Another from the vaults! A story written some years ago, revamped for this blog, and all the better for having lost a little weight. I hope you enjoy it!
Hugo Albricht paused over his work for a moment, arching then straightening his back; so forcing the young man who had been standing close behind him to step backwards quickly, to avoid a collision of heads.
“You realize you are breathing on my neck?” Hugo tried to sound as mild and agreeable as he could. “Do I take it you are interested in pathology, Detective …er..?”
“Sergeant, Doctor. Detective Sergeant Sims.” The young policeman wanted to apologize for inconveniencing the pathologist. “Sorry.” He said, lamely.
“Ah, so young to be a Detective Sergeant. You must be very diligent, I think, to volunteer for this task so late in the day. Most of your colleagues would have chosen to leave by this time.” He pointed to space at the other side of the table. “You can watch from there, you know. Your view will be much better. ”
“Thank you. Yes, I’m interested, Doc.” Paul Sims moved around the table, brushing against the bare white feet of the corpse, and positioned himself opposite Albricht. “Poor old bugger. He hasn’t an ounce of flesh on him, has he?”
“Age is very cruel, young man. Yet it comes to us all. How was he found, this poor old – bugger – as you call him? Do you have a proper name for him?”
“Not yet. He was in bed, or on it. A small bedsit up the road in Bayswater, but there was no information about him there, no letters, no plastic, not even an oyster card. No relatives as far as we can find out, no-one else in the block knows him. He could have laid there for months, had that young woman not made the discovery. She was doing a pamphlet round and she said she just felt something was wrong. Women, eh?”
“A very clever woman. Very intuitive.”
“Yes. Unusual name, too. Eladora – suppose it’s Mexican, or something.” Sims did not mention how the black hair and emerald eyes of Eladora had intoxicated him, or how flirtatious she seemed, once the shock of discovering the old man’s body had passed.
“The door was open – on the latch. I just pushed, and there he was.”
Sims had given Eladora his phone number. He was certain they would be arranging a date before the week was out.
“You’ve opened the chest, Doctor. I thought this one was routine?”
Hugo smiled indulgently. “In pathology we avoid terms like ‘routine’, Detective Sergeant. We leave such words to middle-ranking policemen with a high case-load. This is an autopsy, certain rules must be observed. However, everything here would indicate natural causes.
Paul Sims sighed: “Just that old age thing, then. How old must he be? Ninety?”
“Ah, who can say?” Hugo surveyed the parchment-thin, wrinkled flesh of the specimen lying before him. “I believe more. Yes, I believe a little more than ninety.
“Well, you may be the night-owl if you wish, but I have to leave this for tonight.” The Pathologist said. “Let me see, what is it you need to know – is it a suspicious death? I will run further tests, of course, but in my preliminary opinion what we see here is just the work age or dementia, sometimes does. Starvation killed this man. With no-one to look after him, he did not eat. See? See how the stomach is shrunken, the heart muscle so weak and thin? His body has been eating itself because he has taken no nutrition in weeks, even months maybe. But this is still a natural process, so heart failure is my most likely conclusion. We shall put our mystery friend back into his new one-bed apartment and I’ll finish off in the morning. The report will come through the usual channels, yes? It is not urgent, I take it?”
“Fine Doc. No rush.”
“By the way, young man: not ‘Doc’. I am a consultant pathologist, not a Doctor. I do not mind the error, but there are those who might.” Albricht smiled. “And may I say well done, Detective Sergeant Sims. You remained resolute when many an intern would have been flat on the floor by now. It was a privilege to meet you!”
The consultant pathologist shepherded Sims to the door and watched the young policeman’s retreating form as it departed along the corridor outside, smiling to himself as he thought of the enthusiasm of youth. Then he returned to his office to remove his scrubs and prepare for the evening. His phone was waiting on his desk, vibrating in spasmodic fury.
As his wife vented her impatience over a dispassionate ether, Albricht waited stoically. “Yes, my dear. I worked late, you see? No, no. Just an everyday thing, but tomorrow I would like to be free in time for the conference, so…
“Yes I am finished now.”
“The Ferguson’s, eight-thirty, yes, I remember”
“Just a minute, my dear, there’s a knocking on my door. I’ll call you back. No, no, I will. I promise. I must deal with this now. I’ll come straight home.”
The young man who stood in the mortuary doorway was tall with regular features and of Mediterranean extraction, as Albricht guessed. “Mr Albricht?” His voice had a soft, melodious lilt. “I’m so glad I caught you!”
Albricht frowned. “Yes, you caught me, indeed. I was just leaving, in fact. How can I help you?” Hugo Albricht felt he should know the face in front of him, yet he could not quite recall..”.
“I wouldn’t trouble you, but I’m on something of an urgent errand: I’m from the Coroner’s office – in Helmesford? I have some ID.”
The man held his green Identification card up for Hugo to inspect.
“Mr Pulman. You’ll forgive me, Mr Pulman. My errand is also somewhat urgent. Could this not wait until morning?”
“I would rather get it over with, if you don’t mind. A simple matter of identification. An elderly male brought here this afternoon? We believe the man in question is the subject of one of our open files.”
“You want to see the body? I was just working on it, this last half-hour. It isn’t really prepared for an identification…”
“That’s all right, Mr Albricht. I’m used to this sort of thing. As long as the face…”
“Yes. Yes,, of course. The face. Come, I’ll show you the gentleman.” Albricht led the way back into the mortuary. “A quite straightforward case. Natural causes is my preliminary finding.”
Pulman nodded. His eyes were keen and bright with knowledge, a quality that aroused Albricht’s admiration. This was a very clever man, he decided. “This death may not be as straightforward as it appeared to you, Mr. Albricht.” Pulman said.
“Well, well. We gave him this room for the night, at least.” Albricht opened the cabinet door he had closed for the night, not twenty minutes earlier, and rolled out the shrouded form of his mystery cadaver. “You are sure you are ready for this?”
“Yes, Mr. Albricht.”
“He is very old of course.”
“Yes. About two thousand years.”
Albricht thought; ‘this is the second man to stand too close and breathe on my neck tonight. Why?’ He pulled back the shroud. There was nothing beneath. Although the shape of the cadaver was faithfully traced by the shroud, the space that should have been occupied by the body was empty.
“Two thousand years?” He said, slowly, as his understanding grew. “I have heard of you people, but never believed. Why here?”
“A game we play from time to time, my familiar and I. Once every century or so I have to rejuvenate, and I need younger blood. A mortuary – where is better? And when we have feasted on the dead, there is always one in attendance who is not dead – something warm to round off the evening.”
They sat side by side on a bench in the park, Harald Sims and Eladora, and anyone could tell by the way they gazed into each others’ eyes they had found love. Around them, the town descended into night and amidst this green interruption to its star-spangled life they spoke of the feelings in their hearts.
“A policeman.” Eladora sighed. “Who’d have thought?”
“You don’t mind?” He asked earnestly, squeezing her hand.
“Of course not!” Eladora’s emerald eyes flashed adoringly. “I feel so – protected!”
They laughed together at this. “I know it’s right, the two of us! I just know it!” He insisted. “The moment I saw you!”
“And so strange we should meet where we did!”
“A chance in a million, my darling.” Harald enthused. “A spark of attraction fanned to flame in a seedy flat in Bayswater – such good fortune! And in circumstances, I would normally consider sad…”
“That poor old man!”
“Ah yes, that poor old man.”
A sombre moment, perhaps, yet Eladora could not help the smile that came to her lips – those full, tempting lips. “Speaking of flame….” She left her sentence unfinished: “Do I have to say it?”
“No, no. I will. Your place or mine?”
“Yours.” She said. “That’s my choice. I want to see yours.” Her hand passed gently across his shoulders and slipped beneath the open neck of his shirt, stroking his shoulder, feeling the warmth of his neck. “Perfect!” She said.
He was about to rise. “What a strange thing to say! How is my neck perfect?”
“Such vibrant arteries.”
It had been an evening beyond any possible dream of success. Dinner at the finest restaurant Harald could afford was after sunset, in deference to Eladora’s habit: “I’m a night person. You wouldn’t see the best of me in daylight…”
The cuisine was unparalleled.
“You don’t eat very much.” He accused her kindly.
“I have a spider’s appetite.” She wrapped her smile around him; “But I enjoy my wine. Besides, you have hardly touched your food either.”
“It’s you. I’m so besotted with you I can’t seem to eat.”
“Well, there you are then…”
The way was open for a sharing of fantasies. Each confessed to having thought about, brooded over, dreamt of the other in the impatient days between this and their first meeting, against the grim backcloth of that Bayswater flat.
“I couldn’t wait to be with you again. Really, I don’t know how I kept from going insane. Is it wicked to talk like this?”
Eladora smiled, and said ‘no’. She was equally distracted, it seemed.
So, at the dreamlike conclusion of a very special evening the pair rose from their trysting place in the park and strolled, arm in arm, along the pathway that led to Harald Sims’ Spartan little home, and it may be that they shared a kiss now and then and some murmured if meaningless conversation. He made her laugh childishly. She enticed him, teased him, caressed his neck.
At the gates to his home, though, she froze, profoundly shocked. “No! But I live here, too!”
“Really? Which one?”
“The third on the right!”
“And I’m in the one with the marble frontage, over there!” He said. “I’m trying to get that angel statue moved.”
“So the policeman thing is just the day job.” She shuddered. “I hate marble, don’t you? Granite is so much warmer.” Then, slowly: “We have more in common than I thought. Of course, you must be of the European family.”
“And you are from South America. I wonder how we have been such close neighbours and never met. Very strange.”
“Well…” Eladora murmured philosophically; “Now we know we really are together for eternity, I can confide in you, my dearest. I am very hungry.” She nodded towards a young couple who were walking towards them along the path where the park bordered the city cemetery. “Would you care for supper?”
© Frederick Anderson 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.