“Ah, yes, the morning list.” The chef proceeded to mimic his employer. “ ‘Valentine, I want you to arrange for a soirée in honor of the Portuguese ambassador to be held here on Tuesday with a pyrotechnic display at the conclusion. Afterward, run to the patent office with the drawings for my latest invention. And on the way back, stop by Regent Street and purchase six French cambric handkerchiefs, plain not patterned, and God help me no lace—’ ”
“Enough, Broussard,” Jake said, trying not to smile.
The chef returned his attention to the sauce. “By the way, Valentine . . . when you find out who the girl was, come back and tell me. And in return I’ll let you have your pick of the pastry tray before I send it to the dining room.”
Jake shot him a sharp look, his brown eyes narrowing. “What girl?”
“You know very well what girl. The one Mr. Rutledge was seen with this morning.”
Jake frowned. “Who told you about that?”
“At least three people mentioned it to me in the past half hour. Everyone’s talking about it.”
“The Rutledge employees are forbidden to gossip,” Jake said sternly.
Broussard rolled his eyes. “To outsiders, yes. But Mr. Rutledge never said we couldn’t gossip amongst ourselves.”
“I don’t know why the presence of a girl in the curiosities room should be so interesting.”
“Hmmm . . . could it be because Rutledge never allows anyone in there? Could it be because everyone who works here is praying that Rutledge will soon find a wife to distract him from his constant meddling?”
Jake shook his head ruefully. “I doubt he’ll ever marry. The hotel is his mistress.”
The chef gave him a patronizing glance. “That’s how much you know. Mr. Rutledge will marry, once he finds the right woman. As my countrymen say, ‘A wife and a melon are hard to choose.’ ” He watched as Jake buttoned his coat and straightened his cravat. “Bring back information, mon ami.”
“You know I would never reveal one detail of Rutledge’s private affairs.”
Broussard sighed. “Loyal to a fault. I suppose if Rutledge told you to murder someone, you’d do it?”
Although the question was asked in a light vein, the chef’s gray eyes were alert. Because no one, not even Jake, was entirely certain what Harry Rutledge was capable of, or how far Jake’s allegiance would go.
“He hasn’t asked that of me,” Jake replied, and paused to add with a flash of humor, “yet.”
As Jake hurried to the private suite of unnumbered rooms on the third floor, he passed many employees on the back stairs. These stairs, and the entrances at the back of the hotel, were used by servants and deliverymen as they went about their daily tasks. A few people tried to stop Jake with questions or concerns, but he shook his head and quickened his pace. Jake took care never to be late for his morning meetings with Rutledge. These consultations were usually brief, no more than a quarter hour, but Rutledge demanded punctuality.
Jake paused before the entrance of the suite, tucked at the back of a small private lobby lined with marble and priceless artwork. A secure inner hallway led to a discreet staircase and side door of the hotel, so that Rutledge never had to use the main hallways for his comings and goings. Rutledge, who liked to keep track of everyone else, did not allow anyone to do the same to him. He took most of his meals in private, and came and went as he pleased, sometimes with no indication of when he would return.
Jake knocked at the door and waited until he heard a muffled assent to enter.
He went into the suite, a series of four connected rooms that could be expanded into as large an apartment as one desired, up to fifteen rooms. “Good morning, Mr. Rutledge,” he said, entering the study.
The hotelier sat at a massive mahogany desk fitted with a cupboard filled with drawers and cubbies. As usual, the desk was covered with folios, papers, books, correspondence, calling cards, a stamp box, and an array of writing implements. Rutledge was closing a letter, applying a seal precisely into a little pool of hot wax.
“Good morning, Valentine. How did the staff meeting go?”
Jake handed him the daily sheaf of manager reports. “Everything is going smoothly, for the most part. There have been few issues with the diplomatic contingent from Nagaraja.”
The tiny kingdom of Nagaraja, wedged between Burma and Siam, had just become a British ally. After offering to help the Nagarajans drive out the encroaching Siamese, Britain had now made the country one of its protectorates. Which was akin to being pinned beneath a lion’s paw and being informed by the lion that you were perfectly safe. Since the British were currently fighting the Burmese and annexing provinces right and left, the Nagarajans hoped desperately to remain self-governing. Toward that end, the kingdom had sent a trio of high-level envoys on a diplomatic mission to England, bearing costly gifts in tribute to Queen Victoria.
“The reception manager,” Jake said, “had to change their rooms three times when they first arrived yesterday afternoon.”
Rutledge’s brows rose. “There was a problem with the rooms?”
“Not the rooms themselves . . . the room numbers, which according to Nagarajan superstition were not auspicious. We finally settled them into suite 218. However, not long afterward, the second-floor manager detected the odor of smoke coming from the suite. It seems they were conducting an arrival-in-a-new-land ceremony, which involved starting a small fire on a bronze plate. Unfortunately the fire got out of hand, and the carpet was scorched.”