Partners were not permitted to come to the company Christmas parties, which was why Dean enjoyed them so much. He left Helen at home telling her he’d see her in the morning and earning his ticket to freedom for the next twelve hours at least. Tonight, Dean was looking and feeling first-class. He allowed himself an admiring glance in the large gold mirror hanging over an archetypal festive fireplace in the hotel lobby, before acknowledging his colleagues from the Marketing Team with a casual wink. Tina, an unattractive girl from Customer Services tried to pounce on him like she did every time she saw him following that one night stand a few weeks ago. He successfully ignored her and quickly joined his colleagues for some pre-dinner drinks. He didn’t need some clingy bit of skirt pining after him all evening. No, tonight it was Vanessa’s night. He had been turning up the flirting for the last couple of weeks giving her the Rolls Royce treatment and tonight, he would close the deal. If however, Vanessa wasn’t in the mood then there was always Karen from Accounts again, she was always good for it. Dean always liked to have a back-up plan. Helen was his guaranteed back-up plan and whenever his one night ventures or short flings didn’t work out he could always go home to her. She had no idea of his exploits and it would hurt her to find out so that is why he made sure he kept his work and home life separate.
The crowd moved off into the Carrington Suite and sat down for the meal. Dean made sure he sat where he could command the most attention, while steering Vanessa into the seat next to him. Dean was just finishing a well-rehearsed anecdote chosen for Vanessa’s benefit when the Secret Santa presents were passed around. Dean unwrapped his gift and looked down at a garishly bright red and green Christmas stocking folded up in the wrapping paper. Vanessa asked what he’d received and he showed her the tacky gift. She laughed but as she gave it back to him he felt something in the bottom of the stocking. Reaching in he withdrew an electronic key wrapped in a note, which read “Room 231, midnight. Tell no one”. Dean smiled and looked up and down the table for any indication of who could have sent it. This was going to be a very interesting night.
After the meal the music started and Dean took to the dance floor with Vanessa after disposing of the ghastly Christmas stocking out of the window. She had promised him she would stay until the end, about 2am so even if this mystery invitation fell through he still had Vanessa downstairs. “Merry bloody Christmas” he toasted to no one in particular.
The evening passed well and Vanessa, who was looking well fit, was definitely into him. Tina had tried to corner him at one point but he told her in no uncertain terms to get lost and leave him alone. He didn’t tell anyone about the invitation and still had no idea who had sent it. He had clocked a few people leaving the party, but he hadn’t noticed anyone going up the stairs.
23:55 came round and Dean quickly finished his Sambuca, slipped out of the party and made his way up to the second floor. The warm quiet corridors seemed miles away from the heavy pumping party going on down stairs. He knocked on the door of Room 231, slid the key into the lock and entered the darkened room…
Two days later the cleaners still hadn’t been able to get rid of the mysterious sooty footprints that lead from the fireplace in the lobby up to the door of Room 231. The room should be empty as no guests had been booked into this room for the last two weeks. Curious, the hotel manager had followed the footprints up to the room and now used his master key to open the door. Inside, the room was dark so he flicked the light switch and took in the scene. Above the bed someone had scrawled the word “Naughty” in large black letters while at the foot of the bed someone had hung a garishly bright red and green Christmas stocking and filled it with pieces of coal. The manager’s mind barely registered these details as his eyes were drawn to the pale body of a man lying naked on the bed. His eyes were screwed tightly shut like a child pretending to be asleep and like the hideous stocking at the end of the bed, the man’s mouth had also been stuffed full with lumps of coal.
The hotel’s CCTV did not show who had left the sooty footprints or reveal anyone entering or leaving the room other than Dean. Neither the hotel staff nor the police ever found out who murdered the young sales executive or who had left the half-eaten mince pie and empty sherry glass on the table next to the bed.