The hotel was on a narrow side street, with nondescript building blocks rising on either side. It was a quiet and relaxed street that was constantly in shade, and rarely had any traffic pass down it. On one end of the street there was a row of trees that led onto the adjoining boulevard, and on the other was a corner with a café, and a boulangerie. This was the side that the hotel was nearest. There was little to distinguish it from the apartment buildings that rose around it, save for a small sign that hung from a hinge above the door, with the “Hotel Des Arts” emblazoned on it in purple lettering.
The man walked up to the door and paused for a moment as it slid open in front of him. The hotelier’s desk was behind a counter next to the door and he looked up as the man walked in. He had a paper in his hands which he set it down on the counter in front of him, and squinted up as the man above him leaned on the desk. He saw a tall well-dressed man with short brown hair and a wiry frame looking down at him. He was wearing a jacket with a white shirt beneath, and he was carrying a brown leather bag.
“Allo,” the hotelier said, his voice low and musical. “Puis-je vous aider??”
“I have a booking made for tonight,” the man said. His voice was quiet and firm, but he smiled briefly as he said it.
“What is the name?” The hotelier switched to English, as the man made no attempt at French. American, he guessed from the accent.
“Marlowe,” the American said.
The hotelier opened a ledger in front of him and ran his finger down a list of names.
“Hmm,” he said, and his brow creased into a frown. “I don’t seem to ‘ave you ‘ere , monsieur.”
“I made the booking by phone earlier on today,” Marlowe said. The hotelier closed the ledger and began to scroll through a battered old laptop sitting in front of him. Marlowe shot a glance out the window at the street beyond, left and right. The Parisian sun was low in the sky and cast a sepia glow to the air. The street was quiet.
“Ah, oui,” said the hotelier, smiling a little smile of satisfaction to himself. “Marlowe, le deuxieme etage. Second floor. Room 204.” He pulled a card from a slot beneath his desk and a piece of paper from a pile next to him and handed both across the counter.
“Your key,” he said. “And there is no information on the booking, could you please fill out the information on the page?”
Marlowe took them both.
“Can I drop this back down to you?” he said, holding up the page. “I’m tired after my trip and want to get some sleep?”
The hotelier looked at him for a moment and thought about insisting, then smiled.
“Okay,” he said, and his voice was loud. “The stairs is behind you. Bon nuit.”
He returned the American’s smile and watched as he disappeared up the spiral wooden staircase, then picked up his paper again.
Marlowe slid the keycard into the slot. The door was heavy and it swung shut behind him as he stepped into the room. It was small and modern, with a low set white bed, a table with two chairs, and a door leading into an ensuite. He dropped his bag on the bed, and dropped the page the hotelier had given him into the bin. He had been deliberately vague on the phone when booking, and had no intention of filling out the form. He would pay cash when he left in the morning.
He stooped and looked under the bed, then gave a quick glance into the ensuite. He walked to the window and peered out. The room faced onto the narrow side street that the hotel was on. A scooter turned onto the street as he watched and zoomed down it in the direction of the boulevard and out of sight. Then the street was empty again. The apartment opposite him had a balcony that opened out onto the street but there was no lights inside. He could see the spire of a church rise over the corner of the building, framed against the darkening sky. He pulled the curtains shut
He sat down on the bed next to the bag, and massaged the outside of his legs. He had deliberately picked a hotel that was not directly near any nearby metro stations and the walk had tired him.
He lay back on the bed. He felt a wave of tiredness sweep over him. The events of the last several days passed in front of his eyes, a series of disjointed images. Bus journeys, train journeys, flights, hotel rooms. Hurried meals in quiet restaurants.
He lay there for what seemed like an hour but could have been only minutes, when a clanging noise from the street outside wrought through the silence of the room. He leapt from the bed with his heart racing. The clanging stopped and faded, then started up again several moments later. Then it stopped again, the sound reverberating off into the distance. It was a bell, he realised and went to the window just as the sound came for a third time. He pulled the curtain and looked out. The street was still empty below, and his eyes came to rest on the church spire in the distance. He half smiled to himself, and sat back down on the bed. He checked his watch and saw that it was 8 o’clock. He sat and counted the eight bells, and then listened to the sound reverberate off into the distance and vanish. As it stopped, he stood up off the bed. A strange feeling had come over him, and he suddenly wanted be out in the streets, to sit down in a café and drink wine and watch the traffic go by in the cool summer evening. He went into the bathroom and splashed some water onto his face, and the feeling grew stronger. He dabbed at his face with a towel and tilted his head as he appraised himself in the mirror. He saw a tired man, with dark circles beneath deep blue eyes, and paler than he had been in a long time. Anger rose up inside him, intertwining and then overpowering the strange feeling. The running, the hiding, the unease- this wasn’t him. He wouldn’t be forced to live like this.
The man behind the hotel desk looked up as the American came down the stairs into the lobby, expecting to see the information page in his hand. But the American crossed the room in several long strides and swept out into the evening without a glance in his direction. The hotelier gazed after him as the automatic door slid shut.
Part 2 coming soon