Creatures at an Exposition
Author: Metaldog

Chapter 8
The Greystone Hotel

-=Chapter Eight=-

With a few subtle whistles the sonic screwdriver set us free from the cuffs.  The Doctor peeked out one of the windows, and then used the sonic again to unlock the door of the box.  I followed him out the door, as quietly as possible.  The Police Box we had been in looked nothing like the TARDIS, by the way.  It was an unpainted wooden shack.  The police officer who had arrested us was halfway down the block, standing in front of the entrance to the Exposition.  He looked like a theme park mascot greeting tourists, and I suppose in a way he was.  I had no idea what time it was, but the Exposition grounds were still lit up and filled with people.

It was 1901, our city was the eighth-largest city in America, and we were hosting the grandest fair the world had ever seen.  Not only that, but first thing in the morning, the President of the United States of America would be in attendance at the Exposition.  And only the Doctor and I knew that he would soon be dead.

---

We made our way south along Elmwood Avenue, moving further away from the western entrance to the Exposition.  We walked until we reached the next entrance.  I started to cross the street to go back into the Exposition, but the Doctor stopped me.

"No ticket," he reminded me.

"I don't see anybody checking tickets."

"Doesn't matter, anyways," he said.  "We're not going back in until tomorrow.  For now we need to figure out where the Rutans are likely to go, and be there."

It was rather chilly out that night.  I suspected that the Rutans were able to move about quite freely at this temperature.  I pulled my great-great-grandfather's coat tighter around me, and wished I had my parka.  And my hat was still in the TARDIS!  Oh, how I loved that hat.  Some people said the earflaps looked ridiculous, but it was warm.

"So, Matt," the Doctor looked at me expectantly.  "This is your town.  Where do we go?"

---

As we rode the trolley, I tried to recognize landmarks.  Some of the buildings looked familiar, but there was so much that had changed in a hundred and nine years.  Electric lamp-posts lined the streets, and some of the bigger homes had electric lights in them, as well.  The trolley was pulled by a noisy electric motor at the front, that drew its power from overhead lines.  It sounded like a Rutan, which made me nervous.

"This is great!" the Doctor said, as he hung out the window of the trolley, waving at people.  "I've always enjoyed a nice tram ride!"

"It's a good thing the trolley's free," I replied.  "For the Exposition, you know?  Otherwise we'd have a very long walk downtown."

"So where are we going?  Downtown?  What's there?"

"Probably not as much as there will be, in the future.  But one thing that I know is there is the Greystone Hotel."

"And?  What's at the Greystone?"

"More like who.  It wasn't well publicized at the time, I mean at this time, but that's where McKinley spent the night before his appearance at the Exposition."

"You mean he's there now?  The President?"

"Yep.  At least, so long as the history books are right.  Some guy was planning on buying it and fixing it up a few years ago.  You know, from my perspective it was a few years ago.  You know what I mean."

"Yes, yes I do.  Time travel plays hell with grammar, doesn't it?"

"I suppose it could.  This is my first time, you know."

"Sorry.  Do go on."

"Well, it's just that I saw an article in the newspaper about it.  How McKinley and Edison had both stayed there during the Exposition.  A bunch of other dignitaries, as well."

"Oh!  Tom's there, as well?  Good show.  Good show."  The Doctor hung his head back out the window and resumed waving at pedestrians.  "Lovely evening, isn't it?  Love your city!  Reminds me of Cardiff!"

---

The trolley let us off about a block away from the Greystone Hotel, at the end of Johnson Park.  Fancy-looking carriages lined the street, with drivers at the ready.  I guessed they were that time's equivalent of limousine drivers.  As we approached the front entrance of the Hotel, we noticed several men in grey suits watching us closely as they clustered near the door.

"Just keep walking," the Doctor muttered to me, as we approached them.  Then, addressing the men by the door, he called out, "Good evening, gentlemen!  Isn't it a splendid night?"

"Move along, limey," one of the men answered, gruffly.  We kept walking.  We reached the end of the building and turned into the alley. The Doctor suddenly stopped, right in front of me.

"Secret Service," he said.  I nodded in agreement.  "We're not getting in the front way."

"I didn't think we would," I said.  "Let's go around back and see what we can see."

At the back of the building, we saw a light.  A number of shadowy figures shambled about, silhouetted by the small bonfire.  We could hear loud voices, and glass breaking.  Suddenly they all broke into song, severely off-key: "Buffalo gals won't you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight.  Buffalo gals won't you come out tonight, and dance by the light of the mooooon!"  This was followed by loud, drunken laughter.

We approached the little group cautiously.  As I had expected, they were all dressed in the old-fashioned attire of kitchen staff.  Most appeared to be drunk.

"Matt, this might not be the best..." the Doctor started to say, but I sauntered straight into the middle of the party, where a keg stood.  I picked up a previously-used tankard from the ground, wiped the rim with the corner of my coat, and filled it with beer.  Before anybody at the party could protest, I started to chug it down.  It was the best beer I'd had in a long time.  I didn't stop drinking until the vessel was empty, and then I belched loudly.  I had effectively announced my presence.

I felt an arm around my shoulders.  A big guy who smelled like rotten meat and beer leaned on me, smiling in my face.  "Hey, ain't you my cousin?  You look like my cousin."

"Hey, could be, you never know."  I replied, shrugging my shoulders as best I could under his weight.  "I've got cousins all over."

"Hey, everybody!  This is my cousin!"  He held up my hand like I had won a prize fight.  In my other hand I held out my tankard, and he quickly moved to refill my beer.  I looked around to see where the Doctor had gone, but couldn't see him.  However, I noticed the door leading into the kitchen was slowly closing, as though somebody had just gone inside.

---

I settled down on a log, balancing a plate of roast chicken on my knee.  I had passed off the beer to somebody else and found a pot of coffee.  It seemed like everybody who worked in the hotel was out there, eating their late dinner in the cool night.

My new-found long-lost cousin Horace sat on a log next to mine.  He groaned and stretched out his knees, then turned to me.  "So what's your name?  I know you're not really my cousin, are you?"

"Matthew.  Matt for short.  You never know; I do have cousins all over."

He looked at me uncomfortably.  "So what brings you to Buffalo?  I know you're not from around here."

"Umm..." I debated how much to tell him.  "The Exposition, of course.  And the President."

A group of hotel maids were sitting on another log, to the left of me.  Clearly they were listening in on our conversation, because when I mentioned the President, they all started whispering frantically to each other.

"Well it's just that... Well, Matt, there have been some rumors about... that somebody might..." he wiped the sweat from his brow, even though a cold wind was starting to make it uncomfortably chilly out.  "That somebody might try to kill him.  The President." he blurted out.  "Now I'm getting a good look at you by the firelight and I see you're all muddy, and your coat has been out of style for a long time.  But your boots look brand new, and your spectacles look like the fancy kind that rich people wear.  You're no vagabond, are you?"

"No, sir, I have a home.  But it's very far away.  And the TARD... And our wagon was stolen."

"So that's why you're down here with the help begging a free meal?  You should go to the police and report the theft!  Unless you've got something to hide."  He was getting to the point.  "And I'll bet you do have something to hide, don't you?"

I swallowed a mouthful of chicken, but my throat felt dry.  "Like what?"

"Quick answer, no thinking.  What's your political party?"

"Libertarian." I answered quickly.  Too quickly.

"Liber-what?" he stood up.  "You'd better explain yourself right quick before I haul you upstairs to the Secret Service myself."

"Libertarian.  It's... It's a new party."  Now I was the one sweating.

"I don't trust new parties." Horace sneered.  "The government has more than enough parties already.  That's why I'm an Anarchist."

"Anarchist?  Great!"  I knocked my chicken off my lap.  "You're absolutely right about somebody wanting to kill the President."  I should not have said that.

---

The maids scurried off.  Some of the other hotel staff went back inside the building, while others drew nearer to me and Horace.  Suddenly I found myself surrounded.

"You'd better tell us all you know," one of the waiters hissed.  "Or I'll cut you open like a fish."  A flash of reflected light from his hand let me know that his threat was not idle.

"Uh... really, I don't know that much about it..." I tried backing up but felt strong hands grip me by the shoulders.  "Maybe if you tell me what you know, I can fill in some details?"

"I'll bet it's him," I heard somebody say.  "He looks the type."

"What type?  What?"

"There's this guy," Horace began, "who shows up at Anarchist meetings.  Dresses like he's poor and talks with a funny accent.  Talks about killing off world leaders, and how it would start a war to end all wars.  You know this guy?"

"Leon Czolgosz."  I spoke the name of the assassin-to-be.  I knew that I was endangering the proper flow of history, but I didn't care.  I had no intention of being filleted.

One of the men surrounding me turned and walked away.  He was short and scrawny, with blond hair.  As he was about to turn the corner of the building, he looked back at me with a scowl.

"Yeah, that's the name.  We got a newsletter about him last week.  What do you know about him?"

"Just the name."  The grip on my shoulders tightened.  "I swear to you, that's all I know about him.  You know as much as I do."  I was relieved that I hadn't given away any knowledge from the future that hadn't already become known.

"Damn it, tell us what you know!"

"Okay, okay."  I figured that a little bit of information couldn't hurt too much.  "He's in Buffalo.  Somewhere.  And yes, he's going to kill the President.  Well, try to, anyways.  I just don't know exactly when."  Well, I fibbed a little.  I was pretty sure that I knew when he was going to shoot the President.

"What's he look like?" somebody else asked.

I tried to picture his portrait from the history books I had studied, so many years ago.  What had he looked like?  Suddenly I remembered.

"Oh my God.  He was just here!"

"Who?"

"Leon Czolgosz!  The skinny blond-haired guy who was just over there.  I think that was him!"

"You mean Leo?  The dishwasher?"  I saw jaws drop as the Anarchists realized that what I had told them was true.

---

Soon thereafter, I found myself at a small table in the hotel kitchen.  I was wearing a bellhop's uniform, as it was the only clothes I could find that would fit me.  A couple of the laundry maids had offered to beat the mud out of my clothes for me.  Horace and the other Anarchists had scattered throughout the hotel, to spread the news that Czolgosz had been working there, and to keep the lookout for him.  They knew that if he killed the President in the name of Anarchy, they would all face an uncertain fate.  I felt sorry for them, because I knew that was precisely what would happen.

"You there, look alive!" an older man in a formal suit yelled at me, as he burst through the kitchen doors.  I sat up straight.  "I mean get up off your arse.  Are you daft?"

"Yes sir, that's me.  Daft as a... whatever.  What the heck does daft mean?"  I stood up.

He looked at me, confused.  "You are daft.  I've got work for you."

"Right."  I contemplated telling him that I didn't work there.

"Well, do you want it or not?"

"Sure, why not?  Whatcha got?"

He gave me another look.  "Now, look here.  This is a first-class hotel!  Don't be using any strange dialects while you're working here.  Just plain english, that's all I want to hear from you.  Understand me?"

"Yes, sir."  I gave a mocking salute, which he took to be serious.

He puffed out his chest, and continued, "The guests expect the absolute highest quality of service, even if we are in the savage wastelands of Buffalo, and all we have to wait on them are the dregs of this filthy, wretched place."  He looked down his nose at me.  "Have you ever been to The City?  I'd reckon not, by the looks of you."

"Which city?"  I knew which city he meant.  I could recognize the haughtiness of his attitude, no matter what century I was in.

"Which city?  Why, New York City, of course."  He stuck his face close to mine.  "But you wouldn't know that, would you?  You probably think Buffalo is a city.  Well, it isn't."

"I was in London yester... last month."  I smiled at him, condescendingly.  He scowled back at me.

"Oh, really?" he said.  "Then you should have plenty in common with the guest in the middle suite, who just arrived from London, himself."  He gestured at the swinging doors that lead into the dining room.  "There's a tray of pastries and tea here for him.  They like their tea, don't they, those English?  Take it up fast, and don't forget I get sixty percent of your tips.  Although I should get all of it, as I had to prepare it myself."

I hurried through the doors and saw the tray on a little cart.  I centered the teapot, and then lifted the whole tray above my head, balanced on my right hand.

"Careful!  Don't spill it!" the man warned.

"Don't worry, sir.  I once worked as a waiter in a fine restaurant," I reassured him.  "It's like riding a bicycle; you never forget how it's done.  So where's the middle suite?"

He smiled viciously.  "Fifth floor."

---

I climbed up six huge flights of stairs, on the grand staircase of the hotel, carrying that tray.  My arm was throbbing with pain by the time I reached the top floor.  I spotted a small stool, and carefully balanced the tray atop it.

"You, there.  Clear out of here!"  A voice came from down the hall.  I looked, but the directive had not been intended for me.  A group of men in dark suits and bowler hats were confronting a disheveled-looking man.  I recognized them as being some of the Secret Service agents who had been at the front door earlier that evening.  But the man wasn't moving away from them.  In fact, he was moving towards them.  As I watched, the man reached out to them.  An agent grabbed his hand, and I heard the sound of electric current as he screamed and fell to the floor.

The other agents started yelling, and pulling out their guns.  Moving quickly, the alien electrocuted them all, before a single shot was fired.  I grabbed the teapot from the tray and started moving quickly and quietly down the hall, as the Rutan pawed at the door handle.  Apparently they could make themselves appear to have hands, but they still had trouble with doorknobs.

When I had gotten about halfway down the hall, I saw the Rutan stiffen and stand up straight.

Slowly, it turned its head.  The head kept turning until it faced me, even though the body was still facing the door.  It opened its mouth, and I saw a green glow emanate from within.

I launched the ceramic teapot at the inhuman monster.  The teapot fell short, shattering, and some of the hot liquid splashed on the creature's feet.  It sprung up to the ceiling in an instant, losing its human shape revealing its blobbish true form.  It hung there for a moment, pulsing with green electricity, before it leapt at me.  I fell backwards, helpless to defend myself.

 

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