Writer's Cramp(edited version)
|"Thank you, my man. Bring in my luggage will you." The doorman looked at the elderly lady in the torn, thirties style dress with the dead fox around her neck. The face looked vaguely familiar. The luggage consisted of a battered suitcase, plastered with labels from far-off, exotic places, now tied together with rope.
The lady sashayed to the reception desk. "Is my suite ready?" she asked the young man. He looked doubtful. She didn't fit with the hotel's usual clientele.
"Can I have your name please?" he asked, hand poised over the phone, ready to ring security.
"Don't you know who I am?" The man was mystified. Should he know this lady? Was she someone famous? He consulted the computer. All six suites were occupied. Just as he was about to ask the lady to leave, the manager came across, arms extended, a huge smile on his face.
"Miss Fischer, how nice to see you again. Adams, the key to the Empire Suite please." They didn't have an Empire Suite. Seeing the mystified look on the young man's face, the doorman came to the rescue. He opened a drawer in the desk. Inside was a large ornate key. Young Adams passed the key to the manager. "This way, M'am,"the manager gesticulated.
"I didn't know we had an Empire Suite," Adams whispered to the doorman.
"Oh, we have, but it's been locked up for ...ooh ...must be seventy years. Ever since the murder."
"Murder? What murder?" Adams was intrigued.
"Aye. His Lordship was done in by an actress he was trying it on with. I think that's 'er. Amelia Fischer. Famous starlet in 'er time. They must of let her out."
"Out of where?" The penny dropped. "Oh, prison you mean." The manager reappeared.
"I was warned she might come here. Totally gaga you know. Still thinks the war's on. Best to humour her. I don't think she's dangerous but ..."
The Empire Suite had at least been cleaned but the furnishings were old and battered. Amelia seated herself on the ornate sofa. She reached for the brass bell on the side table. She expected its ring to bring servants running. All it did was make a noise. The phone at her bedside was also disconnected. "The service in this establishment has certainly gone down hill," she said to herself. "But then, there is a war on."
At eight, the lady reappeared. She was now dressed in a slinky black number which did nothing to hide the bagginess of an aging body. The manager rushed to her side. "I'd like a martini before dinner, my man. And I'll have my usual table for dinner."
"The restaurant is closed this evening for a private party, but if Madam would care to eat in her suite?" Amelia concurred. "Phew," the manager was glad to see her retreat. Turning to Adams he said "Take her lemonade in a martini glass and the staff meal."
"What do I do about her bill?" Adams asked.
"I'm sure we can write this one off. She's well in her nineties, she won't be around forever." The manager was an optimist. When the lady had a number of dresses delivered he wondered who was paying.
"Oh, the woman told the boss to charge them to her room." This was going too far.
"Excuse me Madam, can I ask how you will be paying your bill? Credit card maybe?" he asked when she came down to breakfast. She was wearing one of the new outfits.
"Oh yes, of course. I will write you a cheque when you bring my mid morning coffee." The cheque wasn't worth the paper it was written on. The browned slip of paper was drawn on a now long extinct bank. The manager began to wonder if this was a con. "Is something wrong?" Amelia asked on seeing the man's expression.
"I'm afraid this is no good. That bank has gone out of business."
"Oh no. Was it the bombing? What's happened to my money? I was one of the top paid actresses before ..." Amelia broke down then. A knock on the door heralded the arrival of the chambermaid.
"Something it is wrong?" Katherina asked seeing the lady's distress.
"I've lost all my money. What am I to do?" Katherina was Polish. She knew a lot about the benefit system from helping her community.
"You no get pension?" Amelia's distress turned to embarrassment. Did she look old enough to be a pensioner?
"They gave me this when I ..." she didn't like to say 'came out of prison'. She handed the form and the letter to the manager. He understood.
"I'll deal with this right away." He rushed off to phone the number on the letter.
"Thank you young lady." Amelia reached into her bag and pulled out an old paper pound note. Katherina accepted it in the spirit it was meant even though it had no value.
"If anything you need, you tell Katherina yes?"
"I hear we have a celebrity staying here at the hotel," said Ulysses P. Merrywhether. Paul Adams looked at the paunchy american with a blank look on his face. "Miss Amelia Fischer." Adams was flustered. "I'd really like to meet the lady."
The manager came over. "Is there something I can do for you, Sir?"
"You can introduce me to Miss Fischer. I'm a big fan. Seen all her movies."
The opportunity came that evening. Amelia came down to the bar in a modest cocktail dress. "My usual," she said to Ossie the barman.
"I'll get that," Ulysses said. "Let me introduce myself. Ulysses P. Merrywhether." He held out his hand.
"Charmed," she replied, allowing her hand to make brief contact. "Amelia ..."
"Fischer," he interrupted. "Who could fail to recognise the star of so many films." Amelia fluttered her false eyelashes, thoughtfully provided by Katherina. "I love the old black and white movies. You were a big deal back then." She sipped on her martini then sucked on the black olive in a seductive manner. "What happened, you dropped outa sight?"
"One chose to retire," Amelia simpered. It had been a long time since a man had shown an interest.
"Won't you join me for dinner?" They entered the elegant dining room, tastefully decorated in cream and gold. The meal was interspersed with giggles and guffaws.
The manager was pleased when the old duck's dinner was paid for by the american. One less item on her bill. His earlier phone call had informed him that the lady was entitled to claim benefit, however it would certainly not cover her expenses.
After dinner the couple moved to the bar where a pianist was entertaining the crowd with tunes from Amelia's era. "Champagne for everyone," Ulysses called out. Eyes turned to the mismatched couple. Amelia was old enough to be the guy's mother.
"Give us a song?" he suggested. Amelia had a fine voice in her film star days. Now she wasn't so sure. "Go on Sweetie, make this old man happy." He spoke to the pianist who nodded. Amelia sashayed over to the piano and picked up the mic.
"Fallink in love again ..." She remembered most of the words; that's the best you could say about the performance. The audience were gracious and applauded politely. Ulysses rewarded the pianist handsomely. The pair were inseparable for the two days of his stay, two days when he paid for everything. And the staff did well on tips.
" Frank, I don't know how I can repay your generosity, allowing me to stay when I don't have my money. I wish I knew what happened to the money I had in the bank." Amelia addressed the manager. It had been six weeks since she came to stay. Her pension barely covered the clothes she had bought.
"It's okay Amelia. Your popularity has boosted the hotel's takings no end. Just promise me one thing ..."
"No more singing."
She giggled. "I really was bad, wasn't I."
Amelia found herself in the kitchens one morning. "Hello Miss Fischer, what can I do for you?"
"No, what can I do for you? I feel I must help where I can." She grabbed an apron.
"Do you know what goes into a Waldorf Salad?"
"I should do, I was there when Oscar Tschirky invented it. Now pass me a knife and I'll chop the walnuts." She regaled him with stories of her time in New York and the people she met. The morning passed quickly.
"What cocktails were popular in the '30s Miss Fischer?" Ossie asked as Amelia propped up the bar at lunch time.
"There was one I liked. It was named after a friend of mine, Mary Pickford."
"And what's in that then?"
"A Mary Pickford's made with white rum, fresh pineapple juice, grenadine, and Maraschino liqueur. It's served shaken and chilled, with a Maraschino cherry."
"Sounds nice. I'll give it a try tonight." The cocktail proved very popular as did Amelia's tales of her friend Mary which accompanied each glass. She had drinks bought for her all night. She flourished with the attention.
Katherina was in the laundry when Amelia caught up with her next day. "Can I help with something?" she asked.
"You know the makeup, you help me look good for my man?"
"I think he want marry."
"Then you must borrow a dress as well." The black slinky number looked so much better on the slim Katherina. Amelia clapped her hands when she saw the final effect.
"Did he?" she asked when she saw Katherina next day. The girl nodded and blushed before rushing off to her duties.
Ossie stopped Amelia as she was returning to her suite."Do you have any more cocktails for me, Miss Fischer?"
"Amelia, please." He nodded. "Yes, I think I can remember a few. I'll see you this evening. I'm rather tired now." She almost fell by the time she reached her door. Paul was on his way down the corridor and grabbed her arm.
"Let me help you, Miss Fischer." He aided her to her bed then rushed off to call a doctor. Amelia took to her bed for the next week. All the staff came to visit. They missed the old lady. She was good for business, and, more importantly, she was a good friend to them.
"Amelia, I won't take no for an answer. You WILL have your breakfast in bed. You can come to the restaurant for lunch, then you WILL rest in the afternoons." Frank was insistent. He didn't want to see the old girl go before her time just because she felt guilty about the money.
As the years passed Amelia became more frail. "I'm worried about her," he explained to Paul, "I've come to love the old dear."
"We all do. How can we help?"
"Make sure she takes it easy. And that includes the booze; tell ozzie."
"Best of luck stopping her from holding court in the bar. You know how popular she's become?"
"Okay, but get her to bed by ten."
"Miss Fischer, might I buy you a drink?" Amelia thought he was another fan and began the usual routine. The gentleman was smartly dressed and carried a briefcase. A bit different from her usual clique. "Let me introduce myself. I'm Martin Caruthers from Caruthers, Forbes and Dewhurst, solicitors." He produced his card. "I understand there is a question of missing money."
The lady survived to see her 110th birthday. Celebrated in the hotel of course. Paid for by a whip round among the staff. Nobody knew the fortune had been found. Amelia Fischer passed three days later.
"Ahem... This is the last will and testament of Amelia Jamima Fischer," Mr. Caruthers began. "I leave my entire estate to Hodges Hotel and its staff. I hope it is enough to cover my bill."