I’d stayed in the same hotel several times before. It involved a full day’s journey from London––early Eurostar from St Pancras; RER across Paris from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon; afternoon train across Bourgogne and Franche-Comté to Basel; a short negotiation of stations in Basel from the Swiss Basel SBB to the German Basel Badischer Bahnhof, and finally a local train across the south of Baden-Württemberg, close to the Swiss border; the rail track running alongside the Rhine all the way. I arrived at my destination at 10:30 in the evening. Pretty tired.
The hotel is quite tiny and the reception only open for limited hours, but I had an arrangement on the occasions when I knew that I would be arriving late whereby my key is left in their outside letterbox for me to collect. It was an arrangement, which had worked well. Until now.
It was dark in the street outside the hotel, which scarcely showed a light from within; darker still in the small side-alley where the hotel has a second entrance to a winter garden. It was here where lies the letterbox. It was unlocked as arranged, but inside…? Nothing. Empty. No key; no note.
I tried the door to the winter garden. Locked. I went back to the front door of the hotel. Locked. I rang the bell. Nothing. I tapped on a window. No response. I rang the hotel on my mobile. No answer. It was as I was beginning to run out of options that I noticed a middle-aged German couple approaching.
“Are you staying in the hotel?” I asked.
I explained my predicament. My story––or my expression––must have been suitably convincing––or pathetic––that they let me into the side door of the hotel. Beyond that they could not help me. I was left alone in the dark hotel lobby.
What should I do?
I could leave to try to find another hotel. I could sleep rough outside. Or I could carry on with my break-in.
I didn’t waste a second in idle thought: my course was set from the moment the unsuspecting guests had unwittingly placed themselves in the position of my accomplices. I fumbled around until I found a light-switch. O, Blessed Light. Now I could really get to work.
The door to the reception area was locked, however I could reach over and across the reception desk to where I could see a large ledger tucked almost––but not quite––out of sight. I soon had the book open, scanning names and dates, and raising a silent prayer to an old fashioned, non-computerised booking system. I came upon today’s date, and there was my name. Ominously, there was a big black cross next to my name: a cross, which I took to signify my presumed non-arrival. I ran my finger along the line next to my name (and cross) until I reached a number––twenty-six. Presumably, the room I had been originally allocated.
Twenty-six; room twenty-six. A big glass-fronted key cabinet showed numbers from one to 30. Most of the keys were missing from their individual cubicles; key twenty-six was tantalisingly present: an eager soldier amidst a parade ground of absentees. Predictably, the cabinet was locked. However, I was not beaten yet. There was still a glimmer of hope. A glimmer as narrow as the gap, which ran between the top of the reception desk and the bottom of the key cabinet.
I raised a second silent prayer. This time giving thanks for slender wrists and slim fingers. I could just reach my hand through the gap beneath the key cabinet; could just flex my fingers so that I could take hold of one end of the key and tease it towards me. However, it was not until I held the key safely in the palm of my hand, that I felt confident enough to alter the cross by the side of my name in the hotel ledger to a big tick. E. C. Glendenny was in the house.
That night I slept in room twenty-six and I slept the sleep of the innocent.
What would you have done in my situation? Would you have made the same choices?
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny prefers to travel anonymously wherever possible.