I found Jacob’s body in the bathroom. He was slouched against the white tile wall with a tourniquet knotted above his elbow and a syringe dug under his skin. He looked the same as he did when he was alive—scraggy red beard, papery skin, blue jeans with mud crusted over the knees. But he was pale and cool to the touch.
I’d seen this before. But this was Lindsay’s first time. When she walked in behind me, she swallowed back a yelp and scrunched her eyes shut as she whipped around. Her reaction was normal—plunge of the heart, rush of blood to the head.
I guided her through the bathroom door and let it ease shut behind me. I had only known Lindsay a few weeks, but she reminded me of my sister. I often found myself smiling when she talked and tried to take on some of her caseload when I had the time. She was in her early thirties, thick around the hips with a pale white ring where a wedding band used to be. She had a soft smile and eyes that drifted over everyone with quiet hesitation.
“Can you make the call?” I asked.
She was still for a while, but eventually said, “Sure. I’ll do that.”
After she was gone, all I could hear was of the gurgling of the pipes above me and the distant slosh of rain and cars on the street.
The paramedics didn’t take long to arrive. They carried a collapsed stretcher with them, and the one with the nametag that read Aberdeen had a rubbery black body bag draped over his shoulder. “What have we got here?” he asked.
“Overdose,” I said. “White male. Late forties.”
“With what?” the other one asked. His name was Garcia.
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“Coke? Heroin? The bathroom sink?”
Aberdeen and Garcia laughed. We filed into the bathroom and Aberdeen kneeled next to Jacob, pushing two fingers up against his throat. Garcia hung back, and I caught his eye.
“Looks like you’ve got this one from here.” “Absolutely,” he said. “It’s taken care of.”
Lindsay was at the desk, flipping through a manila folder that had Jacob Harkin’s name scrawled in black sharpie across the top. Beside the scrawl was another name, but it had been scribbled over.
She glanced up at me with swollen, red eyes. “Did you know Jacob well?”
“Sure,” I said. “As well as you can in a place like this.”
She sighed as she nicked a tear out of the corner of her eye. That wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. But I didn’t know him very well. I had watched him come and go every day, but he had never stopped to talk. He just rushed past the desk and up the stairs to his room. He never had any visitors and no one ever complained about him. When he would come down to take his medications, he’d sit quietly in the chair, staring down at the floor until I handed him a paper cup full of coloured pills and another paper cup of filtered water. He was easy to deal with and just as easily forgotten.
I slid the white binder off the shelf and flipped to Harkin’s page. “Schizoaffective disorder. No known allergies. Lithium, Seroquel, Divalproex—”
“Bullshit,” she said. “That’s not him.”
Aberdeen coughed, interrupting us as he leaned against the ledge that divided the office from the hallway. Garcia lingered behind him, idly rocking the stretcher back and forth. The
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black bag was full now, lumpy with the outline of the body.
“Well,” Aberdeen said, “that’s all she wrote.”
I popped Jacob’s page out of the binder. “You might want this.”
“Fantastic,” he said, glancing over it. “What would I do without you?” He folded up the page and slid it into his pocket. Garcia and Aberdeen turned their attention to the stretcher and wheeled it out the door.
“Have a good one.”
Lindsay searched through Jacob’s file, and I leaned against the counter, watching her read page after page of doctor’s referrals, old prescriptions, and lease agreements. There was nothing in there that would tell her who he was.
“Here,” she said, handing me a wrinkled photocopy. Jacob’s name was handwritten at the top, and underneath there was emergency contact information—physician’s name and address, psychiatrist’s after hours phone number, next of kin.
“He named Maria Edwards as next of kin?”
Maria Edwards was the support worker from our sister site, the Lincoln residence. Jacob had lived there for a few years before he moved into our building. Lindsay drummed her fingers against her knee.
The sky was black, inked with rain and floating with the sour smell that never seemed to leave this street. Lindsay moved in quick hard strides, arms pendulous, not caring that her mascara had begun to run. Jacob’s death had struck something inside her.
By the time we arrived at the Lincoln, she was out of breath and soaked through. We buzzed our way in and walked down the orange-carpeted hallway towards Maria’s office. She
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was on the phone when we stepped in, so she nodded and held up her index finger. Maria was not an old woman, but she had become wrinkled and grey. She wore a pastel blue blazer and matching skirt.
The phone clicked back into the cradle. “Mr. Walsh. Ms. Gordon. What can I do for you?”
“Jacob Harkin is dead.”
“This morning. Maybe some time late last night.”
Maria slid off her glasses and placed them gently on her desk. “Please,” she said, “sit.”
Lindsay and I took a seat, and Maria ran her fingers over her forehead before returning her glasses. “Overdose?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
She nodded and there was silence for a moment. “He named you as next of kin,” Lindsay said.
“I was all he had.”
“No other friends? No family?”
“He spent a lot of time with Lawrence Thompson. They smoked crack together.” “Can we talk to Lawrence? Is he around?”
“Lawrence passed away,” I interrupted.
“Three years ago,” Maria said. “He was walking across that street out there and was
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schmucked by a bus. What a shame.”
Lindsay drooped—she had hoped Maria would know something. But all she really knew was that no one knew or cared to about Jacob Harkin, alive or dead.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle and the sky glowed orange. Lindsay led the way down the back alley. She zigzagged between the buildings, running her fingers along the wet brown brick until she stopped at the back entrance.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I wanted you to find . . .”
She sat down on the back stoop and sighed as she glanced up at me. “I have a daughter.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I know. That’s why I’m telling you.”
She covered her eyes with her hand and pinched into the bridge of her nose.
“Her name is Constance. She likes toy cars. She lives with her father.”
She sat with her elbows against her knees and her chin in her hands.
“I have an orange belt,” I offered. “In karate. I got it when I was eight.”
After a while, she said, “His life was a waste, wasn’t it?”
“My girlfriend in high school is a doctor now. She lives with her family on an acreage.”
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“He must have some kind of past.”
“My great grandfather was a carpenter. He was still alive when I was born and he made the crib that I slept in as a baby.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to die that way. With no one to remember me.”
“I drove to Seattle last year for a concert, but I never made the show. I stopped by the side of the road to pick up a girl, a hitchhiker. She was seventeen. She said she was running away from home. I couldn’t just leave her out there. So we drove. She said she just wanted to go. She didn’t even care where. So we went. I don’t remember how long we drove for. She talked and she talked and I listened. After a long time, after she had said everything she needed to say, I told her she was pretty and she liked that. At the next gas station, I went into the bathroom and she went in to get a drink and that was it.”
“That was what?”
“She was gone,” I said. “When I got back, she wasn’t there any more. I asked the clerk, but he said she never even came in.”
Lindsay was silent, and I wondered what she was thinking. I wondered what she would do if she had known who Jacob was, if it would have made any difference. I heard something then, filtering down through the patter of rain.
“Do you hear that?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, glancing upwards.
A stereo drawled from the open window on the third floor. I couldn’t make out the song, but I heard the long bent notes of an electric guitar and the crash of cymbals. I followed Lindsay as we headed up to the third floor.
The distorted noise was coming from Warren’s room, flowing through the hallway and echoing down the stairwell. She knocked on the door and waited for a response.
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“Warren,” she called. “Warren?”
Lindsay knocked again and slid her master key into the lock. Warren lay on his bed, a joint between his fingers. The stereo in the corner droned on, and I remembered the song from somewhere, but just couldn’t place it. He turned towards me for a moment, but then looked back at the window. His face was small behind his full beard and thick glasses. The rain had begun streaming down again and the light was gone.
Lindsay clicked the off button on the stereo and said, “Jacob died today, Warren.” “I know,” he said. “This is the funeral.”
“You knew him?”
“Everyone knew him.”
She paused. “What was he like?”
“He was a brilliant soul,” Warren said, standing up. “He was a shining fucking diamond.” “Warren . . .”
“He was a good man,” Warren continued, as he walked towards us. “And a great friend. Not that you fucks would know a good man if he was gnawing on your ass cheeks.” He bent down and clicked on the stereo. The song resumed at full blast. “Now say something nice or get the fuck out!”
He pushed us out and slammed the door.
“I know he was a good man!” Lindsay yelled, slamming her fist against the doorframe. I put my hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off.
“Let’s check out his room,” I said.
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Jacob’s room was just a few doors away, across the hall from the community kitchen and the laundry room. I never had a reason to go in there, and judging from Lindsay’s silence, she hadn’t seen it either.
At first glance, his apartment was empty. But when I looked again, allowing my eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, there was an old thirteen-inch television on the floor, the kind with knobs and rabbit ears, and a toaster on the counter. In the closet by the bedroom, there was a well-ironed charcoal suit and an electric iron on the top shelf. The entire floor was scuffed linoleum. In the bedroom there was an uncovered mattress on the floor and a moldy smelling pile of clothes beside it. Lindsay kicked at the clothes and then lowered herself onto the mattress.
“I guess this was him,” she said, lying down. “Whatever this makes him.” “I guess so.”
“What do you think he did here,” she said, sitting up again.
“Let’s find out.”
I gently opened the cupboards and found an old box of pop tarts. Lindsay waited by the bedroom door, eyeing me. I tore open the metallic wrap and placed two of them into the toaster, locking down the lever. I ran my hands through my hair and slipped off my shoes.
“Pass me the suit,” I said.
She lifted the hanger off the bar and draped the pressed charcoal suit over her arm. I took off everything but my shirt and underwear. Lindsay handed me the suit pants. I pulled them on, snapping the metal clasp into place and tucking in my shirt. The pants were snug, but comfortable. They were too long for me though, and the legs fell past the bottom of my feet.
“Here,” she said, handing me the jacket. She crouched down and carefully rolled each leg up, revealing the black, frayed hem on the inside. When she stood up, she took the jacket from me.
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I held out one arm at a time while she helped me slip into the jacket; the sleeves hung down to the middle of my fingers.
“Just hold on,” she said, straightening the collar. “Now hold out your arms.”
I stretched my arms out in front of me, and the sleeves receded to my wrists.
“There,” she said. “Who are you?”
“Jacob, what was your childhood like?”
“Troubled. My parents were abusive—I ran away.”
“Is that how you ended up here?”
Lindsay pressed her forehead into my back and wrapped her arms around my chest. “Jacob, Jacob, Jacob. Do you know what has happened to you?”
“I don’t remember.”
I could still hear Warren’s stereo as the pop tarts sprang up from the toaster—a sweet, burnt smell wafted through the room. I tried to move towards the toaster, but Lindsay held me in place. I turned around and she buried her face in my chest, breathing deeply into the dead man’s suit.