The Body In The Basement

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“Do you think he’s been lonely down here, all alone, all these years?”

It wasn’t like my partner to be this way. Typically, he’s offhand about sudden death — professional and a bit dark in his humour.

“I don’t think so,” I said, “he’s off wherever they go when they’re not here anymore.”

“Even so,” said my partner.

Ashley Bloomfield had worked his way up through the ranks to Detective Sergeant, and I’d been his partner for nearly three years — just long enough to get to know a bloke who guards himself closely.

It was a strange question for him to ask. He’s more a question and answer type of bloke, but on this day he was looking to me for an answer.

“Are you getting all spiritual on me, Ash?” I said.

“I don’t know, maybe. It’s this place. It’s genuinely spooky.”

He had a point, but I knew not to let him get one-up on me.

The call came through at a decent hour and Ash and I were next in the rotation, and about now we wished it had been someone else.

The old mansion on St Kilda Road had been empty for more than thirty years.

Some investment company in Dubai had bought it for a sizeable sum in the early 1990s, then the property market went flat. They decided to sit on it and wait, as all well-healed people can afford to do.

No one was much interested in looking after the place, so people with nowhere else to go would find a way in — out of the storm, so to speak. The property manager would eventually block up the break-in and lose interest again.

It must have been during one of those incursions, so long ago that some sort of fight broke out, and our body had lain there ever since, covered in rubble and wooden planks.

Some enterprising developer had bought the old mansion and was preparing to renovate it (within heritage guidelines, of course) into trendy offices. St Kilda Road still has clout when it comes to city addresses.

This was going to be a thankless job.

If the body turned out to be a homeless bloke, we have our work cut out for us to identify him. If he was killed by another homeless bloke, then he’s probably dead by now. Homelessness tends to shorten your lifespan. Likely no one to slap the cuffs on, just a mountain of pointless paperwork and a John Doe toe tag.

“The forensic folks will be here soon. Constable Whatshisname can keep an eye on things. You want to get a coffee? The dust down here is clogging up my soul,” I said as I moved the most prominent plank out of our way.

The body was fully clothed (bloke’s clothing — I’m not psychic, but it seemed inevitable it was a ‘he’), and it lay where it fell, all those years ago. Bugger all forensic after all this time. No one had dropped a wallet or a calling card or a cigarette case as they do in the movies.

“A coffee sounds good. Get me the fuck out of here, before I forget I’m a lady,” said Ash, and I could see his unique sense of humour returning.

Coffee was easy to find because this is Melbourne, and even my dog can make a good coffee. You have to prove that you know what good coffee tastes like before they will let you cross the border into Victoria, and in Melbourne, the cops will breath-test you for instant coffee — if detected, the penalties are draconian.

The sandwich shop lived up to expectations, and the coffee was a perfect temperature. The tiny glass-fronted store was awash with delicious aromas.

We sat on tall stools and looked out onto the road. Trams rumbled by, and pedestrians did what pedestrians do. Some bloke was making his third attempt to park a Fiat in a space that would accommodate a mid-1960s Ford.

“What do you reckon. Is he gonna make it?” I said. Ash looked up from his coffee. He’d been mesmerised by the pattern on the crema for the past few minutes.

“Nah, he’s buggered.”

“Yeah, I agree. Most blokes will give it away after the second go. It’s too embarrassing.”

Right on cue, the Fiat shot off into traffic accompanied by the copious tooting of horns and the waving of fists.

“He nearly had it that last time,” I said.

“If I disappear in mysterious circumstances, don’t stop looking for me, will ya?”

“Is that something you’re likely to do?” I said.

“Nah, but just in case. I don’t want to lie somewhere, cold and forgotten,” said Ash, who had gone back to staring at the pattern on his coffee.

“I’ll find ya mate, but not before I’ve finished off that bottle of whisky you keep in your locker.”

Ash didn’t look up. This one had gotten to him. I had never seen him like this.

“You know I got wounded — in the war?” he said.

“Not really,” I said.

Ash’s life before the police force was a mystery to me, and I felt guilty that I had never asked. Mostly, I’m not that interested in other people. But this was different. I remember the feeling of being with a dying comrade — the less I knew about their life, the easier it was to deal with their death.

“We were on patrol, and all hell broke loose. When I woke up, my leg and back hurt like buggery and all my mates were dead. I wasn’t game to call for help so I lay there for what seemed like days, hoping someone would come looking for us. After about thirty-six hours, a rescue party found me. I don’t remember it happening, but I do remember wondering if I’d bleed to death, and I remember wondering if I’d be found or would I be one of those bodies that farmers find, decades later, after the war is over. I’ve never felt so cold and alone. Do you reckon that’s how that bloke felt?”

“I don’t mind telling you that you are freaking me out, Ash. Here, drink up,” I said as I poured the contents of my hip flask into his coffee.

The bloke behind the counter gave me a look and started to say something. I moved my jacket so he could see my detective’s badge — he went back to slicing tomatoes without saying anything.

Ash drank his coffee, and I poured a wee dram into mine.

“Same goes for me mate. If the ungodly catch up with me, don’t leave me lying out there somewhere,” I said.

“Deal,” said Ash and we clinked paper cups to seal the deal.

And So It Begins

Version 2

The remnants of my final dream drift away.

A quick check of the clock says it’s time to get up.

I weave my way to where hot water soothes my crusty eyes.

More weaving — toilet, then kitchen.

Bleary eyes won’t slow me down — I could find the coffee machine with my eyes closed.

I choose a favourite cup from among my favourite cups, all lined up on top of the machine.

Plenty of water in the tank (I fill it religiously – coffee is a religion of sorts).

The pods nestle in a ceramic bowl I bought at our local market, years ago. The glaze soothes my soul.

I choose a pod (nothing magical or spiritual about the choice, just the top one), drop it into the machine, close the lever and pray that the precious liquid ends up in the mug and not oozing out the side of the device. The life span of these machines is about six months, then the paper towels come out to sop up the leakage. The makers give them away once a year to lure new customers from a crowded market. It works on me, but then, I’m not very bright.

Within seconds, the liquid starts to flow, and as long as I don’t hear a spluttering noise (like I make when I’m drowning), I know my coffee is not far away.

A spoon of honey, stir well, hold the cup in both hands and inhale the same way you do with a sixteen-year-old Lagavulin. 

Take the cup and stand by the window, wait for the parrots to have a bath in the creek.

The sun has been up for quite a while, but the tall eucalypts make me wait for direct rays.

After bathing and squabbling over the best bathing location, the parrots will fly to a low branch and preen in the sunlight.

The voices in my head haven’t woken yet, so I’m free for the moment and the day is full of possibility.

My dog wants me to go outside, but he knows to wait until that first coffee is consumed, then it is time to play.

From there I wait to see what the day has in store for me. It may be a day just like yours. It may be a day best forgotten, but whatever it will be, it is another day and another chance for redemption.

Coffee

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The doctor died not long after delivering the news.

“Give up coffee, or you will surely suffer a painful death. Maybe not tomorrow, but quite soon and it won’t be pleasant.”

I didn’t gloat, but I did smile when my sister told me the news.

My sister and I set up house together when it became evident that neither of us was going to attract a mate.

“We can save on utilities and keep each other company.”

 “What if I get lucky and attract a short-sighted woman who will love me until she gets her eyeglasses changed?” I asked.

“We’ll cross that chasm when we get to it,” said my sister.

I’m used to her and her to me. We don’t exactly like each other, but neither of us contemplates homicide either.

“Dr Colour died yesterday,” she said while peeling potatoes.

“Did he have a cup of coffee in his hand when they found him,” I said. Unkind, I know, but he really pissed me off with his holier than thou coffee criticism.

“Not that I know of,” said my sister.

She rarely understood my witticisms.

Prophesy

It all started innocently enough, but by the time it was over I was very rich, lives were destroyed, and three people lay dead.

“No one should ever know their future,” she said with that lovely little smile that I remember so affectionately. By the time this all developed, my mother had been dead for more than fifteen years, but I look back now, and I remember her words. She was fearful of the future and what it may hold. Her fear was rooted in her past, and it coloured everything she saw.

I’d been attending the Meditation Circle for a couple of years. I’d ‘found my feet’ again after wandering aimlessly for many years.

“Come along one night; You’ll enjoy yourself, and you might just learn something. You’re a moody bugger, Billy. You need help. Get off your arse and get your head straight.”

He was annoying, but he was right. If I didn’t do something I was going to slip back into that black hole again. I could feel it coming on.

The lady who ran the group was friendly and warm.

“Hi, I’m Trevina, and I facilitate the group. We are all equal here. It’s a Circle and no one sits at the head of a Circle.”

‘Good luck with that,’ was what I was thinking, but I didn’t say it out loud.

“Thanks for making space for me Trevina. My mate dragged me along. There are a lot more blokes here than I expected?”

“Souls don’t know if they are male or female. We just ‘are’,” she said.

“I guess,” was all I could think of as I made a mental note of where the exit was.

Trevina glided off in the direction of a bunch of middle-aged females who were clutching coffee as though their lives depended on it. We were in the middle of spring, but the evenings were still cool. Someone had turned on the heater, and the large room had an easy, comfortable feel to it. Chairs were arranged in a circle, and each chair had a different coloured cushion on the seat.

“Those cushions could tell a story or two,” said a rather tall lady. She stood almost as tall as my six feet, and she had perfectly brushed, slightly coloured hair which could not completely disguise her seventy years of life. She had a twinkle in her eyes, and I knew I had found a friend.

“Somewhere there is an Op Shop that is completely out of cushions,” I said.

“Collected over many years, I should think. Many a bottom has compressed them, and they keep coming back for more.”

“What would you say that was a sign of?” I asked.

“Perseverance, I should think,” she said.

“So what do you do here ……..?”

“Norma. We find ourselves.”

“Sounds like something someone would have said in a 70s movie,” I said.

“If you keep coming you will find out what I mean.”

“Now you have me intrigued. I was thinking about what we were going to have for supper when we eventually get out of here and now you’ve got me thinking about hippie girls in tight jeans with free love in their hearts.”

“I used to be one of those girls. It was a lot of fun at the time.” She gave me that smile that I was to see on the face of many of the people who regularly attended this Circle. Anywhere else, and I would say that it was smug, but not here. Not in this room. Here it seemed to suggest that they knew something that the rest of us did not know. They knew that the knew. Amazingly, they were happy to share what they had discovered.

I looked to see if I could find the friend who had brought me. Ross was standing on the far side of the room talking to a skinny female. She hugged him, and he walked in my direction.

“What’s with all the hugging? Not that I want to discourage females from hugging me, but I must say that I haven’t come across so much hugging since I was in kindergarten.”

“You’ll get used to it. It comes with the philosophy.”

“You haven’t walked me into some religious cult have you, Ross?”

“No, you crazy bugger! Exactly the opposite. Everyone here takes personal responsibility for the way they live their lives. They don’t live by some old man’s dogma.”

“Okay, take it easy. I was just joking. So no religious mumbo-jumbo. So what do you do?”

“We meditate and we discuss stuff. Some of the regulars are Mediums and Psychics, and they need the mental discipline that regular meditation brings.”

“Do you have any fortune tellers?” I was winding him up, but he didn’t bite.

Someone walked past us and headed for the coffee urn, and I could have sworn that they said, “That’s why you are here.”

I turned and looked at them, but they didn’t return my gaze. The person who might have said that was a short dark haired female, probably in her late thirties. She was the only female in the room who was wearing a dress; all the others were rugged up in slacks and pants.

“She’s cute, and she’s going to find that house.”

“What house? Do you know her? What the fuck are you on about Billy? You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Never mind. Just find a seat and try not to annoy anyone.”

“Fuck you blondy. They love me here.”

“I’m not blond anymore dimwit; I’m old and grey.”

He was right. We were ‘getting on a bit’. Not exactly old, but not young anymore either.

So, the Circle settled down, and the meditation began.

Ross was right, and as the next couple of years went by he continued to be right. My mind settled down; I discovered that I could do things that most people could only dream about, and I learned to love this rag-tag bunch of misfits.

I hugged a lot of people, and I listened as the Mediums among us connected with the Spirits of dead relatives and friends. I watched the tears flow, and I saw the laughter in their eyes. I learned that I could, under certain circumstances, tell what was going to happen to people in the future. I wasn’t the only one who could do this, but I was the best.

As long as these happenings stayed within the Circle, there weren’t any problems. We all understood the unwritten rules. No lottery numbers and no bad news.

For some reason, it was impossible to read your future, only someone else’s.

Mostly, the information was vague and general, but helpful. People in the Circle loved it, and I became a bit of a minor celebrity. My ego could handle it and because I was so grateful for my deliverance from the black hole of depression I was very careful not to do anything that might jinx my luck.

If I had to put my finger on it, I would say that it all started to unravel when I switched to the daytime sessions.

Trevina ran a nighttime group which I attended, and a Friday morning group. She asked me if I would like to come to the morning group. My work schedule was flexible, so I said yes.

When we took a break for a cup of tea, I liked to sit out on the footpath in front of the old shop that was our meeting place. The building had a long and colourful history, and I’m now quite sure that its energy contributed to what was about to happen.

The group would be deep in conversation fuelled by the events of the morning and copious amounts of caffeine. I’d take a chair out into the sunlight and sit quietly with my mug of terrible coffee and gather my thoughts. It wouldn’t be long before someone would wander out and join me, but for a few moments I had the sun and the solitude, and it was wonderful.

The shop had a verandah which, in the days when it was built, would have protected the shoppers from the inclement weather that is a feature of our mountain climate.

To catch the rays of the sun I moved my chair slightly out from under the metal clad verandah and as I look back I realise that this was the final piece of the puzzle.

As the pretty lady with the coloured hair joined me and broke my solitude, I noticed a delivery van pull up. The driver got out and proceeded to open the back of his van.

“He’s going to have a hell of a headache,” I heard myself say.

Dianne, the pretty lady with the colourful hair, said, “What do you mean?”

I blinked a couple of times and tried to form an answer.

The delivery driver opened the back of his van, and a large cardboard box hit him right between the eyes. He went down hard, and a bunch of us retrieved him from under the contents of his badly packed van.

The wounds on the front and the back of his head were producing a lot of blood, and some of the bystanders were expressing their alarm.

“He’ll be fine. But in a couple of days, when the police search his house he’s going to be in a heap of trouble.”

The onlookers went quiet for a moment, and many of them were looking at me.

“A garage full of stolen white goods,” I said.

A week later, at our next Circle, someone showed me the local newspaper.

The delivery driver was arrested after the police visited him to talk about a noisy dog complaint. They had the wrong house and the wrong street, and they apologised and turned to leave when the driver’s son opened the garage door to retrieve his skateboard.

Everyone thought it was funny, but I had a sinking feeling. This premonition was way wilder than anything I had come up with before.

I took my cup of piss-weak coffee out on to the footpath and soaked up the sunlight.

When I opened my eyes, there were a bunch of people standing around me silently waiting for me to say something.

“What the bloody hell do you lot want?” I said.

“Tell us what is going to happen,” said a slightly scruffy older lady.

“You knew about the truck driver,” said a tall man in workman’s clothes.

“I’ll tell you what is going to happen. You are all going to bugger off and stop annoying me. I don’t know anything you don’t know.”

This wasn’t exactly true. As I looked at each person, I could see a scene being played out in my head.

The little boy with the scab on his knee was going to get a puppy for his birthday, and they would grow up together. The scruffy old lady would be dead before Christmas, and no one would come to her funeral. The bloke in the workman’s clothes would find a wallet and return it to its owner intact. The owner of the wallet would, in turn, facilitate the entry of the workman’s son into a private school and the experience would lead the boy into a sad life of drugs and crime.

“Don’t give the wallet back. Stick it in the mail and don’t put your address on the package.” The workman looked at me like I had just stepped on his foot.

“How did you know about the wallet. I only found it this morning?” he said.

As I looked at him, I knew he would ignore my advice. I wanted to tell him what was going to happen, but I had a strong sense that what I was seeing was going to happen no matter what I said.

The worker looked shocked as he produced the wallet from his back pocket and held it in mid-air. I had the feeling that he wanted it to fly away so that he would not have to decide.

Things escalated rather quickly from there.

My mate could see the profit potential, and I tried to talk him out of it. I like the quite life. I needed a bit more money, who doesn’t, but this seemed to me to be against the spirit of what we had learned.

I did my best to avoid the limelight, but I knew when I looked at Ross that he would eventually work out that his ability combined with the energy of this amazing old building would produce a similar result for him and anyone else with a modicum of ability.

It got crazy and dangerous, and I did my best to steer clear.

There were a few dead bodies, as a result, but I’ll tell you about them some other time.

I’ll bet you are wondering how I became rich, especially as I mentioned that I cannot read for myself.

Cast your mind back to me sitting outside the shop in the sun before anyone knew what I could do.

Across the road from our meeting place is a shop that sells newspapers, greeting cards and lottery tickets.

I was enjoying the sunlight when I noticed an agitated young man. He attracted my attention as he stood outside the shop obviously deciding whether to go in or not. It occurred to me that he thought that this was his last chance.

As I looked at him, I could see two possible futures for him, and each one hinged on his decision. As he stood frozen on the footpath, his future was nothing but misery and disappointment ending in his death from alcohol-related complications.

Eventually, he moved towards the shop door and the pictures I saw changed dramatically. The money he was destined to win would not solve all his problems, but his life certainly improved, at least, it did for the foreseeable future.

In my head, I watched him filling out the lottery form. I quickly wrote down the numbers and, needless to say; we shared the massive amount that the lottery had built up as it had remained unclaimed for several weeks.

I have never told anyone this story, and I’m counting on you to keep it to yourself.

People get a bit crazy where money is concerned, and I like a quite life. 

A Different View.

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When you are close to the ground the world looks quite different.

Whenever we walk past this cafe which has excellent grounds and an even more excellent interior, my dogs want to enter through this gateway which is closed off if the cafe is closed. I’m sure that they remember going there as we have done so many times but I was reminded that their field of view is quite different from mine. It’s not a huge deal for them as they have that amazing hearing and stunning sense of smell. But me, I’m visual and being nearly six foot taller than them gives me a different view.

This photo is what they can see when they are trying to convince me to go in there…………. cooffeeeee thinks I. Treeeeeeaaaats thinks them.

Cafe.

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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

He always ordered the same dish.

When you found something special why would you bother working your way through the menu?
The cafe was incredibly loud; the noise was coming mostly from the bar area.
It was one of those cafes that tried to have it both ways, and the bright young things who worked in the city were only too pleased to oblige.
Earlier in the week it had been quieter, but come Friday night and the noise registered on the Richter scale.
It hurt his ears when he first walked in but amazingly, he got used to it very quickly.
Humans can be very adaptable.
The cafe had an excellent red wine ‘by the glass.’
He got to know the staff very well after his first visit. They were friendly and looked after him really well.
For forty years he had dined as one half of a couple, but now his wife had gone away and he was dining alone.
It was a strange experience at first, but like most things in life, he got used to it.
His routine was to eat at the cafe and then go wandering through the city in search of coffee.
When he found an interesting spot he would sit, sip and read. Sometimes he would write when the mood took him.
The drive home took about an hour preceded by a short walk through the park.
Counting possums along the way was part of the ritual.
A long drive, late at night is not a hardship. There is time to think and opportunities to imagine.
At the end of the journey there would be excited fluffy white dogs and a warm bed.
Life was good.