J. K. Mason
Those who knew BL Patterson will tell you this: BL never filed a tax
return, did not vote, had no tattoos, and moved every few months (assuming
a new identity at each location). BL’s favorite ruse was Dumpster Diving:
digging in trash for bank statements or pre-approved credit card offers.
After snatching the personal information and appropriating the identity of
a victim, BL would obtain credit in the victim’s name and then convert it
Before graduating to Dumpster Diving, BL took a more personal approach:
locate a mark--always a retired trailer park resident--and then move in
close, use proximity as an advantage.
BL’s biggest score (according to cohorts and informants) came at the
expense of eighty-four-year-old Whitley Bingham, a widower and veteran. BL
first situated an old, dirty pull-trailer on the lot beside Whitley’s.
Then BL obtained Whitley’s social security number and intercepted his
credit report at the community mailbox. After acquiring thirty-seven
credit cards in Whitley’s name, BL tapped into Whitley’s phone line at the
service box between their trailers and made the credit card activation
calls from Whitley’s home telephone number.
During this period, all BL saw of Whitley Bingham was the outline of
his innocent head, at night, framed by the window and bathed in the glow
of his television. Three months after moving in, BL moved out with over
eighteen thousand dollars (rumor has it BL spent five years in prison for
Later in life, BL quit trailer parks, and to authorities, became
notorious for assuming the identities of the deceased. Evidently, stealing
from live people was simply too risky; becoming a dead person was
essentially a victimless crime and therefore offered a smaller chance of
So when diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given three months to
live, BL made efforts to ensure that "BL Patterson"--or, more accurately,
the personal information associated with BL Patterson (and there wasn’t
much)--would never be plundered by anyone else. Fussing over the destiny
of an alias might seem odd to some, but apparently BL was a perfectionist
and often became obsessed by such things.
BL gave away (to an apartment manager named Lynn Martin) all worldly
possessions: a dented Chrysler LeBaron and an old personal computer. Then,
with a pint of hundred-proof Smirnoff, BL washed down twelve tranquilizers
and twenty-six sleeping pills.
BL did not arrange for a death notice in the newspaper; but after
receiving news of BL’s death, Lynn Martin made other plans. Evidently, he
felt that placing an obituary was the least he could do in exchange for
BL’s security deposit.
So now that BL has died, it is ironic that in death she has more of
herself than others do: she thinks she can see, and although blurry
and shadowy at times, her vision does remain. What she sees first is her
obituary, being scribbled out longhand by Lynn Martin, who has just
finished cleaning her apartment. BL’s eyes follow the neb of the pen as it
moves across the paper, the trail of blue ink.
BL then sees her naked body lying faceup on a metal tray at the morgue.
Her thoughts are vague and transient. Never did she feel so tired in life,
and more than anything else, she wants to lie down, sleep. She watches the
attending pathologist prodding and poking at her body, and when he writes
on his pad, she feels a scratchy sensation in places where her skin once
was, like a soft brush tickling a scabby wound--tender, itchy.
On the morning BL Patterson’s obituary appears in the newspaper, it is
mixed in with eighty-six others--a normal day of death in Seattle
County--and reads simply: "BL Patterson. NO PHOTO." The brevity of it
catches the eye of Robert Daydo, Quality Control Specialist at the Seattle
branch office of On-Time Credit, a national collection agency. Each
morning, Daydo browses the obits, cross-referencing names to the On-Time
client database. Dead people have become prime targets for identity
thieves, so this is standard procedure at the over eight hundred On-Time
branch offices. Sometimes Daydo finds it difficult matching a name to a
social, but with the worldwide databases he has available, it’s usually
only a matter of time.
Daydo finishes cross-referencing all but BL Patterson, and as he types
"BL Patterson" on the keyboard, BL’s eyes follow the characters across on
the screen, the pixels of light. And deep in her blurry ocean of thought,
BL is disturbed by the notion that someone is searching for information
When Daydo hits Enter, the On-Time Database returns over two hundred
hits on "BL Patterson," none from the Seattle area. BL can see into Robert
Daydo’s thoughts, which concern the periods and initials in BL’s name. BL
also sees persistence in Robert Daydo, and this troubles her, for
persistence was a trait that served her well in life. Daydo tries
searching with different combinations of periods and spaces; even so, the
On-Time database returns nothing in the Seattle area. Robert Daydo picks
up the telephone, taps in a number.
"Hi Darla. Can you pull a death certificate for me? I’m looking for
information on a BL Patterson, who apparently died there at Mercy."
"Well, that wasn’t a very warm hello."
"This line is monitored," says Daydo, softly.
BL watches Robert Daydo speak with Darla and knows there is more than
business between them. Darla is the accounts receivable manager for the
seven Mercy General Hospitals in Seattle County. Once a week, Daydo
confers with her concerning the long list of people indebted to Mercy.
Recently, they’ve been meeting over lunch in the hospital cafeteria. BL
sees this in Daydo’s thoughts, which fall like photographs dealt from a
shuffled deck of scenes: the week before, Daydo took her to a movie and
dinner; Darla’s apartment; the wine they drank; the games they played; the
kinky things Daydo did while she was strapped to the kitchen table.
"Yup, that’s how it reads. B-L-Patterson, with an O. Caucasian. Hair,
black. Five foot four. Date of birth, unknown. Occupation, unknown. Sex,
blank. Everything else, unknown or blank. You might try calling the
attending pathologist." Darla pauses. "That’s odd. I don’t see BL
Patterson on our debtor list."
"No. I’m just tying up some loose ends here in my database." Daydo
clears his throat. "BL Patterson might be on your list with another name.
You know how people are nowadays." Daydo has no legitimate reason for
asking Darla about the medical records of persons not on the Mercy General
debtor list, but the boundaries of propriety in patient records have
become nebulous, intangible.
"Something is odd about this BL Patterson," says Darla. "There’s
nothing in the medical folder. Just an admission record and a death
certificate. No history or transcription record. Maybe BL Patterson
received treatment somewhere else before coming here, but the medical
records should have been sent along."
"How about an address?" asks Daydo.
"Just a PO Box."
Daydo calls the Postal Service and obtains the physical address on file
for the PO Box. He enters the address into his pocket PC. And as BL
watches him do this, she hears the faint sounds from Daydo’s keyboard--a
clicking, a clacking--and realizes she can hear again.
Daydo drives to the address, an apartment in the Seattle suburb of
Redundo. In front of the building marked "OFFICE" is a sign with a phone
number. Daydo enters the number into his PC, into the file he is building
on BL Patterson, and from the parking lot, he taps the number into his
cell phone. BL hears Lynn Martin’s voice come through the phone: "Bay View
Apartments. Lynn Martin. Can I help you?"
Robert Daydo enters "LYNN MARTIN" into his PC and begins paging through
Lynn’s personal information. If only I had such a computer in life, thinks
"Mr. Martin, this is Robert Daydo, integrity specialist for On-Time
Credit Associates here in Seattle. I’m researching the whereabouts and
background of a person named BL Patterson, who I understand was a tenant
at your property."
"BL Patterson is dead. She died last week."
"Can you tell me what BL stands for?"
"Nope. I really didn’t know the woman. I just helped her out with some
property. That was it. Is there a problem?"
"No problem. This is standard procedure for the agency after a death of
this nature. What type of property are you referring to?"
"She left an old car out in the parking lot and a PC in her apartment.
She gave them to me, but neither one works. They--"
"I will need to see the PC," says Robert Daydo.
"Sure. You can have it if you want. It’s too old for anything but the
trash, and they charge extra for computers now."
The PC does not boot because the disk drive has been formatted. Robert
Daydo unformats it, and as each cylinder of data is recovered to the hard
drive, each digital bit, BL Patterson feels a part of herself returning.
She is overwhelmed by an old, familiar feeling: like the initial euphoria
in a bout of drinking, or the way she’d feel when discovering something
personal--a document with the promise of credit. If BL had a heart, it
would beat faster now. Then she realizes how tired she is, and she slides
to the floor, lies there, spread-eagled.
The Unformat command finishes, and Robert Daydo reboots the PC. In one
file folder, he discovers software for generating valid credit card
numbers. Another contains programs to read and steal the files of
computers on the Internet. Another directory has text and photo-processing
software, along with hundreds of identification documents--birth
certificates, driver’s licenses, passports. All bearing the digitized
image of the same woman.
In subdirectories on the PC, Daydo finds social security numbers and
financial records for thousands of people. When he enters some of the
names and numbers into the On-Time database, he discovers that most are
dead people and many are flagged "Fraud Alert."
BL rises slowly from the floor and stands. She feels the pressure of
deep water, an ocean crushing her chest, stealing her breath. She looks
down and for the first time realizes that parts of her body are
missing--her feet, her stomach. What she can see--sections of her chest,
legs, and arms--is filmy, green, and gelatinous. She is fully conscious
now and feels that her thoughts are even more coherent than they were in
life. She watches Daydo and chuckles. Robert Daydo will never discover
my real name, she thinks, and then realizes that even in death, it
feels good to laugh.
Robert Daydo enters the County Morgue and walks over to the clerk at
the front desk. "Mornin’. I’m here to view the body of BL Patterson."
In the examination room, BL watches Robert Daydo circle the table that
holds her body. There is movement everywhere. Two gloved attendants
palpate a male cadaver at the far end of the room; a complete autopsy is
underway three tables down. No one seems to notice Daydo. BL smells strong
disinfectant and something sweet lurking just outside the door of every
breath. She watches Robert Daydo take furtive glances around the room and
then remove scissors from his jacket. Then she feels a tugging at her
cheeks when Daydo snips hair from her head and clips away fingernails, and
a prickly sensation on her chin as Daydo snips free a one-inch round patch
of skin from the only place he can get a good grip on--her left breast.
She watches Daydo place these items into a sandwich bag, which he puts
into his jacket pocket.
Back at On-Time, Daydo parks and walks across the lot to the corporate
lab where he fills out paperwork to have a genetic fingerprint created
from BL’s body samples. On the form, he specifies that the resulting data
be transferred to his personal email queue.
Daydo hands the form to the lab technician. "When will this be
cataloged in the database?"
"Should be later today," she says, matter-of-factly.
Daydo is sitting at his computer when confirmation arrives that BL
Patterson’s DNA map is ready for positioning in the On-Time database. BL
is behind him, watching over his shoulder. Daydo brings up a screen filled
with small boxes connected by thin blue lines. One box contains a picture
Daydo took from a false ID card on her PC--the sorriest picture of the
bunch, thinks BL. Above it, BL sees photos of her mother and father,
and above those, photos of her grandparents. Daydo clicks on BL’s mother
and a window appears with icons and pictures: the house BL grew up in; BL
as a young girl, standing beside her estranged brother; and on a bicycle
in front of a Christmas tree.
Daydo closes the window and clicks on BL’s picture. Folder icons and
thumbnail photos appear. A manila folder in the bottom corner of the
screen is labeled "BL PATTERSON--DNA Map." Using his mouse, Daydo drags
the folder across and drops it into BL’s window. An hourglass appears then
flips over, and as the pixels of sand drop down into the lower section of
the glass, BL’s legs tingle and her arms quiver. She feels faint and drops
to the floor, sits with her head bowed in her folded arms. She rests a
moment then looks up and smells stale coffee. Her eyebrows twitch and her
frizzy black hair falls down over her ears, onto her shoulders. She
stretches her arms and fingers, opens her eyes wide, then closes them
tight, gritting her teeth. She stands up, spins a circle on the ball of
She feels safe, anonymous, like she did when moving to a new apartment,
assuming a new identity, or when outside a store, driving away after
charging items to someone’s credit card. She rubs her hands over her face,
smells their coppery odor, then runs one down through the head and body of
Robert Daydo, who reacts by twitching his shoulders and cocking his head.
BL leans forward, taps randomly on Daydo’s keyboard, adding characters to
his words. She pushes her arm into Daydo’s screen, creating sparkles and
flashes on the monitor. Daydo’s PC locks up, so he pushes the reboot
button, stands, and leaves his cubicle.
BL understands: her real name means nothing to Robert Daydo, for Daydo
has entered everything about her into the On-Time database, where her
pictures and genetic map will remain, online forever--a box of data in
On-Time’s tree of humanity, a mouse click from anyone who wants it.
What bothers her most is that she is tired and wants so much to sleep,
fade into the nameless obscurity of forever--let the world forget her,
leave her alone. Like a drop of water lifted from the ocean by sunshine,
carried over the land in clouds, thrown to the earth in a storm, then
returned to the sea by a river, BL has traveled the circuit of life and is
now at the edge of eternity’s ocean. But there stands Robert Daydo.
Daydo’s telephone rings and he returns to his cubicle.
"Hi Bob, how’s your day going?"
"Hey Darla. Just another day."
"Got any plans for tonight?"
"How about you come to my place for dinner. I have a little surprise."
BL looks around, wonders what’s next. She watches Daydo power down his
PC, pull on his jacket. Daydo is last to leave the office, and as the
lights dim, BL looks down at her body, now whole, and thinks, So this
is it? Will they come and take me now? They--whoever they are, the keepers
of Heaven or Hell. With my life, it’ll be Hell for sure.
Across the silent office, in the far corner, a small green light blinks
to the arrival of a fax.
J. K. Mason's fiction was recently published in Whistling Shade.
He lives in Montana and is currently working on his second novel.