When last I left the reader, my wife was about to request that the full force of the diplomatic corp be mobilised on our behalf. “Consulate” was going to be the next word that fell from her lips.
But she didn’t get to drop the C-bomb.
Before she could say another word, the detectives looked at each other, and shrugged. I could tell what it meant. If Jo wasn’t going to pay, what could they do? Lock her up? Surely not, she had a bawling child, and after all, there were arguments both ways about the debt. There was to be no international incident.
“All right,” sighed Jacques. “There is nothing we can do. We will take you somewhere to stay.”
At this point I was wondering what he meant. Where? The lockup?
Apparently not. We were herded back out into the paddy-wagon and onto the mean streets of Paris. We drove around and around, taking laneways and footpaths in an evidently random manner. I can only conclude that they were trying to disorientate me, and it worked.
We pulled up outside a tiny pensione, apparently named “The Casino Hotel”. It was old enough to be “historic”, but altogether charmless. Jacques had a short conversation with the manager, and left in haste.
A few elderly guests sat in the reception room, chewing their cheeks, and watching us closely and with suspicion. The smell was a combination of nursing home, share accommodation and stale cigarettes. I had the feeling that rooms were generally rented by the hour, and that this was why the police had knowledge of the place. They were probably killing two birds by picking up their regular pay-off in a brown paper bag.
The manager gave us a key (attached to an oversized wood-block) and gave directions to the room, which once again involved the use of the traditional shoebox-sized lift.
On opening the room, we discovered that the wood-block on the key was almost a 1:1 representation of the room size. It was like a map. The room had one bed. A Single. We looked at the room in dismay.
I went back downstairs and confronted the manager. “Oh. Sorry,” he said, without looking sorry. “I will give you another room.”
This time we were to utilise the services of a small spiral staircase, the radius of which was smaller than my suitcase. I heaved it up, without the assistance of the staff, who looked away.
This time, there were, in fact, two beds, but the room was still small. It looked like the window would have to be opened, or we’d run out of oxygen in the night. I had to put the luggage on the bed, or the door couldn’t be closed.
Both beds were of the single variety, with nowhere to sleep the baby. Jo decides to sleep with him in her bed.
We resolve to rise early and leave the hotel at first light. Jo is worried that there might be middle-eastern style retribution waiting for us on the morrow, and she wants to be as far away as possible.
We packed before sunrise, but in truth, we hadn’t slept much anyway. Somehow, with the aid of gravity, we get the bags back down the stairs. The same elderly patrons eye us balefully from the reception room. I correct the bill (no, Monsieur, we have not had breakfast. Obviously, as it’s 6am and you haven’t laid it out yet).
The morning is fresh and cool, and the baby is not ready to be up. As the airline still holds our pram in limbo, he is strapped to my chest. Otherwise, we are still lugging our oversized luggage, and despite the cool, it isn’t long before I’m sweating. We swap loads, and hands, often.
We head toward the 1st arr, which will inevitably cause an exponential rise in the tariff, but at this point, we don’t care.
In the opera district, we happen across the Hotel Mansart. Jo enters on desperation. It looks expensive. After a short conversation we determine that, against all odds, the fare is reasonable, and a room is available, even at this hour. Further, the lift appears to be of normal dimensions, and the room, oh joy! is large, with an ample bathroom. Tears of happiness well in my eyes.
I confess to looking over my shoulder several times during the remainder of our stay, waiting for an Arab assailant to spring out and stick a shiv into me, but apparently we had sufficiently covered our tracks.