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The Thing-Man

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Sadie Doyle stirred suddenly in her seat and blinked. She was dressed in silks and furs and, naturally, looked marvelous, but she could not quite understand why she was not at home, raiding the liquor cabinet. She looked over to her husband, Frank, who was snoozing quietly next to her. He looked marvelous too, with his black tie matching his newly waxed mustache perfectly.

She gently shook him awake, careful not to startle him.

Still, it was a bit of a hard landing.

Frank flailed for a moment. “Sadie!” he cried, “Where am I? Who am I? Why don’t I have a drink in my hand?”

“You’re in a cab, darling,” Sadie said, “And if you know who I am, you should know who you are. And I don’t know why you don’t have a drink in your hand. I don’t have one either. It’s most irregular.”

By then Frank had remembered, in some distress, why they were there. “Sadie, love, can you tell me again why we accepted this invitation to dinner from an anonymous stranger, for a purpose that may well be sinister? And why do I feel so strange … am I … sober?”

Sadie looked around, but tragically, the cab was completely free of a bar of any kind. “This is a very sobering experience,” she agreed, her mouth feeling as dry as the Sahara. “But we must have accepted the invitation. Look, here it is. It says ‘RSVP,’ and here we are, dressed and en route.”

She held out the invitation for Frank’s inspection, but he waved it away. “Did you répondez, Sadie? Did you? Did you?

After a moment of consideration, Sadie said, “I might’ve, darling.”

In fact, she had. Sadie was somewhat more fond of parties than was Frank; she liked her drinking with a change of scenery from time to time. If it took some slight subterfuge to get Frank to come along, that was fine by her.

She went on,“The invitation does say that there will be absurd quantities of liquor. Look, our hosts even underlined that part with red ink. At least, I hope that’s red ink. You can’t tell with people who send dinner invitations willy-nilly, can you?”

“The only absurd quantity of liquor is none,” Frank said, his voice rising, “like in this God-forsaken cab. Cabbie, pull over!”

The cabbie, who had been waiting for a chance to speak, glanced back at his passengers. “Are you sure, Mr. Doyle? We’re almost there.”

“And where is there, my good man?” Frank demanded.

“You said the Dakota, didn’t you?”

Somewhere overhead, ominous music played.

“Oh, how ominous!” Sadie said cheerfully (for she had found a silver liquor flask in her clutch). She drank and handed the flask to Frank. There was a bright, brittle clink of glasses, despite the complete absence of glassware in the cab, and the Doyles took turns with the flask until it was empty.

By that time, the cabbie had pulled over -- they were there.

*

The doorman said that the hefty drinks cart waiting in the lobby was meant for them. After a refresher or three, Frank and Sadie were ready for the adventure ahead. The halls of the Dakota were deserted as the Doyles made their way to apartment twenty-four. There were no celebrities present, nor famous dancers, nor any member of the Doyles’ high society set.

It was positively … spooky.

“This is almost certainly a trap, dear,” Frank said, pouring yet another drink from the cart, which they had thoughtfully pushed into the elevator with them. “Care for a cocktail?”

“Do I care for anything else? Besides you, darling,” Sadie said, accepting Frank’s offer. They knocked on the door of apartment twenty-four and waited. And waited.

“I think you'd better knock again, Frank,” Sadie said after a moment.

He did. They waited.

“You know, Sadie, as much as I hate opening the door of our own penthouse suite, I think I like waiting elsewhere for the door to open even less.”

“Quite, darling,” Sadie said as the door slowly opened.
*
There was a woman at the door. She was a lanky brunette with a wicked jaw, and had narrow blue eyes like a cat’s. She wore a gold lamé dress that clung in all the right places and left off on the wrong ones.

“Good evening, you must be the Doyles,” she said; her voice was cultivated and somehow still very warm.

Sadie put on her most charming smile and said, “And you are our hostess?”

The woman laughed. “I’m afraid not! We’re guests, the same as you. The hosts don’t seem to be here.”

“What terrible hosts!”

“But they pick excellent guests -- I hope,” the woman said.

“Who is that, Nora? What the devil is going on?” A man emerged from the parlor and examined them with a critical eye. “Oh, you must be the Doyles. Would you like a martini?”

“Absolutely,” Frank said, sizing him up. “I like your mustache.”

The man looked pleased and held out his hand, which Frank shook. “Thank you, yours is remarkably well-chosen. My name’s Nick Charles. This is my wife, Nora.”

“Thanks…” Frank began, as everyone else, by mutual agreement, left the front hall and made their way to the parlor. The apartment was glitteringly luxurious -- the floors were inlaid with silver, the furniture sleek and modern. And, true to the invitations, the entire apartment was full of liquor -- gin, scotch, brandy, vermouth, and vodka crowded all horizontal surfaces, and more butler carts held trays upon trays of martinis, ready mixed. True, there were no chairs or sofas or settees, but this did not particularly bother anyone, especially when there was so much to drink.

Nonetheless, the overall feeling of the place was rather cold and uninviting. Perhaps it was the open windows that let in the cold November air. Or perhaps it was the enormous marble sculpture that dominated the parlor, a statue of an extremely muscular, extremely naked young man. His expression was sullen, but beautifully carved.

Sadie sidled up to Nora and said, “You do seem familiar -- perhaps I know you from --?” She named the several prestigious girl’s boarding schools that she had attended, both in America and in England, until Nora smiled at the mention of one in particular -- St. Trinian’s.

“Dear old St. Trinian’s!” Nora explained, her eyes bright with memories. “Do you know, I still remember the old school motto -- what was it?”

Semper debeatis percutis ictu primo,” Sadie said, clasping Nora’s arm. “I have such fond memories of that place -- that’s where I had my first hangover.”

“Yes! Get your blow in first! And so did I!” Nora said happily. She gazed at Sadie for a moment and leaned in close. “You know, you’re awfully pretty.”

Sadie blushed. “Thank you, I know. And so are you.”

“How wonderfully correct we both are,” Nora purred.

During this time, both Frank and Charles regarded each other with intense, but friendly speculation. They both seemed to prefer drinking to talking. But eventually, Nick said, “Doyle -- Doyle, are you one of the Boston Doyles?”

“I’m one of the Frank Doyles,” Frank said stoutly.

Nick nodded approvingly “An excellent decision on your part; the Boston Doyles are awfully dull.”

Soon most of the liquor in the parlor was consumed. Sadie and Frank led the way, as ever. The Charles were no slouches in the drinks department, but they did insist on pausing to chat between glasses.

Sadie’s attention, long divided between the drinks and the company, looked hazily up at the statue. “Oh, look, Frank!” she said. “His weensy little winkie is the exact same size as this olive.”

She raised her martini glass to her eye.

“Bad taste,” Frank said in a carrying undertone, after a long pause.

“Depends on the olive, I believe,” Nora said.

“Kalamata or Nicoise,” Nick offered.

Before anyone could agree (or disagree), there was a loud thud, coming from the front hall. After a brief struggle of four people trying to leave through a single door at the same moment, they came to the front hall and to a hideous sight -- a man lying dead on the floor. He was dressed in a gray flannel suit and looked quite unremarkable, except that he was quite dead.

Then, he began to melt into the floor, until all that remained was a small puddle of water.
“All right,” Frank said, “I’ve had enough. Whoever invited us here show himself -- herself -- whatever -- at once. Or else we will walk out that door right now!”

The door (and all the windows), which had been open throughout the evening, slammed closed. When Frank and Nick tried to open it (with several breaks to throw back more drinks), it wouldn’t budge.

“Well, we’re trapped,” Frank said. “Sadie, love, do you you have any ideas?”

“Yes I do, Frank,” Sadie said, trying to drink her martini and fish something out of her clutch at the same time.

“Here, let me,” Nick said, taking her glass.

Sadie paused for a moment. “It isn’t that important.”

“Of course, you’re right,” he said, looking sheepish. He gave back her glass and took her clutch.

“Thank you,” Sadie said, and drained her glass. Nick handed her clutch back, and she took out a piece of chalk and began drawing ancient sigils on the walls.

“Oh, that’s unusual,” Nora said. “What language is it?”

“The secret language of ghosts -- it’s dull stuff, really, darling,” Sadie said as she completed her work. There was a moment before anything happened. Nora raised her eyebrows and exchanged a significant glance with Nick.

Then the sigils began to glow and the whole room became bright and hot.

“No, no, no!” shouted a female voice from above. “Why are there so many of you --? Oh, wait, wait, I think I know what happened. Gary! Gary, come over here.”

The floorboards began to groan and crack. Nick and Nora began edging toward the door. Gary for such was the statue's name, came in, his marble countenance now fixed in an attitude of grave concern. “Yes, mistress?”

“Did you mess up the invitations, Gary?”

“Mistress said to invite that famous drunk couple that everyone talks about, the toast of the upper crust, headliners of the society pages. But Gary found two such drunk couples, and they both RSVP’d. Gary didn’t know what to do.”

“Fine,” sighed the female voice, and a female figure soon materialized around it. She was a tall woman with long, wet blond hair. In fact, there was water streaming all down her hair and dress and face and eyes as she intoned, “Hello, Doyles! I’m the Lorelei. You killed my sister; prepare to die.”

“Frank?”

“Yes, dear?”

Did we kill the Lorelei’s sister?”

“I have no idea -- but say, who was the dead man we saw just now?”

The Lorelei made an impatient noise. “Oh, dinner. Never mind about him. Does the name Svetlana ring a bell? She was a succubus? Who you killed.”

"Whom you killed," Frank said. "Grammar."

"Whatever," the Lorelei said, with a roll of her eyes.

“Oh! Oh!” Sadie said, her eyes wide and excited, “Yes, Svetlana the Succubus -- we did kill her with our all-powerful, overwhelming love for each other! She blew up right in the interrogation room at Dave Henderson’s precinct -- they sent us the bill for the clean-up too.”

“And she was going to eat our souls,” Frank said. “And turn our bodies into dried-out old husks.”
“Yeah, well,” the Lorelei said with a sniff, “she was my little sister and I had to hear from a disgusting satyr that a couple of rich drunks killed her. So now I must kill you. Sorry.”

“Then we were invited by mistake?” Nora said. “How disappointing! I suppose we might stick around to see what happens anyway, don’t you think, Nick?”

“I suppose, although it is a little late in the evening to be murdered,” Nick said, tugging at the door. “Never really thought much of the supernatural before now.”

“Not much to think about,” Frank said. “This kind of thing happens to us all the time.”

“That’s right, all the time,” Sadie said with a sigh. “Vendettas have the worse way of interrupting our drinking.”

“But it is getting late,” Nora said reflectively. “Someone has to take Asta for a walk--”

“And the baby probably needs a walk too,” Nick said with a wise nod.

“Oh, but that’s what the nursemaid is for, darling,” Nora said fondly. “To play fetch with the baby and powder the dog.”

“Enough banter!” snapped the Lorelei. “I can’t let you any of you get away. Gary, grab them.”

Gary started lumbering towards them, but since he was made of marble, he took some time. There was a four-person mad scramble around the apartment, until it became clear that Gary wouldn’t be able to catch them.

The Lorelei sighed and snapped her fingers. Suddenly, the walls began to leak water or what looked like water. It rose fast, to their waists and then to their necks. Sadie accidentally got some in her mouth and exclaimed: “Why Frank, it’s gin!”

“I always knew this was how we would go,” Frank said, “drowned in a roomful of gin. Sadie, I love you.”

“I love you too, Frank, but I don’t think we’re going to die in this room full of gin!”

“I just wish it didn’t taste so herbal,” Nora said with a sigh.

“Excuse me, Miss Lorelei,” Nick said, swimming over to where the Lorelei lounged atop of Gary’s head. “Can I persuade you not to kill us?”

“Oh,” the Lorelei said, with careless wave of her hand. “I’m trying to be nice here. Do you want to drown in water? I can do that too.”

“Gin is fine!” Frank said.

“Got any whiskey?” Sadie asked, as she backstroked into the foyer. “Or vodka? Maybe some rum?”

“I do wonder what the co-op board will think,” Nora said. “Imagine the gin stains on the apartment below!"

“I’m a thousand year old water spirit,” the Lorelei said with a proud toss of her hair, smacking a soggy tress against Gary’s face. “I fear no co-op board!”

“Don’t you, Lorelei?” Frank said. “Don’t you really?”

“What? No!” the Lorelei said, rubbing at her temples. “Come on, please drown already.”

“I don’t think so, Lorelei!” Sadie said. “I’ll drink this room dry if I have to. Glug glug glug! That’s the sound of me drinking all this gin!”

“Sadie, my love, that’s genius! We’ll drink this room dry!”

“Clink!”

“I haven’t anything else to do,” said Nora, sipping.

“Nor do I,” said Nick.

The liquor levels diminished precipitously after that.

“Wait -- you are all crazy,” said the Lorelei, getting down to Gary’s shoulders. “No one can drink that much and not die. It’s impossible.”

A few minutes later, she said, “Are you even human? Are you some kind of alcohol demons?”

Then: “Oh God, you don’t have to do that --”

And: “Oh, ugh.”

“Mistress, are you all right?” Gary said, as the Lorelei climbed down into his arms.

“You know what, Gary? I’m not all right. I haven’t been all right in a long time. I just want these people to leave, so I can get some sleep.”

“I - I love you, Mistress.”

“Not now, Gary.”

“Not ever with that olive-sized winkie, Gary,” Sadie said.

Anyway… We want to leave!” Frank said. “We want to do nothing but leave!”

“Please throw us out, darling, it would make us so happy,” Nora said.

“Fine,” the Lorelei said, getting down from Gary’s arms. The liquor was about knee-level now. “Doyles, I want you to apologize about my sister.”

“I’m very sorry about your sister,” Sadie said. “While I certainly didn’t want her to suck out my soul or turn me into a dried-out old husk, she did seem like a lovely girl.”

“Yes, sorry,” said Frank. “Well, I’m not, but if it makes you happy to hear it, yes. Sorry.”

“Apology accepted,” the Lorelei said. “You can stop drinking now.”

“No need, darling,” Sadie said cheerfully, “I found some more bottles.”

*

As the door of apartment twenty-four closed unceremoniously behind them, the Doyles and the Charleses turned to each other to say goodbye.

“Well, goodbye,” Frank said.

“It was nice meeting you,” Nora said.

“I hope we’ll see you soon,” Sadie said.

“Ideally without the vengeful monsters,” Nick said, and they all took a drink.

*

The Doyles watched as the Charleses took the elevator down.

Sadie turned to Frank and said, “Darling, do you think the ghosts of fictional characters go to the same place as the ghosts of real people?”

“Sadie love, it seems that they do whatever they like.”

Sadie smiled. “Oh, I like that. They did seem like such nice people.”

“They did -- most people couldn't hope to keep up with us."

The Doyles clinked glasses as the returning elevator dinged.

Happy and (not coincidentally) remarkably drunk, Sadie said, “Let’s go home, darling, and have a night-cap.”

And so they did.