X Marks the Spot - AJ Kirby

 

Dearest Reader

This is a personal email directed to you and I humbly request that it should be treated as such. Despite the fact that this medium (email) has been greatly abused, I choose to reach you through it because it remains the quickest method of communication. Though I do not know you, I hope you are the kind of person who judges each such message on its own merits. I trust you do not jump to the conclusion that because this email reaches you unbidden and because it promises you untold riches it is therefore hinky. And I pray you recognize this email for what it is: an old-fashioned X-marks-the-spot communiqué. 

I’d better get to the meat of this message before you dump it post-haste into your SPAM folder and forget all about it, unaware of its true value, duped by cynicism like Othello, like the “base Indian (who) threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe”.     

I have come into the possession of a great booty and I am contacting you so that we can agree on the legal transfer of US$85.2M which was left in a safety deposit box in the hotel I own by my late guest; a guest who bears same SURNAME/ Last Name with you, dear reader. This fortune remains unclaimed and I have desperately tried to keep it out of the grasping clutches of ‘the relevant authorities’ because I feel strongly it should be bequeathed to a relative of my late guest. 

Therefore I searched for your contact detail on ‘Foreign Information Network Online’ and – in order to steer under the radar of ‘the relevant authorities’ - I set up a brand new webmail account with which I am contacting you. All I require from you at this stage is your full name and address, your bank account number and sort-code, and I shall arrange for an IMMEDIATE MONETARY TRANSFER.

However, I am not fool enough to believe you will simply furnish me with said detail without further explanation from myself, and to that end, I shall tell you the full story of how I came to be in the possession of the treasure which could soon be yours. 

The entrance of a mysterious stranger is a common story trope. Said stranger is the ‘agent’ of the action I shall now describe but YOU, dear reader, are an agent also, for once you have read this message it is your duty to decide whether this stranger shall be your benefactor or your OPPORTUNITY MISSED.

Here is our stranger: The man was pallid as a corpse and so tired he had great bodybags under his eyes. He barely had the energy to ask for a room. If I hadn’t hurried – efficient service is the pride of the Gokova Heights Hotel - he might well have keeled right over in reception. 

But at the same time, he had little bursts of life – like when you take out the batteries of the remote control and rub them on your thigh and then they’re good for another couple channel changes. At the front door, he was reluctant to allow Mustapha to carry his overnight bag over the threshold. Nothing particularly new there: westerners are very wary of porters because they’re always worried about the etiquette of tipping. But the way the pallid man practically wrestled Mustapha for the prize of the case was just a little over-zealous. And then there was the argument about his signing the guest register. He grew angry at my insistence and almost hobbled straight back out the front door again. Only when I told him it was Turkish law did he relent and sign.

He signed ‘Billy Bones’, and that name snagged in my mind. I’d heard it before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember where. You, dear reader would know the name as you know the back of your hand. Do you wear a black spot there, like a birth-mark? For Bones did. Perhaps this is a familial trait? 

I digress. Bones handed me back my pen then looked at me as though waiting for me to challenge him. Then he played what he thought was his trump card. He slapped a passport down onto the counter so hard the little attention-bell jangled. The passport was American. I could see he wanted to use it to buy himself out of this transaction. 

But at the same time, I always tried to ensure there is no welcome like a welcome at the Gokova Heights Hotel. And so, I tried to engage Bones in conversation. I asked him whereabouts in the US he was from. I’d been to Denver once, did he know it? He was non-committal. So I asked something easier; whether he’d had a long flight. He simply shrugged. In desperation, I asked whether he needed a local guide to Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline.  I knew a very good one down in Bodrum. But Bones was like most westerners I knew. He thought there was a catch. He made a big show of checking his watch and then let loose with an Aslan’s roar of a yawn. When he’d finished he told me he was bushed and if I could I just hand him his room key.

I tried to tell him about the opening times of the restaurant and bar and about his half-price use of the pool in the hotel down the road, but I could see I was fighting a losing battle. I asked him, but sir; surely you need sustenance after your travels? He sneered, ordered me to send up a bourbon on the rocks. I told him Mustapha would be onto it quick-smart, just as soon as he’d shown him his room.

He told me he could find the room for himself thank you. After all, the place wasn’t exactly the Ritz-Carlton. We only had two storeys. He also informed me he didn’t want Mustapha to bring the drinks. I should bring them up instead. I didn’t like what was unspoken here: Bones wanted me to bring the drink because I was a white westerner and therefore trustworthy. But Bones is your relative and I cast no aspersions further than that brief wrinkle on your pond. Perhaps he had simply had a bad day.

I didn’t want to make it worse. But I almost did. I used to take great pride in how well-stocked our bar was, but since I converted to Islam lock, stock and two smoking barrels – I even changed my name; became Yusuf, like the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens – less so. I soon discovered we didn’t keep any bourbon, so I sent Mustapha down to our neighbouring hotel on the Vespa. The Istanbulspor had a pool so surely it had bourbon.  

Mustapha came back clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels. I took this booty and poured a glass and brought it up to Room 7. At the door, I paused. There were violent noises coming from within. The American might be in trouble. But following fast on the heels of that thought was another: if it was trouble, he was causing it all by himself. (Security and guest peace of mind is a guiding principle of the Gokova Heights: there was no way another agent could have entered his room).

Bones came to the door before I could decide whether to knock. Good, he snapped, I was on my way down anyway. I can’t get the internet to work. What kind of cockamamie place was this, huh? Calmly I handed him the consolation of the glass of bourbon and then I told him he needed our Wi-fi password. Believe me, dear reader, when I say I treated your relative with the utmost respect. Bones shook his head. Took the glass. Drained it. Then closed the door in my face.

Much later, the guest in the adjoining room to Bones called down to reception. This guest was a travelling salesman and he said it was imperative he got a good nights’ sleep in order that he could be on tip-top form to sell-sell-sell in the morning. The Tripadvisor write-up of the Gokova Heights Hotel had promised him exactly that. And yet, not five minutes ago, he’d heard yet another loud crash from the room next door. What the heck kind of people was I letting in this place? 

I told the travelling salesman I would sort it. I called Room 7, ready to remind Bones of the Wi-fi password if necessary, but the phone just rang out. I thought nothing more of it: the American must finally have succumbed to sleep: our beds here are all kinds of comfortable. But not ten minutes later, the travelling salesman was on the phone once again, spitting fury. He told me it now sounded as though a herd of migrating wildebeest was stampeding through next door and couldn’t I flaming well do something about it?

This time I didn’t call Room 7. I took the lift straight up there. For fear of making a mistake and waking Bones unnecessarily, I took the skeleton key. That way I could simply slip my head about the jamb, ascertain Bones’ log-like sleeping condition, and then inform the travelling salesman that he was wrong; he must have been imagining the bang-crash-wallop of Room 7.

But when I went to slip the skeleton key into the keyhole I saw the door was already open a crack and when I pushed it, it glided open (no haunted house creaks here, dear reader!) and revealed the scene of destruction within. My immediate thought was: crime scene. The place looked as though it had been ransacked: the bed had been dragged out away from the wall. An empire of spare sheets had been tugged out of the Ottoman. The wardrobe looked as though it had been attacked with an axe. Bones’ overnight bag had been gutted and the contents were strewn across the floor.

From the bathroom, there came the insistent sound of gushing water. I followed it, dread creeping up on me with every footstep. At the door, my feet squelched into the carpet as the water seeped through, and I imagined his death-bloated body causing waterfalls inside. I imagined the room, painted red. And the consequences of this distinct possibility hit me hard: for not only can blood stain bathroom suites it can also stain the reputation of an establishment such as mine.  

It took every gram of bravery I possessed for me to push through that door. But when I finally did so, I discovered Bones was not present in the bathroom. There was not a forensic trace of him. Not even a toothbrush. Quickly I shut off the taps and threw down some towels to soak up the overflow from the bath. Then I returned to the bedroom suite. I checked it more thoroughly this time. I looked under the bed and I looked inside the Ottoman. But it was as though the room had been de-Boned. 

Other than my memories – and his overnight bag and passport – there was no evidence he’d ever been here in the first place. Believe you-me, I considered calling in ‘the relevant authorities’. But already, alternative explanations for his ‘disappearance’ were striking at me. Perhaps he’d sleepwalked out of the room (and the mess had been caused by his blundering about in his somnambulant state). Or perhaps he’d had some kind of seizure. Or perhaps Bones had simply gone out for a long walk to clear his head. 

At worst, Bones might have been taken against his will. But no ransom note had been left and though I’d scoured the internet (another medium which has been greatly abused) I found no sign of any militant/ renegade groups taking ‘ownership’ of the kidnapping. In the absence of this, I decided it would be best to wait.

But Bones didn’t return. Not that night or the next. Nor did anyone report him missing. After a week, I decided the Gokova Heights could no longer stand to lose income on the room; Bones had paid for one night only. I enlisted Mustapha’s help in cleaning the place up and gathering up the ‘bones’ of Bones in order that we could store them in Lost Property for him to collect on some future occasion. 

Once Mustapha had taken care of the ‘deep cleaning’, I set about applying the finishing touches which make a stay at the Gokova Heights Hotel second to none in the comfort stakes. The last thing I did before I vacated the room was what I always do. I pressed ‘code-reset’ on the safety deposit box in order that the next guest who happened along could choose whatever number they liked. And it was then I discovered the box had been tampered with. For when I pressed ‘code-reset’, there was an audible click from inside the mechanisms of the box. And then the door yawned open and at once the treasure inside was revealed.

Have you seen The Hobbit, dear reader? Recall Smaug’s hoard. The box was dripping with jewels: I was bedazzled by the glittering array of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, gold inside. 

There was also a note, scrawled hastily onto some Gokova Heights letterheaded paper. The signature at the foot of it matched Bones’ on my guest register. This is what it said:

DEAREST SIR

YOU HAVE DISCOVERED RICHES BEYOND YOUR WILDEST IMAGININGS. BUT AVAST(!) AFORE YOU ARE TOO HASTY! FOR THIS TROVE IS NOT AS IT SEEMS. IT COMES AT A PRICE AND THAT PRICE IS YOUR TRUST.

YOU MUST TRUST THAT IT HAS BEEN LEFT TO YOU ABOVE ALL OTHERS ON THE FACE OF THIS EARTH; THAT SHEER LUCK HAS GUIDED MY HAND TO PLACE THIS WONDROUS WEATH IN YOUR ‘INBOX’. 

YOU MUST TRUST THAT THIS SHIMMERING STOCKPILE COMES WITH NO CATCH. YOU MUST BELIEVE THIS TREASURE IS NOT A CURSE. YOU MUST TRUST IT DOES NOT STAIN; THAT IT DOES NOT LEAVE A BLACK SPOT ON YOUR HAND EVEN AS I LET IT GO. 

YOU MUST TRUST THIS TREASURE IS A BLESSING. I PASS THIS ON TO A BETTER MAN THAN ME IN THE HOPE YOU’LL DO BETTER THAN I. 

YOURS, 

BILLY BONES

 

There was a P.S. on Bones’ strange missive. Unfortunately the ink had been badly smudged so I couldn’t read the whole of it. From what I could make out, it said PLEASE PASS ON A PORTION OF THESE MONIES TO MY… But my what? His wife? His brother? His pet pooch? I had no idea, and there was nobody to ask. Hence my desperate trawl through the ‘Foreign Information Network Online’ in order to find a blood-relative of Bones. Hence my email to you. 

Dear reader, I understand my message will have appeared to you ‘out of the blue’. But so did Bones’ to me. We are alike, you and I, in that we both received these messages without ‘opting in’. I received mine from – dare I say it? - the rudest of messengers in Bones; he of the bang-crash-wallop in Room 7. He of the sneers and the door-closed-in-my-face behaviour. And down the line this email will rudely ping into your inbox, uninvited. And your fingers will hover over ‘DELETE’.

But bear with me. I promise you the ultimate treasure in all of this is not the jewels (though they help). The real booty is discovering you can be credulous, even in this world sick with cynicism. The real bounty is placing your trust in another human being, even a stranger, and not expecting the worst to happen. 

Bones threw himself upon my trust, hoping it was not rocks. Thus I throw myself upon your trust. I suppose I have an advantage over you in that regard. I’ve worked in the hospitality trade for a number of years and we are in the business of trusting strangers on a night-by-night basis. We trust that they will not soil the sheets too badly and they will not steal from the mini bar. They trust that we will provide a comfortable room for a good night’s sleep. It is a mutually satisfactory arrangement, just as I hope ours can be. 

For you, this is all shimmering-new. But I ask you to change your perspective. I ask you to believe me when I tell you there is no catch. What say you, dear reader? Would you make the next step, and thus gain one step closer to the discovery of a life-changing amount of money? Should you provide me with your salient information (including bank details) I will provide you with the detail regarding the next steps of our journey.

Yours in humble service,

Yusuf

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

AJ KIRBY's short fiction has been published in a variety of magazines, anthologies and literary journals, including three collections: Trickier & Treatier, The Art of Ventriloquism and Mix Tape. He lives in Leeds, UK with his partner Heidi and children, Leon and Peggy. 

You can also find him here: https://paintthistownred.wordpress.com