As I sat on the bus to Reginald’s hotel, I let my mind drift over everything I knew about this case. I needed a complete answer. If Reginald started asking questions, all I had were fragments. The trouble was that the only answers I had to fill in the gaps seemed closer to fantasy than reality. I glanced over at a businessman on the other side of the bus. He had a briefcase sat on the seat next to him, the scrambled numbers of the combination lock staring back at me. A three number code. That was what? One thousand combinations, if you included treble zero. It would have to be a lucky guess to open a case without knowing the number.
I dragged my eyes off the case and once more spread my gaze around the bus. It was mostly populated by suited men, presumably on their way to various business lunches. Almost every man had a case by his side. As I casually surveyed them, I started to notice a large amount of repetition. A lot of the cases were, if not identical, certainly very close to being so. An idea started to formulate in my mind. How long would it take to work out a three digit code, if you had nothing else to do? Or, more importantly, what would you do if you realised the Hotel had returned the wrong case to you? You’d be annoyed, sure. You’d probably make a complaint, but would you suspect foul play?
Suddenly I realised our young concierge might have planned this a little better than I had thought. Yet, if it had been planned, why target Reginald? Why a list that had virtually no resale value except to some rather dark shady characters who would be just as likely to you kill you for it than buy it.
The bus trundled along the road, rain now splattering the windows with enthusiasm and causing mini rivers to cascade along the glass. The lumbering machine pulled up to it’s stop, a little way outside the hotel, and lurched to a halt, casting a young woman’s handbag off her lap and onto the floor. Various pieces of life’s shrapnel clattered out of the bag, amid tuts and clucks from the modern breed of honourless gentleman.
Reginald had said he had some business to attend to; business that required him to stay in a Hotel so he was away from his wife. Business with feminine curves, presumably. I shuddered in sympathy of the poor woman who had to lie underneath Reginald’s sweating and bloated bulk. I couldn’t blame her though, Reginald is rich and I’ve done much worse for a lot less.
I flicked my collar up against the cold in a way that hasn’t been cool for forty odd years and dropped heavily off the bus. It is said that people often sense when something bad is going to happen, that they feel this overwhelming nervousness for no reason prior to some horrific event. People have woken up in sweats and fits of panic, only to receive a call an hour later that their loved one has been in an accident.
Of course, given the amount of times that someone in the world wakes up from a nightmare, and the amount of times people are in accidents, there is bound to be an overlap. It only takes five people out of a million to experience such a phenomenon before other people will start believing it. Nevertheless, when my feet hit that sodden pavement and I felt my stomach lurch and tighten, my shoulders ache, and my ears increase their intensity in anticipation, I knew something was going to happen. I just knew.
The tall faceless windows of the hotel stretched up into the sky before me, raindrops spiralling down past the sheer cliff wall like miniature bombs, and I felt alone. I patted one pocket for my cigarettes and another for my hipflask but I found nothing to satisfy either vice. This only served to agitate my nerves and I hurried up to the Hotel trying to move ahead of the brewing atmosphere in my mind. It kept pace with me every step of the way. Once in the hotel, it took me no more than five minutes to navigate through the lobby and take the slow creaking lift to Reginald’s floor. Not one of those three hundred seconds brought any relief.
The corridor was dark, the cloud filled sky not allowing enough sunlight through the window to make the place feel welcoming. The passageway had one of those generic red carpets that, no matter how old they are, always emit an aura of faded glory. Like the pealing paintwork of an abandoned theatre, the corridor screamed forgotten decadence.
This hotel was a far cry from the ostentatious opulence of the Hilton. My mind flickered back to the union flag that flapped outside that grand hotel. It had certainly been a statement about the glory of the old empire but, like the odds hidden in small print on the back of a scratch card, this hotel spoke of the harsh reality. It didn’t say the old empire was rubbish, the prize was still as high as ever, but it just showed how far away we were from it. It’s all very well pining over the girl you lost last month, but you don’t pine over the woman your great granddad lost, no matter how beautiful she was.
Finally I arrived at room 489 and was just about to knock, when my heightened senses stayed my hand; the door was ajar. I reached for my unlicensed pistol with my other hand. I’d left it in my office. Cursing under my breath I stood there, statuesque with my hand raised to knock, wondering what I should do. Do I go back for my gun? Do I knock? Do I charge in quickly?
I was probably only stood there for a few seconds but it felt like minutes. It was long enough at least for me to realise that the room was silent. The whole floor was silent. Opening my hand out, I gentle pressed the door open slowly.
The room was dark and the curtains were pulled shut. A soft glow of green from somewhere cast mysterious shadows around the walls, but none were distinguishable. I took a few slow steps into the room, my throat too dry to speak. If someone was in here I would find out soon enough, no point spoiling the surprise.
I jabbed at the light switch, but bursts of golden light failed to erupt from the wall fittings. The room stayed dark and motionless. Slowly I edged round the empty void, one hand tracing the wall as a guide. Nothing sounded, save for the regular hammering of my heart in my chest. The sensation of foreboding in my stomach was steadily building into a feeling of dread.
Eventually, I circumvented the room and arrived at the heavy but thinning velvet drapes. I stood stationary for a moment and took a deep breath. Everything was still. In a swift movement that was reminiscent of a samurai drawing his sword, I yanked the curtains open allowing light to pool into the hotel room. I turned and all the colour drained from my face.
Reginald Charvis was lying on the bed in a hotel dressing gown. The robe was open and allowing his enormous belly to slump out over the top. I may have been forgiven for thinking that he was sleeping peacefully on his back if it were not the slight purple tinge to his usually red facial features and the plastic bag pulled tightly over his head. There was some dark bruising around his neck where the bag had been twisted closed.
So much for an easy two grand, I thought, as I sat on the edge of the bed and looked over this hideous scene. I noticed that his wrists, too, had bruising. I didn’t want to take too close a look and leave any evidence for the police, but e,ven from my circumspect inspection I could tell that Reginald’s wrists had been held tightly. Two men, one to hold the bag, one to hold his hands. Not a spur of the moment decision, this was a hit.
For the first time I looked away from the bloated corpse and glanced around the room. The place had been ransacked. Reginald’s suitcase was open and his clothing and personal effects scattered. They’d been looking for something. The list? Was this a hit by whoever was named on the list? In that case, they must have known he’d taken it from the office. They must have known he was going to meet Mr X.
I sat in silence for a minute, my eyes roaming around the room. Eventually they caught on the emblem on Reginald’s robe. Something odd struck me about it, but my mind was too busy focusing on something else for it to sink in. It was a set up, wasn’t it? Mr X wouldn’t have told anyone about the meeting, even if threatened for the list, the secrecy of where you were getting it from was your only chance of survival. They must have been pulling the strings from the start. Forced Mr X to set up the meeting, then what? Maybe he escaped? Tried to warn Reginald? So they’d shot him, then hunted down this man too to find the list.
As these thoughts spiralled though my mind, my eyes were riveted on the emblem on the hotel’s robe, or rather, a hotel’s robe. In dark swirling black letters on the right breast, the robe whispered softly to me “Hilton Hotels”. I stood up and leant over, staring at the cursive stitching.
He’d been staying in the Hilton. Why had he been staying in the Hilton? He was a nervous man, there was no way he’d have taken the list out of his office until he absolutely had too. What had he been doing that had him staying in the Hotel?
I shook my head. My job was done, I was no longer getting paid. There was no point in me solving this case any more; it wasn’t going to fill my glass or pay my rent. Unfortunately, I’m not a cop. I can’t turn off when I get home. I can’t go home and forget about my job. My job is my life. Every hour of every day I am a private dick. It doesn’t matter if I’m getting paid or not, it’s who I am. I needed to know why our stupid bellboy had half inched a case that had dangerous but price-tag-less contents. I needed to know who had killed Reginald Charvis. I needed to show these bastards that I could get to them. There was something that would tie these things together. There was a reason for all of it, and I needed to know.
I got up swiftly and left the hotel room, pulling the door to, carefully not letting the latch click into place. I returned to the lobby via the stairs, hoping that this would stop anyone knowing which floor I had come from.
The front desk were unusually helpful. I guess, in a hotel of fading and in some cases absent glory, I fitted in quite well. I certainly lacked any hint of glory now but, I suppose, in the way that I carry myself I sometimes have the appearance of a once great man.
Reginald had booked into this hotel on the Monday, arriving Monday evening. It seemed a bit of a coincidence that he’d booked so last minute on the same day that he had had the phone call from Mr X, but it seemed an even bigger coincidence that he had requested them to send a taxi to pick him up from, you guessed it, the Hilton.
He must have already been staying at the Hilton. That is when he’d picked up the dressing gown. But why move Hotels? Was he worried someone would find out about his extra marital activities? But who would find out? If she stayed in the room while Reginald exchanged the list then there would be nothing to worry about and, in any case, it’s unlikely Mr X would care or it would make much difference if he knew.
No, he had to be doing something at the Hilton that he didn’t want Mr X to know about. There was something else here, something else that would bring all the pieces together and let me understand.