Elm Mews House was an old warehouse and stable-yard. It had been built sometime at the tail end of the 19th century, constructed in a C shape around an arched entrance wide enough for two laden wagons to pass easily side by side. It was the kind of place that might have lain derelict for decades before being snapped up by a property developer, cashing in on a demand for authentic, period dwellings. It was now transformed into ten up-market, open-plan apartments and the wide, rectangular space inside had been turned into a small park where benches were placed around a fountain. The trees were still only saplings, but it was easy to imagine that in years to come they’d grow and spread their shade over the short grass in dappled lights.
This was where Avocado lived, or at least, claimed to live. There seemed an even chance he’d lied. I had spent some time preparing; had come armed with a clipboard and a fluorescent jacket. A bright orange hardhat helped to shade my face and hide, from all but close inspection, my various bruises. I parked around the corner and walked up to the building. I studied the row of names on the door, while making out I was checking them against a list on my clipboard. There was no Avocado; nothing remotely similar. There was not one name that began with an A.
I tried not to let it get me down. It didn’t necessarily mean he didn’t live here. Possibly he lived with a friend. Maybe he disliked casual visitors. There were three apartments whose residents forbore to write anything on the little card - apartments 1, 5 and 8.
I pressed the buzzer for apartment one, and after a few moments the intercom crackled into life.
“Yes?” It was impossible to tell the sex or age of the speaker. The distortion was so bad it sounded as if he or she were battling a hurricane whilst kayaking over a waterfall.
“Mr. Avocado?” I said, slurring it a little so it became more ambiguous. I felt stupid enough saying it.
“Sorry. No thanks!” The speaker hung up. Not what I was hoping for. Not; “Oh, you mean Mr A----. You want 6. I’ll buzz you in.” I tried five and eight, but no one answered. I went back to the car, discarded the disguise and drove around the block, parking next to the drive of a small church where I could watch the entrance. I thought I was wasting my time. He’d lied about where he lived; I should just face it. My nose started aching again and I dry-swallowed some pills, but with nothing to occupy me all my bruises and grazes started crying for some attention. I felt suddenly exhausted, wrung out. I thought; I’ll just rest my eyes for a moment. Not to fall asleep. Just rest my eyes...
It was dark when I woke. My neck was stiff, my legs were numb and all in all I felt worse than when I’d gotten up that morning. It was noise that had woken me. Music played loudly not far away, and people were streaming into Elm Mews which was now suddenly a blaze of light. Over the entrance hung gossamer chains flickering gold and silver, casting their glow over the partygoers as they passed beneath. They looked so strange I thought I must still be asleep and dreaming, until I realized they were in costume for the party.
A group walked by my car. In the lead walked a caped ghoul and an eighteenth century Lady in a gown and powdered wig. Not far behind them came a bear, a Snow Queen and a tall hobbit carrying a giant cardboard ring, painted gold.
I watched them go inside before I flicked on the light in the roof. I studied my face in the mirror. My eyes were red and certainly my bruises looked vivid enough in artificial light to pass for make-up. What was one more zombie at a party? And with any luck it might be one of those parties where no one knew each other very well; friends of the host or hostess maybe, but not of one another.
I improvised hastily, rolling up my cuffs and drenching my shirt in the dregs of the coffee I’d neglected to get rid of. I opened the door and reached down into the gutter, bringing up a handful of dirt and slime that I rubbed over my arms and neck, trying not to let any of it get near my mouth. It was icy cold and stank, but I did it without gagging. I pulled down the mirror again and tugged my grimy hands through my hair, making it stand up in uneven spikes.
Lurching a little for verisimilitude, I made my way over to the beckoning light to crash the party.