Instalment 26: pages 105-108 [Danielle drops Elliot off to collect Jenny while she picks up brunch food, things do not go to plan]
Jenny had a good Kinston address: an apartment tower, rising like a grater, covered in balconies of solid brick. The glass doors were set in heavy metal frames beside a panel with a speaker and buzzers. Under the speaker grille was a thick slot. I buzzed number twenty-one for a few seconds. I buzzed again with a jaunty, rat-tat-tat. I held the buzzer down for a good half minute.
Nothing. Someone had forgotten her date.
I rummaged in my pockets to find my mobile and give Jenny another call. I’d left it somewhere at Danielle’s; all I found was the set of keys from Marina’s room, complete with the flat metal lozenge.
I looked at the metal token again: a rectangle rounded at both ends, a little arrow engraved on one side. Behind the glass doors the lifts pinged. On impulse I thrust the token into the slot beneath the grille.
There was a click as the lock released. I stepped in just as the lift opened. A small woman with grey hair and an immaculate tweed suit held the lift door for me.
“Hello, are you new?” she asked, eyeing my crumpled form in a kindly way.
“No, just visiting.”
“Ah, we do get a lot of new young people. Well, I won’t hold you up then,” she beamed. “So nice to have met you.”
I stepped into the lift as she passed out into the foyer.
“Hello!” she called as the doors began to close.
I blocked the door with my arm and craned my neck back towards her. “Yes?”
“Do try and pull this door shut behind you. It’s just that it doesn’t lock on its own. You’ve left it ajar you see.”
No problem, I thought, if I have to explain to Jenny how I got in. The doors closed again, leaving me to ponder the question of Marina and Jenny. It seemed Marina had keys to Jenny’s apartment, or at least an apartment in this block. My theory that there was something between them more than friendship was looking better.
I emerged from the lift into a narrow ‘C’ shaped corridor. Jenny’s door was tucked in an alcove round the corner. I knocked, three times, loudly. There was no answer. I jangled the keys in my pocket, looking at the door’s two locks.
If she’s not in, I thought, what’s the harm?
I stood still, listening for neighbours. I heard a television, nothing else. I pressed the most likely looking key into the doorknob. It clicked and I turned the handle. The door swung in, the deadlock was not on.
“Hello?” I called, hesitantly stepping through, wondering what I’d tell Jenny if she was in, or even worse, came home suddenly from a morning errand.
A little hallway on my left led through to the bedroom. I stepped that way, and that was when I saw it. The door to the ensuite was ajar, through the crack I saw white tiles daubed with red flakes, and a still leg draped over the bath’s edge.
“Jenny?” I called, knocking on the door. It drifted open, and mechanically I walked over and looked into the bath.
This was not something that was meant to happen.
I was not meant to be standing in a strange girl’s flat staring at a bloodied corpse in the bathtub. The awful part was not her once lovely, half-bared flesh now mottled purple, visible through the torn, disarrayed robe, or the unnatural sprawling of her limbs.
It was the hands, frozen in panic, like startled birds in flight, and her gaping green eyes fastened unblinking on the wall. Eyes and hands. Her head lolled terribly against the curve of the porcelain. Something dark and sticky had oozed into her hair. This had been Jenny.
Backing out into the corridor, sitting gingerly on a chair, I felt – nothing. Everything was distant. Even the trembling of my hands occurred at one remove from my disjointed thoughts. I felt calm, until I realised everything was passing me in snatches, my concentration shattered into jerky bursts of seconds.
For a second time the soft comforts of shock were sheltering me from the reality of a stranger’s lifeless body. Except this time, it wasn’t really a stranger.
Fuck, not again, was my first thought. Then came the old policeman’s adage, nine times out of ten it was the one who found the body. My mind filled with thoughts of police uniforms, the horror and boredom of being held first for questioning and then on remand, the prospect of another trial.
Briefly, I thought about just wiping down everything I’d touched and leaving, like a character in a Bogart film. But I couldn’t. Now that I’d found her, I owed something to Jenny. If I left now and no-one else came, it could be days before she was found. What condition would she be in then, for her family and burial?
Think, I willed myself, think.
The only thing I had on me that was at all incriminating was her spare keys. Gingerly, I fished them out, and rubbed down every surface as thoroughly as I could with a corner of my shirt, holding them between the cloth when I was done. Where to put them?
Dazed, I stumbled round the lounge room. There was a large bowl of change on a small dresser. Maybe. My shirt-covered fingers opened the dresser drawer: a mess of pens, rubber bands, AA batteries and take-away menus. Perfect. I dropped the keys in and closed it carefully.
I tried to breath evenly. I had to make the call that would start the machinery: the uniforms, the questions, the dark plastic bags. That had to be first. Then I needed a lawyer, I needed time to think, and worst of all I needed to call Danielle and explain a dead friend’s body.