My new short story “Total Control” – Number 9 in the “Hotel Stories” series – is available now.
Did you know that every year I write a new “Hotel Story” as a birthday present for my partner, who – not quite by coincidence – is a senior hotel manager?
The first seven stories, dating from 2011 to 2017, are collected together in the book Seven Hotel Stories. You can find it on Amazon as a paperback or e-book.
The eighth Hotel Story, Seven Ukrainian Girls, was the gift in 2018. An excerpt is in a post on this site.
Hotel Story No.9, the 2019 birthday present, is called Total Control. Like all the Hotel Stories, it is a black comedy. I wrote it last year on a writing retreat in Crete.
You can get hold of Seven Ukrainian Girls, Total Control or any of my published books on Amazon. My two paperbacks, Blood Summit and Seven Hotel Stories, are also available at the excellent Shakespeare & Co bookstore in Vienna.
In Total Control Ms N, the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotelier, has returned from her extraordinary visit to the country of C—, as described in Hotel Story No.4, The White Blouse. Ms N and her beautiful but naive ally Tatiana are shocked to find that their previous hotel has deteriorated in their absence and is due a total renovation.
Ms N says she will only carry out the renovation if she is given total control of the process.
But Mr Dolgov, the owner of the hotel, wants Mr Keven Coatts, a hotel consultant with little respect for women, to oversee Ms N’s renovation. Ms N has no intention of being supervised by Mr Coatts…
You can read the beginning of the story below.
Total Control (excerpt)
‘This is a big challenge,’ Ms N says to me as the familiar façade looms over us. Is it my imagination, or have the shaded glass panels not been cleaned since we left twelve months ago? ‘But it may also be an opportunity.’
‘A surfing accident can happen to anyone.’ I bite my lip.
‘The injuries which the general manager of Mr Dolgov’s hotel suffered on his holiday in Hawaii were nothing to do with me.’ Ms N’s eyebrows are raised and her full lips are pursed. ‘I was in a double-landlocked country at the time. But it will be good to be back in a city with direct flights to London.’
Ms N does not say that a man she cares about is living in London, but I know she is thinking about this because the country which I shall call C—, where Ms N has been running a hotel for the last twelve months with my help, has no direct flights to anywhere. In fact, it does not even have an airport.
Ahead of us, the doors of the hotel where I first met Ms N, during an event in the Dionysus Bar when the then-owner of the hotel made me stand on a table with him and was trying to stick his tongue in my ear, look less impressive than I remember. Apart from the filthy glass panels, two members of the hotel staff who I do not recognise are smoking outside the entrance, their faces glistening with sweat in the hot sun. The ground is littered with cigarette butts and other rubbish that looks as if it has been lying around for weeks.
Perhaps my horizons have been expanded by our mission to the country of C—, where a new conference centre is rising above the site of the former secret police headquarters next to the hotel we have left behind. Or could it be that our old hotel, in the historic capital of my beautiful but not yet economically advanced country, has gone into a decline while Ms N has been away?
If I am honest, the rumpled uniform of the staff and the way they make no attempt to greet us as we approach with a standard salutation such as Welcome to our hotel! or Good choice! or a thousand-watt smile or even a smile of any wattage at all, is reminding me that when I first arrived at the hotel in C—, I described it as a “shitbox”, which is the correct professional term for a hotel of this quality.
Could our own hotel have descended to this level?
No wonder Ms N is talking about a challenge.
Ms N must be crazy about this man in London to take it on, direct flights or not.
In the lobby, Mr Dolgov himself is waiting for us.
Mr Dolgov is in a hurry.
In fact, Mr Dolgov does not even allow Ms N to drop off her suitcase or freshen up after her long journey from C—, before he summons her to a meeting.
‘Sit down!’ he says. He points to a group of cracked white leather sofas by the thirty-metre water feature that our employee notes used to say was the highlight architectural landmark of our twenty-storey atrium. Ms N sits down on a white sofa without any complaint, although I see her examine the leather as she takes her place. When I sit down, the sofa sighs like a disappointed friend and I smell something that does not belong in a five-star hotel.
Even the thirty-metre water feature contains no water at all, which I am thinking is diminishing its impact as a highlight architectural landmark, but I do not say this.
‘Damned boiling hot, today,’ Mr Dolgov says, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. ‘This city too bloody scorching for me. But thank God you back.’ Mr Dolgov is addressing Ms N, paying me no attention. ‘I have big plans for you.’ He pauses dramatically. ‘Promotion.’
Still Ms N says nothing, but looks at Mr Dolgov with her professional face, which is a slightly inquisitive expression with a hint of a smile on her lips. The expression says: I am paying you my full attention. Whatever the problem may be, I am confident that I can sort it out to your satisfaction.
This is actually not the first time I am seeing Ms N deploy this smile.
Mr Dolgov, on the other hand, I am seeing for the first time in person, even though before Ms N and I went to the country of C—, we were working in this hotel for several years. In my imagination the owner of our hotel, who is friends with many of the wealthiest and best-connected people in our historic capital, all of whom like Mr Dolgov are untainted by corruption of any kind, is a giant with a booming voice and an expensive suit. So I am surprised to see instead a gentleman with a weasel face who is so small that he makes the cracked white leather sofas seem larger than they are. He has a sparse moustache and crooked yellow teeth and is wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a leather jacket similar to those favoured by our untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice.
When Mr Dolgov looks at Ms N I see his eyes are hooded, and sharp.
‘Let me be clear,’ he says to Ms N, ‘I not want you here.’
Ms N says nothing.
‘When Houston senior management of chain propose your name to me as General Manager of this hotel to complete refurbishment, I tell them no. I want to promote you.’ Mr Dolgov pauses again, perhaps not sure why Ms N is not responding to the generosity of his offer. He continues, his voice rising. ‘Promotion is to be GM to my new, luxury, Ultra-Platinum-branded Caravanserai UP hotel inside hollowed-out mountain in most beautiful corner of this primitive country, circled by snow-capped peaks and looking out over relic-covered plains.’
Ms N raises one eyebrow perhaps a millimetre. ‘I have heard about your exciting project to develop the Caravanserai Ultra Platinum as the coolest, the most luxurious and the most ecological hotel on earth, located in one of the remotest, wildest and ruggedest places even the most world-weary traveller can imagine. But as I understand it, one must travel on three separate and perhaps not entirely modern or safe airlines to get there, even from this historic capital, let alone from a city such as London. This would not suit my personal circumstances.’
Mr Dolgov stares at her. ‘Darling. No care about your personal circumstances. If up to me, I send you to Caravanserai UP today. Need GM there super pronto.’ His face cracks into a yellow-toothed smile. ‘My beautiful Caravanserai is big job for big GM. You are best GM I ever meet. I promote you to job.’
Ms N says nothing.
‘Unfortunately,’ Mr Dolgov continues, your Houston owners insist. “Only Ms N can turn around hotel like yours,” they say.’ Mr Dolgov rolls his eyes. ‘”Only Ms N can see problems”. Always, Ms N. This problem for me because I already hire expert to do refurbishment. Top expert. World expert. His name Mr Kevin Coatts.’
Of course, Mr Dolgov is saying Ms N’s full name, but I have omitted it here as Ms N is a modest and reclusive person who values her anonymity.
‘The refurbishment of this hotel will be a challenge.’ Ms N runs a finger around the dusty rim of the empty water feature and peers at it as if she has only just noticed that our highlight architectural landmark is looking like one of the ruined public urinals built across our historic capital by our former communist regime. ‘We will need all the help we can get. If you give me total control, I will give you a hotel you can be proud of once again.’
Suddenly Mr Dolgov’s smile is showing more yellow teeth than I am thinking can possibly fit in his mouth.
‘Of course you have total control,’ he says. ‘Mr Kevin Coatts will help you.’ He looks up. ‘Mr Coatts. Welcome.’
Only someone who is knowing Ms N for as long as I am knowing her would spot the deep breath she is taking when a tall, silver-haired man wearing shiny black shoes and a white open-necked shirt under a dark suit appears from behind the dried-up water feature and reaches out to shake her hand. He has twinkling blue eyes and tanned skin and is looking as if he has just been finishing a fashion shooting for a brand of men’s cologne. He towers over Ms N even when she stands up to greet him.
In fact, Mr Kevin Coatts is looking similar to how I am imagining our owner Mr Dolgov might look, before I am meeting him for the first time.
‘Well, then, hello,’ Mr Kevin Coatts says. He seizes Ms N’s hand and lifts it to his lips as if he is kissing it. ‘This little lady is the famous Ms N. I hear you achieved big results at our hotel in the country of C—.’
We buried some people like you below thousands of cubic metres of concrete, I think. That is how we achieved results.
But I do not say this out loud.
‘Mr Coatts will be independent consultant while you refurbish hotel,’ Mr Dolgov says. ‘He is experienced hotel consultant based in Paris. He do hundreds of hotel renovations. He will check everything, approve everything, control everything. When refurbishment is complete, and you are promoted to GM of new Caravanserai Ultra Platinum hotel, Mr Coatts take over as GM here. He highly motivated – to make renovation as good as damn near bloody perfect! I sure you will find him big help.’
Ms N looks up at Mr Kevin Coatts and gently withdraws her hand from where he has been kissing it. She is wearing her slightly inquisitive expression with a hint of a smile. ‘I am sure we shall have a wonderful working relationship,’ she says.
I look at Ms N in astonishment. How can she have total control of the refurbishment when Mr Kevin Coatts is checking everything, approving everything, and controlling everything? But instead of protesting, Ms N has ordered from the Lobby Bar a round of our famous Platinum Megastar gin and tonics, which Pierre our Director of Food and Beverages is bringing to the table looking as smart as ever with his straight back and small steps. Ms N is sharing these drinks with Mr Dolgov and Mr Coatts and even with me, although so far as I can see I have not contributed to the solving of this problem in any way.
When I look at Ms N chatting and smiling with Mr Dolgov and Mr Coatts, and when I see her order another round of the Platinum Megastar drinks, I feel confident that she has a plan.
Ms N is good at solving problems. One day I want to be like her.
Do feel free to take a look at Total Control on Amazon. Or if you would like to explore my other writing, my two most recent full-length books, available as paperbacks or e-books, are Seven Hotel Stories and Blood Summit.