Changes for the Château
by David S. Atkinson
Christien listened, pressing his ear to the door of the American’s room. He could hear the buffoon showering, but he knew that much already. That’s why he had come. Inserting the passkey into the old lock as quietly as it would go, he glanced a dignified look down the hall to be sure no other guests were about.
Of course, there would be nothing amiss about Christien entering a room. He was the manager of this rural southern French hotel; his tasteful, albeit faded, somewhat dusty dark blue suit suggested confidence and promised respectful service. Workmen’s clothes like his brother Jean’s would be suspicious. A nice suit, however, inspired trust.
He turned the key and then stopped. There was no way the old lock would open quietly. It was merely better to move quickly and hope the American would not hear. The unchanging sound from the shower indicated that he had not.
Truly, Jean would have been more suited to this particular task, even if his clothes were not the best for unnoticed entry. Once inside they would be more appropriate, fit for scrabbling around under tables and such, bending and stooping and whatnot. Jean was, after all, the repairman. Their mother had handed down their respective roles, and the attire that went with them, back when she ran the hotel. Christien and Jean would never have thought of altering such an established arrangement after her death in the nineties.
However, Christien was aware as he delicately pressed the door open that Jean did not have the finesse for entering rooms. There had been quite a few beatings before Christien and Jean finally reached this conclusion.
The heavy oak door did not creak as it slowly pivoted open. Christien made sure Jean kept the tarnished brass hinges well oiled for precisely that reason, but one could never be certain with hinges that old. The hinges simply had their tempers, as all old things did.
Christien slipped quickly into the room. He did not close the door all the way such that he could not open it again in an instant, instead leaving but a crack so noise from the hall would not alert the showering buffoon. The passkey had also been left on the outside of the door in the lock.
Pausing to make certain that the showering continued unabated, Christien glanced around the room. The American’s tawdry, blue nylon roller bags on the bed seemed particularly tasteless against the background of the deep burgundy duvet that had once belonged to Christien’s mother; but one had to accept such an event when running a private hotel. Still, Christien bristled at the idea, even after so many years.
He collected himself, smoothing his lapels. Regardless of his personal feelings, the loutish idiot was a guest. Christien had a task to perform.
The door to the shower, closed, was located on the other side of the room across the bed. Christien tiptoed over to the door, opened it, and entered the bathroom.
Inside, the sound of the shower was considerably louder. The American, luckily invisible behind the mustard-yellow linen shower curtain, splashed and sang some horrid song about a ‘loco-motion.’
The linen curtain, and the bare metal rod bolted crudely into the aged plaster walls, were relatively new additions. It had not been necessary before so many Americans came to the hotel. Civilized people could use a shower without making a mess, but Americans seemed to get water everywhere.
As the shower splashing continued, Christien found the water valves behind the sink. His errand would have been simpler if the hotel possessed a central boiler room, but it had not been designed with considerations of this particular procedure. Looking toward the shower, Christien cut the hot water.
The shower erupted in high-pitched screams. Or, rather, the American in the shower erupted in high-pitched screams. The shower was likely uninvolved in the matter. Suddenly, the linen curtain flew open.
The dolt was wearing a hat. Christen could not grasp this—a hat in the shower. But it was not a shower cap. Instead it was a baseball hat, blue with a large red ‘C’ on the front. A hat? In the shower? What would be next?
“What the hell are you doing?!” the hatted lout demanded.
One hand still on the valve, Christien gave a polite wave with the other. Then, as the flabby, pasty American charged out of the shower after him, Christien fled the bathroom.
Running for the hallway door, Christien looked back and noted that the American had managed to wrap a towel around his midsection. Apparently he possessed some decorum, though Christien could not be sure why it surfaced under those particular conditions. And though that was the purpose of towels, Christien did not relish the image of the hotel’s towels touching the naked idiot.
Reaching the hall door with time to spare, Christien slipped out and shut it behind himself. He locked the door with the passkey, which he promptly pocketed. Predictably, he heard the imbecile run into the door a moment later. Christien turned and hurried briskly away down the hall.
Christien had not been particularly concerned for his safety. There was an element of risk involved in sneaking into a guest’s room in that manner, but it was merely part of running the hotel. He knew he would reach the door before the clumsy fool. He certainly had enough practice to be sure. It was likely that he spent more time on such foolishness than on any other aspect of running the hotel.
Of course, he had not always had quite so much experience at annoying guests. Events had not always been so unproblematic. There were incidents, some even necessitating visits to the local doctor, particularly when he and Jean first decided on their unusual hospitality practice.
He recalled one young American couple specifically. He remembered that the husband was an attorney back in the United States because a certain amount of litigation had been threatened after the episode.
Christien crept into their room as they slept, perhaps exhausted from their trans-Atlantic flight. He was nervous, standing there with the antique soup tureen and his grandmother’s ladle. Jean had conceived of the plan, but only Christien was sufficiently fed up with their mounting losses to carry it into effect. Still, standing over the sleeping couple, he hesitated.
He steeled his nerve by examining their impact on the room of his hotel. Le Château D’Espoir stood a distance outside of Orange, so there were few artificial lights outside; but the moon shining in the window revealed enough. Their cheap clothes were all over, not unpacked neatly as any human being would have done into the provided walnut armoire. There were even damp underpants hanging from the lampshade. The indignation that filled him was more than enough to clang the silver ladle loudly against the sterling soup tureen.
“AAHHHH!” the couple screamed in unison, shooting up in bed.
“Good evening, Monsieur and Madame,” Christien bellowed, banging the ladle on the tureen again. “It is the middle of the night. How are you sleeping? Is the bed quite comfortable? Perhaps you would like me to open the window?”
Christien thought politeness would improve upon the idea of an impromptu alarm. He wanted to ensure that the couple would wake up fully and become so confused that further sleep would be impossible. This ‘hot and cold’ treatment struck Christien as the ideal formula.
“I could even provide you with a restaurant recommendation, though I must advise you that all the restaurants will be closed. It is, after all, quite late.”
“What in God’s name are you doing in here?!” the husband cried. The wife, apparently quite terrified, hid beneath the blankets. “What’s the meaning of all this?!”
Christien, when he imagined how all of this would go, thought that the man would jump out of bed to attack at such a moment. Indeed, the husband did just that. Christien pictured how he would dash for the door and the husband would become entangled in the blankets, allowing Christien to escape unharmed.
Unfortunately, for some reason, Christien panicked at that moment and darted right instead of left, which took him around the bed toward the bathroom, instead of toward the safety of the hallway. The husband did get caught in the blankets as expected, but he recovered and chased around the bed after Christien. Christien was trapped.
“Why are you in our room?” the husband demanded.
Christien barely knew what he was doing. Suddenly, he leapt upon the bed and ran right over the frightened wife.
“Please, Monsieur. You selected the economy rate for your room. I must do this.”
When he reached the edge of the bed, he dropped to the floor. He planned to run for the door, but the husband had jumped onto the bed as well, running thoughtlessly across his own wife, in order to follow. There was no time for the hallway door, so Christien ran around the bed again.
“Picking economy means you break in here in the middle of the night and scare the hell out of us?”
“Yes, Monsieur. Americans all want bargains or luxury, but all our rooms are somewhat similar. My brother and I…what could we do? We had nothing to call a ‘suite,’ so we made economy and deluxe the same, only the economy comes with annoyance.”
Christien and the husband made several more circuits around the bed as this repartee went on. The husband came no closer to catching Christien, and Christien came no closer to escaping. Also, the wife took no steps to avoid further trampling. The chase simply continued.
“Then change us to deluxe and get the hell out of our room!”
“I apologize, Monsieur, but that is not possible,” Christien pleaded. “My brother and I realized that the deluxe rate conferred no benefit if economy guests could simply change. I must continue to annoy you!”
“But you didn’t tell us any of this when we checked in,” the husband protested. “We didn’t know. We never wouldn’t have taken this room if we’d known.”
“Precisely, Monsieur. It would not have been an annoyance if you had not been surprised. Warnings are not included in the economy rate. That would constitute a ‘frill’ and would violate the spirit of economy.”
Christien was becoming alarmed. All the explaining and running wore him out. The American husband turned out to be in much better condition than Christien had anticipated. Christien couldn’t evade him much longer.
Luckily, the wife finally acted. She threw the bedside lamp at Christien, hanging damp underwear and all. Her aim was poor though, and she struck her husband instead.
Christien decided that the mistake was not all that inappropriate. Had not her husband trampled her as well? Surely he deserved striking just as much as Christien.
Regardless, the husband fell, and Christien managed to escape through the hallway door. Of course, there was a scene at the front desk later. Jean and Christien’s plan still had a few problems to be worked out at that point.
The operation of the plan became smoother over time. Christien and Jean discovered how to handle the tantrums and avoid the assaults. Well, mainly Christien discovered this. Jean never managed the annoyances very well, but their mother had made Christien swear to watch out for his brother, so Christien handled everything.
Though they learned to make it work, events did not turn out quite as expected. An unforeseen happening had occurred, a frog in the butter if you will.
Christien and Jean were at the front desk when yet another American came in. He was very clearly a businessman attempting to resemble a motorcycle hoodlum. He wore a leather coat and bandana, but the coat was quite expensive and made to appear tattered, and the bandana still had creases from being starched.
“Welcome to Le Château D’Espoir. Would Monsieur care for a room?” Christien asked.
Of course Christien was the one to address the potential guest. Jean was present, but he performed repairs, not greeted. Only Christien dressed professionally and spoke. Jean had just been at the desk to go over a list of materials that Christien needed to order in the next month.
“Sure would.” The ‘biker’ put his hands on his hips. “I’ll take one of the economy rates.”
Christien started. Even Jean looked concerned, and Jean was not one for noticing when he should be alarmed.
“Monsieur is aware of our economy rate?”
“Guy in my office stayed here last summer and told me all about it. I just had to check it out.”
Christien stiffened. “Certainly. Would Monsieur care for a southern or northern facing room?”
The odd man shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I just hope I don’t get any surprises while I’m here.” He winked at Christien.
He winked! The cretin actually winked, trying to be subtle about not being subtle. The vulgarity of the gesture sickened Christien.
But what could he do? The entire concept of the economy rate entailed rooms plus annoyances. However, if the guests wanted them, for whatever reason, could the annoyances even be considered annoyances? Christien suspected that they could not. The whole idea that he and Jean had worked so hard on would fall apart.
So, he charged the American double. Not just double, but double the price of the deluxe. That was the only solution Christien could think of quickly.
Soon, Americans arrived all the time asking for the economy rate. Word apparently travelled and they wanted to experience Le Château D’Espoir’s economy rate ‘treatment.’ Triple the price for economy became the hotel standard. It simply became a service that Christien and Jean provided.
Strangely, the idiots were hostile during the annoyances, as if they were actually annoyed; but then they laughed about them later. As long as Christien safely escaped the rooms at the time, there were no aggressive consequences.
Frankly, Christien and Jean were baffled. These incomprehensible Americans took the meticulously considered scheme and turned it completely around. The hotel was a joke, but Christien and Jean were obligated to continue the farce if the hotel was to stay in business. In other words, they had no choice.
Of course, this mode of life was not without problems for Christien and Jean. It could be trying at times, and sometimes it just became too much. This morning was just such a time for Christien.
An elderly American couple wandered into the hotel, wanting directions to a small restaurant nearby. As usual, Christien was at the desk. Perfectly polite, he directed them.
“Yes, Monsieur and Madame—it is quite simple. Proceed West on United States highway one-thirty. After about a mile, make a U-turn. It will be on the right.”
“Huh?” The old man scratched his head. “Highway 130? What is this? We’re not in the states. We want to go to the little place on the other side of town, the one with the blue-striped awnings. Where are you trying to send us?”
“I am simply directing you.” Christien smiled. “You wish to go to the Denny’s. It is just down the highway, but you must make a U-turn as you cannot turn across a highway.”
“Denny’s?” the withered woman protested. “We’re in France!”
“No we are not!” Christien screamed suddenly, his face turning red, pounding both fists upon the desk. “We are in New Jer-sey and I am directing you to the Denny’s!”
The older American couple left quickly without asking further questions. It was all right; they were not guests anyhow. They had simply stopped in to find their way. If they had been guests, Christien should have made certain that they were there for the economy rate before reacting like that.
But sometimes he could not help himself. There was only one way for Christien to stomach what he and Jean had done to their mother’s hotel in order to keep the Americans’ business. Quite simply, he imagined that it was not his mother’s hotel anymore.
In his mind, Christien pretended he was the proud proprietor of the Econo Lodge in Bordentown, New Jersey.
About the Author
David S. Atkinson received his MFA from the University of Nebraska. His writing appears in Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His novel in short story form, Bones Buried in the Dirt, was published in January 2013 by River Otter Press. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.
“Changes for the Château” © 2013 David S. Atkinson