The Washwater Hotel: Chapter 19
Joel Yannison and Henry Tucket had begun to venture down the stairs to the lobby, when Henry spotted Mr. Wash and the cook first. He held a finger to his mouth and urged Joel forward with a push to his back first. Joel stumbled, but held tight to his packet of information and jogged down the steps while the council member ducked back around the corner.
Obidiah glanced up from the unctuous tray of meat to meet eyes with Joel. “Ah, Mr. Yannison. Good to see you.”
Joel returned with a confident nod to the owner and the cook as he met with the ground floor. “Same to you. Looks fantastic!”
Mr. Wash smirked and patted Brian on the shoulder with his free hand. “Courtesy of Mr. Gates, here. I’ve finally got him to come out of hiding so we can introduce everyone to the man who’s been preparing all of the wonderful food of late.”
Brian and Joel met eyes for a brief moment. “Ah, we’ve met, actually.” Joel remarked.
The cook nodded in agreement. “Indeed.”
Obidiah glanced between the both of them. “Ah, I see, then. Well, let’s get a move on, now, should we? Before it gets cold.”
Joseph and Elizabeth had been waiting at one of the tables and cautiously chatting with the nearby locals while keeping a lookout for their chef. The woman tapped furiously on Joseph’s leg under the table to call him to attention. “There!” She hissed out between her teeth, just loud enough to him to hear.
“I knew it!” Joseph said loudly, preparing to stand.
Elizabeth latched onto his wrist and held him down. “Calmly. We don’t want to just run off.”
The final bit of the feast was out, and the hotel staff, including Mr. Wash, were at the serving line. As the final person, the ginger man from the city council, exited the Hotel, Marianne stroked Anna’s shoulder, the signal they had discussed earlier. Anna perked up and recalled her line. “Uhh… Maman, I need to use the restroom!” She announced, loud enough for the surrounding folk to hear.
The locals giggled and smirked as Marianne pulled the napkin off her lap and stood up, Anna’s hand in her own. “If you’ll excuse me.” She said, leaning about the surrounding chairs and the people sitting in them. The mother and the little girl snaked their way around the serving table and back up into the lobby of the Washwater. Marianne took one last glance back to make sure nobody else would be coming their way. “Ok, Anna. We need to make this quick. All the way to Mr. Wash’s office.”
Mr. Wash stood among his staff at the food table. “Thank you all for coming today. Our lovely guests of the hotel, locals of Bluewater, and those from out of town alike, we welcome you to our… first annual commemorative reawakening feast! Please enjoy yourselves, and enjoy this wonderful spread prepared by our very own chef Brian.”
As people began to drift towards the food line, there were already murmurs about the cook. “That can’t be… that TV guy?”
Elizabeth and Joseph pushed through the line and confronted Brian, who was serving out cuts of the roast. His face instantly turned sour as he met eyes with him. “No, no, no, you can’t be here.” He stirred quietly, his lips tight.
“Please refrain from pushing.” Mr. Wash warned them. “My, Brian, are these guests friends of yours?”
Brian laid down the carving fork with a loud clack. “I know them, certainly, but they are quite unexpected. Excuse me, I must retrieve some more of the Yorkshires from the oven.”
The two city folk cut around the table and caught up with Brian as he pounced up the stairs. “Mr. Emmanuel, you have to come back to us.” Elizabeth pleaded. “The network has been breathing down our necks for the past two weeks now. We’re going to lose our funding.”
“You can kiss any of your big paychecks goodbye, as well.” Joseph added in.
Brian shook his head and continued his way back to the kitchen. “Don’t need any of that. I like it here, quite a lot, actually.”
Henry had taken up a plate of food and sat nonchalantly at the same table as Joel. “Well, not too much longer now.”
Joel sighed and peered down at the enticing selection, unable to palate any of the foods at the moment. “I kind of feel bad, doing this.”
Henry sucked on the tender piece of roast before swallowing it. “I feel the same, Joel, but it must be done.” He said, mouth half full. “A shame it is, too, with a cook like this. Maybe I can contact this Brian fellow to open up a restaurants in town? I know of an open lot not far from the square.”
Sarah Seer had taken her time in moving through the line so as to meet up with Obidiah. “This is wonderful.”
I guess it is.
“I’m glad everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Brian truly has outdone himself, as well.” Obidiah nodded in agreement. His gaze traveled back to the entrance, where a short, white bus was pulling up. “Ah, I wondered if they were going to appear today.”
The black text on the side of the bus read ‘Bluewater Retirement Home.’ Obidiah passed the serving fork to Heather, who offered up some of the roast to Sarah. The owner stepped to the edge of the grass to make contact with the bus driver. “Good day, sir. You may let these folks off here, and I will have someone park the bus after.”
The back hallway and stairwell of the hotel was empty, as expected. Marianne helped her daughter up the steps to the second floor, where the staff bedrooms, including that of Mr. Wash’s, were located. The locks on the doors were old and worn, and easy enough to open up with only a hair pin. At the far south corner of the hotel, at the side overlooking the ocean, was the door that read ‘Private. No entry at any time.’
“This is it. It has to be here.” Marianne smirked, inserting the pin into the lock. “Stay at the door and keep your ears open, cherie.”
“Okay, Maman.” Anna said.
The door to Mr. Wash’s room opened without an issue. The room smelled of old books and young cologne, with a hint of nicotine. The room was surprisingly simple, with a few book cases, a wide bed with slightly messy covers and crooked pillows, and a few old dressers with mirrors.
Just between the doors to the bathroom and the walk-in closet, the painting that Marianne had been seeking for so long was hung. Her heart beat fast, and she approached it, glancing back to the doorway. The painting itself was nothing special. It was of no particularly great monetary value, nor was it of any great age, but it meant a great deal, both to Mr. Wash and Ms. Guislain.
The story of the painting began back in Paris, in an atelier owned by Marianne’s fiance at the time, Claude. It was then that Marianne was in fact pregnant with Anna, and working to help Claude about the studio they both lived above. One day, while on vacation in the French capital, a certain Venicia Wash had arrived at the shop desiring a commission. As as a present for her art-loving husband’s birthday, the mildly vain Venicia had decided that a portrait of herself would be quite proper. For the young artist who was on the verge of staring a family, the business was welcomed. After all, the piece was of no particular challenge, and the client did indeed pay well.
When it came time to hang the portrait for its final delivery to Venicia, the task of attaching the canvas to a stretcher and the frame fell upon Marianne. However, somewhere in the process, her engagement ring, a fine band with no less than three diamonds, fell off, supposedly ending up trapped between the canvas and the wooden stretcher. Before Marianne could find it, the painting was handed over.
In the ensuing argument over the lost ring, Claude had blamed his bride-to-be in pawning it, having accepted it only for the monetary value. Marianne pleaded, and attempted to tell her story, but the mad artist had nothing more to say, and kicked her out. The woman, not far off from having to deliver the child all alone, attempted to track down Venicia and recover the ring, but to no avail. Several years passed while raising the little Anna and staying on the trail of the mysterious English couple named ‘Wash’, Marianne eventually found her way to the UK, and finally to the Washwater.
Marianne cared not that the painting was of Obidiah’s deceased wife. Upon the lower half, there was a slight protrusion where the top layers of paint had been rubbed off the canvas, a clear indication that something was tucked away just behind. Upon her toes, she was just able to reach up and pull it off the nail it had been hung on.
“Maman, I heard something!” Anna cried out, shuffling into the room. “Someone talking.”
As the painting came down, so did a small, cylindrical object off the dusty shelf it had been placed beside. Anna picked it up off the ground as Marianne tucked the frame under her arm. “This is it! We have it, Anna. Let’s go.”
“What about this?” Anna spoke up, holding the cylinder up.
“I don’t know.” Marianne shrugged. “Just grab it and come down with me.”
Out in the garden in front of the hotel, the majority of the guests had been served, including the group from the retirement home, and the staff had finally gotten a chance to sit down and take in the meal. Obidiah was the last to sit, after making sure that everyone else had first been served.
Sarah had tempted to sit by him, but Joel and Henry had taken up places opposite him first. “Mr. Wash,” Henry cleared his throat. “Mr. Yannison and I would like to speak with you.”
Obidiah picked up his fork and examined the two men. “I had a feeling about this one.” He remarked, waiving the utensil at Joel. “All in good time. Please, go for seconds first, if you desire.”
Henry let out a sigh and sat back. “Well, no rush I assume.”
Horatio came up to the side of the table beside Mr. Wash and pointed back to the bus. Obidiah perked up. “Ah, all done, are you? Yes, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to park it out of the way. The driver left the keys in just for you.”
Horatio nodded happily and began to waddle to the open door of the bus.
Joel glanced at the scene before speaking up. “Is it… okay for him to do that?”
Obidiah carefully chewed and swallowed the bite of food before responding. “Oh, yes, he has his license. I actually helped him get it, you know. He was in a bad place when he came here, just a poor teenager, a good few years ago. I got him back on his feet and allowed him to stay here. Horatio has always been a great help since then.”
“I… see.” Joel responded, looking again to the diminutive fellow. The man perched himself up in the bus’s driver’s seat and turned over the engine before gently pulling it in the direction of the side lot.
Marianne heard the sound of Brian and his employers’ arguing as she made her way down the back stairway of the hotel. She held her finger to her lips to shush Anna. “I think… we can go out the delivery exit. We won’t be seen.”
Anna held tight to the metal canister and followed her mother farther down the stairs, past the back of the kitchen where the disagreement continued.
“Listen,” Brian huffed. “If you want me back, there is going to have to be changes.”
“Whatever you want.” Joseph nodded.
“Three days a week filming schedule, to begin with.”
“Impossible.” Elizabeth said.
Brian slumped his arms before going back to the basket of Yorkshire puddings. “I thought so. Listen, I don’t care about the money, or the fame. I just like cooking. And I can do that here. Please. Leave.”
Joseph and Elizabeth continued to track each of his footsteps as he began his return out to the garden. “We won’t be leaving here without you.”
Horatio found the view out the rear facing mirror difficult as he backed up the mini bus. Dr. Harris was beside in his camper van, feeding the Wolf Fish a bit of roast beef while Horatio continued to inch the vehicle back. The professor finally pulled his attention up just as the back of the bus touched the gutter on the edge of the veranda. “Oi, watch it!”
The crunch of the metal gutter against the roof of the bus made a slight noticeable noise across the garden, but not quite enough to cause any alarm. Obidiah stood, shaking his head. For once, the voice in his head spoke seriously.
There is something wrong, Obidiah. Very wrong.
In the basement, the load bearing wall, no longer doing the task it was built for, was the first to fail. The slight rumble of the building caused the jacuzzi tub up in room 411 to further dislodge and break through completely to the room below. The entire back half of the building shook, breaking one of the piers buried in the cliff side below. The soft, saturated soil in the planting beds at the side of the hotel began to push in on the walls. With a great cacophony of shattering wood and crumbling concrete, the entire hotel began to fold in upon itself from the center. The higher floors crumbled in first, falling over the cliff and down to the water below. The lower half followed suit, and separated off bit-by-bit to the pile of destruction below.
The guests in the garden stood out of fright and disbelief. The cook and his employers had been just inside the front doors, and had jumped out onto the veranda and down the stairs just in time.