It was a cold day. The sun hadn’t been seen since my last tax refund, and the rain was driving down. I pulled up the collar of my overcoat. I had to wear it, even here in reception, such was the cold.
The old lady from the upstairs unit came in the door. She looked like she’d seen a hundred summers and none of them good. Just what I needed. Another lost key, or so I thought.
She was nervous, like she’d seen something she’d prefer to forget. I resigned myself to helping her – hell, I had nothing better to do, and the electricity bill was glowing bright red. Better to earn a dollar than to lose one.
She started off slow.
“Um,” she said.
“There’s a little problem in my room,” she went on, after a small forever.
“Yes, what is it, doll?” I asked. I didn’t actually call her ‘doll’. She wasn’t one.
“I think you’d better come up and see,” she said. “Maybe your trained eye will notice things.”
And with that enigma, she led the way out of reception, and up the stairs.
The door creaked open like an old man’s back. Her room was small, and dimly lit. In the shadows, I could make out another figure, seated motionless in an armchair. Thunder rumbled from without.
“Maurice,” the old lady said, “I’ve brought the manager, just like you asked.”
The shadow moved into the light, and resolved into something not entirely unlike a human being. He was small, raisin-wrinkled, but alert.
“So good of you to come,” he said. “Really, this is all so new to us. We didn’t know what to do…” he trailed off. “Maybe you should sit down.”
I didn’t think there was anything they could show me that I hadn’t seen ten times over, and worse. But they were paying customers, and had to be humoured. I pulled up a chair.
“What seems to be the problem, sir,” I asked.
“Let me show you,” he said. “I fear there has been a murder,” he said, with gusto, pausing before the last word for effect.
Why he had just asked me to sit just before getting me up again was a mystery, but I complied.
He led me to the bathroom, and pointed rheumatically to an area underneath the vanity. On the tiles was a stain, dark in colour. Blood? It could have been. There was an awful lot of it. If not blood, then what?
“It’s blood,” said the old lady, giving her personal diagnosis. “Buckets of it.”
“It’s probably nothing, ma’am,” I said. “I’ll look into it.” I had to put them at ease.
I couldn’t remember pulling any bodies out of that particular room, not for a while, but then again, my memory wasn’t always reliable.
“We watch a lot of television,” she said, going off topic. “Crime shows. CSI. Do you have a fingerprint kit?” She was visibly excited, ready to follow the trail of clues.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t.” I wasn’t sorry.
They looked disappointed.
“Why don’t you folk go out for dinner,” I suggested. “I’ll clean up in here. I’ll let you know if I find anything.”
They were reluctant.
“Maybe you could measure the temperature of the blood,” he said. “That way we’ll get an estimate of the time of death.”
I virtually pushed them out the door into the rain. “Leave it to me,” I said.
But I wasn’t happy about it.
After I was satisfied that they’d left the premises, I turned on all the lights and had a good look. I got down on my hands and knees and got close to the mystery stain. There was something about it…something very familiar. I just couldn’t put my finger on it…
So I did. I put my finger on it.
It was a shit.
I wiped my finger.
I should clarify something here. I have a disability. I wish I could get a car sticker for it.
I have no sense of smell.
I could be face up against a bucket of warm prawns and wouldn’t know, and this is how I got so close to the offensive liquor without heaving up the contents of my gastro-intestinal tract.
Presumably age and arthritic knees had prevented the guests from getting down to identify the foul smear, but it was only a matter of time.
I had to act fast. Unfortunately, the staff had finished for the day, and they would rather quit than return to get this substance under their fingernails. No promise of penalty rates would suffice.
I was on my own.
The first step was to conduct a full investigation. I was curious. Why would the poop be under the vanity? Such an act would require a conscious effort of incredible flexibility. And what would the purpose of this act of vandalism have been?
No, there must be more to it. Literally.
I conducted a bathroom-wide sweep. Sure enough, there was evidence of ordure everywhere. A black sticky goo was engrained into the tiling grout.
Everywhere, except the toilet bowl. Strange.
I thought back to that morning. Had the staff had said anything regarding that room?
They clearly hadn’t been particularly observant when scrubbing down the bathroom, and I made a mental note to do some vigorous ticking off.
I had the vague recollection of the removal of an unusually large amount of empty wine bottles, and of the departure of a gentleman not in complete control of his limbs.
The pieces fell into place. I reconstructed the events.
It was not only his limbs that this fellow had lost control of. He had become so intoxicated that his bowels had stopped communicating with his brain. He had made a run for the toilet, but his legs had failed him. In any event, he was probably unsure as to which end would fail first, if he was sure of anything.
He had lain where he fell, all night, on the bathroom floor, head under the toilet, arse under the sink, where, to his eternal shame, he had shat himself copiously, shooting the contents of his intestines under the sink and splashing up against the wall. He had probably been there all night, unable to move.
His bed-mate, if he/she was conscious at all, and had any sense, would not have invited him back into the bed without a Hazmat clearance.
I can imagine the scene the following morning. No eye contact. Relationship counselling to follow.
I felt like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction as I reached for a 4-gallon drum of bleach.
The old couple rolled back into reception about four hours later. The rain was still falling, and looked set in. Just my luck, I’d need the drains re-done, and with last month’s rent overdue. Sometimes I wondered whether it would be easier to go back to working for the State, but no, I’d starve before that happened.
They looked hopeful, like I’d found their lost schnauzer or something. I couldn’t believe it, they actually wanted me to find a dead body in the rose garden, killed with a broken bottle shiv.
I was almost tempted to tell them what I’d found. But I couldn’t do it. There was already enough pain in the world.
“It was nothing,” I said. “The cleaner told me that she’d cut her hand on a broken light bulb. It was a little bit of her blood that she must have missed cleaning up. She asked me to apologise.”
They looked disappointed. I went on.
“I gave the whole bathroom a good cleaning. You shouldn’t have any problems now. Have a good night.”
They went upstairs like they had lead in their shoes. I shouldn’t judge them too harshly. They only wanted a little excitement in their dreary lives. A lot of people do. Not me.
I never saw them again. They checked out the next day without saying goodbye. They did leave something behind, although whether it was a tip or an accident is a mystery that remains unsolved.
Either way, I ended up the richer, but not by much.
Two dollars and half a pack of cigarettes.