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CHAPTER 4: STRANDED
Cassette 2 (continued): 3rd January, Hotel Kyla, Middle of Nowhere, Finland
Oh, Nyge, if only I could get a message out to you. We need that helicopter to get us out of here. The snow has drifted high against the windows, but just enough light shows through the top for us to see that the sun is shining. It is good ‘copter weather but we have been forgotten just when we are in trouble.
How do I know we are in trouble? Well I couldn't sleep last night for the racket in the next room. It was Shorty and Elizabeth arguing. I finally took that water glass and listened. I wish I hadn't.
“You cow. You knew, didn't you?”
“Shorty, what on earth are you rabbitting on about this time? Whatever is the matter with you? Good lord, look at your skin!'
“It was you. And the carrots. How did you get it into the carrots?'
“Don't be silly, dear. Roll you sleeves up. Ah – it's on your arms, too. I've never seen anything like it.”
“Eff off. Get away. Don't touch me. It hurts. It's getting worse. It's you. You did it, you two-faced bitch. I said we knew too much, didn't I? Wondered why you didn't listen. You're in it with them .'
“Oh, calm down, Shorty. Take your shirt off and turn around. Oh my goodness - your back. Look in the mirror. Can't you walk now? Hold on to my arm. There, look. All green with purple patches. Whatever is it? “
“POISON. Poison, poison, poison. You're poisoning us all. First Paul –‘
“Shorty, if you carry on like this, I shall leave you lying there and go back to the bar. Do you want me to help you or not? Paul didn't turn green . . . it was odd though. He went grey and his eyeballs kept rolling upwards. So it wasn't me. Different poisoner. No, that's not what I mean. Stop rolling your eyes. You're confusing me . . . oh dear. Shorty? SHORTY? Wake up. Oh dear.”
It went quiet then, and I went back to bed. It should be utterly peaceful here at night, but the snow seems to shift all the time. You hear it grind across the roof, and I'm sure I can hear branches cracking outside, under the weight of ice. But after a while there was a different kind of shooshing sound in the corridor. Did I peek out of my door, Nigel? Well, yes of course I did. I saw nothing, but I listened. Something was being dragged and bumped down the stairs. I saw no other doors opening. Were they all asleep? Or afraid? Or did they all know something?
And there was no Shorty at breakfast. Elizabeth is now our chef, of course, and as a result I seem to have lost my appetite. You will have a very slim bride, my dear. She said he was sleeping late – too much to drink last night, according to her. She looked me in the eye when she said that. You should see her face. It is scrawny. I guess she slaps scrawn out of a jar onto that sharp little mush every morning. Her hairdo doesn't move when she wags her head at you. You can see quite clearly that she puts five rollers in it at night.
There was a bowl of peaches on the table. They looked fresh and untouched. I always wondered how Sleeping Beauty's apple could have been poisoned. You can't spike whole fruit – it's not a drink.
We all looked at the peaches, and Elizabeth looked at us.
“Yes, I found them. Things keep appearing in the larder. The carrots and the chocolates must have been off. Those veggies I found yesterday were all right. So I'm sure these are all right,” and she put out a thin arm to take one.
The arm was shaking. We chomped on our cereal, slurped our UHT milk, and watched, fascinated.
Maury gently took Elizabeth's bony, freckled wrist in his large hand.
“I guess I'm immune. Let me test it.”
She turned to him sharply, and whipped her hand away. She had a hunted look. Stuart put his arm around her, in his best bedside manner. Kind, foolish man. She opened her hooded eyes as far as she could – which was not very far – and a slobbery tear rolled down her cheek and into the wrinkles of her neck. Ugh. Stuart smiled kindly. Ah, he is so charitable. Poor old Elizabeth. I shall give Stuart a hug later, for his kindness – for friendship only, you understand.
So Maury ate a peach and we awaited the results. I spent the afternoon in the bar, talking with Maury. He has an interesting background. Being a draughtsman ought to be very dull. But it depends on what you draft, doesn't it?
He leaned back on his green, flowery armchair. We call it his armchair, but it's a two-seater sofa. He needs all of it. So I sat and looked at all that expanse of brown, check shirt, the lines wrinkled around his great body, and all surrounded by pink flowers. It's possible to be blinded by patterns in this life, and not notice the shapes. Did I go into a trance? When one of the pink flowers began to smile and talk, it made me jump. It was only his rosy face.
“What a New Year's break this turned out to be. What on earth brought a glamorous girl like you here?” he asked.
“I'm about to be married. Emotions are high. My man is suffering from overwork. He suggested a few days apart, and a romantic reunion in Helsinki. My life is about to change - ‘
“Ah yes, your operation.”
“How on earth did you know about that?”
“Mandy guessed. I wish you well. How does your fiancé feel about it?”
“Ah, he is so kind, so generous to send my on holiday. I am so lucky.”
Maury looked thoughtful. I felt uncomfortable, I don't know why.
“So what attracted you to this isolated place, Maury?”
“Escapism, I suppose. I have been involved in a huge rush-job, doing the drawings for a great factory in Europe. All very hush-hush. We had to work twenty-four-seven, sometimes for eighteen hours a day. At the end of our stint, we were each offered a break here. Ten of my colleagues were here last week. We must have crossed paths when I travelled here, but I missed them. My girlfriend was among them.”
He took a necklace out of his pocket.
“This was in that cupboard of loot we found yesterday. It reminds me of her. I gave her one just like it. It was sold to me as a one-off. I guess there is nothing unique, except maybe Delia herself.”
He pressed the necklace to his cheek. Now it was I who had to change the subject.
“I went into a road-plant factory once, and there was a whole design room full of guys drawing the same cement-mixer, but every drawing showed a slightly different cement-mixer. I guess you have had to draw some strange things in your time, Maury?”
“Oh, I've drawn this place. We did it just before the factory. We were told to make it wonderful, because it would be our reward. And so it is. This heated section, where we live, is our new extension. The back part is very old – I'm surprised that it has been closed off with no heating, though. The pipes will all burst when it's re-heated. How irresponsible. Did you know, this place has a lot of secret -”
Just then, Elizabeth came in and sat on the arm of Maury's chair. She was in despair and in her furs.
“Maury, how do you feel, after that peach?”
“Fine, woman, fine. Guess I'm getting used to the stuff, ha ha.”
Elizabeth's expression did not change.
“I think you had better come with me, Maury. You'll need your outdoor clothes.”
I followed them. Elizabeth didn't stop me. Along icy corridors we crunched our feet, like a funeral procession, through the freezing fog of our own breath, past silent doors containing goodness knows what. Elizabeth stopped at room 33, where Paul had been found dead on the lavatory. She opened the door. We hesitated.
“There's something else now,” said Elizabeth.
It was Shorty, and Shorty was green with purple blotches. What on earth is in that poison? We comforted Elizabeth, and promised that Shorty would be buried alongside Paul in the snow, ready to be collected by the helicopter when it came.
But this morning I am worried. Somebody is trying to poison us, or at least some of us. Who is it? And why? Now that we suspect these luxury foods, which keep appearing – will the poisoner find some other way? But I have just remembered Mandy's alcopops that she found. She was healthy enough at breakfast. I shall warn her now, before she drinks any.
Goodbye for now, my love. Oh how soon will I see you again? You seem so far away. But you must be asking questions. Surely you will see that a helicopter is sent for us?All my love from your Thomasina.
Copyright © 2003 LS
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