What the hell is that?
Jordan reached the top of the stairs and paused before grabbing the doorknob. A large white envelope was taped to the door of her walk-up. It had no specific addressing and no postage, just “JORDAN REED” written in large block letters. Since it obviously wasn’t a check from Publishers Clearing House, Jordan really wanted nothing to do with it. She had planned a very relaxing Sunday, and whatever was in that envelope was more likely to ruin her day than make it more enjoyable. She seriously considered throwing the envelope into a garbage can. But the natural curiosity that made her a good reporter compelled her to peel the envelope off her door and bring it inside.
It didn’t mean she was going to open it.
She dropped her purse on a chair and tossed the envelope on the kitchen table. It landed beside other documents she didn’t want to deal with. Namely, bills. Jordan didn’t earn much as a junior staff reporter, and rent in Boston wasn’t cheap. But her financial struggle wasn’t a result of simply living in Boston. It could be traced back to her mother’s illness and death.
Her mother’s cancer diagnosis while Jordan was in college meant that her parents’ contribution to her education expenses never materialized. Jordan had to find her own college financing and now had a small mountain of debt she was trying to chip away at. Making her financial situation worse were the medical bills from her mother’s treatments. Her mother had died years ago, but the bills were far from paid off. Despite Jordan’s resentment toward her father for forcing her mother into a risky medical trial, she still helped him as much as she could. If it weren’t for the checks she sent her father, they’d have no communication at all.
Jordan went about the rest of her morning. A good swim always made her hungry, and this morning’s workout was harder than most. Part of her Sunday routine was breakfast at the Green Clover Diner a few blocks away, but her hunger demanded immediate taming. A yogurt did the trick.
Jordan’s apartment needed some tidying up, so she puttered around a bit, gathering laundry and putting dishes in the sink. But the envelope sitting on her table begged attention. She knew if she opened it, her day would be shot.
She had to either deal with the envelope and what was inside or get rid of it. She toyed with the idea of torching it in the sink. But not knowing what the envelope contained, and why it had been given to her, was too tantalizing to ignore. Jordan had to look inside.
Jordan sat down at her two-seater kitchen table and ripped open the envelope.
Inside was a single page from a newspaper, the Lexington Post. She expected to see a particular news story, maybe something she had written, or perhaps a story related to some of her work. Instead, she found an obituary page, with one obituary near the middle circled with a red marker. The rather long obituary was for someone named Eric Smith, a husband and father of two young children. He died last month. As Jordan read the obituary, a single line stuck out: “While his end came much too soon, we trust that time will not only help us overcome our loss but allow for a full reckoning.”
That’s odd. Who puts that kind of sentence in an obituary?
A few questions immediately came to mind. Was Eric Smith’s death intentional or the result of negligence? Did someone put him in a position that led to his death? Did he have an underlying disease that went unnoticed by a doctor?
All potentially valid questions, but so what?
From Jordan’s perspective, if there had been a crime, the local police should handle it. A lawyer would be the best bet for negligence. Jordan reread the obituary. Nothing else jumped out at her. While a father’s death was certainly tragic for a family with young children, her reporter instincts didn’t sense much of a story.
Jordan tossed the obituary on the kitchen table and leaned back in her chair, balancing on its two back legs. She thought more about what she had read. The most important question was: Who’d put this on her door? Perhaps equally important was: Why had someone chosen her? Jordan didn’t live in Lexington and had no connection with the Smith family. She didn’t even write for that newspaper. Her reporter home was the much larger Boston Courant. She also spent no time on homicides. Most of her reporting was aimed at exposing city corruption.
Somebody obviously thought this death wasn’t just chance or bad luck. That person also thought Jordan should be involved. Either because of a personal connection that wasn’t clear yet or a corruption angle concealed somewhere. Or both. Maybe neither.
Jordan left her one-bedroom walk-up on Pacific Street and headed to her favorite diner on foot. The Green Clover had the best eggs Benedict in Boston. The South Boston neighborhood was jammed with three-story walk-ups, with red brick being the predominant color and style. This trademark look conveyed a sense of the neighborhood’s old age. There weren’t a lot of families with kids. Residents were either younger singles trying to get by or older couples who couldn’t afford anything more.
The gray autumn morning had that dry and crisp feeling of a nice fall day. The street was largely empty of cars, with only a couple of people visible in any direction. Trash blew around, a lot of it packaging from fast-food joints, making the grungy sidewalks seem dirtier than usual.
Jordan wore her typical black leather jacket and black jeans, her hair still smelling like chlorine from the pool. A cool, light breeze blew through her jet-black hair, giving her pale cheeks just a hint of red. With her hands in her pockets to keep them warm, her mind returned to that one line in the obituary, pausing on “full reckoning.” The mystery was maddening. She hoped that by the time she’d finished brunch, her curiosity would have subsided.
“Hey, Marcus,” Jordan called as she entered the diner. She had been a Sunday regular for years and knew or recognized the entire staff. Marcus, who was in his sixties and sported the physique of someone who had worked his whole life in a diner, handled the counter. Jordan parked herself in her usual counter spot. Dining alone was her specialty.
“Hey yourself,” Marcus said. “You’re late today. Did you give yourself some extra beauty sleep? You’re not getting any younger, you know. Those good looks need maintenance if you expect them to last until you get yourself a man.”
“Hilarious, old-timer. No, I didn’t sleep in today. There was an unexpected interruption to my morning.” Jordan leaned forward on her stool. “Do you have any eggs Benedict today? You didn’t have them the last time I was here, so I hope I don’t have to take my business elsewhere.”
“Yes, I do. I couldn’t bear to hear your complaining again.”
“Think of it as me helping you serve your customers better. How are the grandkids?”
“Growing too fast to keep track. Seems like every time I see them, they’ve skipped a year. It can make a man feel older than his days.”
“Well, make sure they don’t forget who you are.”
“No danger of that. My kids like the free babysitting my wife and I provide.”
As Marcus poured her a cup of coffee, Jordan reflected on how her family had drifted apart and how she hadn’t seen her grandparents in years. Her dad’s father had died several years ago, and his mom lived in Arizona. Her mom’s parents lived in Florida, and she hadn’t seen them since her mother had died. They spoke several times in the weeks after her death, but only once in the past year. Jordan’s brother and sister kept closer touch with all the grandparents than she did, providing just one more reason to duck calls from her siblings. Secondhand guilt felt just as bad as firsthand guilt, and her brother was a master at laying it on.
While waiting for her brunch, she pulled out her phone to check in on what had been happening in the world. A quick scan of her news feed showed more of the same crap that came with the current presidential administration. While not a fan of any politician, since they were all just what their donors wanted them to be, she missed the days when basic facts weren’t disputed. The constant stream of lies and misdirection was a shitty way to lead. Politicians cared more about their parties than the country. To Jordan, that was a recipe for disaster.
Jordan used Twitter to keep abreast of local news and events. It had helped her crack what was her most successful story to date. She’d exposed how a state senator had been funneling campaign contributions to the personal holdings of his brother-in-law. He wouldn’t hold office again thanks to her. Jordan suspected a bigger conspiracy involving multiple elected officials and several high-powered business leaders. But she wasn’t able to break through the “old boys’” wall of silence. Her editor, Tom Winters, told her she did a great job on the story, but Jordan figured most of the criminals were still out there, breaking the law under the guise of capitalism.
Jordan’s food still hadn’t arrived, so she delved deeper into her news feed. She rarely noticed much on the medical side, but one headline caught her eye. A hospital in Greece had had over a dozen fatalities in the past month where patients had developed bacterial infections that didn’t respond to antibiotics. The news story said the infections were staph infections, which were common in hospitals.
Jordan continued to read the article. It mentioned that drug-resistant infections were on the rise globally and that new treatments weren’t being developed fast enough to deal with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The author speculated that humanity was entering a period where the inability of traditional antibiotics to treat common infections would lead to an increase in deaths from minor infections that we currently assume we can easily treat.
Jordan had a basic understanding of antibiotic resistance but didn’t have a strong enough science background to understand all the complexities. Like most people, she figured that some combination of government and industry would find a technological solution.
“Eggs Benedict are up,” Marcus announced, setting a platter down in front of Jordan. As always, they looked delicious and came with a heap of home fries and toast. All for $9.99, including the coffee.
“Thanks, Marcus, it looks as good as ever.” Jordan dove right in. She ate half of the platter before pausing. Marcus topped up her coffee, and Jordan took a sip, enjoying the aroma of the freshly brewed java. She finished the second half of her brunch, but at a slower pace than she’d devoured the first half. She indulged her coffee addiction with one more refill before leaving fifteen dollars on the counter.
“See you next Sunday, Marcus,” Jordan said.
“Yes, you will, young lady.”
As Jordan headed back to her apartment, the morning sunshine gave way to thick clouds. The stiff breeze made it legitimately cold. She had hoped her curiosity about the obituary would have subsided, but it continued to gnaw at her. She needed to figure out its significance. She hustled along and decided that her afternoon at the movie theater would have to wait.
Back in her apartment, she grabbed the obituary and her laptop and got comfortable on the sofa.
So, Eric Smith. Who are you, and why do you matter?
So far, all Jordan knew was that he was a husband and father and likely lived in Lexington.
Jordan made an effort not to drink in the mornings. It wasn’t a rule but rather a guideline. After all, she wasn’t an alcoholic. But it was almost noon, so she wouldn’t really be drinking in the morning. A vodka and OJ seemed appropriate. The orange juice allowed her to classify the drink as healthy.
Googling “Eric Smith” was predictably not very helpful, given how common the name was. The number of hits was staggering. Even filtering the search to “Eric Smith in Lexington, MA” didn’t return a manageable number of hits. Unfortunately, there was no actual story about Eric Smith’s death. Finding an easy answer to how he died wasn’t going to happen. Eric Smith proved surprisingly hard to learn anything about. Not a thing about his occupation or anything else that left a convenient record. Nothing so basic as a time for a local 5k.
It looks like you’re trying to hide from me, Eric. I guess you don’t know that hiding from me only makes me look harder.
Jordan switched gears and moved on to searching social media platforms. Facebook had no shortage of people named Eric Smith—so many that Jordan couldn’t bear to go through them right away. Same problem with Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Jordan hoped for better luck with LinkedIn, but there was no Eric Smith from Lexington. There were lots of people named Eric Smith elsewhere, even in Massachusetts, but not an obvious candidate for the Eric Smith in the obituary.
It perplexed and annoyed Jordan to strike out so easily. Eric Smith had no readily findable public footprint. It seemed unlikely for someone with a family. Moms and wives often shared pictures of their kids through Facebook.
Jordan went back to Facebook and took a slightly different tack. She knew the first names of Eric’s family, and as long as they had the same last name, she could search for them. If his wife, Laurie, had a Facebook account and posted family pictures, she should be able to find them. After about ten minutes, Jordan found a Facebook page for a Laurie Smith who was from Massachusetts and had children named Jack and Samantha. Jordan wasn’t good at judging the ages of kids, since she never spent any time with them, but Jack and Samantha looked to be four and two. Way too young to lose a parent. At least she’d been much older when her own mother died.
An afternoon of digging didn’t get Jordan much farther than when she’d started. Jordan had established that Eric Smith and his family lived in the Lexington area, but that was it. She uncovered nothing about how he’d died or where he’d worked. This could all be on the up-and-up, but now Jordan’s reporter instinct kicked in. It was just a bit too convenient how absent Eric Smith was. If he really were that private, his wife wouldn’t share family pictures on Facebook. Why was he so hard to find?
Well, Eric Smith, you’ve piqued my curiosity. It looks like I’ll invest more than a Sunday afternoon into figuring out why someone wants me to investigate your death.