Otto Krakowski, of Krakowski and Son’s Boats in Chicago, had tried to hide under his office desk, only to find that he was both too tall and too wide to fit. Instead he took the largest leather winged back chair in the room and dragged it to the darkest corner of the room. He hoped that when she inevitably came to hunt him down she would overlook his makeshift hiding spot. The last thing Otto wanted right that moment (or, rather, the last thing he ever wanted) was to spend time with the Twitchels. If – and undoubtedly when – Flora found him, she would force him to be civil.
Otto and Flora’s younger daughter, Dahlia, had married quite fortuitously; the Twitchels were of a respectable Chicago banking family. Respectable to the point where they needed no imagination in naming their children – currently living was Milo Twitchel II, Milo Twichel III, and Milo Twitchel IV (Otto and Flora’s grandson, affectionately given the horrible moniker of “Millie” by the Twitchels). Otto hating conversing with that family: They were dull, upper-class snobs.
He slumped as low as possible in the chair and cracked open Leaves of Grass. It was a worn green leather copy that the elder Krakowski daughter, Inez, had given to Otto.
Otto and Flora had just two daughters, both of whom had been each married for a handful of years. Inez lived somewhere deep in the North woods, and Dahlia lived a block and a half away, in an equally large, albeit less lonely, house. Otto and Flora were almost completely alone in their North side Mansion. There was the malicious maid, who once purposefully burned Otto’s house slippers, and the Nosferatu-esque butler, and the cook whose talents lied not in making hot cross buns, but in solving crossword puzzles.
There was not vivacity in the house. The Krakowskis were nouveau riche. Flora was the daughter of Scottish farmers. She was born in America, and had that over Otto. He had come, with his father and mother and younger sister, from Poland at age ten. Krakowski and Son’s was started by Bogdan Krakowski. It had, for lack of any better description, been the humblest of a boat maker’s workshop.
But in 1898, thirty years before, Flora Fyfe had pushed Otto to make the business bigger – to make not just boats for the casual fisherman, but boats for the glamorous of Chicago. By the time their elder daughter had been born, just five short years later, Flora and Otto had sold a boat (or, to be more precise, a yacht) to every member of the Chicago elite and to a small fraction of New York’s famed four hundred.
Flora basked in the new attention that the Krakowski’s nouveau riche status brought. Otto, on the other hand, enjoyed the house, and the he enjoyed not having to worry about money for the first time in his life. But most of all, Otto just wanted to be left alone. A very difficult request for the Chicago set.
Otto pulled at his moustache as he paged through his book. Whitman, Otto felt, knew his soul. Or, rather, Whitman knew ‘an old, dismantled, gray and batter’d ship, disabled, done,” –which Otto felt was his soul.
Voices hummed up through the floorboards from the parlor. The Twitchels had arrived. He strained to hear Flora’s voice. It was there, and he was safe, for she couldn’t leave her guests to hunt him down now.
Otto settled back in his chair, book resting against his chest, and he closed his eyes. He had fallen into a half-slumber when the office door creaked open. He opened his eyes and looked from side to side. Perhaps he had just dreamed the door opening. But the light was spilling into the room from the hall, and he could hear the tap, tap, tap of her toe on the wood floor. Peering over the back of the chair he could see he silhouetted in the doorway, like a black bear against pine trees.
“Would you like to come downstairs and be sociable for once in your life, or would you rather just molder with your books,” she said. Otto turned back around and slumped in the chair, arms crossed. He realized the ridiculousness of acting like a petulant child.
“I’d rather molder than have to listen to another dreadful banking story.”
“You realize that since Milo Twitchel … the second … is your in-law you’re stuck with him until either one of you dies. Which, I’m guessing, will most likely be you first.”
“Is that what it’s going to take to finally have some freedom from those people?”
“I suppose so,” she said. There was a moment of silence, but Otto could still sense her standing in the doorway. “You’re not going to come down, are you?” Otto didn’t answer.
“Very well,” and Flora turned around. He could hear her heels clicking down the steps. When they came from Flora’s carmine painted lips “very well” was never “well.” A threat in the purest form, only Otto never knew when to expect retribution.
It came swift. Nosferatu was the first to come into the office, bringing the tea table with him. The sneering maid followed with the tea and the snacks. Otto watched, moustache twitching, as they set up the cups, and the saucers, and the chairs.
Then came the Twitchels and Dahlia, and Flora came in last, once the butler and maid had left.
“Otto enjoys reading in the dark,” Flora said. She switched on the lights, blinding her husband for a moment. “I keep telling him that he’ll go blind if he keeps doing it, but he never listens to me.” Mrs. Twitchel laughed. Otto couldn’t remember her name. Was it Nancy?
“Isn’t that how all husbands are. Somewhat like children, thinking they know more than mother does,” Mrs. Twitchel laughed. The group sat at the table.
“Oh, well the wonderful thing is Dahlia never acted that way, and I’m sure Milo III was a gem of a child.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less,” She reached across the table and patted the cheek of her grown son. Otto, in the confines of his shadowy corner, rolled his eyes. Flora, with her cat-like eyes, saw him. Her nostrils flared in annoyance for a split second, and then she was back to the pleasant façade she put on for the Twitchels.
“Otto, are you going to join us, or are you just going to lurk?” She said in her honey-coated voice. Otto grumbled, but went to the table and slumped into the empty chair. Dahlia smiled at him.”
“Mama thought it would be good if we could have a ‘business’ setting for tea today. It would get us all in the right mood for our discussion,” Dahlia said.
“Why would we want to talk business during tea?” Otto asked. Milo III – the husband of Dahlia – leaned across his wife and looked at Otto enthusiastically.
“I think our partnership will be great! You’ve slacked on the paperwork for Krakowski and Son’s, and I think I can get that right in order.” Milo III said. Otto stared down at the table, his hands were gripping the edge of his seat.
“I didn’t realize we were going to become business partners,” Otto’s voice was quite.
“Isn’t it fantastic that this is come to fruition? Krakowski and Son’s will finally have a son in the business!” Dahlia said.
“With a Twitchel taking care of the books you’ll have nothing to worry about, Otto,” Milo II said, slapping Otto on the back. “You see, Twitchel-Palbrook Bank has been at the top of the finance game since 1871 …” Otto stopped listening to the rest of the conversation after Milo II began talking. All that ran through his mind were the possible scenarios that could befall his beloved business. Of course, working with an idiot banker was at the top. If he burned the workshop down, would anyone – most importantly Flora – suspect that it was purposeful?
Flora closed the front door behind the Twitchels and Dahlia, and turned to face Otto, her smile whipped from her face in an instant.
“You could be a little more pleased that you’re going into business with your son-in-law,” she snapped.
“Why would I be pleased about that? He’s going to run it into the ground.”
“Oh, please, Otto. It hasn’t been run into the ground by your management, I doubt someone as responsible as Milo … the third … would ruin your precious boat making gig.”
“An idiot would!” Otto yelled. Flora pressed her fingertips against her forehead, hoping to ward off the impending headache.
“He’s not an idiot, Otto,” Flora paused for a moment. “He doesn’t have your street-wise common sense –”
“—Or any common sense, for that matter,” Otto interrupted.
“But, he wasn’t raised to be hearty like you or I. He was a sheltered boy and now he’s a sheltered man. That doesn’t mean I don’t trust him with our money.”
“Well, he’s a banker. And I don’t trust bankers.” Otto said. Flora rolled her eyes. But she knew that Otto’s temperament and strong will would never stand up to her or to the Twitchels, and Krakowski and Son’s would finally have stocks and bonds, and banking investments. And not a pile of money under the dining room floorboards.