Carl’s soft shoes made no noise on the thin carpeting. He walked across the landing, down the corridor opposite to where he had left his mum and aunty.
He stopped beside each door, listening, glancing behind, watchful, and nervous. There was the low murmur of deep voices from beyond one of the doors, the background mumble of a television. He moved on. In the next room, the one they had estimated was where Paul had seen the women, there was no sound of voices. He waited, his ear pressed against the door. He heard a small clatter, maybe a cup, or a glass, footsteps, it was certainly occupied.
He went all the way to the end of the corridor and stopped for a moment, to watch through the window, beside the fire escape. He could see, down the road, their two cars parked in the gateway. Further along there was another one drawn up to the kerb.
He went back to the room. Jean was lying on one of the beds. She was pale and clammy, her eyes were closed, but, as he entered, she struggled into a sitting position to talk to him.
They spent several minutes while she outlined her plan, answered their questions, and eventually convinced them that it was worth a try. Mostly Jean was worried that the others wouldn’t fall in line. She had always been the one to organise things, but that was her own family, her friends, not desperate strangers. “I expect Paul’s going to argue. He wants to just storm in there and grab her. It’s understandable, but if he gets too impatient and acts without thinking I reckon it’ll all go horribly wrong.”
Carl pocketed her keys. At the last minute, he remembered to take his mum’s phone so that he could input Paul’s number. They were limited to the ways that they could communicate and he mourned the loss of his precious mobile and all the information and specialised apps that it had on it. He bent and kissed both women before leaving to go back to where Paul and Sonja were waiting.
Once Carl had gone, Jean went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face, it felt icy.
She opened and closed the room door several times and bent to look at the lock. Lesley watched sulkily, from the other side of the room, until she couldn’t hold her tongue any longer. “What on earth are you doing? What are we doing? Why are we here?”
“I’m looking at the lock. It’s a crappy, feeble little thing. If it comes to it I reckon Carl and Paul could break one of these doors down. It’s not the best plan but it’s something. If this idea of mine doesn’t work.”
She knew that for it to work out many things would need to play into their hands at just the right time, and in the way she hoped. It was feeble and full of holes and they must be prepared to resort to brute force, if it came to it.
Lesley sighed and blew out her cheeks. Again, she made sarcastic reference to her sister’s imagination. “You just do what you think you can do, Jean. Get it out of your system, and then, when you’ve finished playing, bloody, Agatha Christy, or whatever, I’ll call the police and we can all go home.”
Jean squeezed her lips together, it would have been nice to have backup from her sister, but it had been like this for most of their lives. Lesley, complaining and wanting things to be different and Jean, coping, making do and enjoying the challenges. She nodded acceptance and moved to the window. The curtains were closed but lifting the edge she could see her nephew as he disappeared around the corner of the building next door.
Carl had to spend longer than he had hoped arguing with Paul. The other man was becoming more impatient and angry. It seemed that the confrontation would become physical and it was Sonja, stepping between them as they began to push and shove at each other that calmed things down. He didn’t want to move away from the hotel. He threatened to storm into the place, stomped as far as the road between the buildings and it took all of Carl and Sonja’s combined effort to calm him. Eventually, they made him understand that, if the police came, he and Rima would be separated anyway.
Carl told him over and over that he had heard his wife. It was an exaggeration, but at last he persuaded Paul to go with Sonja and wait in the cars. Jean wanted them away from the hotel so they didn’t interfere and ruin the plan before it even got started. If Paul saw his wife, and if she had been hurt, there was no way to guess how he would react, but loss of control would be a catastrophe.
Carl walked back to the hotel, checked his watch. The youth was still behind the counter and so, Carl hung around the front door until he saw him disappear into the room in the rear of the reception area. He waited until the smell and noise confirmed that some sort of lunch was being prepared.
He banged on the desk to bring the sullen youth from the back room, irritated as he stomped to the counter. “Yeah, what now?” Faced with a customer of the same age and gender he made no attempt at politeness.
“I need another key.”
“My mum and me, we want to go together to get the rest of the money. It’ll give my aunty a chance to sleep. We can’t lock her in the room and she’s nervous about leaving the door unlocked, so I need another key.”
“We don’t have spare keys.”
“So, what, you want us to lock her in? What if there’s a fire? That’ll look good, won’t it?”
“Well you’ve got a key to your room.”
“Let your mum use that. Or just waken your aunty up when you come back. It’s not my problem.”
“Are you kidding me? Would you let your mum sleep in your room? And what’s the bloody point of staying here if Aunty Jean can’t get a sleep? I reckon we might as well go somewhere else, somewhere better than this shit hole. Give us the deposit back, yeah?”
“Sorry mate, can’t help you.”
“Oh, come on, don’t be a dick. You must have spare keys. Don’t you have pass keys or something? What about the cleaners? They must have keys? It’s either that or I persuade them to go somewhere else, and you can whistle for the rest of your cash.”
The Microwave in the back room beeped. “Oh, for shit’s sake. Here.” The receptionist reached into his pocket and brought out a small ring. He removed one key and skimmed it across the counter towards Carl. “Don’t lose it, and you’d better give it back when you bring me the rest of the money.”
“Erm – duh – that’s when we need it for. So that we can get back in.”
“Yeah well, after that, right.”
Carl snatched up the key and thumped away towards the stairs. Part one accomplished