I woke up in bed with a man and a cat. The man was a stranger; the cat was not.
I closed my eyes and tried to pull myself together - hook ‘now' to mp memory of last night.
No good. There wasn't any ‘last night'. My last dear memory was of being a passenger in a Burroughs irrelevant bus, bound for New Liverpool, when there was a loud bang, my head hit the seat in front of me, then a lady handed me a baby and we started filing out of the starboard emergency exit, me with a cat in one arm and a baby in the other, and I saw a man with his right arm off -
I gulped and opened my eyes. A stranger in my bed was better than a man bleeding to death from a stump where his right forearm ought to be. Had it been a nightmare? I fervently hoped so.
If it was not, then what had I done with the baby? And whose baby was it? Maureen, this won't do. Mislaying a baby is inexcusable. ‘Pixel, have you seen a baby? ' The cat stood mute and a plea of not guilty was directed by the court.
My father once told me that I was the only one of his daughters capable of sitting down in church and finding that I had sat on a hot lemon meringue pie. .. anyone else would have looked. (I had looked, But my cousin Nelson - Oh, never mind. )
Regardless of lemon pies, bloody stumps, or missing babies, there was still this stranger in my bed, his bony back toward me - husbandly rather than loverly. (But I did not recall marrying him. )
I've shared beds with men before, and with women, and wet babies, and cats who demand most of the bed, and (once) with a barbershop quartet. But I do like to know with whom I am sleeping (just an old-fashioned girl, that's me). So I said to the cat, ‘Pixel, who is he? Do we know him? '
‘Well, let's check: I put a hand on the man's shoulder, intending to shake him awake and then ask where we had met - or had we?
His shoulder was cold.
He was quite dead.
This is not a good way to start the day.
I grabbed Pixel and got out of bed by instantaneous translation; Pixel protested. I said sharply, ‘Shut up, you! Mama has problems. ' I forced a thalamic pause of at least a microsecond, maybe longer, and decided not to flee headlong outdoors, or out into the hallway, as the case may be. .. but to slow down and attempt to assess the situation, before screaming for help. Perhaps just as well, as I found that I was barefooted all the way up. I am not jumpy about skin but it did seem prudent to dress before reporting a corpse. Police were certain to want to question me and I have known cops who would exploit any advantage in order to throw one off balance.
But first a look at the corpse.
Still clutching Pixel I went round and bent over the other side of the bed. (Gulp. ) No one I knew. No one I would choose to bed with, even were he in perfect health. Which he was not; that side of the bed was soggy with blood. (Two gulps and a frisson. ) He had bled from his mouth - or his throat had been cut; I was not sure which and was unwilling to investigate.
So I backed away and looked around for my clothes. I knew in my bones that this bedroom was part of a hostelry; rooms for hire do not taste like private homes. It was a luxury suite; it took me a longish time to poke through all the closets and cubbyholes and drawers and cupboards et cetera. .. and then to do it all over again when the first search failed to locate my clothes. The second search, even more thorough, found not a rag - neither his size nor my size, neither women's clothes nor men's.
I decided willy-nilly to telephone the manager, tell him the problem, and let him cal the cops - and ask him for a courtesy bathing robe or kimono or some such.
So I looked for a telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell had lived in vain.
I stopped in frustration. ‘Name of a dog! Where have they hidden that frimping phone? '
A bodyless voice said, ‘Madam, may we offer you breakfast? We are proud of our Harvest Brunch: a lavish bowl of assorted fresh fruits; a tray of cheeses; a basket of freshly baked hot breads, crisp breads, and soft breads with jams and jellies and syrups and Belgian butter. Basted baby barlops en brochette; drawn eggs Octavian; smoked savannah slinker; farkels in sweetsour; Bavarian strudel; your choice of still and sparkling wines, skullbuster Strine beer, Mocha, Kona, Turkish and Proxima coffees~ blended or straight; all served with -‘
I repressed a gagging reflex. ‘I don't want breakfast! '
‘Perhaps Madam would enjoy our Holiday Eyeopener: your choice of fruit juice, a roll hot from our oven, your choice of gourmet jams or jellies, your choice in a filling but non-fattening hot cup. Served with the latest news, or background music, or restful silence. '
‘I don't want to eat! '
The voice answered thoughtfully, ‘Madam, I am a machine programmed for our food and beverage services. May I switch you to another programme? Housekeeping? Head porter? Engineering? '
‘Get me the manager! '
There was a short delay. ‘Guest services! Hospitality with a smile! How may I help you? '
‘Get me the manager! '
‘Do you have a problem? '
‘You're the problem! Are you a man, or a machine? '
Is that relevant? Please tell me how I can help you. '
‘If you are not the manager, you can't. Do you run on testicles? Or electrons? '
‘Madam, I am a machine but a very flexible one. My memories include all curricula of Procrustes Institute of Hotelier Science, including all case studies updated to midnight yesterday. If you will be so good as to state your problem, I will match it at once with a precedent case and show how it was solved to the satisfaction of the guest. Please? '
‘If you don't put me through to the manager in nothing flat, I guarantee that the manager will take an axe to your rusty gizzard and install a Burroughs-Libby analogue brain in your place. Who shaved the barber? What do your case studies say about that? Moron. '
This time I got a female voice. ‘Manager's office. How may I help you? '
‘You can take this dead man out of my bed! '
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