Steve gets more than he bargained at the peculiar Hotel du Lac.
|The Hotel du Lac turned out to be a large off-white clapboard building on a slight rise. Behind it gloomy pines whispered mournfully among themselves and above them thunderheads jostled in a dark and troubled sky.
Steve parked up on a gravelled area. There was, he noted, no Lac. I bet this is lovely in summer, he thought. Not for the first time he wished he’d been able to come sometime other than January.
He strolled up the path. A battered sign ─ en suite rooms ─ hung at a jaunty angle by the door. Inside a bare bulb illuminated a narrow hall and the check-in desk. Steve put his bag down, dinged the brass bell on the desk politely, and glanced around. “Hello?” He called.
The place had a terribly fashioned air though Steve was at a loss to identify what specifically gave him that impression. Perhaps it was the dark carpet or the terrible dimpled wallpaper. The only real thing of note was a huge gilt framed mirror behind the check-in desk. It had clearly been classy in its day but now the gilt was chipped and the mirroring scattered with holes. Like granddad’s pock-marked skin before he died, he thought.
He rang the bell again, harder this time, and studied the check-in desk. The wood was old and dark and curiously grained. Idly he traced the pattern with his fingertip, then he frowned, pulled out a hanker-chief and tried to wipe a layer of rust coloured dirt from his fingertip but it’s wouldn’t come off.
Someone coughed. Steve looked up with a start. A woman stood just a few feet away. She was blonde and medium height probably middle aged but it was hard to tell in the failing afternoon light. “Who are you?”
Steve felt her manner was rather brusque, but then people could be a bit old fashioned in these remote little towns where people still eked out their existence by scratching at the ground the same way their grandparents had done. Round here, he thought, you probably take what you can get and are glad of it.
“Mr Smith. I have a reservation.”
“Through value hotel aggregator dot com.”
“R-really?” The woman’s voice seemed to have gone up an octave.
Steve frowned. “Is there a problem?”
“Not all Mr…?”
“Of course.” She flashed him an attempt at a smile and shuffled behind the desk. “I’m Marjorie, the hotel manager,” she said in a friendlier tone. “You’ll have to forgive me if I seem a little distant sometimes, but I am profoundly deaf.”
Steve made a sympathetic face.
“Just a moment now. Where are those keys?” Marjorie began rummaging behind the desk. “They’ll be here somewhere. Always are. Do forgive me. The assistant manager is a bit scatterbrained.”
Steve took the opportunity to study the ceiling, which was cracked and tobacco stained.
“Ah, here we are.” The keys jangled as she unlocked a drawer.
She pulled out a leather bound ledger and blew the dust off it. She opened it, and flicked through the pages. “January…”
“Of course.” She ran her finger down the page. “Mr Anderson. Mr Bowman. Mr Stark…”
Steve squinted. In the mirror the page looked quite blank.
“Ah, here we are, Mr Schmidt.”
She smiled. “Of course. Here’s your key, Mr Schmidt, room thirteen on the top floor. Enjoy your stay.”
“Err, is there a porter? It’s just I have my camera gear and it’s quite heavy.”
“I’m afraid it’s the porter's day off. He’s visiting his mother. She’s very ill.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Is there a lift?”
“It’s horse doo service I’m afraid.”
“It doesn’t work.”
By the time Steve tramped up the three flights of stairs he was hot and cross, and he had counted forty-two holes in the threadbare carpet.
Room thirteen was at least easy to find. Gratefully Steve pulled open the door and found himself eye to eye with a bison.
He gripped his bags and stared at it. The bison stared glassily back. It was, he saw, stuffed. The bags were getting heavy and it was a long way back to reception so he edged round the bison and put his bags down. He glanced around at the peeling paint and yellowing curtains. Not like these big glossy faceless chains, he thought. Homely.
He was less impressed by the collection of dead flies on the windowsill. The only other door led to the bathroom where he found a large dead beetle in the one chipped tooth-mug. He tipped the mug into the toilet but at the last moment the beetle unexpectedly gained a new lease of life and scuttled away under the bath.
By the bed was a small fridge with a piece of yellow paper sellotaped to the door. Steve scrutinised the faded letters and just about made out, still water (can) 5c, sparking (bottle) 6c, sandwiches (cheese) 8c. Suddenly any kind of food sounded good. He opened the fridge without high expectations but was pleasantly surprised to find it well stocked with water. There were however no sandwiches.
He selected a bottle of still. The water was tepid. He drunk it thankfully and examined the bison.
Lumps of fur were coming loose and what was still attached showed blue-green patches that he supposed must be mould. The thing sat on a plinth with a little sign that had once been gilt. Steve squatted down and read Bison bison bison and below that (in brackets) American Plains bison. The plinth, he noticed, was on castors.
Steve hurried down the stairs ready to give Marjorie a piece of his mind.
Unfortunately she was nowhere to be seen. Steve went to ring the bell but it had been removed leaving only a greasy ring this had been.
Steve went to get the rest of his bags, seething quietly.
When he came back. A man was standing in the lobby. He was wearing a dark blue uniform with gold trim. The man looked at Steve like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car, and made to move off into a side room. However Steve was too quick for him and blocked the way.
Close up the man was small and stooped and of indeterminate but clearly advanced age. He pulled himself up to his full height but it didn’t help much.
“Can I help you, Sir?”
“Yes. Is Marjorie about?”
The man gaped.” Marjorie, Sir? I’m afraid Marjorie is dead, Sir.”
“Yes, it was a terrible tragedy, Sir. A misunderstanding concerning a reticulated python.”
It was Steve’s turn to gape. “You’re telling me the manager is dead? That’s extraordinary. I was only talking to her fifteen minutes ago.”
“Oh,” the man brightened. ”That Marjorie! I’m afraid she was called away, Sir. A family emergency I believe. Mother very ill. But I’m here, Sir.”
“Yes, I can see that,” Steve said evenly. He considered turning around and getting back in his car but he’d already carried most of his bags up to his room and the next hotel was over a hundred miles away. Plus value hotel aggregator dot com might be cheap but they were, he remembered painfully, extremely reticent about refunds which could only for some reason be processed on the first Tuesday of each month, through their Peruvian office, in person.
“Look,” he continued, “I’ve just been up to my room.”
“Good, aren’t they?” Said the man smiling broadly. ”Lovely soft beds.”
“I’m sure my room would be a lepidopterist’s dream,” said Steve coldly, “but otherwise, no, it is not good.”
The old man scratched behind his ear.” What?” he said.
“A lepidopterist is collector of flies and beetles,” Steve explained. “Dead ones. Well, mostly dead.” Sarcasm he realized was wasted on this man. “But that’s beside the point,” he continued. “The point is my room has a stuffed bison in it.”
“Oh yes?” the old porter looked at him flatly showing no hint of surprise.
“I should warn you in advance,” said Steve evenly,” if you tell me every room has a bison, I shan’t be responsible for my actions.”
The old man shrugged. He probably hadn’t heard.
“A previous guest probably left it behind by mistake,” he said. “I expect they’ll be very anxious about it. Can I just ask you, Sir,” he added in a quieter more solicitous tone, ”is it a big one?”
“What bloody difference does that make?”
The old man looked at the floor. “The thing is I’m not sure I could manage a big one.”
“How many bison have you got in this hotel for god’s sake?”
“Not at my age. Not with me back an all.” He nodded at a grimy window. “It’s this thundery weather you see, it plays havoc with me arthritis –”
“Of course it’s a big one,” interrupted Steve angrily. “As far as I’m aware, they don’t do bison in small.”
The old man sucked in his cheeks. ”It might be a baby one, Sir.” He glanced at the ceiling and then back at Steve, “a calf I believe is the word.”
“I don’t care what the word is!” Steve wagged his finger at the old man, “Get that stuffed animal out of my room in the next,” he hesitated, what was a reasonable amount of time in which to compel a decrepit old man to remove a huge bison which probably weighed over four times his bodyweight from a hotel room? “Twenty-four hours,” he added severely. “Or face the consequences.”
The man gave him a sickly grin. Steve immediately wished he’d said immediately.
He stomped back to his room and began hanging his clothes in the huge freestanding wardrobe. The hangers were cheap wire ones. Most of them were rusty. All of them were bent.
He made his way around the bison to the bed and suddenly it struck him how petty he was being. He’d save the poor old fella a job. After all, it would be a simple matter to push the beast outside the door and into the corridor where the aged porter could deal with it on his own timescale, possibly by leaving it to fossilize. Or it occurred to him, waiting for its protons to decay.
Experimentally he pushed it. A shower of mangy fur fell onto the thin carpet but the beast moved easily.
Steve opened the door and glanced into the corridor. The bison’s glassy eyes stared at him reproachfully. Steve smiled. Unofficial bison moving seemed deliciously illicit.
Getting behind the beast he manoeuvred it to the door, lined it up and gave it a good hard shove. It rolled into the doorway and stopped, stuck.
The bison didn’t fit through the hotel room door.