EPISODE 15 — The Hoarder (Part I)
It was close to the end of the business day, mid- summer. The sun was deceptively high still in the western sky when the phone rang. A death call over in a little mining town about forty miles away. Mr. Becker served a wide area, but was also a designated first call liaison for all of the regional coroner‘s offices in the tri-county area. A coroner call could be an unattended death at home (no doctor’s care of the person in the past 21 days, usually), a traffic fatality, a suicide or homicide, or any cause of death which requires an investigation.
It seems a neighbor decided to call the sheriff, who found the deceased, after she hadn’t noticed her for a couple of days. The neighbor knew the lady lived alone and became concerned at the lack of activity normal for the house. Papers, two of them, and the mail had not been collected, as well.
We got very few details, but since it was in the next county, we assumed it was a possible coroner’s case. We would know once we arrived and assessed the situation and got the sheriff’s information. This was going to be a very new adventure for myself. A coroner’s case? Sounded serious…I noticed CJ was anything but thrilled about this. Not to say she was EVER thrilled to attend to a death call. However, she seemed less like her usual self, not happy-looking in the least. I wondered why…of course I planned to tag along on this one; soon I would know why.
The sun was beginning to sink to the horizon when we arrived at the house. Bill and CJ got out of the van and approached the deputy standing in the yard. The deputy gave the information about the deceased to CJ, who busily scrawled it onto a first call sheet. The woman, Mrs. Santini, had no children. She was estranged from her husband, who lived somewhere on the east coast. Once the deputy gave her what he had, CJ and Bill went to pull the gurney out. The deputy said something about leaving the cot on the porch, there was no way he could see that it would be workable to take it inside the house. CJ and Bill exchanged puzzled glances. The deputy hesitated, obviously not wanting to go back inside the house to show CJ and Bill where the lady was. He said he’d called the fire department and notified the coroner investigator, both would be along shortly. He had to go; he said he had another call to attend to. Just like that, the sheriff’s car pealed from the driveway, the deputy was gone. Hmm, I thought. Why was he acting so strangely? Sure as heck wasn’t forthcoming about why the gurney wouldn’t work in the house…odd. The gurney nearly ALWAYS works in the houses; the exceptions were trailers or upstairs apartments without lifts. This was a good-sized house, complete with a large, albeit cluttered veranda.
I was thinking about popping out of my place down in CJ’s jacket pocket, just to get a look around inside. What could be the big deal here? I didn’t need to, it turned out. Just then the big fire truck pulled up out front, on the street . One of the firefighters asked CJ about what they needed to do to help. Bill and CJ had not been into the house, so the two men grabbed axes and followed them into the home. I could see it was very dark. I climbed up to the top of the pocket to see. We were scarcely a few short paces inside the front door when we stopped. The firemen flipped on their flashlights, advising CJ and Bill to wait right there.
What I saw was the most incredible sight! The entire room, stacked to within mere inches from the ceiling, was a massive pile of books, newspapers, household items—a narrow footpath led through the tunnel-like walls of stuff on either side. Another footpath led around the other way, to an old shabby recliner, and then wound beyond into another room. The entire place was solidly filled to the brim with trash and assorted items, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling! The firemen were making slow progress on the path ahead. Just then, a petrified orange rolled off the pile, tripping CJ, who didn’t have far to fall. “Bill! Help me! Please! I don’t want to see where I am falling to!” Bill quickly obliged, catching her forearm, while she attempted to steady herself into an upright stance. The massive avalanche of stuff that came down around them next made her scream. “Oh God! What the hell is crawling on my face?!” Bill knocked a huge cockroach off!
I hunkered down in the pocket. This was no time to feel adventurous or even the slightest bit curious! No way did I want to have one of those creatures near me! EEEEK! Staying in my nest was suddenly a much safer option that I should have taken. Nosy, nosy ME! Why can’t I figure out when to mind my own business? This would be my lesson for the next house call. However, I was here now. In it for the duration…ugh! There was an odor here, now becoming stronger; I hated my nose! My nose, my best sensory organ after my ears, was picking up the sickly sweet smell of…WHERE WAS THE DEAD BODY?
To be continued in “The Hoarder, Part II…
©2013, C.S. Thompson.