Goodmans Hotel (Chapter 1, page 2 of 13)

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The three-year-old Vauxhall reflected my less elevated position. The accountants were the professionals, the firm's raison d'être. Several promotions during my six years' employment and the high demand for computer experts in the City did not change the fact that I was counted among the 'support staff'. The most recently recruited trainee accountant was regarded as intrinsically better than me. He might not earn as much to start with, but in a few years time could expect to rise in rank and salary above all us lesser beings.

Marie was a rather frumpy woman of about thirty in an old-fashioned looking dress of flowery cotton whom I had met for the first time that morning. She was not very talkative, but smiled a lot and we exchanged pleasantries now and again. The journey had been fine until Peter's car developed the transmission problem.

He pulled up for a third time in front of a dilapidated garage converted from what once must have been a barn. Ahead was a road junction with a small collection of miscellaneous buildings including a few houses and a hotel.

'Bloody woman's made it worse,' he announced to the neighbourhood as he got out of the car. Caroline did not react but sat stiffly, her face expressionless.

'Hello,' he shouted to a man in overalls who walked towards us from the garage. 'You speak English?'

The response was a shake of the head, and I hurried forward to act as translator. The garage owner confirmed that the nearest approved Porsche mechanic was in Poitiers, and that the best plan was to get him to come out with his équipement de dépannage. He telephoned to make arrangements, and returned to say that the earliest the mechanic could be with us was eight-thirty next morning. Peter was not satisfied.

'Tell him we need to have the car attended to straight away. How far is it to Poitiers? We'll have a breakdown wagon take the Porsche in. You can drive us all down there in the Vauxhall. Tell him we can't wait until the morning.'

I passed on the message, but after unwillingly making a further telephone call the garage owner returned shaking his head. Whether we stayed where we were or went to Poitiers, the car would not be repaired until the morning, absolument pas.

Peter refrained from another outburst, reluctantly turned to me, shook his head and said: 'Is there an inn or hotel of some kind over there?'

Large signs at the front and on the side of the building, clearly visible from where we stood, told us we were looking at the Hotel des Amis.

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