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CHAPTER 3: THRONE OF ICE
Cassette 2: 2nd January, Hotel Kyla, Finland
Happy New Year again, my darling. Here I am on my winter break, snowed up and incommunicado in the snowy wastes of north Finland with nine different types of weirdo, and with only the cassette recorder to talk to you on. The first cassette has been lost somehow, so now I shall have to explain things all over again. That first tape was not very discreet, so I hid it under the wooden floor-tiles under my room. And now it has disappeared. But I am absent-minded. Perhaps I shall find it staring at me, somewhere obvious.
Well, there are ten of us here, squashed into a few heated rooms in this huge, old, creaky, wooden hotel – and because the tour company chartered the place for us, there are no local staff: just we ten English tourists.
There's our shifty courier, Louise, who brought with her the grubbiest chef you ever did see. That was Paul. I'll tell you about him, later. Then there's the Duke of Edenfield – known as Edenfield to his friends – who likes his tipple, and Amanda, his teenage wife. If she is his wife. I suppose if you pull rank you can get permission for anything.
Then there's seven-foot Shorty Grizebeck, with his directorships and his bling-bling and his stuck-up solicitor-wife Elizabeth. She still calls herself Dockray. She's not exactly committed to him. They fight all the time.
There's Maury Bowland , our man of substance who needed two seats in the helicopter, and Tracy Wrea who's boring and smells of cats. Stuart Balmae is our medic – a trained nurse, apparently. We're going to need him if we're stuck here much longer. And there's little me, your loving fiancée: need I say more?
We are living out of tins and on dried food, which the hotel owners left in the kitchen for the chef. The crafty beggars also left us a massive mini-bar (and no price-list) with cases and cases of the local grog: viinaa (vodka) and tarschnapps , a weak wine with a strong tarry taste. It grows on you. Well, there's not a lot else to do. A case of it has somehow found its way into my room. Cheers.
A funny thing happened yesterday. Paul, our filthy, lousy chef disappeared. Well at least that means I can start eating again. Stuart said Paul couldn't possibly be alive: it's forty below outside and minus twenty-eight in the unheated rooms. How do I know that? The lads have theories about it. They've been doing experiments, apparently. They pee and spit and see if it crackles as it freezes in the air. Maybe that's why we gentler people are not inventors. Better things to do. I bet the wheel was invented by some guy rolling down a hill, drunk.
It's eerie in those frozen rooms: a whispery sort of silence. Maybe the owners have given up on the place. If they turned the heating on in the frozen area, all the pipes would burst. There are icicles on some of the bathroom taps. Your feet crackle on the carpets, and the wool pile snaps off. Picture-glass shows only Jack Frost's patterns and many of the cupboard doors and drawers are frozen shut. The beds are all made but the linen is hard and stiff. The place is like a stage set: completely useless. The lights are all on. I suppose that will go on our bill. But we had to leave them on until Paul was found, then we forgot to turn them off.
Jack Frost and frozen latches meant we could not look out of the back and side windows. Our heated section has only a front view. But I think trees grow close to the back of the building. There is something very big and dark out there.
Stuart and Shorty brought various implements from the kitchen and started to force open those doors large enough to conceal Paul. At one point there was a squeal from Tracy. There is little that animates Tracy. But this was gold and silver. The cupboard was full of it: shelves of scruffy old cardboard containers, containing all sorts of second-hand necklaces, watches and the like. We all instinctively made a grab for something - but Paul was still missing, and after a few seconds we shut the cupboard and continued our search.
The stairs are icy. I slipped once, and Elizabeth grabbed my coat. She stood there, holding me up like a courtroom exhibit, smirking. Bitch. It's because she knows I saw her with dirty Paul.
So when she put me down I was not in a good mood.
“When did you last see Paul, Elizabeth?”
“Why are you asking me that? It don't remember. He could be freezing to death. There are more important things to think about.”
Maury sat on the stairs, blocking our path, and looked quizzically back up at us.
“I had food poisoning. I couldn't drink that night. I remember a few things,” he said.
He turned his head away, looking down. The back of his neck seemed to say that he was smiling knowingly.
Elizabeth scrunched up her furs and her thin face. Maury didn't like being kicked. He stood up.
“I saw you and Paul going into his room with a case of booze. Where is he?” he asked quietly.
“Go away. Nothing to say.” Her face was twitching between embarrassment, pleasure and secretiveness.
Maury went for her. She ran, but he cornered her on the landing.
“Tell,” he said.
“Look. Nothing happened. We got into his room and he collapsed with stomach-pains. I was not in a fit state to help him. I woke up in the small hours. He was gone. I thought he was in the bathroom. I went back to hubby.”
She looked smug. By that action, we were to believe, she had retained her honour.
But Stuart had been breaking down an iced-up bathroom door. Paul was dead on the throne. From the cold? I don't know. Why didn't he use his own en-suite bathroom? We found out later. His habits were so disgusting that he had blocked all its drains. So he had been using the frozen bathrooms and blocking them, one by one. I didn't look, so don't ask.
But Stuart says Paul was dead before he froze. His colleague Louise is shaken and angry, and she blames Elizabeth. People are looking for those chocolates. Elizabeth didn't eat any, apparently: “Thank heavens for dieting,” she keeps saying.
“I nicked a chocolate,” said Maury wonderingly at dinner. “I did feel a bit queasy afterwards, but then I was ill already.”
Elizabeth made an excellent vegetable soup for dinner. She has found a stash of fresh greens, which Paul must have brought. She was very attentive to Shorty, giving him helping after helping of soup. He responded with grunts or glares: a wronged husband. You should see them look at each other: she with large eyes and persuasive smile, and he with knitted brows; white-lipped. They are both posing. What do they really want? I really must remember that water glass tonight, and listen to the quarrel. It will be a good one.
In the bar after dinner, people were quieter than usual. There was talk of burying Paul in the snow tomorrow, and questions about the chocolates. But I thought it would be more interesting to talk to Stuart. Death is depressing, and a nurse is comforting. Stuart wears brushed cotton shirts. They are soft. I was crying. So I cried onto the soft shirt until it was a damp shirt. He is very patient.
But then Mandy came and sat on Stuart's lap. Then she cuddled up to me. She does that to everyone. One of these days she will notice. And she asks so many questions.
“Stuart, where did these coconut alcopops come from? How old are you? Why do you have a bald patch? Can you tell me any horrible medical stories? Where did you train as a nurse, Stuart?”
“What? Twenty-nine. Don't know. Not now. Worthing.”
I was puzzled, but she had skipped across the room to her old man, for once, and Stuart changed the subject. He wants to know about me, Nyge. Shall I tell him?
I hope to see you soon, my dear love, just as soon as I can get out of here. Where is that helicopter, I wonder?
And I wonder who has been filling that cupboard with jewellery and for how long? I have only just examined my piece. It's about three-quarters of a century old, and good quality. Tracy picked up a big handful. I shall ask to see her pieces. Maybe this stuff is a clue to what is going on in this strange place - though it's confusing me more than ever right now.
Lots of love from your Thomasina.
Copyright © 2003 LS
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