The phone was an old black candle-stick like you’d see in a movie from the twenties. It even had a rotary dial. Jean grimaced at it. It was sitting on the top of the registration desk, mocking her. The old woman behind the desk was sturdy in the way old ethnic women always seemed to be. She was thick from neck to knees and wearing a muumuu of red and orange that dropped straight from her shoulders with an offensively large ruffle. Her hair was pulled back into a braid of grey. Her eyes were dark and emotionless.
“Thanks,” Jean muttered. She picked up the earpiece that way she’d always seen it done and was surprised to hear the dial tone. She pushed at the numbers, but they didn’t beep.
The old woman rolled her eyes. She reached over and dialed a one. “There. Either hang up or call.”
Jean finished dialing her husband’s cell-phone. There was static when he picked up. “Who is this?” he yelled into the phone.
“It’s your wife!” she said clearly. “I’m at the old hotel up on Creek Street. My phone is dead.”
“You’re wearing red?”
“My. Phone. Is. Dead.” She nearly touched the mouthpiece. Her fingers grabbed around the stick part automatically.
“Creek Street. Right. I’ll come find you.” He hung up on her.
“That man,” she muttered.
The old woman snorted. “It only gets worse. Go sit down. I’ll get you some coffee. Cream?”
“Please. And sugar if you have any?”
“No worries. Go sit by the fire. Dry out.” The old woman puttered into the back room. Jean collapsed onto a dusty red leather chair. She’d have preferred the velvet, but she was soaked to the skin. Maybe her phone would work when it dried out. She ran a hand through her short hair. It clung to her fingers and neck. The sound of the storm echoed around the room. It battered at the skylights and the doors.
The old hotel was called the Rochester. She didn’t know why and didn’t really care. When she’d seen the flickering light of an oil lamp in the front window, she’d simply thanked whatever spirits were looking after her for antiques. The oil lamp was one of five that were scattered around the room. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace, even though it was spring. The room was dusty. There were leaves in the corners of the rooms. Jean mentally cursed whatever help had walked out on the old woman at the end of the season.
She shivered. “Here you are.” The old woman put down a tray. “I’m Helen. Call if you need me.” She went back to the desk and settled behind it with an old leather-bound book.
Jean sipped the coffee. It was warm and sweet and perfect. She moaned in appreciation. “Thank you, Helen,” she called over. The coffee warmed her from the inside. The fire warmed her from the outside. Her eyes slipped closed and she rested her head on the back of the chair for just a minute. She didn’t remember closing her eyes.
When she opened her eyes, the fire was gone and her husband was shaking her. “Come on. Before the water gets any higher. We need to get going.”
She looked around. There were no lights in the windows. There were no lights at all, except for the illumination from the lightening bolts. Sitting next to her chair, however, was the dregs of a cup of coffee in an old white mug.
“Thank you, Helen,” she murmured as she gathered up her coat. She followed her husband out into the lashing rain. When she looked back over her shoulder, there was a light in the front window.