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Fifth day

By Hervé HAMON Sofitel Hambourg Alter Wall

Werner was almost perfect. Gray suit, gray tie, black shoes, but his turquoise eyes had maybe a bit too much sparkle, and his blond mustache was perhaps a bit too dashing. Even so, thought Katz, despite that, Werner was perfect, almost perfect, in his role as doorman. He wore the standard uniform with the mix of submission and offhandedness that marks a true professional – it was clear that there was an individual beyond the role, but he was kept at a distance, at the right distance. And Katz knew better than anyone that this took time to learn. He even said at times that it could not be learned, that it was innate.

It had only been three weeks since he had taken over the hotel, the group having decided to turn over this huge operation to a young director, or at least one who was relatively young. He spent an hour every day observing the personnel. He didn’t hide, he was casual, not intending to catch anyone off guard. He wanted to see but also to be seen, he wanted to leave his office behind and survey the territory. Katz was not yet 40 and he believed that a good director sometimes needed to put himself off balance.

A dark fog hung over the city. It was early December, nightfall arrived early, the Christmas lights would be coming on soon and it was about time. From the port, the smell of malt and hydrocarbons drifted in, carried on the rain.

Katz noticed the man, a client. But he was the only one who had been informed of the client’s arrival. The man emerged from the street looking confused, walking straight and with conviction but seemingly so weary that it was as if with each step he hung in mid-air. He was dressed in red overalls, some sort of heavy suit with reflecting strips, and his boots were covered in mud. His hair was greasy, his forehead, cheeks and hands looked grimy. His drooping eyes could hardly see. It seemed that he might collapse on the floor at any moment, yet at the same time it was as if some irresistible force were transporting him.

Katz watched Werner from afar and Werner was impeccable, hello sir, as was the bellboy, who tried to take the rubberized bag slung over the client’s shoulder but who did not insist when the client clung to the battered bag, mumbling something incomprehensible. The receptionist duly noted that the client had a reservation, and that it was even for a suite, but she did not flinch at the man’s appearance, handing him two magnetic key cards and wishing him a pleasant stay. Which the client did not seem to hear, repeating to himself in a strange language, “312, 312, 312,” and heading straight for the elevator. He did not excuse himself when he jostled a man in a business suit, who stepped aside, more surprised than anything else.

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