Monday, June 16, 2008

The Hotel At TinStop Hill

(Warning: Looong story. But I am sure it kind of "flows" once you start reading :))

Jim Hardy wearily trudged his way along the stone path coiling up TinStop hill. The silver tipped walking stick made a rhythmic sound that Jim found helpful in concentrating on the problem that was bothering him. It was a dark cloudy day and that mirrored the state of his mind, clich├ęd as it may seem.

The Hotel on TinStop Hill had been opened with much fanfare. TinStop Hill took its name from the famed TinStop Bungalows located at the top of the hill. The TinStop Bungalows were the homes to some of the richest and most powerful men in the world. More noteworthy was the fact that most of the families here had achieved and held this power and money for more than a hundred years. The TinStop bungalows were spoken of as the most exclusive residential address in the world.

Jim Hardy remembered the day he got the call from the mysterious Mr. Travistock. Until then Jim had been the manager of the reputed Grand Orient at Winston’s Hillock. The Grand Orient had been built by a billionaire and boasted of one of the most impressive art collections for a hotel. Jim had joined there as a waiter at one the restaurants and over a period of two decades had become the manager of the hotel. His able management of the hotel coupled with the special care he lavished on the art collection had attracted the mysterious Mr. Travistock’s attention.

The interview process had been... mysterious to say the least. He had been asked to enter the basement of a decrepit garage, where he was received by a solitary Butler. He was then blindfolded and ushered into Mr. Travistock’s presence. Once the interview started, Jim could sense that the chamber he was in was one of immense luxury. The blindfolded interview had been quite thorough and professional. The mysterious Mr. Travistock was clearly an expert in the luxury industry. Jim also felt that he was a gentleman of fine breeding and his taste was exquisite. Clearly, the mysterious Mr. Travistock was not one of those rich men with common taste, masquerading as though they were of finer pedigree. Jim always lifted his right eyebrow involuntarily when he approved of a customer and felt that the latter was indeed a gentleman and lifted his left eyebrow when the customer was not. After many years in the industry, he had developed an instinct as to whether a customer had money and class. Money could buy many things, but it could never buy class, he was fond of saying. Everyone from the footman to the deputy manager caught on to this and there was active speculation on which side a customer has been “eyebrow”ed. The mysterious Mr. Travistock had been "eyebrow"ed right.

The interview was exacting and the mysterious Mr. Travistock was a perfectionist. After the interview, Jim was offered a meal, which he had to eat blindfolded. However, the waiters at the table were excellent and he had had a satisfying meal. As he was escorted out, Jim was informed that he should make no effort to contact them or even make inquiries of the mysterious Mr. Travistock and that they would get back to him. As Jim navigated a curve on his way to the Hotel at TinStop Hill, he reflected that the behaviour that day was quite an accurate reflection of the nature of his professional engagement with Mr. Travistock’s establishment. He had powers only on very basic operational issues. When he dealt with anything bigger, he felt as if he were working blindfolded. Maybe Mr. Travistock should have been "eyebrow"ed left. But he was a gentleman!

A week after that surreal interview, Jim received a big package. The interview seemed like a dream to Jim when recollected it. He opened the package to find an exquisitely made crystal vase which appeared to have a shiny gold box in the shape of a treasure chest. He extracted the curious treasure chest, to see a small scroll that announced his selection to the post of the manager of the Hotel at TinStop Hill. Jim smiled, glad that he had impressed a man of such fine taste, but shrugged and put the gold box in his drawer. He was satisfied at The Grand Orient and saw no need to make a change in his life. He liked stability.

As Jim entered the dining room of the Elgin Club later that evening, he noticed a sudden change in the way he was received. The Elgin club was a meeting place for those involved with the hospitality industry in the area and evidently word had got around of Jim’s appointment.

Anthony, the Manager of The Ancient Oak, was the first to congratulate Jim.

“Heard about your appointment. Mighty impressive, getting the nod of approval from the mysterious Mr. Travistock!”, he said

“How did you know about it?”, Jim asked in surprise

“Everyone is talking about it. Don’t think you were the only one called. All the managers in this club were called and by getting this appointment, you have proven yourself to be the best in your job!”, Tony said with a wistful smile

“Is it so? I really did not know the importance of the...”

“Are you kidding? The mysterious Mr. Travistock has decided that this is going to be the magnum opus of his life. His ambition is to open the ultimate venue in world power broking and deal broking...”, Anthony said but was interrupted by a waiter calling him away for a phone call.

The waiter smiled and added, “And may I offer my congratulations, Sir”

Jim was puzzled.

How did the mysterious Mr. Travistock get access to an address on TinStop Hill? As far as he knew, no one by the name of Travistock held residence on the TinStop bungalows. Maybe that explained why he had been blindfolded. Could Mr. Travistock be of an honourable family that fell into bad times and was trying to make up for that? Even if it were true, the families in the TinStop bungalows were of the highest reputation and if indeed this was an honourable venture why would they hide their name?

Edward Elgin, the owner of the Elgin Club came up to Jim.

“May I offer the future manager of the Hotel on TinStop Hill a glass of our finest whiskey?”, he asked with a congratulatory smile

Edward Elgin was an old friend of Jim’s and was a great admirer of the way Jim ran the Grand Orient. He often benchmarked his own comparatively modest club to that of the Grand Orient.

“Look, how did you know the name of my appointment? Or for that matter even the name of the Hotel?”, Jim demanded

“Why wouldn't I be? Just as you were sent a crystal vase with the gold box, all those called for an audience with the mysterious Mr. Travistock got a bronze vase with a silver chest informing of their failure and your success. There was a similar arrangement for the chef, right down to even the footmen! Getting into the Hotel on TinStop Hill at any level is like winning the Oscars for that category or that is how the mysterious Mr. Travistock has made it to be!”, Edward replied

“But who is this mysterious Mr. Travistock? Is he one of the TinStop families?”, Jim asked

“Ah...”, Edward paused and looked around. Then with a jovial smile led Jim to his room and closed the door.

“I am not sure if I am supposed to be saying this, but I have a cousin who works for the mysterious Mr. Travistock at a very close level. Apparently, Mr. T is an art dealer of some sort who grew close to the TinStop families.”, Edward whispered

“But how did he get property on TinStop Hill for a hotel, however grandiose its intentions may be? Isn’t that supposed to be exclusive?”, Jim asked

“Yes! People are talking of the very same thing. There is one rumour that perhaps Mr. Travistock is blackmailing one of the TinStop families. I find that ludicrous for they could simply crush such a guy without lifting a finger. My cousin believes that the most plausible explanation could be that one of the TinStop families did not have an heir and he got it as a trustee or something”, Edward speculated.

“But I like the Grand Orient. I see absolutely no reason to change”, Jim said

“Ah, but you are being paid so much... aren’t you?”, Edward asked surprised

“What! Even I have not heard of my prospective pay and the street knows about it?”, Jim asked incredulously

Edward said smilingly, “Ah... I have heard but rumours. If indeed they turn out to be true, you are going to find it pretttty hard to resist the lure.”

“No. I don’t think so. I have all the money I need. It is just that... this whole air of mystery does not augur well in my opinion. I run The Grand Orient in an open manner. Any of my subordinates can come and talk to me. I would never treat them like this...” Jim continued

Jim sighed as he started the ascent of the Grand Steps To Serendip. The Grand Steps to Serendip was a kilometer’s climb which led to the hotel entrance. There was an escalator nearby as well as a shuttle service Jim could have called. He just wanted to postpone entering his office.

As he climbed the stairs, he winced. The marble statues that adorned the entrance were missing. There was no point in calling the police. A month ago, one such piece of art was missing from the foyer. When he reported it to the police, he got a message from the mysterious Mr. Travistock forbidding him from going to the police without consulting the latter first. The reason given was that the fair name of the Hotel at TinStop Hill should not be dragged into the press. A week ago Jim read in the papers that an objet d'art had been auctioned for a record amount. On closer inspection of the picture, it seemed to Jim that it resembled the missing piece. Jim was long suspecting the Hotel at TinStop Hill was in grave financial situations, but he himself had no idea of the exact state. Astonishingly, for a manager of the Hotel, he had no idea who or how the clients paid the Hotel or for that matter how much the fares were. He received no replies for such questions and had come to accept the silence.

Despite his objections, when the call did come, Jim found out that the pay had been indeed... obscene. He could retire in a few years but more than that, as Edward told him, he looked upon the compensation as some sort of recognition for his ability, a neutral metric for his talent.

The Hotel at TinStop Hill began with a bang alright. Some of the most important meetings in the world began to be scheduled there. Jim was stressed, dazzled and intimated by the events of significance that he would have to handle without any mistake whatsoever. However, he went about it with a new energy. Being close to some of the most important actors in world politics gave him the feeling that he played a small but crucial role in the play.* In the beginning, the job was indeed intoxicating.

All the people in the Hotel at TinStop Hill were the best at what they did. There was little need for instruction and people picked up on problems well. After two years of operation, Jim felt that he was indeed on top of his profession. There were lots of perks too. He was made a member of many a club. He even gave a speech to the local school on Hotel Management as a career choice rivaling that of any of the other conventional professions.

However, just as suddenly as the Hotel at TinStop Hill had started its rise, the Hotel started on its slide. Meetings and conferences started getting canceled at the last moment. More embarrassingly for Jim, some of the cancellations were done by the mysterious Mr. Travistock. Once a meeting had been canceled by Mr. Travistock after some delegates had arrived. Jim bore the brunt of the guests’ ire. What frustrated Jim was the fact that the action was patently unfair! All these conferences were of great import and the guests were eminent men in their own right. Treating them in that manner was just not civil!

The morale took a dive. All the people in the Hotel at TinStop Hill were good at what they did and they blamed themselves initially. They just worked harder and better. But customers grew more irate. After some more months, the Assistant Chef was fired for no ostensible reason.

And then Jim saw it happening in front of his eyes. The whole Hotel started coming apart. People started suspecting each other. Jim was the object of a vicious rumour campaign. But he tried harder. These were people of great professional bearing. They had been selected very carefully. Jim reasoned that there must be a way to work things out. Like the rest of them he blamed himself for not being innovative in solving the problem. He read books on better management, attended seminars on reviving organizations, turned to the ancient tomes for wisdom. He initiated a weekly group meeting so that everyone could air their concerns. Slowly, these meetings were hijacked by a few self righteous and over eager speakers and the rest became indifferent to it. They even went on a camp outing together. The camp outing was illuminating in a way. They discussed their problems and after a point got into circles. Then everyone lost interest and people split into their various groups and went their own way.

Jim crossed the beautiful garden between the Grand Steps of Serendip and his office. There was a pebble stone path that Jim liked to walk upon. He liked the sound his footsteps made on the pebble stone. The action that he was about to take was well reasoned.

He had many pleas to the mysterious Mr. Travistock for more participation. What brought the normally docile Jim to the point of blind fury was the fact that he could not even reach the mysterious Mr. Travistock. He usually posted his communication to the “gentleman”! Jim had had enough it all. There was a frustration and pent up anger in the very air of the Hotel. Or maybe that was Jim’s feeling.

Jim sat at his desk and took out his letter head to write his resignation letter. Despite all the anger, Jim was deferential in his letter. He knew no other way to write. As he was halfway through his resignation letter, he saw a rectangular marble box, around half a foot long. Intrigued, he opened it to find a note that read:

Mr. Jim Hardy,

I regret to inform you that due to circumstances beyond my control I would have to let go off you. You are a great professional and I trust other establishments would be more than happy to have your services. Please make no attempt to seek any explanation for this letter.

Later, when Jim recollected this incident he was struck by the fact that the first feeling he experienced was one of relief. Then he felt furious for being treated this way. He wanted to leave without a word to anyone. He stormed out of the office, but after he walked halfway through the pebble stone path, his usual dedication prevented him from walking further. He walked back, pinned the note on the Announcement Board for Employees and walked away. He knew all hell would break loose. He could not care less.

Releasing Next Monday: The Mysterious Mr. Travistock Muses

(*After reading the story I realized that I have been greatly influenced by "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro. It is a great book and a strongly recommended read)


Anagha said...

One of those pieces where you quickly want to reach the end and learn how it concludes... Some parts are very captivating! Waiting fot Mr. T's response...

themiddler said...

Hey! Nice to see you here.

Thanks :) Working on the second part, now with more enthu :)

Shankar said...

hope to see the second part .... this was excellent .... you have whole story-line in mind or are you making it up as you write?

Wilma said...

This is great info to know.