TW: Mention and description of knife-violence, CSA, tumultuous homes and domestic abuse, explosives
It’s 11:30pm and I’ve resorted to a last meal of oatmeal porridge with peas—yuck—because I’m scrambling to make the coast train into the city. If I’m late I’ll catch hell from a guy who considers himself God’s gift to humanity; a charming and sexy guy nonetheless but not someone you want to get on the wrong side of, especially when he’s just been through a shift, in what might be considered the nearest place to Hades, in Copenhagen.
Welcome to Hotel Jay. Come along with me to the sibling hotel of the one I’m meant to be working for but because the night receptionist has decided to accompany his famous conductor boyfriend on yet another global tour with an orchestra, I’m filling in a gap. A canyon is more like it. I ought to be getting danger money but I grit my teeth and bear it because without the extra wages, I can’t pay my course fees.
So far so good. We’re past the corner where the drug dealers operate from and they’re not out yet. That gloomy street corner is just one link in a supply chain that stretches farther back along the canal. The drugs come in from Albania, reportedly shipped from South America. If you’re looking for highs, don’t choose these ones. They’re often cut with filler and might be contaminated. The real stuff comes directly from Colombia and into the hotel in suitcases. We found that out last month when cops followed a tip-off and busted the guests in room 47. There is a bullet hole in the wall there now. The dealers will be out later, for sure though. Let’s get inside.
Handover complete, we are now alone. Well, I’m alone. You’re with me in spirit. Financial constraints mean that I’m supposed to manage an entire hotel by myself from midnight till 7am. Seven hours doesn’t sound so long but time is always relative and the less fun you’re having, the farther it stretches. The guests are the ones meant to be having fun—I’m just the help. Out of season, the night receptionist can generally cope. Tasks are few: take care of late arrivals and bookings, attend to enquiries, let adventurers in and out and slice stuff for the breakfast buffet. Since I do all this in the other, quieter hotel where my regular shifts occur—more specifically a gay hotel and much more private—I can handle the practical stuff. What I find difficult to handle is the pervasive sense of dread that has come home to roost, a dread based on traumatic experience and one that gets compounded with each shift.
You see, guests do have fun. A lot of fun, but what is fun, really? It’s relative too, because a party of boy scouts is looking for a different kind of fun than a predatory pedophile is. Yep, unfortunately anyone can stay at a hotel (especially a gosh darn cheap one where a dorm bunk costs $15 per night—with breakfast!) and it’s not really possible to vet most folks beforehand. It’s not really the accepted practice to reject folx based on gut feeling or intuition either. A hotel is a business that goes under once it starts getting picky and choosy. So, unfortunately, we had that ugly incident in the communal showers where the pedophile wanted to show the boy scouts how skilled he was at masturbating. That occurred just as I was handing things over to the morning staff and found myself obligated to stay and clean up the mess. Oh, we’ve run out of bleach, really?
Compared to what else goes on during my delightful (oh so many) cover shifts, that event was just like a warm up act before the stars get on stage. To be fair though, I do encounter people in genuine need and when that happens I respond to the best of my ability. Chalk that up to the occasions where teenagers attempt to run away from home and come crying into the warmth when the reality of the city jungle bites. The Copenhagen winter can be particularly bitter because of the wind coming in from the sea and the way the landscape is so flat. The wind can toss bits of broken glass into your face along with snowflakes. Therefore, it is hard to not give the odd stray a room some nights if one is empty, let them bunk in a dorm (at their own risk) or even crash on a couch in the basement—on prior notice of eviction 30 minutes before breakfast is served. My heart bleeds for mothers with children running away from violent spouses. They always promise to go to the police first thing in the morning. You tend to wonder if they were followed, y’know, if the violent spouse is coming too and what he’ll do when he gets here.
I’m not entirely without security measures. There is a button right under my desk that alerts the police to an emergency in progress. It was installed after the first series of robberies and is meant to prevent more. What no one told me was that one of the drug dealers outside is an ex staff of the hotel. And the door code hasn’t changed since he left. So this guy (with a brick shithouse physique) keeps swanning in and using the toilets to bag his cuts in. He gives me a million-dollar smile every time he passes the desk that still manages to make me shudder inside. It seems that this guy had a word with the robbers because the next one tells me to keep my fucking hands away from that button as soon as he comes around the desk. His knife goes into my ribs—not right through but hard enough to say he’s serious. He gets the cash in the till because my boss told me not to be a hero for him.
Whether he is aiming at punishing infidels, making a political statement or just in somebody’s pay, the same toilets are a magnet for my next violent guest. Thankfully, the outer door is thick and fire-protected, stretching from the ceiling all the way to the floor. The bomb, which wasn’t actually meant to go off inside the hotel, does and injures its maker. The bang has an odd effect on me. It’s obvious that something really nasty has just happened but my mind prefers to go into shock, kind of waiting for the person who’s meant to deal with nasty stuff. In the midst of that shock, a scruffy guy with a bleeding face comes limping past and exits in a big hurry. I call the cops and listen to my quivering voice talk to dispatch. It’s not a new experience for me; I’ve had to do so for assaults on guests, thefts, people refusing to settle bills and the like but this time the quivers could make a milkshake. Soon after, I hear a helicopter. A man hunt is on.
My baton-man, Lars, gets quite a surprise. He seems a little jealous that he can’t tell the story in the first person. A Chinese student who has been doing some weekend shifts quits over the phone, following the incident. The boss is worried about how to fill the gaps.
I go home to sleep. I’m back in school tomorrow and I’ll catch hell if my teacher finds me dozing off again. She thinks she’s God’s gift to humanity. Since my course is the whole reason for my being in Copenhagen, I can’t let anyone down. Least of all myself.