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By Imogen Edwards-Jones
Blue HenISBN: 0-425-20135-X
Chapter OneJust after 9am, the businessman in Room 302 who wants to check out. He is one of those sleazy guys with dandruff on his collar and egg on his tie; to be honest, he just looks like he needs a good wash. I type in his room number into the computer in the small office behind the desk, and press Print. Where's that monosyllabic Reservations assistant, Ewan, when you need him? The machine goes crazy, churning out reams of paper with different (976) numbers on them. Normally these phone calls would cost something like 50p a minute, but in the hotel it is £10 for sixty seconds and Room 302 has been hitting the porn lines late in to the night. I tear off the sheet and stare. He has been dialing various porn numbers solidly between 2:13a.m. and 4:02a.m., and he now owes the hotel the grand total of £850.
It does sound expensive, but he is by no means the worst. A couple of weeks ago there was this bloke on his own who ran up a £3,000 phone over the two days in his room. It was extraordinary. We did call up (when we could get through) a couple of times, and tell him that he was running up rather a large bill, but he didn't seem to care. His sister had paid for his room in advance and we did have her credit card swipe behind the desk, so we weren't too nervous. But when he came to check out, he said he could not pay the bill. After much wrangling, we called his sister, who turned up and hit the roof.Bizarrely, her anger was directed at us for letting it get so out of control. When I finally informed her that we had spoken to her brother on at least two occasions she became suitably contrite and paid up, or at least I think she has. Adrian came down out of his office to sort it out and I heard the woman make mention of sending a check.
Although, Room 302 is not the largest -porn chat-line bill that I have seen, I know that it is going to be large enough to cause problems, especially as the man was booked in by his office, and he is clearly on some business trip. It is quite hard to explain an £850 porn bill to one's boss.
I walk back out into Reception with my meter-long bill.
"Oh, dear," says Liz, back from the bathroom. "Don't tell me we've got a talker."
"He looks like he's been a bit chatty," I nod. "That's for sure."
"Porn?" she asks.
"What else?" I ask, beginning to fold up the print out.
"Oh, OK, I don't know," she replies huffily, with an annoying little shake of her offended shoulders. "He could have been on the phone to his wife."
"Yeah, right. No one talks to their wife that much. Anyway," I say, looking up at the sound of the opening. "Keep quiet. Here he comes."
Dandruff Man approaches the front desk, looking as if he hardly slept a minute last night, which, from his long porn phone bill, has to be the case.
"Good morning, sir," I say. "I trust you had a pleasant stay."
"Very good," says the man, his suit shining in the morning sun. "Slept like a log."
"Good, sir," I smile, handing over the bill half in and out of the envelope. "Would you like to check your bill, sir?"
"Yeah," he sniffs, as the long length of paper unfurls in front of him. "850 quid!" he says suddenly. "850 quid." You say I've spent 850 quid on the phone?
"That's outrageous," he says. "850 quid on the phone! You can't charge that."
"I'm afraid that is our standard rate for a premium rate telephone line, sir."
"Premium rate! Those aren't premium rate!" he says.
"I'm afraid they are, sir.".
"No they're not!" he says.
"I am afraid they are, sir."
"Will you stop being afraid!" he hisses, his cheeks bright scarlet with anger.
"Please don't raise your voice, sir," I say.
"I did not raise my voice!" he says raising his voice.
"Fine, sir. Your room is £250 a night for two night, you have spent £32 in the mini bar...."
"On two whiskies," he says, slapping the top of Reception with his hand.
"Two whiskies, some chocolate, a bag of chips and some mineral water."
"Oh, Jesus Christ, chips and some mineral water," he adds sarcastically. "That really is going to break the bloody bank."
"And you have spent £850 on the telephone."
"This place is daylight robbery," he says shaking his head, releasing some flakes onto the counter. "I'm sorry, I'm not paying 850 quid on a phone bill," he says. "You should have warned me it would be this expensive and anyway they aren't premium rate lines."
"Hot Honeys is a premium rate line," I try to explain. "It tells you that as soon as you dial up."
"How do you know?"
"Because we have had many customers use it before."
"Can we come to some sort of arrangement?" he asks.
"I am very happy to make up separate receipts, if you want, sir?" I suggest.
"Right," he says.
"We could also waive about £50 off the bill," I add. I have done this plenty of times before. It usually makes them so grateful that they pay up the rest immediately. It saves an awful lot of fighting, for the cost of £50.
"Really?" he asks sounding surprised and pleased at the same time. "That would be ever-so nice of you."
"No problem, sir," I say.
"Can I put the room on the credit card," he says, licking his thumb. "And I'll pay the phone bill in cash." He brings a wad of £50 notes and starts peeling them off, one by one, placing them on the counter. "There we go." He smiles. "800 quid."
"Thank you very much, sir," I say. "I'll just run your card through. Would you like any help with your bags?"
Excerpted from Hotel Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones Excerpted by permission.
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