We Promise Not To Tell - Albert Able - E-Book

We Promise Not To Tell E-Book

Albert Able

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Beschreibung

A human story of love, pain, humour and ambition all spiced with a little scandal and intrigue, 'We Promise Not To Tell’ is a dramatisation, plus a little author’s licence, of forty highly successful years in and around the hotel business; much of it recorded in photographs on video and in our personal diaries. Starting with nothing more than a little 'Street Sense’ we will take you on an emotional journey as we battle with prejudice and corruption to create our fortune. You will notice as you read on, that we rarely refer to people or hotels by name and when we do, it will almost certainly be fictitious. The same is especially true, of the numerous high profile clients and a multitude of outrageous situations surrounding their stays at various hotels. For obvious reasons, our own given names are not revealed either and whilst we will always observe the traditional code of confidentiality, as practiced by the best of the hospitality industry, we can not of course personally guarantee the same of the others involved! Marcus & Connie Detori

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“We Promise Not to Tell”

Chapter 1 - Marcus

Sitting hunched over and frowning at the sheaf of papers held in his hand, the magistrate looked up, his eyes focused towards where I stood in the dock. The courtroom fell silent and expectant, he peered over his half moon spectacles for a few seconds and then clearing his throat noisily, he returned his gaze to the papers.

“Without doubt, the standard of morality at your hotel is the worst I have ever experienced,” he announced imperiously as his gaze lifted once again and roamed the rest of the court “in the circumstances therefore,” he paused briefly to dramatise the moment, his expression now even more grave, “I intend to make a meaningful and lasting example of you” his brow wrinkled etching the importance and wisdom of his words “and in order to send a clear message to all the men, especially the married men visiting your hotel” the icy stare flicked back to me “I am obliged to sentence you, Mr Marcus Detori, to…” he paused again, a cynical smirk gradually spreading across the craggy face, his mouth opened to speak “a minimum of …”

The voice faded, I could no longer distinguish the words; I had a terrible pain at the back of my eyes and I seemed to be drifting in space. Suddenly I was aware of the perspiration trickling down my back, sending a shiver of fear throughout my body; to me it seemed as though time had suddenly stopped.

How had it all come to this? How was I going to die? Lethal injection ?. Choking in a cloud of gas ?.

How and for what? I was becoming dizzy, the courtroom started to spin before my eyes… Was I dead already? But then in the middle of the vortex a blurred vision began to focus and amazingly my mother’s angelic face materialised.

“Thank God!” I said aloud and thrust my arm out to touch her. “Mamma will sort it all out - she always does.”

She smiled at me, that gentle understanding smile embodying all the love and protection she had always so selflessly given to me. She reached out to take my hand but just as I thrust forward to touch her, a dreadful noise painfully invaded my head and like a snuffed out candle the image of my mother vanished, destroying my dream forever as I recognised the fire alarm’s raucous warning.

I sat up in the bed with a start and flipped on the light; the wheezing klaxon drowned out the telephone’s humble bleep but the flashing red warning light alerted me to the call.

I grabbed the receiver. “What is it?” I snapped irritably over the din.

“Reception here Sir,” the clear but urgent voice of Connie the duty Night Receptionist sounded in my ear. “Come quickly please." It is not exercise." It is real fire." The Fourth floor; you know?”

Connie was Polish and it was only the strain of the moment that cracked her usually flawless English. I always felt a kind of sympathetic embarrassment at innocent people’s distress. Strange isn’t it, in spite of feeling so cross at my sleep being interrupted. I clearly remember thinking, not “where is the fire?” or “how serious is it?” but “thank goodness for rock solid Connie.” Come to think about it, Connie often featured in my thoughts at that time and not just because she managed so effortlessly to handle the awkward situations, which routinely confront the hotel’s front office.

I looked at my watch; two am. ‘the fourth floor’; I knew exactly where the problem was likely to be. “On my way,” I replied, throwing the telephone back on its cradle and reaching for my trousers with the other hand.

The fire had apparently started in the suite on the top floor at the rear of the building. “Not again,” I thought to myself as I climbed the three flights of stairs to the fire zone.

Suite 401 was situated at the top and at the end of the west wing. It had its own elevator access and a private fire escape to the street. Which in practice, acted as the discreet access for the “special” guests and their friends who regularly occupied the luxury accommodation.

On two previous occasions, small fires had started there. The first was when a disgruntled “model”, disappointed by the paucity of the “gratuity” offered for her services, started a fire by putting her lighter to the corner of the pile of confidential documents carelessly littering the desk, where the “politician” had been working before his “period of relaxation”.

Later, and standing behind me for protection the “model” rather indelicately described the guest’s behaviour by shouting, “F***ing cheapskate! You f***ing politicians, you’re all the f***ing same!”

The anonymous occupant of the hotel suite on the other hand confidentially informed me that her gratuity had been entirely proportional to, “her effort - or rather the lack of it!”

The last fire had been started, when another un-named high profile occupant, having fallen out with his “partner” endeavoured to end the evening and the relationship by pouring a bottle of VSOP Cognac over the half-naked terrified man, before contemptuously flicking a lighted match at him and screaming, “I hope it burns that miserable, useless little toy off!”

The poor fellow had instantly rolled into the bed covers to suffocate the flames, unfortunately, whilst he managed to escape unharmed, except for some rather smelly singed hair, the bed linen caught fire causing mayhem for the hotel.

As I approached the suite on this occasion, a trickle of smoke curled lazily from under the door. The alarm had been quickly silenced and so now, the only sound filtering into the corridor was of shouting and laughter from Suit 401.

I slipped my special passkey into the lock and cautiously pushed the door open instantly releasing a cloud of smoke, which enveloped me and rolled into the corridor. The smoke possessed the unmistakable aroma of that delicious plant which makes your head spin and your mind seem to work overtime.

I stepped through the lobby and peered into the room. I could just make out a couple of partially dressed people propped against the wall in a passionate embrace. Others were wearing party hats and drinking Champagne from the bottles. Several others sprawled, heads back in armchairs, cigarettes in hand deliberately dragging more of the aromatic smoke into their lungs.

“Ah there you are Marcus!” said the tall pale-faced man standing with his hand on the door handle for support. “I think we may have caused a bit of a stir!” he giggled like a little girl. “Come on in and have glass of Champagne or something?” He drawled, winking knowingly and gesturing for me to join the party.

“No thank you Sir,” I replied curtly and gave him my professional half-smile’ the one you force through your clenched teeth. The smile you employ when you can only restrain yourself because you know you will be able to make it worth your while in the end.

You really hate the man and all he represents but you can still smile at the thought of how you are going to make him pay, it’s that thought which always brings on a little internal chuckle. “I think we’ll have to tidy up pretty soon Sir - don’t want any more trouble with the authorities, do we?” I replied unctuously though my sickly smile.

“Quite so,” the man smiled back. “A couple of hours okay?” he offered, trying and failing to look serious.

I shrugged my shoulders. In fact, it did not really matter to me at all but this is always the moment when you have the advantage.

“Trouble is Sir, I’m going to have to fix it with a couple of people - you know with the fire alarm company the security people and all that?”

“Of course, hang on a minute,” he murmured conspiratorially and vanished into the bedroom.

“Is everything okay?” A female voice startled me for a moment, but when I turned, I was relieved to see Connie standing in the doorway.

“I just thought I’d come up myself." I didn’t think that it would be a good idea for that nosey night porter to get involved,” she smiled self-consciously.

I stared at her – seeing her with new eyes for the first time. I had never before appreciated just how attractive she was. My heart literally missed a beat.

“That was thoughtful of you Connie,” I managed to say.

She did not reply and remained in the corridor.

Do you know? I remember that day as if it were only yesterday; neither because of that crazy recurring dream that was to haunt me, nor because of the fire in Suite 401 or even the two-hundred pounds the playboy diplomat thrust into my hand to fix the room and help me to forget the drug-induced orgy.

It was none of those things, but it was the day when Connie first touched my heart and that was the most wonderful day of my life.

Chapter 2 - Connie

Born in Krakow Poland, I was the eldest of two children lovingly raised by our devoted parents. Whilst poorly educated themselves, they steadfastly believed that education was the only way to extricate their children from the yoke of peasant life. Consequently, my sister and I were whole-heartedly encouraged to study at home, as well as at school. I eventually rewarded them by achieving a degree in social economics and English language, paving the way for my prime ambition in life, to travel and to see the world. My little sister was not quite so ambitious and in-spite of her own excellent results was content to seek a good career in her homeland.

In those dark days, obtaining a permit for me to travel outside the country to fulfil my dream was difficult, in fact nearly impossible to achieve. Any application could take at least a year to be considered.

My dad however was not the sort of person to sit back and wait and had heard of a man at the Town Hall who could produce not only valid travel documents but also and perhaps even more importantly, overseas work permits. The cost however was high and the family had to beg and borrow to acquire all the money.

Eventually however, they passed over the agreed sum and the man from the Town Hall produced the appropriate travel exit and entry visas. “You must enter England as a student” he emphasised tapping the entry visa. “This you give to the man in London who will provide you with the ‘Work Permit’” and reverently handed over the letter with the address of the man in London “he is also going to organise some temporary accommodation for you.” I was so excited I eagerly accepted the offer; assured as he put it. “That the accommodation would be quite adequate, at least until you get yourself properly established.” In conclusion, he assured us that as every thing had now been organised and paid for in advance there was nothing left to worry about.

My parents were as delighted as I was and fully convinced that they had done everything possible to start me on my epic journey, presented me with a battered old suitcase they had scrounged from a neighbour together with a nearly new overcoat. The final gesture was an envelope containing fifty English pounds. I have no idea where and I did not ask how they came by it.

A few days later, after a tearful separation from my family, I was sitting alone and shivering in the freezing cold at Warsaw airport. Worst of all, I was also suffering from serious doubts as to whether my travel plan was such a good one after all. However, all that changed as I boarded the aircraft and when the giant machine finally lumbered into the air, I knew that there was now no going back and my adventure had finally started.

The aircraft taxied to a halt at London Gatwick and the passengers disembarked.

Customs and Immigration official looked sternly at the skinny twenty-year old standing meekly before him and then back to the passport and entry visa in his hand. The officer’s expression remained passive as he scanned the document for a few more seconds and then without looking up “Student?” he asked absently.

“Yes” I managed to mutter from a tinder dry mouth.

“Okay.” The Customs officer looked bored, it had obviously been a long day; he stamped the paper twice and then still holding the permit, he looked up suddenly, I am sure my heart missed a beat. The official stared at me for a moment as if it was the first time he had ever seen me. Then his expression changed into a smile. “There we are, and good luck with your studies.”

I took the permit and in-spite of the flood of relief could not speak, my mouth was still too dry. I simply smiled back coyly and moved quickly passed the desk.

Now all I had to do was get into London and find the address for the accommodation.

I took the train from Gatwick airport to London Victoria. When I finally arrived at the station, rather than squander the money I had allocated for the taxi, I caught a double-decker bus to Battersea High Street and sat enthralled taking in the view from on the top deck. However, as I got off the bus, a fresh surge of anxiety began to creep though my tired body when eventually, and only after asking several times, I found myself approaching one of the less salubrious areas in the district.

After walking more than one hundred meters down the dimly lit road I found the drab red brick house, a wrought iron number seven dangled from the door-frame. The once white paint was peeling from the door. The whole house looked deserted and forlorn. I consulted the address on the piece of paper for the umpteenth time hoping that there was some kind of mistake but there was no mistake, the number seven, stared up at me from my piece of paper.

I reached out and hesitantly knocked on the door, after a few moments, the scruffy threadbare piece of material, which passed as a curtain, was pushed aside and a face appeared briefly at the window.

It was the final straw and my nerve finally deserted me but as I started to turn and was about to run away, the door opened.

Out of curiosity I suppose, I stopped and turned to see an Asian woman peering out of the gloom. “Are you the Polish girl?” The woman’s soft voice asked politely.

I looked into the smiling face and relieved by the welcome tone held out my hand. “Connie Zatocheck.” I said.

“Come in, we’ve been expecting you.” The woman shook my hand “I am Naomi” she said and then guided me through the dimly lit hall and into a rather better illuminated room. “This is Ahmed.” Naomi introduced the man slouched in an armchair.

“Hello” Ahmed said without moving.

Naomi looked at me and held her hand against her breast. “Can I get you some tea?”

“That would be lovely.” I accepted gratefully.

As Naomi vanished from the room Ahmed sat up, with a thin smile on his narrow features as pointed to a chair “ Sit down, Connie is it?" You must be tired.”

I had not had anything to eat or drink since lunch-time and was exhausted from the journey. “Thank you, I am a bit” I said and sat on the dining chair facing him.

Ahmed leaned towards me. “So I understand you need a work-permit and somewhere to stay?”

“Well yes, my father arranged everything; he even paid the man in Krakow for the work-permit.” I told him trying to appear confident but Ahmed’s swarthy appearance made me nervous.

“I see, well I’m afraid it’s not quite like that." You see what your father’s friend did, was to organise a meeting with me." He asked me to find the accommodation and also to obtain a work permit but you must understand no money passed hands, it will all have to be paid for here.” Ahmed raised his hands and sat back.

I was shattered; I knew my father had paid the man from the Town Hall for everything. I pushed aside the distressing memory of the extra payment I had been obliged to secretly provide as well.

“But we have already paid!” I objected.

“I’m sorry but that man has cheated you, because he never paid me any money, how could he? You must understand to arrange an illegal work permit is going to be very difficult and also very expensive?”

“But I have no more money!” I replied and slumped into the chair. “What am I to do?” I was desolate.

Ahmed smiled for the first time and leaned forward again. “Don’t worry I’m sure we can work something out?” He said convincingly “Tell me what kind of work you are looking for?”

“I have a degree in Social Economics and English.” I told him. “But I can do any kind of work to start with, chambermaid anything until I get settled. You see I want to make enough money to travel and see the world!” I smiled and looked back at him attempting to appear as determined as possible.

“I see, well you won’t make much money as a chambermaid and don’t forget you will have to pay for your work permit?” Ahmed looked serious and frowned nodding his head from side to side in doubt.

I was about to speak when Ahmed raised his hand; a fresh smile adorned his bearded face. “But perhaps there is a way, an attractive girl like you; with the right connections it should be easy to earn ten times the wages of a chambermaid!”

I recoiled in shock as he placed his hand on my knee.

At that precise moment, Naomi returned with the tea. “Here we are and I’ve made you a little sandwich as well, I expect you could do with it?”

Judging how Ahmed suddenly slouched back onto his chair combined with the look of distaste on my face, I was sure Naomi had instantly assessed the situation. Naomi looked decisively at Ahmed and the back to me. “You can stay here tonight my dear.” She said protectively placing a friendly hand on my arm “and then tomorrow we’ll get everything sorted out, okay?”

Naomi turned back towards Ahmed “This girl is too tired now and so I think its time for you to go home to your wife and family and we’ll talk tomorrow.” She stood defensively with her hands on her hips.

Surprisingly Ahmed stood up “You’re right.” Then he looked back towards me. “Think about it: easy money eh?” He winked. “Sleep well; I’ll be back.” He nodded and left.

I was on the verge of tears but then Naomi stood reassuringly in front of me. “Now my dear” she held out her hand “the best thing for you is to get some sleep, you’ll be quite safe in the room next to me and then we’ll sort it all out tomorrow, eh?” She raised a knowing eyebrow and led me upstairs.

It was true, I was more than tired; I was completely exhausted and so happily responded to Naomi’s invitation.

The little bedroom was neat and clean but in spite of Naomi’s assurance that I ‘would be perfectly safe’, I wedged the chair under the doorknob before throwing myself into bed to fall almost instantly asleep.

I had no way of knowing what time it was because I did not possess a wristwatch in those days. However, some time later I was woken by the sound of breaking furniture and Ahmed’s voice shouting and cursing.

When the piercing screams started, I leaped out of bed and checked that the chair was still firmly wedged under the doorknob and then stepped back and listened. The next few seconds of unaccountable silence were suddenly shattered, as Ahmed shouted something unintelligible and the woman screamed again followed by the sound of footsteps pounding up the stairs, as I backed hesitantly into the room a violent crash on the door sent me cowering and trembling with fear to the other side of the bed. I pushed my hand under the pillow and felt for the bag that contained my few precious processions in it; I found the little pair of nail scissors. It was not much of a weapon but somehow it gave me a modest feeling of courage.

“You must let me in little lady, I have got your work permit!” Ahmed’s voice called from the landing.

I shivered, desperately thinking what to say. “You said you would come with it tomorrow?” I tried.

“Well it is tomorrow, its half past twelve.” he chuckled and banged again on the door. “Come on, you better let me in or Naomi will get another taste of my hand!” This time the humour had left his voice.

“Go away!” I called back.

“Have it your way” Ahmed answered lightly “but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

I was naturally relieved when I heard Ahmed crash back down the stairs but that changed very quickly when a scuffle, followed by a high-pitched hysterical scream, sent me cowering into my pillow again.

“Please no please” I could hear Naomi pleading, followed by Ahmed’s growling voice “It’s your little friend’s choice not mine” which was followed by several more heart wrenching screams.

Something inside made me very angry. “Stop, please stop!” I shouted as I raced across the room, pulled away the chair and opened the door. “You very bad man.” I shouted defiantly at the top of my voice. My English always used to suffer a bit when I was under pressure in those days.

I remember Ahmed racing up the stairs again and facing me. “Yes I am indeed a very bad man but I can get work permits and that’s what you need isn’t it?” Still panting from all the exertion he reached into his pocket produced a piece of folded paper. “And now you must pay?”

Seeing the savage glare in Ahmed’s eyes, I retreated slowly into the bedroom and as he moved towards me he continued to wave the piece of paper tantalizingly.

Of course by now, I knew what was coming. I had not been exactly raped before but I had been obliged to give myself to that dirty old man from the Town Hall, as an extra payment to secure the travel documents. God knows what my father would have done to the man had he known what his precious daughter had sunk to and now it was about to happen all over again.

Suddenly I was thinking perfectly clearly and how with ice-cold determination I was going to resolve the situation on my terms.

Although he had not yet spotted the scissors held firmly in my hand, I did not expect he would see them as much of a challenge.

Ahmed stood in front of me blocking any chance of escape. “So now if you are sensible, I will arrange the kind of work which pays more than anything else you can earn by making beds or washing toilets; which is about the only work you’re going to find otherwise” he picked at his teeth with a corner of the piece of paper “and it’s the only way you’re ever going to pay for this!” Ahmed casually waved the piece of paper and smiled.

I tried to return the smile “Okay so what exactly do I have to do to earn all this money?” I asked trying to appear innocent.

Ahmed quickly explained the full extent of the life he had in mind “and remember most importantly, my girls only call on gentlemen in hotels, they don’t loiter about on street corners.” He explained, proudly emphasising the apparent quality of his service.

“Okay, so now I understand the deal can we sort all this out tomorrow morning, I’m really tired tonight?” I tried to delay the inevitable.

“Sorry, I have to know tonight or I’ll let the only vacancy to another hungry young lady” he moved menacingly towards me “and I’m sure you’ll understand I have to test fly the goods first!”

I thrust out my hand towards his stomach; I had slipped the scissors onto my middle fingers so that it protruded like a dagger.

Ahmed stopped dead. “What?” He exclaimed stopping abruptly.

“You pay first!” I hissed waving the scissors threateningly.

“Pay?” Ahmed queried.

“The works permit.” I gestured for him to pass it to me. “You wouldn’t expect me to work without taking the fee first would you?” I set my head on one side and waggled the scissors again.

“Well you’ve got the nerve, I’ll give you that” he conceded and held out the piece of paper.

Crouching, as if about to pounce and still waving the scissors aggressively, I grabbed the work permit and stuffed it into the pocket of my dressing gown. After a moment and realising there was little more I could do to delay the inevitable. I stood up erect and lowered my hand. “Okay what happens next?”

“Now we sign the contract.” Ahmed smiled undoing his belt.

I knew there was no point in resisting so I sat on the edge of the bed and let my mind wander for a moment. After all, I was sexually mature, having enjoyed two full-blooded love affairs at university and of course the rather sordid ten-minute romp with the man from the Town Hall. Then my thoughts were interrupted when I realised that Ahmed was standing completely naked before me.

“Don’t worry, I always take precautions with my Ladies; wouldn’t want to take anything unwanted home to my wife?” He laughed and expertly rolled a condom onto the erect penis he was proudly displaying.

I resigned to lie back on the bed. I winced briefly as Ahmed first lay across me but then somewhat surprisingly, literally closed my mind to his physical presence. In fact, in spite of his grunting and groaning I managed let my mind drift again and started to wonder if perhaps a life as a prostitute might not be so bad. After all, the potential of a life in a luxury apartment, a wardrobe full of wonderful clothes, lots of champagne and amazing meals in smart restaurants, it might have some appeal?

As my mind rumbled on, I hardly noticed that Ahmed had stopped writhing around on top of me.

After a brief pause, Ahmed stood up. “Well I suppose you’ll do but if that’s you’re idea of a performance, you’ll never earn any tips.” He spat derisorily, picked up his clothes and vanished into the bathroom.

Then as I lay back on the bed and reality returned, I suddenly felt incredibly dirty and used, yet my mind was still tussling with the desperate position I was in.

Ahmed, now fully dressed, reappeared and interrupted my thoughts again. “Okay so you start tomorrow, I’ll pick you up in the morning.” He left without saying another word.

I rolled off of the bed and went wearily into the bathroom, where I spent the next half an hour in the shower, trying to wash the sordid experience away. Then I remembered Naomi and quickly dressed and went cautiously down stairs. I found her slouched on the settee with her hands held to her face, her torn Sari stained with blood from the vicious cut above her eye.

I found a clean cloth and ran a bowl of warm water in the kitchen. “Who is this man and why would he do this to you?” I asked, as I gently bathed the wound and other ugly bruises.

“I’m so sorry that you should have fallen into his grip. I’m embarrassed to say that he is my brother and he is an evil man” Naomi hugged her rib cage “he only knows one way with women.” She winced from the pain in her ribs as she sobbed. “Now you listen to me,” she sat upright “you are an educated girl so I’m sure you can make a better life than the one he is offering?”

Taking Naomi’s lead, I resolutely squared my shoulders. “You are so right and I will.” I said with renewed determination.

Finally, we both went back to our beds and surprisingly I slept dreamlessly until several hours later, Naomi, mug of tea in hand, gently roused me. “I think you should be away from this house early. Then I can say to Ahmed you ran away whilst I was asleep?”

Not wanting any more harm to come to Naomi, I readily agreed.

It was barley daylight as I prepared to leave. Naomi stood at the door “Good luck my dear.” She drew in her breath as I unwittingly hugged her damaged ribs.

“Sorry.” I stepped back apologetically.

“That’s okay my dear; here” she pressed a note into my hand. “I’m sorry it’s not more but it’s all I have.”

I looked at the Five-pound note and immediately tried to push it back into Naomi’s hand.

“No you must take it,” Naomi insisted “just promise me that when you’ve make your fortune you’ll remember me?”

The tears welled up in my eyes, I was too emotional to reply but managed a whispered “I promise” and with a sniff, turned and walked briskly towards the lights of the main road.

As I left the house on that misty morning, I had no idea where I was going but somehow I knew, that what ever else I would find out there, it would be a better future than being one of Ahmed’s ‘Ladies’.

When I reached the main road, I simply turned right following the pavement; after a couple of minutes I saw a Double Decker bus coming towards me. Without a care in the world and not knowing what else to do I stepped into the road placed my suitcase on the ground and waved both arms to stop the bus.

It pulled up less than a metre away and the driver leaned out of the window. “What’s wrong with the bus stop luv?” he asked good-humouredly.

“Thank you” I smiled weakly, shrugged my shoulders and stepped onto the platform.

“Morning; where to luv?” The conductor asked cheerfully.

“Where is bus going?” I asked absently.

“Victoria Station.”

“That is good.” I paid for the ticket and sat gazing through the condensation trickling down the window but I did not actually see anything, because my brain was in overdrive trying to make sense of the last twenty-four hours of my life.

Stopping at regular intervals the bus gradually filled up. Eventually we crossed Vauxhall Bridge and stopped in front of a yet another queue of early morning commuters.

Only one man from the queue chose to get onto the bus but it was not until he squeezed into the seat facing me that I noticed he was Asian and in almost the same instant I thought I recognised Ahmed.

Shocked by the realisation that I had not escaped I panicked, grabbed my suitcase and dived for the exit. At that precise moment, the bus started to move throwing me completely off balance and causing me to catapult, suitcase in hand off the boarding platform and cart wheeling into the gutter to end up in an undignified heap at the feet of an old tramp, whilst my cheap compressed cardboard suitcase skidded to a halt under the wheels of the old tramp’s pram a couple of meters away.

“Good morning” The tramp bent down and greeted me. “That was quite a spectacular way to get of the bus, are you okay?” He offered me his hand.

I looked up at the voice; at first I was more embarrassed than hurt. “Thank you,” I said grabbing the offered hand and pulling myself to my feet.

“Looks as though you’ll need a bit of a tidy up.” The old tramp concluded as he tried to brush some of the oily water from my coat; he was right it was soaked but he pulled his hand away as I looked up apprehensively at him.

Strangely I felt no threat, the contrary in fact for when I looked more closely at the old tramp, with that flowing silver white beard he looked just like ‘Father Christmas’ and that in turn made me think of my home and family and the tears welled up in my eyes but the brief vision vanished, as the pain in my knee made its presence felt.

When I looked down, I was not surprised to see blood trickling down my leg. “Oh bugger,” I swore in Polish.

“What’s that luv?” The tramp questioned in surprise. “Where d'you hail from then eh?” He did not wait for a reply; he had also noticed the blood “Here” surprisingly he produced a box of tissues from his pram “use these.”

I accepted the tissue and dabbed at my knee.

“Press hard it will help to stop the bleeding.” The old man suggested and then picked up the battered old suitcase. “She must be as poor as me, if this is anything to go by.” I clearly heard the old tramp mutter.

It took only a few seconds to stop the bleeding and so I turned my attention to the oily stains on my coat.

“Best thing for you my dear is to go into that hotel and sort yourself out in the ladies washroom” the tramp pointed to a large marble-fronted building less than fifty metres away “they’re very posh, the loos that is and have all the bits and pieces you need.” The old tramp handed the suitcase back to me.

“Do you think they’ll mind?” I queried.

The tramp smiled encouragement. “Not at all, there’s so many people rushing about in there, no one’s going to notice one extra young lady.”

“Okay, I think I’ll do that and thank you for your help.” I formally shook the old tramp’s hand.

“My pleasure; may see you again later eh?” He threw up a casual salute.

I nodded and walked nervously towards the hotel entrance. Inside the lobby, it was just as the old tramp had said, with people of every colour and creed dashing about or reading newspapers, talking in small groups or just some drinking tea or coffee. The tramp was right no one was going to notice one more person in that crowd.

I also noticed that several clocks above the reception announced the time in various capital cities around the world. It was only eight fifteen in London; my first twenty-four hours in London had been very different to my dream.

I found the Ladies Powder Room and wallowed for a while in the perfumed toiletries; I even managed to make my old coat look quite respectable again and emerged feeling refreshed and hungry. The clock over the reception desk showed that it was almost nine o’clock in London.

The open plan lobby had numerous blocks of comfortable seating and so I moved to the nearest, sat down and casually picked up the discarded newspaper and looked for the ‘job vacancies’ section. As I eagerly scanned the pages, a voice interrupted me.

“Can I get you anything Miss?”

A little startled I looked up to find a waiter expertly balancing a tray on one hand and smiling down at me. “Well err. I’m well...” I stuttered.

“Excuse me” the young man leaning closer asked discreetly “but are you one of those young ladies waiting for an interview?”

I really did not know why but something made me simply say, “Yes I am.”

The waiter relaxed “Ah, in that case there is complimentary tea, coffee and other stuff being served in the committee room over there.” he pointed to the other side of the lobby.

I thanked him and walked across to find several other young women in a bedroom size room, where a table with tea, coffee, fruit juice and biscuits, immediately caught my eye. The others were all ready sipping drinks and nibbling biscuits.

“Any idea how many places available?” A young girl approached me.

“Not sure.” I mumbled from a mouth full of chocolate biscuit.

The girl huffed and turned away.

I shrugged my shoulders and stuffed several biscuits into my pocket.

A uniformed porter entered the room. “Your attention please, I have your application forms. There are pens over there,” he pointed to a desk in the opposite corner “you will see that there is a separate section for each vacancy. Fill them in please and then hand them to the receptionist. You can wait in here, until you are called to your interview.”

The girls gathered around him to collect their forms. I was the last. “Which do you think is the best job?” I whispered conspiratorially.

“It all depends.” The porter looked carefully at me. “Smart looking girl like you, reception I suppose” he winked and left the room.

Two and a half hours and several biscuits later, I was called into my interview.

Sitting behind a small desk, the female head receptionist and the under manager, looked up expressionlessly as I entered.

Having interviewed seven completely unsuitable young women so far, they were obviously bored and had almost certainly concluded that they were not going to find anyone in this round of applications.

The under manager briefly scanned my application form “Polish?” he mumbled and then asked with a bored drawn out sigh. “I see you want to be a receptionist?”

“Yes I do.” I answered softly.

“How’s your English?” The woman sneered.

Instantly provoked by her arrogance I sat up proudly and replied defiantly.

“I have a degree in English language and I expect to become more familiar with local colloquialisms in time” by chance, it was an opportunity to use one of those pet English phrases I had perfected at University.

The under manager‘s head snapped up. “Profuse apologies, we didn’t mean to insult you. We’ve seen so many people who claim to be fluent in English but in practice are not” he picked up the application form again “so” he drawled looking for my name on the sheet “Connie” he looked up at me smiling “tell me a little bit more about yourself?” he asked with renewed interest in the interview.

An hour later, I almost had the job but there was still one tricky problem, the ‘Work Permit’.

“I’m afraid that this document is a forgery.” The man facing me waved my hard-earned ‘Work Permit’ between two fingers as if it were dirty.

I anxiously sucked my lip. “Oh God” I muttered to myself in Polish and sank into the chair like a deflated balloon.

“However let me see what we can do” the under manager winked “I will have to speak with the General Manager, Mr Marcus. I’m sure that he will have a solution!”

I groaned inwardly. ‘Yes I bet he will, just like the others’ I thought, as the repulsive memory of Ahmed’s skinny naked body flashed before me.

“If you’d like to wait in the lobby, I’ll see if I can get him to look at it whilst you wait?” The under manager opened the door for me “Shouldn’t be long.”

Mildly dazed, I stepped back into the hotel lobby. It had all been a bit like an amazing dream but now I was about to face the final test. I sucked in a big breath of air and resigned to wait.

Twenty minutes later, a tall dark haired man, good-looking, approached me and enquired politely. “Connie Zatocheck?”

“Yes” I nodded and stood up.

“Glad to meet you. Marcus Detori, I am the General Manager.”

We shook hands.

“I think I might be able to sort out your little problem.” Mr Marcus Detori raised his eyebrows and smiled. “If you’d like to follow me, I’ll explain.”

“Okay.” I answered cautiously. I also remember thinking ‘Well at least he is good looking’ and resigned myself to whatever fate was about to throw at me and followed obediently.

Seated once again in the office where the earlier interview had taken place, I fidgeted nervously as Marcus opened a manila file and took out the forged work permit.

“I’m sorry to have to say it but I see quite a few of these and I do understand what a high price can be often demanded to get it.” Marcus raised his eyebrows. “Unfortunately they are quite useless. You see it is the hotel that must apply for a foreign work permit, not you. If you were to change jobs, then your new employer has to apply for a transfer and so on” he slipped the forged document back into the file. “Technically you have to be outside of the country before a permit is granted. No doubt you will have entered the country as a student?”

Humbled by the realisation of my naivety “Yes” I replied, in little more than a whisper.

“I thought so, any way” Marcus looked at me, “it seems that my colleagues think you are the right person for the receptionist position and so I will sort it all out” he pursed his lips. “I expect you’ll need accommodation as well?”

I nodded.

“Okay, I’ve already spoken to the housekeeper, she controls the staff accommodation here and we do have a room in the hotel which should be suitable for you.”

Marcus picked up the telephone. “Maria, that room I asked you about; the new receptionist would like to have it, is it ready now?” He listened. “That’s fine; I’ll send her up shortly.”

Marcus carefully replaced the receiver. “Right that’s all fixed; so let me formally welcome you to the Riverside Hotel.” He smiled and shook my hand again. “Now just so you know, I’m part Italian and my team and I run this hotel just like the proverbial ‘Mafia Family’ we all work together and we all share the rewards. However, I should warn you,” his face became serious “that we also share the disappointments” Marcus paused for a moment. “So, you will be given three months trial and if after that time, we are satisfied with you and if in-turn, you are happy with us and you still want to be a part of my team, then you will be given a contract and entered into the bonus and service sharing scheme; which incidentally, I personally manage for all the staff. Is that agreeable to you?”

I could hardly believe it; a job, food and accommodation and the man never once looked as though he was going to make me pay in the ‘old fashioned way’ “It is agreeable and I thank you.” I managed to say calmly.

Marcus shook my hand again and bowed. “Good to have you with us. Now you must find your room,” he opened the door “I understand you can start this evening?”

“I don’t have anything else to do!” I smiled.

For the next three months, I learned and worked my way through all the various tasks expected of the ‘front office team’.

Some of the other younger girls could barely wait to finish their shifts to get out on the town. They knew every disco and club for miles, with the consequence, that they had usually squandered all their money within the first few days of the week.

At first, they used to ask me to join them and I did go a couple of times but a receptionist’s pay in those days was very modest and I resented wasting my hard-earned cash in that way. So instead, I worked extra shifts and covered other departments, earning extra money in the process.

The girls used to call me ‘old stick in the mud’ at first but when I started covering their shifts, and when they ran out of money before pay day, found that I was the only source of loan, it soon became ‘Aunty Connie’. I did not mind; I had already fallen whole-heartedly for the family spirit, which prevailed within the Riverside Hotel.

One of the things I always remembered from that time however was my guilty conscience for never plucking up enough courage to visit my benefactor Naomi; the terrifying memory of Ahmed was still far too powerful.

Chapter 3 - Marcus

I was born in Italy at the end of World War 2; my real father was not the ‘daddy’ I loved and cherished so much but an American soldier. It was not until I was a teenage boy however, that my mother eventually explained it all to me.

“You have to try and understand” Mother started hesitantly, “life in those wartime days was impossible for you to visualise.”

I can still see the tears filling her eyes as she opened up her heart.

“The civilian population was starving. The village was in ruins as the German and American armies vied for its control,” she sighed “there was hardly a building left with a roof. The Germans forced the civilians into the streets, hoping their presence would prevent the Americans from bombarding their positions. Dozens were killed or wounded.” She went on, pursing her lips and sighing at the memory. “Thankfully the Americans finally sent in their tanks and chased the Germans away” her face lit up “and we had miraculously been delivered from certain death and suddenly, we were free”

Mother paused and hugged me tightly. “It was an amazing feeling and on top of that the American soldiers had an abundance of everything that had been so scarce - things like cigarettes, silk stockings and above all food!”

I snuggled up to her, sensing the enormity of her story.

“The commander of one of the tanks spoke quite good Italian and he brought a whole basket full of canned meat and fruit presenting it ceremoniously to my father, your grandfather, asking politely if he could call again.”

Mother sniffed and wiped away a tear. “Each time he called, he brought more luxuries. It was just as though we had somehow dragged ourselves out of Hell and catapulted into Paradise.” She smiled as the memories flooded back. “In spite of the torn oil-stained uniform, I couldn’t fail to notice how handsome he was. It was Momma who washed and repaired it for him,” she sighed “but it was the taste of the chocolate he constantly plied us with that really turned my head.”

I remember how she sat up, daintily dabbed a tear from her eye and squared her shoulders with pride. “One evening Hal appeared. Do you know I never knew his family name?” she exclaimed, raising her eyebrows with a watery smile. “He was carrying the usual box of goodies and a huge bunch of flowers for grandma. I often wondered where he found them.”

“We’re moving out tomorrow,” he told us casually “so I managed to get my hands on a little bit extra!” He grinned conspiratorially to grandpa.

“I can just see him now, pointing to the box before bending down and pushing the lid aside revealing a big fat joint of fresh meat. We all gasped; we hadn’t seen fresh meat for months. Grandma went on to her knees, took his hands in hers and kissing them with devout reverence. ‘I pray God will protect you and bring you safely back to us,’ she murmured but Hal bent down and eased her to her feet. ‘Don’t worry about me Mama,’ he drawled - ‘The Krauts are on the run and are ready to quit. It’ll all be over in days!’ I can still hear him now.” Mother sniffed and fixed me with an affectionate, yet somehow rueful smile. “Men! You’re all so sure of yourselves aren’t you!” she breathed, squeezing me reassuringly.

“As he made to leave, Hal asked grandpa if he might take me out for a walk. ‘Of course, if she wants to,’ he replied politely. I can still see grandpa’s face and that little twitch in his eye that materialised whenever he was nervous. ‘Of course I do Papa,’ I told him happily.”

Mother stared dreamily into space as she remembered the moment.

“After all, I was sixteen!” She hugged me reassuringly. “I was a woman - and the man was big, strong and handsome. What’s more, he had food!” Mother lowered her head, not in shame more in embarrassment. “Any way, the long and short of it was that we went for a long stroll; we hugged and kissed, until eventually I let him make love to me.”

My mother sighed, relieved at finally getting the burden of her guilt off her chest.

“It was my first time you know,” she murmured, searching my face with those big brown eyes. “I thought I was in love and that letting him have my body was the right thing to do…” she trailed off, nodding bashfully adding in a whisper “I never saw him again”

Then she smiled as she kissed me once again “Anyway, that’s how you came about, young man but the only thing that’s important for you to know now is that I love you and Daddy loves you more than anything else in the world,”

I was about fourteen at the time, and more than a bit confused about the identity of my blood ancestors. “So what happened to my real father? Will I ever get to know him?” I asked inquisitively.

Mother however, had already stepped back in time again and seemed lost in thought. “Mum?” I nudged her.

Collecting herself with a deep sigh, once again she began to replay the painful memory. “I’m so sorry I should have said” she paused “the war we all thought was over still had many terrible months to go and as the Americans pulled out of town the next morning, Hal, your father was killed… In his tank… A direct hit.”

I remember pulling away from her. I did not know what to do – I was so angry I didn’t know whether to stamp my foot, scream or simply bury my head in Mother’s breast.

In the end, I think I just sat down on my own and wept silently.

We never talked about it again. There was no need.