The lift arrives and we all get in – me and Rae with all our bags, and Tom, the duty manager, slotting himself in as best he can between us.
‘The room was supposed to have been cleaned,’ he says, pushing the floor number, and then standing back against the mirror to take up as little room as possible. ‘The next guest was due and I couldn’t find the key. Thank god I went up and checked.’
‘Did you sign her in?’
‘No. That was Mike, first thing this morning.’
‘What do you know about her?’
‘Not a thing. Just her name – L Gunderson – and an address. Mike should’ve checked her passport, but there’s no record. She was booked in from seven till three.’
‘Seven till three? That’s an odd time, isn’t it? Not even a whole day?’
‘It happens. Usually when someone’s come into town for a big night out, and wants somewhere nice to crash till they’ve sobered up. Or something like that.’
The lift comes to a halt and he holds the doors until we’ve struggled out with our bags. We follow him along an endless, airless corridor, through a series of fire doors, taking a right, a left, a right again, until we arrive outside the door to room number two-three-two.
‘It was locked from the inside, so I knew something was wrong,’ he says, swiping his card.
It’s a tiny room, more like a refurbished cupboard with en-suite. The edge of the door brushes the sole of the foot of Ms Gunderson. She’s obviously dead, lying on the floor, hunched up against the bed like she collapsed forward whilst on her knees. There is a scattering of drug stuff on the side table. A picture postcard and a pair of sunglasses either side of her. A crime novel, face down on the bed to keep the page.
‘I put the sheet over her,’ says the manager.
A single police officer is the first to arrive. We meet him down in the lobby. The lift back up to the room feels even smaller, but at least we’ve been able to dump all our bags behind the main desk.
I explain what we’d found.
‘She’s quite rigored,’ I tell him. ‘I’d guess that Ms Gunderson died soon after she checked in.’
‘How do we know she is actually Ms Gunderson?’ says the officer. ‘If Mike was the one who signed her in?’
‘We could ring him if you like’ says Tom.
‘We’ll need to talk to him later,’ says the officer. ‘But right now it won’t confirm her identity. Has anyone seen a passport? Driver’s licence? Because who’s to say she didn’t lend her key to some other woman?’
‘That’s true,’ I tell him. ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’
‘But it was locked from the inside,’ says Tom. ‘I had to let myself in.’
‘Doesn’t mean she didn’t lend out the key, does it?’ says the officer.
We arrive outside the room. The officer stretches on some white rubber gloves and carefully opens the door. He steps over the dead woman’s legs and has a cursory look about the place.
‘I won’t touch anything till the sergeant gets here,’ he says. ‘Have you turned the body?’
‘No. From what I could see there was no sign of trauma, but we didn’t have a close look.’
‘God it’s hot in here,’ says the officer. ‘That radiator’s not on, is it?’
‘There’s a little window over the bed,’ says Tom, peering round the door. ‘It’s one of our cheaper rooms. But very popular.’
The police officer sighs, carries on looking around for a while, then carefully steps back over the woman and closes the door again.
‘Two-three-two,’ he says, pulling a notebook out of his stab vest and flipping it open. ‘One to avoid in future.’