Vincent and the Grandest Hotel on Earth, page 1
About the Book
Everyone deserves a bit of grand …
From ordinary to extraordinary, Vincent and the Grandest Hotel on Earth is a marvellous ride that will delight readers of all ages.
Perched high on the snowy slopes of the Mabombo Ranges lies The Grandest Hotel on Earth. It’s wilder than the African savanna, more fantastical than Disneyland and more magical than Shangri-la.
So when ordinary eleven-year-old Vincent meets the hotel’s young Florence he sets off on a path leading into his most wondrous dreams.
But of course, dreams have a funny way of taking strange and surprising turns and, before long, Vincent is torn between right and wrong, friendship and family and the most enticing of desires – to see into the future …
Warning: this book includes insanely cute pocket dogs, travelling by llama or jet pack, chocolate fountains and shoes that play Bach.
ABOUT THE BOOK
BEFORE WE BEGIN …
CHAPTER 1: THAT MOMENT
CHAPTER 2: GUEST FOR A DAY
CHAPTER 3: THE GRANDEST HOTEL ON EARTH
CHAPTER 4: BINOCULARS AND POCKET DOGS
CHAPTER 5: THE GRAND TOUR AND ABANDONED DREAMS
CHAPTER 6: ROOMS
CHAPTER 7: HOT CHOCOLATE AFTER MIDNIGHT
CHAPTER 8: VINCENT’S FIRST DAY AS THE SHOESHINE BOY
CHAPTER 9: NOT THE BEST GLASSES
CHAPTER 10: A GRAND FAMILY
CHAPTER 11: THE SIXTEENTH FLOOR
CHAPTER 12: THE MIRRORS OF THE FUTURE ROOM
CHAPTER 13: THE MAABOOTTEES’ FIFTIETH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY
CHAPTER 14: UNOPENED GIFTS AND THE SHORTEST STAIRCASE IN TOWN
CHAPTER 15: TOMATO SANDWICHES ON THE PLATFORM FOR THE RECKLESS
CHAPTER 16: STOPPING THE FUTURE
CHAPTER 17: WEEK TWO OF CHANGING THE FUTURE
CHAPTER 18: HOME
CHAPTER 19: THE FUTURE
CHAPTER 20: MOVING IN
CHAPTER 21: FAMILY BUSINESS
A NOTE ABOUT MY GRAND CO-AUTHOR, FINLEY WRIGHT CURNOW
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALSO BY LISA NICOL
READ MORE AT PENGUIN BOOKS AUSTRALIA
For Kate, Paul, Jacob & Liam
BEFORE WE BEGIN …
If I could just take a brief moment to explain something about moments …
Not all moments in time are the same. There are some moments that change everything. Some moments that set you on a different path, altering your life forever. Some moments, from which no one and nothing will emerge the same.
This story begins with one of those moments.
At first glance such moments can seem incredibly ordinary. It is only looking back, when you’re a bag of wrinkles and involuntary farting has become a regular part of your day, that you can see how very MOMENTOUS the particular moment actually was.
MOMENTOUS moments are like that.
They’re often long gone before you can see flashing arrows from every other important moment in your life pointing right at them.
Now you, modern reader, have probably already twigged that someone called Vincent has a part to play in this particular moment.
And you’d be right.
But he wasn’t alone. So before we begin, let me introduce you to the two people forever tethered to this moment in time. The two people whose worlds were not just shaken but transformed so completely they were as unrecognisable as the life of a butterfly is to a caterpillar. (That gets me to thinking, I wonder if a butterfly remembers being a caterpillar? Safe to say we’ll never know, I guess. Life’s full of grand mysteries, isn’t it?)
Vincent lived in an ordinary town called Barry. The name says it all. The way it falls out of your mouth and sort of drops onto your big toe like a ball of lead.
Barry has never, not once, appeared on a bucket list. Nor a T-shirt like I New York or London or Paris. In fact the only reason anyone ever came to Barry was to drive through it on their way to The Grandest Hotel on Earth. Now Vincent and his family lived on Standard Street, just below Parr Street. His house was ordinary. His clothes were ordinary. And his hair was ordinary too. (Do I need to tell you it was brown?) Average in height, with no unusual or distinguishing features whatsoever – not even a freckle – Vincent was so ordinary that being mistaken for someone else was the only time he was noticed at all.
And there was no one of any note in Vincent’s family. Made up of fruit pickers and ticket collectors and factory workers, they just got through life as best they could. Much like the rest of us. Of course, no one is truly ordinary once you get to know them and, after THAT MOMENT, Vincent would never be described as ordinary again.
Now it’s hard to imagine anyone less ordinary than young Florence. She lived at The Grandest Hotel on Earth. Her full name was – as you would expect – extremely grand. It was Florence Vivienne Delilah Everest Wainwright-Cunningham III. Her wardrobe was grand: milk-blue velvet skirts, lace shirts, beaded and feathered hand-stitched jackets. And emerald boots that lit up and played Bach when she walked.
Of course, her family was grand too. Grand in size. Grand in imagination. Grand in talents. Inventors, artists, spies, explorers.
Her Aunt Violet was a famous jazz singer and her Uncle Earl was the first man ever to jump from the edge of space. Already twenty-nine Wainwright-Cunninghams had found their way into the Guinness World Records book. And then, of course, there was her parents’ hotel! The Grandest Hotel on Earth. So grand it itself was in Guinness World Records as the grandest hotel in all the world – an award anyone with half a chicken’s brain could surely have worked out from the name alone. (Did you know the book Guinness World Records is in the Guinness World Records book? I kid you not. Another one of life’s mildly amusing mysteries!)
So let’s get cracking, shall we? My co-author just gave me his ‘wind it up’ signal, which means time to push our story-wagon out onto the street and get moving. Having said that, I’m sure he won’t object if I take just one more moment to tell you about him. After all, these days co-authors are as rare as a rap song with no swearing. Which is why I feel so incredibly lucky to have one.
To start with they’re useful. Say if I decide to take a little lie-down and it’s not yet three o’clock, my co-author whispers in my ear and reminds me that only people who wear nappies nap at this time of day and to get back to my desk. Pronto! He also tells me when my jokes ‘suck’ – his word not mine. Or when I’m getting muddled up. He’s like the big stick (a huggable big stick) and I’m the piñata. Those lollies aren’t going to come out by themselves, if you know what I mean. Now there are many authors who don’t need a stick (most of them enjoy jogging long distances at dawn, I’m told), but I, modern reader, am not one of them. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without him. My co-author doesn’t just help tell the story; in many ways he is the story.
Clear as chunky stew, I know, but once things get underway, you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Trust me. He’ll make sure of it.
And so it was.
In a busy market, on a busy street.
Florence, along with Rupert the hotel’s concierge, was looking for a shoeshiner to clean the guests’ shoes, since mostly they had no desire whatsoever to clean their own.
Well, that very same morning, Vincent’s grandfather died. He had next to no possessions and the only thing
Not many people would describe Vincent’s life as glorious, but Vincent’s family was like that. They delighted in the small things. Because they had to. There were no BIG things. No big events or adventures or awards. Well, not until THAT MOMENT anyway.
‘Here,’ said Vincent’s dad, handing him the shoe-cleaning kit. ‘Pa would have wanted you to have this. It would make him happy.’
He also gave Vincent a short wooden stool – just the perfect height for cleaning shoes – and the beaten-up old box with a shoe mount on the lid.
Vincent was thrilled! He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a wonderful surprise. Just out of the blue like that. He couldn’t wait to try it out to see if a bit of his grandfather’s magic would rub off on him. Not that he wasn’t sad about his grandfather dying. He was. But his grandfather had told him many times he was well fed up and at eighty-five he’d had quite enough of life. He said, when you can’t pull up your own trousers or enjoy a nice curry and a beer with a bit of pudding because it gives you the runs and you’re not nearly as good at getting to the toilet on time as you used to be, it was jolly hard to enjoy life and he was keen to move on.
So Vincent gave his now strangely cold Pa a kiss and a big hug and swiftly took off with his new old shoe-cleaning kit and headed for the market near the train station. All the way, Vincent couldn’t stop thinking about what he was going to buy with the money he’d make cleaning shoes. A big fat bag of salt-and-vinegar chips for one thing. And one of those blue sports drinks that looks more like the stuff you squirt in the toilet so you can’t see the skid marks in the bowl. And maybe he’d go to the movies! He’d never been to the movies.
When Vincent arrived he decided to set up right next to the train station entrance where the market began. He figured that way he would get the shoppers as well as all the people travelling by train. Straightaway Vincent spotted an empty space next to the snack machine, which happened to have salt-and-vinegar chips and sports drinks! Is there magic happening already? wondered Vincent. He sat down on his stool and put the box in front of him. He pulled out a shoe brush and a couple of pots of polish, placing them carefully on top of the box next to the shoe mount. That way, people would know he was a shoeshine boy!
Vincent was SO excited.
He couldn’t quite believe he had a job. Not just a job … a business! None of the kids at school had one. He thought he must be the only eleven-year-old in Barry with his own business.
Vincent rearranged his brush and polish, making sure it was just right. He tidied his ordinary brown hair with his fingertips and a bit of spit. And as he sat, waiting for his first customer, Vincent began noticing the shoes of every passer-by. Well, they sure need a polish! I hope they aren’t going to work like that! Those high heels are wobbly! I hope she doesn’t fall … poor lady looks like she’s in awful pain. There must be some way to make them more comfortable.
Immediately, ideas for designing shoes and how to make them better began popping into his head. And at that exact moment, Vincent fell deeply in love with shoes. (Sorry, that moment is not THE moment I was talking about earlier. THAT moment is coming up shortly. My co-author just pointed out I had better clear up that ‘mess of moments’ or even a gifted and talented reader would surely be confused.)
Before long Vincent’s first customer arrived. It was a fat man with a belly so large and perfectly round he looked like he’d swallowed a hopper ball. He probably couldn’t see his own shoes let alone clean them.
‘How much for a shine, lad?’ asked the fat man.
‘Ah, um.’ Vincent hadn’t yet given a thought to how much he should charge. He hesitated. ‘How about a dollar?’
‘Well, let’s see how good a job you do first. If it’s good, I’ll pay you a dollar. If it’s bad, I’ll pay you less.’
Vincent agreed. He figured he needed the practice as much as he needed the dollar. The fat man put his shoe on the shoe mount. Vincent rummaged around, found some black polish and got to work. After giving the shoes a thorough shine, he double-checked each one to make sure he hadn’t missed a spot.
‘There,’ he said, ‘I think they’re done.’
Holding onto the snack machine so he didn’t topple over, the fat man heaved up a shoe to inspect Vincent’s work.
‘Very nice!’ he declared, smiling, his third chin disappearing into his fourth, his fourth into his fifth and so on. ‘They look brand new!’
A wonderful tingling feeling came over Vincent.
‘Here.’ The fat man pulled out two dollar coins from his trouser pocket and flicked them at Vincent. They glinted as they spun in the air then dropped onto the pavement. Ping! Ping!
Vincent thanked the man and scooped them up. He couldn’t quite believe it. He was halfway to a sports drink already!
It didn’t take long for Vincent’s second customer to arrive and, not long after, another. But an hour or so later, the rush-hour bulge of workers had squeezed its way through the ticket barriers and Vincent’s steady stream of customers slowed to a trickle.
As Vincent was tidying up his polishes, along came Florence and Rupert the hotel concierge. (If anyone’s wondering what a concierge is, it’s the person in a fancy hotel whose job it is to help the guests and fix their problems. Like finding a taxi at 3 am or tracking down 3000 pink rose petals and eighty litres of yak’s milk because that’s how some posh chump likes to take a bath.)
‘What about him?’ asked Rupert, pointing at Vincent.
‘Well, he has a brush and polish. Nothing grand, but grand is what we do, so that won’t be a problem,’ said Florence.
‘Indeed, indeed, indeed!’ agreed Rupert, enthusiastically.
So Florence approached Vincent.
‘Excuse me,’ she said, ‘I’m from the hotel up in the mountains and we’re looking for someone to clean our guests’ shoes over the summer. It’s such a busy time. Would you be interested by any chance?’
Vincent stood up.
‘I-I-I … would be, y-y-y-yes,’ he stuttered as his mind flew up the mountain to the only hotel he knew of there. Surely not … It couldn’t be, could it? Could it?
‘What luck finding you so quickly. I thought we’d be here all morning. I’m Florence by the way.’
‘Pleased to meet you.’ Florence offered her hand to shake. But Vincent, in a mild state of shock, just left it hanging there.
‘Here’s our address,’ said Florence, giving him a business card. ‘Can you start tomorrow, by any chance?’
Vincent didn’t reply. Instead he read the card four times. Just to be quadruplely sure it said what he thought it said.
The Grandest Hotel on Earth
1708 Mountain View Rd
Apparently it did. There was no other logical conclusion. Vincent decided he was indeed being invited to clean shoes at The Grandest Hotel on Earth!
Florence was used to this sort of reaction. She waited patiently for Vincent to recover and reply. Softly tapping her foot while she waited, her emerald boots played Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 in G Major – a tune that sends your heart soaring like a hot air balloon. Around the edges of her boot small lights flashed and twinkled like stars as her toe struck the pavement.
Vincent looked down at her musical emerald boots. ‘Bach?’
‘Yes!’ replied Florence, stunned but now one hundred per cent certain that Vincent was the very right choice to be the shoeshiner at The Grandest Hotel on Earth. ‘So … is tomorrow too soon?’
Vincent shook his head.
Florence handed Vincent an envelope. ‘I hope they let you come. It’s the quickest way to get to know how The Grand runs. You can’t really understand how we do grand until you experience it for yourself. Guest orientation starts in the lobby. Ten o’clock. They’ll be expecting you.’
‘Okay,’ he squeaked, excitement and disbelief squeezing his voice box till he sounded like a fruit bat.
Vincent could barely believe it.
He wasn’t just going to work at The Grandest Hotel on Earth. Tomorrow he was going to be a guest! It felt like surprises were mounting up one upon the other, like scoops of ice-cream. Surely guest for a day had to be the final scoop! The scoop dripping with hot salted-caramel fudge icing, a sprinkling of nuts and a flake sticking out the top. Right now Vincent thought he knew exactly how Charlie felt when he found the last golden ticket.
Vincent watched as Florence and the hotel concierge disappeared into the crowded street, at which point he packed up his kit and ran all the way home. A bag of chips and a blue sports drink could hardly compete with The Grandest Hotel on Earth! Was there ever more evidence of the magic his grandfather talked about? Vincent didn’t think there could be.
GUEST FOR A DAY
‘Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up!’
Startled, Vincent woke. It was his seven-year-old sister, Rose, shaking him and yelling in his ear.