Double Booking

Image of Short Story
The taxi stopped where the road came to a dead end, at the cliff’s edge. The driver offered directions in a charming Scottish brogue. ‘The cottage is down there. Follow the path to the rocks.’ John and Hannah took in the view as the snow started falling. ‘You’ll not get any reception on your mobile telephones here, so I’ll come back to collect you in two days.’

‘Is there really no reception at all?’ asked John. The driver shook his head. ‘This island is basically an outpost for the fishermen. No one really lives here – we’re closer to Bergen than Glasgow. All the best, now.’

Hannah protected her face from the biting cold as they walked down the path until they reached the rocks surrounding the cottage. ‘Your Airbnb fetish has reached a whole new level Hannah - it's like the end of the world here. I suppose you’re going to tell me there’s no Wi-Fi in this place either.’ Hannah was waiting to choose her moment to relate that particular piece of information. She smiled sweetly at John, who sighed theatrically and swizzled the numbers on the key lock to open it up.

There was no key. ‘Hello... is there anyone in?’ The door opened and a couple stood in front of them, similar in many ways to themselves. Groovy urbanites escaping the city. The woman spoke first, looking surprised to see visitors. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Hi. I’m Hannah. We’ve booked for two nights?’ The man looked displeased. ‘There must be a mistake. We’ve rented it until tomorrow.’ The woman ushered them in. ‘It’s freezing. Let’s sort this out inside.’

They entered the cottage and tried to make sense of the situation. ‘Thank you. I’m sorry, I don’t understand how this has happened. We’ve been travelling all day.’ Hannah’s hopes for a blissful trip were ebbing away. The snow was getting heavier and dusk was falling.

‘Don’t worry’ said the woman ‘you can stay in the second bedroom. We don’t mind do we, Jake?’ Jake looked like he minded. The woman continued. ‘I’m Petra. This isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but we’re only here for one more night.’ She showed them the second bedroom. ‘I’ll put the kettle on.’

Hannah and John felt edgy at the lack of communication with the outside world and steeled themselves as they re-joined their unfamiliar house guests.

In the kitchen, Petra was pouring tea and they made an effort at polite conversation for a while. The subject landed on careers. ‘So, Jake, what do you do?’ Petra intervened. ‘Jake’s between jobs.’ The atmosphere, which had been easing, took a setback.

Hannah changed the subject. ‘We’ll need supplies. Where’s the nearest shop?’ ‘It’s a twenty-minute walk, back towards the harbour. I think it closes soon for the weekend.’ ‘OK, how about you men go hunting and gathering?’

John’s walk with Jake was filled with awkward silences. Once at the shop, they chose provisions, and as they paid, John spontaneously bought a lottery ticket. ‘Lucky dip please – and make it a winner.’ The shopkeeper smiled.

As the evening wore on, the strained atmosphere began to ease, and the rustic comforts of the fisherman’s cottage provided a welcome haven from the harsh conditions outside. As Jake washed dishes in the kitchen, Petra turned on the transistor radio in the lounge. ‘Let’s check the weather.’ The news rounded off with the lottery results.

John jotted down the numbers. Petra absentmindedly noticed him writing but was clearly more concerned about the weather. ‘It’s getting worse. I wonder if we’ll be able to travel tomorrow.’ As they switched off the lights and retired for the night, the snow continued falling in the darkness outside.

Once in the bedroom, Hannah began studiously cross-checking the numbers as John brushed his teeth. When he had finished, she was in the same position, oddly still. ‘What’s the matter?’ asked John, suddenly concerned. ‘We’ve won the lottery’.

‘Yeah, right.’ John was usually the practical joker and wasn’t being taken in for a second. ‘Look’. He checked the numbers and cross-referenced them against the ticket, suddenly feeling very alert. ‘We better let them know.’

Hannah had an odd sensation of feeling concerned rather than euphoric. ‘Yes - tomorrow. Come on, let’s get some sleep.’ Before she climbed into bed, Hannah crossed the room and locked the door.

In the morning, the awkward atmosphere had returned. Outside, there was a deep blanket of snow. Over breakfast, the conversation turned to the news. Jake planted a steely look towards John. ‘How did we get on with the lottery? Petra said you took down the numbers.’ John felt sweat instantly appear at his temples, despite the cold.

‘It’s funny you should mention that’ John offered weakly ‘I checked last night and it’s a winner. I was just waiting to choose my moment to tell you.’ Hannah produced a lottery ticket from her purse and laid it on the table.

All four of them sat in silence for several seconds. ‘Wow’ said Petra. ‘What’s the jackpot?’ John raised an eyebrow. ‘I think it’s thirteen million pounds.’

Jake cut to the chase. ‘We should put the ticket in a safe place until we leave the island.’ Hannah felt his gaze burn into her. ‘I think a walk in the snow is in order. Come on John.’

In the bedroom, John quietly protested. ‘We can’t go out. They will want to leave with the ticket and then cut us loose.’

Hannah was surprisingly calm in her reassurance, and they headed out into the bleak landscape. When they came back they realised their return had not been heard. An animated conversation was taking place.

‘Jake, we won’t get away with it.’ ‘... I’m not leaving without that ticket.’

Hannah and John made a show at closing the front door as Petra entered. ‘How was the snow?’ ‘Very deep. I think we may be here longer than expected.’

John looked at the table. ‘Where’s the lottery ticket?’ Petra’s body language stiffened as Jake entered. ‘That’s not your business anymore.’ Jake wore a tense expression and held an 8-inch kitchen knife at his side.

‘Nothing personal guys, but you’re going to have to stay put.’

Hannah’s mouth dried. John felt his heart thumping quickly in his chest, as Petra calmly tied them up with a fisherman’s net while Jake looked on.

‘Six and a half million quid not enough for you then?’ asked John. ‘Don’t talk’ was the only response from Jake.

‘You won’t get far in this snow.’

‘Don’t bet on it. We’ll take our chances.’

Jake and Petra closed the door behind them and headed out into the snow, their diminishing forms gradually dissolving into the whiteness as they reached the clifftop.

After some time, John managed to wriggle himself free and cut the nets off Hannah. They hugged each other and stared out of the window as the darkness descended outside. ‘How long do you think it will take them to get to the mainland?’ asked Hannah.

‘They’ll probably be there soon if the ferry is managing in this weather. Once they’re on the mainland, they’ll make a claim on the ticket as soon as they can. It’s their word against ours. By the time we’ve managed to trace them, it’ll be too late.’

Hannah smiled at John. ‘There’s no need to go after them anyway.’ John was momentarily puzzled. ‘What do you mean? Are you not bothered about losing all that money?’
‘It’s not that. I bought a lottery ticket a few weeks ago that was still in my purse...
‘What exactly are you saying?’
‘I’m saying that they’ve left with my ticket – not the one you bought with Jake. When they try to cash that in, they’re going to get a bit of a surprise. It has three correct numbers, so actually, it’s still a winning ticket. But their winnings will be a slightly more modest £10. No doubt they'll see the funny side.’

Hannah produced a slightly scrunched up piece of pink and white paper with some scribbled numbers on it. ‘This is the one you bought with Jake.’

John looked at her. ‘Wow. Well played Hannah. How I wish I could see the look on their faces when they cash in that ticket.’ They opened a bottle of wine and gazed out towards the sea.

‘Cheers. Here’s to Jake and Petra.’ They giggled as the glasses clinked. ‘Don’t spend it all at once, guys.’