We drive around to the back of the building, where we've been directed, up the ramp marked "ambulance only," out of the hammering rain and under a canopy at the back door.
A pudgy white man in heavy glasses is holding the door open for us. He introduces himself in a quiet voice, shaking our hands. His manner is respectful, human. I think he has worked here a long time.
He leads us down a hallway. White linoleum, fluorescent lights, cheap government furnishings. There are other people working here, walking around, talking, but their voices are low; not the commercial hush of a mortuary, just a notch quieter than most offices. I pass an open door. A man is eating his lunch. Beside him, on a table, is a figure, partially covered. A bare foot shows, its naked sole facing me, a manila tag hanging from the toe. I try to read what it says, but we're moving on.
He asks us to wait. To my right, raincoats are hanging from a rack, a broad stripe of high-visibility orange running across the chest and arms.
Our guide appears with five suitcases. Or, two matching suitcases, two backpacks, an overnight bag. This is what they took with them, on their trip here to San Francisco. Two young women I didn't know. One of them was the niece of a friend. The other was her partner, her lover. They were in their twenties. They packed their matching suitcases - they look new, and expensive - and they came to San Francisco to commit suicide. This is all I know about them.
What do you pack for a suicide?
Mr. Billy is asked to step through the door to my left. I wait for him with the bags. I can see him, through the window in the door. He is talking to a woman through another window, at a counter. The woman is standing on my side of the door. If I lean forward, I can see her around the corner, standing behind the counter. If I stand up straight, I can watch Mr. Billy, signing papers.
She hands him items, one at a time. She states what each item is. Necklace. Wallet. Ring. Comb. Mr. Billy has to initial for each item as he receives it.
I stare at the suitcases. I put my hands in my pockets so I don't open them up, rifle through them, touch each item, each piece of clothing, move the fabric between my fingers, listen for it to tell me more of the story.
What did they pack for their last few days on earth, for their suicide vacation?
Loaded down with their bags and suitcases, we find our way out. In the room I passed earlier, the man eating lunch is gone, but the bare foot is still there. Just outside the door, two men are moving a gurney into a van. On the gurney is a large bag. It looks well-made, designed to stop leaks, to hold together what's inside as it disintegrates. Inside the bag is a body. I can see where the head is, where the feet.
We load the bags into the trunk, and drive home.