“Have you ever heard that joke, Mr. Jameson?” asked Toby, as he clung to me like a leech. And I don’t mean that metaphorically. Every time the Hongkonger spoke, I died a little inside. If anyone cared, one could see I was much paler around the young man.
I replied in the monotone, “No, Toby. I’ve never heard that one before.”
“Doesn’t it remind you of this cock up party?”
“What?” said I looking like I’d sucked up a lime.
“A cock up party,” he repeated, ignorant of his err.
“Uh no, Toby. And it’s called a cocktail party. Not a ‘cock up’ party.”
Toby then produced a full grin and shook his head in understanding. “Thank you, Mr. Jameson. English isn’t my first language.”
“So you’ve said.” For the millionth time. My eye suddenly spun with the revolving door, and I recognised a guest, and smiled with relief. Her raincoat dragged in the evening air, which I lapped up like a dog. “Ah, excellent! Mrs. Brennan is here.” A fine woman. One with class. “Go back to your station, and accompany her to her floor.”
“Yes, Mr. Jameson.” He smiled wider, and bowed. But he didn’t scamper off to the elevator until I flicked my wrist and motioned for him to leave my presence. As he ran off, his long black hair wagged about like a puppy’s tail; far too chipper.
I returned to Susan’s side as she finished checking in a guest. The law school dropout looked up at me with her green eyes and a subtle smile bringing colour back to my face. I liked Susan. She was capable, formidable, and level-headed. Not to mention as sharp as most rectified spirits.
“Did he tell the joke alright?” she asked.
“I’m not sure he knows what a joke is. I think I’m going to have to let him go.”
“Why? He’s just trying to get you to smile. God knows we all try.”
I raised a brow, “I smile all the time.”
“Oh really? Do you hurt yourself?”
To prove her wrong I tried to smile but I strained a muscle, and think it looked more like a grimace.
I sighed, changing the subject, “Who did you just check in? I didn’t see his face.”
“Mr. Matsui,” she said whipping back her blond hair, and checking the register, “Room 1807.”
“Ah, Mr. Matsui. The bastard. Is he attending the party?”
“Yes. Max just took his bags up. And he confirmed Mr. Matsui is the new Japanese ambassador.” Susan said pleasantly.
“Ugh,” I retched, “The nerve of that man. He’s not even Japanese! He’s a bloody Chinese exile, and the foreign bastard has the audacity to stay at this hotel?”
“You’re a foreigner too. Remember?”
“Oh hardly. Less so than Mr. Matsui. Less so than Toby.”
“Oh my gawd, Mr. Jameson!” Susan chided, “Toby lived in Hong Kong for fifteen years. He’s lived here for six years to your five. And you got lost on the subway just two weeks ago, so which of you do you think is—”
“Alright fine! Fine! You’ve made your point. I’m foreign. You’re lucky I don’t write you up.”
“You never write me up.”
About to march away with what was left of my pride, I stopped suddenly, recalling something Susan said moments ago. “Wait… why did you put Matsui in 18o7?” Although Susan hadn’t worked here more than two years, and had no intention of staying at the Baron Frobisher forever, she knew better than to put a VIP on the 18th floor. And as if by instinct I felt a man of standing should have a suite whether I disliked him or not.
I continued, “If he’s a Japanese ambassador then—”
“I know, Mr. Jameson, I know. But he was adamant about the room. He wanted 1807.”
“Why? That’s a little odd don’t you think?”
“I try not to get involved in peoples’ business.” Susan said flatly, buffing her fingernails; her eyes glazing over now.
“Ha! That’s a bloody lie. You gossip more than anyone in this hotel. Apart from that one girl. What’s-her-name…” and I snapped my fingers trying to conjure up the name from my memory. “Katherine? Karina? Starts with a ‘k’ I think. Marcus’ sister… Bit of a deviant.”
Indifferently, Susan said, “I don’t look for the scandals Mr. Jameson.”
“I suppose they find you, do they?”
“People seem to find me very approachable.”
“I’m not sure I believe you. Anyway, perhaps Jean knows the girl’s name.”
Determined and undeterred by Susan’s apathy and inflammatoire, I left the front desk to quest after the girl’s name. Of course, I also had to check that the venue for the party was about ready. But I had no doubt that it was. The ballroom was always spectacular. Jean saw to that.
“Don’t start a fight!” Susan hollered.
“I won’t!” I called back. I hated the Frenchman. I just wasn’t sure why, or even when our feud came about.
I didn’t have to go outside, and it was a short walk from the main entrance to the Lamb & Valiant, the hotel’s premier restaurant. And just inside, was the esteemed and arrogant Maître d’: Jean-Gilbert Montmartre. He looked up from his work to greet a customer with a smile. But when he realised it was me, he looked down as quickly as possible, and may have been tempted to hide behind the desk. Though it was too late.
“Jean-Gilbert!” I said from a yard away.
Realising he could not escape, he looked back up with a crooked grin and stood with welcome arms, “Henri! I’d hug you, but... ” and he let his voice trail away as if I understood what he meant. And I did. He meant that he’d rather not touch me with his grotty little claws. “What brings you to ze Lamb? You never come to see me.”
“I know. Once a day… isn’t often enough.”
“N’est-ce pas?” He laughed heartily, and I joined him, but through our laughter, and our pleasantries, we couldn’t stand to be in the same room. I wanted to tear his throat out like some feral thing.
Our fake chortles ended abruptly. And our hatred for one another shone through.
“You look pale,” Jean whispered, “are ze penthouse swingers finally getting to you?”
“No,” I said mum, “But you look pale as well. Did they run out of your S.T Dupont cigarettes at Davidoff’s?”
“Of course not!”
And we took a few moments to glare. Our seething anger dissipating,
Jean at last inquired, “So, what do you want, Henri?”
“I’m checking up on you, Jean. As is my job. Is the… ballroom ready? The food? Invited guests should be arriving shortly.”
“Oui, c’est fini.”
I paused, not sure if I should stay any longer and make the query.
“Is zat all?”
“Actually no. That girl… the chatter-box… Marcus' sister…”
“Yes, that’s the one! Katalina. Make sure she doesn’t get in here. She causes too much trouble at these events. Remember the New Year's Eve fiasco?”
“Oui, it was… quite awful. Even disgusting... But I am not a bouncer, Henri. And unruly guests fall under your purview.”
Jean stood there with his chest puffed up, looking as pompous as ever. But I didn’t reply. Instead we both just glared again.
Coming back to the front desk, I sat down next to Susan, grateful for the extended lull this evening. And on a Friday night that was a blessing, since Leila hadn’t shown at 5 when she was scheduled to, forcing me to work overtime. Unreliable bitch. Forcing me to wait until Tim arrived to relieve me. And that wouldn’t be until 9!
However, Joelle had returned from her coffee break, and she doffed her red trenchcoat, and saddled it on a third chair behind the desk. Her brunette curls wisped around as she sat down to join us. She was an airhead without a doubt. And a rumour had spread that she was schtooping Mr. Harrison.
“Remind me to tell Jimmy and Ernesto to prevent that Katalina girl from entering the cocktail party.” And I motioned with my head to the doormen standing outside the revolving doors.
“Mm, I don’t know who that is,” said Susan who was focused on her nails.
“Still here, Mr. Jameson?” Joelle beamed.
“Yes. And I expect I will be here until Tim arrives, as I explained when you began your shift,” and then I muttered, trying to rub my headache away, “If your memory extends that far.”
“You must be exhausted. It’s terrible.”
“A real shame,” Susan added sarcastically.
“So, how does the ballroom look, Mr. Jameson?” asked Joelle, who expected a long-winded report on decorations and table settings and what not, which I was the least bit inclined to share, had I indeed seen it for myself.
“Alas, I didn’t actually see it. But Jean informed me that the room was ready, and he didn’t indicate there was anything wrong. Unfortunately I can trust Jean to do his job, and to do it well.”
“Oh, well what about the food? Does Gino have everything prepared? What are the specials?” pried Joelle.
“I didn’t speak to Gino, Joelle. I know better than to disturb the man when he’s working. But as always, I’m sure the food is wonderful.”
I liked Gino, he was a good honest man. And a fine chef, although a little generous with the Cajun spice. And with his employees too. Recently, I had been shocked to learn that Gino refused to fire Marcus who had spat on the shoes of Ziti Williams. Chairman of Kernig Utilities. Even more surprising was—
“Mr. Jameson?” said Joelle.
“Yes, what it is?”
“A fax came in.” Although I could see that clearly.
“Give me that,” said Susan, snatching the sheet of paper from the twenty-one year-old’s hands. She scanned it quickly, before handing it to me, and stating, “It’s an ultimatum.”
I smoothed the wrinkled parchment with my fingers, and held it on the desk before me. “It’s from the Waldorf,” I said in awe.
“What does it say?” inquired Joelle.
“It’s from Leila. She writes:” I mumbled, squinting at the fine cursive, “Have interviewed at the Waldorf. Subsequently offered position of concierge. Will accept job in three days unless my…” I paused, temporarily stunned by what words I knew were coming next. “...my terms are met.” Susan and I both exchanged wide-eyed looks. “Bloody hell.”
Susan wheeled her chair closer and whispered with genuine concern, “Do you think she’s bluffing?”
“Maybe.” I leaned in to answer. “But why would Van Buren fire Weatherford?”
“Well… Mr. Weatherford is 90 years old. Surely he’s—”
“No, he’d never retire. And after his hip surgery? He’s more spry than ever.”
“What were the terms?”
“She wanted double what you’re earning. Not even I make that much.”
“But she knows things!” Susan hissed.
“I know, I know!” said I, hushing her up, before she batted my hands away.
Bloody Van Buren. The devil incarnate, and my enemy. Plucking an ambitious and naïve girl like Leila. Obviously he’d have his hands full with the unstable young woman, but she knew almost all of the ins and outs of the hotel. And she would sell her secrets if she thought she could get a raise out of it. Oh that Van Buren was devious. I hated him more than Matsui, and Montmartre combined. Whenever I thought of evil, I thought of Van Buren. The perfect charming tosser.
“I think I could be the concierge,” Joelle said dreamily, to no one in particular.
I looked up quickly to quash the girl’s singular vacant thought, “Nonsense Joelle, you’re far too young and vapid.”
Joelle didn’t seem offended by the remark, and even seemed to agree with me, judging by her cheery expression. I leaned back into my conversation with Susan who asked me, “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know!”
“Do we want to involve Mr. Harrison?”
“No no, god no. That’s the last thing I want to do.”
“Well what then?”
“Incoming!” Joelle chimed in.
Looking up from the huddle under the desk, I saw through the reflections in the glass, and past the now slow drizzle of rain; shine in the soft incandescent light outside the first two stretch limousines. Which had pulled up to the building for tonight’s party.
“Obviously the midtown traffic didn’t slow them down,” I announced with bitter disappointment.
“I guess the construction on Lex is finally cleared up.” Susan replied.
Suddenly I didn’t have time to think about the situation with Leila and the devil. For the next little while I would be knee-deep in the odourous centrifuge of New York’s rich and powerful. Checking them into the hotel, and shepherding the lions through the lobby to the ballroom. All the while, catering to their every whim.
Standing up now, and massaging my cheeks I said to Susan, “Call Kiki. Put her on stand-by. If I can’t solve it in the next thirty-six hours, then she’s our only hope.”
Obediently, Susan went to her telephone and summoned a dial tone from kitchen.