Monday, November 15th
Matthew Ashton Vane Beaumont IV sat comfortably back in the leather wing chair as he listened to his manager's suggestions on administering change in the hotel.
Peter Galway had been a close family friend for over a decade and he was the current general manager of the Beaumont in New York. Though he'd been labelled a revolutionary by his associates in view of the fact that he'd spent the last fifteen years of his employment at the hotel forever coming up with innovative and fresh ideas to expand the hotel chain, he now found himself doing precisely the opposite.
"I think we should delay, or at least slow down instead of doing it all in one drastic move," he was saying, his strawberry blonde hair brushed immaculately tidy on his head. "Employees are going to question these new methods and they're going to evaluate what they'll be asked to do. It's unavoidable."
"They get paid for what they are told to do," Matthew countered, "not for voicing personal opinions."
Peter splayed his hands in a subconscious gesture. "These people, most of them, have worked many years in this hotel. They have been here in the golden years and in the ones that followed that weren't as glorious, and they have always done everything according to this system. It hasn't been changed in years. You can't expect them to embrace it with a smile and a thank you note. Now, let me finish," he said, raising his hand when Matthew moved to speak. "I'm not saying that what you want to do here is wrong. I think the time for change was yesterday. God knows with the way things are going we may well be forced to sell another hotel, but these people who have worked here for a long, long time are not going to like this sudden turnaround. You might not want to hear this, Matthew, but the reason that this hotel is still running is because of them."
"Running into the ground, you mean," Matthew commented, folding his hands behind his head, ankle leaning on his knee in an air that appeared casual. "I understand what you're saying, Peter. I do."
He waited a beat.
"I'm still going to do this my way. It's time for change, and change it, I will. If I have to throw everything upside down in this hotel, down to the very last maid, I will. I don't believe in wrapping it up in a pretty pink bow, because in the end it's not going to make any speck of difference. Better to grab the bull by the horns so to speak and face them with the bare facts than to tap dance around it. In the end that's what they'll appreciate the most. I'm trying to save this hotel."
"Yes. Of course." Peter fought against the sigh he felt surface. "Matthew, I am only telling you from my own experience that things haven't changed around here for a long time. The staff won't be happy about it. They'll ask what's wrong with the current way. They'll wonder if they might lose their jobs."
"So they'll work harder." Matthew uncrossed his legs, leaned forward in his seat, and reminded Peter of a tiger closing in for the kill. "To keep them. Plays out nicely."
Peter frowned. "If this is the way were are going to do it, I'm not –"
Matthew regarded the middle-aged man over the brim of his coffee cup. "This is how we're going to do it."
Expelling a breath, Peter poured himself another cup of tea and frowned at it. His doctor had him cutting back on his caffeine intake. It wasn't doing any wonders for his mood. "Then we'll need to guarantee the staff that things will improve," he continued, lost in thought. "They feel they're already working hard, and any change requires more effort on their part. They will only see the extra hours they have to put in, the trainings they may have to take, the changes in normal routine that will cost them energy. We'll have to adjust their wages, or be prepared for redundancies and resignations."
"Put all that in writing and check that someone explains it to administration. Schedule a meeting with all the managers and directors first thing tomorrow morning. That's another thing that's been bothering me." Matthew rubbed the spot between his eyes. "All heads better show up," he smiled wryly at his pun, "or they'll be rolling. And make sure Fitzpatrick is there."
He placed his empty cup of coffee on the heavy ornate desk and leaned back. "You know the staff, their routines. I'll trust you to take care of it."
"You know I will," Peter replied as he rose to his feet. He slipped the papers into his briefcase, snapped it shut, and turning to walk towards the door, he hesitated, turned back.
"Matthew…" he trailed off, a picture of the typical uncomfortable male. "You will call Elaine?" She'd been badgering him about this for days now. He figured that if he didn't get this over with today, there'd be hell to pay at home. Christ, he didn't understand women, and why Elaine made him take care of this instead of just picking up the phone herself was exactly one of those things. But when a man has reached the age of Peter, he knew better than to argue. Men were not supposed to understand the fairer sex. "She's been worried about you and she wants you to come over for dinner this weekend." There. He'd said it.
"Is she making her famous meatloaf?"
Peter snorted as he turned for the doorknob. "I wish. She says I have to cut back on meat. Doctor's orders." He grimaced. "I bet she'd make it for you." And maybe that way he could sneak some out.
Matthew grinned. "Count me in."
It was just shy of seven-thirty in the morning when Abbey made her way through the downstairs corridor for staff only. She was part of housekeeping, or in other words and without the fancy add-ons; a maid. The ad she'd found in the paper while she was going through her morning routine of coffee and eggs a couple of weeks ago had instantly grabbed her attention. Though the description of the hotel itself made up most of the text, it sure was a change from the housecleaning jobs and healthy eighteen through twenty-eight year olds they wanted for the testing of new drugs. The paper had featured a short advertisement on The Beaumont Hotel situated in 'Manhattan, making this hotel the ideal choice for your stay in New York. Tastefully furnished rooms, all with air-conditioning, internet, e-mail, fax machines, voice mail and modern amenities.' The text that followed the ad was short and to the point, 'maid m/f, experience required, fulltime. Please contact this number: 2128468742. "
Though Abbey had no actual experience, and she probably knew no more than her geriatric neighbour would about housekeeping in a hotel, she desperately needed a job, any job. So she'd called, and with a couple of white lies had gotten herself a job interview, which she had sailed through with perfect colours. They were no doubt looking for experience and or pretty faces, because god knew she didn't fit into the first category.
On the first day of work, together with a group of approximately twenty other new employees, ages ranging from sixteen to fifty-three, she had received a crash course on what her job entailed. They had been flooded with information about the housekeeping department and the way things were organised. Or had been organised for the last thirty years; It appeared that the hotel was undergoing a reorganisation from top to bottom and things were changing a complete 180 degrees. Staff, new and old, were running to and fro, new heads were being appointed, staff were being demoted, some let go, while others were promoted. And in the midst of all this chaos a strict looking woman with a bun fastened so tightly on the back of her head Abbey was sure her hair stayed that way even if she pulled it loose, was introducing herself as the deputy head of housekeeping, before beginning her 'short' introductory speech.
She told them about the Golden Rule; "treating others as we would wish to be treated", that the Beaumont had long used as its guiding principle. How it was a deeply felt ethical belief, shared by everyone in the corporation, from senior management through to the front line and around the world, regardless of nationality. It allowed them to treat each other, as well as their guests, with an extra measure of caring and thoughtfulness.
Abbey was sure the woman had learned this speech by heart because it didn't look like she would, or could, implement any of these rules unless she'd practised them thoroughly and in the end she probably still didn't get it. Some people were just as stiff as a board, Abbey knew, and no amount of TLC could melt that poker thrust up their backside.
As the woman's monotone voice droned on about the rooms division that consisted of the front office and reservations, concierge, laundry and valet, uniform room, telecommunications, and housekeeping it was a blessing that she only expanded on the last. The speech lasted forty-nine minutes. Abbey knew this, because she'd discreetly checked her watch under the table, seven times.
Maids, staff and room, cleaners, cloakroom attendants, valets and linen keepers all moved around her as if they had the map of this huge maze printed on the back of their eyes together with an inbuilt navigation system that told them which turns to take to get to their destination. They moved swiftly and efficiently. And gave Abbey a headache.
She, as most of the others in her group, had been made general housekeepers, which basically meant they ended up doing all the easy and shitty jobs no one else wanted to do. It varied from helping room-maids clean rooms to playing gofer for the head and (more often than not) deputy housekeeper. The only part of her job description that had been specifically emphasised at the very beginning was that whatever she was doing she was to stay out of the guests' eyesight at all times. Invisible is what they had to learn to become. As long as it paid (ten dollars an hour wasn't exactly much) and came with medical insurance, Abbey wasn't complaining.
She rounded the corner, and walked straight into a flurry of activity.
She approached a large woman hurrying into her uniform. Gina, and all two-hundred pounds of her, was trying to squeeze into a uniform that looked as if it had seen better, and slimmer, days.
"What's going on?"
"I don't know," Gina said, struggling with a button. "Some kind of inspection or something." She swore when the last button wouldn't close, then gave up and covered it by pinning the hotel logo over the hole. "They want us to assemble outside the locker room. Someone's coming down. Someone big." She closed her locker door with a bang and ironed her shirt down with her hands before shooting Abbey a look. "Better get yourself fixed up proper. I heard they fired another five laundry boys today."
Though Abbey doubted they were going to fire the very people they had hired a week ago, after the serious firing had already begun, she kept it to herself and followed Gina out of the locker room. For all she knew, Gina could be on the let-go list.
Outside, the deputy and head of housekeeping were already there, both standing rigid as if awaiting the queen of England herself. Several minutes and a few hand gestures later, the head housekeeper, a very down-to-earth woman in her late thirties who went by the name Miranda Lillian, shushed the crowd.
"Okay. Quiet, people. As you all know, the Beaumont Hotels' owner passed away a couple of weeks ago, and his son, Mr. Matthew Beaumont, took over. We were absolutely delighted to learn that he chose to station himself here, at our hotel in New York. So, please, everyone, let's not disappoint him as he's made it his personal business to come down here to congratulate everyone on their new jobs."
"Thank you, Ms. Lillian."
Startled, Lillian's generous mouth formed an 'o' and her hand shot up to her chest in a move that was so typically chick flick like, Abbey would have laughed if it wasn't for the very person that had caused Lillian's reaction. Behind him stood an assembly of men, all dressed in dark, immaculate suits that Abbey knew cost more than she could hope to save in five lifetimes.
"That was a very fine speech. You seem to have covered everything I was planning to say."
Abbey watched the man who had inherited all of this. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist wearing a hand-tailored suit that couldn't have fit him better if it had been moulded to his body. His face was hard and fierce, and extremely handsome. His nose ran aristocratically straight between a pair of deep brown eyes that looked as sharp as a hawk's. Carved into that face was a mouth so hard and strong and sensuous that Abbey imagined it was as well acquainted with the art of pretty words and fine dining as it was slicing a business adversary into bloody little pieces. He looked tough, intelligent and handsome, and he looked as if he knew it too. This man looked exactly like the many billions he possessed.
Snapped out of her reverie by a sudden burst of clapping and a jab from Gina's elbow in her ribs, Abbey quickly joined in the applause. How could she have missed the whole speech? Had he said anything important? It wouldn't do good to ask in the presence of the stuck-up insect deputy housekeeper, she thought and hoped sincerely she'd have a chance to get filled in.
Tuesday, November 16th
"So, how'd the first week go?"
"Okay, I guess," Abbey said on a sigh, tossing her shoulder bag and purse on the tiny kitchen table that was actually clean and empty for the first time ever, and then proceeded to strip off her coat. "Didn't set fire to anything, or anyone yet, but give me time."
Tania released a short laugh that resembled more of a bark. She lit up a cigarette and catching Abbey's eye passed it to her. "You look like you need this more than I do."
Grateful, Abbey took a long drag, savouring the taste. She pulled out a chair and sat down as Tania opened two beers and set one can in front of Abbey.
"How was Jesse today?"
"Perfect. I put him to bed a couple of hours ago. Went right to sleep."
A dull twinge of pain pierced through Abbey's heart, but she squelched it. "Not too much trouble then?"
"Not at all."
"I expect he's worn himself out with all the excitement this week."
Seeming to sense Abbey's mood, Tania changed the subject. "So, meet any cute guys out there? Preferably rich and young, obviously."
"Mmm." Abbey drew circles with the bud of the cigarette in the ashtray, instead of tapping off the burnt ashes. "I'm just so tired," she said, suddenly feeling so very forlorn. "I keep scraping together all the little bits and pieces I can find to make ends meet, but I can't seem to get us out of this mess."
"Hey," Tania snapped. "Quit that, okay? You're doing great. It's your first time in the big city and you're still managing. That's quite a success in itself, you know." Leaning back, she took a drag, blowing out the smoke through her nose as she contemplated the miserable, overworked woman sitting opposite her. She placed her hand over Abbey's on the table. "Listen, you got a job, and you stuck with it."
"Yeah, for a whole week already." Sarcasm dripped from the words.
"I mean it. Most people quit, but you don't. You stick it out. You're a survivor, you'll make it. I can tell these things."
"You've made it so far, haven't you?" Tania said, waiting for Abbey to look at her. "You've made it out of the reservation and into the very pit of filthy law-breaking Brooklyn alive. That must have been quite a hard thing to do."
"It wasn't, not really," Abbey confessed. "I wish it had been. It would have made me feel stronger; make me feel more capable, you know? It would have given me the confidence to get through the rough patches, and not just me, but Jesse as well."
"But you got out of there, didn't you?"
Abbey laughed dryly. "It wasn't a matter of getting out of there. I mean… it wasn't a prison, the way you make it sound. It was…" Restless, she put out her cigarette with quick short taps, "home, I guess. The first real home I ever had, and that made it damn hard to leave." She took out another cigarette, then pulled the metal ashtray in front of her. "Sure, they looked at me with sympathy – some with pity in their eyes, and I heard the talk going round even if they didn't say it to my face, but they all meant well, deep down. They were – are good people. But it wasn't a place that would get me anywhere, you know? There was no way up from there. God, listen to me," she laughed self-depreciatingly, tapping the bud against the ashtray, "As if there's any way up from here." She met Tania's eyes and at that moment, a bond formed between them, like it does between people who have shared and survived the same hellhole. "I just wished that I knew this was rock bottom, you know? That we couldn't get any lower than this, but I'm afraid that if I say it, or even think it, we will."
Tania dragged a hand through her hair, her craving for the beer now completely killed. "At least you've still got each other."
Abbey looked up at that, surprise, and respect shining in her eyes. "Yes. Yes, we do."
"You wouldn't –" Tania broke off, then leaned back in her chair, propping her high heeled legs on the empty chair beside her. "I mean, you would never part with Jesse, right? You need him and he needs you, and whatever might happen you wouldn't do that, ever, would you?"
Confusion clouded Abbey's gaze and she frowned, not fully understanding what Tania was trying to say. "Of course not. I would never leave him. He's my son, my own flesh and blood. I would never leave my family." Then her eyes softened, as realisation dawned. "I know what it's like to have a family that doesn't accept you because you're not theirs. I know what it's like to feel out of place, unwanted and… unloved, I suppose." Her fingers tightened on the can of beer. "I would die before I'd give Jesse away."
Wednesday, November 17th
"Are you comfortable?" Abbey asked Jesse as he placed his backpack amidst some pillows, blankets, chairs and other gear, making himself a place to sit. It was a small room, but cramped with shelves full of fresh linens, unused or broken wheel carts, baby cribs and rollaway beds. Wastebaskets were waiting to be fixed or thrown away in one corner, on top of them rested a pile of torn draperies. But at least there were no toxic cleaning supplies in here.
"Yeah," he nodded. "How long do I have to stay here?"
"Not long, baby. I promise." Abbey kissed him on the forehead. Handing him the bag with his toys that also contained a pack of ham and salad sandwiches and juice, she squatted beside him. "Remember the nice woman you met earlier? Gina?" At his nod, she continued, "She'll come to check up on you a lot. I'll come by as often as I can, okay? I promise it won't be long."
It broke her heart that she had to leave her son in the tiny unused storage room on the housekeeping floor of the hotel, but she had no choice. When she had returned home yesterday evening, Tania had gone out for the night and, either had not come back, or had gotten up before Abbey, because she had not seen Tania since yesterday. Since money wasn't falling from the trees like apples, day care was not an option.
"I have to go now, honey."
At his murmur of protest, she gave him a tight hug. "The sooner I leave, the sooner I'll be back."
"Promise," she kissed the tip of his nose. "I'll be back before you know it."
Matthew was ready to rip out his hair. It seemed that, his father had not only turned a blind eye to the lacking work of quite a number of people that had been under the employment of the Beaumont Hotel for ten years or more, but apparently he had also not cared for checking the finances. The way some things were managed around here cost more money than they made.
It was noon. The telephone conference he had scheduled for three o'clock concerning one of those long-term employees would need his full attention. Deciding a bit of air would do him good, Matthew left his office to hunt down some coffee and a couple of aspirins for the splitting headache he felt building up inside his skull. As he walked down the hall, greeted by several people that walked by, he tried to get his mind off work for a change. Away from the hectic schedule, away from all the papers he needed to work through before tomorrow, his father's sudden death, the unexpected obstacles they were hitting during the overhaul. God, it was enough to drive a sound, level headed man insane. The scowl on his face deepened as he raked an impatient hand through his blonde curls.
It was then that a flash of red caught his eye. It had just whizzed by at the end of the hall. As if something, or someone, had just zipped by.
Frowning, Matthew headed to the end of the hall to find a door leading towards the back of a storage room for oils, lotions and other bathroom products used for the massages and other treatments the hotel offered in the spa just adjacent to the hall. He fumbled around the wall for the light switch and was surprised to discover a small boy gazing up at him from between the bags of towels.
Great. Just what he needed. A lost kid and that was being optimistic. Knowing his luck, the kid had run away on purpose, or was another one of those spoiled rich brats who lived to torment any and all adults because they knew they could get away with it. Why did he have to always stumble upon situations like these when he felt so knackered he could just drop down any minute and sleep for a decade?
The boy stared back at him, unflinching, and clearly contemplating making a bolt for it. So, knowing better, Matthew closed the door and decided to crouch down to his eyelevel.
"What's your name?"
He smiled at the kid. "I'm Matthew. Nice to meet you," he said, holding out his hand to him.
Warily, Jesse approached him just close enough to shake hands. "Nice to meet you too."
"So, Jesse. What are you doing out here?"
The boy hung his head, looked down at the front of his sneaker as he dug it into the carpet, drawing patterns.
Guilt, Matthew thought, already feeling way out of depth. He didn't know kids.
"I was playing."
"Are your parents staying here?"
He shook his head.
"How did you get in here then?"
"My mom works here."
Matthew forced the frown from his face as he rose to his feet. "Works here," he muttered to himself. It appeared as if he had just come across a third, and worse, option. Wonderful. Now he had a kid and an employee to deal with. And he had only allowed himself a thirty minute break. Why could he never just leave matters well alone for others to deal with? That's what he paid them for. "What's her name?"
"Abbey," Jesse said with a solemn look on his young face. "Am I going to get into trouble?"
"What makes you think that?"
"Because I promised not to leave the room," the boy confessed, twiddling with the hem of his shirt. "And I did… but only because I was so bored." Innocent, big blue eyes met brown. But Matthew wasn't fooled for one moment. Under that innocent exterior hid an impish child, even if said child was scared shitless right now. "I don't want her to get mad at me. She can get really mad when I don't listen."
"She can, huh?" Matthew placed an arm around Jesse's shoulders in a manner that made the boy feel very grownup. "That's what mom's are for, I suppose. Come on. Let's go find you some kids to play with," he decided, as they left the storage room. It would take the kid off his hands, and buy him some time before he set out to have a word with the mother.
"What about my mom?" the boy muttered gloomily, already having brightened at the fact that he would have someone to play with. "She'll kill me."
"I'll handle her," Matthew replied, suppressing a smile. "Think you can tell me your last name?"
Lynn. Abbey Lynn. Twenty-four years old. That's what her file stated, Matthew thought as he leafed through the contract papers and personal information. Had only finished high school. No other credentials or any noteworthy jobs. Not too promising. That explained why she had only made the housekeeping staff. Had started as a maid in the hotel about a week ago. He closed the folder with a sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose against that damn headache. Elaine would skin him if she found out the amount of hours he had put in this week, not to mention the extra hours he had worked at home.
Putting the file back in the cabinet, he left his office. He had left a very excited Jesse at the small day care facility the hotel offered for guests. With a smile, Matthew remembered how thrilled the kid had been at seeing the coloured balls in the pool area. He'd sprinted off to play, just remembering his manners to run back and say bye.
Oh my god, oh my god. Abbey's mind spun in a frenzy. Where was Jesse? Where was her son? "Gina. Have you seen Jesse?"
Distracted, Gina looked up from where she was re-supplying her cleaning cart with disinfectant equipment and jars of wax. "Last time I saw him, he was in the little storage room where you left him. That was about half an hour ago."
"He's not there. I went by a minute ago. It's empty. He's not there…" Abbey trailed off, forced herself to shut up and pull herself together. "You haven't seen him since? Think, Gina, think."
"No, I haven't," she replied; now looking slightly alarmed herself. "Look. I'll go check the first floor. He can't have gone far without someone of the staff noticing."
"Yeah. Yeah. You're right," Abbey said, feeling her heart lurch at the thought that she might not see Jesse again. What if he hadn't just gotten lost? What if someone had taken him? She read it all the time in the papers, children getting kidnapped for no particular reason.
Then her heart gave a second lurch when she recognised Beaumont marching down the hall, his gaze pinned on her. For the first time in her life Abbey experienced exactly what it felt like to be a deer caught in headlights. The moment of suspension in which it was simply impossible to move, knowing the moment of fatal impact would come in a matter of seconds, waiting for it.
Matthew strode down the hall, studying the small woman. It surprised him how young she looked. He remembered that her file stated that she was twenty-four. That meant she couldn't have been more than twenty when she had Jesse. Maybe that's why she hadn't gone to college. He frowned as he caught himself wondering. Why did he care anyway?
She had straight hair that spilled over her shoulders in a sea of black shine. Her face was delicate and tanned. With that generous mouth and those large shining eyes that widened and locked with his in fright, she sure made a pretty picture. As he reached the hallway, he realised just how small she was. Actually, everything about her seemed small. There really wasn't much to her, was there, Matthew thought as he took her in. Except for the fact that she was an employee under his care and her kid had been roaming the hotel on his own. And that was not something that could be allowed to continue.
"Mrs. Lynn?" he enquired once he was on speaking distance.
Abbey's heart sunk. Shit. Not now. She needed to find Jesse first.
"I may have found something that belongs to you."
Hope had her throat squeezed shut in a vice grip.
"A little boy by the name of Jesse?"
The grip released. "You found him?"
"Yes," the man replied, regarding her intensely with those sharp hawk eyes. "He's fine. He's in day care."
"Thank you," Abbey said, her eyes saying everything for her. "Thank you." A little shaken, she sank down on the chair that he indicated.
"He was wondering the halls alone. On the twenty-fifth floor."
Abbey closed her eyes, suspecting this to be the end of her career at the hotel. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I won't let it happen again." She opened her eyes, looked at him while rising shakily to stand. It took a moment for her to gather herself, but most importantly to gather her every shred of pride, and shove it aside as she pleaded quietly, "Please don't fire me." She needed this job. If she lost it, and its income, she would be out on the streets in no time.
The thought hadn't even crossed his mind. Well, not after he had met Jesse and dropped him off at day care. He forced down the sympathy he felt for her, and the irritation. "Look," he spoke, gazing down at her from his superior height, and in turn effectively making her feel at an even bigger disadvantage. "You're not going to get fired."
He shot her a hard look. "But you can't let your son wander around the hotel. This is a work area for you, and if something were to happen to him, we're not going to take responsibility. You need to make other arrangements for him."
"I know. I'm sorry, I'm really sorry. It won't happen again."
"Make sure that it doesn't," Matthew added and turned to leave.
"Thank you, Mr. Beaumont."
The words were unexpected, but he nodded.
When he left, Abbey released the shaky breath she'd been holding.