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1624

Silence within

The small woman in a comfortable blouse and loose-fit jeans sighed and studied her hands which fretted with a large, loaded key ring – so large that it might have threatened to topple her over. Suddenly, she looked up as though only then becoming aware of the constable standing in front of her, twice as broad and towering over her by inches.

“It's so unlike him not to pay his rent and now it's the fifth,” she observed to no one and the pass-keys jingled tinnily on the ring. The constable nodded, indicating understanding in the distant and impassive way of a police officer.

“He normally paid on time, Ms...?”

“Sokalov – Tatiana Sokalov” she pronounced, her speech lightly accented, and the officer carefully noted in his book.

“Oh, yes. He would always come around the office on the first or second of the month. He said he was a little absent-minded so it took him an extra day to realise the month had changed.” She laughed briefly and then glanced nervously sideways toward the door that, on an elegant, cast plaque, proclaimed 'Suite 1624'. From with, there emerged no sound of occupation.

Around them, the hallway stretched away in both directions – the sound of their presence swallowed by acoustically damping carpet. Occasionally, from behind other nearby doors, there were sounds of different lives. Somewhere, a child's toy squeaked and was followed by laughter.

“He has probably just gone away for a few days and forgot,” she offered up hopefully.

“Does he live alone, Ms. Sokalov? The constable paused and his pen hovered expectantly over the page.

“Yes, he is the sole tenant.”

“Are you aware that he had any guests or friends?” The pen scratched over the page and then stopped. Tatiana stopped to think. She ran her fingers absently through her curly, greying hair and the keys jangled loudly in her ear.

“A few times, he has had female guests. He comes to me to get an extra security key for his friend – so she can come and go, you see.”

“What would you say is the relationship between them?” The constable raised his eyes from the notepad and regarded her, evaluating.

“I have no idea. They are always well-dressed and very proper – just as he was. Maybe they are relatives – I just don't know.”

The constable noted again and finished with the flourish of a question mark. A few yards away, disinterested and leaning, gossiping quietly, against a wheeled gurney, two paramedics, beckoned by the officer to the report of a silent apartment, whiled away the time. The walnut finished door of Suite 1624 remained impassive, offering up no clues.

“Do you know what he did for a living?”

“He might have been a...” Tatiana stopped again, confused, and collected her thoughts. “Well, I know he painted.”

“He was an artist?” The officer raised his eyebrows.

“I think that, maybe, he worked from home. Now that you mention it, I did see him coming and going at odd hours during the day.”

“How long has he been a tenant, Ms. Sokalov?”

“Oh, years! He is a good tenant, too. There has never been a complaint of disruptive behaviour.”

Constable Nat Blackeagle nodded again and closed his notebook, carefully replacing it in the  pouch on his hip and snapping closed its protective flap. It always surprised him the anonymity of urban life. The fact that, after years of occupancy, this woman – clearly a sensible and responsible person – could know so little about the man left him reeling. He was confident that inquiries made to the immediately surrounding apartments would produce similarly nondescript information.

'I never spoke to him.'

'I'm sorry but, what did he look like?

'He seemed nice but he kept to himself.'

That distance – the disinterest in one's fellow – made Nat long for the close-knit, friendly community of his childhood in southern Alberta where, at any time, there had been a neighbour's door unlocked and open, welcoming. Here, instead, doors were always closed and locked and people hid away in their private spaces, never sharing, except for the false surrogate of online presence. He sniffed and turned away from the thought.

“Let's see what he's up to,” suggested Constable Blackeagle.

Tatiana nodded precisely and turned to the door, knocking timidly.

“Mr. McCullough?” Her voice was unwilling and barely audible. The constable stepped up and beat forcefully on the door.

“Police, Mr. McCullough!” He paused, listening. “We have concerns about your well-being, Mr. McCullough. Please, open the door.”

The paramedics stood up, anxious to be active and repositioned the wheeled gurney. The constable could feel, from the surrounding apartments, eyes through peep-holes, watching and then nervously shying away. Nearby, a door cracked open revealing the half-moon of a face which quickly disappeared and the bolt was thrown.

“Open it,” the constable ordered. His radio crackled an echo.

Tatiana stepped up with the heavy key-ring, carefully selecting the correct one and held it up before her like a talisman before inserting the key in the high security lock. The bolt withdrew, squeaking softly in the mechanism.

The constable instructed her to stand behind the door frame. His hand went to his hip, unsnapping the flap over his service revolver and his palm settled there.

“Mr. McCullough, this is the Police,” he announced. “We are entering your apartment. Please make yourself known.”

Constable Blackeagle's left palm settled on the door, pushing it cautiously open and revealing, among the residue of a fragmented mind, the tragic scene within.

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