excerpt from The End of Days

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As soon as the officers entered the house the heat and the stagnant air assailed them, stopping them within a few steps, pushing them gasping to the windows, which they threw open to the flow of a light breeze. They greedily gulped the fresh air, pulling their long shirtsleeves across their brows. After a few moments, they began searching the silent house, stalking room to room, down each hallway, checking closets and bathrooms, and finally outside, where they found him hanging from a rope looped over the beam of the covered patio. The knot, cinched tight around his neck by the weight of his body, could not be loosened, so one of them ran to the tool shed and found a hacksaw and, while the bigger man held the body in a bear hug, the smaller one climbed up on a chair and cut the rope. With awkward caution they lowered him to the ground, then stepped back to catch their breath and smoke a cigarette. “Better call it in,” the smaller one said, bending down to stub out his smoke on the concrete, and they went inside.

They found the control for the air conditioner and dialed it on to full, then shut all the windows, removed their jackets and shirts and, finally, called their station. Then they sat down in their undershirts at the kitchen table to smoke more cigarettes and wait for the detectives and the coroner. The cigarettes ran out and boredom overtook them, so they got up to search the house, look in the bedroom for a suicide note, and that’s where they were when they heard cabinets being opened and closed in kitchen. They drew their guns and crept into the kitchen, then the living room, where they found him sitting in front of a fan, drinking a glass of ice water, massaging the muscles in his neck.

Over the next hour dozens of people swarmed into and through the house, their body heat driving up the temperature inside, the cacophony of their voices colliding into one other, rising to crescendos, then faltering into abrupt and confused silences. He sat patiently in the kitchen, formally upright in a straight-backed wooden chair, getting up only to refill his water glass and once to turn off the air conditioner.

He heard the grumbles and the outright complaints about the situation, though the comments were rarely directed to him. “Damn him,” the coroner said from the kitchen, indignant about being called to the man’s home again. “What the hell is he pulling?” He shook his head at the police lieutenant. “Don’t call me next time. I won’t come.” The officers who had cut the rope and lowered his lifeless body to the ground were visibly shaken. They stood in the living room, chain smoking borrowed cigarettes, their undershirts soaked in sweat, and tried to resolve their confused stories to their captain. At one point in the discussion the captain turned and called into the kitchen, “What was your name?”

“Stephen,” he replied. “It still is.”