After taking a shower – at my insistence – Six spent the day standing at the window on the lookout or sitting by the door with his ear pressed against it. I worked at my desk, trying to work out how he fitted into what I had so far and tried to glean more information from him.
“There’s a chair here if you want one,” I offered.
“It’s not very comfortable on the floor.”
“It’s a soft carpet.”
“You’ve been sleeping rough, haven’t you?”
He raised his eyebrows.
“You mean on the streets?” he said. “I’m a kid. That’d get me way too much attention.”
“So you find a bed every night?”
“I don’t need to sleep every night. But I get a roof over my head. I slept on a roof once.”
A faint smile crept over his face – just when I didn’t think he knew how.
“You can see the world from up there. Or more of it than you see anywhere else. I’d never seen so much in one eye-opening before.”
“So you never saw much of the world before?”
He shrugged. I didn’t push it.
As darkness fell outside, Six became agitated.
“They know we’re here,” he said. “They have to. They won’t wait long.”
“Probably breakfast,” I mouthed to Six, gesturing to him to stay hidden.
I opened the door and took the tray from Vivian.
“Er, someone said they saw a second person in your room,” she said awkwardly.
“Yeah. A boy apparently.”
“Why would anyone say that? Who was it?”
“A teacher from the school group.”
“And they saw this second person themselves?”
“So it’s just you alone?” she said.
“I’ll let you know if I entertain any guests.”
“Sorry. Had to ask.”
She left with an apologetic smile.
“It was Nine,” Six hissed. “She must have told her teacher.”
I got onto my emails while Six shovelled down most of breakfast.
“Silas. You need to get us out of here now.”
I was being held at gunpoint by a twelve-year-old girl. But she was no ordinary twelve-year-old. The gun handle grip fitted her hand perfectly. There was a silencer on the barrel and she held it with unwavering accuracy at my forehead. She’d fired a gun before and the look in her eyes told me she’d have no problem firing hers now.
“Am I in one of your books?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Who are you?”
She rolled up the sleeve of her hoodie to reveal a tattoo: #9.
“What’s your name?”
“My name’s Nine,” she said.
“Did you ever have another name?”
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked.
Why was I so calm? And why did I keep having to ask that question?
“I’m here for your stupid stories,” she snapped.
“You might be in one soon,” I suggested. “To be doing the job you’re doing, there must be a story in there somewhere.”
Her eyes hardened.
“Don’t try to talk me out of it,” she said quietly – in a precise way, her jaw clenched.
“It’s quite possible,” I shrugged. “You could be the main character in future.”
“It’s quite possible I have to kill you because you’re in my way.”
“I’m not in the way.”
“Then I’ll do it because I want to. It doesn’t matter. Even if I leave you alive, no one will believe a girl did this.”
“It’s simple, but clever,” I said. “So who’s your boss?”
“Who’s my boss?” she sneered. “Shows how much you know. You…”
She stopped short. Her eyes fixed on someone who had crept into my room when we weren’t looking. And he’d brought a gun with him.
The boy from the shop.
I thought back to my encounter with #6 – it’s the only name I could come up with for him. He was into something, but I hadn’t seen him since. I didn’t even know if his predicament had anything to do with me or not. Or he was just crazy. No. A few girls on a school trip didn’t make a hit squad.
“They’re leaving tomorrow,” Vivian murmured to me as she brought me my lunch. “And we’re all very glad they are. Those kids are everywhere. I even found a couple of them behind the reception desk. And our chef had to kick some out of the kitchen.”
“It’s always fun exploring a new place,” I grin.
“Even our crappy hotel,” she laughs. “See you later, Alan!”
As soon as I’d finished my lunch, I started to feel drowsy. My head was so cloudy and heavy, I had to lie down. I collapsed onto the bed. The room span around me and my stomach turned. I felt sick. I felt really ill.
My mind churned over in the few seconds before I passed out, running over what Vivian had said. I knew she was okay, because Silas did a check on everyone in the hotel. But she’d said the kids were in the kitchen and behind the reception desk. Reception – the one computer where my financial records could be accessed, as well as the credit card information for my employer, who with Silas’s help, was paying for my room and all my meals. Then Vivian said the kids were in the kitchen, the perfect place to poison my lunch and take me out of action. The next time they tried to break into my room, I wouldn’t be able to stop them.
I blacked out.
The hotel suddenly became a lot noisier. It was like having my home invaded. I was told a couple of school groups were staying for a few nights as part of some educational trip – cheaper than staying more central. I don’t mind noise when it’s under my control, but when it’s happening at all kinds of strange hours, thinking clearly is a lot harder.
I decided to take a walk. Even though I couldn’t help wondering if my enemies out there were closer to finding me, surely I would blend in among a bunch of teachers. The young, cool ones at least.
Coming back through a corridor of noise, a bunch of kids were gathered near my room. A few of them glanced up and moved aside for me. But three of them were right in front of my door. I could have sworn one of them was trying the handle. Then they saw me and hurried away, giggling to themselves.
I opened my door, locked it behind me and ran to my desk, rifled through all my notes and papers, running through in my mind everything I expected to see.
Nothing missing. I was just being paranoid. No one was going to send a schoolgirl to break into my room, were they?