Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 19
“I trust your room is satisfactory?” she asked.
“What? Oh yes,” Allenson replied. “I will need to hire a servant for the duration of my stay. Can you suggest an agency?”
“Of course, sar, I will arrange it.”
Allenson pointed to a double door made of the same dark wood that formed the structure of the inn.
The receptionist nodded and he entered to be seated by a floorwalker who was another employee. Everyone he met in the public areas of the inn would be employees, which was why the tariff was high. Indentured servants would work out of sight behind the scenes.
The menu sported a variety of Brasilian dishes. He selected one more or less at random that involving fowl covered in fruit preserve. He chose a light fizzy spiced beer to drink while he was waiting. It was so pleasant that he ordered another. The dish when it arrived was a pretty good facsimile of the original. A local white meat substituted for the native Brasilian original but the fruit sauce was perfect which rather surprised him. ‘Streamer restaurants with pretensions to gourmet standards tended to boast Brasilian cuisine on the menu but the reality was often rather hit and miss.
Not that Allenson cared overmuch about food as long as it was hot and wasn’t going to poison him. However, he had attended enough formal dinners to tell a patina de pisciculis from an aliter baedinam sive agninam excaldatam, a thought that made him wonder not for the first time why it was necessary to write menus in archaic languages. Admittedly aliter baedinam sive agninam excaldatam sounded better than “steamed meat”.
The empty restaurant slowly filled. A young man brought an even younger girlfriend who stared adoringly as he talked. Allenson sighed. Youth was so wasted on the young, an unoriginal thought but true nonetheless. The waiter and floorwalker pushed two tables together to seat a group of older men and women dressed in conservative business suits. In Paxton, conservative equaled dark green with pink linings.
The party conversed loudly, each trying to outdo the other. The bottles of brandy served to their table were clearly not their first attempt this evening to quench a raging thirst.
Allenson finished his main course and the floorwalker brought him the sweet menu to peruse. He was slightly put off by one of the women in the party flashing covert glances in his direction. He had few illusions about his power of sexual magnetism. The attention was disconcerting so he wondered what was she up to? He glanced casually across to find her in a huddle with her fellow diners. They all turned to look at him.
He felt his face burn and had to resist checking that his clothes were properly fastened.
“Well, I’ll do it,” a florid-faced man said.
He climbed laboriously to his feet and made his way unsteadily to Allenson’s table.
“General Allenson? It is General Allenson, the victor of the Terran wars?”
Allenson gave a small nod of assent, resisting an urge to deny everything.
“Rosy thought so,” the man said, slapping Allenson on the shoulder in a friendly manner. “She saw you at the victory parade on Manzanita.”
He whipped out a datapad that he had been holding behind his back.
“Could I have a selfy? It’s for my wife, not me.”
He turned around without waiting for an answer and held his datapad at arm’s length, leaning in close to Allenson to record his meeting with the great man.
The man checked the picture.
“Would you autograph it?”
“What’s your wife’s name?” Allenson asked.
“Alfred,” the man replied.
Allenson scrawled a greeting to Alfred with his forefinger and scribbled an approximation of his name.
“Hey Alf, ask him over?”
“Would you care to join us?”
Allenson saw to his horror that they were pulling up another chair at the double table and signaling the waiter to lay an additional place.
“Thank you but no, I’ve only just got on-world.”
He rose so fast that he knocked the remains of his spiced beer across the table. A rivulet waterfalled off the surface to splash his admirer’s shoes. Fortunately the man didn’t seem to notice or perhaps he just didn’t care.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Allenson said, disengaging the man’s arm.
He remembered why he had firmly turned down a political career. Glad-handing was not one of his skills. He made a rapid retreat, pressing a coin firmly into the floorwalker’s hand as he passed the podium. A flash of purple light as the money changed hands authenticated the coin as a genuine Brasilian crown piece. That was an overtip but the large rectangular plastic tab was the first coin he pulled from his pocket in his haste. Allenson would gladly have paid ten times as much to escape a round of gut-wrenching embarrassment from people queuing to have their picture taken with the conquering hero.
Allenson slept surprisingly soundly. He breakfasted from the preserved food in his room’s dispenser, reluctant to brave the private dining room again. He just finished his morning café and was dropping the cup in the bin when his datapad chimed.
“You requested a servant, sar,” said the receptionist, the same girl as last night going by her voice. She must work long hours.
“I have one in reception for you to interview. I can personally recommend him as he has worked for our guests on other occasions to their satisfaction. Shall I send him up?”
“No I’ll come down.”
A short, sturdy man in clean, pressed blue overalls waited for him in the lobby. He was balding but covered his head with a lemon yellow cap that had a bright blue badge advertising an agricultural product new to Allenson.
“You must be Colonel Allenson? I’m Boswell, my card.”
The man stepped forward and handed Allenson a small piece of stiff paper. He had forgotten the Paxton habit of exchanging business cards. On reflection, he remembered seeing a similar box of cards with the Inn’s picture on the front in his room. On one side, the man’s card read Boswell’s Personal Services and on the other listed a scale of charges. He glanced down to find the costs expensive by Manzanita standards but reasonable for a more developed world like Nortania.
There was a pause while Allenson considered what to ask. He didn’t hire the servants at home. Trina handled all the domestic business. He had expected to be dealing with an agency hiring out indentured servants not an independent contractor. Allenson always found them a difficult economic group to deal with. They were neither fish nor fowl in the Lower Stream’s social pecking order.
Boswell had an upturned nose that conferred him with a somewhat irreverent appearance, as if a grin was always near the surface of his features. The man looked him in the eyes obviously expecting Allenson to say something.
“The receptionist speaks most highly of you,” he eventually got out, waving his hand vaguely in the direction of her podium.
“I should hope so, Guv,” Boswell said, indignantly. “She’s my niece.”
There was that half grin again. Allenson laughed. Dammit he liked the chap’s style.
“You’re hired. Let’s start with a week’s service and see how we get on.”
“Money in advance?” Boswell asked, hopefully, inclining his head and adopting an innocent expression.