The Man at the Top

Posted: December 14, 2014 in Andy Smith, Short Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I thought I’d try my hand at short story writing so in-between doing uni work I’ve come up with this. As always comments are welcome. I hope you enjoy it.

I settled into the wooden chair covered in dried coffee and tea stains. The table wobbled on the cobbled floor until my cup balanced it precariously on a cobble at the right angle. I took in the view from this position of tranquillity under the awning of the hotel. All around me were buildings in either brilliant white or various shades of blue. Everything was so clean it was as if they had been painted that very morning. This was entirely possible because the sun warmed everything from its vantage point, high up in a clear blue sky. The mountain at the end of the road was the only way to get closer to the sun and full its rays even more on my face.

I took in the smell of the air. Not fresh and sweet smelling as you might expect, but the smell of hashish all around. The locals grew it in copious amounts on their farm land, in back gardens, on window sills. I had even heard of one man who grows it on top of his bedside alarm clock! How he even managed to wake up every day was beyond me. Maybe his life was just one stoned stupor, all day long, every single day. Would he know if he was alive or dead I wondered? Or did he live his life in some hazy Xanadu, never sure what was reality or what was a dream? Either way he managed to somehow eke out a living from his plants on his alarm clock and survive.

I wondered how stoned I was having lived in the haze of hashish for a month now. Would I be in for a shock when I returned to my reality and the smog filled streets of London? And then he appeared. The man who everybody called the Top Man. The reason for this was very simple. He lived on the top floor of the same hotel I was staying at. Not just in a room but the whole top floor was his. I called him the Man on Top because he was on top of the whole hotel and in this part of the world you couldn’t get any higher.

Rumour had it that he was the son of a top ranking politician from Germany or France. They’re had been some sort of scandal back home involving a young au pair and inevitably his father had used his considerable power to transport him out of the country while it all died down. And here 3,000 feet up the side of a mountain, in a village where hashish was the staple diet he had found the perfect place to hide away.

Nobody here cared what he had done back home, nobody even cared who he was. His bill was paid on time every month and with a little tip on top too according to the head porter. The hotel was thriving because of this steady extra income. All ten rooms on top were his and his alone. Food, water and wine were all sent up on a daily basis left at the top of the stairs for him to collect as and when he pleased.

He didn’t seem too bothered what they left him or at what time either. As long as he had something he was happy. Except for the tea. He had to have his special tea delivered when he wanted it. It didn’t matter what time of the day or night it was he just had to have his special tea there and then. At first it had been a hindrance to the hotel kitchen staff but when they found out that he would give them a generous tip for delivering his special tea quickly their minor irritations soon disappeared and the tea was delivered quicker and quicker as the tips got bigger and bigger.

Yes the special tea that everybody talked about. When I first arrived here I naturally assumed it was some blend from home that he was particularly fond of and could not be without. But nothing could be further from the truth. The blend was just a normal, everyday local one that you could buy anywhere. In fact there were better blends you could buy but that did not interest him. No what interested him so much was what he had put in it. Opiates. This alleged well dressed and well educated young man was addicted to opium tea. And the owner of the hotel was more than happy to supply it to him.

Again a rumour but places like this survive on rumour, the hotel owner’s brother or brother-in-law was the major opium dealer in town. Everybody knew this and the police didn’t care mainly because the couple of policemen who patrolled the streets were also dealers, smugglers and users of hashish and anything else they could get their hands on. On the odd occasion an out of town patrol car did come into town it was to pick up some high quality hashish for the equally high ranking officials of the bigger town further down the mountain.

So the owner of the hotel was raking it in from one young man, supplying him with the best of everything at inflated prices. But the opium tea was the young man’s crux, his Achilles heel, his reason for stopping here until his father made him go back.

But today was something really special. Today he had come out of his room and ventured into the streets below. This was highly unusual because most of the time he was that stoned on opium tea he could barely function. Some of the staff said that they had seen him slowly crawling on his hands and knees to his food and that by the time he got there he was so worn out by it all he promptly feel asleep with his face in his food!

So to see him out today, dressed smartly, talking, walking but looking pale after so long hidden away was nothing short of a miracle. But he walked amongst the locals with an assuredness that comes from being brought up in a family of great importance. He also knew that it was highly unlikely anyone would harm him as he was too important financially to the hotel and the various people who worked there. Harming him might bring the real police from the even bigger city in the valley here and that would be very big trouble indeed.

Not only would this have the very real possibility of cutting off the town’s major source of money at the moment, but they might also discover the murky and often grim underbelly of this little town and cut off what had been its main source of income for decades. Drugs. So the man on top could wander about safe in the knowledge that he would come to no harm because he was too valuable to everybody in this little town.

But as I watched him wander the street in front of the hotel I wondered what had brought him out of his little enclave. Surely it can’t have been food or wine for he had more than enough of these to last him a lifetime. He had also drunk enough opium tea to last him a lifetime or at least leave him stoned for the rest of his life.

And then he walked over to a nearby street vendor and bought some fresh carrots off him. I watched him as he gnawed at them like a donkey and wondered what had possessed this man who seemingly had everything to leave his castle and buy some carrots? In a strange town with strange people this was one of the strangest sights I had ever seen. Some of the other locals looked on as he proceeded to eat more raw carrots with increasing vigour.

And then he finished the carrot he had been eating, turned around sharply and marched back to the hotel. He strode purposefully as if he didn’t want to be seen but it was too late for that. As he approached me he looked at me directly and all I could see was a young man lost, an empty shell of what had been such a promising life. I stared into his eyes and I felt I could see right through them because there was nothing behind of substance for me to delve deeper into and try to understand this young man.

He walked past me and was gone. I never saw him again. I left two weeks later and nobody had seen him again up to that point. For all anybody knew he could have been dead but as long as his father was paying the hotel money the owner didn’t care. He would be worth as much if not more dead than alive and with a father who had a bottomless supply of money the hotel owner wasn’t going to give up has prize cash cow just yet.

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