The Washwater Hotel: Chapter 10
Joel headed down once again to a late breakfast with the lightheaded daze of a waning hangover. The morning sun was bright, shining in the front windows of the hotel. The morning housekeeper, wearing the hotel’s deep red uniform, was beginning to tidy up the leftover bits of continental fare from the line. She turned back and jumped slightly as Joel stepped up to the row of tables to begin serving himself some coffee.
Joel jumped just the same in reaction to her being startled. “My apologies.” He said to the middle-aged woman as she held at her chest. He noticed a name tag reading ‘Melinda’ just below her collar.
“No, no, just a bit of a fright you gave me.’ She replied, stepping aside with a shake of her head. “Usually it’s Mr. Wash coming in at this time to check on things.”
Joel nodded and took a glance back to the front desk, just barely visible around the corner. “Well, luckily for us, he doesn’t seem to be here.” Joel smirked and began to pour himself some of the luke-warm coffee into the tan mug.
“His days off are typically Wednesdays and Thursdays.” Melinda replied.
“Oh?” Joel perked up. “I wonder what he gets up to.”
“I believe he enjoys going golfing.” The housekeeper shrugged.
“He seems pretty preoccupied with the hotel, I wouldn’t imagine a gentleman like him ever taking a day off.”
“Quite.” Melinda hummed and checked over her work. “Oh, though I’ll be able to make any accommodations if you need anything this morning. And Heather will be here later as well.”
Joel shifted to the toaster and placed a couple of slices of white bread inside to allow them to darken. “I have met Heather. Thank you, Melinda.”
The middle-aged woman bowed her head and began to head back in the direction of the lobby. “One last thing before I talk your ear off any more than I should- I hope you can join us for Chef Brian’s lunch service today.”
“I believe I shall try.” Joel waived her off. “Thank you, again-”
As Melinda began to walk off, Joel eyed the front windows, then back to the woman as she disappeared around the corner. He popped the toast of prematurely so that it would not make a sound, and he placed his cup of coffee on one of the far back tables to mark his spot. With one last glance up front, he began to march stealthily to the back of the hotel, past the cupboards of dishes and the swinging doors of the kitchen.
The stainless steel and wood work area was empty, but several oval trays of packaged ingredients and seasonings were sitting on the island at the center of the room, and a pair of of knifes and cutting boards had been left about. Joel looked the room up and down, glancing down across the floors and over the walls for any signs of cracks in the plaster, or displaced floor tiles. The area seemed well maintained and clean. Just as he was ready to continue deeper, a huffing came echoing up from the rear doorway.
Brian pushed through the swinging door, hefting a box full of frozen soup stock containers on his shoulder. He locked eyes with Joel, who looked as if here were trying to decide whether to run or not. “Hey, you can’t be back here-”
Joel looked to either side of the island. “Uh well, I just-”
Brian perked up. “I saw you yesterday morning. Don’t tell me you’re a fan or something.” He growled and grimaced, setting the box down loudly on the rear of the island. “I don’t know who-”
“Whoa, what?” Joel shook his head. “Fan of who? Actually, I’m here for a little bit of a look around.” He concluded, putting on a fake air of confidence.
Brian lowered his eyes. “Board of health or something?”
“Something like that.”
“Listen, I’ve only been here a few days. I don’t know of your involvement before with this place, but I’ve been trying to make sure everything is up to what you guys want.”
Joel pursed his lips and gave a discerning look about to reinforce the lie. He approached Brian and began to speak with a low voice. “Mr. Wash has been giving us the run around. I’m glad I ran into someone who takes pride in these sort of things.”
“Like I said…” Brian sighed, rubbing his shoulder.
Joel pointed out the door the cook had come through. “Not one of us has been allowed in the basement. That’s what you’ve got back there, right?”
Brian nodded and stroked his chin. “The walk in, freezer too. You saw where the delivery entrance is. There’s a little door that leads off to the boiler and washing room the other direction.” The cook sighed. “Listen, go have a look if you want to. I’ve got to continue preparing for the lunch service. You won’t find anything critical, I can guarantee you, though.”
Joel tapped Brian on his shoulder and began to stroll off down the door. “Good man.”
The rubber treads on the stairs downward were heavily worn, but felt safe to walk down. At the base of the stairway was a wide, concrete room with several flickering light bars. The main focus of the room was the wide, insulated wall with matching doors for the twin walk-in fridge and freezer. The windows were fogged over, marking that someone had gone in and out recently. Joel took a mental note that the fixtures that were built against the seaward facing side of the hotel.
Under their stairwell were several tall metal wire racks, holding onto dry items, boxes of spices and seasonings, and empty plastic containers. At the left was a series of dangling rubber flaps, protecting the interior from the wide, rolling delivery door leading to the outside. The right wall divided up the basement from the kitchen storage, with only a single metal door.
Joel tested it, finding the knob unlocked. On the other side, there was a slight mechanical hum. The wider room deeper inside the underbelly of the hotel was dimly lit and smelled heavily of detergent. Joel wandered among the dated machinery of the boilers and hot-water heaters, and onto the wide metal drums of the washing machines. It was not the contents of the room he was interested in, but rather the room itself which was under scrutiny.
Upstairs, Obidiah was just returning from his outing. He was dressed slightly differently then normal, with pristine suede golfing shoes, pressed brown slacks, and a light polo. He came through the front doors of the hotel, catching the attention of Melinda at the front desk. She perked up from her doodles upon the notepad before her. “Oh, Mr. Wash! I didn’t realize we would be expecting you back so soon.”
The old owner waived a hand at her to ease her back down. “No need to get worked up, Melinda. Treat me as you would any other guest. I’ve simply decided to split up my day up so as to return early and take in chef Brian’s lunch service.” He hummed, peering into the dining room.
It better be worth what you’re paying him.
Melinda nodded assuredly and pushed past the gate from behind the desk. “Everything is set-” She said, looking across the tables that had been laid out neatly with settings of napkins and cutlery. She glanced at the base of her wrist for the time upon the small, silver face of her watch. “It’s 11:32, so you may have time to freshen up, if you wish, Mr. Wash.”
Obidiah stroked his beard and stretched his legs back and forth. “I think simply having a seat would do me just fine.” He said, wandering into the dining area and taking glances at the shining silverware upon the tables. “A glass of water, if you could, Melinda. It’s quite warm today.”
“Yes sir-” She replied, following the owner inside the dining room. She split ways with him as he took one of the seats at a table facing out upon the veranda. Melinda returned with a frosty pitcher of clear liquid as Obidiah wiped down his forehead with a handkerchief from his pocket. The housekeeper’s attention was pulled away as she began to pour a glass for the owner. “Ah, Mrs. Seer, correct? Will you be joining us for lunch?”
Obidiah pulled the cloth away from his face and shot his gaze back to the older woman who seemed to drift in through the dining room’s archway. “Oh, hello, yes. Mr. Wash!” Sarah perked up. “May I intrude and perhaps share my company with you this afternoon?”
Obidiah carefully folded up the handkerchief and busily placed it in his pocket. “Why, I do not mind. Come, come.” He offered, hiding his hesitance.
Back below, Joel had returned back into the below-ground pantry after noting a few minor cracks near the ceilings, and what seemed to be a section of strained joists above. Brian loudly stomped down the stairs, holding an empty tray. “Still here?”
Joel composed himself. “I was just heading out. Nothing out of the ordinary, I assure you.”
Brian eyed the guest and adjusted the grip on the tray. “Whatever you say, friend. While you’re here, though, open the fridge door for me. I need to grab the mousse out to be ready to serve.”
Joel pointed to the insulated metal door at the right, and looked for the chef’s nod to confirm. He allowed Brian in beside him. The majority of the room was taken up by cardboard boxes, stacked upon the floor and shoved against unorganized shelves. On the single free rack inside the frosty room were rows of neatly piled cups of chocolate and whipped topping. The fan inside whirred loudly as it attempted to normalize the temperature.
Just outside of the walk-in door, in the worn paint upon the floor, a long arched mark had been etched out seemingly in the path of the swinging door. The bottom corner of the heavy metal door was also worn down, but no longer seemed to drag against the floor, even with the wide black rubber mat now placed just before the fridge. “Hey, Brian, was it?” Joel asked.
“Yeah?” The cook responded distractedly.
“Seems like the door was scraping before here… not anymore, though. Did you happen to work on the hinges at all?”
“Not me. Hell if I know what’s going on down here.” Brian sighed. “Like I said, I’ve only been here a couple days.”
Brian had almost finished transferring the desserts to the tray one by one. Joel stepped in and allowed the door to close after in order to help the cook. “Need some help?”
“I don’t need your dirty hands all over my work.” Brian shot back. He jumped back and feigned shoving the tray towards Joel.
Joel leapt back out of reflex, and bumped into the stack of boxes, causing them to shift uneasily. Brian attempted to grab at them with his free hand, but they continued on their way down, ramming the insulated wall with a loud shriek of metal.
“That doesn’t sound good.” Joel remarked, hefting a half-empty box off his feet.
Brian scowled and propped the tray half up on the nearby shelf and shifted his feet around the fallen boxes. “Are you trying to sabotage me? Get!”
Joel sighed and mashed his body into the edge of the door while pushing on the interior latch. It allowed the door to open, but only just slightly. The bottom corner of the wide door caught just a few inches out from the frame.
“What did you do?” Brian growled, sending out a kick to the door.
Joel looked about, scanning the tops and bottoms of the walls. At the base just adjacent to the door hinges was a sign that the entire side wall of the walk-in had shifted across the floor. “Look here-” Joel pointed to the line of paint and grime.
“What is that? The whole room move?”
Joel sighed. “The door is off kilter, now. Just like how it was before when it made those markings in the floor outside. Maybe worse, though.”
“So what are you saying?”
Joel tapped upon the side wall of the fridge. “This is a load bearing wall. But obviously not bearing as properly as it should.”
“Load bearing? How do you figure?”
“It said so on the blueprints I’ve been studying.” Joel announced confidently. “The wall divides up the entire length of the basement here, it’s obvious.”
“So, you’re not a health inspector, then?” Brian huffed.
“And how are we supposed to get out, then?”
Joel sighed and crouched down before the door. “That is a good question.”
Brian shifted the tray and the dessert cups loudly, shoving it awkwardly up on a half-empty rack. “I can’t stay in here! My blackened salmon is going to end up too blackened.”