The noise turned out to be nothing more than the wind blowing the branches of a tree against the third story window like the guard had suspected. Once he'd logged the incident in the large book in the lobby, he returned to his wandering of the building. During the interview for the job, the human resources director had made it sound like he'd be constantly busy chatting to visiting auditors or escorting young women to their cars who'd worked too late. He'd planned on using those activities to hide his own. He'd been working for two years at the job and not once did a young lady ask to be helped to her car, and the auditors left the building before the staff near as he could figure. All he ever saw were the other guards who relieved him, and the pictures on the desktops taunting him with the sunlight and happy times shared by people he'd never met.
Getting back to Jerry Cooper's fall from humanity distracted the guard more than the branch. The weeks had flown by as Jerry had spilled his life out to the guard for his consideration. The man hadn't known why he was being questioned and even after being chained to the wall in the warehouse, deep in the heart of the abandoned Detroit landscape he'd talked.
It was like Jerry Cooper thought if he told his pathetic life to the guard he could generate sympathy and a reprieve. Not likely, but the guard still listened carefully to Jerry's tale ...
So after his aunt questioned him about the cigarette smell Jerry's anger had threatened to overwhelm him at having been forced to sell his car -- a beat up Ford he'd got for the weekend gambling trips out of town right after he'd lost his job. His aunt was yet again reminding him of how much of a failure he'd been when he sold his car the month before due to another decline in funds caused by a rather bad run of cards at the blackjack tables.
He actually had caught a city bus which was not a fun slice of Detroit to him, but a necessary evil if he wanted to get away from his aunt and her incessant bell ringing. He didn't fit the molded seats and every time he wiggled he was glared at by the women in hairnets and ill-fitting wigs carrying four or five bags each sitting around him. He seethed as he watched cars pass the painfully slow bus. The bus that he'd been riding on went to the Michigan-Canadian border, not a job interview like he'd told his aunt. From there he'd battled the bitter cold and walked across the border to Windsor and the nearest taxi stand. He'd ridden to the casino in Ontario in style and optimistic that his luck had finally changed. Naturally the casino was happy to take most of his money. He'd been forced to do the walk of shame back across the border with little to show for the trip but a bad headache on top of his already dark mood. The stop off at the pharmacy was practical and getting the sleeping pills and painkillers took nearly his last dollar.
When his aunt began her harangue and verbal pollution of his personal space he decided that his aunt needed to relax a little more than usual. Handing her one of the sleeping pills he'd just purchased he told her that they'd help her. He was purposefully vague about what exactly the pill would help her with, and if for some reason she got the mistaken idea that the pills would help her lose weight, he blamed it on her poor hearing.
Soon she was asking for the pills by the middle of the day, telling him that they were wonderful and falling asleep in front of the television in her chair. She actually did start to lose some weight because she wasn't having him get her snacks that she didn't need that would shoot her blood sugar off the charts. Not needing the diabetic adjustments with either her food or medicine meant that she ate less and slept even more. The silence was wonderful.
But like all good things in Jerry's world it soon came crashing down. The sleeping pills didn't last forever, so he switched over to the painkillers that he had left. Even though the pills were a bit larger, his aunt didn't seem to notice. The drugs reacted even quicker than the sleeping meds and she was drooling onto her chest by four o'clock. Jerry took advantage of her unconscious state by going to a local bar in walking distance that had cold beer and hot pool. He was trying to make some fast money and at first he was winning. He went once or twice a week, but soon he was barely breaking even between the games and the pitchers of beer he consumed.
Jerry Cooper was beginning to feel like a normal person the day everything went south. Walking into the bar around four, he was happy when the bartender pulled a pitcher of draft beer for him without him having to wait ten or twenty minutes to catch his eye. The pool table was nearly empty. Only one guy was haphazardly taking random shots at the balls and failing dismally at making any decent shots.
He lingered back and sat near the pool table without hovering to make sure the flannel shirted player was really that bad and not some street hustler trying to trick Jerry out of his money. Finishing up a second icy glass of beer, Jerry wandered over and suggest they play a friendly game. The late afternoon wore on with Jerry winning a full pitcher of Budweiser off the man and a feeling of friendship that he couldn't ever recall having experienced. The sensation of belonging somewhere finally put a lift in his step as he sludged back through the wet snow that had fallen while he'd been inside the toasty bar shooting pool.
The chill in the air created some icy patches on the heavily salted sidewalks so he carefully chose his steps as he headed back to his aunt's home. The two or three shared pitchers of beer didn't help him much when getting closer to home. He had noticed some flashing lights off on a side street just out of sight, but didn't give them a second thought. His focus was intent on placing one foot in front of the other. Unlike suspense movies, Jerry didn't have any sense that anything had changed in his immediate world. No ominous music or stray black cats running out from the shadows to warn him in the sudden shift in his circumstances. The beer was starting to churn a bit in his stomach, he tried to blame the half dozen hot wings he'd nibbled on with his new found pool friend, but he could feel the rumble of cheap beer deep in his belly and even drunk he recognized it for what it was.
Trying to hurry down the narrow icy walkways in the urban neighborhood proved to be beyond Jerry as he rounded the corner to his aunt's street. The strobe effects of the red and blue lights caught him by surprise since they emanated from four or five official looking vehicles skewered every which way in front of his aunt's home. His feet flew out from beneath him and his ass slammed hard onto the wet, snowy sidewalk. The impact on his spine jarred him all the way to the top of his head.
His pratfall went unnoticed by the various uniformed group clustered on the sidewalk. Then to his abject horror he watched two men roll out a long cart covered with a pure white sheet belted over a bulky figure. Snowflakes began to fall in earnest as Jerry blurrily tried to see what was going on from the ground. In his mind he dismissed the covered form as inconsequential. The stretcher hit a bump in the front walkway and an aged speckled hand flapped free from beneath the sheet. One of the attendants casually plopped the arm back on the cart while chuckling at something one of the nearby uniformed men said.
There was little urgency in the men's pace to the ambulance door; in fact, Jerry was slowly noticing, there wasn't urgency with any of the gathered men and women standing around in front of his aunt's home.
It dawned on Jerry ever so gradually that hand that fell off the stretcher had seemed oh-so familiar. And upon thinking about it he recalled a similar hand attached to a crystal dinner bell driving him crazy with the incessant motion of being rung at all hours of the day and night. The cars parked haphazardly around the front of the house didn't have their engines running just their emergency lights. No steam rose from the hoods of the vehicles telling Jerry that these people had been there for a while. It wasn't something that had just happened to gather the mass of vehicles and people in uniforms. And that his aunt had been rolled out of her home without a sound didn't bode well for her health. But the capper was the sheet covering her face -- probably meant that she wasn't being kept dry, but rather it was being used to keep the neighbors from running screaming from how she looked.
Reluctantly Jerry got up from the icy cold concrete and walked slowly to his aunt's home. A uniformed man held a black gloved palm up and said, "Hold up there, you need to move along."
He wasn't being unkind, just dismissive. The cop's breath came out in little puffs of white as if punctuating his words.
"But, but ..." Jerry found he was stammering, a trait he'd had as a small child that came out in times of stress. His words drifted out with his own puffs of alcohol and spicy chicken wing sauce. The cop's nose wrinkled at the odor.
"But, nothing, just move it along, sir." The voice was stern and authoritative had Jerry not lived there he would have scurried off quickly.
Instead he stammered, "I l-l-live here."
That caught the man's attention. The palm came down and rested loosely on the gun strapped to his utility belt. That caused a stir of personnel behind him.
"Officer Burns, is there something wrong?" A more cultured voice called out from the cluster of uniforms. The man speaking was a light-skinned African-American not in a uniform but rather a suit and tie with a cashmere overcoat being dusted with snowflakes. He wasn't just a cop but a detective, Jerry knew. He'd watched enough TV to realize that the man was in charge.
"This man claims he lives here," came Officer Burns' reply. His eyes never left Jerry's face. What he was searching for was anyone's guess. Jerry didn't have a clue why his aunt had been taken out of her home. He pretty much had concluded she was probably dead since nobody was rolling her wheelchair out from the house. She rarely left even in good weather. The wheelchair made it tough for her to head out easily and she wasn't much for visiting either neighbors or friends. Since Jerry had moved in nearly a year ago, she'd only gone out once to get her prescriptions written by her doctor who insisted on personally seeing her before he'd write her diabetes meds up. After he'd taken most of one foot he knew that she didn't follow directions, and thus Jerry was stuck wrestling her wheelchair into the trunk of his Ford and listening to her tell him how to drive all the way to and from the doctor's office. Now that he'd been forced to sell the car, he didn't know how he'd get her there. But with the look of things in front of the house that point was moot.