At first glance it wasn’t any worse than any of the other small towns I’d lived in. Not that it was any better, just seemed like it was another place to add to my list. It had a tiny pier where only lost tourists wandered, bewildered easy targets for the cynical and hard-eyed locals, who fleeced them so mercilessly not a one ever returned. There were shops. Dusty and despairing, they squatted at corners or lined narrow, twisty arcades designed by some mean-spirited and eccentric Victorian. A lot of them were boarded-up, which only added to the general gloom. Displays languished in the windows, haphazard and uninviting, giving the impression that time had ceased to have any meaning at all for their creators. Wander along the same strip ten years from now, and you would only be faced with the same coats and hats, the same second-hand fridge-freezer, the same book on War Ships of the 18th Century.
All around, the rest of the town huddled, turning its back on the cliffs to the East and the woodlands behind, the few outlying dwellings cowering forlornly against the hillsides. Low rent, mean little houses they looked in the November drizzle.
Down near the shore, hotels and B and B’s faced the swelling, foamy sea, all advertising vacancies in tired neon letters that flickered and blinked at me through the rain. My shoes were letting in water, my hair plastered flat to my skull, but I only paused to check the names and continue on until I came to the one I wanted, the one I'd come to find.
It stood facing the ocean like all the rest, a tall, narrow building still retaining an air of nobility despite its weathered stone. Above the door was carved 'The Admiral Hotel' while only a small card in the corner of the wide bay window declared there were rooms to be had. It was the same hotel as in the newsclipping I had in my pocket. The hotel that had featured in the local papers two months ago, although other, more startling events had made sure it never made the national news.
I hoped two months were long enough. Long enough for the events to seem distant; for people to feel they could discuss them comfortably. I hoped it was not so long that details were forgotten, that the truth could still be uncovered somehow. That the tale had not grown and grown in the telling, swelled with rumour and gossip and changed to lies.
Here, two months before, a man had disappeared for three full days before turning up again dead. Found as a cold corpse in the hotel-room bed, although he hadn't died there. Dead naturally it seemed, but with no clues as to where he had been over the three days or, crucially, how his body had been returned.