“Chateau d’Yquem” is the tenth dark, feminist comedy tale in the “Hotel Stories” series. Based on a true story.
Ms N, the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotelier and her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana, must cope with the effects of the coronavirus sweeping Tatiana’s beautiful but not yet economically advanced homeland.
To fight the virus, the country’s untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice is closing Ms N’s hotel – without compensation. Ms N’s arrogant French boss, Gabriel LeBatard, only makes matters worse. The hotel and its staff seem doomed. But Ms N is sure to have several brilliant plans up her sleeve…
Chateua d’Yquem features Mr Dizzie Gillespie’s Afro-Cuban jazz classic Manteca (I had this version in mind when I wrote it) and a mouth-watering combination of food and wine being used to try and persuade someone to do something. The latter element is based on a true story I was told by a hotelier in Vienna (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). It might just have involved a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem.
You can read the beginning of Chateau d’Yquem below – or click on the picture above to download the story from Amazon.
Chateau d’Yquem (excerpt)
It is one a.m. in the Dionysus Bar and I have a problem with an angry foreign gentleman who is a customer in our hotel.
In my beautiful but not yet economically advanced country, angry foreign gentlemen are rare, because many of them come here to meet beautiful young women who make them very happy indeed – at least in the short term.
At first, I am thinking that this foreign customer has become angry as a result of not finding a young woman who can make him happy – because he is not exactly what most people would call God’s gift to women, assuming God would think any woman would want a gift of a man in the first place.
He is a tall gentleman who was perhaps attractive five, or ten, or if I am honest twenty-five years ago but whose chubby tummy is now filling his blue smart-but-casual shirt in a way that unfortunately mirrors a too-big bottom, which is distending his blue smart-but-casual trousers in the opposite direction.
The man’s face has a certain tired dignity but his skin has been mottled by too much sunshine and softened by too much fine dining and his looks are in my view not enhanced by a moustache filling and actually spilling over in every direction from the space between his upper lip and his nose. If I am honest, this moustache is looking as if he has used it earlier in the evening to strain the soup he is eating, and perhaps also to filter out the larger lumps in whatever he was eating yesterday, and for several days before that.
Perhaps this coronavirus about which we are hearing so much was created not in a bat soup or pangolin curry in Wuhan, China, but in the moustache of our angry customer.
‘That man has been messing with my drink,’ the foreign gentleman is saying, in what I am thinking may be a French accent. ‘He has put hand sanitiser in it.’
He holds up a glass of grey liquid, which I am recognising from the hammer-shaped, ecologically-harvested wooden stirrer is one of the signature Platinum Megastar cocktails, named after Norse Gods, that we are serving in our Dionysus Bar, or what we hotel staff refer to as our Basement Luxury Venue or BLV. This cocktail is called Thor, after the God of Thunder.
Actually, we are planning to change the name of this cocktail because many of our customers are having trouble saying “Thor”, while others are making jokes about being “hammered” and their heads – or other parts of them which are not appropriate for me to repeat here – feeling “Thor” in the morning.
I know from my training in our hotel chain that if a customer is complaining, the member of staff who is receiving the complaint – which today is me – must acknowledge that the client is not satisfied, and express compassion without necessarily accepting wrongdoing by the hotel, so I nod and activate my thousand-watt smile.
‘If you are not satisfied with the quality of the drink, sir, I will fetch you a new one from the bar with the compliments of the house,’ I say, and turn to head for the bar.
‘Not so fast, Tatiana.’ The foreign, and perhaps French, customer has grabbed my arm and is peering at my name badge, perhaps not noticing that he is squeezing so hard that he is hurting me. ‘The man who has put sanitiser in my cocktail? It was him.’ He belches, wipes the sleeve of his blue smart-but-casual shirt across his mouth and moustache, and points to a thickset man wearing a black leather jacket and sitting with his back to the wall. ‘I want you to throw him out. Immediately.’
The first thing I notice about the gentleman in the black leather jacket is that he is staring at the foreign, and perhaps French, customer with intelligent, deep-set eyes as if he would like personally to feed him into the ultra-sharp blades of an industrial mincer.
The second thing I notice is that the gentleman in the black leather jacket has a bottle of hand sanitiser on the table in front of him, although this is true of every table in our BLV in these days of coronavirus. He also has a glass of what I am guessing is malt whisky, since that is what this customer always drinks when he is visiting our hotel.
‘Why do you think the gentleman would be putting something in your drink, sir?’ I say.
‘Because he is a jerk.’ The foreign, and perhaps French, customer shouts the last two words. ‘And because he thinks that my woman is his woman.’
‘Which woman is this, sir?’
‘That bitch right there,’ the foreign, and perhaps French, gentleman says. He points to the centre of the dance floor, where a tall, slender, dark-skinned woman is dancing alone, her arms raised above her head, to the Afro-Cuban jazz music which our DJ Runaway Beach Beatmaster Bob, who our General Manager Ms N has recruited from a resort hotel we have visited recently, is always playing between midnight and two o’clock in the morning.
I look at the woman and at the gentleman in the leather jacket, and try to think what Ms N would do if she were here. The first problem is that the foreign, and maybe French, customer has referred to the woman who is dancing as “his” woman. This does not make sense, as no person belongs to any other person. A second problem is that the woman who is dancing seems adult and independent and is showing no sign of wishing to be owned by anyone, even if this were possible. In fact, I am not seeing any sign that she wishes to dance with anyone, to talk to anyone, or even to be near to anyone, least of all the foreign and maybe French gentleman with the soup-strainer moustache.
A third problem is that the man is referring to the woman as “that bitch”. This does not seem to make any sense, either if he is hoping for a relationship with her, or if he is hoping that any existing relationship will continue, assuming in the first place that such a woman would want a relationship with a man who believed he owned her.
A fourth and final problem, perhaps the biggest one of all, is that the man in the leather jacket is the somewhat portly, untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice of our beautiful but not yet economically advanced country, who was promoted from being Chief of Police of our recently rebranded, retrained and 100% corruption-free but perhaps not yet entirely world-class police force after an incident in our hotel involving an elevator full of blood.
This makes the gentleman in the leather jacket, along with our Prime Minister Kaya and his fabulously-curvaceous-but-not-very-young wife, one of the people in the historic capital of our beautiful country who is least likely ever to be thrown out of our hotel.
Behind the minister I see sitting three other men, also wearing leather jackets, who may be bodybuilders or perhaps heavyweight boxers or perhaps contract killers, or perhaps all three of these things, who I am guessing are the bodyguards of our untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice. The presence and oversized muscles of these three individuals means that no one could throw the minister out of our hotel even if they wished to do so, without starting a small or perhaps even a medium-sized war.
The three gentlemen sitting behind the Minister are also staring at my foreign, and perhaps French, interlocutor, but in a different way from their boss. In their case, their expressions seem designed to make clear that being fed into the ultra-sharp blades of an industrial mincer would perhaps not deliver a sufficiently clear message to the foreign, and perhaps French, gentleman of the need to change his behaviour, and that they have in mind a variety of more imaginative, more painful and less hurried actions designed to help him improve his ways.
As I am assessing the situation, I realise that the tall, slender, dark-skinned woman who may or may not be associated in some way with our untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice or possibly with the foreign, and perhaps French, gentleman but who plainly does not belong to either of them, is no longer dancing alone. She is dancing with a tall, slender, dark-skinned man of about her own age who I have never seen before, to a piece of music that I recognise as Mr Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca from the year 1947.
For a moment, I forget to breathe. This is because to see these two young people from our beautiful but not yet economically advanced country dancing together to the sounds of Mr Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca is to witness perhaps one of the most perfect sights on earth.
When I am saying earlier that my country has many lovely young women, I am perhaps forgetting to say that we also have many beautiful young men, although we do not get many rich ladies from western countries coming here to meet them. This may be because rich ladies, unlike rich gentlemen, are understanding that no person can belong to any other person.
But before I can remark to the foreign, and perhaps French, gentleman on the perfection of the dancing couple, I realise that he has stepped between the two of them, yelled something in the face of the beautiful young woman and swung his hand to slap her face. For a moment my heart jumps in my mouth, but then I see that perhaps because the dance floor is crowded, or perhaps because she is accustomed to men behaving in this way, she has moved her head smoothly to one side and his hand does not make contact.
The next moment, pandemonium erupts on the dance floor of the Dionysus Bar and I am throwing myself forward to protect the foreign, and perhaps French, gentleman. This is not because I am liking what he is doing, but because I know that the foreign men who come to our country to find themselves beautiful young local women are not always universally popular here, and I have seen our untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice and his three bodyguards slide down off their stools and onto the dance floor like alligators entering a swamp and my thoughts are turning to industrial mincers or perhaps even domestic kitchen blenders or even cheese graters if these are achieving the same effect on human flesh and bones more slowly; and although the foreign, and perhaps French, gentleman is not behaving appropriately, he is nonetheless a guest of our hotel. As such, it is my duty to try and keep him alive, if possible. I also wish so far as may be feasible to keep him un-minced, assuming it is possible to be partly minced by a trio of burly bodybuilders or perhaps heavyweight boxers or possibly contract killers or all three of these, and still stay alive.
If I am honest, I cannot see how I can prevent the mincing of my guest for more than a few seconds once the three bodyguards of our untainted-by-corruption-of-any-kind Minister of Justice have reached him across the dance floor; but I stand up straight and clench my fists and clear my throat and am preparing to do my best to defend him when a surprising series of events occurs.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Chateau d’Yquem. You can also find Chateau d’Yquem on Amazon.
I write a story every year as a gift to my girlfriend, who is a senior hotel manager. You can find the first Seven Hotel Stories, dating from 2011 to 2017 on Amazon as a paperback or e-book.
If Chateau d’Yquem makes you want to explore my other writing, try my Berlin thriller Blood Summit. Don’t start it before bed or you may be up all night.