I spend the first several hours of work that night trying to look up obituaries on my phone. I’m faced with two major problems, though. The first of these is that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m pretty sure that the local paper prints the obituaries, so they must be on their website, but when I pull the site up, I run squarely into the second problem: my phone is terrible. It takes at least a minute to load even a simple, well-designed site, and these are not words which anyone would use to describe the paper’s mobile presence.
When the site does load, navigation is a nightmare; scrolling happens at the phone’s whim, and only sometimes goes in the direction I’d indicated. Trying to get the keyboard to pop up so I can enter a term in a search box is an exercise in futility, and of course my efforts are interrupted by the need to go on rounds with some frequency. There’s no chance that Edgar’s not going to review these tapes, looking for a reason to can me, so I can’t afford to give him one. When I leave this job, it’ll be because I quit, not because they trumped up a reason to fire me.
Given these obstacles, it’s all I can do not to throw my phone across the room in frustration a few times, but I persevere. Finally, I’m rewarded with a completely loaded version of the obituaries page showing me yesterday’s notices, but this only sheds light on two more problems.
The first one is that no one in these pictures is covered in hair, so presumably that was a side effect of whatever made them go crazy. It means I have no way of figuring out who on this page they might be, which is sort of irrelevant given the second problem, which is that I’m an idiot.
More specifically, the notices printed in the paper yesterday are for people who died a week or so ago. The paper’s not some magical device that knows when people have passed away and writes up a little blurb for them. I realize that after accounting for the breaks to do my rounds, I’ve just spent the better part of an hour trying to get my phone to load a page which half a second’s reflection would have told me was useless.
I glare at my phone again, because there’s no convenient mirror around for me to glare at myself. I am no longer convinced that I have any residual increase in brain activity from last night.
I carefully refrain from throwing my phone down, and take a break to calm myself and think of a new plan. I manage one almost immediately, which is “go to the hospital and ask them.” I figure that the hospital probably isn’t keen on giving out information about corpses to people who wander in off the street, though, so I discard this plan and work on another one.
Unfortunately, by the time the end of my shift rolls around, I still haven’t come up with one. I don’t know either of the guys’ names. I don’t know their jobs, their families, or where they’re from. I don’t even know what they look like, aside from their height, since the hair obscured their features – and given how they were splitting out of their clothes, even the height might not be right. Not that it matters, particularly, as no one bothers to write someone’s height in their obituary. Unless I’m going to funeral homes with a measuring tape and a shocking lack of respect, that’s not going to be a useful guideline anyway.
And so I find myself stepping off of the bus outside of the hospital in the early hours of the morning. I walk into the lobby with absolutely no plan, and figure I’ll wing it when I get to the desk. As I walk through the doors, I rehearse a few possible openers: hello, I’m looking for my uncle who passed away. Hello, I’m here to ID a body. Hello, I’m here to steal a corpse for medical experiments. Which way to your morgue?
The desk, it turns out, is unstaffed when I arrive, meaning all of my seconds of preparation have been for naught. Luckily, the hospital has convenient signs on the walls indicating the way to various areas; the way to the morgue is not quite as prominently marked as some of the others, but I take a guess that it’s in the basement, and when the elevator deposits me there, I find arrows pointing me in the right direction.
I also find, on my way down the hall, a familiar face. “Hey, Dan!” says Brian, the EMT from the night of the first attack at the museum. He gives me a puzzled grin. “What brings you down to this level?”
I open my mouth to lie to him, and accidentally blurt out the truth. “I’m really weirded out about the guy who attacked me. The guy I killed. I wanted to see if he was down here. To find out who he is. Was.” I realize I’m babbling, and stutter my way to a stop. “Sorry. I’m sorry. That’s weird.”
But Brian’s nodding like he understands. “Yeah, no. I get it. Look, I can’t let you in there, but I can tell you who he is. C’mon back upstairs.”
He leads the way down the hall, and as he waits for me to catch up to him at the elevators, he says, “I’ve been there when people have died. Most of them I haven’t known, you know? I just met them a couple of minutes before. But there’s a connection. In the voice, the eyes, the physical contact. You’re the last person they ever see, and that makes you responsible. And you’ve got to learn who you’re responsible for. It eats at you, otherwise, you know? You’ve got a responsibility to remember them. It’s built in.”
Upstairs, Brian motions me into an empty patient room and tells me to hang out for a minute. I take the opportunity to sit down and take my weight off of the crutches; I never knew that breaking my foot could give me bruises under my arms. I do my best to look like I belong here, without looking so much like I belong here that someone will check on me. Apparently it works, as Brian gets back before anyone else looks in. He’s got a Post-it note in his hand, and as he hands it to me, he says, “His name was Aaron Lovell.”
I look at the note, and that’s all it says, too, in all-caps handwriting: “AARON LOVELL.” I realize that this conversation is about to get awkward, and I take a deep breath.
“There’s another name I need you to look up.”
Five minutes later, I’ve caught Brian up with the same version of the story that I told the police. He takes it pretty well.
“Jesus Christ, man. Who are these guys?”
“I don’t know,” I tell him. “And to be honest, that’s part of why I’m here, too. I’m hoping that maybe if I find out who they are, I’ll find out what they want. Breaking into my work, stealing my car – if I don’t figure out what’s going on, I’m gonna find one of them in my house next, maybe. And I can’t keep doing this.”
All of a sudden, I realize I’m about to cry. And there is no way in the world that I’m going to do that in front of some random dude. So I stop talking and look away, and Brian, to his credit, doesn’t say anything about it. He gives me a second, waits for me to look back, and pretends that nothing happened.
“I’ll go dig around later, check the records, see if I can find who got carted in last night,” he says, and produces a phone. “Gimme your number, and I’ll call you when I know who he is.”
“Thanks, man. I appreciate you helping me out.”
“Hey, I’m not telling you anything you couldn’t learn from the paper in a few days, right? Names are public knowledge. And a man’s got a right to understand what’s happening to him, you know?”
I can tell from Brian’s slightly nervous rambling that he’s going a little bit out on a limb for me, but just like when he saw me near tears, the right thing to do is ignore it. So I just thank him again, shake his hand, and make my way back out to catch the bus home.
When I get back to my bedroom, something feels wrong. I look around warily, trying to spot anything out of place, anything that might have tipped me off to someone being in here, but everything seems normal. I run through some of my quick power tests, too, but get nothing. After a few minutes, I finally realize what’s different – for the first time this week, I’m not freshly injured and bone-tired from fighting for my life. I’m tired, sure, because it’s bedtime, but I’ve got the energy to take off my clothes and watch some TV before falling asleep. Right now, I can’t imagine a greater luxury.