I held my breath. There was an inch or so gap between the bedspread and the floor, and with my faced pressed into the carpet I could just see a pair of black shoes. They stopped as they turned round, and I heard muttering. He opened the bathroom door, then went straight over to the wardrobe. The bed cover draped down to the floor at the end of the bed so I couldn’t see a thing. I heard the door being opened and then the safe dial spinning. The handle clunked and then there was the sound of papers being shuffled. The door was shut again and he headed back towards the near side of the bed.
His feet were no more than inches from the bed. My heart was thumping in my chest like a drummer playing jazz bebop. I thought he must hear it. Hell, I was pretty sure the woman on reception could hear it!
He put something down on the bedside cabinet and then crossed over to the window. I was right over by the far edge of the bed and I desperately tried to shuffle over, as the spread didn’t hang down so far on this side.
I stifled a groan as the set of picks in my trouser pocket dug into me. I‘d never really thought about having kids in the past. Suddenly it might not be an option.
The curtains were drawn and he came back around the bed. ‘Hell's bells,’ I thought, as I shuffled back over again. ‘Make your ruddy mind up where you want to be.’
Suddenly he sat down on the bed, and my legs were being crushed. I only hoped he hadn’t felt it when he sat down, but his mind seemed to be on other things. He picked up the phone and started dialling. After a few seconds he spoke.
“I’m not sure. The light was on when I got back. I don’t remember leaving it...”
“Yes, I suppose it could have been housekeeping.”
“Yes of course I checked. They’re both still...”
“Of course I am! If this goes wrong, I’m dead and you’re going to j...”
“Well I’m putting it somewhere safer.”
He slammed the phone down and cursed for a few seconds. Then without warning he got up, bent down and started fishing around under the bed with one hand. If he didn’t find his briefcase very soon, he’d get down to look.
I bent my legs and pushed it forward with my knees just enough that his hand bumped it. He grabbed the handle and pulled it out. Meanwhile I was turning blue from holding my breath. I heard him pop the catches on the case, some papers rustling, then the case being shut and locked.
Two things occured to me. First, from the sound of his voice, Barclay wasn’t Smith, and second, I needed to see whatever was in that case!
He switched the light off and the next thing I knew, he was gone, and locking the door behind him.
I breathed a sigh of relief and rolled out from under the bed. I’d had a few close calls in my time, and I didn’t like adding to them.
My first thought was ‘scram’, but I wanted another look at the contents of that safe. I span the dial and pulled the folder out, then took it over to the window. There was a pile of legalese, and then there was Lillywhite’s will - well, one of them anyway.
I glanced through it, and although there were a few bits and pieces that were going to relatives, or friends, the vast majority was ‘to be divided equally between my two daughters, Lilly and Jezebel’. No mention of Chastity at all. This must be the will the will they were planning to read tomorrow night.
My fine deductive mind got deducting and deduced that the genuine will was currently in Barclay’s briefcase. Time to be somewhere else. I put the papers back in the safe and went over to draw the curtains. I’d got away with leaving the light on. If the curtains had moved, he’d know for sure that...
The lock turned again!
I got behind the curtains and regretted having the extra fries with that burger as I tried to suck my stomach in. The light went on in the room and I pressed myself against the balcony window. I prayed that he’d only come back because he’d forgotten something, but clearly I’d used all my daily ration of prayers. I heard him sit down - he wasn’t going anywhere.
I started thinking. I could try running, but I guessed he’d locked the door behind him. I could slug him, but there was no way I could do it without him seeing me first. I was stuck.
As I pressed myself against the window, the balcony door handle pressed into my back. What was the chance of the door being open?
I tried it. No chance, that’s what.
In the room, Barclay had picked up the phone and was, from the sound of it, having a conversation with someone back in NYC. Quite a heated conversation.
I took a punt. While he was shouting down the phone, he wasn’t paying attention to much else. I slipped one of the picks out of my pocket, felt around behind me for the lock, closed my eyes and concentrated like I hadn’t concentrated for a long, long time.
My hands were sweating, and a couple of times I nearly dropped the pick. Three times I thought I’d got it and pressed down on the handle but the door didn’t budge. Fourth time was the charm. I eased the door open and hoped it wasn’t windy. Stepping out onto the balcony I closed the door.
I thanked my lucky stars, then stopped to consider my situation. I was stuck on a balcony, eighteen floors up. I might have been out of the frying pan, only now my butt was getting flame-grilled.
I looked around. The balconies on either side were at good six feet away. I wouldn’t have tried jumping that if I’d been in my office, let alone several hundred feet in the air. Leaning over the railings, I looked down. It was about eight feet to the balcony below. An eight foot drop. Didn’t sound like much. Bit if I missed...
Hell, if I missed, it was only going to bother me for about ten seconds.
I climbed over the railings, hanging onto the edge for grim death and then lowered myself down until I was hanging by my fingers from Barclay’s balcony. My feet were about two feet above the railings of the balcony below.
For a few long seconds I hung there. I thought of all the people I’d never see again if this went wrong. Then I remembered that I wouldn’t have to settle up with English if I was dead. On balance, living seemed the better option. I started swinging back and forth. The third time I swung forward, I let go...
...somehow I slithered over the railings of the balcony below, and landed in a sweating, shaking heap on the floor. My legs were like jello, and most of my insides were churning.
I dived for the rail, leaned over and heaved. The next morning, some poor unfortunate soul had to clear up one of Gina’s bacon cheeseburgers, a large fries, some onion rings and a strawberry malt. Whoever you were - sorry pal!
I sat for a few moments, back against the railings, trying to calm my breathing and get my heart rate down from ‘express train’ to something like normal. After a minute I started feeling better.
Ok. So now I was only seventeen stories up instead of eighteen. On the face of it, not a great improvement. I gotta say though. When you’ve just cheated death, it gives your confidence one hell of a boost. I stood up, brushed myself down and rapped sharply on the balcony door. A middle-aged woman came up looking dumbfounded and unlocked the door. As she opened it, I flashed the fake Id that I keep for just such purposes at her.
“Evening ma’am, hotel security. Just conducting a routine check. All’s well. Sorry to bother you.”
Before she could speak, I strode over to the door, picking up the key from the table as I went, unlocked the door, and left.