The phone rang.
I opened my eyes to bright sunlight streaming through the windows. For a moment, I was in my old room. It didn't seem important that it was so quiet. Slowly, the patterns on the ceiling resolved into focus, colourful whorls flitting across my eyes in a hypnotic dance. They were oddly unfamiliar, but I was surrounded by fresh linen and resting on a soft bed, so I wished the dreams to return and closed my eyes.
The phone rang again.
I scrambled out of bed and grabbed the receiver. 'Hello?'
There was a click. It was the schoolteacher. 'Your presence in the atrium is requested for nine o'clock precisely. Mr Harcourt wishes to see you.' There was another click and the line went dead.
I slumped into the desk chair and looked at the clock. Seven forty five. I rubbed my chin and looked out into the gardens. I could see many of the halls inhabitants were already out enjoying the sun. I desperately needed a shave.
Aside from the main door, there were two other doors in the room. The first led into a large closet. I was surprised to find hangers filled with my clothes, while an assortment of my shoes lined the floor. I returned to the bedroom and reached for the nearest cupboard drawer. Old and familiar socks and jumpers had been neatly folded and stored there, along with many possessions. My whole life was here. The second door led into a bathroom, where my shaver, toothbrush, and other personal effects were arranged.
The man looking back at me in the mirror looked tired, the shadow on my chin looking darker than usual. There was a mark on my chin, and bruises and cuts on my left arm. I held my arm up to the light and saw three puncture wounds in a close formation. I touched them gently, but was rewarded with a sharp stab of pain. My twisted ankle was already on the mend, but these unfamiliar wounds felt new.
I went back to the desk and picked up the phone. It dialled automatically and rang for a moment.
'Room 21, how may I direct your call?' enquired the schoolteacher.
'What date is it?' I asked urgently.
The voice sounded irritated. 'It is the 9th of February.'
'Sunday?' I stammered. 'Uh, thank you.'
I put the phone down and leaned against the desk. A day was missing from my life. Lana's drug had kept me out from Friday night to Saturday night, and somewhere in between I'd been injured again. I returned to the first door and took out my suit and laid it on the bed. Lana's card was still in the trouser pockets, but there was no sign of the blood that had been spilled on them. They were probably cleaned before last night, but I'd been too wrapped up in events to notice. As I began shaving and preparing the bath, I thought about the questions I would have for Harcourt.
When I reached the balcony at the end of the corridor, I found the atrium empty. Overnight, an army had cleared it of candles, lanterns, and discarded drinks. The chairs had been rearranged and tables polished, leaving the room looking spotless and clean. I looked at my watch. The schoolteacher had said exactly nine o'clock, which meant I had over ten minutes to wait. I decided to go through the main entrance and see Rotherhythe Hall from the outside.
The Hall proved to be a modern affair, early thirties in style, with decorations suggesting a dedication to an Egyptian god or pharaoh. It had an air of decadence, of an earlier era made more distant by the world's current problems. White stone steps led down to a gravel drive and a car park, populated by British and American models including a smart new Cadillac. It was a short walk from there to the ornamental garden, where tables and chairs were arranged between avenues of shrubs and flowerbeds. Most were filled with hall residents, a few of whom I recognised from yesterday. As I walked amongst them, some acknowledged me, but most were too deep in conversation to notice.
'Did you sleep well, Mr Ashley?'
I turned to see Lana sitting alone at one of the smaller tables. She was dressed in a light coloured shirt and slacks, with a large hat against the bright morning sun. Dark sunglasses covered her eyes. As our faces met, she glanced down at her newspaper and continued reading.
'Eventually.' I sat down opposite and adjusted my own hat to block the sun. 'Quite a storm,' I added. 'Enough to scare anyone.'
Lana turned over the page and continued reading. I tried reading her demeanour, but the sunglasses masked her face. I couldn't tell if she was looking at me or not. Over her shoulder on the next table, a group of three men were looking at us and talking. It seemed that the new boy was drawing attention.
Lana turned another page and then stopped. 'Harcourt doesn't like to be kept waiting,' she said to her paper. 'I'd be on your way, Mr Ashley.'
I put my hand on the table near hers. 'Lana, you seemed upset last night, but I couldn't find you after the lights came on again.' She froze. 'I wanted to see if you were alright.'
Lana looked up to face me. There was no doubt she was looking right into my eyes. 'Don't be kind to me, Mr Ashley,' she said icily. 'I couldn't bear your sympathy, I couldn't bear it all.'
Lana resumed reading her paper as though I didn't exist.
After an awkward silence, I stood up from the table. 'I didn't get an opportunity earlier to thank you,' I said levelly, 'for saving my life.'
I walked away, hoping for a response, but Lana remained silent. On the nearby table, the three young men had stopped talking and watched me approach. One of them held up a hand and gave me an easy smile.
'Take some advice, buddy,' said the stranger. His accent was American. I guessed it was from New York. 'Stay away from the Golden Girl.' He ran his finger over his neck. 'One way or another, she'll get you killed.'
Cinema 4D R15, Poser, Photoshop