BY DIANA KOCH
Copyright is held by the author.
WITH AN impatient forefinger, Melissa Turner stabbed at the elevator button. It was the third time in as many minutes. I’m already running late, and now this, she worried. She stood in front of the mirrored doors admiring her newest outfit, a cardinal red wool dress that flowed like lava over her curves. At the last minute, she had decided to wear it to work, smiling at the thought of the raised eyebrows from her ultra conservative colleagues at the law firm. No matter. Let them think whatever they liked. She was tired of the greys and navies of her profession. Besides, it was Valentine’s Day. Shrugging into her coat, she glanced up at the green numbers indicating the elevator’s approach. At last. Brief case in hand, she was ready to step in as soon as the doors opened.
The elevator made a stop on the sixth floor before resuming its ascent to the 12th where she waited, looking at her watch and tapping her foot in nervous agitation. She had a nine o’clock appointment with an important client, for God’s sake. Come on, come on, she muttered, as if encouraging words would convince the contraption to reach her more quickly. It bounced to a hard stop a few seconds later.
As the doors slid open, Melissa checked her watch one more time. If she hurried, she could slip into the offices of Lawson and Lawson just in time to greet her client, perhaps even grab a coffee en route. She was glad that the elevator was empty. It would lessen the likelihood of stops between her floor and the foyer. Besides, she was in no mood for making frivolous conversation.
She was about to make the initial step into the waiting elevator when she saw it. A crimson puddle on the pristine whiteness of the marble floor. And leading toward her in a straight line, tiny splatters of identical red. It looked like the work of an abstract artist.
Fascinated, she set down her brief case and stepped inside to take a closer look. Bending over to better examine the pooled liquid, her nose detected the unmistakable metallic odour of blood. The bright red colour and the fluid consistency indicated that it was fresh. Was it human blood? Melissa felt a chill ripple down her back. She needed to report this. To Barney, the super of the building? Or to the police?
She pushed the button for the ground floor, realizing in the same instant that her brief case was still in the hallway. No sooner had she stepped outside to retrieve it, than the doors slammed shut, and the elevator began its descent. Damn! She watched the numbers light up in fluorescent green. The elevator stopped on the sixth floor.
No amount of button pushing on her part could convince it to come back up. She waited for what seemed an eternity and tried again. No luck.
With the elevator still in limbo, she fumbled in her purse for her phone. Someone must be holding the door or perhaps had pushed the “Open” button to prevent it from escaping to another floor. This was getting too bizarre. She dialled 911 and asked to be connected to the police department.
“I need to report a crime,” she said to the voice that answered.
“What type of crime, ma’am?”
“Actually, I’m not sure whether it is a crime. Just something suspicious in the elevator.”
“Okay, just hold. Someone will be right with you.”
While Melissa waited, the elevator suddenly began descending. When it came to a stop at the first floor, she poked frantically at the button with the upward arrow.
“All right ma’am. This is Officer Davies. I’ll take down your information. Give me the details so we can send someone out to investigate.” The tone of his voice implied that he had heard it all many times before.
Melissa was about to describe the pool of blood when the elevator stopped in front of her. The doors snapped open. Her eyes were drawn to the marble floor where just minutes before, a creeping pool of blood had shaken her customary composure. The floor was as spotless as a white plate still hot from the dishwasher. How to explain this? She imagined the officer laughing with his buddies at the police station. Just another crackpot hallucinating or clamouring for attention.
“Ma’am? Are you still there?”
“I think that I may have made a mistake,” she said as she ended the call.
She stepped into the waiting elevator and with a shaking hand pushed the button for the ground floor. The elevator glided uninterrupted down to the foyer. Don’t be ridiculous, her mind chided, it was probably paint, or cleaning fluid of some kind. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw Barney with his bucket and mop just outside the elevator.
“Hey there Ms Turner. You’re leaving later than usual this morning. Have an exciting night?” He winked and coughed out a sly laugh.
It annoyed her that Barney made it his business to watch everyone’s comings and goings. Usually she would have ignored him, but today she needed him to verify that what she had seen was not something sinister.
“Morning, Barney. Just finished cleaning the elevator I see. The floor looks nice. Sparkling clean.”
“Really? I was just about to mop it, but since you say it’s so clean, maybe I won’t bother. Got lots of other important jobs I need to do.” He made an effort to minimize his belly by inhaling and hiking up his khaki work pants.
Much as Melissa disliked conversations with Barney, she felt compelled to ask. “Did someone report a problem in the elevator?”
“No problem reported. I clean it every morning at this time.” He was leaning on the mop now, settling in for a longer conversation, a lecherous grin on his fleshy face.
She was glad that her coat hid her form-fitting red dress. “You didn’t happen to see who got into the elevator a short while ago?”
“Afraid not. Just came up from the basement in the service elevator. Why? Are you expecting a special somebody?” Barney’s eyes travelled down her front. She shot him a withering look and reached for the top button of her coat.
“No reason,” she replied, irritation slipping into her voice. She turned and hurried to the glass doors leading to the street.
“Happy Valentine’s Day!” Barney called after her. “You wanna celebrate with someone real hot tonight?”
“Jerk!” she hissed as she stepped into the street.
Her phone sounded before she could utter additional expletives denouncing Barney’s character. It was Amy, her assistant, informing her that the nine o’clock client had re-scheduled for the day after tomorrow. Lucky break, Melissa thought. “I’ll be in by 10,” she told Amy. “There’s something I need to take care of first.”
She headed for the coffee shop just a few doors down and splurged on their special for the day. Valentine cappuccino with chocolate shavings and a shot of cherry-flavoured cream on top. She sat at one of the round metal tables and revisited the details of the elevator experience. If it wasn’t Barney who had cleaned up the blood (and deep down she was convinced it was blood) then who had? Perhaps Barney was lying. Could he be responsible or was he covering for someone? Someone living on the sixth floor.
She shuddered at the thought. How foolish she had been for not pursuing her suspicions with the police. If she called back now, with no further information other than a mysterious red puddle that had inexplicably disappeared, she would certainly be labelled “a person of unreliable credibility.”
Melissa finished her coffee with the determination to delve deeper into this perplexing situation, or at the very least unearth additional evidence that the police would consider worthy of an investigation. She searched her memory for names of people who lived on the sixth floor. Only the Melenics came to mind. The old Croatian couple were often on their way to Kensington Market when she was heading to work. They had talked a few times in the elevator. Rather, Mrs. Melenic had talked in her heavily accented English. Mr. Melenic was just a silent companion. Other than introduce herself, Melissa had simply listened, trying her best to be civil with a smile of acknowledgement while the three of them stood side by side on their descent to the foyer.
It took only a few minutes to retrace her steps back to her building. She peered through the glass doors to confirm that Barney had moved on. She couldn’t stomach another session with Barney. What did she know about him other than that he saw himself a hit with the opposite sex? He had only held the position of superintendent for three months. For all she knew, he could be some kind of a psychopath. She needed to get to the bottom of this business or she wouldn’t be able to sleep peacefully at night.
The clicking of her high-heeled leather boots on the hard floor echoed in her ears as she strode toward the elevator. Its doors slithered open, as if waiting for her. She pressed “6” and exhaled audibly as she felt the elevator surge upward. This is ludicrous, she thought, and embarrassing. What if someone sees you prowling around on the sixth floor? And what are you looking for anyway? She was on the verge of going back down when the elevator stopped and the doors opened with what she felt was more force than usual.
She put her hand to her mouth to squelch her astonishment as her eyes were drawn toward the off-white carpet. A trail of small red dots led from the elevator down the hallway. With her heart beating a wild rhythm, she followed the suspicious stains to the door of 609. She looked around. No one in sight. It was as quiet as a courtroom during summer recess. The idea of photographing this incriminating evidence seemed logical. As she was digging in her handbag for her phone, the door of 609 was flung open.
“Miss Turner! You have come to visit. And so early in the morning. No matter. You are welcome.” Mrs. Melenic stepped aside, motioning with her rubber-gloved hands for her to enter.
Disbelief and shock registered on Melissa’s face.
“You are perhaps troubled, Miss Turner?”
“No… no. I think that I’ m on the wrong floor,” she stammered. “I was looking for the Petersons’ apartment. I’m representing them in some legal matters.”
“Come in, come in. I can look in the directory for you,” Mrs. Melenic urged, tugging at Melissa’s coat sleeve. She closed the door firmly and toddled off in the direction of the living room, dropping her rubber gloves beside a plastic pail.
Melissa saw the opportunity to escape, but had second thoughts. How dangerous could a kindly old woman who probably weighed less than 100 pounds actually be? She tip-toed toward the pail. Her stomach heaved and she swallowed hard when she saw the contents: water, tinted a diluted red, with a stained rag floating like a limp hand.
From the living room, Mrs. Melenic’s voice called out. “The Petersons, they live on the ninth floor, number 906. An easy mistake, Miss Turner.” She returned waving the directory in her hand. You want to use my telephone to call them?”
“No thanks, Mrs. Melenic. I’ll just take the elevator up.” Melissa turned toward the door, clutching her briefcase in one hand, her handbag in the other. She was about to step into the hall when she remembered. “Where is your husband, Mrs. Melenic? I haven’t seen him for awhile. I hope he’s not ill.”
“No, praise God, Miss Turner. He is coming back tonight from visiting his brother in Zagreb. I am planning a surprise for him. That is why I have this catastrophe.” She nudged the pail with her foot. “But, no matter. Come.” Her voice bubbled with excitement. “Come see what I have.”
Melissa hesitated for just a moment. Curiosity overcame her trepidation and she followed the little woman into the kitchen.
“There it is!” she said pointing. “Is it not a beautiful specimen?”
As her eyes took in the object of Mrs. Melenic’s exhilaration, Melissa felt the cappuccino that she had enjoyed just 10 minutes before sour in her stomach. Prominently displayed on the counter was a stainless steel platter on which rested a large heart oozing blood. As she stared at the grizzly thing, she was certain that it gave a slight quiver. Swallowing hard to settle her rebelling stomach, she congratulated herself for studying law rather than medicine.
“It is the heart of a bull. Very fresh,” explained Mrs. Melenic. “I will roast it with herbs and wine and lots of garlic for my husband’s home coming dinner. It is his favourite dish.”
Melissa continued to stare at the bloody organ first with disgust, then with relief.
Mrs. Melenic seemed not to notice. She continued talking as she turned the platter around so that Melissa could admire all sides of the specimen. “I ordered it special from a butcher in Kensington market. Just now I returned from picking it up. But, oh what a disaster! The young helper knows nothing about wrapping fresh meat. What a mess was
made in the elevator when I set down my shopping net. I scrubbed the marble already. But the carpet in the hall. What ever will the new superintendent say?” She rubbed her hands on her over-sized apron as she considered the possibilities.
“I wouldn’t worry about what Barney has to say,” Melissa said with a smile. “It’s his job to clean up messes.” The more, the better, she thought.
“I was on my way down to find him when you came to my door,” explained Mrs. Melenic. “You must come for a proper visit, Miss Turner. Would you like to have dinner with us tonight, maybe?”
“No thank you, Mrs. Melenic. I have plans for tonight,” she replied faster than she had intended. “Perhaps another time.”
“But of course, a beautiful woman such as you. It is Valentine’s Day after all.”
“Good-bye, Mrs. Melenic. Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.” Melissa heard the door of 609 close as she rounded the corner to the elevator.
She was planning to head straight to work now that the mystery had been solved. Some mystery, she told herself, feeling foolish. But who knew? Any sane person would have been alarmed at seeing a pool of blood like that.
As the elevator shot upwards, she realized that she had pressed 12. Without further thought, she unlocked the door to her apartment and walked directly to her bedroom. She took off the cardinal red dress, hung it in the closet and dressed in her navy suit. Enough red for one day.