A chorus of ‘goodnights’ followed him to the door of the hotel restaurant. He stopped rather theatrically in the door way and swung round to blow them all an exaggerated kiss.
“Goodnight everyone!” Douglas called out to them.
His team laughed and blew kisses back and waved him off.
Captain Douglas Richardson was very popular with his colleagues, even the more junior flight crew members who could be rather in awe of a senior pilot like himself. But then, he was fun and relaxed when not on duty, very approachable, and handsome as hell which made for an even closer relationship with some of the bolder air hostesses. Being a pilot for a large, successful airline, brought Douglas many extra benefits as well as the obvious status and salary.
But tonight Douglas was weary. He had decided to go to bed early, tired from today’s flight and looking forward to a good night’s sleep and a lie in tomorrow morning. Alone for a change.
He stepped out into the hotel corridor to take the lift up to his room. Or should that be rooms? He was being spoiled on this stopover in Tokyo as the hotel maître d' had upgraded him to a special suite of rooms with a wonderful view. The fellow was an old friend Douglas had made previously having been put up in this five star hotel many times by his employer Air England.
He always made a point of befriending the most important members of staff, whether at an airport, hotel or restaurant, and doing some little favour that might later be reciprocated.
Today’s little favour had been a thoughtful gift to the maître d' of a Fortnum and Mason presentation box of tea. Douglas happened to know the man’s wife had a fondness for all things English. So when Douglas checked in, his friend upgraded him to a suite.
“How nice to have friends in the right places”, thought Douglas, already planning the special Japanese gifts he would buy tomorrow to take back for his friends in England. Every gesture, however small, helped make the world a better place, especially for Captain Douglas Richardson.
Hours later, alone in the dark, sleep still eluded him.
“Dear God!” complained Douglas irritably to the empty room.
He couldn’t bear lying awake in that huge bed any longer. He swung his feet onto the floor, stood up and padded to the bathroom. After trying to get to sleep for hours and hours, he’d not managed a wink. Checking his watch, Douglas saw that it was only just midnight, Tokyo time. The long flight had left him with jet lag that both exhausted him and kept him from sleeping.
Determined not to spend any longer tossing and turning fruitlessly, Douglas took a quick shower and dressed. He put on a crisp white shirt, dark trousers and soft loafers. Despite not wearing his very flattering Captain’s uniform, he was pleased with what he saw in the mirror, a good looking, well groomed, young man.
“Well, let’s go and see the old girl, shall we?” he asked his reflection.
He had a date with a beautiful creature who would ease the stress from his mind and send him back to bed ready to sleep soundly.
Taking the lift, Douglas knew the other hotel guests would all have been turned out of the executive lounge on the top floor when it had closed at eleven. But Douglas knew a man who had the key and would let him in so he could have the place to himself. Those tea packages from Fortnums went a long way.
Left alone in the empty lounge, he switched on only a few low lights, leaving the place half in shadow. She was waiting for him, sleek and silent, over in the corner, away from the bar.
“Hello, darling!” Douglas whispered to her.
Douglas stepped close and ran his hand appreciatively along her silky flank, round her side and sat down beside her.
“Alone at last!” he breathed.
Lifting the lid, he ran his hands across the keys, because his date tonight was a beautiful grand piano.
The piano was overlooked by most of the guests who came up to this exclusive lounge when it was busy with fancy cocktails and loud laughter. But Douglas could play the piano almost to concert standard and had discovered this gorgeous instrument on one of his first stays at the hotel. It was used occasionally so it was perfectly tuned, but wasted, in Douglas’ opinion, stuck up here out of the way.
He had determined some time ago that when he could afford a decent house of his own, the first thing he’d buy himself would be a grand piano. Not out of pretension or for show, but Douglas found that creating beautiful music on a piano of this quality helped him forget himself and to relax.
Tonight he was in the mood for Chopin, not a showy concerto piece but something softer, a slow, mellow nocturne.
She didn’t disappoint him.
His fingers eased their way across the polished keys, the lightest of touches making her respond with the sweetest sounds. He bowed his head and let the music flow from him to the piano and out across the room without having to think of anything but the perfect blend of hands and keys and music.
He played on not noticing anything but the music he was making as the time slipped by. All his colleagues would be in bed by now, either their own or someone else’s, or out on the town until the small hours.
An hour later, after he’d played the same piece over and over, the repetition soothing him, he finished and sat back, staring at his fingers resting lightly on the keys.
Douglas was rather proud of his long slender hands. They were strong and capable but looked surprisingly delicate for a big man like him. He’d show them off when smoking, or fiddling with a drink, or playing the piano when the opportunity arose. If there was a piano available on any stopover, he could spend hours playing from memory to relax after a long flight. The concentration needed to recall the complex pieces of music and the focus to coordinate his hands across the keyboard were the perfect antidote to the complexities of flying an aeroplane.
He was also rather good at it.
There was a slow, gentle sound of clapping from across the lounge.
Surprised, Douglas straightened up and looked round. He had been so engrossed in his playing that he hadn’t seen the woman slip into the lounge and take a seat in the half dark, drawn by his wonderful playing.
“Bravo!” she said quietly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you…”
“No, no, not at all,” said Douglas, shaking himself out of his trance of concentration. “I didn’t see you there.”
She stepped across to the piano where there was more light and Douglas saw how beautiful she was. Long, dark, glossy hair and vivid red lipstick were his first impression and when she came out of the shadows she was really quite stunning to look at. Her green silk dress looked more suitable for the opera than a cocktail lounge and it clung to her slim figure showing off every curve.
“I love Chopin,” she murmured, leaning on her elbows on the top of the piano. “You play so beautifully.”
Douglas smiled his most winning smile, amused at the flattery and attention from this mysterious stranger.
“Thankyou,” he said, accepting the compliment graciously. “Do you play?”
She shook her head. There was an air of melancholy around her, a quiet sadness that touched him.
“I find it relaxes me,” he offered by way of explanation, looking down at his hands.
“Play some more,” she coaxed.
Douglas leaned back and closed his eyes. His hands chose ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ and he sang the words in his gorgeous baritone. He sang to her, for her, as he swayed in time with the music, very aware of how close she was. He could smell her perfume, hear the rustle of her silk dress, almost feel her gaze on him.
“That was wonderful,” she sighed as the reverberations of the last notes died away. “I’ve been in a dark place recently. And when I heard you playing I thought I’d found something. Something that will hold the darkness at bay.”
She stared at him intently and he was concerned at this forthright admission from this beautiful stranger. He wanted to reassure her, to comfort her if he could.
“Music?” he asked. “Good as anything I suppose.”
“But I can’t take the piano home with me, can I?” she asked with a slow smile. “So what should I do?”
“Go home. Put your best record on, loud as it will play,” said Douglas firmly. “And remember that’s something the darkness can’t take from you.”
She sighed and dropped her gaze.
“You’re right. I’ll do that, when I get home tomorrow,” she agreed. “But what about tonight…?”
He understood her plea at once.
“Need some company?” he asked gently.
A smile slipped across her face as she nodded slowly.
Douglas stood up and closed the piano lid gently. He proffered her his hand and she took it, slipping her slim hand into his.
They walked to the door and he turned to look back to the piano.
“Goodnight, darling,” he said before flicking off the lights.
They held hands as they rode the lift back to his floor. Politely he stood aside to wave her through into his suite when he’d unlocked the door. He helped unfasten her gown and it whispered to the floor. Then Douglas slipped into the big bed beside her and wrapped her up in his embrace.
In the morning when he awoke, he stretched and smiled in satisfaction. He had slept well with her in his arms. Then he blinked as he realised she was gone. She had never even told him her name.