|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
The Last Resort
August 23, 2:00 P.M. - 7:00 P.M.
"Hello. I have a room reserved?" Mr. Eben Carrington asked, making the statement sound like a question. "For Mr. Eben Carrington?"
"Hmmmm, Mr. Carrington..." The clerk ran a sun-bronzed finger down the list of names. "I'm sorry, Mr. Carrington, but I don't have you on our list."
The old man's grizzled face darkened. "That's preposterous. I called those reservations in from South Dakota not five days ago!" He struck the hotel floor with his cane for emphasis.
"Actually, dear," his wife corrected, plodding across the lobby in her walker, "we were in Oklahoma. And it was four days ago."
The clerk looked with poorly hidden distaste at the decrepit old woman. She was mostly bald, half her teeth were missing, and her lower lip hung halfway to her chin and flapped up and down when she talked. A stream of drool dripped onto the brand new carpets.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am," he said. He smiled at her despite his disgust, looking like a man whose car has just been stolen and he is trying to convince himself that a friend has only moved it as a joke. "However, the fact is, you're nowhere on our register."
"It's typical," a middle aged woman snapped in a British accent, striding forcefully across the lobby. "They did exactly the same thing to me when I arrived, and when I spoke to the manager, he did nothing. I had to take a room on the top floor. The top floor!" she reiterated, as if the top floor was equivalent to the basement lavatory.
Suddenly she interrupted herself. "I'm sorry, I've forgotten my own manners, and goodness knows I'm upset when that happens! Ethel Frump, pleased to meet you." She extended a hand like a steel ramrod. The elderly couple shook it gingerly.
"Er-" the old man began, but his wife interrupted him.
"My name is Frieda Carrington, and this old fool is my husband, Eben."
"Well, it's nice to meet you," Ethel said in a tone of voice that said she doubted it. "My, Frieda, you certainly have well-articulated speech for someone who's missing so many teeth."
"Thank you," Frieda smiled uncertainly, but casting an evil glare.. "Er, we'll be here for two weeks. We came down to relax, and to stay out of the country while the crisis there is going on."
"Good! I'll be seeing a lot of you then. It's frightfully boring here, with scarcely anyone else to talk to, other than the staff and that horrid Mr. Wilder. He is such a terrifying man! Why just the other day, I-"
"I'm sorry, why did you say you were here?" Mrs. Carrington asked suddenly.
"I didn't. But, if you must know, my son has been trying to get me to take a vacation for months now. I told him I had too much to do at home, what with my garden and my remodeling, but he insisted. The sweet thing, always thinking of me."
"Imagine that," Frieda muttered weakly.
Eben, feeling left out of the conversation and not knowing what to do with himself, turned to the clerk. "So, do you have any rooms available?"
"Oh, yes sir. I can give you a room on the top floor."
"The other floors are full? The young lady over here said that there was hardly anyone else here."
"Yes," the clerk said slowly, looking at Mrs. Frump as if she was a cockroach that he would particularly like to stomp. "The er, `young lady' says quite a lot, doesn't she?" He stopped himself, struggling to recover the polite smile which had faded amidst the hubbub. "Actually, sir, the other rooms are closed because they are removing the asbestos from the floors."
"Only now?" Eben queried. "They banned asbestos years ago."
"In the United States, yes. Those things take a little while longer to reach Carribean islands like Manilo."
"Well, anyway, I don't have a problem with a top floor room, though I don't doubt that Frieda will," Eben said half-apologetically.
"Very well, sir." The clerk checked the elderly couple in, inwardly proud that his face was calm and pleasant, despite the fact that he was counting down the seconds until his shift ended.
"Here you are, sir. Room number 413. Just up the stairs and to your right. Or you can use the elevator to the right of the desk."
"Don't take the room," advised Mrs. Frump, one eyebrow cocked meaningfully. "It's an unlucky number."
"Nonsense," Frieda sniffed. "Honestly, do all British still believe in such half-baked ridiculousness?"
Mrs. Frump opened her mouth and left it that way. "Well, I never!" she finally stammered.
"Maybe you should," retorted Frieda, and she stalked away, which was quite an impressive feat considering the fact that she used a walker.
Eben smiled weakly at the clerk, a sheepish smile that conveyed exactly what he thought of women in general, and then followed after his wife.
Professor Cranston Perkins showed up several hours later, and greeted the clerk with a perfunctory, "Good morning!" He was tall, with a neatly trimmed beard, and was bedecked in a plum-colored suit.
"Do you have reservations?" the clerk asked him, this time with a more genuine smile. Obviously, here was someone with both an education and class.
The professor gazed gloomily around at the hotel designs and decorations. "Well, yes. However, I must sleep somewhere, mustn't I?"
The clerk stared blankly at him for a moment, and then gave a polite chuckle. "Might I have your name?"
"What's wrong with yours?" asked the professor quickly.
The clerk decided to forgo the chuckle this time. "Please, sir. Your name?"
"Aha!" shouted the professor, and stared triumphantly at the clerk. "He that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed."
"Othello, act three, scene three," the clerk said dryly.
"Congratulations!" the professor beamed. "You've just won the twenty-five thousand dollars! Will you keep the money or give it up for what's behind the curtain?"
"Your name, sir," the clerk said between clenched teeth.
"Oh! Certainly. Professor Cranston Perkins, at your service."
The clerk muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "I wish." He looked up from the list. "I'm sorry, sir. I can't seem to find your name on the list."
"Give me that," the professor snapped suddenly, and snatched it out of the clerk's hands. "What are you talking about? Here it is, right here! Just what are you trying to pull, anyway?"
"Your leg," the clerk said quickly, proud of himself for having beaten the professor at his own game. "Just kidding. What did you say your name was?"
"Oh, no wonder!" the clerk exclaimed, striking the side of his head with his hand. "I thought you said Ted Derkins." He rubbed the side of his head and winced.
"Why, this is very midsummer madness," the professor exclaimed. "Why don't you check me in now?"
"Well, there's a slight problem," the clerk explained in an apologetic tone. "The first through third floors are having asbestos removed, so I'm afraid that your room has been moved to the top floor."
"Not exactly running a tight ship, are you," asked the professor, in the tones of one who has Gotten to the Bottom of It All.
"Er, here is your key, sir," the clerk said, avoiding the question.
"Thank you," the professor replied perfunctorily. He gave a tiny bow, and strode away.
The clerk didn't even have time to sit down, however, before the glass doors of the lobby were violently flung open by a middle-aged man. He was tall, balding, and wore a black Armani suit and sunglasses. As he strode toward the desk, he looked all around nervously, as if he expected thugs to leap out from behind the potted plants and pummel him to death. There was a
rather obvious bulge under his right arm. He stepped up to the desk.
"I'm sorry sir," the clerk said immediately, "but I'll have to confiscate your weapon."
"Weapon? Weapon?" the man asked, feigning a look of surprise. "I have no weapon."
The clerk put one hand under the desk and felt for the alarm button. "Sir, if you don't give me the gun in your shoulder holster, I'll have to call security."
The man handed over the gun with a pained look on his face. "Was it that obvious?"
The clerk shook his head. "Might as well have carried it in your hand. Your name?"
The man re-adopted his bold stance. "The name's Kent. Conrad Kent."
The clerk looked at his list. "Ah, yes. You have reservations on the fourth floor?"
"Yes, that's correct," Conrad said, smiling, as if suddenly deciding to appear friendly and outgoing.
"Here is your key."
"Conrad Kent, Double-O seven," muttered the clerk as Conrad wandered away.
"Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stone," the young man advised the clerk, his arm around his wife's waist. "We had reservations for your honeymoon suite."
"Ah, yes," the clerk said with a knowing smile. "It's on the fourth floor at the end of the hall. Enjoy your stay!" He took a sip from a glass of lemonade on the desk.
"I'm sure they will," came a sneering voice from the other side of the room. There stood a tall, burly man in a black leather jacket, which had been adorned with chrome studs. He had long greasy black hair which had been combed straight back, and he sported a pair of sunglasses. Carl was convinced that if the man had been wearing a t-shirt, he would have had cigarette packages rolled up in the sleeves. The clerk gazed at the man with a look of familiar distaste.
"This is Simon Wilder," he introduced, "and he will be staying for the weekend only."
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that," Carl lied. He immensely disliked Simon, merely on the basis of personal appearance.
Simon worked his lips around for a moment as if to spit, and then said, "Guess you two were just married?" His voice had a distinct Southern drawl underlying it.
"Actually," Carl said sarcastically, "we just met. That's why we're sleeping in the honeymoon suite."
Any sarcasm, however, was lost on Simon. "I know how it is," he grunted. "Finding a pretty little thing like this one."
Christine's lips were pressed tightly together, a sign that Carl recognized as an intense desire to break something.
"To tell the truth," she finally said, "we are married. Why don't you find some ice skater's knee to club, or something?"
The clerk sighed and put his head on his desk, nearly knocking over his lemonade. Tact didn't seem to be any of his guest's strong points.
Simon worked his lips around again and stared down at Christine for a moment. Then he grinned. "You've got spirit. I like girls with spirit. I'll be seeing you, sweetheart."
Carl stared after the man as he ambled out of the room. "I don't believe it," he said finally. "The nerve of that guy! He's the stereotypical creep from every bad movie. What a jerk!"
Christine, feeling a little relieved, and more than a little angry, said, "Yeah. He's the kind of guy that everyone would suspect in a murder story."
The clerk suddenly choked on his lemonade. The newlyweds turned to look at him. He hit his fist against his chest several times and coughed. "Boy!" he finally said. "Went down the wrong pipe."
Prim was the word to describe Mz. Jane Krupt, the clerk decided. Everything was in place about her; she looked like a store mannequin. She was also a militant feminist. "Lost my reservations?" she spluttered. "How could a high quality hotel such as this one simply lose reservations? I'll tell you one thing: this would never have happened to a man. Oh, no! Men are important. They have important business, they control the money. A hotel would be careful with a man's reservation. But women are just expendable."
The speech sounded as if she had rehearsed it in advance. The clerk stared at her a moment, secretly hoping that she and Simon Wilder would duke it out later. "Actually, ma'am, we've had a problem with it this evening. Several reservations have been lost. We do have some rooms open on the fourth floor, however."
Mz. Krupt leaned forward and cocked one eyebrow. "Oh? And I suppose the men are sleeping on the first floor?"
"No ma'am, they've all been relocated to the top floor as well."
Jane pursed her lips. "Hmph. You know, I know nearly a hundred lawyers who could sue this entire hotel's assets off."
"Really?" The clerk raised one eyebrow. "Are they familiar with the Manilo legal system?"
Mz. Krupt opened her mouth to say something, and then realized the conversation had not gone as planned. Lacking any better response, she snapped, "Well, I suppose the fourth floor will have to do, then.
The clerk handed her the key with a smirk and a wry, "Thank you, ma'am," and the woman stalked off with angry footsteps, wondering what the penalty for shooting a clerk would be.
"I beg your pardon, Madam, but I seem to have taken a wrong turn," Professor Perkins smiled.
"Oh?" Ethel Frump looked up from the banana daiquiri she had been sipping. She was seated on a bench that encircled a small round table, several of which were placed randomly about a large, brightly decorated room. The floors were white ceramic tile, and much of the western wall consisted of large, plate glass doors and windows, which opened out onto a balcony
overlooking the ocean. At the eastern end of the room was a long counter set in a window, where presumably, food and drink could be ordered.
"I was looking for the conservatory," the professor said by way of explanation, "and somehow I ended up here."
"Yes. Well, this is not the conservatory," Ethel said helpfully. "This is the cabana."
"Cabana? Cabana?" asked the professor, sounding rather like a large, baritone bird. "This is not a cabana. A cabana is supposed to be a shack on the beach that serves drinks and hot dogs. This is indoors."
"Well," Ethel said, taking a lazy sip of her drink, "they can call it whatever they want to, can't they? I mean, it's their resort. They could call it the bathroom if they wanted to."
"Yes, that's true, but I wouldn't necessarily want to purchase a drink if they called it that."
"Do you always make ridiculous little points like that?" asked Ethel snidely.
"Only to rude women. I thank God I am not a woman, to be touched by so many giddy offences."
"I am not astounded and disappointed by your wit," Ethel remarked. "So if you're expecting me to be ashamed and silenced, you can forget it."
"Oh, drat," the professor muttered. "You seem to be one of those unfortunate individuals who doesn't really care whom they offend, so long as they speak their mind."
Suddenly Ethel got quite red in the face. "I--I'm sorry. This is no way to meet. I'm afraid I've already gotten on several people's bad sides. My name is Ethel Frump." She proferred a slightly sticky hand.
The professor did not seem embarrassed in the least. He did, however, shake her hand gingerly. "Professor Cranston Perkins."
"Oh, a professor!" Ethel said suddenly, bursting into a smile. "What of?"
"Whatever I profess. Particularly Shakespeare."
"Is that what all those odd things you said were?"
"Well, it certainly is nice to have someone intelligent to talk to after days of talking to no one but Simon Wilder."
"I'm afraid I haven't met this gentleman."
Ethel snorted. "Gentleman, my eye. He's a slovenly, evil-minded, horrid, little beast."
"My, the accusations are flying fast and furious!"
"Well, he says all sorts of rude and uncouth things. For example, whenever he meets me, he calls me `Darlin,' or `Sweetheart.'"
"I do defy him, and spit at him; call him a slanderous coward and a villain."
"Well!" Ethel exclaimed, a pleased smile spreading over her face. "Let me show you the way to the conservatory."
"Lay on, Macduff."
"Hello, darlin," Simon Wilder grinned at Jane Krupt. "What's yer name?"
"Darlin?" Jane asked loudly, her face turning livid.
"Yeah? I guessed your name, huh? How'd you like to go for a ride on my motorcycle, eh?"
"Did you call me darlin?"
"Yeah. That's yer name, ain't it?" Simon began to work his lips again, feeling somewhat perplexed. He realized that women had not been very attracted to his mannerisms in the past, but kept believing that sooner or later, one of them would realize what a deep and caring individual he truly was. "Do you want to go for a ride?"
"Do you want me to file a harassment charge on you?" Jane asked hopefully.
"C'mon. We could go turtle hopping. There's tons of them around here."
"Turtle hopping?" She was turning white in the face. "Look, jerk. I'm a marine biologist. I've dedicated my life to protecting these turtles, especially since--" she broke off. "Wait a minute! I know you!"
"Uh, oh," Simon said. "I never took you on a date, did I?"
"You--you!" Jane was spluttering so much she could hardly speak. "You're the guy that--"
"Oh, yeah!" the greasy man grinned. "You're the lady that was in love with that turtle--"
"That you splattered across the highway with your motorcycle!"
"Yep!" Simon exclaimed happily. "It was the last one in the world." "You wiped out the entire species on that island with your cursed machine! I was the one that sent you to jail for it."
"C'mon," Simon cajoled. "Wouldn't you like to go for a ride, just for old time's sake?"
"Why, you fat, ugly--" Jane emphasized her anger by slamming her fist into Simon's gut, knocking the wind out of him. Simon gasped for breath and grabbed her arm, twisting it behind her. But Jane was calm. Jane was collected. Jane had mace. She produced a small bottle from somewhere and sprayed it into Simon's face. Simon gasped again and choked, his face turning
purple. He fell to his knees, and clawed at his eyes, which were streaming rivers of tears. His nose was running, and the skin on his face was swollen and red. He began rolling on the floor and rubbing his face with his shirt, making strangling noises.
Jane stared down at him, unconcerned. "It's just mace," she exclaimed. "It'll wear off in a while. Still, I'd suggest you stand up. It sinks to the floor, and you'll keep breathing it in."
She walked away, noticing out of the corner of her eye what might have been a man dressed in black and carrying a suitcase, hiding behind a potted plant.
Mission: Room, Conrad thought to himself. Now, hide behind the corner. I'll just take this pen from my breast pocket and flip the top back. Ahhh, there. The perfect miniature periscope. Let's see, is it this end that goes around the corner, or do I look into that end? Oh, that's right. Now, look around the corner... No one there. Good. Gotta be careful not to let my feet thump. Room 420 is just three doors down. But it's around another corner. I'll just look. Omigosh! That lady--she just assaulted that poor helpless man! If she finds me, she might get me, too! She might torture all the secrets out of me. Yes, she's obviously a professional. Knows what she's doing. Look at the wayshe handled that guy; tear gas and everything! I better be careful around her. Whoop, she's coming! Where can I hide? Where? I can't let her catch me while I'm carrying this briefcase! I know, I'll hide behind this plant, here. There, safe. This is pretty scant cover; I hope she doesn't see me. Well, if she did, she didn't show it. Wait, wait till she goes around the corner. There. Is the other guy gone? I better check with my special pen. Yes, he is. Now, to the room. But what if the door is booby trapped? What if there's a bomb jury-rigged on the other side? I'll just open it a crack and leap back... Ooof! Mental note: leaping back can be hazardous to one's health. Stupid water fountain, you'd think they'd put it in an alcove instead of right out in the hall. Oh well, at least the door wasn't booby trapped. Now, inside the room, and... Mission successful!
Carl and Christine stared perplexedly as Conrad Kent finally darted into his room.
"Poor man," Carl said, tsking sympathetically.
"Obviously neurotic," Christine agreed.
The dining room was a large, plush affair, lavishly adorned with wall lighting meant to look like candles, the like of which also topped the multiple chandeliers which hung like brass spiders over the tables. The tables themselves were draped with white tablecloths, and each one boasted a unique plastic floral arrangement. The shiny, dark, wooden legs of the furniture rested their feet on a thick, dark maroon carpet, and the walls were done in colors of light maroon and beige.
"Tacky," summed up Jane Krupt, frowning at the resort's attempt at Victorian decorating.
"Why," muttered Eben Carrington to himself, "do you suppose that they serve everyone dinner at the same time? That's not especially convenient, is it?"
"I'm sure it's extraordinarily convenient for the kitchen staff," commented Professor Perkins, who had overheard. "Besides, once you begin paying a certain amount of money for things, people feel that they're allowed to inconvenience you.
"For example, if you go to an especially expensive restaurant, you are required to wear a coat and a tie, even though you're the one paying the exorbitant amount of money.
"If you pay to be a member of a high-society country club, then you are required to follow a dizzying amount of rules, and meet unreasonable and ludicrous standards which only a masochist would consider. However, if you simply take a membership at the local pool and golf club, you can pay one-fourth as much and enjoy a much greater amount of freedom.
"If you decide to shop at one of these ridiculously pricey stores that we have in America, you can buy a pair of underwear for half a million dollars, and no one will help you find it, show you where to try it on, or even point out the dressing room.
"The fact is that we constantly pay for inconvenience. It seems to me that Americans have a secret, innate desire for it, and will pay extraordinarily high prices to get it."
"That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard," protested Eben.
"Truth is truth, to the end of reckoning," the professor smiled.
Eben stared at him. "O judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason."
"As they say, when the age is in, the wit is out."
"Better a witty fool than a foolish wit."
The professor winced. "Words are grown so false I am loath to prove reason to them."
"Is not truth the truth?" Eben looked triumphant.
"What, can the devil speak true?"
"The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose."
"Ah-ha!" the professor shouted, thinking he was about to win their literary battle. "He's a devil, a devil, a very fiend."
Eben just sighed in mock exasperation. "He sees more devils than vast hell can hold."
Professor Perkins opened his mouth a couple times, but couldn't think of anything to say. Finally, he hung his head. "I begin to perceive that I am made an ass."
Eben smiled. "I do now remember a saying, `The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.'"
"You are well-versed in Shakespeare," the professor conceded.
"The elegancy, facility, and golden cadence of poesy."
"All right, already! I said you were good. He that is proud eats up himself: pride is his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle."
"Point taken," the old man chuckled. Simon Wilder sat nearby, staring at them with a confused look and drooling stupidly.
Carl was seated at the table alone, gloomily drumming his fingers, the chair across from him empty. Jane Krupt sat at a table as far across the room from Simon as she could be, and Simon sat alone with several empty tables surrounding him. The professor, Eben, Ethel, and Frieda were all sitting at the same table, and Frieda kept casting disapproving looks at the English woman. The clerk stood in the corner and sipped lemonade.
"I found out something about Conrad Kent," Eben suddenly announced. "He thinks he's a spy."
"There's never a villain dwelling in all Denmark but he's an errant knave," quoted the professor wryly. "Why do you say so?"
"Well, the telephone in his shoe was a big hint," Eben explained. "Also, I found out from the clerk that he was carrying a gun in a shoulder holster when he came in. He sneaks around halls and hides behind potted plants. He even has a little periscope pen that he peeks around corners with. He wears ridiculous sunglasses and puts on a phony demeanor whenever people
talk to him."
"If he is a spy," the professor said, producing a pipe from somewhere, "then he is a particularly inept one." He fumbled in his pocket for a match. "Drat! I don't suppose any of you have a light?" They all shook their heads. "Oh, well." The professor reached into his pocket and pulled out a black rock and a metal bar. He set his pipe on the table and began striking the flint and steel together next to it.
"What if he's not a spy?" asked Eben doubtfully.
"In that case," the professor replied, grunting from the effort of lighting his pipe, "he could be merely pretending. A man who needs drama in a mundane world, much like the reknowned Walter Mitty. A rather childish expression thereof, but there you have it." He smothered an errant spark which had set the tablecloth alight.
"Of course, the possibility remains that he is a spy, and is merely feigning ineptitude in order to stifle an arising suspicion that he could be. In other words, no one would suspect a man who seemed to make his spying obvious. The idea is ludicrous that any self-respecting spy agency would send out a spy as inexperienced as Mr. Conrad, and that is exactly why they would: because no one would expect them to!"
"So, you're saying," Ethel butted in, "that because he's the person everyone would suspect, then he's the person we'd really least suspect?"
"Precisely." The professor raised his arms in triumph, having finally managed to light his pipe.
"But wait. What if they realize that? What if they know that we would suspect him because no one would suspect him because everyone would suspect him?"
"Ah, ha!" said the professor, gesticulating with the stem of his pipe. "That's where it becomes ingenious. Of course they realize that anyone with intelligence would figure that out, so naturally they send someone that nobody would suspect because we would suspect they would send somebody nobody would suspect because everyone would expect them to send someone nobody would suspect because everyone would suspect him!"
"Except us," pointed out Eben.
"Goodness! I never realized I was that intelligent!" exclaimed Mrs. Frump. "But what if he's not a spy, and he's not pretending?"
"In that case," the professor said in a low voice, "he is under the delusion that he is a spy, and he could be a very dangerous man."
Just then, the spectre of Mz. Jane Krupt appeared, hovering over them all. "Mister Perkins," she intoned, "I'm sorry, but you'll have to put out that pipe. Though you may not be aware, there are other people in this room who abhor its stench, and you are endangering their lives with your second-hand smoke. They'll all die of lung cancer, as you will soon, most likely."
"Mzzzzzz Krupt," the professor barked her name, "I'm sorry, but you'll have to shut up. Though you may not be aware, there are other people in this room who abhor your opinions, and you are endangering their lives with your second-hand philosophies. They'll all die of hyperdepression or suicide, as you will soon, most likely."
The room broke into applause. It quickly ceased when Christine Stone ran into the room, her face white as the floor of the cabana.
"What's the matter?" Carl asked her worriedly, leaping to his feet. "You look like you've seen a dead man."
The clerk, over in the corner, began choking on his lemonade. "Confounded lemonade!"
"It's a hurricane," wailed Christine. "It's coming toward the island. I just heard it on the news."
"Hurricane?" the professor asked. "Are you certain?"
"I'm positive. It will be off the coast of the other end of the island in three hours. Hurricane Conrad."
A bump came from underneath one of the tables, followed closely by a shout of pain. Carl looked underneath. Conrad peered out at him, rubbing the top of his head.
"My contact fell out," he grinned sheepishly. "Could you help me find it?"
"Mr. Conrad," Ethel said, walking briskly toward him with her nose in the air, "you are a simply dreadful spy."
Conrad's eyes widened in shock. "You know?"
"Of course I know. Everyone knows. How could we not, with you sneaking around like a madman?"
Just then, the lights went out. Everyone jumped. No one could see, so they fell down.
"Hello, what's this?" muttered the professor. "'Tis now the very witching hour of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world."
"Somebody find the switch."
There was a clicking sound. "It doesn't work," came Jane Krupt's voice. "Blast it all," muttered the professor around the mouthpiece of his pipe. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the lights flickered back on, except for Frieda Carrington, who gave a damp wheeze.
"My jewels! They're missing!" shrieked Christine. Then, before anyone could respond, she added, "Just kidding."
"Something's wrong with this picture," mused Carl, stroking his chin.
"Where's the clerk?" demanded Ethel.
"He must have slipped out while we were worrying about the hurricane," decided Jane. Carl suddenly jumped up and dashed out of the room. The others (except Frieda) followed on his heels. He ran to the lobby and flung the doors open. A gust of wind and rain hit him in the face. They all crowded around the open door and saw a line of expensive cars racing down the drive through the torrential rain.
"What in the world?" wondered Eben.
Rain was blowing through the open door, soaking the guests and the lobby. Carl closed it, and it banged shut: a very final sounding noise.
"It's very obvious," the professor suddenly remarked, startling them all. "When was the last time anyone saw the clerk?"
"When Carl said, `You look like you've seen a dead man,'" came a voice from across the lobby. Frieda shuffled across the floor in her walker.
"Exactly, my good woman," praised Cranston Perkins. A lightning bolt struck, illuminating the room in a ghastly light.
"One," counted Simon. Before he could finish, the room shook with thunder. Simon twisted his lips around. "That's pretty dang close," he decided.
"Anyway," the professor interjected, giving Simon the evil eye, "when the clerk heard about the hurricane, he alerted the rest of the staff and they left, most likely to make sure that their family and possessions were taken care of. They flipped the circuit breaker momentarily to keep us from noticing."
"So we're here alone?" Christine asked tremblingly.
The professor nodded slowly. The lightning flashed again.
"Dad-blame it!" yelled Frieda. "I knew that that smart aleck clerk was lying to us."
"What?" asked Eben. He wiped raindrops from his face and walked over to look at the sheet she held in her hand.
"It's the reservation list," Frieda announced. "I found it here on the desk. Remember how he said our names weren't on it?"
"He said that to me, too," exclaimed Jane.
"And me," Simon and Ethel said simultaneously.
Well, he told me that," the professor said, "but I grabbed the sheet from him and found out that he was lying." He turned to Carl and Christine. "He didn't tell you that?"
No," Christine replied. "We reserved the honeymoon suite."
On the fourth floor," observed Professor Perkins, puffing on the pipe. "And you, Mr. Kent?"
They didn't lose my reservation," Mr. Kent said sullenly.
And your room," the professor continued, running his finger down the list, "was also reserved for the fourth floor. The rest of us reserved rooms on the first and second floors."
Well, it seems fairly obvious to me," Ethel said loudly. "The hotel management forgot that they were having asbestos removed and booked us on the same floors they were going to work on. Then, they realized their accident and decided to cover it up with supposedly lost reservations."
"Your theory might have some good merit, madam," the professor addressed her, "though it would reflect very poorly on the management. As I say, it would have merit, were it not for a little prying I did myself.
"I wondered why the clerk had lied to me about my lost reservations, and I didn't believe the story about the asbestos, which was a backup story at best. So, I started asking how the hotel had been running in the recent past, and discovered from the maintenance staff that three months ago, the hotel's air conditioning system went kaput. They replaced it with a brand new, top of the line air conditioning system. With a little persuasion, I was permitted a look at it.
"Now, as you all know--or, most of you," he corrected himself, glancing at Simon, "asbestos is dangerous because it consists of many, very tiny fibers, which can be breathed into the lungs, causing cancer. When it is being removed, the workers must wear special air filtering suits to avoid breathing in the millions of fibers which cloud the air. When I looked at the air condition system, do you know what I found?"
The others shifted their feet impatiently.
"The air vents to all four floors were open. In other words, we are breathing air that has been recycled from the first, second, third, and fourth floor; air that, according to the hotel management, is filled with millions of tiny, deadly fibers."
He achieved the dramatic silence he had hoped for. Smiling broadly, he said, "They aren't removing asbestos on those floors. The question is, what are they doing?"
"Killing people?" asked Christine jokingly, looking hopefully for a hotel clerk choking on lemonade somewhere. The lightning flashed again.
"Now hear me speak with a prophetic spirit," the professor quoted. "I think we ought to call somebody," Jane said nervously. "Somebody ought to be able to help us out here."
"It's no use," said Frieda, coming back into the room, which startled everyone because no one had seen her leave. "I already tried. The lines are down all over the island."
"Or they've been cut!" put in Ethel in the most sinister voice she could manage.
"No, they're down. I got a recording."
"What are we going to do?" wondered Eben.
"Now, calm down," the professor said soothingly. "It's not necessarily true that anything has gone wrong. We could all be suffering from overactive imaginations."
"And pigs'll fly," Frieda added. "What's with the pipe, anyway? Are you trying to look like Sherlock Holmes?"
"Has anyone seen my cane?" Eben asked suddenly. "I can't find it anywhere."
"Not since in the dining room," Frieda told him. "You really should take better care of your possessions."
August 23, 9:55 P.M. - 11:45 P.M.
The guests had eaten the dinners which Ethel had found laid out on the counter in the kitchen, and all gone to bed, each separately voicing fears in their minds. Each that is, except for one, who--but that comes later.
At any rate, it was Simon, poor Simon who got hungry at night. Simon, whose mother died in childbirth and whose father was an alcoholic. Simon who
was whipped; Simon who was scorned. He became Simon the bully in high school, and Simon the convenience store clerk after high school. Later, to his believed happiness, he became Simon the lottery winner, and then, Simon the traveler. He became Simon the turtle hopper and Simon the prisoner. But right now, he was merely Simon the hungry.
Simon went downstairs to the kitchen and pushed open the door. The lightning flashed outside. He looked around the kitchen. There was the can opener, and the vegetable slicer, and the knife rack. There was the dish washer and all the stacks of dishes piled neatly away, except for those which the guests had dumped in the sink. There was Eben's cane which must have
rolled through the kitchen door and finally come to rest under the butcher's block. Simon kicked it out of the kitchen so that the old man could find it in the morning. Simon wasn't all bad.
Simon walked toward the pantry door and peered in. All bread and canned foods. He looked over toward the three cooler doors. One of them was a freezer. He didn't know which one. Mentally shrugging (a true exercise), he opened one. A dozen frozen faces stared back at him.
Eben was looking for his cane in the lobby when he heard a scream. Footsteps came down the hall. Terrified, he realized instinctively that somebody bad was coming, and if they found him, he was as good as dead. If only he could find his cane, he could get away, but as it was, he couldn't walk well at all. Slowly, inexorably, he inched his way toward the elevator. He pushed the button, and the elevator opened immediately; it was still on the lobby floor. He stepped in and jabbed the fourth floor button, just as someone ran into the room. He couldn't see the person, and he was just as glad.
The elevator began ascending, but in the vicinity of the second floor, it stopped. Panicking, Eben began searching for the alarm button, but he had left his reading glasses in his room, and couldn't find it. In about five minutes, the elevator inexplicably started again.
When the elevator reached the fourth floor, he stepped out and immediately began calling for help. Doors opened all down the hall, and heads stuck out.
"What's the problem, Eben?" asked Christine, who had apparently been drying her hair, as she was rubbing a thick towel through it.
"I--I heard a scream," Eben wheezed, completely out of breath. "Then somebody came running down the hall toward the lobby; I got out of there as fast as I could."
"That's understandable," remarked the professor sympathetically, having appeared from somewhere. "Was it a man's or a woman's scream?"
"A man's," Eben panted. "It sounded like it came from the dining room."
There was an immediate hubbub as everyone bustled to the elevator, forgetting Frieda, who called out, "Wait!" in vain. She couldn't keep up in her walker, but she hobbled after them.
"Look," the professor said. They did. The lobby floor was soaking wet. Someone had opened the doors, or the wind had blown them open, and rain was pouring into the room in a gusty gale. Carl closed the doors. They passed through the dining room, and all crowded into the kitchen.
"Well?" Ethel demanded. "I think you're imagining things, old man."
Jane Krupt pointed toward the freezer door. It was covered with condensation, but the remnants of handprints could be seen both on the handle, and on the edge of the door, in the spot where someone might push it closed.
The professor walked over and opened the door.
"Don't do that," protested Conrad Kent. "It might be bombed or booby trapped."
"Great Scott!" The professor clapped his hand to his mouth and stood a moment, then stepped aside, opening the door wider. Inside, they could all see a number of frozen bodies, and Simon's lifeless corpse, the most recent addition. "Murder most foul, as in the best it is, but this most foul, strange, and unnatural."
Christine fainted. Carl bent to revive her, but Ethel and the professor ventured into the freezer. A moment later, they dragged out Simon's body.
"It seems he was killed by a massive blow to the head," the professor said, pointing out the place on Simon's scalp. "The killer presumably used a long, cylindrical object, and struck Simon from behind. Simon fell forward, into the freezer, as evidenced by the scrapes on his face and hands. This also indicates that he had already opened the freezer and discovered the bodies.
Someone didn't want him to tell anyone else about the corpses."
"Fancy that," put in Ethel.
"Who were the rest of the bodies?" Carl wondered uncomfortably, while consoling his wife, who had recovered.
"It seems that they were hotel staff," said the professor. "The bodies are dressed in the hotel staff uniforms, and carry identification that backs up this supposition."
"But they can't really be the hotel staff," Jane put in, "because we saw them drive off."
"Two possibilities occur to me," the professor said. "Either these are additional employees, or the people that we saw driving away are not the hotel's employees, but in fact, the actual staff's executioners."
"Or maybe," Conrad added. "They are merely the people called in to replace the original staff; not hotel employees, but employees of whoever it was that killed them."
"How did they die?" Jane wondered. The professor went back in, once again followed by Ethel.
Inside, he and Ethel pulled one body away from the frozen mass. It took a good deal of effort, and a great deal of strong stomach. As the body pulled away from another, making a crunching sound, something slipped out of the pocket and fell to the floor with a clink. It landed right next to Ethel's shoe. She bent down and picked it up, putting into her pocket.
"What was that?" queried the professor.
"A nickel," Ethel replied briskly. The professor gave her a sharp look, but she ignored it.
Presently, the two came out of the freezer. The professor assumed his lecturing stance. "The bodies seemed normal at first," he began, "but then we noticed that everyone of them had their hands behind their backs. Mrs. Frump and I pulled one away and discovered that the hands had been tied behind the back. There were no other marks; no wounds, no unusual skin color or odor indicative of poison, though it was difficult to tell because of the ice. There were no strangle marks on the neck, or any other indications of murder. Therefore, I have come to the conclusions that the villains who perpetrated this evil deed simply tied the hands of their victims, shoved them in the freezer, and left them there to die."
"Then that means," Carl said suddenly, "that the hotel staff here were at least affiliated with the murderers. Surely the kitchen staff we saw would have noticed the corpses. If they hadn't known about them beforehand, there would have been a huge to-do."
"Your guess sounds reasonable," said the professor. "It is my guess that some agency or group found out about something on the first through third floors of the hotel. They were terrified that someone else might find out; perhaps it was incriminating evidence. In order to avoid its being discovered, they killed the hotel staff and replaced it with members of their own organization. These men and women would keep the hotel running in order to avoid suspicion until they could dispose of the materials on the first through third floor."
"Perhaps," Carl put it, "They needed someplace to hide something they already had, and chose the hotel to--"
Suddenly there was a shout from the direction of the lobby. Eben looked around wildly. "Frieda!" he exclaimed.
The group rushed out to the lobby, and found Frieda's body lying prone upon the floor. Her walker lay on its side two feet away. Four feet from her shoes lay Eben's cane.
Eben, who had not been able to move quickly when being chased, now moved like a young man in his haste to reach his elderly wife's side. He pressed his fingers to her neck. "She lives!"
"Unconscious," muttered the professor.
"My cane," Eben noticed, staggering over to pick it up.
"This," Ethel announced, pointing at the cane, "is most obviously the murder weapon used to kill Simon and to attack Frieda. You will notice," she continued, pointing at Frieda, "a long, cylindrical bruise on the back of her head. Obviously, the murderer caned her from behind, then fled, dropping the cane in his or her haste to escape." She smiled triumphantly.
The professor just shook his head. "You're overlooking two very important facts. One, all of us were in the kitchen at the time Frieda screamed. Therefore, none of us could have struck her."
"Are you really that stupid?" Ethel asked scornfully. "Obviously, none of us is the killer. There is someone else in the hotel with us."
"No, there isn't," Professor Perkins contradicted.
"And how can you possibly know that?" Ethel demanded, her hands on her hips.
The professor pointed to a panel on the wall at the entrance to the hotel. "That," he said, "is the hotel's alarm system. Or part of it, that is. You can turn it on and off at that console. Those," he pointed to small modules on the wall, "are motion sensors. Now, if you look into the next room, you will see that the light on the motion sensor is not on; it is not detecting any movement. Everyone stand as still as you can."
They did, and the light on the motion sensor went off. "However slowly you try to move," continued the professor, "the motion sensors will reactivate. When the hotel staff left in their panic, I took the liberty of setting the alarms on the first through third floors, omitting the ground
floor, which we are on, and the fourth floor. I locked the alarms into place, and confiscated the key. Any movement on any of those three floors will trigger an alarm that we will all be able to hear. No murderer would risk being discovered wandering around the floors that we are using, so I think it is safe to assume that the murderer is one of us."
"What if the murderer is outside?" demanded Ethel.
"In a hurricane?" the professor asked, widening his eyes. "No, I think it's safe to assume that one of our company is the killer."
"The second thing you overlooked is that Mrs. Carrington is lying on her back. A person who is struck from behind falls forward. I believe that Frieda slipped on the cane and fell backwards, striking her head against the table before hitting the floor. That would explain the bruise."
"This time, you're forgetting something," Ethel said triumphantly. "The cane wasn't there before. One of us surely would have seen it. Somebody must have put it there when we were all running to the kitchen."
"I didn't forget," said the professor. "That still allows for Mrs. Carrington's having slipped and fallen, something that happened while every one of us were in the kitchen. That means that anyone of us could be the murderer."
"Except Frieda," Eben corrected.
"Nonsense," the professor said. "She could have fallen on purpose simply to alleviate suspicion."
"But she couldn't have swung the cane hard enough to kill Simon," the old man said fiercely. "I know that for a fact. Besides, Frieda and I have been married for sixty years, and I know her like the back of my head."
"Hand," corrected Ethel.
"Whatever. Anyway, she'd never harm a living soul; she won't even swat mosquitos, much less kill a man."
"Well, of all those among us, I'd say Mz. Krupt had the greatest motive," Conrad piped up. "When I was spying, I saw her maced Mr. Wilder because she remembered him from another island." He related the entire incident.
"Actually," the professor said, "I think that I would have the most reason to kill him. I loathed the man; hated him to the extremes of hatred."
The others agreed.
"If you'll excuse me," Christine said suddenly, "I'm going upstairs to take a shower."
"Well, Conrad, Jane, Ethel, and Eben, why don't you take Mrs. Carrington upstairs and lay her on the bed. Carl and I will attend to the body. What do you suppose we ought to do with it?"
"Put him back in the freezer," Ethel suggested. "He'll keep better there. For the funeral, I mean."
The guests went back to bed, but none could sleep. Each one had a mind filled with dark and terrible thoughts, and such thoughts left no room for peaceful repose. If only one of them could have seen it when a door on the fourth floor opened slowly, and a figure crept down the emergency stairs. The person snuck down the hall and eased open the door to the security room. A myriad of red and green lights flickered across the person's countenance. The figure stole forward, and produced a key identical to the one that the professor had taken. The key was slid into the lock, and the lock turned. A column of lights was sent into darkness. Another lock was turned, and another set of glowing illumination fell into oblivion. A third unlocking resulted in yet another column of lights winking out. Then the person produced paper clips and a hammer. A paper clip was slid into each lock, and hammered into place, ensuring that no key would ever enter those locks again. Once the locks were taken care of, the figure left the room, and returned to the room upstairs.
August 24, 9:30 A.M. - 10:30 A.M.
"Great Scott!" shouted the professor.
"Heavens to Betsy!" cried Mrs. Frump.
"Tarnation!" hollered Eben Carrington.
"Oh, my stars," gasped Christine Stone.
"It can't be," protested Carl Stone.
"Mmmmm-hmmmm!" smiled Conrad Kent knowingly.
"Think what this will do to the environment," groaned Jane Krupt.
The floor of the entire lobby level of the resort could not be seen. This was largely due to the fact that it was covered by more than a foot of muddy water.
"It never rains, but it pours," groaned the professor.
Carl, in a pair of Bermuda shorts, waded through the water and pushed the lobby doors open. This was quite a chore because of the large quantity of water he had to push against. When the doors finally opened, they revealed nothing but a broad expanse of ocean that stretched away as far as the eye could see. During the night, the sea had crept up into the hotel and spread like a silent thief throughout all the rooms of the ground level. The sky above the ocean was a pale, disquieting, green color.
"I don't understand," Christine said. "Why is everything so calm all of a sudden?" No one answered her.
Suddenly Jane Krupt said, "It's the eye. The eye of the hurricane. It's a very low pressure center, very calm, and very dangerous."
"Dangerous? Why?" asked the professor.
"Because it means that we are in the very center of the storm," Jane explained, "and to get out, we will have to pass through the very worst of the storm."
"But if we're in the center," reasoned Christine, "then we've already been through it once."
"No, we haven't," corrected Jane. "The hurricane approached from the other end of the island, and the land stopped most of the furious waves and wind. When we exit the eye, the storm will be just off this end of the island, and if we're here when that happens, we could have very little chance of surviving. The wind and the rain could dash this hotel to pieces. The wall clouds surround the eye of the hurricane, and they are the strongest and most powerful part of the storm. The heaviest rain and strongest winds are there."
"How long do we have?" Eben asked, his eyes widening in fear.
"At the most?" Jane asked. "An hour.
"The flood waters that have covered the hotel floor are part of what is called a storm surge. They result from the heavy rains and wind. This hotel is on one of the higher parts of the island, so it is most likely that the entire island has been covered with water. Our biggest hope would be that passing over the island has considerably weakened the hurricane. Also, any
change in temperature, air pressure, or wind direction will further slow it. It is fortunate that we all have rooms on the fourth floor. There, we will be the most safe from the flooding. In the meantime, I suggest that we take any items we need from the ground floor and move it upstairs. By the way, has anyone seen my biology case?"
No one had.
"It's square and clear. I thought I left it in my room, but I must not have. It has some very dangerous poisons in it, so it's important that we find it."
"The robb'd that smiles steals something from the the thief," mused the professor. "Oh, and by the way, it seems that for some reason, the alarm system has cut off. Perhaps it was the storm..."
The guests spent the next half hour transporting items to the fourth floor. Food and water were the most important things, but other items such as radio equipment (which the professor dug up from somewhere), dishes, small stoves, and first aid kits were also discovered and retrieved. The elevators seemed to work perfectly, regardless of the water that filled the areas below them. When they tried to retrieve food from the freezer that did not have dead people in it, the water rushed in and filled it in a matter of seconds.
As Carl and the professor were dragging a sofa toward the freight elevator, the wind picked up again.
I wonder what is on the other floors, Ethel Frump thought to herself, sitting on her bed and staring, forboden, out the window. _It must be something interesting. What could they be hiding from us? Is that where the murderer is? And why shouldn't I go down and take a look? I could go and be back before anyone saw me..._
Lightning flashed outside. She fingered the key in her pocket nervously. She didn't think that the professor suspected that she had pocketed it; she didn't even think he knew she had a key. It wasn't a very important-looking key; just plain metal, ordinary in every aspect. Except
for the label engraved on the head: Elevator.
Ethel worried with the key and pondered over it.
"Do it," an imaginary voice said over her right shoulder. "You know you have to know. You'll live all your life in endless torment wondering about it if you don't. C'mon." She was prodded in the neck with an imaginary pitchfork. "It could be money. You could take it, it wouldn't matter. If you don't take it, it will be lost in the hurricane."
"Noooooooo!" wailed a voice from her left shoulder; an annoying, high-pitched voice that sounded like a sick dog howling. "Don't do it! You'll regret it later! You could be killed." That was the most persuasive argument Ethel had ever the voice over her left shoulder present.
"Shut up, you little pipsqueak," the right voice said. Ethel thought that that was an accurate name for the bearer of the left voice. "C'mon, darlin', it's not going to hurt anything."
Ethel frowned uncomfortably. The right voice was sounding suspiciously like Simon Wilder, may he rest in peace. Unfortunately, the voice over her right shoulder had not only had many years of getting what he wanted, but he was also unscrupulous enough to use steroids; something the voice over her left shoulder would never do.
Since the left voice didn't even get exercised very often, and did get exorcised quite a bit, the right voice had a distinct athletic advantage. He booted the left voice off her shoulder. Ethel's mind was made up. She clenched the key tightly in her fist and swung open her hotel door. As she left, there was the distinct sound of the right voice giving the left voice the raspberry.
Ethel punched the button on the elevator, and the doors opened. She stepped inside and waited until the doors closed. Then, she stuck the key in the lock. As she did, the elevator began moving down. Thinking she had unwittingly pressed the button, she waited. The elevator descended to the first floor, and the doors opened. Carl and the professor were standing there
with a sofa. Ethel paled and stepped in front of the key to hide it. She held the "door open" button down as the two maneuvered the sofa into the elevator.
"Aren't you going to get off?" Carl asked.
"No, er--I was about to get off on the fourth floor, and I forgot what I was doing. The doors closed, and the elevator came down. I'll just ride up with you two." Ethel breathed a sigh of relief when Carl seemed to accept her explanation.
Suddenly the professor frowned and stared at her. "I wonder if the phone in this elevator works. Perhaps we should check it. If you would excuse me, Mrs. Frump?"
"Oh!" she exclaimed, backing up against the wall even closer. "It--it does work. I checked it myself. No need to check it again."
"Yes, but the water may have damaged it. If you will, Mrs. Frump?"
"Nonsense," she sniffed, trying to regain a little bit of her stubbornness. "I just checked it a few moments ago. I'm perfectly sure that it's in working condition."
Carl frowned at her. "Are you feeling all right, Mrs. Frump?"
She started. "Never felt better in my life. Oh! Here's your floor. You boys had best get out, now." She herded them out, shoving the sofa after them nearly single-handedly.
"But, Mrs. Frump, aren't you going to get off?" Carl asked, but the elevator doors slammed shut on his protest. Ethel leaned back against the wall for a moment in intense relief, and then turned the key. The buttons for floors one through four lit up. She pressed the third button.
The killer saw the elevator descend to the third floor and reeled in horror. Discovery was immenent. The person pushed the elevator button, and, when it arrived, inserted a key in the lock, and also dropped to floor three. Once there, the killer pushed the stop button on the elevator, and withdrew a clear plastic case. From within was withdrawn a syringe with a gleaming needle, and a vial of poison extract from the blue-ringed octopus, the second most poisonous and deadliest creature in the entire world, surpassed only by the poison-spitting arrow frog of South America. The syringe was inserted into the vial and filled with the yellow-tinted clear liquid. The killer restarted the elevator, waited until the doors opened, and stepped out.
With the syringe raised in the right hand, he or she stalked Ethel down the hall.
"Incredible," Ethel exclaimed. "Look at all this. Bags and bags of it. I've never seen so much in my life. All the rooms, the halls, and even the other floors must be filled with this. This is amazing. Terrible, but amazing!"
She heard a footstep behind her. She turned. "Hello. How did you get up here?"
"You shouldn't have come up here," the figure said sadly. "You shouldn't have gone poking around. If you didn't, you would have lived, but now... Now, I'm going to have to kill you."
"No!" Ethel said, shaking her head and turning white as a sheet. "It can't be you. Not you, there's no way. Please, I'll do anything! Anything!"
Seeing that the person would have no mercy, Ethel bent down and lifted one of the heavy bags. With all her strength, she heaved it at the person, who fell down under its weight. She then turned and fled down the hall, but found herself at a dead end, with nothing but the fire escape outside a barricaded window. Looking out one of the cracks, she saw the sea rising like a giant beast about to pounce on the resort. It was the last sight she ever saw. Someone clubbed her over the head and inserted a needle into her arm.
But they weren't able to do it before she shouted, "Anybody? The murderer is K--!"
Then the storm hit.
August 24 - August 27
The storm lasted three days. The guests ate, drank, and slept in their rooms or in the hall, playing games while nature conducted her wars around them. They dared not use the elevator because the entire ground floor was submerged in water, and they feared putting it out of order permanently.
Meanwhile, they amused themselved by playing various card games, reading novels by J.T. Martentaur, and inventing elaborate theories on the murder case. Invariably, Christine's were the most interesting, she having a head for murder mysteries.
One topic of high interest was the case of Mrs. Frump's last words, which they had all heard.
"How did she get onto the third floor in the first place?" Christine wondered.
"Well," began the professor, lighting his pipe (having found a matchbook in the cabana two days ago), "I checked the stairs and found that the entrances to the first through third floors are not only locked, but barricaded. There was no way to see in, much less to actually open the door.
"Therefore, I can only conclude that she had an elevator key. She probably pilfered it from one of the bodies in the freezer. It's too bad that we can't do the same, but the water has almost definitely made its way into the freezer and frozen. I shouldn't be surprised if the entire interior is nothing but a huge block of ice at this point."
"Wouldn't that cause the freezer to shut down?" Carl asked.
"No. The system is especially designed to keep moisture out; otherwise, it would have shut down years ago."
"Well, at least we have a clue to who the murderer is," Eben pointed out.
"You are entirely incorrect on that point," Professor Perkins returned. "If you remember, we heard Mrs. Frump say that the murderer's name was `K--.' We missed the rest."
"My first name is Kranston. We have Karl and Khristine, Mr. and Mrs. Karrington, Mzzzzz. Krupt, and Konrad Kent. Everyone's name here begins with that hard `C' sound. That leaves us no better off than where we started."
The guests fell into a dejected silence. Time passed. They all entertained themselves as best as they could.
At one point, the professor began dancing down the halls, shouting, "Blow, wind, swell billow, and swim bark! The storm is up, and all is on the hazard! Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! Thou all-shaking thunder, strike flat the thick rotundity o' th' world. Since I was man such sheets of fire, such bursts of horrid thunder, such groans of roaring wind and rain, I never remember to have heard. But what of the other people on the island? Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are that bide the pelting of this pitiless strom, how shall your houseless heads, and unfed sides defend you from such seasons as these?"
Finally Carl stuck his head out the door and yelled, "Shut up! My wife and I are sleeping!"
And so, the time went on, and people listened in silence to the howling wind and scourging rain that covered all the land in endless, undrinkable water. The professor announced that he would start building an ark in his room soon.
August 28, 7:00 A.M.
Carl awoke and looked out the window. He then attempted to run out into the hall, in his haste, forgetting to open the door. He rubbed his nose, opened the door and ran out, shouting, "Wake up, everybody! Wake up!"
"What is it?" a grouchy voice said from the Carringtons' room.
"The water," shouted Carl happily. "It's gone! Completely gone! You can see the ground!"
People began pouring out of their rooms like rats from a burning building. Frieda had recovered from her fall the day before, and was now doddering about in her walker, having been filled in on the gory details by her husband.
The guests all crowded into the elevator and went downstairs.
When the elevator doors opened, a grim spectacle met their eyes. Furniture lay broken and scattered about the room. Much of the wallpaper had been scraped from the walls. Every single thing in the entire ground floor was ruined, awash with seaweed and other nasty remnants of the ocean.
Some of the more unusual sights were such things as chairs and other furnitures dangling from the chandeliers (many of which still worked, remarkably enough), crabs and other sea creatures hiding underneath scraps of wood and metal, and one book, whose pages were completely dry, floating in a basin.
"Since we're on an island," Jane Krupt explained, "the storm surge fell remarkably fast. The hurricane must have lost a great deal of its strength coming across the island to have done this little damage."
"This little damage?" snapped Frieda. "What were you expecting?"
"Oh, caved in walls, perhaps the entire destruction of the hotel, other small things like that. I would venture to guess that this is the last building left standing on the island."
"The last resort," murmured the professor to himself. "I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen the ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam to be exalted with the threatening clouds."
They stepped out onto the carpet, which was swollen and fat with seawater, and began exploring the hotel which nature had redecorated to suit her tastes. The professor came out of the dining room looking ill.
"Don't go in there," he cautioned.
"Why not?" several of the others asked.
"The freezer came opened during the storm, and our friends went for a little swim."
They all looked appropriately sick.
"By the way," continued the professor, "does anyone here have an animal? A pet with them, perhaps?"
Everyone looked at each other. "No, why?" asked Frieda, a thin stream of drool trickling onto the already ruined carpets.
"Well, it's probably nothing," Cranston answered. "But all the same, there appears to be quite a lot of dark brown hairs scattered about here."
Christine ventured, "Perhaps some animal wandered in to shelter from the flood."
"Or more likely," put in Mz. Krupt, "they were spilt from my samples case, the one that was stolen."
"You're probably right," the professor nodded. "Still, something just doesn't seem to fall into place..."
Mission: Third floor, thought Conrad. Now, sneak into the stairwell. No one's looking, good. Up the stairs, up, up, up. First floor, keep going. Why did Ethel have to go and explore up there? Why did she have to snoop? Second floor, almost there. All it does is get people killed. Simon got killed because he looked into the freezer and found a secret. Ethel got killed because she went onto the third floor and found a secret. If only people would just mind their own businesses, they wouldn't get killed. He made it to the third floor, and pulled a crowbar out of his coat. At least I got my gun from the weapon hold. I'm sure lucky that it's waterproof.
"C'mere, Christine," Carl said excitedly. He held a screwdriver in his right hand.
"Where did you get that?" asked Christine.
"From the maintenance room," Carl said. "Come to the elevator."
"What, Carl?" complained Christine. "I have things to do now."
"This is more important. Look." He led her to the elevator and showed her the key slot. The key had been broken off--snapped right in two inside the lock! It was turned to the locked position. Carl jammed the screwdriver's flat head into the keyhole, and began twisting it.
"Carl," Christine said, a worried look coming into her eyes. "You're not thinking about going to one of the other floors, are you?"
"Of course," Carl replied, beaming. "Now we'll finally find out what's going on."
"We might end up dead, too," Christine protested. "Carl, the last person to go there died. I don't want to take that risk, and neither do you."
"C'mon, Christine, it'll be all right. Everyone else is downstairs poking around. We'll be fine."
"Carl." She put her hand on his, gently but firmly. She stared straight into his eyes. "Carl, I'm begging you. Please don't go."
He stared, half entranced for a moment, then shook her off. "Don't be ridiculous." The screwdriver turned in the keyhole, and before his wife could do anything, he punched the third button. The elevator rose, and finally arrived at the third floor.
"You might as well confess, Professor," Jane Krupt said cooly. "I know you did it."
"What?" the professor asked, stupefied.
"Oh, don't you see?" Jane asked incredulously. "It's terribly obvious. You're the one that always came up with the handy solutions to everything. You're the one that was never surprised when dead people were found. And you're the only one with enough brains to pull it off. Admit it, professor."
"I don't have to, although I must admit I am flattered by your accusations," the professor smiled. "But I'm innocent, and I can prove it." He pointed toward the elevator. It was stopped at the third floor. The little green light at the top displayed the number three like an emblem that burned its way into their brains.
Carl and Christine stepped out of the elevator and stared in amazement. The halls were piled several feet high with bag after bag after bag of...
"Marijuana!" exclaimed Carl. "Cocaine, speed, it's all here! Piles and piles of illegal drugs! This stuff is worth billions of dollars!"
"More," Christine said coldly, her voice sounding deeper and strange. Carl turned around. His wife was standing there. Her features were the same as they had always looked, but somehow, they were harder, crueler, and unmerciful. She held a dripping syringe in her upraised hand.
"I warned you, Carl," she said half-sadly. "I even begged you, but you had to go poking around in other people's business."
Carl swallowed hard.
"Into the elevator, quick!" shouted the professor. "I'll take the stairs. Take that stick. It's better than no defense at all!" He sprung for the emergency stairs door and began leaping up the stairs three at a time.
Conrad Kent pried the last of the bolts from the door and eased it out into the stairwell. He walked through and nearly tripped over the body of Ethel Frump. He stepped over her, and walked briskly down the hall, ignoring the bags of drugs as if they were filled with everyday sugar.
"We could have had a beautiful life together," complained Christine. "We could have had children and a nice home, and plenty of money, but no. You had to go and spoil it all, didn't you?"
Carl stared agape. "You think I would want my kids to be raised by a murderer? You're insane, Christine, insane, and I'm sorry I didn't know it before I married you."
"We're all insane," shrugged the girl, "in our own little ways. But in this case, madness had nothing to do with it. I needed the money."
She leaned toward Carl and pressed the needle against his skin, making it dimple. She bent very close and whispered in his ear, "I really did love you."
"Is that why you're trying to kill me?" Carl asked, his voice cracking.
Christine hissed in anger and raised the needle, intending to drive it into his face. Her eyes TWISTED strangely, the pupils drawing up into slits. But before she could force the syringe down, a shot rang through the room. Christine grabbed her wrist in pain. Poison sprayed all over the bags of drugs behind them, and the needle from the syringe flipped up into the air, and landed point down in the floor, quivering.
Conrad Kent stood at the end of the hall, with a gun held in both hands.
"Conrad?" shouted Christine. "NO!" Her shout did not end in human tones, but twisted into a deep roar.
"Hold it right there, ma'am," Conrad said, his voice sounding completely different. "Conrad Kent, Special Agent, CIA. You're under arrest for first degree murder, assault and battery, and illegal drug trafficking."
"Oh, no you don't!" came a voice from down the hall. Jane Krupt cartwheeled toward Conrad, her skirt flying in crazy patterns. Before he had time to react, she did a spin kick and knocked the gun out of his hands. It flew across the room and Christine caught it. She clicked the hammer back and aimed in their general area.
"Thank you, Mzzzz. Krupt," Christine said calmly. She grinned widely at the three of them. Her canine teeth had lengthened into fangs.
Suddenly Christine whirled around. The professor stood behind her. She pointed the gun at him. "You. Get with the others." Fur bristled across her arms like a wind wave in prairie grass.
"Fascinating," the professor said, walking across the room to stand with the other hostages. "I thought it was you."
"Oh?" Christine permitted herself a toothy smile. "And why is that?"
"Well," said the professor, "the biggest clue was when you said you were going to take a shower after we discovered Simon's body. But when Eben called everybody downstairs, you came out of the room drying your hair. I wondered, why would you be drying your hair if you hadn't taken a shower? The reason was that you were downstairs when the doors blew open. The rain soaked you quickly, so you used your elevator key to stop the elevator, ran up the stairs, and restarted the elevator at the top. You went to your room and began drying your hair, but you had less time than you thought, which is why your hair was wet when we went downstairs.
"Secondly, I set the alarms on the motion sensors as a test. The only person who would care to turn off the alarms would be the killer, who would want to avoid having the contents of the hotel floors discovered. So, the night after I mentioned the alarms, I hid behind the potted plant Mr. Kent is so fond of, and waited to see who would go down and turn off the alarms. That person, Mrs. Stone, was you.
"Process of elimination served its purpose as well. I knew that Conrad Kent was a CIA agent; I've even worked with him once. Frieda and Eben are too weak to kill a man with a cane. Also, when Ethel Frump started to call out the murderer's name, she didn't say Mr. or Mrs. or Mz., and so that pretty much ruled out everyone except me, Carl, and Christine, and I knew that I didn't do it, even though I'm the one I least suspected.
"Clever, Mr. Perkins, clever," Christine smiled. "Even--even ingenious, but somehow... lacking. If you knew all this beforehand, why didn't you tell anyone?"
"Because I didn't know whether you and Carl were in it together!" the professor protested. Carl gave him a hurt look. "If you had been arrested, and Carl had been guilty as well, he would have gone scot free!
"What I'm not certain about is why. Why did you do it?"
"The government of Manilo is very poor," the murderer explained. "In order to raise capital, they decided to be the middle man in a major drug export. A few months before I was married, they hired me to make sure that no one discovered what they were doing and lived to tell about it. I needed money, and they made it worth my while."
The group watched in fascination, almost not hearing Christine, as the hand that held the pistol became covered in dark fur, the nails twisting into white claws.
"The government sent agents to replace the hotel staff, whom they tied and put in the freezer. Unfortunately, everything fell through when the hurricane came. The staff fled, and I was left to handle everything on my own. I was downstairs when Simon discovered the bodies, so I grabbed Eben's cane and clubbed him over the head with it. When I ran out, the lobby doors
came open, as you said."
Previously round ears developed finely furred points and broad bases, and inched up the sides of her head.
"Everything went fairly well from then on, until I discovered that Ethel had gotten a key and had gone to the third floor. I had swiped Jane's biology case in the event that I should need it, and I filled a syringe with poison and poisoned Ethel. I couldn't have her coming down here and warning all of you. Then I would have had to kill you all. I really didn't want to, but here I am doing it anyway. You didn't really give me a choice, you know."
"Er, sweethear--I mean, Christine?" Carl ventured.
"WHAT?" she snapped with a bestial snarl.
"Why... are you... turning into a cat?"
"I can answer that one, too!" piped up the professor cheerfully.
Christine gave Professor Perkins a dry look, albeit a not very human one. "No, I think I'LL field this one, if you don't mind."
The professor shrugged obligingly.
"I am CHANGING into a cat because those bags of drugs all around here AREN'T bags of marijuana. They are actually morphogenic drugs which are part of a biological experiment, one that your government was originally a part of, but backed out. Ethel slugged me with one before I poisoned her. A deed, by the way, for which you should all thank me. She was a pain in the neck."
"And THAT'S what the brown hairs were!" shouted the professor happily.
"Why would our government be interested in morphogenic drugs?" asked Carl naively.
Everyone gave him a scornful stare.
"Oh, come ON," mewed Christine through the beginnings of a muzzle. "Can't you even think of ONE good reason?"
"But..." Carl began.
"That's enough pointless explaining before I kill everybody," Christine decided. She gestured with the pistol. "Into the elevator, everyone." They all filed inside timidly. Once they were in, she pressed the basement button.
The basement was cold, damp, and still had about a foot and a half of water in it. Christine had them line up, in an inverse parody of a firing squad. She raised the weapon. Unable to decide who to shoot first, she started pointing with one clawed finger. "Eeny, meeny, miny, mo." She stared at Carl. "Goodbye, Dear. I'm sorry." She leveled the gun.
Suddenly, a walker smashed down over her head. The metal posts hit her changing skull, and she fell to the floor unconscious.
"Too weak to kill a man with a cane?" Frieda asked. "Hmmph! You're lucky I saw that elevator goin' down."
As Christine collapsed to the floor in a heap, the muscles in her hands contracted, and she squeezed off a round with a deafening report that echoed all throughout the basement. The bullet hit the ceiling, and then ricocheted onto the floor. It bounced off the floor at an angle and hit the wall, from whence it flew off and imbedded itself in a pipe running along the ceiling. There was a loud hissing sound, and the room filled with a strange smell.
"Uh-oh," Carl said nervously.
"Gas line!" screamed Jane. "Run!"
The professor scooped up Frieda, who would never have made it, and ran for the emergency stairs. Jane followed right behind him, and then Conrad.
As they ran through the lobby once they reached the top of the stairs, Eben asked, "Hey! Where's the fire?" in a friendly tone. Conrad didn't answer, just qicked him up, piggyback style, and ran for the door.
Down in the basement, Christine opened yellow feline eyes, wide and angry. She hissed. Her heels were drawing up her legs, forelegs shortening. In one smooth, terrifying motion, she was on her furry feet, and within another instant, leaping for the door. As she flew through it, a frenzy of fur and claws and teeth and muscle and sheer power, the pistol knocked against an aluminum air conditioning pipe.
Christine never got a chance to yowl goodbye.
The others were slogging through the mud as fast as they could, and as they were still running, a wave of heat and wind caught them and carried them a dozen feet. Then the sound followed, an earthsplitting sound that shook the ground for miles around. When it ceased, the air was filled with a searing heat and a million pieces of now unidentifiable articles raining down on them.
For a moment everyone was very, very still and quiet. They picked themselves up slowly, being careful of bruises and scrapes and flying shrapnel.
Conrad sniffed. "There's something strange in the air," he muttered. Suddenly his shoe started ringing.
"Great Scott!" shouted the professor, his voice a bit odd. "There really IS a telephone in his shoe! We could have been out of here days ago!"
"No," Conrad said as he unlaced his shoe. "I can't dial it. I can only receive calls."
"Hello?" said a voice. "Can you hear me?"
"Yes," Conrad said into the tongue of the shoe, "and it's music to my sole." He blinked, a thin white film sliding across his eyes from the sides. "We need rescuing soon, sir," he hissed. "We have... a sssituation."
"AND WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!?" Carl demanded, yanking furiously at a VERY long, fluffy, black and white striped tail that insisted on protruding from his backside and not letting go. It twitched at him stubbornly.
Carl Stone was granted a divorce and subjected himself to a series of government tests which concluded that he was about 70% Very Large Lemur, and there was nothing any of them could do about it. Resigned to his aggravatingly cute and adorable fate, he began touring science fiction conventions across the nation, and starring in a few Disney films. He died from being crushed under an enormous pile of adoring, but horribly overweight fanboys. Some claim it was the stench that killed him.
Conrad Kent continued to work in the CIA, his skills at camouflage greatly improved by his new partial chameleonhood, and was later shot during a mission by one of his fellow agents who mistook him for a rebel potted plant.
Eben and Frieda Carrington died within hours of each other some six years after they returned from the hotel. The two horses were buried, as per request, in their Winnebago. The burial was considered a miracle of modern science.
Jane Krupt was found guilty of harassment in the workplace and was sued for several hundred thousand dollars, which she got back doubled when she sued for emotional damages. She used the money to purchase a boat, and sailed off into the Bermuda Triangle, never to be seen again. Some say she swam off with a pod of other whales.
Professor Perkins, consigned to life as a Mostly Budgie, spent the rest of his long life poring over volumes and volumes of vast information, gathering the knowledge of the ages, and, most of the time, pecking at a reflection of himself in a large mirror and squawking angrily.
Christine Stone survived the fire because, being a cat, she had nine lives, and was later found guilty in court of offenses too numerous to count, and received the death penalty three times, and then six life sentences with no parole, but got out in two years on good behavior. She wrote a book entitled, "I'm Gonna Tell You," that discussed her entire plans and thought processes in the hotel incident, and clearly showed that her parents were actually responsible for everything she did. It demonstrated the ways that they had abused her in her childhood by giving her toys that were indestructible, thereby desensitizing her to the realities of death. The book became a multimillion dollar bestseller, and she lived off the proceeds in great comfort for the rest of her long life. She married three times, divorcing none of those times, and only bumped off people when she had a really lousy day.
The Last Resort copyright 1998 by Jason The Skunk.
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