Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 4: Gin & Tonic

June 21st, 1906 at 11:15 p.m. — Neptune Casino Grand Ballroom
The kitchen had grown dark in the hours since dinner had been served. While most of his coworkers had left for home some time earlier, Jimmy was forced to stay and bus tables until all were cleaned. But with so many guests still drinking their beverages and snacking from platters at the back of the ballroom, Jimmy was hard-pressed to end his shift and go home.

North-east corner of Casino kitchen annex, August 1904 *
Each time Jimmy returned dishes to the sink, he rewarded himself with a sip from the bottle of brandy the chef kept hidden in a cabinet. Jimmy had found it the previous week when he was setting up tables for a wedding, stowed behind a wall of tea cups on a high shelf. As soon as the head chef had gone home, Jimmy had crawled on top of the prep area and pulled down the bottle.

Now, tired and alone, he took a swill from the smooth ale. It was dark and it bit as the back of his throat as he swallowed, but it was the only thing keeping him going. By eleven o’clock, though, it was starting to effect his motor skills. Stumbling out into the dining area every few minutes, Jimmy had reduced the amount of dishes collected each trip to avoid accidents. Yet accidents still came. A little after ten, he had tripped and dropped two porcelain plates on the ground, shattering one completely. Twenty minutes later, he had dropped a tray of tea cups hard into the sink, breaking many. By eleven, he no longer cared and sat in the corner, gazing out a window overlooking the street.

The lights outside were bright, running along the bottom rim of the Casino just outside. He could see and hear people milling around outside, and Jimmy was beginning to wish for his bed. The noise in the dining area and ballroom had dimmed considerably since the party first started four hours earlier. The loud dance music had faded into a lulling conversation tune. Without realizing it, Jimmy fell peacefully asleep on the floor of the kitchen, dreaming of the surf, sandy beaches, and horse-drawn streetcars. Around him, cooking oil pooled.

Beth had lost track of time as the night wore on. The four ladies at her table were all local shopkeepers, though she could not remember which stores they kept. Four gin and tonics and two classes of Scotch had dulled her brain thoroughly, and the night had begun to blur together in one long cascade of lights and laughter.

Elizabeth Gertrude Credwell, April 1906 *
At the table on the other side of the room, James sat in a smokey morass, trying to negotiate which of his cards to discard in order to draw others. Beth hated when he played poker, but a night like tonight was an exception even to her. Plus, he was playing against Swanton himself...and winning! Little else mattered.

After hours of gambling and unimportant discussions, Swanton stood up before his posse of local financiers. “Fine, boys, fine! I can see you will all need convincing separately regarding my plans. Allowing you all to conspire against me like this is just unfair to me. James, why don’t you and your wife join me first thing in the morning in my office downstairs.”

James seemed uncomfortable. “You know my feelings about meeting here, Fred. With William and all...”

“Nonsense,” Swanton interrupted. “I respect your son’s memory but he is a ghost of the past. We need to focus now on the future. We’ll discuss this issue further then. I guarantee you it will be a momentous breakfast for us all.”

“Very well. Eight o’clock sharp in your office,” James agreed.

At eleven thirty, the band finally gave up and went for their gear. Swanton returned to the stage to address the crowd of locals one last time.

“My wonderful guests!” Swanton bellowed in a voice suggesting he had had quite a bit more to drink than was recommended. “This night has been a treat for us all. For me, at least, you can thank any lack of progress this summer to Mr. Credwell who has soundly defeated me all night in poker. That is what I get for gambling with bankers. My pocketbook feels lighter than it has in years. I wish this fair company adieu and good night!” With that, Swanton exited the stage and left through a back door, grasping the door frame strongly as he rounded the corner. The crowd began to disperse toward the grand staircase.

Beth found her husband precisely where she’d left him, though with considerably more funds sitting in front of him. She smiled softly, “Are you ready to go home, dear?”

Certainly!” he replied with an extra joviality to his voice. “Mr. Swanton has asked us to join him first thing in the morning to discuss the coming summer season. He wants this season to start with a bang, though I doubt he can afford it now.” He smiled down at his stacks of bills and coins.

“How exciting!” Beth answered, though her voice implied no excitement whatsoever. “But let us get some sleep first. The Casino isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.”

“Indeed, my love, indeed.”

The couple had descended the stairs and exited the Casino through its main entrance on Beach Street. The air was nearly frigid now since it was a quarter until midnight. Fog hung heavily on the street and around the buildings. Other people milled around, waiting for their carriages and cars. A few were walking back down the boardwalk toward the houses on Main Street. Looking around, James found his porter, Herbert, leaning against the wall of the Casino.

The Credwells on their carriage, early 1906, in front of local barber shop *
“Herbert, our carriage!” James shouted to him.

“As you wish, sir!” Herbert shouted back. He jogged across the street in his dark brown riding frock and returned in three minutes with the carriage, horse chomping at its bit to return to its stable. Herbert jumped down and helped the two Credwells up into their carriage.

“Thank you, Herbert. You are quick as a hare tonight,” Beth complimented.

“Just cold, ma’am,” he replied between chattering teeth. “This night has an air to it and I’d rather it be done.”

“Very good, Herbert. To the house, if you will,” James cut in.

As the carriage began moving up Cliff Street, James turned to his wife. “Dear, I think tomorrow will begin a new and wondrous chapter in our lives. It just feels like something big is going to happen. I truly cannot wait.”

“Honey, I think tomorrow will be one long headache,” she replied, smiling back with memories of gin and tonic rushing through her nerves.

This story is a work of fiction. All reference to historical incidences and individuals is purely for plot purposes and may not represent true events or real-life personalities and attitudes. This story is designed for an adult audience with moments of violence, terror, and the painful deaths of minors and adults throughout. Please direct all comments to the section below. Thank you and enjoy!

* Descriptions of photographs with "*" are fictional and do not actually depict their description. Actual historical photographs and illustrations do not have an asterisk.

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