Published May 2003
Julia Roberts slipped off her panties and… something alien entered my brain. Something rhythmic, electronic and really quite irritating. Yes the phone was ringing. Fuck!
I twisted through duvet softness towards the awful bleeps of the phone.
“Hello, is that Mr Schultz?”
“I’m very sorry to inform you that Mr Jones is dead.”
“Who the hell is Mr Jones?”
“I’m afraid he’s dead.”
“Yeah, ok. But what the… I mean why are you calling me?”
“Who do you think you are? Show some respect!”
“But… the… who… what?”
Rolling back I tried to process the input. Mr Jones? What the fuck? But my thoughts didn’t get a chance to trickle far… the phone was ringing again.
“Sorry to bother you again Mr Schultz but I meant to ask you…”
“Ask me what?”
“Would you like to collect Mr Jones or make some other arrangement?”
“Collect or perhaps call a contractor.”
“Right. Yes. Of course.”
“So which will it be?”
“Well I’ll come and collect.”
“Very good. Good…”
“Wait! Where do I collect from?”
A few hours later I was in the club toying with the next month’s schedule. “Smoky’s Ol’55” as I’d called the place, playing on the Tom Waits smoky basement atmosphere that I was hoping to create. The place was probably a little too spacious and comfortable to evoke a truly authentic vibe but I had realised that customers might not share my same devotion to a faithful ambiance.
This dead body was bothering me. Despite my best efforts I was futzing about the place, straightening photos of our famous guests as I lolled around.
“Are you ok there boss?”
“hm? Oh yeah… just thinking Bill.”
“Sure thing Mr Schultz.”
There was no point hanging around, I’ve always thought that it’s best to tackle problems head on. Leaning into the store room I found Bill piling cases of the decent tonic that I always insisted on.
“I’m going to pop out for a while, I’ll see you later.”
“What about Joey?”
“If I’m not back then tell him the provisional schedules are on my desk.”
Joey, our booking agent, was a bit of shark but he did get some great players so I just put up with his ways. But I wouldn’t leave him with my girl for any length of time.
“Can I help you sir?”
“Yes you can. I’m here to deal with the late Mr Jones.”
“Reference number and name.”
“My name is Mr M Schultz and I don’t have a number.”
“You don’t have a number?”
“No. I don’t have a number, ok?”
“Well then how do you know if the deceased is here?”
“I don’t. The call didn’t say where to come but I figured the city morgue is a good place to start.”
“I can only help you with bodies here.”
“Fine. Well is he here?”
“What was the name again?”
I rolled my eyes, clenched a little and replied to the irritating gnat who was ‘Here to Help’.
“My name is Mr M Schultz and I’m here for Mr Jones.”
“Ok, let’s see what we got….”
I turned and leaned back on the counter as the clerk dully waited for his system to take the time to respond to his lowly request. Oatmeal walls, hard bolted together turquoise seats and a small table with battered leaflet dispensers provided a non-space for the bereaved to be processed through the city morgue’s system.
“Right. I have him. If you take a seat, an orderly will be with you shortly.”
“Uhh…” I turned back to the irritating little man buzzing at me, breaking my reflections on the weird ordinariness of the place. “I have to wait?”
“Over there, please.”
“There’s one problem.”
“The orderly will help you with that. Thank you.”
“No, you will. I don’t know this Mr Jones and I don’t know why I was called. I won’t be able to identify him and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with him anyway.”
“So why are you here?”
” ‘cos someone called me.”
“So you came but you don’t know why or what you’re going to do?”
“Take a seat and someone will come to see you.”
“Someone other than the orderly?”
“Yes. Now please sir, I’m very busy.”
I wasn’t going to get any more from this muppet. I turned to sit, pointedly looking at the lack of queue for our so called busy friend to deal with.
As the clock oozed slowly round I resorted to scavenging the sorry looking leaflet dispensers for anything to distract my mind. I had absorbed every nugget of government sanctioned ‘coping’ advice by the time a spotty youth came out and began asking for me.
“Mr Schultz, Martin Schultz?”
“Yeah that’s me. Well actually Michael, not Martin. Are you the orderly?”
“You aren’t Martin Schultz?”
“Noooo. I’m Michael. I have a brother called Martin.”
“Well I can’t let you see Mr Jones unless you’re Martin Schultz and have some ID to prove it.”
“You gotta be kidding me! I mean someone rings me this morning telling me to come and see a Mr Jones I don’t even know and now you want my brother?”
“I’m very sorry sir.”
“Where’s your supervisor?”
“Why, what did I do?”
“It’s not you, idiot. Just me let me see him.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say.” I can’t deny that I was getting more than a little frustrated by this point. On reflection it might have been best to just leave things as they were but I had messed up my day by going down to the morgue. I’d tried to do the right thing and the least they could do was show me a little courtesy. So I pushed past the kid and went through the door he had come through.
“You can’t go through there!” shouted the receptionist who had been eagerly watching the proceedings.
It wasn’t hard to find the supervisor, there were signs everywhere, just like in hospitals. I went into her office with the youth quickly following behind, trying to apologise. It was time to use a manager-to-manager tone.
“I’m sorry to bother you, could I take a moment of your time?”
“Are you supposed to be back here?” she replied, eyeing me and the wretched orderly suspiciously.
“I’m not really sure. That’s what I need to clear up with you. If I could just have a moment in private?”
“Very well, off you go Spencer.”
The orderly slinked off and I took a seat.
“So, how can I help, Mr…?”
“Mr Schultz. Michael Schultz. Well I got a call from a man this morning saying that a Mr Jones was dead…”
“And…” the supervisor added expectantly.
“And I don’t know a Mr Jones. Dead or alive.”
“Anyway I dealt with a few items of business and then thought that if I came down here I could resolve the matter. It seems like there’s been some confusion.”
“I’m sorry about that. What’s your reference number?”
“I don’t have one.”
With her hands hovering expectantly over her keyboard she looked at me disbelievingly.
“I’m sorry but I just got a call saying that Mr Jones was dead and that I should come and collect him or get a contractor or something.”
“No reference number?”
“That’s very disappointing. All calls should give a number. How many times have I told them! Sorry, anyway it was a Mr Jones, any initial given?”
“No. And I’m Michael Schultz.”
Well it wasn’t long before we established what had happened. They had meant to phone Marty but some call centre worker had just rung the first M Schultz, which strangely, was me. I’m not even sure if Marty has a phone number. He’s a classic down and out with drugs and alcohol problems. We were never close, even when growing up, but as soon as he began to slip down his slippery slope I lost meaningful contact very quickly. I just didn’t want to take responsibility for his problems. I’d seen it all on TV, if they don’t want to stop nuking their brains you just can’t make them. Still it’s worse in real life, the made-for-TV movie can never do justice to the true nastiness of addiction that I saw in Marty. All those old ladies would choke on their turkey dinners if they saw the shit he’d done dancing across their little TVs.
I breezed out through the city morgue’s main doors, purposely ignoring that prick at the desk. I slipped my shades on, squinting in the brightness of the day. Had the morgue really been dark or was it my mind?
I considered tracking down Marty. Did he know this Mr Jones? Maybe he killed him. Who knew…
I didn’t have the energy to hail a cab so I began to walk back to the club. I meandered past the shops sniffing the freshly baked cookies
emerging from their frozen dough cocoons and the specialty coffee brewing in their machines. I dodged a vicious convoy of pushchairs and hopped back onto the sidewalk by the flower store. Flowers would go down well with Sylvia tonight. I leant into the display and hoovered up the bold smells. I wasn’t going to find Marty, I had my own life to live. The clerk wrapped the bouquet and I looked out into the street at the bustling shoppers. We had a great gig lined up tonight.