Most nights were indistinguishable. I passed through one into the next with all the incumbent exhaustion of an insomniac watching a series of after-hours infomercials.
But one night, a night that began as lackluster as countless other nights before it, something happened.
Just after Id come in for my shift at 11:00 pm, a gentleman of impeccable taste and style checked in. I felt my jaw drop as I took in his elegant black suit and blindingly shiny shoes. His indulgent crop of wavy black hair was combed back in a style that made him look like a film actor from the Golden Era. He had a well-trimmed goatee that accentuated his narrow face in the most aesthetically pleasing of ways. He, unlike most, smiled widely at me, and asked for a quiet room facing away from the street.
”Not a problem, sir, ” I assured him. I was suddenly acutely aware of my ridiculous circular bellhop cap and matching bowtie. ”All of our rooms are quiet. There are only three rooms in use tonight, and two of them are drunken blokes that Im sure passed out as soon as they were checked in. ”
”Excellent, ” the suave man said in a silky voice. ”Anything open on the…sixth floor? ”
”Sir, you can have the whole floor to yourself, if it pleases you. ”
”You are very accommodating, ” the man said. He stared at me a moment longer than necessary, and I tried not to fidget. His gaze was a piercing laser of blue. ”I won forget it, ” he swore. ”Is the sixth room available? ”
” I clarified.
”It is indeed.
” Feeling almost self-conscious, I grabbed a pen and the huge volume that served as our guest registry and flipped to the page for November 1st.
”Just let me check you in. We
e quite traditional here. ”
”Traditional ” sounded more professional and dignified than ”my boss is too cheap to pay for a computer system, ” therefore it had become my word of choice.
”Shall I? ” the man asked politely. ”So that you don have to run your hand through the ink? ”
”I—I beg your pardon? ” I stammered.
e left-handed, aren you? ” the man asked, nodding at the pen I was holding with my left hand. ”An old…friend of mine was, too. He used to hate how hed end up with ink all over the side of his hand. I was only trying to be helpful, I assure you, but if this goes against hotel policy, I understand. ”
”No, sir, ” I said quickly, giving him an apologetic smile. ”Forgive me, sir, Im just not used to perceptive guests! Yes, please! ” I spun the book around so that it was facing him, and handed him the pen.
He smiled at me again, and on the line for Room 606, he scripted one perfect word: Gιԃҽσɳ
He paid in cash. Most of our guests did. But he was the furthest thing from our typical guest, and I was enthralled.
”Shall we? ” I asked, probably too enthusiastically.
We took the lift up to his assigned room, and the whole while I was attempting to get a good look at his beautiful black suit without coming off like I was ogling him. As we stepped out of the lift, he grinned.
”Armani, ” he said. ”Next seasons design. ”
”How did you manage that? ”
”I know a guy. ”
”Giorgio Armani. ”
I opened the door to the room and set his only bag (black leather that matched his shoes) on the foot of the queen bed. I assumed I was dismissed and turned to go.
”Thank you, Ted,
” the man named Gideon said. I turned back, and he placed a folded bill in my hand.
e a good man. And just so you know, luck can be changed. ”
I stared at the man, astonished, and didn realize until hed softly shut the door that I was out in the hallway. Alone.
How had he known my..? I looked down. The shiny ”Ted ” name badge blinked up at me in the dim light.
Oh. Right. Of course.
As I walked back to the lift, slightly dazed, I opened my hand. The bill he had given me sported the face of Benjamin Franklin.
* * *
A fire started in the Penthouse. It was almost 3:00 in the morning when I got the call: ”Hey, dude, can you come up here? The carpets, like, I don know, burning or something. ” Then, in the background: ”Dude, get your phone out! Those flames are frigin sweet! ”
I raced up to the seventh floor. By the smell of it, the drunk frat boys inhabiting the room had spilled alcohol on the carpet then dropped their cigarette butts in the same vicinity. Brilliant. Lots of smoke. And it had been such a lovely, cream-colored shag carpet, too. I was able to put out the fire easily enough – in fact, the drunks could have put it out even more easily, had they not been so drunk – but the carpet was ruined and an entire wall was blackened and singed.
I wanted, badly, to make the wankers leave, but unfortunately, they were very rich wankers, which is why they had reserved the Penthouse for their college party in the first place. So much for hotel policy. If a guest causes a great disturbance, puts another guests life in danger, or causes any kind of harm or damage to the room in which he is staying or the building itself, including fire escapes, he is to be asked to leave. (Its all there in the policy manual, page 34, paragraph 3, lines 5 through 7.) I knew from past experience, however, that these rules did not apply to wealthy guests. Therefore, I was forced to call my boss, Red Toulouse. He was less than thrilled.
”The carpets toast?! ” he shouted at me over the phone. ”What the hell, man? Couldn you have gotten up there any faster? ”
”Mr. Toulouse, ” I said as politely as I could manage, ”with all due respect, sir, the group of them probably sat gawking at the flames for a full five minutes before they even called the front desk. I ran as quickly— ”
”Don you go blaming this on the guests, Teddy! ” Red yelled at me. I could just picture his great bald boulder of a head turning purple with rage. ”Its your job to be there for them! Its your job not to screw up! Not the other way around! ”
”Yes, I know, sir. ”
e lucky I ain gonna fire your British ass! But I don feel like coming down there tonight, so Ill write you up next time I see you. ”
”Very good, sir, ” I said. ”Thank you for not sacking me. ”
”Ah, shut up! ” Red said. The sound of his receiver banging down made my ear drums bounce.
”Everything alright? ” came a soft, silky voice from the other side of the desk.
I turned, startled.
”Oh, sir, Im so sorry, ” I chirped. ”Did all the ruckus wake you? Your room is practically right below the Penthouse. I do apologize. There was a fire. ” I felt my eyes widen as I heard the alarming words leave my mouth. Quickly, I sought to amend my nonchalance: ”A small fire! Very small! Very small and past tense! Erm, there was a small fire in the Penthouse, but I can assure you, it is no longer a threat. ”
Oh, bravo. That was well said.
To my surprise, Gideon laughed. ”The Penthouse neer-do-wells indulging in the champagne, hmm? ”
”Yes, ” I answered, relieved by his lack of abhorrence or anger. ”A bit too much, if I may say so. ”
”Par for the course for your evening, Im sure, ” Gideon said. ”But Ted, I wasn inquiring about the state of the hotel. I meant, is everything alright with you? It sounded like the person on the phone was giving you some real grief. ”
I flinched. He had heard Red reaming me. Lovely.
”Oh, yes, well, hes allowed, ” I explained. ”That was my boss. I have to call him if anything goes wrong here, and a depleted fire extinguisher and a charcoal stain the size of a kiddy pool on the Penthouse floor are certainly on the something wrong list. He was none too happy, as Im sure you can imagine. ”
Gideon shook his head, his expression grim. ”I don have to imagine. I heard him. ”
”Oh, ” I said, suddenly embarrassed. I looked down at the phone on the desk. ”Yes. ”
”He doesn value you, Ted. You deserve better. ”
My head jerked up, causing a painful pop in my neck. I winced. ”You think so? ”
”Of course I think so,
” Gideon said.
e a human being with a soul. Not a machine. Not a punching bag. You deserve all this world can offer. You have free will — now you just need the moxie to reach out and take it, whatever the cost. ”
”Cost? ” I repeated. ”What do you mean, exactly? ”
Gideon smiled at me, a pleased gleam in his icy blue eyes. ”Its late, Ted. Explaining anything now would be too much for you to wrap your head around. Well talk some other time. ”
I stared at him, mouth hanging open a bit. ”What—? How? You don know me. ”
”Not yet. But I know where to find you, ” Gideon said, pushing the button for the lift. ”You still work here, isn that right? ”
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