In my dream last night I worked in a big mirrored office building. It was my job to run up and down the streets catching people’s dogs and taking them to their respective homes. After I was done with that I would go inside the building and ask people a lot of questions. I was friends with all the window washers.
There had been a dead body on the roof for a couple of days. Apparently there were no police (they hadn’t been invented) so lots of people gathered around the water cooler to discuss it, and other people would ponder in smaller groups about what to do about the dead body on the roof.
He was a he – in some sort of uniform. His face was hidden as he was kind of resting on some sort of air vent, and nobody wanted to touch him to turn him over to see his face, for fear that he was all sticky and gooey from being dead so long. All that was visible was his back, arms, legs, the back of his head. On his arm there was a tattoo. I knew this because the window washers told me.
One day a bunch of people were crowded in the lobby, watching the TV that constantly ran the news. They were chatting loudly about how there was one right there, that if someone just went up and cut it off they could make the money. It turns out the news story was about gang tattoos. They were saying that the tattoo on the dead guy upstairs was a gang tattoo, and that the newspeople were offering rewards to people who turned in gang tattoos. “Gross”, I thought. Who would cut a tattoo of the dead guy on the roof?
That same day, after running in traffic six times after the same dog and sucessfully bringing it home, I was in the lobby of the building asking questions. During the question time I realized that I had to eat something, so I went up to the food court of the building, which was the floor underneath the roof. I got a sandwich from the sandwich station and sat down with some of my window-washer friends. They were talking about the dead guy on the roof. How he was someone who used to pull the levers in the basement, the ones that open and close the metal shades on the building at night. Those guys are in the building late – overnight even sometimes.
I started to get this creepy sort of feeling. Just what was the deal with this dead guy? Why did something about this situation feel so familiar? I shrugged to myself. It wasn’t my fault the guy was dead. I just wished someone would take him down off the roof.
After I ate I went to the patio outside the food court to get some air. I glanced at the stairs that led up to the roof. Maybe I’d feel better if I saw the dead guy myself. Maybe what was bugging me was that I was afraid I knew him or something, and once I saw him I could make myself feel better. So I went up there.
There he was, in a blue uniform jumper with a white-longsleeved shirt underneath that had the sleeves pushed up. He was sort of facedown in a tarp of some kind that was draped over a vent. Sort of bundled up, but with his arm sticking out and his head turned way to the side facing away from me. I walked closer to him, covering my face with my shirt sleeve, because I was pretty sure he’d stink. I sort of realized he didn’t, and took my hand away from my face. He didn’t stink at all. In fact, this dead guy had been up here for a couple of weeks, and he didn’t look like he’d been dead more than a few hours – a day at the most. He wasn’t all gooey or full of bugs.
I could see the tattoo on his forearm, because the sleeves on his white t-shirt were pushed up. It was the logo for a bread company – boy, would those freaky people from the lobby be disappointed or what? I could kind of see the side of his face and I knew that I didn’t know him. He didn’t look familar at all. He had on a name badge that said “Security Engineer” and under that his name, George Talman. I had a feeling that old “George” was probably a “Jorge”, but the company didn’t like ethnic-specific names (hence why I was “Frannie” instead of my given name, “Famke”). We picked all of our last names out of a pool, so that was never an indicator.
I felt really bad for him – all dead up here on the roof all this time with nobody to fix his body, put it in the incenorator, scatter his ashes. Nobody to chant or pray for him. Nobody to care. I sort of pulled the corner of the tarp that was flapping in the wind and draped it over him. I don’t know, I guess I didn’t want him to be cold.
I wanted to get out of the wind. Away from George. Away from the company all of the sudden. I wanted to go home to my apartment – to my own dogs. I didn’t feel so good. But I knew I still had some more questions to ask in the building before I went home, so I started toward the roof door to go in.
There was a man standing there. He had silver hair and tiny wire glasses. He was wearing a gray tweed three-piece suit with a yellow tie. His suit was just a little bit rumpled, but it is hard to wear tweed without it getting rumpled. There was something in his right jacket pocket, sort of messing up the line of his suit. Lots of guys keep their wallets in their jackets instead of their pants. His shoes were shiny, with laces that tied instead of being slip-on shoes. He was looking at me.
I walked closer to him. He peered at the name-tag on my uniform and looked me straight in the eyes and smiled. “What brings you up here, Ms. Asher?”
“I just came up for some air. I saw that dead guy. Are you up here to look at the dead guy?”
The reason I asked was that he looked like one of the company’s executives. Maybe somebody was finally going to do something about the dead guy.
Company executives don’t wear name-tags. The guy had nice crinkles around his eyes, and they crinkled up as they smiled at me. He put his hand on my shoulder.
“Come on out of this wind, Ms. Asher.”
He had a nice, soothing British accent.
I walked past him into the stairwell that led from the roof into the top floor of the building. Most of the top floor is the food court and the patio, with the stairs going back up to the roof. This other set of stairs went all the way down, to the first floor of the building, straight through the middle of the building from top to bottom. It was made out of wood, unlike everything else in the building, and it gave me the creeps. There were little storage and maintenance areas off the side of each landing, equipped with little washrooms and supply rooms. I told the man that I needed to use the washroom. He said that was OK, that he needed to get a few things from the cabinet in there.
Most of the washrooms have private stalls. This one didn’t. In fact, it didn’t even have a toilet. I was pretty desperate to pee, so I asked if he wouldn’t mind terribly leaving the room because I was going to make use of this bucket. I really didn’t have any other choice, plus I’d peed worse places. He said he would turn his back, certainly, and not turn around until I was done, but he just simply had to find this thing he was looking for in the cabinet in there, and that he couldn’t go back to work until he did.
Oh well. I squatted down over the bucket. To detract from the splashing sounds I was making, I struck up a conversation with this guy. This was certainly a strange situation, I told him. I don’t usually pee in buckets in front of people. He pointed out to me that I wasn’t in FRONT of him. That his back was turned, just like he promised. I kind of laughed at that. I don’t know if you could call it a laugh. It was probably more like a titter. I was very uncomfortable. I was having trouble peeing, and kept talking hoping that it would help me finish up and get out of here.
“So, did you know that dead guy that’s up on the roof?”
“Do you know how he died?”
“I believe he was shot to death”
“Jeez, who would do a thing like that?” I was almost finished
and craning my neck around for a piece of toilet paper.
“I believe that the man who shot him, whose name is Eric Overstreet, was overcome with emotion and not entirely of himself when it happened.”
“Do you know that guy, that Eric Overstreet guy?”
“Well, what do you think made him so upset that he had to shoot George? Plus, how do you figure that a guy can shoot another guy up on the roof and nobody hear the shot?”
“I believe that the murder weapon was equipped with a silencer, and that the muzzle was placed right against Mr. Talman’s chest. I am quite sure that the incident was very quiet.”
“So how would this Overstreet guy get close enough to George to put the gun right against his chest? Why would he do that?” I was finally finished and stood up and fixed my uniform.
He went on to tell me about Overstreet. His back was still to me, and I watched the back of his neck get a little pink. I noticed how the back of his hair kind of fell down over his collar like he had skipped his last haircut. He was telling me about Eric Overstreet. How he had a terrible childhood in a country far away, and was an orphan, and lived on the streets for a time. How he tried to steal from this business, and because he was a minor when he got caught they made him work there to pay off what he’d stolen, and they realized that he had a real affinity for science. How they’d liked him so much as it turned out that they sent him to Oxford University because it wasn’t terribly far away and he could still work on the weekends. How Eric Overstreet had come to America as a very important scientist, and came to work at a company in this city. How he had met a man and that they were very good friends. Then that man had hurt Eric Overstreet’s feelings terribly, and that there was just no good way to end things.
I thought about all this he had told me. It seemed really sad that things had to end this way. That poor George got mixed up with this Eric Overstreet guy and that it got him killed, and that poor Eric Overstreet came all the way from England to get mixed up with a guy that would hurt him so bad that he felt like had to kill him to make the hurt go away.
I felt really hot all of the sudden. My heart was beating faster and faster, and my cheeks were really warm. The guy in the gray suit still had his back to me, and I realized that I didn’t have a whole lot of options to get out of here.
He’d finally found what he was looking for. A crusty, heavy-looking cylinder of metal that he dropped into his right jacket pocket. It clinked against something else that was metal. I wondered why he’d put something else into a pocket that already looked bulky. I thought I knew what was in that pocket, especially since I noticed, when his back was to me, that his wallet was in his back pocket.
He turned and looked at me. His eyes were kind of red. Not like he’d been crying. Sort of like his eyes had been looking at too much and they were tired. I saw that there was a security monitor next to the cabinet he’d been looking in. It was trained directly on the dead body of George (Jorge) Talman. He’d been looking at the body the whole time he talked to me.
I wondered if what I had just figured out was showing too much on my face. I wondered if he could feel my heart beating loud, and if he knew how scared I was. He reached his right hand into his right jacket pocket. I threw my bucket at him and ran past him as fast as I could.
I hit the stairway at top speed, my hands catching splinters on the old wood. I wondered briefly if the lumber was treated, and if these splinters would get infected. I tripped on a loose stair and went sprawling. I heard him behind me, the scraping sound of metal screwing into metal, and hauled myself off the floor and ran down more stairs, fast as I could. He was gaining on me, his black shiny shoes click-clacking on the stairs in a steady, solid rhythm. I was sure I would hear the “phht” of a silencer and feel a bullet in my back at any moment. I tripped again, this time cracking my ankle against a board and going down for good. I hit my head when I fell, and everything swam around me.
As he approached me, I saw that he had the silencer equipped. As the blackness closed in around me, I couldn’t be sure if he was pointing the gun at me or at him.