And there it was, leaning up against the tree in the early afternoon sunlight. The spade.
Joe hesitated just for a second and then took the spade firmly in his right hand and slowly turned around.
Not to face the house but instead a patch of meadow where the grass was greener, lusher, thicker. He swallowed. It was bigger than he remembered too.
"Fuck it." With a snarl of anger at himself, Joe swung the spade over his shoulder and strode purposefully back to the house.
Once back in the kitchen, he took his duster off and draped it over the old medical trolley. Then turned to the task at hand. "Never let it be said," Joe said, spitting on his hands.
"That Mrs Spivey's little boy was afraid of hard work."
And with that lie out of the way, Joe started to dig.
"Two hours. Two bloody hours!"
Joe snapped the lid of the ancient silver pocket watch closed and dropped it back into his pocket.
Then he tried to make the long length of stainless-steel chain follow it but his fingers, made thick by the heavy work gloves,
couldn't grip the thin chain with anything like the accuracy needed to fulfil the task. Time after time, the glinting chain fell outside of his pocket in a bouncing silver arc.
Each time, Joe cursed and tried again until he stood in the bright sunlight, his already red and sweaty face turning first crimson and eventually a rather unpleasant puce.
"Fuckit!... FUCKIT!... fuckyoucowsonovabitchin'fuckin'arse'olebastard..."
Suddenly he stopped, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. After the long exhale, Joe opened his eyes.
Then he lifted his gloved hand up to his mouth, bit on the end of a finger and pulled the glove off.
With the glove hanging from his mouth Joe used his now bare hand to daintily guide the chain into the cottony depths of his pocket where it curled gracefully down on top of the watch...
neatly avoiding the snot-encrusted handkerchief below.
Joe pulled off the other glove and then dropped both of them onto the wet, bare wood of the newly revealed trapdoor.
Then he stomped off in the direction of his car, kicking the shovel out of the way as he passed. At the car, Joe opened the door and leant in.
When he straightened up again, he held in his hands a large, seen-better-days thermos decorated with a faded and worn tartan pattern that reminded Joe of his childhood.
His mother used one just like it on those rare occasions when she took Joe and his siblings to the local park for an afternoon of running around on something that
wasn't dog-shit covered concrete. He knee'd the car door shut then turned and sat on the hood of the battered green tonneau.
Hard physical work was not part of Joe Spivey's chosen lifestyle.
Finding himself shaking and naked in a cloner after some customer or other had found out that what was in the bottle wasn't exactly what the label said was, yes. That was in the job description.
But digging through half a ton of rotten, burnt and foul-smelling wood... that was something Joe normally let others do.
Much refreshed by the age-old English pick-me-up that was strong tea, Joe screwed the lid back on the thermos and stood up. He had a determined look in his eye.
"Right, let's see if all that shit humping was worth the effort."
Tossing the thermos through the open driver's window, Joe continued on to the rear of the car.
There, he dropped the tailgate and reached inside and reappeared clutching the wire handle of an old but 'looked after' hurricane lamp.
Giving the fuel reservoir a few more pumps to get the pressure up, Joe lit the thing and lowered the tubular glass lens. He set off towards the house.
Putting the lamp down carefully out of the way, Joe went to the trapdoor, spat on his hands and then squatted down.
Taking a firm grip on the big galvanised steel circle that was the latch, Joe pushed with his legs, hauling himself back upright and lifting the heavy trap in the process.
The thick wooden door fell back against the kitchen floor with a satisfyingly solid thud, and Joe retrieved the softly hissing hurricane lamp.
Joe had never been afraid of the dark. Even now, half of his business, the interesting half, was carried out in dimly lit and out of the way places.
Back when he was a kid, and then later a soldier, it seemed he spent more of his waking hours in moonlight than he ever did in sunshine.
So, Joe confidently descended the stairs into the cellar holding the lamp out in front of him while his feet tested each wooden step on the way down.
Surprisingly, instead of being damp and fetid like he had expected, the cellar and its slightly stale air was as dry as the first time and last time he had been down here.
Joe stood at the base of the steps and held the lamp up, illuminating the main part of the extensive cellar and throwing those further reaches into sharp black shadow.
The last time he had stood here was when he had laboriously manhandled long lengths or rebar from his car...
it had been the interceptor then and Joe had gone to considerable lengths to make sure the ten feet long rusting steel rods had not scratched his baby...
through the kitchen and down into the darkness. It had taken him three days to build the cell, most of that in fitting the carefully crafted balanced door.
That same door stood open now in the yellow light of the hurricane lamp. The big, complicated key protruded from the lock. Joe pursed his lips, looking only briefly at the thing he had built.
Beyond the bars, a single stained mattress lay on the floor. On the opposite side of the cell, some six feet away, was a solitary yellow plastic bucket. Nothing else, not even a blanket.
Just cold hard floor and black walls which the light of the lamp barely reached. However, Joe had seen enough cells, from both sides of the bars, not to let the sight faze him.
He sucked air in through his teeth dismissively. He'd only built it. None of his business after that.
Joe turned in a slow circle, holding the lamp up high to get as much benefit from the light as possible.
Even so, it seemed like the air of this cold, quiet and dusty space seemed to soak up the light like a sponge, leaving things it tiredly picked out as mere indistinct shapes in the gloom.
Bench shapes, box shapes, shelf shapes and weird shapes that begged further investigation.
Joe squinted in the secretive air, trying to resolve these enticing silhouettes into what he was looking for. But it wasn't going to be that easy.
The cellar knew many secrets, and it seemed to Joe like it was reluctant to give any of them up.