The Washwater Hotel, Chapter 14
Horatio’s day started at 5:50 a.m. in his little room up on the second floor of the hotel. He woke up to the rising sun through the window, and after a quick stretch, he put on both his robe and a pot of water to heat up. At 6, the water was ready for his instant coffee, which he always drank while watching one of the hotel’s two channels on the little TV in the corner of his room. At that time in the morning, it was either the news, or a rerun of one of the daytime programming from earlier in the week. That particular morning, he decided upon the Alaskan fishing boat documentary. He thought to himself that he would never be able to be upon any such exciting expeditions.
At 6:20, Horatio would begin to change into his work attire and slick his dark hair back into a neat wave to look his best for the day. At 6:30, he exited his room to took the back staircase from the private section of the hotel’s second floor, down to the short hallway that connected Mr. Wash’s office, the kitchen, and the second set of stairs that went down to the basement. In the kitchen, upon a footstool, he set a pot of water to boil upon one of the wide burners. Before the water got too hot, he introduced a dozen and a half eggs into the pot and set a timer.
During the summers, he would open the shades about the wide dining room windows which had been closed the night before for privacy. With the spare time left over, he would run the sweeper over the neat, short carpet among the tables. Somewhere back in the kitchen, the egg timer would ring and call him back. Melinda would be there about that time, 6:45, to help him bring down the heavy pot of eggs and their cooking water so that they would be ready and cool enough for the first diners coming down for breakfast. The helpful lady was always nice and took over the rest of the procedures for setting out breakfast. His own breakfast would be taken then, made up of a pair of the hard eggs and a slice of bread for himself.
While the air was still crisp, Horatio would venture outside around the circular drive. From behind the low red brick fence around the hotel’s property, he would drag out the ‘vacancy’ sign to place at the entrance so it would be visible from the public road. He also would check the mail and bring whatever he had found back to the front desk.
The cool fog of the morning would still often be hanging on the air as he went about the yard to water the thirsty plants. Mr. Wash seemed to take pride in all the neatly trimmed bushes and the colorful flowers about the planting beds in front of the hotel and the veranda. Just as he finished up with the plants, the gardener was pulling up and into one of the spaces at the north of the hotel. As Mr. Wash had the day off, Horatio was able to sneak a second cup of coffee from the breakfast bar and sit under the covered deck and watch while the gardener rode the mower about the lawn and later move to prune the boxwood at the far reaches of the landscaping. During his silent watch, he noticed that particular morning that two of the hotel’s guests, Mr. Yannison and Mr. Narrows, departing the front doors at the time.
Horatio returned to work at about 8, where he would take up any of the dishes from room service or the breakfast in the dining room and prepare them for the dish washer. Fueled by his second coffee that day, he made the trek up to the very top floor of the hotel. The rooms were all nice there, and yet, only one room was occupied: Room 411. The used dishes he expected were waiting outside the door on a tray. With a few more stops, he returned to the kitchen.
The new chef, Brian, was usually there about that time, chopping vegetables, or stirring some sort of simple yet enticing smelling sauce, or churning up a dough in the mixer. Chef Brian was a guy from the television, but not any more, as he seemed to have escaped. He seemed much happier than he was on the television shows, and was always in a good mood. “Oh, thank you for helping with the dishes, Horatio. Do you want to stir this sauce for me? It’s a Bèchamel for a dish called ‘Mac and Cheese’ – something popular over in the states. I’ll let you be my taste-tester later when it’s done.”
In the past, Horatio would make his own lunch, but after Brian’s arrival, it was something often shared between the two of them, if the time allowed. Brian was usually busy or had his mind on something else, and always looked over his shoulder when someone other than Horatio came through the kitchen doorway.
During days that Mr. Wash was on duty at the front desk, Horatio would make sure to be about and stay busy, whether that was shining bits of the stained wood about the lobby, removing dust from the fixtures, or organizing the books and magazines and newspapers on the tables and shelves. Later, after lunch times, he would help turn down the rooms with Melinda or Heather, or one of the part timers whom he could never remember the names of. They always enjoyed his company to make beds or fluff pillows.
As of recent, however, the number of people staying in the hotel had diminished. Horatio found himself unable to help out, often, with no more than a single room to help with most mornings. The short stay customers were few and far between, and those folks who had been there for a week or more seemed to prefer to stay cooped up in the rooms and take in no more than fresh towels and toiletries.
Horatio took a second break around 1 in the afternoon when all the obvious work had been finished. The lunch service was not running that particular day, and as expected, the lobby was empty. Horatio pushed past the short, swinging gate to the front desk. The neat boxes used to accept mail and messages for the rooms were devoid of any contents. The ledgers and pens around the desk were neatly arranged behind the short shelf facing the front of the hotel. Tucked under the corner of the desk was a tall stool that was rarely used. Horatio dragged it across the carpet and placed it in the spot Mr. Wash always stood when checking in a new guest. He hoisted himself up the foot rail and onto the cushion to astutely watch over the domain.
Marianne marched down the stairs from the third floor, step by step, as Anna followed carefully after, watching each step as she descended them one at a time. “You just need to distract anyone who might get in our way, okay, cherie?” The mother directed.
“Yes, maman.” Anna replied, arduously keeping up with Marianne.
Horatio perked up and nearly dove off the stool as the two ladies arrived at the bottom of the stairs. Marianne took immediate notice of him. “Oh, how proper you are today, Horatio. Keeping up with the place while Mr. Wash is out for the day?”
Horatio smiled and straightened his back. “Uhum.” He nodded.
Marianne nodded and leaned forward on the smooth wood of the desk. “May I ask you for a big favor? We were setting down for lunch up in our room, but I found our bread stale and moldy. Could you take Anna with you and get some for us? Any sort is fine.”
Horatio thought for a moment before nodding. He jumped down from the stool and pushed out through the gate, where Anna was waiting intently. The diminutive fellow smiled at the little girl and waived after for her to follow.
“I’ll be here, looking at the papers.” Marianne said back after them as she looked about and waited for them to head out of sight. With a lick of her lips, she tested the hinge of the gate. It let out a slightly audible squeak as she pushed through, allowing her into the coveted space beyond the front desk. The solid wood door was adorned with a sign reading ‘staff only’ and a brass knob with a simple lock. Marianne tugged a hairpin from the hair at her temple and pushed it into the slot. The chamber gave little resistance. Marianne held her breath and hoped silently that there would be nobody else on the other side.
Mr. Wash’s office was just as suspected. She closed the door after herself to avoid being seen inside while she looked about. The walls were made of neat, shiny panels of a dark wood similar to the lobby. In one corner stood a bookshelf that met with the ceiling, and just beside it, a smaller metal file cabinet. The center of the room was dominated with a wooden desk, slightly, and yet unexpectedly, messy with papers and pens about. At the rear was a singular door, leading to what was likely the back hallway. Marianne’s interest was not of the valuables inside, but rather of a painting, which to her surprise was not present.
“Mince.” Marianne hummed to herself. “It has to be in this hotel somewhere.” She treaded carefully across the room, still looking about. As she made contact with the second door at the rear, a deep voice rattled about through the lobby.
Obidiah had returned from his shopping and arrived to the seemingly empty lobby. “Horatio?” He said, looking back out to the veranda, then to the dining room. “What could he be up to?”
The owner tugged on the collar of his button-up and stepped into the dining area with the news he freshly carried. Just beyond the dishes at the prep station, the diminutive fellow and the little girl were tying up a few slices of bread into one of the cloth napkins.
“Thank you, Horatio.” Anna said, carefully supporting the packet in her hands.
Obidiah stood between the counters, looking upon them. “Ah, Anna. Helping out your mother today? Thank you, as well, Horatio.”
Anna’s eyes jerked up to Mr. Wash, taking in his bald head. “Je ne sais pas.” She mumbled out and began to jog back into the lobby, the packet jostling about in her small grip. As she returned before the front desk, she spotted her mother’s face poking out from beyond the door to the private office.
“Anna.” She spoke up, just above a whisper. “Is that man here?”
“In the kitchen.” Anna pointed furiously.
Marianne stepped out and pushed past the gate while her gaze remained locked upon the empty archway into the dining room. “Nothing.”
Horatio was the first to return back to the lobby, after being thanked for his help with the little girl. Marianne took notice of him and offered a smile back. “Thank you, again, Horatio. Come, Anna, we should head back up, you’re probably hungry.”