Dan is dead. Phone to my ear, walking to work, a brisk morning in October. A shock, if not a surprise; that’s how I received the news from Rachel. Mother fucker, my tight response. When?
That’s the thing. That’s the terrible thing.
The detective said he was in there, in his studio, maybe two and a half weeks before…
Right—the horror registering immediately.
The detective, he told Sally, Dan’s sister, did you ever meet Sally? Anyway. She said that they had to use dental records to get a positive ID.
Why didn’t the neighbors?
They did. Eventually. I mean, just a crazy coincidence, but I know the people right downstairs from Dan. Even after Dan stopped talking to me. I didn’t know where they lived, just. They complained to the building manager about a smell, but the building didn’t do anything. Then there was a stain on their ceiling.
Right? And maggots.
They said. Anyway, they had to be evacuated.
But before that, John noticed Dan’s light on at crazy hours over a few days. Noticed from the street. From Houston Street. Dan wouldn’t answer his phone when John called. John left messages. The light stayed on. So John went up to knock on his door. That’s when he knew. Dan had been so crazy, John worried that if he was with the cops when they knocked down his door and he wasn’t dead. Worried that Dan would cut him off again. They’d only started talking again recently. So John went to the roof, climbed down the fire escape to the open window. He couldn’t even get near it. The smell. Just called 911 from the fire escape.
I bet. Fuck.
Sally is coming in from Alaska on Monday to collect Dan’s things.
So the studio has been cleaned up?
I guess. I don’t know. The police took out the body.
Yeah, but there’ll be plenty to clean up after two weeks.
Sally can’t be the first one through that door. No way.
Right. Of course not.
I’ll do it.
What’s the cop’s name, d’you know?
I’ll ask Sally. She knows. She says he’s been great.
His name and number. Precinct maybe?
Phone rings just once. Madden.
This is Manny Howard. I’m trying to help out Sally, Dan’s sister. I’m a friend of Dan’s. Dan died. You…
Right. You’re Sally’s brother?
Dan’s friend. Trying to help Sally. Want to clear the way for her. Get into the apartment where Dan died. Make sure it’s clean.
It’s not clean. It’s sealed. You don’t want to go in there.
Rachel said you caught a bad job.
One of the worst.
Another friend. A friend of Dan’s. Trying to help Sally. I want to go in there first, secure what I can of Dan’s. If I get enough maybe she won’t need to go in there.
She shouldn’t go in there.
There won’t be much worth keeping.
It was bad?
We couldn’t locate a key. We couldn’t stay in there long enough to find a key. Collected the remains and let the door lock behind us. Had to seal the scene. Usually gaining access is police business. If we have a key, we hold on to it for next of kin. That’s the job. Usually, say, if Sally provided notarized permission I could give you the key. There’s no key, so it becomes a, I forget the precise term, it becomes a matter for the court. I want to be helpful. It’s a terrible thing.
Yes. Sally sent me all the documentation including notarized permission from Dan’s dad to enter the apartment. I also have the death certificate. I have what the court needs. I’m thinking I can just go in to the apartment, see what happens.
I see. The lock. The lock. It’s nothing that couldn’t be carded open.
You know, a credit card is all you’d need.
If you have the documentation. Like I said. It’s not a police matter.
Sitting in the chair at the barber shop, I unload on longtime barber and and friend, Ray. My friend, Dan, remember I told you we had a fight. He was calling all the time, getting crazier and crazier. I did what you told me, told him, ‘don’t call me all fucked up’?
Two weeks. Alone.
Decomp so bad they had to use dental records. And, you know, that’s the thing. The Dan I know, love, that Dan, wouldn’t have lay rotting in his apartment for two weeks with no one. Dan had friends, tight friends. Dan was important to people. But he’s dead and lying in a lake of his own juice, food for, you know.
Sometimes I hate The Disease.
Really. People talk about evil, you know, wonder if there’s such a thing, if it walks the earth, you know?
The Disease, it’s Him—you know. That’s what I think anyway. It grabs you by the face, separates you from everything you love, that loves you.
It was like a wild animal on Dan. Two years is all it took. He was working, doing what he loved, getting paid, you know, paid to take photographs. Two years, reduced to, fuck. You know. They had to ID him using dental records.
Remember that hot spell two months ago?
The Disease, it doesn’t discriminate, Rich, poor, smart, stupid, gay, straight, handsome, skinny, fat. It’ll take you if it can. It’s happy to have you.
It was probably Oxy.
Right. You know, I thought he was drinking. So stupid. He left a message on my phone that night: The Night. I didn’t check it. You know? He leaves so many. They’re all the same. I just. It was on there for two weeks. The whole time he’s in the apartment. If I’d checked…
You’re not feeling guilty, right?
No, no. It’s just. It would have been so easy.
There was nothing you could do.
Still, two weeks.
Dan wouldn’t want me to feel this way. That wasn’t Dan. Anyway I’m going in to clean out his things. Clean out his things for his sister. Sally.
That’s what’s gonna make you feel better?
You don’t need to do that.
Yeah, I guess. Maybe. Thought I’d call around figure out what I can expect, figure out what’s in there.
There is nothing in there.
No. No. Nothing.
After half a dozen phone calls to companies that specialize in bio hazard clean-ups (crime scenes, shut-ins, suicides, that sort of thing) I contact someone willing to give me advice, even after I tell him I don’t have the $5,000 it will cost to properly decontaminate the scene.
The thing is, Manny, it’s not really just a smell, it’s microbial. It’s alive. It gets into everything, anything with fibers. I say don’t do it. But if you do go in, don’t stay long, 2-3 minutes, most. Wear a respirator and get those coveralls, the Tyvek, or it’ll get into your clothes. And get a pair of those Tyvek booties. Even if you don’t step in something you can see, you’ll track that smell on the soles of your shoes. If you get in your car it’ll get in the carpet. You won’t get it out. Once you smell that smell you’re gonna be smelling it the rest of your life anyway, you don’t want it really in your car. When you leave, back out of the apartment and throw everything you’re wearing back in behind you and close the door.
What’s it going to be like?
Impossible to say.
Yeah, right. Two weeks in there.
Every scene is different. Was he on the floor or the bed?
Suicides are usually on the bed.
If he’s on the floor all, that floor’s gotta come up, subfloor usually, too.
The downstairs neighbors had to be evacuated. He came through the ceiling.
So he was probably on the floor. Mattress usually soaks up a lot of it.
Not always, though.
What’s in the apartment? What’s in there still? The detective who caught the case said flies and maggots, millions in the lake?
If it stays warm, they could still be there. Nothing dries up if it’s hot. When it cools down it dries, no more food. Maggots die.
No way to say for sure.