written, edited, and produced by Viktor Devonne for 2 Night Stay
performed and recorded by Charles Stunning
Realizing the late hour, Margaret held her breath as she entered the next room. The penthouse. Usually this required two maids and sometimes took upwards of three hours depending on the condition left by the previous guest. If her memory served, it had gone unused for the last month, so this was clearly a special occasion for someone.
As she wheeled the cart in, she was greeted by a small dog, sitting quietly and attentively at the door, perhaps waiting for someone to finally come in. This was a small caramel, deep brown, and white colored beagle, and Margaret searched her memory for a split second as to why that seemed so familiar.
He sat beside a set of luggage—a beautiful robin eggshell blue, monogrammed “A.F.”
The table next to the door was adorned with a valuable hand muff, a fortune in white fur.
This well-behaved dog was the one she saw in the lobby earlier in the night.
“Rudy!” came a voice from the bedroom. Margaret stood still in her tracks. The voice was feminine, clearly older, with a mezzo-soprano sing-song affectation.
Nearly waltzing in with a cigarette holder and tumbler likely to be full of gin was a cheerful woman of about sixty. Her vertical line Dior dress was a warm shade of cream, her hair pulled tight to her scalp like a sensible Lauren Bacall, and a white, glittering smile that rivaled a starlet.
“Oh, hull-oh!” she said cheerfully. “I’m so sorry my dear,” a New England accent coming forth, “I know the man at the desk said you were still handling the rooms but we just had to get ourselves settled, you know.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Margaret nearly curtsied out of the queenly nature suddenly permeating the space, “I can return later if this is not a good time.”
“Oh, no,” the woman waved her hand in Margaret’s direction as she settled herself in a lime green shell chair, wrapping a stocking-clad leg underneath her. She tapped the cigarette in her hand towards the tray on the table next to her. “I’m in _your_ way after all. Rudy!” she sang.
The beagle jumped in her lap accordingly, and faced Margaret as she pulled the cart into the living room area of the suite. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Angie,” the woman puffed on the cigarette, energetically. “Never cared for ma’am from the…” While she stopped short of saying “help,” it was clear. She shut her eyes, ashamed, and continued in an accent more acquainted with Astoria, “Sorry, my dear. New money is rude money.”
Margaret caught herself in a laugh, and the woman scrunched her face in joy and pointed, “See, there, that’s better.” Margaret began pulling forth sheets from her cart’s middle drawer.
The woman with new money looked her over, and a few more puffs later, she said, “You know, I was a laundress until about four years ago. We’re not so different. I worked on my feet day and night for twenty years.”
Margaret, not quite sure what to say in response, managed “Oh, I see.” She just couldn’t bring herself to be so familiar, despite “Angie”’s insistence. “Is madam staying here for the full week of holidays?”
“We’ll see,” Angie sighed with a hint of sadness and then brushed aside for a brighter lilt,
“You know I do love this hotel. I’ve only just been able to afford it, you know. But I’ve been coming here for three years now. It’s important, you know, to have traditions.” Angie let her drink down to gently rub the back of her neck. “You’re new.”
“Just six months, madam.”
“Angie,” the woman repeated gently. “Or Mrs. Fenton if you really must.”
“Mrs. Fenton,” Margaret echoed, grateful for the alternative.
Mrs. Fenton rolled her eyes with understanding, and clicked her tongue in her mouth, attempting to dislodge some memory from lunch in her teeth. “Six months. So you’re part of the new crop. They were shut down, nearly completely, for a year and just can’t keep the staff since.”
Margaret nodded. She had management instructions to never discuss the year the hotel was dark.
Mrs. Fenton pressed on, “You know about that, don’t you,” she brought her head lower, trying to make eye contact with Margaret as she selected pillowcases.
“Yes, Mrs. Fenton, but it’s really not my place to—“
“Oh, nonsense.” Mrs. Fenton heaved through her own smoke. “We’re just the same.”
“As you say,” Margaret politely but unconvincingly agreed.
Margaret passed Mrs. Fenton with the cart to approach the beds.
Quickly on her feet, Mrs. Fenton followed her into the next portion of the penthouse. Rudy claimed the chair for himself, in her absence.
“You know about the accident,” Mrs. Fenton, getting a touch bristly. Even she knew this was grossly inappropriate, but she demanded confirmation.
“I do,” sighed Margaret, not looking at her, “I read all about it.”
Momentarily satisfied, Mrs. Fenton cleared her throat in celebration and toyed with her lavaliere necklace.
“I know you think I’m rude. And I’m sorry for it.” Mrs. Fenton gently folded one hand under her other elbow, keeping the cigarette in reach of her mouth.
“No, madam—Mrs. Fenton,” Margaret said, somewhat distracted by the noncooperation of the fitted sheet. She pressed her hands firmly on the mattress and mused that there was a sect of guests who insisted on speaking with her when she was caught in a room with them. Most of them were dead, but a good portion were the living and rich who wanted to impress upon the lower class that they could still connect with their meager counterparts.
This one, however, was so aggressively vital—like they had been imprisoned for twenty years and just could now see the sun and the moon and yet impatient that they couldn’t get both at the same time. Mrs. Angie Fenton was desperate for attention, likely a miscreant of both worlds—the rich, the poor—if neither would claim her.
Indulging her, Margaret looked up at Mrs. Fenton, who hadn’t taken her own eyes off of her, and said “Are you here in town to see family?”
Mrs. Fenton’s eyes twinkled in silent consideration. “In manner of speaking, honey.” Her voice was lower, more contemplative.
Sensing she may have just hit on Mrs. Fenton’s favorite monologue, Margaret stilled her tongue, and for several moments, the only sounds were the fluffing of down pillows.
Mrs. Fenton had lit another cigarette, her last in its final stages of smolder now discarded in another crystal tray by the bed.
“It’s not like the papers said, you know,” Mrs. Fenton said, apropos of nothing.
“Ma’am?” Margaret murmured, doing her best to get a small spot of a strain on the carpet.
“The floor didn’t just cave in,” Mrs. Fenton said, her voice slower and deliberate. “It was pulled up.”
“Ma’am?” Margaret repeated, half listening.
“But the bodies still fell through to the lobby.” Mrs. Fenton sighed, almost in wonder.
Margaret’s full attention was caught, and she awkwardly stood back up and slowly padded her apron down. “I see.”
The air was now nearly solid with tension, and Margaret considered she may have been hoodwinked after all, and this vibrant, uncultured new money would turn out to be some damned spectre of a lost soul.
Mrs. Fenton looked at Margaret sympathetically. “I’m sorry, my dear. This is why I don’t get those invitations for Sunday luncheon at the women’s auxiliary.”
Margaret gave a crooked but sensitive smile to the woman before her. “Quite alright, Mrs. Fenton. I’ve finished the bed, though, and will need to handle the bathroom if that’s alright.”
Mrs. Fenton’s manic energy clicked back into place and she was suddenly Mame Dennis again, “Oh my yes, of course! I’m just chewing your ear off and you have work to do.”
Margaret breathed relief, and went to wash down the sink, toilet, and tub.
Mrs. Fenton however fluttered after her, and leaned in the doorway to watch. Margaret continued on, attempting her normal duties more often done in solitude.
For many minutes, the only thing shared between the two women was the sound of a washcloth against porcelain, and the cranks of faucets on and off.
Margaret turned to Mrs. Fenton, who was dreamily looking ahead, past her.
“You got kids, Margaret?” Mrs. Fenton said suddenly, still looking beyond her.
Margaret hesitated, quite certain she had not given her name. “…Yes. I have a daughter.”
“Apple of your eye and all that.” Mrs. Fenton muttered, still dazed.
“Pardon me, ma’am,” Margaret attempted to leave the bathroom. Mrs. Fenton returned to the present moment and moved aside for Margaret to exit and then return shortly with new towels.
Mrs. Fenton clicked her tongue a few times absentmindedly. “Listen,” she said, her cheer once again on holiday. “I’ve been looking for someone when I come here. I don’t know if you’ve seen him.”
Margaret was adjusting the towels on the rack, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Fenton, I don’t see many of the guests once they check in. I’m right before or right after them.”
“No, no,” Mrs. Fenton smiled sadly, looking at her cigarette withering away. “Not a guest. He worked here. Few years ago. But I don’t know if he’s still…” Mrs. Fenton paused until Margaret returned her gaze, “Still here.”
Margaret’s eyes shifted away. Feeling herself go all goose flesh, she exhaled slowly, and tittered.
“He worked in the restaurant,” Mrs. Fenton continued, looking directly at Margaret, “Your man at the front desk won’t talk to me about it. I can’t get anyone to talk about it. But I got an idea you know what I’m talking _about_.”
Margaret did not respond.
“Worked the Byron party.” Mrs. Fenton went on, with a grave passionate stillness.
“The Byron…” Margaret knew the story. Local politician holds a self-congratulatory party on the second floor in the ballroom. Guests are having a grand time and an interruption comes mid-celebration. The floor cracks apart and bursts, killing the partygoers and the staff. The hotel shuddered for a year, nearly everyone who survived would then quit, and the investors in the hotel had their hands tied with insurance and payouts to the grieving.
“I’ve seen a lot of these… previous guests,” Mrs. Fenton said, dancing spectacularly around the specifics. “People stay in this hotel long after they check out, right. You know what I’m talking about.”
Margaret found it useless to not admit it. “Yes, ma’am. There are a number of… extended stay guests at the hotel.”
“Now I don’t know why that is,” Mrs. Fenton squirmed on the doorframe, repositioning herself in an awkward attempt to look casual. “And that’s really not my concern, you know. But my boy was here. And he’s not now. And I wanna know why that is.” Mrs. Fenton’s voice began to tremble with emotion verging on irritation, “And I wanna know when this place is crawling with ghosts, my boy isn’t here for me to see on Christmas Eve. I wanna know why that is.”
Margaret’s heart sank, and her eyes began to well. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t know who stays and who doesn’t. I don’t know why some… people aren’t here.”
“Well,” Mrs. Fenton propped her chin on a wavering back of her hand. “I just think it’s all a little unfair. A little unfair for me to come all this way and him to not…”
Margaret moved forward, with an instinct to comfort through her, but Mrs. Fenton pulled back, slinking into the bedroom, past the bed, and towards the living room. Margaret caught up to her, back in the lime green chair, her dog out of sight. Mrs. Fenton was now sobbing, clutching her face with the inside of her elbow and burying herself in the plush cushion. “I came back to see him,” she cried.
Margaret put a hand out to Mrs. Fenton’s shoulder, and nearly stumbled over when she instead fell forward, onto the chair. Mortified, Margaret lurched up, ready to apologize for her fall onto a bereaved old woman.
Instead she found herself alone. Terrified, she fell onto her backside, facing the chair and looking at it like it had transformed into a serpent. Pulling her body back with her arms, she bashed her head against the dresser behind her. She searched the room with her eyes from her current, floorbased viewpoint.
She did not see Rudy. The ash tray next to the chair was empty, missing the telltale cigarette bits of an oft-smoking guest. The suitcases by the door were gone. The ermine fur muff that she knew had been there, was not on the side table by the door.
Margaret fumbled to get up, looking frenzied and ridiculous doing so, but no one was present to see it. She grabbed the cart and shuddered herself out of the room, and into the hall, hearing the door clack in the silence of the floor.
Breathing heavy in these many months having experienced the unusual and the tragic, Margaret scarcely recalled being at more unease. Feeling her way down the hallway with one hand clutching the cart and the other dragging across the wallpaper, she returned to the elevator and before she knew it, she was back on the lobby floor.
Emerging from a haze not unlike Alice in the looking glass, Margaret pushed forward and was soon in view of the front desk. She huffed in reassurance that the everlasting grimace of Mr. Ferrell remained. However, she caught herself short of leaping at him, and praising the stars for his presence when she saw he was speaking with a constable.
The officer’s eyes made their way to the flustered Margaret. “Miss,” he said, waving a gloved hand to her to come closer, “We’re going to need to you stay here right now, until the folks upstairs leave.”
Margaret was lucky to not let loose a baffled obscenity. What next?
She saw the officer was writing down a statement from Mr. Ferrell, as she slowly moved closer to the desk and then behind it.
The officer’s voice came into earshot, matching the blurry image Margaret was still attempting to get in focus.“And she did not come back downstairs after she checked in?”
“No, sir.” Mr. Ferrell spoke as eloquently as Margaret imagined he always could. “She checked in, and insisted on going straight to her room.” He paused. “The penthouse suite.”
“Mmhmm,” the officer wrote something worthwhile in that sentence, down on his pad. Margaret edged closer to Mr. Ferrell.
“I informed the madam that her room was not yet decent for her, but she insisted.” Mr. Ferrell gave a passing gesture towards Margaret. “The maid had not yet prepared it.”
“Doesn’t look like she made it up there anyhow,” the constable clucked.
“Sir.” Mr. Ferrell nodded.
Margaret, as if having finally returned to the earth, was still taking it all in. “Mr. Ferrell?” she squeaked out.
His face the usual calm gray, Mr. Ferrell continued looking at the officer. “Margaret,” he said. “The penthouse, have you finished it?”
“Yes, Mr. Ferrell,” Margaret said on the verge of incredulity.
“Mrs. Fenton will not be requiring it. We will be sealing the second floor for the evening.”
“The second floor—“ Margaret attempted to guess.
“The ballroom.” Mr. Ferrell confirmed, now looking directly at Margaret. “There has been an incident.”
Before Margaret could gasp or clutch at her throat, the constable cleared his own and continued on, “We’ll have the body taken down in the next hour once we’ve got her settled. What a pity for this on Christmas.” He looked at Margaret, “Miss, I would suggest you not be present for that; they’ll have to bring her through the front door to take her to the coroner’s. It won’t be nice to look at.”
“Did she…” Margaret managed out, “Did she leave a note?”
“No, miss. Very odd situation, it all being said. Ma’am was wearing a full eveningwear dress and jewels, had all her bags with her….” He paused and looked back at Mr. Ferrell. “How’d she get her bags up there anyway? She had three or four of them.”
“The… the bellman…” Mr. Ferrell said, almost stumbling over his words. “He’s just gone off for the night. I can find out where he was when all this… this happened.”
“That’s right queer,” the constable frowned. “I’d hate to think she had help with this.”
“No, no, that’s right,” Mr. Ferrell offered quickly, “The bellman wasn’t here. I helped her to the elevator, and she… she insisted on going up alone. She said she would handle her own bags when she reached the top floor. She was quite certain she could handle it.”
“A woman her age,” mused the constable. “Strange for her to say so.”
Margaret shifted her eyes to Mr. Ferrell and the constable, whose face looked unconvinced.
“She didn’t get to the top floor, you know,” the constable went on. “She went as far that… Per-sah-fae… that…” he checked a few earlier pages in his notes. “Persephone ballroom.” The officer’s eyes widened, “yeah, hey, that’s the one which—“
“Yes, sir.” Mr. Ferrell said, his face in some pain.
“And that’s, that’s right above right here I guess,” said the constable, pointing towards the ceiling. “That’s where the floor broke open.”
Mr. Ferrell was silent for a moment. He gestured towards further into the room, towards the center before the desk, and the fireplace. “Over there. That’s the center of the ballroom, above there.”
“Huh.” The constable said, clearly thinking of the headlines he could just barely remember. “Crazy. Bet you glad you didn’t work here then, huh.”
Mr. Ferrell stiffened slightly, but spoke plainly, “I did, sir. I was behind this very desk that evening.”
Margaret’s mouth fell open, taking into the consideration the horror her ornery co-worker must have witnessed. “That’s… just awful, Mr. Ferrell,” she exclaimed. He did not look at her.
“Well, you two stick around if we need more questions answered,” the constable flipped his notebook closed and began towards the elevator. “And, miss, if you can make sure that dog gets a walk soon.” He pointed towards the closed office door. “I don’t want you two to get stuck with a wet floor on top of all of this.”
Margaret turned her head to Mr. Ferrell. He nodded. “It appears, Mrs. McCaculey, there’s a dog who’ll need someone to take home and be watched over for a while.”
As the sound of sirens neared, Margaret and Mr. Ferrell stood behind the front desk of the Gilman Hotel, quietly and without much to say on the matter.