I arrived back at the office around 11:30am. On the drive back into town, my mind kept going over what we’d found, or rather not found at the construction site.
My boss, Pete Larson, caught my eye as I exited the lift and motioned me over.
I walked into his office, still carrying my laptop bag and handbag. “Hey, Pete.”
“Hey, Nat. How’d you go on site this morning?” Pete’s tie was loosened and his sleeves rolled up, his suit jacket hung on the back of his chair. Papers covered his desk.
“Not great,” I answered as put bags down. “It doesn’t look like it’s coming from rainwater. There’s a fair bit of water seeping through the wall.”
“Any idea where it is coming from?”
“I wish I did. Jack confirmed that they excavated into granite.”
“So it must be groundwater after all.”
“It seems to be coming from lower down, but I just don’t have any other explanation.”
Pete nodded. “I guess we wait until the rainwater has completed subsided, then check it again. Thanks for going out, Nat.”
“No problem, Pete,” I replied as I picked my bags up. “I just wish I could give you something more definite.”
I walked to my own office, put my handbag under my desk, took my laptop out of its case and opened it. There were many emails waiting for me.
I sighed. The basement water issue was only one of many that I had to deal with. There was little I could do about it right now so I turned my attention to the emails.
“Jeez, a girl leaves her desk for a few hours and it goes crazy!” I said to myself.
It was 3:30pm before I finally dealt with the backlog of emails from the morning. As I was about to look at the next batch of emails and tasks for the day, I realized that I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since leaving home to go on site.
Coffee and food was a priority. Now reminded of its missing meal, my stomach grumbled at me. I looked down and said, “Well if you’d said something earlier, we wouldn’t be in this predicament!” I laughed. “I MUST be hungry, I’m talking to my tummy now!”
I reached into my handbag under my desk to get my purse so I could buy myself some food and a coffee.
It wasn’t there.
Starting to panic, I grabbed my handbag, sat it on my desk and rummaged inside it.
In desperation, I emptied the contents of my bag all over my desk. My purse definitely wasn’t there.
“Oh, crap!” I said. “Where is it?”
I knew I had it this morning as I’d had to fill my car with gas on the way to the construction site. I looked up the number for the gas station I’d visited that morning and rang them.
“Hi, I filled up this morning, but I may have left my purse there. Has anyone seen it or handed it in?”
“Sorry ma’am, we haven’t seen it. Have you checked your car?”
“Not yet, I’ll do that now. Can you please ring me if someone hands it in?” I gave them my number. “Thanks,” I said and hung up. I grabbed my keys and my security swipe card for the basement carpark and headed for the lift. Hopefully, it was in my car.
My search also proved to be fruitless. After crawling around inside my car, feeling under the seats, it wasn’t there either. I sat in the driver’s seat to think.
Suddenly it hit me.
In the basement, I’d taken my phone from my bag to take the photos. It had been right at the bottom, I’d had to rummage around to find it. My purse must have fallen out as I searched, then obscured by the darkness, it got left on the ground where we had been standing. It had to be in the carpark.
“Well, damn,” I said.
With a sigh, I took the lift up to my floor and sat at my desk. I checked the time; a little after 4:15pm. The site office closed at 4pm as work began at 6am each day. I picked up my phone and rang the number anyway. As expected, there was no answer.
“Damn it! I said again. I wasn’t worried about my current problem of an empty stomach, I’d be able to borrow a few dollars for that, but my purse had my cash, credit cards, license and pretty much everything else in it. I really needed to retrieve it.
I walked out of my office, knocked on Pete’s door and told him what had happened.
“Oh jeez, Nat, you’d better go grab it!” he said when I finished. “Don’t worry about anything here, it will wait until tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Pete,” I replied gratefully. I turned to leave when Pete called out, “Oh Nat!”
“Yes?” I said, turning back toward him.
“Grab yourself something to eat and drink, first, won’t you?” He held out a twenty dollar bill.
I reached over, took the money and smiled, “Thanks, Pete.”
After I had satisfied my grumbly stomach with some food, I grabbed my bag and drove out to the construction site. It was about an hour’s drive from the office and I arrived around 5:30pm. The workers had left for the day and the site was deserted.
I stopped my car outside the gate in the chain fence that surrounded the worksite. The gate was always locked after hours with a loop of chain and a combination-lock padlock. I hopped out of my car to unlock the gate. To my surprise, the chain missing.
“That’s odd,” I murmured to myself. It wasn’t unheard of for the chain to be unlocked but normally it would be hanging off the gate. Perhaps someone had come back on to the site, put it in their car, and forgotten to relock the gate when they left.
I’d have to have a look for it later, I still needed to make sure my purse was in the basement of the building. I pushed the heavy gate open before driving through. I was only going to be a minute, so I didn’t bother pulling it shut once I’d entered.
I parked outside the main entrance of the incomplete shopping mall and took the powerful torch I’d used earlier from the boot of my car. The building’s glass doors were not yet in place, so I entered and walked down the stairs toward the basement.
I quickly descended into the darkness; the sun was already fading and very little light permeated the massive basement carpark. Finally reaching the lowest level, I shone my torch toward where Jack and I had been examining the wet wall that morning.
The dripping water was loud in the otherwise silent basement. I walked towards the sound, anxious to see if my purse was sitting in the darkness.
“Oh darn,” I thought. “What if it’s ended up in the water coming from the wall?” My pace quickened.
At last, I got close enough for the light of my torch to show the pool of water. And sure enough, I could see a small, dark shape sitting on the ground a few feet from the water. It had to be my purse.
“Oh thank God,” I exclaimed. I nearly ran the last few meters toward it.
It was my missing purse. There was no reason for anyone to be down here and have found it, but I picked it up and opened it to check if my credit cards were still there. They were. I blew a sigh of relief. That would have been the last thing I needed.
I looked at the pool of water in front of me. It seemed larger than it was that morning. I shone my torch at the ground, following the wall along to look for any further water seepage. Twenty meters away, a dark pool was visible on the concrete floor.
It didn’t look like the water coming from the wall that was on the ground. I walked toward it cautiously. It also didn’t seem to be originating from the wall.
“What the hell?” I said, both curiosity and dread starting to build as I approached.
The water, or whatever it was, appeared to be pooling in a slight depression in the concrete. I pointed the torch in the direction from which it seemed to be coming from. A few meters further away, I could see a large dark shape lying on the ground.
It was lying in the pool of liquid and seemed to be where it originated. With horror, I realized it was a man lying face down in the dark liquid. It was blood. His blood. His jacket was soaked with it.
He was dead.
There was a body in the building.