A horde of dreadful, vulgar, cretinous guests of dubious morals and lapsed honour, in cahoots with a pack of impertinent, bestial, lumpenproletarian staff, frustrate the noble efforts of a brilliant detective to hunt down a murderer. Come join the pursuit, through the luxurious suites, luminous dining halls and stately ballroom of a lush hotel, into a more civilised epoch of the elegant past, in a tome bearing all the hallmarks of an Agatha Christie whodunnit—with the possible exceptions of cleverness, sense, purpose and decency. It is told in a style utterly shorn of extraneous verbiage, compact, exceedingly earnest and reflecting the loftiest aesthetic ideals. It falls exactingly within generic parameters, with no hint of parodic subversion. As far as the zeitgeist is concerned, few would be bold enough, or moronic enough—unmitigated imbeciles, deserving of little more than being hacked to pieces and left in the garden as meat fit for dogs—to deny that this magisterial opus is unstintingly in sync with up-to-the-second trends in political correctness. What more could the thoughtful, intelligent, discerning reader (you) require?
It was twenty to five in the afternoon when Mister Pluck waddled into the hotel foyer. He was normally a man who could walk like other men—with long, vigorous, purposeful, manly strides—but our usually famously observant hero had in this instance forgotten to remove his skis. Mifkin, the large and exceedingly correct porter with a moustache envied by all the staff, rushed towards him.
“Ah, my good man,” Pluck addressed him, “be a good chap and see to the radiator in my room, won’t you? It hoots and whistles like a strangled canary with a lisp, and confoundedly forbids my afternoon naps.”
Mifkin, all six and three-quarter feet of him, bowed before the gentleman, then, with his brow lingering pensively over the deep taupe carpet, whispered, with exemplary tact: “Your skis, sir.”
“What?!” demanded Pluck huffily. “What’s that about skis, man?!”
“Sir surely does not wish to wear his skis up to his room, and during his nap, I presume?”
Pluck laughed with contempt. “What in blazes do you mean, you bumbling idiot?! Ha! My skis, my—?!” But though he did not want to, though he fought, with every ounce of his formidable will, against the impulse, some unseen force, outside himself, caused him to tilt his gaze downward, where he was rewarded with an unsparing burst of self-knowledge, grasping at once the embarrassing picture he presented to the three-tier Louis the Sixteenth chandelier, the brocaded bergères housing several members of the noble and bourgeois spheres, the grand staircase, the gaping bellhop, and the Pekingese.
Flushing a beautifully rich mauve, Pluck crouched down and fumbled with the ski locks. “Argh! Those cack-handed ski makers have botched the job once again! I can’t get these blasted things off! Help me, God damn you, help me!”
Thus summoned, Mifkin knelt, first one knee and then the other, and proceeded to offer his best assistance—which, as we shall see, fell disgracefully short of Mister Pluck’s requirements.
“Hurry, you clumsy swine!” hissed the latter.
“Yes, sir,” mumbled the former.
The question which insinuated itself into Pluck’s mind, like an insistent sperm into a coy egg, was this: Should I strike him? Should I strike him till he wilts, justly humbled, to the floor? Whilst his antagonist might, judging from appearances, have boasted that which Pluck lacked—a brute, crass physical strength such as that allotted to a dumb beast, which would appear wholly unseemly in a gentleman—he, Pluck, by virtue of his dignity, his richly cultured soul and, yes, he would not deny it, his class (somewhat less than noble, but indisputably more than common), could certainly pride himself on a moral superiority which any objective observer, if such a thing were possible, would acknowledge. Might, then, in response to the world’s last-ditch appeal to Providence to divulge some proof that justice on this earth, which had long since been presumed dead, survived, some presiding deity guide his hand to knock this ingrate down, and thereby re-establish order in a world which wobbled on the precipice of chaos, imbue meaning in a culture fading listlessly into dissolution, and, incidentally, prove to all Pluck’s position as the pre-eminent personage of his age?
Pluck’s fingers, in the midst of such apocalyptic musing, shook, which only made the task he and the porter shared between them that much more difficult to complete. “Hurry!” he whispered. “Everybody’s looking! Is the sole aim of your puny existence the irrevocable ruin of my reputation?!”
Larry the bellhop, whom everyone on the staff called “Poor Larry”, not on account of his salary, which, yes, left much to be desired, but because of a harrowing, self-pitying look about his young features, shuffled over.
“May I help, Mister Mifkin?” asked he.
“No thank you,” Mifkin replied.
“Go away!” screamed Pluck, throat choked with rising bile. His shout drew the hotel’s manager over in a flash.
“What’s the problem here?!” demanded Herr Voot. “Mifkin! What’s the matter with you?! Leave monsieur’s feet alone!”
Mifkin, hands still at work, raised his face to his superior, self-respect intact: “Herr Voot, Mister Pluck asked me to help him untie his skis. As you know, sir, I do solely what duty compels; no more, and, I vow, by no means less.”
“He did what?”
“Asked me to untie his skis, sir. Hence: the scene you witness before you.”
“Are you all right, sir?” Herr Voot inquired of Pluck, stooping down to observe him. “Your face is inflamed.”
“I?! I am absolutely well! More than well—positively unbetterable, if you must know! All is as right as can be conceived! I might go so far as to say that civilisation, and my life as one modest cog therein, is nothing less than perfection itself!” screamed Pluck, causing patrons to stream in from other rooms to see about the hullaballoo.
At that, the skis unclicked, and Pluck, hands over his face, broke through the scrum and scurried up the staircase.
When he’d finally managed to get the key into his door and shoved it shut behind him, he threw himself onto his bed and cried angrily into his pillow.