy that section of land that he owned out east of town."

"What in the world do you want that piece of land for?" asked Roger.

"I have my reasons. You can probably buy it for around four or five dollars an acre if you do it quickly and quietly. I'll put up the money but I can't have my name connected with it in any way. Put the deed in your company name and you will own ten percent and I'll own ninety." Roger had been involved in many such deals in the past with Joe and he had always profited from them, so he asked no more questions.

While they watched, the two airplanes which were doing loops suddenly turned toward one another and slammed together with a grinding crash. The crowd gasped in shock as the two ships seemed to cling together and then separate in a whirl of wings and other parts. A body thrown free of the wreckage, tumbled toward the ground. The other airplane began a drunken spiral toward the ground and two people could be seen struggling to get out of it. As soon as they were free of the doomed ship, white parachutes blossomed above them and they floated toward the ground as the airplane slammed through the roof of the steam laundry. The fuselage of the other ship crashed in the middle of Polk street while the wings fluttered down three blocks away. The pilot fell through the roof of a house on Harrison Street. Fortunately, the only injury or fatality was the pilot who was thrown out of his ship without a parachute.

When the shock of the crash had subsided, Grace took his arm and whispered, "I'm sorry that I wasn't here last night to attend the party in your penthouse, why don't you show it to me now."

Joe stepped into the elevator with Grace, inserted his key into the slot above the button for the twelfth floor and the door closed. A few second later, the elevator delivered them to the penthouse.

"This is quite a place you have here," Grace said as she looked around. "And you even have a pool up here too. Let's go swimming."

"That's a good idea. While you go down to your room for your suit, I'll get into mine," Joe replied.

"Why bother with swimsuits? There's no one around and it's a lot more fun to swim nude. Only old fuddy-duddies wear swimsuits in California," Grace said as she began to peel off her tight dress.

Joe hesitated for a few moments and as Grace tossed the last piece of her clothing onto the bed, he turned his back and began to take off his clothes. There was a splash and he heard Grace yell, "What are you waiting for, the water's great."

As Joe stepped into the water, Grace grabbed him around the neck and as she gave him a warm, wet kiss, she leaned back and pulled him under the water with her. When they finally came up for air, she said, "Now isn't this a lot more fun than swimming around in stuffy old suits."

Just as they were getting out of the pool, they heard the roar of an airplane taking off from the landing strip across the tracks to the north. The airplane lifted off the ground and began to climb in the direction of the hotel. Joe darted into the penthouse but Grace stopped to watch it approach. The airplane was about level with the penthouse as it passed so close they could see the shocked look on the pilot's face when he saw a naked woman waving to him from the terrace. The pilot banked sharply to circle the hotel for another look.

"Good heavens, Grace," Joe shouted. "Get in here before you cause another airplane crash."

"I love airplanes," Grace said as she walked into the penthouse. "My brother is a pilot but he won't teach me to fly."

They dried off quickly and were soon locked in frantic lovemaking. Joe had never imagined that any woman could make love with such wild abandon. The time flew by and he finally realized that he was due as the guest of honor at the big barbecue to be held at the fairgrounds.

The party lasted until well past midnight before he and Grace could return to the penthouse. He was exhausted and ready to go right to sleep, but she had other ideas. He was able to indulge only half-heatedly in one session of lovemaking before he lapsed into a deep slumber.

Joe had been asleep for only a short time when he was awakened in a most pleasant manner. He was lying on his back and Grace was astride him, providing all the enthusiasm necessary for the moment. Realizing that he was awake, she said, "Just lie there and enjoy it, Darling. Let me do all the work."

She was still asleep when he woke the next morning. He took a quick shower and kissed her on the cheek before leaving for his office on the second floor. When she turned over and smiled, he told her, "I have a few things that I need to take care of this morning. When you get up, call room service and ask them to bring up breakfast for both of us."

When he returned to the penthouse for breakfast, she was dressed in tight riding pants and boots. "Going for a ride today?" he asked.

"Well, sort of," she replied with a smile. "I have a little adventure planned. Care to come along?"

"I'm sorry but I have a meeting with the hotel staff in half an hour, followed by meetings with several rather important people."

It was past four in the afternoon before the multitude of meetings were finished and Joe was able to leave his office and return to the penthouse. Grace wasn't there, so he poured himself a drink and settled into a chair beside the pool. From where he was sitting, he could see the dirt runway across the tracks to the north. He owned the property but allowed the airmail airplanes and Howard Irving to use it as a landing field. Irving had learned to fly during World War One and was now trying to make a living teaching people how to fly and by hopping rides for three dollars a head. Business wasn't too good because in addition to the dilapidated condition of his airplanes, he was usually falling-down drunk. The combination was usually enough to discourage even the most enthusiastic customers.

Two airplanes were parked beside the runway and a man was spinning the propeller on one of them. Even after seeing two of airplanes crash and a man get killed, people are still dumb enough to go up in the damn things, he thought to himself.

There was a belch of blue smoke as the engine came to life and the man who was cranking it jumped clear of the spinning propeller. Slowly, it moved forward and turned to taxi to the north end of the runway. The airplane turned around and the noise of the engine increased. It waddled along, slowly picking up speed. Dust boiled behind the ship as the tail rose from the ground. It was at this point that Joe noticed a person clinging to the struts between the wings about half way between the fuselage and the tip on the right side.

As the airplane gained more speed, it tilted toward the side where the figure was clinging and the wooden skid under that wing began to drag along the ground, kicking up small plumes of dust and pulling the ship around in that direction. Looks as if he is going to crash before he ever gets it off the ground, Joe thought to himself.

At the last instant before the wing plowed into the roll of dirt along the edge of the runway, the ship staggered into the air. Fighting the added drag of the person standing on the wing, the ship wallowed along, climbing very slowly as it headed directly toward the hotel. Closer and closer it came. Joe could see that the pilot was having a considerable amount of difficulty keeping the ship in the air, much less being able to control where it was going. It appeared to Joe that the ship would certainly crash into the building.

The airplane was now so close that Joe could clearly see the expression on the face of the pilot. He didn't appear to be concerned at all, in fact there was a silly, drunken grin on his face. At the last instant before it crashed into the building, the pilot jerked the airplane to the left, missing the corner of the hotel by inches. It was only then that Joe recognized that Grace was the person who was clinging to the interplane struts of the ragged old Curtis Jenny.

The airplane climbed slowly as it flew in large circles over the city. Joe watched Grace struggle against the force of the wind and work her way out to the tip of the wings and then back to the inner struts where she had been perched when it took off. Joe ran inside, took the elevator to the lobby and hurried to his car. He bounded across the tracks and slid to a stop just as the airplane landed.

Grace was grinning from ear to ear as she slid off the trailing edge of the wing. The airplane roared around in a cloud of flying dust and pulled into position to be tied down.

"What the hell do you think you are doing," Joe yelled over the roar of the engine.

"Howard is teaching me how to wing-walk," shouted Grace as she danced around in glee. "Tomorrow, he is going to teach me how to climb up on the top wing."

"Like hell, he will," shouted Joe.

"You can't tell me what to do," she shouted, stamping her foot and kicking up a cloud of dust.

"I'll damn sure tell you what to do when it comes to letting some drunken fool kill you in a crate like that," he yelled. "Get your ass into that car!"

"Just because I sleep with you doesn't give you the right to order me around," she shouted. "I'm over twenty-one and I can do whatever I damn please, and you or no one else can stop me."

Joe got into his car and drove back to the hotel. Grace didn't come back to the penthouse that night and when Joe looked into her room the next day, her luggage was gone. He called downstairs to the desk and was told that she had moved to the Amarillo Hotel.

The following morning, he called Ed Masterson and told him, "Get Howard Irving and his damn airplanes off my property. Tell him that if he isn't gone by dark, I'll have him arrested for trespassing."

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