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VLADIMIR VESCO WOKE and didn’t know where he was. His mouth was dry, his head ached. Am I hungover? he thought. Have I been drinking? He reached instinctively to rub his shoulders – something was wrong, some deep muscle pain wracked and twisted across his neck to his arms and down through his back as well. He sat up, the pain momentarily distracting from the disorienting feeling of waking someplace unfamiliar. He head felt several sizes too small, and he squinted into the painful light emanating from a bedside lamp. He reached out clumsily, nearly knocking the lamp over, and fumbled until he found a switch, a tiny button hidden under the base of the bulb.
That light extinguished, he looked around the room. There was a low glow coming from the blinds; he could still see in the blue half-light. An article of clothing had been abandoned at the foot of the bed – a shirt or a blouse – something definitely female. A woman’s room, he thought. I’m in a woman’s bedroom. No, that wasn’t right, either – the room had no feeling, no personality. The single painting above the bed was bland; there were no photos on the walls, no bookshelves, nothing to indicate that anyone actually lived here. I’m a hotel room, he realized. With a woman? Is this her room? Did we get it together? He stood, unsteadily. He was shaky, dizzy. Drinking like this was out of character for Vladimir – like most Russians he loved fine Vodkas, but he rarely drank so much to feel like this, and never so much to black out completely. That was for teenagers, he thought, chuckling to himself. That action he found surprisingly painful; his throat was raw and his voice hoarse.
On the floor across the room was another article of clothing – something dark, a skirt perhaps? It was hard to tell in the low light. Vladimir looked down on himself; he was fully clothed. Strange, he thought, that he would still be dressed. Something was on his hands, something sticky. He wiped them on his shirt, which was moist with sweat anyway, and found his shirt was also covered in the same dark, sticky mess. Perhaps we were drinking wine, he wondered, and we spilled it. He briefly toyed with the idea of turning the light back on, but his head still hurt and his eyes stung, and he quickly rejected that idea.
Water – he needed water first, then answers. He could hear the faucet on in the bathroom; water steadily splashed and a light was visible under the partially open door. He stumbled toward the bathroom. This room must have been expensive, he thought. A master bedroom and bath, with a sitting room through the door. More clothes were strewn on the floor: nylons, a high-heeled shoe and a black lace-lined bra.
He pushed open the bathroom door, not caring if anyone was inside or not, but still surprised to find that it was empty. He turned the light off before allowing himself to enter; the fluorescent glow was too much for his aching head. The water still ran in the sink, a steady gush, and he felt his way across the bathroom, navigating with his hands. He washed his hands, scrubbing off the sticky mess, and rinsed until his hands no longer smelled of soap. He did this almost entirely without looking, for even the low light from the bedroom burned his eyes, and he kept them mostly closed. He leaned over, cupping his hands and lapping up the water, gulping it down, almost choking. Finally satisfied, he splashed water onto his face, ran his fingers through his hair. His head still hurt and his muscles still ached, but at least he was no longer thirsty. He turned off the water, and the room fell silent, eerie in its stillness. Something was wrong, he thought. He still had no memory of the previous night. This bothered Vladimir. He still had no sense of where he was.
He had a momentary flash of recollection – a brief image of two men approaching him, men in suits. Did he know them? He could not remember. There was a sense of familiarity about them; they had met before. They must have gone for drinks, and then he met someone and…
Nothing. He was drawing a blank – everything else was merely conjecture, supposition. The memory was gone, and with it any rational explanation as to what he was doing in a strange woman’s hotel room.
She must be in the main room, he thought. He started toward the door and nearly tripped – the other shoe was on the floor of the bathroom: black, heeled and strapless. He tried to think of something to say. Was this someone he knew? Doubtful. He braced himself, tried to steady his nerves, and wracked his brain for something charming, something gracious or polite or disarming. Perhaps he should start with an apology, explain that he couldn’t even remember her–