OVERNIGHT TO INNSBRUCK

He stood just inside the entrance, disoriented and confused. The air-conditioning fed into his system like a transfusion of cold blood, and he would have remained there, wallowing it it, had the opulence of his surroundings not reminded him of his status as persona non grata. He still had no money, and now he also looked like someone with no money. The lobby and everything in it spoke cash. Richard stood there, filthy, hands dangling, too overcome with relief to give himself a less helpless demeanour. Staffed zipped past with looks of withheld judgement, expatriates glanced over their shoulders as they came all squeaky clean from the tennis courts, businessmen turned away. As he sensed the doorman approach, Richard strode across the lobby, hooping to see a sign for the Gents. He found one, but he saw another sign too, and he followed that one instead. It took him through the hotel and out the back of the building to the gardens.

If ever there was a right time for loutish behaviour, this was surely it. Richard didn’t stop to think; his senses took over. He walked to the swimming pool and stepped right into it.
Cool – clear – water! Sizzling like a red-hot pan, he allowed himself to sink to the bottom. Every atom in his body exulted. Water gushed in his ears, bubbles fizzed around his skin, and his temperature dropped with a fresh blast.

The first thing he noticed when he floated to the surface were cleavages. Three of them, belonging to expatriate women in swimsuits who were leaning forward to what emerged in the wake of the splash. Richard nodded at the women, then noticed all around him a cloud of murky water. He looked at it, and at them, and said, ‘Well, it’s been a long day,’ then suffered the ignominy of being too weak to haul himself out of the pool.

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