Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel (Saturday morning. Before you awake. Room Hopping.)
In this wretched life, it is only our petty animosities and small victories which help us get through the day. For, knowing someone is worse off than ourselves, is often our only comfort.
In this fashion you hate upon sight the young man with the square jaw and piercing blue eyes.
With his good looks and straight features he will always be in work and he will always have women at his feet and he will never have to frequent seedy strip bars and pay for lap-dances from women who are old enough to be his mother and who would probably lap-dance him for free, or more!, if only he would flash them a handsome smile with his Colgate Whitening teeth.
Life is not fair and you believe you are put on this earth to set the balance right.
You hang around reception buying Felicity Diet Cokes from the machine and you make water feature noises from the corner of your mouth until she goes to the toilet and then you slip behind the desk and find the young man is in room 156 and you make yourself up a keycard and tell yourself the man will rue the day he ever met you although he has not met you, except when he shouted towards you as you were putting out the breakfast condiments that it was a beautiful day, too hot to be working, and he hoped your shift would not be too long and onerous.
What a smug prick you thought and you vowed that your revenge would be both swift and brutal.
Oh yes. Oh yes.
On the second day of his stay you notice the handsome young man heading towards the car park and seeing this as your opportunity you sneak quickly up to his room and open it with your keycard.
You do not know exactly how you will take your revenge but you recall a time when you were eleven years old and you went on a French trip to Le Touquet and how the twenty-six boys in your class all took a dump on your bed. It was made all the worse because you were in it at the time, fast asleep, and you will never forget the horror you felt upon waking or the shame of your new nickname, Sewer-Boy, or the costume they made you, a pair of underpants covered in shit, or the special power you were supposed to have, to be able to lick arse at fifty feet, sixty on a good day, fair weather permitting.
Your favourite superhero back then was Spider-Man and you even had a device that fitted to your wrist that fired out a stringy web.
Noticing the mounds of ordure around you, you had fired it again and again until the string ran out.
It made no difference.
This is when you stopped believing in superheroes.
It was a house of cards crashing down.
The curtains in the room are closed and the room is in darkness and as you turn on the light you are surprised to see that the room is entirely empty, there is no sign of any luggage or habitation although you are sure, having checked the records, that the man is due to stay for a week.
Puzzled you take a seat on the bed and that is when you find the note.
“I hereby say farewell to the world…”
Gripped by this opening sentence you read on until tears roll down your cheeks.
The young man’s parents are dead. He was brought up by a cruel aunt and made to work full time in McDonalds from the age of fourteen. It was there that he was discovered by a model scout, signed to an agency and sent out to New York.
For two years he was feted, dated by both men and women, his face appearing in all the top magazines. But then he developed a chronic case of persistent bulbous impetigo and the acting jobs dried up, he got behind on his rent and was then arrested trying to sell his bum to an undercover policeman in Central Park and deported back to England.
He has stolen the car he is in.
He doesn’t have the money to pay for his motel bill.
He has no friends and his only family, the cruel aunt, has said she wants nothing to do with the nephew who has brought shame on the family and gave up a perfectly good job in a reputable fast food establishment.
As you come to the last lines of the letter you read that he has bought a pipe to go in the exhaust of the car he has stolen and he is going to gas himself.
He will be dead.
No one in the world will miss him.
This is it.
Scared that you are too late you rush out to the car park.
The car has the engine running and there is a pipe running from the exhaust to a crack in the driver’s door window and letting out a cry you pull open this door and pull out the young man who slumps down onto the ground.
You are not a medical expert but you attempt to give him mouth to mouth and you let out a cry of joy when he splutters and sits up.
You are a hero, a bona fide hero.
You have saved a life.
Over the following weeks and months you and the young man keep in touch. Your heart sings every time you receive a new post card.
He lives in Buxton!
He gets a job in a pizza parlour!
His artisan bespoke pizzas are the talk of the town!
He no longer sells his bum to coppers!
You are pleased for once that you have done something both good and worthy. But you have only ever told this story to one person and that was when you were trying to pick up a woman in The Commodore Club.
What a great guy she would think you were, she would sleep with you, etc. etc., but as you got to the end of the tale the woman had looked at you with rage and fury.
“So you’d wanted to ruin this man’s life just because he was better looking than you?”
She had stood up, knocking back her stool, and before leaving the bar she had poked you roughly three times in the chest.
“Jesus Christ, you’re a shit!”
The man in room 338 has fine moustaches and deeply weathered skin. He wears a hat even when he is in the restaurant, carries a compass around his neck on a thick cord and always, strapped to his powerful left thigh, is a sturdy water bottle.
You are intrigued and when you see him in The Commodore Club you offer to buy him a drink and he accepts and asks you if you would like to sit with him.
You would as it is not often you meet interesting people at work.
You usually meet people that you despise.
Overweight mothers and fathers with overweight children who think the sign on the ‘All You Can Eat’ buffet is a challenge they are going to win. Married travelling salesmen, worn out with their lives, trying to pick up the young girls on hen dos and they do pick up these young girls, these wretched travelling salesmen, and you see these young girls slinking from the travelling salesmen’s rooms in the early morning, ripped tights clutched in their hands, make up askew, the self-satisfied smirk of the salesman in his room, naked belly on view, crispy with the remnants of his own spent semen.
Healthy young lads on football teams.
Loving couples going somewhere or coming from somewhere. Full of life.
Elderly walking groups.
Air hosts and hostesses.
Etc. Etc. Etc.
The moustachioed man’s name is Royston Chesil-Holmes and he is an explorer.
“But no, not one of these new fangled namby-pamby explorers with GPS and Gortex all weather clothing.”
Royston Chesil-Holmes is an explorer after the Edwardian tradition when at the height of the British Empire new lands and places were being discovered; the source of the Blue Nile, the Lost City of Gold, the two poles and King Tutankhamen’s Tomb.
He takes a map out of one of his many pockets, ‘a man can never have too many pockets or matches’, and tells you he is soon set to start on his next adventure, a journey by foot to Lake Tanganyika.
You do not know where Lake Tanganyika is but you know that you want to go there and you close your eyes and you see placid blue waters, cerulean skies, intense heat and, as you arrive at this magical place, footsore and dusty, you remove your clothes and dive naked from a rock into the water while elephants drink at the shore and you frolic with friendly seals and dolphins.
You are very drunk now and when Royston Chesil-Holmes asks you if you would like to come with him you say yes you would, your life has had no purpose for too long and from now on you are going to be a world renowned adventurer so help you god.
You will be there, you scream at the top of your voice.
You. Will. Be. There.
At four o’clock the following morning you have already forgotten this pledge when there is a hammering at your door and you open it to find a fully dressed Edwardian explorer there asking you if you are ready to start your journey.
You say you are not as you are barely awake and you are wearing only a pair of underpants.
This, apparently, does not matter.
Richard Burton, you are told with absolute sincerely, and I have the documents to prove it, once travelled to Mecca in only a g-string. Whole books have been written about what Lawrence of Arabia did in his briefs.
With some force then you are manhandled up to Room 338.
“So this area here is Europe,” says Chesil-Holmes, pointing to where a coat is lying spread on the floor, “over there is the Strait of Gibraltar”, the bed, “and just over there is Africa. If you squint hard enough you can see Lake Tanganyika.”
You squint hard enough and you see in the bathroom the bath has been filled with water and on the edge of the bath are two tiny plastic elephants.
Sometimes, you figure, it is easier to go with the flow and in this fashion by the time you start work that morning you have already bathed in the crystal clear, albeit quite cold and cramped, waters of a sublime African lake, cavorted with elephants, travelled great distances and seen wonders that you never thought you would see.
This particular travelling salesman comes to the hotel every two or three weeks and he always books the same room. All the rooms in the Hotel Flamingo are set out and decorated exactly the same but he calls this one his lucky room.
“Is my lucky room free today?” he will ask. “Then book that baby for me!”
The room is not lucky. Not one but two people have died in the room and a third, a young Geordie lad, threw himself out of the window down to the car park below during a bad acid trip and is now confined to a wheelchair.
He sometimes comes back to the hotel and shakes his fist up at the window.
He always look angry.
In contrast the travelling salesman always looks very pleased with himself. Each evening during his stay he will sit in the dining-room, a single glass of white wine in front of him and tot up his day’s sales.
“Carry on like this,” he tells you one day, “and I will be able to retire when I am forty-five.”
You smile at him and nod your head in agreement but you know that when the fall comes it will be hard and it will be deep.
You do not have to wait long.
One night you are woken by a car alarm going off and going down to the car park you find the travelling salesman looking ashen-faced standing next to a black Audi A4 with a smashed rear passenger window.
“They’ve taken my samples,” he says. “How can I have been so stupid? I never leave my samples in my car.”
You make some placatory noises but inside you are secretly seething. Two people have died and another has lost the use of his legs. It does not seem right that the travelling salesman has lost only his case of samples.
There is no justice in the world.
You go back up to your room and punch your pillow.
As fate is doing such a bad job on its own you vow to take the revenge on the travelling salesman yourself.
You will tie him up, release the handbrake on his car and let it roll over him.
This thought gives you comfort and you fall into a deep and righteous sleep.
You do not see the travelling salesman for a couple of days but when you do you are surprised to see both his arms are in casts and he has a patch over his right eye.
“What’s up?” you ask him and your spirits begin to rise as he tells you how he met up with his important client without his samples and the client was angry and ordered his henchmen to load the salesman into the back of his car and take him to a deserted warehouse.
“That’s just the start of it,” he says, a tremor in his voice. “Get us a drink and then you better sit down.”
It is a terrible tale.
The man he was doing business with was a Russian gangster, the stolen samples gun parts.
“They thought I had sold them down the river, got into bed with another crook, was halfway to Hawaii with the stolen loot.”
One by one they had broken each of his fingers using a pair of pliers to bend them back until they snapped. Then they had gouged out his right eye with a teaspoon and let it dangle down on his cheek for several hours before pulling on it until the tendons holding it snapped.
You cannot imagine how much that hurt but you tell the travelling salesman at least they did not kill him and he shakes his head, sucks his drink up from the straw, and says that they might as well have killed him because how can he go on being a travelling salesman with fingers that no longer work and a face that is horribly disfigured.
“Would you want to buy anything off me?” he asks and he removes his eyepatch and he leers at you and his look is so hideous you want to throw up and you say that you earn only a minimum wage and modern life is expensive and you point to the drink you have bought him and, without shame, you tell him how much it cost but that if you did have any money you would certainly buy goods from him because it is not the face of the seller that is important to you but the quality of the goods that are being sold.
This is a bare faced lie.
You would not touch anything those decrepit and deformed fingers had ever come into contact with.
If you saw that raw and bloody eye socket coming towards you, you would run a mile.
You are not a good man.
You will never be a good man.
Oh yes. Oh yes.