My instinctive reaction to what had just happened and indeed to the events of the day itself, was, of course, to head straight for the minibar. I found it lurking underneath the T.V on the right hand side of the room, a small brown camouflaged fridge between two sets of drawers. I squatted down and flung it open.
“Okey-dokey,” I said out loud, “what have we here?”
The two main shelves didn”t have anything of any use to anyone as far as I was concerned. On the top shelf there were two bottles of Heineken and two bottles of Coke while underneath it there were two bottles of Fanta and two bottles of water. “I think not,” I said disgustedly and turned my attention to the inside of the door. Bingo. I took out two miniature bottles of Scotch and two miniature bottles of brandy and emptied them into a glass. Then I took off my jacket, kicked off my shoes, and flopped onto the bed. “At last,” I groaned indulgently before tipping the entire contents of the glass down my throat. Unexpectedly, however, this oft-rehearsed routine suddenly produced an alarming retch which had to be followed up with an immediate yet well-judged swallow. I waited for a few seconds then got hit with another alarming retch which had to be followed up with another immediate yet even better-judged swallow. “Go easy there partner,” I cajoled myself good naturedly but with a real feeling of fear. At length, the struggle came to an end I was able to lower myself, more cautiously this time, into a bolt upright position on the bed. I wiped the tears from my eyes with the back of my hand and stared out of the window.
Given the hotel’s proximity to the sea, I had been hoping for, nay, counting on, some kind of sea view. A beach front panorama perhaps, or the hypnotic tilting this way and that of ships” masts in the gentle Mediterranean breeze. Instead I seemed to have secured a room on the bum side of the hotel; the only view I had was of a brick wall and somebody else’s dirty air conditioning unit.
I checked my watch: there was still an hour and a half left to go. The question was: what could I do in that time? I could go for a swim, I suppose. I had brought my swimming trunks and in a hotel like this there was bound to be a pool. Or I could fix myself another drink……actually on second thoughts, maybe not. There wasn”t really enough time to go to sleep, so then, what to do? I was pondering all of this when, as if by luck, I happened to notice a laminated brochure next to the T.V. “Adult Entertainment Direct to your Room,” it said on it, and next to the words was the image of a well-endowed and exceptionally sluttish woman staring right at me. The answer immediately became clear: I would celebrate my first day in my new job with an expensive, high quality wank. What could possibly be better?
As if working on a sub-conscious level, my arm had already snaked its way over to the bedside table and located the remote control. I had a quick flick through the channels and soon found exactly what I was looking for: 12 Hour Adult Zone, $34.99. Bargain. With a tremendous feeling of excitement churning in my stomach and a frenzied disregard for any possible consequences, I punched my room number into the remote control: Three……… Nine………… Six………
I felt it was important to arrive early for my rendez-vous with the Captain so I allowed myself a good twenty minutes in order to negotiate the labyrinth from my room back to the lifts. To my surprise, I managed only a handful of wrong turns and found myself back in the lobby with a full ten minutes to spare.
I also felt it was important to pay for the adult entertainment channel while it was still fresh in my mind, so to speak, and thereby preclude any unnecessary embarrassment when the time came to check out the following day with the Chief Pilot standing next to me. We weren”t due to leave until the following afternoon, but still, it never pays to leave these things to the last minute.
Being aware, as I was, of the delicate nature of my predicament, I was smart enough not to head straight for the check-in desk but rather to loiter inconspicuously in the middle of the lobby until a suitable receptionist became available. There was no way I was going to have any further dealings with the same person who had checked us in when we arrived, nor was there any way I was going to suffer the humiliation of being tended to by a female employee whom I might otherwise have recourse to importune at a later stage in the evening. No. What was called for in a difficult situation like this was some level of sympathy or, ideally, complicity on their part which would hopefully be offset by a certain roguish, fun-loving approach on mine. I was mature enough to know that honesty was, as it always is, the best policy, nor was I about to debase myself any further than I already had by getting involved in a web of intrigue and deceit. Boys will be boys after all, I reminded myself philosophically, and besides, these people were professionals; they”d seen it all before and they”d probably seen every trick in the book.
As far as I could make out, there were seven employees to choose from. They were well spaced out, which was good, but the desk itself curved round in a gentle arc and stretched so far into the distance that I couldn”t clearly make out what most of them looked like. I felt fairly confident that I didn”t recognize any of them from earlier, which was also good, but there was, on the other hand, a number of doors set back from the desk itself through which any member of staff could suddenly appear at any moment.
The receptionist nearest me was obscured by two American tourists I”d seen earlier coming out of the lift, but when they moved away to reveal a regular looking Spanish male in his early twenties, I knew I”d more or less found what I was looking for. He was slightly thinner and nerdier than I would have liked but he definitely wasn”t female and, more importantly, he probably wasn”t gay. I glanced down at my watch: 19:55: five minutes to go. Right. It was now or never. I took a deep breath and, smiling broadly, set off in a swashbuckling swagger towards the desk.
“Hello there amigo!” I called out when I was still some distance away, “como estas?”
“Good evening sir,” he replied in a more subdued fashion once I had closed the gap between us to just a few meters. “How are you?”
“Me? Couldn”t be better. Couldn”t be better.” I was now standing in front of him. I placed the palms of my hands on the marble counter either side of his computer screen and did a drum roll with them for a few seconds until he felt it necessary to ask:
“And how can I help you, sir?”
His English was encouragingly good with only the faintest trace of a Spanish accent. Fingers crossed this whole sordid business would be taken care of in no time.
“Oh, I don”t know,” I began vaguely, “I was just wondering what time breakfast starts tomorrow morning.”
“Breakfast is from six until eleven o”clock.”
“Perfect!” I exclaimed and made as if to leave then clicked my fingers and turned back. “Oh and one more thing, it’s nothing really, I just need to pay for the adult entertainment channel now before I forget. I”m in room 396. Cheers.”
“The adult entertainment channel, you know how it is,” I winked at him, “I”d like very much to pay for it now if that’s O.K with you.”
“The adult……I don”t think we……”
“Yes you do,” I corrected him. “You have it upstairs. In the rooms. In my room. I put it on and now I would like to pay for it. Thank you.”
“But all of our rooms are adult rooms.”
“No, no, no. Listen to me very carefully.” I could tell that a queue was beginning to form behind me. I lent over the counter towards him so that our faces were nearly touching and hissed at him:
“The porn channel O.K? Do I have to spell it out for you? Sex, T.V, money, capeesh? You. Me. Pay now. NOW!!!”
I stayed where I was and fixed him imploringly with mad, bulging eyes. He started to back away from me with a look of terror on his face, feeling his way carefully for the handle of the door behind him.
“No, wait!” I reached out towards him. “I”m sorry. I didn”t mean it. Please don”t go!”
But just like that he was gone, and I stood there trying to work out what had caused the young man so much obvious distress. I looked at my watch: 19:58, time to go. I waited half a minute longer then turned to leave but as I did so, the door opened and in front of me appeared the attractive blonde woman whose eye I had been trying to catch when I first arrived, flanked on both sides, however, by two burly, quite scary-looking security guards.
I couldn”t believe what was happening. My first thought was that there had been some mistake so I raised my hands palms facing outwards in a gesture of pretend surrender and said jokingly:
“Whoa! What’s all this?”
“Sir. Please calm down,” said the woman, who was altogether more attractive than I had first thought.
“Calm down? I am calm!” I roared back at her. At that point I saw the two men drop their arms to their sides as if they were limbering up for a fight.
“Sir, please. I must inform you that one of our members of staff has made a complaint against you.”
“A complaint? What kind of complaint?”
“Sir, if you do not lower your voice, we will be forced to exit you from the premises.”
I knew that if I didn”t change tack and fast, then an already bad situation was about to get a whole lot worse. I breathed in deeply before continuing: “O.K, I”m sorry. It’s just that I think there’s been some terrible mistake. Why don”t you tell me what this so-called complaint is and then maybe I can convince you that it has nothing whatsoever to do with me.”
“Sir. Rodrigo has informed us that you have been harassing him.”
“Harassing him? Harassing him how?”
“Sexually, I”m afraid, sir. He says you tried to pay him to have sex with you.”
“Are we ready?” Captain Johnson asked light-heartedly as he slapped his room key down on the counter. He looked first at me then at the three people behind the desk with an amused expression as if he was trying to fathom what was going on. “Not giving you any trouble, is he? You”ve got to watch it with these English pilots!” He looked back at me: “See you in the bar, O.K?” And just like that, he was gone. It had all happened so quickly and had been so terrible, so unprecedentedly nightmarish, that I hadn”t even had time to formulate a response. The moment had come and the moment had gone seemingly with no beginning, no middle, and no end; a glitch from a parallel dimension on the otherwise normal passage of time. I found myself looking at the woman, except that I wasn”t looking at her, I was looking through her at an imaginary object set some distance away on the other side of her head. I found I was supporting myself with one hand on the computer screen and that my whole body was gently pulsing to the rhythm of my heart. I snapped out of it:
“So anyway. Where were we? Oh that’s right: sexual harassment. Of course.” I suddenly felt more in control of a situation than I had ever felt in my life. “Let me put it to you this way, sweetheart. What Gonzalez or Tonto or whatever his name is thinks I said, O.K? I didn”t say it. Whatever he thinks I did? I didn”t do it. Whatever he thinks I am, or whatever you think I am? I”m not. It’s all one big misunderstanding.”
She turned slowly to the two security guards, said something to them in Spanish, and they backed away through the door, eyeing me stonily as they went. I felt like getting in a last word, something delivered in high-camp to really piss them off, but I thought better of it. I had already succeeded in extricating myself from an impossible situation as it was and besides, to pretend to be gay now after everything that had just happened would be in extremely poor taste. I simply said:
“Sorry about all that.”
“I”m sorry too, sir. You have to understand that here at the Hotel Palma we take all complaints, especially of a sexual nature, very seriously indeed.”
I smiled. “Of course. I wouldn”t expect anything less.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Help me with?” I glanced over in the direction of the bar where I could see Captain Johnson safely ordering a beer. “Well yes, as a matter of fact there is. Something rather unfortunate happened a couple of hours ago when I checked into my room.”
“Yes, I”m afraid so. You see, I thought it would be nice to watch one of the films on the Pay T.V channels, you know, the one with, uh, Brad Pitt in it, so I……”
“Brad Pitt?” she frowned.
“Yeah, I think it was him. O.K maybe it wasn”t him but it was someone like him,” I improvised cleverly. “Anyway that’s not important. What is important is that I entered the number for the film on the remote control but instead of getting Brad Pitt……” I turned around to check that the sizeable queue of people behind me wasn”t able to hear what I was saying, then I ducked my head down towards her and she, in turn, brought her face up close to mine as if we were about to kiss, then I whispered to her conspiratorially: “……I found myself watching the adult entertainment channel!”
I pushed myself back from the desk and let the full weight of what I had said sink into her. I was now wearing an expression of great disappointment tinged with genuine concern, the kind of look you might have got at school from the cool teacher after he had been the only one to trust in you but you had ended up letting him down badly, while the woman, who, to give her credit, might not have been out of place on the adult entertainment channel herself, was staring at me with an expression of wide-eyed disbelief.
“I know,” I agreed with her.
“Would sir like me to deduct it from his bill?”
“No, no. Well O.K, yes, he would. The thing is, I don”t mind paying for it “ that’s not the point. My main concern is for the children.”
“Of course. Imagine if you”re a parent and your two children are in the next room. Let’s say one of them wants to watch, I don”t know,” I twirled my hand loosely in the air trying to come up with something, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, right? Little Katie enters the number for what she thinks is going to be a Walt Disney cartoon but instead she ends up with, oh I don”t know, White Girls Love Black Cock instead. Trust me, you”d rather have me complaining about it than some little girl’s dad.”
“Yes sir. I am terribly sorry.”
I was beginning to feel well pleased with the level of respect I was getting not to mention the fact that I”d managed to pull off what I considered to be one of the great escape stunts of all time.
“It’s O.K,” I said sadly, “I”m just relieved it was me who discovered the fault and not somebody else.” I had got so far involved in my own lie by this stage that I had ended up believing in it myself. I went on: “What I do suggest, however, is that you get maintenance to go up and sort it out.” Then I quickly added: “Not now. I mean do it tomorrow after I”ve gone.”
“Yes sir. I will certainly do that for you.”
“And another thing: it doesn”t matter too much but make sure it doesn”t appear on my company bill whatever happens, is that understood?”
“Yes sir. It is.”
“Good.” I turned to leave but something else occurred to me: “Oh and one more thing; I probably won”t need to use it but……”
“The minibar, sir?”
“Yes!” I replied, both surprised and impressed that I had been second-guessed so accurately.
“Don”t worry – that won”t appear on your company bill either.”
“Fantastic! See you later then.” And with that I headed off in high spirits to join the Captain who was waiting for me obliviously at the bar.
Previously: An Excerpt From ‘The Wrong Stuff’