The double-glazed doors were smeared and dirty, the carpet was grubby and the hotel lobby smelled of old dust and sweat. A young man slumped behind a narrow reception desk, his attention was directed at the computer in front of him. It was a few moments before he pulled out the ear buds that had connected him to the violent computer game flickering on the screen.
There was no welcoming smile, no corporate greeting. Jean decided that a version of the truth would serve best. “Hi, we haven’t got a booking or anything. We just wondered if there was any chance you had any vacancies?”
The lad sneered at her, “What do you think?” he turned his head back and forth peering around the shabby space.
“Right. Well in that case I’d like two rooms, please.”
The receptionist frowned at her, tipped his head to one side. “Are you sure?”
“Well, it’s just that. We don’t get many people these days, you know, the odd lorry driver…”
Jean forced herself to smile, “Thing is, our car has broken down. We have to wait until tomorrow for the garage, and to be absolutely honest, I’m not feeling that well.” He leaned away and Jean saw the mistake, compensated. “Just tired really and it’s a long drive home. I really want somewhere to have a sleep and my sister and my nephew here,” she wagged a hand at the others, “neither of them can drive, so a hire car is out of the question. Oh look, can you let us have a room just for tonight, three beds, or not?”
“Yeah, yeah, ‘course. I just thought, oh well never mind. So, we don’t have three bedders. I’ll let you have two for the price of one. You’ll have to pay cash though, we don’t do cards.”
“Not a problem. How much, two rooms, one night.”
He appeared flummoxed for a moment as though this was beyond his usual duties. He came to a decision, “Sixty quid. There’s no breakfast service. There’s a McDonalds about half a mile down the road.”
Jean sighed, closed her eyes for a moment. It was obvious where her money was going but there didn’t seem to be any other option, “Great, yes great. Look, I don’t have that much in cash but my nephew will walk to the main road, get some money for me. In the meantime, can we just go up to our rooms?”
“I’ll need a deposit at least. Before I can let you have keys.”
Jean pulled out her purse and held two twenty pound notes across the desk. “There we are, that’s more than half anyway.”
“That’ll do. I’ll need the rest today though.”
“Great, can we sign in then?”
He leaned down and dragged a large, grubby book from underneath the desk, opened it and handed Jean a cheap biro. According to the register no-one had checked into the hotel for more than three weeks. She signed their names and pushed the book back across the chipped countertop.
Ground floor, rooms twelve and thirteen. Over there to your right, down the corridor.”
Jean left the two keys where he had slapped them onto the counter. “Can we go on the top floor? Only the car is down the road and if we go on the top floor I’ll be able to keep an eye on it.”
He began to shake his head, looked at the notes in his hand and with a sigh he turned back to the key rack.
“Forty-one and forty-two. The lift might not be working.”
“Just two keys is it? There are three of us?”
“We don’t have spare keys. It’s only for tonight, yeah. Can’t you just stay together?” He turned away and plugged the tiny plastic buds back into his ears.
They trudged up the stairs and along the dimly lit corridor. They closed the door behind them in the grubby little room. Lesley pushed into the en-suite bathroom. “God, what a dive. This is ghastly Jean.”
“Yes, it’s awful, but that’s not the point, is it? We’re not staying, are we? We need to get our bearings, work out where we are in relation to the room that Paul had seen his wife in. I reckon it was the other side.”
Carl threw the small hold all onto one of the narrow beds. “I’m going to go down there now and see if I can hear anything. I don’t suppose bozo from downstairs will be interested, but he’s expecting me to go out anyway, to get the rest of the money. That was quick thinking Aunty Jean.”
Jean smiled at him as she sat wearily on the edge of the bed.
The cough took her by surprise, but once started she couldn’t stop. Lesley ran into the bathroom and came back with a plastic beaker of water. Eventually she had her body back under control but Jean’s eyes were streaming and her chest ached. It was no longer any good trying to deny the fact that she was really, unwell and the sooner all this was over and she was home in her own room, the better. She looked into the worried face of her sister and dredged up a smile. “Come on let’s get this over with. Off you go Carl.”