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Authors: Roxann Hill

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BOOK: Love Is Pink!
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2

T
he hotel reception desk wasn’t even staffed!

An older couple was making their way toward it. I hurried in front of them, urged them aside, and took my place at the counter, glancing triumphantly at the woman in the pair. She looked at me in contempt.
First come, first serve
, I thought as I examined her. Probably in her late thirties, she’d already had at least two face-lifts. She wore expensive but tasteless clothes, and in her hand she carried the same Prada bag that hung on my arm.

“Excuse me, please,” I said, “but I’m in a hurry. I need to check out. And nothing and no one is going to hold me back.”

“We’re also leaving,” the man said sourly. His accent told me that the couple was Swiss. It was right to make them wait. Their whole country was living off of stolen money.

I set my handbag on the counter and rang the service bell. Since no one immediately appeared, I hit it again, harder. The golden bell bounced on the wooden surface.

A young lady came out from the rear, conjured up a charming smile, and addressed me with a professional expression.

“Qu’est-ce que je peux faire pour vous, Madame?”

My smile turned to a grimace. “I don’t understand your gibberish. Does anyone in this establishment speak a normal language? Is there no one here who’s educated and can speak German?”

“Mais, Madame,” replied the little bimbo as a man in a dark suit approached and carefully but firmly pushed her aside. She exhaled and turned to the couple, who’d stepped forward. Naturally, they stooped to her level and spoke French with her. How typically Swiss. A people with no semblance of character!

The woman in the couple, that classless daughter of an Alpine hillbilly, edged her way up and placed her bag on the counter right next to mine. Unbelievable!

“What can I do for you, Madame?” the concierge asked me. His accent was heavy, but at least he made an effort to be understood. It was a start.

“I’m checking out,” I said, impatiently tapping my platinum card on the shiny counter.

“Very well, Madame. What was your room number?”


Room
?”
I said, infuriated. “Do I look like someone who stays in a
room
?

“I had the penthouse suite, 1B!”

“Of course, Madame. How could I forget?” The concierge stepped over to a laptop and began tapping away at the keyboard. A moment later, he returned with a reverent facial expression. If he thought this would help him get a tip from me, he was mistaken!

He extended an envelope. “We have changed your flight, Madame. Inside is the confirmation for your check-in. And the suite has already been paid for, Madame.”

“Paid?” I said. Blood shot straight to my head. Now the Swiss couple would think I was the type of woman who was supported by her lover. I bit my lip and slid my credit card back into its sleeve. I took my time opening my Prada bag and stowing the wallet inside before taking the envelope from the concierge and placing it in a compartment in the purse.

In the meantime, I’d regained my composure. “When my taxi gets here,” I said, “have your bellhop bring my baggage outside.” I gestured to the two inordinately large, mauve-colored wheeled suitcases, which contained the minimum of what I needed for a seven-day vacation in the French Alps.

Or, what I would have needed. Unfortunately, the vacation had lasted barely a day. And what a day at that. But it was not yet over! Before day’s end I would take Valentin to task. And then we’d see which woman he’d choose.

The concierge cleared his throat.

“Come to think of it, I hope my taxi is already here,” I said, pointing to the miniature face of my Cartier watch. “Tick-tock. In two hours at most, I’ll need to check in at the Geneva airport. And in five hours I want to be in Berlin.”

The concierge bowed and indicated the exit with an elegant hand motion: “Madame, your taxi has just arrived.”

The bellhop who’d retrieved my luggage looked at me expectantly. I gave him a little wave with my left hand and grabbed my Prada bag with the right. Then, with head held high, I swiftly exited the miserable hotel that had brought me nothing but terrible things.

3

T
he landscape outside the car was covered with snow. White everywhere I looked, and it was now snowing again—faintly, but continuously.

The taxi driver was an ordinary, uneducated guy, whose only skill was to swerve around in a car. Around fifty, clean, poorly dressed. His suit screamed H & M—assuming the store even existed in this godforsaken place.

But he’d greeted me in German (with a heavy accent) and had placed my things rather carefully in the trunk. Miracles do happen sometimes.

Now he turned on the radio, and although he played the music on a low volume, I could clearly make out George Michael’s “Last Christmas.” He probably intended to fill the entire ride with tasteless holiday songs.

I reached over the seat back and tapped him on the shoulder. He gave me a quick look.

“Please turn that off,” I said. “It’s dreadful!”

“You no like Christmas?” he said, but it sounded like, “Yew no laik Chreezmaz?”

Of course a simple guy like him would care about such sentimental drivel. I smiled confidently and demanded: “Just turn it off, please.”

The driver obeyed, and I enjoyed the relative stillness of the engine noise. It began snowing more heavily, and the windshield wipers screeched over the glass, back and forth.

All I needed was a flight delay due to the bad weather. Not to mention how awful it would be to have to sit around the airport for hours.

I grabbed my bag to check the departure time on my phone. Then I remembered I’d thrown the phone against the wall, and
that
made me recall my reason for doing so and how Valentin had suddenly become such a wuss. I nearly screamed out of rage.

But at least I could pull out the e-ticket the concierge had given me. I’d have to show it at the airport, anyway. It was a good thing that I never fly using just the bar code on my phone. I‘m old-fashioned in this regard.

Old-fashioned and well organized!

I knew exactly where in my Prada I’d stowed the printed ticket. Without looking, I unzipped the bag and reached inside. My hand felt something that shouldn’t have been in there: cold plastic wrap.

As if struck by lightning, I opened the bag wide and stared inside for a moment, then began rummaging through the contents: a package of fine nylon stockings, see-through and not even my size; a used map of Paris (poorly folded); a packet of tissues (the cheap kind); peppermint candies; a pack of Marlboros.

I couldn’t have been more surprised if I’d found a talking turkey in there. This. Was. Not. My. Stuff! I emptied the bag onto the seat.

No ticket. No passport. Nothing.

Images flashed in my mind: Me in front of the reception desk. My Prada bag next to me on the counter. I’d conscientiously stowed the ticket in the second compartment. So how was it not there? How did I have this junk—this garbage—in my purse?

All at once I knew: that Botoxed, face-lifted Heidi—that Swiss woman was to blame. She carried the same Prada model, and had set hers on the reception desk right next to mine.

Oh, my God! I’d mixed up the bags! Somewhere, that conceited Alpine wench was holding my passport, my money, and my airline ticket!

This time I was unable to repress my scream. In earlier times, a woman of the world—such as myself—would have fainted, and gentlemen would have taken care of everything. But those days were over. You had to do everything yourself!

Fucking men!

“Do you have a cell phone?” I asked.

The startled driver looked backward. Maybe in the condition that I was in, I’d spoken too loudly. But who could blame me for losing my self-control in this situation?

“Excuhze me?” he said.

“A cell phone! Telefono! Comprender?”

The idiot directed another dumbfounded glance at me.

I made a corresponding gesture—spread out my index finger and thumb, indicating a phone, and moved my mouth, as if having a conversation.

He still looked clueless. It was a miracle that such a mental acrobat had managed to get a driver’s license! This would only be possible in France.

“Do. You. Have. A cell phone?” I repeated slowly.

The veil of confusion lifted from his face.

“Un téléphone mobile?”

“Exactly,” I replied. “A cell phone.”

He smiled.

“Do you have one? Give it to me!”

“No cell phone. Only a radio téléphone.” He pointed to his dashboard and said, “Radio.”

“Could we call the hotel with that? Telefono to hotel?”

It took a while for him to understand. Then he shook his head. “No hotel, only taxi.”

I was beginning to feel ill. I was trapped in the middle of nowhere with a complete idiot. We were driving into nothingness. And I’d lost everything I needed to get out of here.

What sin had I committed to deserve this fate? I reached out and shook his shoulder. “Stop at the next rest area or gas station! I need a telephone. It’s life or death!”

“Station-service?” He squinted questioningly.

“Yes. Service. I need a service. I need a telephone service. Pronto!”

The driver stepped on the brakes, and the car skidded on the freshly fallen snow. He exited off the highway and stopped at a gas station with facilities.

I rifled through the garbage I’d shaken out of the bag. No money. Not even the smallest coin.

I raised my head and met the driver’s curious eyes.

“Money!” I said. “Do you have coins?”

Again, that puzzled look.

I raised my hand, rubbed my thumb and index finger together. “Pesetas! Dollari! Money, goddamn it! Money for the telefono.”

Hesitantly, he reached into the small bag attached to his belt, and then offered me two one-euro coins with the tips of his fingers. I tore them out of his hand, opened the door, and jumped out of the car—only to land smack-dab in a filthy puddle of half-melted snow. The slush splattered all the way up to my knee. I’d never get those stains off of my Louboutin boots. But that was a trivial concern compared to the rest of my problems. Undaunted, I trudged toward the rest stop.

The doors opened automatically before me. At least something worked today. Scanning the room, I spotted a pay phone in a corner next to a rack of packaged sandwiches and a vending machine with cheap coffee. I rushed over to it. A tattered telephone book with more bacteria on each page than dollars in Bill Gates’s bank account hung listlessly from a greasy string. I grabbed the disgusting book, hurriedly thumbed through it, and, much to my great surprise, found my hotel relatively quickly. I threw the euros in the slot and dialed as soon as I heard a tone.

A young woman’s voice blabbered something incomprehensible. Probably the bimbo from before.

“Quiet!” I said. “The concierge. I only speak German. Put on the concierge immediately!”

On the other end, all sounds stopped. Then I heard steps. Then muffled noises as the receiver was passed and, at last, a voice: “Hotel Grand Royal. What can I do for you?”

“Thank God!” I said. “Finally someone who can speak properly!”

“Ms. Krämer? Is that you?” Apparently I’d made a lasting impression on the concierge. My forceful demeanor had paid off.

“Yes,” I said. “This is Ms. Krämer. Earlier at the reception des
k . . .
the Swiss woma
n . . .
you know who I mean? The one with the face-lift. She took my handbag.”

“Your quoi?” he said, before quickly correcting himself. “What did she take?”

“My handbag. My Prada handbag. It holds all of my documents and my money. Please get it back to me immediately!”

“Mais, Madame. How should I do that?”

“Don’t ask me! I’m here at a rest stop—I haven’t a cent in my pocket, no ticket home, and not even my passport. It’s all your fault, so now you’re going to make it right at once!”

This time he was slower to respond. “The woman from Switzerland did not leave any information about her destination. It’s impossible for me to help you.”

“But she will soon realize that she has the wrong purse,” I said. “She’ll call the hotel, and you can have her bring back the bag so you can immediately send it to me via courier at the airport in Geneva!”

“That I cannot guarantee you, Madame. In no way. But I will do my best.”

“That’s not good enough! If you don’t want to concern yourself with this, then give me the woman’s telephone number. I’ll call her myself.”

“Je regrette—I can’t do that.”

I slammed the receiver against the wall until I calmed myself down again. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed other people at the rest stop staring at me, thunderstruck. Well, too bad. They could just see how a real businesswoman handles ridiculous problems!

“You can’t give me this Swiss woman’s cell number?”

“No. I don’t have it, unfortunately.”

“Then give me her address!”

“I am not allowed to do that.”

“And why not? Is she Mata Hari or something and works for the secret service?”

The concierge dared to laugh. “How do you Germans like to say? Le data protection.”

“Give me a break! You know exactly how stuck I’ll be if I don’t get my Prada back. You’re doing this on purpose! I’ll sue you until you’re bleeding out of your eyes! You—”

A momentary buzzing noise sounded, and the line went dead. My money was used up.

I banged my hand on the cradle and probably uttered one or two four-letter-words. I can’t say for sure, because the scene is kept in my memory in a sort of fuzzy bubble of time.

At some point, I hung up the receiver, squared my shoulders, and walked through the deadly silence of the store to my taxi outside.

But as I came to the spot where I’d left the car, there stood only my two half-snow-covered suitcases. On top of them lay the Prada bag that wasn’t mine.

I was at the end of the world.

Vulnerable, helpless, and deserted.

4

A
re you from Germany, kiddo?”

I put away the flimsy tissue I’d used to wipe my nose and turned around. An older man stood in front of me. Baggy corduroys, unfashionable lumberjack shirt with open collar, and a down vest over it. Crowning his head was something that looked like a baseball cap. It matched the rest of his outfit both in color and lack of style.

“Excuse me?” I said.

The man smiled apologetically. “Before, in the stor
e . . .
it was impossible not to overhear your phone conversation.” He pointed in the vague direction of the rest stop. “I really didn’t mean to eavesdrop, bu
t . . .
” He lifted his shoulders. “You need to get to Geneva?”

“Yes,” I answered. “The whole world has conspired against me. If I don’t get to the airport soon, my life will collapse like a house of cards. But I’ll show them. They’ll be amazed! No one messes with me! Not with Michelle Krämer!”

He opened his mouth as if to respond, then he stopped and pointed toward the parking lot. “I don’t know, but mayb
e . . .

“Maybe what?” I prompted.

“If you want, I can take you there.”

“To Geneva? You’ll take me to the airport?”

He thought for a moment and then nodded decisively. “I certainly can’t leave you here alone.”

I studied him more closely. A plain sort, without any education to speak of, probably, but with a docile facial expression. He appeared harmless.

“Sounds good,” I said. I grabbed the Prada bag and pointed to my suitcases. “Please take my luggage.”

A clueless expression spread over his face, but when he saw my commanding gesture, he grabbed the handles of my roller bags and moved toward the parking lot. I was hot on his trail. I didn’t want to lose him in the snow, which was getting even worse.

He stopped in front of a big truck, which I wasn’t able to see clearly, opened the passenger door, and lifted my two suitcases inside with a groan. Then he crawled behind the seats to make sure the bags were safely stowed. This took him quite awhile.

“You can get in now,” he finally called out.

With effort, I climbed up the steps and found myself in a truly comfy driver cab. A kitschy little Christmas tree shone on the dashboard and “Last Christmas” purred out of the speakers again. That silly song was following me everywhere.

Resolutely, I closed the door and looked at the driver. He smiled a friendly smile and started the truck. The motor roared, and a rumble came over me as he released the hand break. I was on the go again.

Nothing could stop me. Not the weather, not the incompetents who worked at the hotel, not even George Michael.

The heating in the truck worked surprisingly well. Warmth soon filled the air. And that wasn’t the only thing filling it! I leaned forward, sniffed, and turned to the driver.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” I asked.

“Huh?” The man was completely perplexed.

“I want to respect your space,” I said, “but it doesn’t exactly smell like roses in here. To be honest, there’s a beastly stench. So if you have a need—”

“A need?” he said. Then a knowing smile brightened his face.

“Oh, you mean it stinks, and you think that
I . . .
?”

“Exactly. It doesn’t bother me. Exit on the right, do whatever you need to do, and we can get back on the road.”

The truck driver smiled wider. “No, no.”

“No? You don’t have some business to take care of?”

“What you’re smelling, kiddo, is my cargo.”

“Your cargo? Your cargo needs to go to the bathroom?”

He laughed. “I transport cargo for a pig farm.”

“But pork doesn’t stink like that. Smell it. Don’t you smell it?”

“Young lady,” he said in a condescending tone, “I have
live
pigs on board. And they don’t use a toilet. They just shit when they have to.”

A paralyzing rage came over me.

“You mean to tell me that I’m sitting in a livestock truck?”

The driver looked unsure. “I thought it would be all the same to you. I thought you wanted to get to Geneva as soon as possible.”

“But not in a pig truck! You’ve tricked me and lied to me! Just like Valentin! All men think that they can do whatever they want with me. You’re nothing but a hypocritical bunch of losers and liars! I’m not letting myself be pushed around any more!”

My outburst must have distracted him, because he swerved into the middle lane. A honking van swooshed by from behind, and then pulled right in front of us, flashing its lights.

“What’s gotten into you?” the driver said. “I didn’t lie to you at all. I was just trying to be nice!”

“Nice? By luring me into this stinking stall? It’ll take a week for me to get rid of this smell! People will take me for a swine maid. Let me out of here immediately!”

The driver leaned over and reached his hand toward my shoulder.

“Don’t touch me, you stinky man!” I screeched. “I order you to pull over right this second!”

He swerved into the outer lane and slammed on the brakes. With a groan and a forceful kickback, the truck came to a stop. I opened the passenger door and half climbed, half jumped out of the cab.

From his seat, the driver stared at me with a mixture of fear and confusion.

“My suitcases!” I screamed at him.

With some effort, he reached behind the seats, brought my luggage forward, and pushed them out the open passenger-side door. They tumbled to the ground, one after the other.

“Think about it, young lady!” he said. “Do you really want to stay on the highway in this crappy weather? It’s another twelve kilometers to the next rest stop!”

“I don’t want to be in the same space with you one second longer, you swineherd!” I said. “And you wanted to touch me, too!”

“Ja, well, merry Christmas!” He threw the Prada purse at me before slamming the door.

The last I saw of his truck were its red rear lights as they slowly disappeared in the dense white of the falling snow.

BOOK: Love Is Pink!
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