written, edited, and produced by Viktor Devonne for 2 Night Stay
performed and recorded by Charles Stunning
in memory of Madeline and Eileen
Margaret exhaled slowly as the lift ascended. It was far too early to be running out steam when she had hours of laundry ahead of her, but this Christmas Eve was already wearing her out.
Upon the ding, the elevator shuddered into place and the door opened to reveal the fifth floor. The plush indigo carpet alerted Margaret that indeed she was on the right landing; things were a tad nicer these stories up.
Admiring the swirls of renaissance-inspired murals as she passed the rooms, she nearly lost her train of thought before she reached the end of one narrow wing. On the fifth floor, the rooms were considerably larger. She knew she had to concern herself with the kitchen, the two bedrooms, and the lounging space. Farrell’s suggestion of “four beds to make up,” was increasingly unlikely.
A waft of cigarette smoke reached her as she opened the door, her keys steady in the lock, her wrist nearly pulled from her socket as she lurched forward.
She soon surmised that she hadn’t been the one to open the door; in front of her was a stately gentleman in a black waistcoat, ivory shirt, hunter green breeches, and a trail of blood going down his forearm. Behind his monocle was a strict, unwavering eyeball, and a twitching bushy moustache that matched his silver, slicked hair.
“And so,” he said with a great deal of dramatics, bringing Margaret forward and slamming the door, “We have our final suspect.”
Margaret blinked, slowly at first and then with increasing rhythm. She stuck her chin out like a chicken sensing a cleaver nearby. “…Suspect?” she uttered, her own voice causing her to stiffen her body.
“You’re full of shit, old boy,” came a chortle that gasped from well-worn lungs. “You’re honestly accusing the maid? How cliché can you get? The butler was off?”
Margaret, still not entirely sure where or when she had gotten herself into, was still putting her optics into focus.
“She’s going to faint,” came a nervous British voice assigned to a dowager countess, each syllable wavering. “You’d better get her to the couch before she’s the next to go.”
“Nonsense, “ said yet another voice. Nebbish, filled with brandy, and squinting through spectacles two prescriptions beyond him. “Get her out of here before she sees something.” He quivered and flittered his fingers away from his thin frame, “Maid, maid, we do not require service right now!”
“I’ll say,” said the breathy redhead out of detective novel. “You got any smokes, doll?”
Her hand still clutching the keys, Margaret let her eyes wander left to right and then left again. The rest of her body failed to catch up.
“No, I don’t suppose she does,” came yet another voice. This one was German, well-to-do or pretending well, and something of the sidekick variety if this was a scene from Hollywood. He lit a match, stuck his tongue deep into his cheek and shook his shoulders. “She’s on the clock.”
Bloodied Forearm pushed Margaret forward into the room, and she heard the door open again behind her. Giving a swift once-over to the hallway, Forearm, seized the service cart and drew it inside the room before closing the door again, and locking it from the inside.
Countess sauntered forward, a bit braver now that she was aware she outranked this new woman in class, and took Margaret’s arm with a lavender gloved hand. “Come, child, “ she brought her further still into the room, “You should sit.” A fainting couch that was entirely out of place in the room and took entirely too much space for the wall it was assigned, was soon under her.
“Terrific,” clucked Breathy Redhead, “She’s in on the party now.” She took a drag of her own cigarette and downed her tumbler of brown liquid.
“It’s fine, it’s perfectly fine, it’s just fine,” muttered Spectacles, who favored a flask that he sipped at feverishly.
“Now, listen,” said Sidekick, not particularly intimidating but kneeling down to meet Margaret’s pale, baffled face. “You got yourself into this, so we’re gonna need something from you.”
“I’ve got it,” said Forearm, clutching a towel from the cart and administering a crude tourniquet. “Search her. Make sure she doesn’t have anything on her.”
Sidekick cracked his fingers and gave a smirk. With a leering sense of purpose, he brought his stubby digits to Margaret’s waist. Margaret slugged him.
“Ow!” Sidekick fell backward. “She hit me!”
“We saw,” nodded Redhead, who brought her eyes in line with the shellshocked Margaret, “You clean, kid?” Margaret opened her mouth to reply but realized she had little to bring to the interrogation. “She’s clean,” Redhead rolled her eyes, and chewed imaginary gum. “It’s ok, kid, you’re safe.”
Margaret’s mouth came together tightly as she presented a note of skepticism.
“You call the cops, lady?” stuttered Sidekick, managing to get back to his full height of 5’2. He searched for the hat that Margaret had sent flying off him. He fluttered his overcoat, clearly overheated by the situation.
“No,” Margaret said.
“If she had called the cops, she wouldn’t have come in here,” reasoned Spectacles. “Right?”
“Right,” Margaret offered.
Lungs , who had been quiet for the proceedings thus, chuckled. “She makes a good case.” He went towards the bar and weighed his scotch and soda ratio.
Forearm was gritting his teeth, his monocle having fallen during his wound-dressing. “Well, now what?”
The room fell silent, apart from the ice in Redhead’s glass.
Margaret was slowly regaining the feeling in her legs, and took the scene in.
One dining chair was turned over, a scattered place setting surrounding it. Margaret’s eyes trailed over the wreckage, leading her to still more to pick up after. A burgundy spill, from the upturned wine glass, complimented the plentiful Cornish game hen, only partially eaten, staining the auburn carpet. A sample of gravy brought Margaret’s view beyond her hosts and led to a pair of unmoving, somewhat crooked legs. Enclosed in a stylish Italian fabric, these legs led to the rest of a decidedly unenergetic body.
“Gracious…” whispered Margret. There was a dead man on the floor in room 512.
Margaret’s body bolted upright at such a speed and unexpected velocity, it managed to send Sidekick backward yet again, clutching his nose, now bloodied.
“Aghhh,” moaned Sidekick, “Sie ist eine verdammt frau!” He reached for his breast pocket for a handkerchief.
Margaret stumbled forward, still a bit uneasy, to reveal the length of the body. The well dressed corpse on the floor in room 512 was a man presumably in his 50s, clutching a serving fork in his hand, covered in blood.”
“Brandy?” offered Lungs.
Margaret, still looking forward at the unknown man, took the glass in her hand and had a mighty sip and then coughed.
“Better,” nodded Lungs, patting her back and moving to the loveseat.
“He’s dead,” sputtered Margaret, still clutching the glass with both hands.
“Yes,” the Redhead said, closing her eyes in mild frustration, “We know.” She wore a gold lace dinner gown, with pearl accents. The shop owner had told her she looked like a glass of champagne when she walked in it.
“How did he—did you—who found—“ Margaret began a little late in the sentence to choose her words carefully in full view of a presumed murder. Or, murderers.
“We were having dinner,” sighed the exasperated Countess, dismissively motioning towards a well-lain dinner table set for six, with a gap missing. Each of the five remaining place-settings showed signs of mid-meal. A spilled wine bottle was the only sign of distress, having poured onto the center of the table and onto one of the opulent, cream-colored cushioned chairs. Countess was now seated in another, untouched from the wine, but her light blue frock suggested she may have been in the chair now a crime scene.
Each plate, filled with a hen, a pile of walnut stuffing, and peas showed signs of imbibing. The hotel’s chef holiday meal, Margaret realized, although she thought it also came with a cobbler.
One wine glass was missing from the table, which was presumably now on the floor by the well-dressed man. No sign of struggle furthered the scene, as Margaret saw that each chair was pushed back just enough to allow each guest to stand, likely to question why one of their party was gasping for air on the floor.
“You’ve got all the pieces together, kid?” Redhead smirked, “Or you need to fingerprint us?” She found herself leaning against a portly upright piano to the left of the dinner table. There really wasn’t enough space for one, but the management had insisted it gave the upperclass rooms sophistication.
Forearm was staggering about, bringing the fallen chair to its familiar position, and sorting through the utter carnage that was the salad fork comingling with a soup spoon. Sidekick was balling up his hanky to fit his nostril. Spectacles was waving his flushed face with a small brown booklet, his shoulders raised as high as any noblewoman.
Margaret shook her head slowly. She had to admit she was stumped. “What killed him? The wine?”
“So we think,” Forearm said, a touch more friendly now that he was mid-clot. “He got up, yelling about poisoned wine while we were eating.”
“He was in hysterics!,” added the Countess. “Waving that… that fork about. He stabbed him!” For the events, she certainly wasn’t tremendously bothered, more disappointed the evening took this turn.
Forearm gestured to his wounds, clicking it in place for Margaret that he was the victim of the well-dressed man’s wrath. “Or it was the chicken,” Forearm said, wiping his hands with the edge of the tablecloth.
“Well, mine was a little undercooked,” Redhead chimed in.
“I say we have another drink,” grunted Lungs, who managed himself off the couch and lunged for the bottle. One might suspect he had this suggestion frequently.
“How can you trust the scotch?” scoffed Spectacles, gripping a napkin to the corner of his mouth.
“I brought the scotch,” countered Redhead, who rose her own glass in the air.
“What’s your point?” Spectacles sucked his cheeks inward, and let one eyelid dip.
“Now, you listen to me, you temperamental little toad,” said Redhead coolly, wearing a dangerously tight smile. She took a slender finger and poked Spectacles beneath adam’s apple just so to make him gag.
Margaret discreetly put her glass of remaining scotch on to the coffee table.
“Alrght, alright.” Forearm grumbled, stilling their tongues, if not Lungs’ pour. “This isn’t getting us anywhere. Now you listen,” he turned to Margaret, “I know you just work here, but you’re gonna get us out of this.”
“I am?” Margaret wondered aloud, increasingly bold in her incredulousness.
“That’s the idea,” said Sidekick, just now summoning courage to look Margaret in the eye again. “We need out of here. And… him. We need him out of here.”
“But the police—“ Margaret might as well have not bothered.
“The police will not be called.” Forearm said, firm but more assuring than threatening. “This man cannot be found by police. None of us can be stopped by police. We all need to leave this city by midnight.”
Margaret all but burst into tears at the prospect. Five murder suspects, one of whom was, well, German, were demanding her help to get five floors down with a corpse without Mr. Farrell at the front desk so much as clearing his throat.
“But who…” Margaret pressed on.
“That’s not important now.” Forearm continued, adjusting his monocle. “It could have been any one of us. But that’s a risk we’ll have to take. We need to get on the ferry, and we need this man with us.”
“Listen, kid, you got a way out of here except for the elevator?” Redhead was clearly interested in moving this along.
“I… No, I don’t think so.” Margaret’s eyes widened as Countess began to pull the cloth from the table, the rest of the glasses spilling and the plates collecting in the corner as they slid off onto the mahogany.
“What are you doing?” Margaret insisted, gaining immunity from the ridiculousness of the proceedings.
“We need to wrap him up,” reasoned Countess, who draped the fabric over the well-dressed man’s body. It’s obscene.“
“There are linens,” Lungs pointed out, with a wave towards the cart. “We don’t need to strip the tables…”
He trailed off, and each of their heads slowly turned to the service cart. An escape plan was in motion.
“You take the legs,” Forearm exclaimed, positioning himself over the well-dressed man’s torso.
“You cannot be serious.” Spectacles breathed so contemptuously, it was practically an aria.
“The legs,” Forearm growled.
Spectacles’ eyes grew wide over the frames, and heshook his head sadly. All his upper body strength was in his penchant for Proust and here he had to lift the legs. He did succeed, however, and they managed to drag only the well-dressed man’s fingertips on the floor as they brought him to the cart.
“Towels,” gasped Spectacles, holding the well-dressed man’s increasingly rigid limbs.
Redhead pulled the towels off the top of the cart, which left a space between the front and back handles. Presumably the body could be situated thusly.
Forearm managed to get the well-dressed man down on the cart’s top shelf. “And what about these?” asked Spectacles impatiently, nodding towards the legs still in his hand.
“Bend them over the handle. We can cover him in a sheet.”
“I have that,” exclaimed Countess, helpfully waving the tablecloth.
Spectacles let the legs fall naturally, bending at the knee, underneath which met with the cart’s brass handle. Like an inverted coffin, he thought blackly.
Redhead snatched the tablecloth from Countess and brought it up in the air to cascade over the cart’s morbid centerpiece. Countess yelped at her portion of the action being literally yanked from her, but she relented.
Lungs took the additional towels that Redhead had let drop to the floor, and placed them somewhat recklessly on the lumps. “Masterful!” he exclaimed just barely balancing.
Margaret shook her head at this perversion of her cart’s duties. “And then what?”
“Out the door,” pointed Forearm.
Spectacles took the front of the cart and began to back up.
“No, wait.” Margaret said suddenly. “You can’t just take him out the front door. Mr. Farrell is at the front desk. He’d never let the cart leave that way. You’d be caught.”
Everyone sighed with the exasperation of a school child told to sleep before St. Nick’s visit.
“Is there any other door?” asked Redhead, clutching the side of the cart to prevent overflow.
Margaret searched the patterns on the floor for advice. “The roof…” she started.
“We are not King Kong, lady,” muttered Sidekick.
“The basement,” Margaret realized out loud, “The basement has the door that leads to the street. There’s a storm cellar door that brings you to the alley behind the building.”
“The basement,” echoed Forearm, with some defeated sarcasm, “Which we somehow have to get to despite whats-his-name in the lobby.”
Margaret considered. “There are fire stairwells that lead from the second floor to the basement. You just have to get off on the second floor and go down that way.”
“And our friend here?” motioned Lungs, four drinks in, towards the cart. “How will he do on stairs?”
“There’s a laundry chute,” Margaret continued her thought, pressing on like some sort of determined irish setter. ” This would be fun if she was being played by Ann Harding and this was set on the Nile.
“A laundry chute,” Spectacles repeated, turning nearly green. “You cannot be….”
Forearm silenced him with a look. “Where?”
“On this floor,” Margaret sounded almost excited, “Management doesn’t want guests to see laundry carts on this floor, so we have a chute on the top three floors.”
“Small favors,” remarked Redhead.
“Let’s go,” said Forearm.
“Coats!” reminded Countess, reaching for a fur. They took turns holding the tablecloth in place over the well-dressed man so they could gather themselves together.
“Sorry about the mess,” said Forearm, regretfully. “We won’t be able to help you with that.”
“I can… I can manage.” Margaret really didn’t suppose she had much alternative.
“Oh!” stammered Spectacles, nearly forgetting a valise tucked to one side in the corner. He gripped his brown notebook, and tucked it into his pocket. Margaret saw now that it was a passport.
“Shall we?” Lungs clasped his hands together in preparation.
Redhead opened the door and craned her head to ensure their mission featured no witnesses, and they were off. Margaret stepped ahead of the cart, perhaps as a lookout; they failed to assign parts. But she stayed several feet ahead of the ghoulish parade behind her.
Forearm and Sidekick pushed and pulled the cart, as Lungs escorted Countess who chose this moment to be frail enough to require such an escort. Redhead and Spectacles grimly managed either side of the cart, somewhat like pallbearers.
A turn to the left, and Margaret ushered them into a small room with a large steel trap door on the side of the wall. Held tight by springs, Margaret clutched the handle in her hands, turned and pulled it back to reveal an unfriendly gaping maw that smelled vaguely of lye and ammonia from the fathoms below.
“Drop him,” said Sidekick plainly.
It took four of them to lift the well-dressed man and angle him to the hole in the wall. “This is so disrespectful,” muttered Spectacles.
“I didn’t think you liked him that much,” noted Redhead, genuinely touched.
“I don’t. I deserve better than this.” Spectacles reasoned.
A heave-ho and the well-dressed man was well-sent to the great big laundry cart in the basement. Sickening thuds aside, he seemed to take the trip rather well.
Countess gave a quick sign of the cross, and Margaret closed the door, letting the latch’s sound echo in the room’s tight quarters. “And now?” Sidekick coughed, relieved rigor mortis had not yet set.
Margaret opened the door leading to the main corridor. She pointed. The stairwell was behind the large wooden door down a few steps. Exchanging nods, the others stepped away from Margaret as she contemplated her fate. She could, at this point, run screaming. She could make her way to the ever-somber Farrell at the front desk and tell him to phone the constable. She could merely walk herself out the front door and call it night.
She clutched the cart, sullied from that of a well-dressed dead man’s former residence, and made for the elevator calmly.
She heard the last of her captors exit out the fire stairwell door, and make their way to the basement to retrieve the corpse of their friend, acquaintance, family member, or enemy.
If she ran, they could follow her. They could find her and her daughter and enact revenge for her failing to take their coerced accessory to murder with good humor.
Entering the elevator, she turned to face the buttons inside. With a short acknowledgment she still had one more room to dress for the night, she pressed the lobby button.
A brief eternity later, she was back on the first floor. She pushed the cart ahead of her, looking at her surroundings for some sense she was perhaps dreaming or at least the brunt of a hoax. She passed the front desk, as Farrell stared at the paper. “Hello, Mr. Farrell,” she called.
“Mm.” Farrell grunted, sipping his tea cup, and his eyes never seduced upward. “Yes.”
She was moving the trolley forward, but she looked at him as if she was on a track and pulley. You stupid, selfish man, she thought with a sense of amazement, and perhaps a sense of envy.
Margaret found herself at the service elevator, and lifted her head to the ceiling. Lord, what say ye, on this the night of your son’s blessed birth? Do I help a group of gangsters get away with possible murder? Or, after all this, would an inquest find it was a mere chicken bone that led to these spurious decisions in the dark.
She pressed “down,” and sorted such introspection into To Do Later. She was not sure she was pleased that she was shortly met with the faces who took her direction all too well.
Forearm and Sidekick were yanking the ungiving body of the well-dressed man out of the overside laundry bin beneath the chute, as Spectacles took another sip from his personal supply, Redhead examined her nails, and Countess and Lungs exchanged pleasantries about how good the game hens were_ otherwise._.
“Your jacket,” said Forearm, pointing at Sidekick.
“Wahnsinnig! It’s six degrees out there!” Sidekick objected as Redhead and Lungs made the decision for him, yanking his beige overcoat off him. They placed the well-dressed man’s arms through it, and despite the appearance that the coat was now more a ladies’ summer jacket on the dead man, it suited their needs enough. Lungs provided a hat—Sidekick’s—for the body, and they all but had a suitable impression of a living man with them.
“The exit?” asked Forearm.
Margaret led them to the storm door, which then would lead them to the street. The cold quicksilver of snow flurries touched Margaret’s eyelashes for the first time in hours, and she nearly got sentimental.
Forearm and Sidekick lurched the well-dressed man in disguise, over the few steps and out the door, into an uncertain night.
Lungs and Countess passed Margaret as they made the short climb into the cityscape. “Thank you ever so,” said Countess, giving a wide smile, “Your hotel is just lovely.”
Lungs held out an envelope, and smiled broadly like an uncle doting on a favorite child, “For your trouble.”
They disappeared into the black.
Spectacles, not beholden to that of a cart and corpse any further, flitted by Margaret and managed to bitch one last time about the evening’s misadventures.
“Thanks, kid,” said Redhead as she blew a puff of smoke and crinkled her nose at the exposed weather. “You did good.”
“Was he…” Margaret took a stab at absolution, “at least a bad man?”
Redhead pressed her lips down on the cigarette and nodded. She puffed, and exhaled one last time. “Just the worst. The absolute worst.”
“And who…” Margaret was just no good at finishing sentences tonight. “Who did it,” she stammered.
Redhead raised an eyebrow, and tightened her jaw into a bemused smile. “Who wouldn’t?” Redhead flicked her cigarette into the hazy out of doors, and patted Margaret’s cheek before disappearing into the night.
Margaret stood there for a moment, feeling the chill in the air, and then reached for the door’s handle, pulling it tightly. Gathering her senses and wits, and allowing the last passage of time to glide gently–if slowly–off her shoulders, Margaret returned to the service elevator, and back to the first floor. She felt the envelope given to her by the man she thought of as Lungs, hold place in her apron’s pocket.
She collected a few additional pieces for her work, as a dead man had been interred in her linens only a few moments ago, and brought herself back into the lobby, passing the indifferent Mr. Farrell at the front desk. She contemplated an utterance to test his reflexes, such as a “Merry Christmas, you old grouch!” but the time to do so came and went as she re-entered the guest elevator on auto-pilot to find what she could do about room 512 in her shallow reservoir of time.
Ding, and she was back on the luxurious fifth floor, careening her cart towards the room signaling the madness she just managed out of. She emitted a pitiable sigh as she turned the key, waiting to spot the signs of unrest and her undoing.
Perhaps predictably, she found no sign of murder, of a dinner party gone wrong, or even that of a German.
The liquor table as stocked. The beds hadn’t yet been slept in. The bathrooms smelled pleasantly of daffodil. There was no potentially poisoned Cornish game hen, stained chair cushion, or weaponized serving fork.
Marveling at the room’s utter transformation from the chaos she witnessed earlier, Margaret considered her options, took her cart, and closed the door.
In the hallway, she patted her apron pocket expectantly, and let go a small gasp. The envelope Lungs had given her remained. She pulled it out, and revealed a week’s wages.
Margaret McCaculey stood there, quite still, quite speechless, and closed the envelope. She returned it to her apron’s pocket, and walked—quite bewildered—to the elevator.
While she had made an assortment of guesses during the last set of moments pressed upon her, she was provided one Christmas gift she could not assign a giver.