Liaisons in Venice - Chapter 1

Liaisons in Venice

Venice... History, culture, romance. Venice is also a place of mystery, intrigue, sex and steamy excitement. Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go. The art, music, food, seduction and pure romance are in the air, like no other place. But nothing ever seems straightforward in Venice, least of all its romances. "The entire town is disguised,” declared a French tourist in eighteenth-century Venice. "Even a pious nun donned a mask and male attire for her liaison with the libertine Casanova."

Today, though, a researcher and conference-goer has an unexpected liaison in Venice that he’ll never forget. And neither will his inamorata.

 

Checking in the Doctor

It had been a quiet afternoon at hotel reception, but that was just about to change. There was a big conference on in town and many of the delegates were staying with us. Most of them checked in last night, but there was a steady stream of guests arriving, now that the presentations were over for the day.

“Next please. Yes sir. Sir?”

“Me? Yes. I’d like to check in please. I have a room booked. Just for tonight.”

He was still wearing his conference name badge, so I thought I’d surprise him. “Yes sir. Dr Robert King, isn’t it?”

He looked startled. “That’s right. How did you know?”

“Oh, you’re famous,” I pretended. “Even here in Italy. And… you’re still wearing your name badge.”

Maybe he was famous for all I knew, but you couldn’t go wrong saying it.

He blushed and then cursed as he fumbled with the pin to remove the badge. Then he laughed. “That was silly of me, wasn't it? Thanks.”

I checked his booking. He hadn’t made his reservation through the conference organisers, and he was only in for one night. He had requested a non-smoking room, but we were already overbooked there. I frowned as I searched the computer for an option. He seemed nice, and I didn’t want him to have a problem. Darn it, there was nothing obvious.

“You did request a non-smoking room, didn’t you sir?” I asked, hoping he’s say “No” or “It doesn’t matter” and letting me off the hook.

No such luck. He replied almost testily: “Yes. Of course I did. I can’t believe that people are still allowed to smoke in hotel rooms. Or that they even want to. I always insist on a non-smoking room. Didn’t I make it clear on my reservation?"

“Well, yes you did sir. But we are already fully booked in non-smoking rooms and you have come to check in late in the day. Let me look again to see what I can find.”

I was buying time to think. Then I had an inspiration. The honeymoon suite – called the Casanova Suite. Surely that would not be taken tonight, with a big conference almost filling the hotel. Surely none of them would be on a honeymoon, or prepared to pay what I thought was an extortionate price for that suite. I checked. It was free. I smiled.

“I have found a solution.” I said, relieved and also proud of myself for thinking of it.  “But I’m afraid it means that I will have to upgrade you to our only penthouse suite. There will be no extra charge, of course, as this was our mistake. The suite takes the whole of the top floor. It has a separate sitting room, an extra large king-sized bed, a shower and a long bath with a picture window that looks out over the city, and a small rooftop terrace, opening off the bedroom. Will that be OK with you?”

“Ha!” he exclaimed. “Of course it’s fine. Sounds amazing actually. Thank you. I never get upgrades… not in hotels, not on planes. Only occasionally for rental cars, and that costs you more in petrol, so you pay for the upgrade in a way. But what a waste this is! I’m only here for one night, and I’m all by myself.”

“You never know, sir,” I replied, smiling. “You might meet someone you like at the conference dinner.”

He laughed in response, his eyes sparkling. “Ah,” he said. “Chance’d be a fine thing!”

I hoped he would get his chance, because the Casanova Suite was no ordinary suite. It was four rooms really, including the entrance hall. And they always added a few little extras to excite the honeymooners.

“By the way, where is the conference dinner?” he asked.

“It’s in the San Giorgio Ballroom, sir. Second floor.”

“Thank you, Fiorella,” he said, making a point of staring at the name badge pinned just above my left breast. He’d got me back, and now it was my turn to blush a little.

I grinned. “You’re welcome, Dr Robert King.”

That was one disappointment with this job, I thought to myself. You meet some friendly and interesting people from all over the world, but it's only for a minute or two and then they’re gone. Wouldn’t it be good to have a way to get to know some of them better; to have an opportunity to meet up again? An ‘after-work bar’ or something like that. Only for the interesting ones, though! You also have to deal with some real pricks when you are on the front line, and you are expected to make them feel they are in the right even when they are not, which goes against the grain. You can’t wait to see the back of them.

Dr Robert King didn't seem like one of those, though. He didn’t create a scene or even make much of a fuss when it looked like we mightn’t have a non-smoking room for him. I’d enjoyed the to-and-fro with him as he was checking in. Despite the fact that he was a whole lot older than me, I suppose I’d been flirting a little. But not beyond the bounds of professionalism, of course.

I found myself thinking that maybe I might drop in to the conference dinner after my shift, to see if he was still there… and to see if he was still without someone to share his honeymoon suite!

 

Helping to Choose a Restaurant

“Excuse me.” The words intruded into my reverie and I came back down to earth quickly.

“Yes Ma’am. What name please?”

“Oh no, I’m not checking in,” she replied. “I’m not staying here. I just wanted some information on your restaurants.”

She sounded Australian, but her accent was more refined than most of the Australians I’d dealt with at the hotel. She was so classy; tall, elegant and self-assured. She was wearing a striking, red, Asian-style, silk jacket with a high collar. And she wore a very unusual but stunning gold necklace that looked almost like liquid gold lava dripping down towards her cleavage. I wouldn’t say she was ‘dressed to kill’ exactly – she was too classy for that – but she was certainly dressed for someone.

“Of course, Ma’am.” I flicked over to automatic, having answered this question hundreds of times. “We have three restaurants. There’s ‘The Gondolier’ on this floor, right over there next to the Sportsman’s Bar. It has an international buffet and tonight is Indian night.”

She turned around to look in the direction I had gestured, towards the restaurant across the foyer. She muttered something like ‘I didn’t come all the way to Venice, Italy for Chicken Tikka Marsala and poppadoms!’ It was obvious that she was none too impressed with that suggestion.

I continued with my well-rehearsed restaurant patter: “… And there’s our Moroccan restaurant, ‘Tagine’, on the terrace, overlooking the Grand Canal. It’s very good, and we have a great female chef from Morocco. She used to be at the famous Tobsil restaurant in Marrakech. Her mother was an African cook for a wealthy Moroccan family. She combines her mother’s recipes and knowledge of Moroccan spices with more formal training as a chef, here in Italy.”

This possibility seemed to spark her interest and the restaurant did indeed have a great reputation, but I felt it was only fair to add that there was a conference dinner in the ballroom right next to the restaurant that night. “It might be a bit noisy next door,” I offered, “with the conference dinner.”

She shook her head. “It sounds interesting, but maybe another time,” she said.

“Well then, there’s ‘The Gallery’ on the first floor. It’s an intimate restaurant, with booths along one wall. It is set within an art space we use for exhibitions. There are paintings and prints on the restaurant wall, in the foyer and in a small gallery next door. Maybe that's more what you are looking for. Seafood is their specialty, and I’m told they have had a delivery of Sydney Rock Oysters just flown in today – all the way from Australia.”

She didn’t even blink at the mention of Australian oysters. Maybe she hated oysters! Or maybe she was a New Zealander or a South African. I’d made that mistake before and I knew that it was a serious faux pas!

“That sounds more interesting,” she said. “What’s the exhibition?”

“It’s called ‘Casual Encounters’, Ma’am. It’s a travelling exhibition from the Kinsey Institute in the US. I haven’t been up there to see it myself yet, but the flier says: Intimate yet anonymous sexual interactions, as depicted by European and American artists from the 18th century to the present day. I think it is part of Biennale.”

“The Gallery sounds perfect,” she said. “Would you please book me a table for two people, for… umm…” she paused to look at her watch “about 7.30 tonight?”

“Consider it done,” I replied. “Will that be all Ma’am?”

“Yes, thank you. Now I’ll go up to look at the exhibition to kill some time. You never know, I might get some pointers about casual encounters!" She laughed, and added: "By the way, where’s the bar?”

“There are two, Ma’am. The Sportsman’s Bar’s just over there,” I replied, “and then there’s the Fireside Lounge on the 1st floor. Next to the Gallery restaurant. You may like that better. It has a log fire, and I think a real fire is always very romantic. And it's cool enough during winter in Venice to sit in front of a fire.”

She headed towards the elevators, turning to thank me again as she left. She was nice too. I wondered who was the lucky guy she was meeting for dinner. Her husband? I’m not sure why I thought it, but it didn't seem like she’d be married. Then again, someone as attractive and classy as her would surely not be single.

I wondered if she might be having an adulterous liaison with someone. Maybe one of the conference delegates. Perhaps even Dr Robert King! No, it couldn’t be. She was standing right behind him in the queue and there was no indication at all that they had ever even met; far less meeting here for an adulterous liaison together.

I wondered what Dr King was making of the Casanova Room.


To be continued...
 

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