Disclaimer: Any characters you recognize in this story are the property of Disney and their likenesses are only used for fan related purposes. Any original characters featured are the intellectual property of their creators.
One By One
Blink followed Kloppman and Medda into the lobby, still dragging the woman's many suitcases with him. Confronted with his name scrawled neatly on Kloppman's list, Blink didn't know what else to do. And, he figured, it was warm and dry inside. Since it was still raining buckets outside, at least he had improved his situation somewhat.
As grand and impressive as the Big House was on the outside, Blink was still extremely taken with the lobby as the old butler led them through it. The front room alone was five times as long as the shabby one-room apartment that Blink called home, and perhaps twice as wide. Countless doorways—each with their own handcrafted, matching mahogany door—branched off from the lobby; the doors were nearly all closed leaving Blink to only imagine what sort of riches and beauty lurked beyond. Their footsteps echoed around them, the endless pitter patter of the raindrops on the roof slightly muffled, and Blink couldn't help but marvel at the sheer size of such a hall.
There was one touch of extravagance in the understated decoration: a shimmering crystal chandelier that twinkled wanly in the pale yellow electric light. Blink eyed the structure warily as he passed beneath it, both in awe and equally afraid that one rough gust of wind would send it crashing down to the tiled floor. It didn't look all that sturdy to him and he scooted past Medda—who was standing directly beneath the chandelier, watching it sparkle, mesmerized—and didn't stop until he was right on Kloppman's tail.
Oblivious to Blink's twitchy manner, Kloppman headed straight for a particular doorway off on the far left. A brighter light eked its way out into the hall. This was one of the open paths and obviously their destination.
The parlor room.
It was a large room, cozily lit with a roaring fire alive in the grate on the far side. Blink could tell at once it was a room to sit back and rest in; there were a handful of stuffed armchairs and straight-backed seats everywhere he looked, a couch wide enough to fit five plus a loveseat that presently seated just one: Sarah Jacobs, the only other woman in the room apart from Medda Larkson. Six other men—Blink had met them all on their crossing from Manhattan to Randall's Island—were scattered throughout the room, some standing, some sitting and all of them looking up curiously as Kloppman, Blink and Medda entered the room.
Blink stopped after he had taken a few steps into the room. Despite what Kloppman's list had read, he knew he wasn't invited to this house—he didn't feel welcome around all of these strangers. Once they had seen who had entered the parlor, they all went back to what they were doing: Mush throwing a log on the fire to warm up his hands, David bowed over his little notebook with his pencil in his hand, Jack smoking a cigarette while Race had the stub of an unlit cigar clamped between his back teeth. None of them acknowledged the sailor's presence at all and, maybe it was the raindrops running down his backs, but he felt a chill just then.
The weather seemed to be in line with Kid Blink. The thunder clapped with such a force that the windows in the old house rattled. Half the guests looked either alarmed or unnverved at the sudden sound while the other half pretended not to notice. Only Spot seemed immune to it but that might have been because he hid his unease better than most.
But, at that crashing and the rattling, Blink's heart just about stopped. Not because of the thunder but, rather, what it could mean.
He dropped Medda's bags off to the side of the rug he was dripping directly on top of. "I've gotta be goin' back," he blurted out. "The Warden's waitin' to take me back to New York."
It was interesting how the sailor made the island of Manhattan seem an entity separate from Randall's Island. Surely they were still in New York but, even so soon after arriving at the manor house, it was easy to forget that. Six miles from the harbor could very easily be viewed as a world apart.
None of the others made any move that they wanted to join Blink back out in the rain and, with a tip of his sodden cap in Kloppman's direction and then Medda's, he retreated back out of the parlor. He never even waited for his tip from Ms. Larkson, too anxious to catch the boat before Snyder turned back in an attempt to outrun the storm.
Kloppman, taking his role as butler seriously, grabbed all of Medda's suitcases with only a small amount of trouble and led the drenched woman out of the parlor and towards the nearest staircase.
Seven strangers were then left alone together, making idle chitchat and watching the fire in the grate blaze.
Apart from bringing Medda and her bags upstairs, Kloppman didn't stray too far from the entryway the entire time Blink was gone. When the doorbell chimed not more than a half an hour after Blink had left, the butler wiped his hands on his trousers, left the parlor and moved sedately towards the front door. Without another word, he opened it up and let Blink back in. One couldn't help but wonder if he'd been expecting the sailor's return but, too busy drowning in the awkward silence that had refilled the room again, none of them said anything about it.
Seven pairs of eyes turned curiously towards the open doorway when Kloppman walked back through it, followed shortly by an even more soaked Kid Blink.
"The boat was already gone," he announced glumly before sinking into an empty seat near the roaring fire. Turning his chair, Blink angled it so that he was facing the flames in a feeble attempt to finally begin getting dry. The mood he was in now, having been left behind on Randall's Island by the Warden after all and still feeling like he shouldn't be there, he didn't want to talk to any of the passengers and was grateful when no one tried to engage him in any conversation.
Not yet, anyway.
Medda returned to the parlor mere minutes after Blink made his way back. The old showgirl had taken time to wash off her ruined make-up though she had perhaps reapplied it a bit too hastily; her damp red curls were pinned back, revealing the wash of pale powder across her cheeks and chin, plus too-thick eyeliner that gave her the appearance of an elderly raccoon. Her lips widened in delight when she spied Blink sitting in front of the fire, growing ever wider as she noticed that, apart from Blink and Kloppman, there were six other men in the room. With a kittenish grin, she tied the sash of her gown a little tighter and sashayed into the center of the room.
She had traded her ruined dress for a silk dressing gown. Sarah Jacobs—grateful to see another woman present among eight men—felt her own cheeks turn scarlet at the revealing ensemble and wondered why Medda had been invited to the manor house. But then, she was the new maid and not in the position to criticize her new mistress's choice of company and so she kept her thoughts to herself.
The rest of those assembled didn't seem to know what to make of Ms. Larkson, either. Race sniggered openly while Spot looked the woman over once before turning an interested gaze to the oblivious Sarah. David wondered to himself if it would be rude to suggest that she cover herself up before dinner and Jack Kelly couldn't help but think that he'd seen Medda somewhere else before.
Once all of the guests were together again, Kloppman had excused himself and vanished back into the front room. He must have gone to the kitchen because when he returned a few minutes later, he was carrying a circular tray laden down with more than a dozen short glasses. Most of them were filled with a clear liquid while a few held what could only be—
"Whiskey! Ah, now that's more like it."
"My master left very clear instructions to make sure that you're served first," explained Kloppman, picking up one of the half-filled amber glasses from his tray and handing it off to Spot before any of the others.
Spot's glass stopped halfway to his lips. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "He did what now?"
"In his notes for me, he made sure to leave word to bring drinks out before dinner or else Mister Conlon would hardly make it to the meal. Dinner is nearly ready. Here are the drinks."
Spot relaxed visibly and raised his glass again. "Yeah, well, he was right." His thin lips curled into something that could only be called a smirk.
Kloppman made his rounds throughout the parlor offering drinks to all of the guests. Jack took a glass and so did Oscar. David did though he barely took a sip while Medda downed her entire glass in one practiced gulp. Mush waved Kloppman away when he offered it to him but changed his mind when Blink grabbed one and, after the day he had, drank it even quicker than the old showgirl. Race continued to puff away on his unlit cigar. Sarah shook her head when the tray was held out to her, her nose wrinkling as she did so.
Spot caught sight of her grimace. "What's the matter? You a teetotaler or something? Don't like the taste?"
"It's just... it's Prohibition," explained Sarah apologetically. "It's not allowed." She glanced around anxiously as if expecting the cops to raid the house that very moment.
Spot snorted to show what he thought about that but, as Kloppman made one final round handing out drinks before disappearing back in the kitchen again, the weight of the silence settled on their shoulders again.
That is, until Medda—who had finished her second glass of whiskey and was on her third—stood up royally and tapped one of her long, painted nails against the rim of her cup. She had grown tiresome of the quiet.
"Since our host has been so ungracious as to leave us waiting, maybe we should take this time to get to know each other. Since we're going to be guests under this same roof, I mean." When nobody said anything in response, she stood up royally and gestured at her ample chest. "I'll start. I, as you all are aware, am the infamous Medda Larkson." She paused, waiting for a sound of recognition that never came. "The Swedish Meadowlark." Her chin wobbled ever so slightly. "Star of the stage? Vaudeville queen?"
"Oh—oh, yes. Medda Larkson." Setting his untouched drink down on a nearby table, Mush stood up and bowed slightly in Medda's direction. "It's... it's an honor to meet you, ma'am."
Appearing both haughty and appeased the next instant, Medda preened under his attention. "And what's your name, my dear?" she purred.
"It's Connor. Connor Meyers." He glanced back at Race. "Folks call me Mush, though. You guys can, too, if ya want."
Race removed his cigar from his mouth, realized at last that the fire had gone out and then tucked the rest of it inside his vest pocket. He then waved his hand at the assembled group; on closer inspection, you could see that when he pulled his hand out of his vest pocket, he brought a worn deck of cards out with it. "They call me Race. If anyone's up for a round of poker or something while we wait for dinner, I'm game."
"Oscar Delancey," offered Oscar from his place across the room. He still was wearing his derby hat and seemed to have no inclination to take it off despite being indoors.
The others waited to see if there would more to his short introduction than that but, before there was, Kloppman returned to the parlor room carrying another tray with him. There were fewer glasses on this one and they were larger tumblers full to the brim with—
"Freshly pressed cider," announced Kloppman, "just brought in from the mainland this morning."
He gained Medda's attention at once. She clasped her hands to her chest and cooed. "You went into the city for cider?" Then, batting her heavily made-up eyes at the elderly man, she added, "How sweet of you!"
Kloppman barely seemed to notice her fawning attention. He nodded curtly while adjusting the position of two of the cider glasses on his tray. "No, ma'am. I brought it in with me."
"But... but surely you mean back, don't you?"
"Not quite, ma'am."
Sarah was puzzled. "I thought you were the butler here."
"I am," agreed Kloppman. "The new butler. This, too, is my first night in this house. I was engaged by my master by post, with a sheaf of instructions awaiting my arrival here. You must pardon me while I learn my away around the manor."
Eight others thought—some curiously, some guiltily, some only fleetingly—of the matched letters in their own pockets. And none of them mentioned it at all.
Spot, who was holding his second whiskey in one hand, reached out the other and snagged a glass of cider off of Kloppman's tray. With a bit of a leer and more than half a predatory expression, he gazed down on Sarah and angled to cider towards her. "How 'bout you, sweetheart? Who are you?"
Jack, standing on his feet no more than a few paces behind the couch where Sarah was perched, straightened up as Spot leaned closer to the girl. He took an angry drag off of his cigarette but didn't say a word about Spot's attention.
It wasn't lost on Sarah, either. The closer Spot came, the further she scooted back into the fold of the couch. She risked a small smile that was as hesitant as it was lovely, meeting Spot's brilliant eyes for only a heartbeat before staring at the swirling pattern of the Oriental rug under the coffee table.
When she realized that she didn't only just have Spot's attention but the rest of the room's as well, she cleared her throat a little nervously. "Don't you worry about me. I'm not anyone. I'm just supposed to be the new maid. In fact," she said, starting to rise though she kept her gaze downward, "I should probably help him serve all of you guests."
And she probably would have, too, if it wasn't for Medda's throaty laugh. "Oh, do sit down, dear. I don't think your duties start until your master arrives. Not like Mr. Kloppman's here. You didn't receive any instructions, did you?"
Medda waved her hand regally back at Sarah. "Go on, then. Put your feet up and tell us a little bit about yourself."
Sarah had to admit the other woman had a point. Wasn't that what her letter from the agency had said, after all? With the understanding that you undertake your duties the following morning... At last, she graciously accepted the glass of cider that Spot was holding out to her; her smile this time was a little less hesitant and even a bit dazzling, though she found she couldn't meet his gaze for longer than a few seconds without feeling like he was looking through her. "Thank you," she said, before addressing the room again. "In that case, I'm Sarah Jacobs. It... it's so nice to meet you all."
At Sarah's introduction, David gave a start, his hand shaking just enough to disrupt the whiskey that, like Mush, he hadn't even touched. A single drop of the rich amber liquid disappeared against the wooden floor. "My name is Jacobs, too. Not... not Sarah, of course, my name is David." He cleared his throat. "David Jacobs, reporter for the Sun."
Spot smirked over at Sarah, now tilting his half-empty whiskey glass in her direction. He seemed to be enjoying himself more than most. "I see... you two married then?"
David spluttered and Sarah shook her head vigorously. Her face had gone red enough to match the vivid swirls in the same carpet that continuously drew her eyes toward it.
"Brother and sister maybe?"
Jack stepped forward, removing his cigarette and keeping it perched between two fingers on his right hand. "They must be strangers," he interjected hotly, glaring at Spot. "We all are."
Blink lifted his head up at that news but didn't say anything. No, the floor still belonged to Spot.
"And who are you?" he asked Jack. Spot's upper lip curled and he took one more dainty sip from his glass.
"Captain Jack Kelly."
"Jack be nimble, Jack be quick... you fight in the Great War, Jack?"
Jack nodded. There was still something of the soldier about him. "And what about you?" he asked, though it was easy to tell from the cocky way he posed the question that he already knew the question.
"I'm fighting this war," Spot drawled, lifting up his glass. There were still a few drops of the whiskey sloshing around at the bottom. He gave the glass a little shake and they danced.
No surprise, Race was the first one to catch on. "You're a bootlegger?"
"And proud of it." His gaze traveled back to Sarah. Tipping an imaginary hat, he said, "Spot Conlon, at your service."
If it was possible, Sarah's face turned even redder at Spot's blatant attention. Jack bristled and, still standing to attention, he moved ever so slightly closer to the edge of the sofa where Sarah was perched.
Spot laughed. "Strangers, sure, Jacky Boy, but not if you had it your way, eh?"
"I think you should watch yourself, Mr. Conlon. I don't think I like what you're implying."
"Yeah? Yeah?" There was still humor in his tone but a warning written in his eyes. "Whatcha wanna do about it?"
Jack huffed and, after taking an angry pull on his dwindling cigarette, rubbed the back of his hand against his mouth. He flexed his left fist, opened and closed it, and tried to calm down. Being a soldier had taught him some discipline and Lord knows he saw plenty of bums like Conlon while in action but some times were more difficult than most. Especially when there was a brunette beauty at stake.
It didn't make it any easier when Spot laughed again and, purposely turning his back on Jack and most of the other interested guests, wandered off in search of Kloppman and—if he was lucky—another full tray of so very good, and so very illegal whiskey.
Kloppman, who had seemingly vanished though no one had really noticed him go, came back empty-handed just as the clock started to chime seven o'clock.
"Dinner is served," he announced.
A storm of surprised mutterings broke out.
"Did he say dinner is served?"
"Great, I'm starving."
"Excuse me." Mush tentatively raised his hand, effectively cutting off all of the other murmurs. "Dinner? But we haven't even met our host yet. Don't you think it would be... don't you think we should wait?"
Kloppman looked over the top of his glasses at Mush. "My orders are to serve dinner precisely at seven o'clock." The bell tolled its seventh rang. "It's seven o'clock now and so, if you would please, follow me to the dining room."
"But what about our host?"
"Don't you worry, Mr. Meyers. I've been assured that the master will arrive shortly after dinner."
That seemed to appease most of the guests—but not all of them. Blink, who had been lazily watching the fire for most of the introductions, jerked his head until he was staring at the butler. "How?" he blurted out.
"Pardon me, Mr. Moore?"
"It's Blink," he corrected. Mr. Moore had been his father and Lord knows he didn't want to be reminded of that man. "And how is he going to get here if he ain't here already? The Warden's done ferryin' for the night."
"There must be another boat," murmured Sarah. Her eyes were drawn down to her hands in her lap. She didn't seem to truly believe what she was saying, but felt like she had to say it.
Blink waved her objection away. "Yeah, but you haven't seen it out there. It's rainin' buckets—no one's gonna be out on the docks in this weather."
Spot scoffed. "It ain't gonna rain forever, pal, and then you better bet a boat's comin' because I'm getting' off this rock." Race nodded in agreement.
"All the same," interjected Kloppman with the sort of ferocity only an experienced servant could get away with when up against such a motley crew of guests, "orders are orders. It's seven o'clock. So, if you'll all follow me, please, your dinner is waiting."
- stress, 07.01.12