The Happy Hobbit Hotel.
"Hello, and welcome to The Happy Hobbit Hotel! If you're seeking accomodation got some nice cosy hobbit sized rooms available, always happy to cater to little folk Mister er...?"
"I'm sorry, but what on Earth are you talking about?"
The girl behind the counter of the Happy Hobbit Hotel shook her head in annoyance and muttered something which sounded like, "Another one of these non-fan people, what is the world coming to?" She looked up and smiled a receptionist's smile at him and said, "I'm sorry. Welcome to our hummble establishment, how many I help you?"
"Er...I'm here about the cleaner job?" Said the man hesitantly, "I was told I had an interview with the manager today and I..."
"You must be Sebastion!" Said the girl.
"That's me." Said Sebastion, smiling nervously. "Can I er..see the manager please?"
"Sure!" The girl at the counter ducked down behind her desk and came back up again with a notepad, ticking something off, she tucked it into her pocket and reached out a hand to be shook. "I'm Juni, the manager, and you are?"
Sebastion looked somewhat taken aback. "Er...Sebastion, the potential cleaner?"
"Right." She said. "I see you've brought your suitcase," She said, looking down at the floor next to his feet. "Are you intending to stay the night Sebastion the Potential Cleaner?"
"Yes I er..just got into town, listen, is this a bad time for the interview? Because I can come back later if you like." He said nervously, eyeing the door.
"Now's fine!" Said Juni. "Let's start. Are you serious about taking this job?"
"Yes." Said Sebastion, rather taken aback.
"Hired!" Said Juni, "Let me show you the ropes. Bring your suitcase we'll find you a room while we're at it. We're never fully booked so if you're having trouble finding a place to stay, as long as you keep the place clean you're welcome to sleep here." She said, walking off down the corridor.
"Er..thanks." Said Sebastion, trotting after her. He noticed the notebook still sticking out of her back pocket and looked at it with some interest. It seemed to be some kind of list:
To Do -
Give all staff pay rise
Hire extra kitchen staff
'Hire Cleaner', looked as though it has been crossed off. "How long has this place been around for?" Asked Sebastion in surprise.
"Five years." Replied Juni.
"And I'm the first cleaner you've had?!"
Juni turned around to look at him. "I see you're not as dumb as you look. Your predecessor was a man called Cecil Parsley though if anyone asks, lovely man, very commited to his job but he married some girl and moved to Australia, so we had to hire you."
"I see," Said Sebastion, "And what was Mrs. Parsley's name?"
"I'll leave the details up to you." She said carelessly, "Now, I'll introduce you to your co-workers." Opening a door she stuck her head into a bustling kitchen and called, "Burn the roster guys!! We'll never have to clean this place again!"
There was a commotion near the sink as a girl with purple braided hair and a nose ring squealed with delight, running to the wall and, taking Juni's instructions literally, ripped a colour-coded cleaning roster off, scrunched it up and lobbed it into a nearby spurt of flames from a saucepan where it went up in a great plume of smoke, scattering ash across the room.
"FRIDA!!!!!!!! I will not have ash in my kitchen!!!!" Bellowed a red-haired man in a chef's hat.
"That's funny, by the taste of your food, you'd think the whole place was full of it Rudolf!" Retorded the girl, presumably Frida, dancing out of the reach of his very sharp looking knife and giggling fiendishly.
"Everyone!" Called Juni, "This is our new cleaner Sebastion!"
"Hi Sebastion," Said the chef striding forward, his hand out-stretched, "I'm Rudey. Finally you get a proper cleaner Juni, and I am not reduced to the indignity of that roster!"
"Your name is Rudolf?!" Asked Sebastion in amused disbelief.
"I prefer to be called Rudey thankyou." Said Rudolf stiffly, "What?" He cried when Sebastion continued to look at him in amusement, "I was born on Christmas day! My mother had a twisted sense of humour! Besides, Sebastion is hardly a name to be proud of!"
"Ok, I'll agree only to call you Rudey if you call me Seb."
"Oh, that's so boring! Why can't you tease him like me, Seb?" Said Frida in the corner.
"Get back to helping Estella Frida! Remember we actually have customers out there, and they need serving!"
"But they can wait a while! That's what eating out is all about!"
"This is my kitchen and you will do what I say! The customers will not be kept waiting!"
"That's great, you'll go down in history!" Taunted Frida then ran out the door as Rudolf screamed in fury.
"And spit that gum out while you're at it!!!" He shouted as the door swang to behind her. Turning to Juni he exclaimed, "Why can't you fire her?! And get more people like Estella!"
"I've told you before Rudey, I'm not firing her!" For the first time Sebastion looked over to see another girl washing dishes by the sink. Her dark hair was plaited into two long plaits and she smiled quietly to herself at the antics of her co-workers.
"That's Estella, our other waitress." Said Juni, nodding to her.
Estella smiled at Sebastion. "You wouldn't by any chance, have an opinion as to what my accent is?" She asked curiously.
"We'll worry about that later," Said Juni quickly, "Come on, I still have to show you what there is to do." And she hustled him out of the kitchen.
"What was that about?" Asked Sebastion as the door closed behind him.
"No one can work out what Estella's accent is," Said Juni,"Not even her."
"Not even her?! But surely she must know where she's from!"
Juni shook her head. "Not a clue." She lowered her voice. "We found her, shortly after this place opened, wandering around on the street out there. Asked her who she was, but she had absolutely no idea. We reported it to the authorities of course, but they couldn't shed any light on it either. And after a while, seeing as we weren't getting anywhere and she had nowhere to go, I gave her a job here."
"And she's never, remembered anything?"
"Nope. We've been hoping we'll be able to work out something of her past by her accent, but nobody seems to be able to tell what it is. We're trying to get one of those, er, what do you call them? Linguists to stay here, but so far no luck.""
"But then...how do you know her name?"
"We don't. But after a while it was obvious we weren't going to be finding out in a hurry so we sat her down with a list of names and got her to choose one. It was a very good choice really. It's got a double meaning. On the one hand Estella was the name of Merry's wife, and on the other Estel means 'hope' in elvish, as in we hope she'll get her memory back someday."
Sebastion gave her a look. "Have you even seen the movies?!" Asked Juni.
"The movies of what?"
"Lord of the Rings!!"
"Er no...should I?" Juni was staring at him in horror. "Oh well, you will have soon if you're going to be working here. We're all big fans you know."
"I gathered that." Said Sebastion.
"Anyway, we need to discuss your job." Said Juni in a more matter-of-fact voice. They halted by a door and Juni brought out a long chain of keys. "Look at these," She said, " And listen carefully. The gold one with the number One opens the front door. The gold one with the number Two opens this door." She took it and opened the door. Inside was a trolley filled with mops and vacuums and such things, a cupboard full of bed linen, and a washing machine. "You know what to do with those." Said Juni, closing the door. "These," she said, indicating twenty odd small silver keys on the chain, "Are the room keys, their numbers are on them."
She handed the chain to Sebastion. He looked over them. "Wait, you don't seem to have given me the key to Room Thirteen."
"Oh no! No one goes in there!" Cried Juni, "It's bad luck!"
Sebastion snorted, "You can't be serious! You're not telling me you believe that?"
"Oh yes! You don't know what it was like! When we first opened this place, we didn't worry about Room Thirteen, until the accidents."
"Well," Said Juni, lowering her voice, "The first man who ever stayed in that room, slipped in the shower, broke his neck."
"Well that doesn't mean..."
"The second," She continued, "Suffocated when he slept face down into the pillows all night. The third, electrocuted himself turning his bedside lamp out. The fourth," She shook her head, "Strangled by the bed sheets. The fifth, well, he was mauled by a wild dog that came in through the window. The sixth, froze to death."
"Froze to death?!! How?"
"Got locked in the minibar..." She looked at his confused face and shook her head, "Don't ask. The seventh got impaled on a loose bed spring, the eigth, well that was plain stupid, she was using the hair-dryer in the bath." They winced in unisen. "Yeah, the ninth overdosed in sleeping pills and the tenth..."
"Yes?" Asked Sebastion, "The tenth?"
Juni lowered her voice further. "They never found him."
"What do you mean they never found him?"
"He went in the room at night, next morning, he was gone. Not a trace, his bed hadn't even been slept in!" She shook her head. "Well, after that we locked it up and destroyed all the keys. It's bad luck that room. Of course, we should have known. The dwarves knew thirteen was an unlucky number. That's why they needed Bilbo to go with them, and look at all the bad luck they would have had without him! They would never have survived those giant spiders or escaped from the halls of Thranduil or found out how to kill the dragon without him!"
"Er, right..." Said Sebastion. This was clearly another Lord of the Rings reference.
"Anyway," Said Juni, snapping out of her thoughts, "Room Seventeen is free tonight, you can have that one. Hope you find it comfortable enough. We have a staff meeting every Friday at ten in the bar, though we usually just end up watching extended editions, but we're having a special one tonight for your benefit. I'll see you there. Until then, make yourself at home!"
Juni walked into the bar at the Happy Hobbit Hotel at ten o'clock precisely. Sitting around a table in the corner were Rudolf, his apron unhooked from his neck but still tied at the waist fanning himself with the ridiculous chef's hat, Frida, fish-net-stockinged feet prominently on the table dividing her purple braids into two bunches on either side of her head, Estella, head burried in a copy of "The Silmarillion" and Sebastion, being given a preliminary lesson in Lord of the Rings.
"Ok now who's Frodo Baggins?"
"Er...Ring-bearing hobbit," replied Sebastion.
"That's right, and what about Sam?"
"Is he the heir guy?"
"Of course not that's Aragorn son of Arathorn!! Also known as Elessar, and Estel too when he was a child, and Thorongil in Gondor in his earlier Rangering days, oh and Strider of course..."
"Woah, woah, woah. Hold on there, you haven't told me who this Sam is yet..."
"Hopeless, I refuse to go any further until you've at least seen the movie, and you should start reading The Fellowship of the Ring before you sleep tonight, here, I'll even lend you my copy...There you are Juni! I just bought the Return of the King Extended Version! What do you say?"
"Hang on!" Cried Frida, "Seb can't watch Return of the King yet! He hasn't even seen Fellowship!"
"Surely we can just explain the plot to him," said Estella, eyeing the gleaming DVD box set in Rudolf's hand hungrily.
"We can't watch anything yet, we haven't had the meeting." Said Juni, taking her place at the table.
"Oh surely that can wait until afterwards, two hours of extra scenes Juni!"
Juni looked sorely tempted, "Well, I suppose...No. No, meeting first, extended version later." Everyone except Sebastion sighed disappointedly. Frida took her feet off the table.
"Alright then let's get it over with," She said.
"Ok everyone. First things first." Said Juni, adopting a business-like tone. "This is our new cleaner, Sebastion...what is your last name Sebastion?"
"Ahhhhhh...." Said Sebastion, everyone was looking at him expectantly. "Ahhhhhmmmmmaaaaahhhhhh..." He managed to sound eventually.
"Armah?" Asked Estella, "Your name is Sebastion Armah...?"
"Yeah," Said Sebastion, "That's right."
"Interesting." Said Estella, took out a notebook and wrote it down. "I must remember that." Then, noticing Sebastion's bemused look, "I keep note of strange last names, just in case one of them turns out to be mine."
"Anyway," Said Juni, taking the meeting back in hand. "Let's go around the table shall we? Introduce ourselves and what we do?"
"Oh Juni, he already knows all of us." Protested Frida. Juni gave her meeting-mode look, and Frida bit her lip.
"I'll start." Said Juni, "I'm Juni, the manager. I also handle reception. Any enquiries, see me in my office."
"And where's that?" Asked Sebastion.
"I'm Rudey, head-chef and only chef, when are you going to properly staff this kitchen Juni? I will be giving you instructions later on the cleaning of the kitchen Seb, I like my kitchen to be in order, everything has it's proper place, nothing is to be moved. Because if it's moved then I can't find it when I need it therefore I am slowed in what is already an under-staffed working space, therefore the customers wait longer for their food, and that is not acceptable. Do exactly as I say and everything will be fine. Do exactly the opposite of anything Frida says and everything will be fine. Actually, don't even respond to anything Frida says, and don't let her know which room you're sleeping in either, she hides alarm clocks set for some ungodly hour of the night under the beds."
"Don't worry Seb, I only do that to Rudolf. We all stay here at the hotel you know, well, most of the time anyway, except on busy nights when we sleep in the park, or at least I do. I'm Frida, and I'm a waitress, kitchen-hand and bar-maid, whatever you like to call it. I'm in Room 12 if you need anything."
"And I'm Estella, I'm same as Frida and I also look after the front garden. I'm in Room 8. Can we please watch the extended version now?"
"Wait! I still have one more thing to discuss!"
"Hope it doesn't take too long," Said Estella, looking at the back of the DVD cover. "It says here they have a special feature on hobbit costumes."
"Where?!!!!" Juni nearly knocked over the table to look over Estella's shoulder. "Hey!! It doesn't say anything here about..."
"She's completely obsessed with the hobbit's wardrobes," Whispered Frida to Sebastion, "I think she really just wants the hobbits to take them off...so she can have a closer look at the clothes obviously."
Estella sniggered. "I am no obsessed!" Said Juni indignantly, "Listen, we have to be serious. There's been an increased number of hotel inspections in the area. As you all know, we don't in the least meet their requirements. If we get an inspection, they could close us down."
Estella and Frida stopped giggling, Rudolf sat up straighter in his chair. "But, we've never had an inspection in five years, I thought we'd slipped their notice."
"That's even more of a reason to be worried. We're way overdue for one. I'm just glad they didn't turn up when we were still operating on the roster."
"Well, nobody's tried to inspect us yet, it may never happen. Let's just cross that bridge when we come to it." Said Estella. Juni still looked concerned, but conceeded that for the moment there was nothing they could do. Instantly a squabble broke out over the DVDs.
"I insist that we watch Fellowship tonight! Sebastion simply can't be shown the trilogy out of order!! I won't allow it!" Cried Frida, shielding Sebastion's eyes dramatically and completely unnecessarily as they weren't even in front of a screen yet.
"But we've been waiting all year for this DVD!! I'll die if I have to wait any longer!!" Protested Estella.
"It's too late to be watching extended versions now anyway. We have to be up at dawn tomorrow for breakfast. It's not friday, there's no second breakfast late start." Said Rudolf.
"Rudey how can you say such a thing?" Cried Estella, "Too late for Lord of the Rings indeed!"
"Listen, how about we do like Rudey says and leave it for tonight, and then on Friday we skip the meeting, and stay up all night watching all three extended versions in a row!" Said Juni. "Then you could have a prelude to the RotK extended Estella, and Seb can see them in order, and we can all get up on time tomorrow morning."
Grummbling the three kitcheners agreed and filed out of the bar to their respective hotel rooms.
"You got anything else to say before I head off too?" Juni asked Sebastion.
"Do you really watch Lord of the Rings every Friday night?"
"No, usually we recite all the words with the characters as well, but because you've never seen it before we're going to make an exception."
"I have another question."
"Was I the only person to apply for the job?"
"Right. Well, I think I'll go to bed then now."
"See you in the morning!"
Sebastion awoke the next morning and, after wondering where he was going to find breakfast, realised he had met a chef and two waitresses living and working in the same building as him the night before and went to the kitchen. He wandered down the corridor and opened the kitchen door and was again greeted by the sounds of sizzling food and arguments. The subject this morning seemed to be Frida's attire. She was wearing red and black striped socks that went up to her knees, a black miny skirt with about ten layers of fluffy lace underneath that made it stick out rather curiously, a close-fitting black top that said "I believe in fairies" and suitably gothic make-up to match the dominant colour of her clothes.
"Why do you insist on looking like a freak, Frida?" Rudolf was asking in a would-be patient manner.
"Because I am a freak. And so are you, reindeer boy!" She replied calmly.
Rudolf closed his eyes and let out a sigh of exasperation such as one who is trying very, very hard to control their anger. He opened his eyes, took a deep breath and tried again. "You know, you could be very pretty if your hair was the right colour and you took out that nose-ring and I don't know, maybe wear some decent clothes, a dress even?"
"A dress?!" Frida looked disgusted, "What do you take me for? Some kind of normal person?" She grabbed a couple of plates and headed out to the bar with an "Oh, hello Sebastion." On the way.
"Hi," Said Seb rather nervously, "I er...was wondering if I could maybe get some breakfast?"
"I see." Said Rudolf coldly, "So you expect free food and accomodation do you? I shall make a note to tell Juni to lower your wage seeing as you have so little to spend your money on."
"Don't be silly Rudey I'm sure Seb was planning on paying weren't you Seb?" Said Estella pointedly.
"Yes of course." Said Sebastion.
"Right, you go out to the bar and I'll bring you something." She said. Sebastion followed her instructions and went through the door, taking a seat at the same table they had had the meeting at the night before. There were a few other guests scattered around murming quietly amongst themselves with a morning-like quietness. Frida was wiping tables, when she saw him she dropped her cloth immediately and ran over.
"Good morning Your Cleanliness!" She said brightly, picking up her cloth again and making a show of wiping his table. Sebastion remembered her comment earlier about being a freak.
"You know there's no such thing as fairies, don't you?" He asked, looking at her shirt. Frida gasped and looked up at him, horrified.
"How could you say that?!! You've just killed one, you murderer!!!" She cried and slapped his face with her cloth, tears springing into her eyes. Then she laughed. "I know what you're thinking." She said. "You're thinking, 'what kind of lunatic assylum have I gotten myself into here?' That's what you're thinking, isn't it?"
"Well," Confessed Sebastion, "Something along the lines, to tell the truth."
"Well don't worry." She said reassuringly, "You'll be just as batty as the rest of us by the end of the week! I guarentee it! By the way, did you start reading Fellowship like Rudey told you?"
"Well no, I was rather tired..." She gasped again.
"Don't tell Rudolf that, you'll never hear the end of it! Here, quickly, start reading this before he quizzes you on the first chapter!" And she handed him a very dog-eared book.
"Er...thanks." Said Sebastion rather nervously.
"Oh no problem!" She smiled sweetly and made herself more comfortable, smiling at Sebastion in a rather unnerving manner. The door to the kitchen opened as Estella came through with more plates and from inside came a yell of, "FRIDA!!! Stop flirting with the cleaner and get back in here and clean these things up!!!!"
"Oh you ruin all my fun!!!!" She yelled back at the closed door before getting up, "I'll see you round then Seb!" And scampered back into the kitchen. Estella set a plate of breakfast in front of him.
"She hasn't been terrorising you has she?" Asked Estella disapprovingly.
"Not at all." There was a pause.
"Your sirname isn't really Armah is it?" She said unexpectedly. Sebastion looked up in surprise. She was looking at him, he stammered.
"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone." She said, then grinned excitedly, "I've never met anyone who's on the run from the law before! Tell me, is it terribly exciting? What did you do?"
"No! I didn't do anything!" Said Sebastion then, lowering his voice and looking around conspiritorially. Estella leaned forward eagerly. "I was framed, for murder!"
"Yeah, but I'm absolutely innocent! I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But try telling the police that, so I had to make a run for it! Or I would have spent the rest of my life in prison!"
"So now you're hiding here, outlawed for a crime you never committed." She said dreamily. The she grinned again, "Hold on! I'll tell Juni!"
"No wait! Don't!" Cried Sebastion as she got up to leave, "Please don't, she'll fire me!"
"Of course she won't! She'll think it's interesting! Don't worry, we'll hide you from the police!"
"And then if they find me you'll all be arrested for hiding me! Listen, Estella, it's better if they don't know, for their sake." He said, lowered his voice again, "You don't want them to go to prison too do you?"
"No!" Said Estella looking worried.
"I wouldn't have told you either, to protect you, but you were too smart. So if anyone asks, you never knew alright?"
Estella nodded her head. "Never knew what?"
"That's it!" The kitchen door opened and there came another bellow into the bar. "He's not that handsome Estella those tables need serving!!" Estella got up, put her finger to her lips and wandered away. Sebastion continued to stare after her until he found a large white something obscuring his gaze.
"I'd prefer it if you left now, you're distracting my waitresses." Said Rudolf. Sebastion got up and left without another word, feeling more hungry than when he'd arrived.
"Hello, Happy Hobbit Hotel Reception, how may I help you?...You'd like to make a reservation? Certainly, we're very busy at the moment but if you just wait I'll check and see if we have anything free that night." Juni sat with the phone to her ear in complete silence for exactly ten seconds before springing back to life. "As luck would have it we do seem to have a vacancy that evening, under what name will I reserve it?...Thankyou very much Mr. Adams we look forward to seeing you on the 24th...Yes, thankyou, bye bye!"
Juni put the phone down, leafed through a noticeably bare reservations book and put a name next to the 24th February before looking up. "Isn't it exciting? Getting reservations!! They never used to reserve before! After all this time we're finally starting to get somewhere! I really think this could be the beginning of the making of us! That's how I was able to hire you!" She said to Sebastion. She looked at her watch. "Check out time is at ten by the way, then you have to start cleaning."
"Settling in alright?"
"Good," She said cheerily, the phone rang again. "Excuse me," She said, picking it up. "Hello Happy Hobbit Hotel Recption, how may I help you?"
The kitchen door burst open in a cloud of steam and for once did not have the atmosphere and energy of an air raid. Three hot and tired looking figures emerged and slumped down in the middle of the corridor. "Finally breakfast is over!" Sighed Frida. "I could die of exhaustion!"
"Why? You hardly worked at all!" Complained Rudolf.
"I worked very hard thankyou very much." Frida retorted in injured tones. "Or I would have, if my skirt hadn't caught fire." Frida examined the hole in her skirt, though if it hadn't been smoking you wouldn't be able to tell it was burnt, the whole thing was black anyway.
"You shouldn't have been sitting on the bench, next to the hot plate."
"Well how was I to know it was going to burst into flames like that?"
"The fact that I was cooking sausages on it at the time might have given you a slight indication."
"Well, I'm off to water the garden." Said Estella, pulling herself up off the floor. "I know it's completely impossible of course, but do you think you two could at least try to stop arguing?"
The two made indistinct murmurs of neither assent or dissent. Juni came off the phone. "Shouldn't you be getting started now Seb?" She said pointedly.
"Right." He said and hurried off down the corridor.
"Hey Juni, how goes it in reception?" Asked Rudolf.
"Two bookings already! And it's only ten!" She started leafing through the mail muttering to herself and throwing most of them on the floor, occasionally opening one and giving it a cursory inspection before adding it to the pile on the floor. Frida reached out tentatively to remove one from the pile, but found Juni's foot on her hand, though she hadn't even looked up from her mail. "It's just bills Frida, believe me you don't wanna see them." Suddenly Juni, head burried in one letter, burst out laughing.
"What is it?" Asked Rudolf. Juni didn't answer, she was still laughing like she'd never heard a joke in her entire life.
"Oh come on Juni tell us!!" Frida implored.
"It's a complaint!" Said Juni.
"What?! Why are you laughing!! Complaint about what?" Juni just shook her head, still giggling. "It's about one of us isn't it." Said Rudolf. Juni nodded.
"Off you go then Frida, me and Juni need to discuss your inadequecies as a waitress in private."
"Who says the complaint is about me?! It could be about you! Why don't you go off so Juni can tell me what it is!"
"Why on Middle Earth would anyone write and complain about me?"
"Maybe they got food poisoning."
"Ha! that's impossible. I bet they're complaining about the indecency of your attire, or your laziness, or your questioning the customers every time they make an order. He immitated her, 'Are you sure you want to have the cappacino? Because I could make you a very nice hot chocolate instead...So you want me to go back to the chef and ask him if he can make it with no tomato? Well ok, but he's not gonna be happy about it...'"
"That's not true!!" Cried Frida, "Juni! Tell him the complaint is about him and not me!"
"Actually, I'm not going to tell either of you," Said Juni, folding it up and tucking it into her pocket, "So you can stop bickering about it. Try to have a normal conversation for once!"
"Normal! Ha!" Shouted Frida as Juni made her way back along the corridor. Then she slumped back sulkily. "Bet you anything it was about you and not me!"
"Anything?" Frida looked up from the floor, Rudolf had a strange gleam in his eye. Frida started to grin maliciously.
"Anything," She said.
"If the complaint is about you," Said Rudolf, "You have to wear a dress of my choosing for an entire week. A different one every day!"
"And if the complaint is about you, you have to dress up in a reindeer costume and sing a song of my choosing!"
"Deal." Said Rudolf, and silently they shook hands, each one certain that the other was going to lose.
Late at night, when all the guests and staff were in bed asleep, Juni sat in her "office" at the reception desk, feet on the table, a single lamp lighting her tired, strained face as she pored over a list of hotel inspection criteria. "Public safety," She mused, "Ok we have a fire escape, what does it say here? Sprinkler system?!" She sighed and added another item to her To Do list, "Security System too? Cameras in the hallway? We can't afford that...They mark you on room layout?!...Secure floor-boards...extra blankets in all rooms..." She made another note on the list, "in-room illumination...plumbing, parking, front desk organisation and service...filtered water in the restuarant," She made another note, "No insects or rodents of any kind, Ha! You try convincing Frida to give up her pet rat!...Oh here we are...duties of staff must be clearly specified, all staff must be properly trained and supervised..." Juni bit her lip and wondered whether she should ask Rudolf if he had any qualifications in cookery, something which had never occurred to her to ask before. Then she wondered whether cleaners needed any qualification..
"Er, excuse me miss?" Juni looked up. A man in blue pyjamas and a night cap ("I didn't know people wore those any more." She thought.) was leaning over the counter nervously. Juni stuffed the To Do list and Inspection Criteria out of sight before he could see them, hoisted a rather startled and lop-sided receptionist smile onto her face, took her feet off the desk and said, "Yes. Is there a problem sir? Perhaps you would like extra blankets in your room?"
"No it's not that," Replied the man, "Though I'm not quite happy with the in-room illumination, it's just that I keep hearing all these bumps coming from Room 7, and through the window it looks like there are a couple of people in there with flash-lights."
"Room 7?!" Said Juni jumping to her feet, "But that's my r....I mean, nobody's staying in Room 7 tonight..." She strode to the corridor and looked down, Room 7 was just visible in the darkness, door hanging a fraction open. She turned back to the man in the nightcap who was looking rather frightened, "You stay here," She advised him, "And call the police." She handed him the phone from behind the counter. Then, reaching down under the reception chair she lifted a rather heavy looking baseball bat. "Whoever it is, I'll introduce them to our security system."
"Shhh..." Said Rudolf, "We don't want to wake anyone up!" He and Frida stood side-by-side in Juni's room at the Happy Hobbit Hotel, flashlights on. Sneaking into the room hadn't been too difficult. Juni only had one light on in reception and had been too busy reading to notice two people crawling past her desk and down the corridor. As to getting into the room, Juni had forgotten to take the room keys back off them from the days of the roster. But they hadn't considered what to do after actually getting into the room.
"I suppose we should start looking," Said Frida, and supressed a giggle, "I can't wait to see you in costume.."
"You'll be waiting an awfully long time, because you're going to lose." Said Rudolf. "Remember, we're only here to find the letter, and we have to put it back where we found it. If she finds out we were in here she'll kill us, or even fire us."
"No way! Juni would never fire us!" Said Frida, tip-toeing towards the bedside table, containing three drawers that looked promising. "You should look under her mattress, she used to hide her diary under there."
"How do you know? Wait...I don't want to know." Said Rudolf, carefully lifting the mattress and shining his torch across the wooded boards beneath. Carefully Frida slid open the first drawer. "A secret chocolate store!! I knew she wasn't keeping to that diet! Mmmm...Freddo Frogs..." She reached out to take one.
"Frida!! She musn't suspect we were here!"
"Oh, she'll never notice just one," Said Frida, peeling off the wrapper, the rustling noise was strangely magnified in the stillness of the night. Rudolf shook his head and opened the cupboard, whilst Frida muttered to herself, "Maybe just one more, she's got plenty here...I'm sure she wouldn't notice...and it's not like she could say anything to us, she'd be giving away that she had the stuff in here at all..."
"Frida, leave the chocolate a....what was that?" Suddenly they both froze as footsteps passed them in the corridor. "I think perhaps it's time we made a move..."
"But we haven't found the letter yet!"
"Frida, we shouldn't be here, and I'm starting to have a really bad feeling about this. Let's just forget the letter, we could just pursuade her to tell us the normal way."
"Oh..." Frida looked as though she was about to protest but the sound of Juni's voice in reception seemed to have some affect on her. She looked slightly guilty. "Oh I suppose you're right. Come on then."
Quietly, they made their way to the door. Rudolf reached out and laid one hand on the handle, before turning back and pressing his finger to his lips quite unnecessarily, but in that one moment the door suddenly flew open. Frida screamed, there was a flurry of movement at the door, a woosh and a low dull wooden thunk. Rudolf was on the floor, moaning.
"Hang on a minute,"Said a voice from the corridor. There was a click and the light was switched on. There was Juni, standing in the doorway, a baseball bat in one hand, the other on her hip giving Rudolf a very unsympathetic look as he clutched his head on the floor.
"What in the name of Eru were you two doing in my room at this hour of the night?" She asked seriously, her eyes lacking their usual hint of amusement. Frida gaped at her, painfully aware that her mouth was smeared with chocolate, her flashlight still turned on, opening and closing her mouth like a goldfish. Suddenly from outside came the sound of sirens as two police cars pulled up outside the hotel and four policemen came running into the building. Juni slapped her head with her hand and shook her head at Frida and Rudolf, who was trying to get onto his feet. "You two," She said, "Are in trouble."
The policemen arrived next to her. "What seems to be the trouble miss? Are these the two that broke in? Will you be pressing charges?" Another of the policemen made a move to handcuff Rudolf whose blackened and bruised head marked him out as one of the intruders. Juni put her hand to her temples and sighed very, very deeply before starting, "I am so, so sorry officer..."
The corridor lights were switched on, the sirens had woken most of the guests and people were peering bleary eyed out of their rooms, looking very disgruntled at being woken up in the middle of the night and wondering what on earth four policemen were doing there. They looked very annoyed, as the manager talked they looked more and more annoyed. Some of them recognised one of the waitresses from the restaurant supporting a man with red hair and a very bruised head. The man in the blue pyjamas and night cap had struck up a conversation with a woman in a pink dressing gown and soon word got around that someone had broken into Room 7.
"Broken in? Well then how come they're not being arrested?" Was the general comment being passed around. Amidst all the confusion Estella and Sebastion emerged from their rooms, pushing through the crowd of guests milling and gossipping in the corridor. Juni was still talking to the police, looking rather harrowed and harrassed. Frida was sitting on the floor with Rudolf looking very, very ashamed and sorry for themselves. "What happened?" Cried Estella. Frida looked up at her.
"We..." She looked down and said quietly, "We had a bet.." The policeman talking to Juni heard and turned to her.
"Excuse me? I've been brought out here in the middle of the night because of a bet?!! Well let's hear it then, it must have been a pretty good one to merit all this fuss!"
"Please officer..." Said Juni.
"Don't you please officer me," Said the policeman, looking incredibly put out, "Do you know wasting police time is an arrestable offence?! Who are these people anyway? You seem to know them..."
"They're my kitchen staff." Said Juni, still rubbing her temples.
"Your kitchen staff? And what are they doing here at two o'clock in the morning?!"
"They live here..." Said Juni, sounding very, very tired. By now the crowd was starting to gather round, and at that comment they all began muttering amongst each other with renewed energy.
"We'd better do something," Said Estella to Sebastion. "Excuse me everyone!" She said to the crowd, "On behalf of the staff of the Happy Hobbit Hotel, please accept our deepest apologies for waking you up at this hour. We do hope you haven't been inconvenienced, and to compensate for your uncomfortability we will be waving the fee for anyone woken up by tonights disrurbances. We seem to have had a misunderstanding here, but it's all being sorted out now. Please, if you'll go back to your beds I'm sure it will all be sorted out by the morning."
"What did she mean when she said the staff live here?" Asked the man with the night cap.
"I'm not sure sir, but if you just go to bed now and leave these officers to sort out their business I'm sure you'll get all your answers in the morning."
"But you're a member of staff, how can you be not sure?"
"You must be very tired," Replied Estella, completely ignoring his question, "Don't you want to go back to bed?" She began to usher him past Juni and the police, as she passed them she heard one say, "What do you mean you only have two waitresses? Only two? And they work all the shifts, seven days a week?!"
"This is why we don't like people asking questions." She said to Sebastion. Poor Juni looked nearly in a state of mental collapse. "Come on," Said Estella, "There's nothing we can do here. Let's just leave them to it." And she steered him away from the scene, trying to encourage more outraged and highly curious guests to take to their beds once more.
When the last of the guests had been silenced Estella led Sebastion, Frida and Rudolf (though not without a spirited protest from the police) into the bar whilst Juni continued to be interogated, being asked the same questions over and over again and giving the same weary answers each time. The incident had opened a whole new can of worms and questions were being asked that they had all spent the past five years avoiding answering. The four sat down around their usual table, Frida looking sorry for herself, Rudolf in pain, Sebastion just plain confused and Estella very stern.
"Ok, the time has come you two." She said, "What were you doing in there?"
Frida looked at her feet. "We just wanted to find out who the complaint was about."
"Juni got a letter this morning." Explained Rudolf. "She said it was a complaint about one of us."
"I see, so you two had a bet about which one it was?" They both nodded quietly. Estella started to look a lot like Juni, massaging her head with an incredibly exasperated look on her face. "Well, you'd better start figuring out how to try and make it up to her." The two nodded and arose from the table.
"This is pretty bad isn't it?" Said Sebastion.
"You have extraordinary powers of observation Seb." Said Estella, cupping her chin in her hands.
"Wow, and I've only been here just over 24 hours. Is it always as crazy as this?"
"Well, we've never had the police around before that's for sure. But yes, it isn't your average hotel, I'll put it that way."
"I worked that out when Juni told me about Room 13. Is that really true? Or is that just some story she tells to new people?"
"Well, to be honest I wouldn't know." Said Estella. "Room 13 was before my time. But Frida and Rudolf were here then and they say it's true, and I can't see why Juni would lie to me for five years about it."
"Five years." Said Seb. "What's it like? I mean...not to remember anything that happened before five years ago?" Estella looked at him. "Sorry, I shouldn't have asked."
"No, it's ok." She said, then thought. "What's it like? I'm not sure. Because I don't really know what it's not like, if you understand me. I don't know any other life than the one I'm living at the moment. I do wonder about the years before that though." She laughed quietly, "I don't even know how old I am."
Sebastion was at a loss for what to say. She shrugged. "You get used to it. It's been so long, I don't think it's ever going to come back, not much point wondering."
"But, aren't you curious? Don't you want to know about your childhood? If you have a family, friends somewhere out there looking for you? Don't you ever wonder what your real name is? Where you're from, what happened to make you lose your memory?"
"Every day." She said, "All the time. But I don't want to anymore. I'll never get any answers. This is my life now, I don't know what I'd do if this place closed down. Juni, Frida and Rudey, they're my family, they're the ones who found me, one of the first things I can remember is Juni taking me into this room to have a drink while she rang the police. That's right! They have been here once before! But that was a long time ago, as long ago as I can remember." She smiled at him. "And perhaps it's better not to know the past. You never know, I might turn out to be a murderer or something!"
"Sometimes I wish I could forget." Said Sebastion.
"Pity we can't swap then." He nodded.
It was four o'clock in the morning when the police finally left, with much shaking of heads and muttering and writing things down in their notebooks. Juni sank down into the chair at reception with her head in her hands after the two hour nightmare, yet to have any sleep and with reception opening again in three hours for the early risers, not that there would be much need for reception today as all the guests were being given free accomodation for the nights disturbance and so none would be paying and could may as well just walk out of the place without having to bother to check out.
Tentatively, the two offenders whose fault the night's disturbance was, approached their friend who was their boss, and never before had they been so aware of this fact. They set a plate before her. "We made you some pancakes," Said Rudolf rather lamely.
"With extra sugar!" Added Frida hopefully. Juni did not look up.
"Listen," Started Rudolf, "I, we both, are really, really sorry about what happened last night. It was incredibly stupid of us, and we're prepared to accept any punishment..."
"We promise we'll never do it again." Added Frida. Finally, Juni looked up at them, and they were surprised and even more wretched-feeling to see that her eyes were red and her face stained with tears. No one had ever seen Juni cry before, and they took an awkward step back. She sniffed and wiped another tear away.
"The police are calling the Board." She croaked simply. They both gasped.
"Not the...Hotel Inspections Board?!" Cried Frida. Juni nodded.
She looked around, "You wouldn't think it to look at it, but I love this place." She said. Frida and Rudolf looked at their feet. "We're going to be inspected, it's just a question of when. And there's no way we can meet their standards." Juni buried her head in her hands again, "It's only a matter of time, the hotel will be closed, and we'll all be ruined."
With thanks to Perian for sharing her experiences as a hotel waitress
"Wow!" Said Frida, dashing into the kitchen and pinning up four more orders and wiping her forehead. "I've never seen the place so busy before! What are they all here for?! It can't be the food!" Rudolf gave her a sarcastic look but refrained from rising to the argument. It was a week since the fiasco with the police and both had been oddly subdued. The prospect of inspection, by an unspoken agreement had not been mentioned again, but it was foremost on everybody's minds and all stayed up late into the night trying to think of ways to save the hotel. Juni had been too upset and preoccupied to hold a grudge against Rudolf and Frida but they still looked rather ashamed of themselves in her presence and avoided her gaze.
The bar buzzed outside the kitchen door as more people started arriving and Frida dashed out again, calling, "Oh and Table 4 wants a jug of water!" Estella took a jug and began to fill it up at the tap.
"Oh my god."
"What?" Estella held up half a jug of water from the tap, which was light brown and swirling with muddy dirt particles. Rudolf swore.
"Where does the water supply come from?!"
"The local dam, but we should have a filter on the tap." Rudolf swore again.
"Go get Juni to ring the Water Board, and then take this," He handed her a plastic funnel,"Moisten some paper, fold it and put it in there, then run the water through it, slowly, you don't want it to break through or you'll get it all muddy and have to start again." Estella nodded and dashed out into reception.
"Busy out there," Said Sebastion walking in.
"Yeah, good news and bad news."
"You'll see." Said Rudolf. Estella dashed back in and began carefully filtering the water. Sebastion walked over to her, "Not now Seb, I'm panicking."
"I was just going to ask if you needed any help." She looked up with an expression of extreme gratitude on her face.
"Would you?" She asked, holding out the funnel. He took it and she grabbed a notepad and nearly ran out the door with the plates.
"That may be the case but when mud starts coming out of the taps instead of water I think it is a problem, actually," Said Juni angrily to the phone as yet another woman walked through the door. She smiled at her, holding the phone to her ear with her elbow as she leafed through the reservations book with one hand and scribbled more items on her To Do List with the other and mouthed, 'Won't be a moment.' "Yes you do that," She said to the phone, "Get it under control ok? I have a hotel to run and the last thing I need is to be chasing after your lot to do your job." She slammed down the phone and smiled again at the woman. "Can I help you?...You want to stay?....Tonight? Certainly..."
Two minutes later she walked into the kitchen. "Oh you're here already Seb, good. I need everyone in here now, drop what you're doing, whatever it is, it can wait." She opened the door and signalled for Estella to come back from the bar. Estella didn't look surprised at all but hurried in.
"What's going on?" Asked Sebastion.
"I have some good news and some bad news," said Juni. Rudolf gave Sebastion and 'I told you so' look. "This is one of the biggest nights we've ever had. All but three of the rooms are filled. I have two people out there waiting to go into their rooms but I can't give them any yet, because two of us have got to get our stuff cleared out of them for tonight." She held up a fist clenching the ends of five straws. "You all know the drill," She said to the others then, turning to Sebastion, "Two of us will have to sleep in the park tonight. Two of these," She indicated the straws,"Are short. So the question we're about to answer is, who will it be?"
Juni closed her eyes and quickly slid a straw out from the pack. She grinned at it's longness. "Another good night's sleep for me then!" She said brightly. Rudolf stepped forward and took another one, long again. Estella drew hers, it was short. She smiled at it grimly, "I'll go move my stuff shall I?" She said. Frida took a deep breath a drew her straw, it was long. They all looked at Sebastion.
"Sorry Seb." Said Juni, handing him the second short straw. "Looks like it's you and Estella tonight."
At ten o'clock the bar closed and the five members of the Happy Hobbit Hotel stood assembled. Estella and Sebastion were presented with two blankets and a pillow each. Their belongings had been moved into the cleaning cupboard and their rooms occupied by guests. When everything was ready, Juni walked off to a cupboard behind the bar and produced a silvery goblet, with strange knot-like tracery around the edges. "Like it?" She asked Sebastion, noticing his gaze,"I found it at a garage sale! The things people have lying around the house!" She stood in the middle of the room and held the goblet out ceremonially for Rudolf to fill it with red wine.
"What's happening?" Whispered Seb to Estella.
"The cup of farewell, its a Rohirrim ritual. It's our tradition to perform it when someone goes to sleep in the park."
"Recieve now this cup and drink in happy hour. Health be with thee in thy going and coming." Said Juni, and proffered the cap to Estella, who drank deeply and then handed it back, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. The cup was then handed to Sebastion and, after a moments hesitation he too drank, draining the cup. He returned it to Juni and Rudolf handed him the wine bottle with the remainder of it's contents sloshing noticeably.
"For the road." He said. And with that, the two turned and made their way out of the hotel, into the cold night air.
Estella and Sebastion made their way up the silent street through pools of light from the street lamps until they reached a dark walkway. Nothing was visible through the gloom but Estella turned without hesitating and began to make her way inside. Sebastion caught her arm. "Are you really sure we should go in there?"
"I've done it plenty of times before." Said Estella, taking a swig from the wine bottle. Sebastion eyed the walkway with suspicion. "Maybe you should have some of this," She said, handing him the bottle. He took a nervous sip. "Now let's go." Said Estella and plunged into the darkness, disappearing within seconds, soon the sound of her footsteps were the only trace of her left. Hurriedly Sebastion followed her in.
"I don't understand why we can't just share one of their rooms." He said to her as they walked.
"Are you kidding?! Rudolf snores like a fog horn, Frida mutters in her sleep all night and Juni sleep walks. Believe me, you don't want to be in the same room as her, she stepped on my face once. She has to lock the door every night in case she goes wandering down the corridor and out into the street! Trust me, we'll get a much better night's sleep out here than we will in there with any of them, and there won't be any arguments the next morning either." Their footsteps echoed along the walkway.
"When I took the job I had no idea what it was going to involve," Muttered Sebastion to himself.
"Are you," She asked quietly, "Starting to regret it then?"
"No," Said Sebastion quickly, then, "Well, maybe a little. But I'm sure that's just 'cause I'm still new."
"Hmmmm..." At that moment they emerged from the walkway into the park. It was lit around the edges by street lamps and was, much to Sebastion's surprise and relief, completely deserted.
"So are we going to sleep on benches or something?"
"No way! They're so uncomfortable!" Cried Estella, striding forward and inspecting the ground, occasionally reaching down and giving it a push with her palm. "Too firm," She was muttering,"A bit muddy here, hmm, that feels alright, nice and springy, dry.." She looked up,"No tree cover, we'll be woken at the crack of dawn. She moved on, testing the ground, finally she arrived under a large oak tree. Then, from her pocket she produced a compass. "We should sleep on the west side, with luck the tree will shade us from the sunrise, don't want to be woken up that early."
"When do we want to be woken up?"
"Oh, Juni or someone will come and get us in the morning when it's time." She said carelessly. She threw a blanket down on the ground and herself on top of it, pulling the other over the top of that and propping the pillow behind her head. Sebastion hastily followed suit.
"I have a question." Said Sebastion.
"Why are you so obsessed with Lord of the Rings?"
"It's a great story," She said, "And besides, they're the only stories I've ever read, the tales of Middle Earth."
Sebastion snorted, "What? Didn't your father ever read you any bedtime stories?" There was a sniff in the darkness next to him.
"I wouldn't know." Said Estella.
"Oh my god, I forgot." There was silence, then...
"If they close the hotel down, I'll have nowhere to go." Said Estella. They were silent for a while then,"Will you tell me a bedtime story then?"
"Oh, er.." Sebastion cleared his throat,"Alright then, hem, yes, well, once upon a time..." She laughed.
"No, a true story, I have a feeling you're terrible at making them up."
"You're right." He said, "Alright. Once, almost twenty years ago, there was a little boy and a little girl. They always used to play games together, spy games. They'd follow people around, then ambush them when they least expected...except one day one of the games went wrong, and the kid they were ambushing...well, she died." There was absolute silence next to him, Sebastion kept going, "The boy told the girl not to tell anyone what had happened, but she did. She told everyone that the boy had meant to kill that little kid, and they all believed her, so he was sent away to an institution, and she got off with absolutely nothing. They never saw each other again. But when the boy grew up, he found that he could not escape the past. Everywhere he went, what had happened that day was on his record, and people always held it against him. He couldn't find any friends, or get a decent job. He was broke, almost to the point of starvation. So he changed his name, to escape it."
"And, what was his name?" Asked Estella quietly.
"His name used to be Matthew Dunlop, before he changed it." Estella turned silently in the dark and looked at him. She was no longer smiling.
"Estella, there's something I have to tell you." Said Sebastion, "I lied to you. I'm not on the run from the police. But I have been framed. You do understand that, don't you? I never meant to kill anyone, it wasn't my fault. You know that, don't you?" Estella nodded silently. "And you won't tell anyone, what I've told you here? It's our secret?" She nodded her head again, slowly.
"That's good." He said, turning back and looking up at the sky. "We've both just gotta put the past behind us, you and me." Neither of them spoke again that night. They both had too much to think about.
Rise and shine!
Make your bed
And then, make mine!"
Sebastion opened his eyes to see a blur of purple locks sweep past his face as Frida straightened up from reciting her rhyme in his ear by way of 'good morning.' He arose, stretched and squinted as the morning light streamed in through the leaves above him. Estella was lying on her back, looking up at the sunlit leaves dreamily. "So beautiful, like the Elessar Stone." She murmured.
"What was that?" He asked.
"Nothing," She said, getting up and looking around, "Gosh, what time is it?"
"Nearly nine o'clock."
"Nine o'clock?! You've let us sleep far too late."
"I know, but Juni seemed to think you would need more sleep, though I can't think why. Eventually, Rudolf said he couldn't cope with only one waitress and sent me off to get you, which was pretty stupid really seeing as now he has no waitresses at all. So either we've got a lot of angry customers waiting for us back there, or he's taking the orders and bringing out the food himself. I think it was the stress that made him lose his rationality, not that he ever had much in the first place."
"We'd better get back there," Said Estella, looking worried.
"Yes, he'll have a nervous breakdown soon for sure," Said Frida thoughtfully, making no attempt to hurry. "It's Friday night tonight!" She said excitedly as they made their way back to the hotel. "And we're up to watching the Return of the King! At last!!" Estella smiled quietly to herself and did not reply. "What on Earth's the matter with you two?" Said Frida.
"It's not nothing," Said Frida, "You're even stranger than usual, and that's saying something!"
"I'm just tired." Said Estella. Frida did not seem at all satisfied with that explanation, but at that moment they turned into their street and saw Juni standing outside the hotel looking rather lost and confused. They quickened their pace until they reached the outside. Juni seemed not to notice their arrival but was staring at the mailbox like it was a death sentence.
"Juni?" Asked Sebastion.
"What?" Said Juni, awaking from her thoughts and looking rather startled and confused, "Oh, you're back."
"Juni, what are you doing?"
"Oh, I came out to check the mail," She said in a strange, small voice, "But now that I'm here, I don't think I want to." They all turned and looked at the mailbox, at a loss as to what Juni could possibly be talking about, but it seemed to be causing Juni a considerable amount of distress.
Finally Estella said, "Come on, let's go inside. Whatever's in there can wait until tomorrow surely. Remember, it's Friday night tonight! Return of the King at last!" They went inside and Juni seemed to come to herself again.
"You'd better get back into the kitchen, Rudolf's been pulling his hair out in there."
"I tell you it was Eowyn who slayed the Witch-King of Angmar!!" Screamed Rudolf in heated debate with Frida. It was Friday night and they were in the middle of watching the Return of the King.
"Yes but not without Merry's help! If he hadn't stabbed him first she never would have had a chance!!" Frida screamed back equally as loud and furious, though they were standing only three paces away from each other."
"You guys, shut up, I'm trying to watch this!" Said Estella but her pleas were drowned out by the movie, turned up full blast, and the screams of Frida and Rudolf that were even louder to be heard over the top of it.
"How can you say that?!! Are you mad? Are you blind?!!" Frida was saying, "I tell you you're racist against hobbits, you should be ashamed of yourself!"
"I am not racist!!" Cried Rudolf. Frida ran forward and grabbed his chef's hat, putting it onto her own head and running around the room, taunting him. "Give that back!! Give it back!! Juni, tell Frida to give me my hat back!"
"I'm sorry Rudolf but if you insist the slaying of the Witch-King wasn't a joint effort I can't help you." Said Juni from the corner. She watched the scene with a strange sense of distance, as though it was a movie she was watching without being part of. She had spent the last hour and a half trying to lose herself and her anxiety in the Lord of the Rings but for the first time in her life had failed abysmally at it. She concentrated instead on her companions. Frida was being chased around the room, hat still on singing "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer" at full volume, much to the fury of Rudolf himself, no one hated that song more than he did.
In front of the screen were Estella and Sebastion, together as usual. "They've been awfully close recently." Thought Juni to herself. There was something strange about the both of them, she got the feeling they were hiding something from her. She made a mental note to confront Estella about it tomorrow, it wasn't like her to keep secrets and if the hotel was going to run smoothly in the future then...And then Juni remembered how little hope there was of a future for them. Tonight felt like the last night of her life, like tomorrow was the date scheduled for the apocalypse.
She looked around at her four staff members and closest friends again and realised that they were acting too as if this was the wild party the night before some terribly battle. The chatter and laughter had an intense energy about it and yet was at the same time strained. Juni knew their thoughts must be the same as hers. She'd estimated that it wouldn't take more than a week for the Board to send a notification of inspection. Every day she had checked the letterbox with increasing dread until finally today, she knew that it had to be in there. It was probably out there now. Chilling in the cold night air, squatting in with the other letters like some evil toad. Tomorrow they would have to face their doom, and they were all desperately trying to enjoy what would probably be some of their last happy moments in the Happy Hobbit Hotel.
Suddenly the bar felt to Juni like a prison cell. She stood up abruptly. "I'm going to bed." She said shortly, and left the room.
Episode Ten"It's here. Our doom is upon us at last." Said Juni, who had a tendency to be very melodramatic in dark moments. It was lunchtime Saturday, and she had finally worked up the courage to check the mailbox. As all had suspected, in it was a letter from the Hotel Inspections Board. Juni sat down with a thud in the nearest chair ashen faced, the letter held limply in one hand, torn envelope falling to the floor.
"When?" Asked Rudolf quietly.
"Day after tomorrow." Said Juni forlornly.
"Well, that's still time right?" Said Frida doubtfully. Juni shook her head, "No money," She brought out the now very, very long To Do List from her pocket and looked at it, "No money." She said again. Sebastion sat in the corner brooding.
"Isn't there anything we can do?" Said Estella hopelessly.
"Nothing that could save us, but there is," Juni swallowed, "Something which had occurred to me. The inspector will want to look in all the rooms."
"That's ok, we can move our stuff, somewhere, we'll find somewhere."
"No, it's not that, he'll want to look in all the rooms, every single one."
Suddenly a look of fear crossed Frida's face. "Room 13!" She breathed. Juni nodded silently. "We can't go in there!! Ten people have died in that room Juni, in a row! That's no coincidence! If we open that room again bad things will happen I'm telling you!"
"We don't have any choice," Said Juni. "We'll have to open it up, clean it up and have it ready by Monday." They all sat around the bar in silence, no one wanting to volunteer to go in. Eventually Estella stood up,
"I will go," She said in a firm voice. Juni looked at her.
"Are you sure? You don't know what it was like. You weren't here when it was still open," Her face blanched, "You never saw the bodies."
Estella nodded. "I know." The she turned to Sebastion, "Are you coming?"
"I don't think I will actually." He said, rather coldly. Estella looked at him, but he would not meet her gaze, staring instead determinedly at the opposite corner of the room. The others were now looking at Estella, as a strange look crossed her face.
"I'll go with you." Said Rudolf suddenly. Rising to his feet, he took Estella by the arm and led her out of the room.
"I don't understand," Said Estella quietly, looking back as they made their way up the corridor.
"Estella," Said Rudolf seriously, "I have to warn you, I don't know why, but there's something that's not right about him. He seems very, secretive. And recently, so do you. I think Juni's noticed it too. Is there anything the matter?"
"No, I don't know what you're talking about," Said Estella untruthfully.
"I think you do." Said Rudolf, "But if you don't want to talk about it, fine, don't, it's none of my business."
Estella looked doubtful and bit her lip, bit didn't say anything. They rounded the corner and there, halfway down the row of doors, stood Room 13, it's presence suddenly ominous in the afternoon light. They stopped.
"You go first," Said Estella shakily.
"No, no, no, you!" Replied Rudolf. They both stood silently for several moments longer, then Estella began to walk down towards the door and, emboldened by Estella, Rudolf followed.
"Estella," Said Rudolf as they reached the door, "How are we meant to get in without breaking the door down? I'm no expert on inspections, but I've got the feeling that a broken door won't go down any better than a room locked up for five years because of an unlucky number."
"Hmmmm..." Said Estella, looking at the door dubiously. "All the keys were destroyed, weren't they?"
"I don't suppose you know how to pick a lock, do you?"
"Neither do I....Hold on..." Estella stepped forward and examined the lock. It was a heavy bolt slid across the opening and attached with a padlock. "Do you have a screwdriver?"
"Not on me, no."
"But you can get one?"
"I think I've got one in my room," He said doubtfully.
"Could I borrow it?"
Rudolf ran off and returned several minutes later with a small screwdriver. They then proceeded, taking turns unscrewing the screws with the terribly undersized driver, to remove the bolt entirely from the outside of the door. Then Estella reached out, grabbed the handle and pulled. Much to their surprise the door burst open in a cloud of dust and they both burst into fits of coughing, eyes streaming and sneezing as it attacked their nostrils. There was much waving of hands and choking before it finally cleared. Then they poked their heads in tentatively, and stepped inside.
The windows had been boarded up and the bed stripped, but most of the furniture was still there and intact, though caked in five years of undisturbed dust free to accumulate. As they walked inside the floorboards creaked like some haunted house in a horror movie, and their feet made footprints in the dust on the floor.
"Wow," Breathed Estella, "No one's set foot in this place for five years."
"Yeah, it's going to be a nightmare for Sebastion to clean." Said Rudolf, running his hand along a table leaving a great line in the dust where it passed, then brushing the dust off his finger in disgust. "This place is completely filthy!"
For Estella the legendary Room 13 held a strange fascination, she stepped carefully around the room peering at the walls and the furniture and wondering if the ghosts of the people who had died still haunted the deserted hotel room.
"Be careful," Said Rudolf, "This room has a habit of killing people through nasty accidents."
"I wonder if the inspector should be worried about coming into this room?" Said Estella thoughtfully, "Imagine if he got killed whilst inspecting it, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Bad thing." Said Rudolf, "It'd seal our fate beyond doubt if the inspector actually died whilst in the hotel." He turned around and looked up at the millions of cobwebs on the ceiling. Suddenly behind him there was an incredibly crashing sound and Estella screamed. He whipped around. She was gone, there was a hole in the floor where she had been standing only seconds earlier.
"Estella!!!!" He screamed, running over to the hole, bending down and sticking his head inside. "Estella!!! Oh my god, Estella answer me!! Say something, are you alright?! Are you hurt?! Speak to me!"
"I'm ok!" Her voice drifted up shakily, though he could see nothing of her below. There came a scraping sound below as she pulled herself up slowly, rather bruised and battered, "Ugh!! What is this place? It stinks!"
"Stay there!" Called Rudolf, "I'll go and get the others! Just stay where you are, I'll be right back!" And he dashed off out of the room.
Rated SHR for Some Harmless Ridiculousness
"Wait!! Rudey! Rudey!! Don't leave me here!" Estella's voice echoed eerily as she called, but it was too late, Rudolf was already gone. She hugged herself and looked around, there was almost no light from above as the windows of Room 13 were boarded up but there came a slant of pale light from through the floor above and as Estella's eyes began to adjust themselves to the gloom she began to discern her surroundings. She appeared to be in some kind of wide underground passageway coming in from the right and ending beneath the room. She sat down on the ground nervously, waiting for Rudolf to return with the others.
In the empty silence suddenly there came a noise, a scuffling sound from the tunnel. Estella sprang to her feet in panic and looked around her. "Hello?" She called nervously, "Is there anyone down here?" The scuffling noise started again, faster and more confident now it echoed around her in the dark. The sound began to grow louder and louder until Estella realised with sickening panic that it was the sound of shuffling footsteps. Estella turned and looked up at the opening through which she had recently fallen and began desperately scrabbling at the sides of the underground tunnel but to no avail. She jumped desperately but it was too high for her to reach.
And all the while the footsteps were getting closer and closer. Estella stopped trying to escape but turned around to meet them. Out of the darkness emerged the shape of a man, bent and limping, she could not see his face, but felt suddenly that there was no danger. "Hello?" She said uncertainly. The shuffling stopped and she heard the man sigh with relief.
"Who are you?" Came his voice, raspy from disuse, "How did you get here?"
"I'm Estella..." Said Estella uncertainly, "I er...fell through the floor."
"You sound familiar, do I know you?"
"I don't think so..." Said Estella, she had no recollection of knowing a bent limping man with a raspy voice but then, her memory was hardly a reliable source. The man started to shuffle forward again, and she began to make out more of his features, his hair seemed incredibly long and tangled, his clothes ragged, his features gaunt. She frowned, trying to see more clearly and then suddenly, he stepped into the light. She saw his face, hollow with starvation and sickly white from lack of sunlight. He looked as though he was middle aged, though with all the hair and the gauntness and paleness it was hard to tell. But as he peered at her his face started to do a strange thing. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open and surprise and delight.
"Kaia!!!" He cried, "Kaia!! My daughter!! You found me!! How did you get here?!"
Estella froze as her heart did a strange flippety jolt and something in the back of her mind stirred. "That name," She said shakily, "Say it again?"
"Kaia!" The man said again, "It is you, Kaia?"
And suddenly memory hit Estella with a blasting sound in her ears and she took a step backwards as though she had taken a blow. The darkness in the back of her mind was lifting as the past streamed back into the light with a furious energy. Memories of childhood, of going to school, of friends and family, nineteen years of life pouring back into her mind. "Father!!" She cried.
"Kaia!! It is you!! You've come at last!! How did you get here?"
"I heard that you'd gone missing at the hotel," Said Estella (Ok, so we know I should really be calling her Kaia now but it's just too confusing), "So I came to look for you, as soon as I could..." The story was unfolding in her mind like a book she was reading, images of the past flashing in her mind. "I came to the town, and found the street where the hotel was. I was walking down the road when suddenly I saw it, there, across the street. But as I began to cross the road," She shook her head to clear it as her memory started to falter, "I began to, cross the road...when I saw a man coming out of the hotel...he had a hood on...and he turned and looked at me as he began to walk away...I held his gaze...and as I stepped out onto the road...I tripped...and hit my head on a concrete post." She rubbed her head as the memory of it returned.
"But where have you been all this time?"
"I lost my memory, I've been working here, in the Happy Hobbit Hotel, as a waitress. What happened to you?!! They said you'd disappeared, bed not even slept in, have you been down here the whole time?!"
"Yes," Said her father, his face darkening, "I was left down here to die. The night I stayed here, I was about to go to bed, when suddenly a strange man came out of a trap-door in the floor and knocked me out! When I woke up, I was down here, and he was there too. He said he was going to leave me here to rot, then he went along the passage, I followed him, he seemed to know the way out. But when he reached the end of the tunnel, he climbed out a ladder, and locked me in before I could follow. Before he went, he asked me if I had any last requests. I asked him his name..."
"But how have you survived down here for so long?"
"I ate dead rats mostly, there's plenty of them in the tunnel," Said her father, Estella looked and felt as though she might throw up,"And there's a leak in the pipe that supplies your water, did you know there was mud coming through a couple of days back?"
"Don't remind me," Said Estella ,"I don't understand, who would do such a thing?"
"He said his name was, Matthew Dunlop, and the desire for revenge on him is what has helped me survive all these years."
Estella gasped. "Oh my god!! Sebastion was the Room 13 serial killer?!! But, why? Why bother? And why come back?" Then she breathed in sharply. "Juni was the little girl in the story!! He's come for her!" She turned to her father, "We have to get out of here!" She cried, "NOW!!"
Rated MBL for Mildly Bad Language
"Juni!! Frida!! There's been a...Hey!! That's my best carving knife put it back!!" Rudolf came bursting into the kitchen to find Sebastion holding the knife casually in his hand.
"Oh, but I don't want to put it back," Said Sebastion lazily. There was something about the way he said it that sounded terribly wrong to Rudolf. He looked around and noticed the way Juni and Frida were pressed against the opposite wall with looks of terror on their faces and thought there was something terribly wrong with that too.
"Who are you?" He said to Sebastion slowly, not taking his eyes off the knife.
"Ask her," Said Sebastion, pointing the knife at Juni. Rudolf looked at Juni. She shook her head frantically.
"I don't know what he's talking about." She said in a frightened voice.
"Don't you know who I am?" Said Sebastion, "Haven't you guessed yet? Think Juni, think very hard. How many people in your past can there be who have thought of nothing but revenge on you since they were six years old?"
Juni's eyes widened in surprise, "Matthew...Matthew Dunlop?"
"You're not as dumb as you look," Said Sebastion (Ok, so I know I should start calling him Matthew now but it would be too confusing) mockingly, quoting Juni from the first day he had arrived.
"Why are you doing this to me?" She asked in a would-be-calm voice.
"Because you framed me."
"I never framed you! I told the truth..."
"I never meant to kill that girl, you framed me!!" Interrupted Sebastion savagely. "It was only a game, it wasn't serious!"
"You were banging her head on the concrete Matthew I don't think it gets any more serious than that! Stop kidding yourself you meant to do it and you know it!" Sebastion was shaking his head at her.
"You don't understand, they never understand. But now I'm going to make you suffer like I have suffered all my life since that day. Five years ago, I thought I had you. The Room 13 murders, I thought the manager of the hotel would be the obvious suspect, I thought my revenge was in the bag, but then the police were onto me, and I was forced to give it up, you once again getting off free whilst I was driven away. But not this time."
"That was you?!" Said Frida suddenly, who had been silent until now apart from the occasional frightened sqeak.
"Yes," Said Sebastion, "But my plan failed. I had thought then that I would give up, and tried to forget revenge, but always, always the memory of what you did to me was there, taunting me. So now I have come back to finish it once and for all. You can forget about what you're going to do now that you can't be a waitress in this damn hotel," He said to Frida, "You're going to die tonight, and Juni here will be the one framed this time."
"You're derranged!" Said Juni, "You're crazy!! You really believe that don't you? That I framed you?! I was six years old and you..."
"Shut up!!!!!" Shouted Sebastion at her, "Keep your mouth shut or you'll be joining them!"
"But wouldn't that ruin your revenge?" Said Juni. He ignored her.
"You," He said to Rudolf, who was lingering by the doorway torn between escape and loyalty. "Get over there, next to the freak."
"I have a name you know!" Said Frida as Rudolf, his own carving knife drawing too close to his neck for comfort hastened to obey.
"You're not..." Said Juni, "You're not really going to kill them are you?"
"Yes." Said Sebastion, "But don't worry, you can watch. Why don't you sit down, make yourself comfortable? We've got all night. They're going to die slowly," He said, swiping his knife a hairsbreadth from Frida and Rudolf's faces, they both jumped backwards, "And painfully." He said, swiping at them again. Frida began to shake.
"Scared are you?" Said Sebastion to her. "Why don't you go last then, see what's involved first." He turned to Rudolf, "Ready to die?"
Rudolf tried to look defiant, "If you take pleasure in such things then I pity you," He said, deciding a Frodo quote would make fitting last words.
"You will not take pleasure in this," Said Sebastion, stabbing his knife down into a copy of The Silmarillion lying on the bench next to him, "I pity you." He began to advance towards them slowly, raising his knife into the air...TWACK!!!!!
"That was my favorite copy you arsehole!" Said Estella from the doorway as she looked down at the unconcious Sebastion, Juni's baseball bat in one hand, a look of absolute disgust and loathing on her face.
The first thing Sebastion (or Matthew which I thought I would remind you I should be calling him but have decided not to) noticed when he wandered back into conciousness was that his hands were tied up behind him. The he noticed that his hands were tied up behind him around the back of a chair. From this important point he deduced that he must be sitting in a chair, which would account from the strain he was feeling down his back and neck, which he realised he could relieve by lifting his head off his chest. As soon as he tried to do this however his head decided it had other plans and told him so by throbbing painfully. And so it was that Sebastion groaned and the other occupants of the room were made aware of his recent return to conciousness.
"Weclome back, Matthew." Said a familiar voice, though no longer friendly. He opened his eyes and focussed on the face he had long plotted revenge on in front of him. He groaned again and straightened up, squinting at his surroundings. He was still in the kitchen of the Happy Hobbit Hotel. Leaning against the door, arms crossed was Rudolf. Sitting on the bench cutting, or rather chopping a very starved and sun-deprived man's hair who looked strangely familiar to Sebastion was Frida. And standing behind Juni, fixing him with a stare not unsimilar to the stare one might fix a large and persistent spider they had a mind to step on was Estella.
"See, Juni, here is a snake!" Said Rudolf, choosing another quote, this time from Gandalf, "With safety you cannot take it with you, nor can you leave it behind. To slay it would be just. But it was not always as it now is. Once it was a man."
"Once," Said Juni, "A terribly long time ago."
"Are you going to kill me?" Asked Sebastion.
Juni put on a look of consideration, "Hmmm...no." She said. "No, we aren't murderers like you Matthew."
"What are you going to do with me then?"
Juni smiled at him mischevously, "We're going to rob you blind, Matthew." He looked at her. "You see, I don't think that sob story you told Estella here is true. I don't think you were, what was it Estella?"
"Broke, almost to the point of starvation," Said Estella behind her, not moving her eyes from his face.
"Yes. I don't think you were skint when you got here. I think you've been doing very well for yourself these past five years, Matthew. And you want to know why I think that?"
"Because the day you arrived here, I noticed, hanging out of your suitcase was a sleeve, with a gold cuff-link on it. Someone who was 'broke to the point of starvation' wouldn't have gold cuff-links. They wouldn't even have cuff-links at all, they'd be lucky to have a sleeve. So I think you've been up to some money-making in your time away, and I think that you feel inclined to generously donate all your money to this fine establishment." She leaned forward and reached into his back pocket, casually removing his wallet and weighing it in her hands. "Very heavy," She said, opening it up curiously. "And what's this? Two, no, three credit cards! And an ATM card, and...seven-hundred dollars!! Wow, that is a generous donation Matthew. But you know what? I think you want to give us even more than that."
Frida suddnely grinned, put down her scissors and hurried over. "Shall I do it, Juni?" She asked.
"Certainly, if you like." Said Juni, smiling back at her. "Shirt, jacket and pants I think to start with. Then later we can see what's in his suitcase." Frida giggled manically and began to strip Sebastion/Matthew of his clothes and dignity, dropping each item to the floor delicately into a heap. Juni turned to the man with the gaunt appearance and raggedy clothes. "I know they've been defiled by this flithy creature, but would you like to have these clothes until we find something better for you?"
Sebastion, shivering in his underwear and still tied to the chair, glared as the man accepted the clothes, glared back at him, and went out of the room to change. "Now!" Said Juni brightly, "We have a more long-term plan for you but for the moment we need to get you out of the way before the guests start arriving tonight. Can't have any psyhcopathic murderers running around the hotel when there are guests here can we? Shall we Estella?"
"My pleasure," Said Estella. They walked forward, taking an arm each and hoisted Sebastion, hands still firmly bound, out of his chair and escorted him down the corridor to Room 13, where they proceeded to drop him, and not too gently, down through the hole in the floor. Estella brushed her hands lightly.
"Back where you belong." She said, then they turned on their heels and walked out of the room, locking and barricading the door behind them.
Rated VRTCSBP for Violent References to Certain Sensitive Bodily Parts
As the last of the customers left the bar to take to their beds that night, Rudolf, Frida and Estella finished up their work and looked at each other, before silently walking into the bar. Juni and Estella's father were there waiting for them. They all sat down. "I think now we have some catching up to do." Said Juni, looking at Estella, "You didn't get a chance to explain to us earlier, what on earth happened to you today?"
"Well," Began Estella, "After I fell through the floor of Room 13 and Rudolf ran off to get you, I met my father, the tenth person to stay in Room 13. He'd been locked down there by Seb, I mean Matthew, and I'd come looking for him, but I had an accident on the way over and that's how I lost my memory. But today, it all came back to me at last! We realised that Seb, I mean Matthew, was the Room 13 killer, which was bad. We knew we had to get out and warn you right away, so I climbed up onto Dad's shoulders and he helped me out. Then I was trying to work out how to pull him out when we heard shouting from the kitchen, so he said to come back for him later and I ran off to see what was going on. I listened through the kitchen door and heard what was going on, so I snuck past and got your baseball bat from under the reception desk, came back into the kitchen and the rest you know."
"And your real name?"
Estella grinned, "Kaia."
"Wow," Said Frida, "That's so cool!!"
"And your accent?"
"We've travelled around the world so much, ever since Kaia was a baby, that she has a mixture, an absolutely unique accent," Said her father proudly. Juni turned to him.
"I can't tell you how sorry I am that you've been imprisoned under our hotel for five years and we never noticed. We really do deserve to be closed down."
Estella's father shook his head, "That is no ones fault but the man who has now taken my place." He said, "Do not blame yourself for what happened, it's finished now."
"Juni," Said Frida, "Before we go any further, are there any other psychopathic serial killers in your past we should know about?"
"Apart from you two," She said, looking at Frida and Rudolf, "I have no other connections with people who belong in an assylum."
"Oh, that's a relief!" Said Frida, "So it's only Rudolf that I've got to worry about being murdered by now, is it? By the way, what are we going to do with Matthew?"
"I haven't decided that yet," Said Juni, "We should hand him over to the police, but we haven't got any evidence, and he might tell them we stole from him."
"Why don't we worry about that later," Said Estella.
"I have another question," Said Rudolf, "You disappeared this evening Juni, between eight and nine, where were you?"
Juni smiled, "That brings me to the second item of this meeting. I was thinking this evening, we're not out of the woods yet. The inspection is still the day after tomorrow. So I decided to investigate this afternoon's plunder." She pulled out the bank card they had retrieved from Sebastion's wallet. "I payed our captive a little visit, and then went out to check the account balance." She paused again and looked around, "I don't know what he's been up to these past five years, but after this afternoon I wouldn't put anything past him. At this precise moment our ex-cleaner has One Hundred Thousand Dollars in the bank."
Everyone's mouths dropped open. Juni grinned even wider and continued, "I thought we might use some of the money to get this place up to scratch before the inspection and properly staff the hotel, and then split the remainder between the five of us, what do you think?" They all looked at her flabberghasted, and then, as if on cue, they all began to laugh. It wasn't an evil laugh, or the laugh at a particularly funny joke, it was the laugh of people who realise that all their problems are about to disappear. Juni took out her To Do List and looked at it for the first time knowing that everything on it was now within their budget.
"But how did you get him to give you the pin number?" Asked Estella eventually. Juni shrugged casually.
"I merely informed him that he would be castrated if he didn't tell me." They all began to laugh again.
With thanks to Judy for allowing me to attempt to protray her in literary form.
The next day after the guests had checked out the hotel became a hive of activity. Juni was constantly on the phone. "Hello? Yes I'm interested in having one of your fire alarm sprinkler systems installed please? How soon can you come?...Well I was thinking somewhere in the next hour...Yes...You can?! That's great! I'll see you shortly........Hello? Yes, I need a carpenter to repair some broken floorboards...Not free until lunchtime? How about after lunch? One o'clock? Great." She put down the phone and yelled up the corridor, "Could one of you go move Matthew down the tunnel a little and tape his mouth up so the carpenter doesn't see him?!"
"I'll do it!" Estella called back, throwing down the brush she was using to clean one of the bathrooms.
"Thanks a lot!!" Called Juni back, picking up the phone again, "Hello? I need some kind of security system installed in my hotel today..." Estella made her way down the corridor to Room 13 with a roll of black tape, spent a few minutes removing the furniture barricaded against the door to prevent escape, took the ladder leaning on one side of the room and fed it down the hole she had made herself when the floorboards had so unceremoniously ceased to support her the day before, climbed down and landed lightly on the gravely floor of the tunnel next to Sebastion.
"Estella!! You've come! Please, you know I never meant to kill you, this is all just a big misunderstanding, please, untie me!" Estella looked down on Sebastion, shivering on the floor in naught but his underwear with his hands still tied firmly behind his back.
"Save your breath Matthew, I haven't come to rescue you."
"But...Estella...you have to help me, please, have pity, you can't leave me down here, I, I love you!"
"Matthew." Said Estella, "You murdered ten innocent people, you locked my own father here underground for five years, you lied to me, you plotted to kill two of my best friends and frame my other best friend for their murder, and you think I'm going to untie you because you say that you love me? Give me a break." Sebastion opened his mouth to protest but she reached down firmly and covered it with black tape. Then she picked him up roughly by one foot and dragged him along the tunnel until his pale shivery form was satisfactorially disguised by the gloom. "You're pathetic, I hope you know that." She said, and left him there in the dark.
The day of the inspection dawned bright and clear as a Monday morning. Juni and co. however, had already been up for an hour and were deep in discussion. The hotel had been satisfactorially refitted to the standards of the board, as much as it could be in the space of one day anyway, but they were still incredibly short of staff. "Ok," Said Juni, "Tell me how many people you want in the kitchen Rudey?"
"I need a bare minimum of two kitchen-hands, and a couple more waitresses as well."
"What's wrong with us?!" Said Frida indignantly, "We manage ok."
"We need to give the impression of smooth operation," Said Juni, "And two waitresses doesn't give that impression. And another thing, I'm afraid," She said, lookingly solemnly at Frida, "We're going to have to put you two in waitress uniforms."
"What?!!" Cried Frida, "Uniforms?!! Never!!" Juni turned to Estella, ignoring Frida's indignation completely.
"After breakfast could you go into town and buy them? I'm thinking, black button-up tops, three-quater sleeves, plain black skits and white waist aprons."
"What?!!" Cried Frida again as Estella nodded.
"And try to look more, normal." Said Juni to Frida. Frida merely gaped at her speechlessly, before getting up from the table in a huff and stamping out.
"She'll come round," Said Estella to Juni. "Meanwhile what are we going to do about a cleaner?"
"I could do that," Said Estella's father suddenly. Juni looked as though she was about to hug him.
"Certainly. Only too happy to help."
"Fantastic! That only leaves, two kitchen hands, two waitresses and a receptionist."
"And where are we going to find all of them before four this afternoon?"
"Leave it to me," Said Juni conspiratorially.
At precisely eleven o'clock a chinese girl with short dark hair that could have been red, could have been brown, and could even have possibly been black, was sitting at a picnic table in the park, her baggy-panted legs, complete with a pink tail hanging out the back pocket, propped up on the table eating Mongolian lamb out of a plastic take-away container with one hand, clicking away on her mobile phone with the other. She looked up as a young woman with short brown hair approached her and looked at her warily.
"Hey kid," Said the woman, whose name was Juni.
"Excuse me? I'm not a kid! I'm sixteen years old." Said the girl, whose name was Judy.
"Ok then," Said Juni, "Hey sixteen-year-old. You wanna make twenty bucks?"
Judy considered for a moment. "No," She said, "I wanna make fifty bucks."
"Ok," Said Juni, fishing in her wallet, "Have you got any friends who want to make fifty bucks too?"
With thanks to Emma, Judy, Sylvia, Ersa and Mona for allowing me to attempt to portray them in literary form. I hope it is to your liking, my friends, and remember, it's all in fun, don't take anything personally...please!
Estella walked through the front door of the Happy Hobbit Hotel with four waitressing uniforms and two kitchen-hand outfits and stopped dead.
"Hello," Said the two girls sitting behind the counter in unisen then laughed and stopped.
"No, you go."
"How about we both go together?"
"Hello," They said again in unisen. "Welcome to the Happy Hobbit Hotel, how may we be of assistance?" Estella stared at them in confusion. One was tall, with red and blonde streaked hair and an uncontrollable giggle (being caused by the fact that she was pretending to be a receptionist) which she was evidently making a considerable but futile effort to smother. The other was shorter, with incredibly long elven brown hair and pointy ears (not prosthetics for those of you who are wondering).
"Who are you?!" Said Estella eventually.
"We're the receptionists." Said the giggling one whose name was Jacqui.
"And er...how long have you been working here?"
"I've been working here for six months," Recited the elven one promptly, whose name was Emma. "But Jacqui here has been working here for a whole year!"
"I see," Said Estella with amusement, "And, how old are you?"
"Nineteen," They said together, a little too quickly.
"And you have proof of that?"
"Er...Yes!" They said, reaching under the desk and producing ID cards. Estella looked at them.
"Very good forgeries, did Juni give them to you?" The two pretend receptionists looked dismayed. "Don't worry, I work here." Said Estella, before handing her own personal bag of make-up. "Here, put some of this on, it'll help you look older." Emma and Jacqui began to explore the bag with interest. Emma pulled out an eye pencil and looked at it dubiously.
"Do you know how to put this on?" She asked her friend.
"Er....I could try and work it out..." She replied, reaching for it, "Here, close your eyes." She held the eye pencil clumsily, tongue between teeth and tentatively reached forward to start applying it.
"Wait!" Said Estella, sensing disaster, "How about I go get someone to help you with that?" She ran off down the corridor and knocked on the door of Frida's room.
"Hold on!!!" She called from inside. There was much rattling and bumping inside the room before the door half-opened, hit Frida's toe painfully and slammed back in Estella's face. There came an anguished cry from inside before the door opened again. Frida, dressed in a bath robe was rubbing at her wet hair furiously with a towel which was...
"Blonde!" Said Estella in shock.
"Juni said I should try to look more normal," Said Frida sulkily. "The sacrafices I make for this place."
"Listen, there's some girls in reception that need your help to look nineteen," Said Estella before dashing back off down the corridor. Suddenly she turned around and ran back. "Oh! And put this on!" She said, handing Frida the plain black uniform.
"Do I have to wear this?!!" She cried, looking at it aghast.
"Yes!! It's only for one afternoon!" Estella called on her way to the kitchen. She reached the door, opened it, and was confronted with the her third shock of the day. The scene before her was one of complete chaos. Their kitchen had been invaded by teenagers. In one corner stood a girl with light brown hair and gold dangly earrings giving Rudolf an incredibly poisonous look. He himself looked quite frightened as he said, "Listen," paused briefly and consulted a list of names, "Mona, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to take the earrings off..."
Looking at her order pad and muttering to herself was a Korean girl (Sylvia) and beside her was Judy who we've already met. "And you'll never guess what Joseph was wearing!" Sylvia was saying to Judy, "He was wearing a baby blue top and beige pants!!" She gave a little giggle as Judy moved away to stand behind another girl with short dark hair (Ersa) who was the only one actually doing what she was meant to be doing which was chopping vegetables. Suddenly Judy squatted to the ground, clasped her hands together, forefingers pointed outwards like a child pretending to have a gun and shouted "Pucca!!!!!"
Ersa screamed, dropped her knife and ran out of Judy's reach to hide behind the bench laughing uncontrollably. Sylvia looked up from her daydreams about Joseph and his outfits, "Judy!! Stop terrorising my daughter!" She cried.
"Your daughter?!" Said Mona, who had just walked over, "Sylvia, Ersa is two months older than you."
"Er..." Said Estella, rather frightened to interupt. "Which ones of you are being waitresses today?" Judy and Sylvia raised their hands, "Right, could you put these on please?" She said, handing them the uniforms. They took them without complaint and wandered off chattering noisily. "So I suppose you two are kitchen hands?" She said to Mona and Ersa, handing them their outfits for the day. Then she left the kitchen for the bar, hoping to find some peace. Her hopes were in vain though as she walked through the door she saw Juni, sitting at a table making a show of looking at a menu and Frida, still drying her hair with one hand, now wearing the uniform and holding her order pad in the other, walking towards her as though she were a customer.
"Hello, are you ready to order Miss?" Said Frida politely.
"Not yet thankyou," Said Juni.
"Oh," Said Frida, and seemed at a loss.
"Go away and come back in five minutes," Said Juni in an undertone, not looking up from her menu. Frida walked away. "Ok, five minutes is up." Said Juni more loudly. Frida walked back again.
"Are you ready to order now miss?"
"Yes thankyou," Said Juni, looking up. "I'd like the Creamy Mushrooms Fettucinne please."
"Right," Said Frida, making a note on her pad. There was another pause.
"Any drinks with that?" Said Juni again in an undertone.
"Any drinks with that?" Asked Frida.
"Yes, a cappacino thankyou."
"Oh Juni!! You know I can't make those!! Ask for something else!!"
"Don't worry, just get Estella to make it for you if anyone orders one. Just say, 'Anything else?'"
"Anything else?" Asked Frida.
"No thankyou, that will be all."
"Right," Said Frida and walked away.
"That was great," Said Juni, "Now let's do it again."
"Do I have to?!!"
"Yes!! You've worked as a waitress for five years! It's about time you learnt how to do the job properly!" Frida looked mutinous, "Frida," Said Juni more gently, "Please do this for me." Frida looked at the floor sulkily, "I have a surprise for you at the end." Frida's face lit up.
"Is it a good surprise or a bad surprise?!"
"A good surprise. Now, shall we go again?"
"Yes!!" Said Frida, skipping back to her position behind the bar. Estella left the room and looked at her watch, two hours to go until the inspection. She took several deep, calming breaths, and hurried off to check on their receptionists.
"What is it?!!!"
"What happened to all the food I told you to buy, Frida?!! Half of it's missing!!!"
"I swear I put it all in the trolley!!!"
"Well it's not here..."
"Well I don't...wait...oh no!!"
"What?! What have you done?!!"
"I think I put it in someone else's trolley!"
With half an hour to go until the inspection the tension in the Happy Hobbit Hotel was building up. All their pretend-staff were nervously running over their fictional employment details supplied by Juni whilst being given a crash course in waitressing/kitchen-handing/recpetionism by Estella. Rudolf was striding up and down the kitchen shouting at people and checking everything was in place and clean and working and then double checking that everything was in place and clean and working. At the bar Juni was taking deep breaths and practising showing around an imaginary inspector in the air in front of her, trying very hard to smile and be charming and not throw up. Under the pressure Frida had even stopped giggling and practical joking and instead was running around making whining noises as Rudolf barked orders at her, the latest being to return to the supermarket and retrieve the misplaced food items.
As Frida ran off out the back door there came a sudden chime as the front door opened. "Hello," Came two voices in unisen from recpetion, "Welcome to the Happy Hobbit Hotel, how may we be of assistance?"
"I'm looking for the manager, a Miss June Carlton?"
"Oh my god!!" Cried Juni, "He's early!!!" Everyone's eyes widened, Estella grabbed the papers with the fake emplyment stories of the girls trying to memorise them and shoved them in the oven as Rudolf cried, "Get to work!!" as Juni ran out the door and, puffing, into reception.
"Hello!!" She said, trying to look calm and composed,"You must be the inspector. You've caught me a little unprepared I'm afraid," She said, falling back onto Lord of the Rings quotes in times of nervousness, "We weren't expecting you for another half hour."
"Yes, I thought I'd come and take you by surprise." He said cheerfully, chuckling to himself. Juni tried to laugh as though it were a wonderful joke but it sounded rather forced and stopped quickly.
"Er..So what would you like to see first?"
"I'll have a look at the rooms first, then I think I'll observe the kitchen for a while, see how they run during the busy hour and then, if you're not too busy of course, perhaps you could join me for dinner and we will discuss the running of the hotel in general."
"Certainly," Said Juni, and, trying not to look like she would rather run screaming in the other direction, led him off down the corrdior. As they passed the kitchen the door silently opened and the gaggle of teenage girls, Rudolf, red-faced as well as red-haired today, and Estella, peered silently after them. They closed the door again. "The suspense is killing me!" Said Estella quietly, sliding down the wall and pulling at her plaits whilst Mona, Ersa, Judy and Sylvia lapsed into a private conversation about Korean popstars and Mona's disinterest in them.
Suddenly Frida burst through the door, clutching a stitch in her stomach and dropping the rest of the shopping on the floor exhausted. "I got back as quick as I could, how long until the inspector gets here?"
Estella said nothing, but merely escorted Frida to the door again to take a closer look up the corridor. When she saw the inspector Estella had to clap a hand over her mouth to stop her screaming. "He's early!!" She cried as she pulled herself back inside, "Why?!! Why?!!!!!"
"Just relax, it'll all be fine," Said Estella, not sounding at all convinced.
"Fine? Fine?!!!" Cried Rudolf, "We have a serial killer tied up under the floorboards!!! We have a bunch of juvenilles pretending to be staff members!! It couldn't be less fine!!! He's going to close us down, I know it!!"
"It'll all be fine," Estella repeated to herself, "It'll all be fine. It'll all be fine." Frida was rolling around on the floor clutching her stomach with anxiety when the first of the evening customers walked into the bar.
"Mercy!!" She cried, "Something to take my mind off the pain!!" And ran out to take his order.
"That's the most enthusiastic I've ever seen her about her job!!" Said Rudolf in mild astonishment. Soon more people began appearing in the bar and the kitchen began to whir and grind into life, a barely controlled chaos pretending to be a well-oiled machine. Estella surveyed the scene for a moment before she too set to work. "So it begins."
As Estella was hurrying back into the kitchen she nearly tripped over the crouched form of Judy, who was poking a large brown spider sitting on the kitchen floor with a fork, then leaping backwards into the air every time it moved.
"A spider!!" Said Estella in mild horror.
"What should I do with it? Take it outside?" Asked Judy.
"And let it come straight back in again?" Said Frida coming up from behind, "No, never trust any creature related to someone who tried to eat Frodo. That there is the evil spawn of Shelob." She picked up a nearby frypan and executed the spider with a loud clang, just as Samwise might have done if he'd had one big enough on him in Shelob's Lair. The door opened.
"What was that noise? Nothing gone wrong I hope." Frida straightened up and saw the inspector staring at her from across the bench with Juni behind him looking rather nervous. Quick as a flash she kicked the now dead spider to the corner of the room with her toe where it was surruptitiously swept into the bin by Estella.
"Frying pan slipped as I was getting it out," She explained innocently, displaying it as evidence.
"Well, carry on then. Just act as though I'm not here." Said the inspector, inadvertently standing in her way as she attempted to get out of the kitchen. Frida tried to smile politely as she squeezed past him but due to the effort involved in sucking her stomach in to that extent it turned out as more of a grimace than a smile. The inspector however did not seem to notice and instead turned to Rudolf. "Are you the only chef here?"
"For tonight," Came the automatic reply, "A couple of my staff have called in sick, that terrible flu bug going around you know? And we didn't have time to find someone to cover for them, but it doesn't matter. This place is a well-oiled machine and we're coping just fine without them. I hope you don't mind if I cook while I talk?"
"Of course not, now, you understand that it is a regulation to have a water filter on all taps in the kitchen?"
"Naturally," Said Rudolf, pointing to the taps, with the newly installed filters. "The health of our customers is of course a top priority." The quizzing of Rudolf went on for some minutes whilst Juni loitered nervously beside him, interjecting whenever he had a mental blank, before finally, the inspector led Juni out into the bar to sample the food and service. They were served exclusively by Estella, who had been given instructions to keep Frida away from the inspector by any means possible.
By the time they entered the bar the continual need to smile, be charming and, in many cases, lie her face off, was starting to take it's toll on Juni. She was not by nature a smilingly charmingly dishonest person but could, at times, put up a good act, at the cost of complete physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. As they talked and talked she began to grip her cuttlery harder and harder praying not to slip up, praying that he would like the food and would not for some strange reason find a dead cockroach in it and praying that this man, who held power over what had been her whole life for the past five years, would not close the hotel down.
"I don't think Juni's coping too well," Said Estella, looking through the door from the kitchen. "I would hate to be her at the moment."
"Let's just hope he's believing everything she tells him to." Said Rudolf from the bench. He too seemed to be coping none too well. The quiz earlier had had him rather flustered and shaken For the benefit of the inspector he had refrained from venting his stress, which was always quite high, by shouting orders and insults at the top of his lungs, which could often be heard from the bar. However the stress was finding other ways to express itself. He was chopping leeks like they had been singing "Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer" at him and Estella feared that he would cut off one of his fingers by mistake if the inspection didn't end soon. She glanced back out the door.
"They're getting up!!" She said suddenly. The sound of chatter and chopping ceased as everyone stopped to listen. "He's shaking hands with her, Juni's looking pleased, oh my god!! I think we might have passed!! Wait, hold on, they're stopping...no, he's definitely leaving, he's walking towards the door, he's opening the door, HE'S GONE!!!...Juni!!" She called through the door and raised her eyebrows in a question. Everyone held their breath as Juni turned to them through the bar and, grinning stuck both thumbs up. There was an explosion of noise as everyone, even the ones who didn't even care whether the hotel closed or not, screamed for joy. Frida jumped into the air crying, "WAHOOOOO!!!!" and landed on the bench, setting her brand new waitresses skirt on fire.
"FRIDA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Screamed Rudolf. Estella began to laugh as Frida ran screaming around the kitchen trying to put it out, everything was back to normal.
Late at night when Judy and co. had been paid and sent home, Juni, Estella, Rudolf, Frida and Estella's father trooped silently down the hotel corridor to Room 13 to pay their ex-cleaner another visit. One by one they crept silently through the door and, turning their flashlights on, slipped down the ladder underground and along the tunnel.
"What are we going to do with him?" Whispered Rudolf.
"Let's sell him to a drug company," Said Frida, "They're always looking for people to experiment on."
"Frida!" Said Juni, shocked.
"Well, he deserves it."
"That's not the point."
"I left him just down here," Said Estella, at the head of the group. Then she stopped, and shone her torch around the hollow expanse of the tunnel, "Where is he?" Said Estella, looking around.
"Looks like he's escaped," Said Frida disappointedly.
"I swear, I left him here, I left him right here!!" Estella said angrily, "How could he have escaped?!!"
"So does this mean he'll still be out there? Waiting for his chance?" Said Frida dismally.
"Looks like it." Said Rudolf. Juni sighed.
"I suppose there's nothing we can do. He won't get far anyway, he's got nothing but his underwear. I think it'll be a while before we hear from him again." Silently, they turned, and made their way back up into the hotel and back to their rooms.
"Oh!" said Juni suddenly, holding Frida back, "I almost forgot. Here is your surprise." She handed her a creased and crumpled envelope addressed to the Manager of The Happy Hobbit Hotel.
"What is it?'" Asked Rudolf curiously, looking over Frida's shoulder as slowly, carefully, she opened the envelope and unfolded the letter. As Juni and Estella turned the corridor hey heard a long, horrified scream. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"My god!! Is Rudey mad?!" Said Estella looking back, "He'll wake everyone up!! What is wrong with him?!!"
"He lost a bet," Said Juni in amusement. Estella laughed.
"This day is full of surprises!"
"That it is."
Two weeks later, after seeing off yet another young hopeful from yet another job interview, Juni made her way down the corridor of the Happy Hobbit Hotel, which would soon no longer be her home, once she got the flat properly sorted out, and knocked on a door. "Estella...I mean Kaia...I mean...what do I mean?" The door opened.
"You mean Estella." Said Estella, smiling, suitcase in hand. Juni looked down at it.
"Moving out at last. I see you've got more with you than you did when you arrived."
"That wouldn't be too difficult," Said Estella, "Seeing as I came here with literally nothing." They stood silently in front of one another contemplatively. Then Estella gave a small, sad smile and said quietly, "All things must change." Then they hugged.
"Oh my god!! Juni!! Estella!! Come here quick!!" Came Frida's voice from the bar. They broke apart and looked at each other, grinning, before running down the corridor.
"What is it?!!" They cried together. Frida handed them a newspaper, now several days old and turned it to a page of small, local news items.
"Read that!" She said, pointing to one of them. Juni looked at it.
"Underwearman Arrested in Park." She read, "The police thought they were dealing with a simple case of too much high spirits yesterday morning when they arrested a young man wandering in the park in nothing but his underwear. However when the man began to tell his garbled story it became clear that he believed himself to have been robbed by a gang of 'hobbits' with purple hair and a reindeer. It was later discovered that the man was Matthew Dunlop, a wanted criminal and known child-murderer, committed to an institution at the age of six for the murder of another small child. An institution from which he had, five years ago, escaped. The man underwent a psychiatric assessment yesterday evening and was this morning committed to a high security assylum for the mentally unstable. The psychiatrist involved is said to have recommended he be kept in maximum security due to his past escapes and violent history. 'The man will be spending the rest of his life wearing a straight jacket in a padded room if I have anything to do with it. He's unhinged and dangerous.' Said the psychiatrist who wished to remain nameless to this reporter early this morning..."
"So he escaped from that place!! I should've known they wouldn't have willingly let him out, he was crazy!" Said Juni, putting down the newspaper.
"We're going soon aren't we?" Said Frida.
"Surely not," Said Estella, "We'll be far too early!!"
"That's the whole point!" Said Frida, "I'm going to get Rudolf's stuff together, I think if I leave it up to him to take it he'll conveniently forget." She ran out of the room.
"Shall we get going then?" Asked Juni. Estella took a deep breath and surveyed her surroundings long and hard, before nodding. They picked up her suitcases and walked out of the room.
On a wooden bench at the train station, people milling about around them waiting for their trains to arrive, sat Estella. On her one side was Juni, and on the other her father. Standing in front of her and giggling with such excitement that she attracted even more stares than usual, was Frida. "I brought popcorn everyone!!" She said, producing a large colourful bag from her backpack and passing it around. Then she skipped over to the large brick toilet block on the platform and knocked on the door of the mens'.
"Rudolf!!!! You ready?!!" Very, very slowly, the door opened and Rudolf, wearing the most unenthusiastic, embaressed look on his face, emerged. He was dressed from head to foot in a one piece reindeer suit, complete with a hood that went over his head and a large white stomach patch.
"Oh no Rudolf!! You're not wearing your red nose and antlers!!"
"I lost them." Said Rudolf stiffly.
"Oh that's ok!" Said Frida, "I brought a couple of spares just in case!" And she produced a headband with reindeer antlers, which she reached forward and put on her unco-operative reindeers head and a red clowns nose which she also strung around him so that his outfit was complete. Then she ran back and sat on the bench with the others. "Go on then! Sing!" She said encouragingly.
"Do I have to?"
"It was part of the bet! You agreed!" She said firmly. Rudolf closed his eyes took a long, deep, resigned breath, opened his mouth and began to quietly and very untunefully sing the song that had haunted him his entire life.
"Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer..."
"Reindeer!!" Cried Frida.
"Had a very shiny nose.."
"Like a lolly-pop!!"
"And if you ever saw it..."
"You would even say it glowed..."
"Like a lightbulb!"
This duet went on in like fashion whilst the train-catchers stared curiously, some chuckling to themselves, some wondering when the police were going to come and take the reindeer away for disturbing the peace and some wondering whether this was a pair of buskers or not and whether they were good enough to be awarded some spare change. Finally the song ended. Rudolf threw off the nose and the antlers, pulled back his hood and sat down, his arms folded, trying to look bad-tempered but failing utterly to look like anything other than a man in a cute and cuddly reindeer-suit. Frida giggled, picked up the antlers and the nose and put them on herself. Rudolf was too mortified to even think of a decent insult.
Time passed, eventually Juni looked at her watch. "We'd better be getting back now." They all stood up and faced each other. "I guess this is good-bye." Said Juni to Estella. Frida began to sniff and whimper quietly.
"Don't cry Frida!" Said Estella, "It's not like I'm taking the last ship to Valinor! I'll come and visit! And I'll write all the time!"
"I'll miss you," Said Frida.
"Me too." Said Rudolf.
"You'll find someone to replace me." Said Estella.
"Maybe," Said Juni, "But they won't be you."
"I have to move on now." Said Estella.
"I know. Just promise me one thing. Don't go around falling for anymore psychopathic serial killers will you? They're no good."
"As long as you promise not to employ any more of them."
"It's a deal." Said Juni, they shook hands. Then, after much more hugging and saying of final goodbyes, Juni, Frida and Rudolf turned to go.
"You know," Said Frida as they walked away, "We always walk everywhere, I think I'm going to buy a car on the way back."
"Oh god no," Said Rudolf, "Isn't there some kind of law against you getting on the roads?"
"Not yet," Said Frida, launching into a long debate with Rudolf about driving and why she shouldn't do it, and what type of cars were the best should she choose to buy one, which she shouldn't. Estella listened to their voices fading away as the train pulled up on the platform. Laughing to herself, she helped her father pull their bags up into the carriage and sat back as the train began to move, carrying her away, back home.