. The Royal Oak Inn
The Royal Oak Inn with its fine dining and plush comforts, was a large four story building located at the very heart of the upscale neighbourhoods to the north of the Telford. Surrounded by cafes, bistros and shops displaying the latest fashions, it was not uncommon to find the street between the Royal Oak and The Coronet, a dancehall a half block to the west, filled with festive revelry until the early morning hours.
“Had I known Wally McNettle was going to refire his ovens I’d have waited until this afternoon before picking up the biscuits,” said Whiskey Jack catching the scent of baking bread wafting on the autumn breeze. “That bugger told me yesterday he were shutting them down at noon for cleaning.” He and Randall had parked the lorry near the delivery entrance in back of the Royal Oak.
“It’s been a busy day this end of town,” said Mrs. Doris Perkins, the long-serving kitchen matron for the Royal Oak who had met them at the door. “I imagine he had a run on his bread. My brother-in-law Jacob over at the ice plant’s been working nonstop trying to keep up with the demand.”
“He won’t be complaining about the work once winter hits and folks can make their own ice,” said Randall.
“Those sacks look on the lightside,” said Mrs. Perkins. It wasn’t that the sacks actually were any lighter than she had expected, it was simply the start of the bargaining process. “You sure you didn’t barter none along the way with the Oak’s biscuits?”
“There might be a half dozen plus a couple missing from that sack on the left,” Whiskey Jack replied. “But some loss along the route is unavoidable as you know. We had the militia to deal with after that incident near the Harrison Street Quay this morning.”
Mrs. Perkins gave Whiskey Jack a long hard stare.
“Come now, Doris,” said Whiskey Jack under Mrs. Perkins interrogation. “When have you known me to dip into the deliveries more than any other driver? You know plain well that some would only show with half your order. You always got to figure on some barter along the route.”
Mrs. Perkins sighed. Whiskey Jack spoke true. “You can leave them inside the door then.” she said. “You want silver in recompense?”
“What else you got?’ asked Whiskey Jack.
“We got some halibut fillets packed in ice,” said Mrs. Perkins. “Caught fresh in the Iron Bay this morning. If you’re near done your deliveries for the day a half dozen of them wrapped right and kept out of direct sunlight ought to keep until you get home to cook them.”
“What do you think Randall?” asked Whiskey Jack.
“I don’t really care for fish myself,” Randall replied. “But Agnes and the kids will eat it,” Randall shrugged. He appeared more concerned with patting down his pockets for a match to light his pipe than calculating the street value of fish.
“You got fair trade,” said Whiskey Jack turning back to Mrs. Perkins. “Me and Randall only have one more stop for the day after here— and it’s close by, so the fish should keep.” The burly man then grabbed the two large sacks of biscuits.
“Hold on!” Randall called out. “Throw in a half dozen matches, would you? With all the excitement earlier I smoked more than usual and I’m all out.”
“I think I can get you a handful of matches,” Mrs. Perkins chuckled.
“Grab that box, Randall,” Whiskey Jack nodded to the box in the back of the lorry. “Don’t want to forget Dr. Foehammer’s gift. We can run it up to the lobby while we’re here.”
“Pardon us,” said Whiskey Jack respectfully as he and Randall stepped into the main lobby of the Royal Oak after being directed from the kitchen up the cellar steps by Mrs. Perkins. The lobby was a hub of activity as a dozen Royal Oak staff hurried about getting one ball room ready for the wedding service while the other one across the hall was being prepared for the reception and dinner.“Who should we talk to about dropping off a gift for the wedding?”
“You may speak with me,” said a well dressed woman near the base of the central stairway leading to the rooms on the upper floors. Accompanying the woman was an odd looking girl of about fourteen with long dark hair and a disturbed look about her eye.
“We have a small parcel ma’am,” said Whiskey Jack proffering the package he held in his hands. “From Dr. Foehammer.”
“Joseph Foehammer?” said the woman rather abruptly. ”Are he and Martha not coming? I spoke with her last week. She said they would be here. There is a place setting for them both.”
“Well ma’am, I can’t speak to that,” said Whiskey Jack. “I can only offer what were given to me. Picked it up at the Dunsany over in Clockhaven from the doctor myself just this morning.”
“You there!” the woman called, catching the attention one of the girls rushing about. “Take this man’s parcel to our guestroom on the second floor. “Then send someone around to Martha Foehammer’s to make sure she is still coming.”
“Yes ma’am,” said the girl who took the parcel from Whiskey Jack then hurried up the stairs.
“Are you the mother of the bride?” asked Randall Flax.
“I am, Mrs. Faulkner,” replied the woman with a slight nod in acknowledgement, though her attention seemed divided between the two delivery men and an arrangement of flowers in the lobby.
“I gather this is the lucky girl getting married then?” Randall said with an uncomfortable smile in an effort to maintain cheerful conversation.
“If Charles Tripsa ever tries to kiss me I will cover him in whale oil and set him on fire and watch him turn to ash,” said the girl.
“Oh… well,” Randall seemed uncharacteristically at a loss for comment, “that is a very nice dress you are wearing.”
“You were at the Dunsany?” the girl had turned her full and undivided attention to both Whiskey Jack and Randall Flax, locking them in a fixed stare with a most unsettling focus.
“We were there first thing this morning,” Whiskey Jack nodded. “Even as the sun were still coming up.”
“Did you see any monsters?” the girl asked. “There are monsters there. They live beneath the Dunsany and sneak up at night to eat children.”
“That is true,” said Randall Flax. “But we didn’t see none.”
“Hush up Randall!” Whiskey Jack snapped. “There ain’t no such thing as monsters,” Whiskey Jack’s voice softened as he spoke to the girl. “So don’t you fret none over such nonsense.”
“How do you know?” the girl persisted.
“Hm?” said Whiskey Jack.
“How do you know there aren’t any monsters?” said the girl. “Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
“Nelly, stop your childish talk,” warned Mrs. Faulkner. “It is not becoming for—”
A deep percussive bang like the simultaneous firing of a dozen large cannons punctuated the moment. The silence in the seconds immediately following the explosive blast seemed almost exaggerated and surreal until the sound of shouting from the street brought people back to their senses and the reality of what had just happened became clear.
“That sounded like it came from the Iron Bay,” said Whiskey Jack.