In the great houses of Britain only a century or so ago, there was a position called “the hall boy.” If he had been a black boy in the American South, he would have been called a house slave, or if he had been in Asia, he would have been called a “house boy.” The boy is meant to be quick, energetic, smart, and self-effacing. A convenience, a human appliance. In those big houses he often slept in a cupboard in the hall, so he would be convenient for nighttime delivery of notes, fetching of drinks, or possibly the summoning of help. Maybe things less innocent. There are always a lot of boys around. If one disappears, another one soon shows up.
Rex did not sleep in a cupboard, though his accommodation was not much better. He had a small basement bedroom, not in a British country house but rather in a plush Chicago hotel, a gentleman’s hotel — nearly a traditional club rather than a modern hotel. No one went up to rooms unannounced, particularly wives. He lucked into his job after a series of foster homes which were also lucky, though more numerous than was comfortable, because they were “high end.” That is, he was taken in by doctors and lawyers — or rather by their wives, if they were around — though marriages at that level were often between wealthy older men and ambitious younger women who tended to travel a lot. In the end, they never had any interest in children. He was merely a stage prop. He didn’t object so long as there was no chance of returning to the abuse that took him into the foster system.
By the time he was ten, he knew how the various households were managed. He was not prepared for the last husband to die, nor was his resourceful wife, but she knew the boy well enough to see that he wasn’t cut out for foster care. She found him the position with the hotel, which she knew because she had quietly visited lovers there, escorted up private stairs. Then she went on a cruise. He never saw her again.
The hallways became his domain. He knew when the waiters came around to pick up the trays from room service breakfasts and he knew which rooms were likely to order very well, but eat little — because he knew what they had ordered in the bar the night before. Not just drinks. So he saved money by nipping their toast and crisp bacon, maybe a swig of orange juice, but for coffee he had his own French press back in his snug basement room. One must have standards somewhere.
Shining shoes pleased him, so he enjoyed the custom and took pride in the morning row of burnished wingtips and tassel loafers outside doors. Over the years he educated himself from the newspapers, magazines, and occasionally even books the clientele left behind. Since this was a hotel frequented by politicians, power brokers, and the more successful arts people — never stars, just the ones behind the scenes — he understood a great deal about how systems work and what the international dynamics were. He even understood money better than most middle-aged men, partly because he knew so well that money is only a means. It’s a major mistake to use money as a measure of success or a goal when there are so many other and often easier ways.
By the time he had entered adolescence, he had comforted a lot of women, given them the addresses of dependable abortionists, slipped off to the drugstore to fill their prescriptions, knew where to buy the best quality panty hose and who could remove stains from luxury clothing on an emergency basis. In service to the gentlemen he could discretely provide the best in tobacco, condoms, and hangover relievers — not to mention a range of pharmaceuticals. Rarely was he surprised by a request. Also, with a little help from the local librarian who taught him how to use the library computers, he became adept at curing laptop problems and using search functions. Many things were out there that few people knew about. His gentlemen mostly didn’t watch porn, but they were definitely on the edges of what people take for granted. The world to these men was a labyrinth with real minotaurs but not the ones the public knew. Still, they “ate” people, esp. young people. They were the corporate masters who controlled economics and war. The main news monitors did not know their names.
Composed, polite, soft-voiced, and self-disciplined, the men seemed trustworthy. It was a disguise. Not entirely successful. Not that they cracked — more like they finally collapsed into death. He took a first aid class after the first time he tried to perform artificial respiration and realized he just didn’t know how. There were assassinations but not at the hotel: the police came to search the closets and luggage. It would have made more sense for senior management to take on the task of preventing suicides, but being there was what counted. Actually, it seemed to be an advantage to be a boy rather than a man. He was good at talking them through it.
Sketch provided by Scaasi and Aad de Gids
All this made the transition from hall boy to call boy very easy. He took excellent care of his people (he did not think of them as tricks nor johns, though they were mostly male) and they were high quality — no problems, good pay, total discretion of course. The problem was where to go from there, since he had no formal credentials — only skills. When he began to manage the hotel, he took permanent residence in a luxury suite but never brought anyone to its privacy, shelter, safety. Solitude appealed to those working in a service industry where other people must be accommodated always. He didn’t think of family because he didn’t know what family was.
The economy began to decline. Permanent residents disappeared as they looked for a cheaper way to live. The neighborhood began to be dangerous and the hotel detective became more of a guard. Now and then a client took Rex aside and asked whether he might not like to buy an expensive watch or a bit of jewelry. He had the resources but was very selective because of the problem of marketing: he didn’t want to look for customers and was not sure of the provenance of some things, esp. art. Hard to fence. Sometimes the latter were too beautiful to pass over and the suite became a sort of gallery.
Then one day a SE Asian man he knew — but mostly avoided unless it could not be done courteously — knocked on his door. This was not welcome and, in fact, the suite was not numbered and the doorknob dangled a perpetual “do not disturb” sign. The peephole revealed the man was in extreme distress, so for fear of a disturbance, he let the man in.
“I must leave Chicago at once.” Of course the next request was to sell something. “I give you a choice. I do not have these things with me — they are in my room. I show you photos.” One was a fabulous sable coat, floor length, that the man had been seen wearing when he got into the luxury town cars he favored. The other was more unique, more precious. That’s the one the Rex chose, paying cash from the safe hidden behind a painting in the bedroom, a small quiet street scene, quite unremarkable.
“Come for it in five minutes,” the man hissed over his shoulder as he plunged towards the elevator.
Having no desire to create more drama than necessary, the hotelier waited for the full five minutes, then went down the plush hall carpeting, past the many mirrors, to the room and inserted his universal card key into the door lock. His heart beating so fast that he could hardly focus, he opened the door slowly.
The very young boy was sitting on the bed in jeans, t-shirt, tennis shoes — his hands resting beside him. He looked up with wide dark troubled eyes through a forelock of straight hair. No expression showed on his face, but the man did not need to be told what was going on in his head — he had been there. It had once been his life.
In a hotel, the things you need are brought to you. Both of these males had been delivered new life, an unfolding future of joy and exploration. Not sex: love. Family.