LHR… MUC… MAD… CDG… OKA… PEK… SHA… HKG…
Airport codes poured out of Keith’s diary like a tipped bowl of alphabet soup. How he longed for LHR… the overpriced relief of the Heathrow Express… the ranked taxis of Paddington… the enclave of his flat.
From Europe to the Far East, from sales to marketing, from clients to suppliers, the newly appointed MD’s whirlwind tour was a forced route march intended to impress. Hilary Winters left behind her a trail of star-struck customers, newly motivated middle managers and Keith — body clock blinking, self-esteem in the red.
His goal to impress her with wit and initiative had dissolved into caffeine, melatonin, alcohol and self-doubt.
Wit? His S&M/sales-and-marketing joke had met with her stern correction that it was, “Strictly speaking, an inaccurate portrayal of the BDSM lifestyle.”
The merest suggestion that Hilary’s confidence and control might enjoy a private life fired his jetlagged imagination at all the wrong hours.
Initiative? Arriving in the Munich hotel he’d stammered a few phrases of frown-inducing German before conceding an English defeat. She’d stepped in with fluent German, sharing a joke with the doorman.
Keith wouldn’t have minded but Hilary then pulled the same trick in Madrid. And Paris. Was it the same joke? Was it at his expense?
Anticipating Okinawa would level the playing field he discovered “I don’t speak Japanese” meant Hilary could apologise in Japanese for not knowing Japanese, before requesting — with appropriate deference and inflection — to continue in English. Beijing brought the revelation she’d studied Mandarin.
Impress? Any mark Keith was leaving was either indelible or invisible. By Shanghai he felt outranked by the bellboy.
But Hong Kong… he had this.
Her Mandarin could stretch to Shanghainese, but not as far south as Cantonese. She’d only ever spent two nights in the city; he’d lived here in his teens. His vocab was rusty, his tones off-key, but he’d been practising, online and off.
The hotel manager approached, smiling. Keith smiled back with confidence and outstretched hand. But as his mouth opened he realised the manager’s smile had not responded to him, the manager’s eyes did not meet his and the manager’s hand… Was for Hilary.
“Ms Winters, a pleasure to see you again. Will you be staying with us for longer this time?”
Keith reholstered his hand. “Mr Lo, the pleasure is all mine. Sadly, my visit is short. Perhaps a drink?”
“Certainly. Let me show you to your room myself. One of my staff will take care of your check-in details and your colleague.”
“I’ve got some things to sort out, so I’m afraid I won’t be joining you,” Keith said.
But the manager and the MD had already found a conversation, a path to the elevator and another reason for Keith to take shelter in his hotel room.
Before the ultimate, double-locked sanctuary of his flat, Keith’s diary promised further destinations, his imagination threatened details — repressed in Singapore, tense in Los Angeles, shot through in New York.
SIN… LAX… JFK… LHR.