Tales of the Storage Space, Part 23

Martin was sweating, slobbering, begging.  Bloody hell.  Bloody fucking hell.

Was it another dream?

Bollocks.  No dream could be as realistic as this.

Martin watched the fountain of blood twist and turn.  Insanely, its motion triggered a memory of how the water had gurgled out of his father’s garden hose when he watered the flowers back in Canterbury, Kent.  Until a twist sent the blood splattering all over Martin’s face and into his screaming mouth.

He awoke to find he was drenched in sweat and his phone was ringing…somewhere.  His starburst wall clock said it was 10 o’clock, but it was still light.  Funny, this wasn’t Scotland…

He found the phone under his thigh.  Strange that it wasn’t vibrating.  Even stranger that it wasn’t ringing.  And it wasn’t his phone…

Broad daylight…

Shit!  It was 10 o’clock in the morning and they were calling because he was late to work!  He must have dozed off.  But why that literally bloody nightmare and whose phone…

Then he remembered Karen, and Frank.  He clung to Jennifer’s phone, trying to figure out how he’d know if the cops had responded to the anonymous tip he’d called in on her own phone and picked Jennifer up for the murders he had committed.  Or at least caused indirectly in Karen’s case.  But what matter?  One murder was enough…  Martin broke out in another sweat, shuddered, shivered, and finally cried.

His phone again.  Wherever it was.  Then a short pause.  Then Jennifer’s phone, still in his hand.  He jumped, dropping it as if it was the murder weapon.  It must have hit something just right.  It answered.

“Jennifer, pick up.  Pick up!”

Martin was silent.  He didn’t even breath.  But, damningly, his phone started to ring again in the background.

“Jennifer!  Pick up!”

Martin knew who it was:  Ms. Morales, their boss from work.

“Jennifer!  Dios mio!  We have to find Martin…”

Ms. Morales trailed off.  Martin could hear a man screaming something in the background.

“Jennifer,” Ms. Morales whispered, “there’s a tall man with a goatee here looking for Martin, and some guy named Frank.  Do you know who he is?  He’s got a gun!”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 22

Jennifer was still shaking, and it wasn’t from sitting outside for so long.

“The officer is gone, Jennifer.  And I think I convinced him you hadn’t been in the storage-space building.”  The homeless woman’s voice…already the most beautiful, melodic stuff Jennifer had ever heard…resonated with the richness of a new dimension when she lowered her voice.  “Not even last night.”

Not even last night?  Jennifer darted a look at the homeless woman before returning to the seemingly endless job of cleaning the blood off her shoe.  But Jennifer was in the storage-space building then; it was only this morning that she hadn’t made it into the building because she’d tripped over this already blood-covered homeless woman.

Was this woman so out of it that she thought she’d been awake all night to vouch for Jennifer instead of passed out in what was undoubtedly a drunken stupor?  Or…  Was that why she’d dropped her voice before saying, “not even last night,” because that was her way of letting Jennifer know that she knew that part wasn’t true?

Why?

Jennifer shifted uncomfortably on the hard sidewalk, looking at the bloody woman lying beside her.  Horrible.

Why had this woman protected her?

What did she want?

Jennifer opened and closed her mouth a few times, struggling to find the right words.  Finally they came to her.  It was hard to do, since her expensive shoe still wasn’t free of the blood that would undoubtedly now dry hard and fast, ruining it forever, but she made a point of setting her shoe aside and addressing the homeless woman.  “Thank you.”  The words almost hurt.  But she smiled after saying them, quite proud of herself.

The homeless woman started to smile, too, but stretching her lip cracked open a wound that started to bleed.

Jennifer sighed, this was really, really hard, but she sacrificed the only remaining clean piece of the tablecloth…that could have been used to finish cleaning her shoe…and used it instead to dab at the homeless woman’s cracked lip.  “What’s your name?”

“Amelia.”  Miraculously the name sounded absolutely gorgeous, even half-muffled by the tablecloth.  It was that voice again.  Like an entire symphony orchestra.

Jennifer spotted a twig under Amelia.  Would that help get the blood off her shoe?  She was about to snatch it up.  Oddly, something stopped her.  She looked at the twig more closely.  It had wedged itself into a cut on Amelia’s arm.

Jennifer had an epiphany:  that twig wedged into that cut on Amelia’s arm must be hurting Amelia!

Gently…very carefully…Jennifer removed the twig.

“Thank you.”  That beautiful voice again.

Jennifer refrained from using the stick on her shoe, carefully setting it aside for the time being.  Instead she frowned, concentrated, and then asked, “How did you get to be homeless?”  Too late, it occurred to her that maybe she should have asked about Amelia’s current injuries first, but Jennifer was still delighted by her own kindness.

“Do…you really want to know?”

“Yes,” Jennifer said.  “I…actually…really do!”

“Would that I could provide a rich and entertaining history of a great family gone to ruin.  But what’s great is the mystery, because nothing is known of my family before the birth of my mother in 1898.”

“1898?”

“Yes.  My poor, frail, delicately-wrought mother gave birth to her only child in 1948, at the age of 50.”

“Your father?”

“I was born out of wedlock.  My mother never deigned to mention him.  And she never knew her own parents, or anything about them or any other family members.  She was raised in a nunnery in Switzerland where all, apparently, had been sworn to secrecy.”

Jennifer struggled to remember the original question.  “So…you became homeless because?”

“Possibly my own just desserts for being an incurable romantic.”  Amelia’s injured lip warped her rueful smile.  “But my excuse is my mother’s medical bills.”

“Aren’t there social service agencies that cover those kinds of things?”

“They try.  And they do a lot.  But there are limits.”  Amelia stiffened her jaw.  “My mother’s health was never good.  After my birth it was a disaster.  She once told me our roles had all but reversed by the time I was two.  Prior to her death, at which point I’d already declared bankruptcy, I couldn’t remember a time when my life wasn’t devoted to taking care of her.”

Now Jennifer really didn’t know what to say.  “Well…your injuries…I should get you some help.”  With that she fished into her purse for her phone, but it wasn’t there.  She darted another look at Amelia.

People were so unreasonable.  Somehow, when Jennifer wasn’t looking, this stupid homeless woman had obviously stolen her phone.  Jennifer should have just kicked her again.  Repeatedly and hard enough to silence her forever.  Instead she’d stupidly wasted time bullshitting her with some snow job to try to keep this woman who probably knew Jennifer hadn’t been to her storage unit last night from blowing her alibi.

Jennifer sighed heavily.  All this time wasted…  All this time that could have been spent saving her shoe.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 21

The Storage Space was simply desolated by the whole affair.  It would have languished for months, failing to find consolation in cognac and cigars, if only a building could drink.  If only a building could smoke.  Or, better yet, if only a building could book even third-class passage on even the lowliest tramp steamer and leave this appallingly savage country forever.

But, alas, all the poor Storage Space could do was languish without even so much as a mean, peasant’s pipe and a tankard of warm ale.  All the poor Storage Space could do, helpless as always, was to stand.  Stand while the centuries rolled by.  Stand while the green mists of that thing that was left over from so long ago swirled about inside that poor Karen’s storage unit, reciting his Shakespeare.  Going on and on forever about a summer’s day.

Stand while the cockroaches scurried and the rats gnawed.  Still…

Le Grand Rat was appalling to be sure, but the hideous creature had spotted the hand of the corpse sticking out of that poor Karen’s storage unit.  And, most remarkably, had had the presence of mind to stand between the hand of the corpse and that officer of the law.  It was true that that officer had been decidedly simple-looking anyway.  But with so many centuries…so many more secrets than one mere corpse to hid…the thought of any kind of criminal investigation was simply not to be borne.

Now Le Grand Rat, this Irwin, was returning with…what was that?…some kind of machinery.  And…what did he have in his other hand?  His…lunch?  Of course…  After all, all thoughts of delicacy and proper feeling would be quite wasted on a rat.

Irwin put both the machine and his lunch down just inside Karen’s storage unit, right next to the corpse already there.

With one hand Irwin took the corpse’s hand, which was dripping red blood.  With his other hand Irwin grabbed some French fries, which were dripping red ketchup, and stuffed them in his mouth.  Then he yanked at the corpse, which fell out into the hall with a thud.  Next he plugged the machine, apparently some kind of saw, into an outlet.

Frank, the Storage Space recalled.  Frank was the name of the corpse with that piece of glass embedded in his neck.  His head had been twisted sideways as he died, his mouth open as if speaking to someone next to him on the floor.  But it was the expression of indescribable horror on that corpse’s face that left the Storage Space aching for that tramp steamer to anywhere, even the Amazonian wilds of South America.

And the Storage Space imagined it could see the Amazon, a great green river of mist, flowing rapidly back in through the window.

Irwin picked up the saw, raising it over the corpse…but pausing for another handful of fries he washed down with some water before returning the bottle to the floor just inside Karen’s storage unit.  Then he turned the saw on and lowered it toward the corpse’s neck.

The Storage Space would have recoiled sharply, if only a building could recoil at all.  But just as it thought that it realized two other entities had recoiled.  Both were quivering, horrified rivers of green mist.  One was that Shakespearean actor Edward from long ago that the Storage Space so desperately wanted to forget.  The other, newly returned through the window, was from the corpse…Frank.

Irwin’s saw hit bone.  The motor whined.  Blood splattered all over.  The head, then the limbs, and finally the trunk were reduced to pieces Irwin could fit into the trash bags he now pulled out from the voluminous folds of his clothing.  The Storage Space watched in horror as he hauled these bags full of body parts out back, still chewing on some sandwich.  Did Le Grand Rat make any attempt to conceal these particular garbage bags behind all the other garbage bags he’d let accumulate since his last trip to the dump?  No, instead he carefully arranged the body-part bags so as to conceal some other bags.  The Storage Space refrained from any attempt to even imagine what could possibly be in those bags…

Having returned to the hall outside that poor, unfortunate Karen’s storage unit, Irwin retrieved bleach and a mop from a nearby cleaning cabinet.  To give credit where it was due, he did do an at least passable job of cleaning the massive amounts of blood in the hall…in between bites of his sandwich.  However, Le Grand Rat apparently wouldn’t bestir himself to clean that poor Karen’s unit.  Just as well, perhaps, lest he spot that poor Karen in the back and use that saw on her.

When Le Grand Rat was done, he finally made a mistake.  He frowned, perhaps subliminally aware of something obstructing the ceiling light, and looked up.  They were waiting for him.

One angry, outraged green mist had formed itself into a grotesque caricature of Irwin, complete with a rat’s beady eyes, whiskers, and humped back.  The other angry, outraged green mist had formed itself into the most hideous imaginable monster, which was in the process of eating the Irwin caricature alive.

Irwin looked at this unspeakable horror for a while.  The Storage Space would have held its breath, if only a building could breathe.

Finally Le Grand Rat shrugged.  Then he left.

But, the Storage Space noted, not with a total want of proper feeling.

Apparently even a rat had some delicacy.  Irwin had forgotten to retrieve the rest of his lunch.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 20

Amelia struggled to see the young woman still seated beside her with the only eye Amelia could still open.  Though not beautiful, the young woman’s face could at least have achieved a pleasant enough air of elegant refinement, were it not for its constant petulance.  But petulance twitched the thin lips first one way and then the other, like some uncontrollable nervous tic.  It even managed to contort both the finely sculpted cheekbones and the dark eyes, a bit too small, framed by rather severely straight dark hair.

“So unreasonable!” the young woman blurted out before grinding some of Amelia’s blood into her shoe in a fit of temper.

“Gently dab,” Amelia reminded her.  “Don’t smear or grind it in.”

Amelia hurt, horribly, all over.  Still, a tentative inventory, gently moving this and that, had pretty well established that nothing was broken.  She’d been…literally…kicked around before, since she’d found herself homeless, and was pretty confident that she’d survive it.

To escape her pain, she struggled to see the intricate carvings she’d been caressing with her hands the night before.  Soft morning light lay like a gently translucent cloak across what she believed was Hamlet delivering his “To be or not to be” soliloquy.  And was that Lady Macbeth, trying to clean her hands, delicately encased with other characters in the riot of Rococo curlicues, paisleys, birds and flowers that framed the entrance to the building behind them?  It reminded Amelia of all the tales of the theatre that had so interested both herself and her mother, though neither of them ever figured out why.

Amelia smiled faintly, looking farther down the brownstone-lined street to a place where the empty lot she’d been headed toward allowed great shafts of morning light to slant low through the mighty oaks and sycamores that encroached on the sidewalk.  A breeze moved the branches, shifting the shafts of light about till they danced about the street to the rustling of the wind.  The air was sweet, delicately scented with the freshness of morning, and peaceful.

Suddenly the door burst open behind them.  Amelia saw a cop emerge amid the intricate carvings.  Typically, he looked at her homeless rags and immediately looked away…but then looked back, seeming to see the young woman seated next to Amelia for the first time.

“Hey,” he said, approaching.  “You there!”

The young woman looked immensely irritated at this interruption and continued dabbing her shoe with the tablecloth Amelia had been wearing, her back to the cop.

“Young lady,” persisted the cop, “is your name Jennifer and were you in this storage space last night?”

Amelia could see what the cop, still behind the young woman, couldn’t.  It was no longer petulance that distorted the elegant refinement of her face but shock, then some kind of recognition like she’d just figured something out.  Finally an utterly pathetic and all-consuming terror took over, breaking Amelia’s heart.  Plus Amelia could read lips.  The words the young woman mouthed silently were, “First-degree murder.  And I didn’t do it!”

“Officer,” said Amelia, which cost her a stab of pain as her lip started to bleed again.

The officer ignored her.

“Officer,” Amelia repeated, struggling to think of what she could say that would fit into his stereotypes about the homeless and help him feel comfortable dealing with her without feeling like he had to deal with her injuries.  “Officer, I got really drunk last night, really knocked myself around good, didn’t I?  Got here yesterday afternoon.  Guess that’s what happens when you drink too much too long.”

The cop guffawed.  Amelia figured she’d done right not to burden him with having to do his job by telling him she’d been assaulted.

“But I can tell you this young woman, who only showed up this morning, never went into that storage space last night.  Hell, it was night and it was locked anyway.  Otherwise I could have gone inside.  As it was, all I could do last night was to call out to people passing by to report my murder.  Like I say, I was drunk at the time and a little confused.  So I probably confused a lot of other people and got them thinking all kinds of things.”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 19

Was it minutes, hours or days later?  Or…what an odd thought…a century earlier?  Karen shivered, but felt no cold.  She didn’t feel her own shiver either; it was strictly metaphorical.  Was she standing, sitting, or lying down?  Karen didn’t know.  Were her eyes open or closed?  Karen didn’t know that either; she only knew she wasn’t seeing anything, not even light or darkness.  It was as if she was struggling to see through an infinity of glass windows with nothing behind them.  The good news, Karen figured, was that she no longer felt any pain.  Not from that glass shard she’d been bleeding so profusely from for hours.  Not from Frank’s lethal punch, aimed for Martin, that she’d intercepted.  The bad news, Karen figured, was that she must be dead.

It was then that the screaming started, but of course it wasn’t really screaming and was as silent as the absolute silence that would have been ringing in her ears…if she still had ears that functioned.  How welcome even that ringing would have been.

Dead.  Next the crying that wasn’t crying started.  For Karen could neither scream nor cry about it…or anything, she figured…ever again.  But wasn’t the one, the only goddamn advantage of being dead supposed to be that you wouldn’t even know it?

Frank…

He’d fucking killed her, she was dead, and she still couldn’t stop thinking about him?

But she suddenly felt something, and to feel anything was divine, and what she felt was Frank.  His presence.  That voice.  His surprisingly formal words, saying…  Saying not “Karen, how could you?” but “Karen, how could I?” over and over again.

But then she felt something else, like a mist somehow, and she suddenly remembered a color:  green.

A summer’s day…

Where’d that come from?  Light!  Bright light!  Karen had never yearned for anything more than she did for that light.  She strained to reach it.  Lights, more than one.  Illuminating a stage.  A magnificent man on that stage, dressed like a Shakespearean actor.  Reaching out to her.  His words, elegant and melodic.  She could hear…

“Again, sorry, officer…”

No, not that voice.  Karen could feel herself shiver this time.  Rats.  She could envision them with their beady eyes, just like Irwin, the creepy guy who managed the storage space.

“I…I don’t like to mention this but…”  Irwin’s voice oozed through Karen’s consciousness.  “But you see, officer, I have this disability.  It explains my not quite getting this mess in the hall cleaned up from last night but…really, officer!…I can assure you there was no murder here last night!”

Murder?  Karen’s mind screamed again.  So, she really was dead?  Or…

Had Frank succeeded in killing Martin after all?

Or was this all a last dream of the dead.  Kind of like the fingernails that still grew in the morgue.

Dimly, Karen thought she heard another voice, farther away.  Something about an anonymous tip from their violent-crime hotline.

“Oh, no, officer!” oozed Irwin, who seemed to be closer.  “I can absolutely, positively assure you there’s nobody here, dead or alive, this early in the morning!”