Goodmans Hotel (Chapter 10, page 1 of 16)


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By Monday morning well over twenty-four hours had passed since the Geordies had seen Darren dancing with a stranger at the club. Andrew's accusatory words from the previous day, 'You haven't let him go off with them,' came back into my mind again and again. Every time the 'phone rang I expected to hear his voice anxiously asking for news. During a lull in the morning's activities, having got no answer from the extension in Darren's room, I went upstairs in the unlikely hope that he might have crept back in the middle of the night and had not heard or was ignoring the call.

Of course he was not there. Guiltily I eased open the shallow top drawer of the chest of drawers where he kept personal papers. The biggest stack was correspondence from the 'music club' from which he sometimes bought records. There was also a bundle of assorted envelopes with handwritten addresses and Twyford postmarks, probably from his parents. They should have been the ones to worry about him being missing after a night out, not me. Nothing in the drawer was likely to reveal what had happened to him, and uncomfortable about prying into his papers I slid it shut.

Pointless speculation began to plague me. He was unlikely to have run away, abandoning his personal correspondence, a wardrobe full of clothes and his terrapins. He looked so young; what if the police had raided the club and were holding him, suspecting he was under age, or if he had become involved in some more serious offence? Yet they would have had to allow him to make a telephone call. Suppose he had been attacked, or badly injured in a road accident, perhaps even killed? How long was it sensible to wait before ringing the police and hospitals to ask about him?

In the next hour or so several people phoned to book rooms, and then Tom called to say he had dropped Andrew off at the hospital for an outpatient appointment; he had already contacted the burger bar and asked for Darren, saying he was a friend, and been told that Darren was due in but had not turned up. At Andrew's insistence he was checking with me, although he did not doubt I would have let them know if the boy had come home. His call made me more anxious than ever, and after it, whenever anyone rang, I expected to hear a nurse or a policeman giving me bad news.

The cleaner was not in that day and the morning chores kept me busy, but my concentration was poor and I absent-mindedly threw some sheets over the second floor bannisters without looking, barely missing a guest on the stairs below. A few minutes later the .phone rang again and to my relief I heard Darren's voice, nervous and pleading: 'Hello, Mark, it's Darren.'

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