He slid back the stiff cuff of his white shirt to glance at the watch on his wrist, the prized watch which he had received upon completion of 25 years of meritorious service. The solid glistening hands of gold set against a dull silver dial reported the time as well past midnight. It was a good time to take his customary stroll around the property. He arose from the plush chair of black patent leather, smoothed his crisp shirt and put on his dark blue blazer which had been neatly slung over the back of the chair. Straightening the knot of his wine red tie, he walked to the door of his well-appointed cabin. He switched off the single bulb glowing overhead and stepped into the plush carpeted corridor, gently closing the door behind him.
He sniffed the air gently, and shook his head appreciatively as he perceived the faint smell of the custom issue lavender air freshener – perfect. Everything had to be perfect, following a set code of procedures. After all, as the General Manager of one of the prime Hotels in the city he had to ensure that all operational procedures, however small, were strictly adhered to. In the 42 years that he had been with the Hotel he had himself carefully observed, with military precision, all the rules and regulations that had over the years helped shape the reputation of this property. Starting off as a young 18 year old in the housekeeping division, he had steadily risen through the ranks to this top post, displaying steadfast loyalty, sincerity and diligence. His no-nonsense, professional attitude was much respected by the staff and he had become a revered figure and one of the pillars of strength of the Hotel. He had not married, had no children and no close blood relations to call his own; the Hotel was the only love of his life. Upon being made the General Manager, the owners in appreciation of his dedication had assigned a suite on the top floor of the Hotel to him in perpetuity; now he could work in his first floor office to his heart’s content and take a lift to the top floor whenever he felt like relaxing, which was quite seldom.
As he walked silently down the carpeted floor, myriad pleasant thoughts about the sprawling landscaped estate and the nine storied Hotel with its 540 rooms and suites filled him with a great sense of pride. He cringed reflexively when his thoughts went to the fire last year that had caused some damage to the far side of the north wing, but which had since been duly restored. Though the authorities had put the fire down to an electrical short circuit, he was himself quite certain that it was a case of deliberate arson by some former disloyal staff. He had his suspicions and hence had taken it upon himself to take a daily round of the property at unearthly hours to ensure that things were all right.
He had reached the second floor landing now, and down the corridor he could see two utility personnel in overalls attending to an apparently dysfunctional ice machine – one man with a spanner working the nuts on a flanged joint, the other with his hands disappearing inside the holding tank. As he walked closer to the duo, the man with the spanner instinctively looked up and his face instantaneously turned ashen. Letting out a horrific cry, the man dropped the spanner and bolted down the corridor in the opposite direction. The second man, who had his back to the corridor, jerked around to see what the commotion was all about. As his eyes focussed on the General Manager, the man turned pale and the colour drained off his face. Panic stricken, the man somehow stumbled down the corridor after his colleague, refusing to look behind him.
The General Manager shrugged his shoulders and turning around, head bowed, walked slowly towards the second floor landing. He was used to this reaction by now, more so after he had died trying to save his Hotel in the fire last year…
– Narendra Nayak © 2018
“The General Manager” is my sixth short story as part of the series “Add Salt to Taste”.