The Washwater Hotel: Chapter 5
Friday, the week before.
Steven Narrows had been staying in the Washwater since the beginning of the summer. Every other day, he would ride his bike the two miles up the road to the port, where the nearby river flowed into the ocean. His mornings were spent talking to the fishermen and inspecting their catches for the day- mostly Cod and Bass from the Channel.
“Hello again, Mr. Narrows.” The scruffy man called out from behind his row of iceboxs.
“Goodday, Sam.” Steven adjusted his glasses before taking up a mostly stiff cod up in his grasp, the tape measure wrapped around his thumbs.
“Big one, ain’t he?”
“Actually sir, it’s a ‘she’.” Steven corrected. “If you look at the dorsal tail here-”
“I get it, boy, I’ve been catching them up for many a year now.” The fishermen grimaced and turned his attention to the loud customers at the other side of the stall.
Steven frowned and took a second measurement around the fish’s belly before putting it back among the others waiting to be sold. He wiped the cold scales from his hands on his pants before taking up the notebook from the bag at his side to take down the measurements. “Smaller and smaller.” He remarked.
The purpose of his records was to fill out data for his master’s thesis, entitled ‘Eroding Shorelines and the Cod who Cannot: Are Coastal Habitats of our Native Fish Changing?’ The data, so far, told of consistently smaller fish, while the news from the fishermen was that customers were simply getting less bang for their buck. It had been several sea-stink filled months that Steven had considered changing the topic of his thesis, or to simply change his degree to something more mammalian.
After packing up his first round of data, Steven began to make his way to another stall not too far away. As he approached, he noticed a group of kids surrounding a singular plastic carton to peer inside. He leaned over the youngsters and looked into the murky, still water.
“Ugly fish, take a dip!” Some of the kids chanted. The view of the short, grey fish was limited. The man running the stall spoke up. “Ohkay, back it up kiddos. Fish guy is here.”
One child kicked at the carton before dispersing with the others. “What do we have here?” Steven said, finally getting a good look.
“Came up with the regular haul.” The fisherman said proudly, his arms at his hips.
The fish poked at the surface, before thrashing a bit, revealing a set of white, sharp teeth. “My.” Steven declared plainly, hiding his excitement. “How much for it?”
The weathered man stoked his stubbled chin. “Eh? You want ‘im? Free, ain’t nobody gonna try to buy that thing to eat.” He began to turn back to gather up a bag. “I’ll give him a knock up the head and put him on ice so he’ll stay nice for you.”
“No!” Steven declared, shaking his head. “Uh, well… I’d like him as-is. Alive?”
The fisherman offered up a puzzled look. “Dunno how you think you’ll keep him that way.”
“The crate he’s in. I’ll take it with.” Steven said, looking to the handles at each side.
“Those things don’t come cheap. Twenty quid.”
Steven felt at his back pocket for his wallet. He pulled it out and examined the money he had been keeping for the week’s groceries. “I’ll take it.” He said dishearteningly, thinking of the meager foodstuffs he had back in his room.
The crate, topped off with sea water, was just about as much as Steven’s arms could manage. One block inland from the port, he dropped off the fish and ran back for his bike. It was some time later that a passing cab would allow him a ride. In the boot went the sloshing box with the unique animal, then in the back seat his bike, followed by a pleasantly awkward ride beside the driver in the front.
At the hotel, Steven departed with more of his cash to satisfy the driver. He dumped quickly his bike upon the grass, and pulled out with crate with the remainder of his strength. At the top of the tree steps up to the Washwater’s veranda, his fingers and arms had already gone numb from the strain.
Painting the trim by the door was the short, dark fellow. Steven placed down the crate and address him. “Hey, you. Horatio, was it?”
The diminutive fellow looked up, the paint from his brush dripping back into the tray. He tilted his head.
“I hate to trouble you, but…” Steven sighed, looking down to his prize. “May I ask for your help to move this up to my room?”
Horatio slumped his shoulders and placed the brush down, moving to the side of the crate across from Steven. The student smiled at him as they took the weight between themselves.
Inside the conveniently open doors and past the happily vacant front desk, Horatio began the climb up first, backwards to the stairs, as Steven held the container level. The two continued up the two flights to 306, a city view room. “Let’s set it down here.” Steven directed. As it found level ground, he pulled out his key and unlocked the door. Standing outside, he leaned down before Horatio and pulled out his wallet one last time. “Listen, Horatio- you shouldn’t tell anyone we brought something this big up.” He offered one of his last small bills to the dark fellow.
Horatio took the cash in his hands and peered at it as if he were deciding whether or not to take it. Steven fiddled with his wallet one last time and decided to offer up the remains of what he had. “Here.” He concluded, turning to the crate to push it over the threshold into his room.
Horatio shoved the money into his pocket and began to wander off back to his work. Steven shut the door behind him and peeked under the cover of the container to check on the fish that was still vigorously swimming about inside. It jostled about, spilling a patch of water over the carpet. He clacked the top back on, enclosing the fish once again.
After a few paces back around the carpet, Steven went to the phone, knowing who he had to call. He dialed the number with shaky presses and waited for the voice on the other side to answer.
“Good day, this is Dr. Harris of the fisheries department.”
“Professor, I have a big discovery!”
“Oh, Steven.” His mentor hummed. “What’s new?”
“One of the local fisherman pulled up a wolf fish!”
The doctor took a shallow breath from the other side of the line. “Well, that is quite the find. Were you able to have a good look at it?”
“I have it right here.” Steven announced, tugging the spiral phone line across the room.
“In a big container! Right here in my room! A big one, too, about four feet. Alive and very… active.
“This is a big discovery.”
“Exactly, which is why I need you to come up as soon as you can.” Steven urged. “With a tank and some sort of truck to transport it in.”
“Ehh, well.” Dr. Harris responded. “I’m actually stuck in a conference this whole weekend, discussing the budget for next semester. And getting either of those things, well…”
Steven chewed on his lip. “This thing isn’t going to be very happy or healthy where it is now.”
The line drifted off into silence for a long moment. “Well, you’ve got a good head on ‘ya. I’m sure you can find some way to accommodate it for a little while, right?”
“Right…” Steven hummed dejectedly. “Well, uh… call me back when you might have a chance to come up. Okay?”
“Sure thing then, Steve. Right, goodbye then, and good luck?”