Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A True Story

The tragic story of something that happened to me in 1998 when I was living in London.

I was in a taxi. I was a lawyer. It was 1998, and it must have been when I was working on the D. fraud case. I can't remember where I told the taxi to go, but it must have been to collect some documents, I was forever going to collect documents from offices suspected by the investigating team, of which I was a member.

He drove, I looked about me: on the floor of the cab I found a small white envelope. I picked it up.

Inside it a piece of white "Basildon Bond" paper, folded. I opened it. A handwritten note said, "When you get this I will be dead".

I read the date on the note, it was yesterday's. I looked again at the envelope: there was a sender's address on the back. I told the cab to go there.

He drove. The address was in Camden. I remember the cab turning from the original destination, along Regent's Park, past the mosque. I remember September trees and sharp sunlight. Autumn, the air was fresh and clean. We stopped to allow some children with a teacher in a crocodile going over a zebra crossing, their little legs pink in the cool day, perhaps they were going to the zoo. We passed a woman in sunglasses with two whippets, brightly dressed tourists turning a map around, two tramps smoking on a bench.

The driver went north through some residential streets to a large house, a villa. The garden was muddy, there was barely grass where a lawn should have been, the tree in the front was a threadbare hawthorn. The house needed painting, the stucco was coming off in slabs, raw brick beneath. The door was painted green, faded, there was a white piece of paper stuck on it somehow.

I gave the driver a bank note, he drove away. I ran to the door. I became aware then of another man rushing up to the door too, he was in a dark coat. The paper on the door was a sign, it said, "do not come in if you are squeamish". We looked at each other: I saw his sallow complexion, his unshaven face, his dark hair. I wonder what he thought of me. We banged on the door with our fists and he cried, "Open up! Open up!", but there was no response. Simultaneously, we threw our shoulders hard against the door. It gave little, but I heard a creaking. We launched ourselves at it again, the hinge burst from the frame with a crack.

Then we kicked at the door until it fell. We ran into the hall. There was a strange silence there. We looked at each other. He was a cautious man like me. With an instinct we lurched into the kitchen.

There was a kitchen stool lying on the ground; there was the man who had written the note, hanging from a rope attached to the light flex. He swayed gently to and fro. I did not see his face.

I looked over to the other man but he was not there, he was gone. I ran into the hall, I saw a door ajar, I pushed it open, there obscured by piles of books and papers, a table. On it, a computer and an open telephone. I picked up the phone; I could get a tone. I called an ambulance.

I stood there for a moment looking at all the books everywhere I remember one title, "Bacteria and their Destruction". Perhaps the man was a microbiologist.

An ambulance arrived, the police too. I told them what I knew, then I left.

What divine sensibility could allow such awful grief? I wondered.

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