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C.O.D.

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Dead man, dead man
When will you arise?
Cobwebs in your mind
Dust upon your eyes.

He kills himself once every six or seven years.

It's not that hard after the first time. Death certificates are the first and most vital part of every demise, but he can turn them out like clockwork now; indeed he keeps a stack of the forms in one of his many filing cabinets ready to go. Signatures? He has the signatures of three or four dozen doctors and coroners in digital form, ready to be neatly inserted as needed. Some of them are even real people.

There's the method to think of, too. You can't get too predictable, can't settle into ruts. In his catalog of past lives torched he has two suicides, a heart attack, a hiking accident, and that-one-where-Harry-Martin-wrapped-his-car-drunkenly-around-a-tree. Among others. Methods where no body would logically be found are the easiest for obvious reasons, but sufficient money can get over even the issue of a corpse, when necessary.

The ongoing digitization of everything makes it easier for him, too; he used to have to physically get into county archives before, to put the record of his deaths where they'd be found when needed. Now he can do nearly all of it from behind his desk.

Obituaries... they're the final piece, being often the first thing a casual Internet search will turn up for any of his old aliases. The minimally-determined often stop there. They're the easiest step, too-- it's not like newspapers ask for the death certificate when you tell them sadly of your loved one. They just give you cost per word and sorry for your loss and he says thank you and asks that they double-check the spelling of the charitable organization to whom memorial donations should be sent.

Not that there usually are any. Not that he usually makes friends who would be moved to offer such in his name.

He writes up the lives and deaths of his false selves with detached amusement, plucking names from his favorite books, tying them to this or that body that is now to be carried away downstream in the current of time.

Sometimes one of the dead gets caught up, though, hung up by the fishing lines of inconvenient attachment. Such an alias is Harold Wren; very late for his own funeral, Mr. Wren is, but there's a boy on the bank named Will who has kept that body from floating downstream for pushing three decades now.

Will's father went down the river for good, the real thing, and he can't begrudge Will this substitute. So Harold Wren is still around, a very stubborn ghost.

His first death was the hardest. Logistically, emotionally, all the ways. He hadn't known what he was doing. He hadn't known how to obtain a blank death certificate, he hadn't had the money for bribes back then, he had been seventeen and a part of him had still wanted to be stopped. Caught. Taken back home.

His fourth death, Nathan had helped. With morbid fascination and gallows humor, staring at him filling in the paperwork using a typewriter, for the sake of the carbon copy.

“Do you need a real doctor's name?”

“Not for this one.”

“Doctor Zhivago!”

“....no, Nathan.”

“Jim Parsons?” Nathan had asked, grinning, and despite himself he'd felt his lips twitch in answer. It wasn't as if it were one of Dick's better known works. It was a normal sounding name.

“James Parsons,” he'd hedged, typing it in, and Nathan had laughed and they'd toasted his death.

His most recent death is Burdette. It annoys him, a little, because Burdette's a useful cover and he hates to see him go, but Detective Carter has now put that name into too many reports and police documents for him to be sure he's excised it, for him to use it safely again.

The library is empty. It's just past midnight. It's the graveyard hour, and that's fitting.

He stares at his blinking cursor. Norman Burdette, born on April 12th, 1956, passed away January 2nd, 2012. Mr. Burdette was a native of New York City and a member of the Rotary Club. He is survived by his niece Janine. A memorial service will be held at Chapel on the Hill on Thursday...

The only sounds are his computer fans. He lets his eyes slide shut. Imagines Nathan here, Nathan making suggestions, hints for atrocious puns he could include, how he would know better but inevitably cave to at least one or two of them.

There is no Nathan. There is nobody else here. Just him and the spiders, up in their corners where he can't even attempt to clean. He thinks of their gray hanging webs, thick with dust, the spiders sitting there motionless and waiting for the flies.

His library is a nowhere place, a cemetery, populated by mice and bookworms and dead men never born.

He opens his eyes. Resumes typing. He isn't one for sentiment, and this is only housekeeping, nothing as macabre as Nathan had used to try and paint it.

But he wonders how long until he fills out a certificate for Harold Finch.