Strangers, finally an unsuspected friend.

Submitted into Contest #96 in response to: Write a story about strangers becoming friends, or friends becoming strangers.... view prompt

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Friendship

Strangers, finally an unsuspected friend.

In London the weather was depressing, it made me depressed. What I needed was a holiday on the sun drenched coast of the Costa Brava. After trolling the internet for an hour I found a room in a hotel in my price range. Advantage a sea view, disadvantage two separate beds. A late evening flight completed the dream holiday. Being a late flight I was obliged to take a taxi. I was welcomed by a surly, sleepy receptionist who, once I had given my name, he told me in a strident voice.

“We have been waiting for you as we have a slight problem tonight. Unexpectedly our minister of defense arrived with his family for a five day holiday. This has meant asking a few guests to suffer the inconvenience of rearranging their accommodation. In your case Mr. Rupert we are obliged to ask you to share your room with another guest. It would only be for a maximum of three days. The nights you share we will reduce the room rate by twenty-five percent.”

“It’s outrageous that some minister has the right to disturb paying guests in this way. What are my options….. find another hotel?

“Sir, unfortunately we have already tried that. Within 100 miles there is not a single hotel room to be had.”

“You said a maximum of three nights. Now who am I to share with?

Ah! a Mr.Burt, one of our regular customers. He generally rents a room at the back, but he seemed to be quite pleased at moving to a room with a sea view. He is a gentleman of about your age, single I far as I know, extremely polite.

“And where is this Mr. Burt?”

“He is waiting in the room for your arrival, sir.”

“I will go immediately to the room so please send my baggage up. Don’t think this matter is closed, it's scandalous.”

As I entered the room I immediately saw a man, effectively about my age, sitting reading a newspaper so I could not clearly see his face. He heard me and immediately rose and extended his left arm for a hand shake, his right hand was hidden behind his back. I thought it odd but in greeting him I shook his left hand. As I did so I looked into his face. Here was a man that had spent most of his life outside in all weather. He had a ruddy complexion dominated by piercing blue eyes, accompanied by a small nose and thin lips. All in all it was a friendly face showing he had conquered many of life’s problems. Before I had the chance to speak he spoke.  

“My name is Carlos Burt, I do apologize for the inconvenience. It is none of my making, these government officials are treated like Gods. I am told hotels that don’t comply with their wishes often find themselves with taxation problems.”

“ I understand I realize it is not your fault. I am Richard Rupert. I intend to investigate the matter further tomorrow morning. Now I would like to go to bed as I feel rather tired from my journey. So I would greatly appreciate it if I could use the bathroom first.” Before he replied there was a knock on the door. My baggage had arrive

“Monsieur Rupert, may I call you Richard, before you go into the bathroom and turn in for the night I have something to tell you. At bedtime I take off my artificial right arm and leg. So if you awake during the night don’t be scared or upset if you see an arm and a leg lying about.”

My immediate thought was one of horror, disgust and then slowly the feeling of sorrow crept into my veins.

 “You poor man, how did it happen?”

  “It’s a long story, but it’s the result of fighting for Franco during the Spanish civil war.”

 “Before I turn in for the night I would like you to tell me the story of your involvement in the civil war. I am sure the room has a mini bar? I suggest we sit down and have a drink.”

This is a short summary of his history he told me. We paused on occasions to refill our glasses. His family had a small farm about 200 kilometres outside Madrid. He was an only child and at the tender age of eight worked with his father on the farm. The days were long, the work hard, but he loved being outside in all weathers, looking after the animals and tending the crops. He loved the smell of the earth, the smell of his father’s sweat and his mother’s cooking. This was his world, the only world he knew. He never went to school. His mother, occasionally, gave him basic rudimentary reading and writing lessons with a little maths thrown in. She told him these were the basic needs to get by in the wide world. He was about twenty four when his mates in the nearby village suggested he join the Nationalists party if he wanted to rid the country of the Republican Party full of anarchists, communist and syndicalists. His father thought differently being a member of the Republican Party. The inevitable happened, a very heated argument, the front door shaking on its hinges. He left and signed up.

After a period of basic training, where he learnt to play poker over the many days of inactivity, he was shipped to the front line. Six months later he found himself in hospital without a right arm and leg. It was a year and a half before he could hobble home to the farm. Devastation! It no longer existed. The nearby village was in ruins. He finally found somebody that told him about the horror and atrocities that had taken place. That night he slept in a ruined house. The next morning after taking one last look at what was the farm he took the road for Madrid.

He burst into tears as he finished his story. I staggered across the room and held him in my arms.

When I arose late the next morning from a drunken sleep I immediately noticed he was not there but a note lay on my bedside table. Good morning meet me for lunch at the Café de Paris on the shore front ….12.30. I will introduce you to my friends, and we will play a little poker. After our session last night Carlos certainly had touched in me a feeling of sympathy and friendship. The invitation cemented that feeling. After breakfast I headed for the beach. My intention to make a fuss about sharing a room seemed to recede like the morning tide. Lying on the sun filled beach I thought about Carlos' horrific story, of what it would be like to live with an artificial arm and leg, and the coming luncheon mixed with a game of poker. I had played poker at the university. I looked forward with pleasure to renewing with the game.

The lunch with Carlos and two of his friends was a most pleasant affair with me winning a little. He introduced his two old friends who had been comrades in arms during the civil war. From their physical appearance I could tell both had suffered war wounds. After about two hours of drinking, eating and playing we broke up, agreeing to meet later that evening to enjoy another session. I returned to the beach. The evening session proved as agreeable as the luncheon. I lost a little more money than I intended too, nothing dramatic, but annoying as I considered myself the best player. At about midnight I threw up my hands and told the gathering I was going to bed. Carlos stayed

By the time I awoke I noticed Carlos had left. I again found a note asking me to join them for lunch in a different restaurant. As I stepped into the restaurant I immediately saw my friends, I felt a sense of enjoyment. At lunch I won a little money which helped smooth my losses of yesterday. We agreed to meet for a gala evening that evening as Carlos and his friends would be leaving the next morning very early for Madrid.

It truly was a gala evening; champagne flowed like water. As the evening progressed I lost all the cash I had on me, all my traveller's checks, and my watch that had cost me a tidy sum. In a drunken stupor I exited the game and told the group I was going back to the hotel. Carlos said he would stay awhile. Apart from my losses a strong friendship had developed so.I told Carlos I would wait up say goodbye, I didn’t, sleep overtook me. The next morning Carlos had already left. Once my eyes were in focus I noticed my camera, Ipad, portable telephone, wallet with my credit cards and to my surprise three clean silk shirts, three ties, and three pairs of socks, were missing. I sat there stunned. I had been completely taken for a very expensive ride. I immediately took a quick shower, picked up the telephone and asked the manager, as I wished to report the theft. He told me he would immediately come to my room. Our conversation was the most astonishing and bizarre episode I have ever experienced. I told him that I had been obliged to share my room with a total stranger for two nights because some minister, at the last minute, had decided to grace the hotel with his family.

“Who told you that?”

 “The night receptionist, as I arrived late.”

 “Sir, you arrived on what evening?”

 “It was late Sunday evening about half past ten.”

 He immediately picked up the telephone and in a furious voice asked who the receptionist was on Sunday night. I heard the reply that it was a temporary employment from a local agency as Paul was not feeling well. The manager proceeded to bark an order down the phone to get on to the agency and find out who we employed.

The manager then turned to me and asked the name of my room-mate. I told him with a short explanation of him being a war veteran with an artificial right arm and leg. I added, he told me he was a regular customer. The manager once again picked up the telephone calling reception to verify the presence of the individual I described. Reception had no record of him. By this time the agency had been contacted with the embarrassing news that the person they sent to the hotel on Monday night had used a false name and address so they had no means of contacting him.

The manager turned to me. “I don’t know how to apologize. There seems to have been a complete absence of security, how a man even got into your room, an unknown reception clerk told you a false story, and added to this your personal items have been stolen. I can assure you there will be a complete internal investigation. We pride ourselves on having an excellent hotel security system

The manager then asked me to list all various missing items. He asked me not, at this time, to contact the police as given the bizarre circumstance it would be very detrimental for the hotel, this was an internal matter. I would be compensated for my losses. I didn’t tell him I had spent forty-eight hours with the man and his friends, drinking and playing poker in four different restaurants. He left with the understanding I was the hotel’s guest for the week I had booked.

The manager was clearly extremely angry and upset. He would be in contact.  

As he left, I just sat there dazed by a deep shadow of disappointment .Yes, I had been played like a well strung violin, now I sat there with all the strings broken. Carlos’s story touched me with a profound sense of sympathy and compassion. I realized he and his two friends had suffered greatly from the horrors of the civil war. They bore these scars with dignity. I could not believe they were turning out to be con men out to fleece a vulnerable tourist. I was cross about the money I lost at poker, but in some perverted twist I was to blame as I had considered myself the more superior player. All in all with a free holiday at the hotel and being reimbursed for the things they stole I was not substantially out of pocket. The games, lunch and dinner were memorable moments. I will never forget the scene surrounded by three Spanish Civil war veterans that drank like fish, smiling and laughing as the cards, drink and food fell on the table. The fact that it was all a show to exploit my friendship left a sour taste in my mouth. I cancelled my credit cards and left for the beach.

 At lunch time my instinct was to visit one of the restaurants we played poker in and ask if they knew my companions from yesterday. This I did only to be told they had never seen the gentleman before. I was told judging from their accents they were from Madrid. That evening I tried another of our poker playing bistros only to be told a similar reply. Unknown! 

The last full day of my chaotic holiday arrived. Over the last three days I occasionally bumped into the manager. He was beginning to think he might be obligated to call in the police. I received a check for the reimbursement of the things stolen. Did I enjoy those last few days? Yes, when I was not thinking about Carlos and his friends. The days were full of sun, the sea water at a very soothing temperature; even the hotel’s free restaurants were enjoyable.

On my last day I was handed a medium sized package. It was postmarked Madrid..

When I opened it I could not believe my eyes; all the things that had been stolen out of my room. At the bottom of the box I found a letter enclosing a sum of money. The letter read:

 Comrade and friend Richard

As you know I am not an educated man, probably the only skill I learnt with a certain amount of success is playing poker, so please forgive any errors in the letter. I enclose in this package all the items I took from your room. They should be in the condition I found them in. I also return you poker losses after deducting 20 percent as our compensation for the winning streaks. My friend, it was great playing with you. No doubt, you are wondering what happened

I regret I am not sitting in front of you having a drink while I tell you the story behind my devious dealing with you. My friends and I in the civil war were under the command of Captain Mendoza. After the guns stopped and atrocities ceded, our good Captain, from his family, inherited several hotels in the Costa Brava region. A very good friend of his owns the hotel you are staying in. Apparently his friend is both a boastful and arrogant man. One night the two men had a rather large bet that his friend’s hotel had a security system that was as he stated…. waterproof. He gave our Captain two months to prove the contrary. The Captain turned to me and my friends to bring him proof that a guest at his friend’s hotel had his possessions stolen without any scandal involving the press and police. He agreed to pay us a handsome sum if we were successful. It took us a month to work out a strategy and find somebody on the inside who could communicate to us the daily bookings. One week into the second month your booking was ideal. The only thing we did not know was if you played poker, but then we were prepared to teach you. You know the rest, and you did play a mean hand of poker. The three of us are deeply sorry for all the inconvenience; we like to think a true friendship was created. If you ever find yourself in Madrid give me a call. Tel (34) 5678452

Tears came to my eyes; I was once again connected with my belief that the majority of people were decent and had a concern for their fellow human beings. My first reaction was to sit and reflect on the last five days. It had been an emotional ride from horror, gaiety, sadness, deception, with the book closing by me finding faith in my beliefs. I called the manager.

“ It’s Rupert here. Room 234. This evening I received a parcel containing all the various things that were stolen out of my room. It was sent from Madrid. I will be leaving early in the morning so I will leave at the reception a check refunding the money you gave me for the stolen goods.”

“That is excellent news. Was there a note in the parcel?”

I paused for a fraction of a second before I said. “No.”

“That is very odd; it means it would be nearly impossible to trace the sender. I was about to implicate the police but without an investigation of stolen goods it seems pointless. It leaves me with an internal problem of security.”

“Yes, if you had a tighter security system this would have never happened. You should take the matter seriously. I certainly had a memorable holiday.”

As I put the phone down I had a strong feeling the poor man would be fired within the next few days.

June 03, 2021 16:58

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