“You will head off in the afternoon. I have arranged a taxi for you which will drop you off at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan that I’ve reserved for you. The Benjamin. I’m sure you’ve heard of that five star hotel. You can stay there for the night. Tomorrow you will begin your journey to Lower New York Bay. It’s a twenty mile journey. Stingray Island is somewhere around there. Take public transport and stay in crowded places. Be careful of the people around you. And most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough, trust each other and each other only. No one else,” he explained. “Go to one of the changing rooms, get changed, get freshened up and go to the canteen where the chefs have prepared you three a good meal.”
Señor Ramirez stood up straight and patted me on the shoulder. “Here Marco, take this.”
He handed over a small Samsung flip phone.
“This has a GPS tracker, so I can see exactly where you are. And I’ll be able to call you on this no matter where you are. Even with no signal, I’ll be able to find you.”
I slotted the phone in my pocket and nodded.
“I am so proud of you three. Remember your exceptional individual abilities and work together. It’s a simple task. Find the Golden Leaf and bring it home. Save the school. I wish you the best of luck and I have full faith you will succeed. Now off you go!”
“The Benjamin Hotel, yes?” the driver asked, as he opened the doors for us to his Mercedes Benz S400 outside the gates of Tranquillity Valley High School.
We’d bid our final farewells to Señor Ramirez having changed into our new clothes and wolfed down a full lunch meal.
“Yes please,” Rachel replied, as we slipped in to the smooth leather seats of the S400.
The driver slammed the accelerator and the car sped away from our high school, immersing itself into the buzzing high street.
I looked outside through the polished black tinted windows at the swarming high streets whizzing past me. Businessmen handing out leaflets, the whiff of smoke from fast food trailers, workers rushing back to work from their lunch break, supermarket queues stretching out into the street, and the familiar yellow taxis drifting in and out of parking spaces, picking up and dropping off passengers.
I was leaving this life behind. It dawned upon me that I would never be the same Marco Cortes again.
The Mercedes slowed down, as the driver made a left turn and ground to a halt in front of the hotel’s entrance. He killed the engine, got out and swung the rear doors open for us.
“Thank you,” I said, as we stepped out onto the immaculate marble floor of the entrance to The Benjamin Hotel.
“Have fun guys. Really nice hotel this one. Probably the best in New York,” the driver said. He quickly slipped back into his seat and floored the accelerator, speeding off to his next passenger.
I strained my neck upwards to gain a full view of the hotel building and gazed at the fine level of detail. Each brick was perfectly placed and identical going all the way up. The large windows of each hotel room shimmered in the afternoon sunshine and in between each window, were the massive letters engraved in gold and silver: ‘The Benjamin’.
“Welcome to the Benjamin Hotel. I hope you have a pleasant and restful stay,” the doorman said, opening the finely crafted golden door for us.
I grinned at Zak and Rachel, who were as speechless as I was by the hospitality and the magnificent, artistic piece of architecture that stood in front of us.
“Thank you,” Rachel replied, as we stepped in to the hotel’s grand reception.
Our breaths were swept away.
Three luxurious chandeliers – one at the front, middle and back of the reception – dangled from the beautifully crafted ceiling. A blend of Mandala patterns, embroidered in the tropical colours of light turquoise, cantaloupe and coral, were etched intricately into the ceiling, injecting flamboyance across the vast, yet strangely empty reception. Apart from the three of us, there were no other guests in sight. The spotless white stone on the floor was covered by a narrow velvet carpet which led up to the reception desk. The built in lights were dimmed perfectly, creating a sense of peace and calm. The relaxing scent of lavender wafted into my nostrils and I had to pinch myself to make sure I didn’t drift off to sleep standing up. A pianist played a soothing tune elegantly in the background, manoeuvring his fingers delicately across the keys. He cast me a quick smile and I returned it, stunned by the whole serenity of the reception. The soft velvet carpet cushioned our steps as we strolled ever so slowly towards the reception desk, startled by the sheer beauty of the place. To our good fortune, one desk was free. The polished white marble desk, with shades of platinum, was just another lavish ornament, complementing the surreal environment that had engulfed the three of us in what was an extravagant welcoming.
“Welcome to the Benjamin Hotel. How may I be of assistance today?” the lady behind the desk asked politely. Her tone of voice emulated the atmosphere and she beamed at us, her golden tie and black shirt really bringing out her white teeth. Her name badge – Emily - which rested on her shoulder matched the golden colour of her tie.
“We would like to check-in please,” Zak said eagerly.
“Brilliant. May I ask, is this a new booking or a reservation?”
“A reservation. Gerard Ramirez reserved us a room here,” Rachel replied.
Emily’s fingers sped away on the keyboard. “Yes that is correct. This room includes free food and drinks from the mini bar, a king size bed and 2 single beds, along with our very own fifty-three inch built in flat-screen TV,” she explained casually. “And also” – she leant in closer to us – “a complimentary visit to the arcade!”
“Wow,” I gasped.
Emily smiled and handed over the room key card. “Enjoy your stay. If you need any help, just press the number 1 on the telephone in your room and someone will be with you straightaway! Have fun!”
“Thank you,” Rachel replied. Little did Emily know that in Rachel’s backpack, there was a bow and a quiver full of sharp arrows, as we turned and headed towards the lifts.
Just as we arrived, the lift door opened and a couple walked out, holding hands and laughing. We entered the lift and I pressed the button for the third floor, where our room was.Even the lift was special. An Alpana themed golden wallpaper ran around the lift and the black marble floor was sparkling in the bright in-built light. The lift door opened and we walked slowly down the corridor, taking in the unique designs and patterns of the walls and ceiling. “This is the room,” Rachel said.
“Come on!” Rachel screamed.I tried again, this time barging into it with my shoulder. The door remained shut.“Wait, I’m going to use my knife to open the lock. Face the guards,” Zak said hurriedly, as he inserted his blood-soaked knife into the keyhole.Rachel and I squared up to the guards, as they closed in on us.12 feet… 11 feet… 1
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