Tuesday, October 26
Lucinda Doucette looked at the bathroom floor, thinking: I live in a world full of pigs.
Le Jardin, a modern 300-room hotel near Seventeenth and Sansom streets, in the heart of Center City, was a monolithic gray edifice with angular black wrought-iron railings around its seventy balconies, a model of European modernity at the corner of what was now being considered Philadelphia's new French Quarter. Managed by a Belgian multinational firm that also managed properties in Paris, Monaco and London, Le Jardin, which had been completely renovated in 2005, catered to the upscale business and leisure traveler, with its highly polished mahogany trim, its frosted French doors, its expensive French amenities.
In addition to the guest rooms there were six suites on the penultimate floor, all of them with views of the city, along with a presidential suite on the top floor that had breathtaking views of the Delaware River and beyond.
For Lucinda Doucette, along with everyone else who worked in hotel housekeeping, the views were less than scenic, although sometimes just as breathtaking in their own right.
Like all hotels, Le Jardin lived and died by its 'star' ratings - Orbitz, Hotels.com, Expedia, Hotwire, Priceline.
And while the management looked to online sites for input and feedback, there were only two accommodation ratings that really mattered: Mobil and AAA.
Mobil 'shopped' hotels every few years. The American Automobile Association, on the other hand, was far more exacting, some might say stingy, with their Diamond ratings, and thus were the most feared and respected of all the organizations on whose assessment of accommodations, dining, and travel the success of any hotel depended. Disappoint AAA, and the drop in business was palpable within months.
What it all boiled down to was comfort, staff, accommodation, and cleanliness.
Le Jardin was rightfully considered an upscale establishment, consistently rated at four stars, and this was something the management guarded fiercely.
Lucy Doucette had worked in housekeeping at Le Jardin for just over a year, starting a few days after her eighteenth birthday. When she first got on staff she found herself visiting the various travel websites with some regularity, checking the guest reviews, the user opinions, especially in the area of cleanliness. Granted, if she wasn't doing her job, she would certainly have heard about it from the director of housekeeping, a chilly, no-nonsense woman named Audrey Balcombe who, it was rumored, held a Master's Degree in communications from the Universite d'Avignon and had apprenticed as a hotelier with Kurt Wachtveitl, the legendary former general manager of the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok.
Still, Lucy took pride in what she did, and wanted to hear about it, good or bad, from the guests themselves. One review on trip- advisor.com had given Le Jardin a single star (there was no option for zero stars, or this guest reviewer certainly would have used it) in the area of cleanliness, going so far as to compare the hotel to a locker room at an inner-city YMCA. The reviewer complained specifically about entering the bathroom upon checking in, only to find the toilet unflushed. Lucy thought that the guy who'd written and uploaded the review, not the toilet, was the one full of shit - there was virtually no chance of this ever happening - but nonetheless, for the next two weeks, she worked doubly hard on her floor, the twelfth floor, checking and then rechecking the toilets before clearing the rooms for the arriving guests.
Most of the time her work ethic was its own reward - God knew the pay was not - but sometimes, not often, there were unexpected perks.
One guest, about five months earlier - an elderly, refined man - stayed for six days and when he checked out he left Lucy a one- hundred-dollar tip beneath the pillow, along with a note that said To the girl with the haunted eyes: Good job.
Haunted eyes, Lucy thought at the time. She wore sunglasses to and from work for weeks afterward.
Right now Lucy wanted to choke the man staying in 1212. In addition to the spilled coffee on the chair, the stained pillowcases, the broken beer bottles in the tub, the overturned breakfast tray, the hair- clogged sink, and the shampoo and conditioner bottles which had somehow ended up under the bed along with two pairs of stained and streaked underwear, every towel was soaking wet and had been piled on the floor. And although she was used to this, this time it was particularly gross. In one of the towels was a copious amount of what looked like vomit.
Jesus, what a pig.
Time to move. Lucy had four more rooms to clean before her lunch break and less than two hours to do it. Management knew exactly when she clocked into a room. If she took longer than forty minutes, they noticed.
In a given day, each room attendant had fourteen rooms to clean. If you were fast - and Lucy, at nineteen, had energy to burn - you could buy 'credits,' or other rooms to clean. Lucy often did. She was good at her job. She did not engage the guests in a lot of small talk in the hallways, she was always courteous and polite, and with a little make-up she was not that hard to look at. With her cornflower-blue eyes, her butterscotch hair and slender figure, she never had a problem fitting into her uniform and more than once had caught the male guests following her movement down the long hallways at the hotel.
Although the work was not particularly demanding, it was mentally taxing. The difference between a three-and-a-half-star and a four-star hotel was often in the attitude and the details.
Some things were out of the control of the employees - the quality of the linens and towels, for instance, or whether or not to include mouthwash in the bathroom, or services like an evening turn-down - while other things were clearly in the purview of the 'ladies' in housekeeping.
Today there was a convention checking into the hotel, booked for three days. Something called Société Poursuite, a group of people, as Lucy understood it, who looked into unsolved murders as some sort of strange hobby. They had purchased a third of all the rooms, including the entire twelfth floor.
Using her finely tuned sense of logic, Lucy deduced that the word Société meant Society. She just hoped the other word didn't stand for Pig.
As she finished Room 1210, Lucy thought about her lunchtime appointment that day.
She had seen so many so-called professionals in the past nine years, so many people who thought they knew what was wrong with her. She had even taken part in a pilot program on regression therapy at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. Despite Lucy having no money to pay for the treatment, after three separate interviews they had agreed to take her. It hadn't gone well. For five straight days she'd sat in a group of eight people who'd pretty much talked about how, in previous lives, they were raped by Attila the Hun or played footsie with Marie Antoinette, or swapped spit with John the Baptist's severed head. Yuck. They had not really understood her problem. Lucy had yet to meet anyone who did.
She did meet some nice people there. The man who died and was brought back to life. The woman who was hit in the head and wandered around the city for three whole months, not knowing who she was.
Lucy had also been to a behavioral psychologist - exactly ten times. Her medical benefits at the hotel allowed her to see someone in the mental health field ten times in a calendar year, paying only her co- pay, which was twenty-five dollars. She could barely afford that.
Today, if she was lucky, all that was going to change. Today she was going to see the Dreamweaver.
She had found his card just sitting on her cart one day, probably tossed there by a passing guest. For some reason she had put it in her pocket and kept it. Just a week earlier she'd called the number out of the blue and had a brief conversation with the man, who had told her what he did.
He said he helped people explore their dreams. He claimed he could make her nightmares go away. She had made an appointment with him, an appointment for today at noon.
Lucy smoothed the top of the bedspread, scanned the room. Perfect. But while the room was finished, she was not.
She walked to the closet, stepped inside, and closed the door. She sat down, took the blindfold out of her pocket, wrapped it around her eyes, and tied it at the back of her head.
The darkness drew silently around her, and she welcomed it.
It had been this way for nine years, ever since the ground trembled beneath her feet, the devil had taken her hand, and three days of her life had been stolen.
While Lucy Doucette sat in the closet, the ghosts of her past swirling around her, a man entered the hotel lobby, twelve floors below.
As with many who were on their way to Le Jardin this day, his interests ran to the morbid, the darker sides of human nature, the bleak and terrifying landscapes of the sociopathic mind. His specific interests were the kidnapping and murder of young girls, the mindset of the pedophile.
He would be renting Room 1208. The room had a history, a sinister fable with which the man was intimate.
Room 1208 was, of course, on the twelfth floor.
Lucinda Doucette's floor.