"I've often wondered about Montreal. I've never been there."
"It's a mixed-up place - in some ways a lot, like New Orleans."
She asked curiously, "Is that why you come here every year? Because it seems the same?"
The little man considered, his bony shoulders deep in the pile of pillows. "I never thought about that, miss one way or the other. I guess I come here because I like things old-fashioned and there aren't too many places left where they are. It's the same with this hotel. It's a bit rubbed off in places - you know that. But mostly it's homely, 'n I mean it the best way. I hate chain hotels. They're all the same - slick and polished, and when you're in 'em it's like living in a factory."
Christine hesitated, then, realizing the day's events had dispelled the earlier secrecy, told him, "I've some news you won't like. I'm afraid the St. Gregory maybe part of a chain before long."
"If it happens I'll be sorry," Albert Wells said. "Though I figured you people were in money trouble here."
"How did you know that?"
The old man ruminated. "Last time or two I've been here I could tell things were getting tough. What's the trouble now - bank tightening up, mortgage foreclosing, something like that?"
There were surprising sides to this retired miner, Christine thought, including an instinct for the truth. She answered, smiling, "I've probably talked too much already. What you'll certainly hear, though, is that Mr. Curtis O'Keefe arrived this morning."
"Oh no! Not him." Albert Wells' face mirrored genuine concern. "If that one gets his hands on this place he'll make it a copy of all his others.
It'll be a factory, like I said. This hotel needs changes, but not his kind."
Christine asked curiously, "What kind of changes, Mr. Wells?
"A good hotel man could tell you better than me, though I've a few ideas. I do know one thing, miss - just like always, the public's going through a fad. Right now they want the slickness 'n the chrome and sameness. But in time they'll get tired and want to come back to older things - like real hospitality and a bit of character and atmosphere; something that's not exactly like they found in fifty other cities 'n can find in fifty more. Only trouble is, by the time they get around to knowing it, most of the good places - including this one maybe - will have gone." He stopped, then asked, "When are they deciding?"
"I really don't know," Christine said. The little man's depth of feeling had startled her. "Except I don't suppose Mr. O'Keefe will be here long."
Albert Wells nodded. "He doesn't stay long anywhere from all I've heard.
Works fast when he sets his mind on something. Well, I still say it'll be a pity, and if it happens here's one who won't be back."
"We'd miss you, Mr. Wells. At least I would - assuming I survived the changes."
"You'll survive, and you'll be where you want to be, miss. Though if some young fellow's got some sense it won't be working in any hotel."
She laughed without replying and they talked of other things until, preceded by a short staccato knock, the guardian nurse returned. She said primly, "Thank you, Miss Francis." Then, looking pointedly at her watch:
"It's time for my patient to have his medication and rest."
"I have to go anyway," Christine said. "I'll come to see you again tomorrow if I may, Mr. Wells."
"I'd like it if you would."
As she left, he winked at her.
A note on her office desk requested Christine to call Sam Jakubiec. She did, and the credit manager answered.
"I thought you'd like to know," he said. "I phoned that bank at Montreal.
It looks like your friend's okay."
"That's good news, Sam. What did they say?"
"Well, in a way it was a funny thing. They wouldn't tell me anything about a credit rating - the way banks usually do. Just said to present the check for payment. I told them the amount, though, and they didn't seem worried, so I guess he's got it."
"I'm glad," Christine said.
"I'm glad too, though I'll watch the room account to see it doesn't get too big."
"You're a great watchdog, Sam." She laughed. "And thanks for calling."
Curtis O'Keefe and Dodo had settled comfortably into their communicating suites, with Dodo unpacking for both of them as she always enjoyed doing.
Now, in the larger of the two living rooms, the hotelier was studying a financial statement, one of several in a blue folder labeled
Confidential - St. Gregory, preliminary survey.
Dodo, after a careful inspection of the magnificent basket of fruit which Peter McDermott had ordered delivered to the suite, selected an apple and was slicing it as the telephone at O'Keefe's elbow rang twice within a few minutes.
The first call was from Warren Trent - a polite welcome and an inquiry seeking assurance that everything was in order. After a genial acknowledgment that it was - "Couldn't be better, my dear Warren, even in an O'Keefe hotel" - Curtis O'Keefe accepted an invitation for himself and Dodo to dine privately with the St. Gregory's proprietor that evening.
"We'll be truly delighted," the hotelier affirmed graciously, "and, by the way, I admire your house."
"That," Warren Trent said drily down the telephone, "is what I've been afraid of."
O'Keefe guffawed. "We'll talk tonight, Warren. A little business if we must, but mostly I'm looking forward to a conversation with a great hotel man."
As he replaced the telephone Dodo's brow was furrowed. "If he's such a great hotel man, Curtie, why's he selling out to you?"
He replied seriously as he always did, though knowing in advance the answer would elude her. "Mostly because we've moved into another age and he doesn't know it. Nowadays it isn't sufficient to be a good innkeeper; you must become a cost accountant too."
"Gee," Dodo said, "these sure are big apples."
The second call, which followed immediately, was from a pay telephone in the hotel lobby. "Hullo, Ogden," Curtis O'Keefe said when the caller identified himself, "I'm reading your report now."
In the lobby, eleven floors below, a balding sallow man who looked like an accountant which - among other things - he was, nodded confirmation to a younger male companion waiting outside the glass-paneled phone booth. The caller, whose name was Ogden Bailey and his home Long Island, had been registered in the hotel for the past two weeks as Richard Fountain of Miami. With characteristic caution he had avoided using a house phone or calling from his own room on the fourth floor. Now, in precise clipped tones he stated, "There are some points we'd like to amplify, Mr. O'Keefe, and some later information I think you'll want."
"Very well. Give me fifteen minutes, then come to see me."
Hanging up, Curtis O'Keefe said amusedly to Dodo, "I'm glad you enjoy the fruit. If it weren't for you, I'd put a stop to all these harvest festivals."
"Well, it isn't that I like it so much." The baby blue eyes were turned widely upon him. "But you never eat any, and it just seems awful to waste it."
"Very few things in a hotel are wasted," he assured her. "Whatever you leave, someone else will take - probably through the back door."
"My mom's mad about fruit." Dodo broke off a cluster of grapes. "She'd go crazy with a basket like this."
He had picked up the balance sheet again. Now he put it down. "Why not send her one?"
"You mean now?"
"Of course." Lifting the telephone once more, he asked for the hotel florist. "This is Mr. O'Keefe. I believe you delivered some fruit to my suite."
A woman's voice answered anxiously, "Yes, sir. Is anything wrong?"
"Nothing at all. But I would like an identical fruit basket telegraphed to Akron, Ohio, and charged to my bill. One moment." He handed the telephone to Dodo. "Give them the address and a message for your mother."
When she had finished, impulsively she flung her arms around him. "Gee, Curtie, you're the sweetest!"
He basked in her genuine pleasure. It was strange, he reflected, that while Dodo had proven as receptive to expensive gifts as any of her predecessors, it was the small things - such as at this moment - which seemed to please her most.
He finished the papers in the folder and, in fifteen minutes precisely, there was a knock on the door which Dodo answered. She showed in two men, both carrying briefcases - Ogden Bailey who had telephoned, and the second man, Sean Hall, who had been with him in the lobby. Hall was a younger edition of his superior and in ten years or so, O'Keefe thought, would probably have the same sallow, concentrated look which came, no doubt, from poring over endless balance sheets and drafting financial estimates.
The hotelier greeted both men cordially. Ogden Bailey - alias Richard Fountain in the present instance - was an experienced key figure in the O'Keefe organization. As well as having the usual qualifications of an accountant, he possessed an extraordinary ability to enter any hotel and, after a week or two of discreet observation - usually unknown to the hotel's management - produce a financial analysis which later would prove uncannily close to the hotel's own figures. Hall, whom Bailey himself had discovered and trained, showed every promise of developing the same kind of talent.
Both men politely declined the offer of a drink, as O'Keefe had known they would. They seated themselves on a settee, facing him, refraining from unzippering their briefcases, as if knowing that other formalities must be completed first. Dodo, across the room, had returned her attention to the basket of fruit and was peeling a banana.
"I'm glad you could come, gentlemen," Curtis O'Keefe informed them, as if this meeting had not been planned weeks ahead. "Perhaps, though, before we begin our business it would benefit all of us if we asked the help of Almighty God."
As he spoke, with the ease of long practice the hotelier slipped agilely to his knees, clasping his hands devoutly in front of him. With an expression bordering on resignation, as if he had been through this experience many times before, Ogden Bailey followed suit and, after a moment's hesitation, the younger man Hall assumed the same position.
O'Keefe glanced toward Dodo, who was eating her banana. "My dear," he said quietly, "we are about to ask a blessing on our intention."
Dodo put down the banana. "Okay," she said co-operatively, slipping from her chair, "I'm on your channel."
There was a time, months earlier, when the frequent prayer sessions of her benefactor - often at unlikely moments - had disturbed Dodo for reasons she never fully understood. But eventually, as was her way, she had adjusted to the point where they no longer bothered her. "After all," she confided to a friend, "Curtie's a doll, and I guess if I go on my back for him I might as well get on my knees, too."
"Almighty God," Curtis O'Keefe intoned, his eyes closed and pink-cheeked, leonine face serene, "grant us, if it be thy will, success in what we are about to do. We ask thy blessing and thine active help in acquiring this hotel, named for thine own St. Gregory. We plead devoutly that we may add it to those already enlisted - by our own organization - in thy cause and held for thee in trust by thy devoted servant who speaked." Even when dealing with God, Curtis O'Keefe believed in coming directly to the point.