The Washwater Hotel: Chapter 6
Joel sat on the edge of his bed, waiting on the call. The handset began to ring, and he snatched it up. “This is room 315.”
“Joel?” The expected voice spoke to him.
“Yeah, Henry, it’s me.”
Joel stood up and looked out the window, down to the sheer cliff and water below. “Well, not much more. Had some bad fare here, and spent the night chucking it up.”
“Oh-” Henry responded with a slight disgust. “Should I call out the board of health, next?”
Joel shook his head. “No, it’s probably just my stomach.”
“Well… There’s a shop about a half mile from the hotel. Pick up some things there you can cook in your room. Can’t have you out of commission.”
“I guess just keep up the work, then. Oh, and don’t interact too much with the manager. I don’t want him catching on.”
Joel nodded and stood before the cradle of the phone. “Will do. I’m going to give it a good look around today.”
“Good on ‘ya. Tomorrow, same time, then?”
“Yes. Good day, Henry.”
Joel had dressed himself in light clothing for the day. He made his way down to the lobby and to the dining room, where breakfast was being served. Just as he had hoped, Marianne and the little girl were absent. In fact, the only person other than Joel himself was a young studious type, stacking just about a half loaf of sliced bread upon a paper plate. The bespectacled man glanced at Joel before running back to the lobby, balancing the fare against his chest.
Joel served himself a mug of coffee and stepped out the side door to the veranda and into the early daylight. Just over the hedge to the south side of the building was a view of the ocean, far out below. Among the pine trees was a short, sloping paved road, turning off from the hotel’s circular drive. It led down to the side of the building, and was marked with a wooden painted sign labeled ‘Washwater- Delivery Only. Max 2 Tonnes.’ The hum of a small lorry came up from the main road and turned down the path backward, inching toward the unloading area below.
Brian waived from the rolling door as the box truck carefully backed down toward him. The driver watched with an arm hung out the window as he approached the building. Joel glanced down at the new cook, a vaguely familiar face, who caught sight of him just the same. With a singular distracted waive, Brian focused back on guiding the truck into its place.
Joel took note of the basement’s location before heading back around the veranda as he sipped on the soapy tasting cup of coffee. The front of the building seemed nothing out of the particular: a set of wooden stairs, built on an old, weather-beaten paver. Seeming to be of code. The petite bushes before the edge of the covered deck were an appropriate distance away.
The sound of running water pulled Joel’s attention away. He continued in his path under the outside of the building, avoiding the seats and lounge chairs and ash trays as he went. At the north of the building were more hedges, over which he could see the same section of ocean. At the base of them, however, was the diminutive Horatio, spraying down the plants, as well as a flower bed right up against the well containing the basement windows.
“Uh, excuse me.” Joel called out as the water splashed the siding, saturating the nearby dirt.
Horatio glanced up at him, not stopping his task. “Ehh-”
Joel bit his lip, and rather than calling out the helpful fellow, he took mental note of the situation and chose a different question. “Do you perhaps know how to get down to the beach?”
Horatio shrugged and pointed his hand, still holding the hose, back down south. Joel looked back in the vague direction before sighing and pulling himself off the railing to head back.
Up on the second level, in room 219, Mr. And Mrs. Wittier, a freshly retired couple, were beginning to pack up after their final breakfast at the Washwater. They had come from down south, and would continue up further north as their week-long journey up the coast filled out their remaining days of holiday.
“Well, I’ll be glad to get out of here,” Mr. Whittier complained, stretching his back. “No matter how comfy these beds were, I felt as I the whole place were rocking back and forth the entire night.”
“Oh,” His wife scolded him as she neatly packed up her clothes upon the bed. “I don’t know. To me, it was like being rocked to sleep. Just like I was a baby again!” She chuckled.
“Fine, then you may drive today.”
A sole, tender knock came to the door. The lady perked up. “Are they coming to turn the room over already? What time is it, dear?”
The man went to the door, shaking his head. “Way too early, still.” As he pushed the door out into the hall, he spotted the tiny brunette girl, her gentle curls seeming to tremble.
“Hello?” Anna said, peering up at the older man, a hint of tears in the corners of her eyes.
“Well, who do we have here?” Mrs. Wittier came to the door, pushing her ill mannered husband out of the way. “Are you lost, little one? Come in, why don’t you? What’s your name?”
“I’m Anna…” She whimpered, stepped forward against the old woman’s legs. “Maman… went out… and I went to check on her… but I forgot which room…”
Mrs. Whittier allowed the little girl in and shut the door after her. “All the doors look the same, don’t they? My, dear, what a cute little accent she has!”
“Let’s call the front desk.” Her husband shrugged. “They can call her… mom, was it? Or at least tell us her room number.”
Anna jumped. “No! The big baldy… he doesn’t like maman. He makes her pay lots of money to stay here!”
Mrs. Whittier giggled. “Mr. Wash, huh? Well, we’ll have to find another way, don’t we.”
“We have to check out soon, dear…”
“We still have plenty of time.”
As the couple went back and forth, little Anna gazed about the room, taking in the decoration. Just outside, around the corner and down the stairs, Marianne had watched the act play out before offering up the girl a bit of time. After a sufficient wait, she approached the door and knocked.
“Oh, that could be her!” Mrs. Whittier perked up and moved past Anna to the door once again. “Hello?” She called as she swung the door open.
“Maman!” Anna cheered as her mother came into view inside the hall.
“Oh, cherie, I’ve been looking all over for you.” Marianne said, crouching down before her as Anna ran forward. “Thank you two very much. I told her to stay put as I went down to pay my bill…”
“No worries, it was only a second, truly.” Mrs. Whittier nodded her head. “She’s so cute, and looks just like you, too.”
Marianne stood and took Anna by the hand. “Thank you, again. Come now, cherie.”
“Okay, maman.” She said as they went back the way of their room one floor up.
Inside 309, Marianne sat Anna up on the bed and crouched before her. “What did you see in there? Was it there?” Her mother asked. Marianne, in fact, did not speak normally in such a heavy French accent.
Anna held her fingers to her mouth. “I don’t think it was there. The only picture was a boat, and the ocean.”
“Acrylic or oil?” Marianne continued.
Anna thought hard. “…Acrylic!”
“Hmph.” Her mother replied, standing back to her feet.
“I’m sorry, Maman.”
“No, no, it’s none your fault my dear. We’ll find out where that Mr. Wash is hiding the painting. Then we can finally get out of this wretched hotel. Hmm. It could very well be in his own quarters.”
“Are we going there next?” Anna asked, picking up her stuffed rabbit from the bed behind her.
“No yet.” Marianne ground her teeth and tapped the tips of her fingers together. “We’ll draw too much attention from him. Besides, we had that nice man who just arrived at the room down the hall.”
“Joel!” Anna said, tossing the rabbit up in the air before catching it again.
“Should I go there next?” Anna asked hopefully.
Marianne shook her head and went back to stroke Anna’s hair. “You’ve done you part for today. I’m sure I can talk my way in there, especially with a drink or two in him.”