Sunday, 29 March 2020

Hotel Hell (Fear Itself, Esoterrorists, Night's Black Agents, Timewatch)

This week's post is inspired by a news item about hotel thefts, and loosely based on the Breidenbacher Hof in Dusseldorf, Germany.

You've really got to feel sorry for the owners of five star boutique hotels. They attract a different kind of criminal. Where most of us are content to steal the soap and possibly a bathrobe, the folks who steal from the wealthy chisel out their marble fireplaces, package up their flat screens and framed art, and cart off the Steinway piano.

According to the article there's a fellow in South America who poses as an artist come to do a show, and who brings with him large packaging crates stuffed full of 'art.' Of course, it's stuffed full of nothing when he arrives, but when he leaves the crates are suspiciously heavier than they were before. In short, this is a job for the professional, your thief with an eye for high value, someone who can pull off a quick change and swindle like a veteran grifter.

In Germany it's easier than you might think, as there isn't the proliferation of security cameras you might find in an equivalent hotel elsewhere. Privacy laws specify where you can and cannot place cameras, such as public spaces like the drive in front of the hotel.

Which naturally made me go looking for a boutique hotel in Germany, which is how I found Briedenbacher Hof. Built in 1806 as a luxury resort for the rich and famous, in its day it's hosted royalty and the impossibly wealthy. It was bombed extensively during the War, and rebuilt in the 1950s. In the later 1990s it was torn down again by its Kuwait-based owners, and rebuilt to their exacting standards. During construction a section of Dusseldorf's medieval city wall was discovered in the basement, and that archaeological find is now permanently on display from the retail level of the hotel.

Dusseldorf is the second largest city in Germany, and has been an urban settlement since the Romans moved in. Its strategic position on the Rhine strengthened its importance as a trade-and-tax town, and it officially became a city in 1288 when the Counts of Berg defeated the forces of the Archbishop of Cologne and granted Dusseldorf town privileges. It built a market square surrounded by thick city walls, those same walls which lie under the foundations of the Briedenbacher Hof. Bombed extensively during the Second World War, what was a medieval town became a modern one in the 20th century, after extensive rebuilding and reconstruction. 

With all that:

Hotel Hell

The characters are professional thieves. They may be funded by an outside group, like the Esoterrorists' Ordo Veritatis, or Dracula Dosssier's Edom, but if they are then it's through cut-outs and Mr. Johnsons. The characters only know their patrons as shadowy figures in the criminal community.

They have been hired to steal a certain artwork from the Richter Hof, a newly reopened hotel with an illustrious past. Its Dubai-based owners intend it to be the jewel in their hospitality crown, and it has everything the high-end traveler could want, including a gaming room where well-heeled visitors lose their shirts at vingt-et-un and poker. Gambling licenses are very difficult to get in Germany, but the Richter has its license from before the War when it was (and still is) a destination for the wealthy and famous. 

Their job is to get in, get the goods, and get out without being stopped by hotel staff. Piece of cake, they may think. 

That rather depends on how much they like cake … 

The artwork they're told to steal is an abstract sculpture installed in the penthouse suite. Physically, it's slightly smaller than man-size and weighs over 250 lbs, so the characters will need to find some way to get it out and to the main elevator. That elevator goes all the way down to the basement car park level, so they should be able to get out without wheeling it through the lobby at least. Of course, to do that they'll need to get it out the penthouse and down a corridor which might at any time have guests or hotel staff. Plus the penthouse has a dedicated butler who spends much of his day going in and out of the penthouse, even if it's vacant, as he has to make sure the penthouse is ready at any time for one of the Richter Hof's high-end guests. The hotel's Dubai owners' extended family often drop by the hotel for a little shopping spree, and when they do they expect to be accommodated in the penthouse suite.

If the characters do some advance scouting and try to find out more information about the sculpture, they discover something odd. No two sources agree on when it was made, or who by. Some claim it's a Picasso from 1912, others an 1889 Rodin, still others a 1980s bronze by Stephen De Staebler. Everyone says it's a masterpiece worth hundreds of thousands of dollars/euro/marks - which is a little peculiar, since why would anyone value anything in Deutsche Marks, a dead currency since 2002? It's large, it's metal, and it will be hard to lift without special equipment, which is probably going to be the characters' main concern.

The trouble really begins when the characters begin the lift. Time is soft within Richter Hof. At one moment it might be 2020, at another it might be 1943 and the Battle of the Ruhr, at still another it might be 1806 and the Hof's grand opening. So long as the investigators have possession of the statue, any door - including the elevator doors - can open to any era. The statue's inert (or as inert as it ever gets) as long as it's in position in the penthouse. The minute it moves, the fun begins.

The elevator doors are an especial problem, since at most points in the hotel's history it didn't have an elevator. It certainly didn't have one that went to the basement. So the elevator doors literally lead to anywhen, anywhere, while the other doors lead to the equivalent space in [time period]. At least if the characters move from the corridor to a hotel room, they end up in a hotel room. It might be a hotel room in 1980 or 1880, occupied or empty, but at least it's predictably a hotel room. There's no telling where they end up, if they take the elevator.

Among the events the characters could walk into:

  • Ruritanian Assassination. It's 1848, the age of Revolution, and the Crown Prince / Duke / [insert title here] of a small country or principality that no longer exists in 2020 has relocated to the Richter Hof to avoid talking to the Revolutionaries. Anarchists have infiltrated the hotel staff, and are planning to plant a bomb in the royal's apartments. Of course, bombs don't care who they blow up, and the characters could easily find themselves on the receiving end of a poorly planned assassination attempt.
  • Firebugs. It's June 1943, and British bombers are scattering their load all over Dusseldorf. The hotel's ablaze, but so is much of Dusseldorf, so the fire brigade isn't going to be available any time soon. The hotel's part-evacuated but there are still some staff and guests in the hotel itself, either because they didn't want to go to bomb shelters or because they're trying to rescue their belongings from their burning rooms. 
  • Songbirds. It's 2011, and Dusseldorf's hosting the Eurovision Song Contest. There's no escaping it; every room, bar, and screen is blaring Europop. If people aren't singing Wadde hadde dudde da  (singer/comedian Stefan Raab's 2000 hit; he's one of the 2011 judges), they're singing Lena's Taken by a Stranger, the current German entry. No immediate danger, but the hotel is absolutely rammed, and it's very difficult to sneak past the crowds while toting a 250 lbs bronze.  

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