Joel stepped out of the cab and onto the scabbed edge of the sidewalk. The driver was already at the back of the vehicle with the boot propped open, pulling out the wide piece of luggage. In his hand, Joel dangled the second bag, ready to drape over the long handle of the rolling case.
With a slam of the cover and a second similar sound to the forward door, the driver was back off in the opposite direction around to the exit. Joel turned back to the coastal hotel. It was stout, with a wide covered veranda upon the first floor, and above, there was an offering of three other floors from which to choose. The grass at either side of the walkway up was clinging to bits of brown, and was spotted with weeds that had recently been trimmed back to match the length of the grass.
Each of the three steps up to the front doors creaked in anticipation as Joel tread upon them. His rolling suitcase clamored up each step after him with a knock. He took mental note of this. The doors were heavy, inlaid with panes of frosted glass. The brass handles were plenty shiny, and seemed to be fairly free of recent fingerprints.
To Joel, the lobby was unsettling. It was not the fine wood trim and fixtures, nor the collection of books in the small sitting room off to the side, nor the absence of any sort of commotion from the dining area the opposite direction, despite the fact that it was just about noon and the brochure Joel had read said that the weekend lunch service was quite the tempt.
Joel planted himself before the front desk, allowing himself to leave the short stack of baggage at his side. He dinged the bell upon the counter before him, releasing a clean sound through the empty area. At his side, a quick glance revealed his rolling suitcase to be slowly drifting farther away from him, the wheels silently taking it away across the floor. He made a quick shift to the right and took the handle again, this time holding it in place.
From the back room, a quite distinguished figure appeared. With a shiny and slightly wrinkled bald head and finely trimmed beard, the tall man offered a greeting. “Welcome to The Washwater!” His deep voice seemed to echo. “Checking in, are we?”
“Yes.” Joel nodded quickly. He studied the man’s name tag, pinned to the neat vest the man was wearing. Mr. Wash it read. “Wash- you’re, perhaps, not Mr. Obidiah Wash, are you?” Joel asked warily, turning his gaze up to the tall man’s eyes. “The owner?”
Obidiah smiled, and the familiar shrill voice came to his ear. Well, don’t you feel important?! It’s not like people come to this hotel just to see you, you know!
The voice, only apparent to Obidiah, was of his late wife, a Venicia Wash, who two years previous had found herself trapped and eventually suffocated under a stack of sheets while in the laundry room one day. In the short while she was able to struggle and scream, no help came, and she eventually succumbed, angrily and smelling of detergent. Obidiah, at the time, was upstairs, practicing his golf putt inside his office at the second floor. Venicia’s passing and ascension to the next life was put on hold upon discovering this. You’re a useless manager and husband! Were the first words Obidiah had heard upon the apparent haunting that had befallen him. While at first disturbing, the constant nagging had become a normal part to Mr. Wash’s days.
Without skipping a beat, Obidiah nodded in excitement to the fresh guest of the hotel that had come through his doors. “I am, good sir. As well, I am the acting manager, and occasional concierge.”
The only thing you concierge is disgust from the cruddy beard of yours!
Joel took in Mr. Wash’s smiling face and quickly diverted his gaze to take in another superficial glance about the lobby. “I’m sure your guests appreciate all you do.” He responded warily.
“I’m not perhaps too early to check-in, am I?”
Obidiah shook his head and clapped his hands together. “We are perfectly prepared for your arrival, Mr…”
“Yannison.” Joel responded. “Joel.”
Mr. Wash pulled out a pair of glasses from behind the counter and placed them over his nose in preparation to open the ledger before him. He flipped through the various blank pages before reaching the current day. “Ah yes, here you are.” He said, reading the sole name that had made a reservation.
Of course you found it, he’s the only one here.
Obidiah looked to Joel once again. “I see you booked a long stay with a kitchenette. We can offer you a bit of a selection today, if you are so inclined, Mr. Yannison.”
Gods, this showboating again.
“We do have sea-view room available, if you would like. If that is not the case, we also have some overlooking the town.”
“Sea-view seems great.” Joel answered plainly, holding still to the handle of his baggage.
“Wonderful.” Obidiah nodded and turned back to the mass of cubbies at the back wall. His hand traveled inside before pulling out a large, toothy skeleton key, with a plastic encased key-chain marking the number 313 upon it. “Here you are, Mr. Yannison. It will be just up the stairs, the third floor. I’ll have someone by in just a moment to help you with your bag.”
“Oh, that won’t be-” Joel began, holding onto the rolling suitcase uncomfortably.
“HORATIO!” Obidiah shouted with an echoing, deep voice. From beyond the dining room, a short, tanned young man in a thick pressed uniform of red came running stiffly. Joel gazed at the long, dark hair pushed back upon his head and held in place with a mass of shiny gel. “Horatio, help this man up to three thirteen. That is three…one…three.” The owner finished slowly.
The short, dark man replied with a raspy grunt, before reaching in front of Joel’s legs to grab up the baggage.
Joel stepped back and slipped the lighter bag up and laid its strap across his shoulder before grabbing up the key on the counter. “Thank you, Horatio. And Mr. Wash, good day.” He finished with a smile and a short nod of his head.
I don’t like this fellow. Something about him.
Obidiah folded his hands on the desk before him and spoke under his breath. “Someone fishy or not, we need guests in rooms right now.”
Horatio had already began up the stairs, holding the suitcase by the fabric handle atop it, and knocking the wheels upon the risers as he hefted the item up each step. Joel continued up beside him, making sure the suitcase didn’t end up falling down the stairs.
“Do you like working here, Horatio?” Joel asked, slowing his pace to match the diminutive fellow’s.
“Ung.” He replied breathily. “Busy, busy.”
The wide staircase traveled around a few more times before ending abruptly. The hallway extended a long ways down to the left, with doors on either side. The tanned helper stopped and caught his breath before looking up to the carved wood number plates by the doors. “Three… one… one… three!” He repeated.
Joel waited and followed after Horatio as they traveled down the hall together. A little more than halfway down the hall, the room he had been assigned presented itself before them. Joel took up the heavy key in his hand and shoved it into the keyhole, twisting it against the resistant plates of the lock.
The room was sunny, and the ocean was immediately visible from the window. Horatio gave one last shove to the rolling suitcase and began to wander back out. “-ood day.” He mumbled on his way out.
Joel poked his head out the door and quickly pulled it closed, locking it in a similar way to how it had been opened. He leaned down and examined the light coming in through the keyhole from the orange lamps in the hallway. Taking off his light jacket, he hung it over the door handle.
The wheels of his suitcase seemed to steady themselves on the thin carpet of the room. The kitchen counter, including a microwave and a pair of burners, took up the rear corner of his room. The bedroom, blocked off by a half wall, was made up of a single full bed and a tube TV on a wooden dresser. Joel placed his duffel bag on the bed and unzipped it, pulling out the small, fabric case from the top.
The padded container held a pair of binoculars. He strung the string over his neck and stepped forward to part the curtains hanging in front of the window. The water was placid with a few waves tickling the shore far below. With a quick adjust to the lenses, Joel was able to focus on the sharp drop of the cliff side, seeming to start just at the end of the hotel’s structure, and down a decent drop to the thin strip of rocky beach.
Joel held his breath as his stomach lurched and his knees felt like giving way. He stumbled back and planted himself on the bed. The room’s phone was on the nightstand just before him. He picked up the headset and dialed away the number he had memorized for the job.
The phone on the other end rang twice before answering. “…Joel?” The voice through the phone answered cautiously.
“It’s me, Henry.” Joel responded affirmatively.
“Say no more.” Henry spoke decisively. “I’ll call you right back so they can’t track the call.”
The call ended with a clack, and Joel returned it to the cradle. After a few seconds, it cried out once again.
“Henry, I already-” Joel began hastily.
“Mr. Yannison?” The owner’s voice interrupted.
Joel jumped. “Oh, Mr. Wash?”
“I hope I’m not interrupting. Is the room to your liking?”
“Yes, it’s lovely, sir.” Joel said, holding back his breath. “Thank you.”
“I just wanted to offer you, as you’re likely still settling in, a meal service this evening, compliments of the house.”
“That sounds great.”
Obidiah hummed. “Wonderful. Service starts at 5:15, and formal wear is not obligatory. We hope to see you there.”
“Thank you, again, Mr. Wash.” Joel answered anxiously. “Goodbye.” He finished, hanging up the phone with a heavy click.
The phone sat silent for a few long moments before ringing once again. Joel took his time before picking it up, answering with only a curt “Hello?”
“What was that about?” The voice of his contact asked. “When I tried to call you back, it just gave me a busy signal.”
“God’s sake, Henry.” Joel sighed. “The owner decided to call my room.”
“Yeah. He checked me in, too. Hopefully he doesn’t suspect anything.”
Henry sighed. “Well, just keep your head down. So, what’s your first impression?”
“I don’t like it.” Joel said apprehensively. “The lobby is already off kilter. I don’t know about the rest of the place yet, but it’s already unsettling.”
“Well, just keep me updated. And keep your head down, too.”