Where there’s Smoke there’s Fire

Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

by Steve Millar

The Cecil Hotel, Alexandria, was opulently luxurious. The staff were smartly dressed in a navy blue uniform with red piping and immaculately polished brass buttons, four down the front and two smaller ones at each cuff. The doormen, with the look of the ex-sergeant about them, had peaked caps and matching crisp moustaches; the bellboys with their little pillboxes, all meticulously tilted to precisely the same angle.

The entrance was a rather tiresomely grand one, just a little vulgar. The portico, where the car had drawn up, was smartly glassed with an effective rectangular grid of black. The doors, however, seemed to be trying just a little too hard to impress, like a second rate Berlin chanteuse.

The foyer furniture was smart, reminiscent of the Waldorf Astoria, though more crowded. The furniture and lighting was probably by Ruhlmann, though the carpeting was not quite his style, dark blue, like the staff uniforms, with red geometric patterning. The seating was dark red velvet with exposed wooden trim, but inviting, unlike some modernist seating.

Seated on one of the sofas with a clear view of the entrance doors, resting just a little back, was a louche young man. Probably a little older than he appeared, mid to late 30’s, experienced and quintessentially cool. He had something of the look of the casually confident boulevardier about him, observing Evelyn from under his lowered lids.

His eyes were a sparkling blue, Ceylonese sapphires, and his cheekbones could have come from a Sicilian gangster supplies shop. His smooth, slightly dark or tanned Mediterranean skin suggested his fitness, and his vigour. His suit was smart, dark charcoal with a very fine, paler grey pinstripe. It was excellently cut, probably in Naples, and boasted a fresh pale pink dianthus in the boutonniere pin. His shoes were likely Ferragamo, certainly Florentine.

He relaxed a little further back in the seat. In his slim-fingered hand a gently smouldering Black Russian Sobranie sent its lazy curls of smoke up, towards the light. His red-gemmed ring caught the same light as he languidly breathed cigarette smoke out. One of the flunkies, on a constant patrol for dropped ash; hovered at a distance in case his discreet services were required.

Without seeming to look, the young man caught Evelyn’s eye. A lazy half smile played across his slim lips, a half-smile designed to melt the heart of the blackest basalt bust of Cleopatra, as he assessed his latest target.

Aware of this, Evelyn walked across the thick carpet to the coffee counter, staffed by a white-garbed under chef who poured it smoothly from the cevze [pron. jezzfe]. Evelyn stood, took a little cool water, sipped the coffee, glanced over the small cup across the foyer, and then went towards the lift.

It happened that both Evelyn and the young man reached the lift together. Turning back to the foyer he said, sotto voce, “My room number is 473, if you should wish to join me for a cocktail after supper”.

At breakfast, Evelyn reflected that fire, after all, did follow smoke.