by Kevin S. Baldwin
The second shift began any like other: The usual checklist of procedures and some brief drive-bys of high value sites. Then, he could pretty much relax until just before the end of the shift. The long blocks of time were what made this such a great job for a college student. When he was diligent, he was effectively getting paid to study. When he wasn't so diligent, he was getting paid for doing very little. Not a bad gig, but lately his time at work had drifted more and more into the latter category. He had gradually begun working more and studying less. How many semesters had it been since he took a full load? He had forgotten why he was in school and wasn't really sure about anything anymore. He hoped he could get past whatever was holding him back, but he wasn't sure what that was exactly. Why for example, had he suddenly begun avoiding his academic advisor as though he had leprosy?
He was unscrewing the top of his thermos of coffee when the phone rang. This in itself was startling because that phone hardly ever rang. Surely the ringer was muted by cobwebs. It was his boss: A tenant in the upscale apartments near the beach had not been heard from in several days. Family members were concerned and could he meet the city police at the apartment and open the front door so they could have a look? So much for that problem set.
He drove the company pickup to the apartment complex where he met a squad car. The officers introduced themselves and they all went up to the apartment. They knocked several times. No answer. He reached for the pass key and waited expectantly for a signal from the officer in charge who paused a few more seconds and then nodded. He could practically feel the key flipping the tumblers in the lock as he opened the door to let them in. The stench of decaying flesh billowed out of the entrance and held them in place for a second. All three of them uttered their preferred expletives at the same time as they exhaled. The death of a total stranger was still a bit unnerving, and the prospect of a lot of paperwork was suddenly inescapable.
The police entered slowly, expecting to find a corpse in the bedroom or bathroom. “Oh my God!” said one. The other simply exhaled again, while shaking his head. Hanging from the main beam that supported the cathedral ceiling was the tenant, naked. Below him was a knocked-over barstool and a pile of feces. His appendages had all begun to turn black. On the floor, around the hanging body in concentric rings were dozens of photos that had been illuminated by votive candles that were now just small smudges of wax. Incense had also burned up long ago. The photos were of the deceased with one, two, or sometimes three lovely ladies in various stages of undress and performing on, or for him. They were all young. A few looked underage. Food, drink, mirrors (on the ceiling and for cutting coke), and other paraphernalia figured prominently in several of the photos. “How many of the seven deadly sins can be crammed into one scene?” he mused. It must have been quite a sight when all the candles were lit.
The suicide note left on the kitchen counter was informative. As it turned out, the deceased was the ne'er do well heir of a local fortune. By his fortieth birthday, which had been the previous month, he had accomplished nothing that his family had hoped for him and had been unceremoniously disinherited. Years of recreational drug use had recently rendered him impotent. The two things together were too much for him to deal with, hence the suicide amidst the shrine to his life's work. “Easy come, easy go” muttered one of the cops. The security guard recognized the gallows humor as a coping strategy that his mom, an ER nurse, also employed with brutal effect. He smiled and then froze as he thought: “This is what I've been protecting?”
After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, the officer in charge told the security guard he could leave, so he walked back to the truck and proceeded to make his usual circuit of the company's properties. Back at the office, he was unable to concentrate: He was still trying to process what he had witnessed at the apartment, and he couldn't quite get the smell out his nostrils. When the shift ended, he rode his motorcycle home, breathing in deep draughts of cool night air.
Once home, he stripped off his uniform as soon as he crossed the threshold and headed straight for the shower. For the first time ever, he relathered his hair just like the instructions on the shampoo bottle said. He showered until the hot water ran out. That night he slept better than he had in months.
He woke with the rising sun, which was also something he hadn't done in months. After some coffee and breakfast he picked up the phone and dialed his advisor. It went straight to voice mail. After identifying himself, he apologized for his flakiness for the last few semesters. He then asked to set up an appointment to see what it would take for him to graduate by the end of the following semester. Next, he called his boss and told him he would be cutting his hours way back. It was time to move on.