George pulled back the canvas, revealing the body underneath. The guy was definitely dead, that much Adam could see. The light from the overhead street lighting wasn’t bright, but it was enough. He recognized the man from earlier that evening. He was the man with the bushy beard. The loud one with the annoying laugh, the one who though he was God’s gift to women. Adam couldn’t recall his real name. Jasmine had introduced the group to him, but the names went out of Adams’ mind as quickly as they entered. Besides, his focus had been on Jasmine.
George was saying something, his eyes round and expectant like a dog waiting for a titbit. Adam wasn’t listening. His gaze dropped to the dead man’s beard, which had been its owners pride and joy. It had been carefully manicured and fussed over in front of a mirror just mere hours before. Dried blood congealed to create a spider web design across the hairy cheek. It looked like an abstract art canvas; one an artist may have titled ‘Man with spider web face’ or some other curious name that married two otherwise abstract items together. Adam tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. He looked at the dead man’s lips, which were mottled blue; the stagnant blood no longer being pumped and oxygenated by the heart, which in turn created the rosy red lips of the hearty and hale. One eye was swollen shut. Adam didn’t want to look any closer. His demise had been violent.
‘Why did you bring it here? Adam hissed.’ Cover it back up. Quick!’
George did as he was instructed; pulling the canvas back over the trailer. Once done, the scene looked inconspicuous. Simply a car attached to a covered trailer; a scene repeated daily in driveways around the world. It made Adam breathe a little easier.
‘You can help me though, can’t you?’ George whispered. His face was desperate. He teetered on the spot. He had drunk a lot more that Adam, that was now strikingly apparent. Adam thought George might pass out right there in his front yard.
“Come inside. Quietly.” Adam said.
“But what about...?” George pointed toward the trailer.
“He isn’t going anywhere, is he?”
“Guess not.” George continued to stand where he was. The adrenaline that had been coursing through him was wearing off and his legs were rubbery. He couldn’t feel his hands.
George felt Adam’s grip on his upper arm as he was guided up the front step and into his friend’s house. Leading George to a leather chair in the living room, he spun George around 180 degrees, like he was in a game of pin the tail on the donkey.
‘Sit!’ Adam commanded. George gratefully dropped.
‘What the hell has happened? Adam spat out, voice still low. “I left you at the bar with your new drinking buddies a few hours ago, and now you’re here with…”Adam couldn’t finish his sentence. His face flushed red. A vein in his forehead popped. Before George could speak he added “and why have you dragged me into this?”
George leaned forward, palms upwards and shoulders slumped, his voice soft and pleading. Suddenly, he felt quite sober. “Adam, I knew you’d know what to do.”
‘What? Why on earth would you think that?
“Well, after what Jasmine and you’d said tonight! I thought…” George’s voice trailed off.
Adam looked confused. Then the realization dawned on him.
He’d been swept up in a moment. He had gone along with it. It was an innocent white lie. His ego had got in the way. He never could have envisioned it would lead to this! To someone bringing him a body to dispose of or hide!
‘Holy shit!’ was all Adam could say.
It had started out innocently enough. Adam and George had recently become drinking buddies in addition to work colleagues. They both enjoyed a beer, and the pub was within walking distance from their workplace. It was their way to welcome the weekend after a busy week, an activity they called the ‘3 F’s’. That stood for ‘Fifteen hundred, Front bar and Friday.’ This was now their established routine. There wasn’t much depth to it, just some banter and laughs, washed down with ale.
The Fisherman was their local watering hole. It had stood in the same location since Adams’ grandfather had moved to the area decades before. It was a boxy building, with wrought iron gabling and small colonial style windows. It had fallen into disrepair during the ‘sixties and had only recently been remodeled. The facade had been rendered and painted matt black. Jasmine had said it looked maudlin. Who used words like that these days? Well, Jasmine for one. She probably got it from hanging around with that fun-sponge Ella. Adam couldn’t understand why a sunny person like Jasmine would consider Ella such a close friend. It didn’t make sense to him. Did the woman ever smile? Jasmine smiled a lot. Perhaps it was enough for the both of them.
The original wooden bar of The Fisherman survived the refurbishment, and Adam liked to think of his grandfather sitting at the same spot as he, a cold beer quenching his thirst and easing the worries of his day, just like it did now for Adam. George had already been seated when Adam entered, a beer in one hand, its contents almost gone.
Adam had had a few lose ends he needed finished before signing for the weekend, so he’d told George to start without him. George didn’t need to be told twice. If Adam knew anything about George, it was that he loved beer as much as he disliked his job. Adam perched himself on the stool beside George and nodded to the bartender who delivered a beer apiece.
George gestured over his shoulder. He saw Jasmine sitting alone at a table. Something had caught her attention outside and she was studying it, unaware of Adams’ gaze upon her.
Adam felt deflated. “What’s she doing here?”
“Good question. You’d think she’d lie low, at least for a while.”
Adam didn’t say anything.
“Mate, you’re too good for her anyway.” George added, to fill the silence. It was the polite thing to say.
They sat quietly and finished the round, gave a nod to the barman. “Same again, thanks mate.”
The front bars glass doors opened, bringing with it a hot gust of wind. A group of two men and two women entered, weaving their way through the tables towards Jasmine. She stood and hugged each one warmly in turn, complimenting them on hairstyles and outfits, and brushing off similar comments directed back to her. The noise in the space immediately ramped up. Ten minutes later, it was still hard to compete with.
Adam sighed. “They’re zapping the enjoyment of our 3 Fs”, he said to his drinking partner. “Maybe it’s time to find a new place.” They sat without speaking for a few more minutes, downing the last of their current round. The noise from Jasmines direction grew louder. Raucous laughter sporadically filled the room in staccato bursts.
“Call it quits?” asked George.
Adam didn’t want to drink any more, but he didn’t want to go home to four walls. Seeing Jasmine - it stirred everything up again. He still cared for her so very much. ‘Let’s catch a taxi somewhere”, he said eventually.
They slid off the stools and headed toward the exit. In a few moments he’d be past Jasmines group. He could put this all behind him. Get back to enjoying his night.
The voice startled him. “Adam!” It was Jasmine. She sounded pleased to see him. “Come join us!” She patted an empty chair next to hers.
Adam saw that smile. Oh god how he still loved it, even as he told himself not to. After almost a year together she had left him. She wanted to stay ‘friends’. He’d scoffed at that. That’s not how his world worked. A few weeks after the break up Adam heard on the grapevine that she had a new partner, and it broke him in two to realize that ‘it’ had probably started before ‘they’ had ended. He didn’t want to be her friend. He wanted her curled up with him on his small couch, eating Doritos and laughing at stupid comedy shows with him, before they went into his bedroom, together.
“C’mon”, said George “Let’s get out of here.”
“Wait.” said Adam. His ego fought with itself. Leave, and make a stand? Or stay and show that he would try this ‘friend’ thing, like she’d wanted? He still couldn’t let her go. That was the truth of it. Who was the new boyfriend anyway? It didn’t seem to be any of the people here.
Jasmine continued to look at him expectantly. With George making feeble protests behind him, Adam made his way over to the group, taking the proffered chair, placing him opposite the guy with a bushy beard. He looked like that bushranger Ned Kelly. Too much beard.
“We were just talking about jobs we’ve had,” said Jasmine after the introductions had been made. “It’s quite interesting. Callan is training to be a pilot,” Jasmine said admiringly. “Doesn’t that sound like the coolest job?” Adam noted mutely.
Callan, brushed the compliment off. “Anyone could do it, really. You just need to put your mind to it. Be committed. You know, disciplined.” He tilted his head upward, a small smile playing across his lips. Cocky little turd thought Adam.
“Aren’t you scared of crashing?” That was Jasmine’s best friend speaking. The doomsayer - Ella. Adam suppressed an eye roll. Ella was reed thin, all make-up and hairspray. Adam was surprised her hair didn’t spontaneously combust from all the chemicals in it, especially in this hot weather. Now that would give her something to fret or grumble about, he mused.
“I don’t think about things that could go wrong” said Callan, “I’m in control, I know what I’m doing” He swilled the last of his cider, the froth catching on his beard. He wiped it off with the back of his hand. “Life’s a daring adventure, or its nothing. Am I right ladies?” The woman beside ‘Ned’ whispered something in his ear. She giggled and he let out a raucous laugh. It was the laugh that had been intermittently puncturing the air like a balloon popping a child’s birthday party. ‘ Ha Ha HA! It made everyone stop what they were doing and turn and look in their direction. The laughter would die down and things returned to normal pub pitch - until the next outburst.
Jasmine let out a slow breath. Why had she left Adam for this guy? She and Callan had lasted exactly a month. She still found him very attractive, and still couldn’t help but admire his ambitious nature. He was smart: of that fact she had no doubt. At the start of their relationship he had swept her off her feet. Once done his attention had shifted from Jasmine back to his favourite topic - himself. She stole a look at Adam beside her. He was shifting in his seat, his eyes downcast, absently tapping the cardboard coaster against the table top. She had made an awful mistake hurting him like she had. She had to let Adam know how much she missed him. She couldn’t say anything here, with everyone around. He didn’t know she had left him for Callan - she was so embarrassed and angry at herself. She resolved to message him after they left here tonight. No, she would call him. Get it all out. Go from there. She wondered if she’d be forgiven. It was a big ask.
A new burst of laughter drew her back to the present. George was relaying the story of his first pizza run as a delivery driver; how he had taken the cardboard boxes off the counter and tucked them under his arm for ease of transport out to his car. “I treated it like I had just bought a newspaper! Popped them under my arm – just like this.” He acted out the scene for added laughs. “The look on my bosses face! Priceless!” laughed George. “I thought he was going to kill me.” His face turned crimson at the memory, even as he continued to laugh.
“Ah well, Adam could’ve dealt with that, right Adam?” Adam looked Jasmine. He couldn’t read her face.
She leaned forward. “Adam used to work at a funeral home” she told the group. “Don’t be coy Adam! Tell them!” Adam wasn’t being coy, he was confused. He had never even seen a dead body, let alone handled one. But what could it hurt? He was enjoying the attention of the woman he still loved.
“Yes, it was interesting” he said, playing into the story. “The things I saw? Some of it would make your toes curl!” All eyes were on him. Everyone looked so expectant. He couldn’t but get swept up in the moment. “But really I shouldn’t speak of it,” he said in mock sincerity, “what with confidentiality and all.” The group broke into protest. Tell us! Yes, spill the beans!
“It’s not fair to leave us hanging like that!” - That come solidly built man in his mid-thirties, who had yet to say anything until this point. His sudden outburst surprised Adam.
“What was it you said?” offered Jasmine. “Even if the freezers were full, you could still hide a body in plain sight if needs be and get away with it - being a funeral home and all.”
Was Jasmine making this all up? Adam didn’t know. Did she have him confused with someone else she’d dated? The guy with the Ned Kelly beard looked at Adam, eyebrows raised. He was clearly impressed by this macabre role. “Yes, I was the guy to call.” Adam laughed at his own false narrative. He was enjoying getting the one up on this cocky pilot guy. He wasn’t hurting anyone. He was saving face for Jasmine and running with the story. He was entertaining them.
“Yes, it was an interesting job for sure. But like I said, I’m not supposed to say. You understand.” He looked around at the group members in turn, nodding his head earnestly. They were soaking up every word.
He’d tell Jasmine later that she had her wires crossed. He had never worked in the funeral industry. He had worked in McDonalds putting too much salt onto fries to get him through his studies and then had gone into his I.T role.
They would laugh about this together one day, he just knew it.
George was fidgeting with the throw cushion on Adam’s couch, pulling at the tasseled edging and making it fray. “So will you help me? You know, get rid of it?”
“I can’t!” said Adam. He ran his hands through his hair. “How did he…what happened? When I left the Fisherman all seemed well. Now the guy’s dead!”
“Well Jasmine said she had a phone call to make, and with that all the ladies just up and scattered to the wind. It was just us guys remaining. We decided to go a few more rounds, and he – George nodded toward the trailer – he was getting louder.
Adam wasn’t sure if that was possible. “Go on,” he said.
“A fight broke out between the two of them. Beard was baiting Stocky guy. They both stood up and got right up into each other’s faces. They started shouting. I found myself in the middle of it, trying to break it up. The barman intervened and told them to take it outside. I got him – nods again to the driveway– into a taxi, and we shared it back to my house. We thought that was the end of it, but next thing the other guy pulls up to the curb behind us; he’d followed us back. Only now he’s angrier than ever. That’s when he starts landing punches and smashing up Beards’ face. Next thing I knew the guy’s on the ground and he’s not moving.”
George paused. He startled twisting the tassel on the cushion again. “When Beard dropped, we both knew he was dead. It was then he suggested putting him in my trailer, and getting him over to you.”
“You honestly thought that because I said I’d once worked at a funeral home that I could help?” Adam was incredulous.
George hadn’t said it, but the inference was there. You told us you worked at a funeral home. You could dispose of dead bodies.
It seemed a lame plan now he was sobering up. In their drunken state it seemed perfectly plausible.
“We loaded him in the trailer and Stocky placed the cover on and tied the straps. He asked me to check; he didn’t know if his knots were secure enough. I did, and got in the car. That’s when I realised he’d gone. ”
Now Adam had a body in a trailer in his driveway. A murderer was on the loose. An accomplice was sitting on his couch. And now he was involved in this nightmare, and so was…
A door opened, and both men turned. Jasmine was standing there; her hair tussled from sleep. She was wearing an oversized t-shirt of Adam’s.
Jasmine called Adam when she’d left the pub, and he had told her to come straight over. They’d wasted no time in making up. Jasmine had dozed off. Adam padded to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
That’s when he saw the headlights swing into the driveway.
She looked so sweet standing there. She looked vulnerable and small.
“Hi George!” Jasmine said, the surprise of seeing him here evident in her voice.
Both men looked at her aghast. Jasmine looked from one to the other.
“What is it?” she asked, fear creeping in.
“Was it something that I said?”