In Shaw’s long experience, nothing quite matched the exquisite pain of toothpaste underneath the contact lens. The eye, it would seem, was no more designed for the absorption of fluoride than his teeth were designed to withstand the Cif with which he had inadvertently cleaned them that morning.
He had not had a good start to the day. His alarm at waking in an unfamiliar room had been of such magnitude that the hotel staff had alerted the management who, in turn, had despatched Security to handle the situation. By the time the man in uniform arrived at his door, Shaw had recovered some equilibrium with fast returning Tarantino-style flashbacks of an over-indulgent night in the hotel bar, but his renewed calm was not matched by the generously proportioned man in the over-tight suit who blocked out the light in his doorway. Indeed, Shaw’s own mood was darkened further when the be-suited Neanderthal pushed past him and insisted on looking around as ‘there had been reports of something that sounded like animal abuse,’ from the room. Shaw, in particular, did not care for the pointed remarks about his lack of luggage, nor the persistent bone-headed references to ‘people of your kind’.
Eventually, satisfied that the room had not been the scene of some bestial ritual sacrifice or perverted sexual practice, the shaven-headed behemoth returned to his dot-to-dot book and Shaw sat heavily on his bed to think.
He had been doing this ‘job’ for many years now and had, during that time, woken in many places far more alien than a hotel bedroom, but never in the state of agitated disorientation in which he had awoken on that morning. He felt around his body, searching for signs of injury or attack but, save for the extreme discomfort of a severely over-extended bladder, all was as usual. Of course, there was the issue of the hotel bedroom itself. Shaw presumed that it must have been paid for, but he had no recollection of how. He, himself, never carried more than a few pounds in cash – it was a matter of principal – and the only credit card he had ever possessed had been eaten by an iguana in 1999. He claimed ‘eaten’ – it had actually fallen into the animal’s terrarium (or ‘lair’ as he insisted on calling it) and Shaw, having witnessed the lizard’s scaly little swivelling eyes in action, was too freaked out to retrieve it. Even when the friend had returned the card to him, he refused to keep it and posted it instead, back to the bank in an envelope marked ‘Sanitisation Department’. The bank, for their part, seized the opportunity to withdraw the card from the man who had run up an overspend somewhat in excess of a developing nation and who possessed more aliases than a Sicilian telephone directory. He had never had a credit card since.
He rifled through the detritus from his trouser pockets and attempted to assemble some sort of coherent chronology to the previous night’s affairs from the crumpled papers he retrieved. There was a name and address he did not recognise, several old bus tickets and a National Lottery ticket from almost a decade before, but no sign of a receipt for the room. It was not until he found the neatly folded slip of paper in his shoe (he always took special care with Dinah’s phone number) that he realised he had also lost his phone. Dinah would know how to handle the situation in a manner that he was unable to fathom – e.g. without causing an incident that required the presence of police from three different counties – but there it was; she was not available to him. ‘Just goes to show,’ he thought bitterly. ‘You just can’t rely on anybody.’
He couldn’t pick up the phone in the room and ask reception to put a call through for him: he just knew that the ape of a security guard would be right there, uncovering the fact that the room had never been paid for: polishing his knuckles and devising his excuses. Dinah would have to wait for now – although he made a mental note to speak to her about unreliability – while he considered how he could extricate himself from his current predicament.
He could, of course have crept downstairs and made a run for it as soon as he reached the hotel lobby, but he remembered, with some pain, the consequences of his last attempt at such an exit, when the revolving doors had spun him straight back into the room and deposited him at the feet of the receptionist who had gripped him in an arm-lock so severe that he had suffered from pins and needles for months, before she doused his face in the depilatory spray that she had mistakenly put in her pocket in place of mace. It worked just as well. He certainly wouldn’t be able to talk himself out of the situation as he had done back then – the face that had launched a thousand ships looked as if it had done them all with a head-butt this morning – and not even a protagonist of more advanced years would ever find her head being turned by a man who had absolutely no idea why he was wearing odd shoes. Besides, he feared the only head-turning to take place would be his own, at the behest of the muscle-bound troglodyte at the door.
No, it was clear now. He knew what he had to do. Stealthily he traversed the wall, past the still un-noticed partition door – on the other side of which an ear-plugged Dinah slept soundly on, with both of their phones and her credit card beside her – past the ceiling CCTV (actually a long-disabled smoke alarm) and to the sanctuary of the curtain, from the shelter of which he deftly slipped the catch and opened the window. Good, only three floors up. All he needed to do now was to reach the drainpipe…
Part five is now here.