February 4th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Nous Sommes Anglais - Part 13 - The Catnappers of Wimereux

All we had to do now was find our hotel. "What hotel?" said one of the drivers. There was silence for a while as the significance of his words percolated through our defensive shields. We had not wanted to know that.

I explained about the cats and the rest of our luggage. I thought it better to leave out the bit about the Hoover. There's only so much you can explain during moments of stress.

Through the deserted streets of Wimereux, we navigated and eventually pulled up in the side street around the corner from the hotel.

Nearly there, only one more hurdle to clear.

I slipped the key into the hotel door, turned it and ... nothing. The lock turned, but the door wouldn't move. It had been bolted from the inside. Or barricaded by frightened diners.

"I don't believe this!" I shouted, and started ringing bells and knocking on the door. No one answered.

A curtain twitched in the dining room and a face looked out. I pointed to the door and waved my hotel key. The face disappeared.
Perhaps they were barricaded in there?

We waited by the front door, trying to look as nonchalant as possible in case the drivers of the horsebox took fright and decided to abandon us. Nothing would have surprised me that night.

And then another door opened, in the basement below the dining room and a head looked out and called to us.

We didn't need asking twice. We ran down the steps and burst inside. The night porter looked perplexed but we explained in a mixture of French, English and sign language that we were residents and needed to get to our room. And we were desperate, nothing short of physical force was going to stop us getting there.

Off we ran, through the bar, up the stairs, a right into the dining room, a left at the next set of stairs and then up again. We were not hanging around. And then back down with the cats. The night porter was just locking up when we burst into the downstairs bar.

"Non, non!" we implored and burst into another frenzied bout of attempted explanation. We're leaving, we need to get out. We were just coming back for our things.

He took a long look at the cats in their crates. And then unlocked the door. Probably a cat-lover, I thought as we staggered outside and deposited Guinny and Gally, her long-suffering brother, on the pavement outside.

The night porter was just attempting to lock the door for the second time when he saw us running back down the steps.

"There's more," we cried.

"Mas," I added.

"Isn't that Spanish?" enquired Shelagh.

"Encore?" suggested the night porter.

I wasn't sure if he was being facetious or complimentary. But he let us in and we were back running through the bar and up the stairs. Lefts and rights and a few straight aheads, we took them all. And with every step I thanked God we had the presence of mind to leave Gypsy in the horsebox.

I grabbed hold of Minnie, and Shelagh picked up a couple of bags and back we went again. Around and down and right and left. But this time the night porter looked worried as we staggered past him. He'd been thinking, and I couldn't fault his logic, either we were the most daring team of catnappers Wimereux had ever seen, or we were guests leaving in the middle of night without paying.

He waved a piece of paper at us. It might have been a bill. It might have been the nearest he'd found to a white flag.

Words like payer and chambre were thrown about. I could understand that. "Oui, tous c'est payée," I cried. Which I hoped meant everything had been paid for. And we gave him the number of the room and showed him the hotel key with the number on.

"Bon," he smiled and looked immensely relieved.
We deposited our load with the rest of our windswept possessions on the pavement then ran back inside where we stopped him locking up for the third time and, with a cry of, "encore," ran past him and through the bar.

We were slowing down by this point. Stairs and corridors were becoming a blur. But we couldn't afford to leave anything behind and so we made one last tour of the room, a final check of the bathroom and the cupboards and the drawers, and then we were away - the hotel room locked, and the last of our possessions secured in our grasp.

The night porter was waiting for us by the door, probably wondering if he was ever going to be able to close it again. As he caught sight of the Hoover, I could see words struggling to form in his throat. But he thought better of it. And, all things considered, I think that was the right decision.

We gave him the key and left.

(next instalment: Lost and found)