I—Tully Hotel

Hush. Listen to the water. Under the dock, where it slips past rocks and sleeping, clinging creatures, is there a difference in the sound? No?

The water sucks on his fingernails, licks the corners of his eyes with sweet tongues. His throat is open; in his gullet a minnow dreams of flickering sunlight. His right hand is tangled in rope, its fingers pulled back against their sockets; his left plays with wavelets on the surface. His neck is broken.

At the edge of the dock is a pair of red satin shoes; the left carries a flower, appliquéd at the toe in rhinestones the colour of old blood. Water splashes them through the gaps in the wood, leaving kisses on them, marking the fabric and diluting the dye. Where did their owner go? Ah, there she is: hands thrown up above her head, her fingers knotted together, her hair woven with bubbles. Her dress will be ruined.

The minnow darts from between his teeth into the black rocks at the shoreline. She pulls herself forward, arm hooked around a wooden piling—her fingers brush his cheek. He stares at her with fish-bitten eyes.

She has a difficult time getting out; the dock is slippery, and her fingers are cold. She rocks from side to side to get a purchase on the wood with her hips—despite her efforts, her dress tears up the seam. She gets up onto her knees and scrapes her hair away from her forehead with both palms; water runs down her back. She sniffs, wipes her nose with the back of her left hand, then props her knuckles on her hip.

She picks up her shoes, one finger in each, and walks in stockinged feet across a manicured lawn. When she gets to the gravel paths of the back garden she tiptoes over the grassy margins rather than brave hard stones. A man in tails and a top hat watches her pass, but doesn't turn his head, as it would be uncouth to stare. She waves at him.

She leaves wet footmarks on the golden parquet floor of the ballroom, where she startles the jazz band into a missed offbeat; the saxophonist smoothes it right over, and the singer doesn't even notice. Everybody is far too well-mannered to ask her what the hell she's doing, but she does get a soft snort when she waits in line at the buffet table for a plate of sandwiches.

The phone booths in the hallway have brown, sticky shadows and stink of old cigarettes. There's just about enough room for her sandwiches if she puts them on top of the phonebook. She eats a triangle of curried chicken salad with the hand she used to touch the corpse—picks up the handset with the other.

"City 0001. Tully 5530 calling," she says. She ruffles her drying hair whilst she waits for the connection; droplets of lake water and brown dye scatter over the frosted glass panel in the door.

"You have reached the telephone number for reporting to emergency services. This is a recorded message," says the receiver.

The voices that read out service announcements and other public messages are all very similar: soft-spoken, placid young women. They're extensively coached and given a shot of opiates before being recorded. Olwen finds them soothing.

"Your location has been taken by the switchboard operator. If you wish to state the nature of your emergency, please hang up and telephone City 0010, where you will be able to leave your message with an emergency services operator. Thank you."

Olwen waits until she hears the tape ending, then thumbs the switch hook. She jiggles it in a rhythm of dits and dahs; they look random, but aren't.

"Emergency services operator, one moment please." There is a light click and a heavy pause. Olwen winds the telephone cable around her fingers.

"How may I help you?"

"I'd like to make an anonymous tip. I'm calling from Tully 5530." Olwen's voice is faint, distracted. She's thinking of something else.

"Yes, ma'am," says the operator. She's heard it all before. Her job is to take notes, not make commentary. She receives hundreds of calls every day, and her responses are so meaningless to her they've developed into something with their own melody. She's a songbird: her sentences are sung by rote, and they mean something as a whole—but her personality asserts itself in the trills.

"I found a body under the dock at the hotel," says Olwen. "I slipped into the water by accident and saw it as I was trying to get out again."

"Thank you. The appropriate authorities are on their way."

"Thank you," says Olwen, then replaces the receiver.

For a moment she sits in the phone booth blinking at the wall, like a revelation will appear there in brilliant letters, out of the wood. In the toe of her shoe is a metal-mesh change purse. She pulls a thin white booklet from it, titled "Blasphemy"; she writes lightly in blue architect's pencil: "My breasts get bigger every year, which worries me. It seems like they're going to fall off once they fill up. Like some slow-growing drops of water on a cave wall." She dates the entry.

She wipes down the phone booth and sandwich plate with a linen kerchief from her change purse. She checks that the hallway is empty before she opens the door. She brings the plate with her.

Olwen takes the stairs because all the guests are wearing evening clothes, and will want to use the lift. She loves the carpet runner; it's medium pile, but soft enough that she can wiggle her toes and it will tickle her, even through stockings. They seem to replace it often: the wooden surface of the stairs is old and has been varnished countless times, but the carpet looks like a blanket of freshly laid snow. Olwen's feet have dried; she makes no prints.

She leaves the sandwich plate on a maid's cart that stands in the third floor hallway. It has a stack of dirty dishes on it already and she thinks it's unlikely that anyone will notice an extra plate.

Boots stamp the corridor somewhere downstairs. The Que are nice but they tend to panic when there's a corpse involved. Olwen doesn't know apart from what she's been told. She's never met a Que because if her makeup failed they'd kill her—so she walks a bit faster.

Olwen opens the door to her room and doesn't turn on the lights. She floats in a cold solvent bath in the dark for one perfect minute—dyes pour off her back and sink to the bottom. When the Que knock on the door, they find room 205 unlocked and musty. It's listed as unoccupied. They do a cursory walk, and don't notice the liquid around the rim of the bathtub drain