This is the story of Mrs. Haversworth.
“She’s not that drunk that came in and threw up everywhere last week, is she?” I ask. Norton wrinkles his nose as if in memory of the smelly incident.
“No,” he grumbles. “That was Sue Bells. She’s a piece of work, too. But that’s not what this story is about. Now listen up.”
I roll my eyes. This is my third week on the job at The Golden Loft. Though it’s advertised as the most luxurious hotel and resort on the East Side, working here has been far from glamorous. I straighten my bellboy’s uniform, pressed and starched to within an inch of its life. It’s so stiff that I feel like I’m peeling armor off myself at the end of each night. The cardboard-like pants dig stubbornly into the crevices of my lower body and whatever they use to wash it leaves patches of itchy rash in the most uncomfortable place. If I didn’t need money for school so desperately I would’ve walked out on the second day just to be out of this awful attire.
The Golden Loft thrives on its reputation of “the customer is always right.” On televisions, on billboards, on the radio, and all over its numerous social media sites, the hotel touts its slave-like ability to please its customers and cater to special requests. So proud they are of this motto that they even challenge their customers to come up with the strangest, most bothersome and ridiculous requests they can think of, then boast of their ability to fulfill them.
The staff’s ability to fulfill them, of course. I doubt the higher-ups in their expensive suits and shiny shoes ever made their way down here to fold five hundred napkins into cranes for a wedding reception, or to paint an entire suite into nauseating shades of Barbie pink and grassy green, only to have to paint it back after the guests left. And there was that time I was sent to peruse every ethnic grocery in town in search of one particular type of gummy candy usually found only in the ghettos of Korea. They didn’t reimburse me for gas either, since “servicing customers as needed” was part of the job description.
Norton is my supervisor. For all my complaints of the place, and despite my eyes rolling every time he opened his wide, frog-like mouth, I must admit he’s not the worst boss in the world. He’s reasonably generous in sharing the tips, not too picky about when I clock in as long as it’s within fifteen minutes of shift time, and on dull nights like tonight, good for a story to pass the time. Although I can’t tell whether he’s telling the truth or making up tall tales most of the time.
“Now Mrs. Haversworth,” he’s saying in his grumbling voice. It’s late into the night and check-ins are few. Norton is tallying up the logs from the previous night, licking his fat fingers as he turned the pages. “She’s a regular, you see. She’s rich, far as we can tell. Very, very rich. And ancient. Very, very ancient. She’s tightened her face so much it looks like someone grabbed her skin, pulled it back, and pinned it behind her head with a cloth pin. Don’t know how she got her money since you can never tell what she ever did for a living, but we’re guessing she buried a few husbands for it.”
“I haven’t seen her,” I say, scratching myself as discreetly as possible. The uniform feels extra itchy when I stand still. I almost wish someone would come in with a dozen heavy bags so I can hop to moving them and take my mind off it.
“Oh, you will,” Norton says. He seems almost amused by this thought. “You will if you stick around here a while. She always comes. And there’s something you gotta know about her—she knows how to work that whole ‘customer is always right’ thing. Work it better than anyone, and you can take that to the bank.”
“Can’t be worse than that room that wanted the twenty-eight kinds of coffee beans available and then didn’t order any coffee. Who the hell knew there were that many kinds of coffee?”
“Well, Mrs. Haversworth is way above and beyond that.”
“Once she came down to the lobby after checking in, yelling that her room is too loud. Just too loud, she kept saying. How do we expect her to sleep when it’s so damn loud??” Norton smacks the table, mimicking a disgruntled old woman. A pair of maids walk by and chuckle. Judging by their knowing expression, they’ve heard this story before. “We went up there, checked the air conditioner, thinking that’s the problem, then checked the fridge, and the TV. Checked every damned thing and couldn’t figure out what was ‘too loud.’ And she pointed at the bed and yelled at us for”—he raises his fingers in air quotes—“being complete idiots. As it turns out she thought her sheets were too heavily starched, and therefore too crinkly and too loud for her to sleep on!”
I chuckle. “So what did you do?”
“Changed her sheets. With a set of identical sheets. She sat on it and announced they were ‘much better, much better indeed’ and we should’ve ‘put these on to begin with.’” Norton shakes his head in memory. “But that’s nothing next to what she demanded when she came the next time.”
“What did she want?”
“A milk bath.”
“That’s not so crazy. I mean, isn’t that all the rage these days?”
“Oh, no.” Norton wags a finger at me. “She had to have goat milk. Wild goat’s milk. A bathtub full.”
I gape, doubting the truth of the story but unable to help myself. “So did you get it?”
“The concierge did, at some odd shop some ways out. But as it turns out, finding it was not the trouble. It was getting it here. The milk cost only a hundred bucks, but transporting it here via taxis cost almost a grand! And I gotta tell ya, I don’t know where she got this kooky idea that this stuff is good for bathing, because it is sticky as all hell! She couldn’t get it off her hair or outta her skin folds after, and we had to get maids to help her wash it off—with about fifty bottles of heated Evian!”
I burst into laughter. If it’s a fake story, it’s a pretty good one. “And who paid for all that?”
“We charged it to her room, the cost of transporting the milk, too. She didn’t complain, you know. She’s loaded, and despite all her bitching, she always leaves us good reviews. It’s all really bizarre, since I can’t imagine she had a very good time scrubbing goat milk out of her crevices.”
I shrug. “Some people are odd. Maybe it’s a fetish.”
Norton gives an exaggerated shudder. “I do not want to think about fetishes related to that old bat. Still, the milk thing wasn’t as weird as the moon thing.”
“What’s the moon thing?”
“It was way back, back when I just started here. Golly, must be a good fifteen years ago. Once she came and requested a room with a view. We accommodated to our best, of course. We gave her a room on the top floor, facing the city, gorgeous sights. We even congratulated ourselves on getting such an easy request from her, but then wouldn’t you know it, less than an hour in her room and she comes storming down, yelling and demanding to see the managers. We try and sooth her and ask what’s wrong and she says she can’t see the moon.”
“So you open the window for her or what?”
“Did. Didn’t work. Cloudy that night and she gave us hell, said we gypped her out of a view. Never mind that she was in the room with the best view of the city, never mind that even if there weren’t any clouds, she wouldn’t have been able to see much of the moon anyway, with all the tall buildings and lights. But lord was she mad. She pacing up and down, like this.” Norton hunches over, doing quite the good impression of a sour old woman, muttering through his teeth. “And she kept saying ‘I knew it, I knew it. They warn me but did I listen? Noooooo.’”
“Who warned her?”
“Hell if I know. That’s just what she kept saying, and I bet if you asked her, she wouldn’t be able to tell ya.”
“Then what happened?”
“We got creative. I mean, she’s nuts anyway, so we started going nuts with the ideas, too. We tried telling her the moon is a scheduled show and will appear only at specific hours. We tried painting a moon on the window. As luck would have it there was a stage show in the ballroom the week before and we got our hands on a paper-mâché moon.”
“And that worked?”
“Nope. Nothing worked. She just kept muttering ‘I knew it. They warned me they’d be incompetent. I know it.’ By this point it was practically midnight and we were all exhausted and frustrated and it freaking started raining. So there was absolutely no hope of that blasted moon coming out. I was so pissed off.”
“So did she drop it eventually?”
“Nope, I did.”
Norton is really into his story now. He gestures wildly as if reliving that moment. “See, I was young and hot-blooded back then, and I was so sick of this old bat making stupid demands. I thought ‘to hell with it!’ and jumped—I kid you not—jumped onto her bed, yanked off my pants, and shook my pasty white behind in her face!”
A laugh bursts out of me. “You did not!”
“Yes! I shook it and yelled ‘There! That enough moon for ya, ya old crow?! That enough moon for ya??’”
“There’s no way,” I say insistently, shaking my head. “They’d have fired you for it. Customer is always right, remember? No way they would’ve kept letting you work here if you shook your bare ass at a customer.”
“True,” Norton says with a smirk. “They probably would’ve booted me out the door before I even pulled my pants up, if not for what happened next.”
“Which is what?”
“See, everybody went quiet when I did that. There was this silence that lasted for a long time. Then Mrs. Haversworth turned, deadpan, to the others and said, ‘See? Now was that so hard? This young man knows how to get the job done.’”
“Yes! And then she told us she needs to get ready for bed, shooed us out, and that was that.”
“That didn’t happen.”
Norton raises a hand. “Scout’s honor.”
“You were never a scout.”
I shake my head. “Well, that was a fantastic waste of my time. I really need to stop listening to your made-up stories.”
“Made-up, eh?” Norton gives me an unreadable look and tilts his head toward the front door. A luxury town car had pulled up. I quickly grab my trolley and roll it out as the doorman makes way for the customer.
“Welcome to the Golden Loft,” I say. “May I help you with your . . .”
I pause. The woman who just walked in, wrapped from neck to toe in rich black fur, gives me a stern, disapproving look. She’s got to be the oldest person I’ve seen anywhere, a positive relic, thin as a whip with her face pulled so tight her eyes and mouth stretch as if pressed by Saran wrap. She looks me up and down and I can almost feel pinpricks from her gaze. Norton pushes me aside and takes her hand.
“Mrs. Haversworth!” He says grandly. “Welcome back! I hope everything will be to your satisfaction.” He gestures at me. “This here is Billy. He’ll be seeing you to your room. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask him.”
I tear myself away from her stony gaze and quickly move to load up her bags.
“There better be moon tonight,” is all she says. I look back at Norton helplessly.
“You know what to do,” he says with a mischievous smile. I swallow hard and follow Mrs. Haversworth to the lift.