My fingers drummed an unknown ditty on the armrests while my eyes scanned the room looking for something, anything to occupy my mind. That’s when I noticed the small bottle on the floor by the bed. A tiny, bottle of hotel gin. I all but leapt up out of the armchair as I moved to pick it up. The tiny vile in my hands I went to open it only to find the cap missing. Sighing heavily, I discarded it into the trash. Must have been the one from last night and it rolled out of my hands as I collapsed on the bed. I gave up and sat on the floor for no other reason than I could. A lot of my best thinking came to me on the floor, it was a different perspective on life, like that of a child’s. Everything bigger than you are, things just out of reach, much like life really. The floor always managed to feel safe and comfortable.
I looked at the spot where I had collapsed last night. There was only a slight stain from where I must have drooled while unconscious. I couldn’t see any signs of forced entry on the door or dropped weapons or calling cards to speak of. Not that I expected there to be any but it would have made things easier, and you always hope for the easy options. I propped myself up against the bed, my bones telling me that I was getting too old to be crawling about on the floor. As my head lent back onto the soft mattress I remembered something. I reached a hand blindly under the bed and soon felt paper under my fingers. I pulled it out expecting it to be some meaningless trash the cleaners had neglected to pick up.
The paper was larger than I first thought, it turned out to be one of those folded down tourist maps. A very simple rendition of England with comical drawings of famous landmarks. What interested me more than a smiling Big Ben were the pen marks that littered the page. Icons had been circled, marked with question marks and eventually crossed out in thick red pen. All except Stonehenge. The landmark had attracted several notations written in Norse runes with lines and arrows pointing towards it. A large red line encircled the landmark. I think I had an idea where the mystery woman was headed, but I was still unsure why. I’d have to see if Siegfried could translate the runes for me, hopefully that would shed some light on the whole thing. That’s if he ever turned up.
As if on cue there was a knock at my door. I cursed and strained to get up off the floor. Bloody terrible idea to sit down there, I chastised myself. My good morning shine was defiantly starting to wear off. Before I even opened the door I could smell the heavenly scent of bacon and sausage waft through. I barely even acknowledged Siegfried as I grabbed the tray off of him and sat down in the chair. The cover was off and I had a thick English sausage in my mouth before he had a chance to say hello. I waved him over to the bed and offered him something from the plate. Politely he declined. I shrugged and tried not to make a pig of myself.
The knife cut through the poached eggs and toast, the smell alone was enough to make me salivate. I tasted every mouthful despite them only lasting a few seconds as I inhaled my meal. My stomach bulged at the influx of food and I had to lean back in the chair. I held a piece of bacon between my thumb and index finger, so crispy it stood up on its own. I casually ate and talked to Siegfried at the same time. The poor man had been ignored long enough.
'Thanks for the food.' I mumbled between mouthfuls. He smiled back, happy to be acknowledged. 'Sorry, I was hungry.' I apologised.
'It's ok.' He said, relaxing a little. 'I'm used to it. Everyone comes through hungry or angry to some extreme or the other. They usually calm down after a good nights rest and some food so I don't take it to heart.'
I certainly felt better. The bacon melted in my mouth and I felt full again. I nodded towards the map I had discarded on the bed.
‘Could you do me one more favour and have a look at that for me? I can't read runes.'
Siegfried studied the scrawling on the map for a while. I sat back and watched the world out the window, slowly eating the remains of my breakfast. I had been so hungry that I hadn’t noticed the piping hot cup of coffee and glass of tomato juice that Siegfried had carried in with him. The stem of celery in the juice lead me to hope that it was what I thought it was. A quick sip confirmed that it was indeed a bloody marry, the mightiest of breakfast beverages. The man knew me well, which made me question what kind of image I put out to others. Only briefly question though, I’m comfortable with who I am. I started in on the tomato and vodka in one hand, while adding extra sugars to the coffee with the other. I was halfway through the juice when my bellhop, come saviour, made that polite coughing noise when people want you to listen to them. Usually I just started talking but each to their own.
I nodded at him. ‘Found something?’ I asked switching my early morning alcohol for caffeine. The warm coffee cut hard against the coolness of the bloody marry but was welcome. Siegfried leaned over and held up the map.
‘It’s about the light I told you about. These here say “man of light” and these over here are a question, “is he here?”’
I took the offered map from him and looked at it like the old symbols would magically translate for me now he’d explained their meaning. I pointed to a trail of small X’s that followed a wide path down towards the Henge. He looked it over and shrugged.
‘It’s just a cross. Maybe she was marking something?’
I studied the crosses, their path was quite varied but if you followed them down they were all towns and villages along the roads to Stonehenge. She was definitely tracking something. ‘Thanks Siegfried, you’ve been a great help with everything. Do you know the quickest way to get to Stonehenge?’ He thought about it.
‘Driving is the quickest way, it’s only a few hours. Train is probably your other option but that will take a little longer than car.’ I thought about the options. By the time I worked out the British roads and managed to find my way out of London I’d have lost most of my advantage. Being a few days behind an hour or two wouldn’t matter much. ‘Where can I get a train ticket?’
He smiled back. ‘I’ll call the concierge for you.’ He said getting up and clearing the plates.
‘Thanks again for all your help Siegfried.’ I slyly handed him a fifty pound tip. I always paid my informants well, especially when I could claim it on the expense account. Share the love around I always say. He accepted the money with a handshake and a nod. I saw him to the door before starting to pull my gear together for the next move. I packed the photos in my suitcase but kept one on hand just in case. More than likely the trail would be cold by the time I arrived but at least I had a destination. Hopefully with a bit of unprecedented luck I could work out why she was headed there and try and guess her next move.
I’d had enough of milling around the room for one day and decided to wait for the concierge downstairs. I dragged my case to the lift and rode it to the ground floor. In the shining morning light the grandiose marble lobby lost an aspect of its greatness. The unnatural sheen it had at night with the lights directed strategically to highlight areas and cast shadow in others was all but gone. Replaced instead by huge beams of morning light streaming through the large windows facing the street. That said, the wood of the staircase seemed to gleam wherever the light fell on it, and it wasn’t just the high sheen of the polish. I walked across the marble lobby, my shoes no longer echoing in the vast room, instead the noise was hidden under the sound of people as they cascaded down the stairs, through the restaurant and queuing up at the front counter. The buzz of life through the hotel was a little disconcerting for a weary old man like myself. I preferred to keep my own company and large crowds didn’t do much for me. I held it together and joined the line for the concierge, residing myself to the wait.
The line moved steadily and by the time I reached the front the concierge looked about as good as I did on a sober day. An older gentleman his mostly grey hair offered a distinguished appearance to the job title. After brief introductions he handed me a train ticket and informed me of a taxi waiting outside for me. I was about to ask about payment and room arrangements but he dismissed all my questions with a polite wave.
‘Everything has already been taken care of Mr. Carol. You’re a guest of our director. The room will be waiting for you when or if you return and the ticket and cab fair have been arranged.’ I thanked him and we bid each other a good day.
A warmly dressed doorman helped me find my waiting cab and even aided with the luggage. I tried to offer a tip but he laughed and dismissed me with a thank you and a smile. I had the short cab ride over to think about the new information I had come across. So my employer was a director of the hotel, not that it surprised me in the least but it was good to know. The question was which director, probably easy enough to figure out based on alignments to particular gods. At least with this knowledge I could afford to splash out a little more than usual, even if it only got me a few more drinks on the old tab. Though in my experience it was always the rich clients who tried to stiff you on the bill, poorer clients always paid their debts no matter how much it hurt.
It was a quick run from the cab to the train as I raced against time, traffic, and other pedestrians. I called out to the porter just in time and managed to squeeze through the doors before they snapped shut. While the journey wasn’t long enough for sleeper cars they did offer something in the way of first class seats and my employer hadn’t spared the expense, I for one appreciated the extra leg room. My section was mostly empty at this time in the day. I assumed that most commuters would be headed into London rather than out of it and I was right. The train departed on time and before I knew it I was on my way to the one of England's more famous tourist attractions.
Thankfully someone had discarded yesterday’s newspaper in my compartment so I had something more than my mind to occupy me since the conductor informed me they no longer had a drinks car on this run. It was full of the usual run of the mill journalism, politics, sport, religion, crime, death, and finances. I skimmed over the internal politics of Great Britain, it didn’t pertain to the case at hand and to me it’s the same stuff where ever you go. This set of ideals against that set of ideals. I got enough of that at home when Ness tried to get me to clean up my act or improve myself. My argument, that it was majority rules and until there was a third member of the relationship our stale mate would stand, usually didn’t fly too well with her. Plus the odds of her brining a third into the relationship was much higher than my own so I’d be quickly outnumbered.
Sport held very little interest to me and thankfully gambling wasn’t one of my vices. I’m too busy risking my own neck to waste money on some young kid from gods know where to kick a ball through a net. Whiskey was the only real investment you could count on a good return. The religious pages had been busy these past few months. The Norse pantheon was becoming unusually active in the United Kingdom and was upsetting some of the Roman-Greek houses. One member of the Neo-Greco-Roman movement stated how the Germanic houses had no right to build temples in the south. His argument hinged solely on the fact that they were northern and had no right to impact on traditional Jupitan values. I snorted. Those values were stolen from the Greeks and anyone else the Roman’s concurred. They would have had the Egyptian gods pulled into their mess if they hadn’t messed with the whole Cleopatra fiasco. It did make me wonder if I’d cross any Roman gods on this trip, a fair few did hang about these days.
So far I haven’t met any of them but I knew some of their Grecian counter parts quite well. A little too well in some instances. Would it be awkward to mention that connection or should I just play innocent, because playing innocent has worked oh so well for me in the past. I thought about my run in with the Grecian goddesses that almost killed me not too far back. Knowing my luck I’d find myself in the middle of a Greco-Roman god war, becoming some unwitting pawn in their petty but powerful arguments. I’d like to think the world would be a lot less complicated if we had only one pantheon around at a time, but the infighting that comes from just one house would probably be worse if they didn’t have another group to occasionally butt heads against. Sighing sadly to myself I flicked lazily through the remaining religious pages.
It mostly consisted of over simplified, feel-good stories about demigods doing ‘good’ deeds. Stories ranged from the occasional scandal, “Zeus at it again!” headlines, and beach photos of Venus in less than socially appropriate attire. I almost skipped the rest entirely till I noticed a piece on Stonehenge. It was under the more obscure cults sections because it had to do with the local Druid group and Druidism still wasn’t fully recognised in modern England. They had a small-to-medium following these days but when there were gods being sighted every other week it was hard to get people to believe in a higher power than them. I wasn’t a believer but I could see they had a point and all were welcome to their own opinions. As long as I could drink and be alone anyone was free to do as they liked, it didn’t bother me. Although occasionally their gods did.
The article opened with an attention grabbing headline, ‘Light show at Stonehenge’, despite being in the smallest font on the page. Of course the two keywords ‘light’ and ‘Stonehenge’ had me interested instantly. I reread the article several times. According to the local press, the last few nights had seen reports of bright lights dancing around the stones. Which on its own wouldn’t be much, druids do that all the time. Dressing up in cloaks and lighting fires for spring and what not. These events happened when there were no scheduled meetings at all. The sceptic in me had the whole thing pegged to some troublemaker looking for cheep thrills, but the fact that it tied in with my case was something.
Even if it was a hoax, it’s possibly what drew my target to Stonehenge in the first place which made it what I was looking for as well. The rest of the article went on about similar occurrences around the country over the past few days which when lined up with my map fitted perfectly. So, my mystery woman is after these lights or possibly the person behind the lights. This was interesting. Now I had two people to find which despite what you would think did make things easier. Twice the number of leads to follow and if this prankster is making a big enough show to be in papers it’s going to be a walk in the park. Famous last words if ever they were spoken.
I skimmed the rest of the paper looking for anything else about the dancing lights but found nothing. Obviously the editors took it as a hoax, or something not interesting enough to sell. I folded the paper away best I could and discarded it on the seat opposite to mine. That was yesterday’s news so either my target met up with the lights and is now on her way to do what ever it is she wants to do next or, the lights have moved on and she’s one step behind them, just like I’m one step behind her. It was going to be a close game and I needed to figure out how to get that step ahead of her, which meant finding the lights before she did. What did say about this being an easy one?
I took the rest of the time on the train to catch up on sleep, figuring a few hours kip would give me time to think and reflect. The bloody marry I had this morning was losing its buzz and I had nowhere to go get more, sleep was the next best thing. As the soothing train ride carried me off to both my destination and to sleep I hazily thought if this job was worth the hassle or if I had been better off sitting back at the Black Raven till Vern kicked me out or Ness took me back in again. My thoughts melded into a wash of dream and the gentle clacking of the rails, and before long I was once again dead, to the world that is. Thankfully I managed to remain breathing, only the distorted dreamlike image of a black and white woman dancing with a glowing man in my mind to keep me company this time round.