“You got any bugs here?” the small roundfaced boy chirped from the height of his mother’s elbow.
The long-suffering father closed his eyes in mild frustration as he searched his wallet for the travelers’ checks, likely giving pause before he could criticize the topic conversation. Before his time would come, the woman behind the desk smiled and quietly replied directly to him, “No, young man, we don’t.”
The boy’s face fell, freckled and disbondent, as his mother attempted to explain to the concierge, “He’s recently gotten into… those. You know how boys can be. He’s eight. He’s been just fascinated by the crickets at home.” She searched for a sign of the girl’s name and caught her nametag just in time, “Thank you, Julie.”
Julie nodded, understanding, still looking at the young man instead of his desperate mother. “My brother was the same way. But, nope, little man, The Gilman’s never really had a whole lot of insects on the grounds while I’ve been here. Just lucky I guess.”
The father snorted, “You hardly expect them to say so,” he blurted mostly to himself, scanning the walls for chips in the facade. His wife gently dug a fingernail into his arm to quiet him and gave a pained expression of repentance to the woman.
Julie attempted again, “I’ve been here five years since I was eighteen, and I have to say it’s never been a problem.” She looked at the boy again and added for his behalf, “Unfortunately.”
The boy perked up again with a new thought, and said more loudly, “What about rats?”
“Oh-kay!” said his mother, completely done with her son’s propensity for vermin; she forced a tight squint of a smile in the direction of Julie while pulling her son away from the desk and towards the general direction of his older sister to somehow occupy. The tall mop-shaped girl recoiled in seventh grade disgust.
“You’re so weird, Ronnie,” the sister rolled her eyes, and pushed him further away from where. He took the opportunity to examine the rest of the lobby, which was nearly empty except for an older kid in knit orange plaid pair of pants, on all fours, who was poking at something under a chair. Hoping it was perchance a rat, the younger boy closed in.
Julie by now had taken the checks from the father, who looked sternly ahead, past her, towards the row of room keys. “You folks still just leave the keys out there on the wall like that? Hardly secure.”
Julie glanced backwards and then returned to the father’s signature on the check, “It’s quite alright, Mister Fielding. Our desk is never unmanned, and the keys are quite protected at all times. I know it is terribly old fashioned of us, but we’ve never had an incident, and I guess the management still thinks it’s part of the old place’s charm.” She smiled at Mr. Fielding somewhat less gently than she might to an eight year old inquiring about bugs.
Mr. Fielding snorted again with the weariness of a man who had yet to be surprised orsatisfied in so many of his late thirty years. “Are we settled with this,” he gestured to the payment, “and may we head up to our room now?”
To anyone watching, which was to say no one, Julie’s smile was noticeably pricked by disdain, and she turned to the old fashioned wall of insecure keys. “Yes,” she murmured, drawing her fingers towards a set before selecting ones to the very next. “That was two rooms you said? Adjoining?”
“I paid for two rooms,” the man’s voice was sour.
Julie turned again towards him, “Just confirming,” her voice a cheerful fuck off of a tune, “Would you like them next to each other or across, sir?”
“Across is fine,” the wife interjected, linking her arm with her husband, whose brow was furrowing into a crumbling mountainscape. He turned his head to seeing his son and a stranger boy engrossed in some debate over the proper way to torture some small, as yet unseen, creature.
Julie brought the first set to the desk’s top, and then selected a pair above them. “These are both on the fourth floor. Room 401 and 404.” The four keys, etched with the corresponding two rooms, were quickly snatched up by Mr. Fielding.
He handed one to wife, and the other in the vague direction of the older sister, busy snapping gum and fidgeting with her almond shaped press-on nails in one hand, and holding the strap of a leash to a dust colored miniature schnauzer, who was trying tug itself free to examine or defile the ochre upholstered settee to the left. She took the key, staring at the rubber strip emblazoned with the hotel’s name and a lions head.
“Oh,” Julie uttered, realizing Mr. Fielding had failed to declare Fido, “Will you be adding the pet deposit or?”
Mrs. Fielding instead replied again, “Oh, we understood you have a facility for them during the night?”
Julie nodded, pleased to engage with her second preferred member of the family, “Yes, it’s $10 per night. But we can also have them held with us during the day if you go out or prefer them to not be in the room.”
“We’ll have him brought down after supper if that’s alright,” Mrs. Fielding said, now standing alone at the desk as her husband chased after their bug-obsessed son who had found the fireplace pokers a fair sword substitution, likely due to the older boy’s suggestion. “Are meals included?”
“As long as he doesn’t have any dietary restrictions,” Julie found the appropriate piece of paper for them to sign and handed it to her.
“Carol, can we please—“ Mr. Fielding called out, eight year old son in grasp and off the floor, and towards the stairwell. He didn’t give a long glance to the shaggy haired youth who he whisked his son from.
“May I…?” Carol began and lifted a hand in quiet hopelessness towards her family, and Julie nodded again.
“You can bring that paper back with him, along with his certificate, when you want him lodged,” Julie assured, “But I will also need to add 25% to the room… in case of accidents while he’s with you.”
Carol sighed, attempting to juggle several numbers in her head as her husband grabbed a suitcase in one palm, his son roughly sideways under the other arm. “We’ll handle that later, can’t we?” He was already walking away towards the elevator as he asked.
“Surely,” Julie said to Carol, pushing her shoulderlength ash brown hair behind her ears and adjusting her matching Riveria eyeglasses on her nose, “Gerald will help you with your bags.”
“What percent do we owe for that,” griped the husband just loudly enough, huffing while finding the button marked 4.
“We’ll be fine,” said Carol, almost convinced. “Thank you, Julie.” She took her own large bag, and her son’s suitcase in her hands, crinkling the pet papers in her hand as she maneuvered towards the elevator. The daughter came out of her trance and rolled an eye for having to carry her own bag as the elevator dinged open.
The shaggy haired kid in the plaid pants stared silently as the family gathered their things and lumbered away. The young boy waved at him. The father turned to glare at him, but when he turned, did not see him anymore. Satisfied, he pushed his child into the elevator.
Julie continued speaking to the family, whether or not they were listening, “I am here at the desk until seven, and then if you need anything, Mr. Farrell will be able to assist you.” She motioned to the clock on the wall, which was coming on quarter past 3. As she gestured, she caught a quick glimpse of the older boy discretely enter the dining room on the left of the stairs.
The wife nodded, distractedly, and the family shuffled onto the lift, the walls bouncing back their series of complaints while the doors closed.
“Mr. and Mrs. Robert Fielding,” Julie read from the register before closing it and giving a jaded grimace at a wife’s identity permanently tied as always to the husband. Part of Julie was surprised Robert hadn’t called out for “Mrs. Fielding,” when he wanted her.
“Hey, Jules,” came a voice nearby. Gerald, not bothered in the slightest to be rebuffed by the Fieldings, “That kid made a point. Why doesn’t this lace have bugs? I’ve been here two years and never even seen a spider.”
Julie bent slightly at the desk, and found a folder for the day’s receipt; “She doesn’t like bugs or spiders,” she said somewhat distantly.
“What? Who?” asked Gerald, who was now resting his arms and chest against the desk. At six foot 3, he was used to towering over others.
Julie looked back up to him, and wordlessly gave a slight cluck of her tongue, and gentle batting eyes that said plenty in shorthand.
“Oh.” Gerald backed off for a moment, sheepishly and thought a second, “Well, then why do we have rats?”
“She likes rats, Gerry,” Julie said plainly, closing the register book and returning it to the precise spot she liked it, and confirmed all the pens were back in the appropriate container.
“Oh,” Gerald replied, as if it explained everything, and to generations before him, it had.
“Oh,” Julie looked back up and at the dining room door, which was still swaying ajar, “You’d better check on him and make sure he’s not into anything he shouldn’t be.”
Gerald resigned himself to this regular task, “He’s always into something he shouldn’t be,” he grimaced and started his way over.
Julie yawned, and found her Thompson novel on the floor beneath the desk. She picked it up and leaned back in her chair, muttering “Dead people are creatures of habit.”
She was less a model and more a frequently photographed woman, while he was less a comedian and more a gin drinker– they had convinced themselves and the tabloid-reading world that were in fact famous. Indelicately shacked up during the dissolution of his third marriage, they had found each other in the same bed, undergarments askew. The Pope was still weighing his options.
They were viciously decried by the all-consumable media and were too blue for the news reel in the movie theaters. He had gone from wealthy gad-about to an out-and-out villain who was abandoning a solid home life; she flittered from utter obscurity to the exquisitely tailored uptown Whore of Babylon.
Invited to parties as the entertainment; they would get a bottle or two in, make a scene, and stagger out some four hours later. Sometimes her hand was down his trousers signifying they were still in love, or he was bellowing his baritone threats after she ran into the streets, which provided pause to the notion all was fair in love. It made for a delicious post-meal conversation amongst the ermine-clad circus-goers.
The invitations were beginning to be lost in the post, as dear friends they always could count on began to be bored with their antics, and the repaneling of their bathrooms. The news out on page seventeen was Agnes DeWitt was back to living alone, comatose between sniffs, as Chester Dunning returned to the happy home with the second alternate in the countryside.
It can be procured even in the state of inebriation that they managed to gurgle out an “I Do,” along the way and were so married. An annulment was anticipated, thusly the reason for Mrs. DeWitt-Dunning now seen with two suitcases outside a parked canary-colored taxicab.
First to emerge was a shapely, infamous stocking-clad leg, following one’s eye to the buxom frame, sunglassed and smoking, hissing at the afternoon sun.
It was too hot for her rabbit fur stole, but she was worried if she left it in the townhouse, it would find its way back to Chester, or his mother, who was set on repossessing her son’s careless mistakes from the past 18 months.
Agnes was still a great beauty, hangover notwithstanding; her saffron hair bounced in preset curls, escaping a cherry-bark colored bonnet. A Sunday church social it was not, one would gather from her body language, dramatically pressed against the taxi’s frame for Frank Lloyd’s absent lens. Her hunter green coat was set to bake, as she extended a chipped mauve-painted nail to her tortoiseshell glasses, inhaling the last of a Luckie and tossing it to the sidewalk.
The hotel’s name indeed corresponded with the pack of matches she had snagged from Chester’s jacket that evening—morning?—before. If it was good enough for him, she saw no reason to not send him the bill of somewhere he was already familiar with.
She waved away non-existent autograph seekers and the sea of invisible cameras and walked towards the door, clutching her fur over sweating shoulders. The driver tossed the overstuffed luggage to the doorman, who gave a discrete nod and gently stomped out the embers of Agnes’ careless fire risk.
“Ma’am,” he offered, pulling the door open and providing her with the first glimpse of the lobby. The copen blue rug (how au currant) was a tranquil ocean with chestnut chairs and loveseat island. She observed the quietly crackling fire, while impractical for July, but was nestled inside an exquisite fireplace, etched with ornate carvings of wood nymphs gaily frolicking in the dark brown marble.
While the light was significantly softer inside, Agnes kept her glasses on; one must never be unprepared to be recognized and mobbed on sight. She caught the eye of at least one husband who would soon catch hell for it, so she considered her visit a success.
The doorman, Horace or Harold or something like that, snapped his fingers and a squat, handsome bellman, suddenly full of purpose, reported for duty. He collected the bags to bring to the next port: a registration desk some ten feet away, and kept a close watch nearby, taking notes in his head.
At the desk stood a man of about 25. He was decked in a hazy gray Windsor jacket, white shirt, striped blue tie, and a pair of seersuckers so pressed, a wrinkle would feel intimidated to even make a try for it. He smiled broadly, revealing a chorus line of ivory.
Beginning with a gentle stumble, Agnes lurched forward a few steps to lean on the edge of the desk. “Good afternoon,” she spoke in a thick bourbon-laced fog, her neck gently wiggling with each syllable. “I believe you have a room for me.”
“Well, that’s great,” sang the chipper tone of the man behind the desk. She shuddered as his tenor was just nearly as bright as the sunshine she had just escaped. “I’ll be happy to set you right up, then. What name is it under?”
Agnes hobbled slightly, searching her memory. “Mrs. Samuel Goldwyn,” she tendered.
Managing to stem off even a momentary look of puzzlement as this did not look like the wife of a major motion picture studio head, the man still scanned the book before him, and indeed discovered the name next to the assignment Room 501.
“Well, Mrs. Goldwyn, you sure do have you with us for the night,” the man smiled again and turned away to face the series of silver keys. He selected one marked “501” on the attached tag, framed with the silhouette of a lion’s mane.
Facing Mrs. Goldwyn again, he broke out into a tenderhearted smile, and put the key down on the desk, and knowingly asked, “If you would please sign the register, Mrs. Goldwyn?”
She took the pen into her hand like some fussy snake, and provided a feasible interpretation of her signature, or Mrs. Goldwyn’s, on the line.
“Thank you, ma’am,” the man behind the desk again smiled, “Would you like to pay for the bill now or at the end of your visit?”
Agnes snorted, and fished inside her coat for a purse to find a small pouch of wrinkled, once-sweaty dollar bills wrapped around a business card. She gave a defensive look to the man, her sunglasses slipping down her nose and revealing late-to-bed hazel eyes, a proper black and blue swelling encircling one of them. “Charge it to this gentleman?”
The young man took the card without looking at it, and attempted a sympathetic tone, “Th-thank you, ma’am. If I may be of any…” He hesitated to address the contused elephant in the room.
Agnes, realizing he was staring at her shiner, pulled her mouth tightly into a forced smile, and pushed her glasses back up. “Uh huh,” she managed, somewhere between shame, appreciation, and indignation.
Feeling a bit shy, he waived the request for deposit, despite this attractive woman clearly being in trouble, and not exactly using her real name. He considered she may have been through enough without being questioned if her means of payment were suspect.
Quickly changing his timbre, he continued, “Martin, I mean, Mickey will bring your bags up, ma’am. If you need anything, anything at all, phone the front desk. I’m here til midnight.”
“Thank you,” Agnes cleared her throat, and grandly turned to get her sense of direction. “And who do I ask for?”
“Ma’am?” the young man murmured, trying not to look back up while be busied himself with the sign-in book.
“Your name, kid,” Agnes asked, clucking her tongue in her cheek and surveying the grounds, “I need to know your name if I plan to phone the desk, don’t I?”
He flushed. “Wally,” he stammered. “Walter, ma’am”
“Well, Wally Walter Ma’am,” Agnes said, walking away, “You have a good night unless I need anything, anything at all. If your staff is equipped for lunch, I’d appreciate some sent up.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Wally Walter Ma’am sheepishly smiled, “Today we have a terrific clam chowder-”
“Schlitz if you have it,” Agnes called, nearly out of view, not glancing back.
Walter exhaled sharply, still collecting himself. He looked back at the front door and got a nod of understanding from the doorman who couldn’t pull himself away from the spectacle.
A bellman, stifling a gee-whiz, exchanged a look of similar sentiment to Walter, and took the two bags with him, behind the sauntering Mrs. Samuel Goldwyn, who appeared to be in mid-conduction of an orchestra as she reached the stairwell.
Agnes pushed forward to her room via the stairs, and reached the curve of the fourth floor’s banister before she even realized there was an elevator all along. When she got to her room, 501, the door swung open at her touch, and she shuddered as the knob on the other side, bounced off the wall. She paused in the doorway just long enough to sigh before aimlessly strolling in. As she steadied herself against one wall to kick off her shoes, she took in the sight of the somewhat cheap looking drawing room.
So began the theatre of undressing; she slung her coat onto some hideous cactus rose paisley fainting couch and her coat to the accompanying chair. She was soon dressed only in her short-sleeve cotton day dress, baby blue with the light yellow floral splotches that were just too trendy to pass up. She dropped her purse on the dresser with the ash tray, and slid a long thin hat pin from her hair, to set beside it. She looked positively innocent, except for the sunglasses which she did not remove. With a flick, she let her hat sputter into the cushion of one of the overstuffed sitting chairs, and she swung around to see the wide eyes of the bellhop, taking in the show. She smiled weakly. “Bedroom?”
He gestured, but she needn’t have asked; there was only one doorway and only one direction to go in. It led to the large bed–covered in a peach-colored quilt– two end tables, another ghastly pink chair and hassock, and an enormous mirror that made up the vanity, constructed with deep-set drawers.
To her right, she saw the powder room; meager, but utilitarian and the bath tub even had feet. She always thought bath tubs with feet were so posh.
“Thanks, kid,” she looked up at the bellhop. “You can put the bags on that ottoman if you’d like.”
He stood the two leatherbound suitcases on said ottoman as directed, and hesitated just long enough for Agnes to recognize his awkwardness. She searched herself for change, but gestured towards the other room. “There’s a quarter in my purse, kid. You can take it.”
The bellhop was startled to be entrusted to rummage through a lady’s purse, but took the opportunity quickly, and without betrayal. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said in the doorway again, having returned to see Agnes examine her black eye in the mirror. “And might I say?”
Agnes turned, pulling the sunglasses back up.
“I just want to say, I think its nuts that guy would leave you, ma’am,” the bellhop shyly took liberty, “I think you’re swell.”
Agnes sadly laughed, and finally pulled her sunglasses fully off, dangling them with her fingers. Seeing her shiner, he did not shift an iota in dreamlike attraction for this voluptuous and bruised stunner before him. Agnes looked down to his nametag, feeling less self conscious in the company of this youth.
“Thanks, Mickey,” she smirked and tossed the glasses on the counter, “Bring up my lunch order when it’s ready?”
Mickey brightly saluted, and nodded, “Yes, ma’am.”
He was then off, and Agnes DeWitt, no longer Mrs. Samuel Goldwyn, was alone again. She made her way to the window to more tightly close the curtains; she was roughly finished with the daylight.
Agnes stood near the window, closing her eyes and feeling the heat penetrate the drapes. The dull sound of silence was replaced by the self awareness of her breathing and beating of her heart. She lifted her hand to her chest and felt it rise and fall. Her eyes shut, and a brief panic overcoming her, her heart rate began to quicken until she took several deep breaths until her pulse slowed to normal.
She inhaled deeply again and opened her eyes, only to nearly fell backward from the bright afternoon sun piercing her. She blinked rapidly, confused as if the curtains had been suddenly wrenched open, and gave a quick once over of her surrounding while continuing to see spots in the empty room.
Agnes groped for the sides of fabric and pulled them tightly together, soon doused again in shades of gray. Curious if she would discover some faulty curtain rod, she soon forgot once her eyes adjusted again. She turned away from the window and looked back at her soft orange sleeping quarters while considering her next series of events.
She hiked her skirt and crawled to the center of the mattress, where she yanked one of the suitcases towards her. Resting on her knees, and testing the durability of her nylons, she heard the clank of the fasteners open and lifted the flap to unveil a collection of slips and lingerie she would no longer be able to afford without Chester. It seemed a damn shame for her to peak in financial stability at the age of 27.
She pulled the slips out and onto the bed and a shock of metal caught a stray piece of light; Agnes nonchalantly pulled forth a pistol from betwixt her unmentionables. While her experience with firearms was limited, her time with Chester had given her a vague understanding that he had gotten this one sometime in Argentina, called it Betsy, but it had a name like a horse… Clydesdale… or Cobb… or something.
Additionally, he didn’t like policemen to know he had it, and there was the time it had scared the wits out of a would-be mugger when they were walking home late at night from The Thin Man last summer.
Leaving the gun in a nest of satin and silk underthings, she crawled out of the bed and rolled down her stockings. She made her way to the front door, slipping out her dress on the way, and checked the lock. Secure, she returned to her bedroom, eyed the gun for a few moments longer, and pulled herself out of her girdle until she was free from foundation.
Once she found a chain for the overhead light, Agnes took in view of the modest bathroom while the bulb swung back and forth. It was strange, she considered; when everything else in the hotel was relatively presentable; this naked, stark light bulb was an unceremonious blight. At least it wasn’t that sickly shade of pink like everything else was.
She pulled her hair back past her shoulders and reached for the faucets in the tub. Lightly grazing the lever, she recoiled at a shrill, rusty squeak which signaled a rush of clean, clear water that was steaming in the time it took to her to gasp.
Feeling the hot water on her hand as it poured forth for a few moments and satisfied with the temperature, Agnes lifted her leg over the tub’s side and began to step into the water that was quickly collecting into several inches. She swiftly shrieked and pulled her leg out, her body twisting and nearly cracking her skull on the tile floor. Had she not made a great recovery, clawing at the rim of the tub with both hands, gravity would have spoiled the night.
She looked down at the foot she had barely made contact with water and shivered as the ice cold chill reverberated up her limbs. Knees bent, and barely holding her weight on one side of her body, she had just casually plunged her foot into what felt like a freezing, rushing river. Winded from jolt and somewhat pained from reacting so quickly, she straightened her body, still grasping the edge of the tub to lean towards the still flowing water. The damp heat caressed her face and frizzed her hair as she panted.
Agnes looked down at the water through the swirling wisps of fog as she continued to wiggle her toes to further feeling as they flexed on the porcelain bathroom tile.
With one hand, Agnes darted her index and middle fingertips past the surface of the water, feeling the comforting immersion of the warm water, rather than the fright of subzero she could have sworn she felt a minute ago. Her foot already felt no memory of such a thing, although she was still catching her breath. What had happened? A spasm? Some sort of electrical spark? She looked around for a sign of faulty, exposed wiring but saw only the shadows continue to dance from the quivering, solitary incandescent light bulb overhead, its chain limply swaying.
This time she stared at the water, as if challenging it, as she grazed her toes at the surface and quickly submerged without a shock to the senses. She let herself gingerly sink her body beneath the soothing, pleasant water and then leaned forward to turn the faucets to off. While they needed to be turned for three or four more cranks than she ever remembered initiating, the water eventually stopped with a soft metallic screech she was now prepared for.
The room was now filled only with the sound of the splash of water hugging her flesh as she adjusted and tilted her body to rest her neck on the end of the tub, keeping her hair dry while she took the bar of soap from the cubby in the wall. She shivered gently at the condensation sliding down the top of her body, in contrast to the heat of her lower body, which had quickly relaxed her restless legs and fidgeting toes. Agnes would close her eyes, trying to shake off the unnerving seconds beforehand, but could not bring herself to more than seven or eight seconds of her eyelids closed before opening her eyes again to review her surroundings again.
Agnes had only managed to pull a panty set on when there was a tentative knock on her door. She tossed her slips on top of the pistol, and reached for a kimono, designed in splashes of black and red. She pulled it tight and walked barefoot to the door in the shadows, “Yes?” she spoke to the closed door.
“I have your lunch, ma’am.” came the familiar voice of Mickey.
Agnes tossed back her hair and adjusted her bosom before reaching to flip the lightswitch on, then unlock and open the door with a smile. “Hi, Mickey,” her voice was soft and inviting.
Mickey appeared not quite prepared in even this, perhaps his nineteenth year, to see a lady in her robe, particularly at 1:15 in the afternoon. He held back a choked laugh and grin, and presented an oversized serving tray.
Agnes was already turned and walking towards the sitting area, leaving Mickey testing his grip on language. “Yes, ma’am.” He used his left leg to shut the door behind him, as he walked nervously forward.
He put the thick silver salver down on a round table between the chair and the couch where Agnes positioned herself, legs crossed and shoulders back, a hand less than casually clutching at her clavicle.
Standing at his full height of 5’6, Mickey pulled back the tray cover to reveal a sizeable bounty of clam chowder in a white porcelain bowl with gold trim; a matching plate with a salad of greens and chicken slivers sat beside it with a maroon cloth napkin and a set of sturdy silverware. The centerpiece was a glistening brown bottle of beer, sweating from being removed recently from an ice box, and beside a 4 and a half inch orange glass.
“With Mr. Farrell’s compliments,” Mickey said, grasping the beer bottle like a fine French wine. In response to Agnes’ bemused look, Mickey further explained, “Our front desk manager… He keeps these in the office. I don’t think he’ll miss one.” Mickey gave a coy wink that pushed Agnes further into stifled laughter, and in his debt.
“Thanks, Mickey,” she reached for the small glass on the tray, but as soon as she brushed a finger on it, a razor thin line appeared vertically in a nearly perfectly straight line, cracking the length of the glass. “Oh!” she pulled her hand back quickly and examined her hands for blood, convinced she saw a flash of red when the glass split.
Mickey looked mortified, “Oh! Miss DeWitt, I’m so sorry…” He snatched the glass up from the uncracked side, lifting it off the tray and holding it, still intact if utterly useless. “Did you–did you hurt yourself?”
Shaken but unhurt, Agnes wiggled her fingers at Mickey, “I’m fine, honey. I’ll just drink out of the bottle.” Mickey insisted on examining the bottle for damage before handing it to Agnes, she took a healthy swig from the bottle once it was deemed safe. “Thank you, Mickey. You’re sweet.”
He beamed as though she’d declared him her hero on the tempest tossed seas. As he stood there quietly, she continued to drink and lean back on the couch to watch him, as he watched her. “Sit,” she said, her voice a cozy, cashmere blanket.
He nearly chose the floor by virtue of standing on it, but he got to the chair opposite this woman with the black eye in time, pushing her discarded fur stole to one side. ‘Yes, ma’am,” he quipped, and sensing her next need, extended a small shiny cigarette case. She accepted, he lit, and they continued to sit in silence as the smoke trailed upwards in the shape of thin, whimsical demons.
“So, you know me, Mickey,” she simmered, “Tell me about you.”
Mickey paused, momentarily considering a more interesting story, but settled on the unvarnished: Scranton, Pennsylvania. The following minute and a half were a rushed delivery of memoir, from being the oldest of six, to being on the basketball team in high school, he as the son of a mailman and a schoolteacher, and some odds and ends about his traveling to the big city, but getting distracted by the wrong one and ending up here. Most of it went swirling up there with the smoke, completely avoiding any of Agnes’ consciousness.
“And,” she said, shifting the topic to one she favored, “You’ve read about me.”
“Boy, have I,” Mickey offered, enthusiastically, gripping his grayish-green bellman’s hat in his hands. “You’ve been all over the society pages. I read ‘em all the time!”
Agnes took another puff and marveled his at references, “Most of my admirers from the papers are usually hairdressers and choreographers,” she clucked, “I assume you’re fan of Chester’s?” she challenged.
Mickey’s face went a shade pale, and he muttered, “Oh, gee, no. I mean, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but—” Mickey shut up as Agnes couldn’t help but touch the purple under her eye while he spoke. “I mean, he’s a heel if that’s from him,” he favored a smooth recovery attempt, “I don’t approve of men hitting ladies.” He paused again, and looked down, “Especially one as beautiful as you, ma’am.” He looked up again.
Agnes pursed her lips, approvingly, and dropped her cigarette ash in the direction of the ash tray, a good four feet from her, “Well, he and I… have stopped seeing each other,” she offered. An unforeseen breeze of opportunity took that millisecond to drop her kimono a few centimeters down her thigh, and Mickey dropped his hat lower to his lap in flustered arousal. “You know he’s terribly jealous. Just about kill a man who would look me with lust in his heart.”
Flailing against such bait, Mickey motioned to the tray, “If you would like to eat, I could leave you for now.”
Seizing the opportunity, Agnes arched an eyebrow, the one above her unblemished eye, “For now? When did you plan on returning, Mickey?”
Mickey tittered, and hunched his shoulders, “I mean, of course, I mean when you’re done eating, I’d return for the tray and plates.”
“Oh, I see,” Agnes took a long drag, and started to stand before her seated companion. “I’d appreciate it, of course, if you would check in on me later,” she purred, “It’s been such a long day, and I’ve been so very, very upset.”
Mickey’s mouth was made of rubber as he extolled his virtues as a night watchman should she require it, perhaps to stand guard and protect her from any ex-lovers furthering their assaults–even if they were, she assumed, slightly older, rundown nightclub comics with at least four children.
Agnes left the plate of food untouched and bottle of beer conquered, and walked back towards the bedroom. The kimono, an incorrigible silken scamp, teased the viewer with ever-repositioning coverage of her bountiful figure. She stood in the walkway between her rooms, and took one more inhale before tossing her cigarette accurately to the receptacle. “9:30, perhaps?”
“Well, I…” Mickey stumbled both verbally and as he rose from the chair.
“Please, Mickey,” Agnes cooed, mournfully as she defied Garbo, “I don’t want to be alone.” The agreement between them was all but notarized and sealed, and Mickey edged his way awkwardly towards the door, attempting to will his libido downward, and smiling like a lovesick fool.
It was settled, and Agnes turned, her sad teary face instantly neutral—nearly bored-looking once she faced away from her audience—and continued to the bed, still awash in undergarments. She heard Mickey mutter repeated assurance and wobble out of the door, closing with a clang.
The seduction on pause, Agnes pulled the pistol from its hideaway and slid a magazine she had snagged from Chester’s desk into the bottom of the handle, before she tucked it more safely into the bedside table drawer. Pushing her unworn negligees to the other side of the bed, Agnes rolled restlessly onto the bed to a comfortable position on her side, one of the plush pillows at the headboard brought to under her chin. She felt her body slowly give into delayed rest.
Moments before she could enter deserved slumber, her eyes suddenly popped open at the feeling of a small tug of the bottom of her robe, like it had been snagged on a branch or tugged by an invisible hand. She lurched up, seeing that her thigh was suddenly exposed to the still air, the fabric peeled off of her. She quickly covered her body, and felt her back and shoulders stiffen in discomfort.
An uneasy look around provided no clue to the imp that insisted on prodding her. Sleep would insist to overtake her, and she would relent, beginning to dream nearly immediately for the first time in a day and a half.
The hours passed on, marked by the series of silhouettes that really should have been prevented by the curtains being so fastly closed. Had Agnes been awake and been in the appropriate humor, she would potentially spent a moment contemplating the shapes like clouds in the sky, visions of wildlife, vehicles, and even shapes more easily assigned as unfriendly hotel inhabitants.
Agnes accomplished lifetimes of successes in her sleep, finally being recognized by her parents as a winning Hollywood starlet as she walked by them, as they ped for her forgiveness, wallowing in the dustbin of the street while she glowed in marquee lights. Further still, she was the mother of children she was not certain she could now ever have, then a pilot waving to fans, a guest on the new radio quiz show where she remembered the capital of Australia, and later, the recipient of at least four triumphant orgasms.
While she would never be certain, whether it was earlier in the sequence of her dreams or the very thing that would nearly propel her out of bed, awake and gulping, she felt two heavy rough hands grasp at her throat. In her dream, her only instinct in response was to struggle in laughter, which further enraged her attacker.
Now awake, Agnes didn’t know the time, but the sun had since set, leaving her in a murky twilight. She felt her brow saturated in sweat, heart still racing, and she sighed when she saw her pillow smeared with heavy black eye makeup. She shifted out of bed and staggered to the bathroom mirror, her mind quickly forgetting the pieces and eventually summation of all she experienced while sleeping.
She chuckled as she gazed at herself in the mirror. No one would disagree she was in need of a touch-up. Her black eye had come off almost completely during her fitful sleep. She took time to carefully reapply the tones of black, gray, and blue creams to her eyelids and the patch under her eye so that it resembled the aftermath of a true, violent biff.
Agnes studied herself in the mirror. She was beginning to see the wear in her face; not some fictitious tussle that she was improvising, but that of actual age. As she bit at the inside of lips in quiet contemplation of her vices, she fumbled with her compact absentmindedly until carelessly letting it clatter into the empty porcelain sink, which reminded her to breathe. “Don’t do this,” she said to her reflection, and she fluffed her hair, reviewed her jawline, and gave herself quiet congratulations for the height of her bust.
She heard a knock from the other room and she put her eyeshadow back in her bag to conceal her masquerade. Agnes held her robe tightly closed as she maneuvered in the haze traversable from of the bathroom light, and fumbled again for the lightswitch, which she had no memory of turning off. “Yes?” she hissed gently at the door.
“Hey, kitten,” It was a baritone voice, a soothing leather that tingled up one’s spine.
Agnes squealed in excitement, her face in tight, dimpled coquette as she let the door creak open to its full width. “Hello, sugar man,” she moaned, wrapping her arms around the visitor, and grinding her soft midsection against the front of his black overcoat.
The sugar man was Mr. Chester Dunning of Darien, New York, and his hands were clumsily groping Agnes in return, as best he could with a bundle of daisies and mouth that wheezed “hello how are you it’s been too long,” into hers.
She quickly pulled him inside and gave the empty hallway a stern look before indulging in one more peck before the privacy of a closed door.
Chester lifted Agnes up so her legs could playfully cling around his waist while they necked, and give her reassurance that if she was so interested in pulling him towards a couch or bed, he would be able to perform.
However, she soon slid down and brought her hands to either side of his face. “You’re a crumb,” she giggled, and poked the front of his tweed pants with false malice as he coughed in response. “You were supposed to be here hours ago.” She impishly pulled away from him, taking the flowers into her fingers, and bit her lip like a scolding school sweetheart while lead him to the bedroom.
“It’s after 8, babe,” he protested as he hobbled forward with her, “You told me after dark.”
“Oh, gee, it’s that late?” she fussed childishly, “I been asleep almost seven hours.” In hindsight, she should’ve considered the beer would have made her sleepy on an empty stomach, and the waning effects of the morning’s cocaine. “Aw, honey, we don’t have time, then. I gotta get dressed.” Chester pouted and caressed Agnes’ nude shoulder, revealed by her slipping robe.
“Ah, ah, ah,” she pointed an accusatory finger, “Cool down.” When he pulled on her robe’s sleeve, she merely stepped entirely out of it, nearly skipping as she went towards the bathroom and winked at him, shaking her chest as a tease. “I’ll be out in a minute. Just make yourself at home.”
Once the bathroom door was shut, Chester chuckled and tossed his coat on a nearby chair, and pulled his tie loose. He glanced down at the uneaten tray of food, and helped himself to a healthy slice of roasted chicken, which he ripped apart in his fingers and swallowed. He was about to settle himself down on the couch when he heard a gentle tap on the hotel room’s door.
He crooked his head towards the bedroom and waited to hear if Agnes would emerge, but she didn’t leave the bathroom after even another set of taps.
Chester stood and took another bite of chicken as he walked forward. Cleaning off his fingers with his mouth and then the inside of his pockets, he turned the knob.
Before him was a young man, under 21 to be sure—likely under 18—and definitely shorter than his own 6’2. Mousey brown hair was slicked back to reveal a freckled freshman of a lad, with a pronounced cupid’s bow of a mouth trapped in an uncertain smile. His bright blue eyes flashed with recognition of this fullback before him, and his smile dropped slowly.
The boy’s hands, clutching two bottles of Schlitz, raised up defensibly, as his fingers extended a sentiment of “Don’t shoot” as best they could while keeping the bottles from falling.
“Mr. Dunning,” he sputtered, and swallowed, wishing he could sink into the floor.
Mr. Dunning pursed his lips like he was keeping a canary inside. He pointed a finger at the kid, and tilted his head inquisitively. “Who’re you,” he said like Edward G. Robinson, and loud enough for Agnes to hear in the bathroom.
“I’m… I’m just checking in on… Miss… Miss DeWitt,” stammered the kid, his voice rising as he hid behind the beer, “I’m the, uh, the, uh, the, uh bellman.”
Mr. Dunning looked the stranger with the suds up and down, noting his first date attire. “Looks like you’re off the clock.”
The bellman sputtered to come up with an explanation, but was silenced by Chester deftly seizing one of the bottles from his quivering digits. “Cheers,” he said, cockily, and popped it open.
The bellman in off-duty dress appeared unable to move his feet from their fixed position until Chester took a sip and stepped back. “Come in,” he whispered.
Despite clear hesitation, Mickey didn’t decline the offer, and he shuffled into the room, past the hulking form of this surprise host.
Hearing the door click closed, Mickey turned around, as decisions he had made leading to this moment paraded in his mind. The imposing gentleman, Mr. Chester Dunning, raised the beer bottle in a friendly gesture, and continued to speak, loudly and gruffly. “Thanks. Even on your night off, you’re still bringing room service. Real friendly hotel policy they got here. I can’t imagine what your turndown service must be like.” Chester gave a threatening, patronizing look to Mickey, “I’m guessing you replace the sheets in the morning before you even go to work.”
When the bathroom door opened, both sets of eyes quickly took into focus the nearly naked Bad News Doll Baby of Midtown, Miss Agnes Dewitt, who squawked in displeasure and snatched for her robe. “Oh!”
Chester smiled broadly, his eyes stone cold, “Darling! Look who came by to serve up refreshments!” He once again raised his beer bottle in celebration, and his bright face quickly turned into a sinister grey. “Won’t you join us.”
Agnes’ mouth went to begin any number of phrases, as she kept an unsteady palm on her chest, keeping herself as decent as possible. “Honey, I—I don’t know what he’s doin’ here.” Her wide eyes betrayed any notion of propriety.
“Oh, no?” Chester asked, grandly unbelieving, and once again adopting a false grin, “I thought it was a party about to happen. You, me, and Junior here were gonna jolly up right here, and throw back some booze. I figured we’d talk all night, toasting to the day his voice finally changes.” Every sentence felt like he was inching a mousetrap closer to their fingers, egging them on to test it out.
When neither of the party responded except in quivering lips, Chester grunted despondently. “Guess the party’s off. Sorry kid.” He took another swig of beer and flung the nearly empty bottle across the room, where it shattered against the radiator on the far wall. Mickey let out a yelp, and Agnes stymied a scream with a hand over her own mouth.
Chester shrugged in incredulously as he moved closer to the front door, keeping them both in sight and fixed to their spots. “I’m afraid we’re gonna need maid service, kid.” He sneered, “At least then we’ll have proper doubles.”
Chester brought his mitten of a hand towards Mickey, who flinched and instinctively pulled back, but Chester was fast enough to grab the other beer bottle safely. Popping it open, he again offered a mocking toast of good wishes, and laughed off Mickey’s discomfort.
“So, the two of you,” he carried on, “You had plans without me?” Leaving his eyes from Agnes, he positioned him before Mickey to provide maximum intimidation. The ottoman between them, he leaned in to see the bellman’s sweat while trying to explain. The bully routine was shortlived however, as the sound of a drawer opening and closing brought Chester’s attention back to Agnes.
“Oh, doll,” he muttered dispiritedly.
Standing there, poised and without a shred of the hesitation she displayed seconds earlier, an increasingly topless Agnes DeWitt had one arm extended, a semi-automatic Colt .45 pistol aimed for her husband. “You stay right there,” she said, her voice a grave departure from the bubbles or bourbon she usually provided in sweetheart mode.
Mickey edged away from Chester and nearly tripped over a footstool.
Agnes coolly addressed him, “Mickey. You stay there, too. Don’t be afraid of that brute. He can’t keep us apart.”
Mickey tripped over the footstool. “What? I’m sorry, he can’t what?” he exclaimed, exasperatedly.
Agnes shook her head, “It’s ok, baby,” still looking at Chester point blank, “He won’t hurt me again, and you and I can finally run away together. That’s why I invited him here. So he’d know he and I are really finished. And so he’d know that we’re really in love, you and me.” Mickey blinked repeatedly, looking like a fish who had just spotted the pot.
Agnes took a few steps forward, weaving her body softly, defiantly at Chester, who squirmed contemptuously. “And we are, buddy boy. Really finished. I’m done chasing you around bars and parties hoping I get a kiss from you before midnight so you won’t run off with some waitress instead.” She moved closer, “Or before you lose all your dough on a horse instead of meeting me for dinner.” She went closer still, “Mickey knows how to treat me. He’s known how to treat me for almost three months. Sometimes twice a night.”
As Mickey hyperventilated, Chester fumed silently–his body reverberating, his fists shook by his side; staring bitterly at Agnes while she taunted him. “You little bitch,” he seethed.
Agnes smiled and chuckled, “Aw, too bad, Chester. We had a good run.” A sharp, mechanical click was heard from the pistol, signifying Agnes was prepared to shoot and make it count. A moment later, perhaps less or more—it was hard to tell in the shuffle of things—Chester lay face down on the hotel room floor, a crumpled mess.
“Jesus Christ,” Agnes whispered, as she backed up a few paces.
Mickey blinked and heaved, bent over like a lumberjack with the thick silver tray in his hand. It had seen better servings; now it was somewhat bent and smattered with blood and saliva. Having hurled it to the side of Chester’s head with such a clang, he wasn’t sure if the emanating sound had been just the tray, or if it was Agnes firing the gun in tandem.
“What… was… that…” Mickey uttered, his breath nearing asthmatic as he stared, gobsmacked and bug-eyed at Agnes. “Why did you… why did you tell him you and I were together…?”
Agnes, ran her tongue tentatively between her teeth, her own jaw somewhat astounded by the activity she’d witnessed. She wasn’t even sure if she had misjudged or not. Was this what she had planned for, or not?
“You know,” she bargained, pivoting her body to raise her other hand in expressive justification and her voice returning to its typical lilt, “He would’ve killed us both. I thought… Well, I just thought he might as well have a good reason.”
Attempting to remove himself from his demi-permanent hunched position, Mickey shook his head and sighed, “I can’t believe this. I just can’t…” he looked like he was seeing stars as he steadied himself in the air. “I’ve… I’ve never hurt someone… not even Buddy Newton when he took my pocket money in 2nd grade and the teacher said I deserved it because I didn’t stand up for myself… and my dad, my dad told me to throw the punch next time but, but I couldn’t… and then when he was gonna hit me and take my money, I just backed away. I just backed away.”
Agnes stood silently for this diatribe, waiting for Mickey to catch his breath and re-enter the present day and she could begin to care about anything happening again.
“I just backed away,” Mickey repeated, his eyes glazed, his heart heavy. “I backed away and he got hit by a car. I didn’t even get the chance to punch him. But he was dead.”
Agnes impatiently huffed forward, the gun at her side, tapping her thigh, about done with Mickey’s one man performance, “Listen, kid. You better check his pulse.”
It was enough to snap Mickey back into the moment, “I better what? What? No, ma’am, I’m not touching that lummox… You, you do it!” he stepped backward, as if from a snake in the woods.
Agnes threw her head back, annoyed and gagging, “Yeah, tough guy. Thanks.” She hitched her robe up and crudely squatted over the recumbent body of her hot-headed lover. “Well, here goes.” She brought two fingers to Chester’s wrist and paused. Emboldened, she went for her throat and tried there. “Well, kid,” she said with the subtlety of a bowling ball, “You snuffed him out alright.”
Mickey just about fainted dead away, but Agnes quickly stood and yanked him by the collar of his jacket, “No, no, no, no, kid. You’re not leaving me to deal with this.”
Her naked thigh was roughly supporting all 88 wet pounds of the kid, and her hand–the one without a gun in it–held him at the small of his back like a backwards Gone with the Wind poster.
Cleaving to him, she was unprepared when his limp arms suddenly went rigid, his wrist twisting downward, and snatching the pistol from her hand. “Hey, what gives,” she started to mumble, when he yanked her body upward and then pushed her down onto the carpet, having her barely miss the lummox.
“Hey!” she snapped in a great Judy Holiday impersonation, but Mickey was unswayed. His eyes, formerly childish and winsome, went cold and bitter. His smile was no longer that a school boy but now, a shark. “Sorry, doll,” he said without pity and gave her a rough kick to the side.
In pain and in a daze of utter confusion, Agnes began to drag her body against the carpet, backwards, wincing as the fibers scraped her skin. “Listen…” she said, her voice wavering and unable to complete the thought while she clutched her aching ribs with one hand, and pulled away from Mickey with the other.
Mickey’s smile stayed plastered like a ghoulish Halloween mask, his eyes increasing in intensity. He pointed the .45 at her with the dexterity and confidence of a man who had been holding one for years. “No, thanks,” he said, somewhat beyond her, into the ephemera.
He slowly edged towards her, past the fallen man’s body, which he gave another sharp strike to the side with his wingtip. He glanced down, and upon seeing no movement from the body, raised his eyebrows suggestively towards Agnes, “Not bad. Not the plan, of course, but not bad at all You surprised me with this,” he waved the gun slightly, “but I think I managed in spite of your going off script.”
“What are you talking about?” Agnes shouted, her mouth in a baffled grimace, “What plan? What god damn plan?!”
Mickey shrugged, “Don’t worry about all that, babe. Business between gentlemen. You just needed to get the bag here.” His face softened in a facetious pout, “I hate to reduce you to a mere bag man, but,” he motioned for her suitcase, “I just needed you to bring them. And if Chester’s dead, well, then, that means I don’t have to fight with him over what we’re gonna do with them.” He got closer to Agnes, as she slammed her body into the end table, cursing that she wasn’t able to pass through it.
“So, that means, you don’t gotta do anything either,” his face returned to an impish violence, “Except, say good night.”
Agnes scrunched her face and she banged her fists on the ground, “No! That’s not fair! I was going to kill him!”
Mickey laughed, realizing she was still catching up. “Yeah, he knew that, honey. You made such a big deal about making sure he knew where you were going, taking matches. You didn’t even think he’d want you come here. That it was his idea.” Mickey bent at the waist and brought his face close to Agnes, “After all, Chester and I had some of our best ideas in this bedroom. Some of our best ideas in that bed, come to think of it.”
Agnes was quick enough to get a slap across Mickey’s cheek, but not fast enough to shield herself from retaliation. She coughed and spat a gob of phlegm and blood on the carpet. Mickey scowled, “Always a lady like the papers say,” he said distastefully, “But I guess I had that one coming.”
In that moment of tension where a fan of noir mystery movies would expect the fallen body of Chester D unning to suddenly rise up, shrieking and hurling his body into his assailant, Mickey instead stood back and checked his pretty face for marks. It was an utterly uneventful series of seconds.
A gentle rapping at the door broke the silence, however, and as Mickey swung his body around, he neglected to guard his nether regions from a well-timed, well-aimed thrust from Agnes’ bare foot. He gagged on his own scream, attempting to brace himself against the bed, and permitting a stray bullet fire from the gun, which had been practically itching for use during all this chatter.
While Mickey took the necessary moments to recapture his bearings, Agnes was already on her feet, the robe a mere suggestion for her arms as she flung her body towards the door leading to the doorway. As she reached it, the sound the lock opened, and she was faced with the panicked face of Mr. Wally Walter Ma’am from the front desk.
“Miss DeWitt!” he exclaimed, both still in shock from hearing a gunshot a moment ago, and seeing the exposed bosom of lowbrow high society’s main squeeze. Agnes turned her head back to the gun-toting runt of a bellhop who had made the last ten minutes impossible to deconstruct.
Rearranging his pride and his testicles, Mickey shuddered towards the two of them, the gun raised. “Stay out of this, Wall,” he murmured between groans.
Perhaps feeling left out, or bad for missing his cue, the slumped corpse of Chester sprung to life and snatched for Mickey’s available right ankle. “Gah!” Mickey screamed and pointed the gun down, shooting his lover twice in the back so he would release him and again face-plant into the carpet.
Furious, Mickey looked back up at the door to next shoot his well-meaning manager in the face, but the doorway was empty, with only the sound of running footsteps down the hall and down the stairs to lobby. A faint urging of “Call the police!” from below, prepared Mickey to note his time was limited, and he agitatedly turned on his heel to find Agnes’ open bag on the bed. He tossed the lingerie in the air and scraped the empty bottom of the suitcase with his bare fingers and the tip of the gun. Gritting his teeth, he pitched the bag into the far wall, knocking a vase of flowers in its wake, and growled.
He then clawed at the clasps of the second bag Agnes had brought, and found himself wrist-deep in sensible womens daywear. “Where… is it…” he wailed. His face was pink, his chest heaving, and his sweat collection considerable. He lifted the bag into the air and slammed it down to the floor. He looked at Chester’s bleeding body before him and he let out a guttural scream. “Where did you put them?”
Failing to consider checking his dead lover’s coat pockets, Mickey gripped his chin and let his thoughts race. Visions of the day’s activities spiraled around him, from the moments he ate oatmeal for breakfast, sent a telegram to mama to assure her it was all gonna change from here on out, to when he killed Martin and took his post for the day to ensure he would be the one to meet Agnes DeWitt, and that unpleasant matter of shoving Martin’s body into the walk-in freezer in the basement between boxes marked Birds Eye.
His eyes traced the room, looking for any sign that would provide him satisfaction, and caught movement by one side of the dressers, in the opposite corner. If he had been the type, he would have assumed some ghostly visage had just waved at him to look inside. He glanced at the open door to the hallway, and hearing the sounds of panic in the lobby below, leapt forward to the dresser and began searching the drawers.
As he kneeled to open the lowest, he felt a sudden pressure on the base of his neck. He tensed, his body reacting to the rush of a burning pain welling up at the top of his spine, he twisted his shoulders and brought his hand to the spot of pain. He felt sick. His finger tips brushed an ornate, carved gemstone that gave way, he assumed, to a thick metal spike, now lodged into the top of his back. He convulsed slightly, feeling blood in his mouth, as he turned. Before him was Miss Agnes DeWitt, her face a medley of relief and rage. She had managed to get behind him with a hat pin, and from the look of it, it was struggling to come out the other side.
Unable to properly speak, Mickey put a hand out to Agnes, vainly attempting to reason with her. “The letters,” he tried for, making his wound worse, “The letters.”
Agnes stared at him. Her face went from cool self assurance to puzzlement. “Letters?” she said to him. “What letters?”
Mickey stared helplessly at her, continuing to shake, and beginning to feel the nausea from blood loss. He couldn’t continue to speak, and collapsed, falling forward to Agnes’ bare feet. Her mind raced. “What letters, Mickey? What are you talking about?” Her voice grew louder and more worried. She looked back at her dead husband, “Chester, what letters?”
Her mind raced with any number of incriminating possibilities and she watched his eyes look further and further past her, his body slumping to the floor, the weight too much for her to hold.
Despite her amateur attempts to revive Mickey, Agnes would not succeed. The paramedics would arrive five minutes later to him already dead, and the police would not be particularly interested in Agnes’ insistence she was innocent. They would instead bring her in, screaming hysterically for questioning, and have Chester’s and Mickey’s bodies hauled to the coroner.
It was anyone’s guess who in that office would even find the envelopes in Chester’s breast pocket, or what they would do when they opened them.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Unless stated, all characters and material is the work and property of Viktor Devonne and White Elephant Burlesque Corp.
Good evening this is RHN News; thank you for joining us. Our top story tonight, a serial killer has come forward when police weren’t even looking for him. Edgar Theodore Corbin was arrested today after coming forward, confessing to a dozen murders that authorities had not even tied together.
Sheila Atkins has the story.
In a potentially embarrassing display of negligence from the county police department, they were surprised today when a man in denim jeans, matching jacket, and plaid workman’s shirt entered the precinct saying he was ready to confess. Confess to what, they had to ask, as no one knew what he was talking about.
Within three hours, they had names and dates to match twelve unsolved homicides in the area.
The man’s name: Edgar Corbin, a local man who worked in the town’s Hall of Records administrative office as a clerical assistant and editor.
Corbin, showing remorse for his crimes, came clean without any hesitation and even despite several reminders he could—and should—have a lawyer present.
While the authorities have not released all of the names in accordance with his confessions due to procedure in notifying the victims’ families first, RHN’s source claims Corbin admitted to frequently scouting inside and outside of the Gilman Hotel, owned by the Gilman Legacy Foundation and currently run by Clive Baird on site on the foundation’s behalf. They have declined a statement at this time.
There is no direct connection, our source says, for the victims in this case other than their proximity to Corbin. There is no evidence that he stalked, researched, or even knew much about the victims, instead relaying the experience of their murders as a cathartic impulsive one.
Corbin is being charged with twelve counts of murder at present, and the victims go back as early as 1978. He stated the only reason he ended up at the Gilman Hotel for his final set of murders was merely because he needed a place to stay. His home, the apartment complex Klein Estates, was foreclosed on late last year, and left many of its residents on the street. While Corbin floated from place to place, he found himself at the Gilman Hotel a number of times, during which he felt an unholy need.
Dr. Marcus Davenport, neuroscience professor, explains:
“There are of course several factors that can coalesce (co-a-less) to bring out these outcomes, but there’s usually a combination of organic-neurological issues combined with mental health issues, and substance abuse.”
Mr. Corbin entered the police station on Thursday morning after what he referred to as a “spiritual awakening.” He provided the police with items from the victims he collected over the years, and spoke of a savior that met with him after a dark night of the soul at the Gilman.
“Sometime delusions are a way for someone to cope with the horrors they have done, in addition to what may be an undiagnosed or untreated traumatic brain injury or mental health issues such as PTSD or schizophrenia. This, combined with drug use, may have sent this man on something of a vision quest.”
Others are unconvinced, citing Corbin’s potential for securing an insanity plea. District Attorney Mitchell Clarkson has been notably unmoved by such petitions, as viewers may recall in the Duncan Osgood murder case from early last year.
For now, Edgar Corbin is behind bars, and those who were potentially to be his next victims, will never know how close they came to a monster’s random selection process.
Shelia Atkins, Regional Hills Network reporting.
Thank you, Sheila. And now, what kind of breakfast cereal is most likely to cause irreversible —
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Unless stated, all characters and material is the work and property of Viktor Devonne and White Elephant Burlesque Corp.
A man of indeterminate clarity entered the lobby. About 25, he was dressed in a finely tailored, beautifully crafted tuxedo jacket, an undershirt best suited for bedtime four nights earlier, and just about the most tattered yellow and white checked corduroy pants one could imagine any moment would slide off his taut frame. You however could not see his partially revealed backside, as he wore a large swath of burgundy velvet curtain for a cape.
He hobbled, noble as a king and waving an imaginary cob of corn, sweeping a small porkpie hat from the crown of his head. He delicately mimed a moustache above his bare lip and swooped low to meet the gaze of his proprietress.
“My dear wench,” his voice King Arthur, his gait Charlie Chaplin, “wouldst thou have a room for these weary bones?”
Betty Egan, who did not get paid enough for this, raised her eyes over the ebony rims of her glasses without moving her head past the book she was reading. Bent over the desk for the last hour or so, learning new words from William S. Burroughs, she adjusted herself into a straight line and slid the paperback down to take in the full scene.
“Sir,” she deadpanned, blinking slowly. Her lips formed a curt, no-nonsense brick-red frown.
“A-ha! Well met!” the man cheerfully exploded with recognition unknown to her. “Well met indeed!” He bowed gracelessly but with decent intent. “Maiden of the inn, I do request your services!”
When Betty woke this morning, it can be assumed, she had no expectation to wait upon Geoffrey Chaucer doing a bad impression of Stubby Kaye. Bemused, she straightened up, and took her glasses off as she sucked her tongue. Finally she spoke, “Sir, do you have a reservation?”
“A reservation?” the man said with a touch more volume than appropriate, receiving a number of glances from the dozen or so people in the lobby, sitting reading a paper or waiting for the elevator. The hotel was busy for the time of day, with all of the temporary residents of the room giving an observer the conclusion of each being part of the same insurance convention that weekend.
Betty stabilized herself on her heels, closing her eyes and heaving an unimpressed gust of sigh to the ceiling. “Yes, sir,” having no part of the game the man was playing, “A reservation for a room this weekend. I need your name.”
The man leaned back gently, perhaps taking in proper view of this insubordinate peasant who clearly did not know who he was. He clucked and pressed down on his chest, pulling forth a semi-wilted posy and handed it to Betty, who betrayed a momentary shyness at the gesture.
“Sir Edward Manly the THIRD,” the man proudly puffed, “At your insistence. I believe my cleric called forth early for a room in the house. With a fire, if you do so please.” Sir Manly extended a finger and swiped the desk gently, to then rub his thumb against. He gave a slight sound of pleasure upon observing the cleanliness of his night’s lodging.
Betty smiled, all but defeated, and reached for her ledger and flicked the pages to the date she desired. “Mister…” she looked up and gave a patronizing smirk, “Excuse me. SIR… Edward Manly…”
“The Third,” the man before her interjected absentmindedly, as he turned and twisted to look at the room. He bowed generously for the guests who were quick to turn away when they matched eye contact.
Betty, pulled at the bow of her white high collared blouse—she had been inspired by the recent photos of Margaret Thatcher–with one manicured finger as she found his name in the register. “Yes. We have you down for a 1pm check-in.” She gave a quick look at the clock to confirm he was right on time, if not in correct century or state of mind.
Sir Manly gave a boisterous huzzah of accomplishment, and the necks of everyone else retreated into their collars like embarrassed turtles. At least a few of them searched their conscience whether they should rent a room a hotel that would have such a figure also on the list.
The unusual man returned his hat to his feathery orange head of hair, and he twirled his cane like a veritable silent film star.
Betty gave another once-over to her visitor and with a newfound sense of hospitality—someone must have been watching–she warmly smiled and turned to find a key to match the room he would be staying in. She pressed the cold metal token into his extended hand. “Room 304,” she said a little louder than necessary, a performance.
Betty said quietly as she pushed the key forward on the desk, “How is that for you?”
Sir Manly gestured widely, “Delightful, fair m’lady!” He dashed for the key and held it up, “This shall be a grand visit I am certain!”
Betty’s face fell back to its traditional disdain. “Yes,” she groaned. More loudly, she went on, “Now, our bellhop is otherwise engaged. Shall I escort you to your room to make sure all is in order?”
“A true honor, it is!” Sir Manly said, somewhat losing his affectation and merging into cockney. He extended his arm in a crook shape to indicate convoy.
Betty rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth into a halfhearted smile. She stopped short when she made the turn around the registration desk. “Your… bags, sir?” Her voice went to gravel.
Sir Manly’s eyes widened. “Oh! To be… to be… to be fetched anon, of course! I never travel with luggage.”
Betty’s smile gritted that much more and she motioned sharply towards the stairwell. “I’m sure the gentleman prefers the simpler method of walking than using those newfangled machinations.” Her jaw was in danger of permanent clench.
Sir Manly swung his cape and headed forward. “Delighted!” he bellowed.
“Mr. Farrell,” Betty called to the small room to side of the desk, “I will be showing our guest to his room and will return shortly.”
“Mmm,” grunted a gruff voice from the open door. “Yes.” A man of nearly 90 came forward. His grey hair had long abandoned his scalp to further reside above his ears. His weathered face, partially obscured by large framed black glasses, showed signs of longterm disappointment. He stood guard at the register, his mouth making slow, involuntary twitches, and looked right through any remarkable activity before him.
As Betty and the strange man walked towards the stairs, the disquiet of the room slowly dissipated and congenial chat resumed.
Alone on the stairs and walking with a deliberate, labored pace, Betty snapped her head to her companion and growled, “What ARE you doing, Kenny?”
“You told me to come at 1 o’clock…” murmured the man who in more contemporary diction for an autumn in 1981.
“I DIDN’T ask you to talk like Walter Ralleigh and dress like, like….”
“Buster Keaton!” smiled Kenny broadly, “But I didn’t have the right jacket, so, I went with–.”
Betty’s hands went to Kenny’s wonky tie as she turned into an ice cold Faye Dunaway.. “Now you listen to me. You fuck this up and I will sell you the fuck out. None of us will get what we came here for, and I’ll deny ever meeting you.” Her hazel eyes narrowed, recalling the last six months it took her to get to this moment. “Dost… thou… comprehend?”
“Sure thing!” Kenny squeaked, his oxygen substantially limited. “You said eccentric after all!”
Betty let him loose and they walked up another stair, “I said ‘fucking crazy,’ you moron. People ignore crazy people. They don’t ignore eccentric people. Eccentric people don’t fly under the radar.”
Kenny sheepishly admitted his mistake in the semantics, “Right. I did sort of miss the boat on that one.”
Betty grimaced and pushed forward, talking to the air in front of her. “And where is your goddamn luggage? You’re checking into a hotel for a weekend, trying to not be suspicious, and you don’t bring a bag.” As they neared room 306, she pointed. “That’s his. You’re next to him.”
Kenny gave a thumbs up, “Great, do the rooms connect?”
Betty popped the key into the lock for 304. “No, this place is prehistoric; the walls are solid,” Betty grimaced, “You’ll have to use the hallway to get in unfortunately. But I chose the third floor because most of the convention guys are on the fourth and fifth. There’s only a few even on this floor occupied, and they’re all down the other hall.”
The door opened, and Betty stood to the side to let her wider, bizarre friend in first.
“Nice digs,” he exclaimed as he walked in a few feet and stood still.
Betty pushed him forward and closed the door, “Yeah, terrific, I’m glad you like it,” she huffed. She turned to face him, pretend presentation remote in hand.
“Ok, pay attention. I have a workman uniform in the closet for you already. Mister Gilberto has already called the front desk to say his sink is dripping.”
Betty sauntered around the room, mindfully adjusting the components of the room to her liking, from the blinds to the way the telephone was facing. “You’ll need to come to the lobby for the work order. It’s important that you come downstairs first. Hopefully no one will recognize you from your one-man-show at check-in.”
Kenny’s eyes followed her, his neck jutting forward and watching her mouth move. He found it easier to take direction that way.
Betty continued, as she fluffed the couch pillows, “Who did you register with? Did you talk to anyone?”
“Old guy,” Kenny said, “I called yesterday.”
“Right,” remembered Betty, “so it wouldn’t have my name attached to the booking. Did you use that stupid accent?”
“No, that came to me today!” Kenny said, his proud, innocent face catching the light through the window. Betty softened as she looked at him. She was hard on him, but he wasn’t great at consistency. The paint job he had done on her apartment earlier that summer showed he still struggled with attention to detail.
“Good. Your name on the worksheet is Leonard Talbitt. If anyone asks your name, you have to use that.” She lifted Kenny’s arm to find his wristwatch. “It’s 1:15 now and the convention’s got the ballroom from 5 to 10. You’ll need to lie low until then. ‘Sir Manly’ is in his room for the night. No going out even for ice. You got that? ”
Kenny nodded again. “Do we have time for a little… a little, uh…” Kenny trailed off, but pushed his midsection forward like a juvenile and swung his hips.
Betty’s eyes permitted a small twinkle as they followed his thrusting hips, “Don’t sell yourself short.” Her smirk was the devil.
“Well, not, uh, little you know,” Kenny laughed. He jutted forward, obscenely, his boyish charm on full display. He could go from zero to eight and a half in sixty seconds.
Betty shook her head, and marveled at her patience for such a stupid man, but he was making a good case for why she let him stick around. He was the plan, he was the fall guy if needed, but for right now, he was the break time special.
Letting the caramel-colored blazer hit the floor and the pussycat bow come undone, she pushed him backwards and watched him squeal in delight as he hit the bed’s marshmallow comforter. She stuck her index finger at him and her face went stern. “Don’t talk during it,” she said authoritatively.
A quick sink shower later, Betty had redressed, and was about to leave when she turned to Kenny, still naked in the sheets, and looking both amazed and proud of himself. Betty picked up the recently discarded purple Maidenforms that matched her bra, from the foot of the bed. “Another thing,” she said, hooking her thumb into them and stretching them slightly.
Kenny looked up from his primitive fascination of his own body parts and gave a vacuous smile, perhaps ready for a treat.
“Wear these when you do it,” Betty gave a naughty eyebrow arch and let them panties slingshot to Kenny, who caught them like a prize, and let out an unsophisticated giggle, playing with the feel of the satin.
Betty checked her bow in the full length mirror and came to the side of the bed. Grabbing Kenny’s slacked jaw for a moment, she gave him a quick kiss. “5 o’clock,” she repeated from before.
Kenny’s fervent eyes went to the clock radio.
“No. Right now its quarter to 2,” sighed Betty “You come downstairs at 5.”
Kenny nodded enthusiastically. “I’ll be there–and in uniform!”
Betty muttered, “That’s great, Kenny. You do that.” She made her way to the exit and struck one more pose from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for effect, and closed the door behind her.
Kenny stretched his lithe, angular body across the bed and smiled. So far, so good; this beat house painting.
Kenny called room service at about 3, and despite Betty’s icy response to Sir Edward Manly’s request, he still got his chicken wings.
From 3:30 to 4, Kenny stared at the shadows on the ceiling, which both looked like refracted light and ominous clouds made from smoke. His mouth fell open in wonder as he contorted his body in different positions to make out all the faces and imagery hidden in the ripples of plaster.
At 4:30, Kenny dressed himself in the dark workman’s uniform over the lavender underwear Betty gave him, as best they would fit. He dug into a pocket of his Chaplin coat and found a fake mustache that he had gotten from the magic shop, peeled the adhesive backing, and carefully placed it over his top lip more or less evenly.
He then practiced walking differently in the room for several minutes and talking at a lower register. “Hello. (cough) Hello. Hell-oh! I’m a workman working here on the third floor of the Gilman Hotel. I’m here to work on your pipes.”
In the hallway, he looked forward to walking by other guests to test out his new stance and voice, but none were around.
He walked with a slight dance down the stairs, feeling his Dick van Dyke fantasy. Catching Betty’s eyes from the front desk when he was in view, she nearly sunk into the floor. She mouthed, “Take that off,” and pointed on her face where his moustache would be, but all he did was wave.
He approached the front desk and spoke in an stilted and affected deep voice, “Hello, young lady,” his smile broad and stupid, “I’m here to fix your leak.”
“Don’t wink, don’t wink,” Betty thought. He winked.
Betty pushed the work order towards him, her lips tight and glare in full effect. “Room 306. Sink won’t stop dripping. Guest is out of the room right now, so if you can get it taken care of before 11.”
“Yes, ma’am!” he cheerfully growled in a voice he was having trouble sustaining. “I’ll get right on that!”
Betty swallowed quiet rage and craned her neck to see if Mr. Farrell was in proximity. “If I’m not back at the desk when you return,” she said more loudly and slowly and altogether more towards the side of her than at Kenny, “Mr. Farrell will take the finished work sheet from you.”
“Yes ma’am!” Kenny grinned, and took the work order and started to walk away.
“Sir,” Betty called out with quiet desperation.
Kenny turned, smiling, “yes, ma’am?”
“The key.” Betty held out the key for room 306 and furrowed her brow. Maybe she should’ve asked the man who put her new carpet in, instead.
Returning to the quietude of the third floor, Kenny strutted towards the room next to his own and knocked. Hearing no one inside, he took the key and let himself in. The room was dim from the blinds catching nearly none of the already fading outdoor light. Finding a light switch, Kenny then looked all around him.
The room, the layout similar to his, had the single chair draped in an empty garment bag, a series of notes and papers on the desk, and pairs of black linen socks scattered about. He put the work order paper down on the tall side table by the door, and moved in like a classic cat burglar, having studied the moves from reruns of Mission Impossible.
Finding his way into the bedroom, Kenny hummed the familiar theme to himself as he opened drawers and dramatically snaked his neck around. Soon he had found what he was looking for: a thin luggage bag, marked D.K., was stuck between the bed and the end table. Managing to pull it forward with only one major scratch on the leather, Kenny rested the bag on the mattress. About to go for the zipper, he heard the noise of a doorknob being rattled. His eyes turned to saucers and he instinctively held his breath, his body going in a stiff, straight line.
The sound ceased, and the doorknob went still for a moment, but soon the replacement was a quiet, irritating scratch of something in the keyhole.
The lights in the room flickered long enough for Kenny to look aimlessly upward, before they went out completely.
Now in the dark, Kenny dove onto the floor, his hand still wrapped around the bag as he began a methodical crawl across the floor, the sound of the bag providing a telling whoosh against the carpet every few seconds.
Kenny reached the bathroom, and he pulled himself up to reach the lever and nearly fall in, a small thud against the tile. He was about to struggle to close the door when he heard the sound of a latch opening and the room’s main door slowly creak open.
Kenny slunk into himself as best he could. His left arm was still outstretched, holding the handle of the bag towards the leaky sink. He was afraid to turn in any direction, which would no doubt make another sound. He did make note, however, that he had really scratched the hell out of the side of that bag, though.
For a few moments, it was eerily quiet. Kenny did not hear anyone enter, and he did not hear the door close. From his limited view on the tile floor, the hallway light gave a soft wash to the bed room, and the bathroom door was about six inches open. Twisting his neck, he tried to survey the rest of the bathroom behind him for any escape route.
The sudden change in light got Kenny’s attention as suddenly that soft wash no more and the sound of a door closing was audible. He held his breath again, his heart pounding against the floor at such a force he was certain someone would feel the reverb.
“Mr. Kelly?” came a low voice, just above a whisper, from the other room. Kenny pulled his lips inward and bit down on them. Another few moments of silence were interrupted by a rustle of paper.
“Mr. Talbitt,” the voice now said, still at the same distance at before, but louder and more confident. It was no longer a question.
Kenny squeezed his eyes tightly and concentrated. He had heard that name before, but he couldn’t remember where. Flashes of his sexual escapades came forward, and Betty’s voice from earlier came into frame, “Your name on the worksheet is Leonard Talbitt.” She looked pretty in that slice of memory; she always had the expression of being annoyed at herself that she was so turned on.
Oh, shit. Kenny was Mister Talbitt. He weighed his options for the splits of seconds if he should answer. He heard footsteps in the next room, moving across the carpet. Kenny was in the throes of contemplation regarding his boyhood days taking taekw ondo and what he might remember from it when he was interrupted.
“Mr. Talbitt,” said a man again, plainly and calmly, this time standing over him. Kenny lifted his chin upward as best he could without moving the rest of his strained body. He saw a youngish man, but older than him. It was pretty dark, but he saw what looked like dull brown hair on the top of an unexceptional frame.
His face was near expressionless, minus that of a slight curve on the left of his mouth, like he was biting the inside of his cheek. His nose, somewhat out of place on the rest of his face, slowly inhaled and his eyes, like stinging blue sapphires, stared cruelly downward. Kenny grunted, his body in discomfort from his pose, “Hi,” he let out.
Nearly simultaneously with his greeting, he felt his head snap backwards from the impact. He felt it in his upper back before his face, almost like the breaking of his nose needed to catch up with the rest of his body. The blood however had spread to his eyes, and he could feel something wrong with his mouth, like a tooth was loose, likely several. Without the time to attempt a second salutation, the center of his face had caught up with the pain and he recognized the difference between the impact of this unremarkable man’s shoe and the porcelain of the bathtub he was next introduced to.
His beautiful, soft face now felt like it was in separate pieces, and he could not tell if the room had gotten even that much darker, or if his eyes stopped working, certainly inconvenienced by the shattering of his orbital bone. He gagged as pressure was then placed on his throat. He tried to bring the rest of his body into the struggle, attempting to coordinate some flailing arm gesture into a proper strike attack. However, he was having a difficult time hearing and was so distracted by his body’s insistence to instead go to sleep.
When Mr. Talbitt was dead, the unremarkable man let him go, leaning back and letting the rush continue to flow through him like it had the time before. Feeling he was now alone, he let himself breathe at full volume, nearly gasping from the exhilaration.
When time had passed to make the scene less interesting to him, the man lifted his body off the tile floor and glanced around, eventually settling on turning the light switch on, which brought forth a full view of the carnage below. The man staggered slightly, his hands pulsing and head throbbing with his now dissolving passion.
He didn’t like looking at the people after it was over, so the man instead observed the rest of the of the room, seeing the sprawled out arm that hadn’t let go of a thin, scuffed up carry-on bag. The man gingerly kicked the bag on the floor away from the body and it made contact with the base of the toilet, the contents shifting slightly.
The unremarkable man pulled out some lemon scented wipes and dragged them across the rim of the tub and a part of the floor. He would take care of the door knobs when he exited. He picked up the work order and folded it into quarters and slid it into the back of his jeans, and then he left.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Unless stated, all characters and material is the work and property of Viktor Devonne and White Elephant Burlesque Corp.
Music: Scratch the Itch (Quincas Moreira) & Pirouette (Asher Fulero) are licensed under a Creative Commons; Attribution license •https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) • … theme: Cherry Blood by Miss Cherry Delight (used with permission)
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. Farrell 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. Farrell, 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. Farrell 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. Farrell.
“I informed the madam that her room was not yet decent for her, but she insisted.” Mr. Farrell 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. Farrell nodded.
Margaret, as if having finally returned to the earth, was still taking it all in. “Mr. Farrell?” she squeaked out.
His face the usual calm gray, Mr. Farrell continued looking at the officer. “Margaret,” he said. “The penthouse, have you finished it?”
“Yes, Mr. Farrell,” 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. Farrell 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. Farrell. “How’d she get her bags up there anyway? She had three or four of them.”
“The… the bellman…” Mr. Farrell 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. Farrell 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. Farrell 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. Farrell 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. Farrell 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. Farrell 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. Farrell,” 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. Farrell. 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. Farrell stood behind the front desk of the Gilman Hotel, quietly and without much to say on the matter.
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.
“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.
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.
The bitter cold continued to permeate the walls of the foyer, up the stairs leading to the lobby. A more piercing winter was known to few as this one raged on with its snow and wind on this Christmas Eve.
Margaret stomped her feet, soaked with the melting snow, at the top of the stairs, relieved to see a light going in the lobby fireplace. She stood in place as she shook the residual white nuisance from her altogether unsatisfying coat. She peered around the lobby, which glowed from the embers in the hearth.
Clomping her boots to the front desk, she was greeted with the mirthless eyes of Farrell, who was just as compliant to work Christmas Eve. He presumably had no one who could love him enough to rather the night with. Farrell’s wrinkled, thin face, slowly acknowledged Margaret’s presence at all as he blinked slowly behind his spectacles. “Margaret,” his dry lips permitted him to gasp out.
Margaret did her very best to be of cheer; “Merry Christmas, Mr. Farrell!” she said with her characteristic whimsy.
“Yes,” was Farrell’s only reply, as he seemed to flicker like a Cinemascope projection, his eyes darting back to the newspaper splayed out on the desk. He was traditionally a man of few words, as Margaret had come to expect.
“How has your day been so far, Mr. Farrell,” Margaret pressed on for community, as she made her way through the increasingly slim crevice in the desk towards the employees-only area.
“Yes.” Farrell muttered. “You have four beds to make before 6.”
Margaret pressed her mouth into a self-pitying smile and nodded down, suppressing a grim laugh. “Yes, Mr. Farrell.” In these sixteen months working at the hotel, this exchange all but verged on comparably romantic.
Margaret maneuvered to the private room beyond the front desk, where she was to leave her coat and collection of scarves, to dry. She kicked her boots off, and found a sensible pair of brown shoes next to the coat hanger, which she would soon strap on. Beneath her coat, an immaculately ironed navy blue and chocolate brown uniform came forth. Heavily fashioned with off-white doily material, she was topped with a crocheted hydrangea that much resembled a series of moths feeding on her lapel.
She paused to check any ladders in her tights before she returned to the front desk, which had little change in atmosphere. She smoothed her already flat apron, her fingers pushing at the starchy brown fabric, and attempted another round of conversation.
“Mr. Farrell, will you be needing any tea before I go?”
Farrell bristled. Begrudgingly, he lent her both eye contact and a weak smile. “Please.”
A Christmas miracle, Margaret marveled, as she headed towards the employee kitchenette. Emerging in ten minutes time with a heaping cup of instant tea, she set the saucer before Farrell. She allowed five seconds to pass for a weary “Thank you,” to be heard and she was off.
Once in the bedding room, beyond the view of the general clientele, Margaret gathered together her items. She pulled the clean, folded laundry from their respective cubbies and shelves, prepared the evening before, likely by a maid with better luck to have the night off. Well aware that all service was on her shoulders this evening, even if Jeffrey the doorman handled the incidentals, she settled herself for a long evening of solo work. However, she had only just over an hour to set the four beds Farrell warned her about.
As she walked past the hat rack where her drying coat stood proudly, she clasped her hand bag from the floor, lifting it to the cart, and rested it on the linen. The brick red and pine green crocheted bag contrasted with the ivory bedding in color, wear, and likely price tag.
She gripped the cart’s front handle and pushed it forward. One might as well start with the first floor.
Margaret passed the front desk again, as she walked towards her first charge. She intended a friendly smile at Mr. Farrell at the front desk, but saw him otherwise engaged with a guest. This guest, yapping dog and all, was a woman about sixty, twice the age of Margaret, and a fur coat that would have paid for Margaret’s daughter’s new clothes for five or six years. That ermine muff was no small treasure, either. “Twelve weeks piano lessons,” Margaret made a quick currency translation in her head.
The dog, a small caramel, deep brown, and white beagle, was fascinated at the cart and gave exasperated barks as Margaret passed him and his mistress. Margaret permitted a momentary reminder of the Christmas wish that Emily, her daughter, had made – well aware, it was to go unfulfilled a further year.
The first room on her list was 101. It was a small room, typically held for the hourly guest; a man who was on business and needed a place to bathe and freshen himself before heading out into the world. Sometimes Margaret would see a young woman enter the room first, and she did her best not to stare too long or make assumptions, much as they were.
Margaret clasped the ring of keys in her hand, and searched the appropriate. She soon has the latch open, and then the door. A rush of floral perfume filled her nostrils.
“Hi Maggie,” said a warm voice. Older, wiser, and ever-stuck in a mode most sultry, the voice belonged to an Eva Waggoner, who was no stranger to the room, or to these halls.
“Miss Waggoner,” Margaret nodded as she shuffled into the room and closed the door after her. “Merry Christmas to you.”
Eva was dressed, or somewhat undressed, in a snow white negligee, immodestly wrapped with a sheer, thin fabric masquerading as a robe. She kept one hand perpetually on her hip and the other holding a never-ashing cigarette.
She was, as you might imagine, quite dead.
“Miss Waggoner, you’re looking well.” Margaret was never one to leave conversation out of the air, and despite what she presumed her differences with Eva Waggoner might be, she refused to be rude.
Eva exhaled in boredom, a cloud of smoke from her lips instantly vanishing before it had a chance to swirl upwards. “You know, I’m thinking of leaving this place. Starting over somewhere. West, perhaps. Phoenix. Colorado, maybe.” She stared upwards, giving her greatest Lauren Bacall, as her finger tips gently padded her pin curled hair, slightly askew but quite fetching. She could never get it to set right these days.
“That sounds lovely. A clean start.” Margaret began with the sheets. Pulling the set of slept-in fitted sheets, a divine recent addition to the inventory, Margaret looked beyond any soil marks, wishing them away. It made it easier to handle the materials if she never considered what went on in the beds she changed.
“A clean start,” Eva murmured in her one woman show. She thrust her shoulders to the side as she danced gently, the muslin robe catching the movement and lingering in the breeze. She stared at the vanity , watching her lips pout around the drooping cigarette. She was now Dietrich.
The vanity’s table, every inch a Hollywood star’s, was strewn with cosmetics and atomizers. “It’s no good here, Maggie. The men, they’re just too much.” Eva picked up yet another rouge.
“And for so little in return,” Margaret hummed, sweeping the sheet flat. She grabbed the pillows from the headboard and began to switch out the covers.
Margaret peered over a pillowcase under her chin to see Eva comparing a strand of pearls and a ruby pendant. Eva’s eyes went to Margaret, “Well, it is a special occasion, you know.”
Eva returned to her own reflection. The pearls. Margaret took the cue and laid the pillow down, making her way to Eva. Eva smiled like she would at a loving sister, and let the pearls—considerable wages, Margaret knew—fill her hand. Margaret sighed at the touch of the beads, and dismissed a jab of envy. She arranged the necklace properly and lifted them over Eva’s head, and placed them tenderly on her cool, pallid skin. “Thank you, Maggie. You’re sweet to me.”
Margaret smiled, sadly, staring at the two of them in the mirror. This glamorous almost-was and this simple, modest never-could; they seemed like something out a before and after.
Eva turned and began her work again, as Eva purred some Dinah Shore hit, spraying herself with eau de something or other lilly and magnolia, and practicing her Hayworth.
he perfumed air went stale for a moment.
“Oh, Margaret,” Eva called out. She never called her Margaret.
“Yes, Miss Waggoner?”
“I’m terribly sorry but I do know I left some awful mess in the bath. I just can’t be sure what I was thinking. But I do apologize so profusely.” Eva’s usual lightness enriched by her smoky, husky voice was near-eternal but presently in conflict with a vulnerable sincerity of apology.
Margaret steadied herself. Room 101 was unpredictable, as was Miss Waggoner. She was warned by the most words Mr. Farrell at the front desk had ever spoken to her to expect this sort of thing in several rooms in the hotel. After the first week of work, his steely disposition and his expectancy of her own longevity in the field clicked into place. But she had proven him wrong.
In these months, she had seen flashes of utter horror, and collected in herself a commendable willpower she hadn’t thought possible.
Gathering her cleaning items, Margaret politely smiled at Eva, “I understand, Miss Waggoner.”
At least, she considered, it wasn’t the carpet this time.
Eva’s face, sullen and near gray, brightened again and she flashed a terrific smile – Harlow—before returning to her quiet singing and primping.
Knowing she was on a time table, perhaps Margaret wasn’t as meticulous as she could have been; she was better at the beds anyway. But knowing she needed to at least get most of the blood off the tiles even if it made them a subtle shade of brown as she mopped the towels in circles, she persisted. The laundress in her shuddered at the now useless cloth as she dumped them in her cart’s secondary compartment.
Wiping clean the tub’s rim, the splotches came up rather easily; she must have arrived just in time. The steam from the water as she flushed out the majority of the muck, filled the room and to distract herself, Margaret envisioned one of those fancy spas the ladies go to on Sundays.
She turned off the faucet and let the remaining steam aide in her sponging off the sink, and mirror. She gave a quiet prayer, and returned to the sleeping quarters. She dusted and patted down the overstuffed chair, refilled the pencil holder and paper for the desk, and looked around for any further concerns.
Eva Waggoner was now dressed. She stood tall in a smart two piece Maisonette; black and aqua with exquisite detailing. “Maggie, are you all set? I’m meeting Joe in a few minutes.” She was bent slightly, examining her seams in her stockings; a passable Marilyn.
Joe, this time, Margaret thought. She deserved a happy Christmas Eve, so she was glad.
“Yes, Miss Waggoner. You have a lovely evening. I’ll be seeing you.”
Eva laughed, “Unless this one sweeps me off my feet and takes me to Charleston with him—or Chicago, maybe!”
“You never can tell, Miss Waggoner.”
“Can you see them?” Eva said, distracted by her own visage in the mirror, her voice full of hope. She twisted her bare arms towards Margaret. Repulsive gashes up and down her wrists marred Eva’s exqusiite skin. She had clearly attempted to cover them in the makeup and powder, but the lascerations were far too deep. They were, after all, what had killed her.
Maragret exhaled, and collected her senses in time for Eva’s eyes to catch hers. She smiled gently. “You look marvelous, Miss Waggoner. No one will know.”
Eva squealed, her beautiful face tightening in schoolgirl joy, an emotion one might feel reserved for someone a good twenty years younger. “Thank you, Maggie.” Eva pressed her hands into Maragret’s, and squeezed. “This is for you.”
“Oh, Miss. Waggoner, I can’t,” sighed Margaret, regretfully now clutching the ruby pendant Eva had chosen against for the night.
Eva was already back the vanity, fluffing her hair. “It’s all settled,” she said casually, “It’s my gift to you.” She turned again, her eyes full of promise and her body movement near triumphant. “Merry Christmas, Maggie.” For once, Margaret couldn’t place the actress.
Margaret shyly tucked the pendant in her handbag, well aware of what was to be. She gathered herself and manuevered her cart to the door. “Merry Christmas, Miss Eva Waggoner.”
Eva turned and posed in the mirror still humming, “Rings and things and buttons and bows…” as the door closed behind Margaret.
Margaret began down the corridor, the cart gently bruxing. The towels inside had by now lost their spotting. The flecks of gore Margaret could not have avoided in her cleaning, flicked away, leaving no trace. She felt for her bag, already knowing the pendant was no longer there.
A man in front of her–well dressed and with a Clark Gable mustache– smiled slightly as he made room in the hallway for her to pass by, and return towards the lobby. A few feet beyond him, Margaret heard the key in the door, room 101.
“Merry Christmas, Miss Eva Waggoner.”
Music used in the recording:
“Menilmontant” – Latch Swing; via Free Music Archive
“1940’s Slow Dance” – Doug Maxwell; Media Right Productions
“Hawaiian Blues” – Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds via 78 Project
NARRATOR: As the 80s came to a close, the Gilman managed a lower profile until a change at the Gilman Legacy Foundation’s headquarters initiated the hotel’s more friendly image as a tourist attraction for some of the seedier happenings.
LESLIE DAVENPORT, investigative reporter:They saw an opportunity and when cable documentaries about haunted locations started popping up, they decided to take all the calls.
NARRATOR: Credit for that decision appears to go to Howard Campbell, who left foundation in 2012. Campbell decided to monetize the salacious nature of the hotel and find a way for visitors from all over learn about its sordid past.
In fall of 2011, Campbell brought on spiritualist Brad “Hesperwolf” Maguire for a special publicity tour in time for Halloween, where guests could tour the still active hotel and see some of the sights, including an All Hallow’s eve rave in the Persephone Ballroom, restored to resemble its original appearance.
HESPERWOLF, spiritualist: I understand it is typical of the human mind to hide from the spiritual, from the glister, as I call it. When you walk into the room, and there’s a light that you see that you just cannot place, that is what i know as the glister. Sometimes it disappears just as soon as it appears. But you must always keep watch for it, for if it appears, it wants to be seen. It wants you to see it.
NARRATOR: Controversial talk show mainstay and best selling author Hesperwolf was contacted by the Gilman Legacy Foundation privately first.
HESPERWOLF, spiritualist: I first had a dream in 2006 that i would receive a call from mr. campbell and walk with him in the hallways of this hotel. We were surrounded by energy, a rush of power and sadness and beauty and a singular need, a desperate need to be heard. I knew when the phone rang who he was. I knew why he was calling. I was brought in to connect with the spirits of the hotel.
NARRATOR: Hesperwolf maintains he never read any material on the Gilman before he entered, but instead “downloaded” it mentally upon his arrival.
HESPERWOLF, spiritualist: When you have a connection with the glister, or with whatever force draws you in, you need to have more than an open mind. You need to have forgiveness in yourself. If you walk into any space already feeling that you have made mistakes, or are struggling to do the right thing, the wrong forces can feel that, can see that, hear that in you. You’re blaring insecurity as you walk by these doors. You have to know you are human, you make mistakes, you amend, you promise to do better. And with an open heart and mind, you can see what is beyond you.
NARRATOR: Hesperwolf, due to contract obligations with the Gilman Legacy Foundation, cannot go into specifics with what he sees, beyond what is already readily available via the historical society. He, and the Foundation, went through multiple discussions for what to make public, for as he says, the ghosts of the past never gave the living permission to pry.
Intending to continue tours, and eventually write a book or collaborate on a series, Hesperwolf was stonewalled by policies, and a shift in priorities when Gilman Legacy Foundation appointed a new president, Laura Griffith-Kelly, who put the kabosh on any such publicity.
LAURA GRIFFITH-KELLY, Gilman Legacy Foundation president: The choices that were made by my predecessor were of course governed with the respect that the Gilman legacy foundation has always hoped to employ. However, since I have taken over, I am of the opinion that our culture is ready again to experience the true beauty of the Gilman for what it is, and will be. And I think it’s time to restore some of the initial dignity that implies. We aren’t looking to erase history, or forget what has come. But it’s important to remember what Lionel and Tobias Gilman always wanted: to provide a home for those away from home.
NARRATOR: And indeed, that will continue to be the legacy of the Gilman… in addition to all that other stuff.
HESPERWOLF, spiritualist: While Ms. Griffith-Kelly and I do not see eye to eye, and I am bound by the earthly contract of signatures, the truth of the glister cannot be bound by human law. I am still visited by the beings in that hotel, I still know their names, and I urge her, and the foundation to let their stories be heard. I know for a fact that it is haunted. And haunted in such a way that calls out it needs to be free.
NARRATOR: One saving grace Hesperwolf may find in all of this, is it’s too late to turn back for the Foundation on its initial admission of the activities on the grounds, or what it agreed to state as fact when it was granted Historical Haunted Landmark status, which provides grants and funding for, as yet, limited seasonal events and recognition from Griffith-Kelly in time for the trick-or-treaters and ghost storytellers. The Gilman All Hallow’s Eve ball is an annual event that features ghouls, goblins, and tasteful recollections of some of the more devastating occurrences.
CHARLY VILLAQUEZ, magazine editor: Serial killers. Rock star overdoses. Arsonists. A republican fundraiser. The Gilman saw it all. And it sees it all.
Yet again, the master had cut himself shaving. Streaks of his blood needed to be mopped away from the counter. Marla was careful to not use the hotel towels, as she had her own. She didn’t need the fussy staff to ask questions they needn’t answers for.
At this rate, Marla had given up on the so-called safety razors of today. Clearly they weren’t foolproof as her own employer managed to nearly behead himself twice a week. She looked patronizingly at the set of razors, far from the familiarity of those long handled straight razors she recalled in her childhood household.
Twenty years his attendee, Marla had kept the nature of his condition private for the last seven. She was the sixth person told, but thanks to swinging doors in his home in Hartford, she was the second person to know. It had a German name; his illness coupled with his bullish attitude, he had been given fewer than ten years to live, and much of the last several were to dedicate finalizing his affairs.
This scene, not unlike some sordid alley during the Eastern Rising, was as usual as tea served at 2.
She picked up her skirts, and ducked down, peering under the countertop and basin, and found the remaining ruddy droplets. Folding the now gruesome linen, to be washed upon their return, Marla came back to the main room, and tucked them into her accumulating laundry.
While she rummaged, she spoke to the shadow of a figure in the bed behind her,”Mister Grantson, are you interested in going out this afternoon?”
A slight wheeze followed, with a long enough pause to send for a doctor, but then a cough and a murmur, “Eloise?”
“Mister Grantson, it’s Marla Macwell,” she said, now facing him, a wearied but concerned look on her face, and an accusatory hand on her hip. “You know it’s me, don’t let’s make pretending that you’ve lost your marbles.”
“You know, Marla, I would’ve married you after Eloise died if you hadn’t been such a mule.” Mr Grantson shifted in his bed, gently lifting what he could of his body with the strength of one shoulder.
“I know, Mr. Grantson,” Marla smiled, getting closer to fluff his pillow, “but I couldn’t have afforded the reduction in pay.” Now next to him, she could smell a waft of antiseptic, a post-bath face routine for her employer.
“The doctor?” Mr. Grantson trailed off.
“Dr. Sparrman will be at 3,” Marla said, sitting in the chair by the bed. “He will give your examination and let us know if you’re well enough to travel tomorrow morning.”
Mr. Grantson snorted. He had long favored his previous doctor, but he was dismayed to have outlived yet another. In seventy-eight years, he had seen them all go.
“Now, Mr Grantson, would you be liking your tea now?”
“Is it as weak as yesterday’s?” Mr. Grantson muttered.
Marla was undeterred. “Mr. Grantson, you know you cannot be taking your tea with as much sugar as you once did. You’re not a young man any more. We have to save your caloric intake.”
“What’s worth saving? Give me the damn tea.”
Marla sighed. The ox was stubborn as usual, but it was superior to the weeks of delusion and fits of unrest he suffered during his last treatment.
Marla fixed the tea as Mr. Grantson desired, and served it to his hand, steadying it by holding his wrist, and tucking a tray beneath it. She set the kettle aside, prepared for a second cup should he desire it, or if she had the opportunity to nip some while he rested.
“There was the noise again,” Mr. Grantson said between sickly sips.
“The noise,” muttered Marla, “Sir, it’s a busy street, we’re going to have noise. You want the racket of chickens like at home?”
“Not chickens… banging. Banging on the wall.”
“That was me, ” smiled Marla, “I was trying to make sure you didn’t have too good a night sleep so you’d nap early this evening.”
Mr. Grantson stared ahead. Marla checked her tone, as it was a familiar one but was concerned it was too sarcastic for the circumstances. She and Mr. Grantson had enjoyed several years of playful back and forth in their conversation; indeed, something of a teasing daughter of only eight or nine to her youthful, funny father.
“Mr. Grantson, perhaps we should tell the doctor what you’ve been hearing? Perhaps your body giving yourself a knocking and you’re mistaking it for out of doors.”
“I’m not giving myself a knocking,” Mr. Grantson said more loudly than he had been in days. “There’s something here. There’s always something here.”
“I have told the staff and they assure us there aren’t rats.”
“Every hotel has rats,” Mr. Grantson sighed. “But that’s not what I’m hearing. You’d hear it too if you ever stopped talking long enough.”
Marla steadied her tongue and the room was momentarily silent. She reached for the cloth around Mr. Grantson’s neck. He shuddered, but relented.
“I’m sorry, Marla.” He said quietly.
“Oh, Mr. Grantson, you haven’t said the worst I could take in these twenty years.” Marla studied the bloodstains on the cloth. It seemed to be taking longer to stop every time. She went to tuck the fabric into her laundry items.
“The noise has been going for the full week we’ve been here.” Mr. Grantson, not to be ignored, continued. “I hear it at night. I hear the quiet of the out doors when you leave the window open, and I hear the bustle of morning when the staff turns down the rooms. I hear the guests leave their rooms for dinner. And I know what I hear at night is different. I hear a banging in this hotel, the ghosts of who’ve gone, saying it’s time for me.”
“Oh, Mr. Grantson,” Marla sighed.
“Doctor Sparrman… he says I’m dying.” Mr. Grantson said directly.
“Doctor Whalen was your last physician, Mr. Grantson. You haven’t met Doctor Sparrman yet, and he hasn’t told you any such thing.” Marla began folding his handkerchiefs, as she had always done for her parents when she was little.
“He says I’m dying,” Mr. Grantson continued, “and he’ll say it today. Dr. Whalen knew me better than to leave me off with some thumper who won’t tell me what I need to know.”
Marla, for once in a long while, attempted to keep her mouth shut. Her willpower lasted nearly whole seconds.
“Mr. Grantson, the doctor will tell you what he will tell you and we will prepare for it as always.” She allowed herself a softer tone than even was necessary.
“Is Stephen coming?” Mr. Grantson coughed.
“Your son is at the house, Mr. Grantson. He is meeting us there when you’re well enough to return.”
Marla closed her eyes, begging her god for no follow-up questions. Stephen had long not been her favorite of Mr. Grantson’s sons. His piggish behavior had increased once his father’s illness was made public. She half expected to see him with a measuring tape in each room, determining what the ad would say upon the estate sale date of Mr. Grantson’s death.
“Damn,” muttered Mr. Grantson, and Marla peered over her shoulder to see he had spilled the rest of his tea cup over his chest. Immediately registering the steps to improve the situation, Marla had a new shirt in her hand to redress him. She assured him there were no burns, and that the tea was in fact quite cold after all.
His energy had all but given out upon her cleanup; then he settled his head against the pillow and headboard, and nodded in a quiet succumbence of rest.
As the clock ticks grew further and further away in sound, Mr. Grantson was asleep, as Marla stood there, bringing the soiled shirt to the basin.
The room was quiet as she stood there, barring that of the cool water pouring from the faucet. As it approached a warmer touch, Marla ran her weathered fingers under the tap. She had seen her own father go, years earlier, and was doing all she could to not allow the memories to subject her to foregone conclusions of her employer.
The steam rose from the basin, and Marla dunked the shirt under. Her eyes trailed away, awash with concern and predisposed loss for Thomas James Grantson. As she looked on, a spot came in focus. The resulting splatter of Mr. Grantson’s emboldened attempts to shave himself in the morning, continued to carry into the afternoon, it seemed.
Leaving the shirt immersed in the water, Marla stared down at the spot. The color suggested it was older but it looked otherwise fresh. The spot, marring the otherwise lovely daffodil-colored tiles, just to the left of the dish of bar soap dimmed in the light. Marla shook her head, somewhat dizzy, and looked again. Seeing nothing but the subtle wash of yellow color on the wall, she stepped back uneasily, confused. She glanced at the sink and let out a yelp. Her master’s white collared shirt was now drenched in a deep, thick scarlet bath. She puffed and stumbled back towards the wall of the bathroom, nearly falling into the tub, causing her view to catch the floor to steady herself.
She looked back at the sink. The shirt bobbed slightly in the clear water. She gasped but did not want to wake her employer up, so she stifled her sound with her fingers, nearly biting into them with fear. A drubbing against the wall shook her into place, as she stood, far enough from the sound to ensure she had not been the one to make it.
The yellow wall tile shone in the light of the room, gently reflecting just the closest of objects. Marla studied the tile, seeing how each was separated by a thin strip of hardened white goo. She let her gaze follow several pieces until she stopped dead.
Marla slowly moved closer to the splotch of crimson that marred the otherwise cheerful hue. This mark was larger, unmistakable, and slowly, purposefully dripped in thin lines to the floor.
“No…” Marla held her head. She rushed her palm to the mark, praying it would vanish upon contact, but instead leaving an ugly smear. She gagged at the sight.
Her eyes filling with wells of tears, she sank her hand into the still water of the basin, the water immediately a deepening, wretched pink. With her other hand, she turned the faucet, cupping handfuls of water and bringing them to her face.
Convinced she was suddenly going mad, she squeezed her eyes tight and commanded her senses to return. When she opened them, a wash of blood across the basin, counter, and floor pushed her deeper into a state of shock and fear. Her shoes, as she pulled them backwards, left a sickening residue on the floor. Her head pounded, and she slammed her fists on the sink, cracking it. The faucet continued to pour clean water on to the fresh stains of blood, and trickled through the crack and onto the floor. She let out a hearty bellow, her mind flooding with as many terrible visions as she could scarcely breathe during.
Crashing her fists against the walls, she screamed as each blow left a splattered bloodstain not her own. “Stop it! Stop it!” she howled, “I’ll never get it clean. I’ll never… ” she slumped on the floor, feeling the ooze beneath her knees and thighs. “I’ll never…”
She continued to dwindle; her body further slinking into the horrific slush, never ending and smelling of wounded, severed flesh, and revolting rusted metal. Her strength at a near end, she pounded against the sticky floor, banging and sobbing.
“Marla?” a cough came from the other room.
For entire minutes, it felt like all the air went out, the silence of a ear gone numb, the sting of nonvolume, a near hum of agony. She opened her eyes again.
Yet again, the master had cut himself shaving. Streaks of his blood needed to be mopped away from the counter. Emma was careful to not use the hotel towels, as she had her own. She didn’t need the fussy staff to ask questions they needn’t answers for.
The scene, not unlike some sordid alley in Herzegovina she heard of growing up, was as usual as tea served at 2.
Emma returned to the main room, and tucked them into her accumulating laundry.
While she rummaged, she spoke to the shadow of a figure in the bed behind her,”Mister Grantson, will you be going out this afternoon?”
They sat in the dim light; “Marla?”
“Mister Grantson,” she said firmly but warmly, “It’s Emma Kovacs. You know it’s me, don’t let’s make pretending that you’ve lost your marbles.”