The Washwater Hotel: Chapter 11
Sarah leaned forward across the table at Obidiah, stroking the rim of her empty water glass. “Mr. Wash-” She said playfully.
Obidiah straightened his back and adjusted his shirt. “Yes?”
“May I ask… about your wife?” The older woman asked with a restrained energy.
Obidiah’s usual calm attitude was replaced by a tapping of fingers and dragging lines through the condensation on his water glass. “Oh, well, what’s there to say? It was a tragedy, and not a day goes by where she isn’t on my mind.”
Sarah stretched her arm across the table, just slightly out of reach of Obidiah’s hand. “I’m sorry if it feels like I’m prying.” She apologized. “And you never had any kids, is that right? Oh, well, I can tell the hotel may be considered your baby, am I right?”
Melinda returned to the table with her pitcher of water and served the owner’s table partner. “Here you are, Ms. Seer.” She said as she carefully guided the rattling ice water into the glass.
“Melinda.” Obidiah spoke up, his voice louder than usual. “How is chef Brian faring with the kitchen, do you know?”
Melinda shifted the pitcher of water in a swirling motion. “I haven’t heard from him yet, actually. I was just back there to let him know to have the first course ready. He was to ding the service bell when his entree was ready to head out. I can check in the back and see how his progress is faring.”
Sarah had opened up a small mirror from her purse and had taken to adjusting her pale lipstick while the conversation continued. “Oh, Mr. Wash, I don’t think we need to rush the man.”
Obidiah swallowed hard. “Right you are, Ms. Seer. Oh, perhaps a starter, then, I heard?”
“Salad!” Melinda perked up suddenly, jostling the water. “He did set out something fresh I was to serve. I shall return shortly. Oh, Mr. Narrows.”
Steven had appeared under the archway of the dining area, looking to the sign, then about the mostly empty dining room. “By invitation only?” He asked warily, rubbing his arm.
Obidiah took the napkin from his lap and stood. “No, no, please join us. Free for all guests to introduce our new fare. You may sit with us, if you like.”
“Oh, Mr. Wash.” Sarah hummed with a slight air of annoyance, sending a short, sharp glance at the student.
Steven glanced at the woman, then to one of the empty tables nearby. “Oh, thank you, but I don’t see myself staying long, just to take in the meal. Plenty of… research to attend to.”
Obidiah nodded and took his seat once again. “Very well. Uh, you were saying, Ms. Seer?”
“I’d love to hear more about the history of the hotel.” She said, turning back to her relaxed posture, nearly halfway across the table.
“We do have a couple of fine illustrated records in the library-”
“I’d like to hear it from you.”
Down in the basement, beyond the stuck fridge door, Brian and Joel had taken to crouching among the fallen boxes, after a few further failed attempts to shunt the door open. Joel rubbed on his bare arms while eyeballing the mousse still on the tray.
“You seem like you’d be a good cook.” He admitted.
Brian blinked at him before kicking at one of the boxes. “Better than this rubbish. Flash frozen cordon bleu.”
Joel grimaced at the though once again. “One lady I dined with seemed to like it… well, regardless…” He sighed, absentmindedly dragging his finger through the whipped-cream peak upon one of the mousse cups.
“Hey-” Brian growled, before letting it go. “Well, do what you want.”
Joel licked his finger. “Mmm. Well, if your salmon or whatever gets burnt, at least they’ll have a nice dessert.”
“Someone’s going to come looking sooner or later.” Brian said with a sigh. “After they get hungry, of course.”
“At least the owner isn’t about.”
The cook looked up at Joel with a puzzled look. “He wasn’t there? I did invite him to come and join us today.”
Joel stood and began to shove at the door once again. “I only ran into that Melinda girl today. But if Mr. Wash comes down here… he’ll know for sure what I’ve been up to.”
“And what exactly is that?” Brian asked.
Just as Joel was prepared to answer, the door swung open. At the other side was the diminutive fellow, his tanned brow shiny with sweat and his collar undone.
“Horatio?” Brian called out, leaning out from behind Joel.
“Cool down.” Horatio mumbled, tugging on the front of his shirt. “Work outside.”
“Good man, my boy.” Brian shoved past Joel and jumped up the stairs with heavy steps.
Joel rubbed at his arms in the comparative warmth of the basement. He studied Horatio and the floor just outside. “How… did you?”
Horatio pointed to the black mat upon the ground, which had been moved away from the walk-in’s door. With it removed, the base of the fixture had just the slightest amount of room to freely glide across the ground. “Of course…” Joel mumbled.
Melinda brought forward the bowl of salad into the dining room. It was Greek inspired, with cucumber and feta, mixed in with fresh red tomatoes from the farmer’s market and tossed with a vinegar dressing. Sarah watched Obidiah intently as he told of the Washwater’s origin.
“Well, after the war, and the Americans cleared out, it was abandoned for a while before my father bought it up. Quite a deal, it was, even being so close to the shore.”
“I see.” Sarah replied.
Melinda clacked the tongs loudly, calling for the two guests to move their salad plates in reach. “A nice Greek salad for you.” She said as she began to deposit a bit of the fare on each of their plates. “I think I heard our chef in the back plating up the entrees, so those should be out soon as well.”
“Very good, Melinda.” Obidiah said, pulling the salad plate back towards him.
Joel escaped from the basement and up the stairs at the rear of the kitchen. Brian was at the oven, pulling out a wide tray of burnished fish fillets. He glanced at Joel before turning back to his work. Joel stopped at the swinging doors and peeked out through the window.
Just before he was able to sneak back to the dining room, the doors opened upon him, and Melinda nearly walked straight over him. “My dear!” She cried, covering her mouth.
“Oh, gosh, no, I’m sorry.” Joel recoiled.
“Again, you? And what are you doing back here, anyway?” Melinda jerked upward, sending a inquisitive glance at Joel. “This is employees only.”
Brian cleared his throat loudly. “It’s fine, Melinda. I saw him about, and begged him to try the mousse I’ve made. Can’t taste it myself, chocolate allergy, I’m afraid.”
“Well then.” Melinda hummed. She tapped on Joel side, urging him out the door. “Hopefully you haven’t spoiled yourself so much that you won’t enjoy the dish. Mr. Wash is looking quite peckish, any chance it’ll be ready soon?”
“Coming right up.”
Joel bowed out the door and went around the far side of the dishing station to feign his arrival through the side door. He made eye contact with Steven, who turned his eyes back to his salad. At the opposite corner of the room, Joel spotted Obidiah and the woman, too focused on their conversation to notice his arrival.
Melinda soon returned back out to the dining area, rolling a cart out with several plates of almost identical fare- the blackened salmon, with a dark, unctuous sauce as a foundation, and with roasted carrots on the side. She went by Obidiah’s table and took up their finished salad plates to replace with the fine dish.
“Oh, splendid.” Sarah squealed, finally taking her attention away from Mr. Wash.
“Quite.” Obidiah hummed out a similar response.
“You’ve hired quite the cook, Mr. Wash.” Melinda spoke up as she tidied her tray.
“I agree.” Sarah said back, “You’ll have to bring him out and have him take a bow.”
Obidiah picked up his fork and prodded at the flaky bits of salmon and light, seasoned crust. “Hmm, well, I would have to ask him if he would agree with that. But no doubt he has skill.”
Melinda began to trot away and deliver the remainder of the dishes. Passing by Joel’s table, she plopped the singular dish. “May I… are there any servings of salad left, Melinda?” He asked sheepishly.
“Oh, yes.” She said back, clicking her tongue. “I’ll get you some soon enough.”
Joel began to hungrily pry at the roasted fillet while the waitress ended her tour of the room with Steven, sitting at the far corner of the dining room. “Thank you, Melinda.” He nodded and peered at the fresh fish. He took in the smell and sighed.
Marianne stepped though the archway and looked about the room. Obidiah stood and offered a hand out to her, as Anna clung to her leg. “Good Day.”
Marianne nodded back. “Good day, Mr. Wash. No need to stand on my accord.”
“Maman, it smells good.” Anna spoke up.
“Yes, perhaps a bit of change is nice.” She postured. She made a quick glance at Joel, who quickly averted his eyes. Her gaze trained to Steven, who was picking at the carrots on his plate. Her tempting waltz towards him finally pulled his eyes up.
“Oh, hello, Mrs. Guislain.”
“Steven, you know you may just call me Marianne.” She said with a shake of her finger.
She folded her arms on front of her lap. “I saw you were moving your things up stairs the other day?”
Steven held his breath. “Uh, yes. Just a change of scenery.”
“Those rooms up there are probably very nice.”
Melinda came to her side. “Good afternoon, my dear. Can I help you to a setting today, or would you care to join Mr. Narrows?”
Marianne pursed her lips. “Oh, I’ll take a seat on my own.” She said, prancing around to a separate, larger table nearer to the center of the room. Melinda followed after and helped Anna up into one of the chairs.
Steven cleared his throat and raised his hand to grab the server’s attention. “Melinda, I was wondering if I may have a tray so I may finish in my room? More studies to be done, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, I’ll be right back.”