The unknown man ended up with a beautifully-stained hardwood casket lined in white satin, a new suit, a blanket of white roses, and a graveside service conducted by Vera's minister, who had agreed to hold rites for the man free of charge. Tim and Tom Hoffman, the coroner, and Charlie had attended, the four of them acting as pallbearers. Then the man was laid to rest in a plot--purchased by Charlie-- in the cemetery closest to Miller Furnace Park, his grave marked with a simple stone etched with the year of death.
Charlie had done a beautiful job providing the stranger with a respectful funeral and burial. But he still felt that it was inadequate, that something was missing. He pondered it for days and days after the burial, wondering what he had forgotten, and why he couldn't lay the anxiety to rest. Then one evening, as he was watching the news, it suddenly occurred to him.
He needed to know the man's name. The man had died anonymously, mourned by strangers, and now slept in an unmarked grave, and Charlie found that utterly unacceptable. He resolved to give the dead man the final dignity of having his name, and life, acknowledged, and in the morning placed another call to the coroner.
The officer on the other end of the line let out a long, weary sigh. "I'm not sure what else we can do, Charlie. We did everything we could to find out who he was."
"DNA?" challenged Charlie.
"Of course. Fingerprints, the whole nine yards. We even put the notice in the paper."
"But...he had a name," insisted Charlie. "He had to. He had a life."
"Welcome to our world," said the coroner sadly. "This happens a lot. More often than you'd think."
"Somebody out there might be looking for him!"
"Perhaps, but-- well, at this point, it's not likely. Look. Most people around here have lived here their whole lives. Their families have been here for generations. And sometimes, well, the rest of the family dies off, drifts away, whatever, and people are left alone, and they remain here, and they eventually die here. And, a lot of the time, that's it. We have a lot of unknown bodies here. They aren't claimed because there's nobody left to claim them. It's sad, but it is what it is."
Charlie looked around at his little house, empty and-- unless the TV was on-- silent. Would anybody claim me when my time comes?
"I want them," Charlie said.
"I want them. The unclaimed people-- I want all of them. When the time for finding their families is over, and there's nothing left for you to do, I want you to call me."
"You don't want to do that, Charlie. You can't do what you did for that man for all these other people. It will cost you a fortune."
"I have a fortune, and this is how I wish to spend it. Until it runs out, I'm going to hold funerals for all of them. Nobody should have to go unknown and unclaimed."
He hired a private investigator to try and find the dead man's identity, but with the limited information from the coroner-- white male, 6' 1", 200 pounds, in his early 60's, three silver fillings, early stages of heart disease-- there wasn't much to go on. The investigator chased the few weak leads he had, but came up empty, and told Charlie that he, too, had done what he could. Charlie had to confront the horror that the man would never be identified.
He tried to let go of the mystery, but as much as he distracted himself and lectured himself, the nagging question would not lie still.
Unable to sleep, he padded downstairs for a glass of milk. He sat at his little table, drinking the milk and staring at the clock, which glowed 1:38 accusingly.
Then he had a strange idea, which he initially dismissed, but then called back for further consideration. He finished the milk, got up, and picked up the notepad and pen from beside the phone. He poured himself a second glass of milk, sat back down, and stared at the blank page.
C&S Industrial Forms, Inc., read the logo at the top. He had no idea where he had gotten the pad.
Then he set the pen down on the paper and began to write cautiously.
Born in Upper Rock Haven Township
Mother Mary, Father Henry
Six feet tall, eh?
Guard, West Valley High School basketball team
...which meant that, he may have...
Attended Villanova University on basketball scholarship
...and, if he was in his sixties, he may have...
Played in the NCAA Tournament
What else? He had cavities and heart disease, so...
Favorite foods were hard candies and sausages
He looked at the list of Walter's supposed accomplishments and felt better. He chewed the end of the pen thoughtfully, and continued to build the dead man's imaginary resume.