They had been summoned. Violet met them in reception, ‘Victoria-Violet can go and feed the ducks with her daddy, and you can come up to my quarters with me, Julie, we need to discuss what you are going to wear for my party. I hope you don’t mind my saying so, dear, but the dress that you wore last year was quite inappropriate. I thought maybe rose organza. Come along, dear, come along.’
Julie turned to Phil, pleading with her eyes for some kind of rescue. None was forthcoming. She bent and kissed Vicki on the top of her head and then spoke to her husband. ‘Watch her near the water. Hold her hand. She gets excited when the ducks come to the edge. Thinks she can swim the way they do, I think,’ she laughed. ‘Don’t let her get too close to the water. If you spread some crumbs around, the ducks will come out onto the grass.’ It had been six months since she’d returned to him, but some hurts go deep and the trust that had been lost was taking a long time to rebuild brick by wobbly brick. Julie reluctantly followed in her mother-in-law’s wake, leaving Phil standing at reception with the excited child.
Vicki put her hand in his, ‘Come on, Daddy, let’s go to the kitchens and ask Uncle James for some stale bread and cakes. There a brown one called Herbert,’ she chattered. ‘He’s very greedy, even more greedier than the three swans.’
‘Either more greedy or greedier, not more greedier, it’s ungrammatical,’ he corrected her. He was on auto-pilot and didn’t even think about the reprimand.
They went to the kitchen where Uncle James lay a stretch of kitchen roll on the counter and sat her up on top of it. ‘Don’t you fart, Vicki. My guests have got to eat the food I prepare on here.’ Victoria giggled. He gave her fresh cake to eat, and four slices of crusty bread and some of last night’s cake for the ducks.
‘Hey, bud,’ James said to Phil after teasing his niece. ‘Have you heard what I’m getting?’
‘Only a fucking ferrarri 458 Spyder. The greatest fucking car ever built.’
‘No way. How can you afford one of those?’
‘I’ve got most of it saved but the old lady said she’d let me have ten grand off my inheritance, now.’
‘You jammy bugger,’ said Phil. ‘SP will be livid if you outdo him on a car.’
‘I know. He’s well pissed. Hey, come on up to mine and I’ll show you the photos. I’m due a smoke break. He told the sous chef where he was going, and left orders for what he expected to have been done by his return.’
Phil turned to Vicki. ‘You go and wait for me in reception, okay? I’m just going up to Uncle James’ flat to look at something. Okay? I’ll only be a few minutes.’
‘Hey, man, don’t leave her down here on her own. Bring her with you. What’s wrong with you man?’
‘She’s okay; she knows how to behave. Don’t you girl?’ Phil was annoyed at having his parenting skills questioned by his brother. They left the hotel kitchen, leaving Vicki to make her own way to reception. James winked at her on the way out.
In James’ rooms he booted up the computer. ‘Feast your eyes on this beauty and dream some wet dreams,’ he said, clicking buttons and links. When the page advertising the car came up he left Phil looking at it while he went over to his kitchenette and put the kettle on. He picked a joint out of an ashtray and lit it, inhaling deeply. Then he quickly went over to the window and flung it open. There had been complaints from guests about the smell of the pungent weed infusing the hotel corridors on the third floor. He offered Phil a draw on the spliff, but Phil declined. He had never done drugs in his life. He took out his tobacco tin and rolled himself a cigarette. James finished making coffee for them both. ‘Better knock this down quick and get out to Vicki.’
‘What’s this about you lamping some bloke in the Sawn last week? Andrew was telling me about it.’
‘Fucking tosser. Thought he was hard,’ said James. They settled into opposite armchairs while James told his version of the events.
Philip took his cup and put it in the sink. He was irritated that he had to cut short his time with his brother because of the child. He only left in the end because James said that he had to get back into the kitchen.
Phil wandered down to reception. It was a Tuesday afternoon and the hotel was quiet. He wasn’t worried when he searched reception to find that Vicki wasn’t there. He was just mad. He asked where she was at reception.
‘I don’t know, Mr Woods,’ said Natalie. ‘She was here about ten minutes ago.’
‘Weren’t you watching her?’ Phil asked angrily, a note of accusation in his tone.
‘No, I was sorting out the stationary order, nobody asked me to watch her.’
‘Well even an idiot could see that she was unattended for a moment.’
‘I’m sorry, Mr Woods but she was down here for over half an hour sitting in that chair over there,’ she pointed. The receptionist raised her chin defiantly. ‘I’m only the receptionist here, not a babysitter. I don’t think it’s my job to be looking after children.’
‘Why you impudent…Look, if you want to keep your job, get over to the ladies’ now and check to see if she’s in there. I’m going to check the kitchen again.’
She wasn’t there. ‘I told you not to leave her there by herself,’ said James. ‘Look, she likes the music room. I’ll go and check in there, you see if she’s wandered outside.’
Phil left the hotel by the kitchen door and veered off to the left. As he walked towards the south side of the boating lake he saw a guest running hell for leather across the lawns towards the front door. He felt the first prickle of apprehension crawling up the back of his neck.
He was still out of sight of the lake when he heard somebody screaming. He broke into a run. Time seemed to be slowing, the faster he ran, the less ground he seemed to make up.
A man was standing in the lake up to his thighs. There weren’t many people around—two or three others standing on the bank, somebody with a mobile phone to his ear, a woman screaming, his daughter floating face down in the lake. The man in the water seemed to be fighting with weeds that had wrapped around her body. Finally she was free and he was striding towards the bank. Phil was running down the hill towards the water’s edge. The guy on the banking helped to pull the other man out of the water. They lay Vicki on her back in the grass and Phil watched as they knelt beside her and began resuscitation. Somewhere far in the distance, he heard an ambulance siren.