8.05.2003

Here's a dispatch for you. Somebody died.

I'm not trying to be flip: somebody died yesterday at the property. Actually, somebody died Thursday. They found the body yesterday. The old man who lived in the room next door called it in, said he could smell it. He said he knew what the smell was, but hoped for a few days that it was one of the cats. Yesterday morning, the strength and quality of the odor changed, for the worse, and that's when he had no doubt his neighbor was dead.

I'm the resident manager there. Very technically speaking, that means I'm responsible for the facilities. I mow the grass, and make sure the public areas of the apartments are clean. When trash gets littered all over the lawns, my job is to pick it up. It's not particularly glorious, but I do get to live in a nicer apartment for free.

But dealing with the facilities inevitable means dealing with the people. If somebody punches a hole through his bedroom wall, it's my job to let him know it's unacceptable. When tenants have problems with the buildings (and they often do), I'm the primary point of contact. The official business of the rental office goes through me.

This death didn't involve foul play, but was not naturally caused. The tenant changed his own lock on the door, so I had no means of checking the room, and for four days, he laid there, in his room, with his two cats roaming around and doing whatever cats will do with a dead body. I wasn't there when they looked in the window and saw him lying there, nor was I there when they first opened the door. They speak of the smell, how bad it is, how nauseating. Nobody can get past the smell.

I didn't smell it, not when I went up there to help the Humane Society get his cats, and not when I went in with a can of air neutralizer to "neutralize" it. I fetched the old man who first smelled it to make a judgement call, and when he said it was okay, I locked the room up.

The worst part for me wasn't the smell, it was when his kids showed up at 10:30 last night, looking for their dad. They'd left home, several states away, to come visit their dad, who was already dead. The old man brought them by when they arrived and woke me up. The police had already given me instructions to call them if and when the kids came, so I did. The kids waited for some kind of explanation as I dragged to the phone and made the call. The oldest one started crying. I told them the police were coming, and gave them another phone number to call, and then they were gone.

I wasn't supposed to tell them, but I didn't have to. They knew. They had to know.

And then, later, a phone call from the coroner woke me up. She wanted to know where the kids were. I told her I didn't know. She asked if I had talked to them, and I had, but not much. I hadn't told them a thing. I didn't know where the kids were. The old man had woke me up when they came, and I wasn't fully aware of what was going on.

I didn't know.