One Man’s Treasure
When the police found the man, he had already been dead a week or more.
He was an enormous man, well over four hundred pounds, and he had collapsed inconveniently across his own foyer, so that pushing in the door was a herculean task. The summer heat had caused his body to succumb rather quickly to the business of disassembly, and the smell assaulted the officers like a physical punch to the face.
“Aagh!” one officer cried, putting one hand over his mouth and nose. “That’s nasty!”
“Yeah,” the other officer agreed, steeling his stomach as best he could against the stench. “Poor guy’s already half gone.” He pushed his way into the foyer, and looked first at the body and then at the apartment. “Oh, my God,” he breathed, gaping at what he saw. “What was wrong with this guy?”
The apartment was stacked from floor to ceiling with boxes, books, piles of paper, wads of clothing. The one very narrow path through the hoard didn’t look big enough to accommodate the oversized man, and the thought of how the man had been living in this space was mind-boggling to the officers.
“The floor’s bowing,” the first officer noticed, pointing. “This whole place is compromised.”
“Let’s get people here,” the second officer decided, talking into his radio and requesting assistance. “The neighbours said the man had pets. We should try to find them.”
“Pets?” the first officer repeated incredulously. “How many pets?” He eyed the hoard dubiously. “How could anything survive in that?”
“They said he has a couple of cats,” the second officer said. He stepped gingerly over the man and into the living room. The floorboards creaked ominously, and the officer wondered how such a large man hadn’t actually broken through them long before now. “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” he called. “Come on out.” As he walked along the miniscule trail through the stacks, his nose was assailed with new smells; oh, yes, the man had cats, for sure. “Here, kitty, kitty.” He moved cautiously from the living room to the kitchen; a small patch perhaps three feet square remained clear, creating a space with the sink on one side, the stove on another, and the fridge on the other. “Holy cow,” the officer murmured. He slid between two particularly lopsided piles of boxes and into the little kitchen space.
There, sitting under the sink next to a bag of cat food, was a little girl.
The little girl – a toddler, the officer thought, not probably even two years old – was naked, and covered with her own filth. She looked up at the officer with large, frightened eyes, and then her face puckered up, and she began to wail. “Daddy!” she cried, and looked past the officer toward the living room. “Daddy!”
The officer scooped the little girl up. “Call an ambulance!” he shouted to his partner. “Call everybody!”
The little girl stared wide-eyed at the officer, and then she began to cry again. “Daddy gone!” she said, and put her head on the officer’s shoulder.
The officer looked around him, feeling helpless. What else would they find in this hoard? he wondered. Are there more children? Where’s her mother? Why didn’t the neighbours know about this? He rolled his eyes. “The neighbours,” he scoffed. “It took them a week to complain about the smell.” They obviously weren’t too concerned about watching out for each other. He hugged the little girl close to him. “You’re okay,” he promised her soothingly. “I’ve got you.”
He turned and started making his careful way back to the foyer, shielding the little girl’s eyes so that she wouldn’t see her father’s body. “We need to go through every inch of this place,” he called to his partner. “God knows what we’ll find in here!”