Paris’ Chateau Rouge Hotel offered indifference at a premium. Every guest was met with a shrug. Each meal was served with aloofness. Thick dust coated the lobby’s carpets while bellboys in tatty uniforms ran hither and thither hauling furniture and sending orders to the hellfire kitchen. Surprisingly this establishment was popular among the elite of Paris and the international clientelle. Rudeness and impoliteness were the signs not of poor service – but of an institution that was authentic and proud of itself. There was no need for obsequious flattery. The staff paid minimal attention to the guests beyond formalities. It was a cavernous enterprise dedicated to everything that made Paris, Paris. Businessmen, politicians, diplomats, wealthy widows and anyone who was anyone would be seen here.
It was an ideal location for a gentleman to take his mistress for the afternoon, avoiding both dreary meetings and suspicion from his wife. How this hotel was full of Claudettes, Josephines and Valeries with their legs a-splay, their overacted wails echoing down the tall dim hallways.
Few enjoyed staying there, but the hotel’s reputation proceeded it and to criticise such a long-standing institution was blasphemy. Here one could lavish in one’s self importance. One could live among the replica Louis’ Quatoze furniture pretending one was the Sun King himself. The carpets were thick, dense and ornately decorated. The ceilings devinely tall, covered in angels and plaster curlicues. Above every bedstead lay a mirror to prevent the guest from ever forgetting they were the centre of their universe.
For its guests and residents, the hotel assured those inside that they were not fading into obscurity and irrelevance. Rather they were still as important as they would always be. They would always be waited upon. They would always rule their little part of French bureaucracy. They would forever be as elegant as their family dynasty.
King of the Chateau Rouge was Monsieur Allegro, head concierge. Standing at the circular desk in the centre of the spiral staircase he cared a great deal more than his demeanour would let on. When a great Princess would arrive, he would greet her with faux disinterest. When a great chanteuse arrived, he would stick his nose in air as he handed her the key. Every guest was treated with a level of such intense indifference and quiet disdain, they were left secretly gasping for more.
This approach had been carefully crafted and refined over the years by M. Allegro. In his days as a lobby boy, guests often wanted you but didn’t want you. You were to be completely invisible yet always in sight. You were to anticipate the guest’s needs before the needs were needed. You were the prop-master moving the furniture for Paris’ most pompous big cheeses. You were treated as a ghost – as though you didn’t exist. A spirit to be called upon when necessary.
As a quiet, unassuming boy, the grande-fromages would let their guard down around the young Allegro. They would talk to their wives, mistresses, family and colleagues while Allegro was hauling luggage and attending them. The boy played dumb. Taking orders. Running around the hotel like each of his other workmates. But underneath the docile facade was a very smart boy who was memorising everything her saw and heard. He was privy to the information about all sorts of European trade deals, troop numbers, distant wars and weapon supplies.
This information would fascinate him and he would keep small notebooks under his functional single bed. Every night he would jot down what he remembered. For many years the job continued as usual. His sharp mind memorising and noting every important factoid and every little preference of the hotel’s guests. He was often tipped handsomely for his snooty yet invisible service.