People used to say, “If you ever get to Asia, take advantage of their hospitality. They give new meaning to the word service. Stay at a fancy hotel, enjoy the delicious food, and get yourself a massage for god’s sake.”

I flew into Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on an overnight flight through Taiwan to meet a man about some essential information I needed before returning to Germany. Time was critical. James Confrey only had a short window to meet, and I had already cut it close. I arrived at the hotel an hour before the scheduled meeting. I desperately needed a shower as a wake up so I would at least feel fresher.

I slid my West German passport across the registration desk. Putting on my best tired smile, I waited not so patiently while the counter man fumbled with the paperwork. Without glancing up, the clerk eventually had me checked in. He motioned for a bell girl.

“It’s just a small rolling bag,” I protested. “I can manage.”

“But, Herr Mueller, it is our duty to give you proper service,” he said, again waving an arm at the girl already approaching the desk. He handed a room key to the young lady. “She will escort you to your room and help you settle in. Enjoy your stay with us.”  

I followed her to the elevator bank and up to my room.

“As you may have noticed,” she said. “On the table here, we have a personalized agenda of hotel services and another for amenities such as a swimming pool, spa, and gym.”

The bell hostess laid my suitcase on the bed and unzipped it. She began carefully refolding my clothes and placing them in the dresser. Pants went into one drawer, shirts in another.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Herr Mueller, if I may address you informally, it is my duty to make sure your stay comprises the very best service. As your personal room hostess, I am here to provide anything you may need. I will be pleased to give you a full body massage to relax you after your long journey.”

She began unbuttoning my shirt.

“Listen,” I mumbled. “I am meeting someone within the hour. I’ll be happy to have you back this afternoon. But right now, I need a shower.”

“I can help you with that, sir.” I escorted her to the door. She stopped and pointed to a button by the door. “You can call me anytime, day or night, using this buzzer. It is opposite the doorbell on the outside.”

“Thanks, I’ll call,” I said as I pushed her through the door and closed it behind her.

I stripped and jumped into the shower. I let the hot water rain down over my body for a while before lathering up with soap. The doorbell rang. I rinsed off and looked at my watch on the sink. It was still early for James Confrey so I pulled on a heavy white robe and answered the door.

A woman was standing there. Behind her was my room girl, looking uncomfortable.

“Herr Mueller, I am the floor service captain. Is there something wrong with this one’s service? If so, I am happy to offer my service to you,” she said.

“No, certainly there’s nothing wrong. I’m just in a hurry right now. I need to meet someone in a few minutes. When I'm finished, I'll call the two of you back,” I said. I assured her I knew how to ask, ‘how much for the both of you,’ in sixteen languages.

I jumped back in the shower and soaped up. The doorbell rang again. I rinsed off and threw on the robe to open the door. A slightly older woman stood in the hall.

“Herr Mueller, I am the hotel service manager. Can I be of assistance to you?” She asked.

“Not at the moment, thank you.” I said, bewildered. “I’ll buzz this afternoon.”

I jumped back in the shower and soaped up. The doorbell rang a third time. OK, I thought, these women want to see me naked. Forgetting the robe this time, I flung the door open wide. Standing there in front of me was the man from the front desk, holding out a piece of paper with both hands.

“Sir, it is a message from Mr. Confrey. He will be late today.”

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The Meaning of Service

The Hollow Man     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage