After five minutes of silence, the taxi driver, without taking his hands off the steering wheel, sniffled. The inspector saw in the rear view mirror how a grin appeared on the man’s wrinkled face.
- I think I guessed why you chose this hotel, - he said in a knowing tone.
- Well, why? - Galbraith asked curiously.
- According to the advertising brochures, then in one of his rooms stopped a certain person...
And the London driver named the name of one writer, which was well known to everyone who had been interested in American literature at least once in their life. His passenger scratched his moustache and shook his head. The taxi driver took this as a sign that Galbraith allowed him to continue the babbling - he sighed noisily, and after a short pause said:
- I completely agree with you! - at the same time he smiled.
- Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean... - Galbraith didn't understand.
- I'm talking about, - the driver interrupted him. - That this paper shifter doesn't honour to the hotel to which I am taking you now!
There was genuine resentment in the man's voice.
- That is not what I said, - protested Galbraith, who was already starting to get tired of the driver’s tone.
- I would even say that he only disgraces this establishment, exacerbating the already low level of service, - the taxi driver spoke louder and louder.
- Just keep calm, for God's sake... - the passenger asked without much hope.
- Because this is not a writer, - the man behind the wheel was already shouting. - This is a businessman! He just hit the mother lode, and he doesn’t care about the level of education of his readership!
- As much as possible... - the inspector, listening to this expatiation, wiped the sweat from his forehead.
- On the contrary, he indulges the basest instincts of the most primitive and backward sectors of the population, you will see this for yourself now! - the driver didn't let up.
Galbraith realized that it was pointless to try to calm this Englishman, who imagined that he knew a lot about writers better than all the members of the League of American Writers combined. So the policeman simply assumed an indifferent look and leaned his head back on the seat.
- Just listen, - the taxi driver spoke in the tone of a strict teacher. - What did I read on the very first page of his book! "White bitch had taken it in the mouth again", - with barely restrained rage he quoted to the entire interior of the car
At these words, Galbraith involuntarily opened his eyes.
- Please, don't use bad language, - he tried to shame the man.
But the interlocutor ignored his words.
- On the very first page, first! - as if reading out a court verdict, the taxi driver continued excitedly. - Taking that book in my hands, I was going to get some food for thought, but its pages greeted me with the slang of ill-mannered teenagers!
His passenger, who was gradually beginning to be amused by these shouts, looked up at the driver's seat.
- One might think, - he began in a calm tone. - That you expected from the mystical horror genre something sublime and refined, - having said this, the inspector yawned and stared out the window.
- Expected? - the driver yelled. - This has got to be usual state of affairs! Do you know the writer Lem? - he suddenly turned to the passenger.
- Lem... - Galbraith said thoughtfully.
He began to turn over in his head the names of all those whom he had read in his youth. No one with that last name came to his mind.
- I repeat, does the name of Lem mean anything to you? - the driver's eyes blinked several times.
"He might even get a heart attack", - thought the inspector, and he felt embarrassed.
- Well, - he began, - I read the novel "Motlys" by a writer with a similar surname, certain Steinar Lem.
In fact, it was a lie - he had never picked up such a book, he had only seen its title on one of the Norwegian bestseller lists. The driver turned back to the steering wheel. The dissatisfied sniffle he made convinced Galbraith that the old man did not like his answer at best, and at worst was perceived as an affront. But he finally stopped having literary debates with the passenger. Apparently, the fact that the inspector knew the namesake of his favourite writer allowed the taxi driver to feel some respect for him. This was confirmed by the man’s slightly animated look, as well as by the fact that the next fifteen minutes of the trip from the London Heathrow Airport to the hotel "Stait of Snow Lake" building passed in complete silence.
When the car brought the police inspector to its destination, the taxi driver pressed the brake and leaned out of the window. After admiring the two women walking towards him for a few seconds, the old man's face lit up and he said triumphantly "Ninety pounds sterling". His passenger nodded silently and took out the money.
- That's it, I brought you to this pigsty! - after payment the taxi driver said in a sympathetic tone.
- Do you feel sorry for me? - Galbraith asked him cheerfully, pulling the suitcase out of the car.
- Not really, - after a pause, the man said.
The inspector got out of the car and was about to close the door, but the driver, again sticking his head out of the window, looked up at him.
- If you don’t like this hotel, then don’t be angry that I brought you there! - there was a pleading in his words.
- Think nothing of it! - said the inspector even more cheerfully.
He waved to the driver, who was already driving away. Then he turned on his heel and, sighing, looked at the building. The first thing that caught Galbraith's eye was the sign hanging above the door - a simple rectangular wooden plate painted white. On it was written in thick red letters "Stait of Snow Lake". A tourist from Portland couldn't help but think that this sign must have been drawn by the hotel owner's child - the letters were so clumsy. Not a good start for today, flashed through his mind.
Galbraith pulled the door towards himself and stepped over the threshold. There was only one person in the cool check-in area - no longer young men in a well-worn frock coat. He stood behind an unassuming-looking counter and looked boredly fingering the playing cards lying in front of him. However, at the sight of Galbraith entering, he immediately abandoned this activity and stood at attention in front of the guest.
- Good morning, and welcome to our hotel! - the receptionist shouted in an incredibly solemn tone and saluted.
Looking at this, the inspector thought that this man had apparently served in the army before - there was some kind of agility in him, which could be an echo of the young years spent on the military parade ground. Unvoluntarily contemplating the receptionist, Galbraith almost forgot about it, that he needs to be given a booking slip. With this thought, the guest put the suitcase on the floor and pulled out his wallet. When the old man in a frock coat took a small piece of paper from Galbraith's hands and unfolded it in his hands, lights seemed to light up in his eyes. He began to study this nondescript piece of paper with such curiosity, what the inspector involuntarily thought, that was indicated there not some dull data about the room and check-in dates, but all of him, Galbraith, is the ins and outs. What was missing, he thought, was for the receptionist to suddenly refuse to let him check in. Fortunately, this did not happen.
- Can I see your documents? - the receptionist looked up Galbraith.
The inspector's heart felt lighter. He gave the man his blue, with gold letters passport. The receptionist took it in his hands. When he opened it, the mischievous lights lit up in his eyes again. The old man in the frock coat opened the first page, and, running his eyes over it, suddenly turned to Galbraith:
- Well, you're like the prodigal son! - he said as if he had made an unexpected discovery.
- I'm embarrassed to ask what? - the inspector said in bewilderment.
- You changed your place of residence to America, but now you have returned to the bosom of your homeland! - the receptionist continued.
Oh, yes, the column "place of birth"... Galbraith began to search for words - he, of course, understood that the hotel receptionist’s words were just a joke, but it seemed to the inspector that it was better to play it safe and explain himself to this man, on whom where he would spend the night in this country would depend.
- You see, I just couldn't find a job in Gloucester in my field, so I decided to move abroad, - Galbraith began to make excuses confusedly.
It wasn't until he said it that it dawned on him how stupid that excuse was - after all, if the interlocutor had decided to inquire about what "field" he could be talking about, then it could bubbled to the surface that Galbraith is actually the inspector of Portland's police, and then incognito would have collapsed. But fortunately for him, the receptionist was satisfied with this answer, and, having returned the passport to the owner, he turned around and began rummaging through the lockers. Galbraith, taking advantage of the fact that the old man turned his back to him, allowed himself to wipe the sweat that had appeared on his forehead from excitement.
- Here, take the room key, - the receptionist turned back.
The inspector accepted a nondescript-looking key with a key fob from his hands. The old man in a frock coat began to say something about the peculiarities of living in their hotel, talked about the cleaning schedule, changing towels and much more, but Galbraith, who felt tired, ignored his words. The only thing he remembered was that since he rented a "Room Only", he would have to eat outside the hotel.
- How much all this jazz cost? - said Galbraith, opening his wallet.
The receptionist, taking out a calculator, told the guest that for one night at the "Stait of Snow Lake" hotel they pay about sixty pounds sterling. Galbraith waited patiently while the old man, who didn't wear glasses, poked at the buttons on the electronic device. In the end, the amount that this little device brought out was about four hundred and fifty pounds sterling. Not bad, the inspector thought, putting a thick stack of bills on the counter. The receptionist took the money with lightning speed and, without even counting it, put it in his pocket. A crazy thought flashed through Galbraith’s head about how much of this money would be spent on the hotel itself, and not on the entertainment of the old man himself.
Then the receptionist came out from behind the counter and beckoned the guest to follow him. As they walked towards the stairs, Galbraith could not help but think that if his patrons from the Portland Police Bureau were aware of life in London, they probably would not have booked him a room in this hotel, which by its very appearance signalled that the person who ended up here needed to be on guard.
- We don't have an elevator, so go upstairs on your own, - the receptionist said unctuously.
The old man in the frock coat pointed towards the stairs with an inviting gesture and, pretending that he did not see Galbraith’s displeased look, returned to the check-in area. The inspector's dissatisfaction was that he, tired after the flight, was not ready to drag his suitcase up the steps. After watching the receptionist go, Galbraith began to go upstairs, reassuring himself that he was, after all, a policeman, not an ox girl. Having reached the fourth floor and taking a breath, he opened the door to his room.
From what was revealed to his gaze, Galbraith was, to put it mildly, not happy - it was enough to look at the shabby bedside table to understand that the administrator clearly did not spend a pound on updating the furniture in the rooms. It only got worse - having taken off his jacket, the inspector was about to put his suitcase on a chair, but imagine his surprise when it turned out that there was not a single representative of this important piece of furniture in the room. Therefore, with annoyance, he had to put the suitcase on the shoe bench. Further more, all the lampshades hanging on the ceiling were covered with such a thick layer of rust that it seemed as if they were exhibit from the Iron Age.
The inspector went to the bathroom, which was combined with a toilet. He noted with dissatisfaction that the walls of the toilet were covered with a red coating. When he wanted to lock the shabby wooden door, he had to be very careful, because the latch almost did not hold and, it seemed, could fall to the floor at any second. Galbraith did his dirty work and, having rinsed himself off, was about to go out, but the door stuck. He fought for almost three minutes with the latch, which seemed to have a mind of its own and did not want to let out the man who had betrayed his homeland for the sake of life in Das gelobte Land.