Chapter 5: Cat
New York City - June, 1994
Cat was hauling it up Park Avenue. She’d waited forever for a train to Grand Central, which was probably a miscalculation. She should’ve just run, which was what she was doing now. It was still pouring down, although she couldn’t get any wetter or muddier than she already was. Taking a little hop off the sidewalk, she dodged around a woman pushing a stroller, and a cab driver swerved towards her, splashing a dirty puddle across her legs. Cat glanced up and in the second she caught the driver’s eye, he smiled. Ass.
She reached the service entrance of the Waldrove and pushed through. The staff bathrooms had showers, but she had no time for that. Her little purse mirror was her only option to help her with a clean-up attempt. It was cheap and murky and about as useful as the back of a frying pan. Her wild curls were untameable, having sprung loose from the rain and her frantic running. With a stack of paper towels, Cat rubbed at her sweaty face and wiped frantically at her uniform and the brown, gritty streaks on her legs. She was making it worse, and she already looked like crap. Sleazy Shane would never let her on the floor in this mess. But what option did she have? Her Aunt had stuck her neck out to get her this job, making phone calls from freaking Australia for God’s sake, and she was about to screw it up. Why was everything so hard? She would not cry. She would not let that asshole see her cry. Cat grabbed another paper towel from the dispenser, turned the tap to super cold, and then held the icy, drenched towel under her eyes. There was no time for makeup. Her bag would just have to wait inside her locker.
Three steps into the hallway and who should turn the corner but Sleazy Shane. He was a mirror of little Georgie, an actual toddler, with anger scrunching up his face up and rolling off his body like waves of steam. He stopped in front of her, blocking her path.
“You’re late.” He spat. Literally spat. Would he notice if she wiped the flecks of spit from her lip? “And you look like shit.”
“I know.” Cat’s hand flew to her hair and attempted to smooth it down for the hundredth time. “Sorry. I had… um… transportation difficulties.”
“Not good enough, Catriona.” No one called her by her full name. She regretted putting it on her paperwork. “Just turn around and go home. You’re too late for your shift. I’ve been killing myself for an hour and a half, doing both my job and yours. Do you think you’re something special? What, you make your own schedule at the Waldrove?” Shane’s voice was getting louder and nastier. She couldn’t lose this job. Rent was due in another two weeks and her dad needed her salary.
Sleazy Shane continued his ranting. If she could just stand there, take it, and look sufficiently chastened, just like she did for her dad, he might give her a chance. She lowered her gaze to the floor and glimpsed a pair of elegant loafers with a fancy tassel. She could practically smell the expensive leather from here. A guest, probably on his way to the restroom. She looked up. It was a typical Waldrove man; strikingly handsome the way only the rich can be. A sky-blue tailored jacket matched his blue eyes that glinted beneath thick ebony eyebrows and midnight sky-black hair. His skin was golden brown, probably just back from a fancy vacation in the Maldives or some other exotic location. The big boss, Albert, the bartender, had told her about tailoring once. She’d asked him why expensive clothes always looked so good. He’d told her people bought clothes, and then spent more money, sometimes even more than they’d paid for them, just to make them fit so well. That shit blew her mind. Crazy shit rich people do.
“You expect to go on the floor like that?” The adonis had distracted her from Shane’s toddler tantrum, which hadn’t wound down yet. “No. No way.” He said. He was shaking his head and, weirdly, looked close to tears. “You can go home. I’ll have a word with Albert about you and your disrespect. You can expect a call tomorrow and I wouldn’t count on it being good news.”
“Surely, you can allow the girl a few minutes to change?”
The tailored guy, his voice as rich and honeyed as the rest of him with an exotic accent she’d never heard before, had moved to stand next to Shane. Shane, being so focused on his hissy fit, hadn’t noticed him. Shane looked up at Adonis. His face drained of color, blanched white, then bright red as his face flushed with… what? Anger? The guy grinned at Shane, put his hands in his pockets, and rocked back on his heels. “Albert is buying us a drink,” the guy said, “and it seems he’s short a waiter. Perhaps this girl could deliver the drinks to myself and my friends?” Shane’s expression morphed from anger to hatred. Did these two know each other? “Why don’t you head off and change, um…” The gorgeous man raised his eyebrows at Cat in question.
“Cat.” She said, keeping her eyes on Shane’s face. What was happening here?
“Nice to meet you, Cat.” He gave her a dismissive once over, running his eyes from her crazy head of soaked, matted hair down to her soggy shoes. “My God, dude, this girl is wet and freezing. How can you keep her standing here like this? You’re an animal.” He shook his head in a tsk - tsk motion. “Maybe I should let Albert know how you treat your inferiors? I have to say it’s about as well as you treat your superiors.” He grinned again and Shane bristled. So did Cat. Inferiors, my ass! The man ignored Shane and turned his sunshine in her direction. “So why don’t you run off and get yourself together, Cat?”
Cat glanced at Shane, expecting him to jump in and tell blue-eyes to mind his own business, but he stayed silent and glowering.
“I… I don’t have another uniform.” She said. “I have nothing to change into.”
“Well, I guess you’ll just have to run on home and change then, right, Shane? I mean, we’ll wait here.”
Shane broke his silence. His voice dripped with venom. “She’s not a waitress. She’s a busgirl. She clears tables. And she lives in New Jersey. If you worked with these types of people, you’d know her type. She’s bridge and tunnel all the way.”
Blue-eyes reached into his inside jacket pocket and withdrew an enormous stack of cash. Cat swallowed hard. She’d seen lots of cash being thrown around at the Waldrove before, but the crisp stack of hundred-dollar bills was a conversation stopper. He swept a few bills from the top of the pile and handed them to Shane. “Does this cover the cost of a uniform?”
“We don’t have any uniforms available here,” Shane said.
“We do!” She blurted before she could weigh the Shane-related consequences. “They’re in the staff room.” She said. “Carla re-stocked them and posted the new prices yesterday.”
“Right!” Shane thrust out his bony chest and stood to his full height. Still at least 6 inches below blue-eyes. “I’ve had enough.” The waves of anger shifted from Cat and were breaking over the other man. “This girl is an employee of The Waldrove. I am this employee’s manager. This employee is disrespectful and believes she is above the rules. Somewhat like yourself…” He smirked. “Sir.” He added. Blue-eyes didn’t speak, but she saw his fingers curling into a fist at his side. “I’ve seen you here before.” Shane continued. “You waltz in like you own this hotel. You drink. You shout. You order people around. You think you’re better than everyone, but you’re not. You're as trashy as this trash right here.” He motioned to Cat. “And I want you both out of my sight.”
Then Cat heard a voice she recognized. It was Albert, and relief flashed through her. At least there would be no fistfight tonight.
Sleazy Shane turned. And blustered. “This man followed me here, Albert. He followed me and was rude and aggressive. It’s clear he will settle for nothing less than a physical altercation.”
Blue-eyes sighed. “For God’s sake. I was going to the restroom!”
“Mr. Hanna. I can only apologize again.” Albert smiled at blue eyes. “What a stressful evening you’ve had. I’ll take care of this situation immediately. Shane, please go to the staff room, as requested.” Shane didn’t move. Albert turned back to blue eyes. Or, as she now knew, Mr. Hanna. Hanna. The name sounded familiar, but she knew she’d never seen the man before. If she’d seen this man, she’d remember this man.
“Mr. Hanna,” Albert said, pointedly refusing to acknowledge Shane’s continued presence. “Would you like to return to your party? I will take care of everything here.”
“I would not.” Mr. Hanna replied. He looked toward the unmoving Shane. “Not until I’m certain that this young lady will no longer be subject to abuse.” He didn’t even look in her direction, just kept staring at Shane, who seethed. “I’d like to buy her a uniform, give her some time to change, and then she can be our waitress, and serve us that scotch you promised. Does that work for you, Albert?”
“Of course, Mr. Hanna.” Albert stepped between Cat and Shane. “Shane. No need to visit the staff room after all. You can just head home this evening. We’ll speak later.”
Sleazy Shane left without another word. His anger trailed behind him like a vapor trail a plane leaves in the sky. Cat had to admit that, if the worst happened and she got fired, she’d be relieved to be out of Shane’s company.
“Cat,” Albert said. “Please help yourself to a new uniform and I will meet you on the floor. Take your time.”
Albert turned and walked back toward the bar. Relief flushed through Cat’s insides like a swallow of cold water on a hot day. He didn’t fire her. She turned to thank Adonis, (Mr. Hanna) but got only a view of his retreating back.
*LM Notes. The bar in The Waldrove is loosely based on the lobby bar of the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. This bar is very special to me - it’s where my husband proposed :-)
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