Sleep debt

I’m fading out of a battered house in the arse-end of Hungary, knee deep in London dry empties and the old hacking bellow chasing me… I manage to crack open something eyelid-like and the house disintegrates fully and finally. The ceiling lurches toward me but I get a second eye open and it all kind of vibrates back to normal.

There’s still the voice to contend with – something like a moulding cask full of mulched-up ice-ridden tractors – and it occurs to me that I might have swallowed the much-fabled last straw and had my liver fuse permanently with my brain. But no… the voice is unfamiliar and sounds much like it might have two legs and two arms and be standing outside the door.

Between knocks I yank it open and find a square jaw in a black suit – no tie, the casual look – giving me the eye. Whether I disappoint him or otherwise I don’t know, but I like to think I’m radiating a suitable level of baleful at this juncture. He scans the room behind me, mutters something and turns on his heel down the corridor.

The window’s open and it seems like a good idea to test the nausea readings, so I stick my head out and get a lungful. There’s a rickety-looking trellis to my right covered in ivy, which I was expecting, and a poet, which I was not.

“Morning,” I say.

He unscrews his eyes and clears his throat in my direction. He wobbles one leg up and down the trellis, thinks better of it and lets it settle back onto the ledge.

“Just getting some air, you know,” he croaks.

“Sure. Listen. I’m going to see what’s edible here. You want something?”

He starts to shake his head, then says, “Orange juice. With ice. And a croissant if they have any.”

I nod and, reasoning that there’s probably not many places the conversation could go, excuse myself. If my dive instinct is correct, there are in any case some finely burnt rashers nearby that warrant much more of my attention.

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dream a little dream

Mordino is making noise somewhere. I lift my head long enough to see that he’s pulled out all the drawers and disheveled the blackout curtains. I mumble something but can’t make it out and drift back into sleep.

I’m back in Russia and it’s cold. Freezing. I understand that I’m dreaming but I don’t recognize the forest. It’s every forest, all pine trees and snow. I’m cowering from the cold between two trees. I can see Sophia in a clearing and she is crying. Her shoulders lurch back and forward as she sobs and screams.

I can hear her but it sounds like laughter. I shout out in confusion and run toward the clearing but I can’t get any closer.

Sophia looks at me, smiling. She is not crying. I blink my eyes shut.

When I open them again Sophia has changed. She is not Sophia anymore. She is old. A hag, doubled over from arthritis and wrapped in furs to keep out the cold. And she is not alone. Two men straddling guns on broad shoulders are talking to her. I recognize them from the airstrip. Sophia’s brothers.

The old hag looks at me from the clearing and laughs, the noise reverberating up through the trees. Hack. Hack. Hack. She raises her finger and I see the brothers follow it until they are looking at me. Confusion crosses their faces before they raise their guns and start to run.

I take a breath and start to yell. My feet kick out to run but I’m awake now.

There’s a thump on the door of the hotel room.

I relax, realising where I am and see Mordino sprawled out on the floor. The sight of him seems safe. There is a second thump on the door and the voice on the other side shouts something familiar. It’s in Russian.

Russian.

‘Shit,’ is all I can say as I head for the window.

Seconds out

Fournier has a wild face on him and he knocks chunks out of the room on his way through the door. That and the blood on his lip suggest he mightn’t be in the optimal mental state. Never mind that some of us have paid good money to get there, the bowsie just waltzes in as usual.

The feller and the missus aren’t too keen on us leaving and there’s a bit of windmilling going on before himself lands on his back and I get a sashay on. Fournier’s up the hall accosting another guest, some kind of burbling noise coming out of him and he pinning the poor man to the floor, for what reasons escape me. The chap seems overwhelmed and lets himself be dragged into the room next door while myself is down the hallway sharpish… Fournier-less, and after a corner or two it occurs to me that said room might be our berth and not just a scene of whatever crime he’s cooking. About face.

Around half of Fournier is on the bed, arms flung up around his face. As I make my entrance the bathroom door opens and his new friend creeps out, dribbling on the carpet and looking something like a molested rabbit… I retire the shark in his direction and give him the door, an opportunity he does not squander.

The window’s open and the cold air helps… picks me up far enough that I’m willing to see what liquids Fournier has brought with him. The man himself opens his eyes long enough to glance at me, makes a noise like a turkey doing a cryptic crossword, and firmly shuts them again.

I crawl around a bit but I can’t find what he’s done with his suitcase… which strikes me as very rude of him, but those are the shakes, those and the ones looming somewhat and making me think maybe he has the right idea, so I shut things down a bit and stretch myself out. Tomorrow is another day.

Záchytka

Apologies for the break. Mordino passed out in the hall and I had to keep my fingers in his mouth to stop him from choking on his tongue/vomit; stopping me from using the keyboard obviously. (Notes on Záchytka)

***

The ringing in my ears won’t let up. I’m in the corridor, stumbling, pushing and dragging Mordino toward the sanctuary of our room. Behind us, Jack’s friend is screaming blue murder. Jack isn’t screaming anything. Jack is lying still back in his room.

Murder? Mordino didn’t hit him that hard. He can barely even stand up for chrissakes.

We trundle into my room. I run the shower until it’s icy cold and sit Mordino’s contemptible bulk under the stream. I close the door to mask his yelps and head for the comfort of my stale mattress.

I’m sure my eyes are only closed for a second. Perhaps two. The bathroom door is open and Mordino is standing by the window. His clothes are dry.

How did he do that?

Exeunt

Soon enough it gets to where the shark is afoot. All teeth and piggy black eyes, a natural outcome of divilment and excess… directed at my new compatriot in arms and, of course, shoes, he of the coatlessness nouveau. It’s a smirk I say, a smirk, a divilish smirk. Unclear whether he notices. But away! before he does, lest questions be directed in wrong directions. Not I my lord, not I. It went a-wandering indeed, went in search of its fortune, terrible thing but they do grow up, ahh, they do.

The lobby wishes to dance with me. I stand straight; excuse my manners. It would of course be rude to turn a lady down. Arms up, da da daa, da da daa… the floor flirts, a coquettish little wink and a touch of the hand. Not tonight my dear, not tonight. I may be that brand of gentleman in certain other lives and times but not tonight, I shall lay with you perhaps anon, but, I…

… up the stairs. Shifty little beggars too, roiling and tossing, like… the sea, made of… jellyfish… all in good fun though, it seems, or at least they have the benefit of the doubt for now, but well they know there will be no nonsense or words will be exchanged. In point of fact I am prepared to say there will be ructions.

A commotion… shocking rudeness at such an hour but I hear a commotion down the hall, and so caress my way down one wall, pardon me… a door presents itself, an aperture. My, and quite a tableau indeed…

Ma’am,” I say, shark once more in vogue, to the be-towelled vision before me. She shrieks most musically, if a touch confrontational. I regret the lack of a hat to tip. “If you will excuse me,” I murmur.

The fellow is easy enough to pull off, although I believe he clips my ear once or twice. I give him the old Queensbury routine while Fournier tucks the tackle into leg number two – grey pinstripe, a fetching look, and so I tell him although he seems distracted. With himself suitably trousered, the time seems ripe for a hasty skedaddle.

The three bears

It took so long for Mordino to stop snickering like a Japanese schoolgirl with her knickers past her knees that I slipped into a rage. Not because my bag was nicked. Not because I was fending off pneumonia with the warmth from my palms. But because I could see that the skinny, toothless feck thought he had the moral advantage.*

The jacket he finally gave me did little for the situation, bar injecting the necessary confidence for my return to the lobby. The Lovely Lorna (79) was still nowhere near her station so I helped myself to a key – brightly labelled ‘MASTER’ – and headed for the hall.

The first room I opened was empty, the bed was made and the wardrobe was open and waiting for it’s guests to arrive. The second room was also empty, though there was a short leather skirt and a tank top folded into a neat pile by the window. (I won’t lie to you. Times were hard and it did cross my mind.) The bed in the next room was too hard so I fecked off to my own floor to try my luck in the rooms upstairs and avoid turning into Goldilocks.

It was harder to find an empty room on this floor – I listened to the mumblings, whispers, moans, groans and sweet nothings of the other guests. The room next to my own seemed empty and without any further invitation I headed for the wardrobe. I nearly cried when I saw the trousers and shirt inside the flimsy cabinet. It wasn’t until I had one leg already into the pair of grey pinstripe slacks that a woman’s voice called out from the bathroom.

‘Jack? Is that you?’

So this is how these situations manifest themselves. I had a sudden rush of empathy to my dwarf invader. There was also the curiosity to investigate whom the voice belonged. I never did get the chance to have a peep though as Jack walked in from the hallway and his companion, toweled to spare her dignity, walked out from the bathroom and screamed.

‘I can explain,’ I said and Jack punched me.

* It would be unfair not to point out, that on average, my turning up naked in a bar would have been the result of some debauched act of my own creation. For once, this was not the case.

Hotel bar, part the second

By the way he’s hissing my name I know I don’t want to turn around… but Campari and curiosity make a devilly cocktail, so I deign to shoot him a glance. Public nudity: not a tremendous surprise, strictly speaking, although I was expecting it to take a few days. Looks like I owe my sense of foreboding a Coke.

Spats is holding his apértif badly and is in any case suitably distracted by some piece of resident totty, so it’s no great trouble to disengage. I groove On Down to where Fournier’s… how to describe it? skulking in a fierce kind of huddle, and I ask him what’s afoot.

We’re speaking sideways – hard to look a man in the eye when he’s smuggling the crown jewels – and he’s gritting his teeth, and I’m mostly occupied with how I might turn this to my advantage, so I don’t entirely follow what he’s on about. Something to do with beards and arithmetic. How a man in his position can summon the dignity to use a word like “arithmetic,” I don’t fathom.

“Aren’t you going to offer me your jacket?” he adds, glaring. Never mind that this is, by at least three independent accounts, the jacket Olé Godiva was wearing when the left side of his body stopped working. Spats is still occupied however, so I rather magnaminiously liberate his coat instead. Fournier shoves it aboard in bad humour and retreats to the stairs.