Posted by Cygnus Team
    9 July, 2010

    The flight was uneventful enough, except the pilot accidentally touched down at a slightly wrong airport and forgot to lower the landing gear, so we left the plane by way of the emergency chute, and I lost my shoes.I was fairly pooped by the time I’d hobbled through Customs, filled with the usual lost luggage forms with the assistance of a stone-deaf baggage complaints officer and taken a three-hour taxi ride to the country where I’d intended to land. The ride would have cost about a month’s salary, if the cabby had remembered to charge me. All I wanted to d, once the hotel receptionist had finished denying all knowledge of my reservation, was to flop down on the bed and sleep for a millenium or two.

    Only there was no bed.

    I punched a small hole in the bathroom walll and dialled Reception.
    A woman picked up the phone and said: ‘Restaurant. How may I help you?’

    ‘I dialled reception.’
    ‘Well, this is the restaurant.’

    ‘Right. Could you possibly patch me through to Reception?’
    ‘That won’t be a problem, sir. One moment.’
    There was a silent pause, then the ringing tone again, and the click of the receiver being lifted. The same chirpy voice said: ‘Restaurant. How may I help you?’
    I dragged on an imaginary cigarette and exhaled slowly.
    ‘It’s me again.’
    ‘I’m sorry. Who did you want to speak to?’

    ‘I wanted to speak to Reception.’
    ‘Well, this is the restaurant.’
    ‘I know. You accidentally patched me from the restaurant back to the restaurant again.’
    ‘It sounds to me like there’s problem with the internal phones.’
    ‘Yes, indeedy.’
    ‘I’ll put you through to House Services.’
    ‘I’d be very grateful.’
    Again, the silence, the ringing, the click and the voice.
    ‘Restaurant. How may I help you?’
    I told her how she might help me, and she threatened to report me to Security for verbal violence. I wished her good luck getting through and slammed down the phone. I reckoned she’d probably spend the rest of the afternoon phoning herself.
    There was no message from Klingferm, though, let’s be realistic, the chances of the hotel staff receiving the message and actually delivering it to me in the correct room on the right day were less than promising.
    I spent twenty minutes trying to assume vaguely comfortable position on a sofa perfectly designed to deny humans rest or comfort, then decided I’d be better off sorting out some clothes and other essentials. My luggage was probably having a good time scooting round a baggage carousel  in Rio de Janeiro,and my shoes no doubt graced the feet of some scavenging bastard ground staff at Verona airport.
    I didn’t expect to find a local Yellow Pages, so when I did, I kissed it passionately. Sadly it was the local Yellow Pages for the Los Angeles area, and I was in Rome. I enlarged the hole in the bathroom wall and steeled myself to scour the streets of the Eternal City for shoe shops in my stockinged feet.
    I opened the hotel room door. A security guard was standing just outside, looking puzzledly at a clipboard. He looked up, grinned, and said, ‘English?’
    I tried to look German and shook my head.
    ‘This is room 407, yes?’
    I looked a the room number on the door. 407. I tried shaking my head again, Germanically.
    ‘Mr Vascular?’
    ‘That was indeed the name I was travelling under. I tried to make an expression like it was the first time I’d ever heard it. Pulled it off, too, I think.
    ‘I have a complaint against you. Very serious. A proposition of a sexual nature to the restaurant manager.’
    Again, I tried to shake my head in a foreign language.
    ‘You requested her to masturbate over teh phone for you.’
    Not exactly. I suppose I had, in a way, suggested that the woman should have sex with herself, though not for my titillation. I put on my best Teutonically perplexed expression.
    ‘I don’t need to tell you that this sort of thing cannot be tolerated. I must ask you to accompany me to the holding cells, where we will await the arrival of the vice squad.’
    I tried not to notice the polished black leather of the gun holster strapped to his belt, but failed, I think. It’s astonishing how naked you can feel in stockinged feet. Especially in the presence of a uniformed man bearning firearms. Verbal sexual violence invoked a mandatory jail term, even in Italy, where it used to be a valid career choice. Even if the charge didn’t stick, I’d spend a sorry few days in a damp cell, with only some bored, sadistic guards carrying sturdy lengths of rubber hose for occasional company.
    ‘I think you’ve got the wrong party,’ I said, wisely abandoning the dismal German tourist ploy.
    ‘ Are you suggesting a bribe?’
    Nonplussed at the non sequiter, I hesitated, then reacheed into my jacket pocket. ‘Certainly not, officer. Though I was thinking it would be a nice gesture to make a smalll contribution to the Security Guards’ Widows and Orphans Fund.’ I tugged out a deck of notes – a big denomination on the top, singles underneath. That’s how I keep them. Believe me, it comes in handy. Tips, beggars, muggers, MEPs. You name it.
    He pulled a neat disappearing trick with the money and consulted his clipboard again. ‘I am now thinking perhaps Mr Vascular is in room 507.’
    ‘I wouldn’t be at all surprised.’
    He snapped a polite salute and turned right down the corridor. I gave him another couple of minutes, then stepped out of the room, turned left and headed for the elevator. It arrived almost immediately, which I should have seen as a warning.
    Two  hours and small suffocation scare later, the elevator car finally decided it’d had enough of me and spewed me out into the lobby. I padded over to the Reception desk and tried to complain about the bedlessness of my room, the uselessness of the internal telephone system and the sheer cussedness off the lift, but the shifts had changed and the new receptionist was a ninety-year-old man who could only communicate in what appeared to be Polish with a Cuban accent. I took up a pen and a notepad, and tried  drawing a bed, but he seemed to think it was some kind of amorous initiative. Frighteningly, he appeared to be excited by the prospect. I gave up
    I was about to squeeze into the street through the tiny gap offered by the hotel’s jammed doors when I spotted a piece of paper in 407’s cubbyhole. Briefly, I contemplated engendering another fruitless exchange with the superannuated clerk, then leapt over the counter and scrambled for the message. It was addressed to a Mr Faro in room 333. While the ancient receptionist clubbed me about the back of the neck with a rolled-up city centre map, I checked the other boxes and found a fax with my name on it in 207’s cubbyhole.
    It was from Klingferm alright.
    He’d set up a meet less than a mile away, in just under an hour. Which meant I was facing an uncomfortably long walk in my flimsy socks or a terrifying cab journey with a Roman taxi driver. I had to pick up my Italian ID. I wondered if I could also afford the tiem to stop off and buy a pair of shoes.
    As it turned out, I could afford that time. If I hadn’t stopped to buy those shoes, I’d probably be as dead as Klingferm turned out to be.

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