Joseph Badsleep, private investigator and amateur statistician, awoke from another unsatisfactory late afternoon slumber in his hotel room. He got out of bed and dressed while cursing his name – an unfortunate piece of nominitive determinism that had haunted him all his life. It was time for dinner.
He made his way down to the hotel dining room all afuzz. In his dream his assembled detective squad – a crack team of past life Joseph Badsleeps – had been on the trail of the key to his sleeplessness, a never-quite-solved mystery. It was one that would drag on and on, a source of some frustration for Badsleep who, as an often successful and efficient investigator, knew that he himself would have been the best person to put on the case if only he could get up and enter his own brain to have a look around. Comme ci comme ca, he thought to himself.
Badsleep found a table to himself in the restaurant and set about helping himself through the seventeen courses of beef carvery which were set out on a daily basis in the hotel dining room. Every now and then a waiter would arrive at his table to collect used plates and ask if everything was ok. “Yes, this is a fine and beautiful restaurant you have here,” Joseph Badsleep would tell the waiter, and the waiter would get on with his work with a smile on his face. All the waiters in the establishment were well-trained in delivering food and stuffed full of knowledge so as to be on hand to settle any disputes between diners, not that Badsleep had any need for this service.
At a nearby table diners were loudly arguing about who would be the last to go to sleep that night, each boasting of their ability to stay awake longer, faster, further, better. It was an unfortunate conversation for Badsleep to overhear and did not improve his mood. But he did not share the interesting fact which it would have been pertinent to do so, namely that at this particular hour – indeed, this minute – this was the exact time that on average exactly half of the population would be awake and half asleep in their beds. This was a fact which Badsleep himself had uncovered through hours of careful collating of surveys and analysis of statistics. It was what he called fun.
The other diners may have been unaware of the importance of that tipping-point hour, but Badsleep could see that the restaurant staff were more perceptive. He observed that half of the staff continued to serve the beef carvery whilst the other half now began to prepare for breakfast, carrying trays full of tiny jampots here and there, miniature butter configurations, freshly-polished breakfast mugs. He bit into his slowly-roasted roast beef roast slice with a hungry and bloodied satisfaction, his teeth tingling at the pleasure in biting through the red meat. His sleeplessness had left him with an insurmountable hunger.
This was, he now realised, the seventeenth course of beef in the carvery. He had reached the end. He wondered what was for dessert.
Somewhere on the other side of the room, there came the crashing sound of dropping-smashing plates. Moments later there was a waiter once more at Badsleep’s table, collecting another plate and asking if everything was ok, sir. The waiter looked concerned as he asked. “Yes, oh yes. This is a fine and beautiful restaurant you have here,” Badsleep said reassuringly, as he had done several times before. He knew this was what the waiters liked and he was pleased to please them. It was like tickling a puppy behind the ears.
The waiter thanked him and turned to depart. “There is one thing,” Badsleep added, and the waiter turned back. “Please could you show me where the dessert is,” he smiled. The waiter turned white and repeated the word. Dessert. He apologised and told Badsleep he would be back in a moment. “That’s fine,” said Badsleep with genuine warmth. “This is a fine restaurant,” he added once more, just to make sure there was no bad feeling.
Whilst he waited for the waiter to return to his waiting, Badsleep watched the diners at the nearby table again. He had not been counting their carvery courses but it seemed to him that their dinner was being waylaid by their competitive crowing about how late they would stay up. It irritated him – not just the childishness of their boasting, but the fact that they were missing out on such a fine seventeen course beef dinner. He doubted they would even make dessert before they crashed and burned.
Dessert. The waiter was back at the table, apologising for the delay. He invited Badsleep to follow him, and when Badsleep stood he took him by the hand and the two of them walked around the seventeen courses of beef and off to another room. The waiter’s hand was nice and warm and Badsleep did not question the custom. If he had been asked he would undoubtedly have said: “This is a fine restaurant and you have lovely hands.” As it was, he was far more interested in where they were going.
In a separate room at the back of the dining hall, Badsleep was met by the head waiter who was still pulling on a pair of white gloves. He apologised for the delay and explained that the dessert would be on its way soon. “Excellent,” said Badsleep. “And what kind of dessert will there be, if you don’t mind me asking?” The head waiter looked down at his hands, readjusted his white gloves and began to explain that the restaurant employed a sophisticated tracking device which monitored their guests and would suggest the most appropriate dessert to suit their needs. It was, he assured Badsleep, nothing to worry about. He was sure that Badsleep would enjoy what they had in store for him.
Soon Badsleep was manouevred onto a bed in the corner of the room and told to make himself comfortable. He did this in silence. He racked his brain to try and think what they would have come up with. What hints had he dropped? What sweet preferences did his movements give away? He yawned a yawn, a big big gaping hole in his face yawn.
The yawns fell faster and harder, bigger and bigger cavernous yawns split his face. Each following immediately after the last until they were indistinguishable as individual yawns, all running together to become one long airy bellow like the empty space of an abandoned warehouse. Badsleep panicked and turned to the head waiter, tried to say something but found he could not stop his yawning to form sufficient sounds. He felt his eyelids slipping over his eyes, like some all-encompassing black-out. He fought it, but each time they dropped silently into place one more.
The head waiter told him to relax once more, his voice soothing and velvetine and Badsleep felt rest fall upon him like a comfortable collection of cloaks and capes and coats in the back of a winter cupboard. The hotel and its seventeen courses of carvery beef fell further and further and further away…