Given that I set my first novel, On Demand, in a hotel, it’s not surprising that I was stimulated to respond to Rachel Kramer Bussel’s call for short stories in hotel settings. There’s no Luxe Noir decadence in my Suite Encounters story, though – no, this is a different proposition altogether.
Travelodge Tess arose from a slightly unhealthy fascination with motorway service stations. I’ve always found their air of monotony and anonymity unsettling, but they lend themselves brilliantly to a sordid, seedy, stringless kind of sex, and that’s what I wanted to explore. Here’s a snippet:
I spot him in Costa, lolling on one of those high stools, flashing his top of the range smartphone for all to see. As my sights home in on him, I tick off items on my mental checklist: handmade shoes, fake tan, splayed crotch in pinstripes. Or, to put it another way: ostentation, vanity, arrogance. Yes, he’s the one. He’s perfect.
I spend a lot of time in motorway service stations. It’s my job, you see. I have to inspect the facilities and report my findings to a consumer organisation. This place apparently rejoices in four star restrooms and an onsite barber shop. But it’s the motel I’m interested in today. And how can I rate a motel without testing the bed?
Everywhere I go, I see men like him. I imagine them coming off some production line conveyor as hair gel and aftershave rains down from overhead spray nozzles. Their circuits are loaded with business-speak and self-puffery before they are suited and booted and sent out into the world like a biblical plague.
I wasn’t too surprised, on drawing within earshot of my target, to hear him spouting some nonsense about baseline figures.
“Are we in agreeance then, mate? Cool. We’ll roll it out over the eastern counties then, once all the ducks are in a row. Yeah, I’ll catch you tomorrow for a visioning session. Ciao, mate. Bye.”
If it weren’t for the words spoken, he would have a nice voice, deep and slightly hoarse, probably the product of talking too much and listening too little. He is good-looking despite the over-styling, and he knows it. Coming up behind him, I note giant cufflinks and a whiff of whatever won the latest GQ Magazine Grooming Award for After Shave. I make sure I pass just an inch or so too close to him. My handbag skims the edge of his table and I hear him put the phone down with a faint clatter once my back is presented to his view. Easy, always so easy. Reaching the counter, I jut out a hip in its tight pencil skirt and ask for a cappuccino in my throatiest purr.
While the barista busies herself, I push out my arse and pretend to be reading the price list on the wall. When he puts his coffee cup back on its saucer, it makes a juddery, wobbly sound. Steady your hands, boy, you’re going to need them.
For a midweek afternoon, the café is strangely empty, so my table choice – directly next to his – can’t fail to be provocative. I set down my cup and reach into my handbag for my phone. When I cross my legs, letting the side split in the my skirt reveal the edge of my stocking top, I hear his breathing deepen and quicken.
I dial my home phone number and talk to my answering service.
“Hi, it’s me,” I say, with a quick glance at him. He is looking at me. “I’m at the services on the M4. Think I might book into the Travelodge.” I finger my necklace. He is still looking at me. “It’s been a hard day and I need to relax. So I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Yes, the meeting went well. I’ll be in the office first thing tomorrow morning with all the news. Bye.”
As I press the ‘off’ button he clears his throat. I inhale, waiting for it, waiting, here it comes…
“Did you get caught out by those roadworks just past Heston?”
I turn my face to him. He is smiling, a smile that makes him look like Jaws with better dental hygiene. His eyes, above the dazzle, have a hard, hungry gleam.
“Afraid so,” I laugh. “I’m so sick of the sight of cones now. I hope I never see another one in my life.”
“I hear you.”
“You aren’t deaf then.”
It’s exquisite to see the way his brow rumples and his smile fixes itself into a rictus. I didn’t mean to do it, but I couldn’t resist. But I must overcome this little self-inflicted setback and get him back on track – the track that leads to my motel bed.
I have a special soft spot for this story, because I got my acceptance in person from Rachel herself when she visited London last year. What a memorable occasion it was!
And you can also find stories from: Ariel Graham, Donna George Storey, Anna Meadows, Remittance Girl, Emily Morton, Suzanne Fox, Suleikha Snyder, Lily K Cho, Elizabeth Silver, Erobintica, Tahira Iqbal, Steve Isaak, Valerie Alexander, Andrea Dale, Tenille Brown, Ellie Vokes, Delilah Devlin, Michael A Gonzales and Rachel Kramer Bussel.