Two days ago, you were introduced to Author Mark Barry. A multi-genre successful author, he has graced us with his presence. To read about Author Mark Barry and his newest release click here. To read the first part of The Night Porter click
Continuing The Night Porter saga….
(Click here to read Part 1)
‘I’m fine. What brings you to these parts in the dark?
‘Have you heard of the Arkwright Author Awards?’
‘I can’t say that I have, no, Cat.’
‘It’s like the Oscars, except they call it the Alfs.’
‘Arkwright Literary Fiction Awards. Based here.’
‘In The Saladin?’ I replied.
‘No, in the town. Down at the Memorial Theatre. Our hotel is involved, though. Exciting stuff.’
‘Is it? How so?’
‘We’re taking four shortlisted authors as guests for a fortnight in November. And I’m telling everyone here that they are to be treated like rock stars. Whatever they want, they get. It’s quite an honour for our hotel to be involved. There will be press, TV, bloggers…’
I noted that Cat had her hair in a bun, which pulled back the lines around her eyes. Alongside her formal grey suit, she resembled a librarian about to retire. She looked much better with it down, but I valued my role at The Saladin, so I filed that mental note in the cabinet labelled Observation rather than the one labelled Well-Meaning Advice. I limited myself to something bland instead.
‘That’s good news, Cat.’
‘Mate, the Awards Committee is spending an absolute fortune with us. They are hiring the four best rooms. Three meals a day. An open bar…’
‘…an open bar?’ I could see carnage on the horizon.
‘Deffo, and it will be up to you and Martin to see that isn’t abused by the other guests here at the same time. They have booked another five rooms for delegates, and judges, and VIP’s who will be coming and going throughout November and not only that, they have booked double rooms in the hotel for the week immediately prior to the ceremony – just in case.’
‘That’s a nice bit of business.’
‘You’re not kidding. And that’s not all. A press conference is planned for the hotel. Can you imagine the bar bill and the catering? The extra room bookings?’
Cat leaned over, her polo neck jumper, the colour of fresh fallen snow, the brightest thing in the ancient hotel – so bright, I nearly flinched. ‘You are going to be fundamental to the day-to-day enjoyment of their stay at The Saladin. Whatever these four want, they get.’
‘I’d do that for any of our guests,’ I reply defensively, and unnecessarily.
‘I know you would. You come highly recommended, seriously. I am not having a pop: I’m telling you how important this is going to be.’
Anyone complimenting me on my professionalism immediately finds themselves in my good books. ‘Thank you, Cat.’
‘If they want beer from the One Stop, find some. If they want cat food, hair grips, shoes, CD’s, books, find some or send Martin Sixsmith and take over the bar.’
‘Will do, Cat.’
‘The Alpine Hotel on the other side of Wheatley were lobbying like mad for this deal, and though they got a piece, it wasn’t a chunk like this. This could see us through the winter. You weren’t here last year, and we struggled. We lost money. If everything goes well, we’ll make the Board happy. Don’t forget the Dick Whittington Chain.’
The Dick Whittington Inn is a chain of cheap walk-in motels, which run with a receptionist and six cleaners. Food in the reception dispenser. No night porter. No site manager. No bar. No food. Bed and out. They had changed the face of hotels in Britain and everyone in my profession feared them because they kill jobs faster than a speeding bullet and make any notion of professionalism in the hotel world redundant.
‘What about them?’
‘Kevin told me that they’ve been having a look at the books. Head office said if we have a bad winter – ’
‘Say no more. I’ll be on the alert.’
‘And keep an eye on Kerry, Gavin and Sixsmith. They’re all local.’
I noted her comment with a simple nod, and she continued. ‘We’re lucky that Joshua Arkwright lived here. Victorian Philanthropist. Colossal amount of money. Usual stuff. Textiles. Mining in Africa. All that King Solomon’s Mines Empire thingy.’
‘And his Trust owns the theatre?’
‘Plus several of the Prebends and that gorgeous old summerhouse behind the clinic opposite The Three Steeples. Lot of fuss there last year. A fire and an explosion with several dead.’
I nodded enthusiastically. ‘Yes, I heard about that.’
‘No one ever got to the bottom of that. They own thousands of acres of farmland and the Articles of Association of the Trust means that they can spend money around the world, but 51% of it must always be spent in Wheatley Fields. Mary Beth, the lady who organised the booking, was very informative. Please her, and we’ll keep the parasites away,’ Cat said, revealing a layer of passion I didn’t know existed. I always thought she wanted out, a bigger job. I might have been wrong.
‘You must like it here, Cat.’
She picked up her papers and smiled for the first time.
‘I do, yes. I’m going to make it secure before I go if it kills me. But that’s later. I’m off. Been a tough one. Mrs Purefoy in eight has been a pain. Says she’s lost loads of cash and that Magda has taken it. Pure racism if you ask me, but don’t get involved, okay? Refer her to me, yeh?’
‘I won’t. And I will.’
I still read newspapers, and I follow the arts, but I don’t read books. Or write. I’ve never written anything outside work, a memo, a note. Had I sufficient ability, I would have liked to paint still life paintings. The Saladin has many on its ancient walls, and I can stare at them for hours. However, I can barely hold a brush to gloss the skirting in my flat, so art was out as a career option.
Is writing art?
I settled back with my chocolate muffin and poured a cup of black coffee from my flask. I thought about what it meant to be an artist, for no other reason than I could.
Hot drinks are free here, of course, they are, just boil the kettle, but I prefer to take a special brand of coffee that I buy in a half-pound bag from The San Salvador Coffee House – rich, and dark, and black as the eyes of the devil, as my mum used to say, bless her.