I was installed in the grubby faded Georgian walk up guesthouse on Britten St. On the Tuesday I woke late and struggled through the lingering fug of some clammy dream, forcing myself from the narrow bed. I stepped onto the landing at the top of the curving staircase, locked the room behind and stumbled into the shared bathroom. Scalding water, razor, deodorant. The morning ritual of stripping, washing wiping, hair, skin, teeth, holes brought me back to myself. I donned clean underwear and shirt and padded back to the bedroom.
Unlocking the door, I dropped the dirty laundry on the floor and took a suit from the open case. Using the mirror, I dressed, combed and straightened. But then, as I looked to check my hair, I involuntarily stiffened rigid and shrieked – for in the reflection beyond, a figure sat in the armchair by the window staring straight at me. I backed to the door fumbling for the handle and lock in panic. But the figure, a man, did not look at me, did not get up, did not even move. He remained angled away – still staring towards the mirror, unblinking. One terror was suddenly replaced by another. I had been here before. He wasn’t staring at me, he wasn’t really staring at anything. He was dead.
Although at that time, apart from Sonny and my father, I had seen no corpses in close-up, it was something else that was causing my terror – the sheer fact of his presence in my room. How the fuck had he got in there and then died? Or worse, how had he been brought in and killed? I had been gone for ten, maybe fifteen minutes at most and I had heard absolutely nothing. I looked around the room – everything was normal. Nothing was displaced, there was no blood or signs of struggle – just a corpse sitting there.
Hesitantly, I approached. He wore the ordinary cheapish, semi-smart clothes of an average city worker. Tie, bad suit, brogues. He was slightly puffy around the jowls with the beginning of new growth starting to show on coarse, shaved cheeks. Within the penumbra of each nostril I could spy what looked like dried blood as if from a nosebleed. His nails too, though manicured, seemed to have blood under one or two of the fingers of one hand
The other hand dangled at his side. I could see that it held something but I had to inch around him, across his field of vision to see it fully. Ludicrously, I stepped away to do this – afraid he might suddenly re-animate and look up, even seize me. Dread felt heavy in the room, a feeling only increased when I saw that his hanging hand was gripping a small piece of paper between forefinger and thumb. I hesitated – I knew I should not touch him, I knew I should get out of there, call the police, tell somebody – but even as I considered the options, I also knew somehow that I would have to look at the paper first.
Gingerly, I came near, squatted down, lifted the dead weight of his hand and pulled. His grip was strong and the paper began to tear. I had to prize apart finger and thumb to release it and as I did so I could feel the slight warmth remaining in him. The paper slipped free and I jumped back and away to look. It was a page from a book – an old stained book with close curious type – but the reverse was blank or rather it was blank apart from three hand written words.
I looked up at the dead guy, He kind of looked at me. I looked back down at the words:
‘You did this’
At that moment, in the Clerkenwell street below a police siren began to howl.