I thought nobody would believe this title to be anything but sarcastic. Still, there is an idea in some people’s mind that when you have written a book, you are a celebrity. To me this word – celebrity – suggests that you are on a red carpet wherever you go and everyone recognizes your name. In contrast, I have been in the Red Carpet Inn and nobody can pronounce my name. (I did get a few comments about my “do” being cute. I think this is American for “I like your haircut.” I’m learning American English from scratch now, too. For all my South African friends, English and American are not the same language.)

“Hettie” and “Brittz” are not often heard in the States. Yesterday, when asked what my real name was, I answered, “Hester.” The response was a rather uncomfortable one from a full-time missionary in the Head Office of CRU, “Oh, like Hester in The Scarlet Letters?”

The Red Carpet Inn in Atlanta. That was where the glam-o-meter went below zero. It was a “mystery booking” on Expedia. In our defence, we are trying to take a family of five on a three month tour through the USA on a royalty advance from my publisher. It is a generous royalty, until you divide it by five people, then 3 months, then two rooms at a time … We needed a cheap hotel for the night before our flight out of Atlanta, and we could get two rooms for $110. It was a bargain. You pay first, then Expedia reveals where they’ve made your bed for you. They promised it would be a two star bed. We’re from Africa. We aren’t spoilt. Two stars mean they can forget to put out toilet paper and still have one star left. We can handle it. We travel with wet wipes.

The GPS lead us to the Red Carpet Inn. Fit for celebrity writers, you’ll think. The first person we saw was a prancing girl who grabbed the attention by wearing a “mystery” outfit. Was she wearing only a tight-fitting T-shirt, or was it in fact a skimpy dress? Invisible shorts, perhaps? We were mystified. This was our first clue to what the red Carpet Inn really was, but we optimistically went ahead and checked in. We parked near our door. A bewildered looking boy with a pool noodle on his shoulders gaped at us as he disappeared around the corner. He knew something. We inserted the key card. The door swung open to a stale cigarette smell, cracked vinyl flooring and sad furniture. We all put on our brave faces. There was still the other room, after all.

A different odour altogether. Disturbing. Here, the bathroom door couldn’t open or close. The layers of plywood were expanded and splintered apart and were lodged immovably into the floor like a stubborn toddler. Above one bed a hole was clearly visible right through a framed picture and into the wall. Bullet hole? That was what we all instinctively thought of first. I sent my daughter to get the camera. We needed evidence so we could get a refund from Expedia. It could have been the clicking of the camera around the room that took my mind into an episode of CSI. My imagination connected all the dots: Bullet = murder = blood on floor = RED CARPET!

We were out of there just as the mystery girl swung through a door on the top storey to the rhythm of a boom box.