Okay, so, yeah, the house is definitely kooky and weird, and half of the so-called collection isn’t real, but there’s supposedly some Golden Age Hollywood memorabilia housed inside. And, hey, working here has got to be way better than filing court documents.
A row of hedges hides the employee lot tucked behind one of the mansion’s wings. I manage to park Baby in a space near another scooter without wrecking anything—go me!—and then pop the center stand and run a chain lock through the back tire to secure it. My helmet squeezes inside the bin under the locking seat; I’m good to go.
I didn’t know what was considered an appropriate outfit for orientation, so I’m wearing a vintage 1950s sundress with a light cardigan over it. My Lana Turner pin curls seem to have survived the ride, and my makeup’s still good. However, when I see a couple of other people walking in a side door wearing flip-flops and shorts, I feel completely overdressed. But it’s too late now, so I follow them inside.
This looks to be a back hallway with offices and a break room. A bored woman sits behind a podium inside the door. The people I followed inside are nowhere to be seen, but another girl is stopped at the podium.
“Name?” the bored woman asks.
The girl is petite, about my age, with dark brown skin and cropped black hair. She’s also overdressed like me, so I feel a little better. “Grace Achebe,” she says in the tiniest, high-pitched voice I’ve ever heard in my life. She’s got a strong English accent. Her tone is so soft, the woman behind the podium makes her repeat her name. Twice.
She finally gets checked off the list and handed a file folder of new-hire paperwork before being instructed to enter the break room. I get the same treatment when it’s my turn. Looks to be twenty or more people filling out paperwork already. Since there aren’t any empty tables, I sit at Grace’s.
She whispers, “You haven’t worked here before either?”
“No. I’m new,” I say, and then add, “in town.”
She glances at my file. “Oh. We’re the same age. Brightsea or Oakdale? Or private?”
It takes me a second to realize what she means. “I’ll start at Brightsea in the fall.”
“Twins,” she says with a big smile, pointing to the education line on her application. After another new hire passes by, she shares more information about this place. “They hire, like, twenty-five people every summer. I’ve heard it’s boring but easy. Better than cleaning up pink cotton candy puke at the boardwalk.”
Can’t argue with that. I’ve already filled out the main application online, but they’ve given us a handbook and a bunch of other weird forms to sign. Confidentiality agreements. Random drug-testing permission. Pledges not to use the museum Wi-Fi to view weird porn. Warnings about stealing uniforms.
Grace is as befuddled as I am.
“Competing business?” she murmurs, looking at something we have to sign, promising not to take a similar job within sixty miles of Coronado Cove for three months after ending employment here. “What do they consider a similar job? Is this even legal?”
“Probably not,” I whisper back, thinking of Nate LLC constantly spouting off legal advice to my mom, like she wasn’t a lawyer herself.
“We-e-ell, this is not legally my signature,” she says in her pretty English accent, making a vague, wavy scribble on the form as she waggles her brows at me. “And if they don’t give me enough hours, I am heading straight to the nearest cave mansion within sixty miles.”
I don’t mean to laugh so loud, and everyone looks up, so I quickly quash the giggles and we both finish our paperwork. After we hand it in, we’re both assigned a locker and given the ugliest vests I’ve ever seen in my life. They’re the color of rotting jack-o’-lanterns. We don’t have to wear them for orientation, but we do have to wear HELLO, MY NAME IS . . . stickers. And when everyone is done slapping them onto their chests, we’re herded down the employee hall, through a steel door (with a sign reminding us to smile), and into the main lobby.
It’s huge, and our footfalls bounce around the rock walls as we all crane our necks, looking around. The entrance to the cave is at the back of the lobby, and all the stalagmites and -tites are lit with orange lights, which only ups the creep factor. We’re led across the expansive lobby past a circular information desk, a gift shop that looks like it was transported from 1890s London, and a sunken lounge area filled with couches that might have been stolen from the set of The Brady Bunch . . . all of which are the exact color of our ugly vests. I’m sensing a theme.
“Good morning, seasonal new hires,” a middle-aged man says. He, too, is wearing a pumpkin vest with a tie that has the Cavern Palace art deco logo printed all over it. I wonder if that’s mandated for the male employees, or if he bought it from the gift shop with his employee discount. “I’m Mr. Cavadini, the museum floor supervisor. Though all of you will be assigned team supervisors, those supervisors report to me. I’m the one who makes the schedules, and the person who approves your time cards. So you may think of me as the person you most want to impress for the next three months.”
He says this with all the excitement of a funeral director and manages to frown the entire time he’s speaking, but that might be because his dark blond hairline seems unnaturally low—like his forehead is half the size it should be.
“What a woeful twat,” Grace says in her tiny voice near my shoulder.
Wow. Sweet little Grace has a filthy mouth. But she’s not wrong. And as Mr. Cavadini begins lecturing us on the Cave’s history and how it attracts half a million visitors every year, I find myself looking around the lobby and scoping out the places I could be assigned—information desk, guided tours, lost and found, gift shop . . . I wonder which position would allow me to deal with as few disgruntled guests as possible. On my application, I checked off the boxes for “behind-the-scenes” and “working alone” preferences.
Café tables sit around an open balcony on the second floor, and I’m seriously hoping I don’t get stuck working in food service. Then again, if I worked in the café, I would get to stare at not only a life-size reproduction of a pirate ship suspended from the ceiling, but also a skeletal sea monster attacking said ship. File that in the “not genuine” part of the Davenports’ collection of oddities.
Movement catches my eyes. On a set of floating slate-rock stairs that curve around the pirate ship, two museum security guards in generic black uniforms are descending. I squint, not believing my eyes. How small is this town, anyway? Because one of those guards is the dark-haired dude from yesterday who was pulling his drugged-up friend off the road. Yep, that’s definitely him: the hot surfer boy with the Frankenstein scars on his arm.
My panic meter twitches.
“And now,” Mr. Cavadini says, “you’ll split up into two teams and tour the museum with a member of our security. This side, please follow our senior security officer, Jerry Pangborn, who has worked for Cavern Palace since it opened to the public forty years ago.”
He points the left side of the group toward a frail wisp of an old man whose white hair sticks up like he just exploded a beaker of chemicals in a science lab. He’s super friendly and sweet, and though he probably couldn’t stop a ten-year-old ruffian from stealing a piece of candy out of the gift shop, he eagerly steers his team of recruits to the left side of the lobby, toward a large archway marked VIVIAN’S WING.