Whatever anyone thinks of the BBC documentary, for the first time in eBook format, there is now this:
THE HOTEL — the original, real inside story of Claridges back in the days when it was the greatest hotel in the world.
After spending five months behind the closed doors of Claridges, THE HOTEL is an expose of life above and below stairs, an adventure into a secret world where the public is never permitted to go.
And where television cameras have never been.
I was given free, untethered access. No one told me where I could and could not go. No one told me what I could and could not write.
The year is 1995.
Join the Queen at a £170,000 dinner. Discover which guest once wanted to rent an elephant and which guests are no longer welcome. Meet the men who sneak ladies up to their rooms, and the lady who ditches her boyfriends at the front door. Take a ringside seat at the battle over £30,000 of truffles.
There are perhaps only a dozen hotels like this one anywhere in the world. There are perhaps only a dozen places that can daily create the illusion that is The Hotel.
Here’s what the critics said:
“Jeffrey Robinson illuminates the everyday drama of hotel folk. In this feudal society heroes, villains and jesters all paddle furiously while the surface remains serene.” — Alan Whicker
“Tantalizing glimpses of how the pampered half lives.” — Daily Mail
“This is what backstage life is like at hotels of this ilk, I haven’t seen it done better.” — Hilary Rubinstein, The Times
“Fascinating” — Mail on Sunday
“Robinson is a witty and cynical writer” — Sydney Sun Herald
“Simply astounding.” — Time Out
“Fascinating and insightful” — Library Journal
“Armchair travelers will delight.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Hotel buffs, make room on your shelves for Jeffrey Robinson’s confection of anecdotes about the backstairs life of our flagship among hotels de grand luxe.” — The Times
Here’s an excerpt:
No sooner had the Koreans departed than a very high profile Middle Eastern politician — a household name — moved into the Hotel for one night. The visit was handled with the strictest security. It was unannounced to the press and even Touzin only found out about it at the last minute. This time the threat assessment was high.
The first thing Adam Salter did when he arrived at the Hotel that night at 11 — once he’d changed into his dinner jacket — was to speak with the Duty Manager to find out what had been going on. That’s when he learned about the visit. After that, he went into Buckolt’s office to see who else was in the Hotel, before running off the day’s final statistics so that Touzin would have them at the morning meeting.
On duty with him was the Night Concierge Philip, the Night Auditor— who updated everyone’s bills overnight — two porters, Abel the night Room Service waiter, and the night chef. There were also two telephone operators, a maintenance man and the cleaning staff — four men in green overalls who polished all the marble floors and three men in orange overalls who scoured every inch of the kitchens. There was also a Timekeeper who doubled as the security man, making two rounds of the Hotel every night, carrying a key with a clock to guarantee that he made the necessary fire safety checks, seeing to it that doors which should be shut were shut, and that the Hotel was secure.
For many people, working nights took a lot of getting used to. Salter had been on Reception for six months before becoming Night Auditor, a job he held for nine months. It wasn’t easy for a single guy to adjust to the fact that he was going to sleep when everyone else was waking up and that he was waking up when everyone else was going to sleep. But he’d been Night Manager now for 14 months, and he figured he was as used to it as he was ever going to get. Except on his days off, when he tried to stay awake during the day and sleep at night, and then it wasn’t just nights that were tough, it was days too.
A few minutes past midnight, a call came in from a gentleman saying, “I’d like a room.”
The Hotel frowned on “off the street” business because there were too many things that could go wrong, too many unknown quantities that could upset regular guests. But as the evening wore on, empty rooms stayed empty, so Touzin instructed his Night Manager to use his discretion. If someone known to the Hotel needed a room, the Hotel should accommodate them. But when someone unknown to the Hotel rang up like that, asking for a room, Salter had only a few seconds to make up his mind. This time, hearing rowdy party noises in the background, he said, “I’m afraid there is nothing available tonight, sir.”
The gentleman was insistent. “Come on, all hotels keep rooms just in case…”
“Actually we don’t,” Salter explained, which happened to be the truth. If the Hotel could rent every room in the house, it would. “I’m sorry that we won’t be able to help you this time.”
Irked, the man slammed down the phone.
Seven minutes later, a gentleman arrived at the front door, carrying a suitcase. He rang the bell and was well dressed enough that Philip let him in.
“I don’t have a reservation,” he said with an American accent, “but I’m hoping you’ve got a room for the night….”
Salter said, “Let me check to see, sir. May I have your name, please? Have you stayed with us before?”
The man replied, “My name is Prendergast and no, I’ve not stayed here before.”
“Just a moment, sir.” Salter left him to wait with Philip while he looked to see that there was no one called Prendergast listed in the NTBT file, then to see which room he might have available. He came back to offer the gentleman a single at £220.
The man blenched, “£220 for the night? Thanks anyway,” picked up his bag and left.
Every night around 1, the Timekeeper locked the back door and Philip locked the front door. Salter then took the lift to the sixth floor and made the rounds of every corridor, working his way down, closing the fire doors. There were 42. He also checked the lights in the hallway and looked to see if call lights were on in any room.
By the time he came down, the function in the Ballroom was just drawing to a close. A couple stumbled up to him. “Room please,” the man said in a drunken slur. “Room for the night.”
Seeing that the lady was even more drunk than the gentleman — she was slumped against him — Salter was apologetic. “I’m terribly sorry, sir, but I’m afraid the Hotel is full tonight.”
“Don’t give me any rubbish,” the man said. “We want a room. Hotels are never full. There are always rooms. Please give us a room.”
Salter put on his most rueful face. “I’m terribly sorry sir, but there is nothing I can do.”
The man barked, “Let me speak to the manager.”
“I am the Night Manager, sir. Perhaps you would allow me to get a taxi for you.”
The man didn’t move.
Salter offered his arm to the woman, then realized that she was unconscious. “Is the lady all right?”
“Of course not,” the man complained. “Now can we have a room?”
Immediately, Salter took her in both his arms and gently lowered her to the floor. Then he summoned an ambulance. By the time it arrived, the woman’s eyes were open. The paramedics wanted her to go to the hospital, but she refused. “No hospital.”
Everyone pleaded with her to go.
“No hospital,” she kept saying. “No hospital.”
The medics couldn’t convince her. Salter couldn’t convince her. And the gentleman with her didn’t bother to try. So eventually, once the ambulance crew gave up and left, Salter asked Philip to find a taxi for her. When one came, they helped her into the cab.
That’s when she threw up and passed out again.
The furious driver gave Salter hell for shoving her a into his taxi.
With the woman fast asleep on the back seat, Salter got one of the night cleaners to help wash out the taxi.
As that was being done, a second cab pulled up to the front of the Hotel and a guest got out. Salter recognized him as a doctor and went up to him to explain the situation.
The doctor agreed to look at the woman and, after a very hasty check, he told Salter that, from what he could tell, the woman was simply drunk and needed to sleep it off.
Her escort, who didn’t seem to know her name or where she lived, now climbed into the cab and gave the driver the name of another hotel. The driver was still angry, but the man assured him he had plenty of money. Salter shut the door and, as the taxi pulled away, he thought to himself, so much for one night.
But it wasn’t to be.
Mrs. Amadou in room 318 rang to complain that someone had removed a large empty cardboard box from her room. Not having any idea what she intended to do with a large empty cardboard box at that hour, Salter apologized and said he would bring another up straight away. It took him 20 minutes of rummaging around the basement before he found one. He delivered it to her — she was bizarrely gleeful to have it — and wished her a good evening.
Then a call came in from a woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Bishop. She told Salter she was phoning from Chicago because she was extremely worried about her husband, whom she hadn’t been able to contact since early afternoon London time. “He’s supposed to be staying at the Hotel.”
Salter checked to see that, in fact, Mr. Roy Bishop was registered in Room 139. But, for the sake of client discretion, he didn’t tell her that. He simply said, “Please let me have your number and I will check to see if your husband is indeed here.”
She gave him her number and he promised to ring back.
After confirming that the phone number listed in the guest history matched the number the woman had given him, he dialed the room.
The line rang was engaged. He waited a few minutes, then tried again. It was still engaged. So he went upstairs and, not knowing what to expect, nervously knocked on the door.
There was no answer.
He knocked again, this time with a little more force, and again there was no answer.
“Please don’t be dead,” he said out loud.
He tried one more time, to no avail, then took his pass key and put it in the door. He opened it a crack and was about to announce his presence when someone inside demanded, “Who the hell is it?”
Salter whispered, “Thank you, God,” and explained to the man, “I’m terribly sorry to bother you, sir, this is the Night Manager.”
“What the hell is… just a minute.” The gentleman came to the door. “Who is it?”
Salter repeated, “The Night Manager, sir. Excuse me for waking you.”
Mr. Bishop couldn’t believe someone was there at this hour. “What do you want?”
“I’ve had Mrs. Bishop on the phone from Chicago saying she’s been trying all evening to get through and hasn’t been able to contact you.”
“Who? What?” He was genuinely confused. “My wife?”
“Yes, sir. She’s worried about you because she couldn’t get through…”
The man glanced towards the bed, made a face then said, embarrassedly, “It’s off the hook.”
Salter withdrew as Mr. Bishop promised to ring his wife immediately.
Next came a call from someone in Room 427, asking him to come upstairs right away. He was greeted at the room by a young couple — they were registered as Mr. and Mrs. Rice — and a young gentleman, whom he did not know. A woman was passed out on the bed. Rice explained that she was the young gentleman’s lady friend, that the four of them had been dining in the restaurant, had come back up to the room and she had simply passed out. He wanted to know, “Can we get her a room?”
Salter suggested, “I think we should get her a doctor.”
“She just needs some sleep,” Rice insisted.
“I think it would be wise if we rang for a doctor,” Salter said with authority, and reached for the phone at the side of the bed to dial the house physician.
On call every night for situations just like this, the doctor asked Salter to describe the woman’s condition and whether or not he knew what she’d eaten. At that point, the woman stirred. The easiest thing seemed to be to let the doctor speak directly to her, so Salter handed her the phone. The two talked for only a few seconds, until she motioned to Salter that the doctor wanted him. The Night Manager got on the line and the doctor said, “Ring for an ambulance and get her to an emergency room.”
Hanging up with the doctor, Salter dialed the Emergency Services to ask for an ambulance. While he was still on the phone, the woman went into some sort of fit.
The Rices and the other fellow decided — over Salter’s strenuous objections — to wait for the ambulance downstairs. They struggled to get her off the bed, along the corridor and into the lift. By the time they reached the lobby, she was screaming and totally out of control.
From their sentry post on the first floor, outside the Royal Suite, two Special Branch officers came racing down to see what was going on. Salter reassured them that there was nothing to be concerned about, that an ambulance was on the way.
It wasn’t until the ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over that the woman finally calmed down.
Except now she started demanding, “My other shoe.”
One of the paramedics asked, “What other shoe?”
“My other shoe,” she repeated. “I need my other shoe.”
Seeing that she was, in fact, wearing only one shoe, Salter said he’d get it for her. But when he looked around Room 427 there was no shoe to be found.
Nor was there any luggage.
Apparently, Mr. and Mrs. Rice had moved into the room without any personal belongings.
He now began to wonder if perhaps drugs might somehow be involved.
Downstairs, he apologized to the woman that he couldn’t find her shoe and asked to speak to Mr. Rice privately. “Do you know, sir, if she has a history of drug use.”
He, rather off-handedly, insisted she didn’t. “Look old man, why not put her in a room for the night, and put the bill on my room.”
Maybe if Rice’s room hadn’t been so empty… “I’m sorry,” Salter said. “I think she’s much too ill. I think she should go to hospital.“
The woman must have heard him because suddenly, like the woman a few hours earlier, she too began screaming, “No hospital.”
The ambulance crew said they couldn’t take her if she refused to go while Rice insisted that Salter give her a room.
Now Salter announced, “I’m afraid that if she won’t go to hospital with the ambulance, I will have to insist that you escort her out of the Hotel.”
While Rice and the other fellow conferred, one of the Special Branch guys told Salter that if he wanted them out of the Hotel he would escort them out.
A few minutes later, Rice sent the paramedics away. They got the woman on her feet and, with the help of the two officers, took her to a car parked down the street. The second gentleman got in and drove her away. Mr. and Mrs. Rice returned to their room. They checked out, luggage-less, early the next morning.
The Night Manager at the Ritz called to ask for a box of eggs as his chef did not have enough.
Salter asked, “How many do you need?”
The man said, “Thirty dozen.”
So at 2:20 in the morning, Salter loaned somebody 360 eggs.
Since he was in the kitchen anyway, Salter asked the night chef what he had handy. He ordered chicken and some pasta. Half an hour later, when it was ready, he went downstairs to fetch it, then took it back on a tray into the restaurant where he sat at a table on the mezzanine, near the entrance to the Orangerie.
For the first time in several nights, no guest rang down during his meal to ask for extra pillows or extra blankets, or toothpaste or soap or an ironing board. Unfortunately, being Night Manager also meant being night maid, and when someone came back to the Hotel late to find that, somehow, their room had not been serviced or that their bed had not been made, it was left to him to do that too.
Just as he was finishing his meal, the front door bell rang.
The gentleman staying in room 332 — a deluxe single — accompanied by another gentleman and three ladies came into the Front Hall and seemed as if they intended to stay there. At least they stayed there until Philip turned his back. When he looked again, they were gone. A few moments later, a call came down from Room 332 asking that a bottle of champagne be sent up.
The law governing hotel registration was quite specific — all guests had to be registered. If a guest arrived back at the Hotel with a newly acquired friend, intending that the friend would spend the night, the Hotel was obliged to insist that the friend also register. If they were in a single room, the Hotel would insist on moving them to a double. Failure to register a guest, or false registration, was especially serious, as far as Salter was concerned, because the law did not punish the Hotel. Instead, it levied fines on whoever should have registered the guest and failed to do so.
What’s more, the Hotel did not permit visitors in rooms after 11 pm That was policy. So Salter went up to Room 332, knocked on the door and asked to speak to the gentleman who was registered there.
He stepped out into the hallway, closing the door behind himself — so that Salter couldn’t see in — and wondered what the problem could possibly be.
Salter politely explained, “Unfortunately, sir, no one is permitted to visit the rooms at this hour. If you would like, however, drinks could be served in the Foyer.”
The gentleman told Salter, “That’s all right. My guests will be leaving.”
Thanking him for his understanding — and quietly grateful that the man hadn’t caused an embarrassing scene — Salter returned to the Front Hall and related the conversation to Philip.
Half an hour later, no one had yet come down from room 332.
Now, Salter dialed the room. The gentleman answered on the first ring. Salter informed him, “I’m afraid I will have to insist that your guests leave the room.” This was the delicate part, because in the end, there really wasn’t much he could do other than ring the police and possibly create a disturbance.
“Yes,” the gentleman answered. “Of course. I understand. No problem.”
Salter hung up, thinking he’d handled it well.
However, five minutes later, the gentleman was on the phone again. He wanted to know, “Why must the ladies leave?”
“Because it is strictly against hotel policy for unregistered guests to visit the rooms at this hour.”
The gentleman responded, “But I am with my very best client. All he wishes to do is have a drink and a little nap with the ladies. So perhaps we should take an additional room.”
Salter responded, “I’m afraid there is nothing else available.”
The gentleman abruptly changed his tack. “If that is the case, I am afraid that I shall be forced to make a formal complaint about you to the management.”
“As you like, sir. But I will have to ask again that your guests leave.”
“They will be leaving,” the gentleman confirmed, and slammed down the phone.
Some 25 minutes later, the gentleman from 332, his best client and their three lady friends arrived in the lobby. The gentleman announced, “I will be checking out,” tapped his toe while Salter prepared his bill — to show how anxious he was to leave — and settled his bill. Salter asked if they required a taxi. The gentleman said no and, with the other four, walked away into the night.
To many hotels, allowing unregistered guests upstairs doesn’t matter. Their feeling is that, as long as someone pays for a room, he or she is entitled to do whatever they want. Some of those same hotels don’t mind if hookers work the bar or sit around the lobby. It is, in a way, all part of the service.
But not here.
If someone didn’t like the local ground rules, they were free to go elsewhere. The Hotel made no bones about it. Right or wrong, this was the way they played the game.
Of course, some clients figured it was a pretty good game, and were more creative than others. One fellow in particular used to introduce his lady friends to Salter. “She’s my chiropodist.” It never worked. But it amused the client to keep trying.
A Special Branch officer, staying in Room 633, had gone off duty, gone back to his room, taken a nap and then decided to go out for a few hours. Carelessly — and absolutely in violation of all regulations — he opted to hide his gun and holster under his unmade bed.
When he returned to the Hotel, the gun was gone.
He couldn’t admit this to anyone on the security team — losing his gun meant losing his job — but he needed someone who could help him find it, so he confided in Adam Salter. “I went out at around midnight and the gun was under my bed. I came back, the bed was turned down and the gun wasn’t there.”
Salter instantly knew something was amiss because there were no maids on duty at that hour. There wasn’t anyone in the Hotel to turn down the bed. He went to the computer and printed out the key log, which showed that the floor maid had gone into the room at 7:25 pm — while the officer was still on duty — and that no one else had gone into the room until 2:49 am, which was when the officer returned.
Except that the card used at 2:49 that morning was not the card issued for Room 633. It was a pass key. That suggested to Salter someone on the staff had been in there. But the only staff members who had pass keys at that hour were the night waiter, the Duty Manager and himself. Even more oddly, the code on the card that was used to open the door did not correspond to the code on any of their pass keys.
He asked for the card that the officer had, and the moment he saw it he had a hunch he knew what must have happened. Checking the computer log again, he saw that a pass key had been used to enter Room 533 — a vacant room — at the same time the officer claimed to have gone into his room.
Salter asked the officer, “Could you have somehow gone to the wrong room?”
And when the two of them went to 533, there was an unmade bed, with the gun and holster under it.
Abel the Portuguese night waiter — a short, stocky man with very broad shoulders and powerful forearms, the kind of fellow you’d want to have on your side if there was any trouble — also came on duty at 11.
He collected his pantry keys from the Timekeeper and signed for a room pass key at the Cashier’s office, where it was kept in a safe. He then inventoried his stock of alcohol — wine, champagne and whiskys — although, these days, he didn’t sell as much alcohol as he used to because every room had a mini bar. But then, some people were put off by the mini-bar — everything there was expensive, like the small jar of jellybeans that cost £8.50 — and only felt they got their money’s worth when they had personal service.
Room Service was busy until around 2 am or so, then stayed quiet until breakfast orders began trickling in, usually between 5 and 6 am. Twice a night he collected the order cards on which clients ticked off coffee or tea, hot cereal or cornflakes, toast or pastry, and that they hung on their door before they went to sleep. He picked them up at 1 and then again at 3:30, not so much for the clients’ convenience — because clients could always ring for the Floor Service waiter when they woke up — but because it gave him a chance to get the orders prepared before the rush started at 7.
Dressed in a blue dinner jacket with black trousers and a black tie, he’d been on nights for nine years, and the routine suited him just fine. He was home every morning in time to take his kids to school, slept from 10 to 2, got up for a few hours, then cat-napped for another couple before coming back to the Hotel.
Working out of the pantry on the third floor, he served a few light dinners — two couples came back from the theater and there was one very late arrival. Then nothing happened until 3 when a client rang and ordered, “A dozen Yorkshire puddings, please.”
“Yes, sir.” Abel waited for the next line. “A dozen Yorkshire puddings…” When the client didn’t say anything, he added, “Is that all?”
“No, of course not.” The client looked at Abel as if he’d said something foolish. “I’d like a bottle of water too.”
Half an hour later, a guest staggered in — he’d obviously been drinking — got to his room and rang for Room Service. Abel came in and the fellow chose a full dinner off the menu. However, when Abel returned with it there was no answer at the man’s door. He knocked a second time, waited as he was supposed to, then gently opened the door and looked inside. The man was passed out in bed, clutching a bottle of beer. Abel decided he wasn’t going to take the dinner away — there was nothing else he could do with it — so he took the trolley in, put it next to the bed and announced, “Dinner is served.”
By 5, he was preparing the first round of morning coffee in each pantry. Beginning with the top floor and working his way down — because it was always easier to walk down rather than the other way — he also checked to see that enough trolleys were ready, with table cloths, cups and saucers, sugar bowls, silverware and napkins.
Going through the breakfast cards, he rang the chef to get bread, croissants, brioches, rolls, and whatever else he needed to set up each pantry for the morning shift. Just as he was finished with that, an American client ordered something called shredded eggs.
Abel said, “Certainly sir,” although he wasn’t sure what it was and had to ask the chef.
Except the chef didn’t know it either. “Never heard of it.”
It sounded vaguely familiar to Abel — he was positive he’d served it to someone before — and he tried to recall what it was. Taking a wild guess, he told the chef, “Eggs fried in butter in a small dish, where the white is hard and the yellow is soft.”
The order came up from the kitchen just like that, and Abel delivered it to the room.
Seeing it, the client broke into a wide grin. “You are probably the only hotel in the world that knows how to do this.”
The two young guys who worked as night porters gathered any shoes that had been left outside the rooms to be polished, took them to the luggage porters’ room and polished them. Later, they went back through the Hotel, leaving the shoes where they belonged and distributing the morning newspapers, which arrived at the front door by 6.
The two women in the switchboard room on the mezzanine floor had a television to watch throughout the night — although there wasn’t much on — and one of them liked to knit. If they weren’t answering phones, they were talking, or just staring at the wall where six clocks showed the time in London, Paris, New York, Sydney, Tokyo and San Francisco. The maintenance man spent the night in his basement office and only appeared if there was some sort of emergency.
A limousine pulled up.
The driver opened the rear door. An extremely attractive, well-dressed woman in her early 20s with long blonde hair stepped out. The driver then rang the Hotel’s bell.
Sliding across the rear seat was a guy about her age, with a slightly dishevelled look. He was wearing an old raincoat, jeans and well-worn loafers with no socks.
Philip unlocked the door to let them in.
She motioned to the young man to take care of the driver, and stepped inside, moving quickly through the Front Hall. Without waiting for him, she hurried past the Concierge’s desk, past the main lift and past Reception, turned the corner into the side corridor where there was a smaller elevator — traditionally referred to as the Lady’s Lift — and disappeared inside, on her way up to her room.
The staff knew her well. She’d been a regular at the Hotel for years. She claimed to be some sort of model or actress — it depended on whom she was speaking to — but she never seemed to do anything when she was at the Hotel, except sleep all day and party all night. She’d leave around 11 and invariably come back by 4. More often than not, there was a limo. More often than not, there was a young man left at the door to pay the driver.
Now he wandered in, but only got as far as the Front Hall. “May I help you?” Philip asked.
Looking around, puzzled by the fact that his new friend wasn’t anywhere to be seen, he announced, “I’m with Miss Rhodes.”
“Are you registered at the Hotel, sir?”
“Ah… no I’m not.” He couldn’t figure out where she’d gone. “What room is she in, please?”
Salter walked up to say, “Good evening, sir. I’m terribly sorry, but no guests are permitted in the rooms after 11 pm.”
The young man looked at these two. “Can I just ring her room….”
“It might be better,” Salter suggested, “if you rang back in the morning.”
“But you see… I mean, she…”
“I’m terribly sorry, sir,” Salter said, “but if you’re not a registered guest…”
The fellow stood there for several moments, his mouth open, as it dawned on him that he’d been had. “Can I just use the house phone…”
Philip offered, “May I ring for a cab for you, sir?”
“A taxi, sir?” Philip repeated.
It took another few moments before the guy gave up.
Once he was gone, Salter and Philip looked at each other. Neither of them had any idea how much the guy had blown at the club and then on the limousine, but both of them could imagine what he was thinking on the ride back to the Hotel, his mind filled with visions of Miss Rhodes and room service.
Salter raised his eyebrows and Philip merely shrugged.
Miss Rhodes did this all the time.
Throughout the night, Philip quietly recorded in a log the name of everyone who came in and everyone who went out, and all the number plates of the cars parked out front. It was one of those things that the Hotel did for no specific reason, except that someone decided a long time ago that someday it might be important to have such information.
At 4:30, an Aston Martin DB-7 pulled up to the front of the Hotel. The driver did not switch off the engine, he simply sat at the wheel, trying to peer inside the Hotel. Philip walked outside to see what was happening. The car window rolled down and the man at the wheel called out, “I want your best suite. The Royal Suite.”
Bending down to look inside the car — he didn’t recognize the man, who was alone — Philip said, “Certainly sir. May I have your name please? I’ll see if it’s available.”
The man introduced himself.
His name rang a vague bell to Philip, but he didn’t know why.
“If you can’t help me,” the man said, “I’ll try some other places.” He reeled off the names of three well-known hotels.
“I’ll speak with the Manager and see if we can sort something out, sir.”
The man waved, “I can’t wait,” put the car in gear, shouted, “I’ll be back,” and pulled away.
Philip related the story to Salter — who also said the name sounded familiar — and together they went to the computer to check the guest histories. Sure enough, there it was — on the NTBT list!
Apparently, some years ago, this gentleman had checked into the Hotel, taken a large suite and spent more than a week there, refusing to let the maids service the room. He ran up a huge room service bill — money didn’t seem to be an object because he paid his bill in full — but he destroyed the bed, ruined several pieces of furniture and smoked so many cigars that the rooms on either side couldn’t be used for several days because they smelled so bad. He was promptly awarded a place on the banned list.
Now here he was again.
“If he comes back,” Salter said, “we won’t open the door.”
A dozen minutes later, the Aston Martin pulled up at the front door. The driver waited for someone to come out — Philip and Salter peeked around the corner and saw that he was still alone — and then he started honking his horn.
When no one came to see what he wanted after more than five minutes of constant noise, he threw his car into gear and, obviously annoyed, sped away.
Immediately, Salter got on the phone and rang the three hotels the man had mentioned to Philip, to tell the night staff there that a potential problem was heading their way.
Salter was still on the line when a call came in to the switchboard at 4:40 from a man who said that he wished to book the entire hotel for a wedding the following week. The operator explained the nature of the call, so he took it. “The entire hotel, sir? I’m afraid that is impossible.”
The caller snapped, “Do you realize how much money you’re turning down?”
“Sir, I’m afraid there is no way I can take that booking. May I suggest you ring back after 8 am and ask to speak to the General Manager. I’m sure he will do everything he can to help you.”
“I want the entire hotel. I will ring back.”
But he never did.
No sooner had Salter hung up than a man arrived at the front door, wearing overalls, saying that he was the contract plasterer. Because it seemed like such a strange hour for someone to show up for work, Salter asked him to wait outside while he checked to see if anyone was expecting him. Unable to find any instructions to say that a plasterer would be working in the Hotel that morning, he explained to the man that he could not allow him inside, and suggested he return later. The supposed plasterer went away. No one ever saw him again.
The front bell rang again at 5. Two police officers from West End Central were there to report that they’d just arrested a drunk in the alley behind the Hotel. He’d identified himself as an employee of the Hotel. Bizarrely, the police explained, the man had two fresh trout stuffed down the front of his trousers. Salter took the details. Needless to say, the man’s employment was terminated by 9 am.
At 5:15, the front bell rang yet again.
A fairly tall man wearing a shabby sports jacket asked to see his friend Susan who was staying, he said, in 601-602. Without unlocking the door, Philip wondered, “Do you have the lady’s surname?”
The man thought for a moment, “Maybe it’s Bakersfield.”
Philip said, “You’re not sure?”
“Yes,” he answered. “It’s Bakersfield. She’s in 601 and 602.”
The name didn’t ring a bell, at least he didn’t recall having seen it when he checked the guest register earlier that evening, so he left the gentleman standing on the pavement while he went to inform Salter. Together they went through the guest list. There was a woman in 601-602, but her name wasn’t Bakersfield. Nor was there anyone in the Hotel with an even slightly similar name.
Returning to the front door, Philip informed the man that his friend was not a guest at the Hotel.
Without saying anything more, the man walked away.
However, five minutes later he was back, now demanding to be taken to 601-602 because his friend Susan was waiting for him.
Philip apologized that he could not allow the gentleman into the Hotel.
But the man was insistent. “That’s the correct room number. Now let me in.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” Philip turned and walked away.
The man eventually left, only to return ten minutes later, wanting to use the telephone because he was absolutely sure that Susan was staying at the Hotel.
Salter explained that non-residents were not permitted to enter the Hotel at such an early hour and that even if his friend Susan were there — which he insisted she wasn’t — there would have to be instructions from her to allow a guest in. As there were no such instructions, Salter said, “I’m afraid there is nothing I can do.”
The gentleman went away.
Half an hour later, a call came in to the switchboard asking to be connected to Rooms 601-602.
Unaware that a man had been refused entry at the front door three times, the operator nevertheless followed strict instructions and requested, “May I have the name of the guest you’re calling, please.”
The man on the other end of the line told her, “Susan.”
She said, “Susan who?”
He said, “It’s… my friend Susan… er, Bakersfield.”
Sensing that something was wrong — after 20 years at the Hotel switchboard, she could tell which calls were legitimate and which ones were suspect — she glanced at her computer screen to see that there was no one named Bakersfield registered at the Hotel. “I’m sorry sir, but I’m unable to put you through.”
He hung up, but rang back right away, now ordering her to put him through to 601-602.
Again she politely refused. And this time when he hung up, she called Salter to tell him.
Enough was enough, he decided, and called the police. He informed them that they had a nuisance problem and described the man. The desk sergeant promised to notify the patrol, who would keep an eye out for him. “If he comes back, ring us straight away.”
But the man did not return. Nor did he ever phone again.
The only thing Salter could do now was to make a point of leaving a note in his log so that Touzin could bring it up at his morning meeting, and remind all the hall porters, everyone working the front desk and all of the telephone operators that someday the man might return.
By 6, Salter was beginning to think about early arrivals and early departures. He’d just finished putting all the morning reports together for Touzin when Mr. Saunders in Room 522 rang to ask for a lot of extra towels. Salter said, “Certainly sir,” fetched some from a supply cupboard and brought them to the room. When he got there, he found Mr. Saunders holding bloodied towels to his face. Salter asked what happened.
Saunders said, “I fell over a chair and I think I’ve broken my nose.”
“I’ll call a doctor, sir, right away.”
Saunders said, “I am a doctor.”
“Oh.” That stopped him. “Is there anything I can do?”
Just then, Abel arrived with a bucket of ice.
Taking the extra towels from Salter and the ice from Abel, Saunders said, “You’ve done it, thank you,” and shut the door.
A few minutes later, a very well-dressed Middle Eastern gentleman rang the bell and asked to see the manager. Philip escorted him into the Front Hall where Salter greeted him. The gentleman explained, “I would like a deluxe room.”
Salter asked, “Have you a reservation sir?”
“Certainly sir. May I have your name, please. I’ll check if anything’s available. Have you ever stayed with us before?”
He gave Salter his name and answered, “Yes. I have stayed here often.”
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