“What I hear you saying is you want to bargain with the Devil,” said the voice from a dark cloud. The man the voice was speaking to looked up at the cloud and waited for jeers and laughter from other voices to stop.
“I never thought of it that way, sir,” Ken Noble Jackson replied hesitantly. It had taken him many years in human-time for this meeting, and he knew he might never get another opportunity.
Ken thought he saw movement in the dark cloud, a silhouette of something large appeared to sit on a stone. It was a presence that dominated the cloud and absorbed light. The presence appeared to contemplate; it was not in a hurry. “What is it you want to do if I let you go back?”
“I was at the center of power in my business career, and I want to see how I am remembered, if at all? What do people think of me? How has history recorded my life? I want to know and hear it for myself,” Ken replied.
“What are you going to do for me, in exchange?” asked the voice.
Ken considered the concept of bargaining with the Devil. He smiled and said, “Sir, what do you want? What can I give you? I don‘t have anything to offer.”
“First smart thing you have said,” the voice responded. “That is the point; you have nothing! Worse yet, you fail to understand what I want and why I’m here,” the voice added as he motioned for the guard to take the man who had nothing back to a place that had no time and no dimension.
“I know what you want,” Ken implored as the guard pulled the chain attached to his neck shackle. The presence held up a hand, and the guard paused.
The presence got up, walked to the edge of a dais, and looked down at the hairless biped. “Speak, or wish you had for eternity,” the voice demanded.
“You want more,” Ken said. “You want more disciples.” The voice started to chuckle, and the guard holding the chain sneered at his captive.
“I don’t need disciples, you fool. Do you think you are here because you were a disciple?” the presence taunted, raising its voice. “No, you are here because you wanted to be here. You took the easy road, the wide path, and you believed you were a self-made being in a world of limited time and resources. You avoided the other option and followed the crowd, all the while thinking you were a good person. That is how you got here.”
Ken’s mind raced as he thought about how this being viewed his life on earth as a ‘good person,’ ending in darkness.
“But you are right about one thing,” the voice added. “I want more.” Ken was afraid to move. He knew the sound of chains and footsteps behind him meant others were waiting their turn to meet the Angel of Death. As he stood before the presence still standing on the dais, the guard holding his chain handed it to Ken, walked to a stone, and sat down. Ken looked at the chain in his hand and thought about escaping a place that had no doors, no locks, no windows, no seasons, no daylight. There was no outside into which to escape. Maybe that is why the guard handed Ken his chain; it was for torture, not to prevent escape.
“Tell you what I’m going to do with you,” the voice said as Ken Jackson was looking around and considering his future in eternity. “I’ll let you go back for a few human months. But understand that you will go back to a time that for you is in the future. I don’t control time, that belongs to the enemy. I will let you go because what you want to do is all about you, which turns people into what I want them to be.
Unsure how to reply, Ken hesitantly said, “Thank you, sir.”
“I’m doing you no favor. The time for mercy passed before you arrived here,” the presence advised.
Elated at his successful negotiation, Ken said, “I won’t try to escape, sir.”
The voice was joined with other voices in shouts of laughter. “You misunderstand because you always have misidentified who you serve. About this, make no mistake, you are mine. I own you, and you will return!” the voice replied and motioned for the naked man to be taken away.
Ken entered the lobby of the Hotel D’Angelo/Chicago on a sunny weekday afternoon in September. The lobby décor had changed from the dark wood tones Ken preferred to a more modern blend of neutral color tones of gray, taupe, and sage. The wingback oxblood leather chairs had been replaced with minimalist design fabric furniture. Along the expansive front entrance, Electrochromic glass that changed from clear to opaque, depending on the weather and time of day, replaced window coverings. The only thing that had not changed was the location of what was now a smaller reception counter across from the lobby entrance. On the marble wall behind the counter was the still familiar Hotel D’Angelo gold and black sign with a smaller logo of PRN International, the parent company. Ken Noble Jackson had designed the sign himself and it had become the preferred format for Hotel D’Angelo interior signs all over the world.
Despite the remodel of the lobby, Ken let the ambiance of a grand hotel he once commanded soak into his mind as he stood inside the sliding glass doors and listened to the sounds from Michigan Avenue bring back pleasant memories.
Walking through the lobby, Ken noticed guests checking themselves in at kiosks. Motorized carts carrying luggage followed guests as they went from kiosks to elevators or one of the lounges off the lobby. At the reception counter, he was greeted by a young woman dressed in a tailored black blazer with gold trim and the hotel logo on the pocket. She was too young to remember Ken Jackson, who was now Clarence Kaiser, retired economics consultant from New York. Clarence asked for a room, explaining he did not have reservations.
“Would you prefer a single room or a suite?” the receptionist asked.
“A suite would be fine,” Ken replied and offered a credit card, which identified him as Clarence Kaiser.
“Thank you, sir, but do you have an account with us?” the receptionist asked after glancing at the Visa Card. It took a few seconds for Ken to realize the receptionist was not taking the Visa Card and was waiting for his reply.
“Umm, yes, I’ll take the suite,” Ken replied.
“Certainly, sir, we have a suite. I just need your account number. Is it under your name or your company’s name?” the receptionist asked.
“Please tell me about hotel accounts,” Ken asked, trying to hide his confusion about how to check into a hotel. He looked around at the people checking into rooms at kiosks and could see that no credit cards were involved in the process.
The receptionist turned to a woman standing a few feet behind the counter and asked for assistance. The woman was wearing the same black blazer, with a name tag identifying her as ‘Judy, Front Desk Manager.’ “Is there a problem?” she asked the receptionist, who explained that Ken did not have a hotel account.
“Not a problem, Mr. Kaiser,” the manager said as she looked at Ken’s credit card. We can create an account for you. Please meet me at the end of the counter,” she said, motioning to her left. “I can have a porter manage your luggage until we get you checked in.”
Ken put the Visa Card back in his wallet, “I don’t have luggage,” he replied, walking to the far end of the counter where the manager was looking at a monitor on a mobile device. “I’m not familiar with the hotel account process,” he said hesitantly.
Ken considered how much things had changed since he was manager of this hotel and later as vice-president of PRN International. Before he transferred to the New York office, Ken commissioned a Wall of Honor displaying framed color photographs of all prior hotel managers, located by the entrance to the Chez Volant Bistro Restaurant off the lobby. He instructed the staff to put his photograph at the end of the row after his last day at the hotel. As he looked across the lobby, he could see the display had been removed.
“Mr. Kaiser, may I have a look at your credit card?” the desk manager asked. Ken had the feeling this was not going to end well as he reached for his wallet to retrieve the card. On the wall behind the counter was an electronic display that appeared to be part of the wall, giving the local time, several times in other international cities, the local temperature and date, which read September 25, 2032. He stared at the date, realizing he had not aged since his 2017 premature death in the penthouse on the top floor of this hotel.
He realized the desk manager was talking to him while he reflected on the circumstances of his life and sudden death. She was saying that his profile and credit card did not match. Ken gathered his thoughts as she pointed to her monitor, “Mr. Kaiser, I need to call security.”
“What is the problem?” Ken asked. “What do you mean by profile?” he continued as the woman was reaching for a device that appeared to be a cell phone.
“The scan of your eyes matches a former company executive,” she replied, looking at who she believed was Clarence Kaiser, then back to her monitor.
“Listen, there is no reason to call security over a credit card issue. Can I please speak to the hotel manager?” Ken pleaded. She terminated the call and looked at Ken with a tight-lipped smile. “Mr. Kaiser, when is the last time you checked into a Hotel D’Angelo?” she asked.
Ken rubbed his hands, “It’s probably been a decade or more,” he admitted. He looked up at her and said, “I guess things have changed.”
“OK, let me see if Ms. Groff is available. The desk manager picked up a phone device and gave it a verbal instruction. “You can wait in the lobby Mr. Kaiser; she will be with you in a few moments,” she instructed.
Feeling like he had been sent to the principal’s office, Ken went to the lobby and found a chair that was more comfortable than it first appeared. It was time to focus on the real reason for his return to the hotel and forget about getting a hotel account, or whatever it was that prevented him from checking into a room. In a few moments he heard a woman call his name and realized the hotel manager was standing next to him.
“Mr. Kaiser, my name is Elena Groff. How may I help you?” she said, offering her hand. Ken stood and shook hands with a woman whom he estimated was in her early 50s, dressed like an executive, poised, with a friendly demeanor. He recognized her name but was not sure why.
“Yes, Ms. Groff, glad to meet you. Several years ago, I met the manager of this hotel, who I understand was subsequently promoted. His name is Ken Noble Jackson. I wanted to speak with him and hoped you could help provide contact information,” Ken said.
“Mr. Jackson passed away several years ago,” she announced, providing information Ken knew before he arrived. He nodded and waited for her to continue. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“I’m sorry to hear he is deceased,” Ken replied, trying to read any emotion in her face or body language. “I recall he was promoted to the Miami headquarters, which is not surprising since he was a top performer for the company.” The woman did not respond. “Ken and I belonged to the Metropolitan Club before I moved to New York. I lost track of him and thought that since I’m in the City, we could meet at the Club, where he was a well-respected member.”
“I’m sure he would have enjoyed your reacquaintance,” the woman replied.
Ken hesitated, unsure of what to say next. “Ms. Groff, I recall the hotel had a most impressive Wall of Honor by the entrance to Chez Volant Bistro Restaurant. Has that been moved to another location?” he asked.
“Yes, I will be glad to show it to you if you will follow me,” she instructed. She walked around a wall partition to a conference room and opened the door. At the end of the room was the Wall of Honor, but with a few more photographs than before. Moving closer, Ken slowly walked along the row of photos and realized his photo was missing.
“My photo . . . I mean, my friend’s photo is missing,” he said, turning on his hostess.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson did not qualify for the honor of being on the wall,” she offered.
Ken looked at her and saw she was serious. Not malicious but assertive. He sat down in a conference room chair and asked if she would join him. “Why do you say that, if I may ask?”
The manager sat down and said, “I don’t wish to speak ill of your friend, and Mr. Jackson is not here to defend himself. Let us just say that even good managers can make mistakes.”
“I hope it was not a moral failure,” Ken asked, trying to control his emotions.
“It depends whether you think wage theft is a moral issue,” the manager replied and started to stand up.
“Please,” Ken said, “Tell me what he did. I’d like to hear about it. Maybe it can be explained.” The manager sat down and gathered her thoughts.
“Actually, it is rather simple. Do you know what is involved in wage theft, Mr. Kaiser?” she asked.
“You mean stealing employee checks?” he asked. “I cannot imagine Ken Jackson doing such a —”
“No, he did not seal checks. Mr. Jackson stole tips and gratuities from employees who worked hotel events and banquets,” she explained.
Ken Jackson stared at her, not sure how to respond. Was this his legacy? To be remembered as a wage thief? He didn’t know whether to defend his honor or just walk out of the hotel. The manager continued.
“Mr. Jackson devised a process whereby 100% of tips and gratuities did not go to the employees. It is standard practice to add a 22% gratuity to banquets and special events, which the customer believes is a tip for the chefs, bartenders, waiters, kitchen staff, and the event coordinator. What this hotel was doing, under Mr. Jackson’s management, was taking employee money and keeping 60% for the house and 40% to the employees.”
“But all that money went to the company, correct?” Ken suggested.
“Sure, it went to the company and helped the hotel show a profit,” she admitted.
“So, why was it a problem? Ken Jackson was doing what was necessary to make the hotel profitable and keep people employed,” Ken reasoned.
“All that false income went to the net profits bottom line, which the accountants used to calculate quarterly bonuses for the hotel manager. There were quarters where Ken Jackson’s bonus was equal to seventy-five percent of his salary. Are you getting the picture? His policy benefited the hotel manager at the expense of people living just above the poverty level.” Elena Groff’s voice stung with indignation.
“When I arrived, the practice had been going on so long the accountants just continued to steal 60% of gratuities and tips from our banquets. One day I got a call from a guest who paid over $1,500 in gratuities for a company-sponsored celebration at the hotel. He said that an employee who was at the banquet knew one of our staff and asked how she enjoyed the tip left by her employer. Our employee admitted that only a small percentage of the gratuity went to hotel staff because most of it went to hotel management. As you might imagine, the guest who paid the bill was upset and unhappy. When I found out what had been happening for years, the practice stopped that day.”
Ken sat, staring at the Wall of Honor, and waited.
“Mr. Kaiser, you should have seen the reaction of employees who suddenly saw the reward for their labor when the checks correctly reflected tips and gratuities. I had one woman cry in my arms from both joy and sorrow at all the money she earned but did not have. Money to support her family of three children and a disabled husband. Money that Hotel D’Angelo stole from her.”
“It was not only theft from employee wages; it was a fraud upon customers because it turned a mandatory gratuity into an increase in the actual cost of the event. It gave the hotel an advantage in bidding for an event by artificially reducing the cost of the event on a per person or per plate basis because the hotel was taking money from employees to supplement the actual price quoted to customers. For a corporate banquet, the per plate cost may have been $35, but the hotel was getting paid —”
“I understand the concept,” Ken interrupted.
“You said you wanted to hear the story,” the manager replied as she stood up. “Ken Jackson shared plunder with the proud, not the oppressed,” she declared, and walked away. As she got to the door, she turned and said, “Mr. Kaiser, if you happen to see Ken Jackson tell him he left a mess in the penthouse.”