The Mountain View Hotel should be better than this.
The Mountain View Hotel should be made of pine and glass and quarried stone, be up on stilts, have a great sloping roof dressed in snow, have a balcony holding colonies of expensively casual people sipping glühwein and basking in the brilliant sight of each other behind wrap-around shades.
It should at least have a view of the mountains.
It needs renaming. The Poor Outlook, maybe. The Dim View. A tall, thin building, so shabby you might put its thinness down to malnutrition and neglect. Stuffed into the shadowy top right corner of a not-so-nice square, shielded from all but the highest and fiercest mid-summer sunlight, it’s a roost so bleak even the seagulls and starlings leave it alone.
We’re bluing our way through town to get to The Mountain View and a resident who has suffered a cardiac arrest. A crew is approaching from the other end of town; we meet at the entrance to the square, the others decide to drive the wrong way round it, so we meet nose to nose outside the hotel’s discrete front door.
A woman is standing there, waiting to let us in. She has her arms folded across her chest, and stamps her feet on the icy pavement. From the cab she looks dressed for a party, in a low-cut red silk dress and a sparkly cardigan; her long straight hair shining like yellow nylon. Up close, and the effect is slightly different. Her teeth are greyed with cigarette smoke. The makeup is thick. The hair’s a wig.
‘He’s right at the top,’ she says.
There’s one of those awkward little shuffles between Frank and the woman, when they both go forward together, then both hold back.
‘After you, love,’ he says, gesturing forward with a big hand, ‘You know where you’re going.’
‘Sorry there’s no lift,’ she says.
She leads our galumphing troupe up the narrow staircase.
Just as the building has not - never will have – a view of the mountains, it is not, and probably never will be, a hotel. It should more properly be called a hostel. Each landing has a bathroom and toilet, servicing three rooms. The woman leads us up five flights, arriving on a landing that has just two rooms and no bathroom.
‘We hadn’t seen Jed for a day or so, and we wondered if he was all right. I had a key to his room, so I came and had a look. Found him on the floor like you’ll see. I think he’s dead. I know he’s dead. But you’ll see.’
She reaches forward with her key.
‘Have you got a torch? Only there’s no power on in the flat. Jed had to top up his key at the post office, but I don’t think he’d done it for a while. It’s freezing in there. That’s what probably killed him.’
She opens the door. The light from the landing spills around and over us into the room, illuminating the facing wall and a spread of twenty or so baseball hats hung all over it, an unmade bed beneath them, a calor gas fire, and the body of a man curled around it. He is lying on his back, his legs drawn up, his mouth gaping open. His skin has a dull and waxy tinge, as devoid of human warmth as the air in this freezing black box of a room.
‘He is dead, isn’t he?’
‘Yes. I’m afraid so.’
‘I thought he was.’
‘When did you find him like this?’
‘About an hour ago.’
Frank raises his eyebrows.
‘An hour? If you don’t mind me asking – why the delay?’
‘Oh. Well. We didn’t know who to ring. Police? Ambulance? Relatives? We just didn’t know.’
She pauses and looks between us.
‘Did I do wrong?’
‘No, no. It’s just we need to be clear about the sequence of events. Who else was with you?’
‘Jack, another one of Jed’s friends.’
‘And where’s Jack now?’
‘He’s gone downstairs to get some fresh air. Look – did I do wrong or something?’
‘Don’t worry. We just need to be clear, that’s all.’
As the second crew, we’re no longer needed here. Frank asks us if we’ll take a couple of bags back down to the vehicle for them. The woman nods and gives us a terse smile as we pass.
‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ I say. She nods again.
As we reach the lobby the front door opens and a short, red-faced man puffs his way inside, alcohol fumes swirling around him like an invisible cloak. When he sees us he performs an oddly vaudevillian gesture of surprise, leaning back against the door, his arms crooked, his fists balled up to his mouth.
‘Aargh!’ he says. ‘You’ve seen him I take it!’
‘Do you mean Jed?’
‘Yes. Jed. Is he – ?’
‘Yes. I’m afraid he is. Dead.’
‘I’m sorry. Are you okay? Are you going to be all right?’
He suddenly takes a staggering step towards us, straightening his arms down by his side but keeping his fists tight.
‘That bastard landlord!’ he shouts, jerking his fists down at the floor with each phrase. ‘The bastard! He did this! He froze him out! He killed Jed!’
‘Try to calm yourself…’
‘Take pictures! I want you to take pictures! I want the police here. This is terrible.’
Then, just as suddenly, he seems to run aground. He relaxes his fists, pulls out a filthy handkerchief and pats it across his forehead.
‘I don’t know. I’m terribly sorry. It’s been something of a shock. Jed was such a nice man. A nice, gentle man. He shouldn’t have gone like this. It’s so unfair. But of course it’s not you I blame.’
He stuffs the handkerchief back in his pocket, then stands in front of us, waiting for some kind of direction, blinking under the harsh fluorescent strip.