No one knew much about Zora Murillo, or the source of her zillions, when she arrived in Hoe. The first thing was to sink unfathomable sums into the Pleiades, a majestic, crumbling ruin at the bottom of our town. Its twenty-five rooms were faded through neglect, where none but travellers down on their luck stayed for very long, except by mistake. The bar downstairs still ran, and was used late afternoon till dinner, with a clientele of builders, mechanics, a cobbler, a freelance sign writer, our two competing window cleaners, and a flaky-haired painter and decorator.
The bar was the first thing Zora ripped out, though she kept on the builders to do that work, who took up the Pleiades’ cobbled frontage with a fleet of yellow skips. These were filled daily with cheap timbers in an old, once fashionable reddish stain, the rotten plaster they’d hacked from walls and ceilings, and the country-woven carpeting, whose reds, jets and golds had been discoloured by decades of beer stains. She did not have to evict the squatters upstairs. They left of their own accord, with the noise and upheaval, and the shell of a place once home. Its eviscerate state was final and at its nadir once the old wiring and lead pipes were piled with the rest of the debris into those skips.
The work got fanfares in the local press, and headlines three weeks running. Someone discovered that Zora had also bought the Faun Hotel twenty miles away in Yo, a lot different from the Pleiades. That was in a good state of repair, though had fixed itself in an English rurality fifty years out of date, with the waitresses pinafored and a resident chef, whose background was minor public school. The foyer had low leather settees and shag-pile carpets, was dark with oak panelling, and was adorned on its table tops with country magazines. It told a stolid sort of time by a longcase clock, and had a stag’s head and dreary portraits hanging on the walls. The car parking was extensive, adjacent to a stream with ornamental bridge. Patrons drove Land Rovers and wore tweeds, and came for the fish dinners and the homity pie on its lunchtime menu. Zora had no intention of changing the Faun’s ethos, but for the Pleiades she had different ideas, as we would learn. [To be continued.]