Segment 16: 4 Beds on Christmas Eve/The Well-Dressed Corpse in Room 512 (1959) – Part 3

written, edited, and produced by Viktor Devonne for 2 Night Stay
performed and recorded by Charles Stunning

in memory of Madeline and Eileen

patreon

transcription:

gilman-logo-new-transparentMargaret 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.

Segment 15: 4 Beds on Christmas Eve/Dominoes (1959) – Part 2

written, edited, and produced by Viktor Devonne for 2 Night Stay
performed and recorded by Charles Stunning

in memory of Eric Heppel

patreon

transcription:

gilman-logo-new-transparent

Margaret entered the service elevator, once again tucked away from the public view, and felt the mechanical latch as it banged metal to metal. The platform rose in its familiar way with the gentle rumble, and a dissonant ding signaled the door about the open. Margaret pushed the cart into the second hallway of her evening, and noticed the lights suffered a dismal dim too early for the hour.

According to the note, the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Hestings was imminent. 210 had checked out earlier that morning and it was time for a new arrival.

Margaret opened the door with her set of keys, and pushed the door with her backside, to bring the cart into the room. She felt for a switch while she leaned back, and the room was suddenly brightened again.

“Damn and blast,” a voice moaned behind her. She exhaled sharply and prepared for any number of things.

When she turned, she was more surprised to see a man in a tuxedo fidgeting with a cufflink.

“Harold,” came a soothing, yet scolding, feminine voice.

“I’m sorry, Gracie, would you please?” The man’s voice was warmer now.

Margaret watched as the man put out his left wrist, helplessly, as the gentle voice’s owner—a stunning woman at about 35 in a light pink chiffon gown—assisted. Holding a handful of fresh bedding, Margaret held her stance—and her tongue—for the moment.

“Harold, why do you insist on…” the woman, presumably Gracie, trailed off with a laugh. It filled the room, bouncing off the walls with a comforting vibrato. Her fingers, while more delicate than his, were by no means more adept at the cufflinks. He took the opportunity to sweep her into his arms.

Room 210, clad in a mint green pale paisley wallpaper, was lit by lamps covered in a soft yellow fabric. Margaret squinted. She hesitated to interrupt the couple, and she wasn’t so certain she could.

She managed to squeak out a, “Madam?” and while the volume was such that the five feet should’ve been sufficient to carry it, Harold and Gracie St. Cloud would not be responding.

Margaret realized there need be no further ceremony to the proceedings, and trudged along forward as cheerfully as she could. She had heard of the St. Clouds, and while she had never made their acquaintance—now or at the time of their lives—she knew what was to come.

Gracie held her husband’s face in her palms as she gave him a chaste but meaningful kiss. “We are going to be late.” He held his waist towards her, intimating a request for a change of plans, but despite a wry smile, she was unmoved. “We’ll be home in four hours, Harold. You can hold tight.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” Harold laughed, squeezing her hindquarters, no doubt smothered in a girdle and padding, but all the same alluring.

Margaret pulled the cart towards the bed and began the process, musing at the unfamiliar couple’s intimacy, and sneaking looks throughout their display.

Gracie was clasping her own bracelets, having finally managed to get Harold’s cufflinks in order. Her deep chestnut hair, nearly red in the light, was fabulously styled with exotic combs likely from her husband’s findings. Her soft peachy skin, powdered and rouged, contrasted deeply with her long eyelashes and cotton candy lipstain. She was prettier than the newspapers showed.

Harold St. Cloud was slightly older, graying perhaps prematurely, but who could imagine him under stress? The man was famous on Gilman Street, having made his fortune on the backs of the significantly unfortunate. The factory, Margaret recalled, was still in business but had a massive publicity campaign in the recent years, promising to make up for their failings.

Margaret stretched the sheets across the bed and maneuvered around the still flirting couple. While Margaret wasn’t certain what time it was for them, she knew she still needed to complete yet another two rooms after this. She would not have the time tonight to be a fly on the walls for these beautiful people, much as she would love the moment to sit, crochet, and snack on a pile of licorice taffy—to watch history unfold.

“Still too involved in themselves to notice someone like me,” Margaret muttered. The newcomers traditionally ignored her, either out of insistence of their vigor or still unaware of their state. The St. Clouds however had been living in a cloud of their own for more than thirty years. That was unusual.

“A-ha,” cooed the delirious Gracie, “And they say she has to spend ten days in jail for it!”

Harold gave a knowing guffaw. Margaret surmised the gossip would take them at least a few minutes, so she backed the trolley to the second room of the suite.

“Oh, heavens,” Margaret gasped, clasping her chest. She was face to face with a young girl in a white cotton dressing gown. This be a Vincent Price horror, she would have sooner guessed than a stop on her rounds.

The girl, the spitting image of her mother, was obviously Beth St. Cloud. The daughter of Harold St. Cloud, radium king of Gilman Street, had her own claim to fame and kitchen table gossip.

“Hello,” she said, smiling.

Margaret stood perfectly still, her oxygen disagreeing with her bodily requirements. She stared directly at the girl, a pleasant little thing of fewer than 10 years. Her pudgy cheeks gave way to a friendly grin, her hands holding a gently loved stuffed rabbit. She was sitting on the edge of a tempest-tossed bed.

“I said, hello!” the young thing spoke up, on the verge of laughter.

“Yes, hello—“ Margaret stammered. Would that she was better prepared, she properly de-bugged her eyes, and permitted a docile smile. “How are you, young lady?”

“I’m not a lady!” laughed the girl, ready to be cast in a Darby O’Gill picture, “I’m Beth!”

Margaret nodded slowly. This was a new development. She looked behind her for a moment to see if perhaps Beth’s parents would now be in a frenzy that some crazy maid from three decades in the future was suddenly in the room out of nowhere, talking to their child.

“Oh. They won’t,” Beth assured Margaret.

“Won’t…?” Margaret asked, slowly turning her head back to the little girl.

“Won’t see you. “ Beth nearly rolled her eyes in the obviousness, “They’re dead.”

“Oh.” Margaret stopped herself from finishing a sentence she would barely understand beginning. Another new development.
“I understand.” Margaret lied boldly. She pushed her cart further into the room, nearly parallel to Beth. Her hair was blonder than her mother’s. Her eyes were her father’s. Her tone and general understanding of the nature of things seemed beyond that of her youth.

“You have work to do,” sighed Beth on the verge of a tantrum collapse. “You always have work to do.”

“I—“ Margaret scanned her memory for any fragment that may aide her in this moment, “I don’t think we’ve met, Beth.”

“No. Not you.” Beth’s rag doll body protested contrary to her want. “All of you. You all come in here and have to clean and I have no one to play with.”

Beth had met other maids in the hotel over the years, Margaret realized; probably several who were not prepared for a precocious ghost child demanding a round of jacks while her dead parents laughed mindlessly about the latest Mae West scandal.

It was December 1927 forever for Beth St. Cloud, age nine and a half– forever.

Margaret looked up at the wall, both relieved and disoriented to see that the clock’s ticking did not match any furthering of time. Perhaps, after all, she had a moment on this Christmas Eve to sit with Beth.

“Dominoes?” Beth said, trying to make a guess at Margaret’s mind, which she gleefully recognized had paused all this grown up distraction of cleaning.

“Dominoes.” Margaret repeated, nodding. Within what seemed like seconds, Beth had produced a collection of ivory rectangles with ebony black dots.

“I play first,” Beth said authoritatively. “I have double nines.” She presented the corresponding piece as if she was a grifter playing an ace previously hidden.

Shortly, chains of domino pieces covered the lower half of the unmade bed, the comforter of which had been peeled back for their playing space.

“That’s not a two,” laughed Beth, “that’s a four! You can’t play that! I win!”

Margaret, who was all but certain she had in fact played a piece with two dots, had to consider she was being hustled by a nine year old. “You win,” Margaret relented.

“Is it Christmas Eve?” Beth asked suddenly, as if it just occurred to her.

Margaret took the abruptness in stride, all things considered, “It is. You should be in bed. Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”

“Santa won’t come if I’m asleep either,” Beth said with the cynicism of a Wall Street broker.

“Oh, now…” Margaret didn’t know how to argue the realism of Santa Claus with a child who already knew if there was an afterlife. “That’s not…”

She had nothing.

“It’s okay,” Beth clucked her tongue, world weary before the age of ten. “Daddy got me everything anyway. But I never get anything new.”

Margaret considered, no, likely if these specters were in some sort of time loop, they would experience the same familiar year-end treats that 1927 had to offer and no later. Beth seemed to be quite aware of the limitation, and Margaret was lucky enough that the novelty of a second person paying attention to her outweighed the limitation of the ever-present domino set.

“You should go,” Beth muttered, defeatedly.

Startled, Margaret knew this was true, but had expected a tug of war when she broke the news to Beth. She had certainly not expected Beth would beat her to it.

“I should.” Margaret said.

“I’ll be nice to the new guests, don’t worry.” Beth said, with a fresh innocence, “They won’t be afraid of me.”

Margaret contemplated quietly. “You do scare them sometimes,” she smiled, well aware that when Beth didn’t get her way, the guests of room 210—and sometimes 211—suffered for it.

“I know,” Beth sounded almost sorry as she collected her dominos and returned them to a velvet sachet.

“But we played a game,” Margaret said, understanding. “So you’ll be good.”

Beth gave an expression that made Margaret laugh; Beth had made no such promise. But it was understood. She would be good. Beth shuffled out of the bed, her feet now on the floor as she stumbled over to her mother’s sewing bag before the dresser.

“Before you go…” Beth said.

She handed Margaret a set of scissors that gleamed like silver. A robust, intimidating set, they brought Margaret’s hand down a few inches in pure heft.

“Please.” Beth looked directly into Margaret’s eyes so deeply, the blues blended.

Margaret put her fingers around the scissors and stood up. The ever nonpromising handbag was soon home to them. “I’ll take them,” she said with a sincerity she really knew better of.

Margaret tucked Beth into bed, handing her one of many dolls in her collection. The sheets pressed down, the comforter returned, the pillows in order, Margaret kissed Beth goodbye on the forehead, and blessed her own selfish lucky stars she was not scheduled to work New Year’s Day.

She sponged the bathroom sink, and refilled the tablet of soap. Collecting all her things, she stole a look at Harold and Gracie St. Cloud, still mid-embrace. Six days was an impossible accumulation of time for such malice, such violence. This couple, as close as Paul and Joanne, as they ignored the very presence of their young child, near-waltzing in the living room, chuckling about their tickets for the new Kern and Hammerstein next Thursday—they would never make it.

New Year’s Day 1928, the family of St. Cloud became legend. The rumors persisted young Elizabeth Ann took the scissors to her parents and then herself ten minutes before they were to go out. The motive was the parents failing to stay in the hotel room with her to play games all night, and instead they were to visit the at the plant. That night they were celebrating a new collection of glowing watchfaces St. Cloud Inc. was set to announce, and would cause the death of hundreds of the women who helped manufactured them. Harold would avoid the lawsuits and public scrutiny, and the seats, row C, at Showboat would stay empty that Thursday night.

A final look, Margaret vainly searched for an explanation for the murders in the motionless faces of Harold and Gracie St. Cloud. Surely they knew, or would know. Harold lit up a cigarette, and Gracie selected one of several options for mink coats. They headed toward the door, and Margaret paused, cart in her hands, tears welling in her eyes. As they began to disappear out the door, Harold turned a moment and looked at Margaret directly.

As time, and assumedly space, held still for Margaret in this instance, her latest in eyes meeting her own when she didn’t expect them to—Margaret felt her stomach drop. Her own blue eyes lost all periphery; the walls, the floor, her better judgment, and saw simply Harold’s face.

His face was one of pain, of sadness, of well-worn understanding what he could not fix. He was a bastard, and he knew it, and could do nothing for it. His legacy was lodged uncomfortably with those who he hadn’t given a damn about; the people of the world he would instead exploit. For all his evils, for all his damage to the community, a look of hardened regret pushed through at Margaret in the stillness. “She didn’t do it,” he said. He stared forward at her, “Beth didn’t do it.”And with that, he turned again, with his time—space to follow—returning to its supposedly natural state to his wife as they laughed at something she said about Garbo and Swanson, and left into the night.

Margaret felt the air warm upon their exit. She didn’t need to look in the next room to confirm Beth wasn’t there. She didn’t need to check her bag for the scissors.

She leaned her back against the door, and pushed out back into the hallway, and allowed it to close behind her.

She continued pushing forward, secure in the unprovable thought, the unfulfilling awareness of Beth’s innocence, asleep behind that door. She stared down at the floor as she pushed the cart forward to her next room.

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