The following is an excerpt from the first of the “Hotel Stories” series, The Two Rooms. The Hotel Stories series takes a wry look at the sex, humour and power plays beneath the surface of modern hotel life. The series has been described by one reviewer as “Wonderful, feminist and dark. Not three words that often go together.”
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THE TWO ROOMS (Excerpt)
A short story by Robert Pimm
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‘I’m not moving. That’s final.’
Mr Burke is a tall, dark-haired man in a designer denim jacket with subtle stubble and a deep, melodious voice. He’s achingly good-looking and he knows it.
‘Unfortunately, you are booked to move out at 10 a.m. today. And all our rooms are full this evening.’
‘I want to speak to the General Manager.’ That lovely voice again. I wish he would use it to say something else.
‘Yes, sir. I am afraid the General Manager is not available right now. But If you would like to speak to the Hotel Manager I will be happy to arrange that.’ I smile my thousand-watt smile. ‘The Hotel Manager is our second-in-command.’
‘Whoever. But I’m not moving out of my room.’
‘I am calling the Hotel Manager now.’ I wish I could tell Mr Burke about the imminent arrival of the Prime Minister and the fact that even if Mr Burke were not being awkward the hotel would already be one room overbooked. But of course I cannot tell him any of this.
‘So… I don’t see this manager you promised.’
‘The Hotel Manager is coming now.’
‘Make it quick. I don’t pay five-star rates to wait for a receptionist.’
Mr Burke sticks his hands in his pockets and turns his back on me, leaning the elbows of the denim jacket on the counter and looking out at the lobby. It’s a fine lobby, with a thirty-metre water feature and a sushi bar with a Michelin star. But I know he’s turned his back to indicate his disgust with me and the service I am providing.
In fact, he is trying to humiliate me.
But this is OK. I am trained to stay calm.
I keep smiling at his back and look around for any other customers who need help. The first thing I see is two men in dark suits moving towards the counter. The second thing is the Hotel Manager gliding into view from the Business Centre on the other side of the lobby.
The two dark suits are nearly at the counter. They are walking stiffly, as though the fabric of the suits is too rigid to be able to move properly. I turn towards them and try out the smile again.
‘Yes, sir, how may I help you?’
‘It must be pork,’ the first man says. ‘Tonight. Anything else is not acceptable.’
This problem is an easy one for me because I have explained it to customers many times.
‘I understand your preference,’ I say brightly. ‘But unfortunately the Ministry of Agriculture has banned all pork products following the health scare last month. There is no pork available in the country. If our hotel were to import or serve pork products, we would be breaking the law.’
The second man looks at me as if I am an idiot. In fact he looks at me with such contempt that I wonder if I am, in fact, an idiot and have simply never noticed up to now.
‘You do not understand. Your hotel is arranging a banquet tonight for the birthday of our patron, Mr Dolgov. For this we are paying you eight hundred dollars a cover, excluding the drinks, which will include Chateau Petrus and Dom Perignon, all sourced from your cellars. Mr Dolgov agreed personally with the hotel owner that we would hold this event here. The owner assured Mr Dolgov that this would be the best birthday of his life. Yet you are now telling me that the pork for the main dish, which we ordered at Mr Dolgov’s express request two months ago, is not available. You will find some pork.’
Behind the two men in suits I see that the Hotel Manager, whose name is Ms N, is heading for Mr Burke. Ms N is from a large European country which is rich in talent but which has not yet provided a General Manager for any hotel in our chain, and everyone is expecting she will be promoted to GM any moment. She started off working Reception like me. She still helps out sometimes when things are busy. She is short, even in the high heels she always wears in the hotel, and she always has an inquisitive expression, as if she is figuring out how to solve some problem. Maybe she always is. That is her job, solving problems. Ms N is the best problem-solver in the world.
I want to be like her.
Ms N has identified Mr Burke as an unhappy customer. She walks up to him and stops close enough to engage but not so close she has to peer up at him. She has amped up the inquisitive look with a hint of a smile, so that she looks as if she is fascinated to meet him. I see he has clocked that she is a person of power. Already he has taken his elbows off the counter.
‘Unfortunately,’ I begin to say to the two men in suits, ‘we cannot serve pork tonight in this hotel or else – ‘
‘Girl.’ The second dark suit is shaking his head and has raised his voice. ‘Do you think I am an idiot?’
‘No sir, of course I do not.’
‘Do you think I do not know that if Mr Dolgov and the owner of this hotel wish to serve pork, there will be pork?’
I nod, distracted by a commotion at the front door. A gang of security gorillas with ear-wires and square coats has spilled in from the street and is attempting to spread out into the lobby. This means that the Prime Minister is about to arrive, with his delegation of forty negotiators, note-takers and baggage-carriers.
The gorillas seem to be looking for trouble and have found it. They are trying to push out of the way a line of journalists and TV cameras whose position Ms N agreed with the journalists about one hour ago. The journalists, who include a prize-winning TV investigative hot-shot who has been making an expose of the life of the Prime Minister, do not like being pushed.
‘Yes, Mr Burke, how may I help you?’ I hear Ms N say.
‘I am a Platinum Megastar member of this hotel,’ Mr Burke replies, ‘and I am not prepared to be treated like this.’
‘Pork is a must-have,’ the second dark suit says to me.
‘We have permission to stand here,’ the prize-winning journalist is shouting as a security man pushes him.
I see that a short, swarthy man wearing a black polo-neck under a formal suit has slipped between the security gorillas and is scurrying towards the counter.
A couple of bell-boys have appeared pushing two trolleys loaded with matching Louis Vuitton luggage. The owners of the luggage, a flamboyant Swiss gay couple who have been staying at the hotel for a month, have materialised at the counter ready to check out. They are chatting happily and seem oblivious to their surroundings.
Things are looking busy, I think.
Ms N is looking Mr Burke in the eye and nodding calmly. But I know for a fact that she is logging everything which is happening in the lobby because her left eyebrow is slightly raised. I see her take say a few words, take a deep breath and smile. Then Mr Burke is turning round and sloping off towards the lobby lounge, wiggling his fine buns in his tight chinos as if he owns the place.
Ms N turns to me.
‘Thank you, Tatiana,’ she says. ‘Please can you check out Ms Feuchtwangler and Ms Cladders?’ She smiles at the gay couple, who beam back. Then she turns to the two dark suits. ‘Let me make you an appointment with the Food and Beverages Director,’ she says. Without waiting for a response, she whips out her telephone and talks for a moment, then she pockets the phone and nods at them in a way which signals all sorted. ‘There,’ she says. ‘He will see you for a private meeting in the Platinum Megastar Lounge at six o’clock precisely.’
She hands each of them one of the shiny metallic vouchers which grant access to the Platinum Megastar Lounge on the 20th floor.
‘A private meeting?’ The first dark suit leers at her slyly, as if she has proposed something indecent.
‘The Platinum Megastar Lounge?’ The second dark suit is actually standing up taller at the thought of gaining access to a venue of such fabled exclusivity.
‘But you guarantee there will be pork?’ the first dark suit says.
‘The Food and Beverages Director will arrange everything to your satisfaction,’ Ms N says. She turns crisply away towards the swarthy man in the black polo-neck.
‘Pierre, darling, lovely to see you,’ she says, and hugs him to her for a second as she brushes her cheek against his. I notice that Pierre places one hairy hand on her right buttock as she does so but she seems not to notice and steps back, smiling her fascinated smile. ‘I know exactly what you need and all arrangements are made,’ she says. ‘But I think we need to discuss this in my office, no? Perhaps I could offer you a glass of wine there, in ten minutes. As soon as I have sorted out these troublesome journalists.’
Pierre grins with such immense self-satisfaction that pure smugness seems to come welling out of the top of his black polo-neck. ‘Your office,’ he smiles. ‘A glass of wine. I will be there.’
I am busy sorting out the astonishing list of extras on the bill of Ms Feuchtwangler and Ms Cladders, but I can see in the lobby that one of the bell-boys has summoned Nigel, the Duty Security Manager, who has arrived with two assistants to try and calm the situation between the journalists and the gorillas who are accompanying the Prime Minister. Next to me one of the other receptionists is trying to secure my attention to deal with a call from the Canadian Embassy about a cancelled booking for the Sapphire Ballroom this evening; I tell her to say that we will call back in a few minutes.
The fact that the Prime Minister is going to appear any moment makes sorting out the fracas a matter of urgency. In fact, I cannot see how Ms N can restore order in time. Nigel has legs like tree-trunks and a neck to match and his men have physically separated the journalists and the gorillas. But Nigel is not a diplomat, and it looks as if a fist-fight may break out at any moment. I smile to myself and wonder if Nigel has considered calling on Kyoko, our Japanese Executive Chef, who has a terrifying selection of ultra-sharp Chroma kitchen blades and a filthy temper. But clearly Nigel so far rates the potential unpredictability of engaging Kyoko as far riskier than any danger the gorillas may represent and I can see no sign of her.
While I am wondering what Ms N can possibly do, I am surprised to see her ignore all of them and walk across the lobby towards the main entrance. She stops right inside the front door, stands up straight but tiny on her high heels, and straightens her exquisitely-pressed skirt to indicate that she is ready to meet a VVIP, or a Distinguished Visitor as we are learning to call them.
Ms N’s authority and calm radiate across the hotel lobby like the shock-waves of some powerful weapon. For an instant the journalists and security gorillas forget about each other and turn, like her, to face the entrance. In that same instant, the bell-boys haul open the door and the Prime Minister enters. Ms N takes a step forward and holds out her hand to greet him. From where I am standing with my hands on the computer keyboard behind the reception desk, I cannot see her face. But I know that she is looking at him inquisitively, with a hint of a smile.
I wish I could be like Ms N.
I am showing a customer on a map the way to the entertainment district of the city when I see Ms N approaching the counter. She talks to the other receptionists until I have finished my explanations and then invites me into the back office for a quiet word.
‘Yes, Ms N,’ I say. ‘How may I help you?’
‘Tatiana. As you are in charge of reception this evening, I wish you to be aware of several things. The first is that the gentleman from the Prime Minister’s entourage, Pierre, wished to discuss with me an issue of the utmost sensitivity.’